The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’ve just hit the period where everything else gets sidelined in favour of the thesis, which means I’m expanding out my plan and filling in the gaps. This week I’m transforming my original lit review draft, which lacked a lot of focus, into the first half of a review that will actually fit the topic I’m pitching. On the plus side, I’m starting this week ahead of my word-count benchmarks for the first time, so I’m hopefully that I’ll have the chapter drafted by my Dec 30 deadline (even with all the holiday chaos about to hit). 

What’s inspiring me this week?

This has been one of those weeks where I’m spoiled for choice in this entry – I’ve read so much good stuff that’s got me eager to start work on new projects, and I’m kinda torn between three possible entries. Kij Johnston’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was easily the best thing I’ve read this week – it’s a brilliant Tor.com novella that takes Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and starts inserting the kinds of characters who are routinely marginalised in Lovecrafts work. It’s simultaneously a homage and a critique, a complex book that’s just an outright pleasure to read.

The most inspiring books this week have been Caitlin Kiernan’s The Aubergine Alphabet and Jonathan Hadken’s All The Wasted Heat, two very different vignette collections that have got me thinking about the potential of the form and how it could be used. Hadken’s collection is a series of prose-poems about Brisbane, recommended to me by my friend Chris Lynch, that sets out to capture a mood and a place. Kiernan’s collection is framed as a weird alphabet primer, far less unified in terms of its topics but similarly effective at evoking a mood.

While there’s definite the potential for interesting work in both veins, the subtitle on Kiernan’s book (“A Primer“) increasingly got me thinking about the potential for using vignette sequences to world-build other projects, capturing a vast cross-section of a setting and building up the mood. It’s not a unique idea – two other vignette-driven works I can think of, off the top of my head, are Hemmingway’s Movable Feast about Paris and Brett Easton Ellis’ second novel, which is all about Los Angeles – but it’s a method of world-building that’s appeals to me as a pantser.

What action do I need to take?

I need to do some quality research on the use of ellipsis as a narrative device, as one of the arguments that I’m making about the poetics of series narratives is the way they leave the reader suspended in the gap between story points. Each instalment effectively ends in an ellipsis, which puts pressure on both reader and writer to search for the contextual clues that will make the omissions comprehensible.

Patreon, Tools, Tactics, and Strategy

Patreon announced a change in its fee structure this morning, which has prompted an outpouring of tweets from a number of writers I follow who have been using the platform and want to process the implications. The change is being framed as a good thing for creators, ensuring they will take home exactly 95% of every pledge, but it does so by pushing the processing fee onto the donator and this has subtle knock-on effects for the assumptions surrounding the service. Passing the fee on to the pledger means a series of $1 pledges every month actually ends up costing a buck thirty-seven or so.

Multiply that out over a year, and you’re looking at an extra $4.44 a year to kick a little change to the creators you patronise. This might not seem like a lot, but for a platform that is built itself on the concept of huge numbers of people making micro-transactions, that’s a pretty big shift.

There’s a couple of general themes and concerns running through the discussions online. First, that this is a move to drive away the small, consistent donors and make supporting creators at higher rates more appealing; the second is how the fee will be applied to people who are supporting multiple creators, which Patreon has traditionally bundled into a single change; the third is what are the other options, with a recurring theme of people setting up paypal buttons in response to the news.

I’m intrigued by Patreon, but I have no real skin in the game. I looked at the possibility of setting one up earlier this year, for a very particular fiction project, then figured there were ways to montetize what I wanted to create that better suited my circumstances.

What intrigues me about this is that I’ve seen this process before. When it comes to monetising creative work on the internet, this Sturm und Drang kicks in about most digital tools and tactics as they start to mature.

I watched it happen in the gaming industry around 2005, when the platform that made digitally publishing RPG books changed the fees it charged for the first time. Another round followed not long after, when a viable contender to the reigning heavyweight platform emerged, and they changed policies to secure their business (and encourage people to stay exclusive to their store); then again, not long after, when they sought to move the smaller presses with a handful of products out of a crowded marketplace in order to make their site appealing to the major players.

I’ve watched it repeatedly, over the last few years, as Amazon rolled out tools like KDP select, then began altering the ways in which the payments were determined.

Heck, I’ve watched it in publishing generally, where the venerable tools for getting a book out there and connecting with readers started opening up and asking people to think about what’s the best way to achieve what you want to achieve in writing. Prior to ebooks and the internet, that was barely a question.

