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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Standing on the Right Side of History

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winners for Public Service:

Awarded to The Washington Post for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security.
Awarded to The Guardian US for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Supa Princesses and a Much-Needed Multi Pass

Supanova was fun, as per usual. Sure it's crowded, and sure you get to queue a few times, but the atmosphere is always incredibly genial and everyone is there to have a good time. I also like that the attendees are of all age groups, with your tiniest tots (there were two cute sisters dressed up as unicorns, and a couple of small Captain Americas with diminutive shields) mingling with happy groups of young gamers and manga fans made up as their favourite characters, right through to veteran oldies. Comics, artwork, books, movies, games, modelling - all aspects of the scene are covered, and it's a place where those just starting out can sell their wares alongside established artists.

And always, there's a parade of costumes to admire, everything from your Wookies to your Doctors, Mulders, Scullies, Leias, Solos, Vikings, robots of different persuasions, samurai, zombies and zombie hunters, one dragon, many unidentifiable (to me) gamer characters, and much Game of Thrones finery, which enthralled many of the small girls present. One particular knee-high admirer just stood in the busy exhibition hall staring up at four female Throners with an air of disbelief, a huge, blissful smile on her face while her dad looked on, and everyone politely moved around the group and made room for her moment. Every year the cavalcade changes. There didn't seem to be any steampunk costumes  this year, no Daleks or Weeping Angels, there was nary a Star Trek officer to be seen, likewise Resident Evil soldiers and girls wearing fluffy cat ears.

But there were princesses. Disney royalty and the aforementioned Game of Thrones ladies were definite hit this year, though some carried it off better than others. At one point, a pink clad figure came schlepping by, her posture stooped, bags hanging criss-cross over her outfit, and she was rather indecorously downing junk food. I felt she was letting the side down. But the others all seemed to keep their princess personas going no matter what, regularly but discretely touched up their make-up and kept an eye on their hair, and were exceedingly gracious to all the little girls (usually in pink dresses themselves) who ran up to them for a close gander, arranging their big dresses and posing with the star struck kiddies for photos.

I bought a few things, of course, including the obligatory, geeky T-shirt (actually, I got three) and a Leeloo Dallas multi pass to  hang on the odds and sods board over my writing desk. It's a bit of a running family joke, and makes me smile when I see it.

We also attended a talk with Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and heard all about the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C Clarke anecdotes, amusing and serious information about the making of the film, the public reaction afterwards, and much trivia about Hollywood in the 60s. There were plenty of other guests, the stars of shows from the olden days as well as the latest productions, but after a second whizz around the grounds, we called it a day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Because it's Time to Buy that Annual T-Shirt with a Geeky Message Which I'll Probably Only Wear Whilst Writing.

Plus, this is a family thing. We do it each year.

So, to bed, to bed ASAP, for I'm off to Supanova early in the morning.

I'd better pop the tickets in my bag. Wouldn't want to be halfway to Melbourne and realise I'd forgotten them.

See you there, maybe. There's usually an awful lot of people.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why, Why, Apple Pie?

I had a piece of apple pie for my lunch dessert today. I have appetite issues at the moment, which is a strange thing to experience after a lifetime of gutsing down heaps of whatever come rain or shine, so if I'm even vaguely interested in some food or another, it's on the menu.

For years, when working in hospitals with dieticians, I spent a lot of time at bedsides trying to entice ill folk to eat and finding ways of talking them into consuming calories, so it's strange to find myself applying those old tricks of the trade on myself. Mind you, back in those days, before the massive budget cuts that made hospitalisation an even more miserable experience than necessary, food was viewed as an important restorative, hospitals had their own kitchens and legions of cooks bustling about whipping up meals on a daily basis, and one could pop down to the kitchen staff and request special meals for patients who were having a hard time with eating. Now, substandard, lacklustre food chosen for its toughness rather than tastiness gets trucked from distant processing places, and trolleys full of already set trays are shoved into giant microwave ovens for reheating. The results are not inspiring, and there's not much, if any, leeway for those who can't force the stuff down.

Anyway, this post is not about the good old days (we even used to place doilies on the trays to make it look nicer!), but customer service, or rather lack thereof, as with modern hospital catering.

Take my slice of apple pie today. On the way home from the movies on Sunday, a roadside sign advertised freshly made apple pies. It was the right sign and the right time. We turned back, and ordered two pies. So far, so good. Then we took two tubs of light sour cream from the fridge.

"Is that for the apple pies?" demanded the woman at the counter in amazement.


"Really!" she squealed. Honestly, she squealed. Then again, even louder, "Really?"



We exchanged looks. Yes. We still hadn't changed our minds. We still couldn't see what the problem was.

Believe it or not, she kept loudly repeating 'Really!' and shaking her head to the point where I was so embarrassed on her behalf that I had to back out of the shop and wait outside. And apparently, she'd kept it up like a demented thing. Apparently, whipped cream and ice cream are the only acceptable products you may have with an apple pie. This fact is etched in marble somewhere. Except, our family has always gone with crème fraiche or sour cream for fruity pies. Which is none of her business. Each to their own. And she certainly shouldn't have made such a huge song and dance about it. As you can imagine, we won't be going back there anytime soon.

