“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

I took this picture 10 years ago. Ten years, man. Ten years!

It’s been a long, odd year. Good in some ways, less so in others.

Now is about the right time for round-up and best of year posts. By way of a little lip service, I should probably take the time to mention Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. I have ridiculous quantities of love for the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, to the point that I was actually a bit nervous about a new book coming out to extend the series. My agent and good friend Juliet sent me a copy while I was recovering from the transplant operation, and my misgivings vanished from the very start. Fitz is as he ever was, full of rage and guilt, by turns awkward and then full of purpose and then awkward again, pulled by the currents of fate that shift around him. In anyone else’s hands, his skills and his magics would make him far too powerful for the narrative to ever truly sit right in the heart of a reader – but Hobb reflects enough of our fears and our anxiety to make Fitz as real a character as you could imagine.

I still don’t think the title works, though. It feels more like it should be SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER.

*cough*

My own writing hasn’t done very well this year. I’ve had some successes – including inclusion in a Halloween episode of Pseudopod, which I was extremely proud of – but otherwise things have kind of…missed. I’m not going to sit and list every single thing that has failed to find a home (because I think blog posts are better when they are fairly short), but the general sentiment has been, “this is good, but not for us.”

So…there’s not much to do but to keep writing, and improving, and finding a project that works for both me *and* everyone else. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been massively bummed out about it at times (rather frequently, in fact) but ultimately…that’s the gig. You put stuff out and some (most) of it sinks without a trace. While it’s out, you work on the next thing, and the next, until one of them just up and fucking *flies*.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else to try and help break the cycle.

Starting in the new year, I’ll be releasing a story on Wattpad (and, although it seems to be hanging off the coat-tails a bit, possibly Tablo). It’ll be novel length, so should run through most of the year. I understand that Wattpad has a generally younger reader base, and that successful stories tend to be specifically YA, but it will give me something to do. If anything, I’ll have genuine numbers – real data! – to feel terrible about.

I did consider self-publishing over the serial format, but I would only have considered it if I had several books in hand to do a loss leader/discount strategy. From what I can gather, it feels very much like if you don’t have anything other than the first book in a series, it’s a lot more difficult to attract new readers, and if you’re not attracting new readers then you’re basically not getting read at all. And while I’d love to finish the series off, I would prefer to know that at least *someone* was going to read it.

Blizzard’s Overwatch Announcement

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Pretty much everyone and their auntie was aware of this before me, but here goes. Blizzard Entertainment have announced that their next game release will be a First Person Shooter called Overwatch. It is a “team-based” game, which from the looks of things is a euphemistic way of saying “there’s not going to be a single player campaign, or if there is it’s going to be short and really just an adjunct to the multiplayer stuff”. From just the trailers it looks…it looks like Team Fortress 2.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Team Fortress 2 is an awesome game, although it is so ridiculously ill-suited to new players that anyone leaping into it now would have the following reaction: “Ok. I just died four hundred times and still have no idea what is happening.”  Extremely fast gameplay (powerful weapons, low health, and an overall movement speed that is *just* on the sane side of “frenetic”) combined with the fact that there are 9 playable “classes” in the game – it does not invite casual play.

So if Overwatch is more of the same (and with a dozen classes, it looks damn like it) I guess I’m out before it even gets started.

But the fact I’m unlikely to dip my toe into the waters isn’t the only reason to post. I was given this link on Twitter:

Blizzard wants its diverse fans to feel ‘equally represented’ by Overwatch’s heroes

While wanting to create a roster of diverse characters is a laudable goal – everyone wants to feel represented, of course – I had watched both trailers before I read this and having done so, it felt like the article was a bit of a joke. The characters on display in the trailer didn’t feel particularly diverse, and the women got – as ever in these things – a harsh deal when it comes to armour design. Still, I decided to go to the main site and take a look at each character in turn.

Tracer – English (white) woman, age 28. Outfit is pretty good – I’ve seen runners out in more mental leggings. In the trailer she has the most ridiculous English accent and is “quirky”. Manic Pixie Dream Girl Alert Status: Amber.

