Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Writing Opportunity

Having my internet slowed for the Christmas and New Year period and then catch a respiratory infection floating about, was a great opportunity for me to write lots, and free flow at that.

No way could I concentrate, in between fits of respiratory distress, on any of the edits I had going. Or think of starting a new section chapter story based in the main universe.

I just started. Thinking while I went. Pecking words out slower than a praying mantis. I wasn’t going anywhere. I started with a character. Eleven-year-old girl. Earnest. Just coming into her adult teeth and with a swag of unkempt raven black hair.

If she were an ordinary fantasy child you’d say to put Harry Potter specs on her.  She doesn’t need any. You only thought you knew the sort of girl I’ll be talking about.

I just wrote her, what she did, her brothers, one older and one younger and sister, who they are, how they relate with one another. Plenty of sibling rivalry, I can tell you.

I expect this will mean the young adult category. I haven’t found my ouvre yet, if that is the right term. Maybe this one will be it. Though I populate my stories not just with young characters. Old ones are common, as are all the ones in between.

She lives in a castle. She does projects; she is the perfect narrator because she thinks about, explains to herself, or tells someone everything she learns. Earnestly. Castle words. Facts. About her mystery mother. Mystery sister. Brothers. Everyone else.

Once I got over the feverish parts of my malady, I wanted structure. That’s where I’ve been the last couple of days. Plotting. Coughing. Planning. Coughing. Mapping. Sneezing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crows on my Mind

I read an article about the origin of different species of birds, recently. I discovered that all seven species of crows are thought by some crow experts to originate in Australia, something like 6-8 million years ago.

Probably the only species of animal from here that's gone world wide, I thought. It is like they flew against the prevailing inflow of other animals. Should be a story in that. They are such a maligned animal. Yet so smart.

They can certainly tell the difference, at the distance of at least 500 metres, between a man stepping outside his door carrying a rifle and a man carrying a stick or a man carrying a rolled up umbrella. I've been a witness more than once to them stopping their talk long enough to study the said man, fly off if it was a gun and continue their conversation after making sure it was an umbrella.

Crows are in my mind. They are waiting for a story, waiting until I find out more about their tribe. I do seem to remember them in fables. That'd be right. I guess because they are so elemental. I keep picturing a bunch of them like black holes cut out of the hot red landscape.

In the Outback there is a myth about crows, that they gather near a place where there has been a death and where a wake is being held. When I was still a city slicker, I scoffed over that story.

Then I lived in the northwest of Western Australia for a short time. A couple of dozen crows gathering in the trees next to a house where an unfortunate stepped early off his mortal coil. Many more birds were present in one place than the land thereabouts, even with the offal thrown out by the human population, could support.

Things I know about crows, facts and stories, are starting to shoulder their way into my awareness. Claiming a place on the front of the stove. I keep putting them onto the bench, to wait. I don't want to start any new research, however tentative, until I've finished at least the two short stories on the front of the writing stove.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Writing Practice as Cooking

Metaphor is using words and ideas to describe things that they do not literally refer to. That's according to my dictionary, the Concise Oxford, 1964. Me comparing my writing practice to cooking on a stove is me living one of my metaphors. Cooking up stories is about the only sort of serious cooking I do these days.

Right now, I have my novel Lodestar (working title) simmering on a back burner. It's only halfway through its structural edit but I have a couple of short stories that needed work in time for being sent out by various deadlines. The second draft of Catching the So-Called Moogerah Monster is finished. It also sits on a back burner, to keep warm in preparation for the final proof read.

The Red Carpet Welcome is on the front of the stove. It is having a new ending being confabulated. I'm going with the notes made on it way back at the beginning of the year by my writing group. Two out of the three who commented weren't happy with the original end so it's back to the stove for me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bring Back 'Stonkered'

Stonkered. I love that word. And how amazing to see it quoted in WQ, the Queensland Writers Centre Magazine in an article about recommendations for books, in the same week that I used it in the short story I was writing. I thought I was the only one in Australia with an affection for it. I'll definitely be putting Words Fail Me by Hugh Lunn on my Christmas list.

