Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stairway To Heaven

I've been working on a story called Meditation Cell for a few months now, on and off. I don't know why, but this one seems to be a really hard slog, so much so that I was thinking of trashing it.

But no, I'm not a quitter! They'll never catch me alive! I swear the chicken wasn't mine!

In other words, I've pared the story down and re-tooled it for Flashing In The Gutters. Go have a read of Stairway To Heaven and see what you think.

Yes, you. The one reading this. The one I have complete control over.

The one that is now reading this sentence.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mystery Around The Corner

What are those little white things? Who drank the Coke?

Oh, my God! Who left the baby there?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Great Re-Plotting

The last few days have seen me outlining my novel, one sentence for each scene. I threw it all into a spreadsheet with chapter numbers, page numbers and a timeline, all in separate columns.

I've always heard of the screenwriter's technique of using index cards to work out a plot, so I decided to do the same. Thanks to Microsoft Word's Mail Merge feature, I took the data in my spreadsheet, formatted it to fit onto business cards and printed them.

Witness my creation:

I should have vacuumed before I put the cards down: there's cat hair everywhere. But even with this seemingly catastrophic encumbrance, I find it easier to shift the cards around on the carpet than to do it in the computer.

So far I've pulled out one of the major subplots, as well as a minor one, and I can already see that the story will be stronger for it. I'll have to add in a few scenes to smooth things, but one of the biggest problems so far is that the pace is too fast. Removing a couple of unneccessary locations and characters should help me flesh out what I already have and slow the pace down at points.

And if I don't like it, I'll just deal the deck out again.

Will I ever finish this damn novel? Tune in every day or so at random intervals to find out!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Great MacBride And Terrenoire, Batman!

Not one, but two fine bloggers of ill repute (in other words, on my blog links) have been announced as finalists for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers.

One of these is sitting on my bookshelf, calling desperately to me to be read, and the other is either somewhere over the Atlantic or tucked away in a container in Sydney Harbour.

A big round of congratumalations to Stuart MacBride and David Terrenoire.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dirty Old Book

That's what I'm reading right now. No, not something of questionable taste with pages stuck together, just something old and yellowing. It's got that musty smell and it's a hardback, not something that's common in new novels in our sunburnt country.

The book looks sunburnt, too. Take off the tacky cover with the author photo of Peter Corris sporting equally tacky shades and you have a plain, brown cover. You also have Corris' first book, The Dying Trade.

I've read a couple of much later Cliff Hardy novels, but this is the first in the series that now totals twenty-six, with the latest book only out a couple of months ago.

It's easy to see that like many PI authors, Corris was heavily influenced by Chandler and the like, but it's filtered through Corris' own Australian eyes. A little heavy on the description for my taste, and maybe that's a side effect of it having been written exactly twenty-six years ago. Yes, Corris has written one book a year in the Cliff Hardy series, not to mention Browning, PI and some non-fiction work.

When I started writing my novel, I became obsessed with reading first books of PI series, and this was one that I had a lot of trouble tracking down. Eventually found it online, through a local bookseller of second hand and collector's editions. Fifty pages in, and I'm hooked. Corris always knew what he was doing.

Excuse me, I have to get back to being musty. It gets me all excitable.

Hmm. I feel a strong urge to wash my hands right about now.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fixing Problems

And now it's time for the monthly Thinking About The Novel Out Loud. Move along, nothing to see here if it ain't your bag. This one's gonna be long.

Steven's been kind enough to look at a couple more chapters, and thankfully I made sure my writing was more polished this time, so he only scratched out a few redundant words.

He's a cluey man and quickly spotted all the logical flaws. Made me realise I simply don't know enough about what I'm doing. But that's how it goes. The first draft is shit (and the second in my case) and you've gotta trawl through the shit to find the nuggets. Of gold. Not poo.

Timed nicely with Steven's crit, a friend grilled me over dinner last night (there's a metaphor for ya). Who is this Danny Hawaii guy? What motivates him? My friend rambled on, enjoying the sound of his own voice, talking about internal conflicts in characters and the like, and it got me thinking.

Who is Danny Hawaii?

There are a few pages of notes filled with snippets that I added along the way, stretching back to the first days, when the novel was more of a Blues Brothers/Demolition Man/Magnum/Crododile Dundee crossover. The background tidbits on Danny are a little contradictory, and looking through my novel, it shows.

I had this idea that Danny hates his name because his father gave it to him, and wants to become a PI to spite his now-dead father in some overly-complex way. At various points Danny reflects on this, but it doesn't really relate to the story. It's tacked on. Call it my equivalent of the unnecessary Vietnam flashback.

The whole father angle was something I threw in when I first started writing because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. But it doesn't suit the character, or the story. The novel is not supposed to be the most serious thing in the world, so the character should be consistent with that. Danny is not someone who thinks things through, so the character arc can show him learning something of the realities of what he's doing.

So who is Danny Hawaii? He's young, lives rent-free in a property that his parents own (they're overseas and aren't really a part of Danny's life). He started a PI course because it was the cheapest on offer and he thought there'd be babes and guns. Once he found out he didn't have to finish the course to get the job, he dropped out. The internal conflict with Danny is between his poorly-researched idea of what a PI should be, and the dull reality of the actual work.

