Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just what is fantasy?

When it comes to the apparently inexplicable, people like explanations that make sense to them. When they are failing (on any level - academically, socially, economically, spiritually or even on their level of contentment or happiness), they seek reasons - and an explanation that doesn't blame them is obviously more palatable.

In extreme cases throughout history in many parts of the world, they blame the witch down the street and stone her to death. And they often paint their crime with a veneer of religion in order to make it seem legal and acceptable. In less horrible cases they make up stories. Marsh lights today have a scientific explanation. In the past, you blamed the Will-o'-the-Wisp trying to lure you to your death in the bog.

Nowadays, when confronted with troubles, people go to the self-help section of the bookshop and buy books titled "How to..." or "The Secret" and start believing all you have to do is think positively, and you'll win the lottery or whatever you want. You don't have to, well, you know, actually work to solve your problems.

Students - especially those from a background of a loving, close-knit extended family with strong cultural and religious taboos and mores - are especially vulnerable when they are sent off to university in another part of the world. They not only have to accept an academia where they are not spoon-fed as they were back home, but they have to cope with a freer society. They are surrounded by temptation, or by pitfalls they never had back home. Their families are not there to consult or to intervene.

Students have to manage everything from their studies and finances to clashes with their flatmates and their landlady. They are faced with foods they may not like and they have to dodge foods that are not religiously acceptable. Problems abound. They make mistakes and feel guilty, or are unable to cope.

Unfortunately, all too often someone comes along with his/her own agenda to con them. It may not be for money; it may be simply to make himself/herself feel big and important. He or she says, "It's not your fault." And these people make their intervention and solutions sound acceptable and unassailable by calling it religion, or they make use of religion in their "cure" to gain acceptability. They prey on the gullible.

They preach magic, call it religion, use pop psychology - and you have the beginnings of a cult or a con or an unhealthy emphasis on blaming outside causes for a personal problem.

It makes me sad. Young people who will one day be future leaders, teachers, scientists or technocrats are buying into a belief in hocus pocus. They are rejecting reason and the rational for magic and fantasy and the unseen and unprovable. They seek learning and knowledge, yet fall prey to superstition and scare tactics.

The ultimate irony - I write fantasy. But hey, folks, it's not real.

Want to know what prompted me to say all this?

Read this: Djinn and Tonic , also titled "Evil be gone!" in The Star on line, or see the StarTwo section of yesterday's The Star newspaper.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Raptor Watch over...

I have completed my stint at the lighthouse - two weeks overlooking the Straits of Malacca. (The watch goes on, but I do have to work. Like, um, write. You know, books.)

So it's back to Book Two of the Stormlord sequence, now tentatively titled "Stormlord Rising", but who knows...

Huge stuff is also going on in my private life too, which will impact what I do in the next few months. More of that when I have a better idea of what is happening.

In the meantime: Here's a game of spot the monkey. Or maybe "Ignorance about the dangers of electricity is bliss".
This fellow above, the alpha male of the troops of Dusky Langurs, was actually hiding in wait for another young male that was trailing the troop... here's the unsuspecting teenager below.And here are a couple (same species) in an untouched photo which somehow seems to make this generally gentle vegetarian appear distinctly evil...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A look at an author's world...

This from Thomas Christensen's Tom's Glossary of Book Publishing Terms, via Elizabeth Moon. This is just a taste from this delicious website. See more here.
Some of this is so true, it hurts!

ADVANCE: A secret code signalling to the marketing department whether or not to promote a title.

AUTHOR: A large class of individuals (approximately three times as numerous as readers) serving a promotional function in book marketing or providing make-work for editorial interns.

BEST SELLER: A book purchased for display.

BLURB*: A brief noise that embarrasses everyone.

BOOK DISTRIBUTION: An elaborate system testing the commitment of readers by making sure they cannot obtain specific books too easily.

DEADLINE: An item that exists to be renegotiated and revised. In his famous paradox, the Greek philosopher Zeno proved that deadlines can never be met.

DISTRIBUTOR: An annoying apparatus that is always out of tune, causing sluggish performance.

