Lexifabricographer

January 31, 2012

Books of 2012 – January

Filed under: books of 2012,books read,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 11:43 pm

Since taking on the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge means keeping a tally of books I’ve read by Australian women, I figured I would expand the scope of my bibliographic accountancy and count up everything else as well. The results from January are below. I am counting completed books (physical and electronic), fiction and non-fiction. I am not counting graphic novels – partly because I forgot to and partly because somewhere in the deep recesses I place comics in a separate (not lesser) category to books. I’ll get to them in some later post.

One thing I expect this tally to show is that my reading of Australian women will continue to be a disproportionately small fraction of my overall fiction consumption. I am working my way up from a low – well, pretty much nonexistent – base. If nothing else I do expect this experiment to sharpen my awareness of the options. Before a couple of months ago I had barely heard of Kaaron Warren, for example. Since then I’ve read two of her novels and today I found out that she is closely related to someone I work with. (Small town).

Another reason to track what I’m reading is to see what patterns emerge from using the kindle to consume fiction in particular. Already it is becoming obvious that it has affected the volume of consumption. The convenience of only having to carry one physical object – which is considerably less bulky than many of the books I typically read – goes without saying. Instead of my usual habit of having three or four books on the go at once – which I must then either carry with me or deploy to scatttered reading locations like the bedside table or the bathroom – I can compress at least some of them into a single location. (I have noticed that I tend to only read one title at a time on the kindle as well, but having multiple books in simultaneous progress is an option).

The other curious effect is that I am reading a fair amount of material outside my usual genres of science fiction and fantasy. Crime and horror in particular have re-entered my reading lists. I’m pretty happy about that. I think (without having this sort of detailed accounting to back up my notoriously faulty memory) that up until the middle of last year or so my reading habits had become somewhat moribund. I was reading less and less and what little I read was pretty strictly within those walls. Having easy access through Amazon to a ridiculously broad range of authors, genres and styles can only do me good, I think. I would bet that over the year my tastes will continue to broaden. I predict too that there will be more short fiction in my future. That’s good too. It’s an area with which I would very much like to reacquaint myself.

So here is how January shaped up, with some quick increasingly elaborate comments on each:

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (own copy, paperback). I read this years ago on the recommendation of Dr Clam. It’s pretty unlikely that I appreciated it then as I do now. I haven’t read Calvino deeply (Invisible Cities might be the only other one of his, actually) but on the evidence of If~ he was a mad genius. This is basically a love letter to the act of reading and something of a satire of the adjacent disciplines of writing and publishing. A looping, recursive lunatic narrative in the second person interspersed with a series of intriguing and frustratingly unrelated first chapters of different novels, If  rewards rereading as much as it defies comprehension. I don’t hesitate to declare it a timeless classic, even though it’s nuts.

Slights by Kaaron Warren (library copy, paperback, an Australian Women Writers challenge contender). Mildly supernatural (or supernatural-seeming) psychological thriller told in first person from the perspective of a serial killing psychopath. Stevie starts pretty much bonkers (whether or not she’s really seeing the afterlife as she thinks she is) but Slights does a very effective job of showing the development of her derangement over several decades. I reviewed it on Amazon. Long story short – it’s a slow, creepy, often sad, occasionally hilarious and usually uncomfortably close examination of the unravelling of a deeply damaged person.

Cazsandra by Andrea K. Host (own copy, Kindle ebook, technically qualified for the Australian Women Writers challenge but removed from consideration because I was going to read it anyway). The final volume of Andrea’s excellent Touchstone trilogy, the diarised account of a young Australian woman swept away by wormhole to…look, the cosmology of this series is so outside my usual frame of reference that I am not sure I understand it fully. That doesn’t matter because it also has a small army of psychic teenage space ninjas (I pictured them as G-Force with superpowers), a ghost cat and kaiju-scale interdimensional monsters. There’s romance, weird mental powers and dodgy television reenactments of our hero’s adventures. In amidst that mayhem, there’s a brief but serious exploration of the alienation and helplessness of the refugee caught up by instituionalised bureaucracy, but then there are also snowball fights, so it balances out. Sooner or later I will get to a proper review of the series but the tl;dr is that while I don’t think it is *quite* as polished or moving as Andrea’s Medair duology, this is an excellent conclusion to a deeply satisfying series.

Dead Money by Ray Banks (own copy, Kindle ebook). I can’t remember where the recommendation for this one came from. Probably someone or several someones that I follow on Twitter, I’d guess. Dead Money is stark and somewhat miserable, portraying the descent of a sharp, self-controlled Mancunian double glazing salesman who is brought to mayhem, violence and ruin by his best mate, who combines a gambling addiction with a short fuse and a vast overestimation of his intellectual powers. I enjoyed reading it, but the grinding sense of inevitability is wearing. Not, I conject, a story paid for with Manchester Tourist Board money.

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow (free ebook version). Doctorow has released several of his early novels for free download. I read this one on the strength of his excellent Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Tribe is good fun, but it’s possible there’s a limit to the real narrative juice you can squeeze out of an intellectual property heist story. It’s witty and full of ideas, but I never completely engaged with the narrator’s problems. He was a bit of a smug git at times. EST is worth reading, but I would recommend Down and Out first.

Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith (own copy, Kindle ebook). Small-town crime drama that make an unexpected detour into airport thriller territory. The corrupt cop narrator Billy Lafitte is a selfish bastard with a gift for sweeping away any sympathy that builds up around him, only to unexpectedly claw it back once in a while. It starts slowly but accelerates towards violent series of climaxes. I can forgive its ending with a mildly underwhelming whimper because it sets up a sequel. I have the sequel Hotdoggin’ downloaded and I’m looking forward to seeing where Billy ends up.

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (paperback courtesy of the inestimable Dr Clam). An absurd Irish comedy which was written in 1940 and shelved unpublished until after the author’s death nearly three decades later. Like probably 90% of its audience post-2005, I first heard of it through Lost. I will happily assert that the two works have few points in common, the most striking being a mysterious underground base which may or may not provide insights of great metaphysical signficance. That said, it’s a madly entertaining read. The narrator, a one-legged devotee of a misanthropic and probably inept natural philosopher, is convinced to commit murder to fund the publication of his definitive treatise on his hero. He encounters ghosts, a one-legged assassin, bicycle-obsessed policemen, a bizarre interpretation of atomic theory and his own soul (a sarcastic internal voice he calls Joe). Note that this synopsis leaves out many of the more surreal elements of the story. Need I add that this kind of methodically deranged weirdness ticks many of my boxes? And it has a great couple of opening lines: “Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with a spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded.” Makes me giddy ‘n gleeful.

Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren (library copy, paperback, an Australian Women Writers challenge contender). Even with a month that included Policeman and Winter’s Night, the award for the downright strangest thing I read all month goes hand-down to Walking the Tree. On an island which seems to constitute their entire world, the young women of small coastal communities lead groups of children on a years-long educational circumnavigation of the vast Tree at its centre. As they visit one community after another, the children learn about the various cultures of the island, Botanica, and the women seek a place to settle down. This is some exemplary worldbuilding – each new village has its own distinct culture: crafts, sciences, cooking, superstitions, sexual traditions, beliefs about how to treat the Tree, behaviour towards outsiders etc. It’s a thoughtful – though never preachy or obvious – examination of gender politics, cultural tolerance and the role of tradition and superstition in shaping communities. It’s also a tense, suspenseful drama – the longer that protagonist Lillah keeps her deadly secret, the fewer allies she can depend on for protection. I think that it might do this beautiful, melancholy journey an unfortunate disservice to classify it as an epic anthropological mystery, but I think that’s as close as I can get.

Conclusions: January was easily the busiest reading month I’ve had in the last couple of years. At least some of those finished this month were started last year, so it will be interesting to see whether I come even close to that level of voracity over the rest of the year. 4 ebooks, 2 library paperbacks, 2 owned paperbacks. Three works by Australian women writers, two by the same author. A bit of crime, a bit of sf, a bit of fantasy and a rare example of literary fiction (two example if you count Policeman, which I do, while conceding that my definition may stray from some accepted norm).

I don’t know if I can pick a favourite for the month, but it would be between Winter’s Night, Policeman and Walking the Tree. I’m not inclined to reread books often but I would happily reread any of those.  Cazsandra had the best cover, which may be a superficial observation, but it really is a solid design over a gorgeous piece of artwork. Taken as a whole I think the Touchstone trilogy would have been among my favourites, but I read the previous two volumes last year.

On to February, and hopefully less indulgently long blog entries.

Back to the Island 2.13 – The Long Con

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — lexifab @ 12:25 am

I was planning to post something unrelated to Lost, but the blog entry I was working on has run a bit long. Tomorrow, perhaps. In the meantime, here’s one of the highlight episodes of the second season.

Back to the Island 2.13 – The Long Con

“A tiger doesn’t change his stripes, James. You’re a con man, just like me. And it’s not what you do. It’s what you are.” – Gordy

Summary: Sun is attacked in the jungle. At first it looks like the Others have broken the truce but suspicion spreads that it’s an inside job. It is. Sawyer steals all the guns.

The Best Bit: An episode where it’s better by far not to know the title before viewing, the Island and flashback sequences both concern a confidence trick orchestrated by Sawyer. The mechanics of each are elegant, relying on the victims’ nature – fearful, greedy, bored, paranoid – to steer them just where con artist Sawyer wants them to go. Both paint a fascinating picture of the chameleonic Sawyer before arriving at the same conclusion – that he is ruthlessly amoral and will manipulate anyone to achieve his goals. That’s certainly what he wants everyone on the Island to think.

The Worst Bit: Ugh. Charlie is Sawyer’s unseen accomplice, attacking Sun and following Locke to the gun stash. Part of his motivation – revenge on Locke for not believing him about the drugs and punching the crap out of him – is reasonable and, frankly, warranted. But I have a hard time swallowing the idea that he would agree to commit aggravated assault on a completely innocent woman (outside a desperate heroin-withdrawal scenario, which is unlikely given our understanding from ‘Fire + Water’ that he is still clean). It’s another step in his moral degeneration that seems unearned and feels unconvincing. His oddly resolute cowardice – “Sun can never know what I did to her” – hits the right note, but I can’t buy the leap it took to get there in the first place.

The Mythology: Not much here – the Other-attack is a fake. But Kate’s mother Diane makes a flashback appearance as a waitress in the diner where Sawyer meets his partner Gordy. Oh, and at the end Hurley makes a joke about picking up radio signals from another time. It seems slightly gratuitous in context – even allowing for the fact that it’s geek-savant Hurley making the joke – but in retrospect it’s blatant.

The Literature: Locke is alphabetising the Swan Station library shelves, including a copy of  An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. It’s about a Civil War gentleman who is tricked by a Union spy into sabotaging a bridge controlled by the Confederates, whom he supports. The Confederates hang him from the bridge. He frees himself and escapes back to his family, but – spoiler alert for a 120 year old twist ending – it all happens in his imagination in the instant before his neck breaks in the noose. Presumably it is the motif of the malicious trickster fooling an enemy into betraying his own interests which is relevant here, rather than the earliest known example of what is now properly regarded as the most stupid cheating twist imaginable.

Hurley is seen reading a manuscript called Bad Twin, but seeing as that’s a reference to a Lost promotional tie-in novel, I won’t count it here. I might, if I’d read it but I haven’t. I daresay it’s out of print now.

The Episode: I’ve watched ‘The Long Con’ at least a few times before I came to review it. This is the first time I can remember enjoying it without the feeling that the Charlie revelation ruined it for me. I’m still faintly appalled about the direction his character is taking at this point – or rather, the clumsy, half-arsed bet-each-way depiction of it. I’m all for good characters turning bad through cruel misunderstandings and poor choices, but Charlie’s fall from grace continues to irk me. Frankly I think it would have made more sense for Sun herself to have been the accomplice, but maybe I’m just over-invested in Charlie. Oh well, can’t have the redemption without the fall, so I guess we’ll have to endure a bit more of this yet.

My irritation with the Charlie thing (I’m still banging on about that, am I?) obviously blinded me to the virtues of the rest of the episode. I had expected not to enjoy it, Sawyer being the most over-exposed member of the cast after Jack and Kate. But where their episodes this season sought to smooth out the kinks in the audience’s relationship with them, ‘The Long Con’ manages to turn Sawyer into an even more complex and intriguing character. We already know that the sarcastic bastardry is mostly an act to mask deep sadness and directionless rage. The willingness to sacrifice his relationships in order to achieve his ends adds to the Sawyer mystery rather than reducing it. If not for its flawed participation in the character assassination of Charlie, ‘The Long Con’ would be another perfect 10 – but let’s call it a hard-hearted, cold-blooded nine.

January 27, 2012

Back to the Island 2.12 – Fire + Water

Filed under: back to the island,geekery — lexifab @ 11:15 pm

More Lost! I forgot to post this on Monday, but then you got carnivorous flora, so I feel no need to make excuses. You’re welcome.

A package arrived from Amazon today. Rather than continue to stuff my kindle with ebooks that I won’ t get around to reading for months, I decided that I would spend the voucher I got for Xmas on hardcopy books that I was not likely to find elsewhere. So I got the brand-new Empire State by Adam Christopher (dimension-hopping pulp ’30′s-style superheroics, sort of), Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (hell-fuelled revenge), and the first volume of Diana Wynn Jones’ The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, about which I know next to nothing because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for myself).

I’m looking forward to all of them, but I am kicking myself for getting the Kadrey, because it is available (along with two sequels) in ebook format. What I realised I should have picked up instead were the hard-to find Parker novels by Donald Weslake, which are oft-cited by fans of the heist and noir genres (both of which I am developing a taste for). The ebook versions aren’t available in Australia, through some arcane machination of international copyright law (or obtuse policy of Amazon, which amounts to much the same thing).

Oh well. Next time.

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January 25, 2012

Martian triffids, Kenny. You mark my words.

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 5:01 pm

I have a prediction to make. Ahem.

So a cursory glance of the shelves of those few starving and desperate holdouts in the Great Bookstore Apocalypse of Twenty-Ought-’Leven suggests that a certain trend has taken hold in the urban fantasy genre. Vampires, werewolves, aliens, sorcerors, angels, demons and probably for all I know shapely mummies in sexy tatters and emo ghosts suffused with dramatic longing? They’ve all gotten some serious sunlight lately, featuring prominently in the revival of the ‘paranormal romance’ and related side-alleys of genre fiction. If you can think of a classic monster of note, it’s probably starring in a popular YA series with black-and-red covers that holds down a whole shelf at Dymocks. Even zombies are getting some popular love these days and half those guys don’t have faces.

It’s not all sparkle love and wings of desire though. Not everyone’s getting a fair slice of the romantic-stalking-horror pie. You know who’s getting overlooked? Only my favourite kingdom of lurking monstrosity, that’s who!

Where are all the plant monsters at?

Killer plants, man. There’s not a big selection to choose from – I can only think of half a dozen or so really effective examples, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which is…otherwise – but killer plant stories always punch above their weight for me.

I’ll open with my best card here – John Wyndham’s 1951 masterpiece The Day of the Triffids. Whatever else you may say about the novel’s xenophobia, ‘quaint’ gender politics and cynical view of human nature, the triffids themselves are fantastic. Nine feet tall, mobile carnivores with a venomous stinging pad that blinds, immobilises and eventually kills mammals – so that it can root itself next to the rotting corpse and slurp up its leaching decay-juices! I ask you in all seriousness, what is not to love about that?

(You botanists need to simmer down. Nobody’s listening to you right now).

I didn’t come to triffids until I was in my teens though. Before that, my first and favouritest plantagonist was the krynoid from the 1976 Doctor Who classic ‘The Seeds of Doom’. ‘Seeds’ was pretty much a loving recombination [1] of John Campbell’s story Who Goes There? [2] and Triffids, mashed up into an glib and action-packed New Avengers-style romp[3]. The loopy-arse plot: a crack mercenary squad murders everyone at an Antarctic research base so they can steal an ancient seed pod recovered from pack ice and bring it back to a deranged amateur botanist. Chilling body horror ensues – take your pick of cancer-analogous chlorophyllic transmogrification or getting chopped and mangled to death feet-first by an industrial blender. Ick.

But the episode’s macguffin-gone-horribly-wrong centrepiece was the krynoid, a malevolent alien seed pod that converts animal life into a creepy shambling mound of warbling green carpet underlay covered in severed elephant trunks. Or something. The important part is that it ate people, got bigger every time it appeared and turned every other plant into a savage killer [4] . Eventually it kicked down a house and was blown up by the worst special effects laser beam in the history of all time. Mental!

(I am a huge fan of the new series striking out in new directions rather than looking back to past glories, but having said that I would kill the internet critic of Stephen Moffat’s choice for a krynoid story in the 50th anniversay season next year. Just saying.)

You know which bit of the Stephen King anthology film Creepshow was actually horrific? The one with the hick farmer (played into the ground by King himself) getting covered in glowing green “meteor shit” and slowly turning into a plant. Or what about mean green mother from outer space, Audrey II? Little Shop of Horrors (the Frank Oz version, thanks, not the shitty Roger Corman original) is not only Steve Martin’s finest hour and dead-set the best musical comedy ever, but it features a giant animatronic venus flytrap singing ‘You know the kinda eats/The kinda red hot treats/The kinda sticky licky sweets I crave’. Too good, but they should have stuck with the original ending, where the heroes are eaten and the pod-spawn of Audrey II destroy the world. Frankly, the only menace more destructive and insane than Audrey II is a Hollywood pre-screening focus group.

So there you go. That’s my prediction. Murderous plants from space. [5] The next big craze is the green revolution, where the monster’s bite is worse than his bark.

Are you pollinating with excitement?

 

[1] I don’t think we don’t need to sling around perjorative terms like ‘total ripoff’, do you?

[2] Or more likely its better-known film adaptation, The Thing from Another World (1951)

[3] Complete with an insane millionaire lording it over a reclusive country estate. Even without the krynoid, ‘Seeds’ would still rock because Harrison Chase remains one of the series’ greatest batshit-insane villains. Come to think of it, his amoral mercenary sidekick Scorby is heaps of fun as well, until he gets smothered by pond moss.

[4] All except the small potted ones which could not be easily animated by a large wind machine or a just-offscreen member of the BBC props department.

[5] Optionally: the dawn of time. That’s okay too.

January 20, 2012

Back to the Island 2.11 – The Hunting Party

Filed under: back to the island,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:54 pm

It’s Friday, so after the cut I dutifully continue my wholly redundant post-mortem analysis of Lost.

I have hit a real wall with the novel. I’ve not written anything on it for a few weeks now, other than a short document to help me get the dates in the backstory straight in my head. It’s at the stage now where it is suffering from an inadequacy of planning, coupled with a draft which derailed a couple of miles back but is somehow still skidding towards the broken-down bridge over the ravine.

I think I have two options, which I would like to run by you if you would care to venture an opinion. I can either: (a) just keep writing, throwing in whatever gonzo lunacy suggests itself, until I  pass some arbitrary word-count or acceptably climactic story beat, at which point I declare Draft  Zero (the “barf-draft”) done; or (b) write a proper outline, determining the key plot points, the characters’ dramatic arcs and setting out how I want the damned thing to end.

I’m pretty sure I know which method is going to work better for me, but I would be glad to hear about how you would tackle it.

What I probably can’t afford to do at the moment is allow myself to get distracted by other new ideas (like the Nazis-and-triffids thing, or the criminal-gods thing, or the script for the expanded Rutherford Expedition comic, or whatever Chuck Wendig’s challenge is this week…).

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January 16, 2012

Back to the Island 2.10 – The 23rd Psalm

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — lexifab @ 3:51 pm

“For confession to mean something you must have a penitent heart.” – Yemi

Summary: Mr Eko, once a feared Nigerian crime boss and drug smuggler, got his priest brother killed and assumed his role. He makes Charlie take him to the wrecked plane, where he finds his brother’s body.

The Best Bit: By now it’s becoming tedious to say it, but Eko’s life story is pretty damned horrific. Forced to murder an innocent man to save his brother and kidnapped by an armed gang looking for recruits, Eko’s embrace of his criminal path is pure tragedy. Though he professes to love his brother, he uses and corrupts Yemi, and Eko is ultimately responsible for his death. It’s this act which sets Eko on his path to faith, but the first thing he does is to opportunistically lie to pass himself off as a priest. It’s a shaky first step on the road to redemption and clearly flags the likely gradient of the character’s arc.

The Worst Bit: When Eko learns that Charlie has one of his heroin-packed statues of the Virgin Mary, he outs Charlie to Claire. Even when Charlie protests his innocence – well he would say that wouldn’t he? – Eko doesn’t care and Claire slings him out on his ear before he cn do something junkie to baby Aaron. Charlie, of course, is hoarding as much smack as he can get his hands on. Yes, it’s the drugs plotline rearing its head again. On the one hand, that’s good, because Charlie shouldn’t be able to shake off his addiction free of any serious consequences. On the other hand, my immediate reaction is that it’s a shame that the show opts to retread old ground with Charlie rather than show him growing in a new direction. Either way, this regressive development highlights the fact that he’s been a complete holding pattern since he took a couple of episodes to get over the trauma of killing Ethan back in ‘Homecoming’.

The Mythology: The question is asked for a second time, this time without ambiguity: how did a plane launched in Nigeria end up on the Island in the middle of the Pacific? Unlike many Island mysteries, this is one with a straightforward answer, albeit one which is never supplied directly and which in any case won’t be obvious for a further three seasons. Also, Eko, like Locke before him, comes face to face with the Smoke Monster. It does him no harm whatsoever. We won’t know for sure why that happens for another four seasons. Lost is awesome.

The Literature: Psalm 23 is the one that starts “The Lord is my shepherd”. (Lost has a lot of Shepherds to keep track of). It’s pretty well known.

The Episode: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (yes I had to cut and paste it) is mesmerising in the role of Eko. He plays the part flat and emotionless much of the time, which makes the rare moments of dry humour, murderous rage and sly charm (especially in the flashback sequences) all the more effective. ‘The 23rd Psalm’ strips away much of the enigma – the reformed criminal who turns to God is not an unusual theme – but he’s still marvellous to watch. And I like that he retains his air of mystery by the simple act of keeping his mouth shut and thinking about things. Eko is a nice counterpoint to characters like Jack, who thinks by shouting at something.

‘The 23rd Psalm’ is almost all revelation. We learn Eko’s origins, we understand what drives him, we find out why the plane had drugs and Nigerians aboard and we get our first close-up look at the Smoke Monster. But even as it’s showing us all its cards, we can see ‘The 23rd Psalm’ shoving a couple of trumps back into its sleeve for later. It’s the flashy right hand distracting an audience with a disappearing coin trick, while the left hand is busy emptying the cash register. Eight out of ten.

January 13, 2012

Back to the Island 2.09 – What Kate Did

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — lexifab @ 10:59 pm

I hope you’ve missed the Lost reviews, because they’re back. Actually I don’t mind if nobody else cares, I’m doing them primarily to practise my critical thinking and to write short reviews, and to motivate myself to keep powering through the entire series. I’m thinking ahead to some of the more tedious bits in Season 3 here.

Anyway, here’s today review. It looks at a Kate episode, but I have managed to keep the sarcasm out of the review.
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January 12, 2012

Reviews – 500 Ways to be a Better Writer, Shotgun Gravy

Filed under: reviewage,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:11 pm

A friend of mine [1] recently accused me of having a serious man-crush on for writer Chuck Wendig, the writer behind terribleminds.com. It’s not a remotely unfair accusation. Sure, what initially attracted me was the creative profanity and take-no-shit writing advice columns, both of which are as well-crafted, inspirational, useful in everyday life and batshit insane as you will see anywhere. I’ve dabbled in his weekly writing challenges, though many’s the time I haven’t been able to convert the spark of an idea into a full story of even modest length. And I’ve bought, devoured and evangelised both his fiction and non-fiction works, all of which I’ve enjoyed enormously.

(That’s the nominal purpose of today’s entry, by the way – after the cut are two short reviews of recent Wendig works. Both were written for the Amazon review site rather than here, so they are a touch less personal than you might otherwise expect, and contain no swearing.)

Now I am not going to assign full credit to Chuck for rekindling my writer-fires, which have lain like dormant ash more or less since my dalliance with NaNoWriMo in 2003. But he did come along at just the right time, as I was rediscovering that aspect of my inclination to write that, you know, inspires me to actually write something.

Having mainlined crystallised Wendig extract over the past six months, I’m now branching out and experimenting with other writers. The Australian Women Writers Challenge is obviously a good prompt to expand my horizons. I’m enjoying and being occasionally baffled by what Amazon recommends based on my previous purchases. When friends suggest stuff to try, I will try it (within limits. Yes, Clam, because of you there’s a caveat :) ).

I have a notional plan to read a bit more non-fiction this year, though I have nothing specific in mind [2]. For experimental purposes (and because I happened to think of it at a convenient time i.e. just before the New Year), I have started tracking details on how many and what kind of books I have read. I have never done that before. the results should be interesting. I expect to discover that I consume far more fiction than I tend to remember.

Well. that was just a pure out and out ramble. After the jump-cut, two ebooks (one a collection of short, funny writing essays, the other a dark high school YA drama novella lovingly constructed of anti-Glee particles) are reviewed. Both come with my heartiest endorsement.

[1] It was Emma (aka Emmajeans), whose recently-entitled Deep and Meaningless webcomic is sweet and funny and you should really go read that instead of this.

[2] Come to think of it I have probably 20 or 30 books on various aspects of life in Medici-era Florence, randomly assembled for the purposes of researching a half-imagined fat fantasy trilogy, gathering dust on my bedroom bookshelf. I should probably knock one or two of those off the list, for one thing.

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January 10, 2012

Flash Fiction – Sunset Strip

Filed under: fictionchunk — lexifab @ 10:09 pm

While I’m still trying to figure out my next move on the novel – which I think will have to be something along the lines of “mock up a new outline that gets me to the end of Draft Zero and start again from there” – I am trying to keep up momentum by making sure I write something every day. So I’ve dipped once more into the writing-prompt well of the weekly Wendig flash fiction challenge.

This week’s really was a challenge – 500 words with a title based on the first song that came up on random shuffle on my iPod. I played it straight, no cheating. The song was “Sunset Strip” by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters (from the 1987 solo concept album Radio Kaos). It is not a favourite – I have no idea what it’s about – but the name duly sparked an idea. It was a prick trying to cut the first draft back to 500 words though.

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The Lexifab Method

Filed under: administraviata — lexifab @ 2:28 pm

I am having the most ridiculous difficulty writing at the moment. Not because I can’t string a sentence together [1] but because I can’t seem to think of anything to write *about*. It’s like my brain has spun onto a slow wash cycle instead of its more usual state of dizzying spin (or hot rinse, hey hey! [2]).

My usual response to this condition, which is pretty common for me - stemming from a deep-seated insecurity which I refuse to believe every writer ever doesn’t suffer from as much or worse than I because that would make me less than special and rob me of all my excuses – is to splurge forth something quick to flash-fry the cobwebs.

Lately that’s meant a semi-coherent throwaway piece of punchline-driven short fiction or a review of the work of someone who can actually finish what they started. I might also throw together some vague commentary on a current news event, marshalling a collection of unresearched guesses and random prejudices together into a mildly invective and logically deficient statement which will go on to represent my firmly held opinion only for as long as it takes me to finish typing. Or perhaps you would like to hear in excruciating and yet uninformative detail about some game I played recently? Or have me recite oddly remote and pseudonymous anecdotes about the behaviour and/or wellbeing of my children?

Oh, but I bet the thing you’ve really been waiting to hear about is how my writing is going? Right? That’s what everyone is really tuning in for here [3]  Well, I could tell you some stories -

Oh. Well, er, obviously not. But if I could tell you stories you can bet they would be unmissable tales of not being able to tell stories. It would get very meta. Post-modern. Whatever.

Oh, oh, wait, I just thought of a thing. Story. Anecdote. One of those illustrative wossnames that’s about one thing but really is about another thing, like how talking about chess is really a good way of explaining how boring everything is. Or something. I had a hold of that for a second but I think it got away from me.

Our dishwasher has stopped working over the past couple of months. Much of the time it will work fine but intermittently, with no discernible pattern, it will run through a full wash without heating. At the end of the wash, the plates and glasses come out all covered with thin films of grease and caked-on washing powder. It’s pretty gross and usually means that everything has to be washed by hand or run through another cycle (if we’re feeling lucky). Lately it’s been happening more often, to the point where even the second wash was becoming a bit of a risk. Thinking that we were probably up for a new thermostat or heating element – if not a whole new dishwasher – we finally called in a guy this week. The guy checked everything out and ran a diagnostic [4]. He said that all the instrumenets and sensors and things were working as they should. The problem was a gritty, crusty lime residue in the base of the machine, blocking the pipes and preventing enough water getting through to trigger a particular sensor.

After casually informing me that he had no idea what the substance was and that this was a problem he had never seen happen to anyone else [6] he gave me some caustic calcium scale solvent and wished me luck. “Don’t use it more than a couple of times a year,” he said, “or your pipes will dissolve”. We duly ran a full hot wash with the descaler, then another with some vinegar and then yet another with commercial dishwasher cleaning liquid. Somewhere along the lines the coral buildup in the pipes seems to have declogged. I am cautiously optimistic that it won’t happen again. At least, not for a while.

Anyway, that’s how my writing’s going right now. Send more solvents [7].

 

[1] Feel free to take a well-deserved shot here. I may or may not respond in the fashion of a drunken standup trying to wrest control of the audience back from a talented heckler.

[2]  On second thought, let’s forget about that one.

[3] I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that I have no idea why anyone would read this blog :)

[4] Yes, he used those exact words. And he recorded the whole job on his iPad. All of which would prove that we are living in Star Trek, except that he was wearing King Gees and a polo shirt instead of an uncomfortable body suit and I think he said his name was Greg or Geoff. Either of those is a pretty anti-Trek name.[5]

[5] I guess he could have been from the Mirror Universe. I forget whether he had a goatee.

[6] Based on the general underlying condition of our house and my personal high standards in delusional paranoia, I personally diagnosed the problem as calcified shoggoth. I did not share my assessment with the uninitiated Greg/Geoff.

[7] I secretly hope that someone will treat that as a metaphor for gin and tonics.

 

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