Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Short Story Abysm

Seasonal disruptions being what they are - the getting ready for parties, cooking, socialising, extra cleaning etc - I thought I'd have a try at a short story this month.

There's a strong beginning, yes.

Is there a plot? Not yet.

A narrative, yes. Premise, scenario, world building, no problem. 

An interesting main character needing a bit of research to clarify his/her various genetic possibilities? In the bag.

No plot yet, but a squad of different scenes trampling the ground while they are waiting. For a plot, of course.   

No plot yet, apart from an escape. 

A cast of thousands, still being whittled. 

No plot yet. Or rather, the only plot that auditioned, the escape, refuses to fit itself into a three thousand word story. It's crying out for a bigger vehicle. 

There are a couple of levels of meaning, which is not really a short story thing as I understand it. The superficial adventuring thing and the ethical/philosophical thing. There's no bloody violence. There's no romantic love. It isn't fantasy. 

There's even an end. An uplifting one though the setting is bleak. Is that possible? 

I have no idea as to who would be interested in reading it. The usual problem. 

Thousands of words already. Several times more than the three thousand required. Whittling them is no longer an option. The detail required for the story to make sense doesn't allow it to be cut down. 

Maybe I should go and do a short story workshop or three. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance

Atul Gawande Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance 2008 Profile Books London.

The sorting trolley at the local library can be the source of good reads without having to go to the shelves. When I’m in a hurry, must not tarry and cannot not allow myself to get sidetracked, I stick with the sorting trolley.
There will be the usual squad of noirish detective fiction. The odd sf and fantasy. Literature. And a  few non fictionals. Like this one. Better: a surgeon’s notes on performance.

I opened it a quarter of the way through, my usual check, and began to read. Page 65, the chapter heading was Casualties of War. Why soldiers refused to wear their goggles and that the reason for the increasing eye injuries. I glanced back at page 64, where a section conclusion said, Ask a typical American hospital what its death and complication rates for surgery were during the last six months and it cannot tell you.

About ten pages later I realised I was hooked. I checked the book out and took it home. I began from the beginning. The introduction is not a chapter that can be skipped as it states the premise of the investigation by way of a telling example from Gawande’s own, at the time of his residency, practice. 
“What does it take to be good at something in which failure is so easy, so effortless?” Gawande asks on page 3. This is when I really settled into this book for this is a resonating question in that it can be applied to almost any difficult endeavour.  Convincing the naysayers of the importance of preserving biodiversity at any cost?  Just one of the questions I regularly ask myself.

Though it is the examples for each of the three main topics that make the riveting reading, what area of human work wouldn’t be better with diligence, doing right and ingenuity? In relation to diligence, for example, there’s an essay on washing hands. In doing right, what doctors owe to society is investigated. Ingenuity is explored through the Bell Curve.

Yet it is the Afterword, with its Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant that I want to remember. These are a set of suggestions for personal improvement that are plain and do-able, though they are aimed at doctors and surgeons at the forefront of doctoring.

1.     Ask an unscripted question. Make a human connection and life immediately becomes less of a machine.

2.     Don’t complain. Or in other words, don’t make yourself and other people feel bad by taking a negative view. Don’t necessarily see life through rose-coloured lenses but observe something and get a conversation going (my paraphrase, this sentence).

3.     Count something. Be a scientist in your world. The only requirement is that you should count something you’re interested in. Learning something interesting that you can then talk about, giving it to your community. 

4.     Write something. Add a small observation about your world. Don’t underestimate its effect on your world. Everything we know, all knowledge is observations made by interested people communicating for the benefit of us all. The published word (be it book or blog) is a declaration of membership and also a willingness to contribute something meaningful. Don’t underestimate the power of the act. Writing lets you step back and think through a problem.

5.     Change. Be an early adapter. (Not a late adapter, not a skeptic.) Find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going.

Don’t you agree that these suggestions are ways that anybody can take up and make habitual without too much pain?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Woodwork for Women

For the last five weeks I’ve been learning to join wood in a class taught by Patt Gregory at her workshop in Mullumbimby, NSW. In the first series of classes I learned how to make a housing joint, a rebate joint and a butt joint.

Patt is such an inspirational teacher, that the process of work and the finished beauty of my beginner project led me to immediately sign up for a second series of classes with the mortise-and-tenon joint as the objective.

I went home and revived my once-upon-a-time want-to-make-this-one-day list and embellished it with sketches. One and a half courses in, I’m fantasizing that I’ll build the window seats and bookshelves I’m planning as part of my house renovations, myself and from scratch at that.

Along with writing, gardening, knitting and embroidery, I’ve also always done do-it-yourself stuff searching out cheap second-hand timber furniture and taking it apart and/or changing its function. 
In that way I made a couch from a single bed. A sewing table from a desk. A kitchen table from a broken wreck I salvaged illegally from the local tip. Mostly these were needs-must projects. Ways of having what couldn’t be afforded otherwise.

Then came a time I was involved in planting and nurturing native Australian timber trees. I love timber and still have a three-metre (unknown species) dead tree as a life-size sculpture, its timber very finely grained, at present in storage. Learning ‘proper’ woodwork always seemed to be out of reach.
But now?

Yes I can, and yes I will make my wishful wood fantasies. Given that I can continue classes with Patt. Because I suspect that, like all things worth doing well, woodworking is a discipline and a craft with a life-long apprenticeship.

