Friday, February 26, 2010

Them's good comics

A great Inhumans review, if you're spoiler proof.

BTW - anybody got any questions/comments left over from the writings tips thing? Any areas you think I didn't cover?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

He's big, he's blue, he's bad and he's back!

Secrets are hell to keep. With great relief, I invite you to click here to read the first teases of the next Marvel Cosmic epic.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Past, Present, Future

No idea who I should credit this piece of art to, but it's great: Eisenhorn and his merry band, past and present. Aaron D-B found it for me, so a big round of applause for him.

Speaking of AD-B, if you're done with this view of past and present, and you're interested in finding out how the future is shaping up, you may want to zip over to his blog and check out his horoscopes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dear Ryan (part three)

Dear Ryan

I know this letter is a little overdue - my apologies.

We were talking about writing. One thing I’ve found gets recommended an awful lot by professional writerly types is the process of setting your completed work aside and then coming back to it after an interval, so you can examine it with fresh eyes. This sounds like a damn fine idea to me, but I seldom get to practise it because deadlines are so tight. I don’t finish a manuscript and then put it in a drawer for six months to mature. Oh, the luxury!

If you’re not riding the runaway express down Deadline Canyon, then this process is probably something you should take the opportunity of benefitting from. Put stuff to one side, and go and do something else for a while (another piece of writing). Then come back and see how well you like the original piece. Re-familiarise yourself with it. One thing's for sure, things won’t seem too precious to change anymore. You’ll be right in there with the red pen or the delete key.

The rules of writing are actually very simple. The first rule of writing is, you write your own rules. It doesn’t work the same way for any two people, no matter how many points of commonality you can find between them, but in terms of general guidance for someone just starting out, I think these tips are suitable and adjustable enough:

1. Write when it suits you. You might be a morning person, you might be a middle of the night person, you might have a day job and HAVE to work in the evenings. Do it to suit you while you’re getting to know it. When you’re married to it, then it can run your life.

2. Write as much as you like. Do not sit down to write and order yourself to write five hundred words (or whatever). You’ll quickly discover how much you can manage in a sitting. It might be a few hundred words, or ten thousand. If it’s ten thousand, you’re a freak, but we’ll move past that. Just make sure you write regularly. That’s more important than a high per-session word count. It’s not like mileage.

3. Write about what you like. Ah, now we enter the realms of the truly fuzzy, but stay with me. Some people recommend you run with your imagination and see where it takes you. Others say the best writers write about what they know. Both are valid philosophies. I reckon... well, I reckon that (unless you’re a very hard-nosed, commercially-minded sonuvagun, in which case these modest proposals are probably of little use to you) you should try to write the stories that would entertain you, the stories you would want to read. That might take you into your imagination, or it might take you to the things you know. Crikey, it might take you to both. My own basic yardstick is: if I don’t want to read it, who the hell else is going to? And how can you inject really stirring excitement into something that’s leaving you cold?

4. Write how you like. More fuzziness, but this is something worth considering. A lot of authors suggest that you keep writing, that every day when you come back to your work you just sit down and plough back in, without going back and reading over. The idea is that you keep plugging away until you’ve got a rough-cut manuscript, and THEN you start the process of reading back and revising. This is a very good idea, and you should do it if you can. I can’t. I’m a bugger for reading back on a regular basis (probably because I know my end reading time is often limited). I think there’s a strong case to be made for a writer finding nourishment and inspiration in his ongoing work that will allow him to advance it. These are simply two schools of thought. Try both and see which suits you.

When you’ve got something halfway done, a big chunk of something, or a first draft, the fun begins. You’ve got to read it yourself, re-read it, ACTUALLY read it rather than looking over it and imagining you see what you think you put there. Read it out loud if it helps, to find out if it’s got a dramatic rhythm and flow. Work back into it and add the things you feel you’ve missed, the connective tissue. Take out the stuff that’s extraneous. Be ruthless about this. Things will seem precious to you, especially if they’re still fresh. Do not be weak. As a rule of thumb, if you’re not sure whether or not a word should be cut, cut it.

