Friday, November 20, 2009

Hi, My Name is Mark, and I'm Internet-Dependent

What I love most about Google is not that I can, if asked, find pictures of the neighborhood where I lived briefly in Berkeley, Ca, but rather if I stray into the more powerful tools like Google books and Google scholar, I'll find all sorts of useful information tucked away in books and papers I would have never otherwise thought to peruse.

One of the best examples of this is my current Golden Age Boxer project. A quick Google of "Sailor Tom Sharkey" gives me nothing to work with that I don't already have (and may I just say, a pox on those websites who just glom onto other sources and present the same info over and over again ad nauseum). But if I type that name into Google Books, I start finding mentions of him in old, very out-of-print memoires of then-famous referees, or write-ups in collections of one sports writer's columns. I have found this type of information to be invaluable, since it was usually written during Sharkey's lifetime, and even as anecdote, it's a measure of how he was seen in society. Very, very cool.

Google Image, How I Love Thee

Today I was working on something that required a bit of photo reference, in this case of the Montgomery Street BART Station in San Francisco. In pre-internet days, that would have required at least a trip to a library, or more than likely an actual journey to San Francisco with a camera in hand to take a few shots myself. Now, thanks to the magic of Google Image search, I turned up many images online, not just of the platform (both with and without trains), but the escalators leading up from the platform, the mezzanine, and several of the street level entrances. I was able to load the script up with links to exactly the shot that I had in mind, something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

I mentioned this online, and Willingham asked how writers in pre-internet days were able to write, without having recourse to Google Image. And honestly, I didn't know the answer. It's gotten to the point that I can't imagine writing without having access to internet searches, not just for image reference but for research and data.

How about the rest of the Tick-Tock Gang? Have you become as dependent on the internets as Bill and I have?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Few Random Notes of Possible Interest

I'd like to mention just a few things before delving deep into the writing hole for a while. First of all, I'm bone tired of being behind on all of my deadlines, and remember fondly that (nearly) one whole year in Vermont when I was actually ahead on all of my deadlines. So I have decided to take a fairly radical step in correcting that.

Starting today (as soon as I finish this note, in fact) I'm going to embark on a 30 scripts in 30 days writing marathon. In the past I've been able to complete a single comic book script in a day, without killing myself. Now I'm going to see if I can do it for many days in a row.

Blame Matthew Sturges for this ridiculous stunt. He so inspired me with his 100k words in one month triumph that I simply had to try something comparable. It really was a triumph too, in every sense of the ancient tradition. Matt rode into Rome on a gilded chariot. He wore a crown of laurels, which he continues to wear every day while writing. He had an honored slave riding in the chariot with him, whispering in his ear: "Remember, all glory is fleeting."

I want that too. Especially the slave, because my house needs lots of cleaning and the yard is looking a bit ragged.

But take note that, although this is a silly stunt, it's not a contest or a competition. We've done writing contests to death in this blog and we aren't doing that any more -- not now that we've finally succeeded in recasting this blog into what I'd wanted it to be all along: a never-ending convention panel discussion about the art and craft and joys and horrors of the writing profession. So no one else among the Tick Tock Men and Woman will be joining in. In fact, they are forbidden to take part, or do anything but cheer or jeer (or comment) from the sidelines. So there.

And, in order not to derail the conversation here, I will not be posting updates here. I will do that via Twitter. So follow me there, if you are at all interested in keeping up. I imagine this sort of like the Jerry Lewis Telethon, where half of the fun of watching it each year was in watching Jerry slowly melt down as the event wore on. You can watch as my Twitter posts slowly get less cogent and more deranged over the coming month or so.

I say "month or so" rather than the precise 30 days because I have written in a few strategic days off into the schedule for this damned fool stunt -- for holidays and friendship maintenance and such. So really it's more of a 30 scripts before the new year thing, but that doesn't have the same sort of poetry in it, does it?

But on each actual work day I do plan on completing an entire comic script. That's the part that makes this a bit more than just a "I plan to work harder for a while" sort of event, which really has no pizazz at all.

Okay, on to other things.

The New York Times Holiday Gift Guide for Graphic Novels has come out, and out of the eleven books listed, two of them are Fables books. Yes, I am bragging. Yes, I know how unseemly it is to do so. But since the universe decided long ago that I don't get to be Jennifer Connelly's favored play toy, I need something to cling to. You can go here and see what I'm talking about.

I bought books.

I recently purchased our own Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium for the second time, because I lost the first one while I was only half-way through it. It worked out well though, because I was able to get Daryl to sign the second copy and he wrote a wonderful (and woefully undeserved) dedication to me in it, which was made doubly gracious when the story turned out to be so wonderful. I didn't see the twist coming, Daryl, but in hindsight it's the only way it could have happened. Lovely job.

I just picked up Never After, an anthology of fantasy stories by Laurell K Hamilton (who must be the designated heavy hitter, because her name appears about three times as large as any of the other authors), Yasmine Galenorn, Sharon Shinn and our very own Marjorie M Liu. I haven't read it yet, but I'm starting with Marjorie's tale, which is called The Tangleroot Palace. So I hope these stories don't have to be read in order.

I bought Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, by David Benedictus, who does a reasonable job of following the genius of AA Milne, and by Mark Burgess who illustrates the new book in the style of Earnest H Shepard. But I have one BIG complaint. The credits read: Decorations by Mark Burgess. Decorations? Seriously? Were you trying to be whimsical, or glib, or what? In point of fact, by designating these terrific illustrations as mere decorations, you were being dismissive and insulting. And I'm talking about insults in the ancient tradition, where spilled blood is needed to correct the matter, else the wonderful Clockwork mechanisms of the Heavens and the Earth will be forever after misaligned. How dare you assholes do that! Mark Burgess, if you need a second when you demand redress, I'm your man. I've many good blades, if swords are called for, and guns if it's to be pistols.

And to my everlasting shame and embarrassment, I bought Richard Castle's new book, Heat Wave. Yes that Richard Castle. It even has his picture on the back. As you will note by the material above, I am perfectly willing to go along with a good literary stunt. Judging solely by the first page, this story may not suck.

I'm off to start my first script in the marathon. I'll post here from time to time, but it's likely not to be too often. In the meantime, the other eight will have far too much to say to inform and enlighten you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hard to fly, easy to fall...

I love what I do. But, occasionally, I fear that I will kill what I love.

I was cruising the web the other day, and found this blog entry about how and why businesses, even successful ones, fail. The five stages of decline pertain to almost any profession -- but as a writer, I found them particularly relevant.


