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

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!)

May 26, 2015

Hey woo anniversary!

Filed under: news of the day,workin for the man — lexifab @ 4:23 pm

I just realised that today is the one-year anniversary of my last day as a permanent public servant.

Sadly, I was only reminded of that when a particular piece of policy work, into which I had some input in my final few days of employment, has apparently still not been finalised. Simple, uncontroversial and mandatory, but still not finalised.

:/

November 20, 2014

NatNaNo Day 20 – Just touching base

I’m a bit on the tired side tonight, so my writing stint was short. Perfunctory even. 400 words in about 20 minutes so I could just go to bed.

Tomorrow the pest control guy is coming, so I have a lot of last-minute packing and lugging to do, after which I had to keep a four year old amused out of the house. If the weather’s not as hot as it was today, that will mean a visit to a park or the zoo. If it is hot, the pool or the library – and she won’t be amused for very long at the library, though it will be an opportunity for me to order in a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read – Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (alien first-contact story set in Lagos) and God’s War by Kameron Hurley (bloodthirsty science fantasy with bug-based magic).

Oh, and I probably have a job lined up soon, so I guess that’s good. I’ll miss moping around the house though. Better make the most of it while I can.

So without further ado:

Tally: 400 words

Total fiction words for the month: 10, 740

“You’re back from exile less than a week and already you’re bringing grief to that poor woman. It’s not enough you had to marry her? Do you have to make her life miserable as well?”

July 7, 2014

What I’m working on – July edition

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:22 pm

I’m officially looking for work, preferably temporary project work on short-term contracts. To this end I’ve done interviews with job pimps, tightened up my resume, written about thirty cover letters, referees reports and personal profiles, I’ve taken psychological tests [1] and I’ve even taken the soul-destroying, vale-of-tears-walking, misery-inducing, beyond-desperate step of creating a LinkedIn account.

Nothing yet. Okay then.

In the meantime to keep myself from playing video games or binge-watching Breaking Bad and Orphan Black, I’m writing too many things at once. Here’s a list, using super-secret codenames and/or working titles because I am very, very terrible at titles and they are pretty much the last thing I commit to in my writing process:

Wattle Creek Spook Hunters Club Season One is a weird little…um, septych [2] about high schoolers making a ghost hunting Youtube channel, except that it’s turned out a lot weirder than that initial idea. Thanks to my monthly face to face critiquing circle, this one now definitely has a plot. It’s now finished and has been sent off for submission.

Lost Dogs is a creepy horror story about a failed man losing his grip on the social ladder or possibly a redemptive tale about being hunted by a pack of murderous dogs. Probably both. It needs a heavy rewrite, again after the crit group pointed out a few logical flaws and the fact that the protagonist is relentlessly unlikeable. Oops.

Breakdown is about a young man about to strike out on his own and make a life for himself and making the fatal error of allowing his best friend to see him off. I’ve written about half of it and I’m still not sure if I should ditch the pent-up melodrama and rising malevolence in favour of making it more broadly comedic. I’m tending towards the latter, if only because I really don’t attempt humourous writing often enough and i do feel as though it’s something I ought to be better at.

Lighthouse is still in vague outline, but involves a lonely lighthouse keeper, a Government natural historian, ghost sailors and some unusual bones. This one came together in an unusual way, in that I used a writing prompt app on my phone (Story Dice) to generate some images, and then riffed on it until I had the skeleton (ahem) of a story. I’m excited to see whether so artificial a generative process will result in a decent yarn.

The Countess is also just an outline at the moment; a maybe-novella-length story inspired by a great photo of a stern-looking woman in thick Edwardian (I guess) clothing with a falcon on her wrist. Sadly I no longer have the photo – one of my CSFG colleagues brought it along for a talk on using Pinterest for arranging photo references – but the story has moved away from its point of inspiration anyway. It began with a lofty premise about obligation, revenge and abusive exploitation of family but it will likely descend into adventurous escapades, romantic hijinks and possible a touch of political satire if it fits. Oh and there’s a really old, very nasty wizard in it.

Colony Ship (which isn’t even its real working title, but I’m keeping this one to myself for the moment) is a three-book possibly-YA science fiction series about the citizens of a generation ship (a large colony ship that will take hundreds of years and multiple generations to reach its destination) who crash on an uncharted world and need to overcome strict social conditioning to survive. (It’s more action-oriented than that makes it sound). I’ve outlined the first novel (though there’s more work to do there) and will continue to enhance and hone the outline until I either have nothing else on my plate or I decide I’ve had enough of short stories for the time being. My goal with that one is to write the first draft as quickly as possible, which means that I’ll need to have it pretty well worked out before I start.

