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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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novels

Author profile: Øyvind Harding

I was browsing books in Outland Oslo, one of my favourite bookshops, when I discovered “Martian Dictator” by Øyvind Harding.

A Norwegian guy is writing sci-fi in English?! I have to meet him!

(As you probably know, I often interview people on Skype for my podcast–but I rarely get to meet authors in person.)

Well I got in touch with him through his website and it turned out that he didn’t live too far from Oslo city centre–so we met for a drink and a chat about writing and books.

Here’s what I learned about Øyvind:

  • He wakes up at half past five in the morning to get in his writing time, given that he’s currently working two jobs!
  • In a year he reads about 100 books a year, all science fiction in the last few years.
  • He recommends Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series, Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels and the work of Joe Abercrombie.
  • He’s very much in support of manned missions to Mars, but not so optimistic about what will happen the first time humanity gives it a shot (as his novel shows!) but he reckons we’ll crack it the second time (maybe :P)
  • His next book, The Smuggler, is due out at the end of the year. Here’s where you can read a free sample.

Check out Martian Dictator–and why not meet an author near you? 😛

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!!

Harsh truth 8 (of 8) for writers

People don’t take advice; they look for examples of what they want

Therefore you might argue that I’m just writing this for myself. I hope not. And I do thank you for reading.

Sobering truths are one of life’s most important components. How you respond to them determines how you will grow. And growth is the only justifiable option.

However, sobering truths are like the whole grains of your diet, or the cardio of a fitness routine. While perhaps healthy in moderation, if they’re all you consume, you’ll die.

So enough of all of this. You did well to get this far. And it counted as work, I promise you that.

I give you permission to watch 30 mins of silly YouTube videos—at least!

One last bonus harsh truth: Shun enforced breaks and silliness at your peril, writer friend of mine—for shunning fun will make you a worse writer, and, more importantly, a worse human.

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 6 (of 8) for writers

Networking is important, but it’s not the same as “improving as a writer”

It helps us writers to know each other. The world of writing is one that requires constant work to remain within. Networking with other writers is a way of doing that.

But, being friends with an exceptional writer is not the same as being as good as them. That’s like if you said, “I have Elon Musk’s email, therefore I will send a Tesla into space next week.”

I’m super proud of that analogy for the following reasons:

  • The weakness of the connection to Elon Musk.
  • For you to be successful, you’d have to do exactly the same thing he did.
  • The idea that repeating his exact actions would make it as big of a success the second time around. It’s like saying, “It’s not important that I do good, original work, only that the work is done by me.”
  • It completely disavows the hidden decades of hard work that might be necessary to accomplish something that appears simple on the surface.

I only heard of the guy a few years ago, by which point he was decades into a career as an entrepreneur. That’s much the same as many top writers I read about: they’ve published a few books but have been writing for many more years than I have.

We must respect all that hidden work. Almost every successful writer today has f**king earned it.

Saying you’re a writer today is to say that, despite the many many other people out there writing, and all the literature already available, you have something sufficiently original to say—and you are good enough at saying it—that your writing deserves to exist. Vertiginous af!

The act of submitting something for publication implies that the above is true, whether you’ve even thought about it. Don’t pretend you think your story’s worth a damn: you do think it. Act like it!

On the other hand, as big as this is to imply—regarding the originality and competence of your writing—that’s all you have to imply about it. Don’t let arrogance convince you that you’re way way more amazing than anyone else. No one has a guaranteed acceptance coming. If you think your amazingness as a writer protects you from that, you’ll fall hard, become bitter and angry and a dick of a person to be around.

It’s implied by the fact that you present yourself as a writer and submit pieces for publication that you know what the hell you’re talking about. The skill of your writing, and nothing else, will prove your worth as a writer. Listing shit you’ve read, or people you know, as if its equivalent to writing skill… ugh. Just do your damn job.

Again, it’s possible to do everything I’ve written about so far as a writer without understanding it. But quantifying things keeps you sane and improves your chances of doing something properly. Delusions make us unstable, make it anyone’s guess if we’re doing something properly or not.

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 Austin James!

Austin James is an author of obscure and uncomfortable fiction—Not “weird and uncomfortable” as I erroneously described it in the intro!

His latest book is The Drip-Drop Prophet and Other Stories, published by NihilismRevised.

We talk about genres, LItReactor and stealing ideas from yourself!

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

The Drip Drop Prophet and Other Stories

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 Greg F. Gifune!

Greg F. Gifune is the author of numerous short stories, several novels and two short story collections.

His latest books are:

  • “Dangerous Boys” out with Down & Out Books. It tells the story of a group of young punks, living in Bedford, Massachusetts, with nothing left to lose, and:
  • “A Winter Sleep”, out with Independent Legions Publishing. It’s a work of surreal dark fiction about haunted hotel on the outskirts of a forgotten town, where a bizarre group of tenants guard a horrible secret.

Be on the lookout also for the 15th anniversary edition of “The Bleeding Season” now out with Journalstone.

We talk about Massachusetts, the difficulty of writing and shiny happy people!

Dangerous Boys

A Winter Sleep

The Bleeding Season 15th Anniversary Edition

Twitter

Goodreads

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 David W Barbee!

David W Barbee writes bizarro fables full of dark monsters and strange maniacs, influenced by a deranged childhood diet of cartoons, comic books, and cult movies. He is the author of “Jimbo Yojimbo”, “Bacon Fried Bastard”, “The Night’s Neon Fangs”, “Thunderpussy” and the Wonderland award-nominated “A Town Called Suckhole.” His book “Tater Skinheads” is forthcoming from Bizarro Pulp Press.

We talk about redneck bizarro, world building, meeting your heroes and potato monsters!

“Jimbo Yojimbo” is here. Find him on TwitterGoodreadsAmazon.

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!

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