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literary_surgeryI have been a writer most of my life. At some points I’ve convinced myself that I could be a comic artist or cartoon creator, though my talent in drawing compares only slightly favourably against the work of a talented 6-year-old and my observations on life are only funny you are one of those same 6-year-olds.

What can I say, despite everything, I’m still a master of Dad Jokes.

But apparently I do have some amount of talent for writing a story which is how I managed to earn a private writerly-advice session with (now Sir) Terry Pratchett. Sparked by the terrible sadness I feel about his death this week, I felt I needed to document the one and only meeting I had with him back when I was a teenager and had everything to learn. I have no notes from this time because I was not interviewing him, I was a late-teenage writer speaking to an idol about my own writing and all I have is a very fond, vivid recollection.

It was during a particularly prolific time in my writing life, when I was supposed to be studying for a certificate in IT and ended up procrastinating by writing an unsolicited, 120-page fan-rulebook for my (then) favourite roleplaying game. As part of an upcoming gaming convention (no, not gambling – roleplaying & wargaming), an opportunity arose for me to have a piece of my writing critiqued by Terry Pratchett and meet him for a “Literary Surgery” session (as only he could call it).

I chose to write a story specifically for the purpose because the event was being run by the local gaming community and I had no idea who would be reading the story aside from Terry himself. I already had a number of stories written and polished which contained my own characters and ideas, but in my young, self-important mind I felt that I didn’t want anyone “stealing my ideas”, so I wrote some fan fiction based on the same roleplaying universe in which my fan-book was based.

Terry had the final say as to the pieces he would critique and thankfully mine was one of the pieces chosen. As an hugely famous author, Terry was booked to speak at the end of the day, but much of his day, he dedicated to helping young writers hone their craft which is something to this day amazes me and for which I am forever thankful. Though I never knew him personally, from what I have read about him in his public life, he gave a great deal of himself to others.

I waited outside the room in which I would receive my Literary Surgery for some time, ensuring that I was not late and was eventually called in. I found Terry Pratchett sitting behind a desk, rather angry. Apparently many of the people who had been chosen to meet with Terry and have their work critiqued had chosen not to show up!! What. The. Fuck. Not only this, but the organisers had chosen not to bring me in early even though I’d been waiting around for 20 minutes. Terry Pratchett was still there. He had not stormed off in a huff – he was still sitting, waiting, ready to give a young writer some advice on how to be a better one. Neil Gaiman has written that Terry was an angry man, but that his love for humanity and its failings allowed him to rise above the rage and I witnessed exactly that.

After a only moment of venting his displeasure at having his valuable time wasted by people I can only refer to as idiots, Terry began to ask about my story. Immediately he asked me why I had chosen to write fan fiction. I explained that it was due to concern over my own ideas and who among the gaming folk would be reading my story. He seemed to empathise with this, though I imagine internally thought I was a bit full of myself given how young I was & how unpublished I was. But then he told me this:

Never write fan fiction

He explained that though there are a few fan fiction authors who make decent money from writing for franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, the lion’s share of the proceeds go to the owners of the intellectual property rights. Many years *ahem*decades*ahem* later, this is exactly the reason the book was about fifty shades of demented, rich control-freak and not about fifty shades of demented, sparkly vampire.

Terry commented on my dialogue and that though it was good and realistic he told me that my dialogue was in what he called the second stage of dialogue writing. Each one of my passages of dialogue was wrapped in descriptive words and the name of who was speaking.

He told me that in the beginning, writers use simply “she said”, “he said” and “they said” over and over and over. When writers realise that their dialogue requires emotive, descriptive and audio cues, they start using them EVERYWHERE after everything every character says. This was where my writing was. He said that once a writer matures, they begin to use the words around the dialogue to affect the way the dialogue is read and, while still using “said” and the descriptive terms to enhance the writing, a good writer will also leave them out (or indeed remove them during revisions) to make the writing flow.

The last piece of advice he gave me was something just about every writing teacher and author says to budding writers and it boils down to: “show, don’t tell”. Terry Pratchett did not use these words, of course, because he probably knew that any person who has sat in a writing course or read a book on how to write will have read these exact words (along with “write what you know”). Instead, he read me a passage of description I had written – one in which I go into explicit detail about the particular militaristic culture in which the story was set, my passage even went into a 20th-century analogy to try and provide almost essay-like understanding to the reader. The passage was terribly, obviously.

