Saturday, December 31, 2005

Goodbye, 2005

This was the year of Things That Didn't Happen.

I didn't get retrenched. I didn't get published. I didn't move house, finish my PI course, win any competition I entered, finish my novel, learn to drive, buy a car, clear my debts, fix my speakers, pay off my laptop, or throw out my old clothes.

All this is not depressing to me at all, because this has been the year that I worked towards goals. I'm not there yet, but I'm well along the path. So some things did happen.

  • Finished the first draft of my first novel. Sent it off to the Debut Daggers and although it wasn't shortlisted, it made it to the unofficial top 25. That's a vote of confidence in my writing.
  • Wrote a review of a Diamanda Galas concert and she emailed me to ask permission to put it on her website. Another vote for my writing.
  • Finished the first Danny Hawaii short story. We'll see what happens with that.
  • Spent a few months in the course that all PIs in NSW have to complete, and ended up with tons of notes and textbooks that should provide me with plenty of details for writing.
  • Created which of course includes this here blog.
2006 will be the year that Things Happen.
  • It will be the year I get published, one way or another, even if it's a short story in a reputable online zine.
  • I'll get my driver's license and a car too.
  • The laptop will be paid off and I'll make a significant dent in my debts.
  • And of course I'll finish The Damn Novel, as well as keeping on the path of The Five Year Plan.
Most importantly, I'll keep at it. I'll keep writing till my eyes bleed and my fingers excrete a warm, yellow fluid. My back will curve in on itself and I'll become a perpetual digestion machine of hideous design. Might need a plastic keyboard protector for all that.

For the final send off to the year, I'm going to make damn sure I don't do what I did last New Year's Eve. Recovery time will be measured in hours, not days.

*waves drink at 2005*

Friday, December 30, 2005

Book Meme

Every now and then, we must fall prey to these viral internet concoctions.

Stolen from Tribe.

Book Meme: 123.5 is supposed to work as follows:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

And my sentence is from THE EMPTY BEACH by Peter Corris.

"I thought very seriously about the packet of cigarettes on the table next to the flagon, but decided on more wine instead."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Police Photos

Xmas is over and what have I done? Ate and drank, rested, ate and drank and ... shopped.

The eating and drinking involved going over to The Not Wife's parents' turkey farm. No, they don't plant turkey seeds and water them until they turn into turkeys. Instead, like normal turkey farmers, they have three huge sheds with gas heaters and feeding equipment. Can you guess what we ate?


Slices of turkey meat, turkey stew, turkey pie, turkey and potatoes, turkey ice cream, turkey cordial, the list goes on.

After recovering from all that heavy resting, with Xmas cashola in hand, we powered our way into the city. This was extremely masochistic of us, but much like a Wendy's hot dog, we thought it would all turn out fine. Of course, we ended up feeling sick. The city was chockers, which means filled with people, not chocolates. Stocktake sales had begun and the escalators in stores were so full that security guards had become makeshift escalator traffic cops.

One happy outcome from our misadventure was the purchase of books. After looking in every other bookstore in the city, Abbey's came through for me again.

Got hold of Kaminsky & Roberts' Behind The Mystery, an excellent collection of interviews and photos of everyone's favourite mystery writers. The other purchase was a huge book of Sydney police photos from 1912-1948.

The photos have an other-worldy quality that crawls over your skin, creating a feeling of dread which only increases as you turn the pages. I'm planning on checking out the related exhibition at the Justice & Police Museum in Circular Quay.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Xmas Spirit, New York Style

I don't usually do this, but I have an intense need to share a short video with everyone. It's a 2Mb WMV, which should play fine on most computers.

Of course, I can't take credit for making it, and even though Alfred E. Langley is in the credits, I don't know where it's from. Could be a MAD Magazine reference ...

But hey, it's all in the spirit of Xmas.

Santa & The Cops
Santa & The Cops

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What Happened to Kerouac?

If you've ever read Jack Kerouac's On The Road, then you should already have a burning desire to see the DVD I bought on the weekend, What Happened to Kerouac?

Keroauc was, along with Allan Ginsberg and William Burroughs, the creator of the Beats. Not because of a conscious desire to do so, they were just interested in writing and experimentation. With drugs, with sex, with life.

