Posts Tagged ‘whodunnit’
It has often been observed that writing is a tough racket. Like, suspiciously so– people have been predicting the death of the written word pretty much as long as there have been written words, but particularly the death of the modern publishing industry as long as there has been a modern publishing industry, despite the fact bookstores tend to be full of people happily shelling out their hard-earned dollars for books even in this post-internet age and that book sales are actually up rather than down. The rates for writers are largely un-moved in decades, and editorial budgets are slashed, but book prices keep going up, so… that money has to be going somewhere.
However, for the time being at least, I am not interested in figuring out that mystery. Publishing for me is largely a giant black box where I put words in one end and, theoretically, money comes out the other. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Granted, I have not submitted that much for publication in the grand scale of things, being largely self-published or having worked mostly with editors who were also friends and colleagues already. But over the course of my writing career, I’ve had far more successes than rejections. In fact, I can only think of three rejections off the top of my head:
- A creature write-up sent to White Wolf for a Werewolf line “monster book” in 1989 or so. This was done hastily, because Bill (the line editor at the time) was in a pinch, and I basically threw together something that belonged in Call of Cthulhu instead. I’m not surprised he didn’t use it– in fact, I would have been more surprised if he had.
- Out In the Cold, my first full-length(ish) novel, sent to an agent c. 1996 in a fit of youthful enthusiasm. This was a cozy mystery, and it didn’t totally suck but it wasn’t great, either. It did at least garner me a very nice handwritten reply praising the narrative voice and depiction of the characters. I eventually decided that mystery writing was probably not where my strengths were and shelved it after that. And finally…
- Sky Pirates of Calypsitania, which as of yesterday has been rejected by one publisher and seven agents, and “soft rejected” by a handful more agents who simply did not respond (“If you do not hear in 4-8 weeks we aren’t interested.”). Of all these, yesterday’s rejection was the hardest.
The reasons why yesterday’s hit me so hard are twofold. First, this agent was specifically seeking steampunk novels– a genre which is notoriously tricky to get people interested in. I was very jazzed to see someone actually wanting steampunk, instead of having a subtext of “Okay, I guess I’ll look at it, but don’t you have any doorstopper fantasy or military SF we could check out instead?”
Second, after the initial query, the agent wrote back to me and asked for a larger sample, which was the first response of any kind on this book beyond a polite form rejection. I knew it wasn’t guaranteed that she would want to move forward after that, but I did think it was quite likely. She wanted steampunk, she liked the first chapter, and her agenting portfolio seemed like just the right fit for this particular book’s eccentricities. Alas, “After a careful reading, I am sorry to say that I don’t believe this project is right for me.” I sent her a thank-you note, and who knows, maybe something else will work later.
But in the meantime, we carry on. I really like this book– even if it weren’t my own it would be one of my favorites– and I honestly think it’s as good as anything out there. I know that steampunk is a long shot, and I know that first-time novelists always have a tough hill to climb. Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m going to put it away for the weekend and then, come Monday, pull up the next three agents on my list and send it out again.
It is, as has been observed, a tough racket.
Here’s a cool bit of news on the business end of things! The awesome folk over at FurPlanet have taken on the publication duties for a new edition of No Predation Allowed: Ten Years of The Suburban Jungle! Sayeth Teiran: “[We’re] long term fans, and we’re very happy to be able to help keep your comics in circulation.” At that link you can also grab Roar Vol. 3, which contains the Squash and Stretch whodunnit, “Blackbird Singing the Dead of Night.”
As you might imagine, I’m both pleased and deeply honored by this! Thanks, FurPlanet!
The new edition is mostly the same as the first edition, with a few small errors ironed out, particularly in Volume One. I have a small number of first editions left, which I’ll probably be taking to Fur The ‘More in March.
So. Awesome. /)^3^(\
I recently finished and submitted a new Michael Macbeth: Paranormal Consultant story to an upcoming anthology; it hasn’t been accepted yet (although I’m hopeful), so I won’t say more than that about the specifics, but I do want to talk about the form a bit.
Michael is that hoary old chestnut, a psychic (mystic, what-have-you) detective, a concept that’s been around, sorta quietly lurking, since at least the pulps of the 1930s if not before. The character type has enjoyed a recent resurgence with the popularity of such things as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the “weirdening” of Sherlock Holmes in several recent adaptations and anthologies, and so forth. And of course Kolchak, while not a psychic himself, was a Marlowe-style private eye in a world of horror and monsters, so he fits right in.
This is a genre that I am comfortable in, and in which I will probably be writing no small amount of stories in the not-too-distant future. Whether they feature Michael, or another character, or possibly several different ones, is yet to be seen. However, I have recently come to a conclusion about the genre: the perfect psychic detective story has already been written. That story is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
I’m not going to go into why here, well except for the bit about use of language. Oh, and depth of theme. Not to mention the tight plot and nifty twists. And atmosphere. The point is, with all due respect to Mr. Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gail Carriger, Seanan McGuire, Charlaine Harris, and all the way back to Seabury Quinn, there will never be another psychic detective story that reaches the pure ideal of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This is my own personal opinion of course, but anyone claiming otherwise is objectively wrong. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t do it! There’s a reason The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul took him so much effort, and The Salmon of Doubt was never finished. After Dirk Gently, Adams had nowhere to go but down, and he knew it.
At first, I was discouraged by this. But upon reflection, I found it strangely liberating: the pressure’s off. The competition is already won. I never have to worry about trying to write the best psychic detective story ever written, because it’s already been done. All I need to worry about is writing the best psychic detective story I can write. Of course it won’t be as good as Dirk Gently, because that can’t be done. I wouldn’t feel any guilt or pressure about not being able to fly and shoot lasers from my eyes, for the same reason.
All that said… if I could manage to write a book that was “kinda sorta nearly as good as some of the bits in Dirk Gently,” I’d be totally happy with that. 🙂
Gotta love positive reviews! 🙂 Thanks for the kind words, fellas. Not sure what you were getting at re: “body movements” near the end, I’ll give it a re-listen and see if I can figure it out.
Martin, the peculiar hero of Something Missing, is a burglar by profession, but not just that. Martin is a master burglar, who robs the same house again and again over the course of years or decades and never gets caught because, and here is the brilliance of his scheme: he only steals things people won’t miss anyway. Six bars of soap in the linen closet? Make that five. An unopened bottle of drain cleaner under the kitchen sink for months? Just the thing. A single dishtowel gone missing? That was probably Martin’s work.
Martin’s is an orderly and meticulous mind: he carefully researches his “clients” to find just the right fit (dog-owners are out!), and plans his thefts over the course of many, many illicit trips into the house. By taking digital photos of the refrigerator, the pantry, the china cabinet, the silver drawer, the jewelry box, he works out over time what gets used and what doesn’t, what will be missed, and what won’t. The book opens with him stealing the second earring of a matched pair: he stole the first one (but only the one) six months previously so the owner would assume she’d lost it somewhere. After all, what thief would only steal a single earring, right? Once the second is allowed to languish without its twin in the bottom of the jewelry box and thus be forgotten, Martin can safely snag it and finally sell off the pair on eBay using his cover identity of a middle-aged shopaholic housewife who’s forever selling off “last year’s treasures.”
All of this long-term, intimate research of the people he refers to as his clientele has, over time, instilled in the lonely and repressed Martin a certain proprietary feeling towards them. When he stops burgling a household, say because they have a child (couples with children are unsuitable for various reasons, not the least of which is that it adds unpredictability into their lives), Martin feels like he’s losing a long-term friend. And what’s more, as time goes on, he finds himself becoming a sort of guardian angel; he starts by befriending a talkative parrot, but progresses into an anonymous and unknown sort-of-askew Mary Poppins who patches up domestic unhappiness and makes sure surprise parties go unspoiled. With few friends and even fewer family members of his own, he has become an unrequited adopter of the people he makes his living mooching from.
However, much to his dismay, the more he gets involved, the more his life goes off the rails. His chessmaster-like planning goes out the window as he starts reacting to crises and he finds himself hiding in closets, chased by (shudder!) dogs, and falling in love. And when he finds that one of his best clients is being stalked by someone with all of Martin’s skill but much more sinister intentions, everything in Martin’s life is turned upside down.
