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I like to mess around in Adobe Photoshop and other photo apps. Here’s a collage of my various site headers I made for Instagram. Just because.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

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An Abundance of Katherines. A Book Review.

John Green has rapidly become one of my favourite authors. I’ve now read four* of his young adult (YA) novels, the latest being An Abundance of Katherines (AoK).

AoK is about Colin Singleton, a young prodigy who finds himself at loose ends after being dumped by his 19th girlfriend, all of whom have been called Katherine. His best and only friend, Hassan, a less than devout Muslim who likes nothing more than sitting around the house watching Judge Judy, suggests a road trip to cheer Colin up. An-Abundance-of-KatherinesThey arrive in a Tennessee town called Gutshot, where they meet local nerd turned popular girl Lindsey Lee Wells (with her Football hero boyfriend, Colin, or The Other Colin–TOC, as Hassan refers to him). After meeting Lindsey’s rich mother, who owns the local tampon string-making factory (the only business keeping the town alive), they gain employment conducting interviews with the town’s people for an oral history project. Colin is writing  a mathematical formula to accurately predict how long relationships will last, based on his nineteen dumpings. I won’t spoil any more of this clever and imaginative book. Aside from being a story about finding true love, AoK is also about finding and being your true self.

Green has a knack for writing interesting, humorous characters and snappy dialogue. Colin, with his genius IQ, quirky anagrams and stolid bookish ways, is no exception. Hassan is his slacker comic relief, constantly supporting Colin and putting him down at the same time. Lindsey (who you just know is perfect for Colin, no spoiler there) is smartly confined within herself, wrapped up in her handsome boyfriend and a façade of happiness.

AoK is one of Green’s funniest novels. Liberally sprinkled within are smart and amusing footnotes, which add to the experience. The math behind the relationship formula is by brilliant mathematician Daniel Bliss, and can be found in an appendix at the end of the book (the math is real).

I thoroughly recommend AoK to anyone who likes quirky, romantic novels. It’s Green’s shortest book, so you’ll finish it in no time. And be better for the experience.

* For reviews of some of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down

Child of God. A book review.

Cormac McCarthy is a damn fine writer. He’s also a very disturbing one.

Child of God is one of his older books (1973), and tells the story of Lester Ballard, a lonely and erstwhile Tennessee hick who loses his home to live a vagrant life in the mountains. Lester comes across a dead couple in a car. It’s at this point he realises, for the first time in his life, that he can have a woman. After this, Lester satisfies his perverse lust by becoming a serial killer.Child of God

This is not a comfortable book to read (but then, most of McCarthy’s books aren’t). He eloquently describes Ballard’s dark decline with humour, compassion and a frightening edge that makes for gripping reading.

Child of God is well worth a look for anyone who enjoys exemplary writing; it’s a chilling and almost apocalyptic tale of the American South.

Upstart Photographer#4. Book Shelves.

I am, and always will be, a lover of books.

I currently live in a back room of my parent’s house (no job, no money; lonely but creative), surrounded by their bookshelves and my own.

So, what better topic than photos of shelves? In gorgeous black and white, of course.

I’ve included a friend’s bookshelves, as well.

Hope you like them.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Edgar Allan Poe and the First Exegesis

Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the foremost exponents of the Gothic horror genre and is also well known for his poetry. His poem The Raven, published in 1845, was his most famous and successful work, and his short stories include The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Despite his years of success as a writer, poet, critic and editor, he died broke and was buried in a pauper’s grave, the location unknown to this day.poe

Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition, published in 1846, is considered the first literary-oriented exegesis. Poe uses the exposed rear of a theatre stage as a cogent metaphor to allow readers to glance into the workings of a writer’s mind. Poe’s variegating theatrical metaphors about a piece’s personal literary history are valid: “the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”

The exegesis is a way for writers to explain their process, to intuitively describe the spark of personal creation, to enlighten readers regarding the meanderings of draft and re-draft. As Poe puts it, a look “at the true purposes seized only at the last moment, at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view, at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable”.

Poe was a dedicated and brilliant writer, and his work continues to yield treasures to both those familiar with his work and the uninitiated. I am a fan, as this post will no doubt attest.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe

Cheers

Steve 😊

Another post from a uni subject I completed many months ago. I thought it was a useful, if brief, introduction to the concept of the exegesis, which new and aspiring writers might find interesting.

