It's fun to come across news about oneself on somebody else's blog, which is just what happened this morning. I was checking out Whatever, happily reading that John Scalzi's The Last Colony was up for a Romantic Times 2007 Reviewers' Choice Award in the Science Fiction category. Interesting, and duly noted that the award nominees, as John puts it, "are chosen for their general excellence, not necessarily their romantic content, which is good, because I'm not notably good with romance." About halfway through my nod of commiserating agreement I caught sight of my own name a little ways down the post. Wha? Me? Romantic? Don't tell my wife...
I clicked over to the site and sure enough found myself well down the page, in the short list of Epic Fantasy Nominees! I think it's fair to say that the "romance" side of things isn't that important in this category. I do remember RT giving me a lovely - if brief - review, but I guess they really meant it. Who am I up against?
Who will come out on top - so to speak - we won't know until April.
(Thanks for alerting me to the news, John. Further proof that everyone should read Whatever. By the way, turns out John had heard the news from another nominee, too - Jo Walton. So I guess this is how this stuff works.)
The Fantasy Book Critic was kind enough to mention my novel twice, first as a favorite fantasy of the year. Robert also choose the German cover as one of his favorite covers of the year. He has quite extensive lists in quite a few categories over there.
Oh, and I'm very pleased that John Scalzi was kind enough to feature me as a visitor on his stellar blog, Whatever. I'm one of his "Month of Authors" entries, which includes a bit I posted here earlier in the year.
That's it for today. I'm off to make some life-changing decisions. Wish me luck!
I often get asked how much control I have over various aspects of publishing my works. Some of it - the writing, for example - I have exclusive control over. But a whole lot of the other stuff is entirely out of my hands. People often seem surprised by just how much of it is out of my hands, but I don't think I'm alone in this.
Cover art is one of those areas. I don't design it. Don't hire the artists that draw it, take the photos, choose the layout, etc. Don't sit in on the meetings where they kick around ideas. Don't have a clue about most of the marketing statistics they consult as they make decisions. I do know that a lot of thought goes into the choosing. At a publisher like Doubleday, no cover is chosen by any one person or created without the consultation of many. It's arguable whether or not the factors that influence the decisions are the right ones, but this is a business, and you know what that means...
What is my role like, then? Well... with Gabriel's Story I was presented with the cover. "Here it is. Cool, huh?" That was that.
With Walk Through Darkness it was more like, "Here it is," followed shortly thereafter by, "Um, well, no, that's not it after all," and then, "Here it really is, or, well, maybe not quite that..." until eventually about the third or fourth version that I saw was announced as the cover. (By the way, the four versions I show here all came and went as options. None of them were used. I think they had more options made up also, ones that I never saw.)
With Pride of Carthage it was back to, "Here it is," and then with Acacia there was an earlier option that they loved, until they decided they didn't love it afterall and produced another version. That one I rather liked, although it got tinkered with a bit from my favorite version to become the final cover.
Nowhere in here have you heard me say I vetoed - or was asked if I wanted to veto - one of the options. That's just the reality of it. On occasion there's been some tinkering with the images in reaction to my queries. Things like shading the man's hand a bit on the paperback cover of Walk Through Darkness, but that's about the extent of my influence. My publishers trusts me to write what's in my books; designing what goes on the outside of them is another matter.
Personally, I concede that I have very little understanding of cover-fu. I just don't get what makes one work - if "working" can be defined as appealing to the most people possible. A cover that I love will get slammed or ignored. One that I hate will smile its way on to bestseller lists. It's enough to make me doubt my convictions on such things. Truth is, my tastes differ from the masses, and yet it's the masses I want to buy my stuff... All of this leads me to generally have faith that my editors and their hardworking minions should be trusted.
Which leads me to the most recent entry in the parade of covers... All hail a new life for Acacia, with a new face to go with it! This one is Transworld's cover for my UK edition, which comes out in May. What do I think? Well, you know, I'm inclined to say that's not important. I'm not the one we need to sell the book to...
A Fantasy Magazine Recommended Fantasy Read of 2007
Some more kind folks (insightful readers, of course) have given Acacia: The War with the Mein some love. Fantasy Magazine calls my little book "A truly epic fantasy - or rather the beginning of one — with a rich world and nuanced characters. Superbly written." I'd say that endorsement is "superbly written" as well. Thank you, Paula Guran.
I'm also pleased to link to a new interview I did recently. It's over at Elbakin.net. It just happens to be in French, but if you read that language (or just like to pretend you do) you can check it out here. Actually, they have an English version, too. That you can see here.
I just learned that Acacia: The War with the Mein was chosen as one of Kirkus Reviews ten best works of fiction this year! Whaah? Really? How strange, in a nice way. The list isn't ten best works of sci-fi/fantasy, or best by an African-American author or any other sub-category. It's just there as one of "The Best of 2007 - Fiction". Period. I'm sharing space with writers like National Book Award Winner Andrea Barrett, National Book Award nominees Mischa Berlinski and Amy Bloom, and Orange Prize winner Valerie Martin.
It's actually really gratifying to have this stellar year of recognition from Kirkus. I think it's fair to say they can be pretty hard to please. (That's putting it mildly.) In my case I've had my ups and downs with them. They gave Gabriel's Story a great starred review, but then rather trashed Walk Through Darkness (and almost sounded like they wanted to take that earlier star back because of it). Their review of Pride of Carthage was absolutely fabulous, arguably the best pre-pub I've ever had. They kept the star close to their chest, though, and didn't let me have it. Enter 2007, and they came on board unreservedly: starred review, feature in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Special Edition and now this best of the year nod. Thanks Kirkus.
If you're interested in seeing the rest of the list, and other titles they recommend, go here to their 2007 Special Issues page. You can then click on Best of 2007 and/or Sci-Fi and Fantasy to view the pdfs of those editions.
I'm pretty sure fans worldwide will be applauding this, while at the same time wondering about that second movie. It looks like the plan is to do The Hobbit in one film and then to do a sequel that covers the material up to the beginning of LOTRs. I can see the attraction for the filmmakers, but the problem is that Tolkein never wrote a Hobbit "sequel". Hmmm...
I've never had cause to embed a YouTube video here until today. But that was before I saw this music video by an old friend. The song is "Pull the Sky Down" and the singer in Paul Burke. About a decade ago, we were both raft guides on some wonderful California whitewater rivers. We saw some big water together that year. El Nino an all that. Paul Burke knows how to flip a raft with style. Apparently, he also knows how to keep musical dreams alive.
I dig this song. I like the combination of laid back humor, the U2-ish sound of it, garage band nostalgia mixed with the wisdom that comes from admitting the years are passing and our views of the world maturing. And I like the uplifting tone of it. Well done. If you have a minute give it a listen.
So it's just been announced that the author Terry Pratchett has a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's. I first heard of this was here. I hate hearing news like this, not least because I know that behind the passing notice such things get in words by many, there are a few - Terry and his family - that will have to deal with this illness in all its troubling complexity for some time to come.
Now, I've never read Pratchett, but I almost feel like I have. He was a favorite of my Scottish brother in laws, and I recall browsing through overflowing boxes of Discworld novels on several occasions. I guess I also feel a connection at the moment because someone in my family also has a form of early onset Alzheimer's. Though at a distance most of the time, I have watched and listened as she's changed. It's no easy thing, hard to grasp, surprising and confounding at turns and terribly hard on the people close to the illness.
Terry is, of course, taking the news and presenting it to the world with humor and even "mild optimism". I'm glad for that, and I'll leave it there, wishing him the best and reminding myself to pick up a few of his novels soon. He's got quite a few for me to choose from, and he's sure to add a few more to the count as well.
I'm so glad Constance reminded me of the Meet Your Daemon feature on the Golden Compass website. We did it as a family, with interesting results on all counts.
First up was my daughter, Maya (8 years in this world). She answered the twenty questions with honest precision. The thing you have to know is that Maya already knew what her daemon was. She is a fan of all things feline. She documents this quite often on her blog, Maya Calypso Durham Talks. But she particularly loves snow leopards. She studies them, draws them, writes poems about them, plays with figures of them, and has even visited with one at the Cat Haven. So, she said ahead of time that her daemon was clearly a snow leopard. But... then she had to answer all these random questions. I was worried. What creature would show up? Would Maya accept it?
Well, duh, yeah she would. Because what strolled on to the page was Brynn, the Snow Leopard! I was flabbergast. Mystified. Just generally surprised. But I'm over it. I'll not doubt Maya's feline knowledge again!
