Writin' Rations™: Vegan Veggie Satay

I'm an omnivore, but I cook a lot of veg*n because it's cheaper, tasty, easier on the planet, and able to be eaten at family meals (daughter is vegetarian). Yesterday, I threw the following into the crock pot and a few hours later it was AMAZING:


Two cups of crunchy peanut butter

Two cans (the size of soup cans; can't remember how many mls/ozs exactly) coconut cream

Half chopped onion

Two cloves chopped garlic

A tablespoon or so of chopped ginger

A half teaspoon thermonuclear chili sauce (use more if yours isn't so confrontational, or omit entirely if you want)

A tablespoon of salt

Several tablespoons of store-bought masala spices, or you could use your own favorite curry-spice blend; they're all similar enough that the effect is within acceptable parameters

About a half cup of palm sugar (you could use brown sugar)

A whole bunch of chopped-up veggies (I had cauliflower, red pepper/capsicum, and carrots in the house, so that's what I used)

Two to four cup COOKED chickpeas

Stew and stir, stir and stew, for several hours. Serve with basmati or other rice; when cooked in a rice cooker, it can be kept warm well into the night (and only dries out a little...). Best of all, once you throw everything into the crock pot, you can go write and write and write until it's time to stir again. Let the family grab their dinner when they want it; you're busy writing! (Also ideal for write-ins, particularly if you're not sure who eats what. It's also gluten-free, it occurs to me, if you're careful about what's in the store-bought spice mixture.)


Help us bring swords to Wollongong!

Wollongong, with a population of nearly 300,000, suffers from high unemployment — particularly youth unemployment — along with other socioeconomic problems. Involvement in sports has been shown to benefit youth as well as adults, as it gives them the chance to improve their fitness, determination, focus, teamwork, and social skills. Fencing is an excellent sport to develop all these things, and programs for beginner fencers are spreading all over the world. We at Bulli Swords think it's time the people of Wollongong had the chance to try fencing. Problem is, the sport requires a lot of equipment, and that equipment costs money.

Bulli Swords is the ONLY fencing club on the coast of New South Wales from just south of Sydney to the Victorian border. But we're an extremely small club. We don't charge annual membership, and our weekly sessions are as inexpensive as possible, so that even people on a limited budget can have a go. This means that buying beginners' equipment is beyond our means. The club has a very limited number of foils, masks, jackets, chest protectors, and gloves — nowhere near enough to run a dedicated beginners' class, or to welcome as many new fencers to our weekly sessions as we would like. And we would very much like.

YOU can help us. A thousand dollars will get us enough equipment to regularly run beginners' classes for eight people, and to be able to lend gear on our normal training nights to people who can't afford their own. If you love fencing, love what sports can do to help people become the best they can be, or just like watching the movie "The Princess Bride", please help us bring fencing to the people of Wollongong! Even a dollar or two, along with your good wishes, will help us get there.


Writin' Rations™: Easiest and most decadent dessert EVER

It's easy! It's quick! It's inexpensive! It's delicious! It's — Milo Mousse!

  • 250 ml/1 cup pouring cream/whipping cream/fresh cream (whatever they call it 'round your way)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Milo or chocolate-malt powder (except for Ovaltine, which is yucky), or even, at a pinch, hot-chocolate mix; if you like things less sweet, use plain, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • some crispy, sweet biscuits/cookies; those wafers they serve in ice-cream parlors would be ideal, as would waffle cookies (I know of several different kinds of things that people call "waffle cookies"; all would serve very well)

Add the sugar to the cream and whip until it is quite, quite stiff (that is, to the point where it doesn't shift if you tip the bowl).

Stir the powder (whatever kind you're using) through thoroughly.

Add to bowls or fancy-schmantzy glasses. (If you like a little bit of Milo crunch, do this right away; if you'd prefer a completely smooth texture, let the bowl sit in the fridge for an hour or so before you dole it out.) Stick one of the cookies in each serving.

That — is — it!

It's not very nutritionally sound, I know, but even writers need a bit of indulgence now and again, and this literally takes five minutes to literally whip up. (Ahahahaha!) And it is so good you will plotz.


A new show in rehearsal, and a bit at the Vault Cabaret

Yes, our exciting new show, Comets and Chocolates, is in rehearsals! It stars the multi-talented Greg Shand, and has gorgeous music by Houston Dunleavy and words by me. As we're part of this year's Sydney Fringe, the show also has a Fringe page. Details are coming really soon about performance dates and venue, so quick — "like" the Facebook page so you don't miss out on any info!

Secondly, on June 15 I'll be performing a new piece of flash fiction at the Vault Cabaret. I'm really looking forward to this, as it's always a terrific, fun night, and I consider it a great privilege to be part of it.

