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The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category

Skipping Merrily Through a Minefield

Posted by BigWords on March 4, 2020

The goddess is obviously in a playful mood. Just when I think everything is rolling along smoothly, whoomph – the hand of the divine reaches down and starts plucking at carefully woven threads. This isn’t something that comes as a great surprise, given the last few years, but I was sorta hoping for a little more time (and to be permitted some degree of preparation) before being hurled into yet another mess.

There’s Big Ticket Items which are, at present, still-outstanding purchases – it isn’t that I haven’t tried to tick them off the list, but the prices are nowhere near stable enough to guarantee that I will be able to get things at a price which doesn’t cripple me. So when I was told that one of the desperately needed items was on sale extremely cheaply I dragged myself off to see for myself. In the meantime, however, one of the hard drives was slowly dying (unbeknownst to me), and the report on a yacht I had planned on using came back with disappointing news.

It is so reassuring to have bad news waiting on you, isn’t it? Like there’s a sentience to the universe, and every action results in three repercussions entirely unrelated to the action itself. “Cosmic snakes and ladders” was my initial though, “and some bastard’s playing with a loaded die.” And before you say anything, I know that doesn’t make complete sense, but I can’t help immediate reactions to yet more obstacles being set.

If anyone compares life to a marathon, remind them (from me) that the course isn’t changed throughout the event, nor are obstacles rolled into everyone’s path. And there are no trenches for people to leap over. And nobody is firing a sub-machine gun over the runners’ heads. In fact, the more I consider marathons as a sport, the more I am convinced that these are all going to be implemented at some point – we’re fast reaching a point where The Long Walk and The Running Man would sit happily between abuse-as-entertainment from Jeremy ‘Killer’ Kyle and psychological warfare as seen on Love Island and its ilk.

When I heard Killer Kyle was returning to ITV, I may have said “fifty quid on a suicide within three months of it returning.” I immediately felt guilty, of course, about making light of such a horrible outcome, yet somehow it seems about right. As the death toll from reality television mounts up it becomes, somehow, more easy to see where the faults with these shows lie, as well as the damning contribution that the writer’s strike made back in 1988. These things have a way of bringing unintended consequences.

Things from the past affecting the present. How novel a concept…

I really shouldn’t be this sarcastic, but I can’t help it.

The hard drive had been moved around so much that it is a wonder it survived this long, and a fair percentage of its time tucked inelegantly into a cardboard box overfilled with tech which should have had better treatment. Still, better for it to have given up the ghost when it was being used as a back-up rather than having irreplaceable items on it. I’ve been planning on getting a few hard drives in preparation for later – guessing as to how much I need, there was 50TB scheduled to be bought at some point anyway, and this hiccup merely pushes that purchase forwards in my schedule. Given that the last time I shot anything was probably on S-VHS, I have no idea how much memory I’m actually going to need.

The big problem, and one I have no answer to at the moment, is losing my means of transport. I was going to stow everything in a friends yacht and sail over to Spain when the time came, but it isn’t going to be ready in time. In fact, I don’t know if the damn thing will ever be able to hit the open water again given the extensive list of repairs needed, so that’s a whole list of transport and schedule issues thrown in front of me. I don’t want to use an HGV or something, as that merely escalates costs ridiculously, and there’s the minor long-standing issue of proper paperwork to deal with.

To add insult to injury, the server I traveled so far to see had been gutted. There’s no way I could get it cleaned up, restored, modernized, and fully working, unless I devoted a significant amount of time to that process – and if there is one thing I am desperately short of it is free time.

It wasn’t a completely wasted trip. I got a half-hour horror/thriller script written during my down time, specifically designed to feature a single actor in one location, which is sufficiently amusing a notion that it may very well skip ahead of the feature in plans. Depending on the way things go with transport I may be forced to shoot material here, then work out a way to get my ass out to Spain.

Although I wont be able to film, edit, score, and package this short in time for FrightFest at the end of August, I still want to have something to pass around.

Now… About the hard drives:

There are a staggering number of models on this computer. I hadn’t planned on spending more money this month, nor having to find any extra space, but I don’t want to delete any of my planning and development stage before I’m certain that everything which will be required at a later date is safely tucked away somewhere. This is a rather worrying development given that I haven’t got to the stage where the large files were to be expected.

It was always the video files I was prepared for, especially as I want any footage to look as good as possible before getting tweaked (color correction and the like) in post – Blender was never given consideration as to how much space it would take up. While 19 GB isn’t, by any standard, a massive amount of space for models, coupled with reference images and all of my art accompanying the models it soon adds up.

When I get myself a decent HD camera there will probably be a shortage of hard drives soon after1.

Despite them not working at the moment I’m keeping test blends which do things that I can’t see attempted anywhere. I figure that I’ll pick up enough knowledge of the software to come back to them, and the prospect of recreating immense set-ups is something to be avoided. Really, going back and recreating anything ought to be avoided unless absolutely necessary2 – only by looking forward, and folding in new techniques and skills, can creations be the best versions possible.

They really aren’t working, in case you are thinking that they merely need a little tweaking. Whilst some steps are relatively simple – modeling and animating – others are proving slightly more obscure3. I don’t want to get too much into that here, as there’s a whole bunch of things which require thoughts on, and having a dedicated space for ruminations was meant to free this blog for the other notions which were bouncing around in my brain.

Looking back isn’t a bad thing. I find myself, when events aren’t going to plan, considering many things which would be far better if attempted now. One of the lists I slapped together a few years back now appears… well, thin. And given that so much has been released after that was compiled, in various media, it might require a more comprehensive study. The question of what to write in order to keep the money flowing in isn’t the big question: the questions are how and where.

Here’s where I very likely dig a hole for myself…

Most things I’ve sold have been one-off payments4. This isn’t a bad deal, whatever you may think. I’ve been more than happy with the earnings, and the fact that people I’ve sold things to are really cool individuals doesn’t hurt – but I’m going to be having a few months blocked out where blasting out short stories or non-fiction articles isn’t going to be possible, and during those periods it would be nice to get some money coming in. There’s also been a growing feeling that I should maintain some control over the work I create, so this means going it alone.

