This morning I am enjoying the so-far-nonexistent after-effects of my first COVID-19 vaccination jab, and the last few days of my holidays. For one reason or the other, or because of the double-shot espresso I just knocked back, I’m feeling a little light-headed. Fair warning, this is going to be a rambling one (but since nobody has heard a peep out of me heard for ages, I figure I can get away with it).

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/syringe-medical-needle-health-3908157/

It’s been a little over two years since I finished a short story (that was Centennial, the final entry in my hundred-week run of Friday flash fiction posts). Since then, I’ve started a handful of stories, but not a single one has made it even to the scrappy-but-complete first draft stage. The entirety of my output for all that time has been lyrics for a handful of songs and an embarrassing number of blog posts about how I’m almost feeling up to writing again.

Now that I’m thinking about it, those posts are interesting milestones. Each one marks an occasion when I was sufficiently engaged with the idea of writing fiction that I immediately decided to not do that and write a blog post instead.

Or maybe I cranked out a couple of hundred words on one of my five or six works-in-progress, and, flushed with the thrill of a bit of the old momentum, I had to get online to make a public declaration of progress in order to hold myself to account.

In retrospect, that was a bad idea, or at least an idea that was doomed to failure. The irony that I am right now doing exactly the same thing is not lost on me. Hey, idiot, what was that old saying about repeating behaviours and expecting different results? Yeah, that.

Rather than actual writing fiction, I’ve spent a fair amount of time over my last few weeks of vacation thinking about why I’m not writing fiction. The ideas haven’t dried up. The impulse to spin daft stories hasn’t subsided at all. But the urge to do the work – the “sit arse in chair, place fingers on keyboard” drive – is a guttering candle flame. Not extinguished, but not at its best in this weather.

It’s at least partly an issue of [waves vaguely in all directions] all this. The past couple of years have been an unbroken blur of cataclysms both minor and major, personal and universal. Given I was already on the ropes emotionally, the timing of a deadly global pandemic could have been better.

Then again, I’ve been lucky enough to have a relatively painless pandemic. If not having my head in a productively creative space is the price I have to pay, I’ll take it. And  if the climb out of the hole is slow, and full of slips and setbacks, I’ll take it.

But I know there’s an element of fear lurking in the basement, as well. It’s not quite a fear of failure – I’m reasonably sure (or arrogant enough to believe ) I’m as capable a writer as I ever was. I can tell a decent, or at least entertaining, or at least technically competent, story. I can turn a vague idea into a few minutes of satisfying escapism, assuming I put the work in.

The fear is “Do I still want to?” Do I have the force or will, or strength of character, or emotional energy, or whatever I need, to do the work? I don’t know.

It takes effort to write. To spend hours typing the right words in the right order to deliberately make a bunch of weird symbols activate hallucinations in other people’s brains? It’s an exhausting activity. You know what’s not as demanding? Playing video games and watching television. There’s a reason those things are popular.

Am I more caught up by resistance to the exhaustion than anticipation of the results? Does my aversion to the pain outweigh my desire for the gain? Maybe. My caffeine and sugar addictions and an extremely lackluster approach to physical exercise would all suggest a history of avoiding doing what’s good for me.

As a side note – I also need to start doing a bit more exercise and also cut back on the sugar. You’ll prize my coffee habit from my cold, dead fingers though…

(As you can probably work out for yourself, this whole post is my process for poking holes in my own internal arguments, and calling myself out on my tendency towards procrastination. I’ve been through these self-recriminatory slumps regularly over the years. Usually I can talk myself through them and emerge into the sunlight beyond, but do feel free to chime in with your own story or to administer the virtual slap upside the head that I my lazy indulgence so richly deserves).

Right. Enough of this nonsense. Time to go finish some fiction.


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Aurealis 2020 shortlist

The shortlists for the Aurealis Awards 2020 were announced last week. I’m a little late to share the news, but I figure this way I help to keep the announcement in circulation a little longer. And it’s a treat to celebrate the enormously prolific and imaginative Australian speculative fiction community.

AurealistAward finalist logo

Just to be clear, I am not a finalist. I didn’t produce a single eligible word last year!

This year I had the enormous privilege – and not inconsiderable responsibility – to sit on one of the judging panels, which looked at the Best Collection and Best Anthology categories.

(For anyone mystified as to the difference, collections are typically single-author volumes of short fiction which tends to showcase a range of their work, while anthologies are multiple-author volumes that are often editor-led and arranged around a theme ranging from broad topics such as “horror”  to more specific or narrow themes, like “creepy clown horror”. In practise the boundaries between the two categories are hazy and porous, so don’t worry about it too much).

The other panellists and I read nearly fifty books of short fiction and poetry between September and February, which believe it or not is one of the lighter reading loads for the judging panels. I shudder to think how much the fantasy novel team needs to get through.

Without giving any hints about the winners, I can say that the books on the shortlists are all  superb works that held out against stiff competition, and they are all worth your time. I’m sure the same is true in the other categories. If you’re at all interested in the state of Australian speculative fiction, the Aurealis lists are a great place to start.

Congratulations to all the finalists. It’s no mean feat making the cut, considering how much great work is out there. I’m gratified to see that several stories I admired have shown up on the other short story and novella lists as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing which ones take the trophy.

The Aurealis Awards are presented at a ceremony to be held sometime in the next few months (date and location yet to be announced). Good luck to everyone in the race.

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Asian-Pacific Cyberpunk chat

I don’t write much cyberpunk myself (apart from dipping my toe in with the flash fiction story Another Arm for Gemini a couple of years ago [1]). Which is strange, because it’s a genre I’m very fond of reading, having imprinted on novel William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash at a comparatively early age.

I also love listening to interesting people talking about cyberpunk’s themes, motifs and narrative goals. Should you happen to feel the same way, or if you desperately miss being able to sit in on convention panel discussions because nobody gets to do that these days, then I have some great news for you.

As part of Australia’s bid to host the 2025 Worldcon, and via Melbourne’s Continuum convention, author and YouTube host Kat Clay has put together a powerhouse panel of cyberpunk authors and designers for a discussion on how the genre is developing beyond its origins in 80’s American economic xenophobia to new and diverging Australian and south-east Asian perspectives.

At just over an hour, it’s an insightful and fun discussion (although not without the usual Zoom-based technical difficulties), and well worth your time and the reading list you’ll walk away with. Australian spec fic fans are likely to have come across at least some of the locals – Corey J White, Amanda Bridgeman, and TR Napper – and if you don’t, then I recommend you check their work out.

Of greater interest to me were the panel members I’d never come across before –  Jamila R. Nedjadi (from the Philippines) and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (Sri Lanka). Both bring smart and insightful perspectives on cyberpunk’s intersections with culture, tabletop roleplaying and public policy (topics close to my nerd heart).

Worth your time to sit back and get your discussion panel fix. Neural enhancement guaranteed.

[1] Go on, give it a read – you’ll be one of the very few who ever did 🙂

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We all know that you can’t be considered a real writer unless you have a cute pet, and a willingness to share pictures of said cute pet on social media. All right then. Never let it be said I’m above pandering to an audience. This is Burger.

Dog. Fluffy white border collie - poodle cross

Or at least, this is what he looked like when we got him in October 2020. He’s bigger and fluffier now.

For anyone who needs to know, he’s a bordoodle. No, I hadn’t heard of them either. He’s a border collie – poodle cross, although in his case there’s also some maltese terrier in the mix.

Burger is fluffy and energetic, and has very – very – hard teeth. He’s curious, cheerful, and thrilled to meet new people and new dogs. He’s also an absolute ratbag: digging holes, stealing socks, chewing furniture, and barking at invisible visitors when we don’t pay him sufficient attention.

We’re getting pretty desperate to get him into a behaviour training class before he finds out he can chew through electric cables.

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Writing is hard and so is typing

Here’s what I meant to do: I meant to celebrate the end of my intense Aurealis reading period, which amounted to somewhere around 50 anthologies and collections in about 11 weeks, with a triumphant return to writing, blogging and sending out newsletters.

Then I had a few weeks of being a bit sick and chasing down medical stuff, but I figured – “Well, a little longer won’t matter too much, so I’ll just give myself a break and get back to it in the last couple of weeks of February. In the meantime I can do some tinkering with a story and practise playing my bass guitar. You know, those things I like to do for relaxation and a quiet sense of accomplishment.”

Then my puppy accidentally (!) took a giant chunk out of the tip of my middle right finger, which just happens to be one of the main ones I use for both typing and plucking bass strings. My typing technique is self-taught and sits at the precise balance-point between touch typing and classic hunt-and-peck. My bass technique is similarly haphazard and undoubtedly offensive to trained instrumentalists)

To briefly sidestep into the mildly grotesque surgical details: a few stitches, no bone or significant nail damage, tendons are fine but jury is still out on possible nerve twinges. The meat will probably take a few more weeks to properly seal over, and I’ll end up with a scar to match the one on my index finger that I have no recollection whatsoever of injuring. I daresay I’ll be able to play bass again, but maybe not for a while.

So I’ve had a more-than-usually dramatic couple of weeks to neatly tie a bow around the 2020 hangover months of January and February. I’m hopeful that will be the end of the near-constant string of distractions, and I can ease back into writing. This has been some good practise – it’s the longest string of uninterrupted typing I’ve done for weeks, and I can hardly feel a tingle in my bandaged finger at all.

Let’s see how it feels once I start using it to type fiction…

(Oh yeah – I have a dog now. More on this important development soon.)

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