31 May 2011

A Short Indulgence

I'm not by habit a short story writer.  It's a very different form of writing to novels, and I've only written a handful.  The most recent was an urban fantasy idea I wanted to get out of my head to stop it bugging me, and coincided with a competition which crossed the theme.

Rather than leave it to languish, I've put it up as a freebie on Smashwords.  It's very short (1500 words!) and on reading it over it seems to me that the fewer words I have to use, the bigger the words will be.

26 May 2011


Still turning over possible font/colour combinations for Caszandra.  There's so many possibilities...


21 May 2011

A Quick Trip to North Sydney

Congratulations to all the Aurealis Award winners!  It was a strong field, and fun for me to even be considered in contention.  [Cool AV presentation at the awards too. :) ]

20 May 2011

MacGyver of the Caribbean

He's chained to a chair.  The henchmen have gone to fetch their leader, so he has a bare minute to assess the tools at hand.  A balcony, a window, a table sumptously laid for a meal.  A chandelier.

The food distracts: it's been too long since his last meal.  He edges the heavy chair forward, reaching.  An oozing cream-puff bounces off a plate, but it's too late, they're coming, and he kicks it upward, hiding attempted theft in plain sight, pierced on the chandelier.  The room fills with soldiers, numbers impossible to fight, but his quick mind has identified a chance, and all he needs is some way to get out of these chains...

It's scenes like these which are the core of the Pirates of the Caribbean series for me.  Jack Sparrow is the Captain of Chaos Theory, capable of seeing potential connections at a glance, and engineering the escape device as readily as any blond-headed inventor.  If only he would use his powers for good, instead of for rum.

Overall, On Stranger Tides is a fun outing.  I gather the story has been borrowed from a book of the same name, and knowing nothing about the book I suspect that it spends a little more time than the movie on the thoughts and feelings of a stalwart missionary.  Perhaps his motivation was left on the cutting-room floor, leaving a major plot point as "she's too pretty to be evil".  But otherwise recommended.

18 May 2011

The Character Arc of a Fat Detective

Having hit a few too many modern mysteries which didn't work for me, I'm plunging into a re-read of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.  (Somewhat overpriced) Kindle editions have made it easy for me to complete my collection, and I really enjoy doing end-to-end read-throughs of my favourite classic mysteries, to see the world change around the detectives.

Nero Wolfe, and his not-to-be-forgotten offsider Archie Goodwin, leap off the page of the very first novel.  Wolfe is a brilliant man devoted to (and burdened by) his immense and costly collection of orchids.  He is also a gourmand of expensive tastes.  He undertakes his detecting primarily for money to feed his habit for food and flowers, (although there's no doubt some enjoyment of the intellectual challenge), and he cultivates his reputation of eccentricity to better prevent too many from attempting to stir him into working.  Archie is the live-wire, the energetic go-getter, whose livelihood depends on ensuring the Wolfe earns both their livings.

Today, reading a review of some random steampunk novel, I saw a criticism about how the characters do not change significantly during the novel.  This was termed a weakness, something to be forgiven, a detraction.  And yet here am I, eagerly anticipating reading through 34 novels where the characters do not change.  Oh, they get older, they bicker, circumstances on occasion oblige Wolfe to alter his routine or even, *gasp*, leave the building.  One or two books force him to do rather more, but they don't essentially change the person that he is, and as soon as possible he returns to status quo.

I guess everyone has their own checklist of what is a 'right' novel.  I do tend to avoid books with truly obnoxious treatments of women.  Otherwise, make me care, don't cause my suspension of disbelief to go SPUNG, do not confuse me overmuch, and tie off the ends of the tale in a way that satisfies.  Most of all, do not bore me.  That's all I ask.

15 May 2011

Doctor Who: "The Doctor's Wife"

Loved this.  Loved 'Idris', loved the 'Thief'.  The actual plot was a lot of running about, don't think too much about it, but didn't matter because "Idris and the Thief" hit right to the core of one of the best things about Who.

Narrative Structure

Progress with "Lab Rat One" continues apace.  I'm almost finished the current read-through (where I've been focusing on ensuring the volume's theme occasionally pokes its head above water), and will take a short break from it afterwards before a further review.

As expected, with "Stray" feedback shows the structure of the book is frustrating for some, although the overall story appears to be engaging.  It's really interesting how the absence of the chapter structure and the use of diary form (today this happened today this happened today this happened) means the reader can't spot what's "important" nearly so easily.  There's a development arc for Cass in each volume (roughly "stepping up", "falling apart", "settling in"), but on the whole Touchstone is simply a year in someone's life.  One of the most unexpected years ever.

Fun for me, but understandably it's not something which is going to work for everyone.

08 May 2011

04 May 2011

Dimunition Romance

Over the past few years I read a well-written series of novels, an alternate history with an intriguing magic system, and good along-for-the-ride adventures which appealed to my plot-bunny nature.  And yet I dropped the series, due to the nature of the romance.

Romance is not a necessary component of a good book for me (I love early Norton SF, and most of her characters may as well be asexual), but it's fair to say it's an element I like to see, whatever the genre, and which I invariably include in my own writing.  The romance in Series X had plenty of potential - the main character was in his late teens, child of a famous family, and deeply interested in magic.  He falls hard and fast for a strong-willed, independent and intelligent young woman, who likes but does not fawn over him.

It should have been exactly my cup of tea - I love romances involving independent equals finding what they need in each other.  But the more the romance sub-plot developed, the less I wanted to read.  I could accept that the competent, assured main character becomes a stammering self-doubter in the presence of the object of his affections, but I didn't enjoy reading him that way.  And then, when he foolishly tries to manipulate a situation (for her safety), I was okay with him being called on it and told to stop.  But as the next two books dragged through him being chastised, barely forgiven, and finally being tolerated once again, I seriously started hoping he would meet someone else.  Because every time his love interest became involved in the story, he became less than the person than he ordinarily was: he became not only a stammering mass of nerves, but also this person of lesser morals who had to be forgiven, to win approval.

This is an approach to romance which is not too rare - an assured, competent main character (almost always a man) who meets a love interest who somehow lessens him.  In the cause of pricking his bubble of ego (or humanising him, which I expect is meant to be the aim), she lectures him, bests him effortlessly at his own game, patronises him, or just leaves him looking foolish.  For the romance to succeed, he needs to be cut down to size.  I call it a Dimunition Romance.

One of the tests I tend to apply to romances, particularly when I'm writing them, is to gender swap the main participants to see whether the story would still be tolerable to me if the characters behaved the same way.  Dimunition romances are uncomfortable for me to read when it's a male main character, but it's only clear to me just how much I dislike them when I turn that man into a woman.

A prime current example of this is a (probable) romance which is quite popular among Doctor Who fans - River Song and the Doctor.  If the Doctor was female and River Song a man who pranced onto screen, overly affectionate despite the Doctor's obvious discomfort, calling her Sweetie, showing her up as being such a bad driver, and wagging his finger and tutting "Spoilers!" (while tossing out spoilers left, right and centre), then the audience reaction would be...wow, I can just imagine.

Why is it okay to portray a woman doing this to a man?

Dimunition romances = not for me.

01 May 2011

Doctor Who: "Day of the Moon"

Um.  Well.  Yes.

There was a moment in this episode which suggested that it was all a dream.  I'm going to cling to that, because so much of this made little sense, was just cool scenes cobbled together, relying on action and the big revelations to stop us from questioning the sense of it all, or noticing how many elements have been re-used from the previous series.

There's a point where all the hand-wavey just falls down.  I think I'll be watching this series for the one-off episodes, rather than loving the whole thing.

Three Skips

I started accruing my book collection in my late teens.  Not too many early on, since I moved house a lot.  A couple of shelves of books.  T...