Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Why use one word when two will do?

I live in a country where 'too much sport is never enough' to quote a couple of comedic sports commentators. And it's true. On a Saturday, you can turn the teev on and watch cricket, tennis, golf, motor sport or basketball, all televised at the same time.

What burns my wick, however, is the ongoing trend of superfluous words. A champion isn't a 'dual' winner or has won a particular event 'twice', he/she is a 'two-time winner/loser'. Call me a pedant or nitpicker, but that smacks of laziness.

Worse is the cliched 'losing/winning streak'. It doesn't sound bad, but when attached with 'two/three/four game', it descends into the realm of ridiculous. Since when has two games been considered a 'streak'? I love my sport, but I get a case of lock-jaw when a team's progress is described as a 'streak' whether they win or lose, or how many. Ten games lost. Yeah, when they win, you can describe that as having 'broken their ten game losing streak'. Two games is two games, not a streak.

We live in a world where the media are constantly vying for our attention, but the concept of 'spicing' up news/sport programs with the liberal salting of cliches and 'excitement' is denigrating the achievements of the people involved.

'If it bleeds, it leads' is the current catch-cry of various media groups. It sucks. Pure and simple. Gone are the days of journalists simply reporting the news; we live in an era of purple prose reporters who have to squeeze as much out of a story as possible. It's one of the reasons I gave up journalism. I couldn't do my job without throwing in various inflammatory phrases to catch people's attention. My job, as I saw it, was to report the news, not to create it. I presented the facts, not start a bloody riot with a slanting of what I saw.

The same can be said of novel writing. One school says to overstate what's happening; make your characters and situation larger than life (the rule: people will believe a big lie over a small one). The other school is to be spare in your writing and let your readers imagination fill in the gaps (the rule: a person's imagination has more creativity than your words, prompt them and they will do the rest).

During the times of Dickens, Austen, and others, descriptive passages were long and drawn out, using up as much space as possible to set the scene. Today, we use descriptive passages sparingly. Different times, different capacities for patience. In each era, it was the accepted style, neither is right or wrong. What has changed is our attitude and how much time we have for reading.

A few years ago, I read page after page of how an atomic bomb worked in a particular book. Pissed me off with it's technical descriptions and I skipped the last bit, bored: but it was in that last bit that described why the bomb didn't go off and I was left thinking 'huh?' Why didn't the author simplify the description? I really didn't give a rat's bladder about the whys and wherefores, I just wanted the story to move on and because of that one long, drawn out passage, the rest of the book was spoiled for me. I don't think I've read any more of that particular author because I was fed up with the constant technical descriptions. (I'm sure my no longer purchasing the books wouldn't worry such a well-known and wealthy author, but still...)

It does not pay to be too wordy. Finding the balance, of course, is the trick. One every writer should aspire to learn.

Monday, January 30, 2006


I'm currently having a discussion, via correspondence, with my tutor on marketing versus art.

With over a hundred thousand book titles being published every year in the States, it's difficult, if nigh impossible, to get your book noticed. If you are a well known series author, or even a becoming-known series author, readers, according to some amorphous research, will stick with the books you write, but not necessarily anything outside of that series. I'm thinking this is why authors write under numerous nom de plumes in various genres. The author is known in those fields, the publishers know those names and genre and run with it because they are successful.

Are series formula, though? We know publishers go with what's successful, not what might be better written or new or fresh. Does formula writing interfere with a writer's creativity? No, I don't think so. A writer can write to formula and still be creative. Witness the romance genre for example. We all know there's going to be a happy ending (generally speaking), but it is the story of how the hero and heroine get there that's important.

Every genre has a type of formula, it is simply a matter of how we, as authors, apply that formula to our own creativeness.

Individual style and content is at issue though. I've yet to make a decision on whether I would, for example, change the ending of a book simply because the publishers found the nationality of the villian to be unacceptable (as one Australian author was asked to do). And if, perchance, a series of books I'd written were so successful, would I want to continue writing that series until I'm dead and buried? I think I'd go the way of many authors and find a pen name to write in a different genre, but still maintain the series.

I think, when it comes to marketing versus art, the marketing machines have misunderstood what's going on out there in readerland. With the advent of weblogs and pages, authors can spread their words further and further afield, network with other authors and readers, promote their work in their own words for less that the marketing budget. It's an effective way to become well known. Diana Gabaldon started her career from a writers group. And like a pebble tossed into a pool of still water, the ripples of her career have expanded to encompass a very successful writing career. Art has triumphed over marketing. The publishing houses have just made it more difficult to succeed when the push particular books, trying to decide what you should and should not be reading.

I think art will continue to succeed as long as authors are willing to work for their talent and readers are willing to read what's been written. It's basically a grass roots process, and nothing works as well as a well fed grapevine.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australia Day

Today is our national day of celebration. It's a day of barbeques, of fireworks, of the beach, sand, surf, of parties and strangers calling out 'g'day, mate'. It's a day when most of the population sigh and think 'damn, I'm glad I'm Australian'.

Every country thinks theirs is special. I'm no different. To me, Australia is special. I've travelled, so don't think I'm being parochial. I even tried to live in England, my mother's birth country. I couldn't do it. Not because it was cold and damp during winter and mild in summer. I loved the scent of the sweet grass in spring, the dying leaves in autumn, the snow in winter. I loved the... Britishness; the ancient monuments, cobblestone streets, the fluffy, white clouds and long evenings. I even enjoyed the harsh northern winters of chilled rain and sharp wind, the cold winter sun, the red-cheeked, pale people huddled in thick coats; it was all wonderful.

I've been to America - twice, and plan another trip. I enjoyed their openess and willingness to help a stranger, the spectacular Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Puget Sound, Arches National Park, the snow swept grasslands of North Dakota, the sulky heat of New Orleans, the wooded hills of Tennessee. I was intrigued by the class and racial divisions that are denied, the diversity of accents; I listened with interest to the tales and stories of ordinary Americans. I was in San Francisco for the devastating fires - yeah, some time ago now, but I remember the familiarity.

I've been to Thailand, to Fiji, Denmark, Canada, Ireland... and nowhere felt more like home than... Australia.

Because this is where I was brought up? Probably. But this country was built by those who came from other countries. How hard was it for them to give up their nationalities to create this new country? How difficult to leave behind everything they'd ever known, friends, family, lifestyle to come here?

There are alot of attractive things about Australia: the weather, the people, the sheer openness and diversity of our landscape.

We welcome thousands every year who come from everywhere to settle. We're proud to be Australian no matter where you came from, we believe in the ethic of a fair go and we believe in mateship.

It probably comes from our convict origins, but we pull together during times of adversity. This country is not an easy one to live in. We are a land of drought, of floods and bushfires, of surf and sand, of snow and mountains and deserts and rainforests. Some of our best people were born elsewhere, but call Australia home. And some of our best people were born here and succeed overseas.

It doesn't matter where you were born, we are proud to call you ours. And on this Australia Day, it is our multiculturalism that is celebrated with such style.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I'm the family genealogist and I actually like to hunt down ancestors. I haven't found too many - 365 - which is pitiful compared to some hunters out there with thousands in their trees. Of course, I don't have direct access to records in Utah, England, Ireland or Denmark so I have to do it the hard way and search databases.

Not that it isn't fun checking out other people's trees for matches. I found four more for the tree in my grandparents generation from an unexpected source - and they weren't even related.

I think it's important to know where we came from, or rather, who we came from; it's the generations that went before us who make up who we are now. I haven't found anyone famous yet, but you never know.

I did find this. Amazing, really, that so many people could be descended from one man. And yet, it was atypical of families to have as many children as possible to ensure the next generation. I've found in my own tree that the child mortality rate was high; even as late as my grandfather's generation. He had four siblings who died in childhood before he was born.

There are plenty of sites out there in cyber-space that help in the search for past generations, and I've found that it's intriguing to think about what kind of a life they led, who they were related to, where they travelled to and from.

It's the kind of hobby that can be addictive. In fact, I think I'll just go and see if I can hunt down some more relatives...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A public thanks

To one of my favourite authors, S.L. Viehl, or Lynn Viehl, or Jessica Hall, or Gena Hale - she has so many pseudonyms is a wonder she's not suffering from multiple personalities. Oh, she's also Rebecca Kelly (I think) but I don't read those books.

Over at Paperback Writer, S.L.'s weblog, she had a competition for her latest sci-fi book. Rather than select the winners from all the entries, she chose to give every entrant a copy; signed, too. It shows a remarkable generosity of spirit - which she'd deny - and a wonderful dichotomy of personality even when threatening to delete her weblog and to be rid of us all. She is a private person willing to share - her stories, both real and imagined - her time - though she has precious little of it - and her craft - of which she is becoming a master.

So thank you, S.L. Viehl, from me, all the way across the other side of the world.

Advice for Writers

I don't know where this originated from, but it tickles me. Just FYI, it's tongue-in-cheek, but you'll get the idea of language use.

Verbs has to agree with their subjects;
Don't use no double negatives;
A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with. (Or as Sir Winston Churchill once said: This is the type of nonsense up with I shall not put!) Actually, this is true. He said it at a dinner party;
About sentence fragments;
When one is writing, it is important to maintain your point of view;
Don't say the same thing more than once. It's redundant and repetitious;
This sentence no verb;
Perform a functional iterative analysis on your work to root out third generation transitional buzz words;
Beware of malapropisms. They are a communist submersive plot;
Join clauses good like a conjunction should;
Avoid the use of dyed-in-the-wool cliches.

I can't help but snicker at some of these, but they are a good illustration of what to watch for when writing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's 'its'...

I read. A lot; weblogs, books, newspapers, articles, short stories. I also write critiques for people. As an editor/writer, whatever, I don't just read for enjoyment, but for errors and there are a few out there that are creeping into everyday texts.

Some are easy to see, others not so easy. A few examples that I see more and more:

Its or it's. This one is remarkably simple. It's is a contraction of 'it is'. 'Its' is a possessive noun. To remember where and when to use it, think of this: 'It's 'its' except when it's it's'. (It is 'its' except when it is 'it is'.)

Than or then. This is one of my bugbears. I don't get the confusion of use. Rather than, not rather then. 'Then' is time oriented, 'than' is an alternative. Everything blurred, then steadied. Or: His chuckle came out more hiss than laugh.

Effect or affect. Effect is usually used as a noun, it means a result of an event; affect is a verb. A bee sting will affect you; the effect of a bee sting may be pain.

These three common mistakes can ruin a perfectly good story. Worse, it can teach bad habits to readers. Writers have many technical books, none more important than a good grammar and style book. If in doubt, look it up. The English language is complicated enough without bringing errors into it. Yes, it's constantly evolving, it's that kind of language, but being lazy is no excuse. Although... are we becoming so lackadaisical that it's beginning not to matter as long as the sense of what we're trying to say is understood?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Read... Write

I've put a list of what I'm reading/read/will read on the sidebar. I've done this for a number of reasons. First, to keep track of what tempts me throughout a year; second, some of them are by my favourite authors; third, some of these writers lift my ambition to write better; and fourth, to write effectively an author has to read.

I think it was the great Nora Roberts who suggested that reading be considered research - up until I read that, I consider reading a guilty pleasure that took me away from writing. Now, it's research. Of course, like anything else, you have to know when to stop. I have a lot of bookcases filled with novels I'll re-read, if only to give me that lift and think 'wow, I wish I could write like that', followed by 'hmmm, that gives me an idea'.

It's a question that authors get all the time: "Where do you get your ideas from?" The simple answer is 'everywhere: books, half heard conversations, odd events, world politics, newspapers, dreams, even a line from a song.' From the last, I wrote a Nano of nigh on 150,000 words.

Every writer finds their own way, either on their own or helped by others. It's what makes sites like Forward Motion so important. Weblogging is also important. Blogs make recommendations and those who read the blogs are immediately tempted by what their favourite author is reading.

To aspire to write like a particular author is flattering, I think, and every writer has their own style. For most authors, their style is a blend of who they read as a youngster and their own voice to create something new.

The more we writers can encourage people to read, the bigger the audience. It might be stating the bleedin' obvious, but it cannot be overstated. Witness JK Rowling, Steven King, John Grisham and other luminaries. I would also add another comment, and that is that reading increases your vocabulary and teaches you about something you might not have otherwise investigated.

I love being a writer; it's not a job, nor is it work, for to say as much is to suggest it's less than satisfying. And that would be wrong. I love the worlds others create for me, the characters, the problems and the solutions. Some are well written, some are not, but they are all entertaining in some way. Better yet, I like to think I fall somewhere in between, and one day, I'll share my worlds, the characters, the problems and solutions with a broader audience.

Maybe that will be my year's goal: to post exerpts; it's time.

Friday, January 13, 2006


I've been working on a proofreading and editing exercise, number ten of twelve, so I'll be done with it soon and have another few letters to stick on the end of my name. I don't look for qualifications, I look for courses that interest and will help me.

A lot of people will remember the days of doing grammar at school with a groan or two; what verbs are, what nouns are, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, whether you've got a dangling participle or, gods forbid, you've split an infinitive or used a double superlative. Heaven help you if you've got an oxymoron.

For most people, English comes naturally, but for others with a learning disorder, it can be a nightmare. (I don't include people for whom English is a second language, I'm talking about people born to the language.)

I was recently contacted by someone I went to high school with. His writing skills are atrocious. It took me some time to decipher what he was saying and while I was pissed at having to do so, it also occured to me that he was probably dyslexic. I have no memory of this fellow, I doubt I was in any of his classes; but he remembered me, or perhaps, he thinks he does: just recognises the name. He was in, what was called then, a 'special learning' class. We all read that to mean the real dumbasses. I doubt I had any thought of whether they had learning difficulties, I was simply smug in my advanced knowledge base.

Once, I would have written back, correcting all the mistakes in his e-mail - how arrogant would that have been? How cruel? Thankfully, that kind of attitude has slipped away; it began to fade when I gave up being a full time journalist, when I was focused on the absolute correctness of my work. I'm more relaxed these days, more willing to allow for style and expression. I still get pissy at bad grammar and spelling, for the latter, there's no real excuse - if in doubt, look in the dictionary. Yeah, I still have an echo of that stick up my butt. And it is a hot button with me.

To be able to communicate effectively in this world, speaking and writing your chosen language is paramount, otherwise, misunderstandings and confusion arise.

As writers, we have a responsibility to express ourselves in clear, concise language. For my school colleague, I can't imagine the difficulties he has with getting his point across unless it's verbal.

The good news is that learning proper English can be a simple as absorbing it. The more books, articles, or whatever read, the better a reader becomes at writing. By listening to the news, to audio books, to speech patterns, people can absorb what sounds right and what doesn't, can learn to differentiate between good language skills and bad, can know what is a colloquialism and what is pure English; and since the English language constantly evolves, can create new ways to say old things. What remains, however, is grammar. Ever and always. Those classes weren't so bad after all.

Now, I have to go and hunt up the onomatopoeia in my assignment and explain the appropriateness of them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The work environment

The challenge, on various writer's weblogs I read, has been to show off work spaces. Some are pristine, some are... not; some are very spare and others are simply a comfortable place to sit with the laptop on the knees.

I don't have a digital camera (it's also not on my list of things to buy), and no photo of my own workspace. My desk is an antique and just fits everything; I'm surrounded by bookcases, cd racks and software boxes and with the stereo speakers above and to either side of my desk. I have two filing cabinets as well on either side of the desk. It's actually quite crowded, but comfortable. This is going to change soon.

I actually went out looking for a hutch for my desk; something to sit over the moniter and printer, for my most used books which are currently in two rows on a coffee table. All that twisting while seated cannot be good for me. What I found was a fabulous lake-size desk. Hand built, solid wood (recycled pine), with an inlay, drawers down each side and a keyboard drawer... sigh. It's just like my Dad's, only bigger. It was on my 'one day' list, and now I can cross it off. Of course, it won't fit where my current desk is, so I'm going to have to rearrange my office somewhat.

The good thing about it is that everything I need will fit with space to spare, including my editor's board. This is a tilted board on hinges that I can raise for more comfortable reading; my sister built it for me. I don't have to bend my neck for hours on end reading a manuscript and doing markups. I can even shove the keyboard under it - a nifty space saving tool. With the new desk, the keyboard will go into it's drawer. Oh, the joy!

The only negative about the desk is that I'll have to wait until April for it to arrive. The back order list is that long.

Why did I buy a desk when I have a perfectly good one? In my defence, I can only say it was like when I went out to buy a lawn mower and came back with a microwave - it just happened. Call it Karma, fate, or simple distraction for a beautiful piece of furniture, but that sucker is mine, half price, too.

(Oh, no, I can feel a gloat coming on. Better shove that aside.)

Work environments aren't supposed to be important to writers, we need to be able to work anywhere, and that's true, to a point. The new desk won't make me writer faster, or better, but it will make me feel more comfortable, once I get past the 'mwahaha! Mine, mine, mine!' stage.

Now, all I need to do is find the right chair for it... I'll probably come back with car racks...

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Plot Thickens

Hmm... it's an interesting statement, don't you think? Mentally, it's an 'ah ha!' moment accompanied by a 'mwahaha'. That's the way the reader thinks, but what of the writer?

Plots are the essential ingredient for a book; without plot, you have nothin' but a string of words, more or less, in a particular order. It's like cake without the sugar, pancakes without the maple syrup, a car without the petrol.

Some writers are rabid plotters. They'll have reams of paper filled with plots, how they work, how they intertwine, how they begin and end, how the characters interact with them; diagrams, maps, Post-It notes strewn across the wall and monitor. In short, they create a thick plot before the real writing begins.

Other writers will have a vague idea of the plot as they begin their writing. The book will be done in it's first draft before any formal plot is set down elsewhere.

In the first instance, the plotting is the safety net for when the writer gets edgy about which direction to take the book in, a road map, if you will. In the second instance, it doesn't so much matter at first, because the writer is making it up as they go along. There is much freedom, grasshopper, in this second approach, but too much freedom can lead to confusion and indecision.

I'm not a great plotter. I find it sucks the creative juices right out of me, leaving no room for exploring what's up that off ramp, or dirt track. And yes, it's all about discipline. The 'don't look down there, stay on the highway you've built' will get you to where you're going, but when you're writing, you want adventure, to study the scenery and enjoy it.

I'm not criticising any writer who does this. I admire them for their discipline and ability to surround themselves with the comforts of all the worldbuilding, character profiles, research, and so on. I just can't do it. Tried, didn't work. For me.

My version is ass backwards: I'll write the book, then write everything else down. I'll take each scene and study it, decide whether it progresses the book or not, whether there is enough description, whether the conversations are right, whether there is action on every page. I make note of where it breaks down, why and how to fix it. Of course, I can hear people saying 'if you plotted it out to begin with, you wouldn't have this problem'. But like I said, it doesn't work for me.

Plots are not carved in stone. Plots are flexible, deleteable, moveable. Nor is there a right way to write a book, and there are plenty of authors out there who have their own way of doing things, and successfully. The point is to find your own way.

As a craft, writing is a never ending learning curve. With every book you write, you learn something new. I can tell you catagorically that without initial plotting, my writing has still improved since that first woeful effort. I know more of the technicalities, how to make dialogue flow better, how not to use 'weasel' words, have better sentence construction, worldbuilding and so on. Am I publishable yet? Maybe. Is it my aim? Well, yes. Am I bothered by not being published? No, my stress levels are high enough, thank you all the same. The important thing is that I enjoy creating people, worlds and problems that need to be solved.

Plotting, for me, comes after the book is done. I can take a thin consomme of populated worlds, and make it a rich, thick and tasty soup of heroes, villains, love, hate, tragedy, triumph, scenery, dialogue, evil plans and brilliant solutions. But... the book has to be written first.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Forgive me, God of Web World, for I have sinned, it's been a week since my last blog...

Yeah. Who knew twelve-year-olds required so much attention? I have spent hours at the beach, at the movies, playing Mah Jong and baby sitting even smaller human relations this week, and I am... worn out. I took the aforementioned twelve-year-old back to her home, some 280 kilometres away and have returned in a fugue state. I feel like I've done a marathon. Tomorrow, my eldest sister arrives with a few hours of Hex to watch, yippee!

Monday, however, looms large and ominous. Yessiree Bob. Time to get on with the New Year's resolutions and my list of things to catch up on is crooking it's blackened, evil finger. No more screwing around. I have an assignment to finish, books to edit, books to read, books to make notes on, anime to watch, exercise to get on with and, oh... right... housework. Bleh.

Ah, well. The Yule tree has been dismantled, my work space, er, not cleaned up per se, as in sneered at stuff moved (read: piled up elsewhere).

I will confess, here and now, that I'm not really a summer writer. Summer wears me out with the hot temperatures, the warm winds and moisture sucking lack of humidity. I just don't find it fun, or conducive to writing. Autumn, winter and spring is when I get most of my work done, but I cannot afford to slack off like the past three weeks. Writing must be done. Editing must be done. Sending my work out mu..., um... I'll get to that. Eventually. Okay, this year. I promise...

The holidays are over, kids have dispersed and I'm once more on my own to do what I please. My head is overfull with story ideas and it's time to get on with it. I'm off to do just that: make notes on new works.