Serious Writers

A lot of people offer the advice that writers need to write every day. And a lot of people call bullshit on that notion, for a variety of reasons. If you want to know what my biggest pieces of advice are for aspiring writers:

  • Live as cheaply as possible.
  • Work as little as possible.
  • Put the time you saved into writing.

This is what worked for me. It was around two and a half years from the time I decided “I am going to take writing seriously”, cut my work hours back to part-time, and started putting the hours in, to when I signed the book deal for Killing Gravity. Two and a half years. That’s nothing. At the time, it felt like an eternity of constant writing and endless story rejections, but in the grand scheme of things, it is no time at all.

Now, if I wanted to take the above advice and distill it down even further, I would say this:

  • Consciously decide to take your writing seriously.

That’s it. That’s the one piece of advice that works for everyone, because it is different for everyone. I’m not saying “write every day”, I’m saying, make a conscious decision that this is what you want to do with your life and find a way to make it happen. For me that means writing six days a week (and, honestly, Sunday I’m still working on the newsletter and other stuff), but for you it can just mean carving out a few hours a week to dedicate to writing.

I have no kids, and no mortgage, so I can live very cheaply, and I can get away with only working 20ish hours a week (yes, I still work a day job). I also don’t go out much, and I rarely spend money on anything that isn’t a necessity or books (so, just the necessities). This is the life I chose for myself. If you have chosen a different life for yourself, then you will need to figure out your own solution. Only you can know what becoming serious means for you. But I will say this – the most important thing is making that decision. Until you do that, you’ll feel lost. Trust me, I know.

People always say “I want to write…”, “I just can’t find the time to write…”, “I’ve got this idea for a book…”, or whatever, but until you make the decision, it’s only ever going to be this nebulous maybe for a nebulous future that, frankly, you’re never going to reach. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Nobody accidentally stumbles into a successful creative career. (Ok, that one person did, but they’re a once-in-a-generation talent who makes everything they do look effortless, and we hate them.) If you’re not going to take it seriously, then give up. I did this too, and experienced the worst depressive episode of my life. But this was at least instructive. I learned that if I don’t write, I don’t enjoy life. Now if I ever feel like quitting for whatever temporary depressed reason, I can look back at that time and know that I need to press on.

Did I just get real? I think I got real.

So, make that decision, and dedicate what time you can to your craft. I’m not saying you’ll get published, but I’m saying you’ll write, your writing will improve, and that little voice in the back of your head that nags you for not writing will finally, mercifully, shut up. (There will be a whole new host of voices, but I’ll talk about them at some other time.)

Also, tangent: the other non-negotiable thing that writers do (apart from take it seriously), is read. If you come up to me and want to talk about writing and you don’t read, the conversation is over.

Writing is a conversation. It’s a conversation between the voices in your head, it’s a conversation between you and the reader, and it’s a conversation between your work and the stories and authors that inspired it (and if you’re lucky, it’s a conversation between your work and the stories and authors it will inspire). If you’re not reading, then you’re the arsehole at the party who loudly talks over everyone else without listening. Don’t be that arsehole.

If you think you don’t have time, listen to audiobooks on your commute, or at your job. Read novellas – they’re short enough that you can read one in a day. If you want to write short stories, read short stories. If you want to write comics, read comics. Pay attention to what works, and try and figure out why.

Anyway. When I first came here to write this, I was planning on referring to this post that I came across thanks to Ryan K. Lindsay. Go read it, there’s plenty of interesting stuff there.

REPO VIRTUAL Announced

I’ve been busily working away on a novel, and now I can finally talk about it. REPO VIRTUAL is a cyberpunk heist novel, due for publication in 2020 – the most cyberpunk-sounding year yet.

Carl said this in the announcement:

It’s a special pleasure to guide an author through multiple stages of their early career. Since I acquired Corey J. White’s first novella, Killing Gravity, I’ve had the joy of watching his craft develop from book to book. In November he’ll complete his Voidwitch Saga trilogy with Static Ruin, capping off the story of Mariam Xi, one of the most interesting and dangerous characters in space. And now I have the honor of announcing that Tor.com Publishing has acquired Corey J. White’s debut novel, Repo Virtual, a cyberpunk heist story that layers action across real and virtual realities in the hunt for the first true strong AI. Repo Virtual was acquired in a deal negotiated by Martha Millard of Sterling Lord Literistic.

And here’s my comment:

I’m so excited to be working again with Carl Engle-Laird and the rest of the team at Tor.com Publishing on my debut novel. They were a joy to work with on the Voidwitch books, and I’m thrilled to be taking this next journey with them. Repo Virtual will be a fully 21st Century take on cyberpunk, showing the environmental and sociopolitical repercussions of the rampant corporations that cyberpunk warned us about, and perhaps helped to normalise.

Needless to say, I’m really excited to be working on my debut novel. It’s totally different to working on a novella (or even three novellas), but I think I’ve got something special here. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

More news and info as it comes to hand.

Turkey City Lexicon

It’s been a while since I did a writing advice post, and I just came across this post via Cat Rambo’s twitter feed. The Turkey City Lexicon is a collection of terms that help define some common pitfalls in science fiction, as seen and defined by a number of SF voices, including some of those who were integral to the creation of the cyberpunk subgenre.

Sadly, most (if not all) of these pitfalls are still common in SF today, so it’s worth reading to see where you might be able to tighten up your prose.

And just to prove I have some ability for self-criticism, here are some I know slip into my work (hopefully most of it is stamped out before publication, but maybe not:

“Burly Detective” Syndrome
This useful term is taken from SF’s cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne’s proper name, preferring such euphemisms as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth.” This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as “vertiginous.” Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.

Not Simultaneous
The mis-use of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. “Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.” Alas, our hero couldn’t do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into “Ing Disease,” the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in “-ing,” a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)

“Said” Bookism
An artificial verb used to avoid the word “said.” “Said” is one of the few invisible words in the English language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less distracting than “he retorted,” “she inquired,” “he ejaculated,” and other oddities. The term “said-book” comes from certain pamphlets, containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the word “said,” which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in American magazines of the pre-WWII era.

Tom Swifty
An unseemly compulsion to follow the word “said” with a colorful adverb, as in “‘We’d better hurry,’ Tom said swiftly.” This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift adventure dime-novels. Good dialogue can stand on its own without a clutter of adverbial props.

Check out the full list here, along with introductions from both Lewis Shiner and Bruce Sterling.

nothing here

I have long been a fan of the newsletter as a form, largely thanks to Warren Ellis and his various newsletters over the years (I seriously think today’s Republic of Newsletters is largely built on a foundation that Warren built), and wanted to throw my hat into the ring. But, writing an entire newsletter alone seemed like too much work and too much stress. Do I have enough interesting opinions? Even if I did, would anyone care?

So, I decided to rope in some friends/colleagues/lovers to help build something that is (AFAIK) new in the newsletter space – the usual collection of links and recommendations, but from a group of people, with room for a conversational back and forth. I think of it like a podcast in text form.

If you’re here at this website, then you already know who I am, but let me introduce the rest of the nothinghere team:

  • Marlee Jane Ward – Writer, reader, weirdo. Author of ‘Welcome To Orphancorp’ and ‘Psynode’. Host of Catastropod. ADHD, spec fic, feminism, cats. Melbourne, Australia.
  • Austin Armatys – Writer/Teacher/Wretched Creature –  Darwin, Australia, Twitter, Brain Worms @austinarmatys
  • John English – Photographer – Solvent Image. Writer of upcoming comic CEL. Based in Brisbane, Australia @Herts_Solvent
  • m1k3y – Apocalyptic Wallfacer-Futurist. Resident of the alien earth. @m1k3y

Once we feel like we’ve established ourselves and fallen into a groove with the newsletter, we’re also going to open it up to guest issues. It’s been an interesting and entertaining experiment so far, and I’m hoping we can keep it going for a long while to come.

Currently we’re planning on dropping a new issue every fortnight, so go over here and subscribe. Issue 0002 will drop July 14th.

Head of the Realiser

I had a strange realisation today. Realisations are odd, because they generally seem obvious outside the moment/context/head of the realiser (Head of the Realiser is the name of a cult leader if I ever heard one).

I was idly thinking that in another 10 or 20 years when I have enough clout, I’d love to edit a short story anthology. And from that initial thought I had aforementioned realisation: I am exactly where I want to be. And fuck me, but that’s a blessing. Despite the stresses of writing, and just living the late-capitalism lifestyle, that is huge.

I mean, obviously I’m not “done”. There is still so much more for me to do, but I’m officially there on the ground floor of The Life I Always Wanted. The next bit is building a readership and honing my craft. There will be a million other things I have to do along the way, but as long as I’m improving as a writer and reaching an audience, the rest will work itself out. Oh, and connecting with other writers, because there are 2 things every writer loves to talk about – the process and books. And honestly, talking about books is one of my absolute favourite things to do.

And honestly, this fairly positive realisation probably only came about because of that other recent one – that I’ve been pushing myself too hard, and not enjoying the journey. So, maybe that means I’m successfully changing my mindset? I hope so, because it’s been pretty fucking rough in here lately.

Good Enough

I have a problem. Marlee says I’m addicted to workahol, but that’s not it. I work hard because I’m driven, but I’m driven because nothing is good enough. Therein lies the problem.

Smarter people than I have written about the many problems of social media [citation needed], but the problem for me is that I find myself comparing my work/career/success to the gestalt of Writer Twitter. They are constantly being nominated for awards. They are constantly winning awards. They constantly appear on bestseller lists. They constantly get starred reviews, and film/TV deals, and a million other opportunities. In short, whatever successes ‘They’ have, my sick, broken brain sees only in terms of what I don’t have.

This is ridiculous. This is unhelpful. This is incredibly damaging to my mental health. This is also utter bullshit. On the one hand, how fucking entitled is my subconscious being? And on the other hand, I’m comparing my singular self to a group of writers, including some who have been at it for years, or even decades.

Now, beyond the entitlement and the unfair comparisons (which are two entirely different brands of bullshit), the other side effect here is that I do not enjoy the (objectively many) successes I have had. I want to blame Australia’s tall poppy syndrome (and, let’s be honest, my depression), because I find it impossible to celebrate any of my successes for fear of being seen as a conceited arsehole. But, that’s only half of it. I also can’t celebrate because nothing is good enough. I celebrated signing the contracts for Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow, but everything since then has been…I don’t know. Good, but not good enough, I guess.

So, I’m going to do something difficult, and I’m going to celebrate my successes in an effort to rewire my broken brain. Please don’t think I’m a conceited arsehole, because this is actually entirely unnatural for me. Here goes…

  • I have a trilogy of novellas with an incredible imprint attached to one of the biggest SF publishers in the world. Seriously, Tor.com Publishing is putting out some of my favourite books right now, and they also chose to publish me. Multiple times.
  • Over five thousand people have parted with their hard-earned money for a copy of Killing Gravity. Some of them even liked it. (Honestly, this is one I struggle with because it seems so small a number compared to…I don’t even know what. But hell, it’s my very first book, in a niche format, so 5K is a number I should be proud of. If you’re one of those 5K, thank you. It means the world to me.)
  • Warren Ellis, one of my favourite writers, took time out of his busy schedule to read and review both Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow.
  • I signed with Martha Millard, the literary agent who represents William fucking Gibson, Ian McDonald, Michael Swanwick, and other well-known and well-respected figures in science-fiction. (Cadwell Turnbull is another early career author that Martha signed, and I feel like he’s going to be A Big Deal down the track, so check out his work now and get on board early.)
  • I’ve had the opportunity to go on tour with the likes of Terry Brooks and some other fantastic local and international authors.
  • And other exciting stuff that I can’t even talk about yet. Seriously, some big news that I should be fucking ecstatic about, but depression broke my brain.

Killing Gravity only came out thirteen months ago (give or take). That’s no time at all. My career has barely even begun, and if I let myself relax for one fucking  second I’ll realise that things are already looking bright. So maybe, just maybe, I should cut myself some fucking slack. Maybe self-loathing isn’t a healthy motivator. Maybe, if I try, I’ll find a better way.

Sorry, Marlee, I don’t think I’m going to work any less, but what I will do is try and enjoy where I’m at right now, instead of beating myself up about where I “should” be.

Pre-order Static Ruin

Static Ruin cover art by Tommy ArnoldShe killed the man who trained her. She killed the fleet that came for her. She killed the planet that caged her. Now she must confront her father.

Mars Xi is on the run, a bounty on her head and a kill count on her conscience. All she has left are her mutant cat Ocho and her fellow human weapon Pale, a young boy wracked by seizures who can kill with a thought. She needs him treated, and she needs to escape, and the only thread left to pull is her frayed connection to her father, Marius Teo. That thread will take her to the outskirts of the galaxy, to grapple with witch-cults and privately-owned planets, and into the hands of the man who engineered her birth.

Cover reveal at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Static Ruin will be released November 6th, 2018 (maybe a little later in Australia) in both ebook and paperback formats. It represents the end of the journey that began with Killing Gravity, so at times it has me sort of melancholy. This is the series that got me published, and put me on the road to making a career out of writing – which is all I’ve wanted for 15+ years. In some ways I’m sad to be at the end here, in other ways I’m happy that I had this shot, and proud of the work I’ve done in these three novellas. I’ll forever be grateful to Carl Engle-Laird for picking KG up out of slush and giving me a shot, and to Warren Ellis for kindly spreading the word in his newsletter, and to every reader who loved one of my books so much that they just had to tell someone about it.


eBook:
B&N Nook | iBooks | eBooks.com | Google Play | Kobo

Paperback:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Wordery


Brisbane/SEQ – Hit up Pulp Fiction in the CBD. They’ve supported both Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow, so I have no doubt that they’ll be supporting Static Ruin as well. Also, they’re one of the few genre-specialist bookshops in the country, so if you’re local support them.

Sydney
Galaxy Bookshop should be your best bet at finding my books, as they’re the sci-fi and fantasy specialists in town.

MelbourneReadings is a brilliant chain of indie bookshops. Not sure if they’ll actively be carrying my books, but they’ll be able to order them in for you.

Australia-wide
QBD did a fantastic job supporting me and the other authors at Supanova on my tours.

Otherwise, you can simply ask for your local bookstore to order it in for you. Just quote the title, and the ISBN (Static Ruin, ISBN: 9781250195548) and the staff will do the rest. Well, they probably won’t read it to you, but apart from that, they’ll take care of you.

Continuum, 2018

This weekend in Melbourne it is the Continuum Convention – Melbourne’s Speculative Fiction Convention. I’m doing three panels over the course of the weekend:

In Parallel, Friday, 6pm – Parallel universes: many-worlds, alternative timelines, the one where everyone’s evil and has a goatee. What are the best? The smartest?

Welcome! Everything is Fine, Friday 9:30pm – Discussing The Good Place, comedy afterlives, ethics, moral philosophy and puns.

This Panel is its Own Grandfather, Sunday 4pm – Let’s talk about time travel: the good, the bad, the paradoxical. The works that exist, and the works that have not yet been released in this timestream.

I’ll also just be milling about during the con, so if you see me, please say hi. I’ll be armed with pens and stamps to sign both Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow, which should also be for sale in the Dealer’s Room.

Philosophy

Another post of mine is up at the Tor.com blog – all about The Ship of Theseus and how it relates to both science fiction, and the science we might hope to access in the future.

I’m a late arrival to philosophy, and honestly, that’s probably for the best. I can imagine that if I’d studied it at university, I would have been completely insufferable. But, thanks to reading the work of Damien Williams (Wolven) and m1k3y, and watching The Good Place, I’ve started to think about various philosophical ideas more and more, particularly in regards to the science fiction I’m reading/watching and in the work I’m currently writing.

I daresay the article I wrote is a very basic, entry-level look at the Ship of Theseus problem, but it’s something I really enjoyed writing.

Funnily enough, a couple of days after the post went up, I finally got around to listening to the then-latest episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast, which was looking at Westworld and the Ship of Theseus problem. My anxiety is so bad, that as soon as the host mentioned the Ship of Theseus problem I had to skip the rest of the episode in case… I don’t know. Anxiety doesn’t really make sense. (This is also why I skimmed the comments over at Tor once, and haven’t gone back again. I apologise, but my brain is constantly working against me and I’m doing the best I can.) But, in general, the Imaginary Worlds podcast is well worth a listen if you’re a fan of science-fiction, which you probably are if you’re here, reading my nonsense.

Imprisoned


I’ve mentioned previously that a big chunk of Void Black Shadow takes place within a suitably horrific imperial prison. So, when it was time to come up with something for the Tor.com blog, I decided to look into prisons of science fiction and fantasy.

In looking for hints of books I could read for the article, I came across this entry at the sf-encyclopedia. It was of limited value though, skewing heavily toward old white guy books, covering a lot of short stories, and including books that merely mentioned a prison but were not really relevant. I don’t regret reading Ian Banks’ Player of Games as it was my first foray into the Culture series, however, the four paragraphs that mentioned prisons were hardly enough to warrant an inclusion in the encyclopaedia, IMHO.

Another book I read, but didn’t end up using was Charles Stoss’ Glasshouse. I mainly left it out because it had a lot of parallels with Hannu Rajaniemi‘s The Quantum Thief, but wasn’t quite as good (again, IMHO). I would go into more detail, but I wrote a whole heap today, still want to work on some other projects, and would prefer it if my brain didn’t leak out of my ears.

Also – I’m not sure if it’s too late, but the most recent free ebook giveaway from the Tor.com Newsletter was The Quantum Thief, so if you haven’t already signed up, do so now!