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Posts by davefreer

An author to learn from

I’ve been working hard at the fine art of making myself itchy (putting ‘earthwool’ or glass-fibre insulation in the wall cavities of our home.) so I thought it had been a long day and it was time I decamped…

Well, de Camp. Lyon Sprague de Camp, 1907-2000, author of many fantasy, sf and non-fiction works. I happened to mention him to a young author I like and respect, who said he had read almost no de Camp… and I thought, sadly there are probably a lot of sf/fantasy readers and indeed writers who have never encountered de Camp’s work. That’s rather sad, not because he was the best author that ever wrote, but because there is quite a lot of value to gleaned from his work. Like Clifford Simak, the ideas are terrific – but sometimes you wish the story execution was better.
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Long time passing

By the time this post is up, by the merits of ye tyme-travail (or the international date-line which allows me to live in your future), I’ll have been on this island for a decade. Time passes, and so, sadly, do people.  I’ve lost a good friend and long ago dive partner, and science fiction is poorer for the passing of Mike Resnick. Mike was a close friend and mentor to a couple of good friends of mine, so although we personally only shared a couple of e-mails, I know a lot about him, and all of it is positive. I know: no one speaks ill of the dead, out of respect for the bereaved.  It’s the decent, considerate thing to do, because no other time is as fraught and miserable than it is for those bereaved folk.  In Mike’s case, he didn’t have to wait to be dead before anyone realized he was a good guy and one sf-fantasy’s greater champions: one of the people whose shoulders the field stands on. Read more

Corral-lations

Correlation isn’t causation. You’d think as an ex-fisheries scientist I would have grasped that immediately, but back in the day when I was trying to work out just why some books, some authors, took off… and others withered on the vine, I got it very wrong.  I knew almost nothing about publishing back then, and assumed that it was a merit based outcome, dependent purely on the quality and appeal of the book.

That led to a lot of spurious correlations in my analysis… because especially in Trad publishing factors beyond the merits of the book are substantial, and way out of control of the author. Besides it’s a very, very complicated fishery. We don’t all attract or capture readers in the same way, even if quite a lot are snagged by the wallet. Read more

Soylent?

You know, we better shift on. We’ve only got two years and two days to start serving soylent green. The people-scooping seems remarkably lack-luster, and, what’s worse, I hear that New York hasn’t flooded either. Didn’t James Hansen tell us that was going to happen some time back? Or was that one one the other doomsters? It’s hard to keep track of the disasters de jour, as hard as the latest political fad de jour. I think bestiality is probably due to claim victim status… but predictions are hard. It’s best to make them about the past. After all, we all know the past is fluid and infinitely possible manipulate and adjust, whereas the future is clearly and irrevocably defined. Written in stone, as it were. Read more

‘Christmas is a barbie on the beach’

I was diving today, so can’t brain… The count-down to Christmas is getting to us too, even though we have no kids home for it, this year, and I’ve volunteered for Ambulance call – as I have no large family meal to be inevitably called away from. It’s an odd feeling as we’ve spent most of our lives at some kind of ‘clan’ gathering, with, usually a lot of people (we’ve a few invitations, but – for obvious reasons, I’ve given up accepting invites when I am on call). It’s a wonderful time of year for families and friends and especially children, but hard on those who have them absent or have lost loved ones they’d have spent it with.

(The picture is the view from Barb’s work Christmas beach barbecue, very Australian.)

Which is why it is good time for a read – if you’re me, anyway. I’ve been so tired with working on the house that I have struggled with my writing (was that if the weather was just impossible, I’d put in the time writing – but the work is now mostly indoors. This is good for me – working in Tasmanian winter weather was tough – but bad the flow of words.) Read more

Convergent/divergent

Convergent and divergent evolution

As a zoologist (yes even ichthyologists are zoologists) the way species from different continents with little or no genetic relationship can end up… looking like they might be cousins. Hedgehogs and echidnas. Or if you’re going to look at long, thin sticky tongues and a diet of underground insects, pangolins, anteaters and echidnas. That’s an example of convergent evolution. Different species facing the same problems/needs getting selected toward a similar end-design. But actually their nearest (genetic material) relations are something very different.

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Finnegan-beginnagin

Rebuilding the bits of our home that failed to survive their transition from the old site to our farm has been chewing a lot of my time and energy – a lot of work above my head, which starts to make you aware (with a fraction of the suffering) of how painful crucifixion must have been.

I’m busy with ceilings at the moment. For reasons that are probably best not elaborated too much about (without writing Dave’s book of disasters) I’m not dealing with square rooms.  The rhombus is a fine shape, I sure, but less than fun to fit 13 mm square ply boards to. And to add joy some of the timbers are old and a little warped, if still sound.

Like many writers I can be utterly obsessive, terribly precise, and obstinate way beyond just being a fault. The latter never leaves, although the precision and obsession with trivial details I’ve managed to ease off on a little with the writing process.

A little.

Well. Sometimes.

Add that lot together and it makes ceilings slow and complicated. Anyway, Ambulance service call-out last night just before midnight (I wasn’t actually on call, but we all get the pager-message, and I always check. A couple of times I’ve been the closest trained first responder. This was one of those, and as Comms couldn’t actually make contact with the two who were on call, I was one of the two officers dealt with it.)

It proved pretty minor, but it’s a couple of hours cut out of your core sleep, and I struggle to get back to sleep after. So: I faced the ceiling work this morning with a lot of yawns and a rather cloudy brain and stuff that requires reversing a lot of the measurements you can take. There are six large boards in the ceiling – how many ways can you get that wrong? (A surprisingly large number…)

Needless to say I made a horse’s butt out of it. If the horse’s butt’s I’ve made over the years were attached to horses, I could sell entire herds, so I am good at this, and used to it.

Now there are two ways most of us can deal with this situation.  1) You can try to fix without undoing all the work you’ve done. 2) Put up with a rotten job that you can maybe plaster or hope no-one notices. No, the picture is not my house…

Number 2 won’t work for me, because _I_ will notice.

So I spent about 4 hours on option 1.

This is not my first rodeo, I know a lot about fixing messes.

But after four hours I looked up and decided that _I_ would notice.

So… I went for option three (which no-one ever wants to mention. Or, in most cases, consider. Not with ceilings, and certainly not with books they’re writing. )

And no, that is not just walk off in disgust.

It’s ‘take it all down and start again’. Like poor old Michael Finnegan, (‘he grew whiskers on his chinnegin, the wind came up and blew them innegin, poor old Michael Finnegan, Beginnegin’) – as the children’s rhyme I grew up with taught me, it was a case of ‘you’ve been working all day, and all you’ve done is learn how the job should not be done. Take it down and start again.’

The curious thing about this is that it had taken me eight and a bit hours to reach that point. Two and half hours later – when I ran out of light, I was very nearly at the same point I’d reached before pulling it down.

Only this time… the gaps were not gaping maws but needing a rubber mallet to try to make it fit.  I probably still will be less than pleased with it all, but it’s a better job under worse circumstances than the professional builder did in the place we’re staying in.

And herein lies today’s writing message: sometimes it is not worth ‘fixing’ a piece of text, even a whole story.  Sometimes hard though it may be, you’re better off to take a fresh go at it. And because you now know what you need to do, instead of just hacking away, it comes together a lot easier, better, and tighter than any fix could make it.

It’s still a hard thing to do. But I found myself there with quite a few books and stories in the past.  It’s just not working for you, it doesn’t want to be fixed… well you have probably done something intrinsic wrong (as I had with the ceiling) at structural levels. Writing it again may well work. It has for me, no matter how reluctant I’ve been to do it again.

Image by mentrea from Pixabay