Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2011 Results

July 26, 2011

SnoopyThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is one of my favourite literary events. It’s a brilliant idea. It stems from the awful writing of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. You probably think you’ve never heard of him. But I can almost guarantee you have. Here, see if this is familiar:

“It was a dark and stormy night;”

Yep. You know him. But did you know just how bad he was? Here’s the rest of that line, from Paul Clifford (1830):

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Holy crap.

It’s writing like that which gave rise to the contest. During his studies Professor Scott Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University unearthed the source of that famous line, “It was a dark and stormy night”, as being the opening of the Edward George Bulwer-Lytton novel, Paul Clifford. And it is a very famous line. After all, Snoopy uses it all the time and that Beagle knows his shit.

For all his hideous writing skills, Lytton coined some phrases we all know well. Among them “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “the great unwashed”, and “the almighty dollar”. He’s had an impact, has Bulwer-Lytton.

So Professor Rice, with the help of San Jose State University, has, since 1982, put together the contest which seeks the worst opening lines to the worst of all novels. You can learn all about the contest here:

Meanwhile, the 2011 results are in. The winner this year is the shortest entry to ever win the contest. It comes from Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, WI. (Yeah, I thought that was a children’s clothing line for people with more money than sense, but apparently it’s a place too.) Here’s the winning line:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Top work, Sue. Congratulations.

Rodney Reed of Ooltewah, TN takes out the runner-up prize with this one:

As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

There are other winners in several categories (Adventure, Crime, Sci-Fi, Vile Puns, etc.) and they’re all listed on the contest site here. Go and have a read. They’re hilarious.


Alan Moore interview at The Guardian

July 26, 2011

Alan MooreAlan Moore is one of my favourite authors of all time. He wrote the seminal graphic novels of the 80s that totally reinvented graphic storytelling – Batman: The Killing Joke, Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and so many more. He truly is a master storyteller and he’s always a very contentious fellow. He has strong opinions about many things, not least of which the industry of which he’s an intrinsic part. There’s an interesting interview with him here at The Guardian, where he talks about his latest League project and also touches on other stuff, like how tablet technology might change comics and the value of libraries.

Go. Read.

(Photograph: Murdo Macleod)


It might be fiction, but it has to be right

July 21, 2011

Things I’ve reserched today:

Ullapool to Stornaway ferry times.

Daylight hours in northern Scotland during winter.

Topographical features of the Isle of Lewis.

The Callanish standing stones.

Any guesses on where my characters might be headed right about now?

I really enjoy research. It’s like travelling without moving, only less Dune-like. I love to set my stories in interesting places and put my characters into testing conditions. In this case, far north eastern Scotland in winter. But it has to be right. I can’t just guess this stuff, even though I know most of the details above to some degree. If the story is going to seem real and convincing, the little details need to be right. Not about right, but exactly right.

What times does the ferry to Stornaway run during winter? Can I match that to the storyline? What time will it get dark during that part of the story?

These things are important. The best bit is that all those things are easily found. The website gives me sunrise and sunset times anywhere I need them. The Calmac ferries website has a downloadable PDF of their summer and winter timetables. The Internet is just about the best thing to happen to research ever. I still use books. You know, the old-fashioned method. But I love being able to look facts up as and when I need them.

It’s fun to be a fiction writer.


Harry Potter 7.2 – the end of an era

July 20, 2011

We went to see the latest and last film installment in the Harry Potter series yesterday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. The film is pretty good, even if it is pretty much one long action scene. With a story there are normally three acts. There’s a setup, with questions asked and situations created, then there’s some kind of action and usually some extra problems thrown in, and finally there’s resolution. I recently saw something that sums this up beautifully:

I found this via Chuck Wendig’s Tumblr, and I love it so much I want to punch it in the face.

So, the problem, if you can call it that, with the last Harry Potter film is that it’s all the last cup. It’s all resolution, action-packed climax. But that’s okay. Because seven previous films have done all the work of the first two acts.

