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.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Oh where oh where did my concentration go?

I used to be really good at concentrating. I used to be able to give myself a task and set my mind to it, and then spend a good period of concentrated time, focussing on the task and nothing else.

When I used to write, I could often go for several hours. I could easily knock out well over a thousand words in a session, and often twice as much. To be honest, anything below 1500 would really be regarded as sub-par.

Similarly so for when I used to read a lot. I could spend hours lost in a good book. Seems like I never had trouble spending a whole day, happily relaxed on a couch and lost in the plot.

These days, things are really different. Whenever I do devote some time to a book, I always find myself getting impatient. I always want to jump ahead to see what happens next, rather than be content to find things out when it's time to find them out. Sometimes, I even (shock horror) don't get around to actually finishing the book.

When it comes to writing, things are even worse. Gone are those marathon sessions when I could churn out several thousand words. These days, a good writing session is (sob) 500 words. That's right, a mere 500. And even that seems like a battle. I'm constantly checking word counts, to see if I've reached that magical number. Maybe I'll rearrange a sentence to make it a bit wordier, just so I can up the count. And when I do get to my 500 for the day, it's always with a great sense of relief that I save the document and shut it down. Look at me. I've achieved my writing goal. It may be kind of puny, but at least I've achieved something.

I'm not even sure who I'm supposed to blame for this sad loss of concentration. Is it because I'm getting older, and my brain finds it harder to focus on things for extended lengths of time? Is it the stress of my work, which forces me to spend most of my day on a computer, thus dramatically reducing my tolerance for off-work screen time? Is it family, and the constant distraction it brings? Is it the internet, with its whirl of redundant information constantly being thrown in my face? Or is it simply the stress of dealing with modern life, with all its complexities?

Whatever it is, it can be damn frustrating. I yearn for the old days, when I was able to get so much done, and writing wasn't a battle to steal short snippets of time.

In the meantime, I think I've spent long enough writing this post, so goodbye.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Things I'm not good at

One thing I really love about internet-land is the amount of wisdom that's out there. So many people are so good at so many things, and they're so happy to share it. People are always putting up useful information about how to do this and how to do that. It can be extremely useful.

As for me, well I'm not so great at so many things. I'm not really in a position to be giving anyone instructions on what to do. Which leaves me with a constant challenge, because I need to figure out stuff to put into my blog each week.

Anyway, I figured that I maybe there aren't that many things I'm good at, but there sure are a lot of things I'm not good at. And because, as far as I'm concerned, one of the main purposes of the internet is to share stuff, I'm now going to share you you a bunch of things that I'm definitely not good at.

1. I'm not good at playing guitar. Actually, I'm not that bad at playing guitar. I can belt out a few simple chords. But I'm definitely not good at it either. Whenever I pick up my guitar, my kids go running in the opposite direction. If you should ever see any tips on how to play guitar from me, do not pay any attention to them.

2. I'm not good at singing. Unlike the guitar thing, I'm just really, really bad at it. I'm especially bad at singing while I'm playing the guitar. All wildlife in a 20 km radius clears out at the very thought of it.

3. Blowing my own trumpet. Seems like everyone else on the internet i running around saying how great they are. As for me, well, I suppose all you have to do is read this post to see that I tend to take a slightly different approach.

Anyway, I could go on and on about being not good at lots of other things, but I guess I need a bit of time to actually be not good at those things. So anyway, for now, signing off.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

I know things are getting past me when I can't even put a band-aid on

I had an earth shattering experience the other day. One of those moments when you know the world has changed and you're not sure it's for the better.

It began very simply. I cut my finger. Not all that badly, but it was one of those fiddly cuts right on the end of my finger, where it tends to bleed quite a lot. Also, I was in the middle of washing the dishes when it happened (of course, washing the dishes was actually how it happened. Or to be exact, washing one of those new-fangled clever cutting thingies which we seem to accumulate in our kitchen). Obviously, I wanted to get it cleaned up and sealed up as quickly as possible, so I could get back to finishing the dishes.

So I run down to the bathroom and grab a band-aid. I have to give my finger a bit of a wipe because it was soaking wet, and everybody knows that you can't put a band-aid on a wet finger. When I get it suitably dry, I rip the paper off the band-aid and I go to put it on my finger. This is where the trouble started.

I couldn't figure it out. The band-aid was different to the simple, old-fashioned ones I was used to. It seemed to have tabs sticking out all over the place. I pulled and prodded and ripped and tugged and eventually managed to get the various tabs off, but by this point the whole thing had stuck to itself (as band-aids do).

I groaned and tossed it in the sink, and then tried another. Same deal. I couldn't for the life of my figure out how to get these band-aids to work. And all the while, my finger is dripping blood all over the sink.

Finally, after I think I'd tossed out about five, I managed to get a band-aid onto my finger. And then, because I wasn't actually able to apply it very well, I added a second, and a third. In the end, rather than a small cut, it looked like I'd chopped half my finger off.

But here's the thing. Since when were band-aids so hard to put on? I remember when I was a kid, I had no trouble putting band-aids on. But now, someone has invented a new and improved band-aid which is impossible to use.

To me it's a sign. A sign of a world I no longer understand? A sign of a world which, to me, is just a little more bonkers than it used to be. When I'm no longer able to do something simple, like put a band-aid on, I know that things are really starting to get past me.

Have a good week - and please be careful if sharp cutting things.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

You've heard about the grapevine. Well I'm a grape

People love to gossip. I'm a person. Therefore, logically, it makes complete sense to admit that I like to gossip too.

And I do. Give me a bit of juicy news and I'm more than happy to pass it on to someone else, or even lots of someone else's, as quickly as I can. Unfortunately, there's just one problem with this little arrangement.

When talking about gossiping, people often refer to the grapevine. You know, the tangled links from contact to contact that ensure a message quickly gets spread far and wide.  So as far as capacity to gossip goes, it's your position on the grapevine that defines everything.

If you're right in the middle of the grapevine, with links going off in every possible direction, then you're sure to be in the thick of things. Not only will you be receiving lots of really great gossip, but you'll be more than capable of spreading the word by passing it on to many, many others.

Those people who are not quite so close to the centre will find it a bit more of a challenge. Sure, you'll get the news eventually, but you won't have quite so many people left to pass it on to. Still, as long as you're somewhere on the grapevine, you'll still have some capacity to be involved in the gossip-spreading business.

Which leads to me.

I know exactly where I sit on the grapevine. I'm a grape. And we all know where the grapes are positioned. They're right at the ends of the branches. Once the gossip has reached the grape, it's got nowhere else to go.

That's exactly how I feel about my position when it comes to gossip. Almost inevitably, I'm the last person to find out. Sure, the news does reach me eventually, but by then, it's pretty old and stale. But of course, part of the fun of gossip is spreading it on, and this is where the biggest problem is. You can bet for sure that by the time I've find out about anything, pretty much everybody else already knows it. There's absolutely nobody left to tell.

So that's me and gossip. I like the idea in principle, but when it comes to my ability to be involved, I'm pretty much stuck. Still, there are times when being a grape isn't so bad. I wouldn't say no to a nice drop of red in the evening.

Have a good week.