But this is not our only bad apple pie experience in this area. Just around the corner from that shop, last year at the local Applefest, another maker of pies was exceedingly rude. All we did, since there were no instructions on the bag, was ask how long they should be heated in the oven. The woman turned into a demon, shrieking "I don't know! I just sell these things!" Maybe it was the end of a long hard day, but still, it was a massively unwarranted response. That was our first and last, local Applefest.

Unprofessionalism in any walk of life gets my goat. I don't care what product or service you're selling, you should always act with courtesy and common sense. You don't have to mean it, just do it. Be an air hostess. Don't vent your personal judgements. Otherwise, if you can't adhere to the basic requirements of your trade, find another line of work.

I worry that my apple pie eating pleasure may have been compromised by bad customer service :) Hopefully, I'll get over it. I'd hate to think that from now on, whenever I eat apple pie, because of two bad-mannered vendors, I'm going to have flashbacks each time, and question my culinary habits.

I know I did today.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

GoT v WD

Hot off the press - there's a game in progress out in the back yard of the house next door. It involves two littlies, and as an ear witness, I can testify that it began thus:

"Look, a dragon!"

"No, a zombie!"



From a such simple beginnings, it went no further. It continued, and still unfolds with that simple script, though running around in circles and squealing has been added to the routine:



I await the outcome of this titanic battle with bated breath.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bards and Sages Quarterly, April 2014

So it's finally out, a story I wasn't sure would ever see the light of day but remain forever locked away in a dark drawer because it was a bit too, well, you know, weirdy-fun?  Instead, it was picked up by Bards and Sages Quarterly the sixth time I subbed it.

The story of which I speak is A Moveable Buffet,  my humorous piece set in a swank restaurant in Paris in 2029, which features 3 human law enforcers - a Frenchman, an American, and an Aussie - as well as a colourful alien from a distant galaxy. There is international crime, a mystery, a spot of action, and possibly... well, you'll have to read it to find out more.

Presently, you can procure e-copies by either popping over to Amazon or Smashwords.

I hope you enjoy it.

Aaaah, I love the smell of a new publication in the morning.

Monday, March 31, 2014

End of the Month Report: March 2014

Submissions: 3
Rejections: 1
Acceptances: 0 (but I did get a hold request which is looking pretty good)
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 8
New stories completed: 1
Mood: What happened to March? Where did it go?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Look What I Just Found:

I was just checking on a link repair, when I discovered they'd put up the cover for the first issue of Lakeside Circus:
It's odd - my stories are often labelled creepy, and yet I never set out to write creepy. It just sort of happens. Creepy.

There Went That Sunday

After a morning of reading, I've just spent almost 4 hours finishing up a story for the funny anthology and sending it. I keep trying to get into this antho (this is my second sub for this round). I've almost made it a couple of times, but never quite. It's a bone I won't let go of, unfortunately. A challenge I want to conquer, I suppose you could also call it. Possibly a waste of a Sunday, you might also insinuate, or a delusion I won't get real about (Funny! Hah!) The upshot of this writing frenzy is that I haven't done a single domestic thing around the house, and must now get a move on to fit in a few mundane practicalities before the sun goes down.

Still, I had fun :) Even if the funny folk at the funny antho don't think it's funny...

And in a feel-good addendum, exactly just as I hit send, an email came in about a horror story that might be published if I'm amendable to minor edits - but it's still just a great big MIGHT. Anyway, I'm grinning because the first of the three comments from an editor reads: An elegant and technically precise story; excellent core concept and well maintained rhythm throughout.

Nice. I love a little praise on a Sunday. Or anytime :) See, I put in another smiley face. It's that kind of a day. I'm a bit high on writing, me thinks.

Now, where's my vacuum cleaner? I know it should be in the house somewhere...

***18.40 update. There, housework time wasn't a complete bust. Whilst ironing, I came up with a vague idea for a dieselpunk story, the name of the main character, and a first line that pleases me immensely. Now for the rest of it. I'll play with it tomorrow on the train. It's going to be a nasty one...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Space in the Seventies.

As I've mentioned a few times, according to my childhood ambitions, I should be working on the Moon by now. Or commuting from my otherworldly Arvo Job to my groovy pad in the swankiest district of the hippest, domed metropolis on the Martian plains. At the very least, I should be living on a cool, colony habitat orbiting Jupiter or some distant star.

If you want to relive that dream, pop over to http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/space-colony-art-from-the-1970s/  and see what the future used to look like.


But in space!

In the 1970′s the Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill with the help of NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University held a series of space colony summer studies which explored the possibilities of humans living in giant orbiting spaceships. Colonies housing about 10,000 people were designed and a number of artistic renderings of the concepts were made.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Suddenly The Chook Seems Eminently Manageable

It stood 11.5-feet tall and tipped the scales at perhaps 500 pounds, with the body of a raptor, the head of a chicken and the crest of a cassowary; it sported big sharp claws and, probably, feathers.

