Archive for the ‘Personal Ramblings’ Category

How will the End come? (And why Post-Apocalypse is an evergreen genre)

As a writer (and a reader), I’m facinated by what humans do and how humans think. Reading about people thrust into dire situations through no fault of their own, making ethical decisions, getting in touch with their true natures (good, evil, flawed)…these things continue to drive me toward fiction that examines them.
My story S is for Silence is out this coming week in the anthology A is for Apocalypse. Of course, I’m going to say nice things about the anthology —  my story’s in it. But having read just the first page of a dozen of the stories (I want to read the whole thing when I have the paperback copy in my hands), I am amazed at both the variety and the high quality of the tales.
And I’m encouraged by the evergreen nature of this genre.
The idea of Apocalypse (or the collapse of civilisation/worlds/environments) continues to fascinate a wide readership. I saw a Goodreads reviewer this week saying that zombie novels were a cluttered and overcrowded genre. I disagree. People will continue to write all sorts of apocalyptic novels/shorts for decades as will writers of police procedural stories and epic fantasies (which are all variations on a narrow theme) and other people will continue buying and enjoying them.

Because we are drawn to what we are drawn to. And many of us are drawn to the idea of the world ending.

Ideas of the collapse of our civilisation or our ecology inspire strong feelings, largely I think because we sense it could all happen so easily (maybe not the zombie infection scenario, but other scenarios certainly — global pandemics, world war, environmental disaster, nuclear disasters leading to other disasters, etc). And I suspect that the cycle of rise and fall of civilisation is strongly remembered by our historical hive mind.

My story is about what is revealed in a man’s psyche when the veneer of civilisation is stripped away.

So. How will the End come? That’s a more interesting subject to discuss.

In my opinion, one of two ways: As a Christian, I am a believer in the New Testament revelation (which is actually what the word apocalypse means) of the End of time.

But I’m also aware of that cycle of rise and fall we’ve been subject to for millenia. It may well be that we’re on the road to another fall and I’d be unsurprised if the environment turns on us for a few centuries due to the fallout from the recent Japanese reactor disaster combined with our penchant as a species for inflicting damage on our planet.

Feel free to disagree with me. In fact, throw a comment at me with your thoughts on the End below. Go on. I dare ya.

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This represents my entry in the A is for Apocalypse blog train. Please read the posts that come before and after mine at the following locations (great writers, these two):

What Good is Speculative Fiction?

 

RANT ALERT.

Last weekend, a good friend (during one of his frequent diatribes) looked me in the eye and said, “I’d prefer to read a good biography, because novels in the end are just fantasy, they’re not real and they don’t offer anything helpful.” In the context of his diatribe, he meant that fiction does no one any good except to switch their brain off for a while (as if that wasn’t worth something in itself). To be fair to my friend, he’d obviously forgotten what I write — he wasn’t attacking me, he was just being … honest … and a little oblivious…

Back in February, during coffee with another close mate of mine, he politely asked me how my writing was going and with glazed eyes and fixed smile he endured a couple of minutes of me telling him. It’s been obvious for several years that he just doesn’t “get” why I’m pursuing writing fiction. When I mentioned that I’d once tried to write a self-help book, he perked up and said, “Yeah? Would you concentrate on something worthwhile like that?”

Worthwhile, huh? Sigh…

So. Of course I’m a little irritated. But I’m also stirred to think through what good is speculative fiction? Am I wasting my time by the hours I spend writing it? Reading it? (Watching it?)

Ian Welke (author of The Whisperer in Dissonance) recently wrote:

John Shirley has been one of my favorites ever since his “Song Called Youth” trilogy came out in the 80s. “A Song Called Youth,” helped save me from depression then. Before I read it, I was depressed and angry. After I read it, I was still pretty much depressed and angry, but I at least felt like someone saw things the same way, and felt not so alone.

I want to say here that this nails one of the major “advantages” great sf/fantasy/horror (fiction) has over self-help or biographies — namely that teenagers actually read it!

Many many people have said similar things to me over the past few decades, about how a story has improved the quality of their life, gotten them through a hard time, helped them see the universe in a different light. Ian’s written comment here (used with permission) puts it beautifully.