Zenyatta – A robot, age 20. A Nepalese guru, he’s also a fucking robot because the West apparently doesn’t dehumanise South Asians enough these days. *slow clap, Blizzard* He floats in the air and makes vaguely mystical gestures so I’m genuinely expecting a grab bag of New Age spiritual piggybacking in his voice acting.

Mercy – Swiss (white) woman, age 34. Presumably named after the one word she managed to yell when they crammed her into her costume. Luckily for a 34 year old, she has the physique of a late-teens gymnast, so the ridiculous boob armour fits like a glove. One of her three abilities is “Can Shoot A Gun, But Is Usually Better Off Not Trying”. I’m not fucking kidding.

Hanzo – Japanese (but still white, see description) man, age 38. This character takes the absolute piss. He looks like a Generic Male Character, of the sort you find in every other game ever. Blizzard should call him Adam Fucking Jensen, pay Eidos a cent every time he gets picked and they could add in those embedded shades from Deus Ex to ice the cake.

Bastion – Is a robot. Of all the exciting robot possibilities in the Universe, Blizzard have opted for one with two modes: Shoot Gun (Can Move) and Shoot Bigger Gun (Cannot Move). By giving him no base and no affiliations, Blizzard sidestep all awkward drone comparisons.

Torbjörn – Swedish (white) man, age 57. Basically they wanted a dwarf from the Warcraft Universe. He has the same name as a swivel chair from IKEA. His backstory is the plot of Iron Man.

Symmetra – Indian (POC) woman, aged 28. She’s a POC! Yay! They’ve dressed her as “Sexy Uhuru”! Boo!

Reinhardt – German (race unknown) man, age 61. He wears a giant suit of armour, and no hint of him can be seen. Might as well be a robot.

Pharah – Egyptian (POC) woman, age 32 – this is actually really good, IMO. Her armour actually covers her, she doesn’t have high heels, and she has an Offensive role that is reflected in the badass combination of rocket jump, knockback/shield and armour destruction ability, and a rocket launcher. In her backstory, she follows in her mother’s footsteps to serve in the military. Well done, Blizzard! The first character so far I find genuinely interesting.

Winston – Is a gorilla. Is a fucking gorilla. I can’t even.

 Widowmaker – French (PURPLE) woman, age 33. Has a physique that makes Mercy look like she’s been slacking at the gym. Wears a figure-hugging one-piece that has been slit from collar to navel, because all the very best sniper/assassins know that when you are hunting a mark, inner sideboob is the most important trait of all. Did I mention she’s purple? She’s purple. Blizzard would rather put a purple woman and a gorilla in their game than a black person, their commitment to diversity is so great.

Reaper – Name: Unknown, Age: Unknown, Affiliation: Unknown. Dressed in an outfit reminiscent of Death himself, this is high-order fanservice that makes the design choices that led to Hanzo look reasonable. There is fan fiction being written RIGHT NOW about Reaper, I guarantee it. I can only hope he turns out to be one of the weakest characters in the game because a lot of people will first pick him simply for looking “cool”.

This is all just conjecture, mind. Maybe Blizzard HAVE done a great job of representing everyone, but that effort won’t show until every character they’ve ever planned is out there. Of course, by that time the meta game will have become so complex that trying to get started will feel impenetrable to everyone, regardless of their race, creed, or orientation.

Halloween Shorts: Revelation

WolfsGlen

 

The second portion of this year’s Halloween Shorts has gone up! Instead of a straight ‘blog hop, we were very lucky to arrange for a set of flash fiction to be recorded and distributed through Pseudopod, an online podcast dedicated to horror fiction (it has sister sites in Podcastle – fantasy and Escape Pod – Science Fiction). I owe a massive debt to Alasdair Stuart for arranging it and wrangling all the stories into place.

The audio can be found at this link.

