Monday, April 28, 2008

The 2020 Summit and books

Hi all,

The “Creative Nation” group at the 2020 summit seemed dominated by film, with nothing said about the Australian book or fiction writing market. I suppose the ailing film industry needs all the help it can get, but perhaps if they made more genre films, like science fiction, it would be more successful. Big grossing films like the Mad Max Trilogy and Wolf Creek show how successful genre films made in Australia can be. The Matrix series and Dark City were also made here, but not with Australian money. The industry needs to get away from historical dramas, lame-arse comedies and its love affair with druggies.

I am one of the five percent of Australians who pay to see Australian films. The Proposition (western), Mad Max (science fiction), Lantana (thriller/drama), He Died with a Falafel in his Hand (comedy), Bliss (fantasy) and The Cars That Ate Paris (horror) are favourites. The recent 2:37, which did not get a cinema release in Wang, is not a bad film either.

Australian books make more much more money than the Australian film and music industries combined, so where were the high profile fiction writers at the summit? Script writing seemed to be the only writing mentioned at the summit. (Are there really that few decent scripts written in Australia or is it just bad choices from our funding bodies and investors? For example the writers/director of very successful Saw trilogy tried to get the first one made in Australia.) I wonder if the book publishing industry in 2020 even cracked a mention at the summit.

Here are a couple of my own predictions about book publishing in 2020. Novels and especially text books will mostly be electronic (web, ebook). Apart from the obvious interactivity aspect for text books, the main reason I give for this is global warming. The number of trees for paper production will be limited as more land is used for food and bio-fuel production. Fires will also account for a lot of trees. So books will have to fight to use the limited amount of recycled paper. Perhaps the Creative Nation summiteers could have discussed ways the electronic distribution of books could benefit all those involved, especially the authors. I read recently that Amazon was trying to force all electronic books to be “printed” by the one publisher. I can’t see a monopoly benefiting authors.

I see science fiction turning to a darker view of our future as the reality of climate change and all its potential and happening calamities finally start to hit home. The media will change from trying to distract us from the looming disaster we have helped create, to telling us to get off our arses and do something about it, instead of trying to make us feel good by turning our lights off for an hour during Earth Hour. Science fiction writers will reflect this change of attitude. It will take at least a century to turn around global warming – unless the singularity comes up with some technological wonder solution like carbon dioxide eating replicators – so science fiction will be a reflection of our struggle.

I am predicting pessimistic electronic books will dominate science fiction in the decades to come. What are your predictions?


PS There are two types of people who don’t believe global warming is happening, man-made and a potential disaster: the ignorant and the selfish.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

Things have just gotten in the way of writing this week: the dentist, x-rays, job interviews, clothes buying (which I loath just about as much as going to the dentist).

I've been trying a new way to promote my writing on the web which has been taking up a fair bit of my time. Other people probably have tried it, but I am not aware of their attempts, so I'll try to keep it a secret for a while. The process of setting it up is helping me to get to know the characters in the current novel I am writing.

Now that I am back on, I have been doing a critique a week. I like to choose stories of around 5,000 words to critique, because I have found that if they are shorter I usually end up asking a lot of questions about the world the story is set in. I think most fantasy and science-fiction stories need to be at least 5,000 words so they have room to create their universe.

One of the stories I critiqued was a fairytale updated to a future setting. I really think that rewriting fairytales in present or future settings has been done so often that a writer has little hope of getting it published.

I took note of the time it takes to critique a story and I spend 4-6 hours on a critque.

I read that Jeffrey Archer is often handed manuscripts from writers, and he reckons just about all of them are a first draft. I was surprised to read that he redrafts his books 17 times. I haven't read any of his novels, but to go to that much effort you would want to be winning Bookers – like Peter Carey who redrafts 15 times per novel.

The above activities, combined with increasing procrastination, meant my writing output has dropped over the past couple of weeks, but I still managed to write everyday. On a superior note, I did manage to swim my fastest time for years this morning. I have adopted a new approach, swimming every fourth lap like a publisher is standing at the end of the pool dangling a contract. If only my subconscious could visualise something similar while I write.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Are blogs a waste of creative time?

Hi all,

What else would a writer be doing on a Friday night than ensuring he had written his blog entry for the week.

I read an article in the Age today about blogging. It reckons that the best blogs are updated every day. Who the hell has the time to do that? And who the hell has the time to read that? They would want to be short posts. Anyway the article by Jane Sullivan, whose column I often read, got me thinking.

When I first heard of the concept of blogs, I thought that they would be a waste of a writers creative time. But I kept reading that millions and millions of people had not flogged the beast to death. Over a 100 million bloggers at last count. In case you were wondering, 36% of blogs are written in Japanese, just beating the number in English.

So, I started reading them. I sought out the blogs of publishers and literary agents. In particular two blogs became weekly habits. The now defunct MS Snark and Nathan Bransford at, both written by literary agents. Both had a wealth of information for writers, but I would not have recommend MS Snark to the absolute beginner writer because once they read how hard it is to get published they would probably have given up.

On March 4th 2007 I wrote my first post on my Myspace blog (I have since started blogs at blogspot and livejournal) It was about droughts affect on Wangaratta and how the Ovens River had stopped flowing just past town. I don't think anyone except me read that post but I wrote a few more over the following weeks. I decided I would write the type of blog that as a writer I might find useful. Telling people things like how much time I spent writing, what I was reading, commenting on articles I read about writing and informing them about the Master of Creative Writing I was doing.

I was in the last subject of my masters and things seemed to be going okay until a Prof Jennifer Webb wrote some strange and, what seemed to be to me, unjustified comments on my third assignment for the subject. I contacted her and asked for clarification, but at the time I was out of it on pain killers for an infected toe, so I didn't do a very good job of asking her for clarification. I then sent her a more detailed email. But she failed to answer my questions. More emails followed, no clarification came back. I complained to the uni, they hid behind their rules. So I complained to the ACT ombudsman. During this time I wrote a number of posts on my blog about what was going on. And my audience grew, averaging 130 hits a week. I often wonder who that audience was because hardly anyone was leaving comments. Were they other students upset at Prof Webb or perhaps uni staff wanting to see if I defamed them.

After the ombudsman's decision, which wasn't that useful because he could not really investigate the central issue I had with the uni, I continued writing posts about writing and occasionally the environment and what was happening in my life. The number of hits dwindled.

Now back to the article in the Age, it quotes other fiction authors as saying that blogging is pretty well useless as a promotional tool for selling a book. So why should I continue to blog. Especially if I could be using the time to write. What is the current purpose of my blog? And the answer is: to network with other writers. Then I asked myself what should be the purpose of my blog. And I found myself thinking, perhaps I should be trying to network with potential book buyers as well as writers.

My favourite blog is by American literary agent Nathan Bransford. He posts on average twice a week. One entry is usually about what has happened in the publishing and literary agent world over the past week, while the second post is usually about some issue in writing or publishing he puts up for discussion.

So, from now on, I will attempt to write two posts a week on this blog. One will review books discuss science-fiction and the future while other will continue my personal writing saga. I hope to still appeal to other writers who are unpublished and get their feedback as well as open up the blog to potential readers of my, as yet unpublished novels.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Male monkeys prefer boys’ toys

Hi all,

I found this article in the Newscientist newsletter I receive. I cut and pasted it because I am pretty sure you have to signup to their site before they will let you read it.

Male monkeys prefer boys’ toys

* 17:28 04 April 2008
* news service
* Ewen Callaway

It’s thought of as a sexual stereotype: boys tend to play with toy cars and diggers, while girls like dolls. But male monkeys, suggests research, are no different (see a related video report).

This could mean that males, whether human or monkey, have a biological predisposition to certain toys, says Kim Wallen, a psychologist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wallen’s team looked at 11 male and 23 female rhesus monkeys. In general the males preferred to play with wheeled toys, such as dumper trucks, over plush dolls, while female monkeys played with both kinds of toys.

This conclusion may upset those psychologists who insist that sex differences – for example the tendency of boys to favour toy soldiers and girls to prefer dolls – depend on social factors, not innate differences.

Guys and dolls

"A five-year-old boy whose compatriots discover has a collection of Barbies is likely to take a lot of flak," Wallen says.

Social factors undoubtedly influence children’s preferences, he says, but in general boys tend to be pickier with toys than girls.

To try and tease out the effects of nature over those of nurture, Wallen and his colleagues studied a group of captive rhesus monkeys. His team reasoned that the choices of the monkeys wouldn’t be determined by social pressures. Most of the study animals were juvenile (age one to four years), but some sub-adult and adult monkeys were included.

"They are not subject to advertising. They are not subject to parental encouragement, they are not subject to peer chastisement," Wallen says.

Monkey fun

Wallen’s team offered the monkeys two categories of toys: "wheeled" and "plush". The wheeled toys, intended to be masculine, included wagons and vehicles. The more feminine plush toys included Winnie the Pooh and Raggedy-Ann dolls.

Two toys, one wheeled and one plush, were placed 10 metres apart. At first the monkeys formed a circle around a toy, but eventually one would snatch the toy and run off. Other monkeys soon joined in the fun, Wallen says.

The researchers captured play sessions on video and measured how long each monkey spent with plush versus wheeled toys. The team found that the males spent more time playing with wheeled toys, while the females played with both plush and wheeled toys equally.

’Compelling results’

Wallen cautions against over-interpreting the results. The plush and wheeled categories served as proxies for feminine and masculine, but other toy characteristics, such as size or colour, might explain the male’s behaviour, he says. Or the male monkeys might seek out more physically active toys, he says.

But the study ties in with a previous experiment with green vervet monkeys showing that males favour masculine toys.

"Together the results are compelling," says Gerianne Alexander, a psychologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who led the vervet monkey study.

She thinks that biological differences between sexes start the ball rolling toward learned preferences for play toys.

"There is likely to be a biological tendency that is amplified by society," she says.

Me again - perhaps one day they will prove that a lot of our behaviour comes from our genes. There must be an idea for a science-fiction story in there somewhere.

ahhhhhhh there’s too much info in the world.

Help me. I’m going nuts trying to keep up with everything that’s going on in the world. I need at least a dozen more of me or a fascist brain organiser that ruthlessly splits potential input into useful or not. But I’m so scared I will miss the one vital bit of info that will result in a Hugo Award winning novel or change my life. Ahhhhh. I have already decided I don’t give a stuff about Timor and Tibet, I’ve cut them out of my knowledge pool, while I do care about Iraq and Afghanistan. And I thought earth hour was a waste of reading time, while reading everything else about climate change. I read nearly everything that hints at predicting our future. Currently I am reading blogs of numerous people as I attempt to network my way into cyberspace - could every blogger please write less, and while you’re at it bold anything that might be important. Got to go now and find a self help book or webpage on how to solve my information gathering addiction.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

what's happening

Hi all,

Well let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. The catscan of my father’s brain revealed some broken small blood vessels which indicate he has suffered a series of small strokes, hence his current lousy memory and difficultly in putting words together when speaking. He called a bag a book the other day, and couldn’t remember the names of his brothers and sisters and his birthplace when asked by a memory nurse who visited. He also couldn’t remember how to turn on the gas heater, something he has done thousands of times before.

For those out there who smoke, let this be a warning: my father never drank and was very good cricketer and footballer when young and still very fit into his fifties, playing golf and walking and riding a hike for hours, but he smoked a pack a day until he gave up in his mid-forties. His heart started acting up in his late fifties and he had to have a heart bypass operation and a pacemaker installed. He should have taken more care when out in the sun because he had to have a large cancerous growth removed from his neck in his early seventies. After he had recovered from all the anti cancer drugs they made him take and radiation therapy, he got shingles, which really knocked him around. Now this. The joys of getting old. I try not to think that this is what I’ve got to look forward too. But it is motivating me to get fitter.

The Private hospital rang the day after my father had been in the Base Hospital, asking where he was as he was late for an appointment made by the Base Hospital to check his pace-maker, pity the Base Hospital had not told him or my mother. He went, they checked it and it was working fine. My father’s doctor said that he most likely collapsed because of a combination of low blood pressure and dehydration. Both me and my mother are sure the Wang Base Hospital told us the problem was high blood pressure. So I continue to be totally unimpressed by the Wang Base Hospital. If you are wondering, my father was admitted as a private patient to the Wang Base Hospital, which is why they probably kept him for eight hours before suddenly deciding he was okay, to get paid! Well the Wang Base Hospital wont be getting any more donations from my father for a while.

On a lighter note, I was totally sucked in by an April Fool Day’s joke on the Pet Dragons game on Facebook. The game is a little five minute time waster that I usually fiddle with every day - so I have a bit of a commitment to it - and when I got a message that my dragon, Kevin (named after Australia’s glorious leader), was about to come under attack by 14 different dragons I thought he could die and lose all of his gold. So I quickly sent him on a shopping spree - yes dragons shop, they shop for things like potions and armour - and spent as much as he could so the evil attacking dragons would get very little for their efforts. I only realised that the application is American based and it was still April Fool’s Day there the next day, when all the attacks had miraculously failed to eventuate. I was extremely careful with my gullibility for the rest of the day.

I am reading the Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, volume 3, published in 2007, and full of stories published in 2006, and I am starting to wonder whether a family member or relative of one of the editors died last year as out of the 9 stories I have read, in a collection of 11, four have had dying or the afterlife as a major element. So far there has only be one story with science fiction elements, and I would call it more of a science fiction/fantasy story, so either 2006 was a bad year for Australian Sci-fi, or the anthology editors could not get the rights to a lot of stories or the editors have very different tastes to mine. I read vol 2 in the same series and remember it as a much better collection - mainly because of the lead off story "Singing me Down", by Margo Lanagan, incidentally also about death, this time a very stylised execution.

I rejoined in the hope of critiquing more science fiction. Most of the writing on the Sydney based Infinitas, which I am a member of, is fantasy. Not that I mind critiquing fantasy, as I have read and critiqued quite a bit of it and I am currently reading Fatal Revenant by Stephen Donaldson, the eighth book in his Chronicle of Thomas Covenant series. I want to critique more science fiction because I know that helps my own understanding of what works and doesn’t in science fiction. Incidentally one of the main characters in the chronicles is dead, he may be an omnipresent god like entity - sort of like Buffy - but he is dead. What’s up with all the dead characters? Should I start writing a science fiction novel where everyone is dead? Well now that I think of it, the last second last science fiction story I critiqued was set on a world where everyone was dead. Is this glut of death because most writers of speculative fiction are old and worried what will happen when they die?

I have a theory about Americans and their fascination with death shown by the popularity of crappy TV shows like Medium and Ghost Whisper and other not so bad shows like Dead Like Me and The Collector, and with that best selling book The Bones... (I forget the title) about a teenage murder victim looking down on her family from heaven, and their willingness to be sucked in by utter frauds like John Edwards and co. I think deep down Americans know they have stuffed up the world and live selfish greedy lives and they are hoping to hell that they don’t end up in hell. This is why some are seeking other alternatives like John Edwards while most of the rest hope they can buy their way into heaven by attending church.

Well that’s enough for today. Time to do some writing, and I have still written every day of this year.