Review: Uzumaki

When you’re reading horror, what you want to discover is a book that takes something mundane and everything and manages to make you see in it something new and unsettling that will make you question, if only for a short while, whether those things you’ve always considered safe are truly so.

And so when you find something as deliciously twisted and original as Uzumaki it’s impossible not to love it.

Uzumaki

Uzumaki tells the story of a Kurôzu-cho, a town haunted not by ghosts or monsters, but by a pattern. A Spiral. The books is broken down into episodic stories, each one telling the next stage in the story of how more and more of the population first slowly become obsessed with The Spiral, that pattern that permeates the world. Through the eyes of Kirie Goshima, a teenager seemingly in the centre of it all, we gradually the episodes begin see how something so everyday as a pattern reoccurring in nature can in fact be a sign of something far more ancient and terrifying.

I absolutely loved this story. I’m a total sucker for twisted horror like this, where the everyday world is gradually shifts and reveal that there is no place to hide from the things we thought were safe. Add to this beautifully grotesque artwork that seriously made me double-task several times while I read, and this becomes something you simply cannot put down.

My only quibble was that some of the middle chapters felt a little too stand alone. With some of the stories is was hard to put aside reality when wondering why people in the weren’t reacting more to what was happening to them. Even if it had been something simple like a few lines pointing out that it was strange how little people were reacting, rather than accepting and getting on with their lives.

But as the story continues and all the elements begin to come together this issue fades away. Once you’ve got to the end the way people act makes more sense. I would have just liked the final explanation behind to have been seeded a little earlier to prevent these niggling feelings.

But that minor issue aside I can’t recommend this book enough, and I will be looking for more of Junji Ito’s work as soon as my current reading pile goes down a little bit more.

Recommendation: Chester 5000

My latest acquisition from the world of webcomics via Kickstarter; Chester 5000, books 1 & 2.

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I love Jess Fink‘s work. Both playful and sexy, she manages to capture both the beauty and excitement of the erotic without being overly titivating. Yes, there’s sex in these pages, but it’s always infused with romance. You can see her love for the art and the history she’s influenced by on every page.

Also, I’m a sucker for any artist who can create both story and distinct characters without using any dialogue. Everything is done through the images to the point where you don’t even notice no one has spoken.

The Charmed Realm of the art of Paul Kidby

I was visiting my family a couple of weeks ago and discovered this in our local bookshop.

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Like a lot of people, I assume, I know Paul Kidby mainly as the cover artist who took over the Terry Pratchett books after the death of Josh Kirby. I’ve loved his work ever since, but in all honesty, I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of it outside of his association with Pratchett. In actual fact, his style has become so entwined with the Discworld books that it took a little while to get used to seeing his art in a world other than that of Pratchett’s work.

But that feel quickly faded. Kidby is such an amazing artist. There is such passion and attention to detail in every one of his creations. He’s the sort of artist that makes you a little sick with the perfection in his work. 

And, annoyingly, he was at an event I went to this weekend. If I’d known I would have brought it along to get it signed.

I really need to start looking out for more of the work. Let me know if you know of any collections or books he has worked on I might not know about.

The Æther Collection Cover Reveal!

We’re almost there!

The story is locked down and I’m now just waiting on my last two copy editors to finish running through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Once that’s done and I’ve gone through it myself one final time, The Æther Collection will finally be ready for publication!

And, in honour of this, I thought it was time to officially reveal the cover art, provided by my wonderful designer (and sometime organ-donor) Emily.

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Eagle-eyed followers may well have spotted this image before, as it’s been going up on my various forms of social media recently, and has actually been the banner for this website for a couple of weeks. But this is the “official” launch, so take a moment to enjoy it.

Now begins the painstaking task of completing the manuscript and getting it published. This weekend has been spent sending things out to agents, but while I am waiting on responses the process of preparing everything to self-publish will begin. So, barring an agency picking this up and taking the tasks of publication out of my hands, or any unforeseen events that might cause further details, The Æther Collection should be out in August.

So, if anyone out there is interesting in maybe getting their hands on an early review copy, now’s the time to let me know.

 

Recommending… Locke & Key

If I’ve not read something, its new to me. And if I’ve not even heard of it before and can experience it completely devoid of expectations? Well, that happens very rarely.

Everyone has a list of things they intend to read/watch in the future. Things we’ve been recommended or have heard talked about so much we know it’s got to at least be worth a go but haven’t quite yet had the chance to get around to. This is why I love Humble Bundle. It gives me the opportunity to pick up a bunch of books or graphic novels to load onto my Kindle for when I need something to read.

This allows me to try out writers I’ve had on my “must try” list. Recently I finally got around to trying Cory Doctrow’s work, for example. But it also gives me the opportunity to occasionally try out something completely new. Work I’ve never even heard of before. And this creates the opportunity for me to experience something both rare and magical: the once in a lifetime chance to read something brilliant without any expectations or preconceptions.

Such as happened when I downloaded Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s six volume graphic novel, Locke & Key.

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Locke & Key tells the story of the Locke family who, after losing their father in a horrific home invasion, move across country to their old family home; The Keyhouse. There they discover a collection of fantastical keys that, used with the correct doors, unlock extraordinary powers in themselves and the world around them. But soon they learn that behind one of those doors is a spirit both ancient and evil, and they discover the history of the keys, the story of their creation and the horrific events that caused their father to work so hard to hide them.

I think the best endorsement of this series is this; I gave up the writing time I get on my lunch breaks to keep reading. I needed to know what happened next. I’m incredibly lucky that all six volumes were included in the Humble Bundle so I could read them all in essentially one sitting. And when I finished, I went out and bought the slipcase collection (which is so pretty). Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 12.57.47This is one of those books that you need to reread straight away, to give yourself the chance to see just how well the story has been plotted out and foreshadowed. Lines and images that seem incidental on your first read are revealed to have so much more meaning the second time around. Hill is a writer who knows exactly where he is going and where he is leading you.

Locke & Key is a Lovecraftian story, but I want to qualify that statement slightly. The word “Lovecraftian” has become a little watered down in many people’s minds. Forgetting the mountains of – let’s be charitable and call it “fanfiction”[1] – out there, there are professional, published, well respected writers out there who don’t quite get what Lovecraftian should mean. But Joe Hill gets it. He understands both the nature of the mythos, and that it comes second to character and plot.

Be warned, horrible things happen to people in this story. It opens with the Locke family suffering a home invasion involving murder and sexual assault, and the story largely focuses on the ways that the characters deal with this. It’s never forgotten or glossed over. A major theme is how our mistakes and bad decisions will haunt us and echo through the rest of our lives. Don’t expect everyone you meet to have a happy ending here.

Lovecraftian stories – and horror in general – are about fear of the unknown. And while a lot of that is embodied by “the monster” or “the powers we can’t comprehend”, there is also plenty of that in real life. Two stories run in parallel here; one about magic keys with a link to an ancient evil from the Plains of Leng, and the other about a family trying to deal with trauma and loss. About children trying to work out their place in the world without their father. About a mother coping with addiction and trying to keep herself together for her children. About that feeling of having no one there to lead us through.

I can’t really critique art in graphic novels. I’m afraid I’m stuck in the “I know what I like” category. But Rodriguez’s art fits in perfectly brilliantly with the writing, filled with character and background detail. Nothing throws me out of story like art that doesn’t fit the work. This one does. He works well with the writer, matching the style of the story and working bring the words to life. That seems good enough for me.

Locke & Key is definitely worth picking up if you’ve not yet discovered it. It ran between 2008 and 2013, so I’m assuming quite a few of you out there are scoffing at me right now for being so late to the party. But better late than never, and if I can direct any other poor souls who, like me, were living in ignorance, then I’ll be happy.

Enjoy.

 

[1] Please note I’m not trying to belittle Fan Fiction here, or the communities that surround it. I’m just trying to find the correct word for writing that enthusiastic but not quite up to – let’s say – a professional standard.

Find me on Social Media

Hello all. I just wanted to give you all a quick round up of where you can find me on social media. 

First off is my Facebook Page. You’ll find all my updates posted here, along with links to any other posts or articles I find interesting. I’ll also occasionally recommend films, books or television I discover and feel are worth sharing. 

On Twitter I’m @tomhbrand. My Twitter account has a slightly more varied theme than the rest of my social media presence. While I try to keep most of my social media presence focused on writing and publishing, rather than any old thing that comes into my mind, on Twitter I’ll post things of a more diverse nature. You’ll find post on politics, art, or links to random stuff that I simply found amusing. 

My Tumblr account is thomashbrand. For the more artistic of you, I post horror and reading imagery, as well as links back to this blog. Tumblr tends to be my go to site when I’m just killing time. If I’ve got a few minutes to kill I can just fire up my Kindle and browse Tumblr. I know there are a lot of people sharing deep, meaningful information. I kind of just use it to bum around. 

You can also find me on Goodreads.com. Add me as a friend to keep up with what I’m reading, as well as what I think of it. Add my work, ask me a question, or give me a rating or a review. I’d love to see more opinions from all of you.

I’m also on Instagram, but it’s more of a personal account. Not so much about my work, but just pictures from my life. You’re all more than welcome to pop over and have a look if you’re interested in seeing a little of the everyday. 

So come along and say hi. I’m always up for answering questions or just saying hello. I’m always interested in meeting new people online, either fans of my work or who simply share the same interests as me. I love discovering new things, events, images or writers through my friends.

Come along and say hi.

Judging a book by its cover

“Never judge a book by its cover”.

What a great philosophy to to live your life by. It’s practically the first lesson in How To Live A Fair and Interesting Life 101. As a metaphor for looking beyond stereotypes and not taking people at face value and taking the time to look deeper it can’t really be faulted.

But what if we’re talking about literally judging an actual book?

Quality of writing is not, unfortunately, the only thing an author has to think about when publishing their work. For all that we want our work to speak for itself people aren’t going to read something if they don’t know it exists, and that’s not going to happen without publicity and marketing.

I will be the first to admit that these areas are not my forte. I have never been a natural promotor of my own work. But, just like anyone looking at self publishing, it’s something I’ve had to teach myself. The most obvious way has been to get involved with all the common methods of promotion, all the websites and online writer groups, to see what everyone else is doing. And one of the main reasons that this is a good way to teach yourself self-promotion is because after a while you really start to see all the things that other people are doing wrong.

I’m far from an expert, when you spend enough time looking into something you start to see the same mistakes over and over again until you recognise them without trying. And if I can notice them – a random guy just looking around the market – I can only imagine how often agents and publishers have to wade through them.

I’ve come to recognise three or four basic mistakes that a lot of authors out there are making over and over again. And possibly the worst of these mistakes – because it is the most obvious and impossible to ignore – is using a terrible cover.

Your book’s cover is the final line that the reader must cross before making the decision whether or not to put in the time/effort/money on your book. They might not care whether it’s the latest Hugo Award winner best seller or an impulse buy from an unknown author, but they need to believe that the author cared enough about it to care what it looked like.

We’ve all heard the old adage “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. It’s the same with book covers. Traditional publishing houses have promotion and marketing teams to do this side of things. If you want to be taken seriously you need to match that quality despite not having the resources.

Not everyone is going to be able to get a professional designer to create a cover, of course, but there are ways around that. What you can’t do is just accept any old thing and slap it on your manuscript. I’ve seen covers that look like they were put together in MS Paint. Covers that look like someone cut images out of a magazine, stuck them onto a piece of A4 and scanned them into a computer. Covers that look like the writer’s parents forced them use something their 12 year old cousin made in art class. Covers that, to sum this up, just plain look bad.

Self publishing is not an easy path to success. We all know this by now. The hard fact is there is still an entrenched prejudice that self-publishing is a path for writers who aren’t good enough to get a traditional contract. It is also a fact that there’s a lot of evidence to back up this attitude. There is so much terrible, terrible work put online by lazy writers who don’t seem to think that eighth, seventh, or sometimes even second drafts are a necessity. If you want to rise up from the dross that is out there, you need to make your book as indistinguishable from a professional publication as possible.

So what are my recommendations?

 

Look at what resources you have (and be honest with them)

Do you know someone who can create a high quality cover for you? Someone who at least has some design experience? It’s quite possible that they might be willing help you, if you ask nicely.

But make sure it’s someone you’re prepared to be honest with. The problem with a favour is you can feel uncomfortable about turning it down. This is your work, and you cannot allow yourself to feel obligated to please someone else with the final product. That’s your name on the cover. If the final product is poor quality it’s your reputation and your interests that are going to suffer.

If you don’t think you could tell someone that you don’t like their work then don’t ask them for help.

Invest in your own work

If you don’t have someone able and willing to help for free, spend some money.

It doesn’t have to be too expensive. There are a lot of aspiring artists and designers looking for the opportunity get their work out there, just like you. Some might even be willing to work for free (although see my previous point about that). There are even people who have seen this niche and sell pre-made covers to those authors who want something quick and easy.

Remember, if you are not prepared to invest a little of your own money in your work, why should a reader or a publisher?

Keep it simple (Not the face)

If in doubt, keep your cover as simple as possible.

Don’t try to depict scenes from the book or intricate landscapes. If you’re on a budget or forced to do things yourself, the simpler you can keep it the better it will be. Text on a plain background, with maybe a clean, simple logo or image. It’s classic, and the easiest cover to pull off. 

And this might be a personal choice, but avoid character portraits like the plague. Especially if you’re not a professional. Stock photos always look fake, and poorly photoshopped figures even more so. And unless you can draw really well, any attempt at a portrait of a human is going to slam your cover straight down into the Uncanny Valley.

 

So what choices did I make? As it turns out I’m lucky enough that I have a sister who is a graphic designer. At the point where I was finishing The Serpent’s Eye and needed a cover, she was actually in the middle of completing her Masters Degree in Graphic Design. This meant I had a family member who (a) had the skill and talent to create a professional quality image, and (b) who I was more than willing to argue with if I didn’t like the result.

If I hadn’t had this option? I would have researched some graphic designers and looked to commission one.

The last thing I would ever have attempted would be to create my own cover.

And so if any of you are looking for a decent cover artist head over to www.emilybranddesigns.com. Her contact details are on the site, and she’ll be more than happy to discuss what you’re looking for. I’m told she has very reasonable prices for non-family. I can vouch that you’ll get quality work.

Cover Reveal

So I’ve finally finished the last draft of The Serpents Eye. This one comes in at 42200 words. That’s a 2700 increase. Which I do think it needed. Once it was pointed out to me, I could definitely see the second act was a little sparse. It had been written as I had planned it, but sometimes you can be so focused of seeing something out as you planned it that you don’t see there is a slightly better way of doing it until someone else highlights it. I hadn’t done these bits badly, they just could have been better.

They also pointed out a plot point that made no sense and needed removing. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say I need to buy an atlas…

I’m confident that the rewrite has improved the book as a whole. As much as the rewrite involved much changing of past to present tense, and then much double checking I’m done this correctly, its done its job.

So while it’s going through its final proofread, I thought I’d do a reveal of the cover art, as done by my talented sister Emily.

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I always hoped she’d come in useful one day. I’m loving the image she created. I think it gives a great vibe of the old 18th Century books that have inspired this story, but with something more modern mixed in with it.

And so now with the cover finished and the last copyedit on the way I can refine my timelines a bit. Depending on the speed of my copyeditors, I’m now looking to get The Serpent’s Eye out by the end of May. I will keep this blog updated to any changes, but hopefully I’ll finally get to see this story out there in the real world.

And then we’ll see what people think. That’s actually the scary part.

Art over the Artist

Earlier this year, DC comics announced that the acclaimed author Orson Scott Card was to be contributing a script for an upcoming Superman anthology. This is a simple, standard publicity move; DC gets the kudos of an award winning author writing for their publication, and Card gets a boost to the demographic that is likely to see the film adaptation of his novel Enders Game, due to come out this year. Everybody wins.

Unfortunately, it also turns out that as well as being a well respected writer, Orson Scott Card is a prominent activist against gay rights.

Soon after the announcement of his Superman story was made, fans across the world began to wax online wroth at the fact that Superman, that icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way, was being written by a man who claims that homosexual behaviour is inherently evil. He sits on the National Organisation of Marriage, a fundamental anti-gay group, and openly speaks out that homosexuality as a sin that should be battled rather than accepted. There have been calls to boycott the book, and DC as a whole. People are calling for retailers to refuse to stock it. While DC have not cancelled the story, stating that that the personal views of their writers are nothing to do with them, the artist who was assigned to the book has quit rather than be associated with this furore.

As I read up on the story, it occurred to me to wonder how much we can, or should, avoid literature and art created by those who we fundamentally disagree with. I’m sure there are many people out there who have been fans of Card’s work for years and who had no idea he held these views. Now if they know them and find they disagree with them, should their opinion of his works be altered because of them?

How easy is it to separate the work from the author? Even if Card is an excellent writer, can we morally continue to support his work for its artistic merit if doing so implicitly supports someone who’s views we oppose.

As much as one controversial opinion can dominate the headlines, you cannot judge somebody by one aspect of their personality. Card has also been vocal in his support for renewable energy. If I boycotted him for an opinion I disagreed with, and encouraged others to do the same, would I not be belittling a different viewpoint that I actually agree with?

So how easy can it be to divorce the work from the artist? The Superman controversy came about because with an icon like that, many fans feel that he belongs to them, rather than a creator. Superman stands for something to them, and a certain group felt that giving that icon to someone they see as standing against those ideals was wrong. I’m sure that many people, like me, were completely unaware of Card’s views before this, and without the internet to spread such knowledge never would have.

So what is the line? I read and enjoy the work of many writers whilst knowing very little about their personal beliefs. Can we be expected to research these people before enjoying their work? Of course not. We’re never going to be able to know all the opinions of artists we admire. If you know about an artist’s opinions before you see what they create, it’s simpler to decide not to get invested. But if you discover these things afterward, at what point could or should you take a moral stance against them?

Is it down to how prominent they are with their opinions? Card actively preaches against homosexuality, rather than simply being against it. He is more prominent than most due to his celebrity, but I doubt that anyone who is not involved or directly following the debate on gay marriage was much aware of his work in this field. Occasionally a celebrity will cross this line themselves; such as actor and comedian Michael Richards whose career flatlined after a racist rant during a standup routine a few years ago, or born again folk singer Michelle Shocked who had her entire US tour cancelled out from under her just after verbally attacking homosexuality on stage in the middle of a show.

You could also argue that it is the sphere of influence that causes some to worry. Comics such as Superman are traditionally seen as aimed at younger readers. Are the original campaigners afraid that giving these young readers an interest in Card’s work might then lead them to look more into his views and be more likely to agree with them because they liked his it? For me, this veers too close to the “Comic Books Cause Violence” argument, that invalid debate stretching back all the way to the thirties. I doubt that Card’s Superman story would even have touched on his views on homosexuality, especially with DC’s current trend towards pro-gay story-lines. I believe that children young enough to be influenced in that way are still too young to associate stories with the authors in that way.

Now in the interests of openness, I have to say I have not yet read any of Mr. Card’s work. My opinion of him goes by reputation only. I know that many consider his works to be essential reading for lovers of Science Fiction, that he has written a number of award winning novels, and also books on the art of writing itself. To me he has simply been a name on that long mental list I have of writers that I should one day get around reading at some point.

And so for me? In this situation, not having any emotional connection to Card’s work, I can happily say that now I know of his opinions and work to promote them, I am happy to avoid both his writing and the upcoming movie adaptation. Can I say I will always avoid them? No, I don’t think I can, but I feel that I will endeavour to do so without paying any money that will eventually reach him. In a society such as ours, paying money for something is an indication that we give it worth, and I just don’t feel that I can morally do that.

But now I find myself wondering how many of the things I have paid to read, watch, play or otherwise enjoy has been complicit in supporting people whose opinions I massively oppose. If, for example, had I discovered that Brandon Sanderson held some beliefs that directly opposed my own on the day before the final Wheel of Time novel had come out, would I have been able to not go out and buy the book? No, I would not. My love of that series would have been too great, and I would have put the art above the artist without question.

Maybe, like so many other things in life, we’re all just happy not thinking about it, and live in happy ignorance until the internet make us. Maybe the line is simply the point of discovery and being forced to admit things to ourselves that we would rather ignore. Maybe we should enjoy the art and disregard the artist, ignoring them as people and simply acknowledging them as the name on the cover of our books.

But as with many things, the internet doesn’t really let us do that. Even ignoring the fact that artists must self promote to get their work out to the widest possible readership, the fact is that when something like the Superman/Card issue comes up, social media has lead to a state where it has the chance of expanding across the ‘net and into our newsfeeds in a way that was unthinkable twenty years ago. If you enjoy an artist’s work, be it book, film, music, television, anything, today it is almost impossible to ignore that artist.