I watch this before every writing session.
I watch this before every writing session.
A suprisingly eco-focussed strategy from somebody writing what I imagine will be a very splodey zombie book. From his FB page:
"This is the answer on ships and boats: Carrion Beetles"
"They are fast reproducing beetles that only eat dead flesh. Depends on how many you start with but open all the water tight doors to areas that have human remains, dump some in, wait a couple of months and what you have is picked clean skeletons. Oh, and decks covered in beetles. Which can then be vacuumed up and in many cases reused."
They look like the beetles in the first Mummy movie and act much the same except they only eat dead flesh. They would, in fact, be MY answer to mystical zombies. Breed large numbers of carrion beetles and drop them on the zombies from helos. Wait till you've wiped out that patch, vacuum up and reuse.
Just did back to back gigs with Raymond Feist at the city library on Brisbane Square. The Writers Festival, who ran the show, sent me a copy of his latest, Magician's End to read but I decided not to go there because it's the last in something like a 29 book cycle that I've always meant to read anyway and it'd be a shame to start at the end. Also, of course, you want to avoid spoilers.
Was sort of wondering how we'd go backing up for two shows right after each other, but there was nothing for it after the first one sold out so quickly. I can see why. Dude knows how to put on a performance. Shrugging off any jet lag he was funny, focussed and incredibly engaged with the audience even though he had to repeat himself on at least half a dozen topics.
There was one advantage to the double header; it let me follow up discussions we had in the earlier session with longer, more involved conversations in the second. I was particularly taken with Feist's explanation of how his stories are investigations of character first and foremost. He started the Riftwar Saga with a lot of the series backstory already gamed out – literally, since it was set in a world developed for a table top RPG. He tended to know where the stories would end up, but not necessarily how they'd get there. What fascinated him as a writer wasn't the clockwork mechanics of moving story parts, but the motivations and conflicts of his actors.
Gave me some things to think about. If you get a chance to catch him on tour, do so.
QWC recorded the event and I'll link to it when it's available.
The Guardian's US edition has been having a cracking time of it recently, what with all the spy stories and leaks and so on. But I thought they really knocked it out of the park with this piece asking seven great writers about failure.
Failure is the raven at your shoulder when you write. It there in the quiet room when you are alone, laughing at you as you stare at the empty screen, or even worse at the screen full of half baked, wretched prose. And it is there with you when you step out into public with whatever piece of work you foolishly thought ready to expose to a wider audience.
Writers, artists and sports people, they all live with failure as a real thing, a weight constantly pressing on them. As does everyone, of course. But the strange public/private nexus of a writers failure (or a sportsman's or womans too) makes them worth listening too about the topic.
The writers, naturally, express themselves a little more eloquently.
Besides the four scribblers below, who wrote much longer pieces than the simple paragraphs I've copied in here, The Guardian feature also has Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson and Lionel Shriver.
I had a great book extract set up for today, but we're waiting on a British newspaper to run their excerpt first. They have, ahem, failed to do so yet.
From the age of 22 to that of about 39 I knew myself to be a failure. For many of those years I was not positively unhappy, because I was doing work I enjoyed, was fond of my friends and often had quite a good time; but if at any moment I stood back to look at my life and pass judgment on it, I saw that it was one of failure. That is not an exaggeration. I clearly remember specific moments when I did just that. They were bleak moments. But they did lead to a subdued kind of pride at having learned how to exist in this condition – indeed, at having become rather good at it.
Failure is just another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish ends in failure, at least in our own eyes. Who set the bar so high that most of our attempts to sail gracefully over it on the viewless wings of Poesy end in an undignified scramble or a nasty fall into the mud? Who told us we had to succeed at any cost?
But my own personal failure list? It's a long one. Sewing failures, to begin with. The yellow shortie coat with the lopsided hem I crafted when I was 12? It made me look like a street waif, and caused my mother to hide her eyes every time I ventured out the door in it. Or maybe you'd prefer a few academic failures? My bad Latin mark in Grade 12, my 51 in Algebra? Or my failure to learn touch-typing: now that had consequences.
But such adolescent slippages come within the normal range. Something more epic, perhaps? A failed novel? Much time expended, many floor-pacings and scribblings, nothing achieved; or, as they say in Newfoundland, a wet arse and no fish caught. There have been several of those.
When I was growing up, failure presented itself as something clear and public: you failed an exam, you failed to clear the high-jump bar. And in the grown-up world, it was the same: marriages failed, your football team failed to gain promotion from what was then the Third Division (South). Later, I realised that failure could also be private and hidden: there was emotional, moral, sexual failure; the failure to understand another person, to make friends, to say what you meant. But even in these new areas, the binary system applied: win or lose, pass or fail. It took me a long time to understand the nuances of success and failure, to see how they are often intertwined, how success to one person is failure to another.
To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one. It follows that to continue writing is to accept failure as simply a part of the experience – it's often said that all political lives end in failure, but all writing ones begin there, endure there, and then collapse into senescent incoherence.
Below you'll find the first scenes in Chapter Two of Protocol. Chapter One introduces us to Dave, the safety boss of the Deepwater Horizon, and not someone you turn to when you're looking for a conventional hero. He's hungover, returning to the rig from blowing his leave bonus on hookers and hooch, just to spite his ex wife, even though it will hurt his two boys. There's a lot more lack of character information squeezed into a couple fo thousand words, but I don't want to go full spoiler.
The column of dark, oily smoke was rising high above the absurdist metalwork cube of the Deepwater as Juliette brought the nose of the chopper around, giving Dave a clear view forward through the plexiglass windshield. His heart seemed to stop for a second. Everything, all of his organs seemed stunned into paralysis before spasming back into life at double speed. Malevolent blooms of bright orange fire fed the dark tower of smoke as it climbed away from the platform, but within a second or two of the initial shock Dave Hooper frowned at the… wrongness of the scene. The seat of the blaze appeared to be down in the living quarters and hadn’t spread from there. The critical areas around the drill works were still clear, for now. So was the helipad.
“Two minutes, Dave. I’m wheels down and gone in thirty. Jonty says they got wounded. Gonna cross-deck ‘em to Thunder Horse.”
“Okay,” Hooper replied, only giving her half his attention while he leaned forward and studied the fire. It was bad. It was always gonna be bad on a rig, but it wasn’t the hellstorm he’d been expecting.
“There’s more, Dave,” said Juliette, as a secondary explosion blew out a cabin on the southern side of the platform. Dave watched as flaming debris fluttered down towards the deep blue water churning around the pylons. “I’ll patch ‘em through,” the pilot shouted. “Put your fucking cans back on would you. And your harness.”
“Sorry,” he said, still distracted, and not bothering with his safety belt. He wanted to get as far forward as could, to get a better look at the unfolding disaster. He did fit the headphones back over his ears, however, even though the short cord kept him tethered in the rear of cabin. The intercom crackled and popped just before he heard the guttural South African accent of the day shift supervisor, Jonty Ballieue through the static. He sounded panicky, almost hysterical, which frightened Hooper a lot more than the fire. Ballieue was one of the more unflappable yarpies he’d ever met.
“… attack… fighting them… coming up from the pylo…”
“Jonty. D’you read me? It’s Hoop. I’m less than a minute out. You’re breaking up, man. What the fuck is going on down there?”
“… ooper? … acking us. … We need…”
But the interference washed any sense out of the few words that could break through.
It was Juliette, jumping in on his channel, sounding even more worried than before.
“I got the Navy on my case now, man. They’re telling me we’re now in restricted airspace. They’re warning us off, telling me not to land. Talking about terrorists or some rubbish.”
“Bullshit!” he said in amazement. “Are they fucking crazy? Why is it restricted to us? We gotta get casualities off. I have to get down there and get to work. Where the fuck are terrorists gonna come from out here? What’d they hijack a submarine or something? Look down there, J2. There’s nothing there. Fireboats haven’t even made it out yet.”
“Get me down, Juliette,” he said, talking over the top of her objections. “You put me down and get the wounded to Thunder Horse and you’ll be back at the depot before that Navy asshole you’re talking to’s even tied a slipknot in his little pecker to stop himself wetting his pants.”
She opened her mouth to try one more time but Hooper cut her off with another harsh bark.
“Just do it.”
The helicopter pilot tugged at the bill of her Era Helicopter ball cap, as though saluting him. She pushed forward on the stick and took them in.
# # #
Juliet threw them into a tight, corkscrew descent that crushed him into his seat, where the broken spring now speared into his butt with a vengeance. The pressure on his back and neck cranked up the pain of the hangover, turning the dial to 11 on the Spinal Tap amp. Dave Hooper ignored it, along with the need to dry wretch again, and the feeling of having his eyes gouged out by the pressure of high-speed deceleration. He gritted his teeth, still slimy from the night before, and tried to pick out as much detail from the hellish scene as he could.
It was almost impossible. Rig monkeys and fire teams ran everywhere. Secondary explosions shook the lower levels of the structure as thick, black clouds of smoke poured into the sky. He caught the briefest glimpse of a rainbow formed in the mist drifting off a water jet, before the skids slammed down on the helipad, sending a painful jolt up his backbone.
The chopper doors flew back as evac teams wrenched the handles and wrestled wounded men into the cabin. Dave was about to start shouting directions, imposing some sense of order on the scene, when he was struck dumb by the sight of a couple of Vince Martinelli’s second shift guys trying to scramble in over the top of the casualties. They looked terrified, with huge white eyes bugging out of oil stained faces. But they didn’t look injured in any way. Dave shouted at them to get the hell back, but the pounding of the chopper blades, the roar of explosions and the hoarse shouts and screams of a dozen other men drowned him out.
He tried to push the first of the interlopers out of his way, and was surprised when the man suddenly flew sideways, the victim of a stiff arm jab by Martinelli, who followed up with a series of vicious rabbit punches to the neck of the second man.
“Sorry, boss” yelled the shift supervisor, who looked on the edge of panic himself, “Figured this might happen when you showed up. Some of these fucking idiots even tried to throw themselves over the side to get away from the things. Got at least one life pod away as well.”
“From the what?” Dave yelled as Martinelli threw the other man to the side of the helipad like a bag of dirty laundry. He waved his thanks at J2 as he clambered out of the helicopter, but she was too busy prepping to unass the area to pay him much heed. Martinelli grabbed his boss by the elbow and lead him through the chaos on the pad. There were bodies everywhere. Burned, mangled, horribly disfigured. And at least a dozen walking wounded waiting for their turn to be evacuated. Everyone looked frightened, which was only to be expected, but what Dave didn’t expect was the crazed, almost animalistic terror that seemed to be driving some of them.
They had trained for this. He had trained them for this. They shouldn’t be losing their shit.
“You gotta come, Dave, this way quickly,” Martinelli insisted, all but dragging him along by the arm. “Fucking things are down this way.”
Heat from the fires came at them in waves, tightening the exposed skin on Hooper’s hands and face, making him wonder how long any of them could hope to survive on this gigantic, ticking time bomb. He recognized three kitchen hands, still wearing their stained, greasy chef’s whites.
“What the hell,” he muttered to himself as the men screamed and raged in frustration, and something else, something more elemental, when the chopper spooled up its engines and lifted off before they had a chance to board.
“This way, down this way,”Martinelli repeated. “Come on, Dave, I don’t know how long Marty and the others can hold them back.”
They cleared the area around the helipad just as the down blast of the rotors tried to push them off their feet. Dave followed the shift supervisor around the corner into a slightly sheltered corridor between two prefab huts. He put the brakes on, almost stumbling to his knees as Martinelli continued forward dragging him along.
“Vince,” he shouted. “Would you slow the fuck up and tell me what’s happening? J2 said the Navy was talking about this being restricted airspace. Terrorists. But I don’t see Osama around, do you?”
Martinelli didn’t look happy to be stopping, but he looked even more unhappy at the question, as though Dave was crazy for even asking it.
“The fuck did anyone say anything about ragheads? This ain’t that. It’s worse. You gotta see for yourself, Dave. These things, these fucking animals, they just come out of the water. Up the fucking pylons, or the drill shaft or something.”
The space between the prefabs was narrow, and someone slammed painfully into Hooper’s shoulder as they ran past, mindlessly fleeing a danger they couldn’t hope to escape.
They were on a drill rig. In the middle of the Gulf. Where the hell did they think they were going?
Dave stood back against the wall of the small, prefabricated building unit that housed the flight operations center for the rig.
“What, Vince? What things came up the pylons?”
Martinelli’s face dropped.
“They didn’t tell you? Jesus, I asked them to tell you. You’re going to think I’m fucking crazy.”
“Try me,” said Dave.
“Monsters,” said Vince Martinelli, without hesitation. “There are monsters on the rig, Dave.
Those of you familiar with my airport novels will know how fond I am of ensemble casts. I like to start big and winnow them down as we go. Often a character who started out as a scene filler or a spear carrier can grow to become one of the main storytellers. Frederyck Milosz in the Disappearance trilogy is one who comes to mind. Slim Jim Davidson in Weapons of Choice is another.
The books I'm working on at the moment are very different because they have only one point of view. Well, mostly only one. Dave Hooper. Dave tells the story with occasional shifts in POV to the monsters he ends up fighting. But they're only very occasional shifts. Mostly it's Hoop all the way.
That's cool, I find him interesting as a character. But the problem I've hit again and again in the first draft of the first book was the supporting cast. There are some interesting characters there but because I'm not writing from their points of view I've found that I don't have the same understanding of them that I would if I had to get inside their heads.
There are no structural problems in the first draft, but there are some real character development issues I need to work through before I can ask people to hand over the money.
I've been pondering how to do this for a while now. It's not just a character issue there are narrative consequences too. For instance unless Dave is there in the middle of a scene, narrating it, or we've cut away to one of the monsters – who are really cool to write POV for, incidentally – I literally cannot tell you what's going on. I know what's happening, but unless Dave is there to have the experience and tell us about it I'm left with reporting action at a distance.
I'm currently rewriting the battle scene at the end of the book because of this. But in the end that's just moving pieces around on a board. The bigger problem is not understanding the supporting cast. Solution? Write them anyway.
I've taken three or four of the most important secondary characters and written chapters for them which will never make it into the book. Sometimes it's just a matter of rewriting the chapter I've already done, but from the POV. Sometimes I've had to write whole new episodes just to get inside their heads.
It's working, but I was worried at the "waste" of time involved. I know there are literary authors who do this sort of thing, but I have Playboy bunnies to feed and hovercraft to polish, damn it. So what I think I'm going to do is spend even more time on these unpublishable chapters, and then I'm going to publish them. But not in the main books. Instead I'll release these as short stories, probably free, shortly after the books are published.
I suppose if I ended up with sufficient material, say thirty or 40,000 words, I could probably do a standalone e-book. But at the moment, I'm thinking short and free.