This Thursday, despite a very serious sleepiness issue and general work malaise I dragged myself, or rather, Lee dragged me out to the Southern Cross where we met up with Sally and ate dinner. Then Lee went to his rehearsal for Ophelia Thinks Harder (he’s playing Horatio) and Sally, Em and I went to Fantastic Voyages, a talk/panel/discussion about Speculative Fiction.
On the panel were Tim Jones and Helen Lowe. It was chaired by Lynn Freeman who does the arts on Sunday programme for National Radio.
If you are interested, the whole thing was recorded so you can listen to it from here.
My highlights of the evening include coming away with a reading list* and new books, but it was also a very inspiring and in a way, comforting night. I say comforting because a couple of things I have learned over the years about writing and publishing were reiterated. For example Tim’s story about how he was initially skeptical about how you should get whatever exposure you can (even if you’re not paid for it) and then being invited to contribute to an anthology after a story of his was read off a blog. Also Helen’s answer to how she got published in the States “Persistence!”
There was a lot of discussion about what Speculative fiction really is, and I’m not sure I came away with a solid definition. It covers sci-fi and fantasy and also magic realism and sometimes horror. I personally am not too fussed about the exact definition though, I just know what I like and I like a lot of spec fic!
Lots of discussion about the blurring of the line between spec fic and literary fiction. There is a notion that literary fiction is ‘greater’ or ‘better’ than spec fic and also easier to sell. Tim Jones related how he was asked to write some more general literary fiction to pad out his collection ‘Transported’, for example.
Helen talked a bit about cracking into the American market and recommended finding people who write stuff that is similar to yours and then finding out who their agents are. Chances are that they will be more likely to be interested in your work and then consider representing you. She also mentioned checking out agency FAQs and actually following their submission guidelines, which seems obvious but apparently isn’t actually done that often.
Helen’s advice on getting your first novel published was that it does help to have a track record, like short stories in magazines, articles already published, but that ultimately it will stand and fall on the quality of your novel. If the novel is good enough then it won’t matter if you’ve not been published before.
I am inspired to start buying and reading literary magazines so that I have an idea of the kinds of things they publish. That way I can start submitting things to them. I was interested to know that I’m not alone in my way of thinking about writing. Both authors mentioned that they can’t write short stories at the same time that they are writing a novel. I have experienced that same thing. I have to be in a clear headspace, which I’m not if I have a novel boiling away. I can’t do it at the moment because my head is trying to work through the problems I created in Kiki by removing all the stuff that shows Kiki’s powers growing.
Aside from the formal talk there were books for sale that you could then get signed and people to meet. Sally knew a bunch of people there, and introduced me around which was lovely. Everyone was very friendly and encouraging when Sally mentioned I’d just been published for the first time. Then when I went to get my new copy of Transported signed I was surprised and pleased that Tim recognised me! Good old photo avatars on blogs and twitter eh? He already knew how I spell Jenni. I felt very flattered indeed and had a nice chat to him.
I also got a copy of Thornspell signed and talked to Helen a bit about What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Can’t wait to get into Thornspell, it’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the prince’s point of view.
I walked home with a glow of happiness, encouragement that I am already doing the right things and a new flame of hope for the future. New Zealand’s writer community, or at least, the little bit I was introduced to on Thursday, appears to be a charming, close and welcoming one.
Gene Wolfe’s new sun series
(I was reminded that I want to read Feed by M. T. Anderson again because it has the best slow reveal of the world that I have read.)
Stuff by Margaret Atwood, since I haven’t read anything of hers.
The Road by Cormac MCarthy
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This post is part of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.