Tag Archives: Chuck Wendig

2013

Well, this year is about wrapped up, and as is the want of the season I figured I’d take a look back and see if I could somehow parse some meaning from all of those events that occurred:

Best Books:

I read some excellent books this year.
Noteworthy was Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Red Country‘, which was much anticipated and lived up to lofty expectations. I really liked the returning characters and the new ones even more so, and Joe’s continuing breadth of hybridised genres remained an invigorating force on my appreciation of modern Fantasy writing.
I also read several of Chuck Wendig’s books. You might have noticed I referenced him repeatedly this year on the blog, and with good cause. I ‘discovered’ his writing through the terribleminds website and his advice to writers, and I’m glad that this led me to his fiction. The Miriam Black books were great. His Corn-Punk YA and Atlanta Burns stories were good excursions into a genre I don’t read enough of, and Blue Blazes was great. I still have a special place for the first of his books that I read though, the tales of Coburn, a vampire who wakes up in the zombie apocalypse and must become a shepherd to his ‘sheeple’

Against this stiff competition though rose Mark Lawrence’s trilogy (Prince, King, Emperor of Thorns). It has caused some controversy in some circles but I didn’t find the protagonist as shocking or evil as some of the criticism would suggest. He wasn’t a good guy, but I think he was trying to be without really knowing how. In that sense he wasn’t so much different from other protagonists I’ve read. He was younger in book 1, but as the book progressed that feature became less pronounced, and given the images of teenage ‘soldiers’ coming out of Syria I had little problem accepting it. The world was interesting, but several queries regarding technology level and such went unanswered. I would happily recommend them and look forward to reading Lawrence’s future works.

Best Graphic Novel:

It’s a small field, as I don’t read too many, but I did finally get around to reading “Red Son”. I’m not really a fan of DC and certainly not of Superman who I think tends to fascistic fantasies of control, or to some infantile desire to be protected and guided by a greater being. I was interested in how the Superman mythos would play out against the Soviet political ideals, and while ‘Red Son’ touched on this paradox it went largely unexplored. In the end I felt that the Red Son Superman was still an American, transplanted into Russia, rather than a full exploration of what a Soviet Superman would truly mean. It was an interesting and thought-provoking read though.

Best Film:

Surprisingly few real contenders here. I saw many of the big ‘tent-pole’ movies and usually came away with mild disappoint. ‘Elysium’ didn’t live up to its aesthetic and tried to sledgehammer me with a political message. ‘Into Darkness’ was silly, burdened by fan-service and more spectacle than substance. ‘Iron Man 3’ had some good sequences but seemed to lose the sense of character. ‘Man of Steel’ did a wonderful job of setting up and re-imagining a familiar origin story, but the Krypton scenes were unnecessary, the whole final act was terrible and Snyder’s misogyny kept rearing up ugly. ‘World War Z’, again, sacrificed story to spectacle. ‘Desolation of Smaug’ looked amazing but was weighed down under its own attempts to be an epic far beyond the proportions of its source material. ‘Pacific Rim’ had awesome robots and kaiju… and that is all. ‘Django Unchained’ was disappointing – particularly in the manner by which it relegated its eponymous character to secondary and tertiary roles when Waltz and DiCaprio were on-screen.

I think therefore that ‘Gravity’ gets the nod. Sure there were problems, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out, but it was a great experience. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was beautifully immersive. I love Cuarón’s long tracking shots and the film’s opening was a wonderful example of how the technique can be well used.

(Special mention to ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ for being an absolutely awesome movie to watch with the kids).

Best Event:

Two great events for me this year as a writer.

Firstly, Genrecon 2013 gave me the opportunity again to meet so many other writers in such a diverse range of specialities, and at different stages in the auctorial development. The panels and workshops were excellent, the community supportive and inclusive, the international guests warm and engaging, the banquet after-party sufficiently well lubricated.

Secondly, I saw George RR Martin and Michelle Fairley in conversation, hosted by the Wheeler’s Centre in a side-show to their Supernova commitments. Michelle was wonderfully entertaining and forthright. GRRM went over some adages with which I was already familiar – it must be tremendously difficult to answer the same questions in new ways – but also added some interesting insights into his process and the story thus far (such as his being uncertain that Bronn would even survive the Eyrie, only to watch as the character became important as a sounding-board for Tyrion, and then important in his own right).

Writing:

I have taken some strides here too, but not as many as I had hoped. I’m much more organised with my submissions tracking spreadsheet and a good list of potential markets to explore (thanks in particular to Peter Ball and Alan Baxter); I pitched my novel MS again and felt a lot more confident and assured in doing so; I have five finished short-stories this year, for a total of about 30,000 words.

