String City – Coming Soon

"String City" by Graham Edwards - draft cover. Illustration by Vince Haig.

January 24, 2019 – put the date in your diary. Why? Because it’s the publication date of my new novel, String City. Huzzah!

Yes, I know, it’s months away, but the darn thing’s just popped up on Amazon, which means you can preorder it right now. Or, at the very least, admire the first draft cover design, which features a rather gorgeous illustration by the deeply talented Vince Haig. Can’t wait to see the finished thing in all its glory.

If you want to know what the book’s about, you’re in luck. My splendid publisher, Solaris Books, has prepared this tantalising blurb:

String City is a hard-boiled, interdimensional detective romp of high suspense and action. China Mieville meets Dashiell Hammett.

In an interdimensional city full of gods, living concepts and weirder things, a gumshoe – a “stringwalker,” who can travel between realities – is hired to investigate an explosion at a casino. He ends up on a frantic chase to track down and retrieve an unimaginable power source, while staying one step ahead of the ancient Greek Titans, an interdimensional spider god and the mysterious creature known as the Fool. If he fails, all things – in all realities – could be destroyed.

Just another day in String City.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know a little bit about the strange metropolis of String City already. It first appeared in my series of novelettes known collectively as The String City Mysteries, which chronicle some of my dimension-hopping detective’s earliest cases. If you’ve never read those original stories, don’t worry. The novel stands alone.

I’ll have lots more to say about String City over the coming months. Stay tuned.

Cinefex Diaries – Going Solo

Cinefex 159 - Pacific Rim Uprising

My latest Cinefex story is Heft and Jank, an in-depth article on Pacific Rim Uprising, hot off the press in our June 2018 issue, Cinefex 159. I described the work that went into it in an earlier blog post – check it out here. Even while I was wrapping up the robots and monsters, however, I was gearing up for my next two articles, which have taken up all my time since then.

Deadpool 2First up was Deadpool 2. I was looking forward to this one, having written the Cinefex story on the original Deadpool back in 2016. It didn’t disappoint.

My interview list for Deadpool 2 covered a lot of ground, from production visual effects supervisor Dan Glass through all the many VFX vendors who worked on the show, namely DNEG, Framestore, Method Studios, Weta Digital, Soho VFX, Crafty Apes and Digital Makeup Group.

I also chatted with special effects supervisor Mike Vézina, makeup designer Bill Corso, aviation effects supervisor Doug Scroggins, and the previs supervisors at Unit Eleven, Image Engine and The Third Floor. Last and definitely not least came the film’s director, the supremely talented David Leitch.

Deadpool 2 took a lot of wrangling, but it was nothing compared to my second assignment – Solo: A Star Wars Story, the final draft of which I delivered just a couple of hours ago. This is the first time I’ve covered a Star Wars movie for Cinefex, so I was determined to get it right.

I ended up with another long list of interviewees, kicking off with production visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, plus the visual effects teams at Industrial Light & Magic – who led the project – Hybride Technologies and Tippett Studio.

Then there were the guys at BLIND LTD, creature supervisor Neal Scanlan, special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy and costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon. And yes, I did manage to pin down director Ron Howard for a telephone interview during which he proved that he really is one of the nicest men in the business. As a movie fan who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, getting to chinwag with Ron was absolutely a bucket list moment.

I’ll tell you more about these two articles in a future blog post. Right now, all you need to know is that they’ll be appearing in Cinefex 160, which you can preorder from the website here.

Even as I was winding up Solo, was getting my ducks in a row for my next assignment, which looks set to start later this week. As for what film I’m covering, you’ll just have to wait and see …

New Novel Coming Soon

The title of this post says it all. But do I hear you ask, “How soon is soon?” I’ll just leave this here:

Writing Star Trek for Cinefex with Scrivener

"Star Trek Beyond" in Cinefex

I write for Cinefex, a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. In 2016, one of the many films I covered was Star Trek Beyond. Want to know how I tackled it? I’ll tell you.

