Newsletter 12/4/23 – Let the story be itself

Apr 12, 2023

This is my newsletter that went out on 12/4/23 – sign up for it here:

Hello fiends

I’m working on a novel at the moment that is built around a central idea. Most of my stuff at novel length is a congregation of ideas, but there’s usually one central “big” idea that eventually finds a few other ideas to orbit it like story moons, and then the whole thing starts coming together.

This work in progress is no different. I’m really enjoying the writing of it and I think it’s going to be great. But in recent days I’ve realised that the central core idea just isn’t actually happening. Even the working title of this book is based on that idea. But it’s not going to happen. All the other ideas are working together, the story is growing and expanding, and it’ll come together (I hope) in cool and interesting ways. But that central big idea doesn’t have a place, after all.

For the last several writing sessions it’s been in the back of my mind, and I’ve been thinking about how to bring the story around to include it. It’s the big idea, right? It has to be there, doesn’t it?

Well, no. Actually it doesn’t. I learned long ago that a story will be what it wants to be. No matter how much I think I know what I’m doing, the story will tell itself and I need to get the fuck out of the way. The surest way to make a story rubbish is to try to force it to be something it doesn’t want to be. Like kids, we need to nurture their development, not try to make them into something we expect or want. Trauma and alienation results from that kind of coercion.

The same applies to books. This book will be shite if I insist on forcing the idea I want. A while back I posted on Patreon a notebook with my early ideas for BOUND. It had Arthurian themes and Merlin was involved. I loved that idea at the time. But the book had wildly different ideas and there’s nothing Arthurian anywhere near the published version.

It’s the same now. I need to step out of the way, not insist on that initial idea, and let the story be itself. It’ll be a way better book for it. So after I get this sent out, off I go, back into the word mines. I wonder where this book will take me today..?

Anyway, what else is new?

My serial novella called The Leaves Forget is still being serialised at Patreon. We’re about halfway through now, so if you’d like to read it, head over here. (There’s loads of other stuff at Patreon too, starting at just AU$2 a month, with exclusive fiction including the serial from AU$5 a month).

Otherwise, I’m working away at the novel mentioned above, which is taking up the vast majority of my focus. I’ve also got a couple of commissioned short stories I need to get to. One of those has a deadline fast approaching, so I ought to brain on that a bit more. *makes note to self*

Meanwhile, one other thing that’s been taking up my time in a good way is the Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers Centre in June. I was given the honour of directing the festival, so I’ve been working on inviting a slew of talent and planning panels and all that. You can find out all about it here and if you’re anywhere near Sydney I hope you’ll come along.

Prior to that, on May 5th, I’ll be in conversation with WritingNSW about the festival and everything else about the industry and my part in it. It’s an online Zoom event, so you can come along wherever you are. It’s free, but registration is essential. Here’s the blurb about it:

First Friday, our monthly conversation with an industry professional, is a chance for our community to learn more about the writing and publishing industry. This May, we invite you to our online event with Alan Baxter, director of the 2023 Speculative Fiction Festival.

Speculative fiction is a broad term encompassing science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, steampunk, alternate history, new weird, supernatural, dystopian and a host of other subgenres besides—the literature of imagination without borders. Multi-award-winning author of horror and weird fiction, Alan Baxter, joins us to discuss his writing career, his writing practice, and what we can expect at this year’s Speculative Fiction Festival.

Join us on 5 May for First Friday with Alan Baxter. The event starts online at 12:30pm (Sydney time), via Zoom. Free and open to members and non-members, but RSVPs are essential.

Register now here:

What I’ve Been Enjoying

I’m still catching up on Star Wars stuff, really enjoying season 3 of The Mandalorian. Honestly, it’s a bit piecemeal compared to S1 and 2, but I’m still loving it. More than that, though, I’ve started in on Star Trek: Picard and that is superb. Season 1 was amazing, season 2 was great but not as good. However, season 3 is an absolute banger. Still 2 episodes to go and I can’t wait for them.

In terms of reading, I just read the new (and first) novel from Nathan Ballingrud, called The Strange. Nathan is one of my favourite authors writing today, he’s absolutely brilliant, and you should read all his short stories and novellas. This first novel is a slight departure from his previous stuff but it is truly outstanding, I fucking loved it. I described it as “a remarkable book, drenched in nostalgia and at the same time wholly original”, and I stand by that. Now I’m currently halfway through a book that was a completely random buy for me (I think I saw someone on Twitter talking about it?) called Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher, who I’ve never come across before. So far it’s brilliant. More on that next time, I expect.

Nothing much else for now, my fiends. Time to get back to the novel without a central idea any more! Be well and be kind, especially to yourself.

Big love to all.


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