Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Friday, July 20, 2018

celebrating milestones

There are just a few short days before the release of my sixth book - "the Peithosian Gift".

It's fair to say, I am quite excited about this one. It was a labour of love, taking almost five years to draft, redraft, rewrite, and finally edit. There were a few major life events along the way, one of which was my mom passing away suddenly from the effects of a very aggressive blood cancer. I know, it's those 'moments' in life that shape us. That particular event certainly led the charge of me shifting closer towards full hermit mode. Writing about philosophical dilemmas in my fiction writing and pumping up the volume on my reading of philosophical literature.

At this stage of the process, when the book has been through its editorial paces, the art work for the cover and marketing made sparkly, the distribution networks lined up neatly, pre-sale markers doing the rounds, and the final discussions with the marketing team about the strategy to get the book onto reader radars - this is the 'business end'. I have the added benefit of two publicists for this latest book - one in my main market (north America) and another in a market I'd like to reach (UK/Ireland).

The marketing this time around will be a 4-6 week book campaign - getting the book out to influential reviewers, organising interviews, and giving a very large number of librarians an opportunity to look it over. I may have to burn the midnight oil for some interviews given I'm on the other side of the world compared with my main markets, but this is a small price to pay to share my insights about the themes of the book.

As for those themes, I explore a few: (1) freedom to make your own choices in life, (2) abuse of power, (3) family loyalty, (4) concentration of power in the hands of a few, (5) Nature versus nurture. I also consider how history has a way of repeating itself especially when we do not remember (or know) why we were fighting the first place.


The book will be available through all the usual sites (Amazon, Book Depository etc) but here's a link to the publisher's pre-order page if you wish to venture there:

https://www.rowanvalebooks.com/book/the-peithosian-gift

And if you're wondering what the book is about, here's a brief synopsis:

The Peithosian Gift is a speculative fiction novel about two warring clans with the power to control the minds of others. Since ancient times, the Morgans and the Kanes have violently disputed the right to use their gift. The present-day Morgans are outnumbered and persecuted by the Kanes for using their gift; most are in hiding, while others avenge the slaughter of their kin. The Kanes hunt and assassinate Morgans to prevent a mind-controlled world. While one clan seeks a ‘saviour’ to restore the imbalance, the other fears the birth of a too-gifted child. Radha, born of a third, lost clan, has superior powers that she is scarcely able to control. Events lead to a clash of clan leaders and key players, forcing Radha on the run with both sides hunting her.

Remember "your will is not your own" - accept it and you will survive.

And, finally, no milestone celebration would be complete with setting the next milestone. Tthe teaser for the sequel, "the Peithosian Curse", which is now being drafted is - "what would you do to fit into the crowd?" I am VERY excited about where my characters will be venturing in the book to come.

Happy reading.

Friday, April 27, 2018

story board design

It's a sunny day on the Sunshine Coast - the perfect place for my niece to celebrate her birthday (even if she is working). I'm working, too - now four days into five that I set aside to start my effort to prepare a story board for a possible sequel to the book that is being released in late July. Yes, "the Peithosian Gift", now has its publication date and my meandering writing efforts since January now need to refocus.

I started April thinking about what full-length novel I wanted to write next. There are three possibilities:
(1) write the next part to the Panopticon series - three written, the fourth to be written - working title "The Helotry".
(2) write a sequel to the book just written - working title "The Peithosian Curse".
(3) write a completely contemporary piece based on one of my short stories - "The Hunger".

Each option has something to offer.
(1) It's been several years since I spent time writing about Gabriel and Nemesis and their siblings - they were an interesting family in an epic battle - I miss them.
(2) While it took me longer than usual to write the current novel, there is still a significant story to tell in the world I've created.
(3) An interesting family and a test of my skill to write outside my preferred speculative fiction genre and centred on a twelve year old child.

I put together a story board for Gabriel's next story at the time I set his family aside. My analogy at the time was, after well over a decade exploring the world of his family, I was ready for a holiday.

I've spent the last four days thinking about the sequel for the current novel - synopsis written, key new characters created, and two of six sub-plots roughly designed. There's quite a bit of philosophical musings in this piece, largely a reflection of the course I have been spending a chunk of my time over the last few months (and the next several) doing. At the moment, I also feel I've reverted a bit into standard tropes for the genre - the unknown narrator reflecting on past events (the conscience of the story), a group of scientists searching for the truth. I believe that they can both work as concepts in the story as long as the main protagonists and the conflict between them dominates the telling of the story. These are the plots/sub-plots I have yet to flesh out though.

I haven't started the story-board for the contemporary piece (so, for anyone thinking about the French film about vampires in Paris - this is NOT it). The child in the story is the offspring of a "fixer". I envisage twelve to be the perfect age between the innocence of youth and coming to understand the reality of the surrounding world.

As a rule, I spend a few months developing a good story board and doing any related research to improve the detail in story. In the speculative space, it involves a lot more thought-experiments (for the obvious reason that I cannot change the thing I've chosen to change in my "what if" question being explored). While there are some contemporary worlds I would consider exploring for real (immerse myself in a world to better understand the characters), I can say unequivocally, I don't think I will be seeking out fixers any time soon. I'll try my best not to take the Sopranos as my benchmark - brilliant though that television series was in terms of story-telling.

The designing of the story board is possibly one of my favourite parts of the writing process. It is the time when there are so many possibilities and my imagination can run wild with the freedom to travel along many a tangent as I figure out how to assemble the story-puzzle. It is wonderful to feel it all coming together. The ideas once formed can then be explored to my heart's content as I then write the story itself.

I'm excited.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Utopia

I was re-reading recently excerpts from one of the earlier novels I wrote in my writing career, which includes not only prose but a smattering of my poetry. It was the book I wrote to get out of my system the 'excesses' most writers experience in their early work. This for me was both flowery writing as well as the difficulty in distinguishing the difference between my own emotions and that of the characters I created.

I am much better now at writing (for example) a teenage boy even though I've never been one (my current manuscript being published later this year, the Peithosian Gift, includes a few such characters). The main character in my earlier work, Transition Girl, on the other hand, could be easily misinterpreted as my personal philosophical journey even though she is a work of fiction. I readily admit I saw too much of myself in that character - what I might have been if I'd made more extreme life choices. I still write a lot about philosophy generally, and ethics and family in my work, I just do not feel the need to channel my own emotions and character traits any more.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from that earlier work.

Utopia - a good place.
It is not a physical place. I have spent so much of my time looking for it. While I will always continue to have my breath taken away by the beautiful places that I have seen, there is more to utopia than melting into those spectacular spaces.
It could be a mental space, perhaps the place where the things that have made me sad no longer exist.
Things that I have said and done. As a thirteen year old, telling a boy who I did not like in school to have a rotten Christmas, the immoral turpitude in my unwavering voice – I still think now how cruel I could be. Cruel that I still am.
Things that have been said and done to me. Joshua saying he did not know me and believing he never did in the twelve years he persevered with me, in that moment before walking out the door forever – perhaps the most disappointing words ever uttered within my earshot. Cruel that he was.
Is utopia a state of mind? I look at the aberrant Brighton boy and wonder if this particular flaneur struggles with depression as much as I do. I pretend that using cognitive behaviour tools like the power of positive thinking will make a difference to what floats around inside my head and most days I get away with the subterfuge – the appearance that I am content with my lot.
What is natural happiness anyway? Is happiness a pursuit, a choice or something that just happens? Arguably, a lack of choice can be deemed to be a form of happiness. I have actually heard it described as synthetic happiness. But I think “making believe” that you are happy with your lot in life if you have limited choices is self-delusion.
(Drug induced happiness (a more obvious response to the phrase synthetic) may be another form of self delusion but can be irresistible for some and, quite frankly, whether it's real or not - elation felt in the moment could be described as happiness.)
I don't accept that dissolute restiveness will necessarily allow me to experience some level of euphoria. Although I accept that being out of control can make me feel unhappy sometimes. People are more prone to melancholy and depression when they lack control.
I actually feel more content when I am surprised and when those surprises are things totally outside my control - when I do not have to make any decisions at all or someone else makes the decisions for me. Maybe some measure of going with the flow - irrespective of the degree of control or choice - makes me feel content because it is easy.
I am not that different from the rest of my family after all.
Utopia - the place that cannot be.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Procrastination moment number 42 (aka therapeutic forgetting)

I think I might be procrastinating again. I have been contemplating (aside: perhaps bogged down in a quagmire might be a more apt explanation) over the last few weeks what can only be described as a series of philosophical questions about what makes me human and fallible. I've been asking these questions because I have decided to take on the ultimate procrastination activity - a course in philosophy!

Clearly the main project I set myself this year - to write a play - has hit a road block. The treatment (the thing that describes scene by scene the play in present tense to assist any director in translating to a stage) is written. I have also drafted the details of the main characters and the opening scene. That was what I managed to do over a month ago. Ever since, I have been distracted. Writing only dialogue - well, it's hard. So I've been working on poetry instead, and building up my collection of philosophical books to read as if I am anticipating a year long procrastination effort. I remind myself that I did set a decision point - come Easter I would set aside the play for a while if other things caught my interest more. And here I am, a few days away from Easter.

I am rather excited at the idea of studying - it's been ages. Week by week online lecture, culminating in an Ethics in Leadership seminar in August.

One of my earlier books was a deeply philosophical piece. Actually, come to think of it, I explore a number of philosophical themes in all of my work. Ethics, morality, what it means to be human, the nature of self and what part big "events" and our memories of those them play in defining who we are - the questions are endless.

I think the philosophy course will help me improve my story-telling, though I cannot imagine if I'll ever be able to produce a play as good as the Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. This play, of all the plays I've seen over many years, remains a stand out in thought provoking ideas on the nature of humanity.

A key concept used in the play is therapeutic forgetting - in the play itself, the 'monster' Pillowman comes and takes bad memories away.

It is based on modern science - a particular pill - used for well over 50 years, administered sparingly in medicine to treat selected cases. The memory suppression pill only works if it is taken within 24 hours of a severely traumatic event. [By the way, you don’t really have the memories erased, just the emotional impact of those memories.]

There is no reason to believe the pill could not be used for circumstances that were “unpleasant” but not really traumatic – how many bad days have we all had where a pill might have helped us to forget the embarrassment. Taken to an extreme, there could be a lot of seriously drugged up people wandering around. Self-inflicted dementia for the young and the young at heart.

In reality, there’s a huge difference between having a shitty day and being (say) violently assaulted. Medical experts believe that there is a case for therapeutic forgetting in the latter case and, on some days, I am inclined to agree with them, especially if it means it could prevent a lifetime of destructive behaviour arising from an inability to cope with the emotions generated from the event.

But why should we give the multi-national drug companies a free kick along when there are far more “socially” acceptable ways of memory suppression - like binge drinking? No prizes for guessing those (non-prescription) forms of suppression only provide temporary relief.

Seriously though, are we not the sum of our experiences? To erase part of those experiences would be like making life become an unfinishable puzzle (with several pieces permanently missing). It just seems wrong to me. Who would want to sleepwalk through their existence? [Aside: actually, there are probably a large number of folk who would say, “I would”, to that question. And, let’s be honest, a serious part of so many people's history lessons would likely be strewn with examples of doing just that.]

We all have bad days, days when we cannot pretend to be happy. When folk telling us to "deal with it", and pile on the pressure to be "carry on". These are the days when a little "me time" is far better at shaking the blues away. Better than any pill, really.

What if there was a more extreme choice of memory erasing? Existence erasing? If you have experienced a traumatic event, would you take a pill to forget? If you knew you were going to face a series of traumatic events in your future, would you willingly choose to cease to exist to avoid those events? Disconsolate darkness. McDonagh is brave-enough to ask and answer that question.

We rarely have the benefit of foresight, only the benefit of hindsight. Is it wrong to wonder what it would be like (and may be wish a little) to be a suburban slag that only lived for today – for the moment – who did not obsess about the past and who did not fret about the future. Existing purely on basic instinct – would life be a whole lot simpler?

Maybe I am in a world a world surrounded by people who only live in the moment and who do not want to face the prospect of anything that suggests there is something other than the moment. And they say ignorance is bliss.

Does the very process of being capable of reason make life unnecessarily complicated?

Yes - I really need to channel my procrastination into a productive pursuit like studying philosophy!



Saturday, February 17, 2018

home stretch

I finished 2017 and started 2018 in a productive frenzy, reaching the milestone of a completed third draft of the manuscript for the Peithosian Gift and a draft of suitable quality that copy editing is now well underway. Will have something on the market by the middle of the year. Home stretch with a finish line within sight.

My feelings on reaching this milestone (with this book and all that have come before it) are always mixed. There's the achievement delight - something finished. There's the marking the moment - ruling a line on taking the story further (at least until I decide to write a sequel). No writer is ever really finished when the writing on any particular piece is done. There's always an urge to tinker a little more. But this needs to be balanced against that feeling of accepting the time in the particular world of that particular story is done and it is time to move on.

Sometimes I reach that point so ready to step away that I want to run at pace as far away as I can sprint. Three parts into the Panopticon series, I was ready to let my child of the light, Gabriel, take a holiday. I have a very rough story-board prepared so I could start drafting the next part, working title - the Helotry - but I'm just not ready to return to this family of characters.

In contrast, I remain excited about the world in the manuscript just completed. I feel there are enough seeds planted in what I have already written to offer some genuinely new directions and creative exploration. No story-board yet but a working title - the Peithosian Curse (obviously). The added bonus is that the lovely lady who has been editing my current manuscript is so excited at the prospect of a sequel, it is almost enough to inspire me to name this project as the next cab off the rank.

But there is a bit to do before I go there. I set a different goal for writing this year. Something to challenge me - something different. I set a goal of writing a stage play. Almost two months gone in the year and I have a working treatment (the scene by scene staging of the play). Two lines of dialogue and the terrifying thought that I have a hell of a lot more dialogue to write before it resembles anything remotely stage worthy. I'll give myself until Easter to see if I have set too hard a task for my writing skills.

And, in truth, I probably should have set a different goal if I was going to venture into contemporary fiction about a dysfunctional family. I was encouraged to consider converting one of my short stories into a novel and I believe the idea is worth contemplation. The short story - the Hunger - looks at an event in a young girl's life whose father happens to be a "fixer" in the underworld. I think it would be an interesting juxtaposition of the innocence of youth and the impact of a much darker world. It's probably been done before.

Finally, reporting on another short-story beyond a home stretch. I was recently asked to contribute to a new e-publication, 300and1 words, that specialises in sharing life experiences. The editor had read one of my poems and associated story in another e-publication - Poets Unlimited - about the passing of my mom. Here's the link to the micro-story as it was published in mid-January - http://300and1.com/cristina-archer/ - it is a good example of how one creative piece can be reshaped for a different audience.

Plenty of ideas on where my next creative escape will be - it's a hard choice because it will consume me for at least three years of writing anew. I am excited about the possibilities and many a moral dilemma to explore.










Saturday, December 30, 2017

a distant sun

Without fail, I change my bedsheets on New Years Eve, whether they need changing or not. Clean from a warm shower, and slipping into fresh pyjamas and linen with the scent of lavender on my pillow seems to me to be a perfect way to end each year. There's also a ripe symbolism to it. An early night, ear plugs in if there's a party near by (which of course there always is given the occasion), a good night's sleep alone wrapped cocoon tight in a cotton shroud, and then waking up to a whole new year fresh with possibility.

It's been a few years since I celebrated the actual start of the year in the company of others. Last year the celebration was over a lunch at the farm of an old family friend before I hopped on a plane at a very quiet airport well into the evening and returned home in time to hear the party next door counting down the seconds to herald in the new year as I crawled into bed with no time to spare. The year before I ignored several invitations because I still felt down about my mother's passing earlier that year. I think the last house 'party' I hosted was when my housemate was still in the country and the half a dozen close friends who still resided nearby joined us for a dinner and to shout from the rooftop deck at the storm lightning that shared the sky with the fireworks that night. My favourite housemate and several of my closest friends moved away the following year and the prospect of them ever returning diminishes by the day.

Before then, I attended every shape of new year's celebration including house parties hosted by vibrant IT software folk that lasted for days, party 'events' filled with a sea of colourful frocks, exposed flesh random hook-ups, copious amounts of booze and queues to the bathrooms that seemed to stretch for miles, B&B places or campsites with smaller groups in remote locations where stories were shared either playing Scrabble or next to a purpose built fire on the beach. They all had something to offer both in terms of creative inspiration as well as flashes of life and intimacy.

No matter what shape or size these occasions have taken, I cannot shake that feeling of remoteness inside of me. Surrounded by people, yet alone or lonely (I am unsure there's a difference), perhaps we've all felt that at some time in our lives. For me, it feels like a permanent state, as if my mind resides on a distant sun in another universe but my body is here and I'm waiting for the light and warmth that should belong to me to reach it. I hope that some heat will make me whole one day even though it has such a long way to travel. Assuming it is not a black-hole dead star and no light will ever escape it. And, in the meantime, I am destined to constantly shake half frozen from the icy coldness that emanates from my core. I confess at work that my voicemail message often gets confused for a robot but people could be forgiven for wondering what I am.

I've had hermit leanings most of my life. It's hard to know whether my passion for writing sparked first as a 12 year old came before this or whether because of this disposition. And it's fair to say that I have really thrown myself into the long stretches of isolated writing time much more in the last few years to escape the world. Since that damned pancreatic tumor nearly killed me in 2013, I should have embraced life more but I went the other way and retreated into my shell. Mum's sudden passing from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and my subsequent MS diagnosis probably didn't help but I can only use these events as excuses because I know I am who I am and these events do no more than shape me at the margins.

The latter perhaps more so given I've been on the Wahl's Protocol all of the last year and it has proven to be remarkable in keeping me physically the healthiest I've been in decades. I would say it's forced me to give up a lot more - it's harder to have fun with friends if you cannot enjoy the small pleasures in life like a huge bowl of gluten rich pasta and several glasses of wine - though a part of me sometimes wonders if I was slipping away before I had to give up gluten, refined sugar, diary, and so many other things and spent my evenings meditating alone rather than in the company of others. Buddhism should be easier to embrace now that I've had a practice run of adjusting to abstinence on so many levels.

The last few days have been a case in point. Other than a couple of conversations with my younger brother, I have shut myself away from the world for this stretch of time to write. It's been peppered with an occasional walk and a bit of movie watching (and binging viewing a TV show called Chasing Life - yes I appreciate the irony in this choice) but mostly I've been at my computer tapping away on the key board in a frenzy of flowing story telling as I shape the third draft of my latest manuscript. Uninterrupted and procrastination aside, I realised that this is what brings me satisfaction, what makes me content. It's been the thing that stops me from checking the expiration date on my stockpile of sleeping pills. Break the glass in case of an emergency. Do not use it to colour the warm bath water red. While I haven't needed to take any pills all year - I have been sleeping so well - I am struggling with the notion that I'm walking with my eyes closed as a fringe dweller who stopped embracing life a long time ago and the reason I'm resting easy is because I am a ghost - already dead. I half expect to float away some times, dissipating as a dispersing fog forgotten.

I found creative voice in my poetry as well as the long-form novel writing this year past. It was a good year in that sense. I found myself miles away from any real connection remembering that what comes out of friendships is what is put into them. It was a bad year in that sense.

I promised to myself that I would spend a year picking a weekly activity from the Broadsheet Melbourne website and get out more. Is this a resolution? I hope not. There's not a soul to share with. Not a soul to laugh with. That's a line from one of the first poems I wrote in my early teens. It seems not much has changed in the intervening years, in between the ebb and flow of the occasional snapshot moments of intimacy between the quiet silences. Sleeping in a crisp clean bed that is not a coffin.

Friday, December 08, 2017

tangent world


people around me are talking
debating impacts of nuclear testing
this is serious stuff
but all I'm thinking
as they speak
is Sponge Bob
and that annoying conspiracy theory
a megaphone-loud shouting thought
crashing in a wave of white water
eddy swirling conceptions
the Bikini Atoll tests thinly veiled
radiated freaks reside below remnants
of a mushroom cloud.

she's got that look again
the voice seems distant
we've lost her for a while
another spray of words
not a whisper
yet miles away
I wonder
can I keep it together
concentrate and listen
hear the scaffolding structures
logically constructed
around me.

how did I find myself
in tangent world again?
if my head were a perfect circle
perhaps the lines inside it
would stay corralled
instead they shoot outwards
porcupine needles
puncturing through the perimeter
those random thoughts expressed
air pressure released.

my mind is lighter
and an idea set free
swimming untamed
among the others
bearing no resemblance to anything
spoken out loud before it
incongruous fodder for disarray
thrashing everything in its path.