Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kresh update - finding the finished form

Work continues on my two book (with potential for a third!) space opera, The Way of The Kresh. I'm up to 184,000 words and currently expanding the secondary protagonist's story line - and pouring on the pain for him just as much as for my lobster alien boy Jeldon. If a little suffering is good for the soul, these guys are preparing for canonisation.

I'm asked by writers what's the ideal word length for a novel. Of course there are many exceptions to the rule but for traditional publishing, the science fiction sweet spot is generally about 80-100 K. But really there's not a lot of point worrying overly about what length the finished article should be. The story needs to be the right length for what it is. If the book gets picked up your editor will tell  you whether you need to add another 50K or cut just as much (ouch!). As long as you're past novella length territory, don't sweat it. Mind you with the rise of ebooks, actual word count is becoming less of an issue because it doesn't impact on the ideal page length to minimise printing costs. So there's even less to worry about in this regard.

Having said that, with two books on the go I've been wondering where the split should occur. Happily today I found a natural break around the 85K mark with Jeldon finally escaping his war-wracked homeworld. Really it was a no brainer to break the story there, but I didn't see it until now.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Many movies to look forward to...

At this stage I'm thinking of just handing over my credit card to Hoyts. I can't actually remember another year where there were so many movies coming out that I wanted to see. So far the list looks like this...

World War Z, Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, The Wolverine,  Elysium, Robocop, Kick Ass 2, Riddick, Ender's Game,  and Thor: The Dark World. That's getting on for $180.

Good times.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2012 Aurealis Awards

I had a great evening at the Aurealis Awards last night, and I have to say a big congratulations to the SpecFaction NSW team for doing a bang up job over the last three years.

The other big congratulations go to Margo Lanagan who just about scooped the awards winning best YA novel (shared with Kaz Delaney), best SF short story, best Fantasy Novel and best Fantasy short story. Way to go!

Some folks at the awards commented about how the organising committee should have done something to 'sort' out the fact that Margo won so many awards. Well, I'm not sure how that could have been 'sorted'. Firstly it's important to know that all the juding panels work independently and do not know the results of the other panels. That is entirely fair and as it should be. The second thing it's important to know is that Margo is a singular literary talent who had two extremely strong books out this year. That's why she won those awards, and deservedly so.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Star Trek: Moving Past the Darkness? *Huge Spoilers*

I can’t decide whether or not I liked JJ Abrams latest Star Trek outing. I felt the same way about the first of this ‘rebooted’ series. The creation of an alternative timeline was an elegant way to free up the Star Trek characters to experience a whole new set of adventures, and ST:ID takes that further; perhaps too far.

The production looks great, and the way they subtly, and sometimes not too subtly, update the Trek: Original Series (TOS) costumes, sets and gizmos is very clever. The acting is good too. Quinto and Urban pull off a very believable Spock and McCoy, and Chris Pine has his moments too channeling Kirk. But are they playing these characters, or are they playing Nimoy, De Kelley and Shatner playing these characters? Too often if felt like the latter and here’s a theme that emerged during my watching ST:ID. What’s the tipping point between ‘homage’, ‘pastiche’ and just ‘shi**ing on your memories of a cherished series of shows and movies’?

The alternative timeline allows Abrams to play with our memory of TOS. So there’s Khan — yes, despite Cumberbatch’s protestations to the contrary — and the rest of his genetically enhanced family (although they stay in cold-freeze this time instead of wreaking havoc as in Space Seed or Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan). There’s also Carol Marcus, progenitor of the Genesis Device again from Star Trek 2. So we get winks and nods and sly references and it’s all a nice ‘in-joke’ for those in the audience that know the mythos.

But Abrams takes things too far when he stages an alternative Wrath of Khan death scene. The original scene with Spock sacrificing his life because, ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ stands as the single greatest scene from the long run of TOS movies. Pitch perfect acting from Shatner and Nimoy, building on a relationship that had played out to the audience over 80 odd TV episodes brought the house down and continued to be felt through The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home as the cast (and the audience) searched for healing after a deep wounding.

The reversal that Abrams stages with Kirk speaking his dying words to Spock, with Spock crying(!) and absurdly screaming, ‘KHAN!!!!’ could never stand up to the original movie. It was a serious misstep because it highlights the uncomfortable truth that these people are not Shatner and Nimoy, they do not have the history of Shatner and Nimoy, and as a result they cannot hope to bring the same emotional gravitas to the scene as Shatner and Nimoy. Instead it comes off as a couple of kids attempting some cosplay death scene re-enactment. 

Annoyingly there were also a lot of stupid plot points in ST:ID. You can forgive most of these but when the plot forces the characters to behave in a monumentally stupid manner, you can’t let that slide. So, Kirk dies. But McCoy learns that Khan’s blood has amazing restorative powers. So Spock chases after Khan to get said blood. In the meantime McCoy brings up one of Khan’s supergenetic brothers who is frozen in stasis and takes him out of the stasis tube. Since this brother is exactly like Khan, couldn’t they just use that guy’s blood? Nope. They don’t even think about it or invent some psycho-babble about how that wouldn’t work. They take the guy out the stasis tube and stick Kirk in it to keep him safe till Spock catches Khan. That is one huge elephant sitting in the corner of Sick Bay. I felt insulted, not just for me but for McCoy too.

The other thing that wore on me was all the ’splosions and fist fights. I ended up getting explosion fatigue. I got confused about whether I was watching a Star Trek movie or a Die Hard movie. Interestingly this escalating violence was played out as a theme with the evil Admiral Marcus pushing a more militaristic agenda for Starfleet (and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer was criticised for the same thing). But when the dust and rubble eventually die down we learn that all that fighting and shooting at things is behind Starfleet. This is the beginning of the Enterprise’s historic five year mission of exploration, ‘to seek out new life and new civilisations’ and hopefully not kill them. I don’t know what’s up next for the Star Trek franchise. I hope, going on the movie’s ending, that the next movie might be less about fighting and killing and more about exploration and some of the moral dilemmas Star Trek used to do so well. But maybe that’s not possible in today’s cinema. Maybe Star Trek will never be able to move past the darkness and terror of threats and violence. That would be a pity.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Publishing Diaspora

Ted Heller's 'Self Publishing is the Worst' article on makes for sobering reading. It's indicative of
the effects of the publishing diaspora which is not only hitting writers but publishers too.

Everyone has been busy hailing the rise of ebooks and the breaking down of conventional publishing models. As a publisher the benefits of ebooks were obvious, removing traditional printing costs and cutting distribution costs to next to nothing. As a writer I - like many, many others - was excited at the new opportunities opening up for authors to sell their work through an increasing range of options, not just the traditional publishing houses that were already swamped with submissions. Even more exciting was the opportunity to 'cut out the middle man/ woman' and engage directly with your readers, using all the free e-commerce gadgetry to sell-through from your own website.

Yes sirree, we were all going to get rich and famous. But the downside of  this explosion in opportunity has become all too evident over the last year or so. Increased channels of production and sales means the traditional gatekeepers have been sidelined and we are literally drowning in a sea of content. Unless you have a frakload of money, or are a gifted social networker who just happens to have a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of good fortune, it's nigh on impossible to get your work seen, let alone bought.

Books and writing have fallen prey to the curse of the modern world. They've become just another consumer channel. Okay they already were, but moving into the digital space and being robbed of their physicality - the paper book you fondled off the bookshop shelf - they are now competing head to head against apps, videos, games,  music and all the other shiny things the 21st C provides. And just looking at the ebook market alone, the number of books being published has exploded because of all the things we were celebrating a couple of years ago. A lot of these books are released when they are far from ready. And a lot are just plain bad and would never have been published under the old models. How then do we find (or promote) the gems to be read and treasured forever? If I knew that, I'd be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

 This from Ted Heller:
Now, I happen to know a few people at magazines and newspapers; I’ve had novels published and I have an agent. But what is this experience like for Jane and John Q. Self-Publishing Author way out there in South Podunk, who don’t know anybody at all and who have zero connections? My heart goes out to them. I know why I do it (I enjoy the piss out of writing, I believe I might be good at it, I don’t know how to do anything else, and I was laid off from my last job). I cannot explain how I do it, but I really don’t know how those other people — the 99 Percent of Writerdom — can do this. Where do they find the time and the stomach?
The market hasn't just fragmented with the publishing diaspora, it's smashed into a million pieces. It's a headless beast with attention deficit disorder.The traditional publishing houses are still there, but doing it a lot tougher than they were five years ago. To a casual observer looking at the shelves and shelves of books in their local Readings or Dymocks, it might look like nothing's changed. But the forces I and others describe are just gathering pace. Ebook reader ownership was only about 10% last year, but it's probably nudging 20% now and is set to rise rapidly over the next couple of years, and that means the changes we're seeing in buying behaviour and expectations from readers of ebooks (especially the price-point expectation) will eventually become the norm. When that happens the traditional channels will collapse, the 'bestseller blockbuster' may well become a thing of the past and we will enter the boutique era where the reader can get anything they want but the numbers sold of individual works will be far below what they are now - and they aren't that good at present anyway (with a few minor exceptions).

Those who want to write will still write. But you can forget that dream of six figure advances and national tours. The individual writer's world is about to get smaller as the collection of 'things that get published' stretches far beyond anyone's horizon.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Forward the Kresh

When last we spoke, I was busy reading through the 175,000 odd words of my current manuscript just to get my head around the stuff I've been writing for the past few years. Having come to the end of that, the good news is that it doesn't suck and the plot and character arcs actually make sense.

Yay me.

I've identified a few places where the various parts of the jigsaw need to be chivvied and wiggled to fit together better and I've now started what is (another) purely creative part of the process, addressing those areas identified and also rewriting those scenes which were - in my hurried desire to get to the end of this thing - merely placeholders with cardboard sets and cheesy dialogue. Now I have a handle on the plot and characterisation this is proving to be very enjoyable. The end - or at least the beginning of it - is in sight.