ON TOOLS, TACTICS, STRATEGY, & DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

In 2009’s BookLife, Jeff VanderMeer’s outstanding book on the strategies and survival tips for the writing life, he breaks down the basic problem between tactical and strategic thinking:

Because writers often work organically and hate doing mechanical things like detailed novel outlines, they sometimes also shy away from creating actual lists of long-term and short-term career goals. Instead, many of colleagues have daily, weekly, or monthly “to do” lists that help keep them focused but also keep them stuck thinking in tactical mode, which makes it hard to engage strategic thinking. Yes, you know what you want or need to do for the next thirty years, but what about for the year? What about for the next five years? How do your daily/weekly/monthly tasks feed into a short-term goals, and how do your short-term goals feed into your long term goals?

In really simple terms, strategy is the overall vision of what you’re trying to do and tactics are the plans you use to get there. The latter should be in service of the former, but a good strategic vision means you’ve got a level of flexibility in how you’re getting there. It’s a similar insight offered by by Neil Gaiman’s conception of goals as a distant mountain you keep moving towards, rather than a map, and one of the reasons I advocate people getting out of the habit of assuming publication is their goal.

What’s interesting about living in the age of digital disruption is the tendency for people to produce tools that make new tactics viable. There is nothing particularly new about Patreon’s core strategy – going out to you fans has always been a tactical method of monetising art, as seen by the history of patronage and the existence of professional street performers. What limited that idea, in terms of making a viable amount of money, was access to enough fans with sufficient wealth and desire to support your work. The internet has made that access possible, and the crowd-funding model that Patreon built off meant you needed a large number of people willing to donate very little, rather than a handful of people willing to donate a lot.

This same thing is true of the ebook boom, and kindle unlimited borrow payments, and any number of other digital tools. Even something as simple as “create an online author platform.”

All tools evolve: once upon a time we hammered shit in with rocks, then someone invented the hammer; after everyone used the hammer, someone invented the nail-gun. The problem with the emergence of a new tool, which opens up a previously unviable tactic, is the ease with which it becomes assumed that it’s an unchanging, long-term strategy. One’s approach to making an income becomes tailored to the toolkit they’re working with, and it feels like the rug is pulled out from underneath you the moment the tool changes.

I’m yet to come across a tool aimed at creators that hasn’t changed and evolved as it matured. They’re all owned by people and companies looking to make their organisations viable, pursuing their own long-term strategies and applying different tactics. Patreon is four years old, and the last twelve months has seen significant buy-in from creators on every level, so it’s not a surprise that they’re adjusting their focus (although, looking at their rhetoric around the change, I’m surprised by the choices they’ve made in conveying that).

Good tools are seductive. Good tools built by people who are looking to monetise work on your behalf will always present themselves like long-term strategies because, as VanderMeer notes, they’re working with creative-types who don’t excel at strategic thinking and just want to get through the next ten minutes instead of the next ten years.

Moreover, the people building the tools are very good at encouraging it: having delved on the indie side of things for the first time in a while, I’m consistently impressed by Amazon’s ability to make it look like the upload process isn’t really finished until I’ve broken down and put my books on Kindle Unlimited. Similarly, while I ultimately decided against a Patreon, I’m consistently impressed by the way they sell their services to those who have expressed an interest.

It’s hard not to get suckered in, particularly when there are early adopters who are doing great and the approach feel revolutionary. I’m pretty sure every creative has one experience with it – I learned it the hard-way in my RPG ebook publishing days, when the consequences of building my tactics around the habits of just one sales site bit me in the arse just as I got my press established – but the response is the important part.

Railing at the folks who changed the tool feels great in the short-term, and may even have results and get things reversed for a time, but even if that happens it’s never quite the same. You’ve just seen the shift in their thinking, and you find yourself fretting about what happens if it changes again. The people engaging with that tool have just seen the same.

You no longer get to make tactical decisions on autopilot, which means folks either learn to think strategically and adapt, accept that they’ll do what they’ve always done and there will probably be less, or give up because it’s just too hard to keep going.

Only one of those is a truly sustainable option, but it’s also the hardest of them if you’re not used to thinking in those terms.

 

Horn & Bleed on sale at Twelfth Planet Press

So I’d ordinarily show up here and talk up The Birdcage Heart and Other Strange Tales, given that it’s the new kid on the block right now, but we’re heading into the holiday season and ebooks aren’t particularly good presents to give people.

