Archive for January, 2012

TT: Speak Like An Aussie

January 26, 2012

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back for a look at anniversary dates.  Then come back here and learn to speak like an Australian!

ALAN: G’day, Jane.

Drowsy Wombat

JANE: G’day back attcha, cobber.   Hey…  I need to jerk your chain.  A couple weeks ago in the comments to my blog (WW 1-11-12) you said you prefered when writers didn’t transcribe accents.  I believe you particularly protested the use of apostrophes.  Now I catch you in the act.

ALAN: Jerk my chain and I’ll flush with embarassment. Oh, look! We’re back to toilet humour again…

JANE: <grin> I’d like to ask about how I might best use language to get across an Australian character.  As I said last time, I remembered something else “Australian” about the Outback Steakhouse.  The menu was full of what was apparently Australian terms like “bloomin’,” “wee dinkum,” and “bonzo” or something like that.  Sadly, I can’t give you direct quotes because on our last visit I noticed they’d rewritten the menu and eliminated most of these.  About the only thing left was a steak called a “Victoria” and a cocktail with “wallaby” in the name.

Do Australians really use expressions like the ones I mentioned or have they fallen out of favor?

ALAN: Well, they do and they don’t. Certainly you will hear phrases such as “fair dinkum” and “bonza” in everyday speech, but often they’ll be used for comic effect,  playing to the stereotype as it were. Nevertheless the everyday speech patterns can sometimes be quite colourful. One of the reasons that the film Crocodile Dundee was so successful is that it only exaggerated the truth a little bit. Robin came home from work one day, raced into the house, and yelled “I need a cup of tea! I’m as dry as a dead dingo’s donger!”

JANE:  Let’s say I wanted to write a modern Australian character.  What language elements would you recommend?  And, maybe more importantly, what should I avoid because those terms have become as old-fashioned as “groovy” and “right-on”?

ALAN: That depends on whether your story would be set in a city or in the country. The distinction between the two is vast. People in the outback are very isolated and tend to have a broader, some might say richer, vocabulary than the city dwellers who, being rather more cosmopolitan, tend to speak much like the rest of us, albeit with a distinctive twang. So vocabulary, as is so often the case, tends to be an indicator of both class and profession.

In other words, I don’t know…

JANE: All right.  I’ll be more specific.  I used the term “cobber” above, but I really don’t know what it means.  I’ve simply seen it used as a friendly greeting.  Would that still work?

ALAN: “Cobber” just means “mate” or “friend.”   However, you’d commonly use it to address someone you’d never met in your life before. If the person you were talking to really was a friend, you’d call them by their name. It’s perhaps an informal equivalent of “sir” or “madam.”  Though having said that, I’m not sure you’d use the term when talking to a woman. It probably corresponds quite closely to “amigo” in your neck of the woods.

JANE: Actually, probably not!  I certainly wouldn’t call a stranger “amigo,” but I might with a friend.  I don’t know if it’s different with guys or people who have lived in New Mexico longer.

“Mate” seems almost classically Australian.  So it’s still in use?   Is it used for friends as well as strangers?

ALAN: Yes, it certainly is.

JANE: Okay.  I’m getting a feel for this.   The Outback Steakhouse had restrooms labeled “Sheilas” and “Bruces.”  Are those terms still in common use today?  Would you say “Who’s that Bruce who just came into the room?”

ALAN: No you wouldn’t say that. Though, interestingly, if a woman came into the room you would say “Who’s that Sheila?” But if you talked to the man who just came in, and you didn’t know his name, you might call him Bruce.

Interestingly, people from Glasgow (in Scotland, which is about as un-Australian as you can get) have the same idea except they call strange men “Jimmy.”  Robin claims that one of the reasons that she moved to England in the 1980s was that she was fed up of the average Australian male’s idea of foreplay: “You awake, Sheila?”

English men, she claimed, had more finesse.

