I don’t often join in with the memes and stuff that fly around social media, but this one caught my eye, so I decided to have a go. The premise was elegant and simple:
Seven days. Seven B&W photos of my life.
Challenge someone new each day.
I was challenged by my pal, Cat Sparks. I thought I might drop my seven photos here now the week is done, just for posterity’s sake. It was surprisingly challenging. I tried not to think too hard about it, but to capture things that were the major influences and focuses of my life. So the pictures are below in the same order I posted them. I tried to play around with photo dimensions a bit (but most are square as I did the posting via Instagram), and different types of B&W. But in keeping with the meme, I’ll say no more about it. (Click each one to see a bigger version.)
Bonus shot. I realised my seven photos lacked a very important aspect of my life, so this is a bonus 8th photo.
This is something I wrote mainly for myself, as a kind of credo to keep me sane. Then I thought that maybe others would like it, so I made it into an image and shared it through my social media accounts. Now I’m putting it here for safe-keeping. The original “commandments” are below, or you can click on the image for a bigger version of that. Feel free to share this post if it moves you, or you’ll find the image on my Twitter and Facebook pages too.
Ten Commandments for Writers
Thou shalt not covet or decry the success of others.
Thou shalt support and boost other writers as they are allies, not enemies or competition.
Thou shalt always remember that rejection is the default.
Thou shalt always strive to improve thy craft.
Thou shalt not be a precious buttercup about editorial advice.
Thou shalt not deny the role of luck in all publishing.
Thou shalt never respond to reviews.
Thou shalt not spam all thy channels (or other people’s) with BUY MY BOOK! posts.
Thou shalt always remember that no writer ever pleases everyone.
Thou shalt do the fucking work.
This last weekend I went down to the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum in Beechworth. I could just leave it there, I know, but I went for a special reason. Asylum Ghost Tour owners and Asylum folk, Geoff and Dawn Brown, had organised an audience with Ellen Datlow and Jack Dann, hosted by Kaaron Warren. A chance to listen to the expertise of Ellen Datlow? A chance to hang out with good pals like Kaaron and Jack, and listen to the their expertise? A chance to hang out with whoever else was there? I was there like a shot. I drove down with Grimdark Magazine editor and all-around great guy Adrian Collins. We had an absolute blast, and did the ghost tour afterwards as well. I also got to meet my AHWA mentee, Silvia Brown, and pals like Gerry Huntman, Steve Paulsen, Matt Summers and others, and of course, to catch up with Geoff and Dawn again. It really was a tremendous time and one of those things that just reinvigorates the urge to write. So I’m off to do just that!
I had an absolute blast at Oz Comic Con in Sydney, the first time I’ve been a guest at that particular event. Huge thanks to Carissa and Rand, and all the best for their future. Big thanks to Kylie Chan, Maria Lewis, Isobell Carmody, Marianne de Pierres, and Queenie Chan for authorly companionship, to all the helpers and staff, and especially to Courtney Laura and Paige Bellfield for giving up their time to help my stand all day each. Such great people. And, of course, to everyone who came by for a chat and bought books.
Until next time!
I’m very excited to be a guest at Oz Comic Con in Sydney from September 30th to October 1st. It’s be my first Oz Comic Con as a guest and I can’t wait. I’ll have heaps of the Alex Caine Series for sale, and I’ll be able to offer the 3 for 2 deal again. That means you can get the entire trilogy, signed and dedicated, for $50. Bargain! I’ll also have a bunch of Crow Shine, Primordial and a few other bits and pieces with me too, but get in quick as I only have a few of some things.
All the details here: http://www.ozcomiccon.com/guests/alan-baxter/
Hope to see you there!
A few weeks ago I went up to Sydney and had a long and very in-depth conversation with James Rickards. It’s a much deeper and more personal interview than most, where James grilled me about all sorts of things writing-related and about my personal life and upbringing. We talk about martial arts and being a victim, bullying, competition fighting and all that stuff, along with my writing process and habits. We discuss life and death and the injustice of nature. We talk about the need to keep moving and how I apply some martial arts lessons to my writing and the genres I write. I also tell the story of how I once met Neil Gaiman before I knew who the hell he was and bought a new comic that had just come out called Sandman. It’s a really cool conversation. James has edited it down to about 47 minutes that can be accessed via the following links:
Listen via Stitcher Radio: http://stitcher.com/s?eid=51175586&autoplay=1&refid=asi_twtr
Listen online via Whooshka: https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/conversations-with-writers
I’m fortunate to have had two limited edition hardbacks of my work published. One is Crow Shine, my collection of horror and dark fantasy short stories from Ticonderoga Publications in Australia, and the other is The Book Club, a mystery/cosmic horror novella from PS Publishing in the UK. Crow Shine recently won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Collection and was also shortlisted for both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards. Time will tell whether or not The Book Club garners any awards attention next year. Fingers crossed! Both limited editions are restricted to 100 signed and numbered copies. And both publishers have done an amazing job, producing truly beautiful books. I’m so proud of them. I’m told there are a few of each left, available direct from the publishers. So if you’re keen to grab a copy of either (or both!) while you can, here are the direct links:
Crow Shine from Ticonderoga Publications. (Be sure to use the drop down menu on this page and selected the limited edition.)
The Book Club from PS Publishing. (Be sure to use the drop down menu on this page and selected the limited edition.)
See below, they truly are lovely books. I hope the contents live up to the packaging.
So, I had a bit of a rant on Twitter today. But I thought maybe I’d copy it here too. You know, for posterity. It was triggered by two or three of those awful memes that followed one another this morning. You know the ones – the shit about needing your muse, not writing a word until a sense of shame forces you to address the blank page, all that shit about procrastination. Of course, we all do that stuff – I’m kinda procrastinating right now in a way! – but those things perpetuate this idea of the tortured artist and it pisses me off. People use it as an excuse to avoid the one thing required: Doing the fucking working. So I sort of went off on one a bit. Anyway, here it is – I stand by it.
Here’s the original tweet, and I was smart enough to thread the replies, so you can just follow it all the way down:
Yeah, you know what? Writing is hard, but you knuckle down and do the fucking work. Stop perpetuating bullshit tortured artist stereotypes.
— AlanBaxter (@AlanBaxter) August 7, 2017
And here’s the full thing transcribed:
Yeah, you know what? Writing is hard, but you knuckle down and do the fucking work. Stop perpetuating bullshit tortured artist stereotypes.
You think a marine biologist just has a passion for fish and he keeps waiting for some kind of fishy fucking inspiration? No. He studies, he trains, he practices, he does the fucking work. He puts in the hours and he excels in his field. Same with doctors, architects, chefs, every shitdancing career you ever heard of. People got good because they did the fucking work.
Yes, you have to have the passion, you have to do it because it’s in your bones and blood and you can’t not do it. But that’s not enough. One thing every published novelist has in common is that they did the work. They finished the thing. The only thing you have control over is the writing, and getting better at the writing.
Everything else is subject to timing, market, luck, a thousand other things you can’t control.
So do the thing you can control: Do the fucking work.
Yes you need to take time out to be inspired, but then you come home and do the fucking work. Yes we’re all busy and you have to earn a living. Almost all of us have day jobs. We still *make* time to do the fucking work. Otherwise you have passion and angst and fuck all else.
Everybody with any success in any creative endeavour put their head down, stopped flapping their lips, and worked their arses off. So you can whine about how hard it is, you can complain about how the industry is, sure. You can mope and slap the back of your hand to your forehead because you’re *just not feeling it today*. Or you can do the fucking work. You can try and fail and try again.
You put in the hours, you accept the thankless labour, you take all the hits and you keep going. And with every little success you allow yourself a sly little smile and you say, “Yeah, I made that happen.” Then you swallow that shit and get back to work and do better. And keep doing better, because you are working hard. Work smart, work at craft, work at learning, but do the fucking work. Godsdammit.
This rant brought to you by one too many precious diamond tortured artist bullshit fucking memes today. I need another coffee.
Then I’m going to get on with the work.
*puts on loud music*
*gets on with the work*
Overcoming Isolation – The Power of Engaging with your Writing Community
So we’re writers, right? We know the drill. Nothing gets words on the page except sitting your arse down, tuning out the world, ignoring everyone you care about, and hammering at the keyboard until you turn all that white space into words good, bad, or otherwise. Then there’s the hard graft of poring over the page and editing the shit out of those words to make them shine. There’s the long, solitary waiting that follows submission, and the equally isolating sensation of getting those rejections, something we don’t like to shout from the rooftops. All these things are personal, closed. No-one else can do this stuff for you. They tell us that we writers love to dwell in the safe confines of being alone with our work, comforted by the knowledge that our successes or our failures are ours and ours alone. Sure, once things start happening we have to deal with editors and publishers and sometimes *gasp* readers, but the foundation is there: butt in the chair, hammering the keys. Fucking professional, as a certain writer who has constantly inspired me is known to frequently say.
But maybe it’s the isolation that’s the problem.
Just because the cliché exists doesn’t mean we need to buy into it. This isolation, the enduring image of the writer closed up in a smoky room growing ever more reclusive and sunk deeper in their insularity may not be the right thing for you. Putting aside the practical necessity of actually writing, and those times when we drift out of this world and into the ones in our head where all the cool stuff happens, trooping on like that solitary wounded soldier on a war-torn horizon may not be the best way for you, as an individual, to go about the business of writing.
Want to hazard a guess at how many writers there are out there? I wouldn’t even try. Seems like everywhere you turn you can trip over a writer. We seep out of the walls, pop out from behind doors and under bridges. We hide under your bed at night.
Here’s the thing: We are legion.
You know the fable about the Scythian king and his bundle of sticks? Take one stick in your hand, snap it and throw it to the wind. Bundle a whole lot of them together, and none of them will break. Strength in unity, kinda thing. Way too simplistic to capture the complexity of community interaction, but that’s the basics of it. Take a look around at the writers organisations you know of, or may already be a part of. Just off the top of my head, from my little vantage point down here at the bottom of the world:
- SpecFicNZ – The organisation for creators of speculative fiction, media and art in New Zealand
- NZSA – The New Zealand Society of Authors
- AHWA – The Australasian Horror Writers Association
- HWA – The Horror Writers Association
- SFWA – The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
- Codex – an international writing group dedicated to developing spec fic writers to a professional level
- The Clarks Crit Group – A crit group that meets at Clarks café at Wellington Library every week
I could go on, but you haven’t got all day. The point is this: We defy the archetype. Writers seem to have a compulsion to overcome this enforced solitude that defines the cliché and come together, to share our ideas and help each other along. We’re humans, and humans are primates, social animals who like being together, alternately throwing rotten fruit at each other or gently picking the lice from each other’s fur and nibbling on them. Human contact is good for the soul. There’s struggling along in the dark on your own, and then there’s the alternative.
And the alternatives are manifold.
There are as many ways to go about being a writer as there are writers. Likewise, there are so many different ways of stepping out of the Lone Writer bubble and into a community that I’ve got no chance of listing them all here, and even the examples above, while serving as good starting points, barely scratch the surface.
It’s not for everyone, and not every community is going to be the right one for you. The question is: do you need community? Do you need a Facebook group where all the members touch base regularly to talk about what they’re doing and give the others mad props for having work out on the submission roundabout? Do you need support from a national organisation with a focus on professional development and creating promotional and publication opportunities? Do you need some likeminded folk to sit down with over coffee and go through your latest two thousand words with a fine-toothed comb (who the hell combs their teeth anyway?)? Do you need conventions full of panels and workshops and chinwagging over beer or coffee at the bar? You may need some of these things, or none of them, or all of them. Only you can answer that.
So here’s a better question, because subjectivity: What do I need from a community? Because let’s face it, I’m biased. Of the organisations mentioned above, I am or have been a part of most of them, and there are plenty more I haven’t listed. I’ve been a member, served on committees, been involved. I’m a people person. I came from a theatre background, even though I wrote in isolation before that, and you can’t do anything in theatre without a bunch of people to back you up. I worked in film for years as well and, once again, that’s something you simply can’t do alone. So it made sense that I was never going to be the Man Alone writer iconoclast, however much a romanticised version of me might’ve wanted that to be the case.
