They’re all dead.

dead-ladybirdThat’s it, done. If I’m ever going to write a new novel, I have to kill off, ‘A Plague of Ladybirds.’

The final straw came this week. I was booked in to do a cold pitch at the Rockingham Writer’s Festival. Within days of the event, they wrote to me and switched the times for my cold pitch. Not a big deal, but I couldn’t make it to the 12th Planet Press pitch, the one I really wanted.

I’m not one for belief in an external locus of control, but it felt like the final ‘sign’. Following this, a cynical realisation followed, ‘What if they just took people’s money for cold pitches, and had no free spots in their lists?’ They could sit there all day, taking $50 for ten minutes of nodding…that’s a great income.

This isn’t a cry for help. There’s nothing I could try with this book that I haven’t already tried.

I’ll always write. I just won’t write about an Akubra wearing woman, single-handedly running a sheep station in perfectly pressed clothes – striving against adversity to finally win in the end. Therefore, I will write for me.

Thanks for the support and encouragement.
I was proud of the book, and I know it entertained many of you.

Monstrous baby steps.

Monstrous baby steps.My Monstrous! short stories have been published on the Good Games Publishing site. These stories accompany their 2016 card game: Monstrous! and were written to evoke an emotional response within the context of the game’s world. What a fabulously fun job this was, the game takes place in ancient Greece, so there was a wealth of mythology to draw upon. The flavour of the game stated that the Gods were cross with the populace, and wished to frighten them back into worship. I felt therefore, that it would be fun to get inside the lives of these individuals as they encounter Gorgons, Hydras and the Minotaur.

With Raez publishing’s Rogue Blitz soon to hit the Kickstarter shelves, it’s going to be an exciting few months. Seeing my work add to the worlds created by these game designers is very rewarding. Hopefully, it can touch a few gamers and make their experience even better. Ultimately, it puts my work out there and encourages other designers to trust me with their product.

More Monstrous! talk? …go on then: August 4th – 7th will see me at GenCon in Indianapolis. I’ll be on the Good Games Publishing booth talking to folk about this amazing card throwing game. As it happens, prior to this event I have need of ‘wasting a few days in the USA.’ An overwhelming problem to have, right? So much choice. As a weird-fiction writing nerd, however, there is only one destination: Providence.

I plan to take a couple of days in the great North-East, earbuds in ears, wandering the streets of Lovecraft, listening to the audio guide. Brown University, Lovecraft’s family home, H.P’s grave site: ‘I am Providence’ and of course 135 Benefit Street, the original Shunned House. What to expect? I have no idea, but I’ll leave some updates and photos here.

It’ll be weird…with a bit of luck.

Back to the Weird: The French Singer

The French SingerTime to return to the weird. Rogue Blitz has been completed, thanks to some excellent feedback from my trusted readers (A big gold star sticker to Aksel, especially). Some of the oversights in my edit were embarrassing, but we got there. With that story folded into a tidy email and posted off to Raez publishing, I can muse on my own creations again.

In October last year, I wrote a large portion of a story while on a plane. The first draft came back to Perth with me and disappeared beneath the work for Monstrous and Rogue Blitz. In the last fortnight, I fished it out and got stuck in.

The tale remains nameless, but it’s one I’m genuinely invested in. If I were a needy pop star, I would say the work is a personal statement, I have been brave and exposed my inner workings, I am very naked on this album…but who would talk like that <ahem>. What I probably want to express in this story is a feeling of getting older, desperation against the rat race, a search for value, fatherhood, and a recognition that some simple things can be heart-warming.

Please do not misunderstand my intentions, it’s not self-help drivel. This month has been overwhelming with the number of writers I’ve seen plugging miserable anecdotes about personal struggles. Such articles are usually accompanied by a photograph of the author looking mellow, bathed in sunlight, a knowing smile on their lips, arms folded, ‘…I’ve been through so much. Let me share.’

Let’s play. Let’s pretend. Let’s walk somewhere magical…

As it is now, the ending to my newest story makes me well up. When my wife read it, she said, stony-faced, ‘It’s you.’ Bloody hell, she was supposed to be in tears. Perhaps what I feel when I write this story is not yet on the page. Perhaps, it never will be. That is the struggle to become skillful in the art. Evoke the correct emotion, at precisely the right time, and move your audience.

My aspirations for this story – let’s call it, ‘The French Singer’ for now – is that it will be a story I can push down more commercial avenues than those available to my current fiction. I hope it may sneak into some competitions disguised as self-actualising shite, but then surprise a few judges with a touch of magic.

…high aspirations are back on the table it would appear.