Danny likes his name, because he's the one that got it legally changed. Just the kind of thing a spoiled kid would do. And it sounds a little catchier than Davor Wozniak.

Because Danny's current background is tacked on, it should make it easier to fit in the changes. And because they're more consistent with what Danny actually does in the story, I think it will work better.

Speaking of work, I've got lots to do now.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Wrote this for Konrath's mini-comp:

They stagger back to the cabin, stomachs filled with wine, decide to get a little silly. He’s on the bottom, tongue poking out. She’s on top, mouth open wide. They wriggle and twist, moaning, rolling around on the springs. The bed creaks. Looks like it’s about to tip. Tired now, they lie on their backs, arms behind their heads. The top and bottom bunks of a double bunk bed.

Word count: 69

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Tipping Point

Just finished reading this excellent book by Malcolm Gladwell. For once, it's not fiction and it's not crime. It's a cross between marketing, psychology and chaos mathematics, although there's not an equation or mathematical concept in sight.

James Gleick's Chaos was an in-depth study of the mathematics and the history behind chaos, the simple idea that little things can make a big difference. The Tipping Point is a more easily understandable and practical exploration of the same idea.

The difference between the two books is similar to the difference between learning about computers and learning how to use them.

Gladwell deals with subjects like teenage suicide and smoking, crime in New York, Sesame Street and, of course, shoes. Somehow it manages to tie all of these together under the umbrella of epidemics. The idea that little things can make a big difference is gently hammered home by each case study.

But this is no dry book at all. It's very well written and the words glide off the page. By the end of it you can't help thinking about everyone and everything around you in a slightly different light.

Which person is a Maven? Or a Salesman, or a Connector?

What's the context, what's the stickiness factor?

What am I talking about?

Go and read the book. It's one of the few essential texts on popular science that doesn't read like a textbook at all.

Seriously. Read it. Be Tipped.

Yes, I Have Plenty To Do

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Back In The Gutter Again

It's been on my website for a while now, but the story needed a fresh whiff of not-so-fresh air.

Go and witness the super-cut-down version of Down In The Hole, a story written in honour of this here blog. I like it so much, I've replaced the original.

Courtesy of Tribe's fantabulous Flashing In The Gutters.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Obscure Songs From The 80s

Unlike most people my age, I hate the 80s. Too much reverb, tacky synths, cheesy robotic weirdness. Being a guitar and harmonica player, I prefer the old, old blues of the 30s through to the 50s. Music that is a soul wailing, not a plastic pop contrivance.

That being said, like any decade, the 80s had plenty of damn good songs. It's easy to look at the charts now and feel that the quality has dropped, but chances are that when we listen again in the decades to come, we'll find a treasure trove of standouts amongst the garbage.

Why am I writing about all this?

In the last few weeks I've had strong musically nostalgic urges, so I've used that energy to track down a couple of fistfuls of tunes that tickled my nether regions back then, when they were very easily tickled.

  1. Captain Sensible: Wot
    A one hit wonder, it's hard to believe this guy is actually in The Damned.
  2. Belle Stars: Iko, Iko
    This one's on the Rain Man soundtrack, but back then it was all about the hats.
  3. Monte Video and the Cassettes: Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang
    The 80s truly was the decade of the one hit wonder. This one made it to number one in New Zealand alone.
  4. Queen: Princes Of The Universe
    Even with the over-the-top guitar, Queen made me believe there could be only one.
  5. Oingo Boingo: Weird Science
    Proof that making your own robot woman is a recipe for Trouble.
  6. Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
    See? You can go blind if you do it too often.
  7. Cyndi Lauper: What A Thrill
    The flipside of The Goonies single, this still rocks hard.
  8. The Style Council: (When You) Call Me
    I can't help getting all misty eyed when I hear this, even though I don't know why.
  9. Glenn Fry: The Heat Is On
    One of the most misheard lyrics in the universe, from when they knew how to do Axel F properly.
  10. Taco: Puttin' On The Ritz
    Excellent for tap dancing, I used to listen to this on my huge, portable FM headphones.

Anyone else have some particular favourites that aren't on the standard 80s compilations?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What Is My Novel Trying To Be?

My third draft, once done, is the one that I'll be sending out for feedback. It's been in my mind and my laptop for far too long now, time to let it out into the real world. And there's an especially good reason for this.

There's comedy in it.

Yes, as well as trying to write a mystery, I try to write it so it's funny. Hopefully some of it works. And that's the difficulty with writing comedy. It has to work.

Sure there are guidelines to help you split people's sides: exaggeration, fish-out-of-water, understatement, contrasts, surprises. That's all well and good, but the only way to see if comedy is working is to test it. On people.

Soon, it will be time to do this. Yes, soon.

And now I must run off into the distance, cackling like a human vampire cross-bred with a hyena in the dead of night.

The cackling gets quieter with each step.


Until I fall.

And whimper.

Then I get back up and launch in to self-deprecating laughter.

Much like Chevy Chase used to.