Blog

Interviews galore

I recently did two interviews with two different podcasts. Both of which I discuss STORMBLOOD, as well as my inspiration for writing the book, where I grew up, what books I read when I was young, and how they influenced me over the years.

The first is with David Walters, on his excellent and aptly named podcast: Authors on a Podcast, Talking Books. You can give that a listen here!

The second is with Dan Smith, on his new and equally excellent “Coffee in Space”. Which you can find right over here.

Hope you give them a listen! And, if you can, subscribe to their channels; they’ve got some great interviews with authors who are not me.

 

 

 

My first virtual con, for the pandemic age

As you might as noticed, COVID-19 has been screwing with the world’s plans. Including, of course, conventions and festivals.

But thankfully, the internet still exists. And podcaster/blogger David Walters has organized MayDay Con, a virtual convention to take place on May 16th from 7:00AM-9:00PM CST. I’ll be in attendance on a panel, as well as doing my first ever reading, and first ever public reading of STORMBLOOD. So if you want to see me make a fool of myself from the comfort of your own home, subscribe to David’s channel here.

If you’re not coming for me (shocked, shocked, I tell you!) there’s one hell of a line-up, including Peter V. Brett, Myke Cole, Matthew Ward, M. R. Carey, Anna Smith Spark, and Luke Arnold (who you probably know as playing Long John Silver for four seasons in the TV show Black Sails).

iCOzflB4.jpg large

The show will be broadcast live, and will also remain online afterrwards, even if you don’t catch it live.

Here’s the scheduling.

EW72L-EWoAMHTKE

 

Look at this bunch of handsome bastards. We’d make one hell of a band!

rgD3OMwu.jpg small

And so would our books!

EW-Lw_zWAAAvwrs

Hope to see you there!

STORMBLOOD and the Art of the Deal

Publishing a book is a curious thing. There’s years of work involved, much of which is behind the scenes. But what remains baroque and notoriously vague is how a book gets picked up by a publisher. And it’s baroque and vague because every book and every publisher is different. In order to shed a little light on the process, here’s the current timeline of how STORMBLOOD went from being in my head to being bought by a Big Five publisher.

 

Early January 2018: I finalize my edits and send STORMBLOOD back to John Jarrold, my agent. In order to hold back the writhing tentacles of insanity, I start a new, unrelated project. I am only partially successful.

February 2, 2018: I’m walking out of a screening of Phantom Thread when I get an email. Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz, who had many good things to say about my previous, rejected novel, is very interested in STORMBLOOD. My book of half-mad dottings has become her reading priority. I ask my agent if this is good news. Yes, he assures me, it is. Commence my blood pressure spiking into the stratosphere. I can’t write a single coherent word.

February 22: I hate the current book I’m writing with the fury of a billion suns. I’m refreshing my emails with all the patience of a cocaine-addled fruit-fly with ADHD. I live for months with the ever-present fear that my book will crushed under the great waraxe of rejection and my body will be dragged twitching and bleeding back to square one.

March 13: Gillian writes in. She’s been busy, as most people working full-time tend to be, but has trudged through the first third of the book and does not hate it. In fact, she doesn’t hate it enough to keep reading. My blood pressure rockets so high it reaches the moon. The world

I don’t get much sleep that night.

April 8: Gillian has finished the book and still doesn’t hate it. “I love this,” may have been included in the email. She’s whirling it away to editorial. Agent says that more than 99% of books don’t get this far. Maybe 6 books a year at this publishing house, and that based on his experience there’s a 60-70% chance of a sale.

By now, the reality has sunk in: I have a real shot at this. I’m zeroing in on the moon. My fingertips are brushing up against the carrot (a metaphor, but not in that way). The book could be purchased by a big Five publisher and unleashed on the world for everyone to read.

I cautiously celebrate with an uncautious amount of booze. All data pertaining to five days are scraped from the memory banks, courteously of Hendricks and tonic.

May 13, 2018: An email arrives from Gollancz. Cue breathless excitement.

It’s a rejection.

The world-building is good, sure. The plot is tight and interesting, certainly. The prose and voice hit the sweet spot for the editorial team, absolutely.

But.

The opening chapter isn’t working. The character isn’t connecting with them the way they’d like. Too much emphasis on emotion in too little space. Not enough room to sink into him naturally and get to know his personality as the story progresses.

The book isn’t right for them.

But!

