Archive for November, 2011

Sparks: Allyson Bird

Allyson Bird is one of those writers who see things in many layers. She has a sharp vision and a dark, dark turn of words.  She has an almost filmic way of writing, I think, so that a story plays itself out very visually.

“Three sparks that started some of my stories off…

The idea for In a Pig’s Ear from Bull running for Girls came from a real project where scientists were able to grow pig’s wings. In the story Stella Kiefer explains what she is doing.

‘I was now working on three projects. My main line of research was concerned with residual DNA. I experimented with pig DNA and there was also my little fertility programme. It was old hat to grow a pig’s ear. I was a little more adventurous and wanted to see if I could grow a wing from bone marrow stem cells on to bioabsorbable polymers. I never got tired of trying to grow them into different shapes and coming up with ever more complex designs. Last time they came out like bat’s wings and this time I was aiming for a structure of wing like the extinct gliding reptile, the pterosaur. That would take more time. Some experts said that birds evolved from little feathered dinosaurs but I had always quite liked the hypothesis that birds diverged from reptiles before dinosaurs, and that mammals had evolved from reptiles with the propensity for genetic change that could lead to flight. A whole new take on pigs can fly—perhaps they could, given the right wings, hollow bones and a more developed muscle structure.’

Then I thought of H.G. Wells Dr Moreau and realised that what would happen next would end in a similar location….

‘The Amazon canopy was heaven with these tiny winged angels that looked like Sistine Chapel cherubs with their ruddy complexions and winning ways. I adored them all. They were perfect. Each generation grew their wings earlier and earlier, and the wing structure became stronger as they glided from branch to branch. It was not me that gave them the name Homo angelus—but it stuck.’

Vulkodlak in Wine and Rank Poison was my response to internet trolls, sock puppets and to malicious people who use anonymous, pseudonymous reviews or even their real names to achieve their goal.

‘Vesna wrote. “I’m here to talk about werewolves.”

I’ll show her what I know, thought Stefan. And if she couldn’t play the game he’d sort her. For a few minutes they chatted amiably and then he decided to bait her a little to see if she was good enough to even think of putting pen to paper on his favourite subject. He could see Susiewolf skulking in the background coming forward with the occasional contribution then backing off quickly when he turned on her and gave her a warning snap. Alpha male. He thought of himself as alpha male. He would come back later after he had finished with Vesna to see if he could get a rise out of her. She was always fair game. This new one, Vesna, he’d get her…bring her down, make her look small. He might keep to being anonymous. He liked to hide behind a different name now and again, too.

From a new story The Beat Hotel. This one is hopefully going to be in the Joe Pulver R. W. Chambers homage anthology A Season in Carcosa. Spent a few weeks engrossing myself in The King in Yellow and other stories. Thought about decadence and looked at the lives of the beat generation. The King in Yellow and the latter seemed a perfect combination. A man from a strange relationship I was in once makes an appearance, too…inevitably.

‎’What happened to Kaja and her book of Human Songs? Had there been anything sweet in them? Human. Returned to dust. Or be black and white. So white. Thousands of doves flying together against the snow and one black rock in the way. Obsidian. Pearl. Sand…and finally glass. Dozens of thick, dark green glass panes in a window with the reflection of one gone now within each.’

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News of varying kinds.

I talk to Lynda Rucker at  Sinescope about women writing in horror.

Ishtar is released! The amazing three novella anthology from Gilgamesh Press, with stories from me, Cat Sparks and Deb Biancotti.

I’ve been invited as a Special Guest to the Australian National Convention, which will be held in Canberra in 2013, as Conflux 9.  International Guest of Honour is Nalo Hopkinson, Editor Guest is Marc Gascoigne, Australian Guest is Karen Miller and Fan Guest is Rose Mitchell. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m hoping to see a lot of overseas people in Canberra for this one!

More news soon!


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Sparks: Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard, another Angry Robot author, has an almost magical ability to bring history alive on the page and make the unreal real. Here, she talks about her series Obsidian and Blood, and the process she went through to develop the storyline.

