Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Playing in someone else's sandpit

Jo asked yesterday what I think of fanfic, or people who write stories set in another writer's world usually without permission. It's actually a complex question when you get into it.

My knee jerk reaction to such people is: Don't you dare!
But then, this is followed by a second knee jerk which is: Wow, am I that popular? Great!

On one level, I think it is a good exercise for a beginning writer who can practice in someone else's creation, with characters already extant, so they can just concentrate on telling a good story. Nothing wrong with that. If a writer doesn't then move on to their own creation, well...hmm.

Books set in some worlds, of course, are created by more than one writer. Star Wars books, for example, have many different authors, each commissioned and paid to write a book by those who hold the rights to the world and characters. That's a commercial agreement, absolutely legal and very successful. Nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes the estate of a deceased writer, or an aging writer her/himself, will agree to have their stories continued by another. Once again, a commercial agreement, absolutely legal and possibly successful. Nothing wrong with that, either.

So when would it start to upset me, assuming that someone some day will use one of my worlds and my characters?

Fanfic writers swop their stories. Sometimes they take your characters down roads they were not intended to travel - some write porn, or change the sexuality of people in your books, or who sleeps with whom, or make other major changes. That's where I would be upset if these tales were open to anyone who happened that way. If they stayed on egroups, newsgroups and mailing lists and such, I wouldn't worry too much.

I doubt that I would actually do anything about it, but I wouldn't like it. Why not? Because I love my characters and my worlds. I expended a great deal of effort to make them what they are, and it would hurt to see them used this way.

Why then would I not do something? Not worth the trouble. Every creative person has to shrug and accept that their creation - when it be music or an artwork, or a play, or a designer dress or whatever - may end up being treated in a way they don't like. Comes with the territory. Live with it. At least they presumably bought your books and read you avidly enough to mess around in your world!

When would I take action? Well, my publishers and I would be most unhappy if someone took my creation, used it as background to their own work, and flogged it to make money for themselves. Now that would make me really, really mad.

I am no lawyer. This post is purely about my personal reaction, and why. If anyone wants to know just what is legal and what is not, try this site.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yay! Now this is what I call a good day for a writer...

Well, it started maybe not so well - with a traffic jam followed by a long overdue mammogram (squash) and ultrasound (squish). Perked up a lot at lunch with several friends who work for the Malaysian Nature Society, then was dampened down by their reports on the Various Strange Ways Authority Try to Wriggle Out of Taking Care of Our Mutual Environment, because Immediate Money is More Important than Longterm Economic Benefits and Health.

More traffic jams, then spent the afternoon with a very dear friend from University days who is recuperating from knee surgery.

Then, home again:
Editor emails me with the finished cover of the Oz version of Book One of The Watergivers trilogy, The Last Stormlord. (And here's a tiny tantalising bit for you to look at on this post. Artwork by the very talented winner of the Best Fantasy Artist for two years in a row, 2007 and 2008, Vincent Chong. Aren't I the lucky one!).
Agent tells me she thinks Book 2, Stormlord Rising, is the best book I have ever written. Wow. Double wow, in fact, especially as it is the middle book of a trilogy, usually a tough one to get right. Triple wow, because she has high standards.
She adds that I have an offer for translation rights for The Isles of Glory in yet another language (so far it is out in English, Russian and French). Fingers crossed that goes through. Yay. And I wrote the first book of this trilogy back in 1990, so it is really nice to know that it is still relevant and has not dated!

So there you are, apart from the squash and the squish, this was a pretty good day!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Yeah, I might be dreaming of Tioman, but I am working. On a Sunday. Reading. Can reading a novel be work? Yep, when you've already read it umpteen times over the past few months. Hell, when you wrote the danged thing!

I am reading both book 1 and 2 again, before book 2 goes to copy edit, because editors have suggested a few brilliant improvements to make to the latter.

The trouble is this: when you add a line on page 22, it has this horrible habit of making nonsense of something on p44. So you alter that, only to find that now something on p65 seems repetitive. So you alter that. But then, that gives the plot a hiccup, if not real indigestion...and so it goes on. Which of course is why you sometimes scratch your head over something in the books you read, thinking to yourself, how the heck could the writer have written that twice and not noticed? Or whatever.

So I am reading book 1 (which is not to be altered as it is going or has gone to the printers already) to make sure that something I do in book 2's tweaking doesn't make nonsense of something in book 1. Got it?

Now all non-writers are still scratching their heads, still wondering why I have to re-read. How can an author possibly forget something they wrote if it is a part important enough to affect the plot? Believe me, they can. And do.

The cartography is to tantalize...the talented Perdy Phillips has produced a humdinger of a map, a tiny portion seen above, and it has gone to the design team at Harper Collins. Wow. I feel publication is really getting close.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a Tioman life...

Lunch by the sea
Transport on the "road" past our door...
Arriving by plane for the rich (we went by ferry)
And just...life
Really tough for the tourists, no?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maid, lackey or serf? What some Malaysians think of their hired help.

There has been a lot of talk here over a proposal to legislate to ensure that maids (usually foreigners) have one day off a week. That's right. Apparently domestic workers don't come under normal labour laws because they work in the house. (Ok, as a housewife I don't get an automatic day off either...)

But my first reaction when I heard this was...wtf? You mean there are people out there who don't give their maids a day off???

For those of you who don't know how things work here: almost all urban women work full-time. It is very hard to make ends meet on a one-salary family, even on a fairly modest scale, especially at the beginning of their careers, and yes, that applies even if you have a university degree. The solution used to be that you got the kids' grandmother to look after your kids. Nowadays though, grandma is probably working too. So you look for a maid. Most full-time domestic help is from overseas, usually Indonesia or the Philippines.

Back in the days when my kids were little in the 70s and early 80s, we had a maid too. She was local and every 3 months she took a week off to go visit her family in another state. And if she wanted to go out at other times, she asked for time off. Usually she went out several times a week, sometimes sleeping over with friends. I never refused unless we had a function to go to and needed a babysitter, which was pretty rare. When the first maid left to get married, we hired her sister. I taught her English and we helped her get a place in a college to do hotel housekeeping and she left. Her younger sister came in her place, and she stayed until she got married. After that, my kids were big enough to pull their weight, and I have not had a maid since. Whenever I am down in western Johor, I drop in to see those 3 sisters...

The government has now dropped the idea of the legislation, saying it is not necessary. Really? Hmm.

Here is one letter to the newspaper (The Star, Monday 22nd June).

It starts like this: 'I am appalled to read a recent headline in our local press suggesting the need to legislate...'

Good, I thought. Here's someone as appalled as I am.
And then I read on.

'...house helpers are employed on a full-time basis for specific purposes...the contract is on a full-time basis for a specific period, and maids have been explained their rights, income and working conditions by their responsible agencies...If they want to be paid less vis a vis weekend off, we can always curtail their present two-year contract to, say, 18 months or so...'

The writer even signed the letter with his name. Their maid is apparently expected to work for two years, seven days a week, living in. I wonder if they are allowed out of the house compound?

I thought that was bad enough. And then I heard of a maid (not in Malaysia but a neighbouring country) whose husband died back in her own country. And she was refused leave to go home for the funeral.

After that depressing thought, here's a photo to calm you down. Sunset outside our chalet on Tioman. Taken while sipping a glass of cab-sav in a chair on the lawn...Enjoy vicariously.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eat your heart out you winter-bound down-underlings

So we spent 4 days on Tioman Island. That's in the South China Sea, somewhere north east of the Malaysian Peninsula. One and a half hours by fast ferry from Mersing in Johor State.

And all these scenes were a few metres from our chalet on the sea.

Above: a grey morph Reef Egret

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writer's day - yipee!

First of all I get reprint copies of book 3 of the Isles of Glory in the mail. Yup, The Tainted has gone to yet another reprint in Australia to match the earlier reprints of book 1 & 2 this year. I do love Voyager Oz; they really get behind their writers and keep books in print.

Secondly, I get an email from one of my publishers' editors who has just read the latest effort, book 2 in the up and coming trilogy. Among some other nice things, she said "Wow". And: "it’s a fantastic book (as I’m sure you well know!)"

Actually, I didn't know. I always think that I have written an absolute lemon until I get an email from an editor...

Guess I am a typical insecure writer with all kinds of hang-ups.

But you know what? Today was a great day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Road to the islands

We had a dear friend visit us from the UK, which is what prompted us to take a few days off. It started with a long trip across Johor state to the small town of Mersing, where we were to take a ferry. And, of course, as she is a durian lover, one had to stop along the way to buy the world's smelliest, prickliest fruit. Not to mention the mangosteens that are always in season at the same time.

And as my friend had never seen dragon fruit (above on the right) plants , we stopped to show her, below.

Dragon fruit in flower above, growing in rows propped up with pieces of wood, below.

And then, because my friend and I are birders, we stopped at some rice fields to take a look.

And came away with some nice "ticks" in the notebook: flocks of bleached-white Little and Intermediate (Plumed) Egrets out of season (they should be winter migrants), the Cinnamon Bittern and the duller Yellow Bittern, the immaculate Red-wattled Lapwing, Purple Herons with their ungainly necks, and lots of other interesting stuff.
And the forested parts of the road were lovely. Much better than the endless ugliness of Kluang town... Oh, and my husband says, if you want to get lost, try to follow any Malaysian-made map. Much better to follow the signs.

Here's why I have not been blogging for a couple of days...

Because this was the view out of my window...for the past 4 days
And sunsets looked like this:

No, the South China Sea did not come to suburbia - we went to it.
More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The unwanted immigrant

Was back at the immigration dept yesterday, for the third day and another 2 hour wait.

Good news: there was soap in the dispenser.

Bad news: they didn't give me 5 years* but only one year extension. So we have to do the same thing all over again next year. My husband has to take a day off work. What a waste of everything - time and money and paper and working hours - all to keep an eye on this wife of a citizen who obviously (after 40 years here on and off) is a danger to national security. Or something. My file in the department must be a mile high. How many times have they collected a copy of our marriage certificate? How many copies do they have of a sworn statement that we make (and pay for) every year that yes, we were married? Don't they have better things to do with their tax-payers money? I am fed up.

*They told me last year this was possible, so that is why I need got a spanking new Oz passport before it was due in order to accommodate a 5 year pass.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wash your hands, people! Er...bring your own soap...

Over the past 2 working days I have travelled 200 kms, spent 28 ringgit on tolls and god knows how much on petrol, queued and waited for a total of 7 hours in a room that doesn't have enough chairs for half those present, all in order to obtain permission to stay another year with my husband of 42 years. 42 married years, that is. (I might wish he was 42 years old, but...)

Welcome to the Immigration Dept in Shah Alam, Selangor. The staff are lovely and very patient - not even losing their cool when shouted at, which happened today. (No, not by me.) But, folks, the system is seriously f-...um, stressed. I STILL haven't got that precious stamp in my passport and I have to travel another 100 kms, pay another 14 ringgit and wait another few hours to complete the process.

However, what I am really blogging about is this. They have a video screen to watch while you wait. No sound, just pictures. They show odd things like the trailer for a Harry Potter movie...and a long sequence, obviously a govt health dept production, on how to wash your hands. Presumably because of the current swine flu epidemic. You know, lots of soap, lather well, get between the fingers, etc etc.

So after a number hours of waiting (and reading Tad William's Shadowplay - thank the lord for a good book. I was the ONLY person among the several hundred there with a book, mind you) I go to the loo. And afterwards, head for the taps like the good girl I am.

And there is no soap in the dispenser. What's more, by the look of it, it has been empty for a long, long time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

So who do you call when you don't know what you are doing?

Just loved this. Saw it first on pubrants...

A Norwegian Middle age version of the computer programme helpdesk.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bargain for British readers...

Here: on amazon

They are offering a set of the 3 books of The Mirage Makers for stg 17.97 (or 5.99 each). Now that's a bargain. If you haven't read them, go buy. Remember the first and the third were shortlisted for the best fantasy novel of the year in Oz.

Irony and weirdness: a Malaysian story

On pN32 of The Star today, there is a report of a judicial hearing on a "cleansing ritual" that went hideously wrong. Two people ended up brutally murdered - beaten to death in a "religious" ritual supposed to rid them of their demons.

On p N4 we have a report of something that is not yet violent but which is also diabolically nasty and could head down the same path, as it cons people into believing they - or members of their families/communities - are cursed, hexed by witches or possessed by demons. And this happens...where? Seventeenth century Salem? Nope. In the UK. Among gullible Malaysians who fall victim to wily Malaysian con artists.

Is it bad luck that makes you sick/stressed/fail your exams? Nope. Was it your fault, because you didn't study hard enough, or because you have a mental illness? Nope. Is it a personality clash that makes your marriage fail? Nope.

It's witchcraft. Or possession by evil spirits. How long before we'll have a howling mob stoning supposed witches, one wonders, because people won't accept they are responsible for their own lives, both successes and failures?

Beware. These two supposed exorcists clothe their nastiness under a veneer of religion and call themselves "The Professional Islamic Support and Nurture Group" or P.I.S.A.N.G (allow me to roll around the floor laughing here - pisang means banana!! These two guys are laughing at you and your gullibility!!)

If you are a Malaysian in UK, or have children studying in the UK, tell your fellow Malaysians to stand up and be adults, not superstitious idiots swayed by the clever con spiel of unscrupulous men like Hamidi and Trimizi. They are taking you for a ride, and making it seem legit by preaching their piety.

I blogged about this once before, here, but if today's paper is to be believed, this pair of nasties are going from strength to strength. Does no one else care?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In yesterday's news...

The Malaysian political party with a basically Islamic bent, PAS, has called for the National Fatwa Council to declare the Sisters in Islam (SIS) as haram (forbidden) if its activities are found to be contrary to Islamic teachings and principles. As the SIS are a group of highly educated Islamic women promoting the rights of women as based on the principles of equality, justice and freedom as stated in the Quran, it would be difficult indeed to find that they are contrary to Islamic teachings.

However, doubtless PAS will try, presumably because they don't much like freedom, equality and justice for women. One of the things the Sisters in Islam does is offer free legal advice to women (men too actually) who deal with the Syariah and civil law courts.

Here from yesterday's newspaper, The Star, for example, is an example of the kind of man who has been deemed fit to be an officer of the religious authorities of the PAS run northern state of Kelantan.

State CID chief Asst Comm Mazlan Lazim said that in the 2.30 p.m. incident in Pasir Mas, Kelantan on Sunday, the woman - known only as Ain - was driving when her car was rammed from behind by a Proton Wira. "The man then drove off. About five minutes later, the man was back trailing the woman's car and he rammed her again, damaging both vehicles. He then got out of his car and threatened to kill her," said ACP Maslan. The 22-year-old woman, who had rejected the man's offer to make her his third wife, also received a death threat.

It was apparently the third time the man had been violent towards this woman.

No wonder PAS is unhappy with the Sisters in Islam.
And below: more on the IAEA DG election for those interested.

For those who are interested...

...there was a straw vote (i.e. official but non-binding) on the Director General post at the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

You may remember in the last round of voting there were 2 candidates from Japan and South Africa respectively. In order to win, the candidate has to gain 24 votes, or two thirds of the Board. The Japanese candidate gained 23, there was one abstention and 11 went to the South African.

In the straw vote yesterday, there were additional candidates - people from Slovenia, Belgian and Spain. The Slovenian and the Belgian did not win any votes. The Spaniard gained 4, the Japanese 20 and the South African still had 11.

15 countries are not too happy with Japan, obviously, but not all of them are keen on the lone developing nation candidate. I wonder if the real vote - on July 2nd - is going to be an impasse.

The best solution? A compromise candidate like my husband. (OK, I would say that, wouldn't I? But that is not going to happen, because Malaysian pledged its vote to Japan for reasons I am sure you can guess. I suspect - a personal assessment as I have no insider info! - that many other developing nations did exactly the same thing.)

Watch this space for the next exciting episode...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

They do things differently in Australia

This one is for you, Jo. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club. Waiting for the water.
Photo from my sister

Monday, June 08, 2009

What happens when a writer takes a break

I have not exactly been keeping up with the blogging very well. I am not at my computer as much lately. I intend to start writing book 3 of The Watergivers trilogy (i.e. the Stormlord cycle) on July 1st and maintain a steady 11,000 words a week for 4 months, which should bring me to the end of the first draft in time for revisions and a January 1st delivery. Maybe. Unless, of course, I do other unscheduled stuff like fall sick...

I guess losing one's other job has an up side: more time for writing!

Right now, I am not writing at all - I am socialising to make up for being unsociable for so long, and I am house-cleaning, to make up for...you don't want to know.

You know what? House-cleaning is a remarkably solitary occupation. I wonder why.

Pix from here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Kids. They are never dull.

Did you know that the sale and use of marijuana is legal for medical purposes in California?

One of the things my musician daughter does for a living is to DJ where she lives in LA. She plays all kinds of venues, including a surprising number of retail outlets - clothes, shoes etc. And often they prefer to pay in kind, at least in part. Which, depending on the store, is usually fine. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)

Photo: at one of her other DJ gigs. Details on the photo - click to enlarge
The other day she rang up a place that wanted a DJ for their public opening on Melrose, Hollywood, a street known for its boutiques and restaurants and coffee shops. They were interested and asked if she would mind barter for payment.

Thinking clothes, daughter says, yeah, sure, that'd be fine.

"Do you have a doctor's prescription?" the guy on the phone asks.

Wondering what sort of place requires a doctor's prescription for its clothes, she asks carefully, "Er...prescription?"

Turns out that it is a pot shop.

"Don't worry," daughter assures me blithely. "I negotiated to be paid in drug money instead."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How to succeed as a writer

Actually, I don't know.
But I was listening to a TED talk the other day on what makes a successful person, and I reckon what makes a published writer is pretty much the same 8 things as that speaker mentioned:

1. PASSION - don't do it for money, but for love
2. WORK hard, but let it be fun. (For a writer, that would include reading A LOT)
3. GOOD - get good at it through practice
4. FOCUS - on one thing
5. PUSH yourself and push through the self-doubt
6. SERVE something of value to others
7. Get IDEAS - listen, observe, be curious, ask questions, problem solve, make connections
8. PERSISTENCE through the CRAP Criticism Rejection Arseholes (or assholes if you're an American) Pressure

And honestly, I don't think you can get better advice on How To Be a Published Writer than the above. I might question No.4 (for a writer, too much focus on just writing might be too socially limiting for a start), but apart from that, I reckon it's damn good advice. It certainly applies to how I went about it...

What makes a successful published writer is something else again, and no one knows the answer to that one. If they did, there would never be a book that fails to sell well.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Last Stormlord

I notice that The Last Stormlord is now available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk even though they haven't even got the cover up yet. And people are actually buying the thing! I admire their foresight. Literally. The date of publication is given as 26th February 2010*.

So there you are all you UK people, you can order it now, and get a cut rate. All you have to do is wait another almost 9 months for it to arrive...and hope you don't waste away waiting, like the figure on the left in the (totally unrelated) Harry Clarke drawing.

*(Although it comes out in September 2009 in Australia).

Monday, June 01, 2009

The wrong place at the wrong time.

Remember those days when you used to hear - said in all seriousness - that women "asked for it" when they went out alone at night or wore skimpy clothing?

Well, here's a new variant on the theme, coming from the Melbourne police, or so it was reported in papers here. It seems that Indian men going out at night carrying things like MP3 players or phones are attacked because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, like travelling home by train at night. Nothing to do with the fact that they are Indian.

Yeah. Tell me another. In fact, just tell me how travelling by public transport can be considered "the wrong place." Or how being at a party only to be stabbed by gatecrashers is being somewhere "at the wrong time".

Sorry, Australia. This stinks. Do something about it.