This blog is on hiatus, but you may want to subscribe to the newsletter that replaces it.

It seems that blogging is no longer a format that I'm getting a lot of benefit from. However, I am publishing a newsletter every two months with news, notes on craft, a tasty recipe or two, recommendations for cool things to read and watch, and various musings and oddities, PLUS a serialized rip-snorting fantasy adventure story with lots of derring-do and buckling of swashes. If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, here's the link to subscribe.

If you'd like to read the back issues, here they are:

Hope to see you on my subscriber list!


Be the Milk! and Other Traveller's Tales

It's been weeks since I got back from the Great Helsinki-London Trip, but it's only now that I've got a moment to blog about our adventures.

We arrived in Helsinki on August 5, after a gruelling multi-leg trip. We had a few days until the World Science Fiction Convention started, so we did some sightseeing. First up was Ainola, the home of composer Jean Sibelius, his impressive wife Aino (yes, he named the place after her), and their six daughters. She was astonishingly capable in her own right, but saw her role as to help her husband. One can't help wondering what she could have accomplished if their roles had been reversed. There was a haunting portrait of her in the house, but it was difficult to photograph it due to the reflections (no matter where I stood, they were a problem). Still, here she is:

Aino Sibelius

I'm a sucker for churches — I absolutely love them — so I sought out quite a few.

This is the Roman Catholic cathedral. It's tiny. The entire country of Finland is one diocese. What I loved about this church was that it was ABSOLUTELY PACKED for Sunday mass, with people from every possible place on earth. The diversity was exhilarating.

This is the Polish Orthodox church. It was closed on the day we saw it, unfortunately. I find the beauty of Orthodox churches quite overpowering, and would have liked to see what this gorgeous building looked like inside.

This is the odd and compelling outside of the very simple and very moving Kamppi Chapel, or "Silent Chapel". In the midst of the center of Helsinki, it provides a refuge for absolutely anyone. And indeed, on the day we went there, it was giving refuge to a pretty good assortment of tourists, businesspeople, and people who were obviously having a tough time. The Lutheran Church pays for the building and its maintenance, and the government pays to have it staffed full time by trained counselors. I'm not a big fan of state involvement in churches, but this, to me, is how they can work together in a way that benefits and respects everyone.

This is the Lutheran cathedral. It's frickin' massive, and the architecture (inside and out) reminds me a lot of some of the buildings I saw in St. Petersburg (back when it was Leningrad). Unfortunately, because it was August, the choir was not singing during the service. But there was some beautiful music by a soloist. They were very welcoming to us.

This is the beautiful Stone Church (also Lutheran; most Christians in Finland are Lutheran, as far as I can gather).

This is also the Stone Church.

Now, moving from the sacred to the mundane (if not, in fact, the profane), here are some photos of the Steam Hellsinki [sic] steampunk bar:

And then there were our daily encounters with the central train station, which looked to me like the set of Brazil, or actually more like Metropolis.

Like so many tourists to Helsinki, we also took the ferry over to Tallinn, in Estonia (a new country added to my life-list!). I'd wanted to see Tallinn ever since my grandparents had traveled there in the deepest cold of the Cold War; they said it was such a relief to be there after the unrelenting grimness of Brezhnev's Soviet Union. I bet they wouldn't recognize it now! It's the world's biggest Renaissance Festival, except all the sets are real. It gets a bit kitschy at times, but I for one kind of like that sort of thing.

A building that's been stapled together. Stapled. Together.

Here's one of the sort-of tacky things that we ended up loving: Korsaar, the Pirate Restaurant. Not only was it pretty good pirate decor, but — unexpectedly — the food was AMAZING.

The tablecloths were embroidered with this somewhat unpiratical but inspiring motto: "An honorable death is better than a shameful life."

And here, in the Marzipan Museum in the basement of the Marzipan Shop, was the zenith (or perhaps the nadir) of kitsch: a full-sized sculpture of Salvador Dali's head, made entirely from marzipan!!! I can't help thinking he would have loved this.

Soon it was time for the World Science Fiction Convention. I had a busy schedule: I taught a workshop in how to read your work out loud ("Ditch the drone!"), I moderated a panel on "trashy" fiction, I presented an academic paper on "Estrangement: The One True Genre", I had a book signing, and I called a Yonderland fan meetup. I also attended a few excellent panels, met up with quite a few excellent old and new friends, and generally enjoyed wandering around and admiring the rampant geekdom.

Here's where the "be the milk" thing comes in. French fandom is gathering its strength for a bid to host the 2023 WorldCon in Nice; thus, they had a table in the Big Hall at the Helsinki WorldCon. They had badge ribbons that said, in various languages that were not English, "Be the milk!" I asked them what it meant. It seems that at a convention in Canada, a francophone fan was discouraged because why should he go to the con? Everything was going to be in English. Nobody would bother with French-speakers. He voiced his discouragement on a forum, and other francophones urged him to attend anyway, because how would things get better at cons for speakers of other languages if none of those speakers was even visible? One told him, "If you dump a spoonful of water into a jug of milk, it makes no difference at all. But if you dump a spoonful of milk into a jug of water, it changes the water entirely. You are the milk that can change the water! Be the milk!" And it became a rallying cry for representation, inclusivity, and positive change. They wouldn't let me have one until I proved I could speak another language than English. (Luckily, my French, while execrable, is sufficient for clumsy conversations with people compassionate enough to let me struggle.) Here is my collection of badge ribbons for this WorldCon. I don't generally keep them (heresy, I know), but I think I may keep this one; partly for "Be the milk!", partly for the "Program Participant" ribbon, which is always nice, and partly for the "Scavenger Hunt — sankari" ribbon "Sankari" means "hero", and you got it if you fulfilled at least six of the scavenger-hunt requirements. I'm just tickled that I'm a Scavenger Hunt Sankari. (By the way, the red ribbon at the bottom I got when my friend Cathy and I were at Book Expo in New York City earlier in the year; I saved it and added it to the ribbons I got at the con, as a way of tying all my adventures this year together.)

I was sad because for some reason the smoky pine-tar soda I'd sampled at the Helsinki bid table in London a few years ago was not available while we were there. But a new friend, Esko, took great pity on me and got me a liqueur that tastes exactly — exactly — like ham in a glass. Fascinating. Confrontational, even. In his great generosity, he included a bottle of salted-licorice liqueur that we have yet to sample. I tremble.

Ham in a glass.

I made other new friends as well when I fenced as a guest one night at the Helsinki Fencing Club. It was epic! And swashbuckling! And everyone was really nice!

Left to right: me; Anna Heinämaa, who wrote the screenplay to the Finnish film The Fencer; international veterans champion Marja-Liisa Someroja; and fellow WorldCon attendee and American writer Mary Turzillo, who started fencing five years ago at the age of 72.

Eventually the day came when we had to leave Helsinki. The good news is, we left it for London, which I love. There are many fewer photos of London, because I've been several times now and feel less compulsive about taking them, and also because we spent a fair bit of time with friends and family, rather than specifically sightseeing. However, we did have several adventures; among them were tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which, despite its getting very mixed reviews, I personally found very entertaining. We also rashly entered many bookstores, read many blue dots of historical information on many buildings, and drank a few pints. We also queued on our last night for Proms tickets, and heard a very interesting concert: the first half was a sort of theatre piece telling the story of how Dvořak came to write his Symphony from the New World, and the second half was a terrific performance of the symphony itself. Here are a bunch of photos in no real order.

We went to the weekend Acklam Village Market, which had lots of excellent international food and fun music.

Albert Hall. Looks fantabulistic. Sounds AMAZING.

We spent a day in Lincoln to see friends. Objects are very old there. They fall, it seems.

Lincoln Cathedral.

Also Lincoln Cathedral.

We took another day trip to Portsmouth because I was longing, absolutely longing, to see the Mary Rose Museum (which, in case you're not familiar with it, documents, recovers, and restores what's left of Henry VIII's personal warship, which sank in battle in 1545). It did not disappoint.

I saw this place and insisted that we eat here. It is almost overwhelmingly traditional. I asked, "What kinds of pie do you have?" The woman looked at me for a second and said, "Just the one kind." Then she realized that might not be all the information I was looking for, and said, as if I should have known, "Beef." It was served with some very filling mashed potatoes, and over all was poured an odd, translucent sauce full of dried parsley leaves. Houston, being British, knew it immediately as (unsurprisingly) "parsley sauce". I couldn't help wondering if it would be even better made with fresh parsley instead of dried.

We stayed with family in London; our cousin and cousin-in-law are the family minister and the vicar, respectively, of St. Andrew's Church, which is stonkingly old. The vicarage and the church both have bits in them that date back to the 13th century (my cousins put their washer, dryer, second fridge, and microwave in that part, which I find hilarious). We attended services in the church a couple of times, and I know I'm remiss for not taking a photo of the church itself. However, my friend Cathy did take a photo of our adventure having a go of the bells in the bell tower; this is the moment that sparked my current obsession with bellringing.

The really really really old part of the vicarage. The place is probably haunted, actually. It's incomprehensibly old. So, so old.

Me having a go of bellringing. The adventure started here, my friends. Who knows where it will go henceforth? (Photo credit: Cathy Sweeney)

It occurs to me that I didn't do much blogging of my America trip earlier in the year, except to post the address I gave. I'll write about that when I next get a chance. Meanwhile, I hope you've enjoyed my adventures, and I exhort you to be the milk! Be the milk!


Not Quite Writin' Rations™: Potato, Ricotta, and Onion Pizzas

This recipe is just slighty too fiddly to qualify as Writin' Rations™, but the techniques are simple (there are just a few too many of them for this to be an impulse recipe) and it doesn't cost much at all to make, and oh these pizzas are so very, very tasty.


Two small (about 10"/25 cm) pizza bases per person (I cheated and bought some, because I got things to do)
One large onion per person
One-half large OR one small OR two teeny-weenie potatoes per person
Two tablespoons (or so, more is better than less) butter per person
One cup ricotta (drained) per person
One lemon
Sea salt
OPTIONAL and I do not guarantee the results: a half-cup of white wine

1. Slice the onions very thinly until they look like the fingernail parings of a kindly giant. Then try to get that image out of your mind.

2. Melt the butter on the lowest heat you've got (gas) or second-lowest (electric) in a sturdy frying pan. Cast-iron is ideal.

3. Add the onions to the butter and just let them cook there for an hour or more, stirring occasionally. They will slowly become browner and browner; you can keep going until they look like the kind of brown you think of when someone says "caramelized onions". At this point you can add the half-cup of white wine, stir it through, and let it cook down.

4. WHILE THE ONIONS ARE COOKING, slice the potatoes absolutely as thinly as you can slice them (I didn't bother peeling the potatoes, but you may be squeamish about eating potato peels and who am I to judge?), then cook them in boiling water for a few minutes until they're soft but not disintegrating. Drain and set aside until assembly time.

5. Preheat the oven to Infernally Hot.

6. Assemble the pizzas: thin layer of onions, thin layer of potato slices over the onions that covers the entire pizza, another layer of onions, dollops of ricotta, and a sparing sprinkle of sea salt.

7. Bake until the pizzas sizzle and the ricotta starts to brown.

8. Serve with lemon wedges (because this becomes a-MAZ-ing with just that little bit of lemony tartness squirted over it).


Truth, stories, and snowflakes

This is the text of a speech I gave during my recent visit back home (i.e., the US), at a wonderful author event set up by my friend Cathy. (The event was wonderful. The author was me.)

In my literal-minded youth, I couldn't see how a story could be true unless it were historically, literally accurate. I couldn't see how it could contain truth if you could still say, "But it's just a story." Eventually, I grew to realize that, in fact, truth can be more powerfully expressed in stories. But how can this be?

First, the writer, like all artists, is engaged in a process of choice, of constantly paring away what doesn't belong to get at what is fundamental to what they want to express. Literal reality is cluttered, staticky, full of digressions and distractions. It's hard to see anything clearly through all the noise and chaos. The writer goes through and picks the exact details — and only those — that will tell the story. When I'm teaching beginning writers, the first and hardest lesson I present is that the best writing is the writing that uses not the prettiest words, or the most raw, emotive words, but the fewest words. Did you ever make paper snowflakes? When you only make a few little cuts, you end up with a big, blocky, ugly chunk of paper. But when you trim most of it away, you open it up to reveal a beautiful lacy thing of light and air. Stories are like that: the fewer words you use, the more space you leave for your readers to bring their own experiences, memories, and insights.

Second, the writer harnesses the power of metaphor. One of the compulsions of the human mind is to find ways things are like each other — to classify, to connect, to understand a new thing in terms of a familiar one. We writers shamelessly use this compulsion you've got — we've all got — when we're telling a story that, on a deep, perhaps even subconscious, level, is like something that you've experienced, or that you will experience. This is so that one day, when you're in danger or despair, you'll remember how things were for a character you loved. At the very least, the writer hopes, it lets you know you're not alone — that there are people like you who have gone through what you're going through. That your story is a human story, so much so that some writer you've never even met is able to be there with you in that pain, in that fear, in that rage or desolation or loneliness, and to say, I know how it is. I'm with you. Keep going.

Third, the writer relies on you, the reader, to bring truth to the story. Remember the snowflake? The good writer strives to write as little as possible, to suggest rather than explain, to let the reader connect the clues and hints and form something they can recognize as true, to provide a powerful metaphor that the reader can use to examine aspects of their own life and see if they fit. This is partly because it's much more fun for the reader to figure stuff out than if the writer laboriously spells it out; partly because it's just basic human respect that the writer not patronize the reader; but most importantly because it leaves space for the reader's truth. You and I are a team. You bring your own experiences and interpretations with you whenever you read anything. I don't just fling my stories at you with casual indifference, take them or leave them. I offer them and wait eagerly, like someone who's just given you a wrapped present, to see if you like it, how you look when you try it on, what you construct or cook or create with it. When my books started getting reviewed, I was afraid to get my first negative review, but when it happened, I found I wasn't in such bad shape about it after all. Someone had read my words and taken the time to think about them, puzzle over them, and write a review. While, of course, I'd prefer a positive review, even a negative one means someone has joined my story team. We're on the same side! I love that! I love when people are on my story team!

