Someone sent me this a couple of hours ago, prompting me to head on a very short Google search, for Noldofinve on Deviant Art.
I’m in love with this. It’s Cyrene and Argel Tal. It’s like… actually them. And it’s perfect.
It’s also now my desktop background while I write Betrayer, which is pretty apt considering where I’m at in the story, and what Erebus and Argel Tal are discussing. Ho, ho, ho…
It’s really, really, really strange to see your writing having an effect on people. In the handful of years since I started – I’m still pretty new to all this, remember – I guess I was prepared for some of the awesome comments online, and the reviews, and the chatter at signings and conventions. That doesn’t devalue any of them, it’s just that all that stuff was easier to imagine because it’s considered a perk of the trade. (Incidentally, I’m often cripplingly uncomfortable and anxious at signings, and do my best to disguise it, so I don’t consider it a perk. I consider it terrifying.)
Same with minis of my characters – I’ve seen so many killer conversions of Talos and co. but you almost expect it, given the passion of readers and hobbyists, when there’s a nebulous realm of overlap between the two.
But actual artwork of my characters? Someone cared enough about my head-mess to capture them outside of converted plastic? Sort of mindblowing. And this perfectly captures the soul of those two characters, at least as I imagined it. On a similar note, I’ve seen tattoos people got based on my work, like, in a language I freaking invented. That’s terrifying, too.
But in a good way.
Not a single fu–
Not a single swear word:
I was going to do a really cool post. I was going to be all casual and say “Hi, I’m a New York Times Bestseller, and you’re probably not. Anyway, here’s more reasons I hate Star Trek.”
And I’m sure it would’ve been my usual slice of dickishness with a little humour peeking through the cracks, and we’d all have chuckled, slapped each other on the backs and said “Oh, that Aaron, he’s quite a joker.”
That was my plan.
At this stage, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s for real. Let’s just say if there’s an error in the list and I get kicked off it, I won’t exactly have a heart attack. I’m half-expecting it to happen.
I found out last night (from Facebook, of all places). The problem was that my source was Christian Dunn, my publisher’s short fiction editor. Christian is – and I’m being fair, here – a meanie. This had all the hallmarks of a classic Dunnish Prank(tm), and rather than feel any joy over the deal, I vowed to stab him in the intestines instead. I decided to wait for the actual list to see if it was for real.
I woke up late this morning, because I’d been up until 5:30am trying to catch up on Blood Reaver and my Age of Darkness short story, which are both (surprise!) almost ludicrously late. I did the first thing that I do everyday. I checked my email.
And man, I had a lot of email.
I usually wake up to a fair bunch of stuff (editors writing in CAPITAL LETTERS about missed deadlines; private messages from various forums, etc.), but this was insane. I clicked a few of the ones from various folks at my publisher.
But the things they were saying didn’t make sense to me. Madness. These were my colleagues, indeed, my friends. Rik Cooper, Mark Newton, Chris Wraight… I trusted them, yet they had embarked on this strange course of action, deciding to make no sense at all.
I started reading Facebook comments, and emails from other people. These were equally mystifying.
At this moment in time, I was listening to ‘Save it for Later’, by The Beat. I like that song.
Still confused, I took my glasses off.
This didn’t help at all, because I needed them to see the screen. Without them, I had to move closer.
Gripped by a sudden desire to stop pulling confused faces, I decided to check myself. On my quest, I found this:
Wait, I thought. I know that guy.
(Shouldn’t that be ‘Black Library’? Not ‘Games Workshop’? I didn’t know it went out like that. Whatever.)
Of course, since all novelists only ever write for money rather than the pleasure of creation, my mind immediately turned to the financial benefits. The cash! The clout! The… raw… power…
Why, I could even introduce myself like this: “Hi, I’m New York Times Bestselling Author Aaron Dembski-Bowden”, and it would actually be true. I mean, it would be really, really dickish, but it wouldn’t actually be a lie.
But then I remembered how I won’t see the royalties for ages.
Making the NYT Bestseller List has been one of my ambitions ever since I realised I was too stupid to be a paramedic.
Instead of doing something fuelled by hate, despite that’s what everyone always wants to see from me (and what comes naturally when discussing Star Trek), I’m just going to say Thanks. A sincere thanks to everyone who bought and dug The First Heretic.
10 months of my life went into that novel. The reviews and forum feedback have been incredible, overwhelming, and a host of other words that all really just mean “killer” and “rad”.
So I shall use this space to say something terminally lame instead. And that is this:
“Hey, Mum and Dad! Look at me!”
With thanks to Shroud Film.
(I’m not this fat. I am this tired.)
Another great The First Heretic review, this time from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, which is a site I like a whole bunch.
But – and here’s the thing – I’m starting to see why all the veterans tell me to ignore reviews, and not let them linger in my brainjunk, whether they’re good, bad, sucky or rad. People take different things from novels, the same way they look for different things, notice different things, and enjoy different things. And as a natural response to that, they perceive you (and your work) in ways that might seem surprising when you hear about them.
Previously, pretty much every review I’ve read of my work, and checking out the bunches of feedback from several huge forums, people say the best aspects of my work are pretty much always the way I write and develop characters, and how immersive that makes my stuff. (I think an honourable mention goes towards my space battles, but I digress.) One of the things that I seem to get lauded for, is that my work tends to be deeper and more nuanced than a lot of other sci-fi and/or 40k writing. True or not, it’s something I see a lot of. I don’t say I believe it, or that it’s ironclad truth. But I get a lot of it.
Then, this week, I’ve come across two opinions for the first time ever, that have made me stop and think: “…wait, what?”
The first was an off-hand reference to a reviewer being pleasantly surprised by The First Heretic, because they’d previously been unsure if I could pull off a “thinker’s story”. The second is right here, permeated all through the GFB review, but exemplified by this quote: “What it isn’t though is the ideal venue to let loose with the guns and attitude in the way that Dembski-Bowden likes to do best.”
Now, to me, that doesn’t sound like me at all. I don’t like to do that. In fact, I do my level best to avoid fighting in my novels, because too much of it seems shallow and childish, and because if a character throws down in any movie or novel, I get bored to Hell unless they’re doing it for a good reason. I am literally unable to watch Blade ever again. I think it’s the worst film ever made. I try to stick with a simple rule in my writing: if there’s a fight, it needs to either develop a character; highlight something about their personality or backstory to the reader; or forward the plot in some other way beyond bloodshed and casualties – preferably a subtle way, but that’s not always realistic or possible. And, by and large, practically all the feedback I’ve had has been that I do it well.
But this was the first time I’ve ever seen people say that they expected something else from me, or that they perceived my work in such a way that I can’t quite wrap my squishy skull-matter around.
Now, bullshit aside, I regard The First Heretic as the best thing I’ve written yet. It stormed around the publisher’s office, snapping up praise, and one of the BL editors said it was one of the 10 best books Black Library have ever released. While I’m slowly facing up to the fact my newness will harm any chances of keeping the Horus Heresy NYT Bestseller chain going (and pre-sales like Games Day don’t count towards that total, so…), I’m still dead certain the novel will please pretty much everyone that gets their paws on it. It’s especially killer in the sense it sets up future Word Bearer HH novels with deliciously obvious intent. I sort of, kinda, maybe, perhaps, sorta imagine it a little like Horus Rising, as the first of a ‘separate’ trilogy. But that’s just my brain rattling the bars, not an actual plan. At some point, it’ll have a sequel. Calth awaits, after all. That much is clear come the end of the novel.
Graeme’s an insightful guy, and certainly not wrong in some things he says. There were constraints because of lore and continuity, and not all of them were helpful. Sometimes, you need to take a long look at this stuff, and realise that it’s based on occasional paragraphs written 25 years ago, not by professional writers, but by gamers who basically had no idea of what the future held in terms of global recognition. And with all due respect, dancing to those tunes isn’t always easy. But then, I’d level the “slightly constrained” marker at every Horus Heresy novel so far, excepting Legion. It’s certainly nothing specific to The First Heretic, and I doubt it shows any more than, say, Horus Rising, False Gods, A Thousand Sons, or Fulgrim. Of course, drawing attention to it means people will notice it, but whatever. I have no fears regarding that book, which is an interesting first for me.
But it’s acutely uncomfortable to read a review where someone sees you in a certain way that’s nothing like how you see yourself, or how people usually talk about you. This, in part, is why authors use pseudonyms when writing in other genres – to break the stigma of what they’ve done before. And this is the first time I’ve seriously given thought to the fact I may end up doing that with my original fiction when it’s published in a few years. Will it be a necessary reset to cleanse the palette of former opinion? Even extremely positive opinion? Man, I fucking hate that thought. But people do it all the time.
I don’t post this with a plea for support or to start arguments over opinions. I post it because I like to be honest, I like to chronicle major shit that happens, and all of that, dear mortals, is what’s spinning around my head on this particular day.
The curious moments of being a new novelist.
The next post I make will either be the trailer for the novel, or 5 Reasons I Hate Star Trek. I have pictures for that one, mostly of aliens with faces like battered vaginas.
Just a quickie, today.
An extract from The First Heretic, in an early – and rather important – scene.
The First Heretic is finished. I’ve spent the last 31 hours straight going over the .pdf, making the absolutely final, no more, totally done now edits that mean it can finally be released into the hands of the printing goblins.
If you’re curious about page count, it’s pretty much the same as Nemesis and Fulgrim. We are talking, for all intents and purposes, of one chunkalicious book. The longest novel I’ve ever done – and I think probably the best-paced, as well as the best-written.
Mouseover the cover for a secret spoiler of actual dialogue between a Custodes and a Word Bearer. Don’t say I don’t spoil you, okay? Because I do. We both know it.
Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go to bed.
In the next Black Library Previews Catalogue (the one for September-December 2010), there are extracts from both The First Heretic and ‘The Core’, my Night Lords short story in Fear the Alien. The former shows the conclusion of a meeting between Lorgar and Roboute Guilliman, at a seriously key moment early in the novel. The latter shows the Covenant of Blood’s raptors being assholes, which is something they excel at.
I figure this might be of interest to some people:
(Bear in mind it’s still a draft, blah blah blah, usual jazz, blah blah blah, might change completely, blah blah fucking blah.)
— — —
— — —
‘Guilliman,’ the primarch spoke his brother’s name with an envenomed tongue. A shrug of his shoulders pushed Argel Tal and Xaphen aside, immediately forgotten.
Emotion flooded back into Lorgar’s eyes. His gaze was locked on Guilliman, who returned it – passionless where Lorgar was inflamed.
‘Does it please you,’ the Word Bearer lord sneered, ‘to witness my shame?’
Guilliman didn’t answer, but Lorgar wouldn’t back down.
‘Does it please you?’ he pressed. ‘Do you enjoy seeing my efforts reduced to ashes while our father favours you?’
Guilliman breathed slowly, utterly unfazed. He spoke as if no question had been asked.
‘Our father entrusted me to inform you of one last matter.’
‘Then speak it and begone.’ Lorgar reached for his crozius on the ground, and dragged it up from the ash. Dust rained from its spiked head.
‘These five warriors of the Legiones Custodes,’ the Ultramarines primarch inclined his head to them. ‘They are not alone. Fifteen more remain on my flagship. Our father has ordered them to accompany you, brother.’
Argel Tal closed his eyes at this final indignity. After kneeling in the ashes of failure, after being told by the Emperor that all their achievements were worthless… Now this. Lorgar laughed, the sound ripe with derision. His face was still smeared with dust.
‘I refuse. They are not needed.’
‘Our father believes otherwise,’ Guilliman said. ‘These warriors are to be his eyes as your Legion rejoins the Great Crusade.’
‘And does our father set hounds to watch over you? Do they reside in your precious empire of Ultramar, whispering of your every move? I see the shadow of a smile on your lips. These others do not know you as I do, brother. Our sons may not see the amusement in your eyes, but I am not blind to such nuance.’
‘You have always possessed an active imagination, Lorgar. Today has proven that.’
‘My devotion is my strength.’ Lorgar clenched his perfect teeth. ‘You have no heart, and no soul.’ A snort blackened his angelic features with a disgusted twist. ‘I pray that one day, you feel as I feel. Would you smile if one of Ultramar’s worlds died in fire? Tarentus? Espandor? Calth?’
‘You should return to your fleet, brother.’ Guilliman uncrossed his arms, revealing the golden Aquila emblazoned across his chest. The eagle’s spread wings glinted with reflected sunlight. ‘You have much work to do.’
The blow came from nowhere. In its wake, the air rang with the echo of metal on metal, the clashing chime of a great cathedral bell. It was almost beautiful.
A primarch lay in the dust, surrounded by his warriors. None present had ever witnessed such a thing. Argel Tal’s bolter was raised, aimed at the ranks of Ultramarines who mirrored the gesture in kind. A hundred gun barrels levelled at a hundred thousand. The Seventh Captain needed three attempts to form words.
‘Hold your fire,’ he whispered into the general vox channel. ‘Do not fire unless fired upon.’
Lorgar rested the immense crozius mace on his golden shoulder. His grey eyes flickered with uncertain emotion as he bared his teeth at the fallen Lord of Macragge.
‘You will never mock me again, brother. Is that understood?’
Guilliman’s rise was slow, almost hesitant. The golden eagle on his breastplate was split, a valley-crack running through its body.
‘You go too far,’ a softer voice said. Malcador, First Lord of Terra, still clutched his staff. It was all that kept him standing. ‘You go too far.’
‘Be silent, worm. The next time you bleed my patience dry, I will do more than slap you aside.’
Guilliman was on his feet now. He turned an expressionless face back to his brother.
‘Is your tantrum concluded, Lorgar? I must return to the Crusade.’
‘Come, my friend,’ Kor Phaeron’s corpse-sneer was directed at Guilliman even as his words were meant for his primarch. ‘Come. We have much to discuss.’
Lorgar exhaled, and nodded once. The anger was fading, and no longer offered a shield against shame. ‘Yes. Back to the ships.’
‘All companies,’ Kor Phaeron spat across the vox, ‘return to orbit.’
‘Yes, first captain,’ Argel Tal replied with the others. ‘By your word.’
I have an idea that I think is pretty wonderful.
Now, do I use it in The First Heretic, knowing that it’s likely that some… uh… opinionated and battle-hungry readers are going to call me out about how “gay” it is, or do I save it for my own fantasy series that I’m slowly writing when deadlines allow?
Come, friends. Sit with me, and listen to a tale of one man’s week. I won’t keep you long. That’s it, sit right there. No, don’t touch that. It’s expensive. You’ll make it dirty.
Don’t touch that, either. You know what? Just sit over there, instead. Christ.
Now let’s get down to business before you bastards get muddy pawprints all over my blog.
— — —
The First Heretic drags on.
At this stage, it’s so ludicrously close to the halfway point that I can sense Nick Kyme scowling every time someone mentions my name. I won’t bore you with the details of exactly what went through the change-grinder this week, but they were some pretty mega alterations. Essentially, they had to happen. I’ve got a very strong outline – beloved by all who read it – but actually translating events into prose was the tricksy-trick. Entirely new characters have slid into proceedings, and a main character changed name and gender. (Dan? Laurie? Ishaq’s a chick now, and not called Ishaq.) All of this was with the excitingly late forethought (ooh, paradoxical) that the second half of the novel needed these changes in order to make… certain events… work well.
One of the main points of focus in The First Heretic is to make it feel like Horus Rising – and to a lesser extent False Gods and Galaxy in Flames. Thankfully, the only person to have read a solidly edited block is Laurie Goulding from BLTV, and he mentioned the feel of it without me even needing to bring it up. But you probably know what I mean: Those books had a distinct tone to them – a sense of dangerous wonder. I want to recapture that atmosphere, without making the storyline or characters remotely like what’s come before. Whether I succeed or not is down to the decisions of others, mind you. I think it’s going well, but it’s taken some serious braingear grinding.
In other news, Soul Hunter is doing insanely well. Like, there are no words for it. The reception to it has been way beyond killer: in reviews, in forum chatter, and – as far as I know from vague discussalizing – in sales, too. Anyone who has spent more than three seconds in a room with me knows that I think I’m fairly hot shit when my fingertips start clacking down on keys, but the novel’s going down a storm. I’m an avid spy when it comes to how BL books do in reviews and online opinion, and I can honestly say I’d not trade Soul Hunter’s reception for anything else. [That said, Graham just nailed bestselling sci-fi novel in the UK with A Thousand Sons, and rightly so – the book is a beast, and everything an HH novel should be. But I digress and fangasm.]
With Spring and Summer looming, this rural Irish wilderness is beginning to look less like Hoth. We don’t need to be out on the lane with pickaxes, thunking them into the ice because cars can’t get up a lane frozen like wet glass. The cat can be kicked out without me worrying he’ll die a frostbitten death within eighteen seconds. Best of all, I made it through an entire winter without my friend Jessica teasing me that the tauntauns in The Empire Strikes Back were called “ice donkeys”.
It also means friends will flock to us once more, like the beloved vultures that they are. Rob, Nik and Greg unite to form the D&D phalanx, for a long weekend every 6 weeks. Steve is moving up from the republic to our slice of Ireland, to live with us for a while. My parents are visiting soon, marking the first time I’ve seen my mum in almost a year – since I bounced into this deep countryside self-exile, in fact. Handsome Ben and Sarah are thinking of heading over, too – that’ll be monumentally rad.
Is all well? No. While Katie’s loving her job at the playgroup and the money situation draws closer to sanity, I’m tremblingly desperate to get back into 40K, Warhammer and Necromunda. Several of us have vague plans to raise armies, but getting solid dates for Warhammer Weekends every few months – and getting people to actually raise armies on budgets – is a nightmare. I’m not accusing anyone of being a slacker, here. My own slackerness eclipses theirs.
So there’s that.
I’ve been clean from WoW for two months now, and was barely playing it for several months before that. But I’m still not managing to use my spare time constructively. I’m reading even more, but I read a lot anyway. I go back to Word.docs and write more, picking at them and editing, but I do that all day, anyway. It’s not exactly like I can give myself a thumbs-up for delving even deeper into antisocial pastimes. But then, I hate people. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I do have a punchbag now, though. No other exercise could ever be so much fun.
Also, gonna do some book reviews soon. Since the New Year, I’ve read The Unblemished, Decay Inevitable (Conrad Williams); Iron Company (Chris Wraight); The Road (Cormac McCarthy); Blood Pact, Horus Rising (Dan Abnett); A Thousand Sons (Graham McNeil); Renegade’s Magic (Robin Hobb); The Inquisition War Trilogy (Ian Watson); Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad); Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk) and the new Blood Angel codex in secret, several months before release.
I’ll review, like, half of them this week, along with my much-delayed entry entitled “Leave me alone – Go ask these guys if you want to learn how to write.”
In ball-achingly rad news, I’ve got an article in Scifi Now next month, and it looks like the BLTV guys will be heading over in a few months to film a little something for a First Heretic trailer.
So this is what awesome tastes like. Skadoosh.