Fiction also fleshes out values, concepts, ethical dilemmas, life stage issues and so on and so on. In ways that enable the reader to engage at a wholistic (right brain) level. And yes, I added a “w” to “holistic” — I meant to.  

In fiction, people get to do things we don’t have time to do in real life, namely focus 100% on the problem that’s confronting them. This can be enormously helpful to process our own painful feelings, tough decisions and general stresses.

Fiction can inspire the positive in us. Star Wars A New Hope inspired me at 11 years old to make my life significant, to affect the world. Grandiose at 11, sure. Thirty-whatever years later, I find I’ve worked hard to be of service to others and to refine myself to be the best me I can be. This yearning was captured and inspired by a “religious conversion” at 16, but it started at age 11 with a science-fantasy epic…and I believe God was behind me watching that movie too.

Rant over. Final word: fiction rocks.

…Maybe I should have written this as a story…

2013: The Year in Review

 

Welcome to another self-serving and narcissistic post from the desk of one Pete Aldin.

But hey, it’s my blog; I can introspect if I wish.

Looking back at this year, it’s been a good one writing-wise. And for the following reasons:

  • I sat on my first two author panels at a scifi con
  • I undertook mentoring and training from two great authors which have taught to me to both trust my ability to write and to stretch myself further in plotting … “which have“??? Perhaps they could have mentored me more on things like grammar and word choice…
  • I sold no less that seven short stories (some to be published next year): Mud, The Whipping Tree, No Good Deed, The Bridge (a resale), They Cling to Darkness, In Human, Hiding
  • I completed my third novel and though it’s had several rejections, I’m hopeful it will sell eventually. It’s well and truly my favourite so far. Thanks to those who helped it birth.
  • I have a working second draft of a new horror novel and the bones of a first draft for another medieval fantasy under way
  • I have a publisher currently considering my first two novels
  • I made (and retained!) the acquaintance of some terrific writers and human beings this year including Steve Cameron and Geoff Brown, people who remind me that writing and publishing is fun, an adventure

Also I have been blessed by meaningful labour in my working life, helping people without work rediscover their mojo and learn new skills to move on.

All in all, a bloody good year!

Hope yours was as good and that 2014 will see you safe and happy and having fun.

 

What’s in the Cupboard? (August 2013)

… in which I take three words from my Word Box and use them in a short piece of creative writing.

The words:

  • stout
  • kobold (ghoul)
  • cavalier

And now the writing:

“I wouldn’t worry,” Charles yawned and shuffled closer to the fireplace.

Casting about for something with which to defend them, Wilma could not believe Charles’ cavalier attitude. And at a time like this! Kobolds to the left of them. Stout little mini-trolls to the right. She snatched up a poker and brandished its glowing red end with a flourish.

“I guess it’s up to me, then,” she said.

 

 

What’s in the Cupboard? (May)

 

New “segment” … or thread perhaps. This ain’t television after all.

I plan each month to complete a post where I take 3 random words from my Word Box (more on that in a mo’) and work them into a paragraph. Good for the creative juices, good for developing the vocabulary. This is a lot like taking random ingredients from the cupboard and combining them into a workable meal.

The Word Box? I have a box in which I throw post it notes and index cards with cool words I hear/read. From this box, this morning I have drawn the following words and will endeavour to first-draft a paragraph using them (correctly if possible):

  • flounce
  • pleat
  • scabrous

The corpse reached for him in a desperate flounce that was one part spasmic dance, three parts animal savagery. He flinched from the bars, stepped out of reach and studied the deader: it had once been a him, now shirtless, floral tie knotted too tight around the turkey neck, pleated suit pants brown with undefinable muck, skin scabrous and wet with body fluids. The only question, he thought trying to get a look behind the corpse, is if the fluids were its own or someone else’s.

Instead of Writing, I Earned Myself a Chocolate Ula

I haven’t been able to write for nearly 3 months now. Oh, I’ve done a few pages of revision of my novel and submitted them to my writing group. But I haven’t written. I haven’t been able to immerse myself in any of my projects. It’s been immensely frustrating.

 

Today was the final day of a course I’ve run for 10 weeks now. Every weeknight for the past ten weeks (for three-four hours), I’ve been marking people’s papers (reading the same answers over and over), dog-earing pages where I needed them to add more information or rethink an answer, and writing reports on the course’s progress for my employer. Every Saturday, I’ve spent eight hours getting my head around the material for the week ahead (it’s the first time I’ve run this course).

 

Sundays I’ve been wasted, no good to anyone. I’ve been unable to write.

 

Today, my class completed their course. I was immensely proud of the work they had done, the progress they had made, and the God-given glory I saw shining in their eyes. These precious people have been unemployed for years. Some have physical disabilities and others mental illness (and don’t we all??). They had lost their mojo; they had lost their confidence. Over two and a half months, they courageously faced themselves, their “demons”, and even the hopes they had buried after years of knockbacks. Over two and half months, they have tried The New, engaged in The Confronting, embraced Work Placements and reflected on their performance. Yesterday and today, they made presentations to the room — and their talents and growth shone for all to see.

 

One played the chanter (the “flute” part of bagpipes), another spoke passionately about the young people he’s already started helping in our community. A lady put photos up around the room depicting her amazing philosophy of customer service. A young man gave us a lesson in pixel animation and self-publishing comic books…

 

It’s been my privilege to see several members of my class gain real live jobs, and others move on to further training (something they would never have considered before). But more so, to make friends who’ve shown me the incredible panorama of human expression and giftedness. The Samoan ula I’m wearing (think Hawaiian lei) is made from ribbon and HUGE chocoloate bonbons. It was presented to me by a Samoan member of the class and I can’t think of a prouder “award” that I’ve ever received…. And I get to eat it!!!

 

Knowing that my friends are back on their horses, putting themselves out there, living again – it makes all the writing time I’ve “lost” over the past 10 weeks more than worthwhile. It makes it an investment.

 

There will always be time to write; for three months, I’ve had the privilege of contributing.

 

(And…I got chocolates!) 🙂

 

 

 

Because Business is Personal: Why I Like Niteblade.

 

Sure Nightblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine is full of quality dark fiction. Sure they published one of my stories recently. Sure I’m a nice guy. But I’ve a far better reason to contribute to the Niteblade Blog Train.

 

Niteblade is edited by a wonderful human being who demonstrates respect for her readers and her writers.

 

As my working persona has travelled through the twisted turns of its bizarre career path, I’ve rubbed shoulders with a lot of “business people”, church people, business owners, managers, entrepreneurs, solo-operators…you name it. People out to blaze a trail, make a fortune, make their mark, (some of them) change the world. The ones who stick in my mind are the ones who (and you can tell) genuinely care about their customers and their colleagues (or staff). These are the people you want to deal with, the people you want to help if they ever need it, the ones to whom you are grateful for them colouring the world in bright shades and adding value to your life (even if it’s only for a moment.) Niteblade’s esteemed founder and editor Rhonda is one such person. (Do I sound like I’m writing her a job reference?? Sorry about that, chief.)

 

When some scifi/horror/fantasy writer-editors are genuinely too busy to interact and others have the people skills of Sheldon Cooper on a bad day, it means the world to short fiction authors like moi to interact with someone who’s not only passionate about fiction, but treats you like a fellow human being. Rhonda even dropped the price of the March edition because she’d inconvenienced a few people with a glitch of some sort. I didn’t think it was necessary; Rhonda cared about her customers enough to think it was.

 

Somehow (and  I don’t think this is a coincidence), Rhonda continues to attract what I think is highly polished and innovative fiction which could easily be snapped up by other “markets” (ie., magazines/websites).

 

And so I hope fervently that Niteblade’s name and popularity continues to grow. So that writers like us can continue to ply our wares to readers of dark fiction. So that it can continue to provide an affordable vehicle for quality fiction. And so that a bright soul can continue to gift the world with her generosity and passion.

 

Anyone else think it’s ironic that I’m speaking about light and brightness in the context of dark fiction? 🙂

 

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Please take a look at John Clewarth’s blog (his is the carriage before mine in this blogtrain) and tomorrow don’t forget to change carriages to Amber Stults’ carriage (the one hitched after mine).

 

Also, go spend a few bucks at Niteblade. Issue #19 for example is a mere 99 cents! (What’s that? It’s the issue Pete Aldin’s story is in? Fancy that).

 

Gulliver’s Pocketwatch

 

The Lilliputians in “Gulliver’s Travels”, remember those little guys?

 

At one stage of the story (the actual book, not the horrible Jack Black film version), they note that Gulliver’s pocket watch is probably a god. This is because he rarely does anything without consulting it. He calls it his oracle and says it appoints the time for every action of his life.

 

Travels” was written over 200 years ago. [Great book by the way!]. The Lilliputians’ observations about the watch were Jonathan Swift’s commentary about the “modern” preoccupation with time. And has anything changed in 200 years? Gulliver sure sounds like me sometimes: preoccupied with routines and deadlines.

 

Of course, life wouldn’t flow so well if we DIDN’T keep some kind of order to it and use time well. Still, our preoccupation with time is one of the factors contributing to our life of hurry hurry hurry. I like this quote from Carl Honore’s incredible book, In Praise of Slow:

 

“The toll taken by the Hurry-up Culture is well-rehearsed. We are driving the planet and ourselves toward burnout. We are so time-poor and time-sick that we neglect our friends, families and partners. We barely know how to enjoy things anymore because we are always looking ahead to the next thing…

 

“(E)ach of us should try to make room for Slowness. A good place to start is with reassessing our relationship with time … Try to think of time not as a finite resource that is always draining away, nor as a bully to be feared or conquered, but as the benign element we live in. Stop living every moment as if Frederick Taylor [inventor of the Time and Motion philosophy] were hovering nearby, checking his stopwatch and tut-tutting over his clipboard…”

 

Feeling hurried? Stressed? Take a deep breath. Let it out slow. Is your horizon the walls of your room? The computer screen in front of you? Go to a window and focus on something far away from where you are. If your horizon is the next office building 30 feet away from you, head out to a park in your lunch break and do “nothing”. Is your watch, your calendar, your deadlines a god to you, a cruel and demanding taskmaster? Rebel: smell a rose, marinate a steak, take a walk with your kids, read a short story for pleasure and not for learning the craft of writing…

 

May Time once again become our environment, our servant, our instrument and not our god.

 

 

1 August, 2012: The Month in Review

 

Well, that’s July done. Not a fantastic month in terms of output. But a satisfying one in terms of editing, polishing a whole 12 chapters of my fantasy murder mystery novel. On top of working fulltime and doing a bit of study, that is a heaven of a lot of editing for me, and I feel like this project (which stalled for two years) is flying ahead.

 

I deliberately didn’t count the number of rejections I had on the same two short stories (but I think it was 6 or 7 all up). I actually gained a Personal Best in rejection time: submitted and rejected all in under 4 hours! Ya just gotta check a few new markets, find one that the story will serve well and send it on back out there. Then turn away. Get on with other things.

 

Early in the month, I made the decision that I’d leave short story writing for the time being and focus on my two novel projects. One (the shiny new idea / first draft) is where I go to play when I get sick of editing. The other (the nose-to-the-grindstone second draft) is coming along reasonably nicely. I find that in a first draft the idea that it’s ok to write crap and fix it later works well for me. But when I get to Draft 2 and a couple of chapters still don’t work for me, it can be a little disheartening. Fortunately with my new purchase (Scrivener), I’m finding I’m editing faster and by editing faster I’m keeping a better big picture view of the book and feeling great about it. Those other pesky chapters will get fixed in the next polish run.

 

Bit of a patchy post but that’s the state of my brain at the moment. Bring on August…

 

Writing Australian Characters…Correctly.

 

Fellow Australians, I’d like you to think for a moment.

 

Who is the very worst Australian character you’ve ever seen (or read) in a movie or book? As in, they just don’t come across as an actual credible Australian.

 

 

I ask because this has been a topic of conversation this week on Codex Writers Group where a couple of (American) writers were asking for advice on Australian syntax and vocabulary. They did this in order to make their Aussie characters authentic. I cannot tell you how much I respect them for asking. Ok I can: I RESPECT THEM VERY MUCH!! Thank you, Rick – Thank you Darja! Thank you for asking and for listening.

