Monthly Archives: December 2010

Now I haff a machine gun.

I’m headed back to the ancestral breeding pit to break bread amongst people who share my congenital birth defects, so this blog will be dark over the co-opted pagan festival season.

All things considered, it’s been a rather smashing 2010, pip-pip, huzzah, what ho, old chap. This time last year I was putting the finishing touches on my first ms, trying to get my head around writing a query letter. Twelve months later, I’m an agented writer at a fantastic shop, with two offers from major publishing houses on the table and potentially more to follow in the New Year. Funny how the worm turns.  Sometimes I love that goddamn worm. I love him right in the pants.

I had a dream last night in which none of this was real. I was still just another grunt in the trenches, no agent, no offers, and for a moment it seemed so vivid I had to check my iPhone and re-read the emails from big Matty B and the kick-ass Ms Ribar letting me know an offer had been made. The thought of going back to where I was a year ago was truly terrifying. So if this actually is a dream, nobody wake me up, okay? I’d rather sleep with a big goofy smile on my face.

Happy holidays, peoples. To all the grunts still slogging in the trenches, remember Rule 13.

Heads up 2011. You are getting DESTROYED.

.eb ot tog s’ti yaw eht si sihT


Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I just got a second offer on my book. Two book deal. Awesome publishing house.

heh.

hahah…

MUAAAAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!11!!

.rekcufrehtom toohs, toohs, toohS


les Livre Graphiques

Comic books are for kids. A Serious Writer won’t read them, won’t waste their time on a medium so bereft of cultural significance. A Serious Writer reads Dostoyevsky and Hemmingway, not Miller and Claremont. Stories are told in words, not in pictures. Unless you’re five years old and reading “See Spot Run” of course.

Well, I read comic books. I grew up reading them. And it’s been heartening to me to see the genre grow in respect over the years, to turn from a children’s pastime into a serious literary pursuit (although I’m sure there’s a million “Serious Writers” out there who would roll their eyes and scoff at the notion). But fuck Serious Writers. Seriously. A comic book won the Pulitzer Prize. If that ain’t Serious Writing, I’m not sure what is.

Of course, the euphemism game is being played now to lend gravitas to the medium, which kinda disappoints me. We don’t call them “comic books’ anymore, we call them “graphic novels”. Anything I can say about euphemisms has been said better before, so I’ll just leave you with George on that one. But given the great writing found in the comics field nowadays, I guess anything that gets more respect and makes Serious Writers less worried about reading or creating them can’t be all bad.

All that said, this is a list of comic books… sorry, graphic novels, that I think anyone with a dim view of the medium (or someone who just loves wonderful stories, brilliantly told) should read. For anyone familiar with the medium, these will be no-brainers, but I’m not writing this for you; you’re already enlightened, so shaddap.

In no particular order:

Akira – Katsuhiro Otomo (author/illustrator). Set in the post-apocalyptic city of Neo-Tokyo, Akira is a sprawling epic that centers around two childhood friends: a brash, loud-mouthed antihero named Kaneda, and his quiet second fiddle Tetsuo, who, through a series of clandestine government experiments, finds himself the wielder of vast and destructive psychic powers.

The book begins as a slick, cyberpunk style tale, and ends as a dystopian survival story in the shell of Neo-Tokyo’s ruins. Along the way, Otomo explores the issues of friendship and loss, betrayal, isolation, discovery of self and the corrupting influence of power. The artwork is simply stunning – the level of detail in Otomo’s cityscapes (pre and post cataclysm) are mind-blowing, and the storyline is simply vast in scope, dragging us from the gleaming freeways and glowing neon of the Neo-Tokyo biker wars into the utter desperation that follows after the “Akira event”. It’s a love story, it’s an awesome adventure, it’s introspective and self-searching. It’s 100% worth your time.

Do not judge this book by the animated film (if you’ve seen it). Unlike the latter, the book actually makes sense. And by the way, if the rumors are true and Zac Effron has been cast in the live action film, unless he’s been cast as “Random Douchebag who gets his head ‘sploded by Tetsuo #1”, motherfuckers will OFFICALLY pay.

“Tetsuoooooooooo!”
~Kaneda

The Crow – J. O’Barr (author/illustrator). The tragic story of a young man, Eric, who returns from the dead after his fiancé is raped and murdered by a gang of thugs. Over the course of a few nights, Eric exacts revenge against the men who wronged him.

The book was written over the course of seven years, originally as a way for O’Barr to deal with the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver. It’s bleak, it’s black, it’s thoroughly depressing. The angst positively bleeds off the page, the artwork, while all great, is varied in style (probably owing to the length of time he took drawing it) but it contains some of the best prose you’ll ever read in a comic book (or any other book for that matter)

Despite what came afterwards (the IP has been positively flogged to death, with a series of shitty movies and follow up books that never came close to the original) The Crow stands as a masterpiece, a testimony to the power of rage channeled into positive outlets.

“We shall never forget and never forgive.
And never, ever fear.
Fear is for the enemy.
Fear and bullets.”
~Eric

Sandman – Neil Gaiman (Gaiman: author/various illustrators). I know there are a million rabid fanboys out there who will bay for my blood at the suggestion (ya, like a million peeps read this blog), but Neil Gaiman is a much better comic book writer than he is a novelist. I’ve read American Gods, I’ve read Smoke and Mirrors, I’ve exposed myself to Coraline (mind out of the gutter, people). Nothing comes close to the work for which Gaiman is best known – the Sandman.

The Sandman, aka Dream is one of the Endless: supernatural beings that have existed since, well, pretty much forever. Along with his siblings Destruction, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny and every goth girl’s favorite postergirl Death, the Endless govern the various realms of human existence. Problem is, Dream is a bit of a twat, and this leads to all sorts of problems including his son’s murder, the abdication of hell’s monarch, and eventually (spoilerrrrrz) the destruction of the dream realm. It’s all pretty fantastic stuff, the book ran for 75 issues, ranging from one-off episodes to long story arcs, but all of them tied back somehow to the notion of dreams.

The artwork (aside from the magnificent covers from the one and only Mr Dave McKean) is patchy, but the art isn’t why you read Sandman. You read it for the story, and you get that in spades. It’s a wonderful, mind-blowing exercise in imagination, at times very funny, other times terribly sad, but virtually always enthralling.

“Every story has got a happy end – you just have to know when you stop telling.”
~ A Storyteller (“Preludes and Nocturnes”)

Batman: Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison (author) and Dave McKean (illustrator). I’m not a big Batman fan. Where I came from, you picked Marvel or DC, and you read one at the expense of the other. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Marvel boy, and big Bruce and his hang-ups about his poor dead parents never really did it for me, even when I glanced through his pages. Until I read this.

The inmates of Arkham (the prison where all of Gotham’s not-so-super-villains are incarcerated) have broken free and taken over the asylum. They say they’ll kill the hostages unless Batman comes inside. Big B delivers, and finds himself in the middle of a nightmarish exploration of the psyche of his foes, intertwined with the twisted tale of the asylum’s creator, Amadeus Arkham and the Batman’s own black past. Visually, the book is simply stunning – nobody can hold a candle to Dave McKean, and Morrison manages to tell a story about dangerous insanity without lapsing into cliché (at least, they weren’t clichés back then) or unnecessary brutality.

Anybody who dresses up as a bat and stalks the night is nutty as squirrel shit. AA was the first Batman book I’d read the openly acknowledged the fact. And Morrison’s Joker was scary as hell.

“Beautiful. Blue. Oh.”
~ The Joker.

Watchmen – Alan Moore (author, even though he’ll barely acknowledge it these days) Dave Gibbons (illustrator) and John Higgins (colorist). Watchmen was a 12 issue series set on an alternate earth, telling a story about a defunct group of masked vigilantes and a murderous plot to change the face of our civilization. But unless you’ve been living on Mars with Dr. Manhattan, you already knew that because you’ve seen the movie, right? What you might not know is that Watchmen was touted as the book that redefined the comic book industry, and it’s deserving of every word of that praise. It changed the face of the superhero, made readers question the very concept of it, and told a tale about the fundamental flaws of human nature, alienation, xenophobia, nihilism and government control while clad in spandex and capes. And it pulled it off.

