Tag Archive for What I did on my weekend…

GenreCon 2013: The Aftermath

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So I’ve been organising a con for the last few months, and now it’s over. GenreCon 2013 has been laid to rest, the attendees have all departed and flown back to their home cities, and my twitter feed is filled with people either thanking me for putting the con on or congratulating me on its success. Which means my life returns, more or less, to what passes for normal around these parts. A least until October 24th, when I fly to the UK to attend World Fantasy and get to experience the whole con thing from the attendee’s side.

The internet is slowly starting to fill with people posting con reports. Some of the ones that have crossed my path are here, here, and here. This is my report, which isn’t really a report, ’cause when you convene a conference, you don’t really get to see much.

Perhaps a more accurate thing to say is this is a series of vaguely coherent thoughts and feels I’ve had since the conference ended.

One

Holy fucking Jesus, that thing ate my life. I mean, there are many projects that are all-consuming, whether they’re work-related or writing-related, but this was like inviting Godzilla into your house to snack on all the available free time.

I am seriously fucking tired right now. But it’s a good kind of tired. I’m building up to some epic napping in the very near future.

Two

In a lot of ways, I’m one of the most visibly faces of GenreCon online, which means I get a lot of thanks and gratitude sent my way when the social medias start firing up (also, this year, an ungodly number of free drinks when I hit the bar; this caught me off guard).

All this gratitude is great for my ego and all, but it’s really not fair – for ten month of the year GenreCon is a conversation between me and my boss, Meg Vann, and for the most part those ten months are the fun part. Once the conference date draws near, however, a whole gang of people come on board to make things happen, and their jobs are actually a lot harder (and way less fun) than mine.

This means there’s a series of people who are getting nowhere near the love they deserve from the attendees, despite the fact they worked their fucking asses off to make the con happen. I spend a lot of time thanking these people for their work, but it never feels like enough, so I’ll do it once again:

To Meg, who helps keep the good ship GenreCon running and helps me steer the mighty beast;

To Aimee, who fucking rocks the on-the-ground admin and masters the logistics that would take me hours to untangle;

To Simon, who refuses to be flapped by anything and remains a quiet centre of calm amid the chaos;

To Sophie, who promoted the hell out of things and worked through a wicked flu to keep things running;

To Megan, who worked booze-free at all the events that had free booze, and thus made the ultimate sacrifice;

To Stacey, who wrangled transport and stepped up to fill the empty spots in the schedule whenever they needed filling (seriously, *have a lunch break*);

To Emily, who switched gears over and over on the weekend, and managed to line up an epic series of interviews amid all the backstage stuff.

To Lizz M., who stepped into the breach more times than I can count, thus earning the gratitude of me and the entire QWC contingent;

and to Lizz G., who walked into the chaos at the eleventh hour, and held her own admirably.

Seriously, all of you, thank you.

You seriously fucking rock, and none of you get the gratitude you deserve for your efforts through the GenreCon weekend.

Three

I said this last year, and I’ll stand by it: when you’re planning a con, the quality of your talent matters.

For the second year in a row, we were blessed with a truly outstanding list of guests. I can whole-heartedly recommend Chuck Wendig and John Connolly as potential guests to anyone planning a writing conference – they were both erudite, thoroughly engaging, and exceedingly fucking smart presenters who brought a great deal of knowledge to the table, and I think almost all the writers who engaged with them came away inspired and ready to double-down on their writing careers.

The same can be said of our Australian guests. We already knew Anne Gracie was going to be phenomenal (I’ve been a huge fan of her advice articles in the RWA newsletter, and pretty much anyone involved in the Romance Writers of Australia is a safe bet when it comes to being a con guest), and the same is true of both Alex Adsett (one of the rising stars among Australian literary agents) and Harlequin Escape editor Kate Cuthbert (we met her at GenreCon 2012 and immediately thought, yep, we’re definitely bringing her back).

Kathryn Fox was someone we’d tried to bring to the first GenreCon as a guest (we were thwarted by email problems), so it was great to see here in the thick of things this year, enjoying herself amid the other guests. John Birmingham remained a laconic, entertaining presence at the con and delivered an image I’ll be hard-pressed to forget during the final debate.

I’m exceedingly sorry I missed Peter Armstrong’s presentation about serial publication, which my boss has been raving about for several months (and the implementation of his Lean Pub platform seemed to impress our digital team at work).

Four

If the quality of our invited talent wasn’t enough, GenreCon really thrived on the backs of over ninety writers, editors, and agents who volunteered their time to participate in this year’s program. In the end we could use only half that number (limited time, limited space), but it meant we could represent a great deal of diversity in terms of the genres and experience levels presented.

A whole bunch of people came to GenreCon and rocked it, for no other reason than because they wanted to contribute to the development of emerging Australian writers and help forge the kind of community that makes exists to help everyone.

Seriously, all of you, you fucking rock.

Five

The statistical odds of me attempting to write a romance novel is significantly higher than it was this time last year.

Six

It probably won’t be a good romance novel, but I want to make the attempt.

Seven

When you work a project like GenreCon, you get to see a whole lot of genre-snobbery up close. It happened a few times in the lead-up, whether it was in the abstract (people posting me articles about the difference between genre and lit-fic) or the specific (people making disparaging marks about genre writing in general). That shit, it royally pisses me off, to the point where my blood pressure spikes. In my world, if you want to write, you’ve earned all the respect you need to earn for your ambitions to respected. What you want to write doesn’t factor into things.

The reverse of this – genre writers getting snarky at the lit crowd – doesn’t happen in quite the same way, but it does happen, and it’s a thing I generally try to avoid programming stuff that’ll provoke that kind of snark when we put together the con program. For one thing, I like big L literature as much as I like genre fiction. For another thing, a whole bunch of the peeps I mentioned up in point two? Lit writers. REALLY FUCKING GOOD lit writers. I don’t want them to feel disrespected when they’re giving up sixteen hours of their life to make something run.

Mostly, we get that right.

This year, on occasions, we got that wrong, and it made me a little sad. I get where a lot of the anger towards literature comes from (I’ve felt it myself, in the past, and will no doubt feel it again), but the truth is writers are writers, and the vast majority of writers will find common ground if given half the opportunity to do so.

Eight

The next big GenreCon isn’t until 2015 and I’ve got a whole lot of complex feelings about that. Mostly, though, I’m happy we’re taking a break next year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love running the con, but if I’m being really honest with myself, I have to admit that this year has damn-near wiped me out when it comes to work stuff. I don’t have a good filter when it comes to doing things I’m passionate about, and that means it’s extraordinarily hard for me to come home and switch off when running a con. I may be employed four days a week, but I think about it twenty-four seven (and largely work that often well).

But it isn’t just the all-consuming nature of the work that makes me happy about the every-two-years plan.

It’s the fact that it’ll give us the time to do things better. It’ll let us plan the next conference and give it some more shape, rather than just resting on the things that have let us get to this point. GenreCon grew fast – we had about 70% more attendees this year than the first time we ran things – and sticking with that kind of roller-coaster doesn’t leave a lot of time for thinking things out.

24 months may seem like a long wait, but I’m already looking at ways that the extra time allows us to try some things that are completely kick-ass. We can take a look at all the things we’re doing right, all the things that are going wrong, and really take the time to deliver a quality experience.

And honestly, for me, 2015 will be here before I know it, and I’m already sweating the details of what the conference is going to look like…

The Anatomy of a Blog Post in 1200 words or Less

This blog post is written to support a piece of my Year of the Author Platform workshop that’s running for Queensland Writers Centre today, breaking down the anatomy of an individual blog post for the participants. However, since I’m a waste-not, want-not kind of guy, I’m sharing it here in case anyone else gets some use out of it.

Since my readership consists of folks who are enormously smart about this sort of thing, I’m also going to use this as an opportunity to grab some feedback. Is there anything I should be telling these folks that I didn’t? Any resources you’d recommend? We’ve got a team of hungry aspiring writers who are eager to siphon your brainjuices, folks, so feel free to throw your two cents in once we hit the comments.

Alright, here we go. Strap yourselves in folks, ’cause we’re going to get meta.

Things to Pay Attention To Above This Text

1) CATEGORY

There’s a handful of things to pay attention to above the first paragraph of this post. The title is the obvious one, but it’s also worth paying attention to the category that appears just above the title, “Blatant Self Promotion.” Categories are a way of sorting web content on an individual site and tend to be very broad – I’ve used this one ’cause I’m also being a bit cheeky and using one Platform building activity (running a workshop) to direct people towards another platform building activity (checking out my website). (Note for people visiting later: Categories may change as I overhaul my site in a couple of months.)

Category may not appear above the post in your individual site – its a function of the site design I picked for Petermball.com – but it’s definitely an option on most wordpress builds and it’s a surprisingly powerful tool (which, admittedly, I’ve mishandled on this site for the most part).

2) BY AUTHOR

Another thing that’s worth checking is the “By Author” section. This is a little thing, but its worth checking that you’ve created an account that syncs with your author name, rather than using the default names that blogging platforms tend to create. There’s nothing weirder than going to an author site and seeing everything being posted by “admin.”

Of course, if you’re reading this after the weekend of the 25-26th, the above paragraph will make less sense as I tend to keep “by Author turned off on my website. This is because I’m usually the only person whose writing and posting things to this blog.

3) WEB ADDRESS

This will only work if you’ve logged directly into the post, so if you’re reading this from my home page, click on the title of the post and come on over to the permalink.Once you’ve done that, note that the web address attached to the post uses the title as part of the direct link: http://www.petermball.com/2013/05/25/the-anatomy-of-a-blog-post

WordPress doesn’t do this as a default, it’s an option you have to set. If you don’t, then your blog posts tend to be identified by a number, which is far less sexy. This is one of those little things its worth double-checking, just like the Author, because it makes your site look a little cleaner.

4) POST TIME

All going well, this has gone live at 11:45 on Saturday morning, the 25th of May. I haven’t gone near the computer in order to make this happen, since we’ve been discussing blogging styles for the last two hours, which I’m calling out here ’cause I really want to highlight the power of scheduling posts in advance.

Things to Pay Attention To in the Body of the Post

5) THE HEADERS

See how I’ve broken things down with sub-headings through the post? These are a function of using the Heading HTML Code, which tells a computer that certain things should be be displayed differently (for the human readers)  and read differently (if you’re a robot scanning the web for content). Header’s become your key words and phrases when it comes to telling places like Google what your post is about. This is a really nice breakdown of how it works.

You’ll need to figure out how to set up headers on your blogging software of choice, but it’s generally in the dropdown options under “Paragraph” when you’re drafting.

6) THE LINKS

I tend to throw a whole bunch of links into a post, pretty much any time there’s something relevant or worth following up on. There’s a bunch of reasons this is a good idea, based on the discussions we’ve had about in the workshop about blogging authority and being a useful internet citizen.

7) THE REQUEST

Scroll back to the second paragraph of this post and you’ll notice that I’ve put a request for comments in there. This is because I like comments, ’cause comments have the potential to be useful as an added resource in a blog post like this, and because it gives people an incentive to keep reading.

8) THE SUMMARY

So one of the second-last things that’ll occur at the end of this post is a summary of what people have just read, reminding them why this sort of thing is useful.

Things to Pay Attention To at the End of the Post

9) THE REQUEST, REDUX

So that request I made for comments at the top of this blog post? I’m going to reiterate it down in the bottom, just to make it clear that I’m really, really happy to hear people’s feedback on this topic.

10) SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS

There’s a whole range of options for linking this post, quick and easy. I’m favouring facebook, twitter, and email, but the other options are there in the Share This section of the link salad at the end.

These aren’t a standard for every blog yet, but dear god, they totally should be. Part of my day-job for the Australian Writer’s Marketplace involves curating a bunch of writing and publishing links for our twitter stream, which gets a fair amount of click through. It’s a job that needs to be done fast, which means that posts I’m on the fence about including get dropped off if they don’t have the easy social media links to work with.

11) USING THE ARCHIVE

It’s a pretty basic thing, but when you hit the bottom of this post it’ll give you a link to the post that occurred before it and the one that’ll come after it. Basically, it’s there to encourage the reader to keep exploring and to make it easy for them to do so.

12) TAGS

The young sibling of Categories. Basically a chance to really break down some of the key components/ideas in your post and make it easier to see. I tend to have a bit of fun with my tags, but if you click on What I Did With My Weekend you’ll see how it works.

The Thing You Can’t See

13) META-DATA/SEO

And finally, there’s the invisible part of this blog post: meta-data and SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. Your site generates a fair amount of this automatically for you these days, but it’s worth being aware that they exist and have the potential to impact on the way search engines find data.

And that’s it….the anatomy of a blog post

One of the key things I’m stressing in today’s workshop is that blogging is both a publishing tool and an unfamiliar form for most writers, and when you’re setting out to learn how to write blog posts it’s rather like learning the form of a short story or a poem. You learn how to write these things by learning how to read them – looking at the way people have utilized narrative and form.

Blogging is just like that. Certain traits have built up over time because they work, but they also become invisible once you’ve learned them. This is an attempt to highlight some of the thing we don’t always think about, so the YoAPpers (as they’re known around the office) have a list of things to start paying attention to when they find blogs they like. It’s a checklist for figuring out why things that work may be working, or why the posts that don’t work are failing. 

It’s not the whole story, but it’s a baseline. If I’ve missed anything, let me know.

More importantly, if you’ve got some hard-won advice you’d like to pass on to new bloggers, add it into the commentary and I’ll pass it along.

So yesterday there was dayjobbery and tutoring and writing, oh my, with a side of doing the page proofs for Say Zucchini, and Mean It so I can mail them back to the folks at Daily SF and fix the various muddle-headed things I’ve done in the story.

Usually there’s something painful about the proofing process, mixing, as it does,   a multitude of how-could-I-be-so-stupid typos and syntax errors with the larger, more consuming fear that the story itself isn’t any good because so-much-time-has-passed-since-you-submitted-it-and-you’ve-become-a-better-writer-than-you-were-and-would-do-things-so-very-differently-now.

The latter part didn’t really happen this time around. I’m still fond the story and think it does all the things I wanted it to do, and the bits I’d do differently I probably wouldn’t do that much better, so they don’t bother me quite so much.

I’m not sure whether this bodes ill for the story or not, once it’s out in the world, but I guess we’ll see next week when it’s sent out to Daily SF’s subscribers.

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Last night’s writing? The skeleton for the first half of Chapter Three for Black Candy – I know how the scenes begin and end, I just have to write the middles – and some more work on Waiting for the Steamer on the Docks of V—, which is heading off in its own little direction and getting longer every time I work on it. About 1,500 words of writing all up, which is less than I wanted by more than I expected given I didn’t get home from work until 8-ish.

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This morning I woke up an hour or so before my alarm, and it was cold and dark and I wasn’t all that sleepy anymore, so I stayed up and idled away the time for a bit, just enjoying the warmth of my bed and the slow shift of light on the curtains and the occasional checking of email on my phone.

Eventually the world woke up around me, so I climbed out of bed and went into the routine. I danced around the bedroom to the Sisters of Mercy’s Temple of Love. I showered and I shaved. I ate breakfast and ironed a shirt to wear to the dayjob. And since I was up early, and more awake than I generally am, I finished all those things much earlier than expected, so by seven thirty I was standing around my living room trying to work out what I’d do to fill the next three quarters of an hour before I drove to work.

So I started reading The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales, since it’s one of the things that was handy on my living room shelves  that I haven’t also read in its entirety, largely because I’ve read a large majority of the stories in other locations.

I’d forgotten just how good Angela Slatter actually is. I mean, obviously I’d remembered that she’s a very, very good writer and I’ve recommended her to people constantly, but I’d forgotten that moment where, say, you read Bluebeard for  and go “oh, sodding hell, this is  brilliant” and go give up on writing for a while because there’s no chance you’ll ever manage something that precise and intricate and resonant. I know this because, the first time I read this, just after Angela and I met and before we were actually friends, I wandered off and tried very hard to do what she did in that story and ended up somewhere very different and nowhere near as good.

But that’s one of the ways writing works, I think. You just keep having conversations with writers who are better than you, except you do it through  fiction because telephones are scary and you’re too damn lazy to email people you don’t really know.

And now I go to talk about writing with undergraduates, whereupon I will try to explain writing in a far less esoteric – but potentially more useful – manner.

The Return to Sanity

So, yes, I’m back, I think. At the very least, I can compose sentences without cursing, which is a good thing, and my weekend was actually pleasant in a mildly stressful kind of way.

On Friday night I taught at UQ and went to my sister’s place to do washing, whereupon I was promptly fed delicious butter chicken (with bonus ham) and indulged while I ranted about my week. Afterwards we bundled into the car with a camera and a tripod and went galavanting into the night in search of the photograph of a somewhat spooky pedestrian underpass that will go with my next Flotsam story.

We found one by walking through a darkened bike-path through a stretch of scrub between Griffith University and the Highway. This process was made somewhat more exciting than it could have been by the fact that we’d forgotten to bring a torch, so we lit our way with the soft glow of my sister’s iPhone screen.

I think it was the first thing I’d done all week that actually counted as fun.

My good mood was ruined a few hours later when my neighbor came home and blasted their stereo at four in the morning. The bass was so loud my bed actually moved while I was in it, twitching its way across the room in that strange little dance furniture does in the presence of loud music.

I did not kill my neighbor, which I thought was very restrained of me.

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On Saturday there was a desperate attempt to finish this week’s Flotsam story, which was a) overdue, and b) overdue, and c) really, really overdue. If you’re getting a sense of the theme there, you’re probably understanding exactly why last week was so miserable for me.

I dislike blowing deadlines, even by a few days, and I couple this with a pigheaded stupidity that makes me incapable of admitting I’m going to blow a deadline even when it’s patently obvious that it’s going to happen. Couple this with the added dayjob stress and I spent much of last week in the red-zone, building up the kind of self-directed anger that’s best released by destroying a major metropolitan area in a pique-fueled kaiju-esque temper tantrum.

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On Sunday I was afforded the opportunity hang with one of my Melbourne peeps, Kapowe, who was drifting through Brisvegas for the day. There was beer and bacon and catching up and I was forced to torture him with stories about the awesomeness of my current Deadlands game which is rapidly approaching my favourite RPG campaign that I’ve ever run. We also spoke of books and games and his rapidly rising career in voice-artistry, which is one of those unexpected and unfeasibly cool things my friends occasionally wander off and do when I’m not really looking. (Edit: were I a good friend, I would have mentioned Kev has a shiny new email newsletter for folks who may be interested in voice-over stuff)

After this, there was Deadlands, and it’s not like I’ve been shy about how much that improves my week. Our games are usually fun, especially given something with obvious genre tropes like the western we can play off, but last night’s session my players went above and beyond to make with the awesome. Wild flying machines were invented, plots were advanced, characters were fleshed out and given unexpected new arcs. At some point I need to stat out a guy named Dressed Up Eddie, himself a neat piece of meta-narrative lifted directly from the works of Raymond Chandler, and I didn’t even put him into the game.

It was a good way to end the weekend. Possibly the best way I can think of.

And since I’ll be freed from the dayjob at my usual time, I think I’ll celebrate by doing some writing this afternoon.

What I Did on My Weekend

So, by my standards, it was an awesome but crazy-busy weekend.

Often, when my weekends are quiet and sedate, I feel like I’m letting the side down and I find myself thinking, “man, I wish I had a crazy-busy weekend, you know?” Then the crazy-busy-weekend comes along and I go along with the flow and then Monday comes and I wake blinking like a stoned raccoon wondering why I’m so tired.

I need coffee. I need to catch up on the writing that didn’t get done. And I really do need to schedule some more crazy-busy weekends in the near future.

The weekend itself is kind of squished together, a little, in my head. Things bleed into each other.

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Okay,  I guess the first thing is that I’ve been shortlisted for some Ditmar Awards this year, in both the Short Story category for One Saturday Night, With Angle, and the novella category for Bleed.  I found this out while having Breakfast with some friends on Sunday morning, largely ’cause I’d been light on the internets over the weekend, and on the whole it was a rather pleasant surprise.

So thanks to all the people who nominated me, and congratulations to the various other people who have been shortlisted. The full Ditmar short list can be found on the Natcon Fifty website and it’s a frickin’ awesome list this year.

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On Saturday night I sat down to watch the Evening With Kevin Smith DVD for the first time, which was basically as entertaining as I’d expected it to be after catching bits and pieces on youtube. Except for this one stretch which was profoundly uncomfortable, which is largely when a young queer member of the audience brings up Chasing Amy and how it contributed to a culture that made her life difficult as a younger woman.

The response is uncomfortable to watch. This is not to say that Smith doesn’t have some good points (Does no-one ever notice that the character who says “All lesbians really need is a good, deep dicking” is the idiot who is wrong about everything throughout the movie) and some that are straight off the back of the white male privileged bingo card (my brother is gay) and at least one that explains why he at least attempted the film that’s interesting (I once had a conversation with my brother about the fact he isn’t represented in narrative, and I try to change that).

But mostly  it’s just uncomfortable because there’s no real attempt to engage with the question before bulldozing through the answer. It’s one of those real I-had-good-intentions style responses that argues that good intentions excuse the faults.

And really, when you’re a geek, there are times when that does actually count as a victory, ’cause there are portions of geekdom that are scarily entrenched in their white-male-privilege and don’t want to let it go.

Which is why, a few hours later, I was really, really happy when a friend sent me the link to Bioware telling a white-straight-male to Get Over It when he complained about the possibility of female and queer relationships being given equal weight in Dragon Age 2.

There are exactly three computer games I’ve bothered to play for longer than 2 hours in the last six years: Total Extreme Wrestling, Blood Bowl Online, and the first Dragon Age. The mindset exhibited by Bioware above is one of the reasons why I got sucked into DA Origins for as long as I did. I’d talked myself out of Dragon Age 2, not because I don’t expect it to be awesome, but because it’s likely to be narrative crack that ’causes me to stop writing and lose my job.

That one response, linked to above, is probably going to change my mind.

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Okay, what else.

Saturday afternoon I did errands. I bought new jeans for the first time in about five or six years (which is one of those facts that’s readily apparent if you’ve seen the current state of my jeans, most of which have holes in them somewhere). In fact, since they were on sale, I bought a whole lot of jeans, which will cost even more to have hemmed (since I am not-so-handy with a needle and thread and thus happily pay professionals) than I did for the jeans themselves.

I bought some books at proper bookstores – Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres; Heist Society, by Ally Carter – then I went to my local Borders and watched the gleeful gutting of the stock by people who were all omg-the-bargins. It made me kinda sad, because I really liked my local Borders despite it’s flaws, and it made me feel sorry for the various people who worked there.

I still remember when they first opened the Borders at my preferred shopping center, and how awesome it was to be able to shop for books I actually read before picking up my weekly groceries.

I’ve already burned through Heist Society, which is just as awesome as Tansy Rayner Roberts promised it would be when she reviewed it on her blog. I would have burned through Burn Bright already, but this copy is a gift.

Sunday I went to Avid Reader and bought more books – the Collected Stories of  Gabriel Garcia Marquez (so I can read it at the same time as my dad), Motherless Brooklyn, and Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan.

There is something blissful about acquiring new fiction. Which probably explains my out of control To Be Read pile that’s taking up two bookcases at present.

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On Sunday afternoon I gamed with my Sunday Night Cthulhu group.

We’ve missed a bunch of games recently – due to illness, travel for work, celebrating the birth of one member’s son, etc – so there was something very comforting about slipping back into the Sunday Night Cthulhu routine, even though we’re not actually playing Call of Cthulhu at present.

One of the realities of being a RPG gamer in your thirties (and older) is that weekly gamers are supposed to be impossible, but at this point we’ve been gaming every Sunday for so long that it barely even registers as something as something remarkable. I can’t even remember when we started, although I’m sure it was prior to the first Gen Con Oz and a quick perusal of the blog sees things like “we kicking off the weekly Cthulu sessions after the xmas break” appearing in February of 2008.

Which means we’ve been going for about four years, I think. We’ve lost a player in that time, and recently gained a new one, but for the most part a  core group of four people has been there the entire time.

We played Cthulhu pretty much eclusivly for the first two or three years, hence the fact that Sunday is permanently branded as Cthulhu night despite the fact that we’ve slowly added more systems to the mix (Space 1889 for a while, currently Classic Deadlands which is proving to be 9 kinds of awesome).

Last night’s game, though. Man, it kinda reminds me why I enjoy gaming, you know? Undead revenants kicking the crap out of solitary gunslingers who got caught unawares; the entire team getting caught in a firefight against desperado’s who have the advantage of cover upon the ridge; a mad scientist coming to realize his blueprints are haunted because things keep changing while he’s asleep; the same mad scientist unleashing his flame-thrower for the first time, going a little crazy as he does so.

There is nothing quite so awesome as knowing I get to game with these folks every week, especially since we’re largely in agreement as to the kind of game we want to play.

Mmm, BBQ

S0 yesterday was pretty good day.

There was a delayed birthday dinner with the family, whereupon we set out for The Smoke in New Farm and ate our own bodyweight in American-style BBQ, then we set out to see Wil Anderson at the Brisbane Comedy Festival, and then because I was full of food and happy I stayed up to listen to the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast instead of going to sleep.

Somewhere in there the home internet was fixed, so I rejoined the online world, and I wrote some things. About 1 o’clock I went to bed and actually slept for five hours, which is something I rarely do since starting the dayjob and discovered that being employed is actually far more stressful and soul-destroying than being unemployed (who knew?).

So yesterday was a pretty good day, against all expectations, and tonight I make chili in the hopes that it’ll redeem today in much the same way.

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The Aurealis Awards short-lists came out yesterday, which includes all sorts of awesome news such as: Jason Fischer making the final list of the Best Horror Novel for Gravesend (and really, it’s about time the Fisch made an Aurealis Shortlist); four nominations for the inimitable Angela Slatter (both her collections were shortlisted, as was the story Sister, Sister and her collaboration with LL Hannett, The February Dragon ); Trent Jamieson making the shortlist with Death Most Definite; Dirk Flinthart making the list  YA Short Story; all sorts of love for Twelfth Planet Press up and down the shortlist.

I’m inevitably forgetting to congratulate *someone* in the list above, for which I apologise and offer a blanket congratulations go out to everyone. Full details of the list can be found over at the Aurealis Awards website.

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I read Ian McEwen’s Solar over the weekend, which quickly became one of those books that I’m ish-ish about. It was my first McEwen book and I found myself intrigued by the idea of the book after it was featured on First Tuesday Book Club last year, and while it’s got some beautiful writing and characterization it left me feeling utterly unsatisfied at the end.

Basically it’s one of those comic tragedies where you follow the life of an utterly appalling human being who’s rarely punished for their follies until the end, only when it comes the tragedy is so utterly weak that I found myself shrugging and thinking “really? That’s it?”

I mean, I would have been more satisfied if he’d gotten away with everything, which isn’t really really the kind of thing tragedy should strive for. Still, it’s an interesting read, and the narrative POV  is so hands-off and telling-oriented that I’m fascinated by the fact that it seems to work.

It just doesn’t inspire me to read more McEwen, which seems a shame.

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I keep forgetting to mention this and it should probably be something that gets a blog post of its own, but the latest installment of Flotsam is out over at the Edge of Propinquity website.

Why I Have Problems With the Big Bang Theory

I frequently find myself watching The Big Bang theory, finding it funny, then  hating myself for it. I mentioned this on the twitters and facebook yesterday, which immediately had a group of people saying, in essence, why, dude, it’s actually funny? And, yes, it is. There are times when it’s absolutely smart and entertaining, and I watch it for these moments because they’re a kind of humor that makes me happy and speaks to me as a man who self-identifies as a geek and enjoys being part of an active geek subculture. It’s a show that’s very, very good at doing that, creating little in-jokes among the broader strokes.

It’s also a who willing to play to deeply entrenched cultural myths about geeks and women, which makes me less happy, and in some points outright angry.

The default narrative of the show is generally one that posits all geeks are children looking for a mother figure and the bulk of the female characters with any depth are either caring mother-replacements (Penny, Leonard’s girlfriend from season two, Shelton’s actual mother) or emasculating shrews (Leonard’s mother, Raj’s mother, Howard’s mother – are you seeing a theme here? – Leslie Winkle, and ironically, Shelton’s mother due to her ability to countermand Shelton’s self-built idea of masculinity based around intellect).

The remaining female characters that appear in the series are generally there to be gratuitously objectified and competed for by the male cast, thus serving as a means of proving their masculinity and “growing up” (see Shelton’s sister and Penny’s friend from Nebraska) or non-idealized sexual partners who are characterized by their non-threatening naivety (Howard’s girlfriend Bernadette in season three).

The core cast of Male characters don’t actually fare much better: they’re infantilized by their interests, by their inability to get women (problematic, in and of itself), by their heights, by their familial relationships, but their inability to do their jobs correctly (Leonard’s research is derivative, Raj’s hypothesis is disproved, Howard fucks up every engineering prospect he comes up with), by their lack of knowledge about non-geek popular culture (I mean, really, geeks tend to know radiohead is a band). They’ve been neatly cut off from any traditional notions of the masculine, which would be fine if 90% of the show’s narrative wasn’t focused on three of the four trying to prove their masculinity through having sex while the fourth is determined to prove it through constantly being right.

Essentially the show strives to create a contemporary tribe of Lost Boys adopting a Wendy as a mother figure, except that only works in the case of Sheldon who actually is a childish innocent because the others all have deeply fucked up relationships with women (Which is not to say Sheldon doesn’t, but at least his relationship with women isn’t defined by sex).

We won’t even speak of the Howard-and-Raj-Are-a-dysfunctional-gay-couple thing they’ve started playing with. It was unpleasant-but-tolerable when it was a joke being played out in the episodes featuring Leonard’s mother, it was less tolerable when it became a recurring part of the narrative.

Yes, there are individual episodes where they seem to get it right. I breathed an audible sigh of relief the first time they introduced Stuart the comic shop guy, who spent his first few appearance being self-assured enough to flirt with Penny even if he exhibited signs of nervousness about the actual date. “He runs a successful small business,” Leonard opines, “he’s a talented artist. Not all geeks are like Captain Sweatpants over there.”

And I was like, “man, finally, it’s about fucking time.”

Of course, Stuart serves his narrative purpose, getting Penny together with Leonard, and the next time he appears he’s a lonely and isolated man who obsesses over Penny and  shares his Friday night meals with a stray cat.

And really, fuck that shit. All of it.

The show is largely redeemed by solid casting, the episodes where the writing is genuinely smart and interested in laughing with the geeks rather than at them, and very occasionally by the presence of guest stars from the cast of Roseanne (lets face it, any television show that puts Laurie Metcalf back on television gets something of a pass).

But beneath it all is a series of narrative assumptions I find deeply, deeply uncomfortable, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. Sooner or later they will hit the point where the stupid outweighs the smart, and then I’ll be forced to stop watching lest I throw things at the television.

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Friday night I went to check my PO Box and discovered a cheque I forgot was coming, which was kinda nice, then got home to the news of the Japanese earthquake and Pacific Ocean tsunami’s, which was less nice and kinda put a downer on the evening overall. There’s news on the latter everywhere at the moment, so I won’t repeat what’s readily available. There is, as always, Red Cross donations that can be made to help those affected.

Later, after absorbing the news via twitter, I paid far to much for the least appealing take-away Butter Chicken of my life, but ate it anyway ’cause, well, it was butter chicken. Then the news of the explosions in the nuclear reactor started filtering in.

I don’t watch television anymore, nor to I read newspapers, so world news and I have a very strange relationship. Information tends to flow in through the communication in online mediums – twitter, facebook, blogs, etc – which means simultaneously seem better and worse than they appear to be depicted in traditional media. There are portions of my friends list that are all lo, the nuclear Apocalypse is upon us, and there are those linking to things like this post over at Genki English.

I expect that if I were watching traditional media, I’d be a nervous wreck right now. At this point, I’m just watching the internet and waiting further developments.

This probably wont be my new author photo

Somehow people neglected to mention that I was having a truly dire bad hair day yesterday. I managed to ignore it myself, right up until I got home from tutorials, caught sight of my reflection, and thought “hmmm, that’s not a look I want to continue with, is it?”

For a while now I’ve been aware that I’m hitting the decision point where I either shave my head again, or settle in for the process of growing my hair out. These are, by and large, the only real options with my hair – genetics have essentially eliminated all other possibilities due to a weird series of cowlicks and a tendency towards ringlets.

I used to think it came from my mother’s side of the family, largely because my dad has maintained the same hairstyle since I was, like, four, but after his brief experimentation with forgoing the regular haircut earlier this year I learned that it may well have been the male half of my DNA that’s causing problems.

Still, either way, I’m destined for either short-haired spikes or long-haired scruffiness. They’re the only two approaches that have ever really worked for me (for a certain value of “works” which mostly includes being better than the alternatives), and I’m still not entirely sure which I want to head towards.

Expect I will flip a coin over the weekend.

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Two good days of writing in a row. Not great writing, but that’s fine, I’m writing first drafts and they don’t have to be great. But good writing, stuff that feels like it’s heading in a direction I like, rather than being written for the sake of writing wordcount.

Either way, I suspect I’m done with my attack of distemper. If I’ve been scaring you off with the attack of the grumpy pants this week, it’s probably safe to return.

Probably.

You know, like, 90% safe. Or maybe 85%, if we’re giving ourselves a buffer.

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I am behind on email again. This, too, will be rectified over the weekend.

And I really need to start remembering to bring a snack to the Dayjob on Fridays, because the sprint from the dayjob offices to the university tutorial room doesn’t exactly leave time for eating. This is how bad habits start forming, much like the late finish on Thursday nights is turning into a bugger it, I’ll just eat take-out habit on the way home.

My life, I tell you, the glamour and wonder.

See you all monday.

Grr. Arg. Zzzz.

Last night, because I am classy, I ate a dinner of hot-dog franks and baked beans and melted lite cheese slices with BBQ sauce. Then I wrote and wrote and wrote and accidentally fell asleep at the keyboard, which is one of those things that hasn’t happened to me in about fifteen years, and is even less productive than it sounds ’cause you wake up and discover all the odd things you’ve edited into the story by rolling onto the laptop in your sleep.

In a less sane and reasonable world, I would have woken up this morning and gone back to writing, fixing the editing mistakes. Unfortunately I live in a world where the landlord is insistent about things like rent, so I got up and went to work at the dayjob instead.

I may have done all of this, up until the going to work part, in my underwear. It’s also entirely possible I did not. I’ll leave you that to ponder those possibilities, at least until the thought skeeves you out and the shuddering begins.

I find myself wishing my life was less sane and reasonable right now. I’m still trying to figure out how to achieve that without, you know, starving, but on the whole I’d be far less cranky and surly and other such dwarves if I were writing right now.

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There are days where I’m utterly amazed that anyone reads this journal, largely because some of the people who comment on it, by and large, tend to be much better writers that I am. I mean, go back to yesterday’s entry and read Thoraiya Dyer’s comment about autumn, which is far more eloquent than the post she’s responding too (you could also go and buy her book, if you wanted too, and I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t).

In totally unrelated news: apparently if you mention Fight Club on twitter, you get an automated reply from a twitter-bot channeling Tyler Durden. I imagine that’s one very busy twitter-bot, and it’s far more entertaining than the twitter bots that usually follow me, offering real estate deals and fitness programs and dire warning about the machinations of the Illuminati.

 

It’s a pleasant kind of Sunday afternoon, except for the parts that aren’t. In this case the parts that aren’t are largely covered by a party happening elsehwere, where my friend Chris is welcoming his son into the world alongside a bunch of other friends we have in common, while I’m here trying to figure out how to end the story that absoloutely needs to be ended and sent off later tonight. I’m at the point where I work on a scene then pace for a bit, then work on another scene and pace for a bit, then go back and change everything in the first scene to match the changes I’ve just made.

Basically, my favourite kind of day, were it not for the awkward glances I keep shooting the clock and the under-my-breath muttering about my inability to get these issues sorted earlier.

The only upside is that at least I’ve already met the younger Slee, who is teeny and squiggly and probably quite cute if you find baby’s cute, and seems destined to be an interesting chap when he grows up because his parents are two of the nicest and most interesting people I’ve met. And even if he chooses to rebel by playing rugby and forging a career as an accountant or somesuch in the future, he’ll at least provide the intriguing mental of image of his parents cheering along at the sidelines of his finals.

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Outside there are clouds creeping accross the horizon. It’s looking like we’re going to get rain. More importantly, it’s smelling like rain, which is really the fun part.

So, yes, Autumn. March through August tends to be my favourite stretch of the year, largely because it’s when the weather and the temperature and the overall feel of the world makes the most sense to me. I hear people complain about the days ending earlier and the cold and such, and all I want to do is go walking in the evenings with a comfortable jacket on. Summer is evil, in Brisbane, and I believe strongly in staying inside and reading books in bed when the weather turns cold.

Plus the food is better. Summer food always feels so weightless and flavourless.

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Two scenes left in the story. One fight scene, one denouement. Everything seems to be slotting into place, albeit about six days after said slotting into place would have been useful. I’m going to go for a quick walk before the storm hits and hope I can get through both without too much diffuculty.