Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When To Start Again?

This novel that I call LOVING THE LAW (or HAWAII IN BLOOM, or SOMETHING CHEAP), has been following me around for the last year and a half.

It's gone through a number of changes, most of which have been the removal of several organs and limbs, followed by an appropriate redecoration of body parts to suit. Right now I'm struggling with the question of when to throw away the whole damn thing and start again with a nice fresh corpse.

The train track of thought that tells me to keep going is powered by one theory: I'm probably just getting bored.

Watching a movie takes a couple of hours unless you have the extended edition DVD. Reading a book can take a few weeks or a couple of days if you have more time.

Writing a book takes years. Or months if you have nimble fingers.

And all that time is spent hanging out with the same people. People with silly names like Danny Hawaii, Frank Wilder, and Roger Thornberg. On top of that, I'm planning on this being a series. I may have to spend the rest of my life with these fools.

The Debut Daggers helped spur me on to come up with a better beginning and a more coherent plotline, and the last month has seen me attempting to put my new plans into motion. But I keep having days where I stare at the same sentences and think, "BORING."

I'm going to give myself a few days to come up with some notes that make me love my characters again. Then I'm going to spend a few solid weeks rewriting scenes with this more evolved knowledge.

And then, I dunno. I have a few ideas floating around for other novels, one of which has been occupying the anals (a little different to annals) of my mind for the past few days, threatening to take over.

But I'm going to see if I can fight the bastard off. If it's strong enough to defeat me, then I will bow to its will and let it take me where it must.

Or I'll just finish this damn fucking novel.

Don't I sound mean when I swear?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Australian Television At Its Best

Throwing up videos on this blog is not the usual state of affairs. For one thing, it really scratches my throat. This was too good to pass up, though.

Sunrise is the most popular morning show on Aussie telly and its hosts have become household names. Imagine their surprise when a guest feels the need to pass a message on to his girlfriend.

Watch the video, then head over to The Chaser, the 'newspaper' the guest works for, and you'll understand how the whole thing may have come to pass.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Crime Writing Workshop: Reflections

Now that I've had a few days to absorb the lessons I learned at the workshop, I thought it would be a good idea to detail a couple of the more interesting ones.

I'll start off by saying that I don't think there was any single concept that I hadn't read about in one of my millions of books on writing. And before you lay into me about being more addicted to learning about writing than actually writing, well, don't. I loves me writing. And me reading. So it only makes good sense that I would love reading about writing too.

Camera angles:

In this age of visual entertainment, with lowered attention spans and increased visual cortexes, as writers we should pay at least some attention to the use of filmic techniques in our writing. Long pans for establishing shots, extreme closeups during emotionally intense situations, cutting from scene to scene.

Marele said that one of the more common mistakes she finds in rookie writing is the use of a single camera angle throughout the novel. It can get to be claustrophobic. The reader has to be able to breathe and rest at points, something which ties in to the whole pace of the novel.

Sound and Theme:

Probably not a technique you would use a lot, but this is something I had never come across before. I've known for some time that the sound of words can have a big influence on the readability and believability of writing, but I'd never thought to connect the sound of the writing to the subject.

One example from my notes is this little snippet from THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF HARRY LAVENDER: "The hi-tech heart spasming out of control."

Say it out loud and you'll see that the rhythm and sound of the words relates to the subject. A subtle technique, but I think even the most casual reader would be unconsciously affected.


Bet that heading makes you think I'm going to write about the importance and power of endings in the structure of crime novels.


Just trying to end the post.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crime Writing Workshop: Day 2

To avoid confusion, read Day One first.

Not being much of a morning person, it was hard to fight back the groans when we were given our first exercise of Day Two. It involved thinking. And walking. And the outdoors.

The exercise was called Five Hundred Steps. The idea was to pick a starting point at the park across the road, walk one hundred steps and wherever we landed, write. Without intention or plan, just write in the voice of our chosen character.

Even though I had come up with a basic plot for a story the day before, I wasn't entirely sure who the protagonist should be, but the exercise tipped the scales: I chose the most difficult character.

A woman.

A rich, lonely woman who is worried that her husband is cheating on her.

Before you slap me for insulting the female race, let me explain.

Being a writer, I understand loneliness, but when it comes to the bell curve of women and finances, think of me as the kid that slid down the wrong end. Still, I pushed on, with the help of sunglasses and caffeine mixed with artificial sweeteners. In powder form.