First up, a few facts and figures. My Star Trek Beyond article was 8,300 words long – about average for the magazine. With photos, that equated to 21 printed pages. While researching the story I interviewed 13 people, generating roughly 45,000 words of interview transcript. From first interview to final reviewed draft, it took me five weeks to put the article together. In any one year, I’ll write a minimum of nine stories of similar scope.

Enough with the numbers. The job is all about the words, right? Quite a lot of them, as you’ll already have gathered.

I wrote my Star Trek Beyond story using my weapon of choice: Scrivener. I use this software for two reasons. First, during the research phase I’ll end up accruing about a zillion bits of information; Scrivener lets me keep everything organised within a single project window – transcripts, background notes, multiple manuscript drafts, handy image files, you name it. Second, the software lets me work on small sections of a draft as individual text files, but by switching views I can string those files together as a single manuscript. Given all the disparate chunks of information I’m wrangling at any one time, that’s really useful.

The Star Trek Beyond article started its life as an empty ‘Cinefex’ template, as shown in the image below. I’ve developed this format over time – it has a simple folder structure filled with all the basic placeholder documents that I know I’m going to need.

Blank Cinefex template in Scrivener

All my Cinefex articles start with this blank Scrivener template.

The ‘Title’ folder is my basic draft manuscript and contains just three files: ‘Introduction;’ an empty text template called ‘One;’ and ‘Conclusion.’ I use the ‘Special Thanks’ file to record the names of people who’ll get a credit at the end of the story, and I use ‘Titles’ to jot down possible titles for the article (this list grows as I write, and I rarely decide upon the actual title until I’ve finished). Below all these sit the ‘Transcripts’ and ‘Research’ folders. The former is a repository for all the interview material; the latter stores, well, everything else.

The USS Enterprise navigates the Necrocloud in "Star Trek Beyond"

As always, the real work on my Star Trek Beyond  story began with the interviews. Once I’d secured permission from the film studio, I spoke to everybody on my list, transcribed the interviews as a separate text documents, and pasted each one into my ‘Transcripts’ folder.

In a perfect world, I’d get all my interviews done first before starting to write. It almost never happens that way – something inevitably jams up the works. With Star Trek Beyond, I began to write the article when my ‘Transcripts’ folder was about half full.

I didn’t start writing at the beginning. Why? Because at this stage, I had no idea how I was going to structure the article. I had no beginning. Instead, I picked one of the many subjects that came up in interview – pretty much a random choice – and wrote a brief paragraph about it, supported by quotes copied and pasted from the relevant transcripts. For Star Trek Beyond, that starter subject happened to be the outer shell of the Yorktown space station, which I wrote about in a little document called (not surprisingly) ‘Shell.’

From there, I bounced on to other related topics – the space station’s superstructure, its atmosphere, the aliens that live in it. Each topic got its own document – based on my empty ‘One’ text template – but I didn’t yet start worrying about how they connected together. For now, I just treated them as free-floating index cards.

When it became clear that Yorktown was a major topic in its own right, I created a folder called (you guessed it) ‘Yorktown’ and put all those individual documents inside it. As time went on, I added other topic folders, such as ‘Enterprise Takedown’ and ‘Altimid,’ and rapidly filled those up too. Soon I had lots of folders on the go and was bouncing between them constantly, endlessly revising what I’d already written, adding new material, reordering text files by sliding them around in the Binder, constantly updating.

As the article grew, a structure slowly began to emerge. As we frequently do at Cinefex, I allowed the main body of my account to follow the narrative of the film, but for various reasons I chose to write a early standalone section about the film’s newly-built USS Enterprise. I also made inroads into framing material like the introduction, a short synopsis of the film, and some notes on the overall production and the way the visual effects team operated. Since I was lucky enough to speak with the film’s director, Justin Lin, I devoted an early section of the article to his comments. Justin also gave me some great closing remarks, which I combined with some insights from visual effects producer Ron Ames to help create my conclusion.

Locking down the structure enabled me to smooth out the joins between all those individual text files. Sometimes that was easy, but often I had to rework paragraphs or write new linking sections to join the dots. By this point, I was mostly working on the manuscript as a whole, rather than treating it as an assembly of separate files (Scrivener lets you switch seamlessly between the two ways of working). Working at the macro scale shone a spotlight on all the areas where I’d repeated myself, or waffled on too long about this, or given short shrift to that. So all that needed fixing too.

"Star Trek Beyond" Cinefex article - final Scrivener document

The final Scrivener document for my “Star Trek Beyond” article.

When I was happy with my final draft I used Scrivener’s ‘Compile’ function to export the manuscript ready for final editing in Word – the usual rounds of nipping, tucking and general tinkering. It’s weird, but documents always read differently in Word. Don’t ask me why.

My final copy edit marked the end of all the heavy lifting, although it was far from the end of the process. Cinefex editor Jody Duncan did her own pass over the manuscript and a separate review stage made sure all the facts were correct. After that came proofreading, typesetting and more proofreading. When I was deep into my next assignment, I received a set of all the images chosen to illustrate my Star Trek Beyond story, at which point I set about writing captions for both the print and iPad editions of the magazine. Only when that task was done could I finally wipe Star Trek Beyond off my ‘to-do’ list.

Every article I write for Cinefex is different, but I tackle them all in a similar way. The key to building big articles from a plethora of research is to keep all your raw material within easy reach, and to give the story room to breathe and grow organically at its own pace. Above all, never assume that you know what the story is when you first set out to write. The story will reveal itself to you when it’s good and ready. It’s all about trust.

Cinefex 148You can read my Star Trek Beyond article in Cinefex 148, available to order online at the Cinefex website. And you can download Scrivener for either Mac, Windows or iOS from the Literature and Latte website. If you’re feeling really bold, do both.

Cinefex 150 – Arrival and Allied

Cinefex 150

Looking for an extra stocking filler this Christmas? Then try the latest issue of Cinefex. It’s packed with meaty behind-the-scenes articles on four of this season’s biggest movies – Doctor Strange, Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Allied.

As soon as Arrival landed on my assignment list for this issue, I went straight out and bought Ted Chiang’s short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, which contains the novella from which the movie is adapted. The story blew me away, and set me up nicely to interview visual effects supervisor Louis Morin and a bunch of talented artists from Hybride Technologies, Oblique FX, Rodeo FX, Raynault VFX, Framestore, Fly Studio and MELS VFX.

Arrival PosterI also got the lowdown on the design of Arrival, speaking with production designer Patrice Vermette – who together with his wife, artist Martine Bertrand, conceived the extraordinary graphic appearance of the alien ‘logograms’ – and with concept artist Carlos Huante, who developed the look of the alien visitors themselves. My only regret is that, despite my best efforts, I never managed to pin down director Denis Villeneuve for an interview. Mind you, at the time he was hard at work on the set of Blade Runner 2049, so I suppose I can forgive him …

My other assignment for Cinefex 150 was the wartime romance Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie guided me through the movie’s re-creation of 1940s Casablanca and a bomb-torn London, with visuals brought to the screen by Atomic Fiction, UPP and Raynault VFX. Having spent a fair chunk of my boyhood avidly building Airfix construction kits, I also enjoyed speaking with an engaging fellow called Dave Hobson, whose company Gateguards UK built a full-scale replica Westland Lysander aircraft for the film.

As for what’s coming up, well, I’ve already submitted my single assignment for issue 151 – an in-depth look at the fast-emerging VR industry, primarily from the perspective of the many visual effects professionals who have made the move into the virtual realm. Despite putting that one to bed, I’m not ready to wind down for Christmas yet – as I write this blog, I’m deep into interviews for my next pair of articles in Cinefex 152, out next April. I won’t reveal what movies I’m covering just yet, except to tell you one of them looks set to be my most monstrous assignment to date!

 

Deadline Double

"Crown of Three" CoverNothing beats delivering a manuscript … except maybe delivering a manuscript a week ahead of schedule.

