Google Your Words

Real actual writing advice today!

You know how when you’re writing fantasy/science fiction/imaginary whateveritis, and you make up words? Names, little language phrases, stuff like that?

Google them.

Always, always, always Google them I am not even slightly kidding.

For example… remember the Powerpuff Girls? The clearly-made-up city of Townsville? I was born in Townsville. It’s on my birth certificate and everything. Townsville, Queensland. It’s named after the guy who financed the settlement, Robert Towns. I am not making this up, I swear. (Incidentally, it’s a hole. Don’t go there.)

The beautiful and you-should-absolutely-watch-it Studio Ghibli movie Laputa: Castle In The Sky was shortened to Castle In The Sky for US release. La puta, get it? Yeah, not so good, and never mind that it’s a perfectly innocuous name taken from Gulliver’s Travels. Make sure you’re not swearing in a language you don’t know!

Incidentally, even within the same language, dialect differences can make an innocuous statement into a filthy joke. For example, in Australia, ‘root’ is a synonym for ‘fuck’. In Canada, there is a store chain called ‘Roots’ (There’s also a ‘Roots Kids’. You can imagine our reaction). I don’t know if it’s still there, but the Outback Steakhouse used to have a dessert called the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. I ask you, who names a dessert ‘synonym for poop’? People who don’t speak that dialect, that’s who. The dessert was not half bad, though. (Yes, of course I ordered it, how could I resist?)

Of course you should always be careful when throwing in words from languages you don’t know, we all know that. But be very, very careful about your made-up words, too. They may not be as made-up as you think, and while ‘Koorva’ may sound like a nice fantasy name, Google tells me that it’s ‘whore’ in Ukrainian.

Don’t assume that this is something editorial will pick up, or that you’ll remember to check some other time during rewrites! Getting the words right is your job, so play it safe. Google your words, guys. Every one.


All The Ideas In The World

Do you ever feel like you have too many ideas? I do. I can never possibly write them all – and what if I don’t pick the right one to *try* to write? What if I forget a good one chasing a bad one?

I what-if myself a lot. I suspect we all do.

But I do wonder how published authors can stick to just one genre. Don’t they get bored? Do they really like sci-fi/romance/Pretentious Lit/fart jokes so much that they never want to branch out? I’ve heard different answers – that agents and publishers put presser on them to do more of the same because that’s what readers expect, or that they get comfortable in a particular genre and just want to stay there for a while, or that they really do just like one. Stephen King made a break for it, Barbara Cartland doesn’t seem to have. Like everything, it seems to depend on the author.

My favourite genre is broadly fantasy – urban, high, shaded with steampunk, I like it all – but the other day I was thinking about the Where Did Everybody Go trope… you know the one, where the town or ship or whatever is suddenly empty and a Rag-Tag Band of Strangers has to unite to find out what happened? And I was thinking about how I would do that one, just idly wondering because the last thing I need right now is a new project, and then next thing I know my brain is merrily depopulating a mining station on a planetoid somewhere and I don’t even usually write sci-fi but sometimes it just hijacks my brain. Especially since I happened to be reading the Honour Harrington series while I was thinking about it. (If you like badass ladies in your sci-fi, Honour Harrington is not half bad)

I’ve written down a few paragraphs of very rough outline, including what actually happened to all the people in case I forget. (If you have an idea that involves a twist, and you make a note of it? INCLUDE THE TWIST. I’ve forgotten one once, halfway through a fanfic I’d already started posting, and it was pretty damn awkward let me tell you) At this point, I’ll let it simmer for a while and then come back. If it still seems interesting and like something I want to write, I’ll take a crack at it.


An Extra Book

So I’m going to the US for two weeks, leaving next Wednesday. It’s going to be the first time I’m travelling with a tiny person – the ninjatot will be turning three while we’re over there – and I am of course freaking out to a truly paralytic degree because WHAT IF I FORGET A VITAL THING. THERE ARE SO MANY VITAL THINGS PASSPORTS AND TICKETS AND TOYS AND SPARE CLOTHES AND WIPES AND DIAPERS AND NNNGH.

But! There’s an upside!

For the first time, I’ll be travelling on a plane with an e-book reader.

