Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Emerging Writer – a review

I’ve mentioned the Emerging Writers Festival a few times lately, and that’s because it’s a great festival that really attempts to help writers and inspire/teach/motivate them to write. I’ve spent most of this weekend there (when I wasn’t making incoherent tweets about Eurovision) and I’ve been to some terrific panels, met and talked with other writers and generally just hung out to learn and share.

One of the tools the EWF uses for learning and sharing is the book it produces, and tonight I’d like to look at this year’s effort, because it really sets a new bar for polish and richness.

The Emerging Writer has essays and articles from a wide variety of contributors, including new and established writers, about whatever they felt like discussing. This isn’t a writer’s guide (except when it is), or a collection of anecdotes (except when it is) or an industry primer (except when it is). If I had to pick a single classification, I’d say that this is a book about the experience of being a writer. Editor Karen Pickering calls it a book of maps, and that’s a good metaphor – it has both maps to show where you can go and maps showing where others have been. Some even have hidden treasure.

The book is split into four chapters with admittedly loose themes:

  • Why? Thoughts not just on ‘why write’ but also ‘why try to write a certain way’, ‘why continue after setbacks’ and ‘why try to live up to your idols’. There’s also a healthy dose of ‘why not’ and ‘why you shouldn’t’ mixed in. Standouts include Christy Dena talking about not listening to fear-based advice, Geoff Lemon on facing rejection and Jacqui Dent on defining your identity.
  • What? Essays on what you write about – how you choose it, how you become involved with it and the approaches required by different subjects. Unsurprisingly, my favourite is Stephanie Honor Convery’s on the joy of writing fiction and actually making stuff up, but Rebecca Harkins-Cross’ piece on choosing to write memoir and Hugh McGuire’s on digital publishing are also very strong.
  • Where? Not as in ‘which room should you write in’ but articles on where you come from, what you consider to be your writing turf and how the local/online writing community informs your work. As an ex-Brisbanite I couldn’t help but enjoy Christopher Currie’s thoughts on the northern writing scene, but another standout was John Weldon’s piece the way online environments change the relationship between writer and audience, as was Alan Baxter’s piece on defining your digital presence.
  • How? How? How do you write? Can you even answer that question in a way that makes sense to anyone else? These essays include both practical advice and metacommentary and there’s a lot of good in both, from Esther Anatolitis’ essay on how to put yourself on your own writing retreat to Liam Peiper’s story on suing a former employer to get payment owed (with details on how to do it yourself) to Kirsten Innes’ great piece on why you should stop wanking on about writing and just goddamn write.

The Emerging Writer is neither advice handed down from a panel of experts or theory delivered as cant by wide-eyed neophytes. It’s honest, personal stuff written by writers to their emergent peers with the intent of sharing knowledge and experience. There’s comedy, there’s drama, there are cartoon and flowcharts and essays and every piece is genuine in a way that you rarely see in a writer’s guide.

It’s also worth noting that the book is really well designed and laid-out, which matters a hell of a lot to anal publishing types like me, and the physical version is very well produced and printed. This is a professional piece of work that can sit proudly on your shelf (or on your PC if you prefer PDF).

I’m really impressed with The Emerging Writer, if you can’t tell. Not every essay will speak to everyone, but every essay will speak to someone, and I think even experienced writers can learn something from it – if only the realisation that every writer takes a different path and overcomes different challenges to reach that all-consuming goal of coming up with words that don’t suck.

The Emerging Writer has its official launch next Friday, and after that should be available from various bookstores and online. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

On the radio-oh-oh

Hello my little droogies,

Just a couple of quick things tonight, as it’s been a hectic week that’s heading into a hectic weekend.

First, as threatened, I popped up on 3RRR’s Byte Into It program last night to talk about The Obituarist and the ‘social media undertaker’ concept – which, as it turns out, is more properly called the ‘digital afterlife industry’. Who knew? It was really fun appearing on the show and talking about those ideas and what I was trying to look at with the novella, and I’m really grateful to Sarah and the BII team for giving me the opportunity.

The show went out last night and is now available to download here. I come in at about the 15 minute mark, making inappropriate comments about Scientology and sounding like I’ve swallowed the microphone. But check out the whole program if possible – it’s well worth a listen!

Secondly, I just got home from the gala opening of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, which was terrific! I got to hang out with my friend Ben, catch up with a variety of people I knew either in person or online – it’s great to finally put names and voices to email addresses – and enjoy an evening of comedy, poetry and speeches about the Festival.

I still have to get my butt into gear to book the panels I want to attend over the weekend, but I have been doing my best to help organise the online Rabbit Hole team. We have a Facebook group and nearly 20 eager and slightly nervous participants ready to do their best to write 30 000 words over a weekend. I’m trying to keep them motivated and focused with encouragement, blog posts and occasional prizes, but in the end they’re going to do the work and I’ll be very proud of them.

In fact, I’m kinda thinking about joining them, if only to lead by example. I know people are clamouring for a second Obituarist story, and that’ll probably happen at some point, but if I go down the Rabbit Hole I’d like to try something different again and to finally get into a genre I’ve read but never written – high fantasy.

Specifically, high fantasy about D&D Batman fighting ringwraiths in pseudo-Elizabethan-London.



Welcome to the wonderful world of slack

Hi folks,

Going to have to pike on the usual Sunday night update – we have friends visiting from Brisbane and we’re going out for dinner with them.

Next Sunday is also probably not going to happen as it’s EUROVISION FINALS NIGHT, which as always takes priority.

…and midweek updates will be tricky as I’ll be spending time at the Emerging Writers’ Festival on many nights.

I am slack. I know. Will desperately try to find a couple of hours somewhere to talk to you about something soon, though. I promise.

Continual continuity

Hello beautiful humans,

Just a quick mid-week post tonight to confirm that yes, I will be appearing at this year’s Continuum convention here in Melbourne. Put the poison down, untie that noose and cease the self-flagellation! You have been spared the terrible possibility that I would not be on a panel talking about how I really don’t have much of a connection with SF fandom!

I kid, I kid.

Well. I kid a little.

Anyway, here are the panels I am going to be on, assuming that things don’t change (which they might):

  • I Don’t Get It: Why is it that some fans don’t like the ‘classics’? Is it wrong to be wrong about what everyone agrees is right? I plan to talk about fan tribalism and why we get our dander up to defend our tastes even if they don’t need defending. I also plan to admit that I just don’t give a damn about Star Wars.
  • Build it and They Will Come: RPG setting design and how it relates to stories. Why yes, yes, I can talk about this, and how about ‘story’ and ‘setting’ are often orthogonal drives. Will I talk about Freeport? Almost certainly.
  • Independent publishing and speculative fiction: I do believe I can speak on this top and give insight. Step one, kiss your marketing budget goodbye or fuck it just spend it on bourbon hello hello is this thing on no don’t tase me bro.
  • Everything Old is New Again: It’s a panel about DC’s New 52 universe! I don’t really like it! Another panellist does! OUR DIFFERENCES WILL BE SETTLED IN THE OMEGADROME

But hey, more important than any of that – one of the guests of honour is Kelly Link! Whose writing is FUCKING AMAZING. If you aren’t familiar with it, then fuck on a crutch click this link right now and download her incredible anthology Magic for Beginners for free. Why are you still reading this when you could be reading her work ARE YOU MENTAL

…okay, yes, I will admit that I probably had too much to drink after work tonight. Honestly, it’s been a balltearer of a week.

I sleep now.

Welcome to Write Club

Ever been in a situation where you have a metric shittonne of writing to do in a really short time?

Maybe you’ve got an overdue assignment. Maybe you have a deadline in two days. Or maybe you’ve signed up for the Rabbit Hole event at the Emerging Writers Festival, with the aim of producing 30 000 words in less than three days, possibly even as part of the online team which is hosted and directed by yours truly.

Yeah. Maybe that last one in particular.

Anyway, whatever the reason, there comes in a time in a writer’s life when you have to write a lot in a short time. There’s no real short-cut to this; you can’t just stare really hard at the monitor and make words appear through sheer force of will. Believe me, I’ve tried. But there are tools that can make the process that bit easier – they won’t make the words appear faster, but they can make the task feel less daunting and keep you focused on laying down the wordcount.

Here are some things that have worked for me – I think they can work for you too. They’re weighted a little bit towards creative writing, but most are just as applicable to writing non-fiction, theses, essays or schizophrenic manifestos.

Start from zero

Whether it’s a blank page or a new Word file, the best way to begin a bulk writing exercise is to start from scratch, whether than means beginning a new project or creating a separate document that can later be added to an existing one. Part of this is practical – the work you create when writing for volume is not going to be polished, and it’s better to partition it from the rest of your efforts until it’s been overhauled. More important is the psychological boost you get from a fresh start. If you have 10 000 words and add 5000, that’s a 50% improvement; if you have zero words and add 5000, that’s an infinity percent improvement.

Perfect is the enemy of finished

I get the urge to fine-tune a sentence or paragraph until you’re happy with it, but there is a time to do that and that time is not now. All that matters is getting words down on the page, one after the other, and there is no going back to make it beautiful or lyrical or remotely coherent. The work you produce when bulk writing is not a first draft, it is a zero draft; it’s a roadmap and a set of tools to help make a first draft later on. Quantity over quality is your mantra right now, and your inner editor needs to be gagged, blindfolded and dropped down a well for a while. Lassie can rescue them later. That dog can do anything.

Don’t touch that backspace key!

And when I say don’t edit, I goddamn mean it – that means no going back. Did you make a speeling mustake? Fix it later. Did you decide to make the hero’s cat a robot dog? Just change it and move on, remembering to find-and-replace ‘hairball’ with ‘USB bone’ tomorrow. Every second you spend deleting the last word you wrote just because it doesn’t make sense in any known language is a second you’re not spending writing another word. Suck it and and keep going; you are a word shark that must keep moving, and if you stop to fix the tense in your last sentence YOUR WORDGILLS WILL STOP WORKING AND YOU WILL DROWN.

Structure is your friend

Writing 30 000 words is terrifying. Writing 1000 words? That seems pretty easy by comparison. Now just do that 30 times! Breaking up your work into shorter chunks allows you to monitor your progress and feel good about reaching milestones. If your project allows it, spend some time before you start writing doing a rough plan of the structure, working how many thousands of words go into each stage/chapter/subdivision and how many of those there should be. A large number of small parts is better than a small number of large parts – if possible, have 30 1000-word chapters rather than 10 3000-word chapters. If that can’t be done, try to break down those big chapters into smaller subparts so you still have fast, regular goals to work towards.

Plan ahead – or fuck it, just make shit up

If you have an outline and a clear direction in mind for your work, then you can use that as a roadmap to get to where you want to go. Alternatively you can wander around at random, going down interesting side streets and mugging new ideas in alleyways, and still end up at your destination. As long as the words keep coming there is NO WRONG WAY to go about getting them. At the same time, it’s worth having a think about how you go about things and possibly whether it would help to borrow a bit from the other approach – to have a loose plan that you can then improvise within, or to allow yourself a little room to change direction when working to your outline. Pick the approach that works for you, because the process is less important than the goal.

