Friday, June 24, 2016

For those Who Came In Late

Hello all!

Every now and then I like to put a hold on the usual blogs and reintroduce myself for anybody who might be joining us recently. New friends who might have stumbled onto my books or my twitter or my blog and decided to take a seat and join the fun.

So a very friendly hello to you!

My name is Carl, I'm an author of fantasy and mystery, of novels and comics and short stories, and of rambling blogs like this very one you're reading. If you're ever wondering what you should read, might I recommend my last novel, Pilgrimage. It's a lot of fun and excitement with a touch of drama and plenty of fantasy, magic and monsters, all set in modern rural Australia. Come on, when's the last time you read a fantasy novel set in modern rural Australia? Try it out.

If you'd like to try that book or any other, there are links at the side of the blog to their Amazon page or if you scroll up and click on that box that says 'Books by Carl' you can find blurbs for each book and a couple of other links to purchase my books in your preferred store and format. If you're the kind of folk who like to try before you buy, you can click on 'Free Stories N' Stuff'' to find some short stories and some sample chapters from my novels.

Otherwise, feel free to pull up a chair and listen to my random musings and ramblings. My blog is mostly about my thoughts and experience as a writer. I'm sure you'll find it helpful, interesting, or both.

And now, there's something I've been promising to announce on Twitter and Facebook and here it is...

I have a new book coming out!

Summer's End is a hard boiled detective story set in a small Washington town. It has mystery, intrigue, drama, action, excitement and even romance! I am positive that you'll enjoy it!

No release date yet, other than soon. Very soon. Keep watching this space for updates! I'll be bringing you blurbs, samples and proper release dates in the coming weeks.

Until then, friends, I've got plenty of work to do, so I'll see you next time!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How I Published A Short Story

This month a short story I wrote was published in the Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, Aurealis. I thought it might be interesting to talk about how that happened so, here we are, and here's my story about getting a short story published.

About two years ago now I decided to sell a short story. The wording of that is important. I didn't wake up and say "I'd like to try and sell a short story." I said "I am going to sell a short story." And yes, I more or less did just wake up and make the decision. That decision was birthed from the same thinking that has been responsible for many decisions I've made. I hadn't done it before, I figured I should.

So that's the decision I made. Almost two years ago. It wasn't exactly a quick process.

The first thing I did was look up magazines taking submissions. If you've never done this, let me tell you there are a lot of them. The vast majority are now digital publications and the vast majority are for fantasy and science fiction, with a few for literary, young adult and mystery. Well I'm a fantasy author so no problems there. But I also discovered something else. Most of them don't pay.

If you're going to try and publish a short story in magazine or similar collection, you'll have to face the same kind of decisions I made. The two big questions for me were: Will I give a publication a short story for free? Will I pay for the privilege to submit? My answer to both was no. If I want to give stories away for free, I'll do it here on my blog. I already do that. I also wasn't going to pay to submit. I understand why some publications might charge, but I expected to get a lot of rejections and plenty of editors were willing to reject me for free.

So with this criteria, I collected a list of magazines that had large submissions windows totalling about 10, put them into a spread sheet and went onto the next phase of my master plan.

To sell a short story, I needed to write a short story. If you've been keeping up with me since those long ago days when I was a member of Deviant Art, you'll know I used to write a lot of short stories. But like so many a working author, I realised somewhere along the way and that short stories don't make money. My time is more is better spent writing novels. Yeah, that's mercenary, but a guy has got to eat. So I needed a short story and all I had were old, old, old. I've improved my writing by leaps and bounds since those days and I had to put my best foot forward.

So I sat down and started writing and what I found was... I had forgotten how to write a short story. Well, fortunately, the solution to that was easy. I began reading a lot of short stories. When you want to learn to write anything, the first thing to do is read. The success of others is often the best lesson. So I found myself a bunch of short story magazines and I read them. This not only reminded me how a short story is meant to be written, it gave me a better idea of what the magazines I was submitting to were interested in. My goal was to have three compete and ready to sell stories at any one time that could make the rounds. After a few months I achieved this.

But, to be perfectly honest, I kind of cheated. I had two stories done and ready to go around but I was floundering on getting that third. So I dove back into my most recent (and by recent I mean 12 months+) short stories to see which one sucked the least. I found one that hadn't made it online and wasn't complete pants and I edited the shit out of it. So I had three. Two completely new and one mostly new story ready to go.

And then came the waiting. I had become one of hundreds of hopefuls sending their short stories to editors. I was in the big slush pile and some of those slush piles are three months long. Rejections came in. Mostly form letters, occasionally a personalised comment, occasionally some critique. I checked me e-mails obsessively, I started and scrapped a couple more short stories and then remembered I had a novel I really, desperately needed to finish.

And after about six months, I kind of forgot. I just forgot that I was doing the short story thing and the last few rejections came in and I filed them away in my rejections folder (because all writers have one, right?) and kept on keeping on with my other projects. And I did that for almost a year.

