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

April 25, 2016

Prince and the Canberra Heater Rule

Filed under: news of the day — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:58 am

Canberra has a bizarre cultural tradition you might have heard about. This is it: you invite social censure if you switch on your household heating before Anzac Day. Ask anyone who lives here for more than a year or two – if they don’t say it themselves, they will still be well aware of having heard it.

The specific consequences of infringing this oft-recounted social directive are never made clear. After a bit over seventeen years living here, I’m not yet sufficiently local to speak with any authority. But I infer that breakers of the Anzac Day rule are considered to be a bit on the soft side. They lack, I understand, the intestinal fire that will see them through the bitter winter.

Me, I’m just cheap. The longer we can put off cranking up the ducted heating the better. Our September gas bill is a shocker.

Still the “rule” has undeniable power. No matter how cold it gets in early April, you can’t help but hesitate before throwing the switch. Eleven on days when there’s frost outside and the car windscreens are all iced over.

You question yourself. “Do I really need to warm up?”

You ask yourself, “Couldn’t I just put on a jumper?”

You find yourself actively considering whether to just tough out the cold when the switch for the heater is right in front of you.

It’s astonishing how small, seemingly insignificant social pressures can influence our behaviour.

A few days ago as I write this, Prince died in what are still mysterious circumstances. Despite being in the right age group – my teen years were in the eighties – I never really got into Prince. I liked all the same songs that everyone else liked, but I never dug any deeper than listening to ‘Purple Rain’ a few times and digging about half of the Batman ‘89 soundtrack.

But this week’s massive outpouring of shock and grief at the untimely death of a celebrity – a state that 2016 appears to be conditioning us to never leave – has got me reconsidering my mildly indifferent stance. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you actually pay attention that Prince was a prodigious talent – singing, dancing, playing All the Instruments and etc.

More to the point, the sheer abundance of opinion on social media (and in traditional media, for that matter) exerts a quiet strength. I don’t think I even registered the moment this week where I went from being somewhat indifferent to strongly pro-Prince. It definitely happened. Unless something terrible comes out in the wake of investigations into his passing, that’s probably going to be my opinion for good.

It was a seismic shift affecting one small corner of my mind, but it happened without my even noticing it until after the fact.

(There’s probably some kind of book marketing lesson to be learned in that, but who cares?)

Instead I’m going to link to my favourite Prince moment from a few years ago, at a memorial concert for George Harrison. He’s not playing one of his own songs, but he plays with such effortless virtuosity that it might as well be his.

Listen to the whole thing (or start at 3:25 to skip listening to Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty singing, if you must). If you didn’t have an opinion about Prince before, this might change your mind.

 

April 15, 2016

Zine crazy

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 3:17 pm

I sent a newsletter out last night, to my teeming list of six (count ’em all!) mailing list subscribers. It was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience, which lines up with my general experience of self-promotion. In other news, I sometimes vomit before or after interviews.

The point of doing the newsletter, even though I don’t really have a lot of writing career to promote at the moment, is to get some practise at the marketing side of the business. It’s an interesting aspect of a professional writing career that I’ve never given any real consideration, for the very sensible reason that why would I? But on the off chance I ever stumble into some modicum of success as a writer, I’d rather have built up some of the basic non-writing skills that prop up the career.

Having a well-maintained mailing list is one of the things every discussion of book marketing mentions sooner or later, whether the author in question is traditional or self-published. Members of a mailing list are self-selecting volunteers who want to be there (if they didn’t, they’d unsubscribe), which makes them more likely to be receptive to your personal news than all your cousins on Facebook or all the random fashion bots that follow you on Twitter.

Besides which, I’ve missed writing wacky amateurish ‘zines, which I’ve hardly done at all since high school.

Another reason included the first episode of what I currently plan to be long-running serial adventure. I figure if I’m going to have a mailing list, I want to make it worth clicking on. It doesn’t hurt that having an outside obligation means I’m much more likely to finish a piece of work than if I leave it to my own devices.

The big reason to put out a newsletter, if I’m being much too blunt for my own comfort [1], is that I crave an audience. I want people to hear what I have to say. Or no, not even that, because the existence of blogs and social media more than adequately provides a soapbox sounding off about whatever. What I really hope for is confirmation, however transitory and slight, that I possess the minor super-power of being entertaining or at least amusing through the medium of storytelling.

I’m like that kid (i.e. me) who ties the towel around his neck, climbs up on the shed and jumps off in the hope that this time he’ll fly. And then does it again, and again, and again. [2]

That sounds self-deprecating and defeatist, but it’s not intended that way. It’s painfully apparent to me, from observation of my own habits as a consumer of art, that it’s very difficult for writers, musicians and artists of every other stripe [2] to capture the attention of an audience, or to hold it for more than a moment. The world is too busy, too loud, too crowded with distractions. It’s hard to stand out. And like all things that are hard, it takes time and work (and probably a lot of mistakes) before you can get better at it.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely subscribe to the notion that creating art is a worthwhile pursuit in its own right. But that doesn’t mean I want to or should have to create in a vacuum. Art is much more interesting and compelling to me as a conversation between unique voices than as the isolated mutterings of a lonely madman. Even if the conversation is barely about a murmur at the moment, I’d still prefer to be having it with other people.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and you missed out, you can still go over to my author website and subscribe. I’ll resend the April newsletter in a week or two to any late signups, so you won’t miss out on the first part of Orphans’ Moon.

 

[1] As I typed this I was very, very uncomfortable and maybe a little bit nauseated

[2] And each time, assuming this isn’t the time he breaks his damn fool leg or worse, he gets a little bit better at tucking and rolling on impact.

[3] Poets are especially fucked. I’m glad I’m not trying to be a poet.

March 30, 2016

Home again

Filed under: family,fitter/happier,news of the day — lexifab @ 8:33 pm

We’re back home after four days’ break in the Hunter Valley. The highlights were probably spending an hour have a leisurely wine tasting while the kids played with Leo the resident winery dog at Pokolbin Estate and taking a camel ride across the dunes in Anna Bay on our way home this morning (was a bit out of our way, but worth the detour).

It was very pleasant to have a solid few days of real break time. We had next to no internet or mobile coverage (thanks Vodafone) so about the most wired thing I managed to do was play a few rounds of Words with Friends. Other than that, it was all about chilling with the kids playing tennis or splashing about in the pool, drinking wine and reading.

I did mean to write. Honestly I did. I took my notebook and everything. But in the end I decided I was better off just trying to get some distance from my creeping anxiety about procrastination and just relax. It seems to have worked (a few choice bottles of plonk may not have hurt either). I’m back in a much more positive frame of mind. There’s still an enormous amount of stuff to do, but it feels less unmanageable than it did last week.

Right. Things to do. Let’s get to it.

March 22, 2016

That did not work

Filed under: administraviata,geekery,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 8:42 pm

Boring technical note. I just tried to export this entire blog across to its own page at davidversace.com. It didn’t work.

Or rather, it did work, perfectly – but it merged with the blog that was already there, creating what we might technically refer to as a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I surmise at this point that my best bet is to create a separate website to host this blog, but that will probably take some concerted effort that won’t happen before I head away north for the Easter weekend.

Had another disappointment today, about which I’ll say nothing here, except to note that it means going back to the drawing board for a New Plan.

I now propose to turn my back on the disappointments and go proofread my story in preparation for its publication in At the Edge (details on the Other Site). And then watch an unhealthy amount of Daredevil.

March 15, 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Reset

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 9:30 pm

I originally thought that I would run a weekly “keep myself honest” column over at PretentiousAuthor.com. In retrospect I think it would clutter the site up for no particular value for the readers.

It has some value for me, though, so I’m going to do it here instead. I’ll try to keep it short.

What I worked on: I revised the ending of ‘Silver the Moon in Ascension’ (aka ‘Magic robots vs Werewolves: Dawn of Justice’), I hand-wrote a few pages of my story about a monster hunting magistrate, I began researching my story idea for an ecopunk anthology, I wrote a drabble and I sent out my first pretentious-author newsletter to a whopping four subscribers!

I’ve been experimenting in the last few months with doing longhand first drafts. I used to do it, once upon a very long time ago, but I lost the habit somewhere. Early results seem to indicate that I write fast with longhand (not as fast as I type, but also with far fewer pauses for thought), that my writing sprints tend to last no more than about forty minutes at the most, and that I can generally crank out about 300 words (or two-ish pages of my notebook) in ten minutes or so. The prose tends to be a bit overwritten, but not much more than my regular prose. I expect the process of transcription will help me cut the text back to a lean flow. We’ll see.

What I’ve added to my work plan: More longhand drafting on the magistrate story, a knuckle-down redraft of Silver the Moon, writing a short-short submission for a CSFG horror flash fiction contest, more research for the ecopunk story, and outlining my serial fiction project that I plan to start soon.

