28 September 2008

Self-Publishing: How Does It Stack Up for Authors?

The first two books I had a hand in were self-published. I edited two small anthologies, What on Earth (1992) and Electroplasm (1993), which contained stories and poems from the writers' group I belonged to in Dunedin - one of the writing groups to which there's a dedication in the front of Transported. Dan McCarthy designed and printed them, and we sold a decent number of copies of each - you can find them in some New Zealand libraries, and I still have a few copies of Electroplasm if anyone would like one.

My next three books, Boat People (poetry), Extreme Weather Events (short stories) and All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens (poetry), were published by Wellington small press publisher HeadworX - I say "small", but HeadworX publishes at least four books per year. My fantasy novel Anarya's Secret was published by RedBrick, a New Zealand games publisher, who publish the hardback and softback editions of their books via Lulu.com, which is a big self-publishing firm. And my short story collection Transported was published earlier this year by Vintage, an imprint of Random House New Zealand, a large New Zealand publisher.

So I've had experience with self-publishing, small press publishing, and large press publishing. The latter two haven't changed a lot since the early 1990s, but self-publishing certainly has. It used to be all about getting down and dirty and producing the book yourself, then selling it off to friends, family, and through the occasional bookshop that was willing to take a few copies on a sale-or-return basis.

Now there are companies that specialise in helping authors to self-publish, including the New Zealand-based BookHabit (which specialises in e-books) and PublishMe. PublishMe puts the pitch of the new self-publishers concisely:

The world of publishing is changing fast. Everyone is feeling it, from the authors through to the book stores. The age of Internet publishing has arrived and is redefining how written information is shared. Whilst such change is creating frustration and uncertainty it is also creating opportunities that have never been available so clearly before. One of these is the rise in the power of the author to become his or her own publisher.

That is the fundamental advantage that self-publishing offers to authors: there's no gatekeeper standing in the way. If you want your book to be published, it can be, without having to jump through the hurdles of acceptance by a traditional publishing company. And you no longer have to do all the scut work yourself: for a fee or a percentage, the self-publishing company will do it for you. They will even put you in touch with freelance editors, proofreaders and so forth. These roles are vital to ensure the quality of a book, but it's no longer only traditional publishing companies that can provide them (though, in my experience, publishing companies' editors do an excellent job).

Yet there is still one major hurdle to be surmounted, and I am not sure that self-publishing has cracked it. If you want people to buy your books (and some people are happy to offer them for free or a donation), then they have to be able to find out about them, and find them.

Traditional publishers have built up a sizeable infrastructure devoted to precisely this - a system involving advance review copies, promotional material, national and/or international distribution networks, and representatives who promote your book to bookshops. Despite claims that Amazon has revolutionised book publishing (note: article will open after an ad, which can be skipped), the traditional publishing industry makes a strong case that their approach still results in a better income for writers.

I have no ideological objection to self-publishing. But I am yet to be convinced that, except in rare "breakout" cases, it can reliably offer as much in the way of distribution, publicity, sales, and income for the writer as traditional publishing can.

Nevertheless, self-publishing has come a long way towards closing the gap on traditional publishing since the 1990s. In five or ten years' time, the current arguments against self-publishing may no longer apply.

What do you think?

24 September 2008

Boat People, my first poetry collection

Boat People is my first poetry collection. It was published in 2002 by HeadworX, the year after my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events. There are forty poems in Boat People. The book is divided into four sections. As the HeadworX publicity blurb says:

"Boat People" is in four sections. The first is inspired by the poet's childhood in Southland and adolescence in Otago. The second focuses on the Wellington region, and includes poems about the poet's experiences of fatherhood. Section III takes in Russia - Tim Jones speaks Russian and has a longstanding interest in the country - while Section IV journeys to the alternate world of time and space also depicted in "Extreme Weather Events".

A number of poems from Boat People dealing with parenting have already been posted on this blog. Here's one more poem from Boat People, a personal favourite.


A hard day's plotting gives a man a thirst.
For Lenin, it's something dark and strong,
a Black Mac for his blackest moods
Trotsky can't decide: maybe an Export
maybe something brewed with ice.

"V. I. -"
"Wait on, Leon, just the dregs to go." A pause,
the glug and swish of beer. "Aaah. That's better.
You were saying?"

