2015: A year in review

Wait, what just flew by me?

Oh wait, that was 2015. Well, that went pretty quick didn’t it?

Looks like I’m going to have to do another one of these.

A lot of stuff happened in 2015. But to get it out of the way, I finished university. This one isa big of a mixed bag. I enjoyed my studies there and the numerous ways in which we were taught to approach subjects like criticism, deduction and scientific research. I loved meeting up with my friends everyday and making plans to do something weird.

One of the weirdest (that I can actually mention here) was in our film class, where we were set to watch the film Taxi Driver. We were ravenous, so we did what one naturally does and trooped along to Subway and ordered two entire cookie platters. Because reasons. Obviously we couldn’t finish it. So we took it into the film threatre and passed it around in the dark. It one point I believe someone started using it as a frisbee, scattering cookies and crumbs over us while Robert De Niro coasts around NYC with a bad haircut and sub nose revolver. Again, not mind-blowing stuff, but that’s all your getting from me. Other less interesting stuff was when a moron posted on 4chan that he would shoot up the university for kicks. Obviously nothing happened, but we could have done without the scare.

So yes, I had a good time there. But it was time to leave. Some classes were nothing more than pointless filler, or in some cases based on the teacher’s agenda – something that went to higher authorities more than one. Other times I just did not feel I was being taught anything practical, especially in creating writing. Some classes were incredible, others less so. There’s only so long you can take people seriously when you’re sitting in a lecture hall listening to someone ramble on about document/collage poetry when you’re signing contracts for Nature and Macmillan to purchase your work.

But I digress. Essentially: university was good and I enjoyed it in many ways, but it was holding me back in many ways as well. Time to move on.

For my own writing, I sold eight pieces of original fiction, all of which were semipro or higher and two of which were to Nature/Macmillan. I still pinch myself when I see the Macmillan publishers logo stamped beneath my stories. One of them, Daega’s Test, is currently being translated into Polish by Szortal. I also managed to reach the position of Finalist in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest Q3. I did not make the top three, but I will know within a week or two if I am the Published Finalist. Here’s hoping.

I also sold 13 reviews and essays, 4 of which have not yet been written as of yet, but are secured. 3 of them are to Strange Horizons, which is awesome. They published my review of Predestination back in January and I am still immensely grateful. And currently I am writing the official review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for them. Not feeling the pressure at all.

The other significant essay was to legendary John Joseph Adams over at Lightspeed slash Nightmare. I’m going to be part of the People of Colour Destory Science-Fiction anthology, launching in June 2016 in paperback. It was a difficult essay to write and while I’ve never been one to shy away from speaking my mind, I had to dredge up some old childhood memories that I’d rather not talk about too often. But it was important and relevant and I decided to do it, and I’m going to be proud of it when the anthology launches with over 100+ other authors. I’m excited to see the line-up, very much so, but I’m even more excited to finally sell to John Joseph Adams and be published in Lightspeed, something I’ve been trying to do for 2 years now, which is 1/10 of my life.

I sent my YA SF novel out to do the rounds. It got an overwhelmingly good response. I think I scooped up around 14 fulls and 12 partials from major, major agents. I got essay-long rejection letters from some the most highly respected agents in NYC. But no, it’s a pass. I was guttered at first and beat myself up about it. But I told myself to shut up, learn from my mistakes and come back with a better novel.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m 65k into it now, and I’ve got the end in sight. The bones for my next project are slowly brewing, and it’s one I’m really excited about. And that’s primarily what I’m planning to do: focus on writing those novels first and foremost. I will always write short stories, always. But I came into this industry to be a novelist, to have an agent and to be sitting on those shiny shelves in those shiny bookstores. And that’s something you earn. And to do that, you need actual novels. I’m planning to sit down and outline my next novel and then go, full speed ahead. No side-stepping, no distractions, nothing. Hopefully when two months have passed I’ll have a novel. This last one took a whole year (and it’s not finished yet) because of university. I’m not letting that stop me again.

