Working on the workplace

The outgoing Check Out Desk

The outgoing Check Out Desk

In my other life, where I interact with real people, I work in a library. It’s a brilliant job for a bibliophile, since you can borrow excellent books all the time at no cost (provided I return them before the due date or renew them online or by phone. What, you thought I wouldn’t pay fines?)

Libraries are an old idea (the library of Alexandria was constructed in the 3rd century BC and lasted until 30 BC), but there’s a reason they’re still around today. They provide access to knowledge, access to people that will help you find the way to ask the right question, collections of information that weren’t available in one place until the advent of the internet, and they have music and movies too. There’s also the crucial point that libraries provide free access to the internet for people who can’t afford their own computer or connection, or are away from home. They provide vital cultural information for new immigrants, and study materials for students of all ages.

The library I work at has an eye on the future. Things change, and it’s never smart to continue doing things the old way just “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. Over the next six weeks, we’re installing four new self-check out stations, allowing patrons to check out their own books. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s twice as many stations as currently exist, so lines will be cut down. There’s greater privacy for patrons too, since they don’t have to hand their books over to a clerk like me to check it out. We’ve improved the tagging system for better security and easier tracking.

Some people won’t like it. You can’t please all the people all the time (hey, that’s catchy…) Some people will hate it forever, and some will come to love it. That’s fine. We’ll have more staff over on the other desk, the improved customer service area, and we’ll be happy to manually check out your books there if you would prefer that. This isn’t a dastardly scheme to make patrons miserable.

In the meantime, I and my fellow workers are clearing back the library materials so that the contractors can get to work. We’re still pulling the books and dvds that you request by phone or online, and we’re still checking in the books that you drop off in the outside book drops or other branches. We’re still here, still working.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare - because they're going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare – because they’re going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

So, in mid-January we should be cautiously open again – a reduced service while the finishing touches are put in place. We’ve only closed completely for two days, with access through the Programme Room for people to collect their holds or make renewals, or even check out the Speed Reads. We know it’s inconvenient, that many people love the library as a work space or study area, but this is an investment in the future. The library needs to stay relevant so that these peripheral benefits remain available into the future.

Flash Fantasy No 1 : Non-epic tales of other lands

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The bell jangled merrily as Wesley pushed through the doorway at last. He’d been staring in through the window of the Curiosity Shoppe for more than a week now, trying to work out the intricacies of the puzzle box that lay, almost out of sight, on a velvet cushion in the corner of the window display.

Inside, the sound of the traffic on the street was reduced to a quiet murmur, and a smell of dust and age crept up his nose. He fought the urge to sneeze, and his fingers tightened on the wad of notes crammed into his pocket. There was no price on the box, so he’d brought all his savings, almost fifty dollars.

He looked around the dim interior uncertainly. There was an abundance of dark wood, of beautifully carved and jointed furniture, though he wasn’t sure what function it would serve. There were dozens of clocks on the walls, all telling different times – some without numbers, some without hands. Cabinets lined a kind of alleyway through the centre of the shops, glass fronts staring blankly, the insides too dark to reveal their contents. Wesley shuddered involuntarily, trying not to imagine what might be held inside.

“Can I help you…sir?”

The voice wheezed out of the dark space at the end of the alley of cabinets, and an old man shuffled into the light from the door, starling Wesley into stepping back. His back bumped up against the door, and he was trapped. The door opened into the shop, and to escape he would have to step towards the aincient, doddery figure now getting closer and… But wait. Now he was illuminated by the daylight, the shopkeeper was just a harmless old man, like someone’s grandpa, or a great-uncle. The shroud around him was a homely cardigan, and the stunted hooves were just mouldy carpet slippers. The sickly gleam was nothing more than a reflection from the eyeglasses he wore low on his nose. Wesley blew out a big sigh and tried to find his voice.

“Yes..Yes, you can. I mean, I’d like to buy the puzzle box in the window, please. I mean, if I can afford it. I mean, how much…?”

The man’s head cocked to one side, suddenly, like a curious bird examining a worm. Then he chuckled, like he’d read about it once and decided to try it out.

“The puzzle box? Well now…well now…That puzzle box, young man, is a very special thing. More than a puzzle, you see? For the right person, the right young man, that puzzle box is a gateway.”

Wesley fought down a rising sense of excitement, trying to concentrate on not being conned into paying too much for the box, but those words… He’d always felt he was meant for more than Math and Chemistry, more than the stupid pushing and yelling of the playground. Was this really his chance at REAL adventure? The old man had padded off to the window, his carpet slippers flapping slightly at each step, and he returned now with the box still on its cushion. He held it out to Wesley, quite formally.

