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Heroes, Muses & Perfect Strangers

It took me about a week to realise that the subject header of my last blog post was a Perfect Strangers reference. I could have gone with something highbrow and literary. But no. I went with Balki and Coosin Larry.

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But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was that Paladero: The City of Night Neverending was out and available to buy/borrow/definitely not steal. And it even continues to be so!

Reviews are just starting to come through now. Waiting for feedback on a book is always a tricky time for any writer. You don’t dare trust the good reviews, you feel exposed by the bad ones. Either way, you try not to let them sway you too much.

That said, the review that’s probably meant the most to me so far has come from Tina Healy of Gender Diversity Australia (or GenDA for short). Keen-eyed readers will note that Tina is thanked in the book’s acknowledgements after she very generously went to the effort of reviewing the unpublished manuscript to ensure that the depiction of transgender characters was handled sensitively.

In asking her to do this, I provided her with a comprehensive listing of all the relevant sections of the manuscript to use as a shortcut. But she went the extra mile of reading the whole thing to ensure she had a full understanding of the story, and then went the extra extra mile of providing the following review:

For trans people, being trans is a major influence in our lives, but not the whole story. Most of us just want to live our lives in the shade of gender with which we identify. Steven Lochran is a master storyteller. He has written a gripping fantasy story which includes a transgender character, with an amazing insight and feel for the lived experience of trans and gender diverse people. His exploration of the impact families have on the lives of trans people touched so many memories for me. I know they will resonate with others in my community.

It’s great to see stories being written where gender diversity is a part of the context of the story, rather than the focus. Thanks so much for the opportunity to review “Paladero Book 2”. I recommend it.

Now to be perfectly honest, as proud as I am of that review, I was hesitant in posting it. The last thing I want is for anyone to think I’m trying to pat myself on the back. But Tina went to the effort of reading the book and writing this critique, and I thought it was only right that I share it.

Because it was Tina who was one of the main inspirations behind the book and its inclusion of a transgender storyline. She and I met when she was first starting to publicly transition, and I found her openness and courage inspirational. At the same time, I remember reading articles and seeing news reports about transgender kids taking their own first steps in transitioning, and it led me to think about where those kids could find representation in fiction. After all, as fellow Hardie Grant Egmont author Melissa Keil wrote in an article for The Guardian:

Everyone deserves to see themselves as a hero – to see their life, their reality, in all its complexity, reflected in their books. For young people, at a time in their lives that can be isolating, and fraught with questions of body image, sexuality and identity, this representation can be vital.

Thankfully, the issue of representation – while still far from perfect – has seen some improvement over the last few years. Traditionally speaking, however, transgender characters (let alone transgender heroes) have been few and far between.

In 2013, when I was first outlining what would become Paladero, the major examples that immediately sprang to my mind were Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Mulan, both of whom were forced to present as male rather than personally identifying that way. I also thought of Grant Morrison’s version of DC Comic’s Shining Knight character, who was originally conceived in the Mulan mold as a girl masquerading as a boy to fit into a patriarchal society, and only later evolved under writer Paul Cornell into being a true transgender character.

My idea was to have a character who identified as transgender from the start, and that I would use the inspiration I found from talking with Tina as a guide in achieving that. The challenge was to present this character in a pseudo-medieval setting without any of the modern terminology we have to discuss these issues in a sensitive fashion. It was here that I relied on the insights of sensitivity readers, with Sally Goldner of Transgender Victoria very generously helping with The Riders of Thunder Realm. But I was keen to get Tina’s insights, given the role she’d played in setting me on this path.

Unfortunately I had lost touch with Tina in the intervening period. But I didn’t need to worry about that for too long, as she had gone on to become an active campaigner in the LGBTIQ community, which enabled me to reach out to her. And she was just as kind and generous as I remembered her being, happily agreeing to read the manuscript and offer her insights.

So for all this – from the initial inspiration she provided through to the feedback and encouragement – I wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank Tina, to highlight the fantastic work she’s been doing, and to let those readers out there struggling with their own issues of identity and acceptance: you are not alone. There are places you can go, people you can talk to, and a thousand unending chances that tomorrow will be better. You can be the hero that you’re looking for.

Now, having gotten quite serious there, I think it’s only fair that I leave you with the thing that’s been whirling around in my head ever since writing the intro to this post…

 

Because if I have to suffer with this, then so do you.

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An Ode to Handwriting

Ever since I was a kid, the simple practice of handwriting has proven a real challenge for me. I distinctly remember being seven years old and completely confounded by what the teacher was saying about how to hold your pencil “properly”. You were supposed to grip your pencil just so, because if you didn’t then terrible things would happen.

It turned out that the terrible thing was that you’d develop a nub, which is what happened to me in high school after years of holding my pens and pencils incorrectly. Worse, the nub would get red and sore when I spent too long writing. Give that this was before kids were working off laptops in the classroom, I was writing by hand a lot, and my nub would often be aching by the end of the day.

My handwriting was always messy and it never got better. My cursive consisted of scrambled letters joined together like sloppy spaghetti, and it was with great frustration that I struggled to write as fast as my brain was working – mentally, I’d be a sentence or three ahead of what my hand was up to writing.

When I started uni, I switched back to writing in all caps, much as I did in primary school before we were indoctrinated into exclusively using “running writing”. This meant my penmanship was clearer to read and looked less like mad scribbles, but it also looked less adult.

I envied the mature, artful, confident handwriting of my parents, who had undergone penmanship lessons in their formative years on par with military drills. The method used to teach them cursive seems awfully draconian in this day and age…but it got results; their handwriting had a mechanical reliability to its form. They could write for hours and it would still look as precise and beautiful as it did when they started.

My handwriting has stayed much the same in the years since graduating from uni, and I still feel self-conscious about it. Now, you might argue I’m worrying over nothing. After all, we’re living in the 21st century and everyone speaks of handwriting as a dying art form. But then there’s this;

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I received my advanced copies of Vanguard Prime: Wild Card today (!). It’s the second time I’ve been sent copies of a book with my name on it, and it was just as thrilling as the first. I’m also happy to say that it looks great. But the reason I bring up the issue of handwriting is because I’ll be heading out soon to promote the book’s release, and with that comes the fact that I’ll be inscribing and signing many, many copies (well…hopefully that’s what I’ll be doing).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if you want to be a writer some day, practice your penmanship! (Well, penpersonship). Not only is it handy for signing books, it also means you’re not beholden to a keyboard when it comes time to write. I remember taking a trip a couple of years ago and during the long flights I discovered…or rediscovered…the simple joy and satisfaction in writing by hand.

In fact, writing my first draft by hand proved a distinct advantage. When it comes time to transcribe the handwritten notes, it gives you the opportunity to do some simultaneous rewriting. You get a second draft just by doing something as simply as typing out your story.

And in case you were wondering, Vanguard Prime: Wild Card will be released on 27th February. In the meantime, I’ll be in my office practicing my handwriting. I hope I don’t hurt my nub too bad.

“Vanguard Prime: Wild Card” Cover Revealed

For those of you who missed it, the cover for Vanguard Prime: Wild Card (aka Vanguard Prime Book 2) was revealed at Inside a Dog, including a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes into producing the artwork for a book jacket. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Inside a Dog’s blog system to link to a high-res version of the image, so I thought I’d post it here for you to see in all its glory (click for high-res).

Click for high-res version.

You can see a few new characters surrounding the Knight of Wands and Goldrush, but I’ll save details about them for the future. In the meantime, head over to Inside a Dog to see the creation of this image step-by-step!

A Launch, Some Links, and a Little Movie Talk

On Wednesday night, in the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, we had the official launch for Vanguard Prime: Goldrush. It was a great night, which you can read about here, as well as see photos like this one, where I swear I’m less stunned than I seem to be;

And that’s only the first of more events to come. Make sure to keep an eye on the Events page if you want to have me scribble in your book. Also, while I’m on the subject, thanks again to everyone who came out to show their support! I can’t express enough how much it meant.

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The reviews for Vanguard Prime: Goldrush just keep on comin’! Check out what Emily Gale has to say on the Readings website, and if you’re curious about the VP team and want to learn a little more about them, take a look at this post on the Penguin Teachers’ Corner blog. The PDF they link to contains a bio for every member of the team, with exclusive information that wasn’t covered in the book! You know this is exciting because I’m using exclamation marks!

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The more I think about The Dark Knight Rises, the more I realised I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man more. I still fully intend on seeing TDKR a second time, however, as the first viewing wasn’t done on an IMAX screen and I need to know what that experience is like. I did, however, see Amazing Spider-Man in 3D, which wasn’t as thrilling or immersive as I expected it to be. My fiance, however, thought the 3D was great, which was surprising given that she usually hates 3D.

Of course, there was three big superhero movies this year, with Avengers being the big winner. My experience of watching The Avengers was a curious one. As a fanboy, I loved it. As a writer, it frustrated the hell out of me; not because the script bothered me, but because there were quite a few overlaps with my book, which was in the editing stage at that time.

The end credits hadn’t even started rolling before I was thinking of all the rewrites I’d have to do to differentiate it from this multi-billion-dollar-earning movie. The good thing is that it all worked out for the best. Vanguard Prime: Goldrush ended up being a stronger book due to the rewriting I had to do, even if I had a small heart attack at the prospect.

We’re about to start editing Book 2. I’m keeping a close watch on the multiplexes.