Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Creativity Workshop #3: My Three Goals

The way this creativity workshop works is that each writer creates three goals - typically from the list of Issues and Interests we'd been asked to compile just a few days earlier - and then spends a month devoted to each goal, with one short story written towards that goal each week. Each of the stories in the sequence should be linked, somehow.

Three goals; one goal a month; one story a week; three months, twelve stories.

It's going to be quite the ride.

This post, essentially, is me tentatively outlining my three goals, the tasks within those goals, and maybe - just maybe - a rough outline of what I'm writing for each week. I haven't really thought that far ahead, but you know. Have to have something planned.

Below, comrades, the Glorious Goals of my Three-Month Plan:

1. Australia Dreaming

Whatnow: For the past, oh, two or three years Australia has been of much fascination to me, especially as a setting in which to place urban fantasy. I want to explore this further, with a deeper emphasis on Australia itself. I want to do urban fantasy, especially set around Melbourne. This is the easiest goal, being strongly related to my writing past and a throwback to my earlier attempts at a novel, and yet something I wish to reach a state of perfection on.

Links and Stories: Exoteric setting, obviously. Each story will be set in Australia. They'll also be tied together, I think, by a common protagonist - a riff on the Sorcerer and Private Investigator trope I find myself enjoying more and more, in the lines of Harry Dresden, John Taylor, etc - who's actually given up magic entirely. A murder brings him back to the Art, but he finds that he's lost the talent forever - and yet his old enemies haven't forgotten him, things are heating up, etc. These four stories will be vignettes from the overall tale. I like the idea of a protagonist who is powerless in the sense that he has no supernatural abilities and yet strives towards a different sort of power - the power to be free and secure.

1. Write for thirty minutes to an hour each night, no matter what. 2. Figure out exactly what four stories you wish to tell, and where in Australia they fit. 3. Think some more on the protagonist. 4. Finish the stories.

2. Mars! Exotic Mars!

Whatnow: The Sword and Planet subgenre of speculative fiction has long been a favourite of mine. John Carter, Lietenant Gulliver, whatshisname Carson, Michael Kane: I enjoy them all. I love the idea of a jungle-wrought, savage Mars, a place so close to our world and yet so far... and I've long been wanting to write a series of stories set in my own fictional Mars, Aukrahk. I want to pay loving homage to the stories which have so recently inspired me, to the pulps of that era, and to the idea of good, readable fantasy with my own unique spin. The last time I wrote an honest fantasy? It was my first story and novelette, written when I was ten or eleven, entitled The Unholy Ale. It's been a while - time to try my hand once again at a genre I love and a subgenre I adore. This will also be my chance to start thinking about the Exotic Cultures held within the cradle of the Red Planet, merging - I hope - two of my Interests.

Links: The setting will be the link between the four stories - Mars - though each story will take place with different characters within a different Martian locale, whether it be the Earth-obsessed, sprawling Yordes or the metal-infested utterly western, antagonistic nation of Edgarb. The stories..? I'm not entirely sure, yet.

Tasks: 1. Start reading some more Savage Mars fiction - both to get me in the mood and because I still haven't finished Edgar Rice Burroughs full Barsoom sequence. 2. Solidify my understanding of Aukrahk so that I might feasibly set a series of tales within it.

3. The End

Whatnow: Okay, this might sound a little mad, but for my last, and presumably toughest, goal I want to write each of four stories to be an understanding of the ending, the finale - I'm not entirely sure what the technical term is, but each story will encapture an ending to a longer tale, perhaps explained, maybe not. Each story should, if I succeed, at once be as self-containing as a good short story, wrapping up all loose ends, while simultaneously feeling as if it were an ending of something larger. It's evoking a false, though perhaps valid, sense of mood through the style of the story itself. I hope.

Links: The link will be the fact that they have all been designed to feel like an ending. Probably nothing else, though each story may explore unused Issues/Interests from my list.