I am not unhappy with that, given all of the external pressures on my time, but I want to increase that figure. Alan Baxter estimated himself as having completed over 250,000 words this year and Chuck Wendig has something like 600,000. Chuck’s a full-time pen-monkey, but he has a toddler and I am sure many of the same concerns and excuses that I do, so I’m not going to point at any of those as a way out, I’m just going to look at my 30,000 or so, nod, and acknowledge that I could do more.

2014:

Goals then?

  • To write over 50,000 words in 2014. For those not good on the maths, that’s about 1,000 a week. 200 words a day x 5 days a week. That looks do-able.
  • To have completed 6 short stories. That’s one every 2 months. I’ll need to do this and more to hit the 50,000, so hopefully this is a goal I can meet and exceed.
  • Reading 10 novels. That’s about one very 5 weeks, and I suspect this will be the tough one., because I want to hit this goal without including the reading I have to do for work, but perhaps the work reading will have to contribute.
  • Reading 100 short stories. That’s 2 a week, and I think this is an achievable one. I’ve subscribed to Daily Science Fiction, so even if I just read all of them I will be fine, but I’ll get subscriptions to a few other mags as well so that there’ll be the variety. I’m also reading Raymond Chandler’s short stories for work. I may or may not include these toward my goal.
  • Blogging. 1 post a month, at least, and I ambitiously hope to get one up every fortnight.

So there you have it: 2013 tucked into the past and a clear guiding line through 2014. Thanks for following and being a part of it. I appreciate that there is some sense of an audience out there and it helps me to stay motivated knowing that there are readers waiting.

Happy New Year to you all. Hope it’s been a good ’13 and a great ’14 ahead.

Advertisements

Genrecon 2013

Last weekend I went to Brisbane for the second annual Genrecon event.

It was my first time in Brisbane and the weather was perfect, just as the tourism board promises. Genrecon was set amongst the brutalist installations of the late 80s (Southbank was tidied up for Expo 88) and the cultural precinct was a great place to wander around nursing a coffee or a hangover.

Genrecon 2013 itself was, as 2012 had been, an amazing experience. Huge thanks to Peter Ball and Meg Vann and all the QWC ninjas for making it happen.

I came straight from the airport to the Opening Night Reception where I caught up with some of the 2012 veterans such as The Mercieca boys, Chris Andrews and others, and met several new and exciting young writers (like Chris White), editors, agents, publishers and genre-fiction lovers. Special mention here to the Romance writers,  some of whom I knew already, others of whom I met for the first time (such as Cathryn Hein, who was happy to talk footy with me). They were, universally, a pleasure to speak with.

On Saturday morning I made my pitch to Alex Adsett, agent extraordinaire. She was interested enough to request a partial, so I will be emailing that off this week. Having the pitch done early meant I could relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Scott Baker‘s talk on book trailers was (although I missed the start while pitching) a fascinating insight into how new or established authors can build a profile, or open themselves to a diversified market. His own example (for his novel The Rule of Knowledge was excellent. “It’s better to have no book trailer, than to have a bad book trailer.”

Patrick O’Duffy, Kate Cuthbert and Kim Wilkins dragged the workshop on mixing genre into the realm of Dino-erotica, complete with role play. “It’s easier to market a story that is at the centre of an established genre, but that’s not (an author’s) job. Just write the damn book and let the marketing department decide how to sell it.”

The conversation event with John Connolly was fantastic. He’s such a witty and entertaining speaker and shared a lot of wisdom about persistence, effort, professionalism and the need to finish things. “You will always be an amateur if you don’t finish things.”

The Kimonos and Cutlasses Dinner was great. Chuck Wendig gave a live action rendition of his famous “25 lists”. This time ’25 Reasons Why I Fucking Love Genre Fiction”, and followed that up with an interview with Kate Cuthbert that had the room in great spirits. Special mention here to the lovely Denise Rosetti, whom I met at GC 2012, an Erotic Romance writer who has been wonderfully generous with tips on writing craft and the publishing industry.

The post-dinner party was a great night. A chance to debate the relative merits of Kirk and Pickard with Kate Cuthbert (she for Pickard, me arguing for Kirk. Something surely must be said for romancing the unfettered masculine, rather than the dignified and refined. I saw Picard as too staid and paternal. She saw him differently. I think we decided on the terminology ‘Gent in the street/Beast in the bed’).
Later I had the chance to have a few drinks with Scott and John. Here I am then, a young writer, finding his way into the industry, sat at a table with an international best-seller and someone who helped create the Hobbit films… I probably didn’t take full advantage of that, but it was a great conversation. I won’t reproduce it here, but after those trapped in the elevator (including the lovely Gemma Smith) escaped we turned our musing toward cannibalism, and I think that raised the tone.

