The SF Word – And More Hollywood Curses

Adjustment Team Kindle Edition
Adjustment Team Kindle Edition

A recent documentary about the making of the latest Philip K. Dick adaptation for the screen, The Adjustment Bureau managed to run a full twenty minutes without once mentioning the dreaded words “science fiction”. At no point did the director, members of the cast, or the screen writer actually utter “the SF word”. God forbid! Everyone said it was an unusual story, a great tale, cutting edge, out of the norm, a thriller with romantic elements and much, much more. All of which neatly sidestepped the film’s genre, which is, without a single doubt science fiction. However, half way through, one of the actors almost let it slip. He stumbled over a word beginning with the letter “s”, saying it was a great “s…..story!” Phew! Well caught, sir. You almost said “science fiction story”. Had you done so, the producers would probably have your banned from making another movie, like a Mcarthyite Communist.

Of course we’re also being treated to fantasy movies being called “historical fiction” – only they happen to have dragons and elves in them. I can only imagine audience members emerging from The Adjustment Bureau. Someone says, “But…wasn’t that a scifi movie?” Friend replies, “Not possible…I enjoyed the movie, and I hate science fiction.” In a similar way that lots of people who claim to detest horror fiction will quite happily read Stephen King. Because of course he couldn’t possibly be a horror writer…could he?

My first steampunk YA book finally completed

Well, technically speaking, I’ve written the first draft of my YA novel, The Mechanikals. It’s my second attempt at YA, and my first to reach a conclusion. Again “conclusion” is a technical term, since I plan at least three in the series. Meanwhile Detective Inspector Tom Kendrick has been knocking loudly at my door, asking to gain admission to his third novel. Incidentally, I am pleased to say that Robin Sachs will also be narrating the second Kendrick book, Kali’s Kiss, out in September from Blackstone Audio. As to what will happen with The Mechanikals, well, who knows? Anyhow,  I am so happy to have finished it, even though I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

A Publisher with Imagination

Interview with Edward Stanton, Just Imagine It Ink

In my second interview this month, I caught up with Edward (or Charlie, depending on which hat he’s wearing) Stanton, head honcho of Just Imagine It Ink. Ebook publisher, podcaster and arts enthusiast, Edward’s love of what he does leaks through his very pores. It was Edward who heard the podcast version of my crime novel, Bone Machines, and through his good offices I got a two book audiobook deal from Blackstone Audio. Plus Just Imagine It Ink has published the ebook version. So, to say I am grateful for his support, enthusiasm for my work and all the hard work he does behind the scenes would be a major understatement. If you are an aspiring writer and don’t know how to get yourself out there, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Edward. And check out the podcast, Get Behind Me, Now Stay There, which I load weekly onto my ipod – required listening to all you podcast junkies out there. What I failed to ask Edward was where the podcast title came from…it’s open to various interpretations, I guess. So, here’s an offer…post a reply to the interview, and include an amusing interpretation of what “Get Behind Me, Now Stay There” means and I will give four entrants (make me smile) a free copy of my ebook anthology, Dr. North’s Wound and Other Stories. So, on to the questions, big guy…

Hi, Edward. Can I begin by asking you to tell us something about yourself?

I am currently working with many creative people on ebooks, radio music and so on. I have always been into the arts and even as a child read every chance I got. Adventure, science fiction and the like. Having traveled all over this wonderful planet of ours I found that we are all telling a tale of some sort and that people, no mater where they may be, are so fascinating. I began developing a career around this, telling of tales. And all of my five children have gotten into the arts as well so that’s what we do.

How did Just Imagine It Ink come about?

Just Imagine It Ink was started with the idea of bringing a web presence to all artists, film makers, audio book production, authors, poets, and musicians. We are looking for fun, entertaining artists, serious artists, informative artists; we try to give everyone a voice. So, with this in mind we started selling books and then publishing ourselves and eventually went into broadcasting with our radio show and podcast.

Tell us what your mission statement is and how you differentiate yourselves from other ebook publishers.

Well to be honest we do what a million others do: we publish and market your ebook. The only difference is we believe in whom we publish and are willing to drive into the deep end of the pool with our clients.