Patt’s book, Woodwork for Women: cutting a new path for beginners gives a step-by-step account of how to achieve the first project, along with tools needed and how to use them. 

Aspects of wood in general and radiata pine (for the first project) in particular. 

The sustainability of the timber industry, and sourcing timbers for woodworking projects. 

The design, and transferring it to the raw material (ie the wood) by measuring up, and a myriad of helpful hints, clues and uplifting stories about the women, and their projects, who have gone before you.

Finally there’s the making. Set out in step-by-step fashion, up to step 20. 

If you can’t get to Patt’s classes – say if you live somewhere in the world – this book is a good way into woodwork. 

And check out also. It will give you everything you need to know to be able to access these uplifting classes presented by a passionate teacher in a relaxed environment.

Glitches are welcomed. 

The story is that you can’t learn without them. 

And anyway they can mostly be corrected or, sometimes, be incorporated in the project. 


I learnt that at least a dozen times in my first project and it still looks great don't you think? 

Finished project in use

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lodestar Part III, Free Read

Sard Kerr is Srese's twin brother. Where she is chosen to act in the new, habitat-wide entertainment, he is remaindered and must leave home or be moldecked.

1: Sard
Sard forked his breakfast down as fast as he could swallow it, to be out of here. Scrambled eggs it was supposed to be. Pap in different colours, most of it. As usual, Youk diagonally across the table, watched everything he did. Didn’t the guy ever have anything better work for his yellow eyes than make sure the avatars didn’t get ahead of him? 

Youk said, “Shovelling it in rather, aren’t we?”

“What?” Sard said, mentally kicking himself. When would he learn not to react?

“Shovelling the food in like the farmers didn’t grow it to your taste.”

Phin, beside Youk and directly opposite Sard, smiled benignly at his henchman. Kicking Sard’s feet out of his way, he stretched his legs under the table. Phin, the bloody boss-farmer. Youk his off-sider, and Sard his yokel.

“Finished?” said Youk. “I’ve got some important news for you.”

“Really.” Sard said with the slightest possible inflection. “I’m racking my brains. What do you know that’s important for me to know too?”

 “Fare thee well, oh golden avatar!” Phin said. “When will you do something about your looks? Still with the golden Greek baby curls, still with the hairless ivory chin. Do you wend to your work, oh princeling?”

He meant Sard should start down at the farm. Weeding probably. Of course all the other late-eaters remaining in the Dining Hall mingled in, laughing and commenting. “Do you join him, Youk, to be dusted by his benison?” Tye said, showing off madly in front of his girls. Youk got up.

Sard thrust back his chair, then stood in a hurry to catch it before it fell with him still in it. With the chair in his hands he could’ve been a lion tamer. As if. Anyway, neither of his bullies was anything as noble as lions. He shoved the chair hard against Phin’s outstretched legs, putting it back by the table. He didn’t say sorry because he paid every day, whatever he did or didn’t do.  

Youk followed close enough behind him that he would look like he hustled Sard from the Dining Hall. 
Nothing new in that.

“Youk in his favourite role! Roman master with his Greek slave,” Tye shouted after them. “No prize for guessing  which is which!”

Caro laughed. “Ooh, Tye! Why not?”

The hall doors soughing shut behind Youk, cut them off from any further ribaldry, and because he had Youk breathing down his neck, Sard made for the dorm.

“Funny how the corridor walls don’t reflect your mood,” Youk said. “Surely they should’ve been flaming red on black? The AI loves strong emotions, all said and done.”

That was Youk commenting on Sard’s lack of nanobots even though he was deemed old enough to sleep in a dorm. With Youk and Phin! Two years later and he still hardly believed it.

And the bloody-power-that-be, aka Gammy the AI, thought Sard mature enough to be working with Youk and Phin as well. As their bullying went on, he was in danger of growing younger about it. What with Gammy’s message on the mini-mon this morning, he felt positively immature.

He could but reply in kind. “Funny how the corridor walls don’t reflect your mood. Shouldn’t they be colour of envy? A dirty green?”

“The stupid AI wouldn’t dare,” Youk said. “He knows I’d hack into him with no quarter given.”

“Yeah right, full of gas as always.” Sard stopped. “That’s what we’re here for? For you to tell me that Gammy isn’t reacting to me?”

“Not out here, stupido. Though after that little comment, why should I?”

“Typical. In the dorm?”

“The Pit would’ve been the better place.”

“With every man and his company working off his calories?”

Youk slung his arm over Sard’s shoulders and sidestepped him into their dorm. Dirty clothes underfoot wherever they stood. Phin refused them the use of a laundry basket.

“See what I just did?”

“What you just did?” Acting dumb was often his best defense against Youk.

“Stop that.” Youk shook him. “I was going to do you a favour.”

Sard laughed. “You hate me. I’m the golden bloody avatar, remember?”

“You’re an insufferable know-it-all clone. Just like my father. Just like Gammy. You and your sister both. A damned pair of insufferable Gammy-clones.”

“Srese would remind you we are twins, same DNA, womb tanks side by side.”

“Srese is half Yon Kerr doubled, and you’re Yon Kerr. Bloody Gammy clones.”

“What would you know?” Sard said. “Though ‘why would you know’ is probably more to the point.”

“Ferd is my father. He’s the Yon Kerr clone of his generation. I’m his natural-born son.”

“They say that about you,” Sard said. He stored the new facts in favour of keeping Youk at bay. “So what?”

