Guest Post – Reciprocity by Lee Murray

Imagine a writer, hunched and shrunken at their desk, toiling alone in the semi-darkness, the ground around their feet littered with balled up yellow legal paper. It’s not so hard to conjure because, at its core, writing is a solitary business. Words on a page. Pages into chapters. Eventually, our industrious scribe has the first draft of a short story, or a series of poems, or even a full-length book. They emerge, sallow and blinking, into the light.

“I’ve finished my manuscript!!”
“Really? That’s so great. Go you!”
“I’m going to fire it off to Big-Five & Co Publishers, right now.”
We try not to cringe. “Um sorry, no, it’s not publishable yet.”
They frown. “Of course, it is. I spent all of November on it. I got an excellence in [insert high school writing course] and I’ve done all this hard work!”
“You’re absolutely sure there are no plot holes, character inconsistencies, and you haven’t tied everything up with an unsatisfying act of god ending?”
“Not that I can see. And anyway, it won’t matter if I decide to self-publish, will it?”

Since of late their only sustenance has been a diet of coffee and Tim Tams and the state of their fingernails suggests a severe lack of Vitamin D, we ignore the implication that self-published works don’t matter, and say gently, “Even if the traditional route isn’t for you, your name will be on the cover. Surely, you’ll want to be able to stand behind the work? You’ll want it to be the very best it can be?”
Their face falls, shoulders slump, and they nod. “Well, what am I supposed to do then? I spent all my holidays working on this. It’s not like I can afford thousands of dollars for editing.”
We try not to splutter, because commissioning editors have lives too, and slush piles that have been waiting so long they have melted into lakes. So when an editor comes across work with structural issues, a surfeit of exclamation marks, annoying TAB indents, space bar-spacebar-spacebar-spacebar, it’s hardly surprising that they might bypass those works in favour of titles with less onerous editing requirements.”

Of course, it’s possible our determined writer has a story which is destined to be bigger than Hobbits. Possible, but unlikely. These days, if writers want their work to stand out in the squizillions of titles out there, they can’t afford not to get it edited. Still, living in self-inflicted solitude for the last [month/year/decade], our writer is a fragile creature – in fact, they look set to burst into tears at any minute, so we must tread carefully.

“Maybe you could join a writing community?” we suggest.
Our would-be writer fiddles with a paperclip. “Ugh, people!” they wail.
“Do you want to improve your writing or not?”
Quiet mumbling.
“Look, it doesn’t have to be a major professional group, although there are some fantastic societies out there, all running amazing programmes for their members. Informative, educational, current. There’s the HWA, SpecFicNZ, AHWA…”
The writer rolls their eyes.
“Okay, so start small with a writing buddy, or a few local writers who meet over coffee, or sign up to an online writers’ network. People who are writing in your genre—”
“But I’m not ready for anyone to read my writing yet!”
We smile.
“Sure, you could decide to join to get your work critiqued or mentored. You might tap into the group’s knowledge of markets and publishers and what that weird ‘option’ clause is all about. You could also meet at the bar on a Friday evening and moan about the lack of funding opportunities for [insert your genre here]. All excellent reasons for joining a group, but there’s something else. Another reason for joining…”
Our imaginary writer taps their foot. They’ve been sequestered for some time, and their patience is wearing thin.
“Because you’ll be able to reciprocate,” we say.
“Look, lots of writers join groups in order to get their work critiqued, but they forget the other side of the equation. Reciprocating in kind. Because reading, and critiquing other work in your genre is one of the quickest ways to improve your skills.”
Our writer’s forehead wrinkles dubiously.
“Think about it,” we say, warming to our theme, “if you can recognise a gaping plot hole, a character inconsistency, a weird POV switch, tense and tension issues, adverbs ad nauseum, or a lame ending that wouldn’t convince a six-year-old in someone else’s writing, and if you can suggest fixes for those issues, then you’ll have gained valuable techniques for polishing your own work.”
Our writer’s eyes grow wide. “I get to read other people’s work before anyone else has seen it?”
“Yes, and you—”
“Point out all the flaws? Pick it to pieces?”
“Well, that’s not exactly—”
“And mark it up with red pen?”
:You’re missing the point: at the end of it, you’ll have a whole heap of skills you can apply to editing your own manuscript, and, if you’ve taken care not to stomp all over someone’s else’s baby – being sure to commend, recommend and trying not to offend ‒ then there’s a chance you’ll come out of it with a bunch of supportive like-minded writer colleagues, who’ll be just as invested in your book as you are, and can help you to promote it on release day.”
Our writer giggles. They haven’t slept in a while. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“So, you’ll join a writers’ group?”
“Yes, but later; I’m due for another Tim Tam.” Then they disappear in a puff of blue smoke.

