The Bourne Equivalency

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

It’s a hard old life for a writer. I get that (eight years of trying my ass off, I get it), but I do heave a little sigh when I see people caving in and dropping a guilt trip on their social media following.

I won’t labour on about “If you’ve ever enjoyed my tweets, then…” too much. They’re…your tweets. I mean there is something funny, insightful, or informative to be found on there every day but, really?

The real eyetwitch moment for me is the evergreen, “for the price of a fancy coffee, you could buy my book.”

I don’t get that equivalency. I just don’t. Where are you buying your fancy coffees that they’re so expensive? Where are you getting these books so cheap? (note: I have seen an example that ups it to coffee and a croissant, and another that opts for “hipster sandwich”, which is a whole other layer of social commentary – we congratulate one another over cool but ultimately unnecessary notebooks, but God forbid I want to treat myself to a sandwich that’s 90% horseradish and makes me SEE THROUGH TIME).

Is it because of the saturation of corporate fancy coffee places? I am painfully aware that my basic existence – smartphone and all – is propped up by a world of exploitation so vast that the building of the pyramids seems like small potatoes by comparison. My coffee cup will exist in landfill long beyond my lifetime. Are books published by mainstream publishers somehow less corporate? More responsible? What are you really telling me with your appeal to ditch the coffee and pick up a book? Am I really sticking it to the man, or am I just meant to imagine I am?

Or maybe it’s the experience of the book, so much deeper than the shallow, ephemeral nature of the coffee purchase. They get so cold, so fast, those fancy coffees. But then it’s a different kind of experience. When I’m not at home with the kids, I’m in the home-work-commute cycle. Why shouldn’t I choose to momentarily break free of it and shoot the shit for a couple of minutes with the part time barista who’s also a drummer and has a young family like mine? Is that less authentic than the escape a book offers?

I buy books. I buy coffee. They are separate and not equivalent things. I try to budget responsibly (and fail, mostly). I will happily throw people a signal boost. I will totally enthuse about a cool idea. I will review books when…honestly, I review books when I’m on Amazon looking for an ironing board cover or something and I see the sidebars stuffed with books and I think, “oh yeah I should do that”. I just don’t need to be told that I’m making the wrong choices, because it’s not a choice and there’s nothing wrong with a fancy coffee.*

 

*ANY fancy coffee. You want something that glows dayglo orange under a cap of whipped cream and sprinkles? Fucking GO FOR IT. Live your best life. I believe in you.

“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.

This is my design.

blueprint

So, nobody warned me about Hannibal.

Actually, scratch that. *Everybody* warned me about Hannibal, but I just didn’t listen. Two episodes in and I am already having freaky serial killer dreams. Also, we need to have a serious talk about the costume design. Wait. Everyone has already had this talk. I am, as ever, late to the party.

So I’ve been kick the manuscript for Gunslinger Symphony around a bit. I keep giving it to people to beta, and always with the same vague notice – it’s missing something at the 2/3 to 3/4 mark, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what that is exactly. I re-read it myself at the start of the year: it’s fun, quicker than I expected, and although there are a lot of transitions that need sorting out – it jumps a little too vigorously from point to point, expecting the reader to follow – it’s not too bad. And yet I still hesitate to call it done. It’s missing something – that spark that makes it special and meaningful and – to me – complete.

To be perfectly honest, I still don’t quite know what that is.

But, I’ve never been one to let things like “a complete lack of direction” or “no inkling of a cohesive plan” hold me back. I picked a natural break in the story, added a new chapter (thank you, Scrivener) and started pounding out words. Seven thousand words later, and there might actually be something coming. Not out of the stuff I’ve written – much of it will probably be binned once I edit the book again – but just wandering round inside the character’s heads gave me some insight into what I had been trying to say with the story all along.

One of the first things Juliet asked me when I signed with her was, “what is your book actually about?” She actually had to repeat herself because I spent the next minute making confused faces as I tried to work out exactly what to say. I had just spent six months writing and editing a book and  another six reading beta feedback on it – surely I could tell her what it was about…couldn’t I?

It’s a lot tougher than I expected. In amongst all the monsters and fighting and adventure and (some might say) excessive use of parenthesis, there was a story about the burden of sin.

You would think I’d be faster the next time round, but it’s taken me almost eighteen months (and a draft of a different novel) to figure out what the Hell I’m trying to say with Gunslinger.

Now all I have to do is make sure that it says it.*

 

*and yes, I *am* procrastinating with a ‘blog post.

Banished, the GIF review.

Banished

Apologies in advance for anyone using a phone or slow internet, or if they get distracted by a forest of blinking, constantly moving images. I can’t stop myself. It’s an addiction.

*Cough* So, caveat established, on with the show – the show being me “reviewing” books by waffling for a bit and then covering up my total inability to deliver on or communicate the sort of insight that makes a review worth reading by flobbering a handful of GIF images all over the shop. It gives me something to do to fill the time when I should writing/hoovering/weeding/etc.

More caveats! Well, a confession, really. I got a proof of Banished at World Fantasy Con. I got it signed, and everything. It took me a couple of days to read, and then I passed it on to my girlfriend to read. It ended up forgotten on a KLM flight from Sweden, so if I fail to drop specifics to solidify a point you should know it’s because I don’t actually have the book any more. Sorry, Liz.

RuinedUniverse

A prediction of what Liz will do to me for losing her book next time I see her.

So yeah. Banished. It’s a contemporary fantasy, centred around the uneasy parallel existence of humanity and the Fae. More specifically, it focusses on the Blackharts. They are a human family that not only has deep connections to the other, but also a duty. They are the line between humanity and the darker, more predatory aspects of the fae. Well trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened, the Blackharts are nevertheless stretched thin by the demands of their role and the tensions that it creates for them in both the human and faery realms. Kit Blackhart is one of the youngest and least-trained members of the Blackhart clan, but she’s got an edge that hasn’t been seen in a generation: magic.

Bewitched

Everyone over thirty can now hear the theme tune in their head.

I was a little wary going into Chapter one, if only because I’ve been a little burned out by contemporary fantasy. I think the last thing I really got into were the Harper Connelly books by Charlaine Harris, if only because they were something different to the standard He’s a shifter! She’s a detective! Sparks FLY! narrative that seems to saturate the market. It took a while for me to find the correct GIF for my reaction to Banished.

GifOfTheGods

In short, it’s a lot of fun to read, and a pleasant surprise. One of the big problems that the genre faces is power creep. As the foes get bigger, the hero has to become more powerful in order to have any hope of facing off against them, and after a certain point it just starts to feel silly. Anyone familiar with Anita Blake, for example, will know exactly what I mean. It’s a problem that could have plagued Banished from the get-go, with the Blackharts established as figures of power and respect, but de Jager enacts a scorched-earth policy that is satisfyingly dramatic and problematic for Kit and her whole familt. I mean, she really puts a torch to it.

Explosion

Note: spoilers for book 1, 2, and doubtless 3.

So, Kit rescues a fae prince, they are hunted by the forces of darkness, and adventure ensues. You can read the blurb. You can, you clever people. It’s fast and neatly put together, and surprisingly visual considering how little space de Jager has to fill in the gaps between people running or kicking one another in the head. The world of the Blackharts – an existence on the boundary between the Real and the Other – runs through the book like a thread, catching your eye between breaths and there are treats galore for anyone with a passing knowledge of folklore. The world of Banished is big, and varied, and endlessly imaginative, but it’s never pushy about it. Here’s some cool stuff, it says with a wink. It might be useful later.

It’s no surprise that the author has extensive Pinterest boards related to the book and characters. It does surprise me, though that there aren’t many anime or manga-derived influences in there, though. Banished has the same feel to it in my head – the powers, characters, and conflicts have a flavour that reminds me of devouring episode after episode of an animated advventure show. That might seem like oblique praise, but if you’ve ever found yourself at three in the morning thinking, just one more episode, you’ll know that it’s not.

SamuraiChamploo

Samurai Champloo, btw. It’s on Netflix, iirc, and is *excellent*.

And that’s it. Banished comes out on the 27th of February, and I can heartily recommend picking it up.

On the reading and not-reading of books.

Culture! Have some Auguste Cain!

This week’s XKCD What If? is the excellent – if somewhat difficult to answer – “At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime?” It’s a great question, and the answer, despite the necessity of being an estimate, is fascinating.

This got me thinking about the books I read, and the books I have read. The other thing that’s been turning in my head was the reaction I sometimes get – usually online, or at cons – when I mention that I haven’t read a particular book: “how have you not read it?

The answer is, of course, with an unsurprising amount of ease. There are a LOT of books out there! I get that everyone has their favourite books, but really? I have, I will admit, avoided books out of sheer bloody-minded spite because someone has been so desperately adamant that I simply have not lived because I haven’t read them.

