So, yes, I’ve finally finished the new draft of Day Boy, and in the gap between edits I’m working on the next Death Works novella (which looks like it will be twice as long as the last, but we’ll see). Hey have you bought the last one yet? I’m talking to you person in the back row? You can buy it here, for about the price of a coffee – and it will last longer, unless it’s one of those really big mugs, but they never taste as good as a cup (am I right?)
Anyway, here are my rather arbitrary, and somewhat insufficient rules for writing.
1. Be Crazy.
Seriously, tap into your crazy. The part of you that is different to everyone else. Writing’s an exercise in empathy, but it’s also an expression of individuality, and as individuals we’re all pretty odd.
2.Start at the End.
Obviously if you start at the end, then the end is the beginning, and so there is no end, and this arbitrary statement implodes in a cloud of logic.
3.Do the Good Stuff first.
See 2. Obviously the ending is the best bit. Write the stuff that fascinates you first. Those bits are the density of a story, and it’s what the rest of the stuff (the connective tissue) will clump around. Our bones are interesting; flesh is just kind of gross unless it’s wrapped around them.
4.Write like no one gives a shit.
Seriously, no one does. Say this three times. Enjoy the liberation it brings and write.
5.Write every day except when you don’t, and never feel guilty about not writing.
We’re all big bags of guilt anyway, why make writing a source of guilt for you.
Fucking obvious. Read lots.
7.Capture a Star.
I don’t know, it just sounded good. You tell me what it means, you’re all writers – or masochists (which is another term for writer).
8.Engage all Engines.
Throw yourself into your writing, climb to the top of your word mound, and roll down it. Crazy is energetic. It’s the churn that binds everything together.
9. Shut up.
Give yourself to the quiet*, and try and write from there. It’s better than alcohol.
Remember writing is a game: play it like you don’t intend to lose.
11. Rules about writing are kind of crap.
Make up your own rules.
No, you make up your own rules.
Don’t tell me what to do.
*I write listening to music, but it creates a quiet place in my skull.
And here’s a picture of my new Tat. Yes, I love Tolkien – it’s not like that’s a surprise. Beat that CGI Smaug!
I read a really interesting review of Memory of Death over at certain review place (I know, I really shouldn’t, never good for the ego, because all we want is the LOVE), and like all reviews, whether they liked or hated the story, (beyond the simple – this sux, type) it was utterly correct. For the reader the Death Works stories finished with book three, they loved the ending, and thought that that is where it should end. I agree totally.
The moment I publish a story (after it’s edited, poked at, prodded, questioned, and my many punctuational faux pas corrected – any that are missed are MY fault!) it belongs to the readers. They’re free to build the rest of the story: they have to. Beyond the basic economics of it, what it boils down to is no reader, no story.
The story ends for each reader where they decide to end it. The fact that someone loved my first series enough to put this one away makes my heart swell (and break) a little. The fact that they feel they can talk about it, or address it, or argue with it, is the most awesome thing in the world for a writer.
Writing is an act of love for me. I doubt I will ever make a serious living out of it, but I scramble for time and space to make these stories, because I love doing it. Each one marks out a little more of the territory of my mind and my heart, and each is an invitation for reader-engagement with my absolute understanding that engagement will truncated at some point, that the reader ultimately chooses the ending.
I find that thrilling.
The first series split readers down the middle. Those that loved the ending or those that hated it (I think endings are important, I think they’re the thread that runs through a book – ok, maybe I’m stating the obvious).
I’m curious to see how people respond to this next arc. I like my twists, I like them big (sometimes ridiculously so) in this series, and I kind of like to think I’m heading in an at least slightly unexpected direction.
When I started the first book, seriously started it(I don’t count those missteps that took me several years of stumbling) I had a definite ending in mind (it’s written in one of the black notebooks behind me – no peeking!).
That ending flows through all of these stories, I’ve written it, I know where it is going. One day you might join me there, and we can look back and laugh, or frown. But this ends where you end it; I merely scribble it down. Everything after (if I am lucky or skilled enough) is a blessing or a curse from you, and both are an honour.
PS I am still a little feverish, hope this makes sense. (Hmm, maybe that should be the title of this webpage).
One of the important things not to do when a new story or book is being released is to get very sick. Otherwise the release sort of passes you by. So, here I am clammy with the last of a fever (well, it better be the last) and a new Death Works tale out. I’ve also been interviewed over at the Qwillery (thanks Sally!).
There should be more Death Works stuff presently. As I’ve said before (and hinted at here) last year was a bit of train wreck for various family health reasons, but what it did do was provide the seeds for a lot of writing that is to come. Whatever doesn’t kill you, right?
Thanks again to all the people that pushed and poked and prodded more Death Works stuff into being, and to those that have already bought the new one. These stories are meant to be fun (a dark, messy sort of fun, but fun none-the-less) I’m so glad that others feel the same way about them.
Now, I’m about to fall off this chair, but, new Death Works story: Yay!
My new publishers, Momentum, have just released the first chapter of The Memory of Death over at their website. You can read it below, but I do warn you, there are spoilers.
This scene is almost as old as the last Death Works novel. I was planning to get into it straight away, but, as they say, there’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip (or shit happens).
This story finally resolves things, and, if everything goes to plan, the next arc of these character’s story will extend across a few interlinked novellas. What can you expect? Well, we get a bit more of Lissa’s point of view. You’ll get a broader sense of what is going on in the world beyond pomping (wait till I get to the knot workers – I’m planning on giving those folk their own stories at some stage). It’s all dark fun wrapped up in my sense of humour. I love this world, and I love playing in it. Hopefully I’ll get to play around in it for a long while yet.
Now, here it is…
My head strikes the ground, hard, and I bite my cheek; taste blood, get a lungful of water and I’m jerked backwards.
I cough. Roll over, and my knees click as I stand: bone scraping bone. There’s colour. Stabbing light, lending a hangovery intensity to my headache. And then there’s something that I realise is air. Its touch is such an unfamiliar sensation. So damn soft.
I try for breath, cough and try again. And this time my lungs billow. I can breathe. Ha!
A wave knocks me forward again onto my knees, and my fingers dig into the ground. Sand. Beach. A kid laughs somewhere, or screams (laughter and screaming, I know them both, laughter and screaming, screaming and laughter), and I cough up my guts, which amounts to not much more than a thin trickle of grey spit.
I squint, now on all fours, and try to take everything in. There’s too much.
Too much light. Motion. The world’s grown big again.
Gulls wheel in the sky. Beautiful, but the daylight burns. I drop my gaze from the sky to the shore.
One parent drags a curious child away from me, the kid’s heels leaving long trails in the sand. And then the kid spits at me. You’d think something monstrous had risen from the waves – and maybe it has. I snap my eyes shut. All I can smell is the sea. My lips sting, they have cracks the size of canyons; I could slide my tongue into them, if I could move my tongue properly. I taste salt, and bile. Water strikes my shoulders, pushes me forward yet again. Last time, it dragged me away, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t change its mind.
I have to keep moving or the sea will yank me back. And I don’t want that. Not with everything in front of me.
I heave myself to my feet, open my eyes again and shade them with my wrinkled hands. Half the beach watches me like I’m some sort of cautionary tale. No one offers to help.
Why would they?
My coat, the one that once belonged to my father, is heavy against my shoulders: stiff as lead. Dad had passed the coat on to me as a boy, and how I had yearned to grow into it. I was all grown up and working as a Pomp before it really fit, and even then it never fit me well. The last time I’d worn this coat I was so much more. I was the Orcus Entire: the Hungry Death incarnate. I’d wielded the stone scythe Mog. Something I’m sure my father would never have suspected (nor dared hope) I’d achieve. Yeah, I’d not really shown much desire for an executive position at Mortmax Industries; actually I’d barely shown a desire to put in more than the minimal amount of work there. Nor would he have even begun to imagine that I’d use Mog to sever the head of his best friend, Morrigan – a man who had become a god.
