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The Curious Evolution of Jennifer K. Oliver
A stroll through the mindfields
25th-Nov-2016 11:42 pm - Notebookpocalypse
Wolves | Blah Blah Blah
Up until recently I've only ever used the smaller Paperblanks notebooks, as they are a convenient shape and size for a smaller handbag, plus the designs are just gorgeous. But I just purchased my first ultra and I might be a convert. The ultra is much heavier than the mini, as you would expect, but it's surprisingly comfortable resting on my lap and obviously I can fit a lot more in it. It looks more substantial and feels more substantial, and the pocket at the back can also hold more stuff (faff like business cards, receipts, story ideas hastily scrawled on napkins, etc). Plus they are very pretty indeed.

I sent these photos of my used notebooks to some friends a while ago and thought I'd share. These are all full of stories, snippets and notes. Most of them are minis or around a similar size to the Paperblanks mini: Notebook porn!Collapse )

And here are my new shiny Paperblanks ultra notebooks:

Other recommended notebook makers: Peter Pauper Press and Flame Tree.

Lighthouse, by Patrick Watson.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Last year I posted unfavourably about the 2015 John Lewis TV ad "Man on the Moon". I thought I'd just say that I much prefer the 2016 ad. They've pulled it back from the faux-Disney sap of 2013 and the saccharine absurdity from 2015. Putting aside badgers, foxes and squirrels trampolining together (yeah, that's right), I can at the very least believe that a derpy dog might see something fun and want in on the action. It's kind of what derpy dogs do.

Here is the ad in case you haven't seen it: Buster the Boxer.

Just to note, this still doesn't top The Journey's beautiful simplicity from 2012. That's a tall order right there. I still get a lumpy throat when I see that snowman battling the wind with such a determined face. Oh man.

Let's Get Rocked, by Def Leppard.
FFVII | Sephiroth
I have a short story out in Youth Imagination Magazine, issue 39. It's free to read online. It's awesome to be able to post about a new publication after a long break from submitting (late last year I needed to step back from the serious bizniz of it all). I'm also thrilled that one of my stories is in such great hands!

Title: The Machinists' Boy
Author: Jennifer K. Oliver
Word Count: 4,200 words.
Summary: YA science fiction horror. Two young boys crash land on a wasteland planet, only to find they are not alone.

Many moons ago I workshopped this story at two venues: Storyslingers writing group and The OWW. Thank you to everyone who provided critiques of earlier drafts. They were all extremely helpful.
24th-Dec-2015 01:59 pm - Happy, Happy, Happy Holidays!
South Park
I just wanted to wish you all a very Happy Holidays! Whatever you're up to (including if you don't celebrate anything) have a lovely week. I'm not sure if I'll have chance to post anything before New Year, so I'll also wish you a good one of those, too. :)

2015 has been interesting: full of (good) changes in my life, although what it's lacked is a considerable amount of productivity on the fiction submission front. A bad stint of Writer Self-Doubt at the end of last year kept my output low, although the story bank seems to be opening up a bit more now--just in a slightly different direction to my usual speculative fiction venues.

Regardless of new avenues, I hope to write more spec-fic in 2016 and redraft my near-future sci-fi YA novel "Hi-Res" which I still feel has a lot of potential.

There are a couple of positive potential life changes on the horizon so those will no doubt take up some of my time and energy, but I would like to post to this blog more frequently next year, and get back in touch with my wonderful friends here, on Tumblr and on Twitter.

Well, that's it for now. Have a good one!
FFVII | Sephiroth
Just in case anyone wonders what the fuss is about, the John Lewis TV adverts have become something of a staple of the British festive season and they're always a talking point.

The 2015 ad has been out a while now. I wanted to give it some time to sink in just in case I was wrong on my initial viewing and it wasn't, in fact, a nonsensical, over-sentimental pile of reindeer poo. But nah, I still feel the same. If you haven't seen it: Man on the Moon. Seriously, where do you even begin with that?

Thing is, in the past the JL ad people have done some lovely work. My personal favourite is The Journey from 2012. Its simplicity is what makes it so effective. There are no animation gimmicks. It has a far smaller, cosier scale and scope and is therefore far more accessible to people. The message makes sense, and the story does too. I think this is why I find it so much more powerful and beautiful than the latest one. 2013's The Bear & The Hare had a lot of potential, but for me it leans too heavily on the Disneyesque style of animation and that familiarity takes away from its originality.

But 2015… I don't know. John Lewis haven't just smacked me over the head with the feels stick. They've rammed it right through my chest and are wiggling it about. Unfortunately, all it's doing is giving me a nasty bout of heartburn.

But hey, I'd highly recommend everybody roots for the alternative Darth Vader parody of the ad: Man on the Moon (The Dark Side Version). What I'd give to see this aired on TV instead. :)
3rd-Nov-2015 10:20 pm - Gadding About Wales
Wolves | Wouldn't Like Me
Went holidaying in Wales last week and wanted to share some photos, which I mostly took to turn into textures that can be used for graphic design (feel free to use them if you like, no permission needed).

There are a few pics of The Puzzlewood, an ancient, winding maze of tangled forest, strange rock formations and caves so otherworldly that it inspired J.R.R. Tolkien for some of the settings in The Lord of the Rings. It's also been used in Star Wars VII, Merlin and Dr Who, apparently! There are a few pics of castles in various states of ruin, including Raglan Castle, another place where parts of Merlin were filmed.

But I didn't really go to see places where things were filmed. Mostly I just love old castles and history. And if that's your cuppa, then Wales is your place.

Gallivanting around the Forest of Dean and parts of WalesCollapse )

Back to normalcy now, and back to work, feeling tired and like I ate too much, but really looking forwards to some exciting web and graphic design projects, too, so it's not all bad!

Oats in the Water, by Ben Howard.
28th-Oct-2015 09:44 pm - Story Posters
Wolves | Blah Blah Blah
Since the relaunch of my web & graphic design business J. Oliver Designs, I've been working on a couple of personal, non-profit projects so I can build a fresh portfolio with new shiny things. Two of these projects are promo posters for my short stories. I thought I'd share them here in case anyone is interested in promo material for their own stories or novels (all images are high-res and can be printed for posters, flyers, or used online).

Story promo posters for Shuffle and Death Car AlleyCollapse )

Like I said in an earlier blog, I'm really keen to make web and graphic designs for other writers and artistic types, so drop me a line if you're interested or if you want something made spiffy for promotion. These were fun to make and I'd like to make more. :)

Leaving Town Blues, by Rory Gallagher, John Cook, Rich Newman, & Spoon.
18th-Oct-2015 10:54 am - Web & Graphic Design Relaunch!
Stock | Butterfly Hat
Howdy folks. I've recently relaunched my web & graphic design business so if you're looking for a spiffy website or branding to help you promote yourself or your product, check out J. Oliver Designs.

On offer: websites, logos, Twitter headers and avatars, flyers, posters, business cards. All custom-made to fit your aesthetic and catch the eye of your target audience. There are a couple of examples of my work up there right now, with more to be added soon.

I'm particularly interested in designing for writers, so drop me a line at joliverdesigns@gmail.com if you're interested. :)

Hopeless (SoundNet Remix), by Luke Cusato.
10th-Aug-2015 11:26 pm - Gadding All Over the Countryside
Stock | Balloons
The weekend before last me and the boyfriend went to a yew tree forest for a wander. I got some great pics on my phone and thought I'd post them (don't you think they'd make good graphic textures? Haha). Weirdly, there was very little wildlife that we saw among the yews, apart from a scant few butterflies and moths. Even birds seemed sparse. It was a bit like being in a woven tree cave that the rest of the world had forgotten, cool and peaceful and safe. It was rather lovely.

Me and yew, yew and me, lots and lots, for us to seeCollapse )

Because we are derps, we got my car stuck on a narrow country track, which was fine at first, until we realised the two of us probably wouldn't be able to budge it. Thankfully some obliging cyclists came through and helped push my car to safety. These things, they make us stronger (especially when, you know, lifting cars).

The next day the bf drove us into The New Forest for another wander. It's a different thing, the New Forest--there are creatures everywhere you turn. Ponies and cows hang out on the roadside, wander into villages and generally skulk about like delinquents. We walked down a long, narrow road to a lake, spoke to some ducks, and then veered off the path across a field of scrub towards the trees. The forest floor was riddled with crisp holly leaves, and because I was wearing impractical shoes (surprise?), I felt a lot of them. :) But the best bit was the herds of deer. One must have been ten or so strong, including a couple of gangly fawns. It was incredible how close we got considering how noisy we were (crispy holly leaf carpet, yo). Eventually they heard us and bounced away; it was so special. I've never seen that many deer together in one place before. There are lots of picturesque little pubs in the New Forest too. I was thinking that I'd love to stay there for a couple of days, go adventuring, and spend time writing and being creative. All that air and nature has got to be good for the soul pores.

Now back to civilisation, I'm cracking on with a new story that might be a novelette or might even be a novella--I don't know. It's growing itself and I have no control. But hey, it feels great to joyously throw down words like this again. :)

Whispers in the Mist (feat. Aloma Steele), by Varien.
Foo Fighters | Learn to Fly
I'm never immediately sure when the cinematic cutscenes in The Order 1886 are finished and I'm in control of the character again. It's seamless. Visually this game is something else. (Here's the trailer if anyone missed it. Yeah, so the gameplay looks exactly like that.) It's boggling how fast game development has progressed even just in the last few years. It makes you wonder what games will be like in five, ten years time. :O

A few acts into The Order 1886 and it's enjoyable so far. The prologue is nice, though I don't think it does the visuals as much justice as it could--the scenes are shadowy and shaky and sparse, and the real wow! doesn't happen until Act I when you've flashed back. Galahad is a cool dude, the supporting cast seems intriguing, and the voice acting is superb. I really hope there's a lot of character development and emotional stuff to come; I feel like this game could blow the mind if the writing is as strong as the virtual world-building.

I'm a little disappointed by how linear the gameplay is, though. They show you this rich, complex and incredibly detailed labyrinth, but you can't really explore it in the way you want to. Just a little bit of freedom to wander side streets and pick up mini missions would probably make the setting more satisfying. I prefer having the option to occasionally deviate from the main story, do something else for an hour or so, and then come back to continue the main plot when I'm ready. Right now, it's very much like watching a movie, which in some ways is great, but I'm not really having to think too hard or strategise.

And on a different gaming note, Dragon Age Inquisition. Yeah, I'm terribly late to this party, but it turned out my PC laptop was unable to run the game when it first came out. There was a lot of sadface about this because some of my friends were playing it and having a blast (gaming envy, meep). But hey, I got a PS4 recently so I'm very much back in the game!

Party set-up for my level 16 Rift Mage: Varric for ranged, poisoned weapons, and a bit of stealthy goodness; Vivienne because as a Knight-Enchanter she is developing into a freaking godly one-woman-army; Cassandra because she's not a terrible sword-and-boarder, and damnit I've grown attached to her. We make a nice little team. The other characters are nicely distinguishable from each other, but I get stuck in my ways (for example, in DA:O it was invariably DPS!mage, Alistair, Wynne and Leliana). Initially it was tempting to go the Knight-Enchanter route, but I heard that running Viv in the party with you also as a K-E mage pretty much nerfs the game. Like, you could virtually go out with just you and Viv and take everything down. While that sounds instantly gratifying, I'm looking for a bit of a challenge, so in the end Rift Mage seemed the less easy option.

A few other things about DAICollapse )

Also played a little bit of Destiny but that's one to be put aside for now. I can already tell that I'd get massively sucked into it and with current writing projects and general life stuff, there just aren't enough hours in the day. Sigh. :)

Also, even more sadface, a few weeks ago Cam and Seb put up their last episode of Top Five Skyrim Mods of the Week. Gah, I'm going to miss this show so much, and honestly I'm not ready to let go. :/ But best of luck to the guys and whatever they plan to do next.

