Sunday, November 30, 2008

My writing week (31)

Hi all,

I am getting close to finishing my novel, the first draft anyway. I am nearly at the end of chapter 20, which took some unexpected turns, refusing to follow my outline. It still shows the main character's state of mind as he approaches the climax, and that was the main purpose of the chapter, but it also introduced some unexpected elements that further complicate the climax.

While walking today I spent much of the time scribbling notes as I wandered along, for the next chapter. I am still excited when writing this novel, it's just getting myself to make the time to write. It is now 94,000 words, with an estimated 10,000 still to go.

My critiquing efforts are not looking good, so perhaps I should just give it a rest for a while because I never seem to make the time to do it. Conversely, I am reading more. I enjoyed reading a twelve year old copy of Analog, whose stories still seemed fresh and original to me. Analog is my favourite speculative fiction magazine because unlike many magazines that publish science fiction it is strictly science-fiction, most others also publish fantasy, which to me rarely works in the short story format. Another reason I like Analog is that most of its stories are over 5000 words, so there are enough words to create the world the story is set in and for the reader to get involved in the story. I will write a review of the edition I read later in the week.

I also made time this week to read a few of my favourite blogs on writing, which always helps make me feel like I am part of the writing community.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

My writing week (30)

Hi all,

I had a good writing week last week, at last. Got through a few words. Finished chapter 18 and I am well into chapter 19. Probably three chapters to go. I also did a bit of reading too.

I mentioned last week that New Scientist had a science-fiction edition. It mentions four writers to watch and one was Sandra McDonald, whose science-fiction is set in Australia. I had not heard of her - which isn't unusual - but I just looked up her bio and found that she is American. I wonder how accurate her portrayal of Australia is, even if set in the future.

When I first saw her name I decided I might buy a novel from an up and coming Aussie - next time I will know to do my research. I went to Amazon and the book was listed at $6.95 US, but with our falling exchange rate and delivery charges it would have cost $29 Australian. I thought I would get it cheaper and quicker by ordering it at the local bookstore, so I didn't buy it. I reckon Australian book sellers might appreciate the decline in the value of the Aussie dollar.

In the local regional newspaper, The Border Mail, there was an article about the locating of Nicolaus Copernicus' body. The writer of the article said: "Copernicus, an astronomer, whose theories identified the sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the universe." I think the writer meant the centre of the solar system.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Road, a review.

Hi all,

I was attracted to The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, for a few reasons. Those who have followed this blog will realise that I an a fan of apocalyptic fiction and films, so that was the main attraction. Secondly, the Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and I have been concentrating on reading award winning fiction. Finally, I was intrigued by the movie No Country For Old Men, based on a novel by McCarthy.

The novel is about a boy and a man (who are never named) who are travelling along a road a few years after a nuclear war. The world is in the grip of nuclear winter and everything is dead. No food grows, no birds fly, all the trees are dead. It rains and snows frequently. The sun is constantly hidden behind thick cloud cover. The ground is covered in snow, but under that is a thick layer of ash.

The two main characters spend much of their time searching deserted, decaying and often burnt and flooded houses and shops for food. They only occassionally come into contact with other survivors. Each of these contacts is filled with tension as theft of food supplies and cannibalism are the norm. Apart from survival, the father has the goal of reaching the ocean at the end of the road, while the son has the goal that they remain two of the good guys: he is fearful his father will become a thieving murderer in his efforts to keep them alive.

The story pulls you in with tension as you fear that a confrontation with desperate survivors can happen at any moment. The man has a gun, but it only has three bullets. What happened to the rest of the bullets? What happened to the boy's mother? What will they find at the end of the road? From a fan of science-fiction who is sick of post-apocalyptic movies with marauding bunches of desperados - Mad Max did it, now get over it and find some other plot - I breathed a sigh of relief that the novel did not go down that path.

The book is beautifully written, with bleak descriptions of the dying world. His prose is sparse, and I can imagine the writer agonising over whether each word need to be included. Conversations are brief, a few words at a time, as there is nothing left to talk about.

It's a short novel, but effective with a very clear message: this is what the few survivors of a nuclear war will have to cope with so please don't have one.

One of the better novels I have read. One that I am sure will haunt my thoughts for years to come.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

My writing week (29)

Hi all,

I finished chapter eighteen and I am well into chapter nineteen of my novel. I finally got the main characters back together so the conflict could resume. I still feel I have about 10,000 words to go, at least.

