Categories
genre writing

Genre (part 2) – Let the burial commence

(Sorry for taking so long to get this post written; real life has required much of my precious time and sobriety of late. I’ve been editing a tonne of maths books, spending a weekend playing World of Warcraft in Adelaide, and right now I’m on the Sunshine Coast attending a conference. Okay, technically, lying in my hotel room bed half-pissed after attending a conference. So, you know, I have a pile of excuses. It’s not laziness. Well, not just laziness.)

Okay, so I said last time that while genre is flawed, and a blunt instrument, that it still serves as a function as a filter and a way to guide decisions about what to read/view next.

But the thing about blunt instruments is that they’re clumsy and imprecise, they leave scratches on the furniture when you drop them, and they leave dents in your baby’s head when you clamp down to pull him/her into the world. And yes, I’m aware this metaphor is no longer working.

The thing is, when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, or at least a thumb – and when your primary classification and filtering tool is genre, everything starts to get assessed by what boundary it falls within and what label it should attract. And the notion that something doesn’t fall within a boundary, or crosses a boundary, becomes discomforting and less acceptable.

The desire to rigidly codify genres is something I see a lot, along with statements like ‘well, that’s not really science fiction then’, or ‘I prefer to call that ‘science fantasy’’, or ‘Twilight’s not proper horror because the vampires sparkle and it’s all about girls and feelings’. And that’s just confining things to the big three nerd genres; bring in other genres, like romance or crime, and whole new subgenres like ‘paranormal romance’ get invented to prevent nerd germs cross-pollinating and ruining the sacred purity of a construct invented to make it easier to sell books in stores.

Add to this the personal identification some people make with a set of boundaries: ‘I only read science-fiction’, ‘I don’t read horror novels’, ‘We eliminated all the Twilight fans from our fan group during a series of bloody purges.’ And if it seems like I’m picking on people who don’t like Twilight, well, I don’t like Twilight either, but let’s pillory the books (and those who like them) because they’re appalling fuckingly written, not because they bridged the gap between romance and horror and made purists of both genres feel like they weren’t in charge of the label any more.

Genre doesn’t benefit from being a tight codification of rigid rules; all that does is put iron rules in place for marketers and cover designers, who need to know the right proportion of rockets to swords to vampires for the artist. For the rest of us, who above all else (and this can be argued, but I have to keep believing it) want to read good stories, genre labels are more useful when they’re broad; genre boundaries are more useful when they’re porous.

I’m going to quote commenter David from the last post:

We need to stop thinking in Boolean terms, and instead think in terms of fuzzy set theory.

Take Star Wars.

It has spaceships and robots and laser battles. It also has magic. But it has more sci fi characteristics than it has fantasy characteristics, so it gets shelved in the sci fi genre.

Genre is about clusters of similarities, rather than exclusive boxes.

(If you thrill to the thought of me repeating your words to make my arguments better than I could, well, leave a comment! And possibly pursue some kind of therapy.)

Close clusters of meaningful connections make for a more useful concept of genre than rigid definitions inside prescriptive boundaries. That’s a mission statement. So is the fact that, as a writer and a reader, I want genres to include lots of different things, so that I can read and write fun stories without needing to define where they belong and what subgeneric (is that a word?) group they need to be relegated to.

Because, in the end, the story is the thing – the story and the way it’s told. Everything else is distraction.

One more post about genre is on the cards – hopefully written faster and more coherently than this one – then maybe some new flash fiction in the coming days. Blogging regularly is tricky, because I only have a limited supply of wisdom, and usually I use it up by thinking ‘Actually, I’ve had enough to drink now, I should just go home’. But I’ll try to keep some in reserve for you guys. Promise.

 

Categories
genre writing

Genre (part 1) – I come not to bury genre, but to praise it a little bit


As I mentioned last time, I was just on two panels at Continuum 7 on the weekend- one on genre and one on roleplaying. The roleplaying one has sparked some thoughts about character and narrative that I’ll try to crystallise next week, but I thought I’d write a bit this week about some things that got brought up at the genre panel, along with some things I didn’t manage to discuss.

