The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the English Language

I’m a fan of words…good ones that is.  Sometimes I will see a word written or hear a word spoken, and I’ll make a point of memorising it so that I can casually drop it into conversations (I’m cool like that).  It might be the way it sounds, the way it looks, or the imagery it evokes.  Then, there are those words that make me shudder.  Literally shudder with contempt, and wonder that anyone uses them at all.

Here is just a very small collection of the few words that I think could do with a bit more exposure, and those that, were they to crawl into a cave and die, would undoubtedly be doing the world a favour and likely improve the chances of world peace.

The good

Discombobulate – I wish I could use this word more often.  It just sounds, well, cool!

Magnanimous – This one makes me think of minions talking to their master.  And I do like minions.

Alohamora – I wave a wand in my head every time I say this aloud.

Skullduggery – Arrrrrrgh matey!

Racecar – ‘Cause everybody loves a good palindrome.

Gypsy – What’s this? No vowels!

Wednesday – Because I like how I sound it out in my head every time I write it.

The bad and the ugly

Chagrin – Twilight anyone? This word, sounds ugly, looks ugly…and what the hell does it mean?!

Moist – Last year it was concurred amongst friends (and some random people at the pub) that this is one of the ugliest sounding words, ever.

Grimace – Makes you want to do it as you say it.

Colonel – I sound somewhat challenged every time I stumble over this word when reading aloud.  I want to sound it out as it’s spelt…which apparently is not allowed.

Phlegm – Look at it!

Vacuum – Who’s idea was this, really?

Bookkeeper – Double letter overload.

I’m sure I’m not the only one having a love/hate relationship with the English language.  Are there any words that make you want to thank a supreme deity and sacrifice a virgin goat for the gift of language? Or those that similarly make you want to jump off a cliff so that your ears never have to bleed at the sound of them again?

~storytelling nomad~

1000 hit milestone. Yeah baby!

Two weeks of blogging bliss

It’s been two weeks since the birth of this blog, and I promise from hereon in that this won’t be a regular thing (me basking shamelessly in blog stat milestones, that is), but as the first ‘major’ one, I feel the need to celebrate.  And to thank you, dear bloggers, for taking the time to read the insignificant thoughts of my creatively inclined brain.  Please don’t stay in there too long, even I get lost sometimes…

Happy reading.

~storytelling nomad~

Heroes & Heroines: Females in Fantasy

I recently came across an interesting post over at Words about Words in response to an article posted on the Guardian website yesterday, entitled The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers.

Now, despite my love of all things fantasy and a slight (read: considerable) reading obsession, I have to admit that until it was pointed out to me recently, I didn’t really notice the distinct lack of female presence in the science fiction and fantasy genre. I mean, I just wanted to get lost in the story, you know? I wasn’t really fussed if it was written by a man, woman or your neighbour’s talking llama, as long as it was well-written, entertaining, and for a few hours a day let me escape to my merry reading bubble.

But try as I may to reach my happy place, I found I simply could not with this new found information. I started noticing the severely unbalanced male to female writer ratio in my book collection and began questioning the male protagonists in my favourite stories. Whatever happened to Harriet Potter, the girl who lived? Did Tolkien not think Frodina could have saved Middle Earth? Surely Bella could have survived in a world without Edward Cullen saving the day every ten pages?

The revelation came to a head, however, on discovering that my favourite author had changed her name from Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, to the ambiguously gender neutral Robin Hobb when she began writing her bestselling series, The Farseer Trilogy, led by male protagonist Fitz. The reason? Apparently boys are reluctant to read anything written by girls for fear of catching girl germs and being subjected to lovey dovey romance scenes when what they’re really after is war, sword fights and Tarzan-like displays of chest-thumping male domination.

“Really?” I hear you ask. Well, apparently Hobb is not the only one afraid of this outcome. J.K. Rowling’s use of her first name initials is not mere happenstance, and when I recently attended this year’s Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Melbourne, I listened with interest as Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon expressed her regret at not giving herself a male pseudonym for similar reasons. In a recent interview she was asked, “If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?” To which she replied:

I’d go to the past, just before I was first published and change my name from Jennifer Fallon to John Fallon. Then all the boys out there who assume that all female fantasy writers write soppy romance fantasies would pick up my books and read them and I’d be much, much richer.

Now, I know boys can be pretty boneheaded, but for it to make such a difference in a society where I like to think we have reached some level of gender equality; for it to have reached the point where authors are putting considerable thought into changing their names in order to sell their books, well that does surprise me. Not to mention, it makes me consider my potential (and at this stage very distant) future in writing fantasy fiction. Should I be considering a male pseudonym?

Similarly, the Words about Words blog that brought me to this discussion also considers the lack of strong female heroes within the genre itself.   I’d like to entertain my suspicions that this has something to do with the fact that many (but by no means all) fantasy novels, are set in a mythical past, often resembling a folkloric history of our own.  Now although fantasy, and all speculative fiction, ultimately has the creative license to build a world that doesn’t adhere to what we know as reality, a reader needs something to connect with, something familiar in order for them to relate to and follow the story without too much effort on their behalf.  This is what M. Thomas refers to in his Teaching fantasy: Overcoming the stigma of fluff, as the “Blue Skies, Green Grass” theory:

A fantasy novel usually follows the “Blue Skies, Green Grass” theory.  It has oceans, mountains, forests, and fields.  It has small towns and big cities, usually medieval in setting but not always.  Many fantasy cultures have not yet reached an age of technological sophistication, and most, but not all, deal with some aspect of the supernatural world that has some historical basis in human myth–fairies and elves, for example. (Thomas 2003:60)

I bring you to this point because, if the reader is placed in a medieval type setting, then they might expect some level of medieval type principles, which would result in the men as the warriors and the women bearing the children type structure.  Perhaps this answers to the lack of female heroes? Perhaps not.

Joss Whedon - my brain crush (picture courtesy of screenrant.com)

Joss Whedon, writer and creator of the cult hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the upcoming Avengers movie, may not be a writer of literature, but his writing sits as high as the best of them, and just between you and me, I’m pretty sure I’m in love with his brain. He created Buffy because he saw an absence of strong female characters and set out to rectify it. He refused to stick by the convention that a heroine needed to be warlike or ‘manly’. Buffy was, for all intents and purposes, a typical sixteen-year old girly girl and Joss is even quoted as saying:

When I created Buffy, I wanted to create a female icon, but I also wanted to be very careful to surround her with men that not only have no problem with the idea of a female leader, but were in fact engaged and even attracted to the idea.

Although he struggled to get Buffy off the ground, the show eventually prompted a change in small screen heroines and was significant in influencing the future of strong female characters on television as we now know it.

While I’m reluctant to enter the gender issue debate, I do think it’s worthwhile to recognise the gaps that might exist in any medium, because by doing so we give ourselves the opportunity, as women and as writers, to embrace a potential niche in the market and make it our own. Perhaps, if we pay heed to the absence of female writers and protagonists in fantasy fiction, then we might follow Joss’s example, endeavour to be pioneers, and make female characters more prevalent in the genre without misrepresenting or distorting the credibility of the historical and mythical worlds in which we place them.

Do I detect a challenge?

This post has since been published at Lip Magazine and All that is Wrong with the World.

~storytelling nomad~

Go Go Gadget, Write!

Today marks the first day of the National Young Writer’s Month, with the idea to set yourself a writing goal and reach that goal with the support of the NaYoWriMo community.  I’ve set myself three goals, which I think are pretty reasonable – I hate disappointing myself with unrealistic goals.  Number 2 is going to be the troublesome middle child.

  1. Join a local writers’ group – As much as I love the online writing community, I think it would be a good idea to extend that to actual living people, like, in the flesh…you know?  I’ve found one locally which meets next week.  This will be my first writers’ group and I’m quite nervous about it. I’ve read a lot of horror stories about these types of meetings, so I hope this won’t be one of them.

  2. Write a plot outline for my novel in preparation for NaNoWriMo – This is going to be the little rascal that looks all sweet and innocent and relatively simple to achieve, but will slyly evade me each day in the shadows until the deadline arrives and I realise another month has gone by and I just haven’t done it.  NaNoWriMo is the kind of motivational push (translation: violent shove) I need to just get the major project on its way, but this goal is so that when November 1st comes around, I don’t find myself sitting for hours chewing my pencil with a confused look on my face as I watch my fellow NaNoWriMo participants overtake me at great speed.

  3. Continue my daily blogging prowess – I have so far managed to write a post a day *applause*, hopefully not boring the pants off anyone too much…not yet anyway.  However, I have it under good authority that no post is better than a piece of garbage post that results in comments such as “yawn” or, “There’s two minutes of my life I’ll never get back”.  I’m too fragile to deal with such a tragedy, and so I’m willing to waver this goal if artistic absence demands it.

Anyone else have any writing goals for National Young Writers Month?  Registration is free on their website http://www.expressmedia.org.au/nywm/.

~storytelling nomad~

I talk to animals

Jack not eating my face off

I talk to animals.  Maybe I should be more specific.  You see, I don’t go around to any old worm, ant or cockroach asking them how their day is going.  No, I’m much more selective with my Doctor Dolittle tendencies.  My dog, Jack, for example.  <—-That’s him, over there to the left. The one with the crazyman eyes looking like he’s about to eat my face off (It’s not his best angle).  Yep, he’s worthy of the kind of Homo sapien to beast exchange I might participate in.  And in case you were wondering, yes, he does on occasion talk back.

You see, I’m that person who walks into a pet store and believes that every cute, little non-toilet-trained ball of fur is looking at me, and only me, begging to be taken home.  I’m fairly sure I was the nightmare child that begged and begged for a puppy, a kitten or a hamster.  One time I believe I actually hid my auntie’s new puppy down my jacket and hid in the back seat of the car for a reasonable amount of time thinking my ploy a great success.  Which, of course, it wasn’t.  Ahh, my days as a 7 year old dog snatcher now long passed, and yet I still have not grown out of my animal talking ways.

Jack and I have some good ol’ yarns.  He usually monopolises the conversation, telling me how much he needs a scratch behind the ears, shouting at me for not paying him enough attention for the last hour, telling me how happy he is to see me in the morning after 7 or 8 hours of no play.  Yep, Jack and I, we are quite the intellectual conversationalists.

Anyway, there is a point to this animal talking admission.  I realise that together with my post about talking trees you may be starting to wonder if I’m actually a bit of a loony, escaped from the crazy house, slightly ‘unhinged’. Yes?  Well, rest assured I’m about to defend my stark raving madness.  The fantasy fiction buff that I am, I’ve always noticed how many writers in this genre incorporate some affinity for animals in their stories.  Whether it be an ability to understand and talk to animals, or where the animals are spiritually connected to their human protagonists, or simply conveying a love and caring for animals as pets or companions.

I know that one prevalent convention of the fantasy genre is that the main character is often isolated or cut off from society in some way.  Harry Potter had his friends but they couldn’t always be with him or go through the trials he undertook.  And so there was his owl, Hedwig, to keep him company.  In the Farseer Trilogy series that I’m reading at the moment (see my previous post) some people have the ability to talk and bond to animals.  The main character, Fitz, is one of these people, and again, is in many ways detached from society.  His animal bonds offer him the companionship and friendship that he cannot find in the human company he keeps.  In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials every human has a daemon, which is essentially a person’s soul in the shape of an animal.  Isobelle Carmody is another animal lover, advocating, in her Obernewtyn Chonicles, for animals in such a way that a horse must agree and be willing to carry a rider.  Where animals are not owned or considered pets, but exist as equals amongst humans.

I’m sure there are many more examples, but I wonder at this manifestation of animal equality and the many stories whereby the humans have the ability to speak to animals.  Does it stem from some guilt at the maltreatment of animals over the centuries? Or is it some inner, subconscious response to a desire to realise such a possibility?  Perhaps I’m just looking to substantiate my predisposition to talking to animals.  Who knows?  What I do hope, is that in the very least it results in an awareness of animals – not so much as to offer them a seat at the dining table perhaps, but as living things just as worthy of the respect and decency that we expect for ourselves.

Jack says it’s time to play.  The beast has spoken.

~storytelling nomad~

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure (via Alec Nevala-Lee)

She really knows her stuff ol’ J.K….

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. Th … Read More

via Alec Nevala-Lee

My love affair continues…

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

I think I’m in love.  The subject of my affections? Robin Hobb and her Farseer Trilogy. It’s a fairly recent love affair but I can just tell it’s going to stand the test of time.

I only yesterday started the final book in the series, Assassin’s Quest, so perhaps this might be a little preemptive, but honestly, I simply couldn’t imagine being disappointed by this writer.  She has such an economical use of language, nothing too flowery or long-winded, and yet the writing is still so amazingly colorful, intelligent and imaginative.  While I was waiting for Assassin’s Quest to arrive in the mail from The Book Depository, I started on another of her series – The Rain Wild Chronicles, and although I missed Fitz, the Fool and Burrich from The Farseer Trilogy, I found her writing equally impressive.  Not to mention, all her books have been recently re-released with beautiful covers, and although you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, feel free to judge away with these.

These books really have been a pleasure to read…easy reading without the simplicity.  It’s not one of those books where you find yourself reading a paragraph over and over to make sure you’ve understood what is going on (insert frustration here), but neither does it make the mistake of underestimating its readers’ intellect.  I believe these books to be an excellent example of how to ‘show not tell’, a writing principle that makes all the difference in a good book.

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre…and even to those who don’t.  This is not a point-your-wand/alohamora/Hogwarts type fantasy, for anyone out there put off by that sort of thing.  It’s fantasy for adults, a story of intrigue, loyalty and a boy’s often agonising journey to becoming a man.

In conclusion, read it! You know you want to…

~storytelling nomad~

Hello! I’m a word snob.

Ok, so I admit, I’m a word snob.  I don’t know how it happened really, but happened it did.  Perhaps it was the years of learning foreign languages, discovering that the slightest error in spelling or structure could completely change the intended meaning of a sentence.  Perhaps it was my mum (hi mum!) encouraging me as a little girl to read as many books as possible to improve my vocabulary, resulting in my paying particular attention to all the “big” words I didn’t recognise.  It’s just as possible that my early days winning spelling bees in English class gave me an irrational sense of authority over my other illiterate 5 year old class mates.  Whatever the reason, here I am today, a word snob.

But what is a word snob? I hear you ask.  Well, I’m pretty much that really annoying person that can’t help but point out when it should be their not they’re, or your not you’re.  I’m the one sing-songing “i before e, except after c!” and explaining the difference between than and then, too and to.  On the occasion that I read over my own work and notice one of these errors I find I am disgusted with myself.  How could you Katy?  Go sit in the naughty corner and think about your actions.  There really is no stopping my word snob ways.

Some people have told me to get a life, that “what does it matter as long as you get my meaning?” Well sir, I beg to differ! Our ancestors spent the time and energy transforming speech to text and I like to show some respect by at least getting it right.  I find nothing more irritating when I’m reading than seeing a to where there should be a too.  Yes, I get the meaning and know what it should be, but just by being there it has distracted me from the story.  It has me wondering, “how much were they paying this editor? Surely in all the proofreads and edits somebody should have picked this up?!” And then I reproach myself for making such an assumption and move on to; “well maybe it was a kazilion times worse before and the author doesn’t really know her to‘s from her too‘s and in actual fact the editor has done a brilliant job making it as good as it is.”  Whatever the case may be, when I’m thinking about this sort of stuff it means I’m not paying attention to actually reading and getting lost in my book…and that makes Katy a sad girl.

So, to avoid being the absolute nazi word snob that I have, on occasion, been known to be around my friends, I have found a means to vent my frustration amongst like-minded people.  I’m currently studying a Diploma of Book Editing, Proofreading and Publishing, and I swear to God it’s like the Where’s Wally for word snobs such as myself.  I get to use my trusty red pen, hunt down and assassinate those oversights and misprints like the trigger happy cowgirl that I am.  And then I get congratulated and given a mark for how many I take out. Pow Pow!

In my most recent tutorial, however, I came across a discussion that turned into a bit of a dilemma for me.  The rules were vague and I didn’t know what was right or wrong. Wordsmith ancestors! How could you let me down like this!? The matter in question was the use of further vs farther*, with the discussion question:

It has become common usage in Australia (and around the world) to use ‘further’ in place of ‘farther’.  Do you think you should correct this usage in proofreading jobs for all texts?  What do you think is appropriate?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I understand that the change and evolution of language is inevitable and often necessary, but am also a great advocate for preserving language for the benefit of future generations.  Just because a word is perhaps easier voiced, written or remembered than its original (the current trend in acronyms comes to mind: lol, omg) I don’t believe it should supersede it, as the origins of words can be lost this way and with them pieces of the history of language.  In researching the origins of further and farther, I found that they are simply variants of the same word, later distinguished as having slightly different meanings, so if either were to ultimately replace the other, it would probably make little difference to the history or future of language.  And yet, I am still inclined to differentiate between the two while a vague rule still exists.  Is this irrational behaviour, I ask myself?  Surely if the two are becoming more widely interchangeable then it wouldn’t really matter.  But then again, isn’t that just laziness?

We have so many words for each of the colours in the rainbow; the colour blue can be aqua, midnight, turquoise, baby blue, kingfisher blue…each offering a variation of the same colour.  Surely it’s the same for all words in language, with each slight variation offering a deeper understanding of the intended meaning within the text.  I mean, we could just stick with blue after all, but how boring would that be?  When I see words such as quite and quiet used interchangeably, despite their difference in meaning being greater than further/farther, I would not ignore the misspelling simply because it is common and their differences misunderstood or ignored.  Surely if there is some confusion over the use of a word, the more practice people are given, the more they will understand the differences within their appropriate contexts.  One thing I’m almost certain of is that negligence is not the answer to ignorance.

So when is it okay for language to evolve? For OMG to replace Oh my God? For further to vanquish farther? How long do we hold on to the doeth’s, the thou art’s of our ancestors? When does it become necessary to let the younger generations make language their own? And how important is it to preserve what we already have?

*farther is used for physical distance (How much farther?) and further for metaphorical, or figurative distance (I need to look further into this).

~storytelling nomad~

Beginnings and Endings

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”– J. Pierpont Morgan

And so ends my first official week as a blogger.  23 posts, 13 subscriptions and over 500 hits later and I’m feeling pretty darn happy with my efforts (read: I’m awesome).  I even surprised myself in posting something every day for 8 consecutive days, an idea which I initially scoffed at.  I saw all the enthusiastic bloggers setting themselves a-story-a-day target, blogs about writing more, about writing every day, advocating to simply write write write and I thought to myself, ahh wouldn’t it be nice to have that much to say.  And yet, against all odds here I am, with my post a day and you as my witnesses that it actually happened.

