Getting Science Fiction And Fantasy Published In New Zealand. Part 1: Short Fiction

This is a post for NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.

At Au Contraire, I gave a talk about getting speculative fiction published in New Zealand. This and the following post are an attempt to capture what I said at the workshop, and later said I would write up for SpecFicNZ. Part 1 focuses on short fiction. Part 2 will look at novels.

I am sure to have missed various things, so please give details of additional publishers and markets in the comments.

I’m in no way suggesting that speculative fiction writers should confine their efforts to submitting stories in New Zealand – but there are lots of guides to submitting to overseas markets, so you check these out if that’s where you want to concentrate your efforts.

Finally, I’m concentrating here on fiction written for adults, rather that written for the YA/MG/children’s markets.

Magazines

There is one currently active magazine market for short speculative fiction (and poetry) that I know of in New Zealand: Semaphore Magazine. Semaphore Magazine is published quarterly, with an annual anthology. It pays for short fiction and poetry. Editor Marie Hodgkinson says “I want to further increase the proportion of work written by New Zealanders that is published in the magazine, with particular regard to the representation of non-Pakeha and LGBQT writers”.

Other paying sf magazine markets, like Prima Storia, appear to have come and gone. If you know of any others that are active, please let me know.

The good news is that it is possible to get speculative fiction published in several New Zealand literary magazines. JAAM, Sport, Bravado and Turbine have all published stories that can be considered speculative fiction, and Landfall’s recent themed issue on utopias and dystopias skirted similar territory.

Having said that, you probably wouldn’t get too far submitting that 9000-word interplanetary war story based on the latest developments on black hole physics to a New Zealand literary magazine, or for that matter your Xena-meets-Spartacus fanfic (though I’m there with bells on!). The softer, near-future end of SF; SF satires; urban fantasy; and stories which show an awareness of their own telling are more likely to appeal. If in doubt, add more irony – one writer told me that he sold two previously rejected stories to NZ literary magazines by retelling them in an ironic manner.

Competitions

SF and fantasy will be a tough sell to most of the big New Zealand short story competitions, which tend to favour heads-down, no-nonsense mimetic realism, but the fiction section of the annual Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing has to be worth a crack – though this year’s deadline has just passed. Bugger!

Your chances of doing well in a competition are strongly correlated with who’s doing the judging. Check out what the judge writes, and what types of fiction they say they like, and then decide whether it’s worth submitting. (Of course, in a large competition, your story may have to survive a filtering process before it reaches the named judge.)

Anthologies

By their nature, anthologies are intermittent – other than the annual Best New Zealand Fiction series – so you have to keep a weather eye out for submission guidelines. I’ve had a number of stories published in New Zealand anthologies over the years: my first two published stories were in an anthology of sf stories for NZ secondary schools (though most of the stories had originally been written for an adult audience), and a new-writers’ anthology.

There have been occasional anthologies of New Zealand speculative fiction, such as Rutherford’s Dreams, and this year there’s a brand-new entrant in the field: A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, published by Random Static. Random Static say that another short story anthology isn’t on their immediate horizon, but they will be looking to publish novellas.

I’ll return to Random Static when I cover markets for novels.

Just as the identity of the judge is the most important thing to know in a competition, so the name and inclinations of the editor are the most important thing to know when considering a submission to a general fiction anthology. Have they written SF or fantasy or horror, or anything that isn’t set in our consensus reality? Have they said nice things about speculative fiction? Have they included speculative fiction stories in previous anthologies?

Do the research, and then go for it.

Collections

You’ll be doing very well to get an entire collection of speculative fiction published by a mainstream New Zealand publisher. My recent collection Transported is about 1/3 sf and fantasy, and I think that hurt it with some mainstream reviewers (though others liked the mix).

However, in the publishing industry, all is in flux. As with any other aspect of publishing, you need to keep your ear to the ground, your eyes peeled, your shoulder to the grindstone, and in general contort yourself in strange ways to get the best picture of what’s going on and where the opportunities are.

“Hah!”, you might be thinking, “I don’t even get out of bed for less than 80,000 words”. In that case, stick around for Part 2, where I’ll look at the options for getting speculative fiction at novel length published in New Zealand.

Lost In Translation: New Zealand Stories

Waitangi Day, the 6th of February, is New Zealand’s national day, commemorated by official ceremonies at Te Tii Marae and elsewhere.

In Wellington, it was the second and final day of the Wellington Sevens, an event which (apart from being a seven-a-side rugby tournament) doubles as Wellington’s version of Mardi Gras; and also the day of the One Love music festival.

While all these good things were going on, a short story anthology with a new story by me was published. Called Lost in Translation: New Zealand Stories, it’s edited by Victoria University academic and translator Marco Sonzogni.

As the Random House web page for Lost in Translation says:

Lying at the core of our interactions, words are both salves and weapons, they can be simple and fork-tongued. How we read, how we misinterpret each other, can reveal the nature of our society – its diversity, complexity and richness. These stories riff on this ambiguity of understanding: there are vivid scenes from our colonial past right up to the current day; a previous prime minister tries to dodge a photographer; a writer reworks a film premise over and over again; taggers express themselves in their own language; couples lock horns while strangers are brought together. There is humour, there is poignancy, there is terrific writing. This is a collection that will provoke, stimulate and delight.

My story in the collection, “Thank You Very Much” – and yes, for New Zealand readers who may recognise the phrase, it does include a scene set at Telethon – is about a fictitious Dunedin 1980s rock band, from back in the days when Dunedin seemed (at least to a Dunedinite) to be the centre of the musical universe, and Flying Nun ruled. I’ve always been fascinated by announcements that a band has broken up due to “musical and personal differences”, and this story explores what those musical and personal – and lyrical – differences might be.

James Dignan kindly helped to supplement my memories of that time with actual facts about who played what where when, although I should stress that the characters and situations in the story are entirely the product of my fevered mind.

I don’t yet know how well my story fits with the other stories in the book, but I’m pleased to be included in a lineup of authors that also includes Michelle Arathimos, Ben Brown, Ellie Catton, David Eggleton, Travis Gasper, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Briar Grace-Smith, Charlotte Grimshaw, Peter Hawes, Fiona Kidman, Tze Ming Mok, Kelly Ana Morey, Paula Morris, Sue Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Alice Tawhai, Apirana Taylor, and Albert Wendt. I’m looking forward to reading the anthology.

An Interview with Frankie McMillan


Frankie McMillan is an award winning short story writer and poet. She held the CNZ Todd Bursary in 2005 and this year was the winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. She lives in Christchurch with her partner (in a 130 yr old house) in the inner city. She is a keen cyclist and lives within biking distance of family members and her workplaces: The Hagley Writers’ Institute and Christchurch Polytechnic.


Frankie, your first poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals, was launched on Thursday 20 August as part of the Christchurch Central Library’s 150th anniversary celebrations. How did the launch go?

It was great, thanks. A bit of chaos beforehand; the venue was changed an hour beforehand from the second floor of the library to the upper staffroom floor (where alcohol was allowed). Michael Harlow almost didn’t make it; he’d booked the wrong flight, and Robyn who was to speak on behalf of the library was too busy stuffing people into lifts, to be there for the speeches! About 50 -60 people were there, some fine speeches were made by David Gregory (Sudden Valley Press) and Michael Harlow. Live music was played, kids ran about, books were signed and the wine didn’t run out!

You’ve had poetry published extensively, and your poem “My Father’s Balance” won the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009. But let’s suppose someone is coming to your work completely fresh. What would you like to tell that person about your poetry, and about Dressing for the Cannibals?

My poems are characterised by humour, accessibility, with an often faux naïf narrator who makes observations about how it is we are ‘so mysterious to ourselves and to the world.’ The poems are fictional but have an underlying emotional truth. They reflect my interests; theatre, folklore, memory, family and the peculiarities of being human.

Themes vary, from the nature of illusion – there’s some tricksy type poems about the world of magic shows and travelling circuses to power – who holds it on a world scale or in a family context. (The poems on cannibalism were prompted by a childhood horror of being eaten.) There are a number of prose poems in the collection, a form I find really exciting to work with.

I hope the reader always knows where they are in one of my poems, but not necessarily where they are going.

Are you a poet for whom the formal aspects of poetry are particularly important?

No, the formal aspects are secondary to what I see as the exploration of an idea. I attend to certain poetic elements and the overall structure but am led more by the process whereby words/thoughts are attracted to each other. (The premise that the first idea is often the best idea possibly reflects my training in improvisational theatre.)

Dressing for the Cannibals has a very striking cover, and I see from Helen Lowe’s preview of the book on Beattie’s Book Blog that the cover painting is by your daughter, Rebecca Harris. Was this painted especially for your book, or was an existing work that just fitted perfectly with what you had in mind for the book?

The painting, Night Visitor, was of an existing work (2006) which was part of a series exploring the early contact between Maori and Pakeha. There is a sense of mischief in Rebecca’s work which resonates with my writing and yes, it fitted perfectly with the book’s themes. (Rebecca is represented by Milford Galleries.)

I recently interviewed Joanna Preston, and elsewhere she has commented that Christchurch is the Motown of the New Zealand poetry scene. (I think she was talking about the level of activity and productivity rather than a penchant for perfect pop singles.) I know that you’re an active participant in Christchurch poetry events; do you agree with Joanna that Christchurch is a particularly happening place for poetry at the moment – and if so, why do you think this is?

When I came back to Christchurch eight years ago, I was amazed at how many poetry groups there were but even more surprised at how many poets belonged to more than one or two. Recently a few of us ex IIML graduates living in Christchurch (fiction and poetry) have expressed an interest in getting together so possibly yet another group will form! Why do writers, poets, in particular, have a hunger for belonging to groups, I don’t know. I do know the poetry group (of which Joanna is a member) has been enormously helpful to me but possibly so too would a fiction group of which there seems relatively few in Christchurch.

I have noticed previously that poets seem to be more likely to get together, and work together, than fiction writers. Why do you think this is?

I suppose the obvious answer is that poetry, being a small form, lends itself well to discussion – there are usually no more than thirty lines to consider, unlike a 3,000 word short story or much longer novel. In a two hour meeting up to eight people can receive feedback on at least one poem each. Performance poetry can also be tried out on a small group to gauge a response. Also I think some newcomers to writing try poetry first and like the the support/feedback a group offers.

We each had our first short story collection published in 2001: in my case, Extreme Weather Events, in yours, The Bag Lady’s Picnic – and, in fact, we read on the same panel at the Christchurch Book Festival in 2002. Are you writing fiction at present? If so, what fiction projects are you working on?

I’m about two thirds of the way through another short story collection. Recently my work has been chosen for Best NZ Fiction, 2008 and 2009 (Vintage) which has been encouraging. Now that my poetry book has been launched, I’ll probably alternate between the short story collection and further poetry.


How do you work? Do you have fixed times when you write, or do you grab a few minutes’ writing time whenever you can?

I’m a binge writer. I think it’s more sensible to write each day but because my teaching and family responsibilities can’t always be timetabled I work flat out when I’ve got the time. I often seem to be working to a deadline which makes me incredibly focused. In that state I can work up to six hours without a break.

Which writers (of fiction and poetry) have been most influential on your own work, and which writers do you most enjoy reading?

Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Flannery OÇonnor, Annie Proulx, William Trevor and Lorrie Moore have all been enormously influential on my work. To that I’d have to add playwrights, Beckett and Pinter. New Zealand influences have been Owen Marshall and Shonagh Koea.

Poetry influences have been varied. I like this quote from Bill Manhire:

The thing you know already is the last thing you want your poem to record. Apart from anything else you want the words you use to be part of a process of discovery, part of the poem’s life not simply a recording mechanism for an entirely familiar set of observations.

And here’s one from Billy Collins:

Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of a poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disorientated at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.

NZ poets that I enjoy include Michael Harlow, James Norcliffe, James Brown, Chris Price, Bernadette Hall and Cliff Fell. Prose poem writers include Russell Edson, Robert Bly and Charles Simic.

Do you have more readings or other events lined up to mark the publication of Dressing for the Cannibals? If so, where can people see and hear you?

No, the launch activities are all sadly finished. My next public reading is under the banner of 5 NZ Poets at Our City, Worcester St Christchurch on October 2nd. Fliers are coming out with more details.

Working in the halfway house
by Frankie McMillan, from Dressing for the Cannibals

I pick up bad habits like smoking
on the back porch after lights out
and a tendency to see dead people

passing across the sky as stars
say, Freddie Baxter, who jumped

from the Takaka bridge his pockets
weighted with stones, he’s there
next to the South Celestial pole

Yours was a slow reckoning
not until spring did your bones
turn to chalk. There’s nothing

to dying you said and a small
pride lit your eyes as if you’d

mastered the trick; a clever horse
tapping its name out in letters

would you laugh to know I still
wait for your crossing, matches
in hand to frighten the dark.

Availability details for Dressing for the Cannibals

RRP:$20.00.
ISBN: 978-0-9864529-0-1

At present books can be purchased
– in Christchurch from Madras Café Books, Scorpio and University Bookshop.
– in Wellington from Unity Books and University Bookshop
– in Auckland from Parsons and the University Bookshop (UBS)

You can also direct order Sudden Valley Press: email canterburypoets (at) gmail.com

Walking the White Road: An Interview with Tania Hershman

Here we are: Tania Hershman’s virtual book tour for her excellent short story collection The White Road and Other Stories, which is available in New Zealand from Fishpond (here: The White Road and Other Stories), has touched down at my blog for its fifth stop. (For details of past and future stops on the tour, see the end of this post.)

What links a café in Antarctica, a factory for producing electronic tracking tags and a casino where gamblers can wager their shoes? They’re among the multiple venues where award-winning writer Tania Hershman sets her unique tales in this spellbinding debut collection.

I’m reading The White Road and Other Stories at the moment, and am really enjoying its mixture of flash fiction (very short stories) and stories inspired by articles in New Scientist magazine. I recommend it!

Biography

Tania Hershman was born in London in 1970 and in 1994 moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where she now lives with her partner. Tania is a former science journalist and her award-winning short stories combine her two loves: fiction and science. Many of Tania’s stories, which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in print and online, are inspired by articles from popular science magazines. In November 2007, she founded The Short Review, a unique website dedicated to reviewing short story collections. For further information, visit The White Road and Other Stories. Tania blogs at TitaniaWrites.

The Interview

Tania, you made a very interesting comment on my blog, in response to my post on Is Literary Fiction a Genre? You said, in part: “To be frank, I hate genre distinctions, anything that sets something apart from something else and runs the risk that someone who loves to read will miss out on great writing because it’s on another shelf in the book shop.” Yet the whole publishing industry — publishers, booksellers, reviewers, and indeed many readers – appears to operate on the basis of genre. Do you feel that you’re a lone voice in the wilderness on this issue, or part of a growing trend?

Tim, first, thanks for having me, it’s great to be here. Second, I have no idea if I am a lone voice on this, I haven’t read that much else about it, but whenever I’ve written about it, such as during a guest blog post on Vulpes Libris, I have had a lot of great comments. I asked author Polly Frost to write a guest post on The Short Review blog about genre (she called herself a “genre slut”, which I love!) She said: “You’d think that anyone who writes or reads would be cheering for everyone else. Instead, some highbrow literary people sneer at genre stories. Meanwhile, there are genre people who are belligerent and defensive.” This doesn’t make sense to me, now that I am being exposed to what is called “genre” fiction, which I am finding far more beautifully-written, touching, relevant and peopled with well-rounded and fascinating characters than much of the so-called “literary” fiction. Why draw these lines? Why section off whole swathes of literature? I can understand how this would make those in the sectioned-off part rather defensive. Who wouldn’t be? Tear down the walls, get rid of the genre shelves, I cry!

But then, on the other hand, fans of a particular field – I will say field instead of genre – of literature, such as science fiction, or crime, may object. Where will we look to find the kinds of books we like to read? they might ask me. What I would say is, as you are searching through the shelves for the books you already know you want to read, you must just find a book or two that you didn’t know you wanted to read and might just love. What’s better than those moments, the finding of a new favourite author?

In terms of the publishing industry, it’s obviously easier for them to operate with the genre distinctions: they know who to sell what to, it’s all clear cut and neat, in boxes. They know where to advertise, how to spread the word, where to send an author to be interviewed, to give readings. But will that get an author new readers? Readers who don’t know they like science fiction, like me? No. To do that would be a far greater challenge – perhaps similar to the challenge of “suggesting” to novel readers they might also enjoy a short story collection. Cynical, me??

If we consider interstitial fiction as being fiction that crosses, or falls between, genre boundaries, do you regard all or some of the stories in The White Road and Other Stories as being interstitial fiction, and if so, do you feel a kinship with other writers of interstitial fiction?

Well, strictly speaking, interstitial fiction only exists if you believe in the genre boundaries in the first place. But since we haven’t reached a genre-less state yet, I will answer your question. When I wrote the stories in The White Road, I had no thought of genre, of where they might “fit”. Plaits is a story where a woman talks to her knees; in The White Road the main character sets up a cafe in Antarctica; the protagonist of Rainstiffness is temporarily paralyzed every time it rains; the main character of Self Raising makes “scientific” cakes. I don’t know where this places my stories!

I did hope I was writing mostly what is called “literary fiction”, which is incredibly hard to define and might be best defined as generally being the opposite of commercial fiction and more concerned with the quality of the writing and with language than with page-turning plots. But as to where it fits now, I am waiting to see what readers think. I have been told that some of the stories remind people of science fiction. I had a long discussion on Vanessa Gebbie’s blog about magical realism but am unsure whether some of my stories fall under that heading. Some of the stories are “realist”, sort of. So, I guess the long answer is yes, my stories tend to fall between, rather than within, genres as they are currently defined.

I am most definitely attracted to interstitial fiction. It has a wonderful appeal, that it doesn’t fit neatly into anywhere. I don’t like neat and tidy. I like things that shake up the establishment, writing that can’t be easily labelled. If I am in this category, I am delighted to be here! I have only read one anthology that was defined as interstitial (although “defined” seems like the wrong word!); the Interfictions anthology published by the Interstitial Arts Foundation. I enjoyed it greatly, but it seemed to chime with a lot of what I already love to read – stuff I would call surreal, irreal, magical realist, stories you can find in publications such as Cafe Irreal, Sleepingfish, Conjunctions.

Strictly from a marketing point of view, has your approach to genre been a help or a hindrance?

I am new to the book marketing industry, my book has only been out since September, but since I am spending a lot of time myself trying to market The White Road and wondering how exactly to do that, I can see how it would have been far easier to fit into a “genre” and aim the book squarely at that genre’s readers. Say science fiction, for example. I would have known where to go, which magazines to send review copies to, etc… As it is, I am having to make it up as I go along. But the fact that half the stories are inspired by articles from UK science magazine New Scientist certainly seems unique, and I was delighted when New Scientist itself enjoyed the stories (I was concerned they might think I was taking their science and somehow trivialising it!) and decided to publish the title story on the New Scientist website.

That was a fascinating experience and provoked some interesting comments. At first, those who commented didn’t seem to understand that what they were reading was fiction and not journalism. Several scolded me harshly for being ungrammatical, when in fact it is my main character who has an “interesting” approach to grammar. A few writer friends stepped in to explain about fictional voice, and the complainers mostly recanted and apologised. But then a discussion was generated about whether the story’s denouement was plausible, with those for and against, and I just sat back and watched, fascinated, as the two camps argued it out. I was delighted because it seemed my story was reaching an audience that never normally reads short fiction So there I crossed genre boundaries, straddling the territory between fiction and fact. I would love to repeat the experience, if New Scientist wants to! I am not sure how many books I sold through that article, but I had many hits to the book’s website, and that’s pretty wonderful.

New Zealand has a distinguished tradition of short story writers, including some, such as Katherine Mansfield, who have achieved international fame – yet, overtly or covertly, I’m told all the time that short stories aren’t “proper” fiction, whereas novels are. Do you get the same reaction?

This is the attitude that dogged me throughout my MA in Creative Writing in the UK four years ago. From the start, I and the one other “fool” who insisted on writing short stories instead of a novel were treated as though we were a lesser species. At one point, my short stories were referred to as exercises whose purpose was simply as a warm-up to the “real thing”. Every agent and editor who came to talk to us said they weren’t interested in short story writers. It seemed ridiculous to us, it was like deciding, for example, to cut out all nuts from your diet simply because they are small, despite the fact that peanuts and pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, are all shapes and sizes, tastes and textures.

However, this attitude “backfired”: it made me all the more determined only to write short stories, at least for my MA thesis. I have heard the same attitude voiced since, and all I can say is that it is a shame; publishers, it seems to me, are demonstrating a singular failure of imagination in not even attempting to persuade the public to buy more collections and readers are missing out on great writing if they insist on sticking only to novels. If the Short Review [see below] can make a minute dent in this wall by reviewing more collections and demonstrate that everything you look for in a novel you can also find in a short story collection, then I will be happy.

You have done something to promote and succour the short story: you set up The Short Review exclusively to review short story collections. I won’t ask the dreaded question “where do you get your ideas”, but I will ask: where did you get that particular idea – and how do you find the time to keep “The Short Review” going and write as well?

Thanks for not asking that first question, I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to answer. As for the second, the idea for The Short Review came in the period just after getting the life-altering news that Salt Publishing had accepted my short story collection. I had waited over 30 years for that day, and when it came I felt as if I had had the wind knocked out of me. It was all I ever wanted – and when someone offers you that, what do you do next?

I moped around for a while, and then decided to do something short-story-related but which didn’t actually involve writing. Whereas I had always blamed the lack of sales of short story collections on publishers not publishing enough of them, I realised that the fault also lies with reviewers: short story collections get a small fraction of review column inches compared to novels. I thought I would do my bit to redress the balance. To be honest, when I bought the domain name and set it up, I really thought it would be for me and ten friends. It grew beyond my wildest expectations: we have a mailing list of 400, and I have 35 reviewers around the world who review for me, both new and old collections, across every “genre” (am I allowed to say that??!) and category, from steampunk to erotica, young adult to historical fiction.

Yes, it takes up a great deal of time – I do the maintenance and layout of the site myself, uploading each issue, as well as fielding offers of review copies and finding reviewers to review them, following up to see if they’ve arrived, making sure reviews come in on time, doing as many interviews with authors as possible, and reviewing a book myself each issue – but it is a labour of love and it makes me so happy to do it. Every issue we publish, I want to buy almost all the books we review. The interviews are often enlightening, touching, funny, it’s wonderful to get a peek behind the scenes at the process of putting together a short story collection, and authors have been honest and generous in their answers. I try not to work on the Short Review throughout the month, but do most of the work in one week, so it doesn’t spill into my writing time. But reviewing someone else’s stories teaches me so much about my own writing, and inspires me greatly, as do the interviews, so I don’t think of it as interfering, more as enriching my writing life.

You live and write in Jerusalem. What impact do the many and intertwined special circumstances of Jerusalem – religious, political, military, and personal – have on your writing, and on your circumstances as a writer?

A very interesting question. I have several author friends who used to live in Jerusalem and had to leave because they found it too stressful to write there. But I love the atmosphere, I wake up in the morning thrilled to be living here. Yes, it’s hard, the news is full of tragedy, on all sides, but there are so many small moments of joy, just the way the sun glints off the golden stones, the way Israelis will talk to you everywhere about anything, the atmosphere on the Sabbath – Shabbat – when the whole city closes down, few cars on the road, people are walking to and from synagogue, to and from dinner. There is magic in the air. No wonder people have been fighting over Jerusalem for thousands of years.

For each copy of “The White Road” published, a tree has been planted through the Eco-Libris scheme. Is this idea of offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions from books catching on with authors and publishers you’re in contact with? Have you been satisfied with the way it’s working?

I came across Eco-Libris two years ago, just as I was finishing up my career as a journalist – it was established by Israelis in Israel and the US – and I loved what they were doing so much that I decided I had to write about them. Then, when Salt wanted to publish my book, I realised that partnering with Eco-Libris would ease my guilt about wanting a beautiful book made from many trees, as well as, I hope, spreading the word about what Eco-Libris does. I pay them a certain amount per book for them to plant a tree per book in developing countries around the world, where they are working with the locals to find out what is best for them. They have also been furiously publicising my book – which may be the only short story collection ever to have had a tree planted for each copy printed – on green and environmentally-conscious sites around the world, and I am very grateful for that. I will be “appearing” on the Eco-Libris blog on Dec 10th as part of this Virtual Book Tour, so will, no doubt, be talking more about our partnership then, but so far, I am delighted!

Finally, a question from left field. Your collection “The White Road and Other Stories” has 27 stories. My collection “Transported” has 27 stories. Should the reading public be concerned? Are we the vanguard of a new literary movement, the “Group of 27”?

An excellent idea! I’ll buy the domain name, you invite people. I am sure 27 has mystical roots – divisible by 9 and 3 only, that sounds mystical to me! Hmm, we’ll have to talk about this more, definitely.

Walking the White Road: Tania Hershman on Tour Oct 2008-Jan 2009

Next stop on the tour:

Previous stops:

Extreme Weather Events, my first short story collection

Extreme Weather Events was my first short story collection. It was published in 2001 by HeadworX, as part of their now-discontinued Pocket Fiction Series. There are twelve stories in Extreme Weather Events:

Maria and the Tree
Wintering Over
The New Land
Flensing
The Kiwi Contingent
My Friend the Volcano
The Pole
The Lizard
Tour Party, Late Afternoon
Black Box
The Man Who Loved Maps
The Temple in the Matrix

To introduce a few, “Wintering Over” is set in Antarctica, where an isolated scientific party has an unusual visitor from the past: Titus Oates, that very gallant colleague of Captain Scott who went for a walk, and proved to be quite some time indeed. “The Pole”, also set in Antarctica, rewrites the struggle to be first to the South Pole. “Black Box” sees strange developments on the Wellington skyline, while “My Friend the Volcano” blows her top in Taranaki.

“Flensing” and “The Lizard” are pretty much the only two horror stories I’ve ever written. “Flensing” is set in South Georgia, which gives it a slight edge, I think. And “The Temple in the Matrix” pokes a few toes into the interstitial pond in a Bill-Gibson-meets-HP-Lovecraft-uptown kind of way.

The book got some good reviews and I still come across satisfyingly dog-eared copies in public libraries. If you’d like a copy, you can order it from me for $5 plus postage & packing (in NZ, p&p will be $2, making a grand total of $7 for the book. I’ll need to work out the postage & packing for other territories). Please send an email to senjmito@gmail.com saying you’d like a copy, and we’ll take it from there.

Said Sheree

This story of love and literary funding appears in Transported.

Sheree and Miranda met at a party. Each left with the other on her mind.

Several weeks later, the Mexican Ambassador, a keen patron of the arts, held a reception. Miranda, ranked as a Tier Two poet for funding purposes, saw Sheree across the room. Miranda made a beeline for her – only to realise that Sheree was with a group of Tier Ones. Embarrassed, Miranda backed away.

That would have been that; but, a little to the north and far beneath their feet, Gaia shifted in her sleep. Poets and patrons alike rushed for doorways and crush-proof spaces. Sheree and Miranda found themselves pressed together against an antimacassar. Their mutual awkwardness was obliterated by fear. “You’re beautiful,” said Sheree. Miranda, plain and tall, was swept away.

Heads were counted once the tremor passed and the tumult subsided. Miranda and Sheree were missing. Separately, from Sheree’s bed, they phoned in their excuses.

Miranda went home. “I haven’t seen you for days,” her flatmate remarked. It wasn’t much of a flat, not really, and the flatmate held the lease.

“You can move in with me,” said Sheree.

Having lugged the last of her boxes up Sheree’s steps, Miranda went out on the deck. The harbour view, which she had admired since the first night she spent there, now felt like hers. The weather was grey and cold. Far below, hardy ants, gloved and muffled, scurried to and fro on the beach.

Between Miranda’s job and Sheree’s funding, they had enough to pay the rent, and a little left over. They each had time to write. Sheree wrote in the morning, after Miranda had left for work, and spent the afternoon completing grant applications and working on a project to deliver sonnets by mobile phone. Some platform-specific issues were still to be resolved.

Miranda wrote on Saturday afternoons, while Sheree played hockey.

They had other interests in common. They both collected earthenware. They both loved tramping. In summer, they joined a party heading south to Nelson Lakes. They were the only writers. It was bliss.

They dealt with literary functions by arriving separately and avoiding each other, though they exchanged sly glances when they thought no one was looking.

It worked for a while. But, inevitably, word got around. A small independent publisher agreed to bring out Miranda’s first collection. “I want to be with you at the launch,” said Sheree. “I’m not going to pretend.”

The publisher had hired a church hall. A few bankable names came along. When Miranda read, Sheree stood in the front row. When Miranda signed, Sheree sat next to her. “You must be so proud of her,” someone told Sheree.

Sheree’s third collection was launched at Unity. Sheree dragged Miranda along. That didn’t go so well. Miranda hung back, feeling like a fraud. Sheree talked with her friends and cast irritated glances Miranda’s way.

Miranda retreated to the outer shelves, looking at a bound edition of Ursula Bethell. Blanche Baughan was reassuringly close at hand.

Sheree forgave her. They forgave each other. They got drunk. They compared royalty statements. “It’s more about grants and residencies,” explained Sheree.

In the autumn, Miranda was up for reclassification. Without the support of a university press, Miranda had no realistic hope of moving up to Tier One, but she was still disappointed when the envelope came.

“Never mind,” said Sheree. “I love you anyway.”

Sheree’s status was secure for two more years.

Miranda came home from work a few weeks later to find Sheree bouncing off the walls. “Look at this!” she said.

It was an invitation from the Northern festival circuit: Nuuk and Norilsk, Vorkuta, Longyearbyen. Four weeks north of the Arctic Circle, reading, writing, workshopping. And watching out for polar bears – they could kill you. “I’m to be preceded by a man with a rifle,” said Sheree.

New Zealand literature had never before been represented so far north. It was a feather in everyone’s cap.

“I’ll miss you so much,” said Miranda. She clung to Sheree, tenderly, fiercely.

Sheree bought Miranda a video-enabled phone before she left. Four weeks of Sheree – blond hair poking out of her fur-lined hood – cavorting with new friends, silhouetted against snow, standing next to oil drums full of burning blubber to keep warm.

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, was surprisingly cosmopolitan. Norilsk was one giant chemical dump. In Vorkuta, Sheree won the V. I. Morozov Prize for Best Recital of an Individual Work, for her declamatory piece in the style of Gregory Corso. The prize, thanks to a well-connected local businessman, was paid in US dollars. With the news, Sheree sent an air ticket. “I’m stopping over in the Caribbean on the way home to thaw out,” said Sheree. “See you in Basseterre!”

It took some nerve to ask, but Miranda’s boss was understanding. “I wish I could go with you,” Miranda’s boss said, and Miranda realised, suddenly, that she meant it.

Basseterre! Miranda had never heard of it. Palms shaded the beach, the locals talked about cricket, and once they had circumnavigated the island of St Kitts, there was nothing to do but eat, drink, sleep, and make love. Sheree kept Miranda entertained with tales from the frozen North. Longyearbyen had been the wildest of the lot. “Those Norwegians!” said Sheree. They were crazy up there. So were the bears.

They came home to the wind and the rain. Sheree set to work completing her fourth collection and editing podcasts from the festivals. She had secured funding for a G5 workstation, her latest pride and joy. Miranda had three poems published in Takahe and two more accepted by JAAM. She read at the Angus Inn. It was a wet night in the Hutt Valley, and some of the locals stayed away. Her collection, which was now heavily discounted, sold three copies. Not bad, considering. She was given a voucher for petrol, though she had conscientiously taken the train.

Sheree’s poem about their week together in the Caribbean is justly famous and much-anthologised.

Miranda’s boss gave her a promotion. Miranda and Sheree joined a soccer team. Sheree was the centre-forward. Miranda was a holding midfielder.

Delivering sonnets by mobile phone had not been a complete success, but the project hit the jackpot with haiku. Haiku were back, said Sheree.

People grow and change. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. A new funding category, Tier Four, was introduced. In consequence, Tier Two poets became eligible to be mentors, and Miranda took on a mentee. She was young, tiny, a wounded bird. Her name was Caroline. She lived in Johnsonville.

Nothing might have come of it, had Sheree’s success at Vorkuta not been noticed in high places. It took a public-private partnership, with a mixture of tagged funding, corporate sponsorship in three bands, and matching Government contributions, but at last the deal could be announced. Sheree would be New Zealand’s first poet in space! She would carry leading New Zealand brands to low earth orbit, and return with a three-book deal.

It was on for young and old. Sheree became public property, meeting the Prime Minister, appearing on Takatapui and Kiwifruit. In months, in weeks, in days, she was off to Star City to train for her mission.

“I love you,” she told Miranda, from the airport, from Moscow, from Star City. Photos: Sheree in a centrifuge, her compact body whirling round. Sheree hanging weightless in the hydrolab. The two cosmonauts who would be flying her to the International Space Station, Valentina and Vsevolod. Their brave little Soyuz spacecraft. I love you, Miranda, said Sheree.

Miranda’s mentee was promising but needy. Miranda allowed herself to engage in conduct that was inappropriate to the mentor-mentee relationship and breached the terms of her contract with the funding agency. She reproached herself late at night, as she watched Caroline sleeping.

Sheree appeared on BBC World, CNN, and Al Arabiya.

Miranda kept writing. A second published collection would be something. Not everyone made it that far.

Live streaming video of the launch, with Russian-language commentary, was available. Using high-speed broadband on Sheree’s G5, Miranda was able to hear the countdown, see the rocket on the launch pad, watch it vault upwards into space.

Sheree made contact. Docking had been successful, and she was aboard the space station. Three months to do nothing but write, and sleep, and float. (And help around the place; tidiness was especially important in space.) Every 92 minutes, she would pass overhead.

The mentoring period finished. Caroline could now be revealed as Miranda’s girlfriend. She had dependency issues, but that meant she was usually home.

Miranda broke the news to Sheree by scheduled uplink. Sheree did not respond immediately. One orbit passed, two. Then Sheree said she was sad, but not surprised. Also, two nights ago, she and Valentina …

Miranda had three poems published in Bravado. Sport and Landfall regretted to inform. Trout did not reply.

As a result of Miranda’s excellent mentoring, Caroline was reclassified to Tier Three. She sold a poem to North & South. You’re going places, girl, thought Miranda.

Caroline had an empty room and a double bed. Miranda decided she was going places too. She moved her boxes out of Sheree’s house, down the steps, and off to Johnsonville. She promised Sheree that she’d continue to water her plants. Sheree had already asked Miranda and Caroline to come for dinner the first weekend after she got home from Russia. I want to be your best friend, said Sheree.

When the last lot of boxes was safely in Caroline’s van, Miranda returned to stand on the balcony for one last look across the harbour. Oh, she would miss the view! On the promenade below, hardy ants rode skateboards, walked dogs, and ate products containing dairy, gluten, and traces of nuts.

Above, the stars shone steadily. Among them was Sheree. Miranda could see her clearly. She was looking out of a porthole, smiling fondly down.

Nice Photo … Shame about the Review

After the very positive review by Jessica Le Bas in the Nelson Mail, and several good ones in other papers, most lately the Timaru Herald, Transported has had its first bad review, by Steve Walker in the Listener.

Mind you, it wasn’t all bad. He said good things about “Rat Up a Drainpipe”, “The Wadestown Shore” and “The New Neighbours”, but he seemed to struggle with the shorter stories, and the less realistic stories — and as for the shorter and less realistic stories, they were right out.

Well, there’ s a name for this aspect of what I write : it’s called interstitial fiction, and it’s something I’ll be posting more about in future. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I hope it will be yours.

(Incidentally, Chris Else had an entertaining reaction to a bad review by Steve Walker of one of his books — see the third article down.)

The Listener review is headed by a jumbo-sized version of my author photo. This pleases me, not for egotistical reasons, but because a recent interview with photographer Miriam Berkley points up the importance of author photos in a crowded book market. There’s some wonderful author photos accompanying that interview, and it’s well worth reading.

Sonali Mukherji, who took my author photo, is an excellent photographer. She took the photo at the Kelburn Croquet Club, next to Victoria University, on a brilliantly sunny day last year. The sun was reflecting off my glasses, so she insisted I take them off: that also took years off my apparent age! It’s a bit like The Picture of Dorian Gray; I can grow steadily more decrepit, while my photo continues to twinkle at the world.

Transported, not Transporter!

The things you never think of … quite a few people seem to think my new book is called “Transporter” rather than “Transported”. This post is to make it clear to everyone (including Google) that the title is Transported, and that it isn’t a tie-in novel to the movie starring Jason Statham. There are slightly more explosions and car chases in Transporter than Transported.

In other news, the shortlists for the Montana Book Awards have been announced. It’s good to see Johanna Aitchison’s A Long Girl Ago included in the poetry category, and Mary McCallum’s The Blue in the fiction category.

Transported: 1 day to go – Dedicated to Writing Groups

My previous books have been dedicated to individuals – my wife and son; my parents – but Transported is dedicated to the members of three writers’ groups: the Writers’ Intensive Care Group (WICG) (Dunedin), the Phoenix Writers’ SIG (Wellington), and the Writing Crew (Wellington).

The reason for this dedication is that many of the stories in Transported received their first public airing in front of one of these groups, and that they have, at different times and in their different ways, provided me with a great deal of support as a writer – plus, I’ve made some really good friends in them .

WICG was the first writing group I joined, and I’m still a corresponding member – at least, when I visit Dunedin at the time a meeting of the group is on, I take great pleasure in attending one of the meetings, as I did a few weeks ago. WICG has always consisted of artists and musicians as well as writers, and in fact, it is now largely an artists’ group – including some artists whose names are not yet widely known, but which should be! What I valued most from WICG was the encouragement it gave me at a time when I had little confidence in my writing.

When I moved to Wellington, I joined the Writers’ Special Interest Group of the Phoenix Science Fiction Society – a group that has produced a number of writers who have gone on to significant success. I found that the Writers’ SIG gave more detailed critiques than had WICG, but less encouragement – and, at that time, I had a thinner skin, so I found the critiques harder to take than I do now (he says, wondering if he is deluding himself …)

I’ve already blogged about the Writing Crew, the group that came out of the 2003 Writing the Landscape course at Victoria (CREW 256, hence the name). We’re not meeting regularly at the moment, as members disperse to various parts of the globe, but I hope we will again – and I keep in touch with many of the members in the meantime.

I was (am?) a little odd, because, for a long time, I found it easier to send my work off to editors I didn’t know than show it to fellow writers. But, if you are a writer, then I encourage you to find a group of other writers who are prepared to met regularly, be honest – but not destructive – about each others’ work within a framework of support and encouragement, and want to write and keep writing (or paint and keep painting!) and get better at it. If you already belong to such a group, formal or informal, you are in luck.

Transported: 3 days to go – Places

My second index (or, more properly, concordance) of Transported: a selection of places visited or referred to in those 27 short stories – the bulk of them real. I have put these in roughly south to north order, but there’s a little east and west as well, so don’t sweat a few degrees here and a few degrees there.

McMurdo Base, the Wright Valley, Lake Vanda, Don Juan Pond

Punta Arenas, Patagonia

The Sandy Point Domain, Invercargill, the flat Southland plains (as twilight flows in), Gore, Queenstown, Wanaka, Rabbit Pass and the Waterfall Face (experienced trampers only), the Waiatoto River, Haast

Dunedin, Tomahawk, Smaills Beach (warning: footing uneven), Flagstaff, Taiaroa Head

Christchurch Airport, the Clarence River, the Seaward Kaikouras

Wellington, Miramar Island, Oriental Bay, Mount Victoria, the National Library of New Zealand (Rare Books Collection), the Basin Reserve, Island Bay, an imaginary tryline, the Loading Zone, the Angus Inn

Mana, Kapiti, Shannon, Palmerston North

Ngaruawahia

Utley Terrace, Rosemont Primary

Canberra, Goulburn (which does little to break the monotony), Sydney, Dubbo, Parkes

Basseterre (capital of St Kitts)

Santa Fé, Gainesville, Quantico, Washington, DC, the East River, Wyoming

Thebes, Mount Athos

Exmoor, Porlock (a poor excuse)

Saxony (where exchange students come from)

Moscow (who lost 5-1), Gorky Park, Kazakhstan, Lake Baikal

The Finland Station, Murmansk, Magadan

The Northern Festival Circuit (Nuuk, Norilsk, Vorkuta, Longyearbyen)

The Valles Marineris (with robots running around)

Triton (a moon of Neptune; Samuel Delany got there first)

Felsen’s Planet (in the Arcturus sector)

The Virgo Cluster (fifty million light years away)

Looking at People and Places, I guess I could have called the book “Strangers and Journeys” – but that’s already been done.