 I surely wouldn't want this turning up at the kitchen door each morning. Thank goodness I missed it by a mere 66 millions years:


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Doggie Who

If you like dogs, and you like Doctor Who, and if you have time to follow a link, and you can be bothered clicking http://metro.co.uk/2014/03/15/doctor-who-from-tom-baker-as-a-flandoodle-to-david-tennant-as-a-long-haired-chihuahua-all-12-time-lords-and-the-war-doctor-as-dogs-4571926/, you can head across and see DeviantArtist Tee-Kyrin's take on all the incarnations of our favourite Time Lord as pooches.

For example:


In other news, I received a present today. I love unexpected gifts. Anyway, an Arvo Job colleague is in the process of decluttering her house and found an old book from 1963 she thought I might like: How to be Happy with a Horse by John Harrold. The illustrations by Dik are amusing - lots of pointers about the dangers of teeth, hooves and back legs are included. Chapters have titles like "Show Him He's a Status Symbol', 'Yoicks and Bally-hoo', and 'Talk Turkey to your Horse'. It's all very quaint.

 I shall browse through it tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thunder and Lightning, Very Very Exciting

Today I've been catching up on sleep, and slowly, so very slowly, unpacking and washing stuff after a weekend away trail riding along the always stunning Howqua River.

It was an adventuresome couple of days with fantastic horses and experienced riders. The weather was mostly grey and cloudy, but not too hot for strenuous mountain work, or too cold, although it got seriously chilly at times when we left the valleys and were exposed to the full brunt those infamous alpine winds. Best of all, it didn't rain during the days. There was, however, much drama on the Saturday night when a late storm blew in. My sister and I were happily ensconced in our respective tents and snoozing away the tiredness of the day when lightning cracked, thunder rolled, and an almighty wind blew up. The ground actually shook a few times. This was no normal storm. This was a STORM!!!!

For a while there, with my little canvas world wildly flapping around me and giant raindrops pummelling down, I was worried my tent might not be up for it (I had visions of it blowing over, and myself running around in an undignified manner in the middle of the night with my soggy belongings looking for a place to rest my weary head), but after all our trips to the mountains together, I should have had had more faith - my trusty tent stood strong and stayed dry, the storm passed quickly, and I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and swag and slept soundly til morning. Apparently, my sister and I discovered the next day, the residents of the nearby (too crowded for my tastes) bunkhouse had been thanking their lucky stars that they weren't in tents, totally unaware that we were as snug as bugs in those proverbial rugs.

All in all, we had a great time. It was just what I needed to clear out my head and re-energise my body. Horses and mountains are good for that kind of thing.

And yes, we're already lining up another ride :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Because You Can Never Have Too Many Punks

Every now and then, scooting around the internet looking for writing markets, one bumps into a project that immediately appeals to something deep within one's psyche. Most themed anthologies are slow burners that sit in the back of my head until a eureka moment hits, or I already have a half-done story that seems to fit the bill so I get back to work on it, but occasionally one makes me sit up and want to get started on it from scratch right away. Like now! 

This submission call for original fiction for The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk is just such a one.

As it proclaims: If you need to know what dieselpunk is, it's a subcategory of steampunk, essentially, covering the 1920s through to the 1950s, including the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, World War II, and even a little beyond that.

I like this site for its classy pictures and atmosphere. I really need to give this project a go, I think, if only for the sheer fun of it.

 I see trench coats and smart little hats, a wintry night, dark Northern climes, mountains, trains... I do love trains. Maybe an explosion or two. Or not. A Depression Era tale maybe? And both World Wars always make interesting settings for weirdness set amidst global chaos. Not sure yet, but my brain is on it.

Go brain.

And after that?  Check out all the punks here.

Elfpunk maybe?


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Happy Day

It was a good day.

I aired my tent in preparation for an upcoming Big Horse Ride, and felt happy imagining the mountain trails and just thinking about the fun to come. I got a hold request for a story, and felt happy that someone likes that particular story enough to maybe publish it. I wrote flat out for 2.5 hours, almost finished a story, and felt happy about the work I'd accomplished. I only napped once, did some reading, and generally got things done.

Yes, 'twas a good day.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Way Way Too Awwwwww To Not Share

Gigja Einarsdóttir and her family rescued a foal found wandering off on its own one night near their home just outside Reykjavik, Iceland. They sheltered the foal, which they named Brogi, for the night and eventually found the mother.

But before they did, Einarsdóttir’s 4-year-old daughter got to run around with Brogi, and it's the cutest thing ever.

Check it out here

All together now: aaaaaaawwwwwww.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Lone Chicken

For any poultry aficionados who happen to drop by to check up on The Chook, well, she's baaaack.

Last reported here as missing (turns out blogs are useful for the keeping track of errant fowl), seven weeks later, on Saturday to be precise, with not a single visit in between, she turned up very early at the kitchen door for a feed. I tossed her a handful and headed off to town, thinking I probably wouldn't see her again for a few days, that she was doing one of her slow re-entries, but there she was, still pottering about when I got home late that afternoon. When I opened the kitchen door, she promptly headed on in and made herself at home. She's been hanging with the cats ever since.

I'm not sure what seven weeks is in chicken time, but she's certainly a quick adapter. And presumptuous. But such behaviour is pretty much par for the course with this particular critter.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hair-Trigger Scribes?

