The Process – Character Sheets

The first thing you might notice about this post is that I specifically called it “Character Sheets” and not “Characters” or “Characterisation”. Here we’re still talking about the outlining/planning phase of a novel, following on from the last Process post. I’m going to explain my process for fleshing out a character, but obviously these characters will grow, change, and evolve throughout the process of writing the book. One day I’ll probably try and talk about that process, but it’s much more organic/instinctual than this first stage, so we’ll just have to wait and see. (If nothing else, I could certainly provide examples of how some of my characters were utterly changed in the process of writing a book – for instance, there are 2 big examples of this in Repo Virtual.)

To start with, I will just say that I first put these character sheets together after trawling through Chuck Wendig’s blog for writing advice. I would link to the individual posts in question, except this was approximately 4 years ago (in the lead-up to writing Killing Gravity, actually), so I’ve lost the specific links. But, just to be clear – this is me distilling some advice that came from Chuck Wendig. If you ever need more writing advice than the (admittedly rare) advice I give here, Chuck’s blog should be your first port of call. Also, because I pieced my character sheet together from 2 or 3 of Chuck’s blog posts, it might seem like some sections overlap and/or are redundant. Strictly speaking, that’s true, but I find the overlapping can help. It might help you realise that the character is particularly one-minded, or it might help you realise that the character has multiple different fears/goals/whatevers going on at once. The redundancies are deliberate, and occasionally useful. (But, as ever with writing advice, YMMV. Feel free to alter the character sheet to suit your own style/needs).

As I said up top, we’re still in the planning phases of the novel when we begin putting these character sheets together. At this point you should know how many characters are in your story, and have a vague idea of what they need to do/how they need to interact with your main character. This early on, it could be easy to see them as puzzle pieces (with the plot/story being the puzzle you’re trying to solve), so with the character sheets we’re trying to learn more about these characters, flesh them out, and let them become real people (for whatever value of “real” you want/are able to apply to them).

Character Sheet

The character sheet is basically just a list of questions that will help you to think about who these people both in relation to the story you’re trying to tell and external to it. Some of your answers will prove important and enlightening, and will almost certainly end up becoming focal in your story, other answers will never make it onto the page, but will help you to think about these characters as real people.

Let’s begin.

0. Initial Log-Line

I call this one number 0, because I don’t always use it. The idea here is to write a very brief log-line for the character. Think of this as the back cover blurb or film trailer narration of this character’s story. This is always going to be easiest/most obvious for your protagonist/s. For this reason I recommend starting with your biggest characters and making your way down. (You’ll probably want to do a character sheet for every main and secondary character. You can skip the tertiary characters though – the ones who only appear in a scene and don’t have an arc.)

Example from Repo Virtual: JD hustles with the best of them, taking any work he can to help support his mother. Working as a repo man, JD repossesses rare loot in the game worlds and expensive belongings in the real. But when he takes a job that’s too good to be true, he finds himself in possession of the world’s first true strong AI… and a target for corporate and terrorist groups that seek to use the AI for their own ends.

1. What do they want?
2. What do they need?

(Yes, I’m going to use singular they. Deal with it. If you’re at this blog you should already know I’m all about the singular they.)

I’m pairing these two together, because they can interact with each other in interesting ways. Sometimes what the character wants will parallel with what they need, other times the two will stand at opposition. Sometimes it will be what the character wants that drives them through the story, and not what they need, other times vice versa.

For example, maybe your character wants to achieve world domination, so what they need to do is distract the other characters long enough for their plan to come to fruition. World domination is the bigger desire, but I wouldn’t call it a need.

Another character might need to find a cure for the nanomachine virus that’s slowly tearing apart their mother’s body, but all they want is to be able to stop, relax, and drink a cup of tea. The cure is the need that will drive them forward, but the desire for rest could throw an interesting monkey wrench into the works.

3. What do they fear?

This doesn’t have to be the character’s “greatest fear”, or something obvious like heights, spiders, or clowns. It can be that, but it doesn’t have to be. For instance, I don’t necessarily have one of those big fears, but I sure as hell have a bunch of weird, subtle fears and other psychological quirks.

So someone might fear leaving or losing their children. This seems obvious. But someone else might fear disappointing their children if they return home without enough food/money/whatever, and so they’ll stay away from their children for longer.

Someone might fear going bald. Someone might fear their boss. Someone might fear fucking up – someone might fear fucking up so badly that they never try in the first place and are thus a complete fuck up.

What I’m trying to say here is: think beyond the obvious phobias and use this as an opportunity to delve into the psychology of your characters.

4. Win/Lose/Draw

Simply: what are the win, lose, and draw conditions for this character?

