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Leo X. Robertson

News of my latest publications, events, and episodes of the Losing the Plot podcast!

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New story up at AntipodeanSF!

Hey all!

Here’s a new story from me up at AntipodeanSF—it’s called “The Headphones of Damocles” and is inspired by all my business trips from Oslo airport, seeing all the identically dressed men wearing wireless headphones.

It appeared late last year, and they did email me about it? But I thought only to let me know that some of my podcast narrations of other people’s stories were soon live—didn’t realise mine was also, haha!

Oh well. Here it is now. Enjoy!

All of the news!

As is so common in the writing world, nothing happens for a long time and then loads happens at once.

Here’s what I’ve been up to of late:

  • I was on the Horror with Marchese & Buller podcast
  • I woke up at 04:30 this morning to appear on the Deadman’s Tome podcast. Which explains why we talked about moon Jedis, Scandinavian hallucinogenic mushrooms and washing feet, among other things!
  • (On both these podcasts, we discuss my upcoming release, Jesus of Scumburg [Hindered Souls Press, Dec 25th 2018])
  • Steve Pool interviewed me on my own podcast, Losing the Plot! It was his much-appreciated suggestion, and we had an interesting chat thanks to his efforts and well-considered questions.
  • Kendall Reviews will feature an interview with me some time this week (no sign yet, but I’ll post about it when there is. Do check out the site in the meantime!)
  • Unnerving and Deadman’s Tome had sales recently, which I’ve tweeted about etc. before, though I think they’ve ended now. Still, as good a time as any to check out the content from these great publishers!
  • The Anti-Austerity anthology, which I had a piece in with many other talented writers, reached #4 on Amazon for fiction anthologies. And Penguin-published author Kit de Waal bought a copy too.

I’m somewhat keen to reassure the writers reading this that news comes and goes in waves, and that I’ve been quietly writing and submitting and chatting to folk for months nay years to make this kinda stuff transpire. But the main point of the post is, 1) Check out all this great stuff and support these cool people, and 2) This is far from the last you’ll hear of me 😀

A quality checklist for writers

I’ve read a lot of fiction, written a lot of it too, and I’ve also given/conducted podcast interviews.

As a result of these endeavours, I came up with a checklist to identify areas in which I can improve. I thought you’d find it useful too!

  1. Is this entertaining/interesting? If not, what purpose does it serve? (I don’t know if there is another valid purpose, but I doubt it!)
  2. Am I expressing what I truly believe or is it rather what I want to be read/heard stating that I believe? (Often different.)
  3. And to that end, if I find myself giving impassioned exhortations about global/social issues, how much of a personal stake do I have in these debates? Have I any real-world examples of when this issue affected me, or am I just setting up straw men—in someone else’s battleground?

Here’s an example: look at most of that Count Dankula guy’s videos.

He became embroiled in a free speech argument that’s super important—but as for his content, so much of it is riding trends rather than original opinions. In which case, what does he add to any of these conversations but their regurgitation in a Scottish accent? Is that really how he’s supposed to use his time? Is that the best he can do?

Or look at this video by (conservative vlogger?) Theryn Meyer, where she has realised the consequences, for her soul and that of others, of bandwagon-riding.

The point is: What is bothering YOU, not someone else? What is closest to home?

The idea, of formulating your own opinions and observing your environment (starting locally) with scrutiny, is daunting—but exactly how else would you describe your task?

  1. Am I outright stating something I read elsewhere? In which case I should cite the reference, unless I have added something to it or rephrased it in a way that I would express. If you don’t have your own way of adding to a particular conversation, that’s okay—life is so big, and we’re all learning always—as long as you admit it. In other words: Whereof I cannot speak, thereof am I silent? (Wittgenstein 😉 )
  2. To that end, on occasions when I am implored to offer a comment on a particular issue, do I find myself resorting to the same arguments from a small number of books I read/things I heard too long ago? These are then the most pressing areas of weakness to work on next (if they are also areas of interest.)
  3. Am I capable of writing as if no one is reading/ speaking as if no one is listening? In other words, can I face/present pure ME?!

