Monthly Archives: March 2012

Outsmarted Again

There is one character in Hapax who consistently outsmarts me. I need an outline while writing, but it’s usually pretty loose; there’s plenty of room for intuitive leaps. It just seems to happen more often with this particular character – she’ll do something, and I’ll go along with it, and then I see what she was up to several chapters later.

She’s done it again.

There was always one little detail about her that bugged me. The more I developed the world and the characters, the more it seemed like an inconsistency. But I never changed it. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I shouldn’t, even if it seemed to contradict the rest of the character as I knew her.

Last night, I got fed up, and thought to myself, Well, WHY is…?

And she told me.

Turns out that it’s got fairly important implications for another project, and links back to a lot of history that happened before the events of Hapax… and the writing I’m working through now.

That feeling of delight and amused exasperation never gets old.

Steampunk: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Here’s something I’ve been puzzling for a little while.

Is steampunk science fiction, or is it fantasy? 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “steampunk” refers to a genre of speculative fiction (that lovely umbrella term that covers both SF/F while sometimes meaning neither) which is, usually, a creative reinterpretation of the Victorian era. Alternative history, if you will (though it doesn’t always have to be), with airships, goggles, and steam-powered gadgets of all kinds. It’s not dissimilar to Jules Verne, but with the benefit of hindsight. According to one guest on I Should Be Writing, it’s what happens when “Goth kids discover the colour brown.” 

I like steampunk. The aesthetic trappings appeal to me: the brass, the cogs, and yes, the goggles. Obviously, I appreciate a dose of Victoriana. And it’s a fun genre – one in which earnestness and placing the tongue firmly in cheek are both viable options.

But is it science fiction? Or fantasy?

Those genres are notoriously difficult to define, but the best I’ve heard is, “Science fiction is the fiction of what could be, but isn’t. Fantasy is what couldn’t be, but is.”

Steampunk’s an interesting one, because it doesn’t extrapolate into the future, it offers a hypothetical past. “What could have been, but wasn’t.” That being said, you can have steampunk dragons. Magic and steam aren’t mutually exclusive – which would place it in the fantasy camp.

Perhaps steampunk is just steampunk: a boundary-crossing species unto itself. Maybe that’s another reason I like it so much. It freely draws from science fiction, fantasy, and history, while binding itself to none of them.

And while being dashingly attired, to boot.

Breakthrough

There’s a story that I’ve been trying to write for a very, very long time. The first time I tried to tell it, I got about 40,000 words in before I came to the hard, painful realization that it wasn’t working. I looked it over, and gutted huge portions, and rebooted it from the beginning. But by this point, I’d lost quite a bit of time. Work and life kept getting in the way (working two fairly physically demanding jobs saps your energy a bit). If I’d had a better idea of what I was doing, I might have powered through. As it was, the story was still structurally flawed in ways I didn’t know how to fix. It hurt.

And so I let it go.

Fast-forward to Hapax-the-Podcast. This failed story, the story that had preyed on my mind ever since, kept rearing its head throughout the recording and editing process. Eventually, I remarked to one of my cast, “I really need to write this, don’t I?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Yes, I think you do.”

I started fiddling with it again. I started getting excited. I took it to New Zealand, and thought about it some more, and outlined the first five chapters or so in detail.

I still couldn’t write it.

Then, a few days ago, I realized something.

I’ve been trying to start the story in the wrong place.

If I move the opening, two or three major plotting/pacing issues vanish. The tone changes. The characters’ wants and needs shine through far more clearly.

Such a simple change, but it changes everything.

I’m still cautious. I’m still nervous about trying again. But, hopefully the fact that the story won’t let me go says something.

I also found some notes from Hapax’s early days, and let me tell you, I was all over the map with that one. I had forgotten how many wrong paths I considered and discarded. That gives me hope too.

Fingers crossed….

Looking Ahead

Right. I’ve gotten a few questions lately regarding the shape of the next few months, as well as the release of Hapax-the-Novel and Hapax-the-Podcast. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to clear up any confusion.

Neither incarnation of Hapax will be out for quite some time yet. Publishing moves slowly. I’ve just sent in my changes for the second pass, and I’m fighting my own impulse to count the days. 😀 Luckily,  there are plenty of other things to focus on.

At the moment, the next few months look something like this.

March – Late June: Go to school. Edit/rerecord audio. Write.

Late June – Mid August: Finish school. Travel NZ, Fiji, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Check email when possible. Write.

August 19th: Return to Canada.

