Friday, May 26, 2017

THE LAW DONE PROPERLY

One one occasion, back when I was but a small boy, my mother allowed me to take some pocket money and hit up the newsagent's at the Big Shops and get me a comic book.
By age 8, I was already a firm, and lifelong, fan of a number of comic book characters: Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Green Lantern, The Flash (yeah, the last 10 years have been pretty frigging good...). Suicide Squad, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Batman lay in my future. Etrigan, the Defenders, Guardians of the Galaxy (the originals, damn it), the Uncanny X-Men: all still to come. Sandman, Hellblazer, The Crow, Shade the Changing Man: many years hence.
And then there was the pulpy, multi-coloured, wild and woolly piece of British insanity I picked out and took home with me. Ye Gods. I'd never seen anything like it. Lurid, helter-skelter madness oozing out of every page. I was smitten. I was entranced. I was in another world.
My Mum read three pages, and threw it in the bin.
2000AD. Oh, what a joy. What a frabjous, incendiary, utterly British slice of lunacy. I've been a lover ever since.
To whit: Judge Dredd. The signature character. Not necessarily the best, but the most 2000AD of all the characters presented over the many years of the comics' run. To date, there have been 2 filmic treatments: a ludicrous, and rightly derided, Sylvester Stallone thudder in 1995, that manages to include all the necessary ingredients and get them all hopelessly wrong; and a 2012 starrer for the chronically-limited Karl Urban that was long on the ultra-violence, and short on everything else that makes the character special.
Which makes the fan film Judge Minty all the more extraordinary. Fan films are a special kind of rabbit hole: produced with all the love and care in the world, many of them are victims of the lack of resources, knowledge, and (at times) talent that reinforce all the negative stereotypes that abound when we see the words "fan production".
Not this. It has a few moments where the ambition outstrips the production, but it is a superb Judge story, and far better than the two mega-budget films that proceed it. It's superb.

And if that's not enough, the same production team has just released a new film. Search/Destroy features one of my all time favourite characters, and worlds: Johnny Alpha, the Strontium Dog. I've been waiting for an SD movie for as long as I waited for all the Marvel and DC films and TV that are currently overwhelming the Universe. If there is to be a new wave of comic book movies, let the Judge Minty crew lead the way. I want more. 
I'm in love.

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: WRITING EXERCISES

I've been in a writing lull, now, going on something in the region of three years. The promise of my early days, when I was selling ten stories a year, seems a long way away as the combination of life-consuming day job, depression, and general Real Life (tm) has slowly chipped away my creativity, my drive, and my time.
However, one thing I've maintained is my enjoyment of teaching writing, and when I have managed to write, it's been via applying one of the exercises I use to teach aspiring writers, and pushing through to get some sort of result out of it. So here, for your own education, are five exercises I regularly use to get my heart started.
Five for Friday: Writing Exercises
Alien in the Backyard
Picture your backyard, or if you live in an apartment complex like my students at my recent Writing the Weird Masterclass in Singapore, picture your balcony, window box, or communal park. Now, place an alien in that space.
I was gifted this exercise by Australia writing royalty Lucy Sussex, when compiling a pamphlet of writing exercises to deliver to a writing class almost fifteen years ago, and it's one I come back to on a regular basis, using a different setting each time.
This exercise tends to work because your backyard is so familiar a place, so intimate on a mundane level, that placing an unexpected component-- particularly one with whom your protagonist can interact-- brings it into fresh focus, and gives you the initial conflict that a story requires. My story Blake the God, which appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #22, utilised this beginning, which I then doubled down on by including my real Bonus Son Blake into the narrative.

Photo Bingo
You have received an image from the workshop leader. Go into a library. That image is your first research clue. Take it to the relevant area of the library (if you have a coin, the section on coins. If a table, books on tables). Read through the section until you find a fact that captures your attention. Use the central image of that new fact to take you to another section of the library, and repeat the process. do this until you have three separate facts written down, linked by the journey of your research. Use these three facts as the basis of your story.
I first attempted this exercise when it was delivered by Tim Powers at the Writers of the Future winners workshops way back in 2002. Tim gifted a small item each, which we carried with us for 24 hours before being taken out to an LA library, and given the following instructions. For my own workshops I've modified it slightly by giving people a picture, rather than an object, and sending participants into the space directly, or assigning it as homework, rather than giving people 24 hours to stare at the image and ponder. However, the underlying principles are solid, built around the rule of threes, and giving the participant the chance to order and prioritise their engagement.
The story I wrote at that Writers of the Future week, Ecdysis, began with a coin and took in 19th Century American bullion, snake hygiene, and homelessness. It appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #11. I'm not saying it's been successful for me, but I did, subsequently, marry the editor......

Last Lines First
A variation on one of the simplest of writing exercises-- taking the first line or title of an already-published story and using that line as the first line of your piece. Once you've finished, simply erase of rewrite that stolen line, and the work is complete. In this case, take the final line of an already-published story, and use it as the first line of your new work.
The final line of a story is a powerful object: it either closes all that has come before with a sense of true finality, or leaves the reader with an open ending that contains a powerful after-image that defines the reader's take-away from the tale. (Much like Ronnie Barker's famous quip, "The marvelous thing about a joke with a double meaning is that it can only ever have one meaning", an open ending is never truly open.)
My story At The End There Was a Man, in the Couer de Lion anthology Anywhere but Earth, began as an exercise in this vein, inspired by a story in the stunning Simon Brown collection Cannibals of the Fine Light.

What if People?
Find a scientific concept that interests you, and ask the simple question "What if people...?"
Another simple one, and again, one that has proven successful for me over the years. My Writers of the Future-winning story Carrying the God came from reading about the discovery of a new plant in the Arctic circle, that could enter a state of cryogenesis and reconstitute in the presence of running water. Asking "What if people could do that?" gave me the spur for the story. Similarly, my recent story The Glow of his Eyes, the Depth of his Gaze, which appeared in Cosmos, transferred the reported ability of chickens to rearrange the light-receiving cones within their eyes to human soldiers.

Shakespeare for Real
Way back in the dawn of time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth and K-Pop was just a dream in the REM of Satan, I auditioned for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. I performed a reading of the Porter's speech from Act II of Macbeth. And, for those who came in late, didn't get in.
I've returned to the speech, and many others, in the days since, because they make for fantastic writing prompts. Shakespeare revels in hyperbole and analogy, creating meaning through a succession of verbal similes. However, what if what his characters were saying was real: what if the Porter really was greeting a hanged farmer; an equivocator; a thieving tailor? What if he really was the doorman to Hell?
Take this scene, or pick another (What if Hamlet really was bound in a nutshell? What if Lear really was enslaved by the weather?). Write the scene. File off the serial numbers.
My story Canals of Anguilar (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 5, no 5) had, as one of its touchstones, a quote from Henry VII: People’s good deeds we write in water. The evil deeds are etched in brass.

So, there you go. Five heartstarters to get you going. What about you? what exercises do you turn to, when the fingers are stiff and the ink run dry?




Thursday, May 25, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY ENJOYS EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE

0134
"Fine. You were right. They hate it. I'll go back to the black hood tomorrow, okay?"

This one sits right at the heart of the Venn diagram that represents my love of absurdism, my love of gallows humour, and my love of making uptight little old ladies curl their noses up in disdain. Consequently, it still makes me giggle my weaselly little black heart out. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY TELLS IT LIKE IT IS

0196
"At the third strike, my husband will apologise and fall asleep..."

Am I right, ladies. You know I'm right. (Polishes lounge act, plays Northern club circuit...)

Friday, May 12, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: FIRST LINES

As a writer, half the battle of capturing your reader's attention is won or lost in the first line. Capture their interest-- hook them-- and they'll accord you extra time to do the things you need to do. Provide a bland or boring opening, and you'd better have an explosion arriving real quick, because there's a new episode of Duck Dynasty on the tube and someone's cooking sausages. 
(Of course, you can take my advice for what it's worth by noting that the greatest play ever written starts with the first line, "Who's there?")
Over the course of my career I've written some cracking opening lines (if I do say so myself) and some that have done little more than provide the literary equivalent of lobbing the ball over the next just so the other player can return serve. 
Here are five of my best.
Five for Friday: First Lines

The storm had turned the world into a swirl of broken lines.
Disciple of the TorrentGreat Southern LandSatalyte Publishing, 2013.

We fell upon Moscow like hungry dogs.
The Emperor of MoscowEuropa Universalis IV: What If?, Paradox Press, 2014.

It was the second sunrise of the day.
Father Muerte and the Rain, Aurealis #33/34/25, 2004.

The first night, all he hears are screams.
Through Soft Air, Borderlands #1, 2003.

The only parts of this story that exist are the man and the knife.
Truthful Remains, Black Box, Brimstone Press, 2008.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS YOUR PARADISE RIGHT HERE.

It's probably 20 years since I scratched this one out. Sad that it still seems utterly accurate, especially given our current Government's predilection for bending over and taking it from the Cult of Reinhart.
0066
"My God, that's the most beautiful thing I've seen in my entire life. Who can we sell it to?"

Sunday, May 07, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: AMANDA KOOL

Amanda Kool lives at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, a glorious part of the world surrounded by valleys, forests, walking paths and, most importantly, she says, wineries.
She writes in a little nook at the bottom of the house, closed off by a deep red curtain (her very own Black Lodge). In the summer, this is the only room in the house that is not in danger of combusting due to the sheer ambient heat.
Surrounded by the paraphernalia of whatever book she is writing (various tchotchkes, gewgaws, spirits, liqueurs, books, food stuffs and weaponry), she sits at her desk with a pot of freshly brewed tea and...according to her, procrastinates, avoids, trembles, and swears.
Despite all that avoidance, she's seen her debut novel Tallwood published, as well as The paper Fox, an interactive story for IOS devices, and a bunch of other tales. Here, she takes us to a place familiar and intimate, and yet somehow all her own.

Precious Things: Amanda Kool
Like most people who will be posting here at Precious Things, I was a prolific reader at a very young age, devouring all manner of genres and losing myself in pages of mystery, adventure, and faraway worlds. My shelves are packed with science fiction, fantasy, crime, non fiction, and reference books that help me create the worlds my characters inhabit. 
 There are two books, however, that helped make me the writer I am today - equal in importance, but only one is my 'most precious literary treasure'. 
 Watership Down is the first. I immersed myself in this world so completely that I saw the thoughts and lives behind every creature. Living in 'the sticks' as I did (and still do), there were enough rabbits and foxes and frogs and birds to make me believe that Adams' world was real and I was viewing it from my bedroom window. I learned to put myself in someone else's place, look through their eyes.
 But my most precious possession? Well, that's a cliché. It's a trope. It's kinda boring as a choice, because it is claimed by so many as a favourite, or a progenitor to their story-telling origins. 
 It's this.

LotR_Image1

This particular, bible-paper-thin, 1077-page, wrapped in faux leather and embossed in faux gold, Guild Publishing edition of The Lord of the Rings. 
 I am not the first to claim the work itself (I'm looking at you, Michael Robotham!), but the only one to claim this particular edition. 
As an adult, I have collected several other editions of this book; paperback, hardback, Folio, illustrated... But this one goes into the fire bag every summer with all my other, non-literary precious things, and is whisked off to my parents' place for safe keeping until the danger passes. 
 Why this monstrosity? 
I was 10 when I started reading it. In minutes, I was totally and completely carried away by the characters, the places, the looming dangers, and the whimsy within its pages. Names like Staddle, Combe, Mordor, Bree, and Rivendell swan in my head.
 Just days into my journey to Middle Earth, in true Aussie tradition, I was at a BBQ and a cricket game started on the oval. I do not like cricket, but as a kid... Well, you went where your parents took you. I think it was some kind of afternoon get-together for my father's work; all family members invited. 
 I could describe, in author-like detail, the crack of the bat, the missile-like blur heading for my pre-teen face, and the resulting agony as the ball struck my right eye, but... We'd be here forever. 
 As a result, my pupil was paralysed in a permanently-dilated state. I had an eye patch and was told by the doctor; "No strenuous activity, no lifting anything, and absolutely no reading for at least two weeks."
 Can you imagine? 
 I had just started this bible-paper-thin, 1077-page, wrapped in faux leather and embossed in faux gold, Guild Publishing edition of The Lord of the Rings

LotR_Image2

The hobbits had met up with Strider (eschewing the best beer in Eastfarthing!), Dark Riders were scouring the land, and they were set to meet Gandalf at Weathertop. 
 Yeah. Screw that. 
 Tenting my doona with pillows each night, I waited for my parents to go to bed, turned on my torch, peeled off the eye-patch, and risked permanent and irreparable damage to finish the tale. Hard-core, neh? 
 It is not a pretty book to have as a Precious Thing, nor is it a remarkable choice.
 But it is my Precious Thing and I have just packed it in the fire-bag ready to be whisked off to safety for another year. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

FIVE for FRIDAY: RIGHT OF REPLY

Last week, I discussed Ms 15's discovery of the The Beatles, and compared it to my own teenage awakening. In a guest post, she revealed her favourite 5 Beatles songs, and why:
  1. Here Comes the Sun
  2. Oh! Darling!
  3. I Am the Walrus
  4. Hey, Jude
  5. Let it Be
By way of reply, and to pay her back for usurping 2 of the songs I would have chosen for my list, it's only right that I list my own favourites, in no particular order.
Five for Friday: My Own Favourite Beatles Songs
1. Hey, Bulldog.
In no particular order, except this one. I may be the only person in the world who says this, but Hey, Bulldog is my absolute favourite Beatles song. Quirky, musically complex, and heavier than the run of the mill Beatles song, it's a delightful Frankensteinian monster with all the trademark Beatles quirks that still manages to sound like nothing else they ever produced. I love it.

2. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
 I first heard this song, not on the album or radio, but as part of watching the Beatles' movie Help. The movie is a fun, silly romp with a very 60's sensibility-- it fits seamlessly alongside the likes of the utterly awful Batman TV series and the Monkees visual efforts. And then, right in the middle, the whole thing stops dead and this slow, mournful, heartbroken song is played utterly straight, like a three-minute invasion by grown ups. I find it haunting, and saddening, and utterly beautiful.



3. Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown).
That John Lennon was a genius is beyond argument. That he was an utter shit of a human being is, also, pretty damn clear to anybody who has learned anything about the man. This song, widely accepted as the story of an affair he had while on tour, shows both sides at their purest. Possibly the most beautiful song about being a traitorous arsehole ever written.

4. Helter Skelter.
Blah blah Manson blah blah death of the Summer of Love blah blah loss of innocence blah blah blah.
But listen to it. I mean, listen to it. This is the Beatles. The mother-friendly, boys next door, radio staple Beatles. And they're rocking it fucking hard. Release this today and you'd still be on the punk side of edgy. It's fucking fantastic.


5. Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite.

The legends that have grown up around this song are almost as much fun as the song itself: that Lennon copied the lyrics word for word from an actual circus poster; that George Martin came up with the whirling background by recording some hurdy gurdy music then cutting it up into lengths and throwing them into the air, piecing them back together in random order; that the band recorded the song in response to an A&R demand that they tour their next album, so set out to create a song that could never be played live...... no matter what is true, or what is manufactured legacy, the truth is: this song is just a wonderful, swirling, skirling, floating trip of joy.

(Typically, I can't find a decent original version of this song online. Have a listen to it on Spotify)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY APPROPRIATES ALL YOUR CULTURES

The sort of cartoon that seemed okay throughout most of recorded cartooning history, but now just seems pretty much a perfect storm of patronising, racist and sexist. So it goes.
0159
"Apparently, not a virgin, then."