No Interviewers Were Harmed In The Making Of This Post

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My eyes stare through your soul. Also, what’s your favourite spoon?

I did an interview for Flashpoint, the upcoming anthology from Third Person Press! In it, I answer many questions:

-Who are my favourite authors?

-Why am I not a superhero?

-How can you help the Kumquat Army?

-Who’s next on my hit list?*

Go read it! And if you want to buy/support the anthology, click here!

That’s it! I’m out of exclamation marks!

*Like I’d give that away.

Monday Challenge: ALL HAIL SYMBOLITRON

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*something something the human condition something*

I was cleaning out my guest room the other day and found my degrees. And a copy of my first thesis.* As I leafed the mess of paper, I remembered long—sometimes very long—afternoons spent in tiny windowless rooms, debating the various merits of post-colonialist discourse versus post-modernist aesthetics. Sometimes those arguments were fun, sometimes they were interesting, and sometimes they were absolutely infuriating, but not a day goes past when I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore.

However, I do remember once, at the Grad House**, we got to talking about what would happen if you came up with the symbolism first, and then wrote the story. Short answer: it would probably suck. Or be critically acclaimed. Or possibly both, because the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, in honour of that drunken conversation many autumns ago, here’s this week’s Monday Challenge:

Go to the Symbolitron. It will randomly generate a story and the symbolic meaning behind it. Pick one from the list it gives you, and then write the opening for that story. 

And if you want to do it in a bar in memory of me and my colleagues, more power to you.

*The second one I haven’t seen since I passed it in for final marking. Either I really don’t want to look at it anymore, or it flapped its covers and flew away to start a colony of post-colonial research proposals of its own.

**A bar, because the first rule of grad school is why meet in your office when you can meet in a pub?

Making It Worse: Why Awkward Characters Are The Best

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So, is this a good time to tell you that your scabbard is in a REALLY awkward place?

Awkward characters are the most fun to write.*

Here’s why: you’ve got a situation. Because you’re a writer, it’s probably bad. Some shit’s about to go down and everything stands on the brink of disaster. One false move, one inappropriate word, and the whole thing comes crashing down.

Having an awkward character there is like having a match when you’re standing knee-deep in gunpowder.

It’s all about potential. Awkward characters—and by that I mean characters who say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, just like real people—are endless sources of complication, hilarity, tragedy, and things going completely pear-shaped. They’re like machines designed to make chaos.

Which, as a writer, is fucking great.

See, the best thing about awkward characters is that you never have to look outside for sources of conflict. They make their own, which is far more compelling than anything I can impose on them. Comets falling from the sky and invasions of Mole-Things from under the earth are way less interesting than a rookie fighter who, because of some broken wiring, can’t stop herself from mouthing off to the biggest, baddest necromancer around.

This isn’t to say external conflict isn’t good and, sometimes, necessary. It can also be fun. But if you’re looking to create tension, most readers instinctively cringe when a protagonist does something stupid. Because we know what it’s like. We’ve done that. Okay, maybe not giving the finger to the five-storey-tall rampaging mech, but we’ve definitely said the wrong thing to our boss, or our partner, or a cop. We’ve done stupid shit and had to reap the consequences.

And knowing that a character can do something awkward is a great source of tension: “Oh, god, Jimmy’s stuck in the middle of the horde of Bob the Bleak-Hearted, he should just give up, give up, Jimmy, don’t start talking again, every time you talk it goes bad.”

Whether or not Jimmy says what’s on his mind to Bob, the tension is there. People will read just to see how bad he fucks it up. He might not fuck it up, especially if this is the Last Great Confrontation and Jimmy has to get his shit together or destroy time and space. But the potential for fuck-uppery permeates the scene, winching ever tighter around the heart of the reader, until the sheer tension makes them want to throw up.

Writers: we’re bastards. Get used to it.

*Though, for me, not always to read. When I’m reading I love those knife-edged, grey area bastards like Harlequin in Myke Cole’s Control Point.

What It’s Like To Get Published

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There was a sizing error with the author copies…

Getting one of your pieces published has two sides.

On one hand, there’s the awesomeness: holy shit, someone else thinks that a thing you did is good. And it’s probably not your mom! You are the creator of worlds, motherfucker, and that world is now open for visitors! Stamp your passport and get your shots, because we’re taking a trip into your brain.*

But on the other, far more creepy, hand, there’s the terror: holy shit, something you wrote is now out in the world where other people can read it. And judge it. And write scathing one-star reviews on Amazon. What’s worse: that people hate it…or that they don’t notice it at all?

It’s at this point that most writers retreat into a corner and begin to gibber. It’s okay. It happens to everyone. Try that corner over there, it’s got a nice floor.

But once you unfold from the fetal position, you realize there is a third hand to all this, one that you never considered before you got published: getting published is not the end.

So many writers are focused on the notion of publication that they don’t realize that getting published is just one more stop along the line. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important stop—not least because someone is giving you money for a thing you made, which is awesome—but it’s not the end. Because after publication comes promotion, and readings, and launches. And of course the next publication, and the next story.

And that’s a good thing. If publication was the end of it, I’d be sad that it was over. Instead, the train keeps right on rolling.

Best thing you can do is enjoy the ride.

Which I am doing right now. I’ve got a story coming out in a new anthology, Flashpoint. You can find out all about it over here, at the IndieGoGo page, as well as check out some of the cool bonus rewards for those who support it. There are copies of the book and ebook, shiny things, events, and other assorted perks for supporting the anthology.

Or, of you want to know more about the anthology and the writers featured therein, check out the blog, which has interviews with the authors. Find out what writers drink! Who’s an outliner! What our superhero powers would be!** My interview will be going up shortly, in which you will find out exactly when I slithered my way into this dimension from my own.

So go check it out. I’ll be updating progress along the publishing ride here as new things happen. Book launches! Readings! Summoning rituals! All the trappings of publication.

And, in the meantime, I’m going to go write something else.

*Watch out for the locals. They bite.

**Spoiler alert: ‘hero’ is not the word for me.

Monday Challenge: Guess Who’s Back?

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“I had a headache once. Then I danced on some text.”

Today’s Monday Challenge is inspired by this goddamn migraine, which I thought was gone. It should be gone. I took the medication, got some sleep, did all the right things*. And yet, after a small intermission, it’s back.

Maybe it just slept in this morning.

I sometimes wonder if the part of my brain that gives me weird story ideas and insults like ‘shambling pubefarmer’ is also responsible for the migraines. I mean, there’s got to be something twisted about that little nest of dendrites, right? It can’t be totally normal. When it’s working as it should, I get stories about blood and magic and guns and monsters. But every now and then it throws a rod and the energy that would go into making an idea goes into trying to force-eject my brain from my skull.

Just a speculation, of course.

Anyway, Monday Challenge: something that should be over—that whoever it was happening to thought was over—has continued. Perhaps in a different form, or in a different place. Or maybe in the exact same shape it used to take, stalking around your life or your head. And is it possible to make it go away, once and for all?

*As opposed to the shit I would have done ten years ago, when my thought process could have been described as “just take the edge off with some rum and half a pack of cigarettes, because you’ve got another section of your thesis due tomorrow and that fucker ain’t gonna write itself.”

Writers Don’t Want Your Damn Ideas

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She is one thousand percent done with your shit.

Every writer has had this experience:

You meet someone, and they find out—maybe you tell them, maybe someone else already has—that you write. And they get this gleam in their eye and you just know what the next words out of their goddamn mouth will be: “Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s all ready to go. Now that I’ve done the hard part, you should write it for me and then we can go splits.

If you are a nicer person than me, you listen to them politely. If you are a much nicer person than me, you make some noncommittal noises and let them leave with the impression that you consider yourself lucky to have heard their idea.

If you’re exactly like me, though, you treat them to Cersei Lannister-style bitch face until they feel the cold winds of eternity blowing through their soul, laying freezing waste to what they encounter, cutting down men like wheat in the field.* Winter isn’t coming, you shambling pubefarmer; it’s here, in my eyes.

Writers don’t want your ideas. We have enough of our own.

Seriously, whenever I finish something and am trying to decide on the next thing to write, it’s never a case of looking for an idea. It’s a case of choosing from the dozens of new ideas that are clustered around my feet, all clamouring for attention. If you’re imagining standing ankle-deep in an adorable crowd of puppies, don’t. They’re not tame, these ideas. They climb over each other. They bite. The stronger ones bury the weaker, so  what I’m actually choosing from is a hundred varieties of monster: vicious, blood-thirsty, and demanding.

And then these happy assholes come along with their idea—their usually poorly-thought-out, undernourished, barely-alive idea—and want you to put it before all the clamouring monsters clawing at your legs and climbing up your back. Because, despite the fact that they’ve never found it interesting enough to spend hours putting the damn thing to paper themselves, this idea is just that fucking awesome. And, the implication is, your ideas are shit.

Because these people think that a writer is nothing more than a tape recorder with a pulse, a device to record their genius. Anyone can do it, right? They certainly could, if they only had the time. But since they’re far too busy doing important things, they’re willing to share the glory with poor little you.

Note to everyone who feels the desire to offer their ideas to writers: don’t. We are not the elves to your shoemaker. We don’t need your ideas. And we are far, far too busy for your shit.

*Not always true. Sometimes I just laugh.

Kill The Queen: Fixing Plot Holes

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This may be a bigger problem than I–hey, is that China?

I found a plot hole in my story the other day.

It’s okay. I fixed it.

But fixing it led to another plot hole.

And then another.

And another.

I’m starting to think there might be a breeding colony at work somewhere. I may need a flamethrower.

But that’s the thing with rewrites: all that shit that you said you’d fix later? Well, guess what, motherfucker: it’s later. And you can’t skate past it twice.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes you don’t realize something is wrong until after it happens. Oh, you might have an inkling. A tingling in your Spider Sense*. A feeling.

Later, the feeling is stronger. Something just doesn’t seem right. You can smell it. And, by going back, you find it: a plot hole.

It is tempting, especially if you’re a no-outline writer or pantser or whatever the hell people call themselves these days, to just let it slide for now again. To fix that later as well. But I caution against this. Why? Because it’s a slippery fucking slope.

When you’re zero drafting, you can get away with that shit because you legitimately don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. You’re a wanderer in the middle of your own story, as lost as a tourist in the Thai red-light district. So those incongruities and problems…they’re a problem for Future You.

But during the rewrite…you are Future You. And Future You doesn’t have the same excuse.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this might work, I just need to think of how and I can do that later’ and ‘this doesn’t work in any incarnation of the story but I can’t be arsed to fix it’. If you know something is wrong, you should fix it before it spreads its diseased tentacles of wrongness throughout the story. One bad thing leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to six more…and before you know it, the story has gone off in entirely the wrong direction.

So, when you find them, fix the plot holes. Smooth things out. Make it as seamless as possible so that you can then focus on other stuff: the voices, the pacing, the mood, the tension. And, of course, the other plot holes that your beta readers will inevitably find.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a breeding colony to find.

*If this is not someone’s nickname for their genitals, I am very disappointed in all of you.