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Hanging out the sign...

... I post once in a blue moon here on livejournal, and spend more time clearing spam than posting.

SO It's done, I'm moving to a wordpress blog for the mo: http://petedarby.wordpress.com/

Will try to forward new posts here for a while.

Poem: The Fourth Age

The Fourth Age

At the end of the Third Age.

When the Dark Lord was cast down

We had a problem to solve.

What could we do with the minions,
The Orcs, the Goblins, the Trolls.

They were created by dark forces.
It was inherent in them.

Surely they couldn’t be trusted to rule themselves?
An Orc King would inevitably become another Dark Lord.

Hotter heads called for a slaughter of the dark races,
But the wisest of us held sway saying,

“Our cities are in ruins.
“Our fields lay unploughed,
“So many of our young men lay dead on the battlefields.

“Even in the hearts of the mountains,
“Veins of precious metals and gemstones
“Lie unclaimed for want of hard-working hands.

“Properly supervised,
“Orc hands can dig,
“Can plough,
“Can haul stone,
“Can build.

“Were not the dark towers,
“So lately brought low,
“Built by the labour of Orc,
“And Goblin,
“And Troll?”

And so the labour trails were organized,
From the ruined dark lands of the East
To the barely less ruined lands of the West.

And our fields were ploughed,
And sown,
And harvested.

And our cities were not only fixed,
But grew and flourished.

And the goblin returned to the dark of the mountain,
Not for iron for dark swords,
But for ploughshares,
And bright silver,
And lucent gems,
For delicate wrought gifts
From Dwarven Kings
To Elven Ladies.

But all through this,
They would sing their guttural songs,
In dark rhythms.

We had to scour their huts
To clear the primitive altars
To the Dark Lord
(In hope of his return?)

So the wise went amongst them
And taught them the songs of the Creator of the Light,
Which now they sing,
(In guttural voice
With dark rhythm),
As they plough,
And build,
And dig.

Are they happy?
Who knows?
They’re Orcs,
And Goblins
And Trolls.

And they were not made like us.

Will there ever be an Orc nation among the free people of the West?

Some of us shudder at the thought
(For their governmental record is not good).

But I say
“They are not ready now,
But who knows?

“Perhaps in the Fifth Age.”

- Peter Darby
Creative Commons, non-commercial, Attribute, Share alike license, 2011

Creative Commons License
The Fourth Age by Peter Darby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at pete-darby.livejournal.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://pete-darby.livejournal.com.
 So, on coming home from a very mundane day at a very mundane job, I am confronted by a slim package, bearing the return address of those fine people at Markosia.

Very excited, I hide myself away with the contents. My son asks "What's that?"

"My friends new graphic novel"

"Ooh, can I read it."

I look across to him. He's 12. The golden age for comics, yes?

He's not going to read Slaughterman's Creed yet.

And not just because of the swearing, the blood, the bodily parts on display.

Because it's a proper grown up story.

In a lot of the buzz for this book, you may come across references to The Long Good Friday, Get Carter, Mona Lisa...

I think that's missing the mark.

I'd prefer to refer to older stories. Like Macbeth (and it's bastard child Throne of Blood), or King Lear, or Julius Caesar.

Am I comparing Cy to Shakespeare? As a jobbing writer in a disreputable medium turning out gripping stories that carry more weight than the audience might expect, I think young Billy S can live up to that. 

But that's not important. What's important is that Cy gets story. Stories, the really good ones, are about what fundamentally matter. 

Slaughterman's Creed is about power, blood and family. It stands in a tradition that stretches through Chinatown, The Big Sleep, Sweeney Todd, The Threepenny Opera, The Beggars Opera, bloody Shakespeare and back to Oedipus and Elektra.*
It's a gutsy story. It's a bleak story. It's a powerful story.
I thought I caught notes of other recent stories here and there. No Country for Old Men deployed a piece of set dressing that makes a lot more sense here. Alan Moore's V brought death to a penitent villain too. Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog was a button man for honourless gangsters.
But they're notes. Like you can't compose a blues song that doesn't sound like other blues songs, otherwise how would you know they're the blues? The notes work because that's the kind of tune it is.
This isn't as much as an assault on the mental capacity, like Cancertown was. That was a tricksy number, a product of Cy's conjurer sensibilites. I felt like I could pretty much see where the story was moving, but that's good. No-one goes to see Macbeth hoping for surprises (or hugs and learning at the end). Slaughterman's Creed is much more direct,  and perhaps more compelling on a visceral level for that.
Oh, and one more thing. Proper Green Man character. Most hippies and fluffy pagans will hate him, because he's ultimately a self-aggrandizing little prick with a schtick. Let him serve as a warning to them. By all the gods, some of them need warning.
*Everyone who thought about anything that even remotely looked like Jennifer Garner when I said "Elektra", get out and see a damn play once in a while.

