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July 17th, 2014

Charming and dangerous

The estimable Jonathan Shaw, to whom I will always be grateful for accepting two of my earliest stories ("Bertie" and "Alistair" - both ghost stories, of a sort, and both for The School Magazine), has reviewed The Duties of a Cat. Among other things, he says,

"Like cats themselves, the poems can be charming and dangerous in the same breath."

But why don't you go and read the whole review? It's got extracts from Christopher Smart and David Malouf! Who could resist?

And here's a gratuitous cat photo! Felix, being shy.

The same Writing Process blog hop that's hopping through the fields of Australian writing has been bopping across the USA - and American spec fic writer and poet Wendy Rathbone's answers were fascinating. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Over to Wendy - who blogs somewhere in the Left Dimension. Check out her blog!

1. Why do you write what you do?
That’s a very easy answer for me. I write what I want to read.
Unfortunately (or maybe not so unfortunate) this puts me all over the place in terms of genre because I like to read many different genres in all types of literature from poetry to novels.
As a pre-teen (and even now) my favorite holiday was always Halloween. Some of my first poetic efforts use that holiday as a theme. As a teen, I loved science fiction and I wrote stories and poems around that theme. Many were published in high school and college journals. Later, while still enjoying science fiction, I branched into horror and dark fantasy. I found the genres of both to be more all-encompassing than one might think at first glance. Horror was not only a genre of chills and frights. Psychological character studies and erotica were also broadly accepted in that genre, while general science fiction was (despite Samuel Delany, Nicola Griffith, Storm Constantine and some others doing ground-breaking, taboo-ish themes) in a dry period frowning at explicit erotica, romance or even too much emotion and characterization.
The horror genre also seemed more open to gender-bending themes, gay or bi characters, and I enjoy that diversity and freedom. And one could write about vampires, werewolves and ghostly things without being frowned at or being told to “get serious.”
I also enjoy romance, erotica and mainstream. I’ve written in all those categories, both with my poetry, short fiction and novels.
So you can see I am all over the place in my body of work. It also makes marketing myself more of a chore!
2. How does your writing process work?
I love this question because it’s fun to talk about.
When I am being creative, my mind does not naturally work in a linear, logical process. Images and phrases and snippets of dialog might pummel me from out of nowhere. This happens when I first get ideas, before I’ve written anything, and it happens in the middle of writing a story or novel as well. It doesn’t stop. It just keeps happening as my story progresses. If I am being smart, I’ll record those lines or scenes in my writing journal. I guess you could call them notes. Often they are poems.
Let me talk about poetry here for a second. When the poetry doors open my mind is richly fed. I love playing with words and sounds of words and beautiful, otherworldly images. I’m not focused at all on form, so my poems are mostly free verse with a side of haiku. My mind gets to soar and play, free and unfettered, when I write poetry. And what poetry taught me over the years is a very valuable lesson: trust your subconscious mind in writing and you will be a better writer. My poems that are planned sound planned. My stories that are planned sound planned. When I just let go and write images and words that I love because I am in love with them and for no other reason, I do my best.
My process for writing poetry involves an empty book or journal, a pen, and the quiet of the night-time. Most of the time I write poetry in my bed before sleep, and always by hand. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to write. Often I use ‘prompts’ in the form of words or sentences from my own work, or from something I am currently reading. This gets my mind into the poetry mode. The prompt word or sentence itself often doesn’t even make it into my poem. Sometimes I make up titles from words I find when I open my poetry journals in the middle and begin looking at words at random on the page, not reading them in order, or sometimes reading sentences backwards.
From that poetry exercise, stories and novels can also form. Many of my stories and novels were poems first. I do not use outlines. So instead of writing an outline, I will often write a poem to capture the flavor and atmosphere I want to take wing. Sometimes lines from the poem end up in the story. Despite my crazy process, I still generally write my stories and novels from beginning to end and not out of order.
My most recent novel soon to be released, “Letters to an Android,” is the result of a short-short story I wrote for an online challenge, but it is also definitely the result of a series of one line poems (some of which became chapter titles) and haiku. I even found a way to put haiku into the novel! Writing that novel was such play for me. To help inspire me, the process for that novel also included gazing at a lot of science fiction landscapes on art sites and on googleimages. Looking at art also inspires me to write poems.
When I was younger I was overwhelmed by the concept of a novel. I didn’t think my ideas were deep enough or long enough to sustain a whole book. I would become anxious at the thought of writing one. My first novel was shelved forever. The second was never completed. Then I wrote “Pale Zenith,” a science fiction novel, and while writing it I told myself I was going to simply put everything into it that I love, write characters I could describe poetically and fall in love with, and not look back and not worry about it fitting some trend or trope or classic genre. I did do some research for some of the technology in the novel (and research is my least favorite thing,) but other than that it is purely fantastical from my imagination. When I finally broke free of trying to write a “proper novel” and just allowed myself to have a good time, I found the concept of a novel no longer intimidating.
3. What are you working on now?
Right now I have just finished the edits on “Letters to an Android.” I am also compiling two short story collections, some new and some previously published short stories.
The short story collections are “The Red Fountain, Where Vampires Come to Drink,” and “Risque Science Fiction.” The first collects some of my best vampire stories from a period in my life where I was writing a lot of fiction and poetry for magazines such as “Dreams of Decadence,” “Prisoners of the Night” and a lot of long-gone, little magazines. The second will include some of my science fiction that includes erotica, gay characters and/or taboo themes. One of those stories was published in the hardback anthology “Bending the Landscape,” and another in the long out of print anthology “Air Fish.” I don’t want to lose those stories, and so I am doing the collections.
One of my newest short stories, “I Keep the Dark that is Your Pain,” is in the anthology A Darke Phantastique due out at the end of July 2014.
Sometimes I have dry periods for my poetry, but in the last two and a half months I’ve written a lot of new stuff and continue to do so, and I’ve made new poetry sales to: Pedestal Magazine, Dreams and Nightmares, Horror Writers of America Showcase, and Scifaikuest Magazine. And I have a lot more new poems making the market rounds.
4. How does your work differ from others in the genre?
I find this to be the most difficult question to answer. I write in many genres. So the question is what makes my fiction different from other fiction of its kind?
I often include bisexual or gay characters in my writings. For erotica writing, such as my short story collection, “My House is Full of Whispers,” I’ve done it all: gay, straight, bi. In my romance novels “The Foundling” and “None Can Hold the Dark” my characters are male and gay. In “Letters to an Android” my main characters are unlabeled as to gender preference, but the main relationship is between two men. That book is science fiction, not erotica. In “Pale Zenith” my characters are fairly straight although I make mention of group marriages, and two of my main characters are unusually close twins who fall for one woman.

Another thing I love to do in my fiction is play around with poetic turns of phrase. I hope that makes my writing a little different.
I am a believer that character IS plot, and so I don’t force my characters into too much pre-planned plotting. I give them a bit of background, a setting and a couple of related or unrelated ideas, then I let them lead me into their story. My stories are about the people, not the car chase.