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EVERYTHING YOU NEED eBook available now...

This is by way of an announcement that my 2013 collection, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, is now available as an eBook (US) or here (UK). For the time being it's only Kindle-format, though that should change soonish. In addition to the stories in Earthling Publication's splendid print edition of the collection, this Book edition includes THE GIST, a long story published in a complicated way as a handsome chapbook by Subterranean Press, as detailed here. In a special launch promotion, Earthling Publications, Subterranean Press and Ememess Press are offering a deal where, if you buy either the print edition of EVERYTHING YOU NEED or THE GIST (for yourself, or as a present for someone else, say, in light of any upcoming festivals or holidays traditionally involving the exchange of gifts or tokens), you get a copy of the eBook of EVERYTHING YOU NEED for free...

To put 'free' in context, it means 'for nothing'. Zip. Nada. Zero. The amount of affection I have for Russell Brand's oeuvre. That kind of thing.

Are they crazy?

They must be. We must all be. But before they come for us with butterfly nets, go to Subterranean's site here, Earthling's site here, or for the ebook alone go straight to Amazon here (US) or here (UK). Go now.

Seriously — why are you still here?

Everything-You-Need-Short-Stories-Kindle

“It’s not the craft and skill that Michael Marshall Smith displays in his short stories that I object to. It’s not the easy wit, or the comfortable way he deploys language as a weapon. It’s not even that way that he can conjure people so real in so few words. It’s that, when a Mike Smith short story is over, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there will be some moment, scene or revelation frozen in the back of my mind that I’ll never be able to get out of my head, not even if I scrub it with wire wool so it bleeds.” —Neil Gaiman

“Michael Marshall Smith’s short stories are consistently sharp, slick, original, witty, disquieting, entertaining, and plain brilliant.” — Graham Joyce

"Michael Marshall Smith writes the kind of dreams we don't like to talk about, but can't get out of our minds once we've had them." — Jonathan Carroll

"If any reader unfamiliar with Smith’s work needs proof that he is one of the more entertaining and creatively imaginative writers working in fantasy and the macabre, this fits the bill." — Stefan Dziemianowicz, Locus

"Michael Marshall Smith is the most consistently brilliant short story author I have worked with over the past twenty years. He continues to amaze and delight me with the wit, intelligence and sheer creativity of his writing." — Stephen Jones

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What Goes Around... #INTRUDERS

I am heading to the UK today, via the medium of a heavier-than-air flying machine. I'll be there for a couple of weeks, and so will narrowly miss the US premiere of INTRUDERS on August 23rd (BBC America, 10/9C). I'll then be in the US when the UK premiere takes place, in — last I heard — October. Life, eh? But I'm fortunate to have already seen the first three episodes, and the trek from idea to screen has been so long and tangled that it comes as little surprise that the dates fall this way. I wrote the book in 2006: the series has taken its own sweet time in coming round. Over the last month I've been retweeting information about the show to — I'm sure — the point of tedium, but you'd do exactly the same, my friend. You'd probably be stopping random people in the street and telling them about it. Yeah, I bet you would. In, like, a really annoying way. Whereas I'm not doing that. Often.

What I'm going to do now, however, is jot a few background notes about the book and series...

• INSPIRATIONS FOR THE NOVEL

The core ideas for my books are cautious in their approach, arriving in dribs and drabs, sometimes over the course of years, until they start sticking together and finally achieve critical mass. There's a degree of spoiler-dom in this first section if you haven't read the book, but the trailers for the show have already made it pretty clear what we're talking about...

THE INTRUDERS was basically inspired by four things:

1. An awareness of how dualized many of us are, in ways major and trivial, how we daily and inherently act and feel as more than one person. How we can be merrily going through our lives, watching our weight, knowing we're definitely not going to have that cookie, then suddenly finding it's in our hands and we've eaten half of it already. How we can be fascinated by other countries or historical periods, without any obvious reason from our (known) past, deeply consumed by passions that seem to have a life of their own. The secrets people keep, too, the things they've done or wish to do, or have happened to them, and how these hidden elements of their psyche define their lives forever. As Carl Jung said, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” And he should know, because he's dead.

