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

Monday, September 30, 2013

End of the Month Report: September 2013

Submissions: 8
Rejections: 6 (technically, one of these belongs to last month. I was waiting for an email, but when I checked the check-how-your-story-is-going link, I discovered the awful truth. On the other hand, this was the story I reported as being #927 in the reading queue a couple of months ago, and there were only a few places left for unsolicited work, so I was pretty much well prepared for disappointment.)
Acceptances: 1 (Winds of Change - dark, dark, dark, with added ghosts! Very happy about this one.)
Published: 0 (next month should be more interesting)
Stories out in the wild: 10
New stories completed: 0
Mood: Shocked by the fact that I saw Xmas decorations in the supermarket on the way home tonight. All right, that has nothing to do with writing, but I'm still recovering. Also, I'm a little worried about the weather. It is blowing a gale outside and the trees are making scary noises as they bend down and whack the roof and scrape the house. Another non-writing inspired emotion, but hey, it's not all about story scribbling.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Day, In A Faraway Land, When I've Got Plenty Of Time...

I was doing a quick, Sunday morning whizz around my usual sites and came across Charles Bukowski's poem air and light and time and space, which I'd pretty much forgotten about. It was great to reread this piece and once more be inspired to continue the daily grind of finding an hour here and there to develop ideas, of getting the words down one at a time, of accumulating pages and finishing stories and polishing prose and submitting work and once-overing rejected stuff and sending it out again. Because that's what writing all boils down to really, over and over again.
Basically, Bukowski's poem is a response to the perennial if-only-I-had-more-time-I'd write-a-novel-or-if-I-had-a-beautiful-Tuscan-studio-I'd-paint-a-picture lament which most artists regularly run into, the insinuation from these tormented creative types often being that they themselves lead lives that are far too busy or cluttered or devoid of necessities for them to fit in the luxury of creative pursuits, so any artist who does manage to write a novel or paint a picture must either live a Nirvana of no responsibilities, be wonderfully rich, or be a mad recluse with no social life whatsoever.

But Bukowski's poem knocks the pretension out of artistic wannabes (some of his poems about fellow writers are also brutal) who spend their lives saying that one day, most definitely, when everything is lined up ever so perfectly, they plan to get around to comfortably creating those fabulous masterpieces they know they have buried deep inside them and which are just bursting to get out. When they do finally sit down, said masterpieces are expected to manifest themselves easily and seamlessly. It's a wonderful dream, and an admirable goal, and if it helps people get through their lives, then it's not all bad. I can't say I haven't fantasized about full-time writing a few thousand times myself, just as I've fantasized about stories effortlessly appearing from the ether, presenting themselves perfectly on a page, and being snapped up immediately by ecstatic editors.

Unfortunately, for most people, the day job is a necessity, life never lets up, art is hard, and oases of peace and quiet with no distractions rarely present themselves just before a deadline.

So just shut up, sit down, and do the work, Bukowski bluntly says, and do it now:

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

If you have the urge, creating is not a luxury, but a necessary part of life. You have to negotiate, you have to prioritise. You can't do everything, so you have to choose. The act of choosing is what makes something important to you. If you choose not to, that's fine, but then don't pretend creating is as vital to you as the very air you breathe. Do it as a hobby. Nothing wrong with that at all. Enjoy the process. But either do it or don't. The rest is waffling.

Over at Zen Pencils they've actually illustrated the whole poem. The pictures are as amusing as the poem itself.

Hmm, I feel a Bukowski episode coming on. I think I'll be dropping the word baby into conversations for the next few weeks.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Take Me Out To The Red

Over at The Mary Sue, they're reporting a shades-of-Firefly SF series in development which is evocatively titled Red. It's described as:

a neo-Western drama about the first human settlement on Mars and life on this new frontier, centering on the relationships between the town’s female sheriff, a doctor and a criminal.

Mars. Colonisation. Space cowboys and cowgirls. Maybe a shootout at the Mt Olympus O.K. Corral. Count me in, at least for the first few episodes, then we'll see if it's got that vibe we crave. And if it stirs up interest in heading outwards for those high frontiers, if it makes space exploration look sexy and colonisation exciting, that can only be a good thing for humankind in general, even if it is a tad misleading. Go ask any pioneer who trudged across a desert.

