The Joys and Hazards of ‘Knowing’ where you’re going

I’m not an outliner.  That’s what I tell myself, at least.  I’d been saying the words with pride, as if the “organic” process I implied would allow me to charge more from my moral high ground (that’s the way it works in agriculture, right?  Maybe not.)  As I’ve started to write longer and longer stories, first 12k, then 65k, then a series of ~30k that are closely tied together and now what will become well over 100k with I;ve stopped being so smug and started outlines.  Nothing huge, mind you, but something.  The number of the chapter and the basic goals I want accomplished by it.

And it works.  So much so that I had to outlin chapters 1-12 of Arizona Afterwards before I could even begin.  I didn’t stick to it.  I didn’t have to.  The characters had far better ideas than I did, and I found some things happening in Chapter 4 which I hadn’t planned until Chapter 11, if I’d planned it at all, and that’s okay.  I don’t argue with my characters.  They’re smarter than me, and in most cases they could kick my ass.  Especially Hattie.  And, the novel built up enough momentum that I could let it flow without outlines of chapters 13 – 25…  If you’re reading Arizona Afterwards at the same time I’m writing it, feel free to go back to those chapters and compare them to the earlier ones and see if you notice a difference.

Anyway, outlines aren’t evil, and they won’t kill the creative process ANYWHERE NEAR AS MUCH AS NOT KNOWING WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS NEXT WILL WHEN YOU ARE WRITING ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS OF ZOMBIE NOVEL.  That is my way of saying that I have outlined the rest of Arizona Afterwards, and I know how it ends.  It may change, sure, but I know that I’ll be standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

It’s such a fine sight to see.


On making people who “don’t exist” as real as the ones who “do”

I don’t smoke. I don’t really care if you do or don’t, as long as A) I don’t have to breathe it in and B) when one of the numerous illnesses that come with the habit latch on to you my taxes don’t have to pay for your upkeep.

But this post isn’t about smoking. Smoking’s just an example. Stats vary by country and age and a million other demographics, but something around 20-25 percent of people on the first world smoke. The thing is though, I’ve written hundreds of fictional characters and I can’t remember making any of them (aside from the occasional bit player or two) into smokers.

And why is that?  I think it’s because I can’t pretend (in my head) that smoking is cool or worthwhile or any of the other stereotypes commonly associated with it.

So, there we have it. It isn’t as simple as “Chris doesn’t smoke therefore his characters don’t smoke either”. I don’t murder “do” most of the the things my characters do, except in my mind. Up there, though, in the dark and light places in everyone’s head where the stories come from, I guess I somehow can imagine murders, hauntings, FTL drives and everything else and not imagine a good reason for people to smoke.

It’s odd. So, here’s my challenge, to you and to me. Go through your fiction. If your good at what you do then I’m sure your characters aren’t always the same color as you are, nor are they always the same sexual orientation or income level. They don’t think like you and they don’t talk like you. But, unless it’s a plot point, do they lie? Smoke? Steal? Are they unfaithful? Do they chew their nails, or talk too loudly when they drink to much, or push a joke too far?

Do they do the things you don’t accept from yourself for reasons other than to push the plot along? If they don’t, maybe some of them should…

So, I have some words left over, and here they are…

Not many, mind you. The radio silence on the blog has been because, on the 22nd of April, my wife gave me an early anniversary present. Usually, because I have a tendency to A) overspend and B) not have a good knowledge of what things are worth, she and I sit down a little before the actual date and hash out a budget.

Well, that didn’t happen this year, because she bought me an iPad2 and blew the budget out of the water. With no money for me to get her anything, I gave her an iPad1 for our anniversary. 🙂

So, on the 23rd of April, I decided to use every spare moment at work, or waiting outside a train station for Susie to arrive, or time that would otherwise be gobbled up by Warcraft or Angry Birds or whatever to write a novella.

And I did. Finished the second draft of it about ten minutes ago, and it’s sitting pretty nicely at around 32,000 words. Soon, I’ll send it to some people to read, then a redraft and then we’ll see what happens next!

So, that’s me. What’s everybody else been doing while I’ve been slaving over an iPad?

Arizona Afterwards – Chapter 18

Chapter 18 of the Zombie novel is now live.  I’ve written that “live” thing too often to make the usual joke about the word and Zombies…

Ever been to Winslow, Arizona?  Better go soon, as I can’t offer any guarantees for its safety.  If you haven’t caught up on the novel in a while, now’s the perfect time.  If you’re a regular reader, then Thanks!  If not, don’t waste your time here, click this link instead…   Arizona Afterwards

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (!)

Q:  What’s even cooler than knowing there are 33 awesome stories collected in Ticonderoga Publications’ inaugural volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror waiting to be upended into my brain?

A:  Being able to say that my own “Where We Go To Be Made Lighter” has been selected for inclusion!  There are also quite a few friends and inspirations in the Table of Contents, which is always a thrill.

Edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, the anthology contains 150,000 words of the best of the best, along with a review of 2010’s fantastical and horrific fiction and a list of recommended works.

In alphabetical order by author, here’s the Table of Contents:

RJ Astruc: “Johnny and Babushka”
Peter M Ball: “L’esprit de L’escalier”
Alan Baxter: “The King’s Accord”
Jenny Blackford: “Mirror”
Gitte Christensen: “A Sweet Story”
Matthew Chrulew: “Schubert By Candlelight”
Bill Congreve: “Ghia Likes Food”
Rjurik Davidson: “Lovers In Caeli-Amur”
Felicity Dowker: “After the Jump”
Dale Elvy: “Night Shift”
Jason Fischer: “The School Bus”
Dirk Flinthart: “Walker”
Bob Franklin: “Children’s Story”
Christopher Green: “Where We Go To Be Made Lighter”
Paul Haines: “High Tide At Hot Water Beach”
Lisa L. Hannett: “Soil From My Fingers”
Stephen Irwin: “Hive”
Gary Kemble: “Feast Or Famine”
Pete Kempshall: “Brave Face”
Tessa Kum: “Acception”
Martin Livings: “Home”
Maxine McArthur: “A Pearling Tale”
Kirstyn McDermott: “She Said”
Andrew McKiernan: “The Memory Of Water”
Ben Peek: “White Crocodile Jazz”
Simon Petrie: “Dark Rendezvous”
Lezli Robyn: “Anne-droid of Green Gables”
Angela Rega: “Slow Cookin’ “
Angela Slatter: “The Bone Mother”
Angela Slatter & Lisa L Hannett: “The February Dragon”
Grant Stone: “Wood”
Kaaron Warren: “That Girl”
Janeen Webb: “Manifest Destiny”

The Year’s Best should be out in June of 2011 and is, better still,  available for pre-order here. (In other news, I am totally allowing you to judge this book by its cover, since the cover is so damn awesome!)

Holiday Update

4 of the things on that list have already occurred,  Guess which ones…

School Holidays (a snapshot of the day I’m about to have)

Yes, it’s the first day of School Holidays over here, so let me just get a few things out of the way.

1.  Your child has to be between 6 and 12 years old for that activity.  No, 5 doesn’t count.  That’s why we said 6.  Because they have to be able to read and write and pour chemicals, that’s why.  For safety.  No, 5 doesn’t count.  Neither does 4.

2.  The bathrooms (they say toilets here, which I will never get used to) are across the foyer, set into the red wall.  See that white door?  That’s them.

3.  I’m sorry, guys, but we’re not allowed to have food or drink in the exhibition spaces.  No, they won’t tell you in the cafe, because A) they want to sell you food and B) they are not mind readers and probably do not know that you are incapable of functioning without coffee.

4.  Where are your parents.  Let me guess, are they among the 2/3 of the parent population I can see from where I’m standing that are using their frigging iPhones instead of interacting with their children?  Go tell them that you can’t be in here without your parents supervision, then explain to them what supervision is.  maybe have them look it up.  I’m sure there’s an app for that.

5.  I’m sorry, the Planetarium/Lightning Room show has already started, and we can’t let people in once it has begun.  No, unfortunately we can’t offer refunds either.  Where does it say that?  See on your ticket how it says ‘No Late Entry’ and ‘Refunds Will Not Be Granted’.  There.

6.  Perhaps you thought we closed at 5, but that doesn’t make it a fact.  We close at 4:30.  You clearly also ‘thought’, if I may be so bold to presume you capable of thinking something through, that instead of calling us, emailing us or checking the website to see when we closed, you’d just show up at 4:21 and hope for the best.  Good plan.

7.  Ma’am?  Are you with this little one?  I’m sorry, but she’s got to keep her shoes on while she’s in the Museum?  Because we’re still trying to pretend we live in a 1st World country, that’s why.  Maybe you and you clan wander around Kmart without shoes and without shirts, yelling across the store at each other when you get into a disagreement about which type of motor oil to be buying, but you’ve got to keep your shoes on in here.

8.  I’m sorry, Sir, we don’t have baby nappies that you can borrow.  No, we don’t have prams you can rent.  No, there isn’t a shuttle from the Museum to the Train Station.  No, we don’t have extra shoes or hats.  Did you know you were leaving the house today, or did you just wake up and discover some trans-dimensional portal had deposited you at a Science Museum?

9.  I’m sorry guys, you still can’t eat in here.  For the same reasons as before.

10.  You got a parking ticket because you parked on the grass.  After you jumped the curb.  And you blocked in three other cars.  And it looks like you might have scraped the building, a little, while you were at it.  No, the Museum won’t pay for your ticket.  No, the Museum won’t pay for the damage.  No, we don’t have spare shoes.