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Friday Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Having left Camorre after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards at the hands of the Bondsmagi, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are running a new scam in the Sinspire, a high-class casino in the city of Tal Verrar. Unfortunately the Bondsmagi haven’t finished with Locke yet, and he and Jean find themselves working—decidedly unwillingly—for a Verrari warlord with an ambition to rule the city outright. Temporarily abandoning the scam they take up their new mission, starting with a crash course in seamanship and a new cover identity as the dread pirate Orrin Ravelle…

Warning: here be spoilers! Because it’s otherwise hard to say what I liked (and didn’t like) about the book. And hell, it’s six years old, so I reckon many of my visitors will have read it already anyway. Read more

Epic fantasy? What does that even mean?

Yesterday I finished the final draft of The Prince of Lies – yay! – which inevitably left me feeling more than a little punch-drunk, like I’d been hit round the head with a 135,000-word manuscript…So I goofed around on Twitter a bit, and whilst chatting about book lengths and genre I realised that fantasy really needs a new name for a rather common sub-genre.

Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk
Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk

OK, before we get going, yes I know that sub-genres are artificial and that you shouldn’t try to shoehorn your work into one of them, but once you have a book – or three – written, and you start to look at what market you’re going to be aiming at, it can be helpful to have a label so that everyone knows what you’re talking about. Except – are they really talking about the same thing?

The discussion that sparked this was about the ideal length for a debut epic fantasy, which varies from agent to agent, but certainly somewhere in the 100-150k ballpark as a rule. For other kinds of fantasy, as well as SF, the suggested length is more like 90-120k.

The thing is, what do agents mean by “epic fantasy”? I suspect that for some in the business it’s a synonym for secondary world fantasy, or indeed anything that isn’t very clearly either steampunk or urban fantasy. Because it’s like Tolkien and George R R Martin, right?  And in one respect they’re right – all non-contemporary fantasy has broadly the same audience, and it’s distinct from (though it may sometimes overlap with) urban fantasy/paranormal romance.

The thing is, a lot of the secondary-world fantasy that I read isn’t what I’d call epic. There are no continent-spanning wars or treks through sweeping landscapes, no wide-eyed young heroes venturing out of their comfy hobbit-holes and being swept along on An Adventure. Typically they’re based in one city (just like urban fantasy), with a cast of characters who are far from innocent: thieves, spies, assassins and the like. You know, those Hooded Men who’ve been gracing the covers of our favourite books for the past decade…

(As an aside, if you google “hooded man” images, the cover art for The Alchemist of Souls comes up quite high in the results. Which is ironic, since there’s not a hood in sight!)

This sub-genre used to be known as swords’n'sorcery, and it was typified by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. Lots of swashbuckling swordplay, but also lots of monsters and evil wizards and the like. The thing is, modern-day S&S is typically quite low in magic and often the characters are all human, so the label doesn’t really fit any more. Nor does the newer label “grimdark” really help, as it’s a tone, not a subgenre as such. Both GRRM and Joe Abercrombie have been described as writing grimdark, but their books are also epic fantasy.

I raised this on Twitter, suggesting “cloak’n'dagger” as an alternative. I got some great (not always serious) alternative suggestions:

  • The Streets of Darkness
  • Hooded Figure Fantasy
  • Poignards’n'privies (very apt in my case!)
  • Mock-Tudorpunk
  • Grime’n'punishment
  • Alchemical romance (by analogy with Wells’ “scientific romance”)

What do you think? Do we need a new label for non-epic, non-contemporary fantasy?

Introducing the BookSworn

Writing is a lonely business, which is why we budding authors tend to be a gregarious lot given half a chance – we love to meet up and share both our writing woes and our useful tips for making it in this tough world of 21st-century publishing. Conventions are a great way to do this, but there are only so many one can go to each year, so we also communicate a lot through social media.

Just as important as talking to one another, if not more so, is communicating with readers – but as new authors, how do we get our voices heard? When a bunch of us were invited onto Reddit last year for a very successful AMA (Ask Me Anything), we decided we didn’t want the fun to stop. So, we began exchanging emails, and what came out of that was a plan for a joint blog (and accompanying social media presence) where we could engage with fans in a bigger way than on our individual blogs.

And so without further ado, may I announce BookSworn! We’re doing a fantastic giveaway contest – 16 signed fantasy books! – to celebrate the launch, so do check the site out. You can also follow us on Twitter @BookSworn.

(The name is my fault, by the way. Two of our members, Mazarkis Williams and Douglas Hulick, have new books with the word “sworn” in the title – I thus suggested “Book Sworn” as a joke, and the name stuck. Sorry!)

Transitioning between projects

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the pressures of writing a book a year, and how you have to start thinking about what to write next even whilst you’re working on your current novel. I still believe what I wrote in that post, and in fact I’ve been putting it into practice over the past few months.

At the time of the original post (summer 2011) I was four months into a contract that would see my trilogy being published at 8-10 month intervals during 2012 and 2013, so I was totally focused on those books. As of February this year, however, I handed in the final book in the trilogy and found myself with no deadlines for the first time since late 2010! This was an intoxicating feeling, but I knew it wouldn’t last for long because I still had to do one final revision pass on The Prince of Lies. Still, it marked the beginning of a transition period, when I was able—even obliged—to begin dividing my attention between the outgoing project and my plans for the next book.

A writer can never have too many notebooks! (Photo: Mhairi Simpson)
A writer can never have too many notebooks! (Photo: Mhairi Simpson)

Fortunately, as per my blog post, I had already started a notebook in which I jotted down my initial ideas. It was all very vague: based on my experience of writing the Night’s Masque trilogy, I knew I wanted to continue writing urban-based fantasy with a historical flavour (though not necessarily in a real-world setting), but I didn’t want to commit to anything beyond that. So, I simply jotted down ideas for characters, setting and plot as they came to me, without making any decisions as to which one was best.

I did this throughout February and accumulated a bunch of new ideas, as well as digging through trunk novels and their associated worldbuilding to see what I could reuse. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t come up with anything, because I’d been so focused on the Elizabethan stuff for the past five years, but that concern was misplaced. Once I let my Muse out of her cage, she really went for it, spewing out character backstories and plot ideas as if a dam had been burst (apologies for the mixed metaphors). Most importantly, the “gestation” period imposes a kind of “survival of the fittest” selection pressure on my ideas. If my Muse keeps gnawing on an idea even though my conscious mind has tried to discard it, that’s probably a clue that I ought to pursue it!

This month I’m back into editing mode on The Prince of Lies, which means that I have to put this new project on the backburner for a few weeks. After that, though, it’s all over for Night’s Masque bar the usual round of publicity when it comes out. That’s when I find out if my lengthy brewing of ideas has produced a firm basis for a new fantasy series. I’m pretty sure it has – and I’m looking forward to applying all the experience I gained in the past five years to the creation of new novels. I’m also looking forward to sharing it with you guys, but that’s going to take a lot longer, since I have to write—and sell—the damned thing first!

Goodreads giveaway

Just a quick (and belated) update this week, as I’ve been too jetlagged from my day-job trip to California to put together a proper blog post…

Next week I’m doing a giveaway on Goodreads – two signed copies of The Merchant of Dreams are up for grabs. The giveaway runs from 3rd to 6th March, so get in there quick!

View the giveaway on Goodreads

NB: this is a worldwide giveaway – no geographical restrictions – and is for the UK paperback (which is bigger and, IMHO, nicer than the US mass market paperback).

The Prince of Lies is handed in!

I’m very happy to say that on Sunday afternoon I finished the first clean(ish) draft of The Prince of Lies and sent it off to my editor Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot Books. Unlike the previous two manuscripts, this one has been running a bit late – not something I’m proud of, but sometimes these things happen.

The two sweetest words any writer can type?
The two sweetest words any writer can type?

In this case I don’t have any solid excuses apart from inexperience. Tying up all the loose plot threads so that my third book made sense was the hardest part; I knew how I wanted the trilogy to end, but getting there? Sheesh! Talk about herding cats… Anyone who’s read the books will know that by the end of The Merchant of Dreams there are a fair few balls in play, and I had only one book to resolve them all in. My choice, admittedly; I didn’t want Night’s Masque to be one of those sprawling fantasy series that drags on for book after book until the author is utterly sick of it. Better to wrap it all up neatly before my heroes outstay their welcome!

So what now, I hear you ask. Well, there’ll be another round of revising and polishing before it goes off to copyedits, but I need a break from this project in order to get some distance (and avoid burnout), and in any case it’ll be a while before I hear back from Marc and my beta-readers. In the meantime I’m going to catch up on my reading and DVD-watching and generally enjoy having a normal life for a little while.

What, you expect more books?

Yeah, OK so I have a notebook where I’ve been jotting down ideas for a new series, but I’ve not committed to anything yet. I want to let the ideas brew until something jumps out and grabs me so hard I can’t not write it, just as happened back in 2006 when I wrote the first draft of  The Alchemist of Souls. Writing a novel is damned hard work, so it’s worth finding the right idea before knuckling down to it.

I also don’t want to dive into this new project only to have to come to a screeching halt when it’s time to polish up The Prince of Lies. I’m pretty happy with how the book turned out, but I know there are pacing issues and dropped plot threads that need fixing, so it’s going to need all my attention one last time.

And then it really will be The End…or will it?

2013 Schedule

2013 is going to be a little quieter for me than 2012, but I still have a fair few events lined up so I thought I’d look ahead to the rest of the year. You know, in case you fancy catching up with me, getting a book signed or whatever!

16-17 February: PicoCon, London

PicoCon is a small convention, formerly only one day, that’s held at Imperial College in south-west London. I shall definitely be there on the Sunday in time for guest Richard Morgan’s talk, and will no doubt hang around for a good chunk of the day. I don’t have any programme events lined up, however – I’ll just be there to hang out with my SFF buddies (and get my copy of The Steel Remains signed!).

29 March – 1 April: Eastercon, Bradford

As far as I know the programme for Eastercon (aka Eight Squared) hasn’t been organised yet, but I’ll be there for the whole weekend and there’s bound to be some kind of signing event for The Merchant of Dreams – just ask at the Angry Robot stall in the dealers’ room!

13 July: Edge-Lit, Derby

Another great little convention, currently only one day but well worth attending. The Derby QUAD is a great venue, and since the con is small it’s a great place to dip your toe in the waters.

26 October: BristolCon, Bristol

Another fantastic one-day regional convention with a strong programme and a great location (I went to university in Bristol, so maybe I’m biased…). I usually do a couple of panels, and hopefully I’ll get a reading slot for The Prince of Lies.

31 October – 3 November: World Fantasy Convention, Brighton

The big convention of the year for me – fingers crossed, The Prince of Lies should be out by then, so it’s a perfect opportunity to get a signed copy fresh off the presses!

I hope to see some of you at one of these events – don’t be shy, I don’t bite! :)

The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 2

Update: congratulations to winners Paul, DeeDee, Gwen and Abhinav – your goodies will be on their way soon!


As announced last week, I have a stack of copies of The Merchant of Dreams just begging to be given away, so here’s the second batch!

This time it’s a worldwide giveaway, open to anyone anywhere. I have two copies of the US paperback to give away, plus two single-CD (MP3) copies of the audiobook, read by the excellent Michael Page.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.

Rules:

  1. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  2. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  3. Closing date for entries is noon PST on Tuesday 28th January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  4. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  5. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 7th February, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  6. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!

 

The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 1

Update: congratulations to Dave, Herdis, Lucy and Steven – your goodies will be in the post soon!


My author copies of The Merchant of Dreams turned up the other day, so I thought it was about time I did a giveaway. In fact I’ve got so many different editions, I decided to do two!

First up is a UK/EU giveaway for the benefit of my fans here who waited so patiently for the UK paperback. I have three paperbacks (UK edition) to give away, plus one 12-CD set of the audiobook. As with The Alchemist of Souls, the audiobook is read by the excellent Michael Page.

A second giveaway open to the rest of the world will follow next week.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.

Rules:

  1. You must live in the EU to enter (sorry – worldwide postage gets expensive)
  2. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  3. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  4. Closing date for entries is noon UK time on Tuesday 22nd January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  5. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  6. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 31st January, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  7. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline or cannot supply an EU postal address, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!

 

Merchant of Dreams – the official wallpaper

Earlier this year I released desktop wallpapers of the lovely Alchemist of Souls cover art by Larry Rostant, and they proved rather popular. Since I love the cover of The Merchant of Dreams even more, I thought I’d better do the same for it!

So, here’s the lovely Jacomina “Coby” Hendricks for your computer-decorating pleasure. Just don’t say anything ungallant or she might cock that pistol of hers…

I’ve created two versions, one widescreen (8:5) and one standard proportion (4:3), both in sizes large enough for all but the biggest monitors.

1600 x 1000 | 1280 x 960

Enjoy!

Full credits

Cover art © Larry Rostant at Artist Partners

Background texture & lettering by Marc Gascoigne

Angry Robot logo © Angry Robot Books

Design and novel excerpt © 2012 Anne Lyle