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The End of My Writing Career - Hapax Legomena
A word from the decaying mind of Paul Haines
The End of My Writing Career
Several reviews have expressed excitement in looking forward to more work from me over the coming years, but alas, this is the official declaration that the writing career of Paul Haines is over.
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…

Current Music: The Church "Hindsight 1980-1987" (1988)

112 comments or Leave a comment
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benpeek From: benpeek Date: November 29th, 2011 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm just gonna go over here and hang out in the comeback club, alright, man? we got a banner and a table and everything.
paulhaines From: paulhaines Date: November 29th, 2011 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
ha! you're too kind, mr peek. btw, the banner better be fucking good.
From: snorefish Date: November 29th, 2011 01:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll be waiting at that table too, Paul. Copies of Slice, Doorways and Kali in hand

Fight the good fight.

(Deleted comment)
paulhaines From: paulhaines Date: November 29th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Martin. I agree with you too.

1) I prefer short story collections than novels as a reader. Just so much harder to make a living out of that these days. I LOVE the short story format, always have, always will.

2) Full time writing sucks. I've heard this many a time. I'm such a lazy bastard though, and if I had that health insurance propping me up, then I could keep at it without having to worry about the 'real' day job. And I did that 'real' day job for so many boring, boring years.

3) Secretly, deep down, I'd be really happy to be though of as a writers' writer. Except I don't think I'm good enough to be one of those. I have heard that said about me three times now (ie I am one of those writers) and that makes me enormously happy.

4) Nobody's made it. True! But I didn't get to my standard, which also meant I didn't get to raise it another notch after I got there. I managed to tick a lot of the boxes I wanted to tick (write a story, publish a story, win an award, publish a collection, be invited to submit, but the novel was waiting for the box to be ticked still - I never had money on that list though).

I am proud of what I've done, don't get me wrong, it just feels like not enough, you know? I should have done more. Hell, I had another 20 years planned at one stage of being able to do that.

Maybe I can write though the ouija board?
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 29th, 2011 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Love your work...

May you find peace if peace is what your seeking!
gillpolack From: gillpolack Date: November 29th, 2011 02:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, the novel would have been fucking good, but your stories are pretty bloody marvellous. And they're with us, haunting us, no matter what your future. That's the trouble with good writing. It sticks.

I'm glad something came of that discussion. I felt very guilty afterwards, for my vehemence. I will buy that volume and I will treasure it - because I still think that your darkness would be a wonderfully evil thing to find in children's stories (obviously I was a dark and evil child).

I can only wish (and you're wishing even more) that life had not dealt you such a bad hand and that you had more time for all the possibles. I wish we had more time with you to read all these fine works. But don't ever forget the amazing stuff you've written and how much joy you've given all of us who love your work.
paulhaines From: paulhaines Date: November 29th, 2011 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Gillian. Your vehemence was just what I needed to hear at the time needed to hear it. I appreciated it a lot, and it got me thinking and researching.
From: matthewchrulew.wordpress.com Date: November 29th, 2011 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)
From: gerryhuntman Date: November 29th, 2011 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
a writer is a writer is a writer - and you're one of them. Okay, career might have stopped or whatever, but you're still a writer. There aren't many things better than that. :)
Eve Proper From: Eve Proper Date: November 29th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
"Wives" is one of the best things I've ever, period. I've been reading your blog for a long time and never commenting, but I have to say: Maybe you haven't done what you want, but you've done more than most people ever will.
deborahb From: deborahb Date: January 20th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree. "Wives" is sheer, hideous genius. You did good.
karenmiller From: karenmiller Date: November 29th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't think of anything at all useful to say, except I know you impacted my work and always will.
punkrocker1991 From: punkrocker1991 Date: November 29th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
*sigh* you know what they're gonna write on my headstone: He was a pretty good editor, but he never published Paul Haines.

I may not have loved all of your stuff, but it never bored me.

"When winter puts her hands on you, it must be autumn soon."
paulhaines From: paulhaines Date: November 30th, 2011 05:10 am (UTC) (Link)
"Goodbye Heroica..."

Thanks, Russ.
From: chuckmck1 Date: November 29th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as one who haS experienced similar existential angst recently (for far lesser reasons), I can only say: Hang in there. Wherever you go from here, take comfort in the fact that people won't forget you or your work that easily (heck, I just this morning ordered copies of Kali Yuga to sell in my as-yet-unopened bookshop!!). Lots of us out here thinking of you, Paul. Look after yourself and your family, but don't disappear - we won't allow it. :/
haloumi From: haloumi Date: November 29th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
The pleasure was, still is, and will continue to be, ours. Trust a bloody writer to make it impossible to get a word back at him without sounding trite...

I can only hope that you look back at this, some day, at the mother-of-all-comeback parties. And have been wrong.
macdibble From: macdibble Date: November 29th, 2011 04:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Wait! You can't leave Duffy to edit his own work! You know he goes too far!

You were really making it, in spite of illness, you were a contender and finished or not, you'll always be a champion.

Thanks for all the support you've given out over the years too. We love you man!

Lee Battersby From: Lee Battersby Date: November 29th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC) (Link)
If I have to choose between continuing to read Haines the author or continuing to know Haines the man, I'll take Haines the man any day. I love your work, but I love knowing you more.

Get well, come back. We'll be waiting.

taliehelene From: taliehelene Date: November 29th, 2011 08:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Beautifully said.
From: jennfitz Date: November 29th, 2011 05:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Paul, I don't know what to say to any of that without sounding like an utter tool. There may be some things unfinished that will never see light of day, but thank christ for the work you have published that I've had the good fortune to read. ( I still love the fact that Slice of Life landed on my doorstep the same day as Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cookery" - While her instructions on how to bone and truss a chicken left little to the imagination, it was nothing on your genius)... See.... I knew I'd end up sounding like a tool.
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