Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won't do…

November 17, 2015

Bogong moths

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day — Tags: — lexifab @ 1:15 pm

A few minutes ago I took a second glance out at the leaves blowing past the lunchroom window and realised that what the air was really full of was bogong moths. Every spring they migrate in vast numbers south along the ranges and back to the Southern Alps. Their flight path takes them straight through Canberra, where they spend a couple of days flitting about national monuments and banging into lights, along with their more regrettable habits of splatting into windscreens and getting devoured in vast numbers by all the fruit bats living in Commonwealth Park.

They are Canberra’s equivalent of the first swallows of spring or that groundhog in Pennsylvania, marking a moment in the turn of the year that you could set a watch by. (It wouldn’t be a very reliable watch, but good enough if you’re in a position of having to depend on natural cues for your timekeeping).

Everything feels very transitory for me at the moment. A brief period of marking time and gathering strength for the next big push. I’m getting ready to dive back into heavy writing. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of house painting and other renovation work. I’m starting to get back into a regular exercise routine.

No doubt part of it is just down to the turn of the weather. I don’t complain much about how cold Canberra gets in the winter (which generally last until at least September) but on the other hand I don’t defiantly rage against its chill embrace by taking long runs in the frozen hours either. As a result I’ve gained weight over the winter – probably in the order of five or six kilos, though I don’t track it closely enough to know for sure. Coming into spring, I’ve been lethargic, uninspired and able to plumb unfathomable depth of procrastination towards just about everything. I think I’ve also been a bit sick, though not with anything acute enough to prompt a visit to the doctor.

Everyone else in the house has had at least one bout of colds, flu or worse (this winter/spring season has including one dose of whooping cough and a perforated eardrum amongst several maladies) and while I think I dodged the worse of it, I’ve definitely been run down to the point of near-complete apathy.

Either way, I can feel myself coming through it now. Summer holidays are coming up. The days are warmer. There’s cricket on the telly. Energy levels are on the rise again. The ideas are starting to flow.

Time to get flapping.

November 9, 2015

Suffering from acute ennui

Filed under: Uncategorized — lexifab @ 2:46 pm

Please send motivation. Stat.


October 17, 2015

Half-baked Review – Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Filed under: books of 2015,books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2015 — lexifab @ 10:58 pm

Oh this book. THIS BOOK!

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ genderflipped retelling of The Three Musketeers, as space opera.

This book has flat-out my favourite D’Artagnan of all time (the character who hitherto has made every version of T3M drag for me, including the original book): Dana D’Artagnan is the sexy-smart wannabe Musketeer with high expectations, dubious impulse control issues and a habit of crashing through the plot like a meteor strike. I love her to bits. The actual Musketeers are fun as well.

This book is just fucking great, y’all. It’s funny, it’s smart, the action is fun, the sex is sexy, the characters are one delight after another, and the cake jokes are ridiculous and excessive i.e. perfect. And the plot makes sense all the way through (which I’ve never quite been sure is true of the source material).

I got to read it as an ebook because I was a Patreon backer, but you can check it out over at Tansy Rayner Roberts’ site. I gather she’s shopping it around to publishers. She should – a book this much fun deserves to be in print.

(It may seem to certain readers that this is less a review than a gushing outpouring of glee. Yes.)

October 6, 2015

Conflux is done for another year. Back to work.

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 3:41 pm

Everything came together on the weekend, which turned out to be more of a relief than I’d realised. I’d already figured out that between the overseas trip, the final preparations for Conflux, the end-of-year accounting for the CSFG’s finances and the launch of a new book all happening in the space of four weeks, any hope of having brain-cycles left over for writing was a complete bust.

That all done now, or almost so. The October long weekend saw Canberra’s speculative fiction writing convention Conflux 11 go off without any particularly significant hitches. This was my first year volunteering for the con organising committee (as the dealers’ room coordinator). It turns out I maaaaaaaaay have been carrying a little residual stress about making sure I covered every possible detail from every conceivable angle. By the time of the con’s launch on Friday morning, I was on my fourth consecutive morning of waking up at about 4 am with a to-do checklist running through my head. It’s a small miracle that I don’t seem to have spent the entire weekend responding to every single question with unintelligible blabbering.

No, I’m sure the blabbering was completely coherent.

The other big deal for the convention was the launch of the new CSFG anthology The Never Never Land. We had our official book launch on Sunday evening, with probably half the contributing authors in attendance. As we were still pulling together small details like collecting the print run and paying for the catering right up to the last minute, it was – as they say in showbiz – all right on the night. Shauna O’Meara (who did the gorgeous cover art) and Cat Sparks (who took this gallery of remarkable con photos – the TNNL launch ones are near the bottom of page 2) did readings from their excellent short stories, Nicole Murphy MC’ed and first-among-editorial-equals Ian McHugh gave thanks to the committee. I may have missed my name being mentioned because I was trying to skull a light beer before the bookselling started.

(I don’t have a story in Never Never, by the way. I started one but didn’t figure out how to finish it until about six months after the submissions closed).

And I didn’t get to see much of the convention, though I did sit in on a couple of quite remarkable panels. One was about managing your career as an author – which featured Isobelle Carmody extolling the virtues of a personal assistant, among other delights – and the other about what writers choose to sacrifice in order to have the space to write. Both were instructive as to the diversity of experiences on the path to success, however an individual may define it. I suppose that other panels might not have been quite as serious or thoughtful, but I counted myself lucky to catch the discussions I did.

And now it’s Tuesday, I’m back at work and I am flat out. I still have quite a bit of admin to tie up, both CSFG and convention-related, but excuse-time is up. I gotta get back on the word-pony and get some stuff done. I have at least another 3-4 chapters left to deal with on the novel. I have at least two short stories to finish and another two outlined that I could be writing. And I still haven’t set up my new author web page, despite having a bunch of stuff sitting ready to go for weeks now.

I think my next blogging job will be to review my 2015 goals and see how far behind I’ve fallen…



September 25, 2015

Review – Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan

Andrew McKiernan’s collection Last Year, When We Were Young (2014 from Satalyte Publishing) is a fine example of a strong writer testing his limits by stretching in different directions. As you might expect from an Australian writer with a well-deserved reputation for compelling dark fantasy and horror, outback ghosts and urban nightmares are represented.

One of my favourite stories appears early in this volume: “White Lines, White Crosses” is a grimly familiar tragedy of teenage isolation, testosterone-fuelled recklessness and car culture, with a smear of the supernatural to amp up the stakes. “The Memory of Water” is haunted by childhood memories of beach holidays tinged with tragedy. And “The Haunting that Jack Built” is a classic yarn of strange and sinister goings-on in a country town.

But McKiernan shows his range with some unexpected variations on theme and setting: the Middle East appears in modern and mythological states, in “The Dumbshow”, “The Desert Song”, “They Don’t Know That We Know What They Know” and the excellent clash of espionage, battles handed down across generations, old gods and chess in “Daivadana”. He does a creditable Stephen King-like grotesque in “The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim”. He does old-fashioned SF horror in “The Wanderer in the Darkness”. He even does a noir tragedy soaked in betrayal and cheap whiskey in “Torch Song”.

But where this collection stands out is in the weird and absurd corners. The title story is a brief piece of deranged survival horror set in the aftermath of a more than usually disturbing apocalypse. But the jewel in the crown is probably “All the Clowns in Clowntown”, which is perhaps a parable about surviving an epidemic or could be a metaphor for involuntary unionism or hostile corporatism, but in any case is probably the only story you will ever read about the last surviving resistance members of the clown counter-revolution.

Last Year, When We Were Young had a remarkably high hit rate for me. McKiernan’s quality as a short story writer is consistently strong across the collection. Highly recommended.

September 15, 2015

At the Edge anthology coming in 2016

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 2:53 pm

The news of the past day is leaving me with an acute case of advanced schadenfreude, so I’m not going to address it today. Instead I’ll turn to even happier (on a personal level) events.

One lovely bit of news that I’ve been sitting on for quite a while is that I have a new story coming out next year. The story is called “Seven Excerpts from Season One” and will appear in the 2016 anthology At the Edge from Paper Road Press in New Zealand. I won’t say too much about the story other than to vaguely describe it as my “Youtube high school ghost hunters” piece.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

Quite apart from the sheer delight of getting accepted for publication, I am very excited to be sharing a table of contents again with my Brisbane writer-buddies Jodi Cleghorn and Tom Dullemond, who both also have work coming out (sooner or later) in The Lane of Unusual Traders. I love their stuff and can’t wait to read what they’ve done.

I’ll share more about At the Edge as information comes out. In the meantime, I plan to spend quite a lot of time admiring the lovely cover art from Wellington artist Emma Weakley.


August 3, 2015

Progress report – The whooshing sound they make

Filed under: books of 2015,books read,Uncategorized — Tags: — lexifab @ 2:27 pm

Per Douglas Adams’ famous observation “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by,” I have predictably failed to type THE END on the A Flash of Black Wings manuscript before my self-imposed target date of the end of July. C’est la vie. To be fair to myself, I did pass the 75,000 word mark with a day or two to spare. It’s just that the story isn’t quite done yet. I estimate it will probably be closer to 90 to 95 K to get to the planned conclusion. So I am not as bad at keeping to a writing schedule as I am of estimating a project’s scope (or controlling scope creep, which I think is the likeliest culprit in this case).

So I will continue to plug away with a revised estimated completion date of the end of August. That’s a pretty good target to aim for, since I will be travelling overseas for work (briefly) at the start of September. I’d like that to be a nice clean transition point between this writing project and the next [1].

Forget about that, I’m going to talk about what I’m reading:

I have a stack of physical books next to my bed and a (much larger) stack of ebooks which is, um, also next to my bed, on the kindle. Feeling the tremendous shame of having a tendency for impulse purchasing that far exceeds my reading time, I have decided to concentrate on at least knocking off all the books by Australian writers in the TBR pile before the end of the year. I also have a vague plan to review all or most of them, but that will definitely have to wait until after I’m done with the novel. (My traditional Month of Relentless Positivity daily blogging project in October may well be a succession of book reviews and not much else).

So far I’ve knocked off works by Andrea Höst, Andrew Macrae and Alis Franklin, as well as a couple of issues of Aurealis and some anthologies.

(No, I’m not working through the list in alphabetical order).

I expect to be done with that before summer, after which I’m planning to embark on a Reading Project.

The next reading project (help wanted)

Paying attention to various podcasts and other discussions on the history of science fiction and fantasy, it has become appearent to me just how wide the gaps are in my reading of “the classics”. I’ve read, for example, bugger-all Heinlein (probably because the Heinlein I have read is from his baffling later years). I’ve not read Bester. I’ve not read Samuel Delaney or Octavia Butler or Joanna Russ or Poul Anderson or Frederick Pohl or James Tiptree – well, you name someone outside the biggest names in genre, and I probably haven’t read much of their stuff.

I plan to fix that by going back and investigating some of the great classic works of science fiction. Twelve of them to start with – perhaps one a month, but more likely I will binge – and exclusively skiffy for the first round (I’m better read in fantasy, although I’ll probably undertake an equivalent project there as well). But because I am a proud desktop social justice warrior, I have no intention of allowing the content of my reading to be dominated by dead white guys, so I am going to attempt (to the greatest extent possible) to include non-white and non-male authors in the mix. Since I have to cherry-pick what constitutes a classic anyway (because it’s impossible to read everything) I figure I might as well read as broadly as possible.

Thus far I have determined that I will include Dhalgren by Chip Delaney (which I tried to read in high school but gave up on for whatever reason), at least one of the C J Cherryh Alliance-Union books (probably Downbelow Station, but I’ll see what I can find), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, something by Joanna Russ (probably The Female Man), something by Octavia Butler (not sure what yet), something by James Tiptree Jr aka Alice Sheldon (son’t know what yet), something by Alfred Bester (probably The Stars My Destination, but maybe The Demolished Man, and no, I haven’t read either of those) and something by Robert Heinlein that isn’t Stranger in a Strange Land or The Number of the Beast (because fuck The Number of the Beast sideways; what a shitty book that was).

I’ve set some rules for this project:

  • I can’t have read it before (I’ll give a pass to Dhalgren because I know I didn’t finish it, and because it was the book that prompted this line of thinking)
  • Only one book by any given author
  • Novels only (I do read a lot of short stories, but for this particular project I am shoring up my novel background)
  • Science fiction only – I’ll do fantasy classics later
  • Only books published pre-1985 (arbitrarily picking the publication of Neuromancer as the point at which I started reading science fiction semi-widely, and 30 years seems like a reasonable period to establish a work’s classic-ness)
  • I am seeking parity between male and female authors (counting Tiptree as female for the binary purposes of this exercise)
  • I am seeking parity between white and POC authors.

I have a feeling that last criteria will be hard to live up to but I will do my best.

So, I’m after suggestions: given the criteria above, what do you recommend I add to my reading pile of the classics of science fiction? What do you think are the landmark works of great science fiction that I should have absorbed into my brain-meats before now? 

(Doctor Clam, I feel quite sure you have something to contribute here!)

[Edited later]

Here’s the list as I settle on it (not yet in a particular order):

  • Samuel R Delaney – Dhalgren
  • Ursula K Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination
  • C J Cherryh – Downbelow Station
  • Frederick Pohl – Gateway

[1] The next writing project will be the small to medium-sized stack of short story ideas that have accumulated in my notebooks since I started the novel manuscript. It will be at least three new stories, plus two revisions, before I go back to revise the novel.

July 13, 2015

Progress report – Bad ideas abound

In retrospect I should have realised that aiming to finish my novel in July would be a terrible idea. That’s the time of the year when I have to manage my abnormally complex tax affairs. Work’s never busier than around the end of financial year. There’s school holidays. I’m the treasurer of a club with non-trivial membership and assets. And – oh shit, I completely forgot that the Ashes are being played in the UK at relatively viewable times of the evening.

Thinking about that now, and making the observation – obvious with hindsight – that I tend to approach complex jobs (like writing a novel) with a foot-dragging air of desperate procrastination, I probably could have planned this better. As I should have expected, I’ve left myself with a fifteen to twenty-thousand word sprint to complete in the next two-and-change weeks.

That would be challenging enough, but on top of that the process of writing the novel has (also predictably) caused me to depart from my original outline in fairly significant ways. So now instead of racing towards the finish line on a well-mapped track with safety rails, I’m rallying about in the dark with dodgy headlights and a drunk navigator. I could still cross the finish line on time, but it’s difficult to see how it might happen on purpose.

Still, it is do-able, and I have something that at least resembles a plan. I will allocate at least part of every day – typically lunchtimes – to rebuilding the outline. That will help to make sure that when I sit down to write each session, I won’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what the  scene will be about etc. And because the act of writing invariably steers me off-course with respect to the outline, I need to make sure that the re-outlining process occurs as regularly (or almost so) as the writing sessions themselves.

Currently I am writing at a rate of about 5000 words a week (on the novel). To get to where I want to be that number will have to rise to about 8000 a week.

I can do that.


In other news

I am currently reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty for a couple of reasons: one, because the library sent me a recommendation to do so; two, because I know enough about economics to know what an economic illiterate I am and I do like to have a better grasp of why the world works as it does; and three, because I have let my non-fiction reading skills atrophy over the last few years and this looks like a serious workout in that respect. So far I am following it pretty well – Piketty takes the time to explain his terms and then remind the reader what they meant, but otherwise does not refrain from diving into fairly complex matters. It also helps that I am at least passingly familiar with the last three hundred years of European history, so I understand the basic context that he is examining. I’ll get back with a proper book report after I’m finished.

I know eight chords on the tenor ukelele now. Not all of them are single-finger chords. (Two of them are). While I can feel myself making good progress, I haven’t advanced to the point of trying to work out how to play an actual song yet. STILL I am being a musician again for the first time in more than ten years. Assuming it continues to feel good, at some point I will promote myself to learning to play the bass guitar (ie an instrument that does not sound terrible to play).

I devoted four late nights to the cricketing debacle in Cardiff last week (and would have thrown last night’s sleep into the mix as well had the Australian capitulation not be so complete). Even though the prospects are grim of a reversal of fortunes for the Lord’s Test starting on Thursday, I will be doing to same again this week. I fear that if even the lumbering doldrums displayed by the likes of Watson and Haddin cannot break my addiction to watching cricket, then my condition must be both acute and incurable.

July 6, 2015

Progress report – June was a stumbling block

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:57 pm

A quick update on the novel – progress was slow. I added about 10,000 words altogether for the entire month of June to the novel manuscript. By contrast, in the less-than-a-week since then, I’ve added about 5000 words. So it’s been a bit of a drag and a trample, but I feel like it won’t be impossible to climb back up on the horse.

I also finished a new short story – or rather an old one that I’ve been kicking back and forth for more than a year, drafting and redrafting. With the benefit of a couple of weeks’ distance, I’m quite proud of the story. I think it definitely represents a leveling up of my short story craft. I’m still well short of what I expect professional-quality writing to look like, but I’m confident that I’m inching closer to it.

As we’ve passed the halfway point for the year – which by the way, where the hell did those months go? – I decided to look in on the various writing goals I set for myself back in January and see how I’m going:

Short stories – I said I wanted to have ten stories in circulation. I currently have nine, though one is perilously close to retirement. I’m going to stay focused on getting the current draft of the novel completed as my first priority, but after that I intend to churn through a few of the short story ideas I’ve been putting together in the meantime. I thought back in January that the short story goal was a little unambitious. I’ll revise what I think is a more challenging goal after the novel draft is done.

Novel – The goal was to have an 80K novel written by the end of July. Right now the manuscript is a tad shy of 60,ooo words and I have 25 days to get to the goal. To be honest, I doubt I will quite make it, but if not I won’t be so far away that I end up disappointed in myself. A bit less than a thousand words a day is certainly doable, but it’s right near the upper end of my current productivity rates, so I am not going to beat myself up with unrealistic expectations.

Especially not when I have reached a point where I no longer know quite where this draft is going to end. I’ve gone off the reservation a bit in terms of my outline, and stuff is now happening that appears nowhere in my planning. I’ve yet to figure out whether I need to correct course and get back to what I was aiming at, or run with the new direction. I suspect the answer will be somewhere in the middle wearing a “Fix it in rewrites!” T-shirt. We’ll see.

Community stuff – I have to write a CSFG treasurer manual. I still haven’t done it, but to be honest it’s not that big a task. Now that the end of financial year has arrived, the first order of business is settling the accounts and getting them audited (well, that will be the second order of business after I do my own family taxes, which are a hefty job of work in themselves). I have a bit of a deadline around some upcoming holidays, so I will probably need to cram a lot of this into a short space of time. All the more reason to get the novel draft finished. But the auditing process will fill in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge on being a treasurer, so I expect to be in a good mental space for instruction manual writing as part of that.

Blogging – I am building the new writer website. It’s not done yet. I don’t regard it as a huge priority, what with having no particular work to promote, but the job hasn’t fallen off the list.


So that’s not too bad. I’m tracking pretty well against some admittedly modest goals, with some bursts of productivity needed in the near future. I can do that.

June 25, 2015

Progress report – Little to no progress to report

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 1:27 pm

In a shameless attempt to make sure that the entire month of June doesn’t pass without a blog entry, I will crank out a short progress report which only lightly touches on the status of the novel manuscript.

Because reasons, that’s why.

Status of the novel manuscript – It’s still going, albeit slowly. I’ve stalled a bit at the 50,000 word mark, having reached the point where the decision not to do any serious worldbuilding before I started has run aground on the lack of world. Er, so to speak. The external world, being little-defined, is exerting a sad lack of pressure on my isolated team of characters, which means I’m filling out an awful lot of word count with exposition and somewhat artificial interpersonal conflict. I have a suspicion that whole chapters in this area may disappear in the editing process. But not until after I finish the draft, dammit!

Short stories – Out of frustration with the slow progress on the novel, I’ve gone back to a couple of short stories to finish them off. “Burn the Future”, my “Hogwarts versus Aliens” story (not my description, but embarrassingly apt when someone proposed it) is now done and off on submission. “Unacceptable Losses” (aka “Golems versus Werewolves”, which *is* my shorthand description) was part-written in March when I dropped everything to start work on the novel. It has about another 1000 words left to be written, so I figured I would just knock them off as fast as possible so I can get to editing the piece.

Rejectomancy – So with the submission of BtF yesterday, I’m up to 31 submissions for the year with zero (I counted twice) acceptances. Ho hum. A couple of the pieces are on second readings at their respective venues, so they may well be in with a chance. And I have had some very encouraging “Good but not right for us” – type rejection letters, which is better than nothing.

One piece which has now gone out 21 times altogether is pretty much on its last possible sub, in that I’ve really just run out of markets to try to sell a 9000-word fantasy story to.  If it gets rejected again, which I’m expecting, I’ll reluctantly retire it and plonk it up here so everyone can point and laugh and wonder what got into me. Or I’ll add another seventy thousand words to it and convert it to a novel, maybe.


And in other news, I saw Inside Out, the new Pixar movie yesterday, about which I have two observations:

1) I reckon I learned more about neurosychology in that ninety minutes than I got in an entire year of first-year Psych at uni; and

2) I do a lot of quiet sobbing in Pixar movies.

It’s good. You should go sob – I mean, see it.

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