Works in Progress

Posts where I talk about stories, novels, and other projects as they’re in the process of being created

Some Process Notes on the GenreCon Program

We’re aiming to get the full GenreCon program out by the end of the month, which means the first few weeks of August are dominated by putting panels together and then pulling them apart and putting new things in their place. It’s the most exciting part of the gig in many ways, which means it takes very little to flip the switch and transform that excitement into anxiety. I have spent the last week taking changes in my plans very poorly and being more irritable than normal.

Part of it is because I made a mistake. We were aiming for major program announcements in the middle of August, which is a perfectly sensible date based upon the timeline for print production, but does mean we’re going to spend two weeks trying to confirm speakers when a sizable portion are in Helsinki for Worldcon or hitting Brisbane for the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference.

The vast majority of people will respond fast despite being on the road, but there is always the sizable portion who prove to be slow to respond to email at the best of times. By the time we hit the end of August and the last few stragglers are being prodded, I will be huddled under a desk sticking pins into dolls and cursing their names in all the ways I can think of.

Of course, I am currently ignoring emails as I type this, so it’s not like I don’t understand how tings get to this situation.

That said, the program is in a pretty good shape. I’ve got the basic brief and copy for 14 of the 16 discussion programs locked down so we can start confirming participants, but the final two aren’t coming together. The gist of the idea is there, but I’m trying to figure out how to make the idea clear enough that people understand it and sexy enough that they want to go see the topic.

My basic rule of thumb for a topic is always: what action can a writer take away from this panel and apply to their writing/career with immediate benefits?” If I cannot see that action yet, the topic isn’t quite right and needs to be re-thought.

 

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:

THE FAVOUR I ASK OF YOU

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).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Two weeks until I have to hand in my thesis prospectus, and I’m about a third of the way through my draft at the time of posting. I’ve more-or-less admitted that nothing else is being done until I clear this as the major project that is stressing me out, which unfortunately includes drafting the short talk I’m meant to be doing Friday.

Short version: if you need me this week, I’ll be hip-deep in genre theory and thesis planning.

What’s inspiring me this week?

A few weeks back I had a heated discussion with Kevin about the difficulties facing John Wick 2 as a sequel, largely because the first film has a strongly dramatic, very personal arc for the main character that reminded me a lot of Die Hard. I figured the sequel risked being very much the Die Hard 2 of the series – all the same beats, with none of the emotion behind it, with the law of diminishing returns starting the slow transition from everyman to superman.

And, in truth, John Wick 2 doesn’t come anywhere near matching the emotional stakes of the first film, but it comes a damn site closer than many other franchises could manage and the way they’ve set that up is fascinating. It remains a film that is at its best when the action is small and intimate, focused on the consequences of John’s actions and choices on him and his circle of allies. It’s at its worst when it goes big, exploring the larger mythology of the world presented in the first film, which transforms the central character from a bogeyman walking among mortals into a bogeyman walking among gods. At one part he becomes, metaphorically speaking, bulletproof, and that’s a misstep that stops an incredibly good sequel from being a thematically great sequel.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

This is one that I don’t like to admit, but over the last week my oh-shit-I-have-a-deadline instincts saw me ignore a lot of the basic habits that have kept me relatively even for the last twelve months or so. This kinda hit a boiling point on Friday, when I was running on three hours sleep and on the jangly, anxious side when interacting with people.

The upside is realising what was happening much, much earlier than usual, but it does mean that this week basic self-care (and regular sleep/work hours) go back on the menu, no matter what.

Breakfast

This morning I woke up, went over to the Low Road Cafe,and ate a tasty breakfast of avocado on toast. Then I drank an industrial-sized mug of coffee while critiquing a friends story, made some notes about what I’m going to write today, and generally felt good about my life.

I’m pondering this at the moment, because one of the questions that routinely appears on any test for depression is Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? and my default response, when contemplating that, was how would I knowHow do I tell the difference between things I enjoy and habits I’ve established to keep me vaguely functional?

It’s only in the last week or three that I’ve started being able to make that distinction between habit and happy again. But going to the cafe? Critiquing good stories? Definitely on the happy side of the list. Also on there: eating pork belly; going to the movies (who knew?); catching up with peeps.

Still figuring out where writing and blogging fits in there, because I’m acutely aware that my whole relationship with getting things written has shifted in a lot of ways. Not in terms of writing things – I wrote a lot of pro-wrestling fanfic over my week off, which kinda suggests I enjoy the act of writing – but it’s much harder to figure out what I want from writing after years of treating productivity as a kind of emotional band-aid.

I expect it’s going to be a very strange couple of months.

IMG_20160731_190758

40 Day Rush: Day 15

Went to write club today and wrote things, on Float, for the first time since posting last Friday. Not a huge amount – 600 words – but today it felt like a victory just opWord Countsening a document and peering at the ignored bits of story. Everything after that was a bonus.

This is, by and large, what Write Club is for. It’s the break in my routines that allows for a reset, when the usual triggers for sitting down and writing get washed away by circumstances or stress or rising tides of sorrow.

Also handy about today: realising that any time I do any kind time-based word-tracking project on the blog, it’s usually a sign that I’m really struggling with what’s going on in other parts of my life.

The last month has been ridiculous on a whole bunch of levels. Thankfully, it is time to start taking my foot of the accelerator.

PROGRESS ON FLOAT

40 Day Rush: Day 8 (Delayed)

The View from the Cheap SeatsI have read fantastic books over the last week. The first was Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats, which brings together about 500 pages of Gaiman’s non-fiction and journalism over the last few decades. I was not expecting much of it, but it blew me away.

I mark the books I really love by the level of jealousy they engender within me. I don’t get jealous of books that I like; spend enough time around writers, picking over the internal processes of plot and structure and language, and you’ll start to figure out certain tricks. The internal logic of good books becomes comprehensible, something you could probably wander off and achieve given sufficient time to study, write, and revise.

Great books slip past my defences. They get read with a kind of childlike joy, reminding me of why I fell so hard for books when I was a kid. Great books are still magic, in a way I’m not yet sure how to replicate, and I feel pangs of jealousy even as I flip through the pages.

Great books keep me up at night, because I keep reading and keep reading, devouring pages like they’re the only thing keeping me alive.

Gaiman writes a lot of great books, but I didn’t really expect The View from the Cheap Seats to be one of them. It’s essays, and speeches, and introductions from other books. It’s articles that have appeared, scattered here and there on websites. It’s stuff that has appeared before, if you’ve followed Gaiman’s career for decades, and read things as they’ve come out.

I have seen a lot of this, I thought. But it will be handy to have it all in one place, I guess.

And there are sections, tiny slivers of the book, where that is 100% true. I sat, and I read, and I thought, well, that was nice.

But the rest?

The rest made me jealous, in ways I did not expect. It made me want to write more, and write better, and find the magic. It made me want to go learn how to write essays that will break your heart.

It made me go back to the novella draft, peer at all that I’d done and was planning to do, and ask myself, well, how do I do this better?

Great writing pushes me, in ways I don’t expect.

PROGRESS ON FLOAT

40 Day Rush: Day 7

One week down. Things progress at the pace I need them too. After spending most of 2015 trying to write insane numbers of words a day, maintaining the 1,000 words a day I need to hit target on Float is easier than I expected.

The interesting part about this particular project is that it’s the first that I’ve done 100% on a computer since installing RescueTime, which means I can start collecting some data on what my writing process actually looks like rather than what I assume it’s going to be like.

For instance, I have spent 8 hours and 20 minutes working on Float thus far this month. I’ve spent far more time sitting at the computer, ostensibly “writing,” but RescueTime only counts the minutes where the file is active and I am paying attention to it. If I spend an hour at the computer, but spend thirty-four minutes checking Facebook, then there’s only twenty-six minutes getting attributed to Float.

My writing days are wildly inconsistent. This was not unexpected, but given that I’m largely spending the same amount of time at the computer, it does have some surprises. I was doing something right, on Sunday, but I do not exactly remember how I packed all those extra minutes into the writing shift.

Float Week 1

Interestingly, RescueTime also does a pretty need break-down on when I’m doing the bulk of my writing by tracking the time of day when the document is open. This breaks down the data from the last week:

Float Week 1_By Time

This time around, it’s pretty much what I’d expected. I don’t look for big blocks of time to write when I’m trying to hit a 1,000 word a day goal – I loo kfor multiple opportunities to sit down and the keyboard and get a little bit more done. I’m usually aiming for three shifts a day, doing about 300 words at a time. One when I first get up, one when I first get home from work, and one later in the evening after I’ve watched some TV and talked to people on the internet. Or, if you’d rather, roughly about the point that it occurs to me that I’m getting sleepy and haven’t yet finished my daily word count.

My suspicion is that the large midday block of hours is probably the result of Write Club on June 1st. I may spend some quality time looking at the day-by-day details tomorrow to figure out the pattern.

PROGRESS ON FLOAT

40 Day Rush: Day 6

There were parts of Float that start becoming scenes this morning. The early stage of a draft is always sketching out possibilities, laying in little bits of narrative that are obviously wrong, so that I can later come back and start figuring out the bits that bug me. This character is too passive, getting dominated by another. This scene lacks the kind of narrative spark that will make it interesting to read. All this is goddamn bloody awful, and you should probably do something better with it.

And I ignore all those things, for as long as possible, ’cause they are a pain in the arse to fix. It involves deleting things, and I do not want to delete things this early in the piece. I do not want to reduce the word-count, when that’s the metric that allows me to measure progress.

And, eventually, I break. I delete something and fix it. Give a character a snarkier line, so they’ve got a bit of an edge. It costs me fifty words or so, but I can make that up, with some focus.

And once that bit is right, it closes down other options. If the character is snarkier here, then they need to be snarkier there. They need to start being snarky in the first scene when they appear, so the snark doesn’t seem like it’s coming out of nowhere.

And, slowly, the problems get solved. Bits and pieces – little scraps of narrative where I try to lock down a beat or a character or a tone – get turned into a scene. There’s a beginning and a middle and a moment of narrative change. There’s a thing I start getting right, whether it’s plot based, or character based, or a scrap of the voice that works.

I may actually get the first quarter of this thing working, right on schedule, this week.

PROGRESS ON FLOAT

Wet Concrete

 

40 Day Rush: Day 4 and 5

The storm hit and it rained a lot. I stayed in bed, reading, an awful lot. When that got dull, I got up and wrote, and did exactly as much as I needed to, this weekend. Then I ducked over here to write the laziest update on the 40 Day Rush possible.

So how was your weekend?

 PROGRESS ON FLOAT

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

40 Day Rush: Day Three

I was at the grocery store today when my phone started pinging with me with notifications, many of which consisted of friends going hey, nice story. I was confused. I did not think I had any stories coming up this early in the year, but it turns out On Discovering a Ghost in the Five Star just went live over on Daily Science Fiction website, bringing together some of my favourite things: gyoza, laundromats, ghosts, and anger.

Daily SF is free to read, so you just have to follow the link. Which I encourage you to do, because as a writer, I live and die by the application of your eyeballs and attention things I have written. So much so that, if left to my own devices, I will wander the moors whispering read me…reeeeead me.

No-one wants that.

Of course, there are only so many things I can do at once when multitasking, and that number of things is generally one, so figuring all this out while in the middle of a supermarket largely means that I forgot to pick up a half-dozen things on my shopping list. And this matters, this coming weekend, because there is apparently a monster storm hammering into the East Coast of Australia tomorrow morning and it promises to be exceptionally wet and exceptionally chilly in my neck of the woods.

Perfect weather for staying home, writing things, and eating tasty comfort food.

And so I am loaded up with the fixing for glorious toasted cheese sandwiches (assuming I don’t want mustard), tasty sweet potato and peanut soup (assuming I don’t want it sweet), and tasty beef massaman curry (assuming I don’t want rice).

I foresee another trip to the shops ahead of me, this evening. Or some very awkward eating, while the rain falls and the wind howls and my chilly feet encourage me to stay in bed and order pizza instead.

But at least there was writing today. And more writing to come after this post goes live.

PROGRESS ON FLOAT

Also, just enough mustard left in the fridge to get me through dinner.

The Weekend Ahead Involves Many of These