Now, given that I’ve previously – and extensively – noted all the problems which pen names brings up, you might expect that there will be an onslaught of material appearing under my name, but this would produce two insurmountable problems for me:

<strong>One</strong>. There are short story collections, novellas, novels, and non-fiction of an extremely wide variety. Having everything appear under my own name would confuse people who are looking for more of the same – and even limiting myself to only issuing novels under my name wouldn’t solve this, due to my (previously noted) penchant for mimicry. There’s so much difference from one novel to the next that a casual reader would be forgiven for thinking that they emerged from completely different authors.
<strong>Two</strong>. It is a Very Bad Idea to skip willfully across genres with little regard for any audience those works would garner. While it is possible to dual-path readers (King manages to mix his horror and crime output magnificently), by the time one gets to four or five genres it can be confusing for people arriving late to the party. The notion of restricting myself is tedious, and I would only end up subverting, undermining, and twisting genre works anyways (no change there), so having these separated out makes complete sense.

This means, in case you are wondering, that I am seriously considering a clutch of pen names to fund things to come.

The how, therefore, in getting through the next few years is clear.

As for the where… Okay, so Smashwords is the obvious choice. It is, alas, a choice which is presently overflowing with great novels5. But this train of thought wouldn’t be half as entertaining if I merely went ahead and started uploading – there needs to be something contained within the process of using pen names which elevates their use somehow. If I’m going to use this long-standing tradition6, then it needs to contain an added component which others have omitted until now. It needs to make sense in the greater scheme of things.

Most importantly, it needs to be fun. What’s the point otherwise?

A few of the quick ideas generated to push this on felt a little too forced. Gimmick naming, wherein the list of pen names would consist entirely of, say, obscure 16th to 18th century playwrights, or French philosophers, or the names of tertiary characters from Victorian literature, is something I am really trying to keep myself from using. It would be interesting to see how quickly they would be identified, but might be a touch too eccentric. It would also be fairly easy for people to see where the story within drew possible inspirations.

If I can keep from playing too deeply with references (another challenge) then my time and energy could be better used on the contents.

And, because this is me, there’s going to be a standing invitation for people to attempt to ‘out’ my pen names. Normally a verboten activity, I’m going to encourage you to see if you can find where I’ll be dropping books. Other authors (unless they have explicitly stated they are open to this) are to be regarded as completely off the table – and I’m going to be very disappointed if people start exposing authors who have good reason for trying their damnedest to maintain a level of secrecy – but you can expose as many of my forthcoming pen names as you want.

In fact, lets make that a game. I’ll throw up a page here with the pen names once they have been correctly identified, with each getting their own page listing the works under that name, and a mention in the “biography” section of who was first to correctly identify me as the hand behind that name. Fuck it, if I’m going to make a mockery of the use of pen names I’ll do it with panache.

This is likely going to ruffle a few feathers. Y’know, as long as this is kept constrained I can’t see the harm in letting it play out. This is hardly the worst thing I’ve done, in case anyone thinks that by moving the goal-posts so far I’m wilfully attacking the core conceit of a pen name. It has the beneficial side-effect of forcing me to alter my writing style when working on something, and it challenges people to use analytical skills when approaching a text – the entire idea itself is something which makes pen names <em>more</em> interesting as a concept.

Don’t think I’ll make it easy for you – there wouldn’t be any sport in that. I’ll take things on my end seriously, applying all of the things I would were I to seriously be attempting the use of a pen name. There won’t, for example, be any of the usual pithy indifference of status6, or mockery of my usual subjects of scorn. You are going to have to work for your bragging rights.

And there’s the other thing.

It is difficult to put the following into words without causing at least some consternation and annoyance, so before I dig into the other reason why I’m using pen names I’m going to make an important distinction which needs to be made between what I’m doing and, for example, people writing erotica. There’s a damn good reason why a person might not want their name to appear on the cover of… Red Hot Sex Slave or something.

I have no idea if that is actually a book. It sounded like a title which could exist so I ran with it. If there is actually a book with that title, and if it is under the author’s own name, I apologize profusely, but the title sounds lurid. I’m imagining someone tied up in bondage gear on the cover, a goofy grin on their face. Somewhere between one of those gorgeous fifties paperbacks – with improbably pneumatic women, and men in elegant suits – and a grubby eighties straight-to-videocassette feature. It has the ring of authenticity about it.

Man, I need to write that. The hell with the rest of this post, that sounds like an interesting little novella which I could knock out in a few hours…

What was I saying? Oh, yeah – there’s a real and serious reason for people to use pen names. I’m not dismissing that. What we need to think about, in regards to pen names, is the authenticity of the contents in relation to the authorial persona when it comes to awards. There’s a long list (a very, very long list) of pen names who have won awards, but in most cases the identities of those authors are either an open secret or are the subject of rumors, speculation, and general chit-chat.

Most of the works which one can pinpoint as by a pseudonym are pretty good, and truly deserve any awards they pick up.

Buuuuut… (there was always a ‘but’ coming) I’m ruling myself out, here and now, for any and every award. Don’t even think of suggesting a work which appears from my pen (or keyboard, actually, but pen sounds better), or else I will step in. Not only am I prepared for this – albeit unlikely – eventuality, I am more than willing and capable of putting the kibosh on any unwanted celebration that a pen name might garner. Although there are certain awards I would definitely want on my shelf, I wouldn’t want to look at one which didn’t have my name on it. I’m not, therefore, going to chase anything.

Pen names don’t count.

Once more, because people might be skimming – this is only in relation to me.

There are a bunch of reasons behind this line of thought, but the main thing I keep coming back to is the integrity of the lists. While others may be happy with any name on the lists, the thought of sitting back and letting a patently false name mar any awards list makes me uncomfortable. A great many things I refuse to let stand have, over the years, been points of principal that have attracted bemusement, scorn, and disbelief. It doesn’t matter what you think, it doesn’t matter what the rules state, and it certainly doesn’t matter what popular opinion decrees.

What matters is my ability to focus on things which are important (to me), and not have to deal with thorny dilemmas which are a distraction.

