Nicole Murphy has collected a fantastic array of links to keep you busy all week. The August Australian Spec Fic blog carnival is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. So big it’s in two parts.
Enjoy and share!
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.
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?
The full article is here but I thought I’d pick out the key points and comment on them as it makes for interesting reading. And you know how I like to comment on stuff. CAL conducted a survey of members to learn more about their views of, and experiences with digital publishing in Australia. Over 2,000 CAL members responded, making this survey the largest of its kind in the Australian publishing environment. The survey was sent to all CAL members, ranging from international publishers to self-published authors, asking about their digital experiences and thoughts on the future.
Here are the key findings, in bold, with my comments after:
Both authors and publishers think the benefits of digital publishing far outweigh any of the downsides
I think this is a given now. There are very few people left, I think, who see digital publishing as a problem.
Around half of all authors and publishers create digital products
This surprised me – I thought it would be more by now. But more on that lower down.
The majority of publishers are still developing their digital strategies
This is not really a problem, but I see it more as a reaction to a rapidly changing environment. I think publishers will be constantly developing their digital strategies to keep up. It’s not something that will settle for a long time yet.
Only 15% of publishers have a competitively differentiating digital strategy
This is a problem. Digital needs to be seen as something different to the standard, existing print model of publishing and has to be treated differently. Publishers are already being left behind due to a resistance to accept this change and the longer they prevaricate, the harder it will be to catch up. Which they will inevitably have to do.
To date, 26% of publishers have no digital strategy at all
This is astounding! Just over a quarter? This is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s playing bowls while the Spanish Armada hoves into view. It’s foolish in the extreme to simply ignore the digital publishing revolution. Whether you like it or not, it is happening. It’s going to continue happening. It’s not a passing fad. There will be paper books and traditional publishing for a long time yet, but e-publishing is racing to catch up and will be rolling alongside as completely mainstream very soon.
To digress slightly, there seems to be a large proprotion of people that ask: Are you into paper books or ebooks? It’s not an either/or situation. I regularly buy both. I enjoy both. The vast majority of readers will be the same. But there are a lot of things now that I’ll buy as an ebook that I would never have bothered with in print – for cost, storage and ease of reading reasons – which makes the combination of print and digital far better than simply one or the other. Videos didn’t kill cinema, television didn’t kill radio. Ebooks won’t kill print publishing. But to completely ignore the rise of digital and have no strategy for it as a publisher is idiotic.
Digital publishing currently contributes less than 5% to the income of most authors and publishers – however, around 10% of authors and 14% of publishers currently make more than half their income from digital publishing
These are slightly rubber stats, but interesting nonetheless. Overall, the 5% figure stands, but that will be growing and will continue to grow until it is a much larger number. I’d say the authors and publishers making more than half their income from digital are the self-published, indie publishers and small press. And they will continue to grow in number as well. The digital options now make self-, indie- and small press publishing far more viable options than they ever were before and that’s very exciting.
Lower costs and improved access to markets are the greatest benefits for authors and publishers alike
Technical expertise, market dominance of multinationals and piracy are the three concerns shared by authors and publishers
This is no real surprise and is always going to be the case. Keeping up with technology and feeling the pressure from the “big guys” is a concern in all forms of business. From the corner store threatened by the massive super mall, to the indie music label threatened by the big labels, to the cottage industry threatened by the conglomerates. It’s always a battle in a capitalist environment. And piracy is something that affects all creative industries – film, music, television and publishing. Hell, I remember borrowing my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons rule books and spending hours photocopying them in the school library, because I couldn’t afford to buy my own.
But remember – the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity. It’s not going anywhere and we have to accept it as part of the digital landscape.
Low-level technical skills are the most significant barrier to market entry
I think this is more a fear than a reality. Anyone who suggested this has probably not tried to publish digitally because they think they won’t be able to. It’s actually bloody easy, and getting easier all the time.
Authors and publishers share some common views in relation to e-book royalties
Well, that’s good. We need to see the explanation to understand this point. So, from the original article:
Even in the contentious area of e-book royalties, authors and publishers shared some common views. No doubt there was some divergence of opinion, but the differences were by no means extreme. Similar numbers of authors and publishers (16.9 and 17.8%, respectively) thought e-book royalties should be set in the range of 11-20% of net receipts. Another 16% of authors and 13% of publishers thought that range should be 21-30%. Unsurprisingly a large cluster of authors (16.3%) felt the range should be 41-50% (whereas only 4% of publishers agreed). Interestingly, only 14.3% of authors felt the royalty should be 51% or greater. It should also be noted that when asked about the topic of ebook royalties, there was a significant proportion of both authors (24.3%) and publishers (38.8%) who chose not to express an opinion.
I think you’ll also find that a lot of authors are seriously considering retaining their e-rights and self-publishing their digital catalogue, so the percentage of royalties to a publisher becomes moot. But, speaking personally, if my publisher will cover all the technical aspects of design, layout, editing and so on, and leave me to write, I’m happy to split the royalties, just like regular publishing. Percentages will vary a lot, as they already do with print.
2/3 of CAL members believe that digital sales will eventually overtake print for the Australian publishing industry as a whole
And I agree with them. As I’ve said many times before, print will not die, but it will become boutique to some degree. Plus, does Print On Demand count as digital or print? Because the vast majority of paperback sales are likely to be POD before too long, in my opinion.
Of all the 2,090 CAL members surveyed, almost 19% own an iPad and over 12% own a Kindle
Given the supposed resistance to the rise of digital publishing, these are very revealing figures. There are also a lot of other ways to read ebooks and I don’t know if those were covered. It’s happening and only a handful of grumpy old bastards are really complaining.
These are exciting times and we should be enjoying the greatest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg press!
Go to the original article on the CAL site and have a read. Especially check out the italicised comments at the end. So, what do you think?
The internet has been abuzz lately since mega-billionaire-super-author, J K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame, in case you’ve been a monk in a cave for more than ten years) announced Pottermore. In a nutshell, it goes like this:
After seven books and eight films and more merchandising than you can fit in George Lucas’s ego, Rowling has now announced a website which will be a complete interactive experience for all ages based on her stories. Along with that she’s announced that for the first time ebook editions of the Harry Potter series will be made available. Well, legal ebook editions that is. Rowling truly is the master at monetising her ideas and characters, having turned some books about wizards at school into an international behemoth across all media.
With Pottermore, as the press release says:
For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans.
It’s a pretty inspired concept. Of course, Rowling with her riches and business partners is the kind of author with the kind of clout you’d need to make something like this happen.
The real game changer among all this, however, despite the partnership comment above, is that the ebooks will be essentially self-published. Her publishers, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, etc., don’t own the eletronic rights – and I bet they’re really happy about that. So Rowling is planning to make the ebooks available directly through Pottmore. Of course, when Rowling self-publishes, she’s has a team of people behind her and her own company on the case, so it’s not like she sits there on her own and uploads files to Amazon. But the key here is the lack of a third-party publisher.
The Kindle will accept epub format ebooks soon and the announcement that the Harry Potter ebooks will be available from October seems to fit in with that, so it’s likely the books will be in epub. That certainly does seem to be the prominent format and, aside from Amazon’s mobi format, has been the industry leader all along. Once the Kindle accepts epub too, we have the first stage of industry standardisation and that’s a good thing for all of us. Perhaps we have Rowling to thank in part for forcing that change – who knows who talked to who while this was getting off the ground.
Authors leveraging their existing print success to manage their own ebook releases is nothing new – just see J A Konrath’s example for one. But nothing on this scale has happened before and we can see things shifting a little more on the axis. I’ve said it before – we’re living in exciting times in writing and publishing and the ride ain’t over yet. I wonder how many kids will get an ereader with a set of Harry Potter books on board for Xmas this year? This will be a big step in mainstreaming ereaders, which are becoming more and more mainstream anyway. On a recent flight to Melbourne I noticed several people reading from Kindles and Sony Readers while waiting for my plane.
The kind of cross-media storytelling and promotion which Pottermore represents is certainly not new, but we’ve seen nothing on this scale before. Just the official announcement video is better than any book trailer a lowly author like myself could hope for. I wonder where we go from here?