Point of honor: I grabbed some sound effects from Freesfx, and their agreement is that I acknowledge them as the source. Because there is no program and no opportunity to acknowledge them during the show, this is my compliance with the agreement. Thanks, Freesfx!


I am stunned and grateful.

Tonight at the Aurealis Awards, I received the very great honor of the Kris Hembury Encouragement Award. I didn't know Kris — I think I may have met him briefly, or at least been in the same room, at the 2007 Aurealis Awards in Brisbane, back when I was at Clarion South — but everyone I've talked to has been united in praising his spirit, his artistic integrity, and his thirst for new things to write. I gather he wrote stories, scripts, you name it. And everyone who knew him not only liked, but admired him.

Thus I am deeply touched to have been connected with him in this way. I hope I can continue to work hard, create with integrity, and always push myself further in my writing.

Thank you, Fantastic Queensland; thank you, colleagues; and thank you, Kris.


Greatness and power wait within us all. Oh, and merry Christmas!

Not long after I got back from my massive US journey, I participated in a local Christmas project: a flash mob that would go to one of the shopping malls, emerge out of the crowd, sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, and fade away again as if we had never been there. And so we did.

You know what's really great about flash mobs? What the whole point of them is, for me? That at any point, the stranger next to you — even the friend next to you — could come forward, reveal their true power, do something amazing, and then just smile and wander off to go about their business. That a person can carry within them, utterly unseen, a glowing coal of greatness and might, smoldering perhaps for years until the moment it bursts forth and accomplishes wonders.

Christmas is specifically a time of hidden power, humble people, and the astonishing realization that we are all much, more than we seem. What a cool way to illustrate that: for entirely ordinary-looking people to arise from amongst the crowd and sing. As we went on, some people who weren't even part of the planned group started to join in. Babies danced. People even wept. For that moment, every person there was so much more than just a harried holiday shopper.

Where are you when you're reading this? With other people? Look around, and exult in the possibility of power and glory that may smolder in any one of them. Are you by yourself? Then exult in the possibility that it might be you.


The Next Big Thing

Amin Chehelnabi and Leigh Blackmore both invited me to be a part of "The Next Big Thing", an informal project to get the word out about what book-length projects we're all working on. It's cool, because (despite the mythology around it), writers are actually not all that competitive; we're far more likely to want to help and promote each other than elbow our so-called competitors away from the writerly success table.

The idea is to answer a standard 10 questions, then tag five more people, putting their names and blog links at the end to keep the chain going. I'm doing it wrong. I'm posting my answers now, and I'll post my five links when I have them. We're all just going to have to cope with that.

Anyway, on to the questions and my answers!
  1. What is the [working] title of your next book?
    After the Bloodwood Staff.
  2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
    I've been a fan of Victorian adventure fiction for many years. I wanted to play with that form, with the conventions and tropes of the Victorian adventure tale, to see how far I could push them before they broke.
  3. What genre does your book fall under?
    Well, sort of the point is that it both is and isn't a traditional adventure tale. It's got elements of fantasy, romance, humor, travel, and mystery, and it dabbles in being both satirical and metafictional.
  4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
    I've had the very good fortune of seeing my writing performed a number of times — sometimes by people I've cast, sometimes by people who are a complete mystery to me until I see them work. Both groups have graced my words with their talent, goodwill, hard work, and creative passion. I don't even want to begin to cast the characters in my book, even just in my imagination, because that's not nearly as fun as the mysterious anticipation of what marvellous actors might show up on set.
  5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
    The bookish and sedentary Hoyle Marchand finally gets the chance to live out one of the adventures he reads about so obsessively — but he finds out those books never did tell the whole story.
  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
    Once I finish it, I'll be seeking representation.
  7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
    It will have taken about a year and a half.
  8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
    Hm. None, I hope. That's sort of the point: to not be entirely within one genre.
  9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
    My grandfather was the one who got me into reading Victorian adventure fiction; that was one of my inspirations. And my friend Gillian Polack also inspired me by telling me about getting into the Ph.D. program in creative writing at the University of Western Australia, for which purpose I'm writing After the Bloodwood Staff (I followed her into the program, you see).
  10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
    I'm having a blast playing with the adventure tropes: turning them on their heads, warping them, laughing at them — just to see whether it's still an adventure story when I'm done. If it is, I will have learned something about the nature of genre and the craft of storytelling.


What I want to do when I get rich

In Milford, Pennsylvania*, there is a truly impressive mansion called Grey Towers. The couple who built it, Cornelia and Gifford Pinchot, were jaw-droppingly rich. However, what they did with their wealth was not just go into politics, not just build a beautiful house. No: they led lives of diligent, joyful, and altruistic public service, including Gifford's two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania and his time as Chief Forester of the US Forest Service, and Cornelia's participation in the Women's Suffrage movement and — despite her family wealth and privilege — advocacy for labor reform. They used their beautiful, beautiful home in the woods along the Delaware as a place for friends and colleagues to come and think, to challenge and encourage each other, to get things sorted out.

