Six Words That Changed The World

Wired magazine approached the worlds most noted fiction auteurs for six word stories. Here’s what they got.

http://wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html

And some more attempts at the Asimovs web board

http://www.asimovs.com/discus/

Here are my tiny epics –

Humanity achieves ascendence. Republicans left behind.

Aliens purchase Earth. Corporate bonuses soar.

Microsoft patents Hope. Download patch here.

Rapture hits Britain. No one notices.

NaNoWriMo

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I’m scribbling from sick bed today. Even being off work I’m still not without work, as the second half of today will be spent doing the graphic design for the upcoming events season publicity. Sigh.

However whilst trying to get my flu wracked body into action my still mobile fingers were able to sign me up for National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo. Once again this was inspired by having something appear three times in same month. The cool Factor Fiction people mentioned it to me at FantasyCon, then Mur Lafferty at ‘I Should Be Writing’ made a great case for taking part in NaNo, and two of the subscribers to the Leicester Literature newsletter have also brought it up. I’m starting to notice an important pattern here that suggests I’m allowing my life to be guided by random chance…oh well.

My plan is to use NaNo to cannonball into writing the first draft of SWORD . I’m not sure if this is entirely within the rules as I have already done 10k of a previous version of this book and and will by 1st November also have a 5k outline of the whole book. However, I think something like NaNo is what you make it. I’m going to keep a little journal here on the blog of my NaNo progress over November as well.

Carving lines on the jail cell wall

I’ve been continuing with outlining process on … … … you know I really have to come up with a pseudonym for the novel project until I run into a title I’m happy with. OK then, from henceforth the current novel project shall be called … (cosiders momentarily) … SWORD! What do you mean it’s odd sounding? Oh well…at least I can live with it.

At current rate the outlining of SWORD looks like ot could take weeks, but really I just need to clear a day and get it done. I’m still feeling very positive about the outline process at the moment and am really looking forward to being able to sit down to the writing itself with a little less mental clutter and just being able top focus on the chapter at hand. In the debate of ‘outline vs. improvisation’ I’m coming down firmly on the side of the planning camp. In fact I’ve decided that anyone who writes fiction of any complexity and tells you they DON’T outline is either lying or self-deluded. And you can tell them I said that.

I’ve also been in short story land this week. There is an open call from BBC 7 for short fiction for braodcast, which interested me because I’m such a fan of Escape Pod and Pseudopod and Podiobooks. The BBC 7 programme makes it farly clear they aren’t interested in cutting edge SF or Fantasy so I resurrected an old idea  thought might fulfill their criteria, but really my heart just wasn’t in it. Its always a mistake to write for a specific opportunity unless it genuienly matches the actual direction of your writing so I’ve put the BBC opportunity to one side for now. However, I am submitting ‘Cthul-YOU’ to Weird Tales this week. My newly drawn up chart of my story submissions shows me that this is my only unpublished story on the market now. There are MANY other unpublished stories in my folio but as I get to know the markets better there are none I will send out again without some serious revisions. I also have some new ideas requiring a new style for shorts stories that I’m going to make the time to get into in the next few months. There is something about the short fiction mags like WT, Asimovs etc that I’m really growing to appreciate. Some of them have been around for so long that just getting a story into them feels like becoming a part of some strange alternative history (hmmm…that feels like a story stubb…). If I can possibly find the time whilst working on the novel and other commitments I really want to get some words down that will get into print on their pages.

For now however the outline for SWORD is the priority. Keep scratching away D.

Ender’s Game

enders-game.jpgOrson Scott Card is a writer that for many years existed in my mind as part of an amorphous mass of ‘Hard SF’ writers, most of them American, that I had not read and did not have any great interest in reading. Not due to any particular dislike for Hard SF, or for Americans, but because they were on the wrong side of my mental map of the SF/F geography. Which is a round about way of saying – I didn’t know anything about him or them.

This goes someway to explaining why Ender’s Game didn’t get any more than a first page test before hitting my ‘might read someday’ pile. The rest of the explanation can be found in knowing that before the ‘might read’ pile is the ‘will read’, then the ‘want to read’, then the ‘must read’ piles. And lets not forget the ‘MUST READ URGENTLY’ pile. There was nothing wrong with the book, but on page one nothing leapt out and my preconceptions did the rest. It took one of those fortuitous weeks of hearing OSC’s name three times in three different places to peak my curiosity again and get me on to page 2. Then page 3. Then pages 4,5,6 and on and on…

 I tore through Ender’s Game in three sittings over a weekend. The reasons for my excitement were manifold, a great story, intricate characters, brilliant pacing and an imaginative world both claustrophobic and escapist. By the evidence of this, his first novel, Card is every bit the writer his reputation says he is…and more.

