06.29.11

When everything is perfect

Posted in Writing at 9:00 am by Natalie

Star Rating

I did not grow up in the time of ‘participation medals’, not everyone was a winner, and sometimes no-one was. Which is why I think that a perfect score should be reserved for only the very best of something, not squandered so freely as to be meaningless.

As some of you may remember, I published my novel Paragon on both Smashwords and Amazon recently (and it is still available). I quickly followed this up with a free short story Welcome to Midnight. Having rarely purchased books online before, these publications were my first exposure to the mixed up world of star ratings.

It seems that there are a lot of ‘perfect’ books out there. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for my five star reviews, but to be honest I am also very surprised. I would only give a handful of books a perfect score, because as much as I enjoy a book, I believe you should always include room for improvement.

The problem is there are a lot of people freely handing out five stars, meaning that if someone gets four stars or below (because someone like me reviews it) it will completely destroy the book’s standing. So even if the review was positive, and talks about how great the book is, because it is not five stars the author’s book will plummet in the rankings from first page display to 15th page (in some instances).

This leads to pressure to give a book five stars, because too many people assume it is awful if it gets below that. Add to that the complication of many of those reviewing the books being authors, so they are fearful of negative feedback on their own novel if they give less than a perfect score, it renders the whole star rating almost meaningless.

I have learned, as I’m sure many others have, not to pay too much attention to the stars unless they are very low, or if the number of reviews is very high (but even that isn’t watertight). The review itself is the best thing to go by, and that is what I now use when choosing my reading material.

I can’t think of a way to get around the star rating, as a computer system needs something universal to rank by, but it is disappointing that so many good books are so far down the suggested reading list just because they were reviewed by naive people like me, who thought they were being fair.

06.26.11

Fungi Phlog

Posted in Journal at 8:23 pm by Natalie

I was showing the 6 year old ‘little miss’ the fairy toadstools growing in the paddock across the road. Between these lovely red with white-dot storybook toadstools were slimy brown toadstools, which looked a little like fresh cow pats. Being the speculative fiction writer that I am, I asked her the question; “If fairies live in the pretty red and white toadstools, who lives in the slimy, gross brown ones?”

Little miss looked at me with the condescension that only a child can muster, shaking her head as if she pitied my stupidity. “That’s where the boys live, of course!”

I should have known!

Anyway, time for another photo blog, so here are some of the fairy houses around the garden…
Fairy Toadstool

Brown Toadstools

Fins of toadstool

06.22.11

Something borrowed…

Posted in Writing at 11:30 am by Natalie

Books piled upBooks piled upBooks piled up

All of us have one; a pile of books we are *going* to read. Some of them are borrowed from the library or friends (I just wish I could remember which belongs to whom), some are gems found in second-hand bookshops which we simply had to rescue, and others are brand spankers which we just had to have!

The truth is it would probably take two lifetimes to read all the books we want to read. I know some people who already own more books than they think they could ever get through, but that doesn’t stop them from purchasing more! As a writer it is important to read and read widely, so writers tend to have even bigger book piles than the average reader, I know one who had to exchange her bedside table for a coffee table in order to accommodate them all.

When I finished my latest read (a non-fiction book on the brain) I looked to my pile and became aware of the prioritising algorithm I was unconsciously performing as I considered my next book (funnily enough I’ve been aware of a lot of things my brain is doing since I read the brain book).

The basic ordering breakdown was this;
Priority 1 – borrowed from the library,
Priority 2 – borrowed from a friend,
Priority 3 – recommended by a friend,
Priority 4 – book I got because I wanted to read it.

Is it just me or does it seem I’m choosing my book by how soon I have to either give them  back or report back on them? It seems that (again) I’m setting my priories based on publically committed deadlines (like my writing priorities).

I’d like to say that I’m going to turn that list upside down, but the truth is the library books are all due at the end of the month, so I need to read them next. But come July I’m going to turn my priority list upside down and read all those books I bought just for me.

Too often we feel like owning a book means it is okay to put it aside; we own it so we know we will read it someday, but someday can be forever away. I’m going to start reading my library now (well at least those parts of it that are not still in storage). I’d better go hide my library card just in case I get tempted to stray.