Hopefully, Australians are a bit more sophisticated these days…

JANE: Last week you ended with the the phrase “She’ll be right.” Do Australians use gender specific language then?  Most types of English I’m familiar with that use “she” in that fashion are usually the result of direct translation from another language.    An example would be the Italian who says “The pizza, she will be ready in a short time.”   Stuff like that.

ALAN: The idea of gender specific language is so foreign to English these days that it always raises eyebrows, though it’s very common in other European languages.. Your Italian example is a good one. The general answer to your question is no, we don’t have any real gender specificity. The phrase “She’ll be right” just means “Everything will turn out OK.”  Quite why the female pronoun got attached to it is a complete mystery to me. But then I don’t know why ships are always referred to as “she” either. It’s just one of those things.

JANE: How about the Australian accent?  When my sister studied in England for a year her friends begged her not to try to speak with a British accent (they didn’t say what flavor) because they said an American with a British accent sounded like an Australian.  So what characterizes an Australian accent?

ALAN: Robin claims that Australians sound the way they do because they speak out of the side of their mouth with the teeth clenched and the lips tightly closed, so as to stop the flies getting in. I’ve tried speaking that way and she’s right! I immediately sound Australian. And so will you…

JANE: Hmm…  Let me try that…  There’s something to what you’re saying, but I think I’d need a British accent to get the full effect.

Now, while language and slang are important, as you noted in those same comments, getting the spirit of the character right is more important.   Let me warn you!  I can already feel the questions piling up!


Anniversary Dates

January 25, 2012

Maybe because Jim and my wedding anniversary is today (15 years!), I found myself

Loving Lorikeets

thinking about other anniversary dates.  I realized that right about now is the two-year anniversary of Wednesday Wanderings.

I started writing these public meanders on January 20, 2010, with a piece about attending a performance of Twelfth Night.  Since then, I’ve kept my resolve to go all over the place.  In the last year, I’ve written about my own publications (including my first ventures into e-books), books I’ve read, and a whole lot about writing as a craft and business.

I’ve also written about Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” my garden, guinea pigs, our singularly horrible weather, and rocks.

This year also marked the start of the Thursday Tangent which I write with Alan Robson of New Zealand.  Alan and I started in June of 2011.  Every time we think we’ve run out of things to talk about, some chance bit in one of our personal e-mails gets us going again.  The current series on Australia owes its origin to a passing comment I made about going out to dinner with a friend.

Some of my readers have asked why – given how organized I am in most aspects of my life – I haven’t taken the time to catagorize these blogs.  Well, there are two reasons.  One is that when it comes to doing stuff on my computer, I’d rather write or answer e-mail than fuss around doing categorization.

The other is that from the start I’ve intended these to be one place in my life I don’t need to be organized.  These blogs are somewhere I can ramble on, whether about writing or a good book or that camel I saw when I was out hiking.  I approach these with a lot more pleasure knowing I can write about whatever is on my mind, rather than to a specific theme.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not open to themes.

I’d like to pause here to thank those of you who have taken the time to comment, either in response to my piece or in response to other comments.  I’ve enjoyed reading those comments and I particularly enjoy when a lively back and forth develops.

My thanks includes those of you who read the Wednesday Wanderings (or the Thursday Tangents) but are too shy to comment on the site.  Thanks so much for making the effort to e-mail me and let me know your thoughts. ( will usually reach me, though I’m slower to reply on weekends.)

Some of my wanderings have been in direct response to something someone has written in a comment.  Nicholas Wells made a comment to “It’s Out” when my novel Five Odd Honors was released that generated the next week’s “Forgetting a Child” (WW 5-12-10, 5-19-10).

Sometimes the connection is less concrete but what I write about evolves from an ongoing discussion.  The ideas might mull around for a few weeks and then come galloping forth.  In fact, one of the things I do before writing the next week’s Wandering is to go check the comments, just to see if anything sparks.

As much as I like wandering, I also hope readers will enjoy joining me on the trip.  If there’s anything you want to hear about, don’t hesitate to ask.  At the very least, you may see your idea coming back around in a different form.

