Do The Work

In case you missed it somehow, Warren Ellis has been accused of sexual misconduct. That article is the best summary of the situation that I’ve come across, and Damien Williams’ comments on the topic were (unsurprisingly) well-thought-out and broad in scope – if you haven’t already, you should read it. Ganzeer also posted his thoughts, and had plenty of interesting things to say, particularly on the topic of careerist reactions to the situation, and something else that had also struck me – the kindness and generosity of Katie West and Meredith Yayanos in their initial twitter threads (detailed in that first link). They don’t want to crucify Warren – they want him to do the work, to do better, and they want the systems in place to change so this can’t happen again (more on this below).

There is a lot more I could say, but I could easily end up echoing Damien and Ganzeer above or Sean Kelley McKeever in this piece. Instead, at the moment I’d rather centre the voices of the women coming forward.

I believe them, of course. I was actually surprised that everyone feels the need to say that because it seems obvious. But in case it isn’t: I believe them. However you personally feel about the creators and their works (creators plural, because Warren Ellis is only one of the people who’s been named in recent days for different forms of abusive behaviour), or however much those works might mean to you, don’t let yourself get defensive. Don’t lash out against the people who have already suffered, just because you don’t want their allegations to be true. Believe them, and process your own feelings however you need to without further adding to the burden these people (mostly women) are carrying.

But there’s a related topic that I do want to talk about, and that is the “boy’s club” nature of so many areas of our society, and the way that lets predatory, abusive, and/or manipulative men get away with behaving in these awful ways.

I began thinking about this after I saw this tweet from Stacey King:

Guys: you know that dude who said something creepy about women to you once or twice, but seemed fine after that? That dude was testing you. Pushing your boundaries to see how you’d react, the same way they push the girls they prey on.

Now, here she’s specifically talking about predatory men, so I can’t think of any specific examples of this from memory, but it tracks with so much typical (but toxic) masculine behaviour. Men, when in the company of other men, are allowed to talk shit, to be gross, to be offensive, to demean women and people in minorities, etc, and there’s a social contract that says not only is this not a bad thing, but it’s actively a good thing. It means he’s “one of the guys” – he’s a “top bloke” as we might say in Australia. And because we’ve been socialised for decades to behave like that and to accept that behaviour, it’s incredibly difficult to distance yourself from it.

Eons ago, at the pub a few weeks before lockdown, a friend of mine said something offensive, and while I was offended and disgusted, I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to ruin the good time we were having by taking him to task for that sort of bullshit. And I still think about that, and still wish I’d done better.

So, men (and cis men in particular), instead of defending your abusive heroes, or trying to justify a continued appreciation of their work, or even instead of starting a bonfire of all their books you used to love – instead of all that, try and recognise that you were raised and socialised in a toxic patriarchy, and that however mild your particular case of toxic masculinity is, it’s the same culture that allows the predators to hunt their prey and remain safe from consequences. Start to pay attention to the way the men around you talk, and the way they act, and be prepared to speak up when that shit gets out of line – and it will, because we were raised to believe that it’s natural, that boys will be boys. You’ve got to think about this, and you’ve got to stand up and speak up to make a change in the groups that you’re involved with. Maybe you can’t single-handedly change comics or genre fiction or Hollywood, but you can do something to ensure that your scene, industry, or culture is safe(r) for those who could be vulnerable. This isn’t about being a white knight, it’s about doing something to limit the influence of those abusers who will only hurt people and damage the communities that you want to see thrive.

In short, I’m suggesting you do the work. Being vocal on twitter (even in a supportive capacity) isn’t doing the work if you aren’t internalising any of these discussions and considering what you need to do, and what you can do to address these issues in your own life and the spaces you frequent.

I know I can do better in speaking out against the shit I see and hear. And I will do better. It won’t be easy because anxiety fucking sucks and I’ve never been good with confrontation, but I’ll do it because it’s important. If you know you could also do better, now’s the time to start.

And if this recent spate of allegations makes you feel uncomfortable about some of your own behaviour, now is the time to recognise that. Sit with it, no matter how awful it feels, and begin to consider how you can address these failings. Nothing worth doing is easy, and perhaps you’ll need some form of therapy to help process the issues that lead to your harmful behaviour, but you need to do it. The people around you deserve better. The people who look up to you deserve better. None of us are perfect, and all of us have hurt someone, but we can work on ourselves to ensure we do better in the future.

