Friday, September 28, 2012

Missed opportunities

Last week I was invited to a G+ hangout for three of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter F. Hamilton. There was an open invitation to ask a question and the best would be selected and those people would be able to not only view the hangout, but also be part of it and ask the question live.

And I was selected.

The email from google headquarters (I imagine a well lit bat-cave) informed me that I would have to be online with a decent connection and webcam 2 hours before the hangout began. Since the event would go live at 6pm on Thursday the 27th in London, I quickly went over to The World Clock and after plugging in the numbers was informed that 4pm London time = 1am Friday Australian time.

So I went off on my merry way for a few days 'off the grid' at the beach with my lovely family, confident that I would be back in time for my question to be asked on Friday night...

See where I went wrong? I am a fool. I looked at the world clock and saw what I wanted to see: That Friday 1am was the night of my return from the beach. 

I woke up at 2am in our beach side apartment to the sound of my phone ringing. It was google headquarters and batman was asking where the hell I was. I fucked up. 

So here is the hangout with three brilliant writers and all the awesome questions from people who can tell the time.

I hate myself right now.

For the record this was my question:

Everyone lumps scifi and fantasy together (even in the same place in the bookstore) but there is such a fundamental difference between the two genres. In fantasy there seems always to be an element of fate or magic beyond the power and understanding of mortals. This essentially leads to a theme or at least a plot resolution where the hero must accept forces beyond his or her control and let faith guide their destiny. Even the grittier fantasy books have aspects of this, and some supposed sci fi too -- star wars is a great example: we all love Han Solo's rationalism, but in the end he is wrong. The force is real and Luke wins by turning off his targeting computer.What i love about your books (all authors here) is that your heroes have nothing but their wits (and a psychopathic drone or two) to help them.  So my question is, do you all like fantasy books or do they offend your atheist sensibilities?

Friday, September 14, 2012

world building

I was asked to visit a school to talk about my book and run a workshop -- all part of the job. They wanted me to talk to the students about world building and this got me thinking, exactly how did I build my world?

T.B. McKenzie's interesting construction of a magical world and scrupulous attention to detail allows this book to be truly convincing. Readaholics Anonymous  |  2 reviewers made a similar statement
Detail is one thing, but there's more than that at work.

So here is what I told 30 year 7 students at Marymede Catholic College.

Building a world is not easy. I used to think that writers who write about our own world were cheating. All they had to do was say 'Alice got out of a cab in New York city' and we all immediately knew where we are. Right? Right?

Wrong. Whether you are writing a fantasy in fairyland or a thriller in Thailand, you still have to do three things.

1. Who is in the world, 2. What is it like, and 3. What are they feeling.

This is my list, and I'm sure there are writers who either have less or more to add to it, but this works for me. I'll tell you why.

(here is where I read the students the opening paragraphs from my book, and asked if they could see an answer to those three questions. And the answers I got from the kids was: Warlock, flying over a little village, feeling anticipation. Gold stars all round. But back to the main question. Why are these three things so important? )

Well, without a character, there is no one experiencing the world of the story. Without this view point, the world is bland, and clinical -- like a wikipedia article full of bland information I cannot connect to. And to streangthen that connection, I have to know what the character is feeling. This is all writing 101 right? But I really think it pays to reconnect to such simple premises.

So then I did my workshop, and I started by handing out some reference materials; a random picture of a scenery, a random character image, and a random emotion. The task: write a scene that incorporates all three.

Here are the three albums of images I handed out at random:



And emotions.

confusion, surprise, expectation, wonder, happiness, unhappiness, amusement, weariness, courage, cowardice, pity, cruelty, pride, modesty, shame, closeness, detachment, pain, pleasure, caution, boldness, rashness, patience, anger, relaxation, composure, stress, fear, nervousness, respect, disrespect, appreciation, envy, love, hatred, hope and despair. (Pheww... some of these took a little explaining. I blame T.V)

After each student had one of each they had to start writing.

Here are 5 of the best -- see if you can guess which 2 images and what emotion they each had.

And last of all, Jack -- who decided the best way to portray envy was to withhold a chicken wing. 

Thank you to all the staff and especially the students at Marymede Catholic College. I got an email back from them saying;

“Travis was great with the Year 7s—his workshops were creative and entertaining, and he really engaged the students. Many of them have demonstrated a much greater interest in writing than they had before.”

So it looks like i've just given myself some competition for the next epic Fantasy series.


Friday, September 7, 2012

On launches and reviews

Busy week. The sequel passed the all important 60k words -- so I can see the end of the tunnel, and i'm starting to feel the light is not an approaching train. But enough about me.

Last night I was invited to a book launch of 'Fire in the sea' the debut novel from Myke Bartlett. I met Myke years ago when he was doing freelance journo work and he wrote an article about an education conference I was presenting at. Myke was also a teacher at the time, and I joked with him that I was trying, like he, to make the leap from teaching to writing.

Now, three years later, we both have novels published, and last night Myke let his loose on the world.

I'll be honest, I had a little trepidation going to a book launch of someone I know. I don't think i'm alone in my insecurities as a writer, and as much as I was thrilled for Myke, I feared his launch would make me focus on all the negatives of the last few months: the slowing sales of book one, and the trouble writing its sequel. However, I am glad to report the experience was exactly the opposite. Someone else's success should never be a threat. We all have our own path to take, and watching Myke talk about his book, and the journey it took from draft to winning the much coveted 'Text Prize' through to last night's launch -- was brilliant. I asked Myke to write some meaningful and insightful commentary on the title page of my signed copy -- which he did.

In other news, I received a very comprehensive review yesterday from a Christian reader. She was a little unsettled by some of the themes in my book. I take this as a very good sign.