Sara Douglass

Last Tuesday morning the well known and loved Australian fantasy writer of such epics as the Axis Trilogy and the Wayfarer Redemption died peacefully after a battle with ovarian cancer.  Below is a touching remembrance from a close and dear friend.

Sara Douglass Obituary:  http://voyagerblog.com.au/2011/09/28/sara-douglass-remembered-by-karen-brooks/

I believe Sara was an inspiration to many writers of speculative fiction, especially in Australia.  She will be missed greatly.

Advertisements

Climate Change and Politics

I am an avid reader of New Scientist and any articles in reputable newspapers and magazines (especially online) on scientific issues.  Yesterday I read about the view of several candidates for the US Republican presidential nomination who held, what seems to me, quite scary views on climate change and science in general.  I am no scientist but have lived enough years on this planet to realise something is going on.

Firstly, it is widely accepted that most living things survive within an ecosystem; and that includes humans.  Plants and animals in the wild exist and closely interact and depend on the environment in which they live.  We humans have a long history of tinkering with the environments and ecosystems of animals, much to their detriment, leading many to near or actual extinction.  Think of Tasmanian Tiger (0), white rhinoceros (5), tigers (less than 4,000) just to name a few off the top of my head. Hunting and habitat destruction are the main causes.

Secondly, human beings have increased exponentially, especially since the industrial revolution in the western world.  Now Asia and China want to get in on the wealth and prosperity industrialisation brings and that means using technology that pollutes.  So far the flora and fauna have been the major sufferers but now it seems there is too much pollution and the whole Earth ecosystem is stressed.  Witness the initial hole in the ozone layer that is now closing due to our removal of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs),  halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform.  The Montreal protocol required these be phased out by 2000 and methyl chloroform by 2005.  The hole is now closing and protecting us from the sun’s radiation.  This all happened before the eastern countries began heavy industrialisation.  It is an undisputed fact that carbon emission is the highest it has ever been and, despite this knowledge, continues to rise.  Emissions from manufacturing and mining, coal based electricity generation but also from the farm animals and humans themselves (in the form of methane) is adding to the load and as the population on the planet grows so do the emissions.

From what we have already learned about ecosystems it seems anyone with a small application of common sense it becomes clear that something has to give, and it seems the planet’s weather is the first sign of stress.  In fact, there have been warnings about climate change from the Antarctic ice melts in 1995.  These have been steadily increasing and I have personally seen the loss of ice in the New Zealand South Island glaciers – the Franz Josef and the Fox in 2001 and 2002 – it was noticeable over an 18 month period between visits.  This is not to mention extended draughts, more wild-fires and what is currently happening in the Sudan and other African countries in terms of famine.

I know the arguments that this is just a normal phase for Earth but in the past these phases have taken thousands of years to come about, not merely 100 years. The Kyoto Protocol has provided little in the way of large-scale emission reductions although some countries have shown commitment (Germany).

Finally, it seems to me that there is a general groundswell of agreement amongst my peers, friends and family that there is an issue of climate change which will affect us all in the future.  I suspect that at the level of everyday people there is a belief, based on good science as well as their own observation, that something is happening.

We have been looking to our politicians but their own infighting and struggle for power seems to take precedence over our survival even if, as in Australia, one party was elected on the grounds of doing something for the environment and it is hampered because of a power struggle with the opposition which is using misinformation to gain support (just like in the current US Presidential nomination race).

So, simply saying that science get’s it wrong sometimes so there is no proof of climate change makes me wonder who is funding the campaigns of these would-be US Presidents – could it be the manufacturing industries that pollute heavily and don’t want any impact on their profits?  Whether this is so or not, it certainly makes me wonder.

We live together on this planet and so far there is nowhere else to go and will not be for many, many years yet.  I support all those trying to do something but it seems a crazy world if people who dare to go for positions of power, do so using questionable means.

I am an optimist.  I am sure science will be able to assist in the long run to save all our backsides from total annihilation.  But I at what cost first?

Secrets

Think about it.  How many secrets do you carry around with you?  Those tiny things that were said and done that you don’t want anyone to know about.  Those things about yourself that, if revealed, would make everyone revile you.

We all have secrets and it is likely that some should be kept well hidden away to ensure that our lives progress in a positive manner.  So ask yourself, why do you read the books you read?  Is it because you want to find the secrets in other’s lives, whether real of fictional?  I suspect the answer is a resounding YES!

The internal dialogue of a character in a book (or a real person for that matter) is of the utmost interest to the reader.  It is the motivation that makes the story interesting or not.  If it wasn’t for secrets, deep hidden things, there would be no stories, nothing for hereo’s or heroines to do, nothing to overcome.

I find that I love characters who, because of an action, whether or not they realise it, are sent on a journey to the world they live in or just a journey of self-discovery.  Some of the fantasy stories that I, and millions of others, love are those where the protagonist has as secret.  And sometimes they don’t even know they have it.

Now the hard part for me is going to be to write a character like that!

Casual Games

Several months ago I found the delightful pleasure of the casual games.  These games are video games downloaded onto a computer, they are easy to play, have various genres (Match 3, Hidden Objects, Adventure etc) and can be downloaded to mobile phones and/or game consoles.  In most cases you can download the game, trial it for an hour and if you like, buy it.  Normal games cost A$7.24 and special edition games, with additional gameplay can cost up to $14.24 (see http://www.bigfish.com).

What is nice about these games is that they are easy to play (and tutorials are always included) you can play and leave it anywhere to go do other things and often you get the choice of the difficulty level providing more or less challenge.  Good games can have between 4 to 6 hours of fun finding things, following a storyline and playing mini games. Or you can play solitaire games with various themes and some even have an adventure background – all for the cost of a coffee and cake.

They are a bit addictive.  Most of the games I play are Hidden Object/Adventure games and I’ve become fussy about which games I choose.  There are even dedicated sites on which games are reviewed so you can check them out before you download and/or buy (see http://www.gamezebo.com).  I will admit to being a reviewer.  You can also download walkthrough’s – a detailed ‘how to play’ in case you get lost or stuck in a game.

So with all that as an explanation, it is worth noting that Wikipedia says nearly 200 million people worldwide play casual games.  If that’s the case, I would think the developers, in many cases Russian or Chinese, would get a bit more adventurous with their stories because I’m sure with such a huge and lucrative market, any good games with a difference will make big bucks.  With the exception of a few fairy stories, most are dark and dank using as backdrop rundown mental hospitals, old towns that have long been abandoned or places cursed by witches/warlocks etc etc.  Even if you are a detective looking for a murderer you are likely to be Hercule P or similar well known detectives, including Sherlock H.

I’m sure there are more interesting story lines out there.  I know many people whose short stories would make interesting as a backdrops for such games.  I’d love to see one based in a spaceship or on an alien planet.  I will keep my fingers crossed and hope that the developers find inspiration elsewhere soon because, despite the fun of these games, doing the same thing over and over does become boring.

I was going to say that if writers did the same thing over and over they would soon lose their readership but I thought about that and changed my mind.  Many excellent authors, and some not so excellent, run with varying takes on the same theme and often these are murder mysteries or action thrillers.  So there is a market out there for books with similar stories and currently anything paranormal is all the rage.  So, in the same vein, I guess the casual game developers think they are on a good thing and it doesn’t take all that much hard work to continue with a murder/save the world from a curse type of theme.

Still, I wish for more variation.  I read widely, including history (currently on the Vietnam war), science fiction (currently Pandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton), thriller romances by Linda Howard, and finally getting around to reading Wuthering Heights.  There have to be some great stories in there to base casual games on you would think.  I will keep my fingers crossed or maybe buy more books instead of games.

Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing – and it takes lots of work.

You hear talk of the ‘muse’ – the ephemeral spirit that provides artists with their ideas. Others suggest that simply by sitting down and beginning to write inspiration comes.  I suspect it is both of these and many more things.  For me it can be something someone says in passing that gets me thinking or something I read online which was the case in my first published story or something I read in New Scientist.  For me the easiest way to get inspiration is when someone gives me a topic or sets an emotion plus a place.  That gets the juices flowing even when the topic seems difficult to pin down.

Recently for a writing exercise I was asked to ‘interview someone living or dead’ in 1000 words.  The hard part was actually not the word limit but making such an interview interesting rather than a history lesson with the interviewee only quoting dates and facts of their exploits. I chose Sir Arthur C Clarke because I had been researching geostationary and geosynchronous orbits to find one of my favourite authors had an orbit named after him.  That turned out to be quite simple.  Other stories from the 15-20 writers who regularly come to the critiquing sessions were amazing in their style and variety.  It seemed even when facts and dates were included they were entertaining.  One centered on Leonardo Da Vinci being interviewed on ABC Radio via a new machine that allowed such things to occur.  Another humorous story told of the difficulties of time travel and how one might find oneself imprisoned or being a witch/warlock by suddenly arriving in the throne room without explanation to interview Queen Elizabeth I.

Another recent topic was ‘how I found out about sex.’  How much do you give away about yourself in such a topic or do you avoid it altogether?  I took the latter option and wrote a Barbara Cartland type of fictional story – it caused quite a giggle from the ladies who immediately recognised the style.  There were several revealing biographical stories but each different according to the writers age and generation (50’s or 60’s).  As expected there were two explicit ones (from the gentlemen).  None of the stories were the same.

One thing these topics do is stretch the writing muscles.  It was agreed at the last meeting of the Eurobodalla Writers that we would swap one topic in October for a story around ‘conspiracy theory’ as a result of the commemoration of 9/11.  That is going to take some thinking about as any conspiracy needs to sound plausible.  So, do I try to write a science fiction or horror or fantasy?  It seems to me fantasy writers in many ways, are all about conspiracies in the hidden agenda’s of multiple characters – wizards, kings/queens, mystics, gods and demons all have their own agendas working against the protagonist.

So now I am off to research how to put together a good conspiracy theory.  I note that a lot of good writing is based on solid research.  For me that is a large part of the fun and a great learning experience.  And don’t they say that learning should be a lifelong experience. YAY to that!

 

The Writing Process

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with several writers groups.  As a result I have been exposed to much of interest on the writing process.  My first taste some years back was Stephen King‘s ‘On Writing’, part autobiography and part a treatise on how he writes.  His idea is interesting in that he suggests you just go with it and it will come.  True in many ways but first you need a sound knowledge of the language you are writing in and the grammar it employs.  Without that writing becomes difficult to read for others. It is certainly useful if you want to feel that just starting is a good thing and give yourself a bit of confidence.

That said, more recently I have been exposed to articles by several popular authors on pace and beginnings.  Elizabeth Naughton’s (author of the popular Eternal Guardian Series) thoughts on pace can be found at  http://www.elisabethnaughton.com/blog/page/4/  It’s informative and I thought useful.  Also Kate Elliott, author of the best seller ‘Spirit Gate’ provides thoughts on beginnings at http://www.kateelliott.com/wordpress/?p=120#more-120.

Combined with writing 1000 word stories each fortnight and reading them aloud for critiquing, it’s quite an interesting learning curve.

I’ve also found that as a slush reader for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) I’m being exposed to all types of writing, often good and sometimes not so great.  I really clarifies what I look for in good writing and helps me write better.

Now the thing is to get creative, decisive and get to submitting things for publication with fingers crossed.

Life, Health, Reading, eBooks and Passion.

It’s been a week since I posted due to a small but annoying health issue which is now, thankfully, resolved.  That said, anything that makes you feel a bit off hinders the process of developing a blog entry that makes sense.  I tried several times but feeling sorry for myself, when I re-read the draft it looked decidedly snivelly so I gave up.  Not a good look.

Over the past week I’ve been trying to decide what really should go into blogs.  As I noted in my first entry, having a blog is expected from any would-be author.  No-one suggests what a blog should be about.  Even though I thought about what I wanted to write, there is only so much time in the day to think seriously about it.

At the moment I’m not even reading specfic.  My current book is a duo from Desmond Bagley – ‘The Tightrope Men’ and ‘The Enemy’.  Bagley wrote mostly through the 60’s to 80’s and these days his genre would be action thrillers.  He writes well and the pace is just right – not the headlong spin of Ludlum’s Jason Bourne books which leave me gasping.  No, Bagley builds up neatly and you get to empathise with the characters and then he drops them in it and it’s all go with the occasional space for a breather (for both the character and the reader).  The funny part is I had to remember what the world was like in the 70’s while reading these books.  No mobile telephones or quick computer searches – it was all manual.  In a way that makes the adventure a bit more interesting because it is man against man and nature.    It then requires the author to really focus on character and setting.  It was really a good reminder of what writing is all about.

I’m also working my way through a few classics and currently am e-reading Emily Bronte‘s ‘Wuthering Heights‘.  I must be getting more discerning because the language really interests me these days.  The word pictures painted with quaint language that we don’t use anymore that never-the-less are extremely effective in setting mood.  I am enjoying this more than I expected.

That brings me to the subject of Project  Gutenberg.  The enormous quantity of e-book classics available online for free is mind-boggling – over 90,000 I think (but don’t quote me).  I’m using my PC or iPhone but it would certainly be better with an ebook reader.  I haven’t decided which one.  Tempted to get an iPad but a Kindle or similar is much easier on the eyes and can bit into a purse/handbag.  I have a huge library of specfic and classics but things like Tolstoy‘s ‘War and Peace‘ seemed a bit too heavy for me so I never bought it.  Now I can download it for free and read bits and pieces when I feel like it.

Founder of Project Gutenberg

Michael S Hart - ebook and Project Gutenberg Founder

While writing this I just noted that the developer of ebooks and founder Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart, died yesterday.  Still a young man at only 64 so that’s sad.  He was a man with vision but it is most likely that many publication houses might be cursing him roundly.  I have a great deal of respect for any visionary who sticks to their beliefs and is passionate about something this creative and useful.

So, there is my blog after a week of wondering what I would write about.  It’s like all writing, just sit down and do it – reminds me of the quote from a baseball movie with Kevin Costner – ‘If you build it, they will come’ rewritten to ‘if you sit down at the computer, it will come.’ OK bad joke – sorry :-/

Till next time.