I've visited the home a few times, and each time it seems more astounding and attractive than the last. Yes, it's a home built with immense wealth: tasteful, understated, and sumptuous. But the Pinchots didn't hoard this loveliness. Their greatest joy was to create a place where the people they cared about could feel welcomed, valued, and inspired — because in a setting like that, these friends and colleagues could do amazing work. Amazing work.

If I ever get that kind of money, that's what I want to do with it. Build a great big house and bring wonderful people there and make them feel welcomed and valued, so that they can then go forth, refreshed and inspired, and do amazing things.

Cornelia and Gifford Pinchot (she is marching in a Women's Suffrage parade in New York in this photo; he is maybe sitting and thinking something cool, but it's hard to tell)

I leave you with a collection of maxims for public service from Gifford Pinchot, and I encourage you to consider whether they apply to the work you are doing, whether or not you're in public service.
  • A public official is there to serve the public and not to run them.

  • Public support of acts affecting public rights is absolutely required.

  • It is more trouble to consult the public than to ignore them, but that is what you are hired for.

  • Find out in advance what the public will stand for. If it is right and they won’t stand for it, postpone action and educate them.

  • Use the press first, last, and all the time if you want to reach the public. Get rid of the attitude of personal arrogance or pride of attainment or superior knowledge.

  • Don’t try any sly or foxy politics, because a forester is not a politician.

  • Learn tact simply by being absolutely honest and sincere, and by learning to recognize the point of view of the other man and meet him with arguments he will understand.

  • Don’t be afraid to give credit to someone else when it belongs to you; not to do so is the sure mark of a weak man. But to do so is the hardest lesson to learn.

  • Encourage others to do things; you may accomplish many things through others that you can’t get done on your single initiative.

  • Don’t be a knocker; use persuasion rather than force, when possible. Plenty of knockers are to be found; your job is to promote unity.

  • Don’t make enemies unnecessarily and for trivial reasons. If you are any good, you will make plenty of them on matters of straight honesty and public policy, and you need all the support you can get.

    From Gifford Pinchot Lectures at the Yale Forest School (1910-1920).
Source: http://www.fs.fed.us/gt/local-links/historical-info/gifford/gifford.shtml
*Do not ask me to explain it, but Milford, Pennsylvania is a hotbed of creativity. It's a tiny, tiny, tiny town in the middle of the woods that punches way above its weight in terms of the life of the mind. Not only did Cornelia and Gifford run their think-tanks, but it's also the home of the Milford Method of running writing workshops (and the phenomenal constellation of speculative-fiction stars that have congregated in the town for this and other purposes); the home of the Black Bear Film Festival; and the home of God only knows how many writers, painters, scupltors, composers, and other artists.


Now that THAT'S sorted....

Quiz: What Kind of Liberal Are You?

My Liberal Identity

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what's known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-centric thought reign supreme.

Take the quiz at
About.com Political Humor

Interestingly, I actually do consider myself relatively Jesus-centric — I guess just not the way they mean it.


Some books are even better.

Sometimes, when I go back and reread a childhood favorite, I'm a bit disappointed. How could I not have seen the flatness of the characters, the plodding action, the misogyny, the triteness? (Although how a small child is supposed to recognize triteness when it's her first time reading about anything is beyond me — I'm reminded of Bernard Black's observation: "All children look surprised. Everything's new to them.")

However, I'm thrilled to find that the original Oz books — by L. Frank Baum, of course — are tiny miracles of arch, quietly hilarious social satire. Although the theory that they're political allegories of the party politics and bombast of the day has not been entirely persuasively argued, what is beyond question is the sly wink at the reader: You're reading this to your kid — and, in fact, the kid may even be a bit bored — but you can't keep a straight face, can you?

In fact, the Oz books didn't bore me at all when I was a child (although I think I tried them with Margaret a bit too soon). At the time, what I loved most of all was the world-building. It's elaborate and funny, and who cares about consistency and real-world principles of geography and sociology anyway? You need a desert for the plot, and lo! a desert. You need a swamp right next to it? Just put one there! It's all good! Magical "systems"? Why would you need a "system"? Magic is...well, magic!

A school friend had the whole set, and we read through them obsessively, maniacally, during fifth grade. That's a lot of world-building to enjoy!

These days I'm downloading them from Project Gutenberg (go here to get them for yourself) and reading them on an e-reader. I'm sad that the illustrations don't make it into the .epub files, but the stories are all still enormous fun (for the world-building and the social satire), and they're FREE. And you can always see at least some of the illustrations via Google Images.


Michael Moorcock's New Worlds is launched — with a story by me!

It's been a pretty hectic month, driving all over the place and working frantically during those times I'm not actually behind the wheel. But I'm back in Pennsylvania, just in time to be greeted with the launch issue of the rebooted Michael Moorcock's New Worlds — in which I am extremely pleased to have a story!

You need to set up an account (click "register"), and then you can buy the issue. It's really cheap — £3, or about five of any of the three most common forms of dollar (US, CAN, or AUS — they're all about the same right now, aren't they?). Cheap! And packed with content! Three more stories, in addition to mine; features; reviews; interviews; artwork; op-ed pieces. Such a deal! The folks at the mag have worked tremendously hard for this long-awaited reboot, determined to produce a quality online publication. I hope you will check it out! (Unfortunately, no freebies — but at only £3, it's a bargain any way you look at it. Go! Click! Buy!)


Step out in front of art.

Let it hit you.
Smack you around.
Change you behind your back.
Swirl the same strand of barbed wire that stings and stabs every heart around your own, and draw it tight.

Sometimes I look at art to learn. Sometimes I just let it engulf me. The last couple of days have been engulfment days. The con is over, and just about everyone has left (and you no longer have to wait 10 minutes for an elevator). So yesterday was Art Institute of Chicago day, and today was Wander Around the Loop and See What I Find day.

One of the many works I was very excited to see in person at last.

Who doesn't love Ganesh, the remover of obstacles? Who couldn't benefit from the removal of a few obstacles here and there?

This Guardian Figure means business.

Sadly, I didn't get the details on this sculpture, but it's about three, maybe even four, meters tall, and would make an excellent Flanders giant, I think.

This is one of those pieces that I absolutely love without quite knowing why. It's called "The Eventuality of Destiny", by De Chirico.

It's odd. I like it.

It's also odd when you go into the center of it and look around.

Picasso made this specifically for the City of Chicago. No-one can seem to agree whether it's a horse, a dog, a woman, or something else.

There's this skyscraper, see, and on the top it has a church spire. This is because inside it there's a church. With a skyscraper on top. I love this.

One of the windows in the skyscraper church (which is, by the way, the First United Methodist Church.

It's actually about 90/32 degrees here today, but I guess it's uneconomical to have two sets of warning cones. And after all, ice is MUCH more likely to be a problem here over the course of the year as a whole than, say, heatstroke.

And, finally, a theatre in which I will doubtless go to see Margaret starring in something wonderful before too long.


Watch me slamming!

This, my friends, is the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, in Chicago. Perhaps you do not know why it is so legendary. It's the location of the first slam in the world, which is still run by its original founder — the person who (and this is literally true, not hyperbole) invented slam, Marc Kelly Smith. I'm in Chicago for Worldcon (as regular readers know), and I decided to take advantage of this already-happy fact to check out the Ur-Slam. And, because I don't tend to do things like this with restraint, I put my name down to compete. Here is the result (sorry it was too dark for a clear movie off my phone, but it sounds pretty good):

Wow. I was quite overwhelmed. (Many thanks to my new Chicago friends Felicia and Marcia for recording my poem, watching my bag, being great company, and cheering for me!) (Edit: no, I didn't "win" per se, but I could not possibly have been more thrilled by the reception the spectators gave me.)

In other news, today's Worldcon adventures included doing a reading of my story Turcotte's Battle and moderating a panel of fantastic people talking about scriptwriting for the speculative-fiction writer. These were my final two gigs for the weekend; tomorrow I'm going to spend just sort of wandering aimlessly around the con, seeing if anyone I know is still here. As it's been kind of an exhausting weekend, that's probably about all I can manage.

Here are a couple more Chicago images:

A hastily stitched-together composite of a cool mural I found.

Trust me to make my way toward the weapons.

Thanks to all the great panelists, fans, and organizers who have made this a really good con!

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I love Chicago!

I'm in town for the World Science Fiction Convention, and my friend Cathy and I are already having a great time!

First, Those of a Certain Age may remember the Saturday Night Live sketch about the idiosyncratic hamburger place. Well, this is it (although I remember it being "No Coke, Pepsi"):

And here is my friend, the Bean (everybody's friend, the Bean). Its real name is Cloud Gate, but...really? No, it's the Bean.

Cathy and me, approaching the Bean.

Here's what it looks like from inside.

We also saw a show at Second City, which was fantastic!

Today, the con starts. It's going to be a very full weekend, as not only do I want to go to a lot of the panels, but I'm presenting a paper, moderating two panels, and doing a reading. If you're there, find me!


