January 2014 Archives

In 2006, I woke up in the ICU, blood pouring down one arm from a line the doctor was desperately trying to get in my arm. He was down on one knee, like he was going to propose, my arm flung out in front of him.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

He kept saying it. Over and over. My girlfriend stood next to me, gripping my hand. I was in intense pain, but even so, couldn't understand why he kept apologizing. My brain was a muddled gray mush, but I understood this much:

The pain was necessary. Expected.

They needed to get a line in me, you see, because I was dying.

And I knew it.


I read a lot of dark books. I'm a fan of the weird, the creepy, the strange. I have a fondness for Jeff VanderMeer and KJ Bishop and Angela Carter. I read Lovecraft only until it started to give me active nightmares. I've read everything by Christopher Priest, including the certainly not at all upbeat Fugue for a Darkening Island. I devoured Melvin Burgess's Bloodtide and Bloodsong like milky honey.

As a teen, I had people try and get me to read Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony, but it just never took. I was getting something out of dark fiction, some catharsis, that I wasn't getting from other books with lots of laughs or tidy, upbeat endings.

How can you read all that stuff? People would ask me.

Life is fucking depressing enough.

But that was why I read it.


When I get laid off from my job in Chicago, six months after the ICU trip, I don't have any savings. No safety net. Because of U.S. health insurance laws at the time, I have to continue paying for health insurance or risk becoming uninsurable even under an employer plan. Health insurance costs me $800 a month and doesn't actually pay for a dime of the $500 a month that my new medication costs.

Chronic illness is like getting hammered upside the head with a shovel. They tell me it's an immune disorder, and there's nothing I could have done to prevent it. So sorry for you. Too bad. Could be worse. There are worse illnesses.

But now it costs me $500 a month in meds just to keep on living. Plus the $800 for the useless insurance. Plus $550 a month in rent. I'm making $320 a week in unemployment. And I've still got thousands in medical debt from the ICU visit.

In the comments of a recent Guardian article I'm quoted in, somebody tells me I'm bad at math.

Yeah, well. I was good enough then to know this wasn't going to work.

Death had never felt so close.


Life is dark, sometimes.

The trouble is, when you're pressed face-first into shit, all you can think about is trying to stay alive. It's all you do, when you're really desperate - you try and live. There's no time to emote, no time to figure it out, no time to sit on the bed and cry and feel sorry for yourself. When you're faced with your own problems, real, tangible I-could-fucking-die problems, you have to deal with them.

But a fictional problem?

Somebody else is dealing with that. You're just along for the ride.

It means you get to spend the whole ride actually feeling things, instead of buttoning it all back up so you can live.

This is the story of my life: getting called a monster because I do instead of feel, because I act instead of emote.


My week back at the house after the ICU visit, I saw blood every time I closed my eyes. My arms were filled with needle marks, covered in bruises. The pain was so bad, and I was so weak, I couldn't even prepare my own meals - I didn't have the strength to wield a knife.

I'd lost a tremendous amount of weight the last year, and more in the ICU. It was like I lived in someone else's body. I felt disconnected.

At night, I'd lie in bed, and when I closed my eyes I'd jerk awake again, haunted by sounds and smells and that blood, that blood gushing from my arm, pooling on the floor. I could smell the hospital antiseptic.

My week in the hospital, I was hooked up with a catheter. They stuck me with needles every three hours, and took blood four times a day. My period started. The catheter leaked. I got thrush, and couldn't eat, couldn't swallow. I spent a day lying in my own blood and urine. At one point an orderly threw a wet towel at me and told me to wash myself.

The memories of that horrible week came back every time I closed my eyes.

But I couldn't process what had happened to me, or how my life had changed now that I was totally reliant on medication for the rest of my life. I had thousands of dollars in medical bills. Rent had to be paid. I had to get back to work. I didn't have enough PTO time to miss work. I had to get back to work. Had to get back to living.

Gotta go. Gotta move.

I pretended I wasn't broken, because if I let myself be broken, I wasn't going to make it.


I'm not actually sure when I started writing dark fiction. I know I started writing GOD'S WAR the year I was dying. I was losing a lot of weight and drinking a lot of water, but nobody could figure out what was wrong with me.

It certainly started out as a dark little book; a war-weary world, a world-weary protagonist. But after I got back from the hospital, after I started measuring out my life in medication, something changed.

Because I realized something then, looking at all the medical bullshit keeping me alive:

Every life is a tragedy.

We are all going to die.

There is no other ending, no matter the choices you make.

There was some relief in that.


My first hospital visit after getting out of the ICU, I walked into the hospital bathroom and had a panic attack.

It was the strangest thing. One minute, I'm totally fine. I'm cool and collected. I'm just seeing my doctor, to deal with this bullshit illness.

But when I went into the bathroom and washed my hands, I smelled it: the antiseptic soap.

I'd first smelled it in the ICU, during that bloody horror show of a week.

I started to shake.

I went back into the bathroom stall and sat down. I burst into tears.

No reason.

Just the smell. The panic.

I'd been a body on a slab; a thing, subhuman.

Wash yourself.


I just finished playing a game called Mass Effect 3, the third in the Mass Effect franchise, naturally. It has a really contentious ending. The galaxy is being destroyed by an evil alien force, so of course your mission is to stop it.

But it's clear from the opening scene that you're basically fucked.

No matter what you choose, you're fucked.

I knew this from the very start. Right from the opening. I saw what was coming. I saw we were all fucked. And I played that game faster than any game I've ever played, because I could feel the urgency - yes, we're all fucked, but we're going to save the galaxy. I'm going to get there. I'm going to save it.

It's a relentlessly dark game, but it's just a game, right?

Yet I found myself playing this game and crying the whole way through it. I cried through the whole ending, because I knew. I knew from the very beginning. I knew how it would end.

We're all going to die.

But it was different, when I played the game. When I played it through in the game, it wasn't like in real life, when I had to keep moving, I had to keep sucking air; gotta find a job, figure out how to pay insurance bills, pack up my shit, move to a new place....

When I played the game, it was the character taking all these hits. It was the character who was letting people down. It was the character who had to keep moving.

And that freed me up to actually feel something.

I could actually roll through all those terrible emotions - the broken despair, the horror, the fear, the rage, the sorrow. I didn't have to muscle through. I could spend 40 hours of game time emoting, and not feel bad about it. It was emotion without weakness, catharsis without giving in to a real-world threat.

When I got to the end of the game, it was perfect, for me.

Because I knew from the start we were all going to die.

The challenge was having the fortitude to keep going when you knew you were going to die, when you knew it was all going to end.

For the character. For the fake galaxy.

For me, eventually.

And all of us.


I'm not sure where I picked up this relentless way of muscling through things without stopping to process them. I think it's a survival thing. My mom does this too, during times of great stress. The whole world bleeds away, and I get this laser focus. It means I'm incredibly good during times of fear and panic and crazy, but it can be days or weeks before I actually bust down and process what happened.

Reading tragedies, I realized, connecting with characters who persevered in the face of grim odds, and certain ends - were actually comfort reading for me. They put me into high-stress situations with no personal stakes, so I could actually feel the fear and discomfort and rage and horror without having any skin in the game.

Dark fiction didn't depress me - it invigorated me. So when folks talked to me about my work, or the books I read, and said they were downers, there was always a big disconnect. I understood why they would like upbeat endings, all neat and tidy, because real life wasn't like that, and they wanted something more hopeful.

But I felt plenty of hope all the time. It was the hope that kept me going.

I read because I needed to feel the other things without losing my shit and giving up.

Tragedies are, at their core, stand-ins for life itself. We all know how this little jaunt is going to end. We all know we're going to die. But we stick with it anyway. We persevere. We survive for just a little longer. Just a little bit longer, even knowing the end.

I do find real courage in that. There's a good story in that. And it's people who understand the end and get up again that I'm most interested in telling stories about, because people who take the hits and keep getting up inspire me to do it, too. If they can endure all that crap and get up again, well, hey, chronic illness and unemployment and bad relationships and poverty aren't so bad.

I did get up, eventually, I get up every time. Things got better.

But I know it won't always be sun and roses. I know the dark stuff is there - in my past, in my future. It bubbles up sometimes.

It's funny, though, because when it bubbles up I don't face it down, then: there are bills to pay, and posts to write. I face all that horror and fear on the page, instead. In safe stories about fake people's tragedies.

Tragedy is my comfort fiction, and I'm OK with that.

First, thanks to Charlie for the invite. Very stoked to be stopping by. It's been a whirlwind month of posts, celebrating the paperback release of my novel, God's War, in the UK (all three books, including Infidel and Rapture, are already out in the US). Very pleased to be finishing up my last two posts here at Charlie's place. Now, onto the good stuff. - kh

Stepping outside a bar in Durban, South Africa. It's hot; the kind of wet heat that clings to you so fiercely it feels like you're draped in a sweater. My friend points to a cloud of insects gathering under the street light, a humming swarm of winged visitors.

"Cockroaches," he says.

"But... they're flying."

"We have cockroaches that fly here," he says.

I stare back up at the swarm. Flying cockroaches, to me, were like something out of a bad dream, some loose worldbuilding tidbit that I'd come up with after a couple late nights trying to figure out how I could swap out giant cats for horses and put shapeshifters in a science fiction story without bothering to figure out where all the mass went.

Insects pervaded my entire life when I lived in Durban. I remember walking past a house covered from roof to foundation with plastic sheeting, getting pumped full of poison. The whole house, wrapped in a tarp and fumigated - just like that. No big deal. There were insects of every type, many of which I had no name for. I assumed, after a while, that every insect I encountered was just some kind of cockroach. I'd wake up in the morning and see one on my pillow. My books got tunneled through by wood boring beetles. A nest of... something... lived under my tub. Every time I ran the water they boiled out onto the bathroom floor. I called them baby cockroaches. It was just easier.

Those who've grown up in tropical or sub-tropical climates might find this level of friendly insect life mundane, but as someone who'd grown up in a temperate zone, the number insects trying to crowd me out of my everyday life was unsettling. It didn't help that the owners of the building I lived in were corrupt. The water was turned off several times when they didn't pay the bill, and in the year and a half I lived there, an exterminator only came by once.

I started to dream of bugs.

People ask all the time where writers' ideas come from, and of course the real answer is there's no one place. What we write about is pure filtered experiences - what we read, what we watch, and the lives we live - all shaken down a sluice and carefully panned for the choicest bits.

When I left Durban, the bugs came with me (perhaps not only metaphorically, but I try not to think about that). Sometimes when an idea takes hold of you, it insists on being seen through.

My preference for the fantastic in my fiction has always leaned more toward the unexplained - whether the work has spaceships or magic or some blurry combination of both. I don't need to know how everything works. In fact, I'd prefer not to. I want to figure that part out myself. I like to hold onto the sense of awe and wonder for as long as possible. Because once you pull back the curtain on the wizard and see it's just a plump little man spinning stories, it loses some of the fun.

So when I returned to the States and started looking at forms of magic I hadn't seen in fiction before - "magic" that I wanted to base in some kind of hazy, rule-based logic - I thought immediately of the insects. I started doing research, and found interesting instances of hornets used to sniff out explosives (and drugs, and all manner of other things). My setting featured a long, grueling war of attrition on a world with few large mammals and certain limitations on hard metals, and using insects to sniff out explosives instead of dogs seemed like a very useful potential tool. Now I just needed to figure out what sorts of people trained them. And what else they could train or manipulate insects to do.

Remote-controlled beetles aren't exactly far-fetched, so I knew I needed to go beyond that. One of the challenges of writing very far-future science fiction (or science fantasy, in my case) has, for me, been thinking far enough ahead that what you put on the page isn't obsolete by the time the book is published. I needed to fudge it. I needed to push it more toward the magic end, because it's the magic end that goes far enough out for me to feel safe in slapping it down, these days.

Insects have been used to inspire all sorts of technology, but what if the insects themselves were the technology? What if they had handlers, magicians, who gave them instructions on what to make and build, what tasks to perform, using pheromones, somehow? I needed an insect-based technology that just worked - without explaining so much it took away the wonder.

So I developed practitioners in the bug arts the way I would any other type of technology, where different people specialize in manipulating different types of insects. Very skilled general practitioners - who could use bugs to do anything from heal a grievous wound to deliver an instant message - were magicians. Those who primarily specialized in insect/pheromone based communications were com-techs. Then there were organic technicians and tissue mechanics, who worked on hybrid machines that had bug-driven organic parts supplemented with more rare and expensive components made from hard metals.

Once I developed the core idea - that the technology powering this world was insect-based - I had to implement it, and I did that by reimaging the way people lived and worked from the ground up. I wanted to capture that uneasy truce between people and insects I felt in Durban. It needed to feel completely natural that people were eating insects, using them as currency, and shooing giant, dog-sized beetles out of the trash bins every night. Insects needed to pervade every part of their lives. Lacking a robust population of mammals and reptiles, insects in this world took their place as pets, on the menu, and in the streets.

It led to passages like this, where a character pops the hood of her bakkie (a type of vehicle):

The bakkie's front end hissed open. Waves of yeasty steam rolled off the innards. Nyx wiped the moisture from her face and peered into the guts of the bakkie. The bug cistern was covered in a thin film of organic tissue, healthy and functioning, best Nyx could tell by the color. The hoses were in worse shape--semi-organic, just like the cistern, but patched and replaced in at least a half-dozen places she could see without bringing in a speculum. In places, the healthy amber tissue had blistered and turned black. She was no bug-blessed magician--not even a standard tissue mechanic--but she knew how to find a leak and patch it up with organic salve. Every woman worth her weight in blood knew how to do that.

And some everyday life that looks like this:

They drove past women and girls walking along the highway carrying baskets on their heads and huge nets over their shoulders. Bugs were popular trade with the magicians in Faleen. Professional creepers caught up to three kilos a day--striped chafers, locusts, tumblebugs, spider wasps, dragonflies, pselaphid beetles, fungus weevils--and headed to the magicians' gym to trade them in for opium, new kidneys, good lungs, maybe a scraping or two to take off the cancers.

When it was all over, and my protagonist took her last drink, I closed the book on the bugs for a while. I could only take so many flying cockroaches, and I suspect that's true of readers, too. But when people ask me how to build really different worlds, how to do something that hasn't been seen a lot, I challenge them to take a look at the wealth of their own experiences - whether that's a life lived through travel, or experiences gleaned from the page.

The most rewarding work I've done has been pulling up some of the darkest, most uncomfortable experiences I've had and transforming them into something magical or, alternately, terribly mundane. It's taking the world and turning it slant. Skewing the mirror, just a bit. Stepping a few inches to the left, when the world hasn't really changed, but your perspective is transformed.

PSA: I (that's Charlie) will be traveling for the next few weeks. And while I'm on that subject, I'll be hoisting a beer this Thursday the 30th in New York. If you're reading this, you're welcome to turn up.

The bar is d.b.a. Brooklyn (113 North 7th Street Brooklyn, NY 11249): Twitter @dbabrooklyn. It's close to Bedford Av. station on the L line and the East River Ferry. Arsebook event here. I'll be there from about 5:30pm-6pm, and I am informed that there should be some cask ales on tap ...