Rogue Blitz Short Story Development.

Rogue Blitz Short Story

Completion of a first draft for the ‘Rogue Blitz‘ short story happened today. That’s the forthcoming board game from Wes Lamont’s publishing brand, RAEZ games. The story is very much out of my usual genre. It involves flying machines that go head-to-head with a titan-of-the-air bad-guy. The product, for which it is intended to support, has all of the action taking place within the game. So to take it beyond that, and add a layer of depth not already present, I’ve hopefully made some interesting choices.

It will probably be regarded as a sci-fi story. I broke out the Asimov reading to get in the mood. However, I tried to avoid the trappings of the genre. No lists of tech-babble, although, I have attempted to use dialogue that incorporates slightly futuristic perspectives and expectations. For example, my narrator complains about a forty-five-minute commute from Indonesia to Europe. The comment is made in passing and, hopefully, illustrates that travel has become quicker – but the human experience is still the same. I like to think that this passage also avoids a stream of superlatives about the vehicle in which they travel.

My experience of writing this story has been a tad more terrifying than my usual weird-spook-fests. I’m outside a comfort zone that I didn’t know existed. Of course, I’m looking forward to getting right back into my cob-webbed filled genre. Perhaps I’ll take my time on the return voyage. I could finish that other ‘accessible’ story, that I’ve mostly completed, before sinking my fangs into something horrific. Perhaps…

In the meantime, inspired by Noah Bradley’s time-lapse of himself doing digital artwork. I made this video: A man writing for several hours. It looks like I read aloud or, at least, mouth what I’m reading? This is why writing is a solitary pursuit.

Rogue Writer, Podcaster, but not Traveller…yet.

mr__self_destruct_by_austenmengler-d9g291cI approached Wes Lamont of RAEZ games several months ago to discuss his forthcoming game, ‘Rogue Blitz’. My pitch to him discussed the gap between any game mechanics and the narrative that gamers engage with; who are the characters, what are their motivations, what is the conflict, where is the struggle…sounds like story telling, huh. With my background in games and writing, along with my recent work for Good Games Publishing, I felt perfectly suited to adding something to Wes’s excellent game designs.  After exchanging notes, playing some games and recording a podcast together, I began work on ‘Rogue Blitz’.

The plan is to have a PDF that can be downloadable as part of a future Kickstarter campaign. It may serve as an introduction to the Rogue Blitz world, it may be used to expand on the imagery incorporated in the packaging. We’ll see. Exciting stuff though, and a different writing challenge.

This podcast thing. I’ve been writing the introduction to 7LandHand for over two years now. Along with the social media attached, I’ve come to regard it as a regular writing commitment that helps me hone the craft. I’m not sure how the end product is regarded, but there is a lot of work going into keeping it polished. The net result, I hope is ongoing development of my writing…even if we are heavily reliant on quick set-up puns.  Eeek!  The podcast has also expanded to address a national audience now. Along with this, sponsorship from Good Games Australia. In fact, go win a game NOW…follow this link and leave a comment on the post at the top of our Facebook page. Easy. This is happening every month – so keep entering. Free games – no effort.

I had a few cancelled plans. One was to go to a Las Vegas convention to try and drum up a bit of writing work. This might have to wait until next year though. The convention takes place in March and it’s all a bit hurried at the moment. Another convention, in Canberra, recently came and went, too. I’m not one for ‘putting off until next year’, but I’m putting this off until next year.

I’ve just finished reading Clive Barker’s, ‘The Scarlet Gospels’ and now I’m buying all his stuff. It wasn’t the perfect book, but the first of his that I’ve read. I’m straight into, ‘Mister B. Gone’ now…which starts like a Cookie Monster book we have.

In and out of the labyrinth

cogsIt has taken some time to wander back here…I have been lost in the labyrinth of ancient Greek mythology. The designers at Good Games Publishing got in touch with me. They were seeking some written material for their card game, ‘Monstrous’. At present the game only exists as a news-feed on their website: SecretbaseGames. The game has been successfully Kickstarted and will see retail shelves in 2016.

They asked for some narrative excerpts and flavour-text to colour the game’s world. The goal of this project was to help immerse the player in the emotional tension and consequences of upsetting Zeus. After all, games are usually a matter of mechanics and maths before the artwork and story are added. So, what a great opportunity.

I seized the chance and started researching the premise of their game, ancient Greek mythology, and everything about how ancient Greeks lived. I had hoped to be able to link to my work on their site, but it’s not available yet. The work is submitted – it’s pretty cool and I have had fabulous feedback. Once it is published, I’ll cite the link on this page.

Currently, I’m working with a local game designer on a short story to accompany his forthcoming release in 2016. More on that as it comes to hand.

Is that the sound of cogs starting to turn? It’s definitely the creaking of my writing CV expanding.

The Zone

The Zone

Thousands of feet above the Nullarbor, listening to the same song – on repeat – for four hours and with an open laptop, I found my zone.

My jacket lay over my thighs, giving the impression I looked forward to a spell in a retirement home. The emergency exit seating played a key role; loads of room for unpacking/packing the laptop, stretching my legs, rifling through notes before stuffing them back into my baggage. Another key ingredient: my neighbours, on both flights, kept to themselves. I sucked on a Vicks and tried not to suck at ‘the writing’.

There is a certain joy, for me, in not being able to be distracted; even now, I’m texting and responding to Facebook Messenger. Up in a plane, with no opportunity to X-Box or pinball or search the fridge really focuses the mind. As the inner voice reminded me that, ‘Perhaps, an in-flight movie would be of interest,’ I argued that prizing myself out of the airplane-writing-cocoon would be a hassle. I continued to type.

Upon landing in Sydney, I mentioned to others that I’d ‘cracked it’ – I’d found my zone. ‘Let us all join hands in the skies and write as the birds might’…no one agreed.
‘Ugh, it’s so uncomfortable.’
‘I can’t concentrate up there.’
‘I’m terrified of flying, how could I write.’

It is an expensive way to gain a few thousand words. However, trips to Melbourne, Vegas and beyond now offer productivity…for me, at least.

P.S: On landing in New South Wales, I discovered I couldn’t buy wine after 10pm. These bizarre nanny state rules forced me to visit a bar and engage with the locals; my earlier preference for consuming a lonely bottle back at the hotel now quashed. I dropped into ‘David’s Interviewer’ persona and had a fabulous chat with:
Gustavo: A Brazilian in Sydney doing an English degree – I told him he was in the wrong place for such behaviour.
Roxanne: A Chilean who told me it was her first night behind the bar and that she wasn’t enjoying the attentions of a very, very Aussie guy who frequently groped her.

I’m putting all that down as engaging with life. I really enjoyed their company. Hopefully, it will add flavour to future words – look for Roxanne and Gustavo in a weird tale near you soon.

Ideas from the shed

Shed in the woodsI’ve moved my attention across the Atlantic. With the U.S version of the Writer’s and Artists Yearbook, namely The Writer’s Market, I’m scouring for suitable agents. There’s an immediate, and promising, difference. I’m finding agents with interests in Lovecraft, weird fiction, Gaiman – they actually use those words in their bio-pic. One stated he had authors on his list who can’t define their genre, but get labelled as thriller, horror and supernatural writers. He went on to say that none of those genres fit precisely, but defining creative work into boxes isn’t always possible. Delightful.

I officially hit thirty submissions last night. Every time I hear how many rejections Harry Potter received the number changes. At this stage, the higher numbers are sweet, sweet music. Something like sixty-seven was the last number I heard. I appreciate that many of my submissions could have been to the wrong person, or arrived when a list was full.Hopefully, I can do it in quicker time than J.K.

Not all responses (rejections) have been automatic responses either. Many have been complementary and referenced parts of my manuscript as being engaging, ‘something I would love to publish’, and ‘with a wonderful twist.’ These comments are heartwarming, they bump the confidence into submitting again. I think I’ll cry for a week when someone responds with, ‘Let’s get to work.’

The follow-up to A Plague of Ladybirds hasn’t received words-on-page for a little while. My focus has been on the structure and my desire for dynamic character interaction. The common-place book is bursting with goodness. I hope all that goodness, written in my barbed-wire handwriting, is decipherable when I need it.

This week I am off work. The job is heavy and wearing – it eats into creativity. So I am resting…as fast as possible. My method for relaxing, in what remains of the week, is to write a short story for fun. At the bottom of the garden, inside the shed, a painting is coming together; something else I’ve been working on. The painting, however, is a scene from the final stages of this short story.

So, off for fun.

In phase with WIP ‘Out of Phase’.

trimdon400I’m feeling better this week, the cure: Writing. I’m living my humble dream of being a full-time writer…for a week. One week off work and I’m bristling with creativity. Today is day four, I have 2,500 first draft words on the page.  My schedule for each day this week has been: Wake up, write, coffee, write, family! In the evenings, I’ve read over the manuscript (if such a small collection of words can be called a manuscript) and edited as necessary.

Surprises of the week so far have included achieving small chapter structure. A practise that seems popular is to have bite size pieces of text that the reader can consume quickly. I find, as a particularly slow reader, that this encourages me to push on to the next break…and the next break. Facing off against forty pages before the next chapter can be intimidating.

I had anticipated that the plot outline I have for chapter one would be a full 10,000 words, yet I seem to have the shell of it in 2,500. Not to worry, I’ve already identified places that need character back story so I would imagine the chapter will bulk up before having Stephen King’s 10% cut from it.

Song of the week whilst writing? A rather lively, ‘Chandelier’ by Sia; a cautionary tale about not drinking too much. I’m not a party girl and I haven’t got hurt this week, so perhaps the song has been therapeutic. My mellow playlist that I planned to listen to whilst writing, was a bit of failure. I work best with one track on repeat for hour after hour. This was a strategy I used at university – it’s still a useful tonic to focus my attentions.

Submissions happened again last week. Once again, lovely agents in England with friendly engagement. I can only hope to meet their standards, vacancies and tastes. After sending in the manuscript/synopses/cover letter, I noticed that the manuscript page header said, ‘A Plague of Ladybirds – 2014.’ I wonder if I should change the year to 2015? It’s improbable that the book is aging like wine and, untouched, will be a masterpiece by 2020. Although, if I leave it, does it say, ‘This manuscript wasn’t just finished as a first draft and sent in’? These are the unnecessary mental tortures of a submitting writer.

As I write/plan this second book I have noted one or two small changes for APOL. Oh, and at the moment this second WIP book is titled, ‘Out of Phase.’ Doesn’t really say spooky-shit-in-the ladybird-universe does it. Plenty of time for an innovative title yet. My deadline calendar predicts May 2016 for completion of the first draft. If I could enjoy spending my time writing, as I have done this week, that deadline would shrink by months.

While the embers glow, there is life.

Burnt_Matchstick_Art_by_Stanislav_Aristov_001

Book number two steams forth, thanks to a solid playlist and a calendar of deadlines. However, I may have misjudged how to start a second novel. 

When commencing APOL, my enthusiasm was bristling and, after a modicum of planning, I just wrote.  Later in APOL, I wish I’d planned more and knew my characters better. I needed to rewrite a lot in order to line everything up the way I wanted it. This dilemma, however, doesn’t seem to be cured by ‘over-planning’; something of the chicken and the egg about this conundrum.

It’s very difficult to know how your characters will act in a situation without knowing who they are.  Equally, it’s a bit of a bastard to decide who your characters are without knowing what they will be challenged by. Which scenes will sparkle with which type of character? I’ve used my basic, ‘That would be cool to see’ model, plus character archetypes, plus historical research – I’m finding it difficult to find a great reference for how coal miners cut into the coalface in the late 1940’sUK.

Of course, with a polished manuscript – yet to be accepted by an agent/publisher – under my belt, the crushing lack of self-confidence slows progress too. When writing a first draft, I must ignore the years of work that went into the previous writing.  The manuscript has years of work in it.  The line I am writing now has just been born.  I musn’t accuse my newborns of being inept young adults.

To aid in Book Two efforts, I’ve booked myself a week off work and home alone at the end of July. This needs to be serious; I need to spend decades being creative. The sooner I can get to a standard – the sooner I can live creatively. This is my mid-life crisis talking now…yet I have to listen.  I’m forever fearful of being on my death bed and wondering why I never tried.  Now is the time to achieve, work hard.  Fuck, I sound like a motivational tape.

This last month did see a rejection from a publisher that really upset me. Strangely, I initially told this publisher my manuscript wasn’t for them.  I gave my elevator pitch and brief synopsis with the goal of having them suggest OTHER suitable publishers who may be interested. Yet, after this, they asked to have a look themselves. In here, somewhere, a spark of hope ignited. When that spark was extinguished, the hurt grated more than other rejections/silences.  It’s a horrible business. The embers of hope remain, I need to feed them.

Irons need to be added to the fire. I’m sure it’s a matter of waiting for the right publisher, or agent, on the right day.

Not really a shit sandwich format today, rather a nice slice of crusty loaf sitting on a cowpat.  The final turd I have to dump here is a gripe with casual readers. If you are a hobbyist writer, doing it for fun, you’ll give your stories to friends and they’ll tell you how great you are.  Once you declare that you are writing seriously, everybody you give your work to – no matter how well you know them – no matter what their level of writing proficiency – no matter how informal their request for a read – will return to you with a critique of how your work didn’t satisfy them.

I am a writer.
Here to entertain and thrill.
Please insert complaints.

…and out on a haiku.