Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dark Tides of the Shadow Lords: The Moon Sword Sagas, Episode Five: The Dirty Urchins

Yeah, fantasy. We all know it. And admit, we love it. We love reading about, oh, things. Fantastical things, impossible things, castles and knights and all that epic bullshit. It makes us happy in our secret, elf-strewn hearts. Nothing wrong with that. Ta.

During the dinner in Austin, mentioned earlier, there was a conversation. I didn't think much about it at the time, because it was a subject that I've mulched in my head previously, and when it came up I just did a copy/paste from my previous musings and everyone seemed pleased and all, and that was it. But since then it's been re-mulching, in a sort of persistent way, so I'm going to kick it out here.

The conversation was this: The Bloated Epic. I'm not going to name names, because I'm a professional and a new professional and I don't want to step on toes. Tad Williams. Damn it! Damn! I didn't...Tad, if you're reading this, I love you. I read the whole Dragonbone Chair madness, and most of Otherland (I stalled, through no failing of your own. I'll get back to it.) and now I'm starting Shadowmarch and it's going well. But the books are too long. And it's not just Tad. There are a lot of very successful authors who are writing very, very long books. Books are not Cadillac Escalades, people! They don't need to be up in your grill with the word count. There is no need for bling, or spinners, or any of that. And I carry a knife, so I don't need to feel as if I can defend myself with your book if I'm beset by hooligans on my way to Starbux.

The hypothesis was forwarded that publishers were going to start producing reasonable-sized fantasy novels. I disagreed. Not to be contrary, though I am, but because I think Market Forces stand in the way. I disagreed because publishers do not set prices based on wordiness, and people who have become accustomed to paying $8 (that's $12 and an NHL franchise to our Canadian readers) are not going to want to start paying the same price for a book half as long. And if one publisher starts selling half sized (basically double-priced) books, that publisher is going to fail.

But it's a double-edged sword. (Again, the fantasy imagery creeps in like some kind of NINJA!) The double-edginess is this: What if you're a new author. You can't write the bloat! Readers won't buy it! Who wants to commit to reading 780 (1235 in Canada) pages from someone you've never heard of? Zero readers, that's who. And zero readers is many, many less than you need to accomplish sell-through.

So what do people think. Can we bring back, say, 80k word fantasy novels that are still epic. Say, produce more of them? If I were doing this full time I can honestly say that I could write a novel every four months. With time for breaks, that's two books a year. See, the thing with the big novels is there's so much time between them...at least a year, maybe more. I had to stop reading GRRM's thing because it simply collapsed under its own weight. Its own wait, too. Too many characters, too many threads, too little continuity. That would have been better as one book every six months, across four series. Much better. Made more money too, I'll bet.

Anyway. Oh, one more thing. Fuck Pirates. I'm sick of 'em. Pirates are over.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm just a man with a steel guitar, a Lit degree and a busted car.

I'm not really. I'm not what you'd call musically inclined. Anyway, here's this week's hair picture. This is taken minutes before I walk out the door for work. I think you can tell that by my air of grim determinism. Plus my shirt just screams "WORLD BEATER!" Right? That's a shirt for worldbeaters. That's what I'm saying.

To continue the thread from the comments on the last post: repackaging fiction for the internet age. I'm going to spin a little scenario that been crawling around in my head most of the day. Think of fiction like music. The first and most important barrier we have to getting people to consume fiction online is time commitment. How long does it take to read a story? Depends, I suppose, but let's say ten minutes. That's about five times longer than most people are willing to sit still online, especially for text. People who are already hardcore readers might do it, hence the success of Strange Horizons, but I'm not interested in those people. More accurately, I'm not interested in *just* those people. I want online fiction to become a broad phenomenon, not just the transference of RL readers to VR readers.

