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

February 21, 2012

Back to the Island 2.15 – Maternity Leave

Filed under: back to the island,fitter/happier — lexifab @ 11:28 pm

I am ridiculously tired and a little bit sick. But enough meaningless conversation niceties – here’s the next  Lost review. I will return tomorrow or sometime with some badly edited short fiction or a protracted explanation of why I have no short fiction, badly edited or otherwise, to give. Spoiler alert: my excuse is likely to be sickness-related and feeble.

On the plus side, according to my pedometer I cracked 20,000 steps today, which is equal to about 14 and a quarter kilometers. That was a bit of a fitness milestone. Oh, and before you ask – no, I was sick before I started walking this morning, I’m not *that* feeble.

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February 16, 2012

Peer group. No pressure.

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:30 pm

I am not a creature inclined by natural disposition to seek out new social situations.

Let me rephrase – I seriously hate meeting new people. Ordinarily I would stress this point with some mild exaggeration in the direction of the crippling terror that overcomes me any time I am cornered into blind socialisation. But as several acquaintances with real anxiety disorders have demonstrated to me, I just suffer from the mild discomfort of the introvert and should therefore refrain from hyperbole. (In  other words: social phobias are real and you don’t have one, so harden the fuck up, shy boy).

It did occur to me, as I contemplated whether to summon up the nerve to go along and see what the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild was all about, that the above complaint might not be completely unfamiliar in writing circles. Writing’s an inherently lonely activity – I am all by myself as I type this, without even the traditional dram of scotch to smooth away the rough-edged emptiness – so could it be that in the kingdom of the painfully introverted, a mere social awkward like myself would be considered a king!?

The answer, if you have not already decided for youself, turns out to be an unsurprising no. Not a king. Not a queen either. Probably not a face card of any kind. Not an ace either, as if you were thinking that way.

I decided that, short of instant deification, I could probably cope as long as I wasn’t heckled, viciously assaulted with unbound manuscripts or asked what my novel is about. So I went.

Sure enough, it was a meeting full of people I don’t know. But then I suddenly remembered that I go to meetings with people I don’t know most days of the week at work. It never bothers me there. Five minutes later I had pretty much forgotten whatever it was I was afraid of – regicide, maybe – and just had a good time. Even when the inevitable “Tell us who you are and what you’re writing at the moment” icebreaker came around, I cheerfully gave them my name and explained that it was my first day. That held them. For now.

It helped that I had some support. Fi’s uncle Rob has been a member in good standing for a bit over a year now. The jammy bastard started going to the short story critiquing group and won a bloody competition with his first story. It was, I have to admit, a cracker of a yarn. He convinced me over Xmas lunch that I should go along. As if that wasn’t enough hand holding, Kaaron Warren also went along, so I did indeed get a chance to meet her in person. She was lovely, of course, as so many writers of exceptionally creepy work are. I think that she probably doesn’t attend often, so I was particularly grateful that she made an exception this time.

And it’s a writer’s group, so for the most part they talked about things in which I am very interested right now. Like critiquing groups, shared anthologies, calls for submissions, conventions, signing tours and suchlike. There was discussion of writers’ retreats, of who’s been offered contracts, of doing tours of robotics labs and haunted towns. It was pretty cool. Fi’s uncle Rob, a nuclear physicist (if I understand correctly), did a talk on using the weirder elements of real astrophysics in fantasy as well as science fiction. Everyone chatted about nuclear pulse propulsion and generation ships and Uranus’ funny orbit.

They have a novel writing support group, which I’m going to go along to. It’s helpful to sit here and blogplain (a word I just made up to describe the entire internet, eight  years ago) about how progress is slow and how my characters are undermotivated and blah blah blah. I expect it will also be useful to supplement my theoretical pontification online with having to go to someone’s house, look several strangers in the eye and try to bluff my way through an analysis of my central them. I’m hoping they give me some good hints, because I have no idea what my central theme is yet.

