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A tally sheet for the new year

Things what I have done thus far in this year of our Lord 2016

Gone back to work. Which is something taking up a lot of my focus and energy right now, but – crucially – not all of it.

Played more Pandemic Legacy. Oh man, those poor folks in South America. They never asked for [CENSORED DUE TO SPOILERS BUT LEMME TELL YOU IT AIN’T GOOD].

Become kinda hooked on Parks and Recreation. Everyone was right, that first season was rough and mean and not funny. And everyone was right, the following seasons are SO GREAT YOU GUYS and I love all of them even Jerry and one time I got a bit teary watching it but it might have been because I hadn’t slept in 36 hours but anyway it’s great.

Committed to a program of walking 10 000 steps a day, as measured by my phone’s pedometer. Okay, ‘program’ sounds more complicated that it needs to. I have a dog, I use public transport, I go to various meetings rooms at the office – by the end of the day it pretty much takes care of itself. But now I have an external driver, which is something that works well for me as a motivator to do things I was doing anyway.

Sheltered from the blazing sun.

Listened to a bunch of podcasts and also The Jezabels and Halsey on repeat.

Went to my first ever Android: Netrunner store tournament and got completely rofflestomped by people who actually know how to play it competitively instead of just casually with friends. Which is fine! Losing is about as much fun as winning, and a better way of learning how to play next time. But still, I’m going to have to do some heavy lifting before I get good at this game. Or even mediocre.

Took the dog for a haircut.

Went to the wedding reception of two lovely people that I hope move back to Australia sometime soon.

Formed a little writers’ group with three other like-minded folks who are also writing YA and genre novels. We have our first actual meeting this weekend, which is mostly just brunch and chatting about what we want from the group. After that… we’ll see. I’m hoping it’s a way to help each other stay on target, improve our skills and generate those kind of external drivers I was talking about earlier.

Submitted Raven’s Blood to a publisher – more, a publisher who actually asked to see it. That’s a pretty sweet egoboo, believe you me, even if they eventually decide to pass on it. It’s weird and confusing and gratifying and nice when people know who I am. Even more when that’s a positive.

Read The Accidental Creative, which is all about improving work practices to generate strong ideas and get things done. Some potentially useful ideas in there, for both my day and night jobs, so long as I can work out how to implement them. Thinking about that at the moment.

Mourned. As did we all.

Things what I have not done thus far in etc etc

Enough work on Raven’s Bones.

But that will change.

Dismembering the year that was

Folks, can I be real with you for a minute?

2015 was kind of a rough year. In a lot of ways.

I don’t talk much about my day job here, and I’m not going to break that habit, but suffice it to say that it’s been tiring, stressful and demanding this year. The knee injury I took at the end of April left me in pain for months, and painkillers left me drained and unfocused after that. I put on weight because I was too tired and pained to exercise, and I became irritable and moody because I didn’t like how I looked or felt.

And writing… this was not a good writing year. I get home from work of an evening, or roll up on the computer on the weekend, and I’m usually too frazzled, grumpy or flat to write anything coherent or worthwhile. My output has been dismal – even my blogging dropped from twice-weekly to weekly to fortnightly to I-don’t-know-whenever.

Yes, I finished and published The Obituarist II, and I finished the final, polished version of Raven’s Blood, and I’m happy and proud to have done those things. But The Obituarist II has only sold 40 copies so far, because I can’t stomach the effort required to properly promote it. And Raven’s Blood got knocked back – I got knocked back – by an agent last week, and while that’s not the end of the world or anything the news came at the end of a bad few weeks and left me feeling pretty lousy.

I don’t generally get depressed, stressed or anxious; I’m not wired to be unhappy for more than a few minutes at a time. But the gravity of 2015 was heavy, and clinging, and more often than not it dragged me down. Sometimes to a point where I contemplated just dropping the whole writing business as a bad idea that was never going to get me anywhere.

So is that going to happen?

…no.

Screw that.

It’s pretty ridiculous for me to call this a difficult year, when I have friends and loved ones that have endured far, far worse tragedies and losses in 2015 and still kept going. Whatever setbacks and troubles I’ve got on my plate are transient and manageable, and I can get past them and back on target if I make an effort and remind myself that not everyone has that luxury. A little end-of-year whinge on a blog almost no-one reads is a forgiveable level of blowing off steam – but not anything more like that.

As for giving up writing… you know, that would be easy. The idea of not making an effort any more appeals to my lazy, weary soul. What doesn’t appeal is living with that decision – with not doing the only thing I’m halfway good at, the only thing that might let me leave something behind in this world that anyone cares about.

I don’t always love what I do. But it’s what I do. It’s who I am. And a year of doldrums, knee pain and heavy drinking isn’t enough to change that.

So okay. 2015 was a bit shit. 2016 might not be that much better. But I’m still going to plug away at Raven’s Bones, I’m still going to hit up agents and publishers about Raven’s Blood, I’m still going to keep sticking my face in the fan – and every week (or two) (or whatever) I’m going to tell you about it.

Because having the chance to do that… that counteracts a lot of the bad shit.

For the rest, there’s friends, Netrunner and good liquor.

Have a happy new year, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England. See you in more pleasant climes.

Falls the shadow

So a month ago I came back from GenreCon all fired up with big ideas and focused ambitions. No more writing at random! I was going to GET SERIOUS. I was going to follow a PLAN. I was going to put together AN OUTLINE and then probably FOLLOW IT.

I mean, this was some GROWN-UP SHIT, MOFOS.

So how did that work out?

Well.

Or as TS Eliot put it:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

I had a lot of big ideas and ambitions, but in the end my mouth was writing cheques that my arse couldn’t cash, and that’s a metaphor you probably didn’t need and I’m sorry.

See, here’s the thing: you need to do more than say ‘I need a plan’. You actually have to make a plan and follow it, which is the point where I’ve come unstuck. Instead I’ve been sitting at the computer most nights, saying ‘I think plans are swell!’ and then smacking my face into the keyboard in the hopes that it would somehow turn into a 6-figure advance for Raven’s Bones.

End result: I’ve written like a page and a half. And the half is shaky.

It turns out wanting a plan isn’t enough; you actually have to create and follow one for it to work. Which is, god, so hard you guys. That requires actual planning and thinking instead of just pie-in-the-sky tweeting and six hours of Saints Row IV.

At this point I should probably say ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ but uuuggghhh *makes jerk-off motion* no thanks. That’s a bridge too far.

Look, I meant well. I still believe that I need to have a coherent plan and direction for my work. I need to have structures, processes, benchmarks; I need to treat this like a job, because that’s what it is. And I totally intended to follow up on that.

The key thing is, good intentions don’t count for shit.

 

Right now, I don’t have the time or energy for much more than good intentions. Between a demanding day job, Brisbane-style summertime (WTF MELBOURNE) and a shameful need to interact with other people on a regular basis, I don’t have enough in the tank most nights for more than a few hundred words – hell, a few dozen. I want to treat writing like work – and sometimes work is hard. Harder than I can manage.

So what’s the alternative? What can I do with what I do have in the tank (we’re just shitting the bed on metaphors tonight, sorry) and where can good intentions actually be useful?

The answer, I think, is preparation. And making December into a month where I actually prepare, organise and yes, even plan for a better 2016. One free from false starts, self-recrimination and flesh-eating viruses.

December is when I’ll spend time genuinely planning this book like a proper project, with milestones, metrics and timelines. (I’ve taken the advice of several friends and started reading Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative, which is apparently good for this sort of thing.)  December is when I’ll write more world-building notes – time to flesh out the Lunar Pantheon, name more districts and neighbourhoods of Crosswater, update my maps and character sketches and setting history. And December is when I’ll fine tune my outline, do more research and kick the kinks out of my plot. (All this and Christmas too.)

These things don’t need to be polished, they don’t need to be understandable to others, they don’t even need to be ‘good’. They just need to work. And as a long-time GM, I know all about making shaky, unintelligible, borderline-incoherent notes that nonetheless are enough to maintain a campaign for months or even years.

So there’s something for y’all to look forward to when this book finishes.

And with that, enough self-flagellation; I need bacon and sleep.

Not at the same time.

GenreCon HO!

Let’s start with a little light housekeeping.

My knee is doing alright, and I’m in much less pain than I was a few weeks ago. The surgeons removed a piece of cartilage the size of my little finger out of the joint; apparently it didn’t belong there. Good to know.

Work continues apace on revising Raven’s Blood, although not as fast as I would like (big surprise), and I’m going to need to get my skates on to meet my deadline. One thing delaying me – I’m writing a short story set in the 13th Age fantasy RPG universe, a spin-off and stretch goal for Greg Stolze’s novel The Forgotten Monk. It’s basically The Seven Samurai but with monsters and magic. Sort of. Anyway, gotta finish that this week.

I know it won’t really change anything, and in fact may make regime change less likely next year, and that it’s small and petty to relish the misfortunes of others but SO LONG TONE PLEASE DO LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE ARSE ON THE WAY OUT A HAH HAH HAH HAH

If you had any confusion over my political leanings, I hope they are now clearer.

But let us move past these mundanities to more important things:

The GenreCon program is live!

It’s looking like a great lineup of events, and I’ve already locked in my flights and accommodation in anticipation. Hopefully there’ll be a chance to do some effective networking – i.e. getting drunk and singing karaoke with other writers – in between all these great panels.

Particularly these two panels, where I’m honour-bound to attend and not be too hungover:

Saturday October 31, 11.30 am

Indie Tools for Established Authors

Chair: Patrick O’Duffy; Panelists: Anna Campbell, Viola Carr, Belinda Pollard

Independent publishing is here to stay and an increasing number of authors are becoming hybrids – making use of self-publishing techniques and tools alongside their traditional publishing deals. Why do this? What tools should you embrace? Let’s find out…

Sunday November 1, 10.30 am

True Tales of Indie Publishing

Chair: Emily Craven; Panelists: Carmen Jenner; Mark Lingane; Patrick O’Duffy

Interested in indie publishing, but not sure if it’s for you? We’ve asked our team of indie publishers to sit down and talk about what it’s really like to go it alone, as a writer, and discuss what worked (and didn’t work) when building their indie career.

If you’re coming along, drop by either/both of these and watch me pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about.

(If you’d like to go but you’re not, con Special Guest Kylie Scott is giving away tickets HOLY HELL GET IN ON THIS.)

It’s on! I’m excited! TONES IS SCREWED!

Roll on October 30.

Pre-surgery update

Things I will be doing this week:

  • Going to the hospital
  • Having things stuck into my knee while I’m unconscious
  • Being brought home from the hospital
  • Sleeping
  • Groaning
  • Lying down
  • Reading everything I can get my hands on
  • Wishing I had more morphine

Things I probably won’t be doing a lot of this week:

  • Writing

So that’s my plans sorted. Will update you further once I’m through this bottleneck and back to work on the book.

Stupid rewriting tricks

So here’s a thing I’ve learned lately – rewriting is hard. Maybe harder than actually writing something in the first place.

When you’re writing  you’re trying to create something from nothing, which sounds hard but is actually easy – if you write anything at all you’ve basically succeeded. Rewriting, on the other hand, is about trying to make that first effort better – so the bar has been set higher and now you need to do more to clear it than just whacking the keyboard with your exhausted face.

I mean, that’s not how I wrote the first draft of Raven’s Blood. Honest.

…anyway, as I struggle through the process of revising the foundation draft – which is taking more time/effort than I had hoped, so there’s not much chance of finishing it by the end of August – I’ve stumbled across a few tricks, shortcuts and principles that have made the process a bit faster and simpler, which is great because I’m busy and also really lazy.

So if you’re neck-deep in rewrites and reader notes, consider these easy ways to reduce the workload:

Automatically uncover your weaknesses

There are a variety of free online tools that will take your raw copy-pasted text and analyse it six ways from Sunday, calculating everything from lexical density and language/reading level to a simple number-of-times-you-said-BLAH count. Dump your text into one of these sites – such as this one or this one – and you’ll get back a breakdown of how often you used specific words and phrases. Now you can go through your MS and mix things up on the rewrite, making sure you don’t say ‘and the vicar unbuttoned his trousers’ on six separate occasions.

The freedom of the blank page

When you’re trying to fit new writing into old writing, or replace what has gone before, the existing text can feel more like a prison or a stern matron than a welcoming home for your precious story. I found that writing the new text into a new, blank document, then copy-pasting it back into the old one, made me feel a lot less constrained by what I’d written earlier, even if I was switching back and forth between the pages every 30 seconds. Sure, once you’ve pasted in the new text you’ll need to do some tweaking to link it all up, but that’s (possibly) easier than trying to steer it towards the target from word one.

Gerund hunt

A gerund, for those of you who aren’t grammar tragics, is a verb that’s been converted to a noun by adding ‘ing’ to the end. Gerunds have their place, but they can turn prose flatter and less engaging because your active verbs – I run, I write, I defenestrate – get replaced by phrases with dull positioning or identity verbs – they were writing, he was writing, I am defenestrating. To revitalise your draft, do a search for ‘ing’ chapter by chapter and check every instance; when you find gerunds bringing down the energy levels, rewrite them back into active verbs.

No beginnings, only endings

One of my alpha readers opened my eyes to this – it’s boring when things ‘start’ or ‘begin’ to happen. Make them happen now! Don’t pad out the time, go straight to the action. As before, do a word search for the offenders, then rewrite to boost the energy. (You may also find, like I did, an unsuspected propensity to use ‘start’ as a noun, as in she awoke with a start. Consider whether this is actually the word you want. It’s kinda boring as a noun too.)

Let it go

Real talk: you are never going to write a final draft, a best draft. You will always find something you want to change and improve every time you look at your work, because you grow and change as an author every day. So you have to let it go, like the Disney Corporation says. That doesn’t mean you don’t work as hard as you can to make every draft better than the last, to be as good as you can manage right now – but the urge to make this draft PERFECT FOR ALL TIME is what will stop you from ever finishing your work. Draw a line. Very good is good enough. Let it go.

That last one is the hard one. It’s been kicking me around.

So yes, finishing this month? Not going to happen, not with the Melbourne Writers Festival – now with a genre writing stream! – starting in a couple of days and a bout of minor knee surgery knocking me out immediately afterwards.

The new target is GenreCon, which is at the end of October. If you see me there – and you should come, it’ll be awesome – feel free to bail me up and demand proof that I’ve finished the

This august gathering

Henry Rollins once said:

August, the summer’s last messenger of misery, is a hollow actor.

Damn, that sounds deep. And very Northern Hemisphere, but whatever.

August starts on, oh jesus it starts on Saturday and I am probably not ready but screw it! I have plans for that month! And I want to share them with you!

First things first – I am going to finish this revision of Raven’s Blood, I swear with God and you folks as my witnesses.

Yes yes, I wrote last week about embracing writer’s block and letting things happen naturally and giving my muse time to come a’courting and all that. And I stand by that. But my internal frustration and self-loathing is coming to a head, and that’s the primary motivator I have for Getting Shit Done. (Healthy, no?) I want to finish this book and do something with it, if only so I can get free of its gravity for a while and write something else.

So yeah. End of August. Hold me to it.

August is also GENCON! The biggest four days in gaming! The massive RPG convention that I have never attended because it’s in America!

This year I will continue not going to Gencon. But I will write things on Twitter andFacebook or Google+ (depending on whether I want anyone to see them or not) using the #rpgaday2015 hashtag. Because HASHTAG, people. And nerdiness.

Keep an eye out for those if’n you’re so inclined.

CKqpS6xWgAAMKtY

August is also time for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival!

This year I was a minor member of a small programming committee that didn’t use many of my ideas, but that’s still enough for me to score a pass and see pretty much whatever I want. So hit me with your recommendations of people to see and panels you’d like to see vicariously through me!

My main plan – OH MY GOD KELLY LINK WILL BE THERE I HAVE ALL THE EXCITEMENT can’t talk already queueing

Okay, what else is happening in August… um, some parties you’re not invited to, a bunch of work events you don’t care about…

Hey, you know what you could do in August? Register to go to GenreCon in October! That’s what I’m doing, and I might even be helping out with a panel or something while I’m there!

I know, that’s a stretch. The main thing is writing, and possibly listening to a lot of music from The Dear Hunter.

But yeah, it’s mostly writing. And thinking about games. Maybe some drinking.

August: It’s gotta be more productive than July. That’s my epigram, Rollins be damned.

Come, join me.

Stuff and/or nonsense

The last blog post was pretty focused and pretty serious.

This one? Not so much. On either front.

May and June have been crraaaaaapppppp for getting any writing done, thanks to the distracting powers of a) pain and b) painkillers. Instead I have been distracted and lackin g in energy, while my days, nights and productive weekends have been lost in a haze of aches, self-pity and Skyrim.

But! I’m off the painkillers, my leg is feeling a bit better, I’m taking a shitload of vitamin B&D every day to push through the seasonal doldrums, I’m super jazzed after calculating that I made $150 from writing last year (SARCASM) and I am determine to rewrite the living hell out of Raven’s Blood.

I’m back! I’m driving! Witness me!

Last year I read bugger-all actual novels, preferring instead to read graphic novels and Twitter in the blurry half-hour of regret and limited seat space that is my morning commute. But this year I swore to put that behind me and to read at least 50 proper novels, or at least comics that don’t have Batman in them, over the course of 12 months.

That target has slid badly of late because I’m reading David Mitchell’s epic doorstop The Bone Clocks and… I kind of hate it? Or at least don’t like it at all, at all? I’m probably going to keep reading it because friends of mine like it and I feel like I have to give it a burl for their sake, but I’m giving it a rest for a while. Maybe when I come back it will magically be half the length and significantly less repetitive, boring and self-indulgent.

Instead I’ve started reading Kelly Link’s new collection Get in Trouble, and it is of course wonderful and mind-blowing and fantastically well written and creepy as hell and I love it and you should read it. I wish all books could be as good and well-edited as this one.

 

Other books wot I have read and would recommend:

  • The Sugar House, Rose Bailey
  • The Martian, Andy Weir
  • The Cormorant, Chuck Wendig
  • Exile, Peter Ball
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
  • Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Look, just follow me on Goodreads, it’s probably simpler.

PODCAST TIME

Welcome to Podcast Time, our regular feature where I describe all the new podcasts I’m listening to – not during my commute, which is reading time, but in the 10 hours a week I spend walking the dog, usually in freezing darkness with a plastic bag in one hand and a torch in the other.

The things we do for love. And audio entertainment.

Anyway! Stuff you should listen to!

  • Rachel and Miles Xplain the X-Men, in which the titular Rachel and Miles work their way through forty years of mutant comics and explain how it all worked and why it was frequently awesome, hilarious or problematic, often all at the same time.
  • Shut Up and Sit Down, which is about board games and is very clever and funny and hosted by people who actually understand what makes games challenging and engaging.
  • Journey Into Misery, where one comics fan explains character continuity and backstory to his interested but easily distracted girlfriend, and I know that sounds mansplainy but it’s actually a lot of fun and they’re both young and adorable.
  • The Allusionist, which is about words and nomenclature and the power of language and if you’re the kind of person who likes words and dry wit  – and I know you are – then you’re probably already listening to it.
  • Unjustly Maligned, where writers, podcasters and other folks explain why they love particular bits of pop culture that other people do not, like Murder She Wrote, Italian cartoon theme tunes or Popeye the Movie and look I can’t agree with that last one but god bless that crazy person for his craziness.
  • Song Exploder, where musicians and composers deconstruct songs and tracks they’ve worked on, giving you a glimpse of their process and craft in a podcast that’s actually too good to make silly run-on sentences about.

Thanks for joining us at Podcast Time. We’ll return when someone finally starts making a good roleplaying podcast that isn’t just three dudes with identical mumbles talking about how much they hated 4th ed D&D and laughing at their own campaign references.

…this may be a long wait.

I wish this blog post was cleverer.

But given how rubbish I’ve been at updating these last few months, I think that it’s just a little victory that it exists at all.

More existence next time! Probably! Hopefully!

Greetings from Planet DONE

Hiya folks,

At last I can emerge from my cave, blinking and scratching myself, covered with body hair and coffee stains like a freelance Bigfoot, to announce that I have finished working on my Pathfinder adventure for Green Ronin Games!

Der_6-Millionen-Dollar-Mann_-_S03E16_-_Bigfoot_Und_Die_Ausserirdischen_-_Teil_1.avi_001480880

It proved to be remarkably strenuous work. My RPG-writing muscles are not what they used to be.

The plan for the rest of this month is to watch Daredevil, see Black Diggers and Avengers 2, spend time with my lovely wife (she’s so lovely you guys) and generally not write anything except one or two blog posts that are currently rattling around my head.

After that, May and June are all about revising and polishing Raven’s Blood so that it’s fiiiiinnnnallllly ready for submission to publishers, and then to start work on a new book. Which will be one of two horror projects, depending on where my head is at, and doubtless we’ll talk about that more then.

Daredevil-costume-comparison

Tonight, though, I’m just popping my head up to say hello. Now to make dinner and watch a blind man in a leotard kick evil in the dick.

Check you later.

Checking in again

Miss me?

Yes, I am back from the freezing wastelands of Iowa, where I finally got to play in snow for the first time, an experience that was super-amazing fun until I realised that snow is really freaking cold. This was after significant amounts of it went down the back of my pants.

LEARNING.

More importantly for you, my cherubs, is that I am back, I am rested, I am full of word ideas and I finished the foundation draft of The Obituarist II while I was away. It’s with my editor and alpha-readers, and if they can give me their notes in the next couple of weeks – notes that hopefully aren’t ‘this story makes no goddamn sense’, a possibility that has been worrying me – then I should be able to revise and improve it in time to put it up online for Christmas.

And once that is done, it’s back into the revisions of Raven’s Blood with a vengeance, possibly pausing only to outline a horror novella idea (provisionally called Sickness Dreaming) that’s been in on my mind of late. I’ll even write a few substantive blog posts. Remember those?

But that all comes later. This week I’m jetlagged, frostbitten and desperately trying to catch up on three weeks of dayjob emails. There will be no further writing this week. I’ve earned that much.

Catch you next weekend. Promise.