 

So apart from all that, I’m working my way slowly through a manuscript of Doctor Clam’s (nearly there), continue to work towards my goal of completing at least ten short stories in 2014 [3] and at some point I need to come back and re-outline Miss Coles’ Arrangements and have another go at that. (Two unsatisfactory drafts down, X to go). I would also like to sell some stories and see my name on a printed page somewhere, but eh, that’s something I don;t have any real control over (other than submitting often, which I do).

You? What have you got going on?

 

[1] You may be utterly stunned to learn that I am not leadership material. I do, however, rank off the charts on the “Trusted Right-hand Man” axis.

[2] Is that the word for a single piece made of seven separate parts? No? Well it was either that or make a D&D joke about the Rod of Seven Parts, and frankly I couldn’t see how to keep that one G-rated.

[3] The finished count so far is two, with another two in first draft. I have a secondary goal from now on of writing pieces that are shorter than 6000 words, unless they are designed from the outset as novellas or novellettes.

July 3, 2014

Periodic reminder that I yet live

I should be writing. This is my free time and I should be using it productively, because otherwise I won’t feel productive. Because all I managed to get to today was a job interview, a business lunch, a school presentation by six year old kids on ecological conservation, a stack of tax forms, a month’s worth of tax reconciliations and two loads of washing.

I don’t know if I’m doing this “time away from the workforce” thing right.

Speaking of which, a status update if anyone wants it – I’ve started properly looking for work now. Nothing so far. But quite a few more employment consultants (aka job pimps) now know my name. They all seem nice.

Anyway, I also managed to sock away twenty minutes to scrawl some notes for a short story which I’ll probably start writing in a few minutes, not that I’m warming up to the task. (Thanks for hanging around while I worked through this nonsense).

Here’s some things going on around the interwebs, just so you don’t feel like you’ve completely wasted your time by clicking on a link:

Apex Magazine has a poem by Rose Lemberg that sat just right with me. I don’t know much about poetry but…

Tansy Rayner Roberts is doing a science fictionalised retelling of The Three Musketeers (in Space!)  and it is fabulous. I am currently foreswearing all forms of crowd funding during my hopefully-temporary period of careerlessness, but Musketeer Space is on my to-patronise list when I feel free to spend money again. I heartily recommend this project to everyone – it’s just plain fun, and Tansy’s take on the Dumas classic doesn’t suffer from gratuitous padding in the way that the original paid-by-the-installment serial might have occasionally fallen prey to.

Another podcast that has assumed the loftiest status in my playlist, namely “play it the second it downloads” is the terrific Rachel and Miles Xplain the Xmen. It’s exactly what it sounds like – two highly engaging and cheerfully sarcastic X-fans attempt to clarify nearly fifty years of ridiculously convoluted X-men comics history in small, digestible chunks. All the temporary deaths. All the retroactive continuity. All the fashions (oh, the fashions). All the inexplicable love for Scott Summers and highly explicable love for Katherine Pryde. My favourite bit is their opening schtick where they briefly summarise some character’s ludicrous history, honing in with surgical precision on the exact moment the character jumps the shark 🙂  If you have any love for the X-Men, but like me and probably everyone else you’ve ever met would not have the slightest idea where to begin to understand their freakishly complex back story – or if you just like listening to people enthusing about something they love while still finding positive ways to engage with its most stupid and problematic elements – then I really can’t push you any more forcefully towards this show. But if you need encouragement, they recently interviewed one of my personal comics gods, Greg Rucka, about his current series about the young version of Cyclops having space adventures with his absentee father Corsair, who is an intergalactic pirate. COMICS ARE SO GOOD YOU GUYS!

And just while I’m on the subject of podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale just broadcast its two-part second anniversary story (a recording of a live show with a small army of guests stars, so slightly off-format from the usual). It’s really good, is all I wanted to say. I still love it to bits. I don’t really drink liquor, but if anyone wants to get me one of these “If You See Something, Say Nothing and Drink to Forget” hip flasks, know that I will love it and you unconditionally. (Don’t though – shipping is probably a killer).

And now I think I’ll go to bed, because my to-be-read pile is teetering on the brink of instability, and that’s before I even think about the fifty-odd unread titles on my kindle.

Next time, I promise to write something that’s actually about something.

 

June 11, 2014

Rejection is progress.

Filed under: wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:25 pm

The reality of having to search for a job is starting to sink in, although thankfully not for the usual reasons of starvation and incipient eviction. (Don’t worry, we’re fine on that score).

The slow grind of hunting, writing cover letters, wrestling with sometimes not all that well-designed web forms, finding artistic ways to address selection criteria to disguise the fact you’re using the same example three different ways – and waiting for the flood of impersonal rejections to come flowing back to you. Canberra’s apparently in a hiring slump – go figure – so my expectations are wound down so hard I’m apt to break a spring.

My writing career’s following a similar trajectory, at least at the moment. Today one of my stories was rejected, which is not at all unusual and in the normal course of events would not have been a big deal. It just happened to be a case where I had a lot of faith that that story in particular would hit its mark. Not this time though. I have not received any feedback yet (though I expect I will – the anthology editors have been really positive and encouraging throughout the submission period) so I don’t know whether it was close or whether I was way off base. In a practical sense it doesn’t matter, though I’ll be curious whether the editors perceived flaws that I might have overlooked.

I responded to the disappointment in the only sensible way I can think of, which was to send it straight back out to another market. So it didn’t win its dream home? Tough. There’s probably a home for it somewhere (and if not, I’ll post here for Marco to read – eventually.

Back on the employment thread, I’ve already been rejected for a couple of jobs that would have fit in ideally with my current plans. Assuming that the apprenticeship thing is not viable (as it appears at the moment, though I haven’t given up by any means) then I want to get just enough part-time work to pay the bills while I write and build up my editing skills.

Since today’s fiction rejection demonstrates (to nobody’s surprise) that it’s not quite time to give up having a day job – even if I did give up one specific day job – the next best thing is to keep to the plan and play the long game of plugging away. Short stories, long stories, that novel series I’m still building up a piece at a time. Keeping at it, day after day (or more accurately, night after night) until I have enough pieces in play that something finally clicks into place.

Same with the job applications. Keep sending them out, keep watching them come back either on fire or snuffed out, until eventually one doesn’t.

There’s something about all this that smells suspiciously like it might build character. I hate it when that happens.

 

Oh, but in case it sounds like a had a complete bummer of a day with no redeeming features whatsoever? I went and saw X-Men: Days of Future Past as well. It was terrific, even if they nerfed Kitty Pryde’s role from the original story. Still worth it.

May 10, 2014

Tick tick tick

I know this blog looks neglected lately, but that’s just not the case. Why, I delete several hundred spam messages practically every day. (Seriously, what is up with that? Somebody out there in Russian or Lithuania is under the very mistaken impression that I can help them shift metric shitloads of what I presume are knockoffs of brand-name sunglasses, handbags and antidepressants. Boy, have they ever come to the wrong place).

Jobstuff

As I continue to cruise gently towards  graceful exit from the APS, with the first intention to make a complete career change, weird doors have begun to open. On Thursday I went to my first job interview in years (or decades, if you make the reasonable assertion that within-public-service promotion interviews are a different beast). Since it was a job I had absolutely no knowledge of thirty hours earlier, in a field in which I have plenty of experience but almost no emotional investment, for a government department that I have never considered working for, it was a pretty cushy interview.

I think I crushed it – whether I get the job will probably depend more on whether they have money than whether they have interest in my services (although there would be more hoops to jump through to actually land the position). Not feeling that anything important is at stake is a great help in calming interview nerves, that’s for sure. If nothing else, that interview has given me a bit of confidence that I should not feel intimidated by the next one. And the fact that the opportunity emerged unbidden from the ether has given me at least a little confidence that I needn’t be discouraged by early failures, because something will probably come up.

Writingstuff

I’m still ignoring the novel in favour of getting a few short stories under my belt. I finished a strange, literally-episodic little piece about high school ghost hunters last week, and this week I am drafting a story that has been percolating for about three years. I’ve rededicated myself to the idea that a writing streak keeps me at my most productive, that is, making sure that I achieve a minimum word count absolutely every day. The actual minimum I’ve set myself is 400 words, which is usually in the vicinity of an hour’s work and normally not difficult to achieve. Most sessions I crank out a little more than that, and so far on the current streak of 14 days (not counting today) I’m averaging a shade under 700 words. I’m pretty happy with that.

The other thing that I am trying now is writing from outlines. Instead of using a dot-point “this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then explosions, then The End” methods, I am trying a method that I got from listening to the guys at the Self-Publishing Podcast. They call it writing story beats, which involves (at least as I’ve interpreted it) writing the story out in a shorthand summary fashion, noting the plot and setting elements and describing the characters’ emotional arcs, scene by scene. Outlining, in other words, but by telling myself the story rather than trying to develop an architectural design.

The main advantage of this approach is that it helps (far more than a sterile dot-point plan) to identify where the slack or boring bits of the story might be. It makes fixing those much easier than doing a structural edit after the fact – 100 words of outline is a lot easier to fix than two chapters of misconceived fiction. And because it’s a relatively easy commitment to write two or three pages of outline, I don’t feel any anxiety about ideas that aren’t working yet. I can just put them on hold and turn my attention to something else, tinkering with the outline when I get a new idea or figure out a fix to a problem.

So far it’s working. Whenever I sit down for a writing session I can glance at the story beats and know exactly what I have to write. That helps me to cut through my usual procrastination rituals and get straight to writing. Writing the story beats out beforehand satisfies my inclination as a pantser/discovery writer, by letting me explore the idea and tell the story without committing to five or ten or ninety thousand words first. At the same time, a loosely sketched-out outline with which I have told the story to myself leaves plenty of room for discovering the tone and the characters and the smaller nuances of the piece. It seems to hit the right balance for me.

It’s a method I aim to experiment with more. I have a rough idea for a three-novel science fiction adventure that I plan to develop using story beats. Unless I have another idea that jumps the queue in the meantime, I’ll probably make that the next project in the pipeline, starting with developing the characters and figuring out the story beats, and then (if and when I have the energy) seeing how long it takes to turn that into an actual story.

…probably a long time though.

April 27, 2014

The sea beneath my feet and an open horizon

Filed under: workin for the man — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:56 pm

The news I’ve been waiting for has arrived. My career as a public servant officially has an end date, which I believe to be the 26th of May. (I want to say I’m certain about the timing, but the redundancy letter was ambiguously worded, to say the least.)

As the formal interpretation about how public servants are required to conduct themselves in online spaces has changed of late, tightening the degree to which one might express criticism or a contrary position to that of the government of the day, I will for the moment confine myself to the observation that I am looking forward to seeking new opportunities.

In a broader sense, I am relieved and terrified. The work I have been doing has not quite reached an all-time low in terms of job satisfaction, but it’s been headed in that direction. So I’m glad that the end is in sight. I will be walking away with a sense of accomplishment, albeit perhaps an uneven one. What I won’t have are regrets for unmet achievements. I never had serious intentions to pursue my career any further than I already have. Frankly I’ve been treading water since before the kids were born – not coasting, but also not feeling any motivation to exceed expectations either.

If I’m honest, I’m just taking up space that someone hungrier and more energetic could be making much better use of. Or they would be, if my position were not being permanently dissolved. Good luck to my theoretical-if-not-actual successor, whoever they may turn out to be. They’ll need it.

In the meantime, I have a Plan A, which involves a radical and possibly quite risky change of career doing something for which I have no formal qualifications and unknown but quite likely poor prospects. If it works out I will be broke, working long, tiring hours and am likely to be exposed to near-lethal doses of talkback radio. On the other hand I will also not be writing reports and policies that nobody will ever read or act upon, so there’s that.

I also have a Plan B, which is a bit on the underdeveloped side and may involve getting certified to pour cappuccinos or asking which pump the customer filled up at.

At least I can hold out for the possibility that whatever comes next will be something that does not bore me absolutely rigid from one end of the day to the other. Right?

 

February 24, 2014

In-betweening

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:22 pm

I’ve been a little quiet lately because things have changed at work. Instead of my previous employment as full-time layabout with literally no responsibilities, I have moved to a new office and team and have started what is effectively a new job (though with nominally the same old tasks). It would be fair to say that the adjustment process is ongoing, not least because I am still waiting on financial advice as to whether I can afford to quit and do something else with my life. I am anxious for a change and ready to move on, but at the same time I’m conscious that if I can’t make the numbers work, I need to stay where I am. The Canberra job market is becoming actively hostile to the archetype of “the Commonwealth public servant found excess to requirements”.

We just bought a new-to-us car: a 2009 Nissan Maxima. Ordinarily that might be a cause for celebration but in this case the imminent self-destruction of our old car forced our hand at a moment when we could have done without a big expense. Which is, I know, the story of everyone’s life. Still, it would be easier to make big, important life decisions without being feeling like our finances are holding a gun to our heads. Well, never mind, moving on.

I’m on the final stretch of my revision of the Sawl novel. I’ve given myself until the end of the month to get to The End, though in practise I might also give myself until the end of the weekend as well. At that point it still own’t be done, nor even close to it. I have structural problems all over the place (too many exposition scenes, too much slow introspection, not enough setup for action scenes, too much information withheld until the last third of the book, and at least one major character who dies in entirely the wrong place in the narrative, to name most of the big issues). Once I’m finished the draft I will put it away again for a month or so, to work on a couple of short stories and to flesh out an outline for the next longer project. then – I promise myself – it’ll be back to Nyssa and Rachel for a manuscript cleanup, for however long *that* takes.

I won’t say this book is taking forever but I will say that I look forward to refining my process.

February 6, 2014

Update: The Barossa, Shakespeare and writing

It’s another day at work with nothing to do while my job and I continue to be ground to a fine powder by the Machinery of Government arrangements. I’ve stood in front of glaciers that get along at a quicker clip than these bloody processes. So apologies to any Australian taxpayers out there, but this one’s on your dollar.

Fiona and I spend the Invasion Day long weekend in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, touring about the vineyards and generally ignoring the rest of the world unless it pertained to a small selection of sporting events. As a side note, the Tour Down Under is quite the popular topic in South Australia around this time of the year. Luckily we arrived the day after the race had moved on from the Barossa itself.

The Barossa, it turns out, wasn’t particulary our favourite wine district to visit – that was probably the Margaret River in Western australia, although bits of New Zealand and Tasmania give it a run for its money. In fairness to the Barossa though, we were visiting just after one heatwave and just before another one, in the middle of one of the hottest summers anyone there can remember. So it was looking a bit dry and sorry for itself – excluding all the rich, well-watered grape vines, of course.

It did turn out, no surpise, that the Barossa is a good place to pick up some quality plonk though. Shiraz is the local speciality, with rieslings popular in the nearby Eden Valley. All very good, but we also picked up some excellent roses and…why am I even telling you this? If you come over to my place we can drink some. Otherwise I don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe what we drank, and if you wanted to read about wine you’d go and get James Halliday’s latest, probably.

(Actually if you do want to read about wine I can recommend The Wine Wankers blog, which is not at all up itself and has meta-tags like “humorous wine images” and “horse piss”)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing The Essential Theatre Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Seppeltsfield Winery. It’s a very entertaining interpretation of one of the more fun Shakespeare plays, especially over a few glasses of red. They’re touring about the country (to vineyards, chiefly) for the next few months – check the itinerary and if you happen to be in their vicinity I can highly recommend it. Their Puck alone is worth the price of admission (as should always be the case with Midsummer…). Oh, if you’re in the Canberra region they will be at Flint in the Vines at Shaw Estate this coming weekend (Saturday 8 February) – you probably just about have time to get tickets!

On the writing front, I am closing in on my target of completing my novel manuscript by the end of February as planned. My writing streak of 400+ words is at 35 unbroken days now, and I’m averaging about 520 words a day. When I’m done, I am going to have to return to the drawing board again and review the structure of the novel – the start is too slow, the plot spends a lot of time up some blind alleys and too much of the action is delayed until late in the book. But the meat is there, so all I need to do is trim fat and rearrange some of the bones. Whether that results in fatal trauma to the story remains to be seen.

Yesterday I slapped another couple of scenes onto the short story I’m working on, which means that I think it’s done. I’ll put it away and work on something else for a week or so, then dig it out and see whether it still flows as it’s meant to. If I’m happy then, off it goes for submission somewhere.

In the meantime I’m working on a short story for this excellent little project – Unfettered by Tiny Owl Workshop – which will be an anthology of short stories inspired by a collection of beautiful, quirky illustrations by Terry Whidborne. Some lovely stuff there, and I am trying to work up a concept for each illustration before I decide which one I’ll write (I may write more than one).

And last of all, I’ve received notice that my first short story (or rather, the first one I ever submitted for publication anywhere, which spent some 14 months looking for a publisher) will be going to contract in the next week or so. So I might actually be able to use this blog to Announce a Thing! Not yet, but soon, maybe!

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