This is one of those sections that can seem redundant. If you already know what the characters wants and needs, then you already have a good idea of what their Win and Lose look like. So, if you’re talking about your main protagonist, the most interesting part will probably be the Draw – what concessions are they willing to make if they can’t Win, but refuse to Lose? Or, if you’re talking about side characters or villains, the Lose condition might be their fate if they’re standing in the way of your hero. Consider this brainstorming for how your characters might end up at the closing of your story.

5. Goals & Barriers

What are the character’s goals, and what barriers stand in their way?

Again, the goals part of this can seem obvious – it’s going to be their Win condition, and it’s probably going to be their need or want. Where it gets interesting is when you start to consider the barriers that stand in their way. This could be mundane, or as weird as you want to make it. You’ll probably get the most bang for your buck if the barrier to one character’s goal is something a different character does to achieve their goal. Tension between characters is conflict, and conflict is what fuels great storytelling.

6. What choices must they make?

This one can be really interesting. Every character in your story needs to make decisions – whether that’s the initial decision that gets them wrapped up in the happenings of the story, or a bad decision that puts everyone in danger, or a tough decision at the end of the story to sacrifice something in order to save something bigger. Depending on the character they might have difficult decisions to make the whole way through the plot, or for a smaller character they might only get one. Either way though, if a character isn’t making a decision, then they’re probably being dragged along by the plot, which can feel really unsatisfying to a reader.

7. Character’s Problem
8. Character’s Solution

This is the bit where I’m going to start paraphrasing Chuck, because he already distilled these ideas down really well, and I found them super useful.

The Character’s Problem is why they find themselves in the story. For example, John McClane’s problem isn’t the terrorists, it’s his failing marriage. Without that failing marriage, he wouldn’t be in LA trying to patch things up with his wife, and he wouldn’t get caught up in the whole situation. The terrorists aren’t a character’s problem, they’re a plot problem.

The Character’s Solution is not your solution. It’s how the character thinks they’re going to solve their problem. Hint: The character can be wrong about their solution. In the gap between the Problem and the Solution is where the conflict lives. And what did I say about conflict before?

9. Limitations
10. Complications

More pure, uncut Chuck. Limitations are internal to the character – a character trait or personal flaw that might help or hinder them (whether or not this trait appears to be positive). Complications are external.

I was going to try and keep rehashing, but instead I spent a couple of minutes looking through the Terrible Minds archive, and found the post. (This is definitely one of the two or three posts I originally used, so you’ll likely find value in reading through it.)

To quote:

A limitation is generally internal — meaning, it’s something within the character that exists as part of their nature. This limitation hobbles them in some way, altering their problem/solution dichotomy (which we could ostensibly call “the mission”).

Remember how I was talking about Dexter’s “code of honor?” I consider this a limitation to his character — we the audience would perceive that as a strength but to Dexter, it’s also a limitation. It puts a limit on his role as a serial killer and thus creates not only a deeper character, but also offers new plot angles and opportunities for tension.

Limitations are traits of the character’s that get in her way — they might be flaws or frailties but they can just as easily be positive traits that make trouble for the character and the plot.

Complications tend to be external — they are entanglements outside the character that complicate their lives. These can be more character-based or more plot-based depending on which aspect of the story you’re working. John McClane’s job is a character complication — he’s married more to the job than he is to his wife, which is what leads to the problem, which demands a solution, which opens the door for conflict. And the conflict is further complicated by his intensely cop-flavored demeanor, because he just can’t let this thing go. He throws himself into danger again and again not just because his wife is in the building, but because this is who he is. Shoeless and largely alone, all he is is pure, unmitigated yippie-kay-ay cowboy copper.

(And of course the rub is, a character’s limitations and complications are also the things that may help them succeed in their mission even while still causing them grave disorder.)

11. Physical description

We keep this at the end, because now that you have a good idea of who this person is, you can think about what they look like. Don’t go with your default – think about who they are, and think about how different physical characteristics can reinforce, counter, or add nuance to who they are as a character. If your default, or your first-instinct, is white, cis-male, and able-bodied, ask yourself if they really need to be that, or could your work be improved by diverging from the first thing your brain reaches for? But, also remain sensitive to the real people who could be affected by your depiction of a character who might be outside your own experience. If you write a non-white character that is steeped in harmful stereotypes, then you’re really not doing anyone any favours. (For more on this, check out Writing the Other. If I lived in North America I would certainly look to get involved in some of their workshops, but if nothing else the WtO ebook is a great starting point.)

