Inspiration and Revenge (26/8/09)

Posted in Critical Failures

“Where do you get your inspiration?” That’s a question that most authors seem to get asked at some time. It’s almost something you can’t avoid. The usual response is to refer to a few previous significant works in the applicable genre, maybe a film or a television show, and some moderately classic works of general literature, or maybe a historical figure or two. Example:

Fictional interviewer: “So, Mr. Deas, where do you get your inspiration.”

Author: “Oh, from a great variety of place. I’ve always been a fan of Conan and Elric, that’s the kind of fantasy that really pulled me in. Hong Kong fantasy martial arts movies like Zu Warrior of the Magic Mountain and, more recently, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and so forth. Anything Chinese really. Medieval Chinese history and culture fascinates me. Everything is on such a grand scale and they somehow did things in a different order. Oh, and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle has probably had an influence I could point to on half the stories I’ve written. And Joseph Conrad, when I’ve got the willpower to plough through it. And, and…”

And and. Lots of easy answers. Not that this sort of answer isn’t true, and it certainly does answer the question, but it’s far from complete. Far, far from complete.

Trouble is, delve too far and the answers start to become downright uncomfortable. Example:

A few days ago, Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate grounds and sent back to Libya to die in the comfort of his own home (no this isn’t a cut and paste error from a different blog, bear with me) and with his family. I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say that I thought this was the right thing to do. I noticed that a lot of people didn’t, and then I noticed that not only did some people disagree, they were really very angry about it. Why? Were they afraid that he’d go and do it again (a reasonable thought, perhaps, given he’s going to die soon anyway)? But that didn’t seem to be it. Were they afraid that the wrong example was being set? That his release was somehow undermining the deterrent of being locked up for such horrible crimes? Again it’s an argument that could reasonably be put forward, but that didn’t really seem to be it either, although. No, it was about the feelings of the relatives of those he’d killed (or supposedly killed, if you’re into the conspiracy theories). So that’s where I went. Hypothetically, at least, into their heads to see what it was like to be them. I won’t pretend that I can tell you what it’s really like to have someone killed by a terrorist (or a drunk driver for that matter) for no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can tell you that I’ve tried, though. I can tell you that in trying, I’ve come to understand a little bit more about revenge, that engine that drives so many stories (imagine, for a moment, what literature would be like without any revenge. How many great stories would be wiped away?) I can understand a little better why letting someone who’s done something like that to you go free, for ANY reason, is so repugnant. And one day I will use that understanding to make some character in some story just that little bit more real. That’s the dark side, if you will, of inspiration.

I pick on this example because it’s in the news at the moment. A few weeks from now it’ll be something else and then something else again. Inspiration comes from everywhere, from everything. It comes from walks in the Southern Alps, it comes from the awe-inspiring imaginations of other writers and artists and film-makers. It comes from watching my children feeding little plastic knights to their Gigantosaurus. And it comes from plumbing the dark depths and the dizzying heights of what happens around us, from the horrible and magnificent things that seemingly ordinary people do, and from trying to go inside their heads to see the whys and the hows and the consequences. I can say my inspiration comes from all of those things and they’d all be true. But can you imagine? If I say my inspiration comes from child-molesters and suicide bombers and battered wives, that’s a bit of a concersation killer, neh? So when I’m next asked the question, I’ll probably mention Conan and Chinese history and leave it at that; but you’ll know, if you’ve read this, that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I still think, even if he was guilty, it was right to let him go, but I sure understand now why there are those who disagree.

The Cutting Room Floor (18/8/09)

Posted in News

The rewrite has begun. We’re a couple of days in and it has its tentacles firmly wrapped around my free time, such as it was. On other days I might have posted about how kittens on Capstar are like ninjas on a really strong acid/amphetamine mix, or how to get over being terrified of rewrites by scaring the crap out of yourself in an entirely different way. But no time for that this week. Instead, I give you my first editorial sacrifice. I was loathe to let it go, but two prologues is one prologue too many. So – the first of many sweepings from the cutting room floor, some good, some…. not so good. This is a good one: The alternate prologue for The King of the Crags.

King of the Crags – the edit begins… in a bit (7/8/09)

Posted in News

Well I got my editor’s comments back on King of the Crags last week. And I’m about to go on holiday, so what’s the point in getting started only to stop again… (but then again, how can I leave it be for two weeks… ah, the tension, the trauma…). I’ve been looking forward to ranting on about the iniquities of the editing process, how all my cool and exciting ideas are being crushed or something like that, but the plain fact is that’s not how it works. What you actually get are some nice congratulatory words on a job well done and a few hints on how to make it even better. Like make sure you don’t lose track of who is related to who (meh… can’t really argue with that), and put a bit more effort into describing the eyries and the mountain scenery (which is fine with me – in a perfect world, I’d live in the mountains. I’d walk in the mountains. I’d write in the mountains. I’d buy one of those indestructible kitten-proof laptops I mentioned last time so that I could write in the mountains in the rain and the snow. I breathe mountains, dammit. In fact, in a perfect world, I’d probably be a mountain). The only thing I can find to really even start to try and raise a head of steam about is the complaint that the book has too many prologues. Is two prologues too many? Really?

