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

October 29, 2013

TMoRP – Break in transmission

Filed under: administraviata — Tags: — lexifab @ 4:29 pm

Here’s something a little less than 100% positive – it appears that the household wireless router is a bit stuffed. For what be as much as the next week or so, I probably won’t have access to the internet from home. So while I will probably be doing quite a lot of writing, I don’t think I’ll be updating the blog much.

See you in the future. They have functional hardware there.

TMoRP Day 11 – Writing Part 2

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:25 pm

I made it. Just.

For various reasons I couldn’t sit down to start writing until 8 pm. I started pretty slowly, hammering together a couple of pretty clunky scenes that established a couple of characters and a whole bunch of world building. This is pretty typical of what passes for my method: exploration of setting and character through typing.

(I need an editor, badly)

Fortified by about five cups of tea, I typed until 11:30. Then I realised that I was only on about 1600 words (I think slooooowly when I am breaking a story in my head) and that I hadn’t even hit the standard daily NaNoWriMo mark of 1667 words. So I kept going for another 40 minutes and got to 1750. By 12:30, I couldn’t stay awake any longer.

At 4:15, one of the kids (I can’t even remember which one now) came into the bedroom and demanded to sleep with Mum and Dad. I duly ensconsed [him or her] under the sheets and dragged my sorry arse upstairs to my laptop. Yes, at 4:30 in the morning.

I wrote for two hours, took a couple of hours off for breakfast because I foolishly promised that I would make pikelets, then I dropped a couple of espresso shots down my throat and kept going. My deadline was midday, when the group was due to meet at a cafe to discuss how we went. Fiona took the car to the shops for emergency lunch ingredients, so I overran by a couple of minutes as I frantically hammered out the last few paragraphs.

At 12:05, I slammed the lid of my laptop shut, with about four sentences left to write. I jumped in the car and dashed to the meeting…

…which, it turns out, was really scheduled for 12:30, affording me a comfortable twenty minutes to order a beer and knock out the last hundred words or so. Mission accomplished! Short story (5450 words) completed in 24-ish hours!

Dramatic, right?

I haven’t looked it over yet, but I know it’s rough. I rushed the ending, and I’m still not sure I didn’t cop out with the ending I chose. I took too long to introduce a key antagonist character and her reaction to the climax was under-developed. I soft-pedalled my subplot. I had huge chunks of exposition breaking up the dialogue. A lot of scenes are just two people talking (in between huge chunks of exposition). I have a feeling one character might have changed sex partway through the story. Another one – a female character, I am ashamed to note – contributes nothing to the story that could not have been accomplished by an sexy lamp. (I KNOW!)

But –

it’s a complete story. It’s the bones and some of the more useful sinew of a pretty good story, I think. I can fix the structural issues. I can add a scene to justify the ending and another to strengthen it. I know how to turn the sexy lamp back into a thematically relevant character with a personality. I can deal with the gender-swapping character one way or another (it has *just* occurred to me that it’s something I could turn into a feature, although maybe it might make more sense to keep that for a different story).

In short, if I do another big slab of work, I can turn ‘finished’ into ‘good’. That’s a pretty good feeling.

October 27, 2013

Quick note

Filed under: Uncategorized — lexifab @ 9:17 pm

Knackered. Finished the story in time. Sleeping early. Will catch up tomorrow. Good night.

Yes, I could just have Tweeted this.

October 26, 2013

TMoRP Day 10 – Writing!

Today’s scintilla of positivity will be brief and a complete cheat, but for a good reason. I’m participating in a 24-hour short story challenge, courtesy of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. A dozen or so of us met this morning. We used cards and dice to sketch out suggestions of characters and situations, drew from a hat one or two of George Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, and grabbed a variety of coffee table books on travel and natural wonders to provide setting inspirations.

I won’t go into the elements I drew (it will take too long) but I only had too noodle about with them for a few minutes before what I think is a coherent plot took shape. I will disclose that the picture from which I drew inspiration was of Mount Fuji, and my story will be set at the foot of a large, snowy mountain with religious significance.

