Observation Journal: Ten Terrible Things

The activity on this observation journal spread was a prompt by Helen Marshall in a course she was running (for which I was one of the tutors).

Closely hand-written double page spread of the observation journal. On the left page, 5 things seen, heard, and done, and a picture. On the right page, a list of ten terrible novel ideas.

Left page: Cornbread and sky through culverts.

Right page: The exercise was simply to list ten terrible novel ideas, on the X-meets-Y model.

Hand-written list of ten terrible novel ideas:

It's like:
1. "Snoopy vs the Red Baron" but at a deb ball
2. Jurassic Park meets 12 Angry Men (the Firm = basically the same)
3. Harry Potter but with goldfish instead of magic
4. Where the Wild Things Are, if it were a cooking show
5. Elements of Style, if it were a musical
6. Mama Mia, but on a space station
7. Watership Down, but with fruit flies
8. A Pocket Guide to Old English Churches, but if they were literature professors
9. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary if it were a verse novel
10. Grey's Encyclopedia of Anatomy as a pulp detective comic

The trick, of course, is that almost all of them immediately seem like either really excellent ideas, or like thrilling challenges. (Although you’ll see I noted that after further thought some of them returned to being merely appalling.) And occasionally it is illuminating, as with the realisation that “Jurassic Park meets Twelve Angry Men” kind of describes The Firm.

But it’s always a fun conversation piece, and a nice break from earnestness, and loosens a too-tight grip on tasks. It’s also another way of shuffling through recent obsessions, or things you’ve noticed, or books in your line of sight.

It spun off into what I did the following day (but have already posted): Bad Cover Versions.

Art/writing/other exercise

  • As Helen used it in class, the exercise was to do 10 terrible novel ideas. This adapts well, so that whatever you’re doing (or trying to do, or avoiding), you can probably come up with ten terrible versions of it (ten terrible mural designs, ten awful ways to rearrange the living room, etc), or at least ask yourself what are the worst ways I could do this.
  • Variant: Play it as a game with friends to see who can come up with the best/worst ideas.
Tiny pen drawing of myself in the kitchen
Cooking

Sketching with words

The post on Illustrating Flyaway, over at Tor.com, has a few location sketches on it from when I went to Hanging Rock with Belinda Morris (yes, that Hanging Rock, and yes we had a picnic), trying to figure out how Joan Lindsay did it.

I also went out to the area around where I grew up, and which partially suggested the region of Inglewell in Flyway, and although I did get a few sketches on the way, it proved difficult for two reasons.

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(Thanks to the Cecilie Anne Sloane Postgraduate English Creative Writing Research Scholarship made both trips possible)

First, I was driving alone, and it turns out I find it easier to say “stop! pull over! back up!” if I am not in fact the person trying to get from A to B before nightfall. Second, I draw with line and shape more than light, and it was the light that twisted something in my heart and stomach.

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But I’d also deliberately abandoned any photography skills I had back when I first started seriously sketching, and there are qualities it requires real skill to catch in a photograph (looking back to Hanging Rock, it’s as intensely, dizzily beautiful in real life as in the book, but in photographs it is just as eerie as in the movie).

So I started dictating as I went. Not dictating paragraphs of prose — I haven’t got into the stride of writing that way. Just… sketching. Going over words, looking for phrases or descriptions or similes or ten ways of seeing a set of silos, in the same way I’d draw a Blue-faced Honeyeater again and again, trying to find the shape, the line, that means the light that I see.

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Not all of these show up in Flyaway. I went on this trip as part of the editing process, confirming my memories and tightening what I’d already written, checking the way the light shifted over a day, what it did on the road. What the road did. Recording bits of other places, for other stories. Memories. Small wonders.

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Beautiful horrors.

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Oh, look – a writing post

Did I mention I had a story accepted by Andromeda Spaceways a little while back? I just received the contract and sent it back yesterday, so keep an eye out for issue 41! My story is The Splendour Falls, about blind love, and dreams, and summer in the city, and possums. Well, not about possums, but they are mentioned.

In other writing news… still doing at least 100 words a day, although not always coherently. Sending out a rebounding story about dressing up and telling tales. Editing another about green coats and urban sprawl. Eyeballing a recalcitrant old one about a country town, and flowering vines and a thing-with-too-many-legs.

In Which (10) Terrible Fates Await

The worst:

  • I had a horrible moment on Saturday night in which I actually found cultural-studies-speak useful for explaining something. Took me a while to get over.

Some less confronting but still disconcerting moments of the week

  • A friend telling me, “I am in ur bed, nibbling ur toes”. Seriously, what the? Is there anyway I can *not* misinterpret that?
  • Considering costuming choices for next year’s Supanova. Aimee may go as Rose and/or Howl as both require the same hair. I can’t remember who I am going as.
  • A line-up of people telling me my story was wonderful. I’d find it easier to accept if someone would criticise it.
  • My carefully honed ability to become ill when confronted with pet scatology letting me down at the moment of truth.
  • Realising my answers to Woman’s World’s questions ran over 5000 words (though, to be fair, they asked an awful lot of questions). So, yeah, there’s a lot of context surrounding that article.
  • Finding scrawled in my notebook the question “Was Men in Black a reworking of Horton Hears a Who?” Discuss.

Not so terrible but still somewhat disturbing:

  • Kidnapping, Cannibalism and Singing Telegrams: Darkhorse Presents presents an 8 page Wondermark comic. Always odd.
  • Mama’s little darlin’ loves‘…: A short story from Martin Livings which has changed the way I think about presents (from his series of Tuesday short stories).

And not disturbing at all (in a negative way – in a positive way it has ruffled my equilibrium delightfully) but relevant because the title of this post is from one of his books:

  • A new Shaun Tan book is coming out! Tales from Outer Suburbia! If the scattered pictures I have seen are from it, it promises to be beautiful in a way only a book in which a waterbuffalo giving directions captures perfectly a certain suburban serenity can be. And I was right – I did see his name in the Horton credits. He was involved “at an early stage” so I won’t hold the movie against him.

Titling Peeves – in reaction to an email

Disclaimer

I don’t generally read category romance. Not because I write it off as a genre. Like all genres, it has its problems, most of which dovetail with my reasons not to pick up a book. I do at times read non-category books which are packaged as romance (and historicals and ‘novels’ etc), especially Ibbotson and Austen and Heyer. I did spend a miserable week at boarding school laid out with a bad back (or was it after I had my wisdom teeth out) reading through the house mistress’s stash of Mills & Boons because I couldn’t concentrate on a story which took more than 50,000 words (the misery was due to lack of concentration, not what I was concetrating on). A few of the books were astonishingly well written. And the circles I swim in overlap with romance readers and writers from time to time, whose opinions I respect.

So, with that in mind, I read an email today and reacted as follows:

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Introducing Characters – Bellwether

Gillian has started a series of posts on on how books introduce characters – beginning with Sheri S. Tepper’s The Fresco. I have not read this book, and am still recovering from Beauty, but I now want to read this solely because of Gillian’s post on how it introduces a character without actually having anyone on stage.

Posts and discussions like this make me want to read books from new angles, so instead of doing my January Movie Reviews or the summary of Travel Journal Practices as promised or introducing you to Yorick the Impoverished, or wailing about how devastated I am at the rejection of a story (well, more a sort of “I told you so” mood of fidgety discontent because I agree with the editor, but want to submit to something else now), I am thinking about Connie Willis’ Bellwether, which I reread last month and reviewed briefly in this post.

More below the cut:

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Two Milestones

Bearer of Bad News

I submitted a story to an anthology! I am regretting it now, and trying not to think about just how horrible it really was but am happy that it was written and edited and submitted (four minutes before the deadline!). The first draft was longhand, the second was typed: 6000+ words in three hours! My wrist is still sore.

My picture Bearer of Bad News (and I apologise for the angsty title, but am going with Aimee‘s suggestion that “Bad News” is the bird’s name) was accepted to Epilogue today! It’s juried (the old pictures in my gallery were accepted just before they tightened the requirements a few years ago and I will cull them if I can get a few more in this year to buoy my ego) and a great site for FSFH art and I am very excited at the moment.

FINISHED!

NaNo Winner

The Write-in Worked

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
18,631 / 50,000
(37.3%)

The story… well, it hasn’t progressed as such, but I’ve developed some conspiracy theories.

Na Noooooo Wri Mo

So I hadn’t decided whether to do NaNoWriMo. I certainly hadn’t planned it (that was lesson no. 2 from last year: plan!). I started writing on the offchance last night. Tonight, I walked from work to the Gabba and went to my first NaNoWriMo write-in.

Only it was really more of a [NaNoWriMo and one SketchMonth procrastination and compare computers and alphasmarts and eat pizza update facebook make terrible puns show off moo-cards and tell off colour jokes]-in.

I did manage to write almost as much as last night and make an impact by stitching my fingers together and meet up with an old uni classmate and laugh so hard it hurt and discover a great cafe with free wireless. And a photo which makes me feel horrible for laughing at it but I can’t stop and now it is my desktop picture: Noooooo.