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Status Report (1/9/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

Am uninspired. Witicisms and worldly insights elude me. The rewriting of The King of the Crags is a few days from finished. The first draft of the gazetteer might just about be done for Fantasycon. Still awaiting official map. Yadda yadda yadda. I am dragon-ed out. Am half moved to drop it all after this rewrite is done and go and do something else for a bit. Elf Cops: Kicking ass[1] and taking names. Pixellated wizards dealing in cut-and-shut horses. Overworked and underpaid goblin engineers building designer monsters for their arms-dealer troll masters. Something daft like that. Suggestions on a postcard, please.

Or urban fantasy. Something to do with zombies, or maybe some edgy vampire thing. Something that sells bucketloads is original. [2]

Fantasycon. Yes. I’ll be at Fantasucon. Come to Fantasycon! Everyone come to fantasycon and buy me beer so I can dazzle you with the exceptionally magnificent cover to King of the Crags and with awesome author insights like: How come zombies always seem to have all their teeth even when the rest of them has half rotted away? and If vampires are cold, how come I can see their breath?

I’ll get me coat.

[1] Don’t kick asses. They kick back and they’re much better at it.

[2] Yeah. Like dragons. Totally edge-of-the-envelope.

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Inspiration and Revenge (26/8/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

“Where do you get your inspiration?” That’s a question that most authors seem to get asked at some time. It’s almost something you can’t avoid. The usual response is to refer to a few previous significant works in the applicable genre, maybe a film or a television show, and some moderately classic works of general literature, or maybe a historical figure or two. Example:

Fictional interviewer: “So, Mr. Deas, where do you get your inspiration.”

Author: “Oh, from a great variety of place. I’ve always been a fan of Conan and Elric, that’s the kind of fantasy that really pulled me in. Hong Kong fantasy martial arts movies like Zu Warrior of the Magic Mountain and, more recently, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and so forth. Anything Chinese really. Medieval Chinese history and culture fascinates me. Everything is on such a grand scale and they somehow did things in a different order. Oh, and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle has probably had an influence I could point to on half the stories I’ve written. And Joseph Conrad, when I’ve got the willpower to plough through it. And, and…”

And and. Lots of easy answers. Not that this sort of answer isn’t true, and it certainly does answer the question, but it’s far from complete. Far, far from complete.

Trouble is, delve too far and the answers start to become downright uncomfortable. Example:

A few days ago, Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate grounds and sent back to Libya to die in the comfort of his own home (no this isn’t a cut and paste error from a different blog – bear with me) and with his family. I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say that I thought this was the right thing to do. I noticed that a lot of people didn’t, and then I noticed that not only did some people disagree, they were really very angry about it. Why? Were they afraid that he’d go and do it again (a reasonable thought, perhaps, given he’s going to die soon anyway)? But that didn’t seem to be it. Were they afraid that the wrong example was being set? That his release was somehow undermining the deterrent of being locked up for such horrible crimes? Again it’s an argument that could reasonably be put forward, but that didn’t really seem to be it either, although. No, it was about the feelings of the relatives of those he’d killed (or supposedly killed, if you’re into the conspiracy theories). So that’s where I went. Hypothetically, at least, into their heads to see what it was like to be them. I won’t pretend that I can tell you what it’s really like to have someone killed by a terrorist (or a drunk driver for that matter) for no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can tell you that I’ve tried, though. I can tell you that in trying, I’ve come to understand a little bit more about revenge, that engine that drives so many stories (imagine, for a moment, what literature would be like without any revenge. How many great stories would be wiped away?) I can understand a little better why letting someone who’s done something like that to you go free, for ANY reason, is so repugnant. And one day I will use that understanding to make some character in some story just that little bit more real. That’s the dark side, if you will, of inspiration.

I pick on this example because it’s in the news at the moment. A few weeks from now it’ll be something else and then something else again. Inspiration comes from everywhere, from everything. It comes from walks in the Southern Alps, it comes from the awe-inspiring imaginations of other writers and artists and film-makers. It comes from watching my children feeding little plastic knights to their Gigantosaurus. And it comes from plumbing the dark depths and the dizzying heights of what happens around us, from the horrible and magnificent things that seemingly ordinary people do, and from trying to go inside their heads to see the whys and the hows and the consequences. I can say my inspiration comes from all of those things and they’d all be true. But can you imagine? If I say my inspiration comes from child-molesters and suicide bombers and battered wives, that’s a bit of a concersation killer, neh? So when I’m next asked the question, I’ll probably mention Conan and Chinese history and leave it at that; but you’ll know, if you’ve read this, that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I still think, even if he was guilty, it was right to let him go, but I sure understand now why there are those who disagree.

