Friday, June 29, 2012

Magic and Memory

When I was a child I lived in a place that had magic. 

A classmate of my sister’s, she would have been seven at the time, told everyone how his grandmother got taken by a crocodile - a puk puk - and how the men in his family hunted it down and cut it open so they could bury her remains.

Andrew from Jaquinot Bay babysat Kath and me. He worked in the bank with my father, but his mother was the chief’s daughter, which made her a princess. We listened wide-eyed to Andrew’s stories.

Spirit animals, sacred places and taboo. We picked up local customs and mythology in a way that adults never can: with absolute certainty. Children don’t begin sentences with: “My people believe…” Children don’t draw boundaries on belief systems. I believed the things that my friends believed, because I was five.

The volcanoes in the bay in Rabaul were called Mother and the Sisters. They breathed smoke into the sky. So did Mount Bagana on Bougainville. You couldn't tell where the smoke met the clouds. 

You could sing bad spirits away.

The ragged mountains made up the spine of a puk puk curling around the bay.

The rumbling earth...a guria

A boy down the street had dyed red hair like one of the Toli. The Toli are head-hunters.

Bats and a graveyard. War memorials and frangipani blossoms. Pigs and spears. Shell money and bride price. The road stained red with betelnut. Once, a turtle lying on a jetty while the men hacked its fins away. Blood staining the jetty and running between the boards into the water. 

The rusting shells of tanks and planes being overtaken by the jungle. 

A world that smelled of salt water and rain.  

It still feels magical and terrible now. 

What did your world look like when you were a child? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

I See Your Cover. I Judge the Sh*t Out of You

I read a lot of fantasy as a teenager. High fantasy, with swords and dragons and magic and stuff. And then I got annoyed with it, because there were hardly any decent female characters to be found. 

Caroline Chisolm, an early advocate for women’s rights in colonial Australia, said that women were categorised as either “damned whores or God’s police”. And both were equally maligned. It seemed to me that there also existed two extremes of women in the fantasy novels I read: the Love Interest or the Evil Magic Bitch. A woman with power was usually evil (and don't get me started on the link between childless and evil), and any other women were young, beautiful, docile, and had nothing to do except sit around brushing their hair until the hero took care of whatever was plaguing the kingdom.

This is sort of understandable. After all, a lot of high fantasy is modelled along very medieval lines, and it’s not like there were too many career opportunities for women in those days. But what annoyed me even more than the stereotypes were the obvious ham-fisted attempts to redress the gender balance: women in steel bustiers and short leather skirts who wielded swords. Because they weren’t put in that book for me. They were put in that book to give fourteen-year-old boys something to fantasise about. As though fourteen-year-old boys are short of material.

For all I know, this is a good book: 

You can buy this at Amazon
But I will never know, because I can't get past the cover. 

"Huntin' dragons today. No, I don't think I will wear my armour. I'm sure my bikini will offer adequate protection. And bust support." 

So, please, feel free to recommend a high fantasy book to me with well-rounded characters, both men and women, who aren’t bound by stereotypes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Is that Chekov’s gun in your кармашек or are you just happy to see me?

Chekov’s gun is not a real gun. If it was, I would use it to kill possums. I would then bury their corpses in a cherry orchard.

Chekov’s gun is a literary device that is sadly harmless to marsupials.


Anton Chekov, the Russian writer, came up with this piece of advice:

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."

Chekov’s gun is all about foreshadowing, and lining all your dominoes up in a row before you tip the first one over and watch the carnage. But it’s also about only having what is necessary in a story. If you don’t need the gun to fire, then you don’t need the gun.

Also, if you don’t use Chekov’s gun it may misfire in reviews, and leave a gaping plot hole.

Do you have a Chekov’s gun in your WIP? 


And on an entirely unrelated note I am back from Brisbane. I have no money, a few good books, and sore feet. And Lady Gaga was awesome. :) 

Monday, June 18, 2012

HR: The Ninth Circle of Hell

How many circles of Hell are there in Dante's Inferno? Whatever the answer is, you can bet that the whole thing is run by an HR department. Because nobody, nobody, does hell like a professional bureaucracy. 

When I was looking at getting my writing published, I had to submit what is called an Application to Undertake Outside Employment to my current employer, the Queensland Police Service. Or the po-po, as we cool kids call them. This is to prevent a conflict of interest, and I can only imagine that if I put down "Arms dealer and drug king pin" it would have been denied. What I put down though was "writer". I did not expect that to come back denied. 

But it did. Because of insurance. 

"Insurance?" I asked my boss. "They know it's writing, right?" 

And my boss gave me the small, pitying smile of a man who has dealt with HR before. "You just need to do a report," he said. 

"A report?" But a withering look and a curled lip gets you nowhere with a bureaucracy. 

So I did a report. It took me three hours for two paragraphs. Most of that time was spent trying to put my sarcasm back in its box. In the end I had no choice but to let my sarcasm write its own report. 

"There's the report," I told my boss. "And here's the one I really wanted to submit." 

You know, looking back, I kind of wish I'd sent it. 

This post was prescheduled. Holy hell, I got organised! Somebody make a note of the date -- future generations will want to mark the day with some sort of ceremony. 

See you after my holidays! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am not here.

Hello. I am not here today. 


I am here: 


I am seeing this: 

Drinking some of this: 

With some of these: 

Warning: actual contents may vary

And spending way too much money on as many of these as I can carry: 


See you in a few days! 


What are you up to this week? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A god called John Frum

Today's post is a little different. It's not about writing. It's about people and the things they believe. It would make a fantastic story. So maybe it is kind of about writing after all. Maybe everything is. 

A grass plane

I first learned about cargo cults when I was a small child — thanks to living in a part of the world where they existed, and a mother who thought it was important not to be totally ignorant of your surroundings — and I wasn’t that interested. There were heaps of other things to think about, like panning for gold in the overflowing downpipe beside the house, hunting for kiwis up in the squatters’ camp (the kid from New Zealand was sure we’d find some there) and believing that the Toli boy from down the road was a head hunter.

This was in Papua New Guinea. I mentioned that, right? Otherwise this story seems a little odd.

Anyway, cargo cults developed in isolated pockets in the South Pacific during the Second World War. At that time there were groups of people living in the islands whose only contact with the outside world was through planters and missionaries. Some groups had never seen Europeans before.

In the 1930s on the island of Tanna in what is now known as Vanuatu, John Frum appeared to some people in a vision. He told them that they had to reject the Europeans’ way of life: stop working on the copra plantations, stop using money, and return to kastom.

The colonial authorities dealt with it the way that colonial authorities did: arrested a few ringleaders, showed the flag, and waited for the fuss to die down.

Maybe that’s how it would have ended, except suddenly there was a war in their laps.

And suddenly there were American soldiers everywhere.

There were planes, and radios, and — here’s the crux of it — there were supplies that literally dropped out of the sky.

John Frum must have sent them. John Frum must be an American.

After the war, when these things stopped happening, the people developed rituals to try and get the cargo to come again. They drilled like soldiers. They prayed to America. They built decoy planes and landing strips to entice the real thing back again.

On the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, you can visit a cargo cult village. You’ll know it as soon as you arrive: it will have an American flag, and a Red Cross.



John Frum lives in the volcano Yasur on Tanna, where he has an army and a lot of trucks and tanks. He’ll return one year on February the fifteenth, and reward his followers with cargo.  

There are other cargo cults on Tanna as well: one for a man called Tom Navy, probably an American serviceman who recruited local labour on Tanna during the war; and one for Prince Phillip, who just happens to fit all the requirements of John Frum’s brother. He is pale-skinned, he married a powerful woman, and he lives on the other side of the world but one day he’ll return to Tanna. 


I would love to do justice to a John Frum story one day. 
What fires up your imagination? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Time Wasters and Pancake Makers

I am not good with Time Management. This is despite knowing that it is Important. It's so Important that I wrote it in Big Letters, so you know I'm not kidding around.

I bought a yearly planner back in January -- the sort you stick on your wall and fill up with all the things you have to do. I think the last time I looked at it was on January 14. The last time I wrote on it was...January 14. Those fourteen days were amongst the most organised of my life, but it's all been downhill from there. 

I do not do Time Management. 

A few days ago my sister said, "Aren't you going to Brisbane soon?" 
"Not until June," I said. 
"It is June," Kath said. "When is the concert?" 
"I dunno." 
"When do you go?" 
"I dunno." 
"Are your flights booked?" 
"But you don't know when you go?" 
"No," I said. "People just ask me to go places with them, and I give them money and they tell me when to turn up at the airport." 
She looked at me like I was an idiot. 
Meanwhile, my life is Exciting and Mysterious. Anything could happen! 

I do not do Time Management. 

Yesterday my mother said, "What are you working tomorrow?" 
"I don't know," I said. "What day are we up to?" 

Just don't do it. 

I woke up this morning to the sound of a lawnmower. 
"Crap," I said into my pillow. "What idiot neighbour is mowing their lawn this early on a Sunday morning?" 
Then I realised it was noon. And Tuesday. And the guy was mowing my lawn, because that's what I pay him to do. Hi, Joe! 

