Category Archives: Script Writing

Meet Dirk Flinthart…

I first met Dirk around 15 years ago when he turned up at a Vision Writers’ meeting bare foot talking about ley lines. I soon discovered he was a wonderfully insightful critiquer and came to value his input to our writing craft discussions. When Marianne and I formed the ROR writing group to polish our novel length work we asked Dirk to join. He lives in northern Tasmania with his GP wife and three children, and he is a genius when it comes to food!

His new book Path of Night has just been released through Fablecroft.

flinthart publicity colour small

 

Q: First of all, why ‘Dirk Flinthart’? Your pseudonym reminds me of an episode of the Elizabethan Black Adder series when Lord Flashheart appeared. Were you a fan of Black Adder? What prompted you to use Dirk Flinthart as your writing name?

 

Long, complicated tale. It started – as many things have – at university. For the student newspaper, I wrote a column parodying the US ‘survivalist’ movement, with a friend. The putative writers were Dirk “Some Refuse To Die” Flinthart and Rambo Rockharde. We had a lot of fun, got paid, got drunk, and apparently developed a fanbase. A few years later, after John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand made so much money that the publisher had to find a tax sink, I got invited to write gutter-level pulp crime fiction. (Brotherly Love, under Autopsy Press, later Duffy and Snellgrove.) All of us involved in that project used pseudonyms, and Birmo suggested I use Flinthart. Then of course that swine Birmingham actually caricatured me under the name of Dirk Flinthart in his sequel to Felafel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco). And I wrote a backpacker’s guide to the east coast of Oz in which I was quite rude to the city where my mother lived… so Flinthart took the blame there, too. And I’ve never quite shaken the bastard off.

 

I don’t mind, really. Flinthart has become more of an alternative identity. People who know me will know exactly what I mean, and people who know Flinthart… well, they know Mister Flinthart.

 

Oh! And yes, I’m a big Blackadder fan. Who isn’t?

PathofNightCoverSMQ: According to the back cover blurb for Path of Night: ‘Medical student Michael Devlin is in trouble. With his flatmates murdered and an international cabal of legendary man-monsters on his trail, Devlin’s got nowhere to hide. His only allies are a hot-tempered Sydney cop and a mysterious monster-hunter who may be setting Devlin up for the kill. If he’s going to survive, Devlin will have to embrace his new powers and confront his hunters. But can he hold onto his humanity when he walks the Path of Night?’ I get the feeling this could be a mix of the Jim Butcher novels and Simon R Green’s Nightside series. What did you draw your inspiration from and do you envision a series for Michael Devlin?

I can’t say where the exact ‘inspiration’ came from, but I can say this is intended as a series. Look, currently I’m most of the way through a Masters’ degree in creative writing, and I’ve been studying genre fiction. (Why not?) In doing the reading, I realised something very important.

All of us here in speculative fiction – we want an audience. We want to be published. And as writers, we are conditioned to think that the only effective tool we have is our prose, so we struggle and we strive and we polish and we edit and we critique… and then Dan Brown publishes something that is truly painful to read, and draws millions of readers. (Sorry, Dan. Your writing is awful, and your storytelling makes me cringe. But you’re entertaining a lot of people, so best of luck to you.)

The quality of our prose is important, but only to a certain degree. More important is having work out there, and entertaining an audience. Big publishers are constantly looking for the book that repeats yesterday’s bestseller. Writers want to be original. But audiences? They want to enjoy their reading, and there’s a lot of scope in that.

That was the real inspiration for Path of Night, right there. Realising that I’d reached a place where I could construct a novel and that it could be enjoyed by readers, I felt that I didn’t want to struggle and strive and  have the MS looked at for the next two years by big publishers who wouldn’t take it in the end because it didn’t look like a commercial prospect. I thought I’d write a book that was fun, and interesting, and a bit different, and that I’d approach a small, agile publisher and jump straight into the e-book realms.

Hey: we all started writing because it was fun, right? We tell stories because we enjoy it. But the more we have to compromise our ideas and chase after the here-today, gone-tomorrow will-o-wisp vision of the big publishers, the less storytelling and the less FUN we have.

You want to know something cool? Writing Path of Night was a hoot. I like the main character. I like the main support character so much that I didn’t wind up killing her, and she’s going to be at least as important in the next book, or two, or three. I got a kick out of the villains. I enjoyed adding a distinctly Australian humour to it. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, and once the ball got rolling, I had the first draft done in less than six months and it didn’t feel like work at all.

Now it’s out there, and the folks who have read it are getting back to me and saying: hey, yeah! This thing is fun! It’s interesting and entertaining!

That right there – that is the alpha and the omega of why and how I became a writer.

No, I haven’t written off the big publishers. That would be silly. But rather than chase them with ever more elegant works, I’m simply going to spend some time enjoying my writing. The challenge of writing elegant, arresting prose remains, and I’ll keep working on projects of that nature, but after the sheer pleasure I got from creating Path of Night, there’s no way I’m making the elegant, poetic stuff my only approach.

 

Q: In a blog post on Ebon Shores you say: ‘I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I figure most writers would say the same thing. I started getting paid in University, writing articles for this and that. Being paid was cool, but the point was much more about having fun. I convinced magazines to let me go to Maleny-Woodford to interview feral babes. I got myself paid to attend the National Festival of Beer. I got paid to ride around in a 4WD-converted Rolls Royce. I made money, but more: I had a lot of fun.’ Sounds like your early twenties were a hoot but it is a long way from this kind of writing to speculative fiction. Where and when did the fantasy and SF element come in?

First and foremost, of course. What do you think I read when I was growing up? Smart, isolated kid with a funny accent in Far North Queensland – yeah, I read science fiction and fantasy. I got hold of the Ancient Greek and Norse myths when I was about six. I got the Myths And Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and a huge volume of Robin Hood in faux-Elizabethan English when I was about eight. I stumbled onto the Robert Howard Conan books before I was ten, and vaulted from there to Moorcock in all his hallucinogenic glory. After that? I read anything I could find that had a speculative element. Horror. Fantasy. Lots and lots of SF, gleaned from school fetes and library sales and everywhere, anywhere at all. I read the Gormenghast books and The Master and Margharita when I was thirteen, at the same time (and from the same private library) as I found Tove Jansson’s marvellous Moomintroll stories.

Yes. I’ve written for magazines. And newspapers. I’ve written radio scripts and interviews and plays, and adapted stories for short films. I’ve published at least one peer-reviewed paper on the topic of online education in an international education journal, and I did that as Dirk Flinthart which I think is pretty funny. I’ve written a backpacker’s guide, and stuff on lifestyle and humour, and I expect I’ll write a lot more of all sorts of things before I drop dead…

…but I love telling stories. Imaginative, speculative stories. And that’s what I’m doing with Path of Night.

 

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very successful with The Red Priest’s Homecoming appearing in The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2.  I know at one point you were working on a Red Priest book. Can we look forward to seeing a novel length story about the Red Priest?