“I wasn’t mixed in a test tube and decanted into a womb tank. My mother was a desert woman Yon Kerr got in for my father to romance. He won a contest to star in a cave-wide entertainment. Ring a bell, does it, that phrasing?”

Like Srese just won. Sard gulped down his worries. “What happened to his twin?”

“I was going to take you to find out. Walked through one of the holos in the Pit and into the next disused complex.” Youk forestalled Sard’s disbelief. “You didn’t know that there are more habitats than this one? Too bad, I could’ve shown you my hide. I have a standalone with all the information you would’ve been likely to want.” He shook his head. “There’s history there you wouldn’t believe. But as I said, it’s too late now.”

Youk was insufferable when he thought he had the upper hand and he always reneged on his offers. 

“I’m not worried. Srese and I have an agreement,” Sard said. Whichever of them was picked for the role would hoist the other twin up beside them. After all, they were the best CAVE director producer team ever. Not that he would say anything of that to Youk. Red flag to a bull,  that would’ve been.

Youk flung himself on his bed. “What are you going to do about it?”

Sard shrugged. He went round the room picking up his clothes. He wished Youk would go. “Laundry.”

“You could do some of mine.”

“You wish.”

“You know what Phin will say.”

“What will Phin say?” Phin said, coming in.

“About Sard doing just his own laundry,” Youk said.

“That isn’t right,” Phin said. He stopped Sard by gripping his arm like in a vise.   “Load him up, Youk.” 

He shook Sard. “And you can fold them before coming over for your chores at the farm. Missing lunch of course, as a result.”

Youk piled the rest of the clothes from the floor, their work coveralls, their glad rags, their towels on Sard’s armful. “Go at it, young fellow.” He opened the door into the corridor ready for Phin to put his foot on Sard’s butt and shove him out.

The corridor walls should’ve been incandescent. But they stayed obdurately grey as Sard hadn’t his nanobots, as Youk so kindly pointed out. The corridor’s laundromat was exactly in the middle. No one else doing theirs, very convenient for what he had in mind.

Sard seethed as he sorted clothes and stuffed them in three separate ionizing machines. He programmed Youk’s and Phin’s to cycle half a dozen times each. Folding the clothes afterwards should be a real problem. His own clothes he took out clean and creaseless. Folded them swiftly. Packed them flat in his washing bag. Walked back. 

Not to the dorm. The Nest was where he seemed to spend every second night, might as well this morning too. Thank Gammy his care-mother had been allowed to keep her apartment in the Nest after Sard had been assigned his dorm. Thank Gammy that his care-mother had kept his room in her apartment. Thank you, Gammy.

He let himself in through the apartment’s street door. Not everyone need know Sard was sleeping at Ghulia’s again this week. Though the infants shouldn’t have arrived yet. After Youk’s efforts, he just didn’t want to see anyone for a bit. Especially not Srese’s ditzy care-mother, kiddy-carer Zoya. She’d probably love it that Sard didn’t get the part. He didn’t even want to see Srese. Her tears or her dramatics. 

He dumped his clothes in his drawers and switched on the mini-mon above the bed. He planned to watch a movie instead of going to work.

The same words again appeared on the blue screen.

He closed his eyes. His gut churned. Words still there when he opened them the second time. He wanted to yell and scream, not fair. Srese was so young still, he’d never believed they were identical or twins. He was a boy, she was a girl. He had his yellow eyes. His name Sardonix, describing them. Hers brown, the same as everyone else’s. He wished now he’d let Youk be victorious. That he knew already what being remaindered meant.

“Oy.” Ghulia tweaked his toe.

He hadn’t even heard her come in? Sard sat up, feet over the side of the bed.

Ghulia sat beside him. “You look like you’ve got a week of work to do in three minutes.”

 “Srese is it.” Sard indicated the mini-mon above the bed. “What does that mean for me?” How could he trust someone as scatty as Srese to look after his interests?

Ghulia stared up at the words and leaped onto the bed, he was amazed to see, and switched off the mini-mon. “People think no sensori-felt, no receptors. Never dreaming that the communication gear might carry signal,” Ghulia said shakily.

He stared, his mouth agape.

She hugged him hard when she noticed. “Sard-baby, this is it. The first day of your new life.”

Cheerful when obviously that wasn’t how she felt.

 “How much time do you think until Phin and Youk notice you missing?”

“Probably round lunch-time if they don’t first find their clothes ruined in the ionizers.”

“And will they?”

“Probably not. They’ll be expecting me to wait on them hand and foot. Why?”

“You have no more time at their disposal. In fact, you have no more time at all for ordinary things.”

If it hadn’t been for her fear, utter and stark, Sard wouldn’t have gone along with her chivvying. Seeing her calm slip like that put the wind up him severely. He decided to coast in her wake until the facts of the matter came out and he could decide for himself.

 “We need to go to the Dining Hall,” Ghulia said.

The corridor walls, still grey, fluttered with the blue shadows of vegetation. Sard started every time a bird shadow exploded from the undergrowth. “That’s how you feel?”

She talked from behind the bit of her scarf that she covered her mouth with. “Ignore it. It’s Gammy guessing.”

She led him into the Dining Hall, empty of diners, and into the kitchen-office cubby and intro’d him to that fool, Gregorius, the food hall manager, as though Sard never ate here. “You know my care-son?”

“Sard,” Greg said. “Will I put you on the roster for early breakfast?”

“There’s rosters?” Sard’s amazement wasn’t a put-on though the way Ghulia was acting perhaps it should have been. Greg made them a couple of coffees in the meantime.

“Only for the early session, mate.”

Ghulia was like, go on, this is an emergency and it was an easy matter to commit to when he’d always preferred early breakfast. “Yeah sure, put me down for a couple of weeks.”

Ghulia took their coffees to a table. Everyone else was, presumably, at work. He could’ve been feeling good about that,  if it hadn’t been for the overtones. She sat down opposite him and behaved in a manner that opened his eyes to every sensor within their range – alongside every light-fitting and behind air-filter screen.

Because of them, she explained without a word, she wouldn’t be saying anything about the emergency in here. She allowed Sard about two minutes to gulp down what was a hot drink and drank hers as though it had no flavour and no heat. Like it was water straight from the moldeckery.

Sard lost the rest of his sure self confidence.  He followed her out into the corridors. “Where are we going?”           

She shrugged and waggled her head.

Oh yeah. Gamester all ears.

They’d exited in the lane alongside the Dining Hall, walked along it to First Circle. Left in the Circle, crossed Neilson Street. Into the lane alongside the silk weaving workshop. Its back entrance in the corridor parallel to First and Second Circle.

As they entered the silk weavery, Ghulia grabbed the doorbell with a practised move, obviously to prevent it jangling. She pulled him down onto his hands and knees with her and they joined a woman who sat beneath the loom. Her task apparently to tie off the beginnings and ends of silk cocoons as they were unwound and their filaments were woven into the new fabric.

Ghulia mouthed, “Mab, this is my care-son.”

“One of the avatars, Ghulia.”

Mab likewise spoke voicelessly. Sard was like audiencing a ball game, his eyes following the action.

“Not chosen for the game.”

“Plan B, huh?”

Ghulia nodded.

With a toss of her head, Mab indicated that someone, whose name Sard wasn’t able to read from her lips, was still up there. Wherever that was. She waved Ghulia and Sard out from under the loom.
Ghulia bent and felt for something under a heap of silk bits in a basket by a curtained doorway in the back of the room. “Go on through,” she said. 

When she joined him she had a torch for both of them. On caps to wear on their heads. A passage? He was amazed. How was it that though he and Srese had investigated every corner of the habitat in their single digit years, Ghulia and he now stumbled along a passage Sard hadn’t even known existed? He nodded his head to swing his torch beam up across and down, The walls and ceiling weren’t newly carved. Nor painted. The floor was ordinary ash-dark polished-with-use stone kreet.

“Mind the ceiling.”

She led, at a good pace, up a set of steps carved into the rock. The ceiling was low for a couple of paces until they went down another set of steps. Why not a straight tunnel for pity’s sake. After the third similar situation he could feel his ire building. “Where are we going?”

“The sooner we get there, the sooner you’ll know.”

Fine. He’d wait some more, though the time when he’d burst from lack of info was fast approaching. About all he was sure of  was that they’d entered the tunnel in the silk weaver in the Neilson-and-Everard Quarter. The way the passage slung about, twisting and turning, they could be going anywhere. There was that trick of counting stairs up and down and cancelling them out against each other. Except that he’d lost count after the third set. “Ouch.” He forgot to duck.  

Finally Ghulia stopped. But only to enter a foyer. The two sets-of-doors-setup made it like the foyer in the Nest, that he and Srese called ‘the airlock’ and where they used to play their spaceship games.
He wasn’t attending when he should have been, he thought as he nearly fell into the room beyond. It was so large and light and round he felt overwhelmed. Managing not to fall was the main thing for a couple of seconds.

By the time he collected himself, Ghulia had abandoned him and was stepping out a pattern with an old joker already in the middle of the room. The person they’d probably come to see. The man’s hair colour was certainly something to see.

Grey hair and wrinkles Sard only ever came across in videomentaries and then only because he searched beyond the common tripe. Most people he knew would prefer to be moldecked than grow old. Though maybe, seeing his mother so earnestly mirroring the old fellow’s moves, he was wrong.

The grey head continued to step and turn and gesture, completely unselfconsciously. Sard’s hands grew hot from embarrassment about the weirdness of someone ignoring bystanders. Personally, during a public performance, he had to have everyone involved in the action of the moment. And he always made sure that at curtain-up, he’d be behind the scenes. Not that ‘curtain up’ was what they did in the CAVEs.

Finally the oldster made a namaste-type ending to his routine. After a minute on hold he turned and approached Sard. Ghulia continued on hold. She wouldn’t be any help at all.

A vast bright light sprang into being at the top of the rock rim.

The old man said, “It’s the sun. Too hot in here, when that gets going. I’m known as Rider.”

Sard didn’t nod but shook the fellow’s proffered hand for politeness.

“Have a seat,” Rider said, gesturing and expecting Sard to cross-leg down. The floor was polished stone. No rugs. Sard stayed standing. Damned if he was going even further out of his comfort zone. He refused to meet the fellow’s gaze but could feel the man studying him.

Plenty to look at. More amazing was what he would guess to be, a per-glass dome perched on rickety pylons of stones stacked one on the other to the height, he guessed, of an adult man. Nowhere did the dome rim touch the walls so that in the gaps between the pylons cave air blended freely with the outdoors. Or what it looked like. Or it could be holos.