The Cutting Room Floor (18/8/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

The rewrite has begun. We’re a couple of days in and it has its tentacles firmly wrapped around my free time, such as it was. On other days I might have posted about how kittens on Capstar are like ninjas on a really strong acid/amphetamine mix, or how to get over being terrified of rewrites by scaring the crap out of yourself in an entirely different way. But no time for that this week. Instead, I give you my first editorial sacrifice. I was loathe to let it go, but two prologues is one prologue too many. So - the first of many sweepings from the cutting room floor, some good, some…. not so good. This is a good one: The alternate prologue for The King of the Crags.

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Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

Well I got my editor’s comments back on King of the Crags last week. And I’m about to go on holiday, so what’s the point in getting started only to stop again… (but then again, how can I leave it be for two weeks… ah, the tension, the trauma…). I’ve been looking forward to ranting on about the iniquities of the editing process, how all my cool and exciting ideas are being crushed or something like that, but the plain fact is that’s not how it works. What you actually get are some nice congratulatory words on a job well done and a few hints on how to make it even better. Like make sure you don’t lose track of who is related to who (meh… can’t really argue with that), and put a bit more effort into describing the eyries and the mountain scenery (which is fine with me – in a perfect world, I’d live in the mountains. I’d walk in the mountains. I’d write in the mountains. I’d buy one of those indestructible kitten-proof laptops I mentioned last time so that I could write in the mountains in the rain and the snow. I breathe mountains, dammit. In fact, in a perfect world, I’d probably be a mountain). The only thing I can find to really even start to try and raise a head of steam about is the complaint that the book has too many prologues. Is two prologues too many? Really?

Sadly yes. One of the nice things about being able to leave the story alone for six months, you get to see stuff like that a lot more clearly. Unless you go the whole hog, maybe. Yeah, a fantasy consisting of forty-seven prologues and three short chapters entitled ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’. Yeah, actually, maybe…

OK, OK, not King of the Crags, though. I’ll put the spare one up here when I’m done with the edit so you can see what you’re missing. It’s a good chapter. Pity it has to go.

<sigh>

So no, being edited isn’t really that traumatic. What’s traumatic is the terrifying realisation that this is it. This is the last chance, realistically, to make it right. To make it perfect. For some reason, that never really struck me with The Adamantine Palace, but the terror’s got me good this time. In a way The Adamantine Palace was easy. Kick in the door, make a big fuss. Yes, a lot got sacrificed for sheer pace. Right or wrong, that was the intent. It’s pretty clear from the reviews and the other feedback that I’ve had that for a lot of people, this really really works. For others, it really really doesn’t. For those the former, I offer more. For the latter… sorry, but it ain’t going to happen. Maybe next time.

And then there’s the middle ground. The ‘yes, but…’ camp. There’s quite a lot of you, too. Well, Yesbuts, in a way this one was always for you (because let’s face it, we all know I’m going to let rip again in book three). So what am I trying to do? As I sit down and start what will be the final set of re-writes to King of the Crags, what am I trying to achieve?

A long time ago, I read The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. For most of the book I was a bit bored. The characters struck me as two-dimensional and cartoonish. And then something happened. Just as the horror of the denouement was about to descend, the characters suddenly somehow flipped into three dimensions. The cardboard cut-outs I’d sneered and laughed at suddenly became people with souls. As I watched their world fall apart, I felt guilty and ashamed. That’s just how one book happened to work for me, but it’s haunted me ever since.

So that’s what I’m trying to achieve. I’m trying to recapture that feeling of guilt when a person you took for granted as being horrible crept under your skin while you weren’t looking and turned out to be human after all.

King of the Crags may be slower (not a lot slower, but it will be slower) than The Adamantine Palace. If I’m doing my job right, it will give the world and the characters some more depth. It’ll move events forward, but it’ll also put add a layer underneath everything that happened before. Book three will do the same - another step forward and yet another layer underneath. There will be action, adventure, terror and war. There will be dragons, and I promise they’re not going to go all soft and philosophical on you. You can even, just for those of you who need one, have a character with a strong moral compass. Maybe even two. Not sure why you want them – they’ll probably just get their asses eaten by some dragon and then you’ll get all pissy with me again. But you can have them anyway.

But for those who get to the end and if I’ve done my job really right, the shallow selfish bastard that is Jehal will haunt you long after you put book three down. :twisted:

So that’s the challenge I set myself, and I don’t know whether or not I can do it and it’s probably true to say that I’m as scared witless about launching into this edit as I’ve been about anything.

And at the same time, I can’t wait. Just in case I can get it right.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!

Oh yeah, and a full draft of book three is written. Needs months of polishing, but it’s all there. Mwah ha ha…

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A Stain Upon the Vastness (4/8/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

Meh. Finished manuscript blues. I could start on the next one, I suppose (OK, OK, I already cracked on that yesterday). I could start the rework for King of the Crags (editorial comments have now been received, and will be blogged about at sarcastic length[1] shortly). But I’m going on holiday for a week of wandering around on Cornish beaches in the pissing rain, and since I am NOT ALLOWED to take my ‘work’ with me (and since I don’t yet have a ruggedised mil-spec laptop suitable for use in Afghanistan Cornwall, what’s the point in starting something for a week only to put it away again, eh?

Meh.

Meh meh meh. Can’t even play with kittens (why do the kittens get a longer holiday than I do? Do they need one? Was the assault on my USB stick that stressful? Maybe they’re plotting. Maybe that’s it <twitch>)

Well, for a week, I’ve found a passable distraction. There’s this thing at Orbit: The Worst Cover Ever. I can’t draw for toffee (sorry Doodled Books but I did warn you). What I can do is blurb, though. So here we go.

A Stain Upon the Vastness

Fifty thousand parsecs out from the edge of the dying Galaxy, the last surviving remnants of the human race, devolved back into savagery and ignorant of the origins, float through the vastness on an artificial world. They are monitored from within by the Uppers, the elite few who have access to the vast data banks and artifical intelligence that controls the world. They are safe, self-sufficient, their survival assured.

Until they encounter the mysterious Stain, a being of pure energy that might just be God… or The Devil.

Cue some mish-mash of Forbidden Planet, old Star Trek and a reworking of the Garden of Eden myth that’s as subtle as a brick…

Man, I love that title (and the one about the dancing cyborg fairies too) I might offer up some more blurbs for the other Orbit covers. In the mean time, go check out the other titles. And vote Stain! (I didn’t come up with this. I just like it).

[1] I’ll be making almost all of this up, damn you Simon, since there’s absolutely nothing in what you’ve said that isn’t entirely reasonable and, well, at all easy to get worked up about.

Another One Bites The Dust (31/7/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

Today’s handy writing tips, one do, one don’t. DO listen to music while you write. I Have the unusual luxury of a house to myself[1] for the first time in a long time and as I write this, the music is cranked up LOUD. House-consuming, brain-swallowing chords fill the world, cascades of notes do battle with warlike flights of arpeggios and give life to the symphony of mayhem in my head waiting to be writ as space and time rip and swirl and fall apart…

Er. Or something like that. Music good. Let’s leave it at that. It doesn’t *have* to be Wagner after all. It could be… Rammstein. Anything at all. Anything as long as it’s loud and German, apparently.

Today’s DONT. DONT write with a kitten on your lap. Don’t even try. Don’t write with a kitten in the same room as you, looking up at you with its big mournful eyes, chirruping it’s heart away at the merciless cruelty of an owner who won’t let it have the lap it so clearly deserves. Don’t do this, because this will inevitably turn into a kitten-on-lap situation. Don’t write with a  kitten in the same house, because that soon becomes a kitten in the same room. And don’t think you can fob them off with food, because yeah, sure, off they go and being the little balls of accelerated space-time that they are, they’ll simply inhale whatever you’ve given them and be back before you can remember what a paragraph is. And then they’ll be back you’re right where you started except with cat-breath and the occasional cat-fart now.

Now I love my kittens to bits, but there are limits, and those limits include being having one kitten walk all over the keyboard while I’m in the middle of the last chapter of something while the other one gets a bit playful and starts batting at the USB stick in the hope that it’ll somehow grow legs and fur and a tail, jump off the desk and run squeaking in terror for the nearest sofa. Polite notice to my feline friends: Miaow rawwwaram prrrrrupmiaw! [2]

So yes, feline readers, there are limits and you’d best beware, for while a kitten is tradi – GET OFF THE FRIGGING USB STICK FOR PITY’S SAKE – traditional friend, there are certain necessities to m – OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T CHEW THAT – maintaining the supply of catfood.

It’s possible that the first draft of The Thief-Taker’s – GET OFF THE FUCKING MOUSE BUTTONS –  Apprentice is finished. I have to go now. Cat fart. Bad one <sounds of choking> <transmission ends>

[1] Except for kittens, as will become clear.

[2] No, this is not a new and interesting species of mouse that you have discovered. It is in fact my work. My life’s work.  Possibly the sole repository for my life’s work, given what your litter-mate appears to have done to my laptop.