Someone ought to start tallying up all the things I refuse to do for dumb moral reasons, then slap me with the printout. Yes, I am well aware that this is yet another thing that isn’t actually a thing. This is an issue which only exists in my head, and nobody else cares. I get it. I completely accept that I’m the only person who has a problem with accepting a pen name’s eligibility for awards, but that isn’t going to appease me any. I want no part of awards outside those which I am eligible for under my own name.

You don’t have to understand, and you don’t have to like it.

1. I’ve already begun playing with models constructed from bits of cardboard and plastic, using the crappy webcam to block out shots I’m planning as best I can. It has almost zero focus capabilities, and a terrible picture, but I can get the overall impression of what I want – making the leap to an animatic less problematic, and shortening the amount of time it will take to step up to the finished article.
2. Recreating lost footage, such as missing Doctor Who episodes, are an exception. Moving things across media is also a valid use of recreating what was, and it is largely when there is little original input into the finished article that I get annoyed at seeing people reuse things. If there isn’t something new brought to bear on a work then there isn’t any need to remake it – which is my main problem with film remakes appearing so often. Very few seem to have had proper development of the ideas inherent to their properties, making for an unsatisfactory and cheap experience.
3. There are so many ways in which I despise the lighting set-up, camera placement, and UV unwrapping in Blender, none of which are as intuitive as other software makes the processes. There’s more on this at Digital Hume. I may yet splash out on something a little more to my taste, though the budgetary concerns are playing a massive part of my thinking as yet.
4. Complaining about payments, and the loss of rights, helps nobody – anyone thinking that there’s something inherently wrong with a sale shouldn’t go through with it, and that isn’t just my way of saying “let me grab that opportunity, thanks” – and I expect everyone to be doing their homework on what they are giving up when they sell something they have created. Merely because I am satisfied with the money paid for my writing doesn’t meant that anyone else should settle for what they determine to be a bad deal.
5. Yes, the novels are good. A great many covers may leave something to be desired (and I’m going to get around to that eventually), but the writing is, overall, of a very high standard. My sampling may not have been extensive, nor covered all genres, but of what I have read there is much to be impressed by.
6. Don’t. Really, don’t… If you are going to start listing off how this is a problem of epic proportions, I don’t want to hear it. People have been using pen names for centuries, and if you have a problem with my decision to use pen names then you can take any commentary elsewhere. I’ve found a way to make it fun and interesting.
7. This is not going away. Here, where I get to bang my brains out on the keyboard and mash gray matter into my words, is going to remain a place where I don’t have to acknowledge that there are tiers. Nobody is more important than anyone else by virtue of their back catalog. I’m not going to tip my hat to anyone, and I don’t expect anyone to view me as being more important merely because blah, blah, blah. Watch this. Now, tell me – does it make any sense to maintain a status quo which has been so thoroughly demolished over the years. There may be a t-shirt reading “I am vulgar and I don’t know my place” waiting in my future…

Posted in Over The Line, publishing, writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

World’s Greatest…

Posted by BigWords on March 1, 2020

There’s a story from one of the World’s Greatest books (Spirits, or Phantoms, or the Supernatural, perhaps) which has stuck with me all these years despite being repudiated as a hoax. A few people churned out these tomes over the seventies and eighties, and they are, in many ways, much more interesting than the boom in paranormal literature kicked off by The X Files, as they never pretended to be anything more than what they were – it is possible to look at the books following the wake of The X Files as furrowing deeper and deeper into a certain type of supernatural literature, but I’m not going to kick that wasp nest right now.

As a serious proportion of my time is spent finding information, drawn from as many disparate sources as I can find, there are minuscule threads I see regularly, all linking back to a handful of titles, and mostly tied to Hamlyn / Octopus / Hachette. I haven’t gone looking to see where Hamlyn was folded into the mix, but I have a strong suspicion – with an eye towards keeping this as simple as humanly possible – that it is wise not to muddy the waters by bringing a timeline of events into the mix.

For a substantial period of time there used to be books sold in the strangest of places. I’m not sure if there are still tables overflowing with paperbacks routinely on sale in gardening centers, home furnishing outlets, clothes stores, and other retailers (nowhere near me, at the moment, is doing this, but it would be great if somewhere still had this happening), and the predominant titles on display were of the… strange variety.

Yes, there were always the cartoon books, with their single-page gags on a subject (golf, marriage, work), and the hardback coffee table books with page after page of glossy photographs (usually featuring houseplants, thought sports cars were also a favorite), but the most interesting addition to these displays were the ghost stories. Allegedly true to life, absolutely, swear-on-my-heart, not-making-this-shit-up ghost stories. Their truth, looking back, is hard to accept on face value, but they told their narratives with style, wit, and a sense of solemnity which sold even the slightest of these narratives.

I have the feeling that these books had an immense influence on short stories, radio scripts, television scripts, novels, film scripts, comics, and more. You may not see it immediately, but there are things which, prior to the publication of those titles, didn’t have a wide circulation, but have since managed to spread far and wide.

There’s a part of me which wants to start naming people who I feel have been using the books as inspiration for their fiction. I’d likely get myself into hot water if I started naming everyone I believed to be influenced by these titles, but… it really isn’t difficult to start looking for yourself. There’s an immensely-talented chap who sometimes does comedy, who has written extensively for radio – and who also knows a thing or two about horror – who would be a perfect starting point, as well as a certain Doctor Who writer…

So, the story which I tried not to think of too much on cold nights, lying awake in the dark:

In one of the collections there’s a small section – probably only a page or so, though I haven’t read the book in a very long time – which outlines the case of the Faces of Bélmez, a story which takes us back to 1971. We even have a specific location for this supernatural incident (Calle Real 5, Bélmez de la Moraleda, Jaén, Andalusia, Spain), so it isn’t as if this is one of those friend-of-a-friend stories, whose nebulous placement in geography and history make ascertaining facts ridiculously difficult, and that hint of news reportage makes it all the more real.

In short, the floor of the kitchen (over an extended period of time) displayed the faces of what appeared to be various dead people.

You read that right.

