Sunday, 24 February 2013

Dark Tales and Slices of Flesh Make Stoker Finals

Not an Oscar.
What a pleasure to get home last night to the news that not one but two anthologies I was in last year have made the finalist list for the 2013 Bram Stoker awards - those being Eric Guignard's Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and Stan Swanson's flash collection Slices of Flesh.  I raise my imaginary hat (a trilby, only with a nice, jauntily angled Robin Hood-style feather in it) to them both, but Eric gets a little extra hat-tipping since Dark Tales was his editorial debut.  How many editors can lay credit to a Stoker nomination straight off the bat?

I probably can't take a great deal of credit for their success; then again, as Eric was nice enough to point out on Facebook, at least I clearly pick good projects.  So, editors take note: it's perfectly possible that inviting me into your anthology will statistically increase your likelihood of being nominated for a major industry award.  Well, it can't hurt to try, right?

Anyhow, in the interests of balance, here's the full list of finalists.  May the best book win!*

  • Mort Castle and Sam Weller - Shadow Show (HarperCollins) 
  • Eric J. Guignard - Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (Dark Moon Books) 
  • Eric Miller - Hell Comes to Hollywood (Big Time Books) 
  • Mark C. Scioneaux, R. J. Cavender and Robert S. Wilson - Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology (Cutting Block Press) 
  • Stan Swanson - Slices of Flesh (Dark Moon Books) 
* So long as it's one of the two I was in, obviously.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Endangered Weapon B: The First Interview

I'm not sure it's entirely sunk in yet that Endangered Weapon B, the first ever full length comic book I've written, has somehow ended up being in Free Comic Book Day, huge, exciting international event that it is - but recently, a few things have been happening that have made it start to feel a little more real.

One of those was when I discovered that the FCBD team had started following me on Twitter (!) and another was doing my first interview, also for the official site.  Between the introduction by the FCBD gang themselves and my own, shall we say in depth (as opposed to blithering and long winded) replies, I think this gives a fairly good sense of what the world is in store for come May 4th.  That is, unrestrained preposterousness, dubious morality and nature's bountiful offspring beating seven shades of stuffing out of each other in glorious cartoon technicolor.

Only 76 more days to go!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

2013 Schedule

It occurs to me that I'm actually attending enough Cons this year, and likely to be doing enough panels and whatnot at each one, to warrant the effort of posting a schedule.  So here it is!  If I don't get distracted in the next ten minutes or so, I'll put this up on my website as well, and hopefully even keep it updated as and when things develop.
  •  Eastercon - Bradford - 29th March - 1st April
There are a few other events I hope to get to this year - I'm determined to make the Leeds Thought Bubble comics convention, after three years of near misses, fand I'm sure I'll try and see a bit of the Morley Literature Festival since it's all of one train stop away from my house - but the above are the ones I'm already booked in for.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Failing the Bechdel Test

This week I thought I'd draw attention to my recent guest blog post, Giant Thief, Crown, Thief and How to Fail the Bechdel Test, recently up at Fantasy Faction.

In it, I talk about what I hoped to achieve with Giant Thief and Crown Thief, in terms of portraying a strong, believable female character and avoiding some of the classic pitfalls of genre writing, how in the end I got some pretty major things wrong, and how that's gone on to shape my choices in regards to Prince Thief.

I think it's the best of the guest posts I've done; certainly it's the one that most thought and effort went into.  I wrote it - very slowly! - over a period of months, and probably a large part of why it took so long was that I was figuring out my own thoughts and feelings as I went along.  But, if I'm pleased with the final result, I'm also conscious that this is me dipping a toe into a very big ocean.  I have a huge amount still to learn, to figure out, and I'm not even close to having all the answers.

Then again, I'm not sure that anyone has, and isn't that the fun of any discussion?  Because, the truth is, there are two main reasons I'd take time to talk about subjects like gender parity and the Bechdel test.  One I discuss in the article itself, and its that I want to tell good stories and I'm not convinced any more that stories that seriously ignore or diminish one audience in favour of another can reliably be considered good.  But the other is ... and maybe I should whisper this! ... that I really love a good debate.

So it was great to come back to my guest post a few days after it went up and see that that was exactly what had come of it.  In fact, the discussion that followed is arguably much more interesting than my own article.  I was a little sad that I hadn't noticed it in time to take part, until I noticed that my Angry Robot and Zeno stablemate Anne Lyle had said just about everything I'd have liked to say, and far more ably than I would have.

Incidentally, Anne also beat me to the punch on writing about failing the Bechdel test - yet another of the strange parallels between our careers that have led me to suspect that one of us is a figment of the other's imagination, or possibly an evil twin.  Anyway, you can (and should) read Anne's piece over at her blog, right here.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Research Corner #3: Welcome to the Castoval

Marrakesh, just off Dancers Way.
I'm not by nature very good at geography.  In fact, the only thing I learned from geography classes at school is that the land should be coloured green and the sea should be coloured blue.  Get it the wrong way round and bad things happen.

Thus it was that when I started creating a setting for Giant Thief, geographical logic wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind.  I was determined that it wouldn't be yet another thinly veiled Northern European landscape; as a Fantasy reader, I'd grown tired of those.  I also knew I wanted a recognizably real-world setting, not an alien planet or any such completely alternate reality.  Lastly, I didn't want the setting to dominate the story too much; I was more interested in building the characters and keeping the plot rolling than spending page upon page describing trees.

In short, I was after somewhere familiar, but not too familiar.  So rather than take any one country for a model, I decided I'd pick and choose depending on what I needed at any given moment.  My only real limitations were a vague notion of climate - warm, but not tropical - and a desire to keep things simple.  A river valley seemed a safe bet for the latter, and putting it all together allowed me to throw in dense forests, high mountains and even a few stray cacti (cactus? cactuses?*) with abandon.  Mediterranean Europe was a big influence, as was Mexico, and North Africa supplied a lot of my architecture, especially the bigger buildings.

Outside Marrakesh.  Or possibly Muena Palaiya.
It was only after Giant Thief came out that I began to wonder if I'd got it right; I'd spent so much head time in what by then was the Castoval, got so used to its eccentricities, that the question of whether it would be believable for anyone else had largely been pushed out of my mind. Then my marvelous Crown Thief copy editor Anne Zanoni expressed concern at some of my more out-there geographical ideas, particularly the small, random desert that is the Hunch - and I started to worry in earnest whether my patchwork quilt of a setting really made a great deal of sense.

So it's with considerable relief that - thanks to the miracle of my retrospective research trip to Marrakesh, as detailed here - I can reveal that, rubbish though my geography may be, the setting of my Damasco books does just about hang together.  And, if there had been a real-world model for the Castoval, its neighbouring country Pasaeda and the far-northern land of Shoan, (home of a certain invading warlord and set to play a very big part in Prince Thief), it would have been Morocco.

The Atlas mountains, south of Altapasaeda.
To my surprise, just about everything I describe in the Damasco trilogy can be found within a hundred miles of Marrakesh (which itself has a lot in common with both Altapasaeda and Muena Palaiya), up to and including a stunning river valley, high mountains, a coast, numerous cacti, a barren plateau, at least one town built on a hillside and many a dense forest.  So much so, in fact, that there were a few eerie moments when I wondered if I hadn't accidentally booked tickets on some kind of magical, fictional reality-entering plane.

Needless to say, if I'm every asked about any of this, I'll strenuously deny it and claim that the Castoval was based on Morocco all along.

* Strictly speaking, grammatical fact fans, all three are correct!