Reading Jane Turner's regular column 'Turning Pages' in The Age this morning, I was pointed towards a piece from last year in Ploughshares magazine by novelist Rebecca Makkai.

Titled 14 Ways to Tick Off A Writer, the content is, I think, self-explanatory. If you're in doubt, she opens with: Writers are fun and easy to annoy. Minimum effort, maximum rage. She goes on to provide details about how to poke your favourite scribe with a stick just for the heck of it. Mind you, she's mostly referring to novelists with actual publications under their belt, so much of this was news to me.

Anyway, the one I liked most is: Turn up at a reading. Raise your hand to ask a question. Launch into a ten minute description of your novel-in-progress. But in a whiny voice, with a question mark at the end. That totally makes it a question.

This I can relate to. It gives me flashbacks of the uncomfortable sort. I love attending literary festivals, buying books, bumping into folk and chatting, hearing the wise sages of writing dispense interesting facts and advice, but am far less enamoured with the question times after.

Sure, every now and then, you get a good session, with smart people who raise interesting topics that aren't all about them. However, more times than I can count, I've curled my toes and stared hard at the floor while long-winded people try desperately to impress the writer up on the stage with their own brilliant output by going into great detail about the amazingly different novel, which is sort of like the guest speaker's, they're presently working on. Or worse, they give a not so quick rundown of the three manuscripts at home in their drawer that no publisher will take, the inference being that they'd like the guest speaker to champion their masterpieces. Or they launch into a dissertation about how they, with their particular genius, interpreted the writer's work in a way that no-one else has ever done before and they've made a fifty point list of fascinating observations that they alone have uncovered which they would now like to share...

Cue groans.

I feel sorry for some of them, I do, the ones with their neediness so nakedly on display or those determinedly struggling with awkwardness so as to seize what they believe is their big moment, but at the same time, such behaviour seems rather obviously ill-mannered to me. Festival attendees are supposed to be smart people, yet some simply cannot comprehend that the audience has paid to hear pearls from the proven writer, not listen to the ramblings of floor stealers.

I suppose it's all human nature though, the kind of boorish behaviour that celebrities draw from certain types. You get the wannabes and attention seekers at conventions of all kinds, be the speaker a star of SF, a Wall Street predator imparting advice on how to smilingly rip money from the hands of the gullible masses, or a combination of the two, namely a Kardashian.

Friday, February 28, 2014

End of the Month Report: February 2014

Rejections: 4 (the 4 I submitted)
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 6
New stories completed: 1
Mood: My output was only a slight improvement on last month. Alas, just as I was building up steam, I was, as per usual, derailed by the Real World. I'm presently dragging myself out of a deep funk. The Arvo Job events of a few weeks ago hit me harder than I'd wanted (or been willing) to admit - first came the numbing shock, then the anger, then, unbeknownst even to myself for a goodly while, I slowly slid into a bluesy kind of place full of glum thoughts and the not much doing of stuff. But I've rallied and am tottering forwards. A nice weekend of writing, that's what I need to clear my system. Life is too short to waste too much headspace time on stuff one cannot control. Moving on.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Space on a Shoestring

I'm excited about how the race to Mars seems to be hotting up. We might just get off this rock yet. And I like this NY Times article with NASA  / Hollywood budget comparisons and much philosophising about what maketh a viable space program. Money? Ingenuity? Poorly paid technicians?:

Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”
“The mission is a triumph of low-cost Indian engineering,” said Roddam Narasimha, an aerospace scientist and a professor at Bangalore’s Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research.
Ever since MIR, I've been a fan of not-so-shiny Soviet technology - I just have this notion that if they ever do get into space and start working there, the Russians will have the type of vehicles you can crash into an asteroid, stick back together with gaffer tape, siphon some vodka into the depleted warp drive, kick into gear, and keep heading for the stars (and watching Solaris decades ago only strengthened this belief.) India seems to agree:

It is a question of philosophy, and each country has its own,” explained Mr. Radhakrishnan. “The Russians, for example, believe in putting large amounts of time and resources into testing so that the systems are robust.”
 And for those who always argue that there are far more pressing problems than space exploration that need money thrown at them, there's this neatly Indian perspective:
Scientists have also said that space exploration and the alleviation of poverty need not be mutually exclusive. “If the Mars mission’s $75 million was distributed equally to every Indian, they would be able to buy a cup of roadside chai once every three years,” said Mr. Narasimha, the aerospace scientist, referring to the tea that many Indians drink.
“My guess is that even the poorest Indians will happily forgo their chai to be able to see their country send a rocket all the way to Mars.”

Of course, said poor people, if given half a chance, might just voice their disagreement. Sometimes, a cup of chai is just what you need to get you through the day.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Moving in a Direction that isn't Backwards

After a week of hot weather, fire horror stories, commuting problems, a major Arvo Job drama, hospital crap, a general queasiness pervading my days, and bulldozers razing a lovely, old garden to create a blitzed landscape up behind my house and across the boundaries of the two properties on either side of me, which has, by the by, completely changed the micro-climate of my backyard, I had a surprisingly lovely Sunday.

There was peace, there was quiet, there were cool breezes wafting through the house, there was much reading done (The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester), and after a couple of hours of sustained effort, there was a brand new story all finished on my hard drive just waiting for a polish in a week or two. And I submitted a story as well. I haven't done any submitting for quite a while, so I hope I've now reset my habits.

So there, I think I can get through next week now.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

All Fired Up

Sunday was a very hot and windy day, and fires broke out all over the state here in Victoria. Homes were burnt down, big country properties were destroyed, and much acreage was incinerated. One of the outbreaks was between my place and the Arvo Job, but I didn’t realise the trains weren’t running as per usual until I arrived at the station and heard the announcement, and by then, well, if I’ve managed to get myself out the door and am on my way, I do believe in finishing my journeys. That's how adventures happen. And so it was. We travelled halfway to Melbourne, transferred to coaches – the smell of smoke and burning stuff was unbelievable – and took a series of small, country roads because the main highway was down to one lane until the next town up.

 People grumbled. They moaned and bitched. Loudly. Of course they did. One fellow stood in the aisle of the bus and declaimed a dramatic Shakespearean rant against V-line before finally bowing to his audience’s cries that he should sit down and shut up so we could get moving. More groaning ensued, and the competing jeremiads continued until, for the last 5 minutes before turning onto the highway, we drove through a vast, charred landscape and actually saw the cause of our “terrible tribulations”.
Three things happened:

-          People shut up. They began squirm. The atmosphere was one of nascent embarrassment.

-          Phones appeared. Photos were taken of other folk’s misfortunes.

-          Conversations erupted about the greatness and braveness of firemen (true enough) as people competed to demonstrate their sensitivity to the devastation around them.
Sometimes folk should just stop and think before they start with the whingeing.
Today, all the way to Melbourne, the train drove through a smoky miasma, which was spooky enough until we hit the area we’d been diverted around on Monday. The train slowed right down and we chugged through a landscape burnt to the horizon on one side of the tracks, and except for a few places where spot fires had jumped the rails, saved houses on the other side. And always the smoke.
So, when I arrived in Melbourne and went on to have a spectacularly crap day at the Arvo Job, my perspective had already been honed by viewing real problems. Not that one can shrug off one’s own misery entirely. I’m not superhuman.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

We've Been Snapped by Curiosity

Smile! The latest and largest of NASA's plucky Mars rovers is busy taking photos of us.

The two bodies in this portion of an evening-sky view by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are Earth and Earth's moon. The rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) imaged them in the twilight sky of Curiosity's 529th Martian day, or sol (Jan. 31, 2014).

For those who need some orientation, here's a helpful guide marking the position of the Earth and the Moon (seems a bit unclear in these photos - it might be best to just follow the link):

I do so love there NASA pics. If I can't get out there and zoom around at warp speed, at least I can enjoy the Instagram version of space.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking Boxes

I'm busy breaking in new walking shoes so I can once more whizz medicinal laps around the local botanical gardens and leave a scorched trail in my wake through the streets and parks of Melbourne as I head for the train station each evening, which means the cats are busy breaking in a new cardboard box.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Everything Old is New Again.

Didn't we suspect all those keyboards were doing us no good, especially the kiddies?

Read on the train on the way home tonight, in the Age today, an article about the (for some) forgotten art of penmanship and all the competitive advantages of occasionally picking up a pen rather than always keyboarding it. Who knows, maybe in a year or two, self-proclaimed progressive schools all over the country will be putting out shiny brochures that tout their brain-enhancing, quill and parchment sessions in conjunction with their usual brain-shrinking, advanced computer skills classes:

Educational research has concluded that handwriting skills increase brain activation and also stimulate the learning process. At the University of Stavanger in Norway, magnetic resonance imaging research established a cognitive link between the haptics of writing by hand and the activation of the brain's sensorimotor system. That is, students writing by hand remembered letters better than those typing on a keyboard.
Studies undertaken at the University of Washington determined that students wrote faster and in more complete sentences when writing by hand as opposed to writing using a keyboard.

That is, the correlation between better handwriting skills and improved academic performance in reading and writing can no longer be ignored.

Children who have the capacity to write fluently, legibly and automatically are better equipped to generate and evaluate ideas, judge responses and organise their thoughts. Indeed, poor handwriters struggle to write down their ideas and will quit the writing process sooner than those who write fluently.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Write, Uhm, Stuff...

The Locus Recommended Reading List for 2013 is up here. For once, thanks to my mighty e-reader and the easiness of downloading magazines as they come out, I'm a little more au fait with many of the works mentioned. As I scan the list this year, I can nod in approval, frown with disapproval, tut-tut and cheer, making it a far more participatory process.

And while you're over at Locus, stop for a quick read of Kameron Hurley's essay 'Making Excuses for Science Fiction'. I've been there. I still find myself there from time to time if I carelessly wander during a conversation. Mostly I just avoid telling people outside a certain group that I write because then they'll want to know what I write, and I don't want to go there because, like, you know, they wouldn't understand! Or so I tell myself. And often it's true - I can see the odd expressions on their faces. Mostly, it's just too hard.

Kameron Hurley also tackles geeky elitism as part of the problem, and  wisely writes:

Yet I contributed to this very narrative about my work. Instead of talking about my books as serious (or at least fun) literature, I found myself fall­ing into the same self-conscious trap I had as a kid, when I muttered about how I was writing a story about an expedition to Venus where the volcanos erupted with flowers. I said stuff like: ‘‘Oh, you probably won’t like it. It’s pretty weird,’’ or ‘‘It’s not for everyone,’’ or ‘‘You’ll only like it if you read a lot of science fiction.’’
I anticipated their reactions, and pulled my punches.

One might think I said these things in a pure fit of shame. But as I got older and moved in geekier and geekier circles with folks who loved the same books I did, I recognized that some of this was not shame, but pride. There was some elitism in it of the, ‘‘People like me just get this and you won’t’’ variety.
That’s not pulling a punch. That’s punching yourself in the face.

 And yet it all just boils down to telling stories and readers hopefully enjoying them. Why, oh why, must we complicate things?

Friday, January 31, 2014

End of the Month Report : January 2014

Rejections: 4
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 5
New stories completed: 0
Mood: Keep moving. Absolutely nothing to see here this month.

Free Wi-Fi Possibly Not So Free

I'm always suspicious of the word "free" in relation to services and deals, because usually such transactions involve data-mining and spamming and other modern headaches, and lo and behold my paranoia turns out to be quite reasonable, if not a tad staid, according to this investigation:

A top secret document retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and obtained by CBC News shows that Canada's electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.
Plus there's this:

The document shows CSEC had so much data it could even track the travellers back in time through the days leading up to their arrival at the airport, these experts say.
Not even I suspected that level of nefariousness.

Hmm, makes you wonder about all those other "freebie" zones, usually sponsored by some product. Not that I've ever used them, but I shall stare askance at such areas from now on. Ah well, as the mutterings go these days, don't commit anything to the digital realm that you wouldn't be comfortable seeing up in lights in Time Square for grandmothers all over the world to read.

Because Horse Pictures. And Wishing Everyone a Happy New Year is Always Good.

The clock has ticked over, and since Friday has now arrived, I'll do a quick Gong Xi Fa Cai post, mostly because then I get to include some cool pony pics. Everything from wild to classic to cute.

So without further ado, let's welcome the Year of the Wood Horse a.k.a The Year of the Green Horse. As I've mentioned before, January has been a bit of a non-starter for me, so I'll use the lunar calendar as an opportunity to reboot and restart my year. I hope it goes well for me, just as I unrealistically hope it goes well for everyone in the whole wide world. Gong Xi Fa Cai !

And for a bit of colour, this is one verdict on babies born this year:

The 2014 Horse year baby will likely be an energetic, warm, friendly, intelligent person. He/she will be always happy and talented; he likes to be within the limelight. His positive outlook in life can make him out-standing among all of people. The horse baby will put the fantastic enthusiasm into their work. They will not give up easily, but on the other hand, 2014 horse baby may also become an impatient person who enjoys independence and freedom and perhaps their interests are usually superficial, sometimes, they will be fairly hot-tempered and unreceptive to suggestions from other people.

Horse baby - I love it. That almost makes this a Foalwatch post too...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jaws-Droppingly Stupid

So over in Western Australia, the solution to humans and beasts sharing the planet is the same old same old - the onus is on the animals having to somehow (instinctively?) comprehend human society and understand that if they don't adhere to human rules, they'll be justly slaughtered.

In a program to make the beaches once more safe for the good citizens of WA, the first uppity shark was recently snagged by the drum lines and shot four times in the head. Obviously, it didn't realise that the shark mitigation plan was already underway:


Maybe it missed the warning email sent out to all monsters of the deep by the government.
Anyway, scientists, environmentalists and folk from all walks of life who think it's a little unfair to cull a species because of communication breakdowns have signed a letter of protest, but to no avail.

Less blood thirsty methods of keeping our beaches safe - signs, tagging, patrols, protected areas, education-  have been tried and tested overseas, but they would be, well, apparently far more difficult to instigate than hunting down these nasty, vicious, amoral beasties to whom food is just food, even the talking sort, and slaughtering them. A lot less fun for some people too, I suspect. Drones patrolling a beach and people having to get their butts out of the water in the spirit of inter-species harmony is far too soggy-hearted a solution.

We visit the sea. We can come and go as we please. To kill the creatures born in the sea and who cannot leave  the sea and who are acting according to instincts that have kept their kind alive for millions of years because of our own paranoid belief that it's all personal and they're out to get us, possibly annihilate us, just makes us look a little silly. Our indignation at the way sharks ignore human specialness, and the resulting indiscriminate vendettas based on the fact that these "monsters" repeatedly refuse to understand that the supposed sanctity of human flesh automatically takes us off Mother Nature's great menu, merely show us up to be the ignorant brutes in this scenario.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Pay Off

So this morning I jotted 3 story ideas complete with titles in my trusty notebook, then took one of those possible tales out for a test run as I headed to the Arvo Job and wrote flat chat for an hour on the train this morning.

Ah, my brain is back, just in time for the upcoming long weekend. Now I can get on with things.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Go You Good Kids

As a 13-year-old, I was constantly incensed by political scandals and government abuses of power. Back in those primitive days, I would pour my anger into journal entries, vent my wrath in scathing English essays, at the drop of a hat argue with adults about how they didn't get anything, or, that old favourite, write furious letters to editors. I certainly showed them.

These days, politically aware 13-year-olds with get-up-and-go like Ben Blum from San Francisco become independent YouTube documentary makers and produce works like Data Obsession - A Look Inside Government Surveillance. His good work warms the cockles of my hoary heart. The fact that he cares about society and participates is inspirational.

So, just when you thought it was safe to write off all young ones as passive users of social media in thrall to their smart phones and Facebook pages, along come these bright, savvy, involved kids, doing what kids are supposed to do and going where a lot of jaded, cynical old folk are too apathetic to venture.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finnegan Begin Again

January has been a bust writingwise, and in a general getting-things-done way with too much Real Life taking up all my time and energy, so I think, by necessity, I'll can my 2014 plan for hitting the ground running from day one, spend the last week of this month clearing the decks, lining up lists and projects, switch to the lunar cycle, shake off this false beginning and make the upcoming Year of the Horse my new starting line.

Year of the Horse. Now that sounds like my kind of a year! I'm not sure officially what the predictions are from those in the know, but since I don't believe in that kind of thing anyway, I can make it whatever I want it to be. I choose to make it just like horse riding - a speedy, exhilarating, going places, wind in my hair, slightly dangerous kind of a year interspersed with leisurely rambles through forests, beautiful scenery, good companionship, and much chatting.

Yep, that's a plan. Bring on the ponies.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Because No Pain is a Huge Gain

So this was a week of heat, rejections, reluctantly leaving the cool environs of the Arvo Job to trudge the hot city streets in the middle of the day because of hospital crap, and, of course, the actual hospital crap. Now, the heat has passed, the rejections I've filed away in my head to deal with another day, and the hospital crap (I even had to go into the city yesterday! On a Saturday! What a waste of precious weekend time!) has paid off because I stayed drug free today, and tonight, for the first time in a couple of months, cross fingers, I'll be off to bed without taking any pain killers. The downside is that, aside from a few must-do chores, I slept away most of today. But now I feel good. And did I mention that there's no pain! Major win.

So let me tell you this very simple truth, which those with chronic conditions will already know, but which you will not be aware of if you're fortunate enough to be as bouncing fit as I was up until two years ago: any day without pain is a good day. Most people don't appreciate that fact until it's too late. Take my advice, and take a moment to enjoy your body if it's humming along nicely. Savour the feeling. Revel in it. Really.

Anyway, hopefully after two more trips this week, I'll be good to get active and productive writerlywise again. And I'll appreciate it, believe you me. I will savour it. I will revel in it. J

Friday, January 17, 2014

Have You Heard the One about the Nun and her Two Friends?

Armed with nothing more that a hammer and bolt cutters, they broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex, America's "Fort Knox" of weapons grade uranium, supposedly designed and fortified to repel terrorist attacks. I know I feel so safe after reading this:

"The security breach," as the Department of Energy's Inspector General later described it, exposed "troubling displays of ineptitude" at what is supposed to be "one of the most secure facilities in the United States." At a February hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, multiple members of Congress thanked Rice for exposing the site's gaping vulnerabilities. Eleven launch officers were targeted in a separate investigation of illegal drug use. But that didn't deter federal prosecutors from throwing the book at Rice and her accomplices: Greg Boertje-Obed, a 57-year-old carpenter, and Michael Walli, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran. They now sit in Georgia's Irwin County Detention Center, awaiting a January 28 sentencing hearing where a federal judge could put them in prison for up to 30 years.
Laughable security, corruption and drug use, then retribution for daring to show up inexcusable and dangerous system failures - this is another of those I-wish-it-were-a-joke pieces one comes across scooting about the internet, a physical equivalent of your Snowdens and Assanges.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

As Free as the Wind Blows

I thought we'd moved to a whole new level in our relationship what with the egg laying and everything, but no, after a couple of months of over the top friendliness and eleven eggs, just one shy of a magical dozen, the Chook has once more packed her bags and gone walkabout. About 6 days ago she started showing the usual time-to-move-on behaviour, and then on Sunday evening, she wasn't in her usual roost. I haven't seen her since. I'm such a fool. I should be used to it by now, I know, I shouldn't get my hopes up, but I thought she'd changed, I thought things were different this time, I really did... J

Ah well, the Chook is a restless spirit who prizes her freedom above all things. She cannot be bribed with scintillating, feline company, bought with first class food, or encouraged to settle for a mundane life of regular domesticity. She'll be back, or not, depending on her own whims.

In other vital news, it's HOT. Damned hot. Not-good-for-writing hot. Here in Victoria, the forecast is for 5 consecutive days of over 40 degrees heat. We're three days into it. In town early today, I saw that a few establishments were closed until Friday for staff safety reasons. Also, I suspect, they're not getting much trade. There are no tables outside anywhere - who wants to met friends and chat in a furnace? - and not many patrons inside either. It was the same in Melbourne yesterday. I was reluctantly out and about at 14.00, and usually bustling café districts were veritable ghost towns. People, if they absolutely have to go out, rush from one air conditioned enclosure to another.

While the first two days were hot and dry, since yesterday evening, at least up my way, every now and then, thunderstorms come through, bash the trees about a bit, make a cracking racket and throw the most thrilling and varied lightning displays, then dump a deluge of hot, fat raindrops that cool nothing but add buckets to the humidity levels. It's like we're having our very own monsoon season. Who knows? Maybe that's the way it's all heading.

So, two more days to go until we get a cool change. Onwards.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

This week was one of those just-get-through-it times with me trying to pace things so as to not to slide back into the Cold that Came for Christmas, negotiating an ad hoc transport system while they do maintenance on the train lines, and making it to the Arvo Job as much as possible (which turned out to be not very much at all) between a stretch of let's-start-the-year-with-a-round-of- hospital-crap. I made it to the weekend relatively intact, but no writing was done, so I'm catching up on bits and pieces today so as to set myself up for a more organised next week.

I did, however, get to see two writerly movies. After hospital crap late Friday afternoon, rather than head home during peak hour traffic, I treated myself to fried noodles, ice cream, and a movie no-one else I know wanted to see -  Saving Mr Banks - which still has me thinking about many aspects of storytelling. Australian born PL Travers ditched both her nationality (so crass) and her childhood name then reinvented herself as a British writer, used aspects of her own life to propel her Mary Poppins stories, then struggled with the idea of handing over her creation to someone she was convinced would rewrite the character. She knew the Disney populist version would swamp her rather stern and non-coddling nanny and turn Mary Poppins into a singing, twinkling, more sugary individual, and she was entirely correct. These days, when anyone thinks Mary Poppins, they think of Julie Andrews. And for the record, I adored that movie as a kid. But I feel for Travers and her loss of creative control. Unfortunately, Travers was broke. Backed into a corner, and fearful of poverty, she did the deal. Once more, penury forced an artist's hand. Still, she got to keep her house and was set up for life, which isn't to be sniffed at.

Anyway, I liked the idea of a movie about two creative people battling it out for their own version of a character, about popular entertainment versus literature, and all the layers of wondering how much of the real Walt Disney and PL Travers made it into movie and their various biographies, how much their own life stories informed their work, and how much they both used their work to redress the deprivations and wrongs of their childhoods. With the real lives and subsequent industry based on other writers' and filmfolks' interpretations of two such strong-minded individuals, there's much to sort through, and a lot of storytelling of both the truthful, not so truthful, and purely exploitative kinds to negotiate.

The other movie was The Book Thief, which also had many scenes to warm a writerly heart. I was told after the movie that I meaningfully aaaahed in certain places, which I don't usually do (how annoying!), but I'd say it would have been caused by me identifying with a young person who loves books and writing, and uses them as a calm focus to steady herself amidst the chaos and often cruel twists of our mortal existence.

If you're not one of those people who haunted libraries as a kid in search of Answers to Life's Mysteries and who views books as portals to other, often realer than Real Life places, then my behaviour is not something I can explain to you.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plum Job

So, I'm back after multiple failures. Firstly, I was clobbered by my Christmas cold. It seemed to be getting better at one point, then returned with a vengeance. Alas, not much writing got done during my holidays, but I did prod a couple of dormant stories back into life. I napped a lot, watched movies, ate ice cream, and sat a lot in the backyard on the swing with Gus (the other cats were too busy doing their own thing) just enjoying the weather and wrestling with a few story ideas. This blahness only started to turn a couple of days ago, so I stayed home from the Arvo Job today just to make sure I didn't push myself into a relapse.  Secondly, I had internet problems. No connection for daaaaaays and daaaaaays. It was awful, but I survived :)  Now, thanks to my older little brother's emergency dash across the countryside, things have been fixed and upgraded and I'm speedier than I've even been before.

In the category of country produce news, I beat the birds to the plums in the front yard this year. I made sure to be quick after last year's catastrophic non-jam making happening. This is just half of my so far plucked haul - the rest is on the floor - and there's just as much fruit still on the tree that isn't quite ripe yet. Hopefully I'll manage to nab the rest too, but even with what I've got, there'll be plenty of plum jam for the year. Now I just need to get a truck load of sugar. And clean jars. And cut up the fruit and...

 In even further country produce news, in case you were wondering, the Chook today presented her eleventh egg. One more, and she'll hit a respectable dozen. So there you have it - I'm practically self-sufficient when it comes to plum jam and eggs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Aliens Favourably Received

Lazily scooting around the blogs before I sit down for my first session of serious 2014 writing, I discovered over at Alex Dally MacFarlane's blog that Aliens: Recent Encounters, the anthology she edited (which includes my short story Nullipara) is on io9's list of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2013.  

io9 writes:

There were a lot of anthologies this year, including several with ambitious themes — but this one blew us away more than any other.

Mostly because of the sheer volume of greatness contained in these 32 stories, ranging from Ken Liu's "Bookmaking Habits of Select Species" to Ursula K. Le Guin's "Seasons of the Ansarac." These are classic stories of alien encounters, from some of the best science fiction writers working today.

 Nice. Very nice. I'm loving 2014 already.