Friday, September 13, 2013

Riddick - The Movie Review

I blogged recently about female characters and how the article by Sophie McDougall really resonated with me, particularly in her analysis of how male characters get to run the full gamut of emotions, conflicts, and personalities where female characters can only be strong, if they aren’t there to be damsels in distress.

The 3rd movie in the Riddick chronicle fits this trope to the absolute ideal.

Katee Sackhoff gets to play to type, in this case she’s a tough crew member called Dahl, who “Doesn’t fuck men” and beats the shit out of the second string, whiney villain, not once but several times. She also shoots, fights, sneers, and has caustic one-liners.

I found myself curiously conflicted over this role. The straight, white, male, part of me was like, “Oh yeah! Katee Sackhoff, beautiful, strong, and awesomer!” The more rational part of me was disappointed, is this what Katee will always be playing? A stereotype of the butch lesbian character, who – wait for it – wavers in her lesbianism when she finally meets a real man…

Riddick can’t even take gay characters seriously. This is a film that clearly indicates that the rest of the male cast aren’t gay (Hell no!) by such charming things as having a thin woman kept prisoner and raped repeatedly (‘cos these bounty hunters are really bad guys!). This poor woman didn’t even get a name, she was simply referred to by her weight.

Riddick who is meant to be the good guy in this whole thing, made several references to Dahl, all around how later he was going to be “balls deep in her" because she asked him to. He also watched her wash, commented on her nipple colour (which was odd because Riddick doesn't see colours, he sees everything in a high-contrast lavender tone).

When he made his comment about fucking Dahl, I found myself trying to remember when in the preceding 80 minutes she had actually said, “Riddick, I want you balls deep in me.”

Six characters appeared naked in this movie. Riddick appeared naked, but mostly in silhouette and at a great distance (Damaris is sure it was a body double) but it could have been CGI. There were also the four naked female concubines begging for Riddick to come back to bed. Dahl on the other hand, we got to watch taking a sponge bath (Katee Sackhoff has surprisingly non-Hollywood i.e. normal, breasts). By comparison, the concubines definitely had Hollywood breasts. The perfectly sculpted round ones that look like they could have been CGI’ed too.

The third film in the trilogy also lacked something the two predecessors had, well defined female characters with a reason for being an integral part of the story. Pitch Black had the ship’s captain, Carolyn Frye, and the supporting cast including Shazza and Jack/Jackie.

The Chronicles of Riddick had Aereon, Dame Vaako and Jackie (now Kyra) all with their own agendas. Riddick had Katee Sackhoff lesbian-until-the-right-guy-comes-along.

In spite of all this really cringe inducing crap, David Twohy made a movie that is a good fit for the target demographic. The plot was Pitch Black v2.0 where instead of darkness unleashing a swarm of predators – it was another relatively normal environmental factor that turned the bounty hunter’s attention from Riddick to the predatory indigenous life forms. The similarities continued right down to the same building as the first film, a similar landscape and same over-exposed lighting…

The action and superhero status of Riddick was extended and as a Universe, Riddick’s depiction of space being a cold, dirty, and dangerous place rings true – much like the Alien universe, except dustier.

On the most basic level (white, male, sci-fi fan) I enjoyed this movie. I had to put aside a lot of my irritants and just accept that it for what it was. A popcorn movie aimed at teenage boys.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What Girls Are Made Of

Watch me cutting every string 
One by one 
See me cut out all the rot 
Bit by bit 
Watch me as I push you back 
Inch by inch 
I push you back boy 
Inch by inch 

~ Garbage, “What Girls Are Made Of.”

There are many battles being fought in popular culture at the moment. Battles against homophobia, racism, bigotry, sexism, and misogyny. There have been popular uprisings against the male-centric and medieval attitudes of comic writers, SFF legends and fan conventions are producing harassment policies for their attendees.

The controversially titled article in the New Statesman, by Sophia McDougall, “I hate Strong Female Characters” generates the usual polarised comments that are best avoided, typical of an article discussing gender imbalances.

McDougall’s main point is that male characters can have a full range of human attributes, female characters get to be ‘Strong.’ They still don’t get dialogue, a starring role, a front and centre position in the trailers, the posters and the media they are part of.

They act in stereotypical ways, kicking ass and kissing some random guy. Taking control, like strong women.

As a male writer, I mostly agree with McDougall’s arguments. I recognise that men are the primary demographic of comics, women who enjoy the stories and art of this medium are stepping into a world where attitudes haven’t changed much in 100 years.

Me, I’m not a comic book fan. I like a good graphic novel, but serial comics are something I grew out of when I left high-school. 2000AD was always a big influence from my childhood and on my writing. 2000AD was also quite unique in my reading experience, with really well written stories like The Ballad of Halo Jones, a female soldier in a dystopian future (written by the legendary Alan Moore). There was Judge Anderson the Psi division colleague of Judge Dredd. Even male dominated series’ like Rogue Trooper had female GI’s.

Halo Jones wasn’t “strong” she was just a woman trying to get through life the best way she could.

I like to write female characters. Three of my novels feature women as the lead protagonists and antagonists.

Else, from Tankbread, is a complex person. She starts out as a fully grown, but completely new person. A woman with the mind of a newborn. As a clone, grown for consumption by the world’s zombie overlords, she has a life’s worth of development and experience to go through in a short space of time. Tankbread is as much a story of her self-discovery as it is the story of saving the world, even after it has ended. Else develops as a character, through set-backs, discovery, exploration and ultimately tragedy.

Her experience is important because she goes through the stages of life from infant to adult in a month. She is vulnerable, violent, intelligent, curious, creative, selfish. She learns all the things that make us human, joy, sadness, humiliation, wonder, hate, love and grief.

In the following two books, Tankbread: Immortal and Tankbread: Deadlands complex female characters take the lead roles again. Perhaps more importantly, complex women have supporting roles too. Some assist and others oppose. But all are detailed and human and certainly much more than “Strong.”

Engines of Empathy (currently under contract for publication) also has a female lead. Charlotte Pudding is a self-described single, professional woman. She is intelligent, recently orphaned and employed using her college degree in computer psychology to help customers better interact with their empathic appliances.

When she finds herself drawn into a quest to save the world she deals with a range of situations and antagonists. Some are male, some are female. All are weird and fill Empathy Universe with a thought provoking and often humorous story.

In the sequel, Pisces of Fate, Charlotte’s brother, Ascott, is the main character in the story. He is supported by Shoal, a girl that he feels very strongly about, but her personality is entirely her own. She saves him (more than once) and like all good characters, she has a depth to her that includes good and bad. She has her own ambitions, motivations, beliefs and values.

I write characters like this because I love a good story. I like characters that struggle and suffer and succeed and find love, are struck by tragedy and get angry at the injustices of the world they inhabit.

For me, “strong” women aren’t enough. They need to be as complex and detailed and flawed and interesting as the male characters.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Words On The Wind – NZ Book Month Event

Dan Rabarts corralled some great spec-fic writers to be part of a reading at Wellington Central Library on Wednesday night as part of NZ Book Month.

The event was well attended, with at least 60 audience members. Stories, Poetry and excerpts from longer works were read by Tim Jones, Michael Parry, Sally McLennan, Anna Caro, Matt Cowens and myself.

Afterwards there was an opportunity to talk to the audience, and lots of appreciation for the stories I read and the flyers I had prepared for where to buy my books proved popular.
I’ve done several of these public readings before, and other than the lessons I have learned about choosing appropriate content, I also realised that there are some tips on how to do a public reading that I feel qualified to share with anyone planning on doing such an event.
The organisation of the evening was excellent, the PA system and seating was well set up and there were no issues with that. The introductions of each reader were also well done and the material presented was really great.

However, when it comes to reading to a public group, I’d suggest the following:

1. Know your material.  
That means read the story. Not just when writing it or editing it. Actually read the story until you know all the words and the tricky bits and the cadence of the dialogue and prose.

2.   Practice Reading The Story Aloud
This will help you read the story better when you are in front of an audience. It will help you pitch your voice and style to the story. It will make your presentation more natural and give your audience a better listening experience.

3.    Reading To An Audience Is A Performance Art
Make your story come alive! Do character voices, change tone, pitch, cadence and read it with enthusiasm! Get your audience involved in your story. Let them experience it rather than just hear it.

4.    Can You Hear Me Now?
That means, don’t drone in a monotone. Don’t speak to fast. Enunciate your words. As my mother-in-law says, “Use. Your. Top-ah. Lip-ah!”

Relatively simple stuff, but as writers we need to remember that writing a story is only part of the work. To present our stories to a live audience – requires us to work on presentation skills and embrace the audience so they in turn will embrace the experience we are providing them with.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Permuted Press Publishing Deal

For me, the difference between a writer and an author is that authors have traditional publishing deals. The ones with advances on novels and publishing contracts with commercial entities.

I've always been leery of calling myself and author, having self-published a novel and sold a multitude of short stories and edited an anthology for a publishing house.

Now, I feel I am an author.

I have been approached by Permuted Press with an offer to buy Tankbread and the unpublished sequel, Immortal.

This is why we write. We tell ourselves it is because we have stories to tell, it keeps the voices subdued, we don't do it for the money - yeah right. Billy Connolly once said that people say money can't buy you happiness, but that's bullshit. It's fucking great.

I'm in no position to quit my day job, but I feel I have been reimbursed for the time and effort and investment I have made in producing Tankbread.

Now I have a deadline to finish the sequel (September 2013) and working on that has made it clear that a 3rd book in the trilogy, which I am calling Deadland will have to follow.

After that, it could be anything. I have so many different post-apocalyptic tales to tell - some with zombies, some without. The future is bright (but also quite grim).

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Trapdoor - Short Story

by Paul Mannering

Please note this story is written in New Zealand English, spelling will differ from US English.

The Holden died in the middle of nowhere. Charlene moaned and twisted in the back seat, fending of some dark figure in her dreams. The engine, ticking and cooling made the only other sound.
Johno stared through the windscreen, hands resting on the steering wheel, his attention focused on the silhouette the blood spattered headlight made. It looked like a grinning skull. “Fuck,” Riley said from the passenger’s side. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Baby Lise, with all the wisdom of her seven years, piped up from her spot between them on the bench seat, “Shoulda bought a Ford Johno.”
“Now what the fuck are we supposed to do?” Riley asked. “Now, we walk,” Johno’s voice was flat and distant as if, somehow, he wasn’t part of this, but dialing in from somewhere else.
They climbed out of the car, stretching and feeling the sweat cool on their backs. Stars smeared across the summer sky like strewn diamonds, Johno stared upwards, turning in a slow circle, following the Milky Way with his eyes.
“Where are we?” Charlene had woken up and pulled herself up to the back window.
“We are fucked, that is where we are,” Riley said. “Johno?” Charlene climbed out of the car, splashing the ground with yellow light from the torch she carried.
“Mum, I wanna go home,” Lise announced. “Shut up,” Riley replied.
“Hey, you leave her alone!” Charlene put an arm around the girl and stared at Johno, who was still looking upwards as if seeing the sky for the first time.
“Johno?” Charlene repeated. “Dave’s hurt real bad, we have to get him to a hospital.”
Riley pulled the heavy bag out of the car. He set it on the hood of the car and unzipped it. The wads of banknotes inside nearly took his breath away.
“We scored Johno, the big one. The fucking jackpot.” Riley pushed his hands into the bag and lifted the neatly stacked blocks of money. Even in the starlight they appeared stained and discoloured.
“We can clean it right? We can clean this crap off it?” Riley’s voice cracked. He dropped the money back in the bag and smeared his palms across his shirt. The bright orange paint streaking on the fabric.
“Leave the money,” Johno said.
“What?” Riley turned around.
“I said, leave the money. It’s burned. We can’t spend any of it. It’s marked,” Johno spoke without tearing his gaze away from the starscape.
“Fuck,” Riley said, staring at the open bag and its ruined contents.
Charlene pulled herself away from Lise’s embrace and touched Johno on the shoulder. “We can’t stay here. Dave needs to get to hospital. What if someone comes past, sees the car, we’re fucked enough as it is eh?”
“Johno?” Lise joined the pair, tugging on Johno’s sleeve.
“Yeah kid?” Johno didn’t look down.
 “Whatchu doing?”
“Looking at the stars. There’s the Southern Cross, and that’s Orion’s Belt.”
Lise dutifully stared upwards, seeing only stars.
“Let’s go,” Charlene said and went back to the car. She retrieved a small girl’s back pack and pink puffer jacket. She knelt down and dressed Lise, helping her into the backpack and tightening the straps. “We’re gonna walk now honey, okay?” Lise nodded. Charlene took the girl’s hand, “Johno, you and Riley you have to help Dave.” She started walking in the direction of the still car’s fading headlight beams.
“Fuck,” Riley said in farewell to the car. He hefted the bag of cash onto his shoulder and opened the back door. Dave lay across half the backseat, still and pale. The rag tied around his thigh had turned black and the air around him tasted of copper and pain.
Riley dragged Dave out of the car and got the barely conscious man on his feet. With Riley holding him up, they started after the girls, leaving Johno staring up at the sky.
The farmhouse stood on the cusp of rolling hills looking out over well-tended paddocks and backing on to dense bush. It was a sullen building, constructed at least a century ago, with a squat shape and a low roof, like the eye-ridges of a primitive man. The shadowed windows added to the sense of dereliction and where the panes of some houses gave the impression of eyes in a watchful face, these were dull as those of a dead fish.
“I’m cold,” Lise reported. “It’s meant to be summer,” she added.
“We can see if they have a phone?” Charlene suggested. “And who the fuck are we going to call? The AA? Maybe the cops? I’m sure they would be come out here straight away and help us with getting a stolen car back on the road.” Riley waved his arms and walked in a slow circle around the group.
“Place looks abandoned,” Johno said. “We can hang out there, get some sleep. Start again tomorrow.”
The others nodded and started walking again, they juggled open a twisted gate and made their way up an overgrown and rutted track. They passed under an avenue of tall pine trees that whispered in the lightest breeze. Lise pressed close against Charlene’s side, the shadows in the trees taking forms she did not understand. A couple of cars rusted on slowly petrifying flat tires.
The front of the house had been stained by creeping mould and the windblown dust of years of neglect. Johno mounted steps that creaked like the bones of an old man the marrow already half- gone to dust.
The front door looked like it was holding on by force of will alone. Strange tendrils of wrought iron crawled over the surface.
“Doesn’t look like anyone is home,” Riley whispered, looking around and seeing only darkness.
Johno twisted the lever door handle, it moved smoothly enough and with a firm shove the door popped open.
“I don’t like it,” Lise said in a stage-whisper.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Riley muttered.
“Come on, I think the place is empty,” Johno beckoned for the torch from Charlene. She waved the long beam of light so it cut through the darkness beyond the door.
“I can’t hear anything,” she whispered.
“I need to pee,” Lise announced.
“Yeah, me too,” Charlene said.
Johno pushed the door open wide enough for the others to step inside.
“Come on then.” Grasping the edge of the door, Johno held it open, “Riley, find a piece of wood or something that I can wedge this open with.”
Riley followed Charlene and Lise inside, Dave moaned as he bumped against the door jamb.
Moving around the door, Johno’s fingers slipped on the door’s rough edge, he jerked his hand back with a yelp. The door slammed shut with a dull boom.
“The fuck man?!” Riley cried out.
“Fucking thing is on springs,” Johno shook his injured fingers and winced at the blood welling from the tips. Flicking the torch up they could see dusty lengths of cord that went from the top of the door to a patch on the wall.
“Open it man,” Riley was whispering again.
“The torch, give it,” Johno snatched the light from Charlene and played it over the inside of the door. There was no handle, no visible latch and no way to open it. The door sat snugly in a recessed frame.
“Fuck,” Riley said, lowering Dave to the floor where he stared at the opposite wall with glassy eyes.
“I need to pee,” Lise reminded them.
“Come with me baby, we’ll find a bathroom,” Charlene took Lise’s hand and reached for the torch. Johno casually pulled it back against his chest and gave her a look that dared her to try and take it from him. Charlene sighed and started down the hallway, with Lise in tow, using the fading light of the torch behind them as a guide.
 “Now what the fuck do we do?” Riley whispered.
“If anyone was here, that noise would have brought them out. We check the place out. Let the girls and Dave get some sleep. We work out what to do in the morning,” Johno waved the torch around the hall, sending shadows scampering up the walls.
Charlene and Lise moved closer together, both silently shying away from the walls. Ancient yellow paint had bubbled and peeled away from the walls in ragged strips of damp decay. The bare wooden floors had a soft bounce to them.
“Mind your step,” Charlene warned, “Floors are rotten, could give way if you’re not careful.”
 The first two rooms the girls passed were empty, the doorof one hung from a single twisted hinge. The second room had no door at all. The bathroom was behind the third door. Charlene flicked the light-switch, it clicked and somewhere she heard a muffled clank, but the room remained dark.
“Mum, it’s dark,” Lise said.
“I know,” Charlene stared hard, willing her eyes to adjust and see if the floor was safe, if the room had a toilet. “Your eyes will adjust, just move carefully. I’m here with you babe.”
Lise started singing, her small voice trembling and breathless as she carefully shuffled forward into the dark bathroom. Grey shapes, like rocks emerging from mist, came into view. “The toilet’s in the corner sweetie. I can see it in front of you.”
“What if there’s no paper?” Lise’s voice quavered.
 “If it’s just pee, that’s okay,” Charlene said.
“Eww, gross,” Charlene could almost see the scowl of disgust on her princess’s face. She heard the rustle of the girl’s jacket and the creak of the old toilet seat settling under her slight weight, followed a moment later by a delicate tinkle.
“There’s no paper,” Lise said with an accusing tone.
“Pants up, mum needs to go too,” Charlene felt her eyes widening, the slight reflected light from the torch moving out in the hall helped her find the way to where Lise was studiously tucking her shirt back into her jeans.
The bathroom stank like a dried up riverbed where the mud hadn’t quite withered into rock and living things still lay buried, waiting for rain in the damp muck beneath the crust. Charlene glanced into the toilet and her throat went dry.
The only water in the bowl had come from Lise, it glistened like dew in the spider webs that criss-crossed the bottom of the toilet. In the dim light Charlene couldn’t tell if there were things moving down there. Long-legged, hairy things that were even now climbing out of the pitch-black hole behind the webs, tasting the salt and life that had rained down on them.
The urge to go clenched Charlene’s abdomen, she took a shallow breath through gritted teeth, imagining, for a moment, breathing too deep and inhaling a dangling spider. She shucked her pants down and hovered over the cracked wooden seat. The need for relief burned, but everything had clammed up. All Charlene could see in her mind’s eye were large spiders delicately climbing up their silken threads until they could touch her bared skin with their long hooked legs.
Johno and Riley laid Dave out flat, his breath passing in rapid faint wisps. Untying the cloth tied around Dave’s thigh they both saw the wound blush with fresh, oozing blood.
“Is he gonna make it?” Riley asked.
“Dunno,” Johno tied the rag tight again, ignoring the quiet whimper that came from Dave. “We wait till morning, see how he is then.”
They stood up, the girls were still in the bathroom, Johno scanned the walls with the torch. No signs of anyone living here. Just dust turned to grime by trapped damp.
“Stupid place to build a house, on the southern side of a hill like that. It must get bugger all sunlight,” Johno had worked as a builders labourer; he fancied himself an architect, engineer, and master builder.
“They shoulda put those windows in the roof,” Riley said.
“Yeah, skylights. And open the place up a bit during the day. Let the air circulate.” Johno led Riley down the hall, the third door was half closed, and he could hear Charlene talking softly to Lise, who sounded like she was singing that way she did when scared.
“Wonder if there’s any food in here?” Riley pushed on a closed door, twisting the handle he shoved it a couple of times until the door popped open and he stumbled into the room. Riley screamed, he screamed like the pigs on Johno’s uncle’s farm screamed when ten year old Johno jabbed them with the electric prod.
Riley kept screaming, his arms flailing, blood began to drip and splatter across the floor. Johno stared into the room, the torchlight illuminating a forest of dangling threads, as thick as rain drops, hanging from the ceiling. At the end of each line, all at different heights was a fish hook. Riley had stumbled into the thick of it and was snagged in a dozen places. Every second he thrashed and struggled caught more of the shining barbs in his face and arms.
“The fuck…” Johno managed. “Riley! Stop moving! For Chrissakes!” Riley subsided into blubbering whimpers. Johno hissed as he crept forward, the swinging fishing line and hooks catching his skin. In the torchlight he could see that Riley was caught bad. Hooks were buried deep in his face, neck, hands and arms. One had pierced his nostril and another had his eyelid stretched out into a tiny pink tent. Blood dripped everywhere. Riley’s exposed eye darted around the room in terror. He couldn’t blink, the other eye was screwed tightly shut. Johno lowered the torch beam and reached out a hand.
“Easy mate… Some sicko’s idea of a joke eh? Just hold still.” The hooks were in past the barb. Johno had never been fishing; he eased a hook back through the reddening skin on the back of Riley’s hand. It slid out easily enough, until the barb caught and Riley shrieked through his clenched teeth.
“Hold still for fucks sake!” Johno grabbed Riley’s hand and felt the curved talons of metal slide under the flesh. The barb caught every time Johno tried to twist and slide the hook free. In frustration he squeezed Riley’s hand tighter and tugged. The skin ripped, blood welling up as the hook popped out.
“That’s one. Maybe a dozen more to go,” Johno said grimly. Riley started crying.
Something touched Charlene, she sprang up from the toilet, jerking her jeans up and dancing in a tight circle at the same time. The light from the hallway went out with a scream. The plunge into total darkness felt like dropping through sun-rotted ice on a frozen pond.
“Lise? Lisa? Where are you baby?” Charlene stumbled forward, her hands outstretched, eyes wide and blind in the dark. She could hear the girl’s soft voice singing, rising and falling on a whisper of melody. Something touched her hand, and Charlene instinctively reached, spreading her fingers. Instead of Lise’s hand curling around hers she felt the touch of hooked feet and the sudden scurrying of a nightmare running up her hand and into the cover of her sleeve.
Charlene screamed. A door closed. Lise’s song faded with a sigh.
“Hold still man!” Johno’s fingers slipped as the steadily flowing blood made it difficult to grip the small hooks. Riley kept jerking and every time he did another hook buried itself in his skin. His lip had been caught and now dragged out like he was pulling a freak-face. A single hook swung free from Riley’s scalp, a strip of dripping skin still attached.
The lines waved as thick as grass, the hooks seemed to curl towards Riley, catching him in ever greater numbers. The blood kept coming, flowing out of a hundred piercings and pooling on the floor. Johno slipped again, pushing a hook deeper into the tight meat of Riley’s arm. His friend moaned in a high-pitched whine and jerked away. A hook dropped onto Riley’s eye and lay there. The pupil under it contracted and widened, trying to focus on the curve of gleaming steel.
“Don’t fucking move,” Johno whispered, his bloodied hands shaking he reached up and touched the line above the reclining hook. It quivered. Not daring to breathe, Johno slowly pulled the line away from Riley, the hook sliding across the pulsing eyeball. Tears welled and surged around the shaft, engulfing the slender metal. Johno raised his arm, and the hook began to rise until it stood vertical, the bottom of its curve resting on the darkest spot of Riley’s eye. Under his hand, Johno felt the line jerk, as if a fish had
taken the bait and was running with the line. Riley shrieked and tore himself away in a twisting frenzy. Blood sprayed and Johno stood mesmerized as the soft, dripping globe of Riley’s eyeball swung in front of him, neatly caught on the hook. Riley howled and twirled blindly. Hook after hook caught him, the nylon lines curling around him. It was as if a thousand giant spiders had caught him in their web and were now cocooning him for later consumption. Johno stumbled backwards out of the room, Riley came charging towards him. The torchlight glowed red with the sheen of blood now smeared across the lens and reflecting the wash  that poured from Riley’s disfigured face. The door slammed shut, blocking Riley from view. Johno heard a last bubbling scream and then silence.
“Charlene!” Johno screamed. Not hearing a response, he tried the door she had disappeared through. It wouldn’t open but he could hear the scratching sound of nails or hooks clawing at the wood from the other side. The walls closed in, Johno felt the air wheeze out of his lungs, staggering down the hallway he blinked in surprise. Where Dave had lain there was now a wide swath of red, a Dave sized paintbrush, dipped in blood and dragged along the floor. The torchlight followed the trail up the wall where it ended at eye level. It looked as though the wall had swallowed Dave whole.
The money bag lay where Riley had dropped it just inside the front door. Close to panic, Johno howled and punched the nearest wall. The plaster didn’t crack or flake. Instead it felt like he punched a hard mattress. His fist sunk in slightly and when he pulled his hand back, the indentation slowly swelled out of existence.
“What the fuck is going on!” Johno yelled at the ceiling. He jabbed at the wall again, burrowing his fingers into the soft material, pulling and plucking at it until tufts of it came away with a soft ripping sound. Under the surface the wall was matted fibres; soft, white, and sticky. Tearing at it he pulled enough of the strange stuff away to shine the torch into the dark cavity behind the wall. There was little to see, another wall of what looked like rock, or bones, all draped in thick blankets of cobwebs. Normal enough for an old house, he supposed. Though what a spider found to eat in the wall space of a building like this was anyone’s guess. Johno tugged on the fibrous matting, it felt slick as silk under his hands. He had to put the torch down to get a good grip on it and try to pull it away from the wall. The stuff was denser than fibreboard, he wondered if it might be some kind of homemade plaster, with coconut matting behind it, or hessian? That shit could be a real hassle on a demo job. And what about asbestos?
Determined to get a decent piece for a closer look Johno slid his hands into the dark hole, reaching for a grip on the back of the plaster. Something pricked against the back of his hands, then came a sensation like tugging on his fingers. The biggest spider Johno had ever seen walked up out of the hole and stood on the backs of his wrists. His instinctive reaction was to jerk backwards, to shake the damn thing off. But his hands couldn’t move. The spider’s eyes glittered in the off cast torchlight. Johno strained backwards putting as much distance between his face and the thing now casually strolling up his arms as possible.
“Get the fuck off-a-me!” he yelled. The spider tilted forward, its hind legs wringing against each other, softness like cold candy-floss settled on Johno’s wrists. Within moments the tickling feeling spread as the spider moved around his arms, in its wake a trail of white webbing cinched tighter against
Johno’s skin.
Now it was his turn to whimper, Johno had seen smaller dogs than this thing that was now industriously binding his arms. As the feeling faded from his hands and fingers, still trapped somewhere inside the wall, Johno heard a faint rustling. Twisting his head he leered, wide-eyed in terror as
the walls opened up and cat sized eight-legged monsters appeared through the walls, popping out from behind webbing disguised as panels and doors along the hallway. Johno started screaming as the first of the spiders reached him and started climbing his jeans.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Further Discussion With Ellen Datlow