Last year about this time (WW 2-02-11) I said “yokatta” to you all for joining me in my wanderings.  Once again, I am so very glad to have shared this time with you.

TT: Into the Outback

January 19, 2012

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back and join me as I look at the impact the novels on me…  And wonder if there might be a place for fiction in the non-English lit classroom.  Then join me and Alan as we venture into the outback.

JANE: Last week, our friend Chip suggested we go out to dinner at a Australian-themed steakhouse.

Outback Steakhouse

ALAN: Good heavens! What on Earth did you eat? Witchetty grubs? If you’ve never seen a witchetty grub, just imagine a hugely fat, wriggling maggot more than an inch long. I’m told they are quite an aboriginal delicacy…

JANE: No.  Nothing like that.  It’s called Outback Steakhouse and, as far as I can tell, the only thing Australian about the place is the decor.  There are lots of kangaroos and boomerangs.  Some of these are painted with designs that I think are meant to evoke traditional Abo art.  Wait!  Is “abo” still an accepted term?

ALAN: No.   The accepted  term is “aboriginal.”

Aboriginal art is really very distinctive indeed, quite pointilliste in some cases, though the dots are rather large. Robin has laid some concrete in our back garden and embedded coloured stones in it to form the shapes of a snake and a goanna (lizard), which is a very aboriginal style. I went to an exhibition of aboriginal art in Melbourne once. It was like nothing else I’d ever seen before and very, very beautiful.

JANE: What Robin did for your back garden sounds lovely.  I think an aboriginal style is what the steakhouse decor is trying for, but they get a bit lazy and go for wide stripes in bright colors.

ALAN: That works as well.

JANE: Glad to hear that.   Jim has a tee shirt with  pointellist aboriginal design featuring various animals.  Sharon Weber got it in Australia.  We were visiting them and Jim spilled something on his shirt, so Sharon kindly loaned him this one.  She looked at it on him and said: “That looks great on you!  It’s yours.”

Maybe in order to understand Australia, I need to start with the basics.  Just how Australian is a meal consisting of some form of steak, soup or salad, and a side of your choice?

ALAN: That sounds like a rather ordinary meal to me, something you might get in a restaurant in any country in the world, including Australia, of course. But there’s nothing distinctively Australian about it.

However, there certainly are food items that can only be found in Australia, though presumably they get exported as well. Kangaroo is the most obvious one that springs to mind. I think it is a lovely meat. It combines the sweetness of lamb with the texture of beef and is really very tasty indeed. Unfortunately, Robin refuses to eat it because when she was a child, kangaroo was what they fed the dogs with. “You’re not feeding me dog tucker!” she tells me in no uncertain terms.

“Yes, dear.”

Emu are also farmed quite intensively and the meat is generally available in restaurants. Interestingly it doesn’t taste like chicken, as you might expect it to. It tastes like emu.

JANE: Which tastes like?  Turkey?  Goose?  Ostrich?  Cheddar cheese?

ALAN: Surprisingly, emu is a red meat. And, unlike other fowl, it is often grilled and served rare (though personally I prefer all my meat a little more well cooked than that). What does it taste like? Well, since you won’t let me say it tastes like emu, I think I’d probably have to say it tastes like venison, with perhaps a hint of beef.

Australians are also very fond of their seafood and Moreton Bay Bugs are often to be found on the menu. These are a kind of lobster, which are very popular indeed. I’ve also eaten crocodile, but that’s considered rather exotic and you rarely see it on offer.

JANE: What about side dishes?  Are there any typically Australian vegetables or ways of preparing vegetables?

ALAN: No, not really –  vegetables tend to be of the English variety, boiled or steamed. However there is a very large emphasis on salads, which are often fruit based (Australia grows a lot of fruit). One of Robin’s favourites is made from watermelon and onion as well as the usual trimmings. And remember that we regard salads as semi-vegetables and so they are served with the main course, not as a separate course as you tend to serve them

JANE: Actually, serving salad separately is more a restaurant thing.  I think they do it that way to give you something to do while they’re preparing the main course.

I’d try a watermelon and onion salad, but I don’t think Jim would.  He doesn’t like watermelon!

I’ve remembered something else Australian about the Outback Steakhouse, but that’s going to have to wait for next time.

ALAN: Fair dinkum, cobber. She’ll be right.

JANE: She?  Okay…  I see we have a lot more to talk about!

Philosophical Fiction

January 18, 2012

A few nights ago, Jim and I sat up late discussing philosophy.

Yes.  We really do this sort of thing.

A Few Renault Novels

Jim admitted he’d never really understood philosophy or why the questions philosophy tries to answer are important for us to study.  When I’d been an undergraduate, Fordham University had just re-designed the curriculum in reaction to some of the more unstructured educational theories of the 1970’s.  Therefore, I’d actually had something closer to a classical education.  This included metaphysics, epistemology, some existentialism, and, later on, a very interesting course in bioethics.

Despite all of this, I confessed to Jim that I didn’t really understand why philosophy mattered until I learned more about the historical context in which it evolved.  Despite my excellent professors and my own extensive later education, none of this was what opened the door for me.  What did was a novel by Mary Renault called The Last of the Wine.

I’m not sure when I first read a Mary Renault novel, but I’m pretty sure the one I first encountered was The King Must Die, her excellent retelling of the story of Theseus from Greek mythology.  In it, she takes the scattered hero tales, places them in a historical context that includes many of the archeological discoveries of Evans on Crete, and makes them into a coherent story.  The sequel, The Bull From the Sea, follows up with the later part of Theseus’s life.

I liked these novels a lot, especially since even then, long before I met my archeologist husband I was interested in anthropology.  I’m pretty sure that when I picked up The Last of the Wine, I was hoping for more of the same.  Instead, what I got was a historical novel set in the time when Athens was a ruling power in the Greek world not only in military strength, but in cultural impact.

Alexias, the main character, begins the novel as a boy rising into manhood.  Since we’ve talked about narrative hooks before (WW 10-19-11), I can’t resist sharing the novel’s opening lines:

“When I was a young boy, when I was sick or in trouble, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.

“You will say there is nothing out of the way in this.  Yet I daresay it is less common than you might suppose; for as a rule, when a father decides to expose an infant, it is done and there the matter ends.  And it is seldom a man can say, either of the Spartans or the plague, that he owes them life instead of death.”

I was caught from that moment on.  The first line might have been that of any young man in a modern novel caught in conflict with his father, but the second opens a door to an entirely different world view – one where a father killing his son is routine and acceptable.  The final sentences provide the historical context, including Spartans and plague.

As The Last of the Wine continues, we enter this world.  Americans in particular are taught to see the Athenians as our ancestors.  Like us, they valued democracy as a system of government.  However, Mary Renault shows us not only the similarities but the differences.  And, through Alexias (a fictional character), we come to know Sokrates, Alkibiades, and other historical figures to whom philosophy was not a matter of dry texts taught in stuffy classrooms, but  an unfolding way of thought that would transform Western civilization – and their own life choices.

With this novel, why philosophy mattered suddenly made sense to me.  I’d go as far as saying I wish it had been the very first text taught in my introductory philosophy course.  I think if I’d read it first, Plato’s symposia would have made a great deal more sense and Aristotle might not have put me to sleep.

Yet it is a novel.  I’m certain Mary Renault did her absolute best with the historical documents available to her at the time.  Doubtless, there have been new discoveries since the 1950’s when the book was published.  Would they invalidate the novel as a tool for understanding the Athenians and their world?

I know that further archeological discoveries on Crete have shed doubts on Evans’ interpretations of his archeological discoveries.  Does that mean The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea have lost any value as anything other than entertainment?

I’m not sure.  I know I learned more about not only the Napoleonic wars but the larger context in which they were fought from the novels of Patrick O’Brian than I did from any history course.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels gave me a twisted but interesting view of the spread of the British empire.  Yet both of these novelists state in the notes to their novels that in the interests of narrative they took liberties with the order of historical events.

Should fiction be intermingled with history in the classroom or would there be too much unlearning to do?  Just wondering and wandering on…

TT: Geothermic Reads

January 12, 2012

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, page back for a look into accents…  Then come back and join Alan and me in our chat about some really explosive novels.

JANE: Alan, I love what you said last time about Mount Ruapehu being a film

Sleeping Volcano

star with a starring role in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.  It got me thinking about other SF/F stories where an earthquake or exploding volcano is crucial to the plot.

ALAN: I can think of several, but first I’d like to go off on a tangent…  I thought of this after last week’s chat.

The volcano chain in the centre of the North Island culminates off shore on a small and *very* active place called White Island. The Department of Geological And Nuclear Sciences (GNS) maintains a webcam there to keep an eye on the activity. Periodically scientists from GNS also visit the island to measure this and that. In 2004 one of them glued a pink plastic dinosaur to a stone on the left of the field of view of the webcam. He quickly became known as Dino and his fame spread far and wide throughout the world. Hits on the webcam went through the roof! Once Dino fell over, and GNS were inundated with emails about it. They had to go and rescue him. Recently the camera has been moved, and Dino now sits on the right of the field of view.

JANE: I love what people will tune in to watch.  Maybe I should get a webcam and let people look at my bookshelf or something.  Or my garden.   Focus on one tomato plant or the bare patch where it used to be…

ALAN: One of the first ever web cams was pointing at a coffee pot. When it was full, everyone knew that it was time for the morning break…

JANE: When I started thinking about geothermal SF/F, I remembered that one of my earliest short stories – never published – featured as background a New York City where the fault that runs along the Harlem/Hudson River system had destroyed most of the area.  I knew about this because one of the mysterious buildings on the  Fordham University Rose Hill campus (which I attended) was a former seismic recording station.  It hadn’t been in use for years because the vibrations from the subways confused the signals.

When the East Coast of the U.S. was hit earlier this year with an earthquake, I wasn’t at all surprised because I knew there was an active fault.

ALAN:  Do you remember the Mount Tarawera eruption I mentioned last time? Alan Dean Foster has written an absolutely stunning novel about it. The book is called Maori. It seems that Foster spent his honeymoon in New Zealand which is when he did the basic research. Being an SF writer he couldn’t resist injecting some mysticism into the story – there might be moas, and a major character is a rather creepy kaumatua (Maori elder). It’s a wonderful novel.  The sections that describe the eruption itself are brilliantly written and truly scary.

JANE: I haven’t read that one, but we may have a copy.  Either way, Maori is now on my reading list!

Okay.  Here’s another.  Walter Jon Williams’ novel The Rift is centered around the aftermath of a quake along the New Madrid fault.  It’s more than a disaster novel because there are some interesting alternate history elements as well.

ALAN: Speaking of alternate history, Harry Turtledove  has written a novel called Supervolcano: Eruption in which an eruption in Yellowstone  National Park devastates the region. I’ve not read the book, but I assume from the blurb that it follows several groups of characters through an “after the disaster” scenario. These kinds  of books were very fashionable in the 1950s and 1960s but they seem to have fallen out of fashion of late. Perhaps they are due for a resurgence.

JANE: I think the disaster novel has become a sub-section of techno-thrillers, but I’m not sure.  Steve (S.M.) Stirling’s popular “Change” series could be looked at as a sort of after the disaster set-up.  He’s managed to get double mileage out of one disaster there.

But back to volcanoes and earthquakes.

ALAN: Suits me. By a strange coincidence, Frederik Pohl’s latest novel All The Lives He Led also mentions a huge eruption in Yellowstone National Park, though in Pohl’s novel it happened some time in the past and it has completely disrupted the American economy. The viewpoint character is an American refugee desperately looking for work in Europe.

