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Hello 2012!

It’s the end of the year! As someone else mentioned on Twitter earlier today, I’d hardly got used to it being 2011, let alone 2012. Clearly I am Getting Old.

Personally and professionally, 2011 has been an amazing year:

  • I signed a two-book deal with Angry Robot books and I signed with a kick-ass agent from a kick-ass agency. These two events were basically dreams come true, so for that alone, 2011 rocked.
  • I had an amazing week in New York and completely fell in love with the city. There was much sightseeing and show-going (including Daniel Radcliffe in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying); I got a personal tour of the Tor offices in the famous Flatiron building; I met my agent in person for the first time, and found myself in the slightly surreal position of describing future projects to none other than Donald Maass himself; we melted in the September heat (seriously, what was going on in September?); we had some amazing food, and I vowed to return as often as possible.
  • I went back home to New Zealand for the first time in nearly five years, and had a terrific three weeks feeling like I’d never left, thanks largely to the ability to stay connected to friends and family via the internet. Which is a good thing. Also: I ate a lot of pineapple lumps.
  • There were some terrific conventions, from the SFX Weekender in February to Alt Fiction in June and FantasyCon in September. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I think FantasyCon edges it out – terrific organisation, massive attendance, and a glorious late summer by the seaside in Brighton. I made a lot of new friends and appeared on my first convention panels.
  • Lauren Beukes came over from South Africa twice, firstly for EasterCon and secondly en route to WorldCon via the marvellous Out of this World science fiction exhibition at the British Library. She also liked Empire State (phew!), and blurbed it alongside a collection of wonderful writers and creators.
  • I read some amazing books, some of which have joined my list of favourites – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Pantomine by Laura Lam, My Life As A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland, The Five by Robert McCammon, Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs, and Version 43 by Philip Palmer.
  • This year was also a big one for music, culminating in seeing my favourite band, The Cure, perform their first three albums plus b-sides in sequence at the Royal Albert Hall. The Cure don’t play very often, and the Reflections show was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • Writing-wise, I wrote one complete manuscript (about 120,000 words), the first half of another (55,000 words), and edited and/or copyedited three more.

Phew. And no doubt I’ve forgotten a whole lot of stuff too. 2011 was epic, it was gigantic, it was fantastic.

And 2012? 2012 is going to be even bigger. I don’t really pay much attention to New Year’s Resolutions, but following in the fashion of Woody Guthrie’s New Year Rulin’s, I have some plans. Some big ones.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year! See you in 2012!

A visit to Gotham

So, last week I was in New York City – my first proper visit, having passed through it very briefly en route to Toronto in about 2003. In short, it was a phenomenal four days. We saw a selection of sights, did some shopping, ate some fine food, saw a show (How To Succeed At Business Without Really Trying, with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role), melted in the heat in Central Park, and had a generally awesome time. That pretty much sums it up – four days was a good length of time to get a taster of the city, and we’ve certainly made a list of things to do and see on the next visit. My two regrets are that we ran out of time to visit any Ghostbusters locations, except for Central Park West (aka Spook Central), and that I never found any Twinkies!

The main reason for the trip was to visit my agent, and along the way I stopped in at the offices of Tor at the Flatiron building – you might have seen them tweet my picture last Friday – for iced tea with their Art Director, the wonderful Irene Gallo.

Friday afternoon was spent at the offices of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, where plans were hatched and schemes were, erm, schemed. I also, as noted yesterday, snagged a pile of books (although I did actually pay for some of those!).

I also spent most of the trip trying to get my head around the fact that I was both in the Empire State and Gotham City. The Empire State Building was certainly one of the highlights, featuring as it does as a central location in Empire State.

Not that we went up it – we visited the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center instead, as that gives a view of NYC including the Empire State Building.

Now to start the countdown for the next trip!

New York book haul

Back from New York, and in need of sleep. I’ll post about the trip later, but in the meantime, here’s my book haul:

I’m pleased to get the US editions of Ready Player One and The Quantum Thief, as I’ve never been keen on the UK covers. How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe is also a lovely ragged-edge hardcover (the hardcover under the dust jacket is metallic silver).

