Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas, and Other Horrors

A little under a month ago, Lee Harris, editorial fleshy part of the Angry Robot, approached me to see if I'd like to contribute to a "twelve days of Christmas" series of blog posts, wherein the Robot's newest converts would get a chance to introduce themselves to a captive (not to mention soon-to-be-enslaved) audience.  Well, what could I say but yes?  (Assuming I wasn't looking for an early trip to the rehabilation factories, that is?)

Then, for some preposterous reason, I decided the best thing I could do would be to write a brand new story.  Because, with the deadline for Crown Thief rapidly approaching, the release date of Giant Thief even closer and a new day job on the horizon, what else would I possibly be doing with my time?  The truth was, though, I'd had an idea for a little seasonal monstrosity bouncing round my brain for months - ever since the name "the Santa Thing" had somehow washed up on those squishy pink shores - and I'd never had time to throw together more than a few lines.  Nor was it the kind of idea I really wanted hanging around there for too long.  What better opportunity to extricate the icky little blighter?

It was touch and go for a while (most of the last three weeks, to be exact) but I got my story done.  It's called A Study in Red and White, and you can read it here.  It might not make your silly season any happier or brighter, but it should exponentially increase the odds of you violently attacking and / or running screaming from the next supermarket Santa you see.  And for me, that makes it all worthwhile.

If I had one sensible idea throughout the whole episode, it was approaching my brilliant artist mate Duncan Kay to lend me his talents for an illustration.  Because nobody in the whole wide world draws monsters better than Duncan.

You want proof?  Here's your proof, whiskers.


Also, while we're here, quick thank you's to the ever-reliable Tom Rice and the ever-writing-great-stories-that-everyone-should-just-go-read David James Keaton for their lightning ninja proof reading skills.

And if you happen to go click on that Angry Robot link up there, why not maybe check up on the other eleven Christmassy blog posts?  They're rather good, y'know.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Read Giant Thief For Free*

*Well, discluding chapters four from twenty four, that is.

But that's still an entire eight for nothing, right?  Nothing much happens in those last twenty-one chapters anyway.  The big battle, the actual giant-thievery, all the good stuff, that's all there in those first three chapters.  After that it's pretty much just plot and running around and a bit of character interaction that, truth be told, you can probably live without.

No, wait ... I'm joking.  Really.  Joking.  There's lots of fun to be had in chapter four and onwards.  You'll laugh!  You'll cry!  You'll wonder how Easie Damasco gets through each chapter without getting the good hard kicking he so richly deserves!  I'm not actually trying to talk people into just reading the first chunk of Giant Thief and then giving up, convinced it's all downhill from there.  That would be stupid.  I see that now.

Truth was, I figured if I could get you to read those first three chapters, you'd be so caught up that you'd buy Giant Thief without even thinking about it.  You'd be all "what's in the bag?" and "has he seriously just stolen that giant?" and "when is someone going to give this Easie Damasco guy the good hard kicking he so richly deserves?"  And I'd be chuckling all the way to the bank.

So ... I'm sorry.  It was cheap and manipulative, and it demeaned both of us.

D'you know what I do when I feel demeaned?  I read the first three chapters of Giant Thief!





Incidentally, if that awakens your taste for reading just the first three chapters of books then ... well, that's not the effect I was going for, obviously ... but those wonderful fiends at Angry Robot have got you covered nonetheless: here's where I pilfered the Giant Thief sampler from, and you'll find similar previews of the latest from Dan Abnett, Adam Christopher, Lavie Tidhar and Ian Whates.  Good company!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Film Ramble: The Beginner's Guide to Anime (Part Two)

Time to get part 2 of that Beginner's Guide to Anime article I started last week out of the way - lest I get distracted and never finish it and years from now, some poor orphan child looking for a handy guide to ease him into the weird world of anime finds himself short changed and goes and watches a load of Jerry Bruckheimer movies instead.

Something that never fails to impress me is taking a genre that looks as if it was mined out years ago and making it feel completely fresh and new.  In about 45 minutes, Blood: The Last Vampire does more to make vampires cool and interesting than a thousand lesser movies put together.  Putting aside the fact that it's superbly executed in every aspect, what Bloods brings more than anything is ambiguity, along with hints of a rich history that we'll never quite know or understand.  For proof of how well they pulled it off, see the live action remake's attempts to fill in the blanks and cringe at how dull it all suddenly becomes.


Last time I featured Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke,  but no anime top ten of any kind could be complete with just one Miyazaki movie.  It's hard to think of a more consistently brilliant director, and equally hard to pick favourites from such a consistently stunning catalogue.  But Laputa - renamed by Disney as Castle in the Sky for its international release, for fairly hilarous reasons - was the first anime I ever saw, way back before I had the faintest clue what anime even was, and it blew my mind.  Then I rediscovered it years later, and it blew my mind all over again.



Satoshi Kon's death last year left a small but incredibly impressive body of work behind.  Again, it's hard (and pointless) to pick out one of his four completed features as his best, since they're all great, but Millenium Actress is my personal favourite.  When a documentary filmmaker and his cameraman attempt to interview an ageing actress, they find themselves carried along in her recollections, which jumble in turn with her decades-spanning movie career, and Kon smashes reality, fantasy, history, memory and imagination together into one dizzying whole.  Millenium Actress should be incredibly pretensious; in Kon's hands, it's the smartest romantic action comedy ever made.
The third film here from Studio Ghibli, and the first not to be directed by Miyazaki, Grave of the Fireflies is probably the ultimate weapon against the old "animation is just for kids" argument.  Set in World War 2-era Japan, Grave follows brother and sister Setsuko and Seita as they try to survive alone after their mother's death in an air raid.  If that sounds like tough watching then, well, it is, but there's an innocence and kindness to Takahata's film that always keeps it clear of miserabilism.  Which isn't to say it won't break your heart a few dozen times before the credits roll...




Because every anime top ten needs at least one movie where school kids pilot giant robots.  And because Evangelion: You Are [Not] Alone is so good, it doesn't matter that it's practically a check list of genre cliches.  Anyway, in fairness that has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first of four films remaking and reinventing one of Japanese animation's defining series.  But even if it wasn't, Evangelion would still be thrilling.  Like Blood, it takes a familiar concept - in this case, the uniquely Japanese notion that the best way to defend against alien (in this case, angelic) invasion is to force school children to fight them in giant robotic suits of armour - and tells it so earnestly, brilliantly and blisteringly oddly that it feels like the first time all over again.

Friday, 9 December 2011

First Giant Thief Reviews Shockingly Positive

One of my more self-explanitory post titles there, so I guess I might as well skip the usual beating around of bushes...

Publishers Weekly's is actually more of a plot summary than anything,but it's a very positive plot summary so I'm not complaining.  Our robot overlords have cleverly ellipted it into the following, more blurbable quote:

“Best known for an eclectic variety of short stories, Tallerman debuts with a breezy novel of a man with his eye on the prize … Tallerman’s charming, devil-may-care hero has plenty of swashbuckling roguishness to carry him through the planned sequels.”

Which is certainly nice.  But it didn't make my day quite as much as this from blogger / writer / culinary historian Gill Polack.  This is actually pretty much my dream Giant Thief review, so everything from here on in will likely be a disappointment, but I suppose I can't blame that on Gill.  Of the many quotable bits, I think I'm going to pick this out as my favourite, if only because it looks like it might be pretty negative until you get to the end:

 "It's an old-fashioned novel. It's not big and it's not pretentious. It's non-stop and full of incident (often bloody incident, but incident). It is, however, entirely charming."

Then, yesterday, I found this from Fantasy Nibbles, which is almost as positive, but does actually list a criticism ... and a fair one, damn it all!  Still, how wounded can my pride be when I get quotes like this?

This really is a fun read. Saltlick is adorable, I want one! It’s straightforward, linear, smack down the middle fast-paced goodness.

Last, and not really a review as such, but The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review picks up on the opening line of Giant Thief for lavish praise, and notes that eighty pages in, it's "given [him] a perpetual grin so far."

And all that in the first week!  Bloody hell!  Will week two bring the inevitable-seeming critical backlash?  Can anyone beat that Gill Pollack review?  Guess I'll just have to wait and see...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Film Ramble: The Beginner's Guide to Anime (Part One)

A few weeks ago I was talking movies with my cousin Stuart (who, by the way, happens to be a terrific photographer - see here), and by way of me pointing out how Inception is awfully similar to Satoshi Kon's brilliant Paprika, he explained that he'd never been able to get into anime because he didn't know where to begin.

I promised I'd drop him over a list of a few films that would let him ease his way in.  Then I forgot all about it.  Then a few days later, I remembered.  Then it occurred to me that said list would make a good blog post, since I've noticed a few times that even amongst genre fans, there seem to be plenty of people who don't go anywhere near anime.  I'm not sure why that is, but my guess is that they've heard about the more cliched aspects of the genre and just aren't turned on by the thought of Japanese schoolgirls piloting giant robots.

But the truth is that statistically only 76% percent of anime feature schoolgirls, a mere 82% include giant robots, and a paltry 43% have both together.  That still leaves plenty of room for other stuff.  And I'm not talking tentacle-porn here.  There are a whole host of anime movies that don't have any Japanese schoolgirls, giant robots or tentacle-porn.

Okay, so maybe anime can be a little impenetrable at times.  So with that in mind, I've gone ahead and made my list.  It definitely isn't a top ten, since I'm hardly qualified to write one.  Instead, it's a list of ten utterly fantastic films that I'd like to think just about anyone who enjoys a good movie can get something out of.

Or at least it's part one of said list.  Because they just don't make these weekend things long enough anymore.

Ghost in the Shell

I'm always mystified when I come across sci-fi fans that haven't seen Ghost in the Shell.  Fifteen years on, Mamoru Oshii's meditative, visceral cyberpunk classic still feels futuristic, and its animation and imagery remain stunning.  It spawned a sequel and a TV series, and all of them rate amongst the finest science fiction ever put to film.


 


Summer Wars

The most recent movie on this list, Summer Wars is a masterpiece of  over-ambition. Director Hosoda somehow rolls together family drama, comedy, romance, a mind-blowing cyberworld and sharp social critique into one mad, exhilarating and constantly entertaining package that never loses its footing.  Perhaps more than anything here, Summer Wars is a great first step into the world of anime.



Akira

Akira's awesomeness has become a bit of a cliche, as year by year it continues to resist looking or feeling dated.  Bizarre posthumanism, ultraviolence, a lavish attention to detail and the coolest motorbike ever conceived by human minds all add up to make Akira one of those movies that can somehow influence just about everything that follows it and yet still seem completely fresh.



Princess Mononoke

Every film Hayao Miyazaki  has ever made could argue its way into a top ten of great anime movies.  But for me, Princess Mononoke was the wake-up call.  A better fantasy film has never been made, and for once the US dub did it full justice, with Neil Gaiman on translation duties and a cast including Claire Danes, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson.  Mononoke is glorious, exhilarating myth-making that makes most western equivalents look hopelessly unimaginative by comparison.



Metropolis

No, not that Metropolis.  Except ... well, it sort of is.  Imagine Fritz Lang's masterpiece as an animation incorporating cutting edge CGI (well, ten year old CGI that still looks cutting edge) and refracted through the weird lens of Japanese culture and maybe given a little of the heart that was missing from the original, then chuck in a couple of traditional anime tropes taken in unexpected directions and dial it all up to eleven - and you'll have something a bit like director Rintaro's modern classic.  Only not quite so brilliant.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lightspeed Year One Anthology Out (Also, Gigantic)

For a long, long time I made a point of reading every word of every publication I had work out in.  It was partly to judge what I'd signed on to, of course, and partly to see what other writers were up to.  But mostly it just felt like the right thing to do.  So much effort had gone into that book or magazine, some of it was mine, and knowing how much it meant for me that people read my story seemed a damn good reason to read everyone else's.

So it's been one of the sadder aspects of this crazy year that I haven't had the time to do that anymore.  My reading time is more limited that ever before, a few stolen minutes before bed and the occasional lunch break.  But maybe more than that, there's been the tectonic, life-redefining game-changer that is the Giant Thief deal.  As my writing focus has shifted drastically towards novels, my reading has necessarily followed, leaving me next to no time for short stories or anything much else.
One thing's for sure, though.  I'm going to read the Lightspeed Year One anthology from cover to cover if it kills me.

Which it might.  Because the thing is huge.  We're talking forty-eight stories here ... if you drop that on your toe, it's going to hurt.  And if that happens while you're driving a car or piloting a zeppelin or some such, there's a very real chance of violent death.  

Not that I'm planning to read it under those circumstances.  I'm more thinking of curling up with it over my Christmas break, maybe with a glass of cheap sherry close at hand.  In fact, I'll be doing everything I reasonably can to minimise the life-threatening aspects of the experience, because I'd really like to just chill and enjoy this one.  SF's pretty much my favourite genre when it comes to short fiction, and by most accounts, the stuff John Joseph Adams put out in his first year is high amongst the best that anyone's published over the last twelve months.  Plus there are those reprints of classic tales, quite a few of them by people I'm hopelessly in awe of.  I mean, Joe HaldemanThe Forever War was one of the books, maybe even the book, that brought me back to sci-fi after a far-too-long sabbatical - and later, Forever Peace blew my mind almost as much.  Then there's Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin - all writers who changed my perceptions of what it was possible to do with genre fiction, not to mention teaching me what I wanted to do with it.  One thing I haven't stopped doing this year is geeking out to a ridiculous degree when I see my name alongside my writerly heroes.

Finally, while I'm nearly on the subject ... it was great to stumble over the news that John J Adams has taken over ownership, on top of his existing editorship, of both Lightspeed and Fantasy from Prime Books. John's a terrific editor, I'm sure he'll be a terrific publisher, and I wish him the best of luck.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Best Of Necrotic Tissue Out, and Other News


I felt a real twinge when R Scott McCoy's crazy baby bit the dust.  Because although the word gets flung about a lot in genre circles, there aren't many 'zines around that are really willing to go down the pulp route, and there was something deliriously pulpy about Necrotic Tissue.  From its lurid covers to its blood-splattered interiors to the recklessly grotesque tales it filled those fourteen issues with, NT went places no one else was going.  Even just Googling it brought up  disturbing results.

I don't know that something as weird as Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams could have fit so nicely anywhere else.  And I was very glad when Scott saw fit to pick it for his Best Of Anthology ... which, if you happen to be in the market for a good horror collection, you can pick it up at Amazon here.

Also, while I remember, I discovered recently that someone's written a poem based on Zachary Hunt's fantastic illustration for Caretaker, which appeared alongside the Shadowcast podcast.  Does that count as fan fiction?  Will the fact that it doesn't stop me from pretending it does?

As for that other news... 

First up, not only has Adrian Tchaikovsky been saying nice things about Giant Thief, he's gone and written an article that takes it and Damasco as examples to talk about the changing role of the thief archetype in fantasy literature.  Which, obviously, is a subject close to my heart.  I had definite ways in mind that I wanted to make Damasco stand out from what I saw as the traditional fantasy thief ... but looking back, I wasn't necessarily basing those ideas on a whole lot.  So in a way, Adrian's article reads like the research I should have done before I started.  Now I'm going to have to go read all those other books he mentions!  Except it's probably not going to happen any time soon, because I've just started Adrian's own much-adored Shadows of the Apt series, and I'm sucked in enough that I suspect I might have to plow on till the end now.  Which is currently about five thousand pages away!

Couple more things, a bit rushed because it's way past my tea time ... the TOC is up for the Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations collection, to be published early next year by Dark Moon Books.  I've had high hopes for this one for a while now, and some of those story titles have built them up even further.

And there on the right, badly photographed on the floor of my lovely new house, is my first ARC.  When Lee told me it was going in the post, I had images of zapping Nazi's with freaky Angel of Death powers, Indy style, but it turns out ARC in this context stands for Advanced Review Copy.

Still.  Neat, huh?


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Dancing in the Winter Rooms Out in Electric Velocipede

A quick post for this one - it's my birthday, goldarn it! - but please don't let that make it seem like I'm not buzzed as hell about both story and market.

I think that if wacky, misguided aliens invaded and threatened to eradicate all my work from existence but for one story (and I realise this may be an unlikely scenario, but then again maybe it happens three times a week, because really, how would you know?) then Dancing in the Winter Rooms might just be that story.  We've been apart for a while, me and Dancing, for reasons we'll come to in a moment.  And usually, when I return to a story after a long absence, all I can see is the flaws.  Not so with this one.

Don't get me wrong, it has flaws all right.  I mean, when I first wrote Dancing, I thought I'd invented the whole Millennium Ship concept.  The harsh blow that this wasn't, in fact, the desperately original idea I thought it was set me off on a five year reading program that basically involved digesting all of the Gollancz Fantasy and SF masterworks series.  But that's another story.  Point is, Dancing in the Winter Rooms isn't the genre-inventing sci-fi revolution I once thought it might be.

I don't care.  I love Millennium Ships, I loved flawed heroes.  And I love the hell out of Doc, fool that he is.

As for Electric Velocipede ... it looked for a while as if John Klima's Hugo Award-winning baby might never make it to issue 23.  I've seen plenty of markets go down since I started selling fiction, and I have boundless respect for John for rescuing EV from that fate.  It takes a lot to come back from the brink, let alone to do it with such style.  It was a little over two years between Dancing in the Winter Rooms being accepted and it being published, and the wait was worth it.  Because the fact that I got to see this particular story published the day after I moved into the first home I can truly call my own is oddly perfect.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

One Week After Two Days Later

So did Match win that Two Days Later film contest I was babbling about a few weeks ago then?

(If you didn't read the post then, long story short, Match is the short film I co-wrote with my friend Loz, and and the Two Days Later film contest is ... er ... a film contest we entered it into.)

Did we win?  Well, not exactly.  But we did do pretty damn well.

Left to right: Me, Loz Axe, a small gold gargoyle and Slade Lamey.
Out of thirteen award categories, Match got nominated in eight.  And of the remaining five, we weren't even eligible for four.  The odd one out, though, Best Editing, is still a slight sore spot for Loz and co-director Slade, what with them both being professional editors and all.

But they can't complain too hard.  Because of those eight nominations, (being ... deep breath ... Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Audience Best Popular Vote and Best Short Film) we walked off with four wins: Sound, Director, Screenplay and the audience vote.  And all the films that beat us in the other categories were undeniably deserving - or in the case of grand prize winner 58, flat out excellent.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it's not the winning but the - actually, no, the winning was  awesome.  We got to go up on the stage and they gave us prizes and for the Audience Vote one they even made us pose with a chilling efigy of shiny evil, which Loz got to keep and can now wait to see how long before it comes alive and eats his kidneys.  And it turns out that if there are three of you, four awards is exactly the ideal number to win, because you all get to go up for one each and then you all go up together and then after that your feet are tired and you're kind of shellshocked and you really just want to sit down and finish your beer and work out what you've actually won, since all the time you were on the stage and they were telling you about that stuff you're brain was going "la la la" and it was a bit like what you'd imagine being kidnapped by aliens would be like.

(What we actually won, by the way, turned out to be DVDs and T-shirts and beer and these brilliant mock-up movie posters of Match.  And about a kerzillion copyright vouchers.  Seriously, if you need a film copyrighting, let me know.)


But while the winning was definitely great, the taking part was plenty good too.  Afterwards - at the afterparty, no less! - we got to hang out with the 58 crew, and most of the other award winners too.  And everyone was nice and unpretensious and only too willing to geek about each others' films and - well, drunk mostly.  The atmosphere all the way through was terrific, and worth the trip in itself.

Anyway.  In case you were wondering, (and while I figure out how to embed it), you can watch the (multi-award winning!) short Match here.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Passive Resistance in Redstone SF

Have I really hit my two hundredth post?  Two hundred posts!  Bloody hell!  I feel old.

Oh well.  To cheer me up, there's the fact that Redstone Science Fiction have just published my story Passive Resistance.

Passive Resistance sure had a troubled time making its way out into the world.  But since this is post two hundred and all, let's accentuate the positive!  Anyone who's interested can finally experience my high speed cyberpunk-for-the-computer-illiterate sci-fi oddity for themself.  I got to do my first interview that's actually about me, rather than a particular story, and thus managed to warble ill-informedly about such diverse topics as the London riots, the highs and lows of writing in far too many genres at once, and ... well ... me stuff.  On top of that, I got to be published alongside Amanda C. Davis again.  I decided a while back that Amanda was one of the best genre writers working today, pretty much solely on the basic of her story being the undeniable highpoint of that awful Zombonauts anthology we were both in.  What do you know?  Turns out I was right.

So there we are.  Two hundred posts.  A long and bloody road travelled since Monday the 2nd of July 2007.  What will post four hundred be?  I hope I have a cyborg arm by then.  Or at least a condo on Mars.  I'd even settle for one of those hoverboards that got passe before anyone even had time to invent them.  Of course, at the rate I'm going, I should hit four hundred somewhere in 2015, so probably a cure for the common cold is way too much to ask.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Crown Thief Update: Not the End, but a Good Start

It looks as though I'll have plenty to talk about here in November - not least, the results of the Two Days Later short film contest I was at on Saturday - so I figure this might be the last opportunity I have in a while to ramble about the one thing eating up my life more than any other: the first redraft of Crown Thief.

I've been thinking a lot about something I've mentioned here before - the fact that the more I write, the less the words THE END seem to mean much.  In the movies, typing those two little words is as final as dying.  It's up there with huge explosions and riding into sunsets in the list of things that nicely round out a film.  Once those two words go down, the author gets to tear the last page from their typewriter with a flourish, slap it on the neat pile at the end of their desk and take a well earned holiday.  They're done.  They have created.

It's an alluring myth.  It's suspect it's done more to confuse aspiring writers than any other.  Because there's something deeply appealling in the idea that when you're finished, you're finished.  That's makes sense, right?  That's only fair.  But what I've slowly come to discover is, the possibility that something is never really done with can be just as attractive.  In lots of ways, the end of a first draft is where things just start to get interesting.

Case in point: Crown Thief.  I made some big goofs in the first draft of Crown Thief.  I reached points were I had to press on regardless, just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.  I wrote lines I knew were lousy, lines that did nothing but move the plot along, lines that did not a lot of anything.  I wrote passages that had all the pace of a gut-shot sloth and passages that skipped over vital plot points because I couldn't figure how to work them in.

And looking back, all of that needed to be done.  I had to let myself screw up in the short term, safe in the knowledge I could go back and fix what was broken.  Because, for my own sanity if nothing else, I had to nail my deadline, and then meant making mistakes.

But damn is it a lot more satisfying to get it right.

Which is, I guess, the point of this post.  Two months through the four I've alloted for my second draft, somewhat ahead of schedule, I'm definitely liking the fact that when I get to the end of each revised chapter, it's more often with satisfaction than cringing and a vague sense of horror.  Just over half way through, I've shaved off over six thousand words; I've rebuilt chapters from the ground up, even mashed multiple chapters together in a couple of places. I feel like I'm slowly but steadily dealing with everything I knew was wrong.  I feel like this is the book I had in my head, and in places, something that's even a little better.  If it's still a ways from perfect, I hope that by the time I finish this time, it'll at least be consistently good.

And after that?  I've got two months to figure out how I make it really good.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 7: Publicity

More and more these days, writers are expected to take a hand in their own publicity.  Gone are the times - if they ever existed - where you could sit back while your publishers did the legwork.  The price of having the power to go out into the digiverse and connect with your potential audience is that, with so many people doing it, it's increasingly hard to be a writer and choose not to.  You have to have a website.  You have to blog.  You have to attend conferences and do interviews and attack perfect strangers in the street whilst wearing a sandwich board proclaiming that your book is the only thing between them and the coming apocalypse.

Okay, so maybe that last one isn't mandatory.  But it can't hurt, right?

So I'm always a bit astonished when I come across small press publishers who aren't doing this things - or are doing them so badly that they might as well not bother.  Because when it comes to promotion, it makes sense that the rules that apply to the learning writer should also apply to the learning editor.  You can't assume people will hear about what you're doing of their own accord.  Chances are, they won't.  Unless you push your work into people's faces, you're far more likely to disappear amidst the clutter.  It isn't a question of how good your product is - or not at first, at any rate.  The clutter is vast, and your product, however good it may be, is small.  Too small for word of mouth.  Too small for your audience to stumble over it by accident.

Now you may not want to judge your readership in terms of numbers.  Because it can be kind of cool to have a tiny readership, right?  You may only have a hundred readers, but that actually means a hundred fans who come back month after month.  This isn't a casual audience; this is people who love the hell out of what you're doing.  Aren't they worth more than a few thousand half-hearted readers who'll be drifting onto whatever the next shiny thing to attract their attention is before the week is out?

Possibly. Only, readers are only one side of the equation.  Readers come for any number of reasons, the quality of the fiction you're punting hopefully somewhere high on the list.  Writers have two main motivations: they want payment or they want exposure.  And since this article is aimed specifically at the small press, we can assume the first one wasn't their prime motivation in seeking you out.  Which means, that writer whose story you just accepted?  They want you to get people to read it.

Not only that.  They want people to talk about it.  They want reviews.  They want comments on your website or blog.  They want evidence that you haven't just dropped their work into a deep, dark electronic hole and are now sat listening to hear if it ever hits the bottom.  Mostly, they want their career to be a little stronger, their readership a little wider, because of you accepting their fiction.

Which still shouldn't translate to, aim your magazine at the lowest common denominator.  By all means, gun for that smart, informed, confrontational readership; chances are, those are exactly the kind of readers your writers want to see engaging with their work.  But these days, however small your niche may be, chances are there are still a few thousand people out there who'll find it interesting.  Just because you only accept haiku about space-faring rodents, doesn't mean it's okay to have a readership in single figures.

On to the ill-informed advice section of this wacky diatribe!  And I don't remember doing bullet points in a while, so let's have some of those...
  • Keep a website and a blog.  Keep them updated.  Few things are more off-putting in the online world than the blog that has seemingly gone dead.  If you've nothing to say, come up with an excuse for a lengthy and rambling series of posts and work it like an eight year old in a Victorian cotton mill.
  • Network.  Be it Facebook, Twitter or fliers at bus stops, hunt your readership.  With night vision goggles and rhino tranqs if need be.
  • Find out what sites review magazines and submit to them.  Then post their reviews on your blog, website and social networking venues of choice.
  • Offer your readers somewhere they can talk about the fiction you publish - be it a letters page, a forum, or the option to leave comments after each piece.  Encourage them to talk at you.
  • Do one of those irritating newsletters that everyone deletes the absolute instant it appears in their inbox.  
  • Or else maybe not that last one.
Conclusion:

You want readers.  Your writers want readers.  Your readers want fiction by great writers, but those great writers are only going to submit if you can build your readership, and...

Oh.  wait.  Catch 22.

Promotion, eh?  It's a whole big contradictory bag of monkeys.  But that doesn't mean you can get away with not doing it.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Are We in Hollywood Yet?

A few weeks ago, my mate Loz - the same one I recently blogged about going to Frightfest with - suggested we throw together a script for the Two Days Later short film competition, which he'd then go off and direct.

This isn't the first time Loz has entered a film competition.  Take this, for example, a mock-up trailer for a horror film I really goddamn want to see.   Nor would it be the first time we'd scripted together - but that's another story, that I hope I'll get to ramble on about at great length some day.

Apparently I was totally dismissive when Loz pitched his idea to me.  This was in Leicester Square, outside the Odeon there, after one of the Frightfest screenings.  I only vaguely remember the conversation.  Possibly it was after the Wicker Tree screening and I was hating on all things celluloid.

Whatever I said, Loz had enough sense not to listen.  The weekend after, he asked me to go over a rough draft he'd put together.  It was very neat, a simple setup leading into a creepy horror sequence that wasn't quite like anything I'd ever seen before.  But, like every first draft in history, it wasn't all there.  And the bits that ran away with my attention weren't always the bits Loz was focusing on.  Of the two characters, a young single mother and the deeply odd stranger she'd invited back after a night on the town, it was the single mum who drew me.  In my head, she quickly became a woman trying to balance boundless love for her child with the notion that maybe, just maybe, she shouldn't have to give up her whole life to motherhood.

I happened to be hanging out at Loz's house that weekend, and I spent a couple of hours hammering out a second draft.  Mostly I just tweaked, trying to prod it towards that idea - that you can love someone and still resent the hell out of them for the hold they have on your life.  That maybe, just sometimes, you wish they'd go away and let you have a little fun.  The result wasn't exactly Mamet or Sorkin, but it was a nice vignette, with one two-line exchange at its centre that seemed to sum up everything perfectly.  Here it is, completely out of context: 

SOPHIE
(Hopeful, yet suspicious)
Yeah? Ever think about being a dad?

STAN
Ever think about not being a mum?


I think the first line was Loz's and the second line was mine.  Our contributions pretty much balanced out that way.  After my pass, we went for a walk - in the rain, as it turned out - and wrestled with what we figured to be the remaining glitches.  Despite the rain, it was a lot of fun.  If I remember rightly, we finally figured out the end while sheltering under a tree, trying to balance the risk of getting wet with the risk of getting fried to a crisp by lightning.

A week or two later, Loz (who I should probably have mentioned, is a professional video editor by day) went off and hooked up with a couple of other mates who also happened to be professionals in the film and TV industry and roped in a couple of professional actors and all together they filmed our script.  Then Loz and his co-editor / director Slade spent twenty three solid hours editing their raw footage within an inch of its life.

The result is Match.  And - not so surprisingly, I guess - it looks pretty damn professional.  Mid last week, I found out it had been shortlisted for the competition.  Having seen what Loz, Slade and crew managed to throw together out of our script, I wasn't a bit surprised.  So in a couple of weeks, I get to go to Kent and watch the first short film I've had a hand in writing on a cinema screen.

Which, when you're a complete film nerd, is just absurdly cool.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

For Reading: Flash Interview, Never Published


Given the fact that not a lot has been happening this week and that I've been suffering with some kind of quirky post-Fantasycon lurgy, tonight's blogticle is going to be a particularly lazy one.

About a year back, I posted about how I'd been approached by a student named Heather Vann, who asked if I wouldn't mind her writing an article on my story Strive to be Happy and then for the story to be republished alongside her article at flashfiction.net.

Well, I didn't mind and Heather wrote her piece.  But a further part of the plan was that she'd ask me some questions to serve as a companion to Strive, and this last bit, so far as I can tell, fell through somewhere down the line.  Well waste not, want not, right?  So I've decided I might as well run the interview here, on the grounds that someone somewhere might find it interesting - but much more so because I've had lurgy and nothing much is happening and it took me bloody ages to come up with the answers.

Thanks to Heather for the questions, me for the answers and Ernest Hemmingway for the post title.

-oOo-

How long have you been writing?  Can you pinpoint a certain source, moment, etc. when you became involved in writing?

I've been writing off and on since I was at school, but it was about five years ago that I really began to take it seriously.  I'd reached a point where I didn't feel my life was going how I wanted it to go, and I realised that for a long time my writing career had been more talk than action.  So I started thinking seriously about what I'd need to do to make it a reality, the kind of commitment it would take, and what I'd need to change in the rest of my life.  The answers I came back with were pretty tough.  But the more I considered it, the more I realised it was what I wanted - and needed - to be doing.

What drew you to writing flash fiction? 

Truth be told, it's not as if I write flash more than anything else.  I've written novels, a whole load of short stories - and even, at the other extreme, I've even had a couple of Twitter stories published.

Looking back to when I was regularly writing flash, though, I think the biggest appeal was the quick win aspect, closely followed by the scope for experimentation.  Flash is a brilliant learning tool, because you can get a complete first draft down in a single session.  If you're lucky, it might actually be publishable and if not all you've lost are a couple of hours of your life.  Plus, you get to take risks, have fun and try out things that couldn't sustain a longer story.

What advice would you offer to those who are new to flash fiction writing? 

That's a tricky question.  It's tempting to say that the advice for someone just starting to write flash would be the same as to anyone new to writing any kind of fiction.  But I guess there are specific challenges, and therefore skills, to writing very short stories.  So the first thing I'd say is that flash isn't necessarily a good starting point if you're new to writing.  It can be a quick option, but it certainly isn't an easy one.

That said ... I think flash perhaps rewards planning more than the average short story.  There are clear limits to what you can accomplish in what amounts to about two pages, and going off on a wrong tangent can be disastrous.  So take some time thinking through what you can realistically achieve with the wordage you have.  Every extraneous scene, character and sentence you put in will end up being cut at the redraft stage, so keep your concept simple and plan tight from the beginning.

Do you think there is a consistent theme or image you focus on throughout your different writings? 

No, not really.  I mostly write genre fiction - Horror, sci-fi, fantasy and a little bit of crime - and in genre fiction the story has to come first, you don't get to impose yourself in quite the way you perhaps can with literary fiction.  

That aside, I'm always trying to push myself, so if I thought I was putting out the same ideas time and again I'd deliberately try and shift away from that.  A big part of the appeal of writing for me is the imaginative scope.  There are no end of things to write about or ways to write about them, and every story has the potential to be a unique challenge, so why limit yourself?

What do you find the most challenging about flash fiction?

The challenge is the same thing that I love about it - you have to do everything in a thousand words or less.  It's not okay to say, "I didn't have any room for characterisation" or "I had to just skip the middle section," you have to do it all and you have to do it with far less words than you're accustomed to.

I've literally spent hours shaving away unneeded words and contracting phrases to keep a story under that magic thousand word mark - and I learned a lot in doing it.  If you want to tell a good story at flash length there's no room at all for waffle, and that's a valuable lesson, one you can take back to fiction of any length.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fantasycon 2011: I Was There and I Even Remember Most Of It

I should probably start by admitting that I saw next to nothing of Fantasycon 2011.  For that reason - and also because it's only the second one I've been to - you might want to take it with a pinch of salt when I say that it was the best Fantasycon EVER.  But, you know what?  You'd be wrong.  Because it really was.

For a start, there was the weather.  A seafront hotel in Brighton, on the hottest weekend of the year?  That's a good start right there.  Compare that with the concrete gulag that was last year's venue and you've already hit the ground running.  But the Royal Albion was a damn fine choice of venue by any definition.  Good food, nice staff, decent rooms, a floor plan that would have given Theseus a seizure, a reasonably priced bar (I'll be returning to this point later) ... I may not know a great deal about conventions or the organisation thereof, but I think those things pretty much speak for themselves.

Then add to that a load of great-sounding events - like those masterclass things I only managed to hear about after they were all booked up - and a ridiculous industry who's-who guest list,with not only famous FCon regulars like Ramsay Campbell, Mark Morris and the lovely Sarah Pinborough, but guests like Joe Abercrombie, John Lindqvist and Brian Aldiss (Brian bloody Aldiss!)

So how come I saw hardly any of the 'Con then?  I mean, if it was so great and there were so many exciting things to do and so many neat authors to be in awe of?  Well, unfortunately, this is where we come back to that reasonably priced bar.  Okay, that and the fact that my friend and Endangered Weapon B artist Bob Molesworth happens to live in Brighton and most of Saturday was taken up by him and his girlfriend taking me to a fantastic pub and introducing me to Dave's Comics, the greatest comic shop I've ever seen.

But ... yeah ... mainly it was the bar.

That said, it seems only right to focus the rest of this post on a handful of the people who kept me company through my Fantasycon 2011 experience:

First up has got to be Lavie Tidhar.  If you don't know Lavie then you almost certainly weren't at Fantasycon; if you do know him, it's probably because he's one of the most reliably fascinating writers (notice how I didn't say genre writers) working today.  To me, though, Lavie's my Zeno and Angry Robot stablemate and the guy who kept me company throughout much of the weekend, shared his encyclopedic knowledge of everyone there and introduced me to most of them, and generally entertained the hell out of me.  My biggest regret of the conference is being too broke (and okay, too cheap) to buy his latest, the fascinating-looking Osama.

Then there's Alison Littlewood, who I've known for a fair old while now and been published besides on more than a few occasions, and who really couldn't deserve her recent deal with Jo Fletcher books more.  A Cold Season is going to be an absolute stunner.  And I'm damn glad we're not working in the same genre, since in the freakiest of coincidences, me and Ali are launching on exactly the same day*, and she would totally steal all my readers.  Ali, if you read this, apologies for missing your reading like I promised not to do.  At that point, I'd been asleep for precisely three and a half hours.  It was a long Saturday night.

But if there was one thing that really made the hell out of my weekend, it was meeting Mike Carey.  And not just meeting him, but getting to hang out with him for about an hour at the Jo Fletcher launch, drinking free wine and anatomising his career in great and minute detail.  Following on from my similar idiocy last year, my way of introducing myself to Mike was by professing my admiration for something he never actually wrote, and the fact that the conversation didn't end right there is testimony to the fact that he's - and I don't say this lightly! - the nicest person who also happens to be one of the top five writers working in the comics industry working today I've ever met.

Of course, I ran into a whole lot of other people, and most of them were completely brilliant.  The fact that I don't know their names has no relation to the merits of their conversation and everything to do with the fact that my memory is crap at the best of times and even worse when drowned in alcohol.  That and the way the name badges had apparently been designed to turn around at the slightest excuse, meaning everyone ended up being called           .  So ...              whoever you were and wherever you may be, thanks for hanging out and listening to whatever alcohol-fuelled ridiculousness I happened to be coming out with.

(Odds were, I was boring the hell out of you about how I met Mike Carey.)

So next year?  Next year I'm going to actually make some events.  And readings.  And signings.  I'm going to do all those things that make a convention a convention and not just a load of industry folks propping up a bar like it's the last bar on earth and if it should ever fall the sun will immediately implode and annihilate all life in the universe.

I will.

I'm not even kidding here.


* (that'd be the 2nd of February 2012, incidentally)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Second Commission, Now With Added Brains

I mentioned a few posts back that I had my first story commission recently, when editor Eric Guignard approached me about his forthcoming Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations anthology.  In that post, I also kind of hinted at the fact that, almost straight away afterwards, I was approached by another editor with a whole 'nother request for my work.  Then I left the whole thing hanging on bit of an artificial cliffhanger, maybe striving for a sense of tension that wasn't entirely there or just bemusedly trying to draw a lengthy post to some sort of close.  Who can say?

Well ... me, obviously.  The truth is, I was being deliberately vague because, although said publisher had asked me for a contribution, they hadn't actually seen what I'd come up with.  And it was entirely possible that I'd send them my story and they'd never, ever, ever be in touch again, perhaps blocking my e-mail address just to be on the safe side.  Or else write back blaming me for the break-up of their marriage.  Or reveal that the whole thing had been some vicious and spectacularly mistimed April Fools joke.

In a pleasantly surprising fashion, none of those things have happened.  So here, belatedly, are the details I held back (or didn't know because they were about to happen in the future) in that last post.

Almost literally straight after me and Eric hashed out the last details for The Door Beyond the Water, and just after Eric let me know that the collection had been picked up by indie horror press Dark Moon Books, I got another e-mail - this one from Stan Swanson, editor and publisher at Dark Moon.  Coincidence?  Whatever the opposite is of a coincidence?  I have no idea.  All I know is, Stan was writing to know if I might be interested in putting forward a story for Dark Moon's forthcoming Slices of Flesh anthology.

You just know that's not going to be a compilation of soul-searching romantic novellas, don't you? And that's probably a good thing, because I have absolutely none of those lying around.  (Well, okay, one.  But I'm saving that for the day Mills and Boon come knocking.)  No, what Stan was after was horror flash fiction.

Only, it was a little more interesting than that.  First of all, Stan happened to mention in that initial e-mail is that he'd already picked up a bunch of very big names.  I'm not sure how many of these are meant to be public knowledge yet, so I'll hold fire on the full compendium of famousness - but even at that early point, some true celebrities of horror had thrown their hats in with Stan. Reason being?  Well, aside from the fact that horror flash fiction is a basically good thing, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that all proceeds from Slices of Flesh will be going to charity - with, the last I heard, the main beneficiary being the Literary Project of America.

But there's one more thing.  And it's a thing that would have sold me on the project all by itself.  The cover artist for this prospective anthology?  It's Mike Mignola.  Now, normally when I namecheck someone, I'd give a bit of a bio for those who've somehow missed their work.  But honestly, if you don't know who Mike Mignola is then you just plain should.  Click on the link.  Seriously.  I'm not even asking here.

Oh, and my story?  It's the (maybe a bit too) provocatively named Wetback.  It has zombies.  If you've been following my work even slightly over the last few years, you've probably noticed I have a soft spot for writing the walking dead.  I think this one's a little different though, what with the zombie being the main protagonist and all.  Not a new idea I know, but I'm still hoping this is a take that hasn't exactly been seen before.

And it's going to be behind a Mike Mignola cover.

Squee.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Yes, We Have a Cover

You know what's really amazing?  That cover right there.

And the fact that I get to show it off here, now that Angry Robot have officially announced it.

And the way it has my name on.  See?  In big letters at the bottom there.  "David Tallerman".  That's me!  No, really, it is.

As for that dashing but shifty-looking bloke in the foreground?  That's Easie Damasco.  The reason he has a big, suspicious-looking bag in his hand?  That's because he steals stuff.  A lot.  Anything that's not nailed down and might be valuable, really.  Nothing is too small and nothing's too big to attract his criminal attentions.  Take, for instance a giant.  Which, funnily enough, is exactly what Damasco does.  Take a giant, I mean.  Because the giant was there, he wasn't nailed down, and as I hope we've established by now, Damasco is very into stealing things.

So that explains the title there.  I mean, this isn't a book about a giant who's also a thief.  Although, come to think of, it is that too.  Not that Saltlick (the giant's name is Saltlick) wants to get dragged into such things.  Oh no.  He just wants to go home, and maybe save his people from being forced into someone else's war by a tyrannical warlord along the way.  But when you end up spending time around someone like Easie Damasco, however inadvertently, bad things start to happen...

So there we have it.  Giant Thief now officially has a cover, and I hope you'll agree, it's an absolute stunner.  Thanks to Marc at Angry Robot for making it happen, for taking my comments into account, and most of for listening to my thoughts on who would be an ideal artist for GT.  And thanks to Angelo Rinaldi for being that ideal artist, for happening to be available at the right time - and for doing such a truly amazing job.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Giant Thief, Meet Crown Thief

It may sound odd, but until now, my upcoming novel Giant Thief and its half-completed sequel Crown Thief have mostly existed as two very separate entities in my mind.  That has a lot to do with the fact that Giant Thief was more or less complete by the time I started Crown Thief, which then more or less dominated my attentions for the subsequent six months.  Where Giant Thief was pretty much a done deal, Crown Thief was most definitely a work in progress, complete with steadily approaching deadline, so my brain's been tending to sideline the former in favour of the latter in a major way for quite a while now.

But there have been clear rumblings from the Giant Thief camp for a while, and now - with the release date less than six months away - it's most definitely becoming a going concern again.  At the start of the week I got the copy edit back, which was unlaborious enough to make me think that doing five major redrafts wasn't so crazy after all.  Meanwhile, I got a look at an early pencil sketch of the cover a few weeks ago, and it was pretty amazing.  Then, a couple of days ago, I got to see the painted (painted!) version and ... yeah.

I really wish I could show it off right here and now.  I wish I could at least announce who the artist is, because it's someone I've got a ton of admiration for, and I'm sure he (clue there!) has plenty of fans elsewhere.  But that would be cheating.  Because I'm pretty sure we'll be at the official reveal point soon, and until then, I can amuse myself by drooling over the copy on my desktop.  I tell you though, for someone who think patience is something hospitals have, it's proving a hell of a struggle.

So the Giant Thief stuff is getting exciting, to say the least.  But there's also real work to be done, and the real work is the second draft of Crown Thief.  And it really is real work.  Much of this week has been spent hammering the first two slow, expositionary chapters into one single lightning-fast introductory slap about the jowls.  Seriously, I'm a week in and I've already excised five thousand words.  This is editing from the Edward Scissorhands school.  If Crown Thief was a Miramax movie, Harvey Weinstein would be telling me to rein it in a little.  It's a crazy, scary process, but it feels like the right thing to do.

The upshot of all this is that my brain - a device prone to sticking its metaphorical fingers in its ears in the face of fearsomely big ideas - is slowly absorbing the fact that I have my first novel coming out pretty damn soon.  And that that novel leads into another novel which is also going to be coming out in the not too distant future, if I can just finish it and hammer out the glitches. 

Of course, while all that's going on, I really ought to be putting together that synopsis for book three...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Film Ramble: Frightfest 2011 (Part 2)

Below's the second part of my Frightfest 2011 write-up; if you happened to miss part 1, you can find it here.

Sunday's Frightfest session began bright and early - perhaps a bit too early! - with The Divide.   I was looking forward to this one, mostly because I'm a sucker for anything post-apocalyptic and you don't get much more post-apocalyptic than a film about a group of survivors holing up in the basement of their building when nukes start raining from the sky.  

Sadly, for me anyway, the sci-fi element in The Divide is minimal, little more than a stunning opening shot and a brief interlude towards the midway point.  Director Xavier Gens opts instead to concentrate on how his disparate band interact in increasingly desperate, appalling circumstances. As such, there's little here that feels particularly new, but it's definitely effective, more so than many a similar film.  You know things are going to get bad for these people, and sooner rather than later, but finding out who snaps and how and why - and just how far they'll go when they do - is compelling nevertheless.  Gens directs his cast and claustrophobic location well, and said cast are uniformly great, keeping their characters human even while comitting acts at the far end of the scale from what we like to think of as humanity.  A little more invention on the sci-fi side might have made it a minor classic; as it is, if you need your faith in mankind crushing in a gutwrenching manner, you could do plenty worse than The Divide.

Next came Ti West's follow up to The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers.  Me and fellow Frightfestee Loz disagreed massively on House of the Devil; Loz loved it, I admired its style but found its substance mostly lacking.  But given how promising HotD was, I had sure hopes for better this time around.  And at first, it looked like I might even get it.  Though a little slow-paced, the opening half of The Innkeepers sets up two likeable characters amidst an interesting premise, as hotel clerks Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, both great) joke around and bicker whilst half-heartedly investigating the soon-to-be-closed-down establishment's history of ghostly goings on.  Sadly, the more it developed, the more obvious it got that the ghost story element - the part I really wanted to be impressed by - wasn't half so well thought out as the character drama.  And for me, the final few minutes sold both short.  That said, Loz loved this one too, and I won't be surprised if many other people do too.  In particular, Paxton was a revelation, and it would be nice if this performance helps draw her out of the mire of Z-grade awfulness she seems to have found herself in.


Our third film was the one I'd been least sure of at the bookings stage.  A microbudget tale of urban vampirism, Midnight Son definitely had the potential to go either way. As such, it turned out to be one of the festival's nicer surprises that it was mostly a success.  Grungy and melancholy, Midnight Son picks at the mythology of vampirism like an old scab, and succesfully finds a little fresh blood waiting underneath.


Okay, it isn't half as original as it perhaps thinks it is, with explanations of and parrallels with vampirism that have all been seen before elsewhere.  But it's committed and convincing, and it's been long enough since other low-fi real world takes on vampirism, like Romero's Martin or Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, that it feels a lot fresher than it is.  In fact, perhaps its biggest triumph is in daring to behave as though it's just invented the vampire movie, and the meticulous, unapolagetic way in which it reveals the concept afresh is its greatest trick.  By the end, I was too caught up to care that I'd already seen a million other vampire flicks.  I can see Midnight Son finding an audience, if maybe not a cinema release, and  it's easy to imagine writer / director Scott Leberecht going on to bigger and better things.

Lastly came the film that everyone seemed to have been talking about throughout the weekend - or at least wearing the shoulderbag of.  Me and Loz were both expecting good things from Kill List, which seemed to be building an astonishing degree of word of mouth support on the barest handful of preview showings.

What I didn't expect was that it would be amongst the very best British horror films I've ever seen.  Ben Wheatley has crafted an impeccable mix of character drama, hitman movie and absolutely nightmarish horror, and come up with something so truly original and unnerving that it still has its hooks deep in my brain almost fourty eight hours later.  It starts out somewhere between Mike Leigh and David Lynch.  Then its gets weirder and darker (and funnier and sadder), through some narrative contortions that I'm still trying to get my head round and some scenes that will stay with me for a long, long time, to arrive at a last act that still feels more like a bad dream than something I actually sat in a room experiencing with other people.  Please don't let anyone spoil the plot for you; just take my word for this one.  Kill List is rare and brilliant work, and I'll be profoundly impressed if I see a better film this year.

One last thought, then - a conclusion of sorts.  Ye gads, that was a good two days of film!  My affection for horror cinema has been sapped in recent years, but this one weekend has restored my faith and then some.  Granted, most of the films I watched brought strong elements of other genres to the mix, but then, perhaps that's the message to take away; be it Norwegian fantasies about troll hunting, supernatural time-travel thrillers, or nightmare takes on the hitman genre, horror has wide borders.  Hollywood may spend its time recycling and sequeling genre classics into so much fertiliser, but elsewhere, brilliant chimeras are being born.  If Frightfest is anything at all to go by, horror cinema is in a very good place right now.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Film Ramble: Frightfest 2011 (Part 1)

I've gone a few days without a post here, but for once I've a very good reason: I spent every possible spare moment of the weekend watching horror movies in a cinema with my mate Loz, at this year's London-based Frightfest festival.

We caught a little of last year's Frightfest, but a lack of planning on our part, coupled with bad luck and bad timing, meant we only managed to make three movies, and those ranged from the merely okay down to the preposterously terrible.  This year, we were determined to do better.  There was heroic talk of doing the full five days, but that was soon dismissed as craziness, and our final compromise was to catch as many of the weekend showings as we could without risking exhaustion or knowingly putting ourselves through anything that was too unlikely to reward our efforts.

The end result was seven movies over two days, three on Saturday and four on Sunday.  And this time, there was no question of bad planning, let alone luck or timing.  We had our tickets booked well in advance (and even won a few for good measure), and everything we saw, with one sorry exception, was above average.  Not only that, we were lucky enough to catch a couple of stone-cold classics days before they get a general release.  In fact, almost everything we saw was a premier of one sort or another - which, by the way, is my excuse from yet another diversion from my self-imposed mandate for this blog.  Hopefully I can tip you off to some impressive movies you might otherwise miss, while steering you away from that one depressingly awful car crash of a picture.

Saturday began on a high note that looked set for a while to dwarf everything I saw for the remainder of the two days, in every possible sense.  Believe the hype, believe the splendid poster, for Troll Hunter is wonderful.  A horror-comedy fit to be mentioned alongside classics like An American Werewolf in London, it combines a dry but fundamentally silly sense of humour with much exciting (and sometimes awe-inspiring) action, all in service of a concept so basically demented that even the smallest slip in tone would have sent it spinning.  The greatest success of Troll Hunter is that it never slips, or never more than slightly.  It treats its central premise - that trolls are real and living hidden alongside us, kept secret by the government and a handful of individuals like the titular hunter - with just the right mix of playfulness and gravity, whilst constantly undercutting one with the other at just the right moments.  No one we spoke to had a bad word to say about it, I came out wanting to watch it again immediately, and all in all I'll be amazed if it isn't the huge international hit it deserves to be.


My fears that Troll Hunter was going to be the indomitable highlight of our mini-festival were only heightened by our next film: Robin Hardy's long awaited follow-up to his classic horror oddity The Wicker Man.  We knew the odds of it being remotely as good were slim, but nothing quite prepared us for how lacklustre, misjudged and all-round clumsy it turned out to be.  Half remake, half sequel, almost all bad, it confirmed  the vague impression I've always had that Hardy achieved Wicker Man's improbably successful combination of scares, comedy, eroticism, mythology and folk music more by luck than judgement.  The Wicker Tree is too lacking in tension to be frightening, too sleazy to be sexy, and despite the comedy being far more foregrounded this time, it's never particularly funny.  The folklore feels hotchpotch and unconvincing, much as it did in the (sad to say, barely worse) Neil LaBute remake.  Only the traditional songs really stand out, and those are cut away from far too quickly, as though Hardy no longer trusts his audience to stand for such things.  If only he'd paid so much attention to the average viewer's tolerance for predictable plotting, scant characterisation, bad jokes and seventies-style sexism...


Fortunately, things picked up straight away, as we moved over to the discovery screen for low-budget gem The Caller.  Its concept - a woman moves into a new apartment and starts receiving decidedly odd phone calls from a past tenant who, amongst other suspect traits, considers the Vietnam war current affairs - sounds hokey when you say it like that, but director Parkhill makes the right call in playing it straight and keeping character drama front and centre.  Rachelle LeFevre holds things together more than capably in the lead, playing one of the better-written female protagonists I've seen this year, and gets strong support from the always-great Luis Guzm├ín and a likeable Stephen Moyer.  More thriller than horror, it nevertheless offers a few effective and imaginative shocks.  Maybe more rewarding in the long term, though, is how it all adds up to a poignant study of how we define and are defined by the past, and of the cyclic, inescapable-seeming nature of abuse.

And that was saturday.  One classic, one well-above-average indy horror thriller, and a semi-sequel that would have done well to stay on the drawing board forever.  

Next post: Sunday.  The Divide, The Innkeepers, Midnight Son and Kill List fight it out in a big (cinematic) pit!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

This is Getting Ridiculous (in a Good Way, Obviously) ...

...but then, it isn't all that long since things were ridiculous in a bad way.

According to the absurdly overcomplicated spreadsheet I've been using for six years or so now to track my submissions, the longest I've gone between short fiction sales is 202 days, or a little under seven months.  However, since one of those publishers subsequently gave up the goat before putting out my story, that's a deceptive figure.  Does an acceptance that doesn't actually lead to a published story count for an awful lot?  Discounting that statistical anomaly then, the longest I've gone without a short fiction sale is a whopping 292 days.

To put that in some context, I submitted 103 stories during that period - a comparatively low number for me, but still a fair few.  For a bit more context, I should mention that this lengthy and alarming drought happened fairly recently, between July of last summer and April of this one.  My track record up until that point had been erratic, but I had a fair few sales behind me, many of them to professional and well-established semi-pro markets.  The stories I was sending out were a blend of old and new, which is usually the case with me.  I was submitting to a wide-ranging mix of recently established and long standing markets,  including a few who'd taken my work before; again, nothing particularly unusual about that.  All told, it was a fairly typical period - asides from the fact that the editors of the world seemed to have collectively decided to avoid my work like it was infected with rat cooties.

Then again, according to that selfsame spreadsheet, I've just now sold four stories in eight days.  I've already raved about the ones to Andromeda Spaceways, Nil Desperandum and Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations, and I was happy and willing to accept that I'd met my good news quota for August by the point that new (and already-best-selling-on-Amazon) pro market Digital Science Fiction got back to me to say they'd like to take my Across the Terminator.

Which is, of course, fabulous news - and all the more so for coming on the back of so much other fabulous news.  I seriously enjoyed the first issue of DSF, (which contained my Black Sun and can be purchased here should you have the urge), and I'm completely in awe of how they've comes out of nowhere to become one of the more impressive professional markets in little more than the blink of an eye.

But it does leave me wondering more than ever about the vicissitudes of this zany industry.

Average it all out, of course, and I definitely can't complain.  And even during that phenomenal dry patch, it's not as if there weren't plenty of other good things going on - like, oh say, the run-up to the three book deal with Angry Robot.  I realise there are bad times and good times in everything, and writing is no exception - to say the absolute least.  I mean, comparing the highs and lows of my day job to the highs and lows of my writing career would be to put a line of gently rolling hills and valleys up against a crazy mountain range.  No, I guess my point here is partly just "whee!  I sold another story to Digital Science Fiction!" and partly, "man, there really isn't any way to make sense of this stuff."

So come on, fellow writer types ... is it just me?  Or are these improbably compressed highs and months-long lows just par for the course?  Can anyone beat that better-part-of-a-year-long run of rejections?  Can any publishers offer wise words to explain all this apparent randomness? Is there a secret cabal involved?  Are names pulled from hats? Is any of this to do with that time I sacrificed a raccoon to Stephen King?