Don't do it. 

Time is arbitrary, right? Meaningless, except the philosophical defence doesn't cut it when I didn't get any writing done this morning because it was overcast and cold so I slept in. And it didn't cut it last night when, instead of coming straight home from work and getting to grips on that misbehaving chapter, I made pancakes and watched 30 Rock instead. 

But tonight, I will write. 
I have to. 
I'm out of eggs. 


I was going to do a well-conceived and thoughtful post on Time Management, but I procrastinated until I ran out of time. How are you wasting arbitrary time this week? 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Caught in a Bad Romance

So, so slack this here is a guest post I wrote once for Wicked and Tricksy. For those of you who don't know, I have a secret identity as a writer of erotic romances. I know, it still makes me blush! And laugh. And try not to laugh at the same time as I'm already laughing, and then accidentally snort like a pig. 

So. This is a thing I wrote about that. 

Caught in a Bad Romance

Something weird happened when I decided to try and get published. After a few rejections — I’m choosing to see those as badges of pride rather than failure, my scars from the trenches where real authors hang out — I put the manuscript I love away for a while, and took a break. I needed the space. But because I couldn’t not write, I decided to experiment at writing to the market and I chose romance. How hard could it be, right? I hadn’t read any romance since school holidays at my grandmother’s house. She had mainly Mills and Boon: handsome doctors, beautiful and wilful heroines, and a lot of those misunderstandings that could be sorted out with a five-minute conversation if they both weren’t so damned proud. And so utterly annoying.

But I reckoned I could write one of those. I mean, these days they have sex in them and everything, as well as actual character development! Also, you can go paranormal, sci-fi, historical, or anything you want, as long as the romance is still at the core. So I gave it a go. And, dear god, a publisher wanted it.
When I say romance, you know I mean trashy, right? And when I say trashy, you know I mean smutty? Just so we’re all on the same page here. Oh, and don’t worry. This post won’t be an advertisement for my upcoming novel, because even my family doesn’t know what it’s called. It will remain, literally, my dirty secret.
In between my fits of giggling embarrassment where I alternated between burning shame and fantasies of being the next Larry Flynt, I realised something important: this is still writing. This is working with an editor, and learning the process. This is my period of apprenticeship, and I’m glad to have it.
But here is what I’ve learned:
Getting a TIN off the IRS if you’re not a US citizen is painstakingly slow. And you have to remember to put the month before the day in your date of birth, or they’ll send it back to you because you can’t have been born in the twenty-eighth month. Watch for that. It will set you back weeks.
Sex scenes without emotion are boring. Yeah, I’m a girl, get over it.
Working with an editor is awesome. Too many passive sentences? She’ll pick that up for you. Also, I use the word “felt” too much. Not anymore though! Pacing issues? A scene that doesn’t quite work? Your editor will send you suggestions to improve the flow and tighten the narrative. And these are skills that will translate into the rest of your writing.
(Your editor may also say things like, “Hmm, this felt like it was leading to a ménage.” You will think: “Holy crap, I’m in over my head! Reel it back! Reel it back!”)
Working with a line editor is less awesome. Those people earn every dollar, let me tell you. Not only will they pick up on those finicky grammatical errors that you left in there, they’ll point out where you’ve repeated a word in close proximity, where you’ve used any unnecessary words, and helpfully notice how it was daytime a second ago and now it’s night. And you will kick yourself, because you should have spotted all of that.
Writing is a business. You’re now a professional. Don’t fear deadlines: love them. Can you get that revised manuscript back within a week? Hell yes you can!
The iPhone world clock application will save you a lot of grief. Why, why hasn’t she got back to me yet? Does she hate it? I bet she hates it. Oh, right, it’s 2 a.m.
You will respect romance a lot more after you try and write it. You were an idiot for thinking it would be easy.
You will giggle like a loon when they send you the cover art. You won’t be able to help it, and the worst part is you won’t be able to show anyone why you’re laughing, because the cover art has the title of the book and your pen name on it.
But, most importantly, whatever genre you are choosing to write, the rules remain the same. You still need all the same elements: setting, plot, conflict, character, point of view, and theme. These are the basic building blocks of any piece of fiction, and whether your characters are fleeing the zombie apocalypse, trying to bring down a terrorist cell before the bomb goes off, or just sneaking away for a quickie in the middle of the day, none of it will work unless you have all those bases covered.
It turns out that writing is writing, and the more you write the better you get. So just write.
I wrote this almost a year ago now. I think the biggest issue I've come across since is the  Great Time Suck-- and I'm not talking about hours lost to actual writing, but to social networking. I'll post about that in a few days. 


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