“Take it, young sir. Open it, if you can, and you will step through into another world and meet your destiny.”

Wesley’s money was forgotten. As he had imagined doing for so many days and nights, he grasped the box in both eager hands. He was sure he hadn’t imagined the thrill that rushed through his fingers, a shiver that came from the box itself. He twisted, pushed, pressed and pulled, the sequence half guided by his eye and half by the feelings in his fingers. The box wanted to open, wanted him to open it.

And then a hidden seam gaped wide. Not the false seam running around the middle of the box – that was nothing more than a groove in the surface of the wood. This seam opened in the unbroken grain, wider, wider than Wesley could have believed. A dazzling light poured out, making him turn his head away. He could feel warmth on his cheek, fell it on his closed eyes. Warmth….heat…hot…so hot!

There was a pattering of ashes on the shop floor, then a solid THOK! as the box itself bounced onto the floor. It was closed up tight again, and none of the ashes from the vaporised body of poor young Wesley so much as dusted the deeply polished surface. With the edge of one old carpet slipper, now looking more hoof-like than a few seconds ago, the old shopkeeper nudged the box back onto its cushion and replaced it in the window.

Heading to the back to fetch his dustpan and brush, he sighed heavily. Clearly, this young man was NOT the chosen one.

 

After NaNoWriMo

Not a winner

November did not seem to last very long. With my brilliant plan in place, I only had to find fifteen sessions to write my complete story. not fifteen days, just fifteen writing sessions. I was so confident in what I had prepared, that I didn’t even start on the first day.

The initial sessions were easy, reaching my quota of words and completing each chapter with time to spare for household chores. But a strange thing happened as time went by: I slowed down. It took longer to complete each chapter, and by the time I had reached the 30,000 word mark, I was struggling to stay focused.
Ordinarily, I would put it down to story fatigue, to being tired of figuring out this story as I went along , but I had already done all the heavy lifting in this story: I had an outline of the whole thing and a detailed outline for each chapter. All I had to do was expand that outline into the real thing.

Since I hadn’t been writing every day, I hit this wall around the 21st/22nd of November. I still had 20,000 words to write, and yet I was writing less for each chapter and getting it down slower and slower. I whined about it on social media, and appealed for help, but of course the only real answer was to sit down and get on with it.

By the last few days of November it became clear that I would finish the story by the deadline of the 30th, but I would not reach the NaNoWriMo word goal of 50,000 words. There simply wasn’t enough story to tell, and I wasn’t going to resort to padding just for an electronic certificate. The trial had been to see if the new method I was experimenting with would help me write more in each session and complete a project in a shorter time. The results are simple: Yes.

On average I wrote around 3,000 words in an hour and a half each session. I wrote a novella totaling over 47,000 words in less than a month, when the first e-book in this series (about the same size) took almost a year to complete.

It’s proved to me that planning a project out in advance is a time saver, and a more efficient way to work, which is great because I have ambitious plans for the coming year – 4 one act plays and 2 full length plays, along with at least 20 sketches. There’s also the fact that this book has ended on a cliffhanger that suggest a very exciting third- and final – Eddie and the Kingdom story.

Though I don’t get the certificate, the t-shirt or the commemorative mug, I’m content. I got the book I wanted, and the results I hoped for. I have a new way fo working, and that should be more rewarding than any certificate.

Eddie and the Kingdom” will be on sale at a reduced price until book 2 – “Murder in the Kingdom” goes on sale. After a new cover design and a lot of editing and beta reading. Volunteers for either task, sign up in the comments section.

She broke your throne…

Sometimes I wonder if more people have seen the film of Powerking’s death than have seen the Zapruder footage…

Really? You haven’t? It’s the only film of Kennedy’s assassination…. Come on, you must’ve seen it.

Jesus! PRESIDENT Kennedy!

Yes, that one.

I guess that proves my point right there. You’ve seen the Powerking video, right? All the way through? Yeah. I think everyone has seen it.

These days you only hear about the death of the hero, not the life. I mean, sure, sometimes they talk about how he used to save entire cities, and people are always saying “It was safer to walk the streets when Powerking was alive.”, but they say that sort of crap anyway. I remember what it was like. Every week, on the news, some jerky footage that someone took while a building was collapsing, or an earthquake was rumbling, this flash of red and blue, and someone’s life was saved. A fire was put out, a busload of kids got caught before it went off the bridge and into the river.

Over and over, people saved. Catastrophe averted.

And because someone filmed it, because someone was always filming, you can find the stuff online, if you go looking. I dunno why I started. Maybe it was soon after I watched the video of his death for the first time. I was petrified, even though I knew the outcome. Though I knew what was coming, and I could have stopped the vid whenever I wanted, I let it play, heart thumping in my chest, right to the very end.

Most people stop it, you know. She brings down the knife, and they stop it. They just want to see the blood.

After that first time, I started to track down videos of him alive. I found hours of footage, scattered here and there, and I organised it by time. Before long I could sit and watch ten years of rescues, take up a whole afternoon. I made lists, counted how many lives he saved. It was into the hundreds of thousands, if you want to know, and a lot of those were just individuals, people he saved one at a time, swooping in like an attentive parent catching a toddler.

After six months of this, I started to actually see him. Not the costume, not the muscles or the last-minute saves. I started to see his face.

At the beginning, he’s smiling. He grins a lot, even in the face of explosions or rockfalls. He makes quips as he saves people, delivers a snappy line as he places them gently down, out of harm’s way. A few times he even gives a jaunty little salute before he flies away.

A few years in, he’s not smiling so much. He talks less, and when he does speak, he’s commanding. He tells people to keep back, or to bring medical help. He’s stern. There are no salutes.

By the time you catch up to his final year, I would swear there are lines on his face. Creases in his forehead and around his eyes. He is taciturn, his mouth always turned down. Where he once stood proud for the cameras, he either races away or…Well, there’s one vid where he’s saved a couple and their baby from a car fire on the interstate. They are clutching one another and cooing over the baby (Now fifteen and trying out a pop career, in case you’re interested). He steps back, and before he leaps into the sky, he sighs. It’s not a big thing, but those muscular shoulders droop for a second, and his gaze falls from the people he has saved to the ground they stand on.

He doesn’t look noble, or heroic. He looks beat.

There’s no other footage of him before the video made by Delilah. There’s a few clips of her, charting her sudden rise to power, the atrocities she commits, but he never actually confronts her. He just turns up in that dark room, tied to the chair, looking dazed. The video pans down to the jewel she has sitting in his lap. It glows, even in the low-res video, a peculiar purple and it seems that beneath the material of his costume, his flesh is writhing, trying to withdraw from contact.

Delilah holds up a kitchen knife, the kind of thing you can buy for a few bucks in any store. The kind of thing that would have splintered against his chest if anyone had been stupid enough to try it on him. And yet…

And yet. She steps around behind him and places the point against his neck and… Just pushes.

Like I said, that’s where most people stop. Why go on? It’s become clear he’s not invulnerable, she’s won, she’s killed him, so what kind of sick puppet, what kind of person would carry on watching.

Me.

I’ve watched his life, over and over, and I watch his death too.

Because it doesn’t end straight away. The blood flows, the blood flies when she pulls the knife out again, but it doesn’t stop there. As she walks around him, heading for the camera, he sags in the chair, his life pouring through the slit in his neck and he says something. It’s hard to see, and impossible to hear because he has no breath left.

I’ve watched those moments again and again, slowed them to a crawl, trying to catch the motion of his lips before Delilah sweeps in front of the camera and shuts it off. And I think I know what he says. Worse still, I think I know why he says it.

Delilah killed Powerking, the defender of our planet. A man with powers so amazing, we believed he couldn’t be killed. She never gave a reason, or demanded anything in her video. After he died, Delilah was never seen again. Disasters have come and gone, and no one has swooped down out of the sky to pluck the victims from the death they face.

People still argue about who Delilah was, how she found his weakness, what she intended by his death. I wonder if I should tell them about his last words, if knowing what he says would help people or hurt them.

I don’t think I will tell. After all, those words weren’t for me, or for any of the people watching the video.

Delilah found his weakness, trapped him, and killed him. And as he died, he spoke to her. His last two words.

“Thank you.”

It’s quiet because….

…For the first year ever, I’m actually DOING NaNoWriMo. It’s scary and busy and means I have to actually concentrate and commit and lots of other words that begin with “c”.

This won't be the cover  or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better...

This won’t be the cover or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better…

I’ve decided to write a sequel to “Eddie and the Kingdom” for several reasons.

1: Someone asked me. Just one person, but you know, there’s such a thing as customer service and responding to your readership.

2: I had a bit of an idea for the story.

3: The first book was only 50,000 words or so, which is the NaNo target.

