Friday, 31 July 2009

Vintner's luck

Interesting new New Zealand movie coming up — a story about "love, wine and angels". Thanks to Rachael King for the link.

To be released in February 2010.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Review: Silver Phoenix (Cindy Pon)

What's this, you say? Didn't Ruth do a post on this same book a few weeks ago? Why yes, yes she did. But writing a sub-par book review annoys her about as much as talking about herself in the third person.

So that's quite enough of both, and I'd like to comment more properly on Silver Phoenix.

In a lot of ways I found this book a very interesting read, as I could identify my own writing to some extent with the book's writing, and as I read it I mentally started making minor adjustments to the writing style. I think that's what makes it so difficult for me to review this book — because I keep thinking of it as a writer rather than a reader.

I enjoyed this book. I didn't get right into the first chapter or two, but once I was in I was in! Sometimes it can be difficult to identify or even like the heroine or hero, especially if it's written by someone with little writing experience. No such problem here: I fell right in with the heroine, even if I have to admit to preferring the hero's sidekick to the actual hero.

Silver Phoenix follows Ai Ling, a girl living in traditional ancient China, who goes on a quest to rescue her captive father. Along the way she has to fight demons upon demons, learn to control minds, and meet goddesses, a race of three-eyed men, and the odd poison-spitting fish or two.

The background of China was well set up, and nothing about it jarred — other than Ai Ling's willingness to buck tradition after only a cursory attempt to conform. I think a girl raised in those traditions would have been much more docile — but that girl wouldn't have been nearly as interesting a character as Ai Ling.

Toward the middle of the novel, although I wasn't tempted to put the book down, it seemed to slow a little to me; things were happening that didn't seem relevant or necessary to the plot. But that was quickly passed over, and we headed into the final action scenes, complete with a good build-up of tension.

I found the climax somewhat... anti-climactic.

But I really want to find out what happens to the main characters next. For a lot of books — for example, John Grisham books — once I've finished them and found out how the plot ends, I don't care about the characters any more. My favourite authors — such as Juliet Marillier — make me care about the characters enough that I want to keep reading on for the characters' sakes. Not because the plot is unresolved, but because I just want to keep reading about the character.

Although author Cindy Pon does leave some plot points unresolved, the cunning witch! That is, the plot is neatly tied up; but the characters still have journeys to take, issues to try and straighten out for themselves; and I loved the fact that the ending wasn't textbook.

The ending, in fact, perfectly paved the way for the combined sequel/prequel she's writing (a difficult feat!): a book I can't wait to order.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

#50: Bake biscuits

Another of my 101 goals complete!

No, I haven't forgotten about them. Yes, I'm still slowly — very slowly — working towards them. Sadly, I suspect a couple — such as getting a good, permanent job, and reading the whole BBC Top 100 list — aren't going to be feasible to complete. I'll still try, though.

The last ones I've completed (I think) have been (a) graduating and (b) going overseas. Neither was really an accomplishment to be proud of: I finished studying last year; and it was Dan who organised going to Fiji.

I know baking biscuits isn't much of an achievement. But baby steps! I've never baked biscuits by myself before, so far as I can remember, so I do feel a small sense of accomplishment now I've done it. Luckily I made a double batch, since a lot of the mixture... disappeared... while I was mixing it up. A few biscuits even disappeared right after they exited the oven. And some seem to have turned a rather mouldy colour....

The four-year-old in me likes playing with food colouring.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Wedding romance

In the latest of romantic news, this just in: Kiwi couples are changing their wedding vows for more "realistic" goals.

Honour and obey each other? Not in this equal-partnership marriage: the "obey" is being cut. Fair enough: that one I agree with. Marriage should be a partnership, not servitude.

Another common vow alteration is, instead of saying "till death do us part", saying "as long as our love endures". Well, that's fine if you're saying your love will endure till death does you part, but I'm guessing that's not what they're saying... to me it almost seems as if couples are going into marriage expecting to leave it. Really?

I've never been married, but I gotta say I wouldn't go into it unless I really believed it would be till death did us part. To me, you need trust in yourself and your partner — trust that you'll both be faithful, and that you'll both work at the relationship. That may not come true, unfortunately; but if you already have doubts at the wedding, why're you getting married?

One groom didn't want to say he loved his partner (because he didn't love her, or because he was uncomfortable saying the L word? Either way, if I were his bride, I...wouldn't have been his bride). So instead, this rather-too-honest fellow went for saying he would "cherish and honour" her through good and bad. Not a bad second-best, I suppose... I wonder if this cherishing and honouring was till death did them part?

But to me, the best (or worst) in this list is one couple who made the following heart-warming vow: that if their "love should falter or fail, I will respect you for the period that you were in my life". Aww, you really mean that? And they say the romance is gone from modern weddings.

So, for this week's YouTube Tuesday I thought I'd link to a very different wedding entrance (via @stonjie/Tim).

Sunday, 26 July 2009

No paws on the table

Since Mitsi died, Toby has started being a lot more attention-hungry, hanging around the house more, wanting more affection.

He's also started jumping onto Dan's back.

Dan's always been Toby's favourite person (for which I bear Toby no ill will — Dan's my favourite person, too), and sometimes lately when Dan picks Toby up, Toby will climb up his arm onto his shoulders/back, and just hang out there for a while. Sometimes he'll even lie down, apparently completely unaware of his precarious situation.

And that's not all. Over the past couple of weeks, as Dan and I are eating our dinner and paying no attention at all to a hopeful little cat by our feet, Toby will jump — off the floor — onto Dan's back.

Toby: 'Whatchoo lookin' at?'

Odd, you say? Without a doubt. Having accomplished the jump to Dan's back/shoulder area, Toby will then try by any means possible to get to the food. He knows he's not allowed to sit on the chairs during dinner; he knows he's definitely not allowed to set paw on the dining room table at any time. But he's figured out that, for whatever reason, when he jumps onto Bearded Man's back and walks (trapeze-like) across his arm toward that tempting morsel of steak, for whatever reason, Bearded Man and Awesome Girl (I'm sure that's what he calls me in his mind) are too busy shaking with laughter to do anything about it.

Toby: 'Next time he tries to sneak a bite, I'm grabbing the steak'

Despite appearances, Dan was actually trying to eat his food rather than give it to Toby in this picture. Toby succeeded in swiping it with his paw, though, so Dan gave up and gave it to Toby to eat.

Sometimes I worry we're teaching that cat bad habits.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Spreading the word: Candor (Pam Bachorz)

I like debut authors. I think they have it tough, trying to make it in a market where nobody knows them; and few people are willing to gamble $30 on an unknown name. (Yes, new books are $30+ in New Zealand. Yes, it's daylight robbery.)

Anyway, every Thursday I'm trying to post something about an author or a book, and I'm trying to give preference to debut authors and debut books. I think it's important to spread the word! After all, I hope to be a debut author myself one day — and "do unto others", etc.

And so: Candor by Pam Bachorz. I had a brief look to see what it's about, and found a review of Candor here.

I've also posted the book trailer below. But I would recommend reading the linked review as well. To be honest, the trailer turned me off a bit and made me wonder if it was just tween angst crap; the review made it sound more like Nineteen Eighty-Four (in a good way), with everyone living under the autocratic rule of a dictator who wants to control not only people's actions, but their minds — and will do anything to achieve his goal. But read the review for yourself, and see what you think.

One thing I like is when authors post chapters online. It gives you a sense of their writing style, and of whether you'll really enjoy the story. This author is one of the gracious who has posted her first chapter online ("hot off the presses before it's even hit the presses").

Sounds good to me! A junior Nineteen Eighty-Four, perhaps. You decide:

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Clayton Weatherston: the verdict

Guilty of murder. Thank goodness. I really didn't understand how it could be ruled otherwise.

Is there a petition out against this whole provocation-is-a-good-reason-for-murder thing? Cos I'd sign that.

(Yes, I know the law doesn't say it's a good reason, per se. But if provocation can be used as a valid reason to downgrade a murder charge to the lesser charge of manslaughter, then that's almost what the law is saying. My opinion? That particular piece of law is wrong. Someone provokes you, you learn to take it rather than killing them. Still entirely your fault — still intent to kill — whether or not the murder is provoked.)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Kitties!

Yeah, this was just too cute not to post. Or at least I thought so:

Monday, 20 July 2009

Clayton Weatherston: 216 stabs manslaughter?

I don't like to comment on court matters, as I think that we, the public, can't really judge. We don't hear all the evidence; only what the media choose to pass on. Even the court may not know what really happened. But in this case, the crime isn't denied; only the charge.

Last year, Clayton Weatherston killed his ex-girlfriend, Sophie Elliot, by stabbing her 216 times. He never denied that he killed her. But he's claiming it's manslaughter rather than murder because she provoked him.

So my argument here is purely as a question of law. The Crown are arguing it was premeditated murder (he took a kitchen knife with him to visit her); the defence are saying it wasn't murder because he was provoked (Sophie had allegedly cheated on him while they were dating, and allegedly attacked him with scissors).

Isn't that still murder?

My understanding was that there were basically three levels of killing.

Manslaughter: "Unlawful killings without malice or intent are considered manslaughter", e.g. someone driving a car without reckless disregard hits a child who runs out in front of the car.
Second degree murder: "Any intentional, unlawful killing done without justification or excuse" (common law), i.e. intent to kill (not necessarily premeditated) or actions with "reckless disregard" for human life. I think these are the "crimes of passion" — e.g. finding your wife and your best friend in bed together, or losing control of your emotions when confronting an unfaithful ex-girlfriend.
First degree murder: The "unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought" (common law). Basically, second degree murder only worse. These are generally the premeditated murders, e.g. stealing your dad's gun to lie in wait and shoot the school bully, or taking a kitchen knife to visit your unfaithful ex-girlfriend to kill her.

So to me, the verdict seems clear. CW is claiming manslaughter. Manslaughter is an "unlawful killing without malice or intent". Was there malice? Yes. Was there intent? After 216 stabs, I'm gonna say so.

To me, the only question is what degree of murder he should be convicted with. But I'm aware my knowledge of New Zealand law is scanty. I've also heard that in most parts of Australia, murder can be downgraded to manslaughter if there has been provocation.

Has this ever been a part of NZ law, or is that just those crazy Australians? Is there anything in NZ law that acknowledges provocation as a just reason to downgrade a charge of murder to manslaughter?

To me, manslaughter says accidental. Even CW admits it wasn't accidental.

But would NZ law really allow provocation to be used as an excuse?

Update: The verdict.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Silver Phoenix (Cindy Pon)

A friend asked me yesterday for my opinion of debut author Cindy Pon's The Silver Phoenix, which she got me for my birthday this year.

"Is it very... debutey?" she asked with a laugh.

Honestly? It was a bit. It had a good story, with good knowledge of the period (so far as my layman's knowledge goes) and thoughtful plotting. But it was... debutey.

I read the first four scenes one day, very much with a critical writer's eye; I didn't like two of the scenes and thought they could have been summed up later on in the story. The first few scenes seemed disjointed to me; I put the book aside for a few days.

I picked it up again one Sunday, read a bit more... and kept reading till I finished it, that same day.

It's certainly interesting; it makes you keep wanting to read on, to find out what happens next. The ending surprised me, in a good way; it wasn't the predictable happily-ever-after.

Reading it with my critical writer's eye, I did notice some technical issues that I would have wanted to change. One example: As the heroine goes on her quest, she passes through various lands of weird and wonderful creatures. Interesting? Sure. Important to the plot? Not that I could see.

Yet when I put down the book, I realised I wanted to read on. I wanted to know what happened to the characters next; I wanted to follow them in their next adventures. I was fond enough of the three main characters that when something awful happens to one of them, I was upset.

To me, that's the sign of a good book. I've studied "well-written" books at university that are chock-full of symbolism and themes and so on; and I enjoy those books. But for leisure I prefer light escapist reading, with characters I can care about and a story I want to read on about.

I also think the author is really sweet, both from her blog and from the fact that she was nice enough to send me a signed bookplate and bookmark with her art on it. It may be an inexpensive gesture, but it's a really nice one.

And regardless of bookplates and bookmarks, I'll certainly be buying the sequel to Silver Phoenix as soon as it's been released.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


I'm thinking about writing my synopsis before (re)starting on editing my story (I know, I keep going back and forwards); partly because I'm now considering doing a really massive overhaul on the story.

At the moment it's divided into two "books".

Book One: MC is captured by evil ruler. MC spends most of Book One trying to escape from evil ruler. MC escapes at end of Book One.

Book Two: A second conflict, much bigger than MC's initial issue, arises. MC goes on quest to resolve this second conflict. Conflict is resolved.

Book Two is much shorter than Book One, and most of the stuff I really like is in Book One. It seems to me that I need to focus more on what the really big issue is. There needs to be one plot in a book — not two. Either that, or I need to cut Book Two out altogether or have it as a "sequel" to Book One.

The plots combine in the MC finding what she really wants in life; but the physical action of the two plots are complete opposites.

Book One and Two are connected. Bits of Book Two's conflict are introduced in Book One; and as Book One progresses we slowly find that what the MC thinks she wants may not be what she actually wants — so when she achieves it, it's a bittersweet victory rather than a resolution.

Not that I have any problems ending a book on a bittersweet note, but I'm just... thinking aloud, as it were.

I'm even thinking of scrapping the whole middle of the story and merging the two Books, but that would ruin the theme of the story.

This is why I need a synopsis: I need focus. Until I know exactly how I want my rewritten story to be, there's no point in starting to rewrite it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Complaining about nothing

Apparently people are now objecting to Air New Zealand's new "Nothing to hide" ad campaign, where Air NZ employees are shown wearing nothing but body paint. It's funny, it's creative, and it's all done in good taste: the most nudity you even see is a couple of nicely-toned men walking away. The first couple of times I saw the ad on TV, I didn't even notice they weren't wearing clothes.

So just to show how ridiculous I think this objection is, I figured I'd post the ad below for YouTube Tuesday.

Even better is the fact that Air New Zealand have also taped the "Bare safety essentials" to show as the safety video for their 737 domestic flights. Hey, you want to make sure people are watching the safety video, right?

The only concern I could think of is that little kids would be watching this video. But again, it doesn't show any real nudity, and I suspect a lot of kids would only notice or care if adults make a big deal about it.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Bold, brilliant and brief

Writer's Digest are holding a short story competition for stories up to 1500 words long: "bold, brilliant and brief"! And it's open to non-US residents. Deadline: 1 December 2009.

Ugh, I need to have so much writing ready by the end of this year. I've decided to apply both for the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University (in Wellington); and for the Graduate Diploma in Journalism at Massey University (the Wellington campus). If I get in to either, it'll mean a crappy commute; but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

But I need a 20-page "sample" of excellent writing for the Creative Writing course; and a portfolio of previously-published stories for the journalism course. Eep! Both courses only accept about 20 students a year, and competition's tough. So I really need to get working.

I would much, much rather do the Creative Writing course. I don't want to be a journalist; I want to be an editor. Problem is, it's hard to get directly into an editing job without some journalism experience, so I'll probably need a few years up my belt as a journalist first. I'm also going to apply for a journalism internship, which would at least give me a foot in the door.

But I'd much rather do Creative Writing. I'm thinking a section of my current WIP (immaculately polished and revised) as my writing sample.

My problem with the Creative Writing course is that you're meant to give a proposal of what you'd write about. But what would I write about? I write most easily in the fantasy genre, but many literary folk seem to look down on fantasy — I don't want my genre to be a reason not to accept me into the course. If I could write a fantasy novel, then it'd be easy; I could write the sequel to my current WIP (which would just as easily be a stand-alone novel, if my current WIP comes to naught).

Either way, I've got a lot of work to do. It's kind of nice to have two plans; but on the other hand, I've got a lot of work to do. In the (likely) event that I'm accepted into neither course, I'll just keep on working — or possibly look at doing Honours in English at Victoria.

But I don't want that to happen — so rather than continuing to ramble on about it on my blog, I'm going to go get a good night's sleep and get up nice and early — and write!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Doe (a deer, a female deer)

I don't think I'll do "YouTube Tuesday" that often. But I saw another cool YouTube clip the other day:

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Black or white

On the news tonight they talked about how Michael Jackson had always wanted to be white, a stance he "made clear" in his song, Black or white, with the lyrics: "I'm not gonna spend my life bein' a colour."

What? What? Did you miss the rest of the song?

It don't matter if you're black or white...
If you're thinkin' about my baby, it don't matter if you're black or white
If you're thinkin' of bein' my baby, it don't matter if you're black or white
If you're thinkin' of bein' my brother, it don't matter if you're black or white.

Point being (I assumed), that it don't matter if you're black or white.

I'd always interpreted "not gonna spend my life bein' a colour" as not wanting to spend your life being defined by your colour.

As far as him turning white: vitiligo. Genuine disease. Genuinely had it. Tends to affect mainly non-Europeans. Causes loss of skin pigmentation.

My point? Get over the colour of his skin, people. It don't matter.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)

I hated Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It was fascinating; it was dense. I skipped entire pages of text that rambled on about the new philosophy behind the state; I read and re-read the appendix where Orwell expounds (at great length) on the post-English language spoken in his world.

Nineteen Eighty-Four shows a new, totalitarian world taken over by a regime. Everything is monitored. There is a new religion. The thought-police are watching you everywhere. You don't know who you can trust; everyone could be a spy. And the penalty isn't death.

The book explores this world, explores families and relationships and work in a world where everyone is under suspicion and, ultimately, your enemy.

This book explores physical and psychological torture, and it's horrific.

This book explores how you can really betray the only person you love.

This book explores the worst fate you can suffer. Not death, and not torture, but the loss of self. The loss of who you are, of what you believe.

A rebel's death is meaningless, but a rebel's conversion is everything.

I found this book horrible to read. I couldn't put it down. I waited for the happy ending; I couldn't understand how it could have a happy ending.

It made me think about a lot of things. It gave me new story ideas; it gave me a concept behind the government in my current WIP.

Have I spoiled the story? I'm not sure. It's too complex to wholly spoil. Would I recommend it? I'm not sure. It's a classic, and for a good reason.

But I hated that book.