And then one day late last year or early this year - I forget exactly when - I woke up and decided I was going to publish a short story. But, wait a moment, didn't I make that decision already? Oh yeah. Whoops...

Back to step one. I went through and checked the magazines on my list. A couple had folded in that time, a couple had gone on indefinite hiatus from taking submissions. So I dove back into the Googles and found some replacements to pad out my list. I wrote a couple more short stories and I started the process again. But I had a decision to make about those earlier stories. Do I keep sending them around? They never did quite complete the list. It's over a year since I wrote them, it's several years for one of them. I'm better now. Are they worth it?

And then, ladies and gents, I said those two magical words.

Fuck it.

And I sent them off again, along with the new stories. And the rejections started coming in again, like they did before, like I expected.

But then something magical happened. An editor at Aurealis said "Hey, that one. We like it. We'll publish it." And soon after that I had a contract. And soon after that I had some copy editing to approve. And soon after that it was published and there was excitement and rejoicing.

And the story that made it? The story titled 'Why I Hate Tuesday.' It's that oldest story that I almost gave up on. That story that I almost didn't sent out at all. It's that little story from an era and a skill I'd since surpassed. But I rewrote it, and I worked on it again and again to make it the best I could. Because, age aside, it's a fine little story.

And that's my story. It's not an unusual story. I did the work, I followed the rules, I played the game, I received rejection after rejection. And in the end, it all worked out.

So the message? The lesson? The take away from this adventure?

Fuck it. Just do it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My Mental Illness Pilgrimage

What's this? Two blog posts in two days? How can it be? Well, yesterday's post was really only half a blog. I talked about how my novel Pilgrimage is a Buddhist parable. But is it really? There's another way you can read Pilgrimage and that's as a story about mental illness. That's what we're going to do now. Again, some spoilers and it will make far more sense if you've read the book. So go do that.

The majority of characters in Pilgrimage suffer from pretty severe mental illness. The only person who doesn't is Griffith. Griffith is kind of a wimp but being afraid of people who want to kill him isn't a mental illness. It's just good sense, really. And to his credit, Griffith shows a lot of determination and bravery in the face of frightening circumstance, so good for him.

Roland, who is really the main character in the story, gets the most development. Everybody gets to see what is going on in his brain and why it's an unpleasant place to be. Roland is an alcoholic but his alcoholism is really just a symptom of his severe self-destructive depression. Roland is addicted to his sadness as he is to alcohol. He utterly loathes the person he has become and that drives every poor choice he makes. The journey that Roland and Griffith takes is a physical counter-part to the emotional journey that Roland makes through the film towards an acceptance of his past and recovery from his depression.

Caia, who joins Roland and Griffith on their journey, is in a similar situation. But her depression takes on a more nihilist than self-destructive angle. Caia is tormented by the sins of her past, like Roland, and even though she hopes to atone for them, she doesn't believe she can ever really make things right again. Caia's depression is explored philosophically in the novel and it's revealed that she no longer believes her life has meaning or that she has any free will. Rather than rage against these ideas, she accepts them with a quiet melancholy.

But mental illness is not just reserved for the heroes of the story.

Lloyd is paranoid. He has also fixated his paranoia on Griffith. Lloyd has nothing but grand designs for his future and the misuse of his power, but is convinced that Griffith is acting against him with every breath. He cannot stop, cannot do anything at all, until he has killed Griffith to keep him from meddling in his plans. Griffith is, of course, only interested in getting as far from Lloyd as possible, but as far as Lloyd is concerned, that's just a part of Griffith's diabolical treachery. Were Pilgrimage told from Lloyd's perspective, it would be a very different and very delusional story. It's also worth noting that Lloyd is a walking plague. It's suggested that while he was never a nice guy, the catalyst for his disturbed state of mind is at least part physical malady. I think this is important because often we still think of mental illness as being all a state of mind, but medicine is showing more and more that mental and physical health are not so separate.

Pentdragon, the would be king and tyrant, is so offended when he meets Griffith and Roland that he decides the most important thing he can do with his time is try and kill them. Why? What do Roland and Griffith do that is so awful? Well mostly they don't care about him. Roland insults him a little but mostly they think he's just full of crap and want nothing to do with him. Pentdragon, having a bad case of narcissism, simply cannot fathom being ignored. That somebody might not see him as the centre of the universe is enraging. He drops everything in a flash to prove just how important and powerful he is to the protagonists.

All these key characters with their severe mental illness orbit around Griffith, the one healthy person amongst them. But not only is Griffith the only healthy one, hiss only desire in the world is to help other people be healthy. His magic is focused on healing wounds. The goal of his journey is to become better at healing others. Griffith tries through-out the novel to help the others and save them malady.

And his efforts do help to heal Roland. Note that I say help. Because what's super duper important in the arc of Roland's depression is that Griffith gives him a hand up and he takes it, but he still climbs out of that pit of despair on his own steam. Griffith can't do all the work for Roland. Roland has to make the choices to be healthy again. But Griffith is integral to that process, enabling Roland to see his problem and address it.

