Writing process

Books read 2018

I haven’t forgotten that I promised two more Lord of the Rings tours from New Zealand, but this is the end of the year and it’s time for our annual “Books we read and liked” over 2018.

This was a year of classics.  We read, or re-read, a lot of what we deem the modern urban fantasy classics.  Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels books, Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books (first time reading these, and loved them). And, of course, there was a new Anne Bishop Others’ book, Lake Silence, which we read as soon as it came out.

We both read, and loved, the three Murderbot books that Martha Wells put out this year.  Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. They were great.

We also picked up a couple of non-fiction volumes. One of them is Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. It’s an older book, but very interesting, about how paint colors originally came about.  Highly recommended for any fantasy writer, chock-full of idea generating topics. The other is edited by Dan Koboldt and is called Putting the Science into Science Fiction. It’s posts from a website where experts talk about their fields of expertise, and some of the misconceptions that authors make.  It’s a fantastic book for generating science fiction ideas.

Expect some ideas for our novels to come out of those two books.  Particularly the one talking about color.

Recommendations for this year.  All the above books, of course, but we’ve picked out these two specifically.

Sherylyn recommends

Sarah Prineas’s middle grade novel, The Lost Books, about a boy who wants to be a librarian.  (Funny how there are so many books about libraries and librarians around.)  (I loved it, too.)  One of the things we both loved about it was that even though Alex had run away from home, he still loved his family and they loved him.  (Hope that’s not a spoiler.)  If you like the Magic Thief series, you should like this book, too.

Karen recommends

Witchmark by C. L. Polk.  I wanted to like this book because I loved the cover.  I’m glad it turned out to be a good story as well.  It’s a steampunk, WW1 era m/m fantasy, if you can imagine that, about a doctor, also a witch, who runs away from home because he doesn’t want to be enslaved to his sister. It sounds crazy but it works.

Next week, it’s back to New Zealand, and a tour of WETA.

Fun stuff

Best wishes for the festive season

Books and movies Fun stuff

Canterbury Station, Mt Sunday and Lord of the Rings

My exceptionally ordinary photograph of Mt Sunday, which is not the mountains behind (which I initially thought) but the big rock on the left side of the picture.

So, we’re back from our cruise to New Zealand (and Tassie, because, why not stay on the ship another five days). 

Both islands (or is that all three) were fantastic, as you’d expect.

And we have internet again.  Yay.  It’s amazing the connectivity you take for granted until you don’t have it.  Or, rather, you can have it, but you have to pay a lot for it.

In New Zealand we did a Lord of the Rings theme. We took four tours, three of which were Lord of the Rings (LOTR) related. I’m going to talk about those over the next few weeks, interspersed with some usual end of the year blogging stuff.

I used my phone to take photos, didn’t wear my glasses most of the time. As a result, my photos are terrible. But I’m going to inflict them on you anyway.  If they’re really bad, I’ll get some stock photos as well, just to show how good things really looked.

Our first LOTR trip was to through the Canterbury plains and up to Mt Sunday. This was the set for the exterior of Edoras, which was where the Rohan people lived.

We were told before we booked that there was nothing left of the set there. We just wanted to see it, and to see some of the glorious scenery that New Zealand provides.  It was a nine hour tour. The ship was in port for ten hours, but you had to be back in nine, so you can imagine how tight the time was.  (Tip. For a tour like this, always book through the ship, because they guarantee to wait for you if you do. If you book it through a private operator, they won’t wait.)

The tour started at 8:00am.  We didn’t get onto the port until after 8:30.

We spent at least three hours being driven through the Canterbury plains, and getting some interesting facts about the countryside, about farming, and how it has changed.  For example, even though it looks lush and green, there isn’t much topsoil. Erosion is a real problem.  The area used to be used sheep and wheat, but then they started using those massive irrigators which is lowering the water table and doing a lot of other damage.  Who’d have thought, says me, with some cynicism, because I live in a country where we’ve done exactly the same thing.  You’d think we’d learn by now, wouldn’t you. Nowadays, it’s dairy now and grass.

Anyway, enough of that.  Back to LOTR.