Now. To StarShipSofa.

We had an incredible year at the District of Wonders. SSS and Tales to Terrify alone managed to get over one million downloads. One million. And I worked on every single one of them.

I had the opportunity to work with and produce fiction by authors such as George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Allen Steele, Robin Hobb, and dozens of others people who are gods in the literary world (if you told me two years ago that one day I would produce audio fiction by the creator of Game of Thrones I’d have laughed in your face). I was able to interview Ellen Datlow, Joe Abercrombie, and a whole range of other editors and publishers. I read hundreds of stories in the slush and picked out and produced audio adaptations of the ones I thought were truly the best. And it was truly an honour and a privilege to helm one of the biggest SF podcasts in the galaxy. And I will continue to be doing it for a long, long time to come.

We will be making changes over at District of Wonders. We’ve acquired two new staff members for SSS, including my intern and assistant Ralph Ambrose (who is incredible – I’d be dead in the water without him). We’ll be uping our game. More narrators, more diversity in narrators, more content, more cool features, more special issues. We’ve already got one narrator locked in who’s acted in major films opposite the likes of Ellen Page, Woody Harrellson, Cilian Murphy and others. We’ve lined up an incredible story by a major author who’s had a film adaptation by one of the most respected director’s today. We’ve got…okay, okay, I’ll stop. All I’ll say is: District of Wonders is upping their game and working much, much more closely together. Expect amazing things in 2016.

Well, that’s it. It’s been a gigantic year for me, both as a writer and an individual. I don’t know what’ll happen next year (which starts in an hour’s time for me), but all I know is that I’ve got my sights set on writing a killer novel that’ll snap up an agent. It’s something I have to earn, and I’m willing to do just that. Failing that, I want to win Writers of the Future, something I consider to be likely in the very near future. But it’s impossible to tell.

I’m going to sign off, but first let me say to the hundreds and hundreds of authors, narrators, publishers, actors, writers, editors, friends and fans I’ve met in 2015, it’s been an honour to know and have worked with you in 2015. Truly, it has. And hopefully I’ll continue to do that in 2016. And maybe, I just might meet you in person.

But that’s another story.

Signing off,

Jeremy Szal

 

StarShipSofa: Slush Update #2

Alright guys, a few updates before the new year.

District of Wonders will be expanding in 2016, big time. <a href=’https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_to_Terrify’>Tales to Terrify</a> now has a wikipedia page, we’re very likely going to get more staff on board, get new narrators, etc. We’ll be sharing these narrators, working much more closely together, and a bunch of other projects that we can’t tell you about just yet.

As I said, we’re bringing in more narrators, some of which are actors (!!!). If you would like to narrate for us, send over your info and a sample to our address. You’ll be added it our DoW narrator database across all three podcasts. Let us know if you have any quirks (prefer not to use profanity, don’t like horror, etc) and we’ll save that too.

Onto the stories themselves: all stories up until <b>December 21</b> have been responded to. If you have not received a response, you are in the hold pile. There are some brilliant stories in here. Me and Ralph are finding it hard to let go of them.

But please, do send more stories in. The self-published body horror-avalanche is starting to outweigh the proper stories and that worries us. Please help purge this evil from the slush! I literally got three porn stories are one point (and all of them were boring as hell). Please send your stuff in, or let people know that we’re open.

For what it’s worth, I’m seeing a <i>lot </i>of robot consciousness stories. A lot. I’m a fan of the sub-genre, but it gets hard to pick when I get five in a row.

That’s all for now guys. Let me know if you have any questions or queries. But know that our line up for 2016 is looking very, very sweet indeed.

StarShipSofa: Slush Update #1

A little update for you all.

Me and Ralph are slowly carving our way through the slush. We’ve gotten a pretty high amount so far, and the decisions of what to take and let go off are getting difficult. Ralph is finding it hard to let go of some of these stories, and so am I. Make it harder for us. And for those of you who are following the Grinder, I can tell you now it’s wildly inaccurate in our case. It doesn’t list even half of our rejections. Charlie was right when he said better authors use it. 😉

We’ve responded to everything up until <b>December 16</b>. If you haven’t gotten a response, you are in the second round hole pile. I don’t have a date estimate for a response then, but just know that you’re getting another look.

Also, if any of you guys are interested in narrating stories for District of Wonders (or know people who are interested) send over a sample. We’re looking to expand our narrator pool and diversify it.

Tales to Terrify is looking for more UK male narrators. SSS is looking for more female narrators of any time, but especially UK. We recently got a South African narrator on board, but we’re still searching for others.

That’s it for now! Keep sending those stories in!

So. Star Wars: Midnight screening

(Yes, this post is completely spoiler free.)

starwarsposter

As the title might suggest, I went to the midnight release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It released early down here in Australia, 17 hours ahead of the US.

And my verdict?

It was okay.

Actually no. It was world-shattering amazing.

They took everything that makes the Star Wars so unique – the grandness, the mystery, the action, the heroism, the cheeky dialogue – and wrapped in up in a bundle of nostalgia and classic space opera and tied it up with a bow made up of a 21st century cinematic slickness.

They actually pulled it off. They did the impossible.

It was one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Complete with an atmosphere that loved Star Wars, loved science-fiction.  The audience broke into applause multiple times through the film. The vibe alone was worth it. People cheered, waved their lightsabers, and donned crazy cosplay for a one-time experience. 10 years ago now (has it been that long?) my dad took me to this exact cinema to see Revenge of the Sith when it came out. The experience stuck with me then and this one will stick with me now for a long, long time.

The film itself scrapes perfection. Every scene is so choked full of witty banter, strong character development, rich worldbuilding and slick action that it’s almost like being on a rollercoaster.The visuals themselves are nothing less than stunning. You could take almost every shot from the film and frame it as a painting. It’s concept-art come to life, bursting with liquid colours that oozed out of the screen like crystals.

The experience was almost ruined by the two guys in front of me. The screen was literally sandwiched between their heads (we were sitting upstairs and far back) and it was grating at me. My dad had to get up and stand (his knee was giving him trouble) so I swapped for his seat and all was resolved. But obviously that’s just whining about the rough edges on a very delicious pastry.

One of the film’s greatest strengths, I think, was it’s casting. They took one of the biggest films ever created and put non-American, small time actors in leading roles. People like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and Adam Driver are barely known in mainstream Hollywood, and putting them in major roles alongside Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher does no end of good. They put guys like Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from the Raid films (Indonesia action films that likely almost no one in the mainstream has seen, even if they are somewhat popular) on screen in front of what’s probably billions of people. They were focused on bringing in fresh faces and it worked. They could have gone the easy route and made the film stuffed full of an all-star cast, but they did not. They took a risk and put non-American, foreign actors on the front cover of what’s probably the biggest film this side of the decade. There’s going to be some new household names very soon, and it’s marvelous that Star Wars gave these actors the opportunity.

And as someone who works in media and arts, I know how hard it is to try and get noticed. It’s not easy for Americans, and it’s five times as hard for anyone who doesn’t live in the States, or an English speaking country. I can only imagine how people like Iko Uwais felt when they learned they were going to be in a Star Wars movie.

Two hours passed in minutes. There’s no flak, no stupid politics, no dry dialogue, no inane bumbling characters. There’s just a world as rich and diverse and delicious as you like, full of characters we want to travel to the edges of the universe with. And I have no doubt that’s exactly what the future films will continue to do. It’s an achievement in writing, in visuals, in pacing, and plain ol’ cinematic goodness.

But now? It’s edging towards 4am and it’s time for me to go to sleep.

But suffice to say: get off your arse and go see it. No, you don’t have an excuse. Just do it.

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