South Pacific and Asia Book Chat: An Appreciation

South Pacific and Asia Book Chat is a weekly book chat that takes place on Twitter on Thursday evenings (New Zealand time). To join it, all you need to do is (a) join Twitter and (b) send out tweets at the appropriate time which include the #spbkchat tag. I take part about once a fortnight, on average.

(You don’t have to live in this region to participate – it’s just that the chat was set up to be at a time that people in the region could make. Most book chats on Twitter are US-based, and the timing doesn’t work for many other parts of the world.)

Recently, #spbkchat celebrated its first anniversary. During the past 13 months, a huge range of topics has been covered – there are general book chats every month or so, chats about particular genres, and chats about the national literatures of various countries in the region.

I find these latter chats especially interesting. Despite New Zealand’s geographical position, New Zealanders – or at least (largely) monoglot New Zealanders like me – learn far more about books and writers from England and the US than we do about writers from Asia and the Pacific – or even Australia. I really value hearing about the writers to watch out for, and the shape of the writing and publishing scene, in the Philippines, and Indonesia, and – tonight’s topic – Malaysia, and it is great that readers, and sometimes writers, from so many countries get involved.

So this is to say thanks to Marg, Maree and Tanabata, the organisers of #spbkchat, and to all the enthusiastic, knowledgeable folks – readers, writers, readers and writers – who take part. Long may it continue!

A Day In The Life Of An Easily Distracted Writer

9.00am: Yay, writing day*, my favourite day of the week.

9.15am: Put load of washing on. Almost out of shirts.

9.30am: Check emails, Twitter – in other words, do those things I keep telling myself I won’t do until I have written my first 1000 words of the day. Still, pleased to see reply from Sydney Padua responding to my previous humorous sally to her re Charles Babbage. Unwisely, devote time to thinking of a yet more humorous riposte. Check Facebook page for Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction. Only two weeks to go!

10.00am: So. Last week, I outlined the final eight chapters of my novel. Now to commence the actual writing, starting with Chapter 17. It’s a new beginning of sorts, with my protagonist and his comrades admitting defeat and moving on, leaving shattered hopes and shattered lives behind. (Never let me write a blurb.)

10.15am: Oh, so that’s what “bounding main” means. Wikipedia rocks!

10.20am: Close down, abjure, put behind me all distracting technologies.

10.30am: Check mail (the physical, in-a-letterbox kind). Nothing.

11.00am: Pleased with how this is going. Stretching out in long passage of descriptive prose.

11.30am: Check mail. Big moment! My contributor’s copy of The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories has arrived. Cool! It’s a large book. Skim introduction by Paula Morris – looks good. Check contributor’s note. The Walt Whitman-like epic I provided has been trimmed down a bit, producing interesting floaty effect. Still, cool! Set aside to be read later (two books for review to read first).

12.25am: 850 words written. Check Twitter. Yes, I know that’s not 1000 words, but I have reached the end of a scene. Surely that counts for something.

12.30am: It starts hailing. Bad weather from the south, as foreshadowed by Art And My Life, has arrived. Should have hung washing out earlier. Make tentative start on next scene.

1.00pm: Hail has cleared. Time to hang out washing, then have lunch.

1.10pm: Outside conditions surprisingly pleasant. Discuss plot of novel with cat.

1.30pm: Arrive back inside singing theme from Teletubbies: “Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La La, Po”. Have had idea for the blog post I should have written last night.

1.50pm: Must remember to eat lunch when actually ready. Now cold.

2.15pm: 90 minutes till son returns from school. Time to get on with it.

2.35pm: Megan Fox.

2.40pm: Coffee.

2.45pm: Making good progress. Hard to write a dialogue-heavy scene, this far into the novel, in a way that keeps it fresh. Though both the medium and the tone are different, Buffy the Vampire Slayer does this very, very well. Two key principles I have learned from looking at how dialogue is handled in Buffy: serious dialogue can still have a humorous edge, and let the least trustworthy character in the scene be the most truthful. Only problem is, neither of these apply to what I am writing. Cursed mimesis!

3.25pm: 1500 word mark passed. Had been hoping to write 2000 today. Do have some inkling of why I fell short.

3.40pm: Reached end of the second scene. Total of 1777 words today. Will gnaw on thoughts of next scene over next few days. I know what the fourth and final scene of the chapter is, but right now, have no detailed idea of what will happen in the third scene. I know what emotional tone I want it to have, however. Time for backups.

3.50pm: Front door opens: son arriving home from school. Time to find out how his day was, get him fed, check if he has homework, check the washing (and, OK, fair point, put out the rest of the socks), publish this blog post, reply to emails, and cook dinner.

*There are other days on which I write, but Thursdays are the one day of the week I dedicate to writing. Yes, you heard me. Dedicate!

Twittering Robot Lands on Mars

Here’s three poems about Mars from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens to celebrate the arrival of NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander spacecraft on Vastitas Borealis, where it’s now Twittering from the Martian surface. (Hmmm, robots blogging from Mars. Where’s Sarah Connor when you need her?).

These poems are from the “Red Stone” sequence: the first one, the last one, and the cynical one in the middle. “Stone” was first published in Astropoetica and “The First Artist on Mars” in Blackmail Press 15.

A Mars-related poetry event is coming up: the guest reader at the AGM of the New Zealand Poetry Society is Chris Orsman, whose third collection, The Lakes of Mars, has just been released.* Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to make this meeting, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on Chris’s book.

*I have a suspicion The Lakes of Mars may have more to do with Antarctica than Mars, but no matter – I like Antarctica too.


and all over iron

erosion shaped
of the warm wet days

sitting on this
arid plain
for the last
two billion years

standard Martian
red-brown drop
in a rust ocean.

The First Artist on Mars

Well, the first professional artist
There were scientists who, you know
but NASA sent us —
me and two photographers —
to build support for the program.

The best day?
That was in Marineris.
Those canyons are huge
each wall a planet
turned on its side.
I did a power of painting there.

You can see all my work
at the opening. Do come.
Hey, they wanted me to paint propaganda —
you know, ‘our brave scientists at work’ —
but I told them
you’ll get nothing but the truth from me

I just paint what I see
and let others worry
what the public think.
Still, the agency can’t be too displeased.
They’re sponsoring my touring show.
That’s coming up next spring.

Would I go back? Don’t know.
It’s a hell of a distance
and my muscles almost got flabby
in the low G. Took me ages
to recover — lots of gym and water time
when I should have been painting.

But Jupiter would be worth the trip!
Those are awesome landscapes
those moons, each one’s so different.
Mars is OK — so old, so red,
so vertical. Quite a place
but limited, you know?

Red Canvas

Red to white-blue-green
a thousand years, a million
doesn’t matter really

we will see it when it comes.
The God of War will grow
a coat of many colours

and life will paint another
tribute to the sun.

UPDATE: See this remarkable photo of the Phoenix Lander descending, taken by another robot, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Awe-inspiring! Skynet would be proud …