Canine reproduction: which comes first, the dog or the egg?

Baby Duck and I were cuddling in bed this morning. At least, I was trying to cuddle, hoping that the day might go away if I could just keep my eyes closed a little longer, but Baby Duck was full of beans and it was like trying to wrestle an octopus.

“Mum?” he says.

“Mmm?” Go back to sleep, pleeeease.

“Does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay eggs?”

Well, no, son. A girl dog has to have a complete biological redesign in order to lay eggs.

After we get that part straightened out he tries again.

“Well, does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay puppies?”

“She doesn’t have to marry him, but she has to be with him. She can’t have puppies on her own.”

“Then why did Summer have to have her bits taken out? She’s always on her own.”

I wonder about this kid sometimes. The dog was desexed nearly two years ago. I’m surprised he even remembers it. He thinks about the strangest things.

Must be his father’s genes.

Tag, you’re it

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Jenn seems to be a very deep thinker. Her posts on writing are very insightful. She’s also friendly and welcoming to visitors.

15. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head? Ants in the apple, a-a-a. What, you don’t know this one? My dear, you haven’t lived! There’s a whole alphabet full of them, all the way up to “zippy zebra, z-z-z – and that’s the sound that z makes”. It takes six minutes and forty-something seconds to sing the whole thing, and as soon as you finish, Baby Duck says, “Let’s do it again, Mum!”. Yee-hah.

16. What’s your favorite item of clothing? My new green top.

17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? Not sure what these are. Must be an American thing. Assuming they’re some kind of breakfast cereal, I would probably prefer my homemade muesli, which is so scrummy I hunted down a hospital dietician and begged her for the recipe.

18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground? Assume it was a trick.

19. What items could you not go without during the day? Did I mention the thing with the peppermint chocolate?

20. What should you be doing right now? Sleeping. See answer to Question 2.

Are we there yet?

The ducklings have a fabulous picture book called Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester, about a family that goes on a road trip around Australia. It’s one of those rare books that manages to be beautiful and a lot of fun as well as educational. Every second page, after lots of detailed illustrations and interesting info about the family’s current stop, the refrain goes: “And Billy said, ‘Are we there yet?’”

Anyone with kids is all too familiar with that particular chorus. I’m starting to feel like Billy myself as I work through this revision. Are we there yet?

The problem is that I’m having to put a lot of new material into the first part of the novel. This is a good thing, since it needed it, but also a bad thing because it makes me feel that I’m not making any progress. I’m writing and writing and writing yet I never move on through the pages of the first draft cause I keep thinking up more stuff that I need to add before I can continue.

The other problem is that I’ve had to redo some of these new scenes because I don’t think sufficiently about them before I write them. Just when I think they’re done and I can move on, some humiliatingly obvious thing occurs to me and I think, well der! why didn’t you write it like that instead? So back on the little mousey wheel I go, running and a-running. Are we there yet?

Jen Hubbard had a great post a couple of weeks ago on the stages of writing. Some of the stages of rewriting had me laughing even as I winced, like “Oh, that’s perfect! No, wait, it doesn’t fit”. Or “We’re on the right track now! We’re off the right track. We are in the fields beyond the track.”

When you read a good book, one thing flows from another in such a way that it seems inevitable. Yes, of course that character did X when Y happened. Naturally they broke up at the end – it was the only possible outcome after what happened at the party. And so on. Everything fits together so well it looks easy. I guess I never really believed it truly was easy, but I’m discovering exactly how hard it is now, and I’m here to tell you it ain’t pretty. Think jelly wrestling with crocodiles.

If I want to produce that seamless inevitability, I’ve got to do some more planning, sit down and really pinpoint what the focus of each scene is. Otherwise I’ll be re-re-re-re-re-rewriting these suckers till I go grey. Oh, wait, that already happened. Well, till I become that demented woman yelling at her computer, “Are we there YET???”

Swimming for aetheists only?

Drama Duck was reading a book about sharks1 to Baby Duck last night for his bedtime story. She’s an advanced reader for her age but she tends to slide over unfamiliar words instead of stopping and trying to figure them out.

I could hear her from the next room, her voice full of expression:

“The average hammerhead shark is about eleven feet long. It is easily identified by its superwide head. The hammerhead’s eyes are at either end of its head, giving it great binocular vision. Hammerheads eat fish, squid, octopuses, cri-Christians and other sharks.”

Christians? Seems a tad exclusive of them. Shame the ancient Romans didn’t know about this dietary quirk. When they got tired of throwing Christians to the lions, they could have thrown them to the hammerheads instead. Although “Christians to the hammerheads!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

After a moment’s thought I realised that the word she’d stumbled on must be “crustaceans”. I suppose it is a tricky one. Christians of the world can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they’re no more likely to become a shark’s lunch than the Buddhists, Muslims, aetheists and everybody else after all.

1. The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape by Jennifer Johnston

Once upon a time — you were saying?

I posted a while ago about beginnings and how important it is to hook the reader right from the start. I said that “Once upon a time” just didn’t cut it any more.

Would you believe I’ve found the most brilliant beginning – and it starts with “Once upon a time”? Just goes to show that if you’re good you can make anything work. And also that I have no idea what I’m talking about – not that that comes as a great surprise!

It’s from Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. I read her Digging to America when it came out (a couple of years ago?) and was awed by her skill. I went looking for another, but didn’t like it as much. Last week I picked up Back When We Were Grownups while browsing the secondhand bookshop and I’m back to awe again. She is a master of understatement. Her characters are brilliant; so real, so ordinary but so engrossing. Yet they are brought to life so obliquely. She could have written the textbook on “show, don’t tell”. It made me realise how much I have to learn.

It was a quiet little story, like the others of hers I’ve read. Everyday, domestic problems – but do you think I could put it down? The first line sucked me in and I was gone.

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

How cool is that? I want to be Anne Tyler when I grow up.

Why stories shouldn’t have necks

Baby Duck has discovered a sudden passion for drawing. Looking at one of the many masterpieces littering the house today it struck me that children’s drawings are a lot like good writing.


This is me. Clearly I need to lose weight.

Apart from that lowering thought, it’s fascinating to see what my little artist has put in his drawing and what he hasn’t. You can see I have five fingers on each hand, since the little monkey has realised what important tools these are, whereas I have no toes. There’s no detail on the body as that’s just the big lump in the middle that all the interesting bits hang off. I have short hair, which is an accurate observation. My face is the most detailed part of the drawing because of its importance. It shows ears (with holes for hearing), eyes with irises and pupils (even at five he senses that the eyes are the key to the whole person) and a big happy smile.

What he doesn’t show is a nose. After all, noses just sit there and breathe which, while essential, is kind of boring. I also have no neck – another dull piece of anatomy that merely connects two more interesting pieces.

In their early drawings, kids only put in the features that have meaning for them. All the good bits. Writing should be like this too. As I revise my novel I’ve been hitting the delete key a lot, nuking all those passages where characters are travelling from one place to another, or making breakfast, or exchanging pleasantries.

Holly Lisle put it well in her One-Pass Revision article (which is one of many useful free writing resources on her site). Writers should “give the impression of reality” without all of the boring detail. “All the sex and violence, passion and struggle. None of the teeth-brushing.”

Down with teeth-brushing, I say. My five-year-old has it right. My story doesn’t need any necks. It can jump straight from the body to the face if it wants to, because that’s where all the good stuff is happening.

Slippery little suckers

Words can be such slippery little suckers. Tonight at dinner we were talking about the game MindTrap, which is an old favourite of ours. You play by answering questions using logic and deductive reasoning. I love the “lateral thinking” type ones, where you can ask questions to work out the answer to the puzzle. (You know, like the classic “Joe and Fred are lying dead on the floor, which is covered in broken glass and water. How did they die?” The answer: Joe and Fred are goldfish and their bowl has been smashed.) My beloved, not surprisingly for an accountant, likes the maths-based ones, most of which make my brain hurt.

The ducklings were curious so we got it out and read them some questions. One was:

“There are six ears of corn in a hollow tree. If a squirrel can take out three ears per day, how many days will it take to remove all the corn?”

Easy, huh?

Did you say “two days”? Yeah, me too. I knew there had to be a catch, but I never saw it coming. The correct answer is “six days”. The squirrel can only carry out “three ears” per day – but he already has two ears stuck on his head.

Slippery, all right.

Hack and slash

I’ve finally done it! After a medal-worthy marathon of procrastination, I finally sat down last night and started editing my novel. And it was fun. Take that, hideous opening sentence! In fact, goodbye whole boring first two pages. The first scene, which wasn’t particularly long, lost 1,000 words in a frenzy of hack and slash. Could be a problem if I keep that up, since I need to add about 20,000 words to the total length. I could end up with a short story instead of a novel.

Still, I’m pleased that I’m moving again. I finished the first draft two months ago and have been stalling ever since. My new goal is to finish the book before November rolls around and I start NaNoWriMo and do it all again. In fact, I’d better finish a couple of weeks before, to give me time to think about my NaNo project …

Guess I’d better go do some revising.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall …

Everyone’s image of themselves is just a little different to the reality. Mine’s a little thinner, a lot less grey. Baby Duck, however, has self-delusion honed to an artform. Yesterday someone asked him what colour he would make his hair in his self-portrait.

“Like yours,” he said to the nice blonde lady.

Vanity, thy name is Baby Duck. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Only a large amount of peroxide could help him there. His hair is light brown – quite an attractive heading-towards-dark-blonde shade, but still undeniably brown.

It reminded me of a classic exchange at the supermarket checkout last year. The woman behind us in the queue was chatting to Baby Duck.

“You look like your mummy, don’t you!” she says.

“No,” says Baby Duck, looking at her as if she’d suggested he had two heads.

“No? Who do you look like then? Your daddy?”

“Nobody. I look like me.”

“Oh. Well, I think you look like your mummy.”

(Mummy finds this type of talk very gratifying. Ha ha! I’ve left my genetic mark on this poor unfortunate child.)

“No, I don’t,” he insists. He prepares to bring out supporting evidence, and I imagine it will be along the lines of “she’s a grown-up and I’m a kid” or “I’m a boy and she’s a girl”, but what he says is: “She’s got brown hair.”

“And what colour is your hair?” asks the lady, because, well, it’s brown too. Lighter than mine, but brown all the same.

“It’s gold,” he says firmly, “and all sparkly.”

Evil brain sloths

“Where do you get your ideas from?” is a question that published authors get asked a lot. I only hope someday people will be asking me. Karen Miller thinks the question should be “where don’t you get ideas?”. Glenda Larke agrees, and thinks that if you have to ask the question, you don’t understand how writers’ minds work. Justine Larbalestier gets hers from evil brain monkeys. The common theme is that getting the ideas isn’t the problem – it’s the actual turning them into stories that’s hard.

I had an interesting encounter with my brain monkeys this week. They’ve always given me plenty of ideas, but only little bits and pieces. Once they’ve given me the first glimmering of a story they just roll over and go back to sleep, leaving me to figure out all the rest of it alone. I think I actually have brain sloths. Perhaps the monkeys were all gone by the time I got to the head of the queue.

Only this week I tried something different at Holly Lisle’s suggestion (I’m doing her How to Think Sideways writing course). Instead of leaping all over an idea the minute the poor thing poked its head up out of the subconscious and trying to force it into a story, I waited. Boy, that was hard. But it was worth it, because when that idea saw that the coast was clear it called all its mates out to join it and bang! the whole story fell into my head. Obviously I still have to write it, and no matter how complete the idea is, the writing is still where the hard work comes in. But it’s going to be really interesting to start writing a story without that sinking “I wonder what the hell comes next” feeling.

So now I’m thinking I may have maligned my brain sloths. Maybe they’re not a bunch of lazy no-good slackers after all. Maybe they’re just shy and I was scaring them away. Come out and play, little brain sloths! All is forgiven.

So. Where do you get your ideas from?