On Signatures, Land Lines, and The Things that Become Anachronisms

I spent the weekend going through page-proofs of stories I wrote a decade ago, and one of the things that struck me were plot elements that seem anachronistic to me ten years later. The main culprit was Briar Day, which features two ex-lovers talking on the phone will all manner of chaotic things have them trapped in their respective houses.

2007 wasn’t that long ago, but it was still an age where smart-phones were just coming to prominence, logging on to social media still seemed like a shiny, new experience, and you could still set a story where getting news from a 6:00 PM report on TV seemed more logical than anything else. All the communication takes place through landlines, with no chance of knowing who is calling before you answer, and the story’s engagement with the more toxic elements of masculinity seems quaint given the rise of MRAs, GamerGate, and everything else in the years since it first saw publication.

Twelve hours after finishing the proofs – and talking myself out of rewriting the story simply because it all seemed so old-fashioned to me now – I woke up to the news that Mastercard is starting to phase out signatures as a form of credit card security.

It’s weird to think that signatures are going the way of landline phones, but it makes all kinds of sense. Signatures are a tool of a bygone age, in terms of maintaining security, and I can’t remember the last time I actually saw my signature checked when using a credit card.

Things move on.

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’m fleshing out my notes on the first chapter of the thesis exegesis, refining the first act of the thesis novella, and doing a deep dive on the planning for a Brain Jar project, Hell Track, where I try revising the current plan and locking things down the how-and-why of all the character actors.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’ve been continuing my reading of the hardboiled detective cannon over the last week, picking up Mickey Spillane’s first novel, I, The Jury. The book’s copy draws a connection between Spillane’s Mike Hammer and current character’s like Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely something too that. On the other hand, it’s a book that’s incredibly problematic in its depictions of psychology and pretty much anyone who isn’t white, male, and a cop; that’s the kind of thing that gets me interested in seeing how it can be updated and subverted in other works.

What action do I need to take?

I’m rolling through the to-do list for getting Brain Jar Press off the ground and realised that I’ve been shuffling the question of a web presence down the list several times. Part of me is contemplating just keeping it as a landing page here, on my site, as an interim measure, but it will mean investigating plugins since they’re not a default option with my WordPress theme.

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?

This week I’m revising the first 5,000 words of my thesis novella, do the paperwork for the American tax system that will allow me to get Brain Jar’s books into a bunch of the sales systems, setting up the options that will allow me to sell books here on the site, and putting together a plan for the first chapter of the theory side of my thesis.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m doing a lot of novella reading at the moment, nailing down the structure now that my brain seems to default to a 50,000 words narrative instead of 25,000. This week’s was Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers On Bone, which is a really nice blend of hardboiled detective tropes and the weirder end of Lovecraft’s cannon. The voice and the metaphors in this one are great, and I can see why a bunch of friends rave about Khaw’s work.

Incidentally, it’s currently available as part of an ebook four-pack with three over Lovecraftian themed novellas from Tor.com. I’ve read Agents of Dreamland already, ’cause Kiernan is one of my must-buy authors and the book is outstanding, and I’m halfway through The Ballad of Black Tom and enjoying it immensely.

What action do I need to take?

Man, so many things. I sat down yesterday morning and put together a list of 34 things that need to be done before the end of October just so I don’t miss something. The biggest task is going through all my bookshelves and sorting out books that can go into storage, books that are going into storage as “unread,” and books that are definitely staying in the apartment as I start making room for my significant other to move in. A lot of the choices are about figuring out what research/reference books I’ll need when, based on the projects planned over the next year or two.

Coming Full Circle with Brain Jar Press

I’ve spent the last few months preparing for my major project in 2018: launching Brain Jar Press and getting its first book ready for release.

I did my first stint with indie publishing back in 2005. It’s strange, looking back, because indie publishing hadn’t really taken hold in fiction publishing yet and I was still a few years away from writing fiction anyway. I focused on short, useful products for the D20 system, the open-sourced rules for the edition of Dungeons and Dragons that was in vogue way back then.

It taught me a lot about the difference between writing and publishing, and it shaped the way I thought about everything I did in writing after that.

2005 is another world, given the pace publishing moves at these days. We didn’t call it indie publishing back then – I set out to be a micropress, producing content by me and a small group of other people, and in the space of two years we managed to get out 50 odd products. I had a blast, and I enjoyed the process of taking a book from a raw idea to a finished product, and it represents the single-most focused chunk of time I ever had writing because I knew where everything I did fit into the overall plan.

I made a pretty good chunk of money, too, courtesy of some forward thinking and an attempt to hit niches that needed to be filled. The products I got rebadged after the end of the D20 system still sell, and I imagine the rest would too if the death of my PC and back-up drive hadn’t wiped out all the production files at the end of 2006.

In another place, another time, I’d have settled into RPG publishing for good and probably done okay with it. Instead, a computer failure forced me to sit down and replan my next few years, and I noticed four things:

  • First, the yet-to-be-diagnosed sleep apnea was kicking my ass, making it harder to focus on the business side of things. Since I wasn’t anywhere near being willing to admit that something was wrong, I focused on conserving energy.
  • Second, the writing was on the wall for the 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and the d20 system would lose marketshare as a result; this would result in some pretty significant shifts in the business plan and a lot of product rebranding, which the computer death made…problematic.
  • Third, I had just been exposed to the fairly toxic streak of ideology among some gamers that would eventually harden into things like Gamer Gate, and I was disheartened by the idea of writing for that audience.
  • Fourth, I had just gotten into Clarion South and was about to focus on fiction for the first time in nearly fifteen years, so it was time to pivot and try something new.

And with that, the Clockwork Golem Workshop shut it’s doors and I started writing fiction. Then I got a job at Queensland Writers Centre, and eventually found myself running GenreCon. I watched the rise of indie publishing in the fiction and non-fiction space from the sidelines, passed on what I knew from the RPG side of things to folks who came to QWC’s indie publishing workshops. I learned a lot from researching those seminars and following the evolution of the indie side of things, and I learned even more by comparing the way indie publishing evolved in the gaming space with the way the nascent self-publishing options transformed into viable strategies.

The thought of getting back into publishing has been around for a while. I started putting together plans for how I would approach indie publishing back in 2012, but that was three years before the sleep apnea was diagnosed and the upside of knowing the effective business models for indie publishing is being able to gauge whether it’s an effective thing for you, your goals, and your process. The thing eager beginners often miss about going indie is that it works best when you’re dealing in quantity, producing multiple books a year and building up a long series. It’s a business model that works based on a deep, readily accessible backlist. If you’re not starting out with that backlist – and most writers diving into this aren’t – then your first few years are basically building that list from the ground up.

In 2012, I knew I wasn’t going to produce solid work at the speed I’d need to in order to make self-publishing viable, given my long-term goals. In 2015, I felt like I was getting closer, but still wasn’t able to hit it. In 2016 I started looking at the changes I’d need to make going indie viable for me and my long term goals.

A few months back I put together the business plan and did all the paperwork for making Brain Jar Press an official business. Next month, on November 1st, I put a collection of my short stories, The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales,  up for pre-order.

On November 30, it becomes an actual book, and I gear up to hit the ground running in 2018. The things I know about indie publishing will come up against the thing that I need to learn, and I test the long-term plan I’ve been tinkering with for nearly five years against the reality of actually writing, releasing, and commissioning books.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the publishing side of things, after nearly a decade away from it. I’m looking forward to the learning curve as I figure it all out in a whole new era.

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?

The final phase of Project Countdown hits its end this week, as I finally get Brain Jar Press officially started and prepare The Birdcage Heart and Other Strange Tales so I can open it up to pre-orders on November 1 and delivery by November 30. This means finalising the copy, setting up the files for the print edition, and running through a pre-launch checklist to make sure I’ve got everything ready to go. It’s a bit of a soft launch, as I’ll be working on the press in earnest in 2018, but I wanted to get all the publication processes down before I moved on to adding new work to the mix.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’ve been reading volume one of the Shadow Unit project, which is a bunch of professional writers getting together to create fanfic for the best TV show that doesn’t actually exist. It’s one of those interesting not-quite-crowd-funded projects that would have made a lot more sense a decade later, with the existence of Patreon, and it’s interesting to look at how they’ve implemented the concept in light of my PhD project. 

The whole series has been online for a while, but I’ve been collecting them in ebook and reading everything that way.

What action do I need to take?

I’m due to show my supervisor progress on the thesis novella this Friday, and I’ve been distracted enough that I still need to do some final drafting and rewriting before it’s in a state where I can do that. I keep putting it off because I’ll also need to cut about six to eight thousand words out of the final draft, based on the wordcounts I’m meant to be hitting, and it’s frustrating to know that before the project is done.

When you run a con, you’re never really not-running a conference…

In the weeks before a major event, you never really switch off. You just power down for a bit, waiting for the next call where you leap into action and get things done.

We are five weeks out from GenreCon, and it’s my sixth go-around running a big event, so I know what to expect from this bit. I know that I cannot be trusted with an iron, because we’ve entered the period where I will just leave it on. I know I’ll climb aboard the wrong train and go 25 minutes out of my way before it occurs to me that I should be home by now. The nightmares have started and the constant, low-key adrenaline has set in.

People keep reassuring me that things will be fine, and I’m about 99% sure that they will be, and event like GenreCon is a lot of moving parts and this is the period where I’m not responsible for all of them. There’s a lot of handing off to others and waiting for news to filter back, and there’s a lot of points where people who aren’t familiar with the con start interacting with systems and processes.

This is the point where we start finding out what I’ve got right this year, and what can be improved next time. It’s the point where I am on alert at all times, in case I can circumvent just one more thing and keep it all running smoothly.

I play a lot of computer games in the lead-up to a con, because they’re relatively easy to immerse myself in when needed and put down when it’s time to fix something. I mainline a lot of TV. This year, I’m gearing up to run a D&D campaign for the first time in seven or eight years, and the sudden shift from very rules-light to moderately rules-intensive systems gives me plenty of things to tinker with when I need to keep my brain distracted.

It’s also a good time to learn new skills and experiment with my practice. Last time around, I switched over to drafting in notebooks after writing on PCs for nearly a decade. This time, I’m putting things into place to launch a micro-publisher going by the name of Brain Jar Press before the end of the year, the culmination of several months of set-up and planning.