Coming November 30: The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales

I’ve dropped hints about this on Facebook and the mailing list over the last week, but now that the details are up in the major ebook stores it’s time to make it official: my first short story collection, The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, will be released in ebook on the 30th of November (with a print edition following in 2018).

PRE-ORDERS ARE AVAILABLE NOW

Rat descends a staircase that never ends, following the rules laid out by his guidebook.

Copenhagen is invaded by angry merfolk piloting war-machines crafted from old shipwrecks.

A musician with a grudge upsets the delicate balance of a very unusual seaside town.

The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales collects twelve weird and unusual fantasy tales from Peter M Ball. Within these pages you’ll meet an executioner tasked with killing a man who cannot be killed, a young man with a birdcage where his year should be, and a frustrated public servant trying to deal with an unruly wizard determined to prove his powers.

You’ll watch a relationship unravel as a young man’s former lovers are revealed to be creatures of myth, reminisce with the residents of a city overrun with giant thorns, and visit Isla Tortuga’s last, great house of ill repute where no-one is exactly what they seem on the surface.

Often strange, always magical, these stories will take you on a journey through love, joy, and sorrow.

The Shortcut Only Works When You’re The First to Find It

A thing I’ve been thinking about this week.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts to becoming a published writer. The default published writers tend to give is simple: write a lot, keep improving your craft, submit a lot, keep going. This is how many of us got our start, and its how many of us keep our careers going, year after year.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts, but it isn’t exactly true. Every now and then people do find a work-around to the old ways of getting published. They wrote a novel and published it to their blog, only to have it picked up by a publisher. They launched their backlist as ebooks after years of being rejected, and suddenly they had a massive career.

There are people who fanfic on Wattpad that got picked up, or they cultivated a project on social media, or they podcasted their story, or they did an early iteration of crowd-funding. There are dozens of stories about people who found their way around traditional publishing’s gatekeepers, and those stories tend to get repeated in every news article or review that springs up around their work.

None of these things are necessarily shortcuts, as they still require work and effort. They just took a different path to publishing, because publishing likes it when authors show up who can write, possess and audience, and come with a ready-made marketing hook. These people get talked about because their path into traditional publishing were exceptions to the rule. They are news because they remarkable, usually because they’re the early adopters who took a chance just to see what would happen.

The first person to capture an audience by blogging their novel was doing something unique; the hundredth person to do it will find that the shortcut was only faster because it was so rarely used. The thousandth person is basically throwing a penny into a wishing well and hoping it pays off. We’ve seen this trick before, and unless you’re doing it better, it’s not going to be the same.

Even if you possess the same level of skill and talent, it’s almost impossible to recreate that success by taking the same path the trailblazer followed. The more a path gets used, the greater the diminishing returns for the work put in.

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?

We’re two weeks out from GenreCon, so creative goals are largely taking a back seat to con management, answering last-minute questions, and whatever minor Brain Jar/Writing tasks I’m fitting around the edges. My main focus this week is making progress on the thesis chapter, and setting aside two hours a day to do some serious reading and annotating as I scan the key texts for quotes I need.

What’s inspiring me this week?

One of the projects I’ve got planned for 2019 or so involves writing in the late Victorian era, right up at the end of Victoria’s reign. I keep putting this one off because I can’t picture it in my head, reverting to Jane Ausen-esque regency trappings whenever I start putting the story together simply because I’ve got a lot more reference points for lie in the 1830s than I do life in 1901.

I mentioned this to my partner and she immediately started looking for stories and shows that would start to fill that gap, and this week we sat down to watch The Paradise – a BBC adaptation of Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames that moves the story over to England. The first season is an incredible amount of fun, visually spectacular and very sweet, although the second season embraces a kind of absurdity that only makes sense within the context of the show what with everyone engaging in elaborate plots.

What action do I need to take?

Self-care. And not the do-something-relaxing-and-take-care-of-yourself kind, but the somewhat harder lets-be-realistic-about-whats-fucking-you-up-and-manage-boundaries kind, since the combination of con-running, press launching, and upcoming PhD confirmation have moved me over from stressed to the kind of prolonged anxiety that means I’m spending about 70% of my waking hours in a state of fight-or-flight.

Old School

I am still one of those people who follows blogs through an RSS reader, setting aside a portion of my day to process a whacking great chunk of data from around the internet. My feeds are pretty carefully curated and sorted into categories, so I can narrow my focus down to writing advice, say, or SF Authors, or weird science stories that are likely to inspire stories. I still lament the loss of google reader and the google dashboard homepage which used to kick off every day with my email, feed, and project notepad laid out before me.

My feee contains approximately 200 post a day. On average, I read about twenty of them in detail, or open them up and save them in a file to process later when I’ve got the time. Some of those links find their way into social media feeds, some of them prompt discussion here or in my new email newsletter where I bang on about behind-the-scenes stuff, and some are just things that look interesting.

It is the nearest thing to sitting down and opening a newspaper every morning that I can think of in this day and age, and its already an archaic habit.

I didn’t even realise RSS feeds were a thing until my late thirties.

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.