Fantastic Voyages – Speculative Fiction Blogging Week

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.

*Reading List:
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.

8 thoughts on “Fantastic Voyages – Speculative Fiction Blogging Week

  1. Jenni,
    Thanks for this. I couldn’t get to the event from Christchurch and my sound is out on the computer so I haven’t been able to listen to the recorging Anna made. It made my day to read your recap.

    If you’re interested in receiveing The SpecFicNZ newsletter, just leave let me know via e-mail.

    Cheers,
    Ripley

  2. I wrote a short story today after writing 650 words on my current YA novel. I found it to be a refreshing change (and managed to get 1500 words out in one sitting). It was part of a kiwiwriters.org challenge (zing thing).

    I think because I’m taking my time with the writing of my current novel I’m open to short, fun writing on the side. The Event has been awesome and has generally increased my writing genki rather than distracted me from novel writing.

    That said, I don’t think I would have entertained the idea of distractions during kiwinowrimo when I was writing Camera Shy. Too much urgency and deadlininess to go off on tangents!

  3. Thanks a lot for writing this report, Jenni – it was great to read. Lynn, Helen and I met on the morning of the event and agreed that we wanted to emphasise how much we enjoyed writing speculative fiction; it’s easy for writers (well, me anyway) to get bogged down in moaning about the various things that can and do go wrong in the book business, and I’m glad that we conveyed a positive and encouraging message – in which the enthusiasm of our audience was a great help.

    On the short story/novel split, I had a deadline to meet for a short story anthology a couple of months back, while I was working on my current novel, and I found that I had to take a deliberate break from the novel to write the story. This division doesn’t apply to poetry, however – I could happily spend part of my writing time each day on fiction and part on poetry, except that my word-count for the novel would suffer!

  4. I like this report of the spec. fic. do with Tim and Helen (I’ve met Tim, but not Helen.) You have a fresh and direct way of reporting which is nice to read. Good luck with your writing!

  5. I was disappointed not to make it, but I went home from work sick on Thursday and it completely slipped my mind.

    I’ll check out the audio link, even though it’s nothing like being there and meeting people.

    I did get my post in before various ills took me down – a bio piece on Hugh Cook – but time pressures prevented me from writing any more posts for NZ Spec Fic Week. Seems to have had a great turnout, however.

    I’m the same – I can write short fiction only in between novel projects. Now the time has come to focus on the next step – the market. That’s where community really matters, and this whole week has just been a huge kick in the pants for my own networking. I didn’t realise there were so many keen spec fic writers in NZ, out there getting published and making it work.

    thanks for the run-down Jenni. I’m sorry I missed it. Catch you soon.

  6. Hi Jenni,

    Thanks for coming along to the event despite the malaise–I am glad you got some inspiration from it. In terms of reading Atwood, I would start with The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a spec fic classic in my view (if not Atwood’s [grins!] )

  7. Pingback: Fantastic Voyages: Credits, Thanks and Podcast - Books On About Book Reviews Novels Mags Comics - Books On About Book Reviews

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