Visually, the book was highly structured: nine panel pages with full page intros, recurring symbolism of clocks and smiley faces, and the color palette was unlike anything being used in the medium at the time. The story of our heroes is intercut with another comic book story “Tales of the Black Freighter”, which is being read at a newsstand by one of the minor characters throughout the main story’s time line. Each issue was book-ended with long excerpts from other fictional works from the comic’s world, which served as background detail and exposition. Reading about the creation of the book is almost as interesting as the book itself.

The subsequent collection and repackaging of the issues of Watchmen was the first time a comic book was marketed as a “graphic novel”. Sadly, contract disputes over Watchmen saw Moore sever his ties with DC and virtually disown the project (you’ll note the recent movie only credited Gibbons in the titles). I’ve read interviews with Moore expressing dismay at the darker, more visceral direction comics took after Watchmen hit the shelves. I’ve read interviews with him saying he wished he’d never written it. Which is kinda sad really.

All that aside however, it’s still a cracking read. Beware the psychic squid!

“I am looking at the stars. They are so far away. And their light takes so long to reach us. All we ever see of stars are their old photographs.”
~Dr. Manhattan

.bmob a ekil mlaC


Can you dig it?

I just got my first offer from a big U.S publishing house.

Allow me to repeat that:

I JUST GOT MY FIRST OFFER FROM A BIG U.S PUBLISHING HOUSE.

Can’t really discuss details yet. Very early days. But holy shit. Seriously

BTW, for the sake of posterity, I’m giving my Steampunk sub-genre a name (because I don’t think anyone has given this style a handle before). I hereby dub thee:

Yugepunk (yuge = japanese for “steam”)

More news to follow. Stay tuned my lovelies.

.no deulg sgniw rieht htiw slegna eseht llA


Making a list, checking it twice, something, something…

I should be writing about the whole getting an agent thing, and how the submission process is going. So, an update: I’ve been out on sub for a very small amount of time (weeks) to the “Big Seven’ of the SFF industry (or so I’m told). The US publishing industry kinda shuts down over Thanksgiving so things will be slow. Still, I’ve had one snippet of news, which, while I’m not really at liberty to discuss due to my irrational inbred Irish superstition, can be safely classified as a “bloody good start”. As always, I’m Eeyoring it for all it’s worth, and not getting excited at all. But keep them fingers crossed, my lovelies.

Now, list time. By no means is this a list of the best books I’ve ever read, in terms of brilliant writing or plotting or impact they had on the literary world. This is just a list of books that spoke to me, mostly when I was very young, and have stayed with me my whole life. These are the books I respond with when someone asks me “what should I read?”

I don’t claim to be a voracious reader. Truth is, I’m very slow. People make lists of “the best 10 books I read this year” – I’d be lucky to make a list of “10 books I read this year, period”. I’ve been struggling through Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrell for more than a month now, when someone like the A-bomb would devour a brick like that in two weeks. I don’t’ really make the time to read that I should, I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, and truth is, now that I’m some kind of writer (what kind is yet to be determined), I always feel like I should be working on the new book instead of reading. But anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s a list of books I love, and will remember til my dying day.

1. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Probably the mostly beautifully and strikingly illustrated book I’ve ever seen. I first had this read to me when I was around five years old, probably on an episode of “Play School”. I still own it today.

It’s an exploration of the concept of rage told from a child’s POV – the emptiness and ultimate fruitlessness of it all, a cautionary tale about the potential loss that stems from unchecked anger. Nothing like it had been done before. It was brave, and it was brilliant.  

I’m an angry person. I always have been, always will be. And though I’m a firm believer in the power of rage, and how it can be channeled into positive and brilliant endeavors, I always have to be mindful of where it can lead if left unchecked. I am Max, and whether it’s loud and screaming or tucked away in some tiny corner, there is always a Wild Rumpus going on inside my head.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams. This book (and its Sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) are ultimately a story about how ludicrous we tiny little creatures actually are. How we fill our lives with bullshit trivialities that are nobody else’s business, with institutions and bureaucracies, and how the pattern repeats in micro and macro scale. How ultimately, people really are very silly, that we search for meaning in an existence where there probably is none beyond being, you know, nice to each other, that we’re always looking for the “will-be” and never savoring the “now”. How everyone needs to just fucking take it easy.

But most importantly, this book is funny. Laugh out loud funny. And it probably contains the greatest narrative device I’ve ever read to pass exposition along to the reader. Shall we have paragraphs of info dump? Shall we have long and tedious conversations amongst each other to explain to the reader what’s going on? No, let’s build ourselves a n00b named Arthur, and hand him a tiny electronic book that will not only explain everything the reader needs to know, but make them giggle like five years olds to boot.

Mr Adams, sir, you are missed.

3. The Hobbit – J.R.R Tolkein. Yeah okay, what a cop-out. Anybody can stick Tolkien on their lists, he’s overrated, blah blah. I can still remember the exact moment I got exposed to the Hobbit. I was eight years old, in class, reading some weird anthology thing that contained single chapters from a bunch of recommended books, and I came across a chapter called “Riddles in the Dark”. I read it. Twice. Then I ran to the library and asked if they had the whole book, and an entirely different world opened up inside my head.

This was the first fantasy book I ever read, and it will always be my favorite. Not because it’s the best written SFF book I’ve ever seen, not because I’m some Tolkein fanboy who can quote the Simarillion verbatim (I got twenty pages into that beast before I hit the eject button), but because it opened my mind to possibilities that I always suspected where there, but had never seen before. It turned on a light inside my head that has never gone out.

And Thorin Oakenshield fucking rocks.

4. ‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King. When I was a kid, I used to go grocery shopping with my mother, but when I reached the age when I was “too cool’ to be wandering around the store with an authority figure, she’d drop me off at the news agency in the mall while she went and got groceries. It would take her about an hour. So I would plonk myself down in the book aisle and just read. The store owner never bugged me about it, I was always careful not to bend the spines. It got to the point where I would rip tiny edges off the newspapers and stick them in the pages so I would know where I was up to when I came back next week.

This was the eighties, and horror was king, and of course, the king of kings was Mr King (see what I did there?). They had an entire row of Stephen King books in that store, and I pawed through every one. Of course, being eleven years old, I had no time for two hundred pages of exposition before we got to the bloodletting. I’d just skip to the “good bits”, and no King book had as many “good bits” as ‘Salem’s Lot.

Funny thing is, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever actually read this entire book, cover to cover, word for word, and it’s still one of my favorite books of all time. I haven’t picked it up in twenty years, and I still remember scenes and lines as vividly as the day I read them. “I will see you sleep like the dead, teacher.” “I’ll kiss you like your mother never did.” “The boy makes ten of you, false priest.” The struggle of weak mortals against ancient and soulless evil, true, pure evil, set against a backdrop of a brilliantly detailed, mudane, mindless little town in nowheresville.

This is vampire fiction as it should be. I look around now and see what vampires have become in modern fiction and it really makes me sad. But thank christ that when the glut of sassy urban female + sexy vampire alpha male books flooding our shelves atm are acknowledged as the saccharine bubble-gum bullshit that they are, this book will still be in print, and it will still DESTROY.  

5. Neuromancer – William Gibson. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” So begins my favorite work of sci-fi, a revolutionary, genre-defining, 271 page piece of goddamn poetry that nothing has come close to, before or since. If there is one writer that’s influenced me stylistically more than any other, it’s WG. I don’t even do it consciously, it’s just the way my brain works. Some people close their eyes and see rainbows and flowers. I see rusted steel, split wiring, choking gutters and cigarette ash.

Neuromancer is the seminal cyberpunk work, written by a guy who didn’t even own a computer at the time.

To me it’s a story about defiance, and search for self. Wintermute/Neuromancer and its quest to become the Deus Ex Machina. Case’s search for self-destruction, the truth, that old feeling. The struggle against insurmountable odds, and the search for identity against a backdrop of brilliantly textured visuals of a dystopian future that sing on the page. It’s nearly thirty years old, and I read it again this year and it still wrecks the face of anything in its field. It’s poetry.

Dixie lives!

 .ay ev’I tahw si em tuoba wonk uoy llA