So here’s a case study for the value of community:
In 2013, I threw out a random comment on Facebook encouraging the writers I knew to check out a Reddit thread about the creepy things kids say, suggesting there might be some cool writing prompts buried therein. That act was simply a sharing, throwing something to the community in the hopes of inspiring someone to maybe write something fun. I had no idea when I did so that the downstream outcomes of that comment, that engagement, would be:
- An editing partnership with Lee Murray, the ripples from which have been quite profound (more about this in a minute)
- Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror (Paper Road Press, 2013), an anthology of 37 stories which went on to win two awards and which has raised almost $2,000 for a children’s literacy charity
- Several authors’ first short story publications in that anthology, and of those authors some have gone on to publish novels or more short stories, in some cases because of the confidence that this first publication gave them to keep pushing
- The meeting and befriending of a whole swag of new people, both online and in real life, people with whom to share ideas, successes, failures, woes, experiences.
These are the collective gains that come from working in groups, the sort of gains you simply can’t achieve on your own. And that’s just from one comment in one social media venue, and the one book which came out of it.
Lee Murray and I have gone on to collaborate on other things, including facilitating short story competitions, a second anthology (At The Edge, Paper Road Press, 2016, also an award-winning book), and our most recent exploit, Hounds of the Underworld (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2017), the first novel in our supernatural crime noir horror series The Path of Ra. Hounds is set in a near-future, mildly dystopian Auckland, New Zealand, written from the alternating perspectives of the two main characters. It’s a product of that most focused of communities: the writing partnership. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have Lee as my partner in darkness, the yin to my yang, and I can honestly say my writing would not be what it is now if not for having such an amazing collaborator. But it might never have come about if not for everything that went with Baby Teeth, the community-building which that book generated and the determination that grew out of it to keep the ball rolling.
But this isn’t my only collaboration. I also have a writing band, called Cerberus, composed of myself, Grant Stone and Matthew Sanborn Smith. We write some weird, weird, stuff, and some of it has even been published.
The point is this: You can’t know if you’re going to like it in the water until you dip your toe in. Amazing, unexpected things can come out of practically nothing, but it’s up to you to take the risk. It’s not always easy, it’s not always right. Not every group is the right fit. Personalities can clash, objectives can differ, and when this happens, it’s time to move on. But just turn around. You’ll trip over another troupe of keen writers, or a platoon of hardened fiction veterans, or a cluster of horror poets keen to have another sick mind among their ranks. And somewhere, there will be the right one for you.
And if you’re lucky, you just might find a someone, or someones, that get you, and all that frustrated potential that you hadn’t quite found an outlet for is suddenly channelled into productivity. Someone to encourage you and hold you accountable. Someone to cheer you on and make you look hard at your work, to make it the best it can be. Someone to point you towards opportunities you didn’t know existed. So that when the hard knocks come, you’re like a bundle of sticks, and you don’t break. You’re not cast to the wind. That’s the power of community.
Think about it.
Dan Rabarts is an award-winning short fiction author and editor, recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2014. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in numerous venues around the world, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, StarShipSofa and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the anthologies Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror, winner of the 2014 SJV for Best Collected Work and the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work, and At The Edge, a collection of Antipodean dark fiction, which won the SJV for Best Edited Work in 2017. His novella Tipuna Tapu won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction as part of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. Hounds of the Underworld, Book 1 of the crime/horror series The Path of Ra, co-written with Lee Murray and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2017), is his first novel. Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.
You guys know all about this anthology, right? If not, you should. It’s an amazing book, edited by the incredible Jack Dann. It features an array of amazing stories from some of Australia’s most talented writers. And one from me! My story, “Served Cold”, is included and I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written so far. But don’t take my word for all of this. The reason I’m writing about it again now is because Dreaming in the Dark has just been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. But that’s just the most recent. It was also nominated for the Australian Shadows Award and the Aurealis Award and it won the Ditmar Award. Loads of the stories included have been nominated for or won awards (my own story, “served Cold”, was nominated for the Australian Shadows Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction and the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novella).
So you see, this book is amazing and it’s kicking ass. And it’s published by PS Publishing, which means it’s a beautiful hardback artifact too. There’s also a limited edition run of just 200 copies that are numbered and signed by all contributors, so look into that. All the details are here. So yeah, get yourself across this book. It’s amazing.