It may sound stupid written out in such a manner, but it clicked in the portion of my brain which hungers for Weird Shit. What’s more, in harsh daylight there is very little of the supernatural which really tugs at the fabric of reality to any extent. It is only in the dark, when we are at our most vulnerable, that silly notions can warp, be transformed and grow – as if through some amplifier which charges these narratives with a discernible solidity and credibility – and we can accept, if only for a passing moment that when we place a bare foot upon the floor there is a chance (however small) that we may be standing on the face of a long-dead person.

Now, there’s a far more interesting angle to this whole affair than merely the faces of the dead appearing on a kitchen floor. You could argue that it is a hoax (as many have done before), or you might be wondering why?, which is perfectly understandable, but it is unlikely that you have stepped back and considered how a tiny story in a cheap paperback collection of hundreds of similarly strange events could possibly have any influence over popular culture.

One of the reasons I love the discussion of tropes – my main reason, in fact – is that we can use the analysis of works to attempt, however imprecisely, to discern transmission vectors for ideas. It is easier to think of ideas in this way, as certain criteria have to be present for a notion to have the ability to carry forwards into other works. A little-seen play, for example, can’t have the same cultural impact as a feature film, and a Victorian song won’t be as significant as a Bestselling novel in the charts right now. We also have to be careful when ascribing influences, as certain works have been unavailable for long periods of history.

Tolkien explicitly noted that Shakespeare’s use of Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane was a factor in his creation of Ents. At the time Tolkien was writing his fantasy magnum opus he was in regular contact with C.S. Lewis, who himself had used the notion throughout the Narnia books in a number of ways. Across the Atlantic, in yet another fantasy work with perennial appeal, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz played with the idea with (arguably) slightly less of a lasting influence – other aspects of the story have dominated adaptations and sequels, so his place in the chronology of sentient trees is lower than that of Tolkien or Lewis.

We can follow these influences, especially given that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was so popular throughout the sixties and seventies, and as Narnia has maintained a certain appeal, to arrive at the trees in the Evil Dead films, a darker mirror image of sentient foliage. There’s also a fondly-remembered strip from the second iteration of Knockout entitled The Haunted Wood, featuring – unsurprisingly – trees which could move and speak. I wouldn’t go so far as to include Whoopee!’s Family Trees, as that derives from a visual pun on “family tree” more than it does anything from Tolkien.

There’s also Ramsey Campbell’s In the Trees, which is… Well, it is probably the best short story of its type and subject, and if you haven’t read it you’re in for a treat. We really have to acknowledge here that the single most influential use of a moving tree in modern pop culture is likely J.K. Rowling’s Whomping Willow, which first appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

All of which, you should understand, are takes on ancient narratives.

We can look at dates and locations of a work’s origination to see where someone has possibly been influenced by a prior depiction, though in the majority of cases any suppositions of this nature will be guesswork. We should be thankful that there are so many people who have divulged their inspirations, as finding common links, and likely sources, is a largely thankless task.

But faces on flooring? That’s a whole ‘nother matter. There are only so many stories which could possibly feature such an unlikely occurrence, and the majority would likely treat this subject matter as a joke. But there’s also an episode of Doctor Who which we have to take into account – Ursula’s fate in Love & Monsters, from the second series, has more than a hint of the darkly comedic, but the face-on-a-pavement ending skews the episode into horror’s domain.

This is a living death which recalls the story of the Faces of Bélmez, and suggests that (though able to speak) Ursula is already, for all intents and purposes, dead.

I’ll point out, right now, that while I don’t believe Russell T Davies is deliberately invoking the events of the Spanish home, it isn’t a long shot to imagine that (at some point) he encountered the story in one of the many, many editions published over the years. He’s a geek. Of course he would know it.

And then there’s Mark Gatiss. If you haven’t been following his career then you are doing yourself a disservice, as he has written some of the oddest and most fascinating things… Well, ever. If there was one person whom I would state, categorically, likely read the World’s Greatest books at some point in the eighties or nineties it is Gatiss. His work drips with the uncanny, the preternatural, and the plain strange, and there are detectable traces of influence from a number of sources throughout his career. Some are obvious (Valentine Dyall, for example, or Conan Doyle), but also far less clear sources.

Despite not being able to put a finger on any specific thing, there’s an overall feeling that he’s either read the original books, or seen discussion of the contents somewhere. I would also note Gatiss as very likely a reader of Fortean Times (feel free to correct me on this), and those glorious old horror anthologies which seemed to appear every couple of months.

Getting back on point:

There were photographs in those non-fiction paperbacks, adding to the sense of dread that the world around us might not be so solid and tangible as we would like, but images which most struck me were those of real people. There were a pair of photographs of Joseph Merrick, on consecutive pages, with his appearance in life and the reconstruction of his skeleton at the same scale. Flipping the page back and forth, he appeared to have intangible skin – his bones appearing and disappearing from view. That I normally read these books at night, with whatever dim light I could scrounge up, only served to make the illusion more terrifying.

Merrick wasn’t the image which seared itself into my consciousness, as I had already seen Lynch’s 1980 docu-drama about him (at an unadvisably young age), and probably encountered the story so often that it had shed enough of its horror elements to become merely another dark and twisted glimpse into a bygone era. But the etching of Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo… That was something else. Joannes’ enlarged head in the engraving, and the way in which he protruded in an inverted manner from Lazarus’ chest, seemed somehow more real than a photograph. While Merrick was a celebrated attraction, the Colloredo twins seemed to belong more to the fiction I was devouring at the time of this discovery.

Looking through what is often included in accounts of the fantastic and mysterious we encounter a great many thing which have been reused in fictional works. The “four-eyed man of Cricklade” (not that I’m entirely certain his story was told in any of the World’s Greatest books specifically) could almost be an inspiration for Abelard Snazz, and an entire mythology and alternative history has sprung up around the Wold Newton meteor, boosted to some degree by internet rumination and speculation.

We can see – if we squint a little, and tilt out heads – the inspiration for many mutants, freaks, and aliens in science fiction, sometimes taken wholesale from accounts and images which appeared in the books. There is a rather surprising similarity between the photograph of Edward Mordake’s parasitic face and the distorted features of Kid Knee from Strontium Dog (although Mordake’s story is one we can safely assign as a fabrication), and in seeing more and more instances where things originally collected in World’s Greatest volumes I am forced to view them as more than merely a bunch of interesting stories…

They may be one of the most influential titles (albeit often indirectly) published in the late twentieth century.

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Everything in Order

Posted by BigWords on February 25, 2020

You will have noted, in the previous post, that there is a certain unintuitive order to things. Why, you ask yourself, is the film a top priority? Well… It’s complicated. I’ve never pretended to be populist in my outlook, and there are aspects to the novels which prevents me from placing them at the top of the To Do list.

See, the film script was written with the intention of it being filmed in Spain, and not only as a throwback to all the gloriously cheesy seventies flicks – I need it to be made there because my Spanish is awful. What has that got to do with anything? To understand the urgency with which I am attempting to learn Blender – in order to move forward with the film, in order to better grasp the Spanish language – you have to understand something integral about the books…

I’ve worked out the most complex arrangement possible for the dialogue.

It has never made any sense to me that people in the future are going to speak English. Yes, the majority of readers will speak fluent English, and – of course – English is my native tongue, but merely because those two facts are present and correct doesn’t reflect on what I want to accomplish with the story. It has long been of interest to me that H. Beam Piper decided to have a multicultural aspect to his work, and in expanding, extrapolating, and complicating the universe I wanted to delve into, it made sense that language would play an important aspect.

Which is why there are several distinct speech variations which are required.

The first glimpse of the universe is going to be set in a location which is strongly Scandanavian, with bits and pieces of those languages blended together in a completely new form. I’m not even going to pretend that my grasp of the Scandanavian languages is anywhere near competent enough, so I’ll likely need someone with more expertise to check that over, and add in any corrections or omissions.

The next society which gets a look in, and which I have been spending the most time exploring, is a blend of French, Italian, Spanish, and Portugese. There are words which I absolutely adore, and which I’ll do anything to work in – and in addition it seems only fair to use root words from Latin in subtle ways. This has been the most difficult, and if I can get through everything which takes me to a point where I can safely start fiddling with the mix without second-guessing any constructs then I’m going to be one step closer having a product which is unlike anything else out there.

There’s also the looming presence of another faction, blending Russian, German, Romanian, and Gaelic, but one step at a time.

When I pointed out that there were things people would hate about the books, this was what I was referring to. I’ve always loved extremely dense back-stories, and the opportunity to create and develop languages inherent to specific cultures of the future – borrowing equally from the component parts of those societies – is too tempting not to play with. There’s no point in doing things in half-measures, and if I had to cut back on the situational realism for the sake of having a finished work which was more palatable I would be doing a disservice to the creation.

You can laugh all you want, but I’m really trying to create something which I can be proud of. I don’t want to look back at the end product wishing that I had done things differently, so the only way to get from where I am to a point where this can be properly edited is if I can master the skills required to see it through.

And here’s a thought – SF is meant to be awesome. You are meant to awe. If you aren’t awed, then there’s either a problem with the work or a problem with the creator’s interpretation of their work. I don’t want to be the problem. I can see what I want, but at the moment I can’t quite pull it off. In short, my Spanish sucks. Not that my Italian or French is much better, but I figure that if I scratch off one language to a certain competency, then the others will be easier to acquire.

At least that’s the plan.

The base language will be English throughout – as everyone would need to talk to each other, and English is one of the dominating languages in media – but I want it to sound unlike anything else you have ever read, seen, or heard. I’ve been pondering how to include languages outside those selected (especially Mandarin and Arabic), but justifying their inclusion merely for the sake of representation is giving me a headache.

And I’m completely dreading someone asking me to do a public reading, because really

Have I mentioned that little OCD thing?

Thus the film needs to come first. I haven’t got the hang of Blender yet, so any animatic is still a ways off. I’m not even sure how to get funding (especially as it is a fantasy), and there are a host of things which aren’t at the point where I can start bragging in any way, shape, or form. Yes, this is madness. Yes, I know I am doing things all ass-backwards. And yes, I know that there is a likelihood that this is going to go very wrong, but I’ve started now.

I’m also, in case you hadn’t realized, extremely stubborn.

I’m also acutely aware that I’m very likely crazy. There’s no need for you to point that out.

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Onwards and… Outwards? Offwards? Something.

Posted by BigWords on February 24, 2020

It has been far too long since an opportunity arose to cover my status, and while I don’t want to appear too positive at the moment – which is adequate encouragement for the universe to poke me in the ribs again – there’s enough to be getting started with…

My awareness of cultural artefacts seems to be remarkably low in relation to my liking. I’ve missed a lot. These last couple of weeks I have been catching up on as much as I can (strictly within my budget, because I have one of those now), but there are a lot of novels, television series, films, songs, and computer games to have appeared while I wasn’t looking. Some of what I’ve seen impressed me, a handful depressed me, and a couple are now on my All Time Classics list. It isn’t a great batting average, but I’m guessing that there are great works which I simply haven’t heard of, so when I get around to them the overall score for 2010s Media is likely to rise.

Where to start? Well, I’m skipping Game of Thrones. I know it had a big place in people’s lives for a while, but there’s no point in watching that until I give the last couple of books the once over. It was never a series I fell in love with – having read a few books, and seen the first two seasons before The Big Interruption – and it feels, in places, like a love letter to Gormenghast as much as a brand new work. That isn’t an insult, on any level, and I’m going to get around to it eventually.

I’ve seen Lost in Space, as it was always a franchise which held great promise, and though it has been strange to see such a new take on the set-up, I’m glad I set aside the time. While there are things I would have liked to see developed, and characters who demanded more screen time, it has been an overall successful reboot. It is also one of the few shows which made me consider how little I note really good works outside of the evergreens – it is easier to spend a few thousand words complaining about the dross which inflicts itself on my eyes, but I ought to have as much (if not more) verbiage pointing out where the cards have fallen perfectly.

Lost in Space is great. As is the few bits of Black Mirror I’ve caught up on, and so too Haunting of Hill House. These aren’t perfect, but they are very, very polished. Selected reviews will appear here at some point, but I’m not going to promise that I can keep from being annoying and pointing out the deficiencies in what has been screened in my absence.

I can’t say the same good things when it comees to film. It is tricky to arrive back online and be anywhere near analytical about the overall state of cinema, but my feeling is that something dreadful has happened in the last few years – it took my viewing of a few films (out of their release order, mind you) to catch on to something which has been at the back of my mind since seeing the trailers for Age of Ultron, and now it is impossible to shake:

Things have a certain look which I don’t really appreciate.

Did everyone get handed a set of standards that I’m not aware of? Is there now, from some strange office, a list of things which have to appear in every film? There’s a hegemony in popular entertainment – originating from I-don’t-know-where – which bothers me. Why does everything share certain stylistic tics these days? X-Men: Days of Future Past may be the most depressing, most cynical thing I’ve seen in years, and the reboot of Charlie’s Angels was a huge missed opportunity. The Fast & The Furious franchise has fallen to the level of a Cannonball Run sequel, and I’m fast losing patience with DC films. I haven’t seen Joker yet, and may not even bother.

It may merely be that I’ve picked the wrong films, in which case… My bad. But I really do get a sense of constant déjà vu when things appear again, and again, and again. Is this just me? Am I alone in thinking that we are seeing the regurgitation of a select few concepts? Is cimena eating itself?

There was a time when any genre offering was beyond tempting, but when there’s so little that these films offer it is hard to care.

Literature has served me better, with a few Stephen King books released over the last few years catching my eye immediately. I’m always going to turn to him for compelling characters, interesting plots, and great set-pieces, but King’s still serving up rather disappointing endings when he isn’t on top form. Scalzi, as always, brings a new sensibility to what he writes, and it has been interesting to see him stretch out a little and play.

Of course, things don’t stand still, and it is depressing to see the names of all who have passed while I’ve been… busy. Damn. I’ll state categorically that it is unlikely I’ll catch up on the what, where, when, why, who and how, even with the extra hours I have, so over the coming months I’m going to be rather useless. If I say something dumb (which… come on, this is me, of course that’ll happen) then it is likely because I didn’t arrive at everything in order. I’m dipping into the last few years at random and pulling what catches my eye, but there are things I’m going to overlook.

Which is partially why I gave myself three objectives:

1) Get good at Blender. It is the reason Digital Hume exists, and it isn’t an isolated thing I’m attempting. I know people are going to ponder the reasons, so I’ll be forthright about my intentions – I really want to get the Untitled Fantasy filmed, especially as it doesn’t need a lot of tricks. If I can get my shit together, good enough to create an animatronic of the entire script, then it pushes it closer to a done deal. My communications with a semi-pro director aren’t proceeding as fast as I would like, and the notion of going ahead and shooting the main desert battle with placeholder FX is at the forefront of my brain.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that sequence, and I’m pretty sure it can be done on the cheap with the right software.

There’s also a game which I ruined. My fault completely. It deserved better, and it really is an interesting side-step from what everyone else has done. There are a few properties – in other media, thankfully – which came close, but nothing has stayed in the headspace in which that game exists for long. It is something that nobody else will take on (for obvious reasons, when you finally hear more about it), so I have a duty of care to get it out there.

2) Fix at least one book a year. It is ambitious, yes, but going back and editing millions of words down into a coherent, appropriately long, intelligent narrative is something that has been on the To Do list for far too long. I’m not sure how many words I’m going to have to redo completely (I have many, many versions of the opening to my Piper homage), but the complex stuff is at the front of the list. I may even drop some new stuff straight to free ebooks, as I have no idea where to place the more experimental work. You can blame my re-reading Tristram Shandy compulsively for those.

Although the priority is on things that I feel are Important (capitalized for importance), I’m not overlooking the fun little things. At some point I’m going to have to ask for help in getting the little comic strips completed, but I can’t see that being something which demands immediate attention. They don’t really built to anything grander, so they aren’t part of my plans in the short term.

3) Get the Database back up and running. This is, in all likelihood, the most complex of the things on my To Do list. See, the version I’m currently working with is a copy of the backup, missing key elements, and with horrendously broken code – the Javascript is hacked to bits, and there are missing tags all over the place. I really screwed up big time, but I didn’t think I would actually need the backups. I should know better by now, but optimism beats practical consideration all too often. I mentioned some of the problems in the previous post, but that isn’t stopping me from proceeding, albeit slowly.

But the issue with the Database is that it has always eaten money like there was no tomorrow. I’ve been adamant that it wouldn’t carry advertising, but that’s something which I’ll address at a later point. It has also grown rather larger than it should, taking in television, film, music, literature, radio, computer games, and other media, outgrowing its original intention. I can’t do simple things, as has been proven time and time again, as there is always more information out there which adds to understanding. I want to be as complete as I can, but that always seems to lead to the same problem – too many words.

One of these days I’ll learn to sit back from the keyboard and say “done” without feeling a lingering need to add one more thing. Then another. Then…

So that’s the short term and interim goals. I also have a couple of things I’m dragging out from the folders to see if I can make them sing, but I would rather focus on a few things that are clear and have defined conclusions than start on what could end up spiralling into massive ventures.

There’s something I’ve only touched on here briefly, and that’s going to be a long-term goal – making things self-financing.

Whatever the (justifiable) arguments about monetization are, it pains me to talk about the Database as anything other than a source of information. I don’t want to start getting it grubbied up, and it feels wrong to stick a bunch of pleading notices on it. I want it kept clean and pure. Yes, that is horribly, unrealistically hopeful, especially as the thing hemorrages money, but it was set out in the original statement, and I don’t like changing these things so long after the fact.

The game should make its money back, and the books… Well, they’re questionable. There’s a lot of stuff which I know I’ve included which I know puts people off works, but those are essential for the stories to unfold properly. Call that idealism. Whatever. I’m not going to make things ultra-commercial merely to make money – yeah, I have integrity, don’t act all surprised and shit.

I’ll figure out the proper course of action eventually, even if I end up zigging when I should zag.

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On Design

Posted by BigWords on April 17, 2016

As I write this, the cold winds of winter still brushing against the land, the paperwork hasn’t all been signed and filed and the preparation of some basic material is still pending, but… I am really excited at the prospect of not having to rush things. Yes, there is a date picked for the launch of the madness train, but it is more of a celebration of publishing as a thing that exists rather than a point at which material must be produced by.

I’ve been poring over old titles to see why literature makes me so happy (I had fourteen books in the caravan, and all of them were read multiple times), and the realization that everything has a place in the grand order came to me. Like an insight which should have been obvious, but needed pushing towards in order to be uncovered.

It is simple to see, looking back, that the Penguin titles were the foundation of color as a brand. The use of bold color to indicate genre was not new to marketing, with the most visible use being vinyl records, but books feel different – less readily catalogued, more unwieldy. While a simple border color can hint at things being part of some larger scheme, it doesn’t readily follow that it would work for every title.

Indeed, it can harm future titles if a books performs remarkably badly, hinting that the rest of the works accompanying the title follows in the same direction. It also makes it difficult to see the movement in genre styles which come with the passing of time, putting older works and modern into a great stew which makes discerning patterns – ironically – more difficult.

Using specific fonts is another way in which a line can stand out, but this creates the same problems. Design? House designs tend to skew towards the old ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ mindset, and even though a great number of iconic, timeless titles originally appeared under basic covers, I am less than enthused about the use of strict house styles. Maybe it is a way of preparing books for the world which has had its moment

When the future chroniclers of the state of ebooks come to talk of design, what will be the consensus on design quality? Will there be gushing commentary regarding the chances taken, or will there be mockery. I am worried that we are all going to look like cavemen when historians living on the moon begin to disseminate their masterworks on literary history.

There is already a Tumblr about bad Kindle covers, and while I feel bad for those covered, it might be the impetus to shake up their process. Hell, it could drive people to pick up one of the books to see what the contents are like, but I might be wrong about that – if anyone has had a title mentioned there, they might want to mention how it affected their sales, if at all.

There are a few things which I look for when I am out at bookshops, but with the notion that everyone is different, please note: this is a personal observation. Woodcut prints stand out, block colors work if the story is easily conveyed, and painted covers can hit or miss depending on the artist used. Simple color schemes are dramatic in isolation, but among a variety of similar imagery gets lost easily.

And here’s something weird: In the last decade, but especially so in the last few years, the trend of using iconic schemes from other media seems to be picking up. Covers which mimic old computer game releases, or video cassettes, or even audio cassettes, are on a bit of a wave right now. I’m not sure if that is retro-love or laziness, but it amuses me to see throwaway culture being immortalized now.

Where are we going? Well, there are still plenty of uncharted atolls we can reach by getting an overall sense of the map. Which is a growing trend, apparently. Books about maps, that is. I’m not a great fan of the introspective titles using maps as metaphor, but straight-up map books? Hell yes. I may be in the minority when it comes to those, but they always seem so optimistic to me. Maps as a way of looking at the world.

I’m not sure where this post was heading.

I started with something about books being awesome, but got turned around.

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The Goodies

Posted by BigWords on April 14, 2016

I am working on getting a bunch of custom materials together for (technically) free use by any small or self-publisher. Fonts, backgrounds, illustrations – all the goodies that will enable some kick-ass covers. I’m getting tired of seeing the usual suspects (Impact, TNR, Arial, and all the rest) being used again and again on covers, often without an idea of what such typefaces might represent to the reader. The overabundance does not bode well for a title standing out, especially at smaller resolutions.

nu_gods

Nu Gods, whose title should come as no surprise to geeks. A heavily simplified Blackletter design, which takes a lot of cues from seventies and eighties science fiction lettering.

Part of putting together links, fonts and images in a communal pool is to see what people can do with the tools – a dozen people are going to come up with a dozen designs, even if the titles are remarkably similar in tone and audience. The idea of people pushing off against the ideas their contemporaries are providing, and stretching out in new and exciting ways. Like evolution, only not.

Ten Free Image Sites

Freeuse
ISO Republic
Gratisography
StockSnap
Unsplash
Pexels
Pic Jumbo
Pixbay
Pixabay
Wikimedia Commons

Check the licenses before using, and do what you can to support free image hosting.

Custom Logo Design

When I have things settled into a groove, there will be time to create cover logos for people who need them. I haven’t got it all worked out yet, but I am hoping that it can assist with under-perfomrming books. A great graphic can be enough to get someone to pick up a title they might otherwise overlook.

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And There’s More…

Posted by BigWords on April 12, 2016

The one thing I am missing more than anything is real-time interaction. These posts are going to be appearing, and I have no way of gauging the reaction to any of the surprises I am throwing out there. Viewing indie publishing as the seventh of the Big Six, which is not as revolutionary a notion as you might think, probably comes closest to a game-breaker, but I am already ahead of the curve in considering this.

There is a chance, for those reading yesterday’s post, that some people are already working out ways to game the system – to get links to their books with the least possible effort so they can get as much out of it as possible. Here’s where I step in with a little thing called Balancing (Wikia) – if you are considering what I have already put forth, I suggest learning about balancing and (please, I’m begging you) take into account the way it works.

Somewhere online there used to be a fantastic quote about balancing – I think it was about MechWarrior or a similar game. It basically laid out the fact that it was possible to have an immensely overpowered playable character while keeping the entire game from revolving around the acquisition of more firepower. You don’t have to understand any of that to get a good understanding though. I’ll break down the principle as it applies here.

Reciprocal links between titles are a bad thing. It shunts the reader back and forth between a tightly-centered community of writers, limiting the opportunity for a reader to discover new, exciting works, and isolates those outside of the community which is heavily promoting their material. It is, if you like, a part of the balancing process. Links are not something to be traded, but something to be offered (without the expectation of same) because a title is worth promoting.

And where, the cries undoubtedly come, do these links go? Ah, that’s the best part. After the text of course. You have the standard “other titles by this author” bit, where people who have enjoyed the title can go find more books, then you have “by this publisher” for titles that are from the same publisher. Right after these, there needs to be a “Recommended Reading” section, where the good stuff you love and want to highlight goes. This is the special little section which guaranteed you a place in the hearts and minds of authors and readers.

