Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creative Writer Award

Milo James Fowler has just passed on Lesa's Bald Faced Liar "Creative Writer" Blogger Award to me. Thanks, Milo!

It's not all glamour, though. Accepting this award requires me to:
  1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them.
  2. Add the award to your blog.
  3. Tell six outrageous lies about yourself and one truth. (Another variant: Tell six truths and one outrageous lie. YOU get to guess which variant I chose – and which statements are true, as well as which are lies.)
  4. Nominate six creative liars/writers and post links to them.
  5. Let your nominees know that they have been nominated.
Here is a list of either six outrageous lies about me and one truth, or six truths and one outrageous lie. I prefer to think of the "lies" as "creative writing", by the way.
  1. Last year I saved my company $2.4M in just three months by spending less than $100 to change the type of "O"-ring used to connect all high-pressure hydraulic hoses.
  2. I learned to fly a plane before I learned to drive a car.
  3. I've turned down multiple offers for senior management roles within Rio Tinto because those roles would have given me a lot less time to write.
  4. I lost 30kg (66lbs) over 18 months using the Weight Watchers program.
  5. I have never had a speeding ticket.
  6. I was the only person in my high school to study two foreign languages.
  7. I have memorised the first three chapters of the Gospel of Luke in the King James Version, and I'm working on chapter four.
Use the comments section to guess which you think are true, and which you think are creative.

Passing on this award is tricky, because it seems that some people don't "do" awards. I guess there's no harm in nominating them anyway. Anyway, my nominations go to Angel Zapata, Erin Cole, Greg "Gladbloke" Bray, Quin Browne and Linda.

Apologies in advance if I've caused offence nominating, or not nominating anyone.

Happy guessing between the truths and creativities!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real Threats

Tim sat in the crowded departure lounge, flipping through a magazine, bored. He looked around every so often to see others also waiting, also bored. There was a TV mounted high on the wall showing an American soapie, with the sound muted, thankfully.

A young Indian-looking man came in, wearing a CIO Mining shirt like Tim's. He saw Tim, and made his way over. CIO was a multinational mining company; it was common for it's employees to meet each other randomly at airports.

"Hello," said the newcomer. "I'm Saleem. I'm an electrical grad up at Western Creek Coal." He sat down across from Tim, and put his laptop bag beside him. He had just the slightest trace of an accent.

"I'm Tim." He leaned forward and they shook hands across the aisle. "I do SAP support for all the Queensland and New South Wales coal sites."

Saleem smiled. "You must fly a lot, then."

Tim grinned. "Platinum frequent flyer, most years."

"That would drive me crazy," said Saleem. "No matter how much I fly, the security just frustrates me. I get the random explosive check every time I come through. I just had my carry-on searched, after the x-ray check."

"Really?" said Tim. "I've never had them go through my carry-on."

Saleem shrugged. "It's one of the hazards of looking like me, rather than you," he said, matter-of-factly. He added, "And having Muhammad as my first name doesn't help."

"Saleem's not your first name?"

"Where my family's from in Pakistan, Muhammad is every man's first name. Saleem is my second name; it's what I've always been called by."

"Well, I'm sorry if they give you a hard time just for that. I think security is important, but they shouldn't be targeting you just because of what you look like, or for your religion. That's just prejudice. Security should be focussed on real threats."

Tim realised he was starting to rant. He changed the subject, and asked Saleem if he'd been with CIO for long. Eighteen months, he said.

Suddenly Saleem asked, "Hey, are you Tim Murdoch?"

"Yeah, that's right."

Saleem smiled. "I've actually been meaning to give you a call – everyone says I should talk to you. I need your expertise on a project I'm working on."

Tim smiled back. He liked helping people with SAP problems, and he loved being seen as the go-to man. "What can I do you for?"

"I need your help to make a bomb," said Saleem.

Tim blinked. The people around fell silent. No one looked directly at them, but Tim could feel their eyes, and he wasn't good at feeling that type of thing. He coughed, then said softly, "You need my help for what?"

Saleem looked around, then back at Tim. "To make a bomb. Everyone says you're the one to talk to."


"Sure: my boss, other grads, lots of people. They say you've made more bombs than anyone else in CIO. That you make them quickly, and, most importantly as far as I'm concerned, you get them right, the first time."

The circle of quiet, nervous people had expanded now, like a ripple in a pond. The entire departure lounge was hanging on their every word, though everyone kept looking at their magazines and laptops, or at the TV, or out the window.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."

Saleem looked bemused. "You're are the SAP guru, Tim Murdoch?"

Tim smiled, self-consciously. He liked being called a guru, though he'd never admit it, and he sometimes even pretended to complain about it. "Hardly a guru," he said, "but I know a thing or two about SAP."

"Then why don't you know about how to make bombs? I'm quite new to SAP myself, but I thought that building a Bill of Materials would be child's play for someone like you."

Tim almost choked. Of course: Bill of Materials. He always referred to Bills of Materials as "BOM's", for short. Everyone did. Saleem had been after his expertise, so why on earth had Tim thought he was talking about building a bomb?

"Oh," he said, after a few moments. "You mean you want my help to build a BOM!"

Saleem's mouth dropped open. "Isn't this what I've been saying for five minutes?" he said. He spoke quickly now, and louder, and his accent was becoming stronger. "I have all the parts and components. I just need you to help me build my BOM!"

