Appropriate Reuse

So we were out searching for a stone circle to the east of Penrith. It was a beautiful day and we were enjoying views of the countryside and loving the lack of pressure to be anywhere and do anything. We spotted a family of bears while driving through the village of Lazonby. According to the workman, who kindly stopped his work so that I could take a picture, the bears were being put up to make up for the loss of the tree. Quite awesome I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Three Wooden Bears

Click here for a streetview of the tree that used to be here. Now I don’t necessarily agree with chopping down such an awesome looking arboreal, but if it does have to be done, this is a fine idea to make up for it.

The Lake District

We went to the Lake District at the weekend and, according to the laws of random, I managed to take one half-decent photo. This is from the bottom of Place Fell at the south end of Ullswater.

From the foot of Place Fell

A Few Things

First off this is a quick test to see how well MacJournal works. I was told it had issues connecting to privately hosted WordPress blogs, but this seems to have downloaded me stuff just fine. Hoping this will post!

I’ve got two more minor edits left until I consider draft five of my short story, Bad Fuel, finished. This is unless I read it again and discover a bunch more. Each time through I just seem to discover more and more things that need to change; overused words, consecutive sentences beginning with the same word, poorly qualified dialogue, description that doesn’t quite have the right effect. It goes on and on. The damned thing is only 7.5k words. Anyway, I’m hoping that by the end of the week the story will qualify as the first-story-Sam-sends-to-Interzone. Hey, at least I’m writing every day now.

I’m rationing my social networking too. Facebook was an unwanted and near-unavoidable distraction and Twitter was just silly. It was getting pretty annoying talking to friends and have them say “oh yeah I know, I saw your post/tweet”. Very little of what I post on either site warranted the effort made to type it in the first place. So I’m slowing down. Each site will get checked once a day, or so.

Also of note is my new found hatred for iDVD and it’s utter inability to reliably create a DVD that will not only play, but also not completely break my MacBook into the bargain.

I’ll conclude this with a brief wondering… Where the hell did MacJournal put the tags/categories that it apparently downloaded from my blog? Does this thing even support WordPress categories? Aha, yes it does, but only when you “Send to Blog”…

Consumption

I am defined by time. “Obvious!” I hear you say. Well yes, but I would say I am more so than others. Everything I’ve ever done has felt bound by time. It all has to fit in. All of it. I harbour great envy for those able to maintain an attitude so laid back that they don’t appear to need to tackle life, so much as slide through it. I say appear…

The proliferation of information on demand has compounded this. We receive so much stimuli that it’s possible to blink and miss critical facts/opinions. How do we know they’re critical? My answer: How do you not? You just missed them.

Social networking – oh how I hate that label – websites are a particular problem. They lack one thing, which for me is key to controlling the rate I absorb information. Mark as read. Those three little words, so important! Imagine having to search through your inbox every hour, trying to work out what is and isn’t new.

I realise the sites likely lack this feature by design. After all, the more often you visit the site, the better for them. But it’s limiting. Our brains are capable of consuming far more information than current tools allow. TweetDeck has the right idea, but if you use it to access your feeds in more than one location the system breaks. RSS is okay, but API calls become an issue and you lose so much in terms of site-specific features.

Perhaps my attitude is wrong. Perhaps every single scrap of information is not meant for every single person, but it should be damn it. We live in the future after all. I don’t want to have to just dip in… For now though, I’ll carry on absorbing as much as I can, praying that the things I miss don’t contain moments of inspiration.

Resolutions for 2010

2008’s resolutions were a grand success. I no longer have sugar in coffee or tea and I only drink skimmed milk if possible. In contrast 2009’s were a total wash, but I did buy a house and graduate with a distinction, so things worked out in grand fashion.

Here’s the list for 2010…

  1. Write every day.
  2. Eat better (less pastry and bread).
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Keep school nights free of guests.
  5. Learn more career related skills.
  6. Watch less TV.
  7. Drink less coffee.
  8. Get up earlier.
  9. Work harder to ignore anxiety and annoyance.
  10. Take regular holidays.

Lofty goals indeed. Here’s hoping I stick to at least one of them.

Onward!

Fundamental Change of Outlook

I’ve decided to stop getting stressed over things I can’t change. No. Really. Stop laughing… I’m right here you know!

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around me will know that anxiety is a good friend of mine. All those sad little thoughts mount up at the back of my mind until they spill over and show me exactly how the life I’ve built for myself could go horrifically wrong. Then comes the sadness, the anger, the frustration and the absolute shitting terror. There’s a lot out there to worry about and I tend to let it influence me more than other people I know… unless they just hide it better.

Anyway, it took living with someone to really understand what a problem anxiety was. Living alone you have no perspective. You don’t know what it’s doing to you and the potential it has to mess with other people. It’s very hard to get a good sense of your own mannerisms when you live on your own. That and you just don’t care as much.

So here we are at the end of the decade with Christmas bearing down on us. This is me making a conscious decision to not sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff that I have no control over.

We’ll see how it goes…

Vampire Books, Brian Lumley and Metamorphic Proto Flesh

So I was discussing vampire stories, in the wake of the latest Twilight movie, and realised that I’ve not read nearly so many of them as I thought. So let’s get a couple of things out of the way. I’ve not read Anne Rice, Dracula, The Vampyre, Twilight, ‘Salem’s Lot or any of the others that I probably should have. That right there probably makes it illegal for me to discuss vampire stories, but never mind. It’s after midnight and I’m running on fumes…

I’m currently reading The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris. Apparently it’s her “haunting debut novel”. I have to admit to being kind of disappointed when I realised it was another vampire story, but oh well. I’ll keep at it on account of her prose being ridiculously readable.

When you mention George R. R. Martin people think of fantasy. Specifically, they think of his Song of Ice and Fire series and are likely to whine about the lack of the next book. Ignore them. Fevre Dream is better. It’s got vampires on steamboats! The hero is ageing, overweight and anything but dashing. The story is filled with desperation and loss from start to finish. Just fantastic!

Richard Matheson wrote I Am Legend, a stonkingly good science fiction take on the vampire story. The last man on earth struggles for survival at night. During the day he hunts vampires and uses his powers of science to figure out what created them! There’s also a dog. Apparently the movie adaptation sucked (never saw it myself) and was less than faithful to the original, going so far as to make the title pointless. In the book the title has a point! Read it!

Already Dead is the first book in a vampire noir series by Charlie Huston. It’s set in Manhattan and stars Joe Pitt, a gritty renegade type who struggles to make a living, while avoiding joining any of the big vampire clans. It’s dark, it’s violent and it’s a damned good read (all 1 day it’ll take you per book). Oh also, the characters have no idea what makes them what they are, which means Huston can avoid all kinds of tedious discussions. Very good!

One of my writing tutors once told me that Brian Lumley is a very scary man. Judging by his Necroscope series (and it’s sequels) you might be tempted to agree. But then I heard him read at Alt.Fiction the other year and he seemed very nice! But let’s get this said. The Necroscope books are truly horrific. Yes I know they’re horror, but damn these take it to an extreme. The first opens with a man torturing the dead for its secrets (using the dead guy’s body as a “means of communication”) and the fifth one features a character who “makes his own holes”. That’s before you get to the vampires. I hear a lot of people complaining that vampires have lost their teeth. Well look no further. Lumley’s are monsters in every sense of the word. And yes they also have metamorphic proto flesh. They don’t shapeshift so much as fleshcraft and create their own creatures (and houses!) from other people. This means you get to read a few rather bizarre sex scenes too! Harry Keogh, the hero, is a maths wizard who can talk to the dead! There’s also psychic intelligence agencies fighting it out! And wormholes!

So if you know people stuck for interesting vampire literature, feel free to recommend any of these.

/fade

Oh Dear… and Stuff

I kinda forgot my whole one or two posts a week rule for a while there. Can’t say it’ll change from here on out, but you never know. The whole purpose of this blog was to talk about writing, so when I don’t have a lot to say about it…

We’ve started workshopping again, resurrecting the group (fortnightly on Wednesdays) that saw me through a year of fiction on the MA. We’ve two sessions under our belt now and I’m really enjoying it. The second session was particularly good, with people offering suggestions for improvement as well as the normal critique. I’m up next though… Should be interesting, if extremely humbling.

My own writing is very much stop/start. I’ve said this a million times before but there really aren’t enough hours in the day. Most of them are filled with work and random house related jobs. I got another 3k words done on Hemlock Hex and started working on Breaking the Sequence again. This was “inspired by” NaNoWriMo, for which I’ve failed miserably to meet the average daily word count. But hey getting anything done is good right?

I bought a bike! I did have one already but it was broken down, crappy and would have required significant investment to make roadworthy. So I bought a new one through the Evans Cycles Ride2Work scheme. The voucher, that’s meant to take two to three weeks to arrive, turned up two days after I placed my order, so this morning I rode in. Damn it was cold… But damn it was fun too!

We’re now hurtling towards Christmas. I think I’m pretty much sorted for present buying, but there’s still Christmas dinner to plan. Like fools we volunteered to host this year – it being our first Christmas in our own house – and I can feel lists of timings and alarms being planned. I’ve got three straight weeks booked off over the holiday too. Should be good!

Moving Forward

I got the marks for my dissertation yesterday. To say I was pleased was an understatement. I didn’t do so well in the first year of my MA and didn’t expect to be able to recover. I did and, thanks to the kindness of the lecturers, I got what I wanted. Of course – I keep telling myself this – getting the marks was only the beginning. It’s what I do now that really matters.

Today I took the first step and had another look at my synopsis. Breaking it down into, what could potentially be, chapters was a really useful exercise. I knew there were scenes that I was looking forward to writing, but seeing them all laid out in bite-size chunks was almost too much. I wanted to stop my day job right then and there and start writing. This I think is a good thing.

One of my biggest worries was that the plot I’ve got planned out wouldn’t be enough to reach my target word count of 40k. It seems like this might be unfounded though. I’ve even found room to fit in my aborted prologue as a flashback!

It helps to think of it as the novel I will finish.

Maybe I should try affirmations.

Hah!

Onward!

The Human Connection

I enjoy fantasy. I love the visuals, that aesthetic and the escapism. But, most of all, the stories I love are those that show humanity at its best and worst. Fantasy allows a writer to extrapolate the real world to an extreme and explore the result.

Richard Morgan achieves this by setting his story, The Steel Remains, in a world where brutality is commonplace. The main characters don’t fight for their queen, country, empire, proletariat or anything else. Each has a deep trauma that drives their actions. Then take Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts. Magic plays a huge part in the story, but at its core it’s a tale of one man’s quest to make the world safe for himself and others. The fact that his quest is spawned from the entirely human desire for revenge, which, when sated, grows into obsession, makes it all the better.

Do you need a fantasy setting for that? Maybe not, but it makes it a lot more fun. So is it wish fulfilment then? I think so, to a degree. As I was growing up I found myself, time and again, failing to stand up for myself. Today I have a tendency towards confrontation and argument. Do I just want to feel like I’ve won something? It doesn’t really matter, but I think that’s the root of my attraction to heroic fantasy. The stories I enjoy the most revolve around someone standing up for something they believe in, regardless of the cost.

I think that’s one reason I dislike the stupid names that most fantasy authors feel the need to come up with. They detract from the humanity of the story and turn the characters into parodies. It takes a damned good author to make that work.