30 December 2010

Time Travel

I not infrequently displace my characters in time.  Not, as a rule, sending them back, but bringing someone forward, so that they have to deal with a home that has become not-home, recognisable and yet wrong.

Going to Townsville for Christmas took me into vaguely similar territory - it has become not-home, recognisable but strange.  Whole new suburbs have appeared, the mall is being restructured, and the saplings in the middle of the big roundabouts are now large trees - but recognisably Townsville with the cascara flowering, and tamarinds littering the ground.  Familiar stores have different names, but the bones of home are still there. 

The worst change was speed bumps on "Sonja's Hill" (known by non-Hosths as "The Cutting", I believe).  This was a terrific street for driving really fast up and making yourself seem to fly when you crested the top.  Speed bumps take all the fun away.

The Townsville of my childhood was rarely anything but brown-gold - El Nino held sway and the hills were dry.  It was more than disconcerting to see everything so green, and that's not even counting the floods.

The 1000% humidity was also an excellent reminder of why I don't live there any more.

24 December 2010

A Place to Write

I'm not someone who can write through a lot of noise and interruptions (which makes Christmas visits to relatives a rather unproductive patch).  The best place I've found to write is on my morning commute by train.  No internet, little in the way of distractions, and a great deal of predictability.  I can concentrate.

Little progress this past week - I'm meant to be doing a final edit of Stained Glass Monsters, but Word is not launching itself, and there are few occasions when I can find the "write moment".

18 December 2010

Around the World

Just finished my first book giveaway promotion at Goodreads, which has been a fascinating experience.  Goodreads is a great site, and I had 845 people who thought it might be nice to get a copy of Champion.  The ten who won were scattered all over the world - from New Zealand to Russia - and it gives me a real kick to think someone on the other side of the planet will see Soren through the fight with the 'wretched shrub'.

13 December 2010

Sixth Cover - Voice of the Lost

"Voice of the Lost" is the last of the covers from my first commissions.  The conclusion to the story started in "The Silence of Medair", we've moved here from fire to water.

The mood Julie has achieved here is just wonderful: a wholly eerie scene, with Medair contemplating her past self, and her past self looking disturbingly like she's capable of reaching up and taking a firm grasp of Medair.

I'm still not totally decided on font and font colour.  This is not a title shouting its name to the world, but it's readable even in thumbnail, and I love the picture so much I don't want to draw the eye from it with too loud a font colour.

"Voice" will be the last of this batch of first releases - I'm aiming for about March with it, and then there will be a gap till probably the last quarter of next year, where I will have one or two more.  I already have covers in mind for them.

Covers are fun.  :)

12 December 2010

Ngaio Marsh: "Overture to Death"

Overture to DeathOverture to Death by Ngaio Marsh

The stand-out characters of this book are all very unlikeable people. Neat, ferrety Mrs Ross. Bullying, brash Idris Campanula. And judgmental Miss Prentice. It is a book of lonely women; embarrassing, manipulative, needy. The scene where Alleyn and Mr Copeland (two very handsome men) are sharing a shudder over the passions of a woman too blind and lacking in self-awareness to see how unwanted she is, rings very true, but is not a kind moment.

In the larger story of Alleyn, this novel falls after Troy has finally agreed to marry him, but before their wedding, and his feelings for (the small, talented, attractive, intelligent) Troy - everything Idris Campanula is not - serves as a stark contrast. Not one person mourns Miss Campanula's death, but on this re-read I was struck that she spent the night before her death crying and heart-broken.

It's a difficult book to love, but as a mystery it is clearly plotted and worth reading.

View all my reviews

[Experimenting with cross-posting reviews between here and Goodreads...]

07 December 2010

Fifth Cover - Stained Glass Monsters

The third of my covers from the amazing Julie Dillon, Stained Glass Monsters packs some serious punch.

I love how Julie worked Rennyn's ribbons into this scene, and subtly captures the seething menace of Eferum-get.  Rennyn and Faille both come across brilliantly (Faille particularly so, heh - Kellian jokes are never going to get old).  Rennyn is so determined and focused on her task, and this image bring across her power and her potential darkness.  The placement of Faille's sword is a particularly nice touch, suggesting both the need to protect and protect against Rennyn.

Font-wise, this was by far the hardest, but after a diligent century of searching I managed to find something which felt exactly 'right'.  I may change the colour of the 'glass' - originally I had a rainbow spectrum, but because the image is already a complex one, I've toned it back to the two shades of yellow.

SGM (and Stray) will be released early January 2011, and this is another cover I'm overjoyed to have.

05 December 2010

Step by Step

I now have an "Author's Page" at Amazon, which makes publication feel rather more real.  [Admittedly, as an Australian, I tend to shop at The Book Depository - can't beat free shipping - but Amazon is a major market and it's nice to see myself there.]  It'll be quite a few more weeks before the books are available more widely, but this was one of the biggest steps, and so I could go ahead and change my .signature at the forums I frequent.

The Champion cover makes a gorgeous avatar.

01 December 2010

Pressing "Go"

Today is official "Publish Day" for Champion of the Rose and The Silence of Medair!  They start out from Smashwords and CreateSpace, and slowly filter out to other distributors, and I suspect I won't really think of myself as published until I can find myself at The Book Depository or Amazon.

Since the books are currently only at the cusp of availability, so to speak, I'm holding off on changes to signatures and so forth - the various self-promotional things you're supposed to do to bring your book to the world's attention.  Self-promotion is a two-edged sword, more liable to annoy than entice, so I will refrain from all the more spam-worthy efforts.  Any small amount of success I have will be more than gradual, I suspect.

But it's fun, just to have them up there.

30 November 2010

Orbiting a Cover Survey

For the past couple of years Orbit Books has been posting a chart counting up common elements of fantasy novels.  Now that I have finals (or near-finals) for the six covers I ordered, it occurred me to count up which of these boxes I've ticked.  [I'm classing 'Stray' and 'Lab Rat One' as science fantasy, so can squeak them in.]

- Damsels (distress varying) x 6
- Sword x 1
- Castles/Citadels x 1 (arguably - there is a gorgeous hazy suggestion of one in the background of 'Champion')

The magic on the cover of 'Stained Glass Monsters' isn't quite 'glowy' (though Faille certainly is!), and I can't see any other categories I can mark down.  [I'm presuming 'headshots' are of the "Boom! Headshot!" variety and not simply a close-up of a person, though I don't have one of those either.]

As I read the chart, two things occured to me:

- Why is Orbit counting damsels but not dudes?  Seems one-sided.
- This survey is so ripe for silly categories.

My top suggestions for cover categories are:

- Would you like goggles with that?
- Ta-tas out.
- What is HE compensating for?
and
- I - I'm not sure what that IS.

28 November 2010

Said Book-isms

I like Said Book-isms.

So many people will jump up and down about Said Book-isms, tell you to remove everything but said, tell you that it's bad writing to use anything else.  And I shake my head and look through my writing, and about half the dialogue uses 'said', and a third or more no dialogue tag at all (usually accompanied by actions).  But a solid portion of my sentences contain 'replied', or 'ordered' or other variants.  I even use 'extemporised' at least once.  Why?

Because it was the better for the sentence.

'Extemporise' tells the reader that not only is the speaker saying something, but what she is saying is a temporary stopgap, an improvised answer.  It contains within a single word an implication that there will be a more considered answer to follow, or at the least there was a rushed nature to the answer.  Is it really superior to use [she said, searching her mind for a better answer]?  Or just to use said, and leave it to the reader to decide that the answer was rushed?

English is a rich and subtle language.  ["Jenny!" he said.] is different from ["Jenny!" he shouted.].  Dialogue tags are a tool, the nails, if you will, holding the sentences together.  Most sentences can be held together with 'small nails' like 'said' - or even get away with no nails at all - but sometimes a more solid nail is needed, or perhaps even a decorative stud.  Without some variations in your nails, your end result is in danger of being weaker than it could be.  Too many big fancy nails, and all people will see is the nails.  Just as with the 'rules' about adverbs, and show v tell, it's all a question of balance and correct use, of choosing the right words in the right proportions.

So if someone shouts, let them shout.

25 November 2010

Fourth Cover - The Silence of Medair

The looming door, the gloom, the hint of fire, and Medair's rejection of her situation are all things which I've had in mind for this cover for years and I think all of those things have come across particularly well here.  There is a sense of almost fishbowl distortion to that door, to the way it rises above her, bulging with the things she's trying to deny.

Medair is an odd protagonist for a fantasy novel - her story starts after the success/failure of an epic quest, and she spends all her time not wanting to think about things, not wanting to do anything, wanting to run away and hide from herself, with her failure constantly going around in circles in her head.  She is trapped.

I changed the fonts I used from the original design for this cover - they were a bit too thin and spindly to stand up in thumbnail.  I rather like the effect I've managed here, with a suggestion of smoke above embers.  There's a lot of fire in this novel, eating away at the scenery. :D

23 November 2010

Third Cover - Lab Rat One

The second part of the "Touchstone" duology, the "Lab Rat One" cover is a fantastic contrast to the lush complexity of "Stray".

I'm particularly taken with Cass' expression in this picture - it has something of a Mona Lisa ambiguity to it, suitable for her less-than-ideal situation as heroic test subject.

Again I will probably tweak the colours of the fonts a fraction, but otherwise I think the font really suits this picture.

17 November 2010

Second Cover - Champion of the Rose

The first of the fantasy covers is one which makes me very happy (and is currently my desktop background).  It's a fantastic image both close up and as a thumbnail - the colours really draw the eye and I adore the golden glimpse of city in the background.  The artist is Julie Dillon, who has a marvellous style, and a really special ability to tell a story with the image.

I think I've done a half-decent job finding the right fonts and shades to go with it, and probably won't mess too much more with this.  Champion and Silence will be the first two released and this will soon be a solid, real book which I can read without recourse to electronic devices.

A most excellent prospect.

13 November 2010

Skyline

Skyline is a spectacular movie - splendid vistas, and disturbingly fast-moving creatures who so effortlessly turn humans into specks, little more than resources to be harvested.

Pity about the characters.

I have a rough idea of what kind of people these were, but I never felt like I got to know them.  There was earnest main guy (who rapidly became annoyingly dickish, imho) come to visit LA at the invitation of his rich friend who he used to be in a (band?) with.  There was 'preggers girlfriend' about whom I know absolutely nothing other than she's earnest guy's girlfriend and she's 'late'.  There's rich friend, who at least is energetic and seems to be a relatively positive guy, except for cheating on his girlfriend.  There's bitchy girlfriend (who, oddly, I liked most of the characters, but about whom I know nothing except that she's rich guy's girlfriend and a bitch).  There's rich guy's assistant, who actually APOLOGISES to rich guy for the fact that he cheated on his girlfriend with her.  (WTF?)  I knew she would die first.  There's sensible hotel manager, who did not have enough testosterone to eclipse earnest guy.

I spent far too much of this movie waiting for the female characters to do something more than (1) scream (2) bitch (3) cower (4) argue.  They have two moments - bitch girlfriend can drive and preggers girlfriend does _one_ active thing in the movie.  But the women are there primarily to be told to wait in safety, to scream, to make earnest guy conflicted, and most of all to be rescued.

I never got to know these characters enough to care for them.  They did stupid things (DON'T LOOK INTO THE LIGHT, you dickheads).  They seemed to think a skyscraper was safer than, say, a basement.

This was a visual movie, and I hear there's talk of a sequel, which may possibly be more interesting because it may focus more on the characters achieving something.

[Oh, and no-one's posted on the internet since 4am?  NO-ONE?]

11 November 2010

Margaret Maron: "Christmas Mourning"

The Deborah Knott series is one of my favourites, full as it is of vividly-drawn characters (with the extended Knott family, many many characters).  While Christmas Mourning probably doesn't rank up there with my absolute favourites of the series, it kept me wanting to know what happened next, and brought about a satisfying conclusion.

Whenever I read one of these books, I am impressed by the living depth of the location - this is not a story about the main characters with a bit of background slung in.  It's a living place.

01 November 2010

First Cover - Stray

While I will probably still tweak font colour a little, I very happily spent the day working up the cover for Stray.  The art is courtesy of Simon Dominic, whose gorgeous landscapes really captured me when I was looking over the responses to my cover art post.

There's so many things I love about the picture.  The frame of trees, that glimpse of valley - and those small white flowers in the lower left, which are just different enough to leave a hint of uncertainty as to whether they're flowers from this world, or some other.

Cass' backpack was one I described in exacting detail, and just looks so real to me.  Writing all over your backpack seems less common than it was when I went to school, but it certainly stamps Cass' personality.

In terms of fonts and layout, I had the general style of font I wanted in mind for many months, and was fortunate enough to find one which worked.  Then fought Painter for hours trying to get my preferred colouring effect - which I still haven't achieved, though picking up a light tone of the colour on her blazer ties it together.

This image will lose a little off the sides, when it's trimmed for the book, but overall this is almost exactly what will be printed.

I have no idea whether this is the kind of cover Stray would get if, for some reason, a professional cover unit were tasked with selling a rambling SF diary (now with added whining!) but I think that I would pick this up if I were browsing in a store.  The SF elements are subtle and it would be possible to assume that she's heading toward an Earth village - but she still looks satisfyingly out of place, with that quick, almost suspicious glance over her shoulder to suggest this isn't a holiday trip.

Covers are fun.

22 October 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Character Inversion

In the aftermath of natural disasters, the news is always filled with stories of human bravery. Of people coming together, helping each other. Being the best that they can be.

If you broke down the character of those who live today, some would be monsters. A few paragons. But most would be a mix of minor faults, self-interest, and general 'good' traits. In a crisis, some would quail, some would cower, and a solid portion would try to rise to the occasion.

Where, in post-apocalpytic shows (Survivors, Day of the Triffids), have all these people gone? Why do the pyschopaths, the would-be dictators, and the lunatics have such a superior survival rate?

Yes, yes, they serve the purpose of drama. But I find these post-apocalyptic stories _least_ interesting when it's all about people being horrible to people - that is already part of this world.

20 October 2010

ISBNicity

Today my block of ISBNs arrived - making me not only an author, but a publisher. Still a month or two to go before I use them, but it's a rather special thing to have them in my name.

19 October 2010

More Than Pictures

While I wait (on tenterhooks) for the cover images to trickle in (and between a considerable amount of editing), I've been tackling the question of design.

What font? What title font? What chapter header font? How to separate scenes in chapters? Do I want Drop Caps? What font?

The font for the cover title is by far the hardest. It, just as the illustration, should convey something of the feel of the book - or at least not clash or detract.

I've found quite a few potentials, and must research more about licensing and usage, but am holding off on any attempts to put anything together until I have the main component - my much-looked for covers.

08 October 2010

Revising Medair

One nice thing about going back to a novel you wrote over ten years ago is the discovery that you've become a better writer.

I can see my misuse of semi-colons, for a start. And I am able to find tighter, more powerful ways to phrase particular sentences. I'm aiming to cut, particularly since the pricing of the books will be impacted by page number, and so it is a fortunate thing indeed that I seem to have become a more concise writer.

It's also nice to find that I wasn't that bad back then, that the story moves along less cluggily than I thought, that what I considered an info-dump in the second chapter is at least an interesting bit of information told in a way which entertained me.

It's good to meet these characters again, and like them.

Although going the publishing submission rounds for so many years was a draining and negative experience, it definitely benefited my writing to wait and grow.

Added to this is the excitement of receiving the first "thumbs" of one of my commissioned covers. It is amazing to have a scene which I've been picturing mentally for months now coming to life (with considerably more detail and compositional balance).

Fun times.

04 October 2010

An end and a beginning

Having hit my self-imposed deadline, I have finally closed off my long outstanding submission - at this stage this comes as nothing more than a relief.

And I get to embark on the task of cover commissions which - while a little seriousbusiness and nerve-wracking - is also very exciting, since one of the hugest advantages of deciding to just get my books done is that I get all the say on what goes on the front.

FFXIV has been a huge boon for me this last week, saving me from obsessing about this totally and having this deadline arrive while my mind was mostly on something else.

23 September 2010

Swallowed Up

MMOs are magnificent timesucks. Final Fantasy XIV launched yesterday, and I will be buried in it for some time, but fortunately I usually come up for air after an initial period of concentrated devotion. If nothing else, it's a nice distraction during the last couple of weeks before my self-imposed deadline. That's been extraordinarily difficult not to obsess about lately.

Soon now.

14 September 2010

Terry Pratchett: "I Shall Wear Midnight"

Looking at the list of Discworld novels inside the cover of this particular volume, I saw that it, like all the Tiffany Aching books, was noted as being 'for young readers'. All through reading the book, I wondered what it was that made it 'for young readers'. Were the concepts less complex? The language less advanced? Mature subjects carefully excised? Eventually I decided that the only thing that made "I Shall Wear Midnight" 'for young readers' was the fact that the narrator was not quite sixteen.

Classification by age of narrator is something of a bugbear for me, since my novels sometimes have both a teen and an adult narrator and thus apparently don't quite fit. Ah well.

Thoroughly enjoyed the book. There's very few long-running series which get better as they go along, but Discworld is definitely one.

07 September 2010

AussieCon Wrapped

Panels attended, art viewed, old friends caught up with. A satisfying resolution to the convention.

I was impressed at how readily some of the panellists - who appear to do this every year at multiple cons - would cheerfully talk about subjects which they have surely discussed over and to eternity. They were rarely boring on any subject.

My favourite session was surely the Girl Genius Live Reading, which was a great deal of fun. Oddly, my second-favourite was the last scheduled session I wanted to attend ("The Bechdel Test and Fantasy Literature"). 'Oddly' because the panelists didn't show up and a cancellation notice had been hung up outside the door. But scribbled boldly on the notice was "We're running it ourselves!" and inside the rows of chairs lined obediently up before the panellists' table had been transformed into a rough circle where the would-be audience held its own discussion on the Bechdel Test in fantasy literature - and very successfully I would say. I suspect a swag of us had spent the convention itching to put our own two cents in, so it was an excellent way to end the sessions.

Conventions are not something I do every year, which keeps them fresh and interesting to me when I do get to one (or one comes to Australia, since I don't often travel off-shore). The attendance at WorldCons is very small compared to more media-based conventions, but the focus on books is what draws me.

Next year's is in Reno, Nevada, which sounds like a nice place to check out, but I'm unlikely to get to it, unfortunately. I wonder if the London bid for 2014 will pan out?

05 September 2010

Covering Cons

WorldCon is grinding to a close - only one day to go. I've been attending various panels where the discussion members have been cover artists, and their frustration at declining budgets and the rise of photograph covers was palpable.

While the cover is not the book, they have always been an important part of the book for me. I've seen some spectacular photographed covers, but I far prefer painted, and certainly sympathise with artists who are shut down by marketing people merely for asking a question, or daring to want to talk to the author. Fortunately this attitude doesn't appear universal in publishing, but it must be uncomfortable to work in such a situation.

The panels were also very informative regarding how the covers are laid out and composed. I do enjoy learning something useful.

28 August 2010

Gearing Up

Only a few days until the start of WorldCon. Unfortunately I leave the day FFXIV open beta starts, which is a minor conflict - though not nearly so bad a thing as starting the day the game launches!

I've been in closed beta a while, and this game will certainly suck away a lot of my free time. It's the crafting which has hold of me, unusually enough. FFXIV is a very pretty game, and the clothing is excellent. An elaborate game of dress-up dolls, really. Plus an excellent plotline. FFXI's strength as a MMO was their story/cutscenes, and FFXIV definitely looks like it will surpass that standard.

In the interim I've been revising - well, a little, really! But I'm very much in games mode at the moment, so have been spending my time on hidden object games when I can't play FFXIV.

Must...Revise...

13 August 2010

By Any Other Name

Twice this year I've found a name I've used in one of my books spending its time in someone else's novels.

To a certain degree this is inevitable, since names are rarely unique. My nephew, for instance, shares his name with a female guardswoman roleplaying character (and my space naga, for that matter). But distinctive or particularly well-known names are ones to treat with care.

It's entirely possible to use established real-world names which happen to feature in books (Hermione or Bella) and not cause a fuss (unless there are other similarities) but even so the reader will bring associations to the name, and may be jarred from your story. And distinctive names unique to or rarely encountered outside a particular novel or series (Rand, Menolly, Severus) are something which will almost always bring negative impacts to the reader/author experience.

In my current cases, my fallback term for magical schools (Arcanum) appears to have most recently shown itself in Patrick Rothfuss' novel. I will probably keep the name unchanged, since it is not nearly so distinctive as something like "Hogwarts". And today I found that the very distinctive surname of one of my main characters is the first name of a character in an extremely well-known series of novels.

Fortunately the spelling is slightly different, and almost everything else nothing alike, so I will also keep this name. But it was a close call. Giving up on a name you've spent a novel with is not an easy task. I can barely imagine how I'd cope if I found out Gandalf and Aragorn were also 'taken'.

03 August 2010

Scott Westerfeld: "Leviathan"

I bought this book because of the illustrations. I'll buy the sequel for the story.

Illustrations are a rarity these days, even in YA, and these (by one Keith Thompson) are detailed, charming and definitely go an extra mile in bringing the characters to life. [Though I wish the image used for the girl-in-disguise had been used for the boy, and vice-versa - the pictures just seemed so appropriate for the opposite characters!]

Anyway, the illustrations made me curious enough to read the blurb, the blurb made me interested in reading the book, Book Depository made it cheap and easy to get the book, and it was a one-sitting read once my paws were upon it.

Despites some niggles (How does one remove a coat while strapped into a harness? How does Darwin manage his genetic engineering?) this was a fun, fast-paced story with likeable characters, an intriguing plot, and plenty to make me keen to read on. It looks like it will be at least three or four books to the series, and as ever with series I wish I'd discovered it at the end, rather than halfway between the beginning and the middle, and I'm guessing in a spoilerish way that whatever is in those eggs is likely to "impress" on the first person they see.

Well recommended.

26 July 2010

Sabotage

I used to be the type of reader who folds the corner of the page to keep place, but I transitioned to bookmarks. I'm always losing the bookmarks, so I use my expired railway tickets, since I get a new one of those each week.

Picture my face when Pepper (small black dancing cat) trots up to a book innocently sitting on the floor, neatly pulls the railway ticket out, and trots off.

Too much of this house counts as cat toys.

22 July 2010

Sheer Self-Indulgence

Final Fantasy XIV is coming up in a few short months, and while I will be able to run the game, I won't be able to run the game 'pretty'.

I want my pretty.

Which is an excellent excuse for a computer upgrade. Mmm, Alienware.

21 July 2010

Cover Pipe-Dreams

I've been working on cover ideas lately - mere mental amusement at this stage since I have no books in production. Since covers are generally not something authors have much say in, I've always assumed that I would be very lucky if I ended up with an image I even liked, let alone an ideal, and for many years I've never put any energy into covers.

Thinking about what would be exactly right has made me realise how important covers are to me. I don't want just any cover, I want something which truly encapsulates the story.

Medair's cover has been with me for the last year or so - an image of her collapsed in a dark room, caught as ever between action and inaction, guilt and despair, while a fire burns outside the door.

Champion's followed along - Soren, made puppet by the Rose - and then Stained Glass Monsters, which wants to be about a sunlit Faille, instead of either Rennyn or Kendall. And now I have the covers for Cass's tale (and some new titles) which revolve around that typical schoolgirl's backpack.

As the year grinds on, I grow ever more eager for these stories to be tangible things, to have them on my shelf, to have something people can read.

I've never been a patient person.

10 July 2010

Predators

Not bad at all. No really glaring logical errors (beyond, perhaps, identifying a plant when you're on an alien planet). I do wonder where I ran across one of the major plot developments (or if I'd unconsciously put the clues together), but it didn't spoil the story for me.

Not such a classic as Predator was, but worth watching.

04 July 2010

Too Stupid to Live

Two-thirds through an otherwise enjoyable cosy mystery, the main character discovers a photograph showing an object linked to a murder, suggesting that it was once in a certain house. Instead of taking the photograph to the police, even though the police are in this case sympathetic to her cause, she goes to the house to check if the object is still there.

In part cosies require characters who will poke and pry and get involved in other people's murders. But it's a strong negative for me to follow a character into unnecessary danger in the face of a more obvious step.

The rest of the story worked, and I'll read further into the series. But TSTL syndrome is something I definitely hope to avoid in my own writing.

27 June 2010

Rose Overload

When we moved to this house, there was in order of fifteen roses in the garden. Most were in these stone-ornamented beds on either side of the driveway, outside the front door. Ordinary rose bushes, the majority small and spindly and uninspiring. There were also a few in the far right corner of the back yard, covered in scale and this blah yellow-pink combination which I don't like at all.

I had four potted roses which I'd been attempting to kill with lack of water for a couple of years, and I added them to the back right corner (a little to the right of the scale-infested bushes, which I pruned back ferociously).

To all this I've added eight climbing roses, three bush roses, and a handful of floribunda (I much prefer floribunda). The most successful so far has been a rose called "Shady Lady" which flowers profusely and lasts wonderfully when cut. My climbing iceberg has also grown well, and I really love the look of the unopened buds, white with the faintest flush of pink. I like it so much that today I added three floribunda icebergs (two burgundy and one blushing pink), and am using the bricks from my BBQ demolition to create a kind of paved area around them along the left wall.

I am so very much not a methodical, ordered gardener, and roses respond much better to someone who remembers to fertilise them, and fight off the black spot and aphids. But I'm having fun.

24 June 2010

Argh

Too many writing projects wanting my attention, plus I was distracted into reading a long and interesting MS (and then arguing about it).

Discipline, I need it.

Still, worked out the 'next action' on Wellspring, which has been sitting on the back-burner for a while. And, re-reading the last chapter, was very much enjoying one Duran, of beautiful voice and butterfly attention level.

18 June 2010

Bad Habits

I overuse certain words in the first draft:

Really
Actually
Pretty (much) (certain) (sure)
Fairly
Half
A bit
Kind of
Mildly
Simply
Mostly
Slightly

Almost all adverbs (and weasel words!). It amazes me how easy it is for me to read over them, and how frequently I do use them. Particularly in the fiction blog I kept for a year, where I barely polished during the first draft, but even on re-reading a manuscript I've polished and re-polished, these lazy words are everywhere.

I am by nature a qualifier, it seems.

13 June 2010

Adaptations

Fan of Agatha Christie that I am, I looked forward to a new spate of adaptations on tv. But while I never expect an adaptation to be exactly like a book, this series seems determined to mess around with the stories - to add sexed-up sub-plots and to remove other ones. "The Clocks" was the last adaptation, and they do random things like change two boys to two girls, and to completely remove any reason for liking most of the characters.

07 June 2010

Edith Nesbit: "My School Days"

It is a constant source of wonder to me that anyone can recount in detail - with names, no less - things which happened to them when they were three. Or five. Or ten.

Edith Nesbit appears to have been a child greatly loving nature, and tortured by her own vivid imagination. Night terrors haunted her. No less was her suffering at the hands of "Stuart plaid", and a teacher whose strictness may have been well-intentioned, but may well have been that of an habitual bully.

One of the charms of this short biography is how very much in the mind of the child Nesbit takes us. Dislike her teacher she might, but she does not wonder if she has been singled out for especially negative treatment, or do more than endure Stuart plaid's selfish whims. As a child Nesbit did not plan any solutions, or question why, but simply suffered mute.

Like that child, we do not have the power to know the fate of the many people who filled Nesbit's early life. Did Stuart plaid ever receive her just desserts, or did she perhaps grow up to be a better person? Why was the teacher so seemingly cruel? Did the kind French boy have a life anything like the one Nesbit imagined?

Although there is little resolution to many of these tales, this journey into Nesbit's formative years was well worth the trip.

30 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood"

Moral of the story - joining the military equates to having a lobotomy. But idiocy is not limited to the armed forces. Interesting (and probably deliberate) that all the aggressors/transgressors in this story were female.

There were some strong Rory-related moments in this double episode, and we finally had an explanation for the season arc, but I was frankly bored halfway through "Cold Blood" and inclined to skip to the end.

Next episode is the Van Gogh one and it looks strong from the preview. [The Doctor pronounced Van Gogh "Van Goff" - I always thought it was "Van Go".]

29 May 2010

Elizabeth George - "This Body of Death"

The first Elizabeth George book I read was "Playing for the Ashes". A devastating story. I decided that, skilled as the book was, the Lynley books were not a series I would enjoy.

But being me, I eventually forgot the names, enough to pick up a different Elizabeth George, one not quite so bleak. Still, it's rare that a George book has a happy ending: these are grim tales of the worst of people.

Havers is my main reason for liking the books. They're well-written, engrossing, but I've never really warmed to Lynley and on the whole I don't like books that leave me feeling down. But Havers, almost impossibly shambolic, always taking two steps back for every step forward, keeps me hooked. I doubt that George will ever allow Havers to achieve anything more than fleeting moments of happiness, but I live in hope.

"This Body of Death" is a damn long book. Since I'd untangled most of the motives and explanations about halfway through, I suspect that it could have reached its conclusion a little more quickly, but it still held my attention far more than other things I've been reading lately (for some reason I'd bought some fluffy paranormal cosy murder mysteries, and they just haven't been working for me).

Not my favourite Lynley novel, but still worth reading.

25 May 2010

Click!

I love it when a plot comes together.

Sleeping Life has been giving me issues, thanks to Fallon, who is there for a reason, but wouldn't tell it to me. I debated removing him altogether, but he's important to the story. He just wouldn't let me know just what it was he wanted, and why. This has been giving me problems for months.

Then I wondered whether he'd be more communicative as a point of view character and everything fell into place. Of course Fallon wouldn't tell - he has secrets - a big secret which would cost him too much to share. Secrets which handily will let me have fun with magic, and fall nicely into the theme of the story.

It means I need to write a new chapter one, but I'm looking forward to it.

16 May 2010

Doctor Who: "Amy's Choice" (no spoilers)

Finally an episode that didn't come across as weak and contradictory! I liked the solution of who the mystery man was, I liked Rory and Amy's interaction, pace was good, humour was good. About time.

14 May 2010

The Readerly Text

This was a concept I was introduced to in university: a book is a construction between writer and reader, and is different to every person who experiences it.

Reader reaction to my work often surprises me, and today I had feedback on "Stained Glass Monsters" which completely floored me since it was not a description which I would ever have applied to the story.

When receiving 'surprising' feedback on a story, I find it always important to take a few steps back and weigh up what factors made the reader come up with that response. Then I generally debate adjusting the story to prevent anyone else having that response.

In this particular case, the feedback still feels very off the mark, and though there are a few word dinks I'll probably make, I think in this case it's a matter of someone with very different tastes - or using stronger words to get a point across.

I'm well aware that in writing something which appeals to my specific tastes, I am never going to approach 'high concept'. At what point do you sacrifice writing the story you want, to its highest possible quality, and start trying to write what's marketable? Urban or dark or whatever the current fashion is?

I think, when I was younger, I would be tempted to follow the trends, but I am fortunate to have come to understand that my reason for wanting to be published at all (outside of the very human desire to preen and join a semi-exclusive club) is to share my particular worlds and stories, to have other people love these tales which I enjoy.

It's possible this may make me unpublishable, of course. But I push on with making the stories the best that they can be, and attempt to place them with a publisher who shares my tastes. At least until my October deadline.

12 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Vampires of Venice" (no spoilers)

Intended to be comedy, I think.

Another episode which had an interesting idea at its core, and _looked_ impressive, but fell down due to weak contrivances of plot (and sections which read like several pages of the script had been left out - the Doctor and the 'vampire queen' talked as if they'd built up a strong connection, but there was no basis for it).

So many of the episodes in this season include references/homages to major various movies. The next one appears to be Nightmare on Elm Street.

11 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" (No Spoilers)

Nice pacing, fun story to watch, better than most of the season, but undercut by changing the rules on which the Angels are based. But "Bob" was fantastically creepy. And Amy is a hoot.

I held off on watching these episodes because of River Song, who I am trying so hard to like, but it's an uphill slog. She improved marginally toward the end of the second episode, but she unfortunately falls into one of my most-hated literary devices: making a woman appear strong by undercutting a man, instead of just being strong.

River's exchanges with the Doctor (unlike Amy's, which work considerably better) revolve around making the Doctor less competent, by having someone know more than him about the things he should know most about. Exchanges with River make the Doctor less than who he usually is. I should love River - she's strong, she has a sense of fun, she's competent, she's complex. But she's annoying as hell, and it's because of her belittling interactions with the Doctor.

My litmus test for whether these exchanges 'work' is whether, if the Doctor was female, I would accept that behaviour from some unknown new male character who knew how to fly the TARDIS better than she does, who can work her other devices better than she does, who calls her by a pet name she doesn't like, who knows all this stuff about her future, and as Amy points out, treats the Doctor like a dog that can be called to heel.

I think River's characterisation is a little inconsistent, and I am hoping that if we meet a 'young', pre-smug River I might find her a good deal more likeable. [And, to be slightly spoilerific, I'm starting to wonder if River is not destined to be the Doctor's wife, but rather his death.]

The story arc for the season sounds like one which could be fantastically annoying. Foreshadowing retcons? Seriously?

My immediate thought was "what does that mean for Donna?".

08 May 2010

Hard Yakka

Phew! This garden project took weeks, and it will be a while yet before I've planted the new garden and cleaned up completely. But the hardest part's over.

06 May 2010

Amiable Self-Deprecation

My reading taste revolves primarily around fantasy, science fiction, manga and mysteries. Although I was a wider reader when younger, it's a rare thing now for me to stray outside my genres. One exception is Saki, whose short stories simply work for me - particulaly 'Sredni Vashtar'.

Another is Bill Bryson, who came to me via my sister. Travelogues. I have almost all his books now, but have not branched out to other travelogues.

So why does Bryson work? No doubt the mixture of sharp dissection and affection, but I think there's also something Andy Warhol-ish about Bryson's writing - a celebration of the things we see every day and take for granted, which we see anew through his eyes.

He does make me want to write science fiction, to produce a Bill Bryson of the Thirtieth Century, returning to his home planet after a few decades away, and marvelling at the Thirtieth Century version of cup-holders. A near-plotless ramble complaining about how no-one drives any more, but merely teleports everywhere.

I have too many ideas.

03 May 2010

A Brief Departure

I'm not a short story writer. Most everything I write wants to be at least twenty chapters long. Very occasionally an idea will fall into my lap, such as when I bought a sledgehammer and wondered what an Australian urban fantasy would look like, but that's no reason for me to want to write a short.

And then I noticed AussieCon 4 was running a short story competition.

Entry mailed today, clocking in a whole 14 words under the 1500 limit. Word limits are hard, though I think the exercise of cutting improved the story. Working in the required phrase, "make ready", was almost as hard, since it's very odd wording, and kept making me think of Captain Picard: "Make it so".

I think I'm most likely to win if no-one else enters, but it was fun to do this once. And who can resist a story with characters called Ru and Blue?

02 May 2010

Garth Nix - "The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday"

The last of seven, culmination of a thoroughly enjoyable YA of a boy declared heir to what I only belatedly realised would count as Heaven.

Nix's House is not a happy Heaven. The Archangels refused the commands of their absent God, its society is rigidly stratified and its denizens grind away at interminable jobs, pointlessly and without pleasure. The heir, of course, changes all that, and the story is well worth reading.

I was reminded strongly of two other novels as "Lord Sunday" ground to a close. Diana Wynne Jones' "Howeward Bounders" and Meredith Ann Pierce's "Darkangel" trilogy. Both those stories touch on a quester seeking only home or happiness, and finding themselves succeeding only to, in a manner, lose. [Particularly "Darkangel", which is a most unhappy ending in my opinion.]

Why do we so often write stories where to win is to lose? And why are immortals never happy? Is ennui inevitable?

25 April 2010

Gaming Weekend

I've been plugging away at Final Fantasy XIII since it came out, and have added Dragon Age: Awakening to the playlist.

FFXIII is, sadly, one of the worst Final Fantasy games I've played. Not terrible, but it's fallen down on what is usually its strongest point: story telling. An annoying, almost contradictory plot and, though I don't hate any of the characters, I'm not strongly behind any of them either. With a weak combat system, and some issues with the power/challenge progression, I've lost interest in finishing the game, and plug away at it only occasionally.

Dragon Age: Awakening - a sequel/expansion of the excellent Origins - also suffers from a slightly flatter story, though with a much better battle system. The flatness of the story is not from the plot, which is reasonable, but from the characters. These simply do not pop and intrigue as much as the characters from Origins (many of whom it would be impossible to bring back). But, still, fun so far.

FFXIII wins hands-down in the prettiness stakes, though, and I'm itching to play FFXIV, which will probably put a major dint in my writing time when it releases later this year. But I'll be analysing the story! It's research! Honest!

19 April 2010

Ngaio Marsh: "Surfeit of Lampreys"

One of my favourites.

Alleyn is charming in himself, a completely likeable creature whose quiet intelligence and good manners fixes reader sympathies. "Surfeit of Lampreys" is a delightfully funny book, and is also macabre to the point of revolting.

Marsh sets us up to love the Lampreys by fixing our interests with Robin Grey, charming us along with her, drawing us in to her passionate devotion. Charm and humour, and then - such a horrible death.

I often wonder, at the close of this book, how many of the Lampreys made it through the war which is already a shadow on the horizon.

18 April 2010

Doctor Who: "The Victory of the Daleks" (no spoilers)

Mm - worse than last week's, feeling laboured and foolish, with far too many inconsistencies and questions. In this I think that the one-episode plots are working against the stories. And awful dissonance between the jokey 'fun' and the fact that this is set during the Blitz and that so many millions will die and the Doctor is refusing to help as if that's all a lark.

Plus the Doctor periodically appears to forget that he's a time traveller.

The over-emphasis on the season arc appearing at the end of every episode is beginning to annoy me. They should have it appear in the background at some point during the episode rather than this laboured underlining. The Master becoming Prime Minister arc in the earlier season worked so much better.

11 April 2010

Doctor Who: "The Beast Below" (no spoilers)

Fifty-fifty on this one. Britain is already a very technologically advanced nation. I found it very hard to swallow a Britain of the future which had somehow reverted in the appearance of its technology (presumably deliberately) to something out of the 1950's. But it was interesting and creepy to look at.

Liz 10 was fun - and her identity instantly apparent the second you heard her name.

The premise fell down too much for me, however. What very black and white options. What absolutes. And evidently no-one in Britain's future is a fundamental PETA member.

I also had problems with the question of what will be used as food in the future, which isn't discussed, nor is any moralising done about the fate of the 'dregs' of society previously. Let alone why they bother to 'drop chute' dumb children if they're not yet useful.

An interesting idea done badly, but prettily.

And for some reason lots of Star Wars allusions.

10 April 2010

Deadly Weapon

If ever I turn my hand to Urban Fantasy my character shall use a sledgehammer as a weapon. Most likely a sledgehammer called Gabriel, or perhaps Peter if she's being subtle.

I'm in the process of destroying our shoddy backyard bbq using just such a sledgehammer, and the ease with which the bricks go flying suggests to me that even vampires would have trouble should they happen to meet 'Gabriel'.

04 April 2010

Doctor Who: "The Eleventh Hour" (no spoilers)

Watching these new series of Who makes me wonder how different the old ones would have been if they'd had the same budget. There were many quite serious episodes in classic Who, but you'll not ever achieve quite the same gravitas with cardboard sets and bad makeup.

A good series opener, with both new Doctor and new companion giving a strong showing. Fortunately it doesn't look like the Doctor is going to be mopeylonelygod Doctor this season. Clear setup of the overarching arc with the 'cracks in the Universe', and outright statement of Moffat's vision of the Doctor as 'more fairytale'.

Male companions/repeat characters seem to be becoming a real issue in the new series, though. There seems to be a requirement that they're ineffectual and almost hen-pecked. Only Captain Jack's brief episodes stand out as an exception. Few writers seem to understand that you can have strong women without removing the strong men. [The Doctor is the major exception, of course, but his mopeyness undercuts his strength, and the tendency of the female companions to fall for him in turn undercuts them.]

I miss Donna. But looks like the new season will be fun.

23 March 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle - "A Study in Scarlet"

Having reached the Holmes novels in my mystery collection, I decided they were worth the re-read, since it has been at least ten years since last I saw them.

"A Study in Scarlet" is a particularly odd book - it's our introduction to Holmes, and the first half of the book shows clearly why he became popular. Partly, I think, it's because Watson himself is such an amiable pair of eyes to view Holmes with. Holmes' science is intriguing and the story ambles along well enough.

And then we reach part two, and the melodrama of the history behind the murder made me wince and sigh - until a recognisable name was mentioned, I was wondering if somehow a totally different novel had been accidentally inserted. It's an interesting device, though: the murderer, the foul fiend our heroes have captured, is in fact a hero himself. Any moral dilemma surrounding his capture is conveniently disposed of by health problems.

Reading these older stories almost always involves a certain amount of adjustment. Issues of race, attitudes towards women - they're alien (and yet not so distant below the surface). One thing which stood out to me is that the murderer's attempt to rescue his stolen bride stopped as soon as he found out she'd been married the day before. She was still alive - didn't die till a month later - but the simple fact of the marriage meant he no longer attempted to rescue her. That's unlikely to happen in a modern tale.

Too many forensic shows also made me doubt that a man stabbed in the heart and lying below the window of a room would be so...leaky.

Not a terrible story, but I could happily have done without all of the flashback.

Also discovered an alternate spelling new to me: dumfoundered. Being used to "dumbfounded", I just had to look that one up to see if it was real. I'm going to have to consult the Oxford some time, because 'dumfoundered' claims to mean 'confound' while 'dumbfounded' means 'struck dumb', so perhaps it's not an alternate spelling at all.

17 March 2010

Wilkie Collins - "I Say No"

My excursion into ebooks has primarily revolved around compilations of classic mysteries (most of which are out of copyright, but it was worth the $20 or so for the convenience of 40,000 pages all in one big wad). I've a great love for Golden Age mysteries, and the novels I'm currently reading are part of the genre's foundation.

Father Brown proved a little too..."Father knows best"? Or, worse, Father knows best, but isn't going to say until pushed. Not bad stories, but they didn't leave me thrilled.

I've moved on to a patch of Wilkie Collin novels, which are not really mysteries in the modern sense, but more 'moral dramas' with an overtone of mystery.

"I Say No" has a semblance of mystery - the death of the father of the main character, Emily - but most of the drama comes from trying to spare Emily from any knowledge of how her father died.

The opening of the story caught my interest, but unfortunately I quickly became impatient. I especially despise stories which involve keeping hard truths from young girls to 'spare' them and though the "I Say No" is basically cautioning against exactly that course, the actions of the characters frustrated me to an extreme degree. Especially when Emily is hardly a wilting and fragile blossom.

Hopefully better luck with the next book in the wad.

12 March 2010

Revising Revising

Having read so much advice about the acceptability of multiple querying, I've decided to slowly add to ongoing queries. There are many useful blogs around and I've been following links all over the place and have revised my query letter slightly.

Solid progress on Wellspring after a difficult last chapter. Action scenes are much easier to write than dramah. Ideas for Sleeping Life keep percolating in the background as well, but I want to stick to Wellspring until I hit a solid roadblock.

07 March 2010

Dissimilarity

One of the details that it's recommended you include in letters to agents is a comparison between your writing and that of known authors. But, while I would love to be able to say that my writing is reminsicent of Robin McKinley's or Diana Wynne Jones' - it's not.

A slightly better wording suggested is "Fans of Robin McKinley or Diana Wynne Jones may enjoy my novels". Which is true! I am just such a fan, and I enjoy my novels.

But I can't name any authors who I'm "like".

I can't decide if it's a bad thing. More a question of interests. I like to explore certain things in my stories - the effect of magic on society, the morality of mages, the concept of a ruler as a servant bonded to their land - and it's rare I will spend a lot of time describing something like swordfights. Are swordfights interesting? Sometimes. I've read some fascinating descriptions of swordfights, where what is being demonstrated is the nature of the swordsman, or the way movement becomes art. But in other cases detailed swordfights become skim material.

The same with romance: so many of the fantasy romances I read are not my cup of tea. I'm just as interested in how a couple adapt to being together as the obstacles to them getting together in the first place and often feel disappointed at where the characters' stories end. And if the obstacles involve misunderstandings or one of the characters tediously denying how they feel then my enjoyment wanes. An absolute turnoff is if the romance involves a normally intelligent female getting herself into some sort of mess while her male counterpart keeps an indulgent eye on her and eventually untangles her. A few of Georgette Heyer's novels do this and it is so annoying to read. I like romances which are partnerships, not babysitting.

If ever I catch some readers, I shall be very interested to see who - if anyone - I'm compared to.

06 March 2010

WorldCon

Finished arranging my trip to the Melbourne WorldCon. Looking forward to the panels. I won't have any books out in September, whatever route I end up taking to publication, which means I can treat it as research and pleasure rather than business. The distance to travel to reach most SFF conventions means I don't get to them very often at all, and it will be quite an adjustment for me if I ever visit one for business purposes.

05 March 2010

Forward Momentum

My train trip to and from the city - isolated as I am from the internet - is a very productive time for me. Wellspring, my "magic as a non-transportable commodity" piece, is taking off and I've worked out what I want to happen for the first half of the novel. I also dinked Stained Glass Monsters, making subtle adjustments to the relationship development to emphasise the continuing hurdles.

As usual when I turn my attention to the publishing aspect of being a writer, I'm gripped by impatience and torn between what I consider polite submission behaviour (submitting to one agent at a time) and what is widely advised (submitting to many agents at once). I'm distracting myself by continuing to research the current state of writing and submitting. There's a great deal more quality information out there these days, and some very interesting agent blogs.

So far I've discovered that there's a much slower market for high fantasy than there was back when I last pushed for publication. Which is a pity, since I rarely write anything else, and I suspect there's even less of a market for space naga smut, which is the only non-high fantasy thing I've worked on recently. Many agents who include fantasy in their genres really mean urban fantasy, which I've never been inclined to write even if I planned to jump on a bandwagon which has already almost passed. Nor am I drawn to steampunk, no matter how fabulous I think "Girl Genius" is.

I also discovered an agent blog that listed things required before submitting to an agent and as well as the obvious (complete manuscript and query letter) included a web site. How fortunate that I only recently created one! A web site has always been on the horizon, but it seemed egotistical to create one before I had any books available. But my deadline and the resolution to take publishing seriously conveniently pushed me ahead and I'll be maintaining it whatever the year brings.

The Google Spiders haven't found the site yet, so I don't pop up as a result - ironic given that Google now owns Blogger.

I get a kick typing andreakhost.com. That won't go away in a hurry.

03 March 2010

Blip!

My agent hunt started badly. I submitted to a junior agent in a very well-regarded house. An email submission, with the agent citing a three week response time. After waiting three and a half weeks, I went to look at the agent's Publisher's Marketplace page - and found it gone.

A quick Google search told me that the first agent I had chosen to submit to after this long fallow period of non-submission had quit the agenting industry a week after I'd submitted to her.

Agent number two now submitted. Another email query with a theoretically fast turn-around and hopefully not resulting in her sudden departure from the industry.

Publishing Deadline

There are so many writers.

I love to write. I write for the pleasure of it, to create books I want to read, to go places that no other author takes me. I'd write if I was the only person in this world, or if everyone in this world told me that I was unreadable. But there's no point denying that being published is the cream on a writer's cake. The affirmation, the (tiny amount of) money, and most of all the books on the shelf.

Getting published is work. To write well, to write what's marketable, and to beat out the nameless hordes all wanting the same as you. I've chipped away at that mountain occasionally, but I can't claim to have nearly enough rejection slips to wallpaper anything of moment. I'd rather write than distract myself with the business of publication, and so I let things slide.

But I want my books on my shelf. I want them to be tangible things. Self-publishing is a too easy temptation. All I have to do is sacrifice the affirmation, pay instead of receive money, and I will get the book for the shelf. I won't be eligible for author's guilds, or for book prizes, but those things matter to me considerably less than the book on the shelf.

Rather than give in quite yet, I've decided to set myself a goal and a deadline. October this year is the anniversary of an outstanding submission, one which has dragged on far too long. Until then I will submit to agents (an important area of the publishing industry which I've only sporadically engaged) and bring a little more dogged determination to the business of getting published.

Step two: create author's blog. Step three: research and submit to appropriate agents.

Step one is writing the stories themselves, but I'm always doing that.