I hope the Mars rovers put in a guest appearance :)

I miss the Firefly episodes that never were :(

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Midweek Pause

My energy levels in general are still lower than normal and annoyingly unreliable, and I suspect my immune system is also presently battling the resident Arvo Job bug which has horribly felled far healthier folk than I over the past few weeks and reduced them one by one to disgusting, mucusy messes. I really hate being trapped in an office when there's an epidemic on the loose! You hear the rattling of diseased lungs all around you and know it's just a matter of time... :)  I'm phlegm-and-cough-free as yet, but am feeling incredibly flat, so today was most definitely a catch-up day. Hopefully my midweek recharge will zap any sickness-inducing blighters that have breached my system back to the plague pit from whence they came.

So yeah, lots of napping and reading with the cats, broken by a walk in the bug-killing Spring sunshine, but I did manage to do a line edit and okay the galley for an upcoming story (yay!), hit the Internet for a market search followed by subbing a story (cross fingers), and listlessly shove around words about cyborgs for an hour or so - not my most inspired work, but I think I got one really good paragraph out of it, so the exercise was not a total waste of time.

Some days, one good paragraph is the best you can hope for.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Some Good PR for SF

Stay your alarm, reads the review by Helen Elliot that I read this morning in the Age, 'The Humans' is not speculative. It has more in common with the most memorable fairy tales than anything else because it has a simple moral instruction at its centre; kindness as opposed to selfishness, warmth in the place of chill.

Because, like, you know, speculative fiction can't be about moral instruction, kindness and warmth... And fairy tales aren't speculative fiction, oh no they aren't, so get your nasty specfic cooties off our most beloved stories! Also, the novel is witty, droll, tender, romantic, and sad, so yeah, with all those praiseworthy qualities, it definitely can't be speculative fiction.

The book in question is The Humans by Matt Haigh. This post is not about his book - I'm sure it's a  great read - but about the usual haphazard labelling of genres, and the predictable implied hierarchy of merit. So, according to the review, The Humans is about an alien - a Vonnodorian - from a galaxy where mathematical genius is the norm. The Vonnodorian dispatches a mathematics professor and assumes his human identity. Much observation of the human race ensues and the ever so logical Vonnodorian, much to his surprise, develops fond feelings for our erratic species.

Nope, not speculative fiction at all.

In the usual litfic tendency to cherrypick who gets to pass through the hallowed gates of literary respectability, and despite the main character being from another galaxy and engaging in what I imagine are debates about humans that have already appeared in hundreds of brilliantly written and thoughtful SF short stories and novels, this book gets the mainstream seal of approval. Kudos to Matt Haigh. I wish him all the best. However, I can only surmise he escapes what the reviewer obviously regards as the dreaded speculative fiction label (possibly to do the book a favour because she views The Age readers as being biased against it) because the alien in the novel cunningly morphs into a middle-aged, Cambridge mathematics professor with marital problems, one of the customary mainstays of mainstream fiction (though a professor of English is even more acceptable). Mind you, I've read plenty of SF with that exact same hero, and pretty much the same scenario and well-written to boot, so, hmm, back to square one.

As I've wondered time and time again, who gets to choose what is "respectable" fiction, and what is sniffingly rejected as genre dross? What criteria do they use? How widely read are they? What are the limits of their imagination? Oops, I might be getting a bit snippy there myself...

On a brighter note, over at The Atlantic, science fiction gets the thumbs up in an article about a couple of M.I.T. Media Lab researchers who are teaching a course called Science Fiction to Science Fabrication aka Pulp to Prototype, in which they use texts (not the movies) like Frankenstein and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to encourage students to anticipate the consequences of their inventions and designs:

Reading science fiction is like an ethics class for inventors, and engineers and designers should be trying to think like science fiction authors when they approach their own work.
They even quote the late, great Frederik Pohl:

