Monday, March 28, 2011

On short stories

I’ll be honest. I don’t write the kinds of short stories that sell. While I’ve sold four novels and one novella, I think I’ve managed one short story (at least that I can recall with any great clarity). I had a flash piece entitled Night Driving that went into Frightening Journeys a good while ago.

Although this had been intended as flash fiction, and featured vampire accidentally tangling with the infamous Uniondale phantom hitchhiker, I later developed this into a novel. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to revise Camdeboo Nights. It had some nice ideas, like a vampire with an overt fondness of his 1948 Hudson Commodore. But it sucked badly because it lacked focus.

But let me not break my heart over old cars or mothballed novels... because since writing that story I went out and bought myself a 1949 Hudson Super Six. My dream car is now sadly stalled in its renovations, slowly subsiding into a pile of rust on a friend’s property. Life imitating art and all that… And that novel is languishing on my hard drive.

I used to live under the impression that I first needed to kick-start a successful writing career by writing and selling short stories. This is bollocks, as clearly illustrated by my current tally of sales since I sold my first novel at the end of 2008.

The short story is an odd beast. People seem to be under the impression that it’s easy writing short stories compared to longer works. This is so wrong. An effective short story has some sort of twist. Go read some Roald Dahl and Saki. Those two were masters of their art. I can’t even begin to aspire to them.

Short stories are also useful for authors wishing to hone their craft before they write that big novel precisely because they’re easy to critique and revise. But my advice: don’t break your heart if you don’t break into the short story market.

I may be no Saki, but I still occasionally write short stories for my own entertainment. These are little prequels or postscripts to my existing longer narratives. And you know what? I write them because they’re fun. I write them so I can share them with my readers, freely.

Yesterday I put up an older piece I wrote about two years ago before I wrote my latest urban fantasy release, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead. It gives a little back story for the setting. It’s all about having a moral dilemma and it features my favourite genre fiction critters that have been so defanged in contemporary popular media.

I’m all about putting the Machiavelli back into the undead. After all, what else is there to do when eternity stretches ahead of you?

And, after that, if the mood nibbles, go forth and check out The Namaqualand Book of the Dead here:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25 link round-up

One of my resolutions has been to blog more often, in fact, every day if I can, and if I have some sort of pearl of wisdom to share. I don’t just blog here but have a number of other spots where I put word out, so I thought I’d give a round-up of some of my latest news and give a little bit of skinny on the side.

Sandra Sookoo is one of the electronically published authors I have a huge amount of respect for. Not only is she very much a family orientated, but she is prolific and diverse in her writing. I know that whenever I pick up one of her novels I’m in for a wonderful story, because she really tells the kind of story that makes you happy afterward. This past weekend I interviewed her Toad’s Corner and we chatted about her SF romance, Damaged Cargo:

When one of my PR contacts asked me whether I’d love to interview Imogen Heap, I said yes. This talented lady performed in South Africa for the first time recently and she graciously answered a few questions and told me what she loved about my country. The story was first published in the Weekend Argus Travel2011 supplement and is now available on ioltravel:

It’s always good for me to take a step back and see what I’m busy with in my personal work queue. This is where I scare myself half to death:

Yes, I know I’m still unagented and I’m still on the prowl looking for that one literary agent who loves my writing as much as some of my readers are now fangrrrls. Even with all the changes in the industry, agents are still necessary:

Of course I’m going to plug my Facebook author fan page:

And I’m still singing happy release day for The Namaqualand Book of the Dead:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

BlackMilk boxed set finally available!

I'm so proud of the BlackMilk crew. They have finally finished the pre-production of their boxed set, spanning the past two or so years' work. If you're a fan of indie cinema with a love of the surreal and Lynchian strangeness, you'll appreciate this collection of award-winning short films.

All proceeds from the sale of this boxed set go toward the filming of Sunrise Hotel, the crew's most ambitious project yet.

I've quietly been behind the scenes since the beginning and I can say with honesty, this is possibly one of the most dynamic fresh indie film crews to hang out with. Yes, it's hard work, long hours and all for the love of it. But when we see the results of all the hard work on screen, it all becomes worth it.

And go like their fan page on Facebook:

Friday, March 18, 2011

On fear

It’s not often that I feel like standing on a soap box but this week I will. I don't make any apologies for offending anyone. Freedom of expression and all. I’m going to chat about fear. A bit of background. I grew up during the tail-end of the apartheid era here in South Africa. When I was a little girl I lived with the very real fear that terrorists were going to blow me up with landmines or shoot me.

'cos that kind of stuff happened... and sometimes still does. Our country isn't perfect. Our farmers are murdered up north for being white landowners. Our black lesbians suffer "corrective" rape in the townships.

But we are working on things. We open dialogue. We are talking to each other. We are trying to find solutions.

We are very fortunate here in South Africa that we had a relatively hitch-free changeover from minority rule to a true democracy. Granted, there’s a whole new set of problems in our Rainbow Nation nowadays but at least our children can grow up without fearing a “Night of Long Knives” or bloody revolution.

I grew up beneath the pall of civil war. It’s not very nice. This kind of fear leaves a dark smudge on one’s soul.

What has this taught me?

My generation stands as a bridge between the old and the new. Too young to be decision-makers to be blamed for the previous regime we nonetheless were present to usher in the new era of reconciliation tempered with tolerance and a spirit of ubuntu. And yes, I’ll be honest. The New South Africa isn’t all peachy keen for white folks. We are discriminated against for being “previously advantaged”. But that’s not stopping me from working hard at my job and paying my taxes. I love living here. I love my country.

Also, it’s not for us to rest on our laurels here in South Africa either because there’s still a lot that is broken, and there are many, many problems. We are, by and large, a multicultural melting pot of people who have no choice but to make allowances and indeed celebrate each other’s differences. We are not a monoculture. Sometimes we do rub each other up the wrong way but I do believe we are starting to see ourselves as South Africans first, then black, white, coloured, Zulu, Jewish, Afrikaner, Indian Christian or Muslim second.

The differences between South Africans will always be there, but I firmly believe that we, as a nation, are working hard, despite the growing pains, to make this work – that lovely little catchphrase of “celebrate diversity” and all that.

We all have something special about us as tribes, cultural groups or Africanised nationalities to bring to the table.

Now, back to fear. When I was growing up, I was constantly warned about “die swart gevaar” and “die rooi gevaar” (the black fear and the red fear). Communism and a black uprising were these terrible fears hanging over our heads. The Commies were going to come and take away everything we held dear and all the white people were going to die during the Night of Long Knives. This is what my parents believed. This is what I believed.

I was too scared for us to drive on dirt roads because I believed the “terries” were planting landmines. In hindsight I realise this wasn’t happening in Cape Town’s rural areas but it was all we heard on the news. And we believed it. Swapo was going to swarm across the Angolan border and a host of other terrible things were going to happen.

The fear choked us. We became insular as people, viewing those of other races with suspicion. International sanctions against South Africa didn’t help either. Many of us were ashamed of calling ourselves South African and those who could, travelled on British passports.

And, to a degree, that legacy of “us vs. them” still exists though we try very hard to eradicate it. It’s that old fall-back, harking to preconceptions and stereotypes. It’s easier to blame a previously held misconception than try to look at ways to solve problems. And holding onto the fear, the preconceptions and the misplaced anger only leads to further knee-jerk reactions. It goes both ways.

I’ll say this: there is no easy solution. But I’ll add to this statement from what I’ve learned as a South African. There comes a time when you must stop looking at the differences, and stop trying to be right, and accept that everyone, in their own heart, feels that they are perfectly justified to think and believe in a certain way.

Once we stop trying to be right all the time, we can start looking at the common ground we share with our fellow humans. Whether someone believes in red apples and another in green apples is beside the point. That both will die for their belief in apples while ignoring the basic fact that we are Homo sapiens… Now that is sheer and utter foolishness.

What we are capable of doing to The Other we fear is but a mirror of the disrespect we show to our Selves.

I’ll close by saying what I said to my dad when I first figured out what apartheid was: “But we’re all people, daddy. Why can’t we all just play nicely?”

Come on, people. Play nicely. We can share our toys, can’t we?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You’re never too old to let the music take you higher

There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of “if it’s too loud, you’re too old”. But I have a problem… I’m already considered “old” by some but I still like loud music and have redeveloped a taste for it since the demise of Peter Steele of Type O Negative last April. If anyone’s to blame, it’s him, but I’m really not complaining about rediscovering my favourite sounds.

I listened to this stuff when I was 16. Bands with dubious-sounding names – by my parents’ standards – such as Nine Inch Nails, Battery 9, White Zombie, Rammstein, Einstürzende Neubauten, Marilyn Manson… But that’s not to say I don’t know my Schönbergs from my Shostakoviches either, because I’m a huge fan of “serious” music, as I’ve heard some call it.

I studied music at high school – a genuine muso geek who even had double music as a subject on her matric certificate. I reckon I have a handle on music, can even write four-part harmonies in a pinch. That’s if I had the motivation.

But I can’t help myself. When Ozzy Osbourne belts out Paranoid I’m right there humming along. I’ve since discovered new acts like Seventh Void and A Pale Horse Named Death that just blow my mind. In the past I’ve stage-dived, crowd-surfed, been near-concussed in mosh pits and played bass for grunge, goth and black metal bands. I realise that heavy music is something that’s always been a part of me, and there’s no point in trying to deny it.

Somewhere along the way between the ages of 21 and 32, I completed my tertiary education, got a job, married, bought a house and forgot about my wilder days.

I’d always had vague dreams of “one day when I go overseas and see XYZ band live”. It’s always those in the US or Europe who get bragging rights to greats like Slayer or Metallica.

We’ve got some fantastic bands locally, one of my favourites being Terminatryx, and I support them wholeheartedly when I get the chance, but one can always dream of those others…

I was 16 when I saw Iron Maiden perform at the Good Hope Centre and got myself wedged between two topless blond surfer boys from Port Elizabeth, right in the front row. Apart from seeing, The Mission, Lenny Kravitz and The Cult a few years later, I’d never seen any of the big names I’d almost literally kill for to get tickets or even knew words of more than one song.

That was until Rammstein decided to include South Africa in their itinerary.

Rammstein had always been on my “things to do before you die” list. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon, and here, at home. And I didn’t expect such a turnout. Looking back, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve attended a concert on such a large scale, so I was more than a little nervous about going to a place where there’d be several thousand bodies pressed together instead of a few hundred at most.

Let’s just say it’s been a while. The music was… everything and more than I expected. It was an absolute treat but the after-effects… When last did I have whiplash? A horrible tinny ringing in my ears? Creaky knees? I mean, a 30-something woman jumping up and down like someone half her age, hollering “du hast” at the top of her lungs at the appropriate places…

Even the gangly teen with the wind-milling arms alarmingly close to my face didn’t bother me too much. I accidentally stomped on his heels a few times before he eventually let me go in front of him.

And the mosh pit? I dealt with it, giving as good as I got if the crazy metalheads threatened to knock me off my feet. However, this time I remained on the fringes, having learnt my lessons from long ago. What also blew me away about the Rammstein gig was not only this dream come true, but also the dozens of grey-haired folks doing exactly as I was, looking like they were having as much fun as people not even in their 20s.

But where am I going with this? I think what this past year of being 32-going-onto-16 has taught me is that I don’t need to act my age all the time. Plainly put, life is too short to consider that I’m “too old” or that the music is “too loud”.

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(This article appeared as a Shooting the Breeze guest column in the Sunday Independent Life supplement on March 13, 2011)