Category Archives: appearances

Hey, remember me?

Tum te tum te tum…

…I’m sure there was something else I was meant to be doing…

…hey, what’s this note on my calendar…

OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO UPDATE MY BLOG FOR SIX WEEKS

large

Okay, it’s not so much ‘forgot’ as ‘couldn’t spare the time’. The last six weeks have been heavily focused on doing my Raven’s Blood rewrites, which took significantly more time and energy than I expected.

But once I got past the first half-dozen chapters, which required the most work, I started picking up speed. The last two weekends? CRUSHED IT. Just blitzing through chapters, either because I’m so damn good at this or because the second half of the book was stronger than the first.

(Or because I just stopped trying HAHAHA no it wasn’t that.)

As a result of upping that focus through October, with only occasional breaks for roleplaying and getting drunk, the Raven’s Blood revisions are DONE. The book is DONE. My liver is DONE. A tan or grey-gold colour is DUN and okay I’ll stop now.

Anyway, that book is finished. It’s off being considered and read by TOP PEOPLE and we’ll see what happens with that. Hopefully it’s good news and I haven’t wasted three years and 85 000 words.

So what’s next? First up, GenreCon – I head up to Brisbane on Friday morning for a weekend of panels, networking and drunken karaoke, as well as catching up with a few of the friends I left behind when I moved to Melbourne lo these ten years ago. If you’re coming to GC, I’m the tall bloke with short hair and an occasional limp; feel free to stop me and berate me for being slack all the time. Or come to the two panels I’m on – ‘Indie tools for established authors’ (chair) and ‘True tales of indie publishing’ (panelist). That might be more fun.

Second, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Gods, Memes and Monsters, the new anthology out these last few weeks from Stone Skin Press. I have a story (sort of) in this 21st century bestiary, along with a wide and exciting variety of authors that I’m really pleased to be part of. Want to see what gorgons, manticores and (my contribution) the catoblepas are up to these days? Want to learn about modern creatures like meme mosquitoes and trashsquatches? This is the book for you. Read and be AMAZED.

Third thing… oh yeah, this blog (sigh). I know I’ve been slack – not just this last couple of months, but all year. Time has not been on my side, and the demands of my day job don’t always leave me with much energy in the tank come blogging night. But with two books finished this year – that’s right, you all forgot about The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data, but I didn’t – I’ve got some downtime coming back, and I’m gonna use it to jumpstart this here thing and yes I know that’s a mixed metaphor BACK OFF YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD

And finally – what’s next? What am I going to do once I come back from Brisbane, finish schmoozing and get through Silent Hill Downpour?

Start a new book, obviously.

This one’s a horror novel about a few things. Mad science, disease, audio engineering, bad romance, the layers of history, 19th century patriarchy, the consequences of bad decisions and my local dog park.

Here’s an image to inspire me (and you), courtesy of artist Simon Stålenhag.

And here’s the (provisional) first few sentences, which suggests a little something about the narrative voice:

Question: Do peacocks like dubstep?

Experiment: BAAAWWWWW WUBWUBWUBWUBWUB SQUAAWCK EH EH EH EH EH

Answer: I guess not.

It’s called Sick Beats, and I’ll keep you posted as it progresses.

Hopefully this one won’t take three goddamned years to knock over.

Back next week.

Honest.

Beware the ides of May

I know I said I would take time off after finishing the foundation draft of Raven’s Blood, and I have. More or less.

But May has had other ideas, and in fact it’s been a bit hectic down on the ranch this last while. Some of that hecticness has been respectable and productive, and some of it has involved the kind of aggressive, determined sloth that accomplishes nothing but leaves you nonetheless exhausted.

…holy shit, that is a really scary-looking aggressive sloth. Calm the fuck down, man. Have a burrito or something.

Anyway, in lieu of a more substantive post – that may come next weekend, once I regrow some updates – here’s a swag of updates, links and disconnected bits. Which is pretty much like the rest of the internet, I guess.

Continuum X is in two weeks! The programme is out now, and you’ll find that I am speaking on a number of panels, as if I had something to say rather than just being some random yahoo off the street. Those are:

  • Remembering Iain Banks
  • It’s All Been Done: Writing in the Age of TV Tropes
  • Modern Roleplaying

Those are all on Monday 9 June, the last day of the con, so come along to hear my too-rapid ramblings after you’ve had your fill of everything and everyone else. On the other days, look for me in the local bars, especially if they’re karaoke bars; I have a feeling some of the GenreCon crowd and I are going to want to belt out ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ over a couple of tequilas.

As we all know, when I’m not writing I’m slacking off playing games, and I felt I deserved to play something  after April’s efforts. So I borrowed Batman: Arkham Origins from a co-worker, and thanks to some time off caused by mild food poisoning (yay) I was able to play it all the way through over a couple of weeks.

And I kinda liked it! I played Arkham City a few years back, and you may recall that while I enjoyed the gameplay I thought the story and tone was aaaaallll over the shop, and that the constant misogyny just ground all the joy out of playing. Well, Origins avoids the worst of that; it has a clear, consistent direction and it knows where to draw the storytelling line to keep everything hanging together. The core storyline – Batman fights a horde of assassins in the course of one night while early in his career – stays the course, while the side adventures never drift too far away from that in mood. (And it avoids misogyny largely by having no female characters to speak off, but that’s sadly predictable.) There’s even an honest-to-god character arc.

Of course it’s still overly grimdark to the point of being goofy, Batman is a violent thug and everything in Gotham is on fire ALL THE TIME, but that seems to be the established norm for this character now. While the addition of more detective-oriented plot bits is welcome, they all boil down to [push button to have Alfred identify murderer for you], the end-game is anti-climatic, and it runs into the problem all prequels do in that it has to try to foreshadow everything that comes later.

But still. Pretty fun. Definitely worth the nothing I paid for it.

In other gaming, I finished my other ongoing RPG campaign, the extremely intermittent Weird-West game Tribulation. We were a long time getting to the end, but I think it was worth it.

It was a strange ending, though, one that took in time travel and paradoxes, and pushed those to the point of rewriting everything that had gone before. That’s a hard road for a story to follow, and it’s made me think a fair bit about the nature of stories like that, the need for foreshadowing (and how to make that work), and whether you can end a story with ‘this story didn’t happen’ while still making it satisfying for the audience for whom it did.

Hmm. More thoughts on that later, perhaps – especially once I see X-Men: Days of Future Past, which looks to be trying to pull off something similar. Hopefully their special effects budget is bigger than mine. Although will they have as many Dr Who references? Probably not, he said smugly.

My dog continues to be pretty freakin’ cute.

The Emerging Writers Festival starts this week! I’m not involved in it this year, but if I get organised I’ll be heading off to various events and seeing how many friendly faces I recognise. If you’re headed that way, let me know what you’re going to and maybe we can have a play date. Come on, motivate me; don’t let me slack off.

Speaking of writing, the first couple of alpha-reader reviews have come back on Raven’s Blood, and they’re pretty positive. I think. I haven’t really looked at them; I’m trying to keep that book out of my head entirely for a while until I’m ready to rewrite.

In the meantime, I just finished a short story for an anthology that… actually, I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about that yet. But it’s an odd little piece that was fun to write; let’s hope the editor likes it.

And then next week, to kick off June, I begin work on the next book, for which I can finally reveal the title:

 

The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data

 

Yes, the continuing adventures of Kendall Barker, um, continue. Come back to the poorly-swept streets of Port Virtue for another tale of death, social media and spreadsheet abuse! There’ll be thrills! Spills! Returning characters! New characters! Poor life choices! Swearing! And some bits that I hope take readers by surprise.

The plan is to write this novella throughout June, aiming for a total of around 24 000 words by the start of July ready to hand over to test readers and my editor. (Who I also have to hire again, along with my cover designer.) I found a good rhythm with the first novella, punching out one 1000-odd word chapter each night; if I can get that vibe again I should easily be able to hit the deadline while still taking time off a few nights each week for nerding and bourbon.

And once that’s done, it’ll be time for Raven’s Blood rewrites.

This momentum is probably good.

I may need defibrillation by August.

GenreCon be gone (sniff)

So what did you folks do on the weekend?

…look, that was a rhetorical question and you probably shouldn’t bother answering it, because I want to talk about what I did on the weekend, and that was go to Brisbane for GenreCon! This genre-writers’ conference was an absolute blast and I’m still on a bit of a high, marred only by being totally goddamn exhausted by the trip.

Others will, I’m sure, have more detailed and thoughtful posts to write on the con, but this is my space and I ain’t got no time for ‘detailed’ or ‘thoughtful’ or ‘coherent’ or ‘pants’. Let’s just knock out some Bullet Point Fever.

The highlights

  • Going straight from the airport on Friday night to Fat Louie’s karaoke bar, chugging a pile of beers, smashing the living hell out of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and basically rocking the post-reception con crowd like a motherfuckin’ hurricane.
  • Chairing a panel on exploring and writing hybrid genres, which was a terrific topic and one that I found really fascinating. I was blessed with an exceptional panel – romance editor/publisher Kate Cuthbert, romantic thriller author Sandy Curtis and gothic horror/historical fantasy author Kim Wilkins. We had a big, lively crowd and a lot of energy, and the panellists really had a lot of terrific insights and ideas to discuss. It’s the first time I’ve chaired a panel like this, and I hope I did a good job; I asked questions, kept things moving and generally tried to stay out of the spotlight, and I think people seemed to enjoy it. Also, Kim Wilkins is goddamn HILARIOUS, and I nearly burst a frontal lobe when she started miming T-Rex erotica.
  • 1376413_10151707269747536_1627616250_nGetting to finally meet Chuck Wendig, who I’ve known for years through our shared RPG work for White Wolf back in the day. While we’ve sporadically kept in touch, we haven’t actually met until now, and it turns out we get along pretty well. We had some beers, we talked about writing, we posed for photos and I think we had a pretty good time.
  • Getting to meet a whole bunch of other folks, some of whom I knew from Twitter (one of whom turned out to be my high school English teacher, much to our mutual amusement) and many that I didn’t. That was terrific, not just for professional networking purposes (although I did hand out a few business cards) but just because they were good folks and we got along well and then we all went to the pub. I like people who’ll come to the pub with me, especially writers.
  • My wife came with me. And that’s always a highlight.

The lowlights

  • Spending $70 on shitty hotel breakfasts that I didn’t realise weren’t included in the room cost and then vomiting up one of them anyway due to hangover.
  • Oh fuck, that fucking post-karaoke hangover. Fuck. Fuuuuuuuck.
  • Brisbane Airport and the Flight of the Damned getting home at arse-end o’clock last night.
  • …yeah, that’s pretty much it.

The takeaways

No, not the shitty pizza at the airport. A good con is one where you leave with something in your head as well as in your sample bag, and here’s the stuff that’s rattling around in mine right now:

  • At our hybrid genre panel, the authors all agreed that mixing genres (whether in terms of tropes or themes) requires you to read and engage with those genres, because you don’t read or appreciate them in the same way. (See Samuel R. Delaney’s notion of the ‘protocols’ of reading science-fiction.) While I know horror, fantasy and SF pretty well, and I’ve read my fair share of thrillers, crime and even Westerns, I’ve never read a romance novel of any kind, and I’m feeling that this is a lack, especially when it comes to evoking the romantic tension in Raven’s Blood. So I’m going to try to do some reading in the genre and learn from it. This may be difficult because I am Butch and Staunch and Manly GRRRR and have a rusty can of dog food for a heart, but I’m going to give it a shot. Kate Cuthbert has offered to recommend me some books; feel free to do the same if you have some favourites.
  • I attended an excellent workshop on the storytelling and narrative techniques of 80s and 90s action movies, where there was a lot of great discussion about what made films like Die Hard and Aliens great and how to use those strengths in our own writing. One of the strengths these films have is a clearly definable premise, and that’s something I kind of struggle to articulate with Raven’s Blood and with other, as-yet-unwritten ideas. I think I want to work on that, and on better defining the movements between acts in the novel so that the stakes and potential consequences are clearer.
  • At a panel on juggling writing with the rest of your life, Chuck – who is writing and submitting four novels in the next 10 months because he is an insane word robot with coffee-meth for blood – talked about the difference between short-term happiness and long-term satisfaction; between doing things you enjoy for the moment and doing things that eventually make your life better. That’s a divide I’ve always struggled with, but hearing it spelled out like that really helped me get some clarity on my time/energy/focus issues and how in the end they come down to prioritising what actually matters. On top of that, there was the idea that you could retrain your brain to gain happiness from satisfaction, and that blew my fuckin’ mind. If I can make that happen, if I can stop being someone who values ‘having written something’ over ‘actually doing the work of writing something’… hell, people, then I can do anything. And I’m gonna try.
  • The QLD Writers Centre team are fucking awesome. Meg Vann, Peter Ball and the rest of the team of ninjas pulled out a fantastic conference, full of energy and ideas and a willingness to just get things done. I’m really impressed by them, by the revamped State Library where they’re based, by the playfulness and neophilia of the recent Brisbane Writers Festival… it’s enough to make me miss living in Brisbane, just a little bit.
  • So was visiting Brisbane, to be honest. The place has changed, and it looks like it was for the better. I’m not leaving Melbourne, but I’m going to make more of an effort to visit all my friends, family and contacts up there more often. Preferably without braving the Flight of the Damned again.

Did I say a short blog post? Well, we all know I lie about that sort of thing every freakin’ time I post.

Anyway, take it from me if you weren’t there, it was a damn good event. The next one is in 2015, but there’ll apparently be pop-up mini-GC-events happening next year, including ones in Melbourne, Sydney and maybe some other cities. Make sure you catch them if they appear in your town; hunt them down like they’re some kind of multi-limbed creative Pokemon.

And hey, if you’re one of the folks I met at GenreCon, who’ve Googled me or started following me on Twitter, say hello! Read some blog entries, leave some comments, check out the free ebooks (and the cheap ones). Make yourself at home. Tell me a story.

TOUCH THE ELECTRIC WIRES

TOUCH THEM

And we’re back

*yawn*

*stretch*

*checks alarm clock*

OH HELL, I OVERSLEPT

…I mean, here I am, back just as promised!

So, did you miss me?

It’s been a hectic emotional rollercoaster, these last two months, full of doing stuff and learning things and not blogging. But my batteries have recharged, my notepad is full of ideas for blog posts (one of which just says ‘Doom Cock’, but I’m sure it’ll make sense eventually) and I have news and opinions to share once more. I’m glad that y’all hung around during the downtime.

So, let’s have a quick essay on what I did on my winter holidays.

I wrote stuff! Which is good, as that was the whole point of taking the break. I worked on Raven’s Blood, which is still behind where I would like it to be, but I’m very happy with the material I’m writing – so if I take more time but create a more polished draft, that’s probably a win. I’d still like to have it finished or close to finished by the time GenreCon comes around in October, though. I also did other writerly things, such as a freelance editing project and creating some wikis for various time-wasting nonsense activities.

I appeared at PAX Australia! I thought our panel on writing RPGs would get about 10 people, but it was more like 200 and another 50-odd standing outside. Crazy! I think it went well, and the feedback was very positive, so that was great. Overall I was pretty impressed with PAX – well, at least as far as the space and support they gave for tabletop gaming. Most of the videogame stuff left me cold, and I agree with Ben McKenzie that a lot more needs to be done to improve the stance PAX and the Penny Arcade founders take on problematic elements in gaming. PAX was also where I announced my return to the world of RPG writing, as I’ll be working on a product for a setting dear to my heart over the next few months or so. More details to come soon!

I also appeared at the helm of @WritersRotation – a curated Twitter account where a different writer tweets each week. That was fun, and hopefully some of the account’s followers will come by the blog and check out what I’m like on an ongoing basis. (Spoilers: drunk and full of excuses, mostly.)

I read some cool books! Specifically, I read Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which is just a wonderful absurd romp, a riot of London crooks, aging spies, robot bees, pulp adventure and the uncertainty principle. I also read Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, which is just about the exact opposite – an emotionally wrenching story about spurned and idolised women, long grudges and longer sadness, and one of the most moving and gruelling stories I’ve read in a long time. And YA at that – kids these days start the hard stuff young. And I started Chuck Wendig’s The Blue Blazes, read a bunch of comics, saw some adequate films (and one goddamn awful one), watched cartoons… you know, the usual stuff.

I quit my day job! Not to write full-time, no – one day, yes, but not today. Instead I’m moving on after seven years – seven years! – in educational publishing to a new and exciting role in… well, in educational publishing, but of a different type and for a different market. It’s a big move, and in many ways a difficult one; you don’t work in one place for so long without putting down roots. Still, I’m really pumped for the new job, which starts in two weeks. Here’s hoping that a) I enjoy it, b) they decide to keep me and c) it leaves me with the time and energy for writing.

I lived my life! I ran some games, I saw some shows, I drank some drinks. You know, quotidian stuff like that. And I learned that our cat’s health is fading. That wasn’t such good news, and it’s been hard for all of us here to accept that and make decisions about what to do about it. He’s still with us – he’s sitting on my lap right now – but he won’t be at some point. Which is also part of living life, I guess. So it goes.

Stories begin. Stories end. Stories go on.

And on that note, this story is done for the evening. It’s good to be back on the word wagon. Thanks for sticking with the ride.

Pods and paxes

Howdy gang,

Just a quick heads-up to let you know that I’m a guest on the Taleteller Podcast this week! My first ever podcast! An opportunity to listen to my voice and realise how often I say ‘um’ and stumble over my sentences!

Anyway, wince-inducing vocals aside, I had a good long chat to host Philippe Perez about writing, travel, discipline, short fiction and a bunch of other things. It was a lot of fun! I hope some of you will give it a listen and maybe even get something out of it.

Moving into the near future, here’s another heads-up for anyone going to PAX Australia in July – I’ll be on a panel talking about role-playing games!  I’m on there with Chaosium writer/editor Mark Morrison and Paizo/Pathfinder writer Mark Goodall, and we’ll be talking about writing games, running games, developing ideas, working for publishers and anything people ask us about. The PAX schedule doesn’t seem to be set as yet, but I think our panel is on the Sunday afternoon. So if you’re there and want to hear us talking about the best way to really get into the head of a 13th-level Half-Dragon Anti-Paladin and sell him to an audience, drop on by.

Also, I have a cold.

That’s not so much news as just me whining, though.

Pension Day

Hey, remember last week when I dropped some flash fiction on you?

Well, the fiction train continues to roll out of the station this week, with the release at Smashwords of a new short story, ‘Pension Day’, which is TOTALLY FREAKIN’ FREE to download in whatever format you desire!

(As usual, the MOBI and EPUB versions on Smashwords are good, but the PDF doesn’t include the cover; I’ll do my own PDF version and put it on the Downloads page in a couple of days.)

‘Pension Day’ is… well, I pitched it as a crime story, and it is about a criminal and his enterprise, but there’s also a bit of horror and suspense in there. It’s pretty nasty stuff, in its own way, but hopefully some of you little droogies like that sort of thing. If you do, I hope this story works for you! Feel free to tell others about it, to send the file on to potential readers, to share it to your heart’s content and to spam social media with your wild, unrepressed love for my genius. (Ditto for any of my free downloadable stories, of course.)

For the curious, ‘Pension Day’ is pretty damn new, written only a couple of months ago. I wrote it as a submission for a local crime fiction project, but the editors passed on it – which is perfectly cool and not something that bothered me. So I thought I’d submit it to some other avenues, but to be honest I couldn’t think of any, and didn’t have the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to do the research. So this piece was gathering virtual dust on the hard drive for a while, and last week I decided that it would be better to release it into the wild than just forget about it. Which is a decision that I imagine more and more short fiction authors make these days; you might not make any money from a epub story like this, but at least it’s out there and doing its job (entertaining readers), and that may be more important than getting fifty bucks for it.

Or I could just be lazy. Always a possibility.

So that’s two short stories on two consecutive Sundays. Can I make it three for three? No promises, but let me see how the next few days pan out – because there’s a short piece about a certain Kendall Barber that I’ve started writing…

In other news, my Freeplay panel was today and it was great fun! Our ‘Sex and Death’ panel looked at how those themes are treated in video games (short answer: not that well most of the time), why those themes appeal to us, whether ‘mature themes’ had to mean ‘darkness’ and how indie game developers might approach those themes in different, more creative ways. We didn’t get to cover all the ground we might have liked – it’s more difficult to discuss ways of approaching sex and sexuality in games than it is to discuss death and/or violence – but the audience seemed engaged and the Twitter chatter was primarily very positive.

So that was terrific, and the capstone of what’s been a big festival-involvement year for me. I wonder if I’ll do more next year. Time will tell.

Also in other news, the third and last part of my discussion/interview/lovefest with Hugh Grimwade is now up at his site. And this time shit gets nerdy, as we discuss games, shared worlds, comics writing and (of course) Batman.

