Monthly Archives: June 2014

Distractions… *sigh*

Freshly inspired after meeting my writing idol last weekend, I wanted to sit down tonight right after I got home from work and just… write. Wednesday night is my dedicated time to write; my wife and kids are aware of this and usually leave me to it. I don’t watch TV (even though Wimbledon and the World Cup are on), I don’t play games, or fiddle with interesting new bits of software or hardware, I try not to let myself get distracted by this or that, I don’t even read (unless it’s my own writing and I need to edit).

Usually, that works out quite well.

Today, not so much. Let me count the ways….

We have a new kitten. Not long ago, one of our cats passed away and the whole family was pretty upset about it. So it didn’t take us long to decide that getting a new one would be the best thing to help us get over it. And it was – “Shadow” is a cheeky little tomcat, a “tuxedo cat” with the most awesome white moustache you can imagine (if there’s interest, I may have to post some pictures, he’s absolutely adorable). Of course, all those things you teach a cat over time, he still has to learn them, and cats don’t learn the same way dogs do. I’m loving it, seeing how the whole world (or what he knows of it so far) is one huge playground to him, but chasing him away from somewhere he’s not supposed to go every few minutes when he’s in one of his playful moods (playful, hungry, cuddly, sleepy… playful, playful, cuddly, playful, hungry, cuddly, sleepy… and so on) is very distracting.

Then there’s my job – it’s quite busy at the moment, and my contract is up in a couple of weeks, so I have to be looking around in case I don’t extend, and just as I sat down to start writing, I get a call from an IT recruiter with a potential job offer, so there goes another half hour, reading the specs he emailed, replying to them in detail, sending my resumé through.

My daughter needs to recharge her mobile phone (even kids have those nowadays… I’m still on my third one, and I’m a technophile!), and since her charger stopped working… fine, you can use mine, but no, you’re not taking it back to your room, it’s the last micro-USB cable in the house I think (plenty of mini-USB ones of course) and who knows what’ll happen if I let this one out of my sight. Almost dinner time. Knowing she’ll be hogging my cable soon, I decide to hop on to dx.com and quickly order one. No, make that two, so we’ll have a spare. They’re a dollar fifty, what’s the harm. What’s that? You need a new USB stick for school as well? Fine, that one’s a decent price, I’ll just— what do you mean, 8 gig isn’t enough?!? That’s a gazillion and a half documents! What do they make you put on these things at school? You do know you can delete stuff, right? Ah, you’re right, your brother did say he needed some simple earphones. Of course the site chooses that moment to be achingly slow, then stops responding as I’ve just confirmed my order on PayPal. Grrr….

Then it’s dinner time, and afterwards my wife was teaching my son how to play canasta, so I say, “Sure, I’ll play a round.” I’m a sucker for games of all kinds, but usually I stay strong on Wednesdays. Not this time, I guess.

So I’m back to settling in to my desk, having just arranged the blanket around me so that I can type without freezing anything off (it’s winter down under, I walked around this morning before 7 am in 2 frickin’ degrees – can’t wait for summer!), my music is playing through my earphones. Check dx, the site is back up, complete my order. Yay, time to write!

In pops my son, who’s been after me to find him some music he’s been after. Normally, I’d ask if he can wait until tomorrow, but I already did that yesterday, and he’s gone to the trouble to write up a list of songs he’s after.

A while later, I sit down again, and there’s a little nagging voice in the back of my head saying, you haven’t blogged about writing for quite some time. “Shut up,” I tell it. “Ok,” it says. But I just knows it’s a trick. Dangit. It’s still there in the back of my mind, knowing full well that I’m aware it’s there. Maybe one about trying to write and getting distracted would be as appropriate today as it is ironic. Just a quick one. (I always think that, but it never turns out that way. I’m not wired to write “just a little”.)

Ok, there you go, little naggy voice. Now bugger off.

I’m writing.

Thank you, Robin Hobb!

Following on from my post that Robin Hobb is in town, I actually went down to the event yesterday, stood in line to get in for way too long, sat around for another couple of hours waiting for her to be where she’d be signing books, stood in line again to get my turn, and then… finally met her in person.

