The same is true, albeit in a far less physical sense, about creative writing as a profession.
Like professional wrestling, freelance writing is a truly god-awful profession at virtually all but the highest level. The money sucks. No one respects or values the craft. Everyone and their retarded aunt think they’re a writer. The business is treacherous and corrupt. You swallow pride, ego, bullshit, rejection, and criticism on a daily basis. You’re forced to associate or be associated with the loathsome, neurotic, pandering creatures that are or at least call themselves writers. A sliver of a molecule of a fraction of those who aspire to the trade actually ever earn a living or any substantial form of recognition doing it.
I say this with no malice, bitterness, or even judgment: writing as a profession sucks.
Most jobs suck, to be sure, but most jobs you might do to make a living are largely interchangeable and vastly easier to come by. Making as much money as a freelance writer as you do as an office temp requires fifty times the effort, time, patience, and energy you’ll put into the latter gig. There’s also no stability, no security. You live on a tightrope, if you’re lucky enough to be able to live on it at all, ever.
For those reasons, you have to love it or it will kill you.
I know one thing about every truly terrible, ungodly successful novel I’ve ever read or tried to read. With little exception, the author who wrote that novel, however inept I may find them, truly believed in that story when they wrote it. They loved it. That love carried them through. Others recognized and connected with their passion, allowing them to transcend the limits of their writing ability and become very successful.
It really makes all the difference in this line of work.
Tomorrow my novel THE FAILED CITIES will be available from British publisher The House of Murky Depths. It’s not really a big deal. It’s a very small, limited run. It’s not going to be distributed in chain stores. There’s not going to be a mass-market paperback. The ebook version I released myself is still available, but in terms of its printed lift, THE FAILED CITIES is basically a very shiny gnat.
A few fans who’ve been with me since the beginning asked for this book, and I felt that was reason enough to do it. That’s all. Terry Martin and The House of Murky Depths saw enough demand to make it worth their while to buy it and work on the hardcover with me. It’s been fun. We’ll make a little money (very little). We’ll all have a cool hardcover book we’re very proud of. The couple of folks who care will get to read it the way they’ve always wanted. 99.9999999-unto-infinity% of the world will never know or care.
It’s not a big deal.
Except it means just about everything to me.
There are so many threads to this I’m scrambling to organize them into something cogent that doesn’t go on for thousands of words. I suppose it boils down to three or four things. I’ll try to be as brief as possible. You’ve got other things to do. Real things that actually matter to other people.
I never worked harder on a piece of fiction than I did on THE FAILED CITIES, at least at the time I wrote it. Those eight characters, their individual voices (especially that), their huge-ass sprawling world… it all took chunks out of me which have yet to grow back and probably never will. I am still proud of the results. I still believe in and love the novel. It was my first.
It did all right as a podcast. No one of a scale with which I was comfortable wanted the book. Agents didn’t like it. Big publishers didn’t like it as it read. Other authors told me it would never be a big seller for me. I’d written a story without giving a single thought and/or shit about its marketability or place in a bookstore, and upon concluding my weird, beloved experiment didn’t fit into a sellable box.
To be clear and fair: there were as many people who just plain hated it and thought it sucked. There always are. I don’t mind that.
Everyone else, however, were unwilling to take the ride for the wrong reasons, and so I gave up on the idea of the story and the characters I loved ever becoming a book.
More than that…. eventually I just plain gave up on the rest of this shit, too.
I truly despised the business of publishing. I despised the fact that five or six companies seemed to control everything. I despised the torturously slow pace at which the industry moved. The idea of a five-thousand-dollar advance for a novel disgusted me and still does. Royalties seemed like a Ponzi scheme to me. I hated the glut of broke-ass small presses and horrible anthologies and magazines and the crippling stigma of genre labels. I hated the pretense and the poseurs and every facet of every culture and subculture connected to the industry and the craft.
It was professional wrestling all over again, and I’d already seen the end of that story.
Creatively I began to feel like fiction writing was a massive sinkhole, as well. When you step through the wall separating reader from writer you can begin to view fiction, not as a wealth of worlds to explore, but as a sea of white noise, of sameness and repetition in which to drown. There is so, so much out there. So much of it sounds and reads the same. You might as well be shedding solitary tears into a fucking ocean for all the impact you might have.
What’s the point?
I gave up on the very notion being a career novelist or a fiction writer was something worth pursuing. I’d rather buy a fucking lottery ticket, and if my work was going to be irrelevant no matter what I’d rather write for a market that at least had a decent paycheck to offer me.
What can I say? I was young(er). I was pissed off and entitled and indignant and self-righteous and thought I knew everything. That’s what your twenties are for, right?
So I stopped. I stopped writing my next novel, I stopped submitting, I stopped arguing, I stopped caring. I spent several years writing scripts and trying to get movies made. I burned a couple of years on a truly toxic relationship during which I didn’t produce much commercially. I wrote for a shitty cartoon based a shittier line of toys. I kept writing short stories, mostly just for me and only to keep my sanity. I came out to LA with my copy of Final Draft looking to bump my tax bracket. I put some words in Liam Neeson’s mouth and that was pretty cool.
You know. Life. And now I’m not in my twenties anymore.
Last year, on a lark and because I was broke, I started publishing and selling my old fiction myself, digitally. People bought enough of it to make doing it again worth my time and effort. So I did. I also started writing more specifically for that purpose.
Over the last six months something substantial has changed in me. I enjoy reading more than I used to, for a long time. I’ve bought more books so far this year than I have in the last three. I’m consuming short stories like I did when I was eighteen. Reading a good story taps my adrenaline and uncorks my endorphins and gets me excited about storytelling.
I get that old feeling of, “Man, that was amazing. I can beat it.”
I love it again. I love telling my stories. I want to tell bigger stories on bigger canvases. I want to turn those stories into the coolest books and digital products I can create.
The last six months and whatever the hell that internal epoch means have led to the release of THE FAILED CITIES tomorrow. It’s the next step, a small step, to be sure, but a wholly necessary step.
It’s also shown me a new way to do business, a model I’m very excited about. I released the ebook first, on my own. Its success led to my deal with Terry to do the print version. The digital rights remain with me, and I’m going to keep selling the ebook. Considering the sickening gap in ever-expanding digital royalties for authors is one of the things that has kept me off publishing for the past few years, this arrangement is a whole new and bold world for me.
Now I just have to convince a publisher to do the same thing on a bigger scale.
So, yeah, the book I’m releasing tomorrow isn’t a big deal.
Except it absolutely fucking is.
I’m proud of this book. I’m still proud of the story, and I think the book itself is a work of art. I never thought I’d hold a hardcover version of this novel in my hands, let alone one printed in Great Britain to such beautiful and professional standards. I never thought people would still want to read it, let alone buy it.
I’m just proud it exists.
Ultimately, however, THE FAILED CITIES is the opening salvo of a war, and one in which I intend to declare total victory. It’s me firing the first shot at publishing. I had to do this one to know it could be done. I had to see this created from nothing, carved from the bedrock, to know I could make it happen. Now it’s simply a matter of scale. If I can hold the book I always wanted to see printed and never thought would or could be in my hands, then there’s nothing on any scale I can’t do.
The next novel I release, the next book I put out into the world, is going to be huge. The story is going to be better crafted and more well told than anything I’ve written. The book is going to break wider and go farther than I ever thought possible. And it’s going to happen on the terms I set.
There have been many times in my life when I had to pick my head up off a concrete floor and stare down at a widening puddle of my own blood. Some nights the sight of that made me question every choice I’d made up to that point. Some nights it made me hate my life and myself. And some nights I smiled, spit, and went looking for more.
It’s still a bloody business, this whole “writing things.”
But right now I’m smiling.
What doesn’t kill you, right?
In my continuing quest to stuff your family of Kindle reading devices full of me, myself, and I, my short story DELVE is now available as a standalone ebook for the low, low price of ninety-nine cents. Download it to your Kindle with one-click. DRM has not been enabled. Amazon Prime members ride for free.
DELVE is the story a small satellite circling the moon of Ganymede and its inhabitants. It’s been approximately fifty years since Earth and its population was decimated by a psychically driven virus that transforms men and women into literal versions of the darker angels of our nature. Now a handful of people begin the process of repopulating the ranks of humanity by cloning batches of newborns to be dispatched to our new home.
Stenz is a “screener,” an enhanced human who is tasked with entering the consciousness of the cloned newborns—a process known as the Delve—and erasing the virus’ triggering mechanism. It is his job to scrub human nature clean of any potential for even the slightest dark or violent impulse.
Things go wrong.
DELVE has had an interesting lifespan. Like a lot of my stuff, it first appeared on the Variant Frequencies podcast. It was included in my first short story collection THE NEXT FIX (Apex, 2008). It was my second short story optioned for film. It was the second story of mine I adapted into a feature-length screenplay. It was the first screenplay I wrote that was actually good.
Of all the projects I’ve been involved with over the last five or six years based on my own original material, DELVE came the closest to becoming a movie. We had a solid script I’d worked and reworked over a very long, arduous, but ultimately fruitful process. We had a promising first-time director in Ian Brown, a talented and experienced visual effects artist. We had Hugo Weaving attached in a prominent role (it was an Australian production). I had three percent of the shooting budget on the day cameras rolled.
We entered previz—I still have some of the amazing conceptual art and storyboards that were generated. We barreled into preproduction looking like a well-oiled killing machine of cybernetic mayhem. I started looking at cheap houses in the Tennessee valley.
Then Hugo Weaving disappeared. With him went the financing, the movie, and my three points.
DELVE taught me one of the most valuable lessons a professional writer must learn: never count on the money until the check clears.
I still love the story. I still love the screenplay. Please enjoy the former. Perhaps one day you’ll finally be able to enjoy the latter.
Summer 2013 belongs to the storytellers.
More to the point, it belongs to this storyteller.
This summer I’m turning up the heat with three new full-length books that I have designed and engineered specifically to scorch your retinas and cause your brain’s reactor to meltdown. I’ve taken speculative fiction as far past the red line as my meager talents and novice skills will allow. I’ve recruited artists. I’ve teamed with publishers and gone guerilla. I’ve stormed both the printed page and the digital. I’ve written until my battle-worn hands and my life-weary mind could withstand no more.
The rest is up to you, kids.
This is my summer 2013 release schedule. Mark your calendars, create a new coin jar, and join a support group to help curb your Kickstarter donations.
My stuff you can just buy and enjoy.
It’s up to you what happens in the fall.
On May 17th The House of Murky Depths—Britain’s premiere specialty publisher of fiction and comics—is bringing my Parsec Award nominated novel THE FAILED CITIES to print for the first time ever in a gorgeous limited edition hardcover.
Told through the revolving voices of eight characters – a street preacher, a back alley negotiator, a hot-rodding master of edged weapons, brother and sister assassins, a pit fighting pulp writer, a reluctant detective, and a Machiavellian femme fatale – THE FAILED CITIES is the story of a divided dystopian metropolis, the humanistic struggles of its citizens, and how their lives intersect over several weeks of intrigue, greed, struggle, revenge, and love that threaten to unravel both halves of a flawed and beautiful whole.
“[The Failed Cities] is an examination of the human spirit, a darkened mirror that reflects the true nature of the struggle, not only for survival, but for civilization. ” – Scott Sigler, New York Times best-selling author of INFECTED and CONTAGIOUS
Pre-order today to reserve your personally signed and numbered copy and receive the exclusive 8-page Illustrated Companion featuring artwork of The Failed Cities by artists Neil Roberts, Kev Level, Huy Truong, Neil Struthers, Donna Evans, Jason Flowers, and Macaruba.
Lieutenant Deck Gibson was once the most feared pilot in the Quasar Corps, the military arm of the most xenophobic, genocidal, and totalitarian empire in the cosmos: Earth.
Blown far past the Solar System’s closed and heavily guarded borders, Deck was saved from the wreckage of his damaged starfighter by Control—a mysterious being heard only as a feminine voice over an interstellar comm. link. Recruited by Control to be the first Earthling commander in the altruistic Far Reach Fleet, Deck’s new mission is to explore, to discover, to defend.
For years the Decoder Ring Theatre podcast has been home to all-new audio adventures in the tradition of the classic programs of Radio’s Golden Age. In 2007 they introduced two original episodes of Deck Gibson: Far Reach Commander, their first rocket ships and ray guns science fiction offering created and written by Matt Wallace. Premiering as part of their Summer Showcase, Deck proved so popular that he was brought back in 2008 for his own series.
Although Deck only last for one season, his legacy has lived on, with fans new and old clamoring for more. On June 5th, for the first time, every single original Deck Gibson script is being collected into a new full-length ebook.
Deck Gibson brings the adventure and excitement of old-time space opera into a modern universe of astronomical and biological wonders never imagined by early 20th century writers. It merges the sensibilities of old school pulp sci-fi with the hard-edged voice of new speculative fiction.
For fans of the series, this is a must-have addition to your library. For speculative fiction fans that have never embraced audio drama, this is a chance to read and enjoy these remarkable adventures on the page for the first time.
The Complete Scripts collects all eight, unabridged, half-hour season one episdes. It will also feature a brand new adventure in the form of the unproduced, never-before-released season two episode, “Deck Gibson and the Carnival of Champions,” as well as a foreword by Decoder Ring executive producer Gregg Taylor and a new introduction by the author.
A battle-scarred teddy bear that has crusaded against the shapes of childhood fear given form for over a century. A ragged and starving army of unwanted canines who may be the unknowing city of Moskow’s only hope for the survival. A dedicated young woman no one wants to see win the ultimate first-person video game played by the fiercest warriors of the future. A one-night-only battle royale between the gods we all know, or at least thought we did, with humankind caught in the middle.
These aren’t your little brother’s bedtime stories.
No, these are for big boys and big girls who know the real world of heroes, gods, monsters, high-adventure and romance is often an ugly place requiring more than a pure heart and a shiny sword. These roads aren’t paved with yellow bricks. They demand brass balls and iron ovaries and the willingness to blow shit up with a bazooka that fires Viking souls.
Matt Wallace’s first new collection of short fiction since 2008’s award-winning The Next Fix—BEDTIME FOR BADASSES contains 14 brand new stories, many of them previously unreleased.
These are all of your childhood hopes, dreams, and nightmares grown up and ready for a fight.
These are what teddy bears, puppy dogs, and cardboard spaceships look like after the veil of innocence is lifted.
Only the badass need apply.
Earlier today I announced the end of my TLC on-line writing workshops after two years and some change.
It was very emotional for you. Trust me.
The final regular sessions are in May. Those will consist of a grueling two-day writing and review marathon in which you will create and complete an original short story from scratch. My goal is to traumatize, with my last breath, as many aspiring authors as I can into quitting and becoming teachers instead in an effort to cull any potential competition.
Also, we need more teachers. We’re tits-up with writers.
So, that’s the end of the workshops.
But TLC as we know it ends in June.
On Saturday, June 22nd I will be hosting a live on-line event entitled “Matt Wallace’s Last Annual Literary Apocalypse Tour: A Symposium on Sucking Less” in which I will (attempt) to sum up everything I know as a writer, everything I’ve learned over the last two years of running the workshop, and everything I urge you to carry forward in your own writing.
It will be useful. It will be funny. There may be special guest stars, live music, fireworks, and/or a hand-to-hand fight to the death with large, flaming axes.
There will be no clowns.
I give you a “No Clown” guarantee.
There will also be a workshop portion in which you will write the most important and meaningful thing I’ve ever instructed my students to write.
After which you will rewrite it.
Because it will suck the first time.
That’s The Loose Cannon.
I wanted to go out on some kind of definitive note, and end with a summary of whatever the hell it is I have to offer you in the arena of writing fiction and trying to make a living as a writer.
That’s what this symposium will be.
The cost for non-TLC members to attend the symposium is $100.00 USD. E-mail me at matt AT matt-wallace.com for details.
A little over two years past I held my first on-line fiction-writing workshop. The workshop and I were inspired by my role as Bad Cop on the ISBW Good Cop/Bad Cop podcast I co-hosted with author Mur Lafferty.
I dubbed it The Loose Cannon. Writers put their money down and signed in from all over the world. They kept coming back, month after month. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written. Lessons have been learned. I’ve yelled a lot. I’ve told a lot of truth. The only lies I’ve told were ones I made clear were lies at the outset.
We all suck a little less than we did two years ago.
It’s been worthwhile.
And now… it’s now time for The Loose Cannon to retire.
I’m both pleased and saddened to announce that June will be the last month I host a TLC event.
There are reasons. This year saw a lot of my regular students move on (which is the whole point), and not enough new students signing up to take their place. My own time is more and more at a premium these days (which is also the point).
Mostly, however, it’s just time. TLC has run its course.
All good things…
This thing has lasted longer and I’ve enjoyed it more than I ever thought possible, particularly the latter part. I’m proud of my students. I’m proud of Christine Steendam, whose first novel was recently released by 5 Princes. I’m proud of Colin F. Barnes, who apparently runs his own imprint now. I’m proud of KP Hornsby, who received an honorable mention in the prestigious L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition last year.
There are others; dozens of them. I’m proud of them just for showing up and really trying to cut through all the bullshit (there’s a lot of it in this medium) and write something good.
In May—specifically Saturday, May 25th, and Sunday, May 26th—I will be hosting the last weekend of regular TLC workshops. I wanted to go out with a howitzer bang, so that final weekend will be my Ultimate TLC Thunderdome Challenge. Over those two days, attendees will write a new, complete, original short story (no less than 5k words) from scratch, beginning to end. In-between sections we’ll discuss the work, why it sucks, how to make it better, and where to go next and why.
But no one is leaving until either your mind is gray pudding being served out of your ears or you turn in something that is both done and good.
The cost for non-TLC members is $200.00 USD. You must attend both days of the workshop to participate.
I’m toying with the idea of collecting the stories from that weekend into a TLC anthology so that there will be some tangible record of what we’ve all tried to do with this thing over the last two years.
Nothing is set. We’ll see who shows up, and what kind of work they do.
I’m not putting my name behind anything that sucks.
If you’re interested in participating in this final weekend of TLC workshops, e-mail me at matt AT matt-wallace.com for details.
I want to sincerely thank everyone who gave money, time, and effort to TLC over the past two years. If nothing else, I hope you left sucking a little less as a writer than you did when you showed up.
I started thinking about collecting the stories I’ve written over the last couple of years, more or less since I moved from Nashville to Los Angeles. They’re stories I’ve written as I’ve tried to figure out who I’m becoming as a writer, stories I’ve written while experimenting with releasing my fiction digitally and on my own, and stories I’ve written for fun because that’s just what I do with myself at 4:00 a.m. when all else is silence.
Of an evening not too far past I was sitting at my dining room table scribbling in a Composition notebook bent and mangled from being stuffed in my back pocket twelve thousand times and which, according to the filled-out label on the cover, belongs to one “Doghouse O’Reilly” who attends the school of “Hard Knocks.” I was trying to figure out which stories were worth collecting, which stories worked in conjunction with which other stories, and what the title and concept that would tie them all together should be.
