Friday, May 28, 2010

starvation or riches with nothing in between

I have previously pontificated on the joys of trying to be a Working Writer. Today I have had an excellent example of how you can suddenly find yourself suffering an almost embaressing excess of opportunities.

Earlier this week, I accepted a position working with the Belconnen Arts Centre. It is not a writing job as such but more a return to bean counting but it is in support of the arts and a very exciting position, so I can't complain.

I do not start until Monday however the Centre had the launch of its latest exhibition this evening so I duly trotted along. I had been intending to wander along for a Captain Cook anyway but the new boss was keen for me to be there to meet a few people. So after a day spent buried in archives doing some fascinating research, I had a quick shit, shave and shower and headed off. The opening was quite pleasant and I quite liked the small exhibition. Some photographs by Eugenie Keefer Bell were simply stunning.

I arrived home and finally got around to checking the email for the first time today.

A while back, I had been talking to a company about doing some technical writing for them on contract, but they had appeared to lose interest. Tonight I found a near-panicked email from them, wanting to talk to me on Monday. So I had to regretfully inform them that I had just accepted another position. Quite a pity as I was rather looking forward to getting into that work.

Then there was another email. I had been approached about doing a small editing engagement but was recently told that it wouldn't be for a while. Another email this evening, also wanting to talk to me urgently about doing it. This is small enough that I will be able to do it.

After feeling for some time that nobody was interested, I felt rather chuffed that all of a sudden I was in demand!

Either starvation or riches and nothing in between!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Writing, serial killers and the right brain

This evening I was supposed to be joining friends from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild to watch the BBC serialisation of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - our little tribute to Towel Day and Douglas Adams. However I am coming down with a head cold and not fit for public exposure. So I shall content myself by posting a blog entry before settling down to dinner and a Saturday evening television.

I have been developing a story about a serial killer. This was in response to a rather dark sounding anthology, Snuff Syndicate. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try and extend myself by getting inside the head of a serial killer, attempting to create something that has a real and authoritative voice.

Research was the first point. So I have been reading about serial killers. It is so incredibly upsetting to read what some people are prepared to do to others. Even in an otherwise rather unemotional account, I still felt sickened by the description of an investigator on hands and knees in the crawl space beneath a house, crawling through the mouldering remains of a particular killer's victims.

I then decided to work backwards, reading about profiling to see how profilers create a profile of a serial killer. That was intellectually quite stimulating but still quite upsetting to see the depravity that exists out there. However, it did give me some real insights into things like the disparity that can exist between the individual's outward appearance and what is going on inside of their heads.

I envy those writers who able to sit at a keyboard and just start writing, letting the story tell itself. That simply does not work for me. Instead I am one of those who has to plan a lot, even for a short story. Having made pages of notes during my reading phases, I started mapping out the story idea. I decided to use the free yWriter program from Simon Haynes to help organise my thoughts into a more coherent framework. It is surprising to see how such a left-brain activity can stimulate the right brain into some serious creativity, drawing things out. And yWriter is a great little product, worth checking out.

The end result of this activity was a story mapped out pretty much from beginning to end, locations and characters. Of course the really hard thing to do is now write the actual story, but with all of that background now nice and clear inside my head, I can concentrate on letting the spontenaity take over during the actual writing process itself.

There are few guarantees in this life, apart from death, taxes, toast always landing butter-side down and the Sock Muncher stealing stray socks from the washing machine, so I cannot guarantee a story that will be accepted by the anthology editors. But if nothing else, this has been an excellent exercise in extending myself into something that I would not have otherwise tried to tackle. Although I have been left with a yurchy feeling that makes me want to repeatedly wash my hands, developmentally this has so far been an very positive exercise. And all we emerging/wannabee writers need to keep constantly honing our craft, just as the apprentice cabinetmaker extends his through the life of his apprenticeship and beyond.

Here endeth the pontification.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Following a dream

I quite freely admit to being very much influenced by my 'mentor', Tyra Banks. OK, Ms Banks doesn't actually know about this, but she provides a role model (no pub intended) to be emulated. What really put me onto Tyra in this respect, was her message about the importance of not just having but also pursuing your dreams and I have blogged about this before.

Here in Australia, we have just seen tangible evidence of what is possible if you really do pursue your dream.

On Saturday afternoon, teenager Jessica Watson arrived safely back in Australia, being the youngest person to ever sail single handed, without assistance, around the world. Jessica is now all over our Australia news, and presumably around the world for her feat. The relevance to this particular post is her statement that this voyage was her dream.

Now I would not be letting any teenage child of mine try a stunt like that, but you cannot help admiring the girl for her achievement.

Jessica had a dream. And she pursued it. This just emphasises the potential power of that message of Tyra's of the important of having dreams and going after them.

I feel more empowered than ever before about pursuing my dream.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

a little woot

Late last year, I sold a story to Aurora Wolf magazine. I had forgotten that they were also including that story in an anthology being released in the USA later this year. But a contract has just appeared in my email.

Yayyy me.

When is the best, not necessarily best?

Sunday afternoon and I was catching up on the weekend papers that shamelessly litter the place with accusations – you bought me, so flipping read me! At the same time, I decided to switch on the television to see what Australian Rules football may be showing.

As an ex-pat Victorian, it is near-heresy to say that I do not follow the AFL terribly closely any longer. Nor have I since my beloved Fitzroy got the chop. However a good game can be entertaining.

It was part-way through the third quarter of the Hawthorne-Richmond game when I switched the Giggle Box on. These teams were occupying 14th and 16th positions on the ladder respectively, with Richmond yet to win a match from eight outings this season. For Hawthorn to have any chance of making this year's finals, they could not afford to drop this one.

What I caught was a quite gripping contest. Both teams kept picking themselves up and throwing themselves into the contest. Late in the fourth quarter, after another Hawthorne goal, the Hawks appeared to have the game wrapped up. But no. The tired Richmond players picked themselves back up yet again and scored two more quick goals, leaving a margin of only three points - one more straight Richmond kick could see them steal the game. One goal was from a tired, limping forward, who still managed to pull off probably the mark of the day, soaring high, to pull the ball down from amid a number of Hawthorne opponents, then kicking true.

This was gripping stuff. I had no real interest in the outcome but the newspapers ended up dropped onto the coffee table, my attention riveted on the screen. In the end, the Hawks hung on to win by three points. But it was Richmond who were the moral victors in that last quarter.

What could have been an absolute nothing of a game, was a real nail-biter, leaving me to remember that the 'best' games do not always feature the 'best' teams. In this case, the 'best' was definitely provided by those who are not currently considered to be 'the best'. Perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us, to never say die, to keep hanging on, to never give up. In those circumstances, even if the end result is defeat, by heaven, you can still hold your head up high. And no, these images aren't from this game, but at least they are Hawthorn (brown and tan) and Richmond (black and gold).

Friday, May 14, 2010

A decision is made

Well, I have decided - I am definitely going to apply to do my Masters by research. The research proposal is all mapped out and I am waiting on word from my potential supervisor if it still looks like a viable project. And I have started filling out the reams of required paperwork that have to be in by the end of May.

The prospect of this long-term major project still terrifies me in some respects, but it is an opportunity that is too good to pass up.

Fingers crossed that the university still likes me. :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Reflections on being a Working Writer

Working writers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In my case, it is a short, aging, greying package with a sadly expanding waistline. Bit of a contrast there with say the decidedly glamorous Tara Moss! But writers come in different flavours in the type of writing they do as well. The writers who have their names emblazoned on things are just one facet of the overall occupation.

For many of us, being a working writer means picking up what work you can, extending your repertoire into different fields and endeavours. As I type this entry, I am still waiting on news of whether or not I am going to be picking up work as a technical writer, which can be a decidedly useful paying gig. I recently began work editing a small newsletter. It does not pay a great deal, but it is income of a sort and in many respects, more importantly it extends that experience set and overall portfolio. When we are still at the earlier part of our career, I believe that what a job pays is only one consideration. We also need to think 'what does this job do for me, what experience does it give me?'

I was also recently sounded out about possibly doing some paid copy editing working on a manuscript. I continue to do a bit of freelance non-fiction writing here and there.

This sort of work is hardly glamorous but it helps pay the bills and allows me to continue say, "Hi, I'm Ross, a Working Writer."

My real love is writing fiction, telling stories primarily in the speculative fiction realm (sci fi, fantasy and horror). Yes, I have fiction published. No, I have not been having a lot of success of late, but I have been pitching my work to better paying markets, seeing how they respond as a form of measuring stick about how my writing may or may not have improved. I am getting increasing numbers of "really liked the story but not quite right for us at this time - please send us more" rejections. While it is frustrating to be told that someone likes your story but not enough to actually publish, at the same time being encouraged to keep sending material in is an indication that I have developed my craft sufficiently to be at least gaining their attention for the right reasons. That in itself is encouragement to keep on going.

In the meantime, I can continue to plug away at being simply a Working Writer. After all, that is what my dream is and I have started to realise it.