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August 6th, 2011

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I'm doing a series of short interviews over at my wordpress page, asking writers to talk to me about what sparked the story.

So far: John Shirley, Gary McMahon, Jeffrey Ford, Ben Peek and Angela Slatter.

I'm loving these.

August 2nd, 2011

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This is a fundraiser to get  charlesatan   to World Fantasy. Charles is a tireless support of the speculative fiction world as a reader, reviewer, writer, and much, much more. It would be wonderful for him to meet some of the people he knows so well online. He's up for a World Fantasy Award.

July 29th, 2011

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The busker at my local shops sang a lively sounding song to a toddler, who danced, bopping his tiny head from side to side, hopping from foot to foot.

The busker bounced his head, too, like a Wiggle, and I thought he must be singing "Big Red Car" or something, as buskers do when kids are watching.

As I got closer, I realised it was this song from The Smiths. I got the giggles as he sang breezily, "To die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine!"

The kid didn't care. All he heard was the bouncy music.

July 23rd, 2011

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Sunday at Readercon.

A wind-down day. I had a panel at noon, "How I Wrote Walking the Tree". I'd prepared quite well but felt nervous about filling an hour.

The show before hand was the Shirley Jackson Awards, with surprise visit by Neil Gaiman. I snuck out a few minutes early to prepare.

Two highly intelligent people came to my panel, and at ten past the hour I made the decision that the three of us should go to the bar for lunch and talk there. Was a wonderful idea and we spent about 90 minutes talking about writing, life, difficulties and many other things. Thanks, April and Ben! Ben Loory has his short story collection coming out through Penguin, "Stories for Night time and Some for the Day" and has been published in the New Yorker!!!! I'd add, the bastard, to that, but he's such a nice guy!

Lots of goodbyes then. Who doesn't hate goodbyes? Most people say, "See you next year" but I'm not sure I'll be back next year. It's so far, so expensive...but it was worth every cent and every bit of travel-pain. I made new friends, laughed solid for three days, learned things, gained books, met authors I've long admired.

Grace and I considered going into Boston for dinner, but the idea of a $65 taxi ride each way put us off. Luckily, the Canadians were hanging around! I joined Brett Savory, Sandra Kasturi and Bob Boyzuck at the bar, along with Jack Haringa. This was my first chance to chat with Jack, and it was a good one. We talked about the logics of POV of characters who turn out to be dead by the end of the book, and about novels good and bad.

More goodbyes, then beer in room 258. Strangely, it was 658 the night before where we had been summarily rejected, so I felt a bit spun out. It wasn't all the beer. It was the numbers.

Then dinner at Legal Lobster. Yep, a chain of restaurants called Legal Lobster. A hilarious, hilarious meal. I ate more chowder. Actually, it was lobster bisque this time. Sandra and Grace had the Lobster Feast, which was bloody enormous. A whole flippin' lobster!!! Seriously. But no mornay sauce. For me, the whole point of lobster is the mornay sauce. Bob had a salad which apparently was so newsworthy Brett blogged it instantly.

Book haul:
Ted Chiang: Stories of My Life
Chesya Burke: Let's Play White. Laird Barron raved about this collection and it was number one on my list to pick up. First story is chilingly good; haven't read beyond yet!
Paul Tremblay: In the Meantime, from Chizine. These guys produce gorgeous books; the last one I bought from them was David Nickle's Eutopia. In the Meantime: again, I've only read the first story so far, but it brought tears to my eyes while I was sitting in the mall eating miso soup. That's how good it was.
Joan Aiken: The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories.
Jennifer Stevenson: Trash Sex Magic
Julia Holmes: Meeks
Kelly Link: Stranger Things Happen. Brilliant, brilliant writer.
Karen Joy Fowler: What I Didn't See
Karen Lord: Redemption in Indigo. So many Karens. This is why I changed the spelling of my name.
Ray Vukcevich: Meet Me in the Moon Room. Only read one story by Ray, loved it very much. So very excited about this collection from Small Beer Press.
Elizabeth Hand: Generation Loss. Brilliant writer. Looking forward to this.

And my suitcase was still under the limit! Shows how many pressies I brought over with me to hand out!

I will draw a veil over my journey home. Suffice to say, I left the hotel at 9am Monday morning, and 40 hours later I walked in my own front door.

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Saturday at Readercon.

This was my busiest day. At noon, Claude Lalumiere and I sat in the dealers' room to sign. I brought Caramello Koalas and my very super homemade bookmarks. Russ Farr had sent, via the generous ellen_datlow , four copies of Dead Sea Fruit, and I'd lugged two copies each of my novels. It felt amazing to sit at a table with four books to sell.

Claude and I had a great talk and we both signed enough books to make it worthwhile. I signed quite a lot of Year's Bests, Haunted Legends, Exotic Gothic 3s and others. I love signing these books. It takes me back to the writing of the story, to the moment of sale, and the moment when I receive my author's copy.

Afterwards, I read my story "All You Can Do is Breathe", from Datlow's 'Blood and Other Cravings'. I'd cut it down by a few paragraphs and really practiced it, because I wanted to finish reading the whole thing in the allotted time.