Frederik Pohl once said that it wasn’t the job of science fiction authors to create the automobile but to describe the traffic jam.
It follows that it is our job as technologists not to avoid creating the automobile, but to look at the traffic jam and design so that doesn’t happen. Thinking about these things at the beginning and iteratively throughout the process allows us to create better technology. Just as storytelling gives you more lives to live, speculative design or science fiction prototyping gives you more iterations to consider before your creation goes out into the wild and becomes hard to control. Once a genie is out of the bottle, it isn't inclined to allow itself to be stuffed back in. Once an abusable technology is in the hands of a fascist government or rogue nation-state, its leaders aren’t likely to return that technology for an upgrade that removes the features they’re using to spy or express their political agenda. Designing the genie so he can’t be used that way, before he gets out of the bottle, is the safest choice.

It's a good read, positive about science fiction and the vast philosophical playground the genre typically covers. As per usual, I'm just left wondering why well-written stories about far reaching subjects that span time and space should be deemed less valuable a contribution to literature than, say, the shenanigans of shallow, inner-city narcissists. I read all kinds of books, as do all the speculative fiction writers I know, and there's good and bad stuff in every genre. Unless one has done an in-depth study of the works available, one really should refrain from making snide remarks about something one knows nothing about. Besides, using a certain genre as a broadly accepted insult is just plain rude. It happens. We know it does. I saw it in a movie just the other day. I could see the joke coming a mile away - 'I write science fiction', said the nerdy character. Cue the laughs.


I know this is a lost cause, but can't we writing folk and readers all just learn to get on with each other and practice the common courtesy of mutual respect for the hard work of our fellow scribes? Read or don't read books according to your interests, that's each individual's prerogative, but let's ditch the pettiness and toss overboard the judgmental pretensions that can sour the experience.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Grumpy Cat Gets Political

For your Friday enjoyment:

Seen on the "Freedom not Fear" protest march against global internet surveillance at 7.9.2013 in Berlin,Germany.

If you've been following in detail the whole sorry, sad and textbook-abuse-of-power NSA saga, you might  appreciate this chance to stop shaking your head for a moment and have a laugh.

Me, I keep wondering why no-one takes history seriously, and why with all the records and studies at our disposal, we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over (surely by now we should be learned enough to recognise the ancient trick of inciting paranoia to justify invasion of privacy and the curtailing of basic rights) then spend years cleaning up the mess afterwards. And of course, the culprits in charge of channelling J. Edgar usually melt back into the worm-riddled, bug infested woodwork from whence they came, waiting, waiting for their time to come again. In the meantime, so many lives are ruined...

Oooops, this was meant to make you laugh. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Building A Better, Stronger And Maybe A Smidge Faster Story

It rained today, so I wrote and subbed two stories and read. It was pretty much a perfect writerly day.

And I solved a problem. I was almost going to give on the whole writing a cyborg story idea, and not just because the competition to nab one of the few slots left for unsolicited works for that particular anthology will be fierce. It's called a challenge! But the deadline was too close and nothing was working for me. So I gave up, only to discover the deadline had been extended by a month. Hope returned. Maybe it could still happen. I tinkered, but to no avail. Then today my brain kicked into high gear and noisily shifted pieces around like the changing sets in Inception. I realised that if I merged the background for my first unsuccessful cyborg story attempt with parts of the plot for my second unsuccessful cyborg story attempt, maybe I had the glimmer of a goer. A third ingredient then presented itself as I was settling carryover characters into their new environment, and now I have a story that excites me. If nothing else, I like to finish what I start, and if I eventually end up with a cyborg story under my belt, no doubt I will feel sooo accomplished. :)

I still haven't written a zombie story though. Maybe one day I'll come up with trail blazing tale about putrid corpses that appeals to me. The BBC series In the Flesh proves that the walking dead still have a lot of life left in them as vehicles for entertaining and meaningful storytelling, and that there's always another fresh, if somewhat whiffy in this case, angle to even the most weary and worn out tropes waiting to be discovered by intrepid writers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Weaponised For Wellness

Bearings and bits imbued with Higgs Bosons borne away from the CERN accelerator in the dark of night (nicked? Sounds like stealing to me) by maintenance staff whose creative wives then turn the scrap metal into jewellery that cures almost every ailment known to humankind and sell the miracle pendants for the reasonable sum of $199... well, reading is believing. Tipped off by last week's New Scientist, I did so here.

It's that God Particle again.

Apparently, after one round of CERN collisions:

...an interesting occurrence had been noticed by some of the staff involved in the project. As the days passed their general mood was improving, accompanied by a significant sense of clarity, balance, relaxation and unusual vitality.

This phenomenon, realized and verified by those lucky workers led the researchers to an unequivocal conclusion: prolonged physical contact with the internal metal parts of the accelerator, is the cause of that phenomenon. Those employees, mostly technicians and engineers whose task required them to stay and work inside the accelerator were the ones diagnosed as being affected by the amazing phenomenon.

Being scientists, they naturally looked into the miracle. It all turned out to be very scientific:

Samples from the parts exposed to the surge of energy which showed substantial evidence of having the God Particle were sent to the leading universities and research centers in the world.
According to preliminary evidence found thus far by researches in the medical field, the energy of the God Particle has some amazing effects on migraine prevention, on treating different kinds of skin conditions, up to a surprising improvement among those who ailing from sexual dysfunction disorders. All those among a long list of other medical conditions.

The effects of the God Particle is also tested in the field of mental health and in this field the patients are also getting some surprising improvements in a wide range of medical cases, for example treating phobias and depressions of different kinds.

One of the theories being researched by the scientists is that the God Particle doesn't really cure the listed conditions but provides the human body with the energy needed to normalize and cure itself

Didn't you just know from the get go that those reliable old money-spinners 'sexual dysfunction disorders' were going to turn up amongst the things Higgs Bosons cure? And I like the 'long list of medical conditions' that can obviously be filled in as you go.

I think this is my new most favourite wellness product, replacing my hitherto most favourite, Shungite:

Shungite is a revolutionary shield for harmful electromagnetic radiation from computers, microwave ovens, TV sets, mobile phones and other «achievements» of the modern civilization.

Shungite is a mineral, which has no analogues of range and diversity of its healing properties. Generally Shungite heals, saves, cleans, improves, protects, neutralizes and regenerates. Numerous worldwide studies of the unique properties of Shungite prove it to be the  medicine of the 21st century.

They were selling little tabs of Shungite at an local exhibition recently for people to stick on their mobile phones so it could create a personal force field to protect them from, as far as I could discern, the stuff that made their mobile phones work.

But if you're that worried, wouldn't it be easier be to ditch the tech, if only for peace of mind?
Still, if the Shungite fails and things go pear-shaped health-wise, a few ball bearings from CERN should fix everything.

As long as they're not radioactive...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shootin' The Breeze About Country Characters

Overheard in a shop today, as said by a pair of supposedly joshing women to an awkward-looking third woman: "Well, she's almost one of us now." "Yeah, almost."

As in a local.

And the two emphases were not entirely good-natured to my ears.

As a hyper-sensitive (possibly over-sensitive) people observer, it's the sort of remark that always makes me uneasy. Any us-versus-them situation or artificially constructed, supposedly superior in-group complete with self-appointed gatekeepers controlling the human traffic always gives me the creepy crawlies. The potential for power abuse is ever-present, and can lead to claustrophobic communities that hand over all their brains, manners and decency to TPTB -  the kind of behaviour which, if it takes over, can lead to the that scary place which is the wellspring for so many small town horror stories of the witch-hunting kind.

I'm 4 years and three months into my country living experiment, and I have to say it has been and still is a strange experience. Even though I grew up in Country Victoria, out Gippsland way, I then spent a few decades becoming completely citified in Copenhagen and Melbourne before moving out again. After 23 years of being thoroughly embedded in St Kilda's bustling ebb and flow, the blatant parochialism has been a bit of an eye opener for me. When anyone is  mentioned in the local papers, the journo always mentions where the person was born and lists the places that person has lived as a qualifier, sometimes even breaking it down to length of time spent in each locale in a way that suggests an underlying code for initiated readers. What exactly does 2 years in town X with an emphasis on their 5 years in town Y mean? When out and about locally, one of the first things many (but not all) people ask is how long you've lived in the area, and they're not shy about making an assessment of you to your face based on that fact. I noticed that certain people became friendlier once I hit the 2 year mark and become more so for every year that passes. Can't say I like it though. To me it's just as impolite as people who openly judge others according to their income, job, sartorial leanings, marital status, dog/cat ownership, number of children, the boy/girl ratio of those children, how many heads those respective children have or [fill in this blank with the prejudice/bugbear of your choice] though to be fair, I'm just as bad because I constantly judge people who judge others according to what I deem invalid criteria.

Anyway, just recently I caught myself out on a number of occasions putting off popping down to the supermarket and other shops on a Wednesday afternoon. I found I far preferred to go after 16.00 and on weekends. Why? Self cross-examination revealed that it was because there's usually (but not always) a certain type of citizen on cash register duty during normal work hours who is sooooo friendly and all over the folk they know personally, but who then, if they can't get away with ignoring you and absolutely HAVE TO serve you, swiftly shift in a matter of seconds  to surly and openly contemptuous if they don't recognise you and suspect you're a blow in. I prefer to avoid such rudeness. Besides, after 16.00 and on weekends, the part-time kids take over, and the mood changes, because they're as friendly and open a bunch as you could wish for. I've gradually gained a feel-it-in-my-bones understanding of why country kids are often so eager to head off to the big smoke ASAP. It's not just about the job and education opportunities, but also about the blessed anonymity the city offers, and the chance to be something besides the scion of this or that family with whatever baggage it entails.

I suppose all this is all just another lesson in the strange need some humans have to make themselves somehow special and to then use themselves as an irrefutable measure of what is good and acceptable in their particular part of the world. A self canonisation of sorts. Maybe it boils down to insecurity again. The older I get, the more I find insecurity is the root of most of our darker foibles.

But lest I've given the wrong impression about living in Country Victoria, let me finish off by reassuring you that I enjoy the fresh air, the beauty of much nature, the space, the stars, the nearby horses, the many clubs, interests and wonderful things folk get up to. I like that the move has shaken up my life and that I'm seeing new things in new ways. Fortunately, most people hereabouts are lovely and friendly and chatty. When I head for the train, I have to leave in good time because most days I have to stop for hallos or a quick pat of someone's dog or to explain that no, I don't require a lift to the station because I need the exercise, really, but thank you for asking.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Touchy, Feely Week

So I had another feeling today whilst on the tram. It wasn't about an acceptance this time. No, this time I was sure there was something good waiting for me in the op shop. I could almost hear it calling out to me. Since I was already late for work due to the vagaries of public transport, I jumped off a stop early, popped into the shop, swung by the shelves, and there it was - a great, big hardback edition of Caesar's Women, the fourth book in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. I gave a little cheer of triumph. It was going for all of $5.

So the Book Game goes well :)  At this rate, I'll soon have the whole MoR collection. Then I'll have to pick another challenge to make op-shopping interesting.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Third Time Lucky

Roll up, roll up, for the greatest sale on Earth :) :) :)

I've been tightly crossing my fingers for weeks for this one, and all the joint pain has paid off. I'm so happy to announce that I've sold my story Winds of Change to Lakeside Circus,  editor, publisher and writer Carrie Cuin's new online, speculative fiction magazine which will be published quarterly by Dagan Books, LLC.

I just had a feeling I might have a chance with them. They like odd stories, you see. And weird stuff. Many don't. I submitted a story to their anthology Bibliotheca Fantastica, didn't get in, but received good feedback, so when I read about LC's call for submissions, I hastily sent off one of my harder-to-place darlings. LC held it for consideration, but ultimately rejected it. Send more, they wrote. Fortunately, I had a back-up ready to go straight away, so off went Winds of Change (a.k.a. my "Berlin Wall" story. It's not a light piece, this one, but a dark, political ghost story featuring many bodies and bones.) 

Again, held for consideration. Again I waited. But this time - triumph!

Aaah, I'm so excited, I think I'll go for a walk. I need to skip off some of my just-made-a-sale energy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Angels And Gunships

So there was an election over the weekend here in Australia, and this time I was kindly allowed to vote when I turned up at the polling station (as opposed to last time when... oh, let's not go into it. After much mucking around, my vote ended up being deemed invalid. And the Electoral Commission had the gall to send me a $50 fine afterwards!)

Anyway, this time the local proceedings were enlivened by some dedicated soul with much time and passion on their hands who had handwritten lots and lots of signs (they were very neat, clean, large, white cardboard signs, so a certain monetary investment had gone into them as well)  and hung them all around the inner town. The walls across from the polling station were plastered with them too. Unfortunately, I was having a quick walk and vote before dinner so I was travelling light, otherwise I would have snapped a few photos. The signs all said the same thing:

Voting for the Liberals is like voting for the gunships in Avatar.

Whatever your voting persuasion, you have to admit that this concerned citizen had a clear message they wanted to convey and effectively communicated it - as long as the passing readers were sufficiently up on their pop culture, were SF fans or blockbuster movie-goers or the like. It's a vivid image, rather brutal, and one that speaks of much dread and disappointment.

I just hope that person is wrong.

A little more of politicians of all leanings and stripes listening to their better angels and rationally engaging in an informed democracy for the good of the whole country, and a lot fewer automatic gunship attacks on anything that moves or looks different or disagrees with one would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Vale, Frederik Pohl

We hoped he'd go on forever, but Frederik Pohl has just passed away at the age of 93.

As someone who regularly popped across to read his posts at The Way the Future Blogs and marvel at the way he was still participating in political issues and not holding back on what he thought, I'll miss his insights, and great example. Aging, he showed us, does not necessarily mean a diminishing of one's passion for social justice or a brain that slows down (he was onto the fracking debate recently, and was definitely not in favour of it). Whenever one of the acknowledged SF Greats died, his was the blog to head for because he would tell immensely entertaining tales about that person from the good old days. Who will now do the same for him? I'll miss his posts. 

With his seminal books, which include The Space Merchants, Man Plus, Jem, Gateway and the other Heechee novels, and all his many, many short stories, the legacy he leaves spans the universe. Thank you, Fred.

Frederik George Pohl, Jr

November 26. 1919 - September 2, 2013

Wait! Did Someone Say 'Tiara'?

Well, technically, schmechnically it's a diadem that signifies a great victory, but it goes on your head and it sparkles...

Apparently - and excuse me for being a bit late to the ball - the Campbell Award comes with head jewellery and a crowning. I did not know that. I usually check out the winners of the various Hugo awards, but have obviously time and time again missed out on this interesting detail.

There's no chance whatsoever of me ever getting such a glorious trinket, but count me excited by the news, and officially covetous. The Hugos just got a whole lot more glamorous and fun for me, even though, again apparently, this presenting of a tiara has been going on for many years. I really should pay more attention .

Sunday, September 1, 2013

End of the Month Report: August 2013

Submissions: 6
Rejections: 5
Acceptances: 1 (A Moveable Buffet)
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 10
New stories completed: 1 (not really new - it's the expanded story, but it has doubled in size from 1k to 2k, so it's sort of a whole different story...)
Mood: It's a gorgeous spring day, lovely for walking and outdoor reading, and my opened up house smells wonderful; I've got a fair deal of Sunday work under my belt to add to an already productive week of writing so I'm happy there; plus I purchased my first Science Fiction magazine for my eReader, which, easy as it is to do, was nevertheless another imaginary hurdle to overcome and I feel confident I'll be ever so up-to-date with the latest publications from now on; also, I did a little housekeeping on my Shadow Awards spread sheets, so that makes me feel efficient and participatory; last but not least, I sold a story this month, and that's always a welcome change. All in all, life is good.

Now to get the ironing done, get the washing in and hastily move a little dust around. It'll be a token effort. Later, I'll settle down to watch one of the movies my brother dropped off today - probably Upside Down. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the very Land and Overland series sounding scenario. I'm not expecting to be blown away like I was with The Ragged Astronauts and The Wooden Spaceships, and it looks like it might heavily lean towards romance, but hopefully they'll attempt to do something a little more inspiringly mind-gamey and truly SFy than most of the lacklustre blockbusters that I've endured this year. One must try to be optimistic about these things.