Back out in it

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I went for a little late-night walk in the dying hours of the winter solstice, just so I could say I did.

The idea got put in my head by two very pleasant discoveries.  The old English police-surplus coat I bought way back in my student days turned up at my parents’- I hadn’t seen it in ages, and had come to conclude that it must have been lifted from my car when some fucker let themselves into it a couple of months ago and took my torch and sunglasses.  The other was one-half of my still pretty new pair of sneakers, which in fact was in my car, having disappeared into said car rather than from it.  I have no idea whereabouts it had worked itself down to, but when I picked the car up from its service yesterday afternoon the sneaker was sitting on the back seat.  Sneakers plus greatcoat equals a quarter-to-midnight walk in the wind and the sleet, just like I used to do.

I like the cold.  Cold makes me feel clean.  There’s a passage in the first of Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon stories where Fafhrd the barbarian is told by his mother to stay in the snowy north where it’s cold – cold is cleanliness, cold is purity, and she compares the hot and humid cities of the south to rotting sores, festering in their feverish climates.  I get that.  I love the scrape and sting of the cold wind and the way my blood hums, or the quiet grey of a windswept late June day with the weight of the coat on my shoulders and my breath puffing in front of me.  I’ve had arguments with friends because I think being able to see my own breath in front of me in my own lounge room is cool.  A sure sign that we’re having a particularly severe winter is when even I start feeling oppressed and sapped by the cold instead of invigorated by it.

(It’s a function of a fairly privileged life to be able to treat it like this, of course.  There are plenty of people around who don’t get to treat freezing weather as a novelty or a thrill even here, let alone in places that experience real cold.  As in, places where you pack thermal clothing in your car because otherwise if it crashes or stalls on you outdoors you’re quickly going to die, just to pick one example D had presented to her recently from someone who’d lived in North America.)

I wasn’t out for long, but long enough to take in the night.  Normally walking at night makes everything feel closer and more intimate, turning the streets into a series of little vignettes.  This time I went up the rise behind my block and looked down the length of the road that runs north out of town, and it was a very different experience.  The eastern part of town, mostly light industry between the road and the treeline, was brightly-lit from the floodlights set up on the warehouses, workshops and machinery yards, and the light bounced off the low, frozen cloud to give the whole town a close, roofed-over feel like a movie set.  White light from the yards and orange from the streetlights.  The echoes and the quiet amplified what sound there was: somewhere there was heavy machinery running and a truck rig was slowing down coming off either the highway or the old coast road, I couldn’t see it to tell.  The effect was a shifting chorus of deep howls and moans echoing from out of the mass of lights in counterpoint to the wind buzzing in my ears.  When the sound of the rig became clear enough to definitely be an engine and brakes it was even more surreal, filling up the utterly empty street as though I were hearing the ghost of a rig that had driven through there and was long gone.  There were trees all around where I was walking but I don’t remember hearing a sound from them, no rustling or creaking, and certainly no sound from within them, no birds and no animals.  Even the ‘roos I’d half-expected to see loitering around the stump of the dual carriageway weren’t there tonight.  Probably further up the hill in the trees, bedded down somewhere against the wind.

The long, long walks I used to do all over town in my twenties were the times when I’d try and use the movement of my legs to churn through all the boiling sludge in my thoughts, of which there was a great deal in those years.  My evenings tend to be slightly calmer now but it was still wonderful to be able to just decouple from my thoughts for a while and let my senses talk to me.

For an evening of total regression to age 24, I suppose I should have come back, watched an execrable horror movie off a battered VHS tape, then gone to bed and brooded.  Well, maybe some things are best left back in the nineties.

Next post will be that long-overdue Derby report, as soon as I get the pictures off the other camera.

Placeholder Necron is sad

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Unfeasible amounts of stuff keep happening, taking unfeasible amounts of my energy – even the quick, impressionist report I was going to do of the last Roller Derby has been beyond me for this last while.

In light of the lack of new posts, the continuing daily hits are a touching gesture of faith (or so I choose to interpret them) and it troubles me to think that people are going away from the blog as sad as Sad Necron here.

Sadcron, the sad Necron by wirecrossing-d3foy8m

 

For those of you who don’t have the option of consoling yourselves by flaying living creatures apart cell by cell in service to the horrifying plans of your primordial gods, I can only offer apologies, and this post as evidence that I have not in fact forgotten my WordPress password and will be back with more.

See you soon.

 

Sunday evening shrapnel

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A few bits and pieces while I take a few minutes off from the tough work of waiting for the apple pie to be ready.

Vertigo!

I trawl around WordPress’ selection of blog themes every so often and sometimes preview one or two of them, but the new “Vertigo” theme is the first one that caught my eye as much as my previous one did.  Improvement, or not?  Let me know in the comments.

Black Library!

I am reminded by some chatter elsewhere online that my Necromunda novel Junktion is now available as part of a new omnibus of Underhive stories from BL’s print-on-demand line.  Accompanying it are two other novels from that setting: Survival Instinct, a tale of Mad Donna Ulanti by gaming overfiend Andy Chambers, and C S Goto’s Salvation, for my money one of the most enjoyable and literary of the Necromunda books.  Also in there are a trove of Necromunda shorts going back to the old INFERNO! days including “Badlands Skelter’s Downhive Monster Show!”, my first ever professional sale.

If you want to know more about it, check out this review from the MIT Science Fiction Society from when the book first came out.  And if that puts you in a review-reading mood, here’s one for the Enforcer omnibus that I really liked.  Not just because it says nice things, although it does and I appreciate them, but because it’s a real buzz to see how the reviewer just gets so much of what I was thinking about and trying to do with the Calpurnia stories.  It’s very cool to get a reader who’s so much on the same wavelength like that.  (One small thing, though: the recycling of the Crossfire artwork for Legacy is something Amazon did for their page and never corrected.  Legacy does have its own cover art.)

Roller Derby!

As I write this (probably, more or less), Canberra’s own Vice City Rollers are kicking arse at the Eastern Region Roller Derby, where they have apparently racked up two decisive victories out of two matches.  Much congratulation for our all-star team, and while we count down the fortnight to the next CRDL match (Brindabelters vs Surly Griffins, see you there!), we’ve got some highlights from the last high-octane bout available courtesy of Channelvision.  Here’s the first half, here’s the second half, with a tip of the hat to Roulette Rouge for the link.

Pie’s ready.  Gotta go.

Flat Track Frenzy

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I tried to be good and write the latest CRDL bout up as soon as I got home on Saturday night, but I couldn’t work out where to start with one of the fastest, most dynamic, closest and most controversial matches I’ve seen in a while.  Also, I couldn’t find the camera cord.  So, thank you for waiting.

This was the second bout of the 2011 CRDL season and featured the League’s two second-founding teams, the Brindabelters and the Red-Bellied Blackhearts.  The original teams had squared off in the first bout a few weeks ago, and the Surly Griffins took the first win of the season with a victory over the Black’n’Blue Belles.  (Referring to the “new” and “old” teams is technically accurate – the pairs of teams were founded over a year apart – but the League avoided an unfair skill gap by mixing up the teams so that each had an equal mix of seasoned skaters and recruits, the latter rejoicing in the Derby nickname of “fresh meat”.)  The last time the Blackhearts and Belters clashed it was for the season’s wooden spoon in last year’s double-header grand final, but since then there’s been a whole lot of training (the League has its own training space now) and an all-stars match against Victoria to hone the skills, as well as even more fresh meat skaters joining the ranks.  And it all worked.  This was one epic Derby night.

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Brimstone Press

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I’ve got a couple of posts I need to put up here soon, but here’s something you need to know now.  Brimstone Press, the Australian small press that’s produced a string of excellent horror and dark fantasy publications over the years and driven a modest boom in such writing here, is closing its doors.

That’s bad news, but it looks like nothing can be done about it at this point.  What you can do is take this last chance to get a hold of their inventory: you have just days to grab a copy of one of their many years-best collections, the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Macabre, and their multimedia flash-fiction anthologies.  I really do mean “last chance”, this stuff is going to get pulped if it isn’t sold soon.

I’m posting this in a hurry so I’ll redirect you to the blog of author Marty Young to get the details.  (All prices are in Australian dollars.)

There’s some great work in these publications and it would be a great shame for it to be lost.  Take a look at the list and think about grabbing yourself some of the good stuff before it’s gone.

Bringing back the biff

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POW!  BAM!  SOCKO!  And that’s just me at the laptop keys.

“Writer-fu” is a tag I use occasionally on this blog, and this post might be about the most literal application it ever gets.

Pugnacious writing is where it’s all been lately.  Most of my writing has been in a genre that my publishers happily describe as “two-fisted”, even if my actual stories tend to be light on action by the standards of my Black Library stablemates.  Nevertheless, getting a physical confrontation into prose, and doing it both dramatically and convincingly, is something I need to do regularly.  Which is why it’s been a good month for me.
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Assorted literary shrapnel

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I’ve got two weeks off work coming up, so  you’d think that at some point in there I’ll be able to come up with some sort of substantive post, yes?   We’ll see.  In the meantime a few writing-related bits and pieces.

Game-design guru and Black Library stablemate Robin Laws puts down some thoughts on Where Bad Writing Advice Comes From.  I particularly like the remarks about switching between creative and critical mindsets, and how it can mess up your work when you mis-time those switches.

The table of contents for the latest Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror have been announced.  Congratulations to all whose work was selected, but I shall single out fellow CSFG members Kaaron Warren, R J Astruc and Gillian Polack whose Baggage anthology has three of its stories selected for inclusion; congrats also to FWOR colleague Alan Baxter and to Dirk Flinthart, con acquaintance and sometime commenter here.  There are many other excellent names in the ToC and I’m looking forward to reading the collection.

Contests!  This one’s more for the artists than the writers, but I can’t pass up the chance to show around this amazing cover for Nathan Long’s latest novel:

He’s looking for the best fan art, either in the form of 2-d art or an actual converted and painted 28mm miniature, representing the character of Ulrika, with a bunch of prizes.  Click the link above to go through to his blog and get the details – you’ve got until the end of May.

If you’re more into steam and springs than snow and fangs, check out the Angry Robot steampunk contest.  They’re after the coolest steampunk thing you can send them (it has to be something of yours, no snurching other peoples’ creations), with the best gadget/model/costume/haiku/whatever winning a steampunkified Kindle with a bunch of AR steam-themed books loaded onto it.

That will have to do you for the moment.  It’s time for me to enter a digestive torpor while I deal with entirely too much chicken panang curry.

Green and White Night, Griffin’s Delight

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And so last weekend it came to pass that with a heart full of anticipation, a mouth full of coconut-marshmallow Easter bunny and ears full of injunctions from my girlfriend to keep my hands off “those fishnet-wearing girls”, I found myself back at the Southern Cross Stadium for the start of the Canberra Roller Derby League’s 2011 bout season.  The League’s two founding teams, the Black’n’Blue Belles and the Surly Griffins, were squaring off once again, and the match was both a great piece of Derby in its own right and a promise of a great season coming up.

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The Gaiman-Nix Progression

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I appear to have become completely nocturnal. Am now wild-haired as well as wild-eyed. Badly need a shave, too. God, I love being an author.  –Neil Gaiman

I love that quote, and had it as my signature on the old Black Library forums for ages.  In the last stages of finishing something I’m always distracted, twitchy and usually tired – a day job, for all its benefits, doesn’t allow me the luxury of becoming completely nocturnal although I know I would if I could.  There’s also a weird swing between exhilaration and exhaustion, the excitement at seeing the closure of a project coming up and the weary wondering why it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

I’m put in mind of another Gaiman anecdote, from the writing of American Gods.  (I had a hunt on his blog to find it but haven’t been able to – if you know where it is please let me know so I can link it.)  About two-thirds of the way through the book, the writing had become mired.  New words were exruciatingly hard to push out, and everything he’d written up until that point seemed lifeless and worthless.  The book, he was convinced, was an unsalvageable mess.  He couldn’t understand why writing it had seemed like a good idea; he couldn’t understand why writing had seemed like a good idea.  He soldiered on through this for a while, but apparently in the end he got on to his agent and explained that he couldn’t go on, couldn’t do this, he was so sorry but he’d wasted everyone’s time, he wasn’t a writer, this wasn’t going to work.

The reply he got was words to the effect of “oh, right, you’re about two-thirds through it, right?  Happens to everyone.  Keep going and it’ll pass.”  Which left Gaiman with not only the realisation that he wasn’t going to get out from under the book, but also with the rather annoying news that what he was going through wasn’t even terribly special – it was just that two-thirds-of-the-way blues.  I’ve heard similar stories from quite a few other writers who hit the mire at that point.  Not just “this isn’t going well”, but “this was a waste of time from the start, this’ll never work, I was stupid to think I could ever pull this off, oh shit I’ve spent all the advance and now I’ll have to give it back…”  Happened to me the worst with Crossfire and the least with Junktion but it hit with every long piece and a couple of the shorts.

What makes it worth it is what happens a little while after you clamber out of the far side of all that.  If the two-thirds mark is a mire, then the final stretch you hit after that is like a freshly-powdered ski slope.  Suddenly you can feel the story moving under you and carrying you along as it rushes down to the end.  Suddenly the plot threads start neatly arranging themselves into place; suddenly you can look back along the story and see all the work you’ve done with this weird, vivid clarity.  Story elements that didn’t seem to work when you wrote them, or that even had you uncertain of what you were going to do with them, suddenly mesh neatly together in patterns you may not even have consciously realised they were going to take.  I remember reading a Garth Nix article describing that experience and how exhilarating it is.  The story’s rushing towards its end so fast that you can feel your blood humming with the speed and your hair whipping back in the slipstream.

I’ve found that that second point on the progression isn’t as universal as the first (hah, figures).  Blind was a slogging drag to the finish line, but I definitely had that pedal-to-the-metal feeling finishing Legacy and Junktion and with some shorter pieces like “Seven Views of Uhlguth’s Passing” I was lucky enough to have it all the way through the piece.  There’s a reason that I often go home from my writing nights bouncing with each step, grinning like a loon and humming to myself.

As in so many things, simple self-knowledge is a powerful tool and being able to navigate through a long writing project knowing about the phases I pass through is very valuable.  It doesn’t do away with them entirely but being able to say “Agh, this is going nowhere, why did I ever think I could- wait, huh, stage one of the Gaiman-Nix” is a huge step up from not having that recognition at all, especially when I know that so many other writers with so much more experience than I go through exactly the same thing.

I keep finding parallels between writing and exercise, and this is another one.  Experience doesn’t take away the horrible sensation of hitting the wall during an exercise bout, but it allows you to recognise it for what it is and think “okay, I’ve been here before, I can do this” instead of “oh shit oh shit what’s happening I’m going to die”.

Anyway, just something that’s been in my thoughts a bit lately.

EDIT: The admirable Mister Ball has supplied the actual story.  It’s from Nanowrimo’s site rather than his blog which is why I couldn’t find it (and I had the wrong book too).  Here’s the money quote:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

Note to producers: “Neil Gaiman turns bank robber” needs to be a movie.