August 20th -30th: Catch up on all the email I’ll have missed, visit friends, etc. Write.

August 31st-September 4th: Fly to Atlanta for Dragon*Con

Early September: Start school. Again.

Mid-to-Late September Sometime: Release Hapax-the-Podcast.

October Sometime: Release Hapax-the-Print-Novel.

And that is all I can tell you right now.  I can’t believe it’s already March 19th…

Good Advice That I Ignored

Before you go on exchange, you get lots of advice from lots of people. However, in the excitement, you don’t always listen to it. By which I mean, a combination of denial and overconfidence leads you to simply not believe some of the things people tell you.

For instance…

They said, “Dunedin gets really cold.”

I said, “Cold is what? 0 degrees Celsius at night? I’m Canadian, I’ll be fine.”

Actually: It’s not the cold outside that gets me, it’s the cold inside. Yes, I’m used to ten, fifteen degrees below zero. But I’m also used to coming inside to a warm house.

They said, “Things are expensive in New Zealand.”

I said, “Well, our dollar’s stronger.”

Actually: Things are expensive in New Zealand.

 *

They said, “Culture shock happens to everyone.”

I said, “Not me. It’s practically the same culture, and anyway, I’ve wanted to go to New Zealand since forever!”

Actually: The core values/essence/whatever of our cultures are  similar, but little things throw me. The humour can make this inhibited, polite little Canadian girl squirm even as laughter fights to get out. People walk on the left. Tomato sauce on pizza isn’t a sure thing – you might get apricots and/or barbeque sauce.

 *

They said, “Take a few things from home.”

I said, “That’s silly. Won’t that just make me more homesick?”

Actually: I am SO thankful that I brought my own mug. And getting the Uni Print Shop to blow a photo from Black Creek up to poster size was the best fifteen bucks I ever spent.

 *

They said, “Academics take a back seat on exchange.”

I said, “Not for me, they won’t.”

Actually: Choir conflicts with one of my twice-weekly Conversational Māori lectures. Guess which one gets skipped?

 *

They said, “It will all still be here when you get back.”

I said, “No, it won’t! I’ll be homeless and jobless and everyone will have forgotten me!”

Actually: Last time I checked, the plan was to move back into the same apartment (ha – watch, next month I’ll have a post on “Not Jinxing Things”), and my boss has assured me that she is “counting on” my working again.  

 *

They said, “It’ll go by so fast.”

I said, “Pfft.”

Actually: Until this week, six months seemed like forever. Now I only have five. I don’t quite know how that happened – and it seems that time is slipping through my fingers like sand. There’s so many things still to see, to learn, to write, to bake – New Zealand, I’m not done with you yet!

 

Academic Anxiety

Well, just had the  first bout of academic-related anxiety of the term. One minute, I was innocently flossing my teeth. The next, my mouth went dry and my heart pounded. My mind whirred with dates and calculations, trying to reconcile all my out-of-town weekends and commitments with assignment due dates.

As per my exchange requirements, I’m taking five “papers” (classes), even though the usual workload here is four. Three of my five papers are significantly easier than their U of T counterparts would be, and I’ll be writing essentially the same essay for two of my classes (the key word here is essentially – I’m an honest scholar!). All of this to say – under ordinary circumstances, I’d probably be fine.

These aren’t ordinary circumstances.

I’m in New Zealand, after all. This is the time for weekend getaways – I’m spending one at a sheep farm, another travelling with choir. I have Easter in Oamaru: the Steampunk Capital of NZ (who knew, right?). There is so, so much to do just on the tourist-y side. And yes, any credits I earn here are pass/fail –  so long as I pass, the actual mark will never show on my transcript.

But I’ll know.  

Then there’s the writing, which is, at least, thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll be honest: I have not touched Hapax-the-Podcast since I left Canada. I’m making friends, I’m having fun… but I can’t listen to my actors just yet.  Anyway, even if I wanted to, I can’t do much with the audio until edits to the text are done. My main problem there is the paralyzing sense of, “But I can’t let it go! I could still fix this one last thing!” That’s just something I need to get over.

Oh, and those chapter outlines for my next project? Yeah. About those…

But it’s ok. It’s all ok. Every term, I look at the mountain of work and swear it can’t be climbed. And every term, I somehow manage.

NASA has contingency plans for the backup plans of Plan B.

NASA’s got nothing on me.

Finding my “Spot”

I realized yesterday, as I did some actual school-type work (yep.. still have to be somewhat academic while I’m here…), that I haven’t found my “spot” yet.

