Peter M. Ball Redux

The Livejournal Feed of

Morning Shift

So this is pretty much how my morning went:

  • Peter gets up fifteen minutes before his alarm goes off at 6:00 am
  • Peter sits down to write a half-hour ahead off schedule
  • Peter finishes the 1,300 goal he set for his morning writing shift forty-five minutes early.
  • Peter wombles around the internet for ten minutes, then realise everyone else is asleep or on their way to work.
  • Peter gets bored.
  • Peter goes back to writing.

And that, folks, is why I’ve missed getting up early to get writing done. It wasn’t possible for much of the last year, courtesy of the apnea and my tendency to sleep through alarms, so I gradually cut back my morning writing to a bare minimum of getting up a half-hour early and getting a couple of hundred words done (and, even then, there were mornings it didn’t happen).

It’s nice to be back.


Speaking of things coming back, tomorrow night will see the return of this:

Trashy Tuesdy Movie Banner

It’s been about two years since we last did a #TrashyTuesdayMovie, but my former flatmate lured me back by waving American Ninja Two around and saying, essentially, neener-neener-neener. Since American Ninja 1 was one of the most batshit crazy films we watched during the first run of films, I pretty much broke immediately and said yes, Tuesday night. Let’s do this. 

It may be a one off. It may come back regularly. I need to talk to The Flatmate and figure that out. But there’s something vaguely satisfying about knowing I can go out on a Tuesday evening and it won’t kill my productivity for the day.

Sleeping properly kind of rules, you know?


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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Don’t Hide the Brush Strokes

My friend Kathleen posted this to facebook yesterday and it’s one of those articles where I find myself reading and nodding enthusiastically.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.


Seriously, go read it if you’re an aspiring creative type. It’s loaded with useful things.

Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Sneaky Writer Tricks: Estrangement and Disruption

So two lads with cellos do a pretty kick-ass cover of Guns’n’Roses Welcome to the Jungle in this youtube clip. As a fan of string instruments and the Gunners, I encourage you to check it out before we move on, ’cause it’s going to be relevant:

Let me be completely honest here: this kind of thing rocks my world, and it kind of demonstrates one of the sneaky writer tricks I often mention to people in writing workshops: try to find a way to make the familiar strange.

Everyone has their own definition of what makes great art, but mine has a lot in common with a Russian theorist named Victor Shklovsky who basically said that the role of art was estrangement – taking something familiar and making it alien so that the viewer is forced to re-examine it in a conscious way.

Shklovsky essentially argues against the automatism of perception – the process where something has become so familiar that we no longer after actually think about it – and uses art as a disruptive force against it (if you’re interested, I wrote a longer post about this back in 2009, and you can find Shklovsky’s original essay reprinted online in a whole bunch of places).

A good cover version of a song is essentially the modern manifestation of this theory – they take a song that’s become so familiar that it blends into the background, then make you revisit it and re-examine it. It’s one of the reasons my all-time favourite song is The Paradise Motel’s cover of The Cars Drive, which takes one of the most twee three minute pop-songs you’ve ever heard and lays out the heartache and longing at its core by using muted vocals and slow, sweeping string movements.

It’s rare that I actually sit down and think about this in a conscious way while drafting, but it has happened. Mostly it’s a useful tool for figuring out when something is generating the necessary…well, for lack of a better word, let’s call it juice. If you can get people caught up in a familiar trope or activity, getting them focused on engaging with the familiar, you can generate more interest in what’s going on when the familiar elements are disrupted in some way.

On a macro level, a disruption of whole-scale expectations that forces an interesting re-examination of can power a whole story if you get it right (see Horn). On a micro level, taking the familiar and making it alien can give momentum to a scene where the action is otherwise small-scale and seemingly unimportant (see the opening paragraph of The Birdcage Heart).

It’s also a pretty kick-ass writing exercise, if you’re finding yourself stuck and unable to get into a scene – look for the ritual or unthinking behaviour. Getting dressed, cooking dinner, sitting down to watch a movie after a hard days work. Hand writing. Driving the car. It doesn’t really matter. Just sit down and start describing the things a character does without being conscious of it.

Sooner or later, you’ll find a moment where something goes wrong and disrupts the activity, and that’s where things start to get interesting…

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Your Stories Are Not Sacred God Poop

I’m hopped up on a combination of cold and flu tablets and the first full night’s sleep I’ve had in about five years, courtesy of the CPAP machine, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m feeling a little punchy today.

There’s this “How to Survive a Relationship With a Writer” meme going around on Facebook at the moment – hopefully the link above will take you too it, but Facebook is always hit and miss on such things. Said meme is full of 10 points designed to  make living with your writers SO easier and, like most such memes, is basically played for laughs.