Trotsky looks up, face serious
above a thin moustache of foam. "V. I.,
why don't we just take over?
The Tsar could never stop us. He's
still chugging Lion Red from cans."

It's settled. Trotsky will inspire the workers
Lenin will fuel the revolution
with crates of Lowenbrau
smuggled in from Zurich by sealed train

Drink deep, Leon. Bottoms up, Vladimir Illyich.
Life will never look this simple or this clear again.

Boat People
got some good reviews and I usually read a selection of poems from it when I do poetry readings. If you’d like a copy, you can order it from me for $5 plus postage & packing (in NZ, p&p will be $2, making a grand total of $7 for the book. I'll need to work out the postage & packing for other territories). Please send an email to senjmito@gmail.com saying you'd like a copy, and we'll take it from there.

UPDATE: One of the poems in Boat People, "Fallen", is appearing in Wildes Licht, ed Dieter Riemenschneider, an anthology of New Zealand poetry translated into German. It should be coming out in October.

21 September 2008

A Review, A Colony, A Competition, Several Genres, and a Beautiful Thing

Time for one of those posts that covers just about everything:

A new review of Transported

Rosemarie Smith has given a positive review in the Southland Times to my short story collection Transported (which you can buy online from Fishpond, New Zealand Books Abroad (for both overseas and New Zealand residents), or Whitcoulls). This former Southlander is pleased to see another good review of Transported in a South Island newspaper.

Wellington Writers' Colony several steps closer

I blogged a while back about Doug Wilkins and his plan to set up a Wellington Writers' Colony, modeled on the Sanchez Grotto Annex in San Francisco. Those plans are now several steps closer to fruition. Doug needs just one more writer on board to make the Colony a reality. I have now seen the space he's planning to use, and it is well-lit, stylish and comfy. If you would like your own dedicated writing space alongside a group of like-minded writers, then contact Doug at dbwilkins@gmail.com or 021-138-5050.

New Poetry Competition

Bookhabit.com and the New Zealand Poetry Society have jointly announced a new poetry competition, with prizes for poetry in both written and performance (audio or video) format. The competition begins on Monday 22 September and runs for six weeks, and the prizes on offer are attractive:


* 1st US$500, 2nd $200, 3rd $100 - each section
* Overall Winner $500
* All prizes in US Dollars.

Judged by the New Zealand Poetry Society

* People's Performance Choice $500 (Audio and Video section only-
awarded to the person delivering poem)

Judged by registered Bookhabit users

For the full entry conditions and other details, see http://www.bookhabit.com/competition/competition.php.

The Great Genre Debate Continues

The questions of genre which have been discussed on this blog by Johanna Knox and myself (here and here), plus plenty of commenters, are alive and well in the blogosphere. A couple of examples:

- Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Ford on why genre tags don't matter.
- Charlie Anders asks Do You Really Want Science Fiction Books To Be More Literary?

A Beautiful Thing

God-With-Us is Reginald Shepherd's last poem, written as he lay dying. It's a beautiful meditation on faith, belief and doubt. I think it might be the best poem I've read this year, and I have read some very, very good ones.

17 September 2008

Can Children's Literature Be 'Literary Fiction'? (A guest post by Johanna Knox)

Johanna Knox is a freelance writer and editor, occasional children's book reviewer, a home-schooling mother, and a committee member of the Wellington Children's Book Association. Johanna made such interesting comments on a previous post on this blog, Is Literary Fiction a Genre?, that I invited her to do a guest post expanding on the issues she raised there. Here it is!

Can children’s literature be ‘literary fiction’?

When Tim asked last month, ‘Is literary fiction a genre?’ I was interested in this assertion: ‘ … I think the most characteristic feature of literary fiction is the absence, or at least the downplaying, of plot, and of narrative in general.’

I wondered, where does that idea leave children’s literature, which generally places great emphasis on plot? Is there such a thing as children’s literary fiction, and if so, what does it look like?

US literary agent Nathan Bransford has come up with a slightly different definition of literary fiction, as opposed to commercial fiction, and blogged about it. He writes:

In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.