Here’s the official release video from Rowling herself:
Interesting times indeed. What do you think? Is this a good thing or not? Where do things go from here?
Two reviews in two days? You can tell it’s a long weekend. Yesterday was the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides. This time it’s a novel, Nekropolis, by Tim Waggoner. I’d heard rumblings here and there about this book and it kept cropping up in People Who Bought This Book Also Bought lists, so I thought I’d finally give it a go.
It’s the story of Matt Richter, a dead ex-policeman. He’s now a zombie and in serious danger of rotting away to nothing. He lives in Nekropolis, the city of the Darkfolk. The basic idea behind the location is that all the vampires, lycanthropes and other monsters got sick and tired of being persecuted by humans, so the most powerful among them created a city in a paralell dimension. It’s the shape of a pentagram, Father Dis manages the whole thing while five Darklords are each responsible for one section. Imagine a pentagram and you’ll get the idea. Each section has a different vibe based on its darklord – lycanthropes in one section, death in another, and so on. The idea that the darkfolk left as they were sick of persecution is a bit rich – after all, they’re persecuted because they eat people – but that aside, it’s a cool way to have a paralell world of creepiness and weirditude while still being able to reference Earth. Matt Richter is an Earth cop who went to Nekropolis on the trail of a murderer. While there he was killed, zombified and he’s stayed there ever since, being a kind of private detective for the dark and undead population. In this book he’s drafted in by half-human, half-vampire Devona to help her out. She guards the collection of magical artefacts collected by Lord Galm, her father and one of the five Darklords. One particular artefact has gone missing and she needs to find it before Galm discovers it’s gone and shit hits the fan.
So we have a classic noir detective thriller, with a pretty girl, a missing thing and various nefarious subplots, but it’s all wrapped up in the gloriously weird environment of Nekropolis.
Waggoner does a great job building the world and feeding us information about how it works and how it came to be. We learn more about Matt Richter and how he came to be the way he is. Nekropolis really is a richly detailed and populated setting. It reminded me of a Tim Burton film, especially as there’s a distinct thread of humour throughout. It could easily have been all very dark and horrifying, but Waggoner treats the denizens of Nekropolis like the population of anywhere else and draws a fair amount of black comedy from the conceit. I couldn’t help seeing the place as a Tim Burton/Henry Selick type production, all in stop motion animation like The Nightmare Before Christmas. In some places the author tries almost too hard to make things as weird as possible, but on the whole it all works very well.
The plot itself is something of a story by numbers – you can see from the setup how the thing will play out in the big picture and there’s the expected movement of the characters through all the major areas of Nekropolis that have been alluded to. There are standard set pieces and even at one point a bad guy giving the whole monologue while the good guys engineer their escape thing, which was a bit of a shame. But on the whole the story was a good noir detective yarn and I didn’t pick the details of how it all worked out. I kept reading and I wanted to know what happened. There were enough surprises and twists along the way too, which drew away from the somewhat formulaic plot, and the setting was often distraction enough.
In places I found the writing a little bit too explanatory. We really didn’t need reminding that Matt was a zombie, therefore dead, every single time he alluded to any kind of emotion or physical sensation, for example. It got really tiresome. But those kind of writing related niggles were very superficial and on the whole the book read very easily and carried me along just as good fiction should. But that brings me to the editing. I know this isn’t the fault of the author, or a problem with the story, but the editing in this one was atrocious.
I’ve read a lot of indie and self-published work and one of the things the indie crowd are always going on about is quality editing. When a book is full of typos and stuff, it devalues the whole experience and also makes it stand out from trad published work. But this is not a self-published book. This is from Angry Robot, a publisher that I have enormous respect for and love the stuff they publish. Hell, I’d love to be published by Angry Robot! But the editor on this job needs to seriously improve his game.
Let me give you some examples of what I’m getting at. There were loads, and I mean LOADS, of missed words. There were numerous examples of misspelled words, things like -ed missing off the end of words that should have been past tense, things like “nearly” when the word should have been “nearby” and so on. In one scene, that was only a few pages long, one incidental character had his name spelled three different ways in two pages! There are always typos in books – I know that my novel, RealmShift, has a bad typo on the second page (taught instead of taut – GAH!) and we accept that it’s going to happen. But this book was riddled with them. And then there were editing errors like one scene where a lamb became a goat with no explanation and stuff like that. I would normally look past this stuff – I’ve been an editor as well as a writer and I know how hard it is to get everything, even when you have a whole team of people on board. There will always be typos. But this one went a bit beyond the pale. Incidentally, I read the Kindle edition, but that shouldn’t matter – the source file should be the same for all editions.
But let’s move on. Nekropolis is a clever and entertaining noir mystery, set in a truly imaginative world that kept me entertained from start to finish. It’s not a world-breaking novel, but it’s darn good fun and I enjoyed it a lot. 3 Stars.
Are you reading this? Then I’m talking to you. You’re a reader and you have a new responsibility. I’m including myself in this. I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too. Any writer worth his or her salt should be a voracious reader, and we’ve got a new responsibility as well. We’re all the New Gatekeepers. No, not extras in a Doctor Who episode, don’t get over-excited.
There’s so much talk about the changing face of publishing, and justifiably so. It’s an exciting time and writing and publishing is going through a renaissance brought about by new technologies. That means there are options out there for pretty much everyone to get their writing out into the world, and a lot of people are taking up the opportunity. Some people are doing seriously well out of it, like Amanda Hocking. Others are doing rather less well, like the poor woman that immolated her career with one online review – you know who I mean. But one of the net results of this revolution in publishing is that readers have been saddled with a massive new responsibility.
Gatekeeping is important. In the good old days of the late 90s and early 2000s, and since forever before that, the gatekeepers were the publishers. Writers would approach publishers, either directly or through agents, and publishers would decide what was published and what wasn’t. They essentially filtered what everyone got to read. The upside of this was, largely, the stuff that made it into print was generally well written and worth reading. Generally. We all know publishers are quite capable of turning out reams of utter shite too. But on the whole they ensured a general level of quality control. The downside, apart from the afore-mentioned shite, is that they also ensured that anything risky or unusual, something strangely cross-genre, something not immediately saleable, was unlikely to see the light of day. There were self-publishing and small press success stories, where the unlikely became massive, but those hits were very, very rare.
Now, with the advent of Print On Demand and ebook technology, publishers have found those gatekeeping responsibilities ripped away. Writers are still keen to be published by the big guys – there’s a definite advantage to it, both in terms of credibility and distribution, hence readership. But literally millions of people are circumventing the publishers and self-publishing. Millions more are scoring smaller deals with small press. The volume of stuff out there is staggering. And a lot of it is complete shit.
Remember, the publishers themselves have turned out many stinkers over the years, but the strike rate for quality – in editing, formatting, production and so on, as well as writing ability – has generally been kept high even if the stories were rubbish. Not always, but often. Nowadays people think it’s easy to write and be “published” and there’s loads of stuff out there that really shouldn’t see the light of day. Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly formatted – just poor. And that’s where we as readers come in. This is why we are the New Gatekeepers.
Success in writing has always relied on word of mouth. When a big publisher puts the might of the marketing machine behind a new release that word of mouth gets a massive head start, but it’s still the reviews and recommendations of critics and readers that determine whether a book is truly successful or not. That’s still the case, but the mainstream reviewers can’t keep up with the tsunami of words constantly bearing down on them. Along with all the newly published writers, a whole bunch of new reviewers have cropped up, and many book review blogs are developing considerable power. This is a very good thing, as it helps to strim out the crap and let the quality stuff rise to the top.
But you don’t need a review blog to wield power in this new world. You’re a reader – you have enormous power. If only you’d use it. By the Power of Yourskull! Or, more accruately, the brain within it. If you read something you like, tell people all about it. Recommend it to your friends, buy it and gift it to people. You can gift ebooks now as well as print books. There is no better result for a writer than a reader enjoying the book and recommending it. But don’t stop there – there’s so much more you can do, very easily.