But it’s appeared in my feed three or four times now, and every time I lose my shit when I hit point ten:

10. Leave your writers a lone when a rejection letter arrives. After the deadly silence, screaming, crying, moaning, and muttering have subsided, offer your writer a cup of coffee or tea. And a cupcake. And a hug.

People, we need to stop doing this. Rejection letters are not the enemy. They are not something that should be sending you into a screaming, crying, moaning, rage. They are not something where your significant other should be coddling you and trying to make you feel better about the world.

We may be playing this list for laughs, but at the core of the humour there is truth, and the truth of this one is that writers get a pass on all sorts of bad behaviour because we fetishize writing as a form of “genius” in the traditional sense – someone in the possession of a guiding spirit/god/muse who forces them to create. It comes from the assumption that every goddamnn thing that gets put on the page is like some kind of pristine, all-important work pooped into your brain by a muse so that it can be worshipped and validated.

Say it with me folks: Fuck. That. Shit.

Editors do not reject works of genius. They reject stories. Sometimes they reject the story ’cause it’s bad. Sometimes they reject a perfectly good story because it’s not right for their magazine. Sometimes they reject a great story because they’re having a bad day, or ’cause you’ve used a parenthetical aside in your opening paragraph that shit that makes them crazy.

Rejection, in and of itself, is not a bad thing and shouldn’t require special consideration from your partner. It’s part of the damn job of being a writer.  Here’s my suggestion: when your writer gets a rejection letter and starts moaning or muttering or making out its the end of the world, try dating an adult instead.


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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Apnea Update: CPAP Ho!

Sleep CyborgSo when I mentioned the sleep apnea thing back at the start of April, a whole bunch of folks were like “Get thee to a CPAP Machine.” To which I nodded sagely and said, well, yes, that’s on the list, we’re just waiting to see how bad things really are. 

Last week, I took twenty-four hours off work and did my first official sleep test to see how things were. I spent a couple of hours hooked up to electrodes and other stuff while I slept. It gathered data.

Turns out, things were pretty fucking bad. The diagnoses for chronic sleep apnea kicks in at around 30+ interruptions in sleep per hour. I was averaging 60-70 interruptions an hour, with a couple of periods where I’d stop breathing for up to a minute and a half at a time. When I start doing the math on that, my ongoing feeling of utter lethargy starts making all kinds of sense.

“We should probably get you on a CPAP trial, ASAP,” the nice lady from the sleep clinic said. Then we made an appointment Monday to start a one-month trial.

I’m not sure I remember what it feels like to be a fully-rested human being, but I’m hopeful I’ll get a reminder sometime in the next few weeks. Thanks, everyone, who weighted in with their advice and experiences.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Dave Farland on Stories and Stables

Many years ago, I heard a renowned magazine editor Gardner Dozois remark, “I don’t want just a great story in my magazine, I want a great writer in my stable.” He was talking of course about why he didn’t pick up new writers on their very first stories. He had a policy: if a new writer sent him a great story, he’d wait and see if the author sent two more fine stories, and then he would start buying.

His logic was simple. He wanted authors who wrote frequently and to the very highest quality. He didn’t want people who were just playing in the field, or trying to write one story and then use it as a vehicle to launch a career as a novelist, never to write him another story again.

David Farland, Editors Fill their “Stables” with Stories, Not Authors

I’ve been hitting Netflix pretty hard over the last month, which means I’ve blown through my broadband allowance with two days remaining before I tick over into May. With that in mind, I’m suggesting those of you with an interest in writing head over and check out DAve Farland’s writing tip for today – it’s well worth reading.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Sean Williams at the AWM Writing Race

At work, we run this regular feature called the Wednesday Night Writing Race. The theory behind it is simple: every Wednesday, around 8:00 PM, we get a bunch of writers together on Facebook, fire the starter’s gun, and let them write like there’s no tomorrow for 60 minutes. Essentially, it’s like a mini write-club for people who don’t have the advantage of being friends with Angela Slatter. .

Occasionally, to spice things up (and, honestly, as a cool perk for the intern, who gets to program the guests), we bring in Guest Racers – writers who can show up and talk about writing and publishing in detail. This week, our current intern has scheduled Sean Williams as the guest, which is one of those rare occasions where we’ve got a guest that I’m well-and-truly psyched about.

If you’re interested in writing – and, odds are, you are if you’re heading here regularly – then this Wednesday Night from 7:45 PM is a great time to head along to the Writing Race and ask Sean some questions (if you sign up for the event, Facebook will handily convert things to your local time zone).