Next up was my son, Sage (walking the earth in all his wisdom for six years). His answers to the twenty questions were somewhat dubious, I thought. But he seemed quite happy to end up with a gibbon monkey.
My wife was not nearly so sanguine with her daemon. Much to her horror, her daemon appears to be a big, hairy spider! She was so aghast at this - please know that she kills black widows daily (or so it seems) and dreams of their revenge on her nightly - that she started over again and did the best she could to give the right ("You've got your math, I've got the math") answers. What was the result?
Big hairy spider. I do have to say that neither I nor the kids found this pairing that strange, but... Gudrun walked away, unimpressed by process.
And then myself. My daemon, it turns out, is Calista, a fox. For a second I wasn't sure what I thought of this, but then I remembered the way I'd described feeling about my unseen daemon in the previous post. Remember that? She doesn't like being inside, wants to walk, preferably in woods and meadows and windswept ridges... and when I do this with her she starts to chatter away with all sorts of cunning plot ideas... Um, well, that sounds quite a bit like a fox to me. I may not be quite as resolutely perceptive as Maya, but at some level maybe I did know my daemon after all...
I saw the The Golden Compass movie the other day. I read the complete Phillip Pullman trilogy some time ago. I quite liked them, and was excited to see it brought to film. You will have probably already seen it and/or read the mixed reviews, so I won't go in depth about it. I will say that it was visually stunning, and a must-see - in some variation, even if its as a home rental - for everyone that's interested in fantasy and fantasy films. I do wish the tempo of the movie hadn't been so rushed, one event tumbling after the other almost breathlessly. And I would have been fine with the filmmakers staying true to the intellectual complexity of the book. But so be it. I still found it entertaining, and I'll look forward to seeing it again - many times, likely - on dvd. And I won't stop hoping it earns enough to help keep Hollywood interested in fantasy adaptations. (Obvious self-interest here.)
One of the enjoyable visual aspects of the film, of course, are all those daemons running around. If you don't know, in Pullman's world daemons are spiritual companions that each person has. They are in animal form, of the opposite sex to the person, and they somehow embody some important representation of the person's inner nature. The cool thing is that everyone can see these creatures, and, indeed, you can even talk to yours. Would be kinda nice, don't you think? Never really being alone...
The thing is, I've always sort of felt I had a daemon of my own. (I was reminded of this after reading a post by my father in law, writing from the windswept wilds of Shetland.) I can't see my daemon. Can't speak to it. And I'm only really aware of it when I think of my creative process and how it works. I should say outright that it's my daemon that helps me write. Don't know where I'd be without her, actually. Many times over the years I've felt like someone outside myself whispered story ideas or plot revelations or gentle criticism into my ear. (I don't mean to sound weird. I'm not actually hearing voices. But I am... well, sorta hearing voices...) It's always mystified me, because so often my best ideas seem to arrive fully formed, with no reasonable precursor. Where do those ideas come from? Perhaps from my daemon... Perhaps it's my daemon that's really the writer, not me. That could explain why writing gifts strike such unlikely people, or explain why so often people that want desperately to write show so little aptitude for it. It's not their fault; it's their daemon that's not up to it.
Whatever kind of creature my daemon is she doesn't actually like to stay couped up in the office much. She likes to get out and walk. That's when she's happiest, and that's when she speaks the most freely to me. I'd say as well that she prefers some landscapes to others. She's not all that inspired by flat, semi-urban Fresno, I'm afraid. She shares a bit with me on my walks here, but nothing like she did when we rambled around Scottish glens or through the wooded hills of Western Massachusetts. She likes vistas. She likes wind in her face and changing seasons and cloud formations building in the sky... Yeah, that's what makes her happy.
And when she gets happy she rewards me. It's like once we're chugging along that ridgeline, watching the threat of rain in the distance, she says, "Alright, god it's good to be outside! I was going crazy pacing around in that office with that awful incense fouling the air. Now that I can think straight let me tell you this idea I had. You know how Corinn sends Dariel on the mission? Well, I was thinking, what if..."
Geez. I owe that girl so much, and she knows it. So I should treat her right, shouldn't I? And be very grateful that she's a storyteller... whatever she may be, whatever she would look like if I had the eyes to see her...
Bummer. I just learned that an act of God is directly having a wee influence on my life. Over the summer, I sold the film option for one of my books. I haven't announced it yet, because the folks that bought it want to wait to make a big announcement when they have more pieces in place. I'm fine with that. As a writer you get pretty good at waiting. And waiting... Waiting...
Thing is, an option lasts for a set time period, say 18 months, during which time whomever has the option has the rights to try to get the funding, the talent, the green light, etc. If they don't make it happen in that time frame they either loose the option or they need to renew it - which means paying for it again - for another limited time period. Notice I said I signed the deal this summer, which actually means a few months have passed already. I'd like to think the good people working on this one will put together the package soon, but if they don't there's always that notion that before long the rights will come back to me - or need to be paid for again.
Yesterday, though, I get a letter from these mysterious financiers explaining that the option is suspended due to "Force Majeure". What act of God caused this? Flood? War? Riot? Plague of locusts? Well, no... In this case it's... the writer's strike.
Now, this doesn't mean the contract is canceled or anything like that. All it means is delay for me, a stretching of the time frame, delay, delay. Essentially, it means that for at least three months the purchasers of the option are granted a stay in the option period, so that they're not at a disadvantage because they can't do business during the strike. Nothing new, really. And who knows? Maybe it'll actually end up being a good thing. Maybe this "Force Majeure" will allow the playing pieces to shift in some way that benefits me. It's happened before...
Also, I hear that there's some progress in the negotiations. Maybe they'll be joy and happiness soon...
The kind folks at the Raleigh News and Observer have included Acacia in the Columnist's Choices for Holiday Gifts! Should be thrilled, only... well, it doesn't seem like they actually liked the book that much. Here's what they said:
Acacia by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday, $26.95, 592 pages) Durham, known for historical fiction, turns to epic fantasy with mixed results. The world is complex and nuanced, but the characters play in stereotype and there is a puzzling lack of imagination -- still, worth the time for fans of the genre.
Er... Not exactly a resounding endorsement. "Puzzling lack of imagination"? What's that mean? "The characters play in stereotype"? Hmm... Doesn't sound like a book that deserves recommendation... Well, anyway, I'll take the recommendation part of it and smile.
It's been hard to blog lately. I'm not entirely sure why, except that the pressures of teaching, writing, keeping up internet dialogs and ruminating on life choices have kept me busy. I wouldn't want to let a week go by without posting, though, so I'll offer up a few random thoughts/links here on a chilly Fresno Sunday morning.
A question - are you familiar with Steven Pressfield's The War of Art? I know that many of you likely are. If you're not, though, it's worth a look. Pressfield, of course, is the highly successful writer of Gates of Fire, Tides of War and the forthcoming Killing Rommel - to name a few. His province is mostly that of men at heroic war, but a few years back he penned a thin volume that was part creative autobiography, part self help, part craft book.
What I found particularly memorable about The War of Art was his focus on the concept of Resistance - that multi-headed, ever-changing and variously manifesting force that grows out of us and tries to stop each of us from achieving the things - often artistic things - that we most want to achieve. I found the theory made a lot of sense and was easily evidenced each day. I found that I consistently did time-wasting things for no good reason at all - other than as a way to avoid my writing work. It's weird how it works. Almost feels like I'm always at the verge of becoming a zombie that's led away from the computer out of some compulsion to weed the pathway or check the pattern of the coffee grinds in an old cup or reminisce about how cool it was when I dyed my hair blond... It doesn't matter what I'm doing, which is why resistance seems so sinister. It's a shifty bastard. But, after hearing Pressfield name and shame the thing, I was better able to confront it. His book helped me refocus again and again as I worked through Pride of Carthage.
I bring it up because I'm again thinking about resistance as I work on The Other Lands, the sequel to the first Acacia book. In addition to all the old time killers, now I have the blog, the forum, and ever more websites to suck my time away. I like all of these - and they're legitimately part of my career now - but it's an ongoing battle to achieve a balance. Also, though, I'm aware that I've set some other, overarching obstacles in place. Instead of just micro-resistance I also have some rather larger resistance constructs in place. I'm going to be vague on them for the time being, but once I figure out and overcome the obstacles I'll let you know.
Anyway, The War of Art is a good little book, one that you can learn from even if you have no interest in the sword and sandals adventures that Pressfield is most famous for. Okay, now, for me... I've taken, what, thirty, forty minutes deciding to write this, find the links, choose a few photos... That's enough. I've got a lot of writing to do today... I hereby banish resistance for the next, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes...