Monthly Archive: June 2009


A couple things that I’ve been remiss about mentioning:

  • Street Team: Friends, have you ever wanted to take part in a slightly incoherent DIY marketing campaign? If so, you’re not alone. A group of scrappy readers have volunteered to do just that, so we’re forming an Eternal Prison Street Team. This basically means I send you promotion materials (stickers, bookmarks, etc) and you. . .well, do what you want with them. Plus anything else creative and legal you can think of. If anyone is interested in becoming one of these cool folks, you can contact me directly or surf on over to our little forum, where I’ve set up a special place for everyone to discuss strategy. I can’t promise everyone makes it back alive, and there’s not money in it for ya, but if you think it’ll be fun, come on by and take a stack of stickers and go to town.
  • In MWA Anthology: I just found out my short story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” has been selected to appear in the next anthology put out by Mystery Writers of America. The anthology is tentatively titled Blood Lust and is edited by Charlaine Harris. It’s currently scheduled to appear in April 2010. I am of course still waiting to find out it was all a terrible mistake.

That’s my news for today. I’ll try to lead a more interesting life in the coming days (maybe I’ll try robbing a liquor store) to provide y’all with better blogging.

The Trouble with Cool

I’ve never been cool. Going back to my glorious childhood in Jersey City, New Jersey – the city whose current mayor is famous (around here, anyway) for being photographed naked and drunk on his front porch while he was running for mayor, and he won the election) – I’ve never once been cool in my whole life. To be frank it never bothered me much. Despite what Hollywood seems to think my childhood was not a warzone of cool kids calling me names and beating me up; I had a great time despite being a nerd. And here I am, a productive, well-adjusted citizen, contributing quality fictions to a hungry world.

Still: Not cool. Let’s never forget that. Even if you walk into a bar and I am there looking cool, wearing a nice suit of clothes and with a group of people laughing with me and not at me, don’t believe it for a second. I am not cool.

This is unfortunate, because all of the cool ideas in SF/F have been done, it seems. Well, the easy cool ideas. Because I am also lazy as hell, friends. I’d love to write a time travel book, or a zombie book (I did have some zombie-like things in The Digital Plague, but I’m talking about a full-on Night of the Living Dead thing). Of course, I could write these, but the problem is that these stories have become so prevalent that figuring out a way to do them compellingly is almost impossible. That’s the problem with Cool Ideas: Everyone wants to get in on it.

For example, I recently saw a little independent horror movie called Pontypool. It’s not a bad flick, saved mainly by interesting and well-drawn characters. It’s basically a zombie-virus movie, with the slight twist that the “virus” is transmitted via words – when you hear and understand an ‘infected’ word, you start to fixate on that word, repeating it over and over until you can’t say – or think – anything else. Then you start to “hunt” words, trying to literally tear them out of someone else’s mouth, with predictable results.

So, the premise is actually kind of interesting, if scientifically absurd. Actually, if you eliminated the zombie part and just speculated about a disorder that causes people to fixate on words like that, the resulting societal breakdown might be fascinating, the way people would figure out how to communicate despite being forced to repeat “Honey” over and over again, that sort of thing. But in the movie, once you move past the initial infection stage, you just turn into a voice-hunting zombie, with the usual motifs of a) people trapped and hiding from mindless zombies, b) people attempting to fight off mindless zombies etc. It’s been done. A nifty little twist to the vector ain’t gonna make that story more interesting.

So, I can write zombie stories for my own amusement, sure, and if I write it well enough with some good twists and new ideas, I might even sell it and be successful with it. but it won’t be anything new. And knowing that going in kind of deflates me. I know my writing is not always new and fresh, but that’s my intention going in. I need that hope of newness at least to get me going. So until I come up with that twist to the time-travel or zombie idea that I’ve been waiting for, it’s a dead letter, sadly.

It can be done. A fellow writer recently outlined a time-travel concept that was absolutely dripping with originality, and made me very jealous to not have thought of it myself. This happens pretty frequently; I am starting to hate all other writers, everywhere. One of these days I’m going to wake up before noon, put on some pants, and start stealing some ideas, dammit.

Open Accessed

Hey kids, lookit this:

It’s my book The Digital Plague online. Free to read. Ain’t that cool?

It’s a pretty nifty little interface, too, I think. Why they chose book #2 while there’s only an excerpt of The Electric Church, I’m not sure, but maybe that’s something that will be worked out in days to come. In the mean time, if you know of anyone who might like my work but hasn’t bothered to buy a copy, feel free to send them this link and they can dig into it for free.

Bad Books I Love

As with almost everyone, I suspect, I have a lot of affection for things I experienced as a kid – things I probably wouldn’t have much patience for nowadays. This is either a terrible loss of innocence or an exciting maturation, who knows? It might also be the fact that, believe it or not, I drank more when I was a teenager than I do now.

Let’s have a moment to wonder at the fact that I am still alive.

A lot of my reading as a kid was fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks; There was a period in the 1980s when I bought just about every Del Rey paperback with a  DK Sweet cover available, usually without much investigation into the story or quality beforehand. Ah, to be 13 again and reading the latest Lyndon fucking Hardy opus. Let’s also hope that 20 years from now folks aren’t expressing similar sentiments about Jeff Fucking Somers, shall we? It’s amazing how many books I have on my shelves that were trilogies or longer, sold by the truckload in 1985 and now almost completely forgotten.

Let’s contemplate the horror of Xanth books. I read, oh, the first dozen or so when I was a youngster. The first five remain, I think, really well-crafted fantasy stories that stand up pretty well – it has a great central conceit, and the stories are told seriously, with the humor an organic part of the tale. As time progressed, though, Xanth turned into a cottage industry for the author, Piers Anthony, and every year a new Xanth book comes out, each more fey and pun-riddled than the last. These days the books seem to exist mainly so he can solicit puns from his readers and turn them into characters and plot points.

And who am I to argue with success? Anthony often includes a lengthy Author’s Note at the end of his books; when I was a kid just starting to write I loved these notes because he went on at length about his process and the business of writing. He made it very clear in those notes that writing is his job, that it was how he provided for his family, and you got the distinct impression that he would write Xanth books until his fingers fell off as long as they sold well. This concept of writing as a profession – instead of as the hobby of the elite – has eroded over the years because making a living from writing has gotten harder and harder (The always interesting Nick Mamatas has a few posts about the realities of writing economics over at his LiveJournal that make this very, grimly clear).  But it is a profession; we’re writing for money, after all. So who can blame Anthony if he wants to churn out Xanth novels by the truckload. Just because I’ve stopped reading them doesn’t mean anything – he clearly still sells well enough to get book deals every year.

Back in The Day, of course, genre writing was still in the basement. When I went to school clutching Lord Foul’s Bane (winner of Worst Title for Great Book prize, 1977) in my hands, I was instantly marked as a nerd and ruthlessly mocked. Today, of course, what with Harry Potter and Twilight and Lost on TV and Iron Man and . . . well, you get the picture. These days SF/F has become the new Western. It’s a staple. Talk about a Singularity: We’ve hit the point where not liking SF/F is weirder than liking it. What a time to be alive, as Frostillicus might say.


Over at the George RR Martin forum someone asks about other books where every chapter ends on a ‘cliffhanger’, and someone helpfully mentions The Electric Church. As you can see, I ego-google far too much (though to be fair, Google Alerts allows me to ego-surf without making any effort). It’s nice to see my work being discussed in the general SF/F conversation, though. Somehow it’s like you haven’t arrived until your books start showing up in general discussions, you know?

Anyway, TEC and the Cates series as a whole certainly does employ the cliffhanger in virtually every chapter. Sometimes these are big cliffhangers, sometimes minor ones, but every chapter ends on a beat. This is intentional, although it wasn’t always there. The original draft of TEC, written 15 years ago, had very long chapters. It also had a different plot, different ending, and in many spots different characters. I always wrote with long chapters; a lot of my novels have only a handful of chapters in 100,000-word books.

The reason this changed when I revised TEC a few years ago is because I originally revised it for web publication on a site that was selling serial fiction. The idea was you’d “subscribe” to a story and receive a new chapter every week. They preferred open-ended ‘soap-opera’ style stories (in structure, not necessarily in content) but were taking novel-length stories as well. So I put together a proposal about TEC, which I’d been meaning to rework for years but never got the impetus to do so, sold it, and revised with their guidelines in mind. Since it would be a week between chapters, I wanted every chapter to end on a beat to keep people interested until the next one came around.

The web site didn’t last long, but the editor they assigned me was the incredible Lili Saintcrow, who loved TEC,  showed it to her editor, and the rest is ongoing history.

So for me, the cliffhanger style is still relatively new and funky. I really enjoy it. The short chapters, the beat-endings – it all makes for, I think, exciting reading and exciting writing, as sometimes I don’t know where a chapter’s ending until it suddenly hits me – there! Which is fun.

I worry sometimes that the constant cliffhangerin’ can get tiresome, but I try to alleviate that by having different levels of cliffhangers. Sometimes it’s a huge plot-device cliffhanger, sometimes it’s just a beat of dialog or a small revelation by the character. I think if every chapter ended with the characters pressed against a wall or hanging from cliffs, it would get ridiculous, so having some chapters end on tiny little beats is a good rhythmic technique.

Or so I think. I’m sure plenty of folks out there can’t stand the technique and rail against my book in private. Or so I like to imagine.

Anyway, just some random writing thoughts this morning. The lesson being: Just because you have always worked in one manner or always had a certain style doesn’t mean you can’t surprise yourself, pleasantly, with something wholly new, at least to you.

The Movie Question

Over at SF Signal, they asked their readers which books they’d like to see made into movies, and someone voted for The Electric Church. Which is great to read, of course. Naturally, I’ve thought about this possibility, and it’s always fun to cast the movie of your book. Of course, when you’re imagining casting and budgeting the movie of your book there’s a tendency to assume a) unlimited, blockbuster-level money and b) you’re going to have some control over the proceedings. The first is unlikely, though, of course, possible. The second will never happen. I’ll be lucky if they remember to include a “based on the novel by” credit, much less invite me to be a part of the process. Which makes sense, because when they decide that the Monks should turn out to really be demons from hell complete with wings and glowing red eyes, they don’t want me throwing furniture and setting hotel rooms on fire.

As I’ve said before, if and when a movie gets made of one of my books, chances are it’ll be an international SyFy kind of project, starring the action stars of 1983 (if we’re lucky) and funded by the Canadian government, so it’s best not to get too hopeful and creative, but it’s also fun to think about who might star in such films. So what do do you think? Assuming unlimited budget, who would you cast in the major character roles of TEC?

To be honest, I haven’t thought on this too much, though I do have an opinion here and there. But I’m interested in what everyone else thinks, as it’s a fascinating glimpse into how my characters are perceived by readers.  Have at it!