Five Lessons from Speculate 18

Speculate was the inaugural Speculative Fiction Writers festival, held in South Melbourne on a clear, chilly autumn Saturday.

A great assortment of authors, scholars and others from the writing community shared their wisdom and experiences, too much for me to summarise in a review. Instead, I thought I'd share a single takeaway and challenge from each of the sessions:

Session 1 - The Once and Future Fantasy.

The opening session of the day spoke about the realm of fantasy, from origins to now.
On the topic of tropes, and Tolkien’s influence on the fantasy genre, the panel discussed how Tolkien’s races were inspired by his desire to create a mythology for England at the time of his writing.
Similarly, superheroes like Spiderman and Captain America were born out of cultural fears of their era, like radiation, and Nazis.
Challenge: If you feel like there are no original characters left, look at what's in the public consciousness now. What defines contemporary times? What are people afraid of? Leverage that.

 

Session 2 - The Language of Imagination.

Hair is 90% of your selfie, proclaimed a salon’s curbside chalkboard that I passed on the way to Speculate. It's also the first thing 90% of writers use to describe their characters, according to the second panel. Alison Arnold argued that the less you show of a character, the more the reader can invest with their own imagination.
Challenge: While there was debate about how much, or little, of a character's demographics and appearance should be described, the request was made to rely less on hair.

 

Session 3 - Science Fiction: The Past, the Present, and What's to Come.

image 1693 from bradism.com

The rapid pace of technological change (in contrast to the slow speed of the traditional publishing process) means speculative fiction at the time of writing might be out of date by the time it's written.
Aurealis co-editor Dirk Strasser listed some 2018 trends in the science fiction genre: Cli-Fi, social-issues space-opera, generation ships, and gender identity.
Before taking this as a challenge to cram all those plots into a single story, consider
Sean McMullen’s monologue about how all future trends had been done before, and even the ideas we think are modern were technically possible decades earlier.
Challenge: Go back to the past - the conflicts, struggles and characters of yesteryear - to find fresh inspiration for the future. Time is cyclical anyway.

 

Session 4 - Dungeons & Development: Character Under Pressure.

The post-lunch session gave me chills, because of the live string section who knew just the right moment of the roleplaying display to fade in with a long note from a violin.
The Dungeons and Dragons scenario was part narrative, part improv, and highlighted the importance of giving characters three dimensions, and the ability to make mistakes.
Challenge: Write characters strong and deep enough to mess up, and then recover. What the author knows is the wrong decision might seem like genius to the character, and stimulate new, unexpected conflict.

 

Session 5 - Setting: Colouring the Pages.

The final session. Four seated authors, illuminated under the warm spotlights of the dark theatre, spoke to setting and its importance.
Setting is non-negotiable, its the world the author delivers to the reader, and without it the tale loses its authenticness.
Alison Goodman spoke about aesthetic cohesion, that the setting should be in service of characters, to bring out the best in them, or test them in the most interesting ways.
Challenge: Identify in your work were setting and character are adjacent, but not touching. For example, instead of “It was cold,” it could be “The freezing air stung her cheeks.” Or, “the blizzard concealed her attackers from view, they circled each other, footsteps in the field disappearing under fresh powder as quick as they were spotted.”

Did I mention that Melbourne was chilly?


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My Weekend In Melbourne

A mug of coffee on a table next to a notebook.

Coffee, Writing...


A man with the face of a little girl, and a little girl with the face of a man.

Family...

T-shirt City

Using a phrase on a t-shirt is a really lazy method of characterization when writing. But in real life, sometimes it happens. At lunch today I saw a middle aged woman in mum-jeans wearing a t-shirt that said "I just want to rescue dogs and drink wine." I know you can picture exactly what she looked like.

Today was casual Friday. I mean, I work at a university, every day is causal Friday. But I'm a manager now, so wearing a t-shirt and jeans feels frisky. I thought I'd only have one meeting today, and it should have been okay. Then some consultants asked me to meet and discuss the integration architecture. So there I was, New Balance 624s on my feet, the most elegant, glorious high-level technical overview spilling from my lips like a 2012 Shiraz. I felt, physically, indescribable. I mean, why would you even bother trying?

On my way to my train home, beneath distinctively overcast autumn skies the same shade as my shirt, I was waiting at the crossing. A woman started across the road well ahead of the lights actually changing. She had a wrinkly tan that said she'd never spent an hour in an office during the daylight. Her backpack was on her chest; she puffed from her cigarette as she blocked the lanes. She had a black baseball cap on, emblazoned with the word, "Whatevs."
"Wow," I thought.

Once I was home, I did Tai Chi and drank a 2012 Shiraz.

The Powder

In 2008, The Nail was a superhero, keeping Londoners safe from chavs on mopeds, and saving the world. Now, retired and gimpy, he has a chance to fix his leg, if he can outsmart his old enemy The Botanist.

My short story The Powder can be found in the The Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Volume III Anthology beside a bunch of other great stories. You can get it free (or pay what you like) for it by clicking the image below.


image 1677 from bradism.com


Like my words? Want to buy one of my books? I think you'll like this one:

If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?

Chase: A Tomorrow Technologies Novella. Available Now for Less than a dollar!


Writing and Delayed Gratification

Writing is one of those pursuits which demands a lot of patience in order to find satisfaction. The lag between writing a draft of something, and seeing it published can be years (and even then you would probably feel lucky). Writing is not like going for a run, or building a model, or preparing a bowl of cereal, where there is an instant surge of gratification upon completion of the work.

Over the course of 2017 I wrote about 130,000 words of short stories, flash fiction, and on my novel projects. All by hand... Add on top of that the same 130,000 words being typed up, edited, and expanded. Another set of thousands of words on synopsises (boiled down to multiples of 300). How many of those words were eventually published? About 8,500 so far. Plus another 15,000 worth of journal entries as well.

Four notebooks filled with words.

You know, I'm quite okay with that overall result. But, there are a lot of times along the way where I think, hey, maybe the hours it takes to write 150,000 words a year could be better spent on something else? Maybe this writing dream I’m holding onto so tight might actually be a big turd? Maybe If I dropped it, I would just feel relief?

This isn't a whinge. In fact, I've got the solution. And seeing that I'm 33 now - double the maximum age of any of 2017’s Lego sets - I feel like I’ve matured enough to start giving some tips. So here it is, my Bradvice:

If you want to be a writer, give it all you've got, but balance your efforts against something that provides instant gratification. Your brain needs the dopamine. So, lift something heavy, climb a hill, brew some beer, learn how to introduce yourself in another language. Finish a puzzle with your family. Take a dump by the side of the road in the wind. (That last one is my dog's daily goal.)

For me, when I want to create something, and writing grows frustrating, I have programming as my balancer. I can tool around with PHP and JavaScript, and git push to production as frequently as I want. It does make me feel good.

Coding can also get frustrating sometimes. At that point, I go to bed and then I get up and eat breakfast.

Fritz

Today's entry is a short story I wrote about (or at least, was inspired by) a wang of fritz I bought from the supermarket last April.
To read it, check out the latest issue of Breach.

Acceptance

Since August, after being told a story I'd written was shortlisted for publication in my favorite semi-pro literary magazine, I've had a bottle of champagne in my fridge awaiting the follow up email.

A glass of not champagne on a benchtop.