(By the way, I’m assuming that, by this stage, you’ve committed your work to keyboard, even if you wrote your first draft or draft-notes in longhand. The editing process is a great deal less long-winded if you can make several (if necessary) copies of a MS file to try out edits and cuts. Always keep a file copy of your original draft so you can go back to it as a last resort if there’s some kind of editing disaster, and always keep a copy of your current or finished draft (I label mine ‘master’ with the date). In other words, keep a sample of the original ore, and a sample of the refined product. If you want to keep interesting variations produced along the way during the refining process, fine, but make sure you date-label them clearly or you’ll get very confused. This paragraph is the most confusing one in this letter - the only one you’ll have to read twice - so if a discussion of multiple drafts is confusing, imagine what managing them is going to be like.)

Once you’ve got that relatively tidy first draft, it’s probably time to show it to someone else. If you intend to write professionally, you’ve got to let people read your work sometime, and the first ones are probably going to have to be family and friends, which is going to be weird, because they know you. Get over this.

Much more importantly, get this idea front and centre: what they say when they’ve read it is going to help you. It is. It’s really valuable. You ought to pay them for it.

The chances are, you’ll either get polite feedback because people don’t know what to say or don’t want to hurt your feelings, or you’ll get some practical comments from people trying to help you. Both will seem like insults. They really will. You cannot imagine how annoying they will feel. Do not get annoyed. The people who have given you practical advice are simply telling you that there was something about the reading experience that they didn’t enjoy. Funnily enough, the people who just gave you polite feedback are essentially doing the same thing. They’re just not bold enough to suggest a change.

Now we can make allowances for genre and story type - grandma’s probably not going to be a huge fan of brutal combat SF, for example, so that colours things slightly. But the simple truth is that you want to write, and if you want to write, you need to write for OTHER PEOPLE. Using your own enthusiasms as a yardstick in the creative phase is a very sound idea (see above), and if people like what you like, that’s great. But if they have criticisms or comments, listen to them. Don’t get the hump. Don’t tell them they’re wrong, or they don’t understand. Listen to them. This is free test audience advice, so take it and be grateful. Consider what it is about your stories that people like, and which elements they dislike. If you’ve had time to let your manuscript mature, these things may have become obvious to you too.

One of the reasons you’ll get cross about ‘negative’ comments is that a novel or even a novella is a huge chunk of work. It will have probably taken you months to write, and acting on someone’s remarks could represent months more revision work, not a quick afternoon of fixes.

Sorry, that’s the way it is. If you want to write, this is one of the simple facts that you need to accept from the start or disembark the writing bus. Glaciers move slowly. Supertankers do not turn on a dime. Writing takes time. Sometimes you will despise it, because it will seem like the worst up-hill slog ever. Jokes aside, learning some stress-busting relaxation techniques (meditation, yoga, breathing exercises etc) might help, because it’s a long haul. Remember what I said in the previous letter about marathons?

Well, I’ve said plenty. If you, Ryan, or anyone else has any specific questions on this topic, or want me to expand on anything, this is the place to ask. I can’t pretend I’m going to be any more useful than I’ve already not been.

I’ll just add a couple of things in conclusion here. One is to remark upon the comment Dju made after one of the earlier letters, when he said that sometimes chasing and collecting ideas is of itself a wonderful thing. Couldn’t agree more. Jeffrey Dobberpuhl quoted the great Harlon Ellison saying something I couldn’t agree LESS with, except from the standpoint of a professional writer, but I really appreciated Jeff’s novice-friendly reading of the advice.

And as a last word, you should all check out Alan Moore’s Five Tips for Would-be Comic Writers, which appeared in his book 'On Writing' and apply to all writers, I believe. You can find it here.

Good luck and happy writing.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Three Funky and Fun Things To Do On Saturday

1. Put on some comfortable clothes, relax, and then read and enjoy the loveliness of this little trail here. Then wash it down with this perfectly formed review.

2. Hie yourself over to Aaron Dembski-Bowden's blog and enjoy the ass off his recent post about the Black Library Live/Horus Summit.

3. Dash to your local newsagent or vendor and buy a copy of today's Guardian. The Review section has a particularly good feature where some very famous writers give their top ten writing tips. It's great - much better than jaded old me expected it to be when I sat down and started reading. Note: I know it's late in the day, and by the time you read this the shop might be out of Guardians, or it might be Sunday. I'm guessing the Guardian on-line will carry the article too. Very interesting and very useful in combination with my "Dear Ryan" ramblings...

Friday, February 19, 2010!