Something Missing is a breezy, enjoyable book, and Martin is both a very likeable and surprisingly relatable protagonist. Intelligent and introverted, Martin may be a shade anti-social but he’s not a sociopath. If anything, it’s his extreme sensitivity to the feelings of others that’s led him to his peculiar line of work. Not being versed on the ways of burglary myself, I don’t know how much of the equipment and techniques Martin employs are real, but they’re certainly convincing and well thought-out. And of course there’s a lot of suspense: once Martin starts varying from his pre-planned strategies and controlled situations, he keeps finding himself deeper and deeper in unfamiliar and dangerous territory which escalates every time. A chatty parrot who keeps calling him rude names seems like the least of Martin’s worries by the time he faces off against his malevolent counterpart. Themes of redemption and grace quietly underpin the story without making a fuss about themselves, making Martin’s very moving transformation over the course of the book both inevitable and desired.
I can’t think of any real criticisms to this book. It does take a little time to get into the meat of the story: the first major “plot point” doesn’t really occur until roughly the 50% mark, but there is enough happening with setting the groundwork of Martin’s character, establishing and illustrating his techniques and patterns, and foreshadowing the events of later in the book that you never really feel like there’s nothing going on. Something Missing isn’t a Life-Changing Masterwork, perhaps, but it has not ambitions to be. It’s a fun, enjoyable read about an interesting protagonist, and considers that to be enough.
As I’ve been doing with so many books recently, I read this via the Kindle app on my iPad: and like everything I’ve read this way, there are the rare few spurious line breaks or superfluous hyphens. But there’s nothing wrong with the writing itself. Readers may find the conspicuous appearance of brand names for everything to be jarring: Stop And Shop, Liquid Plumbr, Rice-A-Roni. It’s a deliberate device the author uses to illustrate Martin’s character: Martin is very specific about every little detail, including the particular brand of any item he may come in contact with. But after a while it reads like product placements, particularly as most modern readers have been trained to hear about generic items rather than specific ones. It isn’t a real problem, but it does stick out and once you notice it you can’t stop seeing it every time it happens.
The Final Verdict
Something Missing is a fun book and I recommend it to anyone who is intelligent, introverted, or has inclinations towards benevolent larceny. It’s a fast read, but one that rewards paying attention to the details. If nothing else, it will make you a bit more aware of your home security…
As you might imagine, I’ve been very distracted recently, and so this piece of news almost slipped through the cracks — but I can’t let that happen! Bad Dog Books has released Roar, Volume 3, which includes my latest short story, “Blackbird Singing In the Dead of Night.” It’s a murder mystery starring Squash and Stretch, Suburban Jungle’s pair of mustelid gumshoes, and was a lot of fun to write.
Among other things, this is a biggie because it’s my first piece of prose fiction to be published by someone other than myself, and so is a step into new territory for me. Time to update the bibliography!
This is the latest in a series of big changes that have come at me fast and furious, with very little time to process one before I’m in the midst of another. I’ve passed so many crossroads in the past year-or-so that I’m amazed I haven’t stepped sideways into another dimension.
A week from today will be another one: Thursday the 17th is when we bring down the curtain on NeverNever for what I expect to be the final time. It’s been a long and twisty journey, and in many ways it feels like the last steps are the hardest, but I’m happy to see it get a proper finish and I’m grateful for all the hard work Sue, Richard, Higgins, and Tiffany have put in to help bring it to fruition over the years. Of course that also means that it’s time to crank out Attack of the War-Cats as fast as I can to get it done by Confuzzled. My usual book printer has unexpectedly gone belly-up on me, and the plan I was looking at with Amazon appears to have developed a few holes as well, so I’m now scrambling to figure out what to do on that front. I’m sure I’ll find something, it’s just a matter of being able to sit down and hash it out.
What comes next from there? I’m not sure. The ending of NeverNever is significant in the larger picture of my “creative life” because it will be the first time in a long time that I didn’t have a comic running in some form, even if that form was sporadic updates. I was expecting the new steampunk comic to pick up more-or-less on the heels of NN shutting down, but as time goes on I’m finding it harder and harder to stick with that, for a variety of reasons that I don’t really want to go into here. So I’m trying to decide what to do next.
Right now I suspect that the next step will be more short fiction. I have some ideas burgeoning for Roar Vol. 4, and I also think short stories could be a good way to flesh out some of the myriad “characters in search of a plot” ideas I’ve got going, from Brigid and Greg to Not-Dead Darby and the Reagent Man. It might also work to get the juices flowing on the steampunk comic idea, for that matter. The main thing is to keep moving; I’ve been treading water for far too long now, and it’s time to start making progress again!