But the most fascinating aspect of Ender’s Game was the presience of the novels predictions for our future, which originaly made in the late 70’s largely seem to have come true by the early noughties.

Ender is a young man caught into a game organised by the future military to train a new generation of star generals who will defeat Earth’s ever present alien menace, the buggers. Whilst this forms the spine of a complex tale of space warfare, the subtext of this story is the pressure that society places on the young in the process of forming them into adults. Enders experiences during military training parellel those that any young person being trained into an elite or simply towards high achievement would face. Where this subtext becomes spookily accurate is in the game metaphor that emerges repeatedly throughout the novel. In an era where many young men spend ever greater portions of their lives plugged into virtual game environments OSC’s novel has an ever more important emotional and intellectual message to deliver.

***SPOILER ALERT*** 

If I have a criticism of the novel it is a subjective one based on my reaction to the content of that message. The climax of Ender’s Game arrives when the young hero, having been put through what amounts to a programme of mental and physical abuse and brainwashing, defeats Earths alien enemies. All of the complex moral arguments that OSC weaves into his story are ultimately trumped by the rather straight forward ‘get them before they get you’ message. Somehow this struck me as incongruous, like a Hollywood happy ending tacked onto a Eurpean arthouse movie. It is as though OSC constructed the story in a logical fashion, found he disagreed with its morality and therefore abandoned the ending he didn’t like and replaced it with one that suited his own ethical framework. For this reason the end seems a little contrived, although there is no doubt it achieves a surprising twist and read purely as the climax of the adventure it works wonderfully.

My run in with Orson Scott Card may well direct me twords picking up a few more of the contemporary US Hard SF writers that I know so little of, although whther they will make it onto the ‘might read’ or the ‘must read’ pile I’m not sure. What I do know is that the next part of the Ender Saga is now on the ‘MUST READ URGENTLY’ pile, as will be most of Mr Cards other books when I can lay my hands on them. 

British Library Discovers Blogs…And Only a Decade Late

I woke up this morning to discover that the British Library and a collection of their National Trust partners had declared today a sort of national blog day.

In an attempt to capture the minutiae of ordinary life our nations bastions of learning have invited the normal everyday of people to toddle along to the History Matters website and post a diary of their oh so average lives.

Perhaps I’m alone in finding outreach work of this kind coming down from the lofty heights of such ivory towers more than a little bit patronising. It occurs to me that ordinary people have been sharing the details of everday life with each other for quite some time now, and archiving those thoughts as well.

Firstly it seems that in order to benefit from the BL’s generous offer to catalogue the lives of such mere mortals as ourselves, after so many years of neglect, the BL is asking us to go to their website and post our blog entry on their blo…this seems to miss one of the cardinal principles of blogging, that we as ordinary people have control of our words, how they are presented and stored and archived.

I also wonder at how representative a ‘day in the life’ of people who take part in this project will be. Is it possible that in a hundred years time the historians view of Tuesday 17th October will be coloured through the lens of a self selecting audience of Radio 4 listeners and amateur historians?  

Perhaps a more effective historical document could be compiled by historains actualy going out and documenting all of the REAL blog posts made today. Certainly this would be more representative (even if it was weighted towards IT nerds and SF geeks…)

I applaud blog day as a great piece of PR for the history movement and wish it every success, but hope that the dedicated historians behind the scenes manage to live up to the promise of documenting the lives of ordinary people in the digital age. Even the cynical and sarcastic ones…

Gardens of the Moon

gardens.jpgI had to have a long hard think before deciding whether to post a  review this book. Not so much because of the book, more because I really can’t decide whether I like it or not. I have multi-farious faults but lack of an opinion isn’t generaly one of them, so finding myself so indecisive is noteworthy in and of itself.

 ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is the first novel in Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ sequence. A process of inevitable attraction seemed to draw me into picking up the first book, having run into Erikson’s name referenced repeatedly as the current cutting edge of high fantasy. With the first novel digested I can see how that reputation arose, but I’m stil not certain whether it’s deserved.

One of many excellent reviews embalzoned on ‘Gardens of the Moon’ refers to it as ‘fearsomly readable’, and this is entirely true. Erikson constructs his novel with the pacing of a boulder tumbled from a cliff. He uses a clearly delineated act structure that traces the story over a long period, but each act itself covers only a few days, a single night or even just one or two hours. This is a strong narrative tool that keeps the story engaging and avoids the ‘and then they walked a bit more accross the endless wilderness for a few days until something interesting happened’ syndrome common to epic fantasy. Bolted onto this strong narrative are an intoxicating mixture of high fantasy elements that have clearly been through Erikson’s patented ‘reimagining’ machine. Yes there is magic, but its a dirty elemental type of magic. Yes there is war, but its more like intense urban conflict than the last stand of Gondor. Yes there are heroes, but they are conflicted, greyer than grey heroes. Great stuff I thought as I plowed my way through the first few hundred pages.

So it took be by surprise when I realised that the excellent writing and brilliant imagination had distracted me from the almost total lack of character in the story. Not characters mind you, those crowd the ages of the book in abundance. As does characterisation. There are fat female wizards, gritty cynical sergeants and  dangerously dark eyed female assassins. But character – the aspects of actual human behaviour that are both the back bone and meat&potatoes of a good story – was mysteriously absent. Take the dangerously dark eyed female assassin. She spends a lot of time looming dangerously. Other characters spend a lot of time scared of her scarily dark eyes. She even stabs people occaisionaly. But none of the events of the story establish her character. In fact the story and the characters often seem to be living in two completely different dimensions, as though Erikson designed the two elements in isolation and then spent 700 pages trying to jam them into the same book.

When a story has both huge strengths and huge weaknesses you might expect them to cancel each other out and produce a mediocre product, but ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is a novel that can be great on one page and appalling on the next. I will definitely venture further into Erikson land, but will be alert for the appearance of better realised characters before buying the round the world ticket.

Oh…the madness…

Sitting out of rehearsal for the event I was working on this afternoon I outlined two more chapters of Sword&Sorcery. This gives me the the first act in detail and the whole story arc in broad strokes from last weeks work (thats all long hand and as I don’t need it directly I’m not going to transcribe it directly just for the blog). I’ll get into act two in the morning and aim to have two and three done by the end of the weekend. I might throw myself into a few chapters then to reassure myself the new outlining process is a good one.

Outlining

I put in two good, two hour writing sessions today, continuing the outline I began midweek. I’m taking the outline process further than I have in the past and at the moment it’s feeling like a very constructive way of working. My reservation with outlining is that when I sit down to write, that ‘whats going to happen’ excitement might not be there. Given that what I actualy experience is far more often a ‘will this be the the  ight thing to happen when I get to Act 4 or am I just going to have to rewrite the whole thing anyway’ feeling I decided that risking the excitement in favour of having at least a vague idea of how things fit together might be a good idea. The test comes when I sit down to rewrite chapters 1 – 3 of this project. If they are a significant advance from the last draft then I will have made some progress.

Its strange where and how I end up finding information about writing. I have more than one friend who is absolutely scathing about any kind of popular ‘How to Write a Novel’ book. A few years ago I felt the same, but my experience  of actualy trying to find expert insights into writing fiction has made me do a 180 degree turn on this issue. Novels are a popular artform after all (at least the ones I read are) so why shouldn’t you get ideas for making them from popular sources?

The latest in the long line of my literary muses is Albert Zuckerman’s ‘Writing the Blockbuster Novel’. I picked this up for 25p in a car boot sale and after a quick flick threw it into my large pile of unread writing guides. A few months later I was listening to a Slice of Sci-Fi podcast from Dragoncon 2006 that was a recording of Kevin J Anderson’s panel at the con. I don’t know Kevin’s work (although I’ve picked some up since) but half way through the cast he references Zuckermans book as the single most influential writing guide he read before getting published. So I pulled ‘WTBBN’ out of the pile a discovered an absolute gem.

Outlining is oone of the maiin things I pulled out of the book. I have always outlined my attempts at a majour project before, but only at half the detail of profesional outlines I have seen since. I think a big part of the reason was being over keen to get into the meat of the writing to prove to myself I could do it. Getting to the 15k point on my two week blitz of ‘Masques’ for FantasyCon really advanced my chapter writing, so now I feel much happier doing a full outline without losing patience and leaping into the writing feet first.