As an aside: you should be thinking about diversity before you get to this point, but this is a good place to solidify your thoughts. Also, remember, you can change things as you go! The longer you wait, the more revising it will take to get an altered character to a point where they feel natural, but if it’s going to make for a better character or story, it’ll be worth the effort.

12. Revised log-line.

The idea here is that you can re-write your initial log-line now that you have a better idea about the character. After everything you’ve done to develop them into a person, how does this description change? While I often skip the initial log-line, this one is too useful to skip.

A good way to think about this is to write the blurb or the film trailer narration for the story that this person is the hero of – even, or especially, if this character isn’t your main character. What story do they think they’re in, and how can you and your protagonist fuck that up for them?

So there you go – a (long-ish) distillation of some Wendig Wisdom (you can have that for free, Chuck). Sure, I’ve published a couple of books, but to get to the point where I could write something good enough to find publication, I had to learn from somewhere. If you want to take your writing seriously, you should be reading a lot, but also don’t be afraid to buy some writing books, or delve into a blog like Chuck’s. There’s no shame in needing help. And there’s also no shame in taking only the advice you need and jettisoning the rest. It’s your writing, your practice, your creativity. Do what you need to build it and maintain it.

REPO VIRTUAL Cover Reveal

Repo Virtual cover - art/design by Christine Foltzer
Repo Virtual cover – art/design by Christine Foltzer

The cover for Repo Virtual was recently revealed over at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog. I say a little at the link, and there’s also a blurb for the book (I don’t think it’ll be the back cover blurb, but it’s how I pitched the book to my editor at Tor.com Publishing), so have a look at the link if you want more information.

The book isn’t out until April 2020, but already someone on twitter told me they preordered it, which is fantastic. Soon enough I’m hoping I can talk about a preorder incentive package I’m trying to put together. More details here as soon as I have them.

And a big thank you to Warren Ellis for the fantastic blurb. Not only did he find time to read it in his #1000mphclub schedule, but he got back to me in no time at all – which makes me think that even for a 100k word novel, I’ve written something quick and compelling.

I’m really proud of this book, and can’t wait for it to be out in the world… riding that zeitgeist wave alongside the folk at CDPR.

American War, by Omar El Akkad

American War Cover ArtAmerican War by Omar El Akkad was the Restricted.Academy Book Club pick for January, and I didn’t give my thoughts on the book in the newsletter at the time, but it has been on my mind often in the time since. Sometimes you put a book down and instantly forget that you’d ever read it, other times they linger for months or years.

American War tells the story of a Second Civil War taking place approximately 50 years in the future, across an America altered by rising sea levels, climate change, and related political upheaval. The war is being fought over fossil fuels – the people of the Free Southern State are determined to continue burning them in a stubborn and suicidal show of defiance against the north and the march of progress/ecological catastrophe. But American War doesn’t take a big, broad view of the conflict, rather it follows Sarat Chestnut from her childhood until her death, and in doing so shows us refugee camps, resistance groups, radicalisation, torture, murder, and the many ways that war can crush people until all that remains is hate. Despite that scope, in a lot of ways it’s a small and slow story – made up of detailed glimpses of events both mundane and life-altering.

El Akkad is doing a lot of interesting things with this book. I want to say that he’s both retelling the Civil War and combining it with the War on Terror, but I’m not sure the first part of that is entirely true. One of the things a few of us in the Book Club were iffy on was the complete lack of discussion about race in a book about southerners fighting a Second Civil War. American War was first published in early 2017, which means it was likely written in 2015 (or earlier), so perhaps it’s just an unfortunate side effect of when it was written, but reading it today, post-Charlottesville (and post- so much else), the lack of racial context seems like a glaring oversight. As a writer, I understand that sometimes you might leave something out of a story because you want people to be able to read it without being reminded of their own past trauma. For instance, most of Void Black Shadow is set in a prison, but I knew from the start I wasn’t going to explicitly detail sexual assault (which, come to think of it, El Akkad also avoided in the refugee camp section of the book when real life tells us that it would have been rife with it). Avoiding sexual assault is one thing, but leaving racism out of a second civil war is almost like taking the white supremacist viewpoint on the first civil war at face value – that it was “about state’s rights” not slavery. (If you haven’t listened to the Uncivil podcast, I highly recommend it. They do a fantastic job of deconstructing the Southern mythology surrounding the Civil War.) So I get it, but it was an odd choice. Even so, El Akkad is doing so much with this book, and almost all of it is great, so that omission isn’t a dealbreaker.

Transporting a war that looks an awful lot like the War on Terror into the American context is a huge task, and El Akkad does it so well that I didn’t even realise that’s what he was doing until I read some of the review blurbs. It should have been obvious, but I was so caught up in the texture of the world he was creating that I got lost inside it.

One of the most interesting things about the book is the way it instills empathy in you for people even as they’re preparing to do horrifying things. There was one point in the book (fairly late in the piece, to be fair) where I began to wonder if the suffering being inflicted on Sarat was beginning to get gratuitous, but it’s not at all. It’s El Akkad taking us by the hand and guiding us through her life of constant hurt so that we can truly understand her.

I can’t help but draw parallels to my own work (because I’m a writer and/so I’m self-involved), but at the end of Void Black Shadow Mars does something huge and heinous, but the only way I could make it work was to give the situation a sense of immediacy and desperation. She did it because she was certain it was the only way to save her friend. But I think that’s part of why the ending to American War works so well – there’s no immediacy, there’s just the pit inside Sarat that can only be filled with other people’s pain.

So it’s a book not without its issues, but it is also so big (yet intimate) and compelling, multi-layered, beautifully written, and expertly constructed. I highly recommend it.

Supanova, April 2019

Supanova Authors, April 2019
Left to right:Me, Alan Baxter, Jodi McAlister, Paige Belfield, Lynette Noni, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Rachael Craw, Marlee Jane Ward.

This is the main gang that I had the pleasure of touring with for Supanova in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast.

On the GC, Alan, Lynette, and I also got to share a stage with these two:

Writing Action PanelJames and Marc Lindsay, who I toured with at a previous Supanova, and who are always good value. It was a great panel, talking all about writing action scenes, and I had a great chat to the brothers after the panel too.

I had planned to write more, but some bastard infected me with con crud, and 2.5 weeks later I’m still not feeling 100%. I will however say that Alan Baxter joined us on the Nothing Here newsletter, where he and m1k3y went into some detail about writing martial arts action scenes (Alan being a kung fu instructor as well as a writer of dark tales).

Thanks to Ineke for having me on board! It’s always a great (if tiring) weekend, and I really love nothing more than talking with readers and my fellow writers.

The Process – Outlining

Recently I’ve been thinking about writing the first draft of my next project long-hand. The quote from Joe Hill at the bottom of this post put the idea in my head, and it was reinforced when Austin (of Oh Nothing Press and the Nothing Here Newsletter) told me about how much he’s enjoying the process of hand-writing the Zero Draft of his next project.

I’ve hand-written long-form work before. My first novel (a middle grade book inspired by The Invisibles, but which ended up looking more like Harry Potter by way of William S. Burroughs) was written by hand, and that came to around 50,000 words. But if I do it right, my next book will be closer to 90k. That is a lot of notebook pages, a lot of hand cramps.

But there’s definitely merit to it. You do feel freer working by hand, you can add notes and comments and all the rest into the margins of your page which just works and feels better than using comments in MS Word. The main place where it falls apart though, is in moving text around. Say you write a paragraph, and then decide you actually want to shift that around? It’s possible, but in my experience it means a lot of long arrows scratched into page margins, and much flipping between pages when it comes time to type it all up.

So, while I’m still not sure about hand-writing the draft, one thing I am all about is outlining by hand.

Because when you’re in the outlining phase of a project is when you are (and need to feel) freest. (Damn, that word looks weird, doesn’t it?) This is the time in the process when you want to be interrupting yourself, crossing things out, underlining, writing in different colours, adding asterisks and break-out boxes and quotes and ephemera. This is the part in the process when being stuck inside a rigid program is most likely to restrict your thinking and creativity. This is the ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ phase of the process, and by definition that means you need to get messy.

Now I’m going to let you in on a secret – I do all this twice. You see, the messy outlining is great for brainstorming and the aspect of pure creation, but the outline is a document with a very specific purpose. The outline is your blueprint, and a blueprint has no value if you can’t read it. There is nothing worse than knowing you solved a narrative problem already, and being completely unable to find the solution amongst all your inky mess.

So what I do is this: I start writing my outline in my ‘proper’ project notebook, and the moment things start to get vague – the moment a word like “somehow” creeps into my head – I put the ‘proper’ notebook aside and pick up a scratchpad. This is where the real mess happens, this is the land of chicken scratch handwriting, crossed out words and paragraphs, underlining, asterisking, and an almost conversational back-and-forth that would possibly sound unhinged if I was doing it out-loud instead of in the privacy of my notebook.

Sidenote: Have you heard of Rubber Duck debugging? Even if you haven’t, it’s something you’ve done; it’s something we all do. When you need help sorting a problem out, sometimes the best thing to do is explain it all to another person. Rubber Duck debugging is when you replace that person with an inanimate object – because most of the time it’s the process of explaining the problem that helps you solve it, rather than any reaction/feedback/help from the person who’s acting as your sounding board. All this is to say that sometimes when I get stuck, I just start automatic writing, having the conversation with myself on the page. It either fixes the problem, or I know I need to let the ideas keep composting before coming back to it later.

