Sunday Circle #13

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here for this weeks’). I don’t get to it every week, but this is one of those weeks, so here we go.

What am I working on this week?

This is the second week of university marking, which means long hours at the computer, trying to remember not to twist my body towards the forward mouse hand. I’ve tried to swap the mouse to the left hand (constantly recommended by physio, chiro, etc etc) but that’s only good for gross-motor actions – navigating webpages type stuff. As soon as I need fine control on selecting particular words and sentences, mouse goes back in the right. I miss hard-copy marking. Marking on computers is slower and harder on the body. But I digress. Having mercifully gotten through both course tutorials’ final assignments by yesterday, this week it will be marking of the dissertations and essay students I supervised.

In addition, I’m teaching workshops tomorrow at my high school, a prospect that is equal parts exciting and terrifying. I love teaching, but my usual classes are university level. It was a challenge to strip out some of the ways I normally teach (mostly with inappropriately adult fiction and swears). At least I’m all prepped, and though you can never quite tell how it will go the first time running a new class, I’m as ready as I can be.

Other than that, I’m waiting to hear on a manuscript and navigating the decisions on teaching for the rest of the year, now that I’m about to submit my PhD (6-8 weeks away). The big change of a scholarship ending is looming on the horizon, though the actual thesis itself is away with proofreader/supervisor, so it feels rather distant at the moment.

If I survive all that, on Friday I’m flying out to the Emerging Writers’ Festival as a festival ambassador. I’m super looking forward to that. A weekend in Melbourne talking about books and writing and a few fun parties? Enthusing with other writers? That I get paid for? YES PLEASE.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Oddly, The Bold Type (on Stan). One of the kindy mums recommended it to me a few weeks back, and after watching the pilot, I wasn’t convinced. It felt uneven and a bit vacuous. But something drew me back, and I found myself unexpectedly drawn in. One of the reasons is I kept expecting to see “standard” characters trotted out (like that the magazine editor would be a hard-nosed arse, like Miranda Priestley in Devil Wears Prada) but surprise, the editor is a nuanced and unexpected character. The women in the show have complex work and personal lives, and it seems to broadly be about collaborative navigating of challenges, rather than oppositional character antagonism. I’m still trying to put my finger on what exactly about it intrigues me, but I think I’m getting close with that. One of my students this semester wrote a dissertation on television-style writing, and made the point that the writing has become more complex over time, moving far beyond the serialised stories I probably remember growing up in the 80s. [btw, one of the things I love most about teaching is how the interests of my students enrich the things I’m consuming]. Of course, now I’ve caught up with the end of The Bold Type and have to wait for more. Boo. But at least Younger is back.

Likewise, I’ve picked up Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers this week. Always marvel at her layering of people and the compelling way that she can write about characters. It’s particularly fascinating for me because of the subtle thread about being a writer (though one of the characters who is). There’s a whole thing in there about the vagaries of the publishing industry and writing careers, writer identity (reviews! genre snobbery!), and being a writer in the age of the woke internets. It’s fascinating me how many of these experiences are Moriarty’s own and how many are gleaned from the wider circle of writers who talk to each other.

What action do I need to take?

One day at a time, make it through the checklist of things to do before the festival. Make adult and definitive decisions about what I can commit time to in the next 6-12 months. Drink less coffee. Try to sleep. Try not to further damage shoulder. Make it to next Sunday.

Sunday Circle #12

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, but this is one of those weeks, so here we go.

What am I working on this week?

The very last stuff on the last structural edit of my PhD novel “Timefield”, which I’ll finish this week. I’m an organised editor who’s done the ‘edit a whole novel’ thing quite a few times now, so I’m pretty confident with my estimates, even when this week is also school holidays and teaching and other kinds of schedule disruption.

I’m fortunate to be done with most of the book tour promotion from my February release, and the short story collections I brought out last month without too much fanfare have been ticking along okay, too.

Of course, I’m doing more than the above, because we all always are. I’m doing accounting and promotion work, getting my 2-and-5, planning and re-planning for the next 12 months, etc etc. 

What’s inspiring me this week?

Neal Stephenson’s SevenEves. I bought the hardcover when it first came out a few years back when it was impossible for me to read a physical book. Now I’m finally getting to read it … well, let’s just say you haven’t read epic until you’ve read Stephenson. It so happened that when I was in Melbourne last week, I had a chance conversation with Celeste Bradley about Neal Stephenson (and Andy Weir and a few others). I have no idea now how we got onto the subject, but my favourite conversations are the delightful ones that happen unexpectedly. And I think discussing a master hard science fiction writer at a lunch during a romance author signing qualifies as unexpected.

What action do I need to take?

Finish the edit mentioned above. Keep head above water. Remember to eat. Remember to eat reasonably nutritious food. Try not to further damage shoulder. Make it to next Sunday.

Sunday Circle #11

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, just because of the tides of work don’t always put me at a keyboard on Sunday. But I’ve made it this week, so here we go.

What am I working on this week?

Last Friday I passed through my final formal PhD milestone before submission (thesis review) and I’m on track to submit this year. This was a bit of a watershed, and I didn’t realise how much until it was passed, because now I can actually plan the year. My exegesis was not in as much trouble as I’d feared. So, this week, I am doing a bunch of admin for the thesis (various applications for title change, overlength, milestone submission, submission extension, etc etc) and beginning on final exegesis drafting. The novel itself I will return to in a fortnight when I have structural reports back. That, too, doesn’t not seem as big a job as it did last week.

Other than that, this also happens to be the huge week for Saving You promotion. I’m at five libraries in five days, including one trip flying up to the Fraser Coast and back. I’m grateful I had a few events last week to hone the talk and work out what most interested the audiences.

With the imminent start of first semester, I will also be preparing for classes and masters dissertation supervisions this week.

I also begin thinking about an agent search. More on that later.

All of this is being made possible by the start of kindy for the small child, which to be honest started as a real shit experience for everyone involved. After three weeks, however, it’s all starting to settle, which means there can be reliable work days in a week in a way that hasn’t been possible for the last four years. … at least for the school term, anyway.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Libraries, as it happens. The promo tour has taken me back into libraries that I’d become disconnected from. Because of the small child, I’ve “read” most books in audio these last 4 years. I’ve enjoyed it – when you can’t read otherwise, it’s a great sanity saver. But then my neighbour leant me Maybe A Fox, a beautiful book that is meant I think for children, but had the added bonus of reminding me of the pleasures (and speed) of reading a physical book. When yesterday I found myself at my local library, I grabbed Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine from the fast-back section, and read over a third before bed time. That’s a record for me. I intend to make it a regular habit, and encourage everyone to use your library. I, like most people, don’t have a budget that extends to buying a new book every week, plus the problem of storing the book afterwards. But authors in Australia earn money from our books being in libraries, so please, borrow us. Read. It’s all good.

Also, the Behind the Bastards podcast. I found this podcast as I find most of them – through the cross-promotion on another podcast. This one does in-depth looks at the worst people in history, from Mark Zuckerberg to the Dutch East India Company. It’s a mix of well-researched information and comedic reaction (each episode has a guest comedian), which is a logical and brilliant way to add levity to history. I find a wealth of ideas for fiction here, as well as a sometimes horrifying awareness of the shadier parts of the world.

What action do I need to take?

Check off the items on my to-do list. Turn up at the libraries and do a good, professional job there. One foot in front of the other type stuff.

Sunday Circle #10

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week (in fact, I’ve been away since May), not because I’m not working but because in the tides of weekend routines it often doesn’t fit (case in point, I’ve been interrupted three times before getting this blog up – once to finish off a pavlova, and two child-crying incidents). But here, we are, last one for the year.

What am I working on this week?

I’m writing the first draft of my next commercial novel, Twenty-six Letters (a working title that will no doubt change before publication … a bit of a conceit as I’m writing this one without a contract, quite deliberately – more on that another time). I’m actually enjoying myself (still, though I’m in the middle now), perhaps because the only pressure is my need to get it down on e-paper.

My last novel (which I was editing last time I did one of these Sunday circles) is actually due out in just a few weeks. That one (Saving You) has been a long time coming, delayed due to promotional schedules and editing. It’s the first one of my books that was delayed in that way, which vexes me greatly. It was a product of immense child-related sleep deprivation which extended nearly 3 years. I don’t want to talk about that here, but I might somewhere else another time. It was my first experience of personal circumstances spilling over and affecting my ability to deliver on work promises. In any case, the imminent publication of this book comes with a fairly intense promotional schedule, so I’m also beginning to think about topics for all those library talks.

My thesis, thank goodness, is on hiatus as my associate supervisor has my exegesis draft and my main supervisor (and other beta readers) have the novel.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Lego. I’m spending a lot of time checked out mentally and nicely putting some serious constructions together. I found out a Technic set I’d been oggling for a while was about to retire, and was also on sale, so I bought it before descent into the vintage set black market (lego vintage sets hold their value quite appallingly). In between, I’m doing actual construction finishing a back-yard shed. All that stuff is rather nice balanced with sitting in front of a screen.

Otherwise, I’m a true latecomer to The Vampire Diaries, the advantage of which is that I can watch without waiting. The narrative storytelling is really solid, and neglecting the occassional Suits-tic problem (where characters seem to have the same conversation over and over) in season 2, it’s been an epic enjoyment, mostly of marvelling at how much gets crammed in a season, and of course watching the artistry of Damon Salvatore … while being slightly bothered that his character is allowed to be forgiven and redeemed because he’s hot, whereas some others of less hotness are not. Still, overall it’s a great foil, perfect for when I’m not writing spec fic.

What I mean by that is the narrative solidarity of spec fic sometimes comes down to it being able to always be utterly primal (crises of death and love) in a way that contemporary fiction cannot without being melodramatic. Contemporary fiction has to work hard to construct potential losses that have real meaning for the characters (and so can be at risk and therefore create story-traction suspense) – those types of losses can be way more existential than physical death. I’ve found that asborbing very primal narrative (which is about physical death and the emotional death it comes with (i.e. love vacuum)) helps to hone the stakes when writing about wants that are closer to balancing your check-book than being laid in the ground.

What action do I need to take?

Just do my words on the new novel, a little each day. Today I should crack 40,000 words, and that should mean I make it half-way before beach holidays next week. I aim to have the draft done (or nearly) by the end of January. The only other thing to do is put in my documents for my next (last) thesis milestone meeting, which hopefully takes place in early Feb.

So that’s it for the year. In many ways, 2018 has been a shit, and I’m very glad to be putting it in the rearview. In other ways, I perhaps learned more about myself than I have in the ten years before, so there’s that. I’m also fitter than I’ve been in living memory (thank you, CrossFit). Perhaps all that means I can light a fire under 2018, and have that bonfire light up next year.



Sunday Circle #9

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week (in fact, I’ve been away for nearly a year), but I’ve been given a Mother’s Day moment at the computer, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m expecting to receive the copyedits on my next commercial novel, now called Saving You. In between that, I’m reading background for my PhD thesis exegesis, specifically Norman Holland’s Literature and the Brain, because it’s on non-renewable inter-library loan to me and I must finish it before the London trip in 5 weeks.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m being anti-inspired by E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, which I read for exegesis background last week. It’s the transcripts of a series of lectures and is at times meandering, snobbish, vague, contradictory, and everything I dislike about criticism and venerated texts. That is, it contains very little practical advice to a novelist, because everything needs still further reckoning with. He treats the reader as a spectator, and sees readers in very stark terms – the stupidly curious (who can’t handle plot) and those with intelligence and memory who can. He sets character above plot (that old nugget), but, having taken such pains to show us how plot is about cause and effect, then conveniently ignores the cause and effect that resides in characters.

Still, valuable to read it was; this is the origin of the term ‘Homo Fictus’ (still somewhat useful), a useful definition of story and plot, a less useful treatise on flat and round characters (actually, really only on flat ones, as he decides that defines the round ones), and the origin of the somewhat arbitrary way that a lot of creative writing standard wisdom frames the construction of a novel. Understanding the foundations of how your profession talks about what it does is always valuable. However, Aspects is also extremely dated, narrow, and called into serious question by a lot of the reading I’ve been doing this last year. But that’s how we get progress: we update what doesn’t really work.

On a side note, I’ve found much useful life skills in Dan Harris’s 10% Happier, which is a memoir about how an ambitious anchorman learned something from meditation. If you’re jaded af about anything self-help, this is the self-help book for you. I note with interest that it completely takes to heart the narrative-structure approach to teaching material. I found it incredibly engaging, easy to process, and easy to remember, which is what narrative is supposed to do for non-fiction.

What action do I need to take?

I’ve been cutting back this last month to get on top of the chronic sleep deprivation, exhaustion and shitty PTD that’s marked all of the last 18 months. So, it’s just do the copyedit when it comes in, do the reading, and stay on top of the inbox.


***SPOILERS*** immediately, so stop reading if you haven’t seen it. This is a re-post of a review I put up on RT yesterday.

This movie is the full realisation of a genre I’ll call Epic Science Fantasy Space Opera  and it really put me back to my childhood where I repeatedly found myself disappointed that the heroes always won in the end. It was pretty fresh to be in the end game, expecting the Avengers et. al. to pull some space Rabbit (haha, Thor) out of collective hats and defeat Thanos, and then find that actually … no. This is the first time a blockbuster has got an open-mouthed, emotional reaction from me. That tiny scene with Peter Parker and Tony Stark … oh, man. Peter is the kid who went to war and now realises shit is real and he’s dying. Tony has to be the grizzled old guy who doesn’t deserve to survive instead, and has to live with that. Oh my blockbuster, that’s the poetry of tragedy writ very large. The only spoiler I had before seeing it was people calling it “surprising”, and I guess this downer ending is what they mean.

Thanos is the satisfying bad guy who’s complex and who can safely pass the hero-in-my-own-version test. I actually found myself thinking, well, you know he’s got a point. He’s the ultimate militant environmentalist. The writers do a good job of managing the number of characters, and with balancing humour with gravitas (easy to get wrong, as I felt it was overdone in the last Thor movie). My only tiny quibble was with Scarlet Witch, whose abilities seemed as overly powerful as they were underused. Felt like it needed a technological lens in the way of what she does, otherwise it calls the whole strategy into question. However, I’ll refrain from peering behind that curtain, because it doesn’t spoil the rest unless you think about it too hard.

Now, of course, we know there’s a sequel coming, and there’s room for recovery, otherwise Dr Strange’s trip to observe the futures (observing 1 where they could win) and then saying “it was the only way” after giving Thanos the time stone wouldn’t make much sense. But I honestly didn’t remember that part until after I’d left the theatre. And then you still have to face that, even with time wound back, Gamora is probably still dead. Loki, too. I guess we can wait for the sequel to potentially disappoint by taking all this hideous loss away, but that’s in the future. For now, I’m thoroughly satisfied.

5 exploding infinity stones out of 5

Naomi Novik’s next book

If you’re a fan of fantasy author Naomi Novik like I am, who has all the Temeraires and Uprooted on your shelf, then you’ll also be as Kermit-arms excited as I am to find out that there’s a new book coming AND you can read an excerpt! The book is called Spinning Silver and appears to be a re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin. Here is the link to see the cover and read: You’re welcome 🙂

Quotey McQuoteface

I’m re-reading Jurassic Park for my thesis (oh, how wonderful is that statement?). Here’s a quote I like, because I think it’s true but also because it relates so well to writing. To other things also, but especially for writing, because there is a pervasive belief that writing is something people can just take up and be good at next week.

Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. … President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever is it you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can’t be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

— Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, p306

Sunday Circle #8

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, but this is one of them, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m marking this week, and when that’s done I’m developing a new course for second semester at UQ. In the background, I’m subconsciously going over the several weeks of academic work on the neural underpinnings of reading stories, and trying to make sense of what is a huge, complicated and sometimes frustratingly muddled discussion around brain science and narrative.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m taking inspiration from the You Are Not So Smart podcast episode 100, which had the tagline, “Science is wrong about everything, but you can trust it more than anything.” See, my PhD confirmation readers took significant issue with me using a scientific approach to understanding stories. I was challenged as to why I was “privileging science” (I don’t think I was, but anyway), and the approach was called variously crude, overreaching, and ignoring the “rich traditions” of literary criticism/theory. Despite the fact that neither of my readers have to my knowledge a background in science (or creative writing that much) I was really taken aback to find such hostility towards a scientific approach. I’m coming at this in a spirit of cooperation, interested to see what science might support (or challenge) in traditional literary fields. I’m interested in the fundamental “why” questions that I think only science can robustly begin to answer. And yet, I can’t help feel very much out of place in my faculty. So that podcast is inspiring because it acknowledges science has limitations – of course it does – but that doesn’t make it useless. Evidence is quite to the contrary. So, onward I go.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

I’m avoiding (legitimately) the big edit of my next women’s fiction novel, The Lucky Escape. I must begin next week, and it will need a lot of work (as my first drafts always do). I can hope it isn’t as bad as I imagine, but that isn’t always true. Hopefully I can subconsciously summon courage along with everything else.

Sunday Circle #7

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, but I am this week, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m editing my sci-fi time-travel Victorian Tesla novel (for my PhD). The first draft was horribly awful in many ways and this edit is incredibly challenging. I’ve just come through the dark point with it. Since the last Sunday circle, I’ve finished the draft of my next contemporary novel, and gone through PhD confirmation. It wasn’t a positive process. I’ve been left destabilised as to the whole rationale of my project, which is echoing through my edit. The destabilisation goes something like this: Me: I’m a writer, interested in how writers make their stories work, and when I say “work” I’m interested in that idea at a deep, neuroscientific level. *whispers of confirmation readers*: why don’t you read X literary theory? We don’t understand what or why you’re doing this. Me: … I say this solely to acknowledge that working on the sci-fi novel also means grinding subconsciously on how to attack the project critically, and whether I’m even capable of satisfying an academic audience. Onward we go.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook. It’s a stunning illustrated guide to writing, that fundamentally imagines stories as strange living creatures. Vandermeer’s thematic and tonal fingerprints are all over it. While not everything resonates with me, it’s still a beautiful experience.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

For the last week, I avoided dealing with the “spaghetti junction”, which is where a whole new beginning to my sci-fi novel had to merge with the old beginning (much later in the story). I have actually resolved that (largely), but now I’m avoiding dealing with the fallout of the merge, which means scraping/rewriting/resetting the next six chapters or so. That’s what I’m about to force myself to address now.