New author photo

Alan BaxterI just wanted to make a quick post to show off my new author photo. I hope you like it. I love it! It was taken by the extremely talented Nicole Wells, and I highly recommend that you check out her work.

She has a website here: http://www.nicolewells.com.au/

And a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/nicolewellsphotography

Author photos are notoriously hard things to get right, especially when, like me, the author is no catwalk model. I think Nicole captured just the right vibe with this one, given the dark weird fiction that I write. And even my artist wife, who is very hard to please with this sort of stuff, thinks it’s a brilliant photo. So approval all around. Thanks, Nicole!

.

Mirrorwalk at Tales to Terrify

tales-to-terrify-logoThose wonderful people at Tales To Terrify have been very good to me, and there’s another of my stories up there now. This time they’ve done a wonderful podcast of “Mirrorwalk”, originally published in Murky Depths #16, back in April 2011.

You can find the podcast here: http://talestoterrify.com/tales-to-terrify-176-bergin-baxter/

Matt Cowens has done a brilliant reading of the yarn. I’m really glad to see this one getting some attention again, it’s a story I still like a lot. I hope you enjoy it!

.

On established authors singing the praises of self-publishing

Let me start this piece with the following: I have no problem with any method of publishing. Whatever works for you and gets you the results you want is great. I’m a hybrid author – I’ve self-published in the past, I still self-publish a small amount and nowadays I’m mostly traditionally published in both big and small press. This is not about criticising any particular path to publication.

Okay?

Good. Glad we’ve got that covered. What I do want to talk about is a thing I’ve seen a lot of lately, most recently in this article by Harry Bingham. There have been several of these things, (Konrath is the feral posterboy for the movement – search him up yourself if you’re interested) but in a nutshell, the case they’re stating is this:

The great machine of publishing is constantly morphing and moving on, but we’re now in the era of self-publishing and that’s the way forward for everyone. They cite their own recent successes as evidence.

Now, self-publishing is in a huge renaissance and it is a great way forward for many people. But these authors going on about how they’re leaving the behemoth of traditional publishing for the clear, honest waters of self-publishing success are being disingenuous at best and wilfully ignorant at worst.

In the article linked above, Bingham extols the virtues of his decision to do away with big traditional publishers and strike out on his own with the latest book in his series. He talks about how it’s doing very well thank you, and we’re in a brave new fourth era of publishing (or the end of the third or something) where it’s better for authors to take control. This really annoys me, because the only reason Bingham is doing so well is because he’s spent fifteen years as a traditionally published author, building a huge fan base through those first two eras, using the marketing power and bookstore penetration that only traditional publishing can buy.

At the start of the article he talks about how he was lucky enough with his first book to be in an era when publishers had money and he enjoyed a £50,000 marketing budget for that first book. Stop and think about that. Fifty. Thousand. Pounds. I wonder if that, and the subsequent fifteen years of audience building, career refinement and learning, has anything to do with his current self-publishing success? I think it might.

Konrath is the same. He rips into traditional publishing all the time, while making a mint with his self-published works, selling them to all the fans he developed while being a traditionally published author and enjoying the rewards that brought.

Sure, traditional publishing has many flaws. It’s not perfect. But the simple fact is that traditional, especially big five, publishing affords you a level of perceived integrity, presence and opportunity that is simply not available to the self-published. I know from direct experience. When I was an indie I made some good connections and got involved with lots of stuff through my own hard work, but nothing major. Now that I’ve been published by Harper Collins, I’ve been on the Supanova tour, on ABC Radio, reviewed in major broadsheet newspapers and so on. My latest book is available in every bookstore in the country, enjoying shelf space and exposure. (And you know what? It could still be selling way better than it is, but that’s another story.)

Some people see huge success with self-publishing, but very few. For most it’s a hard slog, often with no reward. For authors who have enjoyed all the benefits that come with a big trad deal to then start venting against the trad publishers and singing the praises of self-publishing is not only disingenuous, it’s unfair. It makes those who are new and know less about the industry blind to the truths involved.

Someone might think, “Well, if Big Name Author is ditching trad publishers for indie success, I’ll just go indie”, when the only reason Big Name Author can see success is because he’s already Big Name Author, and that’s because of the big traditional publishing deals he’s enjoyed.

There’s no one way or right way to be published. There’s whatever works for you. But don’t declare that life in the rain is fantastic when you’re wearing a coat and carrying an umbrella supplied by someone else.

.

On the length of a story

There’s been a bit of to and fro via The Guardian recently about fantasy novels and short stories. Firstly Damien Walter wrote this pile of bollocks about how publishers need to stop encouraging big fat fantasy multi-book series. Then Natasha Pulley responded with this bullshit about how fantasy just can’t be done in short books, and especially not in short stories. I do wish people would stop trying to proscribe what the rest of us like to read and write.

You know what? A good story is exactly as long as it needs to be or it’s not a good story. Simple as that. If that means a fat book trilogy, or a ten book mega-series, or one thin novel or novella, or a short story, it doesn’t matter. A good story is good because it’s told in the right amount of space it needs. A really good story is made from great ideas, wonderfully written, using exactly the time and space required.

Sure there are plenty of rubbish, bloated books out there and loads of short stories that fall flat. But even the shite stuff has found its niche if its successful, because people are reading and enjoying it. If people are reading and enjoying something, get the fuck off your high horse trying to tell those people that they should be reading and enjoying something else.

Ellen Datlow, a living legend among short fiction editors, posted on Facebook about the second article I linked above and here’s what she had to say:

As a short story editor who has been reading and publishing sf/f/h stories for over 35 years, I’m astounding [sic] at the author’s ignorance. There are hundreds of brilliant, effective, imaginary world short stories that have been published and continue to be published. I don’t know how someone who claims to have taught a class in short fiction can claim that “That means that there is an incredibly narrow taxonomical window in which short fiction can be recognised as fantasy at all. What we recognise as fantasy is long. Sometimes really long.” Even if your definition of fantasy was valid (and it isn’t), you’re dead wrong.

I agree with Ellen 100%.

On the subject of longer series, to use my own recent books as an example, The Alex Caine Series is (so far) roughly 300,000 words spread fairly evenly over three books. Each book is not especially fat, but each one is a fast-paced dark fantasy story. All three contain details of a bigger arc that tells a bigger story. That’s what I like to read mostly – standalone books that also contribute to a larger ongoing story in series. That’s why I write them. But I also enjoy and write standalone novels, and novellas, and short stories. One day I might write a fucking great three million word epic if I think the ideas therein are good enough.

There are big series out there where each book is the same size as my entire Alex Caine trilogy. Peter F Hamilton writes single novels bigger than some big fat series! And all those things are good. We need that variety. I love to experience a glorious, dense, richly detailed series, then read an anthology of amazing, tight fantasy short stories. I like standalones that aren’t in series. I love novellas. But I only like any of those things if they’re good, and being good or bad is not predicated solely on their length. It’s predicated on being a good story, well told. Some yarns are too long or too short for my taste. I might wish they would get to the point more quickly, or delve more deeply into their world and story. But it’s not the length alone that dictates quality or validity. And I know my taste is vastly different to the tastes of many others, and their taste is equally valid. Even if they’re wrong.

You know the old adage – it ain’t the size that matters, it’s what you do with it.

So stop telling people what to read and publishers what to publish. Put all your energy into sharing the stuff that you think is good, regardless of length. Help the cream rise to the top and let the rest take care if itself.

.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film in years

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Holy balls, man, Mad Max: Fury Road was outstanding. There was nothing about it I didn’t like. I was wary going in because the hype had been so huge and so many of my friends were loving it that I felt sure I would be underwhelmed. Sometimes even a great film is overshadowed by the scale of its hype and you simply can’t enjoy it as much as you might if you’d gone in with no expectations. This is not the case with this film. It started and by the time the title slammed into the screen after the opening sequence I was upright in my seat and grinning. My adrenaline was pumping and I was thinking, This is gonna be fucking awesome!

And it was. It was insane, relentless, breathtaking, beautiful and intense. If I didn’t have to go to work that afternoon, I’d have turned around and gone right back in to watch it again. I’m desperate to see it again as soon as possible and that rarely happens. Not only is exactly the high-octane thrill-ride it purports to be, it’s something greater. Fury Road exemplifies, in every way, exactly what cinema is for.

Film is a unique medium, as all mediums are. You can make a film of a book or a graphic novel, but those things retain certain attributes in their native form that it’s not possible to recreate in other forms. For example, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is the perfect example of a story absolutely suited to the graphic novel. The double page spreads, Gibbons’ artwork and Moore’s words create a graphic experience that’s just not the same in book or film. A great novel has the beauty of the author’s language and descriptive prose that isn’t evident in a film version (or even a graphic novel, for that matter.) In the same way, everything about Fury Road is perfect for film.

The style is essential. George Miller has created a look and feel that’s visceral. He’s also eschewed CGI for real stunts and genuine car crashes, explosions and racing as often as possible. (Here’s a good post on why the overuse of CGI is increasingly crappy.) Of course, there is CGI in Fury Road, but it’s really the weakest of the visual effects and only used when it’s essential. There are regular nods to the 3D version as well, and that combines with the CGI at its worst with the guitar swinging towards the camera and back near the end of the movie. You’ll see what I mean. But even as that is the worst visual effect in the film for me, it’s still so beautifully over-the-top and insane that I forgave it. And all the CGI and 3D stuff always came second to the primary, powerful live-action film-making. And it’s film-making done to perfection.

FURY ROAD

The pace almost doesn’t let up, but when it does the calmness is sublime. The colour palette from burning desert to cold night is wonderfully filmed. The overcranking of speed and under-selling of violence -regularly brutal, never gratuitous – is all right on point. It’s a truly all-encompassing experience that utilises the medium masterfully.

But that wouldn’t be enough on its own. Spectacle without substance is an exercise in directorial masturbation. *cough*MichaelBay*cough* On top of all the cinematic beauty, the story, mythology and characters were solid and mesmerising. The performances, especially from Charlize Theron, were superb. The development of the broken world and the way some people had risen to control the desperate masses was utterly believable even within the epic, inconceivable scale of some of the things suggested. We didn’t have everything spelled out for us, but the story unfolded exactly as we needed to know things, just when we needed to know them. All of the above is essential to make perfect cinema. It all came together in one explosive and mind-blowing feature in Fury Road and that’s what makes it it the best film I’ve seen in years.

And I would be happy to leave it at that and let the film stand on its own brilliance, but there have been a lot of shouts from idiots about feminism, men’s rights, cocks withering and dying at the mere sight of the promo poster and so on, so I’m not going to leave it there. I’ll address that bullshit directly.

FURY ROADNo doubt you’ve read about the whiny rapist shitstains called MRAs, or Men’s Rights Activists, who have whined and shat themselves about this film because they call it part of a damaging feminist agenda. Apart from it being hilarious that their scrotums are tied in knots by a flick half of them haven’t even watched, they’re only giving the film more publicity. Which is great. Because it’s a brilliant film that is in part brilliant because of the amazing female roles, incredible female heroes and no damsels in distress bullshit. At one point, Max wordlessly defers to Theron’s character, Furiosa, when it’s clear she has the skills he doesn’t. I know! Hang onto your penises, fellas. Furiosa also defers to him when his skillset is greater, and others defer to each other and none of it has anything to do with gender. It’s about warriors working together and surviving the apocalypse. This film takes the Bechdel Test and shoves it right up its vagina, and that’s great! You could (satirically) question whether two male characters ever talk about something other than a female, given what the film is fundamentally about. But no spoilers here. We need more films where there are equal roles fulfilled by everybody in the cast and where that cast isn’t all men. Is there a feminist agenda? No. Is there a feminist message? Maybe. At one point, a woman screams, “Then who broke the world!?” and it’s easy to read a lot into that. But so what? We need films with a feminist focus. We need films that challenge the rampaging cockforest of Hollywood and prove that the all-male extravaganza is a choice, not a necessity. Because, above all else and without any reference to politics, this is first and foremost a fucking superb film, packed with amazing heroes and blistering action and everything else I’ve talked about above. And, as my pal said, every time someone watches Fury Road, an MRA loses his erection. That only adds to the reasons to watch.

Driving home, I just wanted to ram all the other road users out of my way, spray my teeth chrome and blow shit up. Seriously, go and watch this film. It entirely lives up to the hype.

.