The group will meet again for lunch at 12 tomorrow, by which time we are to have a complete story. I don’t have a good sense of how big this one will be, but I think I’ll be pushing it. As usual I’ve come up with a story that includes more elements than I can reasonably accommodate in the time allotted. I’m terrific with deadlines, I am.

Alright, I’m going dark again. With good luck I will hammer this out tonight and only have to do light edits in the morning in order to knock it into coherent shape. With rather more typical luck, I will cobble together a hasty ending at ten to twelve tomorrow. Either way, this is going to be my sole attempt at a NaNoWriMo-like writing effort this year (burst rather than sustained, obviously), so I plan to make the most of it.

I’ll be fine if I can type it as fast as this post came out. I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

October 25, 2013

TMoRP Day 9 – Review – Nine Flash Nine by Patrick O’Duffy

I like flash fiction, even though it’s not always done well. By my lights, good flash fiction gets in with one shining idea, fleshes it out with humour or at least sparkling prose, and gets out before anyone notices how thin the concept is. One thousand words or less, all boom.

I like weird fiction. The more off the wall, creepy and surreal the ideas presented, the better as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the few areas in fiction where I’ll give ground on decent characters and something resembling a plot, if the weirdness is weird enough, or fun enough, or simply something I haven’t seen or thought of before.

Nine Flash Nine, Patrick O’Duffy’s collection of nine flash fiction pieces are mostly a bit weird, even if not all of it could be defined as weird fiction. Or at least very weird mutations of the rather traditional story types they are emulating.

There’s the touring band rocked by murder but more rocked by internal dimness.

There’s a ‘Dear Penthouse Forum’ letter which is epically explicit and hilarious, but decidely unusual.

There’s an invasion by impossibly giant monsters who don’t give a rat’s arse that physics forbids their existence.

There’s one about a ghost moustache.

There’s five other stories. One simple idea per story, executed well. O’Duffy’s a writer who has fun with his language. These stories gleam with his trademark wit and insight and the occasional moment of well-directed snark. Like all good flash fiction, they’re gone way too soon.

The other thing is – look, the collection is a buck on Smashwords, so it’s not a huge investment. Personally I would recommend browsing his entire self-published catalogue. There’s good stuff in there, of which I’ve reviewed several pieces. (I read this back in March, and I feel kind of bad that it’s taken me this long to recommend it. But I do recommend it, because it’s a delight).

October 24, 2013

TMoRP Day 8 – A short story I read this week which will mess you up

Again I break with my own rules in order to bring to your attention a short story I read this week. Frankly, I can’t wait until I get to the October entry to talk about it because this is a story that made me Feel Stuff.

Specifically, the Stuff it made me Feel is ‘creeping horror’. It scared the shit out of me, so you may want to take that as a bit of a cautionary note before reading on.

Okay, so the story is called ‘each thing i show you is a piece of my death‘ by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer (or vice versa, depending on where you read it). And yes, the title is all lower case.  Someone I follow on Twitter (it might have been Alex Dally MacFarlane, I think) posted a link to it and gave it a rave review. So I followed the link and I read it on the web at the Apex Magazine website, where you too can read it for free.

What I discovered almost immediately after I finished it (and stopped blinking rapidly and feeling a bit unwell) is that it’s also reprinted in Clockwork Phoenix 2: More Tales of Beauty and Strangeness. Which happens to be the book I’m reading on my Kindle at the moment. And this story happened to be the very next story I would have read had I not put down the Kindle to browse Twitter.

CREEPY!

Or not. Whatever. I thought it was creepy, when I realised what had happened, but then again I’d also just read the creepiest damn story I’ve seen in a while. So I was probably in a highly suggestible state or nuts. Make your own call on that.

Anyway, all I will say about the story is that

(a) it’s a collection of transcripts and file notes, making this the short story equivalent of a ‘found footage’ movie (but, you know, better than that) and

(b) if you *really* didn’t like that fly moving around in the paused film in The Ring you should stay the hell away from ‘each thing i show you~’ Also maybe avoid it if if anything else about The Ring upset you, but the fly thing would be a definite warning sign.

I will add, for anyone still in some doubt, that this is a great story to read late at night when you are alone and maybe just a bit tired. It could be that I’m wrong  – certainly it’s too late for me to make a less foolish choice in that regard. ‘each thing i show you~’ has put both Files and Barringer on my must-read-when-I’m-up-for-some-horror list. If you have a list like that one, you could certainly do worse than check this story out.