 “Originally the dome sat on that rim of rocks,” the oldster said.

The sun picked out an edge far above the dome. 

“Lucky for us the glass didn’t break when it slid down, though of course it needed serious stabilizing.”
The floor and walls behind the pylons holding up the roof, were of polished stone-kreet, with three dark entrances including the one Sard and Ghulia had come through.  

 “When it rains it is all hands to the deck, bailing.”

Above the dome hung a circular piece of sky, brown-tinged by the aged UV barrier in the glass. 

 “The dome dislodging from its original mounting caused this hall to be abandoned. One of Gamester’s engineers’ mistakes. Serendipitous for us.” 

Ghulia finally came to grace the meeting with her presence. “Master, this is my care-son. Superfluous to Gamester’s needs.”


Ghulia nodded, something she was doing a lot around these people.

Sard interrupted the flow of meditational discourse, whatever they thought they were doing. “I don’t need plan B. Srese will get me into plan A with her. The way we’ve been planning since we discovered the possibility.”

Rider looked at Ghulia. “He doesn’t know?”

“I brought him as soon as I was sure.”

“Yet it’s his life. He needs the knowledge. I think Plan B Scene 2, Ghulia,” the man said. “You know what to do?”


His mother seemed to come to some conclusion. “I thought you just agreed to no more decisions without my input?” he said.

Amazingly, she laughed. “Rider, you know him better than I do.”

“I was him once. Still am sometimes, though I try to keep those moments private.”

Whatever that all meant. Sard’s ears burned. He decided to go to the library next, to read the Name Book. He bet there was no Rider in it.

At the end of the tunnel Ghulia said, “I want to show you a couple of things before you are too old to enjoy them. You take Two Forty and Second Circle, not letting anybody see you. Hide in the overhang of Crystal Cave. I’ll be there in half an hour.

Sard frowned.

“Indulge me, boy. You owe me for that performance.” She took him by the ears and smacked a wet kiss on his chin. Tears in her eyes again. What could he do but what she asked?


Thursday, November 10, 2011

About Blogging, One

What I've learned over 2011 (so far) about blogging. I write three blogs of varying success, due I believe to the level of popular versus specialist interest in their topics.

Strange Nasturtium Leaves
Despite the fact I began it over eight months after this blog,, my blog about biodiversity in my backyard, interest in it has by-passed interest in this one with leaps and bounds.

Although I began the blog to interest local gardeners and build up a community interest in the biodiversity of life we all have access to in this region, that we can all help to maintain in the face of the big changes coming, it has been of more interest by readers world-wide. Its hit count is approx 1225 from 102 posts.

Mullum Yard's format is simple. I always have a photo of something happening in the one or two days of the time, accompanied by a little story of about 500 words. For the titles I'm often able to dip into the large public domain of 'sticky' words, where sticky means current ideas that are in the news somewhere. I'm sure this helps with getting noticed by search engines. is still a new kid of the block as far as blogs go with 12 posts and 197 visits. My macro fungi fruiting bodies obsession has only been going for about eight months in total, and I certainly didn't think of starting the blog straightaway.

An interest in macro fungi seems to me to be fairly specialised. I'm basing that on how much/little I can find about fungi and what sort of things are written recorded filmed researched, and the language, formal/casual for writing about fungi. It will be interesting to see what i can do to enlarge the readership.

My third, or rather first blog is this one. With 959 of your visits to 116 of my posts, it has been an interesting if meandering ride. With me being able to trace my own diligence in posting, by the numbers of your visits. I thank you, dear readers, for returning after my frequent periods writing offline. You may be interested to learn that I now have a novel, Tardi Mack is Monster-Moored with its beta readers.

Life has a habit of taking time, as I said yesterday, and time can only be used once. Right now for example, it is 7:52 pm here, and really, I should be making my dinner. Let me just ask why The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is the most popular posting so far?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Use of a Verb Book

An off-line commentator queried my need for a verb book. Dictionaries and the thesaurus would surely be enough, he said.

I thought that too when I began to want to write in the active personal voice.

This is more difficult than you think for a person trained in the story telling tradition. Where you get things like this, '... and then this happened and then that happened ...'

Writing funding applications for various institutions isn't the appropriate training either. Here the format tends to be something like this, '... The educational, scientific and cultural arguments and resources for this project are contained in the following ...'

Added to which fiction writing has become more visual in the last fifty years or so, influenced by the rise of film. There's the "Show, don't tell." exhortation. The way to do this, is to describe particularities and specifics.

And more recently, the increasing fashion to write in first person point of view or third person limited,  being that character and feeling along with that character.

Hence the need to train myself to use better, more specific verbs. In effect, keeping verbs and what they can do for a story in the fore front of my mind. Though my verb book is indexed, and that suggests a dictionary, I'll be reading it over every so often to get the words and their uses floating about in that wonderful stream of my consciousness that produces the writing.

One thing I'm already finding is that the verbs themselves may be quite ordinary. Like 'pinch', for instance. It's the way they are used that makes them interesting. '... she pinches the lapels of her suit together ...' (Sea Glass by Anita Shreve.) The way words are used in combination with other words is what makes them interesting.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ideas: Where From

While I was weeding in my garden and tucking bunches of weeds into the new compost heap made of  grass clippings, I realised one of the reasons for the hold up on Hezzie MacPhee is that I didn't know how to get the wizard to and through the next stage of his transformation.