DUST JACKET: An ephemeral object without which a first edition becomes worthless to collectors.

FANTASY: An author's sales aspirations.

LEAD: A heavy metal that thuds when dropped. Used in the expression "Our lead title this season is luminous and compelling."

LITERATURE: Designation applied to titles judged unsaleable.

MAINSTREAM FICTION: The pretense that there is a group of readers who can be reached through writing that is sufficiently unspecific as to exclude no one.

PUBLICATION DATE (PUB DATE): A sliding holiday based on the phases of the moon.

TRADE PAPERBACKS: What readers do instead of purchasing new books.

*usually used to describe the description of the book on the back cover or dust jacket

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One reason why a writer has beta readers

I have written elsewhere about a reader bringing baggage along with them every time they sit down with a book.

But a writer also has baggage. I have a lot of it. I have lived in four different continents and in four very different cultures. I started life on a mixed farm where we drank untreated rainwater and my mother boiled up clothes in a copper over a wood fire and my father buried the waster from the pan lavatory – which was a route march away from the house and had no light at night.

The accumulation of knowledge I have accidentally collected as I have gone through my life up to now is vast. I know what it is like to walk a swing bridge built by rainforest people or grind rice flour or churn butter or struggle to make yourself understood in a language not your own or sit on the floor because your host has no chairs…

The problem with all this knowledge is that sometimes I assume that other people know what I am talking about. And many times they don’t because their experience is different, especially if they are half my age. And when they read something in my work that doesn’t ring true to them, they roll their eyes. And as a fantasy writer, one of the worst things you can do is jerk a reader out of their belief in your world.

That’s fair enough. More problematical is when you, the writer, are correct, but everyone assumes you are wrong. The effect is the same – the readers are still jerked out of their belief in you world. And that’s bad. I have struck this with some of my beta readers in the latest book.

For example, part of the book deals with a semi-nomadic people who live in tented camps. I know what it is like to live in a remote camp with other people. I’ve done it. A number of times, both in the rainforest and in the desert. I’ve gone on expeditions with up to a couple of hundred diverse people, living away from the nearest town or shop. I’ve had experience with the way in which people structure their society – however temporary – in such an environment. So when I describe my tribal people with their slave culture and their tents, I have an idea of how it could work on a daily basis.

And when a couple of my beta readers came across stuff I mentioned in passing, they said, “Hey, hang on a moment. This wouldn’t work the way you wrote it.” I disagree. I feel I am right.

So do I just ignore their comments? Do I just shrug my shoulders and say, I’m right, they’re wrong?

No. I rewrite, because I have to describe my world in such a way that the reader believes in it – so they can see why it will indeed work the way I describe it. I am at fault – not in the material, but in the way I have presented it.

Beta readers are make me see my work through other eyes.

What happens when you don't keep an eye on your lunch at the lighthouse:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lighthouse days...

When the storm comes, you end up looking at other stuff, because the birds sure don't make it across the Straits of Malacca.

My handphone is not a particularly small one as it is rather ancient. Believe me, the beetle is

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More scenes of lighthouse days...

These photos (I borrowed my husband's camera) were taken yesterday.

Today, it rained all day. No birds. None. Five hours of looking at rain, then we gave up.Maybe this cloud was a harbinger of today's weather...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Still counting raptors

800 Oriental Honey Buzzards, one Japanese Sparrowhawk, an Osprey, one Chinese Goshawk and 200 Black Bazas, 70 Bee-eaters (ok, that last are not raptors). And one Black-shouldered Kite going the wrong way. Apparently he didn't like Malaysia.

And here's the beach where we stay; at sunset:
Below: the lighthouse is on that promontory.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


A couple of photos from the area of Raptor Watch - the reefs and Ilham Resort where the public event is held every year.

Copy edit finished for book The Last Stormlord...and where was I when I pulled the last bits together? On duty as a raptor watcher at the lighthouse.

I am hoping that the copy edit doesn't suffer from its sudden interruptions: "Raptors incoming!" "OHBs* on the right!" "Someone count those birds on the left - can we have the telescope on that small one flying high, please?" "Two hundred and three Black Bazas in that last flock..

