A boy, a sphinx, and an unanswerable riddle

I have a new story out! It’s only a short story (quite tiny at 4,000 words), but it makes me feel all accomplished and author-y to have two books to my name—even if they are only ebooks at present. (Don’t ask my why the paperback of Twiceborn isn’t out yet. Sigh.)

So, new story: it’s called “The Family Business”. Here is the cover. Cute, no?

The Family Business small

The blurb is:

“Renardo and his brothers are up to their eyeballs in debt, with one last chance to save their merchant business (and their gonads) from the moneylender. The great city of Tebos is holding its Festival of Song in three days’ time, and they have a wagonload of songbirds to sell.

There’s just one large, man-eating problem: the bored sphinx who guards the city’s gates, and her deadly riddle game. Renardo doesn’t even want to be a merchant, but somehow it falls to him to outwit the sphinx. No pressure. All he has to do is come up with an unanswerable riddle.”

It’s on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents. Grab a copy and fill in a happy fifteen or twenty minutes on your next commute, or while you’re waiting at soccer practice/the doctor’s surgery/whatever.

And speaking of 99 cents: Twiceborn is also on sale at that bargain basement price for the next few days, so if you’ve been meaning to grab a copy of that but haven’t quite gotten around to it, now would be a good time! It was featured on Valentines Day on the Kindle Books and Tips blog. Not exactly your typical Valentines Day fare, unless your idea of romance includes homicidal dragons, but oh well. Not being much of a romantic myself, the significance of the date had slipped my mind when I made the booking!

So, you may be wondering why “The Family Business” has suddenly appeared. Weren’t you supposed to be working furiously on The Twiceborn Queen, Marina? You never mentioned anything about some random short story being published in that big long list of things you were going to achieve that you blogged about recently.

Well yes, that’s true. Life, as they say, is full of surprises, and one that landed in my lap mid-January was a sinus infection that is still ongoing. Surprise! At its worst I was getting maybe three hours’ sleep a night, and let’s just say that the revision schedule fell a little behind.

I decided to call it early on and shift my deadline with the editor from 1 March to 1 April, which meant that it would be four months between releases instead of the three I’d planned. So I decided to put out a short story instead, one that had already been published a couple of years ago in a magazine, so it didn’t need any work from my end apart from organising a cover and the formatting.

I’m still on the first revision of The Twiceborn Queen, a little over halfway. That’s not where I’d like to be, obviously, but all the new scenes I had to add were in the first half, so hopefully progress will be quicker from here.

The Carnivore even took the ducklings out on Valentines Day so I could work without interruptions. To a writer, that’s the best Valentines Day present ever!

When they came home, Drama Duck presented me with a single rose, nicely gift-wrapped.

“It’s from Dad,” she said.

They were both grinning like idiots, and she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“We totally didn’t find that on the train where some guy had left it behind,” she added.

The Carnivore gave me a fond smile. “You’re worth it, honey.”

Hope you enjoyed Valentines Day, if you celebrate it. Did you get anything nice from your significant other (scavenged or otherwise)?

3 great writing tips from Baby Duck

Baby Duck and I were chatting about writing on the walk to school this morning. I said I was hoping to get a fair bit done on book 3 of the Twiceborn trilogy today, since yesterday was the first day I’d worked on it since Friday, and I only got about 1100 words done.

“So are you going to start writing as soon as you get home?” he asked.

Low blow! This kid knows me too well.

“You should do that instead of spending all your time reading random websites on the internet, you know.”

Yes, I do know. In fact I tell myself so many times every day. I thought about telling him I was building up my presence on social media, but I knew he wouldn’t accept any such namby-pamby excuse. Writers write!

Except, you know, when they don’t …

“Sometimes it’s not so easy to just sit down and write,” I said. “You have to know whatyou’re going to write first, and I’m not too sure yet where the story is going.”

“Then why didn’t you spend time on the days you didn’t write thinking about the plot?” he asked.

This is why Baby Duck will probably be a better writer than me one day. This kid is organised. I mean, scary organised. He comes home every day and sits straight down and does his homework without being told. He starts his assignments weeks in advance. Weeks! It’s not natural!

I flailed around a bit more, put on the spot by my eleven-year-old son.

“Well, I know what’s going to happen in a general way. But it’s hard to plan, at the really detailed level you need for scene-writing, exactly what’s going to happen. Whenever I start thinking about it I usually get distracted by a million other things.”

