Monday, 19 December 2011

On Reflection: This Year's Writing

A little early, perhaps, but December always turns into a chance to review the year for me, as things wind down and people get ready to go out into a new year. Over the next couple of weeks I'll write a few posts about this year and how I hope next year will go - staying on the writing/gaming (at the other blog) and reading side of things naturally.

On the writing front I've started two novels, one for National Novel Writing Month and one just generally, and have got both to around 50,000 and over words. It's an exhilirating process laying down the first chapters and feeling the world take shape as I write. I do find its more of a struggle once I'm past 50,000 words for some reason but with perserverance I'm hoping to get over 100,000 words for both of them and, more importantly, get both novels finished in the spring, albeit with a damn good slog.

The first novel, A Fatal Thirst, I worry crosses too many genres - it has vampirism, science fiction and post apocalypse elements in it and whilst the world seems to work I think it'll take a lot of bashing to make it good. The central plot is a good one, I just need to make sure that I make it compelling enough to keep people reading.

The Fae Noir book, which I don't have a title for yet (the sequel does, annoyingly enough), is more difficult to write. Fatal Thirst's world was created more or less wholecloth out of my imagination, its as good as a fantasy novel with guns and technology to be honest, whilst the Fae Noir book is set in the modern world in a city I've never visited - I had wanted to set it in the UK but the story was pretty clear that it was an American story and unless I can find a way to change the location, then it'll have to stay in San Francisco, and I'll have to hope that I make it work. Fortunately I have a couple of friends out in Missouri and I tap them for information when I need to know things about American culture; more specific details I rely on the internet for.

My absolute final date for finishing both novels, is the end of May and by that I mean finished to the point where I can send them to publishers, so I'm going to have to get my skates on I think.

One good thing about taking part in NaWriNoMo is that it made me write almost everyday and that's something that I've managed to carry forward, and I do something more or less everyday now. Sometimes its as little as 100 words and sometimes its far more, topping out at 3000 on a good day; I envy Sam Stone's 3000 to 5000 words a day, but it's a price a pay for starting out now and having to work as well as write. The thing that didn't impress me was the fact that it felt like the organisers were setting up so much that it actually conflicted with the writing part of it.

On the short story front things are going less well, getting the balance between writing the two forms has proved difficult and I've let things slide badly on the short front (though having to pretty much rewrite the bulk of my first steampunk story hasn't helped. I have pieces from 2010 that need editing and sending off to magazines and over 50 short stories and novella ideas to write up.

All round the forecast is to get my head down and just get on with writing and sending things off, so as I have 2 weeks enforced holiday coming up I intend to try and get as much done as I can and hopefully that'll carry on into the new year once work recommences. The thing I must avoid is having a number of fallow months where I get nothing done at all; this year I fell into that trap a couple of times as I felt a bit overwhelmed by things out in that "real life" and had to drag myself back to the writing cave and get work done.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Throne of the Blooded...

I'm still reading this , and will post a full review when I've finished it.

All I'll say at present is that it's just lost some points for having the protagonist have the "magic" blood of the empire's royal family through being the bastard son of the king.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The New 52

In September DC Comics relaunched its universe, effectively pressing the reset button and going from square one again. The new universe is darker and edgier, with more nods towards both Wildstorm and Marvel comics; heroes are distrusted and villified rather than being held up as the lights of humanity. In some ways this is a shame as it gets rid of what was largely DC's unique voice, will there be a Flash museum in this new iteration? It seems unlikely.

Rather than try to read all 52 titles I very much cherry picked my way through the new comics to see which ones took my fancy. Partly this was for financial reasons, the cost of comics means that I'm not willing to walk off with tons of books and partly it's because with the best will in the world I'm a bit tired of superheroes; for an idea that should be extremely flexible it's begun to feel brittle and restricted, as if it will only go so far before it snaps. Also the fetishism for the 1960s and 70s by DC's publishers has alienated me (my Flash is Wally West and my Green Lantern Kyle Rayner for instance, I have no interest at all in either Barry Allen or Hal Jordan: I'd say that they were my father's heroes if it weren't for the fact that my father never read comics beyond the Dandy and the Beano, as far as I know).

As a result I picked up a handful of comics: Action Comics, Stormwatch, Demon Knights, Grifter, I, Vampire, Resurrection Man, the Legon titles and a few others and was quite choosy about them. To my surprise a number of them were quite disappointing, Action Comics 1, which I expected to enjoy, I found lacked something. The expression "phoning it in" is overused (and in the age of the internet ridiculous) but it did feel a bit as if Grant Morrison had written it in his sleep; although it might read better in trade format.

Other titles felt similarly slim in content, Batgirl felt ridiculous, a large part of the character's history had been rewritten and the "cure" just felt like an editorial hand wave to get Barbara Gordon back into action again. Both Legion comics felt bland and confusing, Legion of Superheroes because it barely seemed to be acknowledging that there was a reboot at all, whilst Legion Lost because Fabian Nicieza's writing leant little to the characters.

I'll be the first to admit that most of these series have probably improved, it's hard to judge a comicbook series from the first issue most of the time.

Stormwatch is a case in point; the first issue came across as blandly written with abnormal art and, frankly, far too much going on (the team deals with weird stuff on the moon, an alien artefact and hunting down Apollo, who appears to be one of the few Wildstorm characters to have made it across into the new universe with any real degree of success or safety - given Midnighter's chin spike I'm not sure I can include him in the ranks of characters to safely port across). If we contrast it with Paul Cornell's other DCNu book, Demon Knights, it comes across as especially poor. It was, however, one of the few titles I actually went back to, partly because I trusted the writer to be able to deliver; a gamble I feel has paid off as the following issues have kicked the series into high gear and delivered some nice twists on the ideas laid down in the old series of Stormwatch and the Authority way back when they being published.

Demon Knights on the other hand has been "made of win" as a friend of mine has it, since the first issue. The series at present has a strong 7 Samurai feeling, with a group of characters, some of them (if not all of them) slightly dubious, uniting against a comon threat. The use of the villains has been good, it's nice to see Mordru as something other than a weird possessing force of chaos, here he seems almost to be a successor to Morgana le Fey and is certainly not the main villain, unless Cornell's planning a bait and switch later on. The use of dragons as WMD is a very good idea, what would these creatures be if not the fantasy equivalent of nukes?

There's a lot going on and some nice touches, whether that's the inclusion of Vandal Savage as something other than a wannabe world conquerer or the complicated relationship between Jason Blood/Etrigan and Madame Xanadu. It's tempting to see what's going on with the characters as a traditional love triangle or Madame Xanadu as cheating on either one of them, but I find myself wondering if Xanadu is in love with both Jason and Etrigan; could we be seeing some attempt at a polyamory on her part? Okay, it's a fucked up form of polyamory but all the same, at present it doesn't feel at present as if anything more sinister is going on.

Also, it's lovely to see an Etrigan who doesn't constantly speak in rhyme. Most writers struggle to get the rhyming element right, and jettisoning it in favour of having him only using it if he wants to cast impressive magic (I think that's what he was doing anyway) makes a lot of sense and, I assume takes the weight off the writer's shoulders not to make Etrigan sound like a complete imbecile.

The new characters for the series are interesting, one seems to be an Amazon and the Muslim scholar is a good indication that Cornell's drawing heavily from history as well as myth and fantasy; in fact in issue 3 we seem to have a play off between Christian faith and Muslim scholarship which nicel illustrates the differences between the two faiths at the time the series is set (the "Dark Ages" incidently). The Horse Woman is a novel concept, but she does feel undeveloped at present, it's hard to get an idea of who she's meant to be or what function she'll fulfill in the team. Shining Knight, whilst not a a new character, is the fresher version from Grant Morrison's 7 Soldiers series rather than the old version of Sir Justin from the 40s. It's an interesting choice, and serves to add balance quite nicely.

All in all, I feel more confident about Demon Knights than I do about Stormwatch, it feels more grounded somehow, possibly because we're getting more of a "how the band got together" story rather than being told that the team's been around for ages and also because it's much more of a stand alone project; barring time travel shenanigans I don't see a Demon Knights/Justice League crossover anywhere in the near future.

The last book that's really impressed me is Resurrection Man. I must confess I read it in the 90s during the original run and enjoyed it and it was one of the few books that DC announced with the new 52 that really caught my interest. Here we get the familiar reset, with Mitch Shelley starting his journey to find out what the hell's going on with him all over again. So far it feels very familiar, the three central characters, Mitch and the Body Doubles are all in place and the concepts are becoming well established.

There are a couple of twists on the original concepts. The first seems to be the presence of a more supernatural element; Heaven and Hell both have agents that are trying to reclaim Mitch's soul for their requisite sides for book keeping purposes (to say that I'm amused by the idea that it's the accountants on both sides that are driving this is an understatement). The second is that the Body Doubles and Mitch now seem to all have a single origin point, a mysterious group that they share in common in the past. If we piece together what's been hinted at Mitch was a scientist who engineered the process and that Bonnie and Carmen (the Body Doubles) are also creations of his.

All in all it's been good so far, but it's definitely going on a slow burn thus far and could perhaps use a slightly faster pace.

Of the books I've looked at the only ones I think I'm likely to stick with long term are Resurrection Man and Demon Knights and I'm still debating whether to stick with floppies or just trade wait. I'm slightly inclined towards the former in the hopes of keeping the series going.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Review: Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings

I picked up this book at FantasyCon down in Brighton and its taken me a while to read, I'd hoped to post this a few weeks ago and only finished the book at the weekend.



It's a slim volume, with an attractive cover, even if you don't like clowns, but the real treasures lie within. The first part of the book ties into the Vampire Gene series and for people like myself who haven't read the novels (yet) they provide an interesting window into that series. The protagonist Lucy is very much an atypical vampire for today's culture. Whilst most books and films seem to delight in having the vampire struggle against their hungers Sam Stone delights in the carnal blood lust that the image of the vampire evokes. Lucy is unapologetic in her appetites for sex and blood, and arguably could stand shoulder to shoulder with the other vampire elders of literature in that regard (she's better at hiding but equally as monstrous as Dracula in her own way). The other pleasing aspect of the character is that, for all that she's lived for centuries, she clearly doesn't know everything, and there's also no sense of ennui about her. She seems to revel in fresh experiences, which I found very refreshing as so many vampire elders seem to have seen it all, done it all and got the t shirt (or should that be opera cape?). The stories that Sam tells with her are varied and delve into the nature of vampirism quite a lot, it's not just blood and sex; other aspects are also explored quite beautifully.


Beyond the vampire stories are the "Bloody Jottings" which range from the rather whimsical to the downright horrific. They're all solid stories and all of them stand well alone, demonstrating Sam's depth and reach as a writer. I'm unashamed that The Toymaker's House is probably one of the most horrific short stories I've read for a while and parts of it really gave me chills, whilst at the other end of the scale Clown Addict actually me smile because it's so reminiscent of many Vincent Price movies from the 1970s and captures the macabre atmosphere of them so well.


I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment overly much on the poetry. I enjoyed the poems but I'm not a huge fan of poetry, so all I can say is that I liked it, other people may not.


All in all, if you're looking for something fresh in vampire fiction and for some really good horror stories, this is for you. Go buy.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Stamina

Over at Sam Stone's blog (http://sam-stone.blogspot.com) there's a long post about stamina and how important it is as a writer.

I can't say how true it is, it struck so many chords with my own experience even as a completely cack handed amateur writer that it seems untrue (almost anyway). I'd like to thank Sam for posting it.

Now, go and read it. :)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Steampunk and Reality

I suppose that I should start by saying that I love Steampunk and the styles that it creates. I adore the look and feel of it and I also love the huge amounts of creativity that's sprung from the subculture that's grown out of the literary subgenre. Whether it's the likes of Dr Geof's cartoons (http://islandofdrgeof.co.uk), Herr Doktor's wonderful creations, the charm of the steambear competition at the Asylum or just the fashions sported by Steampunks around the world the subculture is brimming with wonderful ideas and concepts (not to mention that the whole thing is a hop, a skip and a jump away from a fairly coherent political philosophy).

Steampunk fiction is similarly excellent, full of the strange and exotic, the dark and dramatic, with wonderful heroes, dastardly villains and awe inspiring technology. Best of all it's such a meta genre that almost anything can fit snugly under it's broad brim. It can embrace everything from alternate histories (Steampunk's forte by definition I suppose), weird romance, vampires, aliens and other monsters all the way to the Cthulhu Mythos and beyond.

So why the "Reality" in the post title? If the subculture and subgenre is as fabulous as all that why would I have any reservations?

Partly it's because I can't help but feel that the whole thing runs the risk of being a little myopic and selective in what it sees in the past. There seems to be a lot of focus on the bright shiny things in the Victorian period and not a great deal on the terrible conditions that many normal people lived in. There's an uneasy feeling too that the inevitable but tragic concequences of Empire are brushed under the rug in both the subculture and the subgenre in favour of a "cracking good wheeze" (in truth the British Empire was sustained, as all empires are, by nasty tactics and an extraordinary amount of bloodshed: http://gu.com/p/32mgt) and a there's still a very great feeling of "White Man's Burden" about both the fiction and the culture which is regrettable. I'm sympathetic to Charles' Stross' comments about the subgenre, though I don't think I'd go so far as him in his comments (www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/10/the-hard-edge-of-empire.html) especially with regards the second artist effect.

It's certainly true that Steampunk Magazine (www.steampunkmagazine.com) has addressed a number of the issues that surround the genre, with their focus on non European cultures and the role of women in the Victorian age (as well as critique figures like Edison). How much of that will trickle out into the wider world however is something that at the moment we just don't know.

The other thing that concerns me is the great focus on militaria. Whilst I have to admit that I think that many of the steampunk uniforms look glorious I'm also of the opinion that war isn't something we should aspire to and I would love to see the development of more, well, civilian aspects to go alongside the fancy ray guns and other forms of weaponry.

Which all leads, I suppose, to the question of what I'd like to see more of, especially as I'm not willing to declare a plague on both the houses and flounce off into the night, camp vampire style. Really I'd love to more fiction exploring the darker and nastier aspects of the subgenre, not mad science or occult dark but what happens to children who lose their limbs in industrial accidents dark; or the darkness and menace of a steampunk styled Opium Wars or Indian Mutiny. I feel that we should not be frightened to stare into the real shadow the Victorian era casts and engage with it, rather than simply making up monsters to project in a shadow puppet show. I'm not sure I'd want to go as far as Stross in his comments about there needing to be a "mundane" steampunk story, I'm not sure that such a thing would be successful, but bringing a bit of hard edged historical accuracy in wouldn't exactly hurt things.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

National Write a Novel Month and Musings About Vampires

So I bit the bullet and entered NaWriNoMo (this: www.nanowrimo.org), which I suspect is either going to break me or be really fun.

I have a nice idea for a story, a sort of mashed up post apocalypse vampire murder mystery thing that I think will work. I've done some prep work for it, in so far as I have a plot and a protagonist and know the basics of the world but otherwise I'm going in cold aside from a bunch of ideas for scenes.

Looking at it, I think that as long as I can hit about 10,000 words a week I should do alright though there may not be much in the way of editing. If the story works I may try to keep the momentum up for another month to double the length and then spend January editing the manuscript to Hell and back again, but it's all a matter of waiting and seeing at the moment.

It feels a bit strange that I'm writing vampires at all, to be honest. For a long time I've felt burnt out on them. There have been too many bad movies and books with too few characters that stood out as exciting and compelling (to me anyway, your mileage may vary). In some ways too, just the sheer volume of media that features vampires has left me a bit cold and it felt like they were being turned into soft porn for women and teenage girls, through things like Twilight and the True Blood novels and when you get to the stage that what sets your vampires apart is that they sparkle the cynical part of me wonders how far we are from bringing back Count Chocula breakfast cereal. Add in the fact that many of the stories still use the image of the strong, alpha male as a desirable, masterful, vampire and it makes me wonder how far we've really come from the shadow of Lord Ruthven and Count Dracula.

This isn't to say that I loathe everything that has vampires in, I'm currently reading Sam Stone's Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings and have found her take on vampires very interesting, not least for the fact that her protagonist Lucretia is an elder who isn't jaded and cynical (or at least not to the extent of most elders seem to be) and there isn't the sense that she's seen it all before, which is refreshing.

I've also enjoyed Poppy Z Brite's Lost Souls and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series and I'm really looking forward to reading both Sam Stone's and Raven Dane's vampire novels once I've ploughed through some other books (I have a ridiculously big reading pile). Also, despite playing them for years and years, dating back to when I started gaming back in the 1990s, to the extent that there was a period where it felt like there was always a game of Vampire the Masquerade going on, I still have a soft spot for White Wolf's Vampire games.

Even so it seemed a bit strange that when I sat down and started to think about the Write a Novel in a Month initiative (I'm not really sure what to call it to be honest) the first thing that bubbled up out of my head was a vampire story. I don't mind but, as I say, it seemed odd. That being said, I'm quite enjoying the challenge of not only creating a novel in a month but also trying to write something compelling with a monster I think is so over used.

I have a few bits to tidy up before I get started so the next week and a bit will be quite a rush but then, well we'll just have to see.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Rise From Your Grave!

Crap, has it really been over two years since I last posted anything here? Gonna have to fix that.

I'll try to post more frequently (or really post at all) and there'll be some book reviews posted by my wife, Evie.