After the plains our bus started into the Southern Alps. The weather was overcast, but pleasant. A beautiful day in beautiful, beautiful, country. Another guide, Cheryl, joined us.  She was a local, and she and her family had camped out in the alps all their life.

She also told us—which Barry, our bus driver hadn’t—that Barry had worked with Peter Jackson as a security person in a number of Jackson’s films.

As we went into the mountains we started to get Lord of the Rings stories. A lot from our guide, Cheryl, but some from Barry, too. 

There was the tale of the station owner, the photographer and the helicopter.  They had an agreement with the station owner that he wouldn’t let anyone on his land to view the filming, but he ended up taking a photographer over in his helicopter. The pictures were published. Jackson’s company decided to sue, because they did have a contract. But then someone let the set horses out one night, and they needed a helicopter to round them up.  Guess who had a helicopter close by?

They got their horses within a few hours and but I believe that the station owner came out on top–at least monetarily.

Why did someone let the horses out?

Ugly fandom rearing its head. Apparently some people felt so strongly that Peter Jackson shouldn’t be making Lord of the Rings they went out of their way to sabotage the filming.

We finally got to the site.  You could still see snow on the alps in the background, even though it was summer.  The scenery was breathtaking.

There was a wind.  Apparently it was mild.  Guide Cheryl showed us the picture of Eowyn (Miranda Otto) standing on the outside of the hall at Mt Edoras with her hair swirling one way and a flag swirling the opposite way.  This is not a fake. The wind really does swirl like that. (You might see it in the video below.)

We posed with swords and axes and Barry took a photo of me with a sword (quite heavy), but my phone really doesn’t take good photos. My head was blurred.  That’s one picture you are not seeing.

On the way back we stopped for lunch at a memorial hall in a country town that reminded of all the country towns of my childhood.  Volunteers fed us juice, champagne, sandwiches and cake.  It was the best food we’d had on the whole trip.  (Don’t, whatever you do, get on a ship thinking you’ll get gourmet food.  You won’t. You’ll get more food than you can eat, and it’s okay, but nothing to write home about.  You can eat all day (and all night.) By the end of the cruise I was craving some good bibimbap, or crispy noodles, oh, and a decent pasta.)  This beef sandwich, with it’s soft grain bread, pickles, and cheese, was heaven.

On the way back, Barry told us a little bit about how he’d come to work for Peter Jackson. He’d been a policeman, worked for a while in the police museum, and had collected information about a New Zealand murder case that Jackson based his film Heavenly Creatures on.  Barry’d had quite a career, believe me.

When we went to get back in the bus, we found we had a problem. The rattling over the dirt roads had loosened the ignition barrel (if that’s what you call it—it’s the thing that holds the ignition) and the ignition had dropped into the barrel.  It had dropped so far down that he couldn’t get the key in to turn the bus on.

We had a tense half hour (for Barry, not for us, we stood around and enjoyed the scenery and talked to each other) while Barry tried to get the ignition thingy back up far enough for him to turn the key.

We got back to the port an hour after the last tender was supposed to leave. But because the tour had been arranged by the ship, it waited, it waited for us.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see anything of Akaroa, which looks a beautiful little port town.

Maybe next time.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Edoras as it was in the movie, courtesy of YouTube.
Writing process

Who’s the smartest?

So my smart watch isn’t so smart when it doesn’t have its internet umbilical cord.

We’re cruising from Australia to New Zealand.  We don’t have internet.  (Well, we could have internet, if we choose to pay 79c per minute.  It gets cheaper the more you purchase, but the maximum package is ten hours for $199.  It feels like the internet prices you paid twenty years ago.)

But anyway, time-wise New Zealand is two hours in front of Australia, so we have to put our clocks forward.  And my Versa Fitbit, which is also my watch, can’t manage it.

So far as I can work out, you can’t change the time on the Fitbit. It has to be changed in the controlling program, which is on my pc at home.

There may be a way to change it otherwise, but I don’t know how.  So right now I’m going around with a watch that’s set to permanently two hours too slow.

I’d like to think that the smartphone isn’t that smart, but the phone is controlling me, really. I’m not controlling the phone.

That’s smart.

Writing process

Gah, Gutenberg, Yay New Zealand

You may have noticed a few more typos in our blogs of late.

It’s not me.

I do make mistakes, some occasional typos, a bit of bad grammar, not deliberately, but they slip in. (You can rest assured that we edit our books a lot more than we edit our blogs.)

Word Press is in in the process of changing from its old editor (which wasn’t bad) to a new editor called Gutenberg. (Yes, named after that Gutenberg.) It’s not too bad, based around blocks rather than a full screen. Before Gutenberg the whole document was one long string of text, with paragraph breaks. Now each paragraph becomes a block, which you add and remove at will. An image is a block too, as is a heading.

Anyway, there were a few hiccups at the start, but nothing too onerous. Then suddenly, one release, it started pulling spaces out. It’s seemingly random. I have no idea why or what or how, but it happens. It may have something to do with the fact that I write the articles in Word first, I don’t know.

Worse still, Sherylyn proofreads the articles. “You have so many words run together,” she says.

“What?” I say. “I checked them in Word, and then afterwards, when I put them into Word Press. They’re fine.”

“Take a look.” So I look, and there’s a whole lot of words running together.

I edit the post and ensure every single space has been added back in. I save it. And guess what. New words run together.

You can almost see the steam coming out of my ears. It takes around five edits to get rid of them all, and even then I’m not really sure I’ve got them.

On another note. We’re holidaying in December. Cruising to New Zealand. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve dubbed this the “Lord of the Rings” holiday. We’ve already booked two Lord of the Rings tours, and are considering a third.

We’ll tell you about it if we get internet time, otherwise we’ll share photos when we get back.

Writing process

Restoring my faith in the electoral process

We voted yesterday in our state government elections.

We do it at our local primary school.  As usual, we had a cake stall, and there was the obligatory sausage sizzle run by the parents.

Politics in Australia, while not as crazy as it appears to be in some other democratic countries right now, does appear to be becoming more extreme and less democratic.  Plus we have people brokering preference deals with the parties for money, which to me is starting on a slippery slope downwards and helps to get some really crazy people elected. (Always vote below the line people, not above.)

I know we hear mostly bad news, but there were instances I read about on social media and in the newspapers of voters being harassed. 

A woman had one of the people handing out how-to-vote cards follow her into the polling place, and up to the booth where she was trying to vote. (This is absolutely not allowed, they have to remain a certain distance from the polling place.)

 Another did a postal vote at an overseas embassy, and the person accepting his vote checked his ballot. (Another absolute no-no.)  Not only that, they told him he’d voted wrong. (He’d voted below the line, not above.) No one but you sees what you put onto that ballot. You can put nothing on it if you like. It’s your choice. And if you do it wrong, that’s your problem.

 At least these issues are being caught and reported, but its till meant that when I went in to vote yesterday I wasn’t feeling that confident about our democratic future.

I got to the polling place, looked around for the people handing out how-to-vote cards.  They weren’t in the usual place.  Looked over, finally saw them, made my way across.

There were four people, all for different representatives.

“They’ve changed the law,” one of them said cheerfully. “We have to stay further back now.”

I collected my cards (leaflets, really), then joined the line.  It only took about ten minutes to get inside, but in that ten minutes I watched the four representatives be friendly to everyone as they handed out cards to new arrivals.  And when there was no one to hand out cards to, they talked and laughed together as a group.

I don’t know why it made such a difference, but it did.

I came away from the polling booth feeling better about democracy, and better about people in general.

I came away feeling hopeful.

Writing process

Is this a kissing book?

This week has been run-off-your feet busy.  So of course, the computer started giving issues as well.  Or not so much the computer, but we are getting lots (and lots, and lots) of spam.  I think we’ve caught most of the spam, by upping the spam filter, but the occasional non-spam message gets caught in the filter, too, so we have to go through each one.  If you have sent us a message, understand it may take a couple of days to get to.

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Vale William Goldman, the author of Princess Bride, who passed away late last week.

Many of us have watched the movie so many times we know it off by heart.

“Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.”

