Author on vacation

Author on vacation

Even when an author is on vacation, they’re rarely actually on vacation. They may be physically at the beach, but mentally most of them will still be happily playing with their latest book.

However, a semi-reliable antidote is to go somewhere, like Iceland, where the scenery is so amazing it’s very difficult to concentrate on anything else.

…actually, I’m going to Iceland. Again. Because, well, wow.

Last time I went was in 2016, and I explored in and around Reykjavik, which was spectacular and I bombarded everyone with photos of waterfalls, geysers, and sulphuric mud.

This time, there’ll be a few days based out of Reykjavik, with a couple of day-trips to Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Reynisfjara beach, as well as spending a day exploring one of the biggest lava caves in the world near Langjökull glacier. There’s rumours of a whale-watching trip, too, and no visit to Reykjavik is complete without a trip to Café Loki. (No, I’m not feeling masochistic enough to try hakerl…I have a personal philosophy to never try ‘local delicacies’ that all the actual locals apologise for.)

After that, it’ll be time to head West into the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and spend four days there exploring on horseback (because Icelandic horses are ridiculously cute, and a lot of fun). I’m pretty sure by the morning of day 2 I’ll be regretting my life choices and walking funny, but hey, that’s what Advil’s for, right?

After that, I’ll be taking a 4X4 (SUV for my North American friends) North into the Westfjords, which should be a spectacular drive along the West coast, and spending a couple of days there hiking and making ‘oooh’ noises at the views. It’ll be too late for a trip into Hornstrandir, but there’s always next time.

After that, the plan is to drive along the North coast of Iceland to Akureyri, and base there for a few days while exploring; currently, Askja, Myvatn, and Dettifoss (biggest waterfall in Europe) are up on the docket.

I’m looking forwards to it. Also, in the spirit of fair warning, there will be a lot of photos going up on Facebook and Instagram.

True Lies: Fact and fiction

True Lies: Fact and fiction

True Lies

It’s something I like to play with in my books. Most of my characters are telepathic, generally able to pick up on a flat-out lie. However, someone misleading with complete truth…now that’s much harder to spot. Also fun for me, the writer, because my sense of humour could best be described as ‘malign’.

It also plays nicely into the Cortiian ethos, because Cortiian mercenaries aren’t what our maiden aunts would term nice people, and keeping secrets and making people work for their information is pretty much reflexive.

What do I mean by misleading with the truth? Let’s look at a case study. I’m going to tell you two absolutely true stories. They’re probably going to give you two absolutely different impressions.


Story 1: I went through five schools in seven years as a kid; my Dad was a captain in the Army, and we moved around a lot. I didn’t make a lot of friends, but there was always another move coming up. I applied to the Navy right out of school – best idea I ever had.

…that one’s cut and dried; probably a Forces brat, devoted son followed in Dad’s footsteps, maybe career Forces by now, probably quite young.

Story 2: My grandfather won a St. George Cross in World War I. My uncle Peter died on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and my father never would tell me more about his time in the Army in India aside from how his unit trained to get across barbed wire fences in a hurry. Those men I never knew gave me my interest in family history.

…well, there we have someone much older, might be male but probably a woman, most likely a retiree with folders overflowing with sepia photos and newspaper clippings.

Aren’t assumptions fun?

Those two people are both me. Those stories are from my past – but if you read them without the grand reveal, about the only obvious thing they have in common is a father who was in the Forces.

My protagonist, Khyria Ilan, is a past master at the sport, which is probably just as well given how many people are trying to kill her at any given moment. Lying to heavily-armed people who may be able to tell immediately that they’re being lied to isn’t healthy, and is too obvious anyway. Khyria can tell someone something absolutely true and absolutely guaranteed to send them barking up the wrong tree, and while they’re profitably occupied molesting the foliage, she can act with a lot less scrutiny on her doings.

It’s also a lot of fun if the reader happens to know the actual backstory while reading Khyria’s version of it; the differences can be pretty marked, and at least for me, edits go much easier with some evil chortling to be going on with.

How do I get started writing?

How do I get started writing?

Get started writing – how?

Every writers’ forum I’ve spent time in has had someone, sometime, show up asking ‘how do I get started writing?’ At this point I always find myself needing to take my hands off my keys and wrestle down a sarcastic response like ‘Start typing’.

After a few months of feeling vaguely guilty every time the situation occurred, it came to me that while the question that kept triggering my sarcasm reflex was a dumb one, there were possibly a few underlying questions more worth offering time to.

Ignoring the fact that some people really do show up on forums and ask stupid questions simply for attention, writing a book can be overwhelming. Here are some thinking points to make it more overwhelming.

Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble

If I were to write a 101 Guide to Getting Started Writing, some twenty years of fiction writing later, I’d have to say that there are a few vital ingredients that need to be tossed in the pot if you hope to make the magic happen.

  • A dash of crazy. No sane person decides to write a book, spends a year or so of their lives writing, editing, and formatting it, and does all this knowing full well that they’ll never get paid for their time.
  • A heaping teaspoon of inspiration. You’re crazier than I am if you’ll waste months or a year of time for no remuneration and without something to write about that gets your blood pumping, whether it’s space battles or how to come up with the perfect hall decor.
  • A solid dose of grammatical understanding (substitute a silly amount of money here if you have it). If you can’t be bothered to learn or look up basic grammar and punctuation rules for your language of choice, or don’t want to pay someone who does to edit your work, stop writing now and back away from the manuscript slowly. There’s a difference between idiot savant and idiot.

What genre should I write?

Doesn’t matter, it’s not catching.

If you have a good story to tell, it doesn’t matter if it’s about terraforming Mars or a half-siren ‘acquisitions specialist’ being paid to acquire the Peaches of Immortality. Good story-telling never goes out of style. On the topic of trying to follow writing ‘fads’, check out Writing Myths: slay the dragon.

I know someone who manages to mix sci-fi, steampunk, and fantasy – and I can’t put their books down. I also know someone who invented the entire genre of elfrotica.

If you want to know more about genres of writing, I suggest you pull up a search engine and dig in. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If someone’s harassing you to come out of the writing closet as a certain genre, I suggest smiling sweetly and telling them that you aspire to be original.

But which writing house will the Sorting Hat put me in?

Writers tend to gravitate to one end or other of a spectrum that ranges from ‘pantser’ at one end to ‘plotter’ at the other. Read on to discover which school of writing wizardry best suits you.

To avoid any embarrassing misconceptions, it may be important to note at this point that ‘pantser’ in this context refers to one who flies by the seat of their pants. It does not necessarily relate to their state of dress or undress whilst engaged in the practice of writing.

You may be a pantser if you have voices in your head, a setting, and no idea in the world how it’s all going to end, but you can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve already had detention for drawing spaceships in class.

You may be a plotter if you have a ton of post-it notes arranged in careful patterns on your wall, detailing the main idea, the sub-ideas, the plot arc, the chapter beats, the sub-arcs (with the kinky bits inserted on the hot pink notes) and have a file on your protagonist detailed down to their first word and the exact position of the mole on their arse.

Which is best? That’s the great thing – there is no ‘best’. There’s the approach that works for you, and the others, which don’t. Most people fall somewhere in between.

Give me facts! I cannot make bricks without clay!

The fact is that the amount of actual money to be made from writing hit rock bottom about a decade ago and then started burrowing. Think I’m kidding? These guys did the math: The Authors’ Guild – The Wages of Writing.

Additionally, traditional publishing houses are taking on fewer and fewer new authors, while trumpeting ever louder that independent authors, or ‘indies’ are the leeches on the underbelly of professional writing. Therefore, starting to write books with the idea that fame and fortune await is delusional, so you’d better have another reason for doing it (see the heaping teaspoon requirement).

If those facts haven’t put you off, then at least you’ve got the dash of crazy. Congratulations (…I think).

So how will I know if I’m doing it right?

Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin  “Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember…”

Initiate: “Nothing is true.”

Assassin: “Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember…”

Initiate: “Everything is permitted.”

This quote is particularly applicable to writing. The way I do it won’t be the way you do it. The way J. K. Rowling does it will be different from both of us. None of the three of us is ‘wrong’. Some people use a pencil, others touch-type at 100 WPM, others again dictate to voice conversion software.

Write whatever way blows your skirt up. There is no set of commandments. The only restrictions are your imagination and your writing ability.

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

The Myers-Briggs INTJ

Variously known as ‘the Masterminds’ or ‘the Architects’, INTJ personalities are the third-rarest personality type in the human population (2.1%), and the rarest type for women (0.9%).

What’s my Myers-Briggs personality type?

Because INTJs value facts and logic above all else, they’re lousy leader’s followers. Tell an INTJ to do something that they deem to be stupid or illogical, or feed them a line of BS, and you lose their interest and respect immediately. They’re also generally heavily introverted (there’s the ‘I’ for you), and when forced into a social situation, loathe pointless small-talk above all other unholy perversions. It tires them, it bores them, and they’d much rather be alone with their thoughts (‘T’) or a good book.

There’s also a strong correlation between a high IQ and INTJ, so chances are your INTJ acquaintance may not be Einstein, but they’re very likely in the 115 IQ points and up segment of the population.

