Winners of the BBQ Challenge

20100216writingchallengeblogSo, uh, this is kinda awkward. We did the whole "something going on underneath the surface" theme for this BBQ challenge. And the contestants totally went with it. It's just that...well...there was a lot of cannibalism. Don't get us wrong, we're all for Cormac McCarthy and The Road, it's just that there were a lot of BBQ's where people got eaten. We're not judging, but we had to comment. 


The Invited Stranger by ctalaman

Great atmosphere, descriptions, and underlying theme going on here. But what really won us over was the voice. It was sarcastic, dark, but not without some levity. Ctalaman had us at "reteller of unfunny things." We know of people who fit that description all too well. 

Dessert Storm by simonmabee

Very Brian Jaques-esque. We're all for legendary figures, especially when they're squirrels that have something worth dying for. 

Over Done by Jvd9

A couple no longer in love may not be the most original underlying theme in the world, but when it's described this well and you throw in a bit of a twist at the end, we're all for it!

The View from Spooner Hill by JulieDaniels

With kids these days, it seems like they carry on conversing in an invisible and digital world of texts, tweets, status updates, and emails. Thumbs can do an amazing amount of communication. But the real world is always there, lurking above the touchpads and mini screens. JulieDaniels gets that. 

Apocalyptic Tamarind by J_Hucke

Yeah this was a cannibalism one. But we liked it. Had a bit of that McCarthy spice in it to boot. Solid descriptions of the post-apocalyptic BBQ as well.

The Police Benefit Barbecue by ErikModi

This entry really evoked a larger world. A PI/demon hunter, werewolves, vampires, and a police BBQ that sounds like it's about to get serious, it's all fantastic. Well done.

Congratualtions to the winners. You shall recieve your PageToFame coupons shortly. 

The Revenge Challenge has just wrapped up, but stay tuned for the next writing challenge, coming soon.

Q & A with James Brogden - Part II

Last week, we posted Part I of James Brogden's Q&A with WEbook. James recently signed a book deal with award winning indie press, Snowbooks. Last week, James gave us a ton of great info about the writing process and development behind The Narrows. This week, James tells about what happened when the book was finished, and it was time to start looking for a publisher. 

Once you completed The Narrows, did you query traditional agents first? How did you choose the agents that you contacted? Did you receive any feedback?

I went through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook with a highlighter, picked every single UK-based agent who said that they considered fantasy, science fiction, or horror, and started sending out samples. To date the feedback has been universally ‘thanks but no thanks’, but I’m hopeful that with The Narrows being published, agents will look more favourably on my next project.

How did hear about WEbook? What was your experience with PageToFame?

I heard about WEbook purely by accident – I teach Media Studies and I was researching the concept of user-generated content and the different uses of social network sites for my students, and came across a newspaper article about the way writers are using the internet to collaborate and self-publish. I wasn’t interested in self-publishing, but I followed up the reference to and thought that if my submission was successful then it would be something else I could mention in a letter to agents. If Snowbooks hadn’t picked it up then that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now.

PageToFame’s greatest strength lies in the objectivity of readers’ feedback. There are other sites where writers engage in a lot of favour-trading, promoting work which in some cases is pretty dreadful, but there’s nothing in it for webookers except, I guess, trying to rate like a publishing pro, so that keeps it more honest, I think. It can be a frustratingly slow process at times, though.

How did you first hear about Snowbooks and what drew you to submit The Narrows for their consideration?

Just straightforward, cold research and a methodical approach to submitting samples. They were listed in Writers & Artists as being interested in genre fiction, and when I looked at their website I found that they are one of a very small minority of publishers who will consider unsolicited manuscripts. I was impressed by the amount of explanatory detail they went into about their submissions process, and even though I knew this meant it would take a long time for them to get through the slushpile to my MS I felt that they were the kind of people who would give it a fair read. In my original email I even used WEbook as a selling point, as the Narrows was at 92% in Round 2 at the time. Hopefully that made a difference.

What was the submission process to Snowbooks like? 

It took just over four months to hear back from them, which is not unusual (I just recently got a rejection letter from an agent I approached over a year ago, which was a lovely surprise, especially since I’d forgotten that I’d even written to them by that time), and by a weird coincidence I got their email on exactly the same day as the email from WEbook telling me that The Narrows had made it to the Agents’ Showcase.

Once they made the offer things went very quickly; I had a contract in my hands three days later. They were particularly helpful with this, recommending that I join the Society of Authors to take advantage of their free contract-reading service. They’ve produced a very detailed and helpful author pack explaining the timetable of their publication process and giving clear instructions as to what they need from me at each particular stage, and my editor Anna has been great at answering my questions and keeping my paranoia to a mostly manageable level.

What’s been your favorite part of working with Snowbooks so far?

Oh look, everything. The whole thing. This is all a completely new adventure for me, so even little things like going back through the MS to change all the double quotation marks to single ones is fun because it’s getting me one step closer to having my first novel published. I would say that if anything, their embrace of technology is the thing I value most; I don’t understand why in this day and age there are still publishers who won’t accept submissions by email, for example. Just from reading their blog you can tell that they’ve got a good handle on the directions that modern publishing is moving in.

When will The Narrows be published? We can’t wait to read it!

It’s available for pre-order from Amazon (released January 9th 2012), so save your Christmas book tokens. And watch out for the Winter Solstice in the meantime; that’s when the monsters come out of the Narrows

That's all from James for now. So keep your eyes peeled for The Narrows in 2012. Congratulations James!

Q & A with James Brogden - Published Author

WEbooker James Brogen recently locked in a publishing deal with award-winning indie press Snowbooks for this horror/high fantasy novel, The Narrows. We're always happy to share the success story of a writer who's found a home for their book, so we're doing a two part question and answer series with James so he can share some info on his path to publication. 

We'll kick things off with a bit about The Narrows and James' writing process. In parts two, James will talk more about how he connected with Snowbooks

Tell us a bit about your novel, The Narrows. What genre best describes it? What’s the basic premise?

The Narrows is an urban fantasy novel with elements of horror, high fantasy and even a touch of dubious science fiction thrown in. It’s a bit of a mongrel, basically, but that’s entirely in keeping with the subject matter. The basic premise is that the Narrows are strange shortcuts through a shadowy otherworld lurking behind the alleyways and wasteland areas of the city, which are used by a community of vagrants and scavengers – called Narrowfolk - to travel and trade.

In their own words, the Narrows are places where the skin of the world is thin. The problem is that someone or something is closing the Narrows and kidnapping the Narrowfolk for arcane sacrificial purposes, and the story follows a young man from the ‘ordinary’ world who finds himself involved in this when he accidentally saves a Narrowfolk girl from abduction.

What inspired you to write this story?

I once held a job as a sales assistant in a big shopping centre in Birmingham, where the long shifts often had me commuting home by train late in the evening, and having read far too many horror novels than was good for me I naturally wondered what sorts of creatures were sitting out there in the darkness besides the tracks, watching my nice, bright, sane carriage going past with their flat eyes. One night my imagination upped the stakes and made a young homeless girl haul open the door next to me and climb up into the carriage, and of course I needed to know: who was she? Where had she come from? What was she running from? Everything in The Narrows spooled out from there. That scene appears in Chapter 4, and is probably the only part of the novel which has survived the endless rewrites and revisions pretty much intact.

The core of the story is an idea I had about a ley-line being like a length of rope buried in the beach; a child yanks the end of the rope and the whole length of it thrupps out of the sand. What would that be like on a geological scale and what would it do to anybody whom it hit? It got hooked in my brain and gave me the mechanism for how the Narrows work.

Tell us about some of the characters. Do you have a favorite?

All of the characters for whom I have any sympathy are the ones who recognise that they are in some way incomplete  – Andy as the everyman character having to deal with being catapulted out of his normal world; Bex for arguing the toss with everybody about everything and never taking no for an answer; even Carling, the main antagonists’ psychotic henchman, for embracing the truth that being a monster doesn’t necessarily have to make him evil. The antagonist, a geomancer called Barber, is evil because he has no doubts about the righteousness of his cause. I have no time for fundamentalists, whatever they believe in. I like doubters.

There’s also a number of supporting characters including an ex-policeman, ‘Rosey’ Penrose, who I enjoyed sticking in a campervan with Bex on the motorway and just letting them bicker; a couple of young 50’s era lads who are an experiment in what would happen if you put the Famous Five in a John Wyndham novel; and a pseudo-Celtic warrior called Edris who is there for a bit of high-fantasy, demon-fighting hack and slay.

As I said, The Narrows is a bit of a mongrel, genre-wise.

What was your writing process like? How many drafts did you go through before you felt it was “done.”

This is quite embarrassing. It took me a hell of a long time. All I’ll say is that I completely ditched it and started again from scratch in 2006, after realising that the reason it was taking me so long was that when I worked on a computer all I did was go back over and over the same scenes tweaking little bits here and there and not actually getting on with the narrative. I heard somewhere that Neil Gaiman writes all his stories in notebooks, so I decided to give that a go, and I found that it worked a lot better. I physically couldn’t go back and change the ink on the page (beyond a certain amount of scribbling), and so I was forced to move forward.

Also, they’re a lot more portable and I’m not particularly disciplined so it’s good to have one to hand when the mood or idea strikes. I’ve had to fit writing around having a family and a busy teaching career, so that’s my excuse.

‘Semi-chaotic’ probably best describes the process. I have a rough idea in my head of ‘acts’, where I want the story to be at the end of a certain act, and maybe one or two set piece scenes based on a particularly striking line of dialogue or image, like the rope-in-the-sand, and I’ll often engineer events to fit that hook without any clear idea of where to go next. The best I can do after that is just try to imagine what a person would realistically do given the circumstances.

In this I’m helped tremendously by having spent years of my life playing role-playing games with my friends. There’s absolutely no greater tool for me as a writer to have come up with what I think is a lovely watertight plot and then have real-life people playing characters who walk straight through the holes I didn’t know were there.

Once I’d filled 4 big journalists’ spiral-bound notebooks I burned a month typing it all up, revised once for major plot points and added/deleted scenes, once again for typos and fine-tuning the language, and decided that was enough. I was happy with it, I’d written a story which pleased me, and figured that if somebody wanted to publish it then that would be a bonus.

Stay tuned for more about James' story in the next post later this week. In the meantime, check out more on The Narrows on Amazon and Facebook.

About James Brogden:

James Brogden is a teacher of English in Worcestershire, UK, where he liveswith his wife, two daughters, one cat and far too much lego. When he's not writing or trying to teach children how to, he gets out into the mountains whenever he can, exploring the remains of Britain's prehistoric past and hunting for standing stones. Fortunately they don't run very fast. 

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