Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Friends in Interesting Places

In the rush of crazy that was the build up to Crown Thief coming out, I managed to write an entire blog post and somehow forget to post it.  It went something like this:

It's always nice when one of your mates who also happens to be a famous and well-respected author happens to say something nice (or even just something interesting) about your book in public places.  And recently, to my slight astonishment, it's happened not once but twice.

First up was Adrian Tchaikovsky towards the back end of August, in his post Love the Bright Sword on the Tor blog. Adrian always has something good to say about the Fantasy genre, which, let's face it, he knows better than most of us, having added to it so dramatically with his Shadows of the Apt series.  But this is my favourite of his posts that I've read, and not just because it mentions Giant Thief (although, there's that!)  Adrian talks about one of the great elephants in the room of Fantasy fiction, our overwhelming reliance on violence as a plot device, and wonders if that's really the best we can do as a genre.

The mention of Giant Thief is in relation to the fact that Damasco would rather do just about anything than get his hands bloody, so it should be clear where I stand on this one.  I've a certain soft spot for heroes who solve their every problem with a sword, gun or whatever, probably because I read far too many G. I. Joe comics in my formative years.  More and more though, I'm drawn towards stories that manage to talk about something other than our inate need to beat the crap out of each other over every little thing. I mean, we've been around for a fair old while as a species.  We've walked on the moon.  We have jetpacks (even if we don't use them much) and phones that tell us where the nearest cash machine is.  So just maybe it's time our heroes stopped solving their every problem by headbutting someone?

Osama, of course, is now out.  Here's proof.
[Listening to the audio of Giant Thief, and having always been proud of the fact that Damasco never saw a fight he didn't try to run away from, I was actually a little shocked by how scrappy he is in the first chapter.  In fairness, he's just been hanged, he's half starved and has every reason to be in a lousy mood. Still, he's really agressive for a while there.  It's a good job he meets Saltlick when he does, or he might have done something we'd both have regretted.]

Anyway, barely had I gotten through thinking about that one when Lavie Tidhar - whose astonishing and many-award-nominated novel Osama comes out in paperback directly after Crown Thief - wrote an entire blog article on Giant Thief.  I won't spoil it by preempting it too much, because it's a fascinating piece in its own right, but the gist is that - based on the fact that Easie Damasco does very little to further his own story and in fact spends most of his own novel running away from it - I've inadvertently invented a new subgenre, which Lavie labels "slacker fantasy."

I am deeply in love with that term.  Expect it see it cropping up with preposterous regularity in future posts.

Friday, 19 October 2012

New Horror Stories

As much as I like writing about big mouthed thieves and grizzly bears fighting Nazi dolphins, every so often I get the itch to try and tackle something a bit tougher and closer to the bone.

Fall From Grace was one of those stories.  It's the tale of Sarah, a volunteer aid worker who's sent out to a town in an unnamed country wracked by war and famine, and of what she discovers there.  Sarah is a basically decent person, as basically decent as most of us, anyway, but she finds herself vastly out of her depth, confronted with real horrors and real malevolence.

Fall From Grace was definitely a tough write.  I wrote it originally for an anthology titled Hell on Earth, and I took the brief perhaps too literally.  It goes to places I wasn't comfortable with visiting, and because it gives voice to a character both articulate and genuinely evil, it puts into words ideas and arguments that I'd hate for anyone to mix up with my own.  I've always figured that's one of the limbs you go out on as a writer, especially when writing horror; to talk about things that aren't supposed to be talked about, express opinions you'd never agree with in a thousand years.  Horror, after all, is supposed to kick in the doors of our comfort zones.  Still, I hesitated to send out Fall From Grace.  This was a few years ago, and I guess I was less thick-skinned about my work than now; I was worried I might be seen as trivialising the real world issues the story drew on, or reducing them to entertainment.

Anyway, I got over my doubts eventually, sent Fall From Grace out, due to the vicissitudes of publishing had it accepted not once but twice, and now, finally, it's available to read at Kaleidotrope.  After everything, it will be interesting to see what people make of it.


Prisoner of Peace was another tale that turned out difficult, on any number of levels.  It tells of a prisoner in the aftermath of a war; but the nature of that war, as well as just what is keeping the protagonist imprisoned, are revealed only slowly.  Like Fall From Grace, it draws on certain real world horrors that don't often get discussed, especially in genre fiction - and on one atrocity in particular that seems to me a peculiar blind spot for many people.  Prisoner of Peace also plays around with time, with reality and perception and memory, and tries to talk about questions like the nature of guilt and the nature of forgiveness.  Unlike most everything else I've written, it's almost wilfully obstructive; it probably defies a casual reading, and I suspect it might take a couple of runs through to fully understand.

That's perhaps the main reason it's proved such a hard sell.  I hope so, anyway, since I think Prisoner of Peace is the best horror story I've written, and I don't normally misjudge my work quite that drastically.  I was disappointed by some of the markets that turned it down, but pleased when editor Eric Guignard - whose much-acclaimed debut collection Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations I was in earlier this year - expressed an interest.  Even then, though, I dithered more than I had any right to, unsure if Eric's next anthology After Death was the right place for a story I felt so strongly about.

Now, having seen the cover art, having seen the thought and effort he's put into getting his head around and then editing and reediting Prisoner of Peace and, most recently, having seen the stunning interior artwork Eric's commissioned to accompany it, I've come to realise that it couldn't have found a more appropriate home.  After Death should be out soon, and I can't wait to see what the rest of the book look like.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fantasycon 2012, Part 2: The Good

Crown Thief in all its glorious glory.
I wrote up some general impressions of this year's Fantasycon at the start of the week, most of them less than positive - but in fairness to the weekend, it has to be said that I had a pretty good time all told.  If I wasn't overwhelmed with the Con itself, there were still some terrific people there; one thing Fantasycon can always be relied on for is an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, mostly with the involvement of much reasonably priced liquor.

This time, though, with Crown Thief launching over the weekend, I was determined to prioritise work over propping up the bar into the ludicrous hours - at least a little.  I got to see Crown Thief in the paper for the first time on the Friday afternoon, a few days in advance of its official release date, and was blown away by the job Angry Robot have done.  Giant Thief was a great looking book, but I think Crown Thief is even prettier.  I hardly let a copy out of my sight for the rest of the weekend, and thrust it under the nose of anyone who didn't manage to run away fast enough.

Gav Thorpe, Adam Christopher, Me, Mike Shevdon
My actual official promotional duties were fairly light, however.  First up was a mass Angry Robot signing on the Saturday afternoon, where I got to catch up with Adam Christopher and Gav Thorpe, and to meet Mike Shevdon for the first time.  Unfortunately, we found ourselves up against a much bigger signing, not to mention hidden in the hotel's least accessible conference room, so attendance was more slender than it might have been.  Still, it was fun, and worth it to meet Ros Jackson from Warpcore SF - who, if my memory was a little better, I'd have realised had written an extremely positive review of Giant Thief - and who was nice enough to stop by and share some thoughts on promotion with me.

Mr Jonathan Green, rightly enthroned.
My only other scheduleded appearance was a reading on the Sunday morning, which I was a little nervous about since a) who goes to those things on a Sunday morning? and b) I've somehow managed to go this long without ever actually having to do a solo reading.  Mind filled with images of an audience consisting entirely of Jobeda, I decided to read a short story I'd recently finished instead of an extract from Crown Thief.  That proved a slight mistake, since it wasn't quite as finished as I'd thought, and nothing trips you up quite like trying to read around your own typos.  On the other hand, the attendance turned out better than I'd dared hope - mainly because most of Jonathan Green's audience, not to mention Jonathan himself, were nice enough (or maybe tired and hungover enough) to hang around for mine.  And despite my occasional stumblings, my nerves and a few technical difficulties, everyone seemed to have a good time, me included.

There ended my Fantasycon "work".  Elsewhere, though, I got to have lunch with my comic collaborator mate Bob Molesworth and to celebrate the tremendously exciting thing that we have to celebrate that I can't talk about just yet. I caught up with Stephen Theaker - who published so many of my short stories back in the day - for the first time in a couple of years, met his mysterious alter ego John Greenwood for the first time ever, and teamed up with them to win the quiz on the Friday night (okay, there might have been one or two other people on our team too.)  I briefly met Spectral Press publisher and editor Simon Marshall Jones to chat about my forthcoming chapbook The Way of the Leaves and try and peak his interest in another, grander project.  I managed to briefly smuggle in my friend Dan Scrivener and introduce him to Strange Chemistry editor Amanda Rutter to talk up his recently finished YA Fantasy novel.  I was approached by Cavan Scott to see if I'd be up for writing something for the BFS magazine (I would, and will be.)  And I met many, many other brilliant people, some new, some industry acquaintances ... people I rarely see outside of Cons but that I'm starting to think of as friends, and to consider catching up with in the "real" world.

And I guess that paragraph illustrates the good about even a disappointing Fantasycon.  Being that bit smaller, it's also that bit more intimate, making for a fantastic venue to just chill out and meet with lots of like-minded folks that would never normally be in the same place at the same time. If the committee could only find a way to combine those elements with a more ambitious, inspiring programme, here's hoping we might yet see a brilliant FCon 2014.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fantasycon 2012, Part 1: The Bad

Another year, another Fantasycon.  This year's had a lot to live up to after 2011's glorious, sun-soaked high-jinks, but also a lot to live down after the Gulag-style horrors of 2010.  Not to mention the fact that both the SFX Weekender and Eastercon in recent months have done a lot to raise my personal bar for what a Con can be ... that is, provocative, imaginative, varied, slickly organised and purposefully inclusive.

