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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

End of the Month Report: February 2012

Submissions:8 (3 of these were the same story)
Rejections: 3 (2 were for the aforementioned unloved story)
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 12
New stories completed:3
Mood: After weeks of whizzing along, I'm not happy with the recent slowdown. I know I can't keep firing on all four cylinders all of the time, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Cooking with Gas

Ha! Take that, you skeptical utility people on the phone who none too subtly implied that perhaps I'd inadvertently turned off my own gas supply, and that I didn't know how to follow their instructions about checking whether the thingamajig on the whatsit was on or off!

First I had a man pull apart the whole whatsit out in the front yard. Then he announced that it was a Real Problem, pulled out his phone and called in the big boys with their impressive trucks and noisy pumps and stuff, who turned up not long after. It seems flooding from all the rain that fell two nights ago while I was at the Arvo Job had cut off the gas supply from the street. Strangely enough, my young neighbours converged on the excitement and announced that they were also without gas. Given that they're home a lot more than I am, why didn't they get the ball rolling with the big boys with the impressive trucks?

Anyhoo, the two mud-caked blokes were kind enough to come around the back and get my hot water system going again afterwards. The chook, who has hung around all day cosying up to the cats and clucking with pleasure at my every appearance (it's nice to be appreciated, even if it is only for the goodies I toss her way), amused the blokes by loudly squawking her displeasure at the disruption. It was cute, but I wish she'd get over the idea that she's welcome in the house.

In between all this, I was on the phone with other helpful and unhelpful folk, an automatic voice recognition system that refused to recognise my first name or even the spelling of it (obviously not an international version) and doing stuff online, and managed to tick off everything on my list, more or less - some things were set in motion rather than completed. Now I'll reward myself for dealing with another country-living adventure (Falling trees! Floods! Fires! Mad chooks!) by heading off for an evening of readings and chatting at the new local centre for writers, which seems to be getting very organised.


I'm not on a train right now, I'm at home in my jammies on a scheduled day off from the Arvo Job. Life is cluttered with old undone tasks that are niggling me and new "challenges" that need to be sorted out. Having no gas after our latest storm-weather adventures up this way is one of the more prosaic problems. Anyway, I have A List of Ten Things to Tick Off, which must be done before the sun goes down, so I'd better get a move on.

However, whilst online in an effort to tick off another one of those ten boxes, I couldn't resist an indulgent sidestep and came across this piece over the the Book View Cafe about writing groups, as in the danger of getting too comfortable, and members of the group writing for one another rather than a larger audience. It strikes an important chord. There's no doubt that workshops and writing groups can be a great help, but like all things that involve ideas, other people's emotional baggage and strength of character, and navigating the turbulent waters of more than one person's agenda, if you're not careful, primal monkey instincts can kick in to the detriment of the very work you're trying to improve.

Developing a group-think is, I must admit, one of the things I've become increasingly wary of, and of which I do see signs of throughout the industry. It's not nefarious, not part of a deliberate scheme to dominate the world, just what happens when people with similar tastes drift closer together, enjoy each other's company and support each other's efforts, help their mates, compromise to keep things happy in their little writing bubble, reinforce each other's sameness, and eventually put aside the inclination to shake things up every now and then. It's about losing the ability to strike out contrary to the troop.

Writing groups are good, writing groups can be fun, and critiquing is often immensely helpful, but remaining conscious of your own actions and thoughts and motives within the group is vitally important. We are, after all, supposed to be the purveyors of revolutionary ideas, acute social observations and derring-do. It's only when the group asks you to conform and you reflexively oblige that the creep towards blandness begins.

Monday, February 27, 2012

That's What Puddles Are For.

There was a boy holding his mother's hand. There was an ever so shallow pool of water on the train station platform. There was a group of fifty something year old adults chatting nearby. The boy was walking alongside his mother in his wonderfully waterproof shoes. He saw the puddle in his path. His eyes lit up. I could see it coming, and yes, he jumped high with a huge grin on his face. Both feet slammed into the puddle at the same time. Water sprayed. Not much at all, believe me, but the nearby adults got upset over the few drops that hit them. And this on a day of bucketing rain, people. The boy’s mother apologised. The adults kept moaning. The phrase ‘horrible boy’ was used. They were still muttering when the train pulled in.

Of course the boy was naughty, and sure he should have shown consideration for those nearby, but I submit that it is not reasonable to expect a child of under six to resist the siren call of a puddle. What boy or girl could possibly override the impulse to make a splash when a puddle so conveniently presents itself and practically invites you to jump into it?

And how sad that people who were once puddle-loving children themselves turn into a fusty old farts who mistake playful spontaneity for an act of premeditated evil.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oh look, it's official.

4th Quarter Standings for the Writers of the Future Contest

And there's me amongst the semi-finalists. :)

Many Writerly Rivers to Cross

Today was sort of set aside as a catch-up-with-myself day, which the non-writing part of me has hitherto seized with both hands. I slept in even longer than I planned to after shushing the alarm clock this morning and turning over for another snooze. When I finally got up, I enjoyed a gigantic, no-rush wake-up pot of tea and a leisurely read of some lightweight froth that I can’t even remember now. Prolonged dawdling about in jammies trying to formulate a rudimentary plan for the rest of today then ensued, and this massive effort was followed by a long brekkie in the backyard and lots of staring at the garden and the sky. All of this was much needed after yesterday’s workshop. Not that the course was exhausting – it was the 6th day of commuting to Melbourne and back that kicked in, and a sense of displacement that needed to be banished with a good spend-time-at-home grounding.

Yesterday’s workshop was the usual first session, half-muddled experience of many strangers getting to know each other, people from all walks of life measuring their writing experience against each other and trying to figure out where they fitted in, and different dreamers at different stages of their career or hobby nutting out an agreement as to how we should proceed with the critiquing. It’s an incredibly varied group ranging from total beginners to writers with pro sales and many publications under their belts, so it’ll be interesting to see how we negotiate the needs of the many. I look forward to getting to know these people. As per usual, however, what happens at the workshop stays at the workshop.

The course provided me with a valuable yardstick for sussing out my own place in the minor scheme of things. I’m still reticent until I get to know people, but nothing like the shy and insecure mess I was a 4-5 years ago when I started out on these workshops with a 2-day Sean William's course. I used to hate public critiquing of my work – I took it WAY too personally, and foolishly believed that everyone else was a better judge of my work that I was - but I knew I had to make myself go to these workshops and toughen up or I’d never survive the business of writing. And it seems to have paid off. Compared with some of the very nervous newbies there yesterday, I felt like a veritable workshop war veteran. I know I won’t be at all bothered if some, or even all of them, shred my work, but most of of the newbies, I fear, have yet to live through the trials of not being hailed as a genius by every other person on the planet. It can be a tortuous experience.

This sense of being an old hand was reinforced by the fact that Steve Cameron is also doing the workshop, and that we could swap stories about our stories – how they were doing, who liked them and who didn’t, our hopes and plans for them – and catch up on industry news. These conversations made me realise just how far I’ve come in the past 4 years, and gave me hope that I might actually be chipping away a tiny niche for myself. They also vindicated precious time spent checking blogs and news sites to keep up with what’s going on in Aussie Spec Fic Land :)

Well. Now. It's time separate the wheat from the chaff. Sort the sheep from the goats.** Put my money where my mouth is. So. Yeah. Hmmm. Should I go take a nap on the backyard swing? Or write for a few hours?

Whoa - there, right on cue, I just got a rejection. The story was too much fantasy, not enough sf, which I suspected might be the case, but it was the only reasonably suitable story I had back in the stable in time for that mag's reading period, and I try not to second-guess editorial tastes these days.*** But. Get ready for another cliché. Water off a duck's back. See? Tough as!

**I chose to write. So does that make me wheat or chaff? A sheep or a goat?
*** It was a "good" rejection. They asked me to submit more work. As for the rejected story, I've already sent it off to another publication.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Aftermath of Workshop

Gotta get writing, gotta get writing, gotta get writing...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Preparations for Workshop

Gotta get to bed, gotta get to bed...

A-Workshopping We Will Go, Again.