On the other hand, I have written some print books and right now the publisher who backed Horn and Bleed is having a sale where you can pick up both novellas for $15 dollarydoos. If your’e still after a copy (or just want to traumatize your loved ones this Christmas), head on over to the Twelfth Planet Press website

Things I Was Thinking About at 3:30 AM This Morning

It’s 3:30 AM and the insomnia has set in, creeping in behind a mild anxiety moment that hit about six hours ago.

It’s 3:30 AM and the night sky is a dark, luscious shade of indigo that sits above the darker silhouettes of trees and houses and hills. It’s 3:30 AM and I wish the camera on my phone wasn’t broken, so I could distract myself with the attempt to photograph the darkness.

It’s 3:30 AM and everyone on social media is recommending Safia Samatar’s essay about Why You Left Social Media, but it’s not 3:30 AM when you read this and if you were asleep then it’s possible you missed it, and so I’m going to link it here because it is quite extraordinary and maybe you missed it while you slumbered.

It’s 3:30 AM and the guinea pigs are rummaging through their hay, unbothered by my presence on the couch with a clicking laptop.

It’s 3:30 AM and the apartment is cool and pleasant, courtesy of the the air conditioners stripping the muggy heat out of the humid air.

It’s 3:30 AM and I’ve been reading James Patterson books. It’s 3:30 AM and I need to urinate, but the bathroom is next to the bedroom where my partner sleeps, and I do not want to wake here unless I have no other choice, and I do not need to pee so bad. Not yet. I’m happy for her to keep slumbering.

It’s 3:30 AM and the world is magic, but magic isn’t always pleasant and it isn’t always useful.

It’s 3:30 AM and i scare myself with the thought that some lies in wait, hunkered down behind my couch, armed and seeking to do me ill. I fret about the fragility of the barricades separating me from the outside world. i scare myself with the thought of what may be lurking on the tile floor, waiting for my bare feet to come past, and so I rest my heels on the coffee table.

I should turn a light on, but that’s not going to happen.

It’s 3:30 AM and I’m appreciating the irony, given that I tweeted a link to an article about what to do when you cannot sleep about nine hours ago. Maybe people will find it useful? It hasn’t helped me much, even though I came back and read the advice.

It’s 3:30 AM and I’m weirdly content in my insomnia, taking pleasure in being awake when there is no-one else around. Enjoying the quiet and the world that is made small by darkness, contracting down to the light of a laptop screen and an overly busy mind.

It’s not 3:30 AM anymore. It’s 3:49 AM and counting.

It’s 3:30 AM and I shouldn’t be trusted with a keyboard, for the typos come thicker and my editing is weaker. I will mistype simple words and fail to correct them.

It’s 3:30 AM and I’m muttering Pink Floyd lyrics, stuck on the phrase is there anybody out there. 

It’s 3:51 now. 3:52. 3:58. 3:59. Sleep is coming no closer.

 

 

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still working on my thesis chapter, and putting some serious work into the draft for the second Brain Jar book, You Do’t Want to Be Published, which is a collection of blog posts and articles about writing. The main task this week is going through and making sure everything in the collection makes sense once removed from the original context, then doing some ‘directors commentary’ around each.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow is one of the more light-hearted Heyer novels that we’ve read for book club, but it’s also delightful and a slight shift in the usual expectations that I tend to bring to her work. Great, bantering dialogue and a surprisingly complex mystery plot lie at the heart of the book’s appeal – it’s possible this is going on my list of novels I use to introduce people to Heyer (or, at least, a close second or third book to solidify their appreciation).

What action do I need to take?

I need to go do some work on the Brain Jar website, getting The Birdcage Heart information upon the page and setting up a news page where things can be announced.

5 Reasons to Go Buy The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales This Week

So this book I’ve been banging on about is finally out in all it’s digital glory. For those who have just arrived on this blog, or keep losing to goldfish when challenging them to memory games, I’m referring to this book:

“Only Peter M. Ball’s fiction makes falling down the rabbit hole feel like flying. Funny and surprising, with moments of extraordinary grace.” Angela Slatter, Author of the World Fantasy Award-winning The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

Click Here To Purchase From Your Preferred Digital Retailer

It contains twelve short stories, all in the slipstream/magic realism/fantasy line, all of them written by me. If that’s enough to convince you that it’s a must-have item, you can go ahead and click on the link above to acquire your copy. If you’re still up in the air, I’m going to dedicate the rest of this post to convincing you that The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales is worth parting with your hard-earned bucks.

Without further ado:

Five Reasons You Should Go Buy The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales This Week

ONE: TWO NEW STORIES THAT NO-ONE HAS EVER SEEN (AND ONE THAT IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO TRACK DOWN)

Ten of the stories in this collection have been previously published. A large chunk of those were published online, and thus remain available for reading if you are willing to spend some quality time Googling my name and hunting down the stories one-by-one. This is the nature of short story collections, which is why authors do evil things like sneak shiny, brand-new stories that no-one has ever read into the collection. This collection contains two: one is a tale of wizards and government bureaucracy, and the other is an short story I wrote to entertain Alan Baxter that draws its influences from Lovecraft, 80s action movies, and one of my favourite short stories in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.

I love both these stories and I’m really excited for people to read them, but what I’m even happier about is including On the Arrival of the Paddle-Steamer on the Docks of V—. This is one of my favourite stories that I’ve written, originally published by Jonathan Strahan in the late, lamented Eclipse Online just a month or so before the the publisher behind the magazine changed hands and Eclipse closed it’s doors (and the archive disappeared offline). Tracking this one down is incredibly difficult…until now.

TWO: YOU GET ABOUT 46,000 WORDS OF PRETTY KICK-ASS FICTION

I’ve written some pretty good stories over the past ten years. And yes, I know, check out the ego on me, but I’m not saying you need to take my word on this. I mean, holy shit, have you seen some of the editors and magazines who have published some of these stories? For your reference, here’s a short list: Jack Dann; Cat Rambo; Strange Horizons; Jonathan Strahan; Shimmer; Catherynne M. Valente. Some of the stories in this  collection have ended up in Years Best collections and on the Locus Recommended List. If you travelled back to 2007 and told me I’d sell stories to them inside of a decade, I would have laughed and thought you were crazy.

THREE: YOU LIKE YOUR FICTION STRANGE

Let’s be honest: I write odd stories. Much as I love a good sword-and-sorcery tale, they aren’t my wheelhouse when it comes to storytelling. I sit over on the other side of fantasy, hanging out with the slipstream and the weird tales and the magic realism.

There are no swords in this collection, but there are steampunk mecha built out of old shipwrecks by angry merfolk, clockwork goats used as pawns in a game of status between magi, fey that travel the world on paddle-steamers, and endless stairwells descending to god-knows-where that have become tourist attractions. There are stories about men with birdcages for hearts and small towns trying to stop the end of the world.

There’s a story about government bureaucracy and the people forced to work the desks, but there might be a wizard in it.

FOUR: YOU WANT TO SEE BRAIN JAR PRESS DO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS

Right now, Brain Jar Press is tiny. It’s me and a handful of software, some drafts-in-progress and a bunch of things I hold the rights too. The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales is the first release, but it’s the tiny seed from which all the other projects grow.

Let’s be clear: I have plans. Oh my, do I have plans. But those plans are adaptable, balancing long-term needs against the short-term desire to do things like pay my mortgage and eat. I’m spending the next week putting together my quarterly plan, outlining all the projects and deadlines I’m working towards across December, January, and February. Early support for projects like this justify putting a lot more effort into the things that come next.

Buying The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales now is an investment in future cool things coming your way.

FIVE: YOU WANT ME TO BLOG MORE

I love blogging, and I really love blogging about writing and publishing. It’s also a project that requires an enormous amount of time, which means that it’s the first project to get moved down the to-do list when paying projects (or day-job gigs) starts putting pressure on my writing time.

This means there’s a direct correlation between how well the writing side of my income is doing and how much I tend to blog about writing. Therefore, the easiest way to get more blogging out of me is to buy my books and put me in a position where I don’t need to go find a part-time gig to pay my mortgage.

I’ve looked at options like Petreon before, but I prefer to keep blogging for free and making an income from other parts of my writing.

You know, like fiction.

I really like writing fiction. And working on fiction, thinking it through, is where I start getting ideas for blog posts that feel interesting enough to talk about it.

So here I am, with this book all shiny and new, where a large chunk of the money comes my way every time it sells. You don’t have to pick up a copy via a link from the blog, but every sale is a little reminder that there’s an audience here on this blog that digs what I do.