Sunday, 31 July 2011

Passive Resistance Sold to Redstone ... and Other Excitements

I mentioned a looooong time ago that my cyberpunk-for-people-who-can't-work-computers story Passive Resistance had been picked up for an anthology, the title of which escapes me, by a publisher called Mythica Publishing.  Well, that was one bit of excitingness that fell flat on its face, what with Mythica turning out to be the kind of unscrupulous self-publishing type outfit that couldn't put out an anthology if ten thousand copies of it materialised from nowhere and proceeded to sell themselves to an unsuspecting public.

Which seemed like bad news at the time.  What I obviously couldn't have predicted is that it was in fact completely brilliant - since if Mythica hadn't keeled over like a geriatric donkey, I couldn't have just sold Passive Resistance to Redstone Science Fiction.  Since Mythica were planning to pay me precisely nothing, (and would probably have picked my pockets given half the chance), and Redstone just gained their SFWA professional market pointy magic hat, it's hard to see this as any other than a profoundly lucky escape.  Which, funnily enough, is precisely one of the things that Passive Resistance is about.  At times like this, it almost feels like the universe isn't a big chaotic bubble of meaningless crazy!

In other news ... I knew on a vague intellectual level that there was probably going to be a Lightspeed Year One anthology, including my Jenny's Sick, but the discovery that it was both real and a mere four months away still set me bouncing round the room like a trained seal.  Halfway through the day, it struck me that a significant percentage of that excitement came not from the promise of more exposure for what I consider one of my better stories, but from the prospect that I'd be spending my Christmas holiday reading a year's worth of fiction from Lightspeed.  Of the many 'zines out there, it's high on my list of ones I wish I had the time to follow, so I can't help but look forward to the prospect of catching up on twelve months worth of Lightspeed goodness.

Lastly - and only leastly in that it doesn't directly involve anyone paying me money - I discovered yesterday that Digital Science Fiction's issue #1 anthology First Contact (which included my Black Sun) recently hit the number one sales spot in Amazon's science fiction anthologies kindle list, and is still riding high in the top ten.  Hats off to DSF for not only putting out an excellent first issue but for actually managing to persuade a sizeable number of people to read it.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

One Sale, a Couple of Reviews

Just when it seemed that things were quieting down and all the eventful stuff for the year was done with, a couple of bits of good news and some other interesting odds and sods appeared to enliven my week.

Actually, that's a small fib, in that the particular bit of good news I'm typing about now arrived a week or two ago, but there were a couple of contractual doodads I wanted to clarify, and now that they're clarified I think it's okay to consider it a new bit of good news all over again.  The long and the short of it is that once print-zine, soon to be webzine Kaleidotrope have picked up my languishing horror story Fall From Grace

As I whimpered about here, Fall was going to appear in an exciting anthology from Northern Frights Publishing until Northern Frights enigmatically imploded.  That was decidedly sad, because they were great and so would the anthology have been, but from my point of view at least, it's cheering that Fall has found a new home so quickly.  And what a home!  Kaleidotrope introduces itself with the line, "...if you dig Martians, robots, and people with melting heads...", and who doesn't dig those things?  I mean seriously, who?  Find me the man or woman who doesn't dig those things and I'll tweak your ear and call you a liar.

Elsewhere and elsewise, I stumbled over a couple of reviews / write-ups of my stories that had somehow slipped under my radar.  Firstly, SFSite had some fairly positive things to say about The Burning Room, as published in Bull Spec:

In "The Burning Room" by David Tallerman, Miss Taversham is boarding in an attic room, and her landlady Mrs. Faraday whose odd behaviour is of deep interest to her as she surveys the room she will stay in for awhile. Mrs Faraday hides a secret about this particular room, though, and the new tenant must find out more about it, or risk losing her sanity. "The Burning room" is a haunting tale that seems to linger in the mind long after the reader moves onto another story.

Perhaps a bit more exciting - in that it really pins a few of the things I was trying to get at - is this extract on Jenny's Sick from Tangent's review of Lightspeed #7:

How do you stand out in a world where everyone is perfect? In “Jenny’s Sick” by David Tallerman, all disease has been eradicated, or so it would seem. When a college man intent on pursuing a career finds his roommate suffering from influenza, gastroenteritis, and other maladies, he discovers she’s been taking pills to make herself sick. He ignores her addiction and moves out rather than try to dissuade her from her self-afflicting tendencies. Troubled by guilt, can he find it in his heart to help his former lover and friend in her time of need, or will his life and career take precedence?

Science takes a back seat to the smooth prose and identifiable characters in “Jenny’s Sick.” Turn the disease-inducing drugs into modern illegal street drugs and the story wouldn’t change . . . much. But there is an underlying current that paints a scary picture of life where everyone can have a flawless body and the boundary between sane and insane is blurred. I recommend “Jenny’s Sick” based on the characters and its thought-provoking nature.

Many cheers to Rhonda Porrett for such a thoughtful commentary.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 5: Proof Reading

It's been a while since I've done one of these "ten things" posts, so to ease myself back in, I've gone for something relatively uncontentious - at least in theory. There can't be many editors out there who'd argue that proofreading isn't something they should have to bother themself with.

To be clear, I'm not talking about editing here, a subject I covered a while back.  In fact, to be really clear, I should probably explain the distinction I'm making, since I'm never entirely sure if it's one I've just made up somewhere along the line.  By editing, I mean suggesting changes to a story that alter sense and meaning, that are enhancements rather than simple corrections.  By proof-reading, on the other hand, I'm talking specifically about correcting spelling and grammatical errors, fixing clear technical and formal mistakes, that kind of thing.

An editor should be able to do this.  They should have a good enough knowledge of spelling and grammar, and of the intricacies of language, that they'll be able to spot and repair the vast majority of errors.  As obvious and inarguable as that sounds, it's possibly-contentious statement number one.  Because, doesn't that raise the bar pretty damn high from the off?  Doesn't it imply a standard that all but rules out the casual - and therefore, the average small press - editor?  I mean, what are we saying here, that you need a couple of English degrees before you can even think about running a magazine or putting together an anthology?

In ye olden times, maybe, when checking a spelling meant sending one of your clerks to consult with the good doctor Johnson.  Now, we have word processing software with hugely sophisticated spellcheckers and grammar checkers.  And - because however hugely sophisticated a piece of software is, it will still get it catastrophically wrong sometimes - we have kind people who create neat, easily understood guides on the kind of grammatical eccentricities that used be the domain of migraine-inducing text books and then give them away on the internet.  If you're not sure on something, the odds are pretty damn good that the answers you need are out there.

Combine those two resources with careful reading, preferably by a couple of people, and you stand a good chance of eradicating the vast majority of errors.  Sure, some will always slip through, but then any reasonable reader will expect that.  The point is that nowadays, when it comes to proofreading, time and concentration and maybe a few hours up front familiarising yourself with the major rules of grammar can compensate for months of technical education - and that one or two determined amateurs can achieve much the same as their professional counterparts.

On to possibly-contentious statement number two, then.  It isn't enough to go through an author's work neatly righting what's wrong like some kind of literary Littlest Hobo.  A proof reader should send out proofs.  That is, if they're doing their job properly, they should send something to the author identifying every change they're proposing before they make it - even if they're only spelling mistakes, replacing misplaced semi-colons, switching a misused "that" for a grammatically correct "which".  Because, just because one person thinks something's a mistake, just because Word says it is, there's always a chance it isn't.  And because there's nothing more frustrating for a writer than to have your work come out and find that someone's broken it on your behalf, in however small a way.

Why don't more markets send out proofs?  The only time I've ever gotten into a discussion of the subject with an editor, he told me it was because he was concerned no one would buy a copy if it was sent to all the contributors for free.  Now that statement could fuel a blog post - even a series of blog posts - on its own, but let's settle for countering it with a positive example from a different editor.  Said other editor gets around the potential problem by cutting his proof into story-sized chunks and only sending each author their own work.  Hey presto!  It's a little extra work, undoubtedly, but the result is one of the more reliably error-free small press magazines out there.

Good proof reading treads a fine line.  A careless editor is likely to let mistakes slip through, making themselves and the writers involved look unnecessarily amateurish.  An over-enthusiastic or over-confident editor runs the risk of taking needless liberties with an author's work, or even of fixing errors that were never there in the first place.  That said, it's certainly not a line that's impossible to tread.  In the first instance it requires that bit of extra effort, and a willingness to explore the resources that out there to make the process easier.  In the second, I guess what's needed is a certain amount of ingenuity, not to mention a degree of respect for the creators you're working with.

Ultimately, in either case - and like just about everything I've talked about in these posts - the main qualities that are required to get proof reading right are time and dedication.  But get it right, and it's surely one of the easiest ways to look professional on a budget.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Crown Thief Update: What Doesn't Kill You...

By the time I publish this blog post, I'll be well and truly knackered, but also hopefully feeling rather pleased with myself.  That's because, while I'm writing this post on Saturday, by the time I publish it, it'll be Sunday evening, and if there's any justice in the world at all I'll have finished the first draft of Crown Thief, my third novel and sequel to the upcoming-from-Angry Robot Giant Thief.

By the way, those last couple of links are to the Amazon pages where you can preorder Giant Thief ... because as of a couple of weeks ago, it's available to pre-order!  But hey, let's try and stay on subject here...

Ahem.  Right at this minute, I'm maybe 2000 words off finishing Crown Thief.  Despite all my doubts and worries on the way here, it feels like it's going to be a good and resounding ending.  All of the structural stuff and even the last line is in place, so unless I get hit by lightning - less of a stretch than you'd think after the last few months - it'll be done.  Hopefully, I have time for a couple more major drafts before my end of February 2012 deadline.

It's a prospect I'm fairly comfortable with, because somehow, improbably, I seem to have written a sequel  I'm mostly happy with.  I say improbably because on a personal level this year has been more or less a disaster - or rather, a long series of disasters - and the idea that something worthwhile could have come out of it is a little gobsmacking.  Is Crown Thief a better or a worse book for all the craziness that's gone on around it?  Has it suffered or gained from being written in more than half a dozen different places, most of them hotel rooms?  I have no idea.  All I know is, I'm glad to be feeling a little proud of something that's suffered such a difficult gestation.

I already have some ideas of what needs to be done during the second draft - cutting out a few thousand words being fairly high on the list.  But in the meantime, my next big job is to make a few small changes to Giant Thief that the Angry Robot guys have identified.  Once that's done, there's the slim possibility of a month's break, or the closest thing that we writer types ever get.  I'd like to write a short story or two, and to tie up some loose ends on other projects, maybe get the script for the next issue of Endangered Weapon B finished and...

Okay.  So, maybe not exactly a break, then.

On a sidenote, and in one of those strange, cosmic moments of perfect timing, I just now got a look at the first cover draft for Giant Thief.  Without going into details I can't go into, I'm still giddy from the fact that I get to work with an artist I have huge respect for.  And then, on top of that, that he's knocked the ball so far out of the park on this one that it's landed in another park and concussed another metaphorical batter ... well ... it's a good-looking cover, is what I'm saying.  And, knowing the artist in question, it's only going to get a whole lot sexier.

Apart from the whole "knackered" thing, then, not a bad weekend all told.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

When There's No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Serve You Breakfast

I haven't exactly been quiet about how much I admire David James Keaton's work.  His story in the Comet Press Death Panel anthology was my personal highlight by a mile - yes, even more so that my own! - and I've liked everything he's done since.  But nothing more so than his magnum opus (so far), the epic and epically screwed up zombie novella Zee Bee & Bee, A.K.A Propeller Hats For the Dead, first published in Comet Press's follow up to The Death Panel, Deadcore.

So you can imagine how I'd be pretty chuffed when Keaton asked me to write the foreword for the new extended e-book edition he's been putting together.  Nobody's ever asked me to write a foreword before!  I may have raved a little.  I may have applied a degree of praise normally reserved for potential messiahs and people who save babies from fires.  I may, in fact, have used so many superlatives that it threatened to break the English language at some fundamental level.

That's okay, though, because Zee Bee & Bee really is great, Keaton's work is well worth shouting about, and the package he's put together here is an absurd bargain, not to mention exactly the kind of thing that the e-book as an emerging medium is well suited to.  Where print publishing has all but abandoned the novella, e-publishing fits it perfectly - not to mention leaving room for extras like Keaton's own characteristically eccentric introduction, a drinking game all but guaranteed to hospitalise all involved, and my own humble, humbled foreword.

Zee Bee & Bee the director's cut novella edition is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK for about the price of one of those big Mars bars that are really just too small Mars bars in an oversized wrapper.  Which is going to do more damage to your heart and intestinal tract?  I think we all know the answer to that one.

On the other hand, you can't buy Mars bars instantaneously on Amazon.

Now, because I have nothing else at all useful to say and this post is a teeny bit short and I may never get to write another foreword ever, here's an extract:

In the midst of death we are in life, and the best zombie fiction has nothing whatever to do with the deceased.  Who are these characters who shamble through the darkness spouting movie quotes and tearing strips - both literal and metaphorical - off of each other?  Who are these losers, these crazies, these no-hopers who can no longer tell life from death, game from reality, sex from violence?

As the spiritual godfather of this novella would no doubt point out ... "They're us."

Friday, 8 July 2011

Last Testament and Devilry in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction

The latest issue of the ridiculously sublime and / or sublimely ridiculous Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction is now out to buy in print, or to read in an almost improbable number of digital formats.

Now only does it contain my story Devilry at the Hanging Tree Inn, which I blithered extensively about here when Mr Theaker first accepted it, it features a very special tale by my mate Rafe McGregor.  Why so special?  Because I suggested the premise to him, that’s why.

Not to imply that I gave Rafe all his ideas or anything.  In fact, it was all the result of a deal / challenge we made each other, what seems a very long time ago.  The plan - and I can’t remember who came up with it, or exactly why - was that we’d both write a story based on a rough idea from the other.  My suggestion was for a mix of sci-fi and Lovecraftian horror set around a bomb disposal robot in a near-future middle-eastern war.  Somehow, Rafe’s brain morphed the near future into the late nineteenth century, the middle-east to India and a bomb disposal robot into elephants.

One of these days I might have a go at writing my version.  It probably won't be as good as Rafe's excellent The Last Testament.

As a point of vague interest, Rafe's suggestion to me was to write a barghest story.  The result was The Hair of the Hound, a semi-sequel to Rindelstein's Monsters, as published in the Comet Press anthology The Death Panel and featuring the same protagonist.  I really like it and I wish someone would publish it.  Comic fantasy seems to be one of the toughest possible sells in today's short fiction market and I'm never entirely sure why.

Which brings us neatly back to Theaker's, and Devilry at the Hanging Tree Inn, which is definitely fantasy and hopefully at least a little bit comic.  And - did I already mention this? - it's free!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Black Horticulture Up at Abyss and Apex

Didn't these blog posts used to have imaginative and silly titles?  Oh well.  I suddenly seem to have a lot of stories coming out in a relatively small space of time, (okay, three in as many weeks, if things hold to schedule), and I'm a bear of relatively little brain at the best of times, so let's go with stating simple facts this time around: my story Black Horticulture is now available at top genre webzine Abyss and Apex.

Reading through it again for the final edit, it occurred to me that Black Horticulture was my one great stab at twee fantasy.  Now, I don't mean that in any way as self-criticism; some brilliant work has been done in the field of what I think of as twee fantasy.  I would, for example, lump Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions in there, and that's a completely wonderful novel.  Sometimes tweeness doesn't equal badness.  Sometimes it means charming and perhaps a little innocent and unapologetically fun and exciting.  Those are definitely the qualities I was aiming at with Black Horticulture.

Well, those and lots of crazy, garden-related violence.  Because after all, even Three Hearts had a guy lusting after a were-swan.

Black Horticulture is free to read right now.  But there will come a time, not so distantly in the future, when it will only be available to subscribers.  So if you'd like to read it, you should probably get onto it now, or else subscribe to Abyss and Apex. Or, you know, both.