Things to do on holidays

As much as I like work, I really do like holidays. Finally I have time to do all the things I actually like doing rather than having a large chunk of my day taken up with, well, work. Now obviously if I am to get my first novel published before the end of this year, then I should take advantage of my break from a day job and churn out some writing.

So here’s what I’ve actually been doing.

Getting up early.
I think that you shouldn’t break your daily routine up too much, otherwise going back to work becomes too hard. As such I try to get up as early as possible, preferably before lunch time.

Reading.
Surprisingly I’ve had very little time for reading this holidays. It has been go, go, go the entire time. I think I may have only averaged 5-6 hours a day of reading. The list of things I have read this past week:
Hit List – Chris Ryan
The Dark Tower – Steven King
D.E.D. Dead – Geoff McGeachin
300 – Frank Miller
Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) – Jeff Strand
Write the Fight Right – Alan Baxter

As always I don’t comment on 1-2 star books because they are never finished. But curse them for wasting valuable reading time!!

Exercise.
I’ve always been active and love weightlifting. When I’m on holidays it is very important to keep up the exercise levels, lest I start to resemble a daytime talk show audience member. My exercise routine starts not long after waking. I stumble to our library and start with a good stretch out on our couch. I like to superset (a weightlifting term meaning back to back) the stretch with reading. This holidays I’ve been averaging 5-6 hours of this. At the end I’m suitably warmed up for some weightlifting, or a beer, depending on how I feel on the day (5 days of 7 the beer has won).

Sure could do with a beer right about now.

Woodworking.
Holidays are a great time to spend on hobbies. There is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment from crafting something with your bare hands. There is also nothing quite like the sense of satisfaction from using really sharp tools to stab, slice and hack away at something…….. Currently I’m making another bookshelf for our library, and have finished two clocks recently.

Jarrah clock. To say Jarrah is a hard wood is like saying steel is kinda hard.

Guitar.
If I have a second love it is guitar. Wait, sorry, my wife is first, so my writing is second, so guitar would be third. Honest mistake.

So, I have a number of toys that I enjoy to play with:
PRS Custom
7 string Flying V
Egnater Tweaker
Vox Night Train

Writing.
Now the juicy part: how much writing have I actually done? How much closer to finished is Overturned Stones? Well according to my Scrivener Windows Beta release, I have written nothing.

Yes I was scratching my head too. Seven days of writing usually results in an increased word count. Of course I’d forgotten to account for the Windows Affect. For those not familiar with the Windows Affect, basically when a new program is released in a format that is compatible with Windows OS, Windows will immediately stop being compatible and seek to destroy the new program. Usually this is achieved via updates that render the computer unusable.

I know, my own fault. I had Ubuntu installed and then some guy named Bill dropped around and reinstalled W7. I knew he was trouble when I saw that haircut.

Suffice to say I have decided to switch back to Open Office for now. The word count has caught back up and I hope to hit the halfway mark of Overturned Stones – 45,000 – next week. So far this holidays I have written 10,000 words, 7,000 of those have actually been saved when I pressed the save button.

Overturned Stones is a thriller based upon the idea that human trafficking and slavery can be solved via lead therapy. The central protagonist is very good at dispensing lead and avoiding anti-lead campaigners like police and mercenaries. But is he good enough to hide from the police and mercenaries when he saves a woman and child? He thinks so, but then again he’s biased.

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How to spot a Star Wars fan

Being a Star Wars fan isn’t just about the film series. It isn’t just about some merchandising either. It isn’t even about the series of comics graphic novels and books it has spawned. It is about taking your best friend to the convention with you, dressed up for the occasion.

May the force be with you!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Internet Pirate, Yar!

I can remember back to when computers were nothing more than green text on a black background and made terrific boat anchors. Then suddenly they exploded, usually from a spilt drink or frustration in the 10 minutes it took for anything to load. Just as I was leaving high school the interwebz was suddenly all around us and promised to deliver us information, e-commerce, media and porn. This coincided with computers becoming faster, hard-drives becoming bigger and teenagers becoming hornier.