“You should start at the end and work backwards,” he said. “Then you’ll know where you have to end up.”

So there you have it, straight from the mouth of my tiny writing guru:

  1.        Resist the temptation to goof off on the internet. When it’s time to write, write.
  2.        In between writing sessions, plan what to write next.
  3.        If you get stuck with plotting forwards, work backwards from the end instead.

I should hire the kid out to writers’ conferences.

What about you? Do you have any good writing tips? Anything that works for you as motivation, or to get you past a blockage? Struggling writer wants to know!

“Cheese that’s whipped excites me” and other misheard song lyrics

When I was young, one of my brother’s favourite albums was “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings. My dad happily sang along to the title track “Sand on the Rug”.

Of course, being the annoying person that he was, he continued to sing this just to be irritating even after it was pointed out to him that he’d misheard the lyrics.

Everyone’s probably done this at some stage (misheard song lyrics, that is, not intentionally set out to annoy their offspring). After all, pop singers don’t always have the best diction, even when they’re not purposely mangling words to fit a rhyme or rhythm. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr Elton Extra-Syllable John. “No Sac-ar-i-fice” indeed!

I was guilty of it myself only this week. The girls and I were discussing current songs and “All About That Bass” came up. I’m busy singing “I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no trouble” when Drama Duck gives me a pitying look.

“You know it’s actually ‘no treble’, don’t you?” she says.

Hey, that makes so much more sense!! But honestly, have you heard that song? It still sounds like “trouble” to me!

It wouldn’t be the first time. I have a long history, dating back to my preschool days, of blithely singing something that’s completely wrong.

There used to be a show called “Romper Room” on TV back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Every day they did the same activities, sang the same songs, and I happily followed along. One song they sang began: “Bend and stretch, reach for the stars”, and I always sang the next line “Here comes Juicily, there goes Lars”. Despite my mother’s best efforts, she could never convince me that the words were actually “Here comes Jupiter, there goes Mars”.

Demon Duck cracked me up recently by confessing she’d made a mistake with the lyrics of Rihanna’s song S&M. There’s a line that goes “sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me”. One of her friends had heard her singing it and pointed out that Rihanna is not, in fact, excited by “cheese that’s whipped”, as she had thought.

What about you? Any misheard lyrics you’d like to ’fess up to? Don’t tell me it’s just my family!

Developing a sense of humour

I came upstairs to use my computer one day and found someone was there before me. This little Ender Man obviously had a burning desire to play Minecraft. Either that or Baby Duck has a very silly sense of humour.
I didn’t say anything, just moved the Ender Man. I set him up in front of the TV, remote control in hand and 3D glasses on (do you know how hard it is to put a pair of glasses on something that has no ears or nose??). When Baby Duck came to see what I thought of his surprise he was highly amused.
That kid makes me laugh. He has quite a dry wit. Watching kids grow and develop is fascinating in many ways, and the development of a sense of humour is one of them. When they’re little they often make you laugh, but at that stage it’s unintentional (and often at their expense). By the time they start school they’re trying very hard to get a handle on how jokes work, and often failing in hilarious ways.
Demon Duck’s first attempt to make up a joke was:
Q: Why did the chicken knit a scarf?
A: To keep her eggs warm.
We still laugh about that one. The poor baby couldn’t understand why her joke wasn’t funny. By age 7 or 8 they understand what makes a joke funny, and can retell ones they’ve heard, but it’s not till about 9 or 10 that they start to come up with original situational humour.
One recent Saturday morning, Drama Duck, who is not a morning person, was flopping around on a couch resisting all efforts to get her moving. I asked her several times to get up and have breakfast, but groans were my only reply.
Her brother gave her a withering look.
“Have breakfast,” he advised. “It’s brain food. You need it.”

Happy New Year!

Can you believe that? January again?? It seems to roll around faster every year!
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What are they?
I only have one this year, but it’s a biggie. I’m determined that 2014 is the year I finally start indie publishing. The learning curve is terrifying, but I’ll just have to grit my teeth and get on with it. Plenty of other people have managed it.
And I’m sure I won’t be lying on my deathbed one day wishing I’d spent more time faffing around on the internet. Publishing is the one big item I simply must tick off the bucket list.

Christmas already seems like forever ago, though it was only last week. Before I forgot, I wanted to show you how pretty my table looked for Christmas lunch. There were only a few of us, but we had a lovely day.
My side of the family got together for Christmas earlier in December because some of the family who live overseas were visiting. One person hadn’t seen Baby Duck since he was a toddler.
“You’ve grown so much!” she said to him. “How did you do that?”

Straight-faced, he replied: “Steroids.”

Maths for fourth grade geniuses

Poor Baby Duck was struggling with his maths homework this morning, so I had to lend a hand. I’m no maths whiz, but I can still nail fourth grade maths. Go, me. I get frustrated, though, when he says, like this morning, that they haven’t actually covered the concepts at school that they’re expected to do for homework.
It reminded us both of that great joke:
Maths question in class: What’s one plus one?
Maths question in the test: What’s one plus eight?

Maths homework question: If Johnny has two apples and he eats one, calculate the mass of the sun.

Genetics: a demonstration

A recent conversation in the car, after picking up Baby Duck and Demon Duck from their respective schools:

Demon Duck: Oh, Mum – I got my maths test back today. I got 100% again.

Baby Duck: Well, try harder next time. You’re a disgrace to the family name!

I’m not sure what the Carnivore would be prouder of: that his daughter inherited his maths ability, or that his son got his warped sense of humour!

Baby Duck’s guide to Auckland

Hi there! We’ve just returned from a couple of weeks touring the north island of New Zealand. Very pretty place, lots to see – we didn’t even cover the whole north island, much less get a chance to see any of the south island.

I tortured the kids, as I did on our Japan trip last year, by making them keep travel diaries. There was much complaining, but I hope one day they’ll be glad to have them to look back on and help them remember. Baby Duck’s is often unintentionally entertaining, so I thought I’d share a few extracts.

Baby Duck’s Guide to Auckland

Today we went to some café. Then we left, walked, and went to a park. [Ed: I hope you weren’t expecting actual useful details] But it started raining, so we went back to the hotel. But on the way there we were stopped by a bridge we had walked over that had gone up like this.

But the bridge lowered a little while later and we decided to take the SHARK-BUS to the Aquarium and set off yet again.

[Perhaps you can guess from the excited capital letters that the shark bus was pretty impressive to a certain nine-year-old tourist.]

When we got there the Aquarium looked really small but the person driving the SHARK-BUS told us the actual Aquarium was underground. [It was Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World, and well worth a visit if you’re ever in Auckland.] There were rays, sharks, a giant squid that’s head was coming off so you could see its brians [very nasty, being able to see a creature’s brians, you know. Probably goes without saying that it was a dead giant squid], fish, jelly fish, shrimps, sea horses and a octopus and also some penguins.

Don’t eat the yellow snow, penguins!

There was also a little stall that had water in it with a sign above saying “Arctic water see if you can put your hand in for thirty seconds”. My sisters touched the water, said it was too cold, but I put my hand in for thirty seconds.

[I shall spare you the regular descriptions of what he had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He hasn’t quite got the hang yet of only including the salient points. Or maybe food is very important when you’re nine.]

One Tree Hill – long drive up the hill, no tree. Should be called “no tree hill, instead of tree, big monument”. Boring.

Dad’s office: extremely boring!

After One Tree Hill we went to a museum. It was boring.

[Are you sensing a pattern here? Yes, sadly, dear readers, Baby Duck has little appreciation for cultural experiences. Or sightseeing. Or shopping. Or pretty much anything you do when visiting a foreign country other than checking out its amusement parks.]

Then for dinner we had Mongolian [one of those restaurants where you select your own ingredients and they cook it in front of you on a big drum]. I liked how you could serve yourself.

After breakfast we went on a ferry to Devonport. Then we went on a harbour tour. The captain was very funny “Please don’t fall overboard because it creates lots of paperwork wether I find you or not”.

When we stopped at an island the captain said “If you hear this sound (HOONK) you’ll know to start walking back to the boat. But if you hear this sound (honk honk honk) you should have been running because you just missed the last boat back.” Since there were no houses at all nobody would want to sleep there. Dad got off the boat but got back at the last minute. [His timing gave me a few anxious moments …]

But when we got to dry land nobody started kissing the ground. (Well at least I didn’t see anyone doing it.) Then we went to Lord Nelson’s for dinner. [He didn’t mention the shopping that came in between, but I can assure you he found it boring.] When we got out we saw two girls get on the bungy ride across the road. I think it looked really fun, but mum and dad said “NO”. So that was decided.