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

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 ūüôā¬† 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.

 

November 7, 2013

TMoRP Day 14 – Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Podcast

Yesterday’s entry got really long and rambly. Sorry. This will be shorter.

Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff (KaRTaS) is a weekly podcast by tabletop game design luminaries Kenneth Hite and Robin D Laws. Each show is divided into four segments of roughly 15 minutes, with a general remit of discussing¬†tabletop roleplaying games –¬†designing, running or playing them. In practise, the subjects expand in every direction – they discuss real-world geopolitical events like Syria, Libya and¬†the NSA spying scandal, political issues like the internal wrangling of the Republican Party and¬†the lunatic escapades of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, more bizarre ideas from the realms of conspiracy theories,¬†odd¬†subcultures and the occult, and numerous topics from across the whole stretch of human history. All these are at least nominally grist for the mill of the gaming table and/or fiction, with the presenters mining their subjects for inspiration, using them as launching points for campaigns and stories. You get the idea.

The hosts are funny, erudite and endlessly curious. Even if you don’t have a particular interest in gaming or writing fiction, the sheer scope of their subjects is reason enough to tune in to the show. In one section they might be talking about water rights in the Middle East, and in the next they will cover little-known figures from the lunatic occult fringe of the Nazi Party (apparently there were elements of pre-war Germany that were too crazy even for the Third Reich, the revelations of which are somewhat eye-opening). I don’t recall an episode where I didn’t learn something about which I had previously never heard.

Ken and Robin are charming, amusing hosts who present their material like a cheerful discussion over a tasty cheese platter and a couple of good bottles of red wine. Their conversational style, their easy wit and the sheer breadth of their knowledge (or at least the quality of their research) makes for fun listening, very worthy of an hour out of your week. There’s no particular continuity (other than their occasionally revisiting an earlier subject of discussion) so you can easily start with the latest episode and see what you think. Give it a listen.

November 5, 2013

TMoRP Day 12 – The short stories of March

None of the stories I read in March seem to have made a lasting impression on me. Still, looking over my list I see that there are quite a few that struck me as high quality yarns without being life-changing events, so I hereby dedicate this TMoRP entry to a handful of stories I thought were well worth a read.

The reliable Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine website gave us the extravagantly-entitled “The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Her Field-General, and Their Wounds” by Seth Dickinson. It’s a tense, uncomfortable story about the final test of loyalty of a bureaucrat who led and betrayed a rebel uprising against an oppressive Throne. The titular character’s battle-inflicted left-side brain damage has left her oblivious to the right side of her world, an injury she employs to great effect to ignore the inconvenient parts of her difficult situation. Re-reading it this morning has bumped it up in my estimation. It’s a fine examination of¬†the two sides of leadership¬†qualities – strength and moral character versus selfishness and cruelty – and the necessity for both.

In March I read the previous CSfG anthology, Winds of Change, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald and available now in ebook format (sorry – as a new CSfG council member, I feel a small obligation to plug the wares). I consumed the anthology across the month, and while it’s a strong collection in general, I recommend it for a few stories in particular: ‘Wraiths’,¬†by¬†Jason Nahrung, set in a spirit-blighted post-apocalyptic Australia; ‘The Tether of Time’, Leife Shallcross’ mythic variant of the Flying Dutchman legend; and the late James Goodrum’s haunted-child story ‘By Watcher’s Pool’. Those are just the ones that stood out in my mind, though – WoC, like Next, is a fat volume that represents an excellent cross-section of Australia’s speculative fiction scene.

Finally I have to give a shout-out to Lisa Hannett’s ‘Sweet Subtleties’, which is probably the only piece of confectionery-based erotic speculative fiction you are ever likely to encounter. It’s beautiful,¬†grotesque, absurd¬†and difficult to describe in terms of plot: Una is a sentient or possibly haunted sculpture crafted by the confectioner Javier over and over again, for the amusement and consumption of decadent and sometimes depraced clients. It’s one of those stories that is not outright horror, but still finds several different ways to be upsetting, but fascinating and memorable with it. I listened to a reading by Kate Baker on the Clarkesworld Podcast, but it’s also there to read on the website.

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).

October 18, 2013

TMoRP Day 2 – Short story challenge

Filed under: the month of relentless positivity — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 10:54 pm

Of the goals I set for myself at the start of the year, the only one that I’m comfortably ahead on is reading short stories. At the end of 2012, Alan Baxter wrote on his blog about reading more widely in the short story form. The target he set was to read at least one short story a day in 2013. I figured that I could have a stab at the same accomplishment. Like Alan, I guessed that I would fall short of the mark, that life would get in the way or that I would lose interest in tracking stats all year.

What I forgot is Kickstarter. Specifically, what I forgot is my complete lack of impulse control when it comes to people calling for backers for short story anthologies. Shame prevents me from checking, but my Kindle probably has at least two dozen short story collections and themed anthologies in electronic format, most of which are Kickstarter rewards. A few others have come to me via Humble Bundle deals, I have a couple of e-magazine subscriptions and some preferred websites, and a few other books have been discounted at Amazon just when I happened to be browsing Twitter and saw a link.

(Okay, I have a serious problem with buying more reading material than I need. Let’s move right along past that not-at-any-time-in-my-entire-life-has-that-been news. We’re being positive here.)

On top of that, there are any number of great podcasts featuring live reads of short fiction. The one I mainly follow is the Clarkesworld Podcast. I just don’t have enough listening time to follow too many more than that. There are plenty of others, though, and at some point in the future I plan to study the field in a little more depth.

For right now though, the point is that I have access to a metric crapton of short stories. The vast majority are fantasy, science fiction or mystery/crime (in that order) though I have a few other odds and ends waiting for some eyeball time.

And oh, how I’ve read them. In quantities far more vast that I would have expected when I started. As of yesterday, my spreadsheet has recorded the titles, authors and sources of the 598 pieces of short fiction I’ve read since the first of January. After I finish this I’ll go to bed and read at least a few more, taking the number comfortably past 600 stories.

So: apparently I like reading short stories. Now, to be sure, there are plenty of stories in the list which are super-short – say, under 2000 words in length, most of which probably took no more than four or five minutes to read (at most). I know for a fact that I’ve counted several pieces of flash fiction (i.e. 1000 words or less) but I know I’ve read many more that I didn’t record. I only bothered with the short-short pieces I thought were reasonably memorable, something that i find is rarely accomplished in flash-length pieces.

Much of what I’ve read has been middling at best, which gives me great hope that there are plenty of markets out there for not-terrible-but-not-great writing (ahem). However, this is The Month of Relentless Positivity, and we are only talking about the things that make us gleeful. So consider today’s entry to be a generalised “Woo! Short stories! Aren’t they terrific?”

But take it also as the launchpad for a number of sequel posts on a similar subject. I’ve gone to all the trouble to keep this now-oversized spreadsheet, and further to mark all the stories I thought were pretty noteworthy, if not outright great. So now I’m going to do a series of posts (not necessarily in straight succession as that might be a little tedious) in which I gush about the best stories I read month by month, talking about what I loved about it, where I first came across the story and whatever else it might have meant to me. If there’s a copy of it available online somewhere (legitimately that is) I’ll link to it.

Note that this won’t be a best-of-2013 list, because I expect that the majority of stories are older than that. While there are a lot that were 2013 publications, most are probably from the last decade rather than the last 12 months, and some a quite a bit older again.

But yeah, short stories: they rock. Starting tomorrow, I’ll talk about the ones which rocked me.

The Month of Relentless Positivity – Day 2 Progress Report . I’m already almost behind schedule. Well, no surprises there, but I think I’ll try to get a few extra entries lined up so that days like today, which featured no spare minutes before 10 pm, don’t kill¬† the project. Luckily, I came up with this content-generation concept that will be good for at least 10 entries, so I should have enough to be getting on with.

March 6, 2013

Podcasts

In the absence of particularly positive or useful things to say about my writing month (hoo boy), I’m going to do some quick shout-outs to the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve already spoken of my abiding love for the world’s most dangerous comics and pop culture podcast, War Rocket Ajax, the amiable rambling of the Coode Street podcast that range far and wide over the speculative scene and the sublimely delightful feminist Aussie spec-fic chat show, Galactic Suburbia. Those are all still regular, much-anticipated¬†items in my podfeed. Here are some of the other things keeping me sane while I clean up the front yard with a mattock, a shovel and a desperate awareness of my own physical limits…

Doctor Who: As all persons of wit and discernment are aware, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the greatest television program ever devised. No, not bloody Landline, I mean Doctor Who. I’m managing to indulge in a reasonable amount of Who fandom at the moment without actually watching any episodes. For one, I’ve just ravenously devoured the first two volumes -covering the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras –¬†of Philip Sandifer’s collected essays on the program, compiled from his epic¬†blog TARDIS Eruditorum. They’re great, offering in particular an insightful perspective on rewatching the program with modern sensibilities. I’ll probably do a proper review at some point, but hey, I recommend them if you’re interested in what was happening when the show started out.

Meanwhile, the Splendid Chaps podcast is celebrating the anniversary year by producing a monthly podcast, starting in January, which covers each of the eleven Doctors and will culminate in a final episode to be broadcast on 23 November. This is a really fun show, not least because the presenters, John Richards and Ben McKenzie, are the creator of Outland and a successful stage comedian respectively¬†as well as being dedicated Who nerds. Episodes are recorded in front of an audience, the guests are smart, thoughtful and funny, there’s a chirpy and witty MC voiceover from Melbourne singer/actress Petra Elliott, and there’s (so far) a ribald fan song at the end of the episode [1]. Splendid Chaps is great fun. Oh, and they assign homework, recommending episodes to watch in preparation for the next themed episode.

Verity! is another Doctor Who podcast, with an all-woman panel. Six of them, in fact – including Galactic Suburbia’s own Tansy Rayner Roberts – though generally only four or so will feature on any given episode. It’s a round-table format, as you would expect, full of gleeful squeeing and thoughtful chat about all things Doctorish. What’s most entertaining and distinctive about Verity is the range of fan experiences and views represented (Old series! New series! Shipping! No snogging in the TARDIS! Trad vs Rad! Frocks vs Guns!) and the fact that in every discussion there’s at least one dissenting voice who completely disagrees with everyone else. Not only does it avoid becoming a pontificating echo chamber but it also makes for an excellent representation¬†of Who fandom in general. And I do love my Who fandom when it takes a fierce delight in the show.

Writing: Another fat chunk of my listening time, goes to following podcasts featuring writers talking about writing. Shut up, that’s often much more interesting than it sounds!

ThrillerCast is a show ostensibly about thriller and genre fiction that in practise often goes off on interesting and¬†sometimes¬†gossipy¬†tangents about writing and topics affecting writers and readers in general – which publisher is going under this week or Amazon’s latest atrocities or some author’s foot-in-mouth/social media-fail moment. Neither presenter – American David Wood and Australian Alax Baxter (who is local to this area and is a member of the CSfG, not to mention a lovely bloke) – is a worldwide international phenomenon, but they are both working writers with solid followings and a heavy investment in knowing which way the winds are blowing in the publishing world. They know their stuff, in other words, and if the business of writing is of any of interest to you – even if the presenters’ particular fields are not to your tastes – then I recommend ThrillerCast.

Nerdist Writers Panel. This is a fantastic panel show hosted by Ben “I’ve written for the series Supernatural and Supah Ninjas” Blacker. Every week, he assembles a power lineup of LA script writers (typically ones working in television, but it varies) and grills them about the business, their influences, their daily writing routines and their careers. Once in a while he breaks up the formula and speaks to comic writers as well (Ed Brubaker, Len Wein, Erik Larsen and Robert Kirkman have all been on in the past few months). Blacker is a great interviewer whose easy rapport with his guests overcomes any introvert tendencies they may have (as a few do, but fewer than you’d probably expect). No doubt it helps if you have at least a passing interest in the conventions and production of US television (or films, or comics, or off-Broadway plays sometimes) but the broad discussions are fascinating and, for me as a writer, very useful.

[1] I didn’t care for the song at the end of the first episode, but the one for the Troughton episode more than made up for it.

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