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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31 Birthday Meme

This time last year, I asked my class,"Who can tell me whose birthday it is today?" One of my students, the younger brother of my previous student, book clubber Dylan, called out,"My brother's!"  and of course, it was, and I felt sorry I had forgotten. If you read this, Dylan, hope it was wonderful!

But I had someone else in mind, someone whose writing had not only given a lot of children and teens great pleasure, but who had persuaded adults to read children's books and see how good they are. I meant J.K. Rowling, of course, and I posted about it, and alas, hardly anyone read it at the time, so if you want to read a great post on this subject, check out my archives for this date in 2012.

So tonight, as my last post for July, I will use other things that happened in July. There are plenty of them, but I will skip the disasters and the battles and just mention a couple of book-related incidents.

According to Wikipedia, in 1703, poor Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, journalist and spy, got into trouble for writing something satirical and was put into the pillory, where normally people were pelted with disgusting stuff, but he was pelted with flowers! Nice to know he had fans in his lifetime, though while I was researching him for my children's book on spies, Your Cat Could Be A Spy, I read that he spent a lot of time running away from his creditors and when he died, nobody bothered to turn up to the funeral. Still, he was quite a character, and I have no trouble imagining him writing things that the powers that be didn't like!

A sad thing that happened on July 31 in this century was the death of Poul Anderson, spec fic writer extraordinaire. I love his books. I have found, over the years, that whatever I was in the mood for, he'd written a book about it, whether it was SF, high fantasy, humour, space opera, adventure, romance. And he was a top filker, too. And big in the SCA. I discovered him in my twenties and have never lost my love for his work, though some books are better than others, but hey, when you write as many novels and short stories as he did some are bound to be better than others.

So, hurray for July 31!

Anyone else got a bookish July 31 event?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

Rosalind Franklin, July 25, 1920-April 16, 1958

Here's another tribute to a woman of science mentioned in my second book, Rosalind Franklin, the radio crystallographer without whose work we might have been talking about the triple helix of DNA.

Some years ago, I was researching my second book, Potions To Pulsars:Women doing science, written for Allen And Unwin's True Stories series. It wasn't easy to find books about women scientists in those days, and the Internet was in its early days, no Google or Wikipedia to help. The books were there if you knew how to look for them, though, and I was a librarian, so I did. I found a wonderful book called Hypatia's Heritage and used it as a base to look up some of the women in there, and their biographies led to others... One of these days, I will do a post about my adventures researching this book.

This is a woman of whose existence I didn't know until I started looking for women in science. It's not surprising. She isn't mentioned much in the general history of science. When we hear about the discovery of DNA it's the men who are mentioned, Watson, Crick and Wilkins. They survived her(she died of cancer at only 37) and got the Nobel Prize for it and she was relegated to a footnote in history. Even recently, an Austalian newspaper had an article about the discovery of DNA that didn't so much as mention her.

The research was happening at the same time - a cousin of hers who wrote her bio said that as an American, Watson would have been used to the US system, in which there was plenty of money for research, so you could compete with other labs, while in England, with far less money, you didn't waste it on doing the same stuff as someone else. In this case, they were getting it wrong and her notes were shared with Watson and Crick by her colleague Maurice Wilkins, enabling them to correct their mistakes and rush into print. She, on the other hand, was too careful, wanting to be sure of getting it right, so she lost out.

I have heard that when they got their Nobel Prize, only Wilkins mentioned her.

But today is her birthday, a reason to celebrate. If she was alive today, she would be 93. Happy birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

Rosalind Franklin. Creative Commons image

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Things To Come On The Great Raven!

