Thursday, 26 March 2015

This is the best post I've ever written

It's hard to believe, but I've been doing this blog thingy for almost four years.

That's four years of insightful observations and hard-hitting revelations and general fluffy blah.

When I first started, I really had no idea about what I was doing. Every week, I would think, "What on earth can I come up with to post on my blog?" I was scrounging for ideas out of thin air. It really was a challenge.

Luckily, I'm a quick learner. I began to get better at generating ideas for posts. I also began to get better at getting a sense of good topics to blog about. I could look at my hits each week, and that would help to give me an idea of which posts were effective and which ones weren't.

Which has led me to the position I'm in today. After lots of practice and experience, lots of trial and error, even occasional pain and heartbreak, I have a really grand announcement to make today.

I'm proud to announce that this is the best blog post I've ever written.

Sure, I've written some doozies in the past, but I don't think any of them come near the standard I've reached today. This post is like a fine wine. It's like a glorious summer day. It's like winning the lottery, three weeks running.

Did you see that? Not just one, or even two, but three similes. That's what makes this post so great. It's absolutely jam-packed with brilliant literary devices. It's not just a blog post. It's a first-class Rolls Royce of literary invention.

Was that just a metaphor that I put in? To be honest, I'm not completely sure, but I'm happy to claim it. After all, this post really is the apex, the highest peak of my blogging career.

Is there anything else I can add to this post? Have I truly reached the extremes of excellence I've been aiming for? Mmmm, maybe I should stop now. I'd hate to think I was diluting this wonderfulness by adding too much extraneous material.

Wow. I'm quite out of breath now. This blogging thing really can be exhausting. After all this excitement, I really hope I can keep the amazing, incredible high standard up in my follow-up posts.

After all, I'd hate to think I've hit my peak too early.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I'm really unreliable - and you can rely on that

Just a little warning to anybody arriving at my site for the first time. Don't believe everything I say.

So how do you know which stuff I say you can believe and which stuff you can't? Well to be honest I have no idea. I'm not even sure if you can believe me when I say that you can't believe me.

That's the tricky bit. As a writer, I am in the business of making stuff up. I'm a professional storyteller, an inveterate and incorrigible fabricator. Everything that comes into my head, no matter how correct and verifiable in the beginning, inevitably ends up getting twisted and turned until it ends up being something completely different.

Did I just say that? Then maybe it's not even true. Maybe it's just something else that I've imagined.

This lack of clarity about where the truth lies can make life very interesting for a writer. Often, I'll use autobiographical details as the inspiration for a story. But as the reality of events gradually begins to be converted into the fiction of a story, the line between what actually happened and what I imagined happened starts to get very blurry indeed. After a while, I start to have no idea where the distinction between fiction and reality lies. I begin to exist in a strange nether world between the two.

Or maybe I don't. Maybe I just made that up too.

In the end, does it really matter? If the essential truth is retained, even if the details become substantially different, does that not mean that I'm still a faithful compiler of events?

Part of me says yes. I'm the sort of person who is very much into solid facts. If something happened, then it had to happen. The last thing we want to do is find ourselves down some kind of post-modern rabbit hole where fact and fiction become meaningless.

But another part of me disagrees. We can never be sure exactly what is fact and what is fiction. Memory is unreliable, and all our experiences are somehow mediated by our senses and influenced by our prejudices and expectations.

In the end, I'm not sure I can believe either of those parts of me.

So where does that leave me? I have no idea. If I'm stuck down some kind of post-modern rabbit hole, then I guess I better learn how to dig. Quickly.

All I can say is don't rely on anything that you've just read. And that's something you can rely on.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Life is too short - for pretty much anything

Life is annoying. Life is irritating and frustrating. Sometimes life just makes me want to tear my hair out and scream.

What are the aspects of life I find most frustrating? Is it the grand injustices that people suffer every day? Is it the violence and cruelty, or the greed and corruption that can leave our societies in such a mess?

Well no, not really. True, I'm not rapt about that stuff, but it all seems so big and scary and unmanageable that I mostly just blank it out. The things that really get my goat up, and make me grumpy and annoyed as I try to get through my day, are all the little things.

I might be reading in the paper about something terrible that happened over on the other side of the world and then maybe some major catastrophe might happen, like one of my kids spilling milk over the table. That's it. End of the world. I'll be furious, ranting and raving about what a disaster has just occurred. Or I'll be walking down the hallway, quietly musing about man's inhumanity to man, when I'll stub my toe on the metal strip that lines the edge of the carpet. Most likely, you'll hear me screaming in anger from the other side of the street.

At least that was the old me. The newer me is trying to look at things differently. True, I still find some of those really big things to be totally scary and unmanageable. But at least there's something I can do about the little ones. Okay, so I can't completely ignore them, but every time some little thing starts to drive my temperature up, I can breathe slowly or count to ten. Then I can say to myself, "Is it really that bad? Do I really have to get so worked up about it?"

Sure, it doesn't work all the time. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it's impossible not to feel my anger and annoyance starting to rise. But then there's always something else I can do. I can write about it. I can channel my anger and frustration into something more creative. I can even turn it into something fun.

Because let's face it, life is already too short. It barely seems to give you enough time to do all the things you really want to do. Do you really want to spend that time getting angry and annoyed and upset about things there's just no need to get angry and annoyed and upset about?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Life is too serious to take seriously

Life is serious. Seriously.

All sorts of terrible things happen all the time. Kids are abused. People lose their jobs and have no means of support. They might be victims of violence, or all sorts of brutality. The world is full of racism and sexism and lots of other not-so-good-isms.

Sometimes, I find it difficult just reading the paper, when I just have sadness and violence thrown in my face. How on earth are we meant to respond to all of this? What is the decent, honest, human way to deal with the general awfulness of a lot of life?

A lot of people take the burden onto themselves. They become involved as activists, or join up with organisations that support people in need, or volunteer for all sorts of different services, often putting their own lives at risk. That's great. I really admire people like that. But other people get overwhelmed with it all, or simply shut it out. Most of the time, I confess that's me. I suspect it's most of the rest of us as well.

In the end, the main strategy I have to engage with the general seriousness of the world is to write about it. But, you may say, isn't my writing largely humorous? Am I not primarily just trying to get people to laugh? Well, yes I am, but there's a bit more to it than that.

Humour is a big part of the way I deal with the seriousness of the world. I know, that seems to be a bit of a contradiction. How can you turn something serious into something funny? Isn't that just trivialising the very real suffering of others, just to get a laugh?

Well, yes and no. I agree that there is a lot of humour that can be quite trivialising, and personally I'm totally not into making fun of anyone disadvantaged. But there are other types of humour as well. Humour that helps you to see things in a new way. Humour that gets you to reconsider the way you view the world, and your preconceptions and prejudices. Humour that is about understanding there's only so much you can do, and putting on a brave face and getting on with things just the same.

To me, humour is a powerful thing. You can never be truly downtrodden if you're able to laugh, no matter how painful that laughter may be. It can bring people together, and maybe, in some small way, it can change the world for the better.

Because it truly is a serious world we live in. Far too serious to ever take too seriously.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

My mind is like the weather - I can never predict what it's going to do next

Hard to believe I've been writing this blog for almost four years now and I've never considered this topic before. After all, I live in Melbourne. Everybody knows that this is everybody's favourite topic of conversation here - and let's face it, given how much it changes all the time, it gives us an awful lot to talk about.

Anyway, after my usual agonising about what I can write about for this week's post, it hit me. I should do a post about the weather. Melbourne's weather is absolutely nuts. In a matter of hours, it can change from hot and sunny to cold and rainy, and then back again several more times (in fact, the Crowded House song "Four Seasons in one Day" was specifically written with Melbourne in mind).

So here we go. What can I possibly say about the weather in Melbourne. It's crazy. It's unpredictable. It seems completely irrational and nuts. A bit like... A bit like... A bit like me, to be honest.

That's when I had my great revelation. My mind is just like the weather in Melbourne. Like the weather, my mind seems to act in a completely irrational way. I can never predict what thought will pop up next. I have no idea whether it will lead me on towards sunny skies or clouds and rain, or some strange combination of the two.

As an example, sometimes I can be sitting on a tram (yes, that's another very Melbourne thing to do) and my mind will suddenly throw out three really great ideas in quick succession. Out of the blue. No prompting at all. An hour or so later, when I finally get organised enough to write those ideas down so I won't forget them (I admit I may have a problem with procrastination) my mind will remove them completely. Totally gone and never to be recovered.

It can be extremely frustrating having a Melbourne weather type mind. From day to day, it can be hard to predict how I'm going to function. Will I be effective and get stuff done, or will I just schlump around, getting nowhere. It's a bit like the quandary of going outside - when you can't decide whether to dress for sun or rain. It's just impossible to predict.