The good news is, I had a fun weekend, and caught up with some wonderful people.  The bad news is that not much of that had to do with Fantasycon itself.

Truth be told, I've had my concerns about the British Fantasy Society and its pet Con for a while now; it's been getting harder to see what either has to offer me as a fantasy author when the society increasingly seemed to be a clique for certain folks, most of them in the Horror field, with apparently limited interest in promoting much besides themselves.  The embarrassing awards hiccup last year dragged a lot of my own gripes into the spotlight; seeing that plenty of other people had the same issues and hearing society figures respond in what seemed a positive, proactive fashion, I hoped the times might be a-changing.

Unfortunately, what followed involved those hopes getting a lot of dashing.

This year I went with Jobeda Ali, who - as a fan of Fantasy with no interest at all in Horror and no familiarity with the BFS's long and storied history - was bewildered by the under-representation of her genre of choice at an event named Fantasycon.  Though plenty of excuses have been made for this in the past, the fact remains that if you put on an event called Fantasycon and charge people to attend it, it should live up to its name more than a little.

Of course, that wouldn't have mattered half as much if the programming had had more to offer.  It's probably more polite to not specify which they were, but of the three panels I tried, one irritated me enough that I had to walk out, another achieved the same by being painfully dull and straying badly off topic, and I only suffered through the third because one of the five panelists had interesting things to say.  All three panels were badly thought through and poorly moderated.  In fairness, I should say that Jobeda made the Fantasy Fiction: Keep it Real panel, which I missed, and reported back that it was excellent.  Still, not a great success rate, and those were the ones we'd picked because they looked most interesting.  In general, there were too many tired old questions; does the publishing world really need another "Print vs. Electronic" panel?  I've been lucky enough to watch some terrific panels this year, enthusiastic debates that both entertained and tackled significant questions within the industry, and that's the standard I'm coming to expect.

Elsewhere, there were the usual mainstays - readings, a disproportionate number of launches and signings, often scheduled over each other - and not a whole lot else.  The masterclasses are a potentially good idea, but the decision to charge extra for them and severely limit attendance is plain baffling.  What organiser thinks reserving their best content for a tiny minority is a good idea?  I saw some of the Saturday night's entertainment, and the kindest thing I can say is that I probably wasn't the intended audience.  My less-than-complimentary thoughts about the only feature film on offer can be found here.  In general, I spent a lot of time feeling glad that I wasn't there on my own, relying on the conference to keep me entertained.

Finally, there came the British Fantasy Awards.  Whatever hopes I'd had for their not being another shambles after last year's travesty had already been dented by the shortlists - three of the five best short stories from one anthology?  Edited by BFS mainstay Stephen Jones?  Really? - but it was still a disappointment to see an opportunity for the society to get its act together wasted so thoroughly.  Yet again we had an unlikely mash up of an international awards ceremony - I'm sure Woody Allen and Joe Hill are still reeling from their successes - with something so comically insular and mutually back-slapping that every market up for Best Novella, Best Short Fiction, Best Magazine and Best Collection (not to mention all but one of the publishers up for Best Anthology) could be British and no one thought it worthy of comment.  Just because this year doesn't seem to have produced any major scandals, I hope it doesn't fool the BFS into imagining they've finally got it right.

As is probably apparent by now, I struggled to find much about this year's Fantasycon to be positive about (what there is, I'll come back to in a day or two) and found a huge amount frustrating in light of the steady progress being made elsewhere.  It would take a whole other post to discuss the crummy and wholly inappropriate venue, for example, or to talk about subjects like inclusivity and diversity and the staggering disregard for the basics of sustainability (But seriously, I hope that all least some of the proceeds go towards reforestation.)

All told, I suspect it's a good thing that there's no Fantastcon next year.  I'm hanging onto the hope that the extra year will give the BFS an opportunity to regroup, put aside a little of their complacency and figure out what it is they're trying to achieve here.  I genuinely believe that both the society and Fantasycon have something to offer, and I'd love to see them do it, but with others doing the whole genre convention thing so much better, they have plenty of catching up to do if they want to remain a meaningful date in the Con calendar.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Thievery in the UK

Just a brief post to say that - yay! - Crown Thief is now officially out to buy in UK bookshops, of both the brick and electronic varieties.

To celebrate, here's a rather long quote from the Falcata Times's rave review, which went up today:

"It’s a fun romp in a dark fantasy world and when you add to this ... top notch prose and combat to keep you glued, all in this is a great second book for the reader to enjoy. Finally add to the mix a deeper series overall arc playing out underneath the plot for this title and all in the reader is in for a treat. Great stuff."

Here again are the links to a few of the UK sites selling Crown Thief online:

Print & Ebook Amazon.co.uk | Book Depository | Waterstones | WHSmith 

DRM-Free Epub Ebook On-sale September 25th from the Robot Trading Company