But wait – what if someone does all this, then starts acting like a dick? There’s a solution for every problem, and this one is especially simple. You don’t simply start removing links to an author who is using fake reviews, or slamming others on their blog, or… Whatever the flavor of the day for bad behavior is. We need to cultivate the respect of our audiences, and that comes with a cost. The cost, in this case, isn’t financial. We need patience with those who are, perhaps, a little looser in their concept of respect and wisdom.

We need a naughty step.

A reference, I am certain, which needs no explaining to a large number of people reading this. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is a “time out” for people behaving badly.

Which brings us to another problem – who determines what is bad behavior? I, certainly, have neither the time nor the patience to go through thousands of authors’ blogs and websites to vet the ideas which might be considered inappropriate, and I wouldn’t want to even if I had the time. That ain’t my job. It’s something the writing community needs to have a long discussion about.

Okay, so that’s two serious posts in a row.

For the moment, while this is still something on paper rather than an all-out attack on the stability of the overwhelming forces at play in publishing, lets decompress – here are three cool things everyone can undertake in the next week.

  1. A Recommended Reading page on your blog or website, highlighting at least ten indie books you feel deserve wider recognition. Leave links in the comments – when I get back online I’ll okay any which have been held up in the spam filter.
  2. Reach out to your fellow authors and talk. No ‘buy my book’ nonsense – just normal interaction. I know you can all do this, because I was reading your blogs before my ‘vacation.’
  3. Start writing up your lists of books for the back matter of your forthcoming books. As you go forward you should hopefully see how this brings readers to minor works, and as it costs nothing to do it ain’t exactly a stress factor on your schedule.

Tomorrow I promise there will be less serious, though none the less interesting, thoughts on something which has been bothering me since I caught up on happenings in the world.

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Books – Something – Profit!

Posted by BigWords on April 11, 2016

An obvious question people are likely asking:

How do you know that what you are doing is different to everyone else?

Which is extremely easy – and yet tiresome – to answer. There’s thousands of indie publishers when you take into account the self-published and the niche publishers, but none (so far) have been set up in a way which embraces the promotion of books irrespective of the publisher. The main goal of That Which Will Be is to celebrate the rich diversity of books currently available.

The ways a person can promote a book on their own is going to be limited by a number of factors:

  • A knowledge of blogs/websites which review books.
  • Ability to present ideas in concise and clear text.
  • Ability to parse the subtleties of a forum or chat-room.
  • Access to websites which require paid access.
  • Access to websites which restrict membership.
  • Ability to network outside key areas of interest.

There are a bunch of other things which come into play, especially when you take into account foreign languages, paywalls, regular internet access, health, income and so on. As a catch-all for the big problems, we can see straight-off that some of the problems which restrict the dissemination of information about a title might be self-inflicted (however involuntarily), so by acting as a promoter I can try and get eyes on titles without authors pissing off people who don’t want to be given the hard-sell.

I’ll admit that there’s a lot of work involved in this aspect of things, and it is early days as far as the requirements go. I have small chunks of the overall layout and reach calculated, along with an estimate of how much work it is going to take. It turns out, amazingly, that the numbers aren’t so bad. In fact, it makes more sense to heavily promote my “competition” than it does attempting to maintain an increasingly irrelevant isolationist ideology.

That’s one aspect that I have been providing people with when asked about why they should join in this little adventure. What I haven’t explained is the extent of the advertising. See, there is only so much that a single website or blog can do, and that – in a nutshell – is the notion which is going to shake things up. This isn’t just a business plan, but a philosophy which is for the benefit of writers, readers and small publishers.

But… It isn’t entirely about that.

Whenever there’s a new idea, it needs time to settle in to a form – the standardized  version which has been tested and stressed, which has had the rough edges sanded off for a better user experience. I have a fairly solid grasp on how to roll out the wider application of the concept, and ways to prevent the blatant abuse of same. As I have pointed out – plenty of time to figure things out and examine the repercussions.

There is one thing which has remained constant. Throughout the process of putting writers, designers, programmers, musicians, and other talented people together, there has been a focus on shared benefits. See, it never made sense to my why people disliked the notion of having books adapted into games (Dune, especially, comes in for a degree of criticism in certain circles), or having albums written about characters, or other possibly interesting avenues.

Part of the reason I am offline is this – because the idea will draw out the freakshow crowd who are going to attack everything, and because I don’t want to draw the same freakshows to any of the places I hang out. There is enough to deal with at the moment without having to sort through all the additional crap which can be so easily avoided simply by refusing to make myself a target.

And there’s an addendum to the notion of everyone grouping together. See, I’m drip-feeding you the information for a reason… Should I go all-out and fill in details, the folks who see change – any change – as a threat, and who go out of their way to maintain a status quo… Those people are gonna go batshit. The implications have probably already hit them. As these words sink in, the realization of what I am promoting is likely forming in the brains of everyone else.

The sliding scale.
I want you to consider it.

How many indie titles are out there? Each blog and website deep into promoting works which profit them. Think about the individual push each title gets, and imagine if – even for a moment – the collective might of the self-publishing community working together on a single title… Everyone throwing their weight behind a title in the knowledge that their turn will come and the internet will fill with ads for their novels.

I told you my ideas were scary.

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Sneak Peek

Posted by BigWords on April 10, 2016

Thought that I would share a little something to whet the appetite of those thinking this would be three weeks of me complaining. Nope – building towards…

sneak_peek Title: Terror on the Peak
Author: William Chassin
June 17, 2016.
eBook, 70,000 words.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all the information I can hand out at the moment as there is a lot to be finalized. The back matter is a tug of war, which I think I am winning…

Billy claims it is a thriller, I thought it was a straight-up horror, and others have claimed it was psychological drama.

And that might not be the cover it runs under, as I have a massive problem with the washed-out look.

My own title – Red Somethingorother – is set for the beginning of June, but I might push it back to coincide with another title which has been gaining traction with a couple of people who have good taste. Not that I have terrible taste, but I don’t follow the latest fashions with anything more than mild disinterest.

Being in charge of certain things comes with a cost. I gotta be on the ball when it comes to much of the mundane things. And, as you will notice from the image and information provided, there are still secrets I have to keep – some of which are being held back on the request of others.

Come back tomorrow to find out that there are more important things than titles.

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