Something of interest

An adult man reads a Malory Towers book for the very first time.  Starting with the final one, no less!

I like his verdict — after commenting on the, uh, questionable treatment of Mamzelle Dupont and the sad lack of Darrell’s notorious temper in this book, he concludes:  I think it does no harm to sample a setting where there are a variety of female role models to choose from.

I also like the commenter who notes that Claudine at St Clare’s is a novel about mothers and daughters.  (And not just because her favourite Malory Towers novel is the same as mine!)

That made me think of an earlier idea of mine, to do a chapter-by-chapter reading of the Malory Towers and St Clare books, and possibly also the Naughtiest Girls. I read the first two series just a few months ago, and had a lot of thoughts about the treatment of class (obvious) and fatness (less so), and also the characters in general.  Maaaaaaaaaybe as a once-a-week thing?  Or, possibly, twice a week, given that I have Wednesdays off.  I’ll give it some thought while I do my groceries, and may start later this afternoon. 

Sometimes you need a writing bully

This week, despite being exhausted and cranky and strongly inclined to keep playing Portal 2, I wrote 2800 words.  This is entirely thanks to Amie Kaufman, who BULLIED me into WRITING instead of PLAYING by, um, using words on Twitter.  BUT THEY WERE GOOD WORDS!  Unlike the 2800 words I wrote, which could do with some fine-turning.

Also achieved this week:

  • Flush with the success of having finished chapter 4, I hit Scrivener’s compile button and sent the draft to two friends who were keen to see what I was writing, and who I trusted to be kind to its basic first drafty-ness.
  • Then I realised all the things that were wrong with those four chapters, including some essential background facts which are obvious to me, but which I somehow forgot to explain to the reader.  The plan for this weekend is to go back and sort that out, along with adding an important supporting character who really should be introduced early on, and generally fine-tuning.
  • I did some research on agents who represent YA and MG fiction in Australia.  Which is totally premature and self-indulgent, except that I’ve noticed that a lot of local authors are represented by overseas agents, which led me to suspect (correctly, I think) that it’s a very small field in Australia.  And if I’m going to be trying to sell this to an international agent, I’d like to know sooner rather than later so I don’t run mad with unexplained Australianisms.
  • (I threw in gratuitous Colin Thiele and Ruth Park references anyway, because I had a scene that required the protagonist, Olivia, to seek out books from her childhood, books that were already old when she discovered them.  And The Sun on the Stubble and Playing Beatie Bow are Australian YA classics that pre-date my birth, but were hugely popular with the readers in the class when I was about ten.)
  • I finished chapter 5!  It’s running a little short, but I can’t see a way to make it longer without adding a lot of unnecessary waffle.  But, looking out my rough outline, that means I’ve written a third of a book!

My goal for the next week is to come up with an outline for the next third of the book.  In my fifteen years of writing fan fiction, a constant problem I’ve had is that I’m not great at pacing.  Set up?  Easy!  Endings?  Writing them is like pulling teeth, but I know how they should go.  All the bits in the middle?  Um…

So I need to do some work on the events that will take Olivia from where she is now to where I need her to be in five chapters’ time, while also keeping track of day to day school life (NAPLAN testing!) and the Inevitable Sports-Related Sub-plot.

(I had intended to thumb my nose at Enid Blyton by giving Olivia my own hatred of sports.  But to my surprise, she turned out to be a runner and a swimmer, although for reasons to do with her recent history she’s out of practice and slightly ambivalent.  So there you have it.  On the other hand, dorm-mate Alice did pick up my feelings about sports — and then some — and all without warning in the middle of a chapter, so there’s some editing to come.  And in an ideal world, where I write a whole book, the second will be about Alice.  And not sports.)

My other goal for next week is to keep reading.  I’ve been inundated with books this week — first I went to the library, “just to return some things”, and naturally walked out with four books.  And then the parcels started coming.  Apparently I spent quite a lot of money at Book Depository and Amazon a couple of weeks ago, and now my bookshelves are groaning.  Which is wonderful!  But also a bit intimidating.  And that’s without my discovery that the Naughtiest Girl books are available on Kindle now, and those were the very first boarding school novels I ever read!

Needed: Time Turner.

These points of data make a beautiful line

FACT: upon making a shiny new grown-up real-name professional-type blog, the blogger will immediately get sucked into a time-consuming obsession that is much more important than keeping said blog updated.

Portal, man!  I’m not a gamer, but the first Portal was free in Steam’s summer sale last year, and lots of my friends recommended it, so I downloaded it.

Then it took me a full year to complete, because I’m not very good at puzzles, and my laptop didn’t have the RAM it needed, and then I got stuck in testing chamber 15 for months.  By which I mean, “I’d play for half an hour, get nowhere, then close the game and do something else for a few weeks before eventually trying again.”

Finally, I upgraded my RAM — all by myself, LIKE A RAM-UPGRADING CHAMPION! — and, inspired by  L M Myles’ enthusiasm, had a go at finishing the game.  This was clearly the right thing to do, because just as I arrived at the very final challenge, Portal 2 was reduced to US$4.99 in this year’s Steam summer sale.

Chell: pretty much my hero(ine).

Some justifications for abandoning blogging (and writing, reading, housework and human contact) in favour of the Portalverse:

– Puzzles!  Which I’m not very good at, but that just sweetens the sense of victory when I solve them.  Even if I need a walkthrough.  Which is often.

– The setting!  I really like stories that are set in a wider universe, and Portal, being a spin-off of Half-Life, has that.  Even though it takes place entirely within the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre, there are hints of the wider universe, a sense that other things are happening.  It doesn’t even matter that I’ve never played Half-Life and probably never will, and that my entire understanding of said wider universe comes from Wikipedia.

– The characters.  Portal features Chell (young human female, possibly of Asian descent, stubborn and mute and very clever — well, she’s meant to be very clever, and I often felt like I should apologise to her for being so rubbish, but anyway) and GLaDOS (a passive-aggressive, murderous AI who has all the best lines).  Portal 2 adds in Wheatley, who is basically the Doctor in AI form, what with having an English accent and telling Chell to run a lot, but he’s also not very bright.  So not much at all like the Doctor, then.  Anyway, I find myself fascinated by Chell.  Her background is murky — GLaDOS claims she was abandoned by her parents and adopted, not that GLaDOS is a reliable source — and she never speaks, but she’s desperately tenacious and brave.  I’d read a whole novel about Chell, though for some reason most Portal fanfic tends to erase her muteness, which makes her a bit generic.

– The script.  Portal is massively quotable!  It’s the source of the whole “the cake is a lie” meme.  “Remember, the Aperture Science Bring Your Daughter To Work Day is the perfect time to have her tested” is a line that stuck in my head for ages, because it’s both absurd and terrifying, and hints a little at Chell’s background and just why it is that a young woman would be in this vast, deserted facility.

–  The music.  At the end of the first game there’s a brilliant encapsulation of GLaDOS’ personality in song, which has gone from nowhere to a high position in my iPod’s top 25 most played list.  And the instrumental track “4000 Degrees Kelvin” is my new “I’M RUNNING FOR THE TRAIN AND HOW IS IT THAT I’M IN A RUSH LIKE THIS EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING?” tune.  Portal 2 has “Cara Mio Addio“, also known as the Turret Opera.  I’m not even up to that part of the game yet, but I saw it suggested as walking-down-the-aisle music for the geeky bride and had to check it out.  Also for Portal 2, The National wrote a song which appears in one test chamber.  Then Valve held a competition for fans to make a video.  ALL THE MUSIC IS ALL FOR ME.

So, in conclusion, Portal is great.  In fact, because I’ve done something to my back which has left me lying in bed, high on Panadeine Forte, I’m going to go play now.

Do not put your trust in princes, nor in booksellers purchased by Amazon

I heard, via the blogosphere, that BookDepository will cease to sell ebooks on 30 June.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” said I, because the final books in Anne Digby’s Trebizon series are only available in ebook form, and the easiest place to buy them is BookDepository.

I have to admit that I’d become rather lax about reading the series, because you can only read so many boarding school novels in a row before you explode.  And, frankly, the longer the series goes on, the less I enjoy it.

The first book was literally inspirational.  I read it for the first time earlier this year, and promptly went looking for a contemporary Australian boarding school series.  And when it turned out that didn’t exist, I started writing it.  (Other people do that too, right?)

Somewhere around the fourth book, though, the Enid Blyton In The ’80s vibe started to take second place to a rather dull story about the main character’s tennis career, the supporting characters became broader, and the overall plots became less plausible.  So I took a break, and figured, well, obviously BookDepository really appreciates the AU$2.50 I was spending on these books, why would they ditch them?

Bah.  Now I shall have to find another dealer source.

ETA:  Panic averted!  The books are now available through the Kindle store.  Which is less ideal, because I already have half the series in ePub form, and the price has gone up to $3.99.  But I guess it’s better than a kick in the head.  Right?

My First Continuum (by Liz, aged 30)

Not only my first Continuum, but only my second fan-run convention!  (The first was Aussiecon 4 back in 2010, and I missed half of that because I had to go to my mother’s wedding.)

Needless to say, I was a tiny bit nervous, especially as my first continuum also involved my first, second and third panels, and while I knew a bunch of people on the committee, I knew they’d be busy, you know, running a convention and wouldn’t have much time for holding my hand while I went into social anxiety mode.

(I did spend a fair amount of time lurking around registration, being awkward.  Sorry/thank you for putting up with me.)