Is Yellowstone really that dangerous an area? My only knowledge of it comes from the Jellystone Park of Yogi Bear cartoons, which might possibly be less than factually accurate…

JANE: I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but I’m sure someone reading this can fill you in.  My general feeling is that as long as Old Faithful stays faithful, we’re okay, but if she ceases in her fidelity…

Oh!  Did you ever talk to Vonda McIntyre when she was out there with us in 1995 about the aftermath of the Mount St. Helens explosion?  She was so eloquent about what it was like to wake up and find the world covered in ash that I’ve remembered it ever since.  I wonder if she’s ever done anything with that in fiction?

ALAN: I certainly remember Vonda’s very vivid description of the eruption but I don’t recall seeing anything about it in any of her stories.

JANE: Other than mentioning that my “Albuquerque Adept” short story “Hell’s Bane” uses the volcanic terrain near my home in an interesting fashion, I’m out of ideas.  Maybe someone else can make some suggestions…  Earthquakes?  Volcanoes?  Tsunamis, anyone?

Accent on the Page

January 11, 2012

Well, I’d been considering wandering on about the question of piracy and

Accented Novels

e-books and all, but then I thought that was too much like whining.  I was troubled by the comment about the perception that “no pocket to put money in” was an excuse to pirate, but further responses made it clear that this was hardly a universal view – or even the view of the person who made the statement.

However, if anyone is interested in hearing how writers can still use works that are out-of-print or otherwise not available, let me know.  I just don’t want to talk “shop” rather than the creative side if people aren’t interested.

Instead, I’d like to solicit opinions on the question of accents.  Recently, I was reading a book where one of the non-human races was stated to have a distinct accent.  However, the author never did anything to make that accent come across.  Moreover, it was not described in any concrete fashion, so I couldn’t imagine what was intended.

That got me thinking about the entire question – maybe even problem – of accents, dialects, and the like in SF/F.  How far should a writer go when putting these on the page?  At what point does the reader simply scream “Enough!  I get the idea!!!”

I started fishing about in my imagination for examples of when accents had been done well.  Oh! For convenience, let’s include dialects, colloquialisms, slang, and general cadence in the term “accent” since I think “accent” is often more than how sounds are articulated.

Tolkien did a good job in his Middle Earth novels.  Sam and Frodo are both hobbits, but their choice of vocabulary is different, making it clear they are of different social classes.  Elves and dwarves speak differently than humans.  A light sprinkling of their own languages helps show minds that process concepts differently.  Even the three trolls in The Hobbit speak in a distinct manner.

Much as I like this, though, I do find myself going a little nuts when there is too much of it.  I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s novels, but he nearly lost me in Wee Free Men with the Nac Mac Feegles dialect-ridden sentences.  I was interested to note that later books in the same sequence included a glossary.  Perhaps I wasn’t alone?

When I was writing Legends Walking (soon to be re-released as an e-book!!!), I was in a quandary.  Large segments of the book were set in Nigeria.  My research had shown me that not only were multiple languages spoken in that one country, but the languages themselves were expressive of an entirely different way of thinking about concepts such as family relationships and even personal names.  Moreover there was no one accepted manner of transliteration.  I came up with what I hoped was an acceptable compromise (and even discussed some of the choices I had made in my Author’s Note) but I was aware I had barely touched the complexity of those cultures.

Then there’s the question of what to do with a named accent.  In British novels, a type of accent will frequently be mentioned “Cambridge” or “Yorkshire” or “Cockney.”  Sometimes the author puts the accent on the page as well.  Other times, they do not.  I remember reading about the Beatles having “Liverpool” (or sometimes “Liverpudlian”) accents but that didn’t prepare me for the strange, almost flat, “holding the nose” manner in which they spoke the first time I heard an interview.

I have heard young American readers of the Harry Potter novels admit to being surprised when they went to see the movies and Harry and his friends had British accents.

Then there are all the American accents, some of which like “Southern” actually covers a wide range of accents.  Others which, like “Maine” only applies to a very small region and a comparatively small segment of that region’s population.  How helpful are these designations to a reader not already familiar with the accent in question?

So…  Where do we go with this?  How much should an author put onto the page?  How much is too much and gets in the way of the story?  How much does the presumed audience play into the issue?  Is this a problem when the book finds a larger audience?  Should the book be re-written to deal with this?  The more I think about it, the more interesting and complex the issue becomes.

TT: Explosive Landscape

January 5, 2012

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back to read about unexpected camels…  Then come back here to find out why volcanoes make me think of Alan.

JANE: Hey, Alan!   I bet you didn’t know that volcanoes make me think of you.

Volcanic Basalt

ALAN: It must be my explosive personality, or perhaps the sulphurous smell of my feet?

JANE: Well, you do have an ebullient personality (and Robin is the only person I know who can answer the question about your feet).

Actually, my association has more to do with my visit to New Zealand all those years ago.  The other day, Jim and I were driving west in Albuquerque.  We’d had snow and scattered whiteness was outlining the volcanic cones on the mesa further west.   You wouldn’t know this, but what is typically called the West Mesa here isn’t actually a mesa at all, but the debris from  a volcanic flow.  My dad had a Masters degree in geology.  First time he came to visit me here, he commented.  “You do realized the lava stopped right there.”

Dad indicated a point about two tenths of a mile from my house.  I’d never really thought about where all that black basalt came from.  It doesn’t look particularly liquid, like the popular depiction of a volcanic flow, but that’s what it is: stopped lava.

So, you and I both live in geologically active land.  Yours is just a lot more – uh – volatile.  I remember being told that one of the islands was so new that it wasn’t there when the first European settlers arrived.

ALAN: New Zealand sits on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. All plate boundaries are hazardous places to be and New Zealand is very geologically active as the recent tragic earthquakes in Christchurch have made clear. Further north we have volcanic areas and the Taupo area in the middle of the North Island is particularly active. Mount Ruapehu has had several minor eruptions in my lifetime. The mountain itself is a film star –  it played the part of  Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” movies. Typical typecasting in my opinion.

The largest recorded event in historic times happened on June 10th 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted. Earthquakes were felt throughout the North Island and the mountain exploded spectacularly. A plume of ash rose 10km into the sky and molten lava streamed down its sides. Several villages were buried in ash and mud. The world-famous Pink and White Terraces, large expanses of delicately tinted silica, were completely destroyed.

And Lake Taupo itself is the product of a prehistoric volcanic eruption. The evidence suggests that the eruption must have been significantly larger than Krakatoa. Probably it was the largest eruption ever to have taken place anywhere on Earth. I’m very glad I wasn’t around when it happened…

JANE: Another thing I remember about New Zealand was the hot springs.  We have them here in New Mexico, too, but none of the people who go to wallow in them seem to realize that this indicates volcanic activity leaking up toward the surface.

Weren’t the hot springs important to the Maori way of life?  I seem to recall they cooked in them.

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. The Maori traditionally cook their food by wrapping it in leaves and burying it in the hot ground. It’s known as a hangi.

Here in New Zealand, the geothermal areas are so active that they are used to generate about 13% of our electricity. And they are huge tourist attractions of course with their hot pools, bubbling mud and the overwhelming smell of hydrogen sulphide everywhere. The tourists all love the smell – nobody can tell when they fart.

JANE: And it disguises the smell of their feet? <grin> More seriously, how does this make you feel about living in New Zealand.  Have you and Robin considered leaving?

ALAN: Yes, we have. In a few years time I will be able to retire with a pension and once I do that it seems likely that we’ll move to Western Australia where most of Robin’s family live. Western Australia is very tectonically stable. Nothing geological happens there.

JANE: But I’m sure other things do…  I’ve got something else I want to ask you, but I’m going to save it for next time!  By the way, officially, Happy New Year!

ALAN: And Happy New Year to you as well.

Unexpected Camels

January 4, 2012

As I mentioned last year about this time (WW 1-05-11), I don’t do resolutions

Unexpected Camel

in the classic sense.  I am enough a product of my culture, however, that I hang a new calender on the wall and find myself reflecting on the year just completed.

When I go back and re-read last year’s entry, I see a reference to the Borders bookstore chain.  2011 was the year that saw Borders go under and saw Barnes & Noble transform itself into a cross between a toy store, a coffee shop, and a bookstore.  I’ve got to wonder about the wisdom of this last.  The Barnes & Noble I stopped in yesterday had a Toys R Us right next door and at least three places serving coffee and sweets within a very short walk.  I wonder if the end of 2012 will see the end of Barnes & Noble as well?

Of course, the publishing industry in all its facets is in an upheaval.  Devices like the Kindle and Nook are being perceived as game changers.  Some people are even saying the printed book will have disappeared within a decade.  I’m not sure about that, but certainly the mass market paperback may find itself vanishing. Or will it?  I had a heated discussion with three of my friends the other day about the print book.  All three of them are right in the middle of the demographic that is supposed to prefer e-reading.  None of them do.

As a writer, I can’t help but reflect on the changes I’ve seen in my twenty or so years as a published author.  I remember Roger Zelazny telling me how the business as he knew it worked.  This included publishers keeping some or all of an author’s backlist in print and considering it a “courtesy” to produce a short story collection every so often (if, of course, the author wrote short fiction as well as novels).

Both of those traditions have vanished.  Keeping out-of-print works available has become pretty much the author’s responsibility.  What the reader may not realize is that it’s the reader’s responsibility as well, since if authors don’t see an audience for those older works – or see too many of those works pirated –  they might not bother to spend the time (and money) to create e-books or print-on-demand editions.

Money?  What does money have to do with it?  Well, it applies in several ways.  If authors are spending time working on e-book conversions, they’re not writing.  This means a potential loss of income – not to mention a loss of new material for their readers.    A second expense comes to those authors who (like me) aren’t able to spend a long time on the computer doing conversions.  We also face the expense of hiring someone else to do the work.  Personally, I think the money is well spent because a fresh set of eyes often produces a better end result.

I’m not going to name names, but recently I was chatting with a friend who had been downloading e-books done by an SF/F author who has been among the most vocal in promoting e-books.  My friend admitted that he was going to stop purchasing this author’s works because the e-books were so sloppy and full of formatting errors that he was repeatedly thrown out of his pleasure in the reading experience.

And the rise of the e-book has also led to the creation of books that aren’t only sloppy in terms of formatting and the like, but in content as well.  Publishers may not have always been perfect in their choices of what they selected to publish, but at least the book got more of an advanced screening than is provided by the doting author and his/her circle of admiring friends.  I was discussing this with another friend who has become an avid e-book reader.  She admitted that, while initially she’d been sucked in by either very inexpensive books or by free downloads of samples or short fiction by author eager to create an audience, she was finding herself more often disappointed than not.

Since my friend is an avid reader, I doubt this will sour her on the reading experience.    I do wonder, however, about the impact of this glut of lousy fiction on those for whom reading is not yet a fixed habit.  Will they turn away from reading in favor of television or games?  So many of the devices that people use to read e-books segue easily over to such other forms of entertainment.  How can people tell the difference between good stuff and bad?

My goodness!  Believe it or not, this wasn’t my intended topic.  I was going to tell you about how Jim, me, and our friend Michael Wester went for a walk on a ditch bank trail near the new Bachechi Open Spaces and what we saw.  We’d expected ducks, geese, cranes, herons, and all manner of avians.  In the domestic realm, we expected dogs, cats, and horses.  Goats, sheep, burros, and cattle weren’t completely out of the question, since Albuquerque has a fair number of small farms.

However, the camel was a complete surprise…

Rather, in fact, like a lot of aspects of publishing in 2011.  I wonder what the 2012 camel will be…

Any speculations?