Summertime and the music is thick on the ground

My summer musical itinerary is currently looking something like this:

11th October – Husky* at the Corner Hotel
12th October – Regurgitator plays Unit and Tu-Plang at the HiFi Bar
9th November – Radiohead in Brisbane
17th November – Radiohead in Melbourne
6th December – Spiritualised at the HiFi
7th December – Primal Scream at the Palace
(You may have January off to drink beer and bitch about the heat before…)
15th February – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
16th/17th February – All Tomorrow's Parties
3rd March – Soundwave

* So I hear these guys signed with Sub Pop and are now available in the US and places. That means you should get into them because they make splendid noise with all the musicality (including delicious harmonies) of folk and a hefty helping of prog complexity.

What am I missing? Well, we don't have Harvest tickets, despite really enjoying the vibe of the festival last year, because it's irresponsibly in the middle of Radiovember. We were really hoping for Sigur Ros sideshows, but they're only playing Perth and Adelaide on the side (presumably because they're doing a whole second showing of the festival in Melbourne) and anyway we probably would've been in the wrong city at the time. Bummer. (We also declined to Big Day Out this year because there wasn't anyone we HAD to see, just lots of “and while we're there those guys are great” bands. I remain on the lookout for YYYs sideshows.)

Is this all getting a bit out of hand? HELL NO. Bring it on, musical universe! I can totally take more.

(One day I should perhaps talk about how I say, “Oh, I'm taking two weeks off in November,” and my workmates say, “Oh, lovely, where are you going?” and I say, “To see Radiohead. Multiple times.” And then I do these ones – \m/ \m/ – and they look perplexed and change the subject. But that's pretty much the story right there.)

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Where did you come from?

I have this very vivid memory from my childhood, probably somewhere around the age of 10-12, or thereabouts, of my mother and I getting ready to go out. It was a Queensland summer day, so pretty damn sweltering, and Mum lamented that she was going to have to put on pantyhose in this.

“Why?” I asked. She paused, and the obvious answer was, Because that's what one does. I hurried on with, “I mean, who's going to care if you do or not?”

It was obviously not something she'd thought about before. You wore pantyhose because that was part of being properly dressed – just like she also made up her face (not with foundation, but eyeshadow and lippie, always).

In the end, that day, she still wore pantyhose, but I like to think of that as the thin end of the wedge, and increasingly, as the years passed, she didn't bother more and more.

Years later, I would comment in passing to my maternal grandmother that I held the opinion that I come from an unflinching tradition of no-nonsense women who don't care for society's expectations.

“Oh,” she said. “Really? Do you think so? I've… well, I've always just wanted to be normal. Doesn't everyone?”

It was a highly disorienting moment. Stories in the family of my grandmother include the way she used to quell badly behaved Sunday School boys with one look. I grew up visiting a house full of golf trophies where half of them were hers, and the photograph of my young and trim grandparents on the dresser showed both of them heading down the beach to surf. My sense of Grandma had always been that she held her own, that she was a strong lady, that she couldn't be having with nonsense.

I have always considered irrational societal expectations, norms, “just-becauses” to be nonsense with which I could not be having. And while I do still believe I come from a strong and original line of women, I'm just honestly not entirely sure where that came from.

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Beer and books – a condensed summary of my life

  1. Did the Minotaur run last night, which I try to do every couple of months so I can paw over their “new releases” shelves and find shiny things to add to my GoodReads to-read queue (which often leads to me pestering my libraries to buy them, but I figure that's good for everyone, right?). There were a few interesting candidates last night, but I think the stand out winner is this guy Jay Kristoff, who it turns out is pretty much hilarious and moreover whose book Stormdancer looks so splendid I was excited about reading it even before the author described it like this.
  2. While in Minotaur, I got to overhear a phone call that started with, “Hi, your darlek has finally arrived,” and that just makes me happy.
  3. Over the weekend, while spending some wonderfully indulgent and entertaining time with '[personalcalico and her splendid hubby, we discovered that Holgate have made a new beer called the Gruit Expectations. It is a beer without hops.