Say what you will about J K Rowling and the Harry Potter stories, there’s something truly amazing about the achievement. Sure, the stories may be derivative, distillations of so much fantasy that’s gone before. But everything is informed by something. Sure, Rowling may not be the greatest writer on the planet, but she does spin a yarn that keeps you reading, and what more do we really want than that? These aren’t wanky literary explorations of language and word form. They’re rollicking yarns, aimed mainly at young people. And Rowling does have a dab hand at naming things. She comes up with the best names.

I was a bit of a critic at first, especially of the first couple of books. Poorly written, derivative stories that insult the genre, blah, blah, blah. Yes, I’m blah, blah, blahing myself. It’s true to some extent, but Rowling kept going, she created a remarkable world and truly interesting characters. Well, mostly. Ginny Weasley, for example, was always a bit of a glyph. But Rowling got young people excited about books again, and for that she deserves a knighthood or a statue or something. We can forgive the small things in the face of the big achievement.

And that achievement is seven books that sell better than the Bible. A merchandising empire that makes nation states weep. Rowling is worth an estimated £500 million. That’s pounds sterling. That’s a mental amount of money from writing about a boy wizard. On top of that, we’ve got the films.

Never has a film franchise like this happened before. Sure, there have been film series’, though none with a single story that runs to eight full-length episodes. There have been characters who have cropped up way more than seven times, like James Bond. But each of those is a seperate story, and there have been many actors playing Bond. To have a story like Harry Potter extend over eight films, over ten years, with the same cast literally growing up as their characters is something we may never see again.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (Harry, Hermione and Ron) from the first film and the last.

It would be fantastic if some other great book series’ received the same kind of treatment, but it’s unlikely. Not often does a prospect like Potter come along. Very few stories will guarantee a return on investment like Harry Potter does. It’s beyond mainstream; it’s ubiquitous. Producers and financers knew they could pretty much spend carte blanche on Harry Potter films and guarantee getting their money back several times over. Nothing is a safe bet like that in this world. Rowling created that – a guaranteed massive return investment. And you thought her magic was all fiction. This last installment shattered box office records worldwide, with US$169.2 million in US and Canadian ticket sales over the opening weekend. The opening weekend! And they’ve yet to truly milk it, with the rest of its cinema run, then DVDs, then special edition DVDs, then 8 film boxed sets. Not to mention all the associated merchandising.

Then there’s Pottermore to keep the whole thing monetised. Then there’s always the possibility of more books. The whole 19 Years Later thing at the end of the story is there as some kind of cap, but there are loads of ways around that if Rowling chooses to write more.

Of course, the real test of Rowling’s skill will be to write something else. Amazing as the Potter success is, she’ll always be measured against it and may not be able to write any other stories. I hope not. I hope she comes up with something all new, completely unrelated to Harry Potter and his world of wizards and witches, though I doubt she will.

So, for now at least, it’s over. It really is the end of an era. Children started reading books with the success of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They grew up alongside their favourite characters while film stars grew up playing those characters. I’m glad to have seen it through. There’s a good sense of closure now and the books and films will stand as one of the greatest storytelling achievements of all time.

I’m still left with one question unanswered. Why does Harry Potter, or any other witch or wizard, wear glasses? They can regrow bones, for goodness sake. Surely they can fix a spot of myopia. Then again, perhaps it’s good to be left with some questions. Well done J K Rowling, and well done Harry, Hermione and Ron. You all did good.


Kapow! At Angela Slatter’s blog

July 18, 2011

Angela Slatter was kind enough to invite me to post over at her blog about fighting. In fact, she kinda threatened me, but that’s okay. Fighting and writing are pretty much my favourite things.

Go over and have a read.


A reading in Reno

July 14, 2011

Bob KuhnThis is some very exciting news. Worldcon this year is in Reno, Nevada. I’m rather disappointed that I can’t be there, as I love cons and would go to them all if I could afford it. But, even though I can’t be there, my work can. Bob Kuhn, aka Tolkien’s Dragon, will be reading excerpts from my novels, along with a bunch of other Aussie and Kiwi spec fic authors, whose company I’m honoured to share. Bob has a couple of reading slots reserved and he’s generously offered to showcase Antipodean SF in those readings. Check out the kind of talent Reno will be exposed to – Harper Voyager authors Fiona McIntosh, Mary Victoria, Kim Falconer, Nicole Murphy and Helen Lowe, and cheeky ring-ins Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett and myself. Possibly even more yet to be determined.

It makes me breathe a little fast just to be in a sentence with names like that, let alone have my work read among theirs by a talent like Bob. Here’s the annoucement on the Voyager Blog.

I got to share a reading with Helen Lowe at last year’s Worldcon in Melbourne, which was great fun. The only thing I can think of that would be better than reading my work to a room full of people at a Worldcon is having a professional voice artist do it for me!

So, if you’re going to Reno for Worldcon, be sure to check out some great Aussie and Kiwi spec fic, read by Bob. You can get an idea of his great reading voice by listening to some sample recordings on his website here.


The Dark Knight Rises – official teaser poster

July 12, 2011

OMGOMGOMG! Christopher Nolan, who art our Bat-master, please please please make it three from three. (Click the image for full-size glory.)


A short a day – first week of July

July 11, 2011

I blogged about this recently and I’ve already got slack with it. I haven’t managed to read a short story every day, but I have managed most days. Here are the things I’ve read this past week or two:

Freefall by Eric James Stone, from Daily Science Fiction. This was a very powerful piece of flash fiction with some great science. I guessed how it was going to go down, but still enjoyed reading it play out. I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction and get a new story in my inbox every day.

Acception by Tessa Kum, from Baggage anthology, ed Gillian Polack, Eneit Press. Excellent near future dystopia of racial profiling and Orwellian mind control. This scored a bunch of award nominations, and totally deserved them. A real must-read.

Trickster by Mari Ness, from Clarkesworld. Very interesting idea and a nice literary style, but a distinct lack of explanation in why things happened the way they did and what for. Not really any story there to speak of, leaving me with more questions than answers, and not in a good way. Still worth a read and others will probably get more from it than me.

The Gateway of the Monster and The House Among The Laurels by William Hope Hodgson. Catching up on a hole in my reading, thanks to Adam Christopher’s recommendation. Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories, first published between 1910 and 1912 in The Idler magazine and The New Magazine, are classic old school supernatural detective yarns. They’re great fun and well worth a read. I found a free collection in the Kindle store. Bonus.

Valeria by Ian R Faulkner in Murky Depths #16. I have a story, Mirrorwalk, in this issue and finally had time to read some of my contributer’s copy. This story is a dark, violent cyberpunk noir tale. Gritty and clever, and quite disturbing. Not the most original idea, but very well played out with some original twists.

Doorways For The Dispossessed by Paul Haines from The Last Days Of Kali Yuga. The original “backpacker horror” yarn. An excellent exploration of lucid dreaming and its potential dangers with a cool, horrible twist. Paul Haines is an outstanding writer and this is probably the definitive Haines collection. Get it. Now.

I’ll post more updates like this on infrequent occasions. I’ll try to read a short a day, but you know how it is. What have you read lately?


And now for something completely different – Nicole Murphy

July 8, 2011

To say that I had something a bit different for you lot today would be a bit of an understatement. But let it never be said that I’m some kind of one trick pony. I know a few tricks and I have friends who make me look better. To that end, I’m happy to host a guest blog today from urban fantasy/romance writer Nicole Murphy. I’ve know Nicole for a while now and I’m very proud to call her a friend. With the release of the third book in her current series, she’s doing a few guest posts around the intertubes, and today she’s appearing here. Some of the things she has to say are very interesting, so read on.

On romance… by Nicole Murphy

Secret OnesSo here I am, a guest on Alan Baxter’s blog. A writer who deals in dark fantasy, horror, mystery and suspense. All the fabulously deep and dark and gritty stuff. And I write light urban fantasy romance. The Courier Mail described my work as “a lightweight but rollicking romp through the space where fantasy and romance collide”.

What does someone like me write about for the fabulous readers of Alan’s dark fantasy?

The answer – embrace the difference. Stand tall and proud and announce that I’m going to write to you all today about why I love romance.

A) Romance is about positivity and finishing on a high note. There are days when it’s really hard to find the positivity IN ANYTHING. So I can grab a romance and know that no matter how hard things get for the hero/heroine, it’s going to work out all right in the end. That’s a nice thing to be able to rely on.

B) Romance is about feminism and strengthening views of women’s sexuality. Now, I’ll admit it doesn’t always succeed at this – but then not every horror novel succeeds at being scary. But there are still huge tracts of the literary world out there where women are not seeing strong role models or being shown that they deserve happiness whether sexual or not. In the romance world, we get to see women taking on the men, beating them at their own game and getting the loving partner that can make their life better.

Power UnboundC) Romance is about acceptance. There’s such a range of relationships and sexuality in the romance genre. On the one hand there are the inspirational books – heavily based in religion (generally a Christian one) in which there’s no kissing or touching. On the other hand we’ve got erotica, featuring menages and S & M. At the moment, there’s a rise in gay romance (mostly being read by women, interestingly) and a massive call for romances dealing with different cultures and races.

D) Romance is about characterisation and world-building. Because of the restrictions on the plot (it HAS to end in a happily-ever-after or it’s not romance, it’s just romantic), you’ve got to work hard on the characters and world in order to create an interesting and exciting book that the readers will want to connect to. Some of the most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across have been in romance.

E) Romance is about escapism. People say this like it’s something bad but of course it isn’t. We all need to get away from the real world for a time – because we’re tired, because we’re stressed, because we’re worried, because we’re overwhelmed. A break from all this for just an hour or so can give us the push we need to move on and get through it. Most romances are written in a style that’s very easy to read and it means they’re easy to jump into, while away the time and then pop out of again.

Rogue GaddaF) Romance is about love, and love is one of the most powerful driving forces in human existence. Fiona McIntosh said it nicely on a panel at Worldcon last year – ‘if you’re not dealing with romance in your work, then you’re not dealing with the totality of the human condition because at the end of the day, we all want to be loved’.

I know romance isn’t for everyone. There’s things that I don’t like to read (and no, dark fantasy isn’t one of them :) ) so I can understand that you can give it a try and not find it your bag.

But I hope that if you’ve ever been inclined to bag romance, you’ll now think twice about it. Or at least go and read a few books (preferably mine!) before you put it down.


Giveaway question – To win a copy of Rogue Gadda, tell me what you love about your favourite genre.

[Leave comments below and Nicole will pop back to see them. She’ll pick a winner for the copy of the book – Alan]

Rogue Gadda

They came to the night that she and Hampton had made love. She hoped this was something the Firimir would skip through but no, she had to sit there in front of Hampton and relive those exquisite memories in the most humiliating fashion.

She wanted to squirm, both from embarrasment and arousal – Goddess, watching them together would set anyone on fire. Then she realised the Firimir could probably feel her arousal and embarrasment won.


Agent Stacia Decker gives the scoop

July 5, 2011

I found this one via Adam Christopher’s twitter post. Stacia Decker is an author agent who represents many genre authors, including Adam. Adam came across this old post on Dan O’Shea’s blog where he has a chat with Stacia about all aspects of being an agent and what works for her in query letters, author/agent relationships, social media and so on. Also, she’s a fan of bacon and dogs, which makes her totally cool.

For all writers, this is a really interesting fifteen minute podcast. Go. Listen.



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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