Saturday, 25 June 2011

Caretaker Shadowcasted

I never noticed what a profoundly screwed up story Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams was until I heard Shadowcast's just-released podcast of it.

 I mean that in a good way.  Really, what other way could I mean it?  It's a real coup to throw someone's work back at them and make them see that it worked better than they thought it did.  Listening to Caretaker, as read by Danny Davies, with Zachary Hunt's gloriously creepy illustration in the background, I realised for the first time, and not without a degree of pride, that I'd come up with something unusually weird and nasty. Both Danny and Zachary have done really lovely work, and I can't thank them enough for that.  Or rather - and more worthy of thanks under the circumstances - they did really horrifying work, dragging every ounce of weird and nasty I'd grubbed away in Caretaker up to the surface for anyone to see and hear.

It always makes me happy to have my stories podcast, and it makes me happy to have them illustrated, so I got a lot of happy out of this one.  Cheers, lastly, to Head-Shadowcaster Jason Warden for making it happen.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Crown Thief Update: The End of the Beginning of the End is Nigh

Wow, look at that novel word count gadget, huh?  Nearly 91'000 words!  Rounded up, that's damn close to being 91%!  And that's really close to 100%, right?  Which must mean I'm really, really close to finishing!

Orrrrrrr not.

However, unlike with my last book Funland, which overran like a mad thing on a treadmill, I did actually know I was kidding myself this time around.  Truth is, this time it wasn't bad planning to blame but my being far too lazy to do slightly complicated mathematics.  The sad fact is, I couldn't find a wordometer that actually calculated the percentage completed for me - so I figured it would be easier to pretend Crown Thief was going to be a nice round 100'000 words in length and save myself some brain pain.

Which of course begs the question, how close am I to actually finishing?  Or, to put it another way - just how much did I cheat the stats by?  And the answer to that one is ... eight thousand words.  I think.  Assuming, that is, that all four of the remaining chapters stay within my guesstimated per-chapter count of 4500 words, which so far only four out of eighteen chapters have actually done.  But, even taking that into account, it's unlikely I've got more than about twenty two thousand words to go in total.  At my current rate of 6000-ish words a week, that means I should be finishing around the middle of July, a week or two behind my hoped-for end date and nearly two months ahead of my worst case scenario.  Barring disaster, I've about three more weeks of work before I can legitimately type "The End".

Based on the last four months, however, "barring disaster" is like saying "barring the sun coming up in the morning".  Frankly, I'm not entirely sure how I've managed to stay this on target through the bewildering whirlwind of crap that's been swirling since christmas.  I won't go into details here, but let's just say that if anything could go wrong this year it probably has, and if it couldn't it probably did anyway.

So, far I've dropped a week behind the schedule I set out way back in March, and to some extent that was only because a couple of other major projects became too urgent to sideline.  I'm quite proud of this fact.  I'll be really seriously proud if I wrap Crown Thief up for the 8th of July, my current target date.  Of course, it's probably worth pointing out that by "wrap up", I mean, "finish the first draft."  There's still a ton of work, in the form of at least two more drafts, left to do.  Still, I feel fairly good about what I've got down so far, and how close it is to what I intended.  Here's hoping I don't completely screw the pooch in these last (fingers crossed!) three weeks.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Digital Science Fiction: First Contact Out in E-book

It's not often I manage to (a) get a copy of something I'm published in around the same time it comes out or (b) actually read it before I post about it.  Just for once, both of those things are true of new publisher Digital Science Fiction's first issue, suitably titled First Contact.  Thanks to the miracle of kindle and the slightly less miraculous fact that I was itching to read something on my Kindle - which, despite my fondness for the thing, has been sitting unused for about three months now - I'm completely on the ball with this one.

So, First Contact ... my first e-book in three months, and lo and behold, it was a good'un.  So much so that my lazy plan to namecheck my favourite three stories is scuppered, because I can't actually pick that few.  In the end, there were five tales that really stood out for me.

Ed Greenwood's Biting a Dead Man’s Hand was the first to hit home, by being an unremittingly fun and charming ride with a wicked, rather mad twist of an ending.  Ken Liu's The Caretaker built nicely and ended beautifully, handling a number of tricky topics with poise and sensitivity.  Edward J. Knight's Roanoke, Nevada reminded me of The Andromeda Strain, in a good way, and was another story that went after big issues with a scalpel rather than a sledge hammer.  Heading even further in that direction, Kenneth Schneyer's The Tortoise Parliament was a great bit of slow-burn fiction that took the risk of setting up its subject in real detail before bringing it all crashing down.  Lastly, Curtis James McConnell's Pop Quiz was the perfect close-out story, a well-told joke with a a brilliantly silly punchline.

Criticisms?  Well, it's completely hypocritical given that my entry, Black Sun, is as much horror as anything, but it would have nice to see maybe a couple more hard sci-fi stories in the mix - the bulk of what's presented here falls under the banner of what I'd call social science fiction.  Other than that, I'd struggle to find much at fault.  Which, considering this is a first issue, is certainly a good sign.

First Contact is (or imminently will be) available in any number of formats from various different places.  Rather than me list them all, here's the link to the Digital Science Fiction website again.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark: Redux

If there's one thing your published story shouldn't do, it's surprise you.

I'd think most writers would agree it's a worry, though.  When I have a new story out, I always find myself skimming through with a mixture of pleasure and vague dread, glad to see something I laboured over out where other people get to poke at it but fearful I'll find some dumb mistake I missed - or worse, much worse, some dumb mistake an editor decided to slip in.

That second one has only happened once before.  And really, the two changes that had been made were, while both bizarre and erroneous, so subtle that I'd like to think no one else could have spotted them as mistakes.

In the case of It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark, as recently published in the Escape Velocity anthology, the changes were more drastic.  Considering that it's only a little over a thousand words, finding about a dozen significant changes I'd never agreed to was a bit of a blow.  Most of them were, in fairness, pretty minor in the scheme of things, a dash replaced with a semi-colon here and a few line breaks removed there.  None of those seemed to add much, but none of them did any significant damage either.  Stuff like that, I could live with, even if I didn't much like it.

Two, however, were a lot more significant.  One cut three lines and forty four words for no apparent reason.  The other, on first reading, seemed to break the story entirely.

I took these concerns to co-editor Geoff Nelder, who I'd met, and liked, both in person and online.  Considering we'd worked together to hammer out a redraft based on his suggestions when the story was first accepted, the changes seemed all the more strange.  We batted some e-mails back and forth.  It turned out that some of the alterations were the result of a reedit I'd never received, some were likely made by the anthology's second editor Robert Blevins.  A couple were probably just mistakes.  Geoff was very nice about it, and promised to try and fix what could be fixed.  He also pointed out that I was seeing from an author's point of view, and that readers seemed to be managing to enjoy and make sense of It's Easier to Pretend regardless.

I felt better.  A bit.  But not a whole lot.

When I first noticed the changes, my gut instinct was to wash my hands of the anthology and of the version of my work it contained, as being so far from what I'd intended that I didn't really want my name on it.  If I thought all the stories in the collection had been messed with so extensively, that's exactly what I'd have done.  But right now, based on what Geoff has said, it looks like I just got really unlucky.

Still.   It's Easier to Pretend is out there, it's a bit of a mess and as far as anyone knows, I wrote it that way.  So, what I agreed with Geoff is that I'll make the two major changes public here.  That way, when ten years from now some lunatic comes up to me raging about how my story didn't make any damn sense and starts threatening me with their Ebola-gun, I can point them to this blog post.  At which point, they'll probably shoot me anyway for referring to something as hopelessly outmoded as a "blog".

Anyway ... obviously, this won't make a heck of a lot of sense to anyone who hasn't already read It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark.  Or for that matter, to anyone who has no intention of doing, or just plain doesn't care.  To those people I say, well done for getting this far, but you might want to give up on the post at this point.

Are they gone?  Right!  Here's major change number one:

After the line, "With that realisation the illusion broke.  But by then it was already far too late", there should be a section break.  That's to say, time passes - a few hours worth.  Stuff happens.  If you were wondering why one minute they're in bed and the next minute they're fully clothed and the protagonist is mentioning how he's just been somewhere else for the last few hours and talking like he's just arrived when you know full well he hasn't - well, that's why.  It's probably not a big deal unless you really think about it.  But if you really think about it, it makes the whole first half of the story pretty damn stupid.

Secondly, the end of the middle section should read as follows.  The excised lines - the ones that were kind of intended as a coda to the entire piece - are the ones in italics.  As should be apparent, the alternate spelling of maid, which was also removed, is deliberate and also pretty crucial.  And no, I have no idea how he's managing to pronounce it like that.  Maybe in the future they have special speech organs that let them verbally distinguish consonants or something.

He struggled for something, anything, that might remove this man from his house.  "It’s my wife.  I don’t think she’d want another mAID."
"Oh?  Because we could get your appliance back on its feet if you wanted to discuss it with her?"
"No ... no, thank you."
"Well.  It will be a couple of days."
"The woman I talked to said..."
"We’re a little busier than expected."
"Oh."  Henrietta would be back tomorrow.  What could he possibly say?
"If that’s everything ...  Android Interactive Domestics thanks you for your custom."
The engineer gave him a disinterested nod, and--when Jefferson made no move to do so--let himself out.  Moments later, Jefferson heard the whirr of an engine.  Jane would be in the back: foam-packed, laid out, inactive or comatose or whatever you’d call it.  What would you call it?
What the hell word is there for that? 
He’d asked when they’d first hired her, "What does the "m" stand for?  Why is it mAID?" 
"It doesn’t stand for anything, sir.  That’s why it’s in lower case." 
Yet somehow, that letter turned a machine into something you could almost believe was human. 
What could he say to Henrietta?

Well, there we go.  Here's hoping I've saved myself from a nasty future bout of Ebola.

In fairness, I should point out that I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into my copy of the Escape Velocity anthology, but I've enjoyed what I'd read so far, there a heck of a lot of talented authors involved, and all told, I'd hazard a bet it's a damn good read.  For that matter, it's also really bargainously priced in its e-book format.  So I hope nothing I've said here puts anyone off buying it.

Thanks once again to Geoff for treating my complaint seriously, for whatever future efforts he makes to put it right, and for agreeing for me to sum up our conversations here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Yet Another Story in Theaker's!

There's plenty happening this week and plenty of news I should be posting about, both good and bad, but most of it will take more than five minutes to get down, so let's go with something that's literally just happened and can be summed up without too much effort on my part: Stephen Theaker has accepted my story Devilry at the Hanging Tree Inn for the next issue of his ever-entertaining Theaker's Quarterly Fiction.

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction is my favourite small press magazine, bar none.  It does everything I'd want a small press 'zine to do, and does all of it really well.  And Mr Theaker is the patron saint of my more odd and / or silly stories - of which there are, let's face it, quite a few.  I believe this is the fifth of mine he's accepted overall, and the fourth he's taken for TQF.

As for Devilry, it was my stab at inventing a straight-up, honest-to-god English folk tale, with all of whatever that entails.  I'm not even entirely sure what I mean by that, just that I have a clear mental image of what a traditional English folk tale should look like - and Devilry was me trying, some years ago now and for reasons I can't explain, to get that down.  It's got a character named Jack.  It's got a rule of three.  It's got, as is probably pretty obvious, the devil.  It has fights, kerfuffles, comic arguments and a hanging.  I even seem to remember that it's sort of based on a real, made up fact, albeit a real made up fact that I may or may not have made up myself.

You know what?  That folk tale writing business is harder than it looks.  I don't know that I exactly nailed it.  Come to think of it, though, it was a pretty inherently impossible challenge to set myself, what with not living a couple of centuries in the past and all.  So hey, hopefully I came up with a fun story in the trying.