Clearing the Slate, and Men of Letters – and a little bit about beautiful failures.

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.

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Peacemaker

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.

 

Peacemaker-CR

 

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In Which The Prodigal Something Returns

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…

image001-18

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New Trent’s Book Corner

I know, it’s been a while.

 

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Some Choose Your Own Adventure Death Works Style

I’ve been working on a Choose Your Own Adventure Street Read for the Brisbane City Council, and with Emma Craven as our amazing editor. It’s a Death Works story, set after the last books, and an all ages one. Here’s a bit of a photographic record of the prep for it. You can also check it out on the Facebook Page.

I loved writing this one, it’s a story that features Lissa and a few cameos from other characters. It was a lot of fun, hopefully, it’ll be a lot of fun to experience.

If you’re in Brisbane you’ll be able to walk it in September.

Choose You Own Photo copy

These are photos of the locations for reference work. The longest story thread is about two kilometer’s worth of walking.

 

 

King George Square

I like to reference things with sketches, I do this with all my writing. Kathleen Jennings I ain’t – but I still enjoy it.

Tank St

Tank St, leading to Kurilpa Bridge.

And, if you haven’t read the Death Works books you can get them very cheaply as an Omnibus Ed over at Amazon right now.

 

 

 

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Time is a Limited Resource

I don’t write a lot about writing because, well, I talk about it enough already. But I’ve been thinking about time: the obvious sort of stuff that you forget about until you’re discussing death or illness with a friend.

And it is obvious, you only have a finite amount of time in your life to write. And it will be less than you think. And, most of it won’t be when you are at your best, because most of the time we are not at our best – and that’s not just because of illness.

You only have a limited amount of time in your life.

Life is a limit, life is like some sort of asymmetrical sonnet – its laws constrain everything we do. And in that rough poem with its beginning, middle and end, you only have a certain amount of time to be a good child, parent, lover, partner, worker, member of society. You only have a certain amount of hours to sleep.

And I am all for planning and goals, and outcomes, and timelines. But all of these things need to be made in the shadow of failure, and with the knowledge that a life isn’t a list of successes and failures or goals made and met, it’s a series of moments made out of that all too limited time.

We set goals, but forget that we aren’t clocks, but that we are bound up in a clock the size of the universe. We forget that in that time we will meet challenges and pain that we cannot overcome, and that we will be far less than the best we can be (and often, just OK, which is, just OK). We forget that we will fall in love and fall out of it (probably many times). We forget that we will struggle or suffer chronic pain, or colds or flu. We forget that those we love will become sick.

Most importantly, we forget that our limited time doesn’t run flush with those around us, that their time might be more limited, that their lives might be truncated well before ours, and if we neglect that shared time we won’t get it back. Our time is so terribly and painfully brief, and it doesn’t understand goals.

I believe that pain shapes us as much as love. The pain we cause ourselves, and others, the pain the world brings to bear against us. Maybe the best work comes out of pain. Maybe the darkest stuff is what we need illuminate.

I don’t know.

But I hope that when I am done, I will look back* on my writing with a bit of pride (and a bit of embarrassment – I’m far from perfect). But I don’t want to have neglected those other things. I don’t want to be defined by my work, because, lets face it, I `ain’t Austen or Shakespeare.

We’ve only a finite amount of time in this world. And you never know when that will be done. We don’t get time back, and one day it will be gone**.

 

*What a foolish thing to say, I might just drop dead without a moment’s reflection, or suffer some sort of brain damage and spend the last years of my life barely able to think.

**All this is null and void if time ever reverses itself, just putting it out there.

 

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Endings

I am one of those writers, those annoying sort of writers (well, I annoy me) who starts a book with the ending. Actually, I thrash around a lot until either on a walk, or in the shower or on the loo, I realise what the ending is, and then I can get started on actually writing the book.

I have two good endings for two books at the moment. I like both, they both possess a sort of poetry, and neither of them are too neat. More importantly, I’m more than happy to spend the next year or so working towards those endings. In fact, both excite me. And, I know that while I’ll have other projects that will distract me (and that I’m looking forward to doing)  these endings are vivid enough, and vital enough to keep me going. They’re my True North of narrative.

I’ve said it many times here before, but I don’t write a story in a linear fashion. I jump all over the place, and fill in the gaps. It’s the way my mind works, and I need those endings to guide me.

That said, the last book I finished was about as linear a thing (in its process) as anything I’ve ever written. But it was an episodic book, and I pretty much wrote a chapter a day, so I was moving on to a different episode (not scene) and usually a different tone with each writing day. Part of me wanted to see if I could write something that didn’t possess a racing sort of deadliney plot, because most of my books have been like that, while almost none of my short stories have. I think that book taught me how to – which isn’t to say that’s without event, plenty of shit happens.