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Plugging Holes (21/7/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

Three weeks ago I said something about how following your synopsis was a good thing and that I might have made a wee little cock-up on this front but that it was easily fixed…

Jeez. Well it’s fixed now. Three weeks later, which means three weeks of words, which means there was a 15,000 word hole in the middle of what I was writing. <furrows brow> No wonder it seemed a bit off. Well it’s done now. Thief-Taker is now on the home straight and should still finish by the end of next week. Just about. Which means I can finally turn my attention to… T-shirts? Signings? the Absurd Movie-Trailer Project? Sollos and Kemir short stories? Ah, the choice, the choice, the CHOICE!

Except it’ll be none of that because then I rather hope I’ll be straight into the re-writing of King of the Crags.
<sigh> No rest for the wicked. At least I got the map done, eh?

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How to Make an Author Happy (17/7/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

I get a bit of fanmail these days. Not a lot, but a bit. Latest example:

“Just a short note to let you know this was one of the best bits of fantasy i’ve read in a long time. A book with a proper villian and more plotting than Guy Fawkes. Hope there’s plenty more to come.”

Short and sweet, and you know what, it’s made my evening. Thanks Chris, wherever you are. The rest of you, next time you read a book you really like, why not tell whoever wrote it. You could make their day too.

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Hot to Trot (14/7/09)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

The thing with doing a weekly sort of journal update thing is this: Sometimes weeks go by and absolutely nothing happens. Then authors feel unloved and whinge that their editors never respond to their e-mails, their requests for “publicity” freebies or their need to for a public signing session in Buckinghma Palace.

Other weeks are like this week. On Friday and Saturday, I’d have liked to rant at great length about Torchwood, and how it was an object lesson in how to make something that had 90% of everything absolutely right to be AWESOME and make it incredibly LAME by being pointlessly LAZY with the plot. Which is a real pity. Could have had a place in the Hall of Fame of modern TV Science Fiction, but won’t. But now I’ve done most of my ranting all over various people’s Facebook pages instead, and repeating myself here feels vaguely hollow.

On Sunday I had in mind to say something about movie trailers. Monday was going to be Swine Flu. Let’s face it, on the book front, the only news is that there is no news, everything is proceeding nicely to plan and the website’s have a bit of a refresh and<yawn> zzz….. Yeah, I know. Today was still going to be a Swine Flu rant too, but then I accidentally read SFX.

Fellow Gollancz fantasy author Joe Abercrombie is in the the SFX hot top 50 list. Actually, several authors and screen writers are up in there. Well, after that, nothing else matters that much. I’m rendered speechless and so I’m off to bathe in some very dimly reflected glory.

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Maps (7/7/2009)

Originally published at Stephen Deas. You can comment here or there.

OK, OK. Here’s a map dammit. When some bloke clocks you round the back of the head and says ‘nice book but where’s the map,’ when the issue of maps converges with actual physical abuse, it’s time to act. So here it is. A draft map of the dragon-realms. Now enough with the hitting me.

Actually, this is only the tip of the iceberg to keep those of you who need a map RIGHT NOW from further acts of violence. In the background, there’s a slightly nicer version of this map that I’m not going to publish just yet that’s being turned into a much nicer map courtesy of those nice folks at Gollancz who are going to pay for someone who can, y’know, actually draw and stuff.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few months, the <cue dramatic music. No, more dramatic than that. Bit more… bit more… Here we go…> Dahn dan daaaaaa…. Gazeteer Project will be going online. Over the rest of the year, an online gazetteer of the dragon-realms will be going up, with some two hundred entries. Off-line work is about half complete now and the whole project will be up by the end of the year. I’ll be putting it up in pieces, starting with the Adamatine Palace and its environs later this month. Want to know how the realms ended up the way they are? Want to know the secrets of the dragons? Read the damn books then! Ha! Because the gazetteer won’t tell you any of that. But if you want to know why, say, how the Silver City got its name, well then the gazetteer is for you (what do you mean, what Silver City? You mean you haven’t read book three yet…? Oh, that’s right, you haven’t. Ha Ha.)

Since all of this gazetteer work has happened since King of the Crags was submitted for edit, I think we can all expect the wordcount to go up a bit there too. Ho hum.

Oh, and what that means is if you’re taking an RSS feed off here is that you’re going to get shedloads of posts…

Finally a word on copyright. I mean for the gazetteer to be available under a creative commons license, which means you can use it for anything you feel like provided you a) give credit, b) it’s not for commercial purposes and c) if you modify it, you have to allow others to use what you make under the same conditions. Role-players, I’m talking to you

(The same applies to the map here. Whether it can apply to the much nicer map from Gollancz is another matter).
Creative Commons License
Gazetteer of the dragon-realms by Stephen Deas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.stephendeas.com.

And finally… I saw the first draft cover of King of the Crags to day and it is most excellent and I can’t wait to share it!

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