Tim looked up then, and saw the security guards. There seemed to be a dozen, or more, coming at them from every direction.

This story was published this week in Issue 95 of Shift Miner Magazine This is also my #fridayflash for 17 September.

What's SAP? Almost all the readers of
Shift Miner will know what SAP is; but you may not. SAP is one of the major "Business Management Software Applications". Among many other things, this type of software is used by mining companies (and other major corporations) to organise and track maintenance and other aspects of asset management. In industry, one of the steps of procuring a new piece of equipment is to set up the "BOMs" (Bills of Materials), so that the "system" has a record of all the parts, how many are stocked, and where to buy them. People in this part of the industry talk about BOMs ("bombs") all the time.

I'm sorry if the humour in this piece is too much of an "in-joke" ; however, I hope the underlying message still comes through.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Visiting Esme

“Good morning Esme, how are you today?” said Jim, his voice bright and cheery. He looked into her face for a glimmer of recognition, but saw only cold mistrust.

“I'm fine, thank you very much,” said Esme loudly, peering up at him. “But, who are you? And what do you want?”

There were six patients at Whitman Park Aged Care Home, including Esme, whose religious affiliation was listed as “Presbyterian”. It was Jim’s right, and duty, as the local Presbyterian minister, to visit them each week. Jim did his visiting on Thursday mornings. It suited him as well as any other time. The old fogies that kept track of days and times appreciated the routine, and it made no difference to the others.

And then there was Esme. She had her good days and her bad days, but overall, Esme's dementia was a case of steady decline. On a good day she showed a vague sense of having met Jim before. It didn't help for him to insist that he had known her his whole life. Her responses to such notions were belligerent, and often violent.

After introducing himself as the minister, Jim won her affection with some licorice all-sorts. It was a cheap trick, but he always used it, because it worked.

“These are lovely,” she said. “I can’t say I’ve had them before, but they are just lovely.”

Esme told Jim she’d had a terrible night's sleep. “Those young people in the flat downstairs had their music on so loud, the whole night long,” she said. Her hands trembled as she spoke. “Not that I call it music. Bang, bang, bang! That's all it is. Noise. That's what it is: just noise. Something should be done about it. Someone should do something.” She dabbed at the edge of her mouth with a handkerchief.

Jim blinked. He was still not immune to the things that she could say. Whitman Park was a single-story complex, flat on the ground; there was no ‘downstairs’. He bit his lip and swallowed and prayed, quietly in his mind, for strength.

“I'm sorry to hear that Esme,” he said. “Tell you what: I'll have a good stern talk with them about it on my way home. I’ll make sure that it doesn't happen again. How does that sound?”

Esme smiled. Her glasses glinted as she sat up in her chair. “Oh, would you? Would you really?”

“Sure,” said Jim as he got up. He felt claustrophobic.

Esme asked him to stay a while longer. “You've only just got here.”

But Jim had to leave. He couldn’t make himself stay. He retreated, shuffling backwards through the door, and waved as he left. Esme stayed in her armchair, watching him go, looking bewildered.

Jim marched quickly through the corridors of Whitman Park, out into the fresh air, and towards his car. He leaned against the car and took deep breaths to calm himself down. He took a tissue from his pocket and wiped the tears from his face.

He still wasn’t sure if he had the faith or the strength it took to be a minister. They hadn't trained him for this sort of thing at the college, and God felt farther away than ever.

Visiting Esme was killing him. He did it because it was what he had promised to do, and to be, but he wished he was someone else. He wished that Esme would hurry up and die. Take her soon, Lord, please, he prayed, She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t even know her own son.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SlushPile Hell

I just discovered SlushPile Hell today. It's about: One grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense.

Most of the posts consist of a brief quote from a query letter, and an even briefer one-liner from the grumpy agent. Reading through the site, I almost wet myself laughing a couple of times. My kidneys are still sore.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Artist's Secret

In his recent blog post Comic FAIL, Dilbert creator Scott Adams describes why he thinks a recent Dilbert strip flopped with his audience. Why? Because he ignored "The Artist's Secret":
The Artist's Secret is that all art comes from abnormal brains. So if you create art that satisfies your own tastes, you have created for a market of exactly one abnormal person. If you're lucky, a handful of other freaks get some joy from your creations too. But it won't be enough to pay your bills. It's not a career until you learn to create products that normal people like.
As a writer with an abnormal brain, I think I have a lot to learn from this. I like to think other writers and people with abnormal brains read this blog sometimes, so that's why I'm sharing this with you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Realist

The following scene is inspired by Three Word Wednesday number CCIV. The words are break, negative and surface, and are shown in bold below.

Piet didn't consider himself to be a negative person; a pessimist. He was a realist. He could objectively assess any situation. He looked below the surface of a problem, identifying the root causes, and therefore the cures. Yes, a realist.

But, as Piet thought about his marriage, and what it had become, and his prospects of making it once again what it once had been, there was little he could do except break down and cry; again.

After a few minutes, he could control his breathing better. He wiped his face and blew his nose and dropped the tissue alongside a pile of rubbish on the lounge-room floor. He looked around for his wallet and keys, then left for the bottle-shop. He'd be spending the evening with a bottle of Johnny Walker, again.