Friday, December 14, 2012

Getting Ready for Self-Publishing



I’d be lying if I told you how well I planned the way to get published on Amazon’s Author Central

Despite reading several accounts by others of their experiences, backed up by intricate instructions, as well as a community education course on How To Publish an eBook, presented by Russel Lean, I had to work through my usual impulsive false starts, and ditherings wondering where to get started, how to get started, what to do first, last, in between, etc etc.

While dithering, I explored my options for the production of a book cover and wrote promotional blurbs without giving too much of the story away. I started thinking about the photo to go into my bio.

And I thought about my bio. A lot of writers have a lengthy list of interesting jobs they’ve done, with which to explain the passing years. From memory, it seems I have spent years in the dole queue listening to a whole lot of amazing stories. Grist for the writing mill, as the saying goes. Plus, with my as-yet lack of published material, my bio threatened to be pretty boring. I started a bit of jazzing.
So, the whole dithering exercise was not a complete waste of time.

I think now that the me-dithering part at the beginning of a Real Life (RL) project can be equated to getting the first draft of a story (Alternate Reality = AR) down. I’ve become fairly proficient using Scrivener. Getting the story down in my usual all over the place way, writing now here, now there – is what Scrivener is excellent for – but a Real Life project continues to get worked out in my scrapbook/journal.

In between, I dallied, browsing probably the better word, on the Internet for inspirations. The Book Designer for combinations of fonts. The Book Designer for book covers. The Book Designer for more book covers. 

I came across Kobo’s Writing Life’s submission process. Now I can’t make up my mind whether to do it first, to cut my teeth on the process, or do it after my foray onto Amazon, as a relief.
After a couple of days of confusion I was finally ready to Make a List.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Usual December Situation

By December it is all but impossible to get involved in a long anything - story planning, 100 000 word draft, or a 40 000 word structural edit. I'm back with a short story that I began early this year, though I'm finding that at 32 pages even that is not short enough not to suffer from interruptions.

However, one of my resolutions for this year was to get/have something published. And this story,
The Harrowing, will be it. Self published at that. Accompanying it will be the story of how I negotiate the self publishing process made possible by Amazon.com, the biggest market in the world.

The Harrowing is a science fantasy, one of those mash-up categories. Not elves and wizards therefore not fantasy. Not entirely in the world of possible, therefore not entirely in the realm of science fiction. The world is a fictional water planet where the viewpoint characters are attempting to resist an alien takeover.

The clash-of-civilisations theme has turned out be the one I return to again and again both in my reading and writing. I'm sure that says a lot about who I am - with my migrant background. I can well remember us (my mother and siblings) mystified at the instruction to 'bring a plate.' And bringing an empty plate. Oh, the embarrassment. We learnt of course that it's a way to share the load of party cooking, and that you bring a plate filled with food to share.

One of the greatest books on the clash-of-civilisations theme that I ever read, is The Inheritors by William Golding. That's all I'll say about it. Because it is worth getting hold of, be it for 50 cents in a secondhand hole-in-the-wall stall or free from a private library.








Monday, November 12, 2012

Donald Maass, I'm Hooked.

Rewriting is the name of the game. Writing and rewriting the Lodestar Series, I stuttered to a halt again. I feel because I didn't leave enough time between the prognosis and the beginning of the new effort.

My mind telling me I wasn't ready. Lodestar Series needs more creative surgery than I could generate in the ideas department. I felt depleted in that area for that story.

Looking about for something inspiring to help me produce a work I can be proud of, I came across Writing 21st Century Fiction: High impact techniques for exceptional storytelling by Donald Maass.

Printable checklists of 21st Century Tools are available on the Writers Digest website, which is a great help. I feel so good about these Tools that I intend using the checklists for everything I've written, one story at the time.

At the moment, I'm having another go at my novel Monster-Moored which, at approx 100 000 words, I thought to be more do-able with the season of cheer fast approaching. I'm in the thick of it, today finishing the Hierarchy of Externalisation, which required me to look at every scene in the book, 93 of them, and for each one note down changed circumstances, observable actions, anything new, passages of exposition. I added observable emotions, because writing emotion is where I'm weak.

This took six days but taught me more about the sprawl that is this novel than any other method of rewriting that I've tried. There is still also a lot of work to do, but due to the organisation of the suggestions, is possible to break into specific tasks. And each feels like a positive step.






Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lodestar Series Edit

Sue Woolfe, on page 1 of her The Mystery of the Cleaning Lady, described the process of writing a novel perfectly for me.

"...she stumbles around not for months but for years building something, let's call it an igloo, from the inside only, and out of the oddest of blocks - ice here, but over there bits of wood, bits of metal, glass, ribbons, thoughts, air - without knowing if it will hold and, worse, being unable, for a long time, to go outside the igloo to look at what's been made."

I took my igloo, The Lodestar Series, or rather the two novella-sized instalments that I thought were complete, Part I Ahni SkinGifter and Part II Srese Kerr to Laurel Cohn, local editor, to find out what my igloo looked like from the outside.

It turns out that there is still a lot of work to be done to make the Lodestar world accessible to readers. While I was happy with the report, it took me a couple of days to overcome my dejection at obviously having to do these same two parts that I have been working on, on and off, for about than 13! years, again! Their seventh and sixth drafts.

At the end of the dejection phase, and after a good lot of brainstorming, I decided not to first rewrite these two instalments - I am pretty well sick of them - but to begin to treat the series as a whole. Use the things I learned pertaining to Parts One and Two to produce better writing first in Parts Three and Four, then maybe go back.

Even getting the package ready for the edit was a fantastic exercise as I was forced to work out the nitty-gritties of the full series, in contrast to my usual method of plotting on the go. Seat-of-pantsing I believe they call that. I think now that writing and publishing parts of a series one by one must be one of the most difficult things to do. Because you can never go back and change a detail if it turns out the detail on Part One, doesn't work by the time you get to Part Five. Probably I should take up a more exact and extensive mode of plotting.

Of course I could not stop inventing and began my rewrite with a completely new character, sitting up in the gods as it were, to begin to explain the Lodestar part of the title earlier. If he lasts, he'll be rolled into the last part, he is of that people.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Space Prison by Tom Godwin




Space Prison by Tom Godwin (1958), are words engraved in my brain. My first real SF read.

At thirteen I had my appendix out in a cottage hospital in Glebe, Sydney, Australia. In those days, an appendix operation scored you ten days in bed. After my third or fourth escapade out of bed, the matron came to tell me ‘in no uncertain terms’ – she did not want again to hear of me setting even one foot on the floor while I was in her care.

The kid’s ward had four beds, two kids and an old wooden wardrobe filled with linen. My co conspirator across the aisle had his broken leg strung up in the classic cartoon style, and for weeks already. He was bored.

My mother was desperately ill in the same hospital. I wanted to escape into a good book and not worry. But books for Rita wouldn’t have been on anyone's to-do horizon. 

The hat shelf in the cupboard in our ward was stuffed with lairy yellow paperback books, my co conspirator said, seeing them each time a member of the staff opened the cupboard to get sheets or towels. 

With Master Broken Leg on watch as he could also see into the corridor, I took everything off my nightstand on castors, and sitting on it, pulled myself to the cupboard by curtains and the crash rail along the wall. I grabbed what books I could reach, five or six, and managed to toss half of them onto the bed across the room. One of the ones I kept for myself was Space Prison by Tom Godwin (1958).

The other two or three, that I swapped with MBL, apparently did not grip me. I have no recollection of them. Space Prison I took home with me, where it was seized on by various siblings and probably read to death.

Despite the melodrama above, the story told by the book was the important bit to me. It was pulp fiction, I recognize now, written and published at speed with hardly any editing.

But it introduced me to Space! Ragnorak! The telepathic rats, mongooses … ah, I remember, mockers! Unicorns and prowlers. Gravity other than Earth’s. A climate other than Earth’s. Story. Hell-fever. Cross bows. A dozen more ideas useful for a busy imagination. 

The original lurid yellow-jacketed book went missing. Perhaps it was finally lent out and not returned. I can understand that. For long years, before the days of Amazon and the Book Depository I could only rave about my first SF read. Latterly to my son, who shares my interest on SF. One birthday recently he got me a BiblioBazaar purpose-printed copy. Hooray, I can read it again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life As She Lives It

The old shed, on the left, is gone and a new garage is in the process of being built. My job for the weekend was to water the new concrete slab daily, to help it cure.

My second outdoor job is to shift my fishponds.  They are too near the build. I'm halfway emptying the second bath - I use old baths. Cane toads tend not to be able to jump into them.

Standing around now are six buckets, two crates and a watering can all containing various bits of water plants and a few fish.

While I bale the contents of the second bath into the first, every time I need a bit of action. It's good to have an outdoor thing to do to get me moving.

Because I am also doing a final draft on Part II of the Lodestar Series, part of a submission to an editor. Eighty thousand words by the end of the week as well as the whole series' plot outlines. I've decided to publish the first two parts soon.

And added to which was the Adult and Community Education course on e-marketing I signed up for a couple of months ago and completely forgot. That was the Saturday before yesterday and the Saturday before that. Very very useful but a steep learning curve.

Landcare does not stop either. Three dates coming up for that, this week.

Not much new writing going on. Just a sentence here and there, correcting misspelled words, a better way of saying something that reads awkwardly, a comma to put in here and taking another out there, and getting rid of the irritating little green underlinings with which MS Word lets us know of grammar problems and double spaces.




Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gerdientje


Memories may be other than visual imagery. Gerdientje by W G van de Hulst (date unknown. My copy is the 11th edition) is one of the stories that gave me several imaginary kinaesthetic, or physical, memories. Caused, I guess, by my ability at the time to imagine myself in Gerdientje’s skin.

I have a very clear feeling-memory of being in one of those old Dutch kast-beds, lying in the comfortable dark cave-like interior. Warm under the blankets. Seeing out past the half-open cupboard door to the glowing wood heater in the living room. I’m quite certain I never had that experience in real life.  

Another is me-as-Gerdientje knee-deep in the cold water of a lake, pulling at a rowboat and her father at the point of drowning. When I think of that incident, I feel the water cold around my knees, the stiff cold workingman’s clothes her father is wearing. The tremendous pull against my puny strength of the sodden clothes. It is as if I am there in the dark wind, being her.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Words: Rive

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1964) one of my very favourite books, RIVE means to Rend, cleave, wrench away or off or from, strike asunder. Split. Make by splitting.

Surprisingly, it is the root of the word RIVER.

Gives you a whole different idea of what a river once was thought to be. As if the bed of the river, and the difficulties of movement through a landscape made up of RIVEN-apart mountains, were more important than the streams forming those landforms.

Adding RIVER to various words we get river-horse, riverside, riverless, riverboat.

RIVULET and RIVERAIN or RIVERINE are derived from RIVER. Second generation words as it were. Though RIVULET, a small river, may derive more directly from the Latin RIVUS.

REAVE and REIVE (committing ravages, carrying off by force, forcibly depriving etc etc) are in some dictionaries held to derive from RIVE. Making a delicious irony of the REAVERS in the film Serenity slaughtered by the female fighting machine, RIVER.

Alas, it is not to be. Or rather, it is incorrectly so. According to Oxford, anyway. Oxford holds that REAVE and REIVE are the children of a different parentage entirely.

Note, too, the word DERIVE (obtain from a source) that I used to describe the various ancestries. Its progenitor is the same as RIVULET, the Latin word RIVUS for stream.




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Story is the Journey

Last night on The Book Designer I read about ten blogs and the reasons that they are successful, and promptly tripped into the hole yawning always before me.

I'm sure everybody has a pit of despair about their shortcomings. This morning I climbed up out of mine and I did a reality check. It became an audit of what this blog is about.

The title, up there on the flank of that angry star, could just as well have read "Story is the journey."

The journey along the staging posts of the craft of writing. Whatever is necessary to get the story on the page, be it virtual or be it hard copy. A never ending learning curve.

And this blog is a journey through my fellow writers' stories. My gleanings, through book reviews, of their solutions to writing problems I meet, and therefore you might meet.

The stories I have met and made and am still making part of me is another journey. This one without an end other than the obvious one featuring the dark scythe-wielding antagonist.

Most recently George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. Far in the past the books of my youth, Remi by Hector Malot, Gerdientje by W G van de Hulst and Tom Godwin's Space Prison to name but a few.

In between, I squirrel around getting more words. Wikipedia is fabulous on colours, I discovered recently. Take a look at Red and you will be amazed.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lodestar Series Incrementing Slowly


Hard to believe I posted a version of this up more than a year ago. This is different but the same. Another edit. The story of a writer's life. It's a free read. 

1: Sard
Sard strode through the pastel yellow arch out of the Nest. He needed the roiling colours of his envy and disappointment and anger. Because how come Srese won the contest when he was always the better producer? He wanted reds and blues and greens storming along the corridor walls alongside him. Where were they?

He stopped.

The Nest doors soughed shut behind him.

The walls, what he could see of them, were grey. And all the holos, one on every block-end, were extinguished.

Some kind of power cut? I don’t think so, he said. He stepped back seeking the comforting painted story on the Nest’s doors with his fingertips. A fill layered into the dark green paint made the bas relief trees. A rectangular brown roughened area signified a door into a tree trunk. Zoya, the kiddy-carer regularly pasted the profile of a different one of the infants half over the door like they pushed it open. She’d painted a tremble of golden light as if it came through the aperture. The doors slid open behind him because he still stood on the sensory-mat. He breathed relief. Phew. They still worked for him.

A chatter of voices neared from the Wingham direction, the group still out of sight around the bulging-out curve of the Nest. Dorms and family apartments fronted First Circle on that side. This late in the morning it was probably Tye and his girls. Sard almost bolted back into his hole. What good, though? He had to eat.

“Bad luck, mate,” Tye said as he passed Sard. “Not winning, I mean.”

Sard was slightly comforted. If that was all Tye knew, he could probably brazen it out and go to breakfast at least.

Tye hugged Relda to him. Both had dressed gypsy-style. She swirled a shin-length red and yellow skirt. Tye’s pants were about the same length, with the cuffs artfully folded up and he wore a neckerchief the color of Relda’s headscarf. Gold coins sewn over both. Caro arm-in-armed Viva, twirling so each could add her play to the hotspots in the holos.

So far they’d conjured a carved gypsy caravan pulled by a horse plodding along a sandy track in a high summer scene of green and gold. The ceilings round about were now blue and they seemed to walk on the same gold sand track.

“What do you think?” Caro said.

“I like it.”

Sard touched the opposite wall, near where he walked, where flowers burgeoned in a field of green. His touch killed off a swatch of flowers. He jerked back. Hope no one saw that.

“You want to input your alterity?” Viva said. “Since you’re not costumed?”

“No. Go ahead. You two are doing a great job.” They were all represented in the mural. The couple strolled in the meadow and Viva drove the horse. The Caro alterity did cartwheels alongside.

The gypsy caravan followed them across Second Circle and pulled into a meadow forming on the Dining Hall’s long wall between Second and Third Circles. The horse began to graze and the alterities followed them around the corner toward the Dining Hall entry where they pixilated into the scenery.

Sard walked into the Dining hall among them. His heart hammered when for the five or six seconds that he was the only one on the sensory-mat, the doors started to slide across. He pressed back the near one. Should he suspect that the door utility suddenly didn’t know him anymore?

Youk and Phin were already in there, shoveling scrambled eggs down their respective gullets. How he hated them. Obviously he was late, along with every other trouble this morning.

“Don’t let them get to you,” Tye said.

“Thanks.” How, was the question. He fetched his porridge, white pap, and his eggs, yellow pap on baked and toasted pap. If he was slow about it maybe his tormentors would leave. But they were still at the table and so he couldn’t go sit with Tye and his gang.

As usual Youk across the table from him watched everything he did. Didn’t the guy ever have anything better for his yellow eyes to do than make sure the avatars didn’t get ahead of him? 

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

 “What?” He could’ve kicked himself. When would he learn not to react?

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

“Ha ha,” Sard said around the egg. “Since I’m one of the farmers.”

Phin, diagonally across from Sard, smiled benignly. He kicked Sard’s feet out of his way under the table and hooked his own under Sard’s chair.

“Finished?” Youk said. “Good. You and I have business.” Loud enough for everyone to hear, he said, “Fare thee well, oh golden avatar! Do you wend to your Herculean labors?”

Of course everyone remaining at the other tables looked up and laughed and commented.

“Do you join him, Youk, to be dusted by his benison?” Tye said. He winked. At Sard when of course both Youk and Phin could not miss seeing.

Thanks Tye, for nothing. Sard thrust back his chair, hopefully doing damage to Phin’s hooked-up toes. Sard stood in a hurry to catch the chair before it fell. All he needed was a whip, to tame his lions. He put the chair down and shoved it hard against Phin’s outstretched legs. He didn’t say sorry because he would pay, whatever he did. 
 
Youk followed him close enough that he looked like he hustled Sard from the Dining Hall.

“Master and slave. Youk in his favorite role,” Tye shouted after them.

The doors closed when Sard and Youk stepped from the sensory matting, shutting them off from any further ribaldry. Because he had Youk breathing down his neck, Sard made for the dorm he supposedly shared with him and Phin. He dived into the lane beside the Dining Hall, and took a left into the corridor between Second and Third Circles. Walls, where available, were grey.

The dorms fronted onto the lane with doors and windows, and backed windowless onto the Circles allowing a lot of wall to be given over to holos. 

“Surely the walls should’ve been flaming red on black?” Youk said. “Gammy-the-damned-AI loves strong emotions all said and done.”

Youk was of course commenting on Sard’s lack of nanobots. Yesterday Sard hadn’t had any nanobots either, but he’d been a whizz at programming holos. The same as Caro. Today, because he didn’t win the programming competition he suddenly was nobody? It still didn’t make sense. He stood back for Youk to unlock.

Youk stood back too.

It looked like it would be a stand-off.

“Well?” Youk said. “You’re the golden-bloody-avatar!”

But how much of an avatar could Sard ever have been to be so instantly excised? “No nanobots, remember?” he said. “You’ll be missing lunch along with me if we stand here all morning.” As if Youk will miss lunch, he thought. “Funny how the corridor walls don’t reflect your mood. Shouldn’t they be a dirty green? The colour of envy?” Youk had envied Sard and Srese all their lives.

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

“Yeah right. Full of gas as usual.” Sard pushed past Youk who punched him of course. 

The main room was a disaster. Any clothes that he hadn’t taken to the Nest were trodden into the rest of the mess. He started picking them up. “That’s what we’re here for? For you to tell me that the walls aren’t reacting to me?”

“And the rest. But why would I help you? You’re so stupid.”

“Oh, you mean you’re now not going to tell me the walls aren’t reacting to me today?” He sprang aside to escape Youk’s kick.

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

“Why would I have gone in there with you, with every man of your friends joking and laughing at my expense.”

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

“See what I just did?”

“What you just did?” Being thickheaded was often his best defense against Youk.

Youk shook him. “Stop that. I was demonstrating how friendly I can be.”

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 are just a pair of damned Gammy-clones.”

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

“Trust me, Srese is half Yon Kerr doubled, and you’re Yon Kerr.”

“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.”

Youk stood up straighter. Even puffed his chest out. “They say that about you,” Sard said. “So what?”

“I wasn’t made in a test tube or decanted out of a womb tank. My mother was the desert woman Yon Kerr got in for my father to romance. He won a contest to star in a cave-wide entertainment.”
Like Srese just did. Sard swallowed.

“Ring a bell does it, that phrasing?” Youk said. “I was going to show you what happens to remaindered avatars. It’s why we should’ve gone to the Pit. Walked through a holo there into the next disused complex.”

Youk punched Sard’s disbelief back into him. “You didn’t know that there are more habitats than this one, did you?”

Punch. “Too bad, I could’ve shown you my hide. I have a standalone there with all the info you would’ve been likely to want.” He shook his head. “There’s history there you wouldn’t believe. You’re so superior that you don’t even want to know? When Srese has so obviously won and you’re suddenly remaindered?”

Youk let Sard go as if he was suddenly poisonous. He flung himself onto the couch.

Sard bent and picked up a pair of pants. “I’m not worried. Srese and I have an agreement,” he said. 
Whichever of them was picked for the role would hoist the other twin up with them. He’d been so green with envy himself, he’d forgotten. People said they were the best CAVE actor producer team ever. Not that he’d swirl that cape in front of Youk. 

And anyway, Srese and he knew the habitat inside out. Spent years finding all the nooks and crannies. No unused complexes that he knew. As for the other thing, he’d have to believe she’d remember their pact.

“So what will you be doing about it?” Youk said, almost friendly.

How stupid did Youk think he was? Sard shrugged. He wished Youk would go. He went round the room picking up his clothes. “My laundry.”

“You could do some of mine.”

“You wish.”

“You know what Phin will say.”

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

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

“Phin will say that that isn’t right,” Phin said. He gripped Sard by his arm. “Wait right here. Youk!”

Youk piled the rest of the clothes from the floor, overalls, towels, the lot, on Sard’s armful. “Go at it, young fellow.” He opened the door into the corridor.

Phin put his foot on Sard’s butt and shoved him out.

The 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 laundry was centrally situated. No one else was in there to witness his fury was one good thing, and very convenient for his plan was the other. But would he even be able to program the damned ionisers?

He seethed as he sorted clothes and stuffed them in three separate machines. Right, yes. Probably the laundry was on a slave circuit, not yet changed. He grinned wolfishly changing the settings for Youk’s and Phin’s clothes.

His own clothes tumbled about for the regular two minutes. He took them out clean and creaseless. Folded them and packed them flat in his washing bag. The twelve-minute cycles finished. Folding those clothes would be pretty well impossible, storing them like having a set of minions falling out of the cupboard every time you opened it. He walked away.

Not back to the dorm. The Nest was where he seemed to spend every second night these days. Thank Gammy his care-mother had kept his room in her apartment. Thank Gammy his care-mother had been allowed to keep her apartment in the Nest after Sard had been assigned his dorm. Thank you Gammy, ha ha.

He let himself in through the apartment’s street door. Another slave circuit. Not everyone need know Sard was sleeping at Ghulia’s again this week and he’d rather not meet Zoya, the kiddy-carer and Srese’s ditzy care-mother. Or even Srese and her tears and dramatics. 

He dumped his clothes in his drawers and switched on the mini-mon above the bed. Might as well watch a movie. He wouldn’t go to work at all.

The same words again appeared on the screen.

He closed his eyes.

Words still there when he opened his eyes the second time.

His gut churned. There had to be worse things in life than not being picked to be the primary avatar. There had to be worse things in life … It was no good. He didn’t know anything worse right now.

He wanted to yell and scream. Not fair! Not fair! Not fair! Srese was so young still! He ground his teeth. He’d never believed they were identical, or twins. He wished now he’d let Youk be victorious. What did being remaindered mean?

“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.

 





Monday, July 16, 2012

Remi by Hector Malot


The events in the month of April when I was eight years old are not as momentous in my memory as the story I read for a week, every lunchtime after the meal until it was time to go back to school. (In the Netherlands in those years school children generally went home for lunch.)

The neighbour’s where I had that meal that week had an old copy of Remi by Hector Malot (translated into Dutch from French) leather-bound in old green. The pages were thick and yellowed, fluffy from use at the edges.

Remi, at eight years old, discovers he was a foundling when the man he thought of as his father sells him to Monsieur Vitalis for forty francs. M Vitalis was a street performer, we would say now, who owned a troupe of animals. Remi helped care for them and learned to take his part in the performances. After the death of his master Remi has many more adventures finally to find a home, and be re united with his lost original family.

A few years ago I found an English translation/adaptation, by Constance Herd (1968). I was amazed and disappointed by its English meagerness though I did purchase it and it still graces my shelves.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hard-of-Hearing

Hearing aids, open, with batteries showing
This story is about the way we/people accustom ourselves to our loss of hearing. If it is a gradual process, we don’t notice it. We merely and often unconsciously adapt our lifestyle. Friends and family often do notice the changes, but not the reason for them.

A lot of people need to begin wearing spectacles between 45 and 55 when their eyesight begins to be affected by aging. The same process affects our hearing. Listening to loud music and films, being around heavy machinery, shooting, hunting and explosions generally, also have the capacity to damage human hearing.

My hearing loss is probably due to loud music, heavy machinery and a few explosions. I did first start to notice it in my forties, when I couldn’t hear the words in a song on the radio. I forgot there was a time when I might have heard them and learned to enjoy the music without the lyrics. It wasn’t such a big deal to me, I’d always enjoyed instrumental music more and anyway, I said to myself, if you want the words, get them in print.

I started having to ask people to repeat themselves, or speak up. An irritating practice, apparently. Body language and lip reading are now well within my skills range though they don’t always help.

Some people show very little emotion while they speak. Many Australians hardly move their lips. Some people speak so quietly as to be completely inaudible to a person hard-of-hearing. I learned the Foxtrot Bravo Tango alphabet to encourage call centre telephonists to spell things out for me.

The famed cocktail-party-deafness stopped me going to movies. I preferred waiting until films came out on DVD to watch them on TV, not more than two metres from the set, the volume up, and with the possibility of subtitles.

Crowd events in halls with bad acoustics became a waste of money. Then all crowd events fell by the wayside. Workshops, movement classes and any event with women as the main speakers were torture, because my hearing loss is mainly in the upper registers. Most sound systems make things worse.

I was already known for interrupting, I think, often I couldn’t hear whether friends had finished what they were saying, and couldn’t tell from their body language. I started making inappropriate replies. I’m guilty of a couple of total conversation stoppers and still people tell me they had no idea I have a problem with hearing.

After a fling with influenza and pneumonia my hearing nose-dived, and I couldn’t even hear a fellow choir member singing next to me. What amazed me about that now is that I didn’t just excuse myself and leave. I wouldn’t have thought twice about explaining if I couldn’t see properly.

If this story rings one of your bells, have your hearing checked out. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Learning to Read: Het Lees Plankje

Desperate to get an illustration of the object itself, I tied my computer into knots several times. It's still frozen several layers below this one and it refuses to let me close it. Words will have to do this time, and if you are totally interested check out this link, http://www.peterdehaas.net/ where is a nice pic of one.

I learned to read on a ‘leesplankje’. Aap, noot, mies were the first words. Aa p was printed under a picture of an organ grinder’s monkey dressed in a little red jacket sitting on a house gutter.

N oo t was under a walnut against a blue background.

A tabby cat sitting on a cream gravel path with grass and a paling fence in the background, represented m ie s, a popular cat’s name at the time ... read more 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hooray for Hearing Aids

Tree fern

It’s day 3 of my life with hearing aids. So far, it’s like having my own SFX streamed into my ears, similar to sitting in the dark and hearing the crystal clear soundtrack of a movie.

Except that I’m sitting on my terrace, writing by hand – a power cut has stopped me vacuuming, an Essential Energy cherry-picker truck and crew are out front replacing the cable between my house and the power supply.

I don’t mind. I will enjoy the sound scape. It is Friday, AM, a busy day. Before, I’d hear an undifferentiated cacophony of industrial noise emanating from Tyres and Batteries in the second yard from mine.

Now I can hear every wrench clattering to the concrete floor. The compressor chugs non-stop. The continual hiss-and-clack of the compressor-powered tool to loosen nuts and tighten them after the wheel is replaced. Air released from a tyre hisses out on a descending scale. The jack-on-a-trolley is dragged from one car to the next. There’s hammering on the wheel rims. The finished wheel-and-tyre bounced a couple of times before being rolled to its car.

Close-up sounds are just as amazing. Although I can’t hear my pen rolling out the ink onto the paper, I can hear my hand scraping over the page taking the pen on its journey. The crisp rustle of the humble scrap book page. Every stroke of my nail when I delicately scratch an itch on my head seems to resound through my skull. Whenever I move my spectacles over my ears, or my sunglasses, or hook my hair back, I hear that sound of two bits of polystyrene rubbing over each other. A sip of tea gurgles down my oesophagus.

Sound suddenly has a depth of resolution – I know this refers to pixelated images but am using it for want of knowing the appropriate term – that I have never noticed. In other words, each sound has components. I’m not hearing simple, flattened sounds.

My refrigerator for example hums, chugs, whinges and has a metallic wheeze that sounds like it needs a bit of oil. It is getting on.

Air conditioners too have their suite of sounds, depending on their settings. A lot of them rattle. I’m surrounded by air conditioners. My house and yard sits in the L formed by a motel and medical clinic. Some air conditioners whine rather unpleasantly. An extra, good thing about my hearting aids is that I have a remote and can turn down irritating noise.   

I hear many more birds. I had thought the increasing industrial/commercial activity had scared them off. But I heard half a dozen today down by the riverside. In the trees there.

There were a bunch of pups playing somewhere, I assume snapping at each other, with baby growls and whines.

The school buses were being parked along the back road as usual, but this time I also heard the drivers chatting and driving off in their cars.

Wind blew through the many Alexander and bangalow palms with the sound of water clattering over stones. Tree fern fronds moving against the bangalow palm trunk sound like an animal, a lizard hunting perhaps, moving carefully through vegetation.   

As I lift my coffee mug, my breath into the increasing space remaining sounds different each sip I take.

Across the road out front a garden tap squeals when it is turned on and off.

The wind shuffles through winter-dry canna lily leaves near at hand.

The cherry-picker truck out front is let hissing down off its legs. The hammer with which to test power poles for rot and termite attack, is thrown clanging into a metal locker. The extended ladder is folded with a lightweight aluminum clatter and shoved up onto its stanchions on the truck. Cabin doors are slammed shut. Pip pip pip, the truck drives away.

The washing machine continues its interrupted cycle, and finishes with its usual climatic slam.

I could go on and on.





Saturday, June 9, 2012

Salting in the Detail

Reaching for Ideas in the Swamp of My Mind
As well as 'seeding' plot starters for the eventual working out of larger ideas, a story teller needs to 'salt' the text with information necessary to a reader's understanding of the world that the story is set in.

I was struck by the following example of salting in George R R Martin's A Storm of Swords (Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire Series).

In one of Arya's sections, starting with 'She was grubbing for vegetables in a dead man's garden when she heard the ... ' comes the line, "Two miles upstream," said Tom. "A league at the most."

Yes! I knew a league was two miles. Or rather, I used to know and had temporarily forgotten. There is a lot to know in the world. I was glad to learn it again, because my idea of the distances in the story were getting a little screwed up.

In amongst the mainly non fiction research reading that I am doing at the moment, I am still reading the Song of Ice and Fire. Not just because there are still new things to learn from the way the story is told.

It's also a comfortable read, now that the fever of suspense and expectation is burned away. I have the book of the moment lying open, wherever, ready to pick up for a minute or ten of relaxation. Or when I'm having my lunch. Or when I have ten minutes between things-to-do.

Though, mind you, these ten minute slots are when I was going to be reading on my new Kindle, reading the short stories collection I have had sitting on my computer for over two years. ASIM have new collections out here: ASIM's Best Science Fiction Collection

I think you'll have realised am not totally in love with my Kindle. (Yet?)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Serendipity in Research

Coprinus Bird Fleeing - a failed spore print

The story I'm working on needed some serious research. The chemistry of Life. The formation of planets. Possible accommodation on the Moon and Mars. These gave me the grounding for the world I was 'building'.

A negative side to basing a story-world completely on known scientific facts, is the narrowing of possibilities as a result. This is probably one of the reasons I normally write in the science fantasy genre. Wikipedia gives a nice discussion of the science fiction/science fantasy conundrum.

Writing essays back in the days of my tertiary education years, I'd use the material in the recommended texts and find my work lacking oomph. I'd hie back to the library (actual books and journals) in those not too far off days, and I'd browse. Usually not in the area under consideration.

For example, for an essay was about Australia's relations with Asia, I found some excellent supporting material in Nineteenth Century Biographies. If my foray into the esoteric and arcane was successful, I'd come up with arguments and examples no essay marker had ever read and as we all know, essay markers love stuff they haven't read six hundred and forty three times before.

In the same way, when the story is about the possibility of finding life on a methane-washed planet I needed only to look at some research on the succession of fungi in the forest landscape, which I was researching for my other blog, when I found at the bottom of the page a reference to fungi growing in diesel fuel, kerosine and jet fuel, and the Mir space station. How serendipitous was that?


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Back in the Boat

Back in the boat on the river of life and not just drifting either sees me having another go at a short story. I have a four week slot. For a title I'm tossing up between 'The Weight Distribution Process' and 'EVA Module 5'.

Reading-wise, 'winter is (still) coming' and George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is being re read. I missed out so much the first time around, reading in my usual fast chase after the plot. 

Added to which I have finally acquired a Kindle, and am for the present reading the ebooks which I had been storing on my Mac. Best Horror Collection by ASIM is my present in-between read. 

The Kindle is, so far, a great way to spend the odd ten, fifteen, twenty minutes that are an invariable part of modern life. My mother tells me that in the olden olden days when her mother was a child, those ten fifteen minutes would be spent knitting socks and socklets onto stocking legs (that took longer to wear through). Each girl in the family - seven girls and six boys - had to knit a sock a day. 

I say 'so far' because that's all I'm using the Kindle for at the moment. Its capabilities are huge. Another learning curve to be negotiated. But the Amazon site makes me feel subversive. I might first investigate all the other places selling ebooks. 

Then there is the book for Book Club that is still to be read. It's John Bailey's latest title, Into the Unknown, about Ludwig Leichardt, one of our explorers.

And the books stacked on the coffee table by my son on his last visit, one of which is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel that I've been keen to get started on.

As you can see, reading could easily take precedence. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Immersion for Learning

My immersion in the A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin continues. While sick with the flu for the last couple of weeks, it was wonderful to be able to spend most of the time reading the various instalments as they came to hand. The local library with the first three, the bookshop with Parts Four (cover illustrated) and Five.

Reading and re reading. I think I mentioned in my previous post how for my first read I skipped through a Part to follow particular characters. In Part Two there are at least ten protagonists.

The above strategy made it easier to enjoy the story as Martin meant it to be followed, the second time through. With the third and fourth re reads, I finally got the stage where I could begin to appreciate the various aspects of writing craft that I'm always on the lookout for.

Such as world building. The action in A Song of Ice and Fire ranges over a hugely detailed world but Martin does not do info-dumping, the bad thing that some writers do to get detail across. My example could've been any of hundreds of instances, Martin is so good at this.

Asha is at home on the Iron Islands, visiting her uncle at the Ten Towers castle. (p 181, Part Four).

"It was good to walk these halls again. Ten Towers had always felt like home to Asha, more so than Pyke. Not one castle, ten castles squashed together, she had thought, the first time she had seen it. She remembered breathless races up and down the steps and along wallwalks and covered bridges, fishing off the Long Stone Quay, days and nights lost amongst her uncle's wealth of books. His grandfather's grandfather had raised the castle, the newest on the isles. Lord Theomore Harlaw had lost three sons in the cradle and laid the blame upon the flooded cellars, damp stones, and festering nitre of ancient Harlaw Hall. Ten Towers was airier, more comfortable, better sited ... but Lord Thoemore was a changeable man, as any of his wives might have testified. He'd had six of those, as dissimilar as his ten towers."

The first few sentences tell us of the castle as a function of Asha's experience of it. The italicised section by the way,  "Not one castle, ten castles squashed together", is how Martin signals direct thought. By the time we read down to "His grandfather's grandfather" we're being led into Harlaw history at the same time as discovering why the castle has ten towers and how dissimilar they are.

The historical detail might seem a bit superfluous until reading on to page 188, we find, what I presume, the original Harlaw Hall still being used, "Damp, decaying ..." belonging now to one "Sigfryd Harlaw the Silverhair.

Dribbling information into a story is only one of the things I'm learning about while reading this series.







Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Immersion Reading in The Song of Ice and Fire

Following my enthralment to the TV series Game of Thrones (and this is not the second series which is playing as of now in the US) I began, as soon as I could get my hands on Part One, reading A Song of Ice and Fire, the books that the TV series is based on.

The illustration is of Part Two, a brick of a read of 873 pages that will not let go. Never in my life have I read one series so constantly and for so long. I think I'm in my third week of close attention to Parts One, Two and the first half of Three. Which is only half of the whole.

It is probably possible to read a book right through. I haven't found it the best way for me. With twelve or fifteen viewpoint characters, I quickly started leafing through the book and getting continuity of each character in turn, or each couple of characters. For example, it was fairly easy and propitious to read Sansa's story and Tyrion's at the same time in Part Three, first half.

There's no problem yet in reading Daenerys's story separate from the others, it doesn't intersect very much yet with any of the others. The same with Jon Snow's adventures, though to get the fine detail on the interaction of the Stark's dire wolves, I also had to have Bran's part handy.

After I did the same thing with the first half of Part Three, I had to go back to Part Two for more detail. Lucky I still had them both on hand. There's a long line of reserves at the local library to wait through before I can get the second half of Part Three.

I wondered about the increasing size of the books. I remember that blow-out happening with the Harry Potter books as well.

However, I discovered with pleasure that Martin is an exquisitely courteous writer. Sol Stein, in one of his how-to books, named courtesy as a necessity in the relationship authors seek to have with their readers. One of the courtesies invoked by Martin is his practice of reminding readers of what went before. Essential in such a complex ongoing story as this one, with so many viewpoint characters. Take this example in Part Three of Catelyn talking with her son Robb, the King of the North (163):

"Any man Grey Wind mislikes is a man I do not want close to you. These wolves are more than wolves, Robb. You must know that. I think perhaps the gods sent them to us. Your father's gods, the old gods of the north. Five wolf pups, Robb, five for five Stark children."

"Six," said Robb. "There was a wolf for Jon as well. I found them, remember? I know how many there were and where they came from. I used to think the same as you, that the wolves were our guardians, our protectors, until ..."

This whole section says nothing much new, but says it all in a new way, largely by Catelyn, who in Part One didn't believe in the old gods and who felt like an outsider in the Winterfell godwood, giving readers another aspect of her character arc as well as reminding them of the mythology around the dire wolves.

Part Two and Three are full of that kind of reminders; that add to knowledge about the character under consideration, as well as serving as a place where to weave in new world building/background facts.

For me, this courtesy by Martin is a big part of what makes A Song of Ice and Fire such an amazing reading experience.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm Celebrating a Little ...

I'm celebrating a little with a couple of days of catching up with mail, blogs and real life after finishing my latest draft of Monster-Moored, my speculative fiction novel set in a 22nd century Byron Bay and hinterland. It will be the first part of zig zag sequence taking us all over the country, or as it is in the novels, all over the Australia Archipelago.

Monday, March 19, 2012

In Thrall to Game of Thrones

Daenerys Stormborn with one of her newly hatched Dragons

In between writing these last couple of weeks I've been enthralled with, or more honestly, in thrall to Game of Thrones, the TV series on DVD. A smash hit by all accounts, and I can understand why. Ten hours of suspenseful story with a host of brilliantly acted characters of all ages. I'm sure it's possible for anyone to relate to someone in the story.

An adult fantasy series (of novels) A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin (1996) is set in a medieval style world where winters and summers last longer than one year, and are of a variable pattern. If pattern is the right word.

Australians should be able to relate to the weather really well. We have variable weather. So does the Game of Thrones planet, but more so. The Stark family, one of the Houses, with the majority of viewpoint characters in Series One, has as their motto, "Winter is Coming".

This story has everything: action-packed politics, sword fighting, war, fighting, and everything that goes with them. Riding, horses, blacksmithing, practicing war-crafts, strategy, killing, hostage taking, etc

There's Romance. Yes, capitalised. Daeneris' romance with the Dothraki horse lord, a violent killer. Lord and Lady Stark of Winterfell. Sansa's (Stark) mistaken romantic feelings towards Joffrey the boy king-to-be, a Caligula in the making.

Animals as in ravens, horses and wolves and dragons. Ravens carry messages, no messager pigeons these. The wolves are direwolves, the sigil of the Stark House, all six children, including Jon Snow, the bastard, get a pup of the litter found in the first instalment. Horses are the main form of transport, wealth of the Dothraki.

Elements of fantasy treated as if real life. See the dragons, and the dire wolves.

Suspense - see the ice wall, The Wall, built to contain the Others, fearsome creatures out of legend and frightening stories. The Night's Watch is where Jon Snow will make his mark.

I first came across Game of Thrones (recently) on a blog I don't remember whose. I'm amazed I've never heard of it before. After spending a week watching the DVD's over and over, I had to return it to the shop. A waiting list prevented me taking it out again there and then.

I turned to the district library for the books. They too have a long waiting list. I'm reading Book One, Game of Thrones. Book Three is waiting for me. I'd really rather have Book Two first. The TV series is amazingly close to the original. The HBO (series is made for HBO) Game of Thrones website is a mine of interesting detail on the story, trailers for the next series etc etc  and I've been spending many hours there as well.

I told you, in thrall to.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The City and The City

Synopsis from Wikipedia:  Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad in the European city-state of Besźel, investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead with her face disfigured in a Besźel street. He soon learns that Geary had been involved in the political and cultural turmoil involving Besźel and its twin city of Ul Qoma. His investigations start in his home city of Besźel, lead him to Ul Qoma to assist the Ul Qoman police in their work, and eventually result in an examination of the legend of Orciny, a rumoured third city existing in the spaces between Besźel and Ul Qoma.


Events take place in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma which are cities very nearly superimposed on one another but which are perceived as two different places, with the help of a secret power called Breach. 


Citizens must not see, unsee - or rather see and then ignore - anything in the other city whether it is a building, person, car and car accidents, even if they occupy the next couple of feet. people are taught the difference from an early age. his separation is emphasized by the style of clothing, architecture, gait, and the way denizens of each city generally carry themselves. 


While it makes for complex reading, the scenario is not so alien that nothing of it can be recognised. And although the author denies he wrote The City & The City as an allegory this is, due to its resonances, going to be one way of reading it. The premise of the two cities interbuilt certainly resonated with me for that reason. 


There are many situations ongoing in our real life societies that have this kind of scenario. The city I am in, when I visit one, is a vastly different place to the city the average homeless person lives in. There are many places where people 'unsee' beggars. Dark alleys where women must not walk/see. Places where you don't stare inquisitively.



I have travelled enough that I appreciate the detailed amalgam of European cities - the underground railway, the broken down medievality of Beszel. the not so way-out portrayal of the two populations inhabiting the two cities. Just as there are many ways to read a novel, there are many ways to read a city. This novel is one way. Besźel and Ul Qoma could be any half modern city in Eastern Europe. 


Mieville's novels are like chewy bread, a lot of decoding of the setting to be done, yet the characters are realistic enough to identify with. The plot has enough progression to keep this reader from getting lost in the narrative.


Another reason why I thoroughly enjoy Mieville's writing is his turn of phrase. I have a collection of first paragraphs that I copy to learn from. I quote, "We were enclosed by dirt-coloured blocks, from windows out of which leaned vested men and women with morning hair and mugs of drink, eating breakfast and watching us." And it was an absolute joy to see MS Word going berserk with green underlining.


In paragraph two, he has "paths footwalked between rubbish", "gulls coiled over the gathering".  Both unusual uses of words as verbs. At other times words not used to it , are pressed into play as adjectives. Page 178, "the huddled quick night-walking blurred body-language."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rejigging Monster Moored

Scene in Monster Moored
I'm finding the most difficult thing while supposedly cleaning up a story for eventual submitting, is not to start any new threads.

I think it must be that I have a short fuse for boredom, and reading and correcting a manuscript for the so many-est times gets plain boring.

And so I have already failed this important step in my attempt to make Monster Moored a better story. My beta readers marked up the areas which needed more explanation and I was well on the way.

However, one of the suggestions was to have the monster eat someone, as in consume bloodily. This is not an easy matter, I found. The only ones in the surf with Tardi at the time of the the monster's manifestation were Polk, Tardi's best friend, and Threen, Tardi's secret love. (You understand I couldn't have the monster eat Threen!)

So, OK, it's easy to have the monster seize Polk and chomp into him. It's not easy then to write Polk's demise forward and backward. His end has to have some effect on Tardi, doesn't it?

And plus, the monster in the ocean is the hallucinatory version of the monster in Zoo Hall. So how does it eat Polk? How does Polk later re-appear? And as what? Also a hallucination? Suddenly Polk is more than just a shallow secondary character, he has to have oomph. He has to have likes and dislikes. Agency. In other words he has just become one of the do-ers.

I mean, Polk has to have a use in the ongoing story. In the goodness of time, after some heavy duty thinking, I decided he might be very successful in helping to free Tardi from the monster at the end of the story, because Polk, with lovely hubris, thinks he is the better person to be the monster's man. And so he helps enable the novel to primarily be Tardi's story, to be a standalone. (Which may help getting it published.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Still writing

The calderafungi at blogspot.com

Draft one and notes of and on the new as yet untitled opus miranda

The eventual short story

The slight rejig of Monster Moored, preparations to submit it some time in April

and

Learning Scrivener

and

Finalising house renovation plans, choosing bathroom tiles, paint, a new stove, etc

Edge of shed that will be replaced, a hole in the storm in the distance

Walking, going right now, as soon as i post this, it is 5.34 PM here despite what it might say at the top of this post.

Reading, a History of Ash by Mary Gentle.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Euphoria and Depression


Euphoria and depression go hand in hand as we, if we’re so inclined, pass around the circle of life. 

First I had one of my euphorias. It was probably brought on by a year’s worth of stress. The last straw was being unable to force myself to have a viewpoint character doing physical violence to other characters in a story I was writing.

A fine insight you might say and I will agree with you. Another was the instant understanding of the difference between writing from the head and writing from the heart. A good story is under construction as a result.

But how does euphoria follow from that, you're wondering? I don't know. In three percent of us it does apparently. I go into a cognitive dissociative state, a trance, and my unconscious generates extreme bliss. With no help from any drugs. 

But the higher I go in the euphoria, the deeper the depression afterwards takes me.  And where the euphoria was a wonderful eight day event with two or three days to recover, the depression is, so far, a three week marathon and for some inexplicable reason, far more difficult to walk away from.