Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Thought Bubble 2013

It was tempting to come up with some rubbish pun title, "Thoughts on Thought Bubble" or something like that, and I might even have done it if it weren't for the realization that I'd then have to come up with an even more rubbish pun title if I go next year, and on and on, until I either went mad with the effort or had to stop attending altogether.  And that would be a shame, because I enjoyed my one afternoon of Thought Bubble, and would very much like to go again next year, and actually make an effort to attend a few things and do more than wander around being slightly distracted.

Lavie's I Dream of Ants: Odd.
But now that I think about it, haven't all of my Con reports gone that way of late?  The truth is that, more even more so than World Fantasy, Thought Bubble had the distinction of being my One Con Too Many this year, the one where Con exhaustion really kicked in with a vengeance.  Unfortunately, the same went for Lavie Tidhar, who'd come to stay with me over the weekend and have his own first look at TB*, and who has done even more of these things than me this year, and the net result was that between us we had just about enough energy and enthusiasm for one mildly energetic and enthusiastic Con goer, which frankly was never going to cut it.

And like I said, that turned out to be a shame, because Thought Bubble was interesting and intriguing, and actually very different from anything I've been to before; more, in fact, what I'd (perhaps ignorantly) consider an Expo than a Convention, with a quite staggering number of stalls spread over three very large rooms.  It was a bit overwhelming, really, and most of the three or four hours we spent there on Saturday were eaten up with wandering around and randomly chatting to people and feeling a bit bewildered by the whole thing.

My Princess Mononoke print: Awesome.
Which doesn't sound like a great deal of fun, now that I read it back, but it was. I ran into some of my favourite industry friends and acquaintances, including such kind souls as Adrian Tchaikovsky, Paul Cornell and Alasdair Stuart, got to hang out with superstar artist Mr Bob Molesworth and to meet our Endangered Weapon B publisher Harry Markos; Lavie bought me a copy of his Murky Depths Press book I Dream of Ants, (which is, frankly, downright odd); I picked up a gorgeous Princess Mononoke** poster by the excitingly talented Cristian Ortiz, and ... well, I can't remember what else.  This is what happens when you post about events half a week after they happened.

Anyway, in retrospect, we should probably have left before the bizarre school disco-style party that followed the main event on the Saturday night, and I should definitely not have let Lavie talk me into going clubbing after that, because frankly I'm just too damn old, or at the very least too damn tired.  But stupid is as stupid does, as a wise man once said, and what doesn't kill you gives you a hell of a headache the next day, and all in all it was a good day so, in the end, who's complaining? 

* Wow, that's a really unfortunate abbreviation.
** Possibly my favourite film of all time.  There, I've said it!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Giant Thief ... Closing Thoughs

Ever since I read a piece by Aliette de Bodard analyzing what she felt she got wrong and right in her "Obsidian and Blood" trilogy*, I knew I wanted to do something similar.  In fact, let's be honest, I knew I wanted to shamelessly rip it off.  So now that the Tales of Damasco are complete and out to buy, and now that I've had time for all the emotional dust to settle, here are my thoughts on where I messed up and where I can conceivably claim to have nailed it in my first novel Giant Thief.

Let's get the bad out of the way first, because then I get to finish with all the good stuff:


  • There are a couple of overly slow chapters in Giant Thief, a couple of places were the plot doesn't move on as swiftly as it should, and in general the pacing is a bit off.  It was bad planning, basically, and I think it's the one area in which Crown Thief and Prince Thief are unquestionably better books.  That said, I do like how damn fast the thing moves, how little it lets get in its way, how blindly determined I was to throw in action at every opportunity.  I'm glad, on the whole, that I wrote a fast paced, action-packed first novel with a couple of slow patches than the other way round.
  • I overestimated the tolerance readers would have for an obnoxious protagonist.  I wanted Easie Damasco to be unconventional, and the convention I had my eye on was the lovable rogue.  Rogues, in my experience, are anything but lovable, and I wanted to write a thief who was every bit as despicable, immoral and self-centered as a real life thief would be.  But while I still feel that that was a worthy intention, I see now that I should have leavened all those flaws with a few more virtues, so as to make Damasco slightly more pleasant company (although, see the successes for more thoughts on this.)
  • I should have found a way to get more of my villain Moaradrid's back-story and motivation into Giant Thief.  I knew it, bits of it were implied, and it almost all gets told in Crown Thief and Prince Thief, but that isn't good enough, and it weakened an otherwise strong character.  I like Moaradrid, I think he's an interesting portrait of how good motives can be warped in a moral vacuum and he gets some cracking lines, but I can see how his apparent lack of character logic frustrated a few people.