It's a good story  to read aloud, and the audience tell me they enjoyed it. I enjoyed the reading of it and will definitely practice in the future; it helped modulate my voice and I didn't run out of breath at the end.

Kelly Link, whose writes incredible stories, was so generous; she took the remaining few of my books, some for the Small Beer Press table, some for herself. She gave me a stack of books to read, including her own 'Stranger Things Happen'. I'll do a full book list on the Sunday post.

Drinks in the bar with Jeff Ford, Robert and Gwen Killheffer and more. I handed out Caramello Koalas which caused much hilarity. I practised my American to order Harp beer otherwise the barman couldn't understand me.

Then out to dinner with Faye Ringel and her crew. Faye is such a generous, open soul she attracts people in a swirl. She was a Jeopardy five time champion! Company was excellent, but the food was awful, I'm sorry to say. I ordered a Mussuman Beef, which should be this Rick Stein recipe, all slow-cooked chunks of beef, soft potato and wonderful sauce. Instead, it was tough, thin beef and an absolute mound of sweet potato and carrot, both firm to the bite. Ugh. I felt like an ugly Australian, saying, "This isn't how they make it in my country" but I love Mussuman Beef and this was very disappointing!

My panel late on Saturday evening was much improved by the presence of Theodora Goss, who has the most delightful book coming out from Quirk Press. The panel was about the journey, and home, and why fantasy novels focus on the latter, but really we spent the whole talking about what home is, which didn't really answer much at all.

Then it was party time. Word was that the sixth floor was the party floor, but not much was happening! The one door we knocked at, we were given very short shrift by a very surprised person. Luckily the very organsied Robert KillHeffer had done a liquour store run (including cider for me, which was very kind) and we found a venue, found more people, and had a room party ourselves. Grace and I lasted till about 1am before staggering off to our room.

July 22nd, 2011

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Friday at Readercon.

I never eat much for breakfast, so cappuccino (I do like Starbucks in the States) and a bagel in the foyer, with free wifi and lots of people to talk to, was the perfect start to each Readercon day.

Top on my list of things to do was to hear Gemma Files read. I love her fiction; it's so relentless, so honest, so disturbing. She read very well (though ran out of time, causing me to go back to the room and cut paragraphs from the story I was going to read) and we managed a quick coffee in the foyer. I couldn't get the hang of the coffee cup and spilled burning hot coffee all over myself, but I was so interested in talking to Gemma I barely noticed.

In the afternoon I had my first panel, about myth, religion and misappropriation. The audience is always packed for these panels, because they're hoping to witness a fight, and they got a version of one. It's a tricky subject, which brings out the passion on either side. In the end we did have an interesting discussion about religion and why you might use it, and also about what the aim of a writer should be. Should it be to shock, or to offend, or to be respectful?

My roomie Grace Dugan arrived soon after, so there were two Australians in the hotel. We had dinner in the hotel with ellen_datlow , Jeff Ford and Gwen and Robert Killheffer. It was a really good meal, the first solid one I'd had in a couple of days, and the conversation was hilarious, interesting and all sorts of good stuff.

After this was the intriguing Meet the Prose gathering. Gwen and Robert guided me through this, for which I'm very grateful. We all received a sheet of stickers with a single sentence of our own writing. We'd chosen this sentence when we filled out the programme. Then we wandered the large room, swapping sentences with each other.

It was fun. People made crazy paragraphs, and stuck stickers in odd places. I thought I'd be funny and stick mine to my handbag; this was a mistake, because I'm still scratching sticky gunk off it. It's a brilliant ice-breaker and the room buzzed with conversation.

Later, I ended up in a room party with very, very funny people like Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory. At 2am I forced myself away, knowing I had work to do the next day.

July 21st, 2011

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I'm up early after a very good sleep. Hopefully body clock will let me feel a bit more awake today. I'm sitting here listening to a rat in the roof. We thought it was a possum but it's a rat. That gives you an indication of how big this thing must be. I had hoped it would be gone by the time I got home but no such luck.

On Thursday we arrived in Burlington, MA, after a lovely drive through Connecticut and Massachusetts. Lots of talking and laughing on the way. As soon as we entered the hotel, a sense of excitement descended. There were Readercon people everywhere, and some of them I knew. People called the foyer of the hotel the gauntlet, because it always took ages to get from one end to the other, stopping to chat with friends.

I checked into my room and felt tempted to just stay there. It was airy, there was a big TV, I was tired...but I didn't. Ellen Datlow had organised a reading of her new anthology Naked City in Cambridge, and I'd scored myself a ride there and didn't want to miss out.

Ellen and I sat in the back seat of David Riviera's car, with Matt Kressel riding shotgun and holding onto the GPS. There was a lot of traffic but we made it eventually. Was a good chance for Ellen and I to catch up on things after our trip in Western Australia together.

I saw the fashion outlet that carries the Karen Warren Clothing line but it was closed! I would have liked the circular self-referential vortex caused by trying on Karen Warren clothes.

