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Temporary Closure…

When I was a kiddie, I always imagined that the feeling of completing a book would be something like Stephen King described in Misery. A glass of Dom Perignon, a single cigarette and a single match, sit back and sigh, content in the knowledge of a job well done.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way for me. It’s true that I tend to accelerate as I get nearer the end, until eventually I’m spewing out 500 words a second in some kind of crazed literary seizure. This acceleration continues until I crash over the finish line and slump across my keyboard with smoking eyes and fingers worn down to little wiggly stumps. But strangely enough, the feeling when I’m done is never quite the one you’d expect. Instead, I become sort of vacant and indifferent towards my book for a couple of days. This is probably a bit of a mind-reset, I suppose. My brain needs the rest, and all my enthusiasm has run dry, since it all got poured into the finale.

The thing is, for me, a book is complete when it’s printed and bound and in my hands. Until then, I know there’s work to done. Writing those final lines only means I’ve earned a small break until I have to print it out and start editing it. And the finale that I’ve just written will be getting special attention, since I caned through it at the speed of light and no doubt it’s extra sloppy.

So I faff about listlessly for a day or two until I can be bothered to print the book, then I get on to editing it. That’s when I get excited about it again. The process of reading over the parts you wrote six or eight months ago reawakens all that enthusiasm. By then I’ve forgotten all the little details, so I spend my time oohing and aahing at all the cool bits that now seem as if they were written by someone else. (Speaking of Stephen King, he advocates putting your manuscript away for six months after you’ve finished it, just so you can come back at it with an objective eye. It’s good advice if you have the time, but I suspect my editor would feast on my liver if I started up with that.)

During that first edit, I spend most of my time dealing with all the little notes I left myself in the body of the manuscript. Things like ‘GO BACK AND MENTION THIS EARLIER, IDIOT’ and ‘DIDN’T HE GET SHOT IN THE LEG A CHAPTER AGO?’  Stuff like that. But with more swearing. I fix up all the major bits and smooth off the rough edges. I eliminate repetition of words and phrases, and take out all the unnecessary language and overwritten bits. Then it goes to my editor, who pulls me up on all the stuff I tried to get away with. Then I edit it again.

Nowadays it only takes about two proper edits, because I plan out my books much more than I used to. Before, I’d do four or five drafts. By the fifth, my soul would be withered and blackened and I would loathe the book I’d just lovingly crafted. It would take until publication day for me to want to see it again.

The moral of the story? Finishing a book is only the halfway point. Like crossing the finish line of a marathon only to be told that you have to run back to the start again. Except it’s, like, a million times more fun. And I’ve really never seen the point in marathons…

Retribution Y’all

Gather round, gather round. I am very, very (times infinity plus two) pleased to finally announce that Retribution Falls and The Black Lung Captain will be released in the US by Spectra, a division of the mighty Random House. The intention is to publish them back-to-back in paperback in October and November 2011. Obviously that’s, like, way far from now and if you’re reading this in the US then you are no doubt already navigating towards The Book Depository with credit card in hand, appalled by the vast gulf of time stretching between you and the moment when said books are nestled in your sticky mitts. But I’m still very happy about it, so there.

Progress Report (of sorts)

So here’s what I’m up to. In a week or two I’ll be done on the rough draft of The Black Lung Captain, after which I’ll spend a bit of time lying down with cold towels over my wrists and forehead, then I’ll get up and edit it into a proper first draft and give it to my editor sometime in the middle of November. Right on schedule, ’cause I’m a good little author.

After that, I’m not sure what’s next up. Due to publishing deadlines I wrote Malice, Retribution Falls, Havoc and The Black Lung Captain back to back without a break, so I’ve been neglecting my scripts. Maybe I’ll do a bit of screenplay work for a bit. Maybe something with zombies… wait, no. Anyway, what I will do is take a little break while I sort it out. Normally this would be the point when I sling on a backpack and go somewhere in the world I haven’t been, but what with Christmas coming up and plane fares being astronomical that time of year, I’ll probably put it off till early next year. So I’ll get bored after three days and go back to work. I don’t do inactivity well…

Meantime, Malice has just been released in the US. Everyone who hasn’t tasted that little slice of YA fantasy-horror-with-a-graphic-novel-twist, er, go taste it!

Forbidden Planet’s Latest Uber Sign-fest. And Me!

Thursday 26th November. A date that will go down in infamy. No longer are authors content to sit in spidery warehouses glaring balefully into the middle distance while waiting for the occasional meek passer-by to shuffle up with a coffee-mug-stained copy of their latest tome. No, I say! Now we make it a party!

Yeah, enough preamble. So on the 26th of next month, from 6pm on, there will be an informal gathering/fan meet/book signing/whatever at Forbidden Planet in London. Along with myself will be Adam Roberts, David Deveraux, Justina Robson and Paul McAuley, but if previous events are anything to go by then a bunch of other SF/fantasy authors may well be dropping in as well. We authors like to flock, you see. It gives us power. We’ll probably mill about for an hour or two then razz off to the pub to humiliate ourselves, a spectacle to which all are invited. So if any of you are still hanging on to the dregs of the notion that being an author makes you cool in any way, do come by and find out the truth.

Zombies. Seriously, enough.

There comes a time in the year when a young man’s thoughts turn to the occult, and the idea of blood sacrifice and feasting on the gooey brains of your enemies becomes even more tempting than usual. But Christmas is still some way away, and Hallowe’en doesn’t exist in England since the death of trick-or-treating. (Many parents are now convinced their children will disintegrate if they’re out of line-of-sight for more than thirty seconds. I blame the Daily Mail.) So I’m just gonna post this now.

I suppose it was the sight of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in my local Waterstone’s that got me thinking about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against sullying the classics. I’m with Mark Twain on the Jane Austen debate, who put it more delicately than I ever could, when he said “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” But it’s depressing to realise that the zombie genre has gotten so bloated, it’s finally burst and spewed its undead entrails into the mainstream.

Jane Austen with zombies? Honestly? Doesn’t that just sound like a washed-up movie exec’s cocaine-fuelled fantasy? Why not bring Jaws back from the dead and have the Ghostbusters hunt down his vengeful spirit at sea? Do we really need another ancient story resuscitated with a new twist?

Judging by the book sales, apparently we do.

The problem is that pretty much every worthwhile take on the zombie theme seems to have been done already. It started for most of us with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Since then we’ve had comedy zombies (Shaun Of The Dead), teen-horror zombies (Return Of The Living Dead), docu-drama style zombie war (World War Z), zombies that kind of aren’t zombies but actually they are (28 Days Later, Hater), zombies doing social satire  (Dead Set), and so on and so on. Babylon Fields, a TV series in the US which never made it past the pilot, was an attempt to examine the social effects of the dead coming back to life and not trying to eat everyone.  The only thing that has stopped the zombie tale reaching the appalling ubiquity of the current glut of vampire stories is that nobody has worked out a way to make zombies sexy yet. Bits fall off, y’see.

You know what you’re getting with zombies. You know the first third of the book/movie is spent watching the characters work out rules that every living organism on Planet Earth already knows. You get infected if you’re bitten. Detach the head from the spine to kill them. Lure them away with raw meat or loud noise. Zombies are not that hard to deal with, really. Even the fast ones are dumb. All you generally have to do is grab some food, hole up and close the door till they get bored and bugger off.

Instead, drama is mined from the impossible stupidity of the protagonists. They leave the lights on to attract zombies, or unlock zombie-proof doors while storming away from their lover in a hissy fit. They shoot at explosive things at point blank range, or stray close to the windows because they somehow forgot there was a slavering horde of undead lurking outside, just waiting to rip their intestines out of their eye sockets. At some point, someone gets infected by zombie-itis. Instead of shooting them, our merciful heroes will wait till the very last moment, to eke out every last precious second of their existence while the audience marvels at the fragile beauty of life, like watching a butterfly’s wings beating in a frosted glade. After which the character will break out of his or her restraints and take at least two uninfected humans with them on their way to Hell.

Obviously I’m being simplistic – not every zombie tale includes all of the above – but there’s a point here. A zombie in itself just isn’t enough to make a story. Romero’s Dead trilogy, that introduced the wider world to zombies, was great because it had good characters and other drums to bang, about racism, consumerism, the ethics of scientists and the military, and so on. Yes, it had some of the failings I pointed out above, but it was also the first time they’d been done. There are only so many shattering observations on the state of humanity that benefit from the presence of zombies,  and those first three movies pretty much covered ’em all.

With the honourable exception of King’s Pet Semetary – which is not really a zombie tale at all, anyway – I can’t think of anything with zombies that isn’t basically copying the template Romero laid down. Shaun of the Dead was a funny take on the mindless drones satirised in Dawn Of The Dead. Dead Set updated it for the Big Brother generation. But they’re still retreads, however well dressed, and the points they make aren’t new. The fast zombies of 28 Days Later were seen as a reinvention of the genre, but they were just the same zombies as before, except they could run fast and they died a little easier. Nothing too groundbreaking there.

Now listen. I love zombies. Bringing dead stuff to life is officially awesome. There’s even a pinch of zombie pirates in the Manes of my own Retribution Falls. But I’m just saying: enough, please. All the bases have been covered. Leave the corpses in their graves. Zombies in space will not add anything the genre (oh, wait… Dead Space…). Victorian zombies will not add anything to genre. Nor will a tale from the zombie’s point of view, about a working-class guy scratching a hard unliving in the mean world of the non-decomposed. The zombie apocalypse has happened enough times now. Enough so that I’m pretty confident I’d do well in it, given the amount of advice I’ve had on the subject. Maybe it’s time to get thinking about a new way to end the world.

New Site

It must be tough. First you checked the site daily, eager for news. Then, when nothing came, you started checking weekly. Then monthly. Finally, accustomed to the glacial pace of my updates, you set fire to all my books and cursed me to various shades of Hades for not updating. Like, ever.

So here’s my Diwali surprise for the weary faithful who still look me up every so often. New site! New site! And after this redesign by my rather wonderful webmaster, I can stop being envious of those other mean sites which have been bullying mine for so long.  Sites with things like comment functions, archives, and all manner of sorcery along those lines. Sites with authors who blog about their daily lives as well as dispensing nuggets of valuable information about their craft and writing articles and reviews and suchlike. Joe Abercrombie, I’m looking at you!

Updates and general tweaking to follow soon. I still have to get to grips with some of the groovy editing functions laid on for me. In the meantime, drop in, leave a comment, introduce yourself.

More soon. Honest.