Revolution by Xilent.
Wolves | Blah Blah Blah
It's been a while since I've been able to share some good news here, but my short dark fantasy / horror story "Shuffle" has just been published at the wonderful Kaleidotrope magazine in their summer 2015 issue! I am beyond thrilled. The story is available online for free here:

Title: "Shuffle"
Author: Jennifer K. Oliver
Word Count: 3,300 words.
Summary: Post-apocalyptic story about a dead thing reclaiming its life and realising perhaps death is better.

There were a lot of incredibly helpful reviews of this story on the Online Writing Workshop and from Storyslingers writing group. Thank you to those who took the time to read and comment. And as always thank you to Yvonne Anisimowicz for the multiple beta reads. :)
2nd-Jan-2015 04:49 pm - Creative-y Links
Stock | Typewriter
getyourwordsout is back for 2015, and there's still time to sign up! I've done this challenge a couple of years running and it's a wonderful way of keeping on top of your writing goals. The community provides a very organised, supportive structure, with loads of different writing events, encouragement posts, as well as writing articles to help inspire or motivate you. You can pledge to meet various different word counts - there is something to suit everyone.

Towards the end of last year I posted a few short interviews at other blogs and venues, and since they are writing-related I thought I'd share them here:

First up is an author profile of novelist, poet, script writer and playwright Sue Ashby. Sue does a lot of invaluable support work and networking with writers in the South West of England.

Followed by another author profile of playwright Tony Benge. Tony has been writing plays for twenty years, and has been commissioned by the Library Theatre Manchester, Radio 4 Drama, and Manchester Open Learning.

And lastly, The Dorset Writers' Network did a Writing Lives biography on my writing group! This is the first in a series of group bios - one will go up every month. Writing Lives: Storyslingers.

Skyfire (King Trimble Remix), by Twofold.
2nd-Jan-2015 07:51 am - Happy New Year!
South Park
Happy New Year, everyone! I wish you all the good times, progress, and best wishes in the world for 2015. Let's hope it's a grand and spiffy year!

I plan to post more regularly here again, and share writing-related content as I was last year before Life got all distracting and I fell out of the LJ way. I hope everyone is doing great and had a good end to 2014.

I'll start off by mentioning The Write Day, a one day boost-camp retreat for writers in the South-West of England. It offers a light, airy space, time to focus on nothing but writing, and support from other writers. I'm booked on for Feb 15th and will be there with a few friends from my writing group. It should be fun and extremely productive!
Stock | Typewriter
Usually, when a writer has finished a story or taken a story as far as they can, they send them out to critique groups or beta readers for feedback. As the author, it’s difficult disconnecting from a story’s headspace, and that makes it tricky to judge if everything is working. This is where critique groups and betas are invaluable: the fresh eye, the new perspective, the telling reactions. These all help author see where a story might still need work.

But there’s a big difference between a critique and an edit, and sometimes authors get back one when they really need the other. I’m going to talk about why, break down each one, and suggest things writers should do when approaching someone for feedback.

A critique is an evaluation. It’s a review where you look at the bigger picture and consider things like pacing, clarity, character motivation, character arcs, plot and plot holes, weak dialogue, unnecessary exposition, theme and motif. This is where you think about whether or not every chapter, every scene, every paragraph advances the plot. You ask if all the characters are pulling their weight. You ask what the writer is trying to get across. Think: bigger picture, overall story.

An edit focuses more on grammar, style, and punctuation. It picks apart paragraphs and sentences and looks for inconsistencies, repetitions, misused words, typos and spelling errors, awkward sentence structure, etc. It can expand to include suggestions on characters, dialogue, pace and plot, but these are generally smaller observations, on a paragraph by paragraph (or line by line) level. Think: details, fine tuning.

When you send stories out for feedback, be clear about the following:

1) How ‘finished’ is your story. It’s no good getting line edits on a first draft–it wastes everyone’s time. Ideally, you don’t want line edits until you’ve fixed the plot and characters. Plot and characters come first, and they should be analysed in a critique. Often revision is required, which can lead to whole chunks of a story being rewritten. How awkward when you have to explain to a beta reader who just spent two hours line editing your work that you’ve had to rewrite the entire story from scratch.

2) Be clear about what type of feedback you need. Specify the elements of a critique if your reader doesn’t know the difference. Ask questions (put them at the end of the story so as not to influence the reader before they start), and get them to write down their reactions as they read. Did their attention wander at any point, and if so, when? Were the character motivations clear and believable? Did the ending satisfy and tie in, at least a little, with the start? Was anything confusing? If the reader has never critiqued before, these questions will help guide them through it.

Writers become better writers much quicker through writing, reading, and critiquing. Editing will help teach you when to use commas instead of semi-colons, but it won’t teach you how to develop an engaging character with clear, compelling motivations, or sharpen your use of metaphor or motif, or just tell a damn good story. Semi-colons generally don’t sell fiction. Good stories do.

(Not, I want to add, that there’s anything wrong with a semi-colon! I ♥ them.)

If you’re a fiction writer, start critiquing. Do it every week. If you can’t find a fellow author to crit, then pull an anthology off a shelf and practise with that.

Here are some other excellent resources on writing critiques:

How to Critique Fiction, by Victory Crayne.

Nuts and Bolts of Critiquing, by Tina Morgan, posted at Fiction Factor.

15 Questions for Your Beta Readers, by editor and author Jodie Renner, posted at Kill Zone.

(Note: This post was originally written for Storyslingers. Cross-posted here in case anyone finds it helpful.)
Stock | Butterfly Hat
(I swear, I've been doing other things lately aside from listening to podcasts. Anyway...)

Lovecraft's stories are always hit-or-miss for me. A couple of years ago, I went through a whirling reading fest over the course of about a week and inhaled as many of his stories as I could manage. Afterwards, I took a break and tried to sift through my feelings. For the most part, I came out of it frustrated--so much of his work is problematic and not easy to stomach, even given the period in which he was writing. At times it's racist, xenophobic, classist, homophobic; there aren't many female characters and women are under-represented; and it can be horribly purple at times. And some of his earlier work just isn't very good at all, on all levels. On the other hand, some of his stories are stunningly creepy and imaginative, and if nothing else, we can thank him for shaping what a lot of weird fiction and horror is today. There's a reason people still love to run around in his playground, and I think it's even more important to continue reinventing that playground, make it more accessible, diverse and consistent. But I digress.

I've been listening to and loving the heck out of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast (otherwise known as H.P. Podcraft) hosted by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey. Basically, they've gone through most of Lovecraft's work, providing readings, commentary, music and resources. There were a couple of stories I wasn't originally able to finish--The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath being one--but recently I've revisited them with the podcast providing a kind of Cliff Notes / York Notes version, with additional laughs and observations I hadn't considered. Chad and Chris also often give background info about the stories, like when Lovecraft wrote them, what he said about them in his letters to correspondents, which magazines they were published in (or rejected by!), and other works inspired by them. It's interesting listening, and Lovecraft himself becomes a more interesting character when seen through someone else's eyes. I noticed that they're currently doing works by other authors, too, possibly having run out of Lovecraftian pieces (they're currently up to episode 212 and still seem to be going strong!).

And, for anyone who hasn't tried HPL before, The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast is a terrific place to start, especially if you're intrigued about Lovecraft but haven't been able to find anything by him that's easy to get into (as I said above, he can be very hit-or-miss).

You can also find them on Twitter and their forums.

Euphoria, by Collide.
3rd-Jun-2014 02:15 pm - Time for a little notebook porn
Stock | Book!
So far this year, I've mostly been handwriting in Flame Tree notebooks. I got into Flame Tree a couple of years ago, when I was given one of their books - the one featuring Gustav Klimt's Kiss - as a present. Not long after, I picked up the Erté Starstruck book for its pretty art deco style cover.

The things I love about Flame Tree notebooks are almost exactly the same things I love about Paperblanks. They're sturdy, with magnetic clasps that close the entire book into a thin box, keeping your pages safe from the elements. They are shiny, tactile things, their cover art embossed so the act of simply holding them is a delight. The pages are lined, but the lines aren't too bright or dark that they're distracting. I've noticed that Flame Tree tend to use thinner lines, and their books are bigger than most Paperblanks, so you tend to get more on a page. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not: on the one hand, more words! But on the other, when a page is full and you're looking back through for something, you're confronted with lots of text -- and if you write like me, often in large blocks. They have two ribbon bookmarks, a cute but subtle "This notebook belongs to..." section right at the front, and they come with a pocket at the back built into the hardcover -- very handy for loose slips of paper, receipts, business cards, etc.

They come in a variety of sizes, too. I lean towards the 210 x 148 mm books, but the 178 x 128 mm are probably a more convenient size for writing on the go.

Currently I'm using The Great Wave notebook, featuring art by Hokusai. And next up, I have the smaller Contemporary Flame (Gothic Dark Lace) notebook, which is the ideal size for a purse or smaller handbag.

West Coast, by Lana Del Rey.
29th-May-2014 12:55 pm - Thoughts on recent Hobbity things
FFVII | Sephiroth
Apparently there's a petition online asking Peter Jackson to change the ending of the third The Hobbit movie. I don't think he would do that (at least, I bloody hope not!) and I'm amazed that anyone's asking him to. If you don't know the fans' issue with the book, it"s this, cut for spoilersCollapse ) Truly, I don't believe they'll reshoot a huge section of the movie at this stage; it would be utterly absurd to do so, simply to pander to a handful of fans.

To be honest, one of the things I disliked most about the book was that the final battle was glossed over. Almost all of the action takes place during a convenient fade to black after Bilbo is knocked out. He then conveniently wakes up right after the battle, in time to describe the aftermath. I hated that, but I understand that at the time The Hobbit was written, that sort of plot glossing was acceptable.

Obviously, it wouldn't fly today if Peter Jackson had Bilbo knocked out and then wake up post-battle, grab his pot of gold, and head on home with Gandalf. ;)

It's also been announced that the sub-title of the third movie, originally There and Back Again has now been changed to The Battle of the Five Armies. I'm trying to stay positive about how it'll play out, hoping it won't end up little more than a three hour long CGI fest. Difficult to tell at this stage. Interestingly though, Viggo Mortensen recently criticised the Tolkien adaptions for their blatant overuse of CGI and reliance on special effects.

I can't wait to see the third one and I'm sure I'll be a bag of wibbles. I just hope it doesn't finish in a confusing CGI mess, and gives the characters the endings they should have and the resolution they deserve.

(Related, in the last few months, I've posted some more Hobbity graphics over at my Tumblr here.)

My Dear Frodo, by Howard Shore.
26th-May-2014 09:47 pm - More podcast recommendations
Wolves | Wouldn't Like Me
All caught up to the latest episode of We're Alive: A Story of Survival, the zombie apocalypse podcast / radio drama I blogged about before. The show ends in July; not much more left! They're going out with a bang in a live recording of chapter 47, a show that sold out fast, followed shortly by the release of chapter 48 - the finale.

I'm not despairing too much though, because there are tons of great podcasts to gobble. Here are a few more I'm enjoying:

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This podcast began in 2005 and still goes strong. From their site: Dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and the public understanding of science through online and other media. I love it because it debunks a lot of misinformation and crap that's put out there for public consumption. They don't pull punches, and I learn so many awesome science-y things. It's great. Free to download on iTunes.

The Infinite Monkey Cage. This BBC Radio 4 podcast is hosted by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. Witty, irreverent look at the world through scientists eyes. They have a host of guests, including scientists, authors, comedians, and musicians. The mix of science and comedy is refreshing and it's another one where I learn a lot of cool stuff I probably wouldn't otherwise find. Free to download on iTunes.

The Walking Dead 'Cast. Does pretty much what it says on the tin - covers the amazing AMC TV show The Walking Dead, featuring interviews with various people involved in the show (cast, crew and writers), episode breakdowns and commentary, and other undead news from around the world. Love it. Also available on iTunes.

If you know of any podcasts you think I might like (aside from Welcome to Night Vale) please let me know!

This Is The Thing, by Fink.