Category Archives: Out of character

Humans, not machines

I Just listened to a Youtuber whom I admire greatly, go off on a seven minute rant on the subject of how much he’d want to set the dogs of reason and unreason upon some unnamed fuckwit who had deeply insulted him at a time when that kind of thing really is not welcome. He decided not to reveal in the end what it was about, because to do so would only make matters worse.

I’m purposely not saying who it is. Who any of the following people are. Figure it out if you must. What I want to say is that people will never have anything to fear from me for being human. Everybody fucks up, bar none.

I follow a fairly accomplished scientist online. He introduced me to the kind of weird crap that young earth creationists use to justify the unjustifiable. To explain away the bleeding obvious. He also showed, without a word out of place, where the arguments used by the current clutch of feminists go wrong. You can’t do that kind of thing without getting a significant number of people very angry at you, and the counter-strategy of both these groups of people are the same: Flinging huge amounts of bullshit at the thorn in their side. People have subjected him to the full repertoire in the Right Thinking People’s arsenal, up to and including making death threats to him and his family, trying to get him fired from his job, celebratory messages on the death of his father, and more. Is anyone really really surprised that he responds in kind now and then? I still follow him.

I follow a famous biologist on-line. Yes, easy to guess from the following. He’s well known for his forceful attacks on religion as such, and he has a lot of bile to spill. He also has a dedicated set of people who are determined to take any of his utterances, twist it into the most unsympathetic meaning possible, then use that travesty against him. If they can’t, they make shit up. Now and then, he formulates his thoughts in ways that may seem callous, tactless. I can usually guess what he meant, but there have been cases where he sould have re-read his words a few times before posting. I still follow him.

I follow a young woman on line. She is a science communicator, and runs a free podcast where she has hour-long conversations with an impressive range of very interesting people. Recently, she became a hero when at a moment’s notice, she helped crowdfund a Muslim apostate’s ticket out of a country where the government would have killed him for renouncing Islam. She also went on television for a company that claims to suck carbon out of thin air and turn it into plastic. To do so, they would have had to suck through a tiny tube a volume of air the size of a skyscraper. I still don’t know why she would get involved with scam artists, but everybody fucks up now and then. I still follow and admire her.

I follow another woman on-line. She makes Atheist-themed videos, women’s rights type videos, and plain funny videos. They are usually a pleasure to watch, and not just because of her looks. She has a wonderful way of getting to the core of a problem and present it in a funny, relatable, and clear way. Recently, she was caught lifting material from other people and presenting it as her own, which she really should not have done. She still makes videos that are every bit as interesting as any of them. I still follow her.

There are a few things that I will immediately dump someone for. But I will always remember that these people are not machines. They do not exist simply for my entertainment, but have lives of their own to lead. I can’t count the number of times where my mouse has hovered over the “send” button of a true bomb of bile, then to decide not to bother. I get offended as much as the next guy, but those who are in the public eye like these people are, have to deal with a true mountain of shit all day.

I will remember they are human. I will remember they are still what I admire them for. And I will still follow them.

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Some really bad @neilgaiman fanfic.

I thought I’d lost this, but it turned up when I was looking for something else. And now you too can read it!


 

“Oh crap“, said Despair.
“Mwh?” said Dream, hardly bothering to open an eye.
“Oh. Destruction is back,” said Desire. “Who asked for that?”
“I knew he would be back,” said Destiny.
“And he’s puked all over the carpet,” said Delirium.
“Somebody shoot me,” said Death, holding her nose.
“Well, if THAT is your attitude,” said Destruction, “I’m blowing this joint!”


Short and sweet.

Live from Manchester…

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m back at the Discworld Convention, and I shall be trying to write the occasional report. There’s a few people I really want to meet here.

  • Diane Duane – writer of the Young Wizards series featuring Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez. Years ago, when Bannog and Ariciel were only young, I wanted to attend a writing workshop she was going to organise. She’d gathered up a lot of good information from a number of famous writers, and then “Something” happened and she had to cancel.
  • Mitch Benn – Comedic singer and increasingly a SciFi writer. We’re besties. He responded to one of my tweets once. I sing several of his songs (“I stole your heart”, “Spontaneous Combustion”, “The French Are Coming To Get Us”), and he’s right here so there goes half my repertoire. Hope Tom Lehrer doesn’t show up.

It’s the official Day Before The Con, which means tonight, there is a pub quiz! I will bring my son as a secret weapon. There isn’t an episode of Mr. Bean he hasn’t seen!

“Let me know what you think” – @DianeDuane

So these last few months haven’t exactly been the best of my life, and basically to cheer myself up a bit, I’ve bought the Millennium Edition Young Wizards Funpack from Diane Duane at http://dianeduane.com. Which means that I am now fully up to date with the life and times of the young wizards Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez. To summarise the books in one word: books, whales, computers, Irish, death, autism, destiny, sacrifice, and redemption.