There are only a very few children’s books that can nestle completely happily into his definition of literary fiction. (Some books by Australian children’s author Ursula Dubosarsky, who came to Wellington for Writers and Readers Week, fit the bill. I can’t think of too many others.)

Those who work in children’s literature regularly come up against the inference that children’s writing is a lesser form of authorship. It doesn’t help that the mainstream media devotes so little space to children’s book reviews or interviews with children’s authors, and that when they do, the ‘author’ is often a celebrity who has dashed off a children’s book as a little sideline to their serious work in sport or politics or music – to the great irritation of bona fide children’s authors who have slogged away at their craft for years.

Is it, I wonder, all the above-surface plot in children’s books that gives it its inferior status? The assumption is that below-surface plot is much harder to write, as well as to appreciate.

In fact though, many great pieces of children’s literature work on both levels – there is a clear above-surface plot, but at the same time plenty more happening beneath that.

Recently I read two books about death and grief. One was Ali Smith’s Hotel World, a stunning work of literary fiction. The other was All the dear little animals – a picture book by Ulf Nilsson and illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated from Swedish and published by the amazing Gecko Press.

Hotel World is one of the most powerful books I have ever read, with plenty of compelling under–the-surface plot. The author takes death in her hands, and turns it over and over, obsessively studying it from every possible angle, peering closely at its every irregularity, trying to get at its truth, trying to inhabit it. In this way the narrative mimics an aspect of real-life grief. There is some above-surface plot too, but you are not swept along by it. It’s more like you are in a sea, grabbing bits of it as they float by.

All the dear little animals on the other hand has a straightforward above-surface plot, chronicling a day in the life of three children as they set up their own funeral business for ‘all the poor dead animals on earth’.

But there is so much going on below the surface in these 36 pages of text and illustration. Each of the three children is on their own journey to understand a little about death. There is black-coated Esther, the undertaker, with her seemingly unemotional fascination with the physicalities of death. She is joined by her little brother Puttie, all empathy, the trio’s ‘professional mourner’. And then there is their friend, the unnamed narrator of the book, a frightened funeral poet who needs to examine death through a filter of words.

Don’t each of these children live inside everyone?

Nathan Bransford does acknowledge books that contain plots both above and below the surface:

There's a reason there are genre busters like Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard, as well as the hybrid genre of commercial literary fiction. These novels tend to be told with more straightforward prose and are accessible, but they have a deeper emotional complexity. They fuse the out-in-the-world plotting of genre fiction with the in-the-mind plotting of literary fiction. The novels have traditional climaxes that also resolve the inner battles of their characters.

It makes me groan slightly that, seemingly, a whole new genre (‘commercial literary fiction’) needs to be invented every time a group of books don’t fit existing definitions, but that’s marketing for you I suppose. Or human nature. Or both.

I think, if we must categorise them, then All the dear little animals, and most other great works of children’s literature come close to Bransford’s idea of ‘commercial literary fiction’.

Just because there is a strong above-surface plot doesn’t mean there are not also all sorts of fascinating things going on down below. And if I was pushed to say which out of Hotel World or All the dear little animals I thought had more ‘literary merit’, well, shocking as it probably sounds to some, I’d have a hard job choosing one over the other.

14 September 2008

An Interview with Helen Lowe

Helen Lowe is a New Zealand poet and novelist. Her first young adult novel, Thornspell, has just been published by Knopf in the USA, and she has a further YA novel and a four-book series of adult fantasy novels accepted for publication in the US. I talked to Helen by email about her writing, her forthcoming books, and the process of getting published in the US.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Thornspell. What can you tell me about the book, and where can interested readers find out more information, and copies to buy?

Thornspell is a Children's/YA Fantasy fiction and at the most simplistic level it's a fairytale retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story – but that's where the resemblance to the traditional story pretty much ends, because Thornspell is all about the prince. In fact, that's where the story started for me –with the question (while at the ballet, Sleeping Beauty): "What about the prince?" Other questions quickly followed: 'What sort of person would he be?'; "Why would he even be bothered about some sleeping bint and an 100 year old spell?" And I had this mental 'flash' to a boy, around about eleven at that time, growing up in a small castle next to a mysterious and forbidden wood – and to his name, which was Sigismund and instantly linked me—and I hope the reader—into a world that is very 'Holy Roman Empire' in feel. But very soon after "what about the prince", a second set of questions arose: "What about the evil fairy? Would she have just been sitting around happily accepting that her death spell had been converted into the one hundred year sleep?" (I didn't think so, not if she was really wicked.) "And what was her real agenda?" Those two sets of questions were the beginning of Thornspell and the rest evolved from there and very much in the style of the Fantasy fiction I like, which is plenty of adventure, plenty of mystery and plenty of magic.

