Category Archives: Writing

An update fit for an elephant!

Today, my fantasy story “Defy the Grey Kings” went live over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is a new short story in the same setting as my infamous serialised novel Tusk, the world where iron-age elephants have enslaved humanity…


(Picture courtesy of Rhys James, from the late lamented Terra magazine)

“There are many ways to kill an elephant. When that mountain bears down on you, shaking the earth and screaming for your blood, show no fear.

Only without fear will you see the truth. They are quick, even draped in chain and iron, but you are quicker by a whisker. They fight like devils, but it only takes three people who know what they are doing to bring an elephant down.

They are afraid of you.

All elephants can die.”

To read the full story, visit the most excellent Beneath Ceaseless Skies via this link:


I Finished My Damn Novel

Well, I just put the finishing touches to THIS EMPTY EARTH, a science fiction thriller.

So I started this in November 2013, while being distracted by life, earning the very tricksy certification to do clinical coding, and every now and then sneaking off to work on a short story or novella. I suppose 18 months isn’t too bad a stretch for cranking out a novel, fitting a writing career around every other damn thing :-)

With the caveat that this is of course the first draft (draft 1.5 I suppose, as I edit while I go) I am now in the market for some wonderful beta readers who will pull no punches. I shall thank any volunteers with an acknowledgement should the book find a home, my eternal thanks, and the offer of a quid pro quo beta read should you also be a writer.

Peter Ball, please inform your parents that I have finished my damn novel :-)

The End

Thus Spake Drusilla the Ditmar Diprotodon

Some of you might remember last year when I introduced you to Drusilla, the Ditmar Diprotodon. This time-travelling spokesmammal of Australian SF has apparently remained in our time-stream, mostly for the fiction. Rumours of the secret megafauna invasion are still largely exaggerated and (for now) she is an ambassador of literature and peace. Today, she joins me on the Fisch-blog to talk about all things Ditmar.

JF: Hi Drusilla the Ditmar Diprotodon, thanks for stopping by.

DDD: My pleasure, Jason. Thanks for the huge bushel of vegetation.

JF: I’d do the same for any of my guests. Now, my sources tell me that you’re a passionate advocate of the Ditmar Awards.

DDD: Indeed. I think it’s wonderful to reward creative minds. We had a similar popular-vote award back in the Pleistocene Epoch, “The Mammal’s Choice Award”. Though our categories were more along the lines of Best Survivor, Species Viability, Most Effective Predator and the like. We still had a Fan Art category though.

JF: Megafauna are nothing if not organised. So, Drusilla, do you know who you are nominating in this year’s Ditmar Awards?

DDD: Oh yes! I’ve perused the 2013 Ditmar Eligibility List and cobbled together a list of my favourite books, novellas, short stories and even some reviews and podcasts that I got into last year. The beauty of the Ditmar is that I can nominate as many things in as many categories as I like. You don’t dilute or divide your nomination by doing so.

JF: So, if you were a creative type nominating your own work (which is okay to do) it doesn’t hurt you at all to list other works in the same category?

DDD: Indeed. You’re a mug if you don’t. I think that this mechanism effectively neutralises any self-touting – by the time the self-nominations are tallied up, the real results would come from the additional “I also liked this stuff” nominations.

JF: So, you’re saying the system works?

DDD: I know the Ditmars are not without their own controversies. Nary a year goes by without some sort of battle royale about the results, accusations of bloc voting, all of that drama. It reminds me in many ways of the “Mammal’s Choice Award” of 50,000 BCE. Brutor the Marsupial Lion was accused by many of rigging the vote for Most Effective Predator, but it turned out he really was the Most Effective Predator, as numerous corpses attested to.

JF: So do you think there was bloc voting, both now and then?

DDD: Probably. But that’s the law of the savana. No doubt many of Brutor’s relatives put their paws to the ballot, but it was probably a statistical blip when compared to the other terrified votes. At least the result was accurate! The Ditmar nomination process resembles a circus of touting and enormous lists of eligible works, but I think it’s a necessary process. After the initial flurry of activity, the overall numbers would float to the surface, and then the most representative value appears on that final ballot paper.

JF: I heard mention that you were frustrated by one of the rules?

DDD: Yes. As a fan, I was stymied by rule 4.1 “Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom”. Stupid homo sapiens, of course you try to keep the fun all to yourselves. But ultimately I got around it by signing up to each Natcon, and I quote “or from full or supporting members of the national convention of the year of the award.”

JF: That’s clever.

DDD: [munching sounds]

JF: We need another wheelbarrow of lettuce in here.

A Synopsis Shouldn’t Have to Hurt Your Synapses

Ah, the synopsis. That most painful of things, where an author has to compress a novel’s worth of organic sproutings into one or two concise pages. And oh, how we wail and gnash our teeth when called upon to do so.

“It’s just so HARD,” we say. “I don’t WANT TO.”

But here’s the truth; you have to. This is the way a publisher can a) determine your ability to get to the point b) determine that you actually have written a book with a defined beginning/middle/end c) be sold on the sizzle of your steak.

It’s a marketing document, and I don’t think they’re actually that difficult to do. Some folks I know and respect spend inordinate amounts of time on these - with all due respect, I think they’re all crazy. We’re talking weeks, even months of time. On a 1-2 page marketing document.

Here’s what I believe: if you can’t get a synopsis right in an afternoon, you need to hand in your writer card. Here’s the Fisch One-Page/One-Afternoon Synopsis Method.

1) Present tense throughout. Limited or no adjectives.

2) Three or four biggish paragraphs. The first one briefly introduces your protagonist, one or two tag-line style descriptors of your setting, and brushes over the opening act of your novel.

3) Second paragraph introduces the antagonist/conflict, and brushes over the second act of your book. Again, broad strokes, and don’t worry too much about your subplots and the nitty gritty. We’re talking how you would convince someone at a bar to sleep with your book (if that makes sense). If you bore the poor person with a detailed description of your stamp collection, you’re going home alone.

4) Third paragraph goes over your final act, and resolves everything. Don’t do rhetorical questions here: “does she survive the assassination attempt? BUY MY BOOK AND FIND OUT.” the point of the thing is, you have to tell the reader, in present tense, exactly how the conflict is addressed, and how the story resolves.

5) Connect these three biggish paragraphs with one sentence movie-style taglines, just to keep it interesting. This also proves your ability to write succinctly, and provides a bit of life to what might otherwise be a boring marketting document.

6) Close off with a pitching paragraph, something along the lines of this: ‘”Papa Lucy and the Boneman” is a complex fantasy, designed to appeal to readers of Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe. If Gilgamesh found himself on the set of Mad Max, this is the story that might result.’

And that’s IT. That’s all you have to do. Go back over it of course, tighten everything up, take out every unnecessary word, and make it as interesting as you can. If an adjective pops up, kill it dead. I maintain that you can knock one of these out in an afternoon, anything else is just an exercise in masochism.

Know Your Achilles Heel, Edit Accordingly

Bad habits, we’ve all got them.

And that’s okay :-) when it comes to the bad habits in one’s writing, you are in the unique position where you get endless do-overs. Before you release your brain-babies into the wild, you get to carve, polish and refine them to your heart’s content. The flip side of this is, you are almost always too close to your work. “A face that only a mother could love” most definitely applies to artists and their creations, perhaps moreso.

With that in mind, when it comes time to tweak your writing, my advice is this: identify your weaknesses. Find the ways that you frequently break the rules, look at lazy habits that you might have gathered along the way. Case in point, I know that I’m shocking with passive voice, throw cliches around like confetti, and my endings almost always have to be thrown out and rewritten. But right after typing “THE END”, that creative post-coital glow sets in, and like everyone else I can see no wrong in my child. I’m a genius, it’s perfect, and naught need be changed.

BOLLOCKS. I’m as awful as I’ve always been, and committed almost all of the writing sins I swore off last time. My recommended process is to go off, have a cuppa, hell, take a week or two off if I can. Stuff the hubris and ego back under the stairs. Then I look at my slab of word-vomit with fresh eyes, and unleash the editing chainsaw. Next step is to find that Achilles Heel, and carve it up like Leatherface.

“Just a second, I’m in the middle of this edit.”

Fisch Industries: The State of Play

So, we’ve reached the end of the financial year. I’ll be honest with y’all, 2011/2012 was extremely busy, and I came within a whisker of burning out. I wrote over 200,000 words of new fiction, including the current draft of my novel “Papa Lucy and the Boneman”. I also wrote three complete novellas, three or four short stories, a swag of pitches and proposals, as well as all the online buggerising around, social networking and such.

In truth, I did all this in about 10 months – for the last 2 I’ve been taking things very easy. Like anyone bitten too often by the writing bug, I’ve toyed with the idea of just chucking in the towel. And like anyone bitten too often by the writing bug, I laugh at people who say this (including myself). Last couple of weeks I’ve been back on board in force, trying to meet the last swag of deadlines, and planning my time over the next 6 months or so.

Refreshed. Ready. I intend a frontal assault on the Word-Castle, where I will storm the walls. In coming months, I intend to roundhouse several nouns and adverbs in the face, and flush thousands of paragraphs out of hiding. 

Finally, some AWESOME and EXCITING news coming soon. The moment it’s all official-like, you can be sure to find out about it here :-) I will say one word only: Tamsyn.

PS: here, have a link to an online Elements of Style. Highly recommended for writer-types.

Australian Horror Writers Association – 2012 Mentor Program

Over at the Australian Horror Writers Association page, the Mentor Program for 2012 has just been announced:

There’s a bunch of great folks giving their time to the program this year, and I’m lucky enough to also be on this list. No matter what you’re working on, chances are there’s an AHWA mentor who can help you with your project. I’m specifically interested in working with novellas/short stories, and I look forward to helping my mentoree get their work into shape.

All the relevant details are at the above link, but if you’ve got any questions, please feel free to contact me or the AHWA. It should be noted that the Mentor Program is only open to AHWA members, but membership is cheap and you get many benefits (such as this program, the short fiction contests, Midnight Echo, comraderie, and all sorts of goodies).

Slowcooking your Fiction?

With November all but gone, the final days of my writing sabbatical slip away like greased ferrets on meth. I’m pleased to say I achieved everything I set out to do. Now I have a little window of time to relax, work on a couple of other short projects, start to noodle around with the edits for “Papa Lucy and the Boneman” and generally pat myself on the back.

With November’s end, it also brings to a close NaNoWriMo, the annual scribble-fest that consistently generates universal love or hate. A lot of folks I admire do this every year, vomiting 50,000 words onto the screen in rapid-fire style. Participants include everyone from newbies to established authors, and by all accounts most folks get something out of it. Be it the community, the challenge, or the solid kick up the bum, something works for the participants.

I understand why folks do it, but I decline every year, even when buddies get all excited and revved up. To save time, I’ll point you to this post by the eloquent author-bot known as Alan Baxter, who says it far better than I can. For the record, I agree with pretty much all of his points (especially the, “if you do get something out of NaNoWriMo, hey, that’s just dandy” vibe): 

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo bash. Swift writing has its place. I think it’s absolutely useful (nay, essential) that anyone who wants to write professionally can pick up this skill. If an opportunity lands on your desk with a heavy thud and a ticking deadline, you need to be able to come up with the goods. Particularly when doing write-for-hire work (inc. the lucky sods who get involved with media tie-in work) excuses just don’t cut it. If you can’t produce good copy by the time it’s needed, future work will go to someone who *can* crank out work quickly. That’s just how it is.

At this point in my own writing trajectory, I’m lucky enough to have some perspective on this issue. For the purpose of this post, I’ll simplify the NaNoers and the NaNoNoters into two camps: those who Flash-Fry their writing, and those who get out the greasy old contraption from the bottom cupboard, the devotees of the Slowcook.

Sometimes, you absolutely have to fry the shit out of something. I’ve written several novellas and short stories to deadline, and have twice completed a Three-Day Novel race (30,000 words in a weekend!!). Typically much more editing is required on the back-end, but it can be done. If you’re organised and systematic about it, it’s not impossible, and you can still walk away with a quality product.  The Flashfry is a completely different discipline to the Slowcook, and every writer needs to be able to do this when the chips are down. These are the dudes who have groaning brag-shelves, when many the thwarted Slowcooker is still waiting for the stars to align properly, or “when I just have the *time*” etc).

Some examples of folks who’ve managed this successfully are Sean Williams (who famously wrote three or four books in one manic stretch) and Steve Savile. Steve can consistently turn out polished writing on any topic, and recently wrote a tie-in product in 19 days. 100,000 words in just under three weeks!!! An absolutely staggering output. And these aren’t sloppy products by any means, these are polished pieces completed by professionals, at a professional level. So it *can* be done, especially if that’s your job.

Then, there’s the Slowcook approach. You frequently hear of people who have taken *years* to write a single book. By all accounts, it took Jeff Vandermeer several years to work on his various Ambergris books (Finch etc). Ted Chiang has written a mere handful of short works over the last twenty years, and they’re all beautiful. These are all speculative fiction writers of course, I’m sure there’s a tonne of other writers wiser folks than me could point to and say “Slowcookers”. Often, new writers will take their first book and polish it down to bone, over several years and drafts. Then, joy of joys, new writer sells said book, with the proviso that book #2 is due in a scarily short time-window. So, you honestly have to be able to work to both of these methods.

So what’s the point of this ramble? Anyone who’s ever seen me eat can verify I love to fry me some food. But geez, it sure is nice to tuck into a slow-cooked casserole on a cold winter’s day. It’s been bubbling in the pot all day, and the meat virtually dissolves on your tongue. Heavenly! It sure is a beautiful thing to see a story where every word belongs, where the writer has the comfort of playing at artisanship, giving many slow hours to the work at hand. These are often the works of great resonance, that you can read over and over. By all means works written under pressure can *also* pull this off, don’t get me wrong. Some of my favourite books are masterpieces of the Flashfry method, and typically have a rattling pace, great opening hooks, and are leaner than whippets. 

So fret not, ye of the Flashfry and folk of the Slowcook! For your methods are not mutually exclusive! NaNo if you must, but do yourself a favour and try your hand at a good old Slowcook once in a while, and for heaven’s sake just keep at it, no matter which method you pick. Had a 500 word day? Awesome, long as the words rock. 5K? Kick-arse! Word-counts can often be a false economy, so don’t let the figures rob you of the joy of creation.

Good writing is all, so aspire to it, no matter how you run your kitchen :-)

On the Completion of Project Lucy

Once more, apologies for the extended blog silencio. While I’ve been on this writing sabbatical, I’ve done my best to cut out the typical faffing around online that I’ve often passed off as “writing” and occasionally “research”. Bullshit, all of it :-) Seeing as Arts SA did the right thing by me, I have tried to do the right thing by them. Which has meant head down, bum up, and cranking out the words. Everything else is procrastination and best avoided if you’re serious about becoming a word-warrior :-)

So, after three and a bit months down in the word-mines, I emerge triumphant.  The first draft of “Papa Lucy and the Boneman” is now complete. I stand with one foot planted on the defeated Project Lucy, wiping off sweat and the occasional adjective.  

What happens next, you may ask? Well, there’s about 100,000 words that need to be taken to with a cricket bat. I’m in the process of enlisting a handful of trusted friends to help with beta-reading. Once comments come back, well me and that novel are going to have a little chat. In a room with no windows. I might be taking in a phone book. Don’t make me spell it out.

In all seriousness, there’s still plenty of work to be done. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was from the legendary Cat Sparks. She said that far too often, writing is rushed out half-cooked, and not allowed enough time to ferment. So yes, the work continues, as I do my very best to craft resonance and beauty into this story. With each pass I hope to pick up inconsistencies, continuity errors, and somehow work up the courage to kill my darlings. But it’s probably a little too soon to jump back in just yet. Couple weeks at least, I’m sick of the sight of that bloody thing!

But the good news is, I’m a couple of months ahead of schedule. There’s a semi-embargoed project that I’m about to start, and I hope to drop some juicy details soon. Have also put some feelers out for a couple of things, and hopefully I’ll land a bit of write-for-hire work in the window of time that has just opened. But overall, I’m relieved that I can cross this one off the list. There was a time when I thought I’d lost my novel-writing mojo and would be cranking out weird short stories forever!

Apart from that, a day or two of down-time, family, videos and reading, and walking around in the sunlight like a myopic cave-Fisch. Then, straight back into things.

No rest for the wicked!

Your pal,

The Fisch.

Confessions of a Pantser

So, I’m officially a little over half-way through my writing sabbatical. How’s it all going? Very, very well indeed!

Have stayed on target thus far, and with this head down and bum-up approach I’ve just reached the 75% complete mark. So, I’m slightly ahead of the game which is nice. This should allow me ample time at the end to work on revisions, quietly hunt out beta-readers, and just generally knock the cobwebs out of this story.

In writing parlance you may have heard of two types of writers, outliners and pantsers (ie flying by the seat of your pants). Definitely a 100% pantser here. Apart from my zombie novellas (which were planned and researched to the hilt) I approach longer projects with a very fluid outlook. I know the beginning, some of the middle and maybe the end, but the rest is a horrid mess, one I wade into with gusto.

And I’m glad of this.

The first reason being that my process (your mileage may vary of course) runs on the very best of fuzzy logic. Once I hit that sweet spot where words flow and hours vanish, my mind quite happily skips away from the ordained path. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, but other times my subconscious brings me the real story, what I actually need to be telling. With a loose enough outline, I can make the most of these sporadic outbursts from my opium-addled muse, who flutters in occasionally, leaves feathers and shit everywhere, and sometimes comes up with the goods.

So a few well-justified lateral arabesques as they occur to me, constant revision and editing to make sure the continuity is up to scratch, and this is basically how I write my first and second drafts simultaneously. If this were a building, I would have most of the framework up, but boy oh boy, the rest is a dog’s breakfast. I’ve got wires and shit everywhere, the plumbing is visible, and the builders have left cigarette butts and dirty magazines all over the place. It’s an embarassment. But if I step back a little, and imagine how it’s going to end up, well I’m sure glad the architects agreed to that 11th hour amendment. The place just wouldn’t look the same without that command tower and the revolving gazebo, and just because I didn’t think of these things when I first conceived of the house, doesn’t mean they don’t belong.

But yes. Flying by the seat of my pants means that a driving element of this story just sort of slid in by accident, because it needed to be there all along. This has completely affected the relationships between a group of antagonists, one of the POV characters, and has forced a complete revamp of the setting itself, all  for the better. Some great epic moments have arisen from the arrival of this particular gizmo, and I’ve managed to import some much needed gravitas and actual fantasy into something that could have ended up as a bad Mad Max knock-off with token wizards. Nope, my half-arsery has steered me through these troubled waters, and instinct saves the day!

So Book 3 of 4 is done and dusted, and it’s time to bring this bad boy home. See you on the other side!

Your pal,

The Fisch.