Square Eyes, by Anna Mill and Luke Jones

(I had to trim some reviews out of the nothing here newsletter to get it to send, so here’s this.)

Square EyesI was put onto this comic thanks to the About Buildings + Cities podcast, and the series they did on Katushiro Otomo’s Akira. For the final episode of that series, Luke and his co-host, George Gingell, also had Anna Mill on, and they talked a bit about Square Eyes, and the influence of Otomo on Mill’s art. (You may have also seen it mentioned in Orbital Operations, because we can’t go one issue without referring back to the President of the Republic of Newsletters.)

The Akira comparisons aren’t obvious or immediate, but that hardly matters because Mill’s art is phenomenal. The characters, clothing, buildings, and assorted ephemera of city life are exquisitely rendered, and the colours almost glow on the page, soft but vivid at the same time.

The story concerns a software designer/engineer/superstar who has dropped off the grid for a few months, forcibly interred at a sort of digital detox facility. The book starts with her return to the city, desperate to be reconnected to the digital realm. The digital and physical facades of the city are shown subtly, the ways the digital has come to usurp the real (similar to my upcoming Repo Virtual). As Fin tries to regain her memories and her old life, we see images of overlaid memory and reality, blurring together in hallucinatory moments, multiple layers of art pressed down on one another as the disparate bleeds together. And in one section we see Fin and her friend George navigate parts of the city hidden from the digital realm in a way that could only be done in comics.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the story, but artistically and aesthetically, Square Eyes is unparalleled. Just the lettering alone is fantastic, and I hope other letterers take notice of what they’ve done here. This style won’t suit every project, but with a setting like this, where layers of reality are laid one atop the other, the see-through word balloons add another subtle layer to the whole project.

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.

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.

Killing the Blank Page

As if proving what I said in my last post, Warren Ellis offered this piece of writing advice in his latest newsletter:

The only screenwriting “trick” I have is a tip picked up from John Rogers, who you probably know best from having co-devised and produced the show LEVERAGE. He builds every stage of the story from the one before.  Rewrites the beat outline into the treatment.  Rewrites the treatment into the screenplay.  Just pastes it in and starts working with it. This particular job is the next stage of a treatment I wrote earlier in the year.  It’s 5000 words long, twelve pages.  The pleasure of this approach is that, after the roughest of outlines, you’re never working with a blank page.  Just expanding and adapting (and fixing!) what you’ve already done.

I make notes at the top of every story document.  Usually just two things.  What’s it about, and what does each character want?  It’s simple and simplistic, and doesn’t contain the entirety of the work in any way, but in a rigorously structured thing, it can help me keep on track.

 

From the latest Orbital Operations.

He’s talking specifically about screenwriting here, but it’ll work for prose too. If you’re the kind of writer who plans, split that outline up into (possible) chapters, and either space them out in your Word doc, or paste them into a separate Scrivener page (?) and build from there.

Another trick I use, is to put points I want to reach, or currently-disconnected thoughts in [square brackets], and write to them, deleting the bracketed thought once it’s been implemented into the manuscript. I prefer square brackets because they’re not generally used in prose (whereas regular brackets can be used for asides), which makes them stand out more as you’re scrolling through a document, and makes it easy for you to Search for these thought/idea seeds.

Personally the blank page isn’t much of a block for me, but I know it can stall a lot of writers when they’re starting a new project, so these couple of tricks can help to dirty that page up and give you an excuse to just start, get that first draft down, and worry about improving it later.

Excitement

Two exciting things have happened recently, one of which I’d been meaning to post about for a while.

 

First, I signed with literary agent Martha Millard at Sterling Lord Literistic, based in NYC. Martha reached out to me after reading Killing Gravity, was super enthusiastic, and had some great advice for me in regards to turning this little book of mine into an actual writing career. Martha’s been in the business for a long time, and represents some big names in science fiction, like William Gibson and Ian McDonald. If you’d told teenage-me with his nose buried in Neuromancer that I’d one day share an agent with Gibson, I would not have believed you.

The second thing is that Warren Ellis was kind enough to find time in his consistently-crazy work schedule to write up a couple of paragraphs about Killing Gravity in his Orbital Operations newsletter.

