I’m moving… (also Technologically Illiterate)

So… I’ve moved on to a new address.

This is awkward… What’s it been, like, 6 months? You’re looking well… How’s your family?

I took a hiatus from the blog in order to buy my own URL and get it up and running as my own website. Due to extreme incompetence on my part  this took forever. I had to enlist a techie friend to help and even then I couldn’t get the url I wanted. But I’ve grown to love my hyphen. Much like the misunderstood semi-colon, this faithful punctuation mark is a constant companion in my literary woes.

I won’t be posting here any more. I’m going to try and set up a redirect in case anyone still visits this but in case it doesn’t work (as previously stated I am technologically illiterate) the address is http://www.katie-mcdermott.com/

Little things ended up being far more complicated than I thought they would be, then I had to gussy up my novel to submit to agents (still waiting to hear back from three of them) and then real life intervened in a spectacularly dramatic fashion and I’m only getting the writing back on track now. So I resolve that posts will be semi-reliable from here on out

Some quick updates:

I am now writing for Three Monkeys Online and have an article on Flann O’Brien and an interview with Mary Costello up with two more articles waiting in the wings.

I also did a CELTA course to teach English as a foreign language so should be spending more time up in the Big Smoke. It also means I’m a certified Grammar Nazi

Heil Spellcheck

I passed my Masters in Creative Writing and have been working on shorter fiction for the past while. The Waiting Place is wallowing because the beautiful temptress of a new novel keeps dancing in my peripheral vision. I will launch a new onslaught on it and aim to have a draft finished in May.

That’s about it. So… fancy a pint?

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REVIEW: My Summer Reads

So I recently spent a week abroad. I don’t do so good on sun holidays because I burn easily enough in Ireland and I like doing stuff instead of lying down, which I do quite frequently at home for free. Prior to leaving I was told I could only bring five books to keep me going because the bags would be too heavy, they’d cost extra, I’d make someone else carry them, blah blah blah. So I brought four books and my kindle (fight the system!). Here are some micro-reviews of the ones I read.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

This is a Pratchett’s first foray into sci-fi since he wrote Strata back in 1981. It is about parallel universes and the travel between them. Pratchett and Baxter manage to get around the complicated confusing plots of certain other authors I could mention by making these worlds uninhabited by humans. Our earth is a freak or ‘Joker’ earth where humans evolved. Across the Long Earth sentience is quite rare but there are lots of interesting versions of the world out there and the absence of humans lets the authors explore more interesting topics, such as what happens once resources become infinite? The technology to travel, or ‘step’ to these other earths is very very cheap. What happens when anyone can get gold or land or anything they need right next door for free? And next door to that, and that… The book ends on a hell of a cliffhanger though so while I’m waiting for the next one I think I’ll have to read more of this Baxter guy.

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve meant to read more of Palahniuk since I read Fight Club. Marla Singer is more messed up in the book than she is in the film but she doesn’t hold a candle to Shannon McFarland. Invisible Monsters deals with a supermodel who becomes severly disfigured and her various methods for dealing (or failing to deal) with both this and her pre-existing insecurities. There are plenty of twists and funny moments, particularly with Shannon’s parents. The book deals a lot with reinvention and plays with identity and gender – particularly with transgender characters and the hyper-sexualisation of the modelling world. Another major theme is self-destruction and self-mutilation. Because of her deformity she is quite literally the silent protagonist. It’s no Fight Club but definitely worth a read (particularly the remix version) .

WARNING: I can take a lot of gore in books – not so much in films, but in books usually nothing is too gruesome for me – and there’s a scene in this book that made me physically ill. I had to stop reading get some fresh air and cancel my plans for the evening. Not for the faint hearted.

The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard

This one was a bit of a struggle. The premise was great: global warming has been accelerated exponentially due to solar flares and the equator has become uninhabitable. The book follows a team of scientists at the borders of the uninhabitable zone studying the ecology and trying to find a way to delay or at least document the advance of the floods. This is hard sci-fi and is very well written for the first half. The narrator is compelled by this drowning world and the book has quite a few Heart of Darkness moments as the environment’s devolution parallels that of the characters. However the imagery is endless (there are only so many ways to describe a lagoon before it gets boring) and while beautifully written the plot stagnates at points. He spends quite a lot of time hammering home his themes as well which makes the already introspective character a bit too detached for me. I reckon if it had been told in the first person he could have avoided most of these pitfalls. I stopped in the middle to read other books so when events accelerated near the end I found it hard to get into again. But it’s only 170 pages long so definitely worth a try.

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

So after all the hype around Slaughterhouse Five I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t a war novel. The Western World obsesses over WWII to the neglect of all other tragedies so I definitely wasn’t thrilled to be reading yet another book about it. I’ve read a lot of excellent holocaust narratives and this one starts out very blandly. The first chapter is a bit tedious but then the time travel and alien abduction starts. This has nice parallels with Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil as both stories try to discover new ways to talk about trauma and the answer unanimously seems to be evasion and surrealism. It’s an excellent book that plays with narrative conventions. Now I finally know where the phrase ‘So it goes’ comes from and why so many people get it as a tattoo. Vonnegut repeats this phrase to provoke every emotion under the sun in reaction to death, highlighting how omnipresent it is.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

I only got one chapter into this on the plane home so my opinion is still pending. But so far it’s pretty interesting. Standard enough sci-fi opening (until a bit at the very end of the chapter which makes me think this one’s going to be pretty low on the Mohs scale) but told in a very compelling way. If it’s any indication of the way the rest of the book is written I’ll stick with him for the long haul.

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Writing Related Procrastination

I admit that these activities are only very tangentially related to writing but they’re two rather simple websites I’ve found that will give you incredibly true vital statistics about your work in progress that could change the course of your writing career

Lulu Titlescorer

It tells you the statistical likelihood of your novel becoming a bestseller based on the title alone. It also kindly points out a lot of it’s failures (Twilight only scored 36%) just so you know it’s authentic, fake programmes would never admit failure, right?

Rapeseed scored 63.7% and The Waiting Place only scored 10.2%. I guess that means it will fail, oh noes!

Media Bistro has loads of other procrastination tools writing aids to check out

Wordle

This creates word art with your MS based on the frequency each word is used. You can specify the colours, the font and other time wasting things like that. Here’s a randomised one I did for Rapeseed:

It’s also pretty handy for spotting any words you might be over using unconsciously, so it’s practically research! I could probably go back and cut out quite a lot of similes to downsize ‘like’ in this draft.

Go forth and procrastinate!

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Preliminary illustration for ‘Rapeseed’

My little younger sister sketched this the other day. She hasn’t finished reading Rapeseed yet but in the space of five minutes (no exaggeration) she doodled this. I got really excited and took a picture with my phone to put up here so I apologise for the poor picture quality. In a few minutes she summed up something that took me a year to write. Fantastic, no?

I love the way there are so few details on Eithne, my main character. I love the way the number 5 is falling away and the whole clock face is crumbling beneath her even though it’s the only thing that’s supporting her. I love how simple and graphic it is.  I have begun the query process with Rapeseed and The Waiting Place is well underway so having solid details like this help to remind that Rapeseed is still fairly new and fresh and I get excited all over again.

I’ll post more when she finishes it. Meghan won’t let me link to her Deviant Art account because she claims the stuff she posts there isn’t good enough, but I’ll back her up in saying that this is just a fraction of what she can do. You should see her Johnny Depp portraits! (And she’s almost six years younger than me, sickening when the young ‘uns are this talented isn’t it?)

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REVIEW: ‘Once More With Footnotes’ by Terry Pratchett

I don’t normally read short story collections. I read plenty of short stories but it’s only recently, since foraying into short story writing territory myself, that I find myself reading collections from cover to cover. I used to discriminate, read the shorter ones if I was pressed for time, or the title story, or the one that was recommended to me, or even just read the opening paragraphs of each until I found one I liked and stuck it out until the end. Now I seem to read them from cover to cover, as if they were a novel.

Once More with Footnotes is an odd book. It was published by the NESFA press in honour of Pratchett’s attendance as guest of honour at the 62nd discworld convention. It gathers together his short stories (including his first published story), speeches, introductions to other books and articles and journalism. I had actually read several of the short stories online before I became aware of the collection. As soon as I discovered it I immediately wanted to buy it, then discovered that there had only been three limited print runs back in 2004. Only a few thousand copies were printed (and when you sell books by the skip full like Pratchett that’s a meagre number). So then I got sad. After awhile though I rediscovered my ebay account and started bidding furiously on the few copies still in circulation. After spending a diriculous amount of money on one book (and I won’t say how diriculous) it was just a matter of waiting for weeks while ebay sorted itself out and delivered it. Having read only his novels for years it’s amazing to see what he can do with a much more contrained word count.

However the book has some flaws, which I’ll briefly discuss first:

  • His journalism becomes a case of ‘Read one, read them all’ after awhile. Being the prolific force of fantasy that he is he was frequently asked to write articles defining fantasy, explaining, fantasy, telling how he got interested in fantasy, advice to people writing fantasy, theories on fantasy… While the non-fiction end of the spectrum is well written it all gets a bit samey after awhile.
  • Some stories are longer than they needed to be. They weren’t really edited between their initial publication and being added into this collection so it’s fair enough that he was younger, less experienced etc. and overall it was a pretty brave move to leave them as tehy were.
  • His juvenalia really stands out as being stylistically different to the rest of the book, there’s a real sense of him struggling to figure out his voice and style. These early pieces are much more formal and don’t flow as well. (that being said they’re far better than anything I wrote when I was starting out, and better than most of what I write now. He had an insanely large vocabulary as a kid)
  • It’s hard to figure out what logic there is behind the order of pieces but there’s no real continuity or flow. It leads to a very disjointed reading experience. The little introductory notes he writes at the start of each piece, while often unnessecary, help maintain some kind of flow.

But the stories are awesome! Wow, I can barely keep myself from gushing about the first story ‘Hollywood Chickens,’ which was written as an ecological study of chickens and how they attempt to cross the road (but no-one can answer the all-important why)

There’s a brilliant Discworld story where an philosopher tries to outsmart Death (that’s the anthropomorphic personality that TALKS LIKE THIS), and a monologue featuring Death written as a transcript of a police interview.

There are some great Discworld moments such as Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax competing at the witching trials or when the Watch investigates the murder of a Punch and Judy stall owner.

There are also brilliant moments where we get to see what fantasy staples Pratchett might have turned to if The Colour of Magic had flopped. One example is the time travelling physicist named Mervin who gets stuck in Arthurian times and rigs up remotely controlled electromagnets to ensure only the person he deems appropriate will be able to pull the sword from the stone. Another is told from the point of view of a labourer on a monolith thousands of years ago trying to deal with a documentary film crew.

Overall Once More With Footnotes was worth the price for the fiction alone. It’s not a great place to start if you haven’t read Terry Pratchett though, I’d recommend picking a thread on this chart instead and just keep ploughing through those for awhile, but if you’ve read and loved everything he has to offer and are willing to spend a some moolah then this is a must have.

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My Writing Playlist

I find it difficult to write without music. This could be because my first successful serious attempt at writing took place last summer while I was still living at home.

I’d always dabbled in writing but I re-read Stephen King’s On Writing and decided to take his work ethic literally and write 2,000 words a day. Whatever anyone’s opinion on Stephen King you can’t say he didn’t work hard, especially when he was starting out. I was this ambitious because I was unemployed and had no financial commitments. I also took weekends off because I was an arts graduate dammit. That’s how we roll. So I had a goal of 10,000 words per week. At the same time I was reading Randy Ingermanson’s Fiction Writing for Dummies in which he recommends penalties for not reaching weekly writing goals. So I decided to forfeit €50 (of the money that I wasn’t earning) for every week I didn’t reach my goal. You’d be amazed at how well this motivates you.

But the fact remains that I was working at home which is less than ideal. My sister was sitting exams so I’d often hear her pop music (ew) from across the hall. During her breaks I’d hear her playing basketball incredibly loudly right underneath my window. There’d be interruptions from parents, the sound of lawnmowers, the dog barking, visitors talking downstairs or the train going by my house.

So rather than be distracted by random noises I couldn’t control I decided to have constant noise that I was in control of.

I can’t listen to every type of music at each stage of writing, I find different bands work better at different stages.

  • For Brainstorming and Research: Glam Rock. You can’t beat it. That and Hair Metal. Anything cheesy and upbeat really, 80s stuff, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Bowie, Motley Crue, KISS etc. etc. It really fosters creativity for some inexplicable reason.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by this?

  • Writing; 1st 2nd and 3rd drafts: Any Heavy metal really. I love Slipknot, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Marilyn Manson, Avenged Sevenfold. Anything heavy and loud enough (oh, and Pantera) to distract my inner censor or critic (and AC/DC, though they’re good for brainstorming too) from getting involved. When I write without music I keep going back, editing, second guessing everything (and Alice in Chains are awesome too) and never actually moving on. With music like this that critic’s voice is eliminated without, hopefully, deteriorating the actual quality of my writing. (And Tool) It’s fast enough to get a rhythm going too, When I listen to Metallica’s Master of Puppets album or Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind I can knock out 1,000 words an hour on good days. It has to be music I’m familiar with though. I’ve started listening to more Ozzy Osbourne recently and because I’m not as familiar with him (Korn have clawed their way back into my playlist too) I find myself stopping and listening to it, trying to hear the lyrics and just getting distracted. The same happened with Mastodon. (I can’t believe I almost forgot Stone Sour)

I’ve written some of my favourite scenes while listening to Bat Country on repeat

  • Revision, Editing and Polishing: while I occassionally like listening to Duke Special, Wallis Byrd and other folksyish acousticy stuff at this point I prefer instrumental things like Bach, the Montovani Orchestra, Yanni (don’t judge me!!), Apocalyptica, some heavy metal instrumentals like Metallica’s Orion and Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony. Film scores like Lord of the Rings are good and Led Zeppelin also work here for me, at any other stage they’re just distracting. These types of music allow me to concentrate without distracting from the agonisingly monolithic task of editing a novel.

I often want to scream like this when I’m editing a scene for the 17th time and it’s still not right.

So what about you guys. Do you listen to music when you write or work? If so share your playlists in the comments.

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Game of Thrones Fatigue

So Season 2 is drawing to a close. What have we learned? Peter Dinklage is awesome (not that we needed to be reminded), this season is much less anchored without Sean Bean, and boobies solve everything.

Worst. Typecasting. Ever.

Awhile ago I wrote a post about prostitution in the first few books basically trying to come up with a possible explanation for the sheer volume of violent sex scenes, however, try as I might, I couldn’t come up with an explanation for the addition of even more violent sex scenes (almost exclusively against women) in the TV show other than more boobs = higher ratings = more money to roll around in. Sex may sell but the lack of male nudity is particularly vexing, at least balance it out HBO!

At the time I was planning to write a post reviewing each episode of season 2, I even mentioned it in the comments, because I was still caught up in the excitement of the New Big Thing. Way back in the distant past of last summer I was all for Game of Thrones (or GoT as all the cool cats are calling it). It was exam season so in an attempt not to study I turned to TV for a distraction. Actual real life TV, not internet TV (desperate measures for desperate times).

I watched all of season 1 as it aired and immediately bought the first four books off amazon. I read them all over the summer, the per cent read on my kindle crept up ever so slowly. I took breaks to read other books. Had one tantrum after a certain event and stopped reading for a while, got bored on several occasions and took holidays from Westeros. Then my cousin kindly lent me Dance with Dragons. I couldn’t hack it though, reading it in bed was a dangerous past time, one slip and I could have broken my nose. So I got the kindle edition instead. Some day soon murders will be committed with the hardback edition and bloodied copies will be held up in plastic evidence bags in courtrooms (just how George would have wanted it).

Overall the whole process of discovering TV show, getting really excited, reading all the books and getting sick of the whole thing took about 5 months(ish).

Now that push has come to shove as it were, I can’t bring myself to review each season 2 episode individually. I’ve tried watching and can’t. A few minutes into the second episode I found myself looking wistfully at the ironing and started tackling that instead. This is the only way they can keep me interested, if I watch them while doing something marginally less interesting; the flat has never been cleaner! I think I’m suffering from overexposure. After a summer long binge on slowly declining prose I’m sick of it (quite literally, in bed with a throat infection today, maybe I’m allergic).

The problems I have with GoT are x-fold (x because I can’t be bothered to count and I reserve the right to add more reasons as more books and episodes are released).

  1. It should have been a trilogy The first two books (in my opinion) are the strongest and the most action packed. Then they get gradually more dragged out as they fall into a wormhole and time is warped so that nothing happens for hundreds of pages. In Dance with Dragons sweet FA happens until the end, and even then, shocking deaths and gritty plot twists are no longer that shocking or gritty the 20th time they happen.
  2. Too much repetition this is really a sub-complaint from number 1 as I believe this is a consequence of the series being stretched over 7 books rather than a nice neat trilogy.  In every book one character is travelling across a continent. Seen one seen ‘em all. I don’t mind reading about the few interesting things that happen on these journeys but there’s only so many campfires and tired voyagers I can take before it all gets a bit samey. A lot of stuff repeats itself in the series but I’ll stick with this example because (MINOR SPOILER INCOMING) by the time Brienne sets out on her journey to find Sansa (one of her many treks across the continent) the trope gets completely absurd. We know even before she begins that the whole thing is futile because, by virtue of Sansa’s POV we know Brienne is heading in the complete wrong direction! The whole way along we know that these chapters are pretty much pointless. Now semi-interesting stuff happens at the end of Brienne’s plotline but the entire thing drags out for ages beforehand telling us virtually nothing. Her whole plotline could have been compressed without loosing anything (/SPOILER)
  3. Gritty gets dull without substance The many deaths are no longer shocking. They get fairly predictable and they don’t stick. We know it’s coming so we’ve gotten over it before it happens and quite often once a character is killed they’ll be back later. A quick guide to GoT deaths: if you don’t actually see a character die – as in there is no way they can physically recover and the viewpoint character sees them actually take their last breath – then they’re probably not dead. And if they definitely are dead I’m going to bet by book 7 there’ll be a 50% chance they all come back as white walkers. It’s hard to mourn characters once you recognise this pattern. The last time a death surprised me was (one of the many) at the red wedding. Gritty ‘realism’ can only take you far. If your prose and characters can’t carry it then it becomes a gimmick like everything else and I believe Martin’s characters are less and less capable of picking up the slack. Also, having read a lot more of the books than I had when I wrote that last post, I no longer stand by my vehement defense of Martin’s use of sex as realistic, plot relevant and useful to explore characters. 

    A concise summary of books 1-5

  4. Too much is kept behind the scenes In a series where incresingly little happens – or as a former GM of mine said ‘events happen, but the general plot just trundles along at a snails pace‘ – Martin can’t afford to be coy and maddeningly obscure about absolutely everything. I’ll never complain that nothing happens in Westeros, I just get angry at reading more and more details of feast preparations, when these feasts largely serve as exposition to try and get me to memorise thousands and thousands of minor characters, while at the same time so much is actually happening just never described. Events at the tower of joy are only ever hinted at but in away that make them seem pivotal. Too much exposition (and sexposition) spaces out the interesting stuff until he finally adds insult to injury in Dance with Dragons when fascinating, exciting and plot essential events finally happen during a feast in Winterfell (when *spoiler* eats *spoiler*) and it’s barely referred to! The meal is described in the usual boring detail and it was only afterwards on the Westeros forums I learned all the details. Now one or two events like this are fine. This subtlety encourages speculation and keeps his fan base loyal and adds some much-needed depth. I don’t give a fiddler’s what they eat or wear but I want more than occassional hints at the bigger picture.
  5. We’ve Stagnated I’ve already gone on for longer than I intended but by the end of book 5 most characters haven’t moved very far and don’t look like they’re going to move any time soon. The next few books will either be incredibly exciting as he plays catch up to get all the characters in roughly the same place and to fullfill all the many themes he’s been setting up and plot events he foreshadowed then ignored. Or else they will continue in the way they have been going: with very little happening on-screen/page and a hasty wrap-up crammed into the last hundred pages.
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