He didn’t just write Princess Bride of course.  He also wrote the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, among other things.  Including the screenplay for the Mel Gibson/Jodi Foster movie, Maverick, another movie I love. For most of us in speculative fiction, however, it’s Princess Bride we all love.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Many of us have watched the movie so many times we know it off by heart.

Thank you, William Goldman, for the story.  You may be gone, but your stories will live on.

Writing process

So many books, not enough time to write them

This morning Sherylyn and I had a working breakfast.  We do this roughly once every two months.  We go down to a local café, where the seats are comfortable, and we can linger over coffee.  Sometimes we talk about the current story we are writing, sometimes we talk about future writing.

Today, we talked about future stories we want to write.

It turns out that we have seventeen story ideas in train.

That’s right.  Seventeen.

Some of the stories are written to first draft or beyond.  None of them finished, mind, but some close enough to consider one-more-draft-and-then-ready-to-send-to-our-agent finished.  Others are little more than ideas that we want to work on.

So why aren’t we finishing the nearly-completed ones and sending them to our agent?  Two things.  Time and genre.

First, we need time to do that last draft before we send to our agent.  We both work full time, we’ve a book we must deliver. We have no time to complete other stories.

Second, not all of these are science fiction. 

Some of them are out-and-out fantasy. We even have one rural fantasy, set in the hot, dry landscape of Australia’s Mallee region.

Some of them are mashups—science and fantasy.  (Some readers might say that’s little different to what we have now.)

There are several portal world stories—where the portal is a teleport to another world in our universe, rather than a portal to an alternate reality. 

Plus lots of other fun ideas.

We don’t know if any of these stories are saleable.  What we do know is that the ones that we have already written/part written were fun to write.

That’s important, because above all, you should enjoy what you write.

Writing process

Where I’d like to be

Gold Coast, Queensland

We have been so busy lately. Right now I’d love to be somewhere else.

We’ve holidays coming up in December, so it’s not that far away, but that’s one of the things that’s making us work harder.

I’m exhausted.

Writing process

It’s goodbye to another laptop

Sometimes the writing flows, sometimes it doesn’t, and while I prefer writing on a desktop to a laptop, the first drafts of our novels have been produced on laptops.  That’s because many of them have been written on our work commute.

The first basic requirement for me has always been, “Can the laptop fit into my handbag?”

This is my third laptop since we started writing the Linesman novels.  The first was a little 10” Acer Aspire netbook that even ten years ago only cost around $300.   It was a solid little workhorse that lasted four years.  The second was a slightly larger laptop (11”) that weighted four times as much.

That laptop put my back out, broke at least two bags, and crystallised my second requirement.  “How heavy is it?”  Carrying four kilograms of PC every day wasn’t fun.

I bore it for six months, then bought the little Sony 11” Vaio that I’ve had for the last five years.

That’s nearing the end of its life, now.  The shift keys are broken.  I have to press hard on other keys to make them work.  The touchpad isn’t sensitive any more (thank goodness for touch screen functionality, which has saved my writing lots of times), and it keeps selecting chunks of text (sometimes the whole novel) with disastrous consequences if I don’t notice and typing.

Four to five years seems to be the average life of my laptops.  That’s pretty good, given the amount of work they do.

It’s time to go shopping.

Charles Babbage built his analytic engine back in 1837.  Konrad Zuse built the first programmable computer, the Z1, in the 1930s.  (He built it in his parent’s living room, and if you’ve ever seen a picture of it, it was a big machine.  He must have had very forbearing parents.)  Every one of us alive today was born in an age of computers.

There’s a massive difference between a computer bought in the year 1998, and a computer bought in 2008.  Not so much between one bought in 2008 and 2018.  I mean sure, there’s more memory and more power, and some of them are a little lighter, and there are a few more apps, but you know what I’m going to be using my new laptop for?  Word processing.  And that’s exactly the same thing I was using it for ten years ago.

I’m even going to be using the same word processing software. Microsoft Word.

Sure, we have things like mobile phones and tablets nowadays, but try writing a story on them.  Until writers come up with a different way of writing stories—maybe by dictation—we’re still going to need a keyboard and a screen.  That limits the technology somewhat.