First Opera performance — bewdy!

It was a long path: story to libretto to opera, rehearsals, PR and media, logistics, more rehearsals, more logistics, more rehearsals, and finally — the first performance of The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders!

Friends, guests, and opera fans joined our three wonderful singers, our troupe of actors, our conductor, our technician, and me (librettist and producer) to hear the work for the first time. We got tons of valuable feedback, we got to hear the piece "in the air" (as they say), and we had a blast. The best thing about working in the arts is the chance to have adventures with amazing, superpower-equipped people.

The singers in the throes of performing our opera — they even LOOK like they sound terrific!

So now we're looking at the next phase of developing the project: revising the libretto in light of the insights from this performance; getting the score professionally performed and recorded; and commissioning the animations. (Yes! Animations! Multimedia! Spectacle! Wonder! Bedazzlement! This is going to be quite a show, once we're done with it — if want to follow its fortunes as we make it the best it can be, and then get it produced in full, please "like" its Facebook page.)

The very next morning after the performance I took off for the States. I'm in Chicago now, jetlagged but very excited indeed, both to be home in the first place and in anticipation of the World Science Fiction Convention, in which I will be delivering a paper and a reading, and participating on panels. The adventures are rumbling toward me like...like...juggernauts!



Well! That was an interesting experience!

My friend Corwyn does a lot of work in the area of virtual theatre in Second Life. Up to now I haven't paid too much attention to Second Life, having way too busy a First Life (or, if you prefer, Real Life). However, Corwyn recently asked me if he could read some of my work to a virtual group he's part of. I happen to know that Corwyn is a trained actor whom I could trust to do a professional job with my stuff, so I figured (and told him), "Sure!"

Then he said, "Why don't you be there, too?" Um. Okay. So I downloaded the software and logged on and created an odd, bald animation to stand for me on the visuals (my avatar, if you haven't encountered the concept before), and Corwyn helped me figure out what was what. So this morning, I shoved my avatar clumsily around the screen, bumping into people and twitching and flinching in bizarre ways due to errant mousings and clickings that I probably shouldn't have done, God knows who I offended by having my avatar twitch the wrong way, what even ARE the social rules in this space?, and finally managed to "sit" and listen.

Well! It was really quite fun! There were about a dozen people there, and I got a very warm reception to the work that Corwyn read (and yes, he did read beautifully), and there were even requests to hear more of my work sometime.

I admit I was dubious about the whole thing, but it seems to be an interesting and entertaining way to reach more readers. Will I sell anything out of it? At this point, that's sort of not the point. The point is to show my work to people who otherwise wouldn't have found it, and to let the word spread. If they like my work, great! It costs me nothing (because the stories Corwyn read have already been published, I don't mind their being performed), and it lets me explore the artistic area of performing one's writing (or having it performed; although I must say there's nothing stopping me from seeing if I can read some of my own stuff on that forum sometime). I've been devoting quite a bit of attention to the whole idea and practice of writing for performance (and the subsequent performance itself!); this whole Second Life thing is an interesting take on it.

I'm a longtime member of virtual communities — I got into the whole online-community thing in the early 80s, all you children out there, on BBSes *waves to any of my early-days BBS friends who are reading this*. I'm very familiar with how online communities can form and evolve and provide genuine friendship and collaboration. Only now they've got pictures! (In all honesty, I could probably do without the pictures. But I'm sure that for some, actually looking at the people you're talking to, even though they're avatars, is a major part of the fun.)

Sure, a Second Life reading is a little awkward, and a little gimmicky. And no, it doesn't match the passion and vibrancy of true, real-life readings and performances. But it's still the power of the spoken word, and it's still real-time, and it's still fun. And it's location-independent, which is its own intriguing thing all on its own, artistically speaking.

I may be trying some more of this virtual-reading stuff.


The story you tell yourself

It's a pretty standard technique of comedy, horror, drama: the story you tell yourself is going to be far, far funnier, scarier, more dramatic than anything I, the writer, can tell you. This is why a story that says as little as possible is almost invariably far better than a cumbersome, lumbering narrative...thing laden with achingly heavy sacks of description and staggeringly tedious monologues.

Look at the pictures below: same sort of joke, even pretty much the same wording. But the context, when accompanied by those very sparse words, immediately makes you generate two entirely different stories — effortlessly! Fabulous stories! Hilarious stories! Wondrous stories! And that's my job as a writer: to give you just exactly what you need — and no more — for your amazing brain to tell you a fabulous story. We're a team, you and I.

Suggestion is the height of the writer's art, regardless of the form, and it's pretty much the entirety of the poet's. The less I write, the more you get.


Focus versus versatility

Scottie Witt, intensely versatile and hard-working performer/trainer/all-around-theatre-geek, has written a blog post about versatility. I quote it, in part (with his permission):
I have now been involved in many aspects of drama for nearly thirty years as a professional practitioner. Versatility and adaptability have proved to be the root of my career’s sustainability. I have chosen not to focus on just one area of this industry and as a result I have not had to rely on a supplemental job to support my career i.e. being a waiter. My choice to create a dexterous career has created so many opportunities I feel very lucky to always be in work.
I, too, have been striving for versatility, writing stories, novels, plays, poetry; working alone or with composers, directors, and actors; performing my own writing; broadening my academic background and writing credentials. It has been argued to me that focusing on one aspect is better than this approach, which seems to some to be mere thrashing around. I'd get better results, they tell me, if I stuck to one thing relentlessly until it started to work.

Obviously, I am of a different opinion. To me all these diverse practices are not really so diverse. They share a common goal, a common "energy" if you will: to grab hold of what's wondrous and miraculous in the world, make it real, and share it. That unifying idea (broad and amorphous though it be) gives an overall direction to what I do, and helps me distinguish between projects and ideas that I desperately want to do and those that I "should" do. "You should send your stories here and here." "You should write about this and this." "You should follow precisely this path to publishing success, which is defined in precisely this way." "You should —" Well, you get the idea.

What gives me joy as a writer might not be what gives other writers joy. Their successes might not actually be successes for me, if they don't match my overall goal. Oh, yeah, sure, I'll admit to a healthy share of Writer Jealousy™; I don't know a single writer who's entirely immune to it. (Nor to its cousin, Writer Snarkiness™, which usually takes the form of "How come that sewage is getting published while my beautiful work languishes?".) But I'm learning, slowly, that others' successes may not even be what I really want. I'm happy for the people winning medals in the Olympics, but do I want one? Except in the vaguest, wouldn't-it-be-cool sort of way, not really.

There is the chance that this line of thought is only a pathetic attempt to convince myself that my not achieving the same awards, publishing deals, good reviews, etc. as so many of my writer buddies is no big deal, that it doesn't mean I'm not as good as they are. But there's also the chance that it's a healthier way to look at my writing: as something that aims to meet my goals and expectations, not someone else's.


Patience, Determination, Humility, Hope (oh, and the inaugural Day of the Playwright)

Maybe patience is the opposite of determination. Maybe humility is the opposite of hope. Maybe a writer needs all of them. And maybe they don't always look like you'd expect.

Many, many years ago — before I'd published or produced a word of fiction, poetry, or drama that I intended to submit anywhere, even before I'd been to Clarion — I wrote a little story that pleased me very much. No magic or aliens or any of the other things with which I usually manage to populate my stories, just a plain old story. Kinda funny, a little bit sad in places. I sent it a few places; nothing happened. I put it away, and went on to write many, many other things, and to get a lot better as a writer.

Recently, I heard about a story competition run by the fabulous BBC Radio 4 for short stories. I pondered. I wondered. I took that little story out and polished it up using the experience I'd accumulated over the intervening years. I sent it in. It got longlisted. It got shortlisted. And now they've posted it; you can find it here, for your entertainment.

Yes, a story that languished for nigh onto a decade did, finally, get a home. Now, what does that have to do with patience, determination, humility, and hope? It's just that this story's story pointed out that they can take more than one form, and help the writer in more than one way.

For example, sometimes patience means "Keep sending, keep sending, keep sending." Not this time. This time, patience meant I didn't keep forcing that little story out into the world when it wasn't ready. I was able to wait until I had the skills I needed to take a good idea and present it the way it deserved.

Sometimes determination means "Keep being strong, even when nothing is happening." This time, it meant "Believe in that story, be strong enough to look at it and change it where it needs changing, and send it out, yes, one more time, with gritty confidence."

Sometimes humility means "Stop thinking you have nothing to learn, stop thinking you've got it all sorted and people should bloody listen to you." In this case, it meant, "Be humble enough not to write off your early work. You're not so great now that you can afford to turn your back on what you were. Value your whole journey as a writer."

Sometimes hope means believing that we are not cold, hard, past-trapped stone, but brilliant, brave beings who can always fly up and out, to somewhere new and exciting. This time — no, wait, yeah, it always means that.


In other news, tomorrow (July 28) has been designated by the Australian Writers Guild as the inaugural Day of the Playwright. If you know a playwright, give them a hug tomorrow. Or a nice bottle of wine; wine would be nice. I like pinot noir and merlot. I'm only saying, is all.


Another massively busy time!

I know it's been over a month since I blogged last, but there are reasons, I swear!

On June 30 we ran another slam, and I volunteered to be sacrificial poet (the one who goes first, getting a score from the judges but not actually competing against the poets; the idea is to get the judges into the swing of scoring for the night and thereby minimize the disadvantage to the poet who would otherwise first). Yes, I faced my memorization phobia and performed the poem from memory. ("Oh, no, you di'int!") Oh, yes, I did! It went...okay. Okay enough that I got some good experience, and with a little more practice I'll probably go to one of the Sydney slams in due course and give it another airing.

A few days later we began the July school holidays drama workshop I'm coordinating for Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families (SCARF). There are about a dozen kids, and a great team of actor colleagues, and we're having a great time! They've been coming up with some terrific stuff on stage, and (I hope) learning some things about acting, playwriting, and producing. It's pretty draining, though, as the kids are really high-energy, which requires us on the team to be high-energy as well.

As if that weren't enough, this weekend saw two performances of Opera at the Phoenix, a two-hour show of opera favorites (first act) followed by a restaging of Passione Appassionata — regular readers of this blog may recall its premier in Sydney last November. It incorporates dance, acting, fabulous singing, and a swag of my poems, and I was very, very happy to be working with this particular group again to offer it in Wollongong.

Then today, Monday, it was right back into it with the SCARF drama workshop — only two more sessions left after today! Moreover, there's the Ph.D. novel to keep working on, as well as some editing to do. Plus all the other writing projects, too alarmingly numerous to mention. Am I perhaps choosing to overcommit myself? The question demands to be asked, and yet I have no answer.

What's next? The August 25 concert/workshop performance of The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders! Oh, and another slam on July 28 at Yours and Owls. And (hopefully) a few more chapters on the novel. And the editing. And the other writing projects. Yes. I'm definitely overcommitted. Let's see if I can make it all happen — wish me well!

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Aussie Spec-Fic Snapshot, 2012

This week has seen an enormous project:  dozens of interviews on a number of blogs, capturing the thoughts of some of Australia's speculative-fiction writers.  I've been interviewed, as have many of my friends and colleagues.  Several of my mates in the Egoboo crit group have also been interviewed: 
They've all got some really exciting and cool things going on — I'm very proud to be part of this group of smart, capable, energetic writers!


I'm interviewed!

The indefatigable Alisa Krasnostein has interviewed me as part of the Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot, a series of interviews that "celebrate the breadth and depth of the Australian spec fic scene".

Here's the interview with me!

At the bottom of the post is a list of all the bloggers doing interviews for this massive project — the longer I'm involved in the Aussie spec-fic scene, the more amazed and delighted I am with just how high the per-capita number of astounding spec-fic writers there are here. Australia is a country of great depth and intense artistic talent. I'm proud to be counted among these writers.


First slam at Yours and Owls

Tonight I ran my first slam, which was also the first slam ever held at Yours and Owls. Because we're just getting started, there weren't too many competitors, but everyone seemed all right with that. One of the people who did compete brought along a lot of friends, who were very eager to show their support:

Brittany is known amongst her friends as the Slam Queen.

Brendan is chief among her fans.

The three judges had widely divergent tastes, which is as it should be for a slam, as the judges are chosen more or less at random from the audience. Luckily, the poems themselves were widely divergent, which meant there was something for everyone!

In an unexpected but very welcome turn of events, performance poet Matt Day gave a fabulous rendition of Taylor Mali's "Political Poem". I'm hoping he keeps coming back to the slams, either to compete or as guest poet. Moreover, several poets in attendance indicated that, while exams and other pressures had precluded them from performing tonight, they intend to on the next slam, which is scheduled for June 30 at 6 p.m. (To keep up with the info, "like" the Poetry at Yours and Owls page on Facebook.)

Thanks to everyone who was there: poets, judges, audience, and the great guys at Owls!



The race is on!

We have until August 2 to encourage you all to support our opera-in-development, The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders. In an era where universities are slamming the doors shut on their music schools, where a search on the words "orchestra" and "crisis" yields over 13 million hits and "opera" and "crisis" nearly 40 million, where musicians are facing the monstrous choice of limiting access to music to the rich (through astronomical ticket prices) or not being able to make music at all — in such a time, is it not worth seeing if we can take art back into our own hands?

Take a stand for your own personal power to make, enable, and love art. Go to our project page at http://dancingmice.pozible.com, watch our video, read our project description, and if our opera is something you'd like to see happen, kick in a few bucks. We will be very grateful for your attention, for your support, and — most of all — for your courage in claiming your right to make art happen.



Opera! Opera for everybody! So much opera!

Well, I've hardly drawn breath since The Death of Albatross closed, and already I'm up to my earlobes in other projects.The poetry events at Yours and Owls have been tons of fun (the next one is a youth poetry evening on May 14 — hope you can be there!). The Ph.D. is proceeding apace.

But the big news is a couple of opera projects! The first, on July 7 and 8, is a night of opera favorites we're calling Opera at the Phoenix (because it's, like, opera, and it's at the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston, see?). A hefty serving of opera favorites, sung by some of Sydney's top young vocal stars (and even a guest appearance by Houston Dunleavy, who has many talents), will be followed by an intriguing re-envisaging of a swag of Händel arias staged as drama, and interspersed with a new poem cycle (which I blushingly own I have purpose-written for the piece). You are enthusiastically encouraged to come along, and to bring any music students you know. It's always a joy, and a vivid boost to a music student's learning, to see time-honored works performed live. Tickets are available right now at the Phoenix Theatre's booking page.

The second is exciting in a totally different way! Regular readers of this blog will recall that Houston and I have been collaborating for some time on an opera based on my story "The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders". And the time has now come to give it its first airing. On August 25, we will be presenting a concert performance (for those unfamiliar with the term, it means all the music, but not the costumes or staging) of the entire opera. We've cast three terrific singers for this phase of the project development, and we're getting some preliminary sketches in from the animator, as the complete production will involve a fair bit of multimedia. We're really excited about bringing people in to hear the work, as the reactions of an audience are absolutely crucial to making it the best it can be.

I need to add, though, that we need your help. We've set up a crowdfunding page for you to help us get the resources we need to stage this event. It goes live on Friday, so please go now and click "follow project", and when you get the word, head on over to the page and please help with what you can spare. Crowdfunding is an amazing idea: art, and the funding for art, are no longer controlled by the government or by the moneyed elites. Instead, as one crowdfunding entrepreneur has said, "If you change the question behind funding from 'Will this make money?' to just 'Do I want this to happen?' — a lot more things become possible."



Tonight's poetry reading

Tonight was the second of the poetry readings I've organized as Cafe Poet at Yours and Owls. It was a blast. There wasn't a huge crowd there, but the ones who were had amazing poetry and amazing stories, and everyone was interested in and respectful of everyone else's work, and as far as I could tell everyone had a good time.

There were older people and younger people (is it a sign of my own aging that they looked impossibly young?) and people in the middle. There were funny poems and sad poems and introspective poems. There was nice wine and nice beer and a nice place for the event (thanks, Balun and the rest of the crew at Owls!). And I felt glad that I could be with people who really care about the power of language to move and inspire and draw people closer.

How much better could life be? I got the chance to bring a bunch of poets together to cheer each other on and take joy in each other's work. I'm loving being a Cafe Poet.



What a day — Dancing Mice AND Cafe Poet

Wow. What a day, yesterday. First (after spending the morning working virtuously), I headed up to Sydney to meet with Houston and the tenor who has graciously agreed to be part of workshopping our opera, The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders. Okay, it's pretty intense to hear your words being spoken onstage. It's almost unbearably intense to hear them sung. By an opera singer. A really good opera singer, at pretty nearly full voice. I sat there, immobilized by both the horror of having the text — my text — so frighteningly, starkly exposed and the joy that someone so bloody good thought it worth his time and skill.

Luckily I had the trip back to Wollongong in which to recover, because it wasn't long before I was setting up at Yours and Owls for the first poetry reading I'd ever run. It was a themed night for science-fiction and fantasy poetry, and there were about 20 people there, which was great! The readings were fascinating and fun — many thanks to Kyla Ward, Leigh Blackmore, Margi Curtis, and Richard Harland!

Inspired by the readings, two people actually wrote poems as the event progressed. One read hers out, a really nice little piece involving fish and the desperate need for human communication; another handed me a scrap of paper at the end of the night with his poem on it. I asked him if I could blog it, and he said yes, so here it is:
What caused this curious happenstance;
Tell me, could it be, perchance
An alien message caused the spaceman's trance,
And caused the Martian folk to dance?

Or, could it be divinity
That bent their will and moved their feet?
The answer could quite prove to be
Elusive for eternity.
— Michael Hanney

The next poetry event I'm running at Yours and Owls is an open-theme open mic on April 23 (in honor of Shakespeare's birthday). Show up at 7:15 to put your name down if you want to read on the night!

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Why I am feeling loss, but it's okay

Well. Okay. Sunday was closing night for The Death of Albatross's Wollongong season. Intense. Exhilarating. Fabulously successful in so many, many ways (preliminary figures even suggest we made a modest profit).

But now...over. My wonderful actors and I have dispersed again to the four winds, on to other projects. The thrill of accomplishing of something glorious together, trusting each other utterly, giving an intricate and precious gift to the audience — here, we made this, it's for you — done.

After the mountaintop comes the desert, I guess. And I guess it has to be that way — if it were all mountaintop, how could we climb any higher? How could we know we yearned to?