For reference, the anthology I am aiming at is Ticonderoga’s Ecopunk – speculative tales of radical futures.  I’m inspired to have a go for a few reasons – one, because getting a story accepted into a Ticonderoga anthology has evolved from mere writing goal to authorial white whale; two, because I don’t write enough science fiction and I consider it a real gap in my repertoire; and three, because as I admitted on Leife Shallcross’ blog a few weeks ago, I am a lazy-arsed researcher, which borders on the disgraceful.

(So far the hard part has not been developing a workable SF concept. It’s finding the right story to attach to it).

Taking my shot at a scientifically-plausible short fiction piece is a real personal challenge. Honestly, it’s not a target I expect to hit, knowing the standard that the editors are expecting. But I won’t shore up my weaknesses by avoiding them.

 

 

February 19, 2016

Blogging is dead, so I started another website

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 8:22 pm

Hot on the heels of a great panel discussion at Wednesday night’s CSFG meeting – summarised neatly by panelist Alis Franklin here at her website – and coinciding with the appearance of my first new piece of published fiction over at EGM Shorts, I have launched my “professional” writing site.

The stunningly original name: davidversace.com (I know, I can’t believe the domain wasn’t taken either!)

Anyway, everyone here already knows this because I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. From this point on I will begin the not-entirely-thought-out process of separating what I want to write about as a “published professional” [1] as opposed to the more personal, everyday stuff. The Lost recaps and occasional book reviews will probably stay here, though.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to migrate the archives here to a semi-hidden spot on my own domain, but that’s still the plan. I’m still not sure if I need some kind of tech support for that.

Anyhow, I’ll be using that site to make any public announcements about upcoming stories or whatever but since I’ll cross-post here as well, you can take your pick which one to look at.

 

[1] Definition to be consumed with salt; your dosage may vary but I would start at a couple of pinches and work up from there.

February 14, 2016

I bricked my Kindle

“I feel as though you’ve just killed an old friend,” complained the Doctor as the Terileptil Leader fried his sonic screwdriver in 1982’s “The Visitation”. In retrospect it’s a rather tacky observation, given that Adric’s radioactive, dinosaur-extinctioning atoms would be scattered across the Cretaceous atmosphere just two stories later.

Still, I got a taste of how he felt this weekend. On the very final leg of my (typically arduous) overseas travel, I discovered to my horror that I had destroyed my Kindle. Three quarters of the screen – all but a small quadrant in the lower left corner – is frozen on the stark and scratchy image of an old-fashioned printing press. The one bit of the screen that’s behaving as it should offers a tantalising glimpse of the standard menu, but nothing readable.

What happened? I don’t know for sure. There’s a possibility it got crushed by my aeroplane seat – it had an unusual reclining angle that I could easily have failed to account for. On the other hand, it’s also pretty old – second generation Kindle, probably four or five years old at this point. That’s practically senescent in e-reader years.

A nice person on Amazon chat ran me through all the standard troubleshooting tricks I’d already found through an internet search. They confirmed that it was not fixable. Also no longer under warranty, which came as no surprise. Ah well.

There’s a small chance that, as the travel was work-related, I may be able to claim for a replacement item. If I did, the equivalent model costs about two or three times what i paid for my current one. I’m not holding my breath. More likely, I’ll be without my beloved e-reader and constant companion for several weeks, if not longer.

That’s good news for the backlog of physical books sitting beside my bed. There’s – what, maybe twenty or thirty books in that stack? That’s nothing next to the roughly a hundred or so titles languishing in the virtual oblivions of my Amazon account and my Backups folder. But any period of enforced separation from the light and easy Kindle option will be a boon for clearing up some floor space in my bedroom.

Time to go read a dead tree, the way our primitive ancestors used to do.

 

(PS: The trip was fine BTW. Exhausting but fine. I’m just not going to discuss the day job on the blog. Especially not this week, when I need to put in an application in order to keep it!)

February 1, 2016

Sneak peek

Filed under: news of the day,the interweb she provides,wombat,wordsmithery — Tags: — lexifab @ 2:17 pm

I am now less than a week away from my next overseas trip for week. I am rather less excited about this than I am anxious.

I might feel differently if I were more confident that the workshops I’ll be running will be valuable and interesting to the people being quietly coerced into attending them. As for me, I get unwanted but necessary public speaking practise, so at least one attendee stands to benefit.

Be that as it may, today is a bit of a personal milestone: the Wombat-child started her kindy year today. As of this morning, I have two children attending the same school at the same time! Up until now our morning commute often involved four stops and took almost exactly an hour with all the doubling back and forth. We might now be down to as little as fifteen minutes. The sheer convenience of only having one morning drop-off and afternoon pickup has barely begun to sink in. I might get back half an hour every morning, to do with as I please! Luxury!

(Yes, I am aware that the two issues above are classic examples of the first-worldiest of first world problems. I don’t have a hell of a lot going on right now!)

Both events mark transition points for me. (The summer holiday in the Hunter was another milestone along the same lines, but it already feels like the sadly distant past). I’ve been preparing for them for months in various ways. In a real sense, it’s not going to feel like 2016 has started until they are both done and out of the way.

All of this is a vast preamble to my point, which is that I am going to launch a new website: davidversace.com

It’s not quite ready for public consumption, but it’s 90% there. It’s a very basic site built around a WordPress frame, in keeping with my current web design, management and coding skills, but it has all the essential elements I believe I’ll need for a simple author web presence. Or platform, if you want to sound cutting-edge-but-last-year.

Before I go out to the big wide world – which is to say, before I post something on Facebook and Twitter and make some changes to my email signature block – I would really appreciate it if everyone reading this could take a look over there. If you see any problems, please leave a comment on this post to let me know. I’m especially keen to know if there are any useability issues, security problems or browser clashes. Even better if you happen to know a solution!

(Don’t leave a comment there yet, please. I’m going to replace the placeholder post with actual content before I go live, so any comments attached to that post will be deleted).

Things I already know about: no author photo, no content on the blog, and the mailing list signup works but does not (yet)  automatically post a “Welcome to my mailing list” message. Oh and I don’t know if the RSS feeds work, but I have no reason to suppose that they don’t. Do people even use RSS feeds any more (I mean, I do, but as you can see from the site my internet-savvy stalled out circa 2009).

Thanks!

January 24, 2016

What I did on my holidays – Summer 2015-16

I’ve been having one of those summer holidays that I will probably look back on in the future and think “That went well”.

Well, no I won’t, because I have a terrible memory for dates and what-happened-when. But in theory I could look back on it with something approaching a sense of accomplishment. I’m pretty happy with some of these highlights:

House renovations – We’ve now owned our fixer-upper house for over ten years. We’re still fixing it up, and in the forthcoming years\ we will be replacing all the flooring and at least one of the bathrooms. By comparison, painting a few patches of the vast unrenovated expanse of our external walls is a trivial enterprise. But it still feels good to have just about finished painting all of the parts of the house which are visible from the street. At least the place appears to casual passers-by to be occupied , and not at all like a drug den impounded by the cops and forgotten in an administrative bungle.

Bass guitar – My Xmas gift to myself was to buy a copy of the PC game Rocksmith 2014, which is a guitar tutorial program dressed up as a game. You jack a real electric guitar (or in my case my buddy Simon’s old bass guitar) into the computer to learn basic techniques, whole songs and tricky passages. So far I am reasonably accomplished at playing Def Leppard’s genuinely awful “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (no link provided). I’m working hard to beat that by mastering some song that would constitute an accomplishment to be proud of, like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

After about five weeks of fairly solid practice, I can report that I am (a) getting better but by no means good and (b) developing tough callouses on the fingers where before I had numbness and/or pain. Rock and roll stardom awaits! (as soon as I beat the tutorial on doing slide notes up and down the neck of the guitar. Those are hard). Anyway, Rocksmith gets my recommendation as well. Short of paying for lessons, it really does seem to be a very effective way to learn how to play guitar.

Songwriting – Continuing on the musical theme, I wrote some song lyrics for the first time in ages these holidays. It’s something I do on and off, just for something different. My lyrics tend to languish undeveloped unless I can convince Evan (my songwriting buddy and about the only personal I know with any real music skills) to work out an arrangement for them. This year I plan to take advantage of my slowly-growing mastery of bass and ukulele to teach myself basic song-writing. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict a YouTube channel on anyone – I still have both a terrible voice and prohibitive performance anxiety – but I’m a step closer to my goal of being able to write a whole song, not just the words.

Flash fiction – I wrote something! And finished it! I’m working on the Conflux 12 organising committee again this year. As part of the promotion for the con, the Chair will be sending out publicity in the not-too-distant future. I’ve written a story with my take on this year’s theme “Red Fire Monkey”, which will appear as part of the publicity report. For posterity’s sake, I will note that the story is a rare instance of me writing straight science fiction.

Holidays in the Hunter – Our family holiday this year included a bunch of families, staying at the delightful Lovedale Cottages in the Hunter Valley. Fifteen of us, including five kids and a three-month-old baby, snuggled up together in warm, cosy cottages as the Hunter was hammered with five days of torrential downpours that threatened to leave us trapped by rising flood waters. Fortunately the pool was indoors and heated, and in reality most of the really heavy rain was well away from us. Still, it was a bit of a wet holiday. I can recommend the Lovedale Cottages though – they have a tennis court, the aforementioned indoor pool, a golf course (!) and are very comfortably appointed in a distinctly rustic style. Especially great for big group holidays.

Granola! – Every time we travel, we inevitably end up eating breakfast at cafes once in a while. And when we do, I will automatically order one of two things (aside from coffee, which obviously goes without saying). Either I will get the eggs benedict, – because you can always judge the quality of a cafe by their attention to detail in hollandaise sauce and also because I love eggs benedict – or, if I feel as though I have been eating nothing but garbage over the course of the holiday I will pretend to be virtuous by ordering a granola with yoghurt and possibly some fruit or berries. It’s embarrassing really, but I excuse myself because neither is a meal I would make at home.

Which got me thinking, why not? And so I did the minimum possible research to discover that, in fact, granola is dreadfully simple to make. So I now have a personalised granola recipe, cobbled together from fifteen or so granola recipes I found on the internet. (This article in the Guardian about finding the perfect granola was the primary source – the beaten egg white trick seems to be the killer ingredient, although it does make my granola non-vegan, so your mileage may vary).Incidentally, my search for ingredients has taken me into a number of “natural foods” stores. If you see me in one, don’t worry: I don’t need a paleo intervention. I just need to be directed to the barley.

Anyway, the point being granola is delicious. Don’t skimp on the almonds and hazlenuts.

January 16, 2016

Near-future projects

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 7:32 pm

I don’t do New Years’ resolutions (except to get a cheap ironic laugh by breaking them in the same breath) and I’ve decided to hold off on setting myself some firm writing goals for 2016. I was so far off meeting them last year that it doesn’t really make sense to make long term project plans at this point.

Broadly, I’ll be editing the novel and writing as many short stories as I can, launching my new website, and learning a few new skills.

The short stories will take priority. After spending most of last year focused on the one big project, being A Flash of Black Wings (draft one), I am almost desperate to work on anything else for a while. Specifically I’d like to do something with the dozen or so “great” ideas that did their best to derail me whenever I got stuck on the novel. The only way to shut them up, however temporarily, was to chuck them in a notebook filed under “Laterz” and ignore them while I got on with the novel. But the moment the draft was done, they came sniffing around again. They smell weakness.

I’m not sure when I will go back to start work on editing the novel. Not until after I’ve returned from travelling for work in mid-February, at least. It needs a big block of time and unfamiliar brain-space. But I expect the next draft to take at least a few months of dedicated work, just to get it into the right shape that I’m willing to even show it to another human being. At the moment it has a very wobbly structure and the characters are formless voids floating in the vicinity of an incoherent plot. Some remedial work is necessary.

The new website is almost ready, except for a couple of technical bits and pieces that I need to figure out. One of the big items will be working out how to migrate the archives of this blog across to the new site. That will free this site’s host to close it up if he wants to stop paying for it. When I’ve solved all the technical bits I will of course post the new details.

The new site will be my “professional” site, inasmuch as it will be useful to have an author presence that I can separate from my personal life and my occasional moaning about word count. I intend to keep this blog going as a personal journal and place to post reviews, probably as a “hidden” page on the main site. If I can work out how to do it that way. I’ll let you know.

So this is my declaration of goals. In January, of which I have squandered almost half, I will:

  • finish the two stories I have in incomplete states: the one about the magic robots, and the one about the dogged magistrate and the murderous innkeepers. If there’s time, I will rewrite the one about the sinister newlyweds. That was a fun one, even if it didn’t quite work.
  • Launch the new website (with a complete lack of fanfare, but probably a little bit of content).
  • Resume a long-dormant and utterly undemanded review project.

This has all been very boring accountability stuff for myself. So I will also blog a what-I-did-on-my-holidays post, with pictures and stuff.

 

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