Friday, 25 September 2015

Short Story News, September 2015

I've been remiss in keeping up with my short story-related news here of late, though in fairness that's been not entirely because I'm easily distracted and at least partly because not so long ago it looked as though a number of things would be coming out at more or less the same time; it seemed like sound logic to post all of that news together, but publication dates wandered as publication dates will and in the meantime other stuff has been happening and, boy, this is a lot of unnecessary preamble, isn't it?

Short Story News, September 2015.  Take two.

I have a story out as an e-book!  It seems decidedly weird that this should be the first time this has happened outside of novels, but there it is.  Digital Science Fiction was an immensely good professional-rate market that lasted not half long enough around four years ago, published my Black Sun in their excellent debut issue First Contact and were scheduled to publish my Across the Terminator when things went south.  So I was overjoyed when owner Michael Wills got in touch to say that Digital Science Fiction was getting reincarnated and would I still be up for him publishing it?  Across the Terminator - probably the nearest thing I've ever written to hard SF and perhaps the nearest thing to a proper love story - is part of a rapidly expanding e-book line-up that's well worth checking out, and you can find it at Amazon UK here or Amazon US here.

Elsewhere I've been making a dint on my finally almost-vanished backlog of somewhat older stories.  Which sounds a lot like "trunk stories" if you're the suspicious sort but they're honestly not that, and in fact quite the opposite; if I'm still sending out anything more than about five years old then I've had to be pretty damn certain of its merits, and it's probably been polished beyond an inch of its life.  Of no story is that more true than Children of Deadways, a profoundly strange slice of sci-fi gothic zombie horror that I feel like I've spent forever getting right and has finally found a place with one of my favourite print markets, Space and Time, who published my In the Service of the Guns way back in 2009.

Perhaps a little older even than Children of Deadways, if memory serves, is my contemporary ghost story Knock, Knock, which has been one of those tales that I never quite understood how it wasn't selling; a stupid question ultimately because the answer is always the same and always that the right home just hasn't come along.  Anyway, it's a creepy little thing based immensely loosely on events and places from my time in York, and that home turned out to be Pantheon Magazine, whose Gaia: Shadows and Breath 2 anthology I was being impressed by so recently.  It's lined up for their Hestia-themed issue, which is a perfect fit for at least a couple of reasons - neither of which I can touch on without spoiling a story that hasn't even had a chance to get published yet!

Fortunately it hasn't just been older work selling; possibly the best news I've had lately was in regards to A Killer of Dead Men, which I wrote specifically and rather optimistically for Beneath Ceaseless Skies as a follow-up to my Ill-Met at Midnight, published there back in August 2013, and which to my delighted surprise is actually going to appear in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  This was a huge relief because it would have felt weird to have Otranto Onsario, master assassin beyond compare and possessor of perhaps the most twisted conscience in fantasy literature, appearing anywhere else.  I really like this character, it seems that BCS editor Scott Andrews does too, and I should probably start thinking about writing another Otranto story, shouldn't I?

I feel bad now for not having mentioned here the stuff that's come out recently or due imminently - like the Second Contacts anthology from Bundoran Press, or Purple Sun Press's Coven - but I'll get to those in the near future, I'm sure.  This post is already long enough and has achieved its main objective, which was to remind me that amidst the lousy news there's been plenty of good stuff happening.  Putting it all together like this, it's actually been a pretty great few months, and while it's probably far too much to ask, I'll be immensely pleased up things keep up like this for the remainder of the year.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Film Ramble: Franklyn

Here's the thing: Franklyn is a British movie that isn't a gangster film, a romcom or a low budget
horror.  And if there were no other reason to talk about it six years after its release than the sheer difficulty of placing it in the depressingly restrictive landscape of British cinema then I for one would still consider that sufficient excuse.  Because tell me, when was the last time you saw a British film that intertwined four disparate stories across two parallel realities, one of which was a deliriously Gothic fever-dream of a fantasy world?

Those four stories go something like this: A man named Esser (Bernard Hill) hunts for his vanished son; a jilted groom (Sam Riley) circumvents his grief by convincing himself that his childhood sweetheart has reentered his life; performance artist Amelia (Eva Green) attempts to deal with family traumas by filming herself committing a series of escalating suicide attempts; and in a steampunkish fantasy burg named Meanwhile City where faith is mandatory but denomination arbitrary, vigilant Preest (Ryan Phillippe) hunts for his child-murdering nemesis, the Individual.

One of those sure does stick out like a sore thumb, doesn't it?

Let's get this out of the way nice and early: Franklyn is by no definition a flawless movie.  It has, in fact, at least two failings that could easily have been crippling. One - and, astonishingly, this is the more minor - is that two of its four stories just aren't very compelling.  Up until about the two-thirds point, Hill's Esser simply wanders around having cryptic conversations about his son, and any interest in the mystery of just what and why he's doing so has evaporated long before that point.  And our time spent with Riley is, if anything, worse; we're given little reason to sympathize with Milo, a perfectly typical and typically obnoxious spoiled urbanite, and Riley's performance brings out everything that's worst about the character.  Then his twist, the entire reason we've put up with him all this time, comes along, and it does nothing to make Milo more bearable; quite the opposite, in fact.