After deciding that it was high time I put my writerly ego on the chopping block again, at three minutes to midnight, I’ve finally paid up for another SF & F workshop. I actually booked it late last month, but then it didn’t look like I was going to be able to go through with it. Unexpected big bills eating into my pin money (my vet is probably planning an around the world trip as I write this) and other obstacles led to a deferment. However, on discovering that there were still 2 places available two days ago, I sternly told myself that I needed to make this happen, so I vigorously shook the piggy bank and checked under the sofa cushions for loose change.

Reader, I made it! Despite all my dawdling, I’m off tomorrow to the first of 5 Saturday sessions of No Nonsense Spec-Fic: How to Write Professional Fiction with Jack Dann.

Mind you, since I found out yesterday morning that V-line has conveniently scheduled buses to replace all the trains this weekend, who knows what adventures I’ll experience just trying to get to the Wheeler Centre. :( Bonus points if I get there on time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WIP Sliding Away

I've been working on my harpy story again. My plan was to finish up the first draft of a completely different piece this week, but what the hey - as long as I'm working on something.

I thought I had my harpy story all lined up and ready to polish, but obviously inspired by the backwards history structure of The People of the Book, my brain suddenly presented me with a series of almost complete scenes from the main character's backstory to slot into the narrative. I quite liked them, so I've been weaving these rather sad and/or gruesome flashes of backstory into the modern main part of the tale this week, and holding the whole thing up to the light and turning it this way and that to see if I like the result. I do, but then I'm rather partial to the odd spot of non-linear narrative. These additions, however, have changed the tone of the story, so I'll have to adjust the modern part to fit. But it's a much better story now - it's got heart - and in the process, my harpy crossed that magical threshold from being a mere workmanlike assembly of character traits to becoming something more real.

It's always lovely when that happens.

Commuter's Lament

(Can be sung to the tune of Herman's Hermit's No Milk Today, if you so choose. Just make sure there's no-one around to hear you.)

No blogging yesterday,

My trains and trams were late all day,

Oy vey! Oy vey! Oy vey!

I've finally made it home - hurray!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

People of the Audio Book

So instead of writing for 6-7 hours today as planned, I’ve only just snuck in a single submission.

Ah well, so it goes. With reading print, computer work and watching TV off the menu, and not being up for much in the way of outings, I grabbed my iPod, which is chock full of audio books, and tottered out into the backyard. Reclining on the Xmas swing, with a cat or two for company, I finished listening to the last couple of hours of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, a truly brilliant, fictional account of the Sarajevo Haggadah. I love Geraldine's work and how she’s not bogged down in one time, place or theme. Each novel is different. She moves through history (in this particular novel, she moves steadily backwards through the centuries) and makes the people come alive, gives us the good, the flawed and the very, very evil of human nature and the low-down on the political machinations of each era, and amazingly, she does all this without leaving the reader feeling that the world might actually be better off without the lot of us.

In between these bursts of fiction, taking the recommended ear breaks every 30-40 minutes so I don’t end up as a deaf old woman in my dotage, I napped, patted cats, or pottered in the garden, doing a spot of wonky leaf-sweeping and pot plant tidying up, making an effort to enjoy the unscheduled break even though I could clearly hear my keyboard calling out for me...

Anyway, on days like this, thank goodness for audio books, with their dulcet tones delivering stories to people who, for whatever reason, don’t read print, or can’t read print.

Body Crash

Gahhhh! Isn't it just the way of things? You square away must-do tasks, you line up your brain for work, you go to bed anticipating a productive tomorrow full of writing, and then you wake up in the morning with hardware failure.

Blaah! I can barely look at my computer screen right now, and mere thought of staring at it for longer that 10 minutes makes me literally break out in a cold sweat and feel nauseous. I have to stop kidding myself that I can complete today's writing tasks. So I'm off to nurse this vehicle (if only I could download my mind into another body while I send this one off for a rest or repair) and maybe I'll be able to scrounge an hour or two to tap out a few words later on.

The final bummer is that I don't think I can even read much :(

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Almost Converted

Another shaky-cam, found-footage film that pleasantly surprised me by slowly ratcheting into a genuinely scary and touching movie about the tribulations of being a teenager, the horrors of domestic violence, and the rationalization of cruelty and the misuse of power, all whilst touching base with the mainstays of the superhero genre. On top of that, it even managed to slip in a damning indictment on the heartlessness of US health system.

I'm not usually a fan of the limited POV, gimmicky shots, bad audio and slipshod storytelling masquerading as hipster, film studenty übercoolness that is so often indulged in the found-footage genre, but after The Troll Hunter, and now Chronicle, I'm feeling more well-disposed towards this kind of film-making.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Long and Short of It

In this piece over at the Shimmer blog on being a pantser or a planner, the consensus of the admittedly small sample group seems to be that writers like to:

1) Wing the short stuff.
2) Plan the long stuff.

Me too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Demographic

Today's chapter in the microtrends book was all about me and my tribe - Extreme Commuters, defined by the Census Bureau (US) as people who travel at least 90 minutes each way to get to work, a development mostly caused by crazy economics and large populations. Good to know I'm in the company of so many millions upon millions of people all over the modern world. Aah well, at least I'm not a Mega Commuter who has to fly to work in another country each day!

Anyway, as I read the chapter, I was ticking off the boxes in my head and nodding, and I laughed when I reached the paragraph about increased audio book sales. The author describes Extreme Commuters as 'the transportation equivalent of speed readers', getting through War and Peace in twelve days. He's mostly referring to car drivers though, because we train folk can relax with the printed stuff as we coast along without having to worry about traffic lights. I also found an interesting rebuff to the knee jerk accusation that Americans are addicted to oil - "Are we?", said one Extreme Commuter, "Or are we just trying to get to work?" Hmmm.

As always, when I read anything about excessive traffic and moving populations I usually flashback to a particular book by the Danish science fiction writer Niels E Nielsen. But warning, that link won't do you much good if you can't read Danish because it's 'Fra Wikipedia, den frie encyklopædi'. I cannot believe there's no wiki page in English about Nielsen! Or that he isn't more widely known. Alas, a quick Google also revealed that very few of Nielsen's book have been translated into English. It's an absolute scandale. I just assumed he was out there and available for all the world to enjoy.

I read a lot of his work when I was living in Denmark, and his books all made quite an impression on me. There are many many images from his novels that are firmly lodged in my brain, some of them from Vagabondernes Planet (Planet of the Vagabonds, I suppose) published in 1970, which basically has everyone in the world just driving around and around on a grid built between the monocrop fields that feed them, I think - I reserve the right to possibly not be remembering it correctly.

As the years pass, this hellish vision is looking less out there, and more right on our constantly moving doorsteps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pithy Promotion

A promo page for the upcoming 'Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations' anthology is up and running here. Wow, just look at those names!

My copy will be winging it's way across the world to me in April - I can hardly wait!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why, just yesterday...

Another Sunday of solid writing - I'm well pleased with myself, I am. Today I gave my "Berlin Wall" ghost story a final polish and submitted it, making it my fourth new story for 2012, and tinkered on the sf/f tale that I'd like to get done in time for a certain reading period next month.

Then that'll be it for short stories for a while because I want to put aside as much time as possible in March to get stuck into my YA novel again - you know, the one that doesn't have a kick-ass title yet and which I workshopped at the Year of SF & F writing course way back in 2010. I did work on it during my 2011 Annual July Winter Writing Break, but not so much since then. I've decided that the time has come to get it done before another year suddenly passes me by!

Time wastes our bodies and our wits, but we waste time, so we are quits.
Author Unknown

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ladies Night

So it was The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs as a double bill tonight - the shopkeeper's daughter who would be a politician followed by a parentless daughter who would be a shopkeeper. Maggie's puffy power do followed by Albert's camouflage crew cut. Powder blue dresses and pearls followed by dark suits and fob watches. Snobby, British upper class repression of the poor followed by snobby, Irish upper class repression of the poor.

And, of course, Meryl the Magnificent followed by Glenn the Great. Which of these two will get the coveted 2012 Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar? I'd suggest that the Academy flip a coin to decide (unless one of the other contenders unexpectedly gets a guernsey).