Yep. Actually, I’d intended to break out with a Red Priest novel, but about halfway in I realised I was writing about more or less the end of the character’s career, and that seemed a damn’ fool way to introduce him in a big way. So I put that one on the back burner. My goal is to work through a few more quick, enjoyable books about Mick Devlin and the Night Beasts, and hopefully acquire enough of an audience that I can then turn around and introduce the Red Priest properly.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Who knows how it will go? I also have to finish that Queen of Bedlam novel pretty soon… and the Masters Degree with it. And more short stories. And… well, hell. Is there a writer that isn’t busy?

I love the Red Priest, though. I’m definitely not done with Tomaso Dellaforte. (Currently working on a story placing him in Iceland, as a matter of interest.)

 

9781875989935Q: Going way back you co-wrote How to be a Man with John Birmingham and I see you had a book called Brotherly Love published in 1995. What genre was this and why can’t I find an image of the cover? Is it out of print?

Brotherly Love is indeed out of print. As I mentioned before, Birmingham’s “Felafel” opus kind of scared the publisher, and he needed a new project to balance his books. Michael Duffy was a man ahead of his time. He figured there was a market for novella-length crime done quick and dirty… and of course, today he’s right. The novella is emerging as a real sweet-spot length for e-publishing. But back in ’95, the cost of printing a 30,000 word book was significant, and you couldn’t really deliver a throwaway price on the things. Meanwhile, the trend was towards doorstop sized airport novels, so after a half-dozen or so books in the collection (Birmo wrote another. So did Peter Robb. I can’t recall who else was involved.) they shelved the concept.

I really enjoyed writing it, though. Thirty thousand words in two weeks, followed by a revision. I can’t believe I made it work. We all did it, though. And yeah: it was fun. A lot of fun.

 

Canterbury-2100-coverQ: A few years ago you compiled and edited a shared world anthology called Canterbury Tales 2100. In an interview on the ROR site you say: ‘Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague – a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.’ This sounds fascinating. Do you have any plans to do another shared world anthology?

I adored the Canterbury idea, and I loved working on this project. I picked up very early pieces from writers including Lisa Hannett, Laura Goodin and Thoraiya Dyer, all of whom have gone from strength to strength. Cat Sparks backed me to put it together to suit myself and I remain inexpressibly grateful to her for that.

This is a book that should have gone through a big publishing firm. The idea was not so much a shared world anthology as a collection of stories from the people of a shared fictional world. As a reader, you don’t get a straightforward depiction of “the future” from this book. You get the stories that the people of that future tell each other, and you have to piece together your own image of the future that created those stories. To me, that’s the essence of good storytelling: giving readers enough that they want to create more for themselves.

Canterbury 2100 is unique. Nobody’s done anything quite like it before, or since, and come what may, the writers and I own a little piece of science fiction history for that. I am extremely proud of this collection, and it was indeed a real challenge. However, storytelling is my first love. Editing is second-best, no matter how much fun you’re having with it. If I do another shared world anthology, it will be because I’m being paid for it!

 

Q: Your Young Adult stories have been shortlisted several times for Aurealis awards and This is not my Story appeared in the Year’s Best Australian Science fiction and Fantasy Volume 5. Are you particularly drawn to YA stories and if so, why?

YA? No special appeal. But think how much speculative fiction has been more or less YA. Look at Frank Herbert’s Dune: Paul Atreides is 14 years old at the outset. And Ged, in Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Wizard of Earthsea – a boy who becomes a very young adult over the course of the tale. Think how much YA stuff Robert Heinlein did – and Diana Wynne Jones, and oh, how many others?

There’s a reason for that, you know.

This world we’ve created does a terrible thing to children as they grow up. When you’re small, the world is full of ghosts and fairies, witches and magic, Jedi masters and superheroes and all manner of marvels and wonders. But as you get older, they take these things away from you one at a time. They kill off the Tooth Fairy, and Santa. The fairy tales become… just stories. The witches become sad, misinterpreted and persecuted women from difficult historical times. The speed of light keeps the alien invasion fleets away from Earth forever, and keeps every space-ranger and free-trader planetbound.

All this they take, and they give back nothing but wreckage. Consumerism. Climate change. Mass extinctions. Trade wars. Terrorism. It’s not an equitable exchange at all: it’s vicious, and it’s cruel.

But there’s that one last joyful period in the life of a growing, thinking person: that time when you’re old enough to comprehend and enjoy complex storytelling, yet not so beaten and defeated that all the magic has gone from the world. That, right there: that’s why so much YA fiction is also speculative fiction. The audience is still young enough and strong enough to suspend disbelief, but they’re also old enough and smart enough to handle a good, strong, twisty story with teeth.

What’s that quote from Ursula leGuin? Oh, I remember: “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Well, that’s what good YA fiction is for – helping keep alive the child that so very much of this appalling world seems intent on killing. And speculative fiction of all sorts is for people who can suspend disbelief and play along, so of course it frequently reaches out to a younger audience.

And who knows? If we do a good enough job as writers, maybe we’ll convince some of that audience to devise truths of our myths, and the world can become a better place.

 

dirks-cover1Q: Angel Rising was published by Twelfth Planet Press. You say: ‘Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?’ Sounds like fun. Proctor General Gordon has appeared in several stories tied into the New Ceres shared world. Will you be revisiting New Ceres and Gordon?

I’d quite like to, but… it’s complicated. I’m not really sure where all the rights are, or how it all works. There were a lot of people involved with New Ceres. Still, I’ve got several thousand words in which a typically sardonic and cunning George Gordon more or less single-handedly attacks an invasion fleet… It might see the light of day at some point!

 

Q: Not long ago you were writing a libretto as part of your Masters. It was turned into an operetta called Bedlam where Mab, the Queen of the Fey, and Lord Byron collided. ‘Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf – but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.’

(See a clip here)

This takes collaboration to a whole new height, working with a songwriter, director, dancers and actors. Is it an experience you would revisit?

As it stands, the piece is designed to be an opera. The company in Brisbane – Outcast Opera – are still intent on bringing it to life, but they have to grind their way through the funding process. I really, really hope they manage it: the trailer they put together for presentation to Queensland Arts was absolutely jaw-dropping, as you can see from that clip.

Now, my part in all that visual and auditory glory was small. I just wrote some words! But oh – to see and hear those words as they come back with all that music, those voices, those phenomenal dancers! How much more could a writer ever ask for?

I’ve done this kind of thing a couple of times. There’s a short movie from Dragonwood Studios based on a story of mine, and then there’s this opera. And I honestly cannot convey just how much I have enjoyed this. Writing and storytelling – that’s one process, one dimension, one interpretation of ideas and characters. As soon as you bring in other creative people to add imagery, movement, light and colour and sound… yes, you give away ownership of the words. But you get so much back! Seeing your own dreams come back at you, reshaped and re-coloured by the imagination and creativity of others – that’s a special kind of magic.

I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Any time at all. You know what would be a real dream? Writing for animation. That would be just too damned cool.

Still. I’ll be happy if the opera gets to the stage. I’ve promised I’ll attend the premiere in a proper tuxedo… although I think I’ll have to Steampunk it up in honour of the story itself.

