Next month, on All Fools Day, I am releasing my latest novel, Cargo Cult. It’s a sci-fi comedy, so I have no idea how it might be received – comedy is such a personal thing – but everyone who has read it so far, has loved it – including people who are not directly related to me. (If it wasn’t for that stunning fact, I’d be even more nervous about letting this one out into the wild.)
It’s a book that has taken me years to write. I started it about 12 years ago. The first draft took me two years. The second draft took a further three years. A third draft that was a major revision and extension (doubling the length of the book) took about four more years. Then I sat on it and tweaked it until I finally decided it had suffered enough. It wasn’t the only thing I worked on in all that time, but it has been there in the background, occasionally the foreground, for what seems like forever.
It’s a book with lots of characters and a convoluted plot (but nothing that a smart 12-year-old couldn’t cope with). And, like my last novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth, it is also set in and around the city of Brisbane. It begins with a crash and ends with a bang and, in between there is mayhem. To quote the blurb I shall probably use…
When a Vinggan ship crash-lands on the uncharted planet Earth, the marooned survivors – twelve religious zealots, their leader, and a single, low-ranking crewman, called Drukk – decide to make the best of it by converting humanity to their rather authoritarian religion. Inadvertently disguised as fourteen identical copies of megastar actress Loosi Beecham, they set off to begin their evangelical mission.
And that’s when things really begin to go wrong. For their crash was not all it seemed, interstellar law enforcement is on their tail, and the humans are inexplicably strange – especially the busload of old folk they make off with, the New Age cargo cult that welcomes them, the local police force that is following them around, and an overambitious reporter and her idiot brother who don’t help matters by kidnapping crewman Drukk.
Oh, and did I mention the talking kangaroos?
Only Drukk finally begins to understand what is really going on, but by then the Vinggans have unwittingly carted dozens of humans off-world and the only plan anyone can come up with to get home again is complete and utter insanity.
If you’ve already glanced below the fold at the cover image, you might be wondering about why there’s a pouting woman front and centre. Not my usual style, but, honestly, she’s completely relevant to, indeed central to, the action in the book. In fact, the model for the photo, is called Tea Time. She is Swedish, a total sci-fi fan, currently doing a Bachelor’s degree in criminology, and sings with the band Ashbury Heights. To me, though, she will evermore be the face of Loosi Beecham.
OK, if you’d stop doing the drum-roll now… Thank you. Yes, the cymbal crash was quite loud enough. Ladies and gentlemen, the cover of my new novel, Cargo Cult.
Of course, last time I did a cover reveal, I ended up being taken quietly aside and shown how it should really have been done. And that worked out so well that this time I’ve left almost a month to let the critiques come in and, potentially, make changes. Anyone want to pitch in?
I can hardly believe it myself but True Path, the second book in the Timesplash series, has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award in the Best Science Fiction Novel category. For those who don’t know (probably everyone outside Australian speculative fiction fandom) the Aurealis Awards are the premier spec fic awards in this country. For an Aussie writer, it’s like being shortlisted for a BAFTA or an Oscar, except, you know, without all the eight-page spreads in women’s magazines and the scandalous clips of me twerking at the awards ceremony.
“I’d like to thank all the little people…”
Since the chances are slim that I’ll actually get the award (Lexicon by Max Barry gets my vote, on the premise alone, and, in fact, it’s a very strong field), I’d like to mention a couple of people who deserve a bit of the credit for this book actually existing.
My agent, Ineke Prochazka, started it all by sending the manuscript of Timesplash to a new digital-first imprint of Pan Macmillan’s called Momentum. It wasn’t part of my career plan to approach digital-first publishers and I had already self-published Timesplash quite successfully. Yet the guys at Momentum were so enthusiastic, and were getting great publicity at the time, so I thought, What the hell? There was a condition though, Joel Naum at Momentum wanted me to do a sequel and let them publish that, too. In fact, many readers of Timesplash had also asked for a sequel so I was pretty well softened up to the idea. So I wrote it. Then my editor at Momentum, Tara Goedjen, took a hammer to my manuscript and, flexing her mighty muscles, knocked off all the roughest edges. I’ve said before how great it is to work with Tara , but it’s nice to have the chance to say it again. Finally, some kind soul at Momentum (probably Mark Harding) nominated the book for an Aurealis Award. And the rest, as they say…
I must admit, it’s nice to get some recognition for my work. I’ve got some great readers who are extremely flattering about my novels but a national award is just so much more official. We writers all like to feel that we don’t need the validation of publication or awards but, when stuff like that happens, it really does feel good. Of course, even without these things, we keep on writing and we keep looking for ways to get our work out there. It’s like trudging through an endless desert sometimes. It is hard and it’s lonely and the desert stretches out ahead, bleak and barren, and you know you will be crossing it your whole life long. And these little moments of appreciation are like finding water holes along the way.
So, while my cup is running over, I’d like to raise a glass of cool water to the people at Conflux, Inc. and the Aurealis Awards team.
I was on a science and technology blog the other day that posted a piece about some new climate change findings. It was a completely unexceptional piece, a report of a tiny bit of new science, a study adding another tiny iota of evidence to the gigantic heap that already exists for anthropogenic climate change (ACC). It was mildly interesting and I should have just clicked away, but, like a fool, I went on to read the comments.
As usual, the first few comments were from religious and conservative loonies jumping in to say it was all a big conspiracy and that various of their religious and conservative loony climate change denier heroes had irrefutable evidence that climate change isn’t happening. I’m usually such a calm person but, that day, I lost my rag. I added my own comment to the effect that I was sick of fools trolling science sites, spouting psuedo-science, Murdoch press ideology, and bible quotes, and why didn’t they all just learn some science, read some research, and inform themselves about what was actually going on?
Silly, really. Not only did the fools come back, trotting out the same old, tired, long-since-refuted nonsense as if it were solid fact, but the scientists chimed in saying I shouldn’t really be calling these people “fools” but that I should engage constructively to persuade them. Dickheads! As if engaging with a fool ever got you anything but frustration. But my dander was up and I let rip with both barrels at all and sundry. I was outnumbered dozens to one but I like to think I dished out a good helping of ridicule and contempt to all comers.
The conservative types are the worst, of course. They tend to be against the idea of ACC because its existence would inevitably mean restrictions on free markets, increased government regulation and restrictions on individual freedoms. Sadly for them, a political and economic ideology that is at loggerheads with objective reality, must inevitably fail. Sadly for the world, these fools tend to be the ones with money and influence.
The religious ones are bad too, of course. Mostly they tend to be politically conservative, so have the same view as the free market ideologues, but they also bring their own unique brand of idiocy to the ‘debate’. In particular I note those who say their god wouldn’t have arranged things so that we’d suffer for following its instructions (you know, like going forth and multiplying), or, worse, that it doesn’t really matter if we trash the Earth because what really matters is following the rules in some book they favour and getting into Heaven. When you get a conservative ideologue with this kind of religious disregard for reality and human suffering, you really do have someone who has crossed the line into complete insanity. The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, is that kind of person, for example. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t “believe” in ACC either.
A side-skirmish in my waste-of-time battle in that blog’s comment section was with a religious nut-job who wanted to prove that I’m just as crazy as he is by convincing himself that I “believe” in science the way he “believes” in his god. I hate these people. They’re so incredibly stupid and invariably ignorant that it’s quite painful to watch them parading their insecurities. Of course, I always concede to them that, yes, I do believe in physical reality. I believe in it because of the evidence of my own senses and because I am persuaded by the argument that – by Occam’s razor – solipsism should be regarded as a fallacy.
Since I believe there is a real world out there, I find the statements of other (real) people compelling when they attest to the reality of things I haven’t directly experienced (like India, for instance). Yet I do treat all such statements with a reasonable amount of scepticism. So it’s good to know there are systems of thought and practice that allow the veracity of statements to be demonstrated or, at least, strengthened. One of these systems is rationality (mathematics and logic being subsets of this broad system) and the other is science which employs rationality, observation and experimentation, along with scrutiny, replication and refutation by skilled peers.
But you try explaining that to a religious loony. “See?” they say. “You’re just the same as me. Science is just another religion!” Well, no, you twonk, there’s a bit of a difference between believing every half-arsed thing you’re told (up to the age of twelve and then nothing new thereafter) and constantly challenging every statement and assumption until you’ve pared down your beliefs to the absolute minimum that you can justify.
All right. Taking a deep breath now. I’ve got it off my chest and I’ll stop ranting for a while. But if I ever, ever, look like I’m going to check out the comments on a climate change post again, please hit me across the head with something heavy. It may seem cruel but, I assure you, you’ll be doing me a favour.
In an idle moment, I took a look today at what this blog’s spam filter had caught. Today, there were 81 spam comments and all of them were so obviously spam, that I can’t help wondering why anybody ever clicks the links on them. And, let’s face it, the only reason spam exists at all is that people click the links and then buy stuff. To get a feel for how ridiculously obvious this comment spam was, here are a few quotes from it.
- “This post provides clear idea in favor of the new visitors of blogging, that genuinely how to do running a blog.”
- “I am gonna watch out for brussels. I will be grateful if you proceed this in future.”
- “With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any issues of plagorism”
- “I care for such info much. I was looking for this certain information for a long time.”
- “I liked as much as you’ll obtain performed right here.”
- “It’s great that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as from our dialogue made at this place.”
And there’s plenty more where that came from. Mostly it was of the type that aims to make a brief, flattering comment, then leaves a link. But it’s all rather let down by the completely generic nature of the content and the awful English, which frequently disintegrates into complete gibberish.
Now, is there anybody in their right mind who, upon reading such drivel, would think, “Hmm, interesting comment. I must click their link and find out more about this insightful person.”? Especially when the links quite blatantly point to knock-off fashion outlets (Nike and Calvin Klein being the most popular), dodgy financial services sites, gambling sites, Christian sites, pharmaceutical sites, and others that you’d never visit in a million years. There was also one link to Storify (worrying) and, my favourite, to a site offering car audio sex. (Car audio sex? Is that a thing now?)
Now I know that intelligence is normally distributed and for every person with an IQ over 120, there is someone with an IQ under 80, but, come on! Yes, I know they’re allowed to vote (for which Tony Abbott must be sincerely grateful), but surely, surely we can do something about complete and utter morons responding to spam that even my pet Airedale could spot as a con?
Or is it that people genuinely want dodgy financial services, dodgy pharmaceuticals, bitcoin casinos and car audio sex?
Pssst! Wanna ride?
I’ve always wanted to be part of a group blog. I don’t know why, but I’ve always read posts in the group blogs I follow with a frisson of envy. Those writers, it seems, belong. They have friends and colleagues who want them. Those lucky people are part of a set. They are – almost by definition – the in crowd. And it sort of doesn’t matter what they say because, whatever they say is valued by their fellow group blog members. It adds a certain glamour to even the most mundane of posts. Their words glisten like a vampire in the noonday sun.
So you can imagine how I felt when my mate Meryl invited me to join her new group blog 42nd Parallel. Go on, imagine it – a grown man dancing around his office, the dog and cat running for cover, the shrieks of joy echoing from the granite escarpments all around him. It was pretty sad really. But not so sad as my acceptance email. (“Yeah, maybe. I’ll see if I can find time in my busy schedule. I’ll have my people call your people. OK?”)
Pathetic. But now I’m in. My first post has already appeared on the blog (beside that of the rather special Cassie Hart) and now Meryl can’t claim it was all a terrible administrative error and she meant to invite someone really clever and interesting. (Can she?) Now I’m going to rave about science fiction and rant about science and roar about writers I love and they can’t throw me out because, well, that would be mean, ’cause I always wanted to be on a group blog with glistening words and a cohort and all that.
So, please, join me on 42nd Parallel, subscribe to 42nd Parallel, and wallow in the musings of a group of SFF nuts who just want to create a space where being a half-crazed speculative fiction fan isn’t any reason to be excluded and ostracised.
The inaugural meeting of the 42nd Parallel team
My new sci-fi thriller, Heaven is a Place on Earth is currently FREE on Amazon. Be my guest and feed your Kindle. It will only be available free for a very short time, so nip along to your local Kindle store and grab it while this giveaway lasts.
Heaven is a tense thriller about a woman who finds herself being drawn ever more deeply into a world of deception and mystery, a near-future world where our reliance on augmented and virtual reality makes it easier than ever to become hopelessly lost in the lies.
The book normally retails at $5.50 so don’t miss out, and please pass the news on to everyone you know.
I think the title says it all, but I’m so excited about this that I’m going to say more anyway.
First, let me tell you about the book. It’s about deception. It’s about a near future world where augmented reality and virtual reality technologies make deception easy, despite all the laws in place to guard against it. It’s about a woman for whom the lies begin to unravel. As the blurb says:
“Ginny had only dated the enigmatic Cal Coplin a couple of times when the police arrived to question her about him. He’s disappeared – something that should be completely impossible in the late 21st century when everyone is electronically tagged. When Ginny receives a recorded message from Cal, asking her to deliver a small package for him, her decision to help him plunges Ginny into a world of fear, corruption, and massive deception. On the run from the police, a dangerous terrorist organisation, and a shadowy corporation, Ginny struggles to stay alive and free while she tries to understand what is happening and prevent a deadly attack on the government. But in a world dominated by augmented and virtual realities, nothing is as it seems, and the deception runs deeper than anyone could imagine.”
Along the way, it’s about people deceiving themselves and colluding in their self-deceptions.
It’s a thriller too. I took my inspiration for the slowly unfolding revelation style of plot from thriller-writer Robert Goddard, whose skill in that style is second to none. There are great and terrible events going on, but our hero, Ginny, is bumbling about in the dark, barely glimpsing the nature of the forces that confront her.
I had enormous fun writing this novel. I hope you have as much fun reading it.
(This post first appeared on Steven Saus’s excellent Ideatrash blog.)
There’s been much discussion over the the years about men writing female characters, and women writing males. Some writers do it well, it seems, some don’t. A recent post on a publisher’s blog suggesting that some female characters these days were essentially male characters in drag – especially in high-adrenaline, action-packed thrillers where the female cop, or the female spy, or the female space cadet kicks ass, smart-mouths her superiors, and knocks back cheap scotch with the best of them.
Since this is the kind of fiction I write (only of a highly refined, intellectually stimulating, and deeply meaningful variety) it made me wonder about my own female characters. More than this, it made me wonder if you could ever say that a character of either gender was not representative of their sex.
I recall vividly a short story by Roger Zelazny which I read about forty years ago (Yes, I’m really, really old. Get over it.) in which the reader does not discover that the rough, tough spacer protagonist is actually a woman until the very last paragraph. It has had a profound effect on my writing, I believe, and I rarely, these days, mention the sex, ethnicity, or stature of a character unless it becomes useful to the story. I honestly believe that such “external” attributes of a person are irrelevant to who they are – but they may be relevant to how the other characters react to them.
So, let me list a few things I know about women to illustrate this notion.
And here I’m talking about bell curves – normal distributions of human traits like height, weight, hair colour, intelligence, empathy, strength, psychopathy, courage, creativity, and so on. On all of these traits you will find that there is an average and that the great majority of people are clustered around it. As you move away from the average to higher or lower “amounts” of the trait, the chances of finding it in a random sample of people falls away sharply. If you plot the amount of the trait against the frequency of finding each amount in the population at large, you get a graph that starts off very low, rises quickly to peak at the average amount, and then falls away just as quickly as it rose. It makes a nice, neat bell-shaped curve.
The interesting thing about men and women is that their averages on some of these traits are slightly different – like strength, height, shoe-size, and so on – and the averages on others are just the same – like intelligence, hair colour, etc.. But, and this is the really important point, if you draw the bell curve for men and the bell curve for women, even for traits where they have quite different averages, and lay one on top of the other, you will find that the curves overlap massively. There are plenty of women who are taller than the average man, plenty of men weaker than the average woman, plenty of men with more empathy than the average woman, and plenty of women heavier than the average male.
The point is that there are vastly more similarities between men and women than there are difference. Technically speaking, the variance in the two populations all but swamps the difference in averages. All things being equal, there should be plenty of hard-hitting, beer-swilling, foul-mouthed, tough-talking, borderline psychopath women. Not quite so many as there are men, perhaps, but enough that if you were to say Sam is that kind of person, it is mostly prejudice that makes you think the character is a Samuel rather than a Samantha.
2. The Eye of the Beholder
You have to remember that most of what you see of any person you meet is an act they’re putting on for your benefit – or somebody’s, anyway, even if it’s their own. Take that gorgeous creature who just walked into the cocktail bar in the tight red dress, she might well be thinking that her underwiring is chafing and those heels are murder on her feet. Maybe she’s on the prowl, you think, intimidating, a woman who uses her body as a bribe to get what she wants.But maybe, inside, she’s bitter and angry with herself, humiliated that she dressed up like that just because she heard that her ex-husband and his new girlfriend would be there that night and her idiot best-friend encouraged an impulse to make him regret leaving her. Maybe she flies light aircraft for a tourist company. Maybe she’s doing a PhD in reptile physiology. Maybe she has two kids at home with a sitter. Maybe her brother just died of cancer. Before you write that arrogant sneer onto her full lips, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider that the life of every woman you meet is far more complicated than you imagined. It’s a tangle of family and friends, work and hobbies, childhood and adolescence. She’s got political opinions, religious views, she’s got emotional problems and blind spots, gaps in her knowledge, passions and obsessions, sexual hangups, irrational fears, and a limited supply of courage. Sitting at the bar in your best suit, you have to realise that that red dress tells you nothing at all.
And, as you stride across the room in your high heels, hoping to God you don’t fall off them and break your ankle, you need to realise that the guy in the suit watching you from the bar stool isn’t the simple middle-management drone on a business trip, off the leash and looking for action, that he seems to be.
It’s a well-documented scientific finding that men are generally more emotionally unstable than women. They start of that way as little boys. They cry more, they’re more easily angered, their highs are higher, their lows are lower. But don’t forget those bell curves. This is just a small difference in averages. The most striking thing about the emotionality of men and women is how much overlap there is.
Even so, the relative emotional instability of men manifests itself in some strange ways. In a recent study, it was found that men are more likely to be the first in a couple to say, “I love you.” Men might like to think they’re stable, solid, dependable and reasonable, but the evidence is that, in the face of danger, they’re more likely to take stupid risks, or collapse under the strain, or both.
Of course, there are differences in the hormonal systems of men and women. Oestrogen can make a person more nurturing and compassionate. Testosterone can make a person more aggressive and take more risks. But the differences are not as dramatic as you might think and, again, the overlaps are considerable. There are plenty of men who make great nurses and plenty of women who can run major corporations.
It’s great that there are so may stories about women running police departments, women heading up law firms, women astronauts, women scientists, women spies, but you have to remember that the real world isn’t much like that. In the real world, women are as rare as hens’ teeth in top jobs and, in some professions, even rarer than that. It was shocking to hear that when the Australian Academy of Science voted in its new fellows this year, there were thirty-seven nominees and all of them were men. Not one single female scientist was thought good enough to be elected to the country’s top professional body.
But it’s OK, I suppose, that, in the spirit of affirmative action, or just shifting the perceptions of young people reading books and watching telly, we should portray a world that doesn’t resemble the real one all that much. It doesn’t even matter, I suppose, that the female lawyer, the female cop, the female mining executive or gang boss, are all stunningly beautiful and dress like a teenage boy’s wet dream, because, these days, the same standard of physical beauty is increasingly applied to the male cop, the male lawyer, and the male mining executive or gang boss – as long as they’re the good guys. If they’re bad guys, the female still has to be smoking hot but the male can be as fat and ugly as you like.
In our real world, women do, very, very rarely, get to be heads of state. But, unlike men, they also have their clothing and their bodies endlessly discussed in the media. Their male colleagues snigger at sexist jokes about them behind their backs. The public – both men and women – frequently expresses a lack of confidence in them purely on the basis that they are female. She has to put up with all that crap on top of the normal pressures of running a country.
It’s the same for the cop, the lawyer, the mining exec. And the gang boss. Overt and covert pandemic sexism is probably the single biggest difference between men and women. Women suffer it, men don’t.
In the fictional bedroom, protagonists tend to be good at sex. They’re adventurous, skilful, considerate, enthusiastic, and yet tender. They’re also blatantly heterosexual. If it’s a man he’s ripped. If it’s a woman, she’s got breasts like melons. It probably all arises from a male fantasy that the heroic male is more than adequate in every way. Great male leaders are traditionally giants and well hung. That it has now rubbed off onto the female protagonist is probably just by analogy, rather than a strong cultural belief that heroic women are also sexual athletes. Indeed, until very recently (and it still happens a LOT) it was the female antagonist who revealed her moral degeneracy by exhibiting a healthy sexual appetite.
But the male stereotype has as little to do with reality as the new female equivalent. Think of all the real male heroes and leaders you know. Can you imagine they were or are exceptional lovers? What about Winston Churchill, or Rupert Murdoch? And, among the women, Margaret Thatcher? Julia Gillard? I’m not saying they aren’t terrific sex partners, just that it may not be a safe assumption based solely on their leadership skills.
And what about all that rampant heterosexuality? It’s estimated that as many as five per cent of men are practising homosexuals and that a tenth of one per cent are regular cross dressers (and that these are quite different groups). There is also a substantial number of men who are asexual – preferring not to have sex at all. The figures for women are less certain. It wasn’t all that long ago that female homosexuality wasn’t even acknowledged by many legal systems. My suspicion is that the numbers might tend to be quite similar over time if our society moves in the direction of more openness.
I don’t know what kind of books you read but I’m guessing fewer than one in a thousand have featured a cross-dressing male hero, and fewer than one in twenty a gay hero. Have you ever read a book in which the heroine is a female-to-male cross dresser? (Stories like Tootsie and Yentl don’t count. I’m talking about heroes whose strong gender preference is to present as the opposite of their biological sex.) When do you think we might elect such a woman as head of state?
Differences that we do see between men and women are typically to do with differences in opportunity rather than innate differences. They are differences in achievement (which is regulated by society) rather than differences in ability (which is not – yet – but we live on the cusp of being able to choose such traits for our children). There is some evidence that there are more men with extreme IQs (both high and low) than women. This is thought to be because men are inherently a little more variable on most traits than are women (the set of bell curves for male characteristics are slightly wider and lower than the women’s, even when they have the same average value). However, it’s hard to be sure in the case of IQ since the tests are notoriously dodgy and they are validated against actual achievement or estimates of likely achievement, which are both culturally biassed in favour of men.
The usual argument (“Name me ten great women composers/artists/physicists/engineers/etc.”) is clearly a load of codswallop in a society that has always been biassed against female achievement (and still is, remember the Australian Academy of Sciences example above).
Evidence of differences in maths ability, spatial reasoning, language skills, “social IQ”, and so on are also based on more-or-less shaky evidence. While we live in a society that pushes so hard for boys to go one way and girls to go another, it is almost impossible to tell what is a truly innate difference and one which has been socially determined. My feeling is that we should err on the side of requiring very strong evidence before we attribute any individual difference in ability to sex rather than society.
7. Geeks and Jocks
And, finally, returning to the problem that set off on this exploration, we are seeing a great many new female stereotypes arising in popular fiction. The Geek Girl, the hard-as-nails, one-of-the-boys cop/spy/cowgirl/roustabout/you-name-it, the fiercely competitive lady lawyer/senior cop/senior spy/executive/newspaperwoman/etc., to name but a few. It would be fair to say that many of these characters are so like their male equivalents that the accusation that they’re men in drag would be hard to defend. Possibly to offset this, a fair number of them are single moms with a small child in the background somewhere (and many of these youngsters are preternaturally understanding and forgiving of their absentee parent – probably to assuage cultural bias against neglectful mothers).
More alarmingly, the female stereotypes that have emerged seem to fall into two main camps, mirroring the geeks and jocks categories into which so many male characters can be divided these days. Like male geeks and jocks, the attractive, competent, physically larger, self-assured women get to be jocks, while the unattractive (although often “cute”), socially inept, incompetent, smaller ones get to be geeks. What this phenomenon indicates is not that female geeks and jocks actually mirror their male counterparts – since, in the real world of actual males, it would be hard to make that distinction anyway – but that the writers who use these stereotypes are exhibiting an appalling failure of imagination and a shocking inability to observe and describe real women.