Diane Duane offers these books on her own website, and they are DRM-free. Which means, not copy-protected. This is very good for us, because when our Kindle gets dropped for the last time, we can simply tell Calibre to feed it to us in the format that our next shiny e-reader likes. Also, if you keep your books on your own computer, Amazon can’t come in and remove it from your bookshelf like they did to (of all books possible) George Orwell’s nineteen eighty four. It’s also good for Diane, because if Amazon keeps acting up, she can tell them to put it where the sun don’t shine. I won’t buy any books from Amazon, and I won’t buy books that are fettered with copy protection. Yes, I know I can remove it easily, but I am not going to encourage anyone to put that stuff on in the first place.

But on to the books. I’m not going to do a blow by blow. I’m simply going to assume that the things I remember most about them are the most important.

So you’ve got these wizards. A wizard (which is a gender-neutral term here – Nita is a wizard, not a witch), is born. Wizardry is a kind of switch in the Self, and if you have it turns on, at some point in your life, you find a Wizard’s Manual. In Nita’s case, this is a career advice book called “So You Want To Be A Wizard”. She starts reading the book, and then all the trouble starts. So parents, be warned. Reading can sometimes lead to wizardry. Get your kids on healthy activities such as Internet and television instead. Upon finding her calling, the wizard is then given the Oath, and then the fun starts. The first thing that happens after the first few spells you cast, is your Ordeal. Big trouble happens to you, and you are supposed to put your wizardry to goo use and overcome the trouble. It’s easy to tell whether you passed or not – if you are still breathing at the end and the world hasn’t ended, you probably passed.

Once your Ordeal is over, you get to gain more and more information on how the universe works. In the Young Wizards universe, there is one Supreme Being, known only as “The One”. The One is responsible for all of creation, though It has delegated most of the actual work to the Powers That Be. Throughout the series you get to meet several of these, but I don’t know exactly how many there are. And of course, there’s always a troublemaker. When everybody is busily creating trees and hugging them, putting the pretty craggy lines into the fjords, and colouring in the pretty flowers, One delights in tearing down what the others have made. There’s always one. Lucifer, Morgoth, and here, the Lone Power. Its main weapon is entropy. The thing that wears down everything, causes the springs of the Universe to wind down and causes death and destruction. I particularly like it that Diane Duane leaves open the question of whether this is evil in itself or not. The knowledge that everything, even the Universe, will have an end, is frightening on one end, but perhaps a comfort on the other.

Be that as it may, the Lone Power is a right bastard. My favourite bits in any book are Nita’s and Kit’s discussions with the Lone Power. We know that the Lone Power is evil incarnate, but Nita is often forced to think really hard on what exactly it is that makes It evil.

Add to that a rich cast of pleasantly mad characters. Nita’s little sister Dairine, who uses a computer for a manual and is annoyingly powerful. Kit’s older sister Carmela, who is not a wizard, but has gained a working knowledge of the Wizardly Speech and with it a more than casual interest in vegetable life forms. Kit’s dog Ponch. A star. Literally a star named Fred.

All in all, I warmly recommend this series of books, and am looking forward to number ten in the series. In fact, I may have to nick a few of Diane’s characters for a Worldgate-fail type crossover.

Own your suck

flexorThis is a little rant I’ve been saving for an occasion…

I’ve never worried about the quality of my work, and not because I know it is perfection and upon reading it, all other writers will throw away their implements, weeping, knowing they will never achieve what I have achieved. No, it’s because I know my writing sucks. I’m not singling myself out here, because everybody’s writing sucks. Yours, mine, that of people who have gotten knighthoods for their writing, people who are entrusting their first few words to a cruel and uncaring Internet, the people who are mentioned first when you ask “Name me a writer”. Everyone’s writing sucks.

The thing is, if you heed the right feedback, both positive and negative, you will learn the things you are doing right (and do more of it), and the things you are doing wrong (so you can avoid them like an overused cliche). One’s writing will never stop sucking, but with careful feeding and watering and sunlight, it will suck at higher and higher levels. The stupid things you no longer do will be more and more advanced.

And the weirdest thing is, you can have something that sucks really, really badly, such as “The Eye Of Argon” (In Tale the Second I poke a little fun at it), or “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay”, and people will really enjoy it. How many authors can claim that their work even now is being read aloud? And being remembered for a very long time…

 

Seanan McGuire on fanfic

Edit: The universe is trying to do my head in. I still don’t know how I silly-walked into Seanan’s piece on Fanfic, but only after I published this, I noticed it was from 2012. Way to go, necro-threader… And then, in my LJ feed, up pops this post by Seanan. On the subject of Fanfic. Really? What’s going on?

