Thursday, 30 April 2015

Thanks for coming. See you soon

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Thank you for your continued support.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Having a meal at the restaurant of genre

I love eating out. I love everything about the experience. Walking into a restaurant and taking in the smells of freshly cooked food, Perusing the menu to see the choices on offer. Waiting expectantly for my food to arrive. And taking that first mouthful from a steaming hot plate. Mmmm. My mouth is watering, just thinking about it.

What sorts of restaurants do I like best? All sorts of restaurants. I love Italian restaurants and Thai restaurants and Indian restaurants. I love seafood restaurants and even vegetarian restaurants. I like restaurants where the food is rich and spicy, and I also like restaurants where the food is simple and homespun.

Basically, I would never restrict myself to only eating at one kind of restaurant. I love the variety of different types of food, and even of mixing different cuisines in the one meal.

In many ways, I reckon restaurants are just like stories. Just like there are different types of restaurants, there are also different types of stories. I guess the word we'd use to differentiate those types of stories would be genres. And just as I like to eat in a wide variety of restaurants, so I also like to read a wide variety of different types of stories.

When you think about stories in the same way as restaurants, sticking to a single genre starts to sound a bit silly. I can't imagine anyone who would only ever eat from one type of restaurant. And similarly, I can't imagine only ever wanting to read one type of story. Whether a story is a detective mystery or a science-fiction saga or a fantasy adventure, there's no reason why I wouldn't want to read it.

When it comes to both stories and restaurants, I really only have one criterion. Is it any good? If I'm going to a restaurant, I want to know that the food will be tasty, regardless of what type of food it is. And when I read a book, I hope the story will be interesting and engrossing, with good characters and unexpected plot twists, regardless of the genre of the story.

Which (inevitably) leads to my writing. Just as I like to eat a variety of foods and read a variety of books, so I like to write a variety of stories. Why would I want to restrict myself? In my world, continuing to write stories in the same genre would be equivalent to only ever going out to eat in Italian restaurants. I'd get bored really quickly. And if I'm bored as a writer, I'm sure that will come through to the readers of my stories.

So that's my piece for the week. If you're eating out, hope the food is great, no matter what sort of food it might be. And if you're reading a book, hope the story is great, no matter what genre it is.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Do I do my best or do I do my worst?

Here's a little known fact about me. I have a background in science. I even have a science degree to prove it. I know, after reading some of my blather, it's hard to believe that I have any kind of degree at all, but that's the absolute truth and I wouldn't lie to you about it.

Anyway, like any good scientist, I like to make sure I follow the scientific method, and employ information and data before I make any conclusions about anything. With that in mind, I've been conducting a bit of an experiment in this site over the last couple of weeks, and the results obtained have been interesting to say the least.

In the post I put up three weeks ago, I made a big claim. I suggested that this post was the best post I had ever written. I then waxed rhapsodic about what a wonderful post it was, and all the brilliant literary devices I employed.

In my post for the following week, I went the opposite way completely by suggesting that it was the worst post I had ever written. I pointed out all the reasons why the post was inferior to the previous one, and even went as far as to apologise to my readers.

I then left things for a week, keeping a close eye on the statistics for number of views, to see if any conclusions could be raised.

And here is what I found.

The first thing is, the best post got more views. This is not that surprising. I'm sure that if most of us have a choice between something that is really good and something that is really bad, we would choose the really good thing. So nothing unusual as yet.

But here is the interesting thing.

While the number of views for the worst post were fewer than the best post, it wasn't by that much. The worst post actually got a pretty respectable number of views (at least by my standards anyway). Even after I made it absolutely clear to readers that there was nothing of value to be seen there, they came over to have a look anyway.

So what is that telling me? Given that my bad post got almost as many views as my good post, why do I even bother making things good? If I can just chuck something out, no matter how poorly constructed, and get a reasonable response rate, why should I put all that effort into trying my best to make my posts interesting and wonderful?

Food for thought I suppose. As a true scientist, I'll need to take a while to fully analyse the results. I may even need to conduct some follow up experiments.

In the meantime, if you find the quality of these posts seems to have taken a downward slide, you'll know exactly why.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Everything I write is completely autobiographical - especially the made up bits

One of the first things that everybody learns when it comes to stories and books is the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Everybody knows what that is, right? Everybody knows that fiction is stories that are made up while non-fiction is stuff that is real.
If only it were that simple.

Sure, it looks obvious. Clearly there's a big difference between the things that are the products of fanciful imaginations versus the objective reporting of real world events or occurrences. But from the perspective of a writer, that distinction is far less clear than it first appears.

My writing is a pretty good example of this. I like to think that everything I write is completely autobiographical. Okay, maybe not everything, but certainly a good range of it.

"How can that be?" you may say. "Is he really claiming to have fallen off the world, or pushed the world out of shape, or drowned in a sea of words, like Neville Lansdowne did in Doodling, Scribbling, and Scrawling?"

All right, so I can't claim that those events literally happened to me (which I have to admit is probably something of a relief). But the feelings that are captured in those stories pretty accurately sums up how I have felt at various times. I have felt that the world was moving so quickly that I had totally fallen off the pace. I have felt that the world was the wrong shape for me, and I really wished I could mold it and twist it into a shape that suited me better. And I've definitely felt overwhelmed by the volume of words that have surrounded me.

So maybe these stories aren't true in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense they definitely capture the experiences I've gone through as I live my life.

And let's face it, isn't an autobiography meant to allow readers to know more about the life of the writer? Sure, I could provide some dry breakdown, full of correct dates and detailed descriptions of real events, but how much would that reveal of the real me. But through these stories that I make up, no matter how fanciful, readers get a much truer sense of who I am, what I think, and what I've experienced.

So the next time you read something that purports to be fiction, take a closer look. What you are reading may not be real in the literal sense, but it will often be the truest thing you will ever see.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

This is the worst post I've ever written

Well, it had to happen.

Last week, I reached a high point. I reached the absolute apex of my blogging career, by creating the greatest blog post I've ever written.

I suppose I should have been prepared for this. After such a lot of blogging stupendousness, there was no way I would be able to reach such wonderful heights again. I was kidding myself for even thinking that I could. Unfortunately, in trying to replicate the amazing awesomeness of last week, I'm afraid I've failed miserably.

I'm sad to say that this is the worst post I've ever written.

Just look at it. Nothing shines. Nothing sparkles. The writing is just drab and uninteresting. And even worse, it hasn't even been editted properly. There are a bunch of erors all the way through it.

I feel really sad about this post. I feel like I need to apologise to all my fans (assuming I even have any left after this terrible failure of a post). I want to say that I know I messed up and I'll try a lot harder next time.

But what more can I say about this post? This post is as bad as a...really bad thing. It's as tedious as a...really dull and tedious thing. It's stinks like a...really smelly and pungent thing.

Did you see that. I can't even think of any decent similes to describe this post. Plus, I forgot to put a question mark after the question I just asked. I'm really letting myself and my readers down.

All I can say is that this post is an adolescent warthog chewing licorice flavoured bubble gum of a blog post.

Did I just try to make a metaphor. Did that even vaguely make sense. Did I just forget a whole bunch more of question marks.

I think that this is the end. I think it's time to put this sad excuse for a blog post out of its misery. I'll be back next week (and that's a promise, not a threat) and I'll do my best to try to improve on the dismally poor standard I've set here.

I think we all deserve that.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

This is the best post I've ever written

It's hard to believe, but I've been doing this blog thingy for almost four years.

That's four years of insightful observations and hard-hitting revelations and general fluffy blah.

When I first started, I really had no idea about what I was doing. Every week, I would think, "What on earth can I come up with to post on my blog?" I was scrounging for ideas out of thin air. It really was a challenge.

Luckily, I'm a quick learner. I began to get better at generating ideas for posts. I also began to get better at getting a sense of good topics to blog about. I could look at my hits each week, and that would help to give me an idea of which posts were effective and which ones weren't.

Which has led me to the position I'm in today. After lots of practice and experience, lots of trial and error, even occasional pain and heartbreak, I have a really grand announcement to make today.

I'm proud to announce that this is the best blog post I've ever written.

Sure, I've written some doozies in the past, but I don't think any of them come near the standard I've reached today. This post is like a fine wine. It's like a glorious summer day. It's like winning the lottery, three weeks running.

Did you see that? Not just one, or even two, but three similes. That's what makes this post so great. It's absolutely jam-packed with brilliant literary devices. It's not just a blog post. It's a first-class Rolls Royce of literary invention.

Was that just a metaphor that I put in? To be honest, I'm not completely sure, but I'm happy to claim it. After all, this post really is the apex, the highest peak of my blogging career.

Is there anything else I can add to this post? Have I truly reached the extremes of excellence I've been aiming for? Mmmm, maybe I should stop now. I'd hate to think I was diluting this wonderfulness by adding too much extraneous material.

Wow. I'm quite out of breath now. This blogging thing really can be exhausting. After all this excitement, I really hope I can keep the amazing, incredible high standard up in my follow-up posts.

After all, I'd hate to think I've hit my peak too early.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I'm really unreliable - and you can rely on that

Just a little warning to anybody arriving at my site for the first time. Don't believe everything I say.

So how do you know which stuff I say you can believe and which stuff you can't? Well to be honest I have no idea. I'm not even sure if you can believe me when I say that you can't believe me.

That's the tricky bit. As a writer, I am in the business of making stuff up. I'm a professional storyteller, an inveterate and incorrigible fabricator. Everything that comes into my head, no matter how correct and verifiable in the beginning, inevitably ends up getting twisted and turned until it ends up being something completely different.

Did I just say that? Then maybe it's not even true. Maybe it's just something else that I've imagined.

This lack of clarity about where the truth lies can make life very interesting for a writer. Often, I'll use autobiographical details as the inspiration for a story. But as the reality of events gradually begins to be converted into the fiction of a story, the line between what actually happened and what I imagined happened starts to get very blurry indeed. After a while, I start to have no idea where the distinction between fiction and reality lies. I begin to exist in a strange nether world between the two.

Or maybe I don't. Maybe I just made that up too.

In the end, does it really matter? If the essential truth is retained, even if the details become substantially different, does that not mean that I'm still a faithful compiler of events?

Part of me says yes. I'm the sort of person who is very much into solid facts. If something happened, then it had to happen. The last thing we want to do is find ourselves down some kind of post-modern rabbit hole where fact and fiction become meaningless.

But another part of me disagrees. We can never be sure exactly what is fact and what is fiction. Memory is unreliable, and all our experiences are somehow mediated by our senses and influenced by our prejudices and expectations.

In the end, I'm not sure I can believe either of those parts of me.

So where does that leave me? I have no idea. If I'm stuck down some kind of post-modern rabbit hole, then I guess I better learn how to dig. Quickly.

All I can say is don't rely on anything that you've just read. And that's something you can rely on.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Life is too short - for pretty much anything

Life is annoying. Life is irritating and frustrating. Sometimes life just makes me want to tear my hair out and scream.

What are the aspects of life I find most frustrating? Is it the grand injustices that people suffer every day? Is it the violence and cruelty, or the greed and corruption that can leave our societies in such a mess?

Well no, not really. True, I'm not rapt about that stuff, but it all seems so big and scary and unmanageable that I mostly just blank it out. The things that really get my goat up, and make me grumpy and annoyed as I try to get through my day, are all the little things.

I might be reading in the paper about something terrible that happened over on the other side of the world and then maybe some major catastrophe might happen, like one of my kids spilling milk over the table. That's it. End of the world. I'll be furious, ranting and raving about what a disaster has just occurred. Or I'll be walking down the hallway, quietly musing about man's inhumanity to man, when I'll stub my toe on the metal strip that lines the edge of the carpet. Most likely, you'll hear me screaming in anger from the other side of the street.

At least that was the old me. The newer me is trying to look at things differently. True, I still find some of those really big things to be totally scary and unmanageable. But at least there's something I can do about the little ones. Okay, so I can't completely ignore them, but every time some little thing starts to drive my temperature up, I can breathe slowly or count to ten. Then I can say to myself, "Is it really that bad? Do I really have to get so worked up about it?"

Sure, it doesn't work all the time. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it's impossible not to feel my anger and annoyance starting to rise. But then there's always something else I can do. I can write about it. I can channel my anger and frustration into something more creative. I can even turn it into something fun.

Because let's face it, life is already too short. It barely seems to give you enough time to do all the things you really want to do. Do you really want to spend that time getting angry and annoyed and upset about things there's just no need to get angry and annoyed and upset about?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Life is too serious to take seriously

Life is serious. Seriously.

All sorts of terrible things happen all the time. Kids are abused. People lose their jobs and have no means of support. They might be victims of violence, or all sorts of brutality. The world is full of racism and sexism and lots of other not-so-good-isms.

Sometimes, I find it difficult just reading the paper, when I just have sadness and violence thrown in my face. How on earth are we meant to respond to all of this? What is the decent, honest, human way to deal with the general awfulness of a lot of life?

A lot of people take the burden onto themselves. They become involved as activists, or join up with organisations that support people in need, or volunteer for all sorts of different services, often putting their own lives at risk. That's great. I really admire people like that. But other people get overwhelmed with it all, or simply shut it out. Most of the time, I confess that's me. I suspect it's most of the rest of us as well.

In the end, the main strategy I have to engage with the general seriousness of the world is to write about it. But, you may say, isn't my writing largely humorous? Am I not primarily just trying to get people to laugh? Well, yes I am, but there's a bit more to it than that.

Humour is a big part of the way I deal with the seriousness of the world. I know, that seems to be a bit of a contradiction. How can you turn something serious into something funny? Isn't that just trivialising the very real suffering of others, just to get a laugh?

Well, yes and no. I agree that there is a lot of humour that can be quite trivialising, and personally I'm totally not into making fun of anyone disadvantaged. But there are other types of humour as well. Humour that helps you to see things in a new way. Humour that gets you to reconsider the way you view the world, and your preconceptions and prejudices. Humour that is about understanding there's only so much you can do, and putting on a brave face and getting on with things just the same.

To me, humour is a powerful thing. You can never be truly downtrodden if you're able to laugh, no matter how painful that laughter may be. It can bring people together, and maybe, in some small way, it can change the world for the better.

Because it truly is a serious world we live in. Far too serious to ever take too seriously.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

My mind is like the weather - I can never predict what it's going to do next

Hard to believe I've been writing this blog for almost four years now and I've never considered this topic before. After all, I live in Melbourne. Everybody knows that this is everybody's favourite topic of conversation here - and let's face it, given how much it changes all the time, it gives us an awful lot to talk about.

Anyway, after my usual agonising about what I can write about for this week's post, it hit me. I should do a post about the weather. Melbourne's weather is absolutely nuts. In a matter of hours, it can change from hot and sunny to cold and rainy, and then back again several more times (in fact, the Crowded House song "Four Seasons in one Day" was specifically written with Melbourne in mind).

So here we go. What can I possibly say about the weather in Melbourne. It's crazy. It's unpredictable. It seems completely irrational and nuts. A bit like... A bit like... A bit like me, to be honest.

That's when I had my great revelation. My mind is just like the weather in Melbourne. Like the weather, my mind seems to act in a completely irrational way. I can never predict what thought will pop up next. I have no idea whether it will lead me on towards sunny skies or clouds and rain, or some strange combination of the two.

As an example, sometimes I can be sitting on a tram (yes, that's another very Melbourne thing to do) and my mind will suddenly throw out three really great ideas in quick succession. Out of the blue. No prompting at all. An hour or so later, when I finally get organised enough to write those ideas down so I won't forget them (I admit I may have a problem with procrastination) my mind will remove them completely. Totally gone and never to be recovered.

It can be extremely frustrating having a Melbourne weather type mind. From day to day, it can be hard to predict how I'm going to function. Will I be effective and get stuff done, or will I just schlump around, getting nowhere. It's a bit like the quandary of going outside - when you can't decide whether to dress for sun or rain. It's just impossible to predict.

Mind you, after so many years, I suppose I've kind of gotten used to it. And like the weather here in Melbourne, at least it gives me something to talk about.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Finding Victor - guest post by Michael G. Munz

It's always a pleasure to be hosting another author, so today I'm looking forward to a visit from a fellow Booktrope author, Michael G. Munz. Hopefully he'll be a lot of fun to hang around with. I think I can hear him knocking on the door and...hang on a minute...Mike, what's that you're holding...

Well hi, everybody! You might have noticed that I am NOT Jonathan Gould. No, I haven't hijacked his blog. He's just a little tied up at the moment, and so he's offered me the pleasure of a guest post. The fact that I was the one who tied him up is immaterial. Whether or not there are live piranhas in that pool over which he's suspended really is not something you need concern yourself with. Rest assured, Jonathan will return, possibly even with all of his original fingers and toes. But I digress.

Given Jonathan's theme of stories that stand out from the crowd, I decided to share with you a little tale of my own. It's the first thing I ever wrote that won a contest and, like me, is probably more than a little weird. The contest in question was's 24-hour Short Story Contest. Writers were given a first line and had 24 hours in which to spawn from it a 1,000-word story. What follows is my effort, which stood out from the crowd enough to take 2nd place.

Finding Victor

by Michael G. Munz

It had taken Tom almost an hour to scramble over the rocks to the hidden beach. He'd had to strap his metal detector to his back and he doubted many other treasure hunters would go to the same trouble. The rocks gave way to an expanse of sand and white driftwood bounded by a high, tree-spotted cliff.

Starting at the water line, he swept the detector back and forth. On his fifth pass, it gave a strong beep. Whatever it was, it was reasonably large and buried two feet beneath the sand. Jackpot! Tom pulled out his collapsible spade and began to dig. 

"Reckon ya got somethin', do ya?"

The voice started Tom so much that he nearly drove the spade into his foot. He turned to see an elderly stranger standing a few yards away. Whoever he was, the old man must have liked white. Everything he wore on his short, slight frame—sandals, shorts, T-shirt, even the umbrella he clutched to block the sun—was white.

"Ah, hello," Tom managed through his disappointment. "I thought I was alone." At least the man had no metal detector.

"Oh, no," the man remarked absently. "No, no, not alone."

"I'm not trespassing, am I? I mean, I didn't think this was a private beach."

The man chuckled. "Oh, not trespassing. Not private. Go right along."

"Ah, good. Well, good day, then." Tom went back to digging in hopes that the man would wander off. He'd had spectators make fun of his hobby before. 

Instead, the stranger stepped closer. "Ever found anything good?"

Tom rolled his eyes as he dug. "Sometimes, yeah. It's not a waste of time, if that's what you're implying."

"Oh, didn't say it were! Or do you have to find the good stuff to be enjoyin' it?"

Head down, Tom continued to dig, watching the sand for signs of anything. "Doesn't hurt if I do..."

"Oh, sure, doesn't hurt, doesn't hurt. Always wondered what drives yer type ta be lookin' fer treasures that others've lost. Heads down ta the sand alls time. Now me, I'd be flyin' a kite. Ya see a lot more. Notice a lot more. See things comin'. Goin'."

Tom stood up with a scowl. "Where's your kite?"

The stranger just shrugged with a grin before checking his watch.

"You have somewhere to be?" Tom asked hopefully.

"Just here."

"Something happening here?"

"Oh, things happen everywhere, don't they?"

Tom let it go and turned back to his digging. Still the man continued to stand there. 

"It's funny."

Tom sighed, but kept digging. "What's funny?"

"How you types always know ta come here. ...Well, guess ya don't know, but ya do it anyway."

"Yeah, isn't that interesting." He cared more about what was beneath the sand than whatever the man was talking about at that point.

"Then 'gain, suppose if ya knew, you lot wouldn't come at all. Or maybe ya would. Some people gets tired of it all, don't they?"

"I'm getting tired of something," muttered Tom. He'd nearly dug deep enough.

"Had a good day?" the man continued. "Kiss yer wife, tell 'er you love 'er? Kids? Family? Friends?"

Tom kept digging without speaking. Within moments his spade struck metal, and he switched to using his hands. 

"No? Oh, shame, shame. Always ought ta do that. 'Every day like it's yer last,' they say. 'Course, they also say 'Don't talk ta strangers,' and I never understood that one. Guess no one's perfect."

The old man sat down and, to Tom's relief, ceased his jabbering as Tom swept the sand away from his find. Whatever it was, it was black, long and cylindrical. He kept digging, following the shaft to where it lay beneath some buried white sticks of driftwood. Puzzled, Tom went the other direction where the shaft met a familiar rectangular casing. With a theory growing in his mind, he uncovered more until he saw the tiny screen and was certain. He laughed with surprise.

It was another metal detector.

Yet how had it gotten buried there with the driftwood? It only took a moment's closer look at the "wood" for him to realize what he'd really found. He leaped back in horror. 

"Somethin' wrong, is it?" said the man.

Tom pointed to the hole. "Bones! There's a skeleton with a metal detector down there!"

The man remained unimpressed. "Yep. Was Victor, I reckon. Came here ta die couple o' years ago. Leastways, I think that was 'is name."

Tom stared. "WHAT?"

The old man smiled. "Victor. Brain tumor's what got 'im, I recall."

Tom looked back and forth from the skeleton to the man. "Tumor? You mean he just...died right here on the sand?"

The stranger nodded. "Looked surprised, too. 'Course, most o' ya look surprised when it happens. Not right sure what brings ya here. Guess it's some sorta instinct."

Tom stepped back, appalled. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "There's OTHERS?" 

"'Course there's others." The man smiled as if Tom had just asked if the sky was blue. "What'd ya expect to find, coming' to a place that's so bloomin' hard ta get to? All that's here's dead treasure hunters. Secret treasure hunter burial ground! Just like elephants, 'cept diff'rent. Somehow ya all knows ta come here when yer 'bout ta die." A stabbing pain shot through Tom's left arm and he suddenly felt light-headed. The old man cocked his head. "Ya did know ya were 'bout ta die, didn't ya?"

Tom clutched his heart in pain. The last thing he saw as he fell was the sand rushing up to meet him. 

As the ocean breeze tugged at his umbrella, the stranger looked down at Tom's lifeless body with a chagrinned grunt. "Pity. Forgot ta get 'is name. Ah, well." Tom's spade lay in the sand where he'd dropped it. He closed his umbrella, took the spade, and began to dig Tom's grave. "Least they always brings their own shovel."

The End

So, yeah, I'm a wee bit strange, but show me a writer who isn't and I'll show you a writer who's hiding something. And now, if you'll excuse me, I should really see what that big splash was in the piranha room.

Michael G. Munz is a Seattle sci-fi/fantasy author. His comedic fantasy, Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, was published by Booktrope in July. Michael can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and at

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Time to change the frequency

I had a revelation the other day.

I have them every so often. Mostly it's nothing particularly earth shattering. But occasionally I think to myself, "Hey, that's kind of interesting. I wonder if anybody ever thought of that before."

I was in my car. I was listening to the radio. I was listening to a station I wanted to listen to. I also had kids in my car. They weren't so keen on listening to the station I was listening to. Of course, I didn't end up listening to that station for too much longer.

Thinking about that experience made me think about the whole idea of different radio stations, broadcasting on different frequencies. It made me think of the numerous times I try to talk to my kids and they completely fail to pay attention to me. No matter how loudly or insistently I speak, there's no way I can batter my way into their consciousness as they continue to chat away together. And that's when I realised it.

My kids and I are on different radio frequencies. They're communicating on one radio frequency, and I'm communicating on another one entirely. That's why they are completely incapable of tuning in to what I'm saying. Every so often, we find a cross frequency that works (usually when the words chocolate, ice cream, or pizza are involved), but mostly we're on completely different wavelengths.

This got me thinking about the whole frequency thing (I know, I've said before that thinking is one of my bad habits). What about all those other times when people fail to understand each other? What about people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, or religious people vs non-religious people. We're all talking to each other. We actually seem to be speaking the same language. And yet, we're broadcasting on completely different frequencies from each other. It's no wonder we never seem to actually engage with what we're saying.

So what can we do about this? I'm not sure I have an answer (which I find very frustrating because I'm a problem-solving kind of guy). We certainly don't want to end up with just one frequency. Imagine if there was only one station you could listen to on the radio - how boring would that be. But maybe, we can try to make the time to change our "stations" every now and again, and try to listen to something on another frequency, even if we think we're not going to like it.

No idea what the outcome might be, but at least it's a neat sounding metaphor, and I love a good metaphor as much as the next writer.

Till next week, hope your frequency is a good one.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Oh where oh where did my concentration go?

I used to be really good at concentrating. I used to be able to give myself a task and set my mind to it, and then spend a good period of concentrated time, focussing on the task and nothing else.

When I used to write, I could often go for several hours. I could easily knock out well over a thousand words in a session, and often twice as much. To be honest, anything below 1500 would really be regarded as sub-par.

Similarly so for when I used to read a lot. I could spend hours lost in a good book. Seems like I never had trouble spending a whole day, happily relaxed on a couch and lost in the plot.

These days, things are really different. Whenever I do devote some time to a book, I always find myself getting impatient. I always want to jump ahead to see what happens next, rather than be content to find things out when it's time to find them out. Sometimes, I even (shock horror) don't get around to actually finishing the book.

When it comes to writing, things are even worse. Gone are those marathon sessions when I could churn out several thousand words. These days, a good writing session is (sob) 500 words. That's right, a mere 500. And even that seems like a battle. I'm constantly checking word counts, to see if I've reached that magical number. Maybe I'll rearrange a sentence to make it a bit wordier, just so I can up the count. And when I do get to my 500 for the day, it's always with a great sense of relief that I save the document and shut it down. Look at me. I've achieved my writing goal. It may be kind of puny, but at least I've achieved something.

I'm not even sure who I'm supposed to blame for this sad loss of concentration. Is it because I'm getting older, and my brain finds it harder to focus on things for extended lengths of time? Is it the stress of my work, which forces me to spend most of my day on a computer, thus dramatically reducing my tolerance for off-work screen time? Is it family, and the constant distraction it brings? Is it the internet, with its whirl of redundant information constantly being thrown in my face? Or is it simply the stress of dealing with modern life, with all its complexities?

Whatever it is, it can be damn frustrating. I yearn for the old days, when I was able to get so much done, and writing wasn't a battle to steal short snippets of time.

In the meantime, I think I've spent long enough writing this post, so goodbye.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Things I'm not good at

One thing I really love about internet-land is the amount of wisdom that's out there. So many people are so good at so many things, and they're so happy to share it. People are always putting up useful information about how to do this and how to do that. It can be extremely useful.

As for me, well I'm not so great at so many things. I'm not really in a position to be giving anyone instructions on what to do. Which leaves me with a constant challenge, because I need to figure out stuff to put into my blog each week.

Anyway, I figured that I maybe there aren't that many things I'm good at, but there sure are a lot of things I'm not good at. And because, as far as I'm concerned, one of the main purposes of the internet is to share stuff, I'm now going to share you you a bunch of things that I'm definitely not good at.

1. I'm not good at playing guitar. Actually, I'm not that bad at playing guitar. I can belt out a few simple chords. But I'm definitely not good at it either. Whenever I pick up my guitar, my kids go running in the opposite direction. If you should ever see any tips on how to play guitar from me, do not pay any attention to them.

2. I'm not good at singing. Unlike the guitar thing, I'm just really, really bad at it. I'm especially bad at singing while I'm playing the guitar. All wildlife in a 20 km radius clears out at the very thought of it.

3. Blowing my own trumpet. Seems like everyone else on the internet i running around saying how great they are. As for me, well, I suppose all you have to do is read this post to see that I tend to take a slightly different approach.

Anyway, I could go on and on about being not good at lots of other things, but I guess I need a bit of time to actually be not good at those things. So anyway, for now, signing off.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

I know things are getting past me when I can't even put a band-aid on

I had an earth shattering experience the other day. One of those moments when you know the world has changed and you're not sure it's for the better.

It began very simply. I cut my finger. Not all that badly, but it was one of those fiddly cuts right on the end of my finger, where it tends to bleed quite a lot. Also, I was in the middle of washing the dishes when it happened (of course, washing the dishes was actually how it happened. Or to be exact, washing one of those new-fangled clever cutting thingies which we seem to accumulate in our kitchen). Obviously, I wanted to get it cleaned up and sealed up as quickly as possible, so I could get back to finishing the dishes.

So I run down to the bathroom and grab a band-aid. I have to give my finger a bit of a wipe because it was soaking wet, and everybody knows that you can't put a band-aid on a wet finger. When I get it suitably dry, I rip the paper off the band-aid and I go to put it on my finger. This is where the trouble started.

I couldn't figure it out. The band-aid was different to the simple, old-fashioned ones I was used to. It seemed to have tabs sticking out all over the place. I pulled and prodded and ripped and tugged and eventually managed to get the various tabs off, but by this point the whole thing had stuck to itself (as band-aids do).

I groaned and tossed it in the sink, and then tried another. Same deal. I couldn't for the life of my figure out how to get these band-aids to work. And all the while, my finger is dripping blood all over the sink.

Finally, after I think I'd tossed out about five, I managed to get a band-aid onto my finger. And then, because I wasn't actually able to apply it very well, I added a second, and a third. In the end, rather than a small cut, it looked like I'd chopped half my finger off.

But here's the thing. Since when were band-aids so hard to put on? I remember when I was a kid, I had no trouble putting band-aids on. But now, someone has invented a new and improved band-aid which is impossible to use.

To me it's a sign. A sign of a world I no longer understand? A sign of a world which, to me, is just a little more bonkers than it used to be. When I'm no longer able to do something simple, like put a band-aid on, I know that things are really starting to get past me.

Have a good week - and please be careful if sharp cutting things.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

You've heard about the grapevine. Well I'm a grape

People love to gossip. I'm a person. Therefore, logically, it makes complete sense to admit that I like to gossip too.

And I do. Give me a bit of juicy news and I'm more than happy to pass it on to someone else, or even lots of someone else's, as quickly as I can. Unfortunately, there's just one problem with this little arrangement.

When talking about gossiping, people often refer to the grapevine. You know, the tangled links from contact to contact that ensure a message quickly gets spread far and wide.  So as far as capacity to gossip goes, it's your position on the grapevine that defines everything.

If you're right in the middle of the grapevine, with links going off in every possible direction, then you're sure to be in the thick of things. Not only will you be receiving lots of really great gossip, but you'll be more than capable of spreading the word by passing it on to many, many others.

Those people who are not quite so close to the centre will find it a bit more of a challenge. Sure, you'll get the news eventually, but you won't have quite so many people left to pass it on to. Still, as long as you're somewhere on the grapevine, you'll still have some capacity to be involved in the gossip-spreading business.

Which leads to me.

I know exactly where I sit on the grapevine. I'm a grape. And we all know where the grapes are positioned. They're right at the ends of the branches. Once the gossip has reached the grape, it's got nowhere else to go.

That's exactly how I feel about my position when it comes to gossip. Almost inevitably, I'm the last person to find out. Sure, the news does reach me eventually, but by then, it's pretty old and stale. But of course, part of the fun of gossip is spreading it on, and this is where the biggest problem is. You can bet for sure that by the time I've find out about anything, pretty much everybody else already knows it. There's absolutely nobody left to tell.

So that's me and gossip. I like the idea in principle, but when it comes to my ability to be involved, I'm pretty much stuck. Still, there are times when being a grape isn't so bad. I wouldn't say no to a nice drop of red in the evening.

Have a good week.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Keeping it in while letting it all hang out

I've been reading a really interesting book lately. It's called Quiet and it's all about introverts and introversion.

"What, me an introvert?" I hear you ask in amazement. After all, I'm all over the joint when it comes to social media. You can find me hanging out on Facebook and cavorting on Twitter, not to mention Goodreads and of course this blog. How could someone so utterly social-media-ised consider themselves to be an introvert?

Well, hard as it is to believe, it's actually true. Even though I appear to be Mr Social Media Party Animal, that's really not the true me at all. To be honest, I'd sooner pack the whole thing in, lock myself in a room, and read a book. Actually, to be truly accurate, I'd rather be writing that book instead of reading it.

The fact that introverts like myself find ourselves out in the noisy world of social media is just one more of the kinds of challenges we face (and exactly the sort of thing that is covered in Quiet). And I can tell you that from my perspective, it's not always easy. How does someone with an inward focus force themselves outward? How does someone who likes to keep things private deal with a world in which over-sharing is the norm? How does someone who finds any sort of social interaction overwhelming cope with the pure social-ness of it all?

Truth is, I have no idea. I just bumble along, from one post/update/tweet to the next. Have I said too much? Have I said too little? Have I interacted enough? Have I not interacted enough? Do the people out there know the true me? Do I even want the people out there to know the true me? These are the kinds of questions that go through my head on a daily basis.

In the meantime, I somehow force myself to keep going. Every week, I get my blog out, trying to reveal just a little bit about myself while still feeling that I haven't given too much away. My Twitter and Facebook continue to fill with my regular random comments. For better or worse, I seem to have figured out a way to get myself out their, while maintaining my desire to keep myself as private as I possibly can.

After all, that's the modern way. I just have to figure out the right set of rules that will work for me.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Taking a great big leap into 2015

It's here, whether we like it or not - 2015.

Sounds really odd to me. 2015 seems like a date that should be way off in the future, with flying cars and robots everywhere and people dressed up in Star Trek suits. Hard to believe that it's actually today.

As a new year starts, so I like to lay out my plans (hey, I can't help it - it's just the sort of guy I am). So, whether you call them new year resolutions or just a rough road map to the year ahead, here are my writing and publishing goals for 2015:
  1. The detective novel (current title A Fate Worse than Death) - we're well advanced on the editing front here so I'm hoping to have it released some time around March/April.
  2. Two picture books (Maddie's Monsters and Bella and the Blue Genie) are both scheduled for release later this year - Maddie in April and Bella in November.
  3. Last year I made good progress on my YA/MG fantasy novel (tentative title Through the Flame). Depending on how quickly I can get the detective novel going, there's a not unreasonable chance I can also have this released before the end of the year.
  4. As mentioned last week, I've just started work on my dinosaur story (tentative title Dinosaurs - maybe not so original but I like it). This is most likely going to be a novella-ish thing, in the same style as Doodling and Flidderbugs. Given the three goals above, I'm not sure if I'll have it ready for release this year but we'll see how we go.
  5. I'd like to keep developing picture book ideas for future publication. As with last year, I plan to produce at least two new picture book texts.
  6. Anything else? Given how long it takes me to get a novel into publishable form (at least 2 years) I feel like I should at least be trying to make a start on something - otherwise, 2016 is going to be a much quieter year publishing-wise. I have a few rough ideas in my head at the moment.
So those are the plans. I like to at least try and set achievable goals for myself, but in this case...Well I suppose I'll find out at the end of the year.

Hope you achieve all your goals and 2015 is a fabulous year for you. And watch out for those flying cars.