It seems to me that a lot of the complaints about male writers writing female characters and female writers writing men are at least as much a reflection of the gender prejudices of the reader as of the writer’s lack of skill. I don’t deny that some writers struggle in this area and some simply write stereotypes. However, before criticising the writer, we might first make an inventory of our own attitudes to gender and ask ourselves how realistic are our own notions of what is masculine and what is feminine.
With just three weeks to go until the publication of my new novel, Heaven is a Place on Earth, the demons have begun whispering in my ear, telling me all the reasons people might find not to like it. Not that I need demons to remind me! You just have to scan a few Amazon reviews to find that lots of people have loads of reasons for hating everything anyone does. (There’s even one poor demented soul on Goodreads who has been through every book and short story I’ve ever published – even things that are out of print and only available second hand – and given them a 1-star “review” comprising the identical gibberish. But then, Goodreads is the badlands of the literary Web.)
What the demons have been whispering of late is that books not set in the US don’t sell well over there. This is probably an urban myth put around by anxious publishers whose sleep is spent in nightmares about eroding bottom lines, clutching desperately at any superstition that might bring them better luck. They tell it to writers, urging them to switch a book’s location from Stowe-in-the-Wolds, England to Deadhorse, Alaska, because, well, Americans don’t like to read about foreign places, do they? I’ve had this same advice myself, from a Big 5 publisher, who suggested I move the setting of one of my novels from Brisbane, Queensland to, say, San Francisco, California. I said no, I wouldn’t. I have more respect for American readers than that. Besides, I know of loads of great novels that sell well but aren’t set in the USA. They didn’t actually publish the book (not for that reason, I hope!) so we won’t know if they were right unless I self-publish it.
The thing is, Heaven is a Place on Earth, is also set in Brisbane. It doesn’t have to be set there, I suppose, although there is a bit of an On the Beach echo about the setting that I hope readers will notice. But why should I change it? Brisbane is a fine city of over two million people spread across one of the largest urban areas in the world (about ten times the area of San Francisco). It rubs up against beautiful Moreton Bay and the Coral Seal on one side, has the gentle Brisbane River running through it, and enjoys a gorgeous, sub-tropical climate. It’s a great place to set a story.
It’s a bit like the argument publishers use for “translating” books into “American”. I write in a dialect of English I learnt and spoke in the UK. It’s very, very similar to the one I speak here in Australia. About half the books I read are written in a dialect of English spoken and written in the US. Somehow I manage to cope with the fact that those writers say “sidewalk” when they mean “pavement” and “pavement” when they mean “road”, “purse” when they mean “handbag”, “Mom” when they mean “Mum”, and so on. It doesn’t need translating into Australian for me. In fact, I’d find it very weird if an American author’s work was presented to me in UK English. Yet many publishers insist – they write it into their contracts they insist so much – that they will only publish books in an American idiom, with American spelling. One publisher told me that Americans complain that their books are full of spelling mistakes if they find UK English spellings in them! The whole attitude is bizarre, and, I believe, denigrating to American readers.
As I see it, if you don’t want to hear other voices, why bother to read at all?
Needless to say, Heaven is a Place on Earth is written in Australian English, using Australian idioms. It even contains Australian slang – God knows what a Big 5 publisher would make of that!
Yet, despite all my self-justification, the demon whispers, “You’ll get 1-star Goodreads reviews saying ‘the guy shoulda used a spell checker,’” and “Once they see a picture of Brisbane on the cover, no American will want to buy it.” Stoopid demon. “Stoopid you,” the demon says. “You think those big-name publishers don’t know their market?”
Well, yes, I suppose that’s what I do think.
What do you think?
Guys, here’s the cover of Marianne de Pierres’ new SF Western, Peacemaker.
The cover art is by Joey Hi Fi, partly inspired by Marianne’s graphic novel of the same name which was illustrated by Brigitte Sutherland. More details about the book can be found on this page: http://www.mariannedepierres.com/books/marianne-de-pierres/peacemaker-series/
Any SF Western fans out there? Marianne is one of Australia’s biggest-name SF and paranormal writers – and she’s also had success as a crime writer too with her Tara Sharp novels. So mark you calendars. Peacemaker is due for release by Angry Robot books in early May 2014.