Terry explained that a story’s dialogue, physical surroundings and the personal interactions of the characters will inform the reader of the type of culture in which the story is set – explicit, descriptive passages telling the reader all about this culture were not only clunky, but boring. He recommended that if I wanted to learn how to write a militaristic culture, I should readh Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (though Terry called it “Starship Poopers” which at the time I didn’t get and, oblivious, I even wrote down “Starship Poopers”…he must have my utter ignorance quite hilarious).

My literary surgery ended too quickly and I thanked Terry nowhere near enough and I was on my way. I re-read my fan fiction story and saw exactly the parts Terry had flagged, but I never actually revised it. In fact I’ve not written a single piece of fan fiction since.

As I sit here now, it strikes me how much of the meeting I remember a if it were yesterday and it saddens me so terribly that this simple act of recollection was taken away from such a wonderful, intelligent, curious, generous person.

It is a gift to the world that we can still pick up a copy of any of Terry Pratchett’s books and enjoy the hell out of them (again). I’m about to do just that now.

— IEK

That close mask of the scent of sweat,
The cigarette you just sighed before I saw you,
Your shirt rides up,
Reveals your glistening stomach as you slide closer to me…

…and crush me into window.
You fat jerk.
I hate the bus.

rio_yorkOK, so our abject failure Prime Minister doesn’t believe in climate change. Fine. No brains in a statue.

But how’s this for an observation: this summer has been the summer of tropical weather in Sydney (a city many hundreds of over 1000km/700mi from the tropics). I’ve spent a little time in Brisbane (very much in the tropics) and I can tell you that during the wet season (tropical climates do not have 4 seasons, they have two: Dry & Wet) every afternoon, you get a torrential downpour.

This summer, in Sydney, we have experienced basically exactly the same thing and though our top temperatures haven’t quite reached the heights of previous years, it’s been pretty consistently hot & sticky. Yesterday I learned that 2014 had the second-highest average temperature for Sydney ON RECORD. This follows 2013 which had the HIGHEST average temperature on record. Here’s the people who actually monitor this stuff:

Bureau of Meteorology: Sydney in 2014

So it’s been warm. I did think that winter 2014 was pretty meek. Right now I’m sweating, it’s 11:30pm & every window is open.

Anyway…I’m hot is all, dammit. I know you poor suckers in the USA are freezing right now, but – hey the world’s getting warmer, so don’t worry you guys will be the same temperature as Brazil in no time! Hooray for climate change!

…you know, except that hot areas will all become deserts and coastal towns will become scuba diving exhibits…but hey – warmer weather!

— IEK

 

 

So this happened…

image

Now I actually work on my WIP revisions. What the hell?

— IEK

**Yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron spoiler alert**

So this week 7yo received his Lego Club magazine along with the 2015 Lego catalogue. For massive Lego nerds like myself & 7yo, this is called good times.

Two awesome things were in the 2015 catalogue:

1) Integration with Lego’s 3D catalogue app which, when you point your device at the pages, provides 3D, augmented reality animation of many of the sets! It’s hard to describe how amazing you cool it was to see an AT-AT walking on our kitchen table for the first time. Yes – that is an animated AT-AT walking across the pages of the catalogue with snowtroopers abseiling from it. Find the app here: (Play Store & iTunes).
image

2) The following sets:

image

The first thing I noticed was Hulkbuster armour (of course) and from a quick look through the other sets, it’s obvious that Avengers: Age of Ultron is the major inspiration for all of the Lego Marvel Superheroes sets for 2015. Sweet. So…we already know from the trailer that the Avengers teamsheet from the first movie will appear as well as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, but let’s see what else we can learn from these sets…

image

First off – it looks like the Avengers have Avengers Tower at some stage in the film, so clearly the whole idea of the Avengers only coming together to combat global (or galactic) emergencies is at some stage left behind. Also, we can see the stars-&-stripes-clad Iron Legion combating Ultron Mark 1 around Avengers Tower, which essentially confirms the theory that Tony Stark is responsible for implementing a robotic security force which is what eventually spawns Ultron.