Which brings me to what I have enjoyed most about this week: the comments and the feedback from fellow bloggers.  Oh! How my day improves when I receive that automated wordpress email, congratulating me that someone has enjoyed my post enough to click the ‘Like’ button.  I’ve been a uni student for quite some time now, and so admit to enjoying the guilty pleasure of being told, in writing, that I’m doing something right. High Distinction, 90%, good work, congratulations.  I don’t care how it comes, I just know I like it when it does. So sue me.  But for so long, writing has been more of a private passion for me, not something I was likely to share with anybody until it was perfect, until my best-seller was finished and ready to hit the shelves…and so feedback was evidently few and far between.  The self doubt was starting to get out of hand and I was ready to believe the little devil on my shoulder – that yes, my writing is rubbish and really there is no point even carrying on with this nonsense.

But alas, dear bloggers! You have renewed in me a confidence to carry on with the art, to make it better and to do exactly what I scoffed at in disbelief just one week ago … write write write.

~storytelling nomad~

My fictitious confrontation in hell

Today I received a text from a good friend which read as follows: Random Question for the Day – If you’re in hell and someone pisses you off, where do you tell them to go? My first reaction, was oh sh*t, what have I done? Followed quickly by the recollection of her telling me recently that she had begun each day asking people a random question, with the simple hope of being entertained by creative responses due to the nature of the questions.  So, in the hope of providing maximum entertainment to her well thought out question, I started thinking about where I would tell my arch nemesis to go if we were both in hell together.

Firstly, I tried to picture the subject of my planned fictitious torment. My mind drew a blank. I’m lucky enough to say that there’s no one I would wish anything truly evil on, having always lived by the philosophy that if someone is a negative influence on your life, then remove them.  Not in the hire an assassin/late night alleyway/exchange of paper bags filled with money kind of way.  Just, you know, distance yourself from them before they can do any real damage.  Result: sunshine and rainbows!

So, that was the unfortunate beginning to my life as a misery inflicting tormenter.  In an endeavour to create an evil fiend worthy of such disdain, I tried to imagine why said fiend would be in hell in the first place.  What gets you to hell these days? I’m guessing the ol’ lying, cheating, stealing, not being good to thy neighbour rules still apply in this century, yes? So far, I think I have just sent every interesting person on Earth to hell.  Doesn’t seem so bad.  Okay, so maybe the puppy haters will narrow it down a bit.  Yeah, that’s more like it, you monsters! What about a puppy hating, brussel sprout eating (I don’t care how good they are for you), planet polluting, illiterate half wit? Voila, one evil fiend ready to go.

So here we are, me and my evil fiend, hanging out in hell, and he happens to piss me off…he is evil after all.  I can’t say “go to hell”, for obvious reasons, which brings me back to the primary purpose of this rambling: what contemptible, but witty, response do I give him?  Now, I’ve thought about this a great deal since receiving that text earlier today, and I’ve come to the conclusion that no words in this reality could probably do the puppy hating, brussel sprout eating (again, I don’t care how good they are for you), planet polluting, illiterate half wit any real justice or the harm that he deserves.  Maybe I’m just too nice to think up an appropriate quip to measure up to his dark demonic ways.  Maybe I need to read some more in the way of crime and horror stories.  Maybe I am just smart enough to realise that being a jerk was probably what got him there in the first place, and in assuming hell is a pretty big place with all the sinners up here, I could probably stick with my current passive aggressive tendencies and just find some other hot flaming corner to hang out in.

Or…

I could impale him with a hot burning rod of fire screaming “die, jerk, die!” and see what he has to say about that?  I didn’t, after all, have to account for my own presence in hell…

~storytelling nomad~

My favourite place: Planet Earth

I consider myself lucky to have been given the opportunity from a young age to see a bit of the world.  It has made me appreciate not only what is beyond my own front yard, but has also made me recognise that you don’t need to cross oceans to find beauty in a place.  It amazes me how often people are so keen to travel overseas when some of the most celebrated destinations are just around the corner from their own home.  Such is life, it seems, that we always want what we don’t have.  I have included below four of my favourite photos, from places I have been that have taken my breath away.

The first, in the motherland, also known as England and the place of my birth, was taken from the bathroom window of my Aunt and Uncle’s early one morning just after Christmas.  Everything – the ground, the trees, the sky – was white, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

The second looks over the water at St. Helens, Tasmania.  Tasmania is grossly underrated for its beaches, which are some of the most beautiful I have seen in Australia.  The weather may be cooler than say in the Whitsundays, but the pristine crystal clear waters, definitely give Whitehaven Beach a run for its money.  Considering Tasmania is so often recognised as ‘the island’, it’s beyond me why people are surprised by the amount of beaches it has to offer.

Moving on to Venice.  I love that place so much I’ve been there three times.  It really is the most unique tourist attraction in the world.  There is no one monument, place or exhibition that draws you there, it is just the city itself.  Simply walk down any street that doesn’t head directly for the Piazza San Marco and you won’t be surprised to find yourself lost and alone…which frankly, is the best way to explore Venice.

And, finally, a place very close to my heart is Amalfi, along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.  It has to be my favourite place in Italy, quite possibly in the world.  Although, be warned, I may be slightly biased.  See my travel story Belonging in the Published Stories section to find out why.

English Countryside (view from my Aunt & Uncle's house one winter)

St Helens, Tasmania

Canals of Venice, Italy

Sunrise in Amalfi, The Amalfi Coast, Italy

~storytelling nomad~

“F*ck you Autumn!”

"f*ck you Autumn!"

I’m pretty sure, to the point of being certain, that this tree is saying “F*ck you Autumn”.  Not that I often go around assuming the private conversations or filthy language of inanimate objects, but, well, this one really seemed to be trying to say something.  While the other trees are fighting Autumn with their still lush greens, and others embracing it with their warm reds and golds, this one right here, this one is not having any of it.  I believe it transpired as follows:

***

Mr. Tree: What’s this?  I seem to be changing colour.  My leaves are drying up and I’m getting quite the draft up my lower trunk.

Fellow Tree: But of course!  The sunny season is withdrawing and we now prepare for the big white. Welcome to what the tiny two leggers call Autumn! It seems you are an early bloomer Mr. Tree.

Mr. Tree: It gets worse?!

Fellow Tree: Oh yes, but look how handsome you are.  You wouldn’t happen to be free for a sway in the breeze later would you?

Mr. Tree: Huh? Look, I’m really freaking out about this big white, slash, Autumn business you’ve just dumped on me.  What use am I like this?! How can I shade the tiny two leggers, or house the little flying animals that sing, or filter the air? This is really inconvenient you know.

Fellow Tree: Just go with it Mr. Tree.  You look hot.

Mr. Tree.  I’m not hot.  I’m bloody cold, and now you’re telling me it’s going to get worse.  Well, F*ck you Autumn.  I’m not interested in any of this in between nonsense.  I want to be at my best dammit! [Cue shedding of leaves]

Fellow Tree: *gasp* But Mr. Tree! What have you without your looks?!

Mr. Tree: My dignity!

***

I sympathise with Mr. Tree, I really do.  I often feel that if I can’t be my best, show my worth and exhibit my finest leaves, then well, I’d rather not show anything at all.  I think this often makes me try harder, and attempt to better myself and my writing, because I only want to be my best.  But what I often forget, like Mr. Tree, is that sometimes, even when you’re not at the top of your game, someone out there like Fellow Tree, might appreciate it and even on occasion like it more for what it is.  So, even though I respect Mr. Tree for wanting to be his best, for defending his dignity, I do believe it’s just as important to embrace the ‘flaws’, the bits in between greatness and defeat. After all, someone out there might just love you for it.

N.B. No trees were harmed in the making of this story.

~storytelling nomad~

Bones of the wicked

I had a crack at the Word Pool exercise I mentioned earlier in the week (see Stuck for Ideas?).

Bones of the wicked

I smile. He laughs.
We dance in the night.
We fly with the angels,
The stars in our sight.

But darkness remains.
He shouts. I cry.
He conceals the evil,
The truth. The lie.

I tremble. He sniggers.
I fall to the floor.
My body is heavy,
It serves me no more.

The shadows, they threaten.
He tenses. I’m rigid.
In him I discovered,
The bones of the wicked.

My pool of words were:

Void
Existence
Energy
Light
Bone
Art
Courage
Intelligence
Affection
Hate
Skate
Hollow
Wicked
Laugh
Tremble
Shatter
Bake
Cool

And my combinations:

Courage is skating
Energy laughs
A hollow intelligence
The void trembles
A cool existence
Hate’s light
Bones of the wicked
Affection bakes
Shattered light
Void art

~storytelling nomad~

Writers’ Festival envy

Emerging Writers Festival

Kicking myself that I’m not in Melbourne for the Emerging Writers Festival.  It looks a treat for the senses.  It’s at times like these that being a poor student nomad really tries my patience…and yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sigh.  Anyone out there I can live vicariously through? Anyone? Hello?

~storytelling nomad~

A writer? Where?

I read a blog today about someone who was surprised to be introduced by her friend as a writer, a scenario I could relate to.  I love my friends.  They are a supportive, encouraging, funny bunch of people, and I’m truly fortunate to know every one of them.  And yet, I have been known to berate them when they introduce me to people with: “This is my friend Katy. She’s a writer.”  I will smile politely through gritted teeth at this with a certain grace, but when I have them alone I beat them to a bloody pulp and scream at them to beg for mercy.  Not really.  But I will say something along the lines of “No no no! You can’t call me a writer.  It hasn’t happened yet! I’m not getting paid for my writing! My book isn’t finished!” Or similar.  Basically, I have always thought that to be considered a writer, you need to be published.  Now, when I think about it logically, I realise just how ridiculous that is.  Duh, Katy.  Obviously there are loads of writers out there who haven’t been published, who probably deserve to be.  Admittedly, there are also people out there claiming themselves to be writers, sending in absolute garbage to publishers (my days working at a major publishing house can attest to this) who are not getting published for a very good reason.  Even so, I know just from looking through the writing blogs on the wordpress.com site, that there are plenty of people out there who I would identify as writers, who may sadly never get the chance to be published.