Though the impression is that writer-director Gerald McMorrow is at least aware of these problems, he's not capable of resolving them in any satisfactory fashion.  It's a fact of these Magnolia-esque overlapping narrative thingamajigs that not every story can be interesting at every point and you inevitably have to squeeze character development and exposition into places where they won't comfortably fit, but McMorrow seems unreasonably determined to give each thread equal weight.  Or maybe he doesn't, and all of this is primarily the fault of that second major flaw, which is that the editing is plain abominable.  Editor Peter Christelis, who bafflingly has quite an impressive CV, barely manages to keep up a narrative flow within individual scenes and fails utterly to contrive the kind of whip-smart construction that an anthology film like this lives and dies by.

Now, I realise I'm not making Franklyn sound very good.  I may, in fact, be past the point where I can justifiably turn around and try and convince you it's worthy of your time, and that in fact if you have any interest in genre cinema then you should be going out of your way to hunt it down.  But you should, and there are precisely three good reasons for that fact.

One is Eva Green, an actress whose ability to turn underwritten parts into living and breathing characters should be legendary by now.  Emilia, so unbearable a collection of visualized neuroses in theory, becomes in her hands by far the most compelling of the four protagonists.  Like much of Green's work, it's a hypnotic enough performance that if it was the only thing of value in the entire film it would still be worth a watch.

But it isn't, and it doesn't even quite take pride of place.  For number two, and coincidentally the
entire reason I'm talking about Franklyn here when my rule is to only discuss genre cinema, is Meanwhile City.  Meanwhile City is one of the greatest fantasy locations ever put to film.  It's relatively easy to see how it was achieved - a combination of CG matte backgrounds, cleverly picked locations and some superb costumes and mise en scène - but for all that, the cumulative effect is damn near perfect.  Meanwhile City feels real and physical and at the same time resolutely impossible, and every moment spent within its confines is a unique experience.

Which brings us neatly round to number three - which is that Franklyn is just preposterously ambitious.  I mean, who even tries something like this for their first film?  McMorrow is clearly a lunatic, and it pains me to no end that he hasn't made a feature film since.  In a better world, this kind of brave, boundary-shredding insanity would be rewarded rather than punished.  Hell, in a world where British cinema stretched past those endless aforementioned romcoms, ganster flicks and crummy horror movies, it would be.

But that isn't the world we live in, and so all we get is Franklyn.  It's hopelessly flawed and wonderfully unique, it gives Eva Green a chance to be great in something that isn't dross like 300: Rise of an Empire and it offers a glimpse into one of the most compelling fantasy worlds ever put to film.  Not half bad for a debut feature, right?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Eldritch Press - Some Words of Warning

You get good experiences and bad experiences in this trade, just as in any other.  Yet still the bad experiences always surprise me a little.  Stupid I know, but there's always a naive part of me that insists that people get into publishing - be they writers, editors or whatever - because it's something they basically love, an even more naive part determined to believe that because of that fact people will be more inclined to behave with a degree of decency and respect.  No matter how often I'm proved wrong on this front - and this year, I've been proved wrong a lot - I still find myself feeling shocked.

The minor bad experiences, the rude e-mails, late payments and such, I invariably let slide.  When people behave in a spectacularly crappy fashion, however, that I try to flag up here.  Because it's safe to assume that a publisher that's acted unprofessionally towards me will do so to other people too, and as writers we have little enough defense against that sort of thing.

Which brings us around to Eldritch Press.

In late June of last year, I submitted a story called Br(other) to an anthology Eldritch had opened for, Our World of Horror, and to my immense surprise it was accepted that same day.  This seemed like hugely good news, since Eldritch were paying good money, and things only looked more positive when the contract came through a prompt four days later.  That was tarnished ever so slightly when the table of contents went up the month after and I noticed they'd managed to misspell the one-word title of my story but, hey, no biggie, and they got it fixed quickly enough.

Four or so months went by.  2014 rolled on into 2015.  With no recent news and half of the twelve month contract period elapsed, it seemed like a good time to check on progress.  I was told that edits were in progress and that they were "waiting on a couple of high profile authors" to send stories.

Five more months passed.  In that time, Eldritch had revamped their website and Our World of Horror had vanished from it.  I wrote again pointing this out and got a form acknowledgement but no reply.  May became June, the last month of the contact exclusivity period, and I had little doubt that something had gone badly wrong.  I wrote once more, highlighting the fact that my story would soon be out of contract and this time got an apology.  I was told I was welcome to withdraw my work but that the book would definitely be out in July.  I suggested a three month contract extension to cover the additional delay and was advised that it would be along shortly.  It never materialized, but about a week later I did get copied in on a mass e-mail announcing the addition of a story by a 'big name' author to the collection.  It was late July by this point, and I was gobsmacked that Eldritch would use the one and only mass e-mail they'd sent out to point out that they were still adding material mere days before their promised release date.  Had they really kept eighteen authors waiting for over a year, just for this?

Apparently not, since things then went quiet once again.  Finally, a few days ago, I got a second mass e-mail, this one announcing that Eldritch were pulling the plug on Our World of Horror.  It didn't come as much of a shock.  Despite the protestations to the contrary, I'd been confident for about six months that the anthology would never see the light of day.  The tone of that e-mail did, however, annoy me to no end.  There was a deal of self-pity in there, yet no apparent awareness that they'd just screwed twenty or so authors around for well over a year and failed to honour payments that surely totaled somewhere in the thousands of dollars.  (I'd illustrate with quotes here, but wouldn't you know, they stuck a confidentiality clause on it.)  I wrote back and pointed out that no part of that e-mail contained an apology of any kind; I further suggested that, having tied up the work of so many writers for well over a year they should probably be thinking about some compensation.  Needless to say, I didn't get a reply.

Now this is hardly an atypical story, and it's not the first sale I've had collapse from under me.  There's no question but that the quality of communication was atrocious, but if it had been that alone then I wouldn't have taken the time to write it up here.  What bothers me particularly is the suspicion that Eldritch tied up stories for this book for a period of months when they had a fairly good idea that it wasn't going to happen.  I mean, why else do you disappear a project from your website?  Why hold off on the edits, except because the contract stipulated payment on their completion?  Why else keep authors so in the dark?  My impression is that they thoughtlessly jerked a bunch of writers around because it suited them and they could get away with it, and - having had my work purchased and sat on for fifteen months and having seen not a dime for the privilege - I consider that reason enough to warn other writers to be careful around these guys.

Though frankly, I doubt that any of this will be an issue.  Reading between the lines of that last e-mail, it seems likely that Eldritch are in the process of folding.  If this is how they do business then, frankly, it's difficult to imagine any other scenario.  Still, I would personally much rather see them get their problems resolved and learn from their mistakes, because the world surely does need more small presses willing to pay decent money.  And if anyone else has had experiences with Eldritch, whether positive or negative, then in the interests of fairness please do take a minute to share them in the comments.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Good Gaia!

With a veritable flood of anthologies due out this month with my stories in - well, three at least - I didn't want to let the release of the rather lovely Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2 from Pantheon Magazine slip by unmentioned.

I haven't read it yet because, being possibly the world's slowest reader, I'm still about four contributor copies behind.  But I have at least managed to have a flick through, and it's really rather nice inside: each story gorgeously illustrated, layout easy on the eye, everything good and clear and readable.  It's hard not to make that sound like faint praise, but how many books have you read that got this stuff wrong?  (Personally I'd say most of them, and I'd go further and claim - without much evidence at all - that that's why I'm sure a pathetically slow reader.)  None of which, by the way, should be taken to suggest that Gaia vol. 2 isn't stunning on the outside too, because I've been in love with that cover image ever since I set eyes on it.  (And only putting this post together do I realise that this is my second time behind a cover by the phenomenal Daniel Karlsson; he also illustrated the issue of Nightmare I was in.)

All of which is to say that I'm looking forward to tearing into my copy of Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2, and I feel like I have grounds enough to recommend it even without having read it; the fact that I'm eager to plow though my little pile of contributor copies to get at it is surely a good sign.  And now I realise  I've got all this way and not even mentioned my own story, The Hair of the Hound.  Well, this is I'm pretty sure the first time I've had a tale out that returns to a pre-established character - that being sarcastic, laconic, not altogether competent post-rapture detective Fièvre, whose previous case file appeared in one of my earlier sales, Rindelstein's Monsters, as published in excellent anthology The Death Panel.  Something else that only occurs to me now, maybe eight years after I came up with the character: Fièvre is a pretty on the nose parody of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics.  I consider this no bad thing.

To finish up, since I can't find a TOC anywhere, here's one I've meticulously copied from the title page.  All typos are therefore the product of my stumpy fingers and not the authors in question misspelling their own names:

The Hair of the Hound - David Tallerman
The Tentative Freedom of Clockwork Birds - Joshua D. Moyes
I Married the Valley - Zach Lisabeth
Lady Pincushion and the Circus of the Dead - Emily Slaney
A Bare Bones Outfit - Will Manlove
Asking For Forgiveness - Richard Thomas
A Mouth Full of Spiders, a Gut Full of Snakes - Rhoads Brazos
Niña de las Flores - Jonathan T. Riley
Faerie Medicine - Julie C. Day
The Mammoth Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Oh, and last but obviously not least, if you should desire a copy for yourself then you can pick Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2 up from Amazon here.