The lines in my story using 'stonkered':

Ushen shrugged. “He collects them. On the surface of a planet they live. Some are his support system.”

Tardi was stonkered. He heard at least four words he had no understandings for in the context. He looked at her. More closely. “Who are you?”

“Daughter of the support system. Young and angry when I ran away. They need me now.”

I use it in the sense of being totally and utterly flabbergasted. Can't you just see the feelings of being stunned and stumped in it?

The Oxford Pocket Australian Dictionary (1996) also still believes in it.
stonkered adj colloq 1. utterly exhausted. 2. utterly confounded or defeated as in this one has got me utterly stonkered. 3. very drunk (origin unknown)

Bring back stonkered.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Routine is to writing what pens are to paper. Or in other words, you/I can get an idea down with lipstick on the tailboard of a ute, or with a stick of charcoal on an envelope for a minute during our chores.

But to get real substance, we need routine. I sort through my dream-generated ideas while making my breakfast on automatic. I eat it and write while I sip three mugs of tea, in my case by pen into my scrapbook journal.

Routine is sitting down at the computer every day at the same time to type. I do chores first. Running around outside and in. Pegging out the wash. The dishes. Vacuuming. I stop my chores at 10 a/m no matter what I’m doing. It will all be waiting the next day. I write until 12.00 or 1.00 p/m.

This morning though, a tradesman rang. He’d be early.

My routine tends to be secondary to people. This morning no exception. He arrived at 9.45. No matter, I will re-arrange my writing times today.

Because, what you/I write when, also needs consideration. Usually in this first lump of high-value concentration time, I write offline, my major work in progress, a short story, this or that. Today, because I began later and will have less time before lunch, I’ll write my blogs and start that article for the local Landcare newsletter.

After lunch I will shop if I can carry what I need. Post Office, loaf of bread, printer cartridge. A walk in the weather and a talk with whoever I meet up the street. The beauty of living in a small town.

My second major writing time is after I walk the dog, and myself, the distances needed to keep us fit. A two part effort, since the dog is old and crippled, and can handle only about a third of what I need. I take the car, walk her her third, then me the rest while she rests. Her in the car keeps her out of the way of other dogs galumphing around.

However, this is a writing day. Work, doctor's appointments, elder care, builders and trades people onsite, getting repairs done etc etc you know what i mean, all take time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Non-fiction: Leading at the Edge

Kes the new character in my novel Lodestar needed to grow into a leader among his people so I re read Leading at the Edge, one of my favourite books. It details how Ernest Shackleton brought back his whole crew from a failed attempt to reach the South Pole. This back in 1914-1915, before the days of lightweight waterproof snow gear, gps, motorised ice transport and other conveniences without which we could now not make such an attempt. Shackleton's expedition had linen tents without floors, wooden boats and dogs to pull their sleds, to name but a few differences.

The book starts with a eleven page precis of Shackleton's amazing achievement. Then the ten characteristics of a really good leader are described and related to Shackleton's strategies during his journey. Modern situations in industry and commerce are also quoted though these lack resonance for me. Shackleton remains one of my favourite hero-type characters.

Kes, in chapter 23, is chained to his least favourite person, Jeb. Their relationship so far has been one of snipping and sniping. Now they are required to somehow get into a mode of co operation, save their lives along the way of making it back to their people's tents. 

This is the midpoint of the story. Both Ahni the main character, and Kes, her lover, are climbing out of the mid-point depths and I needed a way of growing Kes towards the hero that he eventually needs to be. 

I've written the what-happens, the narrative. Next I need to assign the motivations, why things happen. The way that narrative is turned into plot, as I understand it. I'll probably pick a couple (for this stage of the story) of characteristics of leadership and match them to the events.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writing and Rules

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading around in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, all available installments in the Richmond Tweed Regional Library.

It is interesting to me that every so often I get hold of an excellent read, in this case six so far excellent reads, and it breaks a lot of the writing rules I’m learning to negotiate. For example, the one that says adverbs are a no-no. I did recently read someone on their blog doing a pass over their latest w-i-p, cutting out adverbs and replacing them with ‘stronger’ verbs.