You don’t need to be a talented reviewer to review books. Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads, Smashwords – all these places and more make it very easy for you to leave a review and rate a book. Or just rate it. Your review doesn’t have to be anything lengthy to have an impact. For example, look at this review of my second novel, MageSign, that a reader called Joefredwheels left on Amazon.com (Yes, I’m going to use my own work as reference. Sue me.):
excellent follow up – great story continuing adventure of first book protaganist. hoping for more stories in this world. Baxter is an excellent writer of a fast past exciting plot. THIS IS WORTH THE MONEY. BUY THE BOOK
He also rated it five stars. Brilliant. It’s very short, it’s not worrying about being good writing in itself, it’s simply conveying the person’s enjoyment of the book. Sure, it’s cool when readers take the time to write a few paragraphs of carefully thought out critique when they review, but the review above is just as valuable.
Here’s another example, this time a review of RealmShift, left on Amazon by Cathy Russell “Ganymeder”:
a well thought out tale – I liked that this story had believable characters and explored faith (or lack of), it’s origins, etc. It had a lot of deep themes. The characters were well thought out. The plot was engaging, and I liked the whole idea of a superhuman who could kick the devil’s ass. While reading this, I kept thinking it would make a great action movie or comic book too. I’d recommend this. 4 stars.
That wouldn’t have taken long to write, but in a single paragraph she recommends the book and gives some basic reasons why. Again, brilliant.
I can’t express how grateful I am when people take the time to do this. And it’s something we can all do, for any publication, anywhere on the web.
I tend to review books I enjoy here on my blog, but I’m a regular blogger anyway. I always rate them on Goodreads. I’m also planning to copy my reviews over onto Amazon and Goodreads – I wish I’d done it as I wrote them, as now it’s going to take a while and a concerted effort. But I’ll do it, because I plan to put my reviews where my mouth is.
So we, as readers, are the new gatekeepers. It’s our responsibility to help spread the word about the good stuff we read, and the bad. You don’t have to leave negative reviews on anything – just don’t review them. But it’s an act of true benevolence to leave good reviews of stuff you enjoy, or drop by websites and leave a star rating. You can write a single line or single paragraph review and copy that to all the sites you visit or shop at. If you do blog, then reviewing a book on your site is fantastic. But whatever you do, do something. Help spread the word. As writers, nothing is more valuable to us than the recommendations of readers. It’s always been that way, and now it’s more true than ever. Readers can make sure the good stuff out there gets noticed and more writers get themselves a well-earned career. Power to the people!
I am totally psyched to announce that my story, The King’s Accord, originally in the Flesh & Bone: Rise Of The Necromancers anthology from Pill Hill Press, is going to be reprinted in Ticonderoga Publications inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology. This is my first ever Year’s Best reprint and I couldn’t be happier. Also, how freaking sweet is that cover? It looks fantastic. And the Table of Contents is just phenomenal – I can’t believe I have a story included among this kind of company.
From the Ticonderoga press release yeaterday:
Ticonderoga Publications is walking on sunshine to announce the contents for its inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology.
Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have produced a list of 33 excellent tales by some of Australia’s biggest names as well as some emerging writers.
The anthology collects 150,000 words of the best stories published last year from the Antipodes
The stories are (alphabetically by writer):
* RJ Astruc: “Johnny and Babushka”
* Peter M Ball: “L’esprit de L’escalier”
* Alan Baxter: “The King’s Accord”
* Jenny Blackford: “Mirror”
* Gitte Christensen: “A Sweet Story”
* Matthew Chrulew: “Schubert By Candlelight”
* Bill Congreve: “Ghia Likes Food”
* Rjurik Davidson: “Lovers In Caeli-Amur”
* Felicity Dowker: “After the Jump”
* Dale Elvy: “Night Shift”
* Jason Fischer: “The School Bus”
* Dirk Flinthart: “Walker”
* Bob Franklin: “Children’s Story”
* Christopher Green: “Where We Go To Be Made Lighter”
* Paul Haines: “High Tide At Hot Water Beach”
* L.L. Hannett: “Soil From My Fingers”
* Stephen Irwin: “Hive”
* Gary Kemble: “Feast Or Famine”
* Pete Kempshall: “Brave Face”
* Tessa Kum: “Acception”
* Martin Livings: “Home”
* Maxine McArthur: “A Pearling Tale”
* Kirstyn McDermott: “She Said”
* Andrew McKiernan: “The Memory Of Water”
* Ben Peek: “White Crocodile Jazz”
* Simon Petrie: “Dark Rendezvous”
* Lezli Robyn: “Anne-droid of Green Gables”
* Angela Rega: “Slow Cookin’ ”
* Angela Slatter: “The Bone Mother”
* Angela Slatter & LL Hannett: “The February Dragon”
* Grant Stone: “Wood”
* Kaaron Warren: “That Girl”
* Janeen Webb: “Manifest Destiny”
In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2010 and a list of recommended stories.
The anthology is scheduled for publication in June 2011. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions and can be pre-ordered at http://indiebooksonline.com.
So last week, to help promote my new ebook, Write The Fight Right, I set up a contest, where I asked people to write a 500 word or less fight scene and the top three would get prizes. I got a lot of entries – thanks to everyone that had a stab. There were all kinds of fights submitted, from fantasy battles between fantastic creatures, to fisticuffs in a dark alley and everything in between.
Reading through all the entries was good fun and it was tough to pick winners. But I had to, so I did. Bear in mind that these winners are purely based on my own taste. I refer you to the tagline of this blog, under The Word in the header image above. When judging the entries I was mainly looking for a few key things:
* A exciting, rapid pace, giving a good, visceral sense of the fight;
* Not too much clinical detail, slowing down the action;
* A strong sense of character and place.
I said there would be three winners and I’d publish them here, so here we go. Second and third place each score a free copy of Write The Fight Right in whatever format they prefer. First place gets that and a signed copy of RealmShift.
I’ll list the winners in reverse order, with their fight scene followed by a few words about why I picked it.
In 3rd place, there’s this piece by Alex Stoiche:
Steve bumped past the man, taking his wallet at the point of impact. He raised his hand over his shoulder in apology and continued to walk. He heard the man’s footsteps stop, then break into a run. Steve sighed and shifted his weight to push hard off his right foot. His shoe slipped on the damp cobblestone, sending his body flying forward. He hadn’t fallen. The man was holding him upright by the neck of his jacket.
Steve spun around, throwing his left arm over the man’s extended arm. Using his momentum, he swung his right arm into the ribs of his captor. He felt a satisfying crunch as his punch hit home. The man’s body twisted in pain. Still controlling the man’s left arm, Steve threw another punch at his exposed side. The man roared in pain as his ribs fractured. Steve sneered as he shoved the man away.
The man’s breathing came in short, pained bursts. Steve snickered. He stood just outside arm’s reach of his victim, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Steve threw a punch to his victim’s rib. The man threw his arms out to cover his injury. Grinning, Steve jabbed to the man’s unprotected face. He bounced again. He threw another body punch, only to sting the man again. The man’s eyes started to tear up as the throbbing sensation in his face increased. Steve faked again, the man threw a half-hearted block. He feigned a jab and the man quickly lifted both arms to block. Steve hissed a laugh. He swung his right hand in a vicious hooking punch to the man’s unguarded ribs. Steve took delight in the man’s agonised scream. His opponent doubled over in pain.
Steve stretched his arms high. The man snorted the air from his nose. Steve saw a dark blur speeding towards him as the man’s backhand strike slammed into his jaw. His felt his head twist sharply, his body went numb. His vision blurred as he staggered backward. The man stood up straight and started walking towards him. Steve desperately fought the urge to close his eyes. Through his distorted perception he could make out the man getting closer. A blinding light flashed in Steve’s eyes. It faded, only to be replaced by a crimson haze. The red tinged alley slowly twisted and warped around him. He fell to the ground, unable to maintain equilibrium.
Steve felt himself being pulled to his feet, his body limp and lifeless. He felt the air rush past him. Pain stabbed through his mind as the back of his skull cracked against the wall. His body slumped to the ground, leaving a slick blood trail down the brickwork. The man lifted his front leg, curling back his boot to expose the heel.
He drove his boot into Steve’s face, crushing his skull against the wall behind him.
He wiped his boots on the dead man’s pants.
The man looked around. He picked up his wallet and left the alley.
What I liked about this piece was firstly the decent description of the fight itself, with enough detail to know what’s happening without the thing being slowed down by description. The pickpocket playing with his victim is well done. The PoV is a bit clumsy and the piece could have been written with a clearer third person perspective in play, but that’s a small gripe. The thing I like best, however, is the realism and the sudden turnaround. The pickpocket is over-confident and showy and he pays a dear price for it. This is a good lesson in fighting.
In 2nd place, there’s this piece by Jason Fischer. Jason is a friend of mine, so there might be cries of nepotism here, but so what? It’s my contest, I’ll pick who I like.
(from A Blind Pig for the Juggler-King)
‘We’re done talking,’ Raoul growled, snatching at the Juggler-King’s ruffled collar. Almost quicker than sight, the sorcerer darted out of his reach, but not before giving the minotaur a stout rap across the nose.
Enraged, Raoul swung his fists, his limbs unfolding so fast that they created miniature sonic booms, the glasses on the tables shaking, light bulbs rattling overhead in their fixtures. His foe narrowly avoided this onslaught, but turned his exertions into a comical dance, a tango complete with the rose that he suddenly clenched between his teeth.
‘You dance beautifully, little bull,’ he said, bowing and narrowly ducking a supersonic haymaker. ‘Still, I prefer if I lead.’
Hand darting forward, the Juggler-King caught a corner of Raoul’s skin, pulled it taut between thumb and forefinger. Opening his mouth, a split second cacophony resembling church bells and breaking pottery emerged, a word of power no mortal could hope to emulate. The disguise melted and came away in the Juggler-King’s hand, a furious minotaur emerging from the tear in the skin. With a whipping motion the sorceror flicked the deflated man-shape away, held it in a matador pose as if it were a cape.
‘Toro!’ he cried, flicking the saggy skin as Raoul charged into him, a sickening blur of fists and horns and stomping feet. Driving a stack of furniture into splinters, the minotaur realised that the Juggler-King was already elsewhere.
‘A little help?’ Imogen called out, and Raoul extricated himself from the wreckage to see her fending off the Juggler-King and several of his followers. She was flailing around blindly with a set of aether-encrusted nunchucks. Her free hand was contorted into a protective mudrā, thus far keeping the blank-faced constructs at bay.
The sorcerer was attempting to sing apart her disguise, spreading cracks already beginning to show on the sides of her arms and legs. She willingly dropped the flapper facade, not missing a beat as she emerged her usual tom-boy self, cracking godlings in the ribs with more enthusiasm than art.
Attempting to goose Imogen, the Juggler-King miscalculated, putting his fingers into the path of the nunchucks, the shards of aether tearing his skin and bruising bone. Wincing, he sucked on his knuckles, and a moment later Raoul had blasted through the group of brawling drunks, barrelling into the god and bearing him into the ground.
‘Try something tricky, I dare you,’ the minotaur snarled, holding the points of his horns against the Juggler-King’s throat. The sorcerer offered a weak smile, swallowed nervously.
I’m sure you can see why I picked this one now, right? It’s brilliantly written, but we all know that Jason is a great writer. More to the point, it’s a great example of developing a fight scene where the combatants are more than human, with powers and weapons of extreme power. Yet the fight stays visceral and realistic nonetheless. This is a good lesson in writing fight scenes in fantasy or other genre fiction where the players are all very powerful. The fighting needs to be ramped up to match.
And now, the Winner! Congratulations to Bryce Beattie, taking out the contest with this piece:
He lunged at Key.
Most other men would have been caught unawares by the shameless blindside. Key, however, had half expected it. He spun, parried the strike, and slid to the side.
“That was fairly dishonorable for a captain of the guard.”
“It might be if I had an honorable opponent.”
Key exploded at the captain.
Blades flashed and clanged with frightening speed.
The two masters whirled and spun, their bodies and blades locked in a gruesome dance. The duel flew about the platform, many times close to the edge, but never did a combatant seem off balance or likely to fall from its edge. These master swordsmen were in top form, focused and furious.
The crowd grew silent in awe of the savage battle. No one present had ever seen a match as passionate and precise as this, nor is it likely they ever would get a chance to see one again.
The grunts of physical exertion and the clanging of steel filled the air. For a time it appeared that neither fighter could gain an advantage. After several minutes of unmatched fury, the captain began to tire.
Key controlled more and more of the movement on the platform. It was only a matter of time now, and he knew it.
The captain knew it, too, and so he decided to try for a final, desperate lunge. Even in his tiredness the captain was faster than most.
Key brought his sword left and parried just enough.
The captain’s weight carried him forward.
Key dug in with his heel put all of his might into an elbow strike.
The blow landed hard on the captain’s chest, whose feet came out from under him. He crashed backward to the platform and his sword clanged from his grip.
Key stepped back. “Do you surrender?”
The captain rolled backwards onto his feet, scooping up the fallen blade in the process. “No need of surrender.”
The traveler took a step forward and stopped.
The captain stood, sword held at guard in his right hand and left hand extended. The stance was strangely open, especially for a master.
Something wasn’t right.
Key paused and wondered what the captain had up his sleeve.
The captain’s left hand grew dark. A floating shadow gathered around it.
Key’s eyes widened.
The captain muttered a bizarre incantation and the ball of shadow grew larger.
Only one chance, thought Key. He dove forward with an necessarily unguarded thrust.
The captain was too focused on his spell to react.
Key’s blade pierced the darkness and the hand.
The darkness dissipated.
The captain screamed in pain and dropped to his knees. His sword again clattered to the platform.
Key lowered his sword. “Your magic is even worse than your skill with a sword.” He backed toward the edge of the platform. It wouldn’t matter now how many times the captain could stand.
I picked this fight scene as the winner as it manages to fulfill all the main criteria. We get a very definite and clear sense of place, there’s a distinct style to the piece. The combatants are clearly drawn very quickly and we know all we need to about them to appreciate this scene. The fight itself is fast-paced and full of action, without too much detail slowing things down. I also liked how the captain tried to change things up by using magic when he realised his sword skills were outclassed and that proved to be a bad mistake. A good lesson in fighting that the fancy and powerful stuff isn’t always very usable – if takes a long time, be it a fancy kick or a spell, it’s harder to pull off than a simple, powerful, straight technique.
It was really hard to choose from all the entries. Everyone that entered should be proud, as every scene I read had a lot going for it. But congratulations to Alex, Jason and Bryce for making the final cut.
What do you think? Do you like the scenes I chose and do you agree with my reasoning?
My friend Gary Kemble came up with this idea and it’s a good one. Now that I’ve finally made my short ebook about writing fight scenes available, Gary suggested I run a written fight scene competition here on my blog. He actually said: “You should host a fight-writing kumite on your blog. Best 500-word fight scene wins… something? That’d be fun!”
I reckon that would be fun. So it begins here.
Send in a fight scene you’ve written, or write one specially for the contest. Absolutely maximum of 500 words, but if you can make a tight scene in 200 or 300 words I’ll be even more impressed. There doesn’t have to be any context or setup, we just want the fight – but make it real. Give us some description of the surroundings, let us know your characters just a little bit in the process. Try to make the fight scene as visceral and intense as you can.
Make it interesting. Your characters don’t have to be human. They can be magical or mundane, on a spaceship or in a garden shed, set in 1603 or 2533. It can be one on one, one on many or many on many. Hand-to-hand or weapons. Mix it up and make it fun.
Send your entry to me at alan(@)alanbaxteronline(.)com – (take out the ( ) obviously). Put “FIGHT WRITING CONTEST” in the subject line. I’ll use my completely unbiased judgement to decide which are the best scenes and there’ll be prizes.
2nd and 3rd place get copies of Write The Fight Right in whatever format they prefer.
I’ll post the three winning fight scenes here with links back to the authors once the decision is made.
All clear? Good.
EDIT – A commenter asked about a deadline, which is a very relevant point. So, the deadline is midnight Australian EST, this Sunday, April 17th. I’m off to Perth for Swancon on Thursday next, so better that the contest doesn’t run into next week. And I’ll need a day or two to read the entries and pick a winner.