 

Q: Your writing background is very eclectic. Was this a deliberate choice or did the stories drive you in their own directions?

There wasn’t a choice. I’m afraid that’s just me. I have an odd kind of mind. I have an unusually retentive memory (far from photographic; I just keep oddments and facts and trivia) and an odd propensity for forming connections and patterns. I have no idea how other people create stories, and even less on how they can keep creating in a single niche. Stories are everywhere! Just… join the dots, right?

I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Probably because I cannot. I think most of us are blind to the strange wellsprings of our own creativity, and I think that’s probably a necessary thing. If we understood where it all came from, it seems likely it would vanish.

 

Q: I understand you teach Ju Jitsu, are learning Iaido, and have been known to take your bow out and shoot a wallaby to cook for dinner, as well as write. How did your degree in Entomology prepare you for this? Seriously, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Okay, this is getting silly. Ummm… yes, to all the above. (Except bow-hunting wallabies. That’s illegal. But I own a duly licensed firearm, and occasionally I use it to reduce the plague-proportion numbers of wallabies here, and yes – they’re delicious. But I only ever shoot targets with the bow.) I also take photographs, and play the Irish whistle and flute. Doesn’t everyone?

Advice for aspiring writers is simple, though: write.

Don’t expect to publish. Just write. Write because you need to, because it’s your joy, because it gets you through the day. Write what you like writing, and enjoy the writing that you do.

Yes, your prose has to work. But there are enough highly popular, thoroughly execrable books out there to prove beyond all doubt that deathless prose isn’t the secret.

What is? Well, if I knew that I’d be parked next to Dan Brown’s yacht, wouldn’t I? But I know this: if you’re not having fun, you’re wasting your life. So write, and take pleasure in the stories you tell, and once you’ve placed a few stories and maybe won a competition or two, just take the plunge.

Let the readers decide. They’re the ones you want to reach, after all.

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Tips for Developing Writers, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Meet John Richards, Script Writer, Comedian & SF Fan…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented John Richards to drop by.

First a bit of background. John Richards is one of the two writers behind Outland, the new 6 part ABC comedy about a bunch of gay geeks, who are trying to hide their nerdy dark secret – they’re SF fans!

 

Adam Richard and John Richards (no relation)

Q: I see you and Adam first came up with the idea for this show back in 2005. Do the pair of you have a long working history together? Does this make it easier when working on comedy? And (one more) do you have to go through the – No, he’s no relation to me. Our last names just happen to be almost the same? – routine when you meet people?

The name thing happens all the time – I’ve even seen us referred to as “the Richards brothers” in articles. We’ve become the new Wachowski brothers. Or siblings, as they are now. At the press launch for the 2012 ABC programming the brochure got both our surnames wrong, which was new!

I’d known Adam through comedy circles since he first started comedy (actually, before – I first saw him when I was editing a spoken-word event for Bent TV on Channel 31 and they’d got his surname wrong on the caption list). But the Outland pilot script was the first thing we did together.

Writing comedy as a team is good in that you get a lot more ideas and jokes, and bad in that you eventually want to kill each other. I think the best writing teams are the ones with rigid rules to make it work – Monty Python had a veto system in place, for example. Outland was in development for a while so the approach changed several times. In the end Adam and I co-wrote three episodes and I wrote three solo, but we were both involved in the creation and concept of the show and the characters.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJHIygkQd1w&feature=relmfu]

Q: I see you have a background in stand-up comedy and you’ve worked for the 3RRR comedy show, The Third Ear. I bet you were the sort of little boy who would clown around in school and drive the teacher’s crazy. Was school hell for you?

I suspect I had an unusual school experience in that I was a geek and a nerd and a nancy boy, but also 6 feet tall and quite wide. So I was never bullied. I hated school – like any normal person does – but more because it was a thing you had to wade through before life could really start. I was fairly quiet in class, I think, and I was a really bad student. I just couldn’t get interested in things like calculus. I was bored, basically. At the same time I started high school I also joined The West Lodge, Perth’s Doctor Who fan club, so I spent a fair amount of time hanging out at the University Of Western Australia – I even attended some lectures, out of curiosity. But failed high school.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kNXq2fZ9r08]

Q: My kids have grown up watching British comedy like The Young Ones, the Ab Fab, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Red Dwarf, The Black Adders, The IT Crowd and local shows such as Flight of the Concords and Lano and Woodley. When you were growing up what comedy shows did you watch? What inspired you?

Growing up I remember loving Australia, You’re Standing In It and Rod Quantock made me want to try stand-up. I loved his intelligent-yet-surreal pieces to camera on that. I watched all the terrible “ooh-err-missus” comedies like Are You Being Served that my parents liked, and I’ve ended up with a weird mix of disgust at their double-standards but respect for the work that went into the writing (Outland episode 3 is intended as an examination/tribute to those sorts of shows). And I remember loving WKRP In Cincinatti, which I recently rewatched to find it has aged incredibly badly. As I got a bit older the “alternative comedy” movement in the UK happened and I remember the excitement of The Young Ones and the shows that came out of that. And many, many years later – like many people – I fell in love with Spaced.

Q: I really enjoyed Outland. The dialogue was really snappy and the direction was tight. It came across as very polished. Have you been workshopping these 6 episodes for a while?

The original pilot script was written in 2005, and we made the short film in 2006. When the ABC came on board we developed 6 episodes and then worked on them in fits and starts as funding came through. So while the first episode always followed the same general plot of that original script, the scripts would change. A lot of people were involved – Adam, producer Andrea Denholm, script-editor Philip Dalkin, myself – and even now I occasionally can’t remember if a certain joke is in the finished version or an earlier draft. I would’ve liked the first episode to be even tighter, myself! First episodes are notoriously tricky – the first episode of 30 Rock is generally held to be one of the worst, even by fans of the show – and I think we did pretty well. But it also went down a few dark alleys before coming back again. So the first episode was certainly workshopped a fair bit, but often it fought back… Those people who’ve seen the short film will probably be surprised by how similar it is.

Q: I’ve worked as a graphic artist, been involved in Indy Press, am currently a writer and I know people who are musicians. It is really hard to make a living as a creative person. Did you always want to be a comedian/script writer? And if you had a child and they came to you and said – Hey, Dad, I wanna be a (insert, writer/actor/comedian/musician) – what would you say to them?

I’d say “get a real job!”. But seriously… I’d probably say “get a real job”. It is so hard. I am monstrously proud of Outland, but you spend 7 years on a project, living on two-minute-noodles and hope, and then see someone on a blog has dismissed it in one sentence, often without even bothering to watch it…

I always wanted to be a writer, originally a film writer, but in the last decade or so television has taken over as the place interesting and inventive work is happening. At least, in the US and the UK. Australia is still lagging behind on that and while I can name a dozen great, respected TV writers from overseas, in Australia there isn’t that tradition. The concept of the “show-runner” is finally coming in here but rather than being the head-writer – as it is everywhere else – it seems to have become another producer’s title. Until we embrace the idea that the writer should be able to drive and own the creative idea we’re not going to make anything to match Six Feet Under or Mad Men. Princess Pictures gets this, and that’s why people love to work for them, but it might take a little longer to catch on everywhere.

