Ahhhhh, the entropic nature of time. When I scribbled this one down, Anne McCaffrey seemed the perfect comic fit. Feel free to insert "Smaug" or "Christopher Paolini" or "that chick from Game of Thrones" or whatever you need to bring this gag up to speed.....
"I'm sorry, Nigel, but being Anne McCaffrey's biggest fan does not
qualify you to be head keeper at the komodo dragon enclosure"
One of the loveliest side-effects of reaching a certain credibility as an author (and clearly, as I seem to have reached it, the level ain't that high) is the occasional opportunity to be sally forth and speak to groups of people without requiring your beloved partner-for-life having to follow along two steps behind you apologising to everyone.
Luscious, for those who have not met her, occasionally introduces us at social gathering with the phrase "This is my husband, Lee, and I'm the person who apologises for him". She also occasionally waits until we're in a shopping centre aisle full of old women before shouting "What do you mean I'm fat?" with no fucking provocation whatsoever.
Luscious is occasionally a sick sod :)
For the last 4 years I've been drawn back to my old stomping grounds at Curtin University to give a guest lecture on social media at the School of Internet Studies, an exercise designed to make me feel old, as not only was there no School of Internet Studies when I studied at Curtin there was no actual sodding internet. I made my annual pilgrimage there again this past week, and as always, absolutely loved it: it's a chance to combine day job and writing career expertise as well as expose students to a free form way of thinking they may not get from a structured curriculum-- I can't imagine many courses compare social media to Russian tampon adverts, for a start-- and you know you're doing well when you receive Facebook friends requests halfway through the lecture from people in the room.
I'm also off to Churchlands Senior High School next week to talk about writing competitions and ideas generation. I've done a couple of school gigs in recent years, and they're generally a lot of fun. It's incredibly easy to see which students are there by choice and which are there because they have no other choice, and once you call them out on it you can function in a room full of good will and laughter. Teenagers may be moody buggers but those moods swing both ways: get them laughing and they'll be your friend for life, at least as long as the workshop lasts, and story generation is genuinely the most enjoyable part of the process for me, so we get a lot of writing done, look at a lot of funny photographs, and generally have a fab and groovy time.
And, lastly, I'll be heading along to Write Along the Highway twice in November as part of this year's Nanowrimo: I'll be the subject of an author talk and workshop at Mundijong Library on the 18th and a panellist at the big Write Night! event at the South Perth Community Hall on the evening of the 26th. Details are being finalised, and I'll remind you as they're released to the general public, but spaces for these types of events are limited, so if they sound like your thing, it might be worth contacting the organisation soon.
After scant few months of a return to the school system, we've pulled Master 9 out and have re-commenced home-schooling. While he is currently not vomiting as often as he has in the past, it is still an issue, and his need to leave the classroom several times a day has become a real social issue-- while it's possible to ask 9 year old children to understand a peer's health issues, it's not possible to stop them staring every time he goes in and out, and a teacher can't be asked to stop and wait for him to return before continuing with the lesson.
The overwhelming feeling that he has become the class weirdo, coupled with stress over the feeling that he's falling behind simply because he has to try to catch up with what's been said in his absence several times a day, has taken its toll. The number of sick days was starting to rise, the number of tearful mornings had just about become 1:1, the teacher conferences were happening weekly. With all the good will in the world-- and his school had the very best of good will towards his situation-- it just wasn't working. No 9 year old should suffer stress and depression. Master 9 clearly was.
So we've withdrawn him, to give him a sense of power over his schooling, and a sense of equilibrium about himself and his social situation. It was a nice attempt, but ultimately, until he's well enough to last a full school day, every school day, without being sick, the school system can't make itself flexible enough to fit him and we can't risk his progress any more than it's already being compromised.
Back to work, at the dining room table alone.
I'm creased with fear for the little bugger: fear over his social progress; fear over his educational progress; fear over his mental and physical states; fear for his future. Hopefully, giving him the space and time to work at his own pace again, without the added stress of fitting into someone else's agenda and with some semblance of control over the social interactions he engages in will help him cope with the demands his Rumination Syndrome places on all aspects of his existence.
There is no 'simple' in his life anymore. All we can do is simplify.
"So, your plan is for one of us to learn to build nuclear bombs, be cut up and
fed to the rest of us?... Are you NUTS?"
Sometimes a little factoid lodges itself so far into your psyche that-- apocryphal or not, disproved or not-- it bounces around inside your head, sparking ideas and narratives long after other, potentially more worthy ideas have long since slipped away into the darkness.
Teach a planarian worm to run a maze, then grind it up and feed it to other planarian worms an they will instantly gain the knowledge of how to run that maze, even if they have never seen the maze before.
I can't remember where I read it, and I don't know whether it's actually true or not. More to the point, I haven't bothered to find out, because I've used that little nugget on at least five occasions, and one of the stories I used it in won a bunch of awards and ushered a few cheques into being along the way so I'm hardly going to quibble now, am I?
It also inspired this thumbnail, which has never been completed, won no awards, and hasn't earned me a single cent. Circle of life, my friends. Circle of life.
In happier news, the Australian SF Snapshot series of interviews is being conducted again, and once again I have been snapped and shotted in what's becoming increasingly like a 7-Up version of my again self.
This time, journalist Nick Evans has asked the questions, grilling me on the transition from adult novels to childrens works, my Australian TBR pile and just what the hell I think I'm doing with what's supposed to be my career.
Robin Williams, who first helped melt my mind when I was a kid with his anarchic portrayal of Mork from Ork in Mork and Mindy, and who made regular incursions into my artistic consciousness through a series of brilliant live DVDs; early comedic movies like Moscow on the Hudson and Good Morning, Vietnam; mature middle-career performances in Jumanji, The Birdcage and others; and stunning dramatic tours-de-force in a range of intense dramatic roles such as Dead Poets Society; Good Will Hunting; One Hour Photo and Insomnia, killed himself.
For a man who had a profound impact upon my artistic, comedic and personal sensibilities, he was surprisingly young: he was only 63.
In many ways, Williams was an ever-present as I grew up. It's hard to explain the impact of Mork and Mindy on my sensibilities: with a grand total of 3 TV channels to choose from and a much higher quota of Australian programming (not to mention viewing choices controlled by conservative, British parents), there was, quite literally, nothing on television quite like it. Mork was a force of nature, a fox in a chicken coop of cookie-cutter sitcom writing, and at a time when I was already glutting my imagination on science fiction and the Goon Show, I was an instant convert, a mini-Exidor running off at the mouth and driving my parents insane.
And, then, somehow he was always just there. Within a year or two we had purchased our first VHS player--at roughly the same time he was making the transition into movies, and if there was a Williams movie on the shelf, I watched it: Popeye, The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Survivors, Club Paradise.... anyone who was surprised by his range and depth in later career movies should see these early films back to back. The depth was always there, the range always apparent. It was just the quality of production that altered, just the size of the marquee. Once I was old enough to travel the sixty kilometres to the nearest cinema by myself he became a staple of my cinema visits: Good Morning, Vietnam one of the first films I ever went to alone, without even the company of friends, the soundtrack to the movie a permanent fixture on my walkman (it still features on my iPod play list today).
When I took up stand-up comedy in the early nineties a group of comedic friends and I would gather together regularly to watch live videos and dissect them: Andy Kaufman; Richard Jeni; Steve Martin (another ever-present: when he dies, I'll be just as distraught); Emo Philips, Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly.... the list was unending. Except Williams. Between us we had a mammoth collection, stretching right back to bootleg recordings of early Comedy Store appearances. Those, we just watched, and rolled around, in tears of laughter. Nobody wanted to dissect them. We knew we couldn't learn anything, couldn't replicate what he did in any way. We watched them because we wanted to see great art, and revel in genius.