Charlie's away team continue to fill in on the blog. Starting tomorrow, we have Kameron Hurley:

Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author, advertising copywriter, and online scribe. Hurley grew up in Washington State, and has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago. She has degrees in historical studies from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specializing in the history of South African resistance movements.

Hurley is the author of God's War, Infidel, and Rapture, a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award. Her work has also been included on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Hurley's short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Lightspeed, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest Heaven and Year's Best SF. Her fiction has been translated into Romanian, Swedish, and Russian. She is also a graduate of Clarion West.

In addition to her writing, Hurley has been a Stollee guest lecturer at Buena Vista University and taught copywriting at the School of Advertising Art. Hurley currently lives in Ohio, where she's cultivating an urban homestead. She shares articles and insights regularly at kameronhurley.com.

And in case you didn't get the memo, Charlie is of the opinion that you really should try "God's War" if you want to inject some high-density, high-energy health food into your science fiction diet: it's refreshingly different and gripping, and it's published for the first time in the UK this month.

To conclude my first stint of guest-blogging here at Charlie's blog, I thought I'd assemble a practical list of examples, tools, and things to check out if you're interested in learning more about Machinima, indie performance capture and virtual filmmaking.

Many of these tools are free or cheap (although some of them really aren't), and they can offer an intriguing alternative for anyone interested in creating narratives, comedy, or video in general!

Inspirational Examples

I'll start off with a short list of movies made using various Machinima-ish techniques that demonstrate the range of the medium. All of these were made on lower budgets and timescales than my insanely ambitious Death Knight Love Story, and therefore are more representative of what it's possible to achieve without a fifteen-year immersion in the artform!

So, one question that a number of people have asked about Death Knight Love Story (DKLS) can be paraphrased as "Why Machinima?"

In other words, "Why make a film using a computer game? Isn't that, you know, a bit crazy?"

Now, when it comes to the decision to set the film in the storyline of World of Warcraft, I might in hindsight agree. Previous films of mine have used game assets without touching the game's storyline, and whilst I was attracted to the idea of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-ifying the World of Warcraft, in hindsight we'd probably have been better writing an independent, non-WoW-associated plotline.

But as for using the game itself - no, that was a spectacularly good move. A move which enabled the film to be made at all, in fact.

What IS Machinima?

For those who are unaware: I'm best known as a pioneer of a subgenre of animation called "Machinima".

The definition of "Machinima" has teetered back and forth over the years, between "filmmaking in a 3D environment rendered in real-time" and "filmmaking using computer games". The debate has raged fiercely in the Machinima world over the years, and many Machinima purists, including me, have at one point or another gotten very irritated at the way our artform is so strongly linked to gaming.

However, I have come to realise Machinima was and is the result of the remarkable potential of video game worlds to enable a live-action filmmaking style within a virtual world.

The Astonishing Cost Of CGI Animation

Conventional CGI animated moviemaking is infamously slow and expensive. In fact, it's arguably the slowest, most expensive narrative medium in existence, challenged only by stop-motion animation. And one of the key reasons why that's the case is that for each movie, the entire world in which it's set must be created from scratch.

That sounds pretty intimidating as a task. It's actually far more intimidating than it may appear.

Take the characters of the film, for example. Obviously, each protagonist, antagonist and other speaking role needs to be sculpted from scratch. That's a task with multiple stages (concept art, rough sculpt, texture painting, fine sculpt, facial expressions, and matching the character's skeleton to the body in such a way that it doesn't deform unnaturally), and it's not cheap: $3,000 - $5,000 at an indie level to produce characters like our two protagonists in Death Knight Love Story.

So, it's possible to look at a pared-down script and say that, assuming two protagonists and two antagonists, we'll need to spend minimum $12,000 on the task.

Oh, but wait - we also have incidental characters. Any story not set in a deliberately extremely confined location will need quite a lot of these characters: read through any of Charlie's books and notice how many incidental characters have actual or implied lines within a few scenes.

In the case of Death Knight Love Story, the characters mount up quickly. The two traders at the start of the film, the Captain of the Guard, the head of the cannoneers, the other Death Knights in Naxxramas, the adventurers (4 of them) - and that's all within the first five minutes. There are at least another 15 of these incidental characters through the 20 minutes of the film. They need somewhat less attention to detail than the main characters, but if we were creating Death Knight Love Story in a conventional manner, that's still another $30,000 or so needed in the budget.

Well, at least we're done now. Except we're not - because this is a visual medium, and that means we need to consider the background characters needed to make our world feel like a world, not an empty set. And those guys and girls mount up fast: 20+ within the first scene of Death Knight Love Story, far more subsequently. Some of them can be copied and pasted with minor details changed, but there's still a lot of work to do: if you were to assume another $60,000 minimum devoted toward background characters on a film the scale of DKLS, you'd probably be well on the low side.

Now, *looks at smoking chequebook meaningfully* shall we talk about sets? Or props? Skies, backdrops, plants and animals?

The summary of all this: creating worlds ab initio is absolutely standard for 3D animation, and is also really, really goddamn expensive. And so, even if you've got access to motion capture and all the clever tech tweaks that we used on Death Knight Love Story, the cost of hammering together the world in which you will eventually create your film makes animation completely inaccessible for anyone with less than a mainstream TV budget.

Unless - as we did - you have access to a virtual world, such as those created for modern-day computer games. In which case, all those costs go away.

Making Films In A Virtual World

If you have access to a virtual world like Azeroth (the world of World of Warcraft), you can suddenly take a live-action filmmaker's approach. Rather than creating sets, you can simple location-scout. You can choose a landscape, a castle, a house suitable for your project from hundreds of those locations all over these virtual worlds. The process becomes very similar to that of a conventional cameras-and-real-actors film: shortlisting possible locations ("How about this house at the back of Stormwind?" "No, too dingy - how about this one in Goldshire?"), picking one, then moving the cast and crew there.

The only difference is that in real life most directors don't have access to a "/teleport" command.

Rather than creating characters, you can use the existing population of the world, too - most of whom are very happy to take instruction, thanks to being run by an AI script rather than an actual person.

(More or less, anyway - some Machinima makers, particularly those using The Sims, spend good long while wrestling with the problem of persuading their actors to actually cooperate.)

Furthermore, rather than sculpting your lead characters from scratch, you can use the character creation tools provided in the game. Virtually all RPG- or MMO-style games offer a massive range of "casting" choices in the name of making your character unique.

Creating a tool for desiging well-sculpted, appealing protagonists who fit into the same consistent art style is surprisingly complex. However, the number of people out there who want to play an AAA computer game is massive - easily enough to justify the investment in a tool capable of churning out almost infinite numbers of beautifully sculpted, world-consistent protagonists.

And so, suddenly, for an independent storyteller, the projected costs of any independent animated project plummet if they're willing to use a "Machinima" approach.

Of course, their story has to fit within the locations and characters offered by a game's world; but there are so many games out there, and each of them have such vast, sprawling worlds that it's comparatively easy to find a good prospect.

It would be possible to tell almost any low to mid-fantasy story using Skyrim or World of Warcraft, with some minor modifications. The genre of science fiction, at least in its mainstream film-friendly incarnation, is similarly well-covered by EVE Online, Half-Life 2, Dead Space and dozens of other games. (It would take some thinking, but I could probably make a fair stab at adapting any of Charlie's SF works using one, another, or a combination of game engines.) And of course, modern-day stories are thoroughly covered by everything from The Sims to Call of Duty.

Now, the chances are that you're wondering about the legal aspects of this usage - and that's an entirely different kettle of fish, and a rapidly-evolving one at that. ( A situation I can assure you isn't particularly comfortable if you're one of the fish. )

But in principle, this is why Machinima is so attractive: because it allows animators, rather than having to create their worlds, simply to become live-action filmmakers and take their cameras into worlds that don't exist.

I mentioned on Sunday that I had been in the middle of a death march - and here's the reason why.

Five years ago, I decided to move my film-making to using motion capture technology.

At the time, I was playing a lot of World of Warcraft, and Blizzard had just made the unique, brave move to release an official license allowing users to make Machinima without sitting in a legal quagmire. And wanting to support that, I decided to set my test mocap movie in the WoW universe.


So I came up with the idea of a love story between a character who could be a WoW hero, and one of the raid bosses of the game. It's rather a "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are dead"-ing of the game's plot - a separate epic love story neatly slotted into the cracks of the official game narrative.

At the time, I was chatting to Chris Jones, a friend of mine who had just managed to get his short film onto the Oscar shortlist. Chris suggested that I - and indeed Machinima creators at large - should be trying to cast famous actors in our movies - and given his success, I thought "why not give it a go?"

So, I started at the top, and gave Gail Stevens a call - the casting director behind Slumdog Millionaire, Narnia, Zero Dark Thirty, and dozens of other famous movies.

I was, naturally, expecting the firm but polite equivalent of the phrase "WTF? Lol." after I explained my crazy gollum-mocap-suit, based-on-a-game idea - and so was somewhat startled when she was instead very keen on the film. And suddenly, I had moved from "funky little test film" to "Do you see Joanna Lumley in this role?"

I did, in fact, see Joanna in the role - and so did she.


A few months later, we'd cast Brian Blessed as Arthas, the Lich King. Joanna Lumley and Jack Davenport were playing Lady Blaumeaux and Sir Zeliek, two characters from the WoW Naxxramas raid who play leading roles in the DKLS story. And Anna Chancellor plays Miria, the resurrected heroine of the piece.

Needless to say, this meant I had to rather raise my sights as far as intended quality went. And so, my little test film became what I hoped would be my breakout work - and over the next five (!) years, I worked to refine and improve it. We found amazing animators to complement our motion capture. We asked a BAFTA-nominated composer to compose the Kurosawa-influenced score. And we worked with historical martial arts experts to develop our action scenes.

And today, it's finally finished.

You can watch Death Knight Love Story for free online at http://www.deathknightlovestory.com/ . It's available both to stream and to torrent - since I'd rather take advantage of amazing new technology than try and get it banned.

Enjoy, and I'd love to hear what you think! If you fancy sharing the film, suggesting press we should get in touch with, or indeed writing a piece yourself, that would be awesome - and please do get in touch at info@strangecompany.org in that case, as I'm very happy to assist with images, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and so on.

Thanks to Charlie for letting me share this on his blog, btw!

I suspect that everyone reading this has worked truly insane hours at one time or another. And you've probably suffered the consequences.

So as my first post for Charlie's blog, here's something slightly different: a survival guide to working insane hours, based on many years in the film industry watching dawn break from my chair in the edit suite.

Whilst I've been thinking about topics for guest-posting, I've spent some time considering what writers like Charlie and moviemakers like me have in common. And one thing that sprang to mind immediately was the ubiquitous death march. I've seen Charlie go through more than a few 10,000 word a day writing sprints, and I've pulled some pretty manic stunts on that line myself.

I'd say I recall staying up for more than 72 hours to finish the trailer for my first film. However, that would be a lie, because by the end I was so exhausted all that's left in my memory is a rather Hunter S. Thompson-esque dream sequence.

The trailer was bloody terrible, too.

Since then, I've ended up in the hundred-hour work week club at least once a year for various things. It's not necessarily a very good idea (although death marches, used judiciously, do work) but it's a situation a lot of us end up in.

And right at the moment, I personally know at least three readers of this blog who are doing massive death marches on individual projects. That includes me, as I rush to finish the biggest project of my career. (More on that in a day or so.)

So I thought I'd share some tips I've picked up over the years of injudicious working hours...

