Sunday, 29 May 2011

Escape Velocity: The Anthology Has Been Out For Sodding Ages

I really owe Geoff Nelder and Robert Blevins an apology.

 I'm normally the first one to rattle on endlessly when something containing my work comes out.  Yet Escape Velocity: The Anthology - a combination best of / final issue of the short-lived but well respected sci-fi magazine called, unsurprisingly, Escape Velocity - has been out for days, if not weeks, if not possibly about a month, and I'm only mentioning it now.  Why?  Um.  No reason, really.  Stuff just kept happening, and I'm as easily distracted as the average three year old.

So ... the blurb is probably a decent place to start:

Escape Velocity, the science fiction magazine from Adventure Books of Seattle, was host to some of the most talented writers in the genre. Presented here are many of the best short stories from the magazine, as well as others specially submitted for this collection by authors from around the world. This very unique book contains forty-eight sci-fi stories, such as 'Scream Quietly' by Sheila Crosby, 'Royal Flush,' by Ian Whates, and Rebecca Latyntseva's controversial time-travel tale, 'Red Monkeys'. The stunning cover images only add to what is undoubtably one of the best science fiction collections of the year. Edited by Geoff Nelder of Great Britain and Robert Blevins of the United States.

As for my story, the long-windedly titled It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark ... how many times have you read an Asimov robot story and thought, "This is great and all, but I just wish it was a bit more weird and kinky"?  If you're anything like me, the answer to that question is, "at least once."  And if you're not then you'll probably find It's Easier to Pretend a bit baffling and dodgy.  Which it is, undoubtedly - but I hope in a good way.

EV: The Anthology is already riding high in the Amazon SF Short Stories category, reaching as high as number 26 thus far.  However, the only review I've found so far is this one, originally posted on the BSFA's forum but since vanished; cheeringly, Andy picks out It's Easier to Pretend for special mention.  Also, my co-athologee Bec Zugor mentions me in her list of personal highlights.  Based on the sample fiction on Bec's website, I suspect I'll be enjoying her story, Caveat Emptor!, just as much once I lay my hands on a copy.

So - there it is, hopefully better late than never.  Escape Velocity: The Anthology can be purchased in both print and Kindle formats from both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Endangered Weapon Very, Very Slowly Taking Over the World

A little under a month ago, me and Bob Molesworth put the first (or as I now insist on calling it for some damn reason, the zero) issue of our comic book series Endangered Weapon B up on Myebook, where anyone who so desired could read it for absolutely free.

Asides from me mentioning it here and both of us plugging it on Facebook, it went out there with not a lot of fanfare.  I remember jokingly saying to Bob that it would be great if we got a thousand people to read it - jokingly, because with so little hype, I kind of figured it would just sit there doing not a lot of anything. I mean, how lucky would we have to be for people to find it for themselves, or tell their mates about it or whatever?  What are the chances of that stuff happening?

Well, according to the stats on Myebook, we left the one thousand views mark behind a couple of days ago.  Since it doesn't just track page hits, that means we've actually had a thousand readers.  Or a hundred people have read it ten times.  Or one really, really obsessed person has read it a thousand times.  Hey, any of those works for me.

It's good timing, all told.  The script for issue one's finally finished, and Bob's already started working on it.  I've already seen the first three pages, and frankly, they kick skinny grey dolphin ass.  It's already obvious that issue zero, damnably purty as it was, was just Bob warming up.  We're also firmly in the middle of putting together a pitch pack to see if we can't get a publisher interested in this wacky monstrosity. I genuinely believe that, if we can once get it into comic shops, we stand a real chance of damaging a whole generation of today's youth.  If we get them young and impressionable enough, they might even think this is real history.  Maybe somewhere out there, little Johnny is already working on his essay about how dolphins nearly turned the tide of World War 2!

Now ... is ten zillion readers an unrealistic target?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Black is the New Black

I mentioned last week that my key to successfully getting short stories accepted at the moment seems to be just to send out the same story, Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams, out over and over again, since it got picked up by two different markets within a week of each other.

Recent events have made me reconsider this rule slightly.  From now on, I'll only be sending out either Caretaker or tales that have the word "black" in the title.  Reason being, having recently had Black Sun accepted by Digital Science Fiction, I've now sold Black Horticulture to long-standing, consistently great webzine Abyss and Apex.

According to my dubious records, Abyss and Apex was the thirteenth market I ever sent to, way back in early 2006.  Since then, I've been hammering them with submissions on a regular basis, at a rate of roughly three a year.  So all told, it only took me sixteen attempts to find one they really liked!  Sometimes determination really does pay off.  Then again, sometimes they call it "stalking" and throw you in jail for it; I guess telling one situation from the other is just one of those life lessons we all have to learn sooner or later.