What I have just finished reading, first: Meg Cabot's Avalon High. I've not read her Princess Diaries series, which are supposed to be her classics, but the girls at my school love them. This one I bought for  my library because there wasn't much else by her on the bookshop shelves and this one at least had teenagers in it. It's a retelling of the story of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot in a high school setting and, as such, works oddly well. Ah, if only she had left out the fantasy element! And I say this as a lover of speculative fiction. It begins to get silly when people turn out to be reincarnations of others, and the "forces of darkness" mentioned never actually seem to make a physical appearance, you just hear of them from a schoolteacher who is a cross between Merlin and Giles from Buffy. Still, I found it an entertaining bit of froth, though I got a little irritated with the mention of Mordred as Arthur's half-brother. I can understand that Mordred as Arthur's son is impossible in a high school setting, but if you're going to introduce youngsters to the legend, you don't want characters who are supposed to be Arthurian scholars say this of the original story. I did like the fact that the heroine's likably goofy parents were not gotten rid of, but played some role in the story.

But this isn't what is about to happen here! Young Aussie writer Will Kostakis has just had another book published! I was the first to give a positive review(or maybe even the first review?) to his first novel, Loathing Lola, published when he was only nineteen. It was a delightful, funny and clever look at the cult of celebrity and especially celebrity of reality TV shows, in which the teenage heroine suddenly finds she has a lot of friends when she is chosen to be the star of a new reality show. Her idea is to be a role model for younger kids, but the producers have different plans. This was not only a wonderful novel in its own right, but impressive that a boy with no sisters could get into the mind of a young woman so well.

Now Will is back, with The First Third, a novel that I think is even better than the first. This one is closer to home for him, about a Greek boy and his family, and it's funny, sad, warm and charming, all at once, and says things about family. I received a copy at the Reading Matters conference and the author has kindly agreed to an interview, which I will prepare shortly. It's nicely appropriate, too, that the cover comment should be by Melina Marchetta, whose first novel, Looking For Alibrandi was also about multicultural family issues, but also, like Will, was an author whose second novel (Saving Francesca) came out several years after her first.

Stand by for good stuff and meanwhile, why not read Will Kostakis's books?

Dear Internet Hackers

Dear Hackers,

Please get a life. You have no friends or you wouldn't waste your time and everybody else's trying to get into people's accounts. If you're that good with computers, do something useful and help people in your lives to solve problems. You might actually make some friends then - not the online kind you meet  on Facebook, but real people who might be willing to hang out with you, instead of disrupting other people's lives just because you can't make a go of your own.

Or turn off your computers altogether and get out into the fresh air. Play sport. Go for a walk. Join a club. You never know, you might make some real friends, even fix their computer problems and get their  respect and admiration instead of their anger and hatred.

Again I have had to change my password, this time to block some loser in South America. Get a life, kid, whoever you are. You couldn't possibly have anything against me, you don't even know me, and there's no money in it, as there is for spammers. You just want to show off how smart you are.

You aren't. You're just a total, complete loser. Grow up!

And having wasted a morning fixing things up, I will go and do some real-life stuff. With real friends, the kind you don't have.

A cranky author.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dolly Fiction

This morning, Tehani Wessely was talking on Twitter about Dolly Fiction, a series of Australian YA teen romance novels published in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember that series, because I was just starting in school libraries at the time. It was particularly well written, which is not surprising, considering some of the writers who, mostly under pen names, wrote books for it. I knew about Jenny Pausacker, of course, and if you have followed this blog for a while you'll know that Susan Green, most recently on the CBCA short list, started out with this series.

But out of curiosity, I decided to look up some of the others.

Here's the link to a site I found, with that information on it:

Ulp! Margo Lanagan, Felicity Pulman, Ruth Starke, Meredith Costain,

 Tor Roxburgh, Merrilee Moss, and possibly fantasy novelist Karen Miller, 
or at least someone with that name. 

I remember at the time wondering if I could find a market there,

 but I've never been much good at a romance story, as opposed to having 
romance in a story that was mainly something else.

There's a special talent to writing romance, especially for teens. 

You have to be good with story, good with capturing readers' attention
and have to remember what it feels like to fancy that boy at that age, 
but also be good with the fantasy elements, whether it's a vampire romance 
or one set in the real world. Nobody seriously believes that the
rock star/famous athlete/ whatever will really fall in love with me, Gemma in Year 11,
but it's fun to pretend and a good romance can help you.

It's nice, though, that the publishers who did Dolly Fiction 

and, more recently, Girlfriend Fiction, took it seriously enough 
to make sure they had top class writers doing these books.
 It would have been easy enough to cash in by hiring just anyone,
 but good writers meant a series that could be respected and that
 school libraries would be happy to buy, and that perhaps 
the young readers would read those writers' other books
(Girlfriend Fiction does books under the authors' real names).

I think a course in romance writing will help me with my writing in general. Watch this space.

Book by Linda Hallan aka Tor Roxburgh

Monday, July 08, 2013

Black Spring by Alison Croggon. Sydney: Walker Books Australia, 2012

I've only read one of Alison Croggon's novels before, the first Pellinor book. I'm not a fan of the Fat Fantasy Novel genre, but she had such a lovely web site, I couldn't resist. It was not bad, but not interesting enough, to me at least, to tempt me to read further. I know she has a massive fandom, and wish I had half her luck, but I'm not a member of it.

However, I heard about this book, inspired by Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, at the Reading Matters Conference, where the author spoke, and decided to give it a go. I read Wuthering Heights for English Literature at school and was curious to see what this author would make of it, so bought a copy, which will be going into my school library to see what the students make of it.

First, the language: the author has done a very good job of getting that right. It reads pretty much like a nineteenth century book, to my eyes at least.

The story is very similar to the original, with some changes - for example, Lina, the Cathy character, has no older brother and Damek, the Heathcliff of this novel, is related to the king and is imposed on the family. That makes a big difference to the storyline, as you'll see if you read it.

The technology is about the same, but the social structure is somewhat different. The north has its own royal family, which raises money by means of the Vendetta. Only those related to the ruler are exempt. If someone kills a person related to you, you must kill them and, in turn, be killed by someone in that family and, before you go off to commit your murder, you have to drop off some cash at the palace. Entire villages are wiped out because it's compulsory. If the royal coffers are low and nobody has a vendetta going, the king ensures one is started. Oh, and the victim not having a family doesn't prevent vendetta; in this case, the last family who hosted them must avenge the death.

Then there are the wizards, who don't seem to do a lot apart from terrorising villagers and issuing orders. On the other hand, if a girl is born with the violet eyes of a witch, she is killed. Presumably the wizards don't want competition. Lina is a born witch, but the family move south for some years and then are allowed to move back without her destruction.

Interesting as all this is, I'm not sure that the Vendetta, at least, adds anything to the novel, and it doesn't make a lot of sense as a form of taxation. I mean, why wipe out potential taxpayers just to make a quick buck? If the author wanted to have a disaster in the village, a plague would surely have done the trick.

Despite all this, I'm sure the novel will have a lot of fans. It may do well for fantasy fans who aren't ready to try the original. Those readers who, like me, have read the Bronte book, will have the fun of following the storyline and seeing how connected it is to the original. And I have to say that Lina is a somewhat more sympathetic character than Cathy - I have long thought that Cathy and Heathcliff are among fiction's more obnoxious lovers, who thoroughly deserve each other. 

But as a YA novel, it really needs very good readers, the kind who could handle the original, and if they can handle Wuthering Heights, why not give them the original?

 I know I'm hardly in a position to speak, since my own novel is inspired by something written centuries ago! 

But the average student is unlikely to read the Breton Lais, while Wuthering Heights has become a book of interest to teens in recent years, since it was mentioned as Bella Swan's favourite.

Still, it's well worth a read and hopefully, anyone who discovers and enjoys Black Spring first will check out Wuthering Heights, and that can be no bad thing

Friday, July 05, 2013

Anticipating The Crucible!

Today, my sister and I will be seeing Arthur Miller's McCarthy era play The Crucible, being performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company. The lead role of John Proctor is being played by the delicious David Wenham, whom most of you probably saw last in LOTR. Luckily, he seems to be keeping up the theatre performance stuff and he's going to make a terrific Proctor.

