PeterMBall

Dancing Monkey Post 2: Memories of Brisbane’s Ferry System

The Dancing Monkey challenge from lauragoodin: “write a blog post about being on a Brisbane ferry. At night. And it’s raining. And you’ve spent your last money on the fare.”

I suspect it’s not what Laura intended, but every time I read that request all it translates into is “please tell me what it was like being twenty-three.” It’s all the qualifiers to the original request that do it – when I was twenty-three I’d just finished my honours year in which I wrote a lot of poetry, just moved to Brisbane for the first time, and just started my PhD. Being at the tail-end of my love-affair with goth as a movement, I was prone to attaching all sorts of significance to thing that happened in moments of poverty, rain and night.

Lets not make this *all* about nostalgia though. Instead lets talk about exactly how lucky you are if you live in a city with a decent public transport system, because I’ll admit that my first few years in Brisbane was largely spent listening to people bitch about the buses, trains and ferries while resisting the urge to shake them and scream “what the fuck are you complaining about.”

Everyone I’ve ever met is adamant that the public transport system in their home city is the worst available, but I think I can mount a safe argument for the Gold Coast (aka the city that I spent most of my teenage years growing up in) has one the worst of the lot. Part of it is an infrastructure problem – the Gold Coast bus service is privatized and the city expands faster than pretty-much everywhere else in Queensland. Part of it is cultural – the Gold Coast is a tourist city with a lot of beaches. But the basic gist of the Gold Coast public transport system is this – if you don’t want to travel along the highway that rarely strays further than a block and a half from the shoreline, you’re screwed. In order to catch a bus to uni as an undergraduate (a 30 minute drive), I used to have to hike out to the highway (about twenty-five minutes) and catch three transfers at various tourist malls in order to travel along what was, more or less, a straight line (about two hours, maybe longer if the drivers were feeling fickle or you missed a service). All this was, of course, essentially impossible if I had classes that started before nine (a surprisingly common occurrence, given that I was in an arts degree). Add in the Gold Coast’s tendency towards continuous roadworks and the once-a-year insistence on spending a month setting up an Indy Car race track in the heart of the tourist district (which *every* bus in the city passed through) and you start to get a pretty good idea why I look at buses, even Brisbane buses which are comparatively well-run, with a look of disdain and horror.

So when I was twenty-three, broke, and moved to Brisbane where there were options such as trains and ferries, lets just say I went a little crazy with the options. Hence it’s nearly impossible for me to separate the ferry from that particular age. Between twenty-three and twenty-four I spent a lot of time on the trains and ferries, often purchasing tickets with fistful’s of spare change that was scavenged from desk drawers and couch cushions. By the time I was twenty-five I’d fallen out of the habit – I started working back on the Gold Coast regularly and many of the fellow Brisbanites with whom I car-pooled stopped, so I was basically driving everywhere instead. It’s only within the last year or two that I’ve really started working to break that habit and make a concerted effort to use the trains again.

(Yes, I realise there really isn’t much to this, but truthfully I’m a much bigger fan of Brisbane’s train system than I am the Ferry system. I think people tend to fixate on one form of transport in particular depending on where they live, and I’ve primarily lived in Brisbane suburbs where the train is your best choice for getting anywhere you need to go).

Claw Update.

Went away after the last post, wrote 898 words, then realised I was done. The net for Draft One is 20,799 word, and there is a part of me that’s still kind of shocked that I’ve written something that long. I don’t do long that often, and I can still remember two years ago when writing the 10k novella for my AHWA Mentorship was a long, drawn-out battle to get words on the page; when I look back and realise that this has all been done in less than a fortnight, it freaks me out.

I can safely say without looking at it that this is one of the most god-awful draft I’ve ever written, full of random asides and irrelevant scenes that aren’t going to make any sense to anyone who isn’t me. Which is okay, really, because I’m slowly starting to figure out that this is going to be the process I end up using for novellas (or, at least, for this particular style of novella) – it’s literally a race to the finish line where I keep writing until I’ve got the shape of the story worked out, some of the key moments nailed down, and an ending that everything is working towards. Tomorrow I’m going to compare what I’ve written to the plan I started with – I suspect there’s not going to be many similarities between the two short of the occasional image.

Draft two will be about going back and adding a bunch of stuff in – I think at least two scenes will be replaced altogether, one character needs to be given a lot more page-time in order to make the ending work, and I suspect one scene will be pulled forward in order to serve as a much stronger end to the act-one part of proceedings than what I’ve got there. I’m also toying with the idea of pulling some chapters apart (since I seem to write novella chapters in binary scenes that play off each other, both hitting a particular narrative beat in the three-act structure) and adding in additional stuff around them.

Claw Update

Claw Draft
Projected Total: 21,000 (which will probably expand out to 25,000 next draft)
Total Words to Date: 19, 881
Words Done in Previous 24-hour Period: 3236
Deadline: April 30th

So close to the end, and yet I find myself paused but a thousand words (and one scene featuring the reconciliation of the hard-boiled detective and her possessed Russian Blue sidekick) from being able to say the draft is done. I had a significant bout of insomnia last night which left me crabby and unfocused for much of the morning, then a family visit this afternoon for lunch and coffee and cake and chocolate. I’m about to go wash up, have a shower, and rug-up in bed to do the last 1000 words of the draft before having an early night.

Which is good, ’cause I have to write a lecture tomorrow. As well as notes on the next drafting project which will occupy this space in the blogging schedule as of Monday evening…

Claw Update

Claw Draft
Projected Total: 25000
Total Words to Date: 16,645
Words Done in Previous 24-hour Period: 2,097
Deadline: April 30th

Chapter Eight is done. My plans for tomorrow have just been cancelled, so I’m thinking I may try and push for the end of the draft instead. With luck, tomorrow night’s update will involve the word “Finished” somewhere.

In other writing news: Got another story ready to send out, but can’t figure out the right title for it; started making notes for the story Jason Fischer set as part of the Dancing Monkey challenge; am now just two active submissions away from getting my number-of-stories-circulating total back into double digits for the first time in 6 months.

Dancing Monkey One: Watch The Middleman, you bastards.

A steady trickle of blog topics rolling in response to my offer to be a Dancing Monkey this week (though most come, as most of my comments do, through the livejournal feed). Pushes my thoughts in interesting directions, it does, with enough random writerly nonsense included to keep me going for a while. Logically they should happen in order, but I’m going to start with something relatively easy (because it’ll feed into a couple of other topics folks have suggested). To whit, Adam demanded “a public rave about the awesomeness of The Middleman.”

This I can do, with bells on and a cherry on top. I can’t, apparently, do it without swearing and unleashing hate upon the world. Consider yourselves warned.

My rave starts thusly: Go and watch The Middleman in whatever form that’s available, you fuckers, because the fact that they’ve only made one season of this show makes me cry.

You should know before I go any further that I’m not a fan of most forms of Geek TV: I loathe Star Trek with a fiery passion; I see Stargate as the malignant legacy of an already stale genre tradition; I walked away from the new version of Battlestar Galactica three episodes in because I could see the clusterfuck of stupidity that was coming and it bored me unbelievably. And that last one still hurts, because I really liked the original mini-series they did to launch the revamped franchise. In fact, I was downright excited and my basic rule of thumb is that I. Don’t. Get. Excited. About. Geek. TV.

And as with most people who are unfeasibly angry at particular genres it’s because I actually love it and am therefore primed for great acts of dissapointment. Thus The Middleman makes me happy in a way that very few TV shows ever have.

Mostly, it does this by refusing to treat me like an idiot.

I realise that I’ve just insulted many of the folks who read this journal and follow the shows I bestow hate upon above, but that’s the truth of it – I turned off most of them because they do something unfailingly stupid and ask me to go along for the ride. And I’ll do that, if I have to, as my consistent viewing of the new Doctor Who series demonstrates, but you need to build up a cache of credit with some awesome up front. Stargate figured it’d earn that cache by giving me misogyny and stock characters in its opening episodes, along with dialogue so bad I actually had to leave the room in order to stop laughing. BSG gave me terminally dull episodes and overwrought melodrama with a philosophical underpinning that struck me as out-of-date. Trek? Well, Trek‘s a mixed bag, but lets just say I don’t think things such as Red Shirts help its case.

Every time I sit down to watch one of these shows I remember an interview J. Michael Strazinski did talking about the early days of Babylon 5, where he noted that Science Fiction television shows aren’t made for science fiction fans because TV executives assume that no matter how bad the program is the fans will show up and watch it because it has lasers and space ships. To a large extent I think the assembled hordes of TV fans prove them right – and while I have no real problem with people watching those shows if they’re getting something out of them, it does leave me with a large and profound feeling of hostility and alienation when it comes to TV-based SF (and, admittedly, it’s my problem; I don’t hold it against you if you love these shows, but I’m never going to be able to step up and enjoy them the same way you do). I can’t geek out over them or get drawn in unless they’re doing something I find new and interesting – B5 managed it with the stunning revelation of episode-to-episode continuity (despite its other flaws); Who manages it through some clever casting and the continued presence of Steven Moffat among the writing staff; The Middleman manages it by…

…well, lets put it this way: In its first episode The Middleman gave me snappy dialogue, a hyper-intelligent ape with a machine-gun, and more post-modern geek references than an entire season of Futurama. It had some clunky spots, sure, but the overall impression was that the people who were writing and producing the show knew the history of geek TV (and comics, and fiction, and computer games) and were happy to be a part of it. They were having fun in a very real sense, and it carried over into the program. More importantly, they weren’t labouring over the idea that this is what they were doing – they sat there and said “you know the genre as well as we do, and you know why this is funny, so lets not bother trying to explain it.” In short, it didn’t treat the fact that I was part of the Geek Tribe as an afterthought and actively tried to engage me as part of that tribe. It revelled in its geekyness, rather than trying to shrug it off and become something it wasn’t. More importantly, The Middleman remembered that part of the fun us giving you the space to “get it” on your own – it wasn’t constantly pointing at things to remind you of how smart it was.

There are other reasons to love the Middleman: the leads are engaging, the supporting cast is verging on excellent (and, dear god, how can there not be more Mouser in the world?), the entire thing is goofy and fun. The problems with the show are largely the stuff I find in most TV – dodgy computer-generated special effects and occasionally clunky acting. But it also has an episode in which the assembled horde of lucha-libre rudo’s take on a single masked martial arts master; it makes Bugbear references while naming its cars; and it teases you with zombie references for episodes at a time before the zombies make an appearance.

The other point of genius in its favour: The Middleman is funny. Very funny. And unlike most geek-oriented humour, it was funny without picking on itself. The Middleman isn’t ashamed of being geeky and, more importantly, it isn’t trying to pass that shame of being a geek onto me as the viewer in the name of being funny. Given that I come from the gamer-oriented parts of geek culture that have lorded stuff like Fear of Girls** as the stuff of great humor, and that I’ve sat through conversations where people have espoused their love for shows like Big Bang Theory***, I tend to value those forms of media that aren’t primarily interested in saying “geeks, aren’t they weird.” It even gets bonus points for having characters who are blatent, obvious geeks without coming from an IT or science background (the science/tech-only vibe given to geek characters on television tends to be one of my pet-peeves).

So yes, The Middleman is glorious and weird and one of those TV shows I will miss horribly. I’m not alone in that. And while it’s probably too late to do anything about its cancelation, you should go order it from I-Tunes and pre-order the DVD sets and ensure that there’s enough desire for it out there to make people think “hey, in retrospect, this did okay – maybe we should do something like it.”

*yes, I know, and now it’s cancelled, thereby proving this might not have been the smartest choice. Shut up, okay? Shut up, shut up, shut up.
** and a quick note for my gamer friend – stop sending me links to Fear of Girls or trying to convince me it’s funny. Just like most forms of Geek Humour that rely on poking fun at our tribe’s social disfunction, I tend to find it mildly abhorent at best. You have a greater chance of convincing me to watch Original Trek.
***which I’ve watched, yes, and enjoyed it during the episodes where they aren’t being relentlessly negative, but I still hate myself for being drawn in by the show.

Claw Update

Claw Draft
Projected Total: 25000
Total Words to Date: 14,548
Words Done in Previous 24-hour Period: 1,992
Deadline: April 30th

Last night I spent seven hundred words writing about cat corpses. Lots and lots of cat corpses. As expected, it was like pulling teeth.

Seven chapters down, three more to go. I’m starting to hit the point where I’m getting fidgety and looking forward to being done with this draft, if only so I can go back and fix all the things that are terribly, horribly wrong during the writing of draft two.

On the plus side, it’s looking like I’ll have a new short story to mail out tomorrow.