Archives for December 2012

Jonathan Green On Indie Publishing

In a long standing Xmas tradition for this blog, which I have just made up, we have another guest post today. This time from Jonathan Green. Jon is the genre-spanning author of more than 40 books ranging from Warhammer novels to works set in the universes of Dr Who and Star Wars. He is the creator of the Pax Brittania steampunk series for Abaddon books. He’s also well known for his work on the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks.

I’ve been meeting with Jon most enjoyably (for me at least) at Black Library functions for many years and we’ve talked about this and that. Recently he made the mistake of asking me about e-books and indie publishing and I responded with my usual torrent of incoherent enthusiasm on the subject. Apparently my demented ramblings impressed him more than I thought, as you will read below…

Adventures in Self-Publishing

Hello.

My name’s Jonathan Green and I am a self-published author.

There, I’ve said it.

Be honest now, how many of you cast your eyes at the ceiling when you read the words ‘self-published author’?

In case you haven’t come across my work before, I should explain that I’ve been a published author for the last nineteen years, but it’s only in the last month that I’ve self-published anything.

‘Why wait so long?’ you might ask.

Well, for exactly the same reason that some of you cast your eyes to the ceiling when you read the words ‘self-published author’.

We’ve all heard about the self-publishing success stories (and I won’t give them any more credence by mentioning them here) but we’ve also all heard how bad self-published books can be.

The age of e-publishing has arrived, making it easier (and most importantly cheaper) for writers to self-publish than ever before, and to get their books in front of a massive potential audience like never before.

Of course, the down side of this is that no impartial pair of eyes needs to check the book before it goes ‘to print’, as it were. In other words, the vast majority of self-published books never receive an editor’s input.

As a professional writer, I know the importance and the value of a good editor. I’ll be completely honest with you here; of the various novels I’ve written, the ones that have received the best, and most consistently good, reviews, are the ones that have been the most rigorously edited.

I won’t deny that there are some great benefits available to those who self-publish, especially in digital form. Your book will stay ‘in print’ as long as you want it to. You can sell only a couple of copies of month and know that it won’t run the risk of being pulped. You can publish as many books as you want under your name in one go, where a traditional print publisher wouldn’t want to flood the market in that way… And potentially, the returns are better from self-publishing. Cut out the middle man and there’s more money available for the author.

Now I’m not arguing for the abolition of traditional publishers – perish the thought! – but in these tough economic times any extra bit of income can only be a good thing, if you’re trying to make your living as a writer.

So why did I wait so long before self-publishing?

Ignoring the stigma that surrounds that simple compound verb, the rights of much of what I write belong to others, especially when it comes to tie-in fiction. I needed to have something to sell that I owned the rights to, and that either meant putting several months aside to write a brand new novel, with the risk of little or no return at all, or writing a number of short stories over a year or so, that I could later collect together in one volume. And that was the route I chose when I finally took the plunge, inspired by the likes of William King and Michael Jecks.

Dark Heart: A Collection of Short Horror Fiction came out at the beginning of December and contains six short stories that have all been published somewhere else first. This means a critical eye other than my own has been cast over them already, so I know that what I’m putting out there in the public domain is the best it can be.

Now Dark Heart is also something of an experiment, a means of me testing the waters and seeing how faithful a following I have as a writer. I’ve also put this to the test by running a Kickstarter project to raise funds to write the definitive history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. They didn’t realise it at the time, but Steve and Ian had kick-started a role-playing games phenomenon.

YOU ARE THE HERO will tell the story of that phenomenon, from the early days of Games Workshop right up to the present day, and beyond. I need to raise £15,000 to make YOU ARE THE HERO a reality and I’m just about two thirds of the way there with two weeks still to go on the Kickstarter.

Will it succeed? Only time (and the support of faithful gamebook fans) will tell. And will Dark Heart lead to a new venture in e-publishing? Again, we’ll just have to wait and see. But it’s going to be fund finding out.

And whatever else happens, it’s definitely been an adventure.

 

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You can find out more about what Jon’s working on at the moment at www.JonathanGreenAuthor.com and you can pledge your support to YOU ARE THE HERO – A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412864360/you-are-the-hero

 

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Unsatisfying Journey

Don’t get me wrong. I greatly enjoyed Peter Jackson’s latest epic. It looks wonderful, the actors are superb, and the action sequences are highly enjoyable. In places I found it very moving.

Like a lot of people, I was expecting the worst when it was announced that the film was to become a trilogy. Here it comes, I thought, the studios are looking for a new cash cow– KA-CHING. Well, that may be the case, but watching the film I did not care. I really, really liked it.

The bits I feared most, the inevitable padding, actually turned out to be very watchable. None of the things I thought would bother me about the adaptation did. Turns out that things that Tolkien skipped over in a paragraph or a page can quite enjoyably be expanded to fifteen minutes or half an hour on screen. You can get a lot of mileage out of trekking through New Zealand’s lovely landscape, and a battle that takes up a few lines can easily become a roller-coaster action ride, and what the hell, I am up for that.

Even the parts where the story deviates from Tolkien (and there are a few) did not bother me too much and in my youth I was a Tolkien obsessive. (I won’t mention the actual changes here for fear of spoilers.) I get the fact that film is a visual medium and everything needs to be shown. Things that Tolkien could convey by internal monologue or even a shift in the omniscient authorial tone need to be represented concretely on film. All of this did not affect my enjoyment of the movie in the least, so why then, was I left feeling curiously dissatisfied at the end of a movie I really liked?

I suspect my mistake was that I actually re-read The Hobbit a couple of weeks before I saw the film. It’s really a rather slight and lovely book intended to be read aloud to children. It was never intended to take the weight of a three movie Peter Jackson epic spectacle. It’s not a tale of bone-crunching battles and authentic darkness.  It’s an innocent story of a little person’s scary trip away from home. As Tolkien himself said in the introduction to the Lord of the Rings, it hints at matters deeper and darker but it does not show them. Seeing the movie after so recently reading the book introduced a great deal of cognitive dissonance into my head. Letting Peter Jackson go on this tale was a bit like getting Martin Scorsese in full-blown Gangs of New York mode to direct Bambi.

My sixteen year old son Daniel summed it up rather well. He said, “I loved the movie but it should have had a big sticker on it saying BASED ON A STORY BY JRR TOLKIEN”. That kind of sums it up for me. It’s a great, great action movie and I recommend that you see it if you like those, but it’s not The Hobbit as I remember it from my long gone youth. (I’m still going to see The Desolation of Smaug though.) 

Howard Andrew Jones on Sword And Sorcery

 I first encountered Howard Andrew Jones over seven years ago when he was editing the old Flashing Swords website. Howard bought my first Kormak story, The Guardian of the Dawn, which naturally disposed me to think he was a man of considerable good taste. Over the years we’ve engaged in a good deal of correspondence on the subject of Sword and Sorcery, a type of fiction close to both our hearts. We shared many of the same influences, from Robert E Howard to Fritz Leiber to Michael Moorcock. It turned out Howard was, in particular, an expert on one of the giants of pulp fiction, Harold Lamb. He has also edited the definitive modern collection of Lamb’s fiction for Bison Books.

Howard went on to pen one of the best S&S novels of the last decade, Desert of Souls, a book I was very proud to be asked to blurb. This was an Arabian Nights historical fantasy tale of two swashbuckling adventurers set in 8th Century Baghdad and beyond. Howard has now written a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, which I am very keen to get my hands on.  I asked Howard to guest post and he was kind enough to agree so here he is talking about his influences and what shaped him as a writer. Take it away, Howard…

While I’d been introduced to fantasy fiction when my mom read me The Hobbit, it was Dungeons & Dragons that sent me exploring for more of it. Appendix N lay at the very back of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, and there were treasures within. The problem was that the library didn’t HAVE most of those treasures. I’ve sometimes wondered how my writing and reading life would have differed if the library had actually held any Robert E. Howard books, not to mention a whole bunch of other things Appendix N said were must reads. The library DID have the Amber series, but the first few books were checked out for months.

Fortunately there were used bookstores in town. And even more fortunately I found a great copy of Swords Against Death by some guy that Appendix N recommended highly, Fritz Leiber. The first story wasn’t much of a thing, kind of an intro. But from there… wow. I knew I’d found something really good. It remains one of the finest sword-and-sorcery collections I’ve ever read, and my favorite of all the Lankhmar books. Sure, there are other great Lankhmar stories, but I don’t think any other Lankhmar book is as consistently excellent.

The same bookstore had the Corum books by Michael Moorcock – both trilogies – and some more Lankhmar, and friends had the Elric novels and, thankfully, the Amber books. After devouring those I knew that I was a fantasy fan, but I didn’t realize it was sword-and-sorcery that particularly ticked my clock until years later.

In my late twenties I decided that if I was really serious about writing fantasy it would be wise to understand the roots of the genre. At that point in time I was living in Topeka Kansas, which had three excellent used book stores, and was only twenty minutes from a very fine used book store in Lawrence Kansas. Between those four stores and some internet searches I was able to track down a whole slew of older, out of print books and explore the grandfathers and grandmothers of fantasy. The famed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was a huge help. Helmed by Lin Carter and Betty Ballantine in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series showcased a whole bunch of lost classics and influential fantasy writers.

It was interesting reading, even when I discovered I wasn’t that fond of the writer. For instance, William Morris was really important… but his characters were pretty wooden. Lord Dunsany, though, was a revelation, and E.R. Eddison was a marvel. I enjoyed various other greats and near greats, but none of them thrilled me nearly as much as Robert E. Howard and Leigh Brackett.

After two or three years of exploration I’d discovered that while I liked fantasy in general, it was sword-and-sorcery (and sword-and-planet, particularly Leigh Bracket!) that I liked the most. And so I’ve been a proponent of the sub-genre ever since. Surely, there is bad s and s, but there is also good, and in recent years there has been a steadily rising supply of it after a dearth of many years. Some of the best fiction has been from Warhammer authors like Nathan Long, Clint Werner, and some guy named William King, and I’m always puzzled that sword-and-sorcery fans in the wider world haven’t heard of Gotrek and Felix, Brunner, or Ulrika and the Blackhearts (sounds like a line-up of hard rock bands, doesn’t it?)

Back in the early ‘90s the lone sword-and-sorcery author seemed to be the late, great, David Gemmell, but the door has widened. Writers like Joe Abercrombie, Matthew Stover, and Scott Lynch pushed it open and more and more sword-and-sorcery writers have come through after them, me along with them.

What do I like about sword-and-sorcery? There are protagonists who must live by their wit and weapons skills in deadly lands, beset by schemers and intriguers. There is treasure to be found, and ancient secrets. There are loyal comrades, implacable foes, powerful but foolish kings, secret societies, fabulous kingdoms, and dark wizards and forbidden secrets. There is world building, surely, but there is forward momentum and a distinct lack of navel gazing. In the hands of the best sword-and-sorcery practitioners, story comes first – and it may be that it’s this craftsmanship that appeals to me most strongly of all. I like a good slice-of-life tale or literary experiment sometimes, but what I prefer is a tale where interesting people go off to interesting places and do interesting things.

Thanks to Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb I was exposed to masterful historical adventure fiction, and because of a whole bunch of additional influences I fell in love with 8th century Arabia and the 1001 Nights. My own work is a marriage of that love for Arabian fantasy tales and all the things I like in sword-and-sorcery. I wouldn’t be writing this kind of stuff if I wasn’t a fan, and it’s my sincerest wish that readers will find the same kind of thrill in my stuff that I have found in my own favorite writers.

 When not spending time with his family Howard can usually be found hunched over a laptop or notebook, mumbling about doom-haunted towers and flashing swords. His debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (St.Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books 2011) made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its standalone sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, released this week, has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.