We put up with repulsive characters in movies, so why not in books?

A movie I like a lot is As Good As It Gets. It stars Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a sexist, racist, homophobic, obsessive-compulsive romance writer who is redeemed by Kinnear’s dog and by the waitress he falls in love with (Hunt).

Make no mistake, Nicholson’s character is truly repulsive. You spend half the movie squirming at some of the horrible things he says and does, and he never truly becomes a nice person. But he does become a better person.

It’s a movie I appreciate on an aesthetic level. The acting is superb, the storyline works for me and the characters all grow and change. I’ll watch it when they re-run it on tv.

And yet, if it was a book I would have thrown it down after one chapter—or maybe even one page—and refused to read it.

Because I didn’t like the main character.

A movie has to be truly bad to walk out of. We tend to give it a different value to a book. We’ve paid our money, we’re staying for the show whether we like it or not.

Some people read books to the end, no matter how bad they are. Most of us exercise our choice and drop a book as soon as we decide we don’t like it. A repulsive main character is a definite turn-off.

Why is it that we’re so ready to drop a book but will stick with a movie? Is it because we’ve paid money to see the movie? We pay as much or more for the book. Is it because movie watching is often a shared affair? Or is it simply that we hold higher standards for books than we do for movies?

What makes a character repulsive anyway? Sand dan Glokta does terrible things to people, yet everyone loves Glokta.

I wonder, if As Good As It Gets had been a book, would I have found something to like about Melvin Udall?

Posted in Characters

The latest strangeness from Office 365

I keep unpinning them, but every time I open the file, a second one pops up. And sometimes a third.

I keep unpinning them, but every time I open the file, a second one pops up. And sometimes a third.

Microsoft’s OneDrive isn’t perfect yet. The latest strangeness? Double-pinning and sometimes triple-pinning. It started happening a few days ago, and it started happening on all four PCs (both desktops and both laptops) on the same day.

The url under each filename is slightly different, but it points to the same file. I can open one, edit it, then open the other and the edits are carried across.

Methinks it’s another Microsoft ‘feature’*.

I hope they fix it soon. It’s driving me crazy.

* aka a bug.

Posted in Microsoft Office

Writing and a cruise, what could be better?


Cruising to better writing

Both Sherylyn’s and my favorite holiday is a cruise. And, of course, being writers, we enjoy conferences that teach writing. Not only that, I know for a fact that we get writing done on cruises.

So learning that the Out of Excuses 2015 writing workshop is on a cruise ship makes it very tempting.

We’d both love to do this.

Thinking hard, trying to justify it.

Posted in Writing general

Blood moon, good omens

There was a blood moon tonight. We watched the eclipse come in as we drove home. First it looked like a dirty black cloud obscuring the bottom corner of the moon. By the time we pulled into the driveway it was a big smudge a quarter of the way across the moonface.

We watched it on-and-off over the next hour, until there was a tiny sliver of light and the beginnings of a nice red moon.

Then the cloud cover moved in and that was the end of our moonwatching.

Still, eclipses have always meant good things in our household.

Sure enough, when we turned on the computer what did we see in our twitter feed?

Our first ‘official’ mention of Linesman in our editor’s tweet.

Talking about our book

It’s starting to feel real. This story is going to be published.

Posted in Linesman


As a writer, you learn a lot from the submission process. Reading up on how to query, finessing your letter every time you send it out. Getting to know other writers, finding out what other authors go through—first in getting an agent, and what happens after that.

In fact, early success can cause its own problems through inexperience.

Take this example.

A writer I know netted the interest of an agent on her second query. The agent told her she loved her work and was interested in representing her. They agreed to call a week later to talk about the novel.

The writer was deliriously happy for a week. Then came the phone call. According to the writer,

“She spent 50 minutes trashing my novel.”

There are two responses to that, and it depends how much querying experience you have had as to how you respond.

If you’re new to the writing/querying business then you’ll be sympathetic.

“How awful,” you might say. “You were treated so badly.”

Yet those of us who’ve been querying a while will be thinking (and trying to say, but more tactfully),

“Do you realise what that means? You had an agent who loved your work. She agreed to take you on. She spent fifty minutes on the phone talking about ways to improve your book. Fifty minutes. And you’re insulted.”

Because in that time we’ve spent querying, we’ve haunted the internet, talked with other writers, read about agents, polished up on our queries, polished up our manuscript, and we’ve learned some things we didn’t know when we started out.

Somewhere along the way we come to understand that our book isn’t perfect. That getting the agent is only the first step to getting our novel published. That the agent will want us to fix things before he/she sends it out on submission. The editor will want changes too.

If my writer-friend had been submitting longer, she might have understood this. Instead, she was still too new to the process.

As you can imagine, she promptly parted ways with her agent. Two years on she is still bitter about the whole trad-pub thing and has adopted indie publishing with fervour.

I’m not sure if she’ll ever realise it was her own inexperience that set her along that path.

Posted in Agents

Aspiring or emerging?

Even though I write science fiction and fantasy, I am a member of the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). I’ve been a member for years. I initially joined on the recommendation a fellow fantasy writer, who said she found it the most professional writers’ group she knew of for people who were serious about writing.

She was right.

Obviously, given what we (my co-author and I) write, I’m not the RWA’s target membership. I’m okay with that. I still get value out of the membership. And some of our stories do have romantic elements, so I’m not completely there under false pretences.

Recently, RWA reclassified their membership groupings. The new classifications are:

  • Aspiring … developing/writing a romance/romantic elements manuscript, developing their understanding of the craft and/or thinking about or actively entering contests.
  • Emerging … has had a romantic/romantic elements work commercially available or under contract for fewer than three years or … is consistently making the finals round in writing contests, is submitting and receiving requests from publishers or agents, or who has already secured an agent.
  • Established … has a romantic/romantic elements work commercially available or under contract, and … consistently/actively publishing longer than three years.

The italics are mine.

Initially all members are ‘aspiring’ authors, unless they reclassify themselves. Herein lies my dilemma. Technically, I would be an ‘emerging’ writer. I (we) have an agent. I (we) have a book under contract. Three books, in fact. Except … the book is pure science fiction. It’s a space opera and there isn’t any romance in this first book.

Decisions, decisions. Do I leave myself as ‘aspiring’ because I don’t meet the ‘romantic/romantic elements’ component? Or do I reclassify myself as ‘emerging’.

Still, it’s a nice dilemma to have.

Posted in Writing groups

Spec fiction readers are great people

We were checking out book covers to see which ones we liked. We started on the internet, until one of us said, “Why don’t we find a bookshop and check them out on there.”

So off we go into town*, to Minotaur, which carries a large range of speculative fiction.

We’re looking at books, discussing individual covers, when the young man at the shelf beside us asks if we’re looking for something in particular and if he could help.

Most of the science fiction and fantasy readers we know are like that. Always happy to talk about books and to offer recommendations.

“We’re just looking at covers,” we say, and explain why.

That starts a conversation about covers. He likes striking covers, preferably without people. After that we move on to what makes him buy a book. Occasionally it’s the cover, but more often it’s the title. We go from there to recommending books for each other, and then move on to world building. Magic systems that work, then valid alien/fantasy races. We finish up discussing the aliens on the computer game, Mass Effect.

The three of us spent an hour discussing it all.

Spec fiction readers are great.



* Technically, ‘town’ is the city of Melbourne. I only realised a few months ago that my workmates thought I was strange whenever I said I was going into town (I live and work in the suburbs) because they go into the ‘city’. Old habits are ingrained. Even though I’ve spent more of my life now in a big city than I have in the country, it’s obvious from my choice of words that I wasn’t initially from a city.

Posted in Genres

Writers—getting better over time

One thing wannabe writers are told is to write a million words. This makes sense. That’s the equivalent of ten novels. Or, if you rewrite—and of course you rewrite, don’t you—at least four or five. If your writing hasn’t improved by the time you have written a million words, you’re doing something wrong.

What they don’t tell you is that the improvement isn’t a steady upward line. At least, it wasn’t for us. We’d write along at the same level for a while, then get a sudden insight and improve a lot, so that the quality of one book was much improved from the previous two or three.

When we finished writing Linesman we thought it one of the best things we’d written to date. But not the best. It was one of three novels we wrote around the same time which were on a par, writing-wise.

It’s definitely the best now, because it’s been through three major rewrites since.

When we sent Linesman off to our agent we thought it was pretty good. Our agent made suggestions and we re-wrote chunks of it. After she started sending it out and we got feedback from editors we re-wrote it again. Then, once a publisher took it on, our editor made further suggestions and we rewrote once more.

While the base story is the same, there have been some massive changes to a story we thought was good enough to send out. We have learned a lot from our agent and editor’s input. We hope to use what we have learned to improve our stories in the future.

But your writing doesn’t always improve. The first story we wrote after we got our agent (which our agent hasn’t seen) wasn’t very good. Sometimes you slide backward in ability before you start to climb again.

That’s not to say the story isn’t better than, say, Barrain, which is nearly ten years old. Because it is. It’s much, much better. Even we, biased authors that we are, can see that. It’s just that we can also see it clearly needs more work to fix than the book we have just finished.

That’s probably the best part. That we can see it needs more work. Five years ago we probably couldn’t have seen that.

Combined, we’ve done our million words, or close to it. Over that time, our writing has improved. It just hasn’t been the continual ‘always improving’ that we expected it to be.

Posted in Writing general, Writing process

Arted my hardest

If you read Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, you’ll recognise the quote in the heading. It comes from a recent post of his on why you should write what you love.

Chuck’s big on lists, and he gives five reasons for writing what you love, rather than writing what you think the market wants. Read the whole list here—Chuck words it better than I can.

He makes valid points:

  • Don’t write for the market because what the market wants is the stuff you can’t predict, and the stories that start market trends are generally those written by people who wrote what they wanted to
  • You write better when you’re allowed to write what you want and what you enjoy
  • Because you were passionate about writing it, the reader is more likely to enjoy reading it
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed as a writer. Why do something you may not succeed at if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing?

But it’s his last reason that struck a particular chord with me.

  • Everyone dies in the end. What do you want on your gravestone?

Made mediocre art she didn’t much like because she thought that’s what someone else wanted her to do


Arted the hardest …

I know which one I’d prefer.

Posted in Writing general

Expendables 3

I’m a sucker for the Expendables movies, even though I’m sure half the references go over my head. There’s something about Barney Ross and his pals that hits a chord.

Maybe it’s the way the characters laugh at themselves, at the way they laugh (in a good way) about the characters that made them famous. Maybe it’s the banter between them. The set-piece fights are glorious—hopelessly impossible in real life of course, but lots of fun anyway.

And, of course, the names. If ever you want to name-drop, get yourself into an Expendables movie. You’ll be working with some of the best-known action movie stars.

I also love the way they deal with aging. They don’t pretend they’re not getting old, but they kick butt anyway.

If they were books you would reread them over and over and get more out of each reread. You’d have favourite quotes.

“Get out of the seat … Christmas is coming.”

“But it’s only June.”

Yes, we went and saw Expendables 3 yesterday. Enjoyed it too. Even the final fight worked for me. (Not like last time.)

It was good fun.

Posted in Movies
October 2014
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