Thursday, April 28, 2011

John Birmingham vs the zombies

(Hopefully by the end of this post I'll have done enough to justify the link bait)

I went to The Reader at State Library today -- an if:book Australia symposium on the future of writing, publishing, technology and readers.

There was a lot of food for thought, but Dale Spender's address 'New Reading, Same Heresies' really got me thinking, because it dovetailed nicely with something else I've been thinking about lately.

(Apologies for all the cliches -- brain is tired)

Dale talked about the history of reading, about how when the church controlled reading, it was a highly specialised thing. Only the select few could do it, it took 14 years to learn how to do it, and so on.

After Gutenberg, the church wasn't keen on everyone having access to books. Printing presses were smashed, books burnt.

Dale then went on to talk about how, at various times, reading has been portrayed as something that undermines society.

It got me thinking that that's not unlike how video games are percieved at the moment.

So, looking at books as a form of entertainment, and as a way of learning via something that is entertaining, why should reading be valued more highly than playing video games.

Take John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy and put it up against Left 4 Dead 2.

I'm sure that JB will tell you that Axis of Time is just an excuse to take bad-asses from the near-future and send them back to 1942 to blow shit up. But it also says a lot about how community standards have changed (for better and for worse) since the 40s.

Left 4 Dead 2. It's a video game, you take part in it. And yeah, it's mostly about taking to zombies with shotguns, pipe bombs and chainsaws. But if you play it right, it's a social game (it's designed to be played with friends). You learn about team-work, strategy, loyalty, betrayal and, if you're like me, how much you suck at it.

I value reading. I want my kids to read. Literacy is hugely important. But so are the things kids can learn from video games (not Left 4 Dead 2, but age-appropriate games). Technology is going to be even more important to our kids than it is for us. It's going to be an increasingly integral part of life.

What do you think? Is tech smarts as important as book smarts?

(PS: I thought about putting the zombies up against James Joyce, or Jack Kerouac ... is that a fairer comparison? What do we gain from ploughing through the classics -- that's the special bonus question)

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grant year, week 16: slow progress

I didn't get my word count this week. But I just checked my overall stats and I'm 15,000 words in the black so I'm not going to kick myself too hard. The thing is, I've plotted out (roughly) the final act, so I know what I need to write. Just having trouble getting there. My wife hypothesised that maybe I'm scared of finishing the first draft. And I think she's right. Because I know from past experience that that's where the hard graft really starts! How about you, anyone else out there scared of finishing first drafts.

I think I mentioned earlier that a friend/colleague has offered to do a structural edit. Which is great, but I've got to figure out the best way to spend my time while she's working on it. I don't want to spend time copy editing on chunks that may end up on the 'cutting room floor'. So, I think what I'll do is research to flesh out the description/characters in my second go-through. And also spend some time plotting the second book.

I'm going to pitch Skin Deep as the first book in a series, so I need to have the second book at least plotted out. I probably need to start writing it too. And I've got some ideas that I find as exciting as the premise behind Skin Deep. So I need to capitalise on that enthusiasm (you know, the enthusiasm for the next book, that you always get when you're mired in the current book!).

The other breakthrough that came this week was the name for my fictional outlaw bikie gang. I'm not going to lay it out there just yet because I want to think it through a bit more. But it's tough-sounding, it's not even an actual word, but it's based on a military word (which fits the bill, because a lot of the early bikie gangs were formed by veterans returning from WWII -- Hell's Angels is a classic example of this).

The name is important because the gang features in book two.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

'Feast or Famine' to feature in YB Australian Fantasy and Horror

Ticonderoga Publications is walking on sunshine to announce the contents for its inaugural The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology.

Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have produced a list of 33 excellent tales by some of Australia's biggest names as well as some emerging writers.

The anthology collects 150,000 words of the best stories published last year from the Antipodes.

"We're pleased with the number of fabulous stories that were published in 2010 that we had to choose from.", Liz Grzyb said.

"You could hold this anthology up against any international collection - Australians rock for diverse voices, imagination, and compelling writing," Talie Helene added.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Grant year, week 15: writing (just), thinking

I went up to Gin Gin to help my Mum out early this week, and then on Friday I had to postpone my writing day because it was a pupil-free day for the kids.

