Things to keep me writing when I'm not writing other things
Friday, February 27, 2009
Cakes, Snakes and Good Nintentions
I don't know about you, but I've long since stopped being excited about birthdays. After my 21st, they soon lost their lustre - even my 30th came and went relatively unheralded. (In fairness, I was a very new parent at the time and had far more important things to worry about!)
This year's been a bit different, however, largely thanks to the uncontainable enthusiasm of my daughter.
Her Countdown to Dad's Birthday started about two weeks ago, when first the penny dropped that I'd be getting a bit older. From that point it was all about 'how many sleeps' to the big day, liberally garnished with secretive whisperings and sneakings about. Soon her little brother was in on the act and then my wife ... then a couple of days before the big day came the moment when my girl snuggled up against me and asked if I was excited about my birthday.
And I found myself saying 'Yes'.
It was impossible to stay cynical in the face of such exuberance, and come the day itself she did a great job - breakfast in bed while I tore into the presents, for example. She even made me a cake:
You can work out my age from the candle arrangement ... The jelly snakes were a 'surprise' - last week she'd told me she'd be making the cake itself, but that I'd have to have 'just icing. We don't have any lollies. No lollies at all. Sorry.' Fast forward 20 years and she'll have her own party planning company ... because she'll make a godawful secret agent.
Meanwhile work's become a casualty of the open deadline. Everything I have a time limit on has now been completed, leaving hours of free time to work on unsolicited projects I've had back-burning so long the bottom of the pan's melted. Unfortunately I've been ... well, lacking in discipline, shall we say? It's not helped that I'm getting very good at Wii Sports Golf, nor that my son's got a new Star Wars video game that he needs lots of help with. Where do the hours go?
So from next week, and in the absence of an editor to do it for me, I'm setting myself strict project deadlines. Come next Friday, I want to see results!
Right then, I'm off to build my boy a virtual lightsabre. Good Dad.
A couple of people have drawn my attention to the upcomingSwancon sci-fi conventionhere in Perth this coming April, not only as something I might like to pop along to but also for something called the Tin Ducks.
The Tin Ducks are the awards handed out each year by the West Australian Science Fiction Foundation for achivement by WA writers and artists, and it seems that I have a couple of stories that are eligible for nomination.
The obvious candidate I suppose is Link, my story in the Doctor Who collectionShort Trips:Transmissions. But it's a bit of a surprise to find that Just Us, from the horror anthology Voices, is also a possibility.
Now I'd have thought that particular story wouldn't qualify (not being sci-fi and all) but WA dark fiction stalwartShane Jiraiya Cummingswould beg to differ. He has listed it as one of a handful of short stories worth a nom, and I'd be mad to argue with the vice president of the Australian Horror Writers Association, wouldn't I?
There's stiff competition for these gongs in the shape of several multiple-award-winning scribes, so my chances of getting anywhere are slim. But if you've read either or both of those stories and you liked what you read, do please pop along to theTin Ducks nomination pageand fling a vote their way.
I had a chat with editorAmanda Pillarlast week, during which she asked me how closely I plot something before I write it. My one-word answer ("meticulously") came back to bite me in the arse not a day later when the story I was working on fell to bits around my ears.
There's a lot to be said for the thrill of writing something that you've taken great care in mapping out, only to find it veering off in its own new and exciting direction. I've worked on a couple of yarns in which characters and story have taken on lives of their own and the resulting draft has been very different from - and very much better than - the synopsis. I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later that the reverse should happen.
I'd finished my first draft and was returning to polish it before sending it off, when I noticed a problem. It was a small enough job to fix it, except that in doing so I created another, larger fault. And in fixing that, the issue became bigger and nastier still. It was like one of those sit-com moments where someone attempts a simple, well-intentioned job like hanging a picture only to end up covered in plaster dust and standing in a pile of bricks.
I'm pleased to say that my initial reaction (run screaming for the hills, scattering bits of ripped manuscript in my wake) lasted only a day or so. Everything's fine now, the story's away with the readers , and I'm only a week off where I should be.
Something different next - research for a pitch I've been asked to make and also asked not to talk about.
(Apologies in advance for taking the long way round here - it's Sunday and I'm waffling. If you're pressed for time, skip to the end ...)
Back in the 90s, when I spent some time working in the comics industry, I met no end of people who were ... confused by what it was I actually did. It was a common enough problem that dogged not just myself but many of those who worked at the company on the editorial side. Here's a sample situation:
You'd be at a party, and in response to the 'So, what do you do?' question you'd say that you edited comics. Sometimes there'd be polite interest in this answer, sometimes you'd be able to see the attention draining away from the questioner's face right before your eyes. But altogether too many times there'd be someone who'd respond with the deathless line, 'Oh, you write the words in the little bubbles then?'
Too often people just don't get what editors do. Another misconception I see a lot is that it's all about picking up on spelling mistakes and knowing the difference between "its" and "it's". Obviously it's a plus if you can do that, but all the editors I've ever worked with have been required to do so much more.
For the purposes of this post, let's focus on names.
I was once pulled up by an editor for unwittingly giving a character almost exactly the same name as one of my co-authors. While I failed to pick up on it, his point was that the name would be jarring for the reader. They'd see it on the cover and again in my story, and it would break the spell. He was right, of course, and the name was duly altered.
In TV and film, as I understand it (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), the duty of care goes much further. A script editor is required to check all personal and corporate names in a script, to ensure that they don't exist in the real world. It's a necessary task to avoid thorny issues like the evil organisation in the next Bond film being called Woolworths, or people like I.M. Davros of Bletchley writing in to complain that your show has denigrated their character.
But a really good editor will also be on the ball enough to prevent the unintentional use of words or names that may have very different connotations in other countries. Who can forget, for example, the episode of Mork and Mindy that featured a character by the name ofArnold Wanker?
Which brings me to the thing that got me thinking about all this in the first place (stay with me).
My son's just got hold of a copy ofStar Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. It's a cracking book, stuffed with all kinds of facts and figures to enhance his genetic predisposition towards the geeky. Every teeny tiny detail is covered, including many from beyond the six movies themselves. The section I particularly enjoyed, however, was about the Jedi High Council as seen in The Phantom Menace. Did you know that in amongst the Yodas and the Mace Windus, there was this guy, too:
So that's how I ended up struggling to explain to the lad why the page was so funny - all the time avoiding the actual word so he doesn't head to school tomorrow and and spend all day shouting it in the playground.
And that's at least part of the reason why we have editors. They don't get nearly enough recognition for the jobs they do.
Oh, I'm loving this 'all day me day' business. Tapped out 1000 words of a short story before midday, then got to grips with a synopsis after lunch for a bit of variety. In fact, I'd be genuinely happy if only I had some snow.
(You can't see, but I'm pouting like a small child. Hot. Want snow. Now).
While I'm busy pushing out my bottom lip, you can always zip across toDark Wolf's Fantasy Reviewsfor one of the first assessments of the Voices collection. But beware, if you haven't read the book yet - the article is stuffed with all-singing, all-dancing, neon-lit spoilers.
Today's the day ... school's back in. And with both my kids in full-time education for the first time ever, I have six clear hours to write, each and every day, Monday to Friday.
I've not actually written anything since the school holidays started in the last week of December (barring rewrites for an already commissioned piece that simply couldn't wait). It was a conscious decision, one that's let me rattle ideas around in my head without the pressure of having to get anything down on paper. It's a technique that's becoming known asGraham Linehan's Pooand it's worked brilliantly. Come 9am this morning I was good and ready for a story dump.
First off the blocks has been a short piece for entry into a competition. I'll spare you the details. One reason is that I've used it more as a warm-up for the rest of the week than anything else (my chances of winning are on a par with the proverbial infernal moggy). Another is that - barring vague details - I've got out of the habit of talking about what I'm writing.
There are exceptions, of course. I rattle on here about projects simply because you choose to be here and must therefore have some interest. (Right? Right?) But even then the details tend to stay under wraps until the job's done and the publishers announce the story. I'll rarely, if ever, bang on about plot details ... because then it'd be doughnut time.
So if anything comes of the competition I'll spill the beans. If not, well it was an interesting exercise. Tomorrow, on to something that's actually been commissioned.