Saturday, May 31, 2008

Progress, sloooooooooowly

So here's progress with Stormshifter: Yay! Over 40% done!

And some pix from the Tahan River, in Taman Negara (NP) in Pahang.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Real Ligea Gayed?

This from The Star newspaper today (paraphrased!):

Antonio Azic has been arrested in Argentina. Why? Because he adopted a baby, now a woman named Laura and about the same age as Ligea was at the beginning of Heart of the Mirage. Laura, you see, was born in a secret prison.

Her parents (Silvia Dameri and Orlando Ruiz) were kidnapped prior to her birth, imprisoned then murdered; their elder two small children were dumped at orphanages without their identities and adopted elsewhere. Their kidnappers were military men serving a military junta who routinely slaughtered people who questioned their ruthless regime. (Throwing them out of aircraft over the sea was a favoured mode of killing.)

Laura was - presumably - raised to believe the right-wing junta were the heroes of Argentina, and those horrible lefties were actually dreadful communists about to plunge the country into anarchy.

She refused to cooperate when a group of grandmothers pressed for DNA testing. But the testing went ahead, and her true identity is now revealed. Her young parents died for their ideals, her siblings were torn from one another - and now she, aged 27, has to sort out what she believes, and just who - if any - are the good guys here.

Does it all sound familiar? I wrote Heart of the Mirage for Laura Luis Dameri, and all the others like her from around the world. And for their parents and those indomitable women, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Spirits of the Fig Tree

Rooms with a view: the fig tree and the accommodation (note the pig).

I've just come back from introducing our houseguest to Taman Negara.

Once I planted a fig tree in the garden – that is, a tropical ficus species. I did so because they periodically have prolific fruit-bearing extravaganzas, attracting birds, bats and mammals. When we were away living in Europe, our house sitter asked the gardener to cut down the tree – because fig trees are (supposedly) full of scary things like spirits and djinns. Well, in one way she was right. There are lots of lives up there in the ficus when it’s fruiting.

In Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara (Pahang), a fruiting fig tree was probably the highlight of the trip…

It was quite difficult to drag ourselves away from that fig tree. Everywhere you looked into the foliage, there were birds. Bulbuls predominated, at least at first – from the common garden variety (Yellow-vented), via the secondary forest specialists (Red-eyed, Stripe-throated and Olive-winged) through to the strikingly dapper hill forest species seduced down to the flats by the fig-fest (Ashy), and others – the spectacular (Grey-bellied), the large (the Streaked) and small (Spectacled) and common forest species (Buff-vented). Nine species on one tree…

The much rarer Green Broadbills, with velvet plumage of a lush emerald green and beaks like voracious steam shovels, gorged themselves at regular intervals. A Coppersmith Barbet – with a red cap and matching bib as bright as flame – plinked out its monotonous hammer-on-metal call, at least when it wasn’t eating, to the occasional accompaniment of song from the Gold-whiskered, the Red-throated and the monotonous Blue-eared members of his family. The black and royal blue Asian Fairy Bluebird – as spectacularly clad as a university chancellor at a graduation ceremony – ruled the tree in the afternoon.

Well, he did, until the Thick-billed Pigeons arrived. Fluffy-bottomed, maroon-winged and wearing aqua spectacles, the first ones was hardly competition, but more and more birds came, to be soon lost in the foliage, until at last I decided the tree must have swallowed at least a hundred of them. A few Little Green Pigeons added a bit of variety to the mix. The canopy rustled and shook, branches swayed, while avian voices muttered and murmured and clucked and whined in plaintive chorus, a pigeon pie of conversation.

In the morning, the tree was swarming with hanging-parrots, plucking the fruit at the thinner end twigs by means of acrobatic contortions, often upside down. Then came the familiar team-train sound, a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills in flight – in this instance being hotly pursued by a pair of Racquet-tailed Drongos. Even the macaques in the tree had to take notice of these giants (see final pix of the pair preening after feeding).

Add in a few Common Mynas and Glossy Starlings, plus a few non-fruit eaters who came after insects and we counted 24 bird species at the tree. All just outside our rooms. That’s not bad going.

Ah, yes, I thought. The tree spirits have awoken: the birds at a feast. And to think that there are institutes who have dedicated themselves to producing fig trees that neither flower nor fruit, because the fruit makes a mess.

Food: do Malaysians have a problem?

We all know Malaysian food is great. But Malaysians are also eating fast food - a lot.

One wonders whether they will eventually rival USA for problems of obesity.

Photo 1: fried food.

Photo 2: chicken nuggets and sausages

Photo 3: hot potatoes and yams

Photo 4: cake (apam balek with corn filling). Look at the kid's face...

Photo 5: roasted restaurant?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

People without shame

How can an executive of a bank receive a retirement deal of 80 million Aussie dollars and not feel profound shame?

Mate, no one deserves that much. No one. Certainly not a banker. The man's successor gets a base pay packet of $27 million. That's obscene too. Unless perhaps you personally find a cure for all cancer and Alzheimer's, all by yourself, which is pretty unlikely.

Shame on Macquarie Bank Ltd.

What happened to the idea of the Aussie "fair go"?

Allan Moss and Nicholas Moore.

Remember those names, folk.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Once, on Wesak Day...

On the Buddhist holy day of Wesak, we came across a Hindu celebration. This was on the way back from Camerons last week.

Photo 1: we stopped because we saw this. The people taking part very kindly allowed photographs.

And exactly what were we seeing?

Hindus honouring their god(s) by praying and taking part in pre-performed rituals, and then going into a trance-like state while drums beat and their bodies are pierced. There is no blood. None.

After this the devotees parade through the streets to the temple to the sound of drums and the smell of burning incense. Some carry kavadis.

These palaquin like structures are borne, as an offering to the god, by the devotee who considers the pain will be repaid by spiritual or other benefits received.

I must admit I think the women had the easier parts - occasionally helping with the ritual, but mostly just looking stunningly beautiful in gorgeous clothes and vibrant colours, with sweet-smelling flower buds in their hair.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Want to send a query about your novel to an agent or publisher?

Do your homework first.

In fact, you can even try it out on someone else first, at Query Eagles. Here's the description of the site by the owner: "I set it up in response to various moanings by agents about the quality, or lack thereof, of query hook paragraphs. Often, as writer, you are so close to your work that you can write what you think is a perfect query paragraph for your novel, but which makes absolutely no sense to a person unfamiliar with the work...The community is about letting a few others read it before you post it off to someone 'important'."

A great idea. And if you post your query, wanting comments, don't forget to comment on other people's queries first as a matter of courtesy.

Other good sites to consult are Pub Rants (a US agent's site). And the now defunct Miss Snark. Do a subject search for their posts on the subject of queries.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Writing and not writing

Thirty-eight percent of the way into Stormshifter.

Yeah, I know, pretty slow going. Life keeps on getting in the way...besides I am having too much fun with having another writer to stay. Serious long reading/writing/books/fantasy conversations going on here.

After some nagging from Hrugaar, I wrote a book proposal for an in-the-Havenstar-world standalone, which I am now dying to write. If I don't sell the Random Rain trilogy, I shall at least have something else ready for consideration.

Tell me, would you buy this book? Here's the beginning of the proposal:

THE PRINCE, THE INVENTOR AND THE GARGOYLE CAT (working title)... is set in the same world as Havenstar, but in another country, at a time when Lord Carasma is at the height of his power. This time, Carasma has his sights set on the destruction of Mallow, the commercial and ruling capital of the land called Yedron.

Haze Oakhart is a Mallovian inventor of such useful items as an umbrella that opens and closes, but who never makes much money. At home he is much put upon by his scattily forgetful mother who nags him to settle down with a nice steady girl, and the two argumentative house imps – Dortliss Corkbarrow and his estranged wife Toffli - who live inside the roof beams and vie with one another to give him unasked advice.

Then, late one afternoon, Toffli tells Haze there is a gargoyle cat loose on the roof...


Husband and Hrugaar and I went to see the latest Indiana Jones today - loved the first half (up until the monkeys). Laughed until I had tears several times - wonderful fun. After that, though, I felt it was trying too hard, and the ending lacked a good-guy/bad-girl confrontation that had any meaning. Deus ex machina anyone?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bedtime for Toys

Remember that name, folk. They are going places.

Of course, I am a bit biased. That's our Nashii there...the one with the blue-green guitar. (She's described as a bass tigress, Malaysia's finest export!).

And Rolling Stone has just declared the best 25 bands on MySpace (there are over 1,700 to choose from) - and guess what, Bedtime for Toys was among them.

Their MySpace webpage is here.
You can listen to them there.
And you can vote for them in the Battle of the Bands here.

Go listen and then you'll be able to say you heard them when they weren't big time...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reader expectations

Cheryl Morgan over here has something interesting to say about what science fiction readers want when they read fantasy (basically lots of sensawunda ideas).

She is commenting on how some series/trilogies (with reference to The Shadow of Tyr, book 2 of The Mirage Makers) tell you all about the world, and then the remaining books are focussed more on the plot and the characters, and therefore perhaps of less interest to a certain type of reader.

There are also some interesting reader comments following the post.

I must say that I always thought Cheryl to be one of the best reviewers around when Emerald City was extant, because she was very good at giving the reader an idea of whether they would like the book.

Oh my, and I see I shall have to be on my best behaviour at Worldcon .... help!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Your cup of tea...

This weekend was the Wesak Day long weekend so we took our houseguest (and a fellow writer) up to Cameron Highlands.

Photo 1: Hrugaar and me strolling through the Boh tea plantation.
Photo 2: Note how steep the hillslopes are.

Photo 3: these two men are picking the leaves at the top of the bushes

Photo 4: Close up of the machine they use, which has to be hauled manually up and down those rows - and up and down those hills.

Photo 5: Gradually the bag at the back of the machine fills with leaves.

Photo 6: The machine can't cut the ends of the rows, so this has to be done by hand clippers. The leaves fall into a sort of catch-box on the clippers and are then emptied over the shoulder into the pack on the back.

