More Interview Meme

Another five questions answered (see Yesterday’s post for the meme rules). Today’s interview comes courtesy of Lee Battersby.

1. 20 000 word unicorn novella, hey? What’s the follow up?

If everything goes to plan, a 20,000 word noir story about a PI and her magical-talking cat partner. I’m thinking there may well be more after that, depending on the kind of fantasy tropes I come accross and want to corrupt, but I figure the magic talking cat genre is the next one I want to pit the gritty realities of noir against.

2. Where is this writing journey taking you, ultimately?

I wish I knew. I’ve never really planned my writing career, just followed the chain of opportunities and challenges as they came along. For a long time that meant writing poetry, then writing and publishing RPG material, and now it’s the short story. Given that I finally seem to be getting a grip on the novella, which was the challenge I set myself back in 2007, the next step is to start figuring out how to write a good novel. After that, who’s to say? A large part of getting where I’ve gotten, even at this point, has been the result of some lucky breaks, dogged determination, and a willingness to make do with marginal employment in order to leave time to write. While I can’t see a day where I’m unhappy to continue that trade-off, it’s possible that one of these days I’ll be seduced away by the relative security of lecturing full-time or working another job to make ends meet.

3. Exactly what difference will being Dr Ball make to your day?

A few days ago Ben Francisco linked to the Aimee Bender authors@google reading on YouTube, and while talking about her process she mentioned the idea that every writer tends to walk around with “I haven’t written” stuck in their unconscious all day until they’ve sat down and written something. Certainly, I get that, and it’s usually joined by a big part of my unconscious that frets about the thesis. There’s a lot of tension between those two thoughts – not writing and not thesising – and the biggest change will probably be offloading one of them and being able to focus on the other.

There are smaller changes, obviously: get to tick a new box on the Mr/Mrs/Dr line when filling out forms; I get paid slightly more should I pick up casual teaching; I no longer have to tell potential employers that I study part-time. I’m not sure I can wrap my head around the larger implications beyond that – the horizon is far to full of impending deadline to look past it.

4. You teach writing, as well as write. What lessons do you give out that you never stick to, yourself?

The big ones are the most obvious – I don’t write every day (although I did when I started out, and I will when I feel myself slumping badly) and I frequently edit as I go instead of getting the whole first draft down. Really, though, I probably ignore at least two-thirds of the advice I give out in a class because I already know what works for me.

One of the reasons I’m interested in other people’s process comes from the awareness that my approach to writing is just that – my approach – and writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I tend to talk about my approach, and the approaches I see other people using, and the exercises I think are useful in figuring out what’ll work for you. When possible, I’ll even try and explain why I think an approach is useful, even if it doesn’t work for me (and, normally, I’ll try it out before recommending it).

There are only two piece of advice that I hand out in the belief that they’re vital and necessary – don’t hand in your assignments in a plastic sleeve, and the exclamation point is the work of the devil. I’m yet to see anything that convinces me that these two lessons are not sacred words to be inscribed on any writer’s heart.

5. Would you rather have sex with someone with a) no arms or b) no legs?

No legs, I think; I’m a tactile kind of guy, and I’m very fond of hugs.

It’s a Slow News Day, so you get a Meme

It’s the day after the Aurealis Awards and I’m basically running on fumes at this point (courtesy of an early start for the official recovery breakfast, an industry seminar, lunch, and a reading by Margo Lanagan this afternoon). With that in mind, I’m suspending any pretense of coming up with original content and embracing the ancient art of memeage.

The Rules:

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me!”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will post the answers to the questions (and the questions themselves) on your blog or journal.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus the endless cycle of the meme goes on and on and on and on…

Current Interview Questions courtesy of Jason Fischer (If you want to ask your own questions of me in the comments, feel free; I’m rushing the thesis draft deadline this week and the questions could make for a good warm-up of a morning)

1) You’ve recently sold a novella to Twelfth Planet Press, with the working title of Unicorn. For those of us who don’t know the sordid tale, how did this masterpiece come about? Are you looking at continuing the story?