Realizing I had a wealth of material that dealt with each idea, I came up with the notion to divide stories into three sections: Heroes, Gods, and Monsters. This despite the fact there are approximately eight million texts on Greek and other assorted mythologies with that title.
It was solid, but not wholly distinct; not wholly mine. I consulted my good friend and oft-producing partner Earl Newton, who was at that moment practicing chi kung with a pair of Cambodian twin post-doctoral particle physics fellows/models he’s hosting at our shared estate for the summer. We talked about the stories I had on the docket. We talked about the themes that tend to reoccur in my stuff. We talked about my predilection for old-world warriors, both historic and mythical, whose code doesn’t jive with the world around them.
Then he floated this: “Badass Bedtime Stories?”
It sounded ridiculous and throwaway at first. Then I realized that it in fact encapsulates a lot of my stories, and a lot of my style and focus, kind of perfectly. I do tend towards the mythic and fantastic. I’m not a hard science fiction guy. Most of the time I write speculative fables with elements of science fiction and horror. And my stories often take on the non-idealized form of the heroic. They live in a violent, dark, not at all unfucked world.
I’m going with it.
On July 10th, 2013 I will be releasing BEDTIME STORIES FOR BADASSES, a compilation of my best new and unreleased short stories. It will be my first full-length short fiction collection since 2008’s THE NEXT FIX.
The collection will feature 14 stories, most of them totally new and unpublished works, as well as a couple of old friends I’m bringing back because they fit the motif and because I like them and want new people to read them. I’m also working a couple of new ones just because I’m digging the concept so damn much and want to turn up the volume on it even more.
Artist Natalie Metzger will be illustrating, designing, and creating the cover. We’re already talking about the old school, hand-drawn, Disney-on-acid-informed tableau this project calls for, and it’s going to be amazing.
BEDTIME STORIES FOR BADASSES is about storytelling in its purest and most early and iconic forms filtered through the veil of the modern and the visceral. It’s about some of our oldest friends and favorite dreams—teddy bears, puppy dogs, superheroes, monsters, rocket ships, Samurai swords, etc.—maturing, as we have, to remain as relevant and vital as we continue to be. It’s my own vision of myths, fairy tales, folklore, high-adventure and romance. It’s about the stories we loved as kids told for grown-ups who know that the real world of heroes, gods, and monsters is often an ugly place, and you need more than a pure heart and a shiny sword to battle that kind of darkness.
Sometimes you need a bazooka.
Being a “badass” isn’t about being a boy, either, and least of all about being a man. To me “badass” is the idea of the extreme, the intense, and the fantastic turned up to their maximum level and then doused in insanity. It’s about the willingness to take a journey whose bumps in the road are peppered with razor-sharp spikes and spit hot fire, where everything is not guaranteed to work out in the end and you may very well live the opposite of happily ever after.
That journey is non-gender-specific. These stories are for every fan of the speculative that is willing to peel a few more layers and go a bit deeper. More than that, I’ve wanted to explore in my fiction and promote the idea that the girls are just as badass as the boys, and in many cases much more so. This includes “The Beta Testers,” a story I’m dedicating to women gamers and women in gaming everywhere.
So, yeah. Whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are, this summer I invite you—nay, I double-dog dare you—to erect a sheets-and-pillow fort with .50-caliber machine gun and flame thrower turrets, arm your stuffed animals to the teeth, weaponize your favorite blankie (as if it isn’t weaponized already), and steel yourself under your covers…
… because I’m going to tell you a story.
You’ll have to do the voices yourself, however.
[NOTE: The following was originally posted several weeks ago. Due to a gangrenous cyber infection that metastasized to every cell of my website, we were forced to remove that post and take a sledgehammer to it before burning the pieces, Velveteen Rabbit-style, for general safety reasons. Because the purpose of that post was to showcase the work of Natalie Metzger and introduce it to new fans, and because I just plain like having her amazing art on my website, I'm reposting it now. It has been fully sanitized for your protection. Credit goes to Jack Townsend, a.k.a. Helljack, my Master of Digital Swords, for his tireless efforts in fixing this cyber wonderland I call home on the internet.
(dictated, not read)
My writing has the privilege of being associated with some truly immense artists and illustrators. Most recently, for my novel THE FAILED CITIES (available May 17th from The House of Murky Depths. Reserve your copy today. Supplies are limited), I’ve been able to work with Scott Pond on a phantasmagorical 180° wraparound tableau for the front and back cover, as well as an entire slew of professional and sickly talented British artists who art illustrating all of the major characters and scenes from the book.
The limited hardcover edition of my novel THE FAILED CITIES is now available for pre-order from The House of Murky Depths, Britain’s premiere specialty press.
This edition is limited to 150 copies, signed and numbered by yours truly.
In addition, Scott Pond has created a new, kick-ass, panoramic 180-degree cover designed for the dust jacket. The text has been re-edited by Murky Depths and the typeface makes me feel like PG Wodehouse; the text has never been cleaner, more professional, or more readable. There will be custom endpapers with original artwork commissioned just for this edition to enhance your immersive reading experience.
It’s a beautiful book, and the best presentation of The Failed Cities that ever has been or ever will be.
No bullshit. I love this book.
Waiting is always the hardest part for me.
I don’t agonize over writing. I don’t get twisted up in knots over artistic/subtextual/thematic/philosophical literary quandary. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t groan about finishing things. I just sit down and write and I keep doing that ‘til it’s done.
It’s really not that hard.
Except I fucking hate the waiting.
I think it’s one of the things that ruined me for the traditional publishing industry. Slush piles are purgatory; only when you finish doing your time you don’t go to Heaven, you go to the bank to cash a shitty four-figure check and the back of the bookstore to visit your sad, forgotten tome. You’ll wait a year for this publisher’s reply. And DO NOT send it to any other potential publisher in the interim or we won’t bother. Also, our bi-yearly fiction webzine has a six-month backlog. Our agency’s reading period is February 1st and 2nd between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., but ONLY ON LEAP YEARS AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOU DIDN’T READ THE GUIDELINES STATING THAT FACT.
Yeah, sure. And, hey, while I’m at it I’ll go ahead and send that shit by Pony Express, too.
Because it’s not like a human being’s time on this planet is finite or anything.
The process doesn’t speed up much once you get past the gates, either. Novels will always take a long time to write. Agents will always take a long time to sell. Editors will have their way five times over. Publishers will always take forever to release the goddamn book.
Prevailing technologies can’t kill it all fast enough for me. They really can’t.
Anyway. I like writing screenplays because the entire process moves faster. That’s not to say movies can’t or don’t take a long time to happen. They do. It’s the writing of them that accelerates to phenomenal speed.
But you will never fully escape the waiting.
I finish a new spec script, my first serious attempt at something balls-out contemporary and commercial. I send it to the manager I’ve been working with since last November. I wait. I wait longer because this is a big company and I’m not making them big money yet and there are a lot of others who are and they go first.
I understand and accept all of that.
But I absolutely, positively, cate-fucking-gorically hate waiting.
I’m between freelance projects. I’m waiting for proofs of everything for the new book I’m doing with Murky Depths before I’ll have more to do there. The current big screenwriting project onto which I signed last year is in a holding pattern. I haven’t decided on the next spec I want to write yet.
A few weeks ago I chugged half-a-bottle of 80-proof rum in one gulp for no particular reason. Then I did stand-up comedy for the first time and talked mostly about the most horrible things I’ve ever seen and experienced.
This is me waiting. It ain’t pretty.
I needed something productive to do.
I very rarely think about the things I’ve written. I very rarely reread the things I’ve written, particularly screenplays. So, last week I made this list. It’s a list of every screenplay I’ve written in the last six or so years, since I started down this insane and glorious career and artistic path. The features total eleven (one of which I had to censor the title because I’m still under an NDA on the project). I also excluded non-narrative web content, series, shorts, EPK, and script doctoring.
I broke the list down into screenplays I wrote while I was in Nashville, and screenplays I’ve written since coming to Los Angeles. A matched pair of dollar signs next to a screenplay means I was hired to write it. A single dollar sign means it was a story of mine that was optioned.
None of them have thus far been made into movies. The shorter stuff was produced. I’ve written for live-action and animated series, both web and television. I’ve scripted ancillary content for some pretty big studio movies. But sole credit on a feature film continues to elude me.
A few came close. One came within a well-groomed pubic hair. We had a director. We had concept art. We had a poster. We had storyboards. For a while we had Hugo Weaving.
Then we didn’t have him. Then we didn’t have financing anymore, either. Then we didn’t have a movie.
Here’s a story.
I wrote my first screenplay in 2002. Correction: I wrote my first complete screenplay in 2002. If you want to be technical I tried writing a Street Fighter II movie when I was thirteen or fourteen (it was my way of coping with the Jean-Claude Van Damme Street Fighter). I managed one scene, in which Chun-Li, an Interpol agent, is given the assignment to infiltrate the World Warrior Tournament as a combatant. I thought you had to write every single camera move. I’d write a line of dialogue, then write the camera cutting between one-shots of the characters talking. I also abbreviated “camera” as “cam” and Chun-Li was talking to Cammy and that got really fucking confusing after a page or two…
In 2002 I was living in Dallas, I was still wrestling, and I was thinking more and more about writing. I decided to enter the second Project Greenlight contest (you may remember it as some of the worst reality television ever conceived, but at least it had Ben Affleck and Matt Damon). I wrote a script called Simple Simon, about a day in the life of a little person in New York City who is a truly brilliant actor, but can’t get any serious work because of his stature and his resulting embittered and combative attitude. He’s also a compulsive gambler who owes an obscene amount of money he doesn’t have to a Puerto Rican bookie I based on professional wrestler Homicide.
It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good, either. I didn’t make it past the first round.
After I found out I would not be moving on in the contest I took a long, hard look at my screenplay… and promptly did nothing with it. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to send it anywhere else to anyone else, or even to try again. There was a rare and beautiful window created by this contest, the window closed, and that was the end. I went back to writing and submitting my short stories and thinking about that first novel and which agency should I send it to and all of this other crap I couldn’t give a furry fuck about now.
Every asshole in the world thinks they’re a writer because writing fiction is easy to access. There’s no machinery to operate, no license to attain. If you can read, you can write. If you can write you can approximate a story, and nothing is more subjective in terms of quality and/or validity, especially to the fucking mouth-breathers of this culture, then a bunch of words on a page. They all look the same to the average person.
Screenwriting is, at least, less accessible. It requires you to learn a specific, somewhat scary format and buy industry-standard software and absolutely fucking NO ONE in any position of authority wants your screenplay. Ever. A book is a bunch of paper of varying thickness and some glue, and with the advent of the digital it’s not even that anymore. A movie is a hundred million dollars and thousands of working professionals and celebrities and celebrities are our gods and how can I possibly affect that medium or industry from where I am with these meager tools?
At least that’s what you think when you live in a fly-over state and didn’t go to film school.
I started screenwriting for real in Nashville, Tennessee. I only took a second run at the medium because an Australian producer optioned one of my short stories he’d heard on a podcast and asked me to do the adaptation (I was paid for the option; I wrote the screenplay for free). He optioned a second story. I wrote a second screenplay. Those started circulating in OZ and a year later another producer hired me to work on a project he was trying to put on its feet. Somewhere in there I became a working screenwriter by default.
I had no idea what the hell I was doing for a while, but that’s everyone who transitions from prose to screenplays. The best part was I basically got paid to teach myself screenwriting. It’s good work if you can get it.
The only problem was I working with very dedicated, smart, talented people who just could not get a feature off the ground no matter how hard they tried. I realized if I wanted to take this further (I did) I couldn’t sit in Nashville waiting for well-meaning people in Australia to make it happen for me.
And thus did I venture west.
I had two goals in moving to Los Angeles: break into the industry proper any way I could, and start developing specs to sell for vast sums of money and that would actually be made into movies.
I’ve accomplished the first goal to a promising degree, particularly in the last year. I’ve worked for major studios (read: a major studio) and on more Hollywood projects than in the previous five years of screenwriting.
The second goal is still very much a work-in-progress. But if it was easy everyone would do it.
I realized a couple of things reading over that list, the most obvious being that when it comes to writing features I was paid more and more often living in Tennessee and writing for foreign markets than I have been writing features in the center of movie-making Babylon. But that was expected. I knew I was going to have to start virtually from scratch out here. Working with a few indie producers abroad doesn’t buy you lunch in this town.
The second thing I realized, the far more vital lesson and the harder one to swallow, is this: I am a better writer than the screenplays I have thus far produced.
I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve written. I like a lot of what I’ve written. I’m happy with the specs I have circulating. They got me in the office of an exec in one of the premiere management and production companies in this town. I’m particularly optimistic about the latest one I delivered.
But I’ve yet to write a screenplay as good and as worthy as my best piece of prose fiction.
I need to do better.
I did a lot of reflecting and made a lot of notes off of that list. Those earlier screenplays are better in a lot of ways than a good portion of what I’ve managed here. I’m more technically proficient now. I know a lot more about structure and I’m just a better writer in general. But those early scripts had a purity about them. I wasn’t thinking about their marketability or budgetary restrictions or what anyone else was writing or shooting or releasing and how that affected this project. I wasn’t think about screenwriting tenets or theory or doctrine.
I was just writing. Trying. Putting whatever I had of myself with value into the work.
I was also working with a lot more people, producers and potential directors. I was forced to rework and rewrite and rework and rewrite. I gave away dozens of free drafts, something I would never do now, but I needed that back then. I needed the practice and the education. When you’re working on a spec or working with any kind of autonomy you have to police and push yourself. No one else is going to do it.
I love the solitude of writing. I don’t function well in a group dynamic. But I also can’t deny the value of collaboration.
Recently I’ve been attending these workshops downtown where my friend and colleague Earl Newton is staging his new screenplay in fifteen-page chunks with a group of aspiring and working actors and writers. They do a deep morbidity and mortality Q&A afterward where everyone gives notes and discusses what they saw. I’ve watched it transform and improve his script a week at a time. And I usually balk and/or vomit at the idea of a room like that, finding it purely masturbatory.
If you’re going to break through the walls and ceilings of this thing you’ve got to use all the resources at your disposal. I haven’t been.
I also dissected what was lacking and why in my screenplays to date, attempting to boil it down to the bare essentials.
Essential #1: Conflict.
Conflict is everything. Whether it’s emotional or psychological conflict or conflict derived from the plot, it’s the nucleus of a good screenplay; a good movie. I haven’t focused enough on wringing genuine, evocative conflict from my scripts and making good and damn sure it’s peppered throughout the story and the relationships between the characters.
Cool things may happen. Cool lines may be delivered. Clever plot twists may develop.
Unless conflict is at the wheel driving that bitch you’re just careening awkwardly and everything becomes a blur.
Essential #2: That damn prose writer.
I still overwrite my scenes. The crazy thing is when I begin a screenplay I have no fucking idea how I’m going to make it past page 90 into feature-length territory. It seems like crossing hundreds of miles of frozen tundra in a Speedo; impossible. By the time I reach page 90, however, I’m laying pages down so fast that the last leg of the process becomes a cage match to keep the thing around 120 (the rule is one page equals one minute of screen time). I feel like I’m missing a lot transition scenes and elevation because I’ve filled too much with description and more dialogue than I need. I need to leave more room to develop that conflict.
It all comes down to this simple dictum: I can do better.
Which is always true. It will never stop being true. It’s true no matter what you write or how long you plug away at it. But you need a plan to get there. Knowing isn’t enough. There’s no better teacher than the work you’ve already done. Each piece is several dozen compressed lessons in and of itself. Together they contain all you’ll ever need to know to take the next step.
You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are and how you got there.
That’s trigonometry, son. Protractors aren’t just for stabbing a bitch.
None of this will decide what I write next, of course, but I am determined that whatever I do write next will address everything I’ve laid out here. It will be better than I’ve done and as good as I can do. I’ll dig into each aspect with a scalpel and keep pulling until I extract pure viscera and I’ll balance those new discoveries with what I already do well and that’s how I’ll win.
Unless, of course, this new script sells.
Then I won’t give a fuck about any of that.
Black Lesbian God bless Hollywood.
Last November I dropped my novel THE FAILED CITIES as a self-published ebook. It has sold better than I ever could have hoped.
Still, from the moment I announced the ebook I’ve been getting tweets, e-mails, and Facebook static along the lines of the following…
I have yet to please that final cross-section of fiction fans. I’ve locked down the audiophiles. I’ve appeased the ereader fetishists. But the good, old-fashioned lovers of cloth and wood grain-scented paper books?
They still haven’t experienced The Failed Cities.
You asked. I answered.
On May 17th, 2013, British publisher The House of Murky Depths will release my novel THE FAILED CITIES in a phantasmagorical limited hardcover edition.
It is the first time for THE FAILED CITIES in print. It is the first time for THE FAILED CITIES in hardcover. It is the first time THE FAILED CITIES has broken free of the digital and been made flesh.
And it’s going to be beautiful flesh.
I have a long and cherished history with Terry Martin and The House of Murky Depths, beginning way back when Terry first published Murky Depths as a fiction and comics quarterly. I was an editor for the ‘zine, and from the first issue I saw that Terry had a gift for packaging original and innovative content in the highest quality presentation. Murky Depths, the quarterly, was one of the best all-around magazines I’d ever seen.
Terry has transformed that magazine into The House of Murky Depths, one of my absolute favorite specialty publishers in the entire damn world. For years Terry and his crew have been creating the most beautifully and fully produced novels, anthologies, comics, and graphic novels out there. I own half-a-dozen of their books and comics myself. They’ve teamed with top-flight storytellers like postcyberpunk maestro Richard Calder and World and British Fantasy Award winning author Lavie Tidhar, and artists like veteran sci-fi cover creator Vincent Chong, Neil Struthers, and Luke Cooper.
I wanted this book to be amazing. I wanted it to kick the shit out of every Subterranean Press hardcover I own. I wanted it to be your favorite thing on your shelf.
Terry and Murky Depths have committed to producing that book.
This beautifully bound edition is going to feature custom endpapers, a dust jacket with Scott Pond returning to expand his original ebook cover, and Terry is also signing on a slew of insanely talented artists to create original character illustrations and artwork just for this edition. The design and construction behind every aspect of this thing will be art.
It will also include all of the extra content from the definitive edition ebook I released myself. You’ll get all of the extra stories, the novella, and the commentary.
Each copy will be individually signed and numbered by yours truly.
Our goal is to create a book you will love to read, and a collectible you’ll love to own.
THE FAILED CITIES will be available for pre-order beginning on March 12th. Terry and I are still brainstorming on exclusive incentives and extras that will ONLY be included for those who pre-order the book. There will be more info on that as it solidifies.
I would really love to see the whole run sell out when it goes up for pre-order. It would mean a great deal to me, and Terry would feel a lot better about signing on for this bloodbath of a mission, too.
So please come out on March 12th and pre-order your copy of THE FAILED CITIES.
When I rule the world you’ll be able to put your kids through college selling that shit on ebay. I promise.