Tasks: 1. Don't give up. You're going to want to because you're a coward, Nat, and this will be hard. But it doesn't matter whether you succeed wonderfully or fail miserably - all that matters is that you learn and you finish what you start. 2. Start seriously studying how the Ending is formed, and how I can try to emulate that.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Creative Workshop #2: Icebreaker Mission

Merrilee Faber is crazy. Her 'icebreaker' exercise involves sorting through 31 blogs in what must be a parody of the traditional scavenger hunt, trying to attach 31 clues to 31 writers. Madness.

But it's awesome.

And I love a challenge.

So below is my attempt..

  1. Missing purple? Try under the trapdoor. Vixen Phillips; Lyrical Trance
  2. English author rapping in the bath? Umbrella required! Rosalind Adam is writing in the rain
  3. Moon across the ocean blue. Where’s the long white cloud? Anna Caro
  4. Who says you have to grow up? On Escapism
  5. Five times I love you. Aurora's Creative Corner
  6. California garden with a foxhound. Of Angels and Plants
  7. 21 + 6 + 5 + 5. Oh, and a chicken. Coyote; LykosEcho
  8. Considers the lillies, but still a wage-slave to the empire. Sigh. Constant Revision
  9. Lips as red as cherries, hair as blue as…electric? The Magic Spoon
  10. All singing, all writing bird! I’m so Lost… Kayla Olson; Owl and Sparrow
  11. Pigs DO fly! I told you so. Valerie Sloan; It's All Make Believe
  12. Manchester daisies. Greener than home? Kerryn Angell; No Excuses. Just Write
  13. Not in Penzance, and the gender’s all wrong, but still! Raise the Jolly Roger, arrr! Amandasea; Pirate Queen at the Helm
  14. Raising goats, joyfully. Hallelujah! Amber Dawn Weaver; Joy of Dawn
  15. There are thirteen ribs, apparently. Ashley Nava; Right Brain Spasms
  16. Love and stars and hearts and butterflies and swirls! One Big Adventure
  17. RIP Cooper, dear friend. Catherine Mede Writes
  18. Who’s to blame for the rain? Blame it on the Weatherman
  19. Living in Melbourne, dreaming of Mars. Me; Pen and Paper Initiative
  20. Canada’s in the pink! Chibi Doucet
  21. Siochain’s amulet, 50% off! Davina Pearson
  22. Not a serial killer, but an explorer. Exploring Eliza
  23. Bun in the oven, two kids, no time! J.C. Hart; Just Cassie
  24. Beautiful Jalal. Out of my Mind
  25. Africa? Australia? Jicama? Africanaussie
  26. Japanese poetry, in the popular form. Stories of Sommer
  27. Mother, 8, grandmother, 12, not enough chairs in the garden! The Grandmother's Garden
  28. Law of Attraction, no magnets here! Janette Dalgliesh
  29. Ngapuhi? (Gesundheit!) Letters from Silent Hill
  30. I’ve got your contest right here! Epic? You bet! Simon C. Larter; Constant Revision
  31. This is not the Olympics, no matter what the header says. Five Rings
My God this is crazy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Creative Workshop #1: Issues and Interests

So, I’ve stumbled across the magnificent writing blog of Merrilee Faber, and not a moment too soon - she’s taken the time to begin an online writing creativity workshop. Everyone who owns a keyboard and blog is invited, and as I, myself, am always looking to increase my own productivity and the quality of my ideas I thought I’d give it a shot. Ms. Faber being genuinely lovely and my love for a challenge don’t hurt, either.

As a sort of preliminary task we’re supposed to write about issues and interests we face as a writer. I present to you, my readership - the list of Nathaniel Robinson:

1. Momentum and Discipline - issue

I really only get things done when I place deadlines upon myself and stick to them. That only begins to happen, mind you, when I’ve gathered sufficient momentum to do so – to see an end in sight and then, naturally, begin to think of the destination. This happens all too rarely. I often lose momentum, and then it is a struggle just to continue. I know a lot of begins with discipline; my own sense of discipline is something I need to realise if I wish to seriously up my game.

