Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years

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Jacey – Aged Five

The beginning of my writerly story is lost in the mists of my childhood. I struggled with writing at school because, being a fluent reader (but not a writer) by the age of five, I was put into a class of kids who’d already had over a year in school. Playing catch-up, my mum encouraged me to spend twenty minutes writing a story every lunchtime (I went home for lunch in those days). Result: compulsive writer. I’ve never been able to stop. I’m not a writer because I can write. I’m a writer because I can’t NOT write.

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Scott Walker, then of the Walker Brothers.

I started my first novel aged 15 and the world will be highly relieved to know that I only managed to write the first six chapters, though I may have been a little ahead of my time as it was a future dystopia. (Take that, Hunger Games!) Unfortunately it was peopled by close analogues of my favourite pop stars, particularly Scott Walker. Oh, well… at least my school friends thought it was brilliant. (Lesson number one: never ask your closest friends to be your critique partners.)

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Amstrad PCW

So let’s not start right back at the beginning, let’s skip a few years to 1994 when a friend lent me her Amstrad PCW on which to write my magnum opus. Before then I’d always written longhand and being a lousy typist might never have got to the stage of having a finished manuscript. So when I returned said machine I was bereft and immediately went out and bought one. Own up, how many of you started writing on an Amstrad in all its glory: non-WYSIWYG, with green-screen and a dot matrix printer? And wasn’t it glorious compared to an Imperial 66 manual typewriter or a notebook and pen? (Lesson number two: have the right tools for the job.)

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Jacey on stage at Winnipeg Folk Festival, Canada, circa 1998

I wrote my first two novels on that Amstrad, juggling husband, kids and widowed mother while also carrying on a singing career with a cappella folk trio, Artisan (www.artisan-harmony.com) which involved a lot of travelling. The family was, if not supportive (because they barely knew what I was up to) at least tolerant of late mealtimes, late nights, obsessive keyboard hammering. Then I transferred to a PC, discovered email, got on the triple ‘W’ and found a usenet writers; group called misc.writing. There I learned about essentials like manuscript format, how to submit to a publisher and… the fact that if I was serious about this writing lark I needed an agent. (Lesson number three: talk to other writers and learn all you can from their experience.)

healers-warBy this time, through a friend of a friend in the music business, I’d met American writer Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, author of Nebula winner, The Healer’s War, who was writing a series of novels with Anne McCaffrey. Annie bought my first short story for an anthology she was editing called Warrior Princesses which came out in 1998. Anyhow, one Annie talked to the other on my behalf and an introduction to an agent in New Jersey ensued. By that time, though I’m British and based in Yorkshire, Artisan was playing regularly in the USA, so I even got to meet said agent in person. (Not always the case when you live half a world away from each other.) She shopped around my first novel and got a very encouraging ‘we-nearly-bought-this’ from HarperCollins, but regrettably didn’t actually sell it to any one of the (then) nine major publishers of fantasy and science fiction in the USA. I wasn’t too disappointed. First books don’t always sell, right? But I’d made a big rookie mistake in that the second book was a sequel to the first. (Lesson number four: stay flexible and keep your eye on practical possibilities.) Yeah, my agent shoulda, coulda warned me, but she wasn’t a hands-on agent, and we didn’t have that kind of relationship. In those days I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a hands-on agent. Anyhow, I tried to make the sequel feel like a standalone and sent it to her. After a couple of months I got an email to say that she couldn’t sell the second book.

Now, it had taken over a year for her to decide she couldn’t sell the first book, and I got a list of which publishers had seen it and when. With the second one she was vague and somewhat evasive. Who’s seen it, I asked. Everyone. Well, can you give me a list? No answer. Did HarperCollins see it? They don’t want to see the same book twice. It’s not the same book… You get the idea? So (politely) we parted company. (Lesson number five: when something is really not working walk away with good grace and no acrimony.)

Getting agent number one had been so easy that I had no concept of how difficult it would be to get another agent. I was back at the beginning, learning how to write a cover letter and deal with the whole submission process. I was used to submitting short stories to magazines (I’d sold a few)  and even sending full books to publishers’ slushpiles, so I had the no simultaneous submissions rule pretty firmly in my head and I carried that forward into my submissions to agents. Submitting to only one agent at a time, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Some agents (bless them) rejected pretty quickly, some took six or nine months to reject (sometimes after going through the send-the-full-MS stage) others never responded at all. Skip forward eight years, and in that time I’d made about nine agency submissions, one painful long-drawn-out application at a time. (Lesson number six: Don’t waste time and/or opportunities.)

And then I got my break, a relatively new agent with a big New York agency who was just building a client list and whose guidelines said that [agent] did not necessarily require an exclusive submission, but if the author wished to give [agent] an exclusive then [agent] would respond more swiftly. I’d been giving agents exclusives for eight years! So I submitted, made sure [agent] knew it was an exclusive submission and waited. Bang on the time given in the agency guidelines I got a response asking for the full manuscript and shortly after that an offer of representation.

I was elated!

Unlike my first agent, Agent Two was a hands-on agent and worked with me to improve my manuscript before finally saying it was good enough to send out. (This is the manuscript that eventually became Winterwood.) I really liked Agent Two and was very hopeful. Then… with my book under submission, my agent decided to get out of agenting. Devastated doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings.

So now I had a book that Agent Two thought was perfectly marketable, but had already been seen by at least four of the major publishers with no success so far, and I was back to square one. No agent and no book sale. Though I did have a much improved book, thanks to my agent’s editorial advice.

But by this time I’d begun to wise up. (Lesson number seven: REALLY don’t waste time.) There’s nothing in the (unwritten) rules of submitting that says you can’t sim-sub to agents. I figured that I didn’t want to waste another decade with eight or nine agency submissions, so I decided to submit to all of them at once. Well, not quite all of them and not quite all at once, but…

I decided to make getting an agent my ‘job’ for the next few months. I began with research. There are a lot of websites out there that list agents and what they are looking for, one of the best being agentquery.com (http://www.agentquery.com/) which claims to be the internet’s largest free database of literary agents. I can easily believe that, though it is North-American in bias. I supplemented this with the Writers and Artists Yearbook in the UK (I’m British and I was looking on both sides of the Atlantic), and Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents), a blog on the Writer’s Digest website.

Then, having built up my own database I started with my top picks and sent individual targeted submissions to each one, checking their websites and following their own guidelines. I also wrote a fresh cover letter for each one, picking up on their likes and dislikes if at all possible. I sent out fifty of these in a month. It was practically all I did. I was straight with them that the book Agent Two had submitted had already been seen by four publishers and that the only reason I was looking for a new agent was because my previous agent was retiring from the business, but that in the meantime I had more novels in reserve, seven in total. (Lesson number eight: whether your books are selling on not, keep writing, build up a portfolio.)

logo_dawIn the meantime I sent my manuscript to a publisher I really liked and one that I knew had not yet read the submission that Agent Two had sent. I did it with a recommendation from a friend already published by that publisher, which may have placed me closer to the top of the slushpile and certainly got me a note from the editor promising that she would read it as soon as she could but that she was very busy. Being very busy all the time is the natural state in which editors exist. (Lesson number nine: don’t be afraid to make use of contacts freely offered – but don’t be obnoxious if contacts are NOT freely offered.)

I began to get responses from my agent submissions. Some were form rejections, others were polite personal rejections and a few – enough – were requests for full manuscripts, which was encouraging.

My fifty submissions were still in the early stages. I’d ruled out about twenty of them, had not heard back from another twenty or twenty five, yet (but there was still time) and I had sent full manuscripts to a few and was waiting to hear back. I wasn’t getting despondent.

Then in July 2013 I got that email that every author wants. Sheila Gilbert at DAW said, I want to buy your book, when can I phone you?

Let me just say that again: I want to buy your book, when can I phone you?
And it was Christmas and Birthday all at once.

I didn’t need an agent now… but, hang on, yes I did. Why? Agents do more than sell a single book, they negotiate contracts, offer career advice and support and sell books for foreign language translation. My editor said she was happy to do the contract direct with me or to work through my agent, to which I said: Can you give me a week on that? She agreed. And then she asked the magic question: What else have you got?

So while I sent Sheila two more finished manuscripts I looked back at my list of agency submissions and picked out my ten favourites. Some had already asked for full manuscripts, some had not yet responded and one had already sent me a rejection, but I figured with an offer on the table she might change her mind. She didn’t – but I respect her for that. My email basically said I’d had an offer for my book and I would need a response within the week if the agent was interested in discussing the matter of representation further.

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Agent Amy

To cut a long story short: I received five offers of representation. Within a week I’d had long telephone conversations with the five who made offers, narrowed it down to one British and one American agent, both from highly respected agencies, and dithered for a couple of days, weighing up pros and cons. In the end, there was nothing to choose between them, so I went with my gut feeling and picked the one I’d been most comfortable chatting to. And I’m so pleased that I did. I am currently represented by the lovely Amy Boggs of Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York.

Amy developed DAW’s initial offer into a three book deal, two of them already written, Empire of Dust and Winterwood, and a sequel to Empire, to be written from scratch. This turned into Crossways. Following on from that is another deal, this time for two books, a sequel to Winterwood, called Silverwolf, which is due out on 3rd January 2017, and the final book in the Psi-Tech Trilogy, following on from Empire of Dust and Crossways. This one will be called Nimbus and will be out in October 2017.

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So there you have it, my overnight success only took sixteen years from the first short story sale to the first novel sale. (Lesson number ten: don’t ever give up, and when the big moment happens, grab it with both hands and hang on as you enjoy the ride.)

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Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget

I’m now in the fortunate position of having three books published by DAW, with two more due out in January 2017 and October 2017, but achieving a novel publishing deal took years from my first short story sale to a three book deal with a major publisher.

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Empire of Dust, Book 1 in the Psi-Tech Series, 2014

In my case it took years of writing science fiction and fantasy in secret before I even dared admit my genre-vice to my friends. Then a chance meeting with Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough gave me my first nudge along the road, and my first short story sale, way back in 1998. Yes, that’s right, my overnight success, from short story to novel publication only took sixteen years.

I’ve lost track of the number of might-have-beens and nearly-bought-its along the road…

The two false starts with agents before finding my current agent, Amy Boggs of Donald Maass. The first agent who couldn’t sell my first book, but gave me an encouraging list of where it had been and who’d said what – then messed me about with the second book until I politely withdrew.

 

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Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series, 2015

The major American publisher who said, ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting,’ and then hung on to a manuscript for three years without doing anything with it.

The kerfuffle when I tried to withdraw it from the next publisher who’d had it for about six months because another publisher wanted to take a look. All of a sudden, instead of accepting the withdrawal of my manuscript it was: ‘We’ve passed this on to a senior editor for consideration,’ and oops I’d sim-subbed without meaning to.

Then the agent who helped me make my book better and then got out of agenting with my book subbed to half the major publishing houses in the USA, and already rejected by four of them – meaning finding a new agent for that book would be difficult in the extreme.

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Winterwood, Book One in the Rowankind Series, 2016

However, along the way there were people who helped and encouraged. I couldn’t have done it without them.

  • writer-friends, especially those from Milford, from RECOG and from the old r.a.sf.c newsgroup
  • first readers who told me I was good enough
  • the writer who kindly introduced me to DAW
  • my current agent, Amy Boggs of Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York
  • the staff at DAW in New York including Josh the managing editor and Kayleigh the publicist at Penguin Random-House who helps to push my books (and Nita, her predecessor)
  • cover artists Stephan Martiniere and Larry Rostant
  • and last but never least, Sheila Gilbert, my lovely editor at DAW who had the faith to publish my books, and also offers many ways of making them better.

 

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Silverwolf, Book Two in the Rowankind Series, January 2017.

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Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween

Please welcome Gail Z Martin back to guest on my blog on her Days of the Dead blog tour.
Gail writes…

DaysofDead Banner V1 copyI’ve been informed that the candy-fueled, commercially-costumed, liquor-infused, over-the-top-decorated celebration of October 31 is a primarily American oddity. We tend to have a reputation as a bad influence when it comes to exporting pop culture so I suspect we’ve encouraged unseemly behavior for Halloween elsewhere in the world. I hope so. If not, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Cemeteries, the supernatural, the macabre and ghost stories have fascinated me since I was a little kid. Given that I write about necromancers, cursed objects, dark magic and plenty of ghosts, I guess that’s not a surprise. My favorite TV show when I was a pre-schooler was Dark Shadows, full of vampires, werewolves and witches. I devoured books of regional ghost stories, and made off with my grandmother’s copies of Fate Magazine. When I was around 10 or 12, I would pass the time after school waiting for my mom to pick me up by wandering through a nearby cemetery, making up stories about the departed based on their epitaphs. I poured over books about monsters, myths, legends and the Apocalypse, as well as fun tomes like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.  So I guess I was either going to write epic fantasy or become a serial killer. Good thing I can type.

halloween1All that leads up to saying that I love Halloween. We decorate the house inside and out, and I have a special Halloween sweater I wear to give out candy, I enjoy going through the shops that sell uber-creepy decorations just to have the motion-sensor zombie babies jump out at me. I used to have a blast taking our kids around trick-or-treating or to the amusement park’s scare-fest back when they were of an age to do that. I pick out the Almond Joy, Mallow Cups and Tootsie Roll candy out of the mix bags. Hey, it’s a weakness.

