Saturday, 28 February 2015

Book Review - Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Lower class protagonist rising up to infiltrate the ruling elite... sound familiar? Well it should... it is a well worn trope that has become quite popular again in recent years (Red Rising by Pierce Brown and Hunger Games to an extent) with readers... and it is from this movement that Red Queen originates from. 

Red Queen tells the tale of Mare, a member of the Reds (lower class) whose blood is normal and red in colour. She, like every other normal Red, scrapes out a meagre existence whilst under the subjugation of the Silvers, nobles whose blood is silver in colour and magical in nature. One day she unwittingly crosses paths with some Silvers as a servant at the palace and discovers that she has latent magical abilities. Made a noble, and thrust into a life of power, deception, war and betrayal, Mare must decide where her loyalties lie as talk of a rebellion grows and the Silvers move to crush it. 

I enjoyed many things about Red Queen. Firstly I loved the world Aveyard has built in this first novel. Yes the world is very similar in some ways to other dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and Red Rising, but there was enough originality to keep me enthralled and interested from start to finish. Norta itself is described wonderfully, and I was fascinated by the city of The Stilts (where Mare lives). Aveyard also does a wonderful job in really conveying the gloomy and dystopian nature of the world in Red Queen, and there are little tidbits of information littered throughout the story kept me guessing as to whether or not this was a parallel universe, future dystopia, or a secondary fantasy world. 

Secondly I loved the notion that blood equals power, and I adored how the society was broken into groups based on the colour of their blood, not their skin, race, or gender. Each Silver was also enthralling in that their blood gifted them only one power that was unique to them (manipulation of water for example). It constantly kept me on my toes whilst reading as I tried to guess the nature of the power (very much similar to Brian Stanley's magical well's in his books). I thought Aveyard handled all of this brilliantly, and I got a real sense of fatalistic hopelessness when she wrote about the Reds.

Finally, the plot itself is fast paced, solid (without being amazing) and entertaining. I really got into the political games of the Silvers, and I was glued to the fact that Mare had to hide and lie about her power due to the colour of her blood. What made it even more gripping was the fact that the ruling King and Queen know she is a red, but they have chosen to cover it up and marry her to their son in order to maintain the status quo and protect their interests from other rival Silvers. 

Sadly, what lets this book down is it's characterisation. Mare herself is interesting and funny, and the various Silvers throughout the book are mostly fascinating (except the King, who is about as cliched and boring as you can get in a character), but I found myself wanting more depth as I read. I wanted to delve deeper into who Mare was, who the Silvers are, and all of their motivations, desires, and fears. By the end of the book my first thought was 'god what a cool universe... shame about the lack of greater characterisation'. And therein lies my beef with Red Queen. It is a really cool universe that is basically let down by its lack of character development and attachment. A great example of this lack of development are the romantic subplots for Mare that pretty much go nowhere by the end of the story. If Aveyard can resolve this issue with book 2 then it is my belief that she is onto a real winner here. 

Another lesser issue that may bother some people is Aveyard's use of worn tropes throughout the novel. The one that really stood out for me is the wise old wizard (Julian), who basically becomes Mare's mentor and has her best interests at heart. Yes, this is a classic fantasy trope, and yes it is cliched and unoriginal, but I didn't really mind. Like Robin Hobb has written, tropes are tropes because we love them so much. I really liked Julian's character. 

All in all Red Queen is a solid and entertaining read with some magnificent world building and ideas that is ultimately let down by weak characterisation. If you liked The Hunger Games, Divergent, or Red Rising then you will enjoy Red Queen. 

3 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Interview - Kaaron Warren

Hey Peeps!

Great to back to full health and running on a full tank again... and as such I am stoked to be able to bring you the latest interview in our series on Australian speculative fiction authors. Today I am over the moon to be able to bring you my interview with Kaaron Warren, who is arguably one of the nicest and coolest writers going around! Kaaron took time out of her busy schedule to chat to Smash Dragons about various things, including her sources of inspiration and her take on the publishing industry in Australia. 

Kaaron Warren, welcome to Smash Dragons!
First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your work. 
I’ve been publishing stories for over 20 years now. I have three novels in print, and five short story collections. I’ve lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Fiji and Canberra and drawn inspiration from all of those places. 

Why did you become a writer? 
I’ve always loved reading. I love stories. I love listening and I’m fascinated by human behaviour. I became a writer very early in primary school, when the classwork bored me. We’d get lists of spelling words to put into sentences, so I’d write a story. Or we’d get a boring essay topic in high school, and that’d be turned into a story as well.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing? 

So many different places. For example, I live a five minute walk from a bustling suburban shopping centre. Today I saw: a drunk woman with no teeth flirting with a charity collector, a very cute dog called Pebbles who adored her elderly owner, a plastic cup of…something, a left behind shoe, a young girl weeping because she missed the bus, and a large group of excited children at the library.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

Tell me about your writing process. Are you an architect or gardener?
I always say I’m a body builder. I start with the bare bones, and put them together. Then I add the muscle, the sinew, the veins, the blood, the skin, the hair. Sometimes I add toenails and fingernails, depending what mood I’m in. 

Ditto teeth.

What is your favourite book? Why?
I often quote a friend of mine, who says I don’t have a favourite book, I have a FBOAT (Favourite Book of All Time) and that this changes every time he sees me. 

Okay, for today? Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. I just read this aloud for the Radio for the Print Handicapped, and was reminded of just how clever it is. The character voices distinct, the events, while inevitable, are not predictable. She describes the environment so well, you feel you are a part of it.

All of my favourites are unusual. They take chances. They don’t follow procedure. And they don’t bore me. I hate being bored..

How did you end up signing a three-book deal with Angry Robot? 
They were looking to sign writers up as they were setting up the business, and I came along with three books they loved at the right time. It was an amazing kind of synchronicity. I had been recommended to Marc Gascoigne by Matthew Farrer, a hugely talented writer, who had worked with Marc before. Marc, I believe, googled me. Warning to people; be interesting on the internet!

I have recently started reading Slights, and I am enjoying the deeply layered and terrifying nature of it. What challenges did you face when writing this story? And how did you overcome them? 
It is a really dark book and it was hard to stay in the dark place sometimes. At the same time, it was fascinating. I loved getting into Stevie’s head and imagining what she’d do or say next. I trawled the newspapers and my own memory of things I’d heard or seen. I listened when I was out and stole awful things people said to each other.

Then I had to remove myself from that world and return to this one. It helped that I received a grant from the ACT Government to take three months off to write. That meant I really could immerse myself.

How has the publishing industry changed since you first started writing in the 90s? Do you think it is better now, or worse? 
No better, no worse, but definitely different. Obviously we have the internet; I’d only just taken on email when I sold my first story in 1993. There was no electronic publishing, although there were audio books. No social media. You approached people differently, you submitted fiction differently. It’s certainly easier now to connect with publishers and other writers, and so, so much easier to find out where the markets are. I still have somewhere a folder I made, where I photocopied a long list of markets and cut them all out and stuck them onto A4 pages and put them in the folder….

What attracts you to writing horror? What is your take on the horror genre here in Australia at the moment? 
I’m fascinated by the dark side, what lies beneath, why people do what they do. I hate a happy ending because it feels fake and life isn’t like that. The world is a terrifying place.

You have written a lot of short stories and novellas alongside your three novels. Is there much difference when it comes to writing these as opposed to novels? Which medium do you prefer?
I like all three lengths very much. With a short story, I often say you can play with the short, sharp shock. One idea or one image that you build a story around. With a novella, you need to extend that, build more background, fill in some of the details. With a novel, you can explore many more alley ways, involve more characters and really get to know your world.

I have ideas all the time, and sometimes I know from the start which idea suits which length. 

You have won so many awards for your various works. Do you like to place them strategically on the table when other writers come to visit just to rub it in? 
Ha! I do have them up around my small study and casually dust them when people come to visit.

Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?
No one’s ever said anything crazy! One of my most unusual messages was from an American soldier who said that reading Slights got him through the long, boring nights when he was on tour in Afghanistan. 

If you had to pick a zombie apocalypse team from local speculative fiction writers who would pick, and why?

I’d probably leave most of them behind. I’d take my next door neighbour who’s a plumber. A computer person. A hunter. A mechanic. A gardener. 

Sorry guys; I’m the chronicler of events. All the other writers can get eaten. I need useful people with me.

What is your take on the local speculative fiction scene at the moment? Are there any up and coming authors we should look out for in 2015? 

It’s as strong as it’s ever been. Lots of talent, lots of opportunities, lots of fantastic publishers working hard, like Twelfth Planet Press, Fablecroft Press, Ticonderoga Books, Cohesion Press and Coeur de Lion.

I’ve worked with four writers I know are going to be huge: Michelle Goldsmith, A.J. Spedding, Matthew Morrison and Kimberley Gaal

Can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in 2015?

I’m busy this year!

Running a workshop for the ACT Writer’s Centre in February about turning your dreams into stories.
Being part of the Cranky Ladies in History Launch in Canberra.

Reading at the Folk Dancing and Story Telling evening organised by Folk Dance Australia.
Noted Festival, March 20. James Doig and I will read ghost stories and lead a Wild Words writing session.

Supanova Melbourne.

June 19 is the Prime Ministers Research Centre Seminar. I’ll be presenting there as a Current Fellow.
NSW Spec Fic Festival in July.

Genrecon in October/November

What are you working on right now? What can fans expect from you over the next few years?

I’m finishing a really nasty SF novella, working on two more stories, finalising a novel and beginning work on the novel I’m writing inspired by Menzies, Sir William Ashton and the Granny Killer.

I have the print version of The Gate Theory coming out this month, and another book I can’t announce yet!

And finally, best advice for aspiring local writers? 

Go for a walk and observe every little thing you see. Be observant. Be thoughtful, be quiet; listen. Read broadly, weirdly, widely. Ask lots of questions when you meet people. It’s all about finding your individual voice, your individual take, so that you stand out. Don’t be boring.

Kaaron Warren, thank you for talking to Smash Dragons!

You can find Kaaron's work at all good book retailers online and in store. Keep an eye out for her upcoming print release of The Gate Theory, which includes a novella and four short stories that you will absolutely love! We here at Smash Dragons are eagerly waiting for its release! And by all means drop Kaaron a line on social media. She is a wonderful person, and deserves all of our ongoing support for her work. 

Stay tuned for more posts on Smash Dragons over the coming days. I have reviews coming, and interviews with Jay Kristoff, DK Mok, and a feature interview with Daniel Polansky! 


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Book Review - Near Enemy by Adam Sternbergh

Spademan is back... and things are more dicey now than ever before! I loved Sternberg's debut Shovel Ready. It was a unique and entertaining take on a noir thriller that was set in a dystopian world where dirty bombs have ruined New York. In Near Enemy Sternberg not only reaches the heights of his debut, but arguably raises the stakes even more. 

Set a year after the events in Shovel Ready, Spademan now faces even more dire circumstances. Terrorists have somehow managed to hijack the limnosphere, and they're doing it from somewhere inside of New York. As Spademan finds himself caught up in a complex web he find out just how close these new enemies really are, and how dangerous they can be. 

Near Enemy, just like Shovel Ready, is a fast paced no frills thriller filled with cracking action and an intriguing story. I loved Spademan again, and his broody nature and how he interacted with others was one of the highlights of the book. New York is depicted brilliantly, and the small insights we gain into the world are fascinating and enthralling (rise of private security armies, corporations replacing police, everybody arming themselves, total breakdown of government and failure of politicians etc). One of Sternbergh's strengths from Shovel Ready was his ability to convey the harshness of a society that has essentially collapsed (and the players who have rushed to fill the power vacuum), and this is again very evident in Near Enemy. The plot moves along at a cracking pace, and I found myself easily reading this into the early hours of the morning without realising. It is brutal and enthralling at the same time, and I just couldn't put it down. My only criticism is that the twists and turns are telegraphed a little, and I found the whole 'burqa = bad guy' thing a little off-putting. 

All in all though this book is a solid and very entertaining read. Sternbergh has left things open for the next instalment, and I cannot wait to dive into it based on the little tidbits of information that were revealed in this release. Highly recommended for fans of dystopian fiction. 

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Book Review - Battleaxe (20th Anniversary Ed.) by Sara Douglass

Where do I begin in reviewing arguably one of my all time favourite fantasy books? Perhaps the best way to do it is to provide some context. I first read Battleaxe when I was 14 in 1996. I distinctly remember walking into the bookstore and browsing over the shelves in search of something to read. After initially finding nothing of interest I went to leave, feeling disappointed and frustrated. As I turned my eyes fell upon a copy of Battleaxe that was tucked neatly on the shelves below my eye level. The cover wasn't eye-catching, but the premise sounded fascinating. On a whim I decided to give it a go, and I haven't looked back since. 

Sara Douglass was the author who cemented my love of fantasy. I devoured each of her releases as they came, year after year. I adored the magical and unique worlds she took me too in those books, and the fact the she was an Australian author reinforced my love for her work. I used to keep up to date on her news via her website, where she dispensed wisdom and advice to all those who came seeking guidance. I even had the pleasure of meeting her once at an event, where her warmth and keen intellect shone through. Suffice to say I was devastated when I heard the news that she was sick with cancer. Like in all things Sara approached this setback with determination and humour, and she kept writing and posting on her website about her garden or cats until she got really sick. A few months later I heard the news that she had passed away, and I cried. I was not a close friend or family member, and I had only met her once. But I felt like I knew her, and I was heartbroken. Sara had that gift. She touched everyone who read her books, and we all felt her passing like the loss of a dear friend. 

This 20th Anniversary edition of Battleaxe holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. Firstly, it celebrates the impact that Sara has had on fantasy and speculative fiction in this country. Sara was one of the first fantasy authors to write a bestseller in this country, and her books continued to be bestsellers year after year. A rare feat for any writer, let alone a fantasy fiction writer. Secondly it acknowledges the influence Sara has had over the industry here in Australia. Many of us (writers, publishers and fans alike) still look to her as the role model for Australian fantasy, and her books still continue to have influence despite her passing a number of years ago. We all owe her a debt that can be never repaid. To think it all started with just a small plastic axe she discovered in her garden one day. I only wish she could still see the happiness she brought into this world. 

And Battleaxe itself? Many people might argue that it has become dated, but I would disagree. Battleaxe still to this very day retains its wonderful magic that I first experienced back in 1996. It is a powerful tale of fate, love, betrayal, religion and redemption. Sara was a trailblazer, and in Battleaxe she unleashed a wonderful ensemble of themes, characters and ideas. Axis, Rivkah, Borneheld, and Faraday all still entice and frustrate at the same time, and Sara was one of the first writers I read where powerful and strong women were the norm. The world of Battleaxe is still unique and richly layered, and the lives and magic of the Icarii and the Skraelings are simply stunning. I can't think of another book of the top of my head where such unique magical races have been depicted. Battleaxe is also still an immersive, meaty and thoughtful book. Arguably an allegory of the medieval world, Sara (a medieval historian before she turned to writing) brilliantly unpacks the role of the religion and the harm it brings to people and the natural world throughout the text. And boy, her gift with language still remains unchallenged. Reading Battleaxe is like slurping at a wonderfully flavoured soup on a cold and rainy night. Sara had a way with words that was simply beautiful to read, and in Battleaxe this is highlighted to full effect. The action sequences, twists and turns, and plot are all still top notch and cracking, and I still rate the assault on the Gorkenfort by the Skraelings as one of the best I have ever read. And don't get me started on the betrayals! The story still retains its impact twenty years later. As writer and friend Karen Brooks writes in the introduction to this edition, Battleaxe is a searing insight into humanity and history through the lens of fantasy fiction. 

I love this book, but I am always sad when I finish it, knowing that I will never read a new release by Sara again. But I always go back and reread it year after year, no matter what. That is the power of Sara Douglass, and of Battleaxe. It is a magical and superb tale filled with love, violence, and betrayal. It was her first book, but it is also arguably one of her best. It is a must read for all fantasy fans, and it warms my heart to see a new generation will now get an opportunity to experience what I did many years ago with this rerelease. 

5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review - Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

As a fan of Wilson's work (Roboapocalypse and Robogenesis) I was looking forward to reading this book, and boy was I not disappointed. Portraying a world I feel we aren't too far away from, Wilson weaves a fascinating tale of implanted super humans and the consequences this brings. 

Amped (RRP $19.99 from Simon and Schuster Australia) opens a few years after people have started receiving implants for both medical reasons and pure enhancement. Owen Gray has received an implant in his brain from his father to control his debilitating seizures. Or at least this is what he is initially told. Following a Supreme Court ruling that rips basic human rights from the 'amps', Owen is thrust to the forefront of a simmering and brutal class war between amplified humans and humans. To make matters worse, Owen also discovers his amp is different, and he is sent on a harrowing journey to a community in Oklahoma where he will discover his own startling and latent gifts that will change him forever. 

I loved the basic premise of this book, and whilst it is not original (X-Men anyone?) it is arguably dealt with in an original and fascinating way. Owen Gray is an interesting protagonist, and I really enjoyed how Wilson examined his humanity and how it changed throughout the course of the book. I also loved reading the scenes that included Lyle Crosby, the leader of the growing amp movement. Ex-military, he is a strange and intoxicating meld of Magneto and Kurtz that I found both terrifying and incredibly addictive to read. Their interaction was the highlight of the book for me, and how Wilson dealt with their relationship had me immersed late into the night. Like in all previous books by Wilson the technological ideas are well thought out and implemented, and they are stunningly familiar as we as a society plough rapidly towards enhancement of ourselves in order to live longer. I also adored how Wilson examined the notion of a class war in the future, and I found the alienation experienced by the amps despite their miraculous abilities enthralling to read. 

Where this book is let down (and thus stopping me from giving it a 5 out of 5) is in its final third. Ideas and plot lines that have been set up never fully reach the heights I thought they would, and I was left feeling a little disappointed by the conclusion. All in all though Amped is a solid and fascinating dystopian fiction that will be loved by fans of his previous work. 

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Interview - Keith Stevenson

Hey Everyone!

I am stoked to be able to bring you another interview! I had the great privilege of speaking to author and publisher Keith Stevenson this week. Keith kindly took time out of his busy schedule as a writer, editor, and publisher (just writing that makes me tired!) to chat to Smash Dragons about things such as publishing and his latest work Horizon. 

Keith Stevenson, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thanks! I reckon if there are going to be dragons, they should definitely be smashing.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your latest novel Horizon.

Well I'm a lifelong science fiction fan, brought up on a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr Who and far too many movies to remember. 

I've also been an avid SF reader since my pre-teens, ingesting huge swathes of Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Clifford D Simak, Cordwainer Smith, you name it. 

In fact you can see my classic 20th C SF book cover library at So I'm a hopeless case. And I always wanted to write a science fiction novel that was set in space and that delivered the kind of excitement, believable characters, ethical and moral dilemmas and physical dangers that I enjoyed reading about in the best SF. The result is Horizon.

Why did you become a writer? Was it something that you were always going to pursue?

I started out writing horror stories for my primary school newspaper. So it's always been something I've done. I love story. I love how flexible plot can be and how you can go deep or pull back. I love how stories are never really over. There's always more you can do with them and that exploration of story, tracking the consequences of what you've created or stumbling over something you've never consciously considered is a deep, deep pleasure. It's the best job I can think of. Just a pity the pay sucks :)

Why science fiction? What is it about that particular genre that you find so appealing?

Everyone will tell you their genre allows them to do stuff no other genre can. That's probably not true. SF has some pluses in its facility to create non-real places. But the thing I love about it is, no matter how dark, it posits a future where humanity persists, no matter how changed.

Where did the inspiration for Horizon come from? What challenges did you face in writing the story?

I wanted to write something relatively near future and scientifically believable. The idea came from a daydream musing I had of an astronaut waking in a panic on board a ship. You'll recognize that's the first scene of Horizon and it's the perfect set up because so many questions suddenly arise about who they are, how they got there and what danger they're facing. This was also my first novel so the major challenge was writing something at novel length that held together plot wise and maintained pace. As a multiple character piece it was also important to create a group of individuals that had their own unique take on the situations and sounded like different people. And of course the science of designing a starship, and a planet and all the gizmos they use meant lots of research.

One of the things I loved about Horizon was the intriguing universe it was set in. Will we ever see a prequel outlining how events on Earth unfolded?

 It was important for me to write a story that felt complete in itself. I never considered a sequel or a prequel when I was developing Horizon. But of course time passes and coming back to the story after reading some of the reviews where folk said they wished they could see more of what happens on Earth made me see how I could expand it out further while adding some more dramatic tension. 
Some other readers said they really wanted to get inside the head of Bren, the transhuman bio-jack, and I think there's a lot more to her story and the situation she finds herself in on the ship that could be teased out. So along with my other writing projects I'm plotting out 'Horizon Expanded' which may see the light of day as a print book in a couple of years (when the print rights revert to me - unless, of course, HarperCollins feel like publishing it!)

Your characters in Horizon were both fascinating and deeply layered. What is the secret to good characterization in your opinion?

I'm really glad you said that because I put a lot of work into them. For me, at least, good characters don't happen overnight. You have to work at them through rewrite after rewrite, trying out motivations, words and thoughts until you get to a point where you feel the 'person' is not bent out of shape by the requirements of the plot, but rather they act how they should act and this creates plot tensions and opportunities. You have to love all your characters as well, respect each of them and their points of view, because they believe in what they're doing and saying. They have no other choice. Some readers thought Lex, the ship's doctor, was a childish arsehole. And certainly that's true on the surface, but he could also be charming and beneath it all he has deeply held beliefs that he struggles to be true to, regardless of the cost. You have to respect that. Or I do, anyway. Even Bowen my 'big bad', is simply trying to do his job the best way he knows how. The stakes are high and he can't afford to lose...

In Horizon the theme of climate change and planetary degradation is a prominent one. What attracted you to incorporating this into your story? 

It's funny, much of the early development work on Horizon took place in the early 2000s and climate change was a hot topic then. It's depressing to see that it's still a hot topic and that governments have done so little to address it.  Since the journey in Horizon only starts about 70 years in the future (although it takes decades to get to the planet) it felt natural that the battle against climate change would be part of the history of the people on board the ship. But also when it came to researching and creating the planet Horizon, I learnt a lot about how planetary development and climate were inextricably linked and it made sense to carry that theme through into the exploration phase of the story: to see how climate can change on a geological scale and how it can rapidly degrade from a colonist point of view even when it's a natural product of planetary development. Climate is so important to us here on Earth. It will continue to be important no matter where we go. We can never escape it.

When writing are you an architect or a gardener? Take me through your average day of writing… do you work best in the morning… night?

I'm a bit of both. For Horizon I had a full plot treatment up front because it was written as part of a creative writing course. My Lenticular Series, which I'm working on now, is an expansion of a series of short stories, so while I didn't have such a detailed plot, I did know the key elements of my protagonist's journey. I write in the mornings on the train in to work. I'm usually pretty relaxed and not focused on work at that time which lets me kind of drift and follow the story. The other thing is that I write first drafts with pen and paper, which also means it's slow. I have time to think about what I'm writing while I write it and what I'll write next. It's almost meditative. 

You have been picked to pilot NASA’s Orion spacecraft. You can select 3 other Australian writers to make up your crew. Who do you pick, and why?

Well if I can choose non-living authors, my first pick would be Paul Haines because he was one of the best blokes I knew and also a sick and twisted motherf*cker when it came to telling a story. We'd spend ship-time listening to XTC tracks, of which he had a huge collection. Next up would be Brendan Duffy. He's got a science background, which might come in handy, but also a brain that just doesn't stop spinning, and an evil sense of humour. I take it there's alcohol on board. Rounding out the team would be Matthew Chrulew (Choof). No bullshit and massive knowledge about all kinds of stuff you never even knew you wanted to know about.

Not only are you a writer, but you also are an editor and publisher. How on earth do you manage to get any sleep?

It all comes down to pacing and passion. And I sleep just fine :)

Tell me about the origins of coeur de lion. What motivated you to set this publishing company up, and was one of your goals to promote local writers?

CDL was set up by me and fellow writer Andy Macrae over a drunken conversation that we wanted to publish an anthology called c0ck. Simple as that (and we did). But it's become more than that over the years. I get a real thrill out of finding stories by Australian writers that I think are really good, and I feel obligated to do what I can to help those stories find a wider readership. 

As a publisher what are the top three mistakes that aspiring authors make when submitting?

Make sure you meet the submission requirements in terms of theme, genre and word count (as well as timing of submissions). Make sure you're work is the best you can make it before subbing i.e. no spelling/ grammar errors or plot inconsistencies, cardboard characterization, clunky dialogue and setting. Make sure you have a good knowledge of the genre you are writing in, because the editor will and if you don't and you reinvent the wheel or trot out well-worn tropes you won't make the cut.

What is your take on book piracy? There seems to be an argument that suggests it can in actual fact be great for overall sales. What do you think?

This is a really complicated question. I'm opposed to DRM on eBooks because it makes the reading experience something different from what it has been. I can share print books with my partner or friends. DRM tries to make it hard to do that, which is a pain. Also DRM is pretty useless because anyone with an internet connection can work out how to crack it pretty quickly. So it annoys readers and fails to protect publishers - it's no benefit whatsoever.

Book piracy is another thing. For an author who's published a lot of books, if one or two of their books get pirated by someone, and that person reads them and likes them, they will probably buy other books by that author, so in a way it generates sales for the author. But if you're just starting out as an author and you don't have any other books out there, you're basically being ripped off by the pirate with no hope of a downstream sale. So it's all relative. 

What is your take on the local science fiction scene at the moment? Are there any up and coming writers we should look out for in 2015?

I think the community has been going from strength to strength since the early 2000s and it just keeps getting better. There are many more opportunities to hook up with publishers, particularly in the eBook arena now, and publishers are really on the lookout for talent here. There's so much talent out there, a lot of which I've published in anthologies, and continue to do so in Dimension6, and most of them will be working on novels. It's just a matter of time and opportunity. Really I know so many writers I couldn't pick one or two names out as meriting close attention. Just read Dimension6!

Where do you see the Australian speculative fiction scene in ten years? 

I think we'll all be consuming more fiction digitally and the broadening of markets and channels for publication will continue to expand. That may make it more difficult for individual authors to be heard, but quality writing that is well-developed, well-edited and well-presented will continue to rise to the top.

What are your favourite science fiction books? Why?

That's a bit of a hard one too. I've read so many. Some have stayed with me for years, though and I think about them every now and then (and in fact I've blogged about them here: 

They are: Stand by For Mars Carey Rockwell - for a young boy this was a real seat-of-the-pants space adventure. 

Foundation by Isaac Asimov - classic SF that takes the long view of social development. 

The Man in The High Castle by Philip K Dick - because PKD! 

The Seedling Stars by James Blish - adventurous science on the boundaries of human exploration. 

Protector by Larry Niven - hugely entertaining tale about humanity's unknown ancestry and eventual evolution.

What are you working on right now? What can we expect from you over the new 3 years?

 That would be the Lenticular Series, a three book space opera with an alien protagonist. It's a huge tale of invasion, betrayal, death, disillusionment and redemption (whew!) and I blog about it here

Best advice for aspiring local writers?

Don't give up just because you think what you've written is sh*t. It'll get better but it takes a lot of work and practice.

Is coeur de lion open for submissions at the moment? What sort of work are you looking for?

We'll be open again in the middle of the year for Dimension6 stories. And we are looking for your best work of course :)

Finally, will you be appearing at any conventions or events in 2015?

I'll be at Swancon. I've never been so I am looking forward to it!

Keith Stevenson, thank you for talking to Smash Dragons!

Thanks again, Matthew!

Keith's latest book Horizon can be found at all good online book stores. We here at Smash Dragons loved it, and I would highly recommend that you all go out and buy it this instant! Cracking science fiction! You can also keep tabs on Keith via social media and his website. So google him peeps! He is a nice guy... trust me!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Interview - Jo Anderton

Hey Everyone,

I am over the moon to be able to bring you another instalment in our interview series with Australian speculative fiction writers. I had the amazing opportunity to be able to chat with Jo Anderton, an award winning writer whose books have blazed a trail in the speculative fiction world due to their unique and fascinating narratives. Jo was kind enough to take some time of her hectic schedule to chat with us about various things, including her passion for Anime! 

Jo Anderton, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me ☺

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Happy to! The main thing you need to know about me is I love books. I love writing them, reading them, collecting them…even my day-job is all about books. Of course, my favourite kind of books are speculative fiction. And I like them weird. Mix up your fantasy with some science fiction, sprinkle a little bit of horror in everything, and I’ll bite. Those are the kind of stories I like to tell too. I write novels and short stories and very much enjoy doing both!

Why did you become a writer? What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

I’m a writer because I love telling stories. Even as a kid I used to ramble out stories – much to the irritation of everyone around me I’m sure. When you’re a writer, you’re allowed to ramble on about stories and no one thinks you’re mad. Well, maybe they think that a little bit.

The best thing about being a writer is spending time with the invisible people in your head. Those days when the words just flow, and the imaginary world happening under your finger tips is more real than the actual world, with its boring desks and cups of tea. The worst thing? The days when the opposite happens, and every word is like pulling a tooth.

Every writer has a different creative process and method. Can you shed some light on yours? Are you an architect or a gardener?

I’m a little bit of both. My blueprints are sketchy, to say the least. But they always have a beginning, a few bits in the middle, and an end. Everything else just kind of fills in as I go. I’ve tried planning more thoroughly, but never found that worked for me. If I already know what happens in a story I just don’t enjoy writing it, because finding that out happens is part of the fun!

You stormed onto the scene with your Veiled Worlds trilogy in 2011. What challenges initially did you face in getting published?

Heh, I like the idea of storming ☺ Getting anything published is a challenge. The market is small, and so are publishers’ margins, so convincing someone to take a risk on you and your book can be hard. The best thing you can do is work hard, write lots, improve your craft and believe in your stories. And level up your luck stat too!

What inspired you to write the Veiled Worlds trilogy?

The Veiled Worlds was inspired by a lot of things, but mainly two: I wanted to write a fantasy world that had industrialised. Just because you have magic doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the dark ages! I wanted to see what happens when you use your magic the way we use technology. And the second – my husband lost his job in nasty circumstances. He is directly responsible for what happens to Tanyana at the beginning of the book. Lucky for him, he didn’t have to fall eight hundred feet and land on glass. She wasn’t so lucky.

Tell me about the magic system in the Veiled Worlds trilogy. I am part way through Debris (I can’t believe I have never read your work before… god I am a fool!) and I am enjoying how industrialised the magic seems. Where did the idea for the pions come from?

Exactly that! Industrialised magic. I knew I wanted to create a world that had developed its magic the way we developed technology. I wanted magic that could be industrialised and mass-produced. I was doing a bit of reading into quantum physics, and it all came together into pions. Semi-sentient subatomic particles that can be called upon to recreate matter. One person can manipulate some, depending on their skill level, but a group working together can do much more. A whole factory working together? That’s how you get cities, and armies, from the sewerage system to the lighting to the potential development of weapons of mass destruction.

However, there’s a downside to all this manipulation, and that’s debris. Debris is the waste product produced from pion manipulation, and if left uncollected it can upset the systems that hold the world together. But debris might just be so much more than inconvenient pollution… And that’s pretty much what the book is about.

Who are your literary influences?

One of the biggest influences on me has to be Sara Douglass. I was addicted to her Battleaxe books in high school. I knew she was just the kind of writer I hoped I could become, one day. Then there’s Tolkien and Eddings for getting me addicted to speculative fiction in the first place. And Robin Hobb, naturally, for writing books I could lose myself in.

I have read before that you are a passionate fan of anime (as am I!). Do you have some favourites? And how has anime influenced your writing?

Oh yes, I absolutely am! I love all things Ghibli. My all time favourite anime is The Slayers mainly because I want to BE Lina Inverse. Seriously, there are some problems only a dragon slave can fix. But there are so many it’s hard to pick favourites! Sailor Moon, Ghost in the Shell, Full Metal Alchemist, Ranma ½, all the Persona/Shin Megami Tensei animes… ok seriously I could just list everything I own so I’m going to stop now.

It has definitely influenced my writing. Edward and Alphonse from Full Metal Alchemist are Kichlan and Lad from the Veiled Worlds without a doubt. The debris collectors were inspired by the space-debris collectors from an anime called Planets. And the books I’m working on now are deeply inspired by Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Your short story collection, The Bone Chime Song and other stories, received much praise and adulation upon publication. Is there much difference between writing short stories and novels? And does it feel natural writing across different genres (SF, Horror, and Fantasy)?

I like to think of writing short stories vs novels as different kinds of exercise. Short stories are like high intensity interval training, and novels are a marathon. Ultimately, they both work to keep your writing body and brain healthy. They complement each other too. Short stories teach you about economy, in novels you can go deep into world building and magic systems. I love writing both. The story will always tell me which form it belongs to – whether it needs to be a short story, or a novel. If I could draw I’d love to write graphic novels too. But I can’t ☺

I always write across genres, so it definitely feels natural. I can’t help it. I’ll be writing something I’m sure is firmly fantasy, only to realise actually everyone arrived on spaceships. I don’t see why a story can’t be both!

You have won both an Aurealis Award and a Ditmar Award. When other writers come over for tea and biscuits do you strategically place them in view just to rub it in?

Heh. Well I never actually got my Ditmar trophy so I can’t exactly show that off! My Aurealis Award sits in my study, and if I ever need encouragement I just give it a little pat. As a kid I used to visit Galaxy bookshop in Sydney and buy every book with an Aurealis Award sticker on it. I always wanted one of those. It means a lot to me.

If you were able to host a dinner party with three other writers (dead or alive), who would they be, and why?

I’d probably just invite all my writing buddies over to drink beer. I’m not a dinner party person ☺

Worst writing habit?

Self doubt.

You have been selected as one of the first people to colonise Mars. Due to payload and weight restrictions you can only take three books on the one way journey. What titles do you take, and why?

Lord of the Rings (one of those three books in one so I can take all three!) for all the obvious reasons. The first volume of the manga Natsume’s Book of Friends because Nyanko sensei! Black Juice by Margo Lanagan, because the short stories in that book are wonderful to reread. I feel like I could read them for the rest of my life on Mars, and still learn things about writing.

What are you working on right now?

Probably too many things at once. Hopefully some of them will see the light of day.

The Australian speculative fiction scene seems to be going from strength to strength. What is your take on it, and are there any up and coming writers we should look out for?

I couldn’t agree more! I think we have a wonderful community, we’re very supportive of each other. I’ve just been reading some work from Michelle Goldsmith. She’s absolutely someone to look out for! I’ve also enjoyed the work from Aidan Walsh that I’ve read. Keep an eye on him too.

Can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in 2015?

Not sure to be honest. Usually I say ‘oh no I can’t go this year’ and end up turning up at the last minute. Will see how the year and my life / writing / day job balance goes. 

Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?

I have fans? That’s crazy enough!

Standard cliché question… best tip for aspiring writers?

Just keep writing. Write words, polish them, send them out. Rinse and repeat. Take encouragement where you find it – whether it’s a personalised rejection letter or a pro sale. Don’t let the self doubt monster slow you down. And just keep writing.

And finally, what can we expect from Jo Anderton in the future?

Hopefully more stories! The past couple of years have been a bit shit, but I feel confident I’ve turned a corner and I hope this will mean getting back to my usual writing output. More words ahoy!

Jo Anderton, thank you taking the time to talk to Smash Dragons.

Thanks for having me!

Jo Anderson's books can found at all good bookstores and online retailers. We here at Smash Dragons are adoring her first release Debris, and we can't wait to dive into more! So check them out people!  Jo can also be found online via her website and various social media outlets. So google her! She is an incredibly nice and warm person, and she LOVES anime. So drop her a line. :)

Book Review - The World of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, Elio M Garcia, and Antonsson

As a massive Game of Thrones fan I was elated to get a hold of this companion. Too many months have passed since the television show took a break, and I (like many others) have grown tired waiting for the next book release. I needed a fix, and this tome provided it! 

The World of Ice and Fire is a wonderful book that is lavishly filled with informative essays, histories, and amazing artwork. Written from a Maester's viewpoint, the reader is taken back to the earliest recorded events and legends of the Seven Kingdoms and taken on an immersive journey throughout the worlds of Westeros and Essos. We are given an insight into events like Aegon's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms and the breaking of Valyria, and shown hidden nuggets of information about the mysterious peoples of the east. And you know what, it is really interesting. As a history lover I found this companion to be utterly immersive. Yes there were moments of boredom where I felt that some essays or sections were merely placed as a filler, but for the most part I was enthralled by what I was reading. I absolutely loved the sections on the geographical regions of Westeros, and everything about the Targaryens was fascinating and still shrouded in mystery and magic. 

I also found myself reaching a better understanding of the events being played out in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. One of things that The World of Ice and Fire does well is to really illustrate past rivalries, conflict, and vendettas of all the houses and families. Martin's books can often be complicated and complex, and this book really helps to shed a light on things that are often referred to in them (for example, the 'divine' right to rule of the Targaryens). 

The artwork is also truly stunning and amazing. Every single page leaps out at you with beautiful renderings, paintings, and drawings, and this really helps to bring to life the rich and often violent history of the Seven Kingdoms. I found myself utterly mesmerised as I poured over these pictures, deciphering the tiniest detail and taking it all in. This book is worth buying for the artwork alone in my opinion. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that you can really tell when Martin is writing and when he is not. There is an obvious difference in style and skill, and it can be a little tedious when switching between the two. 

All in all though The World of Ice and Fire is a must read for all Game of Thrones fan. It is a wonderful supplement and companion to the series, and it provides an immersive and richly layered history and backstory that is stunningly illustrated and depicted. The World of Ice and Fire brings to life all the violence, treachery, love and tragedy of Game of Thrones in one companion. Go out and buy this book!

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Interview - Mitchell Hogan

Hey Everyone! 

I am delighted to be able to bring you another interview in our featured series on local authors. Mitchell Hogan is arguably one of Australia's rising stars, and in his short career so far has stormed the speculative fiction world with his Sorcery Ascendent trilogy. Mitchell graciously took time out of his busy schedule to chat to Smash Dragons about various topics, including who he would use in his zombie apocalypse team!  

Mitchell Hogan, welcome to Smash Dragons, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings when I was eleven and have been reading fantasy and sci-fi ever since. I’d always had ideas for characters and scenes, and a magic system, but one day I woke up and realised if I didn’t write the book I’d always wanted to write, I probably never would. I didn’t want to regret not following that dream, so I resigned from my job and started writing. I definitely bit off more than I could chew and it took a long time to work out what I was doing wrong. Luckily I wasn’t too proud to ask for help, and in the end I managed to massage my terrible first draft into something that wasn’t too shabby!

I wasn’t aware of what was happening in the industry or with the ebook shadow industry until March 2013, and that’s when I decided to self publish my novel and see what happened. I put together as professional a product as I could and to my surprise sales took off almost straight away. This allowed me to keep writing and I put out the sequel 10 months later. In between releases, my first book won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

Why did you become a writer? What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

I didn’t intentionally become a writer. And by that I mean writing as a full time job. I had some ideas and thought I could write a good fantasy novel, but the idea of making a living from writing seemed like it was out of reach for most professional writers let alone a novice. I thought once I released my first book I’d have to go back to my old job and try and finish the series on weekends and holidays. I’ve been fortunate and I’m now able to write full time. For that I have to thank readers for taking a chance on an unknown author.

The best thing is you’re doing what you love, and receiving fan emails or comments from readers who enjoyed your books. When you receive fan email it’s a great feeling, and I still respond to every one of them.

The worst is probably the solitude. A combination of factors means I hardly get out of the house these days. I feel like a hermit! But I won’t be getting on the epic fantasy author beard bandwagon...

Every writer has a different creative process and method. Can you shed some light on yours? Are you an architect or a gardener?

Most definitely a gardener, which I’ve also heard termed a pantser or discovery writer. My first book started out as a series of unrelated scenes and characters. I wrote their first chapters, then sat back and decided which one I wanted to be the main character, and came up with some ideas on how to weave the stories together. Luckily a lot of ideas come to me while I’m writing, and the characters take on a life of their own, so I’m often surprised with what happens!

But after the first book in a series you obviously know more about the direction the plot and characters have to take, so there’s less gardening.

You stormed onto the scene with your Sorcery Ascendant books in 2013. What challenges did you initially face in getting those books off the ground? I have read that you originally took the more traditional path to publishing but later switched to self-publishing. Why was that?

My biggest challenge was I had no idea what I was doing! I had no idea what the industry was like, nor what the latest developments were. Late 2012-early 2013 I was naive about the industry. I still thought it was ‘get a publisher’ or perish. I even went to a supposed ‘self publishing’ seminar at my local library and came out thinking what a bad idea self publishing was – because the seminar was given by vanity presses who wanted you to pay for small print runs so you could try to sell to bookstores on your own. Ebooks weren’t even mentioned. These days if I had the misfortune to be at a similar ‘seminar’ I’d hammer them so badly they wouldn’t know what hit them.

Around February-March 2013 a few things led me to realize how big the ebook revolution was, and how many authors were selling ebooks, some of them even making a living. At this stage I was still submitting to agents and trying to perfect my query letter, because I thought that was the only option... Then I came across a copy of David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital, and had it open on my pc for a week while I took notes and re-read it a few times. It was an eye opener. I made a decision to self publish, checked out a few editors, decide on Derek Prior (who’d edited for fantasy authors like David Dalglish), chose a professional cover designer, put together my first ebook in a few months, and released it at the end of July 2013. I was fortunate, and my sales took off. Some mystical combination of the title, cover, blurb and sample led to readers taking a chance on it.

The biggest challenge isn’t the work involved with self publishing. As a matter of fact it’s not that much work and many things you’d have to do anyway if you were picked up by a publisher. But navigating all the conflicting advice out there was quite difficult. There are plenty of writers who absolutely believe their way is the best way. That you shouldn’t even try other options because you’re doomed to fail, and those authors the other ways worked for are flukes and you shouldn’t take their advice. For example, would you believe it if I said people told me my book was too long and I should split it into three parts? Or that because this was my first book I should price it at free or $0.99 otherwise I’d never sell anything? Now, I’m not knocking these tactics because they work for a lot of authors. Loss leaders have been a cornerstone of commerce for thousands of years. But I wrote a book I thought was comparable to traditionally published epic fantasy novels. That’s what I wanted to write, and I think I struck close to the mark. So in the end I left the book at 550 pages and priced it a little under traditionally published epic fantasy novels, at what I thought was a fair, professional price. And it worked.

You are arguably one of the success stories of self-publishing, with A Crucible of Souls selling thousands of copies after its release. What, in your opinion, is the key to self-publishing? What are the advantages and disadvantages when compared to more traditional publishing?

I’ll start out by stating a truth some authors don’t like hearing. Comparing advantages and disadvantages of self publishing vs traditional publishing is really only of benefit if you can choose to do either. Anyone who frames it as a choice is misleading you. You can choose to self publish, but you can’t choose to traditionally publish. Instead you choose to submit yourself to the industry, and by that I mean agents and then possibly a publisher. If you can choose, then that’s privilege.

With that out of the way, the key to self publishing is putting out as professional a product as you can, and then marketing the hell out of it while you write your next book. Keep writing, keep releasing, keep being professional. Write, edit, release, market, repeat.

Advantages and disadvantages... somewhat controversial but I’ll bite ;)

Traditional advantages: Money up front (yay!), but usually not a lot of money, and likely the only money you’ll ever see for that contract (80% of contracts don’t earn out the advance); editing/covers/formatting you don’t have to pay for yourself; print distribution; “legitimacy” of being anointed – and yes a lot of readers still look for this; marketing and promotion; easier to sell foreign rights and audio.

Traditional disadvantages: Slow; ebooks priced too high; loss of control by author; royalties (if any) paid twice a year; low royalty rates; difficult to break into.

Self pub advantages: Speed (it took me 3 months to edit, format, and get my first book out there from the time I made the decision); control (you retain control over everything. Want to change your price? Done. New cover? Done. Tinker with your book description? Done.); retention of rights; paid monthly; higher royalty rates (though technically not royalties, you pay a retailers fee and keep the rest...); anyone can do it.

Self pub disadvantages: Have to pay up-front costs yourself (editing, covers, proofreaders, marketing, formatting); difficult to market, not a lot of opportunities and they’re all based around price pulse promotions (dropping your price to free or $0.99c); lack of visibility/exposure, which is really a competition problem.

Where did the idea for A Crucible of Souls come from?

It started out as a mish-mash of ideas and characters. I enjoy stories about people discovering they have magic powers and their journeys to uncover their true abilities and that’s the story I wanted to write. Yes, the orphan boy discovers he has magical powers is a well worn trope (a classic), but there’s a reason for that. The book evolved quite a way from my initial draft, and it’s much better for it.

What is your best quality as a writer?

Knowing my limitations and when to ask for help. I’ve also learned a lot about the industry over the last few years, and because of that I think I’m making well reasoned decisions.

What is your worst writing habit?

Not being able to get started. I really struggle to start once I sit down to write. It’s pretty bad. I’ve resorted to little tricks to try and make it easier, such as recording my word count for the day then writing a bit more so the next day I don’t sit down and have a big zero staring at me...

You are an avid fan of science fiction as well as fantasy. Which genre has had more of an impact on shaping who you are today?

Fantasy, definitely. The different genres satisfy different needs for me, with some crossover. But good fantasy is like living in your dreams – at least to me it is! My favourite fantasy is a series where the characters are always progressing and improving themselves, whether it’s their own character, martial abilities, or through magic. And that carries over to what I like about RPGs and MMOs, the constant improving and gaining of new abilities. As a consequence I’m always looking to improve myself and develop the skills that I have. And I think I owe that to reading fantasy.

You recently signed a three-book deal with Harper Voyager to release your Sorcery Ascendant trilogy. Can you take me into this process, and can we expect to see much change to the story when they are released later this year?

After HV approached me we had an informal chat, and they put together an offer. From initial offer to signing took 4 months. We were breaking new ground in a lot of ways, for both of us. I wanted to do right by the readers who’d put me in this position, and HV did their best to accommodate my wishes. A lot of self published authors will think I’m crazy for signing, and a lot of traditionally published authors will wonder why I self published in the first place.

The story will not change, but the books will be re-edited. Since Audible have the audio rights I have to make sure book 3 flows on from the original version. What HV and I will do is chip away and sculpt the books into the best version we can, which may mean cutting some minor POV scenes, tightening the language and dialogue etc.

Does this deal mean the release of the third book will be pushed further back?

Yes. I know this will cause some concern for readers but HV and I worked together to bring the date forward as much as we could. We were already working on the series before the contract had been signed to ensure publishing dates didn’t have to be pushed out.

I’ll also endeavour to put out extra content in the world of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence so fans have something to enjoy while they’re waiting. There are a lot of cut scenes which, while they don’t work as short stories, would interest some readers.

And of course I hope to have other novels finished by the time the third book is released.

There seems to be a growing trend amongst authors to utilise both traditional publishing and self-publishing (Brian McClellan springs to mind). Will this be the path you take now that you broken through with your deal with Harper Voyager?

Authors are cottoning onto the fact that going hybrid is the best option these days. I’d like to continue to self publish but it really depends on what happens with this series. If it doesn’t sell well I mightn’t have any choice! But if it does sell well then I’ll be in a better negotiating position for another series.

If I self publish I’ll still look to sell audio and foreign rights, so I’ll still be signing publishing contracts just not for the English print/ebook rights.

How did it feel to win an Aurealis Award so soon after releasing A Crucible of Souls?

It was a big shock. Huge. I never expected a self published novel would be shortlisted, let alone win Best Fantasy Novel. I was in a bit of a daze the rest of the night, and it still bemuses me when I think about it.

What it shows is that self publishing is maturing, and authors are learning (most of them..!) They’re putting out some great work and selling really well. Indie books have cornered a significant portion of the ebook market (30%+), and we’ll see more of them popping up in awards shortlists and as winners.

Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?

So far all of the fan emails, FB posts and Tweets have been great! One fan did say they would have preferred only one POV throughout the books, and I should check out books that did this for some tips…

No pics of tattoo’s based on my series yet...

What do you think of the current state of Australian speculative fiction? Is there anyone in particular who has gone unnoticed that we should look out for in 2015?

Australian speculative fiction is doing really well, plenty of diversity and new books coming through, though I think it’s at a crossroads. Self publishing is strengthening, and we’ll soon catch up to the rest of the world in that regard. Which means there will be unknown authors popping up with great books and sales and people will be wondering where they came from! Which is a good thing.

There are a couple of dark horses who I believe will come into their own in the next year or two. One is DK Mok, who is already an Aurealis Award shortlisted author. She has an epic fantasy novel (Hunt for Valamon) coming out in May 2015 through a small press. 

And the other is Matt Karlov, who self published his first epic fantasy novel (The Unbound Man) in September last year. I’m in awe of DK whose enthusiasm and knowledge makes me want to be a better writer, and with Matt whose professionalism was a step above mine in the way he went about self publishing.

You can pick three other authors to have in your zombie apocalypse team. Who would they be, and why?  (For example I would take Alan Baxter because of his fighting prowess)

That would depend on the type of zombies. The Walking Dead zombies move slower than the Z Nation zombies, and the I am Legend zombies are extremely strong and fast, but the Chinese jiangshi zombies are a different kettle of entrails. If it’s Walking Dead zombies I reckon you could get away with just about any other author who can swing a baseball bat or similar implement. So for these zombies I’m fairly open. Whoever survives the initial event and is around after a few weeks should be able to hack it!

I’ll go to the other extreme and consider the I am Legend zombies, which one-on-one would tear you apart unless you were some sort of combat expert—so the deal with them would be to avoid at night and scavenge in daylight hours. In that case you’d need a mix: survival experts, all-rounders, people you can rely on. In that case, I’d go with Joe Nobody (a self published survivalist/prepper); someone to keep our spirits up, and able to tear zombies apart with his bare hands, Jay Kristoff; and someone tough, and smart, with a lot of common sense to stop us doing something stupid, DK Mok.

The jiangshi zombies are somewhere in the middle. There are a surprising amount of ways to counter them, but most are obscure like “blood of a black dog” or “anything made from the wood of a peach tree”. Really the best way is to write a spell on yellow paper using chickens blood as ink, and stick it on its forehead. You’d need authors who can write in Mandarin and aren’t squeamish at the sight of blood. If you know any, let me know.

What are you working on right now?

I have two projects going at the moment. I’m working on the third book of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, the first draft is 2/3 complete, plus I’ve just finished a science fiction novel. I have to concentrate on fantasy now with my HV deal as I actually have a deadline!

Today I put the finishing touches on my SF novel, after incorporating a ton of beta reader feedback. I’m on the fence about whether to self publish or to pitch it to publishers. I’d really like to keep a few self published works, but self publishing isn’t going away. It’s something I’ll have to decide in the next week or two.

Can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in 2015? (I would dearly LOVE to get my Sorcery Ascendant copies signed! Hehe)

Ha! I think only friends and family have signed copies at the moment! I might turn up at some events - Supanova has been mentioned in my hearing... I would also love to go to the Aurealis Awards again this year.

Finally, best advice for aspiring writers?

There’s so much advice out there it can be hard to figure out what’s good advice and what’s bad. I hope this is good advice: be professional. There’s writing, and the business of writing. You need to be good at both to succeed. Write for yourself, but look at publishing as a business. This is your intellectual property, it has inherent value. More authors need to realise this. Publishers don’t assume all the risk of publishing, the author has shouldered significant risk just by producing a manuscript: time, material outlay, and opportunity cost.

And finish that first draft! Don’t agonise over it, get it done and then revise. You can’t fix something that isn’t written. There are many ways to become skilled at something. Working with, and learning from, an editor (or critique group/beta readers) is far more efficient than going over the same manuscript yourself a dozen times until you hate it.

Mitchell Hogan, thank you for talking to Smash Dragons!

Thank you for the opportunity.

Mitchell's books (see the awesome covers above!) can be found online at all good ebook retailers, and I would implore you all to go out and purchase them. Mitchell can also be contacted online at twitter, and his website. Trust me, he is a nice guy! 

Tune in again in a couple of days, when Keith Stevenson chats to Smash Dragons about publishing, writing, and why he started coeur de lion.