Monthly Archives: November 2010

Oh, Indeed.

The A-bomb and I just finished our run of five seasons of “the Wire” and I’ve got to take ten minutes out my usual writer-ish/psuedo-whine/metal rantings to extol its virtues. Quite simply, it’s one of the single best television programs I’ve ever seen. It’s better than Deadwood.  It destroys the Sopranos. Though at a pinch I might be able to pick shows I enjoyed a little more, I couldn’t pick a show that was better written, that had such incredible depth, scope, and attention to detail. The writers on this show were simply brilliant at their jobs, and if I ever write anything half as gripping as this series, I’ll consider my time here well spent.

If you haven’t watched it, seriously, do yourself a favour. In an age where a TV show with teenagers singing cover songs is lauded as the height of chic, the bravery and skill of the Wire’s creators should be sung from the highest rooftops. Put simply, it is absolutely fucking brilliant.

Five reasons why I loved it:

1) Constant evolution. This isn’t a situ-drama, this is a show where the goalposts are constantly moving. The premise for season one is completely eroded by the end of the thirteenth episode, and yet the writers continue to take us on a journey with those core characters for another four seasons, and it’s fucking riveting. Characters drop like flies along the way, agendas shift, alliances change. You start to love some of the bad guys, and hate some of the good guys. You honestly have no idea where it’s going, or how it’s going to end. It’s like riding a goddamn roller coaster with the lights switched off.

2) No black and white. This is a program about the slow collapse of an entire city, and the theme of corruption is rife throughout. You’re watching the story of regular people – not heroes, not villains, just some people trying to do some good, and other people trying to do bad. The “good guys” are alcoholics, control freaks, thieves, liars, adulterers and murderers. These are the good guys. The bad guys are poets, philosophers, family men and children. There is right and wrong, sure. But good and evil?

3) No happy endings. There’s no Death Star to destroy so we can all go home and swap medals and flirt with our sisters. There is no great Machiavelli on the streets, or even if there is and the good guys take him down, there are half a dozen more ready to step in and take his place. Our heroes have their fingers in the dyke, and the masonry is collapsing all around them, and they know it. And still they struggle to hold back the tide. While being drunks. And cheating on their partners. And creating criminal conspiracies so large that they engulf the entire city. The Wire smacks of desperation, of the ultimate futility of man’s struggle against corruption and degradation and fat, ugly greed. And yet, still, we fight.

4) Attention to detail. It’s the little things. Like when Duquan takes a beat down, and three episodes later he’s still got the scab on his cheek from where he got cut. Or when McNulty shows up to work the next day wearing the same suit, and nobody says anything about it, but you’re thinking to yourself “Jimmy, you cheating bastard…”. Or when he says goodbye to Beadie and leaves via the front door, and they cut to show Beadie’s expression and the curtains behind her move because someone in the continuity department realized that when McNulty left, the door would let in the breeze and move the curtains and oh my fucking god how did this show not win every Emmy in every category for every year it was on….

5) The characters. They are brilliant. They are real. You love them and you hate them.  McNulty (“What the fuck did I do?”). Greggs. The Bunk (the only character in history to refer to himself in the third person and pull it off). Herc and Carver. Daniels the man of steel. Prez the evolving man. Mike and Dookie. Avon and D’Angelo (the chess master). Bodie. Stringer. Chris, Snoop (“how’s my hair look, Mike?”) and Marlowe. Bubbles! Cutty! Lester!! And possibly the greatest character ever written in a TV series, the man who took the title from Al Swearengen and jammed it where the sun don’t shine, my man Omar.

There are scenes and lines in this show that I will never forget. There are scene that gave me goosebumps, that made my heart pound harder because they were so well written, and that I will try my best not to riff off when I’m writing in future. Imitation is the highest form of flattery as they say, but still, I got my limits.

Watch this program. Don’t steal it. BUY IT. The creators deserve it. The actors deserve it. You won’t regret it.

You feel me?

.anac ‘nignils yb revo ‘nitteg srehtorb gnuoy, emag eht fo eman eht s’taht, seog ti yaw eht s’tahT


Thirteen Steps to fun and profit ™

Yeah, the awful, soul-crushing agent search. You gently pick up your manuscript, nurtured with all your love from a tiny seed, and send it out into the world. There’s not a single word wasted, not a single paragraph that doesn’t sing. It’s perfect. You love it. Surely, everyone else will too.

And then you watch it get eviscerated, curbstomped, or worst of all, just plain ignored, months and months on end, until you look at this thing you once marveled at  and question whether there’s any redeeming features to it at all.

That pretty much sums up what it was like for me. Barely two weeks before my first offer of representation came in, I was feeling out a freelance editor, getting quotes on having her look over my ms to spot the glaring shortfalls I was apparently oblivious to. Brief periods of giddy excitement. Disappointment. Intense self-doubt. Feigned apathy. Resentment. Months on end. Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to representation. And nothing that anybody says will really make it easier. You can have your beta readers and your friends tell you that your MS is the next Harry Potter, you can set the absolute, perfect truth “It only takes one yes” as your desktop background and read it until your eyes bleed, but ultimately, you’re still getting rejected. Over and over. And rejection is less fun than being this kid.

The thing that made it easier for me was having a system and mechanizing the process. Routine and ritual. The interwebz are full of people who are much more learned about this topic than me, there are entire online libraries devoted to it, and I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. But I share my thirteen steps here, partly to have something to blog about, but mostly in the hope it might help somebody else out on that long hard road.

Step 1 – Write a book. Make it awesome. Make it unlike anything you’ve read before. This is kinda the easy part, and I’m not kidding when I say that. By no means is it easy. But it’s easier than what comes after.

Step 2 – Finish the book. I mean, really finish it. Don’t just finish off your third edit and say “done!”. Scour that bastard until it bleeds. Chapter three and chapter four could both be cut in half and stitched together. That subplot with the Polish butcher and the angry transvestite? Cut it. Your opening paragraph could be better. Everything can always be better.

No truer words were ever spoken to me than this – “Your first chapter had better be skull-fuckingly awesome. Because that’s all most agents are ever gonna read.”

Step 3 – Stop finishing the book. Seriously. You’re just fucking it up now. There comes a time when you need to say “Enough, this thing is ready to go out”. This should happen sometime after you’ve scoured it down to the bone, but before it stops breathing.

Some people spend years polishing, and never get around to actually, you know, querying the thing. That’s fear. Fear is the mindkiller. Say it with me and Muad’dib and send that shit out.

Step 4 – Do your homework – Go to Querytracker. Go to Agentquery. Make a list of every agent that reps your genre. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace and monitor their recent sales. Visit the agent websites, read interviews, visit Casey McCormicks’ blog (she is 100% awesome). Sub to their Twitter feeds. Google the living bejezus out of these people. Learn everything you can about them. There are apparently a lot of dishonest people in the agent game, and a lot of aspiring writers get taken advantage of because they didn’t do some simple research.

Go to the Absolute Write forums (great group of people, and thousands of years of combined experience over there to take advantage of). Check out Preditors and Editors. Pay no money to an agent upfront, EVER. They pay you, not the other way around. Don’t let your desire to get published blind you to the realities of the situation. Do not get burned. Do not let all your hard work go to waste at the hands of a hustler. Do not be a sucker.

Do. Your. Homework.

Note – there’s a fine line between doing research and stalking. If you find yourself rifling through an agent’s trash or standing outside their apartment in the rain, you are doing it wrong.

Step 5 – Prioritize your list. Who is your dream agent? Do you put them top of list or midlist? Do you acknowledge that your query is going to suck at first (because it will), or do you think that your query is as awesome as it’s ever going to be (it isn’t) and blow your shots at your dream agents by using them as guinea pigs?