Robin Hobb signing my books

Robin Hobb signing my books.

And it was awesome!

In case you don’t know, Robin Hobb is my favourite author. Reading her Farseer trilogy is what inspired me to begin writing. I’m not normally much of a fan of anything (at least nowhere near the extent of some of the people at the expo – wow, talk about nine kinds of crazy!), but her I had to go and see.

Robin Hobb after signing my books

Yes, she’s as nice as she looks. (The horrible quality of the picture is my fault.)

I wasn’t sure what the limit was for number of books she’d sign, so I brought two bags of books, agonising over which ones I’d leave at home, because I knew I’d kick myself if she was going to sign them all and I’d only brought one or two.

My Robin Hobb books

No, I didn’t take ALL those books to be signed. (But almost – my shoulders are still aching from carrying them all day!)

Signatures galore

Turns out, the limit was three, but luckily, I’d brought along my minion daughter, so between us, we got six of them signed.

Assassin's Apprentice Signature

My signed copy of Assassin’s Apprentice

Blood of Dragons signature

Robin Hobb’s signature on my copy of Blood of Dragons

Fool's Fate Signature

My copy of Fool’s Fate, now signed by Robin Hobb

I must admit I was slightly nervous just before it was my turn to meet her, but she was so down-to-earth and approachable that I found myself relaxing and thanked her for inspiring me to write. With a smile, she asked me how that was going, and I told her that I’d had a short story published but was currently working on the first part of my fantasy trilogy. She was friendly, natural, and encouraging, and seemed like a great person; I wish we’d had more time to chat, but of course I didn’t want to impose (I’m sure she gets enough craziness when she attends those types of events. I know many people say things like “it’s been an absolute pleasure meeting you” without really meaning it, but in this case, it was completely sincere.

Jo Spurrier

While I was there, I also purchased the third book of Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun trilogy, North Star Guide Me Home and had it signed by Jo Spurrier, who was also amazingly nice.

Jo Spurrier's signature

Jo Spurrier signed my new copy of her latest book

Queues

A staggering number of people lined up to pay stars and starlets between $20 and $50 per signature, and even more for pictures with them. Lots of people attended the cosplay part of the Supanova event, which I have to say didn’t appeal to me at all, but to each their own I suppose.

Celeb queues

People queuing up to see (or be seen with, or photographed with, or have something signed by) celebrities like Ming-Na Wen

More celebrity queues

More celebrity queues… George Lazenby, Richard Kiel, and so on.

Fitz and the Fool

So altogether a great day despite all the waiting and standing in line. I cannot begin to express how much I’m looking forward to reading Robin Hobb’s new book, Fool’s Assassin, due out in August, when Fitz and the Fool make a welcome return to my imagination.

Oh, and I told Robin Hobb that I was hoping that she wouldn’t reveal the Fool’s gender in the new books. In her typical way, her reply was simply, “Well, if he doesn’t tell me…”

So, from me, a heartfelt “Thank you!” to Robin Hobb.

Robin Hobb is in town!

First, apologies for not blogging for a while – I could say it was all because I was too busy (which I was), but there may well have been an element of laziness involved as well.

The big news for me is that my favourite author, Robin Hobb, is in Perth, Western Australia, this weekend at the Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre, as part of an event hosted by Supanova, the “Pop Culture Expo”. She appeared in Sydney last weekend and will actually be in my town for the next couple of days!

From the official guest page:

Robin will conduct a general admission Q&A each weekend, and participate in signing sessions on Friday in Sydney (2pm to 6pm), and throughout each Saturday (10.30am to 5.30pm) and Sunday (11am to 5pm) in both cities.

I’ve been in awe of her ability to tell wonderfully intricate stories for many years and am very much looking forward to meeting her in person (nearly as much as I’m looking forward to reading her next book). This is not something I would normally do, and none of the other celebrities that will be at this event would get me excited enough to go see them in person. But Robin Hobb has been my main inspiration to start writing myself, and I can’t not go and see her. I’ll do my best not to gush and stammer like a star-struck imbecile, but can’t really make any promises. Of course I’m going to take along my favourite books and will hopefully get some of them signed.

