Next Friday: In Conversation With CS Pacat

Next Friday I’m doing an In Conversation with the writer behind The Captive Prince series, CS Pacat. Details and tickets can still be acquired up until 6:00 PM on the 28th.

This is one of my rare public appearances in 2017, because I have been steadily saying no to teaching and presenting gigs for a little over a year now. I would have turned down this one as well, it not for two things:

  • First, I’m there as a representative of the GenreCon Ninja team, and I will always make an exception when it comes to flying the GenreCon flag.
  • Second, CS Pacat is incredibly fucking smart about genre and writing, and I would be an idiot to turn down the opportunity to pick her brain.

Spend enough time around writers and you’ll quickly realise that a number of them are incredibly smart when it comes to matters of craft and business. The trick, once you’ve been around long enough, is to start paying attention to the smartest writers you’ve met and listen when they start talking about the smartest writers they know.

I first heard about Pacat through one of Australia’s best romance authors, Anne Gracie, who raved about the rapid development of complex characters and plots. Then she appeared as a guest at Genrecon 2015 and blew people out of the water by being smart, articulate, and (lets be honest) incredibly well dressed. What cemented me as a fan wasn’t just her work, but the series of writing essays on her website which explore different aspects of writing.

Pacat is fascinating because she focuses heavily on technique. She thinks about the craft of writing, analyses it and pulls it apart. Looks for connections between the works she enjoys and the skills required to make those works.

There is an intangible thing that is present in some writers works – a sense of control that makes you realise just how loose some writers are playing within a similar genre. Pacat has it, and she talks about how she acquired it.

To say that I cannot wait until next Friday would be an understatement.

Watching Deep Space Nine

I never really jelled with Star Trek. The SF of my childhood was always Star Wars and Buck Rodgers and Baker-era Dr Who, which eschewed the exploration narrative neatly captured in Trek’s boldly go approach to narrative. They were narratives that seemed faster-paced, so Trek always seemed slow, and I lived in places where SF fans were rare, so I never found a community to get me over the initial reluctance to dive in to Trek.

When you start off with a reluctance to engage with Star Trek, it’s hard to get over it because Star Trek is omnipresent. In the same way that Tolkien’s fingerprints are prominently smudged over all forms of fantasy, Star Trek is the runaway cultural phenomenon that identifies SF in television land. For decades, “more like Trek” was regarded as a strength in a TV show, even when it wasn’t dramatically appropriate.

If you made your show more like Trek, the SF fans would show up. Market-share without any effort. Throw in an analogue to Star Fleet, Vulcans, Holodecks, and Klingons, and you could focus on getting the elusive casual fans without thinking about how to do anything new that would excite the SF faithful. It became rare that I’d find shows that really spoke to me, for a while. Even the shows I came to watch regularly, like Babylon 5, had more to do with friends pitching it as “they’re doing something interesting with the writing” than “it’s great SF.”

The one exception to my Trek-aversion was Deep Space Nine. I watched the final two seasons years ago, when I was ill and bedridden and there was a video store next to the doctor’s surgery. I hired out every episode they have on video cassette to fill the hours when I was going to be on the couch and unable to move. I was won over by by the episode Far Beyond the Stars, and the fact that I’d finished watching all the Babylon 5 videos the store had in stock.

I enjoyed those seasons, but I never felt the need to go back and fill in the seasons before it. First, because the store didn’t stock those videos. Second, because I had the feeling it would be more like Star Trek than I wanted.

Earlier this week I started watching DS9 from the beginning. Watching Benjamin Sisko with hair, and without a beard. All the flashes of the things I’ll eventually like in the series, mixed in with the Trek tropes I’m not that big a fan of. It’s an interesting look at how a series evolves, which is giving me thoughts when it comes to the thesis.

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’ll be doing some pre-writing for the thesis novella I’ll be writing in August, getting down a bunch of vignettes where Is tart to nail the voice and the central character, plus outlining some ideas for all the works in the series so they’ll serve as a unified whole.

I’ll also be writing the second quarter of the current novella, where the investigation truly begins.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I read Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, which is a how-to-write-a-novel book that earns its distinction between putting a whole lot of attention on the internal conflict that drives a character (and really fleshing out why it’s important). I’m not always 100% on board with the approach the book is taking, but the thinking behind it is incredibly interesting and immediately started shaping my thinking about the thesis project that will be dealing with characters who are iconic rather than dramatic.

It’s possible a fairly rich seam has just opened up in the thesis chapter I’m writing as a result of that, but I’m still puzzling my way through the realisations.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I got halfway through hammering out my business plan for the next two-to-three years last week, then allowed myself to start getting distracted by unknown variables within the plan and external demands on my time. I really should go back and finish things properly, if only so I’ve got a reliable measure of what “a good day’s work” actually means over the next few years.

Thinking Ahead

I just put a full slate of 2018 deadlines up on a whiteboard. With the first semester of my PhD over I’ve had a little time to start thinking about writing work again, and the presence of a significant other in my life has generated a lot more focus on my long-term strategies and short-term tactics than I’ve managed in a long while. There is something about having to tell someone else about your day that makes it easier to navigate the garden of forking paths that make up a writing career.

Also, rule one, when you’re a writer in any kind of relationship: do not be a wanna-be heavy metal bassist sponging off a series of significant others. Which seems unfair to a number of heavy metal bassists who work incredibly hard at their art, but it’s John Scalzi’s metaphor, not mine.

July is also a useful month for taking stock – looking at what’s worked for the past six months, figuring out what goals I set for myself that need to be shed. And planning a year ahead tells me what I need to be doing now, in terms of processes and research and getting shit done to clear the decks ahead of time.

There are lots of westerns in my near future. And I probably need to re-watch Death Race at some point.

The Evolution of An Idea I’m Totally Not Going To Pursue, Honest

Me at 9 AM yesterday, a week after watching a trashy 80s movie: Goddamnit, Rad totally wasted a great name. Their Helltrack was totally not helltracky.

Me at 11 AM yesterday: You know what would be funny? A version of hell track that blends cyberpunk and occultism, where demonic corporations are fought by cyborg X-gamers in a bizarre race track.

Me at a 3:00 PM yesterday: Goddammit, so that’s going on the potential project list.

Me at 6:00 PM yesterday:

Me, this morning: I am totally not sold on Ragetrack, but I think I know how to make the others work as a series.

Brain Popcorn, July 11 2017 Edition

  • It’s eight-thirty nine in the evening as I write this. It’s cold and I’m not wearing socks and my life is far, far better than I deserve right now.
  • My brain is mushy as hell thanks to spending the last eight hours writing a plan for a novella so detailed that it’s approximately one-quarter of the novellas total word-count, because I will figure out this planning thing if it kills me.
  • I also spent far more of my day researching the processes of dry cleaning than you would expect given how relevant it is to my overall story.
  • Yesterday Roxanne Gay posted How to Be A Contemporary Writer over on Tumblr – a post about being a writer that is so on-point and common sense that it should be read by everyone, and will be ignored by all the people who should be paying the most attention.
  • It’s been over a year since I taught a writing workshop or conducted a seminar, and it seems that I am unlikely to break this streak any time in the next six months. I am scheduled to host an In Conversation with CS Pacat on the 28th of July, though, and she’s running a two-day workshop on Writing Fantasy for Queensland Writers Centre starting on the 29th. Pacat is one of the smartest, most interesting writers I’ve come across in recent years and if you’re an aspiring fantasy writer in Brisbane I really recommend that workshop.
  •  I asked people to speak about their GenreCon experience yesterday and lo, people spoke out. Thanks to everyone who did so – there was a nice healthy spike in registrations over the last twenty-four hours. To everyone who is still thinking about it – there is also a nice, healthy chunk of registrations still waiting to be sold, and the social proof of other people saying “yo, this con is great” definitely beats out me saying it.
  • Angela Slatter’s book launch for Corpselight is this Friday. You should totally come.