So. Genre. Despite the fact that I read a fair bit of SF/F/H/other-letter, and write it as well, I don’t have a strong interest or affinity for genre as an umbrella concept or label. I’ve never really been comfortable with these crude, broad filters that basically say ‘hey, you liked that book with spaceships, so you should read this book with spaceships in it’. Or it has vampires, or dragons, or Batman. (Okay, admittedly I’ll consider reading anything that has Batman in it.) It’s a very surface appraisal of a work that has everything to do with obvious motifs and tropes, and very little to do with deeper themes or, most importantly of all, quality. Because what I want to read, first and foremost, is good fiction, well-written fiction, and if the writing is good I really don’t care if it’s about nurses or cyborg wendigos.

…and yet, I read and write genre fiction. So why, given that attitude, do I keep coming back to the wendigos rather than focusing on the nurses? And why does genre serve a purpose?

Because crude and broad or not, we need filters sometimes to make decisions about what to read/see/play next, especially as the bookshelves become digital and the range of available texts broadens to the point of incomprehensibility. With more material available to read this year than there had been in the rest of human history, we need some way of winnowing it down and picking out what we want. And unfortunately, ‘well-written’ is a very idiosyncratic filter that has different meanings to everyone who applies it, and the core themes of a work can be interpreted a large number of ways. Genre may be simple, but it works, because even if you can’t agree on the allegorical subtext of Lord of the Rings, we can all agree that it has elves and swordfights. If that’s what you really liked about the book – and there’s nothing wrong with liking elves and swordfights – a basic label that tells you this other book has elves and swordfights works, even if the core themes are completely different and the writing is shit. And if you come away thinking that that book was bad, then that’s a step towards finetuning your filter to winnow out the books that don’t give you what you want.

On top of this, we have the increasingly-rapid change to reader-controlled labels, where it’s the audience that decides how a work should be tagged on online stores and e-book libraries. (And often the author too, but their voice is one among many and doesn’t carry much extra weight.) That’s a powerful tool that helps us group like texts together, and in multiple overlapping bodies, that physical bookstores can’t do. But at the same time, it means that we’re drifting away from fairly well-defined genre labels (which are crude but predictable) to an increasingly large array of subgenre labels, which are precise but far less defined. More to the point, they’re far more individually defined; each reader has their own vocabulary and critical notion of what constitutes a subgenre, and each new tag is another small set of personal preferences dressed up as a real thing.

Broad genres are glyphic – they say a lot, but in a compact, easily transmittable fashion. They’ll have individual spins on it, sure, but two readers will develop reasonably similar conceptions of a body of texts if you say ‘science fiction’ or ‘romance’ or ‘Western’, conceptions that will share a lot of core tropes and themes. You can chain those glyphs together and still retain meaning, but it starts to get vaguer – ‘Western romance’ is going to convey some core meaning, but the edges start getting bigger and fuzzier, and the themes get cloudy.

But subgenres have a lot less utility, because they take out some core elements of a genre and bring in others, and the meaning behind the word hasn’t been nailed down and codified by millions of readers over decades of use. Terms like clockpunk, faithpunk or dickpunchpunk start to promulgate because they sound like they mean something more than a flat, boring genre label, but instead they end up as white noise in a tag list, arguments on web forums, and buzzwords dropped on Twitter to attract more readers.

Except for my work, of course, which is the purest, most genuine dickpunchpunk. I have a manifesto and everything.

I want to keep talking about this, but this post has already taken three days to write thanks to interruptions and a short attention span. So I’ll break it up into pieces and come back to it in a few days – where, after reluctantly lauding genre here, I’ll talk more about how it sucks. It’d be good to get some dialogue going on this, so please, hit the comment button and have your say.

Categories
appearances

Continuum num num

Hey there folks,

Just a very quick update to say that I’ll be at the Continuum 7 convention this long weekend talking on a couple of panels.

On Saturday I’ll be on ‘”Star Wars is Just a Western with Spaceships”: Defining Genres’ at 4pm, along with Richard Harland, Ben McKenzie and Lucy Sussex. We’ll be talking about genre, what it’s good for, what’s bad about it, and to what extent genre labels can be useful and deconstructed.

Then on Monday I’ll be on ‘Roleplaying as a Storytelling Experience’ at 2pm, along with Catherynne M. Valente, Hespa and Gareth Hodges. Can gaming make you a better writer, or teach you something about storytelling, from either side of the table?

That’s it for me, unfortunately. There are a bunch of other panels going on, featuring great people like David Wittenveen, Sarah Stokely, Ben McKenzie, Kyla Ward, Paul Callaghan and the gang from the Boxcutters podcast, to name just those that I know personally. I really wish I could make it to see more of those, but I don’t get paid until the day after the con, which is a real pain in the arse, lemme tell you.

But if you have money in your pocket and want to get your geek brain firing, you should come along. At the very least, come along to tonight’s events, which are free. I’ll be the one in the Batman T-shirt propping up the bar. Well, possibly one such person, given the circumstances.
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Categories
ebooks publishing

Numb3rs (see, it just looks dumb)

One of the things I’ve set out to do with my e-publishing efforts is to be transparent about the process and to share what I learn with others. That way, even if my books don’t set the world on fire or pay for a car (or even busfare), I can help other writers learn from my mistakes and successes and get off to a better start.

So, since Godheads has been on sale for a little over a week, and there’s a new free story clogging up the internets, let’s look at how the numbers are shaking out.

Over on Smashwords, Godheads has sold 10 copies since release, and another 5 sample downloads have been made. That’s a significantly slower rate of sales than Hotel Flamingo, which did 14 copies in the first day and 7 more over the course of about a week. Similarly, Flamingo attracted 250-odd page views on release, while Godheads got only 80 or so. Both of them got the same kind of push through Twitter, LJ, Facebook and just emailing everyone I knew and asking them to buy it, but Godheads had a much weaker result.

What to make of that? Did all my friends hate the last book and decide to just ignore the new one? Well, possibly, but I’m not going to assume that. In the end, it’s about what else people have on and what catches their attention, and perhaps May is just busier than November. But I also do think that perhaps some of the novelty has worn off, as has some of the utility of word-of-mouth from the dedicated readers, and that just reinforces the need to start promoting more assertively. I’ve been almost-deliberate-but-mostly-just-lazy avoiding promoting Flamingo until Godheads was done, but now that I have two books, it’s time to bounce the attention back-and-forth between them to build the combo meter.

Speaking of Hotel Flamingo, it got a sudden uptick of 40 page views when Godheads came out, which was also around the time of my EWF panel. Not sure which one of those things was responsible – it’s hard to synch up events when the recording body is on the other side of the IDT – but either way it’s good. Those 40 views led to a grand total of one new sale, though, bringing the total through Smashwords to 50 copies. That’s not wonderful; at this rate it’ll be another six months before the book breaks even. Again, promotion may help.

My free stories, on the other hand, are doing just fine. ‘The Descent’ has clocked 350 downloads from Smashwords, 30 through Sony for its ereader and more than one thousand through Barnes and Noble! None of which earns me a goddamn cent, true, but it’s nonetheless gratifying to think of that many people reading my stuff – and, perhaps, contemplating spending money on other stuff one day. ‘Watching the Fireworks’ has only been up for  a few days, but it’s been downloaded 24 times, and should keep gaining attention – and, since it’s a completely different genre to everything else I’m doing, may get some attention from a different reader group discovering it through tags and metadata.

Alright, so that’s Smashwords. But what about the big dog, Amazon and the Kindle Store? For months I waited for Smashwords to finalise their negotiations and distribute to the Kindle Store, which is the number one marketplace for ebooks; eventually I got tired of waiting, created new versions through Amazon’s epub services and put them up their myself. Godheads is currently (let me check the site quickly) the #40 957th most popular book in the Kindle Store; Hotel Flamingo is a more disappointing #114 820. But still, that’s out of a list of more than 750 000, so that’s pretty cool. And what kind of numbers do those rankings reflect? 4 copies of Flamingo and 5 of Godheads. The bar, she is not set especially high. A lot of books on the Kindle Store are just rotting away in a server, unloved, untouched, never to be downloaded again. Gloomy, really.

