Friday, April 09, 2010

The pen is shiteyer than the sword

As many of you will know, I aspire to one day to write a novel. I reckon I am currently one fifth of the way there (80 pages, 30,000 words or thereabouts) by my own standards, which consisted of taking a book from my bookshelf which looked about the right size (Catch 22 - Joseph Heller) and looking up how many words are in it (150,000 odd). Writing a novel requires dedication and tenacity, because in most cases it doesn't write itself. You need to persevere, and perseverence is one of the qualities that I respect most in people. That is why it is safe to say, that if you are a published author, you have my respect. As much as I deride "train station literature", the simple act of completing a novel, whether it is a masterpiece or tripe, means you are undoubtedly a reasonably clever and accomplished person.

Sometimes I get down on myself because it takes me so long to write. I am very poorly disciplined and often find excuses not to write. Sometimes I read what I have written and think "Well, that's just shit, isn't it." But yesterday I read a few things that made me very happy about what I have achieved so far.

Let me explain. Yesterday I was at work, and happened to be leafing through the order book from Simon and Schuster, looking for books to order for review. And then it hit me. They were all terrible. Terrible, terrible books. The vast majority of them were about CIA agents, most whom were on the trail of deadly viruses, third-rate tartan noir or sub-Dan Brown codswallop. And then I thought: "Holy shit, if this nonsense can get published, then I could definitely publish Legend of Stegalodon: Dinosaur Secret Agent, Stabber or Dr Jake Solid: Nazi Hunter." Seriously, read these synopsises, they are all real. I promise.

Joan Brady - Venom
Recently released from prison, David Marion doesn't expect to find a hitman at his door. Their meeting is lethal - for the hitman. Warned that a powerful secret organisation is after him, David disappears until the moment comes for him to strike back.
Physicist Helen Freyl owns a colonly of bees with unique venom. When her lover dies, she accepts a job offer from a giant pharmaceutical company who are close to finding a cure for radiation poisoning. But when the mysteriously sudden death of a colleague is followed by another, Helen begins to doubt her employers' motives and realises that her own life is in danger, too.
Venom brings David and Helen together as they fight for their lives against a backdrop of indusrial espionage, corporate greed and human tragedy.


What? Huh? What do bees have to do with curing radiation sickness? And why would a physicist be working with bees? Are they special physics bees? That's the stupidist thing I have ever heard. And what is it with evil pharmaceutical companies? First they test make up on little bunnies, and now they're assassinating people? Not on David Marion's watch, motherfucker! What's the bet that there's an awkwardly written sex scene between David and Helen exactly half way through? Well, if you think that's daft, check this out:

Jodi Compton - Hailey's War
Twenty-four-year-old Hailey Cain has dropped out of the US Military Academy for reasons she won't reveal. She has had to leave Los Angeles and it would be too big a risk for her to return. Now working as a bike messenger in San Francisco, Hailey keeps a low profile, until her high school best friend Serena Delgadillo makes a call that will turn her whole life upside down.
Serena is the head of an all-female gang on the rough streets of LA. She wants Hailey to escort the cousin of a recently murdered gang member across the border to Mexico. It's a mission that will nearly cost Hailey her life, causing her to choose more than once between loyalty and lawlessness, and forcing her to confront two very big secrets in her past...


RING RING RING RING
"Hello, Hailey Cain, formerly of the US military here."
"Hey girfrieeeend! Serena Delgadillo here!"
"Heeeey!"
"Ohmigod! I haven't talked to you in like so long!"
"Oh. My. God. Are you still the leader of that girl gang?"
"Like, yeah! And I totally need you to escort the cousin of a murdered gang member to Mexico!"
"Oh my god! This is going to be so fun!"
What is the bet that it won't be? Where the hell do they come up with this nonsense? Sounds like a poorly thought out excuse to engineer some sapphic erotica to get the commuters riled up on the tube. And a bit of girl on girl violence! Exploitationtastic!

Here's another one I like. Try and count how many tired fantasy cliches you can find here:

Alexey Pehov - Shadow Prowler
After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring...
An army is gathering: giants, ogres and other creatures joining forces from across the Desolate Lands, united for the first time in history under one black banner. Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of Avendoom by spring.
Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows professional thief Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Accompanied by an elfin princess, ten royal fighters, and the King's court jester, Harold must outwit angry demons, escape the clutches of a band of hired murderers, survive ten bloody skirmishes ... and reach the burial grounds before dark.


Just for the record, the author of this one has a fantastic Freddy Mercury moustache. But that doesn't excuse him from falling out of the cliche tree and hitting every bullshit branch on the way down. First thing, why is the baddy always the Nameless One? He should be called the Can't-be-bothered-thinking-of-a-name-for-him One. Monsters uniting under one black banner for the first time in history? Don't you mean for the first time since every fantasy novel ever written? Master thief? Check. Elfin princess? Check. Magic horn? Check. THE FIRST IN A TRILOGY? Checkmageddon.

If that isn't cliche ridden enough for you, see how many horror cliches you can spot in this literary abortion:

Sarah Rayne - House of the Lost
When novelist Theo Kendal inherits the remote Norfolk house in which his cousin was murdered, he believed it will lead him closer to the truth about her death. It will also be the ideal place to finish his new book.
But the bleak Fenn House is an uncomfortable place to spend the winter. And the strange thing is that Theo's novel is heading in an unplanned direction. He finds himself writing about a young boy called Matthew who inhabits a terrifying world where people die in macabre circumstances, where they can be imprisoned without trial or reason, their identities wiped from the world forever.
And then Theo discovers that Matthew and his family really existed, part of a dark and violent segment of recent history that threatens to reach out across the years to tear his life apart. And somehow it all connects to the death of his cousin...


Tip for writers: Never, ever go to an isolated house to finish your latest novel. Haven't you ever read The Shining, Secret Window, Secret Garden or Into the Mouth of Madness? And the whole blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality thing has been done so many times. So boring.

OK, OK one more:

Michael Byrnes - The Genesis Plague
At the dawn of civilisation...
An exotic stranger appears in a Mesopotamian village and is venerated as a goddess... until she unleashes a horror beyond anything humankind has ever known.
At the sunset of civilisation...
A mercenary unit in northern Iraq, led by Sergeant Jason Yaeger, has trapped radical Islam's most wanted target in a mysterious cave that sits at the heart of the Genesis story. When a Marine platoon seeks to control the extraction mission, a threat far more ominous is found lurking beneath the mountains.
Meanwhile in Boston, Massachusetts, Agent Thomas Flaherty helps archaeologist Brooke Thompson escape assassination by a Las Vegas televangeslist intent on using the cave's deepest secret to bring the Middle East to its knees.


Love it. Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown. Mercenary units and FBI agents are the staple of train station literature. Beautiful female academics in danger from assassins? Classic. The most bizarre thing about this is the writer's bio:

Michael Byrnes is the founder and CEO of a highly successful multi-million dollar insurance brokerage firm. He lives in Florida with his wife and two daughters.

Right. So not a writer then? If I was an insurance broker, I'd definitely use my business nowse to force myself upon a hapless publisher to print my stuff.

No particular reason for me posting this, I just thought it does show that ANYONE can get published. I didn't even write about the new Jackie Collins book.

2 comments:

C7 said...

Joan Brady - "Venom"

This book had me at "colony of bees."

Your work could definitely get published. Also, my writer friend in Toronto (whom I definitely plan to introduce you to someday) says that 100k words is a sweet spot and that even 150k is ambitious. Just her take, though. She's working on getting something published now as well.

Blackwood said...

Yeah, I have read that as well. But I have a detailed story plan and 100,000 words is not enough to tell it.

There are no CIA agents with names like "Mitch Rapp" in my book, either.