Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Writing Week: Issue 44 Year 4


National Novel Writing Month.

Last week I finished and submitted my next article for DiVine magazine. The article is about weight loss for people with disabilities. I then finished re-writing a short story. Before I had time to think about what to do next I saw a post about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and decided to give it a go.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. About 300,000 people worldwide usually attempt NaNoWriMo.

Those who have read this blog would know about my miniscule word output, so me deciding to write 50,000 words in a month is a bit like someone who just occasionally jogs around the block deciding they are going to run a marathon on every day of November.

Once I committed myself to the idea of NaNoWriMo, I had to come up with a scenario to push me onto the starting line. I considered using a 2000 word excerpt of a young adult novel I had written for my masters as a starting point. Alternatively, I could have added 50,000 words to one of my novels in progress. The better one is at about 15,000 words, while the other one is at 40,000 words and not getting anywhere fast.

But I knew I would more likely achieve the 50,000 words with something new, as I find the early words of a novel a lot easier to write. The later words seem to come out slower, probably due to attempts to keep the plot and characters consistent.

I decided to use a novel scenario I have had floating around in my head for years. On Friday, between sets of weights and watering the veggies and pot plants, I wrote down pages of notes. I have been frequently adding to those notes over the past few days.

I have a main character, a theme, a scenario that covers the whole story arc, an internal and an external problem for the main character to solve, a problem for the secondary characters to solve, and a problem for the main character and secondary characters to solve together.  I have figured out the first half of the novel – assuming it doesn’t take a more adventurous route.

For the first time, I am going to write chapters from alternative points of view. I am even going to change from first person to third person with the alternating points of view. This approach was very effective in Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood.

And of course the novel I am going to write is science fiction.

So I will probably not be making much noise on the web for the next month. I hope to update my blog every now and then with how my NaNoWriMo race is going.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Writing Week: Issue 43, Year 4.


Hi all,

Amazon’s Latest Publishing Exploits.

In the past couple of weeks two articles about Amazon’s publishing ambitions have backed up my thoughts that they will soon dominate the publishing industry. The first article in Publisher’s Weekly was about the launch of Amazon’s new publishing imprint called 47North. This imprint will publish Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

47North had signed 15 titles when it launched and included a series by Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear. All titles will be available in print, Kindle and audio formats.

The article also mentions an author who signed up to Amazon publishing because of their better ebook royalty rate. Traditional publishers, it would seem, are going to have to raise their 25% ebook royalty to compete with Amazon.

The second article appeared in the NY Times. It starts by announcing that “Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and ebook form.” “Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”

Literary agent Richard Curtis is quoted as saying “everyone is afraid of Amazon”. Amazon is offering authors the opportunity to cut agents out. One of Amazon’s executives says “the only really necessary people in the publishing process are now the writer and the reader”.

I have been thinking that agents are probably going to have to reinvent themselves if they are going to survive into the future.

As for book reviewers (critics) there are thousands of them on the web, but will they disappear from the press? I know I have yet to buy a book based solely on its reviews on Amazon, but I do look at them. I am aware that the five star reviews for a book could be written by friends or aliases of the author. While the zero star review might be written by a disgruntled writer who is angry at the world. In last week’s blog post I listed books I want for Christmas. I read good reviews of all the books I wanted in The Age.

The article also said than an author’s contract with Amazon forbade her discussing its details. This is worrying.

Contagion

While watching Contagion I pondered what viruses the person who packed the lollies I was eating may have had. The film could make a person as paranoid about germs as Jaws made people scared of sharks. I found Contagion engrossing. Its one of those rare films, for me these days, where my attention only briefly wandered.

It’s a story about the outbreak a flu type virus that kills millions around the world. Stephen Soderbergh directed it and it is very like another movie of his Traffic. The story is told from multiple viewpoints in a rather unemotional style. But it is deceptively subtle. You need to watch and think.

I left the film wondering if I had just watched a science fiction film or just a medical thriller. For a story to be classified as science fiction, science has to be essential to the plot. In other words, if the science is taken out, there is no plot. If the science was taken out of Contagion, then a fair bit of the plot would have gone with it. There would have been no search for a vaccine. The film would have been mainly about the civil attempts to contain the virus, so about a quarter to a third of the film would have gone missing.

If the film had been science fiction, it could have gone the way of the Andromeda Strain and remained mainly in the research labs. I think such a film would not have been as good. I doubt whether Contagion will be judged as science fiction for the Hugos.

My Writing Efforts

After a lot more research, I have all but finished my article on weight loss for people with disabilities. The research has made me feel fat, but at least I now have a lot of information about losing that fat. I hope to submit the article to Divine by Wednesday. I only briefly worked on the short story I am writing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Writing Week: Issue 42, Year 4

Hi all,

If I Had Written Terra Nova…

I am still watching the American made in Australia science-fiction dinosaur series Terra Nova. The last couple of episodes have shown promise, but have only just passed being mediocre.

In the last episode a virus caused memory lose and the scientists trying to stop it forget what they were doing. This is not exactly an original plot for science-fiction. I quickly worked out that the main character’s cold virus would kill the amnesia virus, but unfortunately it took the supposedly brilliant doctor a lot longer.

I still don’t like the main characters. They are too selfish. The main family has no hesitation putting their comforts ahead of the survival of the settlement; they are a bit like apprentice Doctor Smiths from Lost in Space.

Terra Nova’s real problem is it is trying to be a family drama set in a world of dinosaurs, rather than a science-fiction series.

If I had written Terra Nova, I would have started with the main character’s living their lives in 2140. I would have shown them at work and school and interacting with society. This would have given the characters a chance to start behaving like people from the future and not from the noughties. While they lived their lives, I would have shown the porthole being discovered and then explored, and then how they figured out it was on a different time-line. Then I would have shown the first settlers establishing Terra Nova.

I think a much more original series would have resulted, with more believable characters who I actually care about.

Christmas Book Wish List.

A few relatives have been asking what I want for Christmas, so I gave them a list of books to choose from:

The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood, HarperCollins
The Waterboys, Peter Docker, Freemantle Press
Machine Man, Max Barry, Scribe
Black Glass, Meg Mundell, Scribe
Things we Didn’t See Coming, Steve Amsterdam, Sleepers Publishing
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu, Corvus
Ark, Stephen Baxter, Gollancz
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate.

Just about all these choices come after reading good reviews for them in the Age.

John Carpenter’s The Thing.

In preparation for seeing the new prequel to The Thing, I once again watched John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. For those who don’t know the film: an alien space craft is discovered buried in the Artic ice. Its occupant, once thawed, invades human bodies and mimics their owners. Paranoia quickly takes hold at the Artic base as one by one they die. It is truly a great science-fiction film.

I am a great fan of Carpenter’s horror and science fiction films, like Escape From New York, The Fog, Halloween, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, The Prince of Darkness and They Live, even his remake of the Village of the Damned which Wikipedia calls a misfire. Carpenter also turned me into a great fan of Kirk Russell.

Reviews suggest the new prequel of The Thing is nowhere near as good as Carpenter’s version, but how could it be?

Proofreading.

Every now and then I have cause to look over previous posts on this blog and I quickly become ashamed and frustrated with the number of typos I find. My punctuation and grammar really isn’t as bad as some might think when reading my blog. Obviously just editing on screen (up to three times a post) is not working. So I did some research on how to improve my proofreading.

I could identify with Mark Twain who said:

“You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don't know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along.”

So this week I have decided that after an initial edit on the screen, I will print a draft post and check it on paper (so much for saving paper). I will read the text aloud. I will even read the text backwards, sentence by sentence as suggested in proofreading articles. In the future I also plan to leave a draft post for a day before proofreading it. But some typos are sure to still slip through.

And those who read this using Notes on Facebook, the random removal of spaces between words is caused by Notes, not by my lack of proofreading. I have notified Facebook of this problem. For a cleaner version click on the note title until you get to my blog.

My Writing

Last week I did a lot of research for my next Divine article on diets for people with disabilities. I also typed a few words closer to finishing rewriting a short story. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Writing Week: Issue 41, year 4


Hi from slightly agitated Graham,

Yahoo’s brainless menu system.

I don’t have the patience for inane and illogical website navigation systems. I never liked Yahoo’s busy look and cumbersome navigation system, and only use Yahoo when I need to access an online writing group to download a file. I was trying to access that group today, but Yahoo told me I had to create a profile first. WTF: I already had a profile. I closed the box and tried again, but it repeated its demand, so I clicked on create a new profile.

A new box opened, telling me to add a new email address. Why, so Yahoo could spam me twice? I added a new email address. It then wanted me to add a new alias for using yahoo groups. When fuckyouyahoo was rejected, I tried grahamclements. It said someone already used that, probably me, and I should choose another alias between 2 and 16 letters. I typed gjc, but it said choose a longer alias, it seems their system can’t count.  

I eventually found an appropriate length alias. And then it asked me to choose which profile I wanted to use. The reason it seems for wanting me to create a new profile was so I could choose between them. Unbelievable.

