Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pet Hates and Other Bugs.

We all have our pet hates, things that bug us for no real reason except they're wrong. As a trained and experienced English teacher, many would expect spelling, punctuation and grammar to be one of mine. I might occasionally shake my head at a job application with spelling errors and misuse of capitals, but for the most part they don't bug me too much. Even when students write entire essays using 'dose' instead of 'does', 'defiantly' instead of 'definitely', or even mispell their own name. Yeah, that happens more than you could imagine.

I notice them in books, typos or sloppy editing, but unless they continually occur, or make me laugh, then I don't even bother mentioning them.

This blog is pretty much my happy place. I try not to write about the things I don't like. I think there's enough negativity and anger on the internet. The last time I did, however, I received a message from a friend that they quite liked the curmudgeonly Steve.

So, in order to please a friend, here's a personal list of things writers do that bug me:

  • Ask me to buy their book on their birthday as a present to them. Seriously. We're not close enough that we usually buy each other presents. And anyway, are you going to buy my stories on my birthday in return?
  • Tell me how awful your writing is, and how bad this WIP is. Why would you keep suggesting publicly your work isn't worth reading? And if it's a false modesty, then I don't enjoy that either.
  • Self publish and then announce it was rejected everywhere.  Yeah, maybe that's a clue it's not worth reading.
  • Pretend that there's something mystical or magical about being a writer, or the source of your inspiration.  It's an idea you get. You put words in the right order. Some people are better at it than many others.
  • Continually moan publically about how little money you earn from writing. As soon as you start selling work seriously, it's a business like any other. You're not a salaried employee. You're selling a product. Some sell lots, most sell little.
  • Continually moan about the "business" side of writing when you're trying to sell stories. Yeah, see above.
  • Acting like you're zany or crazy or out-there when you're just like everyone else. No, please don't tell me how you live in a swamp with pet alligators who have wings - unless you really do. I actually prefer normal, informative bios.
  • Comparing your work to.... No, it's generally not like Philip K Dick, Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Even if it's good.  Let others make the comparisons.
  • Non-stop name dropping of friends who are famous. Interesting when aspiring writers only share pictures of themselves with big names. We see what you're doing.
  • Running workshops and giving writing classes when you've had one or two very minor sales. (or even worse, never published.) Truly, I've seen this. I want to learn from people with track records.
  • Announcing your story is featured in a publication when you mean included. Unless your name is one of two or three on the cover you're not featured.
I think that's enough for now. Yeah, this is a year or more worth of pet peeves, but they're just my opinion. You can do whatever you want.

Bah Humbug!

And as for my one grammar pet hate, please learn the difference between initialisms and acronyms. CD, BBC and CIA are not acronyms. WTF?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Trash and Treasure.

Another disappointment story.

A few months ago I bought a book I had heard great things about. It seemed like the kind of thing I would like, the author seems like a cool person I would love to hang out with and chat, the publisher is a name publisher, and the reviews were glowing. Almost universally so.

I threw it straight to the top of my 'to be read' stack, and dived straight in.

Here, a few months later, I find myself thinking about it again. I'm not sure why but it was on my mind when I woke this morning. But not for any good reasons.

It was dull, slow and plodding. Crises points were manufactured to the point of ridiculous levels, dialogue was clunky and unnatural, and some of the scenes and events were plain hokey and would have seemed out-of-place in a 1930s novel.

I really wanted to love it. I really did. Instead I merely tolerated it.

I haven't checked, but it's probably won some awards and been nominated for 'best of' lists. So what is it I'm missing that apparently others are getting?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know taste comes into things. I know people enjoy different reads. I know we all see different things, but this isn't about taste. It's about quality of writing, being able to create snappy dialogue and events that flow naturally.

Is it simply horses for courses?

On the other hand, I've just picked up another book from another name author and this one ticks all the boxes. I'm 30 pages in and hooked. Yes, I've enjoyed this authors other works, and reading this one I can see the reasons why. And I'm learning things from this work.

Oh well. One person's trash is another person's treasure. It's just a shame the above-mentioned novel wasn't one of my treasures.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Wheels Turn Slowly.

When I first started writing, I attended a workshop where one of the attendees was the editor of a well known and reputable sf magazine. He liked my story, said it was "very very good" and told me to send it to him.

I did. And in my naivety and innocence, was surprised when I didn't hear back in a few days. Or a week. Or even a month. The website suggested querying after three months, which I did, and I never received a response to that email.

I received a response to my submission, though, four months later, and it wasn't good news. Yes, a short story which was going to earn me a grand total of about $50 was rejected after seven months.

While seven months is towards the top end of response times, it's not completely out of the ordinary. Most sit between three and four months. My fastest was two days, my longest is ...  well, technically about 8 years as they never responded at all. Not even after a couple of very polite email enquiries.

And then, of course, it can take up to another year to reach publication. Oh, and bear in mind most publishers ask you not to send the story out to more than one publisher at the time, which means you might only send a story out a couple of times a year if they hang onto it for too long.

And this is only for short stories - novels can take much longer.

I have a story out at the moment with a publisher who usually responds within two months. It's currently been out for 5 months, and although I have sent an enquiry email, I have not heard back at all. This is unusual, but I'm not particularly worried as I understand most  small press publishers have day jobs and other commitments.

But it would be nice to have a response. Especially as I have high hopes for this story. Now that I've written about it, and knowing the world's sense of humour, I'll probably hear back today.

Maybe that's why I wrote this piece - to try and force the world's hand.

Monday, January 21, 2019

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Table Of Contents.

Late last year I read an anthology from a publisher with a solid reputation. I had picked it up some time earlier, partly because of its cover art (which was fabulous) and partly because of its title and theme. When I read the TOC, I was thrilled, as there were quite a few name authors I had never previously read. The bios of the other authors filled me with hope - award winners, university and lecturers in writing and published authors. In fact a diverse range of gender and ethnicity.

It sat in my 'to be read' stack for a few months, then I pushed it to the top.

The first story was 'Meh'. The second also. And then it dropped in quality. Nothing rose above average, and in fact, a couple of the name authors appeared to have 'phoned-in' their contributions. Some were just completely ridiculous.

Disappointed? You bet.

Now I know taste has a great part to play in all of this. There can be a certain amount of subjectivity. (I know someone who told me it's all subjective, but that's not true. A good writer is a good writer, no matter whether it appeals to me or not.) Many of these stories, however, were full of plot holes, idiotic protagonists and convenient plot devices. They weren't as clever as they author thought, and at least two stories I worked out the ending in the first page or so.

There are times Goodreads can't be trusted, as family, friends and the authors themselves overvalue everything. This anthology had a stack of 4 and 5 star reviews. And then, right there in the middle was a one-star review, which pretty much detailed my own observations of the collection. I couldn't have written it better myself.

I've written along similar lines before, an again even further back. It seems I will regularly be disappointed by some offerings.

Sometimes I should judge a book by just its cover, not the TOC. Although, this time. I would have still purchased the book as the cover was fabulous.

Oh well, a quick dose of Jasper Fforde followed, and all was well with the writing world.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Welcome to 2019.

Happy New Year.

I've had a great break - a really relaxing time with family and friends. We didn't travel anywhere really, but managed to catch up with some people. Mostly we relaxed and ate great food. And I didn't over-eat or feel bloated.

The car decided to get a puncture on Christmas Eve, and of course they don't supply spare tyres anymore.  But this was a puncture where the spray can of foam stuff and nursing the car to the garage wasn't going to cut it. It meant, however, we either stayed at home or walked for a few days, which at this time of the year isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New Year's Eve was pretty quiet. We did stay up but went to bed shortly afterwards. I had too much to do on my secret project the next day to be up too late. And yes, I did get lots and lots done.

As I said in a recent post, I don't really do the whole resolution thing. I make my plans as I go, prioritising and re-prioritising as need be. I do have some plans for this year, one of which is to try and keep track of the books I read. I made a list a few years ago, just on a word document for myself, and if I can find it, I might even post it. This year, however, will be the only other time I have kept track of my reading. I've decided to add a page to this website and make the list public. Have look sometime.

I also plan to write more. You might even see some longer fiction emerging. You just never know.

But I have work to do now, and need to be gone from this page. All the best for the coming year.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Reading Again.

I'm not sure how this happened. I am busy still, and seem to have less time than before, but I'm reading again.

Not that I ever stopped reading. Reading is hardwired within me, and I always have a book on the go. But recently I seem to be back into the same quantity of books I read a few years ago.

Of course I long for my teenage years, or into my early twenties, when I devoured books, reading in bed until all hours and coping daily on a few hours sleep. But those days are long gone, and I simply cannot manage like that anymore. As you get older, you need your sleep.

I've been reading a real mix of books - new authors (to me, anyway) and revisiting books from a few years ago - even a couple from my teenage years. And yes, for the most part, they are still as wonderful as I recall.

I re-read all my Thursday Next books (Jasper Fforde) and then forged into the latest few which I had never gotten around to picking up. I started back into the Saga of the Exiles quadrilogy (Julian May,) which I first read back in the early 80s. I read a wonderful collection of short stories from Alice Munro. Another from Martin Amis. And yet another from Jeanette Winterson. And even more. Brilliant stuff. There's also been a few anthologies, both old and new, from mainstream (SF) publishers and small press. I've done my bit to get to know the local UK small press market.

And my 'to be read' stack is looking healthy. Ann Leckie, more Andy Remic, Thoraiya Dyer, Cat Sparks and others.

In the middle of all this, and around it and through it, I've done my fair share of academic and non-fiction as well.

If only there were more reading hours per day.

I love reading. I always have and I believe I always will. This is one of the main reasons I became an English teacher - to share this love and try to enthuse others.

And if you haven't read a book in a while, stop reading this and go and grab one off the shelf. Now.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Racing Around the Sun Again.

Another year is drawing to a close, and there is so much left undone. Not that I am one for resolutions, but like most people I have goals - either specific and planned, or vague and loose. I did complete some of my plans, but along the way other plans intruded in my life. And as I undertook those, other activites were pushed onto the backburner by necessity.

Yeah, that novel I never started at the beginning of the year never happened later either. And I doubt I'll have it done (or even commenced) by New Year.

I'm OK with that, because I have achieved other things this year I never thought I would. Big things. For reasons of my own, I'm not sharing these at the moment. One day, when the time is right, I will.

We've almost completed that arbitrarily designated end to yet another journey around the sun. Another year, another orbit, another winter.

It's getting darker and colder. I'm heading out to work and returning home with my headlights on. Soon it will be dark as I arrive and leave the office. For some people this is depressing. For me, and maybe because it's a bit of a novelty still, I enjoy it. It means Christmas is coming, and Christmas makes a lot more sense here than it ever did in Australia. The lights will be up in the streets, and we'll have warm cosy evenings snuggled around roaring fires.

Think about it. Christmas as a northern hemisphere celebration is out of place in Australia. Having experienced a few up here, it's obviously a transplant. I always enjoyed it, but it never felt right.

As out of place as a sausage sizzle at an English hardware store. Yeah, Bunnings tried that here and it failed. As did Bunnings as a store. They've pulled out of the UK, having bought Homebase for large sums of money and selling for next to nothing.

Guess I'll just have to go and buy a Bratwurst in a bread roll on the high street, all wrapped up in my scarf and jacket.