So: stories are true because they've cleared away the clutter to get at fundamental perceptions not just of reality, but of what reality means. They're true because they are metaphors for people's lived experiences, for the commonality of human life. And they're true because they're a shared, collaborative art form where each person brings something to the process: their memories, their cultures, their personalities, the things that are deeply true to them. Together, we find truth. Together, we use stories to discover — and tell each other — how things work, how we can inspire and encourage and comfort each other.

I don't get why some people are so snobbish — "Escapist fiction", they sniff. It's not escape! It's reflection, a chance to pull away from the front lines and seek a better understanding of what you're facing. Sure, it's also respite, but what's wrong with that? Regardless of your politics, I'm pretty sure you can agree with me that these are frightening times. Moments of reflection and respite are crucial to everything we're all doing to make the world a better place. And I already know you're doing something, because you're readers.

We don't read to escape, we read because it gives us the strength and insight to engage with the world. To look around us with the understanding we've gained from going through hell with the characters we love, rejoicing as they rejoice, weeping as they weep, helping to build their stories in our own hearts. To apply those insights, that compassion, to the people outside of the books. Stories don't make the real world less important: they equip us to do good in a real world that is suddenly achingly important to us, because the stories we read have — subtly, respectfully — shown us what's important.

I'll go home tonight and I'll most likely do some work on a story. I'll think about the characters: what they want, why they want it, why they can't have it, why they're nevertheless going to persist. I'll think about the plot: how do they overcome their obstacles? What are they risking? What are the ramifications of each choice they make? And I'll think about world-building: how do their surroundings help or limit them? How do their cultures affect the way they perceive things and the choices they make?

But most of all, I'll think about truth. And I'll think about you, the people on my story team. And I will write the truth for you, the best truth I can, because I love you.


I went and played with the scary kids from over the road.

I recently attended the Noted Literary Festival in Canberra, and I don't mind telling you that I had a terrific time. The program is still posted over at the web site, so I won't recap it here. What I will say is that it's really fun to move outside the smaller sphere of speculative fiction and mingle with poets, creative-non-fiction writers, songwriters, humor writers, prose writers, interstitial writers, and readers of all these things. There were slams and readings, workshops and discussions, formal and informal interactions of all kinds. In other words, it was not at all unlike a spec-fic convention, but with a somewhat broader brief and perhaps a bit less irony.

We in the spec-fic world frequently assert that the distinction between literary and spec is a false one. Why not take some concrete steps to prove it? I’d love to see more and more spec fic infiltrating the literary world. Spec poetry, spec scripts, spec stories. I'd like to see that boundary dissolving — in fact, I'd like to see pretty much all those arbitrary divisions among various writing styles and communities dissolving. Even the boundary between "popular" and "literary" is, in my opinion, false. It is not inherent in the writing itself; it's imposed from outside, for commercial reasons. But how can we prove it?

  • We can make more of an effort to participate in "literary" events by attending them and submitting expressions of interest to participate as panelists (not to mention suggesting panels).

  • Through such participation, we can share what spec-fic does best — estrangement, energetic plotting, rich and satisfying world-building, and sly irony — with writers of other styles and forms.

  • We can bring more forms and more styles into spec-fic conventions, through inviting guests from the "literary" world to participate in panels, readings, and workshops.

  • We can support ongoing and increasing academic research into speculative fiction as literature as well as entertainment.

  • We can read more of what is generally classified as "literature". (Pro tip: there is already a lot out there that straddles the contrived line between "literary" and speculative fiction; I suggest for your reading pleasure The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, just as a start.)

  • We can keep experimenting in our own speculative writing with different and challenging techniques snurched from "literary" fiction and other forms.

  • We can keep rejoicing in discovering new writing in whatever form, and making a good-faith effort to enjoy it for what it is. This is the secret, and if you're already doing this, you're already making literature more vibrant and powerful, more of a source of light and joy in a world crucially short on both.

So: when’s the next "literary" festival in your town or city? If there isn't one, why not start one? Make it self-consciously inclusive of all styles and forms. Find whoever is doing writing in your community, and make sure there's something in your festival for them. Try new things — just because you've never seen it in a writers' festival before, doesn't mean it can't start being in one now. And revel in the rich and varied bounty that writers serve up to humanity.


The trailer for Mud and Glass is available for your viewing pleasure!

Trailer Mud and Glass by Laura E. Goodin from Laura E. Goodin on Vimeo.


Janeen Webb's wonderful launch address for Mud and Glass (edited extract)

The amazing Janeen Webb, author, editor, critic, and academic, has graciously given me permission to post the address she gave at last night's launch of Mud and Glass, my new novel. I present an edited extract of it to you here:

Faculty and Fiction

As a lapsed academic, my first thought on starting to read Mud and Glass was that Laura Goodin has spent far too much time hanging around in University corridors and staff rooms: her comic version of academic life rings all too true.

Mud and Glass is a hilarious portrait of second string academic institutions everywhere. We all know them: they are the places where intellectual enquiry has been reduced to an endless quest for resources, and any project, no matter how mad, will get the 'go ahead' if sufficient funding can be found for it – and never mind how dubious those funding sources might be. In the world of this novel, the deeply corrupt, proto-totalitarian Praxicopolis cartel is providing the finance for researchers to dig up the mud of a particular delta every year: they won't say why, but interested parties suspect it has something to do with glass beads. The madcap escapades that ensue remind me of at least a dozen adventure stories, but there are also darker echoes here of Hermann Hesse's brilliant novel, The Glass Bead Game, where austere intellectuals devote their entire lives to an arcane game based on a complex synthesis of the arts and sciences.

Does that remind you of the game playing that passes for intellectual enquiry in so many academic faculties? It should. Mud and Glass holds up a mirror to the many institutions where moral flexibility and intellectual compromise are prerequisites for promotion. I know. I've taught there.

Laura Goodin has a keen eye for the absurdities of University life. I'm sure I've worked with Norella Honeycott, the devious, scheming academic of the novel: the name was different, and the woman in question was not nearly so attractive, but underneath she was pretty much the same – a second-rate apparatchik creepily prepared to use her sexuality for any hint of political advantage. But I'm sorry to say I don't know any rogue librarians or insubordinate security guards – I'm afraid these things may, indeed, be the stuff of Laura's imagination. I was never blessed with students who baked sublime cookies, and I'm not sure whether any of them were actually practising ninjas, but some of them were certainly involved in bizarre adventures: I remember when one creative writing class was having difficulty with dialogue I suggested they should spend some time just listening to how people actually speak. The course venue was in Melbourne's trendy Fitzroy, and I expected some polite lunch hour eavesdropping in the local cafes – but my literal minded little darlings managed to get themselves caught taking notes of a fairly heavy drug deal going down in a backstreet bar. They got chased off at knife point, thus learning a valuable lesson in how to read body language.

For me, one of the most endearing aspects of Mud and Glass is the involvement of an entire retirement village full of superannuated academics – still sharp as tacks, and cheerfully getting their own back on the University that blighted their intellectual lives, sticking it the University's board of hopelessly inept governors. Good for them, say I!