After we'd settled into some discussion on our characters and how the exercise had helped our writerly muscles flex, a strange thing happened.

People started disappearing.

After the first day, one of the younger students and I hit a local pub for a few beers. Perfectly normal activity in Newtown. But since I was forking out hard earned cash for the course, I bade farewell after my second drink and headed home for dinner. The other guy stayed on. And on, arriving home at about 1am. So it made perfect sense that he was a little quiet and prone to staring off into the distance.

But some time before lunch, he left the room in a rush, during the middle of an interesting talk on the spiral structure of mysteries. From the look of him, I figured he was off to pray at the Great White Altar, but by the time lunch arrived, we discovered that he had disappeared.

And he wasn't the last.

The rest of the day wore on, with topics of interest including: pacing, transitions, the burying of clues, and editing and rewriting. Once afternoon tea was over, one of the older ladies left a few hours early. At least she mentioned it to someone.

Another one, gone.

We threw around theories of poison in the cake, a deadly visitor to the toilets, or pale-faced nurses in PVC uniforms and dark makeup brandishing shiny, spiked instruments. Stabbing, again and again, relentlessly, until ... okay, I made the last one up. Just for Mr. MacBride.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the day, another woman made apologies and left. Something to do with picking up children. Sure, we believe you. We know there's no evil conspiracy behind the staff at the Nursing Campus. It's normal for people to drop off throughout the day on a Sunday.

And thus it endeth here.

Stay tuned tomorrow for further reflections on the more illuminating moments of the workshop.

If I live to tell the tale.

(cue evil laughter, let it fade into a mess of echoes, add a huge explosion, then a little voice saying 'ouch')

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Crime Writing Workshop: Day 1

Thirteen would-be writers, including me, showed up to Sydney University's Nursing Campus building on a gloomy Saturday morning to spend the next two days learning the ins and outs of crime fiction writing. The course was presented by Marele Day, author of the Claudia Valentine PI series.

We went around the room and did the obligatory introductions, detailing our writing experience and reasons for being there, the types of crime we were most interested in, and our favourite sexual positions.

Marele gave some background, talking about her Claudia Valentine series, which includes her Shamus award-winning THE LAST TANGO OF DELORES DELGADO, and then her shift into more literary work such as LAMBS OF GOD and MRS COOK.

The first day we covered the topics of research, characters, voice and viewpoint. As a general focus for the group, Marele stuck a few headlines and images from the weekend newspaper up on the whiteboard. Throughout the weekend, we would all refer to a short story or novel idea that was inspired by these images.

We then went on to hear everyone's wishlist attributes of their most wanted crime novel. Mine weren't quite as ambitious as the others, so it was good to note them all down. Some of the more interesting ones were: a protagonist that doesn't give up, an unreliable narrator, and a good balance of light and shade.

Aside from the exercises set around building our newspaper-inspired stories, we had to make up a character name off the top of our heads, write it down on a blank piece of paper, and pass it to the left. The recipient's job was to flesh out the clothing and appearance of the character, their hopes and dreams, and their biggest fears in life.

Emmaline was the name given to me, and I turned her into a typical Newtown gal, replete with flowing skirt, corset and Doc Martens boots, all in black of course. The guy next to me was stuck with my own creation: Biff Johnson.

Although I've come across many of the concepts in my personal studies on writing (all the bloody books I've read on the subject), it was something else to have an author right in front of me that's done what I'm trying to do. And she's been extremely successful at it to boot.

I'm still absorbing all the information, so stay tuned for another post on Day 2: The Day We Went Outside.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Real PI Work

I'd organised to meet a woman at the David Jones department store in the city. The time was set for 11:30am and the place was the piano near the Elizabeth Street entrance.

As I walked up to Erskineville station, my phone rang. A change of plan: she was early, said she was looking for a ballet DVD and she'd already canvassed HMV with no luck. She was heading to the Strand Arcade with the hope of tracking down an ABC shop. I told her I'd call when I got in.

Pacing up and down the station, I waited for the train. When it finally let me off at St. James, I raced up the stairs, threw my ticket into the electronic turnstile, and pulled out my phone.

Number disconnected. I tried again. Same thing.

Alright, I thought, all I have to do is track her down. I walked over to Pitt Street Mall, trying the number every few steps. Disconnected? It didn't make sense. I reached the mall and stood in the centre, scanning the crowd for her familiar features. Nothing.

If I was right, there was no ABC shop in the Strand Arcade, so she would have realised her mistake, then headed back towards my end of the mall. There were only two places nearby that were likely to sell ballet DVDs, but only one had bad reception for phones.

Feeling a little more than cocky, I walked over to Borders, scanned the crowd on the ground floor. Checked out the crime section, a habit of mine. Movies were downstairs, with two exits: the stairs and the lift. If she took the lift and I went down the stairs, I'd lose her--if she was there at all. The lift was hidden in a back corner, so I took my chances with the stairs.

My sneakers squeaked as I took the stairs two at a time, holding on to the handrail so I wouldn't slip. Before I reached the bottom, I looked up and saw her.

I said, "Hi mum."

"Daniel, how did you find me?"

I smiled. "A little PI work, that's all."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing

Even though I'm only reading about a chapter a night, Judith Rapoport's THE BOY WHO COULDN'T STOP WASHING has me enthralled.

It's written by an M.D. with plenty of experience in the field of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, so even though it's about fifteen years old, the science is solid.

Habits are survival traits. If we didn't wash our hands after going to the toilet, we'd end up back in the days of the plague. But when a habit takes over, it can destroy lives. Where is the line between someone with a sense of order and someone who is controlled by their compulsions?

I used to have my own little rituals back in the days of primary school. Whenever I walked past a doorway, if my right hand brushed the side, I would have to go back and brush the other side with my left hand. After a while, this wasn't enough. Because one hand touched the doorframe first, that seemed uneven as well. My way of compensating was to touch the doorframe with my left hand, then my right. Then left, right, right, left. It's easy to extend this pattern exponentially, out to infinity.

But that still didn't solve it. I could never go back in time and touch both hands on the doorframe simultaneously.

Writing this now, twenty years on, it sounds strange. But I can truthfully say that I never felt a strong compulsion to do it. If I was bored or distracted by something else, I just wouldn't. And after a few months, I forgot all about it.

The people in Judith Rapoport's book have no such luxury.

There are boys who need to wash their hands or pass through doorways or make 'stringing' motions with their fingers for hours on end. A father never gets to work because he keeps driving back down the road to check if he ran someone over. A little girl can't make it to school because no matter how she dresses herself, it feels wrong, and she has to take all her clothes off and start again each time.

As a writer, I feel the need for obsession in my work. I obsess over repetition, redundancy, making sure each paragraph starts off differently, avoiding useless adverbs, keeping my who's, whose, it's and its all in the right spot, the list goes on.

I feel painfully sorry for those that suffer from OCDs. They have done nothing to bring it upon themselves. With the introduction of better drugs and behavioural therapy, they had a chance at improving the quality of their lives fifteen years ago, even more so today, but not all of them.

I'm not sure exactly what drove me to write this post, and I'm not sure what my conclusion or resolution is. All I know is that the subject fascinates me as a writer, a programmer, and as a person.

Even now, I'm obsessing over how to end this post. Why did I write it in the first place?

I guess I just had to.

For further reading, visit OCD Online.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Power Of The Beard

See, there's this guy what I know cause I found out about him on the in-nerd-net. He's beardy, but unlike Stephen King, he's not a writer, he's a write-ist.

That's right. I'm talking about the one and only Stuart MacBride, author of Cold Granite and now Dying Light. He's a brilliant crime writer, sorry, write-ist, but absolutely terrible as a weatherman.

Why is this you say?

Well, he accused me of being a freak driven out from under a rock by the heat of summer. Maybe in your part of the world, Jack, but down under, it's winter. Even though scantily clad girls in bikinis are telling the rest of the world to get the bloody hell down here, the cold granite reality is that our nipples are rock solid from the cold, just begging to have things hung from them.

Did I type that or just think it?


This is what I get for madly sending him my photo.

Oh well, anything for a bit of linkage.

Cheers, Stuart.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me

Today I turned thirty-three, a number I will always remember as spoken by Paul Dobrowolski, a Czech boy in high school, because he pronounced it more like 'tharrrtee thraaaayyy'. It's a little strange to think that a number that seemed so far away at fifteen is now used to measure my age.

My day was made especially lovely by Mary, who took the day off and decorated the house with streamers. When I finally woke up, she greeted me with pancakes and strawberries. Thankfully not by throwing them at me.

But that's not all.

She gave me the Ultimate Coolest Pen in the world, at least, in my world, the Tornado Disco Fever Groove Writer. My plan is to use it to sign my first publishing contract. But that's a birthday wish, so don't tell anyone.

Can you tell I feel like a kid again?

A lazy day followed by a family dinner at my favourite restaurant was capped off by staying up late for a couple of selfish hours of computer game playing. I'm such a geek.

Will the love ever stop around here? Tune in tomorrow as I return to my normal schedule of writing about procrastinating instead of writing.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Everyone Uses iTunes

I've seen this meme floating around and finally decided to take it on in a desperate attempt to write the quintessential Friday blog post.

The idea is to use the shuffle feature in iTunes or any similar program to pick random songs from your music collection as answers to all-important questions.

Here's what I came up with. Some of them are quite revealing, even though this is all bullshit anyway.

* * *

How does the world see me?
In Love Dub - King Tubby

Will I have a happy life?
What Is And What Should Never Be - Jimmy Page And The Black Crowes

What do my friends really think of me?
How Many More Years - Freddie King

Do people secretly lust after me?
Loose Tongue - Neil Finn

How can I make myself happy?
Ookey Oook - The Penguins

What should I do with my life?
I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead - Weird Al Yankovic

Will I ever have children?
Settle For Nothing - Rage Against The Machine

What is some good advice for me?
Black Man Blues - John Lee Hooker with the Groundhogs

How will I be remembered?
Help These Blues - Blues Explosion

What is my signature dancing song?
I Want To Take You Higher - Sly & The Family Stone

What do I think my current theme song is?
Lullaby - Lamb

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
Catcher - Komeda

What song will play at my funeral?
Endlessly - Muse

What type of woman do I like?
I Got What I Wanted - Ted Hawkins

What is my day going to be like?
Little and Low - Homesick James

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Four Years On

And still going.

I won't say anything gushy like, "I love you, Mary," because that will embarrass you. What I will do instead is to say that saying, "I love you," will embarrass you. Which is sure to embarrass you.

I'll shut up now.

Mary & Daniel, a blurry party somewhere, 2005

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why Is Google Trying To Stop Me?


Main Entry: stop

Synonyms: bar, barricade, blank wall, block, blockade, break, break off, brick wall, cease, cessation, check, close, closing, conclusion, control, cutoff, desistance, discontinuation, ending, fence, finish, freeze, grinding halt, halt, hindrance, impediment, layoff, letup, lull, pause, plug, roadblock, screeching halt, standstill, stay, stoppage, termination, wall

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Workspace, Part II

A while back, Lee Goldberg ran a hugely successful post on the topic of a writer's workspace. There was a huge variety of photographic responses, one of which included mine.

This time I'm coming at the workspace issue from a different angle.

Now that I have plenty of time on my hands for writing, and a laptop that's willing to travel, I find that my workspace is constantly changing. When I worked in an office, carting my laptop around for lunchtime sessions, then writing again in my study at night, it was easy to keep inspiration flowing. I never felt claustrophobic or trapped in the same place, because that place was always on the move.

But now I don't like writing in my study.

It seems more difficult to get started each day, probably because I'm spending more time at home, in the same environment, and I'm going a little stir crazy. I try to give myself missions to perform during the day, such as Go To Shop And Buy A Coke, or Walk Around The Block To Avoid Deep-Vein Thrombosis.

Today I tried, Take The Laptop To The Library.

I woke up groggy this morning and it took hours to get myself into action, but when I did, I thought, hey, I really should return those massively overdue library books. So I had a shower (remember, only when absolutely necessary), filled up the backpack, and sauntered through the streets of Newtown.

When I arrived at the library, I shoved my books into the chute that says, "Please Return ALL Books Through Chute", found a desk, pulled out my lappie and settled into work mode.

I spent the next couple of hours painfully snipping away redundant characters and subplots, bringing down the total length of my novel to around 50K, down from 65K. This will allow me to concentrate on the characters left behind, add some more relevant internal reflection, and work with an overall cleaner plot.

At some point, I felt compelled to finish my work as quickly as possible, but wasn't sure why until I let my mind wander from the story.

Libraries are supposed to be quiet places, sanctuaries for study.

So why would you bring a baby to one?

The jarring sounds of that baby's manic and endless crying reverberated through my skull, combining with the caffeine and artificial sweeteners in my Coke Zero. The final effect was too much. I packed up my gear and skedaddled.

Grumble, grumble. I'll stick to my kitchen next time.