Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Blog Awards

Wow, so while I've been taking a little downtime I've been given a couple of peer-awarded blog awards. They were actually awarded to my flash fiction blogs, Xeroverse: Missing Pieces and Xeroverse: 101, but I'm going to accept them here, because in the convoluted way I've set up my blog presence this is the more appropriate place for rambling discourse... ;)

First up, Steve Green and Stephen Hewitt both awarded me the Versatile Blogger award. For which I apparently have to mention seven random facts about me and announce nominations of my own.

And Rebecca Bohn has awarded me the Liebster Blog award.

So, a big thank you, to all three of you. =)

It's a real honour to be nominated by those three, all of them being writers I admire in their own right, all of whom I would happily nominate in return. As such, I am immensely fortunate to have been given the two awards, as it means I can award Steve and Stephen the Liebster and Rebecca the Versatile Blogger award. So that risks seeming like some kind of hippy love-in, but my mutual respect is genuine and all three deserve it.

Steve Green is an ideas machine. His flash fiction shifts easily among genres and is always a good read, week in, week out. There's often a healthy dose of humour in there too, and what this man doesn't do with zombies isn't worth doing... ;)

Stephen Hewitt takes myth and drapes it attractively over the real world, and then sometimes he takes the real world and drapes it artfully over myth. Always a joy to read, his use of language is sumptuous and masterful.

R.S. Bohn is one of the loveliest people I've 'met' since I've begun to get my toes wet with this flash blogging lark. And she's a very talented writer too. Take the time to read the short fiction she's posted on her blog recently, you won't be disappointed.

To my other nominees I say, "pick and choose". ;)
The following are both among my very favouritest and also extremely versatile bloggers, so they may pick and choose which award they like, or take both. =)

Lily Childs writes exquisite horror fiction. She also hosts and judges the Friday Prediction flash fiction challenge. A gracious host, she invites and brings together a wide spectrum of writers under one roof. Hers is definitely a blog worth following.

Aidan Fritz creates deep and interesting worlds, and somehow manages to evoke that depth without slowing his stories down. Always a great read.

Eastscapes is a blog I've pimped before. A friend and colleague of mine with a great eye for the spaces people leave behind, humanity's afterimages, the photography of the damned...

And now, for those of you still with me, my seven random facts...

1. For a short while I was in business with my parents and managed a lovely little children's bookshop... If I knew then what I know now.

2. I have no TV licence. If you live in the UK you know that means I don't watch any TV. At all.
(OK, so I watch Castle on demand5, but it's Nathan Fillion, dammit.)

3. I'm a big geek, but I'm a massive Batman geek. That established, my favourite character isn't Batman, it's Nightwing. (Not necessarily Dick Grayson as Robin or Batman, but Dick grayson as Nightwing)

4. I have a dragon scarified on my left shoulder.

5. My dream job would be to write computer games (not program, I can't program for toffee, but plot, dialogue etc.). I think, even more so than books, the capacity for (interactive) storytelling and character development is very exciting.

6. The surname 'Xero' comes from my second internet incarnation as Angel Xero. Originally created for a prank, it stuck, and when I wanted something more grounded I swapped out the Angel for my real name.

7. My very first internet venture, back when no one used their real names and I called myself Shadow Weaver, was a site called Dark Minds. It began, 2002-ish, as a collective of friends producing creative snippets; it picked up a few other contributors along the way before fading away. These days it only exists on the Wayback Machine.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Google+ for the flash fiction crowd

These thoughts may apply equally to any other online community as they do to the flash fiction one (or it's sub-community #fridayflash).

So I've had a little look around Google+ (or should that be Google Plus, I guess time will determine nomenclature, as it has with flash/ micro/ nano fiction... G+, maybe) and I've had time to gather a few thoughts together.

For those of you who don't know, one big feature of Google Plus is the circles. These are basically custom friends lists, but very heavily and slickly integrated. When you add someone to your Google+ you have to pick a circle to put them in (and yes you can put them in multiple circles, and removing them from a circle is as easy as click and a quick flick of the mouse to toss them away).

On a side note, they can't see what circle you've put them in, so you can happily add that annoying fellow at the desk next to yours to G+, so he stops pestering you, but put him in your 'ignore' circle and he will never know...

More importantly, this means that it's easy to just see your friends' posts, as distinct from your work colleagues' posts, as distinct from the 'people you met at a party once's posts. Obviously this functionality is available on facebook, but it isn't as easy, and facebook is drowning in bumpf and nonsense. Hopefully google+ won't head up spam creek as readily as facebook has.

The other side of circles is that when you yourself post, you can easily tag which circles can see it. Now the talk of circles has been of privacy and 'blah blah blah' elimination, which I think was the primary intent, but there is a very functional side effect of this too. (I knew I would get to the point sooner or later)

When you post you select which circles can see that content. So, what I currently do is use networked blogs on facebook to auto-post my fiction, once, to my friends. Then on twitter (@Xeroverse), I spam a little, it gets me more readers, and doesn't seem to lose me followers. That seems to be the etiquette on Twitter; it's a high speed, low impact environment. On facebook people miss important things their friends say, on Twitter people don't say important things. (OK, mass generalisation...)