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Waiting Game

Another big story is doing well out there in being-considered-for-publication land. It's very exciting. Crossing fingers, toes and unmentionables.

So, I'm either going to be deliriously happy this year, or I'll be spending a lot of time down at the pub in my cups wallowing in the sorrow of many might-have-beens ;)

As Daddy said, life is 95 percent anticipation.
Gloria Swanson

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's "Only" Words

This is my non-fiction reading-for-10-minutes-a-day-on-the-tram book for this month. It was first published in 2007 – I took a look when the author used the Susan Sarandon-Tim Robbins & Madonna-Guy Richie marriages as examples of a certain trend – and offers a peek into the world of politics/consumerism and the analysts who try their darnedest to influence people / wring as much money out of them as possible.

Anyway, the reason I’m mentioning this particular book is because of a certain confluence of events today. Firstly, after reading a chapter on love, sex and relationships, as I walked through the park afterwards, I found myself wondering what all those millions of young women who lost their childhood sweethearts and fiancés in what would now be labelled the “testosterone storms” of the Boer War/WW1/WW2, and who ended up being branded with the horrible tag spinster as they grew older, would have thought of being referred to as Sex-Ratio Singles instead. Would this zippier-sounding, demographic category have liberated them in some way? A story seed sprouted and turned into the start of an amusing tale set in the 1920s.

However, my amusing tale turned sour about an hour later when I heard, believe it not, the word spinster wielded like a nail-spiked cudgel when referring to an old woman simply because she was a ‘Miss’ and, possibly, was not as sweet as apple pie. Apparently, if you’re an old woman, you’re not allowed to be stroppy without it being directly related to your marital status.

It’s such a vile word. Not the individual, innocent letters put together, but the way the entirety is always used as a license to mock and ridicule. Have you ever heard anyone use the word spinster nicely? Or thoughtfully? It is always uttered with derision, and everyone nods in agreement, and smiles their judgmental smiles, and joins in poking fun at unmarried old ladies who might have suffered terrible losses in their lifetimes purely because... well, I’m actually at a loss as to why it’s okay.

Given the intrinsic superficiality of the word, I find it sad that it still packs enough of a wallop in this day and age to still be used by some as an insult.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Intruder Alert!

Just snapped. Foreign feline spotted at twelve o'clock sniffing OUR catnip:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This is Wow

My reading on the train home book at the moment is M.J. Hyland's This is How. What a truly eerie book. The writing is so clean and deceptively simple, perfectly mirroring the main character, and every chapter is creepily ambiguous without the author resorting to any tortuous subterfuge that leaves one feeling cheated. Good stuff.

And how about the guidelines for this upcoming anthology?

This anthology, with the working title Dreaming of Djinn, will look at romantic Orientalism through a speculative fiction lens. You might find lost cities, magical lamps, mummies, thieves, intrepid explorers, slaves, robotic horsemen, noble queens, sorcerers, outcast princes, harems, dancers, djinn, assassins and even smart-talking camels and cats, set in exotic Persia, Egypt, Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, or a modern incarnation of these.

It's One Thousand and One Nights of speculative fiction, so to speak, and I'm a tad excited about it because I have this WIP story that happens to have an oriental setting, an exotic princess, a down-to-earth heroine, a flying horse, a strange machine and...

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Monotonous Monologue

Moving on after yesterday's submission palooza, I'm now working on my "Berlin Wall" dark fantasy story. Once again, it's a piece that's been sitting on the hard drive for ages not really doing much, and then wham! all of a sudden it's screaming to be finished. And best of all, I'm able to oblige. After this morning's session at the keyboard, it's pretty much done. It just needs a week of steady polishing to become my fourth new story for 2012, and once it's right, it'll be perfect for a certain magazine that does themed issues (I hope the mag's editor agrees).

I hope this trend continues (it won't, but I can dream, can't I?). I'm feeling so on top of things that I might even dig out the bear story I wrote way back when I started this blog and of which I'm quite fond. It didn't do so well out in the world (rejected 8 times), and has been licking its wounds since 15/10-10, when it was mauled by one editor, but now might be a good time to gently pull out those broken stories, take another look at them, and see if they're fixable.

