On the Blog Post That Should Never Have Been, or What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging

This is going to be a lengthy blog post. I apologise, but I haven’t got the time to write a short one. I shouldn’t be writing one at all, but it’s been over six months since my last one, so I figured I’m past due for an update, and this seems as good a time as any.

First of all, I haven’t been blogging. You may have noticed. I certainly have. It’s been a little niggle at the back of my brain all year. Plus, there have been things I’ve wanted to blog about. Girls in games. Violence too. I’ve started a blog post on all that, but it’s turning into something of an academic treatise, so I won’t be dashing that off on a Sunday afternoon (it’s far too serious a topic to be given such short shrift – I’m looking at you, ‘the Media’). There have been comic books and films and films based on comic books (OMG! The Avengers was AWESOME!!!) and games that played like films. There have been books and short stories and . . . okay. I haven’t blogged about any of those things, but I have been writing (more on that in a sec), and maybe one day I’ll make the time to actually blog about them like I should.

So, what has stopped me posting? Well, I finally moved into the city (Achievement Unlocked!). This has been a looooooong time coming, and I’m so happy I finally made it (insert inspirational theme song here). My apartment is perfect (it better be – I’m never moving again). My office (I have an office!) has its own little balcony. Okay, so it opens up onto the building opposite, but there’s a whole patch of sky I can see from it! Moving was . . . stressful. I finally know exactly how many books I own (don’t worry – my new apartment can fit more bookshelves). Anyway, I moved in about a month ago and love it and . . . promptly had to go get my wisdom teeth pulled out. All of them. It wasn’t pleasant, obviously, and thanks to some particularly dense bone in my jaw, it wasn’t any fun for the surgeon either. The pain sucked (sucks – the surgeon insists it will stop one day), but even worse was having to postpone my culinary exploration of my new suburb, which just so happens to be in the middle of a BUNCH of great restaurants, cafes, and other assorted eateries and is pretty much why I moved here (not really but sort of).

So, that happened. The Suit is still wrapping itself around me daily and sending me down the street to the Full Time Job, too. I can walk there now (yay!), but it still takes up most of my day. Thankfully, my employer allows me to start at 7am (yep – ouch!) and finish by about 3:30 / 4, which gives me an extra couple of hours during the evenings to write.

And write I have. Pretty much every day, with time off for moving and teeth extraction and the occasional massive gaming session with friends. Surely with all that writing I could have taken some time to blog too, right? Yeah, probably, but every time I sit down at my computer I weigh my options. Blog or write? Write or blog? Guess what? Writing wins. Every time (except today, but you’ve probably worked that out by now). I read a lot about writers ‘building their platforms’ (mostly on blogs, in a nod to Irony). Blog! Tweet! FB! Etcetera. All of that is probably really important, but I didn’t become a writer to do all that stuff. I became a writer to write novels (mostly – see below), and whenever I get the chance, that’s what I’m going to do.

So what have I been writing, then? Well, I’ve mostly been working on two things. The first is a new YA fantasy. It’s currently codenamed 108 and it involves kung fu and a wild frontier and horses and, yes, dragons and gods. The second is a collection of short stories. What?! Yep, you read that correctly. Short stories. I’ve never considered myself capable of writing short stories. I tend to plot out massive, multi-volumed epics, but, with the inspiration and encouraging words of some fellow writers, I’ve given it a go. And some of them kind of work. Some of them might even be published one day. They are most definitely not YA, but they are fantasy. and I’m having so much fun writing them.

Oh, and my wonderful agent, Nan Halliday, retired. It was fabulous to work with her, but she has certainly earned her retirement! I now have a new agent, Brian Cook, which reminds me that I have to update the website accordingly!

And that’s it. When you write it up in a couple paragraphs, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s certainly kept me busy over the last six months. 108 is almost finished; I’m taking a week off from the Suit on the 13th to put the finishing touches on it so I can send it to my publisher. The short story collection is about halfway drafted but a heck of a lot less than halfway finished. After that is the Abe rewrite and a couple of new projects to kick into gear. I’m also doing some school visits and interviews and running workshops at the local writers’ centre, just to remind people that I am still here, doing what I do, and to promote the Voyages of the Flying Dragon without blogging.

But, lo! Bloggage Achieved! Off to pour another cup of tea and then get back to the writing . . .

Posted in On Writing (Assorted Ramblings) | Leave a comment

On Resolutions, or Why I Make Plans Instead

Happy New Year!

I hope your festive seasons went / are going well! I’ve been completely MIA for the past couple of weeks (no twitter / FB / blogging), but I’ve noticed a lot of people are blogging about their New Year Resolutions (NYR), or about why they don’t make them. They’re also taking stock of the last twelve months and planning ahead for the next. So this is me, doing that. Sort of.

First up – confession time: I have not been writing non-stop for the past twelve days. It was what I wanted to do. It was what I’d planned to do, but I didn’t. Mostly, this is because I was tired. Coming off the slog-fest that was the ERoE (Epic Rewrite of Epicness), which resulted in 72,000 words (nowhere near enough but pretty darn good, really) and a particularly stressful project at the Office (thankfully, I met my deadline for this, at least), all I wanted to do was relax. So I did, and it was great. I’ve played video games, read comic books, watched movies, caught up with the family, and got together with friends (to play video games). It’s been awesome, like a real holiday. Not the sort where you go away, but the kind where you take time off. Oh! Did you hear that? That was me taking a long, deep breath. In fact, if you ignore the writer guilts that have been plaguing me for the past twelve days, I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time. Ah, the writer guilts. Where would I be without that constant OMG it’s Sunday night and I haven’t even started my homework yet buzz? But that’s a theme for another blog.

Next – taking stock: I had a book published last year. No, wait, that needs an exclamation point. Writers tend to look at the next thing, the book they haven’t yet written, the one that’s giving them the guilts, the project they should be working on right now. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the completed ones, to, as I do, nod to acknowledge their existence and then move on to the next thing. So, I’m going to take some time today to just be totally, immeasurably, and insurmountably happy that Beast Child was published in September 2011. Is it self-indulgent to wallow in my own success? Yes. Yes it is. I do it so infrequently, though, that I don’t think I’m in any serious danger of descending into pomposity.

Then comes – resolutioning: I will . . . I promise . . . I vow . . . Okay, here’s the thing about NYRs. They don’t work for me. I’ve joined (and quit) enough gyms to know this is the case. I hope they work for you, though, because I think they’re wonderful things. What better time to assess the ups and downs of the past twelve months and look to what you can do better over the next than the start of a new year? It’s almost mythic. As the old kingdom falls to decay a new hero (played here by the NYR) arrives to set things right for another year, until he or she also fades, only to be reborn the following year, and so on it goes. I’ve been studying heroes too long to ignore the importance of this renewal cycle, but I know from experience my heroes usually pack up and go home a couple of days (in some cases hours) later. So I stopped making them. I have enough (writer) guilt to deal with without worrying about the fact that I’ve strayed from my diet or spent too much time playing video games, which, let’s face it, will be true in both cases before long.

Finally – the Plan: You can call this a NYR all you want, but I’m not going to. I think the problem with the NYR is that we expect too much. We’re going to completely turn our whole lives around, or something equally unachievable, so I’m going with the Plan instead (outlined below). The Plan is particularly important for me this year because it requires me to actually completely turn my whole life around. Okay, not really, but I am a creature of habit, and there’s one big habit I need to change this year, and it’s to do with my writing. Up until now, I’ve written in huge chunks. A break from uni? Write! A weekend off? Write! Holidays? You guessed it – WRITE! I was never the sort of writer who could write every day. I’d save it up, and plan, and ponder, and then, when I had a block of days to myself, I’d power through. I fell into this habit because I was working and studying and, later, teaching so much that I completely overwhelmed myself. I worked hard to save money to take time off to write. This was my cycle, and it worked for me.

But life changed. First, I got a grant from Arts SA and wrote full time for 6 months, and it was just absolute goodness. Then, I made the decision to don the Suit. No more part time gigs. No more balancing (who am I kidding? There was very little balance involved) half a dozen jobs all at once with a goal to save, save, save so I could take time off to write, write, write. At the end of last year, I broke that cycle, which had always worked for me (if you don’t count the spiralling stress and the ever-present fear of not making enough this week to cover the rent, not to mention the toll of working up to three different jobs in a single day). So, full time work and, as if that wasn’t enough of a shock to the system, the need to write. Every. Day.

And I did it! Well, almost, but at least the ERoE taught me that I could write this way. I could hold down a full time job and still write at the same time! So, without further ado and to finish this lengthy New Year’s blog post, my Plan for 2012:

1) Rearrange brain so that it approaches writing as a daily activity. This may require chocolate and coffee.

2) Write productively every day. Definitely more coffee.

3) Write at least 5,000 words a week, every week. For those without a calculator handy, that’s just over 250k words in 2012, which equates to about three and a half books, give or take, in the year (see following).

4) Finish rewrite of Abe.

5) Finish Ebb & Flow: Volume Three of the Voyages of the Flying Dragon.

6) Blog more often. Blog entries don’t count towards weekly word targets, but they come with extra chocolate.

7) Draft the following: Untitled Project A, Untitled Project B, and Untitled Project C. These are two new, independent YA projects I’ve been planning for quite some time now and one totally new project I came up with over the least twelve days (okay, so I did some writing work on my holiday).

8) Finally, just chill. The best part about having a Plan and not a NYR is that there’s no twelve month countdown timer ticking way in the background.

9) Oh, and I should probably add something about getting a life . . .

Posted in On Writing (Assorted Ramblings) | 1 Comment

On Gamer’s Paradise, or The End of Year AAA Titles!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about gaming, mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve played anything worth blogging about. Now, of course, we’re in the middle of a glut of gaming goodness. As the gamers out there know, the lead up to Christmas (and, in reality, the few months after) marks the Gaming Season. All the triple A titles (i.e. the ones with the biggest budgets) get launched. Cynics might say this is all a Christmas ploy to part gamers and their wallets, but the reality is the Gaming Season generally lasts from Sept/Oct through to Feb/March (just in time for what we might call the Announcement Season – that period where we’re all glued to our internets watching the streaming footage of upcoming releases from all the games shows – no? Just me?).

Over the coming two weeks we have at least three giant titles to look forward to; namely, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (oh, AC:R, I think I’ll love you most of all), and Super Mario 3D Land (that non-remake 3DS title we’ve all been waiting for). Naturally, they’re all preordered, but before we get to those, I wanted to take a few paragraphs to talk about two brilliant games I’ve recently finished – Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) and Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360).

Xenoblade Chronicles is a Japanese RPG (Role Playing Game). When you start talking about differences between Japanese and Western RPGs, you get into murky territory, but it’s worth noting here a couple of the differences (you’ll see why). In short, JRPGs tend to focus more on story and character, and less on player customisation. Western RPGs tend to give players more choice in terms of side missions and character customisation, but this often means the main story and character development take a bit of a hit (as you keep wandering off course and the hero often has less clearly defined characteristics to give the player a greater sense that they are the hero). Of course, there are plenty of exceptions and variations, but that’s one way of looking at the differences between the two (I once wrote a chapter on how customisation affects a player’s experience in a collection called Final Fantasy and Philosophy if you want a clearer explanation here).

Although Xenoblade is a classic JRPG in the best sense (epic story, memorable characters, strategic battles, expansive game world), it also combines many Western RPG elements. Strangely, it manages to do so without watering down the JRPG elements. The story revolves around two giant titans – the Mechonis and the Bionis – who fought long ago and killed each other. Civilisations grew on the corpses of the giants, and they continued the war. When the Mechon from Mechonis invade the Bionis yet again, you take control of a group of heroes from Bionis and seek to end the war. You do this through wielding the Monado, the only weapon capable of harming the Mechon (it also grants an aura to your allies, so their weapons can as well). As with all great JRPGs, the story is epic, and I don’t want to give anything away. What I will say is that Xenoblade threw in a few twists and turns that managed to surprise an old hand like me while stile adhering to some classics tropes of the genre. JRPGs are what turned my love of video games into an obsession. The way they tell stories is unique and unforgettable. I won’t dwell on that here (it’s worthy of a blog post of its own).

Battles in Xenoblade are fought in real time using move cool-downs and auto-attacks (think WoW, for the uninitiated). They’re fast-paced and rely on well thought-out (beforehand) strategies. Unless you keep the single healer in the party for the whole game, you’re going to die a bit (unusual for JRPGs), but there’s no real consequences for this (you respawn close by as though the battle has taken place, so any loot and experience earned isn’t lost with defeat – and loot remains on the ground apparently forever, even if you leave the site), so you should’t get frustrated by it, and the game penalises you for keeping a stagnant party (your characters build relationships with each other the more you do with them together, based on which three are in your active party, so if you keep the same two – healer and hero, who you’ll need to actually damage most enemies – the relationships between other characters will suffer).

The side quest system is also very WRPG, but thankfully you don’t have to return to a quest giver to cash in on completion, and often individual NPCs will give you multiple quests, so there’s none of that useless running around looking for quest givers. You can even ignore most of them if you want (though they reward EXP and, more importantly, cash). Equipment is expensive, and you don’t earn cash from killing random foes. You can have light, medium, and heavy armour (another WRPG twist), and the characters are a blend of J- and WRPG (tanks, healers, magic assault, damage, etc.). You can equip gems ala-FFVII materia, but there is no in-battle item system (the lack of this removes a layer of strategy, but it speeds up the action). Enemies exist on-screen and can often be avoided if necessary (ala-FFXII). When you’re in a fight, things can go from brilliant to near-death in an instant, but you can also come back just as swiftly.

Xenoblade is HUGE. The environments are massive, with no loading time except between areas. This is by far the most attractive game on the Wii I’ve played. Though obviously not HD quality, I was reminded of the first time I played Red Dead Redemption. I just wanted to stop and look at that game. Here, you can stand on the knee of the Bionis and look around you, below you, and above you, and see other areas you’ll be travelling to later. I was awestruck by the immense scope. Who knew the Wii had that sort of power?

To give you an idea of just how big this game is, though, I’m currently at 60 hours gameplay. I’ve finished the main story, but I haven’t even dented the side quests. You receive affinity points for completing side quests in each friendly locale (of which there are, from memory, five). Earn enough, and your ranking with a particular town goes up to a maximum of 5 stars. You start with one star per friendly location. I have 2 stars for one location and one star for each of the others. After 60 hours. That’s how big Xenoblade is. I’ll probably never finish it, but I know there are plenty out there who will and have. If I didn’t have any other games to play this year, I might be tempted.

But there are other games, and one of them was Batman: Arkham City. I loved the first game, Arkham Asylum. It’s one of my all-time favourite games. It managed to capture everything I love about Batman and Metroid-style gameplay. It was near perfection. Arkham City is better. Just about everything about it is better. There are more characters, fewer useless boss fights, more areas to explore. It even looks better. If I had two qualms about it, it would be that it’s too short and the emphasis is more on fighting and less on stealth this time around, but only just. There’s a greater sense that you can approach each situation as you want to, which the first game attempted but this one perfects. There’s a much greater emphasis on the challenge maps this time around too (after beating 100% of the story mode in Asylum I was on about 80-83% total game completion, where here it was more like 70-72%). This is unfortunate, as the challenge maps are just individual set pieces for either big fights or a stealth mission. Okay to fool around with for a couple of minutes at a time, but I lack the diehard, beat-the-leaderboard attitude required to get full game completion. the irony is, if they’d scattered these challenge maps throughout the main game world, I probably would have finished them all. Setting them apart but linking them to overall completion stats is a bit of a pain, and it means the secondary character DLC (Tim Drake’s Robin and Nightwing) don’t get a chance to shine. These have new moves and gadgets, but you don’t get to explore them because they’re only accessible during the challenge maps. Still, this is one of the best games I’ve ever played. In fact, it plays a lot like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

It’s also worth noting that the voice acting in both games is phenomenal. Batman‘s is pitch and performance perfect, with many familiar voices for fans of the cartoons / animated films. Xenoblade‘s is a little . . . weird, but 10 hours in and you’ll have fallen in love with the quirky British accents that sometimes completely fail to match the context of what’s going on but are still endearing.

So. There you have it. Two truly AAA titles, and more on the way. Between gaming, writing, and working, I don’t expect to see sunlight at all this Summer, except maybe on my way to work, but it’s shaping up to be one heck of a Gaming Season.

Posted in On Games (Digital Ramblings) | Leave a comment

On The Epic Rewrite Of Epicness, or Twittering For Progress

My last post (about donning The Suit), was an attempt to sort of reconcile the new job in my life with my writing and “life” (read into the air quotes what you will). It wasn’t intended as a whinge-post, but I suppose I couldn’t help a certain degree of whinge creeping in. This is because, no matter what I’m doing, I will always rather be writing. As someone famous (and therefore credible) once said, writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel as though I should be doing something else (or words to that effect). This post, then, is a companion piece to The Suit, and in it I intend to tell you about about what I’m writing at the moment.

The Epic Rewrite of Epicness (or #ERoE for those playing along on Twitter).

The #ERoE begins over a decade ago, when I first decided to start writing, or I should say, when I first took writing seriously as something people did. I began a story about an incredibly handsome assassin named Shade (get it?), who, along with a ragtag band of misfits (*cough* fellowship *cough*) set off to rescue a kidnapped princess. Ahem. Yes, that’s right. A princess. She was kidnapped. She needed rescuing and, as I couldn’t find a suitably affable Italian-American plumber with pipe access to the world I’d created, I sent my motley fellowsh- I mean group of heroes off to get the job done. To say that this book had no plot is akin to claiming that the sun is hot in terms of relative redundantivism. I don’t really want to talk about the problems with that particular MS here (it was over 150,000 words multiplied by some dozens of drafts long by the time it was bottom-drawer relegated). Ask me about it sometime, though. It’s actually quite hilarious how resolutely I did everything wrong with that MS! This blog post isn’t about that. It’s about what came after, which is to say, what is happening now.

Over a decade later (has it been that long?) the majority of which has been time spent studying my craft, and I began to wonder if there was something, anything in that first MS worth saving. After all, it was where it all began for me. It had to have something decent in it, right? So, I took the thing out of the bottom drawer. Actually, I didn’t. I could’t face it again, because now I know exactly how horrid it actually is. What I did was to take out the manuscript assessment I had done on the thing. In summary, here’s what it said. Too many PoV’s (what, 43? Too many?), a whole bunch of other criticisms, but a really interesting world and some good characters. Hmmm… I can work with that. After all, building a world takes time, often years, and here I had this actually quite interesting world, with a few good characters, but nothing at all of interest happening (well, there was the kidnapped princess…). Here is where the Epic Rewrite of Epicness begins.

First step – don’t even re-read the old manuscript. Bin it. It didn’t have a plot anyway.

Second step – have a look at the characters. The orcs? Gone. The elves? Gone. The dryads? Gone. I don’t even know what I was thinking, but there were some interesting people in there. The assassin who should have been the kingdom’s greatest defender, bound by duty and honour to protect the king who exiled him. The semi-presentient priestess-turned-last hope of her people, driven to form an alliance with a crumbling kingdom that could tear her own land apart in its death throes. An aged, battered warrior, longing for peace and a chance to claim a life for himself. A reluctant prince, enslaved by an ancient power far greater than kings or empresses. A child, stolen from her dying mother at birth, only to be raised a thief with a destiny far more horrible waiting for her in the future. Okay. These I can work with. These can form the beginnings of something.

Third step – have another look at the world. There are definitely some workable elements here. The warring clans, for instance, who once ruled the world but have since been relegated to fringe-dwelling outlaws. The Six Gods, worshipped equally by everyone, everywhere, with the exception of the southern Tribelands. The small collective of kingdoms caught between two immense, warring empires. The maps. I can definitely work with those.

Fourth step – strip everything back to almost nothing, and start again. Plan. Find some stories to tell in this world, with these people. This was actually easier than I thought it would be. I’ve been living with some of these characters for almost a decade, and a couple even longer than that. They have stories to tell. Interesting ones. Stories full of strife, and heartbreak, and betrayal, and great acts of heroism and cowardice. There’s pain here, but also some happiness, some love, and a fair bit of longing. There’s also plenty of injustice. So, I had to work out what these stories would be, and then find a way to weave them all together into some sort of a narrative. I had to come up with a plot and, I dare to hope, I have.

Fifth step – rewrite. There’s a reason I’m calling this the Epic Rewrite of Epicness. Actually, there are two. First, what I’m rewriting is an Epic fantasy. It’s even more epic than The Voyages of the Flying Dragon, which is pretty epic in and of itself. I’ll be very surprised if I can restrict Book One of this #ERoE to 150,000 words (the current target), but I’m not too worried about that (after the #ERoE will come the Epic Editing of Epicness – but that’s a ways off yet). Second, it is an epic rewrite. Usually, when I rewrite something, I’m working with a pretty solid base. I’m just trying to make something I’ve already written better. This time, though, I’m starting virtually from scratch. A few vaguely outlined characters. A hastily thrown together world. The barest premise of a plot. These are all I have to go with, so this rewrite isn’t about making something better, it’s about making something, anything, at all.

And how’s it going? Well, today is the start of week 3 of the #ERoE, and I’m already about half a week behind (curse my desire to have a couple of days off!), but I am loving this book. There’s plenty of action, the characters are coming alive, the world is shaping itself through their actions. In short – it’s going well. It’s still first draft material, but I’m not letting some dodgy sentences bog me down. I’ve set myself a pretty much impossible task – 10,000 words a week – 1,000 words every weekday and 5,000 words on weekends (which means I’m currently 5,000 words behind, if you do the maths), and I’ve boasted as such on Twitter (and now here). Why such a ridiculous goal, and why make it so very public? The reasons for that are twofold. One: I want (i.e. would absolutely love to have) a workable draft by the end of the year so I can begin the #EEoE in the new year. Two: I need to force myself to keep writing. I love writing. It seems odd I need to do anything to force myself to do it, but there’s always The Suit, draining… but there was enough of that in my last post. Suffice it to say, I’m hoping to put my proverbial money (the only sort of money writers have any familiarity with) where my mouth is (oh, I just realised its lunch time) and get this book done. It’s been a dozen years in the making, but I’m finally ready to make a start on it.

Posted in On Writing (Assorted Ramblings) | Leave a comment

On Donning The Suit, or Why I’m Not Blogging Much…

Okay, so it turns out I’m about as consistent with my blogging as I am with keeping a diary. (I’m not very good at it at all, for those of you who don’t know how bad I am at keeping a diary.) I’ve planned many a blog post over the past few weeks (and months…), but I haven’t actually got around to writing them yet, and here’s why: about two months ago, I put on the Suit. Now, I could have just said I got a job – a full time non-writing job – but that doesn’t really encapsulate the totality of the Suit, which is actually, you’ve probably guessed by now, a metaphor and not a garment at all (although it is that too).

So, what exactly is the Suit? Well, it’s this thing I put on every morning before going into the Office. No, I don’t mean the office that sits three feet from my couch, and the Suit is not a metaphor for my writing pyjamas (I’ve told you all about them, haven’t I?). The Suit is what I wear when I go into what my circle of friends and acquaintances refer to as my “REAL JOB”, which is to say that it isn’t a part time gig I do to scrape by while waiting for something else to come along. It’s a real, permanent, stable, full time, ongoing, time-sucking job.

Every writer (unless independently wealthy, married to money, or lucky enough to actually hit the BIG TIME) needs to work a non-writerly job, mostly because we like to eat, but also because we like to live in a place with at least four walls, a floor and, gods willing, even a roof (a ceiling may be asking too much). The latter is particularly important if you happen to live on the ground floor of an apartment block and don’t wish to be intimately familiar with your upstairs neighbours (I’m looking at you, Mr & Mrs we play loud music until all hours of every night – yes, I can hear everything you’re doing up there – everything). The goal is, usually, to balance time spent working (i.e. doing as little as possible to earn just enough money to ‘get by’) and time spent writing (obviously the more, the better – more on that in a sec). I’ve been doing this from the week I turned 17, though, so what makes the Suit so different?

Well, two things lend the Suit its metaphorical weight. The first is that I’ve just come off a glorious 6 months spent working full time as a writer (thank you, Arts SA!!!). This was such a magical time, and it confirmed to me that what I’ve spent the better half of my life pursuing is, indeed, what I should have been doing all along. Coming down off that and landing in the Suit (and consequently saying goodbye to my work pj’s) has been a bit of a shock to the system.

The second thing is that I’ve been avoiding the Suit my whole life. Everything I’ve done has been to avoid ever having to put the thing on. The Suit is a symbol of the commitment of a large allotment of my time to a job that isn’t writing. A friend of mine asked me recently how I’m going balancing working and writing. Usually, I’d laugh this sort of question off with a flippant remark about how it’s not going at all, but for the first time I actually stopped to think about the question, and here’s the thing – writers don’t balance working and writing time. That’s a false dilemma. Writing is what we want (and need) to do, but work is what we have to do, and it usually involves a steady, ongoing, and fairly constant sort of commitment of our time to do it. So, it’s not a matter of balancing writing and working, but rather of balancing writing and all that other stuff everybody else does outside of work; namely, catching up with friends and family, having hobbies, and just generally getting a life. That’s where we make our sacrifices. Work takes up a set amount of time each week (that’s why we resent it so much). What writers are really trying to balance is having a life and being a writer, and that’s what the Suit really symbolises for me. It’s a metaphor for all the time I don’t get to spend catching up with friends. It’s every missed family meal. It’s every holiday I’ve never taken. Were it not for the Suit, my writing time would be my working time, and all of my ‘free time’ (I’ve heard the phrase but never really understood what it means) would be spent doing all of the things regular people do after work.

None of this is being fair to the Suit itself, or to the Office, either, which actually doesn’t require me to wear a suit at all, but I wear it anyway because if I didn’t the whole metaphor would crumbled down around me. As I slip into my polished shoes every morning and tie that godsforsaken strip of fabric around my neck (the noose metaphor is just too obvious), all I can think about is how I’d rather be writing. And here’s the kicker – writing actually is my “REAL JOB” now. Working in a Suit at the Office is just my way of paying for it.

Posted in On Writing (Assorted Ramblings) | 2 Comments

On WINNING, or How to win some books!

Hi Guys,

I’m so excited about the launch of Beast Child: Volume Two of the Voyages of the Flying Dragon next month that I’m giving away 6 prize packs! Each prize pack comes with a signed copy of Quillblade AND Beast Child! I’m giving 2 packs away on FaceBook, 2 away on Twitter, and 2 via an email competition – and you can enter all three (as long as you live in Australia)! Details right here:

FaceBook – Head over to FaceBook and befriend (if you haven’t already) Ben Chandler’s Author Page (here), then just find the photo of Beast Child‘s cover illustration and tag yourself in it. On the 1st of September 2011, I’ll randomly pick two names and send you a private message via FaceBook to let you know you’ve won. Then you just have to reply via FaceBook with your name and address (and the name of the person you’d like me to address it to in case you’re entering for a younger, non-FaceBook-ing friend) and I’ll pop it in the post for you!

Twitter – To enter the Twitter competition, just go and follow @DoctorBenny and then Tweet, in 140 characters or less (of course), what sort of Bestia you’d like for a pet and why. If you’d like to know more about Bestia and what they can do, head over to my website and check out the glossary (here). Don’t forget to include me (@DoctorBenny) somewhere in the Tweet so I can read all your answers. I’ll choose the two most creative uses for a pet Bestia on the 1st of September 2011, and they’ll win the prizes! Winners will be contacted on Twitter via DM.

Website & Email – The third (and final!) way to win one of the prize packs is to draw / paint / photograph (?!) / or in some creative way make a picture of a Bestia, get it onto your computer, and email it to me (ben.chandler@me.com) before the 30th of August 2011. You can choose to depict one of the Bestia from the books, or even draw your own! Make sure to include the name of the Bestia somewhere on your drawing, and I’ll choose the two most creative pictures of Bestia as the winners and contact you via email for names and addresses, etc. I may even put the winning entries up on my website for everyone to see!

And that’s it! Six prize packs, three different ways to win, two signed books! What are you waiting for?! Give it a go and spread the word! I’m really looking forward to your tweets and pickies!

Good luck!

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On Gimmicks and Gizmos, or 3DS First Impressions

You all knew this was coming, right? Well, I finally bought a 3DS, and my initial impression is that it’s pretty darn good, but there’s almost nothing to play on it. This actually isn’t as much of a problem as you might think. Although the Wii has a LOT of shovelware on it, and very little A-grade 3rd party support, I’m happy enough with the Nintendo titles that I don’t regret buying the system. I suspect it’s going to be the same with the 3DS (come on, Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past remake!). A few choice Mario and Zelda titles, and I’ll probably be all right. And here’s the tricky bit – there aren’t any Mario or Zelda titles yet. I think this makes it the first Nintendo console to launch without a Mario launch title (the Gamecube had a Luigi launch title, so that’s something, though I can’t remember if the Wii launched with Galaxy…). Anyway, I never would have bought it if Zelda wasn’t imminent (about 6 weeks?). I was going to wait until then but, well, you know how it goes…

So, what do I think of it? First, the 3D. It’s really the system’s main selling point, so I might as well deal with it right up front. The 3D is pretty awesome, and this is coming from someone who normally gets headaches from 3D films. I have a real problem with those reviewers who talk about the 3D being a gimmick and then complaining that the games don’t incorporate elements of 3D into the gameplay mechanics. My response: do they ever say the same thing about HD graphics? No, they don’t, and that’s really what we’re really talking about here – visuals. Just as 16-bit games look better than 8-bit games but play the same, and HD games look better than regular old D games but play the same, 3D is an enhancement of the look of a game, not of the gameplay mechanics themselves – that’s up to the game developers. I’ve tried three games so far: Super Street Fighter IV, The Sims, and Ghost Recon. I’ll get to the games themselves in a little bit, but the 3D was great in all of them. Each one uses it in slightly different ways. The Sims uses 3D models for the houses and terrain, as does GR, which also has sort of multiple-layered cut-scenes that look fantastic, and SF uses 3D character models within a 2D play space. Some people have complained that the backgrounds are too static in SF, but I was too busy playing the game to notice, and this doesn’t affect the gameplay one bit. So, overall I’m loving the 3D more than I was expecting to.

Okay, it’s not perfect technology. You have to hold your system at just the right spot, and although the effect doesn’t give me headaches it does strain my eyes (but then, I do play for more than the recommended 20min intervals). I’ll admit I do worry that this level of exposure, which is against Nintendo’s health warnings, I should add, may have some sort of long-term, negative effect on my eye-brain relationship, and I see why children should probably not use the 3D, but the effect really does bring something to the gaming experience – it’s not just a gimmick.

Besides, you can adjust the depth of the 3D to a more comfortable level (I usually just leave it on full as the effect on my eyes is basically the same) and you can also drop it down to full 2D if you need to, and though I’ve done this a bit I mostly keep the 3D on and live with the slight soreness in my eyes (otherwise I’d just play the DS, right?).

As for the games, well, it’s hard to give a definitive answer here as there just aren’t that many. I don’t like The Sims or fighting games, generally, but I do like turn-based strategy games, and although I usually play the fantasy ones, the ‘realistic’ battle sims in GR are quite fun. Essentially it comes down to mostly ranged assault combat (archers over knights) with your gunners and bombers, but I think Ubisoft have put together a really great game here. Of all the launch titles, I’d only really recommend this one (I’ve heard Nintendogs is also good, but it’s not my kind of game at all – I have a real cat who is demanding enough).

The ‘added extras’ are a conceptual step-up from the DS. You’re encouraged to take your system with you everywhere to build game coins (from your pedometer) and because of Street Pass, which is this cool tech that lets your 3DS talk to other systems you pass by. Your system exchanges Mii’s (which you can use in mini-games) and games make use of it in various forms, too. In SF, for example, you can build a team of ‘trophies’ that will fight other teams you pass by, and then you get the results when you next boot up the system. It’s passive gaming, but it does add a little extra to the concept of mobile gaming. [Here’s a tip if you live in smaller cities – hang out at video game stores. At the least the staff will probably have their 3DS’s on them.] I think it’s also worth noting that, given how light the machine is, it’s an amazing piece of technology, even if you never use the 3D elements. The battery life is pretty bad at full strength 3D, but not too bad at 2D, but I don’t actually play portable systems outside my home (that’s what my iPhone is for, right?), so this doesn’t bother me too much. If you’re a DS fan, you’ll probably love this, though I see both systems living comfortably side-by-side for a while (I have my suspicions it will be the same with the Wii and the new ‘Project Cafe’, but we’ll have to wait and see about that one).

Final thoughts? The 3DS is a great system in it’s own right, and a natural follow on from the DS. There’s new stuff here (not just the 3D) that makes it worthwhile, and the 3D is an awesome extra. If you’re not as big of a console-colletor as me, you might want to hold off until more games are released to get a feel for how the system will go long-term (and to await the findings of the studies on the 3D effects on your eyes).

Posted in On Games (Digital Ramblings) | Leave a comment