Cancertown: Not so much a review...

... as a few observations on execution rather than content.

To those joining late, Cancertown is the first original graphic novel by Cy Dethan, who I have known for many years, and not played nearly enough RPG's with.

Follow that link: I would recommend buying it, in it's current electronic form or future resurrection in dead tree format.

While reading Cancertown for the first time, I was struck by something that may mean that I've not been reading enough serious graphic novels... or possibly that Cy is doing something that very few writers have down in that form for a long time.

To be more precise, it's what he's NOT doing.

And that thing is exposition.

You get thrown headlong into a world that initially looks familiar, then hits you sideways with a new set of rules.

And here's where it departs from most comics: it doesn't pause to tell you what's going on.

It gives you enough information to be getting on with: this weird, threatening stuff is after our hero. Our hero takes it in his stride. At every point, his immediate motivation and line of action is crystal clear, amongst all the mysteries and secrets of Cancertown.

In a medium which is rife with info dumps, "meanwhile, in the villains lair", "as you know, Bob", etc. I was unprepared for a book which didn't treat me like I couldn't follow what is, in essence, a pretty straightforward plot without a narrative satnav.

Cy has said before that his way of writing is informed by his time as a slight of hand stage magician: I can only agree that reading Cancertown maintains the feeling that a) What's really going on is probably not what you think is going on, b) Whatever this guy is doing, he's sure keeping my attention, and c) I trust this guy to get this whole performance to end somewhere satisfying.

Cancertown is a story that could have been told as just another "mature" comic. In content, it's not mind bogglingly different from Cy's strapline of "Chinatown meets The Wizard of Oz", and could have been executed as something unremarkable.

It's remarkable, if only for actually treating mature readers as mature READERS. It's been a long time since a comic treated me like a grown up.

Random thoughts on drafting

I am really, really bad at redrafting.

No, worse than that.

Yeah, THAT bad.

So, in that vein, some thoughts, mostly to remind myself, on the nurturing, raising, harvesting, preparation and cooking of the first draft to make it into something presentable.

And oh yeah, will I be returning to that metaphor until it's deader than my porn star career? 8-ball says "yes, and get on with it".

The purposes of the first draft.

1)To grow the script.

Doesn't matter if you've planned, outlined, got your index cards all lined up, filled out every beat on the sheet, you don't have a chance of knowing what your script is going to be until the first draft is done.

2) To be DONE

For me, done means you've got something that at least superficially resembles a film script that tells the story you want to.

I kind of treat the creation of the script as a film story in and of itself. The idea of the script is the invitation to adventure. Getting your ass in the seat to write the first draft is the first turning point. Writing the first draft raises the stakes until it's done, which is dramatically the midpoint.

Because that's when I realise I've got a great script in there. Somewhere. Surrounded by crap.

But, like raising vegetables, the best way to get really good stuff at the end, you have to pour on a load of old rotten crap to start with.

Which is why my scene descriptions in the first draft look like Proust. And my dialogue is so on the nose, CBEEBIES would reject it as "a bit obvious".

Ya. Rilly.

(Actual footage of Lucy V Hay getting her first look at one of my first drafts).

Because that's how this stuff pours out of my head.

It's more than okay for the first draft to be composed of huge blocks of text, with crappy dialogue, camera direction, stage direction, bold, underlined, italic text, scenes that drag with no point, that start five minutes before the point and just will. NOT. end.

And all that is not only fine, it's perfect. Because of what you need to do with your first draft.

What to do with your first draft

Back to the harvesting metaphor: you need to dig what you want out of it, and clean the crap off.

Okay, to the "writing is a movie" metaphor: Our Hero has finished the first draft, and realises that the very thing he has created is an obstacle to his true love, a decent screenplay. Midpoint reversal.

New crappy metaphor: Michelangelo said he wasn't creating, he was freeing the figures from the marble. Now imagine that the poor bastard had to build the marble block first from scratch. Welcome to the world of writing.

NOW is the time to look at excellent, brilliant stuff like this. Make sure it starts to look like a script. Go through it with fire and sword, because most of this monster is the bastard that's between you and your goal.

Go back through it, work out what your story is. Not the plot, not the bare bones of the "things that happened"1. The story, the beating heart, the point of why one version of these events is worth anyone giving up 90+ minutes of their life for.

It's now that you take a damn hard look at each scene, each sequence, each character, each word and ask "How is this supporting the story? Is it moving the plot, is it giving us more reason to care about what's happening, is this drawing us in further?" Yes, supporting characters and subplots can do all these things, we don't need to eliminate all but a single strand of plot, AS LONG AS IT SUPPORTS THE CENTRAL SPINE OF THE FILM.