Because not knowing what he would look like after the fourth spell, ie not being able to visualise him, I couldn't yet write back from that image to the place where he is transformed by Hezzie's next spell.

It's an interesting and frustrating fact that as soon as you put some rules into place in a story, their logical permutations are what drive you/I/the writer into the proverbial corner.

In the case of Hezzie MacPhee I did that to myself with Hezzie's spells and the (dis) order in which I used them. Writing myself out of the corner is now my task.

This image was a photo, I seem to remember of a bunch of azolla fern roots amid bubbles of air in water,  asking for transformation (with the help of the Preview Program) that I am using to help me imagine the 80%-ed wizard.

That action, of tucking something into the skirts of the pile of grass clippings, will probably also figure in the next transformation scene.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

My book club is reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet this month.

This is a complex novel that begs for at least two readings. But while the story has a wonderfully exciting and complex plot, I was held up constantly in my first reading by the unusual mode of expression.

It is written largely in the present tense, with the actions of the weather and aspects of the natural world given as much importance, with active verbs, as people. eg, The incandescent sun is caged ...; the fire snaps .... leading to a vanGogh-type of scenario with every aspect in the picture as important as every other.

My second reading was much more enjoyable as I had the story, I didn't need to rush, and could enjoy the language at my leisure.

The use of active present tense verbs is so continuous and leads to such intensity of particularization of experience I finally did look for and find an indexed notebook to start noting down some of the examples most resonant to me. I've been promising myself for a while to start this practice, and have never been so inspired as I was with this novel.

It seems necessary to know more verbs, now that adverbs, -ly words, and adjectives are on the black list. Though I like creating new words, to re-introduce words gone out of use, and to use words from other languages, I had the feeling my writing was missing out by not having more verbs in my treasure bag of words.

What is your writing tool of the moment?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Story Bibles

Now that I have finished Monster-Moored, a science fantasy, and am planning to write more instalments I need to have on hand for leafing through and checking details:

1) all my technological inventions,
2) all the mentions of the evidence of the existence of the Moogerah Monster in the action of the novel,
3) all the Monster's interventions in the mind of the main character,
4) the instances it uses incidents from his host's memory, and how it changes them.
5) Tardi Mack as the main character's appearance, mannerisms, attributes, speech markers and how he changes over the time of the action
6) The same for his little brother. Steve is the character that through his IT skills is able to get hold of some of the information needed.

Although I'm also doing a list for one of the women, Del but it is mainly to keep her part of the story straight. Tardi is trying to break up with Rowan, his girlfriend, who will not cope with the changes. Del offers herself but we will see.

Also a list of the physical attributes of the scene where this part of the story is taking place -- which is Byron Bay and its hinterland, in 2160 AD +/- . In this story, sea levels have risen, and the map looks rather different than the present day scenario.

I'm amazed at how easy it is, copying and pasting from the main document onto the appropriate open page. All the necessary pages are open and it is a simple click on the start-up bar running along the bottom of the screen, in Word 2007, to bring the appropriate one to the front. At the rate I'm going I should be finished inside a week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Living in the Moment by Knitting

Knitting a complex pattern is a great way of living in the moment. No way can you let your eyes stray from the pattern without dropping a stitch or forgetting to loop the yarn over the needle.

This is an image of a small part of my present knitting project, a rug made of scraps left over from my mother's industry. She knits striped socks, about six hundred pairs a year.

I love setting myself limits and working out the greatest possible variations within those parameters. In this rug I'm inventing ways to knit holes. Very like writing, you'll be saying and I agree with you.

However, I can't write every minute of the day and knitting allows itself to be picked up to fill the odd ten minutes here and there, or on the other hand a relaxing hour in the evening.

During my usual writing times in the last few days I have been working on the 'bible' that I will need to write the rest of the Tardi Mack series. He who is the hero of the novel I have just finished.

The first novel I ever wrote I was able to hold all the detail in my head. With this most recent one I was forever having to go back to page 103, or whatever, to find whether I'd said such and such. This gets especially bad after a few drafts because you/I just can't remember which details have been added or subtracted.

Therefore, I need a compendium, called a 'bible' in the writing trade, of all the important detail. Constructing the bible after the completion of the project is another quite a good way of proof-reading. I have already found two different names for one city.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Work-in-Progress is Finished

Finally, I can relax into writing again. Catch up my blogs, my housework, my gardening, life in general.

Though I still need to write a synopsis, pay the fee and send it on its way.

But yesterday I called the main work finished at 350 pages and approximately 94 thousand words. That is not to say it is now cast in concrete. I'll need to send it out to be read. And edited after that.

Pheeouw! She whistles in amazement at her staying power so far. Will she stay the course through parts II and III, is the next question.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Life and Death - an Intermission

Last Thursday an elderly acquaintance became lost in the bush roundabout the town.

Most of the area's rescue personnel, police, SES, plus an unknown number of volunteers and friends, and a rescue helicopter tacking and booming above the town, spent two days searching for her.

All sorts of what-ifs were mooted for her disappearance but the plain facts were that she fell into the river and was probably drowned. That's where she was found on the third day.

Between the searching and comforting a couple of her anxious fellow residents, Audrey's last moments were all I could think of.

When there's a passing, or a death if that is what you call it, like I do, or a stepping off from the mortal coil, the person's last moments are what most exercise me. Until I have a go imagining them and writing them down, usually in some kind of poetic form, I cannot attend to the usual.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The End is Elusive

The end of Srese Kerr's instalment, second in the Lodestar Series, or Saga as I've been variously calling it, is almost nigh. But I wrote and wrote, I had three days straight. Poured out a lot of words. Seemed good while I was writing it.

Lay it away for a day.

Started reading. Oof. I hated it. It's Srese dealing with Youk while they both have to make a get away.

Started rethinking it overnight. Re imagining how Srese would feel the first time she steps outside the door and sees the desert. The burning sky. The red land stretching to the horizon dotted with dry spinifex tussocks. Thinking that actually they might need to depend on each other at first. The reality is so different than what they are used to.

I started writing it again, from scratch. All the above, and them being shut out, prevented from returning. Having to press on. Srese not wanting to go it alone. Knowing there's all this stuff she doesn't know.

Yes, so I have to walk the knife edge between her being a wimp and her being the courageous person she'd decided to be. But that's good. It'll mean more drama.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Day Late and a Posting Short

It's Thursday. Posting day is Wednesday but I was invited to go and see the Archibald paintings at the Tweed Art Gallery at Murwillumbah.  Good company and good paintings. One of my favourites was the painting of  Cate Blanchet and her children, 'Mother'. It was meticulously intricate with colour and textures and methods of covering the painting surface that I would be interested to explore. The Coetzee portrait next to it also impressive.

There were a couple of paintings there so like photographs they might as well have been. I decided that in this day and age of excellent photography, I like paintings to be painterly.

Also of interest is the Seven Little Australians exhibition, by a painter whose name escapes me. The paintings seem quite old, ie done quite a long time ago, though no dates were on the cards. What made this display even more interesting were the artifacts purporting to have belonged to the characters in some of the paintings, on display in glass cases near the painting they referred to.

Srese Kerr is one and a half chapters from exploding into the world and I need to be there with my head every step of the remaining part of her journey towards the next instalment in her life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lodestar Part II, Free Read

Just spent the whole weekend writing and thinking about the end of Srese Kerr's part of the story.

I realised I have to get her to where she'll be picked up by the traders, in part IV.  Meaning I have to have her do her farewell with her boyfriend, who isn't accompanying her on the next stage. I have to have her learn to use one of the survival suits and she has to have another run in with Youk. He leaves the caves at the same time.

Probably another two chapters after Chapter 14, What the Greeks Did, what I thought would be the last chapter in this section. Here a section of that chapter:

15: What the Greeks Did

Srese woke. In the dark. She was lying on her back. She rocked herself, and so also rocked the bed she was on. It felt like a medi-bed. She felt constricted about her middle but her hands were loose. Her arm, when she raised it to her nose, stank of sweat and capsicum.

She sneezed. And recalled the red cloud bulking through the corridor and her on the stretcher high above the minion’s heads. High above everyone’s heads.

She obviously gone to sleep on the stretcher but where was she now? Apart from being strapped on a medi-bed? Both upper arms stung. She felt them with her hands creeping up. Nothing to stop them. Both her arms had a hypodermic needle head inserted. Elastic bandages to keep them in place. One of them with a tube connected to where she couldn’t reach.

The ordinary air-con in the background.

A drip drip drip in the foreground. To her right.

She opened her eyes.

The lights were set on half-light. Grey. She was in one of the clinics, lying on one of the two stretcher beds. A plastic bag hung empty from the stand by the left side of her bed head. She pulled the tubing out from under the bandage. Pulled out both the needle heads. The bandages would take care of the bleeding.

That drip continued.

To her right.

She turned her head.

There was Ahni’s body, constrained like hers.

Ahni’s head looked wrong.

As the details coalesced, Srese retched.  “No! No! No!”  

Ahni’s skull bone glared white. Her scalp hung inside-out, weighed down by her hair hanging over the edge of the bed. Sodden with her blood dripping from the ends to the floor. A long wound furrowed up her arm, over her shoulder and into her neck.

But she bled. Didn’t that mean she was still alive? Srese fumbled the ties across her body loose. Fell from the bed as she put her legs out. Held onto the edge of her bed while she climbed to her feet. Why was she so weak? 

Forget that. Help Ahni.

Crossing between their beds, she fell again. Too weak. Find someone. 

She crawled to the doors, onto the sensori-mat. Every move she made she recalled more of what had obviously led to this. The Seapeople’s AI that wanted her blood. Therefore her weakness. Royland didn’t even sew up Ahni’s wounds. There had to be someone to help. How would she know who’d be safe?

The door slid aside. She crawled through the opening. No one in the corridor. She rested, to think. What if Royland or one of his assistants came back? Holding onto the door-jamb, she finally reached the keypad.

She reset the door code. Srese will help Ahni: 5, 4, 4, 4. The door slid back into its groove and the lock snicked.

Out here the lights blazed. Stark. No one around. Or did she notice that already? Not a sound. She slid along the walls, negotiating the doors. All of them open. Even the ones into the minion tunnels. Why? The corner of Simmonds and First Circle. Where would everyone be? Still no sound. She stumbled down Simmonds. Arno might still be in the CAVE, and Ahni’s friend, KiraMah.

The doors into the complex were shut.

She stood on the sensori mat.

They stayed shut.

Was it Gammy still in charge of the doors, or was it the implant? She couldn’t decide. Heard again the thick dripping, as if it wasn’t just in her mind. Ahni’s life. She punched in her new code.