So, let's enter a fantasy world for a moment. Pretend your first book is a critical and commercial success -- you're at the top of the dog pile, and miracle upon miracle, your next book does just as well. And the third, too. You're, like, a genius. Right? You can't not write a gem. Easy breezy.

Uh-huh. Start sweating. Put your feet back on the ground, darlin'.

Look at it this way: You wouldn't expect Michael Phelps to keep winning Olympic gold medals without training. You wouldn't expect, at all, that he could spend a year on the couch eating nachos and jelly beans, and then dive back into the pool and break more world records. You'd call him a fool if he tried.

Don't let success, however you measure it, turn you into a fool. The work never ends. All that changes is how you approach the work -- whether you come to it with dedication, love, a little insanity -- or whether you treat it carelessly, as something you are entitled to and can coast through. You might be able to fake the goods for a while, but eventually you'll slip.

Heck, you might slip even if you write another gem, a masterpiece. Life happens. Sales fall. Readers find some other bright new star.


Taste success, and you want more. Makes sense. The problem is when you allow the visceral rewards of success to become all that matters -- when the rush that comes from doing well matters more than the work itself.

Again, step back. As a writer, you must push your limits -- explore the edges of what you're capable of -- but be practical. Think. Plan. Practice. Be disciplined about your expansion. Quality matters more than quantity (excluding, for a moment, a discussion about the practical and monetary reasons for writers to create more than what they're always comfortable with).


This is what happens when the bad reviews start coming in, or your sales figures drop. I could add some other things to the list, but those are the two that kill most writers (figuratively, and literally). Now, in defense of authors, some of that is out of our control. Placement, covers, bad copy, bad marketing -- all kinds of things can affect sales. And reviews -- oh, man -- you can't anticipate what people will love and hate. You do your best, and you move on.

But let's also be practical. If your reviews are bad and numbers are dropping, you need to accept that maybe, just maybe, you're doing something wrong. Seriously, take a look. Some authors can't handle that kind of responsibility. They attack readers when reviews are bad, rather than stepping back and giving their books a good, hard, look. They blame publishers and booksellers when sales figures head down the drain (sometimes the blame is well-deserved) instead of asking themselves whether it's possible that maybe their book just isn't that good.

Are you slipping? Are you self-aware enough to notice? Are you humble enough to listen when people say that you need to work on your storytelling?


At this point, you're no longer at the top of your field. You've slipped. And you're frightened. It's not too late to climb back up the ladder, but it's going to take hard work, and self-reflection.

Instead, you want a quick fix. So you do something crazy. With a writer, that could be anything. Maybe you change publishers, change genres -- but you do something radical that gets you all that attention you've been missing. Maybe it works. Maybe it works for only a short time. But either way, you're motivated by desperation, rather than cold calculation (there's a difference, I assure you).


Start thinking of a new pseudonym, friend. You've ruined the one you've got now.

The good thing is, if you've got some heart and courage left over, you can start again. You can always start again, no matter what you do with your life. As George Weinberg says, “Hope never abandons you; you abandon it.”

But don't let it get to that point, okay? A little self-awareness, humility, and common sense go a long way. As writers, we're called out on a long journey that will be full of ups and downs -- but how we approach our work (and our own selves) will determine whether we fall, merely stumble -- or fly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Six Word Stories from the Tick Tock Men (and Woman)

I want to respond to all of the posts below from those who've responded to my "What do we owe the readers?" question, because I've still got more to say about it, especially about the fact that so few weighed in on my following question, "What do we specifically not owe the readers?" which granted could be just a touch incendiary, depending on the responses, so I don't really blame the others for not jumping on that grenade.

But all of that will have to wait because it's time, as promised, for our six word stories, and here's what we found out: Six word stories are fun. Before this I thought comic book writing left no room for wasted words and run-on scenes, but I was wrong. Now I see that comics are positively fat with room for leisurely prose, for slow and deliberate character development, for almost glacial building of plot and tension. The six word story is where the really terse and bare bones writing is done these days.

But it seems even this isn't the acme of the short story. As you'll see below the new guy, Daryl, thought that was one word too many -- that the six worders contained too much room to ramble on. Or maybe he just thought he could show us up again. Regardless, we now present a selection of six word stories (and one five word story) for your enjoyment.

Chris Roberson

Librarian of Alexandria seeks overdue books.

Matthew Sturges

1) A stitch in time saves Lincoln.

2) We're all dead? Good. Let's eat.

3) The universe ended this morning. Again.

4) THIS virus, however, is totally safe.

5) I ate her brain. She reciprocated.

6) No, the aliens ARE the ocean!

7) Dad: fangs. Me: stake. Oedipus: schadenfreude.

Marc Andreyko

1) they married. he died. she's rich.

2) the asylum doors broke open. crap.

3) the diagnosis was bad. he partied.

4) satan: "So?" walter: "It's a deal."

Paul Cornell

"It's my vagina, my dear Watson."

Bill Williams

The ball bounced. I leapt. Score.

Daryl Gregory

"Daylight savings," Van Helsing answered.

Marjorie M Liu

1) I only have eggs for you.

2) Never date Amish vampires. No bite.

Mark Finn

1) Sports fisherman accidentally kills Moby Dick.

2) Slot machine of Dorian Gray malfunctions.

3) Sam Bowen becomes Godfather of Chinatown.

4) Clockwork Storybook expands. Publishing world contracts.

5) Disgruntled elf sleighs Santa. Christmas sucks.

6) Sex therapist's new hobby turns deadly.

7) Biographer rewrites his own life story.

8) Ambrosia unknowingly served at convenience store.

Bill Willingham

Traditional Horror: "What curse? I can't read hieroglyphs."

Modern Horror: Chop! Chop! Chop! Stab! Stab! Stab!

Fantasy: Dark Lord missing. Final battle postponed.

Sword and Sorcery: He came. He saw. He cleaved.

Traditional Romance: "It's not love. It's something more."

Modern Romance: "It's not love. It's something less."

Western: The outlaw drew first, but missed.

Mystery: The butler didn't do it. Yet.

Traditional Lit: Scoured the moors, but she'd departed.

Modern Lit: Suffering ennui, he ended the affair.

Science Fiction: Fleet never surfaced. Hyperspace is fickle.

Historical: Albinus stepped hesitant into the Rubicon.

War: Zulus attacked in waves. "Volley fire!"

Adventure: "One chance! See that rooftop? Jump!"

Children's: Itsy bitsy bug, needs a hug.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"New" Fiction from Finn

Well, it's only new if you weren't around in the Halcyion days of Clockwork Storybook. But it's with great pleasure that I will direct new and old Tickwits alike to that wonderful website,, where you will find an updated and expanded and revised version of the Condorks sequel, The Chance of a Lifetime. The novel will be serialized weekly, so you can read it as it appears or save up a few chapters and read them all at once.

For those of you who don't know about the Condorks, Larry, D.J., Burt and Turk, I will point you in the direction of the first novel, The Transformation of Larry Croft. And yes, both of these books are available for free on RevSF. Is this a great country, or what?

Trusting the Unconscious

I've been thinking about Chris's post below, about Eric Brown's Ten Tips for writers. In some of the other tips, Brown talks even more about the unconscious and how important it is to the writing process. So in coming up with a response, I started out thinking about how instinct and intentionality play into my own work.

I used to outline everything ferociously. Especially with my comics work, what with it being such a structured medium, I would panic if I didn't know exactly what was going to happen every step of the way. I understand the fear that Brown talks about: you worry that you're going to make a misstep, go off in the wrong direction, write yourself into a corner. These are all symptoms, though, of an underlying fear which is the fear that you don't have anything to say.

I find that as I spend more time writing, I spend less time staring at a blank screen. In fact, it almost never happens to me anymore. Part of this is planning, and the other part is overcoming that fear. The mistake that I made as a beginning writer was that I'd sit down in front of the computer having no idea what it was that I planned to write about. Just staring, waiting, praying for some inspiration to leap up and grab me. Or if I did have an idea, being afraid to leap into the fray and start writing it. I wrote as though every word was sacred, every press of the delete key an affront.

At some point in the process, you start to realize that stories are expensive, but words are cheap. What I mean by that is that you need to have some idea of what it is that you're doing before you sit down and start typing. But you don't need to know exactly what you're going to say. I'd think, "How do I start? How do I come up with the perfect opening sentence?" I don't think that anymore. Now I just plow on in. Grab the first sentence that comes to mind and go with it. If it doesn't work, so what? I can always start over, and I'll probably learn something in the process.

Nowadays, I work out the general layout for a story long before I sit down to write it. I ponder stories while I'm lying in bed waiting to go to sleep (which often takes me hours to do, insomniac that I am), in the car, in the shower, watching TV. I don't start typing until I know where I'm going. But--and this is an important but--I don't wait for every little piece of the puzzle to fall in place. You can spend your entire life doing research and plotting and planning and never write a single word: that's the fear working its magic.

So once I sit down, I've already spent a good deal of time working out where I'm going. But then I start typing, and often whatever it is I've planned goes out the window. Sometimes just a little, sometimes utterly. There's a kind of magic that happens when you have a direction and just start typing toward it. All sorts of little things start popping into place as your unconscious mind gets a hold on things. The more you put down on paper, the more it has to chew on. Things start to happen.

You'll often hear writers give that old chestnut that "the characters just took on a life of their own." It is, of course, nonsense. Characters are just ideas in your head, and they have no life of their own. What does happen, however, is that your unconscious mind is always back there making connections. And it's very good at emotions and personal relationships. Sometimes you'll have a scene in mind where character X wants something and character Y wants something else, and as you're writing it, you'll realize that what character X really wants is something completely different, and that character Y's reaction ought to be something else entirely. As the chain of cause and effect from writing to thinking to un-thinking goes around, all that new information stirs up new ideas. That, I think, is the magic of writing.

Sometimes I'll read something I've written and think, "That's just wrong." Something doesn't click; it doesn't feel right, and you can't put your finger on what it is. I think often these jarring disconnects come when your conscious mind has forced a story into a situation where it doesn't belong, and your unconscious mind, your instinct, is back there bleating wordlessly at you, telling you that it doesn't belong there. To me, the unconscious is a big mess of images and words and phrases and emotions that can't speak clearly; it can't speak up for itself. So when you sense that wrongness (or rightness, which happens sometimes, too) you have to really listen to it. Go back and examine what you've done, line by line. When does the screaming become the loudest? Is there some key sentence or bit of dialog that really gets it going?

Often you already know the answer, and you're afraid to admit it because fixing it would take so much effort. I recently had a situation in the novel where the character that I wanted to have in the book just didn't belong in it. I was trying to shoehorn her in because I liked the idea of her. But she created more problems than she solved. She was, ultimately, unnecessary. Every time I read a scene with her, I started to get bored. At the same time, there was another character who really needed to be there, but seemed kind of one-note and uninteresting. At one point, I found myself writing a scene for the unnecessary character, and when I went back to look at what I'd written, I realized that in two places, I'd typed the other character's name unintentionally. And there was the answer. I went back and excised the unnecessary character, blending her in with the character that needed to be there, and that feeling of wrongness completely vanished. I got rid of someone who didn't belong, and I fixed a character who was broken, all in one fell swoop. But I had to own up to the fact that what I was doing wasn't working, and I spent an entire day correcting that misstep. But boy was it worth it.

So, to put this in geek terms: plan carefully for your assault on the Death Star. But when you get there, don't be afraid to turn off your targeting computer and rely on the force.

And if your unconscious talks like Alec Guiness? Boy are you lucky.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eric Brown's Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

Science fiction author Eric Brown has posted a set of ten (well, tenish) tips for writers on the blog for Solaris Books, and while in general it's a worthy list, the same sort of thing you'll often see established writers trot out for the neophytes, he says one thing in particular that I found interesting. It was second in his countdown.
2. Trust in the subconscious. Beginning writers are beset by fear. I was. I overcame the fear - i.e., the doubt that I had anything to say, the tools to say anything - by writing and writing and trusting in the subconscious. Write long enough and the old SC kicks in. Try it.
Check out the rest of Brown's list for the rest of his advice, but this one I thought might merit discussion. I know that I have often been rescued from some nettlesome plot point by ideas that bubbled up my from subconscious, or discovered at the eleventh hour that some part of my brain was working out the mechanics of a plot without me being consciously aware of it. I've set up mysteries without knowing the answer, only to discover that the obvious solution was in front of me all along, and more than that, I had been seeding clues as I went along.

I think that learning to trust your own instincts, or to rely on the unconscious parts of your brain while writing, is an important step in the development of any writer. What about the rest of the Tick-Tock Gang? Is this something that resonates with you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Veterans Day Post

Some of you, while you were out and about today, might have noticed a small table, set with an odd selection of items, set out, usually in the entrance to a restaurant. I saw it today at the local Applebee's, which offers a free meal for all active duty and vets today, which I think is a very nice and generous gesture. Of course I came unprepared with my camera phone, or I would have snapped a picture of it.

It's called the Missing Man table, and each item at the table is there for a specific reason. Here's an explanation of what each item symbolizes:

The tablecloth is round, to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.

The plate is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call of duty.

The single rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for the missing.

A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.

A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

The glass is inverted, because they aren't here to share today's toast.

The chair is empty... they are missing.

What can I add to that, but my thanks to our veterans, those still missing, those who've paid the ultimate price, and those who were prepared to, who took their turn when it was their turn.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What do we owe the reader? A coherent plot, for one thing

I keep thinking about what we owe, and what we don't, and I don't have a good answer yet. The other Clockworkers' posts strike me as well-reasoned. But I will say this, since Matt brought her up: JK Rowling may have kept some of her promises, but she broke a big one--that her plots would make a lick of sense. Instead, they make less sense the longer you think about them.

Voldemort: Here's the plan, Barty. You disguise yourself as Mad-Eye Moody for nine months, then sneak Harry's name into the goblet of fire, and then rig the contest in such a way that Harry is guaranteed to win.

Barty Crouch: What?

Voldemort: You see, the trophy is really a portkey! Ha ha! It will transport Harry outside the school, where my minions can subdue him and then use his blood to ensure the final phase of my resurrection.

Barty: Okay, but...

Voldemort: You dare to question me?!

Barty: Why don't I just, you know, hand him the portkey?

Voldemort: [Stares blankly]

Barty: I just walk up to him, hand it to him, and poof, he's teleported out of the school. We can do it tomorrow.

Voldemort: Barty. Barty. I'll overlook this because you're new. But you obviously have no idea how to be the FRICKIN' LORD OF DARKNESS, okay? That's MY job. Now drink the frickin' polyjuice potion, and I'll get back to you in June.

Now, this kind of sloppiness is not uncommon. How many breakneck adventures have your read, how many X-Files or Heroes episodes have you seen, how many comics have you inhaled that you enjoyed in the moment, but about 30 seconds after putting down the book or turning off the TV, you thought, Wait a minute...

Rowling particularly annoys me. Not just because her stories depend on some kind of attention-deficit disorder dream logic, but because she has sold so many books, and made so many children happy (including my own, and soon Matt's, I'm sure) that it's clear her readers don't care about the plot. They forgive her, or they don't notice, because they like hanging out with Harry for 800 pages. Which goes to show you: charm and wonder trump craft every time. Now: Would anyone like to discuss A.E. Van Vogt? Or the second drafts that PK Dick never wrote? No?

What We Owe Our Readers: My Caveat

Having read over Chris and Matt's entries on the subject, I find that I agree in bulk with what they have said. Matt's notations about an ending summoned up all of the rage I felt at the end of the Sopranos, and the terrible disservice David Chase did to his viewers, and most importantly, himself. If, as he contended, he was disappointed with the American viewing public because everyone liked Tony Soprano, that was his own fault. And he should have taken his story back and had Tony killed, or put in jail, or something to show us that crime doesn't pay, or that sociopaths are bad, or whatever. I guarantee that, as potentially upset as some of his viewers may have been with a Tony Soprano assassination, everyone would have accepted it because it was a conclusion that was borne out of the narrative. I told you that to tell Matt this: Kelly Link did her ending better.

I wanted to add something to the big "Ditto, Guys" that I just laid down in the paragraph above. I think we also owe readers a point of view. I don't think every book has one, nor do I think every author does this, but in my own reading experience, the best authors, the books I most remembered, the ones that stick with you and become your favorite reads, all have a strongly dileneated point of view.

This need not be through the eyes of a character, either. All of Tom Robbins books are very obviously and intentionally written with the authorial point of view in the fore, so much so that I would contend a goodly number of his characters fall into the sock puppet category. Likewise, Stephen King, when he's good, has a strong point of view in his writing.

A number of the Texas Weird authors like Joe Lansdale, Howard Waldrop, and Neal Barrett, Jr., have very strong points of view; they are actually known for it. Sometimes it comes across as a sensibility in the writing. Usually it's the stuff that makes you look up from the book and shake your head and wonder how they ever thunk that up in the first place.

Donald Westlake, my favorite mystery writer, was very good at moving his point of view around from the main character to the supporting characters in ways that were significant and effortless all at once. Even though the vast majority of his work is set in the modern world, it's always a world that you have no idea about. His crime fiction is a dark and mean place. As a reader, it takes less than one chapter for Westlake to establish that you've gone through the looking glass.

This is not to say that I don't value narrative in a good story. But I read for two reasons: to educate myself or to entertain myself. I have found that the best reads do both at the same time. In non-fiction, it's always a bonus, as it makes what you are reading far more digestable. In fiction reading, the entertainment value usually comes in the form of the author's point of view.

What Do We Owe Readers?

I've been thinking about this "What do we owe readers?" business for a little while, and while I think Chris more or less summed up my feelings on the matter, I've got a bit to add.

I think we owe readers what we promise them. A story makes promises early and often and what we owe our readers is to follow through on those implied promises. And that's pretty much it.

The cover art makes a promise, as does the blurb on the dust jacket or the back of the book and whatever author quotes might be found. Hopefully whoever wrote the blurb was able to communicate the essential promise of the novel. We writers should pray that they do, because that text can return your book to the shelf before any reader ever even sees all those pretty words we wrote.

With any luck, the potential reader has made it past the cover unharmed, or has had the book recommended by a friend or a reviewer (who have already made promises to this reader over which you have no control whatsoever) and doesn't bother to inspect it. Then your reader goes and orders a latte and sits down to read the first few pages before she decides to buy it. (My reader is female and she orders a latte. I don't know who your readers are or what they order.) This is where our promises start.

From the very first sentence, our stories tells its readers about what kind of story it is, and what they ought to expect from it. Assuming the readers make it past the first few pages, they're going to expect that we deliver on those promises. And that, I think, is what we owe them.

Consider the opening of the first Harry Potter novel (which I happen to be reading to my daughters at the moment). In the first ten pages you get: a buffoonish family, a coterie of silly wizards, and a baby with murdered parents and a great destiny. What do these pages tell readers? They promise that this story is going to be a story about magic and wizards, that it is going to contain farce, and that in its pages, a boy will discover and confront his destiny.

Say what you like about the Harry Potter books, but one of the reasons these books are so satisfying is that they deliver exactly what they promise. Rowling has told her readers precisely what to expect from her story and then she follows through. Give me that and a character I can root for, and I'll let you get away with plot holes, narrative gaps, and pedestrian prose until the cows come home.

I'll quibble with Chris on one point--I don't think you owe the reader an ending. Well, let me be a bit more precise: you always get an ending (every story stops sooner or later), but you don't always get a conclusion. And I'd argue that you don't always owe one. If you promise the reader a conclusion, then you have to deliver one, but if you never make such a promise, then you don't.

Consider Kelly Link's magnificent story "Magic for Beginners." The story claims to be a description of an episode of a television show, which focuses primarily on the personal lives of a few teenagers who spend most of their time watching a television show of the same name. The story makes no implied promise of a payoff; it doesn't adhere to a traditional narrative structure. It instead wraps up its readers in its crafty mysteriousness, drives them out to into the woods blindfolded, dumps them there, and then drives off cackling. Readers at the end of this story are left to wander in those woods. The story has no conclusion; it just stops. But I'd argue that while it doesn't conclude, it ends at a beautiful moment. Kelly Link knows (my guess is that she knows it intuitively) when to stop, when not to explain, understanding that in the worlds she creates, to explain is often to ruin.

To further illustrate, let's look at a story that fails catastrophically to deliver on its promises. When I was a teenager, I read the first few volumes of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I loved 'em. He wrote four of them, waited for a long while, and then wrote three more. And at some point in the interim, he totally forgot what it was he was supposed to be doing.

The book opens with a stellar, simple premise. A gunslinger is chasing a man in black. We don't find out for a very long time why he's chasing him, and we don't care. But this is the central story that spans all seven volumes: the gunslinger chases the man in black in a world that has moved on. This world is connected to our world somehow. Fair enough. But in setting up this premise, King has made a huge promise: at some point, the gunslinger needs to catch this motherfucker. And guess what? He never does. After twenty years and seven books, the gunslinger fails and we're never told why.

That's pretty inexcusable. I read an interview in which King described the ending he provided. (And here, okay, I see that there's an exception to the notion that all stories end. The Dark Tower doesn't actually end at all. If you followed it to the last page, you know what I mean.) He claimed in this interview that his ending was the only possible conclusion. But this is madness. There was only one possible conclusion to this story and for reasons we may never guess, he deliberately chose not to provide it.

But there are other crimes here. Long about the sixth book, King goes off on an insane metafictional tangent in which King himself and his books appear in the narrative. I have no problem with metafiction. I love it and have indulged in it myself. The problem is that at no time in the first couple thousand pages of this massive story was there any hint given that metafiction was going to come into play. This was not in the contract. It's as bad as if you were reading a Sam Spade mystery and at the climax you discovered that the murder was committed by the Loch Ness Monster.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that The Dark Tower is a deeply unsatisfying story for the simple reason that it breaks all of its promises. Mr. King, sir, I fell in love with your story and then it broke my heart and pawned the engagement ring.

So that's my answer. What we owe the readers is what we promise the readers. No more, no less. Readers, like lovers, will forgive a great many sins as long as we remain faithful to them.

Edit: Now that I think about it, I can't remember if he catches the guy or not; it's all kind of a blur. Does anyone know? Either way, when he finally gets to the Dark Tower, it's a pretty big letdown.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm pretty sure Robert Louis Stevenson wasn't actually a psycho killer.

Mark Finn asked the question here. And it's such a good question that I'm going to take a whack at it.

First of all, Mark, I was just going to say that I don't anticipate ever doing a story that would fit into the details of your question. I won't be writing any fictionalized and fantasticalized account of an historical figure. But then I recall I did exactly that when I wrote Robert Louis Stevenson into my second Beowulf novella (or was it a novelette? I keep forgetting the official divisions), even going so far as to make him the villain. That was the textbook definition of taking gross liberties with the facts. In that case I read the widely available details of RLS's life, found out when he was in America, when he might possibly have been wandering about in the old west, realized that I would have to fudge the dates by a month or two, to make it tie in with the rest of the book, and with malice aforethought went ahead and did it, changing what I needed to change to make the story work.

I think that's an entirely legitimate way to do it. Then again, once I was willing to take the arguably outrageous step of making RLS a villain -- for which there is absolutely zero supporting evidence -- rearranging some of the details of his actual timeline by a month or two didn't add much to my sins.

But I do sort of have a personal policy of setting the record straight in the afterward notes, when I do take such liberties. I call this the Bernard Cornwell rule, after the author of the wonderful (you need to read these) Sharpe's Novels, wherein he takes sometimes huge liberties with the facts and events of the Napoleonic Wars, so as to properly insert his fictional hero into every major battle, but then carefully explains the changes he made by providing an Historical Note at the end of each novel.

Another example: In Peter and Max I had to move the dates of Hamelin's main Pied Piper festival, in order to make the fictional timeline of the novel work. I had no trouble doing so, but I did mention it in the back-of-the-book material.

That's my personal rule, but I don't necessarily believe it should be a universal rule. I probably believe -- I say 'probably' because I haven't yet given the matter all that much thought before now -- that a writer of fiction should be free to take just about any liberty with the facts, the history, and the public record (not always the same things, but you already knew that) for the good of his story. It's called fiction for a reason. And, he should not be required or even expected to explain himself. Many are of the mind that a story should always stand on its own, not needing an explanation or apology at the end. I don't know that I absolutely subscribe to that notion, but I can absolutely see the sense of it.

I would encourage you to take any and all liberties with Tom Sharkey that you deem necessary to your tale. And I agree with Bill Williams that, if a Tom Sharkey biography ever is written, you're likely to be the one to do it, and thus will have plenty of opportunity to set the record straight.

Convention Fever

I have plans to do some more writerly posts to follow up on some of the things that everyone else is talking about, but first I want to mention the two conventions that I've been to in the past two weeks.

First was the World Fantasy Convention, that was held over Halloween weekend (much to my girls' chagrin). I'd gone once before, about ten years ago, but that was a long time ago, and so much has changed since then that I'm discounting it and calling this my first World Fantasy. Chris Roberson had been building it up to me so much that I was expecting a combination of Valhalla and Disneyland. It wasn't quite that, since I spent a lot of time meeting new people, which can be very tiring for me, but it was a lot of fun. I got to spend time with Rani Graff, an editor from Israel, who is a fine fellow and always interesting to talk to. Also very much enjoyed spending time with Jess Nevins, who is way too knowledgeable about all of the things I wish I was knowledgeable about. Australian writer Liz Argall is always a lot of fun to talk to, though her obsession with the unique uses of gourds in Papua New Guinea is questionable. Jen Heddle, who's the editor of the upcoming anthology With Great Power..., featuring a number of Clockork types, was an absolute joy to talk to, as was Electric Velocipede editor John Klima.

And in his role as social hub and drinking companion, Roberson certainly excelled. He knows everyone there and they all know him, and so I could typically start a conversation with any stranger just by saying, "I'm a friend of Chris's," and their eyes would light up in recognition. His wife and partner Allison Baker was enormously encouraging and really seems to know her way around this thing.

All of these interactions were lovely, though I have to say the high point for me was when I got lost in downtown San Jose on Halloween night, wandering amongst huge crowds of people in costume, and found myself in a nearly deserted hookah bar discussin philosophy with a guy who (I'm pretty sure) was smoking something a little stronger than tobacco). All in all a wonderful (if tiring) occasion.

Next, the West Texas Comic-Con. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one, since it's the first one they've done, and since it was in a small Texas city that I've never visited before, but I have to say that it was perhaps the best small regional con I've ever been to. Robert Mora from Star Comics spearheaded the thing, and he did a fantastic job. The guests were treated great, the fans came and stayed awhile and participated, and everything went off without a hitch. I probably signed more books in those eight hours than I have at any other convention--including some San Diego shows. Special thanks to Todd, Lance, and Ty for being such fine hosts, and to the guy who let me pose with the Cosmic Rod he handmade for his Jack Knight Starman costume. I'll definitely be back if they'll have me.

A great two weeks, but now it's really time I got back to work.

What Readers Are Owed

A while back, Bill asked "What do we owe our readers?" I've been mulling that over in the days and weeks since, in and amongst going to conventions, playing video games (for work, honest!), and reading big stacks of comics.

I tried to think of the question from both sides, taking into account not only my expectations as a writer sitting down at the keyboard, but as a reader when picking up the work of another. And I think my answer can be summed up in one simple phrase. What do we owe our readers? "A good story."

That deserves a little unpacking. A good story, I think, is one that has an ending. And so writers owe their readers an ending. If you begin a story that can't be comfortably fit into one volume, fair enough, but writers should ask their readers to begin reading a story if they aren't ever going to provide the ending. Obviously, there are real-world complications that can get in the way, and some writers have the poor foresight to die before finishing their tales, but all things being equal I think that writers should finish what they start.

What else does "a good story" mean? Well, I think that varies a bit from reader to reader, but in general it means that there should be some point to what's going on, that stuff should go on, that there should be characters (hopefully interesting ones) in a setting doing stuff (or at least talking ab0ut doing stuff, or maybe just thinking about doing stuff). There should be some entertaining element to the story, on some level, and if the writer can manage to squeeze a little enlightenment in there, so much the better.

This "entertainment" and/or "enlightenment" business is something I've thought about a lot over the years, and which I may talk about again at some point. To cut to the chase, though, I've come to look at myself as an entertainer, primarily. Not every writer is the same, obviously, and there are those who put more value on enlightening their audience--teaching them something, or portraying some truth, however painful or difficult to hear--but as for me, I'm Sammy Davis, Jr. I'm a song-and-dance-man, and while I harbor ambitions of working in a bit of Truth in my fiction whenever possible, I know that if I have to choose only one or the other, I'm going with entertainment.

But my thoughts on the entertainment/enlightenment question aside, the fact is that I think that readers deserve a story that exists for a reason. That reason may be to entertain them for a short while, to thrill or amuse them. That reason may be to bring home some underlying truth about the human condition, or a glimpse into the lives of others that we wouldn't otherwise have gotten. But whether the story is pure entertainment or some kind of enlightenment tract, the important thing is that the story has to be for something. If a piece of writing neither entertains nor enlightens, then it might be stylistically accomplished, it might have all sorts of pretty bells and whistles, it might be a dandy-fine writing exercise, but it isn't a story. And readers are owed more than that.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Office of Shadow

Over on my facebook page, I said nice things about Matt's new book. I finished it this weekend, so I might as well cross-post that note here. I'm a fan of short statements. I think I gave it five thumbs up.

"Matthew Sturges has pulled off a mean feat with his second novel. He has constructed a grounded and believable fantasy world and populated it with relatable characters. If his first novel, Midwinter was The Dirty Dozen with elves, then Office of Shadow is a Robert Ludlum style Cold War thriller with elves.

Powerful political figures fear the worst as a terrible ultimate weapon is used to destroy an Elven city. Knowing that their enemies will use the weapon again, Queen Regina Titiana orders the Office of Shadow to find and stop the weapon before it can be used again. The narrative follows Perrin Alt, Lord Silverdun from Midwinter as he gets drafted into service as a shadow in the Queen's service. He is aided by an ex-soldier nicknamed Ironfoot and the delightfully unhinged Sela.

The action moves right along and the ending satisfies. I hope he writes another."


On Historical Accuracy in Fictional Adventure

For the past few days I have been actively plotting (some would call it "python wrestling") my Sailor Tom Sharkey Quasi-Historical Fantasy Romp. It's been a real challenge for me in that I have made the decision to be as historically accurate as possible and veer off into the Realm of the Weird when I have a blank spot on the map or a period of time unaccounted for.

Being so limited to the facts has been an issue, but not an insurmountable one. After all, if I don't know about this specific period of time for a Golden Age boxer, then chances are you don't either, and will follow me wherever I choose to take him. Were I writing a novel about, say, Abraham Lincoln, and I positioned him on the California coast in 1861, well, that wouldn't work at all because of what most fifth graders know about the Civil War.

Rather, what's been far more difficult for me is taking and utilizing the dates and facts that I do have access to. For example, boxing historians know that Tom Sharkey and Jim Jeffries toured the country with a vaudeville troupe in the 1920s doing re-inactments of their famous fights. What I also found out is that Sharkey appeared in several silent movies from 1925 to 1928. Interestingly, his first movie (as an actor) was a Clara Bow feature. How cool is that?

SIDEBAR: Finding this out was only a moment's worth of joy, in that now I have to go read something about Clara Bow in order to have Sharkey meet her. I've already got so much ancillary stuff in my head, on my computer, in three different notebooks, and now another biography added to the list. Rapture.

So, I've got a very organic life in Tom Sharkey on the California coast in his fifties, trading on his name and former glory, doing movies and going out with traveling shows to make ends meet. This probably happened many times , in between films, and as he ran out of dough or ran up a gambling debt. Were I writing a real biography of the man, this would be fascinating in the extreme, and the back and forth would be an exciting chapter or two as he meets all of these famous celebrities.

However, I'm writing a novel, and not only that, it's an adventure novel wherein I've chosen to follow a specific form (never mind what). I have a powerful urge to just set my adventure down in the midst of these little traffic cones so that it's seamless and perfect. Again, I'm not worried about the details. I'm intimately familiar with the Roaring 1920s, but for some reason, the idea that one day there will be a Tom Sharkey biography out in the world that bulldozes my novel fills me with dread and loathing.

So, I've been hammering at my plot, making modifications and trying to work out the structure of the project (yes, it's a project, and not just one book) so that it makes sense and is a complete thing. If I do this right, it'll leave the door open for more short stories as I see fit, but it will give me an epic architecture from which to hang those stories.

And forget it if I don't write down the skeleton. I can't do big projects any other way. I have to have at least the framework in the form of an outline up before I get started. I may deviate from the frame, or change it in mid-stream, but without those tracks laid down, I don't leave the station.

What about the rest of you?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's true that cockroaches have eaten an awful lot of my best work.

When Kurt Vonnegut died recently -- yes, 2007 is recent, because I'm getting old and the years are passing much quicker now -- many who loved him and his works passed around his list of eight writing rules. That's when I first became aware of them. They're pretty good rules. At least one of them surprised me -- I mean really surprised me. I thought I'd share them with you, with my own notes and commentary appended.

1) Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

I agree. Part of the unbreakable contract with the reader is that you won't waste his time. I would add that this includes an imperative to do away with all artsy fartsy writing, designed primarily to show off your amazing skills and talents. Quit trying to impress your reader and tell him a story instead. I suspect this is also a call to get to the point. Quit beating around the bush.

2) Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

I mostly agree, but the challenge of this statement does tempt me to one day see if I can write a compelling story wherein every single character is a despicable fiend with hellish goals. I'm trying to think if there are any good examples of that -- not just the antihero, but one with no redeeming qualities at all.

3) Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

I think this pretty much speaks for itself. Some variation of this rule shows up in every writer's advice on how to create "real" believable characters.

4) Every sentence should do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

I think I mostly agree. But what about describing the setting? Can that be done totally within the context of revealing character or advancing the plot? Aren't you in danger of unduly burdening otherwise tight and concise sentences if the character and action parts also have to get bits of setting and physical description injected into them from time to time?

5) Start as close to the end as possible.

I agree and this is one of those bits of advice, obvious in hindsight, that freed up my own writing considerably. A lot of dead weight got lifted with this rule.

6) Be as sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they're made of.

I agree wholeheartedly. This is the rule that frustrates me most, because it is so self evident, and yet it causes the most problems with a modern readership that is more and more composed of angry "we're constantly looking for ways to take offense" indignation groups. If your characters are black, or gay, or female, or any other sort that can be shoehorned into some category for which there is a vocal, self-elected and angry group of protectors, you're going to take some flak for what you do with them. Do mean things to someone of theirs and they will howl bloody murder. The thing you must constantly remind yourself is that these folks are few, no matter how loud they may be, they do not speak for the majority of whatever group they pretend to represent, and you must ignore them and soldier on, continuing to do nasty things to those characters, because doing otherwise is boring, which is among the worst offenses a writer can commit. You need to remind yourself that you will never hear from the thoughtful, reasonable reader, the way you always will hear from the indignation groups. But they are out there, and they are your true audience.

7) Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

This rule is most often expressed as "write for yourself" or "write to please yourself." I mostly agree with this. I tend to write for a very small, very select group, but not just a single person. I write to please and make sense to the other folks in the Clockwork group. But the entire purpose of forming the group was to be surrounded by those of like minds and similar tastes. Writing simply to please myself smacks just a bit too much of narcissism, and I know I'll never hold my own feet to the fire for my self-indulgences the way the other Clockworkers will. They will not let me get away with any self-indulgent crap.

8) Give your readers as much information as possible, as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

This was the one rule that really opened my eyes. Before this I was all about keeping the suspense, which usually translated into keeping the readers in the dark, until The Big Reveal! Now I see that the big reveal was much overrated. I now think of my relationship to the reader(s) as leading a group of trusted comrades on a commando mission. If I die en route, they should be able to carry on and blow up the Bridge without me (and, guys, please make sure you shoot Alec Guinness, if for no other reason than to see if he comes back all ghostly and reveals you've been hot for your own sister for the last two movies).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gordon Gekko Was Right

The first issue of Chris Roberson's Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love came out two days ago and has been garnering some well-earned critical attention since then. So just an hour or so ago Chris was gracious enough to publicly thank me, via the (possibly insidious -- we'll see) vehicle of Twitter for "handing (him) a comics career." His words, not mine.

But of course, as generous a notion as it was, Chris was dead wrong. No one gets handed a comics career. As tiny as the comic book business is, compared to the TV or movie business for example, it's a popular one, so much so in fact that, for every available job in comics, there are literally hundreds of people who would love to have it, and a large percentage of those who'd trample their dear old granny to get it. Our racket is tough and competitive. If you can't cut it, there's someone ready to step into your shoes right now. As a result there's zero room in it to hand out a single career as an act of charity. (We won't even get to the fallacious notion that I'd somehow have some ability to give them out, if such gifts were possible.)

Chris got his comics career because he can do the job. Period. In fact, I've known for years what a rare few knew: that he was one of the most qualified persons for a career writing comic books that wasn't currently doing so -- an oversight recently corrected. The truth is, Chris came into this business years later than he deserved. Anyone familiar with his far too numerous prose novels and short stories could see that he was built for writing funnybooks.

So then, what did I do? Not much. When some work became available and I was asked for my opinion on who we should get to do it, Chris was first on a list of a very few names that I rattled off.

When I pointed this out, Chris, ever the gentleman, thanked me again, for at least "holding the door open" at the opportune time, and that's a pretty fair assessment. I'll cop to that.

Now why bring this up at all? Is the purpose of this post to demonstrate what a fine fellow I am?

Not at all. Since the oft-stated purpose of this blog is to discuss the art and craft and business of our profession, I think there's a larger observation to be made here, one worth pointing out.

Basically, I told you all of that to tell you this:

Helping a fellow storyteller get work in the same field, provided he's a gifted one (and he is), isn't an act of charity, or generosity, or selflessness, or largess of any kind. It's a quite premeditated and entirely selfish act of self-preservation -- it's long range career planning.

Follow me on this: In order to make a career telling stories (and after a quarter century in the business that's all I'm qualified for anymore) one has to have (meaning cultivate) a large and dedicated readership. Now here's the thing. Readers read. They read a lot. They read much more and much faster than any one writer (even Geoff Johns -- hi, Geoff) could ever produce material to sate their hunger. Therefore it's in my interest to do everything I can to keep the field stuffed with good writers, who want to write the same or similar sorts of stories I produce, so that my readers are kept happy, so that they'll still be around to read what I produce, when I am able to produce it. Like any species of critter, readers who aren't kept fed will wander off to other fields.

Those who know me well know that I am a dedicated capitalist, with all that implies. I could have rewritten Gordon Gekko's famous "Greed is good" speech so that it made sense -- so that anyone could see that capitalism, done right (meaning hands off, you pinko do-gooders) is not only a compassionate system, it's the only compassionate system. So believe me when I say that I wouldn't go out of my way to create competition for myself. But giving other writers a chance to create stories in the same genres and mediums I do isn't creating competition, it's growing the overall readership, which redounds to the benefit of all. Ever hear the economics proverb, "A rising tide lifts all boats?" It's true. It does. And it applies in this case.

So, finally, here's the lesson:

If you want to make it long term as a writer in the funnybook business (and I suspect this applies to other mediums, but I won't pretend to be an expert in other mediums), you need to write terrific stories, you need to have a herculean work ethic so that you can actually produce said terrific stories on time, and then do it again and again, you will need to be able to resign yourself to the fact that you will never ever again be "off duty" (which I understand actually occurs in other careers, but it's too glorious a dream for me to quite believe it), and when the chance occurs, you need to be ready to give the next guy a hand through the door, for your own sake -- because he may just be the guy that keeps enough dedicated readers hanging around that you can have occasional access to them.

So there. Greed really is good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

From Clockwork Storybook With Love

If you're in Austin Texas tomorrow, or can get to Austin Texas tomorrow, you should make plans to go to Austin Books, which is just about the best funnybook store that a funnybook store can be. And from 4 to 6 pm tomorrow you can have our own Chris Roberson sign your just-released first issue of Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love.

Unless you've been living under the densest of rocks, then you know Cinderella is the spy to beat all spies, keeping Fabletown safe from destruction and discovery for longer than any other spy has been alive. Bond could learn a lot from this blonde. Matt Helm would be a babe adrift in her realm. She could stagger the Sandbaggers. Now see Cindy in her greatest adventure to date.

Go. Do. See. Get.

The Excitement of Comics

Tomorrow I've got a new comic coming out. Black Widow: Deadly Origin is its name, and you can listen to me going on about it here. I'm very proud of it, and I'm tremendously excited for Wednesday (Thursday in the UK), when the title shows up in comic shops. This is hardly an unknown condition for my fellow Clockworkers, all of whom are, as we speak, I'm sure, groggily trying to piece together some fragmentary memories of the World Fantasy Convention in order to frame a report or two. (Seriously, communication from the floor was limited this weekend. I waited in vain for a photo or two from the bar, with glasses being chinked and people falling out of windows, but... nothing! Did an EMP bomb of some kind go off? Or would said reports just read 'bar, bar, awards, bar?') Many of them are comic book writers, and Chris Roberson has the first issue of his own Cinderella title out tomorrow too. Indeed, that's his first issue of any series, so he must feel extra excited.

That Wednesday feeling, where one hangs around I Fanboy (I hope they note I've dropped the comma I kept putting in their name, like they were the fan equivalent of I, Claudius), Millarworld and other forums, waiting for the first reviews to wander in, when one can pop into a comic shop, and actually see it sitting there on the shelf (right next to the Avengers titles, hmm, that's good) is just one of the many lovely things about writing comics. There's that ability one has to edit dialogue right up until the last moment, to make speech suit expression, or add a joke (like some of John the Skrull's lines) that I only thought of very late. There's the joy of getting new pages of artwork in one's inbox. And the realisation that, if you're vocal in your praise at that point, gradually inkers and colourists will join in sending you their work, because they all love what they're doing too. There's that feeling, a little like playing Test Cricket, that one is joining in with an enterprise (the Marvel Universe or the records of the MCC) that stretches back a long way, that you're comparing your efforts to those of the greats. (And being found wanting, obviously, but maybe one day...) There's working with a really small team, really fast, to create serial fiction under pressure, sometimes working from a whole plot, sometimes leaping hopefully from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, with none of the many layers of approval required of the broadcast media. And there's the audience: immediate, terrifying, roaring, non-impartial pop music reaction.

I think the feeling is quite an ancient one, akin to what Conan Doyle and Dickens and all the other writers of serials for magazines must have felt. I think if Apple do make comics available on ITunes for their Tablet (if such a thing is forthcoming) then that feeling may become a genuinely populist movement again. At any rate, I really love it, and I hope some of that comes over in the comics. Dears, do any of the rest of you want to talk about your special feelings towards this medium? Cheers.

Why I Hate Daryl Gregory

When I met Daryl Gregory in person, the first thing I told him was that I'd read the first five pages of his novel Pandemonium, and then hurled the novel (quite forcefully) across my office, knocking over a carefully constructed tower of yet-to-be-read comic books in the process.

Why the anger? What had Daryl done to arouse my ire? It's simple: he came up with an idea that was so good that I was furious I hadn't had it first.

There is probably no greater compliment to another writer than this sort of hatred. When we read the works of our literary heroes, we're able to marvel at their great ideas from afar. We don't see ourselves on the same plane as the Alan Moores or the Gene Wolfes or the Robert Heinleins of the world, so when we come across a bit of cleverness in their works, we take it as a given; we don't expect ourselves to reach such heights (at least not at this point in our careers--give me a few years and I'll teach that Michael Swanwick a thing or two about good ideas).

But when one of your peers does it, it's different. It sets off the "I personally have no idea what I am doing and am, in actuality, a fraud" receptor in your brain. Most writers I've talked to have this receptor, and I suspect Daryl has it himself.

But it's not just Daryl. Oh, no. Come to think of it, I've probably had a twinge of it from most of the writers that I know. Our very own Clockwork vets Bill Williams and Mark Finn have done this before as well. Bill with his hard-boiled temple employees, and Mark with his Sailor Tom Sharkey tales. What neither of them knows is that the rest of us have had conversations where we (jokingly, I promise it was jokingly...mostly) considered killing them and stealing their ideas for themselves. We haven't had this conversation about Daryl yet, but give us time.

Well, I decided to go ahead and finish reading Pandemonium on the flight back from the World Fantasy Convention. Having met him in person, I found that I didn't have the option of disliking him as a person while still enjoying his book, which can sometimes be a salve: "Well, sure that guy's books are good, but he's a total douche in person." No, there was nothing for it but to sit down and finish the thing.

And it's just as good as its premise might lead you to believe. He doesn't lose the thread of the plot or fail to stick the landing or drop important threads or commit any of the grievous errors that might have made it one of those "great idea, but..." books. I didn't even see the twist coming until it was practically thrown in my lap. I am sad to say that Pandemonium is a really good book, and I can't help but recommend it to all and sundry.


I've gotten the impression that the other Clockwork folks feel the same about Daryl and his damn book, and we don't want to inflate his ego too much, so what authors do the rest of us hate? And are there better, healthier ways to deal with our peers' artistic successes?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Live from The Drafting Table

Folks, if you have ever wanted to see my giant talking head, today is your lucky day. The short piece of video I have been working on for a bit now is finally finished. You can see it here.

In the video, I talk about the work on the upcoming ANGEL comic series as well as how we put together a page of the SideChicks webcomic.