Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

March 15, 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Reset

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 9:30 pm

I originally thought that I would run a weekly “keep myself honest” column over at PretentiousAuthor.com. In retrospect I think it would clutter the site up for no particular value for the readers.

It has some value for me, though, so I’m going to do it here instead. I’ll try to keep it short.

What I worked on: I revised the ending of ‘Silver the Moon in Ascension’ (aka ‘Magic robots vs Werewolves: Dawn of Justice’), I hand-wrote a few pages of my story about a monster hunting magistrate, I began researching my story idea for an ecopunk anthology, I wrote a drabble and I sent out my first pretentious-author newsletter to a whopping four subscribers!

I’ve been experimenting in the last few months with doing longhand first drafts. I used to do it, once upon a very long time ago, but I lost the habit somewhere. Early results seem to indicate that I write fast with longhand (not as fast as I type, but also with far fewer pauses for thought), that my writing sprints tend to last no more than about forty minutes at the most, and that I can generally crank out about 300 words (or two-ish pages of my notebook) in ten minutes or so. The prose tends to be a bit overwritten, but not much more than my regular prose. I expect the process of transcription will help me cut the text back to a lean flow. We’ll see.

What I’ve added to my work plan: More longhand drafting on the magistrate story, a knuckle-down redraft of Silver the Moon, writing a short-short submission for a CSFG horror flash fiction contest, more research for the ecopunk story, and outlining my serial fiction project that I plan to start soon.

For reference, the anthology I am aiming at is Ticonderoga’s Ecopunk – speculative tales of radical futures.  I’m inspired to have a go for a few reasons – one, because getting a story accepted into a Ticonderoga anthology has evolved from mere writing goal to authorial white whale; two, because I don’t write enough science fiction and I consider it a real gap in my repertoire; and three, because as I admitted on Leife Shallcross’ blog a few weeks ago, I am a lazy-arsed researcher, which borders on the disgraceful.

(So far the hard part has not been developing a workable SF concept. It’s finding the right story to attach to it).

Taking my shot at a scientifically-plausible short fiction piece is a real personal challenge. Honestly, it’s not a target I expect to hit, knowing the standard that the editors are expecting. But I won’t shore up my weaknesses by avoiding them.

 

 

February 19, 2016

Blogging is dead, so I started another website

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 8:22 pm

Hot on the heels of a great panel discussion at Wednesday night’s CSFG meeting – summarised neatly by panelist Alis Franklin here at her website – and coinciding with the appearance of my first new piece of published fiction over at EGM Shorts, I have launched my “professional” writing site.

The stunningly original name: davidversace.com (I know, I can’t believe the domain wasn’t taken either!)

Anyway, everyone here already knows this because I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. From this point on I will begin the not-entirely-thought-out process of separating what I want to write about as a “published professional” [1] as opposed to the more personal, everyday stuff. The Lost recaps and occasional book reviews will probably stay here, though.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to migrate the archives here to a semi-hidden spot on my own domain, but that’s still the plan. I’m still not sure if I need some kind of tech support for that.

Anyhow, I’ll be using that site to make any public announcements about upcoming stories or whatever but since I’ll cross-post here as well, you can take your pick which one to look at.

 

[1] Definition to be consumed with salt; your dosage may vary but I would start at a couple of pinches and work up from there.

December 22, 2015

The year in narrow, blinkered retrospect

It’s been a big year for all sorts of stuff, but I’m not going to go into it. Instead, this is my obligatory look back at the goals I set at the start of the year. How did I go and what does that suggest for the future?

Short stories

The promise: I said I was going to maintain my stock of short stories available for submission at a steady level of ten, writing a new one whenever I took one out of circulation through either an acceptance or by retiring a story that had exhausted every viable market.

The reality: Definitively a failure in terms of productivity. In fact after writing my goals in February I did not finish a single short story all year, though I tinkered with a story (crappy working title “Unacceptable Losses”) all year and have left it floundering with probably about three hundred words to go for months now. In theory I could finish it tonight. I probably won’t though.