I’m frequently stuck for ‘stronger’ verbs and I’m forever looking for a verb dictionary. If such an species exists. Yes, the thesaurus is good sometimes. But I also find myself making up words (another no-no) and making them up from nouns (n apparently serious no-no) or retrieving words gone out of use. Anglo-Saxon is a good source. Reading an old dictionary is a favourite way to spend the odd spare ten minutes

So far, one of my favourite retrievals is “scaum”. I love it for its contradictions. In English it looks like “scum”, meaning a kind of “dirty foam”. In Dutch it looks like “schuim” meaning “a clean white foam”. It is obviously related to Dutch, my first language/mother tongue, and meditates on the way Dutch and English are close cousins, probably… I’m extrapolating here … by way of Anglo Saxon. I’m using it as one of the signature words of one of the people’s in my novel Lodestar, using the word’s Dutch-like meaning.

I wonder sometimes how writing rules get their currency? Bujold started her series in the 1980s. In that decade it seems to me nobody writing science fiction and fantasy worried about adverbs and adjectives.

Bujold uses plenty of adverbs, eg in Komarr, page 80, a random pick, … Exquisitely slow motion; He wanted a drink desperately; merely dead; universally used; No, unfortunately; accurately at the site; speedily fruitful direction; magically powerful; publicly released; leaked yet either, amazingly … And as for adjectives … shall we say about twenty two or three on that same page?

But the thing is, of course, that most of Bujold’s verbs are not run-of-the-mill either and a lot of the adverbs are part of Miles’s (main character) way of speaking/thinking, as well as being part of a particular style of communication even now popular in real life … that kind of know-it-all, trying to be funny but being slightly ironic style of talk.

I’m going to put this up though I had planned to write more. This last week has been top stress in real life with my mother, aged 85, falling over and breaking her “good” hip. She had a hip transplant, it’s the only treatment, due to the broken-off bit dying through lack of blood supply.

For me, us, her children, it means much driving up and down over the state border between Queensland, where they don’t go in for summertime daylight saving, and NSW. Constant change of time zone, even just an hour, is quite confusing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Digital Publishing

The Next Text seminar (at Northern Rivers Writers Centre, Byron Bay) was a little like a cyclonic wind picking up and disarranging all my previous ideas about digital publishing …

Kate Eltham, CEO at QWC and of IfBooks Australia, after a short history of the book so far explained how content is being separated from container, and all the different ways the content can now be contained – and it is the early days yet.

While books as objects (first editions, art books, limited editions, etc) are still important, Kate says, content released from the constraints imposed by print enables a much closer relationship between readers and writers. Eg blogs, websites, alternative reality games, social media.

The book as a never ending conversation – Kate’s question, will it still be long form narrative? Who knows. But it was great to have my ideas confirmed. All I have to do now is work out how to make it happen.

Things to talk about, for readers: access, ownership, new cultures. For writers: getting paid; platform, wider reach; new audiences; new forms.

Mark Coker, who began an ebook publishing platform has ‘published’ (he wasn’t calling it publishing but I don’t know what instead) 21,000 books so far this year. He quoted that in the US, ebooks are now 9% of what is being published, or approx 100,000 units.

He said print publishers are reacting inappropriately. He also said that print publishing is broken. He distributes to at least nine ebook platforms, including mobile phones, more are in the pipeline.

His seven secrets to success on

1) Write a great book. [I'm working on that] Make sure of quality, use beta readers, edit exhaustively, get a great cover image. [Thinking about this]
2) Write another great book. Build a back list

3) Maximize distribution by getting a distributer or five, sell in as many ebook stores as possible.

4) Give (some) books away for free. EG Free by Chris Anderson on His own about marketing.

5) Trust your readers and partners, ie don’t practice paranoia. There’s always going to be piracy.

6) Have patience. It might take a year for your book to take off. [What’s a year, I thought, compared to the two and three years a book can be in the pipeline at publishers, without even the light of being published at the end of the tunnel?]

7) Start marketing your book yesterday. Contribute, share and support, don’t spam, give your readers tools to read your work eg, provide your book in both US and UK spelling.

IN TOTAL: Be an architect for virality, ie virus spreading, word of mouth still most important. Eliminate frictions by making your work widely available, by providing sampling and a couple more points I missed. Probably available on the website.

I’ve printed out the marketing manual and am studying that. Blogging, see here, is my first step.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Novel: Boys of Blood and Bone

The contrasting treatment of the two protagonists, Henry and Andy, in Boys of Blood and Bone made me aware, again, how writerly writing can add depth and meaning to a character’s point of view.

A great title. The plot is awkward to say the least. My problems reading it began with Henry. He comes across as such a lightweight. What he thinks and does seemed unnecessarily weak. Anything would contrast with Andy’s theatre of war and blood and guts and mud and cold. Trot, a secondary character in the modern arena, is much more his own man.

Henry, driving through the countryside breaks down and must seek help at the nearest little town. Trot gives him a lift in and introduces Henry to Janine, Trot’s girlfriend, and Miss Cecelia, Andy’s fiancée all those years ago.

Henry is drawn into a mystery about Andy. Janine encourages him to read Andy’s diary and he seems to agree out of mere politeness. Andy’s diary is non committal to the point of being uninformative. As a carrying device into Andy’s story, the modern day part of the plot doesn’t really work for me. Jean Ringland, in her family memoir, A Ghost at the Wedding, manages the intervention of war much more naturally.

The sections written from Andy’s POV glow with layers of meaning. He thinks it himself at one stage, ‘his mind layered it over like a pearl.’ Probably boys in the first decade of the twenty first century cannot be seen as layering things in their minds like pearls. However, what Andy experiences and how he experiences were what kept me reading. Andy on board the ship taking him to Europe, ‘watched waves march on by, each armored with a steely sheen.’ (p58). His whole life is enriched like that, with extended metaphor and simile. Writerly.

Henry and his friends, talking about their surf, compare it consciously, in speech, to freight trains and haystacks. (p84). Though Henry gets a bit of the poetry here and there, ‘the swells lifting him [were] like broad black road humps’ most often his perceptions are empty of colour eg ‘the waves beyond were amazing’.

It seems to me Andy’s character is built up using a sensual writerly style of writing. Henry, being brought to much shallower life, with much less drama perhaps, is the poor cousin as a result. Because his feelings and perceptions are impoverished, we reading his story, are much less ready to identify with him.

I found the two styles in one book idea interesting because I’ve been writing a novel using a similar strategy, writing the main chanracter's parts in a ‘fantasy’ style; and using a ‘modern’ slangy prose for the supporting character's stories, in an attempt to help readers differentiate the groups.

I see now that there’s a danger that one tribe gets more of the goods. So that’s another thing to look out for come the structural edit!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Characterisation, the Process

I was again trying to pin down my ideas for the Monster-Moored series, “once and for all”. How often have I already thought those words? I re-realised, once again, that my stories always start with a character. Tardi Mack, in this case.

And so, to be able to hang a plot onto his life, I need a character arc for the whole 500 years. That number is merely a reminder from me to myself that to fit in all the territory I want to cover, the saga needs to be longer than just a couple of generations. That’s the plan, as Summer says to Mal at the end of Serenity. Though I’m still learning the trick of spinning a long life thread.

For the Tardi/alien mental relationship in Part I (Monster-Moored) I went back to William Sargant’s little book Battle for the Mind.

Though first published back in 1957, and one would therefore suspect its conclusions completely out of date, I like it for its comprehensive description of Pavlov’s experiments with dogs and Sargant’s own extrapolations of the physiological results in humans. Sargant was a neurophysiologist during WWII, working in England with returned POWs and traumatized soldiers. So, for the damage to Tardi as he attempts to keep his sanity against the alien encroachment on Tardi’s mind, I’m extrapolating from Sargant.

