Saturday, 19 April 2014

Lightness and melancholy

Today, I'm going to take one of my regular little excursions into the world of music.

I know - for someone who is supposed to be a writer, I seem to veer off into musical territory quite a bit. Truth is, I'd really love to be a muso. Unfortunately, a fairly complete lack of musical talent, coupled with a (supposed) talent in the writing area pushed me this way instead. Still, in my writing, I like to take inspiration from the musical side.

Anyway, the subject for this post was inspired by a music review a read in a newspaper a few years back. Can't remember what paper. Can't even remember what album (or band) was being reviewed. But it did make a point that has kind of stuck with me.

It talked about the idea of mixing lightness and melancholy to create music that was both engaging and bright while having a kind of inner depth. And it got me thinking about the kind of music I like, and how that is something I could say for a lot of it. Bands like Crowded House or R.E.M. (I know, I'm definitely showing my age and era) seemed to be masters of this style, making their music so engaging on so many levels. Even a supposedly hard rock band like Cold Chisel had an under-appreciated talent for mixing these two modes in a lot of their most enduring material.

Which leads back to the writing. I'm not sure it's particularly conscious but I can see how the lightness and melancholy thing fits a lot of my writing. Even though most of my writing could be broadly cast as humour, there is that somewhat melancholy thread to it.

I think particularly of the adventures of my good friend, Neville Lansdowne. He has odd adventures and meets very peculiar people. But there is another side to these stories as well. He's often alone, in strange and unfamiliar circumstances, particularly at the beginning. I think it's this touch of melancholy that adds a bit of depth and (dare I say) humanity to what would otherwise be strange and whacky stories.

I could apply this to other stories, such as Magnus Opum, where Magnus is struggling to understand the world he lives in, and who are and aren't his friends. He often feels sad and alone as he negotiates his adventure. And it's also there in my new picture book (out in just a few weeks) Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle. The turtle is both a comic figure but also at times a sad one too.

So there you have another one of my theories. Lightness and melancholy. It works a treat in music. And it's a really effective thing to include in a story as well. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

What goes onto the back of the book?

One of the questions that we authors often face in interviews (or wherever) is "How long have you been a writer). For me, it's quite easy to answer. I actually have the evidence. Let me explain.

I started writing books when I was about five. I know, because I still have the books. Well, when I say "books" I mean pieces of paper stapled together, but for a five year old, I reckon that totally counts as a legitimate book.

I used to write books about everything. If I spent a day out at the park, I wrote a book about it. If I went on a family outing, I wrote a book about it. Whatever happened in my life would be the inspiration for a book (to be honest, I'm not sure things are any different now).

These books were generally scrawly drawn pictures (hey, I said I was a writer - I never said I was an artist) with a minimum of text (hey, I was five years old). However, there was one thing I always put a heap of effort into. The back covers.

Then (as now) I saw the back cover of my books as a wonderful marketing opportunity (not that I knew what marketing opportunities were back then). Inspired I think by Little Golden Books, I used to draw the covers of all my other books onto each back cover. Which ultimately led to a problems.

With every book that I wrote, I had more books I had to add to the back cover. But not only that. I also had to go back to every other book I'd written so I could add my new book to their back covers. This began to get pretty time-consuming. After a while, I think I was spending significantly more time updating back covers than I was writing new books. Some of the later books were barely more than two pages in length. I'm pretty sure this is what ultimately ended my first attempt at becoming a writer.

This came back to my recently, after I put out my last novella, Scrawling. Now being so aware of the potential for marketing in a book's back matter, I spent quite a bit of time not only placing information about my other books into it but also going back to the other books to add info about Scrawling. It gave me a very strange feeling of deja-vu.

Funny how the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

But today I'm going to be myself

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about how sometimes I've thought about being someone else, or using a different name for my public persona as a writer. That's why there's a touch of irony in what I'm about to announce.

For the last three years, the title of this blog has been Dag-Lit Central. I thought it was a kind of fun idea - maybe even a bit of a conversation starter. And yes, it did actually start one or two conversations. But not a lot more than that.

I'm now moving into a new phase in my career (or whatever you want to call it) as a writer. My focus is less on self-publishing and more on working with publishers - especially with the re-release of Magnus Opum now hopefully only a few weeks away, and Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle due out in mid May. So I think it's time to say goodbye to Dag-Lit Central. From now onwards, I'm putting my own name up in lights and proudly proclaiming myself. You'll see there's a new link to access this site, and a new title to go along with it.

It doesn't mean I'll be changing too much. I'll still be just as daggy as before. I'll still try to write stories and posts that will put a smile on your face and maybe get you to see things a little bit differently. But I'll do that under my own name. I feel kind of proud about it.

Anyway, the good news is, the old Dag-Lit Central link will continue to work for a while. I'm not sure what will happen to this site next. It's likely there will be some upgrading, but I'm hoping it will never get too slick. I'd like to keep this as a fun, down-to-earth kind of place where I can talk about my books and other stuff that interests (or obsesses) me.

It's all a little bit exciting. Hope you have a great week too. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Fame has looked me in the eye - and then walked away

I'm not famous. Not even close. Not even close to close.

Would I like to be famous? To be honest, I'm not sure. I would like to be successful. I would like to be able to do the things I like to do (which is primarily writing I suppose) well enough that I could make a good living out of them. I don't need to be rich. And I certainly don't have any desire to be mobbed by fans every time I go to the shop to buy a loaf of bread. So if that's what being famous means, I'm not sure if it's for me.

Sometimes, I like to reflect on those moments when fame has approached a little bit close. Being in Australia, I don't often get an opportunity to have access to the most famous of the famous. But I have had a few moments.

A number of those have involved sports stars (and here in Australia, that's kind of up at the top rung of famousness). As a kid, while shopping for a cricket bat, I was once served by a footballer who is often spoken about as the finest player of his era (yes, back in the '80s, even the best Australian footballers needed day jobs). I never ended up buying the bat, but I did get to feel very connected to a genuine sporting great.

Speaking of footballers, one of my physical education teachers at school was the captain of one of the top grade football teams. And a hell of a nice fellow to boot. Years later, my family ambushed him at an awards night and even with the cameras clicking, he was happy to stop for a moment and say g'day.

I've had my moments in the writing sphere as well. I guess the biggest one was actually getting close to one of my real heroes as a writer, the late (and lamented) Douglas Adams. It was at a literary lunch many years ago and the highlight was definitely when I got him to sign my old and dog-eared edition of Hitch-Hikers Guide. It's still a prized possession.

It's nice to think that somebody like myself can have these little brushes with fame. Who knows, maybe one day people will be excited to have lunch with me, and they'll line up to get my (admittedly rather pathetic and scrawly) autograph on their copy of one of my books.

Like I say, I have no great desire to be famous, but it would be kind of nice. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sometimes I've thought about being someone else

I don't love my name. I suppose over the years I've kind of gotten used to it. But still, there are times when it irks me.

Firstly, it's too long. Three syllables is far too many for something as simple as a name. I think two is fine, and one would be even better.

Secondly, nobody seems to know how to spell it. You wouldn't believe the number of different combinations there are out there. O's instead of A's, and H's cropping up in all sorts of strange places. And the worst part is, because people have no idea how to spell it, there are now kids being born who officially have their name spelt incorrectly. It's extremely frustrating.

Thirdly, it seems to be one of those names that is always used for nerdy sorts of characters. I have no idea why. There doesn't seem to be anything inherently nerdy about it (except possibly its length). But whenever you have a character who wears glasses and a vest and long socks under shorts, he always seems to be called Jonathan.

In my younger years, I have thought of changing it. In my older years, I've thought of coming up with a pseudonym, just for the writing.

I've considered using my middle name, David, which I think is a good, solid, easy to spell, and not too long kind of name. David Gould. I could just see it on those book covers. Has a nice ring to it.

I've also thought of being a bit more creative. I've thought of reversing the name and then messing around with it a bit, so it sounded kind of presentable. The result I came up with was Nathan Ojdluog.  Doesn't sound too bad. Little bit exotic. For a while, I thought it might have some potential.

But in the end, I went with my name as given. I can't even tell you why. Maybe I've become a bit more used to it over the years. Maybe I really wasn't that imaginative. Or maybe, it's because I feel like my books are a big part of me, and I wanted to be able to identify myself with them as fully as I could.

No idea really. In the end, whether they were written by Nathan or David or Jonathan, they're still the same books. I hope you like them. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Words are my playthings

I'm a great big kid at heart.

Not that that should come as any great surprise to you. I'm kind of banging on about it all the time. What it does mean though is that, like any big kid, I like to play. And the things I like to play with the most are words.

Words are great. They're the best toys that anybody could have to play with. There are so many different things you can do with them. They're so flexible and malleable. As a writer, there's nothing more fun than figuring out the different sorts of games I can play with them. In fact, that's pretty much the theme of the most recent book I published, Scrawling.

Obviously, one of the most basic things you can do are simple puns. I love puns. I'm constantly making up puns.And the more groan-inducing they are, the better. In fact, many people say that spending too much time with me is sheer pun-ishment (cue loud groan).

It's actually funny how, when I looked back through my books, I noticed there actually weren't a lot of puns in there. I was really pleased to rectify that in Scrawling, where puns play quite a substantial role in at least one chapter.

Beyond the meaning of words, sometimes it's just fun to play with the sounds of words. That's where writing within the genre of fantasy can be especially rewarding. It's a genre where making up new words is not just accepted, it's actually pretty much demanded. I'm always having fun making words up. Words for new characters, or strange locales, or any kind of fantastical element or custom. Sometimes I'll try to come up with something where the sounds of the syllables in the word reflect somehow on what that word is describing. But other times, I'll just bang my fingers on the keyboard and see what comes up. Sometimes, the more unpronounceable, the better.

There's one other game in particular that I like to play - spoonerisms. I'll often just throw them into ceneral gonversation. I like to see the looks on people's faces as they gradually figure it out. I even managed to use it (sort of) for a book title. Magnus Opum is I suppose some sort of reverse spoonerism, where it's the last letters in the words that are swapped, rather than the first.

There are lots of other different types of games you can play with words - the fun never ends. Hopefully, you'll also have a bit of time for fun this week. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Book blitz with Dan O'Brien

Today Dag-Lit Central is being taken over by Dan O'Brien as part of the book blitz for his new new illustrated fantasy short complete with giant socks, a leprechaun, and an old man as the protagonist..


You’re never too old to have one more adventure 

Brought to life by Steve Ferchaud’s vibrant drawings, this story for all ages by Dan O’Brien lets us know that it is never too late to have one more adventure. 


An Excerpt:


Robert Pendleton opened one eye as the light of a passing car flashed over the window, shattering the darkness into prisms. He rolled onto his back on the beat-up couch and yawned as he reached his hands up and rubbed his eyes unceremoniously. 

He looked out over the darkness at the digital clock. The red digits spelled out a quarter ‘til midnight––nearly fourteen hours of sleep. He smiled and grabbed one of the cushions of the couch, burying his head in it. Just enough sleep, he reminded himself. Robert felt that anything less than twelve hours of sleep was very nearly too little. 

He grasped blindly for the TV remote. 

Groaning as he lifted his head, he looked at the empty table––his eyes drawn by another flash of a passing car. He couldn’t see clearly, but he knew that the remote had been there before he had fallen asleep nearly half a day ago. 

“Could have sworn….” he mumbled as he pushed himself up and brushed his hand around the top of the table, finding nothing. “Where did….”

Another groan escaped his lips as he lifted his body to a sitting position and threw aside the cluster of pillows that he had gathered around himself. He reached out for the lamp, but instead knocked it to the floor with a resounding thud. 

Robert muttered as he stood up from the couch, and then sank to his knees to search around in the darkness for the fallen lamp. Reaching around on the shadowed floor, shards of the broken lamp scattered like pieces of light. 

He turned his head, peering beneath the large space underneath the couch and saw the reflection of the buttons on the remote. The off-gray piece of machinery was underneath the couch––only darkness lingered beyond it. He reached out as he spoke again. 

“How did it get all the way down there?” 

Robert flexed his hand and strained as he twisted his back to reach farther; yet, the remote remained just out of reach. He pulled his arm away with a huff and craned his neck to the side, staring underneath into the darkness below the couch. 

His eyes widened as he saw the impossible: there was something beyond the remote. He shook his head and closed his eyes, whispering to himself that he didn’t see what he thought he had.

“I saw a little man,” he whispered to himself as he opened his eyes once more and nearly gasped as he did so. 

The figure was closer now and he could make out the outline clearly. A tiny man rested just beyond the remote. 

“What in the name of…?”

“Not here in the name of nobody, laddie. I be a friend though,” crooned the miniscule figure as he interrupted Robert and stepped forward, placing a hand on the darkened and slick surface of the remote. 

A tam-o’-shanter crested his bright red hair, the shaggy mane blending perfectly into his equally crimson, neatly trimmed, beard. 

A billow of whitish smoke drifted from the long-stemmed pipe that he held clenched between his lips. 

Robert fell back and knocked aside the adjacent table. Rubbing his eyes, he spoke a single word: “Leprechaun.”



About the Author:


Dan O’Brien, founder and editor-in-chief of The Northern California Perspective, has written over 20 books––including the bestselling Bitten, which was featured on Conversations Book Club’s Top 100 novels of 2012. Before starting Amalgam, he was the senior editor and marketing director for an international magazine. In addition, he has spent over a decade in the publishing industry as a freelance editor. You can learn more about his literary and publishing consulting business by visiting his website at: www.amalgamconsulting.com. Contact him today to order copies of the book or have them stocked at your local bookstore. He can he reached by email at amalgamconsulting@gmail.com



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