My stock of available stories went down thanks to three acceptances during the year. None of them have come out yet, though I was able to announce that “Seven Excerpts from Season One” will appear in the At the Edge anthology from Paper Road Press next year.

Acceptances are delightful, of course (all were paying markets) and absolutely what I’m striving for, but I did feel I let myself down a bit by not sticking to the plan of writing new material.

Oh, and I did recently receive notification that I placed highly (a “silver highly commended”) in the most recent round of the Writers of the Future contest. Which is not my best ever result but is still in the front-of-the-peloton zone.

silverhmbadge

Novel

The promise: Write a complete 80,000 word manuscript by the end of July without becoming a gibbering wreck.

The reality: Well, the July deadline came and went without great fanfare. Moreover as at the time of writing I have neither finished the manuscript nor reached the 80,000 word mark. But as I have about 500 words to get to the latter and maybe as little as two thousand words to wrap the whole thing up, I’m going to call this a mismatch between realistic scheduling and sustainable momentum rather than an outright failure. As I am now on holidays for a month, I predict I will at least get this one over the line before the end of 2016. Win!

(And is it any good? Well, no, it’s pretty rambly and largely incoherent. I have a mass of notes on what to fix, and it’s a good bet that the editing process will take at least as long as the first draft did, if not much, much longer. But it’s still nice to be within arm’s reach of the first critical milestone).

Community activity

The promise: Be a good treasurer, write a treasurer manual

The reality: Well, the manual is not finished yet and could do with a bit of dedicated attention for a couple of days, but on the whole I have acquitted myself well in this regard. I’ve been a committee member who gets shit done, and the books all balanced at the end of the year. I don’t tend to be a natural organiser or leader, and basically I find trying to get people to do things or get one the same page as each among the most demanding and draining activities I can imagine. But I can make a spreadsheet make sense, and I can make things happen in the background as long I don’t have to wrangle more than one or two people, so I’ll take this one as an accomplishment.

All the same, I will probably retire from my post at the next AGM, because I will feel I’ve done my bit at that time. Ditto with helping on the Conflux organising committee.

Blogging

The promise: Build a new author website so that I can phase this one out.

The reality: This is 90% done. I haven’t launched it yet, but it is live. Feel free to go look for it (it’s not that hard) but if you do happen to stumble across it, don’t bother subscribing to anything. I’m procrastinating on setting up mail accounts and the newsletter software. It will probably happen in the next couple of weeks.  (It’s not remotely fancy BTW. It’s a functional site with boring author information that I can point potential publishers and clients to if necessary). I haven’t yet sat down to work out a clear plan for what to do with the site beyond that, but it will probably revolve around building on my friendships within the writing community. Hit me up if you’re doing a blog tour, I guess.

The other stuff

Collaboration: Did not happen. The novel ate my year completely. I’m still toying with various ideas for projects but this is one area that would demand focus and attention. At the moment I just can’t even make that sort of promise to myself, so it would hardly be fair to drag someone else down.

Serialised fiction: I made a few plans and outlined some projects that would suit a serialised format, but again, haven’t kicked any of them off yet. There’s one in particular that’s burning a hole in the back of my skull, but it will certainly have to take a back seat to all the short stories I’ve spent the year thinking about but not writing.

Shared world: No. Sensing a theme here? Though in fact I am contemplating ideas for contributing to an existing shared world. Nothing has gelled yet on that, but my contribution would just be a short story or two.

Comic script: See collaboration above.

 

That list doesn’t make for pretty reading, but I’m probably being too harsh on myself. This nearly-done draft novel has taken about nine months, which is an improvement over the thirteen months (twice over) that my previous novel attempt sucked up. Pre-plotting has certainly sped up that process, although one of the many lessons I’ve learned about that is that I could certainly stand to do more preparation next time. I’m reluctantly forced to admit that I am a better writer when I have a clear picture of what I’m going to write, and I suspect that a scene-by-scene breakdown would not go at all astray the next time I try this.

I’ll do a proper “Goals for 2016” post at some point in the near future, but I already know I have a couple of clear goals: write a bunch of short stories, edit the novel, and plan its sequels. In the margins I think I’ll build on one of my serial fiction ideas as the fun side project, but I’m cautious about holding myself to any kind of target on that. This writing biz seems to take a lot more time than I ever think it’s going to.

 

Right. I have a icy cup of creaming soda, a Pandora station tuned to 80’s alternative rock, and five thousand words or so to write in the next nine days.

I can do this.

October 6, 2015

Conflux is done for another year. Back to work.

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 3:41 pm

Everything came together on the weekend, which turned out to be more of a relief than I’d realised. I’d already figured out that between the overseas trip, the final preparations for Conflux, the end-of-year accounting for the CSFG’s finances and the launch of a new book all happening in the space of four weeks, any hope of having brain-cycles left over for writing was a complete bust.

That all done now, or almost so. The October long weekend saw Canberra’s speculative fiction writing convention Conflux 11 go off without any particularly significant hitches. This was my first year volunteering for the con organising committee (as the dealers’ room coordinator). It turns out I maaaaaaaaay have been carrying a little residual stress about making sure I covered every possible detail from every conceivable angle. By the time of the con’s launch on Friday morning, I was on my fourth consecutive morning of waking up at about 4 am with a to-do checklist running through my head. It’s a small miracle that I don’t seem to have spent the entire weekend responding to every single question with unintelligible blabbering.

No, I’m sure the blabbering was completely coherent.

The other big deal for the convention was the launch of the new CSFG anthology The Never Never Land. We had our official book launch on Sunday evening, with probably half the contributing authors in attendance. As we were still pulling together small details like collecting the print run and paying for the catering right up to the last minute, it was – as they say in showbiz – all right on the night. Shauna O’Meara (who did the gorgeous cover art) and Cat Sparks (who took this gallery of remarkable con photos – the TNNL launch ones are near the bottom of page 2) did readings from their excellent short stories, Nicole Murphy MC’ed and first-among-editorial-equals Ian McHugh gave thanks to the committee. I may have missed my name being mentioned because I was trying to skull a light beer before the bookselling started.

(I don’t have a story in Never Never, by the way. I started one but didn’t figure out how to finish it until about six months after the submissions closed).

And I didn’t get to see much of the convention, though I did sit in on a couple of quite remarkable panels. One was about managing your career as an author – which featured Isobelle Carmody extolling the virtues of a personal assistant, among other delights – and the other about what writers choose to sacrifice in order to have the space to write. Both were instructive as to the diversity of experiences on the path to success, however an individual may define it. I suppose that other panels might not have been quite as serious or thoughtful, but I counted myself lucky to catch the discussions I did.

And now it’s Tuesday, I’m back at work and I am flat out. I still have quite a bit of admin to tie up, both CSFG and convention-related, but excuse-time is up. I gotta get back on the word-pony and get some stuff done. I have at least another 3-4 chapters left to deal with on the novel. I have at least two short stories to finish and another two outlined that I could be writing. And I still haven’t set up my new author web page, despite having a bunch of stuff sitting ready to go for weeks now.

I think my next blogging job will be to review my 2015 goals and see how far behind I’ve fallen…

 

 

July 6, 2015

Progress report – June was a stumbling block

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:57 pm

A quick update on the novel – progress was slow. I added about 10,000 words altogether for the entire month of June to the novel manuscript. By contrast, in the less-than-a-week since then, I’ve added about 5000 words. So it’s been a bit of a drag and a trample, but I feel like it won’t be impossible to climb back up on the horse.