 

 

As an Aussie, I’m probably as sick of wierdly redacted and contorted caricatures of Aussies in the media as Chinese people were of the kinds of “Ah so” characters we used to see so often in 50s, 60s and 70s movies.

 

 

Having said that, it’s not all that easy to write a character from a place or people group you’re not familiar with. And I have read writing (Kevin Ikenberry’s for example) that portrays Aussies with great accuracy. There have also been Australian characters in movies and TV which have been wonderful, simply because they’ve been scripted with “normal” lines and no ridiculous Aussie-isms such as “Cripes”, “ruddy hell” or “ain’t”. The Australian woman in the first Transformers movie comes to mind, as does the Aussie doctor in House. (Sorry I can’t recall their names off the top of me ‘ead, guv’na).

 

 

That guv’na comment leads me into the two areas where I think non-Australian writers/directors get Aussies wrong:

 

1.They present them as suntanned Cockneys (see the half-cockney, half-Aussie character in Tango and Cash, and the James Coburn character in The Great Escape, using words like ain’t and dropping their “h’s”)

 

2.They base their character on a redaction of the kinds of country folk that may (or may not) have existed in 1930s Australia. (Using words such as “Galah” and “drongo”)

 

A problem for non-Australians (who don’t know a lot of Aussies personally) is the ridiculous portrayal of “typical” Aussies in movies like the horrible Crocodile Dundee trilogy (which should have earned Paul Hogan permanent expulsion from Australia, lol), Baz Lohman’s abysmal Australia (ok, I’ve only seen a couple of scenes from it, but they were enough to make me physically ill), or Kangaroo Jack (very funny movie, but hopelessly inaccurate depiction of Australia).

 

I’ve rarely met a person who sounds anything like Mick Dundee or his mates. And they invariably annoy me, because they come across as trying to be Australian, instead of just being Australian.

 

 

A warning for writers about internet-based research: it’s often crap. Sounds obvious, I know, but it needs to be said. Apparently, some of the advice on the internet my writing friends received was that Aussies are fond of words like “Cripes”, “Crikey,” “Galah” and “ruddy” (as in “Get that ruddy car out of the way!”).

 

 

Aussies walking around saying “Cripes” or “Galah” or “ruddy” or even “she’ll be right” would be a little like an American walking around talking like they’re from a 1930s Chicago gangster movie, I’m guessing — a 1930s Chicago gangster movie written by South African teenagers in the 1980s! Anyone walking around south-east Melbourne where I live and saying things like “Crikey, you’re a ruddy galah, cobber” is seriously gonna get bashed for acting like a tool.

 

 

For reference (and in my humble opinion), most of the differences I can see between Aussie and American English these days are in intonation and a few vocabularly differences. Probably our senses of humour and irony too. A lot of us still call the “john” a “dunny”. We call erasers “rubbers” (which always seems to break Americans up over here — or horrify them when a schoolkid asks them for a “rubber”). Reckless drivers (or those who break the law in cars for fun) are called “hoons” (like loons but with an “h”). We seem to like finishing statements with an upward inflection, turning them into questions (and I did hear a linguistic term for this during the week, which I’ve promptly and helpfully forgotten!)

 

 

Once again, I respect my writerly friends for asking real life people for their advice. It made me more aware of my own need for feedback. When I write women, I need women to read the character and tell me where I’m stuffing it up. When I write Chinese characters (as I did with Kevin recently) perhaps I should be asking Chinese Americans or contacts in Singapore how the character’s coming off. None of us are immune to misrepresenting a person who is “different” to us…and this is just one reason why I love writing fantasty where I’ve invented the culture and nationality!

 

 

So please, writers who want a charming and quirky Aussie character in their next story: charming and quirky is fine, but pleeeeeeez get their language right!

 

 

….Oh, and about that question I started with? For me, the examples that come to mind are Ugly John on MASH, the Aussie bad guy on Tango and Cash, any Australian characters depicted by Bazz Lohman (or however you spell his name), our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the entire constellation of characters in Muriel’s Wedding. And then there was the bloke who runs into the pub in a scene in the recent Tom Hanks series The Pacific, yelling “Hello Cobbers!” (SHUDDER).