My wife took the kids out this afternoon, so I just scraped through with my 5,000 target.

I didn't set the world on fire in terms of writing, but I did lots of thinking and planning this week about the 3rd act. I had a vague idea of what was going to happen but when confronted with the start of act three, I didn't know what to write!

I'm ahead on my word count so if I have time I might write a couple of alternative endings.

There are some interesting links in my delicious skindeep tag.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Woohoo! Macabre wins Australian Shadows award

Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears is an important book. Editors Angela Challis and Marty Young set themselves an interesting and uneasy task - to showcase Australia's long history of dark fiction publishing, contrasting that with new output from today's established and emerging writers from the horror genre. They succeeded by avoiding the risk of aiming for whatever might have been popular or attractive in horror's many sub-genre's at the time they selected the included works, while showing deep, nay loving, respect for truly Australian tales from our past.

Big congratulations to Angela and Marty, and everyone who contributed!

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Friday, April 15, 2011


Alan Baxter's written fight tournament – Begin!

My friend Gary Kemble came up with this idea and it’s a good one. Now that I’ve finally made my short ebook about writing fight scenes available, Gary suggested I run a written fight scene competition here on my blog. He actually said: “You should host a fight-writing kumite on your blog. Best 500-word fight scene wins… something? That’d be fun!”

I reckon that would be fun. So it begins here.

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Mum's dog Storm

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grant year, week 14: writing, planning, (unofficial) networking

Steady with the word count this week. Almost at the end of the second act. I think my initial assessment about the first act being so long was incorrect. I think what I've done is missed the end of the first act. I thought it was in one place, but it turns out it is probably much earlier. If that's the case, then my novel is more likely to hit by 90k mark (it might be 10k or so over).

I've started thinking about how I'm going to use my downtime after I finish the first draft. I may have someone to do a structural edit for me. Even if I don't, I need to give the book a bit of time to 'breathe' before I look at it again. There are a number of things I want to do before I even attempt any editing. One is to re-read Stephen King's On Writing (even if it's just the practical bits). Another is to read or re-read all of Kim Wilkins' columns from Writing Queensland. I'm also going to read my first ebook purchase -- Alan Baxter's Write the Fight Right -- because my book has a couple of fight scenes in it. There's some more research I need to do. If I have time left after all that, I'm going to work on Metamorphosis (the last WIP).

Met up with a writing friend on Friday. We're going to meet regularly to critique each other's writing. I really want to get back into the habit of critiquing, because I think by looking at other people's writing, it makes it easier to look at your own writing in that same way.

I've had a few offers from friends/contacts to be beta readers for Skin Deep, which is exciting/frightening. I know this sounds cheesy but the idea of actually showing it to anyone at this point is terrifying. But I guess that's the point. Now is not the time to show it to anyone! At some point I will have to open the door.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Grant year, week 13: writing under difficult circumstances

This has been probably my worst week so far. The past fortnight actually. Even though I did a lot of words last week, it's the most detached I've felt from Skin Deep. And I think a lot of those words will be extensively rewritten.

My mum is sick. She was down in Brisbane for her radium and so I caught up with her on Friday (which is normally my writing day). We had a really good (emotionally draining) catch-up.

Some writers thrive on stress. Writing is where they go to escape. I'm not one of those writers. I find it really difficult to write when things are rocky on the home front.

I also tend to think 'why bother?'. It's even harder than usual to find the drive to write when, in reality, it's probably the least substantial thing I do. What I mean by that is, I could stop writing this novel right now and no-one would suffer. There's plenty of people writing novels.

However, mum (like a lot of mums, probably) is my number one fan (and not in that creepy Misery way). At many stages, she has had far more faith in me than I have had in myself. And she has said she wants to read Skin Deep. So I've got a bit of extra motivation to kick on and get this draft done. :)

And it hasn't been all gloom and doom this week. A friend and colleague of mine, who has completed the (by all accounts) fantastic WEP course out at UQ, has offered to do a structural edit on Skin Deep.

And I did still get my 5,000 this week, so I'm still ahead of the game.

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Bike riding