I also finished a new short story – or rather an old one that I’ve been kicking back and forth for more than a year, drafting and redrafting. With the benefit of a couple of weeks’ distance, I’m quite proud of the story. I think it definitely represents a leveling up of my short story craft. I’m still well short of what I expect professional-quality writing to look like, but I’m confident that I’m inching closer to it.

As we’ve passed the halfway point for the year – which by the way, where the hell did those months go? – I decided to look in on the various writing goals I set for myself back in January and see how I’m going:

Short stories – I said I wanted to have ten stories in circulation. I currently have nine, though one is perilously close to retirement. I’m going to stay focused on getting the current draft of the novel completed as my first priority, but after that I intend to churn through a few of the short story ideas I’ve been putting together in the meantime. I thought back in January that the short story goal was a little unambitious. I’ll revise what I think is a more challenging goal after the novel draft is done.

Novel – The goal was to have an 80K novel written by the end of July. Right now the manuscript is a tad shy of 60,ooo words and I have 25 days to get to the goal. To be honest, I doubt I will quite make it, but if not I won’t be so far away that I end up disappointed in myself. A bit less than a thousand words a day is certainly doable, but it’s right near the upper end of my current productivity rates, so I am not going to beat myself up with unrealistic expectations.

Especially not when I have reached a point where I no longer know quite where this draft is going to end. I’ve gone off the reservation a bit in terms of my outline, and stuff is now happening that appears nowhere in my planning. I’ve yet to figure out whether I need to correct course and get back to what I was aiming at, or run with the new direction. I suspect the answer will be somewhere in the middle wearing a “Fix it in rewrites!” T-shirt. We’ll see.

Community stuff – I have to write a CSFG treasurer manual. I still haven’t done it, but to be honest it’s not that big a task. Now that the end of financial year has arrived, the first order of business is settling the accounts and getting them audited (well, that will be the second order of business after I do my own family taxes, which are a hefty job of work in themselves). I have a bit of a deadline around some upcoming holidays, so I will probably need to cram a lot of this into a short space of time. All the more reason to get the novel draft finished. But the auditing process will fill in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge on being a treasurer, so I expect to be in a good mental space for instruction manual writing as part of that.

Blogging – I am building the new writer website. It’s not done yet. I don’t regard it as a huge priority, what with having no particular work to promote, but the job hasn’t fallen off the list.

 

So that’s not too bad. I’m tracking pretty well against some admittedly modest goals, with some bursts of productivity needed in the near future. I can do that.

February 12, 2015

Writing goals for 2015

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:51 pm

Like the Christmas tree in the living room that we still haven’t taken down, so too are my New Years’ writing resolutions coming through grotesquely late. Or no, wait, let’s pretend these are Chinese New Year resolutions, because those are totally a tradition in my Mediterranean-descended, lapsed Anglican leftie ex-pat Queenslander subculture. Besides, I’m quite fond of goats.

Anyway, this is my now-annual hold-myself-to-account post on my writing goals for the year. This is what I want to achieve at a minimum. Ideally I’ll beat these goals by a wide margin, especially if I get my writing streak back in place.

Short stories

At the moment I have about seven completed stories in circulation, which is to say out for submission to various publishers.

One of my goals last year was to complete ten stories, which was eminently achievable, even if I didn’t quite achieve it. This year, my plans are a little more modest. Because I intend to shift my focus onto novel writing (see below) but want to retain some short story momentum, the plan is to always have at least ten finished stories in circulation.

That means that if I retire one from circulation (like the one that’s out now for its 20th and probably final submission) or if one is actually accepted for publication, I need to get a replacement out there as soon as possible. In practise, that means that step one is to complete the three or four stories I have in rough draft, and then maybe sketch out another one or two in preparation for the next time I need to return the budget to surplus (so to speak).

Of course, the caveat here is that the stories have to be good enough for me to want to send them out under my own name. There’s a minimum standard of quality here that I won’t allow myself to slip below. On the other hand, what I’ll need to watch out for is that I don’t let my natural self-critical inclinations get in the way of getting things finished and out the door. Evidence suggests that I am more than capable of chewing over drafts and procrastinating on edits for months at a time, to the detriment of other, more valuable work. I have to make sure I stay out of my own way.

Short story goals: (i) Get my submittable stories up to ten; (ii) always have ten stories in circulation.

Novels

For me, this is the big one. From the painful experience of couple of fairly attempts in the past, I’ve convinced myself that novel-length stories are not a comfortable fit for me. I’ve had a novel outline worked out in (for me) quite a lot of detail for almost a year now.

In all that time, I’ve come up with every excuse under the sun not to start: “I need to finish these short stories first.” “I don’t know if I can fit it in with my job hunting.” (Yes, seriously, i used that one a lot!) “I don’t really know what’s happened in the middle of the novel.” “Am I really sure my lead character doesn’t have the stupidest name in all literature?” and of course, “I really, really want to watch Breaking Bad before I get spoiled for the ending.” (PS: Still winning on that last one. Please don’t spoil the ending of Breaking Bad for me. I’m more than halfway through now).

In the end, all the excuses are blithering nonsense. I want to be a not-completely-obscure writer, so I need to write what people are reading. Pretty much only Ken Liu and Kelly Link are capable of becoming huge in the science fiction and fantasy genre without writing novels. I am neither, nor do I have the requisite initials of KL. Anyone else who wants to make a mark writes a novel.

So, I’m writing a novel. I think I’m going to start on the first of March, or thereabouts. The goal is to finish it by the end of July, which will require a mildly demanding commitment of 500 words a day. The presence of a detailed outline should help, but we’ll see.

The novel, by the way, is the first volume in a young adult science fiction trilogy. Yes, one of those – do feel free to groan audibly. So I will be writing (a) a novel which is (b) part of a series with (c) a young adult protagonist in (d) a fairly-hard science fiction setting. Every single one of those is outside my comfort zone. Put them all together and I expect to be either a gibbering wreck or a phoenix ascending on wings of flaming triumph. Possibly somewhere between the two.

Novel goal: Write a first draft of an 80,000-ish word novel by the end of July.

Supplementary goal: Don’t become a gibbering wreck.

Community activity

I like being a member of a writing community. So much so that I’ve volunteered as the Treasurer of the CSFG committee this. Apart from getting my head around the minor complexities of double-entry bookkeeping, one of my less glamorous writing projects for the year will be to prepare a how-to manual for being the club treasurer. Handovers from one committee to the next have traditional been slow, stuttering affairs – I want to do my bit to make the handover to the next poor sap as seamless as possible by giving them a reference.

Okay, it’s pretty boring, but technical writing is still writing, and in the end it might be among the more demonstrably useful things I do this year. Market analytics indicate the potential audience could be as high as one person every two years, which is on a par with the current audience for my fiction. 😉

Treasurer goal: Write the book on being the CSFG Treasurer. Also, do all the treasuring stuff.

I’ve also taken a relatively minor, straightforward job with the Conflux convention organising committee. I’ll be coordinating the dealers’ room, which means organising vendors, setting up tables and probably getting a heap of coffees for people. In reality I’ll probably end up being roped into other tasks, but at this stage my contribution will be low-key. It didn’t occur to me until later that the not-immediately-obvious benefit of this particular job is that I will have an excuse – no, obligation – to introduce myself to as many publishers of science fiction and fantasy fiction as possible.

Blogging

By trivial coincidence, this should be the 700th blog post on Lexifabricographer. That’s a little hard to believe, but I’m prepared to accept the word of my blog dashboard rather than go back and count. My buddy Andrew kicked my first Lexifab blog over to WordPress back in February 2006, which means this one has been going even longer than the old Blogger one.

It’s looking a bit long in the tooth, to be honest. Since I only started using searchable tags at the start of last year, it’s a bit of a pain to find anything specific on this site. well, if there were anything particularly worth searching for, which is not a call I’d make.

Time for a makeover!

Or rather, time to build a completely new website, dedicated to the whole “being an author” thing. I’ll blog my news and writing stuff there, post up free fiction for Marco, and sales portals for anything that I eventually get published (or published myself). Plus I will totally get a swanky author photo, possibly featuring the subject leaning nonchalantly against something and smirking awkwardly.

With the hosts’ permission, I’ll probably keep this site around for family-and-friends blogging. That separation feels important, not particularly because I’ll be hiding anything, but more because I do occasionally feel moved to commit acts of diary. I can see times when that’s probably not what readers of my epic fourteen-novel series about vampire Hussars on the Trans-Siberian railway will be hunting for.

(PS: Someone commission me to write about railway vampires, because I could totally lock that corner of the market).

As part of the push to furnish the new site with some content, I’ll probably be pushing some free content out – flash pieces and drabbles, most likely. I had a mad urge to undertake a Drabble-a-Day challenge (a drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, by the way) but I’m not going to distract myself with that until I’ve got the story and novel projects well underway.

None of this will happen quickly. I’ll be teaching myself all of the web administration stuff as I go (or more likely cadging favours from friends who already know how to do all this stuff). So far I don’t even have the domain name. Will get to that after the weekend.

Blog goal: Build a new author website like a real grownup might have.

Let’s go, 2015!

Those are my concrete must-haves for 2015. Those are the things I want to have done and locked by the end of the year. I reckon it’s all achievable, though how comfortably so will depend a lot on how readily I overcome my various anxieties relating to long-form fiction, unfamiliar social interactions and systems administration.

In my next post, I’ll go through a shopping list of more esoteric writing goals – stuff I feel like I want to try my hand at, even if I don’t have a specific purpose in mind just yet.

 

 

 

September 3, 2014

What I’m working on in September

First of all, I still don’t have a day job, so the main thing I’m working on is reversing that. Much as I’d like it to be otherwise, the mortgage won’t pay itself and I have to say I’m fond of living in my own home. So, it’s not quite time to retire into full-time writing. Yeah, I’m disappointed too.

Around that, I’ve got some projects ongoing. Now that the weather is warming up, the downstairs guest room is finally getting some renovation love. Last week I painted the walls – we’ll quietly overlook the fact that I didn’t check the paint buckets I was using and so have painstakingly applied two coats of exterior paint in a room that gets barely any sun and now reeks of unusually weird fumes – and this week I’m doing door frames, cornices and cupboards. We have a guest arriving next Tuesday, so I’m on a deadline there.

I have some writing projects as well:

Lane of Unusual Traders – I got my submission in (just) to Tiny owl Workshop’s  The Lane of Unusual Traders anthology that closed on Sunday night. I’m pretty proud of how it came out, a bleak little fantasy fable about a character who believes he can hold on to his humanity in a job where a conscience is an active hindrance. That probably sounds like a thinly-veiled political critique but if so it wasn’t intentional (I only just this minute recognised that as a possible interpretation of the story). I suspect that it is really my subconscious lecturing me about the self-destructiveness of procrastination, which is a far more resonant theme with me.

Lost – On my trip to Sydney this weekend, my buddy Andrew reminded me that he was watching along with my Lost reviews, the last one of which I posted almost two years ago. I felt immediately guilty for absolutely no sane reason. As a result I have resumed my rewatch and blog project Back to the Island, starting with the Season 3 opener ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (see next blog entry!). I figure I will probably power through Season 3, which is probably my least favourite, so that a succession of pretty terrible Nikki and Paolo episodes don’t kill my enthusiasm.

Lighthouse – My still-unnamed lighthouse story is now a full draft in need of revision. I think it’s a pretty good story, so I’m doing my best to look forward to throwing myself at editing it. I still haven’t quite cracked the art of being enthusiastic about revising my work, though I am at least starting to consciously acknowledge the benefits of taking editing seriously. That’s a start.

Breakdown – What would have been my entry to the CSfG Never-Never Land anthology really never came together, but I worked on it a bit over the weekend and at least dragged it a bit closer to being a real story. This will be my “just write it and see what happens” project for the month. Because it’s always worked this way before, I expect that at some point the story will just click into place and I will know how to get from where I am to where I think I’m going, but at the moment it’s a bit of an existential talk-fest between two mildly hostile teenagers. I suspect it needs to be a little more than that. I’ve missed the deadline for the anthology though, so the pressure is off that one.

School Hall – A long-ish fantasy short story with an interesting setting and intriguing characters that either needs paring back to about half its current word count, or needs an injection of considerably more action to justify its length. Either way it’s in need of a complete revision and rewrite. With that one I will have to do a proper outline, not to mention a glossary so that I can remember the weird terminology I made up around the magic systems and the oddly-constructed character names. It’s also a story in search of a title.

Colony Ship – The outline of the novel is about three-quarters done, but there’s a space of about three chapters which is thematically similar to and not much more detailed than “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” (only way less cool than that opening sentence to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series). I am unsure whether I need to know what happens in that bit before I start writing or if I can just jump in and expect to have to revise my outline as I go anyway. Either way I probably won’t start writing that novel for a while yet – probably not before I have an outline for the sequel at least.

Short stories – Even once I’m finished with the stories I have in draft form, I still have two stories to write to make my minimum goal of ten new stories in 2014. I’d like to get at least one of them underway in September. Most of the stuff I’ve been writing lately has come in at the 6000-8000 word mark (though my Lane story was written to a 3000-word limit) so I would like to aim these next couple at the far more manageable (and marketable) 4000 word length. We’ll see how I go – both Lighthouse and School Hall were intended to be that short, and both are nearly double that size.

Slush reading – In addition to doing a lot of critiquing of other peoples’ short stories, I’ve started working as a volunteer slush reader for an Australian speculative fantasy magazine. Basically the job involves rating stories for the benefit of editors putting together an issue of the journal, and providing a few critique comments for the author about what did and didn’t work. At some point down the line I may throw my hat into the ring to become an editor, but for the moment I’m concentrating on building my ability to read critically and pull writing apart to see how it ticks. It’s not something I’ve ever worked hard at before, but I’m interested now.

(Clam – still going on the middle 99 Cities. Ssstttiiiilllllll going.)So that’s it for now (unless there’s something I’ve forgotten which is by now means impossible). What’s up in your neck of the woods?

September 1, 2014

Sydney Book Expo – Personal observations

I spent the weekend working the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild table at the inaugural Sydney Book Expo, held at the Olympic Park over 30-31 August 2014. I imagine that CSFG will be asked to provide feedback to the organisers or, if not solicited, may decide to provide some anyway. So I want to make it clear that these are my personal thoughts and don’t represent the views or the official position of the club. I’m also not linking directly back to the Expo website, because this isn’t intended as constructive criticism.

Basically, it wasn’t very good. Allow me to expand on that a little.

Venue

The venue was fine, I guess. The expo was held in one of the exhibition halls in the Olympic Park that was probably built to stage the rhythmic gymnastics or something. There was plenty of space for exhibitors and punters to walk around – too much, to tell the truth, but I’ll get to that. Our CSFG table was slightly on the cramped side, in that we bought in at the minimum level (we didn’t need any more than that) and so had a table, some backing display boards, a power point and a couple of chairs. There was no way to cram in three people behind the table, though, so at any given time one of us was always roaming.

The downside of the venue was that there was almost no food to be had, other than a single coffee stand and a single mini-cafe selling sandwiches, soups and toasties. If none of that rocked your boat, the options outside the pavilion were vanishingly slim. On the first day I got a pie from the skateboard park nearby (edible); on the second day I went to a nearby park when a fun run was finishing and bought a steak sandwich from a cart there (barely edible). Other than that it was coffee and coke.

The venue was also hot when the sun got on it in the afternoons. That would be consistent with the pavilions being great big aluminium boxes that heat up in direct sunlight.

Offerings

It’s a bit hard to tell exactly what the theme of the Expo was. There were no big publishers in attendance, so the biggest displays were from booktopia.com.au, your bookshop (both online bookstores) and King’s Comics (a comic shop). Those three were clearly the major sponsors of the show, with the largest displays closest to the front doors. Virtually everyone else was a small press publisher – like Satalyte Publishing and our close colleagues from Peggy Bright Books – or a self-published author. I guess there were about forty or fifty vendors all up, maybe?

There were some entertainments of various sorts, starting with the usual author readings and panel discussions on various literary topics of the sort that might interest authors and conceivably also normal people. There were puppeteers, cartoonists and some board games for the kids. There was a guitarist who was selling her CD bundled with a comic and whose set list included about eight light-hearted geek-friendly folk/pop songs. She played all weekend, set after set after set. . And there was a medieval sword-fighting display, complete with costumes and pretty decently choreographed swordplay. I’ve certainly committed worse acts of public martial arts, so more power to them for staying committed all weekend.

There was no discernible pattern to which exhibitors went where – our neighbour on one side was selling a children’s book she’d written about not being afraid of huntsman spiders, and on the other side was an author selling heavily-researched biographies of NSW Governors Arthur Phillip and Charles FitzRoy. Directly across from us was a woman selling her wildlife photography series for kids. Elsewhere were books on alternate histories, mythic romantic fantasies, journeys of discovery, Aussie yarns, crackpot spiritual conspiracy theories and self-help books for self-publishing, sexual health and child behaviour. All reasonably interesting in one way or another, but the word ‘eclectic’ doesn’t begin to cover it. The question we all kept asking each other was, who is the audience for this expo?

Punters

The answer to that question appears to be a resounding “nobody”. Far from a crowd of “up to ten thousand” passing through the figurative turnstiles, we boredly estimated that maybe three or four hundred people came in on the first day. It could have been as few as 250. The second day’s numbers were definitely down on that. If there was any point over the weekend at which there were more punters than exhibitors in the hall, it was a fleetingly brief moment late on the first morning.

We had not much to do. We chatted with maybe forty customers all weekend, and sold stuff to maybe ten. We weren’t expecting to make huge sales or shift a lot of stock, but that was well below even the most pessimistic estimates. At that rate we’d have needed three times as many people (i.e. less than a third of advertised estimates) to show up just to cover our costs.

As it was we did a lot of sitting around chatting to the neighbours, who also had very little to do. I had plenty of time to wander off with my notebook to work on a short story. *Plenty* of time. The other two guys working the stall with me just went off to do stuff with friends during the day, and I can scarcely blame them. If I’d known what it was going to be like I’d have arranged something social for myself as well.

Positives

Personally, I did get a fair amount of writing done, so I don’t consider the time to have been wasted (my family, abandoned for the entire weekend, may have a contrary view they wish to express). And of course I stayed with my dear friends Andrew and Von, and got to spend time with them and their delightful little girls on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Not only that, I saw a few familiar faces – Alan Baxter and Jo Anderton were there as featured authors. It was a delightful surprise to see Jon Blum and Kate Orman out and about, and to get an all-too-brief chance to catch up. I guess for me the Book Expo it was a bit like a geek con, where you have a series of brief reconnections with people you don’t otherwise get to see, but without most of the other fun parts like boozy parties, elaborate costumes or celebratory backslapping.

Conclusions

I’m tired now. And the CSFG still has plenty of stock of its anthologies, if anyone is interested in purchasing some fine Australian speculative short fiction… Hurry now, while stocks (continue to) last.

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

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.

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