Ark of Bones now available! In audio!

https://embed.acast.com/starshipsofa/starshipsofano509jeremyszal

A very, very belated post: but my short story “Ark of Bones” is now available in audio over at StarShipSofa in episode 509. It’s narrated by the wonderful Mikael Naramore, who’s narrated audiobooks by Clive Barker, Nora Roberts, Wesley Chu, and other writers much more talented than me.

His buttery man vocals bring the story to life in ways that put a stupid grin on my face, and I usually can’t listen to audio adaptations of my work. But this one, I’m very much able to hear his rendition of my characters again and again.

This is the short-story version of the YA SF novel that almost got an agent, but didn’t. I was cut up about it, but not enough that I was done with the world. It wouldn’t leave my brain, even a year after the final rejections came through. So I decided to write a shorter, tighter version (and one with a much better endings, methinks). Humans have occupied over the planet of Arkaeyus and segregated the native aliens into a filthy refugee camp that’s getting smaller and smaller as the paramilitary slowly eat away at their rights. This story focuses on a human and his best mate, who happens to be one of these aliens and their investigation as more of these aliens start to disappear.

It’s a little strange, having a story appear at a podcast I edit. I’m very aware of how prevalent nepotism is in this industry. Tony read one of my stories a few months back in the anthology he published, and was interested in putting it on the show. But the rights were taken up, and he asked if I had anything else. I offered up another story on the condition that he decide whether or not it was good enough. He thought it was. I was a hesitant (againn, nepotism), but since this was a solicited piece, and I wasn’t the one making the decision whether it’d run or not, I decided to go through with it.

So. It’s now finally available to stream into your earholes worldwide. It’s one of my favourite stories, and it went through multiple drafts before I even started polishing it.

I first started building this world it during university classes back in 2013, so seeing it all finally come to life in audio is is something pretty special. 🙂

 

The Deal with the Devil: Talking with Harlan Ellison

It was a few months ago when I realised that episode 500 of StarShipSofa was bearing down the tracks. Five Oh Oh glorious episodes of our show. We needed to mark the occasion with a ground-breaking author and a ground-breaking story. But who? Not William Gibson, he was episode 400. Not George R. R. Martin, we had that privilege back in episode 389. Not Chiang, Sterling, Moorcock, Gaiman, Brin or any other of the masters of the genre we’ve already had on the show already. No. We needed someone special; someone so outlandishly awesome and popular and lauded to capstone our show.

The only answer: Harlan Ellison.

So we did.

Now, Ellison isn’t famous. He’s infamous. For many, many reasons, including but not limited to: getting fired from Disney on Day 1, suing half of Hollywood, sending 213 bricks (exact number) to a publisher and dead gopher postage due, multiple accusations of assault, broke a TV executive’s pelvis, pissing everyone he possibly can off and writing the darkest short story of all time. Punch his name into google and you’ll find a laundry list of him spewing vitriol about fans and fandom and Hollywood, roasting morons and delivering smackdowns and rants so insult-laden you’ll gag trying to repeat them. He’s his own lifelong parody.

But he’s also my bleeding hero. It’s my lifetime goal to become a slightly-less assholish, 50% less white, 100% less American version of Uncle Harlan Ellison.

So, naturally, I called him on the phone on a Friday night, his time, and asked to buy his story.

Again, everything that can possibly be said about Harlan Ellison has at one point likely been said. He’s been called (and called others) insults that don’t exist yet. His temper would make Satan piss himself.

But that wasn’t my experience with him. We’d had prior correspondence, (as a datapoint: I got in touch with his publisher, who gave me his address. I posted a letter asking to reprint his story. Two months later, I get an email with his phone number and an invitation to call). So he knew I was calling and what I was calling for. I’d expected to speak with an intern, assistant, his wife, anyone.

I was not expecting the man himself to answer the phone.

I gave my name, said I was looking to reprint “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” for StarShipSofa in audio. Ellison didn’t even pause, he launched straight into the thick of it. He told me he was totally cool with us doing it. He asked how we were planning to reprint the story in audio, (“cause it has two different endings, y’know?”). Admittedly, I had a brain breakdown as I’d forgotten that fact, but told Ellison that we’d record both and let the viewers decide (“we’ve never done split endings before, so it’d be cool to do it for our capstone show”) I vaguely remember saying.

“Huh.” Was all he grunted in response. I didn’t get called a moron or retard, so I assumed he was satisfied. “But there’s an issue with the contract,” he told me, and I could hear the (I assume) creak of his chair as he sat up. “The…uhh, obscenity clause. I dunno if some asshole is going to take offense at the word “I” and I don’t wanna be dragged out in court again. It’s happened before and I don’t want them digging up my body for the next two hundred years to put my bones on trial.”

Oh. That’s the Harlan Ellison everyone talks about, I thought. Up until then, he sounded like a docile older bloke, only one that uses the word “asshole” every second sentence. But no, now I knew I was speaking with a cult figure who trademarks his own name and gets a kick out of murdering dreams and telling Hollywood writers to get nuked until they glow.

So naturally, I responded with “assuming we get to two hundred years.”

And he chuckled. Not a big one, mind, nothing that’ll match GRRM’s mighty guffaw. But a laugh nonetheless. I don’t consider myself particularly masterful in the world of comedy, but if I can make the dude who got fired from Disney on day one for making Rule 34 jokes about cartoon porn laugh, then that’s all the validation I need.

The rest of the conversation went smoothly, mainly regarding more confident matters and technical details about the show. But near the end, Uncle Harlan gave his consent and the go-ahead for us to talk more about reprinting and playing his Nebula winning story, how we’d produce it, etc. Again, the man doesn’t miss a beat. Old age hasn’t made those gears rust one bit. And seeing how he was in a good mood, I opted to tell him that I’ve been reading him since I was eleven years old, I’m a fan and super stoked to be talking with him now.

“Heh, alright kiddo, thanks for letting me know,” was the friendly grunt of a response. By this point I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be chewed out or not, just so I could say it happened, but so far I’d probably lasted longer than a lot of others folks have. “You have a good evening,” he ended up saying.

“I’m calling from Australia, actually,” I said, thinking that I’d just contradicted Harlan Ellison.

“Ahh. Australia,” he drawled out. “I know that place. Too goddamn hot, but I love your koalas.”

Hand on heart, the author of I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, said those exact words to me. I guess I should have said something witty, but I’m not that smart and we said our goodbyes and the convo ended there. And with me in one piece.

Getting a signature across the dotted line is one thing. But talking with a SF master, the god of short fiction, and one as notorious as Uncle Harlan? I’m still unsure if anything I do as an editor will top that. Now the story is up, the reviews and downloads are coming in, George Hrab’s phenomenal narration aced it; and it’s been a success. Cheers all ’round.

Of course, if Master Ellison doesn’t approve of what we did with his story, he has my phone number, name, email and home address. So the jury’s still out whether I’m going to going to get his opinion on our adaptation one way or another. But even if I do wake up to my lawn being on fire and my dog nailed to a tree, I’m sure it’d have been worth it.

Progess Report: 2017

So 2017 has been busy in a lot of ways. We’re already one month down and halfway into the next. Could thing is I’ve kept pretty busy.

I’ve seen a number of films this Oscar season, including La La Land, Lion, Split, Hackshaw Ridge, Arrrival, (loved them all) Passengers, Live By Night, Nocturnal Animals (didn’t think too much of ’em) and read a few books here and there, including Stephanie Garber’s fabulous Caraval. But I’ve been pretty busy with my own work, including the space opera/murder mystery that’s been eating up my creative time since April 2016. I got further feedback from narrators that required some major structural edits in the first crucial third of the novel, which cut a pile of pages and unnecessary words and made the novel much sharper. It’s in the absolute final polish now with the query and synopsis being written and polished in tandem. I’m incredibly happy with it and hope that it finds a home.

But then it’s back to my other novel, which I halted at 50k to edit this previous one. I haven’t written many shorts in this time, which is going to change once I get some novel work done. Although I do have a (great) part time job, earning some dough from fiction never gets old, and so sketching up a cool cool 4,000 words at pro rates is something I’d like to do. Plus it gives me a great chance to experiment with areas I’m weak with or themes and characters I’d like to explore but not willing to donate an entire novel to. So I’m doing that soon.

But something pretty cool is coming: just a week ago I interviewed Colin Gibson for StarShipSofa. Name sound unfamiliar? But you know his work: he was the head production designer for Mad Max: Fury Road. The man designed and built the weapons, the sets, the look, the aesthetic, and all 150 cars for the film. He also got to work on the background, the storyline and the world-building for one of the most striking and critically acclaimed documentaries films ever put to screen. This guy won an Oscar for his work, beating out Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, and the Martian. 

I’ve met him a number of times in person outside of my work for StarShipSofa and spoken to him at length about Fury Road and the industry (and got shown a few things related to the film that I can’t actually reveal or talk about). I told him about the podcast and he agreed to be interviewed. So I interviewed him about this fantastic, insane monstrous of a motion picture and how he helped bring it to life in all it’s Australian glory. It’s going to be out soon and I do hope you’ll check it out then!

Translations Destroy Podcasts on StarShipSofa! (Not really)

So. Something’s been brewing behind the scenes at StarShipSofa. Something we’re sure you’ll all be excited about.

But some backstory first.

It goes without saying that all of us at the District of Wonders welcome stories from all over the globe. We’re an international podcast, and naturally interested in finding stories published in another language. With English-speaking (particularly American) stories dominating the market – and understandably so – it can be quite difficult to get work translated from another language into English to reach a wider audience, and even harder to find them once they have. We have authors such as Andrzej Sapkowski and Cixin Liu rising to popularity, but for the vast majority of non-English authors it’s maddeningly hard to shatter that language barrier and find an audience they deserve.

So I’m doing something about that.

Starting soon, StarShipSofa will be playing one whole month’s worth of stories translated from other languages as part of our Translations Month Special. These four stories are diverse in content and sub-genre as they are in country of origin. Ranging from cyberpunk to time travel to transgressive dystopian, our stories come from France, Japan, Russia, and China. The table of contents are below:

 

  • “The Smog Society” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan (translated from Chinese).
  • “Sense of Wonder 2.0” by Laurent Queyssi‏, translated by Edward Gauvin (translated from French).
  • “White Curtain” by Pavel Amnuel, translated by Anatoly Belilovsky (translated from Russian).
  • “Violation of the TrueNet Security Act” by Taiyo Fuji, translated by Jim Hubbert (translated from Japanese).

 

Half of these were picked up directly from slush, the other half were procured with assistance from John Joseph Adams and the team at Skyboat Media. A big thank you to them.

This project has been a long time in the making. We’re looking very much to bringing these incredible stories to you, showcasing the international diversity of science-fiction and the different favours that each country specializes in. And of course, we’re always open to broadening our horizons and welcome both more translated stories, and authors and narrators from all territories. But for now, I hope you enjoy what’s on tap this month and all the stories to come.

If you like our stories and the work we’re doing, please consider making a donation on Patreon. Every bit helps to cover our server costs and work towards becoming a paying market. The District of Wonders has adapted and published over a thousand stories over a decade-long period, and with your help we’ll go for another decade yet.  The link is here: https://www.patreon.com/districtofwonders

As always, let us know what you think of this project and the stories on Facebook, Twitter or email. And please, enjoy this special Translations Month, coming soon to your earholes in a podcast near you.

 

 

Interview over at SF Signal

It’s been a busy week, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve reached 9.6k for my new space opera novel. That’s roughly 1k a day, and will be more if I manage to reach 11k by the end of today. But I want to take the time today to really cement the fundamentals of the world in my head and have that high-concept, ultra-epic coolness that helps the universe stand out from the rest. I’ve literally got a note stapled above my screen that reads “up the weird, add the cool, mix it up”. And that I will do!

But in the meantime I also managed I do an interview over at SF Signal, talking about me, my writing process, my job as an editor, how I managed to get onboard as an editor for a Hugo-winning podcast at the age of 19, etc. If you ever had a burning sensation to know what it was like working with William Gibson, Christopher Priest, Robin Hobb, and George R. R. Martin while Season 5 of Game of Thrones was airing, you can settle that satisfaction right now! It was almost surreal, typing that all up and realising just what we managed to achieve.

Anyway, the interview is here if you want to check it out. Enjoy!

Bruce Sterling and Christopher Priest on StarShipSofa!

So it’s been a busy two weeks on StarShipSofa. Last week we played a story by one of the godfathers of cyberpunk, Bruce Sterling. He’s known in and outside of the genre slash sci-fi circles, and it was an absolute pleasure to have him.

Narrating his story is film actor Paul Cram. Paul mostly does indie films, but he’s had speaking roles with actors such as Cilian Murphy (The Dark Knight, 28 Days Later) Woody Harrelson (True Detective) Judy Greer (Jurassic Park) and others. We’re VERY proud to have him join StarShipSofa and narrate this story. Make sure you check out his IMDB profile here. And make sure you look out for some of his films, too.

You can find Bruce Sterling’s episode here.

And we’ve also had the mighty privilege of playing a story by Christopher Priest. He wasn’t that popular in the US. At least not until one of his novels was turned into a the film The Prestige by director Christopher Nolan of The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar variety. You’ve almost certainly seen it:

 

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David Bowie acted in this film as well, so we’re very proud to be associated with the project. Priest himself is a masterclass, as the story demonstrates. His best work is The Inverted World, which you have to read. I won’t say much more than that.

I’ve been very proud to have worked on these two episodes and the fine gentlemen who exhibit actual skill in narrating, acting and writing. Make sure to grab the Christopher Priest episode here if you can.

…and that’s all for now.

Forging ahead and looking back: it’s important

With one’s writing career – and artistic careers in general, I think, there’s a tendency to think about what we haven’t yet accomplished, as opposed to what we have accomplished. Film directors, musicians, script writers and video game designs are all privy to this pothole, but in my case writers especially.

You don’t look back on your sales and your publications that you’ve already earned, you dwell on how much you want to release this story, or finish that next project that just isn’t working out, or sell a proposal that no one’s buying. It happens to all of us. Just recently, David Fincher had Utopia cancelled at HBO. A Oscar-winning director who’s bought us Se7en, Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Social Network, and others, but now he’s had years of work flushed down the toilet. Ouch.

I’m not on Mr. Flincher’s playing field (in case you all weren’t aware of that already), but the same rules apply to everyone. We tend not to focus on what we have already accomplished.

As some of you good good people may know, I’m out o’ town for a holiday. Right of this moment I’m in a little Polish town somewhere outside of Wroclaw. Ensue many Anglos with tongues in knots after attempting to pronounce that correctly. I was here exactly two years ago. I was writing writing away, sending out over a dozen stories to all manner of venues, hoping to land a sale in some department. I was banging my head against the wall because no one was buying a damn word I wrote. Not a single one. Nada.

Sentences like will I ever sell anything and is my career over before it starts kept tumbling through my head. But sitting in this tiny room I kept conjuring up monsters and fantasy landscapes and rain-drenched cities. I kept plugging away without knowing if I’d ever make a sale.

Two years later and here I am. I’ve sold so many stories and articles I’ve lost count (I think the count is close to fifty now). I’ve sold to Nature twice, Strange Horizons six times, and scooped up a Finalist position at Writers of the Future. I’ve had an essay published in one of Lightspeed’s Destroy anthologies. I’ve had the opportunity to produce audio fiction by George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson and Robin Hobb for a Hugo-winning podcast that I co-edit. And right now I’m working on a story for my first every fiction solicitation to an anthology that pays pro-rates.

I’ve done all that in two years at the starting age of 18.

It’s not meant as a boast (well, perhaps a little), but it’s more of a look at how much can be done in less than two years of writing.

And yet.

And yet…

I ask myself why I haven’t placed in Writers of the Future. Why I don’t have a pro sale that isn’t flash. Why I haven’t sold to F&SF, Asimovs or Analog yet. Why I don’t have an anthology sale. Why I haven’t appeared in the Best of Years. Why I don’t have an agent. Why I don’t have a book deal. Why I don’t….

Stop.

It can cave your head in just about the whys and how comes that inevitably crop up. I know people who have sold to venues I can only dream about, but then reach for another magazine only to fail. I’m very, very fortunate to be in the position where I am now. Pierce Brown wrote one novel a year for seven years before Red Rising sold. Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen. I know someone who’s written fourteen novels and had none of them picked up. And I’m sure it’s taken others far longer with many more books.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like, collecting rejections for your tenth novel and wondering if you’d ever have a single word of your fiction published. I’m sitting here with multiple sales to Nature (published by Macmillan) and something inside me cracks whenever I see the latest book launches and wonder how long it’ll take before I get there myself. Thank you very much, brain.

So this is a message to anyone who’s struggling (including myself) that it’s healthy to look back from time to time and see how far you’ve come. Hell, most people don’t even finish a novel, let alone a story. Look at your virtual (or physical) shelf and see your accomplishments.

Two years ago in this very room I didn’t have a single one under my belt. And in two years time when I come to Europe again I want to look back on this blog post and realise how much I’ve achieved since. In the next two years I’m going to get that literary agent, that book deal, that Best of Years publication.

And the two years after that…who knows? Fincher directing a film adaptation of my novel would be nice (ain’t ever gonna happen, though).

Until then I’m going to keep forging ahead, but I’m also going to look back. If you’re struggling, maybe you should do the same. It’s a long long road and there ain’t many pit-stops along the way. Well done on getting this far.

But never stop walking.

 

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

 

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