In terms of more information, I have an "official" website, http://www.thornspell.info, where visitors can read a synopsis and the first chapter of the book (or download it in pdf format). I have also taken the images from the cover and made them all (double)"clickable", taking the site visitor to a quote that is relevant to that character or image. The Thornspell site also links (through "About Helen Lowe") to http://www.helenlowe.info, which contains information about my other books as well as my short fiction and poetry.

RandomHouse USA have arranged for the distribution of Thornspell in Australia and NZ and it should be available in bookshops here from early October - Madras Café Bookshop here in Christchurch already have it featured on their electronic catalogue.

You're following up Thornspell with an adult fantasy series – four books. How far through writing these are you, and is everything that remains to be written carefully mapped out?

Actually, I'm following Thornspell with another Children's /YA fantasy, working title YRTH, and have just finished the first draft. Like Thornspell, YRTH is a standalone book but it is not a sequel—it is a new story set in a completely different world. The broad synopsis is at http://www.helenlowe.info/yrth.html.

But I will have to get into THE WALL OF NIGHT (WALL), the 4 book adult series, as soon as YRTH is done. I have written the first book in the series (titled WALL, too) and am about a third of the way through the second book—but because it is a series I did a detailed outline to show potential publishers that I knew how the story would play out. I think the writing will pretty much follow that story arc, but I am also quite an organic writer so things may change as I go along—they have with both Thornspell and YRTH—although I always seem to start and finish as originally envisaged.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the setting and storyline of that series?

At face value, I would describe WALL as classic epic fantasy—with forces of good and evil, action and alarms, swordplay and sorcery, set in the alternate fantasy world of Haarth and on the bleak and wind blasted Wall of Night itself. But within that framework, WALL examines the themes of good versus evil in the context of a society that believes it champions good and yet is divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear. It also explores the consequences of the cataclysmic arrival of two alien and warring cultures on another world, both in physical and cultural terms. The central purpose of the overall story, as told through the four books, is to force the protagonists to examine their understanding of the nature of good and evil, both in their own society as well as that of their enemy. Given this, you won't be surprised if I tell you that it is as much character as plot driven—although I think that this kind of story needs a strong plot structure—and also explores a number of different landscapes and cultures as part of the story setting. My favourite, beside the Wall itself? Possibly the city state of Ij—but then there's also the Emerian knights . . . Oh yes, and there's a great map as well (drawn up from the hieroglyphics I fondly refer to as "drawing") by my friend Peter Fitzpatrick, which can be seen (although only in small scale at this stage) on the Wall of Night page at http://www.helenlowe.info/wallofnight.html

I first came across your work when editing JAAM 26, and I was struck by the expert use of classical themes in both your fiction and your poetry. It’s clearly a period you have a deep knowledge of. Where did this interest start, and does it underpin all your writing?

It began when I was 8 years old and my teacher had a poster of the 12 Olympian gods up on her classroom wall. I loved that poster and it inspired me to read every book I could find on the Greek myths and legends, including junior versions of the Iliad and Odyssey (I read the real thing later, but I was only little back then!). From there I progressed to Norse, Celtic and Egyptian myths, folktales and legends, amongst others—but also to the history of the ancient Greek era, including both the archaic and 5th century BC periods, and of course, Alexander the Great. I've also read a fair bit about the Roman Empire at different periods, but the Greek era, including its literature and philosophy is my first love. The stories and poetry just come out of that, and so—I suspect—does the Fantasy fiction.

Who are your favourite writers, both novelists and poets?

