"I'm just going to write because I can't help it."- Charlotte Brontë

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

End of the Month Report: January 2012

Rejections: 5
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 7
New stories completed: 1 (The wuxia-steampunk one)
Mood: I'm actually enjoying this crazy gig lately.

Counting Unhatched Chickens

I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it. This morning, I received news that one of my big stories is being considered for publication. In. A. Pro. Mag. Possibly. Maybe. It all depends. You know the drill. I've been here before, and it didn't happen, so I shouldn't get my hopes up...

Nah, where's the fun in that? I think I'll go with the joyous flow, grin like a fool and do a happy dance or two.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pyjama Dreams

I've long dreamt of 'doing an Anne McCaffrey', meaning moving to Ireland, living in a castle, being a best-selling writer and having a stable full of horses, but now I've found another reason for heading to the Emerald Isle. Pyjamas!

In the newspaper on the way home, I read how a Dublin dole office has banned pyjama wearing by social welfare recipients and job seekers. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me because apparently pyjamas are common attire in inner-city Dublin. For people with no strong opinions about PJs, this fact might be of little interest. But me, I'm a jim-jam lover who would wear my jammies on the train, and all the way to and all day at the Arvo Job and then home again if I could get away with it. One of the best things about writing, I've always thought, is that you can sit as snug as a bug in a rug at home at your desk, comfortable beyond the dreams of mortal man, woman and child, and compose flights of fantasy in your beloved pyjamas. Jim-jams, I believe, put you in the writing zone almost as much as a purring cat on your lap does.

Okay, I know where the dole office is coming from, I really do, presentation, image, grooming and making a good impression being important and all of that, buuuut there's a part of me that also thinks the world would be a happier and more relaxed and creative and egalitarian place if more people wore their pyjamas whilst out and about on their daily business.

Hmmm, on the other hand, people being what they are, that just sounds like the foundation for a different kind of sartorial dogma.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

This inspires that inspires this inspires that...

We went to see Hugo today (in 2D, despite the 3D hoo-ha), Martin Scorsese's movie about the French pioneer filmmaker George Méliès , which is based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik. It was lovely. This movie is a long love letter to movies, books, imagination, storytelling, passion, magicians, artists of all shapes and sizes, cogs, clocks, appreciating history, following dreams, fixing stuff, and finding your place in the world. It thoroughly warmed the cockles of my writerly heart.

The funny thing was that every time the automaton appeared on the screen, I'd momentarily think about my own automaton short story, which is sitting and maturing and waiting for a good edit. Later, while looking for links for this post, I read that Brian Selznik added the automaton storyline to his novel after reading Edison's Eve, a chapter in Gaby Wood's book Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, which is the same fabulous book that inspired my own humble automaton tale, and which I mentioned in this post . And, although I hasten to add that I have no real proof whatsoever to support my theory, I suspect the first chapter of Gaby's book The Blood of an Android might also have inspired Peter Carey's latest novel The Chemistry of Tears, which draws on Jacques de Vaucanson's artificial duck, built in 1739, that waddled and ate food and possibly (the clockwork-people's jury is still out on this one) excreted. I know I was dying to write a story about Vaucanson's creations and what happened to them after reading Gaby's remarkable book.

There are, it would seem, many writers, and now movie makers as well, who owe Gaby Wood a debt of gratitude for all her research, and the inspiring way that she presented her fascinating material.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hide and Seek with Polly

The plan for today was to write a whole lot early this morning, bundle Polly off to the vet (see adjacent photo of said unhappy cat’s swollen face -it's an old injury that has taken to flaring up regularly) then come home and write a whole lot more to justify taking another day off from the Arvo Job (the opportunity for 4 days off in a row was just too good to pass). But Polly had other ideas, and she is, unfortunately, a terrific hider. Also, a wiry black cat in a darkish country house has a decided advantage over a near-sighted human even when she’s wearing her glasses and shining a torch into every nook and cranny.