With his writing, Keroauc espoused a new form of spontaneity, where the first draft is the final draft. In reality, there was editing involved with his work, but because he wrote for long stretches at a time, his work has a flowing rhythm to it that I think is more like music than poetry.

In his own time, Keroauc was equally adored and abhored, popular for reasons that he did not agree with. People wanted a piece of him all to themselves: more for the wild-man image that was created by the media, rather than the obvious love he had for everyone, a love that came through like crystal in his writing.

If you're a fan, watching the video is a sit-in-your-chair-bolt-upright experience. The man himself recites some of his prose and poetry, sometimes to live musical accompaniment. I think his writing worked best this way, because that was how it was conceived to begin with.

Don't know anything about Keroauc? Rush off and borrow, buy or five-finger-discount anything and everything by the great man.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Drunk and Feeling Like Kicking Out The Jams

Just the jams?

Not sure about that: I'm thinking more about wielding the hammer of the gods right about now.

Yes, I'm drunk.

To set the mood before I go on, have a read of the lyrics from the song I'm listening to, another Tom Waits toon called 'Shore Leave'. If you can listen to the song, even better. If not, imagine a man who's been drinking shoe polish strained through bread for most of his adult life, howling out an ode to his wife, a woman at home while he's at war.

Mood set? Good.

I've just been to an end-of-year work function, although 'function' is probably the wrong word to use, as it was never an official event. Just the boys getting together with the aim of eating our entire body weight in curry.

And I think I did.

We went to a not plush, but excellent little Indian restaurant in Annandale called 'Surjits', right on Parramatta Road. The place was cramped, and the decor was only impressive in that there was a Shrine To The Gods Of Cricket in the corner; the centrepiece of which was a sculpture of a cricket bat combined with someone like Imran Khan. But I don't really know cricket, so don't count on that being right.

The chairs with small and dull brass bells hanging from the back, decked out to look like the Taj Mahal, those chairs were tight. Tight so you couldn't spread your arms to get the curry or rice into your bowl, tight so you couldn't gesticulate about the topic of choice when you'd had too much Indian beer and Black Label Johnnie Walker.

But that didn't stop us yelling and screaming our way through the meal, also known as the Maharaja's Banquet. All you can eat, and I mean it.

After this barbaric feast, a few pitiful stragglers--including yours truly--wandered down to the only place I knew nearby, The Empire. Usually it's a blues joint, but tonight it was host to 'The Dolly Rockers'.

We didn't end up staying for the headline act, but the support was plunking out suitably cheesy Ramones-style riffs on their passably distorted guitars. We drank Heinekens from tap, which tasted more like Toohey's New. The clientele was mostly of the biker variety with the odd university feral thrown in.

I bummed a lift off one of the guys whose pregnant wife with a new license came by to pick us up. We didn't finish the beer. It just plain couldn't fit.

Damn finite stomachs.

Now I'm home, listening to the same song on repeat because it's setting a drunken and pitiful and glorious mood that I want to hang on to, but can't. I'm getting sober as I type, and as I edit, and as I drink this damn green cordial.

I think it's time I row down on Cuban heels to the blood bank and shoot billiards with a midget until the rain stops.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Peter Temple: Bad Debts

I talked about reading Peter Temple's 'Bad Debts' the other day and I wasn't exactly sure if I liked it. I've changed my mind. The book is bloody good. I say 'bloody' because I'm not sure if I should say 'fucking'.

Not being a fan of horse racing, woodwork, or footy held me back from enjoying it because these are the interests of the main character, Jack Irish. But now that I've finished the whole book--which included not being able to tear my eyes away from the last fifty pages--I can say that even those parts of it held my interest. After I acclimatised to Jack Irish's world I found myself caring about everything that happened to him.

The Australian flavour of the book, in this case Melbournian, was completely convincing. No, it was real. The feeling of each street, suburb, and location was perfectly rendered by a few choice descriptions at each point. I never felt like I didn't know where I was in Irish's world. And none of the Australianisms made me cringe. They were all spot-on. Even the romance in the book worked for me, and it often doesn't in crime novels. I found myself rooting for Jack and his female interest.

Rooting. That's funny.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Temple's work. His writing is something that is worth aspiring to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Down In The Hole

You may be wondering about the recent title changes to this blog.

I decided that Daniel Hatadi - Crime Writer was just plain boring, and Crime Writer Down Under was too self-consciously Australian and generic.

So I thought about picking a song title from my favourite artist of all time, Tom Waits.

I remember turning the telly to SBS one lonely Saturday night, only to be confronted by a madman preacher, shouting what could have been obscenities into a megaphone. The song, I found out weeks later, was called Way Down In The Hole. From that moment on, I was hooked.

Removing 'Way' makes the title catchier, and saves me from legal issues. Down In The Hole also has the added benefit of a subliminal link to Australia, the Land Down Under.

To mark the naming of the blog, I wrote a short ode to Tom Waits, called (you guessed it), Down In The Hole. It's over in the fiction section.

Give it a read and tell me what you think.

EDIT: I've changed the names and some of the lines in the story to make it my own. I seriously respect copyright, and I realised I was basically stealing someone else's characters. Not good. So, it's fixed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Computer Game Heaven: Darwinia

When I was a wee-wee laddie, I was even younger than when I wanted to be a musician. My plan at that stage of my life was to be a computer games programmer. I even had some limited success with a near-finished puzzle game. Limited in that it never got published, but I did get interest from a major company at the time.

That was about ten years ago.

Fast forward to ten hours ago when I just finished playing one of the most amazing computer games I've had the chance to hurl my mouse at. It's called Darwinia.

It's a strange combination of strategy, action, and psychedelia. The story that drives it works in tandem with the musical soundtrack to create an experience that is unlike any other game I've come across before. The sounds are also excellent, and in the credits it says that the voices of the Darwinians (the little green men) are done by Maddie The Cat.

I won't even try to describe it in any more detail. If you're into this kind of thing, you'll check out the site and probably buy it. The game is that good.

See ... sniff ... I'm gettin all emotional now, rememberin the times when I was a lad. Scuse me, I have to go find some tissues.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The True Nature Of Love

I go downstairs for a drink and see that The Not-Wife is about to watch a romantic comedy with J-Lo in it. Not her usual taste in movies by a long shot. But it's Sunday, and with a week of work ahead of both of us, I consider watching the movie with her.

Sitting on the couch next to her, I notice a new candle of her's burning away with a decent sized flame. The candle is big and green and on a tasteful wooden stand. What's out of place is that it's early in the afternoon and there is plenty of sun streaming into the lounge room.

I decide against watching the movie--even though Jane Fonda is in it--and I tell The Not-Wife I'm going upstairs to write. Before I go, I ask her why she lit the candle.

She says: "To symbolise your death."

And that is the true nature of love.

Friday, December 09, 2005


I'm reading Peter Temple's 'Bad Debts' and mostly enjoying it. Mostly. The characters sing, the prose is clipped tight, and I like the way there are no chapters: just scene breaks or page breaks. It feels very real.

The problem is that I'm not sure I like it.

It's set in Australia, Melbourne to be exact; in racetracks, pubs, and poor housing areas. These are all places I don't really want to be spending time in. They are the parts of Australia that I don't like.

If it was set in America or England I would probably find it more interesting. I could get caught up in the local flavour of grime without getting too close to reality. Which is the main problem, really. I read to escape. I don't want reality, I already have that. I want some element of fantasy, whether that is through location, style, or just plain imagination.

Still, it is a ripping yarn, and I'm powering through it. At the very least, I can learn about the writing, if not the locale.


I think the last few posts have been too long. This one's shorter.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bone Up On History

There are two opposing schools of thought in art that I've always struggled with. I'll call them Isolation and Immersion. And I'll put capitals in front of them to make them Sound Really Important.

Being an artist in Isolation is just that. You avoid exposure to any art that could taint your work. The idea is that to be truly original you have to remain untouched, virginal. Immersion is just as obvious. Expose yourself to everything you can get your grubby hands on. Lose your virginity. Bone up on history. Absorb as much new work as you do old.

I used to be a firm believer in the School Of Isolation, but it was Kurt Vonnegut that changed my mind. His first book, Player Piano, was a straightforward sci-fi with hints of satire. It wasn't until Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut started messing around with form and structure, finding his unique voice.

When I started my first novel I thought about trying to revolutionise writing as we know it, but it was Vonnegut's career that inspired me to be less ambitious the first time out. When I'm good enough, I can try my hand at playing with the form.

But I don't think that's possible without knowing what came before. So I decided to immerse myself in my chosen genre.

Authors I've read over the last year include Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Janet Evanovich, Peter Corris, Michael Connelly, Barry Eisler, Eric Garcia, Ken Bruen, Jonathan Lethem, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, and James Ellroy. Mostly one from each and a few from some.

It's not just novels that influence crime writing. Film and comics, or graphic novels, are all intersecting like different cultures trading goods. Artists in all of these formats are borrowing techniques from each other and it's pretty exciting. It's been a long time since comics have made me feel this way, but I'm a babe in these new dark woods. I'm doing my best to catch up on the classics before I delve in further. I'll yap some more on my graphic adventures later.

I really want to end this post with another reference to bones and virgins, but I'll leave that to my readers.

Because they really know what they're talking about.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Compression In Writing

Being a programmer, I have a fair understanding of what compression is when it comes to computers. I'm only going to bore you with a few techy-type paragraphs before I get onto how this relates to writing.

A computer image is a grid of coloured dots. The dots are so small you don't see them, you just see the picture. All these dots have to be stored in the computer and that takes space.

Now, if this image has a large area that's a single colour--let's say black--that area takes up a lot of space for no good reason.

Compression is a way of making information take up less space.

A simple way of doing this is to use an instruction. Instead of storing all those black dots separately, we have an instruction that says something like 'this many black dots'. The instruction is small, taking up much less space than thousands of black dots would.

Back to writing.

A sentence or a paragraph can take up more space than it needs to. Here's an example:

Winifred raised her eyebrows, looking perplexed. "This is most perplexing!" she exclaimed as she walked across the black and white spotted rug that was covered in light grey cat hair. She bent down slowly with her knees and reached her hand up to pat the one year old Blue Russian cat on its head, and as she did so, she thought about the problem on the rug. Below, next to her left foot, a red pool of blood was slowly spreading out into a circle around her brown leather shoes. Looking down at the blood, shaking her head, then raising it again to look at her cat, she also raised her voice, and exclaimed, "I will not have a dead body on my favourite rug, which was given to me by my long dead grandmother when I was too young to remember, only to be told this years later by the very same man who is lying here on the rug, dead, and in a pool of his own blood, my father!" she complained, exasperated.

This is an extreme example of overwriting. Notice how a lot of information is repeated. Winifred raises her eyebrows, looks perplexed, then tells us she is perplexed by exclaiming it. There is also a lot of unnecessary detail about the scene in front of her. Do we need to know so much about the rug or the cat? No. What is important is that her father is dead.

Winifred walked across the room and stepped over the body. Her shoe splashed into a pool of blood, which her cat was lapping up. She backhanded the cat across the room and said, "Who the fuck killed my dad?"

It amounts to the same information. There's a dead body on the rug and a pool of blood. Winifred walks across the room and is obviously distressed about the situation. But here she says one line which tells us she is feeling both upset and confused. I took some character liberties with the revised version and even included some action on the part of the cat, allowing Winifred to vent her frustration. I'm also not repeating information by telling you how Winifred feels, then letting her tell you, then showing you.

It's all compressed into a few actions and a line of dialogue.

Compression. Fascinating stuff.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Details

The Lord of The Rings occupied an entire school holiday when I was but a wee lad. Friends would visit and want to go to the beach, but I turned them down because I wanted to finish those bloody books.

I'm pretty fast, but I'm not a speed reader. I like to hear the sound of the words and sentences unfold, and that's probably because I've played guitar for half my life.

Tolkien uses so much detail that you know the colour of the shadow that falls on that particular worn part of the leaf in question, where a tiny insect flutters its even tinier wings. You then learn the shape of the patterns on those wings, and that goes on for almost another whole volume.

During that fateful school holiday, I devised a tactic for getting through.

Skip the boring bits.

Just like at a party when someone switches into a tone of voice that makes you feel trapped, it's easy to sense when Tolkien switches into his descriptive voice. Unlike being at a party, escape is easy. Just turn the page.

That's what I did. And I don't think I missed the essence of the story at all. I loved those books to death. Years later I read them again and had the same level of enjoyment.

If you haven't already skipped this post, if you've made the journey all the way to the end, like Frodo did, I will now reward you with the point.

I like those boring bits.

Even if I don't read them, I get a feeling that what is happening is real, that the author knows what they're talking about, and it helps me get caught up in the rest of the story.

Now will you just throw that bloody ring in the mountain and go home, Frodo?