I liken it to the philosophical riddle: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a writer writes and never gets published, is she still a writer? Um, are you stupid or something? In the event that you are – like my inner paranoid writerly self – stupid…then the answer is, of course, yes.

At the Melbourne Supanova this year, I spoke to Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon and expressed my concerns about making it as a writer and how I would know if it was time to try a different life long dream that I might actually succeed in without failing miserably and finding myself at the peak of my youth with nothing to show for it except a blank page and no money and a room full of rejection letters and…  Pause.  Breathe.  Where was I? Ah, yes.  So, she gave me two excellent pieces of advice:

1.  She could not guarantee that I would be published if I kept writing.  But she could guarantee that I wouldn’t if I stopped.

2. She told me that even when she was a checkout chick, she was a writer.

I think these are very sage pieces of advice that apply to any aspiring writer.  Firstly, you need to be viciously persistent and never give up.  Giving up is a sure way to fail.  Period.  And secondly, that a writer is a state of being.  Whatever else it is you do to pay your mortgage, put clothes on your back and feed little Felix or Jack or Poochiepoos…that there, that’s your job.  Your occupation.  Your money-making, food-on-the-table, 9-5 day job.  Some people are lucky enough to have writing as their job.  But even when you’re not getting paid for it, even if no one will publish you, even if you never show another single soul out there what you have written, if it is who you are, then you my friend, are a writer.

~storytelling nomad~

NaNoWriMo 2011…Can it be done?!

1 novel, 50,000 words, 30 days...can it be done?

It’s a while away yet, but I have just signed up for the 2011 National Novel Writing Month challenge.  I not long ago found out about this ambitious and exciting program, and must say, I’m more than a little intrigued.  The goal is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel between the 1st and 30th November, and share your progress with other NaNoWriMo-ees.  Because of the exceptionally small time limit, it’s about quantity, not quality, with the aim of getting writers to just write, and save the editing/rewriting/drafting for later.

As one who has had an idea for a novel circling around in my head for quite some time now, perhaps this is the kick in the ass I need to just, well, get it done.  But I wonder, am I setting myself up for terrible disappointment? Could I really write 50,000 words (or more?!?!) in 30 days?  I’ve never been one to shy away from a looming deadline, in fact I usually embrace the last minute cram (thank you tertiary education for that little gem of a skill), but I have my reservations about this one.  Can it be done? I would certainly be more than a little chuffed with myself if I managed to do it.

Anyone else up for the challenge? Perhaps we could find encouragement in our solidarity, joy in our success…or quite possibly (and very likely) solace in our failure?  Sign up at http://www.nanowrimo.org/

~storytelling nomad~

How to know when the critics are right

For writers, I think one of the hardest things to overcome in order to succeed, is their critics.  Considering that writing is a relatively solitary activity, it is often difficult to make that big scary step towards sharing your work with others.  It is a widely known fact that writers regularly suffer from what I call, the it’s-not-ready-yet complex.  Redrafting and editing seem like tedious tasks, but somehow we thrive on the tweaking and rewriting, always under the pretence that we can make it better, that it’s simply not ready to be shared with the world yet.  At the end of the day, there’s no way to really know when a piece of writing is finished, or ready, but eventually we take the plunge and the deed is done.

It is at this point that we are granted with a fairly brief moment of relief.  Hoorah! I never have to look at it again!  This moment of ecstasy is shortly followed with absolute fear at the knowledge that we must now await the onslaught of our critics.  What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? Or worse, what if no one reads it at all?

I have found that writers often choose writing as a career/state of being/lifestyle choice, precisely for the benefits of being able to work independently, to engage in a creative art which doesn’t require you to make speeches in front of a load of people, and to know that your work will be judged independently of your age, looks or social standing.  I believe that generally speaking, a writer’s primal instinct is to create, and to create alone.  Unfortunately, a writer must have its readers, an audience as such.  In writing courses, it is drilled into you that you must ‘know your audience’, ‘know your readership’, ‘know who you’re writing for’.  Kids, adults, fantasy enthusiasts, sci-fi buffs, romance addicts, crime fanatics.  Knowing your reader helps with your tone, your point of view, your language.  And yet, despite the fact that we write for an audience, we are often reluctant to share our work with them.

Obviously we are hard-wired to want to succeed in life, to be good, the best even, at the things we do.  So, after we have spent hours, weeks, months, years, slaving away at our work in progress, refining it and cherishing it like a newborn child, we, like a new parent, want everyone else to see how wonderful it is too, and if they don’t like it, well inevitably we take offence.

Now, back to the underlying question: how do we know when the critics are right?  Well, to begin with I’m the first to admit that I hate receiving negative feedback, but I realise that if there’s a problem with my work which readers are noticing, whether it be a grammatical error or a character flaw, I kinda need to know about it.  I understand this because deep down I know that if the readers aren’t happy then I’m doing something wrong.  This does not, however, mean that we need to change and edit every suggestion made to us by our critics.

I take you back to the concept of knowing your audience and writing for them specifically.  If you are writing a young adult fantasy novel aimed at current readers of books like Twilight, then you cannot expect to win the hearts of say classic literary buffs.  You might want to write a book about your family history, where your audience makes up less than a handful of people, and no-one outside that small group will ever be interested in, or enjoy reading it.  This doesn’t mean your writing is no good, it just means that you haven’t won over a readership that essentially you didn’t write for anyway.  I’ve had pieces of writing that some people have hated, and others have loved.  I’ve read stories that I’ve loved and that others have hated.  It all comes down to the old adage that everyone is different.  How can we possibly please everyone with our writing when not everyone likes the same thing?  Hence, finding your audience, and trying to keep them happy.

Ideally, when you receive feedback for your writing, take it all on board and try to stay objective.  It’s difficult to hear people finding fault with your hard work, and a lot of the time it might just be that they’re not who you’re writing for, your audience.  But, a lot of the time, these are the people who are going to end up helping you make your writing better.  If you receive recurrent feedback about a particular issue, theme, character, paragraph, then it’s probably worth at least taking a look at.  Get people who would be in your target audience to read over your drafts and see what they think, too.

In the meantime, remember that the positive feedback is equally important in improving your writing, because in my opinion, that’s when your readers are telling you that you’re doing something right.

~storytelling nomad~

Stuck for ideas?

When I began my writing course last year, my biggest concern was not whether I could write, but whether I had enough, if any, good ideas to write about.  I was sure I couldn’t be the only one, in fact, my lecturers must’ve been pretty sure too, because they introduced us to an exceptionally helpful book which now holds a prime position on my writing desk.  The Writing Experiment by Hazel Smith provides experimental and practical strategies and approaches to creative writing.  First of all, this is not a ‘how to’ book on writing.  As we all know by now, there is no single, correct way to write and everyone is different. Rather, it is a practical guide to experimenting with words, language and ideas.  From this book I learnt that we have infinite reserves of resource material for writing, we sometimes just need help tracking them down!

The most helpful section in the book for me has been Playing With Language.  As far as I know, we speak about 20,000 words a day, so surely we can string a few of those together to make something special, right? An example of a word exercise in the book is Phrase Permutation, where “the position of the words in relation to each other is changed within the phrase or short sentence, usually radically transforming the sense.”

Eg.
the death of the author
the author of death

An excellent example of phrase permutation is shown by Australian poet Myron Lysenko.  I think this word play is amazing.

UNDER THE TREE

They stood
under the big tree
and talked slowly

Under the tree
they stood
and slowly talked big

The big tree
stood slowly
and under they talked

They stood big
and slowly talked
the tree under

The big tree talked
and they slowly
understood

Another fun exercise was the Word Pool, where you “create a pool of words and then combine the words into unusual and striking combinations.”  The example in the book had the following words in the word pool:

time
clock
step
excrement
vomit
bicycle
word
fidget
blood
drift
mouth
loss
squat
sense
wail
ladder

Then, the words are combined to make unusual, evocative or striking combinations, the idea being to think outside the box.  The combinations given from this word pool included “time squats”, “sense wails” and “words fidget”.  It is anticipated with this exercise, that the combinations might lead you to an idea, theme or title of writing.

This book has loads of exercises like this, to get you creating things out of nothing.  I like it because it’s engaging and practical…there’s no nonsense about 10 step plans to writing a novel or any garbage like that.  It’s simple, creative exercises, generic enough to apply to any writing form, but specific enough in its execution to get some solid results.

You can check out more about it at The Writing Experiment.

~storytelling nomad~

Procrastination As Always (via Dreams Of Late)

I love this…

No, hold on, that line of text is not wrapping correctly and it looks funky when I preview it.  The words bleed over onto the side color of the page.  I’ll have to change it.  Hold on a minute, novel.  I’ll get to you.  There, it’s fixe…nope, hold on.  One more click, yes…there it’s done now.  How the hell am I expected to have people read this blog when it looks like crap?  It’s not professional.  It’s not how I’d like to represent myself. F … Read More

via Dreams Of Late

A Girl Who Reads (via Rants, Raves & Recommendations)

“If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.” Source. … Read More

via Rants, Raves & Recommendations

Read the whole thing at Date A Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico