Lexifabricographer

August 4, 2014

Review – Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres – AWWC14

I’ve been off the pace on my reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014, but as I’m resolving to do more blogging in August, what better way to kick off proceedings than by catching up on my own self-imposed commitments? This will be my fourth review for 2014, which means I’m well behind on my target of ten Australian women writers read and six reviewed. That’s unsurprising as I’m behind on my reading in general. For some reason my book consumption has declined sharply in the past few months, though sadly my book acquisition rate has pushed through previous ceiling records.

Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres (Angry Robot Books 2014) concerns Virgin Jackson, a park ranger who works in Birrimun Park, a vast desert nature preserve in the middle of the megalopolis that covers the eastern Australian coast. Jackson witnesses an after hours murder, when the park should be deserted and monitored by every surveillance device known to man – but there’s no sign of the killer, she’s wounded by what appears to be a ghost crow, and an implacable police detective seems determined to fit her up for the killing. She bristles when her boss agrees to United States cooperation in the investigation, and she is assigned a stetson-wearing, sixgun-packing partner named Nate Sixkiller.

Peacemaker walks a strange line between futuristic police procedural and old-fashioned Western, mixing in a supernatural conspiracy to boot. With such a bizarre melange of elements, not to mention two lead characters with borderline-ridiculously iconic names, there’s no way this book should work. And yet it does, carried along by strong character work and a solid investigative core. Virgin is a tough loner with a tragic past who’s buried herself in her work – of course – and Sixkiller is a strong, laconic lawman who knows more about what’s going on that he’s letting on – of course – but their strained partnership dodges around cliches of sexual tension and professional jealousy and works all the more strongly for it. The supporting cast is very strong, including Virgin’s stripper boyfriend, her investigative journalist best friend and an introverted tech support guy with privacy boundary issues.

The action moves fairly quickly, and Virgin in particular comes off the worse for wear in virtually every confrontation, but it all remains remarkably grounded and focused. De Pierres sneaks some fascinating world-building in at the edges, shoring up the implausible setting elements with some real thought and care. This is a fascinating setting, and I’m keen to see more. If I have a complaint about the book, it’s that it leaves an awful lot open for the sequel (or sequels, I’m not sure). The resolution of the central murder mystery become almost incidental as the scope of the plot expands outwards. I’m also looking forward to seeing whether the author will successfully pay off what seems like a contrived final-chapter revelation. That said, Peacemaker is a solid, fun and confident-enough book that I’m definitely on board for the next installment.

 

July 7, 2014

What I’m working on – July edition

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:22 pm

I’m officially looking for work, preferably temporary project work on short-term contracts. To this end I’ve done interviews with job pimps, tightened up my resume, written about thirty cover letters, referees reports and personal profiles, I’ve taken psychological tests [1] and I’ve even taken the soul-destroying, vale-of-tears-walking, misery-inducing, beyond-desperate step of creating a LinkedIn account.

Nothing yet. Okay then.

In the meantime to keep myself from playing video games or binge-watching Breaking Bad and Orphan Black, I’m writing too many things at once. Here’s a list, using super-secret codenames and/or working titles because I am very, very terrible at titles and they are pretty much the last thing I commit to in my writing process:

Wattle Creek Spook Hunters Club Season One is a weird little…um, septych [2] about high schoolers making a ghost hunting Youtube channel, except that it’s turned out a lot weirder than that initial idea. Thanks to my monthly face to face critiquing circle, this one now definitely has a plot. It’s now finished and has been sent off for submission.

Lost Dogs is a creepy horror story about a failed man losing his grip on the social ladder or possibly a redemptive tale about being hunted by a pack of murderous dogs. Probably both. It needs a heavy rewrite, again after the crit group pointed out a few logical flaws and the fact that the protagonist is relentlessly unlikeable. Oops.

Breakdown is about a young man about to strike out on his own and make a life for himself and making the fatal error of allowing his best friend to see him off. I’ve written about half of it and I’m still not sure if I should ditch the pent-up melodrama and rising malevolence in favour of making it more broadly comedic. I’m tending towards the latter, if only because I really don’t attempt humourous writing often enough and i do feel as though it’s something I ought to be better at.

Lighthouse is still in vague outline, but involves a lonely lighthouse keeper, a Government natural historian, ghost sailors and some unusual bones. This one came together in an unusual way, in that I used a writing prompt app on my phone (Story Dice) to generate some images, and then riffed on it until I had the skeleton (ahem) of a story. I’m excited to see whether so artificial a generative process will result in a decent yarn.

The Countess is also just an outline at the moment; a maybe-novella-length story inspired by a great photo of a stern-looking woman in thick Edwardian (I guess) clothing with a falcon on her wrist. Sadly I no longer have the photo – one of my CSFG colleagues brought it along for a talk on using Pinterest for arranging photo references – but the story has moved away from its point of inspiration anyway. It began with a lofty premise about obligation, revenge and abusive exploitation of family but it will likely descend into adventurous escapades, romantic hijinks and possible a touch of political satire if it fits. Oh and there’s a really old, very nasty wizard in it.

Colony Ship (which isn’t even its real working title, but I’m keeping this one to myself for the moment) is a three-book possibly-YA science fiction series about the citizens of a generation ship (a large colony ship that will take hundreds of years and multiple generations to reach its destination) who crash on an uncharted world and need to overcome strict social conditioning to survive. (It’s more action-oriented than that makes it sound). I’ve outlined the first novel (though there’s more work to do there) and will continue to enhance and hone the outline until I either have nothing else on my plate or I decide I’ve had enough of short stories for the time being. My goal with that one is to write the first draft as quickly as possible, which means that I’ll need to have it pretty well worked out before I start.

 

So apart from all that, I’m working my way slowly through a manuscript of Doctor Clam’s (nearly there), continue to work towards my goal of completing at least ten short stories in 2014 [3] and at some point I need to come back and re-outline Miss Coles’ Arrangements and have another go at that. (Two unsatisfactory drafts down, X to go). I would also like to sell some stories and see my name on a printed page somewhere, but eh, that’s something I don;t have any real control over (other than submitting often, which I do).

You? What have you got going on?

 

[1] You may be utterly stunned to learn that I am not leadership material. I do, however, rank off the charts on the “Trusted Right-hand Man” axis.

[2] Is that the word for a single piece made of seven separate parts? No? Well it was either that or make a D&D joke about the Rod of Seven Parts, and frankly I couldn’t see how to keep that one G-rated.

[3] The finished count so far is two, with another two in first draft. I have a secondary goal from now on of writing pieces that are shorter than 6000 words, unless they are designed from the outset as novellas or novellettes.

July 3, 2014

Periodic reminder that I yet live

I should be writing. This is my free time and I should be using it productively, because otherwise I won’t feel productive. Because all I managed to get to today was a job interview, a business lunch, a school presentation by six year old kids on ecological conservation, a stack of tax forms, a month’s worth of tax reconciliations and two loads of washing.

I don’t know if I’m doing this “time away from the workforce” thing right.

Speaking of which, a status update if anyone wants it – I’ve started properly looking for work now. Nothing so far. But quite a few more employment consultants (aka job pimps) now know my name. They all seem nice.

Anyway, I also managed to sock away twenty minutes to scrawl some notes for a short story which I’ll probably start writing in a few minutes, not that I’m warming up to the task. (Thanks for hanging around while I worked through this nonsense).

Here’s some things going on around the interwebs, just so you don’t feel like you’ve completely wasted your time by clicking on a link:

Apex Magazine has a poem by Rose Lemberg that sat just right with me. I don’t know much about poetry but…

Tansy Rayner Roberts is doing a science fictionalised retelling of The Three Musketeers (in Space!)  and it is fabulous. I am currently foreswearing all forms of crowd funding during my hopefully-temporary period of careerlessness, but Musketeer Space is on my to-patronise list when I feel free to spend money again. I heartily recommend this project to everyone – it’s just plain fun, and Tansy’s take on the Dumas classic doesn’t suffer from gratuitous padding in the way that the original paid-by-the-installment serial might have occasionally fallen prey to.

Another podcast that has assumed the loftiest status in my playlist, namely “play it the second it downloads” is the terrific Rachel and Miles Xplain the Xmen. It’s exactly what it sounds like – two highly engaging and cheerfully sarcastic X-fans attempt to clarify nearly fifty years of ridiculously convoluted X-men comics history in small, digestible chunks. All the temporary deaths. All the retroactive continuity. All the fashions (oh, the fashions). All the inexplicable love for Scott Summers and highly explicable love for Katherine Pryde. My favourite bit is their opening schtick where they briefly summarise some character’s ludicrous history, honing in with surgical precision on the exact moment the character jumps the shark :)  If you have any love for the X-Men, but like me and probably everyone else you’ve ever met would not have the slightest idea where to begin to understand their freakishly complex back story – or if you just like listening to people enthusing about something they love while still finding positive ways to engage with its most stupid and problematic elements – then I really can’t push you any more forcefully towards this show. But if you need encouragement, they recently interviewed one of my personal comics gods, Greg Rucka, about his current series about the young version of Cyclops having space adventures with his absentee father Corsair, who is an intergalactic pirate. COMICS ARE SO GOOD YOU GUYS!

And just while I’m on the subject of podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale just broadcast its two-part second anniversary story (a recording of a live show with a small army of guests stars, so slightly off-format from the usual). It’s really good, is all I wanted to say. I still love it to bits. I don’t really drink liquor, but if anyone wants to get me one of these “If You See Something, Say Nothing and Drink to Forget” hip flasks, know that I will love it and you unconditionally. (Don’t though – shipping is probably a killer).

And now I think I’ll go to bed, because my to-be-read pile is teetering on the brink of instability, and that’s before I even think about the fifty-odd unread titles on my kindle.

Next time, I promise to write something that’s actually about something.

 

June 19, 2014

Anthology calls for later reference

Don’t mind this – it’s a list of upcoming anthologies that I may be interested in submitting to. Hey, you might be interested too, what do I know? And if you happen to be aware of any submission calls for upcoming anthologies that you think I might want to have a go at, let me know.

Blurring the Line by Cohesion Press  (horror) – http://cohesionpress.com/submissions/anthologies/ – Max 5000 words; 1 August to 31 October 2014

Hear Me Roar by Ticonderoga Publications (strong women) – http://ticonderogapublications.com/index.php/about-us/submissions/hear-me-roar-anthology – 2500-7500 words; 21 April to 5 November 2014.

The Never Never Land by CSFG Publications (Australian speculative) – http://www.csfg.org.au/2014/02/20/call-for-submissions-the-never-never-land/ – 1000-5000 words; 1 June to 31 August 2014.

The Lane of Unusual Traders by Tiny Owl Workshop (strange shops) - http://thelaneofunusualtraders.com/guidelines/ – Flash fiction up to 500 words, 1 June to 31 July 2014; Short stories up to 3000 words, 1 June to 31 August 2014.

Clam, if you can’t think of something great for that last one I will eat my own face off [1].

 

Update 1:

Midnight Echo 11 by Midnight Echo/AHWA (Sinister) – http://midnightechomagazine.com/submission-guidelines/ – 5000 words maximum; 1 July to 31 October 2014

 

[1] Bloodthirsty spectacle not guaranteed

June 11, 2014

Rejection is progress.

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:25 pm

The reality of having to search for a job is starting to sink in, although thankfully not for the usual reasons of starvation and incipient eviction. (Don’t worry, we’re fine on that score).

The slow grind of hunting, writing cover letters, wrestling with sometimes not all that well-designed web forms, finding artistic ways to address selection criteria to disguise the fact you’re using the same example three different ways – and waiting for the flood of impersonal rejections to come flowing back to you. Canberra’s apparently in a hiring slump – go figure – so my expectations are wound down so hard I’m apt to break a spring.

My writing career’s following a similar trajectory, at least at the moment. Today one of my stories was rejected, which is not at all unusual and in the normal course of events would not have been a big deal. It just happened to be a case where I had a lot of faith that that story in particular would hit its mark. Not this time though. I have not received any feedback yet (though I expect I will – the anthology editors have been really positive and encouraging throughout the submission period) so I don’t know whether it was close or whether I was way off base. In a practical sense it doesn’t matter, though I’ll be curious whether the editors perceived flaws that I might have overlooked.

I responded to the disappointment in the only sensible way I can think of, which was to send it straight back out to another market. So it didn’t win its dream home? Tough. There’s probably a home for it somewhere (and if not, I’ll post here for Marco to read – eventually.

Back on the employment thread, I’ve already been rejected for a couple of jobs that would have fit in ideally with my current plans. Assuming that the apprenticeship thing is not viable (as it appears at the moment, though I haven’t given up by any means) then I want to get just enough part-time work to pay the bills while I write and build up my editing skills.

Since today’s fiction rejection demonstrates (to nobody’s surprise) that it’s not quite time to give up having a day job – even if I did give up one specific day job – the next best thing is to keep to the plan and play the long game of plugging away. Short stories, long stories, that novel series I’m still building up a piece at a time. Keeping at it, day after day (or more accurately, night after night) until I have enough pieces in play that something finally clicks into place.

Same with the job applications. Keep sending them out, keep watching them come back either on fire or snuffed out, until eventually one doesn’t.

There’s something about all this that smells suspiciously like it might build character. I hate it when that happens.

 

Oh, but in case it sounds like a had a complete bummer of a day with no redeeming features whatsoever? I went and saw X-Men: Days of Future Past as well. It was terrific, even if they nerfed Kitty Pryde’s role from the original story. Still worth it.

May 31, 2014

Nominal liberty

Filed under: news of the day,political sniping — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:30 am

How do I sum up my freedom from the shackles of paid employment, entering its fifth day as of this morning?

Eh, not that exciting. Basically it’s been one errand after another, crammed with as much writing as I’ve been able to get away with. The closest I’ve come to impersonating a gentleman of leisure was having a longish cafe lunch with Chris, a CSfG writing compadre. (Here’s his website, where I am quoted!).

On the job hunting front I have been cold calling a lot of builders to sound out some apprenticeship prospects. As I suspected, not much is happening on that front, although not quite for the reasons I anticipated. I had thought being in my mid-forties would be the biggest impediment to being offered an apprentice job in a physically demanding field. According to the few meaty conversations I’ve had, that’s not a huge barrier to entry. Instead the main problem appears to be that nobody in town is taking on any apprentices at all. the local building industry has been in a slump for going on eighteen months now, and with massive public service layoffs in the offing, the prospects of a sudden housing boom in the ACT are somewhere between slim and quite-the-opposite-of-boom.

So, I’ll continue to work my leads next week, but preparations to activate Plan B are already well underway. (Plan B basically involves a school-hours office job and the pursuit of a few other goals which I will go into later).

I keep wondering when the fact that I am, for the first time in twenty years, not an employee of the Commonwealth Government will hit me. It’s not that it doesn’t feel real to have walked away from it all – it doesn’t feel like anything. I suppose that means that I really had so little investment in what I’ve been doing over the past few months that I’d already walked away, and the only material change was not having to put on a suit and tie and hang around in an office all day.

One thing I am starting to feel, for which I am grateful, is the receding background sense of simmering fury that comes with being part of a government machine that I feel (strongly) is on the wrong track. I’m specifically talking about the international development program, which I think has taken a badly retrogressive step under the current government. But really, I don’t think they are doing one damn thing that works to the betterment of the Australian people, so to single out their butchery of one particular agency is probably just making it personal. Seriously, fuck those guys.

But, the point is, I’m beginning to enjoy the overwhelming sense of relief of not constantly feeling that I am a part of what I consider to be the active undermining of everything I value about my community. It’s pleasant to not be reminded every moment of the day that things are getting worse. The next step, I suppose, is to find ways to contribute more to making things better.

 

May 21, 2014

Every Bond Theme Ever

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

Prompted by a series of random Twitter comments from Chris Sims of the War Rocket Ajax podcast, and a lack of anything better to do of a Wednesday afternoon at my dead-man-walking job, I decided to rank the theme songs from every James Bond film (except the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) in objective, indisputable order. You’re welcome.

(I give all due credit to Sims and his podcast partner Matt D. Wilson, who are conducting a year-long project to rank superhero comic stories, which is a lot harder than this has been)

I will take questions in the comments section.

 

Every Bond Theme Ever

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Instrumental (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die)

A View to a Kill – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill)

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)

You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice)

Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough)

Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

GoldenEye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye)

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)

All Time High – Rita Coolidge (Octopussy)

Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Surrender – k.d. lang (Tomorrow Never Dies)

From Russian With Love – Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love)

The Living Daylights – A-ha (The Living Daylights)

For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)

Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (Moonraker)

We Have All the Time in the World – Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

The Man With the Golden Gun – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thunderball – Tom Jones (Thunderball)

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies)

Underneath The Mango Tree – Diana Coupland/Monty Norman (Doctor No)

Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill)

Another Way to Die – Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)

Die Another Day – Madonna (Die Another Day)

 

Not ranked:

James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (All of them) – disqualified on grounds of ubiquity and essentiality

If There Was a Man – Chrissie Hynde (The Living Daylights) – unranked because I just cannot remember it at all, but if it’s Chrissie Hynde then it will for sure be at or near the top ten mark.

May 19, 2014

Review – A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Filed under: books of 2014,books read,reviewage — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 10:03 pm

Doctor Clam: this is specifically a recommendation for you.

Sofia Samatar’s wonderful ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ (2013 Small Beer Press) is the story of a naive innocent, Jevick of Tyom, who travels from his isolated backwater island home to the dazzling opulence of the mainland empire of Olondria, armed only with a student’s command of the local language, to trade spices. It’s almost criminal to reduce the book to the plot elements of Jevick’s various adventures, which concern legal strife, hedonistic anarchists and an inconvenient haunting. What sets ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ apart is the richness of its prose and the novel’s preoccupation with the beauty of language itself.

This is a glorious, dazzling book, its endless sumptuous descriptive passages conveying a fascination with language, culture and the transformative effects of communication. A fantastic world with few fantastic elements – though those are of deep significance – ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ is alive with strange alien customs and characters who are at once instantly recognisable and wholly foreign. Jevick’s journey through Olondria passes through phases familiar to any traveller: the dazzling shock of first impressions; the bewildering challenge of comprehending unfamiliar behaviours; the slow process of acclimation to local customs; and finally the return home of the traveller, much changed by his experiences.

On top of that, throw in a few of the standard dangers of travel – becoming sick, running afoul of legal systems beyond your comprehension, becoming involved with cultural movements outside your experience – and one or two problems with a supernatural edge.

Samatar’s powers of description elevate what might be a reasonably straightforward fantastic travelogue into a rich banquet of language, each course more lavish and satisfying than the last. The fantastic elements have their place in the novel alongside the mundane, but no matter where the author directs her gaze the writing is glorious and compelling. ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ is fabulous, simply fabulous.

May 14, 2014

Where are the short stories and stuff?

In the comments of the previous entry, Marco asked “Where are the short stories and stuff?”