Also attending the event will be Jo Spurrier, whose third book in the excellent Children of the Black Sun trilogy I have yet to read (I might buy it there if I can), as well as several other authors.

Have you ever met a “celebrity” in person, or even Robin Hobb herself? If so, was it what you expected and would you recommend it (not that you could change my mind!)? If not, was it due to a lack of opportunity or because you didn’t want to destroy your image of that person? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

a very brief semi-rant about punctuation

As writers, I think it’s our duty to lead by example as much as possible. Even if you’re not serious about ever being published and just blog for fun, consider that every time you make a common error, the chances of someone reading your error and subconsciously registering that that’s the way to do it increase, and you’ve helped the error to spread. If you write, consider yourself one of the guardians of good language. Thomas’ succinct post hits the head on the nail.

North of Andover

It’s not that difficult a concept:  If you have a sentence that could be divided into two sentences by removing a conjunction (a compound sentence), there must be a comma before that conjunction.  This isn’t optional.  This isn’t a matter of personal taste.

It is also a good idea not to use a comma after a conjunction-type word at the beginning of a sentence.  If you’re going to start a sentence with but (usually fine in informal writing, which is what fiction is), don’t use a comma after it.  The same thing goes for and.  After all, if you use but or and in the middle of the sentence, the comma goes before it.

Inept punctuation in a novel makes the author look bad; inept punctuation in an indie-published novel makes every other indie author look bad, too, because a lot of readers still think indie equals unprofessional.  Perpetuating this misconception is

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So how do I get beta readers?

Fellow writers, I need your help. I see so many of you blogging fondly about your beta readers, so I thought to myself, “I should really get me some of them!”

First, I went to my local supermarket. Not knowing much about the nature of beta readers, I thought it made sense to start there. After getting blank stares from the pimply store clerk and the lady at the enquiries desk, I looked around the shop myself, but found nothing. (And yes, of course I checked the stationery aisle. Duh.)

I was about to leave the store when a man in a hat and trenchcoat (which is very rare in our climate, come to think of it) approached me cautiously and whispered, “I hear you’re looking for beta readers. Try the hardware store.” He turned and walked away before I could ask him more, but not before I noticed he was grinning widely. I decided it was probably what’s known as a “knowing grin”, and followed his advice.

The big, friendly guy at my local Bunnings showed me several readers – a Holman Stainless Pressure Gauge that reads water pressure; a Garman Soil pH Meter that he assured me with a twisted smile was very accurate indeed, several thermometers, and so on – but none of them even had the word “beta” anywhere on them. I thanked him, walked away a few steps, thought of another question, but he was already busy chuckling with another customer in a trenchcoat. Those must be becoming popular again, maybe I should think about getting one.

My wonderful wife, who, right when I told her about my lack of success, was giggling at something the kids must’ve said, suggested I go to the optometrist where her friend works; she gets her glasses there. When I arrived, her friend was just getting off her phone. “Ah, Amos,” she greeted me, “I just heard a wonderful joke; please forgive me if I giggle for a while longer. How can I help you?” She made me do some eye tests and let me try out several pairs of reading glasses, but they just made the magazine she asked me to read while wearing them all blurry. “Your eyes are fine,” she giggled at last – I really should’ve asked her what that joke was! – and, disappointed, I went home.

Very reluctantly, I braved the Interwebs and attempted to do a Google search, but, as I’d feared, Google asked me in its typical condescending manner, “Did you mean… ‘better readers‘?” If it could have giggled, I’m sure it would have.

I threw up my hands in frustration and decided I would ask you, dear readers of my blog (yes, both of you!), about getting me some beta readers.

  • How do I go about getting me some beta readers?
  • How many beta readers should I have?
  • At what point should I even consider getting them?
  • Is there something about my pronounciation of “beta” that makes people giggle uncontrollably?

(Ok, in all seriousness now – no giggling! – I’m at around 85k words and am aiming for about 100-110k total in the first book of my fantasy series. Any hints leading to the capture of a suitable beta reader will be much appreciated.)

A Sad Day

About to get into the car this morning to drive to the train station, I saw another car speeding away down the street. I didn’t really get a look at it, because my brain wasn’t quite working due to our cat Cuddles lying in the middle of the road. I won’t – can’t – describe it in detail, but she was alive for maybe another two minutes or so.

Cuddles sleeping

Cuddles sleeping peacefully. R.I.P. Cuddles.

In what seems like a previous life, I was a paramedic and even began to study Medicine for a while before turning to Computer Science. I’ve seen death, I’ve seen dying, I’ve dissected cadavers. I don’t know why my cat’s death upsets me this much. Maybe it’s that it was just so… undignified. I cried like a schoolgirl (not that there’s anything wrong with schoolgirls) before waking the kids and telling them about it.

Cuddles was our daughter’s cat, at least nominally, who named her when we first got her as a tiny fluffy kitten. But in truth she was a family member.

Cuddles Wii

Cuddles “playing” on the Wii Balance Board

The name wasn’t very accurate; she never enjoyed cuddling on our laps for very long except on rare occasions. When she did grace me with her cuddliness, she’d stomp around on chest and belly and legs and crotch, purring while digging in with her claws, and refused to settle down for a minute or two, pushing herself up on her hind legs if necessary to rub herself against anything in range. Then, when she finally did calm down, and I could take my hand off the family jewels and stop trying to extract her claws from my skin and clothes, wondering why they weren’t cut into bloody ribbons, she’d curl up in my lap, and turn every which way so I could scratch her in all the places that needed it. After just another couple of minutes of that, she’d get up, find one of her favourite alone-time spots, and curl up there to sleep. Strangely, it made you feel both abused and honoured. “I’m going to use you to get my attention and my petting,” she’d tell you, “and then I’ll just leave you like a dumped lover. Oh, and you’re going to like it!”

Cuddles The Destroyer

“Take that, paper ad!”

Cuddles The Destroyer

Cuddles The Destroyer with some silly political ad she didn’t agree with.

God, I’ll miss that. And I’m really more of a dog person.

She had the cutest of meows, mixing a purr in with it to make it more of a “prrr’ow!” Our daughter can reproduce that same noise extremely well. When I was hoarse from calling the cat’s name so she’d finally come inside and eat her cat food, thinking her miles away, my daughter would simply “prrr’ow!” in the backyard, and Cuddles would suddenly pop out from somewhere and let herself be carried inside like the queen she was.

Cuddles rolling in blood

Cuddles rolling in the “blood” of a vanquished foe.

Cuddles got along wonderfully with all the other pets we’ve had (after a period of hissing at them to let them know their place, because size has nothing to do with rank in our household), except for our tomcat, Merlin.

Kitten-Cuddles and Chaka

Cuddles as a kitten, playing with Chaka, our other cat back then

She didn’t like him from the start and has never forgiven him (he’s a few years younger) for being playful when she wanted to be left alone. (Even though she did the exact same thing to Merlin’s predecessor, Chaka.) I think Merlin is physically unable to completely retract his claws and playing with him can be… ouchy. So, hard as it was, I’ve chased Merlin out of my office whenever he made another attempt to claim it, and at some point he gave up, allowing it to be Cuddles’ safe haven. Many a night while I was sitting there at my desk, typing away at my story or working on some project or other, or, lately, blogging, she’d curl up on the comfy chair and purr herself to sleep, safe in the knowledge that I’d valiantly defend her from that other nasty tomcat.

Cuddles making friends

“You’ll be my friend, won’t you?” Cuddles and Velvet, some years ago.

Kitten-Cuddles and Velvet

“She doesn’t scare me. I’m keeping her.”

I’m staying home from work today. That’s not an easy decision for me, because I’m an IT contractor, and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. My wife and I went for a long walk with the dogs (this post has a picture of all four pets sleeping…) and talked about how it might’ve been easier or better if she hadn’t lived for those two more minutes, but that we were glad we could be with her in those last few moments. Two of our three kids are battling a cold, so we’re all staying home for a “personal day” today.

Work will still be there tomorrow.

Cuddles won’t.

Big News: I Got Published!

To follow up from my post from last week, Big News: Getting Published, I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to announce that my short story Big Bang has been published in Nicholas C. Rossis’ anthology, The Power of Six.

It’s official, I’m a published author!

Nicholas was even kind enough to change the full title to “The Power of Six: Six (plus one) Science Fiction Short Stories” – with my puny single contribution being the “plus one”.

Here’s the updated cover:

The Power of Six, by Nicholas C. Rossis

The Power of Six – Cover of the anthology by Nicholas C. Rossis including six of his short stories, plus one teeny weeny short story by yours truly!

You can buy the book on Amazon, or, if you’ve purchased the original version without my short story, you can update it on your Kindle device.

It’s a great feeling to see “Amos M. Carpenter” listed as one of the authors on that Amazon link, so I am humbly grateful to Nicholas for including my story. (Thanks, mate!) I’m currently reading the other short stories by Nicholas (I’d already read two that were available on his blog) and am really enjoying them; they’re very clever as well as having a great sense of humour, so I hope you get to read them. Nicholas is also the author of Pearseus, a fantasy series with a bit of a “sci-fi twist” whose first two books, Year 18: The Schism and Rise of the Prince have both reached #1 on Amazon, with Book 3, Mad Water, due out soon.

Now I just need to finish my debut novel and get that published, and then… well, one thing at a time. I think I’ll just enjoy this milestone for now 🙂

Put some “Leeroy Jenkins!” in your writing

It’s been a long weekend here with Monday being a holiday, and I’ve had some time to indulge in one of my time-wasting fun hobbies, playing Guild Wars 2 (don’t worry, the post is writing-related… I’ll get to that). The guild I’m in is small, but we have our fun, including a spreadsheet shared on Google Docs in which we document all our hilarious (mis-)adventures and references to some gaming-related things we feel everyone in the guild should be aware of.

For those who don’t know the reference, “Leeroy Jenkins!” became an infamous battle cry by a character of the same name in another MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, World of Warcraft (which I don’t play but like most people I’ve heard of it). Apparently, his guild was meticulously planning their strategy and setting up their forces out of range of where the one of the harder boss fights in the game would begin when he simply charged into range of the boss, kicking off the battle, and yelling “Leeeeeerooooy Jenkins!” His guild attempted to come to his aid, but all the careful planning was out the window and he got everyone killed.

So what’s the point of my post, and how does it relate to writing, I hear you ask? Well, here it is:

The next time you write a story, I challenge you to introduce a character into it (not the main character, but a side-kick maybe, or the “bad guy”) who adds an element of chaos and unpredictability. The extent of chaos added is up to you, and will of course depend on the genre. But having a “wild character” who doesn’t always act the way someone with more common sense would expect can be both fun and a nice way to direct the action in an unexpected direction (of course it shouldn’t be abused as a deus ex machina plot device, but you get the idea; use within reason). Make sure that character’s motivation is a good fit – is he (I tend to think it would be a “he”, though a “she” could work just as well) deeply troubled, or does he have a twisted sense of humour, or perhaps a social or mental disability? – and plant some seeds for it early on. He could be anything from a “troll” to a “sassy mischief-maker”, from a “compulsive impulsive” to a “common-sensically-challenged dolt”, or from someone who thrives on beating long odds to a plain “tool” – and have fun with it.

Some characters that come to mind in some of my favourite stories who are unpredictable to some extent are the Fool from Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, and Auri from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Both were very positive characters; a negative example was The Joker from The Dark Knight (brilliantly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger), whose absolute lack of fear and lack of respect for anything arguably made the story much more interesting.

What are your favourite “Leeroy Jenkinses”? Have you ever created characters who cause chaos? Do you think it could be a good idea or is it something you’d rather stay away from?