Writer's Contract Terminated After She Self-Publishes.

Hawaiian author Kiana Davenport had her contract for a novel with a traditional publisher cancelled after they discovered she had recently self-published two short story collections. The publisher also demanded she return her $20,000 advance.

Kiana has written a well read blog post about what happened with lots of comments. Most of the comments condemn the publisher. A lot complain about the Big 6 publishers treating authors like serfs.

Even though Kiana’s short story collections had been rejected by her publisher and others, if I had been in Kiana’s situation I would have done the courteous thing and told the publisher I was going to self-publish.

Why couldn’t the publisher have just told Kiana they were upset and asked her not to do it again? According to the author the publisher had a fear and loathing of Amazon. Perhaps the discussion between the publisher and the author/agent was too bitter for them to continue working together. Or perhaps the publisher really was just use to treating authors like serfs.

I couldn’t help thinking the publisher might have had other reasons, legitimate or otherwise, for terminating the contract.

The Big 6 US Publishers.

As I don’t have a novel manuscript of publishable quality yet, I am have done little research about publishers. I had not heard of the Big 6 publishers before reading Kiana’s blog post. I have since done some research and the Big 6 are:

Hachette
HarperCollins
Macmillan
Penguin
Random House
Simon & Schuster

Most of the Big 6 have dozens of publishing imprints. Macmillan owns science fiction publishers Tor and Orb. Penguin similarly owns Ace and Simon & Schuster distribute for Baen. As far as I could tell, the evil overlord Rupert Murdoch only owns HarperCollins.

At the moment most of my interest and research in relation to publishing concerns the ebook revolution and self-publishing versus traditional publishing. 

My Writing.

Once more, I wrote every day last week, but as in previous weeks, I did not write that much. I have just about finished rewriting a short story, which I will hopefully finish this week while starting research for my next couple of DiVine articles.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Writing Week: Issue 40, Year 4

Hi from Grumpy Graham,

I felt so tired last week, moody too. I also worried about pains? strains? in the lower back. But I still managed to write a little every day.

I have nearly finished the second draft of a short story that has grown from the nice size of 5,000 words to an awkward 6,600 words. Perhaps I am enjoying the voice I have created for its main character, a curious dog, too much.      

I also got into critiquing a novel. I have previously critiqued a now published novel from the same author.

Terra Nova

I am one of the few people in the world who wasn’t a producer or writer of the new science fiction series Terra Nova. It premiered on Australian TV last night. I think there must have been at least ten producers as well as four writers for the first episode.

The series is set near the end of this century in a grimy and overpopulated world. A porthole is discovered that can take people back 85 million years. It is a different timeline, so they can’t stuff up the future. A settlement is established and humans get to flee the bleak future to live with the dinosaurs.

The plot for the first double episode had holes wide enough for a herd of dinosaurs to stampede through. The one that really irked me was the fact that the main family consists of a cop and a doctor who for some reason had a major compassion and brain fade when deciding to have a third child. They could only legally have two children. This meant that they would have to hide the third child from the authorities forever: what a great life for the kid. So I have the parents pegged as arseholes at the moment.

The characters all seem to have been transported from the 1990’s, not the 2090’s. Apart from the dialogue being full of 1990’s clich├ęs, the kids behaved in the same spoilt manner as today’s kids, not that of kids who have had to live in very austere times where an orange is a rare and special treat and where authorities seem to ruthlessly tackle law breakers.

Other plot elements include a group of settlers who have broken away from the settlement and a mad missing son of the settlement’s commander. The son runs around writing predictive equations on rocks.

I thought the dinosaurs being near bullet proof was ridiculous. You reckon if they were going to send people back to a world full of dinosaurs they would at least take decent weapons, like machine guns with uranium depleted shells that the US army currently uses to shoot up tanks or even a few rocket launchers.

Unlike Primeval, this series seems to be trying to take itself seriously, and if the first episodes are anything to go by, I think it will struggle.

And I really appreciated Channel Ten putting up graphics telling me an ad break was coming up soon. It gave me ten or so seconds to decide what to do during the break: perhaps ring up Channel Ten and tell them to piss off the graphics.  

Bookshops Closing in the UK.

I have read a number of articles in the past few months about the diminishing number of bookshops in the UK, but none as foreboding as the figures contained in Sept 10’s Bookmarks column in the Age. It said that in the past six years 2,000 high street bookshops have closed in Britain, leaving 2,178. English authors have 2,000 less places to sell their books and 2,000 less places to promote their books. Online shopping and ebooks were blamed for the decline.