And so I stopped thinking about him. He was furniture, as much as Billy Connolly and Steve Martin and the Goon Show and science fiction and Pink Floyd and my eyesight and hearing and all the things that are woven so deeply into my being that they are little more than autonomic processes. Always an awareness at the edge of my vision, occasionally popping into full view to stun me one more time-- holy shit, the man did One Hour Photo, Death to SmoochyandInsomina in a single year-- but more often than not just slightly in the background. Let's be honest, he hadn't starred in a decent movie since The Final Cut in 2004, and even that's a flawed work. Supporting roles in Night at the Museum movies aside, it had been fairly slim pickings for a while.
But he was still there, part of my general awareness, a tightly-woven emblem in the pattern of my karass. I'd introduced him to my kids, through Jumanji and the Night at the Museum movies. We'd have gotten to Bicentennial Man soon enough, and Dead Poets Society in its turn.
I hadn't really thought about his influence on my life, my ways of thinking, my approach to art, until I checked out my Facebook feed yesterday morning and was deluged by outpourings of shock and sorrow.
Now, I don't know what else to say.
There's a huge body of work, of various quality. There are artists who have been influenced, and will carry that influence into their own work. But Williams himself is gone, and my karass is wounded.
The very definition of a curate's egg. One of my favourite Marvel characters, who has developed unbelievable shades and intonations over the years, and the beginnings of his complexity are in evidence throughout this volume of early stories. The art by Gene Colan is superb: clear, active, with unexpected depth and elegance.
But, oh Gods, Stan Lee is an abysmal hack. The writing is embarrassing, and the z-grade line-up of villians-- including El Matador, whose powers involve being a matador and having a skeezy Spanish accent; the Masked Marauder, who, well, has a mask that's basically a welding helmet with a mauve hanky hanging off the bottom, and arguably the worst villain Marvel have ever devised (and we're talking the company who gave us Razorback and Rocket Racer...) Leapfrog, with springs on his scuba flippers and a frog costume, whose power involves being able to jump high on his springs (I shit thee not!)-- should have been enough to kill the book dead, dead, dead. The dialogue is leaden, the misogyny oozes from each page, the majority of characters are two-dimensional at best, and some of Lee's plot devices wouldn't pass grade in a Perils of Pauline script meeting. A supposed 'bonus' feature, wherein page are devoted to a supposed meeting between Lee and Colan to work on the scripts, showing what swell and quirky fellas they are, is just teeth-grindingly awful.
The Cult of Lee has been built, over the years, on his personality and bullet-proof self-belief and love for what he does. If it had anything to do with his writing skills, he'd be long-forgotten.
Three stars for Colan's artwork, which deserves-- and, thankfully, regularly received-- a better forum. Thank God Horn-head went on to better things than this tripe.
Hilarious collection of profane, insane and left-brain strips from one of the few online strips I follow. All the ranty, common-sense goodness that makes this strip so brilliantly funny, presented in large, glossy format. Love it.
Over at Facebook, I was tagged in a meme that required me to list three things that made me grateful, every day for three days.
So I thought I'd list them here, too.
I'm grateful for my art. It has provided me with friendships, income, travel opportunities, and was the vehicle by which I escaped the soul-destroying depths off despair I was slowly being crushed by while working in the Public Service. I'll never be famous, I'll never be remembered, and I'll never be considered at even the middle of the tree, but my art has been the thing that has kept me from disappearing into the obscure midst of my mediocre family tree, and I'm grateful.
I'm grateful for a reasonable income. Yes, we struggle, and we juggle finances on a fortnightly basis, but I'm aware that we do so from a level of decent comfort. My children go to a good school, my wife is able to study, essentially, full time, and we have room to both expand our horizons and entertain our hobbies & indulgences. We never suffer, and having both come from backgrounds of grinding poverty, Lyn and I have only ever wanted our children to appreciate a good upbringing.
I'm grateful for the respect of my peers. I get little of it at work, and I rarely feel like an author doing good work, so when a fellow artist expresses their respect or admiration for the work I do then it usually comes as an enormous, and humbling, surprise, because, to be quite honest, I generally don't know what I do to merit it. I've undervalued my work for so long-- it's only in the last fortnight, for example, that I've decided to set a minimum fee for appearances, despite doing them regularly for the last 12 years-- that I'm always a little stunned when others do value it. And grateful, because sometimes, I doubt I'd go on without it.
I'm grateful for my readers. Despite all the mechanical hoo-ha-ra that goes into writing, ultimately it comes down to entertaining a stranger with the power of your imagination and your words. Anybody who comes back for a second helping, or who picks up my work because they like the cut of my snippets, is someone who has chosen to invest their time and imagination into my maunderings. It's a weird kind of long-distance love affair of the mind, and I'm thankful to all who take it on.
I'm grateful for my children. As you've probably noticed if you've read this Facebook page for long enough-- by which I mean half a day or more-- my kids constantly entertain me, fill me with wonder, and enrich my life by keeping me innocent, impish and focused on doing good for others who need me in their life. Whether it be my naturally-arrived Miss 12 and Master 9, or my inherited bonus kids Cassie, Aiden and Blake, granddaughter Little Miss 2, grandson Little Man <1 boys="" enrich="" in="" life="" multitudinous="" my="" or="" partners="" span="" the="" they="" ways.="">1>
I'm grateful for the quickness of my mind. I've mentioned before that my father's mind is failing, and it's killing me to watch a charming, erudite, quick-witted man struggle for words and concepts he used to fling about like gossamer. I love being funny, I love being deliberately unfunny to spark a funny exchange, I love to tease, to argue, to explain, to build worlds and concepts out of nothing more than my vocabulary and my ability to knit words into never before-seen shapes and tastes. All my other gifts belong to the people who bestow them upon me. This is the only thing I have going for me that is purely mine. If it ever begins to desert me, I don't know what I'll do.
The care and love shown to Master 9 during his illness by people who have no other investment in it than they are his teachers, or our friends. From just-because gifts, to messages of support, to structuring his classroom, people have gathered round him for the 14 months of his illness and provided him with an atmosphere of caring and support that has done wonders for his morale and self-esteem. To Kris, Kim,Grant, Lilysea, Mark and countless others, my gratitude.
Free education. I went to a shitty High school in the 80s, when my pre-Child Support Agency divorced mother raised two teenage boys and covered a mortgage on a single mother's pension and a $30 a month in child support payments, and thanks to a nominally free education system I still managed to claw my way through 4 years of University. Now, it's going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to send my children to a good high school. Much as I would love to do my Master's degree, I simply can't afford it. My wife's attendance at University each semester is a matter of financial negotiation. My eldest sons struggle to hold down shitty part-time jobs and find enough time to attend to their study obligations. If I were starting my educational career today, I'd be working at K-Mart full-time, because that's the best that people like me could have hoped to afford. I'm grateful that free education enabled me-- and subsequently, my children-- to escape a lower-class existence through education.
A stable political system. Yes, Tony Abbott and his Ant-Hill Mob of witless cronies are a blight on our culture, and yes, we can argue back and forth about the relative merits of our chosen allegiances until we're blue in the nads. But nobody shot at me today, and I own my house, and my children are safe and my wife can wear whatever she wants and get herself a tertiary education, and any meal I've missed since I was at Uni has been by choice, and I have freedom of travel, speech, religion and thought. And I'm an artist, and a well-paid member of the permanent workforce. I've never been conscripted, I've never fought in a war, or against my own people. I've never been gaoled for my beliefs, tortured, or disappeared. My neighbours don't spy on me. I'm safe, and warm, and comfortable and educated. And I'm grateful.
And, things being what they are, here's a little bonus extra grateful content: 10. Above all else, I am grateful for the presence of Luscious Lyn in my life. We have been together almost twelve years now, which boggles me to think of, and in that time we have faced innumerable struggles, traumas and hardships, but throughout it all she has been the pivot around which our family revolves. She has brought me unparallelled joy, belief and support, and whatever happiness I have managed to gather unto myself has been, in large part, because she is beside me, pointing me always towards positivity and joy. I cope, and occasionally flourish, because of her. I am a better person because of her. And for that we should *all* be grateful.
Agh, the time has swallowed me up. I'm in the final evening of a two-week vacation from the day job, something I've been in desperate need of for quite some time now, and quite honestly, it was a chance to forget about all my obligations and simply schlep about the house in tracky-dacks, perform some long-awaited renovation tasks, play a metric fucktonne of Baldur's Gate and generally just forget that tomorrow I have to go back to a job I increasingly consider a soul-devouring bucket of hatred and despair.
You know, work.
So, I could bang on about a whole slew of stuff that happened over the last month, but to be brutally honest, I took a holiday to get away from them all and I'm hardly in the mood to bring them back up again. So what I'm going to do instead is post pictures from 3 Lego MOCs I made during my time off, and then list 10 things I'm grateful for, because that will make me happy.
Your mileage may vary.
First up, the Tomb of the Unknow Spaceman, created for the Perth Lego User Groups 'monochrome' challenge during July:
Next, a starfighter, for no other reason that I like building space fighters, and I think this turned out quite cool:
And to finish, a build for PLUGs 'Minifig Monday' that was supposed to symbolise the second week of my vacation:
Collection of very mixed quality, of which only 'Nunc Dimittis by Tanith Lee and 'The Chair' by Dennis Etchison' are of the highest quality, stretching through ordinary efforts by Stephen King, Robert Bloch and other horror luminaries to substandard efforts by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Theodore Sturgeon and T.E.D. Klein. The low-light, as seems to be the case with any anthology in which you find him, is 'Death to the Easter Bunny' by the execrable Alan Ryan. Solid, unexciting efforts by Ramsey Campbell, Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, and Steve Rasnic Tem keep you turning the pages, hoping for something better to really knock your socks off, but it never really arrives. Readers without any previous exposure to the horror genre will find much to enjoy.
Utterly delightful, comic crime caper with a philosophical bent that lends the spiralling absurdity a serious underpinning that lifts it above a merely humorous work. Chesterton's mastery of language and deft characterisation makes this a wonderful read. A masterful work by one of the best authors in the English language.
Slowly evolves into a gripping read as details and points of view begin to spiral inwards towards the final confrontation. Cavanaugh has a gift for setting and detail that can be unsettling but is never less than enthralling. His characters have a tendency to drift towards the stereotypical, including the protagonist Darian Richards, who falls firmly into the supercop-with-a-haunted-past trope, and there are occasional actions that defy the law of narrative belief, but this is an excellently detailed, engaging thriller that never lets the tension drop and is utterly bereft of fat.
It's difficult for me to believe that we've been together, now, for over 11 years. Every day feels like a first. There's a freshness, a spirit, to our relationship: it constantly reinvents itself, changes shape and form and direction, so that I've never once felt any sense of stalemate, or a lack of passion.
She's a woman of immense strength, my Lyn, of intensity and lyricism and devotion. She forgives everyone, sees benevolence and righteousness everywhere, puts the whole world and its achievements above her own. She is by turns humble, empowering and sacrificial. And these great strengths are also her great weaknesses, because they drive her into areas of self-doubt and lack of belief that she doesn't, in the slightest way, deserve. She is capable of great things, and while she achieves them on a daily basis-- overcoming health issues, raising children through the onset of myriad serious, life-changing issues, coping with a past that would keep seasoned horror writers from their sleep-- she holds within her the capacity to create something that will change the way the world looks at itself, if she believes in herself long enough to do so.
She is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I fall asleep at night. She bookends my thoughts like she bookends my day-- nothing I say or do happens without her in my mind. She is the centre of my life.
There isn't a cliche in the world that David Baldacci doesn't hit in this book. Leaden prose, two-dimensional characters, the standard retired-super-soldier-with-secret-past plot.... this is Lee Child for the silver set, so greyishly familiar and just downright stupid that it might be the first novel to pass the Turing Test, it's so hard to believe it was written by a human author and didn't, somehow, write itself from a few choice prompts. Don't bother.
An absolute masterpiece. The stories within this volume constitute an epoch-spanning alternative history of several hundred years, centred round the ominous and possibly-sentient presence of a mile-long ancient dragon, turned to stone and built upon by generations of settlers, and the way they interact with it as landscape, obsession, and possibly, malign active influence in their lives. Shepard paints an epic historical landscape while never letting go of the small stories and personal interactions that drive the narrative. Shepard's narratives are driven by believable, human characters, and it is that strong verisimilitude that lifts these stories above the ordinary fantasy tale. Griaule may be a complex, unknowable force of nature that intrudes into every aspect of these characters' lives, but it is the people themselves we remember. Every one of the stories in this volume is a rich, tightly woven tapestry of superb narrative balance. Taken together, they comprise a tour de force of fantasy writing of the very highest order. A superb volume.
Similar in tone to the first volume in the series, this book continues with a central narrative involving minifig Megan travelling through different 'zones' in pursuit of an anti-Lego bad guy, discovering different building styles and themes as she progresses from zone to zone. It's a cute conceit, and serves to highlight the maximum number of different approaches to building in a logical and easily digestible fashion. Each section is well-designed, with a range of photos as well an instruction breakdown to help the reader build a typical example of each builder's signature model, and an engaging look at the builder in question. Th tone is pitched perfectly for both child and adult readers, with enough character engagement and plot to encourage the kids to keep turning the pages, and builds that encompass a rang of sophistication so that there's plenty to keep adult builders coming back to use it as a reference text. The ending leaves open the possibility of a third volume, which would be welcome.
There are a plethora of similar books on the market at the moment-- big, glossy, lightly-humorous approaches to building techniques, using a kid-friendly approach with lots of pictures and signifying real-life builders via minifigs that interact with the models thy have built. This is typical of the breed: bright and breezy, but perhaps lacking the depth of other volumes. It's aimed squarely at kids, and is enjoyable without focusing too deeply upon techniques or step-by-step instructions. Instead it serves more as an introductory tome, with the accent on fun and cramming as many completed builds onto the page as possible. It's light and frothy, but doesn't encourage repeated readings.
After a few days away from the work, I managed to sit down today and bash out 2300 words on The Hall of Small Questions, bringing the story to just over 7000 words in total. It's the first of a number of milestones for me: once a work crosses 5000 words, I know it's going to be something. It may not end up a novel, but the story has gelled enough that I know it will eventually become a complete story, at whatever natural length is right for the narrative. And so it is proving in this case: the narrative is beginning to peek out from behind the scene setting; characters have placed themselves into the setting and are beginning to direct the course of the plot; and my protagonist is starting to take independent action. Th Hall of Small Questions will be completed, in time, I now know that for sure.
So, to mark this crossing of my own personal Rubicon, here's a little paragraph from today's writing, to whet both your appetite and mine:
“We are the product of our environment, Wacian.”
Broga tapped my forehead gently with his finger. “The world we inhabit is an
extension of ourselves. If the world outside that window looks beautiful it is
only because the people who inhabit it look beautiful. But we do not concern
ourselves with elegant robes and powdered skin. We peel these things away and
reveal the corruption below. We cannot immerse ourselves in that beautiful
environment, not unless we wish to risk losing sight of the corruption
underneath its skin.”
must remain pure,” Eadward had been waiting for me. Now he stepped forward out
of the nearby shadows. “And we must remain pure in order to search it out.”