May 7th, 2008


on reading

Ugh .. I now have no patience for a bunch of first paragraphs for stories.

I HATE a story that starts with dialogue. If I don't know who's talking or who they are talking to or I get thrown in in the middle of a conversation ... I just. don't. care. Seriously. It's the quickest way for me to flick over to the next story.

I HATE looooooooooooong descriptions and backstory and infodump in the first paragraph. I. also. just. don't. care.

Of course, THE most important thing you can do with a story, in my opinion, is nail the first paragraph. You can do either of the above but you HAVE TO DO IT WELL. You need to hook your reader and you have the length of that word count to compel them to keep on reading. If I hate your first paragraph, I'm grumpy when I read the second one, I have half an eye on the room or my email inbox or my shopping list by the third and by the fourth, I know I am rating this a 2 and I'm only continuing to ease my own guilt.

None of this, of course, applies if you happen to be brilliant. Thing is though, if you happen to think you are brilliant, this greatly reduces the chances of you actually being so.

Here's an example ... I have read so many detective style stories in my slushing and in my LSS time that I CANNOT stand them. Most people do them as an homage and they don't do them very well. The irony doesn't work. The puns and the send ups look awkward. The stories look dated and are painful to read. Yet, I read Neil Gaiman's "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" on the weekend, which is set in the 50s detective style. It plays it straight. And it also works with nursery rhymes which, if you've read a lot of Jasper Fforde ... also is becoming "done before". Of course, Gaimain IS a brilliant storyteller and writer and he not only pulls it off but he rejuvinates the love of that particular story.

Most writers are not in Gaiman's league. But I read Gaiman and when I read your story, I compare it to his because that's the point of LSS and a Year's Best.

Harsh but true.

Twelfth Planet Press Announces: New Ceres Anthology

Twelfth Planet Press is delighted to announce the forthcoming publication New Ceres: the Anthology.

During the war that left Earth uninhabitable, refugees from the doomed planet fled to the outer colonies. Many of them found their way to New Ceres, a planet that embraced the Age of Enlightenment almost two hundred years ago, and has not yet let go.

The water may be green and spaceships may be landing on a regular basis, but New Ceres is a planet firmly entrenched in Eighteenth Century culture. Offworld technology is strictly forbidden to anyone outside the government, and powdered wigs are in fashion.

New Ceres initially appeared in 2006 with a second issue of the webzine following in 2007. The New Ceres project is set in a shared world where writers are free to play with genre, characters and worldbuilding. Tansy Rayner Roberts created the eyebrow-raising duo of La Duchesse and Pepin in her story "Scandal at the Feast of Saturn" in Issue 1 which Lucy Sussex picked up and ran with in her award-winning story "Mist and Murder" in Issue 2. This much-loved pair will be back for more scandal, this time in print. Dirk Flinthart's George Gordon from "She Walks in Beauty" (Issue 1) will also reappear, this time with an oriental flavour. Kaaron Warren brings some of the darker shades of New Ceres to light in her offering, "Tontine Mary".

New Ceres isn't just about the characters we have grown to love. It's also about the undercurrent of dissent as an underclass is created through the mass absorption of refugees as seen in Stephen Dedman's "Sufficiently Advanced" (Issue 2) and Cat Sparks' "The Bride Price" (Issue 2). It's about the power and the glory of the Lumoscenti (Jay Lake's "Tower the Sun", Issue 2) and it's about trying to control the unknown (Maxine McArthur's "Tyger Tyger", Issue 1). For me, it's also about the coffee houses and the dresses (as seen in various pieces of 'nonfiction').

New Ceres is an exciting project. Each writer has stamped their own claim on pieces of this world and its story. Where will they take New Ceres next? Find out in New Ceres: the anthology! This book is scheduled to be released at Swancon 2009. A limited hard cover print run of 50 will accompany the standard print run.

Editors: Alisa Krasnostein and Tehani Wessely
Queries should be directed to:
Submissions will close October 15th 2008
Payment: AUD$50.00 per story and contributor copy.
Rights: First International rights, and exclusivity for one year after first publication. We are not looking to reprint stories that have been previously published in print or online.

All currently submitted stories are automatically being considered for the anthology.

The New Ceres project is being refitted, with the new print anthology playing a major role; the website is currently being overhauled as part of this. Further New Ceres support material usually maintained on the webspace is not available at this time. However this material can be made accessible to authors upon acceptance to the project.

If you always had intentions of submitting to the New Ceres webzine and have a story proposal, please send a query to the editors at


I feel like I need to put my last post in context. I think any of those (rough) story beginnings are fine if you are reading the odd short story. But when you're ready a large volume of shorts - I've nearly hit 1000 for this year so far - so many stories just utterly fail to engage me. Not only that, but many many many stories become predictable and written down to a formula. So like, with a story that starts in the middle of action, or dialogue, you *know* several paragraphs down you'll be given context or background and then you'll go back to the action or the dialogue and suddenly that's the whole first page gone without any actual forward motion for me as a reader to want to know what's going on here. I *could* just start these stories on page 2 but I already know that they have wasted the first page and thus, are never gonna crack my final list for the year when better writers have not kissed away a good 500 or 1000 words.

And I think that's what I was basically trying to say. I read a lot of writers blogs about the place and so come across a lot of posts of the "Why won't someone buy *my* story" or "they musn't read X over at Last Short Story ..." variety. I just wanted to say that when you submit a story to a market, you don't submit it into a vacuum. The editor has read a bunch of other stories today, this week, this month. And if yours doesn't pique the interest of the reader, you won't pique their interest as a buyer.

As for brilliant writers or the years best stories ... I think we could probably all come up with a top 300 that would look similar (as Jonathan would say) but even then ... if you put that into the context of 7000 stories published that year ...


My cooking has sucked this evening. I made a broccoli, mushroom and spring onion stirfry which was not nice - too bitter. I made a chocolate pudding which didn't set. I put it in the freezer but it's not nice frozen. So then I baked a blackberry sponge pudding but the timer on my oven stuck and it burned.

grrrr.... Am still hungry too! I think it's a hot milo and then bed for me.