If they don't, they need taking out like Zed.

Metaphorically, if your first draft is a snail, what is the rewrite for?
...any questions?

Nothing wrong with snails. But VTOL rocket powered snails = WIN.

(Oh, for those wondering: The end of the second act is when you get your first feedback on the second draft. Because it still sucks. But it's now a script that sucks, not some mutant shambling beast that ate your story alive, which is the first draft.)

Next time: Dialogue, and why I don't care.

1 A sickness of some writers, particularly those who come to writing from tabletop / LARP RPG's: "I can't change that, that's not what happened!" Dude, it's all made up, forget "what happened", that's in the way of the story, which is an entire other beast.

It was, I believe, Erasmus, who first wrote down in his collection of English Aphorisms: "Every man loves the smell of his own farts."

An alternative title to this post could be "worldwide slushpile"

Yes, this ties into Lucy's post. Stick with me.

In short, as Lucy points out, film making has hit the point where HD video means anyone can make a film that at least superficially looks like an actual film.

The problem being that, of course, anyone can make a film. Because you don't have to demonstrate competence, sanity or anything else that used to prevent you getting the sizable chunk of money you used to need to make a film.

Funny thing is, we've been here before. Not with film, not since the golden age of silents, where the large outlay necessary for the equipment was offset by the appetite for anything on film. "Three minutes of a middle aged beardy man eating a banana? HERE'S MY FIFTY CENTS!(1)"

No, but, for example, the Dirty Secret of the Music Industry has always been: you don't need a huge amount of money to make music. Periodically, various insane people have proved that you don't need a vast corporation to sell recordings of that music to people and make a living.

The underground press and samizdat led the way in showing that printed matter doesn't have to come from a corporate giant.

And the internet has only accelerated this: mySpace is a shopfront for thousands, if not millions, of bands and artists. Not only have blogs put millions of writers into the domain of "published and available", but POD houses like LuLu have meant that you can get your novel into people's sweaty palms with no personal outlay.

For creative people, the cost of getting your product to market has never been lower... which just means that your problems as an artist now become what the problems of a publisher, or record company, or film studio used to be.

Which are:

1) How do I get people to look at my stuff?

2) How do I get paid?

And it's around here that I have to disagree a little with Lucy: anyone who has made a film can get it in front of people. Right. Now. You don't need a sales agent, because you don't need cinemas. You can put it on the internet, as a streaming file, or available as burn-on-demand DVD. Thousands of people are doing this, especially in the realm of the documentary, dodging the old gatekeepers to deliver... well, often a pile of crap (Loose Change, anyone?). And I'll come back to this later, but for now, bear in mind that unless you can answer question one, question two is irrelevant.

The various publishing(2) industries have had answers to those two fundamental question, mostly based around some form of control of eyeballs, ears and headspace (through shelfspace at bookshops/ record shops, huge aggregate deals on screens for movies, limited TV bandwidth), but time has marched onwards, and these are going away. Tower records has gone, Borders (UK) has gone. Every time I go to the cinema, regardless of the quality of the film, I get the feeling the manager, somehow, resents me not just handing my money over and leaving before the film starts.(3) I reckon within the next ten years, more indie cinemas not beholden to the big distributors will start to pop up with digital distribution, and that monolithic model will crack.

Looking at books, Amazon, which along with supermarkets is just killing the bricks and mortar book shop, shows itself to be very resilient to the controlling tactics of the publishing industry(4), the recommends being based on, basically, "people who bought this also bought..."(5) LoveFilm does the same for DVD's, but their range of available DVD's is tiny compared to the range of books in the Amazon database.(6)

This points the way to something of an answer. As Steve Lawson often points out, there are musicians making a very good living, with a real fan base, without being signed to any label, let alone a major. As he and Cory Doctorow point out, in a market with near zero entry cost, the main problem is for someone to become aware of your product, and the best way for them to become aware is for someone they know and trust to tell them "this is worth your time".

In traditional publishing, the publisher often takes on this role. Where there is a high entry cost to the market, presence on the market implies "someone with something to lose believes this product is worthy of your attention." That's powerful, but it's also open to abuse, and it's by no means a guarantee that the publisher is right, otherwise there would be no flops.

So, with near-zero entry cost, you're competing for brainspace with everyone, and the best way to get brainspace is through recommendation by well networked and trusted people. And it's here where the loonies and the repugnant and the downright incompetent will fall, because, outside of their own little worlds, no-one listens to them.(7)

Remember Erasmus at the start? I think he was talking metaphorically.(8) "Every man loves the smell of his own farts", meaning everyone thinks that what they produce is wonderful, the problem comes when you try to persuade other people that yours, uniquely, don't stink. In creative industries, if you can't, it doesn't matter how much you're charging, or how well to protect it from other people copying it.

The traditional publishing entities, especially the record and film industries, are so focussed on the second question, "how do I get paid", that they are losing sight of the first part, "how do I get people to pay attention", and actively stamping out "piracy" so heavily that they seem hell bent on eliminating their rapidly vanishing advantages in commandeering headspace.(9)

Which lets me finish with another of Erasmus aphorisms: "No man can keep himself warm for long by pissing in his shoes."


(1)Yes, I am writing the remake. For just $300 million, I can make it in 3d! Though the studio want me to put more sex in.

(2) Meaning books publishers, magazine publishers, comics publishers, record companies, film studios / distributors... call them all publishers, if only for the sake of my RSI.

(3) Also, since I haven't seen a cinema manager over 30 in any chain cinemas for years, I can only presume the chains pay them sod all, and as soon as mortgages and families appear over the horizon, they're onto more lucrative ventures that don't involve screwing up what should be a license to print money.

(4) Again, in the near future, I think the chain bookstores will completely die out, leaving Tesco for blockbuster books, Amazon for almost everything else, and indie bookshops because, hell, if they can survive the last 20 years of the booktrade, they can probably survive nuclear winter.

(5) A powerful engine, though it can be swamped when, for example, EVERYONE buys the Da Vinci Code, so it appears on the "also bought" list for everything. I understand they finesse it for that, though.

(6) Maybe, when the film industry gets over panicking about piracy and digital downloads explode, this problem will go away, apart from, you know, there are a lot fewer films than books coming out every year... AT THE MOMENT.

(7) Wait, what about my previous example of succesful film making outside "the system", Loose Change? Turns out the "little world" of people ready to buy half baked theories about 9-11 is pretty big. Who knew?

(8) I mean, literally? No way, I've forced myself out of a room before.

(9) Book publishing, less so, perhaps thanks to the historically lower barrier to entry.
From Denmark, via W C Dixon , totally brilliant short (apart from the very last bit, IMHO):

... which, like The Gimp adresses the perennial question of early 21st century males "WHY AM I NOT A FRICKIN' SUPERHERO?"

Lulu Thankyou Note

Grrr, found that the thankyou note I wrote for LULU didn't save at the weekend, just re-constituted it, and think it's not bad, so I thought I'd pop it up here:

Firstly, THANK YOU for buying my stuff (which makes it, in a very real sense, your stuff now).

All my stuff is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license.

Which means that, as long as you're not charging for it, you link back to me, and you release your stuff under the same terms, you can do what you want with it. Copy and give it to your friends. Copy it and give it to strangers. Turn it into a 7 hour opera cycle. Recite excerpts at dinner parties. Make a fan film and upload it to youtube. Make an audiobook. Make an album of ambient dub inspired by it. Use my embarassingly long character monologues as audition pieces.

Get Excited.

Make Things.

And if you want to make money out of it... well, drop me a line and get permission first. I'm a reasonable man, despite the stuff that I write.

One more thing... if you like my stuff, tell people. Lend the books to folks you think will like them. Mail them the PDF's (I promise, I don't mind, really). Blog, tweet, post and just plain talk.

And if you don't like them... well, the most harm you can do is to not tell anyone. Because I guarantee that if you tell ten people that the book is awful, at least one of them will buy it.

And did I mention... THANK YOU!


Peter Darby

Why yes, you CAN buy my book...

So, following on from Warren Ellis and Ariana's challenge (not to mention Unca Wil's contribution), Yes, yes, I pulled out my old NaNoWriMo beast, gave it a bit of a polish and....

[cover thumbnail]

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Caveats and warnings: This book is "not suitable for minors", contains sex, violence, swearing and oblique references to 1990's comics.

Cy Dethan, writer of the truly astounding Cancertown (as well as much more goodness just over the horizon), called it "compelling and unexpectedly uplifting".

If you review books, let me know and I'll get you a review copy.

If you like it, tell your friends. If you don't, blame Warren.
So, I'm talking to my son about creating a character for a Discworld RPG, daughter comes in, and just sits and starts drawing...

"What you drawing?"

"Oh, this is my character..."

"Is she a princess?"

"Well, she was, until she was given a ring by her granny, that her mum and dad don't like her to talk to, and it glowed, which meant she was a witch like granny was secretly, so her parents found out and threw her our, even though she was a princess and only ten. And she's travelling the world to find someone to teach her witchcraft. This is her cat. She accidentally cast a spell on it and now it talks, and it's REALLY ANNOYING."

Wow. Character with interesting history, conflict and motivation and even a great comedy sidekick. In as long as it took me to type that.

That character CANNOT have anything dull happen to it.