I’d been on a beach then too. And afterwards I’d leant on that scythe, weary from battle, and realised that I’d won. We’d won: my Pomps and me. We’d defeated our ancient enemy, the Stirrers, and their dark god. I’d felt pretty good about it all. Hey, I’d just averted a Global Apocalypse. But it didn’t last.
When you’re Death you know nothing lasts. But I never expected to lose everything so damn quickly. That was then.
Where the hell am I? Actually, I’m not in Hell at all, unless they’ve spruced the place up an awful lot. Hell’s all red skies, a giant Moreton Bay fig and the spirits of the dead glowing blue and forlorn.
This beach isn’t the beach of that last battle. No, that was on the Gold Coast. Different time, different light. And I’d been dragged from that victory to the deep dark Hell of the Death of the Water. We’d made a deal, to save the world, and he’d been unbending in his part of it. Mog, my powers, my life: all of it gone. And the world moved on.
Of course she’s not here.
She wouldn’t be. She thinks I’m dead. I thought I was dead. And yet I’m standing here. Get Out of Hell Free. Except no one gets out of hell free.
I’d learnt that the hard way when I’d performed an Orpheus Manoeuvre, with the help of Charon, and brought Lissa back from the dead. It was almost our first date. Lissa had returned the favour. I’m sure no one has done that to me this time. My memories were of death, but nothing after. And now, this too-bright beach, I focus on my boots, the leather as cracked as my lips, but at least they don’t sear my eyes.
I stumble towards the shore, a few more shuffles, and pause. I get the feeling if I take another step, I’ll cross some threshold. The world seems to stop. Holds its breath with me. The water’s white around my boots.
‘Mr de Selby?’
I look up. A guy in a cheap grey suit, lips a thin slash across his face. Nose broken more than once. He’s dry, a metre from the foamy dregs of the waves, holding a towel over one arm. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be dry, and clean, and not crusted in salt.
‘Yes, yes.’ The words come thickly from a mouth still remembering how to shape them.
‘If you could just take a couple of steps forward, sir. Out of the water. I can’t help you, unless you get out of the water. I’ve no jurisdiction there.’
He frowns. ‘The water, Mr de Selby.’
He’s right. I can’t stay here forever, and I’m not going back.
I take a few unsteady steps towards him. The waves suck at my boots.
There are too many gaps in my mind. Holes you could drive a ute through, while it’s doing donuts, wheels throwing up stinking smoke and further obscuring everything.
Then I’m out of the water, onto wet sand. A wave hisses away behind me. I half imagine I hear it call my name.
‘Close enough,’ the man says, yanking the coat from me; it drops to the beach with a slap, and I feel about ten kilos lighter. He drapes the towel over my shoulders. The humanity of that movement, the touch of another hand, makes me cry: a single sob that threatens to build to a weeping.
Until he presses the gun into my spine.
This was a birthday gift, and performance piece, for a friend. Sums up a lot of the way I think about certain things, so, here it is.
I don’t write horror stories. I can’t.
I’ve always wanted to scare people, but I don’t have it in me.
Terror is the purest emotion; the most honest. Terror is behind all those other feelings. Pushes them along like some shopping trolley with a wonky wheel down an endless supermarket aisle, the trolley wheel’s creaking, going faster and faster, and none of it counts for shit, because Terror is pushing, and the contents of that trolley in the flat fluorescent lighting of the great supermarket of the Universe look pretty cheap.
Love, Joy, Hope, and all the others rattle around behind the rusty bars of the trolley like lolly packets and cans of supermarket brand cola.
You know it’s true.
We all do.
It’s why Lovecraft is the greatest writer of the twentieth century. Even though he wasn’t that good, he knew what terror was. Terror is at the heart of it all. Everything else is just the shadow thrown by terror. And that’s the honest to god truth: if there is a god.
And if there is a god, it’s terror.
If there is a god, it’s the phone call in the middle of the night, the crushing weight of things that we can’t cope with: little, big, insignificant, vast. It’s the darkness, not even bothering to creep, because it doesn’t have to, because it’s already in you. Because you love it, because even when you’re fleeing from it, laughing in some sort of fucking chimpanzee fear response, snot running down your face, teeth clenched. You want it to catch you, because at least then, the worst is over.
But it doesn’t need to catch you. You’re already caught.
Terror is the door unopened.
Terror is the hallway before it is filled with monsters. The thing that creeps unseen. We never see it, we only see its echo and it is ALWAYS disappointing.
We breathe in terror, we only see folly.
Fucked if I can pull off terror
Sometimes I wake up in the almost quiet of the suburb in which I live, and I pull on my face. And I laugh.
Sometimes I get to work really early, and I wait in the dark.
Sometimes I walk alone in the woods near our place. Then I am not alone. Then I am alone again.
Sometimes I drive in circles; big, and then little circles. Until I find what I am looking for.
Sometimes all I can hear is the beating of my heart. I don’t hear your heart beating. I don’t know if it does.
Every time you breathe it’s practice for the last breath.
Every time you walk down a long hallway, you do it without irony. Irony is no protection. Irony is an illusion. Hallways are irony proof. Something’s waiting at the end of every one.
Every time it’s just the cat, you know that one time it won’t be.
Every time you open a door, it’s practice for the last door. And every door opened is a disappointment. There’s no terror there, until there is.
Every time you hear a sound it’s practice for the last sound.
What will that sound be?
A CAMPFIRE TALE
Look into a fire. Look at it, at the heart of all that flame, at the embers. Now turn around.
What do you see?
That’s why monsters like campfires.
Fire illuminates nothing but terror. They are nothing but an illusion, cooking your face while your back freezes.
But they help.
Get me a drink.
That helps, too.
Last year was one of the hardest I’ve ever had, you get those sorts of years, and I’ve been lucky in the main. But in amongst some wonderful stuff there was some utter dire things too (yet again, you get that too).
But one of the highlights (other than selling a new Death Works story, and Day Boy) was getting to read at the Men of Letters. Men of Letters is the occasional off-shoot of Women of Letters run by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire. The letters are funny, heartfelt, raw, and always moving. Usually if you’re invited to read you get a month to prepare. I had three days.
But, like most writers, there’s always something you want to say. And I was privileged enough to get a chance to read this to a person who has been my life for nearly twenty years.
That’s kind of how I want to start 2014 and end 2013. So, please indulge me.
Diana, my life has been a constant letter to you since I was twenty-three, and fell in love.
I know precisely the moment I fell in love with you.
You’d come back to my place after work, to lend me the Weezer Blue album, and we’d messed around in the house that would become a brothel the year after I moved out. The house that had holes punched in the walls, and a rather unsettling satanic symbol drawn on a dirty old wall in the vestibule. The house that was built on stilts and that would shake when we fucked.
Not that we’d fucked just yet. This was still all dance, and quick feels copped, and kisses as sweet and frustrating as passion pop.
You’d said your goodbyes. I’d walked you to the front, past that satanic symbol, all weird angles and upside down crucifixes. I was about as pent up as you can be pent up, we’d kissed and all, but I was definitely going back inside to have a quick wank (I was twenty three, there was more cum to me than blood).
I was full of you, high on the curve of your legs, the soft space between your jaw and throat, the freckles that you hated, but I thought were so cute. My heart was beating a million miles an hour, and you smiled, got into your parent’s car, and reversed it into the telephone pole.
I loved you from that moment.
To be honest, I don’t remember if you actually hit the pole, but it was close, and your face was red, and you jerked the car into gear, and you got out of there, hoping I hadn’t noticed, but I’d noticed.
Perfection isn’t attractive. It’s the flaws and the ridges that are the draw, the clumsy moments that soften the heart. Success is wonderful, sure, but failure is beautiful.
My flatmate was sitting on the porch, he was the dad of my other flatmate, his pants were a bit gapey, he was scratching himself, and I was seeing too much old man cock and pube.
He nodded at me, grinned, and said. “She’s a keeper.”
And he was right.
You were a keeper.
We wrote a lot.
A lot. Everyday, back and forth. It was the early nineties no-one had an email account.
Every letter was a seduction, a little argument that went: I’m hooked on you. I want to fuck you. I want you to love me. See how clever I am?
Words have bite; letters are the great cajolers, the excuse makers, the possibility machines. They’re love in the abstract.
Have you ever noticed how letters, meander, Diana? Well, mine do, because that’s the way I think. I run away, drift in this direction and that: over qualify and under-detail. And you’ve always put up with my missteps and oversteps, even while it bemuses you, this jolting, juddering way I move on and off topic. You can be short tempered and impatient, but who wouldn’t be. You made me understand how my brain works.
You see it in the way I eat corn. It’s like this: there’s really only two ways people eat corn, vertically or horizontally, neat, sequential, row by row. Me I take bites everywhere. It’s how I write novels, out of order, all over the place, piecing them together at the end, it’s how I work, and it’s how I live, in uneven non-sequential bites. And you judge me for it, and it amuses you, and you see it as a strength.
You have the biggest scar I have ever seen. Dudes dig scars. It slashes your belly in two, it’s a great upside down T of a thing that erupted stitches for a decade after you received it. You had a transplant a year before we met. Scars are stories, and that scar says you survived. I love that you once told a kid who asked you about it, that it was a shark bite. You told another kid that a Salt Water Croc had had a go at you. I love that you’re a better storyteller than me.
I love that you can be so strong.
People that write and talk out of order don’t tell good stories. But you are orderly, your stories are effortless, your stories have teeth.
We stopped writing letters when we moved in together.
But I was always writing stories, in my weird eating corn way. And they were to you. So I didn’t stop, not really. You (well, it wasn’t you, but it was) were mostly sick in them and dying. I feared your death more than anything. My stories were filled with people chasing after the lost, clocks ticking down, illness undone, love that broke itself against the wall of death, and love that broke through.
But my fears changed over the years as depression took you.
See, I’m managing some order here. Telling this sort of in the right way. Some scars are internal and rise up out of you like those stitches. Transplants heal, but they can also fuck you up. I realised that there are worse things to fear than death, and that there really are other ways you can lose someone, in little strips of sanity, torn away. OCD, anxiety, pain.
And it happened so slowly that I didn’t notice at first, years of unseeing, until you wanted to kill yourself and you were gone from me, and we were admitting you into the Psych Ward at Royal Brisbane.
When they put you in the little bus, that would take you from Emergency, up the steep hill to the ward, and you looked back at me, and you were so broken and so sad, I was broken too.
But I didn’t stop loving you. I watched that bus drive out of sight, and then your sister (a woman as strong and kind as everyone in your family) drove me home, and I walked inside, shut the door behind me, and I dropped to my knees and I cried.
You’ve battled depression these past fifteen years. You’ve had courses of Electroconvulsive Therapy. You’ve had parts of your past stripped away: and rebuilt yourself. You’ve always been a fighter; you’ve always pulled through.
And you’ve always been the brave one. The one that’s pushed me when I am fearful, the one that makes me take risks, who kicks me when I’ve given up. You’ve taught me over and over that failure is beautiful, and failure comes from trying.
I’ve not always coped. But who does?
You always put up with my shit, except when you don’t. And who wants someone to always put up with their shit anyway? You’re the dreamer and the sensible one.
And this year, when I woke one morning, down in Lismore, (because we’d been visiting our folks) 14 days after I’d turned 40, and two days before we went to see Weezer perform their Blue Album and realised that half my face was paralysed, it was you that told me it was probably not a good idea to do pushups to check if it wasn’t stroke, and you held my hand when I was waiting for the Doctor, scared shitless because I couldn’t move half my face.
And it was you that kept me smiling, lopsidedly, when I discovered that I had Bells Palsy. And you never made me feel foolish, and you never even looked at me funny.
We look after each other. We always have.
And I’ve always written to you in my stories, and written to escape what you were going through. I wrote about dark clouds consuming a world, I wrote about a man who performs an Orpheus Maneuver, a boy who loves a girl that is snatched away by vampires.
I wrote about a man whose wife hunts down his memory, as I sat in the ward waiting for you to finish your tri weekly sessions of ECT, nearly ten years ago, and you would come out crying and asking me why we were here?
A course of ECT, it sounds like a meal of forgetting, and it is, but I’ve never forgotten. Those stories never let me forget. And I wouldn’t want to.
I’ve escaped by running at my fears and fictionalizing them, and I’ve written them to tell you that you will be all right. And that is a hard thing to tell the person in your life who is your bravery.
The last book I had published ended on the word hope. And there was a reason why. And it was just for you.
You’ve never lost hope, my love. And I know you never will.
I’ve loved you since that moment you backed your parents car into that pole out the front of the place on stilts that became a brothel on Keen St in Lismore, and that would shake when we fucked, and must shake a hell of a lot now.
I’ve loved you, Diana, for your glorious successes, and I’ve adored you for your beautiful failures, and you’ve changed my life a thousand times over. You’ve made me a better person.
I can only hope I’ve failed as beautifully for you.
My mate Marianne has a book coming out May 2014 through Angry Robot – publishers of Roil, and Night’s Engines.
The book is called Peacemaker, and the cover is by Joey Hi Fi (who did those Awesome Chuck Wendig covers for AR too). Anything Marianne does is entertaining beyond words, and Peacemaker promises to continue the trend. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this book finally getting a cover and a home.
Just kicking through the dust here. And thinking about the furniture – which would be much more interesting if it was called funniture (though not as elegant).
There’s a new Death Works story coming out through Momentum books in February, it’s called The Memory of Death, and in many way it’s been a reflection of this last year. I’m also working on rewrites of a book I’ve sold and which should be out in 2015 called Day Boy (if you’d like to know who I’ve sold it to, well, the internets might help you, but I will announce it all official-like soon).
The Memory of Death is a sequel to The Business of Death, and the start of what should be a kind of Deathish story-cycle. For all those that threw the last book against the wall (in dismay) this is why that happened. For those who thought it was a good ending, I hope I can satisfy you with this new arc. And for those that are interested the Memory of Death occurs after both The Business of Death, and the Street Reads Choose Your Own adventure (which is, despite its format, definitely canon in my mind – how pompous does that sound?). I’m grateful beyond words that I’ve found publishers willing to take this story up – thanks to Joel and the team at Momentum. And thanks to my ever supportive, well above and beyond the call of duty, agent Sophie Hamley.
I hope those that liked the first three books will find a lot to enjoy in The Memory of Death – and yes, it’s a novella, but I’m enjoying writing them at this length – they’re compact, fast, and fun like a great white shark combined with one of those sideshow clown heads. There should be a sequel called the Carnival of Death in a few months time – which might just have those clown heads in it. If there isn’t, the fault rests solely with me.
Day Boy is a novel built on a short story published in Murky Depths what feels like a thousand, but was only five years. It’s built out of love and shadows, and may be the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s a single book, no series (though you never know with me, but this one feels like a singleton) with a publisher that I absolutely adore and am proud to an almost hubristic extent to be involved with.
Both these stories helped me get through what was a rather tough sort of year – which is what stories should do (in my mind, stories need be a slap in the face and/or a helping hand, these ones were of the helping hand variety).
So, that is that.
Hmm, I think it must be time for a Book Corner Christmas Special, we’ll see…
I know, it’s been a while.