Having got Tardi to his knees at the beginning of Part II (Monster and Mongrel), I needed him healed to be able to overcome his adversary. The Power of the Mind to Heal, published in 1994, is another one of my Opportunity Shop finds.

I learned about the workings of a rite-of-passage from The Power of the Mind. The first stage is the separation from one’s state of being; followed by the luminal period during which one dwells between two worlds. Final is the re incorporation into a new role. A perfect description of the process Tardi needs to go through in order to become the person able to liaise with the alien’s support system, also called “the huddle”, an all female group of life forms the alien has picked up around the galaxy.

Then there’s Chapter 13 in The Power of the Mind, Letting Go of Fear, which will help me begin to think through Part III (Mongrel and Medic) when Tardi has to learn, if not to love the alien, to at least appreciate its works. On page 112, Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan monk, says, “Meditation is being spacious.” A spacious mind is definitely what Tardi will need to accommodate the alien and its support system if he is to accept that the alien cannot be cleaned up.

The final part of the series (IV) is the meld of Tardi with the alien and the huddle, (Monster-Melded). It’s huge, and I haven’t found the appropriate reading matter yet to start me off thinking about psychological implications for Tardi. There’s a rite-of-passage to be sure, but such a one-off, that I’m searching for something special to jolt me into it. Suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't Tell and Don't Just Show

For the last month or so, writing Tardi Mack, the point-of-view character in Monster-Moored, my project-on-the-go, I’ve been worrying that I was doing more telling again. An easy habit to fall into. I’ve been feeling increasingly distanced from him, as though he was a marionette dancing on the ends of his strings.

Though a character being read has a certain autonomy, a character being written must be even more fully in the control of his or her creator than the much-quoted “Show, Don’t tell.” advice suggests. Yet all the best stories allow me, as reader, to be the character I identify with.

This is what I aspire to as a writer – the construction of characters readers can inhabit. Not telling about character. Not showing character. But allowing the reader to be the character.

An avatar generally expects to act independently within the confines of its game world, where a reader inhabiting a character in a novel has not just the world but also the plot laid out in front of them.

Hence I’ve been reading Elmore Leonard, a master of the limited third person point of view, studying how he does it. In Mr Paradise, published in 2004, Leonard introduces a viewpoint character in the first sentence of a scene, often by name. “ Ten to eleven Delsa walked in the squad room taking off his duffle coat, the kind with the hood and wooden toggles, the turtleneck and blazer a deep navy blue.” (page 39)

Story is moved along by dialogue, and (silent) viewpoint character actions, thoughts and observations, usually identified clearly at their beginning as to who is doing what.

Most sentences are simple subject-verb constructions, “Kelly caught it …” “Montez brought change …” “Mr Paradiso said,” (page 37) With one or more similar clauses and phrases to expand meaning. “Kelly watched him come through the dining room still wearing his grey suit, his eyebrows raised to his boss, not speaking, but this way asking what the man wanted, sitting there on his throne with a vodka on the rocks.” (page 37) Resulting in Leonard’s trademark punchy rhythm.

Leonard frequently uses the “Chloe said, …” structure to begin a section of dialogue, the reason I finally discovered its secret. For example when Chloe said, “I’ve usually had a good time …” she is an as yet unknown person in a scene with a number of other likewise unknown people. For a proper understanding of the relevance of her communication, readers need to know her identity before reading what she says.

Cool. I’ll be able to use that construction properly now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Novel: The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

I’m reading The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break again. First published in 2000. This edition by Canongate Books of the UK.

This novel is a great illustration of the Closed System of Belief concept in an speculative fiction story for adult readers, set in the present, even though it is marketed as main stream literature.

In a Closed System of Belief the fantastical elements are part of the scenery and are normal in the world of the story. There are no Points of Disbelief, as in an Open System, where characters must face the reality of the particular magic or unbelievable logic and either accept or reject it. Where reasons have to be invented for both.

I had been hitting that problem for a while in my present work-in-progress without being able to figure out how to express it to be able to talk about it. I thank Scott Westerfeld for this explanation from his blog.

For speculative fiction writers The Minotaur it is a terrific study in how to amalgamate an unreal character in the hustle and bustle of normal life.