I’m an odd duck, I guess, when it comes to things supernatural. I love dark and suspenseful movies like Woman in Black or anything by Stephen King, but slasher flicks leave me cold (pun intended). I don’t bat an eye about arranging to go on ghost tours in New Orleans or Dublin, Jack the Ripper tours in London, or a tour of the catacombs and ossuaries in Rome. Good times. Want to ramble through a graveyard anywhere in the world for fun? I’m up for it.

When it comes to ‘real supernatural phenomena, I’m oddly circumspect. Let’s just say that I’m enough of a believer to not take foolish chances. So I won’t book a room at a haunted hotel, or handle a supposedly cursed object. When I visit Voodoo shrines or museums in New Orleans, I do not touch, and I show proper respect to the spirits, just in case. I won’t use a Ouija board, although I’m fine with talking with a spirit medium or clairvoyant with whom I’ve established a level of trust. Superstitious? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as being cautious, and being humble enough to realize that there are things out there we don’t fully understand.

halloween4But for Halloweeen? Bring on the scary movie and hand me the popcorn!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:  http://bit.ly/2eC2pxP

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

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Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!

No Tricks! An excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures http://bit.ly/10rPQ07

Good stuff!  An excerpt from Wicked Dreams, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures http://bit.ly/1obkBAb

Check out the Iron & Blood book video! https://youtu.be/MZ_0Zm7OSIY

Use your free @Audible trial to get my books! The Summoner Audible https://amzn.com/B0032COUQS @rebellionpub

Trick Or Treat from John Hartness Quincy Harker series Raising Hell Chp1  http://bit.ly/1MEMFSQ

Treats! Double Dragon Sampler #2 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE002.mobi

About the Author

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Gail Z. Martin is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books) and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin. A brand new epic fantasy series debuts from Solaris Books in 2017.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities.  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Find her at http://www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and  free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

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What’s in a name?

When writing historical fiction it’s sometimes difficult to pin down names. Things change and sometimes the change is gradual. For instance I live in a tiny Yorkshire village called Birdsedge, or maybe it’s Birds Edge. No one really seems to know for sure. It’s currently in a state of flux and both names work. (My preference is for Birdsedge to be all one word.) When I first moved here in 1980 the village sign when approaching from one direction said Birds Edge, but the sign when approaching from the other said Birdsedge.

Confused? You will be.

An old diary (Adam Eyre’s Diary) from the 1770s called it Bursage and if you listen to some of the long-time residents they pronounce it something closely akin to B’zzidge, the vowel after the B being an uh sound that’s not quite E and not quite U. (A schwa?)

freddraw1The village doesn’t seem to have been known as Birds Edge until the 1851 Ordnance Survey map. That map was literally drawn up by teams of redcoats, often with no local knowledge. I can just imagine some sergeant and his troopers, with chains and tackle, arriving to measure the land for the queen. The sergeant approaches the nearest local and taps him on the shoulder: My good fellow, what is the name of this place? The local replies: B’zzidge. The sergeant looks puzzled for a moment. How do you spell that? he asks. Huh? the local replies. So the sergeant takes a stab at it and the closest he can come up with is Birds Edge. Thus the name is born, but all the locals, quite oblivious, continue to call it B’zzidge. Where did B’zzidge originate? No one knows.

Winterwood front cover-smallIn Winterwood and Silverwolf I briefly mention Wimbleton on the outskirts of London. It’s easy to assume I’ve made a typo because everyone knows it’s Wimbledon, right? Err, not quite right. Wikipedia says: The name is shown on J Cary’s 1786 map of the London area as “Wimbleton”, and the current spelling appears to have been settled on relatively recently in the early 19th century, the last in a long line of variations. But when did it change? I don’t know. It’s probably one of those gradual things, but there’s a fair chance that in 1800 and 1801, when my books are set, it’s still Wimbleton.