I came pretty late to science fiction and fantasy. I actually remember attempting the first book of the Belgariad as a teen and shutting the book at the first use of the word “grolim”. I grew up in a town whose tiny library was stocked with Enid Blyton (Island of Adventure, yo), R.L. Stine in the children’s section, and very little else. I remember bugging the living hell out of the librarian for access to the “grown up” books, and her giving in with a world-weary sigh. I read Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith, Stephen King: one of the first things I wrote (outside of the exercise books that I chain-filled in English class) was a re-write of scenes from The Dark Half, great, curving sweeps of longhand on unlined paper that were crammed into a blue folder. I showed it to a curious teacher and almost got a phone call home for my trouble (it included a home invasion scene that saw the homeowner being choked to death with expanding foam filler poured down their throat*).

I came to SF/F the long way round. I lived my teens through Westerns, techno thrillers, and the uniquely awful gun fantasy that was the post-Vietnam world of pulp fiction. Books like Point of Impact, Stephen Hunter’s lone gunman betrayed by the country he served. I missed cyberpunk. I missed Wheel of Time, pretty much all of Gemmell (playing WoW, someone made a reference to Druss and then refused to believe I didn’t know who that was), and gave up on Terry Goodkind at the first book. It wasn’t until I picked up Feersum Endjinn (I recall checking it out along with Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires, the novel Lifeforce was based on) and Assassin’s Apprentice that I started to think, hey, I like this stuff a lot.

It feels strange to me when people say I have to read something, or that I am somehow lesser for not having read it until now. It’s nice to have the odd recommendation now and again, but I baulk at the sentiment that I have to read something.  Read what you like! You’ll find the stories you love, no matter what path you take.

 

*this scene appeared in an episode of CSI once, and I did a running circuit of the living room yelling, “hey! I wrote that!”, much to the consternation of my other half.

They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man.

DSC02319

So, 25 days into NaNoWriMo. I’m a little behind due to two days off during it, but unless something terrible happens between now and the end of the month, I should sail across the line.

One thing I’ve noticed from Twitter is that a small number of people really hate NaNoWriMo. There have been quite a few tweets RT’d into my timeline, especially at the start of the month, that have all had the same flavour to them. “Hey NaNoWriMo peeps! I do what you’re doing every day of the year!” “Oh, look! It’s NaNoWriMo! When everyone decides they can write a novel and then gives up in the third week!”

These tweets seem to raise a chuckle among the genre set, but I find myself at a loss to see why. They are suggesting that by taking part in NaNoWriMo that I am labouring under the misapprehension that writing a novel is easy. I’m not. They are suggesting that the idea that I can use the time to motivate myself to reach a target by a set date – that I can get my arse in the chair and work to a self-imposed deadline – makes me some sort of an idiot. Again, I’m not.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion, these kind of tweets feel like less than that. They feel like a cheap crack, a shot of self-validation at the expense of someone else’s endeavour.

Hey loser, they say, I am published. You are not. Why not just stop kidding yourself? You will never be greater than I.

Here’s my response: whatever. You’ve just lost a customer.

I started getting involved in the genre scene because I was interested in finding books to read – new voices, exciting voices – and even though I am constantly trying to improve my own writing, the fact that I love reading books will never go away. Ever. That said, I don’t care how good a book is, how flat-out brilliant it is – if the author can’t keep from slapping people down in order to validate themselves, I’m not even going to pick it up off the shelf.

And that’s the long and short of it. I could justify at length why I participate in NaNoWriMo and I reckon I could make a very convincing case for the value of the exercise. However, in this case I don’t need to. When someone drops a condescending tweet about another person’s hobby in order to make themselves feel better, then there’s only one thing to say:

Why bother with a tweet when what you really want is a wank? Your hand is right there.

 

Super Thursday.

So, today marks the official launch date of Blood and Feathers, by Lou Morgan.

this is a book that you should be buying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was very lucky to pick this up at the start of the week, the local Waterstones having a single copy out for sale which I immediately snapped up. Of course, it has not been replaced since – that’s Hull for you; endless piles of slice-of-life nostalgia wank in the style of James Herriot, single or zero copies of smoking-hot genre releases.

Did I say smoking hot? Oh yes, I should mention that. It’s bloody good. Working on the premise that the War between Heaven and Hell is starting to gather momentum, the main character Alice finds herself stuck smack dab in the middle of it. Far from being asked to pick a side, it becomes abundantly and immediately clear that both sides have plans for her, and neither seems overly worried about her opinion on the matter.

It’s a tricky balance, but Morgan handles the telling with aplomb. Sailing the course between Scylla and Charybdis (I know I used this description on Twitter already, but I can’t type “rock” and “hard place” together without thinking of Paul Bettany in A Knight’s Tale), the reader’s sympathy stays rooted in the most important part: the human one.

With the sequel already due August next year, it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.

Also release today are The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, and the paperback of Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill. Sadly neither of these were in stock when I’ve been into town so my comments on those will have to wait.

Continue reading “Super Thursday.”

The Copper Promise

Of course, I would write my first ‘blog post for ages and forget to actually include worthwhile content.

Well, friends, fear not because I will make it up now by delivering up a recommendation of incredible value to you.

You may or may not remember Jennifer Williams (@sennydreadful) who hosted the Halloween Shorts on her ‘blog a few months ago.  Rings a bell, no? No?

Well, if you need a reminder, go read her very literal take on Faulkner’s advice to “Kill your darlings”, Wendigo.  It’s free and won’t take five minutes.  Off you go.

Just before Christmas, Jennifer released the first part of her Fantasy serial, The Copper Promise.  It’s available for Kindle download through Amazon and costs less than a pint for damn near two hour’s worth of reading pleasure.  It’s a well-tooled chunk of dungeon-crawl adventure fiction, with fun characters and fights and tentacles and torture and other whatnot.  Buy it and give it a shot, if that sounds like your sort of thing.

Alt.Ficion, Mexico’s Premier SF/F convention

Last year, I decided that I was fed up – sick to the back teeth – of not actually knowing anyone else who writes (or tries to write) genre fiction, or even reads genre fiction.  To that end, I swallowed my terrible nervousness at the prospect of introducing myself to people and having nothing to say after that point and signed up to go to Alt.Fiction.

In my mind, it could have gone either way. What I didn’t count on was the community being completely receptive to the prospect of people who just rock up and say “hi”.  When I went to NewCon later in the year, I knew a few people by name and more by sight, and when I signed up for Eastercon, I was quite safe in the knowledge that there would be no shortage of conversation.

So one year on I signed up for Alt.Fiction again, except this time I was actually going with the expectation of knowing people there.

Warning: picture spam incoming.

Continue reading “Alt.Ficion, Mexico’s Premier SF/F convention”

Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.

One of the birthday cards I got last week is a musical one.  It plays about sixteen or so bars of Beethoven’s fifth, lifted from a 2002 performance by the Royal Philharmonic.  I now use it to add dramatic weight to even the most mundane of sentences.

“Want a cup of tea?” DA DA DA DUUUUUUM!   DA DA DA DUUUUUM!

Brilliant.  I’m certain Lisa isn’t quite so enamoured as she was the first fifteen times I did it.

Right now I’m registering and installing the software that came with my camera.  It’s probably not worth the install but my computer is so application-light that I might as well do it anyway.  it makes me feel as though I’m actually using the system as something other than Firefox-in-a-box through which I get my daily dose of “news”.  Today’s “news”, of course, is that a fuck-and-tell blogger with associated book and t.v. deal has revealed her identity to prevent being outed by the Daily Mail.

It’s a laudable aim, I suppose, but that won’t really stop all the students in her department looking at her funny and swapping comments about being “well-travelled” and/or the possession of physiological features that resemble the top end of a wellington boot.

Next week, I suppose, she’ll be telling the papers about how telling the papers has affected her life or some other shit that supposedly eases her conscience and increases understanding but really just pads out her bank balance a little more and makes everyone around her increasing discomfited.

Back on the software thing, I’ve just clicked on my fourth licence agreement during this install.  That can’t be right, can it?  Four licences for one program…or maybe it’s a bundle of programs.  They’re taking long enough to get on the system.  I should’ve just stuck with MS paint.  That’s about my level.

One save draft and a reboot later, and I’m uploading images to Flickr.  Woo, and indeed, yay.  While that interminable process grinds away, I should probably go over what Alistair got me for my birthday.  First up, a bottle of Glengoyne 10 y.o. single malt, which is nice, although I haven’t tasted it yet.  We had a cocktail and a bottle of wine with dinner at Alistair’s on Saturday night and I’m such a lightweight that I had to stop drinking right after dinner to make sure I’d be fit to drive the next day.  It’s not something to be really proud of, that I just can’t drink beyond a certain point anymore, but it’s better that I’m upfront about it.  Not vomiting for the entire day afterwards is a reward in itself.

He also bought me some books: The Stuff of Thought by Steve Pinker, Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White, and a digital photography book.  The last one I’m not going to link due to me encountering a vicious dislike of the author on opening the book.  He spends a good five pages right at the start promoting his other books, website, newsletter, promotions, etc, and therefore really doesn’t need any help from this quarter.

Hrm.  65% uploaded.  What else can I talk about?

Doctor Who, oh yes.  Spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading “Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.”