Thursday, December 8, 2016


I don't know what this meal is, or where it's going
it isn't what I asked for. I don't know why it's here.
A meal so strange... this is not the nine o'clock news.
I didn't even know I was hungry, and yet,
here is a feast, without familiar foods,
and I'm not sure which fork to pick up next.

What I forgot is we don't have to move
but can enjoy the main as an everlasting sweet,
ever-surprising and unexpected,
never going near dessert.
We will not dare discuss dessert.
And then the main can remain, remain,
timeless, unending, and exactly what we needed to eat.

I wrote this a while ago, forgot I had it in my drafts list. I didn't quite know what to do with it or whether it should ever see the light of day. It comes from a pretty confusing time in my past, something I was reflecting on, long after the events unfolded.

I think the time is right that it gets published now. The main meal goes on. The dessert, never even considered. The line, never even approached, let alone crossed. Friendship is a wonderful thing, and I am so incredibly grateful for it, unexpected though its arrival was.

Sometimes we over-think things. I over-thunk it at the time, terribly, and wondered at my friend's motives, couldn't understand how someone would have so much time for me without expecting "more", and if I'm honest, I was expecting that would happen, and dreading the time that the "more" would come up in conversation, because I'd have to shut it down and hurt someone badly.

It never did come up. And I am so honestly, incredibly grateful, and so thankful to keep calling this person my friend, a friend who knows me inside and out and just knew never to push that agenda. Thank you.

Oh, horror

I started another work. (Kill me now.)

I don't know whether it's because I'm some kind of disturbed creature, but I can't get my head away from the idea of a character who is an abuse survivor but ultimately sort-of ok. I think that's some kind of abomination to be truthful... not to mention appropriating someone else's culture*

*inb4 someone begins to yell that abuse is not a culture, I'm quite sure that people could get just as righteously angry at an author telling a story that isn't "theirs" to tell.

I've also wanted to write about a sex worker for a long time. In this novel that I began to plan, the sex worker isn't even the main character, it's her mother. There are so many works sensationalising sex work - or painting it as a world of drug addiction and exploitation - I wanted to write a character who does it because the work suits her. These people do exist. It's true that the lure of drugs is a tough thing to ignore in that industry, but sex workers are not all cookie-cutter broken human beings devoid of aspirations or personal strength.

Also, the main char is going to be cold. Heartless. Ruthless. This might be a difficult sell, I'm not sure. I'd like her to be a char who soldiers on despite it all and carefully cherry-picks her battles, displaying an uncanny head for life and for business in general, right from very young. Sure, we have a thousand books emerging right now of the superstar female who don't need any man... but this one, she is not a bitch who steps on people to get to the top, she is just a girl who goes after what she wants and uses brains to get it. I think I'll need to re-read some Jackie Collins, the true master of strong female protagonists.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The difference between search engines

Google and Yahoo often show different results when you search, but why? The simple answer is that each search engine uses a different method to guess what it is you want to see. They keep track of what other people looked for, to help decide what might be relevant to you, and sometimes they'll also put their own pages in the results, for advertising reasons.

Search engines have a lot of different "rules" to decide what order of results to show you. Some of these rules include reading the name of the website, the headings, words in the text, image names, information you can't see (in the behind-the-scenes coding) and also which website links are included. This set of rules is called the algorithm, and we can learn a little bit about these rules.

The first thing to understand is that Google and Yahoo are both big, wealthy sites who make money from advertising. They like putting their own results up the top, so that you click them and buy things. Fortunately Yahoo and Google still show other people's sites along with the paid ads, but the two sites still have some big differences in what comes up.

Each search engine has a different opinion on what matters the most. If we look closer here are the main differences from Google to Yahoo:

Google looks closely at a web page's text and also where it links to. It can tell a little better if the links make sense, and manages to filter out a lot of sites that have pages full of nonsense, or fake and broken links. (Pretend links, and pages full of nonsense words, are how some website owners try to get themselves on top of the search results.)

If a website has Lots and lots of links to different sites, they need to be relevant - if they are links to completely different subjects, Google won't rank it as highly as a page full of relevant links. So if you're looking for Ice Cream and a certain Ice Cream website has lots of links to Cadillacs and Knitting, you probably won't see it near the top!

Yahoo will often include websites filled and overflowing with one particular word - again which the website's owner has repeated over and over to try to get themselves up to the top of the search results. Google realises that it's probably not the best article if it's just full of the same few words, and Google will sometimes remove that site from the results shown to you.

Yahoo isn't quite so good at stopping "clone" sites appearing more than once. Ten identical websites all saying the same exact text isn't very useful to you, and Google tends to keep these out a bit better.

Overall, Google tends to supply general information results, and Yahoo's results tend to be a little towards the shopping side of things - even if those results aren't paid advertising for Yahoo. If you're shopping, that might make Yahoo a great choice for you.

So there you have it. There are technical scientific reasons of course, but the search engines guard these fiercely from our eyes. Which one you use comes down to personal preference. I prefer Google as it feels a little less biased, but a true shopaholic will love Yahoo. So enjoy whichever one suits you best.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It Occurred To Me

...that I haven't told you about Lee.

Lee is a character who really excites me. He has virtually begun to write his own story. I pitched it to my 18-year-old daughter and she is quite excited by him as well, so I already have a beta reader when I finish putting him to paper (or to computer, as the case may be).

His story is a coming-of-age, and I had originally planned for it to be teen fiction. Lee grows up with no interest in girls and has thus concluded that he is gay. But the plot thickens, because he begins dating a really cute guy, yet when it gets down to things and despite all his lusty drooling, he's too scared to sleep with him and just "can't perform". He then falls in Love (capital L) with his best friend, a girl, despite the fact that her body does absolutely nothing for him - Lee is not gay but pansexual (attracted to beautiful minds) and the story is his awakening as he grows up. I don't believe it's been done-to-death, and "accepting that I am gay" has already been done in teen fiction. I wanted something not done-to-death, and poor pansexual people are the forgotten race, so to speak, lost in the shadows of all the gay coming-out stories.

However, I'm wavering on the category now (teen), because a key plot point is Lee ending up in bed with that girl, and this is when the real confusion hits and he questions whether he's actually gay. (Stay with me.) Interestingly, the mechanics of that scene have played out in my head many, many times, always really explicit despite not wanting to write porn, and it is the reason for the conundrum - you can't be explicit in teen fiction. So, I'm thinking that I will try to address it by not getting down to mechanics. Which is difficult, because it is Lee's physical reactions (ahem) that lead him to question his orientation, both with the cute boyfriend and with the girl.

My wavering about that one, pivotal scene has caused me to come to a dead stop in my planning. I should just keep writing - put the rest of the bones in place. But I stopped and tried to do that scene in my head a thousand times and then lost momentum. And then went back to writing more of Lisa's story (Mistaken Identity, working title).

I will come back to you, Lee.

It's Oh So Quiet

In here at least. I've been working on new blogs, like this one and this one and this one. But I've also been doing a little bit of writing now and then, so I'm updating this blog to tell you about it.

I sat down in December-ish with a pretty short romance novelette to do some research into how these things are constructed. And as I read this book, I checked off items in "the formula". Yes, we've been through this before - published authors often argue that there isn't a simple formula which holds the secret to being published, but quite frankly, that's a load of rubbish. Take a look at any of the submission guidelines for romance publishers and the formula is spelled out in black and white. For example:
30,000-50,000 words, must have a strong female lead and love interest, story must begin with a conflict, include at least three bedroom scenes featuring safe sex, end with a HEA (happily ever after).
It reads exactly as a formula because that's exactly what it is. It is a tried-and-true method they've used umpteen times in a row to churn out their mass-market offerings month after month. But despite what glowing things might seem to be in store for an author accepted by these publishers, the reality is this: your advance will be three figures, and that's IF your lotto numbers come up and they sign you, and that's probably all you will ever see. For months of your hard work. You will effectively lose the rights on your work forever (read the fine print - you can virtually never regain the rights because they can simply release it digitally in Swahili and that re-starts the waiting period all over again - seriously, they'll do it). The royalties they state will be nothing like what you'll receive because they have sub-companies under sub-companies paying 5c per copy of the book and your 12% royalty will come out of that five cents. Your book will be marketed with a huge chunk of the publisher's branding all over the cover, in text far larger than your name - because let's face it their pretty graphics and their publishing house matters and you, the author, do not. Your book will have a literal shelf life of six weeks. That's how long it will be on supermarket shelves and on the front page of their ebook site before they shove it aside for the next book.

Sound enticing? Dear dog, I sincerely hope not.

There's also the matter of what the works themselves are. It is easy to say that they're trash because a reader with a brain will be able to identify the elbows of the work (the formula). It takes you out of the story when you're thinking to yourself that the girl is only arguing with him because they needed a conflict in the first chapter and that it's all part of the formula. It spoils what could have otherwise been a well-written story. You already know that the two main characters will end up together, happily.

I, personally, do not want to know what happens in the end of a book before I read it - why read it?

And I am not going to bash romance writers here. They are good writers. These, after all, were the ones selected while thousands were rejected. They are by definition the cream of the crop in the romance world, and even if their works conform to the shape of the cookie cutter and can be "seen through" they are still very good, technically, at the craft they do.

Anyway, back to the reason for the post - deconstructing the book. For not-the-first-time I was examining all these aspects and thinking I could write one. I started, by reading and writing in parallel. As things happened in the published book I wrote my versions. Absolutely not plagiarism - I am talking about structure not anything identifiable! -so for example, in the first chapter I introduced the main character and her home life, spelled out why she is single, showed her vulnerabilities (part of the formula).

So I continued. I had written my synopsis and fleshed out the characters. Six thousand words in, so, by now the characters had met and were hell-bent on never getting together.

And then it happened. That worm. Writers will know about that worm. It is the idea that worms its way in and refuses to be put off. In my case, the worm was that the main character has a stalker. An actual, valid reason to be worried about locking doors (which was her vulnerability). I wrote the stalker into the plot so far. I didn't want the reader to know who the stalker was.

I realised that to get my HEA, the stalker had to be someone either benign or arrested and locked up at the end of the book while the hero keeps her safe. How terribly trite. I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not to mention boring - damsel is in distress, hero steps in, she eventually allows him to love her, blah blah blah. No. Not going to do it.

And so the trashy novel has become a thriller. Hero's point-of-view chapters have been obliterated and the entire book will be written from the main character's point-of-view. Which is definitely more difficult. I can no longer have the hero's character shaped by his thoughts - she will need to witness all his "character quirks" so that the reader can understand the sort of person he is. But it has the added bonus that the reader will not know whether he is the bad guy.

I've put the first 1000 words up onto Wattpad, and we shall see if I get any feedback. I hope that readers aren't too bored.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect - About Habits

First of all: this blog is not giving any advice about physical habits (smoking, alcohol, medicines, drugs) - there are other websites to find tips on those things. This post is about other habits that we have which cost us money and get in the way of reaching our savings goals.

As far as hobbies or talents go, we all know that we get better at something when we practise. If we spend an hour every day on the piano, we improve. Well, unfortunately, if we practise doing not-so-great things all the time, we get really great at doing the not-so-great things.

We all understand "Money 101" - if we want to save money, we have to choose to stop spending it somewhere. We usually look to our "convenience" habits as places to shave down. This might be a newspaper subscription, a morning coffee, a takeaway lunch, getting hair or nails done, or things like the gym, fashion magazines, and cable tv. And one by one, most of us will reject certain changes because we consider the change too unpleasant. The key to making the changes less painful is in what you make the effort to practise, what you're used to doing already, and how you think about life's necessities.

As an example, there are a bunch of small convenience things that we probably take for granted these days that our grandparents might not have had. Washing machines, late-night-shopping, luggage with wheels. None of those are likely to break the bank, but it doesn't matter. The point is, we get used to having them around, so if we use them all time, we get very good at it. We start to think of them as normal and necessary. We practise using the washing machine so it becomes normal to have one. We don't want to switch to that "old" way of hand-washing, so a washing machine becomes necessary.

Most of us will agree there is nothing wrong with getting used to washing machines, late-night-shopping, and luggage with wheels. There isn't, and I am never going to try and talk you out of having these things. What's important is to understand is that we get used to what we always do - practise makes us perfect at needing things. It doesn't just happen with common and inexpensive things, it can happen with anything at all.

This means that if we practise buying lunch every single day, it becomes a habit. Buying lunch becomes something we're very good at - all that practice we do. Packing a sandwich in the morning looks more and more difficult because we are out of practice. We enjoy not bringing it from home and enjoy the convenience of buying it instead. We don't want to change. It becomes easier to keep a habit, than to change.

But don't despair just yet. There is good news! Cast your mind back to the first sentence: we get better at something when we practise. Have you ever thought about why some people are content without the things that we have? Some of them just don't miss what they never had, but many people have learned to go without.

UGH, THAT SOUNDS DISGUSTING. Don't panic, and don't run off just yet. We're going to approach it a different way. We're going to practise something that we know is cheaper, even though we don't like the idea of changing our habits. The idea of practising is to try and get better at it.

The Practice Period: Pick one habit that you kinda know could be done a cheaper way, and you think you could live with the home-version, but grumble-grumble-grumble you don't really want to bother changing. For this post, I'm going to use the morning takeaway coffee, but your takeaway lunch might also be one where you'd like to practise the alternative. Your practice period needs to last four or five times - so for a daily habit make it five days, for a monthly hair colour, make it four months.

Figure out a good, home-made version that you might be ok with having instead, even if you don't like the effort just now. For me, I bought some nice gourmet coffee. Home coffee is not quite as convenient as just grabbing the takeaway, but it's a good compromise. I already have a travel mug, so I'm good to start my practice period.

For a whole week, I made the effort to DIY my morning coffee. I allowed a few extra minutes so I'd have time before leaving the house. I made sure the mug was clean the night before. As I sipped it during my morning commute, I reminded myself of my savings goals and concentrated on the nice gourmet flavour.

When you feel like caving in, remind yourself it's not forever. Just 3 more times until it's done, and so on.

At the end of your practice period, physically count out the amount of cash you would have spent, but didn't. It's important to see this and feel the money in your hands. Look at that money you saved, and think about how easy it was to make that change. You're now getting better at the cheaper option, and the cheaper option is quite ok. If you continue to make the effort, it will continue to become easier and easier, until you don't even think about it - you just do it. It becomes a habit. We start to like habits. It becomes easier to keep a habit. Even the good habits :)

Don't think that this is limited to obvious "luxury" purchases. Big or small, it applies to anything that you would like to change, from buying shampoo in bulk to baking your own bread, from carpooling to recycling.

Tell me what you've changed, how it felt to make the very first leap, and how you felt as you added up the savings?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Disappearance of Elisa

I know I have been very scarce, but there's a good reason. Well, partly it's that I have taken on more than I can possibly do right now, but I've also been attending a writing course (with lots of homework).

There is so much to writing that I just didn't know about. It's fascinating.

And I found out that the next course is on English grammar. I am pretty excited about that (I know that my grammar is lacking). We'll see whether it actually improves my writing at all ;)