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).


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.


If You Have Been to GenreCon Before, I’d Like To Ask a Favour…

At time of writing there are about 50 49 registrations remaining for GenreCon 2017 before we hit the venue capacity. Basically, the conference is three-quarters full and there are still four months (and one ticket price discount) to go. Obviously, this is incredibly good news, but it’s also incredibly weird. In years gone by GenreCon’s have followed a very specific sales pattern. It may accelerate a little in years like 2013, when a perfect storm of guests and events sent sales into overdrive, but the basic pattern remained the same: sell out 50 Early Bird tickets fast; sales slow to a halt; sales pick up towards the end of the second discount period; then again as we approach the conference.

We’ve changed the business model a little this year. Rather than limiting the early bird tickets to 50 sales, we ran them for a limited time instead. That limited time was about half the usual period it took to sell out the Early Birds at two of the three cons we’ve run so far, and I actually fretted about whether we’d get enough sales to hit budget targets. Instead, we sold as many registrations in our first six weeks as we’d usually have sold in the first five months. Whelp, I thought, time to go into the post-Early Bird slump. I’ll fret about that instead. 

People kept registering. There are now more people registered for GenreCon 2017 than we had at GenreCon 2012, and I’ve allowed myself to entertain the possibility that we may be capable of selling the venue out.

And let me be clear: I dearly, dearly want to sell out this conference.

Two years ago, as we headed into GenreCon, I posted about the Magic Number every event organiser has in the back of their head. What I posted back then can be repeated, verbatim, and applied to this year’s conference:

I’ll be blunt: GenreCon is not a sure thing. It’s a cool thing – a very, very cool thing indeed – and the feedback from writers across the board seems to suggest that it’s also a very useful things, but neither of these things ensures there will be another one. This is the nature of being run by a non-profit.

The thing that ensures that there will be another GenreCon is the magic number – the point where we have enough attendees generating enough income to not only offset the cost of running the conference, but to justify GenreCon’s existence to QWC’s board of directors who are in the tricky position of being, essentially, the folks who volunteer their time and the folks who are ultimately responsible for the organisations finances in the eyes of the law.

Generally speaking, about half of these folks change every year. To keep a thing like GenreCon running, you need to be able to point out the merits of running it to a new crew of people – some of whom may not care for genre at all – every 24 to 36 months.

That’s what the Magic Number represents: the point where I can give the registration details, budget, and other elements to my boss, and she can go to the board and say look, for real, supporting this is a no-brainer. We absolutely have to do it again. 

We inched up on that magic number back in 2015, but we didn’t quite hit it. Two years later the future of GenreCon is just as dependant on a magic number, and we’re probably hovering just shy of that point, but selling out the venue will be a lot more convincing. It puts the conference into the kind of terrain where the risk-to-benefit ratio of running it is worthwhile in an increasingly uncertain funding environment.

And so we come to:


If you’ve been to a GenreCon, and you’ve enjoyed it, write a blog post about why you’re coming back for this year’s conference (or wishing you could come back), and direct people to the GenreCon website.Tell folks who might be interested what they’re missing out on.

I say this fully cognisant of the fact that we’ve been blessed with extraordinary word-of-mouth leading in to this years conference, and that even with the $35 discount between now and August 31, the registration fee is a fair chunk of money.

But, as always with writing events, it needs to be other people saying, this thing, this is worth it, ’cause I’m the guy who puts it all together. My authority on this matter comes tainted by the knowledge that there is a self-interested aspect to my speaking about the con.

You, on the other hand, the people who have gone to the conference before and laid down cash, you are dripping with the authority to recommend it as a worthwhile expenditure for up-and-coming writers.

I asked this very late in the day, two years back, and the extra registrations we picked up were largely the deciding factor about running GenreCon 2017. This year, things aren’t quite so dire, but I’m aiming considerably higher.

Because the reality is simple: Running something like GenreCon is a lot of effort, a lot of resources, and a lot of up-front cost, and the situations for arts non-profits means everything’s a little tighter than it was two years ago. With that in mind I want the case for GenreCon 2019 to be as goddamn convincing as possible, and that means knocking this year out of the park on every level.

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).


What am I working on this week?

Managed to rough out a first act for the novelette I started last week, but there’s a lot of gaps in the narrative. I’m experimenting with a particular approach to workflow at the moment – working quarter by quarter, revising as I go, so I’ve started typing up the hand-written draft and fleshing out the scenes that need it. Probably leaning a little stronger towards novella as a result, and my goal this week is to get the next quarter hand-written and the first act fully typed up.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m spending some quality time on the Inhabitat blog again, collating articles like this one and this one about the intersection of algae farming, architecture, and air quality. I’ll be on-deck to start drafting the first instalment of my thesis series next month and there’s an awful lot of space-based settlement involved, so I’m starting to think through the look and feel of the setting alongside the science of keeping humans alive in the vacuum or hostile environments.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I got a lot better at hitting a work/life balance over the last week, but I’m rapidly coming up against the problem of too-many-tasks, not-enough-time. There are currently three things I’m trying to cram into the 9-5 work day: GenreCon work, creative work, reading and annotating theory for the thesis. Getting the right balance is tough, and I still haven’t quite got it down yet.


I never really got the knack of outlining books, but I keep trying to do it. Notebooks are filled with rough sketches and scene ideas, documents pile up on my hard drive. I’ll boot up scrivener and diligently create file cards that work out my plot, step by step, along with the details about what will happen in the scene.

The logic of outlining makes sense to me, and I have the kind of obsession with story structure that makes the planning and deconstruction fun, but it isn’t the way my story brain works. I blame it on too many years of running RPGs, where your approach to narrative is 30% replicating the feel of big, iconic genre moments and 70% responding to the immediate input of player choices that complicate things.

I work better when I’m in the middle of things, looking for hooks to latch onto and take things in a new direction.

And yet, it’s time to start writing a new novella, and I’m sitting down to plan. Filling notebooks, sketching out ideas, figuring it out as I go along. The goal is to be done by the end of July, ’cause I want to compress some work habits while figuring out how my writing will work while accounting for someone else’s schedule alongside my own.

Places You Should Be: Angela Slatter’s Corpselight Launch on July 14

Angela Slatter’s second novel, Corpselight, is on my table alongside a fresh cup of coffee. I get to read this week, ahead of it’s official launch on July 14, because one of the perks of being writer is befriending other writers who give you advanced copies of their books.

If you’re in Brisbane on July 14 at 6:00 PM and interested in good speculative fiction, you should totally be at that launch BTW. There will be books and smart writers talking to smart writers, and a considerable amount of cupcakes.

If you’re not in Brisbane on that date, at that time, you should hie yourself off to a bookshop and pick up a copy of Corpselight as soon as humanly possible. ‘Cause it’s a great book, by a great writer, and we need more visions of a supernatural Brisbane out there in the world.

A post shared by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on