Write. Now.

Today (as I write this – I have no idea when you read this) is the monthly gathering of the NBWG – Northern Beaches Writers’ Group. (Note the correct placement of that apostrophe — we’re good.) (And proper parenthetical punctuation — we’re not fooling around.)

There will, or course, be a spelling mistake in here somewhere to completely subvert my message.

The NBWG (link in sidebar) is a very diverse group of writers who gather once a month to critique fellow members’ writing. Sounds really dry, doesn’t it? It’s so much fun. Frustrating, sometimes, but fun.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve received is from critiques on my work from the fine NBWGers. And some of the best (so far, unknown-ish) writers I’ve met, of many different (really different) genres.

So, to the point of this short post: If you’re a writer (no such thing as an “aspiring” writer. If you write, you’re a writer.) and you want to get better, you need honest feedback from other people who write, and preferably people who write better than you. Embrace the criticism. It’ll make you a better writer.

And if, by chance, you’re lucky enough to be part of a writers’ group, it’s good to sandwich the critique part between a couple of good things from the piece you’re reviewing. That said, if it’s your piece being reviewed and the critique opens with how lovely the font is, you should brace yourself.

This is an advertisement for a TV show that needs no advertising.

The best half hour show on television right now isn’t Brooklyn-99, it’s one of the other shows made by the guy that made B-99.

The Good Place, the story of 4 humans who have died and their adventures in the various afterlives, All the while learning about morality. AND mortality.

There’s so much good stuff packed in each episode, it’s breathtaking. some of the best episodic writing there is.

That’s all. A clip:

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in a great number of places, exposing me to a great number of cultures and a great number of dickheads. And a great number of nice people.

But you remember the dickheads.

I’m trying to remember the dates. I started university in the autumn of 1978. I believe the Uni didn’t start the work term program until you’d already completed your first year (and, by the way, I barely completed my first year).

The work term program alternated work and university in four month stints, with the expectation that the work done during the work term was somewhat related to your program of study.

          The Flin Flon. Northern Manitoba.

So I did a year of university, spend the May – August months working at an oil refinery digging ditches (engineering adjacent adjacent adjacent), then back to school for Sept – Dec. The Jan – April period was a work term. And I believe it was Jan to April 1980 (yup – I’m that old).

And I got a job at a zinc mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba as an electrical apprentice. A bit closer to my studies – I’d decided early I was going to be an electrical engineer.

Flin Flon, by the way, is north. No, further north than that. WAAAAAAY North. January to April is the coldest part of the year there. So cold that snot freezes before it can drip.

I was lucky enough to be working below ground, in the mines, along side an old electrician (and looking back, he was probably younger than I am now). Not a lot of high tech back then. Pumps and lights, for the most part.

And while I can say I left the north on good terms with those I worked with, it did start out with a massive dickhead move by the arsehole I worked with for four months.

This guy, let’s call him Brian because I think his name was Brian. Or it may have been Dennis. It was almost forty years ago.

Brian it is.

Brian is taking me on a tour of the underground part of the mine (there was smelter action and cadmium extraction and stuff like that above ground, but I was below ground most of the time). The inclines and declines (relative to a central shaft, I learned – I first thought it was a “decline” walking down the path, and when I turned around it immediately became an incline. Nope), the lunch and locker rooms, the electrical rooms – all things I’d immediately forget.

We came up to a corner leading to a decline and he stopped. “Hang on a sec – traffic.”

Me, being the trustworthy sort, assumed he meant traffic. Like a cart loaded with ore or something like that. I opened my mouth to respond when there was a godawful KA-BLAM and the ground shook and dust filled the air and Brian (or was it Dennis) almost pissed himself laughing. They were blasting on the face. He knew it, and knowing what I know now about mines, he was more than likely well into an exclusion zone that he should (and I should) not have been in.

Dickhead.

Anyway, I survived. Almost electrocuted myself later in the winter and found out recently that much of that mine is now use to grow most of the medicinal marijuana grown in Canada prior to pot legalisation.

So there’s that.

I was a scrawny, painfully shy, face-stuck-in-a-book pre-teen which, in the neighbourhood I grew up, meant I was a regular recipient of smackdowns. They were fast, messy and painful (for me — though I’m sure the  other guy’s knuckles hurt, too). Messy not only because of the bloods, but because it invariably ended on the ground, a tangle of arms and legs and grunts and hair pulling. And before it got on the ground, any punches were wild swings that connected by luck, if at all.

The point of this isn’t to elicit sympathy. As my pops used to tell me, if you want sympathy look in the dictionary. It’s between shit and syphilis. And I haven’t been in a fight in over forty years.

The point of this is that fight scenes in books and movies are about as true to life as the depiction of writers in books or movies.

I’m watching Equalizer II, the Denzel Washington movie. A conceit in the movie is that he starts a stopwatch when the battle commences and he times himself to see how long it takes out the four or five or a dozen baddies. He’s rarely scathed. (That’s a word, right?) It’s always economic.

I want to read a book or see a movie where adults dumb enough to get in a fight actually fight the way a fight is actually fought. Grappling, but not BJJ style. Messy, flailing, torn shirts, quickly exhausted with no real winner.

I won’t though, will I?

Because people want the hero to lose their first fight, barely, then in Act Three face the same opponent and prevail in a slick, professional manner.

So maybe in this book (the one I’m currently working on) I’ll change it up. See how it goes.

I was born and mostly grew up in Canada. A lovely country. Gets cold enough during the winter to seriously curtail any really nasty threats. It’s a good news / bad news thing. You can go in the ocean in Nova Scotia without worrying about sharks, but you do have to worry about hypothermia. All year round. And bears.

I now live in Australia. Very little chance of hypothermia (though it’s not out of the question in Tasmania and some of the higher elevations during what is laughably called “winter” here). Sharks, a little more common. Had a shark warning at the beach a week or so ago. I wrote about it. ‘Twern’t nuthin’.

But even still, you don’t run into sharks on a daily basis unless you’re a surf lifesaver. Or, possibly, a surfer.

Here on terra firma we have spiders. And snakes.

The categorisation of threats held in my North American brain, factoring access (to me) and lethality (to me) has ALWAYS placed snakes above spiders. Hell, I can stomp on a spider. Wouldn’t think of stomping on a snake. Not without steel capped, steel-arched, steel-shanked – ah, fuck it — steel boots.

Then I saw this video. It’s about a year old, but it still freaks me the hell out.

Watch it. Don’t watch it. But remember things are never as good as you think they are.

Ever.

07. January 2019 · Write a comment · Categories: writing · Tags:

A bit of writerly stuff…

I’ve got something like 13 books you could buy, if you felt so inclined, and all fall into the crime -fiction, science-fiction or (one case) crime-science-fiction.

You can find those books on Apple (iBooks), Kobo, nook, Amazon and a few other places.

I’m fine with where someone buys a book. I’m delighted when anyone buys a book. But a weird trend is revealing itself.

I’ve had no sales on Amazon since, roughly, last June. Kobo, nook, iBooks, all have registered a download. Ratios over the past 6 months are somewhere in the 65:30:5:0 for Apple:nook:Kobo:Amazon.

It’s great that folks think my books are worth buying, but what in the hell is happening with Amazon? By their very name they should be the biggest. Have they renamed themselves to Ama-gone?

Anyone else seeing a drop off in Amazon and an increase in iBooks?

 

I’m pretty sure you all have heard of the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, even if only by the movies they have made. The many, many excellent movies they have made. My faves from that list?

  • Hail, Caesar
  • Fargo
  • The Big Lebowski (top of the list)
  • O Brother Where Art Thou (second on my all time favourite list)
  • Burn after Reading (truly underrated)

These guys are genius writers and directors. Among the list of movies they have made, I would challenge anyone to find a bad one.

I would further challenge you to find more than a single good movie made by Etan Cohen. I’ll grant a soft pass to MiB 3, but it barely makes it. Idiocracy, a cult favourite that was in theatres for maybe 72 hours, is the only one on the list I would recommend.

