Eastercon Genre-fiction X-factor (a proposal) (3/5/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

Not exactly a rant, but every Eastercon I find myself on panels about how to be an author, about finding an agent, about what you have to do to get published. Every time, I find myself thinking how unfortunate it is for writers that it’s all such a long, dull, dour process, with a such a long pay-off. There’s nowhere to showcase what you can do in a five-minutes-of-fame sort of way. Imagine it was the X-factor: Show up, perform for a few minutes get judged, vanish into obscurity if you lose, winner is published by Simon Cowell and gets to be a best-seller.

But does it have to be like this? Could we not try to showcase our hidden writing talents? So I’ve been giving it some thought and I’d like to propose the following straw man to be poked at as an attempt to give genre writing a (very) vaguely equivalent platform.

Some pre-selection process occurs to which I’ve given no thought at all, resulting in a maximum of twelve entrants. Each entrant is submits:

  1. A movie-trailer style pitch for whatever they’re writing of no more than 500 words.
  2. A synopsis for whatever they’re writing of no more than 1000 words
  3. An opening chapter or partial chapter of approximately 1500 words

Eastercon (I pick Eastercon because it’s a four-day event and I see this going over three days) – Friday afternoon (say), in a one-hour panel, all pitches are read to whoever shows up as an audience  and a panel of judges. There will be one reader who reads all the entries. Anyone who comes to the readings gets a voting card, allowing them to vote for whichever pitch is their favourite.

The panel of judges (ideally a genre editor, a genre agent and a genre reviewer) get to ask a few questions after each reading if they want to. Afterwards, the judges select the four trailers they like the best. Those four and the two most popular with the audience (probably needs a minimum number of votes) go forward to the next stage. I’m imagining a short panel on Saturday morning to announce the results and take some Q&A on the reasons for the selection.

Saturday afternoon (say), in another one-hour session, repeat the same for the six synopses. Single reader, audience get to vote on which ones they like the best, two synopses go forward selected by the judges, one by the audience.

Sunday afternoon has a final panel. Each of the three surviving entries is introduced with a little about why they’ve made it this far, both the pitch and the synopsis. The opening chapter is read. There is no final ‘winner’, but maybe the audience gets to vote.

And there you go. The Eastercon Genre-Fiction X-factor. Worth trying to make it fly? Or not. Please feel free to comment.

Easter Shenanigans and Shortlists (7/4/2010)

Posted in News

Eastercon was a blast, as Eastercons are wont to be. First highlight the Swordplay for Writers panel, from which I took copious notes which would have been directly relevant to the sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice had I not promptly lost them (if anyone who reads this was there, Steve Kilbane gave out his contact address… pretty please?). Second highlight was the JET panel, simply because it told you all you need to know about how to describe credible fusion containment. Last and best highlight was the company. This could be a very long post if I went on about everyone who was there, but star performer award for all-round good company goes to Gollancz author Gavin Smith, whose debut, Veteran, comes out later this year. I’ve read the first chapter, I liked it very much (reminded me of neuromancer, only in Scotland, so more dirty) and I’ll be reading a lot more just as soon as I get my signed ARC back from wherever it ended up…

Other Eastery things: There’s a new issue of SFX out, and might it have the first review of King of the Crags in it? Yes, it might…

When it landed last year amidst considerable fuss, it was hard not to be a little disappointed with Stephen Deas’s debut, The Adamantine Palace.  Here was a novel that promised a tougher, new fantasy style that take on the old fantasy’s stock creatures, dragons.  It largely delivered, but along the way some of the world-building and characterisation were a little wobbly.

This sequel marks a step change.  As sharp as anything by George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie this is a fast moving, confident offering from a writer who’s clearly found his rhythm and pace and who doesn’t mess about.   Crags picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off.  By way of a darkly humorous reminder that fire-breathing lizards are dangerous, we’re straight into the the action.  Frankly, you expect the intrigue and hints of revolution in the offing that Deas serves up, but more impressive is the way he re-engineers familiar fantasy elements.  The neo-religious zeal of his red riders for example has clear parallels with our dangerous world.  Prince Jehal the chief villain has evolved from a black hat to a altogether more nuanced character.  Quite why he does what he does may even be a mystery to Jehal at times you suspect, which makes him gloriously unpredictable.  And then there is the white dragon that drives so much of the plot, a creature that has recovered from a chemical castration that keeps its brethren cowed.  Whenever snow – which as names go is like calling a tiger Tiddles – is around, there is a vivid sense of an altogether alien presence.  While the wider world that forms the backdrop here could still be better realised, it appears the new fantasy has another new star.

Hard, really, to find anything to complain about there. If you happen to read the SFX review column, you’ll notice another Gollancz offering that happens to be due out on the same day as King of the Crags: Tome of the Undergates. Tome got itself a pretty good SFX review too, and then someone who might have been me had this to say about it…

“Wildly descriptive slaughter-fest fantasy with a surprising pathos. Monstrous, murderous, psychotic, deranged, possessed and insane – the only question is what our heroes hate more: The demons they’re fighting, each other or themselves. Sam Sykes has invented a whole new genre – Call Of Duty: Demon Warfare.”

Did I like it? Yes. Grew on me after I’d finished, which is always a good sign. You can see the X-Box version as you read (and to me that’s a good thing), and while I have some reservations here and there, I think (I hope) this could be going somewhere special. A fine companion to Crags, they come out on the same day, and if you like surreal, go you can follow @SamSykesSwears on twitter too.

And one other little thing… (of which more later)

TAP - Gemmell