But have a look at one of those Iron Legion minifigs:
image

 

Loki’s sceptre?? VERY interesting. One wonders whether or not the Tesseract is again the source of the Avengers’ woes. Those damn Infinity Gems are just a menace. I mean imagine if someone really nasty got hold of them!

ScreenHunter_24 Dec. 21 09.26

*Daydreams*…Anyway…now let’s see who Lego has in their list of characters for Age of Ultron…

 

imageOK…Ultron Prime…Ultron sentry (look like the Ultrons which swarm all over the Bard Fortress in the trailer)…interesting, but we already knew from the trailer that there would be a bunch of Ultron models in the film. Now at least we can put a few names to chassis. Oh there’s Scarlet Witch – groovy.

image Iron Legion…as mentioned, we can assume this is Tony Stark’s early attempt at a robotic security force. In case you can’t see the resemblance in the pics here – it’s the head of an Iron Legion robot which Ultron crushes with his “Strings” line in the trailer.
image Cap…Black Widow…Iron Man appears to be in every set…

…wait. VISION!!

If you’ve been keeping an eye on spoilers around the place, you will have seen Vision show up in a few places, but nothing official or detailed. So there had been a lot of conjecture about what role the Vision would play in the film. From the set he shows up in (Quinjet City Chase), it’s pretty clear that Ultron has captured Vision and he is freed by the Avengers.image

OK, so there might be a bit more stuff in this than I’ve derived from first glance, but whichever way, these sets are fantastic and this movie is going to completely rule!

Happy building!

— IEK

minibar_01It seems that my job as a wild-mannered IT trainer has become something of a travelling role with many of the courses I run being delivered face-to-face with people in other cities and other countries. If I were a young person with no kids, this would be awesome, as I have always really enjoyed the private room with pay TV, breakfast made for me and my choice of dinner venues where they will also make it for me. This, of course, is part of the reason I love Co-Consul so much: she usually cooks dinner.

Of course as a middle-aged person with multiple young children, the awesome is somewhat diminished. This does not mean, however, that I will not try to make the best of it and, over the years, I have learned a few tricks which can save you time, money and also make you happier during your stay in a random hotel.

1) Never check out before you finish your last complimentary breakfast!

Once you check out, your access to the free guest wi-fi gets cut off, so if you have paid for your breakfast (or, you know, your company has) and were thinking of using the interwebs for any reason while you ate, you would have to use your own data if you checked out beforehand! Unacceptable. Check out after breakfast & enjoy the freedom of free-download.

2) Don’t let the hotel’s TV lock you out of using your own media player.

If you have a media player or Chromecast you know you will probably need a HDMI port on the TV to use it. Many hotels lock out their TVs disallowing access to these ports, meaning you can only use the hotel’s own (often sub-standard) entertainment offering – not any more! Many of these TVs will have an RJ-45 cable (that’s a Cat network cable) plugged in the back of their smart TV, giving it access and login to the hotel’s network. If you can access the rear of the TV, simply disconnect this cable and you should be able to use the remote to change to the HMDI port you need! If this doesn’t work, you may need to turn the TV off, then on again with the network cable unplugged. Just remember to plug the network cable back in before you check out so the next guest in the room (who may not know ANYTHING about network cables) can use the TV. If the hotel’s remote does not provide access to change the port, you may need to read hack #3!

3) Buy yourself a cheap universal remote & carry it with you. 

Many hotels around the world use a non-standard, customised remote which does not allow you access to the features on the TV you might want to use (such as the HDMI port). You can fix this pretty easily and inexpensively if you carry remotes_pilewith you a universal remote. Universal remotes are designed to control most brands of TV and are programmed either using a brand-specific code which comes in a manual with the remote or using a laptop & a USB cable. If you don’t have a laptop, make sure you buy one of the code-programmed ones. Here are some known brands of universal remote: Logitetch, All For OneURC.

4) Don’t pay minibar price for your drinks or snacks

Everyone knows this, right? You don’t eat or drink from the minibar because minibar drinks & snacks are priced against their weight in gold (or are actually made of gold, I haven’t worked out which just yet). But what if you get in real late, everything around is shut and the hotel doesn’t do room service? And what if you’re hungry or thirsty? You only have one choice: minibar. Sure, you could wear a coupld of over-priced beers, but if you travel a lot, these little over-priced beers can start to add up. Well – never fear, if you happen to eat or drink something from the minibar and you really don’t want to pay that $6 for a bag of chips or $12 for a bottle of beer, then you can use the hotel’s own “do not disturb” or “do not clean” sign – hang it on the door before you leave in the morning. Then, before you return to your room that night, you go to the local supermarket and/or grog shop (that’s Australian for “liquor store”) and buy standard-priced exact replacements for the items you consumed and put them right back in the minibar. The hotel keeps their minibar items and you keep your money. Just be careful to make them EXACT replacements or you will be charged for the items you consumed (hotel staff know the difference between cheap beer and expensive beer). Clearly this plan will not work if A) you’re only staying the one night or B) if the hotel minibar is one of those painful electronic things which charges you the moment you remove something, but otherwise, it’s a pretty solid play.

5) Don’t let the hotel’s web page login stop your Chromecast.

Chromecast doesn’t allow setup on most hotels’ wi-fi network because it does not have a web browser to log into the hotel’s nice web page. There aren’t too many ways around this and quite frankly and unless you know what you’re doing, trying any of them could cause harm to your devices, but if you’re game (and you know what you’re doing, remember?), though there are a couple. Hotel wi-fi authentication web pages mostly check the MAC address of the device trying to connect to see if it has already authenticated – obviously, your Chromecast has not, so it will not get access to the network until it provides the room code or password BUT there is a screen in the Chromecast setup app which provides the MAC address of your Chromecast and if you can make one of your other devices temporarily pretend to be your Chromecast (by temporarily changing its MAC address), then your Chromecast will be able to connect.

There is a way to change a laptop MAC address on most operating systems and How to Geek has them mostly covered: How and Why to Change Your MAC Address. If you only have a phone (no laptop) and it is either rooted (Android) or jailbroken (iPhone)…(yes, all of these apps need your phone to be rooted or jailbroken), then there are a number of MAC address maskers you can download and use. Be careful, though – make sure you do a search and check the safety level of the app you install (using an app checker and verifying its authenticity using forums and user reviews) to reduce the chance of it being malicious (which means any app you install could hack you phone and rooted/jailbroken-only apps are already on the fringes). Having not tested any of them myself, I am not an advocate for any particular app and I have no idea which ones are legit and which ones are dangerous, so I will not provide any further information on that one.

IMPORTANT: Always make a note of your ORIGINAL MAC address before making any changes and always remember to restore the original one once your Chromecast has access!!

word_countThis year, for the first time, I gave National Novel Writing Month a genuine shake.

Now I didn’t win, but I did write a whole lot more than I did last time I dipped my toe into #NaNoWriMo.

In 2013, I signed up and, having decided to completely overhaul my WIP, I felt that it might be a good chance to get some real work done in it, but of course that didn’t work out and I spent November 2013 writing about as many words as I wrote this evening while I waited for the dentist to call me in.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a (now) global event which occurs every November and involves writers, authors and people who have never written more than a few words in a row collectively attempting to write a novel in a single month. The concept of “winning” NaNoWriMo is not a singular prize, but rather a reward for achieving the global word goal of 50,000 words (50,000 being considered the minimum length for an actual novel).

This year, while not sacrificing anything in particular, I did try to write at (almost) every opportunity and I managed  21,813 words. My NaNoWriMo login says something in the realm of 19,000 words, but I never actually logged in to update it with my last bash because I was too bloody tired. But I know how many words I wrote and that is the main thing. My goal during this NaNoWriMo was less to achieve the 50,000 words and more to work out how many words I could write if I wasn’t really trying all that hard. I’m pretty pleased.

I have a serious full-time job, 3 kids and a 100+ year-old house we still need to finish renovating and painting. I also like to speak to my significant other (alias Co-Consul) and my kids (even in November). Now none of this is really a valid excuse because in reality, INCREDIBLE people like Leigh Ann Kopans and Megan Whitmer have kids, a job and also manage to actually finish books and publish them, but this mythical time to actually write is hard to come by and I have no idea how they do it!!

Because I never intended to “finish a stand-alone novel” in a month (because apparently to me, a stand-along novel is closer 500,000 words than 50,000), I used NaNoWriMo to focus on Bifrost and try to get it closer to completion (or at least Book 2 closer to completion given the now 120,000-odd words I’ve written on it). We’re getting REALLY close now. I can feel it so much that I started writing the ending chapter today. I had an ending some time ago, I’m just putting it on paper now.

I think what I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo is not so much that writing a novel in a month is possible (I suppose if you’re writing something short, that’s fine), but more that I can achieve without sacrificing everything. This is important.

NaNoWriMo is also littered with wonderful events, write-ins and bookshelves worth of #WriteClub and non-WriteClub writing sprints (seriously you could get in board a writing sprint almost ANY time) and I pretty much did my own thing, not getting involved.

To think what I could achieve if I actually sacrificed and got involved! Hmmm…2015 anyone?

— IEK

 

aladdin_ezraOK for those of you without social media: **SPOILER ALERT**

When I first heard about the new Star Wars animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, I was pretty excited. An animated series which I could, in theory, watch with my kids and which spans the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope? What could be more completely awesome?

I’d watched the original 2003 Clones Wars series and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sure, it wasn’t a live-action Star Wars feature and it wasn’t gritty, adult animation, but it was Star Wars, it told a number of stories behind the movies and it wasn’t the Star Wars Holiday Special.

The 2008-2014 Clone Wars series came at a pretty bad time for me and television (3 kids between ’07 & ’11), so I have seen what would probably add up to around nine minutes of that series. Perhaps I’ll get back to it one day, but just the name “Cad Bane” makes me want to barf a little. Sorry, George, but you know you’ve made it when characters from your stories have their own section in the dictionary under “cliché”.

senator_jar_jarNow unlike many Star Wars fans, I wasn’t bitterly disappointed with Episodes I, II & III. I think they were flawed, certainly, as were Episodes IV, V & VI. I’m not a Hayden Christensen hater, I think his performances were as credible as Mark Hammill’s. I even understand the place of Jar Jar Binks in the overall story (ie. they needed an idiot in a senior senatorial position to propose the Chancellor’s increased executive powers), I just think they made him too much of an clownish idiot and not enough of an ambitious, politically-motivated idiot (one does not need to look far to find plenty of those in the real world). I do think the fall of Anakin Skywalker could have been better handled. I mean why not put Padme in some ACTUAL mortal danger and force Anakin to make a choice between doing something truly evil and letting Padme die? Scales – tipped; problem – solved. Alas.

Overall, I really enjoyed Episodes I, II & III. Episodes IV, V & VI still hold with me as better and more important, but mostly because they were ground-breaking in their time and because I was a kid when they came out (and kids just really know how to enjoy stuff in a life-long kind of manner).

Also unlike many Star Wars fans, I have seen the acquisition of Star Wars by Disney as a good thing. My theory is that Disney is likely to make a shitton of Star Wars films (as they have with Marvel), some will be good, some will be bad, some will be terrible and some (and here’s why I’m excited) will be extraordinary. I am more than willing to chew through the chaff in order to enjoy the cream. It’s all Star Wars.

So this brings us up-to-date on my opinion of Star Wars of Christmases past and future, let’s actually look at the Star Wars of Christmas present: Rebels. My first impression of the show has been a very common one and quite a lasting one: Ezra is Aladdin. He looks like Aladdin, he sounds like Aladdin, he even gets called “street rat” in Ep1. It’s not a co-incidence and it’s something the creators have done consciously, which kind of shits me. I really had believed that all of those memes with Mickey Mouse as a Jedi were a joke. Apparently not.