All the human characters accept the Minotaur as just another inarticulate and socially inept person. There are no Points of Disbelief in this story, despite the Minotaur’s obvious shape differences or the way he must live as a result. His coping mechanisms are described sympathetically but completely as normal.

When you think about the bull in the china shop you can begin to imagine what kind of hurdles the Minotaur faces in his every day job as a line cook in a place called Grub’s Rib, somewhere in the American South. Ethical considerations among the rest of the staff see the Minotaur taken from the barbecued rib server.

Though his vision is still sharp after five thousand years, his sight is a problem. ‘…the bridge of his nose, a black bony expanse lying between wide-sat eyes. It creates a blind spot for which the Minotaur compensates by cocking his head a little to one side or the other, depending on what he is looking at.’ But he misjudges sometimes. Melted butter spills into the stove.

Also after five thousand years, he’s lost his cannibalistic tendencies and there can be true love for him. A happy ending then becomes possible, if quirky.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Save our Semicolons

I read somewhere that we don’t need the semicolon in fiction. The semicolon is a has-been, a left-over of the nineteenth century. Only gets in the way. Readers can’t hack it, it disrupts their race to the end. Editors don’t like it because writers don’t know how to use it.

But what if we don’t want to read to the pace of the average cops and robbers tale? If we don’t want to write the increasingly choppy rhythms of shorter and shorter sentences? This because most people seem to think that the semicolon can very well be replaced with a full stop. There can’t be just action action action. We also need the rhythms of a long lazy swell. We can’t have a storm on every page.

My primary informant on this issue is the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, published in 1966, republished in 1992. The argument will probably be that the language has changed, and that we’ve moved on. Here we are already in 2010. Get used to it. Nevertheless …

'6.24 The semicolon separates parts of a sentence that require a stronger break than that marked by the comma but are too closely related to be broken into separate sentences. For example: ‘The past is a different country; they do things differently there.’

Broken into two separate sentences it looks like this: ‘The past is a different country. They do things differently there.’ Separated by a comma, like this: ‘The past is a different country, they do things differently there.’

Both versions lose meaning. The first version ignores the way in which the two metaphors refer differently to the same idea, the past. The second sentence can’t stand on its own, and most editors would cut it. To take the two clauses separated by a comma, this construction makes me feel there are a couple of words missing. When I add them in, there are too many. I might even rethink it, ‘They do things differently in the past.’ Making it an ordinary workaday sentence, having lost the poetry and rhythm of the original.

My secondary informants are the novels I have read, in the past as well as more recently. ‘Rees anchored himself and reached down to help them; he tried not to recoil as charred flesh peeled away in his hands.’ Page 11, The Raft by Stephen Baxter. First edition published in 1991. There’s that close relationship that the Style Manual talks about. The second clause expanding on the first. The relationship is that of Rees trying not to recoil as he closes his hands around whoever is being helped. Not the charred flesh being left behind in his hands. A miniscule but important difference.

We’ve all read strings of clauses and phrases, some related closely to each other, but all separated equally by commas, making them difficult to read. You itch to make some notes in the margin to re-arrange the author’s words.

Then there are such wonderful sentences as this, ‘As she turned to enter the hut she bent her head to kiss the child’s hair, which was black; but her own hair, in the flicker of the firelight from the hearth, was fair.’ From the pen of a master craftswoman. Page 176, Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, published in 1968.

Why should we want to do without such exquisite detail because some people think learning to use semicolons, both as readers and writers, is too difficult? Are we saying that such sentences have all already been said, or that we don’t need them anymore, when we say semicolons are passé?

Semicolons can be a wonderful tool in science fiction when an alien action can be related to a known action for a human reader. ‘Yet they did this delicate operation, not with one or two or five fingers at a time, but with ten thousand fingers; they did it by reflex, no more noticing or planning the movement of each tendril then we notice the individual sensations carried by each neuron form our retinas.’ Page 59, The Abyss by Orson Scott Card, published in 1989.

This last example and many more like it, have convinced me there’s a place for semicolons that cannot adequately be filled by full stops and yet more commas.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Non-Fiction: Deep Survival

I had an image here of the book, but Google in its wisdom has disallowed it. 

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales is one of my favourite books and one that I re read yearly. It's a perfect example of how reading can allow speculative fiction writers, with a bit of empathy imagination and plenty of extrapolation to write realistically about being caught by an avalanche on the Moon, being in a ski-ing accident on your nearest icebound planet--Pluto maybe--trouble at sea, perhaps on the methane seas of Venus?

Getting lost in mountains, how to get ready for take-off from an aircraft carrier, wherever you take that one, and the myriad other death defying situations necessary to their stories.

Deep Survival is a good read also because Gonzales is a good writer. Exciting. Fast-paced. Good first sentences, something I've been studying this week. Every action-packed instance is explained clearly and analysed with regard to physical and neurological influences. Why and how people become blind to danger. Why some people don't. Evolution of emotional responses. How people react to fear and much more.

When writers talk about their ten must-have references, I always add this one in for myself.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Novel: The Spell of Rosette

I’ve been very involved this week in The Spell of Rosette by Kim Falconer, a Voyager title published in 2009. Given the title and front cover illustration I was expecting fantasy. Even the back cover blurb does not give the secret away, speaking as it does of witches, spells, a shape-shifting high priestess, wolf-like Lupins and witch familiars such as Drayco the temple cat.

another missing image, Google's doing

It was when I read the prologue that my jaw dropped. JARROD is a sentient quantum computer? What’s a sentient, quantum, computer doing in a fantasy tale? Or is it science fiction? Science fantasy? A new cross-over genre?

Probably all of the above, with fantasy definitely in there too. Very comfortably under the speculative fiction umbrella, I quote from the back cover, Rosette is a child of two worlds: Gaela, steeped in magic, and an Earth choked with failing technology. The key to their survival is literally in her blood, a spell passed down through her family line to preserve the one they’ve sworn to protect.

The indications for a cross genre tale are all there, though not so in-your-face that fantasy readers are scared off. Note how ‘spell’ can refer to magic as we know it as well as mean a formula for action by a computer.

Is this a tale for hard sf readers? I hope so. Though the science is still theoretical, working as it does with the quantum theories Einstein wouldn’t consider. Readers in the vast middle of the science fiction/fantasy spectrum? Definitely. I recommend it to you. Let me know if you enjoy it?

There are also Kim Falconer’s sites where she explains her theories, supporting them with many references.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Inventing the World

The anthropological take on making a story resonates for me. As well as creating our own stories we do it in groups and families and tribes. We superimpose a grid of common knowledge and understanding on a landscape. In the far past we did this to enable our survival. It’s how, anthropologists tell us, early humans travelled the world – by making it part of their story as they traveled over it.

Now we do it because it’s in our genes. How often have you been told the way to somewhere like this? “Cross the street where Aunty Viva broke her leg. Watch out because cars don’t like stopping there.” In the past this kind of knowledge was told and retold. It became myths and legends. It became the instructions to get to the next waterhole.


Back at the story in the making - still no title - Evan swallows down his breakfast convulsively. It wanted to come up when he saw the eye of a string again, even more lurid than the previous day.  After all, as garbage-boy in his first job, he had to deal with far worse than a putrescent eye hanging from a dried blood-black tentacle …

This is where for the writer, the thing becomes more like an adventure game than a story. Decisions have to be made. Does Evan pull out a mobile and call the police?

No. He imagines how he’ll hardly get to say his socially conscientious piece into the TV News mike before the presenter strolls to where that photogenic ambo picks the offending object off the street. The para-med folds the wrist of his plastic glove over the eye cradled on his fingers. “Not enough of it for me to do anything but hand it over to pathology,” he says into the mike, staring intently at the presenter at the same time. He’s handsome in a rugged unshaven sort of way. The presenter half turns and smiles at him over her shoulder. “What are you doing after work?” The age-old come-on sign.