October 23, 2013

TMoRP Day 7 – Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (February)

My favourite short story from February was a novella, ‘Magic for Beginners’, from Kelly Link’s short story collection of the same name. I had a bit of an iffy relationship with the collection as a whole – Kelly Link’s stories (or at least the ones collected in this volume) are rambling, discursive and usually quite surreal narratives. Her language is beautiful. Her imagery is surprising and delightful as often as it’s dark. But the stories too often veered in unexpected and even random directions for me to completely satisfy me. On more than one story I liked where it started and disliked where it ended up. Admittedly most of them turned out to have quite strong story logic when I stopped to think about them, but that didn’t help during the act of reading.

‘Magic for Beginners’ is one such story, nesting layers of narrative inside one another so that each element seems to be a meta-commentary on the others. The thing is, what I found distracting in a number of the other stories was utterly compelling in this one. It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who, along with his friends, is obsessed with a strange, surreal television program called The Library.

The show follows the adventures of Fox and the oddball inhabitants of the titular library, who encounter magician-pirates, magic books and the underground sea on the third floor. The episodes are broadcast out of order, most of the cast are never played by the same actors twice and the kids never know when the program will be shown. It’s compelling event television, in a way that probably won’t exist in a few years and consumes the lives of its young audience.

There’s much more to the plot of the story – the relationships between Jeremy and his friends, the thoughtlessness of his writer-father, a journey with his mother to wind up the affairs of a dead relative. Woven into all of that is the consuming mystery of what’s going on with The Library and what it might mean for Jeremy.

It’s a captivating, magical story that nails the way relationships build and change around (slightly obsessively) shared interests. How stories – especially beloved television shows, but any stories really – can provide an anchor when real life becomes overwhelming and confusing. It’s a story about how caring about stories can help you to care about people (and what can happen when they don’t). It’s amazing.

You can read ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link on the old F&SF site here (or buy the collection, why not?)

My runner-up choices for best story from February were:

  • Either ‘Isles of the Sun’ or ‘Significant Dust’ by Margo Lanagan, which I talked about in my review of her Cracklescape collection
  • Nick Mamatas’ ‘Hideous Interview with Brief Man’, which is a piece of cold, brutal Lovecraftiana that I think Doctor Clam would get a kick out of (from Fiddleblack #8)
  • ‘On the Arrival of the Paddle Steamer on the Docks of V—-‘ by Peter M. Ball, now no longer available on the sadly defunct Eclipse Online website, nor anywhere else as far as I can tell. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was pretty great.

October 22, 2013

TMoRP Day 6 – Just Cause 2

I play more video games than I should and far fewer than I would like to.

(In another life I would very much like to test the neo-Calvinist adage contending that “Nobody ever looks back on their lives and says ‘I wish I’d played more video games’.” Because, honestly, that’s bullshit. I absolutely wish I played more video games, and in a futuristic post-scarcity utopia that has dispensed with the necessities of food, shelter and providing for loved ones, I would jack myself into the X-Station 2600 Virtual Arcade before you could say “smelly otaku”.)

There are any number of things that will suck me into a game and keep me playing it, but number one on the list is a large world to explore. Open-world sandboxes are my crack cocaine, especially since I gave up crack for video games [1]. You give me a halfway decent map, some kind of firearm to see off roaming predators and enough hours in the day and I promise I won’t come up for breath for hours.

Which brings me to Just Cause 2.

JC2 is a first-person shooter by Avalanche Studios, in which you play Rico Rodriguez, a CIA operative infiltrating the vaguely-defined south-east Asian island nation of Panau in order to overthrow dictator Pandak ‘Baby’ Panay (whose towering statues hilariously adorn virtually every corner of the country). There are secret CIA plants, criminal factions and international enemy agents, not to mention an infinite supply of heavily-armed police and soldiers between you and the insane climactic showdown.

