Sunday, 31 October 2010

Film Ramble: Bridge To Terabithia

It's been a while since I rattled on about a movie here, mainly because it's been a while since I've seen anything both excellent and generally underappreciated enough to warrant the effort.  And it hasn't exactly been a slow news week, either, but the interesting stuff that's been going on is too up in the air for me to talk about - and anyway, Bridge to Terabithia just kicked the emotional hell out of me.

Bridge to Terabithia goes without apology or compromise for themes that have come off as cliches in so many other films: the power of imagination, the scope for fantasy to enrich reality, the possiblities of story to save us from - or arm us for - the harsher aspects of reality.  And it hits every one so well that you wonder how you became so jaded to these concepts in the first place, or how Hollywood has managed to make them seem so trite and absurd. In its better moments - of which there are plenty - it even makes them feel new.  It also strays into some very dark places, and does so honestly and unapologetically.

In its trailer, Bridge to Terabithia was missold as an alternate-world fantasy, perhaps to cash in on the relative success of the Narnia movies.  I've no idea if this worked for Disney, (though I get the impression that Terabithia didn't do great business), but it still seems like a dumb move, since a) it's a blatant fib that's bound to annoy anyone who actually sees the film and b) it fails completely to clue you in on what's great about the movie: its subtletly, its carefully detailed realness, and it's willingness to present a fantasy world as precisely that without, in the end, diminishing its importance one iota.

So if the trailer put you off, give it a go anyway.  Likewise to the fact that it's basically a kids film - after all, kids have to deal with most of the same stuff adults do, as Terabithia so amply illustrates.  It's not perfect - some wonkily integrated CGI from should-know-better effects studio Weta derails a couple of scenes - but it is unexpectedly and consistently great.  It has Zooey Deschanel and a classroom of kids covering Steve Earl's Some Day.  It has some fantastic performances, including a bravely unsympathetic turn from Robert Patrick.  It reminded me of some of the essential reasons I love fantasy as a genre, and why I choose to write it, and by the end, it made me blub like a three year old who'd just had their favourite toy stolen by zombie pirates.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Something for Nothing

A couple of recent e-mails have got me thinking about the writing business, and how writers and their work are perceived.  One of them was probably quite innocent, the other turned out not to be, but the common factor was that both were trying to get something I'd created for nothing.  This is a topic I've posted on before, and there are definitely circumstances where I don't mind giving stories away, particularly ones that have already seen print, but I also like to think it should be the exception rather than the rule.  Anyway...

First came an e-mail from a student who said that she'd connected with my story Strive to be Happy, as published a couple of years back on Flash Fiction Online (and still available here), and wanted to reprint and discuss it at   I checked them out, decided that they were kosher, (and indeed, well worth a look if you're at all interested in writing flash fiction), and said yes - with a few conditions.  I wanted it to be clear where the story was originally published, that I still held copyright, and that it was being reprinted by permission.

Said student never got back to me. Of course there are a zillion reasons why that might have been, ranging from rudeness to alien abduction - but it did make we wonder if my answer, and my desire to keep copyright and reproduction rights over something I'd created, were a factor.

A couple of days after that, an individual by the name of Kenney Mencher got in touch out of the blue to invite me to take part in a contest: write a flash story based on a portrait of his and win an original sketch.  The portrait was quite good, the sketch was pretty sucky, and all in all I thought he had a bit of a nerve.  But the concept intrigued me, so I started putting something together, and the story - as stories will - sucked me in more and more.

I was already wondering if I really felt like giving it away for the chance of winning a picture I didn't particular like when I had another look at Mr Mencher's blog and realised, belatedly, what he was up to.  To briefly summarise the paragraphs of legalise gibberish under the "Disclaimer for Flash Fiction Contest" section, I would - just by posting my story - be giving up all rights whatsoever over my work and also, bewilderingly, my contact details, not only to Mencher but to anyone else he liked the look of.  He could republish my story under his own name, or rewrite and then publish it under his name, and I'd have no legal comeback.  For that matter, he could sell my contact details to the Mafia if he felt like it.

Like I say, there's a fair bit of legalise going on.

Having dug further, it's pretty clear what Mencher is up to.  He's got a painting exhibition planned, wants some text to accompany it, and has no qualms whatsoever about screwing over his fellow artists to get it on the cheap (or rather, effectively, on the free).  Of course, the way he's going about it means that he can use not only the "winning" entry but the others as well, without the hassle of crediting any of the respective authors.  Way less bother than doing the whole thing scrupulously, right?  He has, by the way, another forty or so of these "competitions" planned - and somehow, I don't think I'll be entering those, either.

Well ... my story was mostly done by the time I realised all this, and I'm quite pleased with it as a first draft.  I plan to finish it and then sit on it, with a view to rewriting it somewhere down the line, so the effort shouldn't be wasted.  As for the rest, I guess I'll be a little more wary in future when people contact me out of the blue.  It's easy to get blindsided by someone showing interest in your work - but if that interest means trying to get rights over it for free then it's really not such a great compliment, is it?

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Ineffectual Unleashed

Many and odd are the roads a story can take from weird little idea throbbing at the back of your brain to full-on published goodness.

The Unleashing of the Ineffectual began life as a short story about four years ago.  The idea - of a bunch of teenage Lovecraft groupies trying to summon something the master might have been proud of and getting less than they bargained for - was definitely fun, but it just didn't work the way I first wrote it.  I sent it out a couple of times and realised it didn't have much of a future.  But I still liked the concept, I just felt like I'd slipped up on the execution.

Some time after that I was looking around for an idea for a follow-up comic script to my first attempt, Fleshworld, as published in Futurequake #10.  It occurred to me that the problem with Unleashing was that it needed too much exposition to get it moving. That isn't so much of an issue in a comic, you just write instructions like "It’s a surreal landscape, with an extra sun or two, huge distorted trees, strange crystalline towers, and vast mountains in the background" and shift the problem onto your poor artist.  So I hacked Unleashing up, turned exposition into panel notes, and sent it to the Futurequake guys, who also happen to publish a horror comic imprint by the name of Something Wicked.

 This time it got accepted straight away, and the artist who got landed with the unenviable task of interpreting those instructions was none other than the phenomenally talented Duncan Kay. I try not to throw around phrases like 'phenomenally talented' too much, so to put that in context, I now have two pieces of Duncan's work framed and sitting on the bookshelves in my study.  Not only is Duncan a fine artist, he was a spot-on choice for this particular story, and I really couldn't have got much luckier.

Anyway, things went from there.  Duncan and I got the comic strip version of Unleashing finished a little over a year ago, for the 2009 issue of Something Wicked, and then for behind-the-scenes reasons it didn't appear in that issue - at which point, what with having the memory of a confused marsupial, I mostly forgot about it.  But now, finally, it's out, and I should soon have my contributor copy.  In the meantime, there's the entirely neat cover in the top-left - and the full TOC can be found here.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Fallen From Grace

Last Monday was a good day.

I got out of work early to find some seriously unseasonal sunshine waiting for me, and decided that rather than waste it, I'd head out into the countryside.  I've been doing a lot of this since I moved to Cheltenham, since I've got the Cotswolds on my doorstep and the Cotswolds are one of the most downright beautiful parts of the country I've ever come across.  But this was the first time I'd ventured out on the spur of the moment.  Luckily, I knew a short walk within reasonable biking distance, and had just enough daylight left to get there, get round and make it home again.

An hour later I was standing on the hillside above Cheltenham, looking down over the city and for miles past it, the sun beating down, a little knackered from the bike ride and the hike up there but still feeling pretty great - when my phone gave its little 'new e-mail' warble.  More spam?  Amazon trying to sell me a ton of stuff I didn't want?  Nope, it was Northern Frights Publishing, writing to tell me that my story Fall From Grace had been accepted for their forthcoming collection Fallen: An Anthology of Demonic Horror.

I've had my fingers crossed for ages on this one - because NFP have been putting out some really imaginative, exciting and stunningly designed books, and because Fall From Grace is so dark and fundamentally twisted that I wasn't sure anyone would ever agree to publish it.

So ... like I said, a good day.