Furthermore, those sales don’t do me as much good as the Smashwords one, as I discovered today while checking my royalty details. I published both books on a 70% royalty rate, which is standard, but looking at the sales figures I saw that some of the sales only attracted a 35% royalty. I thought something was screwy with the settings, but they were fine; then I dug further into the Terms and Conditions (you know, the stuff you never bother reading) and discovered the truth. That 70% royalty is only available for sales into Amazon’s home territories – the USA, the UK (amazon.uk) and German and nearby countries (amazon.de). Sales to anywhere else in the world only qualify for a 35% royalty, which is kind of a kick in the balls if you’re an Australian writer writing about Australia with a predominantly Australian audience. Apparently the lower rate is to offset the cost of Whispernet, Amazon’s ‘free’ 3G delivery system that sends books to your Kindle; outside those territories, someone’s gotta pay for that bandwidth, and apparently the writers are the ones who take it in the shorts.

I’m annoyed about that, and more so given that it’s not something you realise until you do some digging, but it’s not as if I’m going to yank the books out of there. I’ll just encourage people to go with Smashwords instead, if possible, which pays a higher royalty and is a lot more transparent about the whole process. They’re far from perfect, and I’m not always pleased with some of the formatting of their ebooks, but they do a lot more to keep their writers informed about how it all works and to do what they can for them, which has more appeal than Amazon’s hands-off approach.

For that matter, I plan to take a bit of advice from Chuck Wendig, who sells his ebooks Irregular Creatures and Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey through both the Kindle Store (as .mobi files) and through his own site Terrible Minds (as PDFs). Sales of the PDFs are lower than the ebooks, but they’re respectable and he gets all the cash, rather than a variable cut. So I’m following his lead and putting together my own PDFs of Flamingo and Godheads that people can pick up directly. Not sure how I’m going to arrange that as yet – whether using a Paypal widget or just telling people to shoot me an email – but I’ll get it worked out soon enough.

(For the curious – my Smashwords files use Times New Roman, my Kindle Store files use Book Antiqua, and I was using Century for the PODcom files but am switching to Adobe Garamond Pro because the punctuation marks in Century are awful. These are the things I think about during lunch breaks.)

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on this week, along with uploading some updated files to Smashwords, sending out copies to reviewers, and working on a new flash piece about doll heads. And talking about genre and gaming at Continuum 7 over the weekend. More on that later.

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Categories
ebooks

Recovered

As I mentioned a few days ago, the cover I used for Godheads and Other Stories was only a placeholder, which I mocked up to tide me over for the EWF while the real cover was finalised.

Well, I’m happy to say that it’s in and it looks fantastic:

This is from the crew at Design Junkies, who also made the awesome Hotel Flamingo cover. I asked them to do another cover based around a photo of a building, to connect the two books, and to use a church that was… I think my brief was ‘run-down and spooky-looking’. Which this definitely is.

The new cover is up on Smashwords and the Kindle Store, and in the Books tab, and everywhere else it was supposed to be. Hang on, no, I haven’t put it on Facebook yet – will do that later. One of the downsides of self-publishing I never considered was the need to constantly update things – adding URLs to pages, uploading book files with new links and info, all that business. Kind of a pain, but I don’t have enough money to pay someone else to do it for me, so such is life.

Interesting to think that a lot of my stories connect to buildings and place. It’s not deliberate, and it’s not constant, but it happens often enough that if nothing else it makes for good covers. Makes me think that my next project should be to reattempt the aborted novella Higherground, which was all about tall buildings and cities after midnight and weird things happening above your line of sight. Hmm. Worth considering.

That said, right now I need a holiday from writing. Just for a little while.

Categories
appearances

Post panel ponder

Well, yesterday was the panel on ‘Future Writing’ at the Emerging Writers Festival, for which I was one of the panelists, and I think it went pretty well. All four people involved had very different ideas about what the panel topic meant and what they wanted to talk about, and we explored a variety of different angles and philosophies in the seven minutes we each had to speak.

For my part, I said that whatever form it took, future writing was likely to be writing without the backing of a major publisher. From my perspective as someone who works for a major publisher, I talked about the benefits that they provide (editing, marketing, production etc.) and how a single person or small group could hope to finance and gain those benefits. Which led to the concepts of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, and I talked for a while about those things – things I didn’t know a great deal about until recently, but I could share what I’d learned and found with the group. And all that talk about looking to an audience for support and making them part of the process finished up with the notion that future writing is / would be, by its nature, closely tied to collaboration and community, and about sharing your passion and enthusiasm with readers in a genuine way from start to finish.

I didn’t make any jokes. I was too nervous.

Feedback afterwards was pretty positive, and there were some very good reviews on Twitter, so I feel like I acquitted myself honourably. And I got to hang out with a bunch of writers in the bar afterwards and talk about the festival and writing in general, which was a lot of fun. So that was great. Now I’m really hoping they’ll have me back next year.

Next on the speaking agenda is Continuum in two weeks, where I’m sharing panels with cool people like Ben McKenzie, Richard Harland and Catherynne Valente. So that’s likely to be pretty damn fun. Once, you know, I work out what the hell I’m talking about.

Categories
ebooks short fiction

Godheads and Other Stories

It was something like six months ago when I published Hotel Flamingo as an e-novella, and at that time I said I’d have an anthology of short stories available soon.

Well, ‘soon’ turned out to be more than six months later, but I’ve finally gotten my arse into gear and produced something new – Godheads and Other Stories, a collection of six short stories about the intersection between high weirdness and low mundaneness, and how even the very strange can see normal once you get used to it. They are:

  • ‘On the Redeye Express’: It’s about an hour or two into the ride when Nick realises that people are vanishing from the bus. He’s too tired to question it, and too worried that his girlfriend might dump him at the end of this trip – but when it keeps happening, what’s he going to do about it?
  • ‘Metatext Otis’: One morning, Otis Blincher woke up to find he had turned into a Franz Kafka novel. What’s a man supposed to do when his day starts like that?
  • ‘Objects Seen in Hindsight May be Deader than They Appear’: Armed only with a plastic homebirthing kit and some paperclips, Simon confronts the ghost of a ghost as part of his initiation into an order of paranormal investigators. But when a creature exists only in your memories, how are you supposed to fight it – and how can you trust what you learn about it?
  • ‘The Salbine Incident’: Doctor Edward Sabine set out to prove the existence of the ghosts of fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes by creating his own. The results were… regrettable.
  • ‘Meanwhile, at the End of Days’: Two pensioners wait for the bus. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ returns to Earth for the Second Coming. Is there time to make it to the Rapture and still get to the RSL in time for the bingo specials?
  • ‘Godheads’: In an age where gods and spirits have been captured and rendered down into consumer drugs, Diane and Angela head out to their favourite club to get high and dance. But Diane’s too angry to have fun tonight – and convinced that something strange and dangerous threatens not just her relationship but reality itself.

Some of these are old (I wrote ‘Godheads’ in 1996), some are new (I finished writing ‘Objects Seen in Hindsight…’ last night); some of them are very long (‘Godheads’ is more than 6000 words), some are very short (‘Metatext Otis’ is exactly 500 words), but they’re all worth reading. Well, I would think that, but I’m biased.

Here’s a picture of the current cover, just for entertainment’s sake, but this is getting replaced with a sexier, better cover later in the week once the designer finishes it. But I couldn’t wait that long to get the book out the door!

So where can you buy this collection of literary dynamite and bizarro horror for no more than $2.99 American (or even less in Australian dollars)?

Well, two places. First, there’s the website Smashwords, which has it available in a variety of formats including EPUB, MOBI and PDF, which can be read by devices like Kindles, Kobos, Nooks and pretty much everything else.

Second, Kindle users can get it directly from the Amazon Kindle Store – except that Amazon have a slower approval process than Smashwords, so at the time of this writing they don’t have it up for sale yet. However, if you wait about 24 hours and go to my author page, you should be able to find it there. Or search for ‘Patrick O’Duffy’ on the Store via your Kindle and buy it directly that way. (If it’s not there yet, keep trying! Never give up!)

(EDIT TO ADD: Okay, it’s there now.)

(It’ll also show up on the iBookstore within a few weeks, but why would you wait that long?)

While you’re at it, feel free to check out Hotel Flamingo on Smashwords or Amazon if you haven’t already. Plus, of course, the free fiction in the Downloads section, if you missed the announcement about that a couple of days ago.

And please, if you like either book, tell a friend, leave a review, or just shout my name really loudly in the street until the police show up. I’d appreciate it.
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Categories
appearances

Emergence

What am I excited about right now? The Emerging Writers Festival, which opened last night and is powering into two weeks of panels, seminars, twitterfests, workshops and other activities. I went to last year’s EWF and thought it was a fantastic, useful project that really aimed at getting writers to network and help each other.

Part of my excitement this year is that I’m on a panel this year – I’ll be speaking about ‘Future Writing’ at 3pm this Sunday at the Town Hall Writer’s Conference, alongside Dale Campisi, Rebecca Fitzgibbon and Jacinda Woodhead. I’ll be mostly talking about the things traditional publishers have provided to writers, and how independent writers and groups can try to provide those services for themselves. It should be a fun panel, and more to the point should be a useful one.

But that’s hardly the most exciting thing on this festival, he said self-depricatingly. I’m also really interested in the panels on transmedia and character voice, the discussion of publishing trends, the mid-week talks on genre, the Melbourne by Dusk flash-media project and the fact that you can make Lego Poetry. And, of course, getting to talk (and drink) with other writers.

My only real problem is that I’m not going to be able to afford to go to everything I want to go to, having blown all my salary on responsible financial things this month. But I’ll make it to enough things, somehow.

Anyway, if you’re in Melbourne, if you write, if you want to learn and to meet other writers and get something useful out of it, the EWF is a must. Get excited and make stuff.

Categories
short fiction

Look! Stuff!

Right, time to add some actual content to this site!

Said content takes the form of two short stories to download, absolutely free – ‘The Descent’ and ‘Watching the Fireworks’. They’re available on the Downloads page as PDFs with charmingly crap cover art, which I made myself with my limited Photoshop skills.

More will probably follow. But not before the link to buy and download Godheads and Other Stories, which should be up by Saturday afternoon, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

Also, don’t get too used to the appearance of this site. I may end up changing the entire theme to something that works a bit better for things like author pics and sidebars and the like. Or I may not. I’m mercurial!

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Categories
blogging

Incremental as anything

This site is coming along slowly – more slowly than it probably should, I dare say, but I’m getting there.

The main addition at this point is the information on Hotel Flamingo on the Books page. If you don’t know about my mosaic e-novella, go there and find out about it. And come on, buy a copy, baby needs a new pair of shoes. Cheap shoes.

I’m hoping that by the end of the week I’ll be able to add the anthology Godheads and Other Stories to that page. All that remains is to finish the last story, which I’m working on, and to receive the cover from the designer, who I need to check in with tomorrow. If the final cover is still a way off, well, I might put together some sort of underwhelming placeholder for the time being, just so I can get the book up by Saturday morning. We shall see.

I’m currently debating whether to add info about my old RPG credits to that page. I don’t get any royalties from them, so listing them with links won’t make me any cash, but it might help demonstrate that I’m a real writer, honest. Or it might not. Still contemplating that.

I might also try to get a stand-alone story or two up on the Downloads page, which is currently empty. I’ve got some flash fiction that could be fun.

But all that has to wait for a little while. Tonight I’m donning my freelancer cap and writing about beer. Which is a subject close to my heart.

If you’ve got suggestions about things I could add, feel free to leave a comment. Preferably not one of those spam ones I’ve been deleting for the last couple of days. Such industrious little things they are.
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