This week's been very, very meh. Most of the time I'm not particularly affected by writing ennui, but when it hits, it hits hard. Every word, sentence and paragraph just feels dull, hackneyed and flat. I stare at the screen and wonder if my ibook really deserves to be punished by one more word being punched into the word processor.

It's a feeling that always passes, but not without hanging around for a couple of days first. One way I get over it is by reminding myself that I actually get paid to write, and paid well enough that right now I don't need to find a day job, and that if I wandered into a convention and whined like I've been doing in the previous couple of sentences I'd probably be torn asunder by rabid unpublished writers before having my half-gnawed bones tossed to the dogs. So yes, it's dumb. Still.

Some things I've noticed in the Holy Crap! Did you know box recently ...

Holy Crap! Frederick Pohl has a blog?!? How cool is that?

Holy Crap! Phil Dick's widow has gone and written The Owl in Daylight, a Dick book that only ever existed in outline form and in vague details mentioned in interviews shortly before his death. It's on sale at Amazon.com as a self-published work. And ... it's really, really terrible, if just the first few pages I previewed are anything to go by.

Well, okay, I think it's fair to say that trying to write the last novel of not only your long-dead husband but one of the genre's most highly respected authors would squeeze pretty much every other contender out of the Big Box of Really Bad Ideas, and the preview does rather, I'm afraid, confirm it. I do seem to recall reading Dick discussing 'The Owl in Daylight' in, I think, SF Eye, a couple of geological periods ago. If you can find that interview, it's very worth checking out.

And finally.

Holy Crap! Watchmen is almost out! And Alan Moore is presumably getting ready to climb inside a specially made coffin mounted on a motor-driven lathe set to fast spin (is that too obscure?)


Slush piles

For many years before I was first published, I frequently encountered naysayers who'd get a kick out of shaking their heads and chuckling at my naive desire to sell a book. "Publishers and agents get hundreds of manuscripts sent to them every single week," they'd tell me. "The chances of even getting noticed are just about bleedin' zero. Save yourself the trouble, it's a fool's game."

This is at least partly true. Publishers and agents do get hundreds of submissions every week. Outlines and queries of all kinds. First chapters of novels, complete manuscripts, synopses for six-part epics, you name it. What remained as yet unknown to either myself or the naysayers was that the majority of this unending deluge of submissions was written by people who'd have trouble remembering their own names, let alone how to spell them.

I had my first glimmer of this when I became a member of a writing workshop at the start of the Nineties, a government-sponsored scheme for the unemployed (you'd be surprised how many people in British sf wound up in schemes like that, including a few authors I know). One chap in particular liked to draw pictures of puppy dogs and sunshine in crayon on every page of his manuscripts before sending them out. I asked him why, and he said it was because it would make his story really stand out. Jeez. Another guy used to type up angry, abusive letters and send them to the agents and editors who'd just rejected his stuff. I remember him well, because he was angry and abusive to just about anyone he encountered in the workshop as well.

I began to suspect that perhaps much of that insurmountable mountain of slush I'd heard about might not be so insurmountable after all.

Rather more recently, Harper Collins set up a website called Authonomy.com, which allows anyone to upload unsolicited manuscripts and then read the submissions of others, using a scoring system to mark out the ones they liked. It was, in effect, the slush pile reading the slush pile. Those getting the highest consistent scores got the attention of a real life editor.

Which all sounds fine and dandy, except I signed up just to take a look at some of the submissions that had been posted to the site, reasoning that it was pretty much the only way to experience a genuine slush pile without actually stepping into an agent or editor's office. I wanted to see exactly what I was up against when I was shopping my first novel around more than ten years ago.

Anyone with even a smidgen of writing ability who's convinced themselves they'll drown in a sea of slush and never be noticed will come away from authonomy.com imbued with a warm, fuzzy glow, since most of the time you only need to look at the first paragraph of pretty much anything uploaded there to understand why a lot of novels are rejected on the basis of that paragraph alone. Or the first word. Or even the first crayon drawing of happy bunnies and sunshine to make the editor/agent feel good.

This is not to say, of course, that the road to publication merely means avoiding the use of crayons or learning to spell your own name. There's a lot more than that, like reading lots and lots of books, or carefully crafting your plot and your words, and all the other stuff that goes in the box marked 'hard work'. But even so, it's worth remembering a dozen monkeys with typewriters have a serious chance at coming up with something more entertaining than about three quarters of what's to be found in the average slush pile. And if you don't believe me, check out this post on The Swivet, which got me thinking about the subject of this blog.


Author bio's

It's long been the case that authors tend to have dodgy jobs on the road to professional publication. It used to be that writers would compete on a friendly level to come up with the most lunatic possible list of prior occupations with which to fill the author's biographical notes on the inside flap of their books, just below the photo of them looking far more dashing and handsome than they are in real life; the trick being, they had to be real jobs, part of the inevitable graft and grind to be endured before scoring that first publishing deal.

A friend of mine was rather proud of having briefly worked while a student at a psychic hot-line business where he was employed to read the tarot to old ladies over the phone (they train you over a weekend), the trick being - of course - to keep them on the phone for as long as possible. Despite its slightly dodgy moral aspect, he rightly believed it was the perfect job to put in an author biography along with ferret salesman, turkey semen extractor and other thankless occupations that no doubt help prevent our civilisation from collapsing into ruin.

My own author bio has been really boring for a while. "Gary Gibson lives and writes in Glasgow and works as a graphic designer". I couldn't think of anything interesting until I really tried earlier today and sent it off to my editor to see if she liked it. The jobs aren't unusual, but the people I worked for ... that's another matter. Here it is:

'Prior to becoming a professional writer, Gary Gibson worked for an environmental agency, but left shortly after members of staff attempted to levitate a local bridge as a protest against road traffic.

Following this, he worked as a graphic designer for a printing firm that turned out to be run by a gang of convicted forgers, hastening his departure: and then for a small publishing company otherwise notable only for producing a Freddie Mercury impersonator well-known on the Scottish cabaret circuit. He currently resides in Taipei with his wife, where the only lunatic he has to answer to now is himself.'

All true.