Thursday, 1 April 2021

Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they're done

Not that she knows me from Adam, but I have to send my thanks to Cat Rambo for recommending Ken Rand's '10% Solution' through an SFWA blog posting.  "You cannot get more bang for your buck than buying this book and applying its methods".  Not 'arf.  I've stopped writing and all I seem to have done for the last fortnight is edit, with stories that I'd declared good enough shedding, if not 10%, then at least 5% of fat.

A self-help book that actually works, Ken provides a checklist of words to CTRL-F for, and what to do when you find them.  My tic is 'that'.  About half of all the 'that's I type are superfluous.  Who'd have thought?  Words just drop away, fragments get combined, redundancies leap into the crosshairs of the delete key.

That said, is there a 'by' missing from Cat's quote? Has she got carried away in the edit?!

But the thing I like the most about the book is that it gives you a finishing point.  On too many stories I have spent far too much time fiddling.  This gives you an end point, a checklist of things after which you can say, it's done.  Whether this'll give my stories the final push to get them over the transom, only time will tell.  Too often I'm seeing submissions make it over the initial hurdles, the Grinder showing swathes of others rejected long before mine, only to get binned in the final cut.  So near, so far.

Bizarrely, one story that I know could have shed some fat is Three Wishes, newly published by Daily Science Fiction.  That's the story that I feared lost somewhere in the system.  The first errant 'that'? - twenty-two words in!  Actually, the whole second sentence:

Elizabeth had suspected for most of the morning that their tour guide was making it up as she went along.

could be:

All morning, Elizabeth had suspected their tour guide of making it up as she went along.

Twenty words down to sixteen.  A twenty percent reduction!  And I've barely got going.  My only consolation: knowledge that it must have been good enough all along to publish despite the flaws.  Why not judge for yourself...

#

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

#blindsubmissions

There is a trend that is making me and, I suspect, some others uncomfortable.  It’s a trend that is supposedly so clearly and obviously just and right that to utter a word of even passing criticism it is to unmask yourself as evil personified.  This is dangerous territory I’m walking into here, folks, ripe for misunderstanding.  So, please hold back the attack dogs until you've read to the end.  The source of my griping: science fiction’s gleeful, zealous, nay fanatical leaping aboard the bandwagon emblazoned with those all too familiar politically correct bumper stickers.

Now, before you all go out to buy my books in order to burn them, let me straight up say those movements - you know the ones I mean - aim to make the world a better place and I wish them every success.  If you think that, just because I'm male, pale and stale I'm here to provide some unwoke Blimpish reactionary pushback, you're wrong.  That, and my books are only available on Kindle, so best of luck there.

As a writer of predominantly short fiction washing around at the semi-professional end of the spectrum, I am a daily user of the Submissions Grinder, watching the ‘recently added markets’ tab like a hobo watches the sidewalk for cigarette butts.  With increasing frequency, I'm finding those new calls for material are restricted to certain nationalities, creeds, multi-dimensional sexes, or even political leanings.

Now, on one level, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Publishers have every right to do this if that's their wish.  And I try to remind myself that many of these calls wouldn’t be happening at all unless the publisher decided that he/she/it/they only want to see stories from bipolar Trotskyite mermaids-of-colour or whatever.  This represents more opportunities for others, as opposed to fewer opportunities for me.

And a more diverse set of writers should lead to a more diverse range of storylines, approaches, heroes and heroines, right?  And that has to be better.  So, what irks?

I’ve thought long and hard about exactly what it is that grates so much about these calls.  I think part of my discomfort is that my ‘real’ day job is in human resources where we work damn hard to ensure that bias, conscious or otherwise, is designed out of systems so as to make positive discrimination - which is what this is - the last resort of the unscrupulous charlatan.  So, apologies if such limited calls come across, to me, as unscrupulous charlatanry.

And let's not forget, that this is a different kind of positive discrimination than a bipolar Trotskyite mermaids-of-colour setting up a publication and saying bring it on, submit your stories and I'll tell you what works through the eyes of a bipolar Trotskyite mermaids-of-colour.  That would work for me.  I'd like that challenge.  That's a world that's been made better.