chopper_palaceI’ve learned to live with Aladdin being the main character in Star Wars: Rebels, though, because for the most part, the show is really good. Sure, the crew of the Ghost is basically lifted as a job-lot from Firefly*, but this means that the characters are solid and the crew chemistry works well to create tension (even if it is a little forced). It’s also nice to have an atromech which is genuinely an arsehole instead of an omniscient, yet benevolent meddler in the affairs of the galaxy (like R2-D2) or an idiot (like every other astromech in the Star Wars universe so far). On the subject of astromechs, I was more than a little horrified during Episode 2 (Droids in Distress) when C3PO and R2 showed up. I was thinking “Oh NO! Can they not come up with some new way to do comic relief in Star Wars!?!”. Episode 1 marred by Aladdin, 2 by the Droids. Things were not off to a good start. Then Episode 2 ended with a rather nice handover and THAT was when I started to like this show.

swr_fightStar Wars: Rebels is a kids cartoon pitched at probably 7 – 12 year olds. The storylines aren’t anything we haven’t seen before (I mean what is?), the characters aren’t (yet) anything we haven’t seen before and the violence is a bit much for under-7s, but not realistic enough to be considered gritty or realistic. The fleshing out of a bit more of the Star Wars universe is really nicely done and the situations the characters find themselves in remind me very much of the Jedi Knight PC games (which were super cool by the way). I think if you were watching these as an adult seeking grown-up storylines, characters and situations, you will be disappointed, but if, like me, you are looking to enjoy a bit of Srat warsy goodness with your 7+ year-old kids, then this show is going to make you and your kids very happy. 7yo and I are certainly really enjoying it.

— IEK

*Ghost Crew = Firefly Crew:

  • Captain with a gruff, unfriendly facade who is really a gentle soul
  • Motherly, good-hearted second-in-command who is really in-command because she can manipulate the Captain & because she is always right
  • Quiet, rebellious younger female with engineering/demolitions tendencies
  • Not-very-bright muscle with questionable loyalty to the crew & a chaotic attitude
  • Wildcard newcomer to the ship who has special powers
  • Book died in Serenity, so they didn’t need to transplant him. What? I said **SPOILERS** at the top and if you haven’t seen Serenity yet, what the hell, man?

So I just deleted a comment from a very clever spammer (OK, so they weren’t THAT clever, they used the name of the product they were flogging as their posting name), BUT here’s what they wrote:

“Hey just wanted tto give you a quick heads up. The text in your article seem to be running off the
screen in Firefox. I’mnot sure if this is a fortmatting issue
or something to doo with internet browser compatibility
but I thought I’d post to let you know. The layout
look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Cheers”

Spelling errors and all – this actually gave me pause to think. I mean, sure I checked the site in Firefox and all is well (because I generally know what I’m doing), but I thought it was quite clever. Spammers usually type very general “Your post is the best I’ve seen on this subject” type buttering-up to get you to approve their spam, but this was something I hadn’t seen before.

Anywho…just thought I’d share.

— IEK

100000_wordsRecently week Bifrost has finally tipped over 100,000 words (um…yay?), so in typical self-assessor style I decided to have a look at how many words I’d written the last time I decided to “take my writing seriously”. You know…just for comparison.

I remember it clearly, I didn’t have a writers group or critique partner (still don’t actually…um…anyone?), I didn’t have Twitter (it didn’t exist), I didn’t have Evernote (also didn’t exist), I didn’t have Scrivener or a tablet PC or even a smartphone and I reached a point where I just didn’t know what to do or where to take the novel, so I just kind of stopped.

So this morning I had a look at my wordcount spreadsheet from way-back-when…and there it was: 140,943 words.

140,943 words…AND I STOPPED!?! I need a time machine so I can go and kick past-me’s butt really, really hard. What a dope! Another 10,000 words and I have TWO ACTUAL NOVELS!!! AAAARRRRGH!!!

Now I feel like “why is it taking me so long to get to that point now?”* I had a full-time job back then, though one other thing I didn’t have back then was kids, so my level of distraction and household work was a LOT lower. Still…it kind of feels deflating after the initial excitement of reaching 100,000.

I suppose on the bright side, every word of that 140,943 is set before Bifrost starts, so when I get done with this one, a couple of prequels are going to take no time at all! (You hear that, potential publishers?)

Looking forward to the revisions on that one.

— IEK

 

*And why does it take me 150,000 words to reach an ending I’m happy with!?!

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