That’s right! No big backpack full of books for me! I’ll have my reader whose charge usually lasts around a week, plus my iphone – which admittedly will mostly be used to keep the kid quiet by letting her play her edumacational games and change my wallpaper repeatedly – my ipod, and Phil, my trusty tablet-with-keyboard-dock. I’m hoping to actually get some writing done, if I can get the ninjatot to sleep. I’ve always had good luck writing on planes. (Phil is named for Phil Coulson, the small, dapper entity who can do almost anything.) I also have a portable recharger for the iphone, which I will undoubtedly need, which can double as an adaptor for charging my devices in the US.

It’s going to be weird, travelling so completely wired up. I’m only going to be taking one paper book! (For take-off and landing. I’ll probably take an Austen, I can always reread those) When I remember earlier trips, with my backpack full of seven or eight books, and the anxious fretting over running through them too fast, it’s hard to believe my reading habits have changed so enormously over the last few years. I bought my first e-reader before my daughter was born, and if you know an expectant mother who likes to read I promise you, it is the best baby shower gift ever. You can work them one-handed, they stay ‘open’ without you needing to hold onto them, the print’s adjustable so you can put it down beside you where the kid can’t see it, and if you’re immobilized by a caesarian you won’t run out of reading material. E-book readers are the mother’s friend!

I find that I rarely read paper books now. I still love them, and I’ll go back to them more when the kid’s a little older, I think – she still rips pages now and then –  but not if I’m planning on leaving the house. Not having to worry about running out of book while I’m out of the house is too awesome to give up. Although now I have to worry about my book running out of battery, which never happened before! And while in theory I have a phone, a tablet and an ipod to amuse me if that happens, my electronic devices have developed a near-uncanny skill at synchronizing their recharging cycles, despite all having a very different battery life.

Oh, well. At least they’re not as heavy as eight books and a laptop, like I had last time!

I hope all of you enjoy your Easter/Spring Celebration/Long weekend, however you spend it!

Motherhood = Pain

My friend Miranda has told me that I am the greatest example of maternal fortitude she has ever seen, because once she walked in to see me sleeping on the couch with my two-year-old lying on top of me, repeatedly kicking me in the head, and I refused to wake up.

Well, yeah. I needed that nap. I wasn’t getting up for anything.

It’s something they don’t mention to prospective mothers much, if at all. You get warnings and lots of jovial comments about ‘oh, you’re going to be so tired!’ because sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture or anything. You get plenty of warnings about labour, like, way more warnings than you ever wanted because no new mother needs to know exactly how many things can go hideously wrong, she’s freaked out enough. Tantrums, baby illnesses, yep, all covered.

You know what nobody ever, ever mentioned to me?

You spend the first few years of your child’s life with them beating you up.

Seriously. First with the babies it’s eye-gouging, hair-yanking and getting that soft little skull slammed into your face repeatedly. (It’s not that soft. Really.) Then they get bigger and learn to punch and kick and flail and bite and all sorts of super fun stuff that you can’t stop them from doing no matter how much you say ‘no’ because they’re toddlers and they have no impulse control and will hit you without thinking it through.

I’ve been kicked and smacked in the face, the teeth, the boob, the stomach, and all sorts of other places. She’s bludgeoned my husband’s testicles so often that we’re starting to wonder if she’s trying to say she doesn’t want a baby sister. And while it’s been on purpose a few times, much more often it’s just a by-product of Random Angry Flailing or attempts to get my attention by someone who doesn’t yet understand the difference between a gentle poke and a ringing slap.

So two things –

One: If you are writing a small child, like two to four, and you’ve never had to handle one? They’re not as helpless as you think. They wriggle like eels, kick like tiny mules, scream like air-raid sirens and are almost as accomplished as cats at escape-artistry. If you want to hold onto a toddler who’s really fighting hard, you want to wrap them in a blanket or put them in a bag or something because suddenly they’ll have eight limbs and no spine and… well, take a very large cat and try to stuff it into a pillow-case. Like that, but with fewer claws and a much stronger punch. And it hurts when they hit you – remember, they’re much stronger for their size than you are!

Two: If you ever wonder why mothers take so much crap from their kids, remember this. I have taken more physical abuse from my daughter in nearly three years than I did during the entirety of a bullying-heavy school experience, and I still adore her and would do anything for her. I suspect some kind of evolutionary fail-safe is involved to the tune of ‘offspring = love, do not murder’ that completely overrides any sense of self-preservation, and I have no reason to believe that it’s going to shut off when she becomes a sullen teenager. Mothers get pretty inured to this stuff is my point, I guess. It’s not any kind of impulse to martyrdom, it really does stop bothering you after a while. So any mother of one or more children (assuming she’s been caring for them herself, not passing them off to a nanny or something) probably isn’t going to collapse sobbing if she gets hit because OMG physical violence is so completely outside her experience.

It’s not. It’s really, really, really not. She can of course collapse sobbing because she got hit really hard in the stomach or because she is being attacked by a scary person or whatever, there are a ton of valid reasons, but she is not a fragile flower who’s never been struck before. So be aware of that.


Sometimes It All Just Gets To Be Too Much

And you can’t do it any more.

And you’re really not that good a writer anyway.

And publishing is an impossible stream to swim against.

And there’s just no point.

And then tumblr gives you something you really needed.

Thank you, Japanese clam-fisherman. I needed to hear that today.

Some other things that cheer me up:

Making Little Ponies of my characters.

Looking at bento recipes, because your lunch is something you can control absolutely, goddamn it.

Reading an old favourite book.


What works for you?


I Don’t Mean That How It Sounds

Any Muggle walking into the monthly meetings of the writer’s group I attend would probably be both lost and frightened.

In the last six months or so, we have:

Spent a whole meeting plotting out a small town that we decided was from Supernatural, so we put in a graveyard and a haunted meat-packing plant and an occult shop and the school was right across the road from the graveyard which was across the road from the meat-packing plant and we were making production-line jokes.

Had a half-hour conversation on the quality of leather and vellum produced from human skin, including places human skin can be obtained.

Discussed at length good hiding places for bodies and varying means of disposal.

Debated the linear nature of time and the narrative.

More stuff I can’t remember right now but probably just as weird.

If you’ve talked about writing in public, you’ve probably gotten that look. The ‘oh God, what are you SAYING’ look, after which you realize you were just talking about summoning demons and why Dean and Cas should do it at their wedding while you were standing in line at Starbucks. (I have not actually done this, but only because I’m behind on Supernatural and haven’t met Cas yet) I have, however, gotten the Are You A Serial Killer look after the following:

1) Pointing out of the window on a train and announcing excitedly that that’s my favourite place for potentially hiding a body.

2) Shouting into the phone that I will murder my spouse like I murdered (fictional character whose name escapes me) in the middle of the Queen Street Mall.

3) Discussing the relative ethics of forcing Sansa to marry a man twice her age on the bus.

4) Probably lots of other times, look, you know about me and my memory.

At least when discussing Sansa there was a slim hope that some of the people on the bus would realize that I was talking about a fictional character, not the little girl in the pram beside me. When you’re talking about your own work – especially hiding the bodies – it’s tempting to just walk around holding up a Road-Runner style sign that says ‘not a murderer, just a writer’ or some such thing. Because you want to share your brilliant idea about the gravel piles with your writer friends, but if the rail-cops hear you extolling the virtues of Roma St Station as a body-hiding spot they may have some stern questions.



Not Wordy Today

The toddler got me up early again – presumably the nasty ear infection is still causing her some pain – so I’ve been awake since four AM and I am not delighted or creatively stimulated by that. All the coffee has achieved is to make me feel queasy, as it often does when I’ve dropped below the Minimum Rest Threshold.

I’m also a little drained because I actually had a very small paying gig yesterday. A friend commissioned me to write a little piece of fan-fiction for his lady’s birthday, which I did. Even though it was just a small thing, it made me feel pretty good. I got something *done*, and I did it fast and, I think, reasonably well. And someone thinks I’m worth paying a small fee to, which is also a lovely validating experience.

But today my hands are a little tired. Typing 2500 words in two hours is apparently hard on my old-lady hands. Damn wussy knuckles. When I was in my teens, I could type all day without my knuckles twinging!

If you are a young writer, enjoy this time you have with strong, resilient knuckles, and get as much wordcount banged out as you can. Your hands won’t always be this sturdy! I mean, not everybody gets aching knuckles when they get older, but you might, so appreciate your hands while they’re at their best.

Oh, good, the kid’s gone back to sleep. Goodnight, all.