Archive for March, 2013


I’m sorry to say that I’ll be ditching Wattpad.  Why?

Because I want to be a writer, and that place isn’t helping.

For those of you who don’t know, Wattpad is a social networking site designed for writers to upload their stories, share them, and get other people’s feedback.  It’s kind of a living workshop, and there are also forums to chat about writing, books and other topics.

I suppose the problem with an “upload-it-yourself” site is that you get a lot of junk.  And Wattpad is FULL of junk.  How come everyone else isn’t sick of One Direction fanfics and terrible, unfinished teen romance novels?  Do the writers of this dross read each other’s dross, or does everyone think theirs is better than the last fifty people’s?

I suppose the natural response would be “Well, it sounds like YOU’RE guilty of thinking YOU’RE better.”  Honestly?  I’m not the best writer on Wattpad.  But I strive for originality and creativity, and there’s so little of those things on Wattpad.

I’ve found some genuine talent on there, and I’m confident that there’s a lot more out there I haven’t seen yet.  If you’re a member, take a look at my profile and the writers I’ve “followed” for some great work.  But unfortunately writers like those are few and far between.

Sadly for me, I’m not learning, and I’m not writing the kind of stuff that people on Wattpad seem to want to read.  If I fall in love with a boyband member and want to describe my first intimate experience with him, I’ll let them all know.

Until then I may transfer some of the free stories on there back to this blog and hope for the best.

Good luck to all the Wattpad writers out there hoping to be “discovered”.  Keep it different, keep it tight.

Love,

–db

I occasionally get the chance to review early copies of books and magazines, and usually jump at the chance.  This has backfired once or twice – one author sent me a 350-page pile of steaming dung that I gave up on, only to be stuck on his mailing list and receiving endless self promotion despite numerous entreaties and threats – but often I get a real treat.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Morpheus Tales‘ special Apocalypse issue.  There are a number of special issues floating around from this publisher but this one caught my eye, not least because my novel “Half Discovered Wings” was a good stab at my own brand of what I call “apocalypsia” fiction.  I was interested in seeing what other writers came up with.

 

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This fantastically pulpy cover houses 12 stories.  There’s probably a surfeit of material here as there are more than a few uninspiring duds.  Thankfully the rest of the magazine is made up of some crackers which, if they don’t get you thinking, will at the very least give you a good dose of end-of-the-world fun to perfectly suit a dreary March afternoon.

I’ll skip some of the less original flops but, with the good stuff in sight, will open with “Long Cold Night” by Richard Farren Barber.  Apocalypsia relies on a decent concept that will be the foundation of the story.  In Stephen King’s “The Stand”, we can believe that a killer virus wiped out a helluva lot of people.  That’s what viruses do.  In Barber’s story here, we’re led to believe that oil running out sooner than expected causes the end of civilization.  People are roaming the countryside for food.  I don’t quite buy how this is possible and despite some credible writing, the story fails before it really begins.  We’re told that green energies weren’t enough, but aren’t told why.  I’m pretty sure that the governments of the world can figure something out with solar panels and nuclear energy, which currently supplies something like 15% of the world’s electricity.  Are we forgetting that we got by for thousands of years before Edison pinged his first bulb…?

A sad failure, but hopefully one that makes a point.  I get tired of harping on about it, but originality should be the cornerstone of every single story you write.  “Long Cold Night” takes an idea that hasn’t really been closely examined (I seem to remember the inspid sci-fi family fungus that was Matt LeBlanc’s “Lost in Space” mentioning it, but little else since), which is commendable.  But it smacks of lack of research, and worse than this, fails even to take a poor concept and make it believable, if not plausible.

Just keeping things plausible doesn’t mean you’re automatically onto a winner though, nor is the other way around true.  A series of immense sinkholes follows the inexplicable draining of the oceans in the sweet little story “Songs of Goodbye” by Dev Jarrett.  Do I believe that 326 million trillion gallons of water (I’m trusting Google there) can just drain into the Earth’s crust?  Not really.  But did I care when I watched a father and daughter share a moment together?  Nope!  Dev exhibits fine prose and great descriptive talent.  The writer’s similies are flawless and keep the narrative jumping until the characters take over.  This is probably my pick of the stories.

A creepy little number called “Thunder Bay” is another highlight.  This brief tale by Robin Wyatt Dunn gives us a glimpse into the un-life of a cannibalistic reanimated corpse.  It’s like “Omega Man” got X-rated.  First person with snappy narrative, this is writing as opposed to just telling a story, and stands out a mile amidst the the rest of this month’s Morpheus Tales.

Whereas these two personal faves represent the magazine’s total stock of literary goodness, it’s probably fair to say that you don’t pick up an “Apocalypse Special” expecting talent worthy of critical acclaim.  Other writers have done it – I’m thinking “The Road” and “The Drowned World” here – but it’s also a genre for some good old fun…

“Generation Sorrow” by J. B. Ronan.  Either this story is tongue-in-cheek ironic or just plain silly (I prefer to think the former) but this story of porcine genetic modification gone wrong is an enjoyable read, suitably dark and vivid, and has an interesting premise for the decline of modern society.  The special gets another short jolt of dark humour with “My Pretty Pony” by Alan Loewen.  This amusing piece gives readers a little giggle and Hasbro a cause to sue.  A welcome tonic from the dreariness of the rest of the mag.

Even though Matt Brolly’s “Yellow” is yet another take on the “virus ends everything” trope, it still rings truer than many other stories of its type.  The special’s final story is a cracker (even if it does contain the dumb line “the suicides are too dangerous to live”) and is worth special attention with a cup of tea by the window with the wind blowing outside.  His prose isn’t up to J. G. Ballard’s standard but it hums along fine; it’s the moments of insights into his characters that keep this moving along, maybe remind us on the way of “The Happening” or the flashback scenes from “I Am Legend“.

Is the mag worth picking up?  At a temporary special price of £4, I’d say yes, especially as you can have it beamed straight to your smartphone or ebook.  Hunker down, ignore the clouds outside and let the world end.

—db

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I imagine a canvas about A3 size, arranged landscape.

In the centre are three magnificent buildings: on the left is the pale marvel of Udaipur City Palace.  On the right is the golden fortress of Jaisalmer.  And in the centre, a gleaming pearl, is the Taj Mahal.  These are large and form the focal point of the painting.

To the left of these is Lisa’s face.  She is wearing brown sunglasses with large lenses, and she is smiling.  The brown lenses reflect the Taj Mahal and a flare of light.

Around her head, like petals on a flower, are several distinct items of clothing.  These will include but aren’t limited to: voluminous yellow trousers; a long purple top; a pink sari.  Woven around these items are splashes of liquid colour that run up and down the canvas.  The splashes have the vague suggestion of flowers or fireworks, which fills the top-left-hand corner of the canvas.

To the right of the three buildings is an auto-rickshaw with a green roof.  It could be leaping out of the page.  Its driver is a scrawny man of indeterminate age.  There may or may not be people in the passenger seats behind.  The vehicle bursts out of another splash of colour, this like an explosion of festival powder, which contains long streaks of Arabesque curls and stripes.  Beneath this are the words TUK TUK.

Above and to the right of the rickshaw, in the top-right corner, is a male Indian face looking outward.  He has a black sweep of hair, thick lips, wide eyes.  Shadows on his features make him appear menacing.  Above him is a street sign that reads: Tourist Information Centre.  These words appear to be enclosed in an elongated sun, but this is actually a speech bubble with twenty spikes, each denoting one of twenty voices.

In the centre of the canvas, at the bottom below the three buildings, is a cow.  She isn’t interested in looking at the viewer.  In her mouth is a bright gajra, the garland of marigolds that can be found in every shop and dwelling during festival time.  Flowers and petals are littered around her front hoofs.  The trail leads ahead, to the bottom-left corner of the canvas, by which point they have merged indistinctly with the currents of a long river: the mother Ganges.

Tiny floating candles glow amidst the currents.  Above the river float several tiny but distinct Hindu gods, in the Indian “miniature painting” style.  Amongst them are recognizably a praying Shiva, a seated Ganesh, Hanuman leaping with a mountain in one hand and his mace in the other, and the dancing Kali.

The cow is not alone.  Standing at her side, almost obscuring her, is a black water buffalo.  His head is picking up grass or garlands from the ground by his front right hoof, displaying his heavy horns.  His sharp hip bones protrude from his flanks.

Behind the cow and buffalo is a longer trail of flowers, which surround a circular fountain in the bottom-right corner of the canvas.  The base of the fountain is decorated with stone birds.  Water sprays upward, glistening.  It almost touches the front wheel of the auto-rickshaw above.

Rising from the flowers by the fountain is a green topiary elephant.  The leaves are painted in minute, exquisite detail.  It is rising up on its rear legs.  Behind this, almost like a shadow, is a realistic depiction of a real elephant.  We see the flaps of its ears; its domed head; the long curve of its trunk; and its tusks.  This is all.

Move across the canvas, past the cow and buffalo and the river, to the blank space that is to the left of Lisa’s face.  A woman is painted here in ochre hues.  She looks from under her orange hood to the left, away from the centrepiece.  Her bangled arm is stretched out; she is begging.  The woman is not too old or gaunt.  Beside her, clutching her skirts, is a young boy or girl.  The child is looking directly at the viewer.  Behind the child may be an emaciated street dog with patchy fur, at the very edge of the canvas.

The remaining blank space is above the centrepiece of forts.  Here in large letters of appropriate font and colour is the world INDIA.  Beneath this in small letters reads: a portrait.  More colour explodes from behind the words.  To the left of the giant “I” are the blue-green feathers of a peacock, the country’s national bird.  To the right of the giant “A” is a faithful reproduction of a kingfisher, exactly how it appears on the label of the eponymous beer.

Where there are small gaps between all these images, the space can be filled with chunky lettering saying one of three phrases: “Tuk-tuk?” – “Hello come inside” – “Namaste”.

—db

Thinkin’ Wild

About three years ago I suddenly found myself single and living alone, but for two cats.  It was a quiet, lonesome period, a new age, and I now had more time to kill than I knew what to do with.

Getting home after work was a short routine: feed the two felines, perform some basic chores, maybe read for an hour.  I’d spend the last hours of the evening with a simple meal and a whiskey digestif in front of a film.  All the films I never had the chance to watch with my girlfriend at the time.

These were the usual boys-only affairs.  Bond films.  Tense thrillers.  Science fiction.  Old classics.  Old classic science fiction.  And Westerns.

I spent more time with Clint Eastwood in those first few months than I did with anyone else I knew.  They’re perfect “alone” films, enhanced by awe-inspiring scenery, blue skies drowning the horizon, the lone gunslinger tiny against a backdrop of wind and whirling dust.  It takes a place like Monument Valley to make a man feel small, or isolated.  And they’re often films about a singular man surviving all odds.

I had the mad idea to write a Western one day.

Clint in "For a Few Dollars More"

Clint in “For a Few Dollars More”

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Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in "Unforgiven"

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in “Unforgiven”

Early ideas were derivative spaghetti nonsense involving violent unjustified bloodletting.  Anyone can spin out a yarn of bounty hunters, a savage vengeance run, or the coming a shadowy stranger to free an ailing boom town from packs of outlaws.

I shelved the notion in favour of other projects.  And eventually I wasn’t alone anymore.

Still, the idea persisted.   Every piece of cookie-cutter High Noon trash gave me another idea that I tried to turn on its head and make original (people following my comments on Wattpad forums will know that originality is what I call the holy grail of writing).  I kept finding myself reading Robert E. Howard and wondering whether Zane Grey was really outdated.

There’ve been a few modern Westerns released in cinemas in the last few years.  I remember watching “Tombstone” on TV when I was in college.  And around that time, “Unforgiven” taught us that you didn’t need dull metal implements to scare someone stiff.  There was that cookie John Carpenter film.   Another by Tarantino that also ended up being something other than it started out, in ’96.  Personal favourites in recent years include “3:10 to Yuma”, “Seraphim Falls” and “True Grit” – all remakes of classics I never saw the first time around.

Tarantino hasn’t been able to stay away, actually.  “From Dusk Till Dawn” was a supernatural macguffin, and the director revisited his penchant for Sergio Leone-style Westerns in “Kill Bill”.  This year saw the controversial “Django Unchained” in cinemas to critical acclaim.

Christian Bale promises to have outlaw Russell Crowe aboard the "3:10 to Yuma"

Christian Bale promises to have outlaw Russell Crowe aboard the “3:10 to Yuma”

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White and black hats in a tale of vengeance: "Seraphim Falls" with Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson

White and black hats in a tale of vengeance: “Seraphim Falls” with Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson

It keeps the Wild West in one’s consciousness, even though many critics agree that there are no new stories to be told, and that these tales are outdated (despite timeless themes such as vengeance).

I suppose that now might be as good a time as any to brush off my muse’s old shooting irons and see if I can’t make a Stetson out of my thinking cap.  A certain publisher is looking for short, pulpy Western novels and I’m already putting my brand in the fire.

I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes, if it goes at all.

—db