So what would I say to my fictional children, really? Nothing. Because they’re fictional.

Q: In an article by Frances Atkinson, she says:

‘beneath the sci-fi-inspired double entendres, of which there are many, Outland is a character-driven comedy about relationships – an affectionate look at how shared passions can make us feel like outsiders but also less alone.

Would you see this is the show’s underlying theme, in the same way the first 3 seasons of Being Human (UK version) was about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost trying to stay in touch with their humanity?

I think the series is about making peace with yourself – embracing who you are. Without giving any spoilers, the characters are often having to re-examine themselves and come to terms with who they are and how they behave. And the group is both support and contrast to that. But they can’t really join the group until they’re honest about who they are and embrace that.

Lordy, that sounded deep. And there’s fisting jokes!

Q: I gather that most of the people involved in the show as SF fans. I thought it was so mainstream now everyone knew the tropes. Do you go to SF Cons and events like Supanova? Is there still a stigma around being an SF fan? 

I can’t decide – I keep thinking things have changed but if you ever see something SF or fantasy being praised in the press it usually comes with a caveat – “There’s only a little bit of fantasy, so it’s OK”. When we were preparing the show we discovered that the BBC doesn’t consider Doctor Who to be science fiction – it’s officially a “family drama”. And if something is really loved then the words “science fiction” will disappear completely – no-one’s going to call Margaret Atwood a science fiction writer, no matter how many science fiction novels she writes. I remember going to see Pan’s Labyrinth and being disappointed that it was actually a straight-forward war film with three short fantasy sequences, rather than a full-on fantasy-fest as promised by the ads. But non-fans thought it WAS a full-on fantasy films – for them, three sequences in a two hour films was mind-bending.

I went to cons when I was a teenager but it’s only recently I’ve been back. I went to Aussiecon4 mostly because I have a brain-crush on Robert Shearman, and had a great time. And with my Boxcutters co-host Josh Kinal I’ve done some panels and podcasts at the Continuums. Continuua?

I haven’t been to the Supernovas/Armageddons yet, but I’d like to. They’re very “star” focussed and I’m probably more drawn to the behind-the-scenes creatives, but I think they look like a lot of fun.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4oBn7tNnnM&feature=relmfu]

Q: I see there’s an Outland Institute Blog. It takes a lot of work to maintain a blog. (We writers should know. We write for a living).  Is this something you’ve done before for other projects, or is Outland your first venture into blogging?

Ha! I started the blog to force myself to write more – I was in one of those “Gaiman-envy” moments, I think. I thought that if I forced myself to write more, I would write more. But it’s a bit like buying an exercise bike at Christmas, isn’t it? I update it maybe two or three times a year now. It was fun to do, and it led to the radio show of the same name on Joy 94.9 in 2009 which I loved, but I suspect podcasts have ousted the blog. Podcasts and tumblr. Have you seen the horrendous internet term “tl;dr”? It means “too long – didn’t read”. It’s a celebration of stupidity. But I suspect that long-form internet writing may be on the way out.

Q: I see the full series played over two nights at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in October 2011.  How did Outland go with a US audience? Did they have any trouble following the Australian accents or humour?

The festival found us through Continuum – they’d read about the show online. We offered two episodes two them – episode one and their choice of 2, 3 or 4 (we couldn’t decide). Keith Bacon, the programmer, came back saying he adored it and could he please see the last two so he could see how it ends! And then he asked to play the whole series across two nights, which was incredibly flattering, and the festival had me over as a guest. I stayed in a hotel room that was bigger than my flat.

I was worried about the accents and the humour, but I had seen the original short film play in Texas and that had gone well. I never expected how much the Seattle audience would love it, though. The reception was astonishing. We made people cry! That’s not something you expect for a comedy! Or want, even. At the end they gave us an award – the audience had voted it one of the highlights of the festival. It was a great festival and I loved Seattle. I want to make another series now just to have an excuse to go back.

Q: At this point, I usually I ask a couple of questions about gender and writers or comic artists. Christine Anu plays a lesbian (in a wheelchair – were you ticking boxes?). The other four regular cast members are all male, the director is male and the show is written by two males. Is it harder for a female comedian or director to get ahead?

In an ideal world there’d be more female roles in Outland, but there was a reason for each character to be there and part of the story does involve Rae being the odd one out. Which is my way of saying she’s deliberately the only woman, not accidentally – not better perhaps, but we did at least think about it. There’s also very few other roles in the series, as almost every episode focuses entirely on the five leads, but we do have three more female characters coming up and a guest appearance by Sue Ann Post. But only episode two really passes the Bechdel Test. If we make a second series I’m hoping to amend that.

It’s hard to work out issues of gender behind the camera – is it harder for a woman to get ahead as a director? I don’t know. I do know that our producers are all women, as was the DOP, the production designer, the costume designer, the sound designer, the casting agent, the editor and the accountant! And, indeed, the head of ABC comedy.

But is it harder to get a gig as a director if you’re a woman? Maybe. But most of Australia’s producers are women, so I’m not sure. How does anyone get a job in this industry? Seriously, I’d love to know…

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Well, first I’d take a VCR and pop back to 1966 to record episode four of “The Tenth Planet”. When I think about time travel – which is alarmingly often – I find I often want to make fairly small jumps. Like, did the 1970s of my early childhood really smell like chemicals as I think it did? Was everything really brown? And I’d like to have a cocktail in the lower bar of the Ritz Hotel in 1942, just to see what it was like, and to go window-shopping in the 1960s. But mostly I’d go to the future, to see how everything turns out. Spoilers!

 

For Outland Institute Blog podcasts see here.

Outland Facebook.

(the other writer) Adam Richard’s blog.

Boxcutters podcast (co-hosted by John – check out the award-winning interview with Doctor Who writers Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman)

Where’s Outland tumblr -

John’s unofficial online commentary tracks for Outland

ABC iview

Outland Series iTunes

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Filed under Australian Writers, Conventions, creativity, Gender Issues, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Script Writing

Meet Les Petersen …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Les Petersen to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your web page doesn’t have a bio. I tried to find a bio for you on Wikipedia. The closest I came was your numerous  listings as cover artist of various books. Next I looked up your listing on Linked in. This is about as brief as a bio gets ‘self employed illustrator and scriptwriter’. I know you live in Canberra, are married and have a son. Are you being deliberately mysterious or is a bio just something you haven’t gotten around to doing?

Not so much ‘haven’t got around to it’, rather I don’t really see the need for it. I know I’m not good at self promotion, but again there’s no need for me to promote myself at present. I have a steady income and so throwing myself to the lions (both fans and clients) wouldn’t necessarily be healthy. Maybe I’m a little bit private, as well, rather than being mysterious. But just for your info, I come from a large family of talented musicians and film makers, but I’m the one who wants to draw the pictures. My wife and son are my own world of wonder.

Michael Whelan's Cover

Q: Where did you go to study art (if you did study formally)? What artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to this calling, to the speculative fiction genre specifically?

Blame Michael Whelan. Short answer but it packs a punch. I saw a cover of his (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars) way back in the 70’s, and loved it. Tried to paint like that, but I don’t have Michael Whelan’s sense of colour. That drove me to follow up on art as a course of study and I did 6 years at a couple of art schools. BUT I didn’t end up painting, rather I ended up print making for other artists because that paid a few bills. I learnt then that you can get trapped into professions you don’t enjoy by not sticking to your guns. Eventually I was lucky enough to get work as an illustrator and things turned around. But I would have wasted about 10 years doing something I didn’t really enjoy as much as I had hoped to. And artists can be suck picky, fernickety people with egos as big as houses.

Q: You have done at least 40 covers for speculative fiction books, magazines and anthologies (see ISFDB list here). This data base only goes up to 2009. In the book cover section of your web page there are 13 recent covers and it looked like only two of these were from the end of the ISFDB list, so you must have done more covers recently.  Do you have a couple of favourites and if so, why?

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Yes, the database is a little out – I am pushing 100 covers now. Many of the missing ones are for ebooks or self-publishing clients. That area of publishing is growing all the time and is now the mainstay of my illustration work.

As to favourites, I think Shadow Queen for Deborah Kalin  and Myrren’s Gift for Fiona McIntosh.

Myren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh

Both these really pushed me for design and the colour work started to get where I was trying to go, and the task of painting them was extremely enjoyable. Both began as scribbles on a piece of paper and expanded out to a full spread. Myrren’s Gift book design was also shortlisted for the 2005 APA Book Design Awards, which made everyone happy. It was my first cover to break the US market.

Q: I see you did the cover for Isobelle Carmody’s The Stone Key. I love this cover.  Did you do the whole series? They have a wonderful feel. Could you describe for us the consultation process that went into the design of these covers and then the actual physical process involved in constructing the covers?

In truth, I can’t take credit for these covers. Cathy Larsen, the lead designer from Penguin is responsible for the design of this series; I added some of the backgrounds and a bit of jewellery etc, but Cathy’s ‘touch’ is what makes it so successful.

As to the process: Cathy sent through a design brief, which lays out what is needed for the cover. I then worked my magic on the backgrounds and she incorporated that component into the design, changing things to suit the finished product. Interestingly, the most difficult part of the process is to get sign-off from the marketing team at Penguin (it’s the same at any publishers – they are trying to get a perfect product, after all). The design team can ask for change after change, to the point it kills a product’s freshness and drives designers and illustrators batty. Note how I call the book a ‘product’. That’s exactly what we have to keep in mind when working on a cover – we are selling the author and the story and the packaging must evoke the power of the writing. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes in an interesting profession.

Q: Back in 2001 you did the cover for Trudi Canavan’s best selling book The Magician’s Guild. The new covers for Trudi’s books are very different. (They were produced in the UK). Cover styles are constantly evolving what do you think of the current ‘look’ for fantasy covers?

The short answer is ‘fashions change’. I think a cover has a life of about three years before it’s considered in need of a renovation. And there are regional differences – something marketable in Aus or the US is definitely not ok in the UK, and vice versa – so each area produces their own covers. What is frustrating about the process is every now and then you see your cover design ‘utilised’ by another illustrator working outside Australia, probably because they have been asked to adapt what you have provided. But you live with it because the contracts are fairly flexible and the remuneration is ok.

The other side of the coin is that illustrator’s change. Many new skills are need and we’re ‘updated’ as new illustrators come through. That’s life. We move on to other projects, other genres, other lives, really. I’ve been fortunate to have work trickle in, though the nature of it is different. I spent some time doing computer games, and that’s a whole new board game – a production line kind of work ethic is needed, with its own challenges and deadlines.

UK cover of Trudi's book

One influence worth noting on illustration is the influence of computer games, and special effects from movies. They’ve really shaken up our skill sets and many publishers expect you to have that kind of vision for their covers. Interestingly, the response to it has been a reliance on photo-manipulation and 3D modelling, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

And finally, there’s a wealth of talent out there. Now we can get illustrators from around the world working in our ‘patch of dirt’. I’m amazed at some of the Asian illustrators that are around – that’s skill to die for. Sometimes when I see their artworks, I feel like a fake, or a hack. Young, talented, and their currency isn’t as strong as ours – they’ve got everything going for them.

 

Q: You were one of the Exhibiting Guest Artists are Conflux in 2006. Did you come to fandom as a fan, or did you come to it after you became a professional artist?

I came along as a professional artist. Though I love the genre, and especially Terry Pratchett’s humorous take on it (my Fav author of all time), I wouldn’t put myself down as a genre ‘fan’, because I read so widely and have a few other interests. I go along to see the authors and some of the people I know, but that’s about the extent of my participation. Sorry. Mind you, if I had a fan base…nah, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

And 2006!  You realise that’s five years ago already. Sigh. What good have I done since then? No, that’s a rhetorical statement.

Q: In 1998 you were shortlisted for the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize for your novel Supplejack. Are you still writing? I see you’ve had several short story sales. What have you done with this book?

Supplejack sits in the archives of my computer, still unpublished. I’ve written five novels since then, all of which exist in the archives, probably because I don’t self manage well. I’m glad to say that I still write, but have moved onto scriptwriting, and have produced six full length screenplays and about twenty shorts – and you guessed it, all in the archives of my computer, though I have produced and filmed one of the shorts myself, and two of the full length and one of the shorts have been optioned by productions companies. Those of course have been shelved though because of the global financial meltdown (or whatever the current term is being bandied about).I still hold out hope.

Q: On your web page you have the stills from some animations. Are you animations up on You Tube? (I looked but couldn’t find them). Do you have a secret project which you are going to unveil to the world? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m working on a secret project, but if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a secret.

OH OK, SINCE YOU INSIST.

I’m working on a 17 minute short ‘The Weatherman’s Gift’, which is part puppetry, part 2D animation, part 3D animation. It’s based on a short script I wrote, which was in turn based on a really crappy animatic/animation I did the Parallel Lines Film Competition in 2010. I really entered that competition to test a few animation techniques and I quite liked the story concept and the feel of the work, in the end. So decided I’ll have a try building it into something magical.

The plan is I will be making a music video first, based on the theme song my brother wrote so I can learn a few puppetry techniques, and then (using the skills I learn) produce the final 17 minute version.

At this stage I’m building the background mattes and puppets, and finishing the storyboards. I’ve been warned by Jonathan Nix not to do the final product until the animatic for the final version is exactly as I want it to be, and I’m taking that advice seriously.

Q: Also on your web page you have some character designs. Are these from your animations or for something else entirely?  

Something else entirely.

 

Q: And then you have your Gallery Pieces, which you say you do to keep your skills ticking over.  What programs have you been playing with to develop your skills?

Over the last five years, I work almost entirely from pencil sketches, utilising Poser for figure maquettes and Photoshop for production final work, but recently I’ve moved to using Vue for landscapes and I’ve been looking at a lot of film editing software, as well as 2D animation packages. I’m ok with some 3D packages, and have gotten familiar with particle system generating software to round out animation effects, but there’s still so much that interests me. I’ll probably be fiddling with all these packages till I go blind. But I always, always, always have the base work of a concept drawing to go from. It’s the cornerstone of the craft, I believe.

Q: There are also the matt paintings. This makes me think they are back grounds for animations. What have you been doing with these matt paintings?

Three of these are backgrounds for the short film I produced (Treasure) the others are for a Star Wars fan film by a New Zealand company (which incidentally did very well in a competition judged by George Lucas) as well as a background for The Weatherman music video animation. More will be added as I complete them.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out?

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Work your butt off.
  • Keep a drawing pad handy and use it frequently.
  • Get thicker skin on your ego because you’ll get battered and bruised.
  • Don’t concentrate on just one genre.
  • Marketing people are GODS and can destroy in an instant what you’ve slaved for weeks over so give them what they ask for as well as something you’d be proud to put in a portfolio if they knock it back.
  • Continue building your skill sets.
  • Stay current.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing, not so you rival them but so you get a sense where the market is going (very important).
  • You won’t get rich doing this job.
  • Small jobs and charity jobs can bring paying clients your way, and give you a chance to flex your creativity.
  • Read every word of the brief and watch your image dimensions/ratios.
  • Leave yourself time to do the fiddly bits ‘cause the details make the work sing.
  •  If you’re using photo manipulation, watch the colour matches, the resolution of the originals and the moiré pattern.
  • Black is a colour too (that will cause a stir!). But printers have problems with it so check with your publisher.
  • Contracts get signed but the details are quite often ignored. If you REALLY need to bark about something in the contract, do so and stick to your guns and ask for the contract to be changed before you start the work. BUT be warned, you’ll probably find work hard to get from that publisher if you’re asking too much.
  • Good faith is worth more than a contract, and most publishers work well with good faith. But a contract trumps good faith in a court of law.
  • Be EXTREMELY flexible and forgiving.
  • Work your butt off.

Oh, and one last thing – many people – and that includes authors and designers – “see” images in their mind’s eye in three dimensions so you’ll find they expect to see front and back of objects, as well as all the minute detail, all at the same time – so when you get to the nitty gritty don’t stress. Do your best and learn to smile and mutter under your breath at the same time.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. You have illustrated for magazines and done covers. As an artist do you think there is a difference in the way males and females are portrayed on speculative fiction book covers?

Isn’t that two questions? Such as ‘why aren’t there more female illustrators represented by…?’, or ‘why is there a lot more male illustrators?’ or something like that, and then ‘do I think there’s a difference etc?’

If you want an answer that covers both sides of the coin, blame the publishers and their marketing teams. We illustrators do as we are briefed to and it’s up to the publishers to hire the illustrators to do the work. The old ‘scantily clad woman in a battle bikini’ was something that appealed to the masses way back in the 60s etc, so the marketing teams wanted that, but tastes have changed. Now they want strong female role models and men without shirts, or sparkling teenage vampires and werewolves that look like Adonis. Tastes change. There’s no systemic movement to produce work that denigrates any one particular gender or limits them to the backyard studios. Everyone has to find their way through the morass, and skill and a great deal of luck gets you through.

I don’t know if there’s a majority of males in the illustration profession. Both sexes are capable of the skill sets required and most of the students going through art school with me were female, but few of them did anything with that skill. They turned to other professions – usually within management, actually.

All my ‘bosses’ in publishing, with one exception, have been women. I don’t see a gender bias against women in Australia. Also, I like to believe I was fortunate enough to get a job as an illustrator not because I was a male but rather because I’d put a bit of effort into learning the skill, then had a stroke of luck when I put an image on a webpage that Trudi Canavan saw and followed up on. In other words, the skill ‘spoke’ and I was willing enough to sell my soul to get the work that came from that.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No. Out of all the covers I’ve done, with about five exceptions, the authors I have created covers for have all been female. There are very subtle differences in writer’s voice that you pick up on (please don’t ask for examples) and overall women can write family situations a bit better, and men write action better, but that’s probably some reflection on past expectations that boys will play with soldiers and girls with dolls or some such rubbish– and we know that is not necessarily the truth.  However, having said that, in the wash authors are fairly similar and they are usually supportive of your efforts. Some even surprise you and change their work to suit your illustration.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I thought long and hard about this and decided ( as all of you would have no doubt done instantaneously) that this question shouldn’t be answered seriously. If it was, and I said I wanted to go back into the past, it’d be too much about past regrets. If I went into the future, I’d be dialing up the expectation and a type of voyeuristic adventuring. So instead, I’ll strap on frivolity and elect to go sideways, into another dimension, to see if I was ever answered this question with a decent answer instead of all this waffle. Then I’d head over to Dixie’s house and she can explain all that stuff about birds and bees again. Lots of miming. Very interesting conversation. Especially as I don’t know anyone named Dixie. And never will, probably.

Giveaway Question:

A free custom ebook cover illustration. Quest ion: Who was Dixie and what did she tell me about the birds and bees, and how did that affect me for the rest of my life?

 

Les says he’s happy to talk illustration with others if they want to email him through his web page. (If you google him, don’t get Les mixed up with Leslie Petersen a ‘fine artist’).

Contact Les on Linkedin.

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Script Writing, Tips for Developing Artists

Meet Anita Bell …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented powerhouse Anita Bell  to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: First of all, major congratulations on Diamond Eyes winning the 2011 Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Since this is award is not necessarily awarded every year, winning must have come as a wonderful and welcome surprise. Did you consciously set out to explore the themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the book?

Actually, Diamond Eyes is a story about freedom and independence. But since my main character is a young woman who is blind, sexually inexperienced, and misdiagnosed by nursing staff who all treat her as crazy as well as handicapped, all those other themes grew organically in a way that also resonated strongly and unanimously with the judging panel.

Sad but true; while working for ten years in a mental health facility, I saw young men and women routinely castrated or medicated to suppress their sexual development, often without their knowledge or consent (due to the fact they’d been declared unfit to make such decisions on their own). So this part of Mira’s story is inspired by a young handicapped couple I met, who’d both been disabled through a contagious disease, but eventually regained their independence through modern medications and therapies – and when it came time that they’d recovered enough to have healthy children, it was too late. They’d both been “cared for” in their best interests.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkbKh4hGmSU]

Q: Following on from that, we were part of the QUT Cohort doing a Masters while writing a book. You produced Diamond Eyes. What was the research question you were exploring with this book?

Funny story: It started out as;

How can I crack the big markets overseas and for movies?

But since that was too big a question for a masters and required too many non-existent definitions about degrees of cracking, and how big is big etc, my lecturer dis-engorged the “choke” from my throat and encouraged me to narrow my focus to the more definitive;

How can a novel manuscript be ‘re-visioned’ to create a more satisfying draft.

(Where satisfying is defined by a self-assessed improvement that results in a commercial reward that had previously been unattainable.)

So the dissertation I wrote is called: Revisioning a “Novel Concept”: Beyond vision and revision to advanced editing strategies.

But since a lot of the research is drawn from the film industry, and from mega-best-selling works from overseas, and since a lot of the advanced editing strategies are topics that are never normally discussed in most writing workshops, it might as well be called;

Tips on how to crack the big markets overseas and for movies.

Sound familiar? Hehe.

David Meshow the theme for Diamond Eyes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qERvjhq7tCg&feature=player_embedded]

Q: You have a wonderful book trailer (LOL, my husband did it). The music is by David Meshow. Recently, we were on a panel together where you walked us through the process of finding the musician, approaching him and what has happened since. I’m sure people would find this fascinating, as it’s an example of cross-pollination between creative people.

Wow, yes! We’ve chalked up more views than a lot of big budget Hollywood movies and over 300 Youtube Awards in 17 countries, including;

#1 Most Discussed, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Favourited, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Rated, worldwide in Feb and March

Normally, I thrive in silence while I’m writing and editing, but at all moments in between I refill my creative energies by filling my home, my car – even my saddlebags with music.

Three of my characters love music, and play instruments, so I spent a lot of time on youtube looking for talented amateurs with the same kind of interests. People who could not only play, but play so well, they make it look easy by playing with a relaxed sense of humour. I also looked for people who could play with their eyes closed and invent their own tunes on a wide range of instruments, and that’s how I came across David Meshow – who can do all of that, and resembles Mira’s bodyguard in looks and personality. Best of all, he taught me out how to play electrical instruments outside, around a campfire – so I could make a scene work properly in the sequel Hindsight.

Then after being inspired for so long by David’s music, and his advice during my research stages, I wrote to ask permission to use one of his original instrumental pieces for the book trailer during the launch, because that piece has brilliant moments of violin and xylophone along with all the other instruments that gave it a unique offbeat quality which also dramatically suits the chase scenes at the end of Diamond Eyes, the novel.

But when I mentioned the novel and what it was about, he was so inspired by the unique concept behind Mira’s eyes that he offered to write a piece to suit her specifically.

And that’s what the Original Theme to Diamond Eyes is. Close your eyes, and you can image yourself blind. Open them again and imagine the world around you isn’t today. It looks how things did a century ago, even though you can still feel all the invisible *real* things around you – so if the three story building you’re in wasn’t there back then, well, now you’re standing in mid-air, looking down on the world. Living in two worlds at once. That’s the core idea, and David’s really nailed it with the official theme song. He’s got millions of fans now, but they all seem to agree. Diamond Eyes is the best yet, and I have to agree. But then, I’m biased! Hehe.

Q: I understand there are two more books in the Diamond Eyes series, Leopard Dreaming and Hindsight.  When is the last book of the trilogy due out? And what will you do after this?

Interesting question, because it’s not a traditional trilogy. Diamond Eyes is a stand-alone story set in an asylum, Serenity, which is on a sub-tropical island in Queensland.

Then the duet of sequels; Hindsight (just launched) and Leopard Dreaming (June 2012), are both set on the mainland, during a brand new stage of her life. They’re also much faster paced than Diamond Eyes.

If you liken them to movies in the film industry, then Diamond Eyes would be the pilot, and the next two would be the mini series. So you don’t necessarily need to read Diamond Eyes to enjoy Hindsight, but you’ll definitely need to read Hindsight before taking on Leopard Dreaming in the new year.

 

Q: In a post on the ROR site you say … ‘SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres.’ You go on to say …’ In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?’  I love this quote. How near future is the Diamond Eyes series? Would people feel at home in this world?

It’s tomorrow fiction, akin to James Bond, but nowadays, most genres need to be tomorrow fiction to some degree during the writing stages anyway, or else the technology can date the story too quickly and make it seem old fashioned too soon.

e.g.

So I’m constantly inventing new technologies based on my best guesses from existing products and research, and very often those “fantastic” new gizmos are hitting the market by the time the book is.

Off the top of my head, technologies that I invented for my stories in the last ten years, only to have them invented for real by the time the books launched, include;

  • Electronic pens, which convert any sketches into a text file or digital image.
  • Night Owls, a form of high tech night vision goggles which can also see through buildings using sound waves akin to mobile phone transmissions. Now also used in airports for full body scans.
  • NOR:STAN, the National Orbital Reconnaissance: See Through Anything Network. Same principle as nights owls, but also incorporating technology from the mining industry as a larger scale satellite system to help find lost bushwalkers, people trapped in burning buildings, and even terrorists in underground bunkers.

Even Mira’s Hue-dunnits – her electronic sunglasses which can change colour – are now in development as a fashion accessory to suit any wardrobe.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAXBTXnVHns]

Q: You write in many genres under a number of pen-names, including a set of best-selling non-fiction titles, award winning adventures for children and even wickedly funny romance for women. You’ve always been a writer of exciting stories. What was the first thing you wrote seriously to submit?

A cosy crime story, called Budgie Soup, which was published in 5 countries, including the USA’s prestigious Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and won the Penguin Award, as part of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, way back last millennium, in 1999.

Q: You say if you hadn’t been a writer you’d be …’ A cartoonist, vet or research scientist. And as it turns out, writing allows me to do bits of each!’ I can relate to research scientist. I think writers have to have enquiring minds. But cartoonist and vet? Why these two? Are you good at drawing and can you ‘talk to animals’?

Hehe… something like that.

To be a vet, we need to be astute at understanding body language – which works for characters as much as for animals. Pets can’t tell us where they’re hurting, and often characters can’t either. How we treat animals also helps to define us, not only as individuals, but also as a society.

Same goes with cartooning. It’s a social science that’s heavily dependent on observation of the human condition, as individuals, and in society, and how we perceive ourselves through the lens of humour also helps to define us.

To be a vet, we need great compassion, but humour is more often a dark art that can throw masks over fury, injustice and tragedy.

Q: You seem very comfortable writing a fast paced action thriller and moving across genres. A good book is a good book, no matter what the genre. Do you have any advice for writers to help them improve the pacing of their books?

Short sentences. Listen to men speaking, and compare to women on the same subject. Guys rarely use more than 8 words in a sentence at a time unless they’re explaining something, while women rarely use more than 12.

In action scenes, guys tend to get serious with only 2 to 6 words at a time, while women often clip down to 8 or less.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch all your favourite movies with the sound muted and subtitles on – and take notice how clipped conversations can get as the images speed up. Or take a ride on a train or bus with your ipod switched off so you’re listening to other people around you.

Q: You had a friend who attempted suicide when you were younger. You said …  ‘From the time we were both 10, we both had to ‘be mum,’ looking after our other brothers and sisters before and after school, and I had to manage my parents’ farm as well when they went away on business. On top of this we went to a high school where extreme pressure existed to be the best we could be. Students came from all over the world because of their high standards and we had to compete against them, too. My friend passed the breaking point.’ Are you tempted to write something that would reach out to teens who feel overwhelmed?

Yes, but not for a while. I can’t write really dark material unless I’m detached from tragedy myself and that’s definitely not this year. Otherwise, writing dark material only tends to take me down further, and once those chemicals in the brain start triggering the downward spiral, it’s a hard cycle to break free from again. And I’d never write that sort of thing without an uplifting ending, because it was soul-destroying misery-lit with downers for endings that drove my friend over the edge all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book that leaves me weepy, but if they’re not tears of hope, love or joy – if they leave me feeling empty and emotionally wretched – I’d never go anywhere near it. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read a newspaper.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Historically yes. Absolutely. But I’d like to think the last 10 years has become a bit more like this:

 

There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been told by readers that I must have had some of my stories written by my husband. Apparently, I’m not supposed to know how to field strip a Styr or Glock and put it back together again without it blowing up in my face. Or how to turn a gum tree into a signal tower, use scorpions and black light to navigate an underground tunnel, or the horns of the moon to tell north from south in either hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale, I know a subset of male writers who can really get inside a woman’s head well enough to write convincing female characters – but a lot more who can’t.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Depends on the name they choose to put on the front cover, especially if it’s very feminine or hyper-masculine.

e.g.  Stephan King was always going to rule the page once he nailed his genre, and Karen Slaughter was never going to write little kiddies faerie tales.

Then there’s androgynous names, like AA Bell, Sonny Whitelaw, JR Ward etc, where the writing style is far more likely to appeal to both genres. Or at least try to, more often than not.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Ah, but if I told you, I’d create a paradox and a full set of alternative futures in another dimension. Just thinking about it is enough to split the future in two; one in which I do, and one in which I don’t.

Cool timing; there’s a new scientific theory (evolved from string theory, which in turn evolved from studies of nuclear explosions) that our present and past have already been shaped by our future in all its permutations in all dimensions. And that many things about Fate seem inevitable, because they’ve already been tampered with by those who’ve already travelled.

So assuming I’m one of them, and have already made the trip – or “will have going to have made it” at some time in the future (or alternate time line) – you can rest assured that all my friends will have nice things happen to them, while all those who’ve been nasty should be grateful I don’t hold grudges… much.

<insert evil laughter>

Give-away Question:

It’s said that everyone has something they’re naturally or uncannily good at – so good, you might call it a super power. Mira’s gift is seeing the past, her stalker can hear the future, while my own superpowers are merely green lights in heavy traffic and finding the perfect parking space when I most need it. (touch wood!)

So what’s your super power?

 

Catch up with Anita on Facebook

on GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/aabell

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Meet Marianne de Pierres …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the multi-genre talented Marianne de Pierres to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You’ve just seen the release of the fourth book of your huge space opera series Sentients of Orion. Was writing the YA fantasy series that starts with Burn Bright a fun break for you?

Well to be honest  … there is some science fiction in Burn Bright. It just wrote itself in without my say! But the fantasy side of the story was lovely to compose. I found myself more able to indulge my word muse and loved writing the younger character.

Q: You combined with singer song writer Yunyu to produce a song and book trailer for Burn Bright. Since much of the book takes place in and around dance clubs, this seems very appropriate. How much collaboration was involved in this project?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np4iHj1AIMg&feature=player_embedded]

Simply, Yunyu read an early draft of the novel and went away and wrote a sensational song. Or songs, actually, three of them. In the end we could only afford to record one, so we picked Angel Arias. From her end, there was a lot more arranging and production to do after that. I was able to sit back and enjoy her genius. We got together a couple of times in Sydney and brainstormed the business side of it, but essentially the creative side was one artist inspiring another.

Q: Burn Bright takes its main character, Retra to some pretty dark places. She’s looking for her brother on an island where teenagers party non-stop and there are no rules except the warning not to wander off the path. It feels very surreal and dreamlike. Was it hard to slip into this alternate fantasy world when you sat down to write? (Read the first chapter of Burn Bright).

Not at all. It’s been sitting in my hindbrain since I was a teenager. I think it reflects the fact that I had my own dark places to contend with back then. Perhaps, if anything, writing the book has been a catharsis.

Q: Book two Angel Arias is due out late in 2011. (Love the cover, by the way). Did you have the second book finished before the first one was released? And, following on from that, did you plan the whole series before you started to write?

No, the second book was not written but in early meeting with my publisher, Zoe Walton, we discussed where the story might go and how many books it might take to get there. The second book synopsis was written, I just needed to decide whether it should be structured in on or two parts (hence bk 3.)

Q:Slightly off the topic of fantasy, since your Parrish series was described as near-future Australian cyber punk, I see there’s a We want more Parrish site on Facebook. Are you planning any more books on Parrish?

That will rather depend on a publisher wanting to publish them. At the moment I’m in talks with someone on a sideline Parrish project,  and I’m writing a novelette (1o K) for an e-book publisher. But a full blown series is not something that’s likely to happen in the immediate future.

Q: You also write ‘frivolous, fun-filled urban fantasy’ under the pen-name Marianne Delacourt. Your first Tara Sharp book, Sharp Shooter, won the Davitt Award. There’s a touch of paranormal in this series because the main character can tell what people are thinking from their body language. Did you do a lot of research to make the paranormal element believable?

I did do a lot of research but much of it was anecdotal or “dubious”. What was really interesting were the studies done on paralanguage itself. We are so much more than the words we speak. Communication is complex and largely subconscious.

Q: I notice you have a degree in film and television. Do you plan to get back into writing scripts and, if you do, are there some exciting projects brewing away in the background?

I’ve been slowly working on a script with New Zealand writer Lynne Jamneck for Enchanter Productions called Stalking Daylight. It’s been a slow process because Lynne’s been studying full time and I’ve been writing full time. However we’re nearly there on it. It’s an original SF thriller (not an adaption of a book) in the vein of PK Dick and Vernor Vinge’s work.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Well, I just have to say that if some people think fantasy is a boy’s club, they should look over the fence at SF J

To answer your second question though, I think there is a difference in way that male and female writers tell fantasy stories. But you have to be careful about making blanket statements because there are also many commonalities. And for every difference you might point out, there is an exception to the rule you’re trying to define. I guess the only thing I’d be comment on is that male authors write male characters a little differently. And it’s a difference that is both gratifying and enlightening.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

No. Not at all. I never think about the author’s sex when I read a book. Afterwards, though, if it gives me cause to reflect, those considerations might crop up. I certainly never choose a book to read based on gender.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Right now (post deadline!) I’d settle for masseuse and a slice of banana cake right here in my own time!

Give-away question to win a copy of Burn Bright:

If you could choose your favourite musician to compose music for your favourite book, who would it be and what would be the book?

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Story telling across mediums …

I’ve never done this before, but this advert is so well done I just had to share it. The art direction is excellent. There is no dialogue to clutter it up and all the emotion is told through the child or perhaps a small person’s gestures. (In the close ups they appear to be children’s hands). Very economical.

Since I teach script storyboard and animatic, I’d use this as a fine example of economical story telling! (I’m not into cars, so I’ve no idea what sort of car it is. But I suppose the advert has achieved its aim because I’m talking about it).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R55e-uHQna0]

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