Monthly Archives: October 2011

Monday’s Top 5

Happy Halloween to all those celebrating today. (I won’t be, for reasons I stated here.) But keeping to the spirit of history and tradition that surrounds the holiday, I would like to direct you to a great post from Alan Baxter about the history of Halloween: More than Candy.

Brian D. Buckley impressed again this week with his list of essential behaviours if you’re going to be a struggling artist full of self-loathing. Hating Yourself: A Guide is full of great advice if you want to dramatically and permanently decrease your self-esteem.

Speaking of advice, Vivacia shares the Top 10 Things I Learned Writing a First Draft on A Wannabe Writer’s Blog. (Note: This advice is both serious and helpful.)

Connor Rickett of Cities of the Mind shares his experience when he takes a break from writing to watch the sun rise from the top of a nearby hill. While there, he witness something that inspires him to write:

I just don’t get this obsession with half-experiencing things. Not just missing them because they’re inconvenient, which is somewhat forgivable, but inconveniencing yourself in order to miss them, like this guy. It’s like paying extra to fly coach.

This blog is such a regular in my Top 5 lists, speaker7 should need no introduction. On Ramblings and Rumblings this week, she blogs about an invention that will change the world as we know it. Click through and read all about being Forever Immobolized in Fleece. Here’s a little sample of what to expect:

I feel that this invention is up there with the printing press, lightbulb and Paris Hilton in terms of how it will revolutionize life as we know it. We are now this close (put your thumb and index finger about a tenth of an inch away) to being the humans in Wall-E.

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Why I Hate Halloween (in Australia)

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, is a holiday that is both new and old. While its roots can be traced back to ancient times, it has really only been celebrated in the modern way for 50 or 60 years, primarily in the USA and Canada.

More than 2000 years ago, the Celts lived in modern Ireland. The time between harvest and winter was an important one for them, and on the 31st of October each year they celebrated Samhain. This celebration mainly consisted of bonfires, food, and sacrifices to the Gods (mostly crops and animals). It was believed that the spirits of the dead could return on this night, and that the veils between life and death, summer and winter, were thinner and more easily pierced. So the celebrants would often dress in costume to hide from malicious spirits.

When the Roman empire spread through Europe and Britain, they brought with them their own customs and beliefs. The Romans celebrated the passing of the dead in late October, as well as a day of worship for Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Both of these holidays were incorporated into the Celtic Samhain, adding an extra element of ghostliness and Pomona’s symbol, the apple, to the day.

As Christianity spread through the world, heathens were encouraged and then instructed to stop practicing their own celebrations. When that didn’t work, Catholic leaders began moving Christian feasts and holidays to coincide with Heathen feasts. Thus the day to celebrate Christian martyrs and saints was moved from May to November 1, and called All Saints Day — or Alholowmesse in Middle English. The night before, the traditional night of Samhain, soon came to be known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.

The modern idea of Halloween in the US and Canada has only existed since around the 1950s. Although Halloween was celebrated in North America for a couple of hundred years before that, the traditions of today weren’t around prior to mid 20th century. But most of them date back to the older, heathen customs.

Costume wearing is from the Celtic tradition of hiding from mischievous dead. Trick-or-Treating was the Church-sanctified replacement for sacrificing food to the Gods. Pumpkin carving relates to the Celtic practice of extinguishing all hearth fires and then re-lighting them from the communal bonfires. Apple bobbing is a nod to the Roman Goddess Pomona. And the name, Halloween, is a version of the Christian All Saint’s Eve.

All of which is very interesting, but doesn’t explain why I hate Halloween.

I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, without ever hearing about Halloween. Back in those days, no one in Australia celebrated it. Or, if they did, they did so quietly. There was certainly no costumes or trick-and-treating. And doing so would have made no sense. It’s the start of summer. Why celebrate something  spooky when the sun is just starting to stay out late?

But when I was 8 years old, we moved to the States for two years. And, my oh my, didn’t I get an education in Halloween?

The food! The candy! The costumes! The candy! The bigger-than-your-head plastic orange pumpkin buckets to carry said candy! The songs and riddles and games! The parties! The candy! The decorations! Did I mention the candy?

I don’t honestly remember what I dress up as for the two years I was there. But I remember wandering the neighbourhood, going door to door to ask for candy, and having total strangers gush about how great we looked and drop handfuls of cheap chocolate and sugary goodness into our outstretched buckets.

I remember getting home and tipping our loot out on to the floor, and staring in wonder. And then eating as much as I could before falling into bed with a stomch ache.

I remember going to the most amazing party I’d ever been to, with witches and wizards and ghosts and goblins and a few devils. (I was too young to understand that all devils weren’t scantily-clad young blonde women.) We played games, and listened to ghost stories, and did some apple bobbing, and ate candy, and I had the best time of my young life.

I remember my parents going all out with decorating our house, and my Dad getting right into character as a mad scientist/psychopath, ready to hand out candy to all comers. I will never forget walking home after our trick-and-treating was finished, and meeting another group of kids who were just leaving our house. “Don’t go up there,” one of them said, his voice shaking a little. “I think there’s dead bodies. And the man’s really scary.”

I loved Halloween. Even more than Christmas.

And then we moved back to Australia.

We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia. Just like we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or the 4th of July. Halloween is not an Australian holiday. And after I got over my initial disappointment that there would be no more tubs of free candy or school days spent watching scary movies, I was okay with that.

I am okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the way that faux-Halloween-fever invades Australia at this time of year.

Walk into a shopping mall, and everywhere you look there are cheap Halloween costumes for kids, tacky decorations, and spider-webs strung everywhere. The thing is: none of it is really for Halloween. It’s just a way to display dodgy old stock in an attempt to cash in on the idea that Halloween is cool.

And it is.

If you’re in the US or Canada.

Turn on the TV at the end of October and all you’ll see if Halloween specials. Even on Australian shows. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo.

Memo: We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia.

Every year, one or two groups of children knock on the door looking for candy. And every year I say no. If for no other reason than because everyone (who celebrates Halloween) knows that you only trick-or-treat at houses with the light on.

Do I wish we celebrated Halloween in Australia? Sometimes. Actually, yes. Yes, I do.

But hanging fake cobwebs over the confectionery aisle in the supermarket and using Halloween Specials to boost TV ratings doesn’t mean we’ve got a holiday. It means we’ve got an excuse for more commercialism.

And that’s why I hate Halloween in Australia.

What do you think, am I a cranky curmudgeon (get off my lawn!), or do I have a point?

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My Sister Jak: A Birthday Wish

I remember it well, the day my sister was born. I’d just turned six and my brother was nearly five. Dad picked us up from school and made the announcement:

Mum’s in the hospital, we’ll go and visit her now. You’ve got a little sister! Also, Bounce had kittens.

Amazing, right? We hadn’t even known our cat was pregnant!

So off we went to the hospital, where I met my new baby sister, Jak, for the first time. I remember looking down at her and thinking: I can’t wait to see the kittens. 

You know those Hallmark cards you get, where there’s a long verse about the special bond between sisters? Well, from the day Jak was born, I wanted to take one of those cards and hit her with it. Repeatedly. The only kind of “special bond” we had, was the kind that grows between tormentor and victim. Some kind of warped Stockholm Syndrome version of love.

I’m not kidding — she spent her entire childhood tormenting me.

Admittedly we got off on the wrong foot right from the start. A few days after Jak was born, my parents explained to me that, although the demanding, crying, boring baby was going to be a part of our lives forever (and ever and ever), we had to get rid of the kittens. I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten over that…

As a child, Jak was passionate, creative, independent, strong-willed, and determined to follow her own path.

Hold on, that’s what she’s like as an adult. Let me try again.

As a child, Jak was intense, messy, selfish, stubborn, and completely unwilling to compromise. 

The Jak Stare - Age 3

By the time she was two years old, she’d developed the “Jak Stare”. This stare was the bane of my childhood; a vaguely amused and superior look she would get when she couldn’t decide whether you could possibly be that stupid/ignorant/clueless.

I remember one of the first times she gave me the Jak Stare. I was eight and she was two. Mum called us to the table for lunch, and I raced in and sat at the table, waiting for Mum to finish making my sandwich. Jak looked over the scene, pushed a chair up to the kitchen bench, and proceeded to make her own sandwich. Because no one else would do it “right”.

Did I mention she was two years old?

(I have it on good authority that she would do the same thing today. Minus the chair.)

When Jak was 14, my parents had to move interstate for a year. Rather than disrupt Jak’s schooling, I volunteered to look after her. Much to my surprise, they agreed, and I moved back into the family house and took on the role of guardian to a teenager. It was then that Jak and I actually started to bond. (Although I still didn’t escape the Jak Stare.)

The Jak Stare – Age 17

Now that we’re adults, I can read those Hallmark cards in a whole different light. Rather than thinking they’re all crap, I read them and think: Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like to have an amazing sister!

Of everyone in the world, Jak is the one person who I know with absolute certainty will understand and listen to me — even when she doesn’t agree with me, and even when she’s about to bestow upon me the adult version of the Jak Stare.

Jak is one of only three people who will ever understand what it was like to grow up in the family we did, and one of the few people who understand what it means to be “normal”, the importance of having only half a banana on a sandwich, and why Plebian the turtle has a removable shell.

But Jak isn’t just my sister and my friend. She’s an inspiration.

My sister is passionate, creative, independent, strong-willed, and determined to follow her own path. She’s open-minded and curious, interested in people and places and experiences, and endowed with an almost childlike sense of fun and adventure. She’s wise beyond her years, but young at heart. She’s generous, brave, and cynically idealistic.

Wait… what?

Bring cynically idealistic isn’t possible, you say?

Then you haven’t met my sister.

 

 Happy birthday, Jak.

Have a great night celebrating. Have a drink (or two) for me.

P.S. You’ll notice that, even though you called me a day late for my birthday, these birthday wishes are on time.

P.P.S. I’m not sure if that actually means that I’ve “won”, or if it just proves that I’m unwilling to go through with my threats…

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BWF: Book Futures, Contracts and Serialised Novels

Session: Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 3: The Future of the Book

Panelists: Simon Groth, if:book

Did you know there’s an international organisation called if:book ? It stands for Institute for the Future of the Book. Yeah, me neither.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that the Institute started in New York, then spread to London and finally Australia. Based on what I learned during this session, the purpose of if:book is to keep in touch with people in the publishing community, and communicate ideas about the future of the book.

If it helps, that didn’t really clear anything up for me either.

Simon was interesting, in a geeky let’s-talk-about-ebooks-but-nobody-get-scared kind of way, but I have absolutely zero notes about his session.

Actually, that’s not true. I have one word written down: zeitgeist. Because I was impressed that he managed to use it in the middle of a sentence without skipping a beat.

Rating: 2/5

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Session: Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 4: Negotiating Contracts

Panelists: Alex Adsett, Publishing Consultant

I really didn’t expect to enjoy a session on publishing contracts. It’s kind of like going to the fair and lining up to get your taxes done. But Alex Adsett managed to be both informative and interesting, and I came away with four full pages of notes. Some of the main points were:

  • A publishing contract can be anywhere from 3 to 30 pages long, depending on the publisher and the type of book.
  • While most clauses are pretty much copper-plate from contract to contract, there are a few to watch out for. Reversion of rights is one of the biggies, so look out for both what’s said and what’s not said.
  • Don’t sign anything without having it looked over, and if you don’t understand, ask questions!

The biggest thing I got out of this session is the solid decision that if I am traditionally published, I really want an agent to double-check the 30 page legal document, thankyouverymuch.

Rating: 4/5

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Session: Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 5: Connecting with Readers

Panelists: Max Barry (author), Anna Lensky (Publicity Manager)

This final part of the AWM Industry Masterclass was all about interesting and unusual ways that authors can connect with readers, from utilising publicity managers to book trailers to more outside-the-box thinking. While all of that was interesting, none of it was really new to me. What I enjoyed about this session was Max Barry’s story of how Machine Man came to be written.

A few years ago, Max was working on a novel and chronicling his progress on his blog. Not in any great detail (no plot/characters/story/etc), but enough to let people know that he was working on one. Finally, the day came when he finished it and he wrote a blog post about how it was his “best novel yet” and everyone was going to love it.

Then his agent hated it. And so did his editor. Nobody was interested in buying it, and he was back to square one.

Plus, he had to go back to his blog audience and announce that his “best novel yet” actually wasn’t. Can you even imagine the embarrassment factor there? So he made a decision not to blog about his writing in the future.

Instead, Max blogged about his dog, and growing a moustache, and other day-to-day stuff. And one day he got an email from a frustrated fan. The email essentially said:

What the hell are you doing? Stop blogging about pointless stuff, and get back to writing awesome novels! If you don’t come up with something soon, I’m going to be forced to read Twilight.

Max’s first reaction was to think about how most people don’t realise the time involved in writing a book and getting it published. But then he started to think about how he could remedy the situation. So he decided to create a serialised novel via his blog.

The idea was simple. Each weekday, a new page of the story (approx 400 words) would be sent to subscribers via email or text message. They would then be able to comment on the writing as it was going, make suggestions, ask questions, etc etc.

And that’s how Machine Man was written. It was a serialised novel written 400 words at a time, and distributed via the internet. What an amazing world we live in.

Things I learned from this story:

  • Be careful what you share on your blog. It could come back to bite you later.
  • Emailing and heckling your favourite authors could lead to great innovations in storytelling and result in their next book being dedicated to you.

Rating: 4/5

(Read more about my BWF adventures here.)

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Flash Fiction: 100 Word Romance

The writing prompt over at TerribleMinds this week a 100 word story on the theme of ‘bullies’ or ‘bullying’ in honour of Spirit Day. I sat down and tried to writing something, but failed miserably. It’s not that I don’t have a plethora of material to work with — I was bullied every school day for 10 years of my life. But even now, 17 years after graduating high school, the emotional wounds are too raw to be used for fiction without the facts weighing down my story.

But I didn’t want to let all my “fans” down by not writing anything this week, so I challenged myself to write something else outside my comfort zone – a 100 word story with a romantic theme.  This is quite different to my usual writing, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. (Note: For best effect, try reading this story out loud.)

My Lover, My Lady

 I wake and listen to her song. It is more a sigh than a shout this morning. I smile. She seems placid, but beneath her serenity I sense a coming storm.

This won’t be the first we’ve seen in sixty years.

I first saw her the summer I turned sixteen. I was young, inexperienced, searching for something to satisfy the longings I didn’t understand. She seduced me with ease and experience and I promised I’d be hers.

But years pass and my spirit grows weary. My last wish is to die in her embrace.

My lover, my lady.

The sea.

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Monday’s Top 5

My absolute favourite post this week is one written by Brian D. Buckley titled You Do Not Even Have To Believe In Yourself. This post resonated with me so much, I’ve been thinking about it all week. No matter what kind of art you do (or would like to do), click over and read this post. Because really, you don’t even need to believe in yourself. You just need to “Keep the channel open; make good art; give the world what it can’t get anywhere else.”

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. (Only 8 days to go!) Katy from Storytelling Nomad wrote a great post about her newbie jitters, and her plan for tackling the terrifying task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

If any writers out there aren’t following Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog, I highly recommend it. Although she doesn’t represent the type of fiction I write, she’s always entertaining and informative. This week, she had an amusing competition where she asked readers to complete this joke: How Many Agents Does it Take to Screw In a Lightbulb. A sample of the answers and the winning entry is here. My favourite?

How many agents does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

It’s impossible to say. The whole industry is moving towards ebulbs now.

Ah, spam. Is there anything you can’t do? It’s the little things, really, like the tickle of amusement when I read that you’d like me to change my text colour, the heapings of praise for my “helpful article” about “the best singer” on my vampire flash fiction, and the thrill to find out someone is interested in helping me improve my SEO. But my new favourite thing about spam? It inspired this entertaining post on Prawn and Quartered: And Here’s To You, Mrs. HornyHot26.

And now for something completely different…

Do you like crime shows? Do you always have a little titter when someone gets decapitated and the investigating officer takes one look and comes up with a witty one-liner? Well, now there’s a new group of forensic investigators on the block. I give you CSI: Legoland. Watch it. Seriously. It’s blocktacular.

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