This was such a fun interview, played out over months of back-and-forth emails. It’s also reminded me that I haven’t done an interview here in a while – so look for that to change soon. And this last part has me thinking a lot about comics writing, and whether I should try to find an artist or two and get a project together. Will mull over that some more.

In other, other news, this racking cough that I’ve had for two weeks CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF.

June moon spoon dune

Right, after running myself a bit ragged at the Emerging Writers Festival last weekend, the sensible thing would be to rest and recharge for a bit before going onto the next thing.

But ‘sensible’ is a dirty word in The O’Duffy Dictionary, one of several significant errors that have made it almost impossible to sell the damned thing. And because of this I’m jumping back into word action like Batroc the Leaper going to a poetry slam.

First up, Continuum! I have my program details, so here’s where and when you can catch me being on a panel and sounding all clever and writerly despite the fact that I wear shoes with Batman symbols on them.

  • 9pm Friday – I Don’t Get It: Why is it that some fans just don’t like what everyone else does? And who better to ask than me, a person who doesn’t like anything? But I don’t hate much either, so rather than just reciting all the things I don’t care about, like Star Wars and Harry Potter, the other panelists (Peter Ball, Alan Stewart, Ian Nichols and Deborah Biancotti) are hopefully also going to talk about fan tribalism, internet belligerence and how silly it is to ‘hate’ a piece of media.
  • 9am Saturday – Everything Old is New Again: AH GOD I HATE THE DC COMICS REBOOT SO MUCH AND YES I AM AWARE OF THE IRONY THANK YOU VERY MUCH. I’ll be talking to Ian Mond and Grant Watson (one of whom apparently likes the New DC 52) about just much the DC Reboot has sucked, how reading Geoff Johns’ Justice League made me hate characters I’ve loved for decades and why female, gay and POC readers might think DC’s vaunted ‘diversity’ tastes like a bowl full of lies and dirty hair.
  • 4pm Sunday – Readings: I’m doing a reading! From something! I have no idea what, though, since I don’t know if The Obituarist is what folks at a SF convention want to hear. Possibly a story from Godheads, or maybe even some of that first chapter of Raven’s Blood as a work-in-progress. Hmm. Anyway, I’m last in the 4-5pm slot after Louise Cusack, Danny Fahey and Jo Spurrier, so that should be super fun.
  • 8pm Sunday – Build it and They Will Come: Talking about RPG setting design with Peter Ball, Hespa and Darren Sanderson. My tack is that game settings are settings, not worlds, and that they need to be constructed and run to revolve around the player characters, a stance that some will agree with and other won’t. Maybe a chair will be thrown! Or perhaps not.
  • 11am Monday – Independent Publishing and Speculative Fiction: Pretty much what it says on the tin. Me and my fellow panelists (Jack Dann, Tor Roxburgh and Steven O’Connor) will talk about how Australian spec-fic is moving into ebooks and small/independent presses and what that might mean in the future for writers and readers. I imagine there’ll be less shouting than at the DC Reboot panel.

So that promises to be a pretty busy long weekend. Especially as we also have interstate visitors and at least two parties to go to. Fun! Anyway, if you’re coming to Continuum, feel free to say hi, sit in on a panel or pester me until I admit that alright, Scott Snyder’s Batman is pretty good BUT THAT DOESN’T CHANGE ANYTHING.

The other thing I’ll be doing this weekend? Writing, of course! Having just started my new novella, I’m going to immediately change gears and write a couple of short crime stories.

Why? Because last weekend I happened to discover The Crime Factory, a Melbourne-based publisher putting out both a regular journal and a number of anthologies of local and international crime fiction and criticism. I wandered past their table at the EWF’s Pages Parlour (a gathering of local small presses) for a chat and learned about what they’re up to. As a result, the guys asked me to submit a story for consideration in later projects and I’ve already got underway on a rather nasty piece or two. No promises or anything, but damn, it’s very nice to be asked to submit a story somewhere. Makes me feel like I’ve arrived.

More word on that if/when anything comes of it. And in the meantime, go check out the ludicrously cheap Crime Factory #10 and martial arts-themed Kung-Fu Factory (both just 99c on Amazon) and their anthology The First Shift as well. There’s some really good stuff in there; Kung-Fu Factory is worth it alone for the hilarious psychobilly piece ‘Crotch Rockets’ by Anthony Neil Smith.

Also, before I threw myself down the rabbit hole, I had a chance to talk to Jason Nahrung about crime, spec-fic and where things are going as part of the Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot 2012 that he and a number of other bloggers and writers are making.

You can find our discussion here, where I try to come off like I know what I’m talking about and occasionally succeed. But don’t stop there – check out the other profiles on Jason’s blog and follow the links to read more on other blogs. It’s a really fascinating look at what’s happening in Australian speculative writing – where we’ve been and where we going – and I think Jason and his fellows deserve huge kudos for it, as does irascible author Ben Peek for starting the ball rolling a few years ago.

(And if you’re at Continuum, don’t miss the launch for Jason’s new novella Salvage at 7pm on Friday night!)

And if that’s not enough, I also plan to do a big analysis of The Obituarist‘s performance in May and go over the details in a weekend (well, Monday) blog post. There will be graphs.

SMELL THE EXCITEMENT.

Down the Rabbit Hole and out the other side

It’s Sunday night and I feel like someone has blasted my head off.

In a good way.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, the Emerging Writers Festival has been rolling all week, and this weekend was my turn to do my part. My job was to act as leader of the online Rabbit Hole group – a team of 20 writers each trying to write 30 000 words in two-and-a-bit days. There were physical teams in Brisbane, Melbourne and Hobart, who got to congregate in quiet rooms to clack-clack their keyboards in peace; my guys, on the other hand, were scattered across the country and writing from their homes and bedrooms, from public libraries and in public toilets. Well, maybe not that last part.

As part of my approach, I decided to start work on a new project and write alongside my team to lead by example. Did I write 30 000 words? No, not a chance. I wrote some stuff, sure, but my focus was and had to be on motivating and encouraging the online team, who didn’t have a space free from interruptions or the constant supporting presence of other writers around them. All we had was Facebook. The EWF set me up with a number of prizes and tools, and I did my best to use them to keep the online team members in the zone and laying down the words – which, in the end, took up way too much time to leave a whole lot for my own writing, and that’s just as is should be. I shucked, I jived, I coached, I cheerleaded (cheerled?), I handed out LOLcats and I USED CAPSLOCK LIKE IT WAS MANDATORY.

And in return, my team… my team…

Man.

There isn’t a word that works here other than incredible. I was gobsmacked by the output of my team members and how they just knuckled down and wrote, no matter what. We started at 6pm on Friday; by 8pm almost all of them had blasted through the 1000 word mark and many of them had written more than 3000 words. Then a bunch of them hit the 10 000 word mark by Saturday evening. Then some of them smashed the 20K mark this morning. And by the time we wrapped up at eight o’clock this evening three of them had clocked the 30 000 mark, which I swear I thought would be impossible. But I was wrong, wrong, WRONG. Because they didn’t let anything short of being thrown out of their space or having to go to hospital to get their appendix out (both of these things happened) stop them from writing everything they could. Writing like it was the one way to find God.

Collectively, my group of fifteen word soldiers laid down more than 250 000 words in twenty-two hours. Short stories, whole novellas, chunks of novels. Most of it’s not ready for prime time yet, sure. But it’s there, and they did it, and nothing can diminish that achievement.

I thought it was going to be an uphill battle. I thought I could lead by example and encourage others to follow along. What hubris. Instead, my team showed me that they don’t need encouragement or spot prizes or cheerleading; all they needed was a chance to put their knuckles up and fight. And everyone single one of them won the bout, no matter how much they wrote.

Getting to be there, to help them, to simply witness their dedication… it’s inspired me.

It’s inspired me to write.

If you’d like to see some of the work the Rabbit Hole team produced over the weekend, we set up a Tumblr to showcase work from the writers who produced more than 20 000 words over the course of the event.

Also, now I know how Tumblr works. Hmm.

Also at the EWF this week I did a quick walk-on at the Revenge of the Nerds slide night to sing for a few seconds about Community with my awesome friend Ben McKenzie. Then we had beers. It was good.

And today I rocked up to the Future Bookstore Open Mic, where the host graciously gave me enough time to read the entire first chapter of The Obituarist to the audience. Which confirmed for those present that I am terrible at reading aloud – I talk too fast, I slur my words and I try to use different voices for different characters and just end up sounding drunk. I got some laughs towards the end of the piece, which possibly means there were more jokes in that bit – or that I’d slowed down enough for people to understand what I was saying. Hard to be sure. Anyway, that wasn’t my finest hour, but it was worth the try.

And while I didn’t manage to write 30 000 words over the weekend, I did manage something – I started a new novella! Called Raven’s Blood, it takes inspiration from two of my favourite things – Batman and Dungeons & Dragons – to kick off a possible trilogy of pulp-fantasy-YA-adventure stories. I think it’ll be YA.

Look, to be honest I’m not entirely sure what makes a book YA or what that label actually means, and I think that’s something I’d like to discuss in a future blog post. But it’s a story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and I’m not using any of the usual swear words, so that’s probably a start, right?

Raven’s Blood is the story of Kember Arrowsmith, a seventeen-year-old tearaway in the city of Crosswater who’s in constant trouble as a member of a scandalous and semi-seditious theatre troupe. The only thing that saves her from harsher punishment is the fact that her father is Roland Arrowsmith, hero of the War Against the Host and now Mayor of the city. But when a dead man in a cloak of feathers gives her a message and then burns to ashes, Kember must find out what evil is stirring under the bridges of Crosswater – and what happened to the Ghost Raven, the masked avenger that once fought supernatural terrors and crime lords in the city’s shadows.

Here’s a slice from halfway into the first chapter:

The dead man was wrapped in a cloak of feathers, mostly black but speckled here and there with shades of grey or white – and all tinged red with spatters of blood. Two crossbow bolts protruded from his side, plunged deep into brown leather that had proved too thin to deflect them. The hood of the cloak had fallen back to show his face, but it was hidden under a black mask, a broad domino that flared sharp at the sides of his face.

The younger watchman took a step forward, slowly, almost like a step to genuflect in Chapel. ‘He’s dressed like… do you think it’s him?’ he asked.

‘Pull your head from your arse, boy,’ Jerrick snapped back. ‘He’s been gone for ten years and more!’

‘But I’ve heard stories…’

‘Swive your stories! Do your damn’ed job! Here, hold this rascal girl while I take a proper look!’ And with that Jerrick thrust Kember forward into his subordinate’s arms. The watchman staggered back, his grip loose as he fumbled with his sword, and if there was a time for Kember to escape it was now.

But she did not take it.

Jerrick bent to the side of the corpse, pears and witchberries breaking to pulp under his knees, to peel away the mask from the man’s face. Under the black felt was the face of a man in his mid-twenties or so, his eyes closed, his forehead marked with a scar.

‘I know this man,’ Jerrick said under his breath. And Kember said nothing, because she thought she recognised the face too. The face that suddenly sprang to life, eyes snapping open to fix on her, mouth opening to gasp and then croak, ‘Tell him! Tell him! The golem-men of Bridgedown, they found it! They –’

Whatever he had left to say choked off in his throat, though his mouth stayed open. More, it opened wider and wider, as did his eyes that rolled in terror and agony. He locked eyes with Kember and she could not look away as a light began to burn in his sockets, in his mouth, through his skin as it outlined his bones.

A light that blazed white through red, so bright and pure that Kember had to pinch her eyes near-shut to stand it. A light too bright for the world to tolerate.

She knew what would happen next. Every child knew what would happen next. The light would burn and burn, burn away the flesh and blood of the man, burn his bones till they fused to red glass, and then the skeleton would rise to its feet and kill and kill and kill until smashed to glittering pieces. Just as they did during the War.

The language is going to need a thorough revision; I want to make it a bit more ornate, possibly by incorporating some classical thieves’ cant terms, while at the same time keeping it direct and clear. But there are the bones of something here (irony intended) and I think I can have a lot of fun with it.

Not going to jump the gun just yet on how fast I’ll write this or when it’ll be ready; I think I can get a good draft done by the end of July but I’ve also got a lot on my plate over the next two months, including a week in Fiji(!). I’ll talk about it some more later, though, promise.

Next week – Continuum! And a look at what’s been happening with The Obituarist in the month since I published it and what to do with it next. With graphs!

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.

GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY NOW.

 

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.