The doors slid open and she allowed herself a little smile. Thank you, Gammy.

People in there, stupidly unaware of danger. Five of them counting Youk. And only he noticed her coming in, with a swing of his head. All he could do. He was tied hands and feet. And gagged. To shut his lies up in his mouth, she wouldn’t be surprised.

Arno rested, closed eyed. Ghulia helped Zoya nurse the baby. Shot of hormones anyone? KiraMah collected stuff left behind. 

“I need help with Ahni.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lodestar - New Endings

While I've been busy with Hezzie MacPhee, the Lodestar story has been simmering on the back of the writing stove. Specifically the ending of Srese Kerr, Part II of the saga, which needed a completely new ending.

I found it incredibly difficult to let go of the previous ending in its entirety, that is, without referring to it while writing a completely new ending. Even the idea that a whole different resolution was possible was hard to get my head around. I think it must be a function of the years I spent on it, that the saga as it was then seemed that it had always existed and couldn't be changed.

But, since a saga it was, even unto its mythic and fragmentary nature, it needed to be restructured to make it readable by more readers than just myself. That's the plan, anyway, to take half a line out of Serenity.

What I did find interesting was that I couldn't begin the task until I had some really good chapter titles. Quite a few days of blank went by before I woke up one morning with them.

A lot has to happen in these two chapters. Srese discovers first, that she must leave home and second, that she can't stay in the group in which she briefly finds herself but must stride forth alone. Meanwhile keeping herself out of Youk's clutches.

Ahni and her people must be sent off scattered. Also travelling are Sard, Srese's twin brother, and Kes, Ahni's lover. Though they appear in subsequent parts, they exist in that same geography. The landscape of the story is not the whole world and so there needs to be judicious partitioning so that the characters don't trip over each other unexpectedly.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Intermission - Backstage

I'm running into the same troubles that i had with serialising Kosi Lionhair. (Point noted and taken on board. Mistakes do need to be made more than once sometimes to be recognised as bad habits.)

First are my writing habits/needs. I feel most comfortable writing the part, chapter, section, printing it out (scrap paper always) letting it lie to be able to come back to it with a reader's eye as opposed to with the writer's eye - because a writer does not see her own foibles.

You might be asking why I'm not writing ahead. I started ahead. Life keeps interrupting and suntime, when it shines, needs to be taken advantage of.

Yesterday I hade a very enjoyable photo shoot with Thommo and Cedar auditioning for their parts later on in the story, with Thommo showing off all his tricks.

Thommo shaking hands with his ears well back.

Cedar's portrait shot unfortunately too blurry to publish today.

Further I have Bertie making his appearance next instalment.

Now I'm cold. And I am going to get outside in the sun. Probably to pull a few weeds.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What I'm Reading

After a busy week in my non-writing life, with a Landcare meeting and a Landcare World Environment Day function, family visiting from the north and south, I am gearing myself up for another push writing fiction. The final three chapters of Srese Kerr's first instalment, in particular.

Usually when I'm writing, I don't read a lot of fiction. Hence there are a lot of non fiction books lying around, with bookmarks in them or face down on the pages where I'm up to.

Jeff Vandermeer's Booklife I've been dipping into here and there in the odd bits of time I've been having while waiting for appointments.

Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis by Al Gore (2009) was on special at my local bookshop. It's another thing to read in odd minutes. Lots of good info pertaining. Maps and charts and photos.

I read Deep Survival by Laurance Gonzales (2005) every couple of years for the great descriptions of survival stories, as well as the reasons why other people in the same situations didn't make it.

And I'm reading again the sections of Your Home Technical Manual appropriate to the renovations I'm planning.

Tim Flannery's Here On Earth has also been keeping me busy and inspired.

The Writers of the Future, Volume 27 is my fiction treat.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Will I Twitter?

My ideas about Twitter last time I talked about it, here, have gone up the learning curve, and down whenever I slid back a couple of notches every time I allow myself to wander off track.

This chart from the Wikipedia article was very educational. Pointless babble is obviously not where I'd want to go. Spam not either. The rest of the categories can, according to Jeff Vandermeer writing in Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer , be bent to the conversation of writers with their readers, as well as being good for networking and promotion. He also mentions some twitterers use the platform for creative output, the direction I was leaning into, and others mainly for networking.

The second major use seems to require real time twittering, on-going conversing, which I would find difficult to maintain, due to the way being online cuts into writing time. Usually I give myself a couple of hours a day online, in the afternoon, after I've done a swag of words. And part of that time is answering emails, and updating this and the mullumyard blogs.

Tweet contents

Content of Tweets according to Pear Analytics.[56]
  Pointless babble
  Pass-along value
San Antonio-based market-research firm Pear Analytics analyzed 2,000 tweets (originating from the US and in English) over a two-week period in August 2009 from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM (CST) and separated them into six categories:[56]
  • Pointless babble – 40%
  • Conversational – 38%
  • Pass-along value – 9%
  • Self-promotion – 6%
  • Spam – 4%
  • News – 4%[56]
Social networking researcher Danah Boyd responded to the Pear Analytics survey by arguing that what the Pear researchers labelled "pointless babble" is better characterized as "social grooming" and/or "peripheral awareness" (which she explains as persons "want[ing] to know what the people around them are thinking and doing and feeling, even when co-presence isn’t viable").[57]