Ellen DatlowWednesday Jan 9, 12:47am ESTChizine would be spending less than half that on production including 
copy editing
 I don't know who prints their books. As a successful medium press publisher I trust them to do a great job (their books all look fantastic).As I've already said. Bypassing the slush pile is not about the anthology -Chizine Publications is a BOOK PUBLISHER-it is their slush pile NOT the anthology slush pile. Of course the book publisher reads their novel slush. I do not work for the book publisher. I am a freelance anthologist.Joe Lansdale, Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, Jeffrey Ford, Brian Evenson, Michael Marshall Smith are some of the writers who will be contributing stories. I chose those for the premiums because I know I can count on them writing great stories.Does that help?
Ellen DatlowWednesday Jan 9, 12:47am EST
Another inaccuracy: I've never said the eBook would be sold for $15. That's the premium.
Chizine sells most of their E-books for $9.95. 

 Paul ManneringWednesday Jan 9, 1:25am ESTThanks,This is why I am asking you the questions - because there is a high risk of mis-information wthout getting comment from both sides.As you are a professional editor and Anthologist, I accept you are entitled to take your fee.My question is: Do you believe that taking that fee in advance (of publication) from a crowd sourced fund is appropriate? Wouldn't it be more appropriate for ChiZine Publishing to absorb the costs of production - including your fee as part of their operating capital?Is this the evolution of crowd sourced projects? Do you believe that the person/company who sets up a Kickstarter or similar project is justified in setting a higher funding goal with the intention of taking a profit from the funds raised?Once all costs are covered by ChiZine (including your fee and production costs related to the book) what is the plan for the remaining funds? Are you involved in making that decision or can someone from ChiZine comment?FYI: I am continuing to update the blog post with verbatim copy-pasta of the discussion. I have information from other sources (including two pages from the Shocklines forum thread that was deleted).

Which is why I contacted Ms Datlow directly in the first place. Clarification on the conjecture and claims being made online, giving her a chance to correct the assumptions being made on public forums.

A bit of digging revealed a cached version of the Shocklines forum thread that was deleted by the forum moderator. Sources have suggested that the conversation ended after Ms Datlow expressed concern that her reputation was under threat. And other sources have also said that the Shocklines moderator will delete a thread if he receives complaints from anyone about that thread.

What Ms Datlow's original post on Shocklines does clarify (as does her response above) is that the "pay $100 to by pass the slush pile" relates only to submissions of Novel Manuscripts submitted to ChiZine and which ever way you look at it, 30 people did pay to get their writing read by editors at the same publisher that is publishing the anthology.

The thread then continues, with the supporters and the questioners, and this being the internet, it gets ugly.

One contradiction does appear - if you contribute $15 to the project, you get an ebook edition of the book. But if you want to buy the book, Ms Datlow has said that ChiZine sells most of their ebook catalogue at around $9.95.
So, why not a $10 contribution to get an ebook? Why the premium charge?

As Ms Datlow points out in the Shocklines thread, this is a larger press with extensive overheads so it costs them 10 times as much as a small press or self-publisher to produce a book. If anything this suggests that the brick-and-mortar book publishing industry is really, really in deep shit. There are apparent advantages in offset printing and making fine quality paperbacks - though Createspace produce nice hardware too. But there is no difference to any ebook no matter what format it is published in. 

Shocklines Thread Page 1

 Shocklines Thread Page 2.

In conclusion, I accept that ChiZine are exploiting a new option for raising funds for covering the costs of publishing books. I also understand that as absurd as it appears in today's publishing environment companies are spending $25,000 on producing a single book. Most of them are expecting to recover that money through sales, though that might change in the next few months given the success of this Kickstarter project.

It is becoming clearer why "medium" press publishers and their big brothers are shitting bricks over ebooks and DIY publishing. The future seems brighter every day for highly experienced and talented editors and producers of books, like Ms Datlow. 

The published anthology is likely to be of a high standard, with a strong line up of reliable authors and some great stories. The 2-3 non-best selling writers who also make it through the selection process will have the opportunity to congratulate themselves on a professional sale, and see their names in print with some great writers.

Justifiable Expense or Kickstarter Con?

Update: Ms Datlow responded (promptly) - and her answers are included at the bottom of this post:

You may have heard about the Fearful Symmetries anthology. It's being edited by Ellen Datlow, the well respected and highly praised writer with a long career as a professional editor and writer, in association with ChiZine Publications.

The internet has roused itself to a frenzy with concerns about the anthology's Kickstarter goal of $25,000.

Yes. $25,000 to publish a book.

Ms Datlow is paying contributing authors 5 cents per word. The other funds are described as covering the cost of editing, formatting, and cover design.

I'm not planning on submitting any stories to this anthology. I'm not planning on contributing (the funding limit is now oversubscribed at $26,513 anyway). I am maintaining an open mind about this. What rouses my curiousity though is the claims of threads being shut down on forums when the discussion got to probing and the general lack of clarification about what the money is required for.

From a purely capitalist perspective it is a genius idea for a publisher. Make a lot of money, without ever selling a book. If however ChiZine and Ms Datlow are paying $25,000 to produce a single book - then someone, somewhere is ripping them off something terrible. It has also been suggested that she plans on selling the book for $15 per copy in ebook format. That seems expensive but if she is only using solicited writers then she will have some good names to back it up.

So out of curiosity I contacted Ms Datlow the only way possible - (other than Twitter) which is via the Ask A Question function on the Kickstarter page.

This is what I wrote:
Hi Ellen,

There's an awful lot of backlash about this project online. I'd like to write a blog post about the project and to keep it impartial - I'd like to ask you the following questions:

Given the 125,000 words @ 5 cents a word (increasing to 7 if you reach $28,000) means the payments to contributors come to less than $9000.

What is the necessity for the rest of the money?

Cover design and formatting shouldn't cost you more than a few thousand. I have heard you are taking a $6,000 fee for the project - can you confirm that?

So even with the contributor costs, the production costs (Smashwords and Amazon mean you don't have to pay for book production) and your fee - what happens to the rest of the money?

Regarding Kickstarter in general - do you think of financial backers as investors, or just people giving a handout in a way that allows you and your publishers to make a profit without selling any books?

Do you have any ethical concerns about this kind of funding model?

The pay money to avoid the slush pile - is that refunded if the contributor is rejected?

It has been said that only the contributors you solicit will be included - so would you agree that anyone paying the $100 to avoid the slush pile - is effectively just giving you a donation towards the goal.

If you do not raise $28,000 and do not raise the payment per word to 7 cents - what will the balance of extra funds be used for?

As I said there are a lot of threads online discussing this particular project. There have been claims that you shut down threads critical of the project and the use of funds. Can you comment on this?

Thanks for your time,
Paul Mannering

Ms Datlow may of course not answer any questions. I'd be impressed if she responds at all. But nothing suggests guilt to the Jury of The Internet like not giving answers to questions asked.

I'll update with any thing I hear further.

Edit: Ellen responded to my questions with this:

There was a brouhaha started by a bunch from one small press publisher on Shocklines-as far as I know, that's it. If you can point me out to "backlash" I'd love to see it.
I think you need to go to the actual kickstarter and do some research. Most of your "facts" are incorrect.
1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)
2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile
4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.

Btw, the only thread that has come to my attention is the one on Shocklines. Do you really think I have any power to shut down a thread? I hold no power over Matt Schwartz, the owner of the board. He does as he sees fit.

To which I have replied:
Awesome, thanks for the response.
The "facts" were taken from claims made in a Facebook thread. It came up on my newsfeed - not sure who started it - I think a FB friend commented on it - which put it in my feed.

1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)

2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
And they are expecting to spend $25,000 on publication? Someone should tell them about Amazon's KDP, Createspace and Smashwords.

3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
It's the ChiZine?

No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile

Except, I 'm asking about the Fearful Symetries anthology, not ChiZine's novel submission process.
One of the rewards for contributing $100 is bypassing the slushpile and therefore getting read (would that be by you? Or ChiZine editors?)

4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
The remaining content will be from solicited authors? You include Joe R Lansdale and other authors as already included in the rewards list.

Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.
I'll continue to try to understand - thanks.
Well it was great to get some kind of response so promptly. It's not clear answers to most of my questions - and I don't recall referring to the claims as "facts" - seriously comments in a Facebook thread are hardly referenceable in academia.