30 September 2010

Signing the agent contract

I usually tend to wait at least a week before announcing major news on my site. Call it caution, or perhaps the need for time to process what happened, or simple modesty. (Also, I don’t “write publicly” on my website; I keep my writing under wraps until it’s ready for the big show—publication.) When I won the Writers of the Future contest earlier this year, I waited a week before making the announcement; however, in that case I needed to wait for Author Services, the literary agency that runs the contest, to make their official press release. Even if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t blast the information onto my site the moment it happened. Time to process, time to decide how to break the news. . . .

So here is the big news of two weeks ago, in a continuing Very Good Year:

I have signed with the Bob Mecoy Literary Agency in New York.

Which means that I am an “Agented Author,” represented by an excellent professional agent with a few decades of publishing experience who will work with me to advance my career. Bob has a extremely impressive resumé, knows story and structure better than many authors I’ve spoken to, and represents two great friends of the Black Gate family: Scott Oden and Howard Andrew Jones. I didn’t need much more than Howard’s recommendation to agree to sign the contract with Bob to have him represent me. Of course, Bob’s enthusiasm for my novel and my future plans helped as well.

What does this mean in the immediate future? Well, I’ll let you know . . . two weeks after the fact. Caution again.

However, I can tell you how this came about, and a lot of the credit must go to Howard A. Jones for helping me out. Howard wrote a great article on how he got his first publishing contract, and in it he describes how important it is to develop friendships with other writers and become part of a community. This isn’t “mercenary,” it’s simply that writing is a pretty lonely job: it’s something you do in your home/apartment/hotel room onto a piece of paper or a computer screen. Finding paths to meet other writers is a great way to open up your world: you learn from others, you find common ground, and, yes, it might help your career.

Taking part in the last two National Novel Writing Months was a good way to make writing a more social experience for me, and the first one pulled me out of a novel-rut that had lasted over a year. But even more important for me is my association with Black Gate magazine, which has gone on for four years now and has brought me into contact with a number of phenomenal writers with similar tastes. I never stepped into the Black Gate world imagining it as purely some portal to authorial success—I simply enjoyed writing for the magazine. But if you enjoy something enough, and enjoy it with the right people, some amazing things might happen.

Down to specifics. . . .

Last year for NaNoWriMo 2009 I wrote the first draft of a novel called Turn over the Moon. It takes place in my science-fantasy setting of “Ahn-Tarqa,” which I had already used for a number of stories, two of which I had sold to Black Gate (“The Sorrowless Thief” and “Stand at Dubun-Geb,” issue dates to-be-announced). I had not originally planned to write an Ahn-Tarqa novel—at least, not yet. I had some idea of a distant, epic adventure about the strange continent, but it seemed years away from happening. However, ten days before the firing of the starting gun of National Novel Writing Month ‘09, I suddenly tossed away the idea I had been working on for two months and decided to instead write a novel as a follow-up to an Ahn-Tarqa story I had recently finished. (Bill Ward gave me the idea that this story might expand into a novel, so I must give him the credit for starting me off this happy direction.)

So during November I wrote Turn over the Moon, and was very pleased with the results. But was this the novel I wanted to send out when I tried to approach publishers and agents in 2010? I wasn’t sure. I had three other novels in states of revision that I thought also might make good candidates, including the NaNoWriMo 2008 novel Orphans of Fenris, and really had no idea where I should start. I began 2010 working at short stories, making a resolution to keep more short works at market to build up my name. At the time, I had forgotten that I had submitted one of my Ahn-Tarqa stories, “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” to the Writers of the Future Contest. I didn’t think I was going to win; like most markets, I considered it simply an opportunity, and didn’t attach myself to it actually getting accepted. (I try to make submitting my work fun, and don’t fret about rejection.)

Then, in March, I got the phone call: I was a finalist, one of nine (usually eight), for the first quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. Suddenly, it was serious. I calmed myself, however. The nine stories would now go to the panel of judges—some of the biggest science-fiction and fantasy writers in the world—and only if “An Acolyte of Black Spires” was picked for one of the three top slots would I be a “contest winner” and appear in the yearly anthology.

I went back to writing and revising more short stories, working even more diligently now.

Then, in June, I got the phone call that told me “An Acolyte of Black Spires” had placed third. I was a winner of The Writers of the Future Contest.

I’ve posted about this before: it was an astonishing moment. It was a great validation of the fifteen years I had worked at writing both fiction and nonfiction. And it made me want to work even harder.

And, thankfully, it also gave me a push that told me what I should concentrate on. Howard Jones’s editor at St. Martin’s Press contacted me through this blog to congratulate me, and to also mention he would be interested in seeing a novel in this setting of Ahn-Tarqa when I had one.

Well, I did have one: Turn over the Moon. But it was still in first draft state. I told the editor I wanted to revise it, and then I would send it to him. Of course, this meant that I now knew which novel needed my energies. Immediately, I put most of my free time into revising Turn over the Moon into the best work I could make it. You may have noticed the substantial drop in my regular posts here during the summer; this coincides with the attention to the book.

Two weekends ago, on a Sunday after I had spent two straight days never leaving my apartment, I at last finished a touched-up third draft of the book . . . and felt good about it. The structure hadn’t altered much from the first draft, but the characterizations, the themes, the relationships, and the style had all improved. But I still wanted some outside opinions on it before I did one more run-through. So I emailed it to Bill Ward and Howard Jones.

The next day, Howard asked me if he could send it on to his agent, Bob Mecoy, to see if Bob could give me any advice on it. I said, “Sure.” I wasn’t going to turn that down. But I was calm about it; I reasoned that, best-case-scenario, Bob Mecoy would return with some ideas for changes and a guarded, “I’ll take a look at it when you’re done.”

Wednesday morning, Bob Mecoy called me. He had read the book overnight. We had a long talk about visions, ideas, backgrounds, the business, Miles Davis . . . and at the end he sent me the contract to sign. I immediately started work on the proposal that would make Turn over the Moon Book I of a trilogy, as we had discussed.

And there is where I stand right now. It’s been a long journey to this point. There’s a long journey ahead. I hope to have many more great news items to share with you in the future. Right now, I just feel so thrilled that I’m a writer and I’ve stuck with being one.

27 September 2010

Animated Dark Knight: Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Directed by Brandon Vietti. Featuring the Voices of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, John DiMaggio, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Warner Bros. Animation’s series of straight-to-video PG-13 releases set in the DC Comics universe has been a great success. Starting in 2007 with Superman: Doomsday (which completely embarrassed the previous year’s live-action Superman Returns) the team at Warner Bros. that originally kicked off the DC Animated Universe with Batman: The Animated Series has turned out high quality, adult-slanted fare that has even excited me about characters that I don’t usually care much about, like Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern.

But, no surprise, much of the new DVD series has featured Batman, the hottest property in Warner Brothers’ DC catalog because of the huge success of the Christopher Nolan-directed movies. Batman got his own compilation disc with Batman: Gotham Knight (set in the Nolan-verse and featuring a round-robin of top anime-directing talents), co-starred with Superman in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (an adaptation of the Jeph Loeb-written arc in the popular Superman/Batman ongoing comic), and played a major part in Justice League: The New Frontier and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

Now Batman has his second solo-starring release in the series. Based on a recent popular storyline in Batman’s eponymous comic book that tied into the mega-crossover event “Infinite Crisis,” Batman: Under the Red Hood brings PG-13 to the small screen in a big way. In fact, the film flirts with a “soft R” rating, and it’s definitely not for children—unless you don’t mind your children watching not one but two brutal beatings with a crowbar.

20 September 2010

Book Review: Conan and the Amazon

Conan and the Amazon
John Maddox Roberts (Tor, 1995)

You may have noticed that in my series of reviews of Conan pastiche novels, I have yet to review an entry from Roland Green.

That is correct. I have not. Noted. Moving on. . . .

Of the authors of the long-running Tor series of novels, which started with Robert Jordan’s Conan the Invincible in 1982 and concluded with Roland Green’s Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza in 1997, with Harry Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium as something of a “coda” in 2004, John Maddox Roberts is the most consistently entertaining. (I love the novels from John C. Hocking and Karl Edward Wagner, but as each man unfortunately wrote only a single book, the sample is much smaller.) Roberts was the first new author to take over when Robert Jordan retired from the series after seven books published over only three years. In the eight novels that Roberts wrote, he shows deft ability with storytelling and action scenes, and a thankful tendency not to overplay his hand and try to ape Robert E. Howard’s style. His first Conan novel, Conan the Valorous, is one of the best of the Tor series, and shows a superior handling of the barbarian’s homeland of Cimmeria than Turtledove would achieve in Conan of Venarium.

However, Roberts had his down moments, and alas he stumbled at the finish line.

Conan and the Amazon is the last of Roberts’s Conan novels. It’s also his poorest, although a plot description, the salacious promise of the title, and a great cover with a super-croc would indicate it has sword-and-sorcery joys aplenty inside.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .

13 September 2010

Book review: Imaro: The Naama War

Imaro: The Naama War
Charles R. Saunders (Sword & Soul Media, 2009)

Here we have the long-awaited fourth volume in the “Imaro” series of sword-and-sorcery novels set in a fictional fantasy Africa. Imaro: The Naama War brings to a conclusion the many character arcs and plotlines that have built through Imaro (1981; revised 2006), Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush (1984; revised 2008), and Imaro: The Trail of Bohu (1985; revised 2009). The third book (the first written specifically as a novel instead of a collection of novellas and short stories) moves the tale of the Ilyassai warrior Imaro into the territory of the grand epic, threatening to plunge all of the continent of Nyumbani into a battle between the gods and the kingdoms they support, with Imaro as the fulcrum point. The novels ends on a cliffhanger, with the war about erupt.

Now at last we have that great battle of gods and men, which Saunders started writing back in 1983. And it’s Epic. Big Capital “E” Epic. Charles R. Saunders more than rewards readers’ twenty-five years of patience with the single best installment in the saga of Imaro. This is sword-and-sorcery beauty, with all its bloody rage, bizarre magic, pounding battles, horrific monsters, and intense emotion. It is one of the best fantasy novels I have read over the past five years—and I’m actually glad I came late to reading the Imaro stories, because it means I didn’t have to wait so long to read the last and the best.

Imaro: The Naama War is the sort of fantasy trip I love to take, and I’ll admit that I felt an enormous rush of emotion and nearly came to tears during the thirty page wrap-up, where Saunders refuses to let the reader go from the passion of the story and the characters’ dramatic journeys. The escalation from the beginning to the unexpected conclusion is pitch-perfect. It is almost a textbook for how to build suspense and keep readers reeling with surprises while also maintaining their belief in the story’s inner truth.

So, yeah, this is kind of a good book.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .

08 September 2010

Book review: Imaro: The Trail of Bohu

Imaro: The Trail of Bohu
Charles R. Saunders (Sword and Soul Media, 2009)

I will be presenting a review of Imaro: The Naama War for Black Gate either this week or next, but it wouldn’t feel right to jump to that book without reviewing its predecessor, Imaro: The Trail of Bohu. I reviewed the second Imaro book at Black Gate, and since Bill Ward has already offered a fine review of Imaro: The Trail of Bohu at the site, I’m offering up my humble look at the third on my personal site. I’ve got to post some original things here, right?

Charles Saunders’s third book about the Ilyassi sword-and-sorcery hero Imaro (and the first written specifically as a novel, instead of collecting previously printed stories and novellas) was first published from DAW as Imaro 3: The Trail of Bohu. Here it is now, in a revised version, from print-on-demand. Unfortunately, this has been the way of the Imaro series; although superb work with a huge impact on modern sword-and-sorcery writing with the way it made the genre racially inclusive, Imaro has never had good fortune in the publishing industry, where snafus and marketing messes have made the hero’s journey an arduous one.

Imaro may not be getting out to the masses, but at least he is getting out.

06 September 2010

The Weird of Cornell Woolrich: “Kiss of the Cobra”

No, this isn’t a review of the Ken Russell film The Lair of the White Worm. The poster just fits so well with Cornell Woolrich’s 1935 story “Kiss of the Cobra” that I had to use it. You would almost think Russell was adapting Woolrich, not Bram Stoker.

My three previous installments exploring the fantasy and horror tales of suspense author Cornell Woolrich have all looked at classic works from his typewriter: “Jane Brown’s Body,” “Dark Melody of Madness,” and “Speak to Me of Death.” However, Woolrich was a prolific pulpster, and sometimes he pounded out sub-par work because the hotel room bill had to be paid. Any Woolrich fan can whip out a list of the writer’s suspense stories that simply made him or her cringe—and not positively. I’m as hardcore a Woolrich aficionado as you will likely find, and even I have to admit that some of his lesser stories are dreadful. His exploration of vampires, one of his potentially intriguing sidetrips into the supernatural, “Vampire’s Honeymoon,” is the most clichéd story about vampires I’ve ever read. Only the staking of vampire using a broken hockey stick is remotely interesting. I can’t imagine Woolrich spent more than two hours clanking it out and then sending it off. It’s an indication of the power of Cornell Woolrich’s name on the front of pulp magazines of the time that it sold on first try.

But some of Woolrich’s mid-level work deserves attention, and “Kiss of the Cobra” falls solidly into his opus of “weird stories.” It explores the concept of “foreign other” with fantasy displays that hint at black magic, contains richly sensual prose, and has a liminal sense of a were-creature. The suspense and hard-boiled crime aspects are also well executed. Much greater work was to come, but with all its flaws (such as the standard pulp era’s Euro-centric view of India and a protagonist given to generic wise-crack dialogue) the story remains worth visiting for horror and suspense enthusiasts.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .