6 Eclectic Thoughts

1. MY SECRET SHAME

I’m going to share a secret: I actually like the taste of instant coffee. There are days when I prefer it to the real thing, especially since ordering the real thing can be a hit-and-miss affair that results in me drinking a horrible concoction created from burnt coffee grounds, urine, and the spiteful hate of people who kick puppies. Instant coffee is never great, but at the same time, it’s never really a disappointment either. It embraces the law of averages and settles for a long, slow arc of mediocrity and met expectations.

This is not to say that I’m indiscriminate. There are some brands of instant than are better than others, and I’ll shy away from the worst offenders who seem to have taken the burnt-coffee-ground-urine-and-puppy-kicking-spite combination as their own particular flavour of choice.

So yeah, me and instant coffee, we’re tight. In fact, I’m enjoying a cup right now as I type this, and it’s pretty damn good.

2. HOW SENTENCES WORK

My non-fiction book of the week has been Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How To Read One. It’s kinda weird reading this sort of book in your thirties, long after formal education in the art of grammar is over with, and it makes me wonder exactly how I manage to avoid learning so much about the process of actually crafting a sentence for so long. I mean, sure, I kinda figured stuff out given that a large portion of what I do every day is putting one word after the other, but Fish has a tendency to articulate sentence structure in a far more elegant way.

There’s a part of me that seriously wishes I’d read the following before I spent seven years trying to explain the passive voice to university undergraduates:

It is important to understand that the relationships that form the sinew and relays of sentences are limited. There is the person or thing performing the action, there is the action being performed, and there is the recipient or object of the action. That’s the basic logical structure of many sentences: X does Y to Z. (Sentences can also come without objects, as in “Joe walks.”) “Simon bought the car.” “The government raised taxes.” “The corporation gives bonuses.” “Heat parches lawns.” The instances are infinite, although the form remains the same (this is a key point, and I shall return to it): doer, doing, done to.

Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How To Read One, p. 18

I mean, boom, just like that, an entirely elegant rule of thumb for constructing a sentence that’s far better than any explanation I’ve ever given.

Every time I read books like this, I realise exactly how much of a slacker I am as a writer – content to coast along, trusting on instinct, rather than learning how to use tools properly (then I remind myself I spent far more time on the larger-structure stuff, and on understanding the way genres work and get interpreted, and I don’t feel so bad about the fact that  they unleashed on my students and let me stumble my way through basic rules of grammar).

Incidentally, my latest run of non-fiction reading has been heavily influenced by this post over on Brain Pickings. I provide this link with two caveats: 1) I spent far less money on books before I added brain pickings to my RSS feed (which, given how much I spend on books, is really saying something), and 2) Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is not a book on that list that I’d recommend. The articulation of Resistance is useful, I suppose, but there’s a real lack of meaningful advice for getting past it.

3. THE “OH, HELL NO” SCALE

I mentioned the Trashy Tuesday Movie thing I do over on twitter earlier this week, right? Well, I’m still trying to figure out a way of archiving the individual live-tweets of the movies we watch – of anyone can recommend a tool that’ll arrange #hashtags in order, please do so – but until that happens I figured I’d share a few thoughts on the movies we’ve watched thus far and where they fall on the “Oh, hell no” scale that I use for trashy movies.

Best of the bunch we’ve watched thus far: RED. It’s smart, it’s well-cast (Helen Mirren! SNIPER RIFLE!), and it’s about as non-trashy a movie as you can get while still being vaguely acceptable Trashy Movie Tuesday fodder. Plus I kinda like Bruce Willis as a protagonist, considering he’s been in some of the best trashy action movies (Die Hard), SF movies (Fifth Element), and Christmas movies (Die Hard again) of all time. Unfortunately it seems that entertaining, competently made movies that are actually good are pretty bad fodder for the live-tweeting process, so we’ll never be able to watch one again.

Guilty Pleasures: Hawk the Slayer and Red Sonja. In no sane universe can you call either of these movie’s good, but if you’re a fan of fantasy cinema and willing to appreciate their more absurd elements and scenery-chewing actors they’re both kind of brilliant.

Red Sonja has the barely articulate Brigitte Nielsen acting opposite a barely articulate Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they’re both blown off the screen by Ernie Reyes Jr in his most irritating kid-ninja role ever. It also includes a couple of narrative choices that come outta left field, like an evil world-destroying artifact that’s powered by light and destroyed after it’s plunged into darkness.

Hawk the Slayer…fuck, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a terrible movie, from the bad dialogue to the western-inspired stare-downs before every fight scene to the fact that there are interminable scenes where characters do nothing by ride horses through the forest (which seems, near as I can tell, to be cinema short-hand for you’re watching a fantasy film). And yet, it’s kinda watchable, primarily because Jack Palance is chewing scenery like no-ones business as the primary bad guy and the writers have adopted one simple rule – if Jack’s on the screen, some motherfucker is going to die.