Sadly yes. One of the nice things about being able to leave the story alone for six months, you get to see stuff like that a lot more clearly. Unless you go the whole hog, maybe. Yeah, a fantasy consisting of forty-seven prologues and three short chapters entitled ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’. Yeah, actually, maybe…

OK, OK, not King of the Crags, though. I’ll put the spare one up here when I’m done with the edit so you can see what you’re missing. It’s a good chapter. Pity it has to go.


So no, being edited isn’t really that traumatic. What’s traumatic is the terrifying realisation that this is it. This is the last chance, realistically, to make it right. To make it perfect. For some reason, that never really struck me with The Adamantine Palace, but the terror’s got me good this time. In a way The Adamantine Palace was easy. Kick in the door, make a big fuss. Yes, a lot got sacrificed for sheer pace. Right or wrong, that was the intent. It’s pretty clear from the reviews and the other feedback that I’ve had that for a lot of people, this really really works. For others, it really really doesn’t. For those the former, I offer more. For the latter… sorry, but it ain’t going to happen. Maybe next time.

And then there’s the middle ground. The ‘yes, but…’ camp. There’s quite a lot of you, too. Well, Yesbuts, in a way this one was always for you (because let’s face it, we all know I’m going to let rip again in book three). So what am I trying to do? As I sit down and start what will be the final set of re-writes to King of the Crags, what am I trying to achieve?

A long time ago, I read The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. For most of the book I was a bit bored. The characters struck me as two-dimensional and cartoonish. And then something happened. Just as the horror of the denouement was about to descend, the characters suddenly somehow flipped into three dimensions. The cardboard cut-outs I’d sneered and laughed at suddenly became people with souls. As I watched their world fall apart, I felt guilty and ashamed. That’s just how one book happened to work for me, but it’s haunted me ever since.

So that’s what I’m trying to achieve. I’m trying to recapture that feeling of guilt when a person you took for granted as being horrible crept under your skin while you weren’t looking and turned out to be human after all.

King of the Crags may be slower (not a lot slower, but it will be slower) than The Adamantine Palace. If I’m doing my job right, it will give the world and the characters some more depth. It’ll move events forward, but it’ll also put add a layer underneath everything that happened before. Book three will do the same – another step forward and yet another layer underneath. There will be action, adventure, terror and war. There will be dragons, and I promise they’re not going to go all soft and philosophical on you. You can even, just for those of you who need one, have a character with a strong moral compass. Maybe even two. Not sure why you want them – they’ll probably just get their asses eaten by some dragon and then you’ll get all pissy with me again. But you can have them anyway.

But for those who get to the end and if I’ve done my job really right, the shallow selfish bastard that is Jehal will haunt you long after you put book three down. :twisted:

So that’s the challenge I set myself, and I don’t know whether or not I can do it and it’s probably true to say that I’m as scared witless about launching into this edit as I’ve been about anything.

And at the same time, I can’t wait. Just in case I can get it right.


Oh yeah, and a full draft of book three is written. Needs months of polishing, but it’s all there. Mwah ha ha…

A Stain Upon the Vastness (4/8/09)

Posted in Critical Failures

Meh. Finished manuscript blues. I could start on the next one, I suppose (OK, OK, I already cracked on that yesterday). I could start the rework for King of the Crags (editorial comments have now been received, and will be blogged about at sarcastic length[1] shortly). But I’m going on holiday for a week of wandering around on Cornish beaches in the pissing rain, and since I am NOT ALLOWED to take my ‘work’ with me (and since I don’t yet have a ruggedised mil-spec laptop suitable for use in Afghanistan Cornwall, what’s the point in starting something for a week only to put it away again, eh?


Meh meh meh. Can’t even play with kittens (why do the kittens get a longer holiday than I do? Do they need one? Was the assault on my USB stick that stressful? Maybe they’re plotting. Maybe that’s it <twitch>)

Well, for a week, I’ve found a passable distraction. There’s this thing at Orbit: The Worst Cover Ever. I can’t draw for toffee (sorry Doodled Books but I did warn you). What I can do is blurb, though. So here we go.

A Stain Upon the Vastness

Fifty thousand parsecs out from the edge of the dying Galaxy, the last surviving remnants of the human race, devolved back into savagery and ignorant of the origins, float through the vastness on an artificial world. They are monitored from within by the Uppers, the elite few who have access to the vast data banks and artifical intelligence that controls the world. They are safe, self-sufficient, their survival assured.

Until they encounter the mysterious Stain, a being of pure energy that might just be God or The Devil.

Cue some mish-mash of Forbidden Planet, old Star Trek and a reworking of the Garden of Eden myth that’s as subtle as a brick…

Man, I love that title (and the one about the dancing cyborg fairies too) I might offer up some more blurbs for the other Orbit covers. In the mean time, go check out the other titles. And vote Stain! (I didn’t come up with this. I just like it).

[1] I’ll be making almost all of this up, damn you Simon, since there’s absolutely nothing in what you’ve said that isn’t entirely reasonable and, well, at all easy to get worked up about.