“One of the advantages of having a series with a historical backdrop is that this provides ready-made inspiration in the form of various events: my Obsidian and Blood trilogy is set in the Aztec Empire in 1480, a fraught time when the Empire was nearing its maximum extension, but already showing the political weaknesses that would eventually doom it at the conquistadores’ hands. 1480 happens to be the date when the long-lived Emperor Axayacatl died–and the inevitable tussle for power that follows a monarch’s death formed much of the background for book 2 in the series, Harbinger of the Storm.
When I tackled the sequel, Master of the House of Darts–which would also be the last book in the trilogy–I naturally hunted for what had happened after the designation of a new Aztec Emperor. It turns out that the new ruler was meant to go on a coronation war, the success of which would prove his fitness to rule. It also turns out that the 1481 coronation war was a major disaster, quite possibly the only coronation war in Aztec history to have finished into an ignominious retreat. The Aztecs, a warrior culture, naturally interpreted this as the displeasure of the gods; and the new Emperor was made much weaker by this initial setback.
“This was perfect for Master of the House of Darts: its predecessor had ended with the selection of the new ruler; this book would open with the ruler’s utter failure to manage the Aztec Empire–a neat way to keep the stakes high, and to tie in with the previous book in the series.
“Unfortunately, I had few details of  that time period: I completed this inciting event by as much as I could, by researching the personalities of the various people in presence. For instance, the young commander of the army, Teomitl (a major player in my series), was known for his hot temper, and his preference for war over political intrigues (he is recorded as marching with his soldiers and sharing their life on the rough). Many of those traits ended in the plot: Teomitl is beloved by his soldiers, but impatient, and utterly inept at peace-time court life. Having all this information helped me narrow down my plot options, by having the fictional characters compose with the reactions of the historical ones.
“However, something still wasn’t quite clicking. Though I could work forward from my inciting event and open up the plot, it all felt too mechanical, and I had the feeling that I was painting Aztec murder by the dots–something I absolutely wanted to avoid, as writing the same book over and over would have been a disaster for the series.
“It took me a while to realise that I had fallen into another series pitfall: because the cast and universe were already well in place, I had locked myself into a mindset where I wanted to keep the status quo rather than move the story forward. I didn’t want my characters to fall out, to attack each other, or even to have competing agendas–and this just wouldn’t work as a book: people getting on well together is marvellous, but as a source of plot it is a rather dry business.
In the end, I gave myself permission to work out the consequences with no holds barred. That was I realised that my characters would have fundamentally different responses to the opening events of the novel, and that the logical conclusion was the opening of rifts between them–not small quarrels, but deeper animosities that wouldn’t be solved so easily.
“Those rifts that open, not only within the Empire, but also within allies, ended up driving most of the plot: Master of the House of Darts is, first and foremost, a book about consequences spiralling out of control, and I borrowed many of its arcs from tragedy: it’s obvious that disaster looms, but many of the characters cling to their convictions, until everything hangs in the balance.
“The only thing I did not borrow from tragedy was the ending, because I had no intention of killing off my entire cast just for the sake of narrative fittingness (and I have always found the Greek tragedy endings a tad unrealistic, the other side of the coin compared to the “happy endings for everyone”, and equally unbalanced)
“But the ending is nevertheless harrowing, and painful; and it is clear when the last page turns that things have altered fundamentally, and that there will be no coming back to more carefree times.
“Quite possibly, this is why I hated the book while I was writing it, because I put myself as much through the wringer as my characters. But, in the end, I think it’s definitely a stronger book because I burrowed deeper; and it’s most definitely a lesson I’ll remember for future books.”

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Sparks: Jason Nahrung

I loved Jason Nahrung’s story in ‘Dreaming Again’, and to me this spark explains why it has such heart.
‘Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn’ (Dreaming Again) is set in an askew Wyandra, an outback town reduced now to little more than a pub, a post office/store/cafe and a few houses. The idea for the story arose out of a road trip that I took with my father, who spent his formative years in the region. He was hoping to catch up with old mates from that time, but as we asked around, a couple had moved on, but most had died. It was a sad return and a very emotional sign that an era had passed. I added roo shooters, now government contractors hunting undead, because vampires can be wonderfully melancholic symbols of the past still haunting the present.

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