Would I, one Jeremy Szal, be willing to substantially revise the first chapter and rework how I introduce the characters? Would I be willing to work with Gillian Redfearn in more detail, and then resubmit to Gollancz again for a second look?

Once I’ve stuffed my twitching nervous system back into my body and scraped my dripping brains off the ceiling, I assure Gollancz that the Pope is still Catholic, and yes, I’d be willing to work with them on revising and resubmitting my book to them.

I ask my agent how frequently authors get to work with an editor at a Big Five publisher before signing or purchasing a book. He tells me that not once, in his 35 years of working in publishing, as an editor or an agent, has he seen this happen. It’s totally unprecedented. I’m Sir Francis Drake, machetting my way through the sweltering jungles of publishing to an undiscovered, untouched temple.

Sleep smears into a distant, vague memory. My blood curdles into a spiked cocktail of caffeine and gin. When it clears, I anchor my arse in a chair and get the hell to work.

June 6: The edits notes are extensive and utterly amazing. Detailed notes on the first two chapters, and line edits on the first 100 pages. My head’s spinning, but I see the logic through the fog. What’s been said has merit. My opening chapters are weak. My plotting undermines my characterization. There’s lots of logic gaps. Would I be willing to make necessary changes?

Yes, the Pope is still Catholic.

June 6 – August 12: A family trip to Europe is underway. I take my laptop with me. The apartment we’ve recently purchased in Poland doesn’t have furniture. Between trips to IKEA and beer houses of Krakow, I cobble together a SKARSTA workstation and a JÄRVFJÄLLET office chair and set about refining, polishing, and reworking on every paragraph and sentence of the first 100 pages. Rewriting the first chapter takes two weeks to get right, and another two to polish it to a sheen so startlingly bright a blind walrus would be dazzled.

August 13: It’s done. I’m a caffeine and post-human hybrid, but editing is complete.

August 18: One more pass with my agent before it gets fired off to Gillian Redfearn and Gollancz. I go to London to have a proper meet up with my agent. Alcohol is involved.*

*No animals were harmed during this time. Except for the cows that made our steak.

August 20: I’m faced with the delightful prospect of a 22-hour flight back to the land of Mad Max. Commence biting my fingernails down to the bone once again.

Early October: Gillian likes the edits I made on STORMBLOOD and is taking it to acquisitions. The light is at the end of the tunnel!

Except, that light is an incoming train. The universe has conspired with complete happenstance and the devil to completely screw me over. Complications pile up faster than in a Breaking Bad episode. Gillian gets sick. The Frankfurt Book Fair is on. There’s a strike. There’s a public holiday. One of the other editors is sick.

My nerves are going through a metal shredder a kilometre long.*

*Again, no animals were harmed during this time.

October 19: I check my emails one groggy Thursday morning and sit up.

Gollancz has given Gillian Redfearn the go-ahead to make an offer.

I read the email three times before I fully comprehend what it means.  It doesn’t hammer home until the end of the day, trudging back from the pub after celebratory drinks with mates, until it truly sinks in STORMBLOOD will be published by Gollancz as my debut novel

October 21: I get an email. Gollancz is offering me a two-book deal. Which is great! I’m very happy! But I’m a greedy bastard and I always conceived my debut series as a trilogy. I wouldn’t be able to wrap it up with two books. My agent goes back to Gollancz with a counter-offer, pushing back on contractual, corporate jargon that makes zero sense to me. Between meetings and contacting other publishers, he tells me to prepare an outline for Book 3, on top of the outline I submitted for Book 2.

October 22: Sunday night and I’m glued to the computer, pitching a third book in a series when I haven’t even written book two yet. Who the hell in their right mind would pay me to publish this? Is this even real anymore? Is a fugue state, induced by gin and some mutual Australian spider? It doesn’t matter, because the spider demands an answer. And he always gets what he demands.

I hit send.

October 24: My phone thrills at 1:22am. John’s sent me a note via Facebook messenger to check my emails.

Gollancz likes my pitch and has bumped my offer to three books. Words like “Leading Title” and “Hardback Edition” and “Featured book of the month” are thrown around like marbles in the blender that’s become my brain. I want to flatline. My hands shake as I stutter a thank you message back to John before collapsing back into bed and wondering how the hell any of this happened.

October 25: I wake up. I’m not dreaming. My three book deal is real. STORMBLOOD will be a real book. And as of April 2020, it’s coming out in six weeks. Any purchases or pre-orders will be a huge help, especially during these times.

 

Purchase links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/dp/1473227429/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1586952334&sr=8-3

Hive UK: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jeremy-Szal/Stormblood/24847064

Book Depository (free international shipping): https://www.bookdepository.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/9781473227415

Audible UK: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Stormblood-Audiobook/1473227453?qid=1587030232&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=1MVFS6K2S86AJZVSHF4F

 

There. The tale is told, the journey is complete. It was a very weird path, even by publishing standards. I’ll always be grateful Gollancz gave me a second chance in an industry where first chances are as rare as hen’s teeth.

 

 

STORMBLOOD available on NetGalley UK!

After nearly four years of writing, editing, polishing, STORMBLOOD is finally available! Sort of.

Right now, it’s up on NetGalley UK. Which means, for a limited time, it’s available for free. The target audience are critics, bloggers, reviewers, and the like, but anyone with a NetGalley UK account can request a copy from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.

So, if nabbing a free book is your thing, you can head over on this link to NetGalley UK and request a copy.

Keep in mind I am not responsible for who gets free copies or how long it will take for your request to be accepted/denied. All I can say, is that you’ve got to be in it to win it.

Enjoy!

Stormblood

All Good Things Must End: A statement from Jeremy Szal

As of today, 20th of January 2020, I am stepping down from being the fiction editor-in-chief and producer of StarShipSofa.

I delayed doing this as long as I could. For almost two years, in fact, but it’s come to this inevitable write-up.

I joined StarShipSofa’s ranks as an assistant editor back in 2014, when I was a 19 year-old scribbler still traipsing around university with a handful of short fiction pieces that only dated a few months back. My gateway into editing was being second in command of one of the biggest short fiction podcasts in fandom.

To say I’d was thrown into the deep-end of shark-infested editorial waters is an understatement. But I got by, in no small thanks to Tony C. Smith. Over the years, I watched it grow by almost 5,000 additional downloads per week. I made an effort to double, and then triple our staff size. I instigated the decision to open for unsolicited submissions for the first time, kickstarted the idea of running translated fiction, casting our narrator nets out to the archipelagos of film, television and voice acting. All in all, my editing days ran from episode 360 through to episode 600. That’s 240 weeks of short fiction. Given at least half had multiple stories, that’s up to 360 stories: edited, produced, and uploaded by me.

I assign myself credit for doing this because none of these things would have gotten off the ground if Tony hadn’t given me creative freedom to do whatever I wanted on the show. None breathing down my neck, telling me what to play. What we couldn’t play. Authors we couldn’t run. Types of stories we couldn’t use. Nothing of the sort. Total command of the ship was mine as far as fiction went, and I could steer it in whatever star systems I so desired. That meant I acted as editor and producer for stories for half the folks in the industry. And I do mean half. Including Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts, all the usual suspects. And then there was the one time I interviewed the Oscar-winning production designer on Mad Max: Fury Road.
None of that would have happened if Tony didn’t trust me to do my own thing and to do it right. But he did. Even when I didn’t deserve it. Even when I wanted to try something he wasn’t sure about. And I will forever and ever owe him for that. I won’t pretend there weren’t rough patches, or that we butted heads. But for the most part the engines ran smoothly throughout the years. Even when new staff came aboard in 2017-2018, things went well.

But there’s a catch.

See, I was never an editor at heart. I am and always will be a writer. I spent years and years handling other people’s writing and enjoyed it immensely. But it wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do. And being an editor, particularly for audio format, is hard. It’s time-consuming. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. Not going to run through the process and all its shenanigans. Take my word for it that it’s nothing less than a part time job. And I did it because I loved it.

But I love writing more.

When I first came aboard the mighty ship, I told Tony I’d be with him until I got an agent. And in 2017, I did. But I stuck around, because I hadn’t sold my novel yet. I’d kicked around the idea of quitting once or twice, thanks to burnout and real-life issues, but stuck to my guns.

And then in the tail-end of 2018, STORMBLOOD sold to Gollancz. And so did the next two books.

Overnight, I had a book slated for early 2020 and a trilogy to complete.
I think we all knew what was going to happen sooner rather than later. But I didn’t want to let go. Not quite yet. Maybe I could do both. Maybe things would slow down.
I learned pretty quickly in a rather brutal fashion I was delusional.
Sure, I could do both. But I’d be doing an injustice to both parties and the audience they consumed them, with both coming out a shadow of the quality they should be.

If I attempted doing both, I’d stumble out, sideways and on fire, as a withered stump of an overworked and undernourished creator. And remember what I said earlier about my heart being a writer, not an editor?

In the five years I purchased fiction for the show, never once did I play a story when there was a better one on offering. Never once did I sacrifice quality for convenience. I don’t believe that to be ethical, to myself or the very loyal and very deserving audience that has stuck around to tune in, week after week. If I played something, it was because I believed the story had something important to say. And I wasn’t about to start doing that now. A huge chunk of my life went into this show. If the best thing it needed was for me to walk away, so be it.
So I’m doing just that.

The fiction department will be left in the very capable hands of Gary Dowell. I’ll still be around, of course. But my last piece of edited fiction on StarShipSofa was episode 600. The episodes I worked on will always be there, and I hope to revisit them over the years.

It’s been a hell of a wild ride. Knowing that people are tuning in each and every week from Sweden to South Africa made the difficult days easier. Your messages of support and gratitude, it be online, or at conventions is always welcome. To the hundreds of authors, narrators and editors I had the privilege of working with over the things: thank you for inspiring me with your wit, humour, passion and outright love of storytelling and all things science-fiction. Sharing in your talent at and working together was the highlight of my job. There’s something truly special about being a tiny cog in a vast, grand machine, bigger than you, bigger than all of us, running on a burning passion to share our wonderful and weird stories with listeners across the globe. Thank you for trusting in me with your stories. I can only hope I did right by them.

To Harlan Ellison, who yelled at me over the phone when I convinced him to sell us the rights to his story: whenever you are, please don’t kill me.

To Tony, Gary, Kelly, Michael, Lisa, Diane, Amy: thank you for making my editing stint so wonderful. The years went by in a blink. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Best,
Jeremy Szal

ETA: I’ve had some people ask if there’s anyway to support me, or if I have a Patreon. I don’t. What I do have is a debut novel that’s coming out in just over four months and I would greatly appreciate any pre-orders, pre-purchases or just a purchase at any time. If you’re into space opera and cyberpunk noir, this might be your thing.

UK Amazon
US and international buyers

On Editing: or playing word jenga.

We’re six months out from STORMBLOOD’s wide release (181 days, to be exact, and is up for pre-order!) and I’m up to my neck in edits. I wanted to give a quick update about how the process of editing is going, what its like to be edited by a Big Five publisher, and how I’m going about tackling it.

I believe it’s very underestimated how extensive the editing process is when it comes to traditional publishing. We’re not talking about cleaning up typos, chopping away gratuitous sentences and chapters , or even tweaking character arcs. No, we’re talking about digging down into the root canals of the narrative, the bones of what gives a book its identity. Fleshing out the ambiance, the structure, the voice, the style, and using this understanding in context to influence how you approach edits.

It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s necessary to see your work from a different light. And it’s necessary to take that mental stance when editing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minute, in one chapter, that you don’t take the necessary steps back and look at the book as a whole. That scene has great dialogue, but is it disrupting the pacing? That’s an interesting turn of events, but could it be entirely rewritten to be better? The tricky thing is, it’s not about what’s objectively better. It’s about whether it’s better for your book, your style, your voice. If I wanted to have my book have breakneck pacing from cover to cover, we’d be taking a completely different approach.

So that’s what we did for the first round of edits. In taking a step back and looking at the naked scaffolding of the book’s structure, we realised there needed to be some changes early in the book, in terms of character motivation, relationships and backstory. Which changes the way the entire book, and the main character, comes across. Not in a major way, but significantly enough. And that’s where playing word jenga comes in: because the wrong sentence in the wrong place can get your entire book to come crashing down around your head.

After we agreed to make the change, my editor worked on the first half of the book to reflect this. This meant tweaking characters, shuffling certain flashback scenes. At this point, I don’t touch anything on a sentence-level, any of the prose. This is all big-picture stuff.

I applied the changes, and sent it back to my editor. My editor then re-edited the first-half of the book again, because she’s a pro, and edited the second half in as a consequence of the changes we made in the first half. Because, if she didn’t, we’d be seeing two very different stories.

