Daily Archives: March 29, 2011

It’s Like Waking Up in 1993 All Over Again

Seriously, man. It’s like the kids in this band were fed nothing but a diet of Siamese Dream and Wish since they were, like, five. The rest of the album is pretty much more of the same. Which is not a bad thing, since I like Siamese Dream and Wish.

I’m just glad to have lived long enough for the Kids These Days™ to start bands that were inspired by all the bands I liked when I was their age. Go, Kids These Days™! Go!

Also: some of you get inspired by Jesus and Mary Chain next, okay? Thanks, man.

I See No Possible Way How This Incredible Cover Letter Could Ever Fail

As a preface: I did not write this. I might have exploded had I tried.

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[Author and address redacted]

Dear [Agent / Editor]

Prepare to be blown away.  In your hands you hold the first four pages of my debut epic, VIOLET THUNDER.  You have the truly unique opportunity to be one of the first to read a work that will undoubtedly revolutionize the publishing world.  Borrowing tropes from the epic fantasy, supernatural detective, and harlequin romance genres, I have crafted the first wholly original masterpiece in probably at least a century.

I know quality writing, and know a lot of other people who know quality writing.  A sample chapter presented to my mother’s book club was described as, and I quote, “like nothing they had ever read before”.  My high school English teacher told me that I should submit it right away, even though I only shared the first half of the first draft.

Now, I understand that conventionally you are expecting to see the first five pages.  I haven’t done that.  Instead I am sending the first FOUR, so convinced am I that what you hold in your (no doubt trembling) hands is 20% better than anything you have ever read.  Ever.  Now, I am intimately familiar with everything you publish, but to avoid embarrassing any of your other authors I will not name names.  Suffice it to say that when you finish VIOLET THUNDER it is very likely that you will forget them, and will likely shit joy and barf rainbows.

My story follows the adventurous life of Sir Reginald Garret Von White Castle, a 900 year old katana wielding swordfighter from Prussia who, despite his great age and staggering accomplishments chooses to associate with and speak exactly like a modern day high school kid.  From the opening line “I always knew that, in teh end, I would be fucked by unicorns and glitter” to the mind blowing dénouement, Reginald leads you through a clandestine world of classic and completely new supernatural creatures who have all chosen to masquerade as high schoolers in a typical Midwest town with no defining features or characteristics.  This is so a reader could easily imagine him- or herself there (VIOLET THUNDER will appeal to both genders, and anyone who is or ever has gone through a trying transition to adulthood).

VIOLET THUNDER begins when Reggie’s best friend Bob is kidnapped from the high school shower after third period gym.  Bob is a figmentationist, a person who can make anything happen that he imagines, except that it is never useful or impactful, and generally only functions when it is convenient for me, the author, to have it do so.  Obviously Reggie isn’t going to stand for this, so he sets upon a journey of discovery, where he confronts glowing magic vampires, a succubae sponsored lesbian biker gang, mean cheerleaders, the sexually repressed high school councilor who is also a troll, and many other things so shocking that you need to read them in context to avoid some sort of brain hemorrhage.  In all instances Reggie starts with banter, but ends with a drawn katana and a decapitated foe.  He is also a police detective.

Through twists and turns literally nobody has seen coming, Reggie ends up in a final confrontation atop an incongruous Midwest skyscraper facing down his ex-girlfriend who now rides a magic unicorn who poops glitter and controls zombies.  I will not spoil the end for you, but suffice it to say that when they do it, it is totally hot.  You will be amazed when you finally discover the totally hidden meaning of Reggie’s VIOLET THUNDER.

Please respond promptly, as I have simultaneously sent this to literally everyone in the publishing industry that I could find on the internet.  If you do not happen to be the first person to snap up the rights to VIOLET THUNDER and all future sequels, I apologize.  Judging by what I think authors make, this series should totally be worth at least a million dollars.

Thank you.

[Author’s Name Redacted]

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You may say, there is no way such a thing could possibly be real. But ask any agent or editor if they’ve ever received a cover letter like this. The answer may surprise/shock/depress you.

Also, in case you weren’t clear on this: Dear writers, never do anything in this cover letter ever.

EVER.

Thank you.

The Big Idea: Derryl Murphy

They say travel broadens the mind, but for Derryl Murphy, it did more than that: It helped to write his newest novel, Napier’s Bones, and did so not just on a practical level (that is, of allowing him to research information) but also on an inspirational level as well. It’s an argument that being there matters, and here Murphy is to make it.

DERRYL MURPHY:

Sometimes the seed that becomes the Big Idea can launch an author into an almost manic, obsessive chase for information to feed the story, and sometimes that information can fall into the author’s lap in copious amounts. After my friend Wayne Malkin showed me a picture of Napier’s bones and said the magic words to launch my search, both of the above happened to me, with each new serendipitous bit of trivia leading me deeper into the rabbit hole and worried that I would eventually succumb to such a surfeit of detail that the novel would never be finished.

But let me back up. Napier’s bones, also known as Napier’s rods, were developed by John Napier, a Scottish laird and mathematician, who died in 1617. The bones were a simple tool for multiplication and division and more, and were only one of Napier’s many accomplishments in math as well as other fields. And when Wayne asked me the question (which will probably seem obvious, but which I won’t reveal here), it got me to thinking, and very quickly I had the main conceit firmly locked in place.

In our own world, what if some people have the ability to see numbers, and to control them, to control the very mathematical foundation of our world, as if those numbers were magic?

Some of you are probably feeling your eyes glaze over now, thinking about dry textbooks and painful high school math. But I promise it isn’t like that. My characters do talk about numbers and formulae and a few mathematical concepts, but I saw no sense in laying them out for the reader as if Napier’s Bones were some urban fantasy version of hard SF. Instead, the numerical ecology, as it’s called, needed to be natural for Dom and his companions. These are not necessarily people with advanced degrees in math, but rather people who grew up surrounded by numbers they could interact with and who taught themselves how to use them to their benefit. Think of that movie you probably watched when you were in elementary school, Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (and yes, I reference that film in the book), and Donald seeing numbers everywhere he turned.

With this as the groundwork, I began to research. History, sports, literature, science, quantum physics, ancient languages, and above all, I did a deep search for all sorts of mad coincidences that I could weave into the fabric of the book. And then,a few years ago, the Canada Council for the Arts (our version of the NEA) generously gave me money to finish the novel. And so off I flew to Scotland and London on a research trip, where I visited the National Library of Scotland and Napier University in Edinburgh as well as Imperial College and Lambeth Palace Library in London, and got to lay my (cotton-gloved) hands on handwritten letters from Napier himself, as well as books that were published when he (and therefore Shakespeare, to give you a different point of reference) was still alive.

Being able to sit and look that these primary sources first hand was an incredible rush, and I can understand why some people succumb to the desire to possess such rare items; who but me is ever going to care about reading such a document, and therefore who but me can be trusted to take care of it? (And no, don’t worry, I didn’t abscond with any priceless documents. Security was too tight.) Seeing these letters and books also led me not only into Napier’s mind, but to more questions and yet more coincidences, one of which ended up adding another historical character to the book, which required yet more research.

And, of course, I traveled, searching out locations for the book in London and Scotland. Going back to Donald Duck for a moment, Carl Barks, the great creator of Uncle Scrooge and the greatest artist and writer of the Donald and Scrooge comics, often took his characters on trips all over the world, and his source of information, visual and otherwise, was usually National Geographic. I’m sure I could have gotten away with the same; I’ve managed to write fairly convincingly about Madagascar, for instance, without having been there. But there is obviously something to be said for standing in a place and discovering it in a multitude of dimensions, to say nothing of the happy accidents that can worm their way into your brain. A wrong turn I took on one hike to see a potential location ended up playing a fairly significant role late in the book, all because I discovered something that I suspect most visitors don’t even know is there. A chance glimpse of something in the harbor while having breakfast in Ullapool resulted in a moment of action and danger. A flaky new age tour of Rosslyn Chapel and its surroundings resulted in a numerical device that uses Pictish rings in a diner, and a question on the internet about flagging patterns in trees led me to the Ballachuan Hazelwood, a forest that will forever remain as one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been and where a key moment in the book takes place.

Probably the biggest thing the trip did for me, though, was create a character. My wife and I were driving through Oban, dealing with the slow crawl of summer traffic, when a vision occurred to me of my heroes stuck in that same traffic and wondering about this individual. At first I couldn’t place exactly who this was, but with a little time and editing my thoughts turned to the numerical ecology, to the numbers Dom and others of his ilk are able to control, and to evolution.

Evolution of numbers. And even evolution of the people who can control those numbers. Almost, you could say, another Big Idea.

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Napier’s Bones: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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