Bad Film with the Kernel of a Good Idea: Wing Commander. Also known as the finest submarine movie to ever be set in space. I adore this film for the way it cleverly disguises the debt it owes to Das Boot by casting Jürgen Prochnow and making him the second-in-charge, but it would have been far better if they’d cast Matthew Lillard in the lead instead of Freddie Prinz Jr. The real appeal of Wing Commander, though, lies in watching it as an SF writer – there’s this brilliant idea in the pilgrim sub-plot that should really have gotten more screen-time, rather than being put there in order to pull off an egregious deus ex machina, and there’s a part of me that really wants to grab the film and rewrite it to give that idea the story it should have had.

Oh, Fuck No, Never Again: Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 edition. Slow, barely coherent, and blatantly riding on the coattails of the first Conan film with Schwartzenegger. Thus far, this is the only film we’ve watched that I’d hesitate before revisiting.

And finally, just when we thought that would be the lowest rating ever, we discovered the rating of…

Seriously, Zack Snyder, I’m going to carve out your spleen for making this shit: Suckerpunch. It takes a special kind of talent to take a film about hot chicks with swords fighting zombie nazis and making it UTTERLY FUCKING DULL, and Zack Snyder must pay dearly for possessing it. Friends do not let friends watch this film, and my hostility towards it is only matched by my hostility towards Avatar – another film I should have liked given the genre and concept, but can’t because it reaches epic levels of cinematic and narrative incompetence. Snyder is now added to the short-list of people I think should be kept away from film for the good of the genre, alongside Michael Bay.

Next Tuesday we’re watching the epically bad/awesome/jingoistic Red Dawn. If you’d care to join us, hit Twitter around 7:30 PM Brisbane time and look for the hastag #Wolverines.

4. SHEROS

A project started by my friend Meg, explained over one her blog.

Have you noticed a greater-than-average serve of women-baiting and women-hating in the media of late? My Facebook and Twitter feeds are clogged with examples.

Peanuts Cartoon image: Lucy Van Pelt boxing Linus

And in the face of it, there are so many amazing women demonstrating grace, strength and intellect.

So I’ve decided to start collecting and celebrating them. You’ll find a new page at mamaguilt now: Sheroes. Please let me know a woman who is rocking your world, and why. We want to see pictures, read links, and understand why this woman is inspiring you, so please use the contact form on the Sheroes page to let me know – I’ll share it, and acknowledge your contribution.

In some of her non-writer guises Meg is the Manager of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace and the convenor of the Brisbane chapter of Sisters in Crime and a fabulously awesome person, so if you’ve got someone who deserves to be recognised I encourage you to send something her way.

5. THE FIFTH ENTRY IS A LIE

In truth, much of this entry is. Not in terms of the content – that’s all true – but from this point out the idea of me actually being behind the keyboard and dashing blog entries out is entirely illusory. For once in my life, I’ve actually managed to plan ahead. I’ve put together a schedule and focused on getting shit done. In short, I wrote this on Monday afternoon after pounding out a couple of other blog entries.

Such are the perils of getting organised and thinking about things.

Assuming this doesn’t all fall apart at the first hurdle, this should become the norm. Part of me recoils against the idea of writing these things in advance, but the reality of having a dayjob is that there are days when I have the spare time to write blog posts and there are days when I do not. If the alternative to pre-writing posts is not writing anything all, I’m going with pre-writing, especially since I then get to use the surplus brainpower on writing fiction.

I’m trying not to let it bug me. I pretend its like baking a cake prior to people arriving, or throwing some iced vovo’s into your weekly shopping just in case you have someone around. It’s something you do so you can focus your attention on the people who show up, rather than fretting about having something to eat when they arrive.

And one of the reasons I’m embracing the random-thoughts approach is so I can build the bulk of a post early, and add something mid-week if I feel it should be mentioned.

6. PROJECT DU JOUR: “Untitled Victorian Planetary Romance, Pt 1” 

I’m going to say it: this project scares the bejesus out of me. It’s everything that I usually try to avoid: a third-person narrative; a research-intensive setting; multiple POV; and written with an expressed audience of three in mind. It’s also, hopefully, the first of a bunch of projects I’m going to do with the character and the setting, although it’s going to take me a couple of months to figure out how to make that work.

My goal for the coming week is to get the first act drafted. That’s approximately 16,000 words of fiction that needs to be written of the coming seven days – doable, even with my day-job schedule, but it’s enough that I’ll have to push myself. And while I’m not going to post daily, I figured I’d post a word-meter every week so the folks I’m writing this for can see exactly how much progress I’m making:

 That was meant to start at zero, but I may have gotten a little…over-enthusiastic…and started writing it early. On the plus side, it’s let me spot a couple of weaknesses in my process – the first thousands are fairly easy to get down, the second thousand require a little effort; Tuesday’s and Thursdays are the days that I’m most resistant to writing something, largely cause I have stuff on; planning has it’s place, but it *is not wordcount* and I’m going to remain unsatisfied by days when I plan but do not write.

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