Once the free-wheeling mess has helped me get past the block or solve the problem, I write “my findings” into the proper notebook – a clean version of the part that I just hashed out on the page. So for every notebook page, there is probably 1-2 pages of handwritten mess that informed it.

So there you go – a look at part of my process. Let’s call this The Two Notebook Method of brainstorming, outlining, and generally making a mess.

I might make The Process an ongoing (but irregular) series. You’ll get more Process talk on the Nothing Here Newsletter. If you want to know why I call it “The Process”, then you probably want to listen to this episode of Reply All. Part Two of The Process (if and when I get around to writing it up) will cover Character Creation because I have a great little sheet I pieced together from Chuck Wendig’s blog that I’d love to share.

And as a little bonus – here’s the very first page of notes I put together when I started outlining Static Ruin. (To be completely honest, I can’t remember if this was before I after I pitched it to Tor. I always had a vague idea of what the third book would be, so this could have been after the pitch.) You’ll see me brainstorming for titles, and you’ll see a conversation between Mars and her father which never made it into the book.

“Does a star feel guilt for all the worlds it holds in its thrall? Does a supernova feel guilt when it explodes?”

Honestly, if I ever get back to the VoidWitch Universe, I’ll probably resurrect that line.

Liminal

I am at something of a loss. I’m in a weird liminal space at the moment – I’m waiting on line edits from Carl on REPO VIRTUAL, and trying to decide what my next big project will be once that’s locked away. I know exactly what that project should be – my CrispSF novel – but I’m hesitating. Honestly, I might just be scared.

The VoidWitch books were really personal, but otherwise “light” in a lot of ways. As in, if you didn’t recognise that I was using the books to explore my depression, self-loathing, lack of self-worth, anger, disappointment and disconnection with family, and feelings of listlessness, then maybe the books would seem fun but shallow. So with Repo Virtual, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that asked bigger and broader questions beyond my own experiences, I wanted to write about a future that could be just around the corner and/or already here. I wanted to do something more “serious” and more intelligent. I wanted to write something that was in conversation with the cyberpunk canon, and maybe pointing the way forward along a slightly different path. And I think I pulled it off, for the most part. Or at the very least I pulled it off as well as I could have at that moment in time.

So now I’m looking to the next step. I want to up my game again, write a novel that will be even more difficult than Repo Virtual, and in doing so also create a new sci-fi subgenre (because, why not aim high?). But something has given me pause.

In her review of Static Ruin, Tasha Leigh compared the VoidWitch books to Ursula Le Guin or Kij Johnson, and while I don’t think I’ve earned those comparisons yet I can see what she means. There’s a sort of free-wheeling inventiveness in the Saga that might be similar to what Le Guin and Johnson do – weird ideas dropped into place to hint at different sub/cultures in the galaxy, backstories only ever hinted at, and an entire universe of worldbuilding that casts a shadow over the books without ever actually being seen clearly. And so reading that review when I was right near the end of Repo Virtual, I got worried: Was that the best thing about my writing, and had I completely left it out of RV? When I look at RV, all I see are the books, articles, shows, films, and philosophers I’m referencing. I know that isn’t the whole book, it might not even be a big part of it, but I’ve been too deep in it for too long to have any sort of context. In using a near-future setting, did I shoot myself in the foot? Did I lose too much of what makes my writing work? Or will RV work for different reasons? Is it better, worse, or just different?

With the CrispSF novel, I would perhaps be splitting the difference – I can already see all the ways that ‘free-wheeling inventiveness’ will be able to manifest itself in the book, while it will also look at real-world issues, future fears, and a different sort of philosophy than what I explored in RV. But at the same time, it has to be a dark book. It has to be horrifying. And I don’t know if I can pull it off yet.

Hence the twitter poll:

Twitter poll

And I have a good idea of what Parallel Universe Spies will look like, and I think it could be big – in terms of worldbuilding, series size, and in terms of reader response. So I’m struggling. Do I dive into Crispr Heart of Darkness and see if I can pull it off, pushing and challenging myself to do something utterly different and completely new? (Or new to me at least – I’m almost certain there are books out there doing similar things, if only because there are so many books out there.) Do I tackle climate change directly, and the tools we might use to face it and adapt to it? Or do I tackle it tangentially in a series of novellas with PUS (because I don’t think I can not write about it)?

Is my fear about writing Crispr HoD something to be overcome, or is it something instinctual I should listen to? Might the book be important, or is my desire to ‘create a new subgenre’ pure egocentric bullshit?

I think what I’m actually going to do is develop both. Come up with the characters and outlines for each, and see which one I need to write. See which one sets that fire under my arse. It could be that in developing my Crispr book, the fear fades as I see how it could form, or maybe I’ll realise it’s beyond me. Or maybe I need to write a novella, a palate cleanser between big novels.

If I had an agent, maybe this would be an easier decision to make. Instead, I’m writing it all out here, in an effort to make sense of it… More than anything, I just want another project. I want to stop feeling quite so lost.

Static Ruin Shortlisted for an Aurealis Award

Yesterday the Aurealis Award shortlists were announced, with Static Ruin making the shortlist under Best Science Fiction Novella. As both Void Black Shadow and Static Ruin were released in 2018, both were eligible, and I actually thought VBS had a better chance of earning the nomination because it’s darker and more political. But Static Ruin is deeply personal, so I couldn’t be happier to see if shortlisted.

All of the shortlists are below, taken from the Aurealis announcement here. Seeing these lists in the one place is a great reminder of how exciting and thriving a SFFH scene we have here in Australia. Congratulations to all the other shortlisted folk – I’m honoured to be featured alongside you.

2018 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

The Continuum Foundation (ConFound), organisers of the 2018 Aurealis Awards, is delighted to announce the finalists for the Awards.

Winners of the 2018 Aurealis Awards, Sara Douglass Book Series Award, and the Convenors’ Award for Excellence will be announced at the Aurealis Awards ceremony taking place in Melbourne on Saturday May 4, 2019.

2018 Aurealis Awards – Finalists

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION
– The Relic of the Blue Dragon, Rebecca Lim (Allen & Unwin)
– The Slightly Alarming Tales of the Whispering Wars, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)
– The Endsister, Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
– Secret Guardians, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
– Ting Ting the Ghosthunter, Gabrielle Wang (Penguin Random House Australia)
– Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt, Rhiannon Williams (Hardie Grant Egmont)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK
– Deathship Jenny, Rob O’Connor (self-published)
– Cicada, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
– Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
– “A Robot Like Me”, Lee Cope (Mother of Invention, Twelfth Planet Press)
– “The Moon Collector”, D K Mok (Under the Full Moon’s Light, Owl Hollow Press)
– “The Sea-Maker of Darmid Bay”, Shauna O’Meara (Interzone #277, TTA Press)
– “Eight-Step Koan”, Anya Ow (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)
– “For Weirdless Days and Weary Nights”, Deborah Sheldon (Breach #08)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
– “The Offering”, Michael Gardner (Aurealis #112)
– “Slither”, Jason Nahrung (Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2, IFWG Publishing Australia)
– “By Kindle Light”, Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Antipodean SF #235)
– “Hit and Rot”, Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Breach #08)
– “Sub-Urban”, Alfie Simpson (Breach #07)
– “The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA
– “Andromeda Ascends”, Matthew R Davis (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
– “Kopura Rising”, David Kuraria (Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, IFWG Publishing Australia)
– “The Black Sea”, Chris Mason (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
– Triquetra, Kirstyn McDermott (Tor.com)
– “With This Needle I Thee Thread”, Angela Rega (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– Crisis Apparition, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
– “Crying Demon”, Alan Baxter (Suspended in Dusk 2, Grey Matter Press)
– “Army Men”, Juliet Marillier (Of Gods and Globes, Lancelot Schaubert)
– “The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)
– “Child of the Emptyness”, Amanda J Spedding (Grimdark Magazine #17)
– “A Moment’s Peace”, Dave Versace (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG Publishing)
– “Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring”, Suzanne J Willis (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA
– “This Side of the Wall”, Michael Gardner (Metaphorosis Magazine, January 2018)
– “Beautiful”, Juliet Marillier (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– “The Staff in the Stone”, Garth Nix (The Book of Magic, Penguin Random House)
– Merry Happy Valkyrie, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)
– “The Dressmaker and the Colonel’s Coat”, David Versace (Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales, self-published)
– The Dragon’s Child, Janeen Webb (PS Publishing)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
– “The Sixes, The Wisdom and the Wasp”, E J Delaney (Escape Pod)
– “The Fallen”, Pamela Jeffs (Red Hour, Four Ink Press)
– “On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus”, Simon Petrie & Edwina Harvey (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
– “A Fair Wind off Baracoa”, Robert Porteous (Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
– “The Astronaut”, Jen White (Aurealis)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA
– “I Almost Went To The Library Last Night”, Joanne Anderton (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– The Starling Requiem, Jodi Cleghorn (eMergent Publishing)
– Icefall, Stephanie Gunn (Twelfth Planet Press)
– “Pinion”, Stephanie Gunn (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– “Singles’ Day”, Samantha Murray (Interzone #277, TTA Press)
– Static Ruin, Corey J White (Tor.com)

BEST COLLECTION
– Not Quite the End of the World Just Yet, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)
– Phantom Limbs, Margo Lanagan (PS Publishing)
– Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
– Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
– Sword and Sonnet, Aidan Doyle, Rachael K Jones & E Catherine Tobler (Ate Bit Bear)
– Aurum, Russell B Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)
– Mother of Invention, Rivqa Rafael & Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)
– Infinity’s End, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)
– The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
– Small Spaces, Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia)
– Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Catching Teller Crow, Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
– His Name was Walter, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Publishers)
– A Curse of Ash and Embers, Jo Spurrier (HarperCollins Publishers)
– Impostors, Scott Westerfeld (Allen & Unwin)

BEST HORROR NOVEL
– The Bus on Thursday, Shirley Barrett (Allen & Unwin)
– Years of the Wolf, Craig Cormick (IFWG Publishing Australia)
– Tide of Stone, Kaaron Warren (Omnium Gatherum)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL
– Devouring Dark, Alan Baxter (Grey Matter Press)
– Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)
– City of Lies, Sam Hawke (Penguin Random House)
– Lightning Tracks, Alethea Kinsela (Plainspeak Publishing)
– The Witch Who Courted Death, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)
– We Ride the Storm, Devin Madson (self-published)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
– Scales of Empire, Kylie Chan (HarperCollins Publishers)
– Obsidio, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills (Picador Australia)
– A Superior Spectre, Angela Meyer (Ventura Press)
– The Second Cure, Margaret Morgan (Penguin Random House)

The Sara Douglass Book Series Award shortlist will be announced at a later date due to the volume of entries under consideration.

2018 Retrospective

It’s the start of a new year, which is as good a time as any to look back at the last one. I know I got a lot of work done, but it doesn’t feel like I did. I edited Static Ruin at the start of the year, and outlined and wrote the first draft of Repo Virtual, then edited and rewrote that draft to get it to a point where I was satisfied with submitting it to my editor. On top of that I wrote one or two short stories, a few essays/articles, and three comics pitches. All while working a part-time job, and doing all the other stuff that we have to do just to live.

But still, I only wrote one novel. That’s what my brain keeps telling me. Only one novel, as though some writers don’t spend years on a novel, as though I didn’t pour my everything into writing that book.

I had it in my mind that I would like to write a novel and a novella per year, so anything less than that feels like failure. I’m trying to cut myself some slack though, but we’ll see how that pans out.

Anyway, I’ve got some really exciting projects lined up for 2019. One is a comic series that Austin and I are currently planning (along with a one-shot that we’ll probably put together as a sort of proof-of-concept RE: the whole comics collaborating thing), one is a novella or short novel that I’m currently planning with another collaborator, and the third is my Crisp novel, which has been slowly growing and evolving in my mind for literally 1 week shy of 2 years. All three of those projects might not come together this year, or at all, particularly as collaborations set up a whole bunch of additional hurdles, but I’m excited about them. If nothing else, I just want to get the first draft of that Crisp novel written, anything more will be gravy.

2018 is also the year that I really focused on reading more non-fiction. I still hugely value fiction because there is plenty more for me to learn in prose writing, and because writing is a conversation, but since Killing Gravity was published I’ve also seen the value in reading things I normally wouldn’t, in reading non-fiction that could feed into my projects, and in actively trying to learn more about the world.

Even though I read plenty of great books, the two that stand out in my mind are Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, and Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing. These two books not only grabbed me, like many of the others did (Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck and Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins come to mind), but they also taunted me by saying “You’ll never write something this multi-faceted/multi-layered/complex/precise/good/etc.” With three intertwined timelines/stories, The Only Harmless Great Thing is precisely wrought and utterly phenomenal, cramming an awful lot in to such a slim volume. And with it’s nested stories, deep, deep narrative layers, and utterly unique voices, Gnomon is so good that if you’re a writer it will make you kind of hate Nick Harkaway. I still don’t love the ending, but at the same time I see why it was the only way he could have written it. The size of it might put some people off, but it is simply stunning. I really don’t know how Harkaway did it.

So, 2019. In the short-term, it’s going to involve a lot of work editing Repo Virtual, but after that, I’m excited and hopeful about these next three projects. Wish me luck.

2019 Appearances

2019 hasn’t even begun yet, but already I’ve got some appearances lined up.
First off, on Friday February 1st, Marlee Jane Ward, Angela Meyer, and myself will be doing readings at Brunswick Bound as part of their First Chapters series of events. Ours is the first event of the year, with a definite sci-fi bent – if you’re in or around Melbourne and want to see us in the flesh and hear what we sound like, come along – 361 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Friday 1st of Feb, starts at 7pm.

And I’ll be doing Supanova again! I’ll be at Melbourne Supanova on April 5-7, and Gold Coast Supanova on April 12-14. These are the only Supanova shows I’m planning to do in 2019 (that could change, but I doubt it), so apologies to folks in other cities. This time around, I’ll be joined at the author table by Australia’s prince of horror, Alan Baxter, the prolific YA fantasy scribe, Lynette Noni, and fantasy author Jodi McAlister, with more names to be announced.

Anyway, I hope that whatever holiday you celebrate around this time of year, you had a fantastic time. 2018 has been a rough one inside this skull of mine. But I survived, and so did you. I’m not going to lie to you – things are going to get tougher and weirder for a while yet. Stay strong. Remember your friends and loved ones are there for you, and remember to be there for them. We only have each other.

The Sound of Static Ruin

I’ve posted a ‘Sound of’ post for both Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow, detailing the music (or, for Void Black Shadow, audio performance) that inspired each book, but this time around, I wanted to do something a little different.

If you want to know what the inside of my head sounded like while I was writing Static Ruin, you only need to listen to Young Widow’s full discography, starting with Old Wounds, then onto In and Out of Youth and Lightness, and then finally to Easy Pain, listening to the full album from start to finish. Also add a heavy dose of MY DISCO’s album Severe, though I did have to put this one aside any time I was writing an action scene.

But, as I neared the end of the book, I knew I needed to do something a little different.

I always listen to complete albums, from start to finish, without skipping any tracks. This is why I can’t listen to an album for an extended period of time if there’s even one track on it that I actively dislike. I could remove that track from the playlist, but I don’t see that as a viable choice. The way I see it, an album is like a book, and you would never tear a chapter out of a book.

Anyway, when we’re talking about individual songs, I find that I tend to really latch on to final tracks – usually melancholic, sometimes outright depressing, sometimes uplifting – endings so strong they make you want to start the album again right from the beginning. So, I thought, why not put together a playlist of these final tracks, to set the tone as I was writing the final chapters of the final book in the VoidWitch Saga? And that is what I have here for you now – a playlist entitled Endings. That is the spotify link, but the full list is below. Each one of these songs is from an absolute favourite album of mine, and I recommend listening to the full album if any song takes your fancy. Bandcamp links are included where available.

  1. These Arms Are Snakes – Briggs (from Tail Swallower & Dove)
  2. CHELSEA WOLFE – The Abyss (from The Abyss)
  3. Isis – Threshold of Transformation (from Wavering Radiant)
  4. Clann Zú – You’re Listening to a Dead Man Speak (from Rua)
  5. Fiona Apple – Waltz (Better Than Fine) (from Extraordinary Machine)
  6. Chelsea Wolfe – Lone (from Pain is Beauty)
  7. Clark – The Autumnal Crush (from Body Riddle)
  8. Autolux – Becker (from Pussy’s Dead)
  9. Isis – Garden Of Light (from In the Absence of Truth)
  10. Fiona Apple – Hot Knife (from The Idler Wheel […])
  11. Purity Ring – Shuck (from Shrines)
  12. These Arms Are Snakes – Crazy Woman Dirty Train (from Easter)
  13. The Mars Volta – Zed And Two Naughts (from Noctourniquet)
  14. Genghis Tron – Ergot (Relief) (from Board up the House)
  15. MY DISCO – Careless (from Severe)
  16. Young Widows – In My Living Room (from Easy Pain)
  17. Mark Lanegan Band – Tiny Grain Of Truth (from Blues Funeral)
  18. Future Of The Left – Why Aren’t I Going To Hell (from How To Stop Your Brain in an Accident)
  19. Isis – Grinning Mouths (from Panopticon)
  20. Russian Circles – Memorial feat. Chelsea Wolfe (from Memorial)
  21. Tom Waits – Blue Valentines (from Blue Valentine)
  22. Fiona Apple – I Know (from When the Pawn […])
  23. Autolux – Capital Kind Of Strain (from Future Perfect)
  24. Liars – The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack (from Drum’s Not Dead)

The playlist always had to open with Briggs – the final song off the final album of one of my all-time favourite bands, and (for those playing at home) the place where I took the name for the villain from Killing Gravity. And it was always going to end with The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack. I can’t listen to this song without crying, and I’m not even sure why anymore, but I know I want it played at my funeral. For the purposes of Static Ruin, think of it as Mars & Squid’s song.