This is what I meant at the start, about looking at the bare bones of your book.
So I edited the second half again. Tightening characters, adding and removing world-building, checking for continuity, and in some cases, completely re-writing scenes, or the internal mechanics of a scene. This means I change what the characters go about doing in order to complete their goals, whether they accomplish them, what the consequences are. Big-picture stuff that ripples out. As an example, one battle sequence near the end was very run and gun. We retooled it to be a lot more about tactics and team co-operation. Other scene had a character try to get information from someone, blowing his cover pretty soon and searching the guy’s place. Instead, I had him remain undercover almost the entire time, slowly up the dread and tension the two characters play verbal cat and mouse, until one breaks.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy to take scenes that have written a certain way, been in place, for years, and strip them out and completely retool them, but it’s necessary. And it almost always means a better book.

Then comes my next pass. I make most use of my editor’s comments in this round. Plugging logic gaps, tightening sentences, adding or deleting sentences, making sure all the dialogue is consistent with the characters, chopping away the ugly word clay, fixing up the location of the scene (and moving it, if need be) making adjustments that impact the scene, but nothing else. This is where the book is more or less falling into place. It’s probably the part I enjoy the most, putting the meat on the bone so the plot, story, characters and descriptions read smoothly and consistently.

The next round is where I am now. Fixing up sentence-level structure, word-choice, prose, and descriptions. My editor’s mighty red pen has left it’s mark on every single page, so there’s no getting away from it. It’s tempting to call it purely cosmetics, but my work is first-person, very voice-driven, and the state of the main character absolutely impacts the prose. I don’t care too much about flowery word-choice or elegant descriptions, but I absolutely care about each word sounding like it could come from the protagonist’s mouth. So I make sure my sentences are running smoothly, so a heedlessly complicated word or turn of phrase doesn’t turn into a speed-bump. I ensure the sentences and paragraphs have a nice rhythm and balance to them. I deliberately purge any “flowery” prose, any words that detract from the tone I’m trying to strike, any poorly-timed metaphors. So words like “illuminate” and “sparkle” or any of their relations are chopped out. I’m trying to write sharp, razor-edged prose with a good dose of sarcasm and cynicism when needed. So specific word-choice, and how the words are conveyed, matter. I’m still going through it, and will probably be doing so for the first half of December, if not a little more.

And then, of course, when all’s said and done, there’s copy edits.

So there’s a lot of hours and a lot of work poured into editing a book, both by the editor and author. But here’s the thing about print: it lasts forever. So if a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or even character, is lacking, it’ll be lacking forever. And it’s my debut, and you know what they say about getting one chance to make a first impression. . .

Stormblood

For your listening pleasure. . .

A few awesome space-themed tunes to brighten your Sunday evening. I usually spin these up while reading, cleaning, or setting down to relax at the end of the day.

They’re great mood pieces that help make those bad days a little easier. I’ve been listening to them more and more, especially as something happened in my life (quite recently, actually) that made me so upset and so outraged that I went blind. I couldn’t see clearly for over five hours, and could barely stand up. Listening to these on repeat helped. A lot.

 

And, of course, one of the greatest pieces of music to accompany one of the greatest films ever made.

STORMBLOOD Cover Reveal!

The day has arrived. The good good people at Gollancz have revealed the cover art for my debut novel I’ve been jabbering on about for almost a full length of the Earth’s rotation. And it is gorgeous. Feast them eyes:

Stormblood

It’s very blue.

I had extensively input on crafting the cover. We agreed to go for the “Gotham in space” aesthetic. Dark and moody, but slick and adventurous. Containing a sense of noir mystery, underpinned by a sense of exuberance and widescreen exploration. And they knocked it out of the park and into orbit. I asked them to make it as screaming blue as possible, and they jumped the rail to outdo themselves. I mean, look at it! Those spaceships! Those buildings! That mist! All credit goes to Gollancz and Blacksheep for their stellar work.

I’ll do a write up on the finer details of crafting the cover, but for now, I’m going to bask in the blue glow of this very fine cover. Gollancz has a full proper write up, if you’re inclined to check it out.

Pre-orders have also opened! I cannot understate how disproportionately helpful they are for debut authors, and essential keeping us afloat. If you do pre-order, I’ll owe you a life debt (and by life debt, I mean buy you a drink or send you a bookplate). If you can, support your local bookstore, but you can also order it online:


Book Despoitry (free shipping worldwide): https://www.bookdepository.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/9781473227422?ref=grid-view&qid=1568803043304&sr=1-1
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/dp/1473227410
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/dp/1473227410

In the meantime, I’m going to look into framing this thing on my wall.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