Category Archives: Talking about things

Talking about things. Can be about writing or our books, but mostly not.

Halloween came late to our house

I kid you not, but the white of my eye is currently as red as the girl’s in this picture.

Growing up, Halloween was a weird celebration other countries (US, and maybe Canada) celebrated. We didn’t.

Over the years, Halloween has become a thing, here, with parents buying scary costumes for their children and the kids going around to neighbours’ houses. Or some of them, anyway. It hasn’t really become a thing in our suburb yet—although I can see it will—because until recently this was mostly a renter’s area, full of students who went to the local TAFE. But that’s changing. We’re in a suburb where the families are moving in. Kids are starting to appear.

So much so that this year we actually bought sweets and had them set aside in case someone rang the doorbell. No one did, so I might add that we had lollies left over (which we’re slowly eating), but … I digress.

For a long time I thought trick or treat meant that you either gave the kids lollies or scared them witless by being really scary. I know better now, but my old version of trick or treat would have worked really well in this last week.

You see, I had an injection in my eye last Tuesday and, to quote my eye doctor, “What must have happened is that somewhere along the way they nicked a blood vessel.”

For the last few days I’ve been going around thinking I looked like a vampire. Believe me, it looked bad. The blood pooled around the eye, totally covering the white. I would have taken a photo, but it looked so bad, I didn’t even want to show it.

I tell you, if it had been Halloween, and my definition of ‘trick or treat’ was scaring kids witless, all I would have had to do was answer the door in the dark and shine a torch on my face. They’d have run, screaming, and probably had nightmares for years afterwards.

Fact number one. I wasn’t a vampire.

For the first few days, I swanned (can I call it that?) around thinking I looked like a vampire. But investigating photos for the blog I realised that the pupils in vampires are red, not the whites of their eyes. So, definitely not a vampire.

In fact, the closest I could come was the Aswang of the Phillipines. A shapeshifting witch who eats unborn foetuses. According to Wikipedia, they’re not harmed by sunlight, they can be befriended, and they talk to you like any normal human. In fact, they even protect their friends and neighbours. They have bloodshot eyes, which is the result of staying up all night searching for where wakes are being held, so they can steal the bodies.

Mind you, my eye isn’t bloodshot. It is absolutely, irrevocably, bloody. There is no white whatsoever. It is red.

Blood red.

Fact number two. You can’t see how bad it is.

Seriously, other people recoil, but you can’t see how awful it looks, unless you look in the mirror.

Fact number three. It makes the eye look smaller.

I have to say, when there’s no white around the eye, the eye looks so much smaller. So all those monsters you read about that have red–or black–eyes where the white should be. Either they’ve got tiny little eyes, or otherwise their eyes are so much bigger than humans.

Fact number four. It could be worse.

I was sitting in a shop today, having my nails done, and the nail technician asked about my eye. By now, I had the spiel down pat. “I had an injection in the eye, and they nicked a blood vessel, and …”

“You’re lucky,” said the lady having her nails done next to me. “My sister had both eyes done. She spent a week walking around, looking like her husband had bashed her.”

I am lucky. It is only one eye. But believe me, I’m holding out for the week to be over.

Of tomatoes and onions

No, this is not Sherylyn’s picture. This an image from clip art, that I tried (unsuccessfully I think) to Photoshop using the oil paint filter.

 

Sandwiches

We came up to Wangaratta this weekend to see our mother. It’s 270 kilometres, so we stop half-way for coffee and something light to eat.

By light, we mean something that’s not going to make us want to fall asleep in the car half an hour later.  What do we normally eat?  Tomato and onion sandwiches. Made with fresh bread, not toasted.

Now adding onion to a road trip may seem a weird thing to do, but it’s the perfect meal.  Fresh, light, and not too much.  The café we usually stop at isn’t grand to look at, but they have deliciously fresh bread, which is super important.  And the tomato’s been allowed to ripen, so it’s tasty, and doesn’t freeze your teeth.

We must be the only people who ever ask for this type of sandwich, however. The owner doesn’t recognise us—until we order the sandwiches.  Then she starts saying things like, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Of course, when we get back in the car, we need some gum to clean our teeth, otherwise we taste onion all the way to Mum’s place.

 

Tomatoes and onion as art

Sherylyn enjoys painting.  She did a “Drawing on the right side of the brain” class a few years back. Once they’d finished that, the class voted to move on to painting.  After a term everyone started doing their own projects, with the art teacher providing assistance as required.

Sherylyn’s concentrating on painting techniques.

One of these was a colorization (note my use of US spelling here, for no reason other than that I can) technique done using a palette knife.

The art teacher wanted her to do still life. (Art teacher loves people to draw fruit and veg.) Onions. So she could demonstrate the technique.

“Onions,” I said. “What do you want to paint onions for? What are you going to do with a picture of onions?”

Those onions stayed around for a whole painting term. And because she was learning the technique, she couldn’t finish it in her own time. That meant she had to keep the picture wet (it was that type of technique) and the paint on her palette from drying out.

The picture took up a whole shelf in the fridge. The paints a shelf in the freezer. In a two-person house there’s no need for a massive refrigerator. That was half the freezer, and a quarter of the fridge.

“Karen wants to know when she’s getting the fridge back,” she told the art teacher one week.

“Oh, but she’ll love it when the picture is finished and you hang it on your wall.”

“I don’t think she’s going to let hang an onion on the wall.”

The poor art teacher doesn’t know when Sherylyn’s being flippant, but it’s true. Neither of us wanted the picture on the wall, no matter how good it was.  While we both like to eat onions, we’re not going out of our way to hang pictures of them.

Next term, the art teacher wanted Sherylyn to continue the technique.

“Sure,” said Sherylyn, who’d enjoyed painting the last picture.

“I think you should do some tomatoes,” the art teacher said.

Now, the poor onions had lasted a whole eight-week term. The tomatoes didn’t last that long. Especially since this time she had to cut one in half, and paint the centre of the tomato as well. Imagine, if you can, what a moving target it is when you have to buy new tomatoes every third week. Especially when the tomatoes start off orange but get redder each the week as they ripen.

We got some nice tomato sandwiches in weeks three, six and eight, however. (The full ones, not the halved ones.)

I have to say, both pictures looked good, and the colouring in them was lovely. (Even if that first week, the guy locking the building after the class had finished said to Sherylyn as she carried her picture out to the car, “I can’t tell what half these people are painting.  At least I can see that yours are oranges.”)

Not long after that, the combined classes put on an art show. Every student was asked to provide artwork. Sherylyn put her tomatoes and onions in.

She dragged me along to the opening night.

I finally met the art teacher. “Sherylyn is so good,” she said. “Those pictures are amazing.”

“They’re okay,” I said. And I meant it.

We write novels together. We are honest with each other. Okay means, yes, they are okay. Amazing means wow, wow, wow! This is the best.

Later in the evening I met up with the art teacher again.

“Sherylyn is my best student,” she said.

“That’s nice,” I said. “She’s enjoying the class. That’s the most important thing.” I confess I’m not the world’s greatest conversationalist.

The new term started last week. The art teacher told Sherylyn, “I don’t think your sister is very supportive of your art.”

By the way, the tomato and the onion sold at the art show. We don’t have pictures of them, because Sherylyn forgot to take them before the show.

Is it just me?

Is it just me, or are Young Adult (YA) books going the way of their older sibling, the New Adult (NA)?

First, let me define what I mean by YA and NA.

Young adult fiction is fiction where the protagonist is a teenager. Usually mid-late teens rather than early teens. It is often a coming of age story. While the intended audience is teenagers themselves, these books are often also read by adults.

New adult fiction was intended to be stories about people just into adulthood. Late teens or early twenty-somethings. About what happens to teenagers after they finish secondary school and start on the next period of their life.  University/College, or work.

Or, as Cora Carmack succinctly wrote on her blog a few years back:

Young Adult books are about surviving adolescence and coming of age. New Adult is about how to live your life after that. New Adult is the “I’m officially an adult, now what?” phase.  Just like growing up, that life stage is different for everyone, but I do think there are some things that are constant.

Cora Carmack, The one about what new adult means to me

Except new adult very quickly turned into a specific type of book. Post-young adults and sex. In fact, it has a reputation as ‘sexed-up* young adult’ stories.

And you expect this, for yes, people that age are likely to have sex. Most of them, anyway. Many teens have sex as well, and one expects that to be reflected in young adult books too, although often not as explicitly.

I would also add, primary audience for new adult books appears to be female.

Young adult and new adult are marketing groupings, a way of putting books together in a bookstore so that the desired audience (people of around the same age or a little younger than the protagonists) can easily identify the books they want to read, books about people like them.

But it’s not just readers the age of the protagonists who read these books.  Adults do too, and voracious, mature younger readers as well.

I read a lot of young adult books. Fairly obviously, I enjoy them.  But lately they’re all starting to sound the same. So much so that the last three I picked up, I put down without reading past chapter two. In every one of the three books the heroine was an angsty 16-17 year-old. She hates, or is angry with, a handsome, superior boy a year or two older than herself. The only difference in all three books was the best friend.  One was a girl, and I wasn’t sure if she’d stick by the girl to the bitter end or betray her, another was the quiet, ever helpful guy as best friend who you knew would turn out to be secretly in love with the protagonist.  The third book didn’t have a best friend.

Sigh.

I need to read more widely.

 

* There’s a list on Goodreads, New Adult that’s not about sex. It looks to have interesting books, with authors like Rainbow Rowell. I think I might go and re-read Carry On.

Copyedits – the new book is coming fast

 

Stars Uncharted

The copy edits for Stars Uncharted came back on Thursday.

By this time in the writing process Sherylyn has taken over all the editing on the book, so while she carefully works through each edit, I continue working on an early draft of the next book.

So far, she’s seeing lots of comma changes, a few missed/added words, and some questions about the timeline.

So, not too bad, so far.  We’ll see if it stays as clean as we get into it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of red markup, because there is, but they’re small things, like the commas, or slight grammar issues.

We have to get the copyedits back by the end of this month, and our author portal tells us the book will be out in August next year.  It’s a long way away, but it’s also coming fast.

 

Passionate writing

Some of the best passionate writing comes out of things you feel strongly about. Given today’s political climate, it’s not surprising that a lot of people feel strongly about politics and prejudices.  I’d like to point to Chuck Wendig’s The Game Is Rigged as an example of some strong, powerful writing.

 

Some things you take for granted

Hmm. There are some things you take for granted.  I would never have expected anyone to consider Leckie’s use of pronouns anything but deliberate, but I suppose, if you hadn’t read her first books, maybe you would think they were typos.

I enjoyed Provenance, by the way, and I’m so envious of the way Leckie managed to make Ingray such a different person to Breq. The weird thing is, even though the story is nothing like—and I mean absolutely nothing like—Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, this is the book it reminded me of.  I still can’t pick why.  Maybe it’s the hopeful tone.

Conflux roundup

Vibe hotel, Canberra. Image from hotel website.

One of our goals this year was to go to a science fiction convention.

We’ve been to conferences in the past, but they’re all aimed at writers. Genrecon, RWA. But we’ve never been to a con specifically for speculative fiction. Nor one that’s not just about writing but about consuming what has been written.

We missed our local—Melbourne—con, Continuum. This was back in June, and I had work commitments.

Our next-nearest convention was Conflux, in Canberra, which always seemed to have good mix of topics. Not only that, the con was at the Vibe hotel, which is at the airport and meant we only had a walk a few hundred metres once we got off the plane. It sounds a weird place for a con, but it worked really well.

The conference was also held during Canberra’s Floriade festival. We thought maybe we could sneak away for a couple of hours and look at flowers.

We couldn’t make all four days, only the weekend, so another advantage was the reasonable day rates.

We arrived Saturday morning, checked in our baggage, and joined the fun.

Everyone was friendly, approachable, and easy to talk to.

The guests of honour were great, the panels interesting and informed.  Standouts for me were:

  • Steampunk martial arts (Rik Lagarto, Aiki Flintheart, Laura Goodin and Madeleine D’Este). An entertaining look at how one protects oneself wearing Victorian garments.
  • To PhD or not to PhD (Angela Slatter, Cat Sparks, Tim Napper, Donna Hanson, Rachel le Rossignol). I wasn’t sure what to expect here. I came away thinking maybe I should try for a PhD.
  • Putting science in stories (Ellen Datlow, Craig Cormick, Rob Porteous, Dion Perry). An interesting topic.

The first two sessions were on the Saturday, the third on Sunday.

Plus, there was our own panel on the Sunday morning, Starting writing later in life. Sherylyn and I did this with Laura Goodin, with Zena Shapter moderating.  If you were there, you were a great audience, interested and engaged, and you participated, which is what every panellist hopes for when they sit down there at the front.  Thank you.

We didn’t get to Floriade. There was too much happening at the Vibe, and we were having a good time there. I’d recommend it as a conference for first-timers. It was small, it was friendly.  Even better, they had a ‘first-timer’ rate, where you could go along for one day at half price.

Fishy facts

Did you know that when you catch snapper they sometimes have a bump on their head?

According to a fisherman I heard on the radio yesterday morning, he’s seen the bumps and he’s seen the fish banging their head against a reef to get the crustaceans out. (He was diving at the time, not fishing.)

The radio host talking with him added this fun fact.  In their search for said crustaceans, snapper can die from eating too much of the mud along the bottom of the sea,

How do I know this?

I’ve had my clock radio ten years now. It’s nothing fancy. It does the job.  I can see it when I wake in the night. Most important, it’s easy to reset if the power goes out.  The one I had before that was horrible. It had one button to reset the time.  You pressed it and the minutes would flick by, one second at a time.  Hold your finger down for a few seconds and the time speeds up.  But, take your finger off too late and you go past the time you wanted to set it to and had to go around the whole 24 hours again.

Back in those days, we had quite a few power problems, too.

So I like my (now ten years old) clock. The alarm wakes me in the morning with news and music and weather.  That’s all I want. I don’t need—don’t want—talkback radio first thing in the morning. Seriously, all I want to do is go back to sleep.

The alarm itself is an AM radio.  Who needs an alarm like this anyway when you’ve got a phone with an alarm on it?

I do, because I forget my phone if it’s in the bedroom.

I might need to start using my phone soon, however, because many of the radio stations have left the AM band. (And sometimes on the FM band too.)  Some of them are going digital. A lot are closing down.

The only thing that’s making money at the moment are the talkback stations, and you know what I think of them for waking up to.  I don’t mind them later in the day, just not first thing.

So this is the third radio station I’ve had to switch to in the last two years.  On weekdays they play music, but on Saturday morning they have a fishing show.

It’s kind of surreal.  Saturday mornings I wake up to little snippets of fishing trivia like the above. In between gale warnings, and ringing various fishermen around the bay, and on the rivers, to find out where the fish are biting and what type of fish are being caught in that area.

Goodbye Cassini. Thanks for all the data

So I watched the last minutes of Cassini on Friday night (Melbourne time).  Got a bit teary, I must admit.

The Cassini-Huygens mission ran for twenty-seven years. The module itself was launched into space on 15 October 1997.

The Huygens module broke away and went on to Titan, while Cassini spent 13 years orbiting Saturn.

The decision to destroy the probe has a lot to do with protecting Saturn’s fascinating moons from contamination. Thanks to [Cassini] we now know that some of these worlds hide liquid water and may have the potential to support life.

Eric Mack, CNET, How NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will dive-bomb Saturn and die

Well done, Cassini, and responsible science, too.

There’s this great cartoon by Erika Neskvold (@erikanesvold) going around the Twitterverse, which I think anyone who had an interest in Cassini might appreciate.

I’m not sure about copyright here, so I’m not reproducing it on my blog, but here’s the link.

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

Nothing to say, except that you were a role model. Not just in the characters you played, but in how you showed us all how you can rise above your own problems.

Not only that, you were a great writer.

First Tuesday in November

melbournecupTuesday is Melbourne Cup day.

A horse race.

It’s a public holiday here in Melbourne.*  In all of the state, now, I think, although it used to be only the metropolitan area.  I remember as a child having an extra-long afternoon recess at school, so the teachers could listen to the cup.  They even broadcast the race over the loudspeakers.  As a child I never really ‘got’ it, but now that I’ve lived in Melbourne (more years than I lived in the country), it’s an institution.

In fact, Melbourne spring used to start with the AFL grand final and Melbourne fashion week, and segue into the Spring Racing Carnival. After that it was Christmas.

Nowadays, Christmas preparations start way earlier. There’s also Halloween, which we’d heard of when we were younger, but it wasn’t a thing Australians did.  In the last few years has suddenly become huge. (If someone knocks on my door trick or treating, I have no idea what to do.)

You have to experience cup week at least once in your life. It’s a crazy time of parties, girls with hats and beautiful dresses, and impossible shoes (and flat heels in their bag if they’re truly wise), and guys in classy suits.

The weather is usually crazy. Mostly it either pours rain or it’s so hot everyone gets sunburned. There’s hardly ever just a nice day.  One year you watch the racegoers coming home sodden, the next year they’re bright red from sunburn.

Confession, I have never been to the actual race. Or to Oaks (Ladies) day, which is on the Thursday. It’s too crowded for me.  The closest I have been is at the station as the train disgorges hundreds and hundreds of post-race goers. So many that even when they get off the train they’re jammed so tightly onto the platform some of them can’t move.

But I do watch the race of course. And partake in a cup sweep or two.

So come Tuesday at three pm, I’ll be like most of the rest of Australia.  Watching a horse race on television somewhere.


* We also had a public holiday this year for the football grand final. We Victorians have our priorities down well. 🙂

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History: what goes around comes around

Roman public toilets, which apparently were a common place to do business and catch up.
Roman public toilets, which apparently were a common place to do business and catch up. Although, according to one article I read, it wasn’t as great as it was made out to be.

Isn’t it funny how much ‘civilisation’ we lose, and continue to reinvent, time and time again.

Take plumbing and sanitation.

Stone age farmers in the Orkney Islands built drains under their houses and had toilets over the drains.

The Indus Valley civilisation in Asia (Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India) had a public water supply, covered sewers and an elaborate underground drainage system.  Houses had their own private toilets.

Ancient Rome? They had running water, public baths, public toilets and sewers.

The Minoans of Ancient Crete used underground clay pipes for water supply and sanitation.  They also had a version of a flush toilet.

Even the Mayans at Palenque had underground aqueducts and flush toilets. And they had household water filters, using limestone.

Pretty amazing, hey?

And then the middle ages happened.  Wastewater collection seems to have consisted of open drains, that over time were covered.  As for sanitation, that seemed to revert back to holes in the ground with a seat over them, or a seat over water, or pails that had to be emptied.

Until the modern flush toilet came along.

Now, it seems, we’re back to what they had in the past.