Anyway, it must have been good because I want to go again. Shyness and all.

February 14, 2012

A terrible ingenious idea

Filed under: fictionchunk,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:30 pm

Last night I was chatting on Twitter with Kaaron Warren – whom I might actually meet in person tomorrow night when I go to my first Canberra Spec Fic Guild meeting (writer’s group). We were discussion flash fiction and how the primary appeal of a short-short-short story of 100-150 words is that it’s pretty easy to finish. Unlike, say, a flabby, meandering, nonsensical novel.

“I can write 150 words,” boasts I with naive confidence.

“Do a thousand of them,” she jokes, “and join them all with ‘and then’.”

Bam. New literary subgenre invented. Or ghetto. Either’s a good description for a fat novel-length collection of loosely related or more likely unconnected micro-vignettes.

Yes, it was a joke (I actually laughed, as the young people would contract it, out loud). But I also haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s a terrible idea. The possibilities are endless. It’s a terrible idea because the possibilities are endless. Reading it would be like listening to They Might Be Giants’ ‘Fingertips‘ stretched out to Wagnerian proportions. It would be aggravating, and inconsequential, and completely unsellable and…

I kind of want to do it.

Thankfully I have my dedication to my current novel – frustrating though it is – to shield me from impulses this deranged. I have so little time to do any of the stuff I want to do now that to even contemplate a project of stupendous dumbness is…only slightly less appealing than it might otherwise be.

Clam – there’s got to be something to this, right? This is a stupid plan whose day is about to dawn, is it not?

Right? Right? Don’t leave me hanging.

February 13, 2012

Nothing to report

Filed under: fitter/happier,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 10:56 pm

No Lost tonight. I’ve been reorienting my writing habits in the face of ridiculously bad sleeping habits (on my part and that of the kids). As of yesterday I started trialling a writing stint at omigod o’clock in the morning, working exclusively on the novel. Evenings will be devoted to blogging, reviews and similar differently-productive pursuits.

On the plus side I can report an approximately infinite improvement on the previous week’s novel productivity. It’s only a few thousand words since Saturday but that’s a giant step past the sod-all of the past few weeks. I’m hoping I can accelerate the pace a bit from here on in. This deeply flawed first draft won’t cough itself up.

And now it’s late, and I still haven’t written that song I was going to work on this evening. Bah.

February 7, 2012

Back to the Island 2.14 – One of Them

Filed under: back to the island,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 2:04 pm

It’s the day after Lost Review Monday, so you know what that means, right? That’s right, it means yesterday’s review is late. I’ll wait here while you politely feign surprise.

So, it’s possible I have intimated before now that I struggle to finish long-term writing projects. I have no problems with starting them in a series of controlled bursts of energy and enthusiasm. What I don’t find so easy is keeping up that momentum once the initial passion passes. (Insert sniggering libido analogy here. Go on, you’ve earned it). As a bit of a metric, I’ve gone from writing about 900 words a day in the first month of this novel to the current miserly output of about 2000 words in the past couple of weeks. The risk I face is that the longer the period of hesitation and uncertainty, the less motivate I feel to resume the work.

Now I am determined to get through this and finish the novel, so this isn’t a pathetic plea for words of encouragement (though those are always welcome). What I do want to toss around are the tricks I’ve been trying – and the tricks I plan to try – to get around a hesitancy that I am refusing to empower by calling it writer’s block. (I’m not blocked, I’m just not confident).

First up – sleep. For the most part my writing doesn’t really start until after 9 pm most nights, after the kids are in bed, dinner is eaten and whatever else has to happen about the house has happened. Add in an hour or two of transparently procrastinatory behaviour with Twitter, a kindle, this blog or one of the infinite range of timesinks to be supped direct from the intertubes, and often the knuckling down doesn’t start until 11. By that time of night, there’s 90 minutes of writing time – tops – available before sentence coherency begins to fall prey to roaming packs of wild fatigue toxins.

The obvious solution to this one: write first, then reward that effort with whatever shiny, beeping distraction I crave, but only *after* the writing is done. Because it’s much less unsatisfying for tiredness to derail a waste of time like inattentively scanning blogs than to have to cut short a productive writing session because the slow blinks are coming every fifteen seconds now.

You would think this is obvious, but it’s a habit I let slide all too easily.

Second – Emma suggested the Pomodoro Technique, which is basically making focused effort in 25-minute bursts followed by a mandatory five minute break. Repeat until done. I don’t know if those particular timeframes would work for me (at least not until I tried them) but it’s objectively true that I work best in short bursts. I should play to that.

Third – Stop editing. Don’t rethink that poor word choice. Don’t correct that typo (caveat: unless it’s genuinely unreadable). Don’t worry that I just typed something that the character wouldn’t know, that nobody would say or flatly contradicts what I wrote two minutes earlier. Just keep going.

To be honest I don’t know if that last one is good advice for me or not. I don’t think I consciously control my impulse to hit the Backspace button to fix mistyped words. I don’t know if I can get through the pause that comes with knowing that there’s a mistake of grammar or logic or dialogue in a preceding passage. I do know that I often let it stop me cold though, so it’s a habit that needs to go.

Fourth – outlining. I’ve mentioned this already as something that’s pretty new to me. It makes sense that if I have a good idea of what needs to happen next, that’s one less thing obstacle I need to dodge around while I’m chewing through a scene. All the writing I have done in the last couple of weeks is basically brainstorming a path to the end of the book (plus some background stuff thatI realised that I needed to know along the way). When I get back to the real job of adding words to the manuscript, I expect things will be a bit easier with the outline in place.

That’s all I have for the moment. If you’ve got a got “keep things moving” suggestion, shout out in the comments. It doesn’t specifically have to be about writing.

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February 4, 2012

Dare to be Stupid

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge,the interweb she provides,trolling — lexifab @ 1:36 am

These days when I delve into the pages of that venerable commentator on American music and culture, Rolling Stone Magazine, it’s invariably for the political analysis, which is a bit like claiming to only read Playboy for the articles. Nevertheless there are rare occasions when it manages to pierce the rigid carapace of indifference to music I’ve built up over a couple of decades or so of inattention. There is one musician out there about whom I continue to Have Strong Opinions.

I’m speaking, of course, of my hero and spirit guide, Albert Matthew ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, the undisputed comedy folk-rock piano-accordianist champion of all time. To celebrate the release of his landmark intermittently-outstanding 13th studio album AlpocalypseRolling Stone recently ran a reader’s poll to ascertain once and for all which songs – from a catalogue spanning more than a hundred songs over more than 30 years – are his top ten best songs.

Unsurprisingly, they mostly got it wrong. If I may smugly namecheck a Weird Al song in order to score a cheap internet-point, ‘Close but No Cigar’, people.

Oh sure, they managed to display the odd patch of good taste and common sense amongst their so-called “best of” picks. So why of why did they have to go and despoil a perfectly good list by rounding it out with the bland, the obvious and the tediously popular? See, this is why crowdsourcing is going to ruin culture.

You know what it means when there’s someone wrong on the internet, right? I’m gonna have to school them ignoramuses, track by track. Listen up.

Number 10: One More Minute. Okay, look, tens-of-thousands-of-RollingStone-readers. Here’s where you went wrong right off the bat. Al’s doo-wop ballad lamenting the breakdown of a relationship is NOT the tenth-best thing he ever wrote. It’s THE best. Come on, people. Now, there are going to be people who argue that this is not Al’s best song, nor even a good one. What can I say? There are people who will argue that the sun’s not coming up tomorrow if someone else asserts it on the internet. Those people are unaware of – or conveniently forgetting – that ‘One More Minute’ selflessly contributes one of modern culture’s finest entendres – I’m stranded all alone at the gas station of love/And I have to use the self-service pumps – and that this is the least of its comedic achievements. I will say no more. If this song cannot find a place in your top five, your education is sadly incomplete.

Number 9: All About the Pentiums. Oh. My. Meh! This is just ridiculous. There are times when Al can effortlessly demonstrate what it takes to be at the top of the parody game. This inexplicable hit is not one of those times. First rule of sound-alike novelty songs: start with a good song. Puff Daddy’s inferior doggerel about the shallow pursuit of the appearance of wealth may have been rather popular in 1997. Is it still a respected classic of the hip-hop genre? I haven’t heard it on my shitty local FM golden oldies station recently! Getting back to Al, there’s certainly good material here – making fun of nerds and being a nerd is a rich vein to mine, and not particularly one I have a problem with. There’s some good jokes – What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito? and You’re just about as useless as jpegs to Helen Keller – but the rapping’s sketchy and the jokes are scattershot and fail to build to anything. Everything weak about this song he got right ten times over with ‘White and Nerdy’.

Number 8: Smells Like Nirvana. This is more like it. Starting from a strong base – the so-called anthem for an entire generation – and working from a good premise – nobody understands any of the words of the so-called anthem of a generation – Al turned Nirvana’s crashy slacker masterpiece around on itself. It’s hard to bargle nardle zous/With all these marbles in my mouth. Al’s (insane, contrarian) critics often make the claim that all his songs are about food, but really only a handful are. It’s just that these happened to have included two of his biggest hits, ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat’. (Kurt Cobain famously almost declined his permission for the parody because he thought it would be about food). This, arguably his best parody, aims a little higher, making fun of the original song and its performers, with outstanding success. The recent ‘Perform this Way’, sending up the fact that Lady Gaga is a dead-set loon, succeeds at this as well, though not so sublimely. The ‘Nirvana’ lyrics are perfect – Well we don’t sound like Madonna/Here we are now, we’re Nirvana/Sing distinctly, we don’t wanna – the instrumentation is a precise recreation of the drums-and-feedback Nirvana sound and the shot-for-shot video clip manages to ridicule and laud the original at the same time. This is a great song about a great song that sounds just like it. Meta.

Number 7: Dare to Be Stupid. Nearly everybody knows that Weird Al Yankovic is famous for comically substituting his own lyrics to a well-known piece of music. This other thing he does is to parody a famous band’s signature sound, producing a song that is likely to be indistinguishable from the rest of that band’s output (except those bands that are unlikely to be singing jokes about food, the internet or being a terrible relationship partner). ‘Dare to be Stupid’ is a sharp imitation of Devo at the height of their fame (i.e. post-‘Whip It’) and stylistically it sticks the landing. But the joke – bad advice offered to stupid people – wears out fast. There are many better examples of Al’s style-parodies. He’s done at least  of them (three on the latest album). The best include ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – which would be one of my favourite Talking Heads songs if they had anything to do with it – ‘Germs’ (Nine Inch Nails, as if Trent Reznor hadn’t passed the point some years ago of self-parody), and ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’, which really could be a They Might Be Giants song. He’s even done two songs in the style of the Beach Boys – ‘Trigger Happy’ apes their early surfboards-and-hotrods style and ‘Pancreas’ is a lost track from Pet Sounds. Here’s what I think – it’s the cheesy direct-to-comedy parodies that attracts Al’s wider audience, but it’s the style parodies that the fans come back for.

Number 6: Yoda. A contender for top three, without a doubt. Al’s first foray into Star Wars filk-singing was to convert ‘Lola’, The Kinks’ classic song about picking up a transsexual in a bar, into a recap of Luke Skywalker’s Dagobah training montage. Sure, it was dated almost the minute came out, but it still holds up (possibly because it calls back to the one inarguably good movie in the entire Star Wars series). Al’s been finishing his shows with this song one and off for 25 years. That’s because it’s great. And because everyone loves chanting the Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda bit.

Number 5: The Saga Begins. Oof. First up, it’s a terrible name, yes, but it would have been more terrible to try to cram one of George Lucas’ awful planet names (Coruscant or Tattooine would have been the contenders, I guess) into a joke renaming of ‘American Pie’. Forget that, though, because by Al’s standards this is a pretty ordinary parody. Considering the Maclean song is one of the most recognisable dirges in American music, many of Al’s lyrics don’t match up with the scanning of the original. Worse, it’s just a retelling of The Phantom Menace, which is bad because it’s a retelling of The Phantom Menace, a story we could really have done without being told even once. TSB does score points for its great final verse, which sums up in four lines what it takes George Lucas nearly an hour to depict onscreen – And in the end some Gunguns died/Some ships blew up and some pilots fried/A lot of folks were croakin’/The battle droids were broken. Lucas could wish he still had that kind of storytelling economy. It perhaps deserves some admiration too for being released just after the movie premiered – Al wrote it solely on the basis of what he could pick up from preview trailers, internet spoilers and sheer guesswork. But there’s no need for more than one Star Wars-related song on the list of any right-thing Al fan. ‘Saga’ falls well short of ‘Yoda’.

Number 4: Eat It. Here’s what I think happened with the Rolling Stone survey. I think it’s just faintly possible that the vast majority of people who responded to it had never listened to a Weird Al album at all! I know, right? They remember seeing this on TV back in 1984 and thought “Yeah, that was funny I’ll vote for that.” Because…durrr.

‘Eat it’ is the crass and obvious choice of the ill-educated oik who thinks parody songs need to be about food and contain belching sound effects. On an unrelated observation, ‘Eat It’ was number one on the Australian music charts and nowhere else in the world. Let me tell you – not only is this not the fourth best Weird Al song, it’s not even the best song on the ‘Eat It’ album (‘Midnight Star’ is). Hell, it’s not even the fourth best parody song on the album: ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Theme from Rocky XIII’, ‘King of Suede’  and ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’ are all flat-out better, funnier songs. Go to hell, ‘Eat It’.

Number 3: Albuquerque. Then again, there’s this – an insane, 11-minute rambling anecdote about starting a new life in New Mexico, boxes of weasels and…hell, I duno. It’s weird. Go listen to it. I’ll give the Rolling Stone readers this much, when they’re trolling an online survey, they really commit to the gag.

Number 2: White and Nerdy. Good parody, sharp lyrics, and surprisingly adroit rapping. ‘White and Nerdy’ is basically a reprise of the ‘All About the Pentiums’ joke, but with more serious commitment to the dorkiness, which is what makes it funny. I wouldn’t necessarily have it in my top ten, but it deserves a special mention for being the flagship song on the return-to-form Straight Outta Lynwood album, which broke the curse of the 90’s (during which Al’s popularity was in a bit of a slump, by which I mean not even hardcore nerds like me would listen to him).

…which brings us to

Number 1: Amish Paradise. You’re kidding me, right? This is one of those Oscars-envelope-mixup things, right, where the award for Best Song got mixed up with the award for Most Adequate Reinterpretation of Some Garbage Coolio Ripped Off from Stevie Wonder? Is that what this is? I mean, I guess ‘Amish Paradise’ is funny, but it’s not that funny.

I would have accepted an out-there selection like ‘Christmas at Ground Zero’ or ‘Bob’ or ‘Hardware Store’. If one of the slightly-less-popular parodies like ‘Living with a Hernia’ or ‘Like a Surgeon’ had gotten over the line, I would have nodded with no more than one eyebrow raised. If you’d randomly picked one of the medley polkas – a joke that started out funny, got less and less funny with each successive album, until it finally came around full circle and became funny again – I could have gotten behind that. This, though? This toothless poke at all the obvious jokes that anyone would think of five minutes after watching Witness?

That hurts, Rolling Stone Magazine readers. It’s like you’re not taking this seriously at all.

 

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