So, we shoot for two minutes. How do we deliver the product. There are a lot of ways to do it, given the many magical things provided by the internet. Some kind of multimedia/flash/spoken word/animation *thing* that none of us will be able to define until we see it. Sort of a choose your own adventure/graphical interface/game but really a story but it's like a game. You could probably squeeze more than two minutes out of the reader, if you're actively engaging them in the process. So that's one way to present fiction.

Another, easier format is audio. That you'd need to keep to two minutes. And I'm talking two minutes per consumer-ready-chunk. The CRC. You can string a whole bunch of CRCs together to tell a single story, then each CRC would need to be self-sustaining. Kind of like comics. Kind of like songs.

Imagine that. If authors produced albums instead of books. Record ten or so CRCs, then release them serially. You could have podcasts, collecting your favorite stories from five or so different authors, updated weekly. Some telling the story in serial, and some just random samples from favorites, to give the listener a feel for the author. You would need pretty wide participation by lots of different authors to make this work, of course. And that will take time, and people will resist it.

Still. It's an idea. Authors, think of yourself as musicians. Your book is an album, and serials are your songs.

Monday, November 27, 2006

And then? Then there'll be a revolution! Yeah!

Okay, maybe not. But I've been thinking about independent stuff. Music, comics, publishing. Really, I've been thinking about music and comics, and that's led to me thinking about publishing. So I'm going to kick this out there. More of me thinking out loud than anything else.

Independent music succeeds. There are networks of people trading info about artists. Musicians have myspace pages to keep in contact with their fans, promote their music and distribute their merch. Just last week I bought a cd from a band in Durham, NC. I heard them on an indy music podcast, I googled their name, found their myspace page and bought their CD. Magic.

Independent comics succeed. The guys at PvP, PennyArcade, Questionable Content and ScaryGoRound (among many others) do this for a living. They post comics, those comics get read, books get sold along with tshirts and stickers and...so forth. They start in their garage, they move to an office, they hire staff. Success.

Independent publishing? I have to qualify my statement, because I'm thinking mostly of internet based success here. The successful independent publishers I know are mostly paper-based. Electric Velocipede, Lady Churchill's and so forth, they achieve some level of success, mostly through connections which translate into sales. But most of those guys aren't doing this full-time. And there are levels of success. I would count NightShade, Golden Griffon and Pyr as independent publishers. They're certainly doing well for themselves, but there's a fair amount of infrastructure behind those operations.

So. Can independent, web-based publishing succeed according to the music/comics model? John Scalzi is a great example. He was publishing his book online, one chapter at a time. It generated enough attention to get him a contract with Tor. Tor ain't small potatoes. But how did that buzz generate? How did he spread the word? Vexing. So can a guy, or a couple guys, publish good stories in an out of the way URL and build up buzz sufficient to become self-sustaining?

I think it all comes down to hubs of communication. Comics have sites like Top Web Comics, which aggregate websites and offer them up for voting. As people vote for sites they rise in the standings, more people read them, more people vote. Eventually you peel off from that model, just because you have enough of a fanbase to generate your own buzz. Your readers are getting their friends to read you, and you don't need the outside feed to build distribution.

I don't think the sf/f community has this, at least not on the literary side. We have blogs, sure, and a network of blogs, but that's widely distributed and kind of random. There's nothing centralized about it, dig?

Anyone who knows me knows about the Dead Channel. If you don't, click on that link over to the right. Enlighten. I've been thinking about the DC a lot recently, and what I can do to broaden its impact on the genre. I used to believe that just producing some of the best fiction on the net was sufficient, but that's clearly not the case. So what now. Where do we go now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sometimes sleeping wears me out

First off, here's this week's hair picture. Smiling doesn't make it any better.

Also! The dreams I had last night were kind of weird. First I dreamed that I was rock, old cold black rock smeared with a thin layer of meat. When I lay down the rock would settle through the meat and poke through. There was something about the rock singing, too, but that was kind of difficult to remember. Then I dreamed I was back in high school, during my theater days. The stage was pretty much the only place I remember being comfortable in high school. I knew my lines, I knew where I was supposed to stand, I knew what people would say back to me when I talked to them. It was like an hour long, non-interactive social life, every night for two weeks. So last night I dreamed about the stage, and people laughing at the things I said, and the crowd thinking "This is Tim? Tim Akers? Huh."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Now that's DENSE

Do you like brie? Brie cheese? I like brie cheese. Whole lot. But when I buy it, I feel a sort of obligation. You can't get good brie in small quantities; the little brie wheels are pretty much crap. So I buy it in this wedge of brie, and it's not cheap, so I feel this obligation to consume the whole thing. I hate throwing out any of it, so I buy the wedge and I race to finish it before it goes bad. Put it on everything...crackers, sandwiches, toast. Man, I love brie. But after a while I hit some sort of overload. Like, my body can not possibly consume another ounce of this wonderful stuff. So, I guess what I'm saying is that they should start selling brie in more reasonable quantities, so thugs like me can roll with it.

Speaking of dense, I've been listening to a lot of the indie rock. I love saying that. Like it's a fucking genre or something. Yeah, this is so Indie. Woo...good times. So anyway. Listening to a lot of obscure little bands (obscure to me. I'm sure you people know them all, being so elite) and I end up on this forum, lurking and observing and whatever. It's a strange scene. A broken social scene, you might say. (how hot was that? so hot you might not have even gotten it. so hot)

Like most fora, this one strays. Let's talk about our cats or movies or, you know, whatever. And one of the threads is Let's talk about our favorite sf books. People! Lemme tell you something! For being all snobbish about their music and look at my obscure lyrical references and all, these people (the ones on this forum, mind) are very bland in their book tastes. That's a blanket statement, and I shouldn't make blanket statements, and I'm sure there are a lot of people on there who read challenging and interesting and enlightened texts. Just not the ones posting.

So. That amused me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Hair Files

Okay, okay. I'm going to do something silly. Not just silly, but typically internet-pointless and self important. Awesome? Awesome.

I'm growing my hair out. Each week I'm going to take a picture of myself, and together we can track my change from straight edge hipster to, uh. Bushy haired maniac? We'll see.

Anyway. This was taken last Sunday. I'm going to try to stick to that schedule, so expect updates on Monday or so. It's not the best picture, the flash shadow obscures the hairline a little...whatever. It's short hair.

Update! My wife fixed the shadow, so you can see my actual hair. Clever girl!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Apocrypha, and other Greek

There are, perhaps, two stories that I wish to tell from the con. I say perhaps, because I told myself that the next time I blogged I should tell these two stories, but now I've forgotten one of them. I'm hoping it will come to me as I type.

First of all, I want to tell you about the theoretical Whole Foods. Understand that the hotel was in the middle of a strip mall, a truly haute strip mall with matching white brick walkways and glossy tile facades and all that. Strip mall for the new rich, I suppose, when you can't afford actual luxury, but can afford the pre-manufactured, unoriginal knock off. Anyway. There was a Whole Foods in this complex. In fact, I believe it was the ur-Whole Foods. I know of its existence because I was told. I even saw evidence of it, in the form of purchased tangerine juice and some sort of pepper salad. And now I have remembered the second story, which I shall get to in a moment.

So, the first night I'm sitting outside with Deva and Tim, of Orbit. Important people, and very kind. Tim is from London. His London-ness rolls off him in waves, sort of the way my fundamentalist youth drips from my eyes like a foggy aura. Good guy. I don't know how we got on the subject, but we ended up discussing the difference in carry laws in our respective regions. I made a point of hunting him down (wrong word choice) the next day and trying to convince him that I was not, in fact, a gun-toting sociopath. He frisked me.

The point, while we were talking and drinking and I was explaining why everyone I knew as a child carried a knife (I have trouble explaining that, actually. Why did everyone I knew wear pants? Because they did. Nurr.) the point is that Joshua Bilmes was there, and he was eating the aforementioned pepper salad, and drinking the tangerine juice, and explaining that he only ever drank tangerine at the beginning and end of the season, because he looked forward to its arrival, and then mourned its departure. And these things were from Whole Foods. Okay? So, then I drank too much. There are bits of the evening I don't really remember, in fact. I know I got back to my room, and I closed the door. My room had two beds, and I lay down in the one farthest from the bathroom. I woke up in the other bed. And I had rearranged a good deal of the furniture, and made a pile of books on one of the chairs. So forth. I don't remember any of that. The point is that I was very drunk, and the next morning I was very unwell.

I decided I wanted to go to whole foods. I wanted to purchase a bread deal of bread, and eat it very slowly. Joshua had made it sound as if the place was just a block or two away, and I figured the walk would do me good. So I got dressed and went downstairs. Joshua was there, talking to someone. I asked him for directions, and he gave me directions. I thought I understood them. I did not. In retrospect, I crossed one street too far to the north. I think. Anyway. I walked for quite a while, ended up at a Borders which was not yet open, then walked back to the hotel and purchased an overpriced croissant and some coffee. Really, the walk did me a lot of good, and I was fine for the rest of the day. But I didn't make it to the Whole Foods.

The next day, I decided I was going to have lunch there. I had been eating on a strange schedule, and any of you who know me (I'm kidding. None of you know me, any better than you can know someone by reading their blog. It's a great and painful irony in my life that the people I'm closest to are people I never see, and the people I see are people I don't even talk to. Ahem.) know that my metabolism is a cruel bitch. So I was hungry. I had new directions from Joshua, and I set out. I didn't make it, obviously. I was maybe halfway there when I spotted a sandwich shop. Thunderhead sandwiches, I think. I looked inside, and it was chock-full of hipster emo music geeks, with ironic tattoos and tired, tired eyes. I was too hungry to *not* eat there. So I did, and it was good, and I ate there for lunch the next day, too. I would eat lunch there today, if the drive wasn't so long.

The point is that I never, despite several attempts, made it to the ur-Whole Foods. I was even present when things were purchased there, without actually being in the store. While we were waiting for our table Saturday night, Joshua apparently popped over to the theoretical market and purchased a bottle of water and some apple juice. So. There you have it. Theoretical hippie-minded food market, where are ye?

The second story I was going to tell was actually the Tim-guns-frisk story. I seem to have already told it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rolling in the Cheesecake

I hate picking titles for posts. I hate titles in general. They frontload the reader's expectations, and I'd rather folks come to my stories with a blank slate. I just dislike the whole process. cummings had it right.

Anyway, the Super Important Dinner. When I got to Austin I checked into the hotel, got my goodie bag and then went to the first panel. When I got back, there were three messages in my room: two from work, with questions that were frankly idiotic, and the third was from Joshua Bilmes. Joshua wanted to arrange a time to talk, so I called him back and we decided to have dinner on Saturday night, at the Cheesecake Factory about a block away. Swell. That pretty much ruined me, mentally.

I wasn't sure what to expect. This is the first time someone in the industry, much less an agent, offered to buy me food so that we could sit and talk. About what?! I don't know! I don't know how to have normal conversations, people! I was, quite simply, a mental wreck for the next couple days as I tried to figure out what I was going to talk about. Did he want to talk about my book? Was I going to have to "pitch" the novel? I don't know! DON'T! KNOW!

So I obsessed. I worried too much. I did a pretty good job of relaxing, but there was always a little niggling nervousness at the back of my head. It got worse when, on Friday night, I tried to practice pitch the book to some guys I had met at the bar. It didn't go well. So saturday I cozied away into a distant nook of the hotel with my notebook and figured out what I was going to say, if the conversation got to that point. I'll spare the tension - we never got there. I was glad to have the pitch in my head, because it cleared up some of my own questions about the book, as well as revealing some problems with the narrative. All good.

Anyway. The dinner itself. There were five of us at the table. Me, Joshua Bilmes, Steve Macino (Joshua's assistant, and a fine agent and beer drinker in his own right), Frederic Durbin and *handwaving* I believe the fifth was John Richard Parker, an agent out of London. He didn't have his nametag on, and we only exchanged names at the beginning of the evening when I was, quite frankly, high on fear and tension.

Stories have complications. Makes them interesting. This story's complication is that Joshua, our esteemed patron and the central character in the dinner's narrative, had lost his voice. Oh, and Frederic had food poisoning, and spent most of the evening hunched over. And I had been up for many, many hours. So Joshua passed notes on napkins, and the rest of us just tried to get on. It was really a very good night. We talked about publishing, books, fantasy...the kinds of things that I can actually talk about in a social setting. That almost never happens to me. It was an excellent dinner, and a good time.

The next day I did get to actually talk to Joshua, bookwise. There wasn't much to it. He asked when I was going to get something to him, I explained where I was in the progress bar, that readers had copies, I was re-reading the current manuscript, and that I anticipated having the thing done sometime in January. He told me to not bother with a query letter or anything, just send the manuscript and let him know via email that it was on the way. He was also pretty hot on me going to NaSFic in St Louis this year, which I'm not sure I'll do. I just can't afford two cons in a year, and right now I'm intending to go to Saratoga in November. That just seems like a better place for me to be, professionally. *shrug*

Anyway. I'm happy, and writing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I don't think we're in Texas anymore

So I'm back from WFC, held this year in Austin. I feel somewhat obligated to make a report or something, since I attended a panel on the breathtaking importance of the blogosphere to the industry, and actually gave my url to a couple people, and I haven't posted in forever. I'm not good at reports, so this shall be dull, verily.

The Con started on Thursday, but I originally had it in my mind to drive down, so I took Wednesday off from work. I ended up doing the plane thing, but never bothered to un-request Wednesday. That's a good way to start your convention, I think: Just take the day before the first day off. Very relaxing. I packed, I sat around, I read and spent time with my wife.

Travel day was swell. There were a number of people on the plane going to the con, including the infamous David Schwartz. I ended up talking to Darja Malcolm-Clarke, who was sitting in the window seat while I was in the aisle. The poor girl between us was very tolerant, and maybe learned something about the role of the city in modern mythic literature.

Generally speaking, this con had a different feel for me than Madison did last year. I think it had something to do with the layout of the bar. See, I don't know a lot of people in the industry. Of the hundreds who attended, there were maybe three people I felt comfortable just walking up to and starting a conversation. I'm shy, right? But in Madison, most of the socializing went on in the room parties. Big rooms, no furniture, crowded with people. You are always physically close to a conversation, and if you wander around it's pretty easy to find a conversation you can join. Socialization by population density.

But this bar was designed to allow groups of businessmen to arrive in mass, sit down in mass, and socialize in mass. Lots of small, easily moved tables. A group of friends arrive, they push tables together, they drink and talk and network, and then they stumble to their respective rooms and pass out. There are waitresses, so you don't need to go to the bar to get your drinks. So. I found it very difficult to meet new people, and did not know many people to begin with.

I did have fun, though. Very little sleep. Saturday was my longest day, by far. I went to bed at 2am saturday morning, got up at 5am (I was hungry. My metabolism is a cruel bitch) then caffeinated and pushed through the various panels and readings and Super Important Dinner (discussed elsewhere) and ended up hanging out with Steve Mancino until, like, 4:30am on sunday. That's 23 1/2 hours. Did I mention I'm old? I'm old.

I'll talk more later. I'm at "work" trying to unfuck everything that was done in my absence. It's fun, in that "let's all quit our jobs, sell our worldly possessions and move to a commune to write" kind of way. And I have the Super Important Dinner to talk about, too. Super Important!