Sunday, 25 May 2014

On Tearing it Up and Starting Anew

One of the pieces of advice that came to me in my formative writing years* - I think it was in Lisa Tuttle's Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, though I may be wrong - was that as a matter of course you should shelve your finished work and then, after a suitable period of absence, begin it afresh.  Give it some thought and it's not hard to see the advantages of such an approach: with so much groundwork already done, your brain is freed up to learn from all the dumb mistakes you made the first time through and spew pure awesome.  But it's harder not to also see the obvious disadvantage, which is that getting anything finished would take a goddamn age and you'd constantly be throwing your babies out with your bathwater - which all else aside, is bound to lead to a severely clogged drain.

Anyway, as advice it stuck with me, at first because it went against everything I believed about the writing process and then later, once I'd actually given it a go and produced good work on the back of it, because I could see the soundness of it but still knew full well I'd never make it my standard working practice.  Because life is too short, writing careers can be shorter still, and the more I write, the more I find that I like to write fast.

I certainly never imagined I'd do it with a novel.  So the fact that that's more or less what I'm now in the middle of seems worth commenting on.

What I'm trying with what was once called War For Funland and is now known as The Novel Formerly Known as War For Funland is something I've never done before and desperately hope I'll never have to do it again, but I am doing it right now and by gosh it's liberating.  What's good gets polished.  What isn't - or what doesn't work, or fit, or just looks at me funny - gets chucked out, without a shred of mercy or regret.  My schedule gives me practically enough time to rewrite the whole thing from scratch so, hey, who cares?  What I keep is a bonus.  And what I write new will be better, because I've been this way before and know where are the pitfalls and rattlesnakes are hiding.

I've finished the prologue and the first of five parts now, which is solid progress given that this has so far been my B project after To End All Wars (which is really close to finished, by the way, and more on that soon.)  So far I'm finding that this sort of heavyweight rewriting is only a little quicker than writing anew, which I guess leaves the question of whether the results are actually better.  With two novels written together using wildly different approaches, it will be interesting to see which of the two first drafts I'm happier with, which needs more revision at the second draft stage, and whether the parts of The Novel Formerly Known as War For Funland that survived in one form or another are significantly better or less in need of revision that the parts I wrote afresh.

In all honesty, though, I suspect those sorts of differences will be negligible.  The differences I'm noticing are ones of character, mostly, along with things like timing and plot construction that - in what is for me quite a layered and ambitious novel - I struggled to get right the first time through and now feel I have a far stronger grasp of on.  Good planning would have sorted much of that in the first place (and I have an infinitely more solid plan this time around) but it has to be said that this approach, what I may or may or not be misguidedly labeling The Tuttle Approach, is getting there too, and that's a definite argument in its favour.

So thanks, kind of, to Lisa Tuttle.  And, since I'm salvaging more than I'd originally hoped, thanks as well to me-of-four-years-ago for not making quite the hash of it that I felt like I was doing at the time.

* Which, thinking about it, I'd like to think I'm still in, since the last few months have been all sorts of formative.  I guess I mean my early formative years...

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Third Sale to Pseudopod

Yes!  Pseudopod have indeed joined the tiny but worthy pantheon of markets to have accepted more than one or two of my submissions, having just now followed their purchases of Stockholm Syndrome and Prisoner of Peace with my zombie-story-with-almost-no-zombies-in-it Twitcher.   Yup, very few zombies indeed, but an awful lot of bird watching - as the title suggests - and no that's not a metaphor or a crude pun or something, it really is absolutely a zombie story about bird watching.  Possibly the first and quite probably the last, but I wrote it and Pseudopod have accepted it and that, as the saying goes, is that.

Anyway, what was especially nice about this particular sale is that it ended a quite staggering run of rejections.  I'm sure I've discussed this before*, but there are times when spells of short story rejections (and by the same measure, I suppose, spells of acceptances) seem to make absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Thanks to the might stats-providing majesty of Duotrope's Digest I can say with confidence that my acceptance ratio towards the end of October was above 13%, the highest it's ever been, and that nearly six months and maybe sixty submissions later it was sitting at less than half that.

Now experience has taught me not to worry too much and that it all balances out in the end, but what I find myself wondering is, how does this happen?  How can you be one minute comfortably selling a story a month and then going for six months without a sniff of interest?  I can think of any number of factors, but most of them would depend on me - the types of stories I was submitting, the markets I picked, the regularity with which I sent work out - and as far as I can tell my behaviour is fairly consistent.  To the best of my knowledge I haven't spent the last six months submitting crappy work or picking wildly inappropriate markets or accidentally sending out my shopping list.

Maybe the problem is that I'm looking for micropatterns when I should be looking for macropatterns.  Maybe I'm just a crappy judge of my own work.  (I'm not.)  Maybe the universe is a crazy, random place and the publishing industry is an even more crazy, random place and we're all just like dust motes in a beam of sunlight. 

No!  I believe in order, damn it, and there must be some logic here.  There must be!

But for the life I me I can't see it...

* I did and it was here.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Endangered Weapon B More Available Than Ever

I'll be honest, it hasn't been quite as easy as I might have hoped to lay your hands on mine and Bob Molesworth's graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science (not unrecently described by Sci-Fi Now as "frantic, joyous and brilliant fun"!)  This is probably something I should have talked about before now, because a friend recently mentioned to me the difficulties they'd had picking up a copy on Amazon - you know, that obscure independent bookshop in the Outer Hebrides you probably haven't heard of - and it reminded me that, yeah, that's a thing all right.

But who needs Amazon, right?  Anything that slows down their despotic plans to take over the retail world and replace everyone under the age of twenty-five with robots and insert mind-reading insects into our heads has got to be a good thing.*

So first of all the new and up-to-the-minute news, which is that EWB is one of the launch titles in a new digital anthology PULSE, the first issue of which is just now out from digital comics specialists ROK.  It's dirt cheap at 69 pence an issue, and that buys you not only the opening part of Endangered Weapon but also the beginnings of fellow Markosia titles Serpent Wars and Dinocorp (which Bob happened to illustrate as well, by the by.)  Truth is I don't know exactly what's in there because right now it's iPad only and I don't have an iPad, but hey, 69p.  Even if it spontaneously combusted in your face the moment you looked at it that would still be great value for money.

Then when I was thinking about that I happened to do a little shopping around and I discovered that right now Endangered Weapon is available from Forbidden Planet at the awfully reasonable (if slightly arbitrary) web-only price of £6.89.  That's a fair bit less than you'll see it for anywhere else, so I'm happy to recommend Forbidden Planet as the EWB stockist of choice, especially since I did my Free Comic Book Day signing there and so the whole thing has a nice air of cosmic justice about it.

Anyway, like I said, this is hopefully only the beginning.  Both Markosia and Bob and I have a few things up our sleeves to keep the Endangered Weapon B train a-rolling on, until the inevitable day when the film rights get picked up and it earns us all enough to retire on the moon.  I'm thinking Sean Connery as The Professor, Seychelle Gabriel as Tilly, Ray Park as Wiffles and - of course!- Andy Serkis in the role of Banjo.

* Not that I have any reason to believe that Amazon are doing any of those things and I really don't want to get sued please sorry.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Research Corner #6: WW1 Reading Pt 3

It seems an age since I talked about my WW1 research; as far as I can tell, the reason isn't that I've been slacking off (though I did get briefly diverted into reading the diaries of South Sea Islands missionaries, for reasons that may become apparent one day) but that I read too many damn books at the same time and thus rarely seem to finish anything.

There comes a point, though, when however many books you have on the go you have to finish a few.  Unless you're reading, like, a thousand books simultaneously, I guess, but given that that would be idiotic and I'm not doing it, I have in fact managed to reach the end of a handful - not to mention some more TV and film research.  Here be my thoughts:

A Month in the Country by J. Carr

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I bought this, but whatever I had in mind, it wasn't what A Month in the Country turned out to be ... not a criticism as such, merely an observation.  It's a strange little book, though, whichever way you twist it; you could argue that it has almost nothing to do with the First World War and that it's about practically nothing else, and either theory would be as supportable as the other.

At any rate, I really did like it.  It's sort of a pastoral, for want of a better description, and deals with a subject that fascinates me and yet isn't talked about that much, at least when it comes to WW1: how the young men who returned with scars both physical and mental tried to (or tried not to) reintegrate themselves into civilian life.  As I suggested above, A Month in the Country mostly deals with that subject by not talking about it, but on reflection that's completely appropriate: surely that's exactly how most did cope with their experiences.

Beneath Hill 60, dir. Jeremy Sims

It only occurs to me now that the release of Beneath Hill 60 makes the Australian World War One movie an actual sub-genre, what with Gallipoli existing and all.  And just as that film imagined the battle of Gallipoli as being fought entirely by antipodeans, so Beneath Hill 60 seems to think that the tactic of trench undermining began in 1916 and was practiced exclusively by Australians.

That bit of nonsense aside though (and unlike every American war movie ever, it does at least acknowledge that other nationalities bothered to show up) this is a very good, if episodic, picture, and one that admits to a bit more strategic thinking on the Western Front than is generally allowed.  My only slight struggle was with the subplot about the protagonist's relationship with an underage (by modern standards, anyway) girl; it plays oddly, and the film at once seems to expect us not to notice and then constantly draws attention to that oddness.  Still, it's presumably in there because it happened, and I'd hate to be the one who criticizes a war movie for being too historically faithful...

Downton Abbey Season 2

Considering that this was the season I started watching Downton for ... look, uniforms! ... it was disappointing when it turned out to be not as good as the first, and not quite good enough to make me want to press on to the third, research be damned.  It all gets a bit soapy in the middle section is the problem, and certain characters and relationships start to grow a little absurd, and then in a few cases a lot absurd.  (I'm looking at you, John Bates - and I wish I wasn't.)  More than in the first season, I was also increasingly conscious of the ambitious time scale, and the fact that some plot-lines resolutely refuse to keep up with it in any logical way.

On top of that, from a research point of view it proved a disappointment, the threads that dealt directly with the whole "Downton becomes a WW1 rest hospital" development being amongst the poorest on offer.  (Note to every TV writer everywhere: the moment you use long term amnesia as a major plot point is the moment you've lost.)  And I know this is prime time television and everything, but if you're representing casualties of the most mutilating war in human history, a few bandages and the odd eye patch doesn't really do justice to the barely conceivable horror of it all.

Damn it, this is turning into an essay on Downton Abbey, which is the absolute last thing I want to spend my life writing.  Moving swiftly on...

Ladies of the Manor by Pamela Horn

This was brought to my attention by the author of an unreleased work more related to my subject, so it's probably something of a recommendation that I stuck with it even when it turned out that only the last chapter dealt, very briefly, with the First World War.

It's an intriguing overview of a subject that at first seems a touch limited, and then as you go on begins to impact on just about every aspect of Victorian and Edwardian society, just as those titular ladies did.  I'd have liked to see a just slightly more Feminist-minded take on the subject matter, which Horn often seems to be hovering on the verge of, and a little more psychological insight or even questioning would have gone a long way.  It's admirable in a way that Horn restrains herself from imposing modern standards onto her material, but it leaves a great many questions not only unanswered but unasked.  Still, a good book all told, and also a pretty good general insight into late nineteenth and early twentieth century history.

Rivers by Richard Slobodin

As biographies go, this is quite an achievement really, in that W. H. R. Rivers (brilliantly, the R. also stands for Rivers) was a fascinating individual and this is a crushingly dull little book, and it surely must take a certain amount of skill to write the one about the other.

In limited fairness, as far as I can judge this is only part of a larger biography, released as a pocket book style thing to cash in on the release of the Regeneration movie (hence Rivers looking an awful lot like Jonathan Pryce.)   But that hardly excuses its faults, which are mostly to do with Slobodin's assumption that we all know the period enough that he can name-drop even the most minor historical facts and figures without explanation and his fairly leaden prose.

Still, there's no getting around how awesome Rivers was - frankly the only way he could have been any more awesome would be if he'd listed ninja or astronaut on his CV - so if this is the only biography he gets then I suppose that just about makes it worth recommending.

The Psychic Battlefield by W. Adam Mandelbaum

With a title like that you'd expect this to be dismal, and lo and behold, it really was.  Frustratingly so, because there's just enough nods towards how interesting this subject could potentially be that you get to the end screaming out for a book on the subject written by someone a touch less idiotic.  Mandelbaum's only apparently genuine interest is in the CIA's remote viewing experiments, and everything else he treats with glibness, contempt and some entirely half-arsed research.  And the worst thing?  I'm pretty sure I've read this before, though I can't even begin to imagine why I would have.  Bad enough to read an awful book once, but twice?