Standing at a crossroads...

After many, many longs months of editing and tweaking, my latest two projects are finally at a point where I can throw them out to the market and see if anybody bites. Both are for the Young Adult market; one SF and one Urban Fantasy/Steampunk.

Of course, having macheted my way through that particular jungle, the next problem is what should I start on next? I just looked at my project folder and I have seven books waiting to be written. OK, two are follow-on's from stuff already completed, but I have Vampires, Brain-sucking Aliens, a Psychic, and a baby factory!

Maybe I need to stop having ideas faster than I can write them :) Still, I'm not complaining. Cant think of anything worse than coming to the end of a project and not having any ideas for what to do next :)


Don't ask if you don't want to know...

Most writers brave enough to give their work to somebody else and ask for comments have a vague idea of what's coming back. The depth of the comments and feedback will always depend on the experience of the person you asked to dissect your precious child and, intellectually at least, you are prepared to get back comments and suggestions that feel as though somebody has ripped out several of your internal organs.

Then you read them again the next day, and the pain is (usually) less, and you see which comments you agree with, which ones you don't, and you send back a nice note to the friend who ripped out you heart, thanking them for their help and maybe asking for a clarification or two. Sometimes they are painful, but they are necessary and we learn to take them in the spirit they are intended.

Then there are the writers who ask you for comments, but who are really looking for a mutual back-patting society, where everyody tells them how talented they are and that they are bound to sell this one because its so ground break/innovative/etc/etc. Its often branded as 'being supportive'. I guess it has its place. But then, people can be supportive and honest.

A quick aside, here, to establish my bona fides. I am an active member of the BSFA's 'Orbit' community of mutual critiquers, and I am the co-ordinator for Orbit-4. So I'm used to being on both ends of crits, on a regular basis.

I had a situation recently where somebody was asking for people to look at a published book and comment. I thought that was a bit odd. You normally ask that sort of question before publication. Now, to make this easier to write, I'm going to say this person was a lady, but she may not have been, in the sense of preserving anonymity.

So I read the free bit from the Amazon page, and while I was there had a look at the comments. The sample looked as though it had not had the benefit of a professional editor, the publisher was not one I had ever heard of, and the eleven 5* reviews all consisting of two words, like 'good read' and 'excellent book'. I pointed out how fake that looked (in the kindest way), asked about the editor, and made a few fairly gentle comments about things I saw as potential issues with the book.

Not a word back, not even a thank you. And I guess that's OK if you think what some authors have vented into the cybersphere when they've had negative comments made. Still, its made me think twice now about extending a 'helping hand' in the future. I guess the moral is be sure what you ask for is what you really want. And even if what you get back isn't what you expected, at least say thanks.


What is urban fantasy?

OK, this may sound a bit of an odd one, but I have been struggling with this for a while. See, my definition of urban fantasy is, in a nutshell, Harry Dresden. It's fantasy, in a mundane urban environment, usually where the general populace don't have a clue of what is lurking in the shadows around them. Simon R Green's 'Nightside' books come broadly into this catagory, as do Tim Waggoner's Matt Richter series.

But then along comes the 'new' Urban Fantasy: Buffy! Kim Harrison! A plethora of hard hitting 'girls with attitude and the moves to make it stick'. Mandatory love triangle, usually involving at least one paranormal. The cynic in me says its a highjack job - paranormal romance looking to get respectable by including some rough and tumble :) I'm mostly kidding. Mostly.

I read an interesting blog today. The long and diverse history of urban fantasy, by Carrie Vaughn. She nails the hijack down to around 2007. Dresden started around 2000, Nightside around 2003. I dont know enough about Waggoner's work to say if Richter is his only Urban Fantasy, but that was around 2009, so it sounds about right. Anyhow, her article is well worth looking over.

I've no problem with a genre evolving. Heck, I really like Kim Harrison's work (and love the pun titles), and Buffy works on so many levels for me its unreal. I also love the 'Demon Trappers' trilogy by Jana Oliver. But at the same time, there is a sense of Urban Fantasy as a label being refined down, and excluding much of what it once was in favour of marketing it to an ever more specific slice of readers. That I am not in favour of . Genres are already too specialised, and the boundaries between them are already to high.


Trilogies, trilogies, trilogies everywhere

I read about this a while ago. I cant remember whose blog it was on, or I'd give appropriate credit.

The thrust of the comment was lamenting the demise of the single volume book. At first I thought this was an exaggeration. Now, not so much. I was reading 'Clockwork Angel' by Cassandra Clare (check out GoodReads for my comments). Now, this is a fine book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was about 2/3rds of the way through when I started to get an uneasy feeling. When I checked - sure enough it was part of a trilogy.

I wasn't best pleased. The story was good, but I don't know if it is good enough for me to want to read two more volumes of it. So then I checked back along my reading list for trilogies/multi volumes:

Demon Trappers 
Wizards first law
Time Scout
Chaos Walking
Hunger Games

And that's just about since Christmas. How many of those have I actually read in full? Just the 'Wizards First Law' series by Abercrombie. How many will I read? Probably only Demon Trappers and Divergent. Why?

Good question. If the material is there, a trilogy is a good idea. If it isn't - its a drag and a ripoff .

Most of my writing is single volume. My book 'Aphrodite's Dawn' (available from Amazon, folks, don't miss out) stands alone, although I have an outline for a sequel maybe one day. Of my works in progress, all three stand on their own. But here is the embarrassing admission: I have outlines for two of them to go to trilogies.

Pot and kettle? Not really. Anything I have that is multi-volume, the plan is that each can be read in isolation without leaving you feeling you don't have the whole story. I think that's fairer. Of course, I actually have to get them finished first :)


Dipping a toe into Eastercon

This was my first Eastercon. OK, my first half Eastercon if you want to be pedantic. And to be honest it was more of mate meeting session, which is never a bad thing. Ian Whates of Newcon press is always a pleasure to chat to, and it was nice to bump into  Trevor Jones - given I hadn't really spoken to him in about eight  years, it was great to be remembered. And, of course, Anne Sudworth put on a wonderful display of her artwork

One of the highlights of the evening was a random chat with a bloke by the name of John Cox. Nobody famous that I could tell, but we had a right old natter.

Then today just when it seemed all over, Raven Dane delivered a brilliant presentation about training horses for the movie and film industry.

Next year, Bradford, may be a bit too far out of my patch, but I'll certainly think about going next time its in London


The positive side of rejections

We all get them -writers and rejections, I mean. OK, probably not Steven King, but you get my point.

Thing is, they aren't always a bad thing. Maybe that doesn't make sense. Allow me to expand.

I think creators - so that's artists, writers, etc - need three things to keep them going, rather like a fire. A fire needs fuel, oxidizer and ignition. Creative types need inspiration, dedication and - probably most importantly - appreciation.

It doesn't have to be much, but its the lack of appreciation that grinds me down. And no, I'm not talking about screaming hoards of fans besieging stores at book launches (though I cant say it wouldn't be nice). Appreciation is just a little something that lets you know that somebody out there values what you are doing in some way. It can be a tiny thing, like someone dropping you an email with a nice comment, or someone on GoodReads giving you a healthy number of stars. And the more personal it is, the better. Getting a story accepted is right up their near the top.

So how can a rejection score on the appreciation side? Its how its delivered. Lots of publishers only send regular, impersonal rejections. I can understand why; they don't have a lot of time and being too honest could kick off a firestorm. So 'form' rejections are an expectedly crushing disappointment, but we live with them.

Personal rejections are rare and treasured. You find out more about why your work didn't fit, and you know that the editor or publisher thought highly enough of you to take the time to send you a personal message. Its appreciation, and between peers.

I got one this weekend. One of the three best rejections I've ever had, and it couldn't have come at a better time. For various reasons I've been feeling a little down and demotivated for most of this year, but right now I feel my mojo has returned and I am kicking serious ass on a couple of projects I haven't felt able to tackle.

Always look for the silver lining, I say :)