Sunday, 25 January 2015

Short Story News, Jan 2015

It doesn't seem that long since I was grumbling about how I couldn't sell short stories anymore, and now, seemingly out of nowhere, I have an awful lot of stuff (by my standards) on the way over the next few months.  Admittedly that's partly because a lot of my acceptances from last year have been taking a fair old while to come out, but still, this writing lark, eh?  First you're up, then you're down, then you're somewhere around the middle, then you're standing at a bus-stop in Wales trying not to get smacked by some bloke dressed as a Stormtrooper.

Anyhow, it now feels like I have more than enough stuff on the way that I should actually tell people about it, especially since there are a couple of things due out pretty soon, so here's the current state of play...
  • First up, I've a fair few stories in anthologies scheduled for the coming months.  Almost certain to be first out of the gate is XIII from Resurrection House, due in March and containing my Twilight for the Nightingale, (the one I keep referring to as my homoerotic supervillian story and then being surprised when that doesn't make people want to read it.)  Then in April we have The Hair of the Hound - an older story but a personal favourite - in Pantheon Magazine's Gaia: Shadow and Breath, followed in May by The Shark in the Heart in Sharkpunk, to be released by Snowbooks and edited by the irreducible Mr Jonathan Green.  (Jon is in full-on promotion mode right now, so expect to hear a lot about this one, and maybe have a look at its official Facebook page or blog or keep an eye out on twitter for @Sharkpunked and the #Sharkpunk hashtag.)  After that we have a bit of a gap until August and Purple Sun Press's first ever collection, Coven, which includes my All We May Know of God, a sequel of sorts to the also-anthologised No Rest For the Wicked.  Last up, due to a date not having been announced yet, there's Eldritch Press's Our World of Horror, and my twisted tale of sort-of sibling rivalry Br(other).
  • Elsewhere, I've a couple of stories waiting to be podcast, one new - Twitcher at Pseudopod, due on the exceedingly specific date of March 27th - and one old, namely Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams, to be published for the fourth time and podcast for the second at The Drabblecast, though without a date as yet.
  • As for magazines, it would seem a shame not to start with this year's most exciting anniversary: the oft-great and always bonkers Theaker's Quarterly Fiction is about to hit its fiftieth issue, and my equally bonkers, Escheresque Sci-fi story* The House That Cordone Built will be within its pages.
  • Honestly, I've never been as gobsmacked by a sale as I was when Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine accepted my story Step Light.  It's my one and only stab at writing  Crime short fiction, I had no idea if it was any good, and I only had the temerity to send it to AHMM because I'd run out of other ideas.  Selling to one of Dell Publishing's magazines has been on my writing bucket list forever, but I always imagined that if it ever happened it would be Asimov's or Analog.  Like I said ...writing, huh?  It's a weird old business.
  • And last up only because it has the word "last" in the title (and because I only found out about it half way through the post) my kinda-steampunk Fantasy story Last Call is going to be in Nameless Digest, though that's about all the details I know as yet.
So that's it for the moment.  And perhaps it's a good job, too, because for the absolute first time ever I'm starting to run low on things to sell.

Better get on writing, I suppose...

* And, it occurs to me now, blatant homage to Heinlein's glorious "And He Built a Crooked House", even right down to the title.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Announcing The War of the Rats

As their officially delegated spokeshuman, it falls upon me to announce that the rat populace of the world is - as of this date, the 18th of January 2015 - declaring total war upon the human population of the Earth.  They've had enough, frankly, and they're just not going to take it any more.  Pack your bags, people, and start looking for another planet with more placid rodents, because as of tomorrow this one is officially Ratworld Prime.

No, wait, that's not at all what this post was supposed to be about.   (Shuffles notes.)

Hum.  Okay.  So, I mentioned a few incoming projects in my round-up of last year, and it was a huge relief, because all of them were things I've been getting horribly excited about for ages now and not been able to talk much about.  And, thinking about it, a couple of them still fall into that category - though hopefully for not too much longer - but there's one at least that I can finally announce, and so this is me doing just that.

Here's one of the illustrations we DIDN'T use.
The War of the Rats and Other Tales, as it's tentatively known, is my first single-author collection of short fiction.  It's coming out from Spectral Press, (you know Spectral, they get nominated for British Fantasy Awards with alarming reality and have or are due to publish work by most of the top writers in British horror,) in August of this year, in e-book, paperback and super special, limited edition hardback.  And all of those editions will include illustrations by my artist mate and long term collaborator Duncan Kay, who seems to get better by the month and is currently sending me stuff that, frankly, would make your toes curl.  Seriously, there's a reason I've wrangled Duncan into two of my major releases for this year, and that reason is that he's shockingly good at this illustrating lark.  Whatever else The War of the Rats and Other Tales is, it's going to look beautiful.