Research before or after but not now

Is there a vital piece of information that informs your text? Cool. Did you research it already so that it’s fresh in your mind or printed out next to your computer? Great, put it in there. Haven’t done it yet? Then leave Wikipedia unopened in your browser window and keep writing, damnit. Time spent researching is time not spent writing and we have no patience for that right now. If you know you need to insert some data and you don’t have it, just write ***ADD 500 WORDS ON DOLPHIN PORN*** and keep going; you can come back later and flesh it out. Alternatively, if you want to keep the wordcount up, make up whatever facts you need to – it’s called fiction for a reason, people – and then fix the egregious falsehoods when you revise the text to make it readable by humans.

Don’t stop, change direction

Sometimes you’re going to get stuck on a scene or a section and not be able to move forward; you need time to think it over and work through things. Don’t do that. Instead, put that part of the project to one side and start on something else. Shift to a new scene, a new location, a new character; skip to a different subheading of the essay and write on that topic for a while. Or just change it up where you are right now to shake you out of the rut – as Chandler famously said, ‘When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand’. Always keep moving; don’t let anything stop you!

Distractions are inevitable

Eventually something’s going to stop you. You’ll get a leg cramp, your pets will catch fire, your wife will demand something selfish like you driving her to the hospital. Hell, at some point you’re probably going to want to attend to those base human needs like eating, sleeping or checking Twitter. And you know what? That’s fine. Don’t try to remove all distractions before you start, because it won’t happen, and instead you’ll just end up procrastinating as you keep looking for more things to close down. Let it be. The key thing is not to avoid all distractions, it’s to minimise the attention and time you give them and to quickly regain your focus and momentum when you get back to work.

Reward yourself

And sometimes it’s just time to take a break because you’ve earned it. Did you hit a milestone and finish a chapter? Well done! Go have a beer or a make-out session or play Angry Birds for five minutes. You’re not a machine or a million monkeys with typewriters – well, probably not – and you deserve to treat yourself for working hard. Regular high-five-me-bro breaks are an important way to keep your focus and positivity up and to prevent burnout. The key thing is to step back, feel good about how things are going, finish the beer and then get back to work. And if you hit a point where you finish a section and decide to maintain the momentum and keep writing rather than flex off, then good on you – keep it going and make the next break even better.

No cheating

Is time growing short and the target too far away to reach? Want to just copy a chunk of text from another source or just write COCKDANCE COCKDANCE 500 times? Dude, I can’t stop you and I won’t know you’ve done it, but you know it’s bullshit. The only person you’re cheating is you because you’re giving up; the only person who can award you for reaching the finishing line is you, and you’ll know you don’t deserve any kind of medal. There are no short-cuts, there are no cheat codes. Better to make a genuine attempt then blow smoke up people’s arse. Because the only person breathing the arse-smoke is you.

There’s always another day

And if you can’t hit the target in the time frame, so what? This isn’t heart surgery, and no-one’s going to die if you don’t write 30 000 words in a weekend, not unless you’re in some weird and poorly-paced Saw sequel. No matter how far you get, what matters is that you made the attempt and laid some words down, be it 20 000 or 2000. Coming out the other side of a writing boot camp gives you a better appreciation of what you can achieve when you go all in, and leaves you with a mess o’ words that you can now tweak and revise and sculpt at your relative leisure.

Everyone’s a winner, baby. That’s the truth.

Are you inspired? Are you fired up? Are you still reading? For those who are, thanks for sticking around – I hope it was worth your while!

If you’ve got any other tips for pushing word weight, please leave a comment. Share what you know, if only to save me from writing another 1500+ words on the topic later.

He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere

On Sunday I said that I wouldn’t spend so much time talking here about The Obituarist, and by God I meant it.

So instead, I’m gonna talk about all the other places where I have been (or will be) talking about The Obituarist.


…man, I have really got to get out of this sudden all-caps habit.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing this week:

Can I just say that this whole interview thing is AWESOME FUN? Because it is. It’s like getting drunk and talking about writing except that you’re sober (bad) and no-one interrupts you (good!).

I should have a couple of more interviews coming up in the next couple of weeks; I’ll keep you posted as they come together. One that I’m UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED  about isn’t in print – I should (fingers crossed) be on 3RRR Radio’s Byte Into It program on May the 23rd. How incredibly fucking cool is that! I promise to talk excitedly and largely incoherently about social media and identity theft and not spend too much time plugging my book.

And lest we forget, the other major activity on the horizon is the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and my involvement as the coach/cheerleader/chief bully for the online team at the Rabbit Hole writing boot camp event. I’m getting my ducks in a row for that and will be writing more on the topic this coming weekend.

(I also hope to get a slot at the EWF Open Mic on the 3rd of June to do a quick reading from The Obituarist, but that’s first-in-best-dressed and I can’t promise I’ll get in. But show up anyway, just in case!)

So yeah. May. It’s been a pretty AMAZEBALLS month, and shows no signs of letting up soon.

Five days later

So it’s been a pretty exhausting week, guys. I don’t know whether it’s my workload at the day job, the usual mild case of seasonal affective disorder I get during the Melbourne winter, or the effort of publishing and promoting a new novella that’s done it, but I’m plumb tuckered out.

…yeah. Let’s be honest, it’s mostly that last one.

The Obituarist has been out in the wild for five days, and I’m pretty damn happy with how things are going. I’ve sold 30 copies so far through Amazon and Smashwords, which is a pretty good launch. More importantly, the feedback I’m getting from readers is uniformly positive – people are reading it and they are liking it a hell of a lot. Two thumbs up.

For my part, the last few days have been all about the book pimping. I’ve sent out emails and free copies, contacted readers and writers, updated the cover art (now much more effective in greyscale) and tweeted like my life depended on it. Which, hmm, could be an interesting plot point for a future sequel to the novella.

That’s been the other recurring theme in the feedback – readers want to see more of Kendall Barber and his adventures. Well, I’ve got the ideas, I just need to justify the work – if I sell enough copies, a sequel could be on the cards. Ah, who am I kidding – I’ve already plotted out half the book! It has [CENSORED] and [CENSORED] and Kendall is hired to [CENSORED] but has his [CENSORED] [CENSORED] in the process. It’s a pretty hardcore scene, that one!

Anyway, book promotion. I’ve been pretty lackadaisical with this in the past, and the sales of Hotel Flamingo and Godheads are testimony to that. I had a bit of a psychological hangup with those books, because they were largely written years before they were published – in my head they were old news, and promoting them seemed too much like reading the same edition of the newspaper over and over again, trapped in some kind of bookpimp Groundhog Day.

But not this time – this is all new and I am charged up! To the point where I know it’s going to be tiring and eventually irritating to my regular readers to see me constantly flogging the bloody book. So I’m not going to make any more posts like this one – when I talk about The Obituarist here again it’ll be to discuss ideas, process, new developments and stuff that’s actually interesting, rather than just snake oil.

That said, if I can squeeze in a little more snake oil (tastes great, less filling!), I just need to reiterate that I need your help if the book is going to succeed. Recommend it to your friends, family and colleagues (if you think they’d like it) and on any online forums you frequent. Leave reviews at Amazon, Smashwords or Goodreads, or better yet all three. Tell me about places that I can send review copies, or other crime writers that might like to check it out. And above all else, talk about it on social media, The Obituarist’s natural habitat.

Pimp me. Pimp my book.

Okay, you know what? I’m retiring the word ‘pimp’ now as well.

So. Let’s move on.

Next week – something different! I don’t know what! Blogging without a net or pants!

Now on sale – The Obituarist

Friends, fans, old readers and new, the 1st of May 2012 is a pretty big day for me.

Because today I’m pleased beyond all measure to announce that my new e-novella, The Obituarist, is not only finished but published and available to purchase!

Kendall Barber calls himself an obituarist – a social media undertaker who settles accounts for the dead. If you need your loved one’s Facebook account closed down or one last tweet to be made, he’ll take care of it, while also making sure that identity thieves can’t access forgotten personal data. It’s his way of making amends for his past, a path that has seen him return to the seedy city of Port Virtue after years in exile.

But now his past is reaching out to catch up with him, just as he gets in over his head with a beautiful 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…

It’s been six months since I announced the concept and started work on this book, two months since I rolled up my sleeves and started it in earnest. It’s been drafted and redrafted, edited and altered, changed and changed back again and now it’s as ready as it’ll ever be.

And I have to say that I had an absolute ball writing this book. Once I really got into it it was a hoot to sit down every night and lay down another chapter of weird crime antics, chase scenes, thoughts about death and identity and occasional jokes. That joy is a bit unusual for me – too often I find writing a chore – and I really hope this isn’t the last time I feel it. Or the last time I write about these characters.

I’d like to thank my wife Nichole for her thoughts and support, my Alpha Readers (Cam Rogers, Josh Kinal and Lyndal McIlwaine) for their feedback and suggestions, Fiona Regan for editing the manuscript and Carla McKee for her great cover. And I’d like to thank you guys, my readers, for responding positively to the idea and telling me you wanted to see more. Here it is – hope you like it.

The Obituarist can be purchased as a $2.99 ebook from the following sites:

  • The Amazon Kindle Store has the Kindle version
  • Smashwords has ePub, Kindle, PDF, HTML and Word versions
  • Other sites (Barnes and Noble, iBooks etc) will have it eventually, and I’ll update as the links go live

All sites should have a sample of the novella that you can read for free.

As part of the launch, I’ve also made some changes to this site, specifically breaking out my ebooks into their own separate pages – so if you want to tell your friends about The Obituarist, link to this page right here. (I’ve also made new pages for Hotel Flamingo and Godheads if you want to spread the love.)

And speaking of telling your friends…

Folks, if you want to help me get the word out about The Obituarist, that would be fantastic. Amazing. Vitally necessary, in fact. I’m going to do everything I can to promote the book, but I need all the help I can get and you can provide some with very little effort. Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy it. Buy it from whatever site and in whatever format you prefer. Even if you’re not really into crime stories, it’s still worth picking it up – it’s offbeat enough that I think anyone who likes my other work will dig this too.
  • Read it right away. You know how sometimes you buy an ebook and it languishes unread for ages? Jump in and read this one as soon as possible, so that you can then…
  • Talk about it. Recommend it to your friends, family or anyone that might like it. Mention it on social media. Tweet that you’re halfway through it. Show people the cover on Facebook. Mention it at work when someone asks what you’re reading. Use jungle drums, anything.
  • Write a review. Give it some love on Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads, any other review site you frequent. Give it stars if that’s a thing, but if you can write a few words about it that would be much better. And be honest – I’d rather see a genuine 3-star review than a fake 5-star review. Mind you, I’d especially rather see genuine 5-star reviews if they’re available.
  • Pass on the signal. I’ll be promoting this as best I can wherever I can – Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, anywhere else. If you see any of that promotion, pass it along – retweet it, link it, like it, +1 it or whatever. And if you see other people talking about the book, throw up a flag for that too, if only so that I hear about it.
  • Give me a soapbox. If you’re got a blog, a column, a podcast or some other project of your own, I would love to be on it and have a chance to talk about the novella. I can talk about other stuff too – I’m a charming guest and I bring enough beer for everyone. Try me!

Above all else, tell me what you think of it. I want to hear if you liked it and what you liked about it, and whether you’d be interested in reading a sequel. Because I have ideas for more stories about Kendall and Port Virtue, but if no-one wants to read them then I’ll put them aside and work on something else. And I also want to hear from you if you didn’t like The Obituarist, because I’d like to know why and I’d like the next book to be better.

I always want the next book to be better. That’s how I know I’m not dead yet.

Alright, that’s enough out of me. Time to get off the stage and let the book do the talking for a while.

Happy May 1st, gang. Here’s hoping it’s a good month.