Tag Archives: writing

I wish it would rain

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

I know, it’s been far too wet in too many parts of Australia. Lake Eyre is still full, farmers in Tasmania and Victoria wish it would all lift its skirts and bugger off elsewhere and there’s STILL snow at Falls Creek. Western Queensland is well satisfied with the precipitation, thanks very much. But here along the Fraser Coast the grass is crunchy underfoot. And up North Fitzroy Crossing isn’t the only place watching the water levels. Bring on the monsoon.

Sure, I’ll complain about the rain when it gets too much, but in the meanwhile, a few inches would be nice.

I also wish the media would stop with sensationalising natural phenomena like the moon up there. We’re all so used to supermarkets going on about super sales and super size. But the fact is, the recent “Super” moon was just our regular old full moon at perigee-syzygy of the Earth–Moon–Sun system. Which means it’s at its closest point to Earth, so being closer, it looks a tad larger. Even so, if nobody told you, I expect you’d be none the wiser. You might say, “isn’t the moon bright tonight?” but that’s about it. It’s all rather well explained here, with a nifty diagram showing the actual difference in size to a ‘normal’ full moon.There’s also a reference to the apogee-syzygy, which has been called a micromoon. It’s not talked about much. We humans prefer to talk about larger sizes in all sorts of arenas.

That’s not a super moon in the photo, by the way. Personally, I think dear old Luna is pretty special all the time.

In other news, we attended my nephew’s wedding in Brisbane a few weeks ago. What a fun event it turned out to be. Very best wishes to Jake and his lovely wife, Amelia. It was our pleasure to attend.

On the writing front, I’m getting back to my Work in Progress provisionally entitled The Stuff of Legend. It has been a hard slog for a lot of reasons. The main one is that, although I write space opera, I still like to ensure the science works. If I find myself thinking, “but why would…” or just as important, “why wouldn’t…” then something’s wrong and I have to backtrack. Some people would just say I’ll fix it later and charge off to finish the first draft, but I don’t work like that. I need to know it’s all making sense. So… progress hasn’t been as fast as I’d like, but it IS happening. I’ve even booked a spot with my favourite cover designer.

Meanwhile, I keep abreast of the US craziness via my Facebook family, where I particularly enjoy the Obama-Biden memes. Here, take a look. The coming months will prove interesting.

I sincerely hope my American friends all enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. But – and I say this from the heart – you can take your Black Friday and stick it… somewhere. We don’t need Black Friday in Australia anymore than we need Halloween, or, for that matter, Thanksgiving. Huh. Yet another ‘Super’ sale. Ours (traditionally) happens on Boxing Day – the day after Christmas, which I believe is not a holiday in the US. In many respects, globalisation sucks.

Let’s see now… this week’s photo gallery. A few sights that took my fancy.

Kimberley gorgeousness - the Ord river

Kimberley gorgeousness – the Ord river

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Summer at the Bay – low tide and fluffy cumulus cloud

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

What’s the opposite of writer’s block?

1239877Writer’s insomnia. That state when you’re on a roll, the story is flowing – but there are holes and questions (there are always holes and questions) and ‘oh hey’ moments and ‘is that plausible’ moments. And they all get together in your head and shake you awake at 2am. You think you’re getting up for a wee and a drink of water. But no. They ambush you, make you listen, pour words in your ears.

It’s fabulous. I LOVE this story. (It’s still called WIP – that’s Work in Progress for those not in the circle.)

Meanwhile, a huge storm built up to the south of us, complete with mammary clouds, thunder and lightning. Fortunately, we got to enjoy the spectacle at sunset – but didn’t have to face the fury of the storm.

Impressive, it was. Share photos, I will.

sky3

Sky1

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A time of endings and beginnings

illustration, white cat

illustration, white cat

I’ve just finished reading the last Discworld novel. “The Shepherd’s Crown”.  The tile of this post comes from the book’s blurb.

A SHIVERING OF WORLDS

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning . . .

Endings and beginnings… It starts with an ending. An ending that stopped my bed time read. I wasn’t ready for… that. In the morning I tried again. With numerous breaks to clean tear-splattered glasses, or blow my nose one more time.

But as we all (should) know, every ending is a beginning. There’s a gathering of witches, the Feegles – it’s a Tiffany Aching story so that’s hardly a surprise – and a number of surprises. Oh – and laughs. Many, many laughs.

There’s a page at the end of the book, written by Terry’s editor. He’s anticipated the question so many of us must have asked ourselves as we read page one. How much of this is REALLY Terry? Yes, he wrote it. You can feel it, especially in that early part, where he writes about ending. “Nation” was published in the year his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed. It wasn’t Discworld, it wasn’t a part of any of Terry’s lexicon. And it was a hard read. So much death. So much pain. So much “why me?” “The Shepherd’s Crown” is much gentler, as though he’d come to terms with his mortality. It gathers together characters, and themes, from many of his earlier works. Although only one wizard, and none of the Watch, made the cut.

A reviewer on Amazon commented that some things were left hanging, things that might have been finished if only he’d been given more time. Even now, just writing about the book I feel the tears pricking. But it was a good ending. I’ll read it again. Hey – it’s a Terry Pratchett book. I’ve read every single one many times. I’m pleased to know there won’t be another Discworld novel. Terry’s legacy might not live forever – forever is a very long time – but it will last for as long as his die-hard fans live. And if something like Star Wars is anything to go on, new fans will read his work, and so it goes. Just like Shakespeare, Dickens, Asimov, Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he has a form of immortality. And now I’m blathering, so I’ll stop.

Oh, by the way, there’s a cat.

I’m busy #amwriting but I also talk about genre

Starfield shipThe title says it all, folks. I’m writing up a storm – or trying to. Writing is just like any other pastime – cooking, hockey, netball, swimming, tatting. If you stop doing it, the skills atrophy. But I’m around 6k into what will be a longish short story, and it’s all coming back to me. Like riding a bike.

Meanwhile, pop on over to this week’s post on Spacefreighters, where I talk about genre and what it means in science fiction romance.

Had a rotten review? #amwriting

TeddyEverybody gets rotten reviews. It’s part of the territory. Your first one or two star is a coming of age, your movement from beginner to seasoned veteran. I’m not going to lecture you on survival techniques. The world and his wife has done that already. I’m usually a subscriber to the DO NOT READ THEM school. Let’s face it, there’s nothing useful you can do  about it, anyway. For lots of very good reasons.

But there’s one teensy bit of advice I will share. How many of you remember John Locke and his best-selling ‘how-to’ book, How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months? That was in 2011 – or at least, that’s when I bought mine. It turned out that he bought quite a lot of his success by buying reviews and there was a huge scandal. But setting that aside, his advice on bad reviews was well worth reading. As I recall, he said that if the review is not coming from your target audience, shrug and move on. If you have a fan base, and those people like your work, that’s really all that matters.

Take it to heart, writers. Snuggle up in bed with that little teddy of truth hugged close.

You can’t be too careful with that precious first page

picture of annoyed cartoon character

Life is too short

Authors, you can’t be too careful when crafting that precious first page for your tour de force. This is a case study.

Since he retired, my husband has read a lot of books. He tends to like crime, thrillers, mystery – that sort of thing. And he often picks up free books from Smashwords. As I explained in a previous post, if he enjoys the read, he’ll go and buy whatever else that author has on offer. Sometimes, he’ll share his new find with me. “Read this. I think you’d like it.”

So, feeling at something of a loose end, I sat down in my reading chair and opened the book on my tablet. It’s a crime novel, written in first person. I’ll say no more at this stage, because all I’d read was the blurb. In the first few sentences I met the protagonist, and a rather scruffy stranger. The exchange was very different to the usual polite frippery. He says, “Pleased to meet you.” She responds with, “No you’re not.”

So far so good. I’m interested. But then we meet a new character who is this lady’s boss. And this is where the author lost me. Not because a new character is introduced, but because I am immediately derailed into a far too long exposition of this person, his background, her background… All presented as her inner thoughts. But of course, they’re not. When you’re having a frank and earnest discussion with someone, you don’t reflect on how long you’ve been employed, or explain how the boss has taken on the role of buffer. The protagonist has taken on the role of narrator, cunningly disguised with the word “I”. Meanwhile, I the reader had lost track of the story.

I wasn’t in the mood. I switched off and did something else, muttering to the OH that his idea of a good read and mine weren’t the same.

The difference between us is that I’m a writer. What would have been perfectly acceptable to me ten years ago, now has to pass the inner editor. And while I can turn the inner editor off if the story has grabbed me, that’s going to be for grammar and such. If I lose interest in what’s going on – life’s too short, sorry. I have other things to do. Like look at pictures of cats on Facebook.

As it happened, at the OH’s insistence I had another go and managed to get past my irritation with needless information. It wasn’t a bad read. The main character was autistic, highly skilled at body language but very poor at social skills (hence the book’s opening exchange). I thoroughly enjoyed the insight into this lady’s mind, and the way she developed through the events in the book.

After I’d finished it I realised that my first reaction – I can’t be bothered with this, it’s all too hard – is very likely what an agent would do while wading through her slush pile. The entire work that an author may have taken years to perfect, is judged by a few paragraphs in the opening chapter. Just as well my husband acted as gate keeper for this one.

How about you? Have you ever ploughed through what you initially thought wasn’t so hot to find a gem? And why, indeed, did you persevere?

The Hobbit – how to turn a kid’s book into a block buster movie

I watched The Hobbit the other day. It’s old history, I know, but that’s how it is at my place. Anyway, having watched the movie (part 1) I re-read the book for the first time in many years. It was an interesting exercise in seeing how a children’s book was adapted to be a fitting precursor to The Lord of the Rings.

Make no mistake, The Hobbit was written for children. In fact, I can imagine Prof Tolkien reading the book to a bunch of kids. The style is narration, the narrator writes himself into the words on the page. The songs are simple verse with lots of onomatopoeic words. See the kids marching around the room, banging and thumping? The dwarves are not portrayed as particularly brave or fierce. We are given an image of little people with different coloured hoods and belts appearing at Bilbo’s door. It puts one to mind of Noddy, more than Gimli. Later in the book, Bilbo becomes something of a leader and Tolkien has some rather patronising and hardly flattering things to say about the dwarves. The elves, too, don’t come out of this book in a very auspicious light. They run away from a small group of travellers in what they know is a dangerous place, and Thranduil’s main motivation seems to have been greed. Of them all, the behaviour of the Lake people is the most convincingly drawn.

The dragon is the real villain; old and smart and dangerous and in that respect, cleverly depicted. The goblins and their wolf companions are certainly nasty but they are cartoon villains for kids. And Gollum is scary in the same way that a monster in the dark is scary.

So how DO you turn a kid’s book into a block buster movie three block buster movies?

Well, for a start you show people the odds. Jackson’s portrayal of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor and the city of Dale is truly magnificent, and its ruination by the dragon very well done. This is the purpose of the dwarves’ quest, and the enemy they must defeat.

Then you make your characters much more robust. I loved Jackson’s dwarves. Each one has character and is unique, but it’s possible to see the similarity in brothers like Kili and Fili, and Dori and Nori. Much has been said about the ‘humanness’ of Thorin. (A dwarf as a sex object??) But his nephews, Fili and Kili, are also more human in appearance. Personally, I could have done without. But I suppose Jackson had no Aragorn, or Legolas to appeal to the ladies.

The villains are much, much darker. The introduction of a vengeful Orc leader in Bolg was smart. Suddenly the odds are greater and at the same time the dwarves are lifted from selfish miners into a fighting force to be reckoned with, doughty warriors all. Here, Jackson has used LOTR and its appendices to provide backstory. This change allowed him to add more action and conflict to the plot. Instead of aiming to go to Rivendell, Jackson shows Thorin as anti-Elf. Pursuit by the Orcs and Wargs forces the party into Rivendell after much hard fighting. Here we learn a little more about Gandalf and his role in Middle Earth, as shown in LOTR. Again, this gives depth to the story.

Gollum is depicted as truly nasty. Instead of Bilbo happening across the ring in a dark passage, the ring falls from Gollum’s person as he murders an Orc (to eat). What’s nice about that is Bilbo actually sees Gollum doing the killing. (We’ll ignore the fact that he wouldn’t have been able to see a thing down there – phosphorescence in the rocks?) The ring leaves Gollum because it realises it can trap a new bearer. Nice. And Gollum is suddenly elevated from a horrid person into a killer to be reckoned with. Yes, I know the book talks about Gollum eating Bilbo – but this shows the issue so much more clearly, and emphasises the inherent courage of Bilbo’s decision not to kill Gollum to escape. I also liked the dual Gollum personality – Smeagol/Gollum.

Jackson used minor elements in the book as whole scenes in the movie. The stone giants are tossed-off words in the crossing of the mountains in the book. But in the movie, they come to life, throwing boulders at each other – and giving an opportunity for an over-the-top action scene. Then the dwarves find themselves in Goblin town. In the book, Gandalf arrives in secret, waves a magic wand and they all escape. That’s the kid’s version. In the adult version, the dwarves fight their way out in spectacular fashion, underlining their legitimate claim to be warriors.

Not all of the changes worked to improve the story, though. Maybe the encounter with the trolls was not quite as silly in the movie as it is in the book. It’s hard to imagine the dwarves being quite so stupid. But never mind. It’s early in the story and adds a bit of humour, I suppose. I should imagine the scene, as it is in the book, read out to children, would be hilarious. But this isn’t a kid’s movie. In the same vein, I felt starting the story with the first words of Tolkien’s book was a mistake. By then we knew what a hobbit hole was – we were in one. Further, the tie-in with the opening scene in LOTR (the preparations for the eleventy-first party) was an unnecessary distraction.

My biggest “say-what” was Radagast. Not so much the depiction of character, as the out of sequence events. Certainly, dealing with the Necromancer turns out to be why Gandalf is elsewhere as the dwarves make their journey into Mirkwood. I suppose Jackson aims to show the audience what has been happening in the world. But the way it is presented is as if the darkness spreading from Dol Guldur has only just started. Yet there is no doubt Gandalf knew about a growing evil when he spoke with Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond at Rivendell, and thereby justified the dwarves’ quest to defeat Smaug. That said, showing the leader of the Ringwraiths manifesting itself at the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur was pretty cool. Showing Radagast dashing through the grass drawn by a team of bunnies with Wargs in hot pursuit – not so much.

Sure, I could probably name a few inconsistencies in continuity, but I could do that for the movie and the book. So I won’t.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Just seeing New Zealand’s spectacular scenery is a joy in itself. I think Jackson had a very, very difficult task in coming up to everyone’s expectations from LOTR. I expect that was why it took him so long to commence this series of films. Because it is a kid’s book. As an aside, as a writer I think much can be learned from Jackson’s achievement. He has added conflict, action and much more character to the story, as well as giving it extra depth through back story so that the audience can see how the ring became what it was in LOTR.  It might be a different medium, but the rules are the same.

I’m looking forward to the next part of the Hobbit. How about you?

What I learnt from “Slow Lightning” or how to build a riveting plot

Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning (or Infinity Beach in the US) was one of those books which I bought and had sitting on the shelf for – years, actually, and that was after the years of prevarication before I bought it. I don’t like horror, and the Stephen King quote on the front hinted at that. But then again, it had the Horsehead Nebula on the front, and McDevitt had been compared to Arthur C Clarke. Apart from that, I’d read A Talent for War and although I hadn’t been all that impressed, it had won some award. You know how it is. I succumbed, bought the novel and there it sat.

I dipped into the book in due course. I don’t like prologues, didn’t like the one in A Talent for War and couldn’t see any point in it, so I flicked on through to Chapter One, which was s-l-o-w going and it didn’t do much for me. I threw the book across the room and left it for another time.

When I tried again, I soon discovered I had to read the prologue. It’s McDevitt’s style. He poses a situation in the prologue, an event that happened some years ago, then spends the rest of the book unravelling that event. Mind you, I still say the prologue in A Talent for War was a waste of time.

Back to Slow Lightning. Okay, so the prologue describes a chase, a crash, a death. Remember all that. On to chapter one, where we meet Kim, whose clone-sister, Emily, had disappeared shortly after returning from a space voyage. And yes, that chapter is slow, as McDevitt labours the point that far in the future, man is still alone in the universe and what’s more, has lost the urge to push on and explore. Perhaps that latter part is a clue to what the author was trying to get across, a theme, if you will. If we lose the urge to explore, we stagnate. Asimov made a similar point in his Caves of Steel stories, and the fate of planets like Aurora.

The plot builds up, though. Soon, I was hooked, as Kim and her great friend Solly head off to investigate the mysterious events at Mount Hope. Here we get the sense of creepy hinted at by Stephen King, something evil lurking out there. Together, Kim and Solly work on finding out what happened to Kim’s sister, despite opposition from Kim’s employers via their powerful benefactor, who also has a stake in the story. The novel became un-put-downable.

By now I was reading a well-constructed mystery thriller, peppered with clues and red herrings, excitement and spine-tingling dread. What is out there at Mount Hope and what did it have to do with the space voyage Emily had been on just before she vanished? And then we get to the really good bit, when Solly and Kim steal a spaceship and retrace Emily’s journey all those years ago. They piece together what happened out there by collecting radio signals using a very wide array. The tech is totally plausible and the events believable. And then the creepy ratchets up a notch. This ain’t no haunted house – it’s a spaceship, way out in space, and we all know what happened in Alien. Altogether now… in space, no-one can hear you….

I’ve said before that what I really liked about this book was the detail. McDevitt paints a vivid picture of the planet Greenway and its history. He knows all about this Earth colony and he tells us without labouring the point. Just a few throw-away lines as he mentions a castle built by a tyrant a few centuries back, or explains that body shapes vary over time, just like fashion, as parents chose what their children will look like. He also describes his tech and the spaceship, and the amazing view of the great Orion Nebula and the stars of Orion’s belt – Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. You’re out there with them, open-mouthed as a wondering child.

Sure, there are a few things I’d pick on. It’s a high tech society where you choose whether to work or not. So where does the high tech come from? And what about farmers and food? And so on. It’s all glitz and glamour missing foundation. One other thing which my husband picked up on, the broken down dam which flooded the town. Um. Wouldn’t a broken down dam just resume the course of the original river? That is, a dam might flood a town – has done, many times. But the other way round? Not quite plausible. Having said that, I didn’t trip over that one on first reading.

I learned a lot from this novel. Do your homework, draw a map, develop the background so you can write with authority, even if you don’t reveal everything you know. Work out the details, because they add substance. One trick I’ve found McDevitt often uses is to have a character read a book, watch a movie, take part in a role play. You read about it and dismiss the scene as a bit of “adding substance” – and then later in the book, a character draws on that earlier experience to work something out. Nice.

This was a five star read if ever there was one. But on top of that, I learnt a lot about the gentle art of writing. And for that I’ll always be grateful.