Actually, after a quick check (I love my notebooks and logs), I've discovered that my memory is again playing tricks, that last editor's reaction to the bear story casting a pall over earlier comments. Sure the bear story was bagged, but before that it also garnered 'solid tale' and 'I liked this quite a bit but...' from other editors, so perhaps I can salvage it.

There, that was a boring post, eh? This is a prime example of why one should never ask a writer about their work :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Letting Go

I’ve got two brand new stories which I plan to submit for the first time in a few hours – the werewolf SF tale (3755 words) and the automaton story (2035 words) – which adds up to a double dose of writerly angst. Are they as good as they can possibly be? Where should I send them? If I send a story to this market, then I can’t submit it to that anthology, unless the first publication’s editors reject it quickly. The months of patiently waiting for a yay or a nay tie a story up and reduce its flexibility, and afterwards one wonders whether it would have had a better chance with the market that is now closed. None of this is news, of course, and the dilemma is the same for each and every story before it goes off, it’s just that one feels it more keenly with a perfect, ahem, newborn story that is all shiny with hope and promise, which you just know the entire world is waiting for with bated breath.

Anyway, I’d planned to submit the wwSF story last Sunday, but my guts rebelled. I thought it was ready to run free, it’d already relaxed on my hard drive for months and settled, and then I'd edited it again, but no, I couldn't do it. And thank goodness my innards did stop me, because all this week, in a sudden fit of clear-mindedness, I’ve swapped words, cut lines, changed dialogue and banished a few repetitions that had somehow snuck under the radar. It was mostly tinkering, but it was the kind of tinkering that makes a real difference. Now it’s ready. My guts agree. Ditto with the automaton story. But aaaaaah, it's such a fine, fine line between obsessive-compulsive rewriting and professionally listening to your storytelling instincts.

So, off they both go. Hit enter. In a bit.

After that, I'll submit a couple of previously rejected stories. Poor little, grubby darlings. I hope someone recognises their inherent wit and charm soon :)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Locus Plague

The Locus 2011 Recommended reading list is up here.

A quick scan (that's my get-out-of-jail-card for anyone I've missed or don't recognise as a compatriot - sorry!) reveals many familiar names, and one odd author out that I've added just to see if you know your Aussie SF & F writers - Peter M Ball, Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton , Greg Egan , Margo Lanagan , Terry Dowling , Tansy Rayner Roberts , Isobelle Carmody, Chris Lawson, Alison Goodman, China Miéville, Lucy Sussex, Kim Westwood, Damien Broderick and Thoraiya Dyer.

Congrats to them all. How wow! must it be to have your name on a list that includes so many admirable talents. I was going to mention a few of the Big Ones, but gave up, unable to decide which names to pluck from such a cornucopia of coolness.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Battle for Hearts and Minds

From what I read this morning on the front page of the local paper, it's shaping up to be quite a fight. In the one corner we have a person with the uplifting, city-sounding words 'corporate support' as part of their job title. In the other corner we have those much loved, fundraisers extraordinaire, the local ladies of the Country Women's Association.

Ding! Out comes the shire's representative hitting heavily with business-speak sentences that include cheery zingers like '...discontinued the previous fee waiver policy...', '...implementation of the community facility hire rate to ensure equity with other community groups...', and '...to assist them with the transition including providing assistance and advice on making an application to...'

Ding! The CWA and its defenders butterfly-dance into the ring and counter with '...group that has a long history in the shire dating back to 1931...', '...all money raised goes to the community...', '...explain why the CWA has now been slugged for this enormous bill...", and '...what have we done so wrong to incur this kind of wrath from the council?'. There's also a lovely group photo of the grey-haired nans who have been baking scones for good causes for decades, cheery middle-aged types who can whip up trays of vanilla slices at the drop of a needy hat, and younger women, possibly trendy muffin makers, who will be the mainstays of the organisation in the years to come, one of whom is - bam! bam! bam! - hugging a cute country bub.

All I can say is, good luck with winning that one, local evil shire bosses.