Well, of course they did: they were imaginary.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of fantasy, science fiction, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her recent works include the Taine McKenna military thriller series, and Hounds of the Underworld (Raw Dog Screaming Press) a supernatural crime-noir co-written with Dan Rabarts. She lives with her family in New Zealand, where she conjures up stories from an office overlooking a cow paddock.

Hounds of the Underworld:


Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin based on a story by Danny Rubin
(number 267)

I’m sure I must have, at some point seem a bunch of this movie. Like, it used to be on TV a lot in the nineties. I’m sure I’ve seen the start of it anyway. But I’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing. I seen a whole lot of media that riffs off this though. The most notable being the Mystery Spot episode of Supernatural.

Phil is your typical eighties yuppie, wanting everything to be about him, wanting to be noticed, and bored with the cutesy human interest story. Honestly? He’s not that bad. Sure he’s a little impatient with people but on the scale of garbage people he’s not particularly evil. I think if this got made again it’d probably have him being quite a lot grosser or unforgivable. But as it is, I guess it’s meant to be pretty gentle all round.

It’s pretty fun to watch him learn things about the town and the people in it. The way he tries out a few things: drinking, seducing women, dressing up in cowboy outfits, dying, etc.

He has enough days repeated that he learns how to play the piano really well. That’s kind of a horror movie thing right? He must’ve had thousands of that same day. According to this website he was stuck there for over eight years doing the same day over again, but it was initially meant to be ten thousand years which is pretty intense. A bit too many days, a bit much on the horror side.

Does it make me love the people? Sure. Rita is a sweetheart and Phil learns to do good deeds and get out of his trap. I dunno if there’s enough screentime for any of the others to really get to know them. In terms of loving the human condition it does make you think about what you would do if you were stuck in that situation. Learning a musical instrument does seem like an excellent use of time. I reckon I’d read lots and lots of books as well. I could get through this whole 500 list in one day!

Bechdel test: No, Andie Macdowell’s Rita and in fact, all the other women, only talk to Phil.

Best line:
Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
Mrs. Lancaster: I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.

State of Mind: totally fine, enjoyable Romantic Comedy with a bit of a sci fi twist. Pretty fun! I may even watch it again on a sick day or something. Watching this movie did give me a whole lot of nostalgia for the various comedies I watched on network TV with my family in the nineties. Things like Joe Vs the Volcano and Ghostbusters and Four Weddings, which all have this same kind of cynical veneer over a very sweet and gentle heart.

Watched movie count

Writing posts

So I’m aware this blog has lately been just movie reviews and the odd craft update. I’m planning to take my fiction a little more seriously and have already started putting short fiction out for consideration in publications. I’m also seriously considering getting into self publishing my work. Taking things more seriously has meant me going to a few conferences this year and meeting some amazing writers.

I recently wrapped up another month of writing like crazy. I did NaNoWriMo, which is my second time officially competing in November, but I have also done a couple of ‘camp Nano’s where you do it ‘off season’. It’s good fun and it works for me to have that incentive. Now I have one short novella to finish up and then a world of editing before me. So not a ton of time to craft blog posts or indeed watch many of my 500 list movies.

But, some of my amazing writer friends have books coming out soon, or have books already on the market which you might be interested in. So I’ve decided that for the next few months I’ll have some guest posts on the blog. The specifications for content I’ve given the authors is pretty vague: around 1000 words, about writing, or your creative process, something you’ve learned or anything really.

Anyway dear readers, I hope that you enjoy what’s to come!

Related: if you’re an author and would like to participate please get in touch, I have a pretty great line up, but if I can push this out another month or so I’m happy to.

The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover
Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
(number 271)

It wouldn’t be wrong (or exaggerating) to say I was dreading watching this movie more than I dreaded watching Se7en. Here’s my assumptions about this movie: a bunch of privileged, self assured white dudes do a whole lot of terrible shit that we’re somehow meant to applaud because masculinity is toxic and gross. The women will be sex symbols or nagging love interests (also white and privileged) and I’ll have to look at Bradley Cooper’s face, which I hate doing.

So right away during the answerphone messages we get ‘text messages are gay’ so.. off to a great start there. (also that makes zero sense). Then we have the classic ‘tailor touching junk’ freak out, immediately followed by a hug with the guy who freaked out about the junk touching wearing only a jock strap or something and I just. Okay. Either they’re framing him as closeted gay or he just had a total personality switch in three seconds. Let’s see.. Ohhhh funny, he has some kind of child based conviction where he’s not supposed to be near schools. So funny.

Oh cool, Bradley Cooper is a teacher who steals from the kids in his class, great.. I guess he’s not quite as privileged as his friends, except then he immediately is a total asshole to both his students and his friends so. Great. More homophobic language :/

And the old feminist controlling wife who has to be lied to. Yep, so far this movie is not changing my expectations. And of course this is the one who married a stripper and then freaks out hard about it.

Okay so this movie is almost exactly Dude, Where’s My Car but more adult. I.. somehow didn’t expect that.

Does it make me love the people? … I loved Mike Tyson. Okay I kind of loved Alan. Like, he’s a loser, and there’s a lot of stereotypical loser stuff, but him singing the three best friends song was super cute.

Bechdel test: let’s see. It’s hard to find the names of the women, it’s not something that they use much when there are women. Jade is probably the main woman and she is constantly referred to as a whore even though she’s a sort of great character.

Best line: ehhhhh have this one.

Phil: Stu, we don’t have time for this. Look, let’s go hook up with Doug, and we’ll deal with the baby later.
Stu: Phil, we’re not gonna leave a baby in the room, there’s a fucking tiger in the bathroom!
Phil: It’s not our baby.
Alan: Yeah, I gotta side with Stu on this one.

Or… tigers love pepper, they hate cinnamon.

State of Mind: I am confused about how much people said they loved this movie. Like, I guess the mystery solving – unravelling the stuff that happened the night before was sort of interesting but… I did not enjoy this film, and I will not be watching it again, or any of the sequels. This is one of the movies on the list I dreaded watching. Why is the wedding singer so aggressively sexual? Why is Bradley Cooper so happy with his wife and kid when they get home? Whyyyy….Okay but yay it’s over.

Watched movie count

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson based on the short story by Brian Aldiss
(number 274)

I saw this at the movies when it first came out, and probably once or twice again since. I had put off watching it due to being traumatised by the Flesh Fair sequence.

Ah yes, the advanced future where everyone wears grey all the time, the homes are filled with ceramics and chrome and wives stay at home all day doing housework while the husband goes off to work.

As soon as Martin is introduced the abuse starts. The first thing we see him doing is picking up Teddy by the ear as he says ‘Martin, no’, then he makes Teddy choose between the two of them. The way Teddy is animated makes this sequence pretty heartbreaking, although undercut with a laugh when Teddy very wisely chooses to follow Mommy out of the room. Mommy’s casual, amused ‘are they torturing you?’ seems to be a foreshadowing.

Monica’s choice to abandon David in the woods rather than return him to the factory he was made in is supposed to show her humanity, her inability to destroy something she cares about, but ultimately is the most monstrous choice she could have made. She even seems to know it, telling him ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world’ before driving off. She had to know that things would be hard for David out there with no one but Teddy.

The Flesh Fair sequence remains horrid. Is it a coincidence that the first thing they destroy is a clearly coded black man? However maybe because I was prepped for it, or maybe because I watched so many horrid things since I last saw this movie, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Plus, Brendan Gleeson! Still not pleasant to watch though. The joy in the destruction of others… horrible.

The story is somewhat meandering. It’s a very long running time for a film which only really has four settings and not too much story. It needs a bit of an edit, although the SFX have held up remarkably well for something seventeen years old. The not quite real make up job on Joe is fantastic as well.

Does it make me love the people? Hayley Joel Osment does a fantastic job in this role. It’s very hard not to feel for him even as he’s being creepy and appearing noiselessly or dangerously getting something wrong. I also really love Jude Law as Gigolo Joe and Teddy – the actual humans in the movie are a lot harder to care about, but ultimately it’s not a film about them.

Bechdel test: No, although there is Monica and a handful of other named women almost all the speaking roles in this film are men. Weird really… no need for Martin to have only friends who are boys, or for every scientist to be male… now that I think of it the women are only in two roles: Mothering (Monica, Blue Fairy, the nanny at the Flesh Fair) and sexual (Gigalo Jane, the women hiring Joe.) The only exception is the little girl in the flesh fair who is supposed to be David’s mirror I think.

Best line:

Gigolo Joe: She loves what you do for her, as my customers love what it is I do for them. But she does not love you, David. She cannot love you. You are neither flesh nor blood. You are not a dog a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific like the rest of us… and you are alone now only because they tired of you… or replaced you with a younger model… or were displeased with something you said or broke. They made us too smart, too quick and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us. And that is why you must stay here… with me.

State of Mind: It remains an enjoyable movie but I feel like these themes and ideas are being explored better in TV now, notably Humans and Black Mirror. I understand Westworld as well but I haven’t watched any of that yet. This film is a moment in time, and no doubt was influential and important for the genre of sci fi and AI movies. I feel like yeah, there’s better out there now.

Watched movie count

Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Wolfgang Petersen based on the novel by Lothar G. Buchheim
(number 272)

It’s pretty interesting to see a German film about the crap that happened during the second World War, so I can see how this is the massive film hit that it is. Plus, yes. I have heard that this film is claustrophobic and I can see it as soon as they’re on board the ship. The sets are so close, and there’s so many people and things everywhere. What a hideous existence.

Urgh the food getting worse as the movie goes on D: D: horrorrr…

That one navy officer did a great Josephine Baker impression though. I knew exactly what he was doing and he looked the part.

I can see why this movie is as long as it is.. The way you are made to feel the dreariness of the waiting around, and the sudden bursts of action, or the staying perfectly quiet while the ships are searching for them. You couldn’t do that in a movie with quick cuts and a short running time. It needs time to play out, time to feel. Time to watch the faces of the sailors as they do these things.

I have seen a lot of rough scenes in war movies. a lot of images that will stick with you… but the sequence with the burning ship.. holy christ. It’s one of those things where I guess I’d never thought it through. Of course a submarine cannot take prisoners, there’s barely enough room for the crew. But I’d never considered it. Not until it was shown like that.

Does it make me love the people? Yes. It’s a horrible situation they’re in. Not only at war, but stuffed in together in horrible conditions with heavy machinery all around, no room to move your elbows without hitting another man and none of them able to wash or clean their clothes. The food slowly going off as the voyage continues and then… yeah, the British have stopped making mistakes, so here’s a boat full of young men writing letters to their loved ones and I’m pretty sure they’re all going to die.

There are a lot of moments when I’m pretty sure they’re all going to die. Then there’s the fake out ending where I got very excited about how they had an unexpected happy ending and return home but of course… no. No, there’s still a war on.

Bechdel test: No women on the boat, don’t be silly.

Best line:

It’s better to take photos after the mission, on the return home.


State of Mind: I genuinely enjoyed this movie although I didn’t expect to. It is without a doubt a rough, horrifying movie and I suspect pretty close to things that happened. I may even watch it again at some point! I’m sure I missed some stuff when I forgot I should be watching the screen for subtitles. The battle sequences are great, the quiet sequences are tense as fuck and it’s brilliantly acted. Nice work, classic movie!

Watched movie count

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Crimes and Misdemeanors
Written and directed by Woody Allen
(number 275)

Okay so I’ve only watched Woody Allen movies because of this list, and I’m already seeing a lot of repeated themes. It’s kind of funny watching this movie after seeing a discussion online where someone wrote that people shouldn’t bother with forced diversity in their fiction. I wonder what Woody Allen would say that that – if you assume that showing Jewish people and customs is diverse and not the norm.

Anyway, it’s actually a pretty compelling movie. I dreaded it being like Love and Death but it’s not actually a parody which was a relief. Instead it’s an overly intellectual sort of romantic comedy. If people in rom coms talked like existential philosophers and cheated on their partners with no remorse. That makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy it – I did. The characters are all interesting and have a little depth to them, the story is twisty and unexpected and I enjoyed all the references to old movies.

Does it make me love the people? Woody Allen’s character is pretty off putting, Clifford, much like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, makes everything that happens around him about him. His sister has a horrifying hookup through a personal ad and he makes it about his failing marriage. The girl he’s into (outside his marriage) gets a great career opportunity and he goes sad sack because he won’t get to see her for four months. This character’s only redeeming quality is that he’s lovely to his niece.

I liked Angelica Houston, not that her character is groundbreaking but she is played by Angelica Houston so there’s a gravitas and a charisma there. Mia Farrow’s Halley is pretty adorable even if she exists in a world where men just lust after and adore her and try and ignore that she has stuff she wants to get done. Alan Alda is the jerky jerk but he’s so charismatic as well.

Bechdel test: Yes, there’s a tiny interchange between Jenny and Wendy where Wendy says ‘don’t you have homework to do?’ and Jenny says ‘yes’.

Best line:

Lester: Comedy is tragedy plus time!

Professor Levy: You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox consists of the fact that, when we fall in love, we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand, we ask our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted upon us. So that love contains in it the contradiction: The attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.

State of Mind: Its not the joyful nostalgia of Radio Days, and it’s not the cringe-fest of Love and Death. This is a good middle ground kind of Allen film. I’m not sure it’s one I’d seek out to watch again, but I didn’t hate it the way I feared I might. It’s got some interesting things to say about the human experience and decisions and how we define ourselves, but I kind of wish Allen would get out of his own way and let the script breathe a little rather than being SO intellectual ALL the time. Good soundtrack.

Watched movie count