You seem to take a particular interest in helping new talents develop. I notice the same on your podcast, Get Behind Me, Now Stay There, on which you interview lesser known or developing creative people as well as speaking to better known people. Is this an extension of your Just Imagine It philosophy, or does the impulse come from somewhere else?

Alright, this is an excellent question. When we started the podcast and radio show we were looking to have something different than “Hey I’m famous, listen to me”. What we were shooting for and I think achieved was a format of interesting, fun people who had a story to tell. If you were famous, cool; if not, that was fine as well. Hence our motto: “artists,poets,writers,musicians or maybe just the guy down the street.”

While you do charge for what you offer, you’re not a vanity publisher in the traditional sense, in that you provide a full service for authors, covering everything from distribution to marketing. Can you say a little bit more about that and the benefits to writers?

Well if you’re a writer and we publish you, we will not only do a fine job on your book formatting, proofing, marketing etc. We will also help you get to the next level of mainstream publishing as we work with some of the largest publishers not only in US but Europe as well.

What do you regard as your greatest successes, or most satisfying, projects to date?

My greatest success has yet to come. the most satisfying has been be able to work with very talented people and have a whale of a time doing it , the icing on the cake has been that 80 thousand people a week around the world seem to enjoy being along for the ride. Have to love the web John !

A Geordie in Space

Tony C. SmithInterview with Tony C. Smith of the
StarshipSofa Podcast

In the first of what I hope will be a regular series of interviews with some of my favourite people, I caught up with Tony C. Smith, host and all round good guy captain of the StarshipSofa podcast. The Sofa runs previously-published science fiction stories, recorded by a range of volunteer narrators (some of them, the authors themselves). Much like Analog and Asimov’s magazines, it also runs a great selection of non fiction. Amy H. Sturges’ superb history of science fiction series, and Jim Campanella’s highly accessible science fact  articles, for example (Jim, I really was amazed at what the male mating duck was capable of…seriously!). Tony ran my short story Dr. North’s Wound on one episode, and has accepted one of my horror shorts for the sister podcast, Tales to Terrify. Which has nothing to do with why I wanted this interview, honest! Though I will say I am extremely proud to be among the ranks of some very fine writers on these podcasts. I want to say also that I love listening to Tony’s voice…had I not been born a Scotsman, my second choice would have been to grow up with a Geordie accent.

Tony, can I begin by asking you to tell us something about yourself (interests, work, family, etc).

I’m coming up to 46, married a girl of my dreams who is simply amazing and with two equally amazing kids. I work (the day job) for Northumbrian Water as a Network Controller (I’m like the person on the other end of the phone if you were to phone 999 emergency services but for water). My desk keeps growing computer screens…there’s now six. Every time they bring a new software package out another screen comes along. We have two Doberman dogs who look as mean as hell, all teeth and drool – but we love ’em.

How did you first become interested in science fiction, and which writers cemented your love for the genre?

I never picked up a book until I was twenty-two. School and I were not compatible. I was too interested in being a naughty boy. I look back to what I did as a kid and wonder how the hell I got away with it. I don’t tell my kids what I got up to – they would never let me forget it. Then for some strange reason I just began reading. My first book was C S Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. Then the walls came tumbling down. And with the passing of the great man, Ray Bradbury, I remember Dandelion Wine had such an impact on me. There are two books I feel everyone should read: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, both truly great works of the sf genre.

How did StarShipSofa come about?

Like most from the early days who took to podcasting, I got an iPod. I soon discovered other podcasts (Escape Pod) and the realisation that anyone could produce a podcast. I need to take time out here to mention Steve Eley, founder of Escape Pod. He was such an influence on StarShipSofa. Steve’s moved on now, but you can’t talk about genre fiction podcasts without acknowledging what he did for us all. I will always be grateful.

Unlike some science fiction podcasts, you’ve chosen to focus on previously-published material. Why did you go down that route?

Its quite simple really. If it’s good enough for Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, well, hell – its good enough for StarShipSofa. I’m not an editor in that sense and have never claimed to be. I take my hat off to anyone who has to read piles and piles of slush to find the hidden gems – I simply could not do that job. Yes, I could get an editor in but I’m not looking for brand spanking new stories. StarShipSofa’s aim is to breathe a little life into a forgotten story.

The Sofa has won a Hugo Award and has been nominated several more times. Have you noticed big changes as a result, like bigger audiences, writers and artists knocking on your door, and so on?

All of the above I guess, to some extent or other, and if it helps us keep putting the show out for free then that’s a good thing. Winning the award was amazing. We were the first podcast to do this ­– that is equally special.

You recently launched a sister podcast focusing on horror, Tales to Terrify. Why horror, rather than the genre that more typically goes hand-in-hand with scifi, that of fantasy? Are you a big horror fan as well?

Let me start by saying, I f@<$king hate zombies. Really. To the point of phobia. I hate hate, hate them. There…feel better after that. Horror is strange for me. When the floodgates opened with books, I gobbled up Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Damnation Game and Weaveworld in days. These were simply stunning works, but then he came out with Coldheart Canyon and I have never been back to Barker. I should. I would love to be allowed to play one of his short stories on Tales To Terrify. Getting back to the question though, why horror? It was the challenge to see if I could recreate SSS with a horror podcast. I knew I was not up to being the host. I wanted to put a host in TtT and there was only one person for the job – Larry Santoro. If Larry had said no (he nearly did, too, on several occasions) there would have been no TtT. It had to be Larry. I urge you all to listen to TtT ­– just to see and listen to how good Larry is at presenting. I could not have dreamed it would work as good as it has. Logistics are a nightmare but we are getting there. We have learned to introduce things to Larry very slowly. We recently moved to a new online storage package. Getting us all working from this new package…has been, well…Lets just say…we’ve had to take it slow – real slow.

You’ve put out some print and ebook collections of stuff that has appeared in the Sofa. What’s next on the horizon – or do you prefer to play that close to your chest for now?

What’s next? Ha! It never stops. There is always something to do at Sofa HQ. We are weeks away from launching two new podcasts, Crime City Central and Protecting Project Pulp. Both will be like SSS and TtT but will have their own independence. They will be a new host on each show. Jack Calvery will host CCC and Dave Robison with host PPP. We are slowly gathering stories at the moment. These four podcasts will then come under the banner of District of Wonders. This will be a central hub and from there you’ll be able to wander down any one of the four shows. Now…if you back up to Larry and the trouble we had with getting Larry synched up to our online storage – have a think what I’m going through with fifteen people! This is how many are now working on these projects. Try getting fifteen all singing from the same hymn sheet. My day job is where I unwind!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us that I haven’t asked?

I think I’ll have a cup of tea please and a nice slice of cake. I do like cake – Cherry Bakewell.

Linguistic imperialism?

A recent review of my historical romance collection, Warriors and Wenches, had a slight problem with one of the stories because of the language (ie. historical Scots). My US publishers were keen on the story but suggested perhaps a glossary of some of the words might be helpful. Which seemed perfectly fair to me. So I put one in. The reviewer, Tara Fox Hall, had this reservation, and I quote: “The glossary was helpful, but it made this story hard to read, as I had to keep going back to the beginning anytime I came to a word I couldn’t guess the meaning of. I’d recommend for future works to just include the words that could be understood and leave out the rest.”

I can’t think of a single instance of a British reviewer covering, for example, a rural American novel with local dialect having the same issue. Indeed, I enjoy linguistic difference, and if I have to look a word up, or glean what it means from the context, what’s wrong with that?

I know of a fellow Scottish crime writer whose American publisher insisted on US spellings in her books. I can only suppose the publisher believes American citizens are incapable of understanding British spelling. In which case, why has no one redrafted Dickens, or Shakespeare so it can be understood by our chums across the Atlantic?

It’s an issue that puzzles me. And I sometimes wonder if the US reading public actually feels that linguistic difference is a problem – or is that just an assumption by US publishers? As for Tara’s review, well, she enjoyed the story in the end. But I won’t be leaving out words that matter to any of my tales.

I’d love some views on this topic.