It’ll be interesting to see how it effects my process on the new books.

We’ll see.

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So This is the Place After a While, and now I am Returned to Blow Away the Dust, or Something.

Hey.

I’ve been gone a while. I think after the Bell’s Palsy (and after finishing a new book – which is currently with publishers and is the best thing I’ve ever written, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll find a home, so I’ll not mention it much – and a Death Works novella (DITTO)) I fell into a bit of a hole. Actually, more of a deep chasm.

I’m not a big producer.

I don’t write every day (well, I do, but it’s not always on a single project, and sometimes it’s just a few words and for my own amusement or for an audience of one – you know who you are.). And when I finish a book, and certainly one as emotionally draining as the book I finished, I tend to fall into a big hole.

I’m a bit of a sensitive bloke. And I think getting Bell’s and then just getting back into work at Avid, and teaching, while mumbling along with a half-paralyzed face, and finishing off a book that had been at the back of my mind for nearly six years (Not to mention a few behind the scenes things that I won’t mention here – I’m not the only person I know who has been sick lately, and some of those people are very close to me, indeed), well, it just scraped the feelings out of me.

Like most people, I can function on autopilot for a bit, but I can’t write on autopilot. And I can’t keep this place running on autopilot. When I fall into a post-book hole, I draw myself into myself, and the first place to go is here. It just becomes too much. I don’t believe in content for content’s sake and there’s enough great stuff out there already, and this is my place, and I’ll let it get dusty for fuck’s sake if I want

But I have missed old Trentonomicon.

And I think it is time to come back.

Oh, and I’ve started on new books (well, returned to new books) because I’ve remembered just how much I love this writing lark, and novel-writing in particular.

Hopefully there’ll be some good news on the books’ front – because I really want to talk about them, but let’s leave that until there’s more than a glimmer of a chance that they’ll find homes.

One thing I do have coming up is a location-specific Choose Your Own Adventure. It will be released during the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, and yes it is a Death Works story, and yes, it is set after the last book, and before the novella. You’ll be able to walk around the city and let it unfold before you. The story will contain art and music, and should be a lot of fun.

There’s a couple of other non-Death Works stories as part of the series, I’ve read both of them and they’re excellent. Follow the link for more information, and thanks to the Brisbane City Council, and Emily Craven for organising us all.

So, there you have it. I’m back, I guess.

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Avid Reader

My second home is Avid Reader Bookshop in West End. I work there a few days, and it helps keep me sane. But more than that it is a really wonderful bookshop, and today it was declared the Qld Indie Bookstore of the Year. I am so proud of everyone that works there, and the environment that Fiona Stager has made.

Avid isn’t just a bookstore – though that would be magical enough in itself – it’s a piece of the heart of the community that is West End, and Brisbane. There is no place like it (and I’ve worked in a few bookstores). And you don’t get to be like that without a hell of a lot of work, and love. The book trade can be tough, but it’s an important one, and I am very pleased to be part of it.

So, congratulations my darling shop!

Oh, and on the writing front (hmm, I nearly wrote writhing there) lots of things are bubbling away – still a bit secretively, but bubbling they are.

This year may actually turn out all right.

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Writing

This has been a very peculiar year, but then all years are peculiar. Being 40 (which is nothing but one of those thinky sort of milestones) and all, having had Bell’s Palsy (which I forget about until my eye starts hurting, or I see a photograph of me – my Uni ID photo looks awful lopsided this year), and feeling a little down about the whole thing has made me even quieter here.

But it doesn’t mean that I have stopped writing, in fact I have finished two drafts of things in the last month, one a book that has haunted me for nearly five years (actually six, which is rather alarming, but there you go), and the other a Death Works novella (which I am polishing now, more on that later, but it has been a wonderful thing to write, and it’s turned out a little longer than I was expecting – let’s just say that people’s lives – and deaths – didn’t get any less complicated after the Business of Death).

There’s been some teaching as well – my poor students having to put up with my slurry voice – and more writing.

I don’t think I’m the most prolific writer.

I’m not a churner, even if it occasionally looks like I am. But I sit down as often as I can, and I try and write, because even when it’s bad it’s good. Writing is the constant in my life, and has been since I could write a story (or try to write a story). And it’s a goad and a comfort, and it’s interesting, and it’s sunk into my bones and my marrow, and when I take that away I feel kind of hollow.

I might clump and clunk, but it’s still me. And I always hope to get better, and even when I don’t, there’s always room for more hope.

That is all, except you can now get this which is a really rather grand anthology and my story The Lighterman’s Tale is in it. As are some truly wonderful stories by some of Australia’s most wonderful SF writers. Worth a buy.

Canterbury-2100-cover

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