Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ear Candy

Just a very brief pointer towards some audio entertainment:

I've recently subscribed to the feed for the Beneath Ceaseless Skies podcast. Some nice stories in there, and quite a few of them are short enough to fit into the limited listening windows I have these days. They publish lots more stories in text form online too, but I just can't get into the reading on screen thing (or the print it out and read it on paper thing) so I stick to the audio.

The ever reliable Escape Pod podcast is still going strong too. A recent listen I enjoyed: Garth Nix's Infestation. A fairly straightforward vampire story (with enough of a twist on the trope to make it just a little different) that's got a strong movie-like vibe to it and some entertaining violence.

And on the non-fiction side, BBC radio is doing a looong series of short daily shows telling The History of the World in 100 Objects. The objects in question are items from the collection of the British Museum, and it's narrated by the boss of said institution (who has a slightly plummy English accent of the sort you don't hear all that often these days, which I note not as criticism but just because I find it sort of sweet and cosy in a funny sort of way). Anyway, the episodes are pleasingly brief and to the point, and I've found much of interest in there. Struck me that almost every episode, particularly these early ones that deal with the very distant past, has the seed of a story in it when listened to with the ears of a writer.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

A Kerfuffle Aspiring Writers Might Want to Pay Attention To

Not for the first time the inimitable John Scalzi kicked off a bit of an internet fuss recently. The particular feline lobbed unceremoniously into the pigeon house on this occasion was this post laying into a new short story publisher for offering dismally tiny payments to writers. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth in various bits of the internet (both for and against his views), a nice sample of which can be found in this post, and particularly the lengthy comments thread attached thereunto.

Perhaps the most fruitful outcome of the whole kerfuffle - that I've seen, anyway - is a couple of livejournal posts by Anne Leckie that are, I think, well worth the attention of any aspiring writers out there. Especially writers of short fiction, but wannabe novelists as well. The first explains why getting your short stories published in certain types of venues will not help your nascent writing career, is such a thing is your goal; the second delves into the much more nebulous question of what makes for good fiction. Both are worth a read: there is a good deal of stuff in there that I think aspiring authors (and published ones like yours truly, too) could profitably ponder, whether they agree with it or not.

Much of what's discussed in the links above made me think about where my head was at when I was actively writing and submitting short stories to magazines (note that what follows is decidedly not advice; my route through the thicket of obstacles facing the aspiring writer was my own, and does not remotely constitute a generally applicable map).

Back then, I was just starting to take the idea of one day being a professional writer seriously - i.e. thinking about what was involved in getting there, rather than just daydreaming about it. The crux of it, to my simple and innocent brain, seemed straightforward: if I wanted to be a professional writer, I had to be able to write to a professional standard.

So I worked on some stories - most of which were never submitted anywhere because I was never quite satisfied with them - and sent a few out to magazines. I only sent them to what I thought of as professional-standard magazines, i.e. those paying towards the upper end of the general scale for stories, or those that were clearly high profile and respectable and publishing stories of a certain quality.

I didn't try to place stories with non-paying markets, or obscure magazines making token payments; not because I've got anything in particular against such publications, but because I had a project, and it wasn't a 'get a story published anywhere' project. It was a 'learn how to write to a professional standard' project. So I was only interested in the judgement of those - the editors and publishers - who set that standard by their acquisition decisions. To paraphrase Anne Leckie: I was interested in being a pro, so I aimed for the pros. Aiming lower, I reasoned, would only teach me how to miss my chosen target, not how to hit it.

Now things worked out OK for me, because I did sell a couple of stories in the 90s (which sounds hopeless, but actually wasn't a bad hit rate, because I only ever sent out a handful). But just to prove that mine is not necessarily the example to follow, having tasted that tiny little bit of success, I stopped trying to write and sell the things entirely. Why? Because I'm nuts? Not entirely, though it's arguable. (As it happens, I do often wish I'd held onto the short story habit a bit more firmly. It's got a lot to recommend it.).

No, I stopped for my own, possibly rather eccentric, reasons. The second story I sold (to what was then called The Third Alternative and is now Black Static), was one that, before I sent it out, I was pretty sure was good enough to be publishable in the kind of markets I was interested in. For the first time, I felt I could instinctively identify a piece of my own writing as meeting a basic professional standard. Turned out, I was right.

More importantly, if I'm remembering things rightly, I submitted one further story after that sale. And it was rejected. At which point I basically stopped writing and submitting short stories. Not because I was discouraged, but because I had known, in my heart of hearts, before I sent it out, that that last story was not quite up to the necessary standard. It was OK, with some nice ideas and passages, but it didn't have that feel. Turned out, once again, that I was right.

That was good enough for me. I'd more or less learned what I wanted to. I could, at least on occasion, write to a professionally publishable standard; and I could identify the necessary quality - and its absence - in my stories before the editors passed their own judgement. (Yes, two is a ridiculously small sample size to base such sweeping conclusions on, and I was building on some very dodgy foundations there, but I did say mine wasn't an example to follow). What does that quality consist of? Ah, well ... that's a whole other, decidedly complicated story, and one I'd need a whole other post to even start picking away at. But I do think Anne Leckie's second post offers much food for thought on the subject.

And I will say this - and I guess this, despite what I said earlier about not giving advice, is advice of a sort: irrespective of what mysterious bricks that 'quality' is built from, one of the most important skills anyone who wants to turn their writing into a career can acquire is that of recognising its presence, or absence, in their own work. And the only way you do that is by writing for, submitting to, and probably being rejected by, the markets which define the level of quality you aspire to.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

It's All About Me

Further worrying evidence for the progressive contamination of the internet with me-related material.

First, I do the interview thang at Moon Drenched Fables.

Second, I do the fantasy casting for the movie-of-the-book thang at My Book the Movie. Not something I actually gave any thought to while writing the Godless World, but I think some of the casting possibilities I came up with are quite promising. And - I only realised after I'd finished - it's shaping up to be an all-Brit cast, which either means I'm terribly parochial or that we've got all the best actors. I incline towards the latter possibility.

Third, someone else does the review thing for the small press anthology Rage of the Behemoth I've got a story in, over at The Cimmerian. A fitting home for a review, given the anthology's focus on heroic fantasy of the sort Robert E Howard excelled at. Nice, too, that the book gets the thumbs up. I've been gradually working my way through my author's copy, and can confirm there's some fun stuff in there for fans of this kind of thing (i.e. warriors, monsters and mayhem). Copies still easily available for purchase in both the UK and the US.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Couple of Short Story Items

Some minor stuff about me, me, me - specifically my recent adventures in short fiction - that's shown up on the web.

First off, I answer some questions over at the Rogue Blades Entertainment site, partly relating to the story - 'Beyond the Reach of His Gods' - I've contributed to their Rage of the Behemoth anthology. Imminently available, I believe.

Second off, Pat of Fantasy Hotlist fame provided a brief update on progress regarding the anthology he's editing for Subterranean Press, titled Speculative Horizons. As reported there, I sent in my story for the anthology - 'Flint' - a little while ago. Some minor tweaking is currently underway, but Pat's basically given it a thumbs up. No confirmed publication date for this one yet, as far as I know, but it shouldn't be too long.

(And since I've been poking around Pat's site to find that news update, I might as well indulge myself by pointing out his jolly nice review of Fall of Thanes, too.)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kort & Krachtig!

I happen to know that a handful (albeit the kind of handful that might be contained in a Lilliputian hand) of Dutch folk have been known to pay an occasional visit to this blog. Hello Netherlanders! Because we're all about total service at this establishment, here's something just for you - and, I suppose, for anyone else with truly l33t language skillz - a Q&A (or K&K as it's apparently called over there) I did for a big Dutch book website: Ezzulia.

A whole load of other interesting people have also been interviewed there - at least I know some of them are usually interesting; whether they're interesting or not in this particular case, I can't be sure, since I don't read Dutch. Heck, I can't even be sure I was interesting, but there I am, chatting merrily away in a foreign language.

And in case anyone missed it in the comments on the previous post, first review has showed up for the previously mentioned Rage of the Behemoth anthology, over at the jolly good Grasping for the Wind blog. Modesty prevents me from pointing out which of the stories gets the biggest thumbs up. No, really. It does. Big bully, that modesty stuff.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Short Fiction: My, That's a Big Snake

One of the nicer surprises of last year for me was being asked to write short stories for a couple of anthologies. Makes you feel all kind of warm inside, that does. One of them is all done and dusted. It's called 'Beyond the Reach of His Gods', and will be found in Rage of the Behemoth from a little outfit called Rogue Blades Entertainment, due for publication at the start of June I believe.

No one, famously, gets rich from writing (or publishing, for that matter) short stories these days, so, much as any invitation to write a story is welcome for that aforementioned warm feeling it engenders, you kind of need some other reason to say 'yes'. In this case, I had the time to write something, I had been toying with the idea of trying to write some short stories anyway since I hadn't exercised those creative muscles in a while, and the premise for this anthology - heroic fantasy involving giant monsters - just struck me as a chance to have a bit of uncomplicated fun. Plus as soon as I heard that theme, the basic idea for the story popped into my head more or less fully formed, so it seemed a shame to ignore it.

The story is about ... well, it's pretty much about this:

Seems pretty clear, no? And yes, that's the main reason for this post: to show off the rather fine illustration that Johnney Perkins came up with for my story. Surely nobody could look at that image and not think 'Why, yes. That story's got to be some kind of fun, in a serpent-hero-jungle mash-up kind of way'? Nice work by the artist, and should you so wish you can actually buy the anthology with this image as the cover art from the Rogue Blades website. Whatever your taste in cover art, if doughty heroes and gargantuan monsters sounds like your kind of thing, why not give the book a try?

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