I also hit Midtown Comics in Times Square and grabbed Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, as I ran out of time to read them last week before I left the UK.

Look! Up in the sky! Erm, sitting at that desk!

Oh joyous day. My Superman bathrobe arrived. I may have worn it most of the day. Seriously, I doubt there are many items of clothing that will make you feel more awesome than a Superman bathrobe.

What?

See, I like Superman. Oh, but the concept is so simple and he’s so boring, you cry! He’s invincible, so there cannot be any drama or tension!

Actually, that’s why I like him so much. The concept is very simple – he’s the original superhero, and his appearance in 1938 is one of the defining moments of our modern Western culture. He symbolises positivity and optimism, and for me that is exactly what superheroes are about. I’m sure that there have been a lot of bad Superman stories over the decades, but when he’s used properly and written well, nothing can touch him. Take Kurt Busiek’s run on both Action Comics and Superman back in 2006ish. The one-shot story in Superman #654, On Our Special Day, is just beautiful (and I won’t even mention what it is about for fear of spoilers – go find it and read it!).

I’m hoping that this is the direction that DC Comics are taking in their September not-a-relaunch-or-reboot. It certainly sounds like Grant Morrison and I have a similar view of superheroes and Superman, so I’m really looking forward to the new number 1 issues.

Although I do prefer Superman’s underpants to be on the outside, but hey-ho, I’m not the kind of guy who fear’s change.

Roll on September!

Serenity now

You know what’s worse than a hard-to-hit deadline? How about one that actually shrinks the closer you get to it? That’s pretty much my situation for the next two weeks, so I’m afraid this blog is going to gather dust a little. But, I’ll try and at least post a pretty picture once a day until things settle down.

As they say, serenity now, serenity now…

Before I go, in the not-really-news department, the shortlist for the 2011 British Horror Fantasy Society awards is up and the two short stories of mine that made it to the longlist aren’t on it. That’s what I expected, but my heartfelt thanks to those who nominated them, and to those who voted. I really appreciate it! The announced shortlist is a pretty cool collection of creators and their works (Angry Robot gets into the Best Novel category with Pretty Little Dead Things by Gary McMahon) – I’d make (another) quip about the list being horror dominated again, but seeing as my two longlist-nominated stories were actually horror too, I shouldn’t really complain!

In fact, you can read my two stories for free here – The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room and The Unpopular Opinion of Reverend Tobias Thackery. Enjoy!

Update: The BFS shortlist is on their front page, as kindly pointed out by Jan in the comments! Thanks, I’ve updated the post!

A note on hotel and airport wifi

I’m back, and after four days of little sleep, running on empty. I’m going to call it quits for this Thursday.

But one thing has been bugging me. Airport and hotel wifi.

Usually, you get two options for each, no matter where you are: a free option, and a paid option. On my trip to Barcelona this week, I didn’t have a 3G device, and certainly not one that wouldn’t have charged a fortune for data overseas. So I was limited to wifi.

The basic pattern is this: free wifi never works, and paid wifi is slow.

So I wonder: why even bother? There are routers to purchase and place and wire up. There are networks to create and administer, landing pages to design, you name it. Creating a public wifi hotspot is, in all likelihood, a lot of bother that costs money and time.

Free wifi never works. Okay, you may be resigned to the “you get what you pay for mentality”, and I’m not disagreeing with that, but then why offer it at all?

Paid wifi is slow. Resorting to paid wifi in Barcelona – at a flash, expensive, new, posh hotel (that I wasn’t paying for, thankfully) – gave me a download speed of 1 k/s. I tried to download cover roughs for Empire State that Angry Robot had sent to me, and it was going to take 6 hours.

What. The. Hell.

And this is more of a problem, because paid wifi usually ain’t cheap. In this situation, you most certainly are paying for something that mostly doesn’t work. And have you ever tried to complain and get your money back on something like this? It doesn’t happen.

Airports and hotels of the world: this is 2011. Either offer a service that works, and works well, or don’t bother.

*ahem*

Now I’m off to read the Little Book of Calm, and gander a while more at my Empire State cover roughs…

Ladytron at St George’s Hall, Liverpool, 10th June 2011

Last Friday I made an unusual trip to Liverpool to see one of my favourite bands, Ladytron, play at St George’s Hall. St George’s Hall is a Grade 1 listed concert venue, and one of Liverpool’s major historic landmarks. This counted, technically, as a hometown show, although none of the band are actually from the city.

I had a feeling things were going to be a little bit different when I went for a drink in the bar:

Ladytron were playing in the “small concert room”, a circular Neo-Georgian (I think!) theatre, and the gig was seated. For an electronic act, the setting was unusual but quite, quite stunning.

The gig itself was spectacular – imagine sitting on the sofa in your front room while your favourite band played a set pretty much where your TV is sitting, and you’re pretty much there.

I have to say it was an oddly British affair too. After the first three songs, during which everybody sat and clapped politely too, Helen (one of the two singers) suggested that people could come up to the front to dance if they wanted to. Cue an invasion of the available space – which provided a great opportunity for some photos.

There are also quite a few good videos on You Tube. In this one you can even see me (just), sitting in the front row in a purple checked shirt!

Anyway, I’ve put all the pictures up on Facebook, for those who are interested. Being at the front, I managed to nab Helen’s setlist.

Tonight it’s X-Men: First Class. Been looking forward to this for quite a while!

DC Comics shakedown

Or should that be shake-up?

Anyway. If you didn’t know, the DC universe is getting quite an overhaul come September, following the events of the game-changing Flashpoint miniseries. It’s not a reboot, or a restart… in fact, quite what it is, nobody knows yet.

If you want details, Bleeding Cool have it covered. Fifty-two new issues, with everything taken back to issue one. Everything day-and-date digital. New costumes. New creative teams and old favourites. Although I’m a huge DC Comics fan – perhaps not surprising, given I write superhero fiction a lot of the time – a lot of very detailed and articulate analysis is already out there and there isn’t much more for me to add. So I’ll just leave you with my general reaction:

Roll on September!

10th April, 2011: Sunday listmania

  • In response to some recent questions, here’s my annual discussion on how I know that what I am writing will run to 100,000 words: I have written four novels, am about to finish my fifth, and am concurrently collaborating on a sixth. In that time, I’ve worked out what 100,000 words feels like, and with that word count in mind, I can plot and write a story to that length. I’m not artificially constraining a narrative to fit within that limit – a story is as long as it needs to be. But with practice (and that’s what writing is and continues to be – practice) you learn how to plot a story to the required length. It’s the same as any kind of fiction – if you write a short story to submit to a market that has a limit of 5,000 words, for example, you know the length of the story before you start, and you sure aren’t going to write an 11,000 word story.
  • Having said that, I tend to write to 110,000 words – a 10% fudge factor seems about right. As it happens, my current project, Hang Wire, looks like it’s going to come in at around 90,000 words. No doubt it’ll hit 100k on the second draft, as I already know a couple of things I need to expand.
  • Speaking of words, today’s writing advice is from Stephen King: “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones“. Oh, how true this is. The number of books I have put down and never picked up again because the writer is not writing but choosing words (believe me, there is a difference) is surprisingly large.
  • Speaking of putting books down, I’ve just finished Vegas Knights and now need to read something else. How do you choose, when your to-be-read pile is several years long? I think I may need to break out a random number generator… although that means counting the books up first. Still, anything to take the heavy responsibility of choosing what to read next away from me!
  • The World Fantasy convention is coming to the UK at the end 2013! Memberships are available now, and will go fast. Yes, even for an event which is two and a half years away.

Does five items count as a listmania? Does in my book.

I have a feeling I’ll finish Hang Wire either today or tomorrow. I’m writing the final showdown now, and then there will just be a couple of post-adventure chapters, and I’m done on draft 0. Actually I’ll definitely be done by tomorrow at the latest, as I have a whole writing day booked in.

Project: Hang Wire (serial killers and superheroes in San Francisco)
Words yesterday: 2,090
Words total: 84,092/100,000 (84%)
Total words for 2011: 114,073

31st March, 2011: Thrilling heroics

There’s been some buzz the last couple of days over DC’s film and television efforts. I’ll talk about the Wonder Woman TV pilot later this week, but the big news yesterday was that DC are going to reboot the Batman film franchise following the third Christopher Nolan film in 2012, and that they have a Justice League superteam film in development for 2013.

As a fan of DC, I’ve always been a little disappointed that they haven’t quite seemed to get their films right – Superman was sort-of rebooted with Superman Returns, and while that film was well received at the time, some people don’t like it (although I’ve never quite understood the complaints that Superman is being a creepy stalker) and the momentum floundered. Batman has been a huge success, of course, with the closing installment of Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, due next year. After that, Batman is due for a reboot (with Nolan producing), alongside Superman.

Marvel, meanwhile, have stormed ahead with a series of (mostly) successful and (mostly) entertaining films, leading up to The Avengers in 2012, directed by Joss Whedon and co-written by Whedon and Zak Penn. I don’t read Marvel comics (I have enough trouble getting my head around DC continuity without diving into another universe!), but Marvel superhero films are just superb. This year we have no fewer than three – Thor, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class. Marvel are winning on films, hands-down.

Reaction to the news of a Batman reboot was a little mixed – my Twitter feed seemed split between thinking it was either great news, or an insult to everyone involved. However, the reboot is essential for the forthcoming Justice League film, scheduled for release in 2013. As great as the Nolan Batman films are, to me they have never felt like they are part of the larger DC Universe. Indeed, Nolan himself has said that there are no other superheroes in his Batman universe. If Batman is going to be part of the Justice League, then that’s a problem.

There’s also a problem of logistics and casting. It’s been said that superhero team-up films are impossible because all of the stars of the individual superhero films that have come before will require equal billing, equal screen time and equal salaries in the team film. Marvel seems to have solved this problem with careful planning, creating a cohesive and satisfying film universe that will culminate in The Avengers.

DC haven’t managed this, for a number of reasons. A few years ago a Justice League film was proposed, but it was stated that Brandon Routh (then appearing in Superman Returns) and Christian Bale (just starting out in Batman Begins) would not appear. I didn’t much like the sound of this, and thankfully those plans were shelved. With Marvel’s Avengers masterplan being rolled out, this is clearly no longer an option.

Caught on the back foot, DC seem to be doing a “reverse-Marvel” – start with a team film, and then spin-off individual hero films afterwards. I think that’s a good idea, as the Justice League would be a large draw just based on Superman and Batman appearing together for the first time on film. The team film would allow DC to showcase other, lesser-known heroes, creating an audience appetite to see them on their own solo adventures. DC have tried to get a variety of films off the ground over the years – Green Arrow (in a bizarre, prison-break concept called Super Max), The Flash and Wonder Woman spring to mind. Hopefully the Justice League film will be just the starting point, and hopefully the rebooted Superman and Batman films (one of which will at least be out before the team film) will, like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, be part of a single film continuity.

The first test for DC will be Green Lantern, due for release in June this year. I’m a big Green Lantern fan and think it is the strongest of DC’s current books, but I’m in two minds about the trailer. Half of it looks great, half of it looks… not so. Although the film is still in post-production, I’ve heard that it very much feels more like a Marvel superhero film – ie, big, loud, colourful, fun and clever – which to me is a very good thing. Hopefully it’ll be successful and, if they use the Hal Jordan Green Lantern in the Justice League project, Ryan Reynolds will return to reprise the role. Continuity, again.

An exciting couple of years lie ahead for superhero fanatics!

And for a quick writing update – good times yesterday, for a number of reasons. Another 2k day on Hang Wire, and I also completed some writing-related business, the results of which I’ll be able to share shortly.

Project: Hang Wire (serial killers and superheroes in San Francisco)
Words yesterday: 2,037
Words total: 63,182/100,000 (63%)
Total words for 2011: 93,162