Submissions Guidelines (31/1/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

Follow the submissions guidelines. This is always good advice. Research the people to whom you intend to submit your manuscript. Also good advice, and anyone who can’t be bothered to take the effort to follow basic instruction and take information readily available off a website so they can address the right person BY NAME probably deserves everything they get. Or don’t. There’s plenty of advice on what to do and what not to do, for example here and here and another example of why you really should pay attention here. I bring these agencies to your attention as they’re the only genre agencies I know of. (Edit: And ONLY for that reason – I have no beef with either agency and only reason I’m linking to them is that if you, dear reader, are an aspiring SF/F writer then you ought to know they they exist and read what they say about submissions.)

However, dear agents and editors and people who write submissions guidance and then point fingers and laugh at those unable to follow it (Twitter, I’m looking at you), please have a little consideration for your poor aspiring writers. Let us suppose I am that person. There are a lot of publishers and agents out there to whom one might send a query letter. About forty to fifty the last time I paid attention. Many of them aren’t in the least bit interested in my latest manuscript, but I don’t know that because I already ruled out the ones whose interest obviously lies elsewhere. I know that almost none of you will be interested and I’m damned if I’m going to write to you one by one and wait, individually, for a reply (the last time I was doing this seriously, the average response time to a query letter was about two and a half months. There was a lot of variation in this and maybe it’s changed but I doubt it. And I’m quite convinced that someone out there still has The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice sitting in their slush pile, gently gathering dust) because then I’ll be waiting for about TEN YEARS before I’ve collected my full set of rejection letters. So no, I’m not going to single-submit as a general rule, although I’m not going to tell you that. And if I’m researching 40-50 agents and publishers while at the same time as indulging my remorseless muse at the same time as holding down a day-job that pays the bills at the same time as having any kind of life whatsoever, you’ll understand that a lot of my research is going to be carried out over the odd hastily-snatched twenty minute slot over lunchtime. And even then I’ll probably be trying to fit in two of you in each slot because otherwise it’s going to to take about three months just to get your names and addresses (EDIT: Neither the JJLA or Zeno demand this – the internet and those books on ‘how to get published’ that I’ve read often say that you should, though).

So, agents and publishers, let me offer YOU some guidance. You should aim to have all your information available to me in that one ten-minute slot. Otherwise I’m going to default to standard ‘best practice’ that I’ve picked up from sites better organised than yours. And that probably means I’ll do something wrong. And then you’ll reject me, and we’ll neither of us know what we’ve missed out on. Ask yourself, if you don’t like it, how many authors you know that are good at writing books. About all of them, right? And how many of those are good at following basic instructions? What about meeting deadlines? Being organised? It’s not that we’re different to the rest of the world, it’s just that we’re, well, we’re not project managers[1], we’re writers.

Ten minutes. Let that be the test of how clear your submissions guidance is. Then you can criticize us for not doing it exactly the way you want it.

While we’re at it, aspiring writers, this is probably worth a couple of your ten-minute lunchtime slots.

[1] Except for some of us. But we all have our personality disorders, right?

Diamond Cascade: Inconceivable!

Posted in DC

Though the mighty sea-beast was slain, the damage wrought upon the proud ship of Diamond Cascade and his companions was grave. Valiantly though they worked, they could not save the stricken vessel and she sank slowly beneath the waves at the foot of the inhospitable Cliffs of Insanity. With all his strength, Diamond Cascade fought to save the lives of his companions from the cruel sea, yet even he was helpless against its strength as the current carried them inexhorably towards the cliffs – yet worse was to come! For it was not to dash them to pieces on the unforgiving rocks that was the sea’s intent, no, for they were carried, powerless despite their struggles, down the Great Channel towards the Dreaded Lagoon, sacred place of unholy Umberlee herself, from where no man has ever yet returned!

For companions, read horses. As in I got them out of the hold and tied some sealed barrels to them to keep them afloat and kicked them into the ocean before they got sucked down with the rest of the ship. And then I Alter Self’d into something that could swim and breath under water and dragged them, kicking and whinnying towards the shore. And my stuff, in another barrel. What, am I the only one who can Alter Self?

The thought of scaling the five-hundred feet sheer sides of the Cliffs of Insanity was a tempting one, just, well, just because there might have been some Spanish dude with a sword at the top and I could have shown off my off-handed fighting. Unfortunately horses don’t climb cliffs and by then I’d managed to un-lose my dear friends, who had apparently requisitioned the one and only longboat, kicked out all the sailors to swim for the shore (and presumably drown) and, more than luck than judgement, failed to capsize it.

What? Oh surely someone else can Spider Climb?

Before I left the ship, I dug out the old scarab token from the lot who work for the “Green Dragon” – I think they left it as a: ‘If you change your mind about working for evil, call us’ sort of thing, or maybe I just ripped it off one of them and was keeping my options open. Well no more. I bent it up as best I could and tried to smash it and pissed on it when that didn’t work and threw it into the sea with a great deal of shouting and cursing and generally yelling abuse at the powers of darkness and pledging myself to kicking their unholy butts at every possible opportunity.

In hindsight, this may have been a mistake.



Life can be deliberately perverse sometimes. I used to use the local library a lot when I was much, much younger. Much much much much. Then I lived in Cambridge for a bit with access to one of the most comprehensive libraries in the world and never used it at all. After that, using the local library came in fits and starts for a bit and then for close to a decade I’ve hardly used it at all. Marriage, children, writing books and working a full time job will do horrendous things to a man’s precious reading time. Still, as a research tool, you can’t beat libraries. Want a book about Georgian history? Why not have six or seven and see which one gives you what you want. I’ve never once come away empty-handed, no matter what I’ve gone looking for.

And then someone flicksed a switch in number one son and out of nowhere he starts reading a whole book every few days. At his current rate of progress, he will have devoured all of Cressida Cowell in the space of a month and he’s going to go through about a hundred books over the course of the year – now, I realise there are some of you bloggers out there who will scoff at a mere hundred books, but dudes, without a library that’s a lot of trips of Waterstones and quite a lot of money. Not everyone can afford that, no matter how much they want to. Yes, there are second hand shops and charity shops and Bookstart (no, wait, maybe not for much longer), but libraries are for everyone and libraries are for free. Perhaps some children will never discover the joy of books because they simply don’t want to, because that’s not the way they’ve been raised, for whatever reason. No amount of saving libraries will change that, but I’m watching number one son wade through a new book every few days, I’m seeing how much he gets out of it, I’m seeing number two son’s interest in reading rocket as well (sibling rivalry – one of the world’s greatest motivators). Reading is surely the cornerstone of an open mind and probably many other things, and for some people, libraries are probably the only way to feed a habit like the one I’m seeing here.

Cuts to libraries seem inevitable, and no amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth is likely to change that – cuts to almost everything seem inevitable. Campaign and protest if you want – other people will give you better guidance than I will on how best to go about that (try the Bookseller’s campaign). But please, if you can, do something more direct. Find out how the library you use is likely to be affected and then see if there’s anything you can do to help. Facilities that are closed are far less likely to be recovered than those that are forced to run a reduced service. You’re all book-literate, mostly IT-literate, so we have the abilities needed to pitch in and keep at least a few things running. I’d like to hear your stories – where can we share our successes (if we have any)?

I’m looking for ideas and I’m looking for a way to share them. When I get anywhere I’ll let you know. In the mean time, how many authors out there would like their PLR income re-directed towards keeping libraries open for a while?

Diamond Cascade: Does this Raft Make My Bum Look Big

Posted in DC

Great and terrible were the perils faced by Diamond Cascade and the courageous crew of his noble ship. The drowned dead minions of Umberlee rose from their watery rest to crawl aboard and were repelled by Diamond Cascade and the valiant Caleb. When the foul undead did not dissuade our ship from its course, the wrathful goddess set a great tempest to wreck us or else turn our crew against their captain, yet she did not reckon with the indefatigable strength of both. But these were but the start of the Bitch Queen’s wrath, for when her stormed failed, she sent against us the greatest of horrors, a monstrous five-headed dragon of the deep. Long and hard the battle raged, and grievously hurt was our sturdy vessel, yet in the end the dragon fell, slain by blows from all sides by Diamond Cascade and his comrades. With the mighty power of his sorcery, with dragon-blood still dripping from his sword, Diamond Cascade was able to staunch the gaping wounds bestowed upon out ship while our bold captain steered course for the nearest shoreline where shelter and place to make repair could be found: The Cliffs of Insanity.

I don’t actually know what this ship is called. That seems vaguely shameful. It would seem more shameful if it had any chance of reaching another port in one reasonably-sized piece. About a third of the crew are dead and we have a five-headed-dragon-sized hole in the hull below the waterline, currently plugged to dubious effect by an old sail and a web spell.

That would trouble me more if I wasn’t already troubled by wonder why in the name of all the gods that most of the story I’d tell of this, if I happened to live, which seems unlikely, is true. Yes, I stood and fought the undead of the sea along side men, dwarves and elves I barely even know. Yes, I dived into the sea to fight the dragon as it tore at our ship, alongside Caleb, Knight of Something (one of us had gills and webbed hands and feet and lightweight armour of the non-sinking kind and the other one of us… I don’t know – extensively brown-nosing his god seems the only possible explanation of his continued existence). But why? Why am I doing these stupid things? Gods – I could have been hurt! I could have died!

This is all Stalker’s fault. Gods of evil, you brought war to my life and you took away my family and then you finally gave me the closest thing to a friend I’ve ever had. Chances are I’d have followed Stalker in almost anything, purposeless thing that I was. And then you made me be the one who had to turn him in and left me with nothing better to do than find some point to my life. So I’m choosing the other side, the lot who you stand against, and a good chunk of the reason why is that the the hot dragon-woman with the coppery skin is, well, hot. The goddess of irony is one of yours. She can explain it to you.

Actually, what I’m most troubled about right now is that the place we’re limping to for shelter is called The Cliffs of Insanity. I guess the ‘of’ doesn’t sound too threatening. No, wait, yes it does.


The Bridge

Posted in Critical Failures

A few years ago, I had an idea for a story. The hero of this particular story was (will be?) a boy of about ten or eleven.

Stuff happened. A Memory of Flames, for example, and the story never got written. Around the middle of last year, though, it started to make its way back into my mind. I didn’t have enough time to write the story as I’d originally seen it, but maybe I could write something much shorter. Maybe I could write a version for children. It would have been much shorter and without the main theme, but it would have been something I could have written for number one sithling and that would be cool, right? A story written for you by your dad.

I wrote about a quarter of this in November. It still seemed like a good idea. December was the dread month of dealines. This month I’d planned to finish, but now that we’re here, I’m not going to. It’s not that anything about the story has changed, but over the course of one month, number one sithling’s reading skills have changed so much that the story I started writing in November has become too simple. And when it comes down to it, the simplified story has had its heart taken out in order to be that simple and it just doesn’t interest me that much. Maybe later this year I’ll write the full version.

There’s a lesson here. Write what you want to write. Don’t go writing for a specific and fickle audience. They might not be who you thought they were by the time you finish.

Diamond Cascade: The Sea is a Bitch

Posted in DC

Dear Umberlee, aka Vengeful Queen of the Sea, aka The Bitch Queen,

The clue’s up there in the titles, isn’t it. So look, if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to set a couple of things straight.

Firsty, the small matter of the black pearl that your loyal and devoted servant and worshipper had asked us to retrieve for him. Look, we had NO IDEA AT ALL that this was all some part of your great plan, not that mere mortal fellows like us could ever possibly comprehend such things in the first place. Obviously, if we had, we would have returned it right away to its rightful owner. Or at least, to the person who would have been its rightful owner once we’d given it to them, possession being nine tenths of the law, blah blah. But the thing is, even if we had known, none of us knew that we’d even found it. I mean, we all came out of Mr Were-Shark’s cave in a shroud of gloom thinking that had been a complete waste of time and possibly the half-git’s life (although arguably that was an up-side). None of us had ANY IDEA that Shifty had found and taken it, NONE AT ALL, because if we had, obviously we’d have made him hand it over right there and then so we could give it back. Right?

Yes, one or two of us might have had our suspicions, but we didn’t know, okay?

ALL RIGHT, yes, one or two of us might have been pretty damn sure we’d actually found it and who had it. But casting such aspersions, that’s no way for a civilised fellow to behave.

Bugger this, look, it was SHIFTY! HIM! HE TOOK IT!

Secondly, on what I’m sure is an almost trivial matter of our captains disrespectful behaviour and, well, once can only say things like blasphemy and heresy when talking about how he addressed you, so perhaps not so trivial after all, but listen here, we’ve had words with our captain, I must say. VERY STRONG WORDS. And he promises not to do it again. In fact, I overheard him talking with his crew and, while it’s early days and I don’t want to promise anything, but I think you might be getting a new convert very soon, if you know what I mean.

Oh for pity’s sake: It was HIM! It wasn’t US! We didn’t say anything!

Finally, on the tiny tiny business of our quest to retrieve various lost artefacts from the civilisation you destroyed centuries ago (and wow – destroying a whole civilisation, how awesome it that, I mean we’re just speechless at your godlessly power right there!), I mean, that’s all in the past, right. All forgotten. We’ve moved on, right? It’s all just some dusty old ruin. Well, soggy old ruin probably. Not interesting to someone as mighty as yourself at all, right?

So, no reason to be mean to us. Not looking for any special favours here, mind, just trying to clear up any potential misunderstandings.

Please leave us alone? Please please pretty please?


And a Brief Newsflash (11/1/2011)

Posted in News

The Warlock’s Shadow has been submitted! Hurrah!

King of the Crags hit the Ranting Dragon’s best of 2010 list! Hurrah!

Now what?

Measuring Happiness (11/1/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

A while back, a good fifty years after it started being obvious to most people, the UK Government came to the conclusion that maybe money wasn’t the be-all and end-all of life and declared its intention to start measuring how happy the people it was supposed to be representing actually are as well[1]. The significance of this remains to be seen. Is this the start of the inexorable decline of capitalism and the consequent rise  of the Dalai Lama to absolute authority? Should committed socialists around the world be singing the praises of the Cleggeron (you know you want to, really)? As far as I can tell, though, most of what followed had little to do with ideology and a lot to do with head-scratching and statistics. Along the lines of ‘yes, but how? How the hell do you measure happiness?’

Well, Mr & Mr Cleggeron, I have taken the opportunity of the Christmas break to conduct some field research into the subject. I have conducted an intensive study of a small number of  individuals (or a number of small individuals), and I would like, now, to present my findings. I would like to point out, that this was pro bono work at no expense to the UK taxpayer and has been carried out for its own scientific merit. In particular, great care and attention have been given to the scoring system to provide an accurately representative  final Happiness Quotient (HQ). The scheme is simple: Answer each question in turn. For each question to which the answer is yes, adjust your HQ by the stated amount. Begin at zero (content).

Basic Needs

  • Are you hungry or thirsty? (-2)
  • If so, did you get given food or drink? (+2)
  • Was it cake or ice-cream? (+10)
  • Are you too cold? (-2)
  • Is that because it’s so three degrees above absolute zero outside but despite this you still insist on wearing shorts out there no matter desperately those around you suggest that you should wear a jumper to keep warm? (+20)


  • Are you engaged in a vigorous physical activity of your own choosing? (+5)
  • Does it involve furniture abuse? (+2)
  • Have you just fallen off the sofa and banged your head? (-5)
  • Has someone stopped by to point out that it was entirely your own fault? (-60)

Social Circumstances

  • Are you playing with someone? (+10)
  • No, not the Xbox/Playstation/iPhone/Internet, are you playing with an actual real person? (+5)
  • Does it involve a moderate level of physical violence? (+10)
  • Are you winning? (+10)
  • Are they winning? (-40)
  • If you’re playing Munchkin, are you being allowed to use your +10 Sword of Longness that you drew yourself in crayon and then slipped into your hand when no one was looking? (+500)
  • If you’re playing Dread Pirate, is someone else the Dread Pirate? (-1000)


  • Have you had a present today? (+5)
  • Has someone you know had a present today? (-20)
  • Was your present better than theirs? (+20)
  • If so, have you made absolutely sure they know this? (+10)
  • Was their present better than yours? (-200)
  • If so, were they a sibling? (-1000000000000000000000000000)

In summary: the secret of a happy five-year-old turns out to be plenty of love and social play, occasional sugary treats, a +10 Sword of Longness and a systematic regime of carefully engineered ignorance.

The secret of a happy adult, from casual observation, is often much the same.

[1] Roughly speaking. What they actually said used much longer words and tried to sound like it was some great new idea thing.

Diamond Cascade: Black Pearl? What Black Pearl?

Posted in DC

With the great evil of the North Coast slain and put behind them, Diamond Cascade turned his thoughts to the even greater evil that plagued the whole land. What force was it that drove the dark elves, the foul orcs and all their kin from their dank places far beneath the earth? Throughout the sages of the north, Diamond Cascade sought wisdom and enlightenment, and through the wise words of an old elf, found the clue for which he had sought, that would unlock the riddle left to him by the sly king of the gnomes. To sea he would go, to the south! To the ruins of once great Mektropika, destroyed long ago by the vengeful sea-goddess Umberlee, famous for its three great bells, where an ancient artefact awaited the one who would restore peace and balance to the land! So there would be our destination, steered by none other than the great Captain Mimosa!

Where a great treasure awaited more like. Maybe. Damn but I’m glad to see the back of this place. I’d have thought, from everything I’d heard, that the North Coast would be heaven. A real home from home, a place where a man like me could have whiled away his life in an endless parade of one debauched orgy after the next. And maybe it could, if we hadn’t managed to piss off such a spectacularly large number of different people in such a spectacularly short space of time. So now there’s a bunch of pirates who think we owe them a ship, the bloke who runs the harbour who turns out to have more clout than I care to think about and who thinks we owe him a black pearl, and then there’s all the people who hate him but think we must have been working with him to go and stuff Mr Were-shark. So we’ve about burned all the bridges we could possibly have had in this place in the space of about three days. Way to go. And I don’t even quite know how we did it.

Krystal’s gone. Off chasing after the vampire that killed her parents. I sort of wish I’d gone with her. The half-git, Lena , she’s gone mad. Apparently she took a big lungful of some poison gas cloud trap on one of Mr Were-Shark’s treasure chests. We have about enough money from that fiasco to buy ourselves a tent and a blanket. Yay. With Stalker and Holly gone as well, Shifty’s the only one left.

He’s the one who gets our ship sorted out. We never found the magic black pearl we were supposed to be looking for, or at least that’s what everyone thinks, but I reckon I know better. I reckon that’s what got us a ship out of there. I don’t know what it was, what it does, and I don’t care. I’m just glad to be gone. One last night spending as much gold as I can on every vice I can possibly find and then we’re down to the docks, in a hangover haze, down to the ship that Shifty’s friends have waiting for us to take us to Mektropika. There’s some trouble with us leaving. Apparently our new good friend Captain Mimosa has no truck with paying harbour dues and tithes and whatnot to our recently acquired enemy the harbour-master. For once, we get to stand and watch while other people shout at each other and it’s not our fault. At least, I don’t think it is. Damn but this hangover hurts.

There’s some shouting about how our good captain doesn’t give a fig for the queen of the sea, Umberlee, and her servants. That name rings some sort of bell. Don’t know what. Can’t think. Bad things are said. Threats are made. Nothing to do with us.

The sea. Never been to sea, not unless you count that one day. Not sure what to do, but at least the sea has fewer intervening hordes of darkness.


I have a bad feeling about this. Me and Shifty and a whole bunch of folk I barely know, half of them elves, all bound on some quest now that none of us understand except there’s supposed to be some treasure at the end that none of us will want to share or have the first idea what to do with. Bound to end well then. I have a bad feeling about that name, too. What the captain said. Can’t place it though. Gods but I need to lie down in a dark place.

Isn’t Mimosa some sort of drink?


Happy New Year (4/1/2011)

Posted in News

Another year, and things are gonna change around here. At some point, the graphics of my site are all going to change. It’s time, I’m told, to get a bit more dragony. So expect to see some of this…


OK, it’s not the final cover, which won’t have the quote from Joe on it. But I’m an impatient man and bored of waiting for the final cover art (pokes editor gently with a stick. But only gently because I’ve just missed a deadline…)


A very shame-faced one in this case, because it’s all my own fault. All I can say to anyone else out there who might one day find themselves in the same position is DON’T assume the manuscript you wrote six months ago is ‘fine and just needs a bit of touching up’ and leave looking at it again until a month before it’s due for submission.

The good(ish) news is that The Warlock’s Shadow will only be about two weeks late on my editor’s desk, at which point I can go back to poking him with a large stick instead. About things like THE FINISHED COVER ART FOR ORDER OF THE SCALES,DAMMIT! (although actually, we should all feel a little sorry for the man, as he’s had to pick up a load of extra authors on top of the too much work he already had, and I dare say a lot of them are every bit as annoying as I am).

In more dragony news, the rewrites for Order of the Scales are going fine and the first complete draft for The Black Mausoleum is now sitting on my laptop. Hmmm. Won’t put off those rewrites quite as long with this one.

There are some other changes coming for 2011. I’m thinking of some slightly different content. I’ll try not to be boring, but, tempting as it is to go into detail as to whether the VAT is or isn’t a regressive tax, frankly I’m not that interested, and I suspect that goes the same for most of the people who actually read this. And it would be a huge piece of work. And then we’d get into arguments that would drag on for ages, and I’ll disagree with you about stuff you believe in passionately because the foundations of almost every argument made either way are built on the sand of dodgy statistics, and if there’s one thing that really gets my goat, it’s dodgy statistics… There, see, ranting already!

<Runs off. Has cold shower. Comes back>

No. Expect the occasional post about Star Wars, gaming, and how five-year-old children absolutely understand Munchkin in a way it takes a mature adult years to learn.

Finally, 2010 ended with a couple of rather nice reviews for King of the Crags, anticipating (perhaps) its forthcoming US release.

“Stephen Deas has combined all that’s good in fantasy and spun it around in a thriller-paced tale that will leave you breathless.” The Ranting Dragon.

“Prince Jehal … is brilliant. One of the most complex, twisted and ultimately human characters I’ve read … When I think back over what I’ve read this year … I’m hard pressed to find one I enjoyed more than this one.” SF Crowsnest

Happy New Year!