Why I write – a response

This post is inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Mind blog. He put out a flash fiction challenge to write about “why I write?”

Here’s my story of “Why I write”.

I was a kid into books. I love stories. I love to be lost in books and transported by words. But I used to think storytellers were other people. Not me. They were artists. Artistic, high lit, tortured poetic wordsmiths. When I dashed down some words on a page, they were plain old crap.

It took years to learn lesson#1.

The first draft of anything is shit – Ernest Hemingway

So I hid the shit in a drawer and went back to watching TV.

But the desire still ate away at me. Whenever I thought about my life goals – writing a book was always number one with a bullet. So I’d enrol in some writing courses. I’d dabble but never had the confidence to take myself seriously.

I’d get discouraged and distracted.

Then I found Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo helped me churn out three or four unfinished lumpy novels. I proved to myself I could sit down and write 50,000 words in a month but they didn’t work. They didn’t resonate with me. My urban fantasy felt too cheesy. When I tried to write crime, my skin crawled when I tried to get inside the heads of serial killers or murderers. I was an imposter, none of it felt truly like me.

So I put it away again and went back to post-grad study.

Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try – Yoda

I started to get all angsty, mid life crisis riddled. My life circumstances changed and I had a bit of time on my hands. I imagined dying tomorrow with this one ambition left unfulfilled. It would be my one regret.

So I sat down and did it.

This time, it’s war – Aliens (1987)

Now I realise I need it. Practising every day, I’m learning the craft and improving. I read and learn from others. I’m prepared. I know it’s a bumpy ride of “I suck. I rock.” I know that the vomit draft is the easy part, the hard part is the six months of Revise. Delete. Rewrite. Repeat. I know the odds are stacked against me, there are millions of books published every day competing for readers. I know all this and I do it anyway. Cos I love it and it makes me happy.

That’s why I write.

Michael Whelan’s Yours Truly

Killer cockroaches and ashes – Imagination Fuel Diary

Are there any songs about Thursdays? I can’t think of any.

As an exercise in documenting my imagination fuel, I spent a day noting down interesting sights, sounds and topics for future writing. Inspiration is everywhere and you never know where the next gem might crop up.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. ~ Neil Gaiman

  • A burnt out building.

As I walked to work, I caught sight inside a fire damaged building. The news stories said the fire was suspicious. I peeked inside (actually I stopped and had a proper gawk) at the smoke damaged walls, the blackened beams, the smashed skylights, the missing first floor, the piles of debris, the grey, white and black.

  • A ballet costume on a bill poster plastered to a brick wall

A vibrant green male ballet dancer jumping the air with a flowing cape from the Australian Ballet’s production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s the image from the poster.

www.artcentremelbourne.com

  • Killer cockroaches preserved in amber found in Myanmar

A “crane giraffe” killer cockroach from 100 million years ago has been found preserved in amber. Sounds like the premise of a horror movie to me.

  • A bumper sticker “Avenge Sevenfold”

This might be some kind of brand or a bikie gang, but my imagination went to a tale of brotherhood and family rivalry.

Note: turns out my memory is faulty and this is a US metal band and their name is Avenged Sevenfold. Good name though.

What you noticed today which fuelled your imagination?

Tiny apartments – the fancy and the appalling

As cities get bigger and more people move to find work, pressure on housing increases. Tiny apartments is one solution.

Like all interior design porn, small apartments get attention. The perfectly minimalistic Nordic designed tiny space with only the bare essentials.

A micro-apartment for James Bond perhaps?

www.businessinsider.com

Or a pristine serene monk cell? But where do you put the telly?

www.lituanus.org

That is all nice for a photo shoot but how do people really live when they only have 10sqm (300 sf), or less, of space.

Look at Hong Kong…

www.nvusdesigns.com

…where whole families live in similarly small space.

www.nvus.nl

www.cantonese.tierlinck.net

…or live in bunk like storage cages.

www.dailymail.co.uk

It’s not just in Hong Kong, here’s an example in London

www.guardian.co.uk

Dystopia is here already.

Tips from an author with 300 million books sold – James Patterson

James Patterson is in town this week. Whilst I’m not really a fan, you can’t argue with a guy who’s sold 300 million books. I went along to hear him speak and hoping to catch any snippets any wisdom. Hoping, perhaps some of his success would rub off on the audience. Here’s my take on his story, his process and the importance of self-promotion.

My first impression, what a down to earth guy! Witty, self-deprecating and a little bit cheeky, the talk was very entertaining, with many chuckles. Not at all what I expected…

His story

  • Started reading again for pleasure while working the night shift in a mental hospital
  • Every short story he submitted was rejected
  • His first novel – The Thomas Berryman Number was rejected 31 times before winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel
  • At his acceptance speech for the Edgar, he said “I guess I’m a writer now.”
  • The highlight of his Hollywood career was appearing the Simpsons, as a fantasy of Marge’s.

His wisdom included…

Writing craft and his own process

  • The best writing is crisp and short, including short chapters. He repeatedly used the word “crisp”.
  • His strength – to turn anything into a story
  • His weakness – patience to truly hone his work, rather than moving on to the next project
  • On co-writing, he sees it as a team effort. Screenwriters/TV writers work in teams. He also uses researchers.
  • On characters, the reader does not need to know everything about a character, only what makes them interesting.

Why people like thrillers (especially his own)

  • Solving puzzles
  • Involvement with both the hero and the villain
  • Satisfactory endings – so lacking in everyday life or true crime

Key takeaway – Self promotion

I was really interested in how he developed his own ad for “Along Came a Spider”. Working in advertising at the time, he pitched an ad to his publishers. They rejected the idea, but he went ahead and did it himself out of his own pocket. This advertisement helped push the book into the best seller lists. A great example of taking control of your own marketing and brand.

He told a great follow-up story, where he watched a woman pick up his book in a shop and was filled with delight, only to see her slip the book in her handbag without paying. Does shoplifting count as a sale?

He also spoke on the need to support independent bookshops (worried about the Amazon monopoly) and building a passion for reading in children. Here here!

An enjoyable evening with a few nuggets of wisdom for this budding writer.

http://www.jamespatterson.com

Lakes of liquid mercury and Bears take back Chernobyl

OK, it’s a massive cliche but the world is an amazing place and truth is stranger than fiction. Here are a couple of news items which caught my eye and fuelled my imagination.

Lakes of liquid mercury

Archeologists excavating a Mexican pyramid site found a chamber filled with liquid mercury sealed for over 1,800 years. This lake of liquid mercury suggests the existence of the tomb of a very important individual. Liquid mercury has no apparent purpose for the ancient Mesoamericans. The archeologists theorising that the liquid mercury represents an Underworld River like the River Styx or a dark mirror to look into the supernatural world.  Reminiscent of a scene from a Mummy movie.

Bears take back Chernobyl

It’s almost thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster and nature is taking back the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Scientists on the Ukrainian side, have positioned over 80 cameras to document the animals now living in the radioactive zone, including endangered horses, grey wolves, lynx and even brown bears. The way nature bounces back and takes over in such a short period always fascinates me.

What fuelled your imagination this week?

www.vecteezy.com

Inspiration – indigenous people and the power of storytelling

My novel in progress, Return to the Monolith, has a plot line about indigenous people being forced off their tribal lands and ostracised. It also raises how colonials have ignored and discredited the wisdom of indigenous people. Their wisdom and knowledge of the land honed through thousands of years of living in the landscape

This week I saw this news story from ABC about scientists verifying the myths of the Aboriginal people explaining how palm trees got to Central Australia. This story has been handed down through generations for possibly 30,000 years. The power of storytelling?

The researcher mentions how science can learn from the knowledge of indigenous people. The researcher goes further to suggest that more Aboriginal myths, including those about mega fauna (and how I love my mega fauna!) should be analysed further for factual information.

Let’s hope there is more of this collaboration between indigenous people and scientists to share their knowledge. Science does not always know best.

Awesome Female Characters – my picks for #womeninfiction

Last week (last century in internet terms), the hot trending hashtag was #womeninfiction. Everyone chiming in with their favourite female characters. I jumped on the band wagon and here’s my picks in more than 140 characters.

In no particular order:

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet M. Welsch, an eleven year old budding writer, who started jotting down everything she saw in a notebook. I’ve just reread the synopsis of the book and I can’t remember any of the rest of the plot! But her inquisitive ways, her bravery and her love of tomato sandwiches stuck with me to this day!

Lisbeth Salander – Steig Larsson

“Salander was the woman who hated men who hated women.”

A powerful messed-up character, who you cheer for, cringe with and cry for. Smart, stupid and stubborn. The only female character here written by a man.

http://www.thedebutanteball.com

Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren

“Don’t you worry about me, I’ll always come out on top.”

Free-spirited girl, strong and brave, clever and resourceful. A rocking role model for any girl.

VI Warshawski – Sara Paretsky

I went through ten years of avid crime reading. Then one day I woke up and seemed to have moved on. One of my earliest reads and loves was VI Warshaswki. VI was the original self-sufficient, tough, clever female private investigator.

Super exciting post script – Sara Paretsky tweeted me back to thank me for my nomination. Squeee!

I’m sure I’ve missed a million others, who are your #womeninfiction?

Top 5 dystopian movie influences

I like movies. I’ve seen a lot of movies (so many I can barely remember a lot of them).  Movies inspire me to write, I look back to various scenes, characters and worlds when creating my own little universes. It’s all storytelling in the end.

In the spirit of my favourite film podcast, Filmspotting, here’s five dystopian movies which have influenced me with their world building or premise. Some of these films are great, some are a bit dodgy but their settings or various scenes have influenced me.

Note: before you yell out at your screen, “hey you, where’s …?”, I ruled out anything from a famous book. This means Blade Runner, 1984, Farenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange etc are all out.

In no particular order….

Children of Men

The world where fertility is gone is a frightening premise. A great dystopian world which can be easily imagined from our current world, the familiar London streets, only grubbier, greyer and more violent. A few more things go wrong in our world and we could be facing into this.

Of course, there are the brilliant single shot sequences, the scrummy Clive Owen and a bit of Michael Caine to round it out.

Dead End Drive In

This is a weird Australian film where the dregs of society are locked inside a drive-in. The government is rounding up all the “no hopers” and locking them away. This is another familiar yet creative twist on 1980s Australia, when the economy was struggling and millions were out of work. The acting is dodgy, there are loads of explosions and heaps of 1980s Australian celebrity cameos. But what intrigued me is the premise of taking an everyday activity (like a drive-in) and turning it into a tool for tyranny.

www.fangirlmag.com

Alphaville

I found this film very cold, but love the mixture of hard boiled noir in a dystopian world. There are no out there sci-fi or futuristic sets or costumes. It’s 1960s France with a twist. The gravelly voice of Alpha 60, the sentenient computer system, is chilling and ingrained in my memory.

www.thefilmstage.com

Metropolis

How can you look past the grandmaster of all dystopian movies? The art design, the costumes, the story line. It rocks and it’s almost 80 years old. What else can I say?

www.uow.edu.au

The Omega Man

Controversial? Is this post apocalyptic or dystopian? The opening scenes are the most influential, empty Los Angeles with Charlton Heston driving around, watching the Woodstock doco in the abandoned theatre utterly alone. This was the first time, I felt the eeriness of a city with no people. Reminds me of a time I was in a London tube carriage all on my own. Spooky. Yes, this is based on I Am Legend, so I could be breaking my own rules here. Oops.

As you can see from this list, I’m a bit art-house, but I’m comfortable with that.

What other dystopian movies have influenced you?

Recent Reads – Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

After finishing Sunne in Splendour, I opened and closed three or four other novels before I found something which grabbed my attention. That book was Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.

The difficulty here is how to even describe this amazing novel. Highly imaginative with densely detailed world building, cinematic (although I challenge anyone to adapt to a live action movie!), moving, intellectual and sometimes confusing. The prose is so lush and beautiful, I restricted myself to one chapter per night to wallow in the description (until I got near the end and gobbled the rest up). This is not a book to read with the TV, it demands your attention. Even then I don’t know if I fully understood it, I plan to give it a second read some day.

OK, so what’s it actually about – a fat mad scientist is contracted by an outcast eagle-person without wings to help him to fly again, whilst the scientist’s insect artist lover is commissioned by a mongrel underworld figure to immortalise him in sculpture and the government are experimenting on some kind of top-secret moths, all happening in a multi-cultural, multi-species city of wildly different neighbourhoods and enclaves. It’s about individual freedom and drugs, love and rebirth, art and science.

This is the second Mieville novel I’ve read, his work is complex and odd. He makes me feel a bit dumb sometimes, but I like it. I did get lost in some of the descriptions of high maths and scientific experiments (not my forte), there is where the detail was too dense for me. I am still processing the ending, sad, moving and just.

This is an award winner, so it barely needs my recommendation, but I thoroughly enjoyed Perdido Street Station. If you’re a budding writer and you want a novel to inspire and discourage you, get your hands on this book.

www.sfreviews.net

Write on – why I love writing challenges

Tips on writing and quotes from famous writers are everywhere. I think most advice boils down to “sit there and write. Every day.”

But that’s easier than it sounds, it’s like “eat less, move more.” Easy in theory, but a different story when it’s chocolate o’clock. Writing challenges help me with discipline and build my daily writing habit.

I started with Nanowrimo – write a 50,000 word novel in November. This initially helped me to get into the habit of “vomit drafting”, just blurting it all out, writing without the inner critic and getting those words and thoughts down on the page. But a target of 1,667 per day is not sustainable in the long term for me. Nowadays Nanowrimo is not just for November, there are regular challenges throughout the year and for other forms. I’ve written four novels in Nanowrimos.

My current favourite is Monthly Writing Twitter Challenge with a target of 500 words per day or 1 hour editing. This is an achievable target without feeling overwhelming. And over the month, even with the minimum 500 words, I can amass at least 15,000 words. It’s a simple challenge with a great supportive community on Twitter and it was originally inspired by Dr Who! Join us and sign up for March!

The challenges keep me accountable, motivated and give me a sense of achievement.

What are your tips for building writing discipline?

www.iamerinbrown.com