31 July, 2008

How I always hope a story will work

Jeff Ford and a bunch of other blokes (well, mostly blokes) talk about worldbuilding, in a wonderland of melded minds at SFSignal, and Jeff refers to his comments from Gooslegate over at Ellen Datlow's livejournal. In talking about worldbuilding in relation to 'The Goosle', he says:
I was trying to point out the remarkable aspects of the story as a true work of art and also taking a piss at the term "worldbuilding" the way it is, I believe, traditionally understood. Defending Lanagan's story against a claim that it was some kind of pornography, I wanted to point out how cohesively all of the different aspects of the story blended inextricably together and supported each other. Lanagan's grim "fairy tale" reality would be less terrifyingly effective, less an authentic nightmare, and I'd care less about what happened to the protagonist, if the dialogue were more "standard," if the sentence structure wasn't a little loopy at times, a little tortured at others in just the right measure, if her word choice wasn't unique. You can't separate these things out from the incredible imagery. The beauty of that story is that it's a vision, an organic whole, and not some construct of parts super glued together.

29 July, 2008

Desert Writings 5

Written at Davenport River:
We arrive, we ingest, we murmur, we move on.
Birds laugh about their own business above.
The sky sails on, up into noon and down.
The bed of the river, our bed,
is tracked and traced by bird and beast, big and small,
speckled all over before we ploughed through.

First star I see this morning: for Tender Morsels, in Booklist

Ian Chipman says of the novel (which will be a YA release in the US):
At its essence, this is a story about good and evil, not at all unusual for a fantasy, but there isn’t a single usual thing in the way that Lanagan goes about it. As in Red Spikes (2007), Lanagan touches on nightmarish adult themes, including multiple rape scenarios and borderline human-animal sexual interactions, which reserve this for the most mature readers. She employs a preternatural command of language, twisting it into archaic and convoluted styles that release into passages of absolute, startling clarity. Drawing alternate worlds that blur the line between wonder and horror, and characters who traverse the nature of human and beast, this challenging, unforgettable work explores the ramifications of denying the most essential and often savage aspects of life. It isn’t easy, but this book is nevertheless a marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’s edge of YA speculative fiction.

25 July, 2008

What Gary K Wolfe said.

Locus have put Gary Wolfe's review of Tender Morsels up online, if you want quite a lot of the plot (I can't decide whether it's exactly spoiler-ish) and to get some indication of what the Truesdales of the world will be knotting their knickers about in 3 months' time.

Speaking of which, just checking to see whether Gooselgate had completely finished (and it has, being overtaken by the Sanders kerfuffle), I found this comment over at Ben Payne's blog, by, not surprisingly, Anonymous:
Of course ['The Goosle'] would attract teens and kiddies. If you make your name in this genre then your name is your bond - eg Enid Blyton. I'm drawing Garretts attention to this poison. I certainly hope my taxpaying money isn't going into this relativistic slime.
Peter Garrett is our federal Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, and yes, during his predecessor's term, the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts did use Anonymous's taxes (and my own) to help fund the writing of 'The Goosle', I'm happy to say. Anyone who calls children 'kiddies' deserves to have their taxes used in the way that most annoys them. :) No, I'm not even going to mention punctuation.

22 July, 2008

Desert Writings 4: Passing wind (snrch)

Written at Hugh River, morning of Day 3
Hear the wind moving up from behind us, moving through the leaves like a being, like a creature with intent, passing on having felt everything with its mouth the way a baby does, with its breath, with its everywhere fingers, with the nerve endings of its fluid skin, knowing and gathering more knowledge all the way, from leaf-swing and feather-ruffle and movement of strand of hair, from solid dimpled thigh of tree-trunk and from stone after stone lodged in the river bed in its colour and mass, each a small head in the crowd, each a shape of its own, all saying, all speaking themselves. All the things that can be moved and all the things that cannot, the wind passes over, passes on from.

Now, it pushes through the leaves of the farthest-forward trees, and calls back to another part of itself: Yes, it’s all right to blow here; come in, and welcome; feel this, feel that; tangle in this one’s hair; dandle the sand off this peak; smooth this smooth rock as I did. Where will we go now, then? What shall we move on to?

Nice review of Red Spikes..

...over here.

21 July, 2008

Desert Writings 3: Cantankerous Gorge

Written at Miller’s Flat, Day 2
I have named this canyon Cantankerous Gorge, because it is like a difficult personality that must be negotiated. It will offer you a little leaf of native sage, which you will crush and sniff and remember in association with a good roast goose, lace-edged napery and candelabra and amusing conversation and all, and then it will precipitate you down clefts and rough, tip-tilted steps of rock, or snatch the gravel out from under your feet, or catch and claw you with a piece of temper in the form of a thorny tree. It will offer you something indistinguishable from a daisy, but on a bush nothing like a daisy-bush from home, all fingery leaves and exploratory stalks, and then it will send along a buffeting wind, so that the ladies must hold their skirts tight about their legs to preserve their modesty, and the gentlemen snatch for their hats in case they should be lifted from their heads and thrown into some chasm, impossible of access, there to shelter no more than ants’ nests.

Here on the flat and surrounded by the honey-gum trees, it is difficult to credit how we struggled, on the high slopes covered with deceptively pillow-like growths of spinifex, in the low dank streambed all lumpish and uncomfortable with rocks both edged and round, where water belongs, not such as us, creatures of intellect, bipeds, clothed things and mannered.

Post-Truesdale Del Rey Book review

Graeme Flory reckons, of 'The Goosle':
This one has stirred up a little controversy on the net with a perceived image of child abuse running throughout the tale. Having read it all I can really say is that if people are intent on looking for trouble then they’ll make sure they’ll find it. This is a dark fantasy tale of plague, abuse and a possible outcome to the tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ but it’s also a tale of survival against the odds and the strength needed to come through some really nasty stuff. It’s a coming of age tale as well with bleakness evident both in the scenery and the thoughts going through the main character’s head. ‘The Goosle’ would probably have been my favourite tale if it wasn’t for…[Jeffrey Ford's 'Daltharee']
with which I'm quite happy to share the limelight.

17 July, 2008

Desert Writings 2: The Lesser Wee-Bit

Written at Hamilton Downs Youth Camp, Day 2, on a hill overlooking the Chewings Range, with black cockatoos flying over
I have named this bird the Lesser Wee-Bit, because it is not even so large as the Greater—which is thumb-sized—but only perhaps the size of a grown man’s thumbnail. A clean white below, shading to lemon under the black tail, it has a neat grey head with a beak that is no more than a speck or pinpoint of black, and dapper grey wings which when folded give it the appearance of a tiny gentleman in a morning suit, who has doffed his top hat momentarily for a lady or superior.

This bird arrives whenever a person seats himself among the thinner scrub, where it springs straight out to many branches without preparatory uplifting by a single trunk, or where it rises uncertainly on its withered black-barked stem, to branch quickly and to branchlet, disappearing like smoke off a burning brand. He comes, then, to this sort of poor cover, seemingly out of a curiosity towards the lumpen creature, all bulk and careful breathing, lowered into a place in his domain. He positions himself on a vertical twig, which gives him a very jaunty aspect for one so small and frail, and with his jet-bead eye fixed on the interloper he will then, if one maintains one’s calm and does not crane too eagerly towards him, release upon the desert silence notes that you will hear nowhere else, and that you will find both mysterious and entrancing.

It is as if with that pin-prick beak the Wee-Bit stabbed a tiny hole in the silence, through which membrane plumped, like a honey-drop or red sphere of tree sap, a piece of the heaven-noise beyond, the chaos of a whole heavenly city, perhaps, with its criers and its beasts of transport, its bustling markets and its busy apartments. It’s as if in its passage through the skin from that bright world to this the piece was rounded and polished, and a little lamp lit inside, the tiniest lamp imaginable, perhaps the size of the gleam that in real life lights the Wee-Bit’s eye. And then, snick!, the piece is through and the skin shuts behind it making it perfect, freeing it to float across the intervening space, to lodge in this earthly, eager ear.

This bird will not come to you if you do not pause in your exertions towards your day’s or journey’s end; this song will not be brought forth from the little throat if you do not position yourself within the landscape and aspire to becoming rock, or stump, or grass-tussock yourself. To receive these polished seeds of beauty into your ear, you must delude yourself that you entered the scrub and became scrub, earless and careless and thankless. To see the fleck of bird poised against the rough twig, you must affect to look entirely away from the world, to indeed pluck out your eyes and cast them away as useless, to become instead a tight-strung wire or gut, against which the bird’s bubbles collide most subtly and intensely, setting you at once to singing at a different pitch.

16 July, 2008


I picked up the July Locus this week. Apart from the Gary K. Wolfe review of Tender Morsels,—which I forgot to mention said that in my short stories 'the fantasy elements and language seem distilled to the smoky intensity of fine Armagnac'—there were a few words from the I-hope-now-thriving Charles N. Brown about the novel,
which really got me thinking about YA fiction since it opens with a sex scene then segues into incest, abortion, more incest, messy childbirth, attempted infanticide and suicide—and that's just the first chapter!
And then, and then? There was a review of Jack Dann's Dreaming Again:
More disturbing [than John Birmingham's story] is 'The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross' by the ever-trenchant Margo Lanagan, set in a near future when few babies are born without deformities, and a father must love his unexpected offspring, a task at which he will certainly fail.
Yes, I'd be very surprised if Jonah gets to see his daughter, let alone learns to love her.

Desert Writings 1

Hard shards, quartz and mica,
cleared from the paths so that we can come in,
and toss our drink bottles to pieces on the rocks,
so that the people who follow us
will see that we had a good time,
will see the glitter of our good time,
will cut their feet on our good time
strewn among the stone piles and the tree-debris.

12 July, 2008

Tender Morsels Australian cover—drool...

Now I can show you Allen & Unwin's fantastic cover for the novel (note to self: find out name of illustrator). It's darker and more ambiguous than the US cover, because it's coming out as an adult book here.

It also includes a blurb from the now-published review by Gary K. Wolfe in Locus—I'm childishly happy that there are two wolves on this cover. His review tells a lot of the story, so I won't reproduce it in full, but I should mention that there are comparisons to Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, and that it finishes like this:
By its second half, Tender Morsels begins to take on a density and moral complexity almost suggestive of a George Eliot novel, with its decades-long narrative arc, its shifting relationships, its questions involving responsibility, misdirected love, and the nature of families. Or maybe it's simply a more expansive exploration of the kinds of worlds we've glimpsed in condensed form in some of Lanagan's stories - it's certainly more leisurely in its development, and more accessible in its prose (those who find Lanagan's characteristic neologisms and swaggy narrative voices a challenge may view this with some relief, though she's still one of the few authors who could get away with a line like "she cackled ivorily"). Either way, it's a brilliant realization of a brilliant promise, and a profoundly moving tale.
**smiles modestly**

11 July, 2008

True(sdale's) colours

Just a few quotes that I think will be sufficient to show why I don't reckon it's worth engaging with Dave Truesdale's SFSite review of 'The Goosle' point by point, although many kind readers and readers-to-be of the story have stepped up to do so. These first few are from Mr Truesdale in an Asimov's forum.
I'm thinking about writing this cutting edge retelling of the Hansel and Gretel Grimm's fairytale, where, when Hansel is captured in the "witch's" house and held in her cage, that instead of her asking for a bone from him (as in the original), she asks him to stick his little penis out for her to grab (a play on boner, sorta). Hey, and to really grab readers and show that anything goes in SF and is to be applauded, Hansel is sexually buggered in the ass [I like Troo's reaction to this: 'Personally I'm all for sexual buggering in the arse. I can't be doing with that non-sexual buggering.'], given it to him in his poink hole, by an adult who is his gay, masochistic, travelling companion/"daddy". And to spice things up, I'm thinking of adding a line by Hansel (deep characterization), where he, for a brief moment, questions if he *likes* being f**ked in the ass.

Of course, the bad guy ends up dead, but from another agent, and _not_ because he's a child raper/f**ker.

Whaddya all think? Who should I send this prospective story to? Sheila? Stan? Gordon? Ellen? Shawna?