The writing races are always a great opportunity to pick the brain of a pro, and in terms of Aussie writers who sustained long-term careers, there are very few writers who can match Sean Williams. Basically, on the list of writers I wouldn’t mind being when I grow up, Sean is pretty high on the list. The man is enormously prolific – he’s published 40 novels across three genres – and has been one of the nicest and most generous writers I’ve encountered in my career. I recommend going forth this Wednesday and finding out for yourself.

Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

If You Need Me, I’ll Be In My Bunk (Typing Words)

So, I’m hanging out the Gone Fishing shingle again.

Gone Fishing

I set out to write 25,000 words on my five days off last week. My total was closer to 20,000, which means there’s still a ways to go if I want to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat this month and hit my 50k total. I have to write 3,750 words a day for the last four days of April and I’m golden.

This is not impossible. Not easy, but not impossible, especially if I put my head down and refuse to look at the internet/go see the Avengers/get distracted by wrestling between now and Thursday. To this end, I will probably listen to my favourite hit the fucking deadline song on repeat:

I’ll see you all next week.

Peace out.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Book Update: Flotsam

Flotsam02I woke up this morning to find the publisher’s notes for Crusade in my email. I’ve got a week to go through things and get it back to the fine folks at Apocalypse Ink, then they go and do their arcane voodoo that transform it from a word file to a books.

The e-book for Crusade comes out in June.

(Out of curiosity, I went over to cover artist Mark Ferarri‘s site this morning. There’s previews of the Crusade cover and the cover for the print edition of Flotsam in his online gallery, for those who are curious, and allow me to say, well, holy shit I’m looking forward to seeing that print compilation. It’s so fucking pretty.)

Coincidently, starting tomorrow, I also have five-straight days off from work. My goal – gods and sleep apnea willing – is to get about twenty-thousand words down on the next novella on my list, which is all about ghosts and werewolves and boxing and some particularly unpleasant underworld types.

Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.


To borrow a line from L.P. Hartley: “The past is foreign country; they do things differently there.”

This line has been haunting me for most of the weekend, since I was down on the Gold Coast to man a booth at Supanova and it involved seeing parts of the Gold Coast I don’t often go to. While I frequently went down there to visit my parents over the last few years, it was relatively easy to ignore the vast bulk of the city while doing that – I barely had to get off the highway to reach their house, and there was never any call to go toward the beach where the bulk of the Gold Coast lives.
The Gold Coast Supanova, on the other hand, takes place in Broadbeach – right next to the Casino and Pacific Fair shopping mall, right across the road from the Broadbeach mall where I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights in my late teens and early twenties. It’s where one of the handful of game-stores on the Coast existed, so I went there a lot to buy copies of D&D and Vampire and, if I’m remembering correctly, one of the first attempts to create a Babylon 5 RPG.
Basically, it’s a part of the Gold Coast that’s loaded with memories, which is why it shows up in the Flotsam series so much.
It’s also a reminder that I don’t remember the past well.
I don’t forget things that happened, necessarily, but I’ll hit a place like Broadbeach and suddenly remembering periods of my life that seem like they happened to someone else. It’s lots of that time when we all went through our Goth phase and that time I was engaged, how the hell did that happen and that time I accidentally ended up doing theatre and all that time I spent at university, pretending I really wanted a PhD. 
Anything that happened more than decade ago just seems unreal to me, like I was just treading water while I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life.
And the memories bubble up, again and again, transmuted into fiction in one form or another.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Recommendations Wanted: Web Comics

One of my favourite webcomics, Girls with Slingshots, finished up its run a few weeks ago. Some of the others that make up my regular weekly reading have announced their conclusion is coming up in the near future.

This means I’ve got some gaps in my weekly reading schedule that I kinda want to fill in, since I’m a fan of the webcomic format and interested in seeing what people do with it. And since I am old and set in my ways, I don’t really go searching for new comics all that often.

So I’m turning to you, dear peeps – recommend me some of your favourite webcomics in the comments and I’ll go check ‘em out.

To save some time, I’ve already got a regular reading list that I hit pretty consistently: PVP, Something Positive, Questionable Content and XKCD are habitually daily reads; Dumbing of Age, Girl Genius, Least I Could Do, Weregeek and a handful of others get a weekly read-through when I’ve got the time.

Strips that do awesome T-shirts in addition to being consistently entertaining get bonus points.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Three Things Writers Can Learn About Villains from Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk

It’s been a long time since I watched a TV show at the same time it entered into the cultural Zeitgeist, but the combination of Netflix coming to Australia and the recent release of Daredevil, Season 1, means that I’ve inhaled thirteen episodes of comic-book awesomeness at the same time as everyone else is watching it.

For those who are wondering: Daredevil is good. Very good. Very dark, at times, but Daredevil was always the character to do that with. For all that Batman has a reputation for being grimdark these days, largely courtesy of the Nolan films, Daredevil is the original hard-luck film-noir superhero. Nothing good happens to him in the comics. Like, seriously, nothing. You need both hands just to count the dead girlfriends, you know? Or the times he’s been driven crazy and started to think of himself as an actual devil. Or the times he’s actually been possessed and turned into a devil.

Well, you get the picture.

Good as the series is – and it’s very good – my favourite part has been Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as the antagonist, Wilson Fisk. D’Onofrio’s one of those actors who is excellent with the right director and script, and Daredevil gives him both. He’s over-the-top violent and crazy, but highly empathetic, to the point where even though Daredevil is basically rehashing the same grand master-villain plot as Arrow’s first season, Daredevil’s comes off feeling fresh.

What makes Fisk such an effective bad guy? Let’s take a look.


The first four episodes spend a lot of time setting up Wilson Fisk as the big-bad of the series, through many of the conventional methods of building up a big-bad: people are afraid of saying his name; lots of people who work for him do terrible things; the bad-ass who almost kicks Daredevil’s butt kills himself rather than betray the Kingpin. It’s good set-up for an season-long villain and the show is content to make you wait.

Then, when it showed you Fisk for the first time, he’s chilling out at an art gallery, staring at a painting. There are little twitches in the performance that suggest how much it’s affecting him, but there’s nothing violent or criminal in that moment. Then, when we come back to him in the next episode, he’s flirting with one of the Gallery employees (and not doing it terribly well).

Only later, once you’ve had a chance to get to know him better, do you get to see Fisk do something criminal (and, when it happens, it’s one of the most violent things you’ve seen in the first few episodes).

In The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel, Robert J. Ray points out that there’s a lot of power leading into the firsts of a novel: the first time you see the antagonist; the first time you put the antagonist and the protagonist in the same space; the first time your antagonist crosses a line; etc. They’re moments of big reveal and smart writers figure out ways to space them out.

By giving Fisk a life outside of being the leader of a criminal underworld, the screenwriters of Daredevil get to build the anticipation: first we’re anxious to see him; then we’re anxious to see him actually be the Kingpin and confirm he’s a criminal; then we’re anxious to see him behave like a villain.

It would have been far less satisfying if the first time we’d seen him, he’d been seated behind his big desk in a corporate tower while flunkies tell him about the problems Daredevil has been causing to his criminal enterprise (and yes, I’m looking at you 2003’s Daredevil movie, and your criminal waste of Michael Clarke Duncan).


Stories are all about bringing your protagonist to a moment of crisis and forcing them to make a choice. Luke Skywalker chooses to accept the force. Rick Blaine chooses to let the love of his life get on a plane ’cause it’s the right thing to do. Superheroes in every superhero movie ever end up choosing to be superheroes, despite the personal cost.

But to make those moments mean something, you have to drive the characters to a moment of crisis – generally the climax of your film.

Daredevil does that, following in the grand tradition of fucking with Daredevil as a character, but the real strength of the series lies in the fact that it’s doing the same thing with its villain. Just as Mat Murdoch is learning to be a hero, Wilson Fisk is finding his grand schemes of rebuilding Hell’s Kitchen are being undermined because he’s fallen in love.

He is a man caught between two worlds – Wilson Fisk the lover and Wilson Fisk the Kingpin – and as those two worlds start to interact his entire life falls apart, to the point where he must finally choose which one to embrace at his own moment of crisis as the series heads towards its climax.


Daredevil frequently crossed lines that made me uncomfortable as a viewer – to the point where I commented on the dark-and-getting-darker tone on Facebook while I was watching it – but I can’t deny that they made spectacular use of their more graphically violent scenes. First, because they were relatively sparse, and secondly, because they were all in the service of illustrating exactly who Fisk is.

Fisk is a highly humanised villain – we see glimpses of his background throughout the series, showing you why he becomes the man be becomes – and he has the trait that all great villains share: a sense that there, but for the grace of god, go I. Any one of us could have done the things he’d done if we grew up in a house like he did; any of us could go over the top like he did if we were sufficiently embarrassed in the one situation where we wanted to avoid embarrassment.

Fisk is enormously powerful, physically, but highly vulnerable emotionally, and it makes it easy to empathise with who he is. And the series never lets up with this: little things, such as his love of the white painting be buys on his first appearance, take on new and horrifying implications as the series goes on and you suddenly get why he’s so entranced by this piece of art. It adds little moments every episode that makes you feel for him.

Over thirteen episodes, Daredevil does a phenomenal job of creating a very human villain who is simultaneously evil as hell, so when he’s eventually toppled by the series namesake it is both a rational triumph and a subconscious tragedy.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

25/25/25 at Queensland Writers Centre

So let’s be clear: I work for Queensland Writers Centre. I’ve been there since mid-2011. I’m also a member of Queensland Writers Centre, and have been since some time in the mid-nineties. I think it’s an important support mechanism for Queensland writers, but I can, understandably, be accused of bias.

To mark the 25th Anniversary of QWC, the organisation is launching a Scholarship and Access fund to help provide funding and travel support to writers who wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to access QWC programs. We’re inviting members and non-members alike to get involved and help foster the future of Queensland writing with the 25/25/25 crowdfunding campaign, which includes a diverse range of awards (including some that are highly GenreCon focused).

If you’ve got a few bucks to spare and you care about writing or reading, please donate.

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5 Reasons Rejection Letters are Actually Awesome

Okay, so I’m aware that I’ve been a serious downer for the last two days. ‘Tis the curse of not blogging for a time – all the serious, angsty things bounce around my head and come out in a burst, instead of getting nicely spaced out between more palatable topics.

Today we’re going to talk about something fun: REJECTION.

It’s been on my mind a bit this week, ‘cause I’ve been finishing short stories and sending them out blind for the first time in…well, shit, about four years. As part of this process, I’m getting back into the swing of checking markets, putting together submission lists, tracking submission details, and all that shit. That means, in the very near future, I’m going to start getting all kinds of rejection letters, and I am fucking PSYCHED.

And,yeah, yeah, I know, writers aren’t supposed to be excited by rejection. A lot of writer-types love the Sturm und Drang that comes when a rejection letter rolls in. They talk about how much it hurts or stings or how disappointed they are that an editor said no. They like to mourn the lost opportunity. They like to…shit, I don’t know, it never made much sense to me. I’m a writer. I get rejected. It’s part of the job.

So instead let’s talk about the reasons having a short story rejected is actually TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME.


Most short-story markets that are worth getting your work into aren’t particularly open to seeing more than one story from a writer at a time. This means, once you’ve submitted a story there, you don’t get to submit another one until they say yay or nay to your current submission.

A rejection means that an exciting new goddamn business opportunity has just opened up, ‘cause an editor that wasn’t interested in looking at my next story is suddenly open to the possibility.

This is fucking awesome.

Now, one thing that I’ll grant, this feels less awesome when you’re at the beginning of your short story writing phase and you’ve got, like, one or two short stories doing the rounds. But if you’re a writer who produces a lot and has, say, eight or ten or twenties stories ready to send out, you start edging toward the situation where you’ve got more stories ready to go than there are good markets, especially since there are damn fine places to be published that can take a really long time to get back to you.

When you’ve got a lot of work ready to submit, rejection isn’t a bad thing – it’s a chance to get the next story into circulation.


Stories get rejected for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality. Sometimes it’s ‘cause the editor has just bought a run of stories with a similar theme. Sometimes it’s ‘cause they don’t think the story will be a good fit with their market. Sometimes, lets be honest, the story just wasn’t to their taste.

Regardless of what’s written on the rejection letter itself, a story rejection is basically the acknowledgement that, hey, buddy, you submitted the wrong kind of story. Now you can go and find the right place for it, and, oh look, the market that was otherwise closed to you is now open, so you get another shot of submitting the right kind of story to the editor who just said no.


Writers get rejected a lot. I knew that going in. My job isn’t to rail against the rejections, but to focus on the things that are actually important to my half of the writer/publisher equation. I produce the best work I can and put it in front of editors who may be interested in buying it. If they say no, I put it in front of a different editor. That’s my job as a writer. As you may note, it’s very low in certainty. It’s very high on hearing the word “no.”

Measuring success by the number of publications is a mugs game, ‘cause I’ve got no control over that. Measuring success by the number of submissions made is entirely up to me, and every rejection letter offers the opportunity for some forward momentum.


I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I’ve sold the vast majority of the stories I’ve written. The handful of stories that haven’t sold – and let me be clear, we’re talking stories that have been rejected by 30+ editors, at least – well, let’s just say there are *reasons* people kept saying know, and in retrospect I’m pretty thankful to said editors ‘cause they’ve kept me from putting out work that wasn’t ready for prime time.

These weren’t necessarily bad stories, necessarily, but they were definitely…lackluster.

I can handle bad. Bad is the risk that inevitably comes from trying to do something beyond your abilities. Bad is the brother of ambition, in many respects; there is often the nugget of something interesting in the heart of every truly bad story.

But the lackluster ones? The dull ones? The ones you look at and go, well, I wish that were better, sometimes you’re just glad enough people said no to keep those stories from going out.


There is a great Neil Gaiman quote about rejection. It does a little something like this:

It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn’t allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write.

Source: Neil Gaiman’s Journal

And truthfully, I do kind of thrive on being told no. My best writing has usually come out of me trying to prove a point. The more I hear no, this isn’t our kind of thing, the more invested I become in proving that, well, just this once, maybe it is.

Accept my stories enough and I get….well, kind of lazy.

Reject me enough times and I’ll up my game and come out swinging.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Total Microsleeps While Writing This Post: 5

Falling ASleep Mid-WordI don’t sleep well, not anymore.

I first wrote that in the opening paragraph of Horn back in 2007, when a kind of restless sleeplessness was one of the first things I knew about Miriam Aster. It was a trait we shared, to some degree, if only ‘cause I’m the kind of person who resists sleep like the plague. I enjoy being up late. I prefer being a night owl. I’m used to living with a kind of self-inflicted exhaustion when I found myself having to engage with other people’s daylight-focused schedules.

These were the stories I told myself, and for the most part they were true, but they ignored stuff: the weeks where I’d wake up repeatedly throughout the night, desperately needing to urinate; the nights when I’d wake myself up ‘cause I snored so loudly; the times when I’d go to bed and get a full eight hours sleep, but still wake up feeling exhausted as hell.

They were just bad nights, I told myself. The problems never stuck around long enough to be noticeable. Besides, I was a freelancer and I lived alone. I could make up the sleep debt with an afternoon nap if I wanted too.

Then, somewhere between 2011 and 2013, I developed this habit I jokingly referred to as stress-based narcolepsy whenever I started working long hours or hit particularly stressful periods. I’d drive home from the office, settle down to watch a movie or TV show, and be asleep on the couch within seconds. No real warning behind it – I didn’t even feel tired beforehand, necessarily – but it happened enough that my flatmate noticed.

No big deal, I told myself. I’m working hard. I’m adapting to being at an office. And it never really lasted more than a week or two, so I assumed it was situational.

I don’t remember when I started dozing off while writing. I do know that it happened at write club a couple of times – I’d literally fall asleep for a few seconds while my fingers were on the keys, waking up to a page of text where I’d held my finger on the J key while I’d slipped into a series of microsleeps.

It’s a testament to my own stupidity and ability to rationalise things away that this happened for over a year before I admitted that there may be a problem. This, despite the fact that I went on holidays with my sister in 2013, and shared a room with a friend of mine at the 2013 World Fantasy convention, and both of them pointed out there was something truly ugly going on with my breathing when I slept.

A lot of this is because it just seemed so stupid to admit that I had a problem sleeping. An actual problem, not a self-imposed one. Sure, something ugly happened when I slept, but I’d always been the kind of guy who could keep a house away with my snoring. Sure, I felt tired, but I’d always felt tired and it was often my fault for keeping erratic sleep hours.

So things kept getting worse while I pretended they weren’t. I slept through alarms more than I used to. My habit of dozing off at write-club turned into a habit of dozing off at work. What’d been the occasional period of sleeplessness had become a nightly thing. I was exhausted all the time, regardless of how much sleep I got the night before. I stopped going to stuff I was invited to, ‘cause I’d either have to leave early and admit there was a problem, or I’d stay later than I should and pay the price for days.

I stopped driving anywhere that took longer than twenty minutes, ‘cause I was seriously paranoid about falling asleep while driving my car.

It’s when that finally happened – I dozed off for a few seconds while stopped at a traffic light – that I finally went to a doctorWe went through the processes you go through when such things are said, ruling out possible-but-unlikely causes until we settled on the likely one, given my age, my weight, and the fact that I’ve been treating pizza as its own food group for a few years: Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The muscles in the back of my throat constrict the airway while I’m sleeping, forcing me to stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night.

It would be nice to say that having a name has changed things, but the truth is, it hasn’t.

For one thing, the best treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea is weight loss and establishing a regular sleep routine. The good news is that it’s really effective; the bad news is that it takes time, while you continue to feel pretty crappy and exhausted.

For another thing…it just doesn’t seem satisfying enough. I keep finding myself looking at apnea and thinking, really? This? This is the thing that’s making me feel like this? This is the excuse I’ve got to offer people when I shrug off their social event? It’s the thing I get to tell my boss, when I’ve slept through three alarms and arrived late for work? The moment I open my mouth to try and explain, all I hear is that phrase: I don’t sleep well. I feel a little tired. It seems insufficient, you know? Everyone feels tired, these days. No-one gets enough sleep. What makes this different?

I’ve read estimates that one in five people suffers from sleep apnea in some form, which seems kind of impossible. How are that many people getting through life like this? How are they explaining it to other people? I wouldn’t have believed it was a big deal, not until I really hit the wall and felt how bad it was myself.

I don’t sleep well, not anymore.

It seems like it should be such a simple thing to fix, but it isn’t. It get fixed by time and sensible steps: fixing bad habits, working around the limitations, tracking the hell out of my eating habits and sleeping habits. I schedule nine to ten hours for sleep, most nights, and it’s just barely enough to keep me awake the following day. I eat meals consisting of chicken breast and Brussels sprouts. I make notes about what I’m thinking and feeling whenever I fall back into old habits and, say, order pizza or purchase a pack of cookies from the shop intending to eat the entire thing in one go. I assume I’ll need to drive to work at least once or twice a pay cycle, on account of my unreliability when it comes to getting up and out the door in time to catch my train.

I schedule less writing time, which pisses me off no end, but I figure less productivity now is better than a prolonged lack of productivity in the long term.

What I haven’t done is accept that this is my life for the next short while. I didn’t tell folks, outside a small handful of people who I do freelance projects with, who mostly needed to know ’cause I was getting harder and harder to track down. I still try to skirt around the issue when I know I can’t go somewhere, instead of just saying, look, sorry, I’ll need to go catch up on sleep. I still try to pretend its not an issue and write ’til one AM from time to time, even though that’s a bad idea. I still get frustrated by the limitations of being so goddamn tired all the time, since my default state is now “I need a nap.”

But when exhaustion started kicking the shit out of my wordcounts in March – particularly when it came time to record my numbers for the 600k Challenge – I figured it was time to start admitting this and figuring out work-arounds. ‘Cause I don’t want to use this as an excuse not to write this year – I want it to be a hiccup that’s overcome.

If my favourite tactic of working longer and harder is no longer an option, it may be time to try that “working smarter” thing people are always talking about

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.


The Last Trip Home


My parents are in the process of selling their house, so over Easter I went down to the Gold Coast to help move around some furniture, pick up the boxes of spare books I had stored there, and make some executive decisions about stuff like old books/games/toys that were shoved into the wardrobe of my old bedroom and never really looked at after I left.

When we were done, my mother mentioned that it may well be the last time I ever visit them there. At the time, I didn’t think that was a big deal. We moved into the house when I was twelve. I’d moved out by the time I was twenty-two. I’ve spent two thirds of my life living in places that were not that house. For the last third of my life, it’s actually been in a city I like, as opposed to my thoroughly problematic relationship with the Gold Coast.

I packed my books into the car, had dinner with my parents, and headed home, feeling pretty good about avoiding the potential nostalgia and angst inherent in the situation.

Then Amanda Palmer’s Dear Old House That I Grew Up In came on the stereo while I was driving and I ended up pulling the car over to the side of the road and bawling for a couple of minutes.

‘Cause, really, yes. All of that. Let’s be realistic – I’m a hoarder of memories. I got weepy when I had to sell of my first car. I moved around enough as a kid that I get attached to certain touchstones that seem permanent, even if they aren’t: certain books, certain toys, certain cars, certain houses. I have no problem getting rid of stuff, so long as it doesn’t have memories attached, and that decade I spent at my parents soon to be ex-house is about three times longer than I’ve typically lived anywhere.


My parents decision to move corresponds with me being in my own apartment – as in, an apartment I actually own rather than rent – for nearly a year. A place that is shiny and new and has never been inhabited by anyone other than me. A place that’s largely devoid of memories, except for those that I put in here, and it has to be said that I’m not really the memory-putter-inner type. I go do stuff at other people’s houses these days, rather than do things here.

The apartment is just a place I come to sleep, read, and type things into a computer. It’s where I store my books, and even then it doesn’t really feel like that, since the vast majority of my book collection is going to end up stored in boxes under my bed and in my wardrobe. It’s not a place I feel compelled to share, not yet, and sharing a place with others has always been one of the things that makes a place seem like home.

My sole real memory of note from the new apartment comes from sitting on the empty floor on that first night, eating Chinese take-away from a cardboard container, trying to figure out how the hell all this happened.

Chinese Food


Experience says this will change, eventually. Memories accrete, whether you expect them to or not. Places you thought were temporary stops suddenly become something else. The Chinese place that seemed really significant when you first moved in gets overtaken by the thoroughly awesome Thai place that’s just that little bit closer. The configuration of furniture that seemed right when you first moved in gets replaced by something that’s better suited to how you actually use the space.