And that is when media piracy really took off.

Sure Napster popularised it a few years later and the music industry starting jumping up and down about it later again, but someone had forgotten to tell these people that the game had changed. I didn’t have to buy the entire Primus CD for the two songs I was actually going to listen to, now I could have a copy of those two songs on my computer, either downloaded from friends or copied off the CD.

I think we were all waiting for the music industry to catch up. At some point we were expecting all of our favourite songs to be available online for sale. But our computers were growing, so it wasn’t just music, we wanted our TV and movies as well. Why couldn’t we just grab a copy off the internet when we wanted? Where was the store that sold this stuff? And would they sell Debbie Does Dallas?

Well, sensing the growing change in consumer behaviour, the desire for an online store to sell entertainment, the music industry, movie industry and other media decided to band together and sue kids for millions of dollars each.

Brilliant! Rather than sell people stuff lets sue them! What a marketing and sales master stroke.

Instead of responding to consumer demands, the industries concerned decided they didn’t want to play. They thought that would be the end of that. Of course in a free market economy you have to expect the market to dictate terms, not anyone else. Piracy became embedded.

Now of course it isn’t the media industry’s fault that their products were being pirated, it was them damn pesky kids with their computas and iGizmos and and theys gots no respects for da rulz……… The e-generation were blamed for the down-turn in music sales and for massive losses to the music and movie industry. I like the assumption that every download must equal a lost sale, talk about a non-sequitur.

None of these arguments, discussion or history are really relevant though. I’m going to coin a new term SCREEN-GAZING which is the e-version of navel-gazing, because all of this piracy discussion is essentially nothing more than screen-gazing. Lets have a look at the real data that needs to be discussed.

The survey interviewed 1,700 music consumers age 13-60 and found that music is important to social networkers: 39% have embedded music in their personal profiles.
70% said they embed music to show off their taste; half said music is a good way to reflect personality.
Some other survey findings:

  • Some 53% of people actively surf social networking sites to find music.
  • 30% said they went on to buy or download music that they had discovered on a social network site (for MySpace, the proportion is 36%).
  • On popular sites the numbers of people who use sites to find music increase – for MySpace and Bebo, 75% and 72%, respectively, and 66% for YouTube.
  • 46% say they wish it were easier to purchase music they had discovered on social networking sites – for example via a “buy now” button on the site.
  • The number of those saying they illegally download music tracks has increased, from 40% in 2005 and 36% in 2006 to 43% in 2007.
  • Only 33% cited the risk of being prosecuted as a deterrent against illegal downloading, compared with 42% in 2006.
  • Nearly one in five respondents – 18% – claimed an intention to download more unauthorized tracks, up from 8% in 2006.
  • After a dramatic 40% increase in the number of legal downloaders between 2005 and 2006, only 16% growth occurred in the number of legal downloaders from 2006 to 2007.
  • 22% of legal downloaders admitted that they had not paid for a track in the last six months.
  • 84% agreed that digital downloads of older music should be cheaper; 48% said they would be prepared to pay more for newly released music.

So basically iTunes had been on the map for 4 years by the time this survey was performed, downloading had been around for a decade. Big congratulations to the industry for making those inroads into making music accessible. Almost half of the kids would like easier access to music to buy, and most thought it was too expensive.

Another survey shows that downloads of media were decreasing. So clearly the impact of actually selling media to people that they want was a good thing for lowering pirating. Just the industry hasn’t reached enough of the market yet.

How do you dissuade people from illegal downloads? The traditional approach for punishing pirates would be imprisonment, pilloring, flogging, enslavement, branding, keel hauling, and/or hanging. Given how well that worked in ridding the world of pirates maybe we should consider other methods.

Someone was really bright and had a look at what parental guidance did to downloading.

Who would have thought that parenting had a role in being a law abiding citizen?

What does all of this mean? Well pretty much media – be that ebooks, movies, music, TV shows – need to be easily accessible and priced appropriately. There also needs to be some responsibility taken by everyone to make sure that people expect to pay for media. This can’t be draconian, it has to be encouraged, and part of that encouragement comes from the ease of access and prices that people can afford. And now I hold my breath. Wake me after I pass out waiting for a solution rather than another blame game.

Short Story: Pleased to Meet You

I’ve been promising to post a few short stories here, the day has finally arrived to keep that promise. This post proves that it was a “man promise” and not a “politician promise”.
The following short story, entitled Pleased to Meet You, is something I’m entering in the Alan Marshall Short Story Award – this piece is 1065 words long. I wrote the original draft for this a decade ago and I was happy with it after some minor revisions and additions. As this is the first public outing for my work I’d love any feedback you have.

Pleased to Meet You

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“I never used to talk to people.”
“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”
Sarah was slightly startled by the sudden realisation that there was an old man sitting next to her. She hadn’t notice the old man sit down at the other end of the park bench, hadn’t notice him arrive. This was her only quiet time for the day, her lunch break in the park. Out here in the fresh air she could sit in silence, away from the phone calls, conversations in the next fabric-covered cubicle, the attention seeking of her two young sons and the emotional unloading of her husband. The light breeze, the gentle late autumn sun, peace.
“Oh, I was just telling you about when I was younger. Mint?”
He seemed friendly. Old men and women tend to like having a chat with strangers, in Sarah’s experience. Sarah really didn’t need her quiet time interrupted. She took another bite of her chicken and salad roll.
“No thanks, I have my roll.” she said with her mouth full.
“It started off simply, I was born in a place similar to this. I was autistic for the first dozen years of my life until something happened, can’t remember. Except for the feeling that my surroundings had suddenly taken on a new light.”
She stared at his face, trying to look polite, while masking her annoyance. “Autistic? That must have been hard.”
“It was a long time ago.” The park bench was cold, though the day was warm and sunny. Gentle gusts teased their hair, blowing hers away from her face and neck. Sarah didn’t want to trap herself in a conversation out of politeness, though he seemed so genuine and spoke with a warmth and wisdom that made him somewhat charming.
“It was when I moved to university that I really noticed my thirst for knowledge. I began reading books, papers, journals, attending extra seminars and lectures regardless of topic. The more I read and learnt the more I thirsted for it. Book after book, journal after journal, remembering everything, soon there wasn’t anything on the campus that I hadn’t read or learnt.”
Sarah had been eating slowly, but she sped up now to excuse herself from the conversation.
“I was an anonymous figure on campus, people recognised me but few knew who I was.” He leaned in close, “It wasn’t human interaction that I craved though, it was knowledge.”
Sarah nodded, unsure, although less disinterested. His excitement was infectious.
“When the campus resources had dulled, I went abroad in search of more information. Again the more I learnt the more I craved. And with my knowledge came a gift to think quicker, learn quicker. I loved my books, but books were no longer a resource, my own thoughts and designs were becoming my catalyst.” He stopped, lost in the remembrance of happy times.
“So, what happened with these thoughts?” She heard herself say the words and immediately dropped her eyes to the ground and crammed the last of her roll in her mouth.
“An epiphany. I realised that there was more to the universe than could be possibly be learnt from Earth.”
Sarah regretted the question even more. His lined and sagging face, what little hair he had left, they were the old man. The sparkle in his eyes was just the crazy in him. ‘From Earth’ indeed.
“I invented interstellar travel, well, kind of. You know, it is amazing how easy it is to do something when you know how. Knowledge gives you the power to do anything possible.”
Sarah was about to stand up and leave, but she was slightly annoyed. It was usually peaceful out here alone but he had interrupted that peace. She didn’t need a crazy old man talking to her for the rest of her lunch break.
“Let me guess, you flew around the universe and looked at everything, stopped off at every Martian book store, and library along the way.” It came out mean and malicious, she even surprised herself.
“No. Most of the book stores were full of self help books, or trashy romance novels. I was more interested in history, evolution, science.”
“The bookstores around the universe sound a lot like the ones around here.”
He ignored her sardonic statement. “At some point you know everything that is. It then becomes more interesting to see how different peoples arrived at the same point, or how they developed were others did not. The culture of a society can prove the stumbling block, or the shining light.”
“So you’re saying you knew everything there was to know.”
“Everything important. Well everything I thought was important at the time.”
“So what was next for you, intergalactic quiz shows?”
He laughed, “No. I designed and built the universe, this universe on an alternate plain of reality to my own.”
“Uh ha. And now you’re just down here for a chin wag with your local creations?”
“I’m doing the one thing I never did in life, having human interactions. All the time I spent learning I wasn’t interacting with my fellows. I can’t remember one person I went to school with; not one. But I know the matter constant for creative dimensional flux in time streams.”
“Huh?”
“The way all matter moves through the space time continuum.”
“So you are saying you invented all of this?” she gestured to everything around her with her arms, “Even me?”
“In a manner of speaking: yes.”
She glanced quickly at her watch, “Oh, excuse me I have to get back to work.” She made ready to leave, picking up her bag and jumper. She was annoyed that her lunch, her quiet time, had been interrupted by this crazy old man. Her friends at work were not going to believe this little story.
“Nice meeting you, God.” She said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.
“Nice meeting you Sarah.”
She stopped in mid stride stunned. She turned around to look upon the old man. He was not there, gone as quickly as he had arrived. A mint wrapper blew gently from the seat and landed at her feet.

Book Review: Season of the Harvest – Michael R Hicks

I’ve lived and worked in agriculture for pretty much all of my life. Aside from that short trip to Alpha Centuri to save the universe from Krag the Merciless I can safely say that agriculture is something I have spent a lot of time around and am at least peripherally aware of. Which always makes techno-thrillers and sci-fi books like Season of the Harvest hard to review.

I often wonder if ex-military guys sit down and read a book and think “like we’d ever do that”. I know every scientist would love the GC mass spectrometer that the CSI labs have on TV – nothing like a weeks work being turned into a 5 second task to get scientists hot under the collar. Do police and law enforcement people find it hard to enjoy any book or TV show due to the errors? They have those stairs at booking for a reason, push the guy down them a few times! So many little things that we writers and readers just don’t realise are crap.

In part of my research I found out that one thing that annoys gun nuts enthusiasts is that they hate the smell of muzzle flash being described as “cordite”. You see cordite hasn’t been used in bullet manufacturing for a long time, subsequently a writer describing the smell of cordite after a gun battle is showing ignorance. Clearly never having the need to use a gun to shoot random people is a major character failing in writers.

But are they showing ignorance? This is fiction after all.

To most readers describing that post-gunshot smell as cordite elicits the correct sensory appreciation. Gun powder, ho hum; cordite, ah-hah specific smell! For CSI we know that a case that would normally take months and go through several different investigators and result in absolutely none of the CSI team needing to shoot anyone, has to be wrapt up by your show’s stars in the 42 minute show time.

So really the research and reality of the writing or show only has to be enough to move the plot and characters forward. This is fiction after all.

As a result I can say that I really enjoyed Michael’s novel. He kept up a cracking pace and kept a very tightly woven narrative. At one point about three quarters of the way into the book I remember thinking “there is no way they can get out of this one”. So much tension!

This was a nice mix of sci-fi and thriller and reminded me a lot of James Rollins. This is especially since there are similar themes to Rollins’ novel The Doomsday Key. Just imagine that with aliens!

This brings me to my two criticisms of the book, remember I really enjoyed this book. The first was the narrative structure: it was very well done up until about halfway through when more points of view started to be included. Nothing wrong with that but it broke from the flow established earlier on. Having the cat have a point of view for a scene was my shark jumpy moment. The second point is about agriculture: why don’t people research agriculture when writing instead of listening to scare-mongers and political groups? I know why, it makes for a much more thrilling read than saying “we’ve doubled world population, have less farming land, and yet we still fed the world, yay us!” I guess it would just be nice to have someone say “you rock” rather than “you shouldn’t use chemicals” once in a while.

I guess the real CSI guys might be also dreaming of magical lab equipment too.

Book Review: Dead Man – Ring of Knives by James Daniels

There is a saying in the music industry that the second album is the hardest. You are backing up your first work in the series and the pressure is on to not just come up with new material but to create something better. But what do you do with the band that changes its entire lineup and releases a new album? Well normally you would avoid it like a “Guns ‘n’ Roses”* Chinese Democracy album.

James Daniels has had the unenviable task of taking on the second installment of the Dead Man series of novellas started by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Now James has taken an interesting tact with the second novel: he has tried to outdo Lee and William and succeeded. Given the high standard set in the first novella, Face of Evil, this is no mean feat.

When we left Matt Cahill he was starting his trek to discover why he made an amazing recovery from his mild case of death and why he can now see evil as other’s souls are eaten away by it. Seeking answers he is trying to speak with another who has been similarly afflicted. What better setting for a horror novel than a psychiatric hospital!? This book expands upon how Matt’s story and hints at Mr Dark. But Mr Dark isn’t who Matt has to be worried about in this book.

So James has done this series proud and has created a thrilling, suspenseful read. I really enjoyed this sequel and I pity the poor writer following on from James. They don’t have to just be as good or better than the first, now they have to top this one as well.

*It hasn’t been Guns ‘n’ Roses since Slash left.

Book Review: Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson

I’ve been looking at a few writing competitions of late. As a new author I like the idea of submitting a short story or novelette to test myself, set my standards at a high enough level and create that snooty air that literary people are known for. One of the things I’ve been doing is grabbing as many past winners’ stories as possible to figure out which story I should enter.

What has struck me about these past winners is that: most winners are graduates or academics in literature; most winners don’t write stories with any narrative structure. This last point frustrates me as a reader: what is the point of the story; why am I reading this; where is this all going; is that character’s cat important or an allegory or just there for page padding? But this is a very popular style for award winners and academics.

David Whish-Wilson was my lecturer recently at the Perth Writers Festival Crime Writing workshop. He is a creative writing lecturer at Curtin University. David does not suffer from this disease of literature. His book is not only entertaining and engrossing but it has a narrative structure.

Now this really shouldn’t be that surprising. Given David’s proclivity for crime writing and his day job you really expect a well written novel. But it is more than just well written, it really conveys the time and place it is set in, it also has characters that I recognise. It really is a crime novel that you can sink your teeth into.

David in traditional cool writers’ pose

This novel is partly a crime fiction novel set against police corruption in Perth Western Australia during the 1970’s and part true crime. Basically any Perth native will not only recognise the locations, but will remember the events and investigations alluded to. I was still nothing but a mistaken case of food poisoning when the true crime aspects that this novel was based upon took place, but when I mentioned the book to mum she immediately recognised it all. It really is hard to discern where to draw the line between reality and fiction in this book. Put another way, if David had written this book 25-30 years ago he would have disappeared in the local forest mentioned in his book, despite his protestations that this is fiction “based on actual events”. Normally “based on actual events” means that there is nothing in the book/movie/TV show that even resembles the “actual events”.

Even a non-Perth native will still find a lot to enjoy in this book. It is a completely engrossing crime thriller and captures the setting and characters of the era to create a thoroughly entertaining read. This book not only surprised me but completely engrossed me. I really enjoyed this book. 4.5 stars.