Mind you, after so many years, I suppose I've kind of gotten used to it. And like the weather here in Melbourne, at least it gives me something to talk about.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Finding Victor - guest post by Michael G. Munz

It's always a pleasure to be hosting another author, so today I'm looking forward to a visit from a fellow Booktrope author, Michael G. Munz. Hopefully he'll be a lot of fun to hang around with. I think I can hear him knocking on the door and...hang on a minute...Mike, what's that you're holding...

Well hi, everybody! You might have noticed that I am NOT Jonathan Gould. No, I haven't hijacked his blog. He's just a little tied up at the moment, and so he's offered me the pleasure of a guest post. The fact that I was the one who tied him up is immaterial. Whether or not there are live piranhas in that pool over which he's suspended really is not something you need concern yourself with. Rest assured, Jonathan will return, possibly even with all of his original fingers and toes. But I digress.

Given Jonathan's theme of stories that stand out from the crowd, I decided to share with you a little tale of my own. It's the first thing I ever wrote that won a contest and, like me, is probably more than a little weird. The contest in question was WritersWeekly.com's 24-hour Short Story Contest. Writers were given a first line and had 24 hours in which to spawn from it a 1,000-word story. What follows is my effort, which stood out from the crowd enough to take 2nd place.


Finding Victor


by Michael G. Munz

It had taken Tom almost an hour to scramble over the rocks to the hidden beach. He'd had to strap his metal detector to his back and he doubted many other treasure hunters would go to the same trouble. The rocks gave way to an expanse of sand and white driftwood bounded by a high, tree-spotted cliff.

Starting at the water line, he swept the detector back and forth. On his fifth pass, it gave a strong beep. Whatever it was, it was reasonably large and buried two feet beneath the sand. Jackpot! Tom pulled out his collapsible spade and began to dig. 

"Reckon ya got somethin', do ya?"

The voice started Tom so much that he nearly drove the spade into his foot. He turned to see an elderly stranger standing a few yards away. Whoever he was, the old man must have liked white. Everything he wore on his short, slight frame—sandals, shorts, T-shirt, even the umbrella he clutched to block the sun—was white.

"Ah, hello," Tom managed through his disappointment. "I thought I was alone." At least the man had no metal detector.

"Oh, no," the man remarked absently. "No, no, not alone."

"I'm not trespassing, am I? I mean, I didn't think this was a private beach."

The man chuckled. "Oh, not trespassing. Not private. Go right along."

"Ah, good. Well, good day, then." Tom went back to digging in hopes that the man would wander off. He'd had spectators make fun of his hobby before. 

Instead, the stranger stepped closer. "Ever found anything good?"

Tom rolled his eyes as he dug. "Sometimes, yeah. It's not a waste of time, if that's what you're implying."

"Oh, didn't say it were! Or do you have to find the good stuff to be enjoyin' it?"

Head down, Tom continued to dig, watching the sand for signs of anything. "Doesn't hurt if I do..."

"Oh, sure, doesn't hurt, doesn't hurt. Always wondered what drives yer type ta be lookin' fer treasures that others've lost. Heads down ta the sand alls time. Now me, I'd be flyin' a kite. Ya see a lot more. Notice a lot more. See things comin'. Goin'."

Tom stood up with a scowl. "Where's your kite?"

The stranger just shrugged with a grin before checking his watch.

"You have somewhere to be?" Tom asked hopefully.

"Just here."

"Something happening here?"

"Oh, things happen everywhere, don't they?"

Tom let it go and turned back to his digging. Still the man continued to stand there. 

"It's funny."

Tom sighed, but kept digging. "What's funny?"

"How you types always know ta come here. ...Well, guess ya don't know, but ya do it anyway."

"Yeah, isn't that interesting." He cared more about what was beneath the sand than whatever the man was talking about at that point.

"Then 'gain, suppose if ya knew, you lot wouldn't come at all. Or maybe ya would. Some people gets tired of it all, don't they?"

"I'm getting tired of something," muttered Tom. He'd nearly dug deep enough.

"Had a good day?" the man continued. "Kiss yer wife, tell 'er you love 'er? Kids? Family? Friends?"

Tom kept digging without speaking. Within moments his spade struck metal, and he switched to using his hands. 

"No? Oh, shame, shame. Always ought ta do that. 'Every day like it's yer last,' they say. 'Course, they also say 'Don't talk ta strangers,' and I never understood that one. Guess no one's perfect."

The old man sat down and, to Tom's relief, ceased his jabbering as Tom swept the sand away from his find. Whatever it was, it was black, long and cylindrical. He kept digging, following the shaft to where it lay beneath some buried white sticks of driftwood. Puzzled, Tom went the other direction where the shaft met a familiar rectangular casing. With a theory growing in his mind, he uncovered more until he saw the tiny screen and was certain. He laughed with surprise.

It was another metal detector.

Yet how had it gotten buried there with the driftwood? It only took a moment's closer look at the "wood" for him to realize what he'd really found. He leaped back in horror. 

"Somethin' wrong, is it?" said the man.

Tom pointed to the hole. "Bones! There's a skeleton with a metal detector down there!"

The man remained unimpressed. "Yep. Was Victor, I reckon. Came here ta die couple o' years ago. Leastways, I think that was 'is name."

Tom stared. "WHAT?"

The old man smiled. "Victor. Brain tumor's what got 'im, I recall."

Tom looked back and forth from the skeleton to the man. "Tumor? You mean he just...died right here on the sand?"

The stranger nodded. "Looked surprised, too. 'Course, most o' ya look surprised when it happens. Not right sure what brings ya here. Guess it's some sorta instinct."

Tom stepped back, appalled. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "There's OTHERS?" 

"'Course there's others." The man smiled as if Tom had just asked if the sky was blue. "What'd ya expect to find, coming' to a place that's so bloomin' hard ta get to? All that's here's dead treasure hunters. Secret treasure hunter burial ground! Just like elephants, 'cept diff'rent. Somehow ya all knows ta come here when yer 'bout ta die." A stabbing pain shot through Tom's left arm and he suddenly felt light-headed. The old man cocked his head. "Ya did know ya were 'bout ta die, didn't ya?"

Tom clutched his heart in pain. The last thing he saw as he fell was the sand rushing up to meet him. 

As the ocean breeze tugged at his umbrella, the stranger looked down at Tom's lifeless body with a chagrinned grunt. "Pity. Forgot ta get 'is name. Ah, well." Tom's spade lay in the sand where he'd dropped it. He closed his umbrella, took the spade, and began to dig Tom's grave. "Least they always brings their own shovel."

The End
-----

So, yeah, I'm a wee bit strange, but show me a writer who isn't and I'll show you a writer who's hiding something. And now, if you'll excuse me, I should really see what that big splash was in the piranha room.

Michael G. Munz is a Seattle sci-fi/fantasy author. His comedic fantasy, Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, was published by Booktrope in July. Michael can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and at www.michaelgmunz.com.



Thursday, 12 February 2015

Time to change the frequency

I had a revelation the other day.

I have them every so often. Mostly it's nothing particularly earth shattering. But occasionally I think to myself, "Hey, that's kind of interesting. I wonder if anybody ever thought of that before."

I was in my car. I was listening to the radio. I was listening to a station I wanted to listen to. I also had kids in my car. They weren't so keen on listening to the station I was listening to. Of course, I didn't end up listening to that station for too much longer.

Thinking about that experience made me think about the whole idea of different radio stations, broadcasting on different frequencies. It made me think of the numerous times I try to talk to my kids and they completely fail to pay attention to me. No matter how loudly or insistently I speak, there's no way I can batter my way into their consciousness as they continue to chat away together. And that's when I realised it.

My kids and I are on different radio frequencies. They're communicating on one radio frequency, and I'm communicating on another one entirely. That's why they are completely incapable of tuning in to what I'm saying. Every so often, we find a cross frequency that works (usually when the words chocolate, ice cream, or pizza are involved), but mostly we're on completely different wavelengths.

This got me thinking about the whole frequency thing (I know, I've said before that thinking is one of my bad habits). What about all those other times when people fail to understand each other? What about people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, or religious people vs non-religious people. We're all talking to each other. We actually seem to be speaking the same language. And yet, we're broadcasting on completely different frequencies from each other. It's no wonder we never seem to actually engage with what we're saying.

So what can we do about this? I'm not sure I have an answer (which I find very frustrating because I'm a problem-solving kind of guy). We certainly don't want to end up with just one frequency. Imagine if there was only one station you could listen to on the radio - how boring would that be. But maybe, we can try to make the time to change our "stations" every now and again, and try to listen to something on another frequency, even if we think we're not going to like it.

No idea what the outcome might be, but at least it's a neat sounding metaphor, and I love a good metaphor as much as the next writer.

Till next week, hope your frequency is a good one.