That possibly means that I run the risk of my stories being upstaged in my own first short story collection; still, if readers manage to tear their eyes from the pictures, I'm hopeful that some of my all-time best fiction is going into this thing.  I mean, we have stories that have appeared in some of my favourite markets: places like Nightmare, Bull Spec, Flash Fiction Online.  We've got a tale that was in a Stoker-nominated anthology, another that was in last year's Stoker winner, (which, by the way, also happens to be my personal choice for the best horror story I've written.)  Maybe most exciting for me, we have my Spectral novelette, previously only available in very limited edition, and a new novelette written at the end of last year especially for the collection.

That one's called The War of the Rats, funnily enough.  And it isn't about rats declaring war on humanity.  I just made all of that up.

Or ... did I?

No, I did.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

2014: Year One

I'm pretty certain I've never put as much weight of expectation on a year as I did 2014.

I mean, as the year when I gave up my old, safe career in IT for my new, hazardous career in professional Authoring, the pressure on these last twelve months has been absurd.  Almost all of it self-imposed, it has to be said, because everyone I know without exception has been completely supportive; but for my own sanity, I needed to know for sure that I had a chance of making this thing work and that I hadn't just driven my life off a cliff in some fit of self-delusion.  Not only that but my health, social life, home and pretty much everything else were in shabby condition indeed at the start of the year, and I wasn't about to let them stay that way for a day longer than I had to.

That basically left me fighting on three fronts.  I had to produce enough work, and enough of an increase over what I'd been able to do around a full-time day job, to feel like I'd done the right thing; I needed to try and sell some stuff if at all possible, since otherwise I'd be that bit closer to running out of money; and somewhere amidst all of that I needed to sort out basically all of the rest of my life.

I won't dwell too much on that last one, except to say that things are vastly better now than they were twelve months ago.  And number two, that's kind of tricky to quantify, so we'll come back to it.  But as for getting the work done, yeah, that's definitely been a success.  Frankly, I even shocked myself a bit.  After years of making grand plans only to have them sabotaged by cold, hard reality, it was easy to assume I was expecting far too much.  I wanted to get drafts down of three novels: World War One-set Sci-Fi novel To End All Wars, post-apocalyptic thriller (and part-rewrite of earlier project War For Funland) Degenerates and my first hesitant step into Crime writing, The Bad Neighbour.  On top of that, I wanted to finish a few short stories, comics and such, and I had a great deal of research to get through.  With all of that ahead, and however much it looked doable on paper, I couldn't but go in with the assumption that I was basically doomed to failure.

So to be sitting here with everything I wanted done done is a strange feeling.  Beyond the fact of having it all finished, and given that Degenerates ended up being such a strange hybrid of revamping and reinventing my unfinished second novel War For Funland, it's difficult to put an exact number on how much I wrote in 2014; but guesstimating that half of Degenerates was essentially new work, I'd say I've produced about 260'000 words of new novels, plus some 55'000 of shorter work over seven short stories, one comic and a novelette.  With the second draft of To End All Wars, two redrafts of my first novella Patchwerk and much polishing work on some of some older stories, I'd be surprised if I've done less than 200'000 words of editing on top of that.  All of which is heartening, because it means I can comfortably write and edit two novels a year, plus a few other bits and pieces, and I figure - based on little real evidence - that that's about what I need to be doing to make some kind of a living.

Which brings us neatly to the topic of selling things.  On that front, things were going appallingly until late in the year, and though I hadn't expected much (I had no novels to pitch, after all) I'd still hoped to do much better off short fiction than I did.  That never entirely turned around, but a few other things - arguably much more exciting things - did come together in the eleventh hour.

First up, I have a buyer agreed for Patchwerk.  I can't say who yet, but I can say that they were my absolutely first choice and are a publisher I'm hugely excited to be working with.  Both of which are also true for my graphic novel C21st Gods, which went from a long-talked about dream project between myself and artist Duncan Kay to a concrete reality, by such a bizarre chain of events that it's a story in itself, and one I'll probably share here in the not-too-distant future.  Then lastly - and the one thing I can officially announce - there came the contract signing on my long-gestating short story collection The War of the Rats and Other Tales, which will be coming out from my absolutely favourite Horror small press, Spectral, in August of this year.

With three major projects and a ton of short fiction scheduled for the next twelve months, I'm starting 2015 in a stronger position than I ever anticipated.  And as if that wasn't enough, the belated discovery that Working Tax Credit is a thing has put my financial situation on a less tenuous footing than I expected it would be at this point.  With To End All Wars almost ready to go out and both Degenerates and The Bad Neighbour hopefully to be finished before the end of the year, the question now becomes, can I sell novels too?  And, perhaps the even bigger question, can I do it for enough money to live off?

Well, who the hell knows, right?  But at least I'm looking forward to trying, and twelve months ago I never thought I'd be saying that.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Film Ramble: Top 10 Fantasy and Science Fiction Films of 2014 (Part 2)

Here we go, then, with the final five of my hopelessly long-winded top ten list of 2014's Fantasy and Science Fiction movies...

(You can find part one here.)

5) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

What with this and The Hunger Games, it seems increasingly that how attached I get to a franchise is inversely related to how much I was looking forward to it in advance, because I'd never particularly been a devotee of the original Planet of the Apes series and now two movies in I can't wait to see where they take these prequels next.  Rise was a solid, surprisingly intelligent adult Sci-fi movie, and Dawn takes all of that and runs with it, in some distinctly interesting directions.

Because Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is basically a two hour movie about people (and people-like apes) trying to avoid conflict, and there's something fascinating in just how much that makes it unlike almost every summer blockbuster out there.  It's not a film that you spend eagerly anticipating the big action climax, it's a film where you dread its inevitability, because the minute the explosions and shooting and apes-riding-horses kicks off is the moment when decency, common sense and our species' ability to not wipe itself off the planet by being achingly stupid have all failed.  As such, it has plenty in common with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1; but for me Dawn edges that film out by intentionally being about its subjects rather than forcedly discussing them because some studio exec decided it can't end for another year's time.

4) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wait, this isn't a Fantasy and / or Science Fiction film, stop trying to sneak your filthy Art House movies onto the list, Tallerman! is what I imagine someone, somewhere saying.  But even if, as is far more likely, I'm only arguing this one with myself, nevertheless it's been puzzling me ever since I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel just where Wes Anderson's latest fits with my ideas of what genre movies are supposed to be.  And the conclusion I keep coming back to is that somewhere in the last decade, Anderson went from being a director of largely great, precious, over-directed movies about people talking and became the most interesting film fantasist working today.

It all began with The Life Aquatic, I think; that's the tipping point where Anderson's films stopped clearly belonging to any definable 'real world'.  But The Grand Budapest Hotel is the peak of Anderson's budding fantasist tendencies: it exists entirely in its own strange, tangential reality, an alternate Europe of Prisoner of Zenda-esque invented countries, larger than life characters and hotels that look like giant goddamn cakes.  That makes it a very specific kind of Fantasy for sure, and a kind that absolutely no one else seems interested in creating, but for me that only makes it that bit more exciting.

3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 As a huge fan of Ed Brubaker's already-legendary run on the comic, part of me had been looking forward to this film from the moment that the first Captain America was announced; and with that weight of expectation, the fact that The Winter Soldier didn't disappoint is just plain astonishing. 

One reason for that is surely how it treats its source material and subject with the utmost respect and intelligence.  More than any superhero movie I can think of, it feels like an adaptation of a particular arc, which is absolutely weird because it plays just as fast and loose with its source material as any other - yet in a way I can't quite put my finger on, The Winter Soldier nails the tone and characterization of Brubaker's run perfectly.  It certainly hews closely to the author's take on its protagonist, perhaps the most interesting interpretation of one of Marvel's most interesting and generally misunderstood heroes.  Captain America the character has been more about critiquing his nation than representing it for a long time now, and the script, not to mention Evans's nuanced performance, captures that spirit, of a man who stands for his country by representing it better than it itself does or can.  The outstanding fight choreography, the wonderful core cast, the film's success in giving them all time to shine without losing focus, and the way that The Winter Soldier casually upends the status quo of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe at a time when critics were beginning to grumble that such a thing was never going to happen are also definite bonuses.

2) Interstellar

Though a part of me can see exactly why Interstellar has been so divisive, I wonder if sometimes we genre fans don't get so caught up with what we want or expect that we miss what we're actually getting.  Interstellar has flaws aplenty, some of them gaping and undeniable and practically film-breaking, but it's also an epic, giant-budget, standalone Science-Fiction movie that at least nods in the direction of scientific rigor, (even if it does subsequently kick it into some kind of black hole / space library plot gimmick), and I for one was beginning to fear that I might go the rest of my life without seeing another one of those. 

Point being, I can certainly imagine better Sci-Fi films than Interstellar, and I can even imagine a film quite close to Interstellar that's better than what Nolan actually delivered, but neither of those facts detracts from how grateful I am that I got to spend three hours in a cinema watching the thing and being awed and entranced by its sheer scale, ambition and imagination.   Because judged on those terms - that is, on what it does, and does astonishingly - Interstellar is almost without equal.

1) Lucy

Even more so than Interstellar, I find it hard to blame anyone for criticizing Lucy.  It is without a doubt the dumbest smart movie, or perhaps the smartest dumb movie I saw all year, but either way it's both of those things, in some combination that has no right at all to work.

Its blurb on IMDB, in fact, sums this up nicely: "A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic."  "Beyond human logic" ...  yup, there's the rub.  Lucy does not care one jot about human logic.  It takes its thoroughly, blatantly silly premise - if we could just use all of our brains instead of a teeny bit of them we would have crazy super god powers! - and then runs with it as hard as it can, oblivious as its protagonist to the fact that reality and story-logic are busily exploding around it, like that football player in The Dark Knight Rises.

For this, I love it.  And the fact that in a great but nevertheless faintly disappointing year for genre film-making, in which so many promising movies were flawed to a greater or lesser degree by commercial logic, Lucy just goes for it, regardless of jarring tonal shifts or narrative logic or any other damn thing, makes it my favourite Science Fiction film of 2014.  If only more dumb movies were so smart.