2. I was also intrigued at the time by people who seemed to enter the world with an inside track, as if starting the game of life armed with prior experience and a strong following wind. There are many examples, from Mozart's precocious composition skills, Bach's apparently effortless genius and other artistic prodigies — to entrepreneurs who were already selling their parents' possessions back to them at the age of two. My most compelling personal marker is a little-known fellow called Sam Mendes, whom I knew at university. While the rest of us spent the first term flallopping around the place like baffled puppies, newly-released into neo-adulthood and agog with self-doubt and exhilarated confusion, Sam was busy putting together his first theatrical production. I didn't even know where the theatres were. In time, I was directed in a play by him and we were both part of a barge tour of pubs, performing wordy skits to audiences of perplexed drunkards who'd probably been hoping for strippers. Been decades now since we spoke, but luckily my father keeps me updated on just how jolly well my old acquaintance is faring, which barely causes a beat of chagrin. Sam is an infuriatingly decent guy on top of it all, and when I heard he'd won an Oscar for his first movie my reaction (while howlingly envious, I'm only human) wasn't one of surprise. Well, yeah, I thought — he would: that makes perfect sense. And good for him.

Though I didn't care for SKYFALL at all, dude. So there. Ha. Loser.

3. Another trigger was an incident with my infant son and a toy saxophone. Tiny children will go for any old thing with their grabby little hands, raise it to their mouths — and suck on it. But one afternoon I saw Nate pick encountering a yellow plastic sax for the first time, put it to his mouth, and blow. He then picked up something else, and sucked as usual. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but it made my bleary sleep-deprived mind wonder how he'd known that's what you did with this particular kind of object...

4. And finally, the number 9 has long fascinated me, almost as if I knew it would one day come to have special relevance. Years back, mainly as an excuse not to write the current novel, I got interested in curiosities of math. To avoid writing a previous book I taught myself to write in hieroglyphs — a skill I have now forgotten, along with all the math stuff (which fell quickly out of a head not fundamentally suited to holding it). I was interested to discover, however, that the number 9 has some fun properties. Try this, for example: pick a three digit number in which the digits are all different, then reverse it — you could start with 367, for example, and get 763. Subtract the smaller of the numbers from the larger: in fact, don't do this yourself, but get someone else to do the math, without telling you either number. Then ask them for the last digit of the result, and you'll be able to tell them the whole number in a way that appears divertingly remarkable. How? The middle digit will always be nine, and the first and last will add up to nine: 763 - 367 = 396. You can then do the process again, with a variation, getting them to pick a new starting number, and allowing them to make their own choice about whether to tell you the first or last digit this time. Feel free to use this nifty trick to score large sums of money in bars. If you do it more than twice and get beaten up, however, you're on your own.

My son, to whom the novel is dedicated, will be nine years old when the show airs.

• SEATTLE

Once I had the idea for the novel, I realized I already knew the place to set it, too. The story wanted to be placed in the Cascade Mountains, and the coast of Oregon, and Seattle, a city in which I'd previously spent only a few days. Generally this kind of thing doesn't bother me, as my job is basically to make shit up, but on this occasion I felt it might be a good idea to get to know the place better. The prospect of escaping for a while from the sleeping patterns of a very young child had absolutely no influence on the decision.

Accordingly I flew to Seattle and spent a week there by myself, walking the streets nine hours a day stopping only for coffee, beguiling the evenings in a variety of bars, reading local history and drinking rather too much local amber. The scene in the novel in which Jack Whalen slips and falls on his ass when walking down vertiginous and icy Madison Street, for example, is closely modelled on an incident in real life. Doubtless for cogent creative reasons, this scene doesn't appear to have made it to the screen adaptation.

Though shot mainly in Vancouver and its environs, the show totally captures the look and atmosphere of the parts of Seattle in which it's set. Here are a few photos I took on that trip...

Post-Alley-lowPost Alley, close to the Pike Place Market. It features a stretch of wall where local custom dictates that people stick their pieces of used chewing gum, creating an intriguing piece of "art". It was a glass-fronted business down here that provided the inspiration for the office for Kerry, Crane and Hardy — Amy Whelan's employers.

Intruders-treat-lowMy favourite alleyway in Seattle, not far from Pioneer Square. Yes, I do have favourite alleys, and Good Christ I've got a lot of pictures of this one. I like the man in the sweater carrying the suitcase: albeit dressed wrongly, he puts me in mind of the character of Shepherd.

Door-lowMy favourite doorway in Seattle, the astonishingly verdigrised entrance to the Seattle Steam Company, again not far from Pioneer Square. This door has no bearing whatsoever on the show, but is a very pretty colour.

Hope-Flies-lowA bird, flying on a typical sunny Seattle afternoon, across the back of the building I had in mind when I was writing the climax for the novel. In fact, I think the production have found a better building in Vancouver for the TV show...

Road The highway from Portland to Seattle. The Pacific Northwest does, to be fair, look a bit like this a lot of the time. But the point of this picture is that it's close to the Sutter Creek Rest Area, at which — though renamed for the show — some non-lovely things happen...

• THE PRODUCTION

Jess Pope at the BBC in London optioned the book soon after publication, and invited me to be part of the development process — deciding how to adapt the book, and coming up with a bible for a series. I tackled this with vim, but soon came to realize that spending the foreseeable future tying my brain in knots as I cut out stuff I'd spent the previous nine months putting into the book would swiftly have me committed to a padded cell (a fate which may be coming down the line anyway, but let's not hurry it along, eh?) Eventually a novel deadline hauled me off the project and I handed it with some relief to a series of writers who came up with at least three different script approaches that I'm aware of — all had merits, but none really landed.

Part of the problem was trying to re-site the story to the UK, which just didn't work. Eventually, with regret (and after an astonishing amount of dedication and hard work), Jess let the project go — at which point it emerged that Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner had been waiting patiently in the wings. Jane picked the book up for BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles, we had initial phone conversations, there was exciting talk of Glen Morgan getting involved, and then it all went very, very quiet. I stoically accepted this as the standard story of potential interest fading like the morning dew, toward a future time where everyone would not only deny that they'd ever been interested, but claim that the novel had even existed in the first place. But then suddenly late one night there was an email from Julie, giving me the heads-up that the BBC would be greenlighting a series worth of scripts the next day. Things seemed to go pretty quickly after that...

A lot of people have asked me if I wrote the scripts, or wanted to. Hell no, is the answer. When someone like Glen Morgan is on deck you'd have to be insane to do anything other than stay out of his way. I've been consulted throughout, however, and he and the other writers (Darin Morgan and Kristin Cloke) done a superb job of porting the novel to the screen. Adapting a book to a visual medium requires a lot of changes, as I know from my own time in the script mines (including over a year spent adapting Clive Barker's WEAVEWORLD as an eight-part series, way back in the mists of time. Why has someone still not screened that book, for crying out loud? I still have my scripts. They're right here. I'm just saying.) While much of the series stays true to the novel, new material has been added and the timing of some of the reveals (as will already be evident from promo materials) has been pulled forward to work better for television. The scripts do a fantastic job of retaining everything I cared about in the book, maintaining both the slow unfolding of the narrative and the sense of ominousness.

The web site io9 reacted to the press screening of the first episode by saying it was "Bananas. Creepy bananas". I'll take that. I'll do more than take it. I'll put it on my business card.

Something I would never have expected is the sheer class of the cast who've become involved. Though American audiences (so far) mainly know him for a compelling stint as The Master on Dr. Who, John Simm is not only an incredibly accomplished and versatile actor, but a hallmark of quality. There's simply no-one better at playing a complex everyman, drawn into a conspiracy and forced to fight for his — and other people's — lives, while he uncovers the truth. Mira Sorvino's ability to play the multiple sides of her complex character is spell-binding. James Frain nails his pivotal role as Shepherd with a chilly grace spiked with vulnerability, Tory Kittles is perfect as the grenade thrown into Whalen's life from his past, and Daryl Shuttleworth should simply be given his own show. And as for Millie Brown... the trailers barely hint at how extraordinary this young actress is. When you write a novel with a big, difficult role for a nine year old girl you don't even think about how impossible it might be to film the damned thing. Luckily, with Millie, it turned out to be perfectly possible. She's something else.

Authors are understandably protective of their books: the only safe way of trying to ensure they turn out well is to have the luck to have them worked on by the best people available. Add these actors to Glen's creative direction, the directing talents of Eduardo "Blair Witch" Sánchez and Daniel "The Last Exorcism" Stamm, the production designs of Mark "Breaking Bad" Freeborn, the producing vision and drive of Julie Gardner, Rose Lam and Jane Tranter, the music of Bear McCreary and all the other talents in camera, sound design, costume and everything else, and INTRUDERS turned out far better than I could have dreamed.

And no, I'm not just being nice for the good of the show. It was my book. If the adaptation sucked, I'd say so. Loudly. The series very much does not suck. You heard it here first.

I couldn't be happier, too, with the ballsy way in which Glen, Jane and Julie have allowed the mystery to take its time. The thing that saved the television industry, and has raised it so far above movies in the quality and depth of its output, is this willingness to engage with viewers as adults, to expect an attention span and use it to tell a story in the way it's meant to be told.

Stories are like people: if you can get to the bottom of them immediately, there's not much bottom there. It's the process of getting to know them (stories, and people), that journey of uncovering their wondrous depths and unexpected corners, that binds you. Approach slowly, carefully, and with a curious mind and an open heart, and they can become a part of you, forever.

Anyway. The show's coming soon. I hope you enjoy it. Just remember this:

Everything in it is true.

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New Collection - EVERYTHING YOU NEED #sasp

VERSION 2 OF BLOG Welcome to my second attempt at writing this blog. I wrote something yesterday and, while it's technically okay, it just seemed a bit stiff (I've appended it at the end, so you can make your own judgement). Writing's like that, as you doubtless know. Sometimes you're able to say what you mean, but at others the words dutifully plod out onto the page instead, conveying information rather than sense, sturdily doing their job rather than making anyone give a crap about what's being said. I'm not sure this version is going any better yet, to be honest, but...

By way of introduction, I'd like to suggest a new Twitter tag. The tag is #sasp - short for 'shameless act of self-promotion'. The idea is that it should be used when self-pimping your product or services. Deploying it will mean (a) readers can choose whether to read the tweet, and (b) users will feel less of a tool for doing part of what they're supposed to be doing - i.e. convincing poor unsuspecting people that it's worth spending their cash on the products of their so-called minds. I'm hoping the term can also be introduced into common parlance, thus:

"I'll get down to some actual work in a few hours, but first I've got to do some SASPing."

"I unfollowed her. Never tweeted anything interesting. Total SASPer."

To save someone else from pointing it out, it's already occurred to me that trying to promote a tag could be seen as a back-door way of promoting myself, but that's all too ironic and post-modern and recursive for my brain to comfortably handle, so let's just let it go, eh?

And anyway, my real point is this: I'm hysterically pleased to announce that my new story collection, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, is now available from Earthling Publications. And for once, I don't feel bad self-promoting. Why the heck should I? Not only did I spent quite a while writing these pieces of fiction in the hope that people might like them, time I could otherwise have fruitfully spent in the pub, but others — namely the exceptional Paul Miller — have taken the risk of making the stories up into a book (an actual one, that exists in three dimensional space and possesses mass) in the hope that at least some copies of it will wind up being moved from his warehouse and into people's homes, in return for instruments of monetary value.

Sure, I could be all "Aw, shucks, you don't want to read that nonsense...", but frankly, you could do worse. If the alternative is being repeatedly punched in the face by stern men called Alexei or Big Pete, then seriously, give the collection a chance. On the other hand, if you suddenly have the chance to hang out with polar bear cubs, then by all means put it aside for later. Your call.

Actually, I'm not sure this is going so well after all. Maybe you should read the first version instead...

VERSION 1 OF BLOG I'm delighted to announce that my new short story collection, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, has just been published. It's ten years since the last one came out, also from Earthling. Comparing the two, I see some differences. But I'll come to that..

Fans of dark and disconcerting fiction are very lucky in that short stories have always been a core strength of our genre/s, a delivery system for real narrative in addition to attractive groups of words. Sure, there are lots of 'literary' collections out there, but have you tried them? There are admittedly extremely gifted exponents, but so many of these slim, attractive volumes seem to contain little more than slices of languid posturing, pieces that feel like they fell off some more major work, or else are practice sessions for one. Maybe it's just me, and I do try not to be an utter Philistine, but after a few samples of these ending-less meanderings I yearn for something with focus and bite... and a story.

Dark fiction and SF shorts by contrast are often even more powerful and complete than novels: a sense of wonder and a twist of terror are both short-lived emotional states, and tales of restrained length can sometimes be the best way of injecting their payload deep into someone's mind. What a Bradbury, King, Dick, Poe, Matheson, Campbell, Ellison, Lovecraft or Asimov can do in the short form - to barely start on a list, and ignoring the great new practitioners out there right now - defies belief. It's in short stories that the new and interesting stuff usually first arrives, too, re-enlivening and re-inventing the genres in the face of periodic over-exploitation by the mainstream. We're very fortunate to have these writers and these stories, and also owe a huge debt to the editors and publishers out there keeping the form alive, often with very little financial incentive for themselves.

Nobody gets rich out of short fiction. That's not the point. We read and write and publish these stories because we know they're what actually counts, understanding that - especially in genres that touch so closely on our key fears and hopes and concerns - they're the sharpest knives for peeling away the layers of custom and everyday and getting to the truth inside. Don't get me wrong - I love novels. I spend the majority of my life working on them, and a good novel is capable of wonders no other art form can aspire to. People wouldn't have sat around a campfire twenty thousand years ago and told each other novels, however. It'd take far too long, and involve too much time spent on material that's enriching and thought-provoking for people with the leisure to enjoy those added benefits... but isn't really the STORY.

What's a story? It's a series of events that happen to people, real or imagined, after the telling of which you have — to however small a degree — changed. Changed either because you've felt something new, or imagined a circumstance you had't before, or merely because you are one chunk fuller of the ways in which people and incidents and ideas can be placed in relation to one another, one step further along the infinite journey of trying to understand what it's like to be alive. Tales of wonder and unease do this better than any other type of fiction, I believe, and that's why these genres will always be my home.

Having said which... Comparing EVERYTHING YOU NEED with MORE TOMORROW & OTHER STORIES, I perceive I may have gone just a tad more literary in the last decade, at least when it comes to short fiction. There are fewer long narratives. There are more stories which revolve around a particular feeling, or notion. They're more experimental in tone overall. Some of what's between these covers is me playing, trying to capture new things. Don't be alarmed, they have beginning-middle-end, and shouldn't have you frowning and muttering 'And what the hell was the point of that, exactly?' - and actually I believe there are pieces which are as good as anything I've ever done, for what that's worth, including stories which are new to the collection.

Anyway. I'd like to thank Paul Miller at Earthling for being the perfect publisher, and Vinnie Chong for the perfect jacket illustration. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the result of our labours. I can't guarantee it'll be everything you need, but I hope it has something you like.

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What's your favourite bookstore? PS - There's a prize.

  I was delighted to gather yesterday that finished copies of THE GIST - something I've been working on since before my son was born, and he's now eight, for the love of god - are on their way. There's a guest blog coming out a week on Friday detailing the project's tangled road to existence, so I won't go into it now. Let's just say... it took a bloody long time.

There's information on the book here. The story concerns, in part, an antiquarian bookstore in London's Cecil Court, a 'book street' of the type that barely survives these days. This gives me an excuse to ask a question I've wanted to pose for ages: what's your favorite bookstore?

I've got a few. Bookshop Santa Cruz heads the field at the moment, as it's not only great but a mere fifteen minutes' walk from my front door. Logos downtown is also excellent, especially for second-hand and ephemera. Then there's the lose-half-a-day-in-it Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle (which, were it closer, might well top the list), Powell's in Portland, the Strand in NYC, one I can never remember the name of but is right by Café de Flore in Paris, and the Barnes & Noble on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, in which I've beguiled many a happy hour. Oh and Hennessy and Ingalls, obviously, also in Santa Monica. And the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, and Goldsboro (which actually is in Cecil Court), and Colin Page Antiquarian in Brighton, and the Waterstones in Brighton is very decent, and also Brighton Books, and Small World Books in Venice Beach, and ... okay, there's lots, and that's just off the top of my head.

But these are the ones I already know. I want, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, to know about the bookstores that I don't even know that I don't know. Tell me their names. Tell me where they are. Tell me why they're great. Do it now. Don't feel they have to be chi-chi independants that only sell pert little volumes by David Sedaris and Michael Chabon, either. If you love a bookstore that's part of a huge chain, that's just as good. Snobbery has no place when it comes to the love of books. If we want to be able to walk in off the street and touch and peruse and buy these things, charmed by serendipity and happenstance, we need to support the places that sell them.

And we need to know where they are. I'll be honest. My motivation here is to glom a list of great bookstores to hit when I happen to be in the relevant area. But hopefully it'll also be of use to anyone else who reads the comments, and I'm going to throw in another incentive, too:

Anyone who adds a suggestion - preferably backing it up with a list of reasons to schlep to wherever the bookstore may be - will be entered into the Grand Prize Draw for a signed copy of THE GIST, which will happen a week today, on the 30th of May.

Seriously, what are you waiting for?

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WE ARE HERE... is nearly here.

My new book is being published in the UK next week (the US edition is coming in the Fall), so I thought I’d give it a few words of introduction, before it pokes its nose cautiously out into the world... Though actually, We Are Here has never been a diffident book. I wrote it because I had no choice. It made me do it.

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas – and I’ve got no good answer to the question, though I do have several facetious ones – but the truth is that ideas are cheap: it’s getting them written down that’s the challenge. For a long time I’ve used memorability as a test. When I get an idea for a novel (as opposed to an observation or random thought) I don’t write it down. If it’s going to be enough to hold my love and attention for the year it takes to steer a book to completion, then it needs to be strong enough to stick in my head until ‘m ready to start. The idea for We Are Here more than met this test. It just wouldn’t go away. I actually wrote two other novels in the meantime, but this idea just kept coming back to knock on the door and say: “Is it my turn yet? I’m not leaving, you know. Sooner or later, you and me... we’re going for it.”

And finally, I did. The book starts with David, a small town writer whose fortunes look set to take a sudden upswing, but are compromised by a strange encounter in a train station. It also involves John and Kristina, a couple recently moved to New York, and who become embroiled in trying to work out the identity of someone who may – or may not – be stalking a friend of theirs. In between these protagonists are many other characters (this is the biggest book I’ve done), members of the mass of humanity that form the backdrop of all our lives, and whose existence we ignore most of the time but who are out there living lives of their own – and in this case lives that are far stranger than you might imagine.

By the time John, Kristina and David’s lives have begun to intertwine, the truth is not far behind. I can’t talk too much about what happens next without compromising the novel – in novels of suspense, the characters’ journey from ignorance to bewildered knowledge is an important element of the story, and I want the reader to come along on that ride. But I can say that We Are Here is my most concerted  attempt yet to deal with the creativity and life force inherent in all of us, and what happens when it’s frustrated or curdled; with the complexities of friendship and love; with the schism between childhood and the adult world and what may be carried through from one to the other — and what may also fall by the wayside, and at what cost.

Most of all it's an attempt to blend the power and drive of a thriller with a story that squares up to the eerie strangenesses of our world, the things we try to discount and push aside because they make no sense – when