Lexifabricographer

November 29, 2011

The blood of the Clan is strong

Filed under: family — lexifab @ 1:29 pm

I’m just dropping a quick note to congratulate my big little brother Gazza and his beaming better half Sonia on the arrival at 11:22 pm last night of their third wee bairn (and first little girl). Little X, who is so fresh and new that I haven’t even thought of a good blogname for her, weighed over 4 kilos and measures 53 cm. All are happy and well!

We’re very pleased that they managed a girl this time, so that our baby Wombat will have a girl cousin growing up. What few nephews and nieces that Fi has are all much older than our kids, or will never exist due to various circumstances of biology and temperament, so in terms of boisterous in-family companions for Joey and Wombat, this was pretty much the last chance for another girl. Chances are that that is it for this generation of Versaces, so the headcount now stands at three boys and two girls. A good haul!

November 24, 2011

My writer DNA

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:14 pm

The sad passing of Anne McCaffrey yesterday got me thinking about my favourite writers – those who’ve influenced me over the years, the ones who’ve been my go-to ol’ reliables at different times in my life, the ones whose back-catalogues I have hunted down and consumed to extinction. McCaffrey herself wasn’t actually one of those writers. I enjoyed the first few Pern books before I decided I could do without the melodrama, and I remember The Crystal Singer and its sequels fondly. From somewhere near the start of high school and for about the next fifteen years McCaffrey was always somewhere on the radar but she never quite made it to the top of my personal charts. Liked, didn’t love.

(That’s a crappy eulogy, I know, but she is remembered fondly by a legion of fans world wide and I think would be satisfied enough that I remember many of the particulars of Killashandra Ree’s adventures nearly three decades after first reading them.)

I inherited my love of reading from my mother, who got it from hers. Nan’s place was like a treasure trove to me – there was a laundry wall that was stacked from floor to ceiling (very much literally) with books. She kept her collection like a kind of treacherous dry stone wall of temptation. It was often very difficult to extract a book without bringing down a bunch of other ones. There were Christies andFrancises, as well as Ludlum and Heyer and Sayer and Marsh.I spent months working my way through my Nan’s library and probably didn’t read more than one or two percent of its contents.

But like every devoted reader, I was busy developing my own personal pantheon of writing demigods. They would speak, and at one time or another in my life I was entranced. Some have endured, their reputations remaining untarnished in the face of my evolving tastes and their occasional (to my eyes) missteps. Others were once ascendant and are now idle, recalled with warmth at best and at worst with distaste at their Icarus-like plummet from my regard. Yes, Piers Anthony, David Eddings and Dave fucking Sim, you get in that line over there. And you shut up.

Overwhelmingly my preferred authors are writers of fiction. Until relatively recently, I had little experience of well-written non-fiction. That’s on me. I’ve never really grokked reading non-fiction for pleasure, and even now I’m pretty much only going to look at historical writing, (auto-)biographies and the occasional bit of social or political analysis. The poppier the better. So I’m missing those genes altogether, which should give some indication of my lax attitude towards academic endeavour and research in general.

So, to the fiction. I’ve always had my nose in a book. My early heroes were Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Alistair Maclean on the crime/action side, John Wyndham’s triffids and John Christopher’s tripods over at science fiction and…hmm, not that much fantasy until my teenage years. I think that’s when I glommed onto Ray Bradbury, who definitely held my attention for a good few years. I developed my perfectly healthy and charming and not at all obsessive lifelong fascination with Doctor Who back then, so I should probably add Terrance Dicks, Robert Holmes and Terry bloody Nation to the list.

That would bring us to the first of my personal Big Two: Douglas Adams. In my first couple of years of high school, I probably read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy twenty or thirty times. The first couple of sequels, likewise. The next couple – eh, they had some good bits. But HHGTTG was the big one, and probably did more to shape my brain than any other single book. It certainly helped shape my speech patterns, which tend toward overly elaborate constructions intended to withhold a punchy gag as long as possible and to overuse of adverbs (a crime of which Adams was not in fact guilty, but the devastating precision with which he deployed them clearly made an impression on my impressionable brain). He also wrote and script-edited for Who, of course, which only served to underline his genius as far as I was concerned. And yeah, I liked Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, even if he ripped off his own scripts to write it.

On the tail of Adams came Stephen King, who by virtue of being extraordinarily prolific at just the right time (the 80′s) gave me the second great influence of my formative years. Despite not being otherwise a particular fan of horror (it’s fine, but it’s not my thing per se) I devoured everything King coughed up, which was a lot. There are quite a few great novels in his back catalogue (The Dead Zone, The Shining and later Misery and Needful Things) but The Stand was the one that did it for me. Something about the epic end-of-the-worldiness appealed – I’ve read all 1000+ pages of it at least a dozen times. In recent years his even-more-epic multiverse-spanning Dark Tower series *might* have toppled The Stand from its place at the top of the King tree, but it’s a close thing for me. (Oddly, none of the above rank as King’s scariest, which are probably either Salem’s Lot or Pet Sematary, both of which feature murderous undead children. Go figure).

Moving on: in my late teens and into my twenties, there were comics. Moore, Morrison, Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis. Anything and everything by that lot, then and now. Terry Pratchett came to fill the gap left behind by Douglas Adams. Iain Banks, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville have all become somewhat indispensible (though Banks’ star might be starting to fade since the last couple of Culture books) and I was deeply gratified to have discovered Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books several years ago.

Thinking about this list there are some weird omissions. Tolkein was never a big figure for me – I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until I was 27, and I’m *still* only halfway through The Hobbit. Asimov never really clicked with me. Nor did Clarke (except ‘Childhood’s End’ and ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’, of course). There are a great many classics of science fiction in particular and fantasy as well of which I am woefully ignorant (never read any Bester or Le Guin or Moorcock, sod-all Heinlein or Vonnegut or Zelazny or Vance). I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare but my attachment to most of that canon is tenuous. My ‘literary’ reading is piecemeal and honestly pretty random. I don’t do poetry. I read a bit of crime and mystery stuff, but I fall short of enthusiasm there. These days I reserve a lot of my admiration for television writers, but that’s probably another story.

So which writers are in your blood? C’mon, don’t be shy.

November 22, 2011

Flash Fiction – Russet Powder

Filed under: fictionchunk,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 3:35 pm

I’m going through the agonising mid-novel crisis phase of writing at the moment. I have all the classic symptoms – shiftlessness, frustration, disenchantment. Uncle Doubt has rolled in on scratchy barbed-wire wheels, carrying a bootload of awkward questions: Where is this going? Who are these people? Why would anyone care what happened to that guy? What the hell is going on? Why don’t you care that your plot makes no goddamn sense? WHY DO YOU HATE ART!?

(Uncle Doubt is a creepy bastard. But he’s family. What can you do?)

Anyway, while I get through that, one nonsensical scene-to-be-removed-in-editing at a time, I decided to distract myself for a couple of minutes with something else. Happily, Chuck “Him again?” Wendig has come up with another one of his 100-word flash fiction challenges: Frog Powder Seagull Tower Scissors. As usual, the idea is to write a short-short (I think hereabouts we call the 100-word-exactly form a ‘drabble’, do we not?) using one of those words for inspiration.

So here we go.

Russet Powder

The fine rusty powder coated every surface inside the abandoned Beamer. Detective Inspector Graumann couldn’t make head nor tail of it, nor of the sharpened oak shaft protruding loose from the centre of the black velvet driver’s side seat cover.

A Forensics trainee passed a twine sightline from the splintered wooden head of the arrow through the windscreen entry hole. When the clumsy labrat cut a finger on the glass, Graumann sighed at his contaminated crime scene.

The powder sizzled and coalesced around the spilling droplets. Graumann clutched for his mother’s crucifix as the powder regathered into hissing human shape.

November 16, 2011

Review – Double Dead by Chuck Wendig

Filed under: reviewage — lexifab @ 4:05 pm

I have about half a dozen reviews that I want to get out there, but this is one for a book that I simply inhaled over the weekend. It’s written to the Amazon review specs, so it’s short and contains no bad language. Only one of those things does any justice to the not-very-long and frequently profane Double Dead.

At Amazon I gave it five stars, but on the Clam scale, this book gets a “still-screaming severed head thrown through the passenger window so hard it breaks the driver’s nose and jaw and he loses control, sending everyone careening off a bridge on fire” out of ten.

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Sad transition back into the workforce

It has been a long and tiring week, punctuated mainly by distractions, a little gaming and a horrible hacking cough over the weekend. Progress on the novel remains steady overall, though that’s mainly because I had a couple of very productive days at the start and end of the week rather than modest gains throughout. Still, I’m closing in on the nominal halfway mark, so the deadline remains a thing that could be achieved. And after all, I have that bet with Evan, so what better motivation could I possibly need?

The real change has been my return to work this week, after eight weeks at home looking after Childe Wombat. Sadly we could no longer afford to maintain my sensitive new-aged indolent lifestyle. I have returned to the workforce and she has joined her brother at childcare. I will miss taking her on long walks during the day – her favourite activity other than eating, and the only thing guaranteed to calm her occasions tantrums – but to be honest she’ll have a lot more fun there than she does with me.

As for work, I am reluctantly getting back into the groove of things. It would probably help if I hadn’t run headlong into one of our most painful and overdesigned bureaucratic processes, but I expect the need to focus on one laborious step after another will help recondition my public servant muscles.

(While I have been typing this, traffic out the front of my building has begun backing up behind roadblocks for Barack Obama’s presidential motorcade. Said motorcade, according to the live news feed on that television over there, has yet to leave the airport and make the ten-or-so-minute journey to parliament House. I boldly predict that when the roadblock is finally lifted there will follow madness and chaos and some very unhappy Canberra motorists. In fairness, though, they should have read the paper and known better than to use the main thoroughfare past both the House and the US Embassy. Twits.)

November 8, 2011

Back to the Island 2.08 – Collision

Filed under: back to the island,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:27 pm

With both kids at childcare today, I had what I don’t expect to have again for a long while – a day completely to myself to write. I aimed to get the manuscript to the 30,000 word mark, which meant I needed to write a little over 3500 words. I’m happy to say that I made that mark, which is a useful little data point for future reference. I know that if I apply myself, I can do at least three thousand words in a day. More than that is not out of the question – I can certainly type faster and for longer stretches than I did – but today felt like a pretty good test run. (Edit: Over 4000 when I finally called it a night. Hooray!)

Now all I need to do is retire from my day job and at this rate I can churn out a new novel every month or so, right? Ahem. Back in sad reality, what I will be doing instead is going back to work next week and ekeing out the remaining fifty thousand or so words in the evenings. Still aiming to finish Draft Zero by the end of the year. Still borderline as to whether I will make it.

But today felt like progress.

(I also did a Lost review, just now, and here it is. Nice and short).

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November 4, 2011

Back to the Island 2.07 – The Other 48 Days

Filed under: back to the island,fitter/happier,joey,wombat — lexifab @ 10:49 pm

 

Three straight nights of fractious and grizzly children have left me in a pretty grumpy mood. The little one has been getting harder to get to sleep as she gets more and more snotty; she has a cold coming in. The older one is exploiting our desperate need to have him graduate from toilet training to wrangle extra hours of wakefulness after bedtime and (increasingly frustrated) parental attention. I suspect either problem would be more manageable on its own, but with them tag teaming on a more or less constant basis, my already-pretty-limited store of patience is gone, gone, gone.

It’s the Wombat’s first birthday tomorrow. I would like to think it will be a joyous occasion with family and cake, but with the Joey already in trouble for disobedience and the Wombat herself caked most of the time in snot and misery, I am not optimistic.

Bloody kids. They can’t just be adorable all the time why now? Yes, I know I have to manage my expectations. Yes, I know they can’t help being sick/bratty. That doesn’t mean I can help being pissed off about it though. I’ve had to forgo yet another night of novel writing, because the mood I’m in by the time I actually do have the freedom to sit down to write is not conducive to good writing.

Well, I suppose it might work for a scene with a fistfight or a car chase or a shouting match, but I’m working on trying to make a discussion about weird magic and ghosts not sound like exposition. That sort of subtlety is hard to access when I’m in a foul mood. Trouble is, by the time I’ve got the irrits out of my system every other night this week – and tonight’s looking no different – it’s been too late for a decent writing session. Which makes me frustrated all the more.

So instead tonight I wrote a Lost review, because nobody cares if I’m extra-snarky in one of those, right? I’m behind on rebuilding my backlog. This one has crept up toward the length of the Season One reviews. It may have helped work some of my shirtiness off but at some cost to brevity…

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November 1, 2011

Not gonna NaNoWriMo. No no no.*

Filed under: the interweb she provides,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:55 pm

Even though I’m in the middle of writing a novel [1], I am not marking this first day of November with a reckless declaration of participation in National Novel Writing Month. Recent stats tracking had demonstrated that a productivity rate of 1667 words per day – the minimum effort required to hit the target of 50,000 words by the 30th of November – is far beyond me at the moment. Yesterday I managed 1900 words on the novel and a few hundred more on other things, but that was an all-day affair. Hitting those kinds of numbers every day, during the couple of free evening hours which typically comprise my writing time, seems like a shortcut to a gibbersome breakdown.

In October – a month when I worked on my novel around one day in every two – I punched out a bit over 15,000 words (not counting planning material, character notes, half-baked worldbuilding etc). That won’t get me to my target of having the whole 80,000 (ish) thing done by the end of December. But it is a good foundation, and I can feel myself accelerating as I go. In October I wrote almost three times as much on the novel as I had in September [2]. While I expect I will find a plateau soon and while I definitely expect it to be short of the 1667 NaNo mark, I’m confident that I’m stepping it up a gear.

Some quick links:

- I assume by now that you, like the entire internet, have seen this video clip of the cast and crew of the final David Tennant Doctor Who story singing The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles”, right? You should, it’s triffic (especially for the ridiculous expression on Timothy Dalton’s face and for the dancing Ood).

- I thought I had another thing that I wanted to link to, but I can’t remember what it was. Go and watch the Ood again.

[1] Another 750 words written today, which felt like a real achievement given some of the other stuff I had going on, like the three-hour platelet donation that took a big bite out of the middle of the day and left me stuffed for two hours more.

* Too soon? Nah.

Back to the Island 2.06 – Abandoned

Filed under: back to the island,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:13 am

I’ve almost forgotten how it feels to have complete freedom to do whatever I feel like. For the first time in I-can’t-think-how-long, I had no responsibilities to children, employer or housemates for six whole hours of daylight.

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I squandered it on writing instead of doing important things like catching up on sleep or playing my third run-through of Fallout 3. After last week’s miserable efforts and a general sense that I didn’t really know where the novel was going, I knuckled down this morning and spent a couple of hours reworking my outline. I excised one story thread completely, dropped one of my leads into the main plot a lot earlier, promoted a minor character from the sidelines to the starting eleven, and repurposed a collection of suddenly-extraneous supporting characters into entirely new roles. It wasn’t advancing the word count at all, but it felt immensely satisfying to know exactly what my antagonist is doing and why. I haven’t quite nailed down the protagonist’s driving desires yet. I have a choice between several unflattering characteristics, which could be softened with humour, or I could keep at it as is and hope that I eventually come up with a more noble motivation. We’ll see.

I’m pretty sure I have a solid enough foundation now to write through at least the first two thirds of the novel. I know more or less what the climactic conflict will be, although not necessarily how it will play out. I know why things have come to the point at which the novel begins (the dreaded backstory, of which much may not make it into the final draft). There’s more than enough skeleton to start hanging out some meat, is what I’m saying.

Of course this morning’s outline review largely invalidates the first 20,000 words already written. I’m not too concerned about that. They all needed rewriting anyway. But rather than start again from scratch I have just resumed writing with a complete non-sequitur scene, based on the new outline, on the assumption that a second draft will fix the major continuity rifts and distortions of reality I just introduced to the manuscript.

On with the Lost review for last Friday, which has been much delayed because neither my laptop nor I really felt like watching this partciular episode a second time. We have persevered in order to bring you the review and we appreciate your willingness to share our suffering.

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