Saturday, 1 June 2013

And now for the finale (and an aside on gender/race/cultural diversity in fantasy)

I've been making words on Lying with Scorpions. After a quick re-plot that de-tangled a new plotline from the ending, I can now say with some confidence that LwS will clock in at 82-85k words in first draft. That number can go either way by about 5-10% in edits, so it's going to be longer than Scorpion by a fair bit. (That one has 72k.) Generally speaking, 5% is the more normal mark, but I do have a pair of very good and pretty radical editors on my hands here, so nothing's safe.

In the last two weeks, I also filled up my head/soul/mind with entertainment. I think I hunger most for "outside stimulation" when stressed out of my head and running myself ragged trying to hit a deadline. In preparation of the Books To Come, I finally watched "Band of Brothers", which was amazing (better than "Saving Private Ryan"--the ensemble cast really works). I read some WWII literature written by Germans to pick up the "tone/mood" of the time. Boell's "Silent Angel" was pretty good, but Gert Ledig's "Stalin Organ" has me struck dumb with the power of it; the latter compares with Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front". Both served in the German army and were rather too close to the things they write about in their books. I "gave something back" to Ledig by translating his article on Wikipedia into English--my small good deed of the day. (I have to hold Ledig's book in my head for a character of mine who goes to the Eastern Front. These would be things he's seen/done/heard about. It defies belief.)

I'm also finding that 180-200 pages of chiseled prose and condensed emotion is all I can take. Both books are short--due to paper shortages, one imagines, and also a lack of belief in "doorstopping for doorstoping's sake" - aka to make books large so you can charge a fortune for them, a trend that has made fantasy and sci-fi all but unreadable for me. Give me a great short book I'll re-read over a long mediocre, fluff-filled book any day. I have no patience for authors wasting my time, and it's a rare author who can fill 120-160k meaningfully.

Reading what Ledig, Boell, Greene and Faulkner achieve on 200 pages is humbling. I shall strive to reach a similar level of intensity, but that's a master's touch: shatter your whole world with that one perfect sentence that echoes in you forever.

I haven't recently broken the 100k mark with anything--not on my own. I've hit just over that mark with LA Witt in our upcoming cop story (which I can't wait to show you), but 40-80k seems to be my current sweet spot. And I'm not arguing that Skybound at 13k is the best thing I've ever done. Considering that short stories are harder to get right than novels, I'm really quite pleased.

In good news, I've had a very nice chat with my Japanese translator about the meaning/symbolism of the "basket scene" in Skybound and the overall Japanese market. She's working on a translation of Skybound for the Japanese magazine "Dear +", where, to my knowledge, Josh Lanyon was the first m/m author to be featured. I think I might be number 2, so it's a great honor for me and I'm immensely pleased that that little story gets to travel the globe. :) Clearly, I need to write more about German fighter pilots in WWII.

With regards to Lying with Scorpions--I'm on the last chapter. I've developed total tunnel vision at this point; I can barely think about anything else. Then again, I did write the bulk of it in six weeks. In the last chapter, something unexpected happened that makes something else work much better that I was struggling with. This is a series of books that defies me at every corner and the twists and turns come in so thick and fast I'm not even sure who's writing this book. The Muse is a maniac on this (cue: "Flashdance" video/song). The good news is, I'll wrap it all this weekend, just in time for my extended deadline, then do a polish on it myself (some stuff needs to be moved around) and off it goes to my editor.

More good news: Reese Dante made a breathtaking cover; in my humble opinion, it's even better than the first one. Oh gods, I love that woman. I'm posting a teaser below. The cover features Adrastes, king of Dalman. As you can see, he's very hot and very determined:

 The print version should be beautiful.

The thing I'm most proud about so far with LwS: the diversity of the cast. I have three gender-variant people who kick ass and are neither saints nor psychopaths and most definitely not victims. I have three-ish women as significant characters in the book who aren't whores or virgins and who very much do their own thing (yes, one was raped, but rape is an equal-opportunity crime in a world where power dynamics are played out on the flesh of both genders... it's part of the world and has been from the start. Yet, even this woman won't be defined by the rape and it's not her motivation for kicking ass.)

I have three cultures clashing--two coloured peoples who are so cool that I will have to sex up the white people now or they are losing the plot entirely. The Jaishani kick ass beautifully and very much drive their own agenda. Everything shifted when I decided that the Jaishani were technologically more advanced than the "pale people"--it's a decision with far-reaching consequences, too. For one, they are now perceived as a threat, and guess what, some of my characters turned into racist douchebags. Previously, I'd bracketed out racism, largely positing a multi-cultural society, but that was somewhat too easy. Some people will always feel threatened, and it's my response to the surge of anti-Muslim violence in Britain after the killing of the soldier in Woolwich; it's interesting to see responses unravel on Twitter while brainstorming for a culture clash. So, there. I hope it's not heavy-handed, but it was very much on my mind as I wrote those passages.

Regarding writing all that "diversity" (it's inherent in my world, not me being preachy--once I set some ground rules in Scorpion, this was the logical development), Heidi Belleau wrote a great post about writing characters that are not your ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation.

And I have a brain crush on Kameron Hurley, who examines "women fighters in fantasy". While the Lady Protector, Lady Nhala and Runner precede this, I kept nodding vigourously throughout the post. I have the academic background to know that women have always been fighters. I know real-life women warriors, including martial artists and re-enactors who kick ass and take names. I've seen women run in heavy armor and fight, and fight extremely well. It's what you do with the body you've been given, not the body itself.

I'm bored to tears by "generic fantasy" (white, cis, heterosexual, Central European), and I fully plan to stand and deliver in this genre and work out some issues I feel have energy for me and others. While I hope the Memory of Scorpions series is simply a good read, the world itself allows female fighters (even at times requires it), and gender identity isn't clear cut. In some way, I think that makes it almost futuristic--our own world isn't nearly there.


  1. Whoa, great articles by Kameron Hurley and Heidi Belleau. I loved Kamron's view of women fighters. I've always liked a strong female lead in books.

    I can't see your picture for some reason.

  2. Aleksandr, I totally agree with the Band of Brothers comments. I have watched that series twice now and really loved it, despite finding one or two episodes in the middle a bit 'overworked'. It is eclipsed however, in my opinion, by Pacific. Maybe because of my own family history in that war arena. I just got into the whole thing a bit more because of the deeper character development. If you haven't seen it, it's really worthwhile. Writing about World War 2 is a really interesting occupation, so much archival material available, not to mention the recorded aural history. Hope you are enjoying it!

  3. Is the Ledig book available in English?

    Also I have had a couple of hits on my old Scorpion review on GR :)

    I am also thinking about how your fantasy SF books cross genres in what is for me an absolutely great way. Relationships matter; people are sexual beings, the sex is high stakes and all this interwoven with complex worlds whose realities drive and impact the lives of your characters. I also appreciate that while violent your stories are not nihilistic - that is my struggle with grim dark books like Red Country which are real and violent.