Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh, So NOW It's In Fashion

Went to the exhibition over a year ago, bought the book around the same time, love to sniff through the pages every so often. Even spent the last six months writing most of a novel inspired by the photos, but now that Peter Doyle's CITY OF SHADOWS has been published overseas I really did need someone like Karl Lagerfeld to tell me the book was good.

Amazing what passes for news these days. If fame, fortune or good looks aren't attached to something, it's as if it isn't even valid.

Article and photo from the Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


After all that talk on blogging, promotion and keeping a distance, I figure it's time to rebel against myself and share my recent weekend away to Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. I'd set up the projector if I had a theatre, but looking at the photos will have to do instead.

Dubbo is a place I'd never thought of as a weekend getaway. Close to being smack bang in the middle of New South Wales, the city houses Australia's second most famous zoo after Taronga. The main difference being the abundance of African animals, living in something close to their natural habitat.

We went all out and decided to travel by plane, a Qantas 36-seater each way. While we watched the land below transition from populated to green to a dry and dusty brown, the air hostess booked a cab to pick us up from the airport. Once we arrived we were treated to an hour and a half wait before check in, but this was easily filled with a very welcome cold beer and food.

Our lodge was somewhere between a tent and a motel room, a four star tent if you will (if it had air conditioning I would have given it a five). Strong waterproof fabric made up the walls, stretched tight around a thick steel frame, over a tiled floor. We were told that the tiles could be heated during winter, but the hot air was heat enough.

It wasn't long before we went on our first behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. The thunderstorm that had threatened us on arrival promptly broke and rained down around our mini-bus, muddying the red earth as we made our way to see the African elephants. They stood politely in huge steel cages, waiting for our eager hands to give them bread, oblivious to the setting's resemblance to the movie Jurassic Park.

Other animal highlights included the wild African dogs, whose voices reminded me of evil children in Aphex Twin video clips; the Siamang monkeys that performed a complicated dance accompanied by the booming from their throat sacs; and the lions in their night pen. But my absolute favourite animal of the trip was the baby Bongo, the sweetest deer-like creature on this earth. And yes, there really is an animal called the Bongo.

After a three course dinner at the beautifully air-conditioned Main House, we settled in for an early sleep, followed by an early rise (not my best time of day, but still worth it). Sunrise over the Savannah and hand feeding of the giraffes was followed up with a buffet breakfast to provide us with energy for the hot day ahead.

Neither of us had a driving license so we couldn't use the zebra striped electric carts, instead settling for bicycles for our own day tour of the zoo. Riding around the six kilometre circuit was made easier with rest pauses in the shade and capped off nicely with more beer and food.

After doing battle with rhinoceros statues, racing Galapagos tortoises, and more rest pauses and beer, we bid farewell to the city we never saw and flew back to Sydney.

Zoofari. Not quite a zoo, not quite a safari, but a perfect combination of the two.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Distance Of Promotion

There's often talk around the blogosphere on how much promotion is enough or too much, how writers should be spending their time writing and leaving the promotion to someone more qualified, and there's even more talk without a lot of figures about the need to have an author blog in the first place.

Like many of the writers in my neck of the sphere, my blog isn't much of a promotional tool other than encouraging some brand recognition of my name. Its main purpose is to help me connect with like-minded writers and learn about the publishing industry. Maybe along the way, people who read my stories will ask me to contribute to anthologies or other projects, and that can only lead to more reasons to write.

Thing is, if I ever get to a point where I have a few novels behind me and I'm starting to see Steven King, Michael Connolly or even John Connolly sized sales numbers, I doubt that I would keep this blog in the same format.

Unless I'm out there providing a service like J. A. Konrath or Sarah Weinman, the only reason for maintaining a blog like this would be to provide a connection for my readers. The personal side of my internet presence would shift over to community forums and email. With large numbers of readers, I think a forum would be a better fit, kitted out with an 'ask the author' section. Main news would be shifted to the front page of the author website (okay, enough fantasising already). Part of the reason for a change like this would be privacy and security related (I'm just so tired of all these nymphomaniac stalkers), but the other reason would have more to do with image.

And professionalism.

I desperately hope I don't offend any of my fellow bloggers with this comment, but I don't see it as extremely professional for a big name author to be detailing personal issues in a public forum, unless it happens to relate to their status as an author.

Different methods work for different authors. Michael Connelly has his forum as does Mark Billingham and Steven King. All of these authors are blogless. Janet Evanovich has her own questions and answers page, and as far as I can tell, maintains her entire website herself. Tess Gerritsen is one author who I think gets the balance just right. She blogs enough to stay in touch with her fans, gets out there and promotes, but is always aware of the writing.

I find the idea of a reclusive and enigmatic author rather appealing: it lends an air of mystery to their work and lets them stand on that work alone. I recognise their name because it's already plastered all over their book, and when they bring a new novel out I have a good idea of what it will be like, based on their previous work.

All that being said, the flipside is that I've found more than a handful of authors through their blogs, looked into their work, and decided I want to read more.

I love the crime and writing blogging community. Without it, I wouldn't be tackling a writing career with anywhere near the dedication I have now. I'd still be floundering on my own, probably turning up to writer's groups composed of fellow flounderers, and learning the ropes through an unnecessary amount of trial and error.

But if I make it big, you'll probably see me keeping just a little distance.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Remembering The Gutter

For those of you that were there when The Gutter (Tribe's Flashing In The Gutters) was in full swing, it was a sight (and a site) to be relished like a dog in a bun.

It housed the best collection of flash fiction under 700 words, mostly with a crime bent, but no other rules restricting submissions. Along with Olen Steinhauer, Duane Szwierczynski and a few others, I happened to be one of the first to submit, the story being Poodle Girl.

My sentimental Australian abbreviation, The Gutter, caught on some. Tribe even referenced it himself. In my country, you know you've made it when you've been abbreviated. Although sometimes that abbreviation is more like an extension ... AC/DC = Acker Dacker.

Here are three of my stories from those wild and crazy heydays. For those of you that may remember, one of them is missing. It's doing the rounds in an extended version, so I won't spoil the fun when it comes.

Jesse's Lucky Knife (PDF)
Inspired by Blind Willie McTell's 'The Dying Crapshooter's Blues'.

Down In The Hole (PDF)
It's not easy being careful when you're that damned drunk.

Poodle Girl (PDF)
Playing in the park doesn't always turn out as expected.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


A couple of years ago, I came across the Spanish word, duende. At the time I took it to translate into something like: "the presence of the dark understanding of death." This concept stuck with me, and it's something I've been trying to achieve in my writing ever since.

Looking through the notes on my current novel, I saw this quote again and decided to look it up. Almost like the word 'noir' it is not quite definable and yet we all seem to know instinctively whether something is 'noir' or not.

From Wikipedia, "Duende is either a mythological character, or difficult-to-define phrase used in the Spanish arts, including performing arts." The mythological character sometimes appears as a fairy or goblin, like the grumbly fellow in the picture, but I'm more interested in the other definition.

Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish artist of a number of disciplines, gave a lecture in 1934 called Theory and Play of the Duende. If you follow the link and read the text, you'll find that even his understanding of this term seems somewhat vague.

Why am I interested in duende?

Art is such an inexplicable thing that I cannot help wanting to find some structure or method behind it, with the hope that there must be more to the seemingly random process of creativity. What makes great art? Various people over the centuries have come up with their own definitions and attributes, but I think that art can be defined like this:

"Goethe, who, in effect, defined the duende when he said, speaking of Paganini: 'A mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain.'"

Which of course doesn't help me or any other artist when it comes to our struggle. I use the word struggle because, for me, pulling out every word of every story is exactly that. Lorca's lecture used it as well: "The duende, then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a concept."

Sometimes I look at concepts like duende as mentors, guides in the process of creating art. In the isolating world of the writer, it can be hard to find a real-life mentor, and of all the arts it seems to be the one in which we must all walk the path alone. Sometimes, though, a kind word from a respected peer or a line of inspiration can give the learning process a gentle shove.

In October 2005, I wrote a review of a concert by Diamanda Galas. She stumbled across it and asked me for permission to use the review as promotional material. We emailed back and forth some, and one thing she said struck something within me, something linked to duende.

She said: "Fear is your business."

At the time, it wasn't. At least I didn't think so. I was having fun writing a self-indulgent, silly romp through my own corner of the P.I. universe. But that phrase stuck in the soil of my mind and spread its thin tendrils throughout my views on writing and art.

There's one last component of my personal definition of duende that comes from the review I wrote: "The old bluesman, Skip James ... would tell the audience that his music existed solely to inspire dread. It was not for dancing." I've seen a video of Skip James in action and you can see this in the faces of the people standing around him, watching him belt out his most famous tune, Devil Got My Woman.

Duende, like all words that attempt to define the indefinable, is for me a combination of fear, dread, and death. But even that seems to me to be too thin a definition. I can only hope that, in the future, duende will come across in my writing and that will be explanation enough.