I thank the Honourable Member for his question and for the opportunity to detail exactly what the Government of Lexifabricogristan is doing to support and enhance the worldwide glut of speculative short fiction of questionable cultural, dramatic and grammatical value.

Ahem. The short stories are churning along. I’ve been holding to my minimum wordcount of 400 new words of fiction per day for…hm, 18 days now. That doesn’t sound like much, I admit, but it’s decent chunk of wordcount that didn’t exist before, so I am more than happy with it. I’ve also been diving deep on critiquing novels and short stories and drafting outlines for various projects so that I always have something new on the boil.

That’s probably not what you were really asking. You were *probably* asking why I haven’t been putting any fiction up here on the blog lately. The answer is that I’m being selfish and greedy (or career-minded, if you prefer the apirational/positive spin). I am working with as much dedication as I can muster towards having a published body of work, so I haven’t posted any new fiction on the website since January last year. Most fiction markets pay for first publication rights, which means that a work of fiction cannot have been published anywhere prior to acceptance. That includes even blogs like this one, with its nigh-subterranean reader numbers.

Anything I finish to an adequate level of polish, I have been submitting to professional and semi-professional short fiction markets – mainly online publications and print anthologies. Typically what happens then is that they sit in slush piles for weeks or months on end, until a commissioning editor reads it and either rejects it (likely) or decides they like it enough to pay me, pending edits (unlikely but possible and highly desired). As soon as a story is rejected – and I should note that rejections from professional short story editors can happen *very* quickly, my personal best being a four-hour wait from ‘hit send’ to ‘no thanks’ – I repackage it with a new cover letter and send it straight back out again to the next market.

Sometimes, though not every time, the rejection will come back with some feedback about why it was not accepted. I always take a look at the feedback, see if I agree with any advice on how to strengthen the story, and then either apply some edits or not. Sometimes the feedback amounts to “this story is not a good fit for our publication”, which is what it is. So far I’ve been lucky enough not to get feedback to the effect that “this is a bunch of unmitigated dog faeces that if published would bankrupt us and ruin lives”, so that’s nice. Either way, unless I feel I’ve run out of places that I could send it, the story goes back out into the wild again to earn its keep. I have yet to hit the limit of potential markets for any particular story; I submitted one story thirteen times before it was accepted somewhere. True story – I was pretty close to giving up on it, in which case I would have posted it here for everyone to read. Sorry about that, I guess.

So what’s my publication hit count? I still have one (1) published story: ‘Imported Goods – Aisle Nine’ in Next. That came out over a year ago. Whee, doesn’t time fly?

I’ve got four stories out in circulation at the moment – one has been accepted pending a space in a publication schedule (that’s the thirteenth-time-lucky one), and the other three are in submission queues (aka ‘slushpiles’). At least one of those is in a second round of reading, which means that at least one person at the publishing entity liked it enough not to reject it outright.

I’ve got two more stories in preparation. One is a first draft awaiting revision, the other is a half-draft. I’ve set myself a goal of finishing at least ten stories this year to what I consider a submittable standard, of which I have so far completed one. Miles to go there.

Apart from Step 1 – Completing the things I start, I have some other goals. The first is that I want to be published in a notable Australian speculative fiction market. Apart from the CSfG anthology (it opens for submissions in a few weeks, but I haven’t come up with an idea yet), there are various spec fic journals (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Aurealis, SQ Magazine) as well as regular anthologies from publishers like Ticonderoga and Fablecroft. I’m loving what Brisbane-based Tiny Owl Workshop are doing at the moment – I’d love to work with them. There are many others.

My second goal is that I want to break into overseas markets that publish stuff I like to read, like Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (to name just a couple). That’s a little more ambitious, but I’m confident that it’s within reach or almost so.

Either of those goals could happen literally any time now. When it does, and when I’m allowed to say anything because of contracts or whatever, you can bet your favourite phalanges I will trumpet it here and on Twitter and over a beer if you happen to pass within my gravitational vicinity. Damn, but I am looking forward to my next celebratory Beer of Publication.

In the meantime, I wait patiently, I keep writing and I turn out new stories.

May 10, 2014

Tick tick tick

I know this blog looks neglected lately, but that’s just not the case. Why, I delete several hundred spam messages practically every day. (Seriously, what is up with that? Somebody out there in Russian or Lithuania is under the very mistaken impression that I can help them shift metric shitloads of what I presume are knockoffs of brand-name sunglasses, handbags and antidepressants. Boy, have they ever come to the wrong place).

Jobstuff

As I continue to cruise gently towards  graceful exit from the APS, with the first intention to make a complete career change, weird doors have begun to open. On Thursday I went to my first job interview in years (or decades, if you make the reasonable assertion that within-public-service promotion interviews are a different beast). Since it was a job I had absolutely no knowledge of thirty hours earlier, in a field in which I have plenty of experience but almost no emotional investment, for a government department that I have never considered working for, it was a pretty cushy interview.

I think I crushed it – whether I get the job will probably depend more on whether they have money than whether they have interest in my services (although there would be more hoops to jump through to actually land the position). Not feeling that anything important is at stake is a great help in calming interview nerves, that’s for sure. If nothing else, that interview has given me a bit of confidence that I should not feel intimidated by the next one. And the fact that the opportunity emerged unbidden from the ether has given me at least a little confidence that I needn’t be discouraged by early failures, because something will probably come up.

Writingstuff

I’m still ignoring the novel in favour of getting a few short stories under my belt. I finished a strange, literally-episodic little piece about high school ghost hunters last week, and this week I am drafting a story that has been percolating for about three years. I’ve rededicated myself to the idea that a writing streak keeps me at my most productive, that is, making sure that I achieve a minimum word count absolutely every day. The actual minimum I’ve set myself is 400 words, which is usually in the vicinity of an hour’s work and normally not difficult to achieve. Most sessions I crank out a little more than that, and so far on the current streak of 14 days (not counting today) I’m averaging a shade under 700 words. I’m pretty happy with that.

The other thing that I am trying now is writing from outlines. Instead of using a dot-point “this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then explosions, then The End” methods, I am trying a method that I got from listening to the guys at the Self-Publishing Podcast. They call it writing story beats, which involves (at least as I’ve interpreted it) writing the story out in a shorthand summary fashion, noting the plot and setting elements and describing the characters’ emotional arcs, scene by scene. Outlining, in other words, but by telling myself the story rather than trying to develop an architectural design.

The main advantage of this approach is that it helps (far more than a sterile dot-point plan) to identify where the slack or boring bits of the story might be. It makes fixing those much easier than doing a structural edit after the fact – 100 words of outline is a lot easier to fix than two chapters of misconceived fiction. And because it’s a relatively easy commitment to write two or three pages of outline, I don’t feel any anxiety about ideas that aren’t working yet. I can just put them on hold and turn my attention to something else, tinkering with the outline when I get a new idea or figure out a fix to a problem.

So far it’s working. Whenever I sit down for a writing session I can glance at the story beats and know exactly what I have to write. That helps me to cut through my usual procrastination rituals and get straight to writing. Writing the story beats out beforehand satisfies my inclination as a pantser/discovery writer, by letting me explore the idea and tell the story without committing to five or ten or ninety thousand words first. At the same time, a loosely sketched-out outline with which I have told the story to myself leaves plenty of room for discovering the tone and the characters and the smaller nuances of the piece. It seems to hit the right balance for me.

It’s a method I aim to experiment with more. I have a rough idea for a three-novel science fiction adventure that I plan to develop using story beats. Unless I have another idea that jumps the queue in the meantime, I’ll probably make that the next project in the pipeline, starting with developing the characters and figuring out the story beats, and then (if and when I have the energy) seeing how long it takes to turn that into an actual story.

…probably a long time though.

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