And finally, I really should say a word about the hero, Celeste Carlucci – the idealistic, intrepid, as-yet-untenured geography lecturer who, in trying to save the Purple River and solve the mystery of the disappearing mud flats, finds herself leading the resistance against the Praxicopolis family's conspiracy for domination: today, the University, tomorrow, the World. Celeste has, shall we say, 'issues', but she manages to keep going anyway, with the help of the handsome and resourceful drama lecturer love interest, Russ Gartner (in whom I detect more than a trace of Laura's charming husband, Houston).

The novel ends happily, as such things should do: University life returns to something that passes for normal.

Mud and Glass should be required reading for all academics. I recommend it to you. Enjoy.

Janeen Webb
22 April, 2017


In Which Humility Is Shown to Be a Virtue, and I Get a Fabulous Blurb from a Fabulous Author

Every social system evolves its own hierarchies and indications of status. Science-fiction conventions are no exception. One of the jobs that's often seen as just a tad less prestigious than being on a panel is moderating a panel. You haven't necessarily done anything jaw-dropping in the speculative-fiction world; you're just willing (and confident enough) to help things go smoothly. You don't get to be famous; you just help other people be famous. Still, it's a job that usually needs doing, especially at bigger cons, with bigger rooms full of more people whose needs must be coordinated with those of the panelists and the con in general.* I enjoy doing it, and I'm told I'm good at it. And it's also got some benefits: you get to meet and talk to the more-famous-than-you panelists, and 99 times out of 100 they are utterly wonderful, kind people, well worth knowing even without the shimmering mantle of fame that billows about the shoulders of each of them. And sometimes even cooler things happen, as I shall now relate.

At the Chicago WorldCon in 2012, I moderated a panel on "Page to Stage" (performance writing and "transmediating" works from prose into scripts, that sort of thing; there's a photo of the panel on this page if you scroll down a bit). As we were setting up, we noticed there was a missing microphone (or some such; it's five years ago now and the details are getting a bit tattered). James Patrick Kelly and I collaborated in a bit of clandestine equipment-pilfering from another room; we bonded just a little bit in that moment of shared and gleeful iniquity. (Yes, we put the equipment back when we were done — we're not common street thugs, after all.)

Fast-forward to early 2017, and my new novel, Mud and Glass, is being prepared for release. I begin to search out blurbers (you know, people who agree to say nice things about your book). Blurbing is a terrific example of why I love the spec-fic community: the more-famous cheerfully, and without earning a nickel from it, help the less-famous become more famous. Just for friendship's sake, and because we all like it that spec-fic writers all over the world genuinely enjoy helping each other out. Figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, I ask Jim Kelly, best accomplice ever, if he will blurb my forthcoming book. And he does. And here is the blurb:

Mud and Glass is a glorious screwball comedy that propels readers headlong through college classrooms, mysterious underground passages and the halls of a retirement home with insouciant abandon. Along the way we meet a charming cast of heroes and rogues all chasing after a lost manuscript, which may either be a McGuffin or the font of all knowledge. A motley cast of wacky academics, rogue librarians, ninja students, insubordinate security guards and clueless bureaucrats is presided over by the winsome geographer Celeste, a protagonist who puts the luck in pluck. Join her for romance and intrigue, purloined theses and homemade cookies in Laura E. Goodin’s hilarious new novel. — James Patrick Kelly, winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards

Isn't that amazing? Many thanks, Jim!

And the moral of the story is: every job at a science-fiction convention has honor and glory in it. Turn not thy nose up at moderating, for in such tasks are the seeds of friendships. Be not an asshole, considering thyself too famous now to do this or that thing. Observe thy heroes in their good cheer and their concern and respect for newbies. Go thou and do likewise. And perhaps thou, too, shalt gain a surprise return on thine investment in good karma and community.

*I did up a guide to moderating con panels that some have found useful; you can read it here.


Mud and Glass is released!

It's here: my new novel, Mud and Glass! It's a roistering adventure, it's a fond and hilarious satire of academia, it's a stirring manifesto of resistance to a nascent totalitarian regime! You can buy it here, or on Amazon (for non-Aussie people). Here's what people have already said about it:

"Mud and Glass is a glorious comedic romp, scything through the sententiousness of the academic world while showcasing modesty, courage and cleverness as virtues. Storytelling rules aren’t so much ignored as imprisoned, beaten up and twisted into outrageous new shapes. Our hero finds love in the arms of a lecturer in the Dramatic Arts — of course she does — but, more importantly, learns to love herself. And through it all Goodin captures perfectly, and with affection, the absurdity of academic life. I’ve not read comedy this clever since Jasper Fforde." — Russell Kirkpatrick, author of the acclaimed science-fiction trilogies Fire of Heaven and Husk

"High jinks in the groves of academe! — concerning matters of tenure, footnotes and postgrad research, along with a secret underground society of librarians, a mysterious Codex in need of a key and an evil Board of Governors seeking total domination of (first) the university and (then) the universe. Shades of Tom Sharpe! A barrel-load of fun!" — Richard Harland, award-winning author of Worldshaker and The Black Crusade

"Adventure, mystery and the quest for permanent tenure. The pace does not let up in this sharp and funny romp through the underfunded halls of research academia." — Shauna O'Meara, Winner of the Writers of the Future Contest and Aurealis-shortlisted writer and artist

I'm really excited! This book was so much fun to write, and I hope it's fun for you to read as well. (For those in Melbourne and environs, it will be launched by Drs Jack Dann and Janeen Webb on Saturday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street. You are cordially invited.)


Read a sample of After the Bloodwood Staff for free

I eagerly and cordially invite you to have a free read of this sample from After the Bloodwood Staff, just out from Odyssey Books.


Why you are not an aspiring writer

I once saw a cartoon, and I've been trying in vain to find it ever since: two prosperous, suave-looking people are at a cocktail party, drinks in hand, and one says to the other, "I hesitate to call myself a writer, because I've never actually written anything."

I continue to find that cartoon hilarious because of all the reasons to hesitate to call yourself a writer, that's the only one people never use, and yet it's the only valid reason at all.

I usually tell my beginner karate students in their very first class, "No, you're not 'training to be a martial artist'. You are a martial artist. You're training to be a better martial artist." Same with my fencing students. "You're here. In fencing class. Thus you're fencers, starting right this very moment." Likewise, I say to you: do you write? Then you are a writer.

You might not yet be a good writer, or a published writer, or a famous writer, or (*snert*) a wealthy writer. You may never be any of those things. But you are a writer, and you can keep becoming a better writer. Here are some ways you might want to try as part of the process of doing that.

Treat yourself like a writer. Assume you already are one. When faced with an opportunity or a dilemma, ask yourself: What Would Writers Do? Then do that. I tell beginning karate students, "The only real way to get to black belt is to act like you already are one. Demand of yourself the kind of excellence a black belt would expect of themselves. For years you'll probably fall short in every way. But you'll get a lot closer than you would if you spent those years making whiny excuses about why you're not looking like a black belt yet, why you can't be expected to perform at that level." Same goes for writing. Challenge yourself. Risk looking stupid. Write 'til it hurts. Then write a bit more. Act writerly: observe, think, question, critique. Hang out with other writers. Keep your mouth shut and learn from them (that doesn't mean they're always right, but realizing that is also learning, no?).

Finish things. All writers write. Good writers finish. Yes, yes, I know, we all have notebooks and laptops full of half-finished monstrosities. Thing is, if you're waiting for your work to match the beautiful moment of inspiration you had when you started, tough luck, pal. We are a flawed and fallen race, and nothing — nothing — we write is ever going to live up to that first brilliant flash of inspiration. Accepting that you will never be entirely satisfied, but that you have to finish anyway, is crucial to becoming better. Shame can't matter. Dread can't matter. Feel them, sure — we all do. But let them, in the words of Herbert's Litany Against Fear (from Dune), pass over you and through you. Despite how it can feel at the time, they're not fatal. But they can kill your writing if you let them.

Know that for the writer, nothing is wasted. The time you must spend stocking shelves at the supermarket, or answering phones, or looking after your sister's kids, or visiting your father-in-law in the nursing home — all of those are valuable for their own sake and they feed you as a writer. One of the pieces of mine I'm proudest of, the libretto to a short opera that ended up being highly meaningful to at least a few people, including one of the performers, had its genesis in the summer I spent packing books in a warehouse. It's not our job to live in a garret and think lofty and transcendent things. It's our job to wade into life in all its chaotic, grimy, slimy, glorious manifestations (including our own life crises), to make connections, to find and express meaning. The garret is deeply attractive, sure (at least it is to me, and occasionally I've been privileged to abide there for short times). But you will be a better writer if you stop wasting time yearning for it. Your life is what it is. You are the writer you are. And everything you have ever done and are doing now and will ever do feeds into that.

So I urge you: don't hesitate to call yourself a writer. And for God's sake, don't wait to call yourself a writer. Do you write? Well, then.


New Year's Resolutions, or, What You Will

A lot of people want to start the new year off in a driven, dedicated kind of way. I'm one of them, and I must say that it usually serves me well: when I set out some specific goals, even if I look back on them at the end of the year and laugh and laugh, I feel like I've gotten a running start on accomplishing things. But 2016 was a year of extremes for me — extreme highs, extreme lows, for me and for the planet: it was a game-changing year in a lot of ways. And so my approach to my yearly goals, resolutions, and inner monologue is going to have to change as well. Let's see how these resolutions go for the coming year.

I resolve to broaden my definition of "valuable work", and have faith in my moment-to-moment choices. Number of words per day? Bah! Number of days in a row writing? Life isn't that straightforward. Number of submissions? Better, but still a dreadfully simplistic measure of the complex job of being a writer. Every second of every day, I am a writer. Absolutely everything I do in each of those seconds, I do as a writer. If there are seconds in which I'm putting words down, callooh, callay! But many other things I do are part of my writing vocation. Running my editing business, reading, cooking, listening, taking care of my horse, getting some exercise (and regular readers of this blog will recall how I feel about that), going to museums, watching the cricket (game, not insect, although they're not mutually exclusive) — everything, and I mean everything, goes into the mix that makes me the writer I am, not to mention giving me story ideas on a non-stop basis. Moreover, dozens of tasks accrete around the specific writing of the words; such tasks are mandatory for the working writer: publicity, web-site maintenance, marketing, public relations, record-keeping, critiquing and mentoring, and pitching in to one's own writing community (for example, I participate in cons as often and extensively as I can, because it's fun, it gets my name and my work better known, and it helps other people). Why on God's green earth would I want to chastise myself for doing any of these things? Think about the writers you most admire, whose work you really love. Don't they tend to be the ones who get out there and grip the world by the ankles and shake it until treasures drop from its pockets? Well, then.

I resolve to be scared. "Write what scares you" is common advice to writers. For once, I'm going to agree with common advice. I don't mean "write about zombies" or whatever (at least, I don't specifically mean that). I mean "write the things you're afraid to write". I resolve to write about deeper emotions, more-ridiculous situations, more-improbable solutions. I resolve to make what my characters go through matter more and more and more, in ways I've never seen other writers make them matter. I resolve to risk writing stories that struggle from my grasp and turn on me to devour me. I resolve to dare humiliation, embrace incompetence, and endure the terror that I'm an unfit vessel for what I yearn to write.

I resolve to rejoice. I am thrilled beyond words to be a writer (which is kind of ironic, actually). I am excited to be in a world where many of the riches of my own language are available for free (and I resolve to read more classics; first stop, a great big Hemingway feast). I am geared up for new writing adventures, and I'm happy and grateful that they look from here like they're entirely feasible. However, I have many, many days when I lose track of all these wonderful things. Not without cause, mind you: life regularly (and irregularly) dumps sadness and rage and horror on even the most determinedly optimistic people, and I'm by no means one of those sorts. And I have no illusions that there's some sort of balance sheet whereby the good "outweighs" or "cancels out" the bad. The bad is the bad, and everyone's particular bad needs to be respected, not waved away or used as a source of guilt or shame (as in, "How can you complain? Look how much worse off some people are!" *shudder* Like that doesn't make me feel a thousand times worse). But the good is also the good, and also needs to be respected and cherished.

I wish all of you all wonder and miracles for 2017. Whatever you do, I wish you joy of it.

Where I was on New Year's Eve (the Twelve Apostles, Victoria's south coast)


The Return from the Great Launch Tour

Four launches in four days, stretching from Melbourne to Sydney — what was I thinking? But despite the logistical demands (and they were along the lines of a small military campaign), it was a pretty transcendent couple of days. First of all, the Great Launch Tour was the fulfillment of a childhood dream: my book, and people eager to read it! Second, I can't even begin to tell you what a joyful experience it was to have so many people show up to celebrate with me: new friends, old friends, colleagues. Their goodwill is going to hearten me through many a dark night in the Writer's Desert, I can already tell. Third, people are already getting back to me about having enjoyed After the Bloodwood Staff — another writer dream come true. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have found books to be a solace, a joy, an inspiration, a refuge. The fact that I can give that gift to other readers myself is...pretty cool.

I'd like to offer many thanks to my launchers: in Melbourne, Joe Dolce; in Canberra, Cat Sparks and Rob Hood; in Wollongong, Anne-Louise Rentell; and in Sydney, Margo Lanagan. I'd also like to thank Michelle and Jen at Odyssey Books, and my cover artist (the cover has drawn much favorable comment!) Rachel Roberts. (If you click on the ATBS cover on her web site, you can read the "making-of" blurb about how she approached the task.) And at every launch location, kind and faithful friends pitched in to help set up and clean up — and I thank them, too!

My beloved husband, Houston, served as my dashing and charismatic MC as well as my bulwark against chaos and dismay throughout the entire tour. Here he is at the Melbourne launch. (Photo by Margaret Dunleavy, I think.)

Me, signing books in Wollongong. Little seven-year-old writer me dreamed of this day. (Photo by Heather O'Neill.)

So, now what? Back to work, of course. There's the bills to pay with what one could loosely term my day jobs (academia and editing). There's some research I need to get back to, and some performance-writing jobs. There's a story I’ve promised to a couple of friends (and hopefully it might be the germ of another series). There's the book to market and conferences to go to, presentations to prepare and deliver, a web-site overhaul to do. There are the preparations for the next book due out from Odyssey Books in May (watch this space). And, of course, there's the sequel to After the Bloodwood Staff to get cracking on (working title, The Caverns Beneath). I frankly have no idea how I'm going to get it all done.


The Great Launch Tour Approacheth!

The commencement of the Great Launch Tour for After the Bloodwood Staff is approaching: relentless, ineluctable, alarming, exhilarating. It begins in Melbourne on December 10, and moves to Canberra on the 11th, Wollongong on the 12th, and Sydney on the 13th. There will be wonderful launch speakers, a reading from the book, and some entirely frivolous sparkling rosé. (The times and places, should you wish to attend, are available on my Facebook writer page, https://www.facebook.com/Laura.E.Goodin.Writer/.)

I’m finding myself overwhelmed at all the details that go into planning the launch: identifying a venue (not that easy this close to Christmas), booking and paying for the venue as well as any required insurance, arranging speakers and an MC, gathering bios, researching the appropriate acknowledgement of country (non-Australian readers, this means a formal greeting of the traditional custodians of the land — that is, the people who lived in each place before the arrival of Europeans — and an acknowledgement of their historical and current presence and the importance of their relationship to the place; it’s not comprehensive reparation for what they’ve experienced, of course, but it sure is better than ignoring them entirely), making sure someone is there to help sell the books, getting the food and drink and cups and stuff sorted, choosing which excerpt of the book to read, helping the publisher with media-release text and other publicity materials, setting up an event page, and sending out the invitations on Facebook or email. It is intensely involved.

Not that I’m objecting, mind you. Getting a book published has been my dream since I was seven. It’s taken a long time to realize that dream, but if there’s one thing this journey has taught me, it’s that the order in which you do things in your life is, essentially, irrelevant. If there are things you want to do, there is no prize for getting one done when you’re young or another when you’re old. No extra points for following an approved sequence. (And who has the right to establish one, anyway?)

I fully intend to make as big a deal of these launches as my circumstances allow. First, I’m at least as excited as you’d think about a lifelong dream coming true. Second, the way the world is at this moment, anything fun and optimistic is a relief to the mind and a balm to the soul. Third, the book itself tells a story of ordinary, flawed, frightened people with no special powers or prophecies at their disposal who stand up against evil, simply because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve told that story the very best I can tell it. Maybe it will help.

I hope you can come to one of the launches. I hope you feel moved to buy the book when it’s released on December 10, and I very much hope you enjoy it. If you do, I’d really love to hear from you (via Facebook, the contact page on my website, an email, or a comment on this blog).



Letting your book-child play with strangers

My debut novel, After the Bloodwood Staff, is in the throes of production. I am incredibly fortunate that My Publisher, Odyssey Books, allows its authors input into the cover design, and I just had a very exciting and collaborative discussion with My Cover Artist. She was eager to hear — and very respectful of — my ideas. Moreover, her own ideas were almost alarmingly synchronized with mine. This is looking a lot like one of those situations where artistic collaboration goes really well.

It doesn't always, of course. Writers, in particular, can have a hard time with it. We're used to utter control over what our characters do (I'm not one of those writers who say that their characters control them, but I'll say no more about that right now). So letting other people control the timing, the look, the edits, the marketing, the media relations — it can be intensely anxiety-producing. It's hard to accept that a different idea, someone else's idea, about our own work could possibly be better than our own. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that someone could bring insights to our work that even we, mighty and wise parents of our book-children, had not anticipated.

But for those who can manage it, letting others join in the fun of creation is exhilarating and a source of genuine artistic growth. If a reader tells you about the profound meaning they found in your work, and it's nothing like what you intended, don't argue! Rejoice that you could write something so deep and gloriously complex that it allowed a stranger to bring their own experiences to the work to reveal new meanings. Rejoice that you had the artistic generosity (whether you knew it at the time or not) to leave space for others' insights. Rejoice that your editor, your cover artist, your publicity manager, the people gracious enough to blurb and review your book, all thought your work worthy of their time, attention, and even love. Your book isn't yours anymore: it belongs to everyone who reads it and everyone who helps you bring it to your readers, as much as it belongs to you. Let their genius teach and inspire you to take more risks, learn more skills, trust yourself more.

It's risky; of course it is. There's potential for great pain if someone misunderstands, misappropriates, or misrepresents your work. But at the same time, there is such joy in the moments of discovery and creative rapport! How wonderful if your work is the basis and the reason for this joy! The next time you have the chance to relinquish a little control over your work, why not risk it and see what happens?



Why Butt-In-Chair Is a False God

I’d like to do my best to destroy yet another writing myth, one I consider to be dreadful, deleterious, and downright dangerous: the so-called "butt-in-chair" mantra. According to this principle, only those writers who grimly force themselves to joylessly stare at their screen/notebook while feeling the synovial fluid around all their joints gradually congeal, hour after hour after hour, are proper writers. Before you object, I will say that yes, it’s important to actually write if you’re a writer. But the whole butt-in-chair thing usually does more harm than good. Here are some reasons why.
  • A fit writer is a better writer. Writing requires physical and mental stamina, which in turn requires moving your meat-self around in a way that feels vigorous. Professional martial artist, multi-published and award-winning writer, and general-purpose badass Alan Baxter says:

    "The sedentary lifestyle is trigger for most morbidity, and few lifestyles are more sedentary than writers’. Sitting literally kills us, so the longer we sit the less healthy we are. Our bodies are made to move. They function by moving. Your legs are literal pumps for your blood, backup to the heart itself. So we need to move to function properly. We also need to move to be emotionally and mentally well — the correlations between exercise and mental health are legion, and backed up by numerous studies. Given writers (artists in general) are often prone to mental-health issues (for where does art often grow from but pain?), movement is essential. AND, writers are solitary and exercise will often get us out and about among other people."

    It’s important, of course, to find an activity that brings you joy. I have Xena, Warrior Princess aspirations, so anything that puts me in the middle of a good swashbuckle will make me happy: fencing, horseback riding, climbing, hiking. A good story attached to what you’re doing can make everything more fun, actually. I utterly hate to run, but it’s becoming something I actually enjoy because I listen to the Zombies, Run! stories when I head out, and they’re pretty immersive. (I also got a lot of exercise playing Ingress for a while, and I’m told some writers find Pokemon Go (which is essentially the same game) to be useful.)

  • Shame shuts down creativity. You can’t disinhibit the inner editor if you’re already in a judgy place, hating on yourself to humiliate your dusty ass into that chair. Researcher Dr. Charles Limb has been studying what actually happens in the brain during times of creativity, and he can show you which parts of your brain light up when you’re in "the zone" and which when you’re discriminating and judging — and they are different. (Here’s the hardcore version, and here’s the TED talk.) "But what about self-discipline?" I hear you wail. Okay, yes, of course, there’s a place for pushing yourself. But if butt-in-chair starts to be a fetish, it starts usurping the place that rightfully belongs to the joy and commitment you feel as a writer.

  • Not everybody creates in the same way. I write slowly. I pace. I juggle (yes, literally, see this video). I pace some more. I go grocery shopping or fencing or whatever. When I literally can’t sit still anymore, I know that lots of words are about to come out, and they’ll be good words. Keepers. The words happen in different ways for different people. If I, for example, forced myself to sit still in the chair every time I needed the words to happen, they wouldn’t. And I’d be miserable and fidgety. Who needs that?

  • You are the captain of your own starship. Anyone’s absolute rule — no matter how attractive it seems, no matter how much you hope this one will fix everything — erodes your own agency. Own and trust your gift! Experiment! Find out what works for you! Apologize to no-one for it! You are the adamantine Captain Janeway, you are the roguish and iconoclastic Han Solo, you are the brave and resourceful Debbie of Maddox!

Butt-in-chair, butt-out-of-chair, these things are irrelevant. Do you write with joy? Do you honor your uniqueness? Do you cherish your gift and seek to use it wisely and well?

All right, then.



Why you shouldn't believe in yourself.

“Believe in yourself.” Common — even ubiquitous — advice for writers. I think it’s bad advice. Terrible advice. Destructive advice.

Of course, some measure of hubris is mandatory for any writer. You have to be able to assume that people will be wanting to read your stuff (or at least be able to not care whether they do). More to the point, you have to be able to detach yourself from outcomes and just do your art. But I don’t know too many writers who are able to do that flawlessly, utterly, all the time. Most of us are heaving, hot, viscous messes of doubt and despair. But how can we keep going in the face of our profound certainty that it’s all no use?

I was having one of these Desolate Moments in the Great Writer Desert (“But how do I know I don’t suck?”), and Lee Battersby, one of my writing mentors, ran down a list of things I’d accomplished so far. When lined up like that, they were a bit of a revelation. Since then, whenever I’ve managed to get myself lost in the Great Writer Desert again, I do what Lee did: I gather evidence. I build a case, like any good academic or lawyer, that supports the thesis statement: I am a good writer. Evidence can include (in order of the age I personally observed it in my own writing journey): good grades in creative writing at school; genuine support from intelligently critical friends; acceptance into writing workshops; acceptances by small markets; acceptances by larger markets; success in teaching writing; acceptances by larger markets yet; strangers liking one’s writer page on Facebook; favorable reviews; selling a novel. EVIDENCE.

It’s evidence that gives you a reason to keep going. Not belief. Not faith. If faith is part of how you approach the world, as it is for me, by all means, have faith in the larger realities that permeate your writing and your life. But don’t make faith do a job it’s not designed to do. Faith can give you a reason to write. It won’t give you any information at all about whether you suck. Only evidence will do that.

The hitch is, evidence does not appear ab nihilo. You have to create opportunities for evidence to accrete. That means putting yourself out there for absolutely everything. Here’s a partial list of the writing risks I’ve taken over the years:
  • Sitting at markets with a “Words While U Shop” booth (which I’m doing right this second; see image below).
  • Applying for the Cafe Poet program with Australian Poetry.
  • Writing and producing a 10-minute play in 24 hours*.
  • NaNoWriMo.
  • Applying for the Clarion South workshop.
  • Giving readings and presentations and being on panels at conventions.
  • Learning to write and perform in the slam style and — terrifyingly — performing at the home of slam, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, in front of the person who invented slam, Marc Kelly Smith.
  • Applying for a Ph.D. in creative writing.
  • Submitting stories. Submitting more stories. Submitting them again. And again. And again.
  • Approaching schools, community-education organizations, and writers’ centers about teaching writing.
  • Starting the Wollongong Slam, now called Enough Said and run by a wonderful collective of brave poets.
  • Letting intelligent people who will not patronize me or comfort me critique my writing.
  • Submitting more stories, again and again.
  • Saying yes when asked to write poems for a performance of baroque opera.
  • Saying yes when asked to write an opera libretto.
  • Saying yes when asked to write a scenario for a ballet.
  • Saying yes.
  • Saying yes.
  • Saying yes.
Okay, sure, sometimes it feels like standing in front of a charging rhino. But really, is any of this stuff going to actually, as opposed to symbolically, kill you? I need to bring to your attention that NONE of these things actually required any pre-existing approval. Nobody is stopping you from applying for things, submitting things, starting things, signing up for things, sending things out, inviting people to play with words with you. And okay, most of the things I’ve risked have disappeared like smoke on the wind – for every item on this list, there are a dozen more that never came to anything. So? Only risk — showing up, signing up, sending out, standing up — generates evidence. So what are you waiting for? Are you tormented by uncertainty? Do you lie awake at night wondering if you suck? There is only one way to fix it: EVIDENCE. Now go get some.

Me and the famous Poet-Tree at the Makers and Thinkers Market in Brunswick, Melbourne, whereat I wrote this post.

*If you’ve never done 24-hour theatre, I strongly, strongly recommend it. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. It helped that I had a fabulous team of actors – do you have some actor or actor-wannabe friends? Get a group together and start googling “24-hour theatre” in your city or town. Don’t find any? START AN EVENT YOURSELF.



I'm back!

Seeing as my novel After the Bloodwood Staff is scheduled for production by Odyssey Books, I figured I'd relaunch my blog after a LONG hiatus. The (relatively) long form of blogging offers depth and flexibility that neither Facebook nor (obviously) Twitter can match, and I'm eager to get back into writing longer posts. I hope you'll come along for the journey as my book goes from manuscript to bookshop and beyond! (And yes, I know this is hardly the longer post I was talking about, but that's coming soon!)


Writin' Rations™: Vegan Veggie Satay

I'm an omnivore, but I cook a lot of veg*n because it's cheaper, tasty, easier on the planet, and able to be eaten at family meals (daughter is vegetarian). Yesterday, I threw the following into the crock pot and a few hours later it was AMAZING:


Two cups of crunchy peanut butter

Two cans (the size of soup cans; can't remember how many mls/ozs exactly) coconut cream

Half chopped onion

Two cloves chopped garlic

A tablespoon or so of chopped ginger

A half teaspoon thermonuclear chili sauce (use more if yours isn't so confrontational, or omit entirely if you want)

A tablespoon of salt

Several tablespoons of store-bought masala spices, or you could use your own favorite curry-spice blend; they're all similar enough that the effect is within acceptable parameters

About a half cup of palm sugar (you could use brown sugar)

A whole bunch of chopped-up veggies (I had cauliflower, red pepper/capsicum, and carrots in the house, so that's what I used)

Two to four cup COOKED chickpeas

Stew and stir, stir and stew, for several hours. Serve with basmati or other rice; when cooked in a rice cooker, it can be kept warm well into the night (and only dries out a little...). Best of all, once you throw everything into the crock pot, you can go write and write and write until it's time to stir again. Let the family grab their dinner when they want it; you're busy writing! (Also ideal for write-ins, particularly if you're not sure who eats what. It's also gluten-free, it occurs to me, if you're careful about what's in the store-bought spice mixture.)


Help us bring swords to Wollongong!

Wollongong, with a population of nearly 300,000, suffers from high unemployment — particularly youth unemployment — along with other socioeconomic problems. Involvement in sports has been shown to benefit youth as well as adults, as it gives them the chance to improve their fitness, determination, focus, teamwork, and social skills. Fencing is an excellent sport to develop all these things, and programs for beginner fencers are spreading all over the world. We at Bulli Swords think it's time the people of Wollongong had the chance to try fencing. Problem is, the sport requires a lot of equipment, and that equipment costs money.

Bulli Swords is the ONLY fencing club on the coast of New South Wales from just south of Sydney to the Victorian border. But we're an extremely small club. We don't charge annual membership, and our weekly sessions are as inexpensive as possible, so that even people on a limited budget can have a go. This means that buying beginners' equipment is beyond our means. The club has a very limited number of foils, masks, jackets, chest protectors, and gloves — nowhere near enough to run a dedicated beginners' class, or to welcome as many new fencers to our weekly sessions as we would like. And we would very much like.

YOU can help us. A thousand dollars will get us enough equipment to regularly run beginners' classes for eight people, and to be able to lend gear on our normal training nights to people who can't afford their own. If you love fencing, love what sports can do to help people become the best they can be, or just like watching the movie "The Princess Bride", please help us bring fencing to the people of Wollongong! Even a dollar or two, along with your good wishes, will help us get there.


Writin' Rations™: Easiest and most decadent dessert EVER

It's easy! It's quick! It's inexpensive! It's delicious! It's — Milo Mousse!

  • 250 ml/1 cup pouring cream/whipping cream/fresh cream (whatever they call it 'round your way)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Milo or chocolate-malt powder (except for Ovaltine, which is yucky), or even, at a pinch, hot-chocolate mix; if you like things less sweet, use plain, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • some crispy, sweet biscuits/cookies; those wafers they serve in ice-cream parlors would be ideal, as would waffle cookies (I know of several different kinds of things that people call "waffle cookies"; all would serve very well)

Add the sugar to the cream and whip until it is quite, quite stiff (that is, to the point where it doesn't shift if you tip the bowl).

Stir the powder (whatever kind you're using) through thoroughly.

Add to bowls or fancy-schmantzy glasses. (If you like a little bit of Milo crunch, do this right away; if you'd prefer a completely smooth texture, let the bowl sit in the fridge for an hour or so before you dole it out.) Stick one of the cookies in each serving.

That — is — it!

It's not very nutritionally sound, I know, but even writers need a bit of indulgence now and again, and this literally takes five minutes to literally whip up. (Ahahahaha!) And it is so good you will plotz.


A new show in rehearsal, and a bit at the Vault Cabaret

Yes, our exciting new show, Comets and Chocolates, is in rehearsals! It stars the multi-talented Greg Shand, and has gorgeous music by Houston Dunleavy and words by me. As we're part of this year's Sydney Fringe, the show also has a Fringe page. Details are coming really soon about performance dates and venue, so quick — "like" the Facebook page so you don't miss out on any info!

Secondly, on June 15 I'll be performing a new piece of flash fiction at the Vault Cabaret. I'm really looking forward to this, as it's always a terrific, fun night, and I consider it a great privilege to be part of it.

Point of honor: I grabbed some sound effects from Freesfx, and their agreement is that I acknowledge them as the source. Because there is no program and no opportunity to acknowledge them during the show, this is my compliance with the agreement. Thanks, Freesfx!


I am stunned and grateful.

Tonight at the Aurealis Awards, I received the very great honor of the Kris Hembury Encouragement Award. I didn't know Kris — I think I may have met him briefly, or at least been in the same room, at the 2007 Aurealis Awards in Brisbane, back when I was at Clarion South — but everyone I've talked to has been united in praising his spirit, his artistic integrity, and his thirst for new things to write. I gather he wrote stories, scripts, you name it. And everyone who knew him not only liked, but admired him.

Thus I am deeply touched to have been connected with him in this way. I hope I can continue to work hard, create with integrity, and always push myself further in my writing.

Thank you, Fantastic Queensland; thank you, colleagues; and thank you, Kris.


Greatness and power wait within us all. Oh, and merry Christmas!

Not long after I got back from my massive US journey, I participated in a local Christmas project: a flash mob that would go to one of the shopping malls, emerge out of the crowd, sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, and fade away again as if we had never been there. And so we did.

You know what's really great about flash mobs? What the whole point of them is, for me? That at any point, the stranger next to you — even the friend next to you — could come forward, reveal their true power, do something amazing, and then just smile and wander off to go about their business. That a person can carry within them, utterly unseen, a glowing coal of greatness and might, smoldering perhaps for years until the moment it bursts forth and accomplishes wonders.

Christmas is specifically a time of hidden power, humble people, and the astonishing realization that we are all much, more than we seem. What a cool way to illustrate that: for entirely ordinary-looking people to arise from amongst the crowd and sing. As we went on, some people who weren't even part of the planned group started to join in. Babies danced. People even wept. For that moment, every person there was so much more than just a harried holiday shopper.

Where are you when you're reading this? With other people? Look around, and exult in the possibility of power and glory that may smolder in any one of them. Are you by yourself? Then exult in the possibility that it might be you.


The Next Big Thing

Amin Chehelnabi and Leigh Blackmore both invited me to be a part of "The Next Big Thing", an informal project to get the word out about what book-length projects we're all working on. It's cool, because (despite the mythology around it), writers are actually not all that competitive; we're far more likely to want to help and promote each other than elbow our so-called competitors away from the writerly success table.

The idea is to answer a standard 10 questions, then tag five more people, putting their names and blog links at the end to keep the chain going. I'm doing it wrong. I'm posting my answers now, and I'll post my five links when I have them. We're all just going to have to cope with that.

Anyway, on to the questions and my answers!
  1. What is the [working] title of your next book?
    After the Bloodwood Staff.
  2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
    I've been a fan of Victorian adventure fiction for many years. I wanted to play with that form, with the conventions and tropes of the Victorian adventure tale, to see how far I could push them before they broke.
  3. What genre does your book fall under?
    Well, sort of the point is that it both is and isn't a traditional adventure tale. It's got elements of fantasy, romance, humor, travel, and mystery, and it dabbles in being both satirical and metafictional.
  4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
    I've had the very good fortune of seeing my writing performed a number of times — sometimes by people I've cast, sometimes by people who are a complete mystery to me until I see them work. Both groups have graced my words with their talent, goodwill, hard work, and creative passion. I don't even want to begin to cast the characters in my book, even just in my imagination, because that's not nearly as fun as the mysterious anticipation of what marvellous actors might show up on set.
  5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
    The bookish and sedentary Hoyle Marchand finally gets the chance to live out one of the adventures he reads about so obsessively — but he finds out those books never did tell the whole story.
  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
    Once I finish it, I'll be seeking representation.
  7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
    It will have taken about a year and a half.
  8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
    Hm. None, I hope. That's sort of the point: to not be entirely within one genre.
  9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
    My grandfather was the one who got me into reading Victorian adventure fiction; that was one of my inspirations. And my friend Gillian Polack also inspired me by telling me about getting into the Ph.D. program in creative writing at the University of Western Australia, for which purpose I'm writing After the Bloodwood Staff (I followed her into the program, you see).
  10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
    I'm having a blast playing with the adventure tropes: turning them on their heads, warping them, laughing at them — just to see whether it's still an adventure story when I'm done. If it is, I will have learned something about the nature of genre and the craft of storytelling.