    I'll say that again: It's a beer without hops.

    I appreciate that I'm maybe the only beer lover in the world who hears that and has a cloud-parting-choirs-of-angels moment, but seriously, for someone who has a hair trigger on her over-hopped sadface, this was a very exciting thing. And the beer itself is delish, all light and spicy and dangerously 6%. I love it in a way that's profoundly unnatural for me and anything paler than an amber; it's on tap at Deja Vu in the Melbourne CBD and I've already tried to go there to have some twice since the weekend, and the place isn't even open on Mondays.

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Weather. We have it.

There's a thing oft-lambasted in stories where a sudden storm springs up (often “magical”) and forces some plot point. The really lambasted bit is when the storm suddenly blows over and there's sunshine and birds singing.

Since Melbourne just did that, I'm not going to nitpick this when I see it happen in future. From fine sunny weather, to hailing thunderstorm, back to fine sunny weather again in forty-five minutes. I think that's a new record, even for this lunatic city.

Now where's my plot point?

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My enthusiasm has gone down the back of the couch of my subconscious

I'm having a spot of bother with House of Truth and Lies, inasmuch as I've finished the first part, up to my first major candy-bar scene, and maybe I made too much of that scene to myself, because my brain seems to be acting like I've finished the story.

“What?” it's saying. “Those guys? Aren't we done with them? OTHER SHINY IDEAS!”

I thought perhaps it was just doing that because now I had to specific-plot out the second part of the novel. (I have rough plans, but they need fleshing out as I get closer – and I don't like to plan in detail too much because I find that then I do deviate in writing, as though I'm just being contrary. It is me. This is possible.) My psyche is like water, and always seeks the lowest path of least resistance, so I was berating it up the hill of plot-work with a big stick. But now the middle section is all plotted out, and I'm still not really that interested in writing it.

Of course that just won't do. If I'm not enthusiastic about it, no one else will be.

So now I'm trying to think of ways to rediscover my joy and interest and fun. Maybe I need to really settle in with my characters and learn more about them. Maybe I need more world details. Maybe I do need to do something else in the meantime, though that feels fiendishly like letting my brain get away with it.

Any ideas?

In the meantime, I made the “After Dinner Biscuits” from over here… except the Australian is being a fascist about linking to it (I don't have to log-in to see it, why do you have to when I link it?) so I'll C&P the recipe here: Chocolate with chocolate and some chocolate )

PS: Does anyone ever actually have a tablespoon these days? We just turned out house upside down trying to find one I was sure we had. I suppose I could just get a handy tablespoon measure, but it's the principle of the thing.

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Number one: the larch

I've been reading fantasy fiction since I read Victor Kelleher and The Hobbit when I was about 10. I read everything else as well (no, literally, everything – my project for grade 7 was to read every book on the grade-7-only shelves) but I knew I liked that zany stuff. I fell irrevocably into all-fantasy-all-the-time when I discovered the genre as a thing at age 12, courtesy of David Eddings and a helpful librarian. (I remember standing there, staring at the cover of Pawn of Prophecy, with my mind exploding to the tune of “there's a whole body of books like this?” Of course, shortly thereafter the other shoe dropped when I reached the end of Eddings' currently-written works, and discovered that reading fantasy means waiting for the next book.)

But I grew up a sneeze away from the Tropic of Capricorn, basically subtropical, certainly cyclone territory. We had wet seasons when I was a kid, long sticky summers when it would start raining every day punctually between two and four in the afternoon, so three afternoons out of five I would walk home from school in the warm pelting rain with my shoes slung around my neck by their knotted laces. And then I got home, I would dry off and curl up on the couch with a humidity-edged book wherein folks wearing woollen cloaks trudged through frosty forests of oak trees.

This never seemed at all dislocating to me. I can only assume that, in my head, the books were books and the climatic conditions were like dragons – things that happened in the books. It wasn't until I moved south, to a town that actually had visible seasons beyond the wet and dry, that I realised I had no flipping idea what an oak tree looked like, despite practically every book I read using the species name as a shorthand for “and now you know exactly what this forest they're riding through looks like”.

Poinciana? Sure! (I fell out of enough of them as a child, I should be able to spot 'em… also frangipani and their unhelpful hollow branches.) I can recognise a jacaranda even when it isn't in full flower. When someone talks about a fig tree, I expect a banyan.

I started writing Boralos because I came back to my childhood home for Christmas, and watched the fruitbats swarming out of the mangroves at dusk, and thought, “…why am I constantly trying to write European fantasy when this is what flows in my veins?”

Which is absolutely not to say I grew up with hippos up the creek and people having pet pygmy crocodiles. We don't indulge in fantasy to stick with everything that we know, after all. ;)

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It's a kind of magic

A few things bleeding together in my head have congealed into this post, and if that analogy hasn't completely squicked you away from reading any further, I will now tell you what they are:

  1. an old friend accurately skewered Brandon Sanderson for using his novel as an explanation of a gaming system of magic;
  2. NK Jemisin stamped her foot on the idea that magic has to make sense; and both of these bumped up against;
  3. Holly Lisle's advice, long held dear to my heart, on world-building your special physics.

I'm going to start rambling on the topic of magic, systemic or otherwise, and see if I can pull together a coherent post here – stay tuned! )

This would be a good place to conclude with my “rules” for developing magic in your story. But I'm a big believer in The Rule – you know the one, the one that says “There are no rules”. If you can make it work, then run with it. (Run. Run like you stole something.)

But you have to make it work.

To assist with that, I would suggest:

  • you have to understand what sort of position magic occupies in your universe and your story, because otherwise what's it doing there? Also you will contradict yourself and that will be bad;
  • if you have a magic user as a character, there had better be good reasons why they don't just fix everything with magic, otherwise there goes your believable tension; and
  • think outside the box. Make something new, unless you can say something new about something old, or… y'know what? THERE ARE NO RULES.

Though I would also like to add that one thing that is often hilariously overlooked in “magic systems” is refinement, advancement and all those other by-products of the application of scientific codification to anything. Basically: if humanity's been doing magic this way for a thousand years, why aren't they better at it than they used to be?

In other news, I will be posting some work-in-progress soon, for thoughts and comments and general entertainment, of the House of Truth and Lies variety, so if you're not encircled on my Dreamwidth and you'd like to see the WIP, let's sort something out.

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The social benefits of hairdressing

I got a fabulous haircut the other day.

Not only did I get tidy, saucy, pink hair out of it, but it involved media interactions outside my usual sphere, which is always a pretty entertaining part of my hair-salon experience. I do not – by conceited and socially awkward choice – interact a lot with “normal” people. I'm a bit better at this now that I work in an actual workplace, but still, my friends, in both virtual and physical spaces, are delightfully weird in various shades that complement my own oddities. Our media and issues and people of interest do not often coincide with those of the mainstream. So my two hours in the hairdresser are often an interesting window on a completely different world.

This window was particularly entertaining.

GQ magazine )

Music – long live the '90s )

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The digital word

I have a bit of a teetering-on-the-fence opinion about ebooks. I cannot deny, as someone now trapped in a daily commute, that I look on enviously as people hold on with one hand while they gaily “turn pages” with the other on their e-reader (especially when we are both reading something like Reamde). The sheer portability of an entire library is the most blatant invitation to covetousness.

The reason I have hesitated in jumping on the electronic-reader bandwagon is that I really, really, really like physical books. I like having them. We designed our house to have one room with a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcase, because it will just look fucking beautiful (once we finally get the damn thing installed). And unlike with music, I cannot have my cake and eat it too: there is no way to rip a book I own to digital format, though some make-do options exist for “burning” digital prose to a physical copy.

And now I have been informed of another fundamental problem with the whole concept of electronic libraries; as discovered in sad circumstances by Kate Griffin (an author whose brain is an unending delight to me), Amazon will not permit (or, more accurately, honour) the bequeathing of virtual libraries.

I have philosophical Opinions about this )

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to put the viscera (the guts, the emotion, the details) back in — a little like making sausage, more like finding that devil in the details and making him spin you a tale