April 2014 update

Time for another April update. Re-reading this old blog post was, as with last year, a reminder of just how incredibly busy life is.

NB: There are a lot of exciting things happening later this month, including:

  • The launch of my Kickstarter project: All The King’s Men (April 7)
  • The announcement of the Aurealis Award winners (April 5)
  • the announcement of the Ledger Award winners (April 12)

Should any of these yield fruit, I’ll be announcing them separately here, on my Twitter feed, on my Facebook page, and from the rooftops.

Family

My kids continue to bewilder, inspire and infuriate me in equal measure. They are the volcanic eruption at the centre of my universe. At some point, the decision to add to the Corral of Chaos was taken, and a third little Walsh-Smith will be spewing molten crazy into our lives from mid-2014.

Annie has turned four years old, and started her second year of preschool. She’s learning to read at a rate that is far more rapid than I could have anticipated, and takes a big bundle of books to bed every night. Eventually, she falls asleep surrounded by books. Even though she’s going to sleep a little later than I might like, there’s no way I’m ever going to discourage this behaviour (particularly since I did the exact same thing as a kid).

Liam’s love of mischief has only deepened as he approaches his second birthday. He climbs, he jumps, he likes to smash eggs he finds in the fridge. He’s incredibly quick of wit, and has a high level of comprehension, but has developed a complicated combination of gestures and monosyllabic words that preclude the need to actually learn to speak in sentences. It’s a very creative alternative to actually doing the hard work. I’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Katie has begun studying towards her education degree. She is also around seven months pregnant with our third child, which is due in the handful of days between Liam’s birthday and Katie’s birthday. We don’t know whether it’s a boy or girl, and will be keeping this secret until the day of birth.

Me? I’m still working full-time. Still writing (more on that in a moment).

Writing

General

In the last twelve months, The Lesser Evil was re-released as an omnibus, and its 600 page sequel was also published. I attended two conventions as an exhibitor, and met dozens of awesome people. I taught myself a variety of new artistic techniques which I will be applying to future work, ventured into self-publishing for the first time with mixed results, and ran a quick survey which helped me to understand issues of payment for commissioned works.

My self-proclaimed #YearOfWriting lived up to its name, with over 500 pages of comics being produced, and a number of exciting projects launched. After the success of the 2013 #YearOfWriting, I decided to ramp things up a notch in 2014. The #YearOf1000Pages (as I dubbed it on my Twitter feed) kicked off on January 1st, and it is going very, very well.

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I hit up a couple of conventions in late 2013: Oz Comic-Con Melbourne, and Brisbane Supanova. Both events were a lot of fun, although my actual success at them varied wildly. I probably won’t be hitting up any more cons until late this year, given the impending arrival of the new baby. I hope to be doing Sydney Oz Comic-Con in September, though. I haven’t hocked my books to Sydney yet.

The Lesser Evil

The Lesser Evil was reissued as an omnibus, and published digitally for the first time, both in mid-2013. My publisher ran a short sale on the Kindle version, and I watched the book shoot up the sales charts.

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It was fun to pretend for a moment that the book was selling hundreds of copies, and that this was the beginning of a snowball. Of course, it wasn’t, but it was nice to pretend.

Peaceful Tomorrows

Amazing news: Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two was nominated as a finalist in the “Best Graphic Novel/Illustrated Work” category of the 2013 Aurealis Awards. To say that I’m honoured, humbled and genuinely surprised by this turn of events would be understating the case significantly. Winning an award is on my writing bucket list… but I never thought I’d have the chance to do that so early in my career!

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The ceremony is here in Canberra this Saturday, so I’ll definitely be there. Have had to learn how to write an acceptance speech. Although it would be nice to win, I’d be equally happy not to have to give the speech. So I suspect I’ll be fine either way – a nomination like this is still a mighty big feather for the ol’ cap.

All The King’s Men

After conducting a survey into the issues of working for exposure in December 2013, I decided to launch a Kickstarter project that aims to produce a large anthology of work entitled All The King’s Men, and pay contributors fairly for their work. I’ll be sending out press releases and have squared everything with Zetabella, who have expressed interest in publishing the book when it’s done.