New Scientist magazine has an edition devoted to science fiction this week. Its available free online, and I have been reading a few of the answers to the question: does science fiction have a future? by writers such as William Gibson and Stephen Baxter. They quickly dispel the myth that science fiction is predominately about predicting the future. It is more about change and in an ever changing world, more and more people are going to want to read about change. In my opinion, some people will want to read about change, others are happy to have their reading stuck in a rut. But the more people accept change, I think the more likely they will find stories that are stagnant in their world view point boring and unrealistic. The thing that concerns me more than the future of science fiction is whether reading novels and stories has a long or even meduim term future.

I failed to make time to critique anything again this week, but I did read a lot. I finished reading the haunting and devastating novel 'The Road' by Comac McCarthy. A short novel, which a lot of fantasy writers should read to learn about cutting down on the unecessary. I am sure Cormac McCarthy agonised over ever single word in it. I will review it later in the week.


Saturday, November 15, 2008


Hi all,

I discovered last week that readers of this blog would not take anonymous comments, and a person would have to go to all the trouble of getting a google password if they wanted to say something. The day after I rectified this someone made an anonymous comment. I wonder how many comments I have missed out on.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

My writing week (28)

Hi all,

A slow week for writing last week as my illness took another swing at me while I organised a garage sale to clean the house out of junk. My protagonists seem about to met though, so I can now get on with the rest of the story.

I am reading again, the Pulitizer Prize winner The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is proving a real page turner and I have also just started reading the Damien Broderick edited Year Million, a non-fiction book, as well as a copy of Analog. It would seem that Fatal Revenant's flaws (see review in last post) had really dulled my enthusiasm for reading.

No time to critique last week.

Amazon has a number of lists of its top books for 2008, selected both by editors and customers. I went and had a look to see if any Australians made a list, and Margo Lanagan was on the editor list for Science Fiction and Fantasy with her young adult novel Tender Morsels. I have only read a couple of her short stories, one of them, Singing My Sister Down, is very good.

I already knew that there are a lot of writers out there so I wasn't really surprised when I read, in the Age. that in Melbourne there are 97,600 people who enjoy writing as a hobby. I wonder how many are writing science fiction novels.

And yes, we sold a lot of junk, it's so good to get people to pay us for removing junk from our home.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fatal Revenant, a review.

Hi all,

I have finally finished reading Fatal Revenant by Stephen Donaldson. It is the second book in the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and eighth book in the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. I am a great fan of Donaldson’s writing having enjoyed his superior fantasy writing in the first seven books of the chronicles, and also in his two volume Mordant’s Need series and five volume Gap Into series.

I enjoy the way Donaldson immerses a reader in his character’s heads. He really shows the complex array of emotions his characters are going through. There are rarely one dimensional characters in his novels. But this strength of his work can be overdone when too much time is spent in a character’s head, in this case Linden Avery, and the plot stagnates, as she repeats over and over her concerns and doubts about her next actions. I think Fatal Revenant could have lost 200-300 of it 760 pages with no harm to its plot. 
If a reader new to the chronicles attempted to read Fatal Revenant first, I wonder whether they would finish it. I had to wait until the last few pages for something to happen that will get me reading the next volume. 
There are also too may Deus Ex Machina moments in Fatal Revenant, where Sandgorgons or Giants drop in unexpectedly to save the day. 
I have heard that the third volume is not due out until 2010 with the final volume due in 2012, so I think I will wait until 2012 before reading the third volume. Time lags between books meant I had trouble remembering why some characters were foes of Linden Avery and the land she is trying to protect. The glossary failed to enlighten me.

I hope that the third volume will be a return to form as this volume has put me off high-fantasy for the foreseeable future, maybe even to 2012.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

My writing week (27)

Hi all,

I am three thousand words into chapter eighteen, currently one of my characters is hiding and I am having trouble getting the other character to find her. As soon as I find her, that should be the end of the chapter. But it looks like I have added another chapter to the novel because a lot of other things were supposed to happen in this chapter. The novel is 86,000 words and growing.

I did my first critique of a short story for a while. I didn't like the story at all. It got off to a bad start as the author had mislabelled it science-fiction when the only genre it fell into was thriller. It was another one of those revenge stories, like half the movies coming out of America. I'm sick of watching them, I certainly don't want to read them. The characters all seemed very immature too as I wondered if the author had issues with women. I probably wrote the most negative sounding critique, mainly around the plot, that I have written, but the author seemed to take it okay, judging from an email I got from him.

I've nearly finished reading the fantasy epic that has been occupying most of my limited reading time for the past few months. When finished, I will be only reading short books for a while.

A couple of quotes on writing that I read in The Age last week. From Stephen King: "Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word". I only use a thesaurus when searching for replacements for a word I have overused. Kurt Vonnegut's first rule of writing: "Do not use semicolons...all they do is show you've been to college." I use semicolons, I haven't been to college, but I have been to university.