Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Blog, A Trailer and an Anti-Trailer

Just thought I'd highlight one of my favourite blogs, which seems to be going from strength to strength: Strange Maps. It does what it says on the tin. Unmissable if you like maps (and there can't be many fantasy readers/writers who aren't at least a little cartographically enthused, can there?), a goldmine of surprising nuggets if you're into history, and just generally interesting in an all round sort of way. Couple of recent fantasticalish posts: The Hollow Earth and The Most Generic Country Ever.

And here come trailers for a couple of movies I've been eagerly anticipating for some time. Strangely, the trailers had contrasting effects: I'm now only mildly interested in one of the movies (which would make it an anti-trailer, I guess), while I'm positively trembling with feverish excitement at the prospect of the other. I'll leave you to decide for yourself which is which: 28 Weeks Later and Day Watch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Five Reasons Why I Blog

Ariel, proprietor of The Genre Files, tagged me with this meme, which is an old one that's crawled its way around much of the blogosphere by now. No bad thing to be made to think a little bit about such matters, so here's the required five reasons:

1. I was reliably informed (by Ariel, amongst others, as it happens) that blogging would be a handy way to disseminate info about my writing, interact with readers and so on - all the now widely received wisdom, in other words. Seemed plausible to me then, and still does. It's a self-evidently simple and accessible way of putting stuff out there for folk to see, and for those same folk to respond by way of comments if they see fit.

So far, though, the most effective way of getting reader feedback has actually turned out to be just publicising an e-mail address (on the Contact page), rather than having a comment-enabled blog. Which made me wonder about subsets: there's some indeterminately-sized (but presumably quite small) subset of readers, and potential readers, who actively browse author websites, and a small subset of that subset who are inclined to interact in some way with the author. Of that little group of interaction-inclined readers, my tremendously limited experience so far suggests that more are likely to settle on the e-mail route than the comment-on-a-blog route. Is that dependent on the kind of blog posts that appear, or is it that people are deterred by the more public nature of comments and prefer the direct, private nature of an e-mail exchange?

2. I like other peoples' blogs, and my fancy was (and is) tickled by the idea of dipping my toes in the pond of this new style of communication. Not in any expectation of emulating the success some have had in building profile or readership for their blogs (I've neither the time nor the inclination - nor the natural talent for this particular form of writing, I suspect - to attempt to create an uber-blog), but more out of curiosity about what it was like to participate in the blogosphere, in however limited a way.

A tenuous analogy: one of the reasons I liked living in London was the sense of being where the action was, being immersed somehow in buzz. I was not personally much involved in said buzz, but it was there, all around, and I liked its proximity. Now, I live a tiny bit of my life online, and the virtual world of the internet feels a little like a virtual London: a seething mass of activity in which I'm a highly peripheral participant, once again enjoying the occasional sense of being able to distantly glimpse somewhere where the action is.

3. Nothing to do with why I started, but a reason for persisting, is that blogging has made me much more engaged with the whole internet. I kind of knew that there was a lot of interesting stuff going on out there, but I really wasn't doing much by way of exploration until I became blogified. Now, suddenly, I'm starting to get my head around just how astonishing it is. I'm listening to podcasts, scouring websites for RSS feeds, browsing discussion boards, and it's slowly sinking in that this really is some kind of revolution, just like the media's been saying for all these years. What kind of revolution, I've no idea, but blogging is the bit of encouragement I need to pay attention to it.

4. I have latent techno-geek tendencies. My inner geek manifests in unpredictable ways, sometimes hibernating but never wholly fading away. He is pleased, and soothed, by the mechanics of writing and publishing a blog post, of playing around with digital images for the blog, of figuring out what html tags do. Were he a cat, he would purr. He would be despondent - possibly even sulky - if I stopped blogging now.

5. I have never been able to keep a diary. One or two youthful attempts fizzled out in a cloud of apathy and inertia. Blogging is not diarising (not the way I do it, anyway), but it does feel like something is slowly being constructed. The slow, steady accretion of detail creates a record of something - one particular aspect of me and my life. Were I to keep a blog going for years, what would I end up with? Not a diary, but maybe a series of snapshots, a litany of passing interests or activities that I would otherwise have forgotten about, a vague impression of the way my mind works? Or just an ugly, shapeless mess clogging up valuable space on a bit of hardware somewhere? I don't know, but I'm mildly curious to find out.

I'm not going to tag anyone else, which I know is playing fast and loose with the rules for such things, but this meme is a pretty old dog: lost its bark by now, I should think. Kind of fun for a neophyte like me to do it, but I'm not in touch with enough other new bloggers to pass it on.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Short Stuff

Short story ideas wriggle about in my head like seductive caterpillars, tempting me to try and catch them and turn them into butterflies. More often than not, when I've attempted that transformative trick in the past, I've ended up with ... well, not butterflies. Still, the siren call of those caterpillars is persistent. It reminded me that I'm a bit out of touch with the world of UK sf/f/h magazines, so I had a mini spending spree.

Interzone is an old acquaintance, but it's still pretty much the gold standard for this kind of thing, and has now reached its 25th anniversary. That's an immensely advanced age as sf magazines go, and well deserved given the quality of its design, fiction and non-fiction.

There are some newer mags around these days that tickle my fancy too, though. Postscripts has been going for a little while, and seems pretty well thought of. Judging by the one issue I've now read, it's a class act: good, varied stories, a clean and clear layout and really nice covers. It's the most expensive of the magazines, but then it is a bit chunkier than the others. The next issue, #10, looks to be a giant-sized cornucopia of dark fiction.

Hub is the really new kid on the block, with only one issue out so far. It's got a distinctive design and layout - which maybe needs a little tweaking - but there's some decent stories there, and a ton of potential. Definitely deserves the chance to establish itself. Dark Tales and Forgotten Worlds are rather more basic productions, though Dark Tales in particular is quite nicely put together. Both of them quite appeal to me, for their enthusiasm as much as anything.

I haven't managed to get hold of a copy of Farthing yet (I did try, honestly), so all I can say about it is that I love the covers. Gorgeousness. And the magazine I most want to buy, I can't, because it doesn't exist yet: Black Static, the much-anticipated reincarnation of The Third Alternative, which was arguably the best UK short fiction magazine of any kind in the 1990s.

My main, earth-shattering conclusion: I like sf/f/h short story magazines. I like them as objects, I like their enthusiasm, I like the whole idea of them. There's a lot of people putting in a lot of effort to produce these things (much of it for minimal, or negative, financial reward, I imagine) and it warms the cockles of me heart it does. Short fiction is the fertile humus of the genre (certainly for sf, somewhat less so for fantasy maybe) where many of its innovations and quite a few of its novelists germinate.

What the long term future for print magazines is, who knows (see this for one view), but personally I'm a fan of the whole paper and ink thing. As Cory Doctorow has pointed out, there's reader resistance to e-books, and in my case that resistance extends to e-zines. I'm happy to read all kinds of stuff from a computer screen, but not, it turns out, fiction. I think I find the whole exercise of reading fiction on a monitor too cold and non-immersive. The technology seems to have a distancing effect that a good old-fashioned book or magazine doesn't for me. It's irrational in many ways, but a physical magazine somehow feels to me less disposable, more deserving and more demanding of my attention. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur, but if so I'm happy in my dinosaurhood, for now at least.

Anyway, there's 42 stories in the magazines pictured, each one of them a different world and different voice. You might not like all of them - in fact it'd be downright odd if you did - but somewhere in there is stuff you'd love: go on, give one or two of them a test drive.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Ten Things I Now Know

Ten (trivial and largely useless) things I've discovered, come to suspect or had confirmed since making the switch from wannabe writer to contracted fantasy author ...

1. Checking your Amazon ranking can occasionally be fun, but it's not useful. Googling yourself can sometimes be useful, but it's not necessarily fun.

2. Others are pretty much guaranteed to see stuff in your text that you didn't know you'd put in there. It's best to regard this as interesting rather than alarming (especially if the stuff they see sounds cleverer than what you originally had in mind).

3. Even as a complete nobody, if your book's in hardback it could be a potential speculative commodity for some people: if collectors or dealers want signed copies, make them available. If nothing else, it means you get to watch people trying to put a value on your name on ebay.

4. Even as a complete nobody (still), there's a chance someone somewhere in the vast sprawl of the internet will want to interview you. Unless you're a natural, being a good interviewee takes a bit of practice, so it might be worth trying to train yourself not to be too boring or offensive.

5. Writing a second book, to a deadline and for definite publication, is a very different experience to writing the first one, in your spare time in the hope that something might come of it. Whether it's harder, easier, more enjoyable and/or more stressful probably depends on the individual. It's definitely different, though.

6. Bricks and mortar bookshops - not Amazon - are still where the main sales action is. It's therefore handy if their staff can be convinced it's selling well. If your friends and family seem inclined to buy the book, dispatch them to high street bookstores. Ideally on a carefully designed and supervised rota structured to create the illusion of steady demand.

7. People from your past will get back in touch with you if you have a book published and a website gone live. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your past. Psuedonyms would be indicated for those anticipating potential problems ...

8. Some of those you meet will be fascinated by the fact that you're a published writer. Some will be wholly unimpressed and uninterested. Both reactions are entirely sensible, and both are good for you. In moderation.

9. If you expect people - publishers, agents, bloggers, booksellers, readers, interviewers, anyone really - to be helpful and nice to you, be helpful and nice to them. Not rocket science, that one. Works, though, on the whole.

10. Once the books' published (as soon as you write 'The End', probably) its success or failure is no longer entirely under your control. It may sometimes feel as though you have your hands on the steering wheel, but as often as not it isn't connected to anything, so just try to enjoy the ride. If it gets too hairy, close your eyes.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Website as Map

I'm fairly sure this has no useful application whatsoever, but it's kind of cool ...

This is how this very cunning little applet visualises The way it 'grows' the map once you've plugged in a URL is very pleasing on the eye - if you plug in the address for a huge site (like the BBC, say), you could be there for some time watching the map blossom. Thanks to Tom for pointing this out.