Saturday, November 25, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Interview

The power of the internet is fickle and indiscriminate, so much so that even failure can bring fame. Less than a week before the end of NaNoWriMo, and I've already been interviewed.

You can read the roasting put together by the deft keyboard fingers of Sean Lindsay, over at 101 Reasons To Stop Writing. He sucked me in by calling me ruggedly handsome (I think he saw the picture of a robot mailbox) and then put up my answers to his questions unedited.

In honour of him finding out my darkest and worst kept secret (the one about my Danny Hawaii series only having one story), I've now updated my biography and removed the offending evidence from my entire website.

That oughta show him.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Final Week Begins

Last weekend I had the quite sensible plan of catching up on the 5K I needed to get back on target. Saturday went alright--I wrote a few hundred extra words, but on Sunday I didn't even fulfill the day's minimum quota. I just stopped writing. And I haven't written a word since.

The reason? I'm writing a novel, not trying to hit a word target. The whole NaNoWriMo thing was something that both Stephen and I were using to get our arses moving on our WIPs. That's why I had no qualms about using words I'd written before November (which aren't part of my NaNo-count). And that's why I've spent the last few days plotting out the next few chapters.

The thing about me and plotting is that I need time to percolate my ideas. I'll always end up with something better when it's had at least a few days of tweaking. The slow process of sprinkling the plot with details helps make it richer.

My last week is going to be a leisurely stroll. I'll be dropping my pace down to something more reasonable and I'll be taking days off. Even if I only hit 35K by the end of the month, that will still be 35K of a novel that I probably wouldn't have written for another few months.

If there's one thing I've learned about this whole process, it's that I can write faster than I thought. But that doesn't mean I have to.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review: Tom Waits - Orphans

Once every few years, along comes an album that I rush out to buy, regardless of any current gambling or international-scale drug debts. I need to own the original packaging, hold the physical artwork in my hands, and if I'm lucky enough to have liner notes to read, I'll pore over them with a jeweler's eyepiece until I go blind in one eye.

This weekend, one of those albums came along.

At $AUD84.95, it's a hefty tug on the old purse strings, but it's worth every single cent. The deluxe edition of Tom Waits' Orphans comes in its own CD-sized hardcover book, with the pages consisting of lyrics on a ye-olde worlde background and a pseudo photo album. At the back are the three CDs. Yes, three.

They're called, in order, Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards. The Brawlers are junkhouse, roadhouse, bang-them-over-the-head-with-a-house raunchy blues and gospel numbers as only Tom Waits can do them. The Bawlers are yank on your heart strings ballads, and the Bastards are a psychotic menagerie of aural experiments and spoken word pieces whose parents were never fully legit.

Right off the bat, the first four songs on Brawlers are ones I've never heard before. They got me jumping up and standing on my chair, banging my head against the wall in glee. Tracks on this CD include a Ramones tribute, a song from the movie Dead Man Walking, and a new version of a track that Tom did with his old buddy, Chuck E. Weiss. Anyone remember the song Chuck E's In Love by Rickie Lee Jones?

When Tom does soppy, he can pull a tear from a gland-less eyeball with a single full-throated moan, and when he does it he'll call the song something like Little Drop Of Poison. Which came from the Shrek 2 soundtrack of all places. I vaguely remember a scene with a drunken horse on the piano in a bar. I'm guessing that was supposed to be Tom.

The last CD is Bastards, and this is where I've had a couple of disappointments. I know, someone's bound to hit me with a brick for saying that Tom is capable of wrong, but I'm not too happy about the overdubbed harmonica on a few of these, or the muffling of the banjo courtesy of Primus in On The Road, a song about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. But the spoken word pieces over musical soundscapes are eery and effective, especially when mixed with older recordings of Tom, before he drank shoe polish strained through bread.

One last track I'll mention from Bastards is Dog Door, a wild, crunchy scratched-falsetto number that almost resembles the kind of R'n'B a zombified version of Tom would holler. I hesitate to use the words R'n'B and Tom in the same sentence, but the production values behind this track are firmly in the now. Sonically inspiring stuff.

Something that struck me about the album, and this is only after a full day of listening, is that Tom Waits won't be making music forever. I don't know if it was the lack of alcohol talking, but he ain't getting any younger, and this almost feels like a career retrospective.

But as Tom might say, there's nothing wrong with me that a hundred dollars won't fix.

For further illuminating reading, leg it on over to the Tom Waits Supplement, a very handy research tool for the history of all the tracks on Orphans.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NaNoWriMo: An Excerpt

Even I'm starting to be more than a little disturbed by the last post. In the interest of moving on from it, here's a silly little snippet of a scene I wrote today:

They walk over to the table in the corner, Jules hanging back a little as he watches Louise move with apparent purpose.

She sits next to the man with the pipe and says in an exaggerated English accent, “Hello Martin or Edward, or whatever your name might be. Would you happen to know a Reggie Cooper, someone that frequents this fine drinking establishment?” She flicks her hair behind her shoulders and looks directly at the man.

“Would you mind love? I’m trying to study the form,” he says, his accent completely unlike Louise’s affected one. He picks the newspaper up from the table and shakes it out, blocking his face from view.

Louise pulls the top edge of the paper down with one finger. “Reggie? Cooper? You sure you don’t know him?”

“If I did know him, I wouldn’t be arsed telling the likes of you. Now rack off. Race is about to start.” He puts his hand up to his ear and that’s when Jules notices a white cable trailing down the side of the man’s tweed jacket, disappearing into the pocket.

The old man at the bar chuckles and coughs.

Louise ignores this, stands up and says, “That went well.” She points to the other side of the room at a man with a football jumper, tilts her head, cracking her neck as if she’s about to start a fight.

“I might just try again.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

U For Uncanny

Hey, the blog can't be totally about NaNoWriMo.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Half Way There

Fifteen days into it, I've made it past the 20K word mark, but I'm falling behind target. At 1667 words per day, by the end of last night I should have reached half way, or 25K words. Didn't quite get there, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up this weekend, which is blissfully free of familial birthday ceremonies.

What have I learned so far?

  • Writing at this pace is isolating. I'm using up almost all of my lunch hour by making sure I only spend five minutes microwaving food and eating it. People in my office went for a $5 steak lunch yesterday and I had to say no. Thinking about it now makes my mouth water: I could really use a steak and I'm probably lacking in iron and protein.
  • It's also tiring. I've been getting into odd sleeping habits like two hour naps when I get home. My sleep is fitful because I often spend the hour before lying on the couch or in bed coming up with new plot points.
  • Speaking of plotting, I can safely say that my first fortnight's worth of writing went far more smoothly than the rest is shaping up to be. This is because I'd spent a few months cooking up the beginning and had good notes on the first part of the novel, roughly fifty pages. This whole process is panning out much the same as it did with my first novel, where I knew what would happen at the beginning and the end and very little idea about the whole middle chunk.
  • In two weeks I have produced over 20,000 words, roughly 80 pages. That's almost a third of an entire novel. In two weeks. And it seems to be of better quality than previous efforts. I suppose I've learned a lot about writing over the last two years and that certainly helps. Also having been through the process before, I'm aware of some of my work habits and where they lead.
  • I'm still excited about this novel. Some of the scenes I've written are pushing me to new limits: I've been experimenting with dreamlike sequences set in the past, seen by my main character, Jules Nolan, through the eyes of someone living in 1910s Australia. I'm using techniques I've come across in thrillers--techniques I've shunned in the past--and I'm using them with good reason: they suit the story.
  • Music has helped get me into character for particular scenes. It's really helped me to maintain the voice I want for the writing. I'm shooting for prose that has a deadening feel. Words that remove the smile from your face. I desperately hope this novel will inspire feelings of dread and I think that after the revision process, there's a good chance it will.
P.J. Parrish is going to be putting my novel's current opening through the wringer as part of her Booky Noise series. I'm fully expecting to cringe at some of my mistakes, but I'm also hoping to learn something. I've never had feedback on a novel at this early a stage, so it should be interesting and eye opening.

When it comes around, I'll post about it here. Feel free to join in and tell me exactly what parts of my head are up my arse.

Now, back to 'bum on chair, fingers on keyboard'.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres

Steven Torres was kind enough to send me a pre-ARC of his upcoming novel, THE CONCRETE MAZE, due out by Dorchester Publishing in July 2007. He did this after taking a look at one of my short stories. This is how nice Steven is: after he does you a favour, all he asks is that you allow him to do you another.

He may be nice, but the subject matter of THE CONCRETE MAZE isn't. More and more, it seems to be the novel that everyone wanted him to write. Darker and more concentrated than his PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series, the new novel is set in the Bronx, New York. Like his other books, it still revolves around a Puerto Rican community, but in this case it centers on a single family.

Seen through the eyes of young Marc Ramos, it starts off as a search for his cousin, led by ex-Vietnam uncle, Tio Luis ('Tio' means 'uncle'). Marc is dragged along, losing plenty of sleep, as Tio Luis searches for his daughter Jasmine, who it seems has got herself mixed up with the wrong crowd. Not a hard thing to do in the Bronx.

I told you the novel was darker, so don't be surprised when things turn from frustrating to tragic as the novel progresses. Without spoiling it for you, a particular scene about half way through had me physically choking up with emotion. I can't think of a novel that's made me feel this strongly in a long time.

Issues of racism and prostitution underpin the story, but at its core, the novel is about family.

Torres has an innate grasp of what it is to be part of a family. The loyalty and determination of the main characters, the nurturing mothers, the extension of cousins, aunties and uncles, all of this is easy to relate to. Especially if, like me, you have grown up in a European family. The values seem the same, and while this novel gave me a better appreciation of Puerto Rican culture, Steven's talent here is to make it universal.

Steven worries that he wrote one of his other novels, MISSING IN PRECINCT PUERTO RICO, with anger, and that this may not be the best way to get a message across. If that novel is his angry one, I can't wait to read it.

That scene will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Music

I've been building playlists to keep me company through the month of November, and I thought I'd share a few select tracks. I gave myself a limit of one song per artist because I am nothing without some form of denial.


Rage Against The Machine: War Within A Breath
P.J. Harvey: Me-Jane
The Black Keys: Just Got To Be
Gogol Bordello: Not A Crime
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Got A Thing On My Mind

RATM and Gogol Bordello are great songs for the shower, although you have to watch out not to bang the shower head. Sharon Jones never fails to make me move my ass. Usually that means a trip to get more coffee, but hey, at least it's movement.


Portishead: Elysium
Radiohead: Remyxomatosis (Cristian Vogel Remix)
Martina Topley-Bird: Too Tough To Die
Tom Waits: Make It Rain
Skip James: Devil Got My Woman

Elysium is the song that sets the mood I'm trying to achieve for the entire novel, while Devil Got My Woman helps me get all old-timey for my 'dream sequences' set in the past.


The Kinks: This Time Tomorrow
Las Pesadillas: Everybody Died But Me
Mouse On Mars: Papa, Antoine
Moloko: Being Is Bewildering
The Finn Brothers: Gentle Hum

When you've got a billion ideas swirling around in your brain, there's nothing like some chill-out tunes to slow down the pace. Papa, Antoine's the clear winner for me: It's like the closing hours of a Tiki bar on a space station.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Drug Wars

Working full time and doing my best to fit in the requisite amount of NaNo-writing per day is leaving me a little worse for wear. Generally, I'm a terrible sleeper so this isn't so much of an issue, but when I'm trying to think carefully about a number of things at once, after already spending the whole day doing the same ... I need help.

The kind of help only drugs can give.

Here are my drug-related tips for anyone crazy enough to spend a month writing their arse off:

  • Whiskey: Only to be used in short bursts, and only if the dreaded Inner Editor is stronger than usual. The drop in inhibitions and judgement is offset by the danger of falling asleep at the computer.
  • Coffee: For most, this will be the poison of choice. Whether cafe style, plunger or instant, the caffeine hit is sure to get the synapses firing on overtime, if only for a short burst. And that's where the problem with coffee lies: for me, the ups-and-downs are too erratic. Best used to simply wake up with every day.
  • Coke: Ah, the good old Dynamic Ribbon of sugar and cocaine. Doesn't work quite like that these days, but the sugar gives you just enough energy while you wait for the caffeine to hit. Vanilla Coke is my favourite, because I'm a sucker for anything that I'm told is 'intriguing.' For the amount you have to drink to get the brain chugging, the sheer quantity of sugar will immediately bring about total weight gain. Best not to use too often, like I do.
  • Pepsi Max: The most useful competitor to Coke, this version of Pepsi supposedly has maximum taste without the sugar. The taste of anything using artificial sweeteners is questionable at best, but the amount of caffeine in this drink is eminently useful for late-night writing sessions. All this, without the weight gain.
  • Red Bull: I've picked this as the leader of the energy drinks because it's the most well known. Like V and Columbian Cola, this can give serious jitters, leaving you awake and non-functional as writer for long after consumption. Best drunk at nightclubs if you can't afford anything illegal.
If you read the list in detail, the clear winner is Pepsi Max. I tested it last night when I was feeling particularly tired and it gave me the writing boost I needed to stay on target. I'd be worried about drinking it on a constant basis, due to the artificial sweeteners, but overall, it gets the NaNo-ThumbsUp from me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Procrastination


April 2006, Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia: the venue for a water balloon fight that broke a world record. 2,849 participants threw 55,000 water balloons.

I was one of them. Got seriously soaked. Loved it.

Now, back to work.

P.S: Happy 60th birthday to my mum, and best of luck to Stuart MacBride on this day of dread.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Statistics

This post was only going to include the image above, but what kind of procrastinator could I call myself if that was all I wrote?

82,052,496. That's how many words NaNoWriters have produced in just three days. There are about 70,000 entrants this year, but that figure won't be settled until the very end I suppose. That makes for an average of 1172 words per person.

Which makes me wonder about the number of words produced by the human race per day. How many millions are we talking about? I have no idea, but if NaNo'ers are spitting out a rough 25 million a day, the mind starts to go a little haywire just trying to imagine it.

So many words most of us will not be able to read in our lifetime. No wonder the publishing industry is so tough to break into and stay in. Really gives me much more of an appreciation for marketing, and a realisation of its necessity.

One other statistic I'll bore you with before finding other, less public, ways of procrastinating is the NaNo counter broken down into genres. In the lead at 17 million, almost twice the closest competitor, the top genre for this year's NaNoWriMo is ...


Who woulda thunk it?

Friday, November 03, 2006

NaNoWriMo: I am NOT cheating!

(Cue music of self-justification)

Day three lunch and I'm on target once again. How I reached it, though, has now become slightly more complicated.

See, before Stephen Blackmoore challenged me to this wacky carnival race of words, I'd already been planning my second novel, and I'd also written about 5000 words as a test run. My plan for NaNoWriMo was to continue from there, only counting completely new words.

Instead, I rewrote the beginning from scratch with renamed and reworked characters, and a different ordering of scenes. The counter on the main page of this blog shows how many of these new words I've written.

Now we get to the self-justification.

Last night I reached a scene that I knew I'd already written and didn't want to throw away. It took an hour and a half to incorporate this old version of the story into the new one, rewriting so it would fit. The next scene I wrote from scratch with an all-new character, then the same thing happened again.

So I cheated. For the second time.

In total, I added about 3000 words to my NaNo-novel. 3000 words I wrote before November. But there's nothing to worry about here, move along people, no trouble at all. This guy is not a criminal.

My promise to everyone out there in NaNo-land is that whenever I update my counter, I will mentally subtract those 3000 extra words.

Trust me. I know what I'm doing.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The First Day

2033 words in one day, while still working a full time job. It's a definite record for me, as I don't think I've ever hit over 1500, even on a weekend. A good day is generally around the 500 word mark for me.

To hit the target I microwaved some pasta for lunch and wolfed it, then spent a good fifty minutes getting down around 700 words. Another three hours or so at home brought me up to the 2000 mark, and I even had time to read a few pages of PALE IMMORTAL before my eyes went blurry and I absolutely had to sleep.

The amazing thing about this is that those words are similar in quality to my usual first drafts. It's good to know that a certain amount of focus and fear can create this kind of output.

One tip I have so far is to make sure you have a number of pre-built names for characters, including spares. If you have a list of names that you know will suit your story, it's very easy to pick one and keep the words moving forward.

The NaNo philosophy doesn't recommend you doing any sort of revision, but that's too much of a habit for me and I've already gone back and fixed mistakes and tweaked for flow. It's a risky manuever, but I've put up a longer excerpt on my NaNo profile page. Here's the non-flash version, which isn't as pretty but loads a lot faster.

Can I do another 2000 today? We'll see.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Midnight ticked over last night and I was unfortunately still awake. For Australians doing NaNoWriMo, we started off anything from ten to sixteen hours ahead of the largest proportion (I have no figures on this, but I'm probably not wrong) of NaNoWriMo'ers: the Merkins. Whoops, I meant The Americans.

I wrote a couple of quick paragraphs so that my mind wouldn't start buzzing with ideas designed to keep me awake. Going against all NaNoAdvice-O, I will now share with you the opening two paragraphs from my 'masterpiece-in-the-making':


Jules Nolan turns the steering wheel and reaches down to press a button, never taking his eyes from the road. The window separating the driver’s cab from the rear of the limousine slides down, silencing the couple arguing in the back. Jules lets out a breath. They’d been at it for the last ten minutes and the words had melded together to become a constant flow of nothing.

He blinks at the high beam of a car passing on the other side of William Street. The limousine dips into the road. Jules turns his head a fraction to catch a glimpse of a lone hooker dressed in scraps of leopard print fabric and fishnets, standing under the fluorescent lights of an all night convenience store.

And so begins this crazy month of 1667 words per day. Good luck to us all and may the caffeine be with you.