Green is Dead: Learning from Writing Cyberpunk

By Lesley Conner
on September 30, 2019
1 comment

Guest post by Alex Livingston, author of Glitch Rain

As I was putting Akuba through her unpleasant adventures in lack mentality and international travel, the best fun was to be had in trying to come up with wacky uses of currently available technology that felt just around the corner. I still find myself keeping on the lookout for niche street tech and unique adaptations to our changing climate—and wondering how Akuba and her cronies would make a quick dishonest buck off of them.

I’ve written another book since then, one which is about as opposite from Glitch Rain in genre and structure as a book can be. Add in a few earlier pieces and I’m starting to see patterns in my choices. Some are intentional. Some less so. For example, all of my longer works end with the main characters on water. Why is this? Is there some subconscious meaning in my personal symbol-language that’s cropping up without my intent? Travels over the water as indication of a major change in a person’s life? Or do I just like boats? Coincidence? Suffice it to say that I have taken my first steps into the recursive, bottomless mystery of authorial intent vs. interpretation, another tool on the paranoid tool-belt of a writer. So if my next piece doesn’t end with a conversation on a boat, will I have intentionally broken the cycle? Now that I see the pattern, will it change my writing regardless of what I want? HOW WILL I RIDE THIS VERY MUCH PUN INTENDED WAVE THAT IS WRITING AND HANG TEN IN THE GNARLIEST FASHION?!?!

And in other pattern recognition news, has cyberpunk seemed really pink lately? While I’m sure it’s [insert fancy word for seeing patterns that aren’t there I just googled to look smart], after Glitch Rain’s awesome cover hit the feeds I started seeing bright pink creeping up on Matrix green as the default color of the genre. Be it in games (like in Cyberpunk 2077’s controversial ad), the giant Joi hologram in Blade Runner 2049, or an occasional appearance in Black Mirror, clearly we should all herald cover artist Matt Davis as a style-maker.  

Today is the final day of our back catalog blog tour, and the final day to save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER. Pick up Glitch Rain and any other Apex title that tickles your fancy and save!

The Ecstasy of Influence

By Lesley Conner
on September 27, 2019

Guest post by Paul Jessup, author of Close Your Eyes

One of the things I love about genre is how we embrace our influences. We don’t feel that anxiety of influence Harold Bloom talks about when discussing literary fiction and literary writers. We take our influences and mix them up, throw them together, create new things out of the hodgepodge of what came before.

The best kind of genre fiction, I feel, is in constant conversation with its antecedents. Genre itself is based around taking what came before and enjoying it so much that you’re inspired to remix the whole thing. It’s part of the joys of working in genre fiction, and some the most interesting ones are writes who pull in influences from outside of genre, and then treat them with that same kind of exhilarating joy that they have for their speculative influences.

I know I feel a bright joy when I’m writing, and I’m reading a million different works at the same time, and I can feel them worming their way through my consciousness, infecting my writing. There is an ecstatic excitement to it, by creating something new out of all the detritus that clogs up my head.

I don’t worry about it, like Bloom thinks all writers do. I don’t have anxiety thinking I will never live up to these people. Why should anyone care about that? Why would we want to live up to the past when we can blaze a new way into the future, built on the bones of what went before? And it’s a great easter egg for other reads and writers and fans of the fiction we pull from, isn’t it? Who doesn’t get that warm clever feeling when they spot a reference or a call back or a crib from something else?

I know, my writing is full of this stuff. Take Close Your Eyes, for example. The influences on that are wide and varied. I was forcing my mind to soak up so many things, to get to that feeling I wanted while I was writing it.

I reread Delany’s Nova and Empire Star a few times, as well as M John Harrison’s Light and Nova Swing. I watched Alien, mostly because I wanted the ships in Close Your Eyes to feel like the ships in Alien, especially that weird giant vessel at the start of it. I watched the Dune documentary untold number of times, and read the Incal, knowing that Jodorowsky was going down the same weird space opera path I wanted to get in the book. I also watched Holy Mountain and Sante Sangre again and again for that same reason.

I also watched a few Felleni films, to get the emotional tone I wanted. One big influence was La Strada, which had a folklore feeling to it. I copied the character archetypes he used for the main characters aboard my ship in the story. I also watched his Satyricon for the same surreal inspiration I was getting from Holy Mountain and Sante Sangre.

And of course, I also watched a ton of Star Wars films. I wanted to dig back into my first love for space opera, back in the day. From there I went on and read all of Leigh Brackett I could buy from the local used bookstore. I read a ton of Cordwainer Smith as well, buying several short story collections and a copy of Norstrailia from that same used bookstore. His use of language and non-traditional story structures were a huge influence on Close Your Eyes.

The second half of the book was influenced almost entirely by Heart of Darkness. I had this idea I’d been working on for a long time, a moon-sized labyrinth that was also a sanitarium, people inside being experimented on by creepy dolls. And the plot structure would be Heart of Darkness, right down to a character turning into mad Colonel Kurtz. It also pulled from the movie, Apocalypse Now, though not quite as much.

The parasitic alien language was inspired by reading tons of Burroughs. Both his books, and listening to his lectures and audio recording. I also read a ton of Philip K. Dick while writing this, the biggest influences being Ubik and a Scanner Darkly. I also pulled the poetic language and the sentence structure from the Beat poets, most specifically Kerouac. But I also pulled some of it from Dave Eggers and his You Shall Know Our Velocity.

And what joy I got from ingesting all these works, the excitement of reading them while I was working on Close Your Eyes infected it deep down on the bone level.

You should snag a copy, they’re at B&N and Amazon, but what the hell. Be a good reader and get it straight from the source at Apex.

You can save 25% when you order Close Your Eyes and anything else in the Apex store by using discount code SEPTEMBER at checkout!

Anatomy of a Sequel

By Lesley Conner
on September 24, 2019

Guest post by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, author of Winterglass and Mirrorstrike

A few facts, to set the scene:

  1. Winterglass was originally written as a standalone (no, really!)
  2. Not just a standalone, it was conceived as a short story
  3. I thought it would write itself, because it’s a retelling of a well-known fairytale. Those are so done, nobody wants to read another one, right? It was going to be a funny length anyway so I thought, well, this goes into a folder and stays there; I had no intention of pursuing publication for it 
  4. I don’t outline because I don’t outline short stories, and Winterglass was going to be a short story, you see
  5. I knew I was in trouble when Winterglass started developing subplots but I still had faith that it was going to just be a longer short story, that which we call the novelette
  6. It was going to be, at most, 12,000–15,000 words and more closely follows the Andersen tale (the actual book is more than twice as long and deviates pretty far from the Andersen tale)
  7. Oops

Needless to say, when some people told me they were (pleasantly) surprised that there will be a sequel, I was surprised too. Not at the same time, obviously, that would be weird. I like to think my publisher, Jason, was surprised too (or maybe not; possibly he could sense all along that a sequel was inevitable). But when I wrote the last paragraphs of Winterglass, I was absolutely satisfied that the story was done: it was concluded, there needed be no further addition. Yes, it ends on a bleak note—not even pyrrhic, just self-destructive; yes, some people read it as a sequel hook (it truly wasn’t). Nevertheless, that was the ending. 

To explain, I started off with short fiction; publication-wise that was my background. And short fiction can have open endings, since typically they don’t have sequels (or at least aren’t expected to have any), so ending on this note would have been perfectly normal if Winterglass had been a short story (and I maintain that it’s fine to end longer-form work this way, but). An open ending implies rather than shows, and that’s what I wanted with Winterglass, to suggest what is to come (and what’s to come isn’t very pleasant). For short stories, ambiguous endings are not uncommon, you don’t necessarily expect to see a character’s entire life, past, present and future; you don’t even necessarily expect to see whether they succeed at what they set out to do in the story’s paragraph one. Closure is optional and not always the point. 

Novellas are interesting in that they’re expected to behave more like novels than short stories. I don’t think they should have to, but of course I’m not everyone; I think of novellas as its own format rather than some weird in-between hybrid (naturally I am biased). Being more compact, it has to arrive at a point; you can’t Robert Jordan your way through fourteen books where nothing happens and characters are described tugging their braids the same way approximately 5,000,000 times. There just isn’t any room. And, by nature of the format, it’s most practical for me to assume that you’ll get only one shot at the story. Novellas are standalones more often than not.

Regardless, I did wind up writing a sequel.

It went through several drafts; I think accounting for all drafts, it probably took me about a year to write, final draft, revise, and submit. This absolutely took longer than was strictly necessary, partly because my first go at it wasn’t serious: I thought, okay, maybe I’ll write a sequel but maybe I won’t, who knows? I wrote it halfway and let it lie for months, then went to write some short stories (one of which being ‘That Rough-Hewn Sun’). Several people convinced me that a sequel could be a good idea, so I came at the final draft with a bit more vigor and a more solid idea of what should be. This was a little aggravating in the sense that I believe in stories as self-contained.

On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to title sequels. That’s fun, though I went through a lot of iterations before I came to Mirrorstrike, whereas the first book’s title was decided pretty early on (and did me the favor of naming itself).

Much like the first book, the initial draft and the final one were radically different—originally, Mirrorstrike was going to take place in a city that’s sprung up beneath the Winter Queen’s palace, but after writing ‘That Rough-Hewn Sun’ (a prequel novelette dealing with Lussadh’s first contact with the queen) I felt there was more resonance in returning to Lussadh’s homeland and the site of her great treachery. This set off an interesting series of exercises, one of which was to recheck and cross-reference with the first book and the novelette for consistencies: new to me given that, prior, I’d only written connected short stories (and connection means the same setting, sometimes the same set of characters, but often set years or even centuries apart) and there wasn’t much cross-referencing to do. And, I had to tell a story that I’d earlier only implied.

However, what I originally implied with the ending of Winterglass is … well … exactly what it sounds like: I intended to suggest that Nuawa dies trying to bring down the Winter Queen, and her icy reign goes on and on, long past Nuawa’s lifespan. But readers take that kind of ending poorly, and in any case I came up with a different plot, a different set of ideas. One of those ideas is showing Lussadh’s political difficulties, how she handles the courtiers and soldiers that helped her revolt succeed, the promises she made to them and in some cases didn’t keep. And she’s got a compelling tale of her own, I like to think; at any rate many readers enjoyed her. (I was always surprised to see some people think of her as the antagonist—to me she was always Nuawa’s co-protagonist, and I’m hoping Mirrorstrike will bring that into clearer focus.)

Because I never do things according to plan, Mirrorstrike ended up being much longer than I thought, and also considerably longer than Winterglass, which gave me a bit more space to work with. It’s all very novel (pun intended) to me, and I hope readers will enjoy the end result as much as I did crafting it.

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