Category Archives: The Writing Life
I am trying to come up with a better ending for the first farm book. Something that foreshadows the arc of the four books, while at the same time making the first book a satisfactory read.
Everything I write either sinks like lead boulders into quicksand or is trite or is slightly ill-fitting like damp underwear just one size too small for comfort.
I don’t normally suffer from this sort of writer’s block. Business as usual for me is a traffic jam of ideas. I guess i will just have to push through until I find the firm ground again.
I am currently writing books aimed at middle-grade readers around ten years of age. Ten is an interesting age. Before a child is eight, they are still in the ‘dreamtime’ of their youth where fantasy concepts can seem as true as reality. Many younger children are either completely fearless or very fearful, depending on their nature, because everything is still ‘unknown’. A ten year old is still much smaller than an adult, but the world is no longer unknown territory. A ten year old has a pretty good grasp of the rules of the world.
Then puberty hits and messes up the world view again. But that’s another issue.
This makes writing for this audience tricky. They can tell if you’re talking down to them. They can certain sense insincerity. And they can most definitely tell if the writing and story telling is bad. So, it means you have to write with your heart as well as your mind; which is how we should write all the time, really.
I’m lucky. I still like many of the same things I liked as a ten year old: animals, comics, cartoons, fairy tales. It makes writing for this age group easier, because I can remember how it felt to be ten.
It always seems to surprise people that I write horror stories – particularly my family. I am seen as having a ‘sunny’ personality with little in the way of darkness. This is because I save all my darkness for my horror stories.
As a child, I was haunted by my monster under the bed. (On a tangential note, why do so many people fear the things under their beds.) When I was eight, I convinced myself that the monster had gone to live under my sister’s bed. I never told her about the monster, and she slept in blissful ignorance of its presence. It was a brilliant move on behalf of my imagination, because I was able to sleep without worrying that some paw was going to grab me and drag me under the bed.
By the bye, ‘Poltergeist’ gave me nightmares for years.
Part of my problem is that I have no night vision … a side effect of having excellent colour vision. I can eat carrots until I turn orange, and I will still have very little ability to see my way around in the dark. What you can’t see is scarier when you have a vivid imagination that can fill the shadows with tentacles and teeth.
I’ve found that writing out my night terrors turns them into something I can cope with. It’s hard to be scared of a monster when you can edit out its teeth and slime and stuff. Instead, I can scare other people! Better to be the monster than be the victim…
I read science articles and textbooks for fun. I blame my avid interest in science directly to my avid reading of Science Fiction – I discovered ‘I Robot’ by Isaac Asimov when I was eight. When I had finished reading all the Science Fiction and fantasy books in my high school library – since I went to the same high school for five years, this wasn’t as great an accomplishment as it first sounds – my lovely librarian pointed in the direction of Asimov’s popular science books.
So, I have a large collection of reference books. I’ve read some of these books multiple times, like Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. Over the years, parasitology has inspired several of my favourite stories to write; I am a big fan of the poem by Augustus De Morgan:
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on…
Recently, I’ve come across the concept of Survivor Bias. The best example of this was a study done of number of injuries cats presented with in veterinary surgeries, after the cats had fallen from the height of multiple storeys. Strangely, after the 9th floor, the number of injuries were less than those animals that had fallen from lower floors. Now, you might think that the added height gave the cats the opportunity to control their descent and increase their survival. What was really happening is that dead cats don’t get taken into the vet.
Now, I am inspired with the fictional possibilities of this concept. The fiddling of statistics always fascinates me … people think statistics is such a ‘hard’ science. And yet it is one of the easiest to skew the results, using things like survivor bias and sample size and where you chose to take your samples from.
I’m already rubbing my hands with glee.
I found out where the word ‘shoddy’ come from. Shoddy used to be an industrial term used in the fabric industry. Shoddy cloth was made from recycled materials, where the fibres were shorter than normal, making the material less durable.
I am now going to use this as a pejorative in any of my Steampunk stories.
The history behind words fascinates me. I’m always on the look out for new words, and for a new twist on old words. Sometimes, the ‘new’ twist is using the word with its original meaning.
So, what do you so with those dead darlings? If you’re like me, you tend to put them into ‘edited out of the WiP’ folders. Sometimes they languish and die, unloved, unforgotten. However, as I am a lazy individual at heart, I tend to try and recycle EVERYTHING. Failed ideas. The dozens of rejected stories from DailySF and Furious Fiction and the like.
Sometimes they get completely rewritten until they are unrecognisable; sometimes a bunch of stuff will get mashed together. Sometimes the attempt fails and that story is stuffed into an ‘Edited until I killed it’ folder.
Except, sometimes it works. I make something new and shiny. It gets accepted by another market.
If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that you should NEVER give up … on an idea, on writing, on a dead darling. I’m a necromancer, making the dead live again! I’m the new Doctor Frankenstein, and my monsters LIVE! Watch me turn a dead darling into a zombie story …