February 17th, 2010


2010 Australian Specfic Snapshot: Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy is a writer based in Queanbeyan. She has recently sold a trilogy to Voyager.

1. So, your exciting news is that you have a trilogy coming out with Voyager beginning this year. Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from the series?

It is exciting, isn’t it? :) The trilogy is called The Dream of Asarlai; the first book The Secret Ones goes on sale in July and the next two books are January and July next year. What to expect? It’s set in the modern world – mostly in Ireland, but a large part of book one is here in Aus, and book three spends a lot of time in America, particularly Boston. It features a race called the gadda – they look human, they seem human, but they come from different ancestors and thus have access to the energy of the world around them. They can manipulate this energy to create what we humans call magic. The gadda refer to it as controlling and using power. The basic synopsis of the entire trilogy is this: for centuries, the gadda have hidden away their most powerful incantations in a collection called the Forbidden Texts. It’s been so long, in fact, that most now think the texts are a myth. However, one resourceful gadda who calls herself Asarlai found the texts and stole them. Now, the hunt is on for the six guardians of the gadda to find Asarlai and the texts before she can use them to twist power in the world, upset the balance and change everything forever.

What’s a bit different about my trilogy is that each book has new point-of-view characters, cause each one is a romance. So in book one, we follow Maggie and Lucas as they meet and fall in love and the impact that has on the search for Asarlai and the texts. In book two, it’s Ione and Stephen’s story and book three covers the romance of Bernadette and Hampton. The books do share characters, so you never lose the continuation of the relationship, but you’ve also got two new people to meet and hopefully fall in love with. All this with the backdrop of the increasing threat of Asarlai and her use of the texts. I hope I’ve created a series with characters that people will love, with tension that will build and make people keep reading and with some views on our world and in particular politics, extremists and terrorism that people will find interesting.

2. How has making a novel sale changed the way you see yourself as a writer and how has it changed the way you write?

Changing my view of myself as a writer is the biggest impact that this sale has had. Up until then, although I was working hard and dreaming and determined, I never actually believed that I was good enough. There was always a part of my mind that was sitting in the background just waiting for me to fail so it could pop in and begin the ‘I told you so’s’. So to have someone as experienced and respected in the industry as Stephanie Smith, and then the rest of the good folk at HarperCollins, love my work enough and believe it is sellable enough to publish it has been the biggest shot of self-confidence I’ve ever received. I still probably get over excited every time I get complimented about the books, but when I’m sitting down and working there’s now a confidence and a sense of accomplishment that is powering me.

It’s also changed the way I write – The growth in confidence seems to have coincided with a growth in skill, or maybe it’s the old throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim analogy. When I sold the trilogy in July, only book one was done. Book two and three were drafted, but so much had been changed plot wise for the trilogy in the process of polishing book one that I had a whole hell of a lot of work to do. So I had to get book two polished and ready to be submitted by the beginning of this month, and had to do that in between edits on book one. With that pressure, I became better at seeing things that did and didn’t work and better at working out solutions to them. I now enjoy the re-writing and revising phase more than drafting, cause I love the challenge of finding the weak spots and fixing them. I’m also getting better at the actual writing – it’s becoming crisper and my word use is expanding. I’m getting away from using the crutches that held me up for so long and I’m working hard to find the right word, the right way to say something.

3. You had a very definite personal plan, working towards selling a novel. How did this help you achieve your goal and what advice would you give to other writers?

It’s been weird, people’s reaction to what I did. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but others seem to :) For those who don’t know, in February 2008 I left my job as a journalist, and found myself facing a decision. I’d done very little fiction writing for a couple of years, because the journalism was using up all the same brain matter and input that should have been going into my short stories and novels. Now, I was thinking that I could chase the money and go into the public service, but I’d probably still face the same problem of loss of creativity; or I could go get a part-time, menial sort of job and leave myself with time and headspace to focus on my writing. What pulled me was my belief that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and think that if I’d tried harder, maybe I could have achieved my dream of being a professional author. So I decided to take the menial job (working in a supermarket) and I gave myself a two year deadline. If at the end of the two years I felt that my writing was improving and I did have a shot at being a published novelist, I’d keep going. If, however, after two years of solid slog and determination it was clear that I’d never have what it took, then I’d bow out gracefully from the race to be published (but keep writing for the love of it) and consider what else to do with my life.

I’m lucky that I have a wonderful husband that wants above all things for me to be happy and fulfilled, and so he supported the decision, even though it put pressure on him. I was extremely dedicated – nearly every day that I wasn’t working, I was writing, and some days I’d do both. I acted as though I were a professional writer, even though I didn’t have the sales or the money (not that there’s huge pots of money in being a professional :)) If I hadn’t made that decision, made the sacrifice and made myself as professional in my working as I could, there’s no way I would have gotten The Secret Ones to the point I did at the time that I did, and therefore it’s possible I would never have sold the trilogy, so I owe everything that’s happened to that decision. Certainly if I wasn’t acting that way, I would have found the workload involved with deadlines overwhelming.

One piece of advice to other writers? Act professional right now. Think of your writing now in terms of what you’d need to do if you had a contract. Set aside the time now. Educate your family and friends now about what will be required (believe me, your family and friends are going to need to be really understanding about the amount of time you’re going to spend hidden in your study – I’ve been blessed in that regard). Set yourself deadlines and do everything you can to stick to them. Get into those work habits early, and then when you sell your book/s, you’ll be ready to go and won’t have to not only deal with the excitement and (if you don’t have an agent) potential trauma of contract negotiations and such but also find the time to meet the deadlines.

4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?

I’m so happy that people are being proactive about talking Hugos and working to honour Australian writers. This is where I confess that I’m not as widely read as I should be, and so my list of writers and work probably isn’t as extensive as it should be :) That said, there are a few things that I’ve read that I adored and would love to see looked at. Top of that list for me has to be a couple of Twelfth Planet Press books (and no, I’m not just saying that to suck up to Alisa). Deborah Biancotti’s collection A Book of Endings was a fabulous read. I’d been looking forward to a collection from Deb for a long time – from the first story of hers I read she struck me as an interesting and thoughtful writer and I wanted to have the opportunity to delve into her work. I finished that book with a determination to sit down with it again one day and try to pull it apart and work out what she’s doing. Reading and looking at Deb’s work will undoubtedly make me a better writer. The other TPP book was Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Siren Beat. I love coming across new takes on the whole urban fantasy genre, and sirens in Hobart nightclubs and huge tentacled beasts in the harbour was DEFINITELY something new, not to mention Tansy’s extremely accessible and extremely clever writing style.

On the novel side of things, my two standouts were Kaaron Warren’s Slights and Glenda Larke’s The Last Stormlord. Slights was a fascinating read for me, cause I could well see the beauty in Stephanie’s desire to have no interaction with the world, yet Kaaron took it to what was almost an inevitable yet horrible conclusion. The Last Stormlord is, I think, a book that’s been long overdue in Australia – a book based on our daily concern for water (although as I write that, it’s been raining here for more than twenty-four hours and it feels weird to consider how much water’s been on the agenda for the past five years or so) and with Glenda’s fabulous writing, intense and interesting characters and wonderful worldbuilding. So they’re the books that come to my mind now – undoubtedly there are other brilliant books that I haven’t mentioned and that I don’t know about.

5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?

OMG, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! After years of hearing of the amazing things that people have experienced at Worldcons, I’m so excited to be going to one. Who knows when I’ll get to one overseas (although I have a dream about next year’s WFC…) What am I most looking forward to? So many things. It’s not going to be the experience I thought it would be twelve months ago – I thought then I’d be going as a fan, but now I’m going as a writer, with my first book out. So there’s going to be elements of networking going on (actually, not so much looking forward to that – networking is something that I don’t have a natural feel for). Otherwise, I can’t wait to go to my first Worldcon party – they better be good, peoples! I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hear the thoughts of so many people from all over the world. New input, new ideas, new perspectives. Most of all, I’m excited about the opportunity for Australia to showcase its talents to the world. All the amazing writers, and artists, and editors. I so love this community that we’re part of and I want the whole world to see that when it comes to support, encouragement, talent and creativity, Australia kicks arse!

To read all the 2010 Snapshot Interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily:


Will we beat 83 this time? If you know of someone involved in the Scene with something to plug, then send us an email at 2010snapshot@gmail.com


News round up

Today I am interviewed by Charles Tan over at Bibliophile Stalker and I reveal where the heck the name Twelfth Planet Press comes from.

I was also snapshot last night by kathrynlinge - here

In Ben Peek's snapshot here on Monday, he revealed an upcoming Twelfth Planet Press project - a Novella Double called Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi/Ben Peek. Together, this pair of novellas will tell the story of what happened after the city fell from the sky, from two very different perspectives - one from above, in the floating city of Loft, and one from the planet below, in Dirt.

There's also been a bunch of reviews and mentions of Twelfth Planet Press books lately and some lovely mentions inside the February issue of Locus, aside from the Recommended Reading List. On Locus online, Jeff Vandermeer called TPP his "new favourite indie press" and listed Horn in "Little Books with Big Hearts" saying:

Ball's novella-in-book-form from my new favorite indie press, Twelfth Planet, combines noir and faery in a hardboiled structure that plays knowingly with the tropes of both subgenres; he is without a doubt one of the best of the up-and-coming writers in the field.

Of Deborah Biancotti's A Book of Endings he said:
Among collections by relatively new writers, I found Deborah Biancotti's A Book of Endings, Eugie Foster's Returning My Sister's Face, and Cat Rambo's Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight the most compelling. None of these collections were perfect, but each was lively and willing to take chances.

And of New Ceres Nights - might be the sleeper anthology of the year. It's consistently lively and interesting in developing its shared setting.

In other reviews, Rich Horton wrapped up Overseas Anthologies and said of New Ceres Nights:
New Ceres Nights is a set of stories in the shared world of New Ceres ... I like the New Ceres stories in general, and this was an enjoyable book. I particularly liked Tansy Rayner Roberts’s "Prosperine When It Sizzles", featuring the very popular character La Duchesse and her assistant M. Pepin -- about whom we learn some secrets as he meets an old offworld acquaintance while the two of them try to rescue a prominent politician’s children from some unfortunate choices in entertainment; and Sylvia Kelso’s "The Sharp Shooter", in which the title character comes to a remote farm to help eliminate a dangerous beast.

And A Book of Endings got an in depth review at Strange Horizons where they likened her work to that of Kelly Link.


2010 Australian Specfic Snapshot: Jonathan Strahan

Jonathan Strahan is a Hugo-nominated, freelance editor. He is also Reviews Editor for Locus magazine. He co-founded Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy and was co-publisher of Eidolon Books which published Robin Pen’s The Secret Life of Rubber-Suit Monsters, Howard Waldrop’s Going Home Again, Storm Constantine’s The Thorn Boy, and Terry Dowling’s Blackwater Days. He can be found to blog on occasion at News from Coode Street.

1. Congratulations on your recent success for your 2009 books! My favourite book of yours from last year was Eclipse 3, which I think was a standout for the year. What plans do you have for the Eclipse series? How is editing a series of anthologies different to standalone projects?

Thank you! I'm delighted that you enjoyed Eclipse Three, and have been extremely pleased with how it has been received. It was something of a bear of a book to edit and I think really marked something of a sea change in my approach to editing, so to see it be successful, to have it win awards like the Aurealis, is deeply gratifying.

As to plans: using the word 'plans' when it comes to Eclipse is somewhat over-generous. The series started out organically and was envisaged as a very free-form thing: a sort of combination of great stories I found/the kind of stuff I love. It opened the door to creating a very broad kind of book, something I enjoy. Looking back I realise, in retrospect, that this was greatly influenced by Michael Bishop's lamentably underappreciated anthology Light Years and Dark.

Anyhow: plans. As much as I love the first three volumes of Eclipse I feel there's probably a need to define the series a little more, to clarify what readers can expect. I've seen a number of readers foundering when they try to match what they expect from a book with a subtitle “new science fiction and fantasy” with what they find in the book. For that reason, I think I'll spend some time talking to my publishers and seeing how we can nudge it to be clearer. These are changes that would come into place after Eclipse Four, which I'm working on now. The challenge will be to remain consistent with the books to date, especially Three.

I think this speaks to the main difference in editing a series of anthologies over singletons. You need to be aware of consistencies from volume-to-volume, look to build a character for the series so that readers know what to expect on a broad level from it, and writers know how to take it into account as a market. Beyond that, it's about building relationships and reminding people that you want them involved over the long haul. One of the delights has been building relationships with writers like Peter Beagle, Jeff Ford, Margo Lanagan and others who I've published more than once. When you edit singletons you only focus on the book, and to some extent, the relationships at hand. It's a great experience and real privilege to get to do.

2. What projects do you have on the horizon? What can we expect from you in the near future? What do you look for in projects? And how do you go about making them happen?

I apologise if my answer reads a bit like a checklist, but I'm forever going on about being busy and I think this year you'll see a lot of the work I've been doing come to fruition. I think I'll have as many as ten projects published this year, and I don't know how to pick favourites. But let's try! I'll have three original anthologies published during 2010. Swords and Dark Magic, which I co-edited with my pal Lou Anders, is a big definitive new 'sword and sorcery' book that was a joy to do. The authors - Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Caitlin Kiernan and others - outdid themselves and we had a ball doing it, so we're looking to do another if we can. I also just finished Legends of Australian Fantasy, co-edited with Jack Dann, who is my blood brother. It's a big book, eleven fantasy novellas by some of Australia's most famous fantasists, which will be out at Aussiecon and is just wonderful. Garth Nix's story for the book is one of my favourites of the past couple years. And there'll be Eclipse Four. I have no idea what it will be like yet, but it'll be out for World Fantasy in Columbus. I've also guest-edited an anthology-length special issue of Subterranean magazine for my pal Bill Shafer. It has stories by Peter Beagle, Daryl Gregory, Maureen McHugh and others. I have two reprint anthologies due out to: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Four (which is actually out) and Wings of Fire, a big dragon reprint anthology, both from Night Shade. Wings is huge fun and is co-edited with my wife, Marianne Jablon, and the “best” is an annual project I deeply love doing despite its many challenges. I've also done quite a bit of work lately editing single-author collections for Night Shade and Subterranean. I'm pretty sure six of these will come out in 2010: Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle; Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories; Walter Jon Williams's The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories; Jack Vance's Hard Luck Diggings (edited with Terry Dowling); and The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. I think that's everything!

Now, what do I look for in projects?!? They need to have substance, real meat to them, I guess. That's not the first thing, but I do need to feel they're viable, that a theme will support a book, than an author has a collection to publish, that it gels in my mind as a book I can imagine. Almost every book I've worked on, I could see it in my mind's eye before I ever started work. I also look for something that either people want to read or that I feel evangelical about. For example, I love Keith Roberts' short fiction. I'm talking about editing a book of his stories, and I'll probably do it for close to no money because I think it should be done. I want it to exist. I also need to be able to sell them to a publisher, to have the kind of idea that I can synopsise and deliver it to a publisher so they pick up my enthusiasm for it. There may be something else, but that's what comes to mind.

As to how I go about making them happen? Wow. I don't know how to synopsise this. It depends on the project. I want to shorten this answer to the old quote about 90% of success being showing up, but that doesn't help. First, I get the bug for a project, work out that I think the project is there and that I want to do it. Second, I write it up. A page or two. Nothing fancy. Just enough to test it. Then I mention it to some publisher and editor friends. If they like it then I write up a proposal, get it to my agent so he can sell the book, then get writers on board. My witch book, Under My Hat, is a good example. I was reading one of Terry Pratchett's 'Tiffany Aching' novels and really loving it . It crossed my mind that my daughters would love it when they were older. I realised I really wanted to do a book that they could enjoy, and something a little 'Tiffany Aching' would be right. I sketched out in my mind who could be involved, invited writers, wrote a proposal (in an hour after a year's avoidance - I don't like writing proposals), sold the book quickly and am now doing it for 2012.

All of which is methodical and dull. I did once sell three books to Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade over beer on Charles Brown's back deck, mostly because it was sunny and we were having a good time. Sometimes it's quick and spontaneous too.

3. As Locus Reviews Editor you have your finger on the pulse of the international scene. How do you think that informs your projects? How do you see the local scene fitting in with the broader specfic scene?

I started working at Locus back in 1997 as part of my ultimately successful plan to woo my wife (or for her to woo me if you listen to her tell it). Working for Locus has always intimately informed what I do. The first handful of books I edited were year's bests, and they sat hand in glove with editing for and working on a magazine with a broad perspective. I think working for Locus keeps me aware of trends in publishing and makes me pay attention to what's being written in the field at a very deep level.

There was a time when I would have had trouble answering this sort of question about the local scene, but I've had a chance to think about it over the years. I think the scene is a healthy and vibrant part of the Australian literary scene -- there are some remarkable writers, editors, artists, and publishers working here - and it acts as a real feeder for the international scene. Publishers and editors around the world look to Australia for new talent, for writers who can take the field by storm, both critically and commercially. It's probably the third largest English language SF scene in the world, and that's impressive.

4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?

I have a lot of friends in Australia and I'd be delighted to see any of them appear on a Hugo shortlist. I think Greg Egan deserves to be on the ballot for his SF novella “Hot Rock”, which is one of the best stories published anywhere in the world this year. I also loved Margo Lanagan's novella “Sea-wives” and short story “Ferryman”. Both deserve a place, were it up to me. I think Damien Broderick had a remarkable return to form this year, lamentably unnoticed here at home, and his “This Wind Blowing, and this Tide” deserves consideration. There's also been a lot of talk about Paul Haines's “Wives”, a striking novella from x6, and I'd be happy to see it shortlisted. I don't know if Shaun Tan had any work out in 2009, but if he did, he too should be on the list. There's a lot of great work out there. Although I didn't read many novels, I did greatly enjoy Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, and would be happy to see it there too. I'd also put forward Jack Dann for Best Editor, Short Form. He's easily one of the best editors living in this country - people get distracted by his writing and often seem to overlook this - and his The Dragon Book was excellent.

I think what makes me happiest, though, about the Hugos this year, is that there are so many Australians who seriously deserve to be discussed as viable nominees and winners. That alone makes Aussiecon a success for me.

5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?

I will indeed. For the first time ever, this will be a family affair. My wife and daughters will be there too, so there'll be more of a family focus for me. Other than that though, seeing friends is always the best part of any convention. Getting to go to dinners and parties and bars and packing a year or two's worth of conversation into five day is the best part of going to a WorldCon and I am looking forward to it. Oh, and I'll get to be there with my new boss, which will be fun too. Liza Trombi, an almost-Aussie, will be coming down, so getting to spend time with her as a very small Locus 'crew' should be huge fun too.

To read all the 2010 Snapshot Interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily:


Will we beat 83 this time? If you know of someone involved in the Scene with something to plug, then send us an email at 2010snapshot@gmail.com