Writing process

Writers gotta write

Daylight saving started on the weekend.  I love it, but it takes a week to get used to.  Suddenly it’s midnight and you’re not in bed, even though you have to get up at six to get ready for work.

 To make matters worse, I wake up this morning at five.  Urgh.  I know from experience if I go back to sleep now, I’ll sleep through the alarm.

There’s a whole lot of must-do’s swirling around in my head.  Work is so busy right now.  I have reports to complete, figures to analyse, a presentation to write. Outside of that, there’s the course notes I need to finish for the course we are running next month.  Not to mention, a novel to write.  What with work and the course notes, I haven’t touched latest story for three weeks.  I’m feeling ultra-guilty.

Then, into my head pops a brand new story idea.  I like it.  No, I love it.

I crawl out of bed and turn on the computer.

Guess which one I work on.


Writing process

Another Road Giveaway

Over at Ace Books they’re giving away not just a copy of Stars Beyond, but also a copy of Stars Uncharted.

If you’re interested, and you live in the US, pop across to their site and enter the Another Road sweepstakes.

I love the way they’ve named it Another Road, by the way. That’s the name of the ship the crew has purchased, after their original ship, The Road to the Goberlings (aka The Road) was destroyed.

Writing process

Time to move out the 20th Century furniture

I still look at bookshelves when I visit other people’s houses. Do they read fiction or non-fiction? What genre do they read in? Do the books look read, or are they there for show? Is their collection eclectic, or is it specific to a genre/subject? Hardback or paperback?

I don’t realise I’m thinking about these things, but I do.

I looked at my own bookshelves today.  Everything in them is old. My paperbacks—science fiction, fantasy and mystery—are yellowed, and 70s, 80s and 90s vintage. My non-fiction includes a 1994 ‘C++ How to program’ (Dietel and Dietel, for those older coders out there), more computer books from the same era, and an eclectic set of whatever I was interested in around the same time, including a book of silviculture.

The few new books are mostly unread.  We have one shelf—which used to be double-stacked but isn’t any more—of S. K. Dunstall books (funny that), and various random books we’ve picked up from places or that have been given to us that we haven’t read and probably won’t read because we’re not really interested in them. We keep them for visitors who might enjoy them.

Even our music CDs stop at the nineties.

Frankly, all these shelves are dust catchers now. Not to mention junk collectors.  As well as having all these old books, the shelf just next to my desk has two old iPads, three dead laptops, an unused router, and old computer cables.  I’m sure the cables breed.

Nowadays, my bookshelf is my iPad. I adopted eBooks early, and almost completely right from the start. For a while I’d buy something, read it on the iPad and if I loved it, buy the dead-tree version for the shelves, but I don’t even do that now. No, nowadays I spend that money on another book by the same author.

I think it’s time to accept the future and get rid of some bookshelves.

Writing process

On not being able to see what’s in front of you

Picture penguins coming out of refrigerator.
I was going to put a picture of a refrigerator here, but they’re super boring, really. I mean, what can you say? A fridge is a fridge. This clip art appealed. I have no idea what it means, penguins coming out a refrigerator in the arctic, but maybe that’s the other end of the dimensional vortex.

There’s a black hole somewhere in my refrigerator.

Dinner last night was a hash brown plus (grated potato with extra ingredients made into a large flat pancake). I brought out the food processor to grate the potato and chop the onions.

Lightbulb moment. While the food processor is out why don’t I chop the onions for the big batch of bolognese I plan to freeze? I can cook that tonight, too.

I peel the onions.

It’s late when I started, that’s why I decided on hash browns for dinner in the first place. It’s a lot later when I finish, because I don’t use the food processor that often, and it takes time to work out how to set it up. Then to remember how to chop onions with it.

I fry up seemingly mountains of onion and garlic, but there’s no way I’m cooking the rest of the bolognese that night because I’ll be up till one am, and I’m exhausted already. I put it all into a container and put in in the fridge.

Next day, I take out the makings for bolognese sauce.

Except I can’t find the onion.

I know I was tired last night, but this is ridiculous. It’s not even a big fridge. I go through the fridge. I go through the freezer. I even check the cupboards, in case I was so tired I put it there instead. There is no onion.

It has disappeared into some dimensional hole. I’m sure that one day that same vortex will spit it back out again and it’ll be right there in front of me, where it has been all along. I just can’t see it right now.

p.s. Bolognaise or bolognese? I’m one of those who use ‘ai’, and I thought most Australians did, but I notice there’s a trend back to bolognese (which is more technically correct), so I’ve made an effort to use that here. Spell check doesn’t like it either way.

Writing process

Can you tell these characters apart?

Here Melbourne winter is coming into spring.  It’s warming up, or it should be, and in general the weather is getting better, but I have to say it’s been so cold lately that instead of sitting at my desk to write I’ve taken the little Go (Microsoft Surface) into the kitchen and sat at the table.  There’s a heater vent just underneath.  Only problem is, the heater thinks it’s coming into spring, too, and turns itself off after a while.

My fingers are frozen as I type this.

We’re getting some exercises ready for a full-day course on writing that we’re running in November at the Victorian Writer’s Centre (VWC), here in Melbourne.  (If you live in Melbourne, and want to fine-tune a manuscript, check it out on the VWC website. It’s on the 9th November, and it’s called First Draft: It’s all in the Details.)  This is editing beyond the major structural edits down into line edits.  Really trying to tidy up your story.

One topic we plan to talk about is whether you can tell your characters apart.  We’re not perfect, we know, but like most writers, we try.

So, as exercise, if you’ve read our books, can you tell whose point-of-view we’re in for the following paragraphs.

Character one

Santos Greene wore a company of starched green, with shiny lapels that had been fashionable two years ago. His skin was an even olive that blended with the cloth, like an Antares chameleon, and blended in turn with the grey-green wall behind him.  Even his eyes were green, although a deeper shade, and one eye was slightly darker than the other.  A neat mod, except for the mismatched eyes.

Character two

“Even his cartel master wanted to get rid of him, so he sold the contract to Lady Lyan, and now she can’t get rid of him either.  She’s tried.  Grand Master Rickenback came out to see him and try to get him back into the cartels, but Cartel Master Rigel wouldn’t take him.”

They’re a tad clumsy, sorry, but hopefully you’ll recognise them.

Writing process

Deep fakes and other technology

Some deep fakes

Last week I spent two days at UX Australia, a conference that talks about user experience. (I work in UX.) This year there was lots of fodder for science fiction ideas as well, along with some old terms that seem to be making a comeback.

People grokked things. So much so that I felt like I was at a science fiction convention sometimes. Especially when another term that cropped up a lot was the singularity.

If you’re unfamiliar with either of these terms, both were coined by science fiction writers.

Grok comes from Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and is a term that means to understand intuitively.

The singularity comes from an essay by Vernor Vinge called Technological Singularity (1993).  It’s a term that describes exponential technological change.  At UX Australia the term was used more broadly, I felt.  Mostly tech, but you could also say we’re reaching a singularity in climate change as well.

The conference is, and has been ever since I have been attending, heavy on ethics, which I like. It’s scary, because working in IT you can see how easily people’s rights are being, or can be, eroded. It’s good to go to big conferences and have people talk about the consequences.

Other big topics this year included designing for disability, and how far artificial intelligence has come without us even realizing it.  We keep waiting for AI to arrive, but it’s already here, every time you talk to Siri, or Google Home, or turn on your keyless car.

Deep fakes.  Oh, my goodness.  They’re amazing.  And they’re computer generated.  You can create a person out of stored images. You can change them to have whatever attributes you like. Scary, though, if you’re looking at videos as a source of truth.

Writing process

Electronic money

It’s traditional, at work that when someone leaves you sign their card and put in a couple of dollars into the envelope for a going-away present.  The other day, as I signed a card for a workmate who’s leaving, I realised I had no money.  No money as in no coins (or notes).  I hadn’t had, in fact, for at least two months.  I’d been paying for everything by card.

I scrambled around in my bag, and then in my drawer, and finally found two dollars that had dropped to the bottom.

Then tonight, on a trip up to Sydney for work, I noticed that nearly all the passengers who tried to buy alcohol, bar two, changed their mind when they were told it was cash only.

They didn’t have any cash.

Neither did I, until I stopped at the ATM on the way, but it’s amazing how quickly, as a society, we’ve come around to being almost cashless.

Writing process

ARCs for Stars Beyond

Friday night we arrived home to find these on our doorstep. Advanced reader copies (ARCs) for Stars Beyond.

Aren’t they beautiful?

It’s a funny thing with writing books, but by the time the book comes out you’ve been working on another story for months, so it’s like something from the distant past coming back to visit, but you get enthused all over again.

Even so, you still can’t read the book dispassionately yet. It’s only a few months ago that I found could reread Confluence—book three of the Linesman series—all the way through and enjoy it the way we enjoyed it while we were writing it.

Writing process

Biometrics–minority report is here

I went to the Romance Writers of Australia conference this weekend. A great conference, with lots of interesting talks. There were too many good presenters and interesting topics to mention, although I do have to mention Amy Andews’ closing talk. It’s a hard place to be but Amy gave an entertaining talk to a packed room. That’s a feat in itself. Normally any conference or con you go to is pretty empty by the last session. She deserved her standing ovation.

But the session I wanted to talk about was A. J. Blythe’s Biometrics. Think Minority Report type identification. Or any science fiction story where you have to ID yourself, really.

It was a fascinating look at identity, and what can or can’t be used to identify you.

Fingerprints, for sure. And for forensics, fingerprints means fingers, toes, your palm and your foot. What I didn’t realise is that each finger and toe is unique. Nor that fingerprints can be temporarily rubbed off in some trades, like bricklaying, with the excessive rough mortar. Or by someone who handles paper all day every day, because paper acts like a very fine sandpaper.

Your face is unique, and even if your face changes, the points security systems measure stay the same, so it can be used to identify you. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to hack, especially given the photos people have on social media. Some university ran a study where a group of people who used photo ID on their phones gave the researches their phone. The researchers were able to hack the phone just from stalking the people online.

Your ear is also unique. It, too, could be used in security. Except, I suppose, you’d have to press your ear up to the phone.

Weirdest moment of the session was when A. J. put up a photo an ear—just the ear—and someone in the room immediately recognised it as Hugh Jackman’s.

Your voice isn’t as unique. Under the right circumstances an identical twin can fool voice ID. After that we got onto the various ways you can change your appearance, including an interesting video from the CIA former Chief of Disguise (how’s that for a cool title?), showing of a man changing his clothes in the street (not literally, but taking off his tie, and his jacket), putting on a fisherman’s hat, and dark glasses, and how he suddenly wasn’t the same person any more. I mean, if you were watching you could see him change, but it’s still amazing to see the transformation.

This is the full YouTube video. [from the Wired channel.] The quick change starts at 6:43, but the whole clip is worth watching.
Writing process

Staying sane at writers’ conferences

We’re going to the Melbourne RWA conference next weekend. The person who recommended it to me so many years ago said, “It’s one of the most professional writers’ conferences I know,” and I’ve been meaning to go ever since.  Sherylyn went once, a couple of years ago, and said it was good, but I couldn’t make it.

We’re both going this year.

Sometimes it’s nice to chill out and simply talk to other writers.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit alone and read your iPad or write the story that wants to come out.

That’s okay.

When we get to a conference we’re often exhausted, usually because of work, but sometimes for other things.  Sherylyn, for example, is down with a bug this week, and hopefully will just be over it in time for the weekend.

Beginning writers are so often told conferences are all about the networking. That’s what you go to conferences for.  Don’t you?

Network, network, network.

I think that you don’t get much value out of conferences until you get over that ‘network’ mantra. Go because you want to listen to other writers. Go because you want to be inspired. Go because it’s lonely in your cold writer’s office and you can’t possibly write another word without a recharge.

If you want to sit somewhere quiet for a while, don’t feel guilty about it. Do what works for you. Take the conference at the pace you can manage. Coming back with fifty new friends isn’t what conferences are about. Learning and recharging while enjoying yourself are.

Let go of the guilt and enjoy the conference on your terms.