Writing classes in Sydney at Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sydney

Looking forward to this live workshop. Sydney’s f/sf writers: I know you’re there. Come hang out. Be with your people a couple hours a week for six weeks. It’ll be the making of you, promise.

Do you harbor a love of the fantastic, whether science fiction, horror, weird crime, urban fantasy, steampunk, magic realism and more? Are you, like the Australian legend, Terry Dowling an “imagier”, someone who loves to imagine worlds liberated from the constraints of reality? Have you a novel idea that’s out of this world, or a story that’s just a little weird? Maybe Buffy’s your idea of comfort food; or you can you recite The Raven in Elfish, or would kill to be able to write Urban Fantasy like Seanan McGuire? Is that climate change fiction novel burning a hole in your Scrivener? If so, you’re in good company. Thanks to Pulitzer Prize winners like George Saunders and Margaret Atwood, epic fantasists like Neal Stephenson, Brandon Sanderson, and George RR Martin, or the quietly off-kilter Kelly Link and our very own Margo Lanagan, the walls between genre and literary fiction have come down and there has never been a better time to write, read or publish stories that are out of this world.

Continue reading Writing classes in Sydney at Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sydney

Scott McClanahan’s Collected Works Vol 1.

Scott McClanahan, Stories New day, new book. One and a half stories into McClanahan’s stories and I’m all fucked up. I want to say Carver’s style with Dennis Lehane’s heart but this book messes with both. I want to say the other Denis—Johnson’s—soul, but these stories just rip that to shreds. I love Denis Johnson. I’m reading Tree of Smoke at the same time as I’m reading McClanahan and a bunch of other stuff. I read Jesus’s Son on the train from Portland to San Francisco. That story, “Emergency.” Continue reading Scott McClanahan’s Collected Works Vol 1.

Day Too.

I was going to write a post about this amazing cover for the novel. I was going to write a lot of posts. About Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke and the last episode of Game of Thrones. About getting ready to go home to San Francisco and then the trip and what it was like to be drinking Tequila in the Boom Boom Room with Renny from Marcus Bookstore.

Boom Boom Room

But I kept running out of time. The first time I ran out of time was because I needed to be in Newtown to meet a friend at the cafe above Berkeleuw Books. We were going to mark papers together. This friend started off as a colleague at the university and now. Well, we’re friends. I was thinking while I was getting ready to meet her about how totally a life can be transformed in six years. Mine has. 2006-2007 were dead years. End of days. I had just had my ass downsized from the best job in the world writing PR copy and reviews for a cable company and it had been a nasty business. My family was then priced out of the suburbs and had to move our two kids into the city and I wanted to be in the city. But wanting to be in the city and being there were two separate things. I hated the suburbs but hating the suburbs and living in the city are two separate things. I had no community. No friends even if those friends were just moms in the play ground and the local liquor store owner. I’d dipped out of my PhD a couple of years ago to take care of my family so I lots touch with my colleagues, with the world of the mind. I was working on a novel no one was interested in. The wonderful Dr suggested that I concentrate on my writing because his company was going okay and we didn’t really need me to find another job right away so there I sat in our bedroom in the city, not writing. Not going anywhere or seeing anyone. I actually had an agent at that time who was making things worse instead of better for me by being the sort of agent who can do that. Continue reading Day Too.

My 20th Nervous Breakdown

Tin House Here is a new piece I wrote on my experiences at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop.

“The place was crawling with babeness. I mean aside from the instructors—I’m talking Aimee Bender here, people. Antonya Nelson. But the delegates glowed too. The little memoir-writer in his white golf hat, and the tight, brittle New York poets and the sandaled Opus-luggers. They all shimmered, you know. Maybe it was gold of the river running through campus, or the green of the lawns, or the printed Tin House bags we carried. It all shimmered and it cloaked us in the dream, and in its hope. But my group, the Wells Tower group? They were the babest of the babes.”

You can read more at The Nervous Breakdown

Cabin in the Woods, finally.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.45.29 PMSo I’m late to this film, but better late than never, and even with all the hype I wasn’t ready for its sucker punch, its fresh, raw take on story. For me, good horror is a showcase for story, the skin and bone of what makes us human. So here you have a story of five frisky teenagers alone in the woods where they’re preyed on by supernatural forces and you turn that into the story of what makes us in/human. Why that story is our sacrificial right/rite to the timeworn gods, those Big Giant Heads who keep us small in the universe, right where they can see us. And how between the Big Giant Heads, are some smaller, slicker heads who keep it all running smooth as a well-oiled machine gun, and how those small meaner heads try and drink or joke their own humanity into a space small enough to shoot through one of those plastic trash can hoops, but every so often that humanity rebounds on their asses and they end up gutted by it. Game over.
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So there they are, these five kids: the jock and the slut and the nerd and the fool/foil and um, the virgin. Except that its not just supernatural forces, on their own, well it is, and that, friends, is what makes this story scary as hell. Because in spite of all our human interference, in the end monsters are real, and the Virtual Reality, sci/fi set up here makes the monsters realer than ever. We’re not manipulating the monsters, we’re manipulating for the monsters because it’s not a game, no, it’s a goddam sacrifice folks. A sacrifice we make over and over again, every time we crowd into a cinema/onto a sofa to watch this ritual sacrifice of youth to age, life to death, blood calling to blood. To watch the night through a one way mirror and tell ourselves, really, even after all this time, that it’s not staring back.
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Why? It isn’t like Whedon and Goddard are saying, don’t. Hell no. This film fetishes every scene from Night of the Living Dead to Scream and with detours through Heathers, The Shining, Evil Dead, Hell Raiser and The Thing. Nods to the Norwegians, the Japanese, and British. To Carpenter, Cameron and Craven. Oh, and remember the Titans? Love your work. Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.48.47 PM
Because the show must go on. It really must. Or hell will break loose. No really. It will.
But maybe, you know, just maybe. It’s time. Except who are we to say? What hubris, what false pride. Because in the end, the gods we take are equal to the gods we make. And that can be funny as hell. There are yucks in this gore, and an absence of piety in direct proportion to the presence of heart. Fran Kranz is a knock-out as the not so gentle stoner whose bong is a travel mug one minute, a weapon of mass destruction the next. Love is the drug, but in the end, even that won’t cut it.Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.19.59 PM
Cabin asks more questions than it answers, which is what makes it a game changer. It asks more of story than any English language horror film that I can think of since Heathers. It asks more of the image—the actors are all impossibly beautiful and less stereotypical than allegorical. Dig: they’ve got heart. It asks more of scene. Blood runs down walls, monsters sweep across the screen like the invading hordes, hands reach out of graves, cellar doors fly open. And in the words of the fool, how exactly does that all make sense? Cabin asks that over and over. Every scene counts. Every scene asks sense of the one before and the one after. Like the flaky/creepy pump attendant who works for the man who puts him on speaker phone because it’s funny in the way cthulhu would be funny if he were on Speaker. We pick our poisons. We choose our monsters. Don’t check your brain at the door.

Going OFF!

American Monster has been picked up by a West Coast publisher who I cannot name right now, but it is one I am indescribably proud to be associated with. Biggest hangover ever.

The Box came out on Juked; the folks at Doghorn never cease to amaze me with their generosity and professionalism.

And always always the kids, and the Doctor.

Day 1

Subbed four stories this week, sold one so far. So now, everything ‘in progress’ is now outbound and I am in novel mode.
My brain can barely function. Those stories meant a lot to me, they took all I’ve got. I got nothing left. Maybe some yoga. Maybe run for a while. Something. Maybe a new pen.
And in the lull, I’ll get onto updating the site, and I’ve got some posts I’m mulling over… but now some air. The air outside this office. The dog gets it. He’s farting in agreement, yeah it stinks in here. Let’s hit the road.

Portland here I come.

I am going to concentrate on getting ready for the conference today. It’s called Tin House and it’s in Portland, Oregon. And although I was born in Ca, I live in Sydney, Australia, and I haven’t been to the Northwest since I was a baby. It’s a big thing. Not just the travel, but also going to my first writers conference. Most of the delegates will be younger, more familiar with conferencing. I’ve never read to an audience before. When INK was launched I had a band play instead of reading from the book. But I’ll be reading from my story next Thursday. It’s real. Today I’ll get all my material together. The eight or ten stories from the workshop I’ve been assigned to. My e-tickets and maps and information on Reed College, where the conference is being held. I’m familiar with the work of many of the instructors there, and I’ll familiarize myself with the rest of them before I go. I’ll clean my office and get everything ready to write about this and other things when I get back.

I’ve never travelled alone. I didn’t backpack or do a student exchange. I met my husband when I was nineteen and have been more or less glued to him ever since. The glue has expanded to include my work now, and the world upon which it is based.

Which is to say that I’m shitting myself. I had to get new glasses. Here they are. I had to buy a conference outfit because I mostly work in my sweats or my pajamas. Do I need to get new pajamas? Will there be somewhere there I can hide when I need to apart from the bathroom? Will I make friends?

But mostly, will I come home bigger and smarter and better than when I left? Will I come home with new work, a new story, a start to my next novel? I don’t need to come back with an agent, because I already have Himself, and I’m thinking now that I’m writing this that I don’t need to come back with anything, really. It’s not a hunt and I don’t want a trophy, a piece of horn or hide to nail up on my wall because that would be the death of something other than myself, and I don’t want that on my hands. Yeah, I think that what I need more than to come back with something is to have left something behind. Shed something. Leave a piece of me there, something I don’t need anymore (but will always be there waiting maybe, growing old and hoary with time and waiting, tempting me) and come back pared down and ready for the fight. Which is to say that whenever you do something big like this you have to be in it not for the trophy, not the badge of honor or dishonor but to prepare for, be okay with, even grateful, for something in yourself to die.

Tricky Truman

Truman Capote likened the finishing of a novel to taking your child into the back yard and shooting it. As a parent, I’m intrigued by the mind that could have created that sentence. Still, I take his point. I was all but undone by the completion of my previous novel, cried for days, became physically ill.  Wracked with grief for what I’d created and destroyed. But not with this one. This one felt more like letting go of a red balloon. There was that sense of loss, but also elation. I’d seen its shape from the beginning, knew from the moment I conceived it, that it wasn’t mine to keep. They never are.