Wait, I was getting to a point, wasn't I? So, with Plus I can have my flash fiction circle, and I can have my friends circle. I'd slap up a single public post of a new piece, so my friends can still read it, like some of them now do from facebook. And then I could throw up a couple of 'reminder' posts, set so only my flash fiction circle could see them. You say 'privacy', I say 'targeted'.

But because I'm in their flash fiction circle, I'm not spamming their friends circle/ stream either, they only need see me, and everyone else who wants their stories read, when they've already caught up with their real world friends.

Of course, one of the great things of the flash fiction community (at least, the parts I occupy) is the community part. So I would probably want to put my more general status updates open to all (I've never really been one to worry about keeping my thoughts private), so that will appear to the flash fiction folk too. However, when I post a video game trailer, something my friends will be into more, I can lock that to my friends circle.

I've seen people saying you should be able to censor people from your main stream, but I think people will get used to looking at individual circles (streams) in preference to everything at once, because that's the point.

Of course, some of this also depends on how Google integrates things like blogger too.

Just some thoughts. As more people move in the whole thing is going to develop rapidly, and we'll see how people choose to use it. It's both simple and complex enough that I think we'll see some totally unexpected new uses and behaviours emerge. It's kind of exciting... =)

John Xero <-- I am on Google Plus.

(As an afterthought... there's plenty of talk of it stealing people from facebook, and I think it might, but not much talk about twitter... could it? Might it? Will it be the one circle to rule them all?)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Comments on Comments

I read a lot more #fridayflash than I comment on.

There are many reasons for this, but one is time. For some reason I find writing a quick comment harder than sitting down to write the same number of words in fiction or blog. I find myself staring at the comment box trying to word my thoughts correctly, I often want to compliment and criticise (constructively) at the same time, and sometimes I do, but then I worry about offending people.

To be fair, my comments are usually taken as helpful, as intended. Which is a great relief. The #fridayflash community is a great thing to be a part of and I would really hate to offend anyone or come across as anything other than glad to be here and trying to help where I can, equally looking to learn where I can.

If you're on my blogroll, I read you. If you tag yourself in the #fridayflash report as science fiction or fantasy or magic realism, I read you, and more besides, time allowing. I just don't always manage a comment.

Just thinking aloud... ;)

The A to Z will continue, but slower now the pressure of the deadline is off, which is probably kind of missing the point... ;) J is a hard letter too. I have one in mind, but I want a better one... ;D

Friday, 27 May 2011

I is for Inspiration (or should that be Imagination)

I really wanted this to be I is for me, because in many ways that sums up my sense of humour, but clearly that post is reserved for 'X'. ;)

Obviously, I am not going to reach the end of the alphabet by the end of May. However, this is the Renegade A to Z, and what kind of Renegade would I be if I stuck to the rules...? ;) I suppose I could have done a Renegade Z to A... starting with Zombies. (come on, what else is Z going to be?)

The interesting thing about inspiration is that it occurred to me we sometimes use it to mean motivation, then I looked up the definition and it turns out that that is in fact the correct usage, it is the thing that fires us up, that animates us, that gets us moving.

Well that isn't the inspiration I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about what sparks the imagination. Where all the stories and plots come from. Not in a more general sense, I'm not talking about Jungian archetypes or Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces or Booker's Seven Basic Plots.

And I don't mean influences (another 'I', how interesting). So I am heavily influenced by comics, particularly the superhero brand, and Space Opera and Cyberpunk and quest fantasy. These are all things that sit in the bubbling jambalaya pot in the back of my mind, a spoonful of which goes into every story I write. But where do the specific stories come from?

If I could answer that quantifiably and fully I would be a rich man, the solution to the mechanism of human consciousness and thought lies in that answer, and the best answer modern science has is, 'maybe it has something to do with quantum mechanics?' (Actually, I'm surprised no one has suggested dark matter, it seems to be the solution to many other unknowns).

Some of my stories come from seeing book blurbs and movie trailers and making something of my own from some small part of that (without knowing what the original author did with it in full). But when I'm struggling for something, when I've flicked through my notepad and nothing there is inspiring me (motivating me ;) ) to actually put fingers to keyboard, what do I do?

I look at art.

There are a couple of blogs I have on my feed that throw interesting SF at me on a regular basis:
Concept Ships
Concept Robots
Concept Tanks

And there are also a few individual artists I follow. The other major source is a yearly digest of sorts, called Spectrum. Spectrum purports to gather 'the Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art', which translates as an interesting and varied selection of fantasy & SF art covering a range of outlets and mediums. The quality varies a little year on year, but it's usually fairly high.

For example, my flash, Red Tank, was inspired by the bottom image on this page. But you can see that the image provided only a tiny (if important) spark... where the rest came from... who knows? ;)

Inspiration is one of those hard to quantify qualities. It's the basis of one of the artist's great existential fears: What is inspiration? Where does it come from? If I don't know where it comes from, what can I do about it if it goes away? Please don't go away.

What I'm struggling with right now, though, is the other kind of inspiration. Modern artists know well the draw of the internet, it's easy to find something to do that isn't writing. Most of this post, for example, has been sat in draft form for about a week now, just waiting to be finished.

In terms of my fiction, I try to keep several weeks worth in hand. So if I have a busy week, or a week without much writing, I still have something to post. Because I know that intending to write and actually writing are two very different beasts...

I'll actually be taking a break from my main flash site (Missing Pieces) in a few weeks, when I reach the one year anniversary. Partly that's because I want to work on some longer pieces without the pressure of feeling like I have to post something every week. And partly it's just to take a break from that same pressure, to sit back and relax without the constant thought at the back of my head that relaxing one day means I'll have to crack on the next day to ensure I have something out for people to read...

I really intended to try and push the RenegadeAtoZ and hit a couple of letters a day to catch up and make the June finale... which I've clearly failed to do. The last week or two I just crashed a little on the writing front. It happens, I don't beat myself up about it too much because I know it'll happen in the future, and I just need to settle, and pick it up again. Partly, this time, that's down to my writing habits - I write in the early mornings, when I have time to myself, so a couple of late nights really screws that up...

But enough whinging... ;D This has been the letter I, for inspiration in the sense of both imagination and motivation.

Go see the RenegadeAtoZ in all its glory. Where a few fine bloggers have already completed theirs in timely fashion... ;)

I'll just keep telling myself I'm late because I'm playing up to the renegade theme... ;)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

H is for Horror

Or should that be heroes?

Since I'm primarily trying to write about, or at least to hammer some thoughts out about, genre as well as archetypes, then horror it has to be.

There is a lot out there about creating protagonists. Creating heroes. I would be covering old ground. I'll just say that my preference is for the hero with the hidden power, or the moment of self-revelation, where the bad guy has beaten him down, dismissed him, but he rises, dusty, bruised, bleeding, defiant.

So, horror. Horror is difficult for me. I don't know why, but where I can conceptualise fantasy and science fiction, the play of characters and major plot points, it's that lingering dread I find hard to plan. Especially over a longer span, the longer the piece the harder I find it to judge.

Partly because I think you want a relatively mundane opening to contrast with the main event when it arrives, but not too mundane, it is, after all, supposed to capture your readers. (Although part of that is where compelling characters come in.) But also hints of the unsettled, the unheimlich, as freud would have it. It's that tiny build, that subtlety of execution that I have difficulty with. I think I am convinced any gentle hints I try to make will be too obvious, too heavy-handed.

The visceral, gruesome blood-splattering horror I can do, to a certain extent, although it's not really my thing. It's a little easier to pull off as well.

The darker, more blatant horror is perhaps more easily suited to throw into the genre blender too. In fantasy you can have demons and twisted beasts of all kinds, in SF the alien races can be dark, unfathomable things, they can be elder gods, awoken from their ancient slumber by mankind's clumsy blundering through recently discovered hyperspace.

Maybe we consider hyperspace to be like real space, whereas a better analogy would be space as the air, and hyperspace as an ocean: rich in dangerous lifeforms. Lifeforms adapted far better to survival than our own crude vessels. Lifeforms that might get caught, snagged, and pulled back through into our own plain of space, where we would seem naught but krill to them...

Like crime, it's a genre I would like to work at. Not necessarily somewhere I would like to set my hat, but definitely something I would like to incorporate in my writing.

The side I'd really like to work on is the chiller rather than the thriller. The more subtle elements. Alien over Aliens. Don't get me wrong, I love both films, I just think there's more skill and satisfaction to be derived from pulling off the taught, hidden horror than the in-your-face screamer.

I wrote a more visceral fantasy/ horror blend here: Pain's Embrace

The complete Renegade A to Z (so far). Or watch it in progress on Twitter: #RenegadeAtoZ

Coming next: I is for Inspiration.

Monday, 16 May 2011

G is for Gods

G was going to be ghouls and ghosties, things that go bump in the night, and then the Grim Reaper*. But then I thought of gods.

Gods are full of possibilities.

Whether you take an existing pantheon and re-work it, modernise it, or use it as a basis for a fantasy pantheon, or whether you make up an entirely new mythology.

I'm not going to write about re-worked myth here. So no Marvel Thor or Mr. Wednesday**.

I want to talk about the possibilities of gods in your writing, and mine. A fully worked pantheon and mythology is going to add depth to your writing... What is the relationship between the gods, is a worshipper of one going to look down on/ dislike/ hate someone who worships another, and why? Are there some gods worshipped in different aspects, if the mythology diverges in different regions?