In case you aren't familiar with the play, it's set during the Salem witch trials, but it's really a comment on the dreadful political witch hunts of Miller's own time, when it wasn't enough to confess to being a Communist, you had to dob in someone else. The wonderful Howard Fast spent time in jail, where he wrote Spartacus, and when the movie was made, the script writer was Dalton Trumbo, one of those who had been blacklisted, though some had gone on writing behind "fronts"(there's a Woody Allen film of that name, in which he's a front for blacklisted writers). This was, I think, the first time he'd written under his own name since the blacklisting began. And it was because Kirk Douglas, the producer, basically said,"Stuff that!" and insisted on using his name.

When I was at high school, we did a production of The Crucible in which I played Elizabeth Proctor. I sort of spoiled it for myself by going to the library to research the actual story of the Salem witch trials and finding that John Proctor, the hero of this play, couldn't possibly have had an affair with Abigail Williams unless he was a truly sick man, as she was eleven at the time, so his motivation would have been different. His children were older than in the play and one was tortured with him. Oh, and Elizabeth, the wife with whom he reconciles so dramatically at the end, was cut out of his will.

Oh, well. As a piece of drama, with a bit of license, it is wonderful. I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

ASIM 60 And First Go At Editing

Actually, I have edited before, apart from the individual stories I did for two multi-editor ASIMs. I've published a few lovingly-crafted media fanzines. And that was before I owned my first computer. Everything was typed on a typewriter - my electronic whiz bang typewriter Merlin(because it was a w(h)iz) with the snazzy daisy wheel that let you change fonts, and that allowed you to check a sentence before printing it. We didn't have email in those days, so all my edits had to go back and forth by what was not yet known as snail mail and some of my writers were overseas. I edited a couple for other people, such as a convention I was involved with, but my own three were Tales from New Wales(Blake's 7), Trek Tales From New Wales and my Robin Of Sherwood zine, Under The Greenwood Tree. These are worth a post of their own and will get one at some stage (the ROS one got about eight awards!)

The thing is, it was a similar process, but not the same. I had to do my own layout and that just involved making it look as nice as possible, and neat. No InDesign or any such thing. And even with all the care I took, there were typos, and my choice was to fix them with liquid paper, making it messy, retyping the whole page with the potential for more errors or leaving it as was.  Not a problem now. The authors were mostly invited, as I knew they could do what I needed, and their "payment" was a contributor's copy. When it was time to print, I had help from a friend who did photocopying for a living and an overseas friend who got a master copy and printed it for me and sold it there, refusing so much as a single cent towards her dealer's table.

With this one, I am learning as I go. The stories have, so far, been mostly taken from slush, though I did ask to see a story by someone who writes the kind of fiction I needed for balance, but didn't have at the time. She is currently rewriting and has a friend who is one of Australia's best writers in that area to help, but it's a good story and will work. Our slush wrangler, Lucy, has been kindly sending me stories that have just made it to the slushpool with good scores and kept in mind the balance I needed.

And you do need balance - fantasy, SF, horror, though as I'm not a horror fan I have gone for stuff that is not too gruesome - it won't be shortlisted for the Stokers, but it will fit nicely. You need some poetry - I have three poems, one space-y, one fantasy and one Steampunky.

I am being careful with the SF. My knowledge of science is limited to what I read in New Scientist and what I read when I was researching my book on women in science. My physics knowledge is almost nonexistent! But fortunately, we do have some members of ASIM who do science for a living. I got one very beautiful story that depended on physics for its premise and, just in case, sent it on to a member who knows more than I do. He came back with a report that said there were some glaring errors. Turns out the author knew, but hadn't been able to think of any other way to express it. He thought of something else, went back and fixed it. And it's now, I think, ready to publish!

With standard mediaeval fantasy I'm on safer ground, as history is something I know better, or at least know how to look up, but I didn't have any - none that I wanted to publish, anyway.

I'm just a small way into the editing and have discovered we have some first sales here. ASIM loves first sales. It will be nice to see how these writers go in future, or if they will even come back to us when they're getting paid more than we can. Some do. In Australia, anyway, there are a lot of well known writers who do small press.

Only a few thousand words more to buy!

I will have to decide which of the stories I have to use as the basis for a cover and which artist I will ask to do it. There are some wonderful artists out there and we have some of them on our books. Which to ask?

A long way to go yet!