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So my Twitter diet lasted 7 days (almost exactly). In the end I think I returned to Twitter because I had learned a couple of things:

1) Twitter allows you to connect with and be contacted by like-minded (and oppositionally-minded) people. This is its great strength.

2) I like to have a day on a lot of things & Twitter is the one place I can do it in the moment before I forget all about it. This is Twitter’s blessing as well as its curse.

If I can control the urge to tweet when I really shouldn’t (been doing it for 7 days now), Twitter could stop being so much of a curse.

I’ve been slightly less angry lately which is good. Let’s see how the next week goes. Hopefully Twitter is not a factor, but if it is, then there will have to be significant changes.

In the end, the wonderful Leigh Sales & Anabelle Crabbe and their podcast Chat 10 Looks 3 were my Achilles heel. They were talking about TV show intro music and then they mentioned the West Wing which is a show Co-Consul & I loved (twice) and a show with intro music which still gives me chills. It it also intro music which soothed 7yo when he was a newborn, so it has multiple layers of brilliance for us.

Righto…back to Twitter.  Ah…I mean writing – yes, writing, not Twitter. Haha! Aaaaah shit.

— IEK

wait_whatNo, this post has nothing to do with food, veganism, paleo, juicing, organic produce or any other gastronomic fuckwittery. Oh no, like all of these celebrities I seemed to find on Google when typing in “quitting twitter”, we’re talking zeroth-world problems here – I’m taking a break from Twitter.

Yep, hold onto your collective hats.

So…unlike these celebrities, I’ve received pretty lightweight mean tweets and I have only a few hundred followers and the question you would really like to ask (I’m sure…right?) because you totally give a shit what I’m doing with Twitter…you’ll bite, right? Go on – ask me why!!!

Please?

OK…SO glad you asked!always_angry

You see recently I’ve noticed (as have those around me) that I’m quite angry. Like all the time (Bruce Banner-style). Unlike Bruce, there is precious little in the way of upside to my anger. I’m trying a LOT of things to control it – anger management techniques, relaxation thingies (not drugs…yet) and I figured – hey I’ve been spending an awful lot of time on Twitter, why not give that a break for a couple of weeks too? Just in case those arseholes* I’ve actually been attracting tweets from lately have actually been affecting me.

So it’s day 4.

…and I’m writing a blog post about it already. What addiction?

Anyway…not sure how my anger is responding because it’s only been 4 days.

What I’m really noticing is the times when I would automatically open Twitter, read a few posts and respond to them. Instead I’m going to click on Twitter, resist, then open Facebook instead, get depressed at how much clickbait shit there is and close it again.

I’ve also still been reading Twitter infrequently. Yes, shut up, I’m reading Twitter. SO DESPERATELY want to reply, retweet, quote and get involved, but my unwritten rules specifically state that I’m not going to do that. So here I sit. Writing about not tweeting instead of tweeting.

Yeah, shut up, it’s been 4 days.

FOUR DAYS.

 

— IEK

 

 

 

*Some may call them “Trolls”, I like to call them what they really are.

 

wordleRecently I began to follow a new tweep because of their name. Now I’m not likely to get a follow back because I told them I was following because I love their name & that’s just a little creepy, but it got me thinking about character names and place names in fiction and how we, as authors, decide on those names.

Characters in novels have a few things they need: contextual consistency (their name needs to make sense in relation to their backstory), cultural consistency (as above, but to do with the backstory of their parent culture), timbre & rhythm (whether it’s deliberately cool or deliberately jarring, they should be at least readable if not easily pronounceable).

Names for my characters usually come to me as a flash of a good name while I’m trying to think of one or randomly, whilst driving (I hate that). Names which I struggle for are the peripheral characters or secondary characters (who do, occasionally get promoted to main characters because they are cool). For the names I struggle to make up, I have a spreadsheet of first names and last names which I’m always adding to and from which I draw many of my peripheral character’s names. I have, however, been known to Google up a baby names site for the right sounding name (I’m a big believer in that timbre thing).

One particularly wonderful group of names I stored away for later was from when I was a part-time swimming coach. In one school group I ended up with 6 girls each of whom had a wonderful name (and in typical fashion I told them all this at the time). In this group of six girls there was: Hannah, Madeline, Victoria, Leana, Fallon & Jancis. Every one of those names made it into the names spreadsheet and, though I have only used one as a major character (thank you, Fallon), I think every one deserves to be used at some time in my career. They were also nice girls and swam really well.

Place names I operate somewhat differently. With place names I try my best to follow a logical geographical consistency, though often I’ll look out the window or just around where I’m currently sitting and make up an anagram based on a word I see, then give it a regionally consistent monika like “steppe” or “plains”. Either that or I think of a groovy show I watched one time and throw in a little reference to that (intertextuality! HUZZAH!).

The City names of Bifrost are peculiar in that I invented them a very long time ago when I was very fond of a particular teen-powers TV show and chose to draw inspiration from the names of the cast. Having used the same names for so long and for so many hundreds of thousands of words, they have become like family. I’m not really concerned with regional consistency for those – they ARE the regional consistency.

One thing I do find myself avoiding is using names of people I know. I try (as much as is possible) to avoid using names of people in our lives just in case, should anyone ever read my books, they find themselves feeling like they have been written about. I tend to use certain features of people rather than their entire personality when I write a character and the rest of their horrible personality comes directly from the demons in my skull rather than any violent nutjobs I know personally.

Names are funny things in that you can use them, as Dickens did, to convey personality (though please don’t be as obvious about it as he was – this is the 21st Century) and you can use them to hint at cultural & familial connections, help describe the scene to the reader and also to help round out the world of the character or the setting, but whichever way you do it, remember that the best way to get your names to own their space is to have your characters own those names. Nothing is less engaging than when a terrifying, dark place is referenced by the characters in a book and none of them seem to get that sick feeling they should when talking about something horrible.

Righto, better get on & invent some new names. I only have 50-odd named characters in Bifrost so far…

 

— IEK

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…

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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).
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2) The following sets:

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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…

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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:
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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

 

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