Should You Death March In The First Place?

Long term, death marches don't give you more productive time.

I'm pleased to introduce the first of three guest bloggers who'll be posting here while I'm away for the next month: Hugh Hancock of Strange Company, sometimes called "the father of Machinima".

As one of the pioneers of real-time 3D animated filmmaking—known as Machinima—he has worked on pioneering new ways to make movies with unexpected technology for more than 15 years.

He founded (but does not currently run) Machinima.com, now the fourth-biggest YouTube channel in the world. He directed the online-distributed feature film BloodSpell. And he has been quoted on the future of filmmaking in the New York Times, the Guardian, on the BBC and on NPR amongst others.

He also fronted possibly the geekiest cookery show in the history of the medium.

Currently he is working on a new project starring Hollywood voice actors and using Avatar-style performance capture, which he expects to release in late January 2014.

When he isn't making films, Hugh is a Muay Thai enthusiast, amateur game designer and borderline cooking and coffee obsessive ...

Jim Hines has some interesting things to say about chasing the market: at writers workshops he (and I) are often asked, by folks in search of success, "What's popular right now? What's the next Big New Thing? What are agents and editors looking for?"

I'd like to remind any aspiring writers reading this right now that the only reason for paying any attention to the current runaway success is that you should avoid writing anything like it. Here's why:

Should pass 80,000 words tomorrow; the end is in sight (somewhere in the range 5-10 days' work away). Until I get there, though, blogging is going to be scanty.

I'm going to be away from January 29th through February 20th, travelling. Consequently, I'm in the process of lining up some guest bloggers. Guest blogger #1, who'll be starting in a week's time, isn't (surprise!) an SF/F author; he's Hugh Hancock of Strange Company, an SF/F filmmaker who's doing pioneering work in the fields of Machinima and low-end motion capture. (He also founded Machinima.com, back in the dawn of the 21st century.) Among other things, he'll probably be talking about his latest production ...

I was planning on hitting another hornets' nest with a baseball bat this week just to keep you amused (candidate topics: why Libertarians are like Leninists; how to solve the housing crisis (and why it won't happen); the end of the American Century), but my ability to cope with delusional narcissists and real estate agents is running critically low right now. I am 70,000 words into the first draft of a 100,000 word novel, which is great, except that I really want to get it finished by January 28th—and I'm about to take three compulsory days off writing (because family stuff).

So instead, I want you all to pitch in and try to come up with the best caption for this really cute cat photo I found on reddit. Such teeth, very hairless, wow!

Maybe some enterprising cipherpunks can base a cryptocurrency on it ...

Every year, John Scalzi posts a blog entry inviting authors who have published work in the preceding year that's eligible for nominations for the field's awards to announce and/or link to the work in question. As he says:

So if you're a science fiction and fantasy author, editor, or artist: Tell us what works of yours (or if you in yourself) are eligible for award consideration this year. The site gets up to 50,000 visitors a day, many of whom nominate for Hugos/Nebulas/Other genre awards, so it's a decent way to get the word out.
This site doesn't get 50,000 visitors a day; more like 19,000 (peaking at 62,000 on a really good day, which this isn't). But if you want to tell everyone what you've published in 2013, feel free to do so here as well! I'm pretty sure our readerships form only partially overlapping sets ...

The Bloodline Feud The Traders War The Revolution Trade

This has taken me slightly by surprise—I was expecting an official announcement later in the month—but as they're available for pre-order on Amazon.com right now I think I can safely say this:

Tor are releasing the remastered, halfway-rewritten, omnibus editions of the Merchant Princes series in the US as DRM-free ebooks next Wednesday, the 7th of January:
The Bloodline Feud

The Traders' War

The Revolution Trade

Paper editions will follow in September 2014 to January 2015: dates subject to confirmation. I'll provide other, non-Amazonian ebook store links as and when I get them. More information below the fold ...



About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2013 is the previous archive.

February 2014 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog