January 31, 2013 § 1 Comment
This is Gérard de Villiers, an 83-year-old Frenchman who has been churning out spy novels at the rate of four or five books a year for nearly 50 years. He is currently on his 197th novel, and his books comprise one of the most popular series in the world, with over 100 million copies sold worldwide. That puts him on par with Ian Flemming, the author of the James Bond novels—so why haven’t we heard of him?
Quite simply, because we’re Americans, and his books haven’t been translated into English.
De Villiers came to my attention because of this excellent article about him in the New York Times Magazine. He is unique in the world of writing not only because of his high sales and the incredible speed at which he writes, but also because his books describe real world events before they happen.
Last June, he released a book set in the middle of Syria’s recent civil war. It described events that actually happened, but hadn’t happened at the time of publication.
And most striking of all, it described an attack on one of the Syrian regime’s command centers, near the presidential palace in Damascus, a month before an attack in the same place killed several of the regime’s top figures. “It was prophetic,” I was told by one veteran Middle East analyst who knows Syria well and preferred to remain nameless. “It really gave you a sense of the atmosphere inside the regime, of the way these people operate, in a way I hadn’t seen before.”
So how did he foretell the future? It turns out that de Villiers is extremely well connected in the spy world:
De Villiers has spent most of his life cultivating spies and diplomats, who seem to enjoy seeing themselves and their secrets transfigured into pop fiction (with their own names carefully disguised), and his books regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere. Other pop novelists, like John le Carré and Tom Clancy, may flavor their work with a few real-world scenarios and some spy lingo, but de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves.
This guy’s contacts are the same people the French foreign minister gets his intel from. That’s impressive. So impressive, the French foreign minister invited the author to lunch to discuss it.
And de Villiers is just as much a character as his characters. With the wealth his books earned him, he bought “an impressively grand” house not far from the Arc de Triomphe … and made his study into “a kind of shrine to old-school masculinity and kinky sex.” (The author goes on to describe some of the decor.) His girlfriend is 30 years younger than him. He … ah, hell, just go read the article for yourself.
Here’s to you, Gérard de Villiers. I hope some of your books find English translators soon.
January 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
John Scalzi shared a link to a blog post by Delilah Dawson just now, and since I had just written about my own inner voices, I thought I’d share it here. Because I’m not the only one with the negative voices whispering in my ear, telling me I can’t do it. Delilah Dawson hears them too:
By the time I finished my second book, I was getting enough sleep to be sane. And my internal naysayer came right back to life.
You can’t get an agent. You can’t sell a book. You’re not trained. You have no credentials. You don’t know what you’re doing. You aren’t in NYC. You don’t know anybody in the business. You’re a stay-at-home mom who sits on the couch all day, attached to a parasitic baby. You’re an artist, and that’s what you’re supposed to be, even if you haven’t wanted to paint in a year.
And I told her to shove it, because if I could produce two tiny people and keep them alive and then write two books, I could do goddamn anything I wanted to do.
Check out Dawson’s full post here.
Do you have an “internal naysayer” whispering in your ear? How do you get him or her to shut up?
January 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a science fiction novel. To keep myself inspired, I’m reading a lot of sci-fi I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet—authors like Charles Stross, John Scalzi, and Elizabeth Moon. At the moment, I’m nearing the end the wildly imaginative of Saturn’s Children, and I’ve been having doubts about my own work as a result.
Stross packs the novel with a lot of technical knowledge that I don’t have, and he’s extrapolated and imagined a future very different from the one I’m painting. That’s got the voices whispering. You’re not smart enough to write sci-fi, they say. You lack the imagination for it. You’re no Charlie Stross, that’s for damn sure.
Thankfully, this quote came across my screen today. It made me realize that the voices in my head are right: I’m not Charles Stross … and that’s okay. My novel and the universe I’m creating will be different. Maybe it won’t be as imaginative as Stross’s books, or Scalzi’s, or Moon’s, or Bacigalupi’s, or many of the other great writers out there. It definitely won’t have the level of technical detail that Stross has packed into his books. Some people will enjoy my book, some people won’t.
But no one else can tell this story I’m writing. No one else sees it the way I do. And I’m enjoying the writing for the first time in a long, long time. If that’s all I ever get out of this book, it’s enough.
January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
Nicole Humphrey Cook posted a long list of famous novels and their word counts over on her blog. It’s pretty interesting (to me, anyway). Some of the “biggest” novels of our time are also the shortest. Check it out.
January 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve been a fan of writer Warren Ellis for a few years, and I can’t recall being disappointed by anything he’s written — and I’m including his tweets, blogs, email newsletters, and sundry other scribblings in that account. So when he announced that he was working on Gun Machine, it quickly became the most anticipated novel on my very short list of books to look forward to. I had months to heighten my expectations, and I sent them soaring into the exosphere. This, I knew, would be a Great Book.
Of course, you know what happens when you have such high expectations, right? No matter how wonderful the book or movie or meal or aged whisky, you often end up a little disappointed.
Not this time.
From the first page, Gun Machine grabbed me somewhere just south of my belt buckle and didn’t let go.
Ellis tells the story of NYPD Detective John Tallow, an aging cop going through the motions until he stumbles into the possibly biggest case in New York’s history — an apartment filled with guns.
The room was full of guns
Guns were mounted on all the walls. There were half a dozen guns at his feet. Turning around, flashlight at shoulder level, he saw that guns were mounted on the wall he had come in through. Some guns were mounted in rows, but the right-hand wall had them in complex swirls. Some were laid on the floor on the far side of the room, forming a shape he couldn’t quite fathom. There was paint daubed on those.
Tallow quickly discovers that this isn’t just a collection of firearms; each gun has been used in a single, unsolved murder. Hundreds of guns, hundreds of murders — one very dangerous killer. With no support from his department other than two eccentric CSUs, Tallow has to solve the case before NYPD politics force him out of the job, or the killer finds him, or both.
Gun Machine is by turns gritty and funny and gory and tense and batshit crazy — in other words, everything I’ve come to expect from Warren Ellis. And, as I’ve also come to expect, it is blindingly well written. Chapter Three stands out as a lesson in writing descriptively without stalling the story. A couple of chapters toward the end of the book are excellent examples of how to write fight scenes. The entire book could be studied for the way Ellis maintains tension throughout, easing off with humor just enough so that when he tightens the cord again, it bites even deeper.
In short, Gun Machine is a book you will find very difficult to put down.
I very rarely read books twice — too many books, too little time. Gun Machine, however, is a book I will return to again, and I am sure I will find much that I missed my first time through.
January 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
Okay, sure, the year isn’t really new anymore. Newish, perhaps. Anyway, I’d meant to toss up a happy new year post sooner, but illness and an ill kitty and life in general got in the way. Plus, I really didn’t have anything to say other than wishing you a good and healthy and productive 2013.
The first book to come to me in this newish year was Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine. WOW. I’d been anticipating this novel since I heard he was writing it, and even with such high expectations, the book is blowing me away. But more on that in a later post, after I’ve finished it.
I haven’t really had time to read much over the holidays. My usual reading time is right before I go to sleep, but the holidays were so incredibly busy that I was often too exhausted to read or passed out after just a couple of pages. Simultaneously, my writing also declined — not just time in front of the keyboard, but also time spent thinking about the book I’m writing. The former I understand, given how busy I was; the latter surprised me. But soon after I started Gun Machine, I found myself thinking about my book again — the characters, the scenes, the plot, the setting.
I’ve always heard writers say that reading is a vital part of writing, and I’ve always believed them. Reading Is Fundamental, and to a writer, reading is fertilizer. It’s food for the writer’s soul, gas in the tank.
I read a lot of books last year — most of them very good — but this year my one and only resolution is to read more. Well, read more and write more, but the latter has been a resolution every year since I was a teenager, so I don’t even consider it a new year’s resolution anymore. It’s just a constant in my life. And if I’m correct, reading more will lead to writing more, so resolving to read more should cover both.
Read more. Fertilize the writer’s garden more. Put more gas in the tank.
And have a very Happy New Year!
January 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.
(My favorite statistic is that readers from 77 countries found my little blog. That’s amazing!)