Sunday began with an almighty hangover, but I made it to the Leanpub presentation, which gave a very interesting history of genre fictions origins in Dickensian serials. Alex gave an insight into the business of being a writer and what to look for in publishing contracts, and Anita Heiss told some hard truths about sales, genre, and finding a niche.

One of the absolute highlights was Charlotte Nash and Rebekah Turner‘s workshop on Action films. Die Hard, Terminator, Aliens, Predator, Speed and The Matrix, all used to show universal truths about how Character, Conflict and Context can be used to tell a compelling narrative.  “You need to give the characters authentic reasons to act in character. There has to be a reason in the context for the characters to act as they do.”

The panel on antagonists gave Chuck and PM Newton a chance to get side-tracked by The Wire and discussing the various ways in which McNulty, Stringer, Barksdale and Marlo were mutual antagonists, and Omar was everyone’s antagonist. Interestingly the discussion turned to the dearth of female antagonists, and it seemed that when they were present it was often opposite female protagonists or as the face of some larger systemic antagonism. “A good antagonist is the hero of his own story.”

And a wonderful event ended with a debate over whether “Genre just wants to have fun,” and despite the best efforts of John “Paris” Birmingham and his impassioned call for the negative team to stop hating life, it was Scott Baker’s reworking of Poe’s ‘The Raven’ that won the day.

Next Genrecon is 2015. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The genre writing community is so supportive and the whole event was so inspiring. There is a diverse range of perspectives, from Horror, to Romance, to Crime, to Sci-Fi, to Fantasy; novelists, short story writers… all sorts. And my people.
Any room where you can get cheered for knowing the significance of LV-426 is my kind of room!


Craft v Platform

There is a tension in some, it would appear, between two apparently opposing forces: the practice of one’s craft, and the building of one’s platform.

I’ve discussed this before, but really, I have never thought of this – what I’m doing here – as ‘platform’. The concept that blogging, maintaining a site, setting up a page, being active on twitter, attending cons… that all of that could be merely some effort to ensnare potential readers, that always struck me as slightly nefarious. Dishonest at worst, a mistake of priorities at best.

I always figured on doing all those things because I like doing them. I like here tapping away and throwing my words out into the churning void of bandwidth and opinion that is the internet. I liked going to Genrecon and meeting a community of people who shared my passions, or gave me new insights into passions related but different, or even new insights into my own. I like interacting with people on Twitter, on Facebook, wherever else it might be. So I hadn’t really felt the tension between these things and the craft of writing, other than the obvious mismanagement of time that could occur.

But Jane Friedman’s post on Writer Unboxed got me thinking about this tension anew last month, and as a result I went away from the website here, I left neglected my Facebook Page, I went away from Twitter… ok. That last one’s not true. Twitter is a difficult thing to shake. I did though take a more passive role on twitter, allowing those I follow to guide me to links and such, but not tweeting (much).

What then has been gained from this month of social media ‘sabbatical’? What gained from a month devoted to craft rather than the building of ‘profile’?

  • I finished writing my draft of Old Man Madigan. It comes in at 10,000 words and I’m wondering now whether I submit it to a market which may be prepared to serialise it, or whether I go in hard with the editing shears and cut.
  • I started expanding some ideas for other short stories, tentatively entitled: Pareidolia, Watchers, Melange. They run a gamut of weird urban/psychological, scif-fi futurism, alt world Fantasy.
  • I wrote a draft of ‘The Witch Way’, a Fantasy short story  at 5,000 words and in need of an edit.
  • I completed a draft of ‘Leaving the Farm’ which had been kicking around in my head and on my computer for years, never really having much structure or purpose. It’s 2150 words and not really genre fiction at all to be honest, straight up Lit Fic with a rural bent.
  • I did a heck of a lot of reading: Chuck Wendig’s Bad Blood, Shotgun Gravy, Bait Dog, Blackbirds, and Mockingbird; Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country; Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns (and currently reading King). Reviews to come.
  • And I sent out a query email for Exile, in the hope that an agent may be interested.

An agent was, and requested chapters, and so I’ve sent them now. I’m cautious and nervous and excited and apprehensive and uncertain and hopeful and worried and blasé… all at once or vacillating between the states. In one sense it’s not a step I haven’t reached (and stumbled upon) before, but I feel it’s progress. The last time an agent requested chapters it was on the basis of a face-to-face meeting, not so in this case. The agent currently considering my submission asked to see more based solely on the few paragraphs into which I distilled my novel. So that’s a good thing, to know that the query email worked, to know that I can pique the interest.

All in all a productive month, especially as I look back on it now. So what’s in store for this month? I hope to edit those two stories that are complete drafts, and to send them out. I have a list of markets to which I can submit (thanks Peter M Ball and  Alan Baxter) and I intend to put that list to use… and of course to check my emails obsessively, in the hope of good news.