Time wins, in the end. Time always does.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Writing Advice: David Farland on Tone

Sometimes you don’t have the language you need to adequately discuss a story’s flaws.

For instance, I used to dread the “pretty good” stories when I was a creative writing tutor. And by pretty good, I mean the stories that were technically pretty solid: they didn’t have any major flaws in characterisation or plot, nor did they have any egregious errors in language or formatting. You’d read them and immediately know that something was missing, but there wasn’t anything mechanical to point at and explain “you need to fix this.”

One of my colleagues used to refer to them as BP stories. Shorthand for “Make this Better, Please,” which appeared all to frequently in their notes.

I’m sure it used to frustrate the students who got that response. Hell, I know it frustrated me – one of my lecturers wrote the comment good, but not great on one of my poems in undergraduate, and I spent the next two weeks bugging the hell out of them trying to figure out what I needed to do in order to improve my mark.

Make it better, please is horribly uninformative to an aspiring writer, but at the time we didn’t have the terminology for articulating what was going wrong with the stories in a meaningful way.

This is one of the reasons I love the internet – given time and enough people posting about the writing process, eventually you’re going to get the language you need. Today, I’ve got some particular love for David Farland, largely thanks to his recent post about tone in short fiction, which immediately hones in on the issue those pretty good stories used to have and talks about what’s really going wrong.

One of the most common problems that I see with unpublished stories deals with “tone.” I reject about 85% of the stories that I see in my first pass, and with most of those, tone is an issue. The tonal problems come in several types…

Are You Tone Deaf, David Farland

A useful tool to add to your writing toolbox, and well worth reading. If you’re looking for follow-up, his book on Drawing Upon the Power of Resonance in Writing is also a pretty killer discussion of something most how-to-write books don’t articulate particularly well.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

Watch This: Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling

I watch a fair bit of pro-wrestling. Partially because I’m a fan and partially because it’s an extraordinarily complex sequential narrative with decades of continuity, and I like figuring out what I can learn from it as a writer.

If you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, Max Landis does a phenomenal job of explaining the appeal of wrestling – and why it’s narratives are so complex – by parodying two decades of the career of pro-wrestler HHH. I’m not the greatest fan of Landis – Chronicle bored the pants of me – but he gets this one thousand percent right. Wrestling fans should watch it for the parody elements. Non-wrestling fans should watch it ’cause it says something powerful about character, evolution, and story.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

You Do Not Need To Consumed By art

We like the idea of an artist destroyed by their talent. It’s part of the cultural myth we build up around art and writing, designed to move the conversation away from it being work one expects to be compensated for, much like conversations about muses and inspiration and creativity as a powerful force.

It leads too all sorts of bad habits. The biggest of which is the decision that a artists needs to be a artists twenty-four-seven. To stop producing, for whatever reason, is a sign that you’re not truly talented and instead just engaging in hack work. This is why the YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY crowd are so loud and so prevalent among writing advice.

I’m thinking about this today, after reading Laura Vanderkam’s post about the writing life and playing the long game (two topics pretty near and dear to my heart):

As for making money while writing books, I have never believed that book writing needs to be all-consuming. It wasn’t for Toni Morrison, writing The Bluest Eye at night after her kids went to bed, and let’s face it, we’re not likely to produce anything like The Bluest Eye no matter how much time we spend writing. Books are projects like any other. You can carve out time to seek out high-paying but not-terribly-demanding work to pay the bills while you work on the book. Many writers do things like writing website copy for businesses, press releases, etc.. Incidentally, you can make time for the rest of your life too. I’m always amused by the lines in book acknowledgements in which authors (generally, male authors) thank their families for putting up with all their missed dinners. Not only am I not missing dinner, I’m generally cooking it. –

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Personally, I’m starting to embrace the idea of the weekend. I “take Sundays off” by aiming to produce 100 words, maximum, before I step away from the computer. It gives me time to do other things.

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Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

This May Be the Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Seen Someone Write About Writing On the Internet

As someone who has taught in my fair share of university creative writing programs, I read Ryan Boudinot’s Things I Can Say About MFA Programs Now I No Longer Teach In One with a certain amount of recognition. You see, I, too, have experienced the disappointment that is students asking for books that don’t require as much though. Similarly, I’ve felt that pang of irritation when students complain they don’t have time to write. I have dispaired when students read great books and dismissed them. Pissed me off then, pisses me off now.

It doesn’t stop me from recognizing that Ryan Boudinot is a goddamn condescending motherfucker who is talking a big ol’ pile of shit, though.

‘Cause he is.

His article may actually be the dumbest collection of things I’ve ever seen someone write about writing on the internet.

Which is saying something, really.


Originally published at Man Versus Bear. Please leave any comments there.

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