Tag Archives: fantasy

Project complete: Alex-Bell.co.uk

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce the launch of a completed project, namely the new website of fantasy author Alex Bell.

Alex Bell website screenshot

Alex seems very pleased with it, and so am I – it’s definitely the ‘prettiest’ site I’ve built yet (for values of ‘pretty’ where x = ‘kinda moody in a feminine mode’), which was partly due to having the fabulous Kustaa Saksi artwork to work from for the colour scheme.

Go take a look; all feedback is appreciated!

Writing tips round-up

What with one thing and another, it’s been a donkey’s age since I last did a writing advice round-up. I had a few morsels lying about in the old RSS reader, so I thought I’d take a moment to pitch them out.

Twenty mistakes to avoid

This is the first of two posts from E. E. Knight, a man who manages to educate and entertain at the same time. It’s a list of twenty fiction-writing blunders made by beginning (and not-so-beginning) writers. My personal favourite:

11 – So that’s why you wrote this: I’ve read stories where the most precise language and evocative imagery is saved for the all-important pudenda-shaving scene as the heroine gets ready to go to the library. I’m not knocking your kink, I’m just wondering why so much word-weight is put into a personal hygiene choice in a story about tracking down Shoggoths.


Showing not telling – avoiding infodump

Back-story is probably more essential in genre fiction than any other form … but that doesn’t make it any more palatable when served in huge expository lumps. So here’s a snippet of E. E. Knight’s comprehensively lengthy advice on sneaking the back-story under the radar:

You’re doing a disservice to your readers when you present them with the information they need to know to understand your world (or the backgrounds for your characters, or whatever) in a couple of ways when you do this, though. For one thing, it’s absolutely static and therefore boring. For another, the authorial hand is visible, cold on the reader’s throat like a doctor checking your glands.

Indeed. Concludes with plenty of examples, also. If you’re a beginning writer, and you’re not subscribed to his RSS feed, you’re missing out.

Collaboration 101

Another writer whose advice I increasingly find indispensable (and another one by whose actual fiction, to my shame, I’ve never read*) is Luc Reid. While not so much of a didactic piece as Knight’s material above, this post lays out a procedural framework for collaborating on short stories:

6. When we have a completed first draft, one of us does the first round of editing. If one person did more of the original writing, the other should be the one to do the first round of editing. During editing, we discuss any major changes before making them, but other than that we’re ruthless and edit the stories almost as though they were our own. We don’t hesitate to strike out a beautiful phrase or change a character or what have you even if the other person has done the original work. However, we do this using Word’s “track changes” feature, which is very easy to use, so that if something needs to be restored it can be.

Hmmm. I’m thinking you’ll have to be pretty good friends with anyone you do that sort of work with! Good food for thought, though.

Clomping foot redux

It’s a mark of his great talent (and the great esteem in which he is held) that M. John Harrison can set the genre blogosphere alight with a few short paragraphs about the sort of fantasy he is tired of seeing:

Go away & write me a fantasy like that. Wait twenty years before you start. Write it out of some emotion of yours you never understood, or some decision you made you’re not sure if you regret; but never once name that emotion or let me see the decision. I want what’s underneath. Make it short. Remember the world never had a plot, & that there’s no difference between a “myth” & commuting to work, they’re just two really excellent ways of narrating the life out of life.

Tear this one up, & start again with that very good sentence from p50, “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Much like the original “clomping foot” post, I think people will be talking about this one for some time to come.

In fact, it reminds me of some of the things the Mundanistas have been saying, though there are fundamental differences. But that’s a post for another day …

[*Actually, that’s not strictly true – I have read some of Luc Reid’s super-short pieces over at The Daily Cabal, which is kind of like Friday Flash Fiction every single day, and another fine addition to your web-based diet.]

Subscription drives alone will not save the short fiction magazines

OK, first off let me make one thing perfectly clear – I do not want to see science fiction and fantasy short story print magazines die off. It is not a thing that would bring me any sort of joy.

Secondly, let me make it clear that Doug Cohen’s suggestion that everyone make a point of subscribing to a short story publication is well-meaning and good-spirited, and that I think anyone who can afford to do so should do exactly that.

(I recommend Interzone, myself, but then I’m biased!)

But I think that subscription drives are a short-term solution that fails to look at the long-term issues.

Where have the readers gone, and why?

Subscription rates are falling; this is undeniable. And the genre needs the short fiction markets to nurture new talent; this is also undeniable.

What we are missing are the cold hard facts. Why are subscriptions to short fiction magazines dropping? Subscription drives are an admirable thing, but until the source of the problem is located, it’s like adding more water to a leaking bucket. We need to find the hole and patch it.

Now, for all I know, the magazine publishers may well be hunting for the leak. I certainly hope so. I know some of them are looking at methods of patching the leak, too, if not already rolling out potential patches and strengthening. This is a good thing.

But what worries me is this; subscription drives may cause an unfounded short-term sense of security. If publishers look at the next twelve months and breathe a sigh of relief, they may not think ahead to the next five years. Beating the wolf away from the door is great, but it would be better to chase him back into the forest.

What should we do to save the short fiction markets?

I don’t have all the answers, sadly. Alhough I have my opinions on futureproofing the genre short fiction scene, which were not universally popular when I announced them, they are only opinions – and they are the opinions of someone who isn’t a publisher of short fiction magazines. In an absence of facts, all I can do is throw theories into the air.

So here’s what I suggest:

Follow Doug Cohen’s advice, and subscribe to a magazine if you can afford to do so.

But while you’re at it, or if you can’t afford to, or even if you don’t want to, get in touch with the magazine publisher and tell them how you feel.

Tell them why you weren’t subbed before, or why you lapsed, or why you’d like to subscribe but can’t (or won’t). Give these people some feedback, and help them find a solid path to a lasting future.

You can’t fix a problem simply by throwing money at it. We need to think smarter than that.

Cape Town is a fantasy reader’s paradise

At least, it is up until the end of August. Any readers of VCTB hailing from South Africa (or with friends and family out that way), take note:

The Reader’s Paradise Bookstore in Cape Town, South Africa, is having a special two-month promotion on fantasy and science fiction titles, including a big selection of books that come with a free signed bookplate from the author included in the price.

They’re also selling other fantastic-related stuff, including DVDs and kid’s costumes, and there’s a raffle for goodies that include more signed books.

Sounds like a whole bunch of good reasons for South African readers to not buy from Amazon for the next few months, don’t you think?


[Disclosure: yeah, I know, that’s a blatant free plug. But you know what? The guy just emailed and asked really nicely, and I like the idea of supporting small bookstores. Plus it’s my own blog, so I make the rules.]

Scalpel Magazine launches, plus more print vs. online debate

Having been out of town on the relevant evening, I’m late to the field in trumpeting the launch of Scalpel Magazine (although I actually mentioned it ages ago, and let the cat somewhat out of the bag in the process). Most of the genre blogosphere appears to have taken the news of a new reviews and criticism outlet fairly positively, notwithstanding Nick Mamatas and friends. There’s some fine content on there, too. I for one hope it will last the course – and not merely because I want another venue to send my own work to, either.

Pat Cadigan’s guest editorial for Scalpel mentions the decline of book reviews in mainstream print media, which is a hot topic at the moment, especially in the US. I’ve found that the Print Is Dead blog has had some wise things to say on the matter. Meanwhile, the UK’s very own Grumpy Old Bookman has added his dime to the jukebox:

“Finally, however, let us remember one simple fact. However erudite the print reviewer may be, and however exquisite his taste and critical judgement, he is handicapped by comparison with the most humble blogger. Our print man cannot link directly to other sources.

This is, I would suggest, a major problem. Twenty years ago, of course, no one could even imagine it. But now it has to be faced.”

That’s about right, I think. I’m not gloating about the declining relevance of print media (in reference to book reviews or anything else), but nor am I willing to shut my eyes on what, to me, is an obvious and irresistable trend. Selah.