2. Versatility of Character – issue

My typical protagonist: white, young, male, often a writer, sometimes smokes (I do not), often bitter about some tragedy he inflicted upon himself. This is because I am male and white and often a writer and often screw things up, as well as a host of other reasons that I’m not entirely sure of myself. Nevertheless, my most recent short story involved a jinn who was of Arabic descent (tick), had no particular interest in writing (tick), was powerfully ancient (tick) and did not smoke (tick). He was, unfortunately, male and inclined to messing up. But I enjoyed the process of studying an entirely different character, adding variety to my typical writing, and so I’d like to continue to buck my fascination with bland characters.

3. Dialogue – issue

Frankly? My dialogue sucks. It gets better with revision, but I still execute it poorly, I feel, perhaps because I personally believe that the speech of the individual is the truest indicator of their character. I want to be able to do dialogue damn well. I want my readers to almost be able to hear the words coming out of the character’s mouth.

4. Unpleasantness – issue
My stories never really have a happy ending. It’s always bittersweet at best, horrific at worst. As I am no Roald Dahl I can’t always pull it off well, and my writing suffers for it.

5. Exotic culture – fascination

Culture in general fascinates me. Especially culture I, personally, find exotic – it is the relative strangeness in thought and activity (at least compared to my own culture). The most enjoyable thing about writing the aforementioned jinn story, besides the nonstandard character, was researching and grasping Islamic culture, extremist and otherwise, ancient and modern, esoteric and exoteric. I’d like to continue with this.

6. Man versus Mythology – fascination

This is a theme that I find cropping up more and more in my writing. The idea of a man battling against his culture has consumed me over this past month. Whether it’s the life of an atheist man who bitterly searches for his ascended religious wife after the Christian Rapture, or the career of a superhero learning to actively despise the task of saving people, or the struggles of a genie trying to break free of his cultural programming – it all fascinates me. This is something I’d really like to explore. In a way, it’s almost about personal control versus the external world, with a twist of the fantastic, and I like it. It harkens back to Greek myths and prophecy and the idea of fate, karma, destiny… and there is something subtle and powerful about it.

7. Romance and Lost Love – fascination

As a writer I tend to throw in a lot of my own life into my stories (as, I am sure, most writers tend to do). Recently this has manifested through the motif of romantic screw-ups, lost loves, etc, especially through the actions of the protagonist. I’ve tried to keep away from other favourite themes – such as the absentee father or the idea of addiction to action – but this channeling of personal guilt into the story has formed something positive: a slow love for the romantic (in the modern sense) genre. I like to see one individual chase after another; I like to see them fail and I like to see them succeed.

9. Mars (and the pulps) - fascination

Hey, who doesn’t love the pulps? Don’t answer that. I’m absolutely intrigued at the moment with the idea of writing stories in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom stories (and the further stories of Michael Moorcock and several others). Sword and Planet is a subgenre I’ve come to truly love.

10. Home – fascination

Australia isn’t boring. Melbourne is exceptionally interesting. So why don’t I write more stories set in Aus? Now, to my credit, most of my more recent tales have been set in Australia… but I’d really love to focus on the mystery, the culture, the power of Australia. Australia can’t be less interesting than America, after all, and look how many novels are set in the United States.

11. The End – fascination

So I’ve recently finished watching the entire first season of the soap opera teen drama frenzy The O.C. with my girlfriend. (Before you judge, the dialogue is much greater than I remember. The plotting – while ridiculous at times – is dense and well-executed, the characterization is fantastic and the entire set up is very clever. That’s where I stand.) The last episode was quite sand, and she was weeping as the credits roll. Even I, the epitome of all that is MAN, felt a little teary. That is an affect I sorely want to emulate – I need to learn how to craft the perfect ending.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Rabbit

The rabbit was white and menacing. It came out at night to watch things happen, loitering in the backyard like a dead saint. Word on the street claimed that it drew sustenance from the corpses of dead felines. The cats were nervous. They could not catch the rabbit, for it possessed the alacrity of a snake, the cunning of a bird and the bizarre fortune of a dog.

There were sixteen cats living within Dell Road. All of them were frightened of the rabbit.

Cats lived in strange cells of two or three, only meeting fully on certain special or mystical dates, though they were all ruled by the wisest cat on the road. This cat was known to its brother felines as Lapradush, or ‘destroyer of Hare’. This was very funny to the wisest cat, whose owner was entirely bald. Nevertheless, he took his role as protector, destroyer and seer very seriously, and had sworn a bitter oath to rid the street of the rabbit.

A short while after the rabbit moved in under the house, the tenants moved out. A human boy had fallen mysteriously ill – rot of the lungs - and had quietly died a few nights before. A fish lived at the house, the companion of the dead boy, and had spoken quickly and confidently to Lapradush.

“Do not eat me,” said the fish.

“I will not, little thing,” said the wisest cat. “I am here to speak.”

“That is good, Kashkakash,” said the fish. Kashkakash was the name the bowl-kept fish of the road had named the wisest cat. It meant ‘destroyer of Fish’. “Speak.”

“What killed your master? Was it the whitest rabbit? There is talk of your family moving out of the road… this disturbs us greatly.”

“Yes, they are planning to move out,” said the fish. “The rabbit comes, sometimes, you know. To watch. I tried to speak to it, at first. Then I begged it to go. It would not leave. It would not even speak.”

“How did it gain entrance? Was there a hole – a door left unlocked?” said Lapradush. He knew that the fish – despite being bowl-ridden – was intimately familiar with the home.

The fish blinked.

“I do not know how,” it finally admitted. “All the doors were locked. No open windows. No holes. Unless, perhaps, a cat let him…” The fish knew that all cats – despite their supposed distaste at all things mechanical – were intimately familiar with locks, keys and doors.

“No. The cats would not.”

“Sometimes, the rabbit comes to watch me. I know that the hopping folk do not care for meat, least of all the flesh of fish, but… what if it…? What if it is here for – what if it killed Matthew so that it could get to – to me…?”

“Goodbye, little fish,” said Lapradush, known as Kashkakash, ‘destroyer of Fish’, as he leapt out the window.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Batting for Phobos

(So this was meant to be a short exercise to get me in the mood for my more impressive - I hope - savage Mars novel, 'Dreaming of Mars', which you'll all be able to read soon enough. As such it might seem to finish abruptly. Honestly, that is simply when the story ended.. I had no interest in what happened to the Martians, or the Englishmen, or any of that. My goal was simply to write a little about the situation. Enjoy.)

The twentieth century, it seemed, would be a hundred years of further rain. The savages weren’t panicked by the weather. It was unfortunate, however, that the test had to be further delayed by half a week. They kept practicing in the rain, and I supposed they needed the practice, a gentleman’s game like cricket as utterly alien as it was to their unruly culture.
I watched. There was a strategy, here. Can’t trust an alien to play a genuinely British match. Protected only by my coat and jacket, the storm battled around me, further sullying my mood. I knew that in a remarkably short amount of time they’d become adequate players – possibly even good players.
But we were Britain’s finest.
Earth’s premiere batsmen.
The Martians were good at batting, I knew – the four spindly, twisted arms weren’t as much of a handicap to them as I’d reasoned.

“Learn much int’resting, Cap?”
I turned, and rain lashed at my face. The voice was familiar – it was our unread, uneducated wicket-keeper, ex-Private John Smithson.
His near-Cyclopean face leered out at me from within the gloom.
“Smithson,” I said, attempting conversation with the brute, “Why do you think they continue practicing in the rain?”
“On the field, Cap?”
“Yes, on the field. It is a disturbingly dangerous activity.”
“Ball don’t spin right, Cap, sure is men’cing. P’rhaps… perhaps the blue-skinned devils aren’t like us. P’raps they’ve got tougher skins, Cap.”
“Perhaps,” I replied, and lit a cigarette.

“You can’t lose this one, Vinall. It’s rather important to the human race as a whole that you don’t let this one go.”
The Colonel’s face was obscured by smoke. The rain had stopped, but the pitch was drowned. We met at dusk, while the team drank and the Martians prayed.
There had to be a direct connection between the unsightly nature of one’s face and their role in the world, I mused. The Colonel was built like some bizarre chimera, half-cat, half-opium fiend, and half-ogre. There seemed to be no humanity within those eyes. He was a big man.
None of the government or military cads I’d had talks with had good looks or a roguish smile.
“Why is it so important? We’ll win, you know that. We’re the best. Do make yourself useful, Colonel, and worry about something else. How could we lose?”
My smile was grim, but only out of distaste. The very notion - !
“They’ve given us gifts, Vinall,” said the Colonel. “Military rifles made of glass that can shoot up to fifteen hundred paces and emit pure light. Strange foods and wines. A flying machine, for God’s sake! Their technology must be extremely advanced…”
“Ahah.” I smirked. I knew where this was going – I’d been fielding for England for far too long not to understand how this worked.
“If we win, we’re given more gifts. Greater technologies. There’s a wager, here, Colonel.”
“Isn’t there always? You’re sharp, Vinall, I’ll give you that, but only half-correct. The Martian mind, it seems, is a simple and impish thing… they enjoy a gamble, as you’d know.”
I knew. After practice and prayer, they’d often cheat my men out of all of their pounds by beating them in games of chance – even games such as Gleek or Loo, entirely native to Earth. The Martians had brought with them their own game of nok-Rasool, an alien game of cards that works almost similarly to the Persian game of Nas, with many added peculiarities. It was massively popular with much of the military and our own team, as poor as we were at actually managing with the absurd, high-blue cards.
The Colonel continued. I lit another cigarette.
“It’s more serious then you’d imagine. If we win, we’ve offered to give them one of the colonies: India, specifically, as the climate in most of the sub-continent suits their assumed preferences nicely. They’ll have it all, and, if they wish, the Indians with them.”
“That’ll close any chance they have at independence,” I remarked. “But what could convince His Majesty to offer them such a large part of the kingdom?”
“If we win, and this, you’ll find, is the extremely cunning bit,” said the Colonel, “if we win, they leave Earth, leaving a substantial amount of their scientific texts and the like with them, and they’ll give us Phobos, Hall’s moon of Mars. To colonize. The British flag will fly proudly once more, Vinall – fly above the luminiferous aether itself!”

The stakes were high.
It was obvious that the Martians – the Colonel called them the Shai’eev, but they were from Mars and that makes them bloody Martians – hadn’t quite given England the intelligence regarding inter-planetary flight, or anything at all, really, regarding that field. How we’d colonize Phobos without rocket-ships was a mystery to me, but it could have been part of the deal…
It was raining again.
I was watching the Martians.
“Our intelligence, Vinall, the intelligence suggests that Mars is hot and wet. Rains all the time there, the Shai’eev indicate. Fills up those great canals… so they’re quite happy in this kind’ve weather,” said the Colonel. We were discussing tactics. I told him our tactic was to be really clever with how we hit the ball, since they had four hands to catch us out with, and that seemed to satisfy him.
“They look like big bloody frogs,” I said, watching the droplets run down their amphibious backs. I was repulsed by their bulbous eyes, their broad backs and contrastingly thin arms, the six fingers on all four of their hands, dark red fingernails over bright blue flesh…
The Colonel laughed at my comparison.
“I wonder how they’d get along with the frogs over the English Channel,” he said, between cackles of laughter. We both knew that the French had been desperate for access to the Martians.

“They’re a funny ol’ bunch now, aren’t they, Cap?”
Johnson Smith had a particular habit where he would sight me sitting miserably, often smoking tobacco, often in the rain, and he’d think that I was lonely. So, in the spirit of friendship, he’d come and bother me.
It wasn’t raining.
The pitch was dry.
The sun was out.
“They’re giving sacrifice to their sun deity,” I said. I’d realized just how much information about the savages I’d acquired watching them play. “Asking him for blessings, victory on this day, the like…”
“Ain’t really sporting, though, is it?” asked Johnson. “Mean, there’ve gotta be rules, Laws of Cricket, y’know, Cap?”
“I know,” I sighed. “It’s not against the rules, because we don’t believe their sun deity is capable of such a feat as allowing them to beat us at a match of our own game.”
The wicket-keeper’s mouth rounded in shock. It was most displeasing. I could see the food stuck between his teeth.
“Shame, Cap, shame,” said Johnson, shaking his head. “They’d be cheating and we wouldn’t ev’n think it.”
They couldn’t be cheating.
They weren’t smart enough.
We were cheating.

“Have you ever had a Martian, Cap?”
I looked at Knowles. Summoning my greatest death-stare, I tried to obliterate him with sheer will alone. Harrison Knowles was good batsman, and a brilliant bowler, but occasionally the real Knowles would come out. The filth-loving, whore-punching pervert was the secret shame of the team, and the only reason I tolerated him was because we couldn’t find a better spinner. So I let him on, for cricket’s sake.
“They brought their women with them. We told them, told them if they wanted to stay, they need to consent to, aheh, get this, ‘biological research’. Ahah. So they’re doing these tests, right, and now they’re up to this bloody stage – you won’t believe it – where they’re trying’ta see if Martians and humans can mate, y’know, ubermensch stuff, so…”
I sipped at my scotch. There was a cigarette in my hand, but I didn’t quite feel like it. Outside, torrents of liquid smashed at the windows.
“Not interested, Knowling,” I said. “Just let me drink, mate…”
“No, seriously, y’gotta hear this,” he said, “So they need blokes who’ve, liked, who’re local and who can keep their mouth shut, y’know, and the Colonel comes to me and he’s all like, ‘Oy, there’s a good mate, yeah? Wanna bitta this?’ and shows me a photo, like, and I see the four arms and the breasts – oh god the breasts…”
“Fantastic, Knowling,” I said. “But that’s enough. Degrading, just a bit, yeah? I don’t need to know…”
“So put us in a room, yeah? Sorry mate, I mean Cap, won’t take long at all, so we’re just in this room, and the poor little blue thing looks scared – they’re much smaller than the males! So we get there and I, y’know, take everything off, and it’s really just…”
I lose my temper.
Knowles saunters away, bragging about his interspecies conquests to the rest of the men in the pub.

“The plan’s a good one,” said the Colonel.
I was wet.
I was not in the mood.
“Better than beating them fairly and playing a good match of cricket?” I asked, a little spitefully.
The savages were playing in the rain.
“Oh, yes,” said the Colonel. “Turns out the Shai’keev have many addictive substances themselves. Certain weeds, chemicals, the lot… they’ve got a whole city, you know, called Hoosk? Do you know what Hoosk means, Vinall?”
“Enlighten me,” I muttered.
“Hoosk, in their language, means, ‘City of Illusions’, or mirages, or something similar. The city’s built on a huge desert, and the desert is found atop a huge deposit of gasses. The gasses rise, sometimes slowly – sometimes quickly – and the city hallucinates.”
I nodded.
“What’s your point, Colonel? I mean, it’s all fascinating, but we’re never going to go there…”
“Don’t be so sure…”
“And anyway,” I said, “What does our cricket match have to do with the city of Hoosk?”
“Nothing at all,” grinned the Colonel. “But you know one thing the Shai’keev don’t have? Vinall, pay attention here: they don’t have tobacco.”
I’d had a few drinks. I wasn’t as sharp as I typically am.
“We’ll sell them tobacco and get them to throw the match?”
The Colonel laughed, the fat on his face wobbling ever so slightly as he did so.
“No, no,” he said. “They love the stuff. We’ve been giving it to them, not charging them a cent, since we twigged on that they didn’t have any…”
“The tobacco, Vinall, is laced with the isolated form of Strychnos ignatia.”
I didn’t say a word.
“And we’ve checked, young son, oh yes – Vinall, that Martian whore we shacked Knowles with? She’s dead. We tested it. Strychnine kills them, Vinall. Kills them dead.”
I nodded.
“It is a pretty good plan…”
It was quite cunning. The Martians would drop dead, or be too sick to play, and we’d win the match. We hadn’t been poisoning all of them, of course. They needed the technology… it was only the cricket-playing aliens who we needed to exterminate.
Clever, yes, in the finest traditions of Great Britannia. But something about it made me feel ill. I didn’t hold any sympathy for the creatures – they were anathema to my entire way of life, cold-blooded savages who spoke a strange language and made my flesh recoil every time I had to touch their amphibious flesh – but they were noble, I supposed, in their own way. My own code of honour demanded that schemes such as the Colonel’s should not be practiced upon anyone or anything – but it was out of my hands.
It wasn’t Captain Vinall running the show.