Monthly Archives: November 2011

Some post-wedding prioritisation

Well, it’s a week later and I’m still married, which speaks volumes as to the patience of my new wife.

And a busy week it’s been, as we’ve taken our American houseguests on excursions, shuttled back and forth between the airport, unwrapped far too many presents and drunk the last of the special wedding beer we commissioned for our guests. (They got most of it, okay?)

In particular, it’s been far too busy a week to write, especially since there was someone sleeping in my study. And, let’s be honest, it’s been hard to write, or to think about writing, with the excitement and stress and work involved in the lead-up to the wedding. But that’s done now, and in the wake of perhaps the most significant thing I’ve ever done, I’ve got a renewed determination to get stuck into my writing projects and to finish some of them for fuck’s sake.

So tonight, let’s go through a bit of a to-do list, because I know how exciting that must be for you, my loyal fans and friends, to read and consider. These are too early for New Year’s resolutions, and as we all know those exist solely to be broken before the bedstains dry on the first of January; I’m taking these seriously, and I encourage people to call me a slack bastard at those times when I ignore writing for trivial things like having fun, spending time with my wife or going to my day job in order to pay the rent.

Arcadia: Languishing for too long in a half-finished – alright, only-barely-started – state, my number one priority is to regain my focus and momentum for this novel. I’ve written already about how the lack of a strong premise has made it tough going at times, and I’ve been stewing on that for a while, trying to pin down more concepts before getting back to writing. But you know what? Fuck stew. It’s oily and full of carbs. Momentum is a whole lot more important than polish and clarity of vision in a first draft; all that really matters in a first draft is writing some fucking words. So I’m just going to dive back into this and write without angsting about it too much, and if that means I produce a draft that’s uneven and full of notes like WRITE 200 WORDS OF SOMETHING HEARTWARMING YET UNCOMFORTABLE HERE, that’s still better than a blank page. Anyway, here’s the current progress marker; let’s see if we can push that up to the 30K mark in the next month or two.

The Obiutarist: The new novella that I spoke about two weeks ago is underway, and I have a pretty good idea in my head for half of its contents. The other half… well, still working on that, but I can do more to work that out while writing from what I already know. The themes, the premise, the character voice and the other stylistic elements are strong in my head – things are always strong in my head – and I’ve got someone to talk to about the ins and outs of identify theft. Plus, you know, I’ve actually written a bit. A little bit. So while Arcadia gets first dibs, I’m still planning to devote some time every week to this one. Especially since my deadline for a finished, publishable version of this is quite a bit closer; I’d like to have that out by January. So I’ll be juggling these two projects back-and-forth in a hopefully-amusing fashion for a while, and we’ll see which one falls to the floor first and cracks open like a raw egg filled with poodle blood.

Other writing: Do I have time for other writing? Christ, probably not, but I have a couple of ideas for new short stories that I’d really like to work on. They’re cool. So if everything else works, the heavens align, the good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I should have a few things ready early next year. Whether I submit those to magazines/journals, sell them as 99c ebooks or just give ’em away in an effort to buy love get attention… well, I’ll work that out later.

Speaking of other writing, I have an article in issue 5 of Inscribe, Darebin Council’s biannual writing and literature magazine/journal. It’s about self-epublishing, but rather than try to claim some kind of authority on the subject, I talk about what I’ve done and what I’ve learned, with an aim to share that experience and (hopefully) be of help to other writers in the area that want to go down the same path. Inscribe is a community effort aimed at motivating and promoting local writers, and there’s some great stuff in this issue. If you live in the Darebin region, keep an eye out for Inscribe 5 in bookshops, cafes and the more intellectual bars; if you don’t, keep an eye on the council website for when they put up a PDF version of it.

Oh yeah, and I need to keep up the blog posts. Possibly with less ranting and more insight/wisdom/cleverness. Which reminds me, I need to respond to some emails, discuss some ideas with my peers and line up an interview post in the next week or two.

Relentless self-promotion: Now, in addition to writing things people want to read (fingers crossed), I’d also like to convince more people that they want to read said things, and so I’m trying to lift my game about self-promotion, building a presence online and generally whoring myself out like a strumpet drenched in cologne. I bitched a while back about the lack of online ebook review sites, but I went on to do some research and found quite a few, which means that now I could instead write a blog post bitching about how few of them are currently taking reviews or getting back to me as to whether they want to look at my stuff. But I won’t; I’m just gonna concentrate on getting Hotel Flamingo and Godheads out there and hope people talk about why they like them. Or don’t. Don’t is fine too.

(I’m contemplating dropping the price of Godheads to 99c, but I’m still thinking about that and I’ll probably write a post about it first. The joy of a blog is that you can blog about anything before doing it. Or even before not doing it.)

I also set up an author page on Goodreads, which offers a few tools and options for writers that I’m going to start exploring. I don’t know how useful they will be, as I’m not really sure how useful Goodreads is in general – enjoyable, yes, but useful? – but that’s (of course) a blog post for another time. But in the interim, go check it out – and if you’ve read Flamingo or Godheads, please feel free (feel encouraged) to put a review or even a star rating for them onto Goodreads. It all helps. Probably.

Distractions that are generally much more fun than writing: I just bought Batman: Arkham City and borrowed Dragon Age 2 from a friend, so I admit that everything I’ve just said I would do may evaporate like beer spilled on a barbecue. But my intentions are so very, very good, and surely that must count for something.

Oh, and I should probably spend time with my wife.

…man, I really enjoy writing the phrase ‘my wife.’

The Obituarist

‘Social media undertaker.’

That’s the concept that came to me back in… holy crap, January. I don’t know what inspired it, but I suddenly thought that there could be a career – and a story, more importantly – in managing and then shutting down someone’s social media or internet presence after their death. Just what that story would be wasn’t clear, though. Something a little off-kilter, certainly, but would it be mainstream or genre? Horror or sci-fi? I’d had a vague concept in the back of my mind for years about a shut-in who slowly realises that the people he communicates with online are from alternate universes; the internet focus was an obvious connection between the two, but nothing immediately grabbed.

So I shelved the idea for a while. I shelve a lot of ideas. And by ‘shelve’ I mean ‘forget’ about half the time, unless I write something down immediately, even if it’s just a blog post. This is why I carry a notebook. Which I don’t use often enough.

Then in June, in one of those times when I put my imagination on cruise control and see where it goes, I came up with an opening paragraph. I do that a lot – just write 100-odd words to kick off an idea without thinking about it too much or knowing where it’s going. I usually file them away and come back to them periodically to see if they inspire me to go further.

I’ve tweaked the opener a little, but here in all its glory is the start of what I decided to call The Obituarist:

Jay Moledacker was far more handsome in death than he ever had been in life. Okay, not true, but at the very least his Facebook profile picture was now a lot more dignified. Not difficult, since his profile picture while alive had been a photo of him vomiting onto a horse after a drunken racing carnival.

Now that he was dead – of an embolism, rather than being kicked by an outraged thoroughbred or whipped by an equally horrified jockey – he looked regal, elegant and a good six years younger. That’s because I had to use his college graduation photo; everything after that point seemed to involve young Jay throwing up, getting punched in nightclubs or asleep on someone’s kitchen floor with FUCKWIT written on his naked chest in mustard.

A life well lived. Well, a life. Lived.

And it had fallen to me to close it all down.

Which didn’t stop my clients – i.e. his parents – from dicking me about on the invoice.

Looking at this, there are a bunch of signals in it about the kind of narrative that it would kick off – signals not just to readers but to me as I consider writing it. There’s an obvious streak of humour, but it’s not overwhelming, which is good because I can’t write comedy. But there’s also a slight hint of melancholy, or maybe resignation; it’s the speech of someone who’s aware of the funny and sad aspects of what he does. And there’s a character voice right there to work with – kind of my default voice, I admit it, but hey, my default voice is generally pretty entertaining.

So that was interesting, and it made me think that the idea had legs – and, to some extent, made me think that a semi-realistic story would better suit that tone than a horror or high weirdness piece. But nothing immediately sprang to mind, and so I shelved it again.

Cut to last month, as I started the process of changing email addresses. Which is kind of a pain, because I used my old email address as part of my login for a bunch of sites, and it’s connected to bank accounts and other important things, and if I don’t take care when changing details someone could maybe use my old email to log into something and then work out my bank details and steal my identity and holy shit the core premise of The Obituarist pretty much unpacked itself into my head. Because it’s not just a social nicety to clean up the internet footprints of the dead, it’s a way of stopping identity theft, and that means there’s the potential for crime and money and murder involved.

And there’s a story in that.

So I’m gearing up now to create The Obituarist (note: provisional title) as a novella to ideally write over the next couple of months and publish online by January/February. I’ll post some more information about premise, theme, tone and the like in the next few weeks, but here’s the basic pitch:

Kendall Barber (note: provisional name) used to be a professional scammer and identity thief. Then something changed in his life, and he decided to use those skills legitimately to become what he calls an ‘obituarist’, locking down the online lives of the newly dead.

But now his past is reaching out to catch up with him, just as he gets in over his head with a new client whose dead brother may have been murdered – if he’s even dead at all. If Kendall doesn’t play his cards right, he could wind up just as deceased as the usual subjects of his work.

On the other hand, Kendall may know more about what cards to play than anyone else realises…

20 000 or so words of slightly-surreal crime, touching on themes of death, identity and secrets, and taking more cues from Raymond Chandler than I should probably admit to in public. That’s The Obituarist. Or will be, if I pull my finger out and write it over the next two months. Which is the plan.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Disarming the NaNoWriMo trap

November is a’comin’ in, and that means a number of things. Temperatures in Melbourne suddenly skyrocket, blokes start growing fabulous moustachios in the name of men’s health, Christmas ads explode all over your favourite shows and my wedding looms large on the radar.

I start wearing shorts again. Which is pretty major.

And, of course, it’s the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, or NNWM if you prefer just writing in caps, or maybe INWM if you recognise that it’s international rather than national, or… look, you know what I’m talking about. That thing where people dedicate themselves to writing a 50 000 word novel from scratch over the course of the month, that’s taken off from a one-off activity among a small group to be bigger than pogs worldwide.

A couple of writers of my acquaintance have blogged about NNWM this last week. Alan Baxter is very critical of the whole thing and questions what participants are actually achieving, while Jay Kristoff focuses instead on how to get the most out of it if you decide to give it a shot. I’ve tended to lean more towards Alan’s take on things for the past few years, feeling that NNWM is mostly a waste of time and effort. I think that it puts too much emphasis on output and not enough on craft, so that people get into the mindset that quickly writing an unpolished novel is more valuable than spending time deliberately constructing a good novel. It’s all quantity rather than quality, and I think craft and quality are being neglected in the new wave of self-epublishing.

The actual Komissar of the Writing Police

If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to see something like (Inter)National Short-Story Writing Month, where participants write a single 2-3 thousand word story in the first week and then polish and rework the fuck out of it for the remaining time.

But as it happens, I’m not the Kommissar of the Writing Police, and it’s not up to me to tell folks that they’re Doing It Wrong. Unless, I dunno, they’re writing with their feet, or spending all their time writing Abbott/Rudd slashfic. (Because that is wrong. So very wrong.) If people are getting something out of NNWM – be it a finished book, writing practice or simply the feeling of accomplishing something – I’m not going to belittle that. (And, just to be clear, I don’t think Alan is either). And hell, I understand the value of a deadline.

So okay, let’s be upbeat about NNWM. People have fun with it, people find it rewarding; let’s embrace that. If you’re giving it a shot this year, I wish you well with it; I hope you get something out of it and I hope your manuscript is good, or pretty good, or at least that it doesn’t suck.

But don’t fall into the trap.

Publish and perish

The trap is thinking that NNWM is enough; that it’s the end of a process, rather than the beginning. That’s the spiked-pit-filled-with-piranha that leads people to spend the first of December slapping a crudely Photoshopped cover onto their just-finished manuscript, uploading the file to the Kindle Store and then wondering why no-one downloads it. And that’s going to happen a lot this year and going forward, as the process of self-publishing becomes ever easier and the bar for what can be considered publishable drops ever lower. Work that might have been permanently consigned to the bottom drawer/hard drive, or perhaps given much-needed reworking and development, is immediately pushed out into a virtual marketplace that promotes variety over quality, and where bad work threatens to crowd out good until it becomes invisible.

NNWM is going to create a lot of bad ebooks. It’s inevitable. But you don’t need to be part of that dull, turgid tide.

The key to escaping the trap is this – think of NNWM as a tool, not a goal. It’s a machine that refines your raw material – your ideas, your style, your passion – into a 50 000 word first-draft manuscript. That MS is a tool you can then put aside for a couple of weeks while you decompress, maybe do some Christmas shopping, and then use to make the second draft. You might rewrite it completely, you might only need judicious editing, you might burn it and get high on the fumes, but the important thing is that you feed the first draft into the hopper and push the assembly line along to the next stop. And the next. And the next.