SciFiNow, that splendid journal of SF, fantasy, horror and cult TV, interviewed me this week for their next issue, but before I could even blink, the interview was already up on their website. I tell you, it's like living in the future. I say it here, it comes out there.

Also, this just in: IGN's 8.5 review of Guardians of the Galaxy. Take heed! Spoiler warnings!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Also in the weekend post...

...a makes-it-all-worthwhile review, which can be found here.

Things To Do At The Weekend #2: Forget Things

I forget names. We’ll come back to that, though it’s important. Who are you again?

I was going to go Blog-Zing crazy yesterday with stuff about BLL, but after my first post I realised I was tired and firing on about one-and-a-half cylinders, so it was time to sit down. Sorry about that. Still, that first post got bundles of great comments out of you, some of which reminded me about the forgetting names thing I’ve been meaning to mention.

Here's one dude I do know the name of. Russ welcomes you to BL Live.

Anyway, covering the basics I should have covered yesterday:

Yes, I like White Scars a lot.
I had a great time.
I’m not sure which I liked more - the mind-zap Horus Summit or BL Live, as they were both so enervating.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been out, so thanks to everyone for being so nice.
I want to write a book about Imperial Navy actions sometime.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you longer, Matthew; I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you at all, Sarah; I’m sorry I missed you, Big; I’m sorry we didn’t get to dissect Aliens properly, Xhalax; I’m sorry I don’t necessarily know more of you better (more of that again later).
I finally met the quite splendid Junior McNeill.
I want to thank Jim Swallow for his advice.
I want to thank Alex Stewart for the lift.
I want to thank Caroline and George for the tea.
I want to say “Hi Katie, sorry you didn’t get to go dancing”.
Just before Aaron decided to throw me to the mob to ensure his safe entry to the BL building, he, Jim and I had created a Second Founding Space Marine chapter called The Arseless Chaps.
Thanks to the Heresy Summit, I know what my next Horus book is going to be called.
No, of course I can’t tell you.
I forget names.

I don’t know how the summit could have been bettered, apart maybe for running it over several days. There’s a great thing that happens when the ideas start ricocheting around the room (“Put that thing away before you get us all killed!”). I’m not going to call it synergy, because that a pants word, but something happens that there’s probably a five dollar term for. I think it’s fair to say there were four or maybe five probably great, big ideas that came out of the afternoon, and we all, collectively, recognised them the moment they occurred. And each idea was had by one of us for one of the others to use. There was no “I’m keeping that one for myself”.

BL Live was an excellent way to spend the day. For me, it was like getting back on the horse after my recent high jinks. Thanks, everyone.

Warhamer World was its usual splendid self. This is before the gaming hordes descended.

Now, I would like to make it publicly known that I’m terrible with names. Properly terrible. Birthdays too, but that’s another story. It’s bad enough with people I don’t know, but when you’ve done a few years of Games Days etc, and the same faces are beginning to crop up more than once, I feel proper anguish that I can’t remember who people are with any degree of precision. I would never want to be rude and mis-remember people, and clearly there is a growing bunch of you that I’ve actually got to know now, but please, everyone else, don’t be shy. People can only remember so many faces anyway, and I’m crapper than average at it (especially now my synapses are mis-firing). Remind me when I saw you last, or if you haunt this blog under a colourful pseudonym, or whatever, otherwise I come away with a sense of slight regret that I didn’t recognise someone, or engage with them more than in a general, cheerful way.

Right, that’s the end of the pathetic-sounding appeal. Those of you who have queued up in the past know what it looks like as you approach the signing table.

Here's what it looked like for Graham, Neil and me.

pyro (Sarah) - ADB’s sideburns will dominate any room. Fact.

tim - I actually found being verbally redacted by the Inquisition to be quite fun, though I was trying to think of something to say that was so outrageous Alex would have had to physically tackle me and hurl me to the ground. Also, during the summit the day before, we thought (too late) of taking some mock photos of us all sitting there looking bored, like in school on a Friday afternoon. God, that would have been funny.

suneokun - Yeah, I heard they called it the Third Reich Building.

Matthew - There are no wolves on Fenris. Maybe cats...maybe...

Hagelrat - sorry you weren’t there but thank you so much for the bookmarks (in use now).

Ilmarinen - this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Big! What happened, buddy?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Things To Do For The Weekend #1: Plot Overthrow Of Imperium

What a great weekend. Normal blogging service will be resumed as soon as possible, but before that, I want to share some of the fun that was Black Library Live AND the latest Horus Heresy planning summit.

Let's start with a shot of the chamber known as The High Lords Of Terra. This is one of the key sanctum sanctorum rooms in GW headquarters, where we gathered on Friday for our Horus Heresy Summit. And, yes, it's got a giant aquila across the windows

In the second shot, some of the High Lords begin to assemble: from left, Jim Swallow, Christian Dunn, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Nick Kyme.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

(BL) Live and kicking!

The long-anticipated Black Library Live day coming up this Saturday, so see you there if you’re going. Warning: the event may cause a slight hiatus in blog posts (by which I mean a slight hiatus by my new regular-as-fibre standards) depending upon hotel internet access. I’ll be thinking of things to blog at the very least.

Before I dash away now, here’s another rather lovely comics review (follow the link and scroll down to click Nova/Guardians of the Galaxy on The Pull List). It’s nice when somebody gets it.

See you Saturday in Nottingham, BL Livers!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Clickety-clack (again!)

Once again, Marvel deadlines have kept me too busy to write the next part of “Dear Ryan”. That’s coming soon. In the meantime, big thanks to Dju, my French translator, for passing along the following news item. It would appear that a certain someone has run mad again...

Irishman urinated on French bread in protest at Henry handball, court told


A drunken unemployed plasterer who was found urinating on the French loaves section of a large supermarket in protest at the infamous handball incident in the France vs Ireland World Cup qualifier was this week given a suspended sentence, fined and bound over to keep the peace.

Frances “Smokie” Larkin, The Meadows, Killareagh, Co Roscommon pleaded guilty to the incident at Maher’s ValueStore supermarket, Killareagh, one week after the match which Ireland controversially drew after the French goal was deemed to have scored despite a blatant handball by French striker Thierry Henry.

Staff found the 46-year-old urinating on the Cuisine de France section of the bread shelves in Maher’s, shouting “this will teach ye, ye cheating French b*****dddds,” before he was taken away by local gardai.

Gardai Anthony Flanagan told the court that he had been called to the store at 11.15 on the morning of November 25.

“When I reached the shop, I was informed that Mr Larkin was causing a disturbance in the bread section and when I got there, he was urinating on the French bread section and stamping on a loaf. I later ascertained that the loaves were brioches, a sort of French bread.

“When he saw me, he tried to run away but I apprehended him and grabbed him by the arm. He said ‘that’s for Thierry Henry, guard. If you have any pride in your country, you’ll let me go.

“Then he said ‘that’ll teach them, the cheating French b*****dddds.’”

Addressing the court, Angela Roche, solicitor for the defendant said that her client had a problem with drink and that normally he was a placid character. 

“It is when he mixes alcohol with his passion for sport that he gets himself into situations like this,” she said. 

She said that Mr Larkin had become quite agitated with the result of the World Cup match and had worn an “I shot Thierry Henry” t-shirt that he had made up in a local t-shirt shop.

In evidence, Mr Larkin apologised to Mahers store and said that he “had no axe to grind with them,” but that they had been caught up in what he said was “friendly fire.” 

He said that he wanted to make a grand gesture to show that the Irish were not going to take the controversial incident lying down.

“The French loaf is the symbol of France and so by doing what I did, I was standing up for Irish pride,” he said.

Mr Larkin had a previous conviction for setting fire to a tennis club shed in his teens, an incident from which he had earned the nickname Smokie.

In his summary, Judge Fergus O’Halloran said that what Mr Larkin had done was despicable and was also a threat to public hygiene.

 “You did this without any thought to the consquences for the unfortunate shoppers who had to buy that bread.

 “If it was in my power to recommend that you seek help for your alcohol addiction, I would do so and also suggest that you take some responsibility for your temper and inappropriate behaviour.

“We cannot have louts like yourself with half-baked ideas about national pride carrying out acts like this,” he said, before sentencing Larkin to six months in jail, suspended on condition he does not breach the peace for one year, fining €500 and ordering him to pay €1,000 to Michael Maher for the clean up of the bread shelf areas.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Dear Ryan (part two)

Dear Ryan

I’m back, and this time I’ve brought a bag full of the bleeding obvious.

If you want to write, you’ve got to write (yeah, don’t groan, I said today was Bring A Bag Of The Bleeding Obvious To Work Day, didn’t I?). It’s as simple as that. If you want to be an actor, or a rock star, and you can’t get a part in a play, or an audition for a band, then there are mitigating circumstances for you not acting or rock-starring. Except for “I haven’t got a pen”, there are no excuses for not writing. And even without a pen, crayon, pencil, or lump of dried monkey poo, you can be thinking about stuff to write down later.

Writing - being a writer - is an ongoing, long-term, cumulative thing. It accretes like dust. It’s not something you do for a few hours one weekend, like kayaking or SingStar. It’s an ongoing lifestyle choice, something that is never far away, like a favourite sweater, or an annoying brother.

It’s up to you how much of a lifestyle choice it becomes. You decide where to place it on the bell curve that runs from idle pass-time through serious hobby to life-altering obsession. It’s a little like smoking, I suppose. You may smoke a couple of cigarettes at a party once in a while, or you might be a forty-a-day guy: either way, you’re still a smoker, dude.

The point is, you’ve got to be doing it to be it. You’ve got to write. In the early stages of what, if you’re lucky (and I use the word advisedly), will be a process that eventually comes to dominate your life like a giant and petulantly demanding Writing God, you should write for yourself. You should write as often as you can. You should write for fun. You should write anything.

Just write. Get those writing joints shaken out. Build those writing muscles. Pump it! Get limber and flexible. Have a laugh. Hum the Rocky theme as you jog up the steps in Writerdelphia (note: metaphors in use).

You can write scraps and fragments, you can write a book, you can write short stories. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I’ve got a stack of folders and file cartons filled with stuff I spewed out as a teenager, and as a young man trying to get into the industry. Sometimes I can still fish a fragment out that's got some battery life left in it, but most of the stuff is beyond recycling. The folders and cartons simply represent the training montage from the movie of my career (note: there isn’t a movie of my career, obviously.)

Once you’ve got the habit of it, the habit of writing things down, and trying them out for size, and for the way they sound in your head when you read them back, you can start showing them to people. That will be the moment when people start saying stupid things to you that you don’t want to hear, which is a fun issue we’ll deal with next time.

For now, buy a pencil. Hey, why not buy a BOX of pencils!? Or, you know, a laptop. Or feed your monkey extra fibre and wait beside him with a hairdryer. Just get writing.

Visualise it this way: a poem or a song lyric is a 100 metres sprint; an article or feature is a 400 metres race; a short story is an 800 metres steeplechase; a novel is a marathon.

Would you try to run any of those things if you hadn’t been in training first?

Oh, and if this bag of the bleeding obvious has come as a disappointment (sorry, you were warned), let me throw in one Actual Solid Practical Tip, free and gratis, no purchase necessary. Buy a small notebook, one that pleases you to use and is small enough to carry in your pocket. Carry it in your pocket at all times. When you are not equipped with a pocket (I’m thinking, in bed, in the shower, dressed as Wonder Woman) strategically place the notebook near to your location (ie on the night stand, by the sink, in the glovebox of the invisible jet).

Write down any ideas you have. Any good names, or words, or notions. Any jokes you like, or stories, or whatever the hell else. Write down anything you think might be of use in your writing (suitably recycled, adjusted or customised, etc). Just collect stuff up for later use. If you don’t write ideas down when you think of them, YOU WILL FORGET THEM. Do not tell yourself you will be able to remember them later when you get home, because you will be lying to yourself, and no one likes a liar.

I’m only going to tell you that tip once.

Talk to you soon.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Clickety-Clack! (the sound of my fingers typing faster than Jessica Fletcher's)

Up to my Nova Corps helmet chin-strap with some Marvel scripting right now, so I'll be back with another chunk of "Dear Ryan" writing tips as soon as (though here's one to be going on with: writing for a living trumps writing about writing for a living).

In the meantime, a short but very sweet review here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dear Ryan

I got this letter by email the other day. As you can imagine, I get a lot of mail, most of it through this site. A lot of it is positive feedback for my books and comics, which I’m grateful to receive. I try to respond to everybody personally, even if it’s just a casual thank you.

Sometimes, people write to take me to task over something and generally tell me how wrong I am, or how bad, or how mistaken, or simply how crap. This is pretty much par for the course in this business we call Write, and I’m grateful for it too, no matter how odd that might sound. It’s not pleasant to be told you suck, but sometimes it’s useful. A writer needs to learn how to use negative criticism as free ammunition (to make him think about his own work and perhaps improve it) and not feel wounded. Either that, or never stick his head over the battlements.

I’m not invulnerable, and sometimes I feel dejected because of the things people say to me about my books despite the fact that, quite often, I don’t even think they mean to be hurtful.

Anyway, a hot button topic, positive or negative, is usually the death of characters (what a surprise). It crops up about as often as the other FAQ - writing advice. Ryan’s letter typifies the sentiment of much of my positive mail, but I found it a particularly stirring example. He’s given me permission to publish it below, so that rather than answering his request for tips privately, I can do it in public for everyone’s benefit.

Ryan, thanks.

Dear Mr. Abnett,

We met once, eight years ago at the 2002 Gamesday in Baltimore,
Maryland. I was just fifteen years old then and my father was with me. He had bought your Eisenhorn trilogy for me, which you signed, and I left untouched on my shelf all these years for fear of damaging actual signed copies. I finally did read the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies just this past year, great stuff, the dialogue between Frauka and Carl when they're waiting in the lander and the thug gets the drop on them in the origin story about Patience had me laughing so hard I nearly fel out of my chair.

When you were signing them, I brought up how I was angry when you
killed Bragg. You asked me why I was angry and I gave you a rather offhand comment about how I liked the character. You nodded and went back to signing. Truth is, I was rather intimidated at that moment and my answer was a cop-out. Plus, my real answer was rather more long-winded so I figured it wasn't proper etiquette to tie up your time with it. It has always nagged me since then (silly, I know, right?) that I never got to tell you my real answer.

So here it is. It was not so much that you killed Bragg that upset me, but how he was killed. If he had died in war, slain by some agent of Chaos or what-have-you I do not think I would have felt much disappointment because he's a soldier and that is what you expect to happen. But having Cuu kill him really got to me. It made me so angry I couldn't even sleep after reading it. And it was because the Ghosts had been a family. The original Ghosts from Tanith, we had gotten to know them over a few books before the influx of the Vervunhivers. Here was this Vervunhiver betraying and killing off one of the original Ghosts, an outsider coming in and destroying the family. That's what made me so angry, and that's the answer I would have liked to have given you back in 2002.

Since that book, you've killed off many of the main characters,
and every one made me feel sad at their loss. It is for that very
reason that whenever I am asked my favorite author, my answer has
always been, Dan Abnett. I actually feel something when a character dies. They're fictional, not real, no one was actually harmed in the writing of your books, and yet I can still feel sad after putting the book down like I just lost someone I cared about.

I definitely do not have the gift of a storyteller, in fact my
stories usually fall flat when I tell them, but perhaps that is
another art altogether from the written story. But something in me wants to write stories, for no other reason than for myself. I have always wanted something more from life than what is possible. To me life is really all just variations of the same pattern. We get an education, we choose a career, we start a family, and we see things through to our end. But that doesn't hold much meaning for me.

What I find meaningful can only be found in stories. I want to go
slay a dragon, be a hero, save Middle Earth, clash lightsabers with a Sith, pour lasgun shots over a sandbag bunker, I think that pretty much conveys the idea. Sure, I try to satisfy this desire with reading, Warhammer, with video games, movies, TV shows, etc but my thirst is never really sated.

The only way I can experience all these fantastical things would be to live vicariously through the stories I create. Even if my
written stories fall flat and are as trash as I anticipate, at least they'll serve their purpose to me. I have no formal training, I never had a creative writing class in my life, I don't fancy myself a writer of any kind.

I just wanted to perhaps hear some advice from you on the subject of writing. You signed the word "Repent!" into my Eisenhorn books so perhaps that is really the key behind all things, but if you had any more elaborate answers that would be lovely. Another author made a comment about how whenever he's approached by people who say they want to write, his first question is, "What do you like to read?" because reading is a great way to improve writing and I agree with that.

When I do try to write, I have plenty of ideas for characters and
scenes and dialogue but it all gets lost in translation between my
brain and the screen. Honestly, I don't know how to start.
Perhaps working inside a universe that has already been created, like Warhammer or Star Wars, or Warcraft where the general framework of the universe has already been established and I can work off that framework rather than from scratch would be easier?
Anyways, thank for you providing me with endless stories to enjoy
since the day I picked up First & Only.

Take care and thank you for your time,

-Ryan Brundage

Dear Ryan

Thanks for your email. The subject of Bragg’s death has come up time and again since The Guns of Tanith came out, and I’m sure my comments to you back in 2002 were a variation on what I usually ask: “Did you care?”

This is what matters to me, and this is why I ‘did’ it. I try to create character-driven stories that are so compelling they inspire gut reactions in a reader - even if that reaction is to hurl a book across a room in outrage. If I kill off a character and the readers utter a resounding “meh” then I don’t think I’m doing a bang-up job.

From your letter, I get it. You may not have been able to express it in 2002 (though you could have held the queue up for a few minutes, nobody would have minded), but your letter does it really well. I’m glad, it’s the response I wanted, because it’s a response. I’m flattered.

I think it’s important to realize that while I am in control of these books and characters, I’m not a cruel and vengeful creator. I am very engaged with them, and it pains me, really pains me, to do anything remotely unpleasant to any of them. I go where the drama takes me, and sometimes (though this will sound terribly poncey, so forgive me) it’s the characters who decide what happens next, and who lives or dies. To give you two non-specific examples, there’s one Ghost book where I knew a main character was going to die but only in the writing of the ‘death’ scene’ did I realise that it wasn’t going to be the one I was expecting it to be. In another Gaunt book, a Ghost died when I wasn’t expecting one to at all, unplanned. It just made sense. It wasn’t nice sense, but it was sense.

I’m glad this matters to you, and I’m glad and honored that it seems to matter to a lot of readers.

As for storytelling, I get asked for advice a lot, and I’d like to take this opportunity, in this post and the next few that follow, to set out some basic pointers as they appear to me. They are not infallible, and they are neither right nor wrong. They’re are just what they are. You can learn an awful lot from formal writing classes or informal advice from authors but, in the end, writing is just one of those things that are unquantifiable.

This post is now running too long, so I’ll end for now with a couple of comments. One is to pick up on the reading thing. It is the primary way to develop your writing and write better. Look at what other writers do and consider how they do it, how they achieve (or fail to achieve, heaven forbid) what they’re up to. I also believe that if you aren’t an eager reader you won’t make an eager writer. It’s like trying to be a great chef but not liking food much.

I also believe reading and writing enjoy a relationship that’s akin to the fuel in/fuel out principle. I’m not talking about plagiarism here; I just know that if I don’t read for a few days, if I don’t pour words into the fuel tank, I can’t write well. And it can be anything - a classic novel, a newspaper, a gossip magazine.

The second thing is just an idle aside. I agree that fiction is a marvelous escape, perhaps the greatest and purest route of all, but I think real life has a little more going for it than you suggest. Balance in all things.

Nice talking to you. I’ll post more soon.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Black Library Love

Here's how it's looking, official and timetabled. I believe there are still, like, two tickets left.

Run. RUN.

No Blog Like Home(page)

Babel Clash was a nice place to visit for a fortnight. The weather was great, and the company very affable, and the nightlife - man oh man! Between us Graham McNeill and I turned our stay as guest bloggers on the Borders US SF and F site into a record breaker - they got more traffic than during any previous guest tenure. So if you’re joining me here because you met me there, howdy! Let’s see what we can get nattering about.

Two cultural things for today. First, I see that Steve Jobs is finally marketing the dataslate I invented at the start of the Gaunt's Ghosts series ten years ago. B-dam tish!

Second (and I realise that this time I’m way late to the party) I went to see Avatar. Very groovy indeed. I was genuinely relieved to see Wayne Barlowe’s name in the end titles because, you know, otherwise he’d have every reason to feel intellectually raped. But doesn’t JC owe a fat old thank-you payment to the estate of Burne Hogarth for the jungles, and Roger Dean for... everything else? (Except for the Colonial Marines, which JC took from himself.)

And was it just me, or did the score from Oscar-winning composer James Horner* keep sounding either a) like the driving Colonial Marine music from Aliens, or b) like it was a note or two away from soaring into the main theme from Titanic?

* That’s James Horner, Oscar-winning composer of the music from James Cameron’s movies Aliens and Titanic.

Monday, February 01, 2010

First look: Embedded

To celebrate the first day of February or whatever else the funt you want to celebrate, Angry Robot has unveiled the cover art to my 2010 release, the combat SF novel Embedded. The art is by the fethtastically talented Larry Rostant. No further words are necessary. Just look.