I have already completed one of my contributions to the book, a shortish tale entitled The Long Road Home. Thinking about writing up something in prose as well.

The campaign will go active on Monday 7th April. Time will tell how it goes.

The Game

After the last April update, I had a massive surge of productivity that I can’t explain. Had an incredible few months, and finished off The Game very rapidly.

TheGame


Without wanting to over-hype this book, I think it’s my best one yet. I’m extremely pleased and very proud of how it turned out. I can’t wait to see it in print.

James Flamestar

A year late to the party, I finally released the James Flamestar comic for purchase. I’m quite proud of this companion piece to Tim Irving’s exemplary Stargazers album (currently only $3, an absolute steal), and am looking forward to being involved with its eventual sequel. The comic is currently only available on this website, and costs just $4.

Triumviratus

Work on Triumviratus has been slow and steady. I did decide, in the end, to make it a comic series, and so far, I have produced around five and a half issues. No takers yet for publication, but I haven’t really been trying very hard. Want to get this one right; could be my ticket to the next level of my career.

Triumviratus

Exposure

The ACT Comic Meet is launching another anthology soon, this one around the theme of Exposure. It’s possible this was triggered by the survey I conducted in December, but I haven’t asked and don’t want to assume. I submitted a two-page comic for it.

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Check out http://actcomicmeet.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/exposure-a-comic-anthology-by-act-comic-meet/

Not Just Annie’s Story

My first public reading did not take place in a cafe, a bookstore, or a library. It was not to a crowd comprised of fans and the literary elite. It was, in fact, to the harshest critics known to man: a gaggle of blurry three year olds, my daughter’s preschool class. I read them Not Just Annie’s Story, my first and unpublished venture into picture books.

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The Tube

For two years now, there’s been no movement in this project. I still want to go back to it, revise the hell out of it, and bring it back to life. I think there’s a story in there worth telling. Just gotta clear some space on my plate for it. This one probably won’t be highest priority for some time yet.

Conclusion

In the last twelve months, I’ve learned a bunch of new stuff. I’ve written my first award acceptance speech, my first press release, made my first pitch video, conducted my first survey, and started working in colour with my comics.

It has been yet another massive year, that’s for sure. And things are only going to get busier from here.

It’s gonna be awesome.

Writing bucket list – February 2014

Success is one of those things that’s impossible to quantify.

If you’d asked me when I was a kid what my definition of success was, it’d probably end up looking something like what I’ve got now: I’m in a stable, committed marriage, with two (soon three) awesome kids, a job that pays well, and an entrenched writing career that’s on the rise.

If you’d asked me in high school what that “most likely to succeed” award meant in the eyes of my peers, I’d probably have dropped family from the equation and added in a whole bunch of money.

If you asked me now, I’d say (at least with regards to my writing, which the remainder of this post will focus upon), “I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m there yet.” That little miner I sent into my brain to dig out the deep answers must have asphyxiated long ago.

With no concrete idea of what success meant to me, I began to look around at my peers. I’d see a movie deal here, an interview there, a positive review here, and this really ugly jealousy began to rear its head. Because I had no goals for myself, I began to covet what others had, and what others wanted. And that’s a sure-fire ticket to eternal dissatisfaction and misery.

So I decided to sit down and put together a bucket list for my writing career. To confirm the experiences I wanted to have, to solidify the skills I wanted to develop, and to quantify the validation that I have sought my entire life.

Beyond the passion I have for the act of writing itself, which seems to be eternal and infinite, this post focuses on what I’d like to do to see that writing turned into a career.

What follows is what today’s list looks like. It’s hopelessly vain and (if Hollywood is to be believed) too focused upon material success to ever truly make me happy – and will probably change with each new season of my career. But its point is to stop crazy comparisons between myself and others, and keep me focused on what I want.

It’s highly ambitious, but doesn’t shoot for the moon. This is today’s list.

1. Win an award



It doesn’t have to be the Nobel Prize for literature, but just having a panel of independent judges confirming that something I have written has managed to edge out its competition would definitely be a huge level-up in my seemingly eternal and interminable quest for validation.

2. Work in collaboration on a great TV show



One of the special features in The Shield DVD set was a look into the writers’ room for the Season Three finale. I can’t explain quite what happened to me when I watched that feature, but it clicked: that’s where I want to be. Working in collaboration with major talent, and putting together greater stories than any of us could manage on our own.

3. Sign a movie/TV deal



There are a few reasons this would be awesome. The first is the money. The second is the opportunity to see my work reimagined by someone else (and maybe even the chance to contribute and tick off item 2 in the process).

But the third, and by far the most important, is to stop people from commenting at conventions, “You should try to get this made into a movie. That’s where the money is, you know.”

4. Get a significant prose piece published



I love working in comics. There’s a tremendous energy in a piece that has synergy between words and art, and I love trying to harness that energy to tell stories. I’ve had some success in the realm of comics, and probably have more coming in the future… but I grew up writing prose, and that’s where my soul remains.

Almost every major comic project I’ve tackled began its life as a full-length novel – prose is how I do my thinking, and where I write my best stories. One day I’d like to get a prose piece published, and start a career as a novelist.

5. Connect with a big publisher



Zetabella is a great, visionary publisher. I am incredibly proud to have been signed as one of their first creators, and thrilled to have the bulk of my work under their name. But they’re a very small publisher, so exposure is not great.

I don’t have networking skills, and I don’t have the time to devote myself to full-time self-promotion. Getting signed to a big name publisher is how I’ll really get noticed. I have no idea if the experience will be a satisfying one (I suppose that depends upon individual publisher as much as anything else), but it’s a commercially sensible approach, at least to build my profile up.

6. Diversify



I write science fiction and fantasy. It’s what I’m known for. But I really want to branch out. I want my magnum opus, when it comes, to be much more strongly grounded in reality. In today’s world. I want to stop hiding behind allegory and metaphor when telling stories, and just come right out and say something important.

In some ways, I feel like my entire writing career is an apprenticeship for this one future book, sort of like Steinbeck with East of Eden.

7. Sales of one book per day



Hooray for material success!

But seriously, at some point, I want to be able to step back a little from this self-marketing gig. It’s tiring and a little dispiriting. Once I have enough profile to be able to generate constant sales (even if those sales wouldn’t even buy me a packet of two-minute noodles per day), I’ll be able to focus more on writing, and just let the momentum sort itself out.

One book per day would be okay to start with. It’s not salary-replacement, but it’s momentum. And once you’ve got momentum, there’s always a chance of a snowball. Or even an avalanche.

Until then, you’re just rolling puffs of flaky snow by hand.

Accidental autobiography – a thematic reading of my writing career to date

I’m reminded of some advice I read some years back: the book you could write today will not be the book you write tomorrow. It’s so true.

I’ve been looking back at some of my major works, and have realised just how deeply personal they are to me. In ways that no reader could possibly ever identify, these books are about me, about my life, about the stuff rattling around in my head that mere thought can never quite purge. These books are my demons, the monkeys on my back. Each one reflects one facet of my growth into the man I am today.

This article should not be read as a guide to the books, because (I believe) they will contain different meanings for every reader. This article chronicles what they mean to me at the moment, and how the writing reflects the various stages of my life.

If you want to know what was plaguing my mind at any given point in my life, I suspect you could open up one of the books I wrote in that period and figure out the broad strokes of it quite easily.

But here: I’ll save you the leg work. You’re welcome. (Please still buy the books.)

The Lesser Evil

2001-2011

I started writing The Lesser Evil when I was thirteen. I’d been writing since before I can remember, and I had big dreams for my writing. It was the only thing I wanted for my life. It’s an obvious and direct parallel to Ross’ dream, and the recognition that chasing that dream means turning his back on his family’s plans for him.

The story of The Lesser Evil is fittingly simple, but the themes are clear: to me, it’s a story about dreams. The difficulties, the defeats, and the sacrifices… even if they come true.

Peaceful Tomorrows

2002-2012

I was eighteen when I finished the first draft of Peaceful Tomorrows. Adulthood is not something that clicks on like a light switch, and I was just starting to recognise that fact. In my zeal to find some responsibility to latch onto, I made some mistakes, and starting taking on obligations I couldn’t fulfil, and accountability for things that couldn’t possibly be my fault.

Allowed to make my own life decisions for the first time, and blinded to reality by the choices of the past, I flubbed up in a couple of major ways (though thankfully these self-destructed before they could do any real harm) before finding the path that was right for me.

To me, Peaceful Tomorrows is a book about the transition into adulthood and adult responsibilities.

The Game

2006-2013 (forthcoming)

When I first wrote The Game, I was in the final year of my creative writing degree. I had no lucrative publishing contracts to keep me afloat; the crushing inevitability of a job I’d always feared hung over my head like a dark cloud, low and fierce.

It makes sense that I would turn to a prequel. A book where the ending is a foregone conclusion, and the characters are on a path that they cannot escape. When I read it, I realise that it’s no coincidence that one of the main characters is a child in a cage.

To me, The Game is a book about being trapped.

James Flamestar

2012-2013

This story was written in collaboration to a mostly-predetermined story, so its links to my own life are not as clear-cut as my other books.

However, James Flamestar and the Stargazers clearly channels and reflects the passion I’d learned in recent years to feel for my chosen vocation, the commitment I have to creativity, and the fear I have that an all-consuming passion might well end up destroying everything else I hold dear.

Conclusion

If/when you read my work, you may not pick up on any of this (indeed, I might be inserting new meaning into my work where none previously existed – that is the prerogative of the reader, after all). My entire life is allegorised in those pages, my soul laid bare on the page for your consumption.

My Brisbane Supanova 2013 experiences

Out from Canberra.

The portable bag weigher I bought has paid for itself; my suitcase gets checked with 200g clearance. No excess baggage charges for me!

I don’t like the default seat I’ve been assigned, so change it up a bit and opt for a window seat. As it turns out, there’s no one sitting next to me. Pretty good decision, that one. Spend the trip alternately reading East of Eden and wondering how the bloody hell planes stay in the air. They’re huge metal tubes full of heavy people and bags. Start thinking of landing as a partially-controlled plummet, and can’t get the image out of my head. Only mildly nervous. Return attention to book.

I’m desperately fashionable as I set up my stall.

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My banner is up and looking pretty schmick, even if I do think so myself. Given the Game of Thrones focus on this con, I’m kicking myself for not including the “Game of Thrones – galactic version” review quote on the banner.

DAY ONE – FRIDAY

My hosts have very kindly left this outside my bedroom door. It’s the first thing I see when I get up.



I spend way too long thinking about the answer to a question that no one was ever going to ask me: “What’s your favourite thing about Brisbane?” My response: “The way that people say ‘thank you’ as they get off the bus, even if they’re getting off through the rear doors.”

I don’t know why, but of everything that’s going on, and excepting the absence of my family, that’s the thing that reminds me most that I’m not in Canberra anymore. I guess the little details matter after all.

At Supanova, no one I speak to is expecting too much to happen today, so I’m expecting a slow afternoon. It’s what I get. In the six hours the convention is open that day, I sell six books (and three of those are to someone I know from Canberra).

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That night, the comics folks wander down to a nearby Chinese restaurant, and I order vegetables. After having eaten nothing all afternoon but sugar-coated dried pineapple chunks, I feel I owe my arteries something. One last hurrah. Especially if the weekend ahead is anything like previous cons.

After some confusion with the Translink journey planning site, I discover (by using my feet and eyes) that the bus stop I need is right around the corner from the restaurant, outside the ‘gentleman’s club’. I make eye contact with nobody and catch the bus back.

DAY TWO – SATURDAY

SHIT. I’ve slept in. I never sleep in. I haven’t slept in in years. Not this late.

No time for breakfast. No time for shower. I throw on some clothes and charge out the door.

I’m stressed and already a little grumpy by the time I even reach my table, but I make it with time to spare before opening. Indeed, I’m actually one of the first people to arrive on artist alley. I should have stopped to get some food. Too late now, though.

Anyway, the doors open and people enter. Lots of people. A huge, pulsating mass of nerds with cash to burn. I want all that cash to be mine. I know this is not going to happen.

The morning is as slow as yesterday afternoon. I sell a book an hour. It’s pretty demoralising, to be honest. I try to keep a positive attitude, but it’s hard. I feel the defeat sinking into my gut, although I refuse to let it show on my face. A sullen demeanour is not going to sell books, that much I know for sure.

Here’s something I’ve picked up from the various cons I’ve done so far. I’m not sure how this is going to come across, so I’m going to preface these observations with the following disclaimer: I’m not bitter about it – this is just what I’ve observed.

It’s a relatively quiet Saturday afternoon. I am trying to keep an eye on the stalls around me, trying to see what gets the attention of con attendees, and what doesn’t.

What gets attention:
Fads. These days, anything with zombies is a surefire recipe for success.
Doodads. A lot of stalls, even comic ones, fill out their tables with little plastic gizmos and such. They were cheap, and seemed to move pretty well.
Craft and crafting. The guys at the table next to me had a pretty constant stream of customers, and plenty of excited people charging across the building, drawn by word of mouth to check out their cute hand-made (3)DS cases and hair clips. The table at the other end of my row selling markers also had a strong show.
Fan art. Attaching your work to a more popular segment of popular culture is a good business strategy. Folks selling professional prints that venerate popular shows and movies (Star Wars/Firefly/superheroes/Transformers/lots of stuff I know nothing about) apparently do very well this weekend.
Bright, short and snappy. It’s pretty hard to convince someone on a limited budget to splash out $18 or more on an author they’ve never heard of (even if it is a decent price for such a large book, it’s still a large risk). On the other hand, a small hand-stapled sample comic selling for the cost of a hamburger is a tried-and-true road test method. If it’s in colour, even better, because it will attract eyes from a distance.

What doesn’t get attention:
The Lesser Evil. The Lesser Evil is none of these things. It doesn’t easily draw the eye, it doesn’t appeal to the wallet, it doesn’t latch on to established popular culture. If I can get someone to pick up the book and have a decent look at it, I have a decent conversion rate to sale.
But it’s not something that’s immediately engaging at a place where everything is happening in a rush, where time and money is limited, and there are a thousand brighter, louder, shinier and cheaper things vying for a punter’s attention.
I don’t mean to suggest that the other things on offer at other tables are devoid of substance, but the only thing my books have going for them is substance. They can’t compete in any of the other arenas mentioned above.

Mitigation
Because my books can’t compete on any of the above arenas, I have to work hard to sell each and every copy. I can’t just hope they’ll catch someone’s eye; I have to be standing, engaging with every person who walks past, holding out my book in the hope that they will take it, flick through it, and be impressed enough to take a gamble on me.

Every person who walks past is a potential fan, and (with all due modesty) a hefty percentage of them might even be likely fans, given half a chance. I want to give them that half a chance. I have to sell my books, because they won’t sell themselves. Wonder briefly if I come across as desperate, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

I’m so far outside my comfort zone that I don’t even recognise the guy standing there trying to sell books.

At around lunchtime on Saturday, I am feeling particularly alone and insignificant in this place.

I, of course, suppress this genuine emotion with some Twitted witticisms.







Things pick up in the afternoon, though, and I sell about twenty books in the space of three hours. There’s still about eighty books sitting on the ground behind me, so it’s not quite the landslide I am hoping for… but it’s something. It’s enough for now.

Before I leave for the night, I drop the price of the 3-book bundle from $45 to $40. Hopefully that makes a splash tomorrow.

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That night, the awesome and friendly folks at Geek Speak invite all the creators out to a local hotel for drinks, and put on a very generous bar tab. I initially intend to take it easy, but after flubbing my drinks order and accidentally winding up with two drinks instead of one, I realise the cards are stacked against me.

I don’t recognise the guy who goes around tonight, chatting with everyone, getting to know as many people as he could get to. Alcohol has never given me that kind of social confidence before; I guess this is the first time I’ve had drinks on a stomach that’s had no meals for twenty-four hours though. Still, I have a great time, and get to meet a whole bunch of other comics creators and artist alley vendors. It is a great night, and I get uncharacteristically tipsy.

As I haven’t eaten anything all day and am feeling kind of muzzy in the head, the BBQ cheeseburgers I buy from Hungry Jacks when I hop off the bus that night taste as good as satin feels.

DAY THREE – SUNDAY

I’m so exhausted. You wouldn’t think standing still for three days is particularly tiring, and you might not think that talking rote lines to strangers is especially draining, but there’s no way I could be more completely wiped, physically, mentally, spiritually.

But there’s still a whole day to go, and so I screw this doofy smile of confidence-faux upon my face, and grind out the day.

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It turns out to be a good decision. More than fifty books are sold today. The new price point of $40 seems to be a big draw card, and the words “Can I tempt you to get all three books for $40?” have a success rate of greater than 50%. Seriously. I don’t know whether the word ‘tempt’ has some secret magic powers, or whether the price point descended past some risk threshold, but the books start to sell really well as bundles.

By the end of the day, I have only three copies of The Lesser Evil remaining, and quite a few of the two volumes of Peaceful Tomorrows. Still, I’ve done a huge amount better than I thought I would.

The day has passed in a blur. I can’t account for it; all I know is that I’ve eaten nothing, and drank only about a litre of water. I barely remember the bus trip in this morning.

This morning, I get in very early and wander around the marquee, which I haven’t seen yet. A separate area for the retail stalls, and they all get AIR CONDITIONERS. It’s a HOT DAY. Really stifling in Artist Alley. I remark rather unwittily that if I had just one of those AC units up near my stall, I would get rich. It’s probably true, but after some thought I decide that I probably couldn’t get away with theft like that.

The late afternoon and evening part of the day is DEAD. No foot traffic at all. Half of artist alley has already packed up and gone home by the time the doors close at 6pm. I’ve never seen anything like it. I must admit, though, I’m kind of jealous that they feel okay breaking their stalls down early, and kind of wish I felt the same.

At day’s end, some mates assist me in breaking down my stall. I am so exhausted by this point that I can barely concentrate, and I worry I might have been a little gruff and/or ungrateful for the help and company.

I leave the guys for a few minutes to give out some copies of my books to the folks I bent elbows with the night before. They are all grateful, and most offer up some excess stock of their own as compensation. Everyone asks me if I’ll be at any more cons; I proudly tell them that my wife is pregnant, and that I’m a homebody for the foreseeable future. I thought I would be a little disappointed by this, but I feel absolutely okay with it. Home is my place. Cons – even ones that go well – still feel like weird and alien places for me.

According to a Facebook post made by Supanova on Tuesday night, around 34900 people visited Supanova over the course of the weekend. Huge numbers. By far the biggest con I’ve ever attended. Of that huge throng, I only like about fifty people. The ones who bought my books. They are the true elite, the 0.1 per cent, the ubermensch.

Monday Leaving, on a jet plane…

I wake up more than 10 hours after I went to sleep. Amazing. That’s twice as much sleep as I usually get. I must have been so wrecked.

Before I know it, I’m on my way home.

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Being home is great. I missed my wife and kids so much. Spending five days apart is harder than maybe it should be, but I’m okay with that.

Better than it being easy.

To the folks at Supanova who pulled some strings to make sure I could get a table on artist alley, thank you. To everyone who came out to see me over the weekend, thank you. To those people who have never heard of me, but who elected to stop and take a look at my books, thank you.

And to those few amazing people who took a gamble and handed over some of their hard-earned cash in exchange for the fruit of my creative labours, I thank you sincerely, and I genuinely hope you feel you got a good deal. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.

Undad

Shane’s most popular book is Undad, a comic miniseries focusing on the trials of being a suddenly undead family man.