At one point my characters (in Winterwood) are riding through London. They’ve crossed London Bridge from the south and turned right, heading towards Wapping Old Stairs to meet up with their ship which is anchored in the Thames. They ride down St Catherine’s Street. My copy editor checked the name and stuck a note on the manuscript that said: Just a history note, it seems like (as you must have found out yourself) mapmakers from 1740 to at least 1840 called it St. Catherine’s, but back in the 1600s and then starting again in the 1880s, it was written as St. Katherine, and now’s gone even weirder to Katharine. I can’t figure out any kind of reason for this, but you’re spot-on with your historical street names! Whew. I found the closest map I could to the date and it seems (more by good luck) that I got it right.

Silverwolf final front coverMy editor also queried Kennington Gate, which is where my characters paid their toll on the road into London. Should it be Kensington? she asked – because that’s a name everyone knows. Nope, Kennington Gate is correct for the period.

I’m sure I have some errors in there somewhere. There are many traps and it’s impossible to avoid them all. Anachronisms are bound to creep in. Every author tries their best, but unless you are a historian expert in that particular time period, you can easily get something wrong. Sometimes you deliberately change things for the sake of the story. Other times mistakes slip in.

I was reading a popular historical novel by a very well known author and it’s set in the 1750s. The end of the book happens in London. A crowd gathers on Vauxhall Bridge. As I read it my blood ran cold, In Winterwood, my characters are on the Thames in 1800 crossing the river by boat at Vauxhall Stairs and plainly Vauxhall Bridge is missing. Aaargh. So I rushed to the all-knowing internet only to find that Vauxhall Bridge was indeed NOT THERE in 1800 (so certainly not there in 1750). Wikipedia says: Opened in 1906, it replaced an earlier bridge, originally known as Regent Bridge but later renamed Vauxhall Bridge, built between 1809 and 1816 as part of a scheme for redeveloping the south bank of the Thames. The original bridge was itself built on the site of a former ferry.

Another Whew!

Winterwood came out in February 2016 and Silverwolf is due in January 2017, so you can see for yourselves whether I’ve made any historical mistakes. Just in case I have, I would like to remind you that it’s a historical fantasy. If I can invent Bacalao, a completely fictitious island that sits in the middle of the Atlantic, then any street name in London that you think is wrong is probably wrong for a reason.

<Ahem.> That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016

Grand Hotel, Scarborough, 23rd – 25th September , 2016

Fantasycon was… interesting. It remains the most writerly of cons with most panels aimed at writers and peopled by writers and industry professionals. Its progamme is hard to fault and there are lots of book launches and plenty of freebie books. (I’m looking forward to reading my freebies: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns of the Dawn, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, and Helen Keen’s The Science of Game of Thrones.)

I signed up for a couple of excellent small events, including the Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear one on being a writer.Meg Davis was particularly interesting on the process of being a literary agent.

The panel rooms were a good size (some of them in the Grand’s sister hotel just round the corner) and there was always social seating available in at least one of the bars.

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The Grand Hotel was actually a perfect setting for a horror con (or an Agatha Christie novel), but it worked for fantasy, too. 365 rooms, 12 floors, four turrets for days of the year/months/seasons. It’s Victorian Gothick or possibly Victorian Grotesque. (Just check out the brickwork in the photo.)

It must have been very grand in its heyday, but now it’s being milked by Pontins. The maximum profit for the minimum amount of renovation/upkeep seems to be the way of things, so there are patches of damp plaster, broken toilets, lifts that don’t work (and when they do you kind of wish you weren’t trusting your life to them).

The lounge bar which still has glorious ornamental pillars with plasterwork similar to the ones in the Brighton Pavilion now has a row of fruit machines, and the corridor leading to the dealer rooms was jam-packed with re-charging mobility scooters.

But for all that was wrong with the Grand, the staff were unfailingly pleasant and you can’t beat it for value for money. The basic room-share cost £40 per person per night for bed, breakfast and evening meal. (Compare that to the £130 a night that I paid for a single room for the York Fantasycon, and that was only for bed and breakfast.) I’m surprised the Grand can function at all at that price. We paid an extra tenner per person per night for a sea-view room and a place in the ‘posh’ dining room. (Same food but no queues.) That was a good move. Our twin bedroom was tired, but functional and clean, and the view over South Bay was magnificent. Sadly the windows were so salt-caked that getting a photo of the view was pretty difficult.

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Of course you could step out on to the terrace for a good photo opportunity. Below is South Bay at dusk with the harbour down below and the Norman castle on the headland.

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An unexpected bonus was an enormous ‘afternoon tea’ in the Grand. Terry and I ordered tea for two. We should have shared tea for one. When it arrived, it was so big we didn’t know whether to eat it or ride it. I don’t normally take photos of food but this had to be an exception. In addition to the pot of tea for two, I counted: eight sandwiches, a pile of crisps and salad, four mini cream eclairs, six profiteroles, two huge pieces of cake (carrot cake and chocolate fudge), two mini cupcakes and two scones with clotted cream and jam. Price? £8 each. After an hour of munching we admitted defeat and took a plate of leftover cakes to our room where we had them for supper. The following morning there were still cakes staring back at us. With a cry of ‘Not for breakfast,’ the last few pieces went in the bin. Defeated by a plate of cakes!

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I’m told that next year’s Fantasycon is in Daventry. It may be a sensible central location, but I doubt it can live up to the sheer quirkiness of Scarborough.

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Milford 2016

September is always a busy month. Milford takes up threequarters of it (with the prep, the actual event and the recovery time afterwards). I only had  four days at home before Fantasycon in Scarborough (see next post).

So… Milford SF Writers’ Conference is a one-week event for fifteen published writers of SF in its widest sense (i.e. speculative fiction encompassing science fiction, fantasy and associated subgenres).

We get togather at Trigonos in North Wales – within sight of Mount Snowdon – and spend the week talking shop, reading and critiquing each other’s work in progress,. socialising, playing games, eating and quaffing. If you want to know more about how Milford works, visit the website at http://www.milfordSF.co.uk and there you can find all you ever wanted to know and more, including Milford’s 44 year history in the UK and details of the exciting bursary for two writers of colour to attend in 2017. Bursary applications opened today.

This year the writers who attended were: L-R standing: John Moran, Dave Gullen, Terry Jackman, David Allan, Guy T Martland, Jim Anderson, Liz Williams, Jacey Bedford, Glen Mehn, Elizabeth Counihan, Lizzy Priest. Kneeling L-R: Sue Thomason, Amy Tibbetts, Pauline Morgan, Siobhan McVeigh.

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We had a great mix of people this year. Everyone is published, of course. In order to attend Milford you have to have sold at least one short story. Some attendees are first and foremost short story writers, and others concentrate on novels. Several have sold multiple novels to major publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. People come from all over the UK and this year we also had one visiting American. (This is not unusual. Since Milford started in the USA in 1956, long before James Blish brought it to the UK in 1972 there have always been transatlantic ties.)

We blogged every day on the new-ish Milford blog and you can read what people wrote here: https://milfordsfwriters.wordpress.com/

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Lunch at Trigonos

Trigonos certainly doesn’t let us go hungry. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are shored up by elevenses and cake o’clock around four each afternoon. The fruit bowl is always available and there’s 24/7 access to teas and coffees. This is a simple lunch. There’s always a superb soup, fresh homemade bread, a quiche or fritata or (in this instance cheesy jacket spuds) with a variety of fresh salads grown on the premises.

Of course, being writers, we also fuel up on chocolate, especially during the formal crit sessions.

 

 

 

 

 

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Below, Dave Gullen, Terry Jackman and Guy T Martland at a crit session. They don’t look too scary, do they?

crit01Crit sessions are always good-hearted whilst being rigorous and constructive. This year I took the opening of my upcoming novel, Nimbus only to be told by everyone that it didn’t need the flashback… so I came home and began to prune. They’re right, of course. It’s another case of ‘kill your darlings!’

lake-4The surroundings are beautiful. This is the view from the main house own to the lake (Nantlle) in the early morning. The mist is rising and the sun is just beginning to burn through. There’s another beautiful day ahead. Of course, this is North Wales in September, so anything can happen, weather-wise.

david-allan-reading

Mornings are quiet. You can read, catch up with your crits, write, walk along the lake-shore, pop into Caernarfon (9 miles away) to ogle the castle or buy yourself some Welsh tourist souvenirs.

Here’s David Allan, deep in thought in the Trigonos library.

Milford is all about writing. I always come home with my writerly batteries recharged and already looking forward to next year’s event.

Milford is popular. At the time of writing twelve of the fifteen places for September 2017 have been filled and we already have five places booked for 2018. Because we like to encourage new people to come we always ringfence places for new writers up to Easter of the year in which Milford takes place. Of course it’s first come first served and those new writer places can book up early, too.

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Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier

[Digital]AA_4-25x6-75 (1)I’m often asked what it’s like to edit anthologies.  What’s the process, why do I do it, etc.?  The answer to why I do it is easy:  because it’s fun!

Patricia Bray and I started editing anthologies for DAW Books almost by accident.  We were at a bar after a multi-author signing with 7 other authors and everyone got joking around about doing an anthology about a time-traveling bar where Gilgamesh was the bartender.  Everyone laughed and had another drink.  I went home and wrote up the proposal and at the next World Fantasy con, I pitched it to Techno, who pitched it to DAW the next day.  And suddenly Patricia and I were editors.  We had no experience at it, but we’d both had multiple books published, so we knew the essential process.  Within the year, we’d produced AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR.  We did one more anthology for DAW—THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY—and then there was upheaval in the publishing world, along with the death of Martin H. Greenburg, and DAW cut their anthology line back dramatically.  I waited a few years to see if things would settle and they’d bring it back, but that didn’t happen.  And so, one summer, I got bored enough that I decided editing anthologies was just too much fun and I created my own company, Zombies Need Brains, with the intent to produce SF&F anthologies funded by Kickstarters.

[Digital]Were_4-25x6-75_Cover_w-Bleed (2) So yes, the answer to your question is I AM insane.

But really, it is fun.  I love coming up with anthology concepts, usually developed when Patricia and I are having a relaxing drink at a bar at a con with the creativity simply flowing around us.  I love inviting published authors to be anchor authors for our Kickstarters, and then hitting the “launch” button and waiting to see what becomes of putting that idea out into the world.  I love opening up the anthologies for an open call, where anyone can submit, because often some of the best stories come from those who haven’t yet been published.  Reading those submission is often time consuming, but it’s worth it, and you get to see so many interpretations of the anthology theme, twists you’d never thought of, and just downright interesting ideas.  And then there’s putting the selected stories together in an interesting order, getting cover art, designing the book, sending it to the printer, and releasing it into the wild.  Every step of that process is work.  Everyone step is stressful and often frustrating.  But in the end, seeing the anthologies on the shelf, seeing people enjoying them, is all worth it.  Since its start, Zombies Need Brains has produced two anthologies—CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS (aliens invade Earth and encounter a steampunk society) and TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER (where everyday objects are somehow acting “temporally” out of order)—both funded by Kickstarters by fans.

And now Zombies Need Brains is ready to release two new anthologies, on September 15th, that I hope everyone enjoys.  The two new titles are ALIEN ARTIFACTS, about us exploring the universe and discovering objects that aliens have left behind, and WERE-, about were-creatures OTHER than werewolves.  Both of them were a blast to edit and bring to life.  Both of them are filled with stories from well-known published names in the field, along with brand new names we hope to see more from in the future.  They’ll be available in trade paperback and ebook, on the Kindle, Nook, at Kobo, and at other ebook platforms.  Right now, you can preorder copies on the Kindle (the other platforms don’t have preorder options).  But whatever format you prefer, check them out on September 15th.

SUBMERGED_FinalWe’d like to continue producing quality SF&F anthologies as well and we’re currently running a new Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies title SUBMERGED (SF&F stories set underwater), ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS! (stories with robots harkening back to the 50s and 60s), and THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS (stories where Death is a character).  If you’d like to help us continue bringing brand new stories from authors you love and authors you will love in the future, swing on by the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/RobotWaterDeath and pledge to the campaign!  We’d love to have you as a backer!

 

BenTateJoshua Palmatier is an epic fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  He has had eight novels published by DAW Books, including “The Throne of Amenkor” trilogy, Shattering the Ley, and Threading the Needle.  He is currently hard at work on the third novel in the “Ley” series, Reaping the Aurora.  In addition, he’s published numerous short stories in various anthologies and has edited four SF&F themed anthologies with co-editor Patricia Bray.  He is also the founder of the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  Find out more about him at www.joshuapalmatier.com or on Facebook or Twitter (@bentateauthor).

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