Note – I was an idiot. I thought my query was shit-hot. I put my dream agents on top of my list (including the one I actually landed) and sent it out. I got shit-canned. Repeatedly. The only reason I landed one of my dream picks? Because the damn e-mail got swallowed by the interwebz and I re-queried with a different (read: decent) letter via snail mail two months later. Lady Luck, sometimes she’s a bitch, sometimes she’s a saint.

Step 6 – Forge a prescription for some quality painkillers, then write your query letter. There are entire websites devoted to this. (writing the query, I mean, not forging a prescription). I won’t elaborate on it, because there are much smarter folks than I devoting much more time to it. But there are faaaaaaaabulous resources online, darling, and you should take advantage of all of them.

You can find my query on this blog if you’re interested. (under “query” in the navigation bar up the top of the page). The version you’ll be reading was my third iteration. The first one blew more goat than wow I don’t even want to finish that thought…

Step 7 – Read the submission guidelines. This can’t be stressed enough. The brownie points I’m racking up from every agent’s assistant by just mentioning this fact will be enough to get me repped in my next seventeen lives.

Every agent is different. Some like you to send your query solo (which is why your letter needs to sing like Amanda Palmer). Some like a synopsis. Some like a chapter sample. Some like watching episodes of House wearing only an old “Spice Girls” T-shirt and bunny slippers, but you don’t know that because you’re not standing outside her apartment in the rain watching her, are you?

Are you?

Seriously, do your research. Triple check the submission guidelines. Make sure you spell their name right. Make sure you don’t refer to female agents as “Mr” or  “Sugarpants”. Make sure you don’t accidently attach that Harry Potter/Dobby slashfic that you wrote for Topless Robot FFF.

…You guys do that too, right?

Step 8 – Send it. Cross your fingers. Pray to whatever flavor of Flying Spaghetti Monster you prefer. Sacrifice a cat to the blood god. Seriously, cats are vermin, the less we have of them, the better.

I started with half a dozen queries, but as my letter improved, I had around 15 queries in the air at any given moment. As soon as a rejection came in, I’d send out another. Some folks will tell you this is too many queries to run at the one time. Some will say it’s not enough. None of them are right. There are no absolutes beyond this point. You are stepping beyond the rim.

Step 9 – Wait.

Then wait some more.

You can choose to spend your waiting time however you wish. Writing your next book is a good way to go. Blog about it. Mosey over to the Absolute Write forums, make some friends, and find out all the stuff you should have done before you sent out your query. But whatever you do, it had best be an activity you enjoy, because you’re going to doing a hell of a lot of it.

STORMDANCER is a bit of a rulebreaker – in the grand scheme of things, it really only took three months for me to land an agent on it, which is nothing. To put it in perspective, I waited three months just to get replies on some queries for my first ms. I spent five months waiting to hear back on a full (which incidentally, was a rejection).

So yeah, writing your next book while you wait? Probably a good idea.

Step 10 – Wait.

I realize I mentioned this one already, but it’s worth mentioning twice. Seriously, you’ll be a fucking zen master by the time this is over. That, or complete basketcase.

Step 11 – Learn from your rejections. Because you will be rejected. A lot. The A-Bomb used to say to me “Stephanie Meyer got rejected nine times before Twilight got bought. J.K Rowling got canned a dozen times too”. I will say this now – those ladies had it easy. I took twenty two kicks to the balls on STORMDANCER (not counting the “no-replies”). I took seventy on COLD. I had it easy. I know writers who got rejected over three hundred times before their ms got repped. Imagine the stones it takes to keep sending out queries after being shit-canned three hundred times. Then grab a little piece of that, break it off and hold on tight, because chances are, you’ll need it.

Think I’m kidding? Another rejction arrived in the inbox of my gmail account as I was writing this blog entry. I’m repped and I’m still getting rejected.

Most of your rejections will be forms. An automated, boiler-plate “thanks but no thanks”. And this will infuriate you. It offers no feedback, no advice on how to improve. Ninety nine percent of your rejections will look like this. If you’re lucky enough to have received advice or feedback from an agent with your rejection, treat this like a nugget of gold. It’s a true rarity, and that agent is taking time out of an unimaginably busy schedule to offer it to you. Say “thank you, madam” and be on your way.

When you get rejected, don’t ask why. You’ll be sorely tempted to. Especially after rejection on a partial or full. But sadly, it’s not the agent’s job to tell you what’s wrong with your ms. A real hard fact of life, but as inescapable as the hangover you’ll be sporting after drowning your rejection woes in a bottle of JD (which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be doing your fair share of)

Step 12 – Revise.

When I first started querying STORMDANCER, I made an excel spreadsheet (seen in minature to the right). It had the agent’s name and agency to the left, the date I queried them and a column for their response. I’d color the field red if I got rejected. I’d color it green if I got a partial or full request. Looking back on that spreadsheet now, it tells an interesting story (well, it’s a boring story, but I’ll swear a little to spice it up, and maybe slip in some dancing girls).

The top third is mostly red. There are a couple of hopeful little green rectangles in that sea of rejection, closely followed by rejections in the next column along (meaning my partial got shit-canned). But as you scan further down the names, the red grows fewer and farther between, and green starts to dominate. By the end of the list, there’s a big chunk of green rectangles all in a row. Throughout the query process, I was revising both my letter and my MS. The first 50 pages changed quite radically <Dancing girls!>from the time I started querying and the time I signed at SJGA. Sick of watching me trying to plant my lips on my own pogo stick? Yes, so am I.

The point is, my letter and ms got better as I went along (hence you should consider the order in which you query your “dream picks” very seriously). If you’re getting lots of rejections, something is wrong, and you need to get to work. Of course, trying to fix it when you’re getting nothing but boiler-plate is harder than a graduate from the University of Soccer Hooliganism who majored in “Glassing old ladies in the face”. But again, this is the status-quo. It’s frustrating and maddening, but you just need to suck it up and get writing.

The best advice anyone can give when it comes to making your writing better is “trust your instincts”. If you’re meant to be doing this, you’ll do it.

Step 13 – Believe

I’ll depart from my wise-cracking, tall dark and scary routine long enough to give a little group hug now. Everyone needs a hug once in a while, especially querying writers. Here it is:

The only belief that matters in this equation is your own. It’s nice to have the support of betas or trusted friends, but it’s not necessary (the only person who had more than the vaguest idea that I was writing a book until I got repped was my wife). The only person who needs to believe you can do this is you. Everything else is window dressing.

The people who reject you? The people who tell you that you can’t do it? The people who don’t respond to your queries? The critics on your forums who offer vicious or empty feedback? The people who say “meh”? The people who give you a funny little look when you mention your book? The people who are waiting for you to fail?

Fuck them.

Say those words. Sing them. Take a deep breath and scream them.



It doesn’t matter what they think, or what they say. It doesn’t matter what they believe. It only matters what you think, what you believe. Because if you believe you can do it, and you’re meant to be doing it, then you will. You can. And that’s all there is to it. No more, no less than that.

Believe in yourself. Keep the faith. At the end of the day, it’s all any of us have.

.gniog peeK .tuo laripS

Goggles + corset = Steampunk?

So I was going to do a few more blog entries on the query process and getting an agent and whatnot, to try and juice that particular feat for all the wordage I could, but a friend of mine who shall remain nameless sent me a link today – this link, specifically.

After “PHWOAAAAR”ing and drooling like one of Pavlov’s fkn dogs, and perusing the galleries of the terribly talented designer in question (purely to admire the garments you understand) my higher brain finally kicked into gear (took around ten minutes) and I actually got to thinking. The question I finally arrived at is: “What makes this steampunk?” She’s got the goggles, she’s got the corset… is that all it takes?

But instead of adopting a combative stance, as many other folks seem to be doing in regards to SP atm, I figured I’d just lay out what Steampunk means to me. Because let’s face it, when you’re talking a topic that’s, you know, completely made up, it’s hard to be wrong per se. So awaaaaaay we go:

1. “Steam” = aesthetic: Yes, there is an undeniable aesthetic quality to SP. When most people think of SP, they drift very quickly into realms of the visual – clockwork, pig iron, rivets, leather straps with shiny buckles. Guys with big boots and waistcoats and girls in corsets with artfully arranged smears of grease on their pale, perfect… cheeks and goggles, goggles, omfg, why are there so many goggles.

Steam = marvellous, mechanized technology (not all of it steam-powered necessarily) used in a historical setting. The actual plausibility or mechanics of the tech isn’t really the important thing – whether the airships are powered by “phlogiston” or the cowboys are running around with “tesla guns”, or if you’re just using coal and diesel to power your mechanical oddities, the important aspect is: technology that would be considered futuristic for the time period is available (either commonly, or to an elite few) with far-reaching consequences for the setting – the most obvious being that women feel the inexplicable urge to run around in not much more than a leather miniskirt, corset and a trusty pair of strategically placed goggles. Hoorah for science.

It’s impossible to divorce SP from this aesthetic – while it shouldn’t be the only characteristic of the genre, it’s certainly the facet that most differentiates SP from other sci-fi and has the geek boys high-fiving all the way to the cosplay conventions.

2. “Punk” = ideology: So what is punk? There are no common politics amongst punks (left-wing to neo-nazi to apolitical). There is no common aesthetic (skinhead, mohawk, longhair, trashbag, lolis, gothics, what?) – there are even books that would argue that any conformity of aesthetic is completely missing the point of what punk was supposed to be about. Punks are quick to slap the “poser” label on folks who conform to the visuals and not the values, but trying to define the values of any given punk “scene” can be impossible. And of course, there are folks who would say that punk is nothing but an aesthetic, that modern punks are so far removed from their progenitors in ideology that all that remains is the silly haircut/safety-pin stylings.

I’m not a punk, never have been. But one thing I can say about every single punk that I’ve ever known is this: they were pissed off about something. Pissed off about the government. Black people. Racism. Gays. Homophobia. Hippies. The environment. Animal rights. The fact that it’s impossible to get a good steak in this town. Whatever. Every single one of them was angry, and wanted the world to know about it.

So, to me, punk = rage. At the government, the police, the machine. Whatever you want to call it. That’s what punk comes down to, imo. And rage usually leads to rebellion – a desire to change that which fertilizes our discontent. The need to break shit. Even if you have no idea what you’ll build after the current structure comes tumbling down.

Without a sense of that violent struggle, that discontent at the way things are and the desire to change it (even if the odds against actually eliciting change are so remote as to be impossible), there is no Punk. And you can’t spell Steampunk without the word Punk. If your book/comic/film has loads of corsets and goggles and steam-powered robots but no sense of that anger or rebellion, you might have missed the point (though the cosplayers will still love you).

3. Steampunk can be set anywhere, but not anywhen:  I think it’s safe to say the lack of a historical setting is a bit of a deal breaker for SP. It’s hard to draw many distinctions between Steampunk set in a futuristic setting and most plain old sci-fi. But as far as setting it in Victorian England, or even Victorian times? I’m not so sure.

There are plenty of SP works out there set outside the UK (Cherie Priest’s “Clockwork Century” books are probably the best known currently). Work like “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (the comic, not the film) kinda set the scene for the modern SP trend (although in truth, SP has been around a lot longer), but I think it’s totally counterproductive to limit the setting to the UK, or even the time period between Great Exhibition and Victoria’s death (Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan is set during WW1, long after Queen Victoria was dead, and ain’t nobody claiming it’s anything other than Steampunk).

Purists will argue differently of course, but as mentioned above, creating “rules” for a setting/genre/whatever that’s completely fictional and constantly evolving is puuuuure cracky-talk. Breaking those original conventions is what’s going to make this genre interesting, rather than seeing it stagnate the way Urban Fantasy seems to be (sassy girl + supernatural bad-dude + contemporary urban setting = profit)

So it would seem aesthetic + attitude + historical setting = steampunk, at least in my head. Anything else is at best, a distraction, and at worst, the product of peeps with too much time on their hands arguing about silly shit on the interwebz.

I’m no expert, but when you’re talking about stuff that’s totally made up, who the fuck is?

.godrednu eht ma I

Revisions comple… finis… done.

5,000 words in three days, the deed is done and first rounds of submission to publishers is underway as we speak. The ms feels about as cool as I could ever hope. I can’t really express how exciting it was to talk to, you know, proper, professional people in the publishing industry about my story, getting down into the real nitty-gritty of characters and plots and motivations that I wrote.

I found myself sitting on the sidewalk in Melbourne at 4am (we were sleeping out for Tool tickets), laptop in front of me, bashing away on the keyboard while some dodgy stereo spat out Forty Six and Two and I just stopped for a second and looked around me, thought about how much life had changed in the last few weeks. Trippy. 🙂

Now before I come off too lovey-dovey, I’ll segueway into my rant: my partner in crime, Mr Orrsome and myself were fourth and fifth in line at the Anatheum. The lads in front of us had got there at 10pm the night before to cue up. Props for that. Doors open early, they’re waiting at the counter at 9am when tix go on sale. First two guys get front row seats. By the time the third guy gets his, the pit and seated areas are totally sold out. By the time Orrsome gets to the counter, the grass is almost totally sold out – he only manages to get two tix. All in the space of about 60 seconds. Everyone behind us in line walked away empty-handed. And we could bought grass seats at the pre-sale on Thursday without moving from behind our keyboards.

Fkn internet sales. IMO, live venue sales should open at least 30 minutes before online sales do. If you don’t have the stones to sleep out, why the FUCK should you get tix over those who do. Zzzzzzzzz.

PS: Despite the A-bomb’s assurances that it is awesome, Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell is failing to rock my world. It’s very… British. 😦

eids rehto eht tuo gnimoc, wodahs ym hguorht gnippetS

So let it be written, so let it be done.

Pleased as punch to announce that I’m now officially repped by gentleman and scholar Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger and Associates. FUCK and YES.

I can still remember the nut-punch of my first form rejection, the high of my first partial request. I remember sitting at my keyboard trying to write a query letter on COLD and not having the first clue how to begin. I remember feeling stupid, that all this was a waste of time, just an absurd little dream. I remember the first time I wrote something that made the hairs on my arms stand up, and feeling like I could actually do this. It’s been a trip. Not at the end yet by a long shot, but the first leg is done.

All of the agents who made offers (and others who were about to before I pulled the rug out) were amazing, dedicated and wonderful people. I actually felt quite bad letting them down. You’d think after nearly a year of constant rejection, a bastard like me might get some satisfaction in doing some rejecting of my own. Instead I felt like a complete prick. But still, time to get over it.

Now, bring on the revisions!

Mind = blown

I woke up to two more offers of representation in my inbox this morning, which puts the tally at four. There’s a couple of heavy-weights, and a couple of more “boutique” style shops, all of which have some crunchy clients. The agents themselves are all great people, so I’m trying to conduct four simultaneous e-mail conversations and have them info-dump all the relevant facts while sitting here at work trying to look like I’m doing the shit I get, you know, paid for. (Dear bosses, I must confess that I’m not)

A friend told me “when it happens, it will happen fast” but I didn’t really appreciate it until now.

D-Day approaches. Decision needs to get made pretty damn soon. And tix for the TOOL pre-sale go online in less than thirty minutes. So for now, I leave you with Schism.