Mental illness is a complicated issue and in a book full of action, adventure and magic, it was never intended to be a serious analysis. But I think the book handles it with the due respect and never makes light of the serious problems these characters face. For Roland, it ends on a happy note, with him beginning to recover. But depression isn't like a switch that gets turned off when you get the right medicine or decide to stop being unhappy. Roland's recovery is a long process that continues even after the novel concludes.

So Pilgrimage is about mental illness?

Or, wait, is it a Buddhist parable?

Can it be both?

Does it have to be either?  Can't it just be a fun little adventure story?

When I wrote it, I definitely intended it to be about Roland's recovery through his friendship with Griffith. I always knew that Roland would be suffering when the story began. Those themes were there from the initial concept. It wasn't until I completed the book that I realised it works as a Buddhist parable. But I have a long standing interest in Buddhism so that didn't surprise me.

But the truth is, when you pick up Pilgrimage and you read it, Pilgrimage becomes your story. The Pilgrimage you read to yourself will always be unique and that's as it should be. If it speaks to you as a story about depression or as a story about Buddhism or as something else, that's wonderful.

All I hope is that you enjoy it.

My Buddhist Pilgrimage

This post will make a lot more sense if you've read my novel Pilgrimage. This post is not spoiler free. I minimalise the spoilers, but spoilers are still present. I strongly recommend you go and read Pilgrimage and then come back and read this. Failing that, I suggest you read this and then go and read Pilgrimage. Failing that, I suggest you skip this and go and read Pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is good and you should read it.

Pilgrimage is a Buddhist parable. No, seriously, it is. What's that? What does a story about an alcoholic and a apprentice sorcerer walking across rural Australia pursued by a megalomaniac and a disease wizard to find protection from a legendary master of life and death have to do with Buddhism? Well you see...

Pilgrimage is full of allusions to Buddhist ideas. Rebirth, from a perspective of transformation, is seen in action all through the book. Caia is the obvious example. Her magic is focused on transforming herself. She takes a variety of forms through the novel, mostly animal. When she does, her body is renewed and sometimes physically altered in the details. The villain Lloyd also undergoes rebirth, defined by his anger and rage, he becomes inhuman, a walking disease. Less obvious but most important is Roland. By the end of the novel, Roland is reborn physically by Griffith's magic and reborn mentally through his experiences and his friendship with Griffith. All these changes reflect the cycle of reincarnation in Buddhism.

We can also see in these transformations the effect of karma. This is simple. Those who are defined by vice, by their attachment to their lives, or by their earthly desires meet only disaster and destruction. Only Roland, who is able to learn to live in the present and let go of his grief, is reborn into a better life.

Another major obstacle that the characters must face in their journey to enlightenment is the tyrannical sorcerer Pentdragon. Pentdragon is a magical force to be reckoned with and many of the most blatant displays of his powers is the creation of magical illusions. Several times our heroes Griffith, Caia and Roland must face and overcome his illusions to progress. There is much discussion in Buddhism on the illusory nature of reality and our world. What exactly that means and how that illusion forms and how we interact it is a discussion worthy of a thesis in itself and we won't go into it here, but illusion is the word used and it describes the emptiness of this world and the threat of distracting or misleading us on the path to enlightenment. Pentdragon's magical illusions are a very literal representation of this threat of illusion. Not only that, but his influence and political power, even much of his wealth is suggested to be an illusion he has created for himself.

Pentdragon also represents the threat of desire. It's because of his desires for power and wealth that he comes into opposition with the heroes. At Pentdragon's party, Roland speaks with a young boy working the bar and discovers that Pentdragon keeps others loyal to him by playing on their desires. The boy desires a shred of the power Pentdragon holds. The guests desire to share in Pentdragon's apparent high social standing.

Finally we come to that journey to enlightenment. Up until now we've focused on the imagery and the events that act as a kind of figurative nod to ideas in Buddhism. They are symbols of a sort to sign post what Pilgrimage is secretly about. But in looking at the novel's plot and the journey the characters take, we see clearly the parable being told.

Pilgrimage is a journey both physically and mentally for the protagonists. The wise master Yasu who awaits them promises salvation and Yasu is described as a master over life and death. There is, undeniably, something Buddha like about Yasu. This isn't subtle in any way, either. She lives an ascetic life and uses Buddhist language. Griffith is on a journey to meet Yasu and is in the final stages of that journey. He believes he is ready to transcend the life he has been living. But in these final stages he must help Roland, whose journey only begins. In this way, Griffith is like a Bodhisatva, one who is close to enlightenment or has foregone enlightenment to help another on their journey. In some schools of Buddhism, this is an integral part of the journey to nirvana. By the story's end, Griffith's journey ends but Roland is reborn and his journey continues. There is more he must do before he can complete his journey as Griffith did.

So there you go. Pilgrimage. Contemporary fantasy, adventure, drama, Buddhist parable. My secret agenda has been revealed. The truth is at last clear for all to see.

Or is it?

Because as convincing as all this seems, Pilgrimage is actually about something else. Something we'll cover next time.

Until then!