So, I cancelled the vet visit, and my day went thus: write for an hour, look for Polly, write for an hour, look for Polly, write... You get the picture. Around 2pm, whilst tapping away at my keyboard, I detected the slightest sound from somewhere near the floor. The little ratbag was wedged between the desk’s back plate and the wall, tucked in behind my ergonomic foot rest, gleaming eyes turned to the wall. I’m sure I looked there earlier... I dragged her out, cleaned her up (the swelling had punctured and was oozing) called the vet, got another appointment, and off we went. It was 35 degrees outside, and I’d barely walked fifty meters when a lovely lady who said she was an animal lover insisted on giving me a lift right to the vet’s door in her cool car. That’s what I love about this town - people are just so sweet and helpful. Anyway, I had to fork out $96.30 for the little ratbag, so maybe I should have gone to the Arvo Job after all to top up my funds. Now comes the best part - I’ll have to torture her twice a day for the next week cleaning out smelly pus and giving her antibiotics. Nice!

I did also do 7 solid hours of writing in between it all. The SF werewolf story is done and polished (I'll submit it on Sunday), and I fiddled with a few other pieces. I also checked out a few markets. There's a steampunk Cthulhu anthology that looks like an interesting challenge, and the deadline is many months away. Something to ponder.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Big Hair Revisited

What better way to spend a sunshiny, summery public holiday (Australia Day) than holed up in a dark home cinema (not mine, unfortunately) with cheesecake, pastries and three sci-fi B-movies? Two of the films were old favourites from the 1980s that we hadn’t seen for decades. Would they stand the test of time?

First up was Millennium, a 1989 time travel movie based on the brilliant 1977 short story "Air Raid" by John Varley. Once I got over being distracted by the permed hair and padded shoulders paraded by all the women, I enjoyed the non-linear storytelling, the intelligent setup and the humorous dialogue sprinkled throughout the script. I wonder why it didn’t do better at the box office back when it was released. This time around, however, I was somewhat disturbed by the dubious morality and sudden selfishness displayed by the characters at the very end (though not as annoyed as the reviewer over at Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies). I still love Cheryl Ladd’s turn as the girl from the future negotiating a seduction in the past (YouTube clip here)

Next we watched Enemy Mine from 1985 (the sci-fi version of Hell in the Pacific) with Dennis Quaid as a human space pilot stranded on a crappy meteor-bombarded planet with an alien pilot played by Lou Gossett Jr. Lou’s sterling performance as the reptillian Drac is the beating heart of this movie, and it was a pleasure to watch him strut his stuff again.

Finally, there was Priest, a 2011 alternative history-wuxia-western-steampunk-post-apocalyptic action movie full of great stars like Paul Betthany, Maggie Q, Karl Urban and Christopher Plummer, which could have been really good if they’d only taken out a few of the rushing-into-dark-and-dangerous-places-without-a-plan scenes that just made the characters look really stoooopid and used that time more productively on explaining... No, I won’t go into my many gripes about the plot, politics and God’s participation, or lack thereof, in a conflict which abounds in crucifixes. It was entertaining enough B grade fare, and pretty to look at. It’s a pity though, coz I reckon this movie coulda been a contender.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spring in my Step

After the rush and satisfaction of making a deadline, I'm full of beans and in the mood for finishing and sending stuff, so I looked over all my WIPs on the way to the Arvo Job today and discovered that a couple of my almost-there stories are a lot less rough around the edges than I remembered. My SF werewolf story, for example, only needs a couple of paragraphs in the first half to finish it. I’ve been editing it on and off over the past few months, and lost track of the fact that it's pretty much ready to go. I’ll send it out into the world to howl for its supper this weekend. Then I’ll tackle the harpy story, and try to get her off and flapping by the end of the month.

This means I’ll have a vamp story, a harpy story, a werewolf story, and a tale with dragons out doing the rounds, along with 4 SF stories and 2 other fantasy stories. Given that I used to only write dark, serious, dystopian SF, this is a strange situation to find myself in (though the last two do contain SFish elements i.e. spaceships and “robots”) Still, it's good to try new styles and subjects. It keeps the writing fresh and fun.