*Oriental Honey Buzzards

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reuters and me

The Tanjung Tuan Raptor Watch, started by two friends of mine who had a dream, had its tenth anniversary this year. I have missed a couple - when I was in Sabah or overseas - but otherwise I am there every year.

And every year that I am, I get interviewed by Reuters.

I have no idea what happens to these interviews because I never see them turn up on TV, and have never had anyone say that they saw one. I suspect that they go into a comedy file labelled: "The Bird Lady flitters again!" or maybe "Year by Year Documentation of the Increasing Decreptitude of the Scrawny-necked Vulture", or something equally unflattering.

You see, I usually spend much of my time standing in the sun showing school kids birds through a telescope, or counting raptors, or some equally unglamorous thing. I drip with sweat in tropical heat, I am without make up, I have a hat jammed on my head - and to wear the usually unflattering raptor watch Malaysian Nature Society T-shirt is de rigeur. Reality TV this might be, but honestly, watching skinny would-be models viciously vying for the opportunity to come back next week is loads more fun.

I rant a bit about conservation and birds and probably say exactly the same thing year after year. Do tell me if you ever see one of these clips.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On self-censorship, etc...

Over at SFSignal there is a Mind Meld in which I took part. If you are interested in this question thrown out to writers: "Once upon a time, sf/f was full of taboos: no swearing, no sex, etc. We're thankfully past those days, but are there any taboos still remaining or new ones that have sprung up? Have you ever had trouble with publishing something, or caught yourself self-censoring?" then take a look.

Authors taking part include Neil Asher, Anna Tambour, Margo Lanagan, Peter Watts, Steve Aylett, Kristin Kathryn Rusch, Ellen Kuschner, etc.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If you live in K.L.

I was in Kinokuniya Bookshop in the Twin Towers today, and they had a complete set of The Mirage Makers in the fantasy section. Go buy.

Food for thought

"From my personal experience (and I really can only speak from that perspective), I truly believe that for literary fiction, it’s much easier to sell boy writers than gals. I know. Who can possibly make such a general statement but I have to say that I’ve encountered several worthy manuscripts that I’m rather convinced that if the writer had been male, the novel would have sold."

--from Pub Rants by Kristin Nelson, Denver literary agent

My advice to female writers: use a male pseudonym or an androgynous name unless you write romance. If I was starting now, that's what I would do. Unfortunately, it never ever occurred to me that readers would select a book based on the gender of the writer.


While at the lighthouse, in a moment of carelessness (there were birds on their way, ok?) I broke my camera and now find it will cost a small fortune to repair.

Then I made a phone call to my house because I knew my sister-in-law was there, having volunteered to cope with a repairman coming to fix a fuse and some electrical outlets. She burst into tears because she had just set fire to my kitchen. She valiantly coped with that, and the house didn't burn down, but that was end of the cooker hood and we now have a kitchen with some rather odd looking warped and blackish cupboards over the stove and a kitchen that smells like burned plastic.

Also while I was away, the roof leaked in the place we had repaired a year or two ago - and our carpets (rugs to you USians) got wet. They now smell like musty rat-ridden places.

I also picked up a head cold. Yuk.

And yesterday the nose piece on my specs broke while I was cleaning them. Serves me right for buying cheapo frames.

Yuk, yuk yuk.

So I am looking for an enormous amount of money which I don't have...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Last Stormlord

The shape*-eyed among you will have noticed a couple of things about the cover I put up a couple of days ago.

Firstly, it's not the title we had decided on some time back. In fact a number of titles have been suggested during the baby's gestation: Cloudmaster, Random Rain, The Rainlords, Rogue Rainlord, Droughtmaster, Stormlord, and so on.

The Last Stormlord is definitely it for US and UK. I am not absolutely sure about the Voyager Australia title yet.

Secondly, there is no trilogy name on the cover. That is quite deliberate. The books are simply going to be The Stormlord trilogy.

Thirdly, the date of publication has been changed to March 2010 from September 2009. But that only applies to US and UK - in Australia, publication date is still September 2009. This year. Slightly less than 6 months from now, in fact. (Eek, I had better finish that copy edit...)

Fourthly, that lovely quote from Kate Elliott. And yes, you doubters out there, she does read my books. And I read and love hers, too. Can't wait to get my hands on book 3 of her Crossroads series.
*Sharp-eyed, sharp-eyed. Grr. I am such a hopeless copy editor!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Last Shot

Alas, this was the last photo taken with my camera. I took it to the shop today, only to be told that to repair it would cost very nearly the same price as a new one. I do so hate throwing away the world's resources...

And the photo? Taken at the lighthouse. Don't ask. I don't know. I haven't a clue. I do know it doesn't have a thing to do with raptors. That's a bride, complete with flowers and veil and groom.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Marvellous what you can find on the internet...*g*

I adore this cover...love, love, love it.
The Last Storm Lord by Glenda Larke
Shale is the lowest of the low-an outcast from a poor village in the heart of the desert. In the desert water is life, and currency, and Shale has none. But he has a secret. It’s the one thing that keeps him alive and may save all the cities of the Quartern in the days to come. If it doesn’t get him killed first…

Terelle is a slave fleeing a life as a courtesan. She finds shelter in the home of an elderly painter but as she learns the strange and powerful secrets of his art she fears she may have traded a life of servitude for something far more perilous…

The Stormlord is dying in his tower and there is no one, by accident or design, to take his place. He brings the rain from the distant seas to his people. Without a Stormlord, the cities of the Quartern will wither and die. Their civilization is at the brink of disaster. If Shale and Terelle can find a way to save themselves, they may just save them all. Water is life and the wells are running dry…


Thursday, March 12, 2009

A View from the lighthouse

Some more photos from the lighthouse...
Above, the morning parade from the Javan Mynas...
Had 1,300 plus raptors today, including a crazy pair of kites that didn't seem to know if they wanted to be in Malaysia or Indonesia...
And J0 - I dropped my camera. Totally wrecked it, so no more photos!
This is the view looking down on the sea (those are corals). Yesterday we were treated to a hot courtship between two green turtles...

And yes, I am still doing my copy edit. Work goes on.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Counting birds...more from the lighthouse

Remember that these photos are taken with a little digital pocket camera with not much zoom, and only an automatic focus, so don't expect much....
Oriental Honey Buzzards...

And a Barn Swallow too...

And below: Black Bazas, a flock of 60
When there are no migrants, we watch the locals - the Brahminy Kites courting, the Sea-eagle sitting on her nest, the male Sea-eagle shooing away his previous off-spring in a spectacular display of talon gripping flight, and the mynas in their bonding flights over the sea every morning in flocks that flow like water.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another day at the lighthouse

Above: Some Japanese birding visitors from Hiroshima : the Matsushima family
Counters at work - and it was 38 degrees (over 100F) in the shade...
Above: A view from the lighthouse
Every morning the resident Javan Mynas fly out over the sea and perform an aerial dance for our benefit.
Below: the road to the lighthouse
Today was a wonderful day - two and a half thousand raptors, mostly Oriental Honey-Buzzards, with a sprinkling of Grey-faced Buzzards and Black Bazas, not to mention Barn Swallows, Fork-tailed Swifts, and Blue-throated and Blue Tailed Bee-eaters, all on their way north....

Remember, you are coming to join us this weekend, right? Ilham Resort, Port Dickson. Bird Fair. Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. I will be giving a talk on Saturday on Raptor Migration.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Where I've been

At a lighthouse.

Built in the 1860s and still manned
Below: And now,with permission, the centre of the raptor watch count - counting the birds arriving from Indonesia 48 kms away
Below: Sometimes the birds come

Below: sometimes they don't, so ...
Above: so you look at local fellas like this Common Myna
Above: Or you get a lesson at the feet of the sifu on identification
Above: or look at the Dusky Leaf Monkeys eating shoots
Above: or admiring their orange babies...
More next time.