Getting that first draft together is an achievement, and there is no tool more important in creating a strong book. So don’t waste it; don’t just dump it on the world’s doorstep and run. Use it, wield it, rev it up and pull it apart. Because NNWM should not be something you do; NNWM is something you use. It’s the trap and the escape hatch at the same time. Trip the lock, map the route, start climbing until you get to the top. And then keep going.

In closing, let’s reflect on the irony of this post, namely that anyone giving NNWM a halfway decent burl is doing more writing than I am at the moment, thanks to the terrible one-two punch of preparing for a wedding and just being lazy and a bit crap.

So I’m going to put some money where my mouth is and start work on a new novella this month, as a side-project and occasional respite from Arcadia, with an eye towards having a first draft finished around Christmas and the ebook available by January.

It’s called The Obituarist, and I’m going to talk about it some more next weekend. Tune in.


No-one yelled at me and told me to write something more interesting the last time I ran through my list of the worthwhile blog posts I’d read over the course of the month, so consarn it, I’m gonna do it again.

‘Consarn’ is a good word. I think I might name a D&D character that one day.

  • Cam Rogers has a short-but-smart breakdown of seven things he’s learned about writing for kids. I can’t say that I want to do any children’s or YA work myself, but it’s still good to consider what the differences in style and focus are.
  • Bogtober

    Russell Bailey has another instalment in his Cavaliers of Mars sword-and-sorcery worldbuilding exercise, this time about the people of Mars. This is gaming directed, in the main, but I find it a really interesting exploration of tone and how it can be efficiently conveyed in an expository format. Plus, come on, Martians with swords.

  • Foz Meadows gives us a really fascinating essay on book piracy, whether it really hurts writers, the possible benefits of it and the potential benefits of the try-before-you-buy mentality. While mostly ambivalent about piracy / filesharing / whatever, I’m not quite as upbeat about the implications as Foz, but she argues a good case, and I like the way she tries to look at the issue from both a writer’s and a reader’s POV.
  • Kate Beaton has a comic about Kraven the Hunter. It’s ace.
  • Louise Cusack talks about the value of critiquing other people’s work and how it can give you insights into your own. She’s right on that; editing and dissecting the work of a friend gives me immense clarity on my own work and how to make it better. Louise also touches on how to do a memorable book launch, which mostly made me jealous, since a book launch for an ebook is mostly a matter of uploading files while sitting in your underwear and eating Nutella straight from the jar.
  • Flogtober

    Ben McKenzie, the Man in the Lab Coat, writes about Ada Lovelace Day and interviews three women that work in the computer science and video games industry. It’s a good read, and a reminder that female gamers and comp-techs really do exist and shouldn’t be treated as mythical vagina mutants.

  • Jay Kristoff has been writing about suck – both how important it is, and then how to avoid it. Which may seem like something of a mixed message, but it’s a great one-two punch about the need to overcome fear of failure in your writing, and then how to correct failures after the fact through judicious editing. Courage, then ruthless efficiency. And suck. Which is apparently a noun now.
  • Michael Pryor discusses the ‘powerless hero’ and the need to give a protagonist the power and willingness to act. I don’t know that I agree with that, because I really enjoy stories about protagonists that have only one of those things and the difficult position it puts them in, but Michael argues his case well and it’s good food for thought. I also very much liked his post about learning stage magic and what it taught him about writing. Because, in the end, everything can teach us something about writing.
  • Gamer emeritus Rob Schwalb, my former Green Ronin homeboy, talks about the myth of the new gamer and whether the introductory RPG sets on the market really fulfil a genuine need.
  • Pyramid Head-in-a-smock-tober

    Alan Baxter talks about NaNoWriMo and why he doesn’t get involved. I share some of his issues with the project/event, although I’m not as against it as he is, and in fact I might just write about it myself this weekend. But he makes some good points that are worth considering. And, as a slightly-after-Blogtober bonus, a great post about how he got two good friends to savage the crap out of his work and how it made the writing better.

  • And Chuck Wendig wrote approximately eleventy billion blog posts, started a collaborative word-building project, published two new ebooks, called out some author ebook writers for being fuckwits and probably fathered another kid for his ever-growing army of loyal minions. If I didn’t respect him so much I’d have him killed. I still might. Anyway, too many fucking great posts to link to. Just stick his damn blog in your Google Reader feed already.

On a semi-related note, the new Google Reader design is a canoe filled with arse.