Your Book Synopsis Should Never Be This Bad

Searching through my Netflix instant viewing options, I was struck by the similarities between a movie blurb and a book blurb. When we’re pitching our novels, especially in person, we often have to be able to explain our brilliance in only a few sentences. Even when talking about our work with other writers, it’s helpful to be able to give a quick “this is my book” speech. Reading movie blurbs can help give us a sense of what works, and what doesn’t.

Below are some of my favorite bizarre, disturbing, and completely unnapealing choices:

MUTANT HUNT, 1987. “When a corporate executive named Z comes morally unhinged and unleashes an army of cyborg robots on an unsuspecting New York City, there’s a lone mercenary who can save the Big Apple from complete and total annihilation.” What is it? Are they mutants, or cyborgs, or robots? Pick one!

NARCOSYS, 2000. “The world is ruled by the heartless IT Corporation, which controls citizens through manufactured drugs and a destructive virus that’s spread through the streets. Can a gang of cyber-punks stop the mammoth institution bent on domination?” Aside from the awful plot, the grammar makes this blur read like there’s a diseased street out there, citizens, so watch where you step!

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What I’ve Been Reading, Mar 4th edition

As the “being sick” portion of the program has gone over the scheduled performance time, I don’t have much writing or editing to report. In between lots of sleeping and thinking about the things I’ll be doing once my brain, you know, works again, I have been getting some reading in. Several graphic novels and some short stories this week:

Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity; Mike Carey (author) and Peter Gross (illustrator), Vertigo, 144 pages. In a world where Harry Potter was, at least for a while, the King of All Media, it’s no surprise that someone would write the “our wizard is better and also very similar but better because he’s really real!” story. And yes, you can say it’s analyzing the way our society reacts to the creation of the classic boy hero archetype blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter. Whether Carey is ripping off (or being inspired by) Potter or Timothy Hunter or Luke Kirby or T.H. White’s Wart, it doesn’t matter. Carey pulls in literature and alt-history possibilities and a league of extraordinarily bad men, and puts his own spin on the whole adventure. What you get, then, is a book that is literate and almost delicate in the way the pieces slide together. I loved it, and can’t wait to get the rest of the series.

Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft HC [Hardcover]; Joe Hill (author) and Gabriel Rodriguez (illustrator), IDW Publishing, 152 pages. Beautiful, brilliant, and oh yeah, fucking dark. I mean, let’s start the story with some gruesome murder, shall we? And, while we’re at it, let’s throw in a bunch more. In between the loss and pain and moving across the country and (by the way) there’s a creepy thing in the well, Hill’s written a mad masterpiece. You just know that everyone he brings into this tale is going to die miserably, but the story is so good, you’re kind of willing to make that trade. They die, you’re entertained, and you’ll keep coming back for more.

Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other StoriesWarren Ellis (author) and John Cassaday (illustrator), WildStorm Productions, 160 pages. Oh, Warren Ellis, you’re so meta. A comic book about superheroes who don’t act like superheroes but find out our world has been mixed with other worlds where comic book things have happened? And their superheroes want to fight ours? And Asian men talk about their testicles while worrying over the corpse of Mothra? *sigh* So far, I’m not in love with the series, but it’s interesting. I do like Ellis’s work, and the writing isn’t bad (the art’s lovely too) so I think I’m just having a hard time with the HA HA HA IRONIC USE OF TROPES of it all. There are moments where I think I might be too well read, and reading PLANETARY isn’t helping.

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die; Ed. by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, David Malki, 464 pages. From the first story, I loved this collection. The premise, first bandied about by a cartoon T-Rex, is that a couple of guys create a machine which tells you, often in one word, the manner of your demise. From the first story (“Flaming Marshmallow”), which tells how such a machine can change the social structure of a high school lunch room, to stories about how the machine can make you afraid of love and death and sex and the machine itself, this anthology says something about the human reaction to such perfect news of our mortality. The machine is, after all, never wrong – it’s just a little vague, as in the story where death by SUICIDE doesn’t exactly mean you’re going to kill yourself. Definitely recommended.

I’ve also been keeping up with the daily offerings at Everyday Fiction. They’re not always great but the flash-length stories are new every day, short enough to be read on a break from work or while dinner’s cooking, and it’s good exposure to a wide variety of writing styles. Bonus: a better idea of what does or does not work in terms of storytelling under 1000 words.

Philcon 2010

It’s been about a week and a half since Philcon, so I’m very nearly overdue for my post-con write-up. Philcon is a local science fiction and fantasy con, here in NJ, and is the first con I’ve attended on the East Coast. Cherry Hill, where the con was held this year, is about a 40 minute drive from my apartment; including a short side trip to pick up a friend, it took me 10 hours to get there. This involved a windy mountain road, a sweet rental car, losing cell service at precisely the wrong time, and an unfortunate dinner in Scranton.

Don Pizarro (my friend, con-buddy, and a contributor to Cthulhurotica) and I got to the hotel too late on Friday night to see much of anything, so we check in and went straight to bed. Breakfast the next morning was coffee and a bacon/egg/bagel at a Panera, and then back to the con hotel to pick up badges and schedules. On the upside Don and I had pre-registered, so we got to skip the line and our badges were already printed out; on the down side the young kid working the table didn’t mention the odd layout of the con schedule, which caused us to get lost later in the day*. Don and I split up (we actually ended up in very few of the same panels together) and I dropped in on “The Shift Back to the Small Presses” which meant to talk about small press publishing but ended up being a conversation between Wildside Press publisher John Gregory Betancourt and the rest of the panel/audience. We talked a lot of PoD technology and the evolution of ebooks, and the panel did change my mind about how we were going to distribute Dagan Books titles. Betancourt acts like a man who’s pretty sure that he knows more than everyone else in the room, without being too cocky about it, and perhaps he does … but I would have liked to hear more from other presses. Part of the problem is that the rest of the folks on the panel were writers and editors and self-publishers, and Betancourt was the only actual publisher**. Neil Clarke sat in front of me and had some good comments; he’s another publisher I’d like to chat with more at another time.

Thus the day began and ended with the most useful panel I was going to attend all weekend.

The rest of the day was spent attending panels, running errands, and getting lost in Camden for an hour and a half because my gps kept missing one important turn. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because I accidently found a wine shop that carries Absente absinthe. (This comes in to play again later on Saturday evening.) Meanwhile Don was meeting Peter S. Beagle, the GoH, and getting stuff signed by Beagle and going to a Beagle reading … and apparently never noticed my quick trip out to find a working atm became a three-hour tour. I did finally get back to the hotel, and started making plans. Simon Carter, a writer friend of ours, was going to come to the con that evening to meet up with Don, and I had to read my zombie erotica story “Mitch’s Girl” at 6 pm as part of the Garden State Horror Writers reading. We settled on dinner beforehand, and Don came along to the reading so I’d at least know one person there – I’ve been a member of the GSHW group for about 6 months now, and I hadn’t actually met any of the other writers.

I needn’t have worried. Dinner in the hotel cafe was mainly a collected of shared appetizers but there was a corned beef sandwich in there I remember being fond of. The reading was well attended for th size of the room we had (small) and the GSHW folks turned out to be warm and chatty. There were 6 readers in all, in a variety of genres (I think mine was really the only “horror”, and my story isn’t actually scary as much as it is erotic; we also had fantasy, steampunk, YA with a talking cat, paranormal romance and lit fic). I got to meet Danielle Ackley-McPhail, who edits a couple of books for Dark Quest (where I still read slush for Neal Levin), Hildy Silverman, who edits Space and Time, and of course Neal, in addition to Gary Frank, Ed Greaves, Jon Gibbs and some other folks from the group. We chatted after the reading, and into Danielle’s launch party for the Bad Ass Fairies anthology series website. The party featured more baked goods than I’ve seen crammed into one room in a long time, as well as a couple of interestingly-dressed folks hanging out before the masquerade. (Don, who has a lovely handmade Dr. Who scarf, couldn’t help comparing it to another man’s Dr. Who-ish scarf, and may even have taken photographic evidence to support his argument that his scarf was better.)

At this point, Don insisted that we attend at least one more panel for the evening, since we were actually at a convention with the stated purpose of doing such a thing. The GSHW folks were sort of insistent that we meet them in the bar for drinks instead. I wavered, then went with Don, and planned to meet up at the bar after the panel let out.

That panel turned out to be “Sexy Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories” which we felt we kind of had to go to, since we both had zombie erotica stories in Rigor Amortis, and we’d been working on Cthulhurotica. This was our first panel we attended together, and we discovered that a) I will talk in a panel discussion if someone asks for input, and b) Don won’t. The three ladies on the panel, after an awkward pause were we discovered that none of them really knew what the panel was supposed to be about, launched in a rousing discussion of Things Not To Call A Vagina. There was a list***.

Once done, we headed out to the bar, by exiting through the room’s doorway and walking into the hallway, like you do. There we found Hildy, who was scheduled to be on a panel on “The Hard Boiled Detective Tradition in Fantasy”, and fairly certain that no one would show up. Never being the sort to leave a damsel in distress, Don and I went to her panel, where it turned out one important person did – in fact – not show up: the other presenter on the panel. The moderator, a charming gentleman, bravely dove in to help out, but his area of expertise was the classic detective in film, and he knew very little about the trope in the spec fic/UF/fantasy genres. Luckily, some more group discussion was had, and I got to introduce new people to Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series. Yay!

And then, finally, the bar. The GSHW guys, it turns out, had been sitting out front the whole couple of hours I was in panels, and had started to suspect we weren’t going to show up. We explained, they forgave, and we wandered in for drinks and to await the arrival of Simon, who was leaving a party at that point and heading over to drink more with us. We got Simon, introductions were made, and the group got exactly one drink order in before the bar closed on us. At 10:30 pm. Is that right? I ask you. We’re writers! But luckily, the evening was saved because I’d stopped by that wine shop earlier in the day … After Simon made me split a free beer with him (Dogfishhead) and I downed my Old Fashioned, Gary Frank went home for the night and the rest of us headed up to the room to break open the absinthe.

It was a thing of beauty. Smooth, flavorful, and subtly strong, it fueled the slow descent into madness that is a bunch of drunk guys trying to play Munchkin Cthulhu for the first time. Simon, that charmer, won with a smile, and it was only afterward we discovered he’d been cheating the whole time – though to his credit, he hadn’t realized it himself. Things eventually wrapped up sometime after two, and we all headed to our beds.

Sunday morning was breakfast (full buffett in the hotel restaurant), contemplating panels, not being able to find anything we cared about, packing, and finally heading back to my house for lunch and family time (were again we played Munchkin Cthulhu, and again we realized Don’s not that familiar with the rules). A lot more driving ensued before I got Don back home to upstate NY, and got myself back home.

Overall the con itself was a disappointment but the people made up for it exponentially. Don P turns out to be a great guy as well as a great writer, Simon is as clever, and as Scottish, as you’d expect from his Twitter feed, and the folks from the GSHW were fun and full of helpful writing/publishing tidbits. We bought books, we chatted up writers, we wandered the dealer’s hall, and I managed to only volunteer to help with another project once the whole weekend. Maybe twice.**** I met so many new people that I could have skipped every panel offered and still the con would have been worth the price of admission.

Footnotes:

* The rooms were numbered in a way that only mattered to the Programming department, and had nothing to do with the room numbers, which were on a seperate piece of paper. Guess which one we didn’t get at the registration table?
** If you’re considering “publisher” to be someone who publishes books by people other than himself.
*** The V, the Triangle, and the Core, if you’re wondering.
**** This is an improvement, for me.