And on the subject of dragons, Happy Spring Festival. I’m particularly fond of the Year of the Black Water Dragon for two reasons. Firstly, I get to post a picture of a dragon. Secondly, it represents a certain liberation for me. You see, after a lifetime of snickering and bad jokes because I was born in the year of one of the less charismatic animals in the Chinese horoscope's 12-year cycle, a few years ago I discovered that the day of my emergence in the particular year of my birth actually makes me, you guessed it, a black water dragon, albeit one born in the year of the truly blah, aforementioned unmentioned animal. Yay! I mean, black water dragon sounds so much more impressive than the other critter (which I'm blotting from my mind)

Given that the best thing about superstitions and horoscopes is that you get to pick and choose which bits you like and want to believe, I'm going with this legendary classification rather than the mundane other one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wuxia Awaaaay

It's done. Deadline accomplished. Now we wait and see.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wuxia Weekend

It's time to give that Wuxia/steampunk story a final going-over so I can make the deadline. I'll hit the keyboard as soon as I finish this post, and in between the visits and outings that are accumulating, I'll pat the dragons, ratchet the cogs, polish the brass handles, and make my characters do a few more push-ups.

The housework, I'm afraid, will just have to wait - a quick spit and wipe will have to suffice. No persnickety visitors will be allowed to cross my threshold this week!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Norwegian Goods

I'm just back from a double dose of Norwegian entertainment. There was lots of snow and blood. First up was The Troll Hunter, which made it abundantly clear to me that there just aren't enough troll movies out there. Initially, I thought the movie was going to be too much shaky cam with only teasing glimpses of the fairy tale creatures in question, but nope, it turned out to be a true troll documentary as well as an exciting adventure with comments on human nature and politics to boot.

After that, it was Nazi zombies tearing through snowfields and intestines in Dead Snow, all done with about as much good taste as a zombie movie can muster and great globs of disgusting humour. I'd seen this movie before at the Melbourne Film Festival a few years ago, but it was fun to watch again, or rather, to not watch, as I put my hands over my eyes whenever it got too scary or gory.

The crowds outside the theatre after this double feature were in a fine mood, laughing, joking, and bonding with strangers over brain spillage, blood spurting and beautiful Norwegian scenery. Honestly, there's nothing like an educational troll film and a good, wholesome zombie flick to bring people together.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Writing in circles

I'm a sucker for a good Venn Diagram, so I couldn't help filching this from Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog. He gives good writing advice, especially his 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right F*****g Now) post, which went viral. I've actually printed out that piece so I can use it to correct my course whenever I wander from my writerly path. But beware, his language is not for the faint-hearted. Really. Truly. I'm not kidding. I don't mind, but some might.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Not Drowning, Writing

Lately, I'm writing like an Olympic gold medalist swimmer doing laps*. As per usual, the more I write, the more ideas I get, the more enthusiastic I am about hitting the keyboard each morning before and on the way to the Arvo Job, the more energetic I feel, and the happier I am.

So why can't it be like this all the time? **

* I know - I've used this simile before. It's a fave of mine.
** I know, I know - if it were easy, everyone would do it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Onwards to one thousand?

This is my five hundred and first post. Given that when I tentatively started this blog back in January 2010, I didn't think I'd make it to February 2010, that's not bad. Since it looks like something I'll keep doing for the foreseeable future, I've been wondering whether I should, you know, redecorate it. Make it spiffier. Get in a consultant and a colour coordinator. Something to think about.

Anyway, to mark the occasion, let me share some news that's making me go tee hee with quiet glee. Go take a look at the cover art for the upcoming anthology Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. See a familiar name there amongst those impressive others? Tee hee. And one of the stories mentioned on the back cover is mine. Tee hee. I'm actually a bit flummoxed. Happy, but flummoxed.

Now that's a nice start to the week. :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

God Spede the Sub

My first submission for 2012 is off and away, and yes, it's my one and only vamp story.