Evan’s Mr Average demeanour matches his Mr Average height weight and haircut. Plus, while he can imagine that kind of opportunity as well as anybody, he just doesn’t see them in real life. And plus he knows the presenter is totally out of his class. He doesn’t make enough money to say boo to a cat in case it follows him home and expects to be fed.

My second problem is how many times can I have Evan have the same experience before he moves the plot along before you guys reject him? Evan needs repetition, he isn’t that fast off the starting block. In Western Culture three repetitions is standard. Think The Three Blind Mice. Tom Thumb. Cinderella. Better stick with what Evan is familiar with.

He hunkered down for a close look. He wasn’t that old that his joints cracked on the way down. Anyway he practices hunkering. Is aiming for a fluid move to be able to join the sous-chefs hunkering down out the back of the kitchens for their breaks.

I know, I know. Extraneous detail. I probably don’t need to tell you about the sous-chefs. But, hey, it’s the first draft. Let the detail alone for the present. I’m still in doubt as to where I’m going with it.

This is not to say I’m writing this about-story after the fact. Only that I know my process well enough that I arrange for there to be a little stuff to cut second time round.

The eye did it all again. Evan could’ve stopped it but typically didn’t want it in his bare hand. He sensed someone stopping at his shoulder and put his left arm out to stop whoever it was from stomping on the eye. By the time the eye plopped down the tool hole, the person was gone. Evan suspected him to have been one of the local gang.

Meanwhile I’m agonising over the ending. I wrote down the idea and its unfolding beauty forgetting for a minute that stories need their crises and pay-offs to work towards.

Trouble is I still haven’t made up my mind as to who is pulling the string. And is the eye human or alien? There’s a choice of a mute and/or distressed and/or crazy human trying to get attention to himself to be rescued. Or a goblin, hungry again. Which one will give me the most mileage? … Guess I’ll go with ‘the eye is human’ angle.

Evan took home a roasting fork from work. He had a plan. He’d noticed that this morning he wasn’t quite as revolted as the previous day. A case of desensitisation, maybe. The movies he watched till bedtime were to help with that process.

Next morning, Evan elastic-banded the roasting fork to his right forearm, under his jacket sleeve. He clasped the two tines loosely in his hand as he didn’t want them to catch on anything until the time. He practiced his intended move a couple of times then worked a plastic kitchen glove over his left hand.

Evan stepped out the door into the river of humanity streaming towards the city. He did not notice the Jackal gang, though he knew them well, jostling through the crowd on point duty. Jack, their leader trotted at Evan’s heels like a well-mannered minion.

Evan concentrated his mind on his coming actions, playing them over and over. He intended this time not to muff his moves.

Why did I bring in the gang?

Because Evan was always going to be a wimp. He brought a roasting fork, for heaven’s sake! The boy at his shoulder was the risk taker. He’d noticed Evan’s antics the first day. Was there behind him the second and brought a crow bar for the third.

Evan almost ran to his doom. He walked marathon walker style. Wanting to get there quicker but not wanting to be seen to be running. People would notice and then he’d have a crowd to deal with as well. A crowd would only, well, crowd him. He hated having his elbows constrained.

When as a kid he’d played the wallet-on-a-string trick the second punter along put his foot on the string and had taken the wallet. Which was Evan’s mother’s best leather wallet, thankfully with nothing in it. Plus Evan didn’t fancy feeling the eye’s tentacles slippery under his foot. Therefore the roasting fork.

Evan practiced living in the moment. Which did wonders for his stress levels. He was the living proof because as dishwasher and pot scrubber he was at the bottom of the pecking order, and look at him, he was cool about a weird thing such as an eye on a string! It meant, unfortunately, that he wasn’t one for thinking too far ahead.

All he wanted was a close look. See if it was real. Then he’d decide what to do.

Jack, shadowing Evan, made sure his shadow was behind him as he followed Evan. He prided himself that when he peered over Evan’s shoulder yesterday down into the grating’s shadows, he hadn’t shown his shock. …

Whatever it was. I haven’t got that far yet. When I’ve worked out the action scene I’ll have a better idea what or who the boys will be up against…