Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Year Of The...

Ok, apart from all the excitement of the whole European trip and catching up with my in-laws, I have a number of great events coming up that I'm very excited about.

Next week, for example, I'm off to see The Angels. I'm a long time fan - 30 years plus - but it was only last year that I first saw Doc Neeson live, and only a year before that I saw The Angels (minus Doc) for the first time.  I'm thrilled they've worked through their differences and combined their powers for goodness and niceness instead of evil.  And they still rock!

Then in February it's AC/DC.  Very cool. Early next year I also have tickets for Wilco (an amazing band that I've seen several times now and can't wait to see again), The Pixies (who I also saw last year and loved), Ross Noble (a funny, funny guy that I've seen several times) - and I'm sure there's someone else - but I can't remember right now.

I was looking forward to going away for some astronomy with friends, but circumstances have prevented that recently.  But early next year I'll drag out my much under-utilised telescope and head off for a weekend of observing. Of course it's the company that makes the night so enjoyable, so the SEDNA gang will also have to be there.

And then there's Continuum 6 and Aussicon 4 - both next year. As much fandom and SF as one could hope for.

Yes, next year is shaping up as a fabulous one.  And although there have been a few occurrences this year I'd rather forget, it's been a great year in so many ways too.

2010 - Arthur C. Clarke decided it's "the year we make contact", the Chinese call it "the year of the tiger". I should declare it to be "the year of the writer" and change up a gear. In fact, I'm deciding here and now it's "the year things start to happen".

I'll have to get onto one of my weird friends and find out what she thinks the year has in store for me. She's always guided me right, you know.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Flash Forward Gets Lost. Read The Book Instead.

On the recommendation of a couple of people, I started watching Flash Forward.

I should like it. But I don't. Even though on paper it seems to have everything I like in a show, it just doesn't work for me. I watched a couple of episodes and found I didn't really care. The actors were pretty average, the overlying romantic arcs, the cardboard characterisation (including the 'cutesy' little kid that speaks exactly like every Hollywood writer thinks normal children speak) and the poor dialogue and unrealistic response to the whole situation became quickly annoying.

It seems to me that it became overly polished, too Hollywood.  It should have been left closer to the original story, or perhaps made into a movie.  As it is I think it's heading towards another Lost. And although I really liked the idea of that program, it just quickly fell apart and became ridiculous.

Much like 2012.  Although I enjoyed the film, most of the characters were stock-standard. I must say Oliver Platt and Jimi Mistry stood out in an otherwise unmemorable cast. Amanda Peet played herself, John Cusack had trouble working up the energy, Woody Harrelson simply channeled Dennis Hopper through the caravan-conspiracy guy from X-Files.  Even though, it was a fun ride - until the last 30 minutes when it all became saccharine, soppy and ram-down-your-throat-preachy. Love one another, group hug. Did you know that spoilt evil kids can change simply because they hold a puppy?  Awwwwwww.

But I have a lot of respect for Robert J. Sawyer, and so I went and purchased the book, Flash Forward.  And boy, what a difference to the show. I can't put it down.

But if I were to flash forward, I wonder what I would see. I know what I'd like to see, but as many of the characters in the book soon discover, I think we're better off not knowing.

Unless I become a famous, rich, well respected author who has a successful show to my name.  Much like Flash Forward.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pasta, Wine, Schnitzel, Beer, Haggis, Whisky, Christmas Pudding And More Beer.

Congratulations to the Q3 winners of Writers of the Future. In particular, Brad R. Torgersen and Adam Colston, as they are both regulars over at the WOTF forums.

Brad has some excellent advice over on his website about writing, and what it takes to become a finalist at WOTF.  He should know, this was his second time in the finalist circle. Perseverance is one thing Brad has in abundance.

I have no hopes for my Q4 story. That was just an old one I posted off in order to ensure I submit every quarter. And it's certainly not the type of story the judges are looking for. The story I'd planned to send wasn't ready in time, so I decided to hold it over until I could spend more time on it.  But now I have to get myself into gear and finish it off.  I only have three weeks to get it polished and mailed.

Three weeks, I hear you ask. Surely the quarter finishes on the 31st December?

Well, yes.  But I won't be around.  My wife and I head off in three weeks time to Italy, Germany, Scotland and England for a bit of a holiday. Italy, just because my wife loves it and I've always wanted to go, Germany because she used to live there and wants to show me her old stomping ground, Scotland to spend time with her best friend and some of my family (I'm actually Scottish born!) and then England for Christmas with my in-laws.

We've organised sitters to look after the house and the dogs, and I'm currently mentally preparing myself for the gruelling task of eating and drinking my way across Europe.  It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. As for exact details of where we go and what we do?  I hope to keep this blog updated with all our travels as we go.

And Brad, since you won't be needing your Q4 story anymore, you can throw it my way and I'll re-badge it and submit it as mine.

p.s. Woah, Judge-type people.  I'm only kidding.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All Along The Warburton Trail.

Yesterday, I woke up and just felt numb.  My wife felt the same way. A day after saying farewell to my sister-in-law, I just couldn't think.

I'm still astounded at the manner in which my brother handled himself at her funeral.  He was extremely courageous, as were their young children. I can only try to imagine how they are feeling at the moment.  I know how I feel.

So my wife and I both took the day off work.  I wouldn't have been able to function anyway. And with our faithful hounds we went for a walk along the Warburton Trail, holding hands, talking and sharing how we felt.  We stopped for a small picnic and enjoyed the serenity.  (Ah, the serenity.  How's the serenity?)

And then we came home, still feeling the pain, but also feeling more at peace.

I don't know exactly where my sister-in-law has gone.  We certainly have different theologies - and according to her beliefs, she's in heaven.

And if you are right and I'm wrong, put in a good word for me, please.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

And To My Wife, Without Whom...

Why is it everybody wants to be listed in the credits of a film? I was watching a film from the 60s a few nights ago, and suddenly realised how short the credits were back then. These days film credits are long, and possibly have more names than the greater Melbourne phone books.

Someone told me that it's a union thing, that the various jobs and people who work them must get listed on the credits.  Everybody from the lady who makes the cheese sandwiches, to the drivers who ferry actors back and forth, right up to the accountants who work out the payroll.  And they must do this?

Really?  Or is it just that we all have some weird perception of what constitutes 'fame'? I have news for you.  The credits now are so long that people only stay to look at them if they want to know the name of a song they heard during the show. Nobody remembers the insurance salesman from The Phantom Menace.

Why doesn't this happen in other businesses?  I mean, when I buy a light bulb, why doesn't it come with a list of all the people involved in the production process?

Payroll - John Michaels
Quality Control - Frank Peters
Sweeping Up - Geoff McKenzie

... and so on.

Films and music both seem to artistically be similar, yet albums generally don't come with every name involved, all the guys at the pressing plant and so on. And literature is similar too. So, maybe, when I finally get a book published, I'll start a new trend.  Five extra pages dedicated to the people who made me lunch, refilled the ink at the printers, designed the font used, washed my car and even cut my hair.

Or maybe I'll just wait until I sell the film rights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And We'll Leave The Wild Wood Maze...

My sister-in-law passed away early this morning. It was expected.  The brain tumours just kept getting bigger, were cut out, grew back, were radiated, were cut out again, grew back again and became more aggressive. We all knew it was going to happen at some point. Fortunately I was able to visit her two nights ago and spend time with her.  I held her hand, and spoke to her.  Only a few words, but I was able to say what I wished to tell her.

Did she hear me?  I'll never know.  She opened her eyes for a few minutes while I was there, but there was no recognition of this world.  When I spoke to her, she'd closed her eyes.  I hope my message reached her.

She was amazingly brave and faced her death with a fortitude I can only hope to have. A young woman passed on with dignity and courage and a sense of humour.  And I saw incredible strength and resilience from my brother, her husband. He's been her rock for the past 6 years, and cared for her right until the end. I only have awe for the courage of her two children, both under 11.

Sleep well. Maybe we'll meet again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playing to win.

I don't really understand betting.

Ok, on a human level I can understand the desire to win - and I know that the lottery ticket I occasionally purchase technically constitutes betting, but the whole horses, dogs, cards, roulette wheel, dice thing - I just don't get it.

Only once have I attended horse races, and I thought it was an incredibly dull day. But last week, as with the first Tuesday in November every year, people seemed to get extremely excited over the Melbourne Cup. In fact I can't imagine anywhere else in the world having a public holiday in honour of a horse race. And although I changed channels at 3 o'clock to watch the race, I didn't really care who won.

It's the same with cards. I've played poker once or twice, even recently saw some on TV, and I don't understand the fascination with the game. At the moment it seems to be enjoying some kind of 'rock star' status, but to me it seems like all luck of the draw with the only skill being the ability to pretend your hand is better than it actually is.

The one card game I love playing (virtually every lunchtime) is 500s. From what I've seen, this is a game with similarities to Bridge and Euchre. It involves tactics and strategies, working with a partner, and just a little bluffing from time to time. It's also one of the few games I know where you can choose to play to lose if your hand is good enough (or bad enough) to do so.

I used to play 500s quite a bit, and then didn't really have to opportunity to play for almost 20 years.  But now I'm playing it again over lunch with the guys at work.  It make for a break from the classroom with lots of good humoured joking and banter. (usually at my expense) And on Friday night a few of my mates played 500s for around 5 or 6 hours with a few drinks and snacks.  It made for a great Friday evening.

I suppose different horses for different courses (pun definitely intended) and each to their own and that kind of thing, but for me poker, horse racing and games of chance hold little attraction. As for life, love and career?  Well, I don't believe in much gambling there either.  I'll grab opportunities, and even take a few calculated risks, but no out and out gambles. I've seen that go wrong for too many people.

It doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes, though. But those were definitely my own fault.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Learning From History.

I had a strange experience today - a sudden memory of being about 13 years old again and stuck in a boring class in school.  It was more than just deja-vu, it was like some twisted Vietnam flashback on acid.

OK, that's a major exaggeration, but it was kind of weird - and vivid.

I've previously mentioned that I teach in the school where I was a student.  This morning I took an extra class for an absent teacher, a Year 8 history class where they were studying the black plague. They were a great bunch of kids and worked really well all class.

 As I entered the room, I looked out the classroom windows at the vista pictured above. Today is cloudy and wet and the beautiful mountain range which sprawls across the eastern horizon was mostly hidden by cloud. And so I suddenly remembered walking into the same room for a geography lesson in 1976, on a day with similar weather conditions. I remember the class was about Mongolia - the rainfall, the topography, the produce and whatever. But apart from the name of the Mongolian capital I remember none of the other facts or figures from that class. And the only reason I recall Ulan Bator, is because my friends and I thought it sounded very funny and said it about 20 times a day over the next few weeks. Well, it seemed funnier at the time than it does now. I guess you had to be there, and be a 13 year old boy. (Ironically a Mongolian fact has risen again. A group of friends and I currently have a similar joke regarding the Togrog, the currency of Mongolia. Maybe you don't have to be 13.)

What I do remember from that class, though, is being amazed at how different the landscape looked with Mt. Dandenong having disappeared behind clouds forcing a closer horizon, and watching a dog that spent most of the 40 minutes running around the playing fields while I was supposed to be working.

Memories like this are important to me. They remind me what it is like to be bored in class, and serve as motivation for keeping my teaching varied and interesting. And the same with my writing.  I'll read almost anything to the conclusion, even stories I don't think are written particularly well and try to learn from them to improve my own writing. (It goes without saying that I also learn from the stories I love.)

And so I write the type of story I love to read.  I know they're good and worth reading - if only I could convince editors my writing is worth purchasing

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Be Very Afraid.

While most parents think their kids are going to become handfuls when they become teenagers, and for some reason this seems especially true of girls, my niece (let's call her Anne)  really is going to be a handful. She thinks incredibly differently to everyone else I know, has an amazingly strange Gilliam-like imagination and non-sequiturs in the most wonderfully bizarre ways.

Yesterday I was at McDonalds for breakfast - a place I really try not to frequent - but it was another niece's birthday and she was there with her parents and I had to drop off the present and . . . .  well, you get the picture.  And Anne was there too.

While we were eating, Anne was busy writing on a napkin.

"What's that you're writing?" we asked.
"Just something to scare the next people to use this table," she replied. "I'm going to leave it here, and when they see it they'll be scared."

What are the Dooms at the top about, I wondered - especially since I wasn't sure how a 7 year old would even know the usage of said word. She then sang the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, using the Dooms.... I loved the genius irony of not only the music, but the message of doom. (Even though I know she didn't intend it.)

This is the same girl who then read out a speech she'd just written - the one she'd prepared for her "sugar self help group." (Yes, I know. Where on earth did that come from?) It started with:

"Hello, my name is Anne." Then she'd written, in brackets "Hello Anne" - the supposed response from the other members of this group.  At that point I recalled when she was about 4 and someone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She simply said, "An alcoholic."

And there are a million more stories like these ones. This is a girl who thinks outside every box, and yesterday over breakfast was deliberately trying to work out how to scare whichever strangers were to next sit at our table. And that's a little weird - especially since she wanted to do it by telling them not to be afraid - she said to me that would make them more scared.

I sure hope she starts writing fiction when she's older.  I'll point her straight at the Australian Horror Writer's Association. Perhaps she'll even get published in Midnight Echo before I do.