[EDIT]: I failed to point out in the original post (and I hope I’m not too late) that Etan Cohen, the man with the shifted “h”, wrote and directed Holmes and Watson, a movie so bad I would have walked out of it if I hadn’t fallen asleep. It makes Pluto Nash look Oscar worthy.

BE CAREFUL, PEOPLE!

When I’m not writing I work in a tech-based company. Telecomms. For the peoples. As an organisation we pride ourselves in hiring smart, engaging people (because why wouldn’t you?).

So it irks me TO NO END when I run across smart people in this organisation (I know they’re smart — I’ve seen what they produce) say “supposibly”.

Yes, they did.

And while I know they are intelligent in the area they work, this still pains me.

I had a manager once tell me that (and the irony here might break your brain) “correct language use in emails is of penultimate importance to me”, assuming, I guess, if “ultimate” was important, then “penultimate” must mean really important.

I told that manager what penultimate really meant and was never bothered by them again.

So, please…I understand typos — everyone is cursed with typos. But if you have even the slightest question about what a word means, or should sound like, check. There are a tonne of dictionaries out there.

Do it for me. It’s because of these, and other, examples that I drink. My liver begs you.

This holiday break has been a good one. A few extra days off gave me a full two weeks and the temps have been in the mid to high 30s. Celsius. True Christmas weather.

So, naturally, we went to the beach. Many times. (Going again, with the pooch, in about 30 minutes.)

On January 1st, my son and I hit City Beach in Wollongong and after three and a half hours of looking for a parking spot (HA! I joke. It was only three hours.) we made it to the sand. The place wasn’t (yet) too crowded and the water was nice. I plopped down on the warm sand and my son hit the water.

Not thirty seconds after entering the water the surfies started ringing their school bell and the conspicuously hovering chopper lit up its siren (like a police siren – so much so I spent a full minute craning my neck looking for the PD issued dune buggy). Everyone immediately hauled ass out of the water, none faster than my son.

Apparently a shark (type and size unknown to me) wanted to party with the holiday revellers.

Now, to my non-native Australian brain, this would call for an immediate, nation-wide beach shutdown, extending at least 10km inland. HA!, I say, again.

Literally less that two minutes later the siren stopped, the bell was stowed and peoples started getting back in the water. Son and I decided we wait until there were enough small, tantalisingly bits-sized people in the water before we’d go back in — you know, the appetisers to the entre.

Talking just after that with an American friend based in California, he likened the Australian attitude to sharks to the Californian attitude about earthquakes: Unless it’s a big mothereffer, it’s “meh, lets get back in. The water’s fine.”

Stay tuned. Up next, how a spider killed a snake and ate it. Right here in Australia.

 

03. January 2019 · Write a comment · Categories: writing · Tags:

When one sits at the beginning of a new year, one tends to reflect. I tend to reflect light off my head (because I have no hair and I moisturise my scalp). As I writer, I tend to reflect on writerly things, like:

  • Where did 2018 go? I know it’s around here somewhere. I saw it about a week ago, but now it’s gone.
  • What writing did I do in 2018 that I would be proud of? Should I be proud of anything I wrote in 2018? (Spoiler, alert, I should be – there was some good stuff. There was also stuff that should be consigned to a compost heap and pissed on before igniting thermite over it and eradicating it from the universe.)
  • Is there something I started in 2018 I should be finishing in 2019? Seriously, is there? I can’t remember. It would be something with words in it that doesn’t look quite finished yet. There might be more than one things.
  • Do I have targets for 2019 that are attainable? Almost attainable? No hope in hell of being attainable? Good. There should be a couple of things in each category.
  • Are there events in 2019 that I should attend that are like events in 2018 I should have attended but found a lame reason not to?
  • Are there network opportunities in 2019 that I will find lame excuses to avoid?
  • Has my drinking increased over the past year? If not, why not?
  • When will I be able to sleep a full night’s sleep again?

January has a fresh chill to it, biting cold if the wind picks up, which has me wondering why I’m bathed in sweat, 26 degrees C at 10:30 at night. And then I remember that I’m in Australia and January is hot and nothing is normal here.

If you write, I sincerely hope 2019 is the year you break through to a new level. If you read, I hope you read some of my stuff. It’s not that bed. Really.