That’s the plot, but it’s breathtakingly irrelevant next to three things:

1) You can roam the entire vast map, consisting of one large and dozens of smaller islands, going anywhere you please and using any number of cars, motorbikes, planes, helicopters and boats to get there. If you have the patience, you can swim along any of the hundreds of rivers, bays and straits or climb every rambling snow-capped mountain. If you can see something on the map, you can make your way there somehow. And it might take you forever to uncover every town, village and roadside market – some of them are just not marked on the map. For intrepid explorers nursing mildly obsessive completists tendencies like myself, it’s a free-roaming paradise.

2) Related to Point 1, Rico spends a lot of time getting about with his personal transport gear, an improbably versatile parachute and a wrist-mounted grappling hook. Between them they elevate Just Cause 2 to a crazy thrill-seeker’s paradise. The parachute can be deployed and discarded at will, allowing for all sorts of ridiculous freefall stunts and lazy, sooth paragliding exploration. The grapple allows Rico to scale cliffs, yank unsuspecting enemies off roofs, hijack everything from motorbikes to helicopters to jet fighters, attach bad guys to moving cars (hilariously fatal!) and – almost best of all – safely arrest a terminal velocity skydive. The timing is tricky on that last one, but totally worth experimenting.

3) Nearly everything is susceptible to destruction by firearms, explosives or missiles, and ‘Baby’ Panay’s grip on his people can be broken if you just disrupt enough of his national infrastructure. Which means that Rico can cheerfully wander about the island blowing up everything from police cars to electrical transformers, from wind farms to oil refineries, from SAM installations to nuclear missile silos. Everything you destroy attracts the attention of Panau’s heavily-armed police force, though, so blowing up a power generator invariably leads to a crazily-escalating firefight.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey the sheer, manic glee of stumbling across some hidden Panauan army base, setting off a bunch of triggered explosives and then getting into a running firefight with a battalion of pissed-off soldiers and the helicopter gunships they call in for support. First-person shooters aren’t for everyone – and this one is both pretty violent and has some very questionable politics, not to mention its hilariously bad voice acting – but if you like to combine your touristy impulse to go everywhere and collect everything with your uncontrollable urge to commit acts of destructive mayhem, Just Cause 2 has you covered, quite possibly for the rest of your life. Just Cause 2 is the only shooter I’ve ever played that has tempted me to go back and try it on a harder setting (even though I am basically terrible at first person shooters and I have about half a dozen other games queued up on my system, unplayed).

Besides, it has a pointless and needlessly inaccessible reference to Lost, which just endeared it to me all the more.

JC2 is cheap in the Steam store. Get it, play it, and never leave the Island.

 

[1] Mum: I did not really give up crack. Not in my heart.

October 21, 2013

TMoRP Day 5 – GenreCon 2013

Last weekend I went to Brisbane for GenreCon, a convention for writers of genre fiction held at the Queensland State Library. As opposed to the speculative fiction focus of Canberra’s Conflux convention, GenreCon aims a bit wider to include the larger, more popular branches of not-literary writing: romance, thriller, crime and mystery stories.

Ostensibly I was there to build up my writing networks, learn a few writing tricks and gab with other enthusiasts about the state of the industry. But while I did all of those things, the real reason I went was that one of the international Guests of Honour was the inestimable Chuck Wendig, on whom I have a not-especially-well-disguised writercrush.

So if you will permit me a moment of unmitigated fannish glee, I may have swooned slightly on the inside when I got the chance to say hi at the opening reception, because he recognised my name. Or my Twitter handle, at least, which is just as good. As it happens, that sparked a fun chat about how Twitter opens doors between fans and the writers they love, who they might otherwise feel are out of their class (as it were). Chuck admitted feeling exactly the same way about people like John Scalzi and Joe Hill, but he had his own visitation from the Squee Fairy when when Margaret Attwood started tweet-chatting with him. Yeah, I can grok that.

Before I reluctantly set Chuck aside to talk about the rest of the con, let me just add that he was an amazing addition to the con. As a panellist he was funny, insightful and generous with his advice. And I gather from his post-con tweets that he is now uncontrollably addicted to Tim Tams, so he will undoubtedly be looking for opportunities to come back to Australia. Con organisers, take note.

Okay, as for GenreCon itself, it was amazing. There were so many enthusiastic, sharp and gregarious people around that I barely slowed down all weekend. I caught up with several good friends and made a whole bunch of new ones. In particular I want to give a huge thanks to Chris Andrews and Jodi Cleghorn, who introduced me to a small army of friendly people and made my weekend complete. And to my good buddy Evan, who put me up for the weekend. I take it as a sign of the success of GenreCon that he succumbed to writery peer pressure and joined Twitter this morning. (Heh. Sucker.)

GenreCon was amazing. The thing I look for (and indeed need) from a convention is a sense of belonging to a community, and GenreCon had that by the warm, giving bucketload, from the happy crowd of cheeky romance writers who went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome to the charming and hilarious group of horror writers that took me for drinks on Saturday night (White Rabbit Ales at the Archive in West End – highly recommended).

My heartfelt congratulations for a job well done to GenreCon organisers Meg Vann and Peter Ball (well, they were the “faces” of the con, but of course there was an invisible cadre of ninjas slipping about making everything happen. Many of them get a shoutout at that link to Peter’s blog). The next GenreCon proper will be in Melbourne in 2015. I can’t recommend it highly enough for its fun, inviting atmosphere and good cheer.

For the next one, which I will attend if at all possible, I resolve only the following:

1) I will book for all events. This year I passed on the dinner because I figured I wouldn’t enjoy socialising. I understand now that this is, to put it mildly, crazypants thinking. By all accounts the banquet (themed “Kiminos and Cutlasses”) was a glittering affair, and the keynote addresses were hilarious. And dammit, I enjoyed socialising all the rest of the time, so why did I think I would feel shy? Dunno. Won’t make that mistake again.

2) I will stay until the end of the con. I had to catch an afternoon flight home on Sunday, which meant that I had to leave the con shortly before lunch. I missed the final three sessions. I was sad. (Especially since I could read all the tweets joyfulling arising from the sessions I was missing. Damn you, social media.)

3) I will make the time to chat with (among others) Patrick O’Duffy, with whom I was only able to share the most fleeting of encounters. And by not joining the impromptu karaoke outing, I missed out on seeing him to his now-infamous rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Dammit.

Edit: Fixed a name’s spelling because I am dumb.

October 20, 2013

TMoRP Day 4 – Welcome to Night Vale Podcast

Welcome to Night Vale is a bi-weekly podcast by Commonplace Books. It is presented as a radio program from small town America in the middle of a desert somewhere. If you remember the “Chris in the Morning” radio program from Northern Exposure, or Minnie Driver’s show in the deeply wonderful Gross Pointe Blank, it’s a bit like that – folksy, easy listening community news and chat.

It’s also flat-out some of the best surrealist comedy you’ll find anywhere. Because the eponymous Night Vale is crawling with absurd horrors – mysterious hooded figures, sacrificial altars, sinister and anonymous government agencies, angels, a dog park nobody may enter, look upon or know about, and a mayoral candidate who is literally a five-headed dragon. Presented with a completely straight face (so to speak) by the warm and thoughtful narrator, Cecil Baldwin, who would use the same intonation to describe an interdimensional incursion by bloodthirsty monsters as he would to outline the changes to parking regulations outside City Hall, Welcome to Night Vale is never afraid to take a crazy premise and run with it all the way.

A typical episode presents a bizarre, horrifying event descending upon Night Vale (or crawling up from its deeply unsettling past), escalating into chaos, destruction and usually mass casualties, and then more or less dying down again. Impressively, the show doesn’t discard the insanity of past episodes, but builds on it to create a consistent (if not especially plausible) continuity that rewards long-time listeners.

Look, I can’t really do credit to Welcome To Night Vale. It’s dark and unnerving, but once in a while it’s also genuinely moving and thoughtful. There’s a touching love story woven through the episodes. It’s almost always funny – I love the deadpan references to household blood stone circles, the way that local law enforcement is always referred to as “the Sheriff’s Secret Police” and the nightmarish reality of municipal buildings in Night Vale.

It encompasses comedy, existential horror and the banal brutality of unchecked authority, all against the backdrop of small town America. It’s wonderful, and I’m going to go and listen to the latest episode right now. (And I might also queue up Grosse Point Blank to watch sometime, because damn I love that movie).

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