So. Seanan McGuire, writer of many many books of Urban Fantasy, whose soul linked sister is Mira Grant for purposes of the Undead, has written a piece on FanFiction and she loves it. Basically, writing FanFic is a training ground for the real thing, and it’s a good way to train. I have always had the knack of running conversations between people in my head, but until I started playing WoW, I never actually wrote them down. (Though I have written of all things Travian fanfic about the eternal struggles between the meat-loving Gaulish footmen and the vegan druid riders. If you must know, search for my LJ. I stopped writing that because Travian sucks as a game). Seanan is right that it doesn’t teach you to build a world, but it does let you practice on characters. As for settings, that is what my new series, The Algernon Expeditions, is there for. People will wander round Ipswich wondering where Algernon University actually is.

Seanan points out that Fanfic gives you the freedom to write what you want, and never care about whether there’s an audience for it. O yes. I once got a whole bunch of material from Diane Duane as preparation for a writer’s workshop at the UK Discworld Convention that unfortunately got canned because Life happened to Diane and Peter Morwood, and they were unable to attend. One of the things that I remember is that A.C. Doyle told you to think on what you are writing for: Money, pleasure, or art. And that influences your writing. Seanan writes for money. Which is not to say that there’s no art or pleasure to her writing, but if her books don’t sell, then her cats don’t get fed, and they will eat her. So in the back of her head, there is constantly the thought of “Will my fans like this?” and she can’t risk alienating a huge swathe of them. Me, I write mostly for pleasure. My own pleasure, that is. Which means that somewhat egoistically, the person who really has to be pleased with my writings is me, and anyone else who enjoys my witterings is a side benefit. Now I do aim for sellable quality in my writings, because I want to be a professional-quality writer even if I’m currently strictly amateur. But what I cannot do is allow these stories to become anything more than a vague “gosh, I ought to write a bit more Ariciel, haven’t done that in a while” type thing. That would make it Work, which would make it a source of stress,  and that would make it Not Fun Anymore.

Finding your voice, as Seanan says, (Note that I am avoiding the “Seanan points out” phrase here because that would echo with the previous paragraph, and unintentional echos are bad), is very important to your identity as a writer. My day job involves writing technical documents that have to clue people up on shit they need to know. I spent loads of time finding it out, and if I mess up the write-up, my friends and colleagues will have to waste their time finding it out for themselves. Writing, in my opinion, is the vehicle that transports my thoughts into someone else’s head. So I need that vehicle to be, variously, a heavy goods vehicle, or a convertible with the hood open, allowing you to take in the scenery. Pretty phrases be damned. If I need you to understand why the heroes are running, then I need to tell you it’s a long way from the Valley of Heroes to Stormwind Harbour. As a result, you won’t find much flowery language in my writings. (I hope). I’m fairly business-like in my fic, and conversely, display a little sense of humour in my technical docs.

I agree with Seanan that fanfic is an expression of love for the source material. In some cases, quite literally. I have a whole section (Snippets) on here of stories I wrote where I nicked other people’s characters for my own vile purposes, simply because I liked the characters and wanted to play with them a bit. In Arwen’s case, this grew to some 20K words, because after Thunderpetal, I wanted to check in on my characters to see if they were OK. With your fellow fic writers, you can do that more or less with impunity and as long as you don’t go round claiming them as your own, they will usually like it.

Which brings me to Seanan’s last point: Her characters are feeding her, and for reasons of Copyright and Story Integrity, she can’t allow people to mess around with them. There are very sound legal reasons for that. Everything about Toby Daye Seanan writes, has to be her own work, and not that of some unknown fic writer. Even the most vague idea that ends up in someone’s fic before it arrives in Seanan’s work, is potential dynamite. I would love to know Terry Pratchett’s opinion on my little Ariciel/Angua piece, but I can’t have it. Terry, and Seanan, can’t take the risk of me claiming ownership (and money) for something of mine that somehow ended up in their work, even if they had already thought of it long before I ever did.

Just a bit of serious

Some of the best stories, webcomics and other things start out as a bit of fun. Just one joke that needed to be told, just a funny story. A way to kick back and write some lovely therapeutic smut with no literary value whatsoever. One prime example of this is the webcomic Looking For Group. (Google it). It started out with a definitely-not-a-blood-elf jumping into the world determined not to be evil, a definitely evil undead warlock determined to be as evil as he possibly can be, a hot babe priestess not-a-troll… And it was very silly, and it was very good. Another prime example is a story I’m now checking regularly for updates, called “Diary of a Mad Gamer Chick”, about a girl gamer (For the Horde!) who suddenly finds herself a Human (crap) in Stormwind, hungering for Orc and Troll flesh in a decidedly X-rated way. And it’s loads of fun, so you keep at it. Giggling your way through the drawings, through the stories. And then, before you realise it, something happens.

You start to care about the people in there.

There’s all these little throwaway lines between the jokes and the smut, and somehow, in your head, it joins together into a back story. So you write a bit more about that. And before you know it, it’s epic. And by that time, it’s too late to stop. Happened to me, too. I started out with the idea of a warrior and an elf girl, the stereotypical damsel-and-warrior-hero type story grabbed by the scruff of its neck and given a good shake. I like playing with people’s expectations and shaking them up. And then the whole story somehow happened. Ariciel got a family she was looking for. Bannog found that he loved this strange Druid enough to overcome his preconceptions. Then Bannog got a home, and it was under siege. And then his little sister, originally simply a secondary character, developed a personality and set off in search of knowledge, and love. The Steambender gnomes were originally meant as something for Ariciel to bounce her racial prejudice off, because a character needs flaws to look real. They turned into a real family. Mareva, originally entering the story as a way to draw out the difference in sexual ethics between humans and elves, told a little shred of her history, which then needed to be documented as well. And all that. It turned into five hundred thousand words (as close as wc can make it) of WoWfic. I have one more big story left to write, maybe two. One, I’m not sure I have the heart to write. Maybe later.

These stories have been, at times, the only thing standing between myself and destruction. They are immensely important to me, as they have been protecting my sanity by providing a place where I can go to reclaim my mental energy, by entering a world like mine, filled with trouble, but with one important difference. I know it will turn out right, because I will make it.

I think the Redridge Chronicles will always be my place of refuge whenever I need to be alone for a while. The setting is rich enough that I can always find some place that I haven’t written about yet. Whether anyone actually reads them? It’s nice to see the occasional flurry of hits meaning someone is reading the story. But ultimately, this is where I go when I’m in a place where I don’t want to be, and need the strength.

As a side effect, it turned me into a creative writer who still sucks, who will never stop sucking, but who sucks at a more advanced level now than he did in 2008, when i started this.

A tear in my eye…

*Snif* Rarely do poems move me, but…

Excuse me, I’m sorry, but if you would read
These poems I’ve written you’d be very kind.
And tell me, dear reader, I earnestly plead,
What feelings and thoughts they evoke in your mind.

Please give Orjan Westin a visit. Oi! Come back here you!

Two thousand fucking thirteen

Because Orjan asked nicely…

Be warned, here be swearing and Bad Words…


Don’t draw your sword unready to use it. Don’t carry your sword unready to draw it. Don’t buy a sword unready to carry it.

Continue reading

I tell a lie, or is that a lay?

When you’re writing, one of your duties as a writer is to make your story easy to read, so that your thoughts and feelings travel to the reader’s mind hopefully unscathed, and with ease. No matter how long you live, or how much you write, you will never stop sucking at this – you will just suck at a higher and higher level until at some point people no longer care about the suck.

As Mr. Terry Pratchett has remarked on several occasions, “correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are not things that only happen to other people”. And the things that go wrong are many. I often change one end of a sentence, then forget to change the other end. I repeat phrases too often. I misspell, use the wrong word, don’t keep the vocabulary in check so that this peasant is suddenly using words like “vouchsafed”.

These are simple errors, and that is why it is so important to have a dedicated beta reader, who can point these mistakes out to you, because when you are in full flow, telling your story, you are trying to get it out of your head and into words. Editing comes after. Editing is important, because mistakes in your words are like bumps in the road. They distract your reader and make them think about grammar rather than gryphons.

Now one of these bumps in the road for me is when I read a phrase like “she laid down on the couch”, or “she laid down her head on the soft pillow”. Both phrases just look wrong to me. It should be, “she lay down on the couch”. The other phrase is actually correct, but still looks wrong to me.

The thing is, mistakes in this are now so common that I’m starting to doubt myself. Is there a transatlantic difference here? Don’t think so. So I need to get this straightened out once and for all, so I can pedant with righeous zeal. Nothing worse than being counter-pedanted.

So the two verbs that cause this confusion are: to lie, meaning to rest, be stretched out or reclined somewhere, and to lay, meaning the act of putting something down. (Interestingly, you have the same problem in Dutch with liggen/leggen). They are declined thusly:

To lie, lay, lain, lying: Being horizontal.
To lay, laid, laid, laying: Putting something or someone down.

So the phrase, “she laid down on the couch”, uses the past tense of to lay, instead of to lie, which is wrong. In the second phrase, (she laid down her head) she casually removes her head, and gently puts it down on the soft pillow before her body collapses in a fountain of blood. Unwise, but gramatically correct.

There’s also a few variations that muddle up the waters: “Now I lay me down to sleep” is correct: you take yourself to lay down. The rather uncouth expression of “gettin’ laid” and not “gettin lain” refers to someone laying someone else down and giving them a jolly good seeing-to.

So I have now printed out the verbs and stuck them on top of the bathroom mirror. This will allow me to lay down the law, and I’ll avoid lying awake at night pondering this.