A Gender Divide?

There’s been a lot of discussion on twitter about a Guardian “poll” where readers suggested their favourite SF novels. People have been quick to point out that of the ~500 novels mentioned, a very small proportion were written by women. Let’s ignore the fact that the list was generated in the comments section of a single article in a single newspaper which, like all newspapers, has a very specific demographic and move straight onto my paranoia…

…that my own reading doesn’t contain a good balance between male and female authors. A quick look through my book shelves and library loan history has revealed the following list of recent reads:

  • Feed – Mira Grant
  • Feast of Souls – Celia Friedman
  • A Matter of Blood – Sarah Pinborough
  • A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin
  • Lex Trent vs. the Gods – Alex Bell
  • Myth Understandings – Various (but all women)
  • Slights – Kaaron Warren
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • The Poison Throne – Celine Kiernan
  • Temeraire – Naomi Novil
  • The Evil Seed – Joanne Harris
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner

Six of these I think are brilliant books (not the obvious ones). Deadline, the sequel to Feed, is on my read-as-soon-as-is-humanly-possible list. I’m also very keen to get my hands on a copy of Elspeth Cooper’s The Songs of the Earth, which I think is going to be very much my kind of thing. That said, this isn’t a very long list and some of these reads are drifting further and further into the past. Also, a quick look through my Amazon wishlist reveals 25 books by women out of a total of 147.

The idea that someone could go out of their way to avoid books based on an author’s gender is, frankly, preposterous. To ignore 50% of all books simply because of pre-conceived notions of gender is beyond ridiculous. And yet I seem to be doing it subconsciously.

The thing is though, when I pick a book, I don’t even think about the author. I pick a book based on the blurb, the cover (and sometimes reviews). If it sounds good then I read it. I find books through Amazon (products you may like!), browsing in Waterstones, book review blogs and recommendations from friends and family. So is this stream of information at fault? Do men get more marketing money than women?

And what to do about my own reading? I’m not sure there’s anything I can do. I read for pleasure and I don’t think I should change my habits just because of a perceived imbalance. Is it enough that I’m aware of the balance (or lack thereof)?

Project #2

Okay. I completed Project #1 last week and sent it out for its first rejection over the weekend. Thanks go to my workshop group for hammering out the bigger issues and to the lovely @mithciriel for reading it through several times (and forcing me to make it even better)!

So, on to Project #2!

  • Title: Surface Tension
  • Form Factor: Short(ish) Story (~9k)
  • Genre: Modern Folklore(ish) Horror
  • Logline: A man struggles to save his relationship, all the while haunted by the water spirit he met as a child.

This one is an older project that is probably on its fourth or fifth draft. I was initially inspired to write it while wandering the woods around Killarney a few years back. It’s a story I really enjoyed writing and it deserves to be finished.

Onward!

Project #1

So, it’s time to get a little more focused. Time is flying past and I seem to spend more time talking about writing than I actually spend doing it. So here’s my first project:

  • Title: The Krask’s Garden
  • Form Factor: Short Story
  • Genre: Science Fantasy
  • Logline: A man-made construct slaughters every last human, but then realises its mistake.

The story is now on its second draft. I’ve got a load of workshop notes to be going on with. Until such time as the third draft is complete and proof-read, I won’t be working on any other writing project.

Don’t let me fail!

My First Eastercon

I’ve been to a couple of conventions before. FantasyCon is fun if you already know a few other attendees, and Alt.Fiction has great panels (and is also just down the road). It was with a little trepidation that I agreed to accompany my better half to Illustrious (Eastercon). I don’t really consider myself to a part of any fandom, for the most part because I read pretty slowly and can’t keep up with everything. I also seem to have unreasonably high standards for books and a tendency to end up not liking the “great works”. Mostly though, I was shit-scared. Four days is a long time to spend inflicting yourself on other people and my anxieties were on fine form.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone was lovely and welcoming and fun. Despite the ridiculous hotel (dismissive, confused staff and horrendous prices for pretty much everything), I had an brilliant time, made a bunch of new friends and even attended some panels!

So, onward to what I’ve learned!

  • You need a food plan. Hotel food is crazy expensive and the NEC area is effectively an industrial wasteland, especially on a bank holiday weekend.
  • Monorails are still awesome. We discovered that we could use one to reach our hotel.
  • Do not go to an Etap hotel and expect a bed that will result in you feeling anything less than thoroughly abused. Mind you, the shower was great. POWER!
  • Walking through the NEC at night is way creepy. Industrial estates aren’t the nicest of places in daylight, but at least there are noises then.
  • I no longer care to argue about genre vs. literary. I’m now going to argue in favour of labelling the aforementioned argument being pointless. They’re all books. Move on.
  • Fans can be beyond common sense. Nerd arguments are funny, but also annoying and frustrating. Reasonable debate seems rather rare among fandom.
  • ‘Tropes’ is actually pronounced ‘tropés’ (not really). One panellist kept saying it that way and I seriously began to question my command of language.
  • The dealer room is a dangerous, DANGEROUS place.
  • Talking like a pirate for an extended period of time really hurts your throat.
  • If you can’t find the lever, always push the plug.
  • Filking isn’t actually rude.
  • I haven’t entirely thought my female character’s personalities through (the women-in-fantasy panel was very interesting!).
  • There’s a gap in the pet market for frunkies.
  • If there’s one thing that can drag you back to sugary coffee it’s a 3am bedtime. Yes. I know. I’m aged.
  • I need to finish projects. Seriously. As in, “you lot seriously need to harass me until I finish one story before I’m allowed to start a new one”.

By the end of the con I was massively craving the vegetables. Junk food will get you so far… Quite far. Some might even say fairly far. But ultimately what it will get you is ill. The sweet potato and pea soup we made when we got home was possibly the best soup I’ve ever tasted (relatively). Roll on next year!

Thanks to Emma, Saxon, Tom, Amanda, Andrew, Cathy, David, Sue, Kathy and Vick for keeping us company. Awesome, lovely people!

Books I’ve Really Enjoyed

I complain a lot. I realise this. Perhaps complain is the wrong word. I guess I have somewhat exacting standards that don’t entirely mesh with other people’s opinions… or sometimes even reality. The final nail was probably my discovering that I didn’t enjoy Mythago Wood, an apparently universally adored tome.

So when I was asked what books I’ve actually enjoyed in the last few years, I could only name a couple off the top of my head. After a quick trawl through WeRead and my book shelves, I came up with the following list (in no particular order) that I consider to be quite awesome and think everyone should read.

  • Sleepless – Charlie Huston
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness (and its two sequels)
  • The Silent Land – Graham Joyce
  • The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner
  • The Winter of Frankie Machine – Don Winslow
  • Horns – Joe Hill
  • Slights – Kaaron Warren
  • Temeraire – Naomi Novak
  • The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
  • Memoirs of a Master Forger – Graham Joyce
  • Already Dead – Charlie Huston (and its four sequels)
  • The Gone Away World – Nick Harkaway
  • The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
  • Neuromancer – William Gibson
  • The Limits of Enchantment – Graham Joyce
  • End of the World Blues – John Courtenay Grimwood
  • I Shall Wear Midnight – Terry Pratchett
  • All You Need Is Kill – Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  • The Sword in the Storm – David Gemmell

I Like Stakes

The Mullholland Books website has a whole bunch of interesting things to read. Just the other day, Charlie Huston posted a great little article about the future, and his stories, and his stories in the future. Here’s a choice quote.

I’m writing about people who are right there at that membrane, people with resources that allow them to do more than simply stand there and feel the rush of the future, people who are equipped to reach beyond the membrane, to swing their hammers and their picks and hew the future.

Blindly.

A few days later Tom Piccirilli posted another blinder. Again, a quote.

I want to read about men pushed to the edge, corrupted by the world, destroyed by their own vices, who face down the worst part of themselves every hour. Sometimes they win against their own baseness and frustrations. Sometimes they are consumed. Hope springs eternal. So does terror.

They got me thinking. The stories I tend to enjoy least are those where nothing seems to be at stake, those where it’s a foregone conclusion that the heroes will win. Even those tales where they “win at any cost” (insert manly sounds here) still have a happy ending, on account of all those “goals” being “achieved”. The future isn’t there for the taking. Nothing is set in stone. Just look at the news on any given day of the week.

What Charlie and Tom are talking about? I want to read those stories too…

(I just ordered Sleepless)

…and perhaps, if I can channel well enough, write.

And to end on a twee note, there’s a reason why Empire Strikes Back is everyone’s favourite Star Wars movie.

Book Hype? Where?

Hype is certainly something I’m familiar with and quite often a victim of. Movies, games and gadgets are all paraded in front of me, glittering in their finery. It makes me want them.

Apparently there’s a similar thing going on with books. Somewhere out there is a machine churning out shining prophecies of great books to come. It seems to be missing me. Maybe I’m not talking to the right people? Maybe I’m not subscribing to the right blogs? Maybe I need to pay more attention to billboards at train stations?

Last year I was given a copy of Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton and never got around to reading it. A few weeks ago at Alt.Fiction in Derby I discovered that this was supposed to be one of the brightest new stars of the fantasy genre. Last month Amazon briefly recommended The Passing by Justin Cronin. It looked okay, but I saw the word ‘vampire’ and moved on. Now I’m hearing that it was hyped to hell and back and is apparently amazing.

Now I read quite a lot and this kind of hype is something I’d quite like to expose myself to. So far the closest I’ve come is when Warren Ellis and John Scalzi recommended Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

So where can I find the book hype?

First Impressions of Windows Live Office

I had high hopes for these tools. Online versions of Microsoft’s Office applications could save me from the file conversion hell that is often the result of using Google Docs. Well here they are and I’m sad to say (actually quite gleeful since I do so love to complain) that my first impressions aren’t great.

The interface is clean and bright, and everything is stored on your SkyDrive. There are nice looking links to edit things directly in desktop applications. All seems lovely. Then I tried writing with it.

  1. No word count: I like to be able to see how much work I’ve got done in a given session. I can’t.
  2. The editing window fills the entire width of the browser: This is not a comfortable way to work. Google Docs provides a fixed page width interface, which is actually much more like working in the desktop version of Word. It’s a shame that Live Office didn’t duplicate this.
  3. Indent != tab: If I press tab and then type until the end of the line, I don’t expect the wrapped line to also be indented. Hell, if I press enter, I don’t expect the next line to be indented either. I’m not going to download my files to the desktop and manually put all my tabs back in.
  4. No custom dictionary: As a writer of fantasy I tend use a lot of weird/made up words that spell checkers really don’t like. No option to “add to dictionary” makes me sad.

Why does this matter? Microsoft is trying to take a chunk out of the Google Docs user base, but first impressions matter. They have a short window of opportunity in which to ride the wave of hype and convince people to migrate. I use Google Docs every day. I’m not going to keep checking back to see if Microsoft have caught up yet.

Live Office tools were meant to duplicate desktop Office functionality online. If they don’t do that then where’s the point?

Campaign for Real Fear

So I’m joining the people posting their rejected submissions. This was a lot of fun!

Penance

She drags me out of the bar and I pretend to stumble, pressing her against the wall.

Her face, cast bronze and black in the streetlight, is an inch from mine. Her eyes glow golden and her lips curl up in a wicked, playful smile.

“I’m taking you somewhere very special. Don’t you want to go?”

I fall into her gaze and part of me snags, begging the rest not to agree. She takes my hand, pulls me closer still. I’m already hers.

Crowds part to let us through. We turn down a side street and enter silence. Moonlight, filtered through the fading storm, gives the untrodden snow a pale blue sheen.

“Wow,” I breathe.

“Told you it’s special. But we’re not there yet!” She turns and stares at me. Her eyes glitter. “We were meant to meet tonight.”

I nod and smile, drinking in her curves.

She passes me a bottle and I tip some fire down my throat. As the warmth spreads to my stomach, we move further from the throng of the centre. I don’t look back.

“You like girls don’t you?” Frost has matted her hair and coated her face.

“Yeah.”

“And they like you?”

Her hand is still cold. It should’ve warmed up by now. A corner of my mind ignites, screaming for me to flee, back to the sanctuary of other people.

Instead I shrug, “I do okay.”

She squeezes my hand tight. Cold fire lances up my arm. I want so much to snatch it away, but she squeezes tighter, insulating me from my fear.

The road ends by a canal that shimmers in the pale light. On the opposite bank a wall rises high, covered in rust and moss. We lean on the thin rail and stare into the dark water.

“Look at me.” Her voice is a torrent. She steps closer, her dress crackling, her skin taut and blue. “Am I not beautiful?”

“You are.”

“Am I not magnificent?”

“You are.”

“Am I not perfect?”

Inch by inch the world twists under the weight of my body.

She slips an arm around my shoulders, halting my descent, and pulls my face close.

Our lips collide and her flesh cracks, leaving fragments of ice hanging in the air. Heat races into my mouth, down my gullet, exploding in my stomach. I gasp, as it trickles down my spine. I’m filled.

But, once again, the cold crashes down.

She steps back. I topple forward. The snow on the ground eats into my face.

“For my Lord I do this.” Her words echo through the night. “For my penance I do this. I offer a lover!”

Her boot levers me onto my back, then I’m tumbling into space.

My jacket snags on a rusted mooring, slamming me against the canal wall.

Then it rips free and the water squeezes the breath from my lungs.

Above, twin points of gold fade to darkness.