4: “Eddie and the Kingdom” was the first novella I ever wrote, and I wanted to see if I could do it faster and maybe even better. Eddie took a year or more. This first draft should be done inside a month (currently at 20,000 words after six writing sessions).

5: Everyone else and his Mum has a series. This way, I get to write book three next year and call it an “Eddie novel” or “A novel of the Kingdom”. Or “Marvel: The Guardians of the Galaxy Strike Back!” if I want to get sued into penury.

So that’s why I’m taking the time to write this post and explain why I haven’t got time to write any posts.

How are YOU getting on with YOUR novel? Post an excerpt or link below!

What’s in a name?

Hello, my name is.....

Hello, my name is…..

At work the other day we were talking about unusual child names. It came up because a co-worker had met someone whose child was named “Absidy”. I said it sounded like a lovely name.

“It’s spelled “A-B-C-D”…” she said.

Absidy. Right.

I filed away the name, not because I was planning to write the adventures of Abcd anytime soon, but because I have real trouble picking names for characters in my fiction. Absidy would be a welcome change from the Rogers, Brians, Susans and Sarahs that usually populate my plays. In fact, I have such trouble picking names that I once wrote a short play where no one else refers to anyone by name. For the record, they were called Simeon, Colophon, Astrid, Bobo and Tabor, but no one in the audience ever knew.

But for regular writing, you only need pick a name that suits your story. If your tale is set in the Western Hemisphere anytime after 1940, Roger and Brian and company will do just fine. If you’re populating a space station, you can probably still get away with it. But if you’re writing historical fiction, or about aliens or the denizens of the Fantasyverse, then pick carefully*.

For example, I once wrote a good deal of a story about Lyan the Barbarian Wanderer, before realising that everyone would read his name as “Lion”, not lee-arn. I was reading it that way in my head, but it wasn’t the logical pronunciation. Douglas Adams once revealed that the character “Slartibartfast” began life with a different name, one that was very funny written down, but incredibly rude and offensive when spoken out loud. Since he was writing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for radio at the time, the name had to change. And no respectable playwright should ever forget the disaster resulting from naming a character “Fanny”. Another character is concerned about Fanny’s sick friend and asks “Has the doctor seen her, Fanny?” There is no amount of emphasis that will rescue that line.

Whatever name you choose, make sure it’s spelled consistently throughout the book/script. If you are writing a script and your character name gets abbreviated by friends, don’t use that abbreviation to identify the character unless you have done so from the beginning, or you get something that looks like this:

DONALD:     Hey, Champ, what’s up?

MICHAEL:    Not much, Donnie, you?

DONNIE:       I was going down to the beach, join me?

CHAMP:         No time, gotta have my toes waxed.

Other things to watch out for are more to do with dialogue and whether or not it sounds natural. People don’t really use names very often in conversation (If they do, odds are they’ve just met someone and they’re using the name frequently to cement it in memory. It’s a good technique, but it sounds creepy when you’re on the other end of it.) The second major faux pas is something I  know my friend Lucy V Hay would clench her teeth over. It’s a favourite of soaps and it goes something like this:

DAVE gets up and heads to the door. As he reaches it, Delores speaks.

DELORES:     Dave?

DAVE turns back.

DAVE:            Yeah?

DELORES:    Thanks.

People do not do this.

What’s the worst name you’ve ever come across in a story? Clive Barker wrote one where a main character was called Hapexamendios, and the Ringworld books feature “Speaker to Animals” and Halrloprillalar Hotrufan. Can you do worse?

*If, at any point, you find one of your character names has an apostrophe in it, close down your computer, have a little lie down, then get up and find a new career.

How to Boycott Me, I Mean, REALLY Boycott Me

Damian Trasler:

I haven’t been following the Gamergate story from the outset. I’m sure some people really are concerned about responsible journalism in the gaming industry. But the flood of vitriol, the rape and death threats have shown that the personal standards of a lot of the people posting with that tag are very, very low. Reading about the response to Felicia Day’s post on the subject made me shake my head in disbelief. As often happens, John Scalzi lays it out nicely.

Originally posted on Whatever:

So a few days ago, it was suggested to a faction of the hot, pathetic misogynist mess known as GamerGate that launching a boycott of Tor Books was a possible “action op” for them. This was quickly shot down, no doubt in part because the person suggesting it was Theodore Beale, and no one at this point actually gives a crap what he thinks about anything. However, last night I went on another Twitter tear on the subject of GamerGate, and I woke up this morning to a few chuckleheads bleating to Tor about what a terrible person I am, in order to, I don’t know, get Tor to talk to me sternly about having opinions on the Internet…

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