I’ve been a fan of Warren Ellis’ comics, prose, and newsletters for a long time now, so this means the world to me. (And if you think ‘being a fan’ of a newsletter is a bit weird, you’ve obviously never subscribed to one of Warren’s. You’ll get everything from political, sociopolitical, and technological commentary, to recipes, to ‘reviews’ of books and films, music recommendations, the occasional blistering rant, and gems of writing advice. I’d say his insights into the writing process are invaluable for any writer, but particularly for anyone with aspirations to write in the comics field.)

Now, if you’ve somehow discovered my work before Warren’s, then let me make some recommendations. As far as prose goes, Normal is fantastic. It’s a 2016 novella put out by FSG, and it’s Warren at his abyss-gazingly best: hints of William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (to me at least), with characters that could only have emerged from Ellis’ mind, and a sort of technological paranoia/perversion that seems a perfect response to the surveillance capialism of today.

For a look at the sort of ‘thinking out loud’ you get in Warren’s newsletters, you can’t go past Do Anything, which I could try and describe, but would probably fail – so instead, click here.

And in the comics realm, there is so much to choose from. Some personal favourites though:

  • Black Summer – a superhero decides the President of the United States is a war criminal beyond redemption who needs to be killed. But that’s not the arc of the comic, that’s the opening few pages. Was written as a response to George W. Bush deceiving the Western world into a fucked up war in Iraq, but will probably still appeal to people today who like the idea of POTUS being slain.
  • Desolation Jones – Ellis’ take on the classic ‘noir detective in LA’ genre, but where the detective is a former British spy who lost all fear and human empathy after being subjected to a particularly fucked up experiment, and who is on the trail of Hitler’s personal porn stash.
  • Global Frequency – a fantastic series of connected sci-fi one-offs. A TV pilot was filmed, and it’s criminal that it was never picked up – it had the potential to be something akin to Person of Interest meets Fringe.
  • Trees & Injection are two newer series, that have a couple of volumes each so far and are shaping up to be some of the best SF comics of the 2010s.
  • And if you’re more of a superhero person, Ellis’ runs on Stormwatch, Authority, and Planetary are some of the best super stuff you’re going to find.

So yeah, exciting times. But that’s enough for now. I’ve got a book to write and another book to edit. Take care of yourself, and those closest to you.

Don’t be afraid of the future…

Warren Ellis posted a talk he gave last year in Dublin to his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter – which you should sign up for. If you’re interested in the modern science fictional condition, it’s required reading.

We just need to keep telling the folklore.  Using the language.  Tell the stories.  There’s no such thing as future shock.  It turns out that we’re all much stronger than we ever gave ourselves credit for.   We dealt with gods and monsters, so by god we can deal with the space eels.  We adapt.  Everything tells us that we should be overwhelmed by our accelerating future that’s happening faster than we can prepare for.  But Stewart Brand said “we are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and he said that forty-seven years ago, the year I was born.  And we are monsters, and might as well admit it: we’re pursuit predators who can heal almost any wound, show up just when you think we’ve gone away, and we’ll attempt to have sex with pretty much anything in the universe.  Don’t be afraid of the future.  We will never die, we can do everything we ever want, and we love stories more than anything.  Stories are magic, magic is science, and science is what makes us human.   Don’t be bored, and don’t be afraid.  Have a drink.  Sit around the pool in the clearing.  The future is coming, and we’re going to win.

The whole things is here.

Lich House – Warren Ellis

I’ve long been a fan of Warren Ellis – his thinking in public, his creator-owned comics, and his novels and novellas. That said though, Lich House is perhaps my favourite thing that he has written. Presented as part of the Institute of the Future in 2013, it’s a phenomenal story; beautiful descriptions that drip with the sort of tactile body-horror Cronenberg used to bring to cinema, but in a completely unique post-cybperunk setting.

Excerpt:

The white room is bleeding to death.

A white vestibule, with white floors and white walls and a lit white ceiling. The only other color is red. A crack in one wall, exposing a raw fistula in the bioelectric packeting. Blood leaks from the hole, down three inches of slick white wall, to pool on the floor. A broken heart in the interstitial net of veins and wires that makes our houses live and breathe.

Somebody has murdered the house.

Read the whole thing at Boing Boing.