Lessons I learned:

1. Stay in the hotel.

Since I live in a nearby suburb and my tram home goes right past the venue, I didn’t see any need to stay in the hotel.

WRONG.

The problem with having rheumatoid arthritis is that I don’t have a great deal of physical stamina.  (I skipped last year’s Continuum because I knew I was on the edge of a bad flare-up and would need the long weekend for sleeping.)  I wound up going home early on Saturday afternoon, missing the Doctor Who and Game of Thrones panels AND the Maskobalo because I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.

(I should say that Emilly invited me to use her room for a nap, but I had a full face of make-up on and no way to remove it, or to replace it after my nap.  And so performative femininity claims another head!)

Lesson for the future: staying at the venue means not having to choose between panels and sleeping during the day.

2.  People come to panels and, like, ask questions and stuff!

My very first panel, with Emilly and Skud, was an introduction to fanvids.  We had a vid show, organised roughly by theme, and we had some brief introductory comments for each theme.

But then there were people in the audience!  And they asked questions and had comments and debated whether or not a vid fit the theme we suggested!  It was great!  But also scary!

So if you’re picturing your very first panel, and what you’re seeing is yourself and a select group of other people pouring wisdom into the minds of a silent and attentive audience — well, good luck with that.

3.  Book people are, like, really nice.

My first panel involved me and a bunch of friends talking about and showing fanworks, which is well within my comfort zone.

My second panel was called The End of the World is Just the Beginning, and dealt with dystopic futures in YA fiction.  And on this panel were two YA librarians (Emilly and Sue Ann Barber), the CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre (Kate Eltham, who is also a writer), and a YA novelist (Michael Pryor).

And, um, me.

Now, back in the good old days I worked at Borders Carlton (RIP), where I could generally be found lurking in the children and YA section.  Before that I worked for Angus & Robertson for a few years, and before that I was a library assistant.

(Back then there was this odd book kicking around the YA section.  It had quite an interesting cover, and a couple of the librarians swore it was amazing, so we always had it on face-out shelves.  But for some reason we couldn’t pay teen patrons to borrow it.  It was called Twilight, by an unknown first-time author named Stephenie Meyer, and it looked like this:

Now, I did not love Twilight when I finally read it, but I really like this cover.  Yes, it’s distorted and doesn’t really say much about the novel, but it depicts a female character WITH A FACE.  And I really, really hate faceless women on book covers.)

Anyway, I’ve digressed, but the point is, I was mostly there as a fan, and at first I was quite nervous that I’d be either dead weight or obnoxious.

Well, there was the lesson: book people are lovely, and the other panelists set me at my ease.  And what followed was a really interesting conversation about the difference between post-apocalyptic versus dystopic societies (is there a difference?  I say yes, but I’m a pedant), and the features that distinguish adult from YA dystopias (emphasis on character, I think we agreed, was a stronger feature in YA).

We also talked about the way dystopias reflect the society in which they were written — the nuclear holocausts of the ’50s and ’80s, the financial and economic collapses of the 21st century.  Why are dystopias currently so popular with teen readers?  I suggested that most teens these days are too young to have clear memories of the world before 9/11 and the War on Terror.  Michael talked about the British “cosy catastrophes” of John Wyndham and John Christopher, where the world has ended and the survivors are mostly middle class.  (This covers Terry Nation also, it occurs to me now.)

Someone in the audience asked if the 1930s — also a fairly grim time in modern history — spawned any dystopic fiction for teens — or, indeed, any kind of sci-fi aimed at a younger audience.  And no one could think of any!  Though pop culture was very different back then, and advertising gurus had yet to invent the teenager.  There’s Brave New World, of course, and Orwell, but are they aimed at young readers?

I think I was the one who pointed out that the “big” genres for young readers then were adventure stories and boarding school novels.  However, I was not the person who instantly suggested we need a panel for boarding school series.  I just endorsed it heartily.

And because there were two librarians on the panel, I walked out with a list of books to read:

  • The Crossing – Mandy Hager
  • Grimsdon – Deborah Abela
  • Nightpeople – Anthony Eaton
  • Ashes – Ilsa Bick
  • Across the Universe – Beth Reavis

4.  NAPS ARE PRETTY GREAT.

I slept for three hours on Saturday afternoon, okay?  Then I stayed home from the Maskobalo and watched Gosford Park with my BFFs instead.

5.  Award Ceremonies:  More Exciting Than You Thought!

For one thing, I won third prize in the Continuum short story competition for my story “Sketch the Sun”, and suddenly I was up on stage having to give a speech.  AWKS.

But it was a really enjoyable evening, with lots of people I’ve heard of but don’t know getting awards for things they’ve created.  That whole concept is a bit amazing to me, I’ve got to say.  Hosts Ian Mond and Kirstyn McDermott did a lovely job.

Also, it’s my new goal in life to win the Norma K Hemming award for “excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in science fiction”.  Not only because that would be a real honour, but because the trophy is glass engraved with a beautiful squid.  (Or is that just for 2012?  SAY IT’S NOT SO!)

6.  Talking About YA Is Still Great.

My third panel was called Beyond Paranormal Romance in YA Speculative Fiction, and this time I was the only non-author!  But fellow panelists Kelly Link, Michael Pryor (again) and Sue Bursztynski were all greatand the panel basically turned into “YA novels we think are pretty ace, regardless of genre”, which was fun.  (I had feared it would turn into some kind of “BUT WHAT WILL THE BOYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYS READ?!?” but that was neatly avoided.

Books I recommended, but then, I’ll recommend these any day:

  • Legend – Marie Lu (Amie Kaufman, in the audience, went and got my hopes up by telling me the sequel is already out, but she was unfortunately mistaken, and now I have to wait, like, SEVEN MONTHS!)
  • How We Fell – Megan Crewe
  • The Queen’s Thief series – Megan Whalen Turner
  • Feed – M T Anderson

And I’m sure there was much more, but suddenly there was the closing ceremony, and once again I had to speak in public, this time assisting to announce Continuum 9.  Which I’m already getting excited about, as I’m doing programming.  I’ve also decided to give myself the title of Official Tram Artist of Continuum 9, and you can see examples of my, hah, art at our Tumblr.

Blogging about writing is not writing

But it is a handy way to procrastinate when you’re having one of those terrible Everything I Write Is Awful And How Does Characterisation Even Work And I Have This Weird Feeling This Whole Scene Is Coming, Like, A Chapter Too Soon.

750 words have been added to The Draft.  I’m aiming for 1000 before I go to bed, or better yet, a speed of productivity that will see a chapter completed.

I’ve taken a break to blog because this is an achievement!  Not only have words been written, but they’ve come after I put in 7.62 hours at the day job and read a few chapters of A Storm of Swords.  (Okay, re-read a few chapters.  It’s amazing how much more fun A Song of Ice and Fire is when you realise Stannis is essentially hilarious.)

I’ve also taken a break to blog because I really do have a nasty suspicion that something is going wrong with the pacing.  Something needs to happen before this scene can happen, and I don’t know what it is.

It’s moments like these that I wonder if this ever happens to people who outline.  I know where the story is going, and I have a rough idea of which major events need to take place in what order, but a subplot has reared its head.

(I really regret to say that this is the mental image I have of said subplot.  Sorry.)

Moving gif of a newborn Alien, ie, a chestburster, wearing a boater.
HELLO MAH BABY, HELLO MAH DARLING, HELLO MAH RAGTIME GAL!

Usually I don’t start formally outlining until I’ve written about a third of the story.  I mean, yes, I have an idea when I start, but I don’t get to know the characters until I’ve written them for a while, and that’s when I begin to understand how the plot will come together.  Maaaaaaaaaaaaybe I should give this whole “early outline” thing a go.

Then, of course, there’s the problem of depicting a schoolyard bullying incident that doesn’t read like a very bad after school special.  I’ve spent a lot of time lately remembering what it was like to be 12 (horrible!) and how my classmates interacted with each other.  But, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time firmly repressing those memories, so it’s difficult to tell the difference between an accurate memory and a reconstruction.

Not that accuracy matters!  I’m writing fiction, after all.  But verisimilitude is important, and one thing I remember very clearly from adolescence is that kids are the most vicious critics of all.

I wonder if an unexpected zombie attack might fill in the space between the previous chapter and this one?  One of those short, over-in-2500-words-and-no-one-ever-speaks-of-it-again zombie attacks.  Like a 24 hour stomach flu, only with more decapitations.

ETA:  1040 words, and I found a solution to the pacing problem.  EPIC WIN.

Grown-up blogging

Secretly I feel a bit silly, starting this shiny new blog, when I have a perfectly good Dreamwidth that holds my archives going back to 2002.  I mean, am I ashamed of my (*gulp*) ten years of writing fan fiction, flailing about Harry Potter and Doctor Who and Avatar: the Last Airbender (among others)?  Not in the slightest!

But there is something to be said for having a nice blog you can take home to your mother, or at least tell people about at conventions.  I’ve decided that it’s like going to work.  At home, I wear jeans (or, you know, pyjamas) and lie around and say whatever comes into my head.  At work, I wear nice clothes and brush my hair and make small talk, and generally behave in what I hope is a professional manner. 

I have something being published later this year, which I cannot talk about yet, and I am writing … various things, not necessarily in the speculative genre, but roughly in the neighbourhood.  I’m also doing programming for Continuum 9 in 2013, and the committee members I met over the weekend all seem so sensible and professional and not at all likely to tell people off for being wrong about a children’s cartoon.  So this is my amateur professional blog, and hopefully one day I can strike out the “amateur” bit.