 If I get the outline finsihed this weekend I will post some sections of it here and go into some detail of how it developed.

And the kids go crazy…

I spent the morning introducing children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson to a school full of 7-11 yr olds. I’ve never seen that many kids so excited about meeting a writer before – and who says books aren’t cool!

Unfortunately I left my camera on a table in a cafe after the event. Doh! Hopefully I’ll be able to track it down and post some photos to the blog from the event.

It’s always a little odd meeting famous writers. They are never quite as you expect them to be. It’s especialy odd when you get to know somebody through their writing – you build up an image of how they look and behave based on the chracters they write. The odd thing is that even when there are nothing alike there is always something of a person reflected in their writing.

The Next Big Thing?

An idea I seem to have stumbled into three times in as many weeks…the ‘breakout’ artist.

Every type of art gets them from time to time. Folk music got Dylan. Kids books just got JK Rowling. Sports get them as well, basketball got Michael Jordan. Something about an individuals work gets them noticed far and above even their most succesful peers.

It seems like a long time since SF had one of these, if it ever did. Philip K Dick? William Gibson? I’m not sure any SF writer has really broken through into the popular imagination in that way. Well, theres always L Ron Hubbard. Throwing the net a bit wider to the whole of SF, Fantasy and Horror – Tolkien is a good example. As is Steven King. Neil Gaiman seems really close to that point, maybe after the new film is relased.

I’m wondering who might be the Next Big Thing? Its an impossible question to answer but maybe the folks over at the Asimovs board will have some suggestions. The two names that spring to mind for me are Charles Stross in the SF world and Joe Hill in horror – wouldn’t be the first son to inherit talent from his father. (I’ve been working my way through 20th Century Ghosts over the last few months, genuinely fantastic writing. I’m looking forward to the novel.) But something tells me that the fact I know who they are at this point means it probably won’t be them. They both have the talent but the ‘breakout’ status is more a thing of luck than skill. Perhaps theres somebody out there somewhere right now penning the next big SF/F/H novel.

Why Blog?

As usual the folks over at the Asimov’s magazine forum have sparked up another interesting conversation.

http://www.asimovs.com/discus/messages/2/6239.html?1159539485

Is blogging egocentric? Given that most blogs are never read or read by only a small handful of people, you could argue that a blog is no more egocentric than a secret diary. In many ways I find blogging the opposite of egocentric. How so? When I put my thoughts down in a public forum I’m being open, whereas when I leave them spinning around in my head I’m being closed. The latter state is a much more egocentric one, because it is based in the belief that if others knew what I was thinking they would all suddenly be effected by ot, either positively or negatively. Posting to a blog in full knowledge that even if people read it they probably won’t care is therefore the polar opposite of egocentric!

Evil Yahoo!

I wish I could say I left Yahoo! as part of a principled stand against their activities in China, or as a protest against their horrendously corporate identity. Perhaps these things crossed my mind, but the truth is I left because Yahoo! stopped working.

There is no doubt that Yahoo! represents the worst of the mainstream internet. If you want to be forced fed advertising for every type of cultural lowest common denominator from teeny pop videos to mobile phone ring tones then Yahoo! is the place for you. I can’t imagine anybody over the age of 16 being anything but bored stupid by the utter shit that Yahoo! is pedalling. But this has been the case for years and I lived with it.

I loged onto Yahoo! everyday for the best part of a decade because they had the chore of hosting my webmail. For a long time it fulfilled that purpose admirably. And then one day I noticed that not only was I waiting way too long for the new video ads to load, but once they did they were so huge that my e-mail messages were being displayed at about three words per line. And then the final straw came when Yahoo! overhauled their whole e-mail system and the whole thing became completely unusable.

So I’ve moved over to Google. Maybe they are evil as well, but at least the site loads cleanly, the facilities are 5 star and I can read my e-mail properley.

But Yahoo! weren’t finished with me. Oh no! Not by half. It seems that when Yahoo! figured out I had defected they implemented their revenge by deleting my website on Yahoo! geocities. No warning, no message allowing to even capture the files. I go to log on and the whole thing has just been purged from their system.

So I knew Yahoo! were evil, and now I know they are also vindictive. Fortunately I have back ups for all the website files, but I can say without a doubt that if I can possibly manage it I will never type http://www.yahoo.com into my address bar again.

Amen.

Writer. Story geek. Travelling the world while writing a book.