If this seems odd, or even scary, here’s the caveat: The inherent bias here, if you can call it that, is my interest in you and your work—not in what anyone else wants you/your work to be. Not even what I would want it to be, but what it actually IS.

I unashamedly hope you develop in yourself sensors that pick up when any of these questions are relevant. Ask them and rectify any instance wherever the answer doesn’t satisfy you.

I hope the benefit to your immortal soul is so great that it trumps your desire to satisfy the demands of a large audience or market forces.

Here’s an example of that:

Charlie Kaufman is an unabashed favourite of mine.

(Before I continue, we can use this admission as an example of how to comply to the checklist: “How does this standard white guy choice represent YOU, Leo? Aren’t you violating your own rules?”

To that I would answer: I will risk being seen as cliché because I’m assured of how his work relates to me personally—therefore maybe it doesn’t outwardly appear a non-cliched choice but it meets my own criteria, so I’m satisfied and that’s fine. Plus, he’s part of a healthy artistic diet of others, a mix from a sufficiently large pool, which looks like no one else’s.

That’s all I’m asking you to think about with this checklist. Maybe you won’t end up changing anything about your speech/writing etc. You probably won’t in most instances—even so, an internal quality check will make you/your work/your assertions stronger.)

Anyway, his last film, “Anomalisa”, didn’t make its money back—which doesn’t surprise me too much, unfortunately. By most standards, it’s weird and dark and perhaps too depressing. Even so, what you can say about that film and few others is, “I’ve never experienced that before and now I can’t get it out my head.”

Off the top of my head, here are some other writers who, appear to fulfil these criteria: Sheila Heti, Clarice Lispector, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov. I could go on and on and on! But whatever you might want to say about them, what they all have in common is that I know their names and they were at the forefront of my brain when pressed for the names of originals.

And that’s what I want for you—because that’s what you’re supposed to be.

I’ve said this before: if your goal as a writer, as a human being, is to be the next Stephen King, get in line. Your ticket is #20345. (With ticket #1? Stephen King himself. He’s still the current Stephen King. With ticket #2 is his son, and both of them combined are far more than enough for most.)

If it’s to be the next Stephen King meets—I don’t know, Tom Clancy: congratulations! Your place is now #1023.

If you want to be the first you, your ticket number is #1. Thank God you’re here! We’ve been waiting for you! Right this way. I hope you weren’t too difficult to find…

Write in your own vein. EXIST in your own vein. Strip away anxiety and futility as you push yourself towards uniqueness, towards a place of zero competition.

Good luck!!

New Losing the Plot, with Cameron Mount (Broadswords and Blasters)!

Cameron Mount is a traditional literary poet with a taste for speculative fiction. He and author Matthew Gomez edit Broadswords & Blasters, “A pulp magazine with modern sensibilities.”

We talk about the content Broadswords & Blasters is looking for, pulp in the postmodern era, and L Ron Hubbard!

Broadswords & Blasters site

Facebook

Twitter

Latest issue of B&B

Cameron’s site

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new album out! Check out “MARS HALL” at Captain Crook Records!

Harsh truth 7 (of 8) for writers

You must slough off baddies

Networking is important. Networking with everyone is impossible and, quite frankly, a destructive thing to try.

It is your duty to stay away from people who are doing you no good. You know who they are. You might’ve had some in your life that you shed already. Great.

If you stick around with someone who makes you feel bad because you think they offer you something of value, you’re wrong. All they’re offering you is bad feels. By keeping them around, you are telling yourself, and the world, that this is what you deserve. By shedding yourself of them, you’re saying that you are worth better.

Freeing up your time, for the potential of having it filled by someone better for you, is so much more important than keeping someone worse for you around. And, my God, someone else will fill that time for sure! There are no shortage of people about!

If you like the people you associate with, fantastic. If you don’t, you need to spin that networking wheel again and hope you land on someone better.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

Harsh truth 4 (of 8) for writers

You can’t do everything at once

I’ve thrown some daunting-ass figures at you, and perhaps muddied the water of what exactly your task is as an author.

Here is a short example of how I better identified/quantified my task as a writer.

I’ve become interested in science fiction of late, though it’s the genre that I find the toughest to write in. I’ve just never been sure exactly how much science I’m supposed to know, or use, or how realistic my stories are supposed to be.

Is the reader to believe this is possible, or are they happy for a non-existent premise if it reveals something new about the human condition?

(It’s a spectrum, is the answer—but I had limited knowledge of what that spectrum looked like!)

I started off by reading The Best Science Fiction of the Year. As I did, I thought about films and books I’d read growing up, and realised that my favourite type of science fiction was near-future, on Earth, and soft: Ballard, Lem, Clarke, Dick, Le Guin, Ellison, Delany.

(Very straight white American and male for sure, but we are talking the history of sci-fi lit…)

Having figured this out, I Googled “What life will look like in the year 2040.”

Surprise surprise, I’m far from the first person to have wanted to know the answer to this. There are whole societies dedicated to predicting technological advances and the like. They’re also willing to explain, through articles and videos, how these new concepts would work.

Finally, the more science fiction I read, the more I noticed technologies and concepts repeated by authors, and even between authors. They borrowed ideas from themselves and one another!

To summarize what I learned, then:

  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every kind of future—rather, to imagine a particular type.
  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every new technology that appears in the world or is made use of. Given the wealth of science fiction stories out there, of every variety, it’s very unlikely that I would even be able to do this, or have to. Rather, focusing on a small subset of technologies and how they influence the world (number depending on story length—one is fine for a short story), and introducing the rest as “window dressing” for world-building purposes, is the best way to go.
  • It isn’t my task when writing in any genre to even know how to explain that genre to someone else. Each original story, if it’s any good, will sufficiently redefine the genre that it works in. That takes a strong authorial voice, which knows its shit, demonstrates a wide breadth of reading. But not all-encompassing, because that’s impossible.

Somehow I wanted my task to be tougher than it is. In my weakest moments, I have a predilection for unnecessary suffering (nothing more pointless or less brave.)

It was/remains important for my own writing that I define the curriculum I use to learn what I want and need to know. Writers are much like PhD students in that respect—just as lacking in reward for our daily work, except with less chance of achieving something at the end.

I still need to be imaginative, of course—but not quite as imaginative as I thought I had to. Had I embarked upon the task without having done my research, it would’ve been more painful, and I would have been incorrect about how inventive I had been.

Writing to some extent is constant improvisation. It’s “Yes, and”—ing the material that already exists. To pretend otherwise is to be deliberately uninformed. The existing body of literature doesn’t go away just because you pretend it will.

This idea of using pre-existing conventions applies to literature in many other ways. For example, read litmags and you will find a plethora of three-act structured stories, list-based stories, multiple choice stories and, on occasion, those that seem to proceed with entirely their own logic. (Like “The Metal Bowl” by Miranda July. She’s clearly a genius.)

There are many, many successful writers out there who never deviate from traditional story structures. You might think that’s safe of them, but it can be just as tough to adhere to a traditional structure as it is to use one of your own

Dan Harmon, co-creator of Rick and Morty, uses his own narrative model that he created from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell formulated the hero’s journey narrative from his extensive research into mythologies from around the globe. The reason people keep using these structures is because they work. (Traditional structure is not the same as predictable. Or maybe the predictability of form is advised where wilder content is to be presented. Rick and Morty’s pretty wild, right?)

Decisions in writing, and life incidentally, are like a set of principles: there are actions that, if taken, will work over 90% of the time. That means you will mostly find yourself using them, but not always. But if you don’t use them, you need a reason not to.

You may know what that reason is or you may not. If you don’t, you’re rolling the dice and saying “I will implement Choice 4 here!” Where a master of the craft, in the same scenario, might say, “Based on my extensive storytelling skillset, I have devised that Choice 4 is the best way to proceed here.”

(You and the master came to the same conclusion in this example—but you got lucky! The odds are against you, and not her, next time!)

I’ve come very close to getting into exclusive mags a handful of times. But even when I submitted something else to the same mags, there was never a guarantee that the next story would fare as well. (Quite the opposite in most cases!) That may mean subjectivity blah blah, but what it probably means is, I haven’t always known what I did right.

Over time, I’ve accrued more acceptances and more rejections with added “please think of us for your next story.” I’ve been rolling the dice less and using my skillset more. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever necessarily be published by any particular venue, but it does mean I’m maximizing my chances of that happening.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

 

Harsh truth 2 (of 8) for writers

Other people are doing this

As you’re reading this, someone is writing right now. They may be finishing a novel they’ve worked on for 10 years that is about to blow the world apart. And maybe you’ve never even written a full poem yet!

Maybe you weren’t thinking about this. If you are now, somehow it still doesn’t bother you.

Good! It shouldn’t.

All but one person is a lesser writer than the best writer. They all do it anyway. That’s true for, by our calculations last time, 100 – 0.00004 = 99.99996 % of authors who aren’t George Saunders. (As we go, it’s becoming more absurd, I hope, the notion of there being a “best writer.”)

And that’s in terms of writing quality. If it’s to do with money made as an author, imagine how small a percentage that puts JK Rowling or Stephen King into. It’s very, very likely you will never accrue the wealth or fame that they have. It’s legitimately like winning the lottery.

You don’t act as if you’re going to get struck by lightning seven times every day, so you shouldn’t act as if you will never be happy unless you become that rich or famous. Rowling has more money than any other author has ever had in the history of time!

Something else drives writers.

One of the reasons is of course that they’re all writing different things. There is space for them! But surely even the top writers pray their favourite writers don’t attempt to write about the same subjects as them. (Sometimes.)

There is, however, a more comforting way to explain why you should keep writing.

Authors are inclined to give reasons for their drive, but I think the question is too big for them.

“Questions that are too big” are a thing I’ve thought about a lot recently. Sometimes when I get into discussions/arguments with people, they’ll throw these types of questions at me: “Okay, Leo, well if you believe I should take my feet off the table in polite company, can you explain to me how we know the table even exists? If you can’t, how can you prove I even did what you’ve accused me of in the first place? Gotcha!!”

I believe when a question is clearly too big (or evidently impractical), we’re absolved from having to answer it. We may give our answer on occasion, acknowledging that it may not be anyone else’s answer. But we can may choose to redirect our energies elsewhere, or reduce the scope of the problem that we’ll set about solving.

“Okay, maybe I can set about proving that the table exists later, but in the meantime, I’d appreciate it if, in mixed company, you keep your feet off the object that we, for all intents and purposes assume is there, and which we refer to as a table, while the pope is over for lunch!”

People write and they don’t know why. It’s so much bigger than them that they can’t explain it. All writers do, even in entire lifetimes, is chip off but a fraction of the block of the unknown, or of imagination’s infinite potential. It’s a compulsion, but a healthy one, and doesn’t really need to be questioned.

Something else drives writers, and they don’t even need to worry about what it is. The question—much like the literary world—is just too big for any one person to have much of a grasp upon it.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

New Losing the Plot, with Erin Al-Mehairi!

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is a writer, a journalist, a publicist, and an editor among many other things. She has an excellent collection of dark poetry and fiction out with Unnerving called “Breathe.Breathe”, and does marketing and publicity for Sinister Grin Press.

Amongst other things we talk about trauma, diversity and the fear of catching feels.

“Breathe.Breathe.” is here.

We both have stories in Unnerving’s excellent “Hardened Hearts” anthology!

Erin’s website.

Find her on Twitter.

On Goodreads.

On Amazon.

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new album out! Check out “MARS HALL” at Captain Crook Records!

New Losing the Plot, with William Meikle!

William Meikle is a Scottish author who lives in Canada. He has twenty-five novels and over 300 short stories published! Can you believe it? Well, we had a chat and I can confirm he is a real human.

Amongst other things, we talk about reading the classics, cuddly isopods and Gerard Butler.

His latest books:

Infestation” (Severed Press)

Operation Antarctica” (Severed Press)

The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror” (Crystal Lake Publishing)

(Not “The Victorian Ghost Club” as I kept calling it, sorry!)

I Am The Abyss” (novellas by Meikle and others) (Dark Regions Press)

Meikle’s website

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

And by the way, Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new album out! Check out “MARS HALL” at Captain Crook Records!

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