Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ideas Into Stories.

People ask me where I get ideas from.

Ideas are plentiful. Everyone has them. What they don't have are stories.

As an example, I usually tell my students a story. A true one. At this point I start to smirk and laugh as thought it's hilarious.

"My wife asked me to get some milk on the way home last night. So I stopped at the supermarket, and went in and bought some."  Now I laugh as though I can't help myself. "And so I paid for it, and then drove home. Cool story, huh?"

They tell me it's not a story, and so we then discuss the reasons why. And they are the ones who come up with conflict/problem/difficulty overcoming these/resolution, etc.

An idea. A man walks into a pet store and buys an alien life-form. Cool. I might even use that at some point. But there's no story there - yet. It needs more.  What's going to happen with this alien pet? Type of food it needs? Size it will grow to? Not a pet but sentient?

Where's the problem and how is it resolved.

Sometimes you have to laminate a couple of ideas, extend them, play with them, exaggerate them, try them in different settings, and so on.

I have pages and pages of ideas jotted in my notebook. From time to time I peruse those pages, something clicks and I start creating a story.

You might have ideas. Do you have stories?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lazy Writing?

I read a few short stories this week that completely underwhelmed me. These stories weren't written by newcomers, writers who could be excused for not nailing all the conventions of storytelling, but pieces by established authors, names that any SF fan would instantly recognise.

I suspect that if I'd submitted some of these under my own name, they would have received a formal rejection.

(It would be an interesting experiment, wouldn't it? I submit one of my stories under an established name, and they submit one of their weaker ones under mine...)

I'm not talking about taste here. There are always going to be stories that appeal to me more than others. But these stories missed entire elements, had 'idiot' plots, (where the protagonist is required to be an idiot in order for the story to work), loose ends, unanswered questions, ridiculous coincidences that allowed characters to overcome difficulties, and in one particular case, no real story at all - that is no crisis or problem for the main character.

Why is this? Is it laziness on the part of the writer, or is it simply a matter of the writer having become a factory and churning stuff out?

Or, like Paul McCartney, are they unable to see their own work is rubbish and there is no one around game to tell them their work is sub-standard. Maybe they need an equal, a 'John Lennon' along side them who can give an honest critique.

As I've written a few times recently, these things are becoming more apparent to me in my own writing. I'm recognising my own weaknesses and working hard to address them. I'm understanding the elements required to create a satisfying tale. And I can see why my earlier work (in some cases) was rejected so quickly.

I truly hope that I continue to learn and improve. I never want to rest on my laurels.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Words Are Flowing Out Like Endless Rain Into A Paper Cup.

The piece I mentioned I've been struggling with has now been put on hold. That story will still happen, but it's been difficult to get going and even though I got some words down, I'm not really happy with them. Instead I've moved onto another story.

Last week, while walking the dogs, I was throwing around a story title that I'd discovered while I was in China earlier this year. And I was suddenly hit by a narrative idea that matched it. As soon as I got home I sat down and typed up 1,000 words without any effort. Clean words, that will require little editing or rewriting. And the process since then has remained as easy as that. This is going to be a good story. I can feel it.

I don't think I could have written this story a year or so ago. I wouldn't have known to include the elements vital to make it work. It feels like I learn new truths about writing almost daily. Even this morning, I had one of those 'hit yourself on the back of the head' moments. D'oh!  While reading a short story, I recognised an obvious aspect of writing that's been missing from my own work. And of course it is something that had been mentioned to me previously, but that I hadn't really 'got'.

Ah yes, I'm quite optimistic about my writing future at the moment. How's your writing going?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pause. Breathe. Think.

I've read a couple of interesting posts/blogs/tweets/whatever recently where I suspect the writer/blogger/whoever may have let their guard down for a moment.

Or maybe not.

I can't really believe that people would share things on the internet and ever expect it to be private, and yet some people write stuff that I wouldn't even say to my friends.

Is it the feeling of anonymity that one has when sitting at a keyboard and screen? Or is it simply that some people don't care about their online reputation?

OK, I admit it. I *do* have a writerly persona I try to project in the cyberworld. It's that of a professional writer who's serious about the 'craft' and wants to succeed. It's that of someone who is easy to work with. It's that of someone who is supportive and encouraging. Whether I'm successful at portraying this is a question for others.

Of course there are times when I feel negative about things, just like everyone, but I've made the decision to keep those moments to myself (and perhaps with one or two close friends) and not share them with the world at large. I wouldn't walk into my staffroom at school and say these things out loud. Why would I write them on my blog, or Facebook, or wherever?

And why would I sabotage my writing career by building a negative reputation?

There are definitely people whose works I have not bought because of their behaviour towards me or others, because of things they've said or written, or because of their arrogance. And there are those whose work I have bought because they seem like good people, or encouraged me, or took the time to simply chat with me at a con.

Is my persona false? No, it's authentic - because it's who I am, and it's similar to how I try to present myself in the real world.

But we sometimes need to remember to pause and take a breath before we hit the 'publish' button.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Feel The Moonlight On Your Skin.

A couple of pro-level mags have slipped quietly into the market place this year.

Fiction River, a series edited by Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch, already has three issues out, with each issue being themed. At this stage I've only read the first one. While I enjoyed it and will continue to read the series, the stories varied wildly in quality. I truly hope the standard settles down.

Galaxy's Edge, from the desk of Mike Resnick, is more even, with stories at a higher standard. So far I've read the first two and really enjoyed them both. Mike's so-called 'writing children' (his mentorees) get a bit of space, but on the whole their stories deserve to be there.  The editorial and Barry Malzberg's column have both been entertaining. Add non-fiction by Gregory Bensford and an ongoing serialisation of the almost winner of the 1962 Hugo novel and it's heading in the right direction

Both of these magazines are are available in print and e-book, and are well worth a look.

I'm looking forward to Dimension6 from Keith Stevenson. Keith is a past editor of Aurealis, and has run Coeur de Lion publishing for a few years now. And I've heard whispers of a few more new magazines on the horizon.

All in all the future for SF looks bright. Welcome to the New Golden Age of speculative fiction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Dreaded Blank Page.

There's a story I've been wanting to write for a few weeks now. I really like the idea and the concept, and I knew the character, setting and mood that I wanted. I just didn't know how to start it, and I wasn't sure of how to create the desired mood.

Where to start? I know I procrastinated with this one. Which is silly, really, because the advice I give to my students when they ask me about this, is to simply write it.

So I did that, yesterday. I started writing the story. I managed the first paragraph, and while I have no doubt that entire paragraph will be deleted and/or re-written, I've managed to find my way into the story.

There are a couple of novels and short stories that have a similar mood to the story I'm working on. I dug those out and had a quick read to see how those authors created their world. Interestingly, I've become more away of my own writing voice, and I see my voice as suiting this story well.

Now all I have to do is finish it, or as Dean Wesley Smith says, simply write the next sentence.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land.

Satalyte Publishing is taking orders for its first release, and what a fine TOC it has. 

Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land includes some well known and respected Australian writers.  Edited by Stephen Ormsby and Carol Bond.

And I must congratulate my comrade-in-arms, David McDonald on his inclusion.

Journey into visions of the Great Southern Land by eight Australian authors. The novelettes of this series will take you along arcane paths into fantastic Australias of the imagination.

Disciple of the Torrent by Lee Battersby
This Corner of the Earth by Dean Mayes
Acts of Chivalry by Sean McMullen
Bobby, Be Good  by H.M.C
Dreams Didgeridoo by Salwa Samra
After the Red Dust by Charmaine Clancy
Jaylin by A. Finlay
Set Your Face Toward the Darkness by David McDonald

Saturday, September 7, 2013

One Night? Two Nights?

Was it simply once or a couple of occasions blended together in my mind?

My memory tells me it was all on one evening. I was at my friend's house. Paul is his name, and I regret that he lives interstate and we rarely see each other. Glenn was there too. Paul and Glenn were a good few years older than me. I was 17, they were in their mid 20s, and they loved to play me music that I'd never heard before, which accounts for my tastes which are ten years older than they should be. While my friends at school were listening to crap, they were making me listen to Slade, Iggy Pop and Larry Carlton.

But this night, which seems to be indelibly etched in my mind, introduced me to to three of my favourite gospel albums.

Yes, I grew up in a Christian home, although my beliefs are now closer to a philosophy and lie somewhere between Christianity and Buddhism.  But in those days I was listening to a fair amount of Christian music.

Don't knock it. This was before the uber-commercialisation of the genre. And some of it was pretty good.

But this night, this one night, Paul played me a new album he'd found. He told me it was a country and western act, which was something I hated at the time. He was lying. He  showed me an album - blue, it was, with bright garish birds on it. Resurrection Band.  The album was called Colours, spelled the correct way, which was unusual for a band from Chicago. He dropped the needle on Autograph, and it blew my mind.

I'd heard Randall Waller before, live, when he played solo acoustic with Larry Norman (or was it Randy Stonehill) in the late 70s. But then Glenn played me Midnight Fire, produced by John Linn. What an amazing album, with superb production. It's still on my playlist.

Glenn then played me a track he thought I might like because I was such a huge Beatles fan. It was 'Out Across The Sky' by Daniel Amos. John Lennon indeed.  Then he played me the rest of the album, Horrendous Disc.  Kind of a hokey cover, but I've been a massive Daniel Amos fan ever since.  Yes, they are still playing and recording, and I have virtually everything they ever put on tape.

Was it one night? Two? Three?

Glenn has passed, and I'd love to be able to spend an evening with him. Paul lives interstate, and I don't see him often enough.  But their influence and legacy remains.

Thanks, guys.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reading Makes Writing.

The one piece of advice I continually see from professional writers is the need to read as much as possible. This has never really been an issue for me as I've always been a voracious reader.

As a child I sent many hours in the school library, both hunting for books and reading them - sometimes entire YA novels in my lunch break. I was well known by the library staff and they were very supportive. It was there I saw my first SF books. I loved the look of those Asimov novels with his name emblazoned across the top in block letters over the amazing artwork by Chris Foss. And the fact you could lay the books side by side to make an even bigger picture was a bonus.

The name ASIMOV was rather exotic sounding, and the science part of Science Fiction scared me a little. I asked a friend whether he'd read any Asimov, and once he'd told me he had I asked him whether it was able to be read by non-scientists.

And so I borrowed 'Foundation', and loved it. Within a few weeks I'd started buying SF novels from markets and used bookstores, originally based on the cover art. 'The Tower of Glass' by Robert Silverberg was next, followed by a Philip K. Dick, and so on. It wasn't long before I'd built up a knowledge of the authors I liked, and those I didn't 'get'. It took me many years and several attempts to get past the first hundred pages of Frank Herbert's Dune, for example. 

I still regularly read Bob Shaw, John Brunner, Michael G. Coney, Roger Zelazny, Robert Sheckley, Frederik Pohl, Poul Anderson and A. E. van Vogt as well as the old masters mentioned above.

My tastes have broadened. I read a lot of fantasy during the 80s and early 90s, something I haven't done for a long time. And for some reason I mostly read female authors now. I also read a lot of Australian small press - something I didn't even know existed back then.

Which reminds me. I need to catch up on my Analogs, Asimovs and F&SFs. I'm a few months behind. It's time to take a break from the non-fiction I'm currently reading.

Vale: Frederik Pohl.

Not ten minutes since I commenced writing my post for tomorrow, and I learn that Pohl has passed away.

The post for tomorrow was about the writers that I started my SF life with. And Pohl was one of those mentioned.

I've been reading his blog, on and off, for the past few years. He's written on the editors and writers he met during his career, particularly during the so-called Golden Age. As perhaps the last man standing, he can pretty much say whatever he wants. And at times it's made for fascinating reading.

I have many Pohl books in my collection. And along with his compatriots, they inspired me and gave flight to my imagination. Man Plus, for example, is one novel that I've re-read several times  during the past 30 years.

He was 93.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Beginning Again Again.

Spring is finally here. Not only officially, but the weather seems to have shifted accordingly. There are blossoms out, and I was swooped by a magpie this morning.

The past few months have been busy at work and I've not written anywhere near enough. It is time to stop making excuses and get back into my morning writing routine. This program was quite successful for me earlier this year, and so from Monday morning I plan to get up early everyday and get some writing done before heading off to school.

I'm in the middle of a couple of major re-writes, and have a new story started. And, of course, many pages of notes on story ideas that only need time to become reality.

I have the desire, the hunger and the capability.  Plus there is a steak dinner at stake here.

Time to write.