‘The All or the Nothing’ – My first book of poetry is available NOW!

The All or the Nothing - Stephen Thompson (c) 201762 poems to make you laugh, cry, get depressed or get drunk by!

My first book of poetry is available as an e-book for $5.99 from the following distributors:

Please support me, a literally starving artist, in my quest for truth, justice, meter and rhyme.

Cheers

Steve 😊

A Poor Poet’s Cause

I’m putting together a book of poetry to self-publish, hopefully before Christmas. I’m working on whittling the two hundred plus poems I’ve written over the last nine months down to about fifty, as that’s the general size of most poetry books. The book will include some poems I’ve published on this site and new work not yet seen.

Why self-publishing? Whilst self-publishing your own novel can negatively impact your chances of getting signed to a publisher (unless you’re a particularly high selling self-published author a la E L James or Amanda Hocking), self-publishing a book of poetry should have no negative impact at all. But, why, I hear you say? Let’s face it, poetry, even when it does sell, generally only has small print runs. In other words, it’s probably not going to make or break your career unless you’ve already won a Pulitzer for poetry or something.

I know Amazon allows you to self-publish for free, but that means you’re restricted to the Kindle platform, and I want broader distribution on multiple platforms, so I’ll be going with either Bookbaby.com or ebookit.com. I just need to check out the reciprocal tax agreement between Australia and the US, to make sure I don’t get additional tax withheld by these American-based companies.

Because I’ve left this all a bit late (as usual), my book of poetry may not see the (blue) light until early next year. Either way, at least it’ll be out there at a low and reasonable price, available to all.

I’ll keep you up to date on how it’s progressing. I hope that you will support this poor poet on his journey to further obscurity.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Two John Green Books. A review.

I recently read two John Green books, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down. For those of you who don’t know, Green is a top-selling writer of literate young adult (YA) novels with a flair for smart, sassy characters and quirky humour.

Paper Towns features straight-laced Quentin Jacobsen (Q), who has lived most of his teenaged life next door to the high spirited and unreachable wild child Margo Roth Spiegelman. When they were nine they discovered a dead body, and although they run in different social circles now, they share a bond over that event. Margo decides to let Q to be her driver on an amazing night of payback, then promptly disappears. Whilst her parents are unconcerned, Q and his friends follow a trail of deliberate clues (including a Walt Whitman poem) attempting to find out what happened to Margo.

Paper Towns is a fast-paced mystery and road trip that touches on the reality and unreality of suburban life, the facade of personality and the lengths people go to find their real selves.

img_0653

Turtles All The Way Down is Green’s latest novel. It features terminally anxious Aza and overwhelmingly exuberant Star Wars fan fic writer Daisy as two teens who decide to pursue a missing businessman on the run from police, in the hope of claiming the reward. Aza used to be friends with the businessman’s son, Davis, and reuniting with him ignites a love complicated by her anxiety issues.

Turtles All The Way Down is about friendship, loyalty, first love, the incredible difficulty of living with mental illness and coming to terms with profound loss.

Green’s books are always humorous, well written and paced. He’s a smart writer, utilising his precocious teen characters to tell love stories with deeper meanings than most average YA lit. Often (at least in the three novels I’ve read so far) his leads tend to be very similar—unusually smart, funny, quirky, well-read middle class teens with a significant issue and loving parent/s—but his stories are so engaging I can overlook it.

I love that Green’s books are short. I can knock them over quickly in between uni texts and other, more weighty tomes. He is not an ‘overwriter’ (yes, Stephen King—I love your writing but your books can drag at times) by any means.

I have another couple of Green’s books on order. I guess that makes me a fan.

The Fault in Our Stars. A book review.

It seems I can’t stop reading profoundly affecting books.

