Japan Writers Conference 2014 Report – Day 1

This year’s Japan Writers Conference (JWC) happened in Morioka in northern Japan on the 25th and 26th of October. After being unable to attend last year (I was in the UK at that time for the World Fantasy Convention) it was great to see some old friends as well as make new ones.
Since several conferences/festivals happened in Morioka that weekend, we had a hotel shortage problem and I ended up staying at an old but cozy ryokan some 25 km south of Morioka in a place called Shiwachuo on the Tohoku-Honsen train line. What a nice, sleepy hinterland town 😉
Trains went only once per half-hour and I missed one on the first morning, which resulted in arriving 20 min late for the first session.

Karen McGee talked about the Writer’s Bookshelf.
Since I missed the first half, this is only a partial report. What books do you need/should you have on your bookshelf concerning craft, reference books etc.
Some new tips for me were (aside from e.g. Stephen King’s “On Writing”, or “Self editing for fiction writers” etc.:) “The 10% solution”, “Reading Like a Writer”, in the craft category, and in the reference category: “The Way Things Work”, and “The Negative Trait Thesaurus”.
As for Internet sources: “Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus”, specialist forums like e.g. the “locksmiths forum” (who know a lot about locks) are a good address for information and if you search for settings try: “YouTube real estate videos”

Next I “snuck” into the closed poetry analysis session of David Gilby. (Thanks for letting me hang out!).
Three poets read and discussed their poems and it was quite an intense critique session.
Also as a prose writer you have to choose your words carefully, of course, but as a poet even more so.
There were several deep dives into the meaning of words during this session, leaving me with the re-realization that words are incredibly ambiguous and it’s very hard to convey what you mean to others. Even if you try to be concrete, it’s damn hard to be. And: the more concrete you are, the better. Further: avoid cliches at all costs. Both issues are very much true also in (long) fiction and this session was an excellent reminder of the trouble with words.

After lunch in the university’s canteen, I digested villains.
Hugh Ashton gave a great talk on villains.
Sometimes villains can be abstract things (like “fate” in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), or internal (“The Killer Inside Me” – Jim Thompson).
Your “usual” villain though is the antagonist who drives your hero nuts.
Very often you can trace their villainy down to one or two or more of the seven deadly sins (except for gluttony and sloth maybe, but it’s now tickling me to explore how a sloth villain would behave, (not the cute animal of course)).
Another thing you need to take into account is to make your villain likeable = to give him/her some redeeming qualities so that the audience can identify with him/her. They need a motivation and a schtick or a habit.
The same is of course true for heroes, too smooth and “good” heroes are boring, they need something bad about them too to make them interesting.

We explored a couple of popular and widely known villains under the 7 deadly sins aspect.
Lady Macbeth – her candidate of the 7 deadly sins is envy, her redeeming quality is that she develops a conscience
Hannibal Lecter – pride. He’s a true psychopath, but he can also be kind and considerate, and is very smart
Jame Gumb (the other villain from “The Silence of the Lambs” who skins his victims) – lust. There is nothing redeeming about him, but at least an attempt at explaining why he is a monster
Iago – envy. A smart, intellectual villain who uses stealth, not violence
Goldfinger – avarice. But he’s got style and black humor
Professor Moriarty – pride, the “Napoleon of crime”, high intellectual abilities, funny and sinister, camp and clever.
Next up we did a little exercise in which we created our own little villain in pairs of two, which was great fun.

I don’t write YA (and have no desire to do so) but nevertheless attended Suzanne Kamata’s session “YA or Why Not”
We took a look at some examples of YA books and the floating boundaries to “normal” adult fiction (without even touching the new thing in between: the “New Adult” category (where the protagonist is in his/her early twenties)).
One characteristic of YA is that the book stays on story, without wandering off, but the same is true for a lot of (adult) genre fiction too.
One book we looked at was originally released as “adult” fiction, sales were disappointing – now, with a fresh “younger” cover, they try to re-market it as YA. Thus are the politics of the publishing world.

The last session I attended that day was Bob Tobin’s – the Courage to Write
In my personal case, I do not need the courage to write (I do that quite voluntarily all the time) but I am in dire need of the “courage” (or rather the energy) to market my stuff.
Bob gave a few nice hints about how to deal with your worries of rejection, being laughed at etc.:
e.g.: write down the things you are worrying about and literally throw them into the garbage bag, or if that is not enough, rip them up and flush them down the toilet.
Caution vs courage, if caution is 1 and courage 7 on a scale, where are you and what do you need to do to move more into the courage direction?
Ask yourself what stops you and try to silence your own critic. (You are likely your worst critic).
Stop comparing yourself to anyone else and don’t go to “pity city”.
Create a (supportive) community – without jerks in it.
How to react to feedback: If you get bad feedback from a person you respect, ask him/her to tell you more details. If the feedback comes from someone you don’t respect, disregard it, because they don’t understand you and your work (easier said than done). Always say thanks and don’t argue with people who give you bad feedback.
Write about what bothers you most, be it jealously, fear or being ridiculed… That frees you up.
It was a nice motivational session, which we all need sometimes in the hostile publishing world 😉

Read my report on the sessions of the second conference day next week.
And here is the link to the conference video shot and edited by Tom Baker

Soon to Come – Give Substance to a Thought

My latest novel, “Give Substance to a Thought” will soon see the light of day (November, if all goes well).
It’s the last part of my Hagen Patterson trilogy. Thus it is also the first time that I finished a trilogy in novel form. The entire trilogy took roughly 260,000 words to tell (80,000 + 85,000 + 95,000), not bad considering that the first volume “She Should Have Called Him Siegfried” originally was supposed to be a stand-alone.
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Funnily, the second part was easiest to write. The first draft of “To Mix and To Stir” took me barely 5 weeks. The first draft of the last part – “Give Substance to a Thought” took about 4 months to write.
I kept the same structure throughout the entire trilogy = Alchemist Hagen Patterson as the main POV in third person limited. Then in each book another minor 3rd person limited POV – In part 1 Hagen’s mother Emma, in part 2 Hagen’s alchemy “candidate” (precursor to apprentice) Lana Hardwood and in part 3 the minor 3rd person limited POV has fallen to the alchemists’ arch enemy – the head of the “governmental agents” – a guy called Andy Mitchell. Further each book has a more or less mysterious 1st person POV who tells her story in present tense. In part one that was Hagen’s potion client Helena, in part two a strange lady who turns out to be Al’s wife and in part three it is an even more mysterious entity from Al’s realm that I shall make a secret of right now.
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Last but not least there are “reports” from the governmental agents. Most of them are to be found in part 1, in part 2 they are still there, but in reduced form. Now, since in part 3 one of the agents is a POV character I decided to not use these reports anymore, except for one. In the prologue myself, the author, is agent no. 1 and gives a bit of a summary in the style of “what happened before”. I wrote several versions of this prologue, once in Hagen’s mother’s Emma’s POV even, but then decided to become agent 1 and do the summary in a “neutral” form. I was thinking for a long time whether to do this summary at all or not, but one of my beta-readers advised me to better leave it in, since the piece is so plot-heavy. Is it??? 😉 If the Hagen trilogy is plot heavy you haven’t read my second Dome of Souls novel yet. lol. Well, nobody has read that one yet, since the first draft was just finished some 2 weeks ago 😉 I would call that one plot-heavy indeed 😉
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Back to Hagen and the rest of the cast.
At the end of To Mix and to Stir is the big revelation of who Al is. Part 3 now deals with the “real” Al and his realm and Hagen is quite torn between his “normal” life that consists of brewing potion, being a father of three children and dealing with the governmental agents on the one hand and Al and his problems on the other. Looking at the end of the book – man, it is quite long, since all those threads need to be brought to a closure (Yes, there will be closure, if with a loophole ;-))
Another thing about structure is the timing and pace of the trilogy. the “Siegfried” novel happened within a span one half a year, “To Mix and To Stir” within the span of a few weeks (I think it’s six, I must check again) 13 years after part 1, and “Give Substance” now takes places within the span of a few days (some two weeks in total) and picks up right where “To Mix and To Stir” left off. Such deliberate scheduling has its challenges but it also provides a nice frame that I could hold on to while writing it. And one more bit about structure: Book 1 started with Hagen’s POV, Book 2 started with the POV of the minor 3rd person limited character – in this case Lana Hardwood. Book 3 starts with the mysterious 1st person POV in present tense. It’s all deliberate…
I had great fun constructing this world and also Al’s realm and I hope you will like the grand finale of my musings about the problems of my favorite alchemist of all times – Hagen Patterson 😉 – And I personally am very very happy with Katoh sensei’s magnificent covers for all three Hagen books! Thank you Katoh sensei!

Norma(l)n

During a recent Tower Record hunt, I came across the movie “Hitchcock” with Anthony Hopkins as the master himself and Helen Mirren as his wife. That can’t be too bad, so I bought the DVD. Well, big stars don’t necessarily make a good movie. While Anthony and Helen did good jobs, the story felt a bit thin, describing the “difficulties” the Hitchcock couple faced when directing and producing Psycho. What the movie lacked was a strong bad guy. The dude from Paramount who nearly refused to distribute the movie and the censor watchdog were not prominent enough to be counted as worthy antagonists. Also the side plot about Alma Hitchcock having a fancy for some writer did not give enough juice for a good counter-weight to Alfred.
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The one most striking thing about the Hitchcock movie I found to be the bit of the censor watchdog complaining to Hitch that he showed a toilet in the movie.
I was not aware that before 1960 and this movie, no toilets were allowed to be shown in US productions… and no nudity either. Which I find amazing. In Germany the taboo of nudity on film was broken by the, outside of Germany not so well known (I guess), actress Hildegard Knef. She caused one of the biggest scandals in German film history by being the first woman appearing naked on screen and that was already in 1951 in the movie “Die Suenderin” (the (female) sinner). (I might have seen it a long while back, but I don’t remember it at all and have no clue whether it was a good or bad movie).

Watching this “Hitchcock” thing had the strong effect to make me want to see Psycho again. I have seen it a long time ago, but now I promptly bought it and watched it last night. Hitch was a master indeed. Apart from the psychologist explaining about Norman Bates’ “schizophrenia” in the end, which is all telling, not showing, this is such a bold movie considering it was 1960. Killing off the heroine after 45 minutes into the movie, having an “amoral” heroine to begin with, who sneaks away from the office during lunch time to have sex with her divorced lover, then stealing money. And Norman of course, the amazing Anthony Perkins whose last evil look into the camera is worse than the shower murder scene.
That murder scene in itself, kyaaaa! The room behind the motel’s office with the stuffed birds, the famous house on the hill where Mrs. Bates awaits you. Man, this movie is now 54 years old and has lost nothing of its appeal. Also in our times of ever grander special effects, 3D etc., at the heart of it all is the good, twisted and interesting story. If you don’t have that, all your effects won’t help you. I wish more filmmakers would turn to old master pieces and learn from them. And tonight I’ll watch “The Birds” again, which I happened to order together with Psycho. Hitch, you were awesome.

Believable?

I recently watched the “movie” “Tin Man” or in Japan called “Outer Zone”. They sold it for a 1000 yen at Tower Records. I only realized later that it is a radically cut version of the Sci-Fi channel mini series “Tin Man”. I obviously haven’t seen it, and its ratings in IMDb are actually not that bad, however, I found the thing horrible. This “movie” represents the limit of what you can do with editing a story. Maybe the long version = the entire mini-series is better, but this cut to pieces something was one of the worst movie experiences I ever had.

The story felt choppy and sorry, but the leading actress seemed like the most unnatural actress they could find. Her reactions to what was happening around her were completely unbelievable. She shrugged off life-changing events with indifference. Oh, the people she thought are her parents are not her parents. So what? When she first meets the character Glitch her reaction to the fact that he has his brain removed and a zipper on top of his head is lame rather than cool, and so forth.

The wannabe steampunk look had a ridiculous feel to it rather than making things attractive because it served no purpose and was not an integral part of the story. The artificial people in the first OZ village the heroine goes to are causing the reaction – what the hell is that? What purpose does this story item serve? What does it add to the story that these people are half mechanized?
The Wizard of Oz is a great story and the movie a legend (I’ve seen it, but it’s a long time ago). I remember drama and being awfully scared of the wicked witch of the west.

In this “Tin Man” movie the characters are stumbling from one convenient event to the other: They have to find her father. The dog/creature thing immediately finds access to this city underground. There they immediately find someone who gives them a tip without motivation. Then DG, the heroine, gets abducted by no one else but her daddy. Dah!!! Maybe they need more time to get from A to B in the mini series, in the movie though clues come out of the blue and always fit and are highly convenient.

One of the worst sequences is when DG remembers her past. She walks through the woods, the dog/creature thing tells her to remember an oh, so suddenly she remembers everything.
Horrible plotting, one dimensional characters, no explanations for how the heroine and her entourage travel from a to b – and oh, suddenly they are back at the tower of her sister who is possessed by the evil witch of the west.
Why does the bad sister have followers at all? What’s in it for them? Nothing in this movie adds up and it’s a great lesson for every writer on how NOT to do it.
Your characters need motivation, more than one character trait, and they need to react naturally to what’s happening around them. Your plot needs to be logical, even in fantasy you need to explain how people get from A to B, you must make things difficult for your characters instead of presenting them with the next clue on a silver plate. Great lessons learned, thanks, you do really learn a lot as a writer from bad examples 😉

Ballet Under the Dome

Okay, this blog entry will be a little bit of a stretch – Russian ballet vs. American TV.
I’ve been to my first ballet ever and consider that worth a report and I’m watching the series Under the Dome at the moment and got some comments about it too.

Ballet:
I spontaneously went to see my first ballet ever last Wednesday, The Matthew Bourne “all men” production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
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I guess it was a good choice to make this my first ballet ever, since I at least remotely knew something about the story, thanks to a movie I like very much – Black Swan – with Natalie Portman. So there is this princess Odette, who is turned into a swan by a curse and only true love can bring her back or she will be turned into a swan forever.
I kinda expected a “black swan” – the bad sorcerer who turns her into one somewhere but either I didn’t get it or it was missing from the Matthew Bourne production. In the original the hero, Siegfried, is not married and his mother seems to be bitching him around, but in the Bourne production she looked more like his wife than his mother, at least to my eyes.

It was amazing to see just a few gestures establishing their relationship. They looked like they have been married to each other for politics and especially she does not like him and rejects any sort of affection he is trying to show her. Very subtly expressed with just a few gestures and how the dancers posed their bodies.
The swans were impressive, all men and they did an excellent job at looking animal like. I’m kinda interested in seeing a classical production of the ballet where the swans are all girls. With men as swans the esthetics were elegant, yes, but also animalistic. Odette was danced by a dancer called Chris Tranfield (I think) and man, the guy was good. I found the scenes without the swans a bit long and dragging at times, but whenever the swans were around it was interesting and impressive. These dancers don’t seem to have bones in their bodies.
The finale of Odette and Siegfried dying was really amazing to watch. You don’t need words to tell a story. As a writer there are quite some lessons to be learned from that 😉
I shall be on the lookout for more ballet.
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Under the Dome:
I’m watching that on hulu and while I liked at least most of the first season it’s starting to be a bit bland in the beginning of the second season. It’s about a small US town suddenly being trapped under a mysterious, invisible and indestructible dome some 30 miles wide or so. Although there is no ultimate revelation yet, aliens seem to be involved. What I find noteworthy about this series are only two things. Uncle Hank from Breaking Bad is playing the main bad guy (quite well) here and the other thing is the Game of Thrones syndrome of killing off major characters like flies… What has Mr. George R.R. Martin done??? He kicked off a trend to kill your characters. While your protagonists should suffer, yes, go through hardship, have tough decisions to make and and and, what good are they to you if they’re dead?

That does not mean like I’ve never killed off one of my characters but I am weary of the numbers. If I counted correctly, within the 15 episodes that I watched of Under the Dome, five major characters have bit the dust, especially during the last few episodes, where it’s more or less one per show. The dangerous thing about that is that the viewer gets used to it, detaches him/herself from the characters, since you have to be prepared that they are having switched their lights out. The character killing only has an impact if you were invested into that character and when it becomes a standard plot device it loses its impact in my humble opinion. The other issue with that is that you need to replace those characters with new ones that you have to draw out of your hat like a magician and that just doesn’t work all the time. I’ll keep on watching Under the Dome a bit more, let’s say until the Uncle Hank (here he is Big Jim) character bites the dust, but I am not invested anymore. However, thanks to Under the Dome for teaching me something about character deaths for my own writing 😉

Writing Progress Report

It’s time for a little update concerning my writing activities.
I would like to be thoroughly occupied with writing the second Dome of Souls novel (the first one was Dome Child) but things are getting in between.
Currently I am at 90,000 words with Dome of Souls 2 SciFi animal. That sounds as if the novel was finished, but far from it. The demise of the Lei Lao system, 500 years after the Dome Child ended the times of Bihindi, has epic proportions and therefore also epic book length 😉 I expect the Lei Lao upheaval to require another 40,000 words or so. My target is to keep the thing under 150,000 words 😉 The beast is huge and I like huge beasts! 😉

That One Minute
The much smaller beast of “That One Minute” – a fantasy horror comedy novella as I like to call it – is “officially” out already since 31st of March… but only in paperback form. Dark Quest is just not coming around to getting the kindle version ready and I am refraining from any “big” announcements as long as the thing is not available in e-book form… sigh…
This is my second title with Dark Quest by the way after “Lord of Water” and I love Katoh sensei’s as always great cover, which is for the first time not a pure “painting” but combinations of several photos (of the lake and mud) plus paintings of the gray hands and the staircases to hell ;-). So, the waiting for the kindle version continues… a painful three and a half months already……………….

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I got the beast back proofread last night (thanks Tom!) and now have to go through it one more time (therefore I cannot continue with Dome of Souls novel 2…) and then start the Createspace process. I already received the magnificent – send shivers down my spine – cover from Katoh sensei. It’s a worthy cover for the last book in the trilogy.
I suspect/hope the beast will come out September/October or something like that. I find the prospect to have to go through it now a couple more times rather unthrilling. I have moved on! I’m now back at the Dome of Souls! Hagen stuff is finished, done, completed! lol…

Then there is the bunch of other novels which are already written but I’ve done nothing with them yet. There are three at the moment, all of them potential starts of other sets of trilogies or series. One is “brand new”, just written half a year ago, and I’ve never sent it anywhere yet, but the other two have gone through the agent gauntlet – unsuccessfully.
I am suffering from a continuing “marketing block”. I just wanna write, not do all this stupid crap of query letter bullshit… I am so “anti-marketing” at the moment that I’m not even working much on my homepage, nor have I even looked yet at the video I took of me reading from Hagen 2 = To Mix and To Stir at Hal-Con in April.
I am tired of being nice and taking all that idiotic, arrogant crap from the publishing industry.
There is just too much stuff out there that goes by unnoticed… mine among it… and too may hopefuls that too many people try to take advantage of you.
I have very limited time for books due to job and the rest of life. Do I want to waste that time doing something I hate = marketing and sliming and being nice and hoping and being punched in the stomach again and again? Or do I want to use that time for doing something I love: WRITING?
2014 is clearly a time of I don’t want to waste my precious time with marketing bogus. Maybe I get my marketing desire back in a couple of months or so, maybe not.
As long as I am only suffering from marketing block and not writing block I am not worried 😉

Oh… there is another book in the pipeline, high fantasy novel with Dark Quest (first real long novel with them)… but considering their speed I am inclined to believe that it’ll become 2016 before that novel comes out…

Short fiction? Sorry, nah… At the moment I have zero desire to write short fiction. I want the big, epic, long, lavish stuff where you have time to construct and destroy whole worlds and where you spend some time with the same characters. Epic is the order of the day 😉 I wonder when I will be able to finish the first draft of my 2nd Dome of Souls novel? Some time around autumn? We’ll see.
Now off to Hagen 3 edit duties.

Hal-Con 2014 Report

Hal-Con has gone into its fifth year and is still going strong 🙂
Our non-Japanese writer GoHs so far were in chronological order: Charles Stross, Robert Sawyer, Alastair Reynolds, Joe Haldeman and this year it was Peter Watts.
Hal-Con is two days long and always in April. Hal-Con means two things to us here, of course it is inspired by Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey but the Japanese pronunciation of “Hal” is somewhat like “haru” which is a word in Japanese and means spring.
So far we changed venues every year and this year’s event was held in the Sanpia Kawasaki a municipal gathering venue. A bit old and moldy but not without Showa-era charm.

Thanks to writing a lot I have currently six books of mine on offer and that starts to be a bit heavy for carrying it in suitcases via public transport, but, oh miracle, I’m more or less driving a car since X-mas, if driving is still a big challenge for me. But, I made it and arrived safely with my two suitcases full of books on Saturday morning. I am not a morning person at all and was thrilled to see whether traffic would be light at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. It is not, which I find very reassuring, no need to get out of bed for driving practice!

I placed my books into the dealer’s room right away, them being: “Dome Child”, “She Should Have Called Him Siegfried”, “To Mix and To Stir”, “Lord of Water”, the anthology “Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet”, and the revised edition of what was formerly “Dark Matters”, now freshly enhanced and re-published under the title “The Glow of the Dark”.

The rest of the day was spent with translating for our formidable GoH Watts san and also with translating a bit at the “Build the World” program. This year we invented a wandering planet that has an alien intelligent core which is off-center and causes weird spinning and highly disturbs the indigenous species of the planet 😉
The day ended with the GoH party and for me with driving home again 20 km including traffic jam thanks to an accident with police and fire-brigade on my route 🙁

The next morning meant a slightly more relaxed driving for me thanks to now knowing the route to the convention venue, but at the gate happened what I had feared. The Sanpia guard man said I have to remove the car from their grounds after the convention is over and need to park somewhere else for the “dead dog” party (the party at the end of a con for the staff , usually with GoH participation). The “dead dog” party was supposed to be held at a restaurant close to the hotel where the GoH stayed, right behind Kawasaki station with no suitable parking far and wide.

Anyway, it was also the day of my two seminars and between lots of translating I held my “indie vs. traditional publishing” program. It was already the third round for this program and I discussed the good and bad points of self-publishing vs. small presses and elusive big presses with the audience.
Next up was my reading. Unfortunately the iBook program on my iPad with the galley proof of my not yet released second Dark Quest Books novella “That One Minute” kept on crashing and I gave up on recording this reading 🙁
The reading for “To Mix and To Stir” went better, since the book is on Kindle and I’ll be uploading it to YouTube soon (if it’s any good, that is. I haven’t checked the recording yet).

Due to my own two seminars I unfortunately missed Peter’s talk on consciousness together with Japanese biologist and author Hideaki Sena. It’s about time that humans can be in at least two places at the same time 😉

I feel honored that Peter had the guts to board my car after the con was over! He folded into my smallish Suzuki Swift and I drove him to his hotel. He survived! 😉 I let him out in front of the hotel and then ventured into a small side street in search for the hotel’s parking that I had been promised existed. I found it in a side street swarming with pedestrians and it turned out to be a parking elevator. There are a few of those in Germany I’ve heard, but I am not sure whether they exist for example in the US, so let me explain. You must drive your car onto a platform (you must aim well) and leave your vehicle and the platform lifts your car to lofty heights where it stores it out of sight and mind.
I told the operator of the thing, well, um, never did this before. He said he’s not allowed to park it for me due to insurance reasons and just drive slowly. What helped was a mirror, which allows you to check whether your tires are aiming for the rails they must go onto and I managed to park Alfie successfully on the thing in creep speed .

That done, I waited in the hotel lobby until someone else came from the con to pick up Peter and me and to guide us to the restaurant. Now that restaurant was a highlight: A wonderfully nerdy place with Star Trek, Thunderbrids, and whatever other SciFi movie memorabilia and of course also a screen where they played old SciFi movies. Astonishingly few Star Wars stuff in the restaurant, but loads of Enterprise models and also an awesome model of the 2001 Space Odyssey ship and and and. During our three hours in the restaurant there was Forbidden Planet on the screen, Star Trek – the Movie (man they were all still so young there) and an “alien invasion” movie from the sixties perhaps, whose title I don’t know. What an awesome atmosphere to finish off a SciFi con. The restaurant is called “Pepper Land” and is right behind Kawasaki station. I’ll surely go there again and am adding some photos of the restaurant below.
The con was over much too quickly and due to opposite scheduling I actually didn’t get into any of Peter’s seminars, which is a bit of a shame.
Next year’s Hal-Con’s GoH and place are not yet decided but I’ll be there again as always, unless heaven falls onto our heads 😉

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Greetings from Hal-Con

Once a year, there is Hal-Con – our “local/international” little SciFi convention in Japan. It’s a 100 people con with a non-Japanese writer as the GoH (Guest of Honor).
This year it’s Peter Watts from Canada.
Day one is already over and I shall report about the Con in blog entries hereafter.
For now – too tired and one more day to go and tomorrow I’ll have my two programs, so see you later. 🙂

Writing Progress Report

So, what’s happening on the writing front?
Quite a lot (as always):
1) Revised version of Dark Matters. After giving up waiting for Edge SF and Fantasy to re-issue the revised version of Dark Matters (they sat on it doing nothing for over a year), I managed to get the rights back and am putting the revised edition out myself now. I’d very much like to have the book ready before the Hal-Con which happens on the 12th and 13th of April. Yuk! That’s in four weeks! It will be quite a race 😉 Let’s see if I (or rather CreateSpace) manage… The new Dark Matters has a new title: The Glow of the Dark and it has grown from 33,000 to 45,000 words.

2) That One Minute – my second novella with Dark Quest Books – is finished, the galley proofs are checked and now it’s up to Dark Quest to release the book. I don’t know yet when that will happen. It’s all a waiting game in this business (pained smile). Here is a bit of an excerpt from what I like to call a fantasy horror comedy 😉

3) Hagen 3: It’s finished, last revisions are happening, the cover is already commenced to the great Katoh sensei and I’m excepting to get it around Japan’s Golden Week at the end of April / beginning of May. The actual book which concludes the weird adventures of my favorite alchemist will probably be available sometime around July or August.

4) My first full length novel with Dark Quest, the beginning of a high fantasy trilogy, is also in the making and it will probably see the light of day some time in 2015.

5) Two more novels are finished for quite a while already: A space opera and a historical fantasy/sf hybrid. Since I am currently pretty tired of traditional publishing attempts, I am contemplating whether to go the indie-pub route as well or whether continue to submit the beasts. With lottery-like odds it is hard not to get frustrated. I shall read some more Dean Wesley Smith advice and decide later.

6) Another contemporary fantasy I have written at the end of 2013 is now in the revision process and I’m intending to submit it to the Odyssey critique service and then again the question what to do with it once it had gone through final revisions. Try the traditional publishing lottery or forget about that and go on my own.

7) Since the books under points 5 and 6 can all stand alone but could also be the beginnings of series, I found myself at a loss as to what to write next now that the Hagen trilogy is finished. Which series to pursue? The answer is apparently none of them!
Instead I have big plans… it’s back to the Dome of Souls, ladies and gentlemen. It just does not leave me alone.
I don’t know yet if I will really write it all again (all that stuff originally written in TV script format (some hints about that here)) but at the moment something is foul in the state of Lei Lao.
It’s the year Lei Lao 898 and thus of course no characters from the “Dome Child” are around anymore. But the Dome of Souls is going strong and messes with the lives of Lei Lao’s, Jove’s, Vana’s and Shavendra’s successors in the conglomerate of Tonasa.

I’m not even looking at my old TV scripts, I’m writing the novel from scratch out of sheer memory, following the main plot lines and letting it have a new, reborn life of its own. It was just vexing me too much to have “Dome Child” as the only “result” of the ten years I have already spent constructing my future history of mankind, which spans many hundred years and which is held together by the Dome of Souls.
It’s amazing to now revisit the characters of the second leg in this (so far) six-legged monster, my hapless heroes Floyd and Marusar, and to let my lovely villain Master Darnar pull the strings again.
I don’t know yet how long it will take me to write this beast anew and how epic (= long) it will be, but I expect it to see the light of day maybe in early 2015? Let’s see how the Dome of Souls and I will be getting along 😉

Welcome 2014!

So, yet another year is gone down the road and we have now 2014. 2013 was good and busy. I wrote the first drafts of three novels, I went to Europe twice, I took paper-driver lessons and “graduated” and bought my first car ever. Also busy working life with loads of domestic business trips but only once to Shanghai.

The outlook for 2014 – maybe twice Shanghai work-wise, we’ll see, and I expect the same amount of domestic running about.
Lots of car adventures are planned, of course, to come into and stay in practice. So hopefully, by the end of 2014 riding my little car will become the most natural thing ever, as opposed to the pangs of fright I am still suffering frequently and the constantly wet hands that get wiped at every traffic light! 😉

Book-wise I am planning to write part two of a space opera whose 1st part is still in the process of being shopped around, and part two of a high fantasy trilogy, whose first part is supposed to come out via Dark Quest at the end of the year, but since That One Minute novella is not out yet either, I rather suspect it will become 2015 before the first part of the high fantasy trilogy sees the light of day.

There is the never-ending hope to land an agent and subsequently a bigger book deal of course – we’ll see what happens.

Right now I am busy with another Odyssey Online course – powerful dialogue – for which I must do a bunch of homework now and which is my excuse for this blog entry being rather short 😉
The first course happened for me on the morning of the 3rd of January and it was great and the course will keep me busy throughout January.

Oh… and yes, Hagen 3 will come out in the middle of the year or so 😉
I wish everyone who reads this all the best for 2014!

Maps and Books

Since I’ll be picking up my first ever car this afternoon, I thought I make one more blog entry concerning books, before a flurry ? of car stuff 😉

Maps! I love maps.

Many authors make maps for their books and I am one of them. Especially for second world fantasies those maps can be very helpful. Since I cannot draw for the life of me, I’m making maps with Power Point. Using blue lines for rivers, brown triangles for mountains and the like. It actually works quite okay and takes me only a couple of minutes to make a map. I think maps are very important for second world fantasies to realize yourself as the author where is what and also how long it takes people to get there given their means of transport.

Depending on the nature of a science fiction story also here maps are helpful. Just as an example I am attaching two maps I have made for Dome Child. One of the entire area, to get the big picture, one of the city core of Shangbei, where most of the action is happening. It helps greatly during the writing process to know where is what in relation to each other. Thanks to maps you can avoid logistical and logical mishaps.
DomeChildMap1

For some stories this of course is not necessary, meaning you can look at a real map as in case of my Hagen Patterson trilogy which plays itself out in the New England states. Another story I have not made a map for is a space opera (currently in the submission circus, fingers crossed). I tried to make a map but since it involves jumping from planet to planet via space bending an attempt at a map was rather futile.
I would have liked a 3D map, but that exceeds my computing capabilities 😉

For all second world fantasies or science fiction that I have in my drawer, I’ve made maps. There is a high fantasy trilogy in the making which will (at least it’s first part) hopefully see the light of day via Dark Quest some time in the future, for which I have made detailed maps and I’m actually planning to ask the publisher to print an artist’s rendering of those maps in the actual books.

For Dome Child the maps were only for me and the movements of the characters through the world are not so complicated that they would have required a map in the book.
DomeChildMap2

Also when reading I love books that have maps so that you can quickly check where is what and where people are going.
So, I’m a big fan of maps and highly recommend them for the writing process as well. If you write novels and haven’t made a map yet, give it a try. It’ll teach you something about your own world and will be helpful as a guide. 🙂

Query Letter Seminar – Aftermath

Just to mention that for fairness sake. In a very decent move, I got an email today from Writer’s Digest, telling me that I will get a refund for the querying seminar I reported about last week.
The mail came ten days after I asked about their policy concerning people who feel they didn’t get their money’s worth, but better late than never.
Thanks to Writer’s Digest – that’s a good and customer friendly gesture.

Query Letters? – Good Luck With That…

Some time in September I took a Writer’s Digest webinar on query letter writing, which promised, aside from a 90 min webinar session, a critique of your query letter from the agent they hired for this thing.
I submitted my query letter even before the seminar. They allowed you to submit one letter until mid October and then you had to wait for yet another 60 days or so to get a reply from the agent = waiting for a heck of a time.

The webinar itself was okay, but more geared towards beginners and I, as a submission veteran, got only some tiny hints and bits out of it. I knew already more than 90% of what they talked about. I had already expected that and subscribed to the thing mainly because I wanted to have my query letter critiqued by a professional agent.
By the way, the price for this whole show was 89,- USD.

Now, on the 4th of December, this is what I got back as a “critique” from the agent:
“Thanks very much for attending my webinar. You’ve written a good letter, but I would watch your sentences: you start too many with “I.” I wish you the best of luck with your writing endeavours.”

My first reaction to this was: you gotta be bloody kidding me!
For this I have interrupted my query letter drive, for this I waited for over two months, and for this I paid 89,- USD?

Below is what I promptly wrote back to the agent:
“Thank you for your email.
However, I am a bit surprised. Is below all advice you have for me?
How about:
Is the letter too long or not?
Is the synopsis paragraph well structured? Does it raise interest? Does it focus on the right details? Any tips to make it snappier?
Is the “this books was inspired by” line necessary, irritating, or helpful?
Are the credentials well structured and the way they should be?
Do I need to mention my day job?
Is it good or bad to mention the other parts of the series/trilogy even down to hints what they are about?
I would highly appreciate if your critique was giving more advice beyond starting not too many sentences with “I”.
With best regards”

I must give the agent the credit that she responded to my mail. I have also emailed the Writer’s Digest customer service asking what their policy is in case a customer thinks he/she didn’t get his/her money’s worth. So far I received no reply from them.

Here is what the agent wrote back:
“I don’t have your original query anymore, but if that’s all the critique I offered, it was because that was all the critique your letter needed. I’m making my way through 109 query critiques; some of them are five paragraphs long, some of them two or three. A couple of them so far have been just about perfect, and I’ve requested those manuscripts. There’ve been about three where I’ve just had to write one or two sentences, and your critique was one of them. In my webinar I addressed all of the questions you emailed me below. So, to sum up, your letter was a good letter, and if I didn’t mention any issues besides the “I” issue, that’s because I didn’t feel that there were any other issues.”

There are some very interesting and important messages hidden here if I interpret them correctly.

But first of all, even if my query letter is “perfect” apart from the starting too many sentences with “I” issue, there is always stuff to improve and my questions about the contents of the synopsis paragraph, the “inspired by” issue etc. etc. etc. remain unanswered. I still did not receive a decent critique. Maybe my understanding about what a decent critique is and the agents understanding are different, but in my book a decent critique is at least 200 words or so long and you give the receiver of the critique some insight about what he/she is good at, what the strong and weak points are, how to enhance the strong points and how to improve the weaker ones. There are always ways to make something snappier, there are always suggestions you can give. To say your letter was perfect except for the “I” is simply not a critique, full stop, I did not get my money’s worth.

Let’s talk about numbers for a second. The agent has given out a number – 109 query letters. To me the comment about the number of letters = the amount of work, sounds very much like fishing for sympathy…
Since we have numbers, let’s do some maths. 109 times 89,- USD is 9.701,- and most likely there were a few participants who did not submit a query letter. So let’s say there were 120 people who paid 89,- USD each = 10.680,- dollars. Maybe there was even a couple more people who have not submitted a query letter, for example 150 in total – that’s 13.350,- USD and so forth.

I will not start a speculation here about an hourly rate, since I have no idea/proof as to how much time the agent spent on this webinar and the query letters, however, the hourly rate for the agent and the money that Writer’s Digest makes out of this are presumably not the worst.
So all that sweet talk that they do this to support us aspiring writers may be true in some cases, yes, but they are also getting well paid for what they do… Nothing against that, this is a business, but there is a fine line between delivering value for money and ripping people off, not to speak of the work ethic implications of making money by exploiting the wishes and hopes of aspiring writers.
For my taste, this seminar was a rip off and I will not subscribe to any other of this company again.

But now let’s take a deeper look at the contents of the second reply of the agent.
So, my query is “perfect” apart from too many sentences starting with an “I”.
The agent has not requested my manuscript. (Fine by me, this agent is not specialized in speculative fiction anyway and wouldn’t be the right match).
But this reads like my query letter and the whole novel behind it were tossed in the bin because of the one tiny tiny tiny issue that this agent thinks there are too many sentences starting with “I”.

By the way, I counted the sentences starting with “I”: there are six of them. They all refer to my credentials, my day job and the last sentence: I am looking forward to hearing from you soon. Sorry for getting cynical, but what am I supposed to write? My mother’s daughter is looking forward to hearing from you soon?

It is absolutely ridiculous to reject a query letter on such flimsy grounds. How desperate they must be to reject work. Yes, they are overloaded, yes, they look for the tiniest reason to toss your query in the bin. Hell, they are tiny indeed.
If your work is being rejected for such ludicrous reasons it means you are truly playing a lottery. Maybe another agent rejects my “perfect” letter on the grounds of one singly misplaced comma, one forgotten hyphen, or whatever…
In short this whole query letter business is nothing but a gamble with serious and committed writers’ hopes and dreams and bone-hard work.
I do not see a solution to this issue. You keep submitting and wait for luck to strike? If you don’t have that luck, well, tough luck! It is extremely hard to not get frustrated by crap like the above…

The only thing I see that might promise anything is personal relationships. I dearly hope it will help in my case of a World Fantasy Con follow-up-chance. That agent has at least now looked beyond the query letter stage and requested the full manuscript…. Let’s see what happens.
As for query letter, or other “getting an agent” related seminars? Be assured, I am done with those, for good.

That One Minute – Teaser

The cover is released, I hope the rest of the book will soon follow 😉
After Lord of Water, That One Minute will be my second title with US small press Dark Quest Books and I hope it’ll see the light of day in January or so??? Honestly, I don’t know yet when the book will come out. Let’s say, I would not be surprised if there was a delay.
ThatOneMinute_final_front_med
Nevertheless, the cover is out and it was again done by Naoyuki Katoh and he never fails to surprise me. While the other covers he did for me so far (Dome Child, Hagen trilogy parts 1 and 2 (She Should Have Called Him Siegfried and To Mix and To Stir), Lord of Water) were all drawings, he integrated photos into the cover for That One Minute. It’s three photos in total from one river and two lakes in the greater Tokyo area.

One of the key scenes in the story are happenings at a small lake in a park where the water retreats, gates to “hell” (?) open up and where the story’s hero, Chris Burns, makes first acquaintance with certain ghostly gray hands.
There are two funny things about this cover. I described the scene to Katoh sensei and wanted to have an old fashioned pocket watch with roman letters above the actual scene from the book which shows one minute to twelve. I got my watch and if you look closely my name is inside the watch where otherwise the watch maker’s name would be. I didn’t ask for this, that was Katoh sensei’s idea.

Then I sent the cover to Dark Quest and got another funny surprise when Danielle from Dark Quest got the idea to use the watch as the “O” for That One Minute. I had thus two big happy moments with this cover – a nice start.

Now what’s it all about? I don’t know yet how Dark Quest will label the thing but I like to call it a “Fantasy Horror Comedy”.
Behold, we all exist twice. Once here and now, and once more in a parallel world that is one minute closer to heaven and hell than we are. We lead happy blissful lives here, not aware of the “demonics” and “angelics” playing chess with our souls next door.
Under circumstances I shall not describe in detail here, the complete loser Chris Burns gets transferred into the parallel world where he meets his know-it-all second self, his much nicer wife and where he gets the job to save their world and ours from dark demonic plans.

It’s a tongue in cheek experiment with a lot of POVs. More or less every major and even not so major character gets one or more POV scenes. It’s all 3rd person limited. I wanted to find out how many POVs you can have without confusing the reader. The trick with that is that you have to make clear very very quickly whose POV you’re in at the beginning of each POV change (usually a new scene and/or chapter). I hope I managed to make that clear and I hope nobody gets confused ;-).

I like what Neil Gaiman said during the awards ceremony for the World Fantasy Award a few weeks ago in Brighton. In these days and times with so much stuff out there and “no rules” anymore – just write what you wanna write.
Well, I always write what I want to write, but from the experiment point of view this motto fits all the more to That One Minute than to some other stuff I have written. There is no deep philosophy or message behind That One Minute, it’s just a “movie” that I would like to see and I think that Mr. Undersecretary Adrian Stern from the “Ministry of Spirits” (the bad guy) is just sooooo cool 😉

World Fantasy Convention 2013 – report – part 2

Sat 02nov13
On Saturday my first seminar was the obligatory agent panel.
Any news? Not really… John Jarrold said there are no absolutes in publishing.
Someone else said that 90% of all queries generate an instant “no”.
The market is over-flooded by content (heard that phrase quite a number of times during this con).
An established agency like JABberwocky has a 75% placement rate.
However, even an agent like Barry Goldblatt sometimes needs to send out one or the other manuscript up to 25 times until someone picks it up.
The first ten pages of your manuscript are ridiculously important.
Good luck with getting an agent (and/or a publisher) – you’ll need a lot of it.

I Just Had a Crazy Idea… (spec script) panel
For one brief panel I returned to my “roots” and attended the TV and movie spec script writing panel of the WFC. I got the impression that nothing much has changed since my screenplay days. You should have several brilliant spec scripts under your belt and preferably not ridiculously expensive ones, that you can pull out at any occasion. The old familiar phrases like pitch sessions, high concept, be relentless, “Final Draft” (screenwriting software), build up your network and have a high tolerance for frustration and rejection flew around the room.
And, oh, be prepared for the production company hiring in another screenwriter after you maybe maybe sold them your spec script and be prepared for it to be totally rewritten to the point of being not recognizable. If you cannot deal with that: write novels. And yes, that’s what I’ve done 😉

What Else Have You Got (editor) panel
At an editor panel about “what else have you got” or what editors have seen an awful lot of and don’t want to see again, there was no general consensus. Even if you write about stuff we’ve seen a hundred times before but manage to pull it off in a mind-blowing way you might be able to get away with it.
That said, Jo Fletcher is getting too much of not so well written literary fantasy. Gordon Van Gelder gets a lot of contemporary fantasy short stories with not enough fantasy in them.
Gillian Redfearn from Gollanz only said she is getting too many submissions that have not followed the submission guidelines. Just please read the darn things and follow them.
Further, no more teenagers or housewives turned vampire hunters please, and zombies are now awfully ripe as well. However, as mentioned before, if the cliche is exceptionally well done, they might still buy it.
Another few don’ts: Just don’t say your stuff is the next George R.R. Martin in your query letter.
Don’t say your aunt, granny and cat liked your book very much, that’s just not professional.
Another thing is don’t say you have a funny novel, give an example for why it is funny instead.
Label your book intelligently and while some editors like comparisons to other authors (intelligent ones), some don’t. It’s a gamble as so many things in publishing.
Other editors like stuff in the lines of “I noticed you edited X and X and therefore I think my story might appeal to you.”
Taboos don’t really exist, however, cruelty to animals and children are close to taboos, and if you do rape it must be the center of the story and not just a side plot where who has been raped comes over it just like that and forgets it quickly, because nobody who has been raped comes over it quickly in reality.
Again here the statement that the first few pages, or even only the first few paragraphs or sentences are the knock out criteria. You better get your beginnings super super right (no definition given for what “right” is, of course). You “gotta hook the reader” with the first sentence.

Sun 03nov13
On the last day, I only attended half of the pseudonym (“By Any Other Name”) panel, since I talked to two other WFC members and also left the “How To Write That Difficult Second Book” panel since I am long past that stage and did not find the discussion very engaging.
The banquet and ensuing WFC and British Fantasy Award presentations were fun though and an artist I had talked to for quite a bit during the days before won the WFC award for best artist! Wow! His name is Vincent Chong and check out his very cool stuff under this link.
Congratulations Vinny!!!

After the dead dog party, things winded down and in another epic wind and rain storm (more about that in the upcoming travel report blog entry) I took a taxi back to my hotel sharing it with another acquaintance from the days past.

So what’s the difference to the World Science Fiction Convention? The most important one is that there are less fans around. Of the 1000 or so WFC participants more or less everyone is a writer, agent, editor or otherwise professional in the F and SF world.
I found the nature of the panels to be quite similar to World SF Con, at least the kind of panels I am attending there. World SF Con has of course also “fan panels” and not only ones that deal with one or the other aspect of writing and publishing.
The parties are less wild and there are no “hallway” or hotel room parties like the ones you can find at World SF con. The Fantasy Con is more “professional”.
Unfortunately it is always end of October, beginning of November, which means it is rather hard for me to take off from work. Next year I’ll be at the World SF Con again, which will happen in London. I don’t know yet what to do about 2015.
It was well worth going to WFC13 and to “show face”, but I again realized that networking etc. works only one at a time and is an arduous endeavor (at least for me). But: “never give up, never surrender” 🙂