See, I hate working in my room (unless it’s fiction). All through university, I’ve gone to the library for the majority of my work. Through that time, I’ve carved out “spots” for myself, nooks and crannies around U of T that meet my slightly… particular requirements.

  1. Natural light. Lots of it.
  2. No headache triggers. (I’m not sure what the deal with Robarts is, but it’s a death-trap for me.)
  3. My back to a wall.
  4. Ideally, a carrel-type setup, not just an open table (with some exceptions).
  5. General warm feeling – not institutional.

Back home, my spots include:

  1. The third floor fireplace room of the Graham Library, assuming the big table is free.
  2. A particular carrel in Graham’s theology section (you’ve probably seen me in it; if not, I’m keeping it secret :P)
  3. The quiet study room on the first floor of Gerstein.
  4. Knox. Anywhere in Knox.
  5. The Hart House library, if the places by the windows are free.

Otago’s main library is kind of grey and institutional-feeling, which makes me sad. On the other hand, it does have lots of windows – I stumbled across one section where the walls were just glass. That might be a potential spot. I also found a carrel on the very top floor which seems to fit the bill… except the window was open, and I was cold, but I couldn’t get it to close.

Reminds me of Robarts, but with ventilation!

A potential spot?

In related news, Dunedin has a plethora of truly excellent cafés (have I mentioned how good the coffee is?). I have, however, grown quite fond of one in particular, and have been spending my Sunday mornings there with my writing-type work and a long black (an Americano, more or less).

Now, if only they had all-night coffee shops here…

SF in the Bush

The Botanical Gardens are my favourite part of Dunedin, and the footpaths through the “native bush” are my favourite part of the gardens. The bush is more jungle than forest: it’s almost aggressively green and exudes sheer age. It’s an excellent place to walk or run – New Zealand has no native small mammals and hardly any introduced ones, so it’s pretty much just you, the trees, and a few birds.

And this creepy, parasitic vine.

Amidst all the greenery, there are a few greyish-brown patches. A few trees are dead or dying, with clouds of bare, slender branches tangled in their crowns. Some trees still look strong, but they’ve got this vine wrapped around their trunks, and you know it’s just a matter of time until the vine overtakes the tree completely.

Generally speaking, parasites creep me out. Those spores in the Amazon that infest ants, make them climb tall things, and then sprout through the insect’s head in order to spread more spores? Easily one of the most terrifying things in the natural world (try Chris Lewis Carter’s The Cord for a chilling short story about exactly this phenomenon – you can still find it in the Pseudopod archives).

This vine isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close. The way it coils around other plants, so delicate at first, but so overpowering in the end… there’s one word that fits it perfectly, and that word is sinister.  

Naturally, after I got over the initial shuddering, I started thinking of science fiction. I’m sure, one day, some awful parasitic thing will appear in my fiction, and it will have been inspired by these walks through the bush.

But the absolute creepiest thing? This may have been a stupid move, but I touched one of the vines.

It was soft as velvet.

Hei Matau

Well, I can cross one entry off my List of Things to do in New Zealand. I was walking by the Octagon, which is Dunedin’s main town square (despite the fact that it is, indeed, octagonal), when I discovered that a local market had set up camp. The artisans were mostly grey-haired and smiling, fiddling with their glasses (for the men) or their knitting (the women) as a contingent of cruise ship passengers prowled the stalls. I sauntered by, planning to just admire the wares. Though the kiwi-emblazoned tea towels and knit pot-holders were adorable, I wasn’t sure I needed to buy any.

Then I saw it. Tucked away in the corner: two men with a collection of carved-bone necklaces.

For the last year or so, I’ve been wearing a necklace that I picked up in Costa Rica. It’s metal, with a stylized fish-hook pendant similar in design to those made by the Māori. I quite like it, but I’d long ago promised myself to get a proper bone hei matau: the Māori fish-hook.

The men and I chatted about the weather, Canada, and the market as I scrutinized the rows of pendants. Finally, after much debate, I settled on one which fit my criteria: decent size, slender enough to look kind of like an actual fish-hook, and incorporating a few specific Māori symbols.

Hei matau: The fish-hook – symbolizes determination, strength, good luck, and safe travel over water (useful for me, eh?).

Koru: Represents an unfolding fern leaf and symbolizes growth, potential, and my favourite: perpetual motion, while always coming back to centre.

Whale Tail: Strength, protection, harmony with the ocean.

Quite a lot for one small carving, and quite a lot that resonates with me.

Kia kaha! (Be strong!)