Plus, I'm really not convinced that such calls lead to better stories.  'Write what you know' doesn't mean only write about yourself.  My novel, after which this blog is named, has an African hero.  A school and university friend recently asked me to recommend a couple of stories of mine; only later did I realise that both had teenage girls as protagonists.  I’m struggling to think of any of my sci-fi stories that has a lantern-jawed astronaut as hero.  Maybe one yet to be published, but he has an apple put in his mouth and is served to a talking bear within 1500 words.  We're writers, we write about the universality of fear, love, anger, taking action, going after your goals - whether the protagonist is a man, woman or robotic floor polisher.

I am, however, seeing an increasing number of stories which are thinly disguised polemics.  A recent example led to me leave a somewhat snide review on Goodreads for a quality publication which deserves support and I still harbour ambitions of appearing in.  And it's not as if there are a range of opposing viewpoints, challenging each other.  That would be interesting but, instead, we're presented with an echo chamber.  Science fiction used to evoke wonder; nowadays I'm put in mind of the Cultural Revolution.  Mrs Mao has a nice little place in the country prepared for you, somewhere you won’t get bored.  Or, possibly, a rectangular hole in the ground.

Noble laureate Sir Kazuo Ishiguro recently highlighted the fear of censure young writers have if they try to stray from the groupthink.  He felt safe to say what he did being of a certain age and having achieved a certain level of success.  I feel relatively safe in saying what I'm saying as, not having bothered the judges of a cabinet’s worth of awards over my career, I have - quite literally - nothing to lose.  Others have more, and more of a future, on the line. 

No, what perplexes me most, I think, is that the world of literature shouldn’t need to be working so hard to pull on such evangelical clothes.  In fact, we should be the exemplars already, a position established long before anything was prefixed by a hashtag.  This is what makes me angry - that none of this should be remotely necessary.

Why?  Well, for the simple reason that we should be absolutely blind to somebody's sex, age, race, religion, and body already.  All you used to have when you read a story was a name.  A by-line.  A name on a spine.  In almost every other artistic or sporting pursuit you have a face, a body, a material presence to invoke instant judgements.  Not writing.  Just a name.  Sometimes, not even that.

Yes, you can make assumptions, but there are easy ways around that.  Ask George Eliot.  It’s not even regarded as cheating to cheat over your by-line; noms de plume have been used to hide, obscure, blur, give solo writers multiple brands or provide a single umbrella to changing teams.  And, even when they are honest, they may not tell you as much as you think.  Were you, like me, surprised at that scene in Django Unchained where Leonardo DiCaprio is told Dumas was black?  Did you Google it afterwards as well?  And Tolkein brilliantly responded to a Nazi publisher who wanted to check he was eligible for membership of the master-race.

Story-telling seems to be the primary, if not sole, example of where you can pursue your craft without reference to skin colour, beliefs or whether you have an odd of even number of limbs or heads.

So, what got in the way?  My theory is the internet.  Yes, the thing that has opened up publishing for many of us - without the internet, would I have a novel and 30+ stories published? or made around 1000 submissions over the last three years? to publications that wouldn't exist if they had to exist on paper? some of which may be run by bipolar Trotskyite mermaids-of-colour? - has also been our undoing.  Or, at least, the internet mixed with human nature.

You see, there's a pressure for writers to have a presence, to be a brand, to tell their public about themselves.  It sounds like a brilliant idea.  It's what this blog is.  Who wouldn't want to know all about the author of their favourite story?  All well and good, but don't act surprised when it undermines diversity in the choices of readers.  Seriously.  You see, people like people similar to them.  Similarity increases liking.  And, if you know your author's character as well as your author's characters, don't be surprised if readers unconsciously select on that basis.  It keeps predominantly white authors on top amongst a predominantly white readership.  Fair?  No.  Caused by us?  Absolutely.

If you want a brilliant example that shows how innate this effect is, read how the Planet of the Apes actors self-segregated at lunch.  Nobody was being anti- or pro- anybody or anything.  It's just a case of birds of a feather flocking together.  We're hardwired to do so when given the data.  And the internet is brilliant at giving that data.  It's the internet that has made the author's name more than just letters picked out in gold on a burgundy leather spine.