On corruption and salvation

I recently finished Chuck Wendig‘s ‘Double Dead‘. I liked it pretty well (full review later), and especially liked the concept: vampire wakes up and finds himself in the middle of zombie apocalypse. It seems so simple and obvious, and yet I can’t think of another example of it.

I got to the end and wanted to read more about Coburn, the vampire protagonist. As a character he really grabbed me, despite their being a pretty fundamental shift in the dynamic of his character in the final pages (I’m trying to keep this spoiler free – I will kinda hint at a few broad thematic points though, so there may be a bit of spoiler slippage. Sorry). It got me to thinking on how he had changed and what it was that still made him interesting to me, and I found it was quite a different kind of interest to that which had initially drawn me to the character and kept me there at his side throughout. And it set a nagging little question in my mind.

As a reader I seem readily to accept that people can be changed by a corrupting influence. I don’t think I’m alone or controversial here. Power corrupts, etc… but it’s more character relations I’m thinking of here. It seems utterly plausible that a basically good person can be brought low, can be turned to the dark-side, can be corrupted by the influence of an evil person. Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings (seriously – don’t trust guys named ‘Wormtongue’ – rookie error), Emperor Palpatine – firstly on young Anakin and unsuccessfully on Luke, the corruption of Jack Torrance during his time at the Overlook, all these things we (or I) accept because it seems we (or I) believe / fear that there is an evil in all people, perhaps even within ourselves, a malevolence that must be kept in check, and which can be brought from us by outside influences. This is perhaps a negative view of humanity, but there you have it.

What I had a harder time accepting was the reverse, that an evil character, a nasty misanthrope, un-empathetic, revelling in his ways, could be redeemed by a character of pure goodness. In some small way I felt unsettled by this, not quite cheated, not really unfulfilled, but just that it seemed a little far-fetched.

And so having finished a book about a vampire in the zombie apocalypse, I’m left feeling that the ‘unrealistic’ part of the narrative was that a good person could influence and evil one to be better.

Is this just some deep underlying pessimism of mine? Or is it that we are more ready to accept the ‘gritty’ truth of corruption, and less prepared for the more optimistic process of salvation?


The re-write is complete

Phew!

Now that was more an effort than I realised it would be.

I removed about 40,000 words from my manuscript over the past few months. That’s nearly a quarter of its weight!

Many of these were removed on a line-by-line edit: clarifying sentences, dealing death to adjective clusters, seeking out adverbs remorselessly and casting their brutally beaten bodies from my work. I did away with many dialogue tags. I found ways to say with ten words what I had said with twelve or fifteen. I found all of these little slivers of fat that still clung to the meat of my tale and I carved them off with a wicked sharp blade.

Then I had to really get stuck in.

This wasn’t my first pass with the scalpel, and on a project this size trimming fat didn’t shrink the manuscript by the requisite amount, so I started cutting away at the muscle, the flesh, in some cases the connective tissue. That hurt. I lost some good stuff I think. A character was erased from existence. Another had his role cut significantly. Two characters became so peripheral that to survive they had to undergo a melding of bodies and minds and become one. Details were lost, poignant moments, not-quite-salient anecdotes, slightly obscure back-story, geographical references, subtle foreshadowings… but these things ultimately were bloating the story into something more than what it should have been.

So now I have 131,000 words. Still big by the standards of a debut novel, but it’s a manageable big.

I asked a few agents (through the wonder of Twitter) what would be a maximum word-limit they would consider as a submission from an unpublished novelist and the answers were in the range of 140,000 to 150,000. I’m happily below that upper limit, and I’m sure the manuscript is much better for it.

I said at the outset that my goal here was not necessarily to become a professional writer, not even necessarily to become published, though both of those are measures of success. My goal is to become a better writer, and whatever comes as an outcome of this process I feel that the process has already achieved some success toward that goal. I made brutal decisions, but they were the right ones. Some years ago, perhaps even some months ago, I would have baulked those decisions, and I would have remained in a comfort zone of bloat and easy-living. That is not a good place for a writer to remain.

I also now have a much clearer delineation of writing and editing. When I was starting I would open the document and start editing the material I had just written the day before, and so writing was a crawl. I would write a couple of hundred words in a day, but then spend a day or two editing those before adding another couple of hundred and restarting the edit process. It’s a dysfunctional approach. It’s the wrong one. To borrow from Chuck Wendig:

“Writing is when we make the words. Editing is when we make the words not shitty.”

I believe I have done that. I believe my words are not shitty.

And now? Now I get the query letter dressed up. Now I nail that synopsis. Now I go back to Chapter One, Page One, Paragraph One, Word One. Now I make that opening irresistible. Because this week the queries go out (agents be warned) and I think I’ve got a good chance now of putting my best foot forward. That might or might not lead somewhere, but at least I’ll be stepping out knowing I’ve put the work in to make it possible.