Ah, the pressure of the favourites! There are so many! But books I have loved, besides all those collections of myths and legends . . . well, I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about that time, as well, and I really loved it. The Lord of the Rings (of course) and Dune was also formative about the same time (my early teens). I've always loved Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy and also The Left Hand of Darkness and sticking with SciFi-fantasy, I also rate Patricia McKillip's Riddle Master of Hed trilogy and CJ Cherryh's Downbelow Station. (And, and … McKinley, Pullman, Wynne Jones, Pierce, George RR Martin, Erikson . . . and . . . )

I have just realised that you said "novelists" and not "books" but I'll stick with the books for the moment: Mary Renault's 5th century BC Athenian "trilogy" (The Praise Singer / The Last of the Wine/ The Mask of Apollo) and Gillian Bradshaw's "The Beacon at Alexandria" (amongst her others). And I always have to include Pride & Prejudice, Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. In terms of NZ writers, I read Witi Ihimaera (Whanau) when I was living overseas and it was the first time I had ever read a NZ novel where I thought, yes, I'm home . . . I also like Patricia Grace and Fiona Farrell and I loved The Bone People . . . and yes (defiantly) I rate Mansfield: I still think Miss Brill might be my personal 'best ever' short story. Having said that, I couldn't put Charlotte Grimshaw's Opportunity collection down either.

But I think I've really run out of room for poets—because the list is pretty much as long again!

I suppose the question every writer will want me to ask is: how did you go about getting a US agent?

I used the web, by looking at writers I thought had written books of like kind to Thornspell, eg YA Fantasy, fairy tale retellings etc and tried to find out who their agents were—and several of the arrows (eg Pullman, Paolini, McKinley, Lisle) led me to Writers House in NY. After that I just followed the guidelines in their FAQ to the letter, eg inquiry letter & synopsis first, then first 3 chapters on request, then full manuscript etc. I also addressed my letter to 1 person (rather than sending to all the agents at once as I understand some writers do) which I found out later was a "good thing" as Writers House do circulate the queries around the different agents and their assistants anyway. As it happened, I wrote to the "wrong" person, in that this was an agent who represented YA, but not Fantasy, but her assistant screened to first 3 chapters level and then circulated to another agent (Robin) who did look after Fantasy. And first Beth, Robin's assistant, and then Robin herself, liked Thornspell straight off, so I guess I was lucky in that respect.

You are in the unusual position (at least among writers of my acquaintance) of being contracted four books ahead of the book that’s about to be released. Does that free you from a lot of the pressure felt by writers who need a success with their current book to make sure the next one gets published, or does it create its own pressures?

I think it creates its own pressures, because for the first time I am writing to external deadlines, and I am a bit of a perfectionist so I want to get the story 'right' to my satisfaction before putting it "out there" … but it is nice to have the contracts there. But I also think that it's important to remember that WALL is a 4 book series, and not 4 standalones, so it is logical that the publisher would want to contract all 4 ahead and protect their investment in the first book, since they are taking on the upfront work of bringing out a new author.

Will you be hitting the science fiction convention circuit to promote your books? If so, can we hope to see you as a guest at forthcoming New Zealand conventions?

Well, I have joined SFFANZ and it would be fun to get along to their next convention in any case, as well as being very keen to do all that I can to promote my books. And I understand that Worldcon will be in Melbourne in a few years and that is not so very far away distance-wise, but as with all these things it comes down to timing (re events and promotions) and available funds at the time. But I would love to 'be there' whenever I can. As for attending as a guest, well, first I would have to be invited (!) :-)

A tough one to end on: if you had to choose three words to describe your writing, what would they be?

Hmm, that is tough … three words … (ok, I borrow from my initial reviews): authentic, rich, human.

10 September 2008

Extreme Weather Events, my first short story collection

Extreme Weather Events was my first short story collection. It was published in 2001 by HeadworX, as part of their now-discontinued Pocket Fiction Series. There are twelve stories in Extreme Weather Events:

Maria and the Tree
Wintering Over
The New Land
The Kiwi Contingent
My Friend the Volcano
The Pole
The Lizard
Tour Party, Late Afternoon
Black Box
The Man Who Loved Maps
The Temple in the Matrix

To introduce a few, “Wintering Over” is set in Antarctica, where an isolated scientific party has an unusual visitor from the past: Titus Oates, that very gallant colleague of Captain Scott who went for a walk, and proved to be quite some time indeed. “The Pole”, also set in Antarctica, rewrites the struggle to be first to the South Pole. “Black Box” sees strange developments on the Wellington skyline, while “My Friend the Volcano” blows her top in Taranaki.