The reading was fab: Kit Reed,Jeff Ford, Matt Kressel, Ellen Kushner, John Crowley and Caitlin Kiernan all performed their stories well. Jeff Ford's story makes me feel as if I've accidentally eaten a spider.

Afterwards we ate at a mediocre pub across the road, but I got to talk to Kit Reed, a brilliant and inspirational writer. Then back to the hotel, where I was so cold and tired I climbed into bed and watched crime TV. That was a kind of bliss!

I do wish that rat would stop scratching.

July 20th, 2011

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I failed completely in my intention to blog while I was away. But I can blog now. I also failed in my intention to take photos; I didn't take a single one. Pathetic. I am no chronicler.

Wednesday the 13th I boarded Amtrak for Mystic, Connecticut. I adore train travel. My fantasy is to be wealthy enough to own and live aboard a moving train. This one was smooth and I made myself hungry watching all the crab shacks alongside the cracks. This would be the beginning of my all chowder, all the time eating extravaganza.

I did my radio interview onboard the train. Luckily I had nobody sitting next to me at the time or I might have felt inclined to whisper.

negothick met me at the station, in one of those wonderful moments where plans work out. We ate near the historic Mystic drawbridge, then walked to Bank Square Books, via a very crabby icecream lady.

Bank Square books had a table set up with my three novels. It was such a thrill to see my reading table like that. Faye and a friend of hers kept me company, and I sold about a half dozen books. Lots of interesting customers came through, including a steampunk jewellery artist and a woman about to have her own first book published.

The evening was spent at Otis Library in Norwich, CT. The audience was interested and asked lots of questions. I spoke about my writing career, how I write, what I write. Afterwards, a tasty Asian meal.

The next morning we collected a car full of people and headed of to Burlington, Mass. for Readercon.

July 12th, 2011

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I have a radio interview coming up with Stu Bryer for Norwich Radio Station WIXH 1310.

When preparing for this, I made a list, as I always do, of influential writers. My mind always goes blank when someone asks me, so I always have this emergency list close by when I think there's a chance I'll be asked the question.

One writer who is always on the list is John Shirley. I read his collection Heatseeker soon after it came out in 1989. I wasn't published then; in fact, I wasn't sure I could be a writer at all at that stage of my life. I'd written plenty, but I wasn't sure if the strange way I wrote, the awful things I wrote about, would find readers.

Reading Heatseeker, which is vicious, brilliant, brave and unrelenting in every story, inspired me to keep going. It made me realise I didn't have to write easy fiction.

So when I was offered the opportunity to ask John Shirley some questions, I realised I had only one. The answer Shirley gave inspired me all over again.

My question: I’m fascinated by the ‘spark’ that starts stories, and will sometimes try to pinpoint this in other people’s stories.

The stories in ‘Heatseeker’, which I read during my formative years as a writer, have so much heart, guts and anger to them.

I’d love to know what the ‘spark’ was in these stories. What set them off? I’m particularly interested in the brilliant "What Cindy Saw", "Sleepwalkers" and "Six Kinds of Darkness".

John Shirley's answer:

I was always looking for a way to use allegory to express my feelings about the world, without being so allegorical it lost the reader. Sleepwalkers (there's an improved version of that in Living Shadows) was partly based on some experience with people using drugs--I wasn't using that one, but I was living with them--and partly with some experience of the street prostitution scene. It wasn't an organized prostitution thing, with pimps. It was about people surviving day to day. And people who endured working in it went into a kind of trance, almost, a compartmentalization, a sort of sleepwalking through it, so they could bear it. That seemed to me to be a real phenomenon and at the same time a metaphor for what people went through as they adapted to the realities of life--they learned to "sleepwalk" through life, to shut themselves down so they could bear it, more and whatever walk of life they were in. Six Kinds of Darkness was literally a song I wrote, I used to perform, and it's very much about the feeling that we lose ourselves in media, and in desperate escapes. I was deliberately evoking a rocknroll energy and again the influence of the drug scene was there. (I don't take drugs now, not for many years, and I never took any *while* writing, but some of my stories were a bit influenced by some drug experiences). What Cindy Saw was a kind of mix of existential horror and surrealism, and also an attempt to take the reader into a radical state of esthetic experience. It was influenced by Dali's idea of the Paranoid Critical Method, the idea that if you see ordinary things as if you had never seen them before, jettisoning your associations, you get insights. So it's an attempt to get the reader to accept surreality as standard reality and vice versa. All of these stories were in fact reactions to the world--my struggle to find some kind of transcendant meaning despite the grim realities...John Shirley

His new collection, In Extremis, described as containing his most extreme stories. I'll be ordering it when I get back home.

July 6th, 2011

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Tomorrow I fly! Sitting here with my son sorting out the strangeness that comes of going back in time. Travelling for 24 hours, arriving in 8.

I bought two packs of Tim Tams, planning for a Tim Tam Slam room party at Readercon.

I'm hoping that the gorgeous little HP Mini I got for my birthday will help me keep connected, and I'll use the live journal for a travel diary. That's the plan, anyway.

See you in New York!
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