To complete an INTJ’s social alienation, they’re also highly intuitive (‘N’), meaning that from their earliest memories (usually starting around age 2), their brains have been storing bits and snippets of observation, fact, and fiction like a magpie in a silver shop, and anything you say or do will be unconsciously run against all this stored data and meet the ‘J’ (judgement) part of the personality type.

The INTJ writer

…actually, writing meets almost all the criteria for an INTJ to deem it shiny. It’s a highly solitary pursuit, it requires research, it requires attention to detail, and it requires having your ducks in a row.

INTJs are analytical (fine, yes, we could stop at anal) and objective, which means that whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s going to be researched, structured, and probably have a sting in the tail. They may not bother to simplify their thoughts very much, which can lead readers to find their work complex, but by and large, it’s liable to be worth the effort.

INTJ writers include Isaac Asimov, Jane Austen, Stephen Hawking, and Jean-Paul Sartre. My source posits Robert Heinlein as well, which would make me happy since he’s one of my favourite sci-fi writers. I actually loathe Jane Austen with a passion, but I do understand I’m in a minority there.

The INTJ character

Because this type is so rare, and not in the least touchy-feely, a lot of writers either avoid this type altogether or try to write one and fall wide of the mark. INTJ female characters even more so, not least because the norm is not to challenge social stereotypes so far as to discomfort the audience, and a female INTJ needs a knight in shining armour like a fish needs a bicycle.

I put it to you that INTJ characters are worth the effort to research, if you don’t happen to be an INTJ or know any to ask, and I say this because they make great cliché-disruptors for a story-line. They’re not always nice people. They will always do what they think is the most logical thing to do. They will always be somewhere in the background, watching, thinking, and judging. Your basic INTJ, by most standards, is an arsehole. They’re also highly effective, intelligent arseholes who are physically incapable of forgetting and only have a nodding acquaintance with the concept of forgiving.

Your assassin-scout-mage character is a great INTJ fit, as is the sneak-thief or the evil vizier. You may also find the occasional paladin in the bunch, but as a rule INTJs are too pragmatic to make a heroic last stand unless it’s actually going to work. They make fantastic mercenaries, evil geniuses, and lone wolves.

One of the best INTJ-type anti-heroes I ever read was Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond. He describes (The Game of Kings) himself as being perceived as a mountebank: “Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable. You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular. You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular. But try all three and you’re a mountebank. Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all-round proficiency.”

The question I always try to dodge: Where do you come from?

The question I always try to dodge: Where do you come from?

I almost missed the only possible theme tune for this post: Cotton Eyed Joe, by Rednex – aka ‘Where do you come from, where do you go?’

I had an innocuous conversation with a colleague a little while ago, and the way it often does in an office where there are multiple languages and ethnic origins, he asked me where I come from. Fair question; I don’t sound North American, even after thirteen years in Canada. It’s pretty obvious I’m not local.

When it comes to nationality, most North Americans are sure I’m Australian. A few have even asked me where exactly in Australia Gibraltar is (there is actually a Gibraltar Rock in Australia, as it turns out, so I should probably try harder not to laugh…). Some have gone with South African. A lot of the Irish have been known to ask me which town I’m from, which is nice because I like the Irish accent – although generally if I sound Irish, I tend to be half-drunk. Get me completely drunk, about two shots from passing out on the table, and I revert to the English I spoke in my childhood, or as a friend once called it ‘1940’s BBC presenter‘.

The problem with that little question, so common in a multi-national, multi-lingual town like Vancouver, is that I don’t really know. I was born in Gibraltar, which is an awesome place and you should visit – but five days after I was born, I was taken aboard a yacht, and six months after I was born, I was in the Virgin Islands. I was thirteen before I had a fixed mailing address of any kind. So can I really say I ‘come from’ Gibraltar? I haven’t lived there. No one there knows me from Adam, which is saying a lot for a country 6 kilometres square with a population of around thirty thousand. I spent a couple of terms in school there in my ‘tweens, but that’s basically it.

Can I say ‘come from’  England? My parents were both English – but I never spent more than a few weeks at a time there until I was thirteen. At thirteen I ended up in an English boarding school, which went down rather like a reverse hairball, so you could say England made a bad first impression and never recovered. If backed into a corner I’ll cough up the truth and say I’m a British citizen, but my reaction to being called English is about as good as that of the Welsh, the Scots, or some of the Irish.

It occurred to me, after this latest conversation, that I always feel a bit guilty answering ‘where do you come from’, because the truth is I don’t really know the answer. Gibraltar, yes, but  it doesn’t really answer the question, and so I feel like a liar even though it’s the best answer I’ve got. Possibly I have commitment issues.

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