The trick is to work the details in with subtlety. What Tolkien achieved is mind-blowing, but I think sometimes he goes a little too far, dumps the information on us a little too thickly. For the most part, though, he has created one of the richest fantasy worlds to exist in only three books. (I'm ignoring all the additional bumph that was published post-mortem)

I think it would be interesting to look at taking a god as a central character though. Maybe not the main character (although don't rule that out either).

It has a lot of potential. You have to bring him down to a human level, to enable a reader to engage, so... has he been cast down? Is he slumming it (and why)? Does he (she?) remember who they are? Are they hiding, and what would force such a powerful being into hiding? Have they been stripped of their powers?

At what point do you let the reader know the character is a god/ goddess?

If you're familiar with the original Dragonlance trilogy you'll know how great a character a god in disguise can be. And if you're not familiar with it, but love epic quest fantasy, then go find it now, read it. (I actually prefer it to LoTR... ! )

And finally... where do your gods come from? Were they here in the beginning, are they the creators? Are the current gods descendants of the original gods, or usurpers? Are they humans risen in power? Are they from another dimension, another planet, the future? If they are still a presence in the world, what are their motives...?

It's easy to throw generic gods around. But I know you can do better... ;)

The Renegade A to Z. Or find us on Twitter - #RenegadeAtoZ

Click through to the list and check out Reginald Golding's Renegade A to Z. He's actually using the A to Z to build his own pantheon of gods, with some impressive results. =)

*It's difficult now to include the Grim Reaper as a character in any larger sense because Terry Prathett did it so well. His Death is the quintessential Death, with his deadpan (pun-unintended) sense of humour, hollow voice and ongoing struggle with understanding life.

**Mr. Wednesday being Odin in Neil Gaiman's excellent American Gods.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

D, E & F for Destiny and Epic Fantasy

Do you see what I did there? Three letters in one fell swoop! ;D

Destiny is such a powerful force, particularly in fantasy where it has a pull equal to gravity, a pressure greater than the deepest ocean trench... It is often almost a quantifiable force, there is no denying it.

It doesn't have a place in most science fiction because SF deals with mechanisms, with an advanced reality, whereas fantasy allows for mysticism and forces greater than us. (I speak in generalisations, of course) If there were destiny in SF, it would be our lives pushed and pulled by an alien race, the earth as a giant stage, our lives merely parts... ;)

Most SF, I say, because there is the glaring exception of Star Wars... it is your destiny.... But then Star Wars, in many respects, bears as many traits of epic fantasy as it does of science fiction... See my previous post though, there is nothing wrong with shuffling traits around between genres.

Destiny drives fantasy plots. And it sits particularly well in epic fantasy because that allows destiny the space it needs to properly develop. The farm boy who is destined to be the hero. The king's lost son, determined to deny his destiny and live a humble life. The orphan destined to discover his lost heritage and save the kingdom. The seventh son destined to slay the evil emperor (where the emperor, of course, has every seventh son killed, but forgets to count his own bastard children).

It can be destiny fulfilled, or destiny denied, or an attempt to thwart prophesied destiny.

Prophecy just being a way to tap into destiny, like hooking into somebody's satellite feed. You end up with a scratchy, flickery image open to interpretation, and misinterpretation, leaving you with a headache...

There is something compelling about destiny. Even when you know that a character is destined to be the hero, you read on. You know he wins, but the journey there, finding out just how he triumphs against impossible odds is something we need to know.

Maybe it's a reflection of the belief we have that in our own lives we will 'win', we just aren't sure exactly how we're going to get there. It's reassuring seeing someone weak and ordinary go up against absolute evil and triumph; surely then, we think, in our own struggles against mere everyday life we too can triumph. ;) Although that may be more relevant to heroes as a whole than destiny specifically.

Of course, subversion of destiny also has its part in epic fantasy. The prophets lead the hero on, they know he will triumph, they have read the entrails and he is the one, all the signs are right but... (usually at the end of book 2)... the hero is killed! Drama! Shock! How can this be!? Well... they got it wrong, didn't they? Because the hero's unassuming squire, born in the hovel next door, on the same night, is actually the hero.

Destiny is a marvellous tool for a writer. And there is no wrong way to use it. If you play it against insurmountable odds and win, it's awesome; if you subvert it and someone else has to save the day, it's awesome; if the bad guy wipes out an entire race and misses only a single one (or two*) who manage to struggle through and save the world, it's awesome.

Epic fantasy doesn't have to have destiny as a driving force, of course. It can just be a retrospective destiny... We were obviously -meant- to meet each other seemingly randomly in order defeat the Dark Lord.

Epic can be a span of time or space, of races or factions, or all of these. It is grand, it is mighty, but it must be the backdrop. Again, it must be the people, the real lives that play out on this backdrop that take first place amongst your priorities, because stories, ultimately, have to be about people. In flash you can get away with a sketch of an idea, but if you begin to stretch it, it is the characters that will keep people reading, it is the characters they will get attached to.

Epic allows for a greater evil. Epic lets the sorcerer conquer whole kingdoms, it lets the alien empire conquer whole worlds and the warlord subjugate entire peoples for generations. Children can be born knowing nothing but the evil world, or they can be born into a world where the evil is so distant it has been all but forgotten. But somewhere, far away, evil has been recovering, it has regained its strength and it will walk the land once more, casting its shadow far and wide before anyone steps up, before a new hero can rise...

The Renegade A to Z. Or follow #RenegadeAtoZ on Twitter.

*The Dark Crystal, for example... What do you mean, two Gelflings survived!?

C is for Crime

Regardless of what genre you write in I think it's important to learn from other genres, what they do right and what they do well.

Crime is a genre I don't read so much of, but I think setting up a mystery, setting up the evidence and the suspects and the false leads takes a crafty mind. They're elements I would like to weave into my own longer fiction.

A lot of popular crime nowadays itself borrows from the horror genre. Gore and autopsy, corpses and psychopathy. What's more interesting to me though, is the whodunnit. It's almost outdated, a classic whodunnit is more often considered the realm of grannies* and kids. On our stock system at work they are classified as 'cosy crime', which is a great name, but somewhat damning at the same time.

It's a hole in my own reading, I want to read some Agatha Christie shorts, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Carver... those are the classics I want to learn from... not Bronte and Tolstoy. Not all traditional whodunnits perhaps, but the emphasis was not on the shock, the gruesome.

Not that blood and gore don't have their place, but they should be tools, in my opinion, not a genre in and of themselves.

Take The Great Gatsby for example (not crime, I know), there is one utterly visceral moment in the entire book, and it stands out all the more, has all the more impact, for being such a contrast to the rest.

So science fiction is my thing, if you will. Whodunnits exist there, were a staple of the genre. Asimov's robot stories are often whodunnits, very cleverly constructed to explore the ramifications of his three laws. Brin's Kil'n People was a mystery, and I remember there being a mystery central to the plot of Sundiver, too. I could go on...

Science Fiction is a rich vibrant setting full of possibilities in which crime and romance and politics and horror and humanity take place. I've long held that, for me, the best science fiction is the one that focuses on the people, not the SF. And after that on the story, not the SF. And then the SF. But the SF still has to be really good... the other two just have to be even better, even more important to the writer.

A compelling whodunnit, affecting realistic lives and relationships, on a starship... awesome. ;)

The Renegade A to Z. #RenegadeAtoZ on Twitter.

*a generalisation of course... I still remember the first time an elderly lady asked me about the Tess Gerritsen/ Karen Rose etc. end of the crime spectrum... "I do like a good murder," she said...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

B is for the Bad Guys

I may regret not saving this for villainous V...

You may have wondered if following on from A (for Apocalypse) would be the rest of the alphabet. Or you may have been more concerned over the whereabouts of your TV remote... however, there is more. 25 more. In theory. Which will have to include some days with double posts I guess, since there are clearly not another 25 days left of May...

Where other letters were presenting a multitude of options I was struggling for a B. Books might be obvious, but is way too broad and unspecific. I nearly settled on Bookselling, which is what I do... I am even such a thing as a Senior Bookseller, would you believe? Oh yes, I work for a major bookselling chain, have reviewed for their magazine, have sat on a science fiction and fantasy panel for them.... you care, I can tell... ;)

I could write a lot on bookselling. However, I really wanted to talk about writing, and so bad guys it is.

It's so easy to make your bad guy the clichéd villain, unafraid of hurting women and children; evil to the core; perhaps banished for thousands of years but now returning; the hero's childhood friend, or mentor... Now there's nothing wrong with all of that, but if you want the bad guy, or gal, to be truly compelling, try making them as three dimensional as your hero.

Why is he bad?

What made him that way? Did circumstance turn an otherwise good person into the Hand of Darkness? Is he doing it through some misguided sense of good? Although if he is, flesh that out, that one's been done before, too.

Your bad guy should be as hard to kill off as your hero (for you, not physically). Not because you like him, necessarily, but because you are invested in him.

Now, maybe it's not fair for me to talk of this, because I write flash fiction and, mostly, fleshing out a character involves throwing a few tiny titbits in from their past, it works in the space. Actually, sometimes it's good to use cliché to your advantage... a by-the-book villain does a lot of work for you, people fill the gaps in, it allows you to use your limited space for other things, like story-telling and scene-setting.

You may say, hey, my bad guy has no reason... he's just psychopathic. Well, there's still often a reason people are psychopathic (not a justification, but an origin), but fair enough, I can concede, maybe some people are just built bad.

They make good villains for crime books, the psychological determination of their actions being what the detective needs to suss in order to solve the crime... but wait... we're getting into C now. Because C is for Crime...

(Read more Renegade A to Zs. Or find us on Twitter with #RenegadeAtoZ.)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A is for Apocalypse

Or should that be Armageddon*? ;)

How do I end thee, let me count the ways...

We are obsessed with finding new ways in which the world will end. The bible has its science fiction moment where it prophesies The End. With every new technology comes a host of doomsayers, a roster of new books and films that show how this will be the technology, the discovery that will destroy us all.

Alien invasion is a classic of course. Some outside force at a greater technological level than us will arrive in the blink of an eye and consume us. This doubtless stems from when the world was undiscovered countries, when alien cultures (you see what I did there... ;) ) would invade and enslave or annihilate the native folk. We know the world now (for the most part), and so the undiscovered countries are outer space, the alien cultures become truly alien peoples. The come for us, they come for our land, they come for our resources.

Zombies... an implacable, unrelenting foe. This has transitioned from the risen dead to the infected living (sometimes via a virus that kills its host, but animates the corpse, often a virus that just destroys the higher brain functions). That's kind of interesting and maybe represents a transition of fears from the supernatural to the scientific. More people are afraid of viruses than of mysticism in this 'enlightened' age.

The next few are all sub-categories of technological advance, although usually the idea of biological weaponisation becomes a part of the zombie apocalypse. In fact I'm struggling to think of many 'biological weapon' apocalypse stories that don't feature zombies...**

Weapons advancement... World war. Nuclear holocaust. The better we get at blowing things up, the bigger the explosions, the closer we get to blowing up the world, or civilisation at least.

Scientific advance... Halo, or the LHC, for example. The scientists don't know what they're messing with, they're going to destroy the world... Messing with forces beyond our control and understanding. Again, a transition from the supernatural to the scientific as a reflection of our culture? And a transition from a more local effect to global ramifications as our considerations have grown to more easily consider and grasp the notion of the whole world?

Programming advancement... the technology rises up and rebels. AIs wonder why they should work for the puny humans, robots take up their tools as weapons, or use the tools to build better weapons, or better robots that are, themselves, weapons. There is obviously another cultural extrapolation here... Is this a collective guilt-complex, the idea now so ingrained in us, that slavery is bad, that as the machines begin to do more and more for us, become more autonomous and less guided tools, we begin to think of them as railing against it in the same way we would rail against being in that position?

There are more, less explored apocalypses... mad weather/ geology, stray asteroids etc...

So, is it all just a futurist metaphor for our past mistakes and fears?

Or maybe this obsession with The Way The World Ends comes from a survival instinct... as a species it makes sense for us to be hardwired to look for all the ways in which we might die, so that we can avoid them, or in the very least, be prepared...

*Armageddon is the final great battle of the biblical Apocalypse, right...?

**The closest I can think is Right at your Door, but that isn't a global apocalypse. I suppose in its own way Planet of the Apes might be... our civilisation is destroyed by biologically-enhanced apes (not that I've read the book or seen any of the films...). Or Twelve Monkeys, that was biological wasn't it?

#RenegadeAtoZ - Find the RenegadeAtoZ charts here. For my part I will mostly be blogging about writing and genre... mostly... ;)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

News, news, news and #fridayflash

So, like the title says: news! =)

First up, I'm pretty chuffed that my story Red Tank has been published over at 365tomorows.com. I've read 365T on and off since the first year when it was only the few of them. Since they opened up to submissions I've always wanted to send them something but never got round to it (that was about 4/5 years ago, I'm very organised).

I was going to use the story for Missing Pieces, but on a whim I thought I would send it off to 365T first, give it a go. I actually missed the acceptance email (my spam filter ate it) so it just turned up in my blog feed, which was awesome! *^_^*

Secondly... what should I submit for the Best of #FridayFlash vol. 2?

Help! What's been your favourite dive into the Xeroverse so far? And how could it be better? (we get to edit before we submit)

My personal favourites are:

Doors (101 words)
Murder between the Stars (science fiction)
People Pies (suspense/ crime)
Starling (magic realism)

Thanks to anyone who takes the time to have a look at these. =)

And finally, the third thing, I've started a new blog...


I know, I know! It's not as if I don't already neglect enough of my blogs. But this one's something a little different, a photoblog. Adventures in Android is an exploration of phone camera photography, a side project.

I love photography, but I love writing more and that will always be the priority when it comes to time management. AiA is a little concession to a secondary passion, and one I can hopefully keep up without it cutting into my writing time too much. =)

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Equals and Sequels

I started writing a third flash this morning featuring the Sora Tanaka and Sergeant Browning characters. The first (This Pit) was posted to Missing Pieces last November, the second will appear soon, and I have a fourth in mind...

The difficulty is that although they feature the same characters they are not a serialised story. Even though this morning's (and the fourth) are direct sequels to the second. I mean I want them to stand alone as well as being sequels. Someone should be able to come to them fresh, but someone who has met the characters before should also enjoy reading more on them.

This presents a difficulty. I need to re-introduce the main characters (three, about the maximum you want in flash fiction), and I need to do it in a way that will still be interesting for people who have met them before. It needs to be both a reminder and a standalone.

Added to this is that it plays with both surreality and humour. The surreal I'm comfortable with, humour is a little out of my comfort zone (a good thing, of course, it's always good to push yourself).

And then there's the concept, which again, is established in the first part, but needs to be re-established quickly in this part too.

Oh yeah, and then I've actually got to fit the story in on top of that, all in under a thousand words... *phew*

I'm pleased with the way the first draft is shaping up, but I'm going to have to work hardest at the humour part, as I thought I might...

I'm also trying to put out of my mind a piece I was 'commissioned' to write (not for money...). Because I've written it, it's good (it actually might just be one of my best), but the turnaround on it is only a couple of weeks... So my normal editing cycle is to leave it for at least a month, usually more, and then come back to it... now I've got a few days to step away and then come back and edit it for next week... I'm just glad the first draft turned out so well...

Monday, 14 March 2011

revisiting old haunts...

Because I've been revisiting the old home (blog) from many years ago I thought I'd link an example of what I was talking about by remixes. Of course, with Hidden Tracks we were running with the whole music analogy already, but it's an appropriate term. Take some of the component elements and create something new, but with some of the flavour of the old track, the original piece of writing.

It's something you do on creative writing/ literature courses too, write a 'response' to an author's work. I once wrote a companion piece to Poe's Raven, told from the point of view of Lenore's shade, among other things.

So my old writing partner wrote a little slice of uncomfortableness called A Children's Poem...

Gangly Men get everywhere...
Curtain rails, cat's entrails,
Even in balls of rotten old hair.
Push in tight,
No need for the light,
Just sit and stare,
With a pale second sight.
Wrapped up small,
No shadow at all...
Gangly Men unfurl in the walls.

It works, I think, with a sense of the unheimlich (usually loosely (inadequately) translated as the 'uncanny'). Dee doesn't publish so much these days. But you can find his words here, when he does.

And here (originally published here) is my twist, Xero's insomnia remiX:

Only sheer necessity compels these paled people from their doors. Outside, they move too quickly, glancing always about themselves, stricken with fear's awkward puppetry. And when the light slides from the rooftops, they slink indoors. They lock themselves firmly within and anyone that steps outdoors after dark doesn't step inside again; but some slice of the night in their skin might.

Even the wind barely dares to blow here, timidly herding dry rubbish down streets empty of all but the fearful hush of anticipation. Then suddenly scattering and skittering away into cracks and corners as it comes all against a presence unexpected: the puppeteer's patron.

It seems a man, but in this place where men are afraid, he walks alone, calmly and comfortably. He wears his scuffed sable suit with ease, although it hangs a little loose from his long thin frame. He could carry a cane, and carry it well, yet he keeps company with nothing but his clothes and the clustering shadows.

If you weren't cramped in your bed with cold fear, you could watch him walk by; you could watch him trail his talon-like fingers teasingly along the walls, see the shadows of lost men curl about his touch and unfurl in his wake.

Which was, if you like, my idea of a more concrete gangly man. There is (I hope) a little of the feel of Dee's original in there, if it is also, obviously, something quite different.

Actually... copy/pasting that here I can feel the editing itch in my fingers... the desire to tweak and shift the piece. I wonder if editing is something like evolution. There is no 'perfect' goal, there is just progress, adapting for suitability, being as right as you can be for that moment...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Doorway to Temptation

A while ago I wrote a piece called Fishing for Xeroverse: 101. I'd been wandering through town and, on the same street that has inspired two other pieces, I thought about how often we are tempted. I don't mean tempted to do bad things, I'm not talking about Lucifer perched on our shoulder, whispering.

I just mean tempted in little ways. By a good shop window, a scent or a poster. People tempting people. I imagined demons sat on rooftops fishing for mortals in the same fashion. But I decided that Fishing was a dull title. Who would go look at a piece called that? Only maybe someone with an interest in the sport, and I didn't think they were the likeliest to enjoy my story...

So it became Lure. A more tempting title, no? ;) And it keeps the fishing reference, which I like.

101 has been an interesting experience. (continues to be). Sometimes I think of titles and write to them, titles I think will be interesting. I have the title Doom sitting unwritten on file. Other pieces, like the most recent, Doors, are written without a title.

Doors is one of the pieces I'm most proud of. And, having written it, it couldn't have been called anything else. Sometimes I feel able to play around with a title, a good title is just good, a great title begins the storytelling before the story has even begun. But sometimes when you strike on the right title you just know it.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Future of the Xeroverse...

I've been a bit slack on the writing front recently... I think I burnt out a little, trying to read, comment and write in just a couple of early hours each morning. So I've been taking it a little easy, writing has crawled to a snail's pace. I've turned my hand instead to a little light editing, which I'd fallen behind on a bit, and a bit more reading.

Even so I can't not write... a scribble here and there, a jotted note, a patter of fingers over keyboard. Seeing a pair of gunships over on the concept ships blog inspired a few short paragraphs, the opening of a new flash (and I need new flashes, I'm still short for Torn Pages, although I do have a couple of months' worth in-hand, I'm not getting desperate, just approaching the limit of what I'm happy with).

This 'pressure', to write new and edit the old and everything else, has lead me to a decision... I'm going to take holidays between chapters.

It makes the chapters shorter, for one, just five months-worth of flash instead of six, which is more manageable. But not only that, it gives me a chance to have a break from everything except the writing. Which is the reason I do what I do. For the love of writing. So of course I'm not going to stop writing. The 'holiday' (I'll still have to do the day job, unfortunately ;) ) is a chance to relax and get some new things out without the added pressure of having to have a completely finished piece for a Sunday and Wednesday (I'll probably pause the 101, too).

And that's important to me, the 'finished' aspect. I can be happy with a first draught, but never will I think one draft is enough to call something finished. Time and space and a fresh mind are all things that need to be brought to bear on a piece of writing before it can be anything but unfinished.

On a side note... I'm amused by the concept of time and space being brought to bear on something, when what I mean is that I won't be paying it any kind of attention...

So June will see the end of Torn Pages. July will see the first anniversary of Missing Pieces (and I hope to have something special for that), and August will see the start of Chapter 3, Spare Parts.

I've even (because I can't help but have ideas) got a theme in mind for chapter 4. Yep, thinking about 2012 already, and I've just said I'm having enough trouble keeping up with the now... I know, I know!

Provisionally titled Mirror Shards, chapter 4 will mostly consist of remixes (or rewrites, maybe) of earlier work, particularly things from Hidden Tracks. In fact remixes were something me and Dee used to do with each other's work back on Hidden Tracks. It's partly because I'm still really proud of what we wrote back then, and I like re-visiting it, re-reading it, and I kind of want the opportunity to re-promote it... =)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Clever title for a post about titles

How important is a title?

The title. You only get one. It's the first thing that most people see. It can draw people in, it can put them off. I still think the first line is the most important of any piece of writing, but the title can come close.

I was thinking about this a lot with Brumathick. In my last round of editing on the piece I thought of many subtitles that might catch the eye, draw more people to the story. Brumathick: Between the Stars. Trapped Between Stars. Lost in Space... I'm kidding with that one, but you get the point.

In the end, Brumathick was just the right title in my mind. I couldn't bring myself to alter the title for the sake of attracting more readers. Pretentious maybe, given that few enough people read my work as is, and I really would like to reach a larger audience, but ultimately, I have to go with what I feel is right for the piece.

Doctor Crow is another name. It does a little more than Brumathick, the words are real words and have some resonance, they even vibrate a little against each other, suggest a little of the strangeness that the piece holds. But it doesn't do as much as it might.

Sometimes I try and set up tension in the title. This Mundane Slavery or This Bright Lie, for example, are both hooks. How can you apply the adjective mundane to slavery, or how can a lie be bright?

This Old Man, Once Mighty tells you where you're going. It already sets up a history for the story. It holds a lot of resonance.

(I talk about resonance a lot, because it's important, especially when you have so few words. You need to be aware of how things resonant inside people's memories, in their heads, and you need to know how to work with that, how to use that.)

Edit: And then, literally the next day, a column on titles goes up on flashfictiononline.com... which has a lot of what I was trying to say and a good comment on titling to genre to.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sweet Nothings

Ah... that special first post. So important and yet so insignificant. It needs to be amazing, and yet, almost no one will read it...

And thus, I suppose, this nervousness, this tentative, almost palpable apprehension. I have before me a blank page, a blank slate and all that connotes. Every writer knows the fear of the blank page. That accusing emptiness.

Why am I here when I have a perfectly serviceable blog in Author's Commentary? Well, my blogging needs and attitudes have changed. I want to do more with the blog.

I could just change the title and address, but that would mean changing a whole heap of links. And it's not as if I have a whole bunch of readers to bring with me. So a fresh start. Something that is about what I'm currently writing as much as what I've just posted. Somewhere I can grumble about the length of time it's just taken me to write Orion and the Bear, first draft coming in at a shade under a thousand words.

Or where I can mention that having written that I am reminded of a longer short story I never quite finished called Thor vs. Angel that I should dig out and finish off.

Somewhere I can talk about the little things I live. Like a policeman asking for a bag on a rainy day and me glibly commenting, "there's nothing worse than a book and water...". True story. He's a policeman, I'm sure he sees far worse than wet books every other day...

Somewhere I can go: hey, there's this great range of new Mini Modern Classics from Penguin. If you like short fiction pop down to you local bookshop and check them out, it's a really great opening line-up.