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

May 30, 2012

Wednesdays are linkspam days

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

I’m halfway through a bunch of things and coming up on my self-imposed deadline to finish things. So instead of starting something new to post up here, I’m just going to flag a bunch of things that caught my interest when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.

Recently Neil Gaiman did a speech to the 2012 graduating class from University of the Arts in Philly about living a life in the creative arts. It’s wonderful. But at 15 minutes it is rather too long for my internet-atrophied attention span to follow [1], so instead, here is a rather awesome cartoon version.

Ticonderoga Press has announced the table of contents from its upcoming The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011 anthology. Having read four of the stories from a list of 32 and found all of them to be top-notch, I have already decided to pick this one up (due in July) and am hunting around my local bookstores for the 2010 collection.

Stunning (and completely spoilery) plot analysis of The Avengers: http://exurbe.com/?p=1368  If you have seen the movie and came away with the infinitessimally faint hint of dissatisfaction that perhaps the cunning and complexity of the villain’s scheme was not quite up to the standard traditionally ascribed to him, then read this essay and marvel at its subtle genius [2]

Next week I am going to plug a bunch of podcasts. You have been warned.

 

[1] Not really. Go watch the vid. Or just listen to it. Gaiman is terrific.

[2] Which goes almost wholly unrevealed amidst the witty snarking and multi-‘splosion hijinks [3]

[3] By the way The Avengers is making a serious play in my head for the best action movie of all time, though I suspect on subsequent viewings it will again lose ground to the masterwork that is Die Hard. But it is, I contend, better on every level than any of the Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies.

 

 

May 25, 2012

Short story – Team Evaluation (Happy 500th post!)

Filed under: administraviata,fictionchunk,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:50 am

For the hilariously meaningless milestone of the 500th Lexifabricographer entry since its rebirth as a WordPress site in 2006, I was going to post a short story told entirely in Twitter(-like) captions of up to 140 characters. Luckily for the sanity of anyone suffciently hard-up for entertainment that they would read such a thing, I’m still working on a second draft of that one.

Rather than renege on my promise, I wrote another story, which I just finished writing. I hope you like it.

(With apologies to Linbot, who inspired certain elements of the story)

Update: Some minor typos edited (thanks again to Linbot! And Clam, again!)

(more…)

May 23, 2012

The side project on centre stage

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 10:59 am

I have one week left on my month of getting things done and so far the progress is a little on the dismal side. But I am not disheartened. There’s still time. And coffee. And now, happily, a new course of antibiotics. That will help.

On the accomplishments side of the equation, I have finished a very solid draft of a short story. I am becoming convinced it may be worth actually shopping around. Due to its somewhat ridiculous structure it’s likely that web-based magazines are its only viable home, but I’ve become aware in the last couple of days that there are actually quite a few of those around. So I will do a little more honing and then send it out into the wild to see if it can find its place in the wide world.

Not to get too far ahead of myself, but it would be a little ironic if this story actually became my first writing sale. When I started getting serious about writing my novel, it was with the intention that I knuckle down and commit myself to the (for me) hard work of writing, rewriting and rewriting again until the story was as good as it can be. After nearly a year of work [1], the finish line is not yet within sight. In a way that’s reassuring – I’m still plugging away at it, if somewhat sporadically, after all that time. That’s a level of commitment and determination I’ve never been able to muster before.

But along comes this story which started as a writing exercise and evolved as it went along into something with a beginning, middle and end. It poured out over two writing sessions with barely any thought put into it. I had Wikipedia open in a browser window but it would be a gross overstatement to claim that I did any real research. I just wrote what I thought would come next, did some editing (which actually probably took longer than the story, due to the aforementioned ridiculous structure) and sent it off to a couple of people for their comments [2]. I will run another editing pass over it to fix some mistakes and make some elements more clear, but other than that it is done.

I half-arsed it, in other words.

This is pretty much what I have always done with my writing – toss something together with lightning speed and as little higher-order thought as possible, spell-check it and declare it done. It’s basically the exact opposite of what I set out to achieve with writing my novel.

I’m happy with the result, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fun little story which builds a sense of tension as it goes [3]. I’m proud of it.

I just think I’m sending myself the wrong message about the appropriate amount of effort.

 

[1] The current novel-in-progress started as a short story that I began writing about 14 months ago while I was trying to figure out what was going wrong with my previous novel (now on indefinite suspension). It then turned into a novella, and then a novel. It’s now being rewritten as a slightly longer novel that bears no more than faint resemblance to the original short. My process could obviously do with some optimisation.

[2] My heartfelt thanks to Robert and Dr Clam for their generous feedback, which will make the final story much less incoherent than the first draft!

[3] I don’t feel that suspense-building is one of my strengths, so the fact that it seemed to come off on this occasion was a satisfying surprise.

May 15, 2012

Here comes the uppercut, right to the sinuses

Filed under: fitter/happier,geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 2:56 pm

Okay, this isn’t a health complaint. Not really. Not when I have a friend who has been diagnosed with diabetes in the last few days. That’s something worth complaining about.

But seriously, did I really need to get a body-trashing, head-stuffing cold so soon after the bronchitis (which might possibly have been a side effect of undiagnosed whooping cough?).

Yeah, no I didn’t need that.

It’s halfway through the month and so far I haven’t finished any of the things I said I wanted to. I have made progress on the novel re-outline (Outline 1, let’s call it) and the cyclone short story is about half-done. The only significant personal accomplishment was to catch up on all the Marvel superhero movies that precede The Avengers, so that now I can watch The Avengers just a few short weeks after everyone else did 🙂

Oops, looks like I have a meeting I forgot about. To work!

EDIT: According to the admin dashboard, the second post after this one will be the 500th Lexifabricographer entry [1]. I should think about doing something special. Hint – it will probably be an otherwise unpublishable short story.

 

[1] To clarify – the 500th since the original version was buggered up by Blogger and Andrew replaced it with this bland but far more functional WordPress version. [2]

[2] One of these days I must learn how to dress up the display so it looks a little less like the UI of a text editor.[3]

[3] Something to add to my indistinguishable-from-infinite list of distractions from writing.

 

May 6, 2012

Review – Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

Filed under: books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 9:57 pm

Bad Power is a collection of five linked short stories by Deborah Biancotti in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. I read the ebook version a couple of months ago and review it now as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.

“Every kid growing to an adult wants a power. Too stupid to want otherwise.”

The stories in Bad Power are about people who possess extraordinary abilities – superpowers – and how those abilities don’t make their lives better. Nobody dresses extravagantly. The only people fighting crime are the weary, jaded cops – primarily Detective Palmer, whose ability, if she has one, is getting all the fruitcake cases.

In ‘Shades of Grey’ a monstrous millionaire tests both the limits of his ability to heal any injury and society’s capacity to tolerate him. A young man is being stalked by a psychic homeless woman in ‘Palming the Lady’ but it’s not just him that needs to worry. A further exploration of the young man and his family in ‘Web of Lies’ is about the destructiveness of family secrets (some families more so than others). The eponymous tale, set some indistinct time generations earlier, is a gruesome morality play comparing the unwitting use of power to its deliberate exercise, and how either path can lead to terrible consequences. And finally, as if to relieve some of the grim fatalism of ‘Bad Power’, the final story ‘Cross that Bridge’ is the story of a policeman with an unusual tracking ability that condemns him to ostracism but lends hope where it is least liable to be found.

The last one is my favourite – it’s almost an adventurous romp, albeit one with a core of real dread. In the others there’s little relief from the cynicism of selfishly powerful and cruelly fearful people. Biancotti’s cast are for the most part an unlikeable lot, though an exception must be made for Palmer, whose self-recrimination is unfair if understandable, and Detective Ponti, the hunter who finds lost children. He’s not as creepy as his reputation suggests.

‘Bad Power’ treads familiar ground for a long-time comic reader like me; the notion of super-powers being a horrible curse rather than an extraordinary opportunity to do good is not new. Biancotti grounds her exploration of the idea in ordinary (mostly) contemporary life, and draws very different conclusions than a typical cape book. There are no flashy battles here – no fanciful costumes or bombastic monologues or heroic triumphs. There are just people, some good but most not so much, finding themselves with powers that do not, in themselves, offer solution. Just new problems.

May 5, 2012

May is the month of resolution

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 10:47 am

There’s a piece of common wisdom held amongst writers that (paraphrasing so that I don’t have to do any research for correct attribution) you’re not a writer unless and until you finish something.

I could quibble with the sentiment, denouncing it as elitist bullshit designed to exclude. Dismissing someone’s wordcraft on the basis of a tendency to move on to the next idea before the last one is fully baked, or stuffing boxes full of unread manuscripts into a shed away from the eyes of the world, or just never bothering to flesh out an ending? That seems mean and unnecessary.

Or perhaps I’m just hypersensitive to that criticism because it hits me square between the eyes. I am a lifelong procrastinator, attention-wanderer and abandoner of first drafts, good ideas and plots that exceed a certain degree of complexity. I have pretty much always been able to get away with a churned-out first pass followed by a light (at best) copy edit. Second drafts are a vanishing rarity in my experience. The idea of a third draft is something I can conceive only as an intellectual exercise, best left to academics and those with compulsions beyond their control.

To be frank, I’m just pretty lazy.

I’m coming to appreciate the point of the entry qualification. Writing for pleasure – getting the story out of your head in raw form, with whatever warts may come – is easy. Fun, even. The product may even be reasonably readable. But it probably isn’t as good as it could be.

Crafting a smooth, polished story from the first-pass dross isn’t just a case of spell-checking and making sure the tense is consistent. Dialogue will need tightening, descriptions will need honing and, depending on the length, scenes and characters may need to be moved, added or removed. There might need to be an editing pass that considers tone and theme, screwing down or sawing off anything that doesn’t contribute to one or both. In short stories, the setup to a punchline will usually need tightening [1]. In longer works, needless repetition must be hunted down and executed, pace and escalation of tension should be assessed and the overall structure needs checking over to make sure that there’s a beginning, middle and ending (though not necessarily in that order). And a million other things that may only become apparent with a series of increasingly tedious read-throughs. And after that, it’s probably good enouigh to go out for criticism by peers, followed by more revision, and then maybe editing by someone who knows how editing is really done. Then more revisions. And then *maybe* the story will be as good as it can be.

It’s hard work, in other words. Maybe not back breaking labour, but effort all the same and sustained effort at that. Being a lazy person as we have established, I’ve usually been content to let my attachment to a piece of writing go at that stage. Get it done, show it to a couple of mates (and a big hello to the ten or so lovely people who read Lexifab on a regular basis) and then move on.

That’s all very well, but it’s not likely to result in professional sales. I have a couple of goals for this year and the next. One of them is to finish the current work-in-progress novel. The other is to write some short stories, hone them to what I can get at least a couple of people other than myself to agree is a professional standard and then try to sell them. Or at least embark on the joys of shopping them around to publishers to see what happens.

So with all that in mind, I have some specific goals for May, which I am posting here to try to keep myself honest:

  1. Finish the outline of the novel. I finished the first draft in April. It was an incoherent mess, but the rough idea of a good story is there. So the goal here is to turn that dross into the skeleton of a good novel. That may take several passes (I’m expecting it to be something like three or four but it might be more). Only when I have a structure that I am happy with do I intend to start on the second draft. What I hope is that working from a solid outline will minimise the number of subsequent drafts I have to tackle, but that’s just a theory at this stage. I won’t know until I’ve tried it.
  2. I have two short stories in progress. An unnamed story set during a cyclone and an unnamed story told entirely in tweet-length passages. I plan to finish both of those.
  3. I am rewriting ‘The Rutherford Expedition’ as a comic script. That’s only in outline form at the moment. Since I have done very little scripting (and not for ages) I have no idea how much work that’s going to take. In fact the main reason I’m doing it [2] is to see what it takes to write a script.

Above and beyond all that I will also be resuming my book reviews, ‘Lost’ recaps and occasional flirtations with flash fiction. Over the past two months I’ve lost a lot of momentum. This month I intend to claw that back.

[1] For an obvious example, look at my flash fiction piece ‘The Rutherford Expedition‘ where, for reasons of keeping to the thousand word limit, the big reveal of the killer’s identity comes from absolutely nowhere. That’s because I didn’t know who the killer was when I started writing it, and I only thought of the ending a couple of paragraphs before I got there. On a rewrite I would need some way to establish the prior animosity of the underworld dwellers, to flesh out more of the characters and to make it less obvious that the murder suspect is a red herring. I doubt I could keep that to a thousand words.

[2] …apart from a general sense of dissatisfaction that I told it completely right the first time. Because I didn’t (refer to [1] above).

May 3, 2012

Books of 2012 – April

Filed under: books of 2012,books read — lexifab @ 11:52 pm

April was another annoying month for getting stuff done. The bronchitis knocked me out for the better part of three weeks, on top of entertaining more often than is usual around here and my (admittedly minimal) preparations for the wedding siphoned off a little creative juice as well. Still, I did manage to finish the first draft of the novel (which I have yet to think of a good codename for, sorry) and I tinkered a little with a few other short pieces that might turn into halfway decent stories with a bit more care and attention.

What I did manage to do was to find a fair amount of time to read. Several bedridden days contributed handily. It was good that I got something out of that deal, because the coughing sucked (and continues to do so).

Books

The Final Empire: Mistborn Book One by Brandon Sanderson – A fantasy epic that starts from the premise that the all-powerful Dark Lord won the final battle between good and evil, and now rules over a blighted slave world with an iron fist. All good grist for the fantasy mill, and a concept explored well in the outstanding Midnight campaign setting for D20 from a few (oops, nearly 10) years ago. Sanderson does a great job of pulling together the characters – a collection of rebellious criminals intent on overthrowing the Empire by means of an elaborate heist – and the setting elements, including a well-thought-out and lavishly detailed magic system.

But I could not for the life of me love this book. The pace plodded, several rather interesting events were pushed to the background and the author detailed every single thought that passed through his POV characters’ heads. That last one in particular drove me nuts. Despite the admirable intricacy with which all the moving parts interacted, it wasn’t until nearly three-quarters of the way through that I finally thought the book hit its stride. By the end (which felt oddly rushed, although probably only by comparison to the rest of it) I was almost keen to move onto the next volume in the trilogy. But…well, I haven’t yet, and there are a lot of other books on my shelves with a more enticing claim on my attention.

 

Waltz of Shadows by Joe R. Lansdale – Joe Lansdale writes beautiful prose about the most ugly human behaviour he can think of. This is a fairly typical grim crime drama, in which an honest hard working family man is drawn unwittingly into depravity and horror, distinguished by the beguiling language Lansdale employs to describe the stomach-churning excesses of his vile antagonists. I can’t really recommend it – there are better examples of Lansdale out there where he doesn’t feel the need to constantly one-up himself on the grue factor – but it is an entirely successful work on its own terms. I enjoyed it, for what that’s worth.

 

Charmed Life (The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1) by Diana Wynne Jones – By a strange oversight, I had never read any DWJ before now (though happily regular correspondents Andrea and Doctor Clam were on hand to correct my error). Charmed Life is a warm and charming tale of magic and loyalty with a surprisingly grim core. The rags to riches adventures of orphans Eric ‘Cat’ Chant and his sister Gwendolen as they are drawn into the world of magicians is light and inventive. I confess to becoming somewhat frustrated by Cat’s rather muleish failure to recognise where his best interests lie, in the face of increasingly weighty evidence, but that’s a small complaint. Another book in the series The Lives of Christopher Chant, was bundled with this one. I shall attack it soon.

 

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey – I like supernatural crime noir. Sandman Slim starts with James Stark crawling out of Hell to wreak vengeance on the cabal of vicious sorcerors who sent him there. There’s a decapitation in the first couple of chapters. Sports cars are wrecked, fireballs are thrown and an awful lot of people are killed with something that sounds like Monkey’s magic wishing staff but adorned with gratuitous spikes. This is violent supernatural mayhem with some clever additions to the usual War-twixt-Heaven’n’Hell cosmology, which I won’t spoil. I was pretty confident I would enjoy this book and it did not let me down.

 

The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines – I have promised a full review of this. I *will* get to it. Right after I get to the full review of Bad Power, which has been waiting in line for longer. It’s great, though, so I will understand if you can’t old out for the full review before rushing off to read it for yourself.

 

Fireside Magazine Spring 2012 Issue 1 – I picked this one up as a reward for backing the launch of a short story periodical through Kickstarter. I came in on the promise of the Chuck Wendig story – ‘Emerald Lakes’ is a prequel to Wendig’s not-safe-for-young-adults YA-noir Shotgun Gravy – but all four prose stories were excellent. There was also a short comic, about which – despite containing both ninjas and a yeti god-king – I was somewhat more ambivalent. Whatever,  four out of five ain’t bad. The Atlanta Burns story carries the same unrelentingly harsh tone of its longer successor, so obviously I felt I got my money’s worth there (and it has a kickarse punchline). Tobias Buckell’s ‘Press Enter to Execute’ is a nice little speculative thriller, Christie Yant’s ‘Temperance’ is a very odd comment on how communities change, and – probably my pick for the lot – Ken Liu’s ‘To the Moon’ juxtaposes the plight of the modern asylum seeker with the tricks of the Monkey King. It’s elegant and sad and I loved it.

Conclusions

No new entries in April for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge – my reading list included only one woman and only one Australian, but they weren’t the same person. Not quite as much short fiction as the previous couple of months, though I did make up for it there towards the end. The tone was dialled around to the crime/noir side of things, with a good helping of the supernatural and fantasy. Still no science fiction. For the pick of the month I would probably go with The Last Days of Kali Yuga over Charmed Life (Sandman Slim pulled a close third).

Resolutions for next month – more women, more Australians and some non-fiction.

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