Be strong out there in the big wide world, little story, weather the slings and arrows, keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and stay the course etc etc etc. All that I ask of you is that you do your very best.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Funny Friday Refusal

I just, a few moments ago in fact, received a Traditional Friday Night Rejection, but one that was different in that it amused me. My one and only vamp story, which is still doing the rounds because I believe in it, though well received, was passed over because the Editor-in-Chief doesn't like vampires (and who can blame him/her in these hyper-vamped times?) The editor who broke the bad news somewhat dolefully labelled it 'undeadism'.

Ah, ya gotta larrff.

Anyway, I'm not too upset about this rejection (it was a long shot, I knew that going in) because I already have another market lined up - an undead friendly and vamp positive anthology that I'm absolutely certain will take it...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crouching Writer, Hidden Ending

My steampunk/wuxia story is getting there. I'm rather pleased with it. I was having a problem winding it up (too much fun with those dragons, steampunk weapons and demon battles led to an excessive word count and much meandering away from the pure path of my original objective) but this morning on the train on the way to the Arvo Job, I ruthlessly obliterated indulgent scenes with the deftly executed keystrokes of a highly trained word warrior, even though they were pretty cool if I may say so myself, disciplined the story with a good caning and a few hundred push ups with boulders resting on its back, and finally came up with an ending that satisfied me. A political subplot was introduced. Say no more.

Horse power

Over the past few days, there have been many photos of the newly installed Super-Duper Leader Mark Two of a certain Asian country that recently lost a much beloved despot and which remains somewhat challenged when it comes to citizens’ rights. Said Super-Duper Leader Mark Two has been snapped climbing out of tanks, holding machine guns, and inducing hysterics in common folk with a single glance.

The photo that caught my attention, however, was the one of SDLM2 astride a horse which was constantly referred to as ‘a nervous-looking grey’. My first thought was a knee-jerk one along the lines of ‘You think?’ Then I realised that for a seemingly simple phrase, it was actually quite a cunningly constructed piece of biased reporting. As if the horse in the photo has any idea that the lump on its back might have it taken out behind the shed and shot if it doesn’t perform to standard. Its nervousness, if indeed it is nervous, has nothing to do with human politics. Said SDLM2 might be throwing his weight around and tugging the reins and sending conflicting instructions to his mount. The pair of them might be surrounded by crowds of extremely anxious people worried that the SDLM2 might fall off the horse and be injured. Or look like a fool. Or shoot them along with the horse because he was injured / looked like a fool. That amount of human fear would be enough to make any horse agitated.

However, I’m betting that it’s only the Western media that described the horse as nervous-looking. I’d say that in SDLM2’s own country, the head-tossing steed is probably referred to as ‘spirited’ and ‘noble’. The horse is still a powerful symbol of manliness and authority in many countries, which is no doubt why the message people felt the need to trot one out along with the tanks. For added punch, white/grey horses are an important part of many Asian and European mythologies, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that the grey horse in question already has a mystical “backstory” along the lines of it being a once-wild creature that wandered in off the plains and knelt down in obeisance and love before SDLM2.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Horse poop

Aaah, there's nothing quite like the first rejection of a brand new year. My SF-pony story was nicely turned down (strong story but didn't quite fit with their vision for the anthology) Drats! What the heck am I going to do with it now? This reminds me why I last year made a vow to not start new stories from scratch specifically for obscure anthologies, unless of course they peak my interest, like the steampunk/wuxia anthology, or pose a fun challenge, like the SF-pony anthology...

In other news de merde, the holidays are definitely over now, so it was back to the Arvo Job today. At about 16.00, I seriously started missing my Xmas swing and this:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Regency a go-go

Ever since parlance left a comment here a few weeks ago about Georgette Heyer, I'm bumping into her everywhere (Georgette, not parlance). She's cropped up in multiple conversations, suddenly appeared on bookshelves, and in this morning's Age, there's a review about Jennifer Kloester's book Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller. Then, just now over at Lair of the Evil Drs Brain, where Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter interview China Miéville, up she pops again, this time in the extremely pertinent question "Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen?" According to the Evil Drs Brain, he chooses the right answer.

Putting on my magical-thinking / scavenging-random-input-for-a-story hat, I'm wondering if I should write a Regency novel set on a rocketship (although I'm pretty sure it's already been done) with arisocrats, aliens, snuff boxes and snorting space steeds. Hmmm.

Anyway, onwards to my next GH encounter, and my keyboard. It's a lovely, rainy morning, perfect for writing on this, the last day of my holidays *sniff*.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Equine Odyssey

We saw War Horse today. WARNING - spoilers ahead.

So it was out with the old way of trampling folk underhoof on glossy steeds and slaughtering folk with shiny sabres...

...and in with the new way of crushing people with dirty tanks and shredding them with machine guns.

The war scenes were harrowing, and I was glad to read this piece about how all the horse and battlefield stunts were done, especially those involving barbed wire.

However, as a fan of the book by Michael Morpurgo, I found it enormously irritating that the boy's family was cleaned up and made Disney-nice at the beginning. Given that it was a movie about the horrors and cruelty of mass warfare versus individual decency, I also thought the use of the father's regimental pendant glorified war in a way that was contrary to the general message. I realise that handing over this symbol of a past war and the father-son handshake at the end, one soldier to another, was all about 'now you understand what I went through, son', but to me it also had uncomfortable overtones of that 'and war has made a Man of you' bilge that helps to perpetuate the notion of war as a character building experience for young men. And the film ends right there, with that message.

In the book, Albert goes back to the family farm with his horse, marries, and puts the war completely behind him rather that dwelling upon it, embodying the very virtues of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 BC – 430 BC) who fought when he had to, but preferred his plow to the battlefield. The handshake at the end of War Horse, and the cinematography which so blatantly evokes Gone with the Wind, seems to give back to the concept of war a sense of nobility and honour that the film spent 2 hours (sort of) dismantling.

Ah well, perhaps I'm reading too much into it. I wonder what T.S. Elliott and Siegfried Sassoon would have made of it all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Your mission

Accept this challenge over at the Book View Cafe - Why Science Fiction Stories are Really Hard to Write. Get set. Go!

Now I'm going to squeeze a couple more hours of working on a fantasy story with a soupçon of SF that's been sitting for about 6 months waiting for a good edit. I've got a market for it in mind that will be reading submissions again in February.

Aaah, I can feel my holidays dribbling away like sand between my fingers, but I'm trying not to think about it. Why contaminate my last two days with thoughts of train catching and scurrying about?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I had a Lynne Truss moment...

...when I spotted this on my evening walk:

But then I told myself off. One has to look beyond the punctuation and spelling, and read the underlying message. Having been on the pointy end of the gentrification stick myself (yes, I'm looking at you St. Kilda) I feel the greatest sympathy for those upset by the present population displacements.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sci-Fi in the City

Yesterday was another all-dayer in Melbourne. We went to see the Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, billed as combining scientific and documentary footage with feature films and video artwork, the Star Voyager exhibition celebrates an enduring fascination with space travel through the imaginations of artists, scientists and astronauts. What with it being the holidays, we took our time peering at the NASA artefacts, pondering the hi tech installation art, marvelling over early recordings of the Transit of Venus which included Captain Cook’s diary entry of the event (what exquisite handwriting! We lost something beautiful there when we took up ballpoints, keyboards and rushing around) donned spectacles and went on a 3D “journey” to Mars where we watched a very cute rover make its lonely way across the vast plains, and laughed at the letters exchanged by Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick as they inched towards their famous collaboration.

There's nothing like watching old science fiction movies and spotting things that have influenced modern film makers (or they've posssibly blatantly ripped off these old/foreign/obscure sources) My favourites were: Yakov Protazanov’s 1924 film ‘Aelita, Queen of Mars’, based on the novel by Alexei Tolstoy and starring Yuliya Solntseva in the title role, because of its great sets and costumes – I mean, just look at that headdress - and the stunning way many of the scenes were shot; Pavel Vladimirovich Klushantsev’s famous 1957 science fact - science fiction documentary hybrid The Road to the Stars because of its amazing special effects, and the fact that it charmingly wears its scientific heart on its sleeve; and as a sentimental third, I’ll include the Danish SF silent movie from 1918 called ‘Himmleskibet’ or 'The Heaven Ship', despite the overwrought acting of the main characters and the embarrassingly Grecian neophytes madly swanning about on the red planet.

As you can see, the good ship Excelsior is indeed a wonder of futuristic engineering. If you want a peek at the movie, there are plenty of scenes from it at this great site.

Afterwards, we headed for a modern cinema and saw Lars Von Trier’s movie Melancholia. I always enjoy a good colliding worlds story, and it made for a nice change that Melancholia didn’t deal with panicked mobs, overwrought generals and cowardly politicians, but pared the scenario down to two sisters dealing with the all consuming effects of living with a mental illness and the poetically-wrought truth that the universe doesn’t give a hoot about our insignificant lives and problems. It also illustrates a trend currently prevalent in television and literary fiction, namely incorporating the trappings and tropes of genre fiction into so-called (don’t get me started) mainstream works. Personally I’m all for cross-pollination and the vigour it produces, but eavesdropping of a few of our fellow viewers revealed that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. As SF goes, the idea of colliding of worlds is a straightforward and quite serious premise/metaphor, but many in our audience boorishly voiced their confusion and opined that it was all a bit silly.

Poor them. They need to vary their intellectual intake, and expand their somewhat limited and exceedingly unimaginative horizons, methinks.

Monday, January 2, 2012

His name was...

Bob Anderson, and if you thrilled to the swordplay of Darth Vader, Aragorn, Inigo Montoya and Dread Pirate Roberts, then you knew him well.

The Princess Bride, Highlander, The Lord of the Rings (apparently he read LOTR and then developed different sparring techniques for each culture based on Tolkien’s descriptions of them - that's the kind of perfectionism that separates the true genius from the 'this'll-do' people) Pirates of the Caribbean, the original Star Wars trilogy - where would those films have been without his unique skills? And before that, he put the derring in Errol Flynn's considerable do. As a grateful movie audience, let's all put our hands together now in applause. Thank you, Bob.

You can link to The Princess Bride fight scene, and Viggo talking about this legendary sword master, medieval weapons expert, fight choreographer, and stunt performer here.

Swashbuckle in Peace.

Bob Anderson


Sunday, January 1, 2012

When life gives you plums...

I really should learn how to make jam.

Well halloooo there, 2012.

I'm going to kick start 2012 by making the first day of this fresh, new year a writing day. My goal is to finish that steampunk/wuxia story so it can simmer for a week before I pull it apart again.

Also, I got an idea this morning for shaking things up - a strictly no pressure writing project that will nonetheless involve daily, or at least regular input; which must throughout the year continue to entertain me and make me laugh during the grind of non-holiday life or I'll ditch it because it then no longer serves its purpose of reminding me that writing should also be fun; which will be quite ritualised and involve an impressive piece of stationary that I've been holding onto for about 6 years (it was found by someone else in a dumpster at the Arvo Job, which just proves that some people have no idea when it comes to the magic inherent in big, bound volumes, and then given to me, which makes it even more special) and which should, by year's end, provide me with enough material for a more disciplined sit-down-and-write session in 2013.

I also have other, time-to-question-the-safe-daily-rut-and-make-some-serious-decisions kind of plans for the months ahead, but then who doesn't on 1st January? (and here's wishing you all well with your own goals) After all, the whole point of arbitrarily slicing and dicing Time into measurable units is so that we humans can schedule ourselves into a corner and precisely gauge our individual worthiness according to milestones set by self-appointed authorities on the subject of what constitutes a Successful Life. Or not. :) Anyway, by my own considered opinion, and I'm not a rash person, it's time to put on my brave hat.

So, come on in and pull up a bar stool, 2012. Let's see what sort of a year you are.