So, what to do?  Well, obviously, first thing I'd suggest is stop reading trivial celebrity gossip on the internet.  Stop following celebrities on Twitter.  Put Hello and OK! and their ilk back on the shelf.  Turn FOMO into JOMO - the joy of missing out, on the tittle-tattle and titbits, at least.  Stop reading this blog?  Hold on a moment...

But that may be difficult for many and, I suspect, you, dear reader are not amongst the target audience of the National Enquirer.  So, here's something a tad more serious, suggested a tad less satirically: that there's already a mechanism staring us in the face.  Blind submissions.  Make blind submissions - with the story stripped of names or any other identifying features - the industry norm, an industry expectation.  Make all publishers judge the story on its merits alone without knowledge of the author.  It's a no brainer elsewhere; why not in publishing?

To be fair, many publications are already there.  Others encourage submissions from minority groups whilst saying that, ultimately, they have no idea.  They just judge the story.  But the industry norm is still to have names on manuscripts.  I completely get why - I love this story! who's it by? fuckknows... - but perhaps that all needs to change.  It strikes me as the best way, perhaps the only way for the best stories to rise to surface regardless of the author if they're not already doing so (discuss in no more than 2500 words - and I accept that not everybody will agree) rather than have a wider range of slightly worse stories being published.

Perhaps if there's room and an appetite for #blindsubmissions as another bumper-sticker on the bandwagon of righteousness, you may even find me trying to clamber onboard before I get completely left behind.

#

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.


Friday, 5 March 2021

The BSFA, PKD, and the columba livia domestica

Could I take a moment to point you in the direction of 'Through the Decades: Sixty Years of the BSFA', published by the eminently and affordably joinable British Science Fiction Association.

It does pretty much what it says on the tin, collecting excerpts from the Association's often amateurish and irregular (at least, in the early years) output.  A fascinating wade through the history of the future; I certainly enjoyed it all until the somewhat dry quasi-academic articles towards the back.

A personal highlight was a now 50-year-old ramble by Philip K Dick arguing that our dystopian future is all about governments learning everything about us and turning it back on ourselves.  Well, that future has been with us for some time now, and the truth is so much worse, that we’ve done it to ourselves, collecting, collating and sharing every detail of our lives on social media.

Hilariously, he makes a passing reference to pigeons being trained and used as quality control inspectors.  I assumed this was some fucked-up acid flashback but it really happened.  Honestly, you couldn't make it up.  Even if that's what I try to do on a daily basis:

#

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.


Tuesday, 23 February 2021

It's Chinatown, Mike

I used to write screenplays.

No, don't look for me on IMDB, because I'm not there.  I wrote six, sold four; two on spec to, and two on commission for British indie production companies that were little more than a couple of blokes and a business card looking for other people's cash.  Merge the three companies I worked with (the two commissions were for the same people), and I think you could fit all involved into a mid-sized people carrier.  That said, I found out years later that Ric Young ("Too much to drink, Doctor Jones?") was the Los Angeles end of the one operation that didn't seem to be completely built on sand.

My only other sighting of fame and fortune in the distance, heading away from me, out of reach, was a pitch meeting with a freelance development executive with ties to DNA and Working Title.  I knew that because we sat in a lobby with two doors leading off, one marked 'DNA', the other 'Working Title'.  After I had pitched something along the lines of The Thing set in Afghanistan, we talked about what else we did with our lives.  I tried to make human resources sound exciting; he told me he managed Keane.  'Nuff said.

The reason I bring this up is only partially through mystification as to where it all went wrong.  There is a school of thought that Robert Towne's script for Chinatown is the apogee of the screenwriter's craft, the perfect screenplay.  I'm not here to agree or disagree, but to give a slightly different take.

Which is this: if Chinatown had never been made, and an unknown writer were to turn in exactly those words, would it be recognised as such?  Would a producer say that any change would be a move slightly down the slope of quality?  Would it be declared fit for purpose, fit for production, without so much as a note?

I don't think so.  The idea that a first draft could be the best draft, that the writer has found his or her way around all the problems in the most effective and efficient way is an anathema.  There are always changes to be made, and its how the creative process demonstrates its worth.  By people sticking their oar in and putting their stamp on things.

So, with that logic, couldn't Chinatown have been tweaked some more?  Well, yes, it could, but the point is that it had been tweaked enough.  Every draft contains arbitrary choices, which are neither better nor worse than other arbitrary choices.  What gets made or printed is where you were when the music stopped.  And, if you're an unknown, you're going to get tweaked, even if those amendments blur the vision, muddle the narrative, or skew the arc.

The opposite end of this problem was brought home to me by 'The Homecoming' by Mike Resnick in Galaxy's Edge 48.  Whilst this is still the latest issue, you can read it for free.  If you're stumbling over this blog in months and years to come, I guess that link will take you elsewhere.

Now, I have a lot of time for Mike Resnick's work, and I'm well aware that he is both no longer here to respond, and that he put a lot back whilst he was.  To the best of my knowledge, he was one of the good guys.  I've read stories by him that have stood out as exemplars.  But I have an issue with this particular story, which is fine, but... God, it could be cut by 50%, or more.  It's padded like Mister Creosote on a Chesterfield.  There's a good little story trying to get out, but it's a flash at best.  Oh, for an editor with a good blue pencil.

You'll recall that I have a story hovering on the edge of one particular SFWA-recognised publication.  Its fate is still undecided, 'under consideration'.  It's been subjected to three sets of notes and is far better for it.  In each and every rewrite they've asked me to tighten and tighten, much as a football coach asks his team to up the tempo, regardless of whether he has anything else tactical to offer.  And, like a tired footballer, I've wondered how the hell to manage it, and then found what's required.

And yet, I read stories like 'The Homecoming' with their languid pacing and verbal redundancies and can't help thinking how those editors telling me to 'make it run faster' would react; that, just as an unknown's Chinatown would get copious notes, so the works of the big beasts are far more liable to be ticked through with a minimum of a proof and a polish, regardless of their objective quality.  If I had put my name on this and sent it out, I'm not confident I'd get any takers in its current form, not even from the semi-professional market.  I know many won't like me saying that, but I can't help thinking it.

There seems to be only one solution to this conundrum.  I must continue to battle to get myself on to a higher level, where I'll be better able to get stories into print without so much critical scrutiny.  And you, dear reader, should focus your attention on reading the works of relative unknowns, who have had to go through the mill to prove their worth.  So, in that spirit, could I recommend these two worthy works? 

#

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.




Monday, 1 February 2021

Most heinous

Here are a couple of offensive images from a movie that may be naggingly, tip-of-the-tongue familiar to many.  But which is the most egregious?


Yes, it's the top one, of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, being objectified for the ogling delectation of men.  That's what society decrees, and we have to fall into step with the groupthink that cannot be anything other than right and proper. Wash my brain out with napalm jelly if I were to think anything else.

Well, I fear you may have to prepare some jelly (with cream or ice cream, really don't mind) because I can't help disagreeing. 

And it's not because Fisher's get-up is consistent with the story, and what Jabba's character would do with her, displaying her as a hands-off-she's-mine trophy, although that's all true. The instant riposte to that is that it's not as though this is documentary (sorry, die-hard Star Wars fans); the film-makers have as much control over what story they chose to tell as well as how to tell it.

No, the reason I find the second more offensive than the first (I'm not even sure I do find it offensive, but I recognise that others do and, more importantly, the actress found it uncomfortable) is that the first is a value judgment whereas the second is an objective error.  Large animals running wild in a vast desert with nothing to eat or drink?  With no other links in a food chain, not a blade of grass or a mouse?  It's simply not plausible.  (I have similar issues with The Empire Strikes Back's wampa and exogorth, by the way, but at least they have a point in the story).

Speculative fiction is about consequences - if we were to seed the clouds with sea salt to cool the planet, or refreeze the Arctic, would those be isolated effects or would the ripples have unintended consequences?  I'm not pretending this kind of hard sci-fi is a strength of mine - and I'm hugely admiring of those than can pull the trick off, keeping a plausible handle on exactly how the ripples cause their own ripples - but I like to think that I don't populate my fiction with such utter clangers just because they look nice.

Having waded through various treatises on ethics from Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics onwards during a degree and a half in philosophy, I've always been fascinated how some ethical rules seem to be objective constants set in stone whilst others reflecting the fashion. Taking - of life, of property - seems to be objectively wrong. Sexual ethics, however, tend to reflect the times. Right now, right here, same sex relationships are acceptable whereas relationships involving females only just past puberty are not. Chose another place and/or another time and those rules reverse. Unlike the ones over murder or theft. Odd. Like they're of distinctly different categories.

A lot depends on whether you think we're progressing towards an ideal state or just meandering through future history with no particular place to go. I favour the latter. Right now, we're going through a puritan phase.  In a hundred years time, who's to say that things won't come full circle and we'll all be signing up to the schools of Islamic jurisprudence's historic view that nine years of age is good enough for girls , looking back on today's sense of right and wrong with bafflement. Indeed, some Americans seem to be trying to get back to this 'golden age' already.

One of the drags on human progression is, of course, human nature itself. We can either pretend that it's suitable to take home to meet your parents when it's not, or recognise it for what it is, warts and all. The internet is a very good litmus test. It's basically a porn delivery system that can also aggregate your debts and investments and either make your mailman redundant or give him musculoskeletal issues carrying packages, all depending. It reflects a basic truth about our fundamental nature, however distasteful it may be to some - we are sexual beings with sexual needs, despite society's best efforts.

Whenever I hear arguments otherwise, I'm transported back to a documentary I saw twenty, possibly more, years ago following middle-aged female pornographers. I can't quite remember what their game was - peep shows, telephone chat lines, pole dancing - but they were asked, Aren't you exploiting young women. They fell about laughing. No, they answered, we're exploiting middle-aged men with credit cards.

They were being realistic. There are a lot of people being idealistic, or naive, if you prefer. There always was, always will be people like that, but I fear this contagion is spreading, as evidenced in my recognition that society expects me to openly and loudly react to one of those pictures in a way that is orthogonal with human nature.  There's a zealous, puritanical streak to this that I find concerning, and I fear we're in danger of losing sight of what is important.

This is why we've ended up in a world where the makers of Pixar's Soul made considerable investment ensuring that the film’s cultural reference points struck just the right note but left the story a confusing mess of bum notes, not necessarily played in the right order. Or, as another example, there's now a move to expunge Donald Trump from Home Alone 2, possibly even replacing him with an adult Macaulay Culkin.  It's not that I'm a Trump supporter - anything but - but this rewriting of history puts me in mind of Stalinist purges.

It also affects people who misstep even accidentally. Take a look at this post from respected (and pro-paying) magazine Fireside. I don't know Pablo Defendini, never had anything to do with him, but he strikes me as being as much a victim, of a hysterical over-reaction in his case, as anyone in this. I hope he's found a safe harbour after this farrago.

Let's take a moment to unpack the precedents set.  Pablo was lax in letting through an inappropriate recording. He has made no effort to defend it. He completely sees it for what it is. But somehow it is on a par with producing and broadcasting it with malice aforethought.

That's not how the world works.  That's why manslaughter is a couple of rungs below murder.  That's why intention is really quite a big issue in legal cases.  And, if you are guilty of what the broadcast accidentally did, to what degree are you guilty of all the other things the broadcast could have done but didn'tIf you weren't checking it for racism, you can't have been checking it for every other ism.  Who's to say that it wasn't treacherous, treasonous or inciting a riot?  Why be satisfied with limiting Pablo's statement to matters of race when his modern-day pillorying could cover so many more thought-crimes.

Donning my other professional hat, the one with 'Kiss me Quick' taped over and replaced by the words 'Human Resources', I'm struggling to see how in Britain this dismissal could be legitimate or appropriate, but concede there are legalities about who is ultimately responsible for what is broadcast. Even if it were, such public acts of shaming slam us straight back into a medieval sensibility, and that's what I find most terrifying.

Yes. I'm striding into tricky territory here, and some would say that I'm the last person who should be embarking on this journey - male, stale and pale as I am. But, as the saying goes, zeal without prudence is frenzy. Just a thought.

#

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2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Dates for your diary, bookmarks for your browser

Some questions:

Well, you could wait until I put together a sequel to 24 0s & a 2, or you could click on the links to read, subscribe, support or pre-order right now. I know what I'd suggest...

#

Search for these on Amazon
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.



Friday, 1 January 2021

End of term report

Another year chalked off in our long run-up to the heat death of the universe making every achievement of humanity meaningless.  Yes, Happy New Year to you too.

One of the more meaningless acts in the Dada farce we call life is, of course, the creation of fiction.  A grown man, making up stories?  Have you not seen the TV schedules, walked into a bookshop?  There are more stories than any one person can absorb in a lifetime.  And you want to create more?

Yes.  Sorry.  I know it doesn't make sense.  But, occasionally, someone wants to buy them.

Regular readers will know my target is to sell three pieces, and to help that along in the year just departed I aimed to send out at least a piece a day.  When I last set myself that objective the need to commute once a fortnight 400+ miles to London stymied the plan.  Well, Covid made the need to continue up and down Britain's motorway system disappear, along with most of life's liberties, in the spring.  Hence, not surprisingly, I managed 439 submissions (I may have gone a little scattershot nuts), with 283 flat 'no's' and 57 personal thoughts from editors, plus:

  • Audit's Abacus, sold to Daily Science Fiction in January, appearing in May.  This generated far more fan (e)mail than anything I've written previously and also another first - being approached by a venue for rights to podcast the story.  For non-writers the difference may be subtle, but for a semi-pro writer having somebody come to them rather than constantly hawking your wares around the seedier parts of the internet is something of a red letter day.
  • The Hypnotist sold to Hybrid Fiction in January, and appeared in their issue 2 in April.  A 4,500-word sci-fi crime hybrid, it's one of my older stories that's been rewritten endlessly, hence I'm delighted that it's found a home.
  • The Thirteenth Floor ended up appearing in Third Flatiron's Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses anthology.  A curious one this, as I wanted to submit to their collection of positive, uplifting sci-fi tales but, well, positive and uplifting isn't my writing style.  So I just reversed one of my downbeat endings and tried to make it as internally plausible as possible.  Even so, for one reviewer, the idea of morally good merchant bankers stretched sci-fi's credibility a tad too far...
  • The Loimaa Protocol, a sale last year, made this year's Best of British Science Fiction.  I'm genuinely proud of appearing in three of the last four - and several of those on this list are already with (if she's reading this) the wonderful, wonderful Donna Bond for consideration for next year's collection.
  • The Button at the Base of His Spine, another reprint, was podcast on The Overcast after being picked up in June.
  • Driverless, a tale of a sexually deviant and slight deranged driverless car, was picked up by Black Beacon Books in August and is scheduled for publication next year.
  • Three Wishes, a flash tale of a day out with children gone strange, was accepted by Daily Science Fiction in early September and... well, I'm not sure.  You see, I realised after a couple of months that I may not have responded to the contract offer and sent a sorry-sorry-sorry-yes-please email   I've now been emailing - at a polite, non-hysterical frequency - for a couple of months now, and have not had a single response.  But, I've also submitted and been rejected by DSF twice in that time.  All very odd, and will continue to be odd until I get a quick email back saying all's well - or not...
  • Felis Sarcasticus, previously blogged about, sold in October to Wyldblood and appeared a month later.
  • The Moth, the first of three December sales, will appear in Wasatch Witches, an anthology from the Utah Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, with which I have precious little connection but wish them well.
  • Snowball, a tale of cryptozoological mischief-making, will help launch Land Beyond the World sometime in 2021.
  • Faivish the Imbecile, a tale of Frankenstein's monsters and 1970's Jewish New York tailors, was snapped up by the Quiet Reader between Christmas and the New Year, and will be on their site within days.
  • ...and it's worth mentioning that May Nothing but Happiness Come Through Your Door, Camponotus VampiricusTesla ♥ Waymo 4Ever, and The Artist and the Magician, sold in previous years, were all published in 2020.

Eleven pieces sold, only two reprints, 21,000 words of new material, and around half of those pieces going for decent semi-pro 6c a word or thereabouts rates.  Given that I identified the need to sell longer pieces to better paying venues - I may have sold 17 pieces in the previous years, but 12 were either sub-1000 words, for token payment, or to flaky venues that never published - I think 2020 represents a decent stride forward.  Perhaps my target for this year should be to stop submitting to the penny merchants, at least until I've exhausted all other possibilities for any given story.

Elsewhere, there's the continual sound of pieces bouncing off the transom.  Two silver honorables and two unplaced was my tally at the Writer of the Future contest (idenitical to last year, oddly).  For a long while, the Grinder showed my submission at Fantasy as being the oldest pending piece, before it was dismissed with a whimper rather than a bang.  Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction all had nice things to say about my stories, but not that they were running them.  One got through the outer defences of Pseudopod but couldn't make it count with the editor.  Last rounds and near misses were to be had at Flash Fiction Online, Paper Butterfly and NewMyths.com; a semi final place at the Cast of Wonders Flash Fiction competition.  Of another tale, Curiouser said it was "a really strong piece... a well-paced and fascinating tale... and damn I loved the ending."  Yep, that was a rejection, folks.

But, as ever, irons remain in fires.  Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores have bounced back a story three times now with notes, with an invitation for a fourth and last attempt.  I have easily the oldest yet-to-be-rejected submission at Electric Lit, albeit a venue the Grinder shows as never having accepted anything (?!).  Sexy Fantastic Magazine asked for a full ms on the strength of a sample.  Of the 57 outstanding submissions shown on the Grinder, fourteen are amber and seven red.  Some of the blancmange is bound to stick.

Meanwhile, I think I know what you're thinking.  When will this end?  No, I mean, tell us about the novels.

I think it's telling that the report on short fiction sits front and centre.  I had something of an epiphany when I broke off from Toefoot, my dark sci-fi thriller, to work on a 10,000-word Writers of the Future entry, then broke off from that to work on a 1000-word competition flash entry.  I've never considered myself flighty, I'm happy to run marathons (or was), take on major projects, think at scale.  I've already got a novel under my belt, so I know I have the legs to write another, so why can't I stick at it?

Too many ideas, I think.  Too many ideas that work as short fiction, which can be turned out in a week or three.  Too many sci-fi sketches rather than epic sweeps.

But an experience from July didn't help, when I lost the publisher of 2084, Double Dragon, when they folded, Covid being the last straw for what was essentially a one-man band.  My first and final royalty payment?  $2.13.  That's about 0.0025 cents per word.  Not even a coffee.  Puts it all in context, doesn’t it?

The imprint was bought out by Fiction4all, which seemed to be dominated by porn when I did my due diligence on their offer of taking on 2084.  Hence I republished it under my own William Holly imprint and it’s original, intended title in November (a proper ISBN! copy lodged with the British Library!!) with the sort of cover that I always wanted out of Double Dragon.

As for the publishing process (I'm a publisher! - a writer and a publisher!!), I'd already mapped the route out with my anthology of previously published stories, 24 0s & a 2, which dropped on to Amazon in May.

But as for my perennial objectives of completing a novel and selling a novel?  Nothing happened with my Harry Potter-meets-Doctor Who YA SF thriller in 2020 other than my realising that it never was, and never will be the first part of a trilogy: it’s a good first two acts, but I’ve left my characters hanging, in need of another 30,000 words to return them to their rightful world.  The pity is I’ve used up my opportunities with most of the obvious agents and publishers.

Otherwise, Toefoot is still lost in act 2, with each push forward getting diverted by the needs of everyday work and life, as well as the distraction of short fiction, but has pushed itself forward from 33,000 to 50,000 words, although that incorporates quite a lot of honing and rewriting, so it's not just 17,000 more words.  I’ll finish them both in 2021 - honest - together with the usual minimum requirement of selling at least three new short stories.  Perhaps I should set a minimum rate, say 3 cents a word?

Perhaps if I write them all down as targets I’ll be able to stick to them.

There.  Looks like I just did.

#

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.