I’m not quite sure how that’s happened with the final novel in my ghostwritten Crown of Three fantasy trilogy, but who am I to question the inscrutable workings of the universe? All I know is that the last of the plot threads have been tied up, the destinies of the characters have been resolved, and my work on that particular project is now officially done. Tonight’s celebrations may involve the imbibing of wine.

Coincidentally, this week saw me deliver another manuscript, this time for my Cinefex article on the upcoming film X-Men: Apocalypse. My work there isn’t quite done yet. I still need to chaperone the story through a final review process, after which I’ll be writing captions for both the print and digital editions of the magazine. Oh, and starting work on the next article, of course …

X-Men: Apocalypse movie posterWith several Cinefex stories now under my belt, I’ve just posted this little blog article, reflecting on my first few months working as senior staff writer for the magazine. I’m delighted to say that my article on the newest James Bond movie, Spectre, is already out in the wild, in Cinefex 145. Next month, you’ll be able to read my articles on Deadpool, Gods of Egypt, and Hail, Caesar!, in our April edition, Cinefex 146. By the way, if you haven’t seen Deadpool yet, you really should. It’s an absolute hoot.

The Drawing of the Dark Tower

Dark Tower StackThe movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is finally happening. Sony Pictures is working towards a release date of February 17, 2017 for the first film in a projected multi-part series, with Nikolaj Arcel directing and Idris Elba starring as grizzled gunslinger Roland Deschain. As an uber-fan of King’s uber-work, I couldn’t be more excited.

My relationship with Roland and his ka-tet of loyal followers began in 1989, when I picked up a trade paperback edition of The Drawing of the Three, the second volume in what would ultimately become a seven-book series (eight, if you include the 2012 bolt-on novel The Wind Through the Keyhole).

I was instantly hooked by the crazy collision of concepts and genres, in a narrative that played out along a surreal and seemingly endless beach prowled by sharp-clawed monsters called “lobstrosities,” before jumping through Magritte-like floating doors into the 1970s New York mob scene, along the way embracing drug trafficking, mind control, the US civil rights movement, a psychopathic serial killer, and a boy who is both dead and alive, all driven by the relentless ticking clock of King’s insistent prose.

If all that sounds like a chef over-egging the pudding, you couldn’t be more wrong. The Drawing of the Three romps along in brisk and ballsy fashion, thanks in great part to a tight ensemble of characters who, once they get under your skin, won’t be crawling out in a hurry. That’s just as well, because you’ll be spending a lot of time of Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, and the multi-faceted woman known initially as the Lady of Shadows, in subsequent volumes.

Yet no character is more haunting than the gunslinger himself, Roland Deschain. Think Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s trilogy of spaghetti westerns, dusted with a healthy coating of Arthurian myth, and you’ll get somewhere close to appreciating the long shadow cast by this scarred, world-weary knight-errant. Trudging doggedly through the ruins of a world that has “moved on,” Roland seeks first the mysterious Man in Black, ultimately the Dark Tower, a legendary nexus of space and time where all worlds meet. The gunslinger, bound by his own sad, courageous, relentless and romantically brutal code of honour, is the glue that holds all the disparate jigsaw pieces of King’s ambitious opus together.

I could tell you more about the rest of the Dark Tower series. I could tell you about its nested narratives, by means of which King gradually fills in Roland’s youthful back-story. I could tell you about a riddling monorail train, animal-headed chimeras who suck out the minds of children, a giant cyborg bear, radioactive mutants, tense showdowns, love and loss, and somewhere at the end of it all, just possibly, redemption, where the gunslinger and his companions may finally get the chance to stand, and be true.

For today, however, I’ll constrain my comments to The Drawing of the Three. Why? Because, as the internet rumour-mills start powering up, like the slo-trans engines of King’s fantasy world, and as speculation grows about where the heck in this monumental narrative the screen story of The Dark Tower might begin, that second book is where my money is. The Drawing of the Three is where all the major characters first come together, mostly in extreme circumstances, and locked in combat. The story runs straight and clean, switching effortlessly between that never-ending beach and a series of escalating set-pieces in New York City.

And, yes, there are gunfights galore!

Interview at WritingForums

wfl-1Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the media team at WritingForums.com. The interview has just gone online, so if you want to read my thoughts on dragons, volcanoes, genre definitions, writing both fact and fiction, and why I never became a fighter pilot … read on.

WritingForums.com is a privately owned, community managed forum which allows writers to share their work, and discuss their craft with other writers and creative artists.

The many lives of a writer – 7

Most people are like cats – they live not just one life, but many. Writers are no exception. Here’s me as I plunge into my seventh writing life.

Cinefex TypewriterLife 7 – Just the facts, ma’am

My seventh writing life starts today, as I start my new role as senior staff writer at Cinefex, a leading American magazine that publishes in-depth articles about major feature films – specifically the visual and special effects. It’s spectacularly exciting, unbelievably challenging, and absolutely a dream come true.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know all about Cinefex. You’ll know that I’ve been reading the magazine since the early ‘80s, when I was a spotty teenager who divided his time more or less equally between haunting his local cinema and prowling the streets with a Super-8 camera making strange and occasionally disturbing short films.

The Formula For Fire - Cinefex 136You may also know that, around four years ago, I started writing blog articles reviewing the magazine’s early issues, in a series called Revisiting Cinefex. One thing led to another, and I ended up running a weekly blog for the magazine itself. I also wrote a full-length article that saw print in Cinefex 136, covering the visual effects of Rush, Ron Howard’s 2013 film chronicling the famous rivalry between F1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

From now on, such articles are going to be my bread and butter, as I join the Cinefex editorial team to write full-time for the magazine.

Actually, this new job’s about more than just writing. Working on the VFX industry’s journal of record means I’ll be doing a ton of research, which includes conducting one-on-one interviews with key movie personnel. You see, Cinefex is the industry bible – according to Star Wars creator George Lucas, the magazine is “required reading for anyone interested in the new era of filmmaking.” Legendary filmmaker James Cameron has no hesitation in calling it “the one true source.”

No pressure then.

“Wait a second,” I hear you cry. “I thought you wrote fiction.”

Yes, I do. And I’ll continue to do it just as I always have, after the day job’s done. The great news is that, from now on, the day job is all about writing too.

Anyway, I’ve come to believe that the perceived gap between fact and fiction is in reality paper-thin. While my new mantra will by necessity be “just the facts, ma’am”, there’s a lot more to research journalism than just crunching data. Good reporting means first getting to the heart of things, then discovering what makes that heart beat, and finally communicating the rhythm you hear to the reader.

In other words, it’s about telling the story.

And that’s what I intend to do.

 

Ghostwriter Diaries – Way Ahead

Notebook

Yesterday, 21 October 2015, was Back to the Future day. You know, the day when Marty McFly arrives in the future version of Hill Valley in Back to the Future II. That must be why things have turned out the way they have. Time’s just gone a bit screwy. It’s the only explanation.

“Explanation?” I hear you cry. “Explanation for what?”

Simply this: today I delivered Act II of the novel I’m ghostwriting. Nothing weird about that. What’s weird is that I delivered it THREE MONTHS EARLY.

How has this happened? I’ll give you two options and let you make up your own mind. Option A is the aforementioned Back to the Future scenario, in which the quantum fabric of the space-time continuum has become so severely distorted that my fingers have been able to traverse the keyboard of my laptop at approximately ten times their normal speed.

Option B is a scenario in which an imminent career change has enabled me to free up one whole month of moderately free time, during which I’ve pretty much shackled myself to that old keyboard and simply written like blue blazes.

All of which, I realise, just leaves you with more questions: “Is Option A truly plausible?” “Could it be Option B?” “What’s this career change he’s talking about?”

Option-wise, I’ll let you make up your own mind. As for the new job, come back in ten days or so and I’ll tell you all about it.

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