Sunday, 30 December 2012

Research Corner #2: More Grossness

Apparently, so I've heard, there are writers out there who do their research before they write their books.

Not as horrible as it might be.
Now, far be it from me to question the techniques of my esteemed colleagues, but I've got to say that this seems a bit wrong-headed to me.  I mean, it seems pretty obvious that if you do all your research once you've nearly finished, it becomes a lot less like work and a lot more like ... well ... a holiday.

Thus it was that I set off to the Medina district of Marrakesh a couple of weeks back, with the firm intention of doing all the research I should conceivably have considered doing before I started writing the Easie Damasco books, (Morocco being one of my main visual influences for the towns and cities of the Castoval, particularly Muena Palaiya.)  Obviously, since I've effectively finished the trilogy, there wasn't quite so much to do as there would have been if I'd gone about things the old-fashioned way.  But that was okay by me, and really, just more evidence of how eminently sensible my approach was.

Still, lest anyone should think I was just sloping off for a week, I should point out that I was determined to visit at least one place I'd written about and witness it with my own eyes.  Because, it's one thing to compose a blog post about how unfeasibly disgusting tanneries are, but what sort of a writer would I be if I didn't take the opportunity to see those horrors for myself?*

Merely quite unpleasant.
After the reading-up I'd done, I was prepared for more or less anything; it would take more than blood, brains or bodily fluids to shock me.  So in fairness, it has to be said that - compared with the mind-bogglingly vile stuff I'd read about - the tannery I went around in Marrakesh really wasn't that bad.

But let me emphasize the qualification: it wasn't that bad.  That isn't to say it wasn't bad.  This was not a place I wanted to hang out in any longer than I had to.  At no point did I think about settling down there.  If ever a time comes when I decide to have children and seek out a safe and reassuring environment in which to raise the little darlings, a Moroccan tannery won't be my first choice.  Or my second.  Heck, it might not even make my top thousand.

Still ... there's no getting around the fact that it could have been a lot worse.  In Marrakesh, for example, they use pigeon crap to bate the hides, rather than some of the more staggeringly horrible alternatives mentioned on Wikipedia.  Pigeon crap doesn't exactly smell nice, but you sort of get used to it after a while, and at least our guide was good enough to provide us with what he called a Berber Gas Mask, (that's a sprig of mint to you and me.)  Once you got past the distinctive odour and the mud and the sight of bits of dead animal in various states of treatment hung about everywhere, it was all quite interesting.  The men working there didn't look exactly happy, but none of them were screaming like damned souls.  I bought a nice rug in the attached shop.  All told, a good day was had by all, and only rarely do I wake up screaming at the memory.

Research, huh?  It's a dirty business, but someone's gotta do it.

* And, needless to say, drag my poor girlfriend along for a little added horror-witnessing.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Endangered Weapon B: Coming to a Comic Shop Near You

It feels like I've been working on and talking about my comic book project Endangered Weapon B since forever, and for a long time it looked like it might never even be more than a ten page script, let alone a published comic.  So any news that involved it getting released into the world would be pretty damn exciting; but my actual news is a bit better than all that.

Because, not only has Endangered Weapon been picked up by UK publisher Markosia for a trade paperback release this coming July - featuring the first couple of extra-length issues and whatever other goodies we can crowbar in there - it's also going to be the headline story in their first ever entry into Free Comic Book day.  Which means it's going to be in many, many comic shops this coming May 4th, and potentially read by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or even billions of tens of thousands of people.  (Though probably not that last one, realistically.)

Anyone who knows me will attest that I'm a complete comics geek; as much as having a novel published, having a comic book out there is one of my lifelong dreams.  But that it's this comic, the most demented and willfully absurd thing I've ever let myself get away with writing, and that it's with Bob Molesworth's astonishing artwork bringing it to life, and that it's going to be available to so many people for free, is beyond thrilling.  This has been my dream project for such a long time - and during the bad times, my nightmare, never-to-see-the-light-of-day project - and now it's looking very real.  I've seen all of issue one and a portion of issue two, and I swear to you on my cocktail-swilling, artifact-stealing, bride-kidnapping, mad-scientist protagonists' life, what Bob's doing is eye-wateringly lovely.

(Well ... as lovely as robotically enhanced grizzly bears and mutant ninja squid and pirates and wooden supercomputers and Nazi dolphins and any number of monsters can be, anyway.)

So there it is.  Endangered Weapon B: it's big, it's crazy, it probably shouldn't be encouraged or allowed near small children and animals, and come May, people will actually get to read it for free.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Way of the Leaves Out

A necessarily quick post this one, since I'm off on holiday in a couple of days and haven't even begun to pack yet, but that doesn't mean it's not a brilliant bit of news that I'm not really excited about.

Wait, is that a double negative?  Does that mean it is a brilliant bit of news that I am excited about?  Or that it's an exciting bit of news that I'm not excited about?  Or...

Oh, right.  Quick post.

So, the exciting news that I definitely am excited about is that my first ever chapbook, which also happens to be my first ever competition-winning chapbook, is now out in a very special signed and limited edition from the marvelous Spectral Press.

I talked a lot about the background of this here, and I hope to be talking in depth about where The Way of the Leaves came from in an afterword for the Spectral chapbook collected edition that Simon Marshall-Jones is planning.  So all that remains, really, is to say some thank you's: to Simon, of course, who's not only made my story look amazing but was nice enough to put a special preview copy together as a present for Jobeda's birthday; to Alison Littlewood, for writing a lovely blurb at very short notice, and to Mark West, who put together the nearby trailer for tWotL and somehow found a piece of music that nails its tone perfectly.

Last up, if you're considering a purchase of one of the very few and super-rare copies left, here's the blurb...

The barrow. The hill upon the hill. A place that was old when the Normans came to England. A place of mystery and secrets and uneasy truce.
Now, two children find themselves drawn to the ancient tor, caught in events beyond their understanding. And what they find in the darkness beneath will shatter the course of their lives forever.

... and there have been a couple of early reviews in too.   One from Mark himself on Goodreads, who says, "this is very good indeed, creepy and atmospheric, claustrophobic and quite terrifying at times," and another from Hellbound Times, who conclude that "Spectral’s quality work lends itself to excellent submissions and this contest winner is certainly no exception.  Mr. Tallerman is an experienced wordsmith ... and it shows in this atmospheric and heartfelt work."

Good stuff!  If you do fancy grabbing a copy, just drop Simon a line at spectralpress[AT]gmail[DOT]com and I'm sure he'll be glad to oblige.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

No More Free Duotrope's

I have very mixed feelings about Duotrope's Digest's recently announced decision to move from a free / donation funded model to a subscriber based model at the beginning of next year.

On the one hand, Duotrope's is a superb product.  For those unfamiliar with it, (and if you are, and you write, you're shooting yourself in the foot by not going to take a look right now), it's basically a regularly updated, searchable database of publishing markets, accompanied by buckets of useful statistical information and an integrated submissions tracker.  But any such simplification does Duotrope's no justice; a huge amount of thought and effort has been put into it over the years, and these days it's an invaluable resource for the writer of any level.  Truthfully, I have no idea how people used to sell short fiction before it came along; I know I would have struggled far more than I have without it.  It's staff are tireless, it's content is phenomenal, it's listings are for the most part reliable, and in its current form I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

But ...  then there's that other hand.  Because as of now, the Duotrope's team are asking for a minimum of $50 a year, and $50 is a lot of money to some people.  And by some people I mean writers - members of one of the lowest paid professions on the planet, whose average earnings are generally more comical than impressive.  Now I'm not suggesting that right now I can't personally afford fifty bucks, but there have been times since I started trying to write for money that it would have been a genuine stretch.  In my first year of trying to sell my short fiction, for example, I earned the princely sum of $10; in my second, a whopping $220.  Take off $50 a year from those amounts and I wouldn't have been left with a whole lot.  In fact, since the vast majority of markets that Duotrope's is helping to publicize are non-paying, pay token sums, or worse, charge authors to submit, the service is unlikely to pay for itself for many of its users.

There's also, as other people have pointed out, a more fundamental problem here.  Once the charges come into effect, it's a safe assumption that a large part of Duotrope's' user base will vanish overnight.  Since one of the main services they're offering is statistical data and since those statistics are likely to be much less representative with such a shrunken pool of contributors, they're effectively asking to be paid for a service that's inferior to what they've been giving away for free.  This isn't really anyone's fault, of course, but I can't help feeling that more thought could have gone in to how this will work.

So ... mixed feelings.  I don't begrudge Duotrope's Digest a reasonable payment for their service, but I'm not one hundred percent convinced that $50 a year is a reasonable payment.  Even if it is, I doubt that it will make them competitive in the current climes, and so their user base - and inevitably the value of their content - will take a steep decline.  In short, while I sympathize with the end, I'm not sure this is the right means to it, and I have an unpleasant feeling that this may be the beginning of the end for one of my all time favourite websites.  Then again, maybe I'm wrong, and that extra cash will see Duotrope's develop into something even more marvelous.  Either way, as one of the people who has routinely donated to help fund the site, I suspect I'll be stumping up my $50 for the first year ... I certainly owe them that much.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tales of Damasco: Update 6

It's a while since I've done one of these Tales of Damasco updates, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been plenty of good stuff happening.   In fact, it had a lot to do with wanting to hang on until I could announce the really big news I've been sitting on for quite a while now...

Which I've pretty much given away with that picture there, so let's just get to it: German publisher Piper Verlag have bought the rights to release Giant Thief in Germany, and will be bringing it out in April next year, behind that rather stunning cover, under the title "Im Schatten Der Giganten" - which, I'm assured by people who understand more German that I, means In the Shadow of Giants

My first non English language sale!  And I really do like that cover ... a very different Damasco from the UK / US edition, with a nice anime feel, and awesome, gravity-defying hair!  Plus, let's face it, they came up with a far better title than I did.  I'm looking forward to holding it in my hands and reading the entire book yet again, this time in a language I don't understand even slightly.  And who knows, maybe I'll end up being big in Germany ... just like the Hoff and Blue Oyster Cult?

In the meantime, I can make do with the fact there's been plenty of good stuff happening on the Crown Thief front.  I've done a guest post for Bull Spec, discussing the difficultest part of writing my difficult second novel, an interview with SF Signal's Paul Weimer on a whole host of writing-related subjects, and with SF Signal once again, took part in their "holding out for a hero" mind meld, on the subject of what sets true heroes apart from mere protagonists and whether the concept remains meaningful in this day and age.

Also, the positive reviews have been slowly but steadily arriving.  Elloise Hopkins on the British Fantasy Society blog has lots of nice things to say, not least of which is that Crown Thief is "...above all a fun read," while Fantastical Librarian Mieneke declares it "...a high-octane romp..." and "...a great follow up to Giant Thief."  Alister Davison at Starburst describes it as "...a light and entertaining read, one that can raise a smile or even shed a tear from the most hardened reader," and most glowing of all is probably Keith's commentary at Adventures Fantastic, which is pretty much summed up by its title, "Easie Damasco Pulls Off Another Great Adventure."  In fact, the only real dissenting voice so far has been the mysteriously initialed K. Burtt at Geek Speak Magazine, who was so put off by the fact that Damasco doesn't really steal a great deal of stuff in this one that he found the entire enterprise unspeakably dull.

Ah well.  At least the accolades are continuing to come in for Giant Thief, even months on from its release.  My favourites are the Fantasy Book Review article that lists it in their "Thief in Fantasy Literature" top ten (whether this of the year or all time I'm not entirely clear, but it's still completely awesome to be in there) and the overwhelmingly lovely review by blogger The Writing Mind that begins with the assertion that "Easie Damasco is a name that everyone in the world of light fantasy should become familiar with, " and ends up by declaring Giant Thief as "...hands down the best novel of 2012, (save for perhaps the coming sequel...)"  Got to love that caveat!

Let's finish up, though, with a review from another blogger, Dvarin, which while not quite so positive, made me smile even more.  Dvarin argues - not unfairly, I think - that Giant Thief "...reads a heck of a lot like a one-player D & D campaign where the GM is desperately trying to get some kind of heroic-ness out of a determinedly neutral-selfish character," and concludes that it's "Slightly worse than the Belgariad, significantly better than Xanth."  Pipping out Piers Anthony but not quite matching David Eddings?  There's a ranking I can live with!