A friend of mine loaned me John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the mega-selling young adult novel about two teenagers in cancer remission who fall in love. “You’ll need some tissues,” she said, and she wasn’t wrong. This book brought me close to tears on a number of occasions.The fault in our stars

The Fault in Our Stars is about 16-year old Hazel, a far too smart and interminably sassy girl permanently attached to an oxygen tank since her thyroid and lungs were attacked by cancer. She’s on an experimental drug which prevents her tumours from growing, but like many victims of the disease, she is somewhat cynical about life and her place in the world. Augustus Walters is a 17-year old interminably good looking ex-basketball jock who also happens to be smart and sassy, who lost his leg to cancer. The two meet at the local support group, hit it off and gradually Augustus’s positive world view starts to rub off on Hazel. They have a shared love for An Imperial Affliction, a book about a teenage cancer victim who dies abruptly leaving the ending up in the air. It was written by a retired author now living in Amsterdam and a big part of the story sees the two teens travelling to meet him to learn what happened to the book’s characters (An Imperial Affliction is a metaphor for The Fault in Our Stars’ protagonists and their yearning for something meaningful in a world that seems and often ends uncaringly).

I won’t spoil any more of this wonderfully written novel. John Green deserves the praise—this is a literary achievement, something much more than the average YA contemporary romance. It seethes with pathos. It’s sad, fast and funny. The characters are well developed and incredibly engaging. It’s a celebration of living for the here and now, because you never know how long it’s going to last. I found it hard to put down.

I guessed two of the major plot points—they weren’t telegraphed at all, but I knew they would happen (and no, I hadn’t seen the movie or read any spoilers), so I guess in some way perhaps those two elements bordered on cliché (or perhaps I’m just good at prediction). But other than that, this book was like a breath of fresh air (and that’s not a pun about Hazel’s lungs).

If you like tragic romance, you’ll love this. To paraphrase a line from the book: reading The Fault in Our Stars is “a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

In The Winter Dark. A book review.

I read a lot of books, but don’t often get the chance to post a book review. Then along comes a book that stuns me into submission, like a two-by-four wielded by some grinning, dream-fisted maniac.

“If only we hadn’t had so many things to hide, so many opportunities for fear to get us.” Tim Winton’s In the Winter Dark is a short (132 pages) suspense novel. It’s about an aging couple and two strangers, who live in a country valley where their farm animals are being mutilated by an unknown agency. All four are brought together by circumstance for the first time; all four hold dark secrets that are played out slowly and succinctly, a tragedy in the making.In the Winter Dark

As with Winton’s other books, it is superbly written and paced (for more about Breath, click here). His prose is like liqueur: it’s smooth and warm and something to be experienced patiently and magnanimously. There is no rushing a Tim Winton book, even when the suspense is building and you can’t put it down. Unlike some novels, which can be overbearing to the point you skip sections parsimoniously to move the story along, Winton’s stories make you savour every moment. Every turn of phrase and piece of imagery is like dark chocolate, melting insipiently on the tongue and in the brain.

The theme of cats as a symbol of our darkest secrets and fears plays a big part in this book. I’m not going to spoil the story, especially one that demands so doggedly to be experienced.

Beg, borrow, steal (or better still, purchase) a copy of In The Winter Dark. If you love a thriller and love masterful writing, this is the book for you.

Cheers

Steve 😊

The Novel-writing Locomotive.

My novel is (once again) back on track.

How many times have I said that? It seems every time I slip the rails I have some new excuse (for a list of the latest ones, click here). Coupled with my short attention span, my novel-writing train has jumped the tracks every few weeks, as if it was passing regularly back and forth over the NSW/Queensland state border where the rail gauge changes*.

My rescuer (or track repair crew, depending on which metaphor you prefer) is my delicious new iPhone (even though it’s not edible, it’s the next best thing. If they introduced edible iPhones I’m sure I’d be first in line to buy them and ravenously consume them**). I’ve downloaded MS Word onto my phone (which is an iPhone 8 ‘large’. Or ‘big’? Whatever they call the giant version. I personally like iPhone ‘humongous’, but that sounds both compensatory, and a bit too Mad Max, I suspect). I’ve moved my novel’s Word files to the cloud and now I can write anywhere. Yes, even in my favourite writing venue, the water closet***.

I admit this is not particularly innovative—I’ve been writing poetry this way for months, using the notes facility on my phone which auto backs up to iCloud—but I just wasn’t managing my time effectively enough to write on my laptop (I use it for my uni work, but I generally need a break afterwards. A looooooong break. Longer than a Kit-Kat, anyway).

So, I’m back to writing in small doses (that’s generally how I best interact with anything and anyone—you can only take so much manic or morose Steve at a time. That includes me dealing with me). And small doses is better than no doses.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

PS Why use Word on iPhone in place of Apple’s Pages or a writing-specific app? Because I already started my novel in Word, it retains all the formatting without having to convert it between apps, and it has a neat little ‘fit-to-screen’ word wrap button that Pages doesn’t. Technical Steve 😉

*Yes, in Australia we have different rail sizes. Yes, it’s stupid.

**Mmmmmm…I’m patenting that scrumptious idea.

***Dunny, loo, crapper—to all you uncultured larrikins.

Breath. A book review.

Tim Winton’s Breath is the kind of book that challenges your thinking about what it means to be a writer.

Winton’s prose flows like poetry, with immaculate meter and dialectal mastery. Breath makes me ashamed to say I’m a writer, because Winton is so good: I am not worthy. I have never been so profoundly affected by a book as I have by this one.Breath-Tim-Winton

Bruce Pike is a paramedic who witnesses the aftermath of a boy who has suffocated. It brings back memories of his past, and he ruminates on his solitary life, his parents, his love of surfing and the sea, his friendships, his jealousies, his role models, his sexual coming of age, his breakdowns and how he finds himself again. Breath is a journey into a man’s scarred psyche: it’s about facing fear, the addictive adrenalin rush of near death experience, and the profound cost left in its wake when it fails. Breath is poignant, disturbing, and uplifting, all at the same time.

Breath is not for everyone. But I dare you to read it and not come away marveling at the writing. I will read Breath again; multiple times, no doubt.

And I’ll repeatedly wish I had one iota of Tim Winton’s talent.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

PS I’m not giving up writing. This book sets a worthy benchmark to aim for. “Damn you, Tim Winton and your glorious writing!” Steve cried.

Bad Reader, Bad!

I’m a bad reader. Not a bad reader, as in slow or illiterate, but bad as in I read 10-12 books at a time and as a result often find myself returning to a book, months after I started it, wondering what happened previously. I think this has something to do with my short attention span…hey! Look, a pretty butterfly…

What was I saying? Oh, right, books. One of the books I recently returned to after a four month absence was Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, sequel to The Passage and the middle book of his super-cool post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy. If you haven’t read this yet I urge you to stop doing what you are doing RIGHT NOW, jump on a bus/train/plane/teleporter, get to your local bookshop, find they don’t stock it, argue with the shop assistant about why they don’t have the quality literary works you want in their store with them saying “look I just work here”, go back home in a bad mood, order it on the internet, wait two weeks for it to arrive waterlogged after the postal worker drops it off in a rainstorm and it’s  too big for the mailbox, dry it out in front of your old heater which sparks and nearly burns your house down, peel the pages apart, ring up the internet book seller and explain why you want another copy, they tell you they can’t as it was the postal service’s fault, you tell them huffily “that’s the last time I buy anything from you” (as you make another online purchase on their site), then read it. It’s freaking awesome and worth the hassle.books

It’s a bit easier trying to remember what you read months ago with fiction then with non-fiction. With non-fiction I may as well start the book again as I can’t remember what it was about after being away from it for a week, let alone a month (aaah, A History of the Renaissance. That was something to do with…the three musketeers? Stealing art. Lasagne. Wormholes. Or something).

I know what you’re thinking. ”Steve, why don’t you just read one book at a time?” Oh come on! That’s like saying only eat one colour m&m (and as obsessive compulsive as I am, I like all the colours. Wait a minute–maybe if I only eat all of the same colour at a time, the packet will last longer…). I like variety in my reading. And despite my claims that I do nothing all the time*, I actually have a lot going on** with my uni courses, music, gaming, TV watching, workouts, eating…okay now that I read that back, it sounds like I’m a bit of a layabout with time on my hands.

New leaf! Even though I have a lot of books on the boil, I will endeavour to finish this one before going back to another! Wow. Who would have thought reading a book from start to finish would require so much work…

Cheers

Steve 🙂

*This claim is completely unsubstantiated. Or would be, if I had the time to substantiate it. Or unsubstantiate it. One of the two. 

**The term, ‘lot going on’ is completely unsubstantiated.

Patrick Ness is an awesome writer. But don’t take my word for it…

Patrick Ness is a great author. He writes books for young adults – teen fiction, I guess you call it. The big difference between him and many other writers of that genre, is that his books carry a weight, a gravitas, that raises them above the mob.

I read a lot of books. I’m not trying to brag, or make out that I’m better than other people who read, just pointing out that my tastes are very eclectic. I read classics, science fiction, crime, history, autobiographies, blah, blah, blah. And I think that the eminent Mr Ness is one of the finest writers I’ve read. And that’s a pretty big call.Ness

My introduction to Ness was The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first part of his Chaos Walking trilogy. I was intrigued by the title, so I picked it up. It is one of the few books I’ve read where a scene made me cry, and I’m pretty soppy. I picked up the rest of the trilogy and was astounded that young adult fiction could be so good. It’s fast-paced, riveting and emotionally draining stuff, that explores themes of misogyny, terrorism and xenophobia. Not your average kid’s book.

I’ve gone on to read A Monster Calls, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and More Than This. Ness is brilliant. Check him out.

 

Here’s another piece I wrote for Uni, that I can publish now as that course is over.

The Boat. A book review.

This is a book review I did for a Uni assignment. I got 20 out of 20 for it.  Yeah, I’m a bit proud of that.

The Boat: A book review

By Nam Le
Published by Penguin Group (Australia)
9780143009610 (pbk)
$16.95, 315 pages

I’m not big on reading short stories. I’ve always been a long-form novel kind of guy. It wasn’t until I read Nam Le’s The Boat that my opinion of short stories changed.

For those who don’t know, The Boat is the first collection of short stories from Nam Le, a Vietnamese-born Australian who now lives in the United States and edits fiction for the Harvard Review. He has won numerous awards for short fiction and The Boat has been translated into multiple languages. The eponymous title story is used in some classrooms to teach students about the plight of refugees.the-boat-by-nam-le

The Boat is an extraordinary piece of work. It reads like a text book on how to write good short stories – any student would benefit from reading it. Every story is told from the perspective of vastly different protagonists, who vary wildly in age, maturity, and experience, and each of the stories is markedly different. Whether it’s a 14-year old gang banger/would-be assassin in Columbia in ‘Cartagena’, an aging New York artist dying of cancer in ‘Meeting Elise’, or a fiercely patriotic, Japanese girl in the third-grade in 1945 Hiroshima, Le writes each of his characters with an incredible level of nuance that genuinely engages the reader. Each story is longer than a conventional short story, giving his characters the time they need to percolate emotionally. This doesn’t diminish them in any way – I challenge anyone to put one of these tales down without finishing it.

The stories that bookend the collection are set in New York (‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’) and on a Vietnamese refugee boat (‘The Boat’) respectively. The first tells of a well-educated writer seeking his Vietnamese veteran father’s approval and their inevitable cultural and emotional distance; the last is a tale of a traumatic refugee boat journey interspersed with flashbacks to life under the Viet Cong. I suspect these are both deeply personal, however it wouldn’t matter if they weren’t – Le demonstrates an ability to realise worlds and characters with astounding detail and pragmatism.

Every story in this collection is poignant; there are no happy endings. Le writes believable stories that strive to explore the humanity of the characters and events from multiple points of view, with realistic consequences. Le changes his writing style with each piece, never allowing you to pigeon-hole him. It’s almost as if he is flexing his writing muscles for the sake of it, but each story moves with its own rhythm, textures and emotions, the like of which amateurs such as I can only marvel.

As soon as I finished The Boat I immediately gave it away to a friend – not because I hated the book, but because I was desperate for someone else to read it and experience the level of enthusiasm I had. The Boat is a truly profound piece of writing, one that affected me greatly, and I believe that it will be regarded as a classic of the 21st century.

Writing. Some basics. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

I’ve been writing for a short while. Obviously, I am now an expert and need to share my accrued wisdom with the world. Yes, that was a joke.

Like anyone who enjoys to read, I like particular authors for their creativity, their characterisation, dialogue and the worlds their characters inhabit – all part of a writer’s style. When I read, I apply the things I’ve learned when critiquing another’s work. This is not always a good thing, as it can distract from the pleasure of reading.

Nevertheless, here are some writing “rules”, by the great writer, Elmore Leonard. He was a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose ‘lean’ and ‘muscular’ approach was a major influence on modern writing:

Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. For example, “he berated”, or “she rebuked”. There are good reasons for this. Strong, well-written dialogue is the basis of character. Using verbs other than “said” or “replied” is the writer getting in the way, an indication that they may feel uncomfortable using “said” too many times. And their dialogue isn’t strong enough without the use of additional verbs. When someone reads dialogue, the amateur writer’s verb gets in the way.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”. As Mr Leonard says: “To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.” Putting “she said slyly” or “he replied earnestly” is similar to the last point – the dialogue should be able to stand on its own. The reader is intelligent enough to work out what the character is saying and feeling, if the dialogue is well written.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Readers like to form their own impression about a character’s looks, often at the behest of the author’s actual description. Let the reader use their imagination. A few details are okay, but don’t make them so detailed that the reader has no ‘wiggle room’.

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. Once again, let the reader’s imagination do this. You can add as much description as you like, but it will slow your story down, and your reader will either picture it to their liking, or skip the cumbersome text.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Many readers (not all, but many) skip large sections of text because they are keen to get to the meat of the novel, and often that’s the dialogue. I bet you’ve done this once or twice. I love J.R.R Tolkien’s overflowing descriptions, but now I’ve read Lord of the Rings a few times, I skip them when re-reading. Sacrilege, I know, but we’ve all been there. And I bet in the case of average books you’re tempted to do the same.

If it sounds like writing, re-write it. You know what I’m talking about. Some writers like to show off, adding lots of unnecessary similes and metaphors, and lovingly described scenes, overflowing with adjectives. I am so guilty of this. Is it necessary? Depends on the story and style you’re writing in. But most of the time, no.

The full text of Mr Leonard’s wonderful 10 Rules of Writing includes these insights (but written far better), and can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html.

Next time you read a book, or start to write one, keep them in mind.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

You can find out more about the late Elmore Leonard, by visiting his website at http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php.

Ernest Hemingway? Who’s that? Only one of the most important writers of the 20th Century. He won the Nobel Prize for literature, for Pete’s sake. Find out more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

What the Frack? (“Battlestar Galactica” frack, not the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks)

I had a few things on my mind today.

Firstly, the good news:

I’ve been watching The Newsroom, a quality HBO television show created and written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series The West Wing and writer of the movie The Social Network. If you’ve ever seen anything written by Mr Sorkin, you will know that he writes intelligent, complex, nuanced, and eminently watchable television. His writing always has something important and relevant to say about politics, public policy, legal rights, advocacy, ethics and morality. If only the show was still on the air to comment on the antics of the current American administration.

The Newsroom is brilliant. Watch it on DVD or stream it.

And now, the bad news:

I’ve been reading a book by Josephine Cox, called Midnight, which I downloaded for free from iTunes. I’d never read one of Miss Cox’s books before, and I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t pay for it.

This is one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen. This is an author who has written over 50 high selling books, yet writes like an amateur.

One of the great rules of writing is “show, don’t tell” – this is because writers should (and rightly so) assume readers are intelligent people, who can understand plot and character motivation based on scene, dialogue and context. Ms Cox likes to re-state what has happened or what the character is thinking, even though it has previously played out in the scene. She writes overly melodramatic, soap opera-style dialogue. Her characters are two dimensional and clichéd, and often change personality from one chapter to the next. Ms Cox loves the overuse of adverbs, and telegraphs the plot such that there is no need to actually finish the book (which I will, because I don’t like starting something without finishing it). The story is packed with filler; it’s drawn out, tedious and boring.

I’m not sure what I expected from Midnight, certainly not writing and editing that makes me fume every time I sit down with it.

To the weather:

Australia is in the grip of a heat wave and we’ve just been informed that New South Wales will suffer power outages tomorrow because the grid can’t handle (or more correctly, the energy companies have not planned for) increased energy use across the country. I guess they forgot that people like to stay cool. And run things like refrigerators.

So, climate change isn’t real, huh? I guess it will solve my employment woes. I can help build sea walls – I hear they’ll be in demand, soon.

And in human interest news, today:

I’m feeling needlessly sorry for myself, with self-esteem hitting an all-time low. I guess life isn’t working out the way I want it to and as a result my brain is having a hissy fit.

As a privileged white male, protected by his country’s social security and Medicare safety net, I have no right to complain or feel bad about my particular position. There are people all over the world with circumstances far worse than mine, both mentally and physically,  ravaged by war, famine, disease, starvation, natural and man-made disasters, and political agendas.

But I’m selfish, so there. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

So, what the frack was on your mind today?

Free-Wrench. A book review.

I recently finished Free-Wrench, an e-book self-published by Joseph R. Lallo. The book is available on Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/439135), iTunes, Amazon and other digital book stores. You can download it for free on most sites, to your tablet, e-book reader or mobile phone.free-wrench

Free-Wrench is a swashbuckling, steampunk fantasy set in a world of islands, where airships are the primary form of travel between them. The island of Caldera is isolated, by choice, from the rest of the world. Nita is a “free-wrench”, one who works the steam power plants in Caldera’s volcano. Her mother has a fatal disease, and a chance encounter with a black market skyship sees Nita taking off to become part of their crew. She plans to trade the incredibly rare “Trith”, only found on Caldera, with the Fugs, a technologically advanced race that lives in the poisonous purple fug cloud on another island, for the medicine that will save her mother’s life. The Fug limit access to technology and the steam-powered skyships, ensuring their power over the surrounding islands.

Lallo has created an interesting story and setting, that hits its stride during the third act; the skyship crew undertakes a daring robbery of one of the Fug’s warehouses. With the exception of Nita, most of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but later books in the series may address that shortfall. There are a few editing issues here and there, but nothing too irksome.

For a free book, Free-Wrench was an enjoyable read. It has two sequels, which I am considering buying. If you like the steampunk genre and are looking for something a little different, try it out.

You can find out more about Joseph R. Lallo and his other books, at his website http://www.bookofdeacon.com/.

Proud to be a Bookworm (or Books Make My World Go Around)

(Alpha Girl is reading a magazine on the lounge; she flicks the pages back and forth cursorily, uninterested in the content.

“Bored?” I say.

“I am now that you’re here,” she says.

“How about reading a book?”

“I don’t want to turn into a book-loving nerd like you.”

“At least I don’t get bored.”)

 

Don’t you love the smell of a new book? I do.

I am a big user of The Book Depository (henceforth referred to as TBD), an online book service based in England (this is not a paid endorsement). I love the fact that they have free postage. I resent the postage charges overseas online companies charge. It’s just my thing.

I just received a few books in the mail today (delivered to the doorstep, so that I don’t have to leave the comfort of my home – I’m so lazy). I’ve only had books go missing once in the ten years or so of buying books from TBD, a quick email and new copies were delivered. Did I mention great customer service? (Okay, now I’m starting to sound like an advertisement.)

Back to the books. I am an avid reader. I read about 50-60 books a year – novels, Uni textbooks, short stories, autobiographies, histories; all sorts of stuff. I also love graphic novels. For those of you unfamiliar with the graphic novel: it is a complex and adult-oriented story told using sequential art. Okay, a comic strip. But not the type read by kids. Graphic novels cover a gamut of themes and genres and can be amazing pieces of visual storytelling. Check out Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, if you don’t believe me.

I recently finished a great book by Justin Cronin – The Passage. It’s a best seller, so it’s possible you’ve read it too. It’s an unconventional post-apocalyptic vampire thriller. If you haven’t read it I suggest you try it out – it’s very well written, and full of character and intensity. I just received the sequel, The Twelve, through TBD.

A favourite writer of mine is Patrick Ness. He writes young adult fiction, but his kinetic stories are incredibly emotional and surprisingly deep. Try out his Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters and Men), which is a commentary on racism, misogyny, genocide and terrorism, all disguised as a teenager’s book. Gripping stuff. I was so taken with these books, I immediately gave them to a friend because I wanted someone else to experience how I felt about them.

I love books, and I’m proud to be a bookworm. No doubt I’ll chat some more about them in future.

What’s your favourite book?

 

(“You are such a nerd,” says Alpha Girl.

“Because I love books?” I say. “If that’s the case, I’ll be a nerd, any day.”)

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