There is very little new work in the pipeline, and many large projects I have recently begun that will remain unfinished.
It’s frustrating. Actually it’s much worse than that. I’ve been writing since 1999, with the first real success and the start of my published career occurring in 2001 with “The Garden of Jahal’Adin” in Orb #2.
I reached another milestone this year. The dream that many writers want to achieve – the status of full-time writer. My IT career was in tatters (not that I cared), we had moved down to the Peninsula, my health insurance could cover our mortgage and bills, and in between bouts of chemotherapy-induced sickness I could dedicate my time to writing.
What had often eluded me throughout my career though was “the novel idea”. I had enough (only just) short story ideas to keep me in print and visible each year, but the novel idea had never happened to me. I was starting to lament my career somewhat as a writer, that I would always be a short-story writer, and therefore never considered serious, never considered more than a hobby. (Hobbies are fun, people, writing is hard graft and often torturous).
Shortly after moving to the coast and making the active decision to write full-time, however, the wind in my sails changed, for the bigger and for the better.
I was invited by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean to work with him on a prequel novel to the movie. Penguin Books paid a tidy advance on the novel (well, compared to anything else I’d made money-wise in this business, and the first instalment was certainly on a par with the entirety of what most authors would receive for their first novel). This was huge. I’d been working on a screenplay for my novella “Wives” with Greg in mind as the director only the year before and here I was now in a room with the guy and he had a copy of the novella to read as proof of my ability to deliver Wolf Creek serial killer Mick Taylor to the page. (Incidentally, I had given up on the screenplay with a “what the fuck am I thinking? I’ll never meet Greg.” I doubt too he has had the time to read the novella though he was kind enough to purchase my last two collections).
I had also been invited to submit to a Middle Reader horror series, also by Penguin a few months beforehand. (Middle Reader being before YA). I had responded to the invitation with a “do you know what sort of horror I am known for?” and the response was “Yes, but we think you can do this.” So I did. I took my “Her Gallant Needs” novelette and heavily reworked it for a much younger audience. (How is that possible, I hear those who are familiar with that story ask) It is no longer a sexual coming-of-age story, the time-travel and parallel worlds are no longer there (huh, I hear the reader say, that was in there?), language has been cleaned, almost all pop-culture removed, violence toned down, the protagonist is no longer the unreliable narrator, wrote a different ending, and gave it a different “Hansel and Gretel” anagram as the title. (After all, this was my take on that fairy-tale, right?). The editor loved it. It is leading off the horror series (to be called “Game Over”) and she took me out to dinner, firstly to meet me, and secondly to see what I’d be like to work with. She expressed a very strong interest in anything I was to do with the YA market and wanted to see it. We discussed a collection of fairy-tales (Haines-style) to be promoted like the Margo Lanagan collections had been. This was something I had been thinking on for a year or two now ever since Gillian Pollock had given me real encouragement to pursue something like that. And if I had a YA novel lurking in the wings, well, even better, send it Penguin’s way. They were keen.
So there I was, ego almost exploding, not quite able to believe that I finally had my foot in the door of one of the big publishing houses, invited in, not just once, but twice. Things were definitely looking up. Full-time writer? Jesus H Christ, I had more than enough to work on for a year or two.
And while researching for my Wolf Creek novel, my own novel idea finally arrived, and it was wonderful, and easy for me to do, and sustainable. If it needed to be pitched it would be Stephen King’s The Shining meets Brett Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park. I would call it Meta-Fiction: A Novel and it would be about a writer called Paul Haines who has cancer and moves his family away from the city to the edge of the bush where all the clinical trial drugs and their side-effects combined with the harrowing details of what he has to research slowly and surely start to undo his mind. For those familiar with the novelette “The Past Is A Bridge Best Left Burnt”, I’d be writing in a similar style, one where fact and fiction were so blurred it would be hard for the reader to know what was and wasn’t real.
Sadly, I had to pull the pin on Wolf Creek late last week. A month ago I had advised all parties concerned that I was no longer able to make the deadline (Jan 2012), but when my health deteriorated further, the advice changed to I no longer think I can stay alive until the deadline. There will be no YA fairy-tale collection. My debut novel will never be written (and it would have been fucking good).
So what is out there from my pen that hasn’t seen the light of day?
There’s about eight chapters of a Doorways for the Dispossessed novel sitting abandoned on my hard drive. An early attempt at thinking I had to become a novelist to be taken seriously as a writer, so I took the short story which has a wonderful milieu and tried to rewrite the short as a novel. I’d lost interest before I even began. I’d done this story. Maybe, when I was older, when I was able to churn the shit out, I’d come back to this.
The “Slice of Life” stories were originally meant to be the foundation for a short story suite, that seemingly easy collection-cum-novel that in reality is very hard to pull off. All of the published “Slice of Life” stories can be read independently of each other, though if you read them sequentially you got the overall story arc appearing, the tenuous relationship between the corporate cannibal sociopath Paul Haines and his amorphous, shape-shifting alien mentor. Haines however is the ultimate unreliable narrator, with all the violence held off the page, assumed to have happened. Each published story followed a formula, and that is there must be a recipe involving a specific cut of meat, perhaps human, perhaps not. The linking narratives I had written (only 3 of them to-date, and only 2 of them finished) did not feature a recipe or a murder, but still kept that horrible, nasty, black humoured approach. With Stuart Mayne and Geoff Maloney’s advice, we tinkered a bit with an approach to take it away from the more restrictive short story suite into a novel structure. There is one unfinished ‘recipe’ story out there, where Haines and his sleazy boss Carter take a business trip to Adelaide. Haines is hit upon at the hotel bar by a young gay dancer with a Gene Simmons-like tongue. You can see where that one is going to end up. On a plate, most likely. But I never finished it. The two completed linking narratives may come out in the near future in a magazine called Fawlt. But then again, like all those familiar with this game, they may not either.
There’s also a shared-world that I have been developing with Brendan Duffy, one of my favourite Aussie sci-fi authors, and possibly the funniest. I call it the St Kilda Sleaze and it’s a near-future depiction of Melbourne, mainly set in and around St Kilda, where bio-engineering, cloning, nanotechnology etc is all the rage. The stories are sleazy, funny, revolting with perhaps too much explicit sex of the strange variety. We’d almost finished the first one “Love Is The Drug” when, on my turn to redraft and add to, I had to return the story to Duffy and ask him to finish it due to my little breakdown at the moment. The other one we’ve talked and plotted about for years is called “The Type of Guy” and is based around cloning, losers, and incest (though is it really incest? It’s more than masturbation…) A few of the inaugural Clarion South crew know what to expect if that one ever sees the light of day.
And that’s it, folks, nothing else left in the well. It’s run dry. Actually, it’s overflowing but this final phase of my life is not conducive to letting me drink from it.
What have I achieved?
Three short story collections, a swag of awards (fourteen actually, but I’m the only one counting) a James Tiptree Jnr Honours listing (of which I’m immensely proud), a gnat’s cock short of a Hugo shortlisting, and making it to the starting line of the Full Time Writer race, but having to pull out due to injury. An almost made it. The world is littered with almost made it’s and I sure didn’t want to be one of them.
Thanks to everybody who has supported me throughout my writing career (especially my wife Jules, particularly with the harrowing content in a lot of those stories that may or may not be true), and all those who bought, read and enjoyed my work.
Until we meet again, much love…