Anyway, Black Horticulture's kind of a special story, and I'm really glad it was the one A & A finally caved on.  In 2007 or 2008, I wrote a small handful of tales where, for the first time, I really felt like I'd nailed something, even if I wasn't completely sure what it was or what to do with it.  Black Horticulture was one of those.  If I remember rightly, the others were  Rindelstein's Monsters, which ended up in Comet Press's The Death Panel anthology, In the Service of the Guns, which landed in Space and Time, and Dancing in the Winter Rooms, coming up in Electric Velocipede.  So they've all done good, and Black Horticulture is no exception.  If it's taken a bit longer than the others, it's because - in another one of those crucial life lesson things - I discovered that sometimes you don't have to start with five pages of back story covering your hero's entire life from birth, you can just tuck that information away in a couple of lines in dialogue.  Eureka!

Right.  I'd better get back to work on my new story.  It's called Black Caretaker in the Black Garden of Black Dreams - the uplifting tale of one 1940s African-American groundskeeper's struggle to defend the baseball stadium where he works as a nightwatchman from interdimensional aliens.  Seriously, this one's gonna make me rich...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Some Short Story Acceptances for 2011, All at Once

Not that I've any right to moan, what with the book deal and all, but it's been a rubbish few months for short fiction sales.  And not just rubbish but shockingly and confusingly rubbish, since asides from a couple of random slow patches, I was shifting work on a fairly regular basis for quite a while there.  Since July of last year, however, I've sold one tale - and that was to the now defunct Northern Frights Fallen anthology.  When you've got, on average, twenty pieces out at any given time, that's not such a great track record.

Well now I really haven't got any right to moan.

The good news started with new pro-rate market Digital Science Fiction picking up my story Black Sun, a bleak and vicious bit of Lovecraftian sci-fi / horror.  Actually, I say Lovecraftian, because that was the obvious jumping off point, but the biggest influence on this one was M. John Harrison - an undeniably great writer who blows me away and irritates the hell out of me by turns.  Black Sun was basically, "What if M. John Harrison wrote a Lovecraftian sci-fi horror story and left at home all the bits of his style that really wind me up, and then what if instead of it being M. John Harrison it was actually me?"

Now, obviously I'm no more capable of writing as well as M. John Harrison as I am of writing as well as H. P. Lovecraft - and less obviously, I don't think anyone would even realise I'd tried if I didn't tell them.  Still, it was worth a go, and I'm plenty happy with the results, even if they only read like David Tallerman.

Anyway.  It's always a bit dicey taking a chance on a new market, pro-rate or no.  But I've been stupidly lucky on this front in the past, what with Flash Fiction Online, Lightspeed and Bull Spec all picking up my work when they were barely out of diapers, and everything I've seen of Digital Science Fiction makes me think they'll be around for a long time to come.  They've been brilliantly professional in their dealings with me, and the developments on their website suggest they're putting together a quality product that'll make the world of sci-fi a wee bit more sexy and exciting.

Just as I was calming down from that one, I got another e-mail to say that Shadowcast are going to produce my story Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams, as previously published in the recently closed print magazine Necrotic Tissue.  And that was great, because I like Shadowcast, I always get a bit giddy about having stuff podcast, and it's nice to have things out in a format people can access for free, because it's not like anyone's got any money these days.

Then - and this was the point where it all got a bit silly - I got another e-mail from R. Scott McCoy, former editor of Necrotic Tissue, to say he's putting together a best-of anthology and would I be okay with Caretaker being a part of it?  Having never been in a best-of anything before, it's probably not even worth pointing out that I said yes.  And then maybe did a little dance in my writing chair.

So maybe where I've been going wrong for ten months is trying to sell any story other than Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams?  It's a lesson learned, all right.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

This is Why We Fight

Round about the start of the week, I joined the Science Fiction Writers of America as a full-blown - or rather, according to the official terminology, active - member.

When you put it like that it doesn't sound terribly exciting - which, as it turned out, it wasn't.  Truth be told, it was kind of a hassle.  I had to upload my novel contract to the SFWA website, which wouldn't accept .pdf files that were over about 1MB in size - that being pretty much every .pdf file ever - and that meant finding a piece of software that would change it into a more suitable format*, and then the first e-mail they sent me fell foul of googlemail's spam filter and got accidentally deleted, and...

Hold on, I had a point here, didn't I?  Let's start again.

For the last three of four years, my main goal in writing, and therefore, I guess, in life, was to get my SFWA full membership.  In my head, it was like the hand of God reaching down and branding whatever the universal symbol for "professional writer" is deep into my forehead.  Or, perhaps more realistically, getting a neat and wholly unforgeable "professional writer" T-shirt and baseball cap combo.

Which, looking back, is pretty dumb.  But I tend to work off the theory - possibly gleaned from too much time in scuzzy admin jobs - that targets are important, and making those targets achievable is even more important.  I don't doubt that if I'd told myself I was going to win the Booker and Nebula prizes in the same year before I was thirty five, or sell my first novel for a seven figure sum, I wouldn't be here right now.  I've seen people fall by the wayside because their goals were, if not unachievable, then far too distant to drag them through all the obligatory crap on the way.

And SFWA membership was definitely something achievable.  For anyone who doesn't know, the criteria is basically one novel sold for $2000 or more to a qualifying publisher or three eligible sales of short fiction (that being to markets who pay 5 cents plus a word, have a readership over a certain size and have been around for more than a year.)  How hard could that be?

Well, pretty damn hard as it turned out, with short story sale number three turning out to be the kicker.  But I got there, thanks to the wonderful Bull Spec, which gained its SFWA-qualifying status a mere few weeks ago.

Only, by that time I'd already sold Giant Thief and sequels to Angry Robot.  And since then, having happened to lose my regular job at pretty much exactly the same time, I've been working full time on the first of those sequels.  What with all of that, my induction to the Angry Robot family at Eastercon and the realisation that it was actually really happening and not some kind of colossal mix-up, it hasn't seemed quite so important to get someone else's stamp of approval on my professional (or not) status as a writer.  Because, for better or worse, it's pretty much my day job right now.

Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of this post is.  I'm definitely glad to be a member of the SFWA, they're a necessary presence and they do sterling work.  I want to support them, and have them there to support me should I ever need it.  I wish I'd taken up the opportunity to become an associate member, having access to those resources would have been a heck of a help when the book deal was going down.  Goals are necessary, sometimes, but it's a mistake to confuse them with ends.  And I'm still waiting for my T-shirt, with or without baseball cap.  I fear I may end up making it myself.

* Hats off to the wonderful Calibre, a free piece of software for managing e-books that will also convert just about every file format in existence to just about any other file format in existence.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

You Can Never Go Home, But Occasionally You Get to Attend a BFS Event There

I've done a standup job of missing out on recent British Fantasy Society events since I left York a few years ago, what with always being stuck in places that are nowhere near anywhere else, so when one came up that I could just about possibly make I jumped at the chance.  As it turned out, the complex reasons I had for being in the North had mostly evaporated by the time the date came round, but I figured, what the hell?  Chances to catch up with old friends and ramble on about genre gubbins aren't exactly ten-a-penny these days.

I'm glad I did, because it was a fun night.  I got to catch up with all the people I hoped to catch up with, notably the seemingly-everywhere-these-days Lee Harris, of Angry Robot and Hub magazine fame, and a number of folks I remember fondly from my old writing group.  I also got to spend my saturday evening drinking beer in a hotel lounge again, producing the confused expectation in my somewhat frazzled brain that that's just what happens on a saturday.  (It'll be interesting to see if the next one proves me right.)

Asides from that, there's not a great deal to report.  Things were pretty chilled and informal, with the only organised occurrence a reading from a new non-profit anthology, Voices From the Past, that Lee - with his Hub editor hat on - has put together for Great Ormond Street hospital.  Actually, non-profit is a bit of an undestatement, since neither Lee nor any of the writers involved are making one penny, ruble or dubloon off the one.  Given the fact that it only costs 99 pennies (or £2.99 if you fancy donating a bit more) and that it's all going to a really good cause and that there's a tremendous line-up of writers involved - some of the more obviously famous include Bill Willingham, Mur Lafferty and Paul Cornell - it's kind of a no-brainer.

I got to hear three of the stories; it would have been four but for a combination of my having a pea-sized bladder and the fact that the woman manning the hotel bar also appeared to be running the coffee shop and, judging by the amount of time she was around for, possibly performing a one-woman Broadway adaptation of "Hello Dolly" and piloting a 747 as well.  Anyway, the three I got to listen to were Alasdair Stuart's Another Kind of Lightning, Lee's own Twisted and Andrew Smith's The Lab Gang.

And what do you know, they were all really good.  But I'll come out and say that my personal highlight was Al's tale of personal apocalypse and mad-as-mad science.  I've missed getting regular doses of Al's ingeniously demented fiction since I left York and he reads wonderfully well, even when it comes to outlandish Eastern-European accents.

More details of the Voices From the Past antho can be found at the H & H website ... and cheers to Lee and company for an entirely pleasant and more or less civilised night.