Truly, a lot of tough manual labour goes into your cup of tea...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Would you eat this?

Pictures taken by my husband in the market, Kuala Terengganu. The prickly durian, much favoured fruit of nearly all Malaysians, in spite of its overpowering smell; and keropok lekor.

Think of it as fish sausage - made from fish paste and flour, basically. What it looks like, I'll let you decide.

It has yet to be cooked - either boiled or baked, and eaten with lots of chilli hot sauce.

Oh, and note the lady selling the keropok on the left - traditional style for Terengganu and Kelantan states - sitting cross-legged on the counter.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What the civet in my roof looks like

I have blogged several times about the wildlife in my house. I am at the moment enjoying the presence of another (human and not particularly wild) fantasy writer - his visit is being much appreciated by someone who doesn't have nearly enough contact with people who write fantasy - so I did a real good clean out of the spare bedroom before he came.

There was a blind snake under the bed, and a very large Spotted Gecko in the bathroom. There are also wild honey bees driving themselves crazy around the outside lights - who will also come inside to the light if you leave the door open.

My visitor was disappointed there was no frog in the bath, though. And the civet in the ceiling seems to be suspiciously quiet. For those of you have never seen one, here's a rather dead specimen we saw on the road on the way back from Terengganu. They are the size of a largish domestic cat with a much longer tail.

This species is the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), Musang Pulut in Malay. They are omnivorous, and squeak a lot. They also scent mark a lot, a strong smell of screwpine (pandan).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crappy reading...

Author Juliet Marillier (who lives in my home state of Western Australia) writes here about her time at the Children's Book Council of Australia conference. She makes mention of a professor from USA who, in Juliet's words:

"used his keynote address to slam consumer culture and what he called the ‘endumbment’ and ‘commodification’ of children through the commercialization and standardization of children’s books. He was especially damning in his criticism of publishers for giving in to commercial interests by producing books principally for entertainment – his example was a certain series aimed at girls, with various tie-in products available – rather than books that reflect community values and standards."

Luckily Neil Gaiman was also speaking at the conference. He took up that point and disagreed with the blanket condemnation of ‘entertainment’ fiction (in Juliet's words again):

"Neil made the most telling point (for me) of the whole conference by recalling his sense of excitement and wonder at reading a certain thrilling adventure novel as a child, then his surprise on returning to that same book as an adult and finding the prose quite flat and clunky (think Famous Five). What we writers give our readers, Neil said, is a ‘raw code’ or ‘loose architectural plan’ which they use to build the book themselves. No two readers read a book alike – it’s the reader who gives the characters faces, builds the landscape, brings life to the story. Even if the book is poorly written, it is a seed, and if it falls on fertile ground it will grow, bloom and be treasured. A book may be one of those commercial titles written for corporate profit, but it can still take root in a child’s imagination. Neil pointed out that some fine things can be grown in crap."

Oh yes.
Better for a kid to read something with passion, than to read nothing.
When I was eight, I went through a stage of refusing to read anything except Enid Blyton. This was partially as a result of being introduced to a library for the first time in my life (on a trip to visit my grandfather in Melbourne) and discovering that Blyton had written SO many books. I was in book heaven, overdosing on delicious mindless reading... Sexist, racist, uppercrust crappy entertainment - and I loved every enthralling word.

And I still remember, fifty plus years later, the joyous, glorious pleasure of that month or so, gorging on books. I even somehow managed to grow up reasonably tolerant.

I might have been eight years old, yet the only other things I remember about that trip, apart from my grandfather, was falling off a Melbourne tram and skinning my knees, the joys of running through piles of Autumn leaves (we don't get much of that in W.A.), pressing a doorbell for the first time in my life (my mother was mortified because I was so taken with the sound that I didn't take my finger off it), and the smell of the scullery in my Grandfather's house (it was gas, I realise now. I'd never smelled it before).

I was a farm kid, O.K.?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Terengganu loves purple


Just what is it with mauve and purple and the state of Terengganu??

Just about every second building is painted in these two colours! Bus shelters and shops and stalls and lamp posts and street names: nothing could resists the public purple-painter person...

Did they get a cheap job lot?

Oh, and just to show that, yes, I can work anywhere, even when I am feeling lousy, here's my latest word count for Stormshifter on the picometer from the Writertopia website:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Kapas Island, Terengganu

We just spent the weekend away on a small island off the east coast. It was actually the family day (Photo No.9) of the Science Faculty of the University where my husband works.

I was feeling lousy most of the time with my friend the virus, so it wasn't an unqualified success...still, a pretty spot. And there were compensations: who can better sitting on the beachside tables of the Qimi resort with a mango ice blended on the table? (Photo No.7). Beats staying in bed feeling sorry for oneself!

The resort we stayed at was not the Qimi (which is run by a delightful couple - she used to be cabin staff on Malaysian Airlines), but a place called the Mak Cik Gemok (lit: Fat Aunty), and that's the Aunty there, a character in her own right, surrounded by members of her family, in Photo No.5.

Photos No 6 & 7 are of pandanus plant and the fruit (and me).

There's also a photo (No.4) of the neighbouring island, Gemia.