  • I'm proud of my core cast.  One or two reviews suggested that they're mostly archetypes, and that's not entirely unfair - there's the witty thief, the harsh-but-fair guard captain, the kind-hearted monster, amongst others - but I think that misses the point of what I tried to do with those archetypes.  Every character, even the ostensibly heroic ones like Estrada and Alvantes, have deep flaws, and it's those flaws more than their virtues that define where they go after the first book.  But of everyone, I'm proudest of Castilio Mounteban, a man who does something irredeemable in Giant Thief and then spends Crown Thief and Prince Thief striving to be redeemed anyway, mostly in the worst possible ways and all in the name of love, albeit a deeply warped interpretation of it.  To me, that's one hell of a character arc.
  • Following on from that, and perhaps a slight cheat since it doesn't really come to the foreground until Crown Thief, but I like the degree of moral complexity in the Tales, and all the more so because I was writing in a genre that isn't particularly known for moral complexity.  Plenty of people do awful things, and few more so that Easie Damasco himself, but nobody once does anything that they can't justify to their self, (except the once, and I just covered that, above.)  Perhaps more interestingly, characters frequently try to do right and end up doing considerable harm, and no good deed goes unpunished.  It's not easy to do the right thing in real life, so why should it be in fiction?
  • I'm glad that I didn't write about white men running around a thinly veiled misinterpretation of medieval Europe.  We've had that book too many damn times, and I sleep a little easier at night for knowing that, whatever else I got wrong, I didn't add to the Tower of Tolkien.  By Prince Thief, I have an almost entirely non-white cast** and two well-rounded female characters who get to do things like run towns and entire countries without, necessarily, being Strong with a capital 'S'.  None of that necessarily makes it a good book, of course, and I feel a little bad even bringing it up because in a perfect world the art we create would represent the diversity of our species and we wouldn't even have to talk about it ... but, this world not being that one, I'm glad that I get to be one of the tiny handful of authors in 2013 (perhaps the only?) with a black and an Hispanic protagonist sharing their cover.
So those are my thoughts, anyway.  If you strongly disagree, with the good points or the bad or both, then I've love to hear about it.

* Which I now can't find for the life of me.  Anyone remember where it was published?
** The arguable exception being the giants, who are sort of grey.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

World Fantasy 2013: If You Have Nothing Nice to Say...

Brighton: Stormy.
There's no point beating around the bush: I was seriously underwhelmed with World Fantasy 2013.  And I think the thing that underwhelmed the most was the sheer sense of familiarity - in terms of what was on offer, but also in the sense of seeing things done wrong that I've already seen done wrong too many times before.  Honestly, it's tempting to just post a link to my comments on last year's Fantasycon and be done with it.

But that would be churlish, wouldn't it?  After all, there were a few things that World Fantasy got right that Fantasycon 2012 didn't.  The hotel, for one, was an infinitely more suitable venue.  The welcome pack was well put together and there were some freebie books on offer that I actually wanted.  (One of them, admittedly, was Giant Thief!)  There were plenty of nice people on hand to offer help and directions, both the official Red Coats - who seemed to be doing an excellent job - and also lot's of friendly hotel staff offering help and directions.

A pile of Armadillos.
Those are all good things.  But they are, let's face it, also the absolute basics that you'd expect any professionally organised convention to get right, so I can't bring myself to dwell on them too much.  And it's not even like all of the basics were got right; things like panel equity and having a clear harassment policy in place well in advance are basics too, ones that any organiser ignores at both their peril and discredit.

What I mostly judge Cons on, though, is the content they offer, and on that front it's a struggle to find nice things to say.  Nine Worlds, my new benchmark, had so much damn stuff to see and do that I could have spent a week trapped in some kind of Ground Hog Day time loop thing and not seen everything I wanted to see.  World Fantasy had so little to offer that I spent half my time wondering what to do with myself, and what there was was predictable and weirdly, needlessly cynical.   When you have many of the greatest genre authors on the planet gathered in one place, what exactly is the thinking behind a panel asking "Does SF Have a Future"?  Except, I guess, to get things wrapped up quickly so that everyone can return to the bar.

Actually a Con picture.
"But wait", I hear an imaginary someone somewhere say, "World Fantasy isn't that kind of 'Con!  It's about professionals ... you know, meeting and hanging out in the bar and doing professional stuff." Well, that's fine in theory, I guess, but someone really should have told that to all the people who weren't industry professionals before they forked over their hard-earned cash.  And even putting that aside, as a professional writer, at no point did I feel particularly catered to.  Not when I was being told by the website guidelines that I probably wouldn't be welcome on any of the panels and should just expect my enquiry to go ignored; not when I was being informed in the official e-mails that if I wanted to be part of the mass signing I should expect to fight off everyone else who isn't one of "those writers we expect long lines for"; not when the decision was made to exclude industry advice from the programming; and not when ... actually, that pretty much covers it.  Although, while we're here, there's a point worth making: the general tone and communication around this thing was frequently pompous, self-aggrandizing and plain rude.  There's no call for that, it's not how you deal with people who are paying you money, and frankly, I feel a little embarrassed even having to point that out.

So there it is.  I had a good time at World Fantasy, for the most part.  But since that good time relied entirely on the fact that lots of my favourite people were there, along with freely flowing alcohol, and hardly at all on the fact that there was a convention going on around me, it would be dishonest to give too much credit.  And since everyone I met was saying much the same things, I can't even fall back on the argument that it was just me being a grouch.  (Although, since my B & B was notable mainly for the standard of street fights going on outside and I spent most of the weekend determinedly missing every last damn thing I'd planned to go to, there's undoubtedly an element of that.)

Anyway.  Thanks to all the amazing people who hung out with me over the course of the weekend; you surely know who you were, and if you don't, it's because you were drunk.  It was real and it was fun, but - at least as far as the convention side went - it just wasn't real fun.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Giant Thief: The Unseen Trailer

With Prince Thief out and the Tales of Easie Damasco officially complete, I thought this might be a nice opportunity to blog about something I've been itching to talk about for a while: the trailer that Jobeda, Bob Molesworth and I put together for Giant Thief.

Giant Thief had been out for a fair while before I had the time and resources to do a trailer, so it was always more of an experiment and a test-run than an actual marketing attemptI'd been thinking about it for a while, I'd watched a few other attempts, and taken on board what I felt to be the obvious issue with book trailers: to whit, that they tend to be a bit rubbish.

The problem, I decided, was twofold.  First, the fact that you're trying to represent a product that isn't visual in a visual medium, which often means slapping a bit of text together with a bit of music and hoping for the bestAnd second, following close on the heels of number one, that not many people have the budget to do a book trailer justice, especially when there doesn't seem to be much evidence that they actually help to sell books.

My main decisions, then, were to keep it short, to be willing to throw at least a bit of money at it, and to keep the text to a bare minimum.  Fortunately, I had a couple of sizable advantages, in the shapes of a girlfriend with experience as a video editor and a professional artist friend whose style was a good fit for Giant Thief, the always-brilliant Mr Molesworth.  Music was trickier, but the internet is heaving with sites where you can download stock music for a small fee, so in the end that mostly came down to having the patience to hunt around.*

Knowing what I had to work with, I put some thought into a concept: it made sense to play up Giant Thief's unusual, Hispanic / North African-styled setting, and since we were effectively making a silent movie, the film geek in me quickly gravitated to the idea of title cards.  I wrote a short script, along with more elaborate descriptions of the individual frames for Bob, which I sent to him along with the relevant chunks of Giant ThiefJobeda then cut everything together, animated it, found a suitable template and created the text inserts, and drew on the help of a friend to knock together a 3D graphic of the coverAfter that, we spent time getting the pacing and rhythm right, making sure the text was up long enough to be readable, syncing everything with the music and generally tweaking until it felt right.

The final budget came out at around £100.  Like I said, it was an experiment, and one I never expected to do anything but lose money onCould it have been worth it, though, had I actually released the trailer before the book came out?  For me, I doubt itIf I'd self published and done much more work to push it out there then maybe.  But was it fun?  Yeah, it was.  I ended up with my own adorable Giant Thief movie, which I'll always have to watch and to get that horrid, marvellous little earworm of a tune stuck in my head again; that's worth a hundred pounds right there.

*It's worth noting, too, that you can pay drastically different rates on different sites for the same music ... shop around!