I think this is a terrific, cutting-edge, risque, retake on an already "grim" fairy tale, and what better angle for shock value than to go this way. After all, this has never been done before, and I think I'm on to something special here. SFWA's Nebula voters will really love this one, won't they? Or if not them, then the Horror crowd will surely nominate this one for an award. I'm coundting on it.

Now all I have to do is write it. :-)

Steven: "I think Mr Truesdale has just read Margo Lanagan's "The Goosle" in Ellen Datlow's "The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy". Clearly it has had an effect on him."

Yep, and yup.

Will writers stoop to anything these days, because their own imagination is lacking? I'm not for censorship, for heaven's sake, but when do we censor *ourselves*? Where does editorial responsibility and discriminating taste come into play? Aside from pure shock value, what was the point of this particular retelling? What was gained?

Will Ellen's next collection from Del Rey feature a retelling of Snow White (one where Snow has a little sister, perhaps?), and the Seven Dwarves are evil and up to no good? Will they take Little Snow hostage and give it to her over and over and over to the point where she even begins to think she maybe likes it (as Hansel briefly considers if he likes being buggered)?

Every so often we have to lift our heads above the forest in order to properly see the trees, to take a good look at the grand design once again. :-)

SF and Fantasy can do better than this; it should aspire much, much higher than this sad, sorry excuse of a "retelling." Sorry, folks, this is just the way I feel about this story. I also don't believe anyone is a prude when objecting to what almost could be considered child porn. I'm sure NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association] would really like this one (and this fact by itself should tell you a lot), so a measure of proper perspective on our part isn't a bad thing from time to time. Just sayin'.


Twas my understanding that the "witch" was eating Hansel's buggerer's guts out as Hansel watched. Hansel didn't get his revenge on the bad guy, the witch did. And for the record, I'm not upset about the gory violence in the story, Ellen. It was the fact that, to me, the author turned to the worst sexual perversion there is, the rape of a child (and in this case homosexual rape), for shock value. And then add the one line where Hansel thinks he might like it, and I thought this was a really, really bad message to send. How does homosexual rape of a _child_ add anything of value to this fairy tale (aside from shock value)? Could you please answer this one question for me? Please?

You can always trot out the catch-all defense of any art and say it was art for Art's sake and there shouldn't ever be censorship, and freedom of artistic expression always trumps everything. This doesn't mean folks can't criticize art in any of its forms. There was a recent bruhaha about somebody sticking a crucifix up someone's ass, displaying it, and calling it "art." As a general proposition, Ellen, where do we as a society, or you as an editor specifically, draw any lines as to what you will or won't publish. Certainly you do have limits, don't you? What might they be?
Truesdale has also contributed this comment, over at Ellen's livejournal:
When Margo Lanagan set out to write “The Goosle” she was staring at a blank screen. She could play God. Every twist, every turn in the story was hers to choose. As were the theme, the characters, and everything else about her story.

Now please consider the following: rape of any kind is a despicable act. Period. Regardless of who commit’s the rape.

There is adult rape by a man against a woman. There is adult rape by a man against a man. There is child rape by a man against a girl. There is child rape by a man against a boy. Four scenarios.

Because of the subject matter of Lanagan’s story, the retelling of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, her choices (once she decided to go with a rape scenario in the first place), was pretty much limited to the latter pair of choices: man rape against a girl child, or man rape against a boy child. The choice was hers and hers alone. She could have chosen to have the nasty old man rape Gretel, but she didn’t. She chose to have the nasty old man rape Hansel. She, and she alone, chose gay rape of a boy child.

If, as some have offered here, I am homophobic because I objected to gay rape of a child, then what does this say of Lanagan’s choice? It was her choice to portray gay rape of a child as a nasty, horrible, terrible thing, was it not? It certainly was not this reviewer who wrote a homosexual man into the story. It was certainly not this reviewer who wrote into the story that this homosexual would rape a young boy child. It was the author.

If the author, or anyone posting here, is concerned that homosexual rape of a child in this story tars all gay men--or promotes a stereotype in the minds of some--then this is the author’s fault, and not that of a reviewer who declaims against such a scenario.

