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Ditmars.

1.

Regular readers will have seen this before. New ones, well, welcome to the Ditmar Post.

The Ditmars, if you've not heard of them, and there's the large possibility you haven't, are an Australian award for speculative fiction. It's a bit more wild and woolly than the Aurealis Awards, in that the nomination round is open to anyone in fandom. That being a rather nebulous term, I tend to just say it's open to anyone who actually read a story by an Australian writer. Of course, such an open field has the obvious vote stacking, faction forming issues, but then, in opposition to a judged award like the Aurealis Awards, that can actually mean that stories that people liked and read can be nominated and voted on in the democratic fashion. You opinion on if this is good or not will likely depend on your type of poison for the day.


2.

My opinion of awards, in case you're curious, is that they're good for one thing: publicity. Get an award nomination and a few people who haven't paid attention to your work do so.

This is how, in voting for awards, I structure my opinion. I'm not necessarily interested in promoting well established authors with built in audiences. That doesn't mean that I won't vote for established author's, only that they have to do something unique for me to do this. This years pick of short fiction, Margo Lanagan's 'Singing My Sister Down', which won an Aurealis and has been loved by many, won't be my pick and won't be on my list of nominations. This is not because I have anything against the story or Lanagan, though her work doesn't interest me much, but rather because nominating Lanagan and her story, no matter it's quality, won't bring her any new readers for her audience. The love given to Lanagan already* has ensured that the people who pay attention to awards have gone out and read 'Singing My Sister Down' and Black Juice and my opinion is that nominating the story would simply mean that a lesser known and interesting story would continue to go under appreciated.

There are people who will disagree with that, which is fine. If you want to vote for what you consider is the best, that's obviously your right. It's a perfectly valid thing to do. It is, perhaps, more valid than my opinion of voting for authors who are continually ignored... but the simple truth is that I see more worth in voting for one of Trent Jamieson's pieces than I do Margo Lanagan's. Both are fine writers in their own right, but Jamieson, who has had a steady stream of publications this year** is someone who should have a larger audience.

I guess it's all how your slice your politics, in the end. That's the other thing about awards: there is always politics, judged or not.


3.

Of course, that's my politics. I began this post thinking I'd just write a small intro and tell you to vote for me, because I'm selfish like that, but I got carried away. Do I think you should vote for me? Well, sure. I can do with the publicity. If you liked my stuff, vote for it. I've snagged a couple of nominations in the previous years and I don't think they've hurt any, and indeed, I think it meant a few people who wouldn't have read my work actually did. But, like many others, I could do with the growth in audience. Writing is a lonely, harsh kind of thing, and you have to fight to reach an audience, using whatever means you can. Of course, that said, if you don't want to vote for my stuff, that's fine. But I'd like you to take into account what I said before this--give the thought of nominating authors other than the same old boys and girls. Of course, if that doesn't work for you, just go with whatever you enjoyed.


4.

You vote in Ditmars like this.

Take one email, addressed to lenehan@our.net.au with the word ‘Ditmar’ in the heading. In that email, write down nominations in these categories:




Professional.

Best Novel:

Best Novella or Novelette:

Best Short Story:

Best Collected Work:

Best Artwork:


Fan.

Best Fan Writer:

Best Fan Artist:

Best Fan Production:

Best Fanzine:


Special Award (for works not eligible in existing categories)

Best Professional Achievement:

Best Fan Achievement:

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review:

Best New Talent:




You can nominate as many things as you want. If you want a list of what was published, there is a list here. It might be a bit incomplete for odder things, but I'm sure that'll get fixed up in enough time. Remember to put down the publication that the work came from, if it's a short story, and publisher if it's a novel. There's a bit more detail up here.

Personally, I usually leave the fan category blank. I've just got no idea what to put there. So, you know, if there's a category you don't want to vote in, just skip it.


5.

This post is fucking huge, isn't it?

Anyhow, since this is my blog, and I'm all about my self importance and how the world should love me and lick my Docs clean, this is the work of mine you can vote for.

In the novelette/novella category:

'The Dreaming City', in Leviathan 4: Cities, edited by Forrest Aquirre, published by the Ministry of Whimsy, which is part of Night Shade Books.

In the short fiction category:

'R', in Agog! Smashing Stories, edited by Cat Sparks, published by Agog! Press.

'The Lost World of the Stranger' in Amazing Heroes 2, edited by GW Thomas, published by CyberPulp.***

'Black Sunday Month' in Antipodean Online, edited by Ian Newcombe.

You could also, conceivably, vote for this livejournal/me in the William Atheling award, because I spend my time ranting about how speculative fiction is too white and childish and telling you what movies to avoid. On a more serious note, I've come to the realisation that the criticism and reviewing of interest/worth these days is being done mostly on blogs. Take a tour through the Australian writers you can find online, and if they have 'writing or editing of criticism or review pertaining to the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror' then nominate them. A good blog, to my mind, is more honest and detailed than some publications and newspapers.****

You could also nominate me for best new talent, since I got nominated for that last year. You can only be nominated twice, however, and then you're not new anymore, I guess. I would've figured having sold fiction since 1995 would have done that, but hey...


6.

Okay. So. The end of this post. If you think it's all wank, fair enough. It did go on for a bit, and I filled it with my complete and statistically unfounded insights, which you're free to kick around as much as they amuse you. Or not.

Voting closes up on March 1st. See what stuff you can find online for free or in reviews and purchase, should you wish. Like any kind of genre by any kind of people, some of the stuff is utter shit and not worth one red cent of your money, some are a mixed bag, and others are total purchase joy.





* For 'Singing My Sister Down', she's won a Golden Aurealis for Best Short Story, an Aurealis for Best Young Adult Short Fiction, the story has reportedly been picked up by Ellen Datlow for her Years Best Fantasy and Horror, and the collection Black Juice won a State Award recently. I forget the name of it, though, I'm afraid.

** Indeed, Jamieson has been around for quite some time, producing fine work that has gone largely unrecognised. The first piece I read of his was a short story called 'Threnody' in issue fifteen of the now defunct Eidolon, which was published in 1994. In total honesty, I didn't like it, but I tell you what: I can remember that story eleven years later, and liked or disliked, that's the mark of an author. Anabiosis, a satire about the being one of the illegal immigrating dead, is a piece you should read, however. Welcome to Australia. Vote for it.

*** Yeah, I know, like more than two people read it. But you know, I'm trying to find a sword and sorcery audience for a part of my work, and this is how it begins. Occasionally. I'll let you know if it works out.

**** The first is a matter of opinion, but the second has more to do with economics, both in marketing departments and page space. Detailed critiques of the failure of a fully credible Lesbian relationship in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are not something a newspaper has time or desire to run, and which a magazine, assuming they wish too, will keep down to fifteen hundred words or so.

Comments

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jack_ryder
Jan. 31st, 2005 02:28 am (UTC)
Whilst I don't nominate or vote in the Ditmars (I haven't kept up with enough local writing to make what I consider an informed judgement) I do think you've nailed a lot of the central issues about awards and their purposes.

Great stuff, Ben. I'm looking forward to an eventual collection of your non-fiction.

And I've been most remiss in not reading your story in Agog! I'll amend that tonight.
benpeek
Jan. 31st, 2005 02:55 am (UTC)
i don't think a lot of people who vote have an 'informed' opinion, so i wouldn't let that slow you down, personally. vote for what you like. the ditmar is the kind of award that celebrates the ignorant and informed together.

anyhow, i hope you like R. it took me a while to find a respectable publisher for it, and i'm pleased to see it up and round and being ignored ;)

thanks for the nonfiction wish, too, but i reckon we can all let out our breath for that. it's not something i've ever considered.
i_ate_my_crusts
Jan. 31st, 2005 03:03 am (UTC)
I'm mildly cranky that I only have Leviathan 3, not Leviathan 4. Harrumph.

Nice post. Solid, thoughtful, provoking.

I hate and piously avoid voting blocs. I always conscience-vote. I don't vote in categories where I feel I have not read widely enough, especially if I haven't read all the nominated works, and/or cannot form an opinion.

I know and adore too many people in the Aus SF scene to be able to do things any other way. But then, I've always felt that way about voting in awards.

I cheerfully nominate as many things as I can, that I have read and think are deserving. My nominations list is looking a little large.
benpeek
Jan. 31st, 2005 03:15 am (UTC)
yeah, i know a few people who don't have copies of leviathan 4. i don't have a copy either, but that's no thrill.

shame, really, since i want people to read it.

i don't do the voting bloc thing, but then i'm never asked to. i'm too cranky and cynical to do it anyone, cause what i want is good literature, and not such and suchs story as thought of by their friends.

which is not uncommon.
i_ate_my_crusts
Jan. 31st, 2005 03:36 am (UTC)
i don't do the voting bloc thing, but then i'm never asked to. i'm too cranky and cynical to do it anyone, cause what i want is good literature, and not such and suchs story as thought of by their friends.

While I'd probably phrase it a little differently, I'm on the same map with you here. I think, in actual fact, that award nominations and voting are easier in that regard, in that they're anonymous. I take the opportunity to be cowardly about friend's expectations of my voting, and nominate/vote for what I felt was the most deserving.

It's harder when reviewing a book where 3/4 of the works therein are by people you know and love and want to succeed in their writing careers, but you really can't recommend their work to other in this instance. I try to be bluntly honest (and admire your ability to be so) but quivocate rather more than I feel entirely comfortable with. This means not mentioning stories by friends which I thought were underperforming... but since I also don't mention stories which there just isn't space to discuss, or where I don't have coherent conclusions or analysis, it doesn't mean very much to not be mentioned.

Now look, I'm being all bloody reflective. You and your long posts, Ben.

...and watch as people sidle up to me at the next con and say "So... you didn't mention my story in your hmm-hmm review...what did you think of it?"
benpeek
Jan. 31st, 2005 03:48 am (UTC)
since i don't have a reviewing gig, i'm not subjected to the demands of friends in that way. with this blog, i simply don't mention things by people i like if i don't stand by their work.

if i'm asked, however, i'm honest. i figure if you ask, you want to know, and if you don't, don't ask. i don't ask for people's opinions on my stuff. all i want from them is to approach it eyes open and give the work it's chance, and after that, whatever they think is fair enough. i think it also helps that i don't expect my work to be liked by everyone--and indeed, i don't want it to be. the worse thing is to have someone shrug and go, 'yeah, whatever,' i think.

(it also probably helps that as harsh as i am on other peoples work, i'm harder on my own. it's surprising that any of it gets out into submission boxes.)

but, anyhow, if you're just straight out honest, you'll find less and less people ask your opinion. indeed, i think a lot of publications/anthos need to be critiqued with more honesty. kill the substandard, make the authors fight for quality.
i_ate_my_crusts
Jan. 31st, 2005 04:04 am (UTC)
but, anyhow, if you're just straight out honest, you'll find less and less people ask your opinion. indeed, i think a lot of publications/anthos need to be critiqued with more honesty. kill the substandard, make the authors fight for quality.

Well, that's true. But.

I think I feel that it isn't necessarily about quality (karentraviss had a great post about this recently) but about audience. I think you can make comments about quality as long as you are judging that along the axis of the audience it's intended for, or the audience for whom it would work effectively.

I'm not just saying this because I'm a member of ASIM, but ASIM and Analog are prefect examples within the SF magazine genre. A large proportions of Analog, to me, reads like infodump. But I know there's a vast subset of people who like and need the infodump in their reading (Choice magazine has a whole stack of these readers too!). For ASIM, when I slushread, audience is my central and uppermost consideration: "will our readers enjoy this?"

I think when I nominate and vote in awards, I'm thinking about audience too.

Note that, despite reviewing being heavily dependant on audience, I think writing to a market is ...

Oh dear.

Let me try that again. I was going to make horrible generalisations. I've read a lot of people who feel that writing to a market is the antithesis of art. Others obviously, don't feel that way.

I write for a specific, demographically mapped and precisely known audience in my day job. In the evenings I write for me. But I still have to think about my hypothetical reader...

I'm still not being very coherent.

Wendy Waring and I were discussing this at the weekend. About working out what it is that you write, and then what your readers look for in what you write, and how to provide more of what your readers read you for, in what you write.

And that's not writing to a market, it's about making your own market. I write strong dialogue and solid characters, and I will attract readers who like those things. Wendy attracts readers who want literary prose and subtlety.

and now I'm not certain that thinking about your reader and what they want while you write doesn't mean compromise your art, but I can't not write to my reader. the reader is a hypothetical reader, rather than an actual.

I'm talking around in circles, but these things all intertwine for me, and now I want to unpack them.
benpeek
Jan. 31st, 2005 04:16 am (UTC)
>I think you can make comments about quality as long as you are judging that along the axis of the audience it's intended for, or the audience for whom it would work effectively.<

sure. but i reckon that's part of being a good reviewer, being able to pick the audience and know what is part of the genre and what is not. still, there is a basic writing ability, from characterisation to pacing to prose style (and a bunch of other things) than can be judged regardless of genre. a hard sf story with a one dimensional protagonist is a hard sf story with a one dimensional protagonist--there will be people who aren't bothered by this, as they will read for the idea, but it's still bad writing, regardless of the audience. simply put: the story would be better if it had a fully fleshed character, given limit of space and other such considerations.

i guess what i think about is craft.

as for what your readers want... i don't know. i see what you mean, but i think you do yourself, as an artist, and the audience, a disservice to write like that. it places boundaries. but that's me. when i think of the audience that could possibly be into my stuff, i think of them as people who read wildly, and who have found my work as a slice of their prose diet. but i don't want them to come back to me because i might write well in one way--say i write a sword and sorcery story well. instead, i want them to come back because it's me--because the story was written by ben peek and that means a certain quality, even if they do or don't like it. and if they don't like this one, they might like the next, and vice versa.

of course, could be i'm just driving away what ever audience i have, but i don't think there's any guidebook for this stuff. hopefully, given enough time, people will just come to trust that when i do something, it'll be interesting, at the very least.
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