Stories featured:

The Day The Words Took Shape by Francesca Haig

Juggernaut Revisited by Lou Morgan

The Anniversary by Den Patrick

Kraken Rising by Andrew Reid

Party at the Witch House by Richard Kellum

The Lake by the mysterious and elusive Severity Chase

The Biggest Candle of Them All by Peter Newman

There is also a story due from the estimable Laura Lam, but it has been delayed due to issues and stuff. It’ll pop up.

But yeah! I’m very pleased that it came together in the end – asking a lot of busy people to produce stories at very short notice and then asking another group of busy people to record and edit and everything else that podcasting requires on even shorter notice. It’s an amazing thing and I’m really glad it came together.

Enjoy!

 

Halloween Short: The Myling

Graveyard

Halloween! Time to do some spooky fiction and whatnot!

So, the new, improved (and surprise) Halloween Shorts push for this year is actually a little delayed – it should happen at some point over the weekend – and so I am left with the task of filling Halloween itself with my own little bit of flash fiction.

This one, I think, needs a little explaining. I was reading up on various monsters and spirits in folklore, and came across the myling – a Scandinavian creautre/spirit that makes a very specific demand of its victim: it wants to be carried. Writing about it, I wanted to explore that idea in a little more depth…and ended up writing something a lot darker than I’d intended.

I don’t normally do trigger warnings, but in this case I am aware that some people might find it upsetting.

TW: grief, death, children.

The Myling

Is that gasoline I smell?

NobodyCares

So, it’s almost November, which means it is *almost* NaNoWriMo time…which also means it’s that time of year where the snarkier side of the internet decides that they HAVE to take a shit on it, if only because they can. Normally this takes the form of established authors saying “well…every month is NaNoWriMo to me!” as though their career sprung fully formed, Venus-like, into the world the minute they sat down and started typing, a never-ending loop of Stephen J. Cannell production outros. I said pretty much the same thing last year and was rewarded within a week by a well-known genre author doing JUST THAT.

This year, New Statesman have upped the ante by publishing an entire article about how sucky and annoying NaNoWriMo is. It’s as hilarious as it is awful, as the author even starts by noting that they have muted and blocked all mention of it on social media. “This has no effect on my life,” is the essential statement. “I never see it or interact with it. I HATE IT.” It’s the internet equivalent of leaning out of your car and yelling “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOUR STUPID LIFE! You’re nothing but street grease, you hear me?! STREET GREASE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!” at pedestrians because you don’t like the idea that they could be having fun or making friends while you are thinking of your next clickbait pitch (or whatever).

My absolute favourite part is where the author imagines the following: “People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER.”

Yes, because no proper writer would ever say anything pretentious. Ever.

I’m not going to type out a big defence of NaNoWriMo, because I don’t really need to. Hell, a sizeable portion of the fun of it is rubbernecking the forums to find quotes and ideas that cause you to bleed spontaneously from your eyeballs.

Instead, I call bullshit on the entire premise. We filter what we see online. We choose what we look at. If people enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anyone (save for the email inboxes of a few unlucky agents and editors come December/January, sorry guys) then what is the point of taking a pop at it? Is anyone informed or educated by this, or is it simply a case of throwing punches at a soft target* in the hope of driving a midweek traffic spike.

And if the latter is the case, which it most likely is, isn’t that whole-year churn of empty, useless, faux-angry words a shitload worse than what comes out of NaNoWriMo?

 

*Considering almost every other media outlet is taking the seething MRA underbelly of the internet on en masse, noising up a diverse group of people for having the temerity to try and be creative is a bit pathetic.

Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t even want it to happen. Just watch what does happen.

Seriously. If you want gifs for writing, "Secret Window" is the business.

 

So, I haven’t blogged much of late. I’ve wanted to: there have been a few rants brewing in my head that I wanted to hammer out, and some of them have even been relatively coherent in the drafts that I have written. And yet I haven’t posted any of them. It feels like they’d be ineffective, that they’d generate no positive forward motion. Anyone in disagreement would sink their heels in, because who am I to say that they maybe, possibly could be wrong on something, and then anyone in agreement would do likewise. And that’s the best case scenario, where the facsimile of a dialogue exists. More likely are the chances of a dogpile (yay for the internet, where pointing out the desperately problematic behaviour of – let’s just spitball ideas here – a popular author will get you buried in abuse!) or, let’s be honest, resounding silence.

Perhaps a faint echo off the back of the giant, empty internet cavern walls? Anyway, I decided to leave it, and considering the sour-faced “why am I not fully recovered yet? FFS” mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks, I haven’t felt like posting anything.

As you can see, I’m super cheerful at the moment. For some reason, I’ve got weird aches in my feet and ankle (although the ankle I’ve gone over on once, so that goes some way to explaining it) and walking around is really uncomfortable. Sitting down less so, but I’m still hyper aware of my feet, and after two weeks I’m starting to think it is never, ever going away.*

In brighter news, Halloween Shorts are coming back! Yes! The short story adventures that a load of Team Mushens piled into last year (with the excuse of it leading up to World Fantasy Con) will be returning at the latter end of October with even more stories and a surprise twist for 2014! I will definitely have a story up here (when I get round to writing it, naturally) and *whispers* one appearing somewhere else, too. We’ve got a good lineup of authors contributing, even in spite of their collectively busy schedules, and it should be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I am working away on projects. I caught up with my agent, which is always good fun, and got some editing notes back, which is…let’s not say “fun”, because smacking my forehead off the desk going “HOW DO I NOVEL?” doesn’t really count as fun, but still definitely good. The new fantasy book is on hold while I get the edit done, but I’ll be finishing it over NaNoWriMo (or getting as close to done as I can manage).

And that’s things pretty much up to date. The more exciting stuff I write, the more desperately boring I become in real life.

Oh! For anyone that plays DOTA 2, here are my thoughts on the new patch (6.82) – Chen’s ultimate with Aghanim’s Scepter is the BEST. Why bother with the standard objectives when you can run around the map with a dragon AND a Triceratops yelling “LOOKIT DINOSAUR” over and over? It really is a game-changer, and by that I mean “a design feature that will probably get me reported by everyone I play with”.

 

*madness, of course it will resolve. That doesn’t stop me from moping, though!

Quit smiling, you’re suppose to be professional.

Writing

So, it has been two weeks since the surgery. The new kidney is working very well, as demonstrated by my blood tests (three a week, my veins are not happy) and – perhaps more importantly – by my general condition. I’m eating better, I feel more awake, and I feel motivated and a lot less depressed. Also, my diet is almost a total reversal of what it was previously so I can eat pretty much whatever I like. Double breakfast? It’s on, my friends. It is so very on.

On the downside, I have this pesky ten inch incision running from almost the base of my ribs right down to my unmentionables. It is held in place by 28 staples, and up until yesterday, four very deep stitches. Apparently for someone of my fairly slim build, this is ridiculous overkill. It certainly feels like it – as the swelling has gone down, both stitches and staples have started pulling on the flesh surrounding them. I get the remaining staples out over the course of this week, and that should make things a lot easier.

OH. YEAH. Apparently there is a stent in my bladder. They waited to tell me about that one. I’ll give you one guess as to how they get THAT out. Every day is a new surprise, you know?

Still, it leaves me with four weeks stuck waiting for things to heal up. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy, and because of the immunosuppression I am not allowed to go hang around too many people. Really, I’m kind of stuck in a chair for the time being.

Since I can’t really do much else, I have started back on my novel. Interestingly, attempting to work on it shows that my concentration isn’t quite back up to full speed yet. It’s coming, but it’s not quite there. I also hit a slight snag in that the outline I had no longer worked with the draft I had written. I had the opening act fairly tightly plotted but after that it was just a series of vague signposts that I imagined I might be able to hit along the way. I’ve been burned by this before (Gunslinger Symphony was missing a transition into the third act for over a year) and so have spent the past two days writing out a detailed synopsis of what actually happens. I bashed most of it out last night as one long, meandering paragraph, and chopped it up into a rough outline today. It works! It actually works and *almost* very nearly comes close to making sense and – unlike all my other synopses – doesn’t read like an omnibus edition of Naruto*. I was quite suprised to discover that a not insignificant portion of my secondary world fantasy novel is, in fact, a courtroom drama. Look! Something that isn’t resolved by punching and or gratuitious swearing or magic! Kind of!

Now all I have to do is finish writing it.

Oh, and go see Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s good fun. Don’t bother staying for the after-credits sequence, though.

 

*Or any other shonen manga, wherein our heroes discover that GUTS and FRIENDSHIP overcome EVIL.

Girl at the End of the World

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With all the excitement of surgery waiting for me, I missed off an update about this anthology. The Girl at the End of the World is the latest anthology (in two parts) from Fox Spirit books. Part one includes a story by me: The Ending Plague.

The remit for submissions was a fairly open theme – the title gives away exactly what that was – and I decided to try my hand at a secondary-world fantasy apocalypse. Hopefully people will enjoy reading my contribution as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s always nice to rub shoulders with people you know online and from conventions, but this one was made a bit more special as it includes a story by James Oswald, who has the same agent as me. Team Mushens Fistbump! There’s a special bond between all of her clients. Sometimes we like to get together and compare bruises she has given us, or swap stories about the number of times she’s chased each of us with a hammer. It’s all true.

Anyway. You can find the ebook of The Girl at the End of the World (Part One) on Amazon UK, Amazon US, or as a paperback (UK, US)

 

Kidney Transplant: Zero Hour

I love making Direct to Video titles up. The more colons, the merrier.

So one of the things I wanted to do with this ‘blog was to try and maintain some positivity.

This may go some way to explaining the lack of posts of late.

It’s entirely fair to say that the first half of this year hasn’t really been what you’d call brilliant. Not even in the same ballpark, even. My health has been slowly deteriorating for some time, and over the past few months the effects have gone from potential to actual. It’s quite hard to spot from the outside – I look absolutely normal, or as normal as I get – and aside from the odd tremor in my hands and a tendency to do things very slowly, it doesn’t really show. Nevertheless, it’s there. It’s the oddest sensation. Someone commented to me that I seemed very phlegmatic about it all, that they’d be terrified if it was happening to them. That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always panicking.

So. I go into hospital tomorrow, and on Tuesday my brother Alistair will be donating a kidney to me. It’s a hell of a thing to do. It’s the biggest thing, and I know he’s as nervous as I am. If you want to say howdy and good luck, he’s @lostcosmonauts on Twitter.

I’ll see you all on the flip side.

You know how I’ve always longed to see the fair city of Padua.

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So, it’s been a busy few weeks. The new novel is coming along (slowly), I finished a handful of short stories (one of which was accepted the same day I sent it off – woo!), and we have had both friends and family staying over to visit. I’ve been working every day I can to save money for the summer (helped by a timely tax rebate) and aside from a few choice cuts from the Steam sale we’ve been pretty good at controlling our money.

Cross fingers, yo.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the stories that I’ve written that haven’t really ended up anywhere. Either they’ve vanished into the ether as single ‘blog posts, or they have just never found the right home to go to. Rather than make a new page here, I decided to set up a Wattpad account and start uploading them there. So far there are only five stories – three Halloween shorts and two previously available only as audio files – but I’ve got a reasonable stack to pile on there eventually.

You can find them all at this link. I did think about trying a bit harder with the covers, but honestly I probably couldn’t do much better without spending a lot of time hunting down fonts.

In other news (talk about burying the lede), I won’t be making it to any events this year, save perhaps for Thought Bubble. The whole kidney failure thing has seriously messed with any hope of attending what looks like one of the most event-packed summers in UK genre memory. That two-week stretch between 9Worlds, Fantasy in the Court, the Gollancz Festival, and Loncon 3 is going to be insane and I’ll be very sad to miss it. I hope you all have a great – and safe – time.