"Flensing" and "The Lizard" are pretty much the only two horror stories I’ve ever written. "Flensing" is set in South Georgia, which gives it a slight edge, I think. And "The Temple in the Matrix" pokes a few toes into the interstitial pond in a Bill-Gibson-meets-HP-Lovecraft-uptown kind of way.

The book got some good reviews and I still come across satisfyingly dog-eared copies in public libraries. If you’d like a copy, you can order it from me for $5 plus postage & packing (in NZ, p&p will be $2, making a grand total of $7 for the book. I'll need to work out the postage & packing for other territories). Please send an email to senjmito@gmail.com saying you'd like a copy, and we'll take it from there.

08 September 2008

JAAM 26 update

For anyone, contributor or otherwise, who's been wondering, the production of issue 26 of JAAM magazine, which I guest-edited, is coming along nicely: I have just finished checking the final proofs of the issue, and once corrections have been made and the cover finalised, then it will be printing time. So there's not too much longer to wait before JAAM 26 is available.

One of the poets with work in JAAM 26 is Harvey Molloy, and you are invited to the launch of his poetry collection Moonshot on Wednesday 24 September in Wellington.

07 September 2008

The New Land

This 800-word story appears in my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events (HeadworX, 2001).

The new land was discovered on a Thursday. The Prime Minister addressed the nation. "It's large," she said, "and damp, and all ours." She announced that an expedition was already nearing its northern shores.

The expedition waded ashore and raised the flag in a moving ceremony. The new land was covered in seaweed, mud, and the carcasses of fish. It had a distinctive smell.

The discovery of the new land had significant implications for public policy. An inter-departmental working party was set up, with representatives from all affected Crown entities. Change agents were brought in to build a team culture that would be open, proactive, and outcomes-focused.

The Government welcomed tangata whenua participation. Several tribes had fished in the seas displaced by the new land, and consultative hui were quickly arranged. The participation of the Maori Fisheries Commission Te Ohu Kai Moana, and other stakeholders in the quota allocation process, was subject to pending High Court action.

With the cooperation of public and private service providers, an intensive effort began to map the new land. Global Positioning System data revealed that it had a total surface area of 387 ± 2.5 square kilometres, based on best practice assessments. The majority of the new land was only a few metres above sea level, but there was a gradual rise towards a prominent elevation in the southwestern quadrant, which satellite measurements revealed to be some sixty metres in height. A more accurate figure awaited the arrival of a ground party, which promptly left from Base Camp One.

Together with the composition of the All Black midfield, the new land was the prime topic of conversation over the weekend. Callers to talkback radio were unsure of its potential usefulness, but a prominent life sciences company suggested that it would make an ideal testbed for experiments in plant biotechnology.

On Sunday, the nation was treated to live reports from the party sent to investigate the southwestern elevation. The gradual rise previously reported was crowned by a rocky hill, atop which were strewn large blocks of grey stone. The superficial resemblance of these blocks to construction materials excited worldwide interest. Both print and electronic media carried a number of ill-considered and poorly researched stories making allusions to Atlantis, Mu, and/or Lemuria. The Skeptics Society responded with a strongly-worded statement.

The Government acted decisively to quell speculation. An exclusion zone, to be patrolled by all three services, was established around the hill in question. Any party wishing to land in the area was required to have government permission and pay a substantial fee. It was announced that samples from the quarantine zone would be sent to leading overseas laboratories for analysis, and that results were expected in six to eight weeks.

Sharemarket reaction, which had been muted the previous week, was strongly positive when trading opened on Monday, with the tourism, energy, and telecommunications sectors especially buoyant. Fishing industry shares suffered reverses, however, with analysts pointing to the loss of valuable fishing grounds and the uncertain future of several joint venture arrangements.

Other developments on Monday were primarily institutional in character. The Prime Minister announced that a naming rights sponsor was being sought for the new land. Major corporates, breweries, and communications companies had already expressed interest. On a less positive note, plans by the Tourism Board to brand the new land as an eco-tourism destination came under sustained criticism by environmental groups.

To widespread surprise, the new land slipped beneath the sea just after 5am on Tuesday. Loss of life was averted save for two adventurers who had illegally entered the exclusion zone earlier that night to explore the southwestern elevation. Their Zodiac pilot, who escaped, returned with lurid tales of strange lights in the sky and unearthly noises beneath the hill. These accounts were not corroborated, and the Zodiac pilot was subsequently deported to an undisclosed location.

A planned debate on the new land went ahead when Parliament resumed sitting that afternoon, but its character was much altered. The Prime Minister was put on the defensive by persistent questioning and responded with a blistering attack on the Leader of the Opposition. The disappearance was made worse for the Government because subsequent polling showed that the new land had been especially popular in the key North Island 18-45 male demographic.

After a week in which the new land showed no sign of reappearing, the inter-departmental working party was disbanded and the consultative hui cancelled. Fish stocks over the area were reported to be severely depleted, and the fishing industry pressed the Government for a compensation package. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research was commissioned to conduct a bathymetric survey of the newly-restored sea floor.

The new land is commemorated by two Top 20 singles, an "Assignment" documentary, and a projected TV mini-series which has yet to receive New Zealand On Air funding. A leading authority on the uncanny, now hard at work on a book about the new land, has promised to reveal a scandalous cover-up of dramatic new evidence concerning humanity's place in the Universe. If these claims are substantiated, they may yet revive public interest in the matter.

04 September 2008

Completed Events, Current Favourites and Coming Attractions

Completed Events

The 2008 HeadworX/ESAW Winter Readings Series finished on Wednesday night with another good session, the highlight of which for me was hearing Marilyn Duckworth read her poetry. I knew of her abilities as a novelist, but as this session made clear, she's a fine poet as well. All the other poets taking part - Bill Dacker, Michael O'Leary (launching his new collection Paneta Street) and Marilyn Duckworth and Nelson Wattie reading from the new collection of love poems by Meg and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell - were fine as well, and the night concluded with an audience sing-along to a mashup of the Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "Hey Jude", then copious and well-merited thanks to all those who have contributed to the continuing success of the series.

New Zealand Book Month was launched last Sunday (I attended the launch as a volunteer - I'm not sure I contributed much, but I had some lovely conversations), and the authors selected for inclusion in The Six Pack Three were announced: Sue Wootton, Marisa Maepu, Ian Mackenzie, David Geary, Aroha Harris, and Kate Duignan. Congratulations to them all!

Current Favourites

As a followup to The Good Book Guide's article on the author photos taken by renowned photographer Miriam Berkley comes another testament to her work, and to the power of the author photo.

Also at The Good Books Guide is this powerful article on the uses of fiction by Preeta Samarasan.

Perhaps I shouldn't call it a "current favourite", since I haven't read it yet, but I am looking forward to reading The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman, who runs The Short Review. (It's published by Salt Publishing, and should become available in this corner of the world in due course.) As a connoisseur of genre distinctions, who has the countervailing desire to obliterate those distinctions, I am especially intrigued by the distinction she draws between "science fiction" and "science-inspired fiction".

Coming Attractions

I don't really have a plan for this blog, other than a rough rule of thumb that about half the posts should be about my writing, and half about other people's. All the same, over the next six weeks or so, I expect to bring you:

  • Three interviews with New Zealand authors, all of whom have, or have just had, books being published.
  • This blog's first guest post.
  • A tantalising peek at my tastes in music. (Note: the definition of "tantalising" may vary according to the perspective of the observer.)
  • A little literary archaeology: I've written and edited other books besides the three featured here so far. Come with me back, baaack to where it all began!
  • A post about how various leading fantasy writers have handled theological issues in their work - to wit, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. This was sparked off by a comment from Mike Crowl on my earlier post, Is Literary Fiction a Genre?.

And finally ...

Another good review of Transported! This one's by Mike Crowl, and I found it on bookstove.com (not sure whether it started life there, or comes from somewhere else). Mike says:

Tim Jones' Transported is a pleasant surprise. None of the tales have that kind of super-seriousness about them that's typical of NZ short stories. Instead, they're an intriguing mix of tongue-in-cheek, subtle humour, history turned inside out, and sci-fi.

There's more in the full review on Bookstove.