If anyone promoted (unintentionally, albeit) the stereotype that all homosexuals are male child rapists it was the author. She had other choices, but chose this one. What makes it even worse, is that she chose to include the line where Hansel, even though for a brief moment, questions whether or not he likes what is being done to him. With this in mind, now reverse the roles. Pretend that Gretel is the one being raped and entertains the thought--even for a brief moment--that she might like it. Isn’t this thought what we see in movies and on tv, when the jerk off says to someone (the police), “but I could tell she wanted it”? And we hate the asshole even more for his crime, don’t we? For his barbarian attitude toward women?

But Lanagan has a homosexual child rapist telling Hansel he knows Hansel likes it, and even Hansel has his moment of doubt. This, then, makes the gay rapist even more despicable. So why is it that some here have decried my objection to this set of circumstances by insinuating that I am homophobic and wish to tar all gay men as child rapists? Or have something against gays?

I also objected on the grounds that of all the limitless, possible scenarios the author could have gone with in this story, she went with homosexual child rape, and I questioned this as well (the line in the review about the idea well running dry). It was Margo Lanagan’s choice and hers alone, when she decided to write about a thoroughly depraved, disgusting, gay child rapist (who got his comeuppance, but not at the hands of Hansel), not me. She has portrayed a gay man in the worst possible light, not me.

So who’s the one promoting a bad image of gay men (as I have been accused of here)? Please look at the story and think about what I’ve just said. Lanagan had choices. She chose rape. She chose gay rape. She chose gay child rape.

I room with a retired gay man who, in his spare time, writes graphic gay sex short stories (and sells them). Even he has said that he, and his publisher, won’t touch gay child rape. Not to their liking. Are they homophobic?

There’s one last reason I didn’t care for the “child abuse” in this story, and it has nothing to do with anything above. Somewhere back in the ’80s I began to notice an uptick in the number of sf/f stories that in some way or other (the main story, or background, a line here and there) had aspects of the dysfunctional family/child abuse. The physically abusive father either to the mother or some child, the runaway father, the alcoholic father, the sexually abusive father (mostly given to the reader by indirect reference)--that sort of thing. Boy, take your pick; it seemed like SF writers were taking their cue from the public awareness of this issue brought to the fore by the media, and on morning talk shows of the era (who cater mostly to women), and even unto the present. From one line references all the way to the focus of the story, there were inordinate numbers of stories having something to do with the dysfunctional family. And I have grown weary of them. Not that the issue isn’t important, no sir. Doesn’t matter whether the stories are good or bad, or how well they’re told, or anything else. It’s just a weariness of reading so many stories including something about a dysfunctional family. It’s pure numbers. So when I again saw the child abuse in “The Goosle” I thought, “Here we go again, another dysfunctional family “type” story, now finding its way into a retelling of a fairytale; can’t authors these days come up with anything different?”.
Yes, I think he's done himself enough damage publicly not to require my lambasting him, along with everyone else's. My story has a lot of darkness and brutality in it, but compared to Dave's crude, crass and irrational responses, 'The Goosle' is a tiptoe through the tulips, with added kittens.

A 'Fifth Star' thumbs-up from Trent

Okay, I'm home, and concentrating on cheerful things first:
  • Friend and fellow RORette Trent Jamieson has enjoyed my story in Jack Dann's Dreaming Again anthology, 'The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross':
    this just grabbed me, held my head down in its slop bucket of imagery, and didn't let go until it was done. It's dense, brief (though it contains a whole world within that brevity) and visceral. It may well be the best short story I read this year. It's certainly one of the bleakest. I often think of Margo as a fantasist, but this story has reminded me that she can write damn fine unflinching and utterly unsentimental science fiction.
    Aww, thanks, Trent!
  • The OF Blog has chosen Ellen's Del Rey Book as a Half-Year Notable Book, despite all the child porn in it.
  • Comments are still trickling through on Gooslegate (Steven's term for the kerfuffle about 'The Goosle'), and I haven't yet read one that is supportive of Dave Truesdale's stance on the story, but he does seem to have encouraged people to seek out the story and have a read and a think about it, bless him.
I've had two weeks of writing-and-walking time and family time up in the desert and Darwin, and now I've got a weekend to settle back in and mull over it all. Words and pictures soon.

07 July, 2008

'The Goosle' hits home

D'oh! Why do I have to be away the week I'm Controversy of the Week?

This bloke Truesdale started it all, with a near-hysterical spray to finish up his review of Ellen's Del Rey Book:
I really don't know where to begin in describing "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan, except to say it is a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. Lanagan turns this traditionally gruesome fairy tale into one of child porn (depending on your point of view) and repeated homosexual rape of a child (Hansel).

With several other stories in this collection aimed at juveniles or teenagers (the Ballingrud and the Cadigan), I find this story highly inappropriate. Would you want your young child to be introduced to science fiction or fantasy thinking a story like this represents, as the cover of the book entices, SF's "finest voices"? One rape scene is fairly graphic, and at one point young Hansel thinks he might even like what is being done to him -- over and over.

Given that there are many versions of this grim fairy tale, and gore and violence abound in the original(s), there must be lines drawn somewhere, folks. Depicting child rape, with the author having the child think he might like to be buggered in his "poink hole" (as the story euphemistically calls it) is where I draw my own line. Editor Datlow has co-edited some six collections of retold fairy tales, with tremendous and deserved success. Has the idea well run so dry, and are authors so bereft of true originality in these retellings that they must resort to shock value of the most depraved sort?

Freedom of artistic expression does not trump good common sense, and at least a perceived modicum of morality (whether divinely inspired or by human agreement and consensus), or an innate sense of fundamental ethical awareness. We're talking homosexual child rape for shock value here. If not for its gratuitous shock value, then this reader would like to know what this adds to the fairy tale canon of Hansel and Gretel. Especially in light of the fact that Hansel doesn't make his raper pay for his perverted behavior, for it is the "witch" who eventually devours him, who sets right the moral balance.

There are those in today's society who believe that anything goes, especially in the artistic community, where moral relativism would seem to be the philosophy of choice, and so the mantra goes something like this: Who is anyone to tell an artist what he or she can't "create," be it a work of fiction, a painting, a sculpture, or a song? They shout "censorship!" at the drop of a hat. I don't think censorship is the primary issue here, and neither is the issue of prudishness. If we don't at least question the act of homosexual child rape (where the child questions whether he likes being raped or not) which insertion into the story is for shock value only, then we have serious problems.

Del Rey ought to get a long, loud, wakeup call... and quick. If the author, editor, and publisher can nuance this story, massage it, spin it to where the objectionable inclusion of child rape for shock value alone is acceptable, then there are absolutely no boundaries, for any reason, anywhere -- and we can expect more of the same. This sets a precedent, if not challenged. And again, what audience were the editor and publisher expecting to hit here? Several stories seem written just for a younger crowd, so then what can be the reasoning behind also presenting a fairy tale retelling with repeated instances of child rape for shock value?

... especially because of Margo Lanagan's story, I cannot, in all honesty and fairness to potential buyers, recommend this collection.
Dave Truesdale has also been commenting and message boarding around the place, expanding on these views.

Meanwhile others have leapt to 'The Goosle's' defence, and taken the review apart in all the ways it should be taken apart. I'm still away from home, without the time to sit down and go through either the review or the responses in the detail I'd like to, but you can find responses here and here and here and here and here, as well as extensive comments over at Ellen's livejournal.

Well, I've got my blogwork cut out for me when I get home, but in the meantime let me just say that anyone who thinks 'The Goosle' is child pornography has their child-porn radar set way too high; that anyone who thinks Hanny for a moment enjoys being buggered simply hasn't read the story properly; and anyone who thinks the story was written for shock value or because my 'idea well ran dry' has very little sense of how stories happen, or how many ideas are constantly beating at the doors of any writer's brain. Dave's review says a whole lot more about Dave than it says about 'The Goosle' or about my motivations.

So. Love youse all, and see you in a week.

PS The desert trip was fan-bloody-tastic and I'll chew your ears off about that too soon enough, don't worry. In the meantime, nip over to Into The Blue and book in on the Tarkine trip. You won't regret it! :)