06.19.11

A blood red moon

Posted in Journal at 9:05 am by Natalie

Lunar Eclipse over Adelaide
I was one of the many (few?) who set my alarm for 4:30am on Thursday morning to get up and look at the lunar eclipse. I have seen one before, in January 2000 on the night before I flew out of the UK. Back then I had a standard film camera loaded with black and white film. I fared slightly better, more than ten years later, with digital equipment and a tripod.

For those of you who did get to see it, you will probably agree that what is really striking (which the photos never convey) is how much closer and more three-dimensional the moon looks when it is totally eclipsed, shining with that odd red glow. Really, is it any wonder that people think the end of the world will be heralded with a blood red moon?

The 2012 End of Days event (one of my favourite topics for fiction writing –both humorous and serious) begins with a blood red moon. In fact this is one of the things which is used as an argument for this date in 2012 as being the real thing, because so many cultures mention this same lunar signal; the Christian Bible, Aztecs, Incans, Hopi Indians and the Egyptians among others.

Obviously Thursday’s eclipse was not the beginning of the end, or I wouldn’t be publishing this post, but just so you don’t get too nervous next time the astronomers and TV weather men tell you to look skyward (December 11, 2011). The other common link is that the End of Days blood red moon is not an expected event, in fact there is the suggestion that it is not even the Earth that casts the shadow…

Happy star gazing!

06.15.11

All about the numbers

Posted in Writing at 11:30 am by Natalie

Lots of numbers
Hits, followers, friends, connections, comments, re-tweets… Nowadays it seems that reaching out is more about the numbers than anything else. That’s not to say that the content of communication doesn’t matter, it is still paramount, but it is amazing how many people who are active online are hung up on their numbers (myself included).

I’ve recently read comments about the ‘arrogance’ of people who have more followers than people they follow on Twitter. WHAT?!?!?! If there is one place you have no control over who looks at you, it is Twitter, so how your ratio falls can hardly be put down to any fault of your personality. The comment smells a little strongly of jealousy to me.

Having a memory that goes back further than five years, I can recall when networking sites started up. Your friends were actually friends and you shared private information that really had no place on such an exposed network. Now we have hundreds, if not thousands of connections and the communication is substantially tempered to include as little personal information as possible. Well, for many of us over the age of about 22 anyway.

I can’t help but think that the online trend for collecting numbers is turning us all into marketing experts. This is not necessarily a bad thing, selling yourself is a good skill to have, but where does all this work on number building leave us for relationship building?

I know, the irony of a person who writes a blog saying this is not lost on me, but I would be lying if I did not admit that sometimes I wonder if I should be pulling back from my online world and focussing more on my offline world. I’ve done less fiction writing since I created an online presence, and have caught up with friends less often. The two might not be related (I did move states during the same time, after all) but I think it would be wise to see if there is any connection.  

Something to think about… 

06.12.11

Heart or pocket?

Posted in Writing at 5:06 pm by Natalie

LOVE OR MONEYI don’t think anyone in this day and age becomes a writer as a way to make lots of money, or if you do you just need to attend one writing convention or read a few blogs (thanks Lamellae for putting me onto that one) to quickly learn that there are easier ways to make your first million. But all writers at some point have to ask themselves, are they writing to make some money, or are they writing purely for themselves?

I’d like to think that ultimately the goal of all of us is to get to the second option. We will always be our first market that must be satisfied for us to be happy writers. Unfortunately being happy about what your write doesn’t always equate to being paid for what you write.

At the extreme end, you can write annual reports and business plans for companies and get paid for writing, but will you be satisfied? By the same token, you can write that story that has been bumping around in your head these past twenty years about a dog who can fly, and no-one else might want to read it, let alone pay for it.  

So with WriMoFoFo now started I’ve decided that for me a job can be the equivalent of my annual report writing. Typing out words isn’t what brings me pleasure, it is creating worlds and characters and flying dogs. So WriMoFoFo is going to be all about me this time around, and I’m going to have some fun.

After all, if my ultimate goal (as a writer) is to be able to write what I want to write, well then I can hand myself that goal right now. I’ll worry about publication later.

Nat

06.08.11

Prologues?

Posted in Writing at 1:10 pm by Natalie

I am a fan of the prologue. For me it is like the shorts for a film; dropping you into the action of the story before we have to worry about all that character development/ world building stuff. I think it nicely whets the appetite for what is about to come.

Others are not so taken with the prologue. Things I’ve heard about prologue use include; ‘I will put a book down if I see it has a prologue’, ‘it is a tool for weak writers’, ‘It is the author being lazy.’

I must confess, I’m a bit perplexed by these comments, they certainly don’t hold true for my beliefs, for of my six novels (either finished or on the go) only two do not have prologues. Then again, maybe that is a sign of my weak writing? 🙂 Topic for another post perhaps?

Maybe it was my early reading affair with Clive Cussler novels where whatever distant disaster the book was about always took place in the prologue, so we knew what everyone was talking about in the main guts of the novel. I do not see this as a weakness, more as an excuse to do just one flashback –because everyone knows you are not allowed to do JUST ONE flashback in the body of a novel (aren’t you glad you don’t know all these rules).  

For me a prologue can save you a bunch of clunky info-dumping later in the novel (another of those rules about things to avoid) or it can hook your reader so they get a glimpse of what will ultimately be driving the novel.

There are a couple of rules that I do respect when it comes to prologues; 1) short and sweet. You must keep your writing tight, and no more than two pages, half a page is even better! 2) If you start with a prologue, you must end with an epilogue. If your novel does not lend itself to an epilogue, try to knock the prologue on the head. They are the bookends to the novel and if you have one, you should always have the other.

I would love to know what readers think, as it is only other writers who I have heard make such denigrating comments about that snappy first chapter. I suspect most readers don’t even notice that they are reading a prologue! But I could be wrong…

Nat

06.05.11

The drug of a nation

Posted in Journal at 5:53 pm by Natalie

This weekend I saw an excellent exhibition on the machines of Da Vinci, and while he might not have invented the Cryptex (as claimed by Dan Brown) he was certainly no slouch. When he wasn’t painting, drawing or sculpting masterpieces, he was inventing things which have made all our lives better, and in some instances he invented stuff for things that weren’t yet invented (like pitch and roll measures for aircraft –yikes).

This of course left me feeling completely incompetent. The only thing I’ve ever invented was a delicious chicken/caper pasta sauce and a hot drink for getting rid of colds which tastes like sweet dirt and smells like well-used wet sandshoes.

But I am not alone. A lot of people I know have never invented life-changing contraptions or created beautiful works of art. So why was Snr Da Vinci so prolific and the rest of us so useless? I think The disposable heroes of hiphoprisy might have hit the nail on the head within the lyrics of their song; “Television, the drug of the nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.”

When Da Vinci and his compatriots finished a long day at the office they did not flop home to watch the latest unreal reality TV or endless enigma within a riddle within a red herring drama. No, they entertained themselves. They invented things. They got creative.

So this week, in  the lead up to WriMoFoFo I’m going to record any ‘must see TV’ (of which I might add there is very little) and I’m going to see if I can get my creative juices flowing by banning the idiot box (as my mother likes to call it). I’m going cold turkey… Starting tomorrow.

Nat

06.01.11

Deny, deny, deny

Posted in Journal at 5:47 pm by Natalie

UFO and AlienLast week a sk8ter boy in Tasmania spotted a UFO, not once, but twice. Not only that, but he managed to capture it on video using a tripod, or else he has a much steadier hand than your average UFO cameraman;
YouTube Preview Image 
Looking at the video it could be a UFO of alien origin, or it could be a blimp, or it could be some lights strung up over his back fence. My favourite suggestion so far is that it is the reflection of the guy’s modem in the window. Yes, it could be that.

The thing that gives this story plausibility is the emphatic denial the media was quick to heap onto the story. The bureau of meteorology suggested it might be the Aurora… err I don’t think so. Even a six year old raised by camels in the desert could probably tell us that the blinking lights are not the aurora.

Air Traffic Control confirmed there were no aircraft in the area at the time. What time? I checked out flights and they are pretty regular in and out, not to mention private aircraft. And just turn off your transponder and you are invisible to ATC.  

The military ‘did not comment’ –perhaps they were never asked? See, this could have been the clincher. The military have the real radar that spots everything, but they didn’t comment.

The thing that was not reported was did anyone else who was not in Sk8ter boy’s house see the lights? I know Tassie is a bit cold at the moment, but I refuse to believe no-one was out and about on Saturday night!

You cannot help but wonder if the media beat up is in fact a conspiracy. If they make such a fuss each time flashing lights are seen, soon enough we’ll just ignore them all. As Fox would say I want to believe.