Bending time

On Tuesday I had reason to wait around in an airport for over an hour. I managed to secure a seat in front of a TV and watched in shock as the latest natural disaster unfolded on the screen. After an hour of riveting, yet horrifying viewing I checked my watch and was amazed to see that really only ten minutes had passed. Three hours later, and I had only used up 30 minutes of my wait time. Something very strange was going on.

I pulled myself away from the vision of yet more evidence that maybe the 2012 fanatics were not all card carrying nutbags, and decided to walk the concourse. After watching three planes take off I nervously looked at my watch, sure I had wasted too much time and boarding was probably well underway at my now distant gate.

Only three more minutes had passed.

Then it struck me; time in the airport moves at a different pace. If you are early, it feels like wading through honey in a shaggy, full-length coat, if you are running late for your flight, it is like walking on sloping glass in shoes made of butter.

There must be a way to harness this.

I have friends who a) actually make some money out of writing, so b) have real deadlines for delivering it (not just self-made Excel spreadsheets with cells that change colour if you are behind). I think these friends need to book themselves on a flight somewhere and turn up for the plane a week early. Using my recent experience I estimate that it should give them about a year’s worth of writing time.

In the meantime, after nearly a day of waiting, my hour was up and I caught my flight home, ever mindful of all the people who would not be getting home that night, and how awfully fast and slow their minutes must be. I guess the message in this is no matter what speed your minutes are passing, they are indeed passing, so you need to make the most of every single one.


Just don’t ask Bear Grylls

We make a lot of assumptions when we communicate with words, both written and spoken. Most of the time these short-cuts do not hamper understanding, and can facilitate rapid, clear communication. But sometimes culture or experience can get in the way.

A friend in Zimbabwe ran into problems when she first moved there around the use of the word ‘now’ (obviously she ran into more problems in Zimbabwe than just English usage, but this is not a political blog). Over there they had two versions of now; ‘just now’ which meant any time soon, and ‘now now’ which meant now! Frustratingly for my friend, when you used only the single word ‘now’ it was the same as saying ‘just now’ –so the urgency of her request was lost.

Another example was when another friend encountered what looked like a piece of fruit, but it was something neither of us had ever seen. She asked the question can I eat that? While on the surface this might seem clear enough, the truth is we are making a few assumptions about what she is really asking. The unspoken questions were; is that safe to eat? Does it taste good? Is that one available for me to eat?

If we didn’t add in these assumptions and just took the question on face value, then even if it was a toxic plant that tasted like ear wax and belonged to a very angry troll, the fact is that my friend could have physically put it in her mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it (ie eaten it), so the answer would have been ‘yes’.

Of course when you are using assumptions you rely on the person being asked having a similar opinion to the one doing the asking. But unless you are asking Bear Grylls for his culinary recommendations on a witchetty grub, you will generally be okay. Then again, asking someone with different beliefs could lead to a serendipitous discovery? Perhaps witchetty grubs are better than chocolate?


Perhaps not.


The confusion of the written word

We Tweet, update our status, email, text and on rare occasions pen a letter. With so much writing going on you would think we would all be experts by now, yet it is amazing how many of us have had misunderstandings due to misread or misused words and grammar. Interestingly these same issues rarely arise when speaking in person or when reading fiction.

We have all heard that 90% of communication is through body language (a stat that has been misquoted for years as the study had limiting factors, however it is still true that body language is very important), so if we take that away it is no wonder we get a bit confused.  

To try and combat this emoticons were created to convey when we are being funny, sad or sarcastic in our writing. Emoticons are the little faces people make out of letters and punctuation, which some programs translate into little pictures of faces such as 🙂 for a smile 😉 for a wink and 😛 for sticking out your tongue.

However even these aids can have their ambiguities for those of us a little less text savvy; for example does 🙂 followed by another “)”  mean someone thinks I have a double chin? Or they think that they do? And let’s not even talk about the problems for those of us who use ‘o’ for a nose instead of a dash.   

So how do we encounter so many of these problems in the real world, when it rarely is a problem in fiction –which is also limited to the written word? Simple, we don’t just restrict ourselves to writing what would be spoken in fiction like we do in our emails, texts etc. Imagine if next time you wrote your email you did something like this:

Dear Magruda, that dress you wore on Saturday night was great (enthusiastic nodding with a slight jealous look in my eye). I’m sure Bert didn’t notice it at all (seriously jealous look) it was just a coincidence he was everywhere that you were (sarcasm dripping from my words with a bit of longing clinging to the end). I’m sure you’ll get a phone call from him soon (no sign of sarcasm in my words now, just a bit of hope that I can live vicariously through the description of your next date). Chat soon (genuine smile -no double chin).

Okay, a little chick-lit ish but you get what I mean. When was the last time you sent or received an email like that? As one who has nearly lost friendships through misunderstood emails, I’m wondering if perhaps in future I need to write my non-fiction a bit more like my fiction?


My new website design -maybe

Despite having told you all that I was going to do up my own website last year, I never actually did it. Interestingly none of you picked me up on it, so I will have to crack my own whip it seems.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve played with a few designs, and this is my current favourite. It is just a rough, but gives you a good idea of what the finished product might look like.

Natalie J E Potts Website

Now don’t worry that you can’t read the text, it was all just demo text written to fill the space. I’ll also probably put something on the left side where at the moment there just seems to be a lot of wall. I’m thinking about adding some hidden hyperlinks on the bricks and the cat, but more on that once I’ve actually launched to site.

So please give me your feedback. I won’t be setting a release date any time soon, so you can pass on your comments any time over the next few weeks at least (more likely over a month). Feel free to leave your comments here, or send them through Facebook or email me direct through the contact page on my current (template) website.

Thanks for all your help!


When to write the zombie romance

Brains Zombies Love

Something I read over and over in books about writing is the advice that you should write for your market. The suggestion is that you should read your target market and then write a story specifically for them. Or find an anthology and write a story which caters to exactly what they are looking for.

I don’t think this is always good advice.

If you have a zombie chick lit romance story bumping around in your head, and you find a chick lit zombie anthology seeking submissions, by all means write it. But if you force out a story just to get into the anthology, make sure it is up to your usual standard (assuming that standard is good, if you normally write badly then try to write a bit above your usual standard).

If you end up writing a bad (or worse, *boring*) story, and you miss out on the target market, then you may be stuck with an unsellable story. Even if you re-write it to fix all the boring bits, you might struggle to find another market that is looking for a zombie chick lit romance.  

That’s why I think it is much better to write the stories you want to write, and then find markets for them. This is not to say that you should try to squeeze your sci fi story into a fantasy magazine, or to blindly send out your stories without knowing your target markets. Both these moves are big no-no’s in the mission to get yourself published. Rather, after you have finished writing the story that wants to be written, read widely and find the publisher who can give that story a home.

Having said all that, I must confess that two weeks ago I wrote a flash fiction story specifically for 100 Stories for Queensland, and was excited to see that it has been selected for the anthology! But as I said, if the story comes, write it, if you have to force it, maybe look the other way.


Words and pictures

When we are first introduced to books they are normally of the many pictures few words variety. As we get older the number of pictures decrease directly in proportion to the increase in number of words, until we find ourselves as adults reading books which, for the most part, only have a picture on the cover.

Where did the idea of picture-free reading come from? Why the stigma of having the odd graphic or puzzle to break up the slabs of words? I think adults like pictures. When I read a fantasy novel I always study the map and refer back to it often. I know there are probably equal numbers of people who skip past it and never return to it after thumbing through the front pages, but there must be a good reason why so many fantasy novels do carry the map.

I’m not suggesting that everything should come out in a graphic novel format, but I have to say that one of the more enjoyable aspects of the ‘fancy’ editions of The Da Vinci Code was the inclusion of the paintings and puzzles discussed in the book. I know printing costs are higher and blah, blah, but surely with the advent of e-books all this just got a little bit cheaper.

I know not everyone is a great artist like me (see my Australia Day and Dead Birds posts for examples of my fine art), but even a well placed Sudoku could find a home in a book if related to the text. Now that is a more interactive story without the hyperlink risk of your reader leaving the story.

Perhaps I’ll set that as my next challenge; to write a story where a graphic is vital to the storyline. I know I’ll probably be limiting my market, and I’ll have to come up with a clever description for the visually impaired, but it is a challenge I think I am up to. I think it is time to give the picture another go in the world of adult fiction!

And just to illustrate my point (pun intended) here are a couple of koala pictures. I can guarantee you my hit rate for this blog post (because of the pictures) will be twice my normal non-picture post.


Mummy Koala

Koala in a tree

e-books Part 2

The e-book market is still quite new and growing exponentially, which is one of the reasons why there are so many different formats (Epub, Kindle, PDF, LRF and PalmDoc to name a few). This is because there are specific e-readers which have their own formats, as well as options for reading on your computer or mobile phone, each requiring their own format.

Several of these devices are quite small leading a few people to speculate in the blogosphere (such as here and here) that e-book delivery should reflect this new medium. Other blogs I read have gone so far as to suggest shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs and *shock* shorter books. Never mind that many of the small e-reading devices are similar sizes to… books.

Anyway. Not convinced that a story should have its length or structure dictated by the publication format, I put the question to a forum of kindle readers. Wow, what a great resource! The very suggestion that I shorten a story for e-readers whipped them into a bit of a frenzy! The message was very clear; it is the story, not the medium that should determine the length of a book, whether it be paper or electronic. I like that.

Another bonus that came from the forum was the observation that there is actually a benefit for long e-books over their paper counterparts (besides the weight factor). The person reading is not put off by how much more they have yet to go on the story because they can’t see it. I have to confess that I am facing this problem myself at the moment with a two-inch tome that I’m two millimetres into. If I was reading it on an e-reader I’d have no visual cue as to how little I had read and would be more likely to pick it up again.

Also bytes are cheaper than pages, and more environmentally friendly, so really if anything longer is better when it comes to e-books. So don’t believe the stories you might read of needing to embed hyperlinks or short structural components. All anyone wants when they pick up an e-book is the same thing as a paper book; a good read. So let’s focus on delivering that!