Well, I think it’s titled now – the inimitable Cat Sparks suggested the title Horn at one point over the weekend and it’s the first suggest that’s gained any traction with folks who’ve read it since “That Uniporn Novella.”

It started at Clarion – Lyn Battersby mentioned that her husband Lee (who tutored our second week) hated stories about Unicorns, and I took that as a challenge to try and write one he liked. I succeeded, kind-of, but the idea didn’t quite fit into the five-thousand word story I’d put together, so the novella got written courtesy of some very strong encouragement from my Clarion ’07 peeps and the ever-awesome Angela Slatter (who pushed for me to get the damn thing finished and submitted two years after I’d finished the first draft).

There should be a second novella using the same character, only this time I’ll be tackling the magic-talking-cat genre.

2) What do you think about the recent spate of authors bemoaning reviews that they’ve disagreed with? What do you think about the practice in general terms, and when does professionalism outweigh a right of reply?

I might have missed the outbreak, but as a general rule I’m against an approach that can be described as bemoaning when it comes to reviews.

I’m not sure its possible to speak about the practice in general terms, although my first instinct largely comes down “don’t.” The ability to respond to any review without looking like a complete tool is largely a function of the writer’s personality and public persona, and I can certainly think of a few people who have been able to address concerns raised in reviews without seeming combative or defensive. Respect for the reviewer and the effort they’ve gone to probably has a lot to do with it, as does the ability to both pick your battles and trust readers to recognise when a review has got it blatantly wrong. The big problem in making a blanket statement may be that the instances of writers responding poorly and making things worse tend to be spectacularly visible, while those who have learned to respond well tend to pass without notice.

3) If you had to pick one genre or sub-genre, and only write in that style for the rest of your days, where would you pin your hopes?

Speculative Fiction 🙂

I find it hard to think of genre as something closed, to be honest, but I normally think of myself as a fantasy writer. If you squint hard enough, nearly everything I’ve written fits under the fantasy aegis somehow.

4) Who are the three authors that most excite and inspire your writing?

It depends on the project, but of late: Neil Gaiman, Raymond Chandler, Caitlin Kiernan.

5) If there was a televised combat show, where you could get a zombie anything to fight another zombie anything, what kind of zombie would you reanimate and send in to kick arse on your behalf? What stage-name would you give it?

A Zombie Otter named Giggles with a straight-edged razor clenched in its tiny paws. He’s not going to win all that often, but I figure his loses would be spectacular to watch (and who doesn’t want a zombie otter?)

5 things about today

1) Cinnamon-flavoured breath mints are *not* candy, and inhaling an entire pack like they are will leave your mouth feeling swollen and mildly burnt for 48 hours at least.
2) I’ve broken down and started writing a short story alongside the thesis. I wasn’t going to do that, but the reasons for not doing it are kind of moot. With luck, it’ll even help since I can switch back-and-forth between story and thesis when I get stuck on things.
3) You cannot make it rain by glaring at the sky and willing it to be so, no matter how long you give it.
4) Publishing a book that has one sentence punctuated with a triple exclamation point (!!!) is a sure-fire way to ensure that I will hurl it across the room. Including more than one in the introduction is grounds for burning. Always remember, exclamation marks are the work of the devil.
5) Aueralis Awards this weekend. See you there.

Waiting on the rain.

We’re waiting on rain here in Brisbane, which means the humidity today was high enough that even running the air-conditioner did little to diminish the raging temperatures of my study. I officially gave up on being productive about two hours ago when I started leaving sweaty fingerprints on any book I found. Now my plan’s to just lie on the floor, drink plenty of fluids, and nap sleep until I hear rain on the roof.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day X (yes, I’ve lost track)

I’ve always known that my flat tends to be warmer than the outside world. Just how warm was only recently brought home to me, courtesy of a thermometer reading in my study. Today, at 4 PM when I walked it, it delighted in informing me that it was 39 degreesin my workspace at present. Have now turned on the air-conditioning and am waiting for the temperature to drop before scrambling for words.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Twelve

Minimal writing yesterday (50 or so words), but that was intentional. While I’m still behind, I now feel like a rational human being who lives in a nice flat in which things are clean, rather than an angst-written PhD student who lives in a hovel in which dishes pile up in the sink.

Some random stuff, not really thesis-related, from the last few days:

–  New review of Dreaming Again in Locus (Jan ’09), courtesy of Gardner Dozois; I actually scored a short mention among the discussion: Straightforward fantasy (as opposed to horror, although sometimes the line is hard to draw) is best represented by “Twilight in Caeli-Amur” by Rjurik Davidson, “The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga” by Peter A. Ball (another zombie story, but a considerably more subtle and elegant one), and “Manannan’s Children” By Russel Blackford…

–  The Fantasy Magazine best story of 2008 poll/comment contest is still running – have you voted yet? They’ve named the top five stories in the lead after a week of voting, which includes the remarkable Watermark by Clarion peep Michael Greenhut. (On the Finding of Photographs of My Former Loves isn’t, but it’s such a strange and introspective little story that I would have been surprised if it was – I heartily endorse voting for Michael; his story is damned good). Also on Fantasy week, a non-fiction article from yet another Clarion peep, Ben Francisco, on the portrayal of 2009 in popular SF media.

–  Downloaded and read the latest issue of Kobold Quarterly; they had book reviews in there, including a quite spiffy review of Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, which resulted in a moment of pure wtfbbq? level of cognitive dissonance followed by a pang of pure adoration for Wolfgang Bauer and his crew for reminding me of why I continued to subscribe to what’s (ostensibly) a d20/DnD gaming magazine despite the fact that I’ve played but a handful of DnD games in the last year or so (and run only two session). Kobold Quarterly continues to be class act, and saddens me that fantasy fiction and DnD have become so separated in my head over the years that this is actually something I feel surprised to see.

–  If you ask how the PhD is going and I twitch, it’s probably because I’m trying to think up some suitable lie that will make me feel better more than anything else.

Not a thesis post, really.

Tonight Clarion South instructor Sean Williams delivered a reading at Avid Reader in West End, which seemed as good a reason as any to bugger the thesis and go listen to Sean read (awesome) and have dinner with a bunch of writer folks in the aftermath (ditto). This is tag-teamed with a trip into the city to pick up my ticket for the Aurealis Awards earlier today, which meant going to Pulp Fiction (at which point, because I was there and breathing, I bought books). In terms of swag, it was a good day to be at Pulp – Cherie Priest’s Not Flesh or Feathers was waiting for me, and will now sit on top of my to-read pile until the exegesis draft is done.

All in all, given that today was meant to get me away from the angst of the thesis, I’m not sure it gets much better than that. But after loading up on fiction and writer-talk, it’s taking every fibre of my being not to start tinkering with a story right now.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Eleven

So yesterday was a Nick Cave kind of day, full of bombastic self-loathing and the like. It might have gone smoother if I had realised that then, rather than this morning, and just put Henry’s Dream on repeat after posting yesterday’s entry. Instead yesterday went exactly as predicted – long periods of “I must start, I’ll do it X”  followed by internal recriminations about how stupid it was, following by long stretches of not-starting or starting-and-getting-nowhere and feeling agitated by the fact that I wasn’t starting. About 500 words ended up being done, so it wasn’t a total loss, but they’re messy and unfocused words that need thorough cutting and reshaping. I’m lost again, and hitting the daily wordcount for the thesis relies heavily on knowing the direction I’m travelling. Today I’m going to do something drastic and intentionally not do any writing; instead, the plan’s to read and cogitate and make some notes and deal with the glorious mess that is every other part of my life for a change. It will leave me behind, yes, but I’m already behind, and it may help me get back on track in a way that my current approach…isn’t.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Ten

So, yesterday. Oh, god, let’s not talk about yesterday. It wasn’t fun. Six hundred words and some insomnia, plus some word-count related angst (goal for day ten: 11000 words; actual words written: 6101). I have that awful, loomy feeling of things piling up around me again – not just the mountain of thesis related work, but of everything else that needs doing that isn’t getting done. It was the kind of day for which tetris, mindsweeper and other procrastinator games were invented – fortunately I have neither on my computer, which spared me somewhat; I have a freakin’ black-belt when it comes to procrastination, so I do my best to remove empty temptations like the above.

In lieu of actual content, I give you one of the best descriptions of the procrastination process ever, courtesy of Russel T. Davies:

“How do I know when to start writing? I leave it till the last minute. And then I leave it some more. Eventually, I leave it till I’m desperate. That’s really the word, desperate. I always thing, I’m not ready to write it, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just a jumble of thoughts in a state of flux, there’s no story, I don’t know how A connects to B, I don’t know anything! I get myself into a genuine state of panic. Except panic sounds exciting. It sounds all running-around and adrenalized. This is more like a black cloud of fear and failure. Normally, I leave it till the deadline, and I haven’t even started writing. This has become, over the years, a week beyond the deadline, or even more. It can be a week – or weeks – past the delivery date, and I haven’t started writing. In fact, I don’t have delivery dates any more. I go by the start-of-production date. I consider that to be my real deadline. And then I miss that. It’s a cycle that I cannot break. I simply can’t help it. It makes my life miserable.

My inability to start on time is crippling. Any social event – people’s birthdays, drinks with friends, family dos, anything – gets swept aside and cancelled, because there’s this voice inside my head screaming, ‘I HAVEN’T STARTED WRITING!’ I wake up, shower, have a coffee, watch the telly, go to town, buy some food, potter about, buy a magazine, come hom, e-mail, make phonecalls, watch more telly, and it goes on and on and on until I go to bed again, and the whole day is gone. It’s just vanished. Every single minute of the day, every sodding minute, is labelled with this depressing, lifeless, dull thought: I’m not writing. I make the time vanish. I don’t know why I do this. I even set myself little targets. At 1oam, I think, I’ll start at noon. At noon, I think, I’ll make it 4pm. At 4pm, I think, too late now, I’ll wit for tonight and work till late. And then I’ll use TV programmes as crutches – ooh, must watch this, must watch that – and then it’s 10pm and I think, well, start at midnight, that’s a good time. A good time!?A nice round number! At midnight, I despair and reckon its too late, and stay up despairing. I’ll stay that way till 2 or 3am, and then go to bed in a tight knot of frustration. The next day, the same thing. Weeks pass like that.” (The Writer’s Tale 2008: 55)

Every time I read that, I sit there thinking “yes, quite like that, actually,” except it’s not really. For starters, I’d use far fewer exclamation marks, and I’m usually pretty good at getting something written as long as I can reliably break it down into manageable parts (unless, of course, the deadline is self-imposed – those are always the first to disappear in the name of meeting external deadlines). For another, it seems remarkably dishonest; it’s like writer’s block, which is really just a way of saying  either I’m stuck and don’t know what happens next or  dear god, if I write this and it gets published people will read it and tell me what they think and it might not be good. It is a remarkably good description of yesterday, though, and my thorough inability to separate the next-thingness of the thesis from the overwhelming-wholeness of it. And, looking back on yesterday, I was both stuck and afraid of what happens when the thing gets finished, although knowing that helps not a jot when it comes to preventing today from mimicking yesterday, and my standard tactic of getting around this blockage (write something else until I come up with answers) isn’t terribly productive once you move away from the short story genre (same problem I have with novels, really). And yet, despite being behind, despite the endless hours of not-writing, despite the crippling fear, I look at the January 31st deadline and think, “sure, I’ll make that.” ‘Cause its impossible for me to conceptualise not making it, at this point, despite the fact that I’m not sure how to get from here to there.

So, yes, that was yesterday. I imagine today will be similar. And now it occurs to me that, one day, I really do want to do a paper that looks at the idea of procrastination and writer’s block from the writer’s POV.

28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Nine

The downside of yesterday: the writing went to hell and I started waffling again. This drives me crazy, so I stopped and thought about ways to get around it; the new plan for today is to try short, controlled bursts of wordage written over a half-hour to an hour with two-hour gaps between in which the research is pulled together.

The upside of yesterday: was finally getting books from the library. And eating cereal for dinner. And the air-conditioner, which saved my bacon when I got back from the library and realised it was 36 degrees inside my office at 4pm in the afternoon.