Monthly Archives: April 2014

Zzzzz… – A to Z: Z

Z is for Zzzzz…. which is the sound I’ll be making over the next few days as I catch up on what seems like a month’s worth of sleep. It’s been… interesting doing the A to Z Challenge, fun for the most part, slightly distracting at times, and overall a great learning experience for a new blogger like me.

My sleepy pets

Zzzzz… my four pets doing what they do best: sleeping and looking cute. Awwww! (At least they’re not spreading hair everywhere while they’re being lazy!)

I wouldn’t say trying to keep up was stressful, but it did add a little pressure to get those blog posts out in time. I found I didn’t have enough time to read as many other blog posts as I wanted to, though I discovered some wonderful blogs to follow that I’m sure will continue to post interesting things even after the Challenge is over. Also, and more importantly, writing a blog post a day took up a fair chunk of time out of my own writing time, so I’m looking forward to two things: reading more of other people’s posts (I’m following a fair few and can barely keep up with them in my reader), and having more time to work on my book.

My followers have multiplied (still not many, but hey, my blog is only two months old), some whom I’m following, some I probably should follow (I’ll be reading more soon!), and some who, I suspect, just followed to get me to visit strange sites without intending to ever visit my blog again. (I can actually live with that!) I’m still getting a handle on the intricacies of blogging, so be patient with me. 🙂

One thing that was really interesting was seeing the variety of countries of my visitors in the stats – the majority were from English-speaking countries, but there were also some from around the globe that had me thinking how great it would be to meet all of them. It’s a small world!

Apart from one day (Good Friday – family was more important that day, so I posted twice on Saturday to make up for it), I managed to stick to the A-Z schedule every single day. As commenters and other blogs have pointed out, it makes sense to pre-write at least some of your posts before April and then publish them on the right date. (Nobody told me that when I started, but I’ll try to do that next year!)

Anyway, I’ll leave it there, get back to working on my book for the rest of the night, and hope you were able to enjoy some of my A to Z posts. If you’re interested, I’ll leave the “three-part-menu” up at the top of the page for a while longer, or you can jump to my I is for index post and see if you spot anything interesting.

Congrats to all other fellow A-Zers, and many thanks to every single visitor to my blog!

Yours Truly – A to Z: Y

Y is for me. I mean, for Yours Truly. Which is me. In other words, I’m going to be sharing a few little things about myself. It’s something I’ve mostly avoided thus far, apart from a post about my pets, an introduction, and my about me page.

If I count correctly, this will be my 50th (public) post on this blog. Yay! The A to Z Challenge has definitely helped get that count up, and in the coming weeks and months, I’m sure I’ll be posting closer to one post per week than one per day, but that way, I’ll get back some more time for what I really want to be doing, which is working on my book. Not that I don’t like blogging – I do, more than I expected I would – but the Challenge has taken up much more time than I’d anticipated. I’m not very good at just writing quick 100- or 200-word posts and leaving it at that; I tend to rave on and check my facts online more than I probably need to. I spend time looking for images that I don’t end up using (I don’t get to use images when writing my book, and while I know blogs are different, it sort of feels like cheating to insert images not my own) and getting side-tracked in facts and details.

My blog-writing is a little different from my book-writing in that I’m more informal here, but I guess that’s not unusual. Either way, I’m still a stickler for details, I hate making mistakes (so if you see any, please feel free to point them out in the comments!), although I have some strong opinions that may be very different from what seems to be the “conventional wisdom” many writers and editors follow. Some of these I’ve mentioned in my posts or in comments I’ve left on other sites; for instance, I don’t like people speaking in absolutes, or blindly following “rules” that were meant more as “don’t overuse” advice than iron-clad “you must never” laws. There are so many writers trying to find the perfect formula, and too many sites give advice that would make all their writing boring, in my opinion. Be different, be bold, be unique, just don’t fall into certain traps and overuse certain patterns that seem to raise some editors’ hackles.

About me personally? I’d still like to keep my “author persona” largely separate from my “private self”, but some things about me that make me who I am are these: I grew up in three very different cultures, speaking three different languages, moved around a lot as a “missionary kid”, had lived in three countries by the time I was one year old and moved 18 times before I was 18. Most influential were formative years that I spent in the tropical jungles of Papua New Guinea, something that has most definitely influenced my writing.

I met my wonderful and amazing wife when we were both teenagers in high school, and we have three great kids, two of them now teenagers themselves. I’m a family person above all else: above my job which I really enjoy, and even above writing, which I’ve come to enjoy so much I dream about doing it for a living (while realising that the chances of achieving that dream are frighteningly slim, even if I were the most brilliant writer on the planet – not that I’m claiming to be that). Two dogs and two cats allow us to share a beautiful house in Perth’s northern suburbs with them, though the tenancy agreement has several clawses clauses about things like feeding, grooming and walking them. I also have a great sense of humour, which even allows me to see the irony in stating that.

I think all this gives me a unique perspective on things like culture shock, racism, being an outsider, and cherishing one’s family, all of which I’m channelling into my writing. I look forward to learning more about my fellow writer-bloggers, to learning more about creating an online presence, and to being able to share the ups and downs of my writing adventure with like-minded people from all walks of life.

Truth be told, I’m also looking forward to the end of this A to Z Challenge and to being able to blog at a slower pace (so that I can spend more time writing). 😉

Xanth – A to Z: X

X is for Xanth, the land in which Piers Anthony’s series of fantasy novels is set. (And X is for Xanth because, well, X doesn’t give you that many options.) The books are mainly aimed at kids, but his fans include many adults who grew up reading and laughing at his puns. If there’s a pun in the English language that isn’t in one of Piers Anthony’s books, chances are, it’ll be in the next one. (No, seriously – people send Piers Anthony requests for puns to be included and he tries to fit them into his stories.)

The puns may be a bit excessive and far-fetched to some, but if you can put up with that, the books are full of humour and a lot of fun to read. I was recently very proud when my son, with whom we’ve been reading the first book, guessed the “big reveal” the first book, A Spell For Chameleon, was building up to.

Xanth, which looks suspiciously like Florida, is a land in which there are many species of (often pun-related) creatures as well as your typical fantasy creatures and, of course, humans. Humans in Xanth all have a unique magical talent – that is, if they don’t, they’re exiled from Xanth (into Mundania, which looks suspiciously like our normal world where magic doesn’t exist). These talents can range from the boring and mainly useless make-a-spot-on-a-wall variety to full-blown Magician-calibre talents, which are required for anyone serving as king or queen.

Books set in The Magic of Xanth usually follow the adventures of a member of the “royal family” or someone with a Magician-calibre talent, quite often being below the age of 18 and thus not yet having joined the Adult Conspiracy.

If you need something to cheer you up, or are looking for a fun introduction for kids into the fantasy genre, pick up a Piers Anthony book and enjoy.

Wheel of Time – A to Z: W

W is for the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (or James Oliver Rigney, Jr., his real name). The release of the books spans 23 years, or nearly 30 years if you start from when Jordan began working on The Eye of the World in 1984 (published January 1990) until Book 14, A Memory of Light, concluded the series in January 2013.

Due to Robert Jordan’s death from cardiac amyloidosis in 2007 before the final volume could be released, Brandon Sanderson completed the series using notes and recordings Jordan had made, though Sanderson and Harriet McDougal (both Jordan’s editor and his wife) decided to do what Jordan had tried to avoid, namely to split Book 12 into three books.

The series is as long and as complex as no other (that I know of), with a cast of so many people it was sometimes hard to keep up with who was who without consulting a wiki. In fact, I found some of the “middle books” quite tedious to read, because, as interesting as the story was, the “main main characters” were getting about one or two chapters per book and the story got caught up in so many side-plots that it was getting a little annoying. However, it’s worth sticking with the story, as the plot threads come together nicely again in the later books.

As I mentioned in my post for “B-Day” in the A to Z Challenge, I love book series, and I love thick books with many pages and details galore (as long as it’s well-written and interesting, of course). I don’t think there’s much (any?) competition for Jordan’s series when it comes to length and page- or word-count. The total word-count for The Wheel of Time is over 4.4 million (yes… million), with a couple of books getting close to the 400k mark. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep track of all these characters and plot threads over such a long time.

Many references to mythology and legends from a number of cultures can be found throughout the series, including of course the reference to the concept of time being cyclical, with several ages repeating themselves over and over, from Hindu mythology. The attentive reader can find references such as tales of the great giants, “Mosk and Merc”, battling with spears of fire (Mosk being Moscow, and Merc being America). (There are many more such references if you’re interested.)

The world Jordan created is rich in detailed history and a variety of cultures. Although the epic storyline builds up to an inevitable Tolkien-style face-off between the forces of good and evil, Jordan’s sense of humour and his ability to make this rich fantasy world seem utterly believable pervade every chapter.

If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing the benchmark against which other fantasy works are measured.

Villains – A to Z: V

V is for Villains. Isn’t it curious how sometimes the “bad guy” is more memorable in a story than the “good guy”? Or how the villain can sometimes steal the show from the hero? A well-written villain can save an otherwise relatively boring story. Giving the audience someone they can “love to hate”, or someone whose struggle to be good they can identify with might just give your story that extra oomph to set it apart from the others.

As an aside, have you noticed how supervillains in movies are quite often people with British accents? My theory is that it’s because people commonly associate good Oxford English with being well-educated. As Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory says:

The Dr Doom to my Mr Fantastic. The Doctor Octopus to my Spiderman. The Doctor Sivana to my Captain Marvel. […] It’s amazing how many supervillains have advanced degrees. Graduate school should probably do a better job of screening those people out.

I thought I’d have a go at answering the question, Which Supervillain are you? Here are my results:

Villain results: Dr. Doom

Apparently, I’m Dr. Doom… mwahahaha! I mean… whaaat?

There are some great supervillains most people would recognise without even naming them. For instance, if someone hissed, “Why so seriousss?” it would immediately get a point across. (R.I.P. Heath, who grew up in the city I live in.) Or even just hooking your little finger to the corner of your mouth (or stroking a cat while sitting) conjures up associations we know and love. Turning the presumed villain into the hero of the story wouldn’t work in every genre, but it was great in Despicable Me or in Hotel Transylvania.

To a lesser extent (these were rather extreme examples), the same thing can work in a more traditional story. I really enjoyed reading The Wheel of Time, for instance (check back in tomorrow!), and of course I loved Lord of the Rings, but usually I prefer it when the villain isn’t all bad, when he has his own backstory that explains why he is as callous/mean/brutal/sadistic/[insert your adjective here] as he is. Even if the reader isn’t expected to agree with his methods, he should be able to at least recognise the motivation behind the villainous actions.

Some of my favourites that fit that category, from a variety of media and genres, are Kennit (from the Liveship Traders), Judas (as portrayed in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar), Captain Hook (from Peter Pan), Hannibal Lecter (from The Silence of the Lambs), and Captain Barbossa (from the Pirates of the Carribean).

Who are some of your favourite villains? Which supervillain are you according to the quiz linked above? What do you think makes or breaks believability when it comes to villains in a story? Let me know in the comments.

Understanding Poetry – A to Z: U

U is for Understanding Poetry. Does that phrase ring a bell for you, somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind where you stash your movie knowledge? If not, maybe this excerpt will jog your memory:

To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech, then ask two questions: (1) How artfully have the objectives of the poem been rendered; and (2) how important is that objective? Question one rates the poem’s perfection; question two rates its importance; and once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of the graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.

Are we there yet? Yes, it’s from one of my favourite films, Dead Poets Society (although I keep wanting to add an apostrophe at the end of “Poets”… grrr). It’s the section from the fictitious poetry textbook by “Dr J Evans Pritchard, Ph. D.”, which Keating (played wonderfully by Robin Williams) gets the students to read before demanding they rip it out of their books. His comment about trying to shoe-horn something as ethereally beautiful as poetry into a mathematical formula?

Excrement! That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”

Now the section they rip out was in fact taken from a poetry textbook still used in the U.S., from chapter 15 of Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. In Perrine’s defense, it’s not as bad (when read in context) as the film makes it sound, but the point remains that trying to apply an objective formula to something that’s typically very subjective is not going to work in many cases, as much as some people would like it to be that easy.

Keating goes on to make his point (and I’ll get to mine soon, promise!):

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer: that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Great, but what does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, the next time you need to introduce an interesting character in your story, consider introducing her by exposing her to something she absolutely disagrees with, and have her handle the situation in a manner as extreme as befits the situation.

When we show what a character likes, it reveals a little about them, and may invoke sympathy in some readers who have similar preferences. Showing how a character reacts when confronted with something they detest, however – now that will really let the reader know what they are about. After shocking the reader (or viewer, in the case of this film) with the unexpected reaction of a teacher asking his students to rip out pages from a book, and displaying what he is really passionate about, whether we agree with the action or not, the reader cannot help but be left with an impression that here we have someone not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.

To what will your character react in an extreme or unexpected way? What will your verse in life be? Let me know in the comments.

Here’s a video of this part of the film in case you’d like to relive it – enjoy!

Terry Pratchett – A to Z: T

T is for Terry Pratchett, OBE, author of the insanely funny Discworld series. Sir Terry was one of the pioneers of writing on computers and one of the first authors to have an active online presence (back in the days when “social media” meant “Usenet newsgroups”). Sadly, he suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s, but is still able to write using voice recognition software or by dictation. Hopefully, he will continue to amuse the world with his unique blend of fantasy and comedy for a long time to come.

I read The Colour of Magic a very long time ago, but still remember giggling like a school girl at some of the jokes. I still haven’t read all of the Discworld books, but some of my other favourites are Mort (Death is one of my favourite characters), Eric, Hogfather, Night Watch, and Going Postal.

My apologies, I could and probably should go on writing a bit more about this great author who deserves better than one of my shortest posts ever, but I’m battling a cold and will have to call it a night here. Good luck to anyone still doing the A to Z Challenge!

Stephenie Meyer – A to Z: S

S is for Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series that has sold over 100 million copies of the four books, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. The series has also been turned into a successful movie franchise.

I first read Twilight when my then-pre-teen daughter talked about it and I found out it had been “banned” at her primary school. I asked her to wait until I’d read it, and, instead of finding anything that made it worth banning, I have to say I quite enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure I would’ve continued reading the series even if my daughter hadn’t been pushing me to “read so she could read”.

Now it could well be that this is just my mistaken impression, but it seems to me that, at some stage after her series was published and everbody had devoured her books and the movies, it suddenly became fashionable to jump on the “bash Twilight” bandwagon. I don’t know whether Stephen King’s criticism of her writing had anything to do with it or not, or maybe someone sent out a memo that I missed, but, personally, I thought it was quite a shame that everyone suddenly drank the Kool-Aid and the tone when talking about the series turned from admiring to derisive. Many of Stephen King’s stories are without doubt very entertaining, but his writing style isn’t my favourite and I disagree with much he’s said about writing, so I was very disappointed to read that particular disparaging comment about a fellow writer.

Meyer’s books were written for a young adult audience and, in my opinion, have done wonders for that genre and have helped bring that generation back to reading books. Yes, they can be a little cheesy at times, but hey, they’re written mainly for teenage kids. I enjoy reading about a character’s detailed thought processes, which Meyer writes very well. Like her, I think, I’m still young at heart enough and still remember what all those “teenagey” feelings were like. I particularly liked the switch in perspective to Jacob’s character, whose voice is quite different with a great dose of humour thrown in. It’s too bad Meyer didn’t continue with her idea of releasing books written from Edward’s perspective; I for one would have enjoyed reading more than the sample chapter(s) she made available, and for those who’ve had enough… nobody would’ve forced them to read it.

I also enjoyed reading The Host, though I thought the film version left out several important parts and seemed a bit undercooked for my taste. But that has nothing to do with Meyer’s writing, which again handles many of the more intricate plot points within the first-person storyteller’s thought processes; something that is hard to pull off as well as Meyer does and makes a film adaptation rather difficult. If you haven’t read her work, I do recommend it, but I’d also advise approaching it with an open mind.

Robin Hobb – A to Z: R

R is for Robin Hobb, my favourite author and probably the author whose writing has most inspired me to attempt to write myself. Two of my previous A to Z challenge posts, the very first one on Assassin’s Apprentice and the “F” post on Fitz and the Fool, have featured content related to Robin Hobb’s work, so today, I’ll try to minimise the swooning and just write a little about the person behind the pseudonyms.

Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb in 2011; image embedded from Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia will tell you that Robin Hobb’s real name is Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, and that she published a number of books under her first pen name, Megan Lindholm, before taking on more epic fantasy as Robin Hobb, starting with the Farseer Trilogy. She still writes using both names and uses different styles for both; Megan Lindholm books seem to be a fair bit shorter while Robin Hobb’s are more epic in scope. Well, unless you count short stories, which are also kind of… er, short.

Margaret/Megan/Robin will be making appearances in Sydney and in Perth (where I live) in June, and I’m looking forward to being able to see her in person (without gushing or screaming like a teenager seeing The Beatles, hopefully) and getting her to sign one of my books (oh, but which one?).

If you’re a writer looking for some great advice, and the secret of how you can become a writer, check out Robin’s excellent post on I Want To Be A Writer, But…. Ok, I’d better hit the “Publish” button now because it’s nearly midnight and this post needs to be for today.

Any favourite writers or other idols you’re looking forward to seeing in person? Let me know in the comments.

Quests – A to Z: Q

Q is for Quests. And for not having all that many Q-ey topics queued (whoa!) up to choose from. Just like the quite clichéd actor asks his director, “What’s my motivation?”, so the typically quirky fantasy hero quizzes his author, “What’s my quest?” If your hero doesn’t ask that question, why not?

(Incidentally, and completely off-topic for this post, I failed to publish anything yesterday, so this is my second post today after the one on Patrick Rothfuss. In my defense, it was a Good Friday family day and I just didn’t get around to it. Sue me. 😛 )

Quasi-quest-related image

Uhm, that’s the best quasi-quest-related image I could come up with. Plus, I love xkcd, and most people don’t even know what a quokka is. (Creative commons licensed image is embedded from xkcd.com.)

All quips aside, it’s not exactly a quantum leap forward to state that you, as the one in quontrol of your hero’s actions and quotes, should always be aware of what his inner quest is and how it drives him.

I sincerely hope the quantity of Qs in this high-quality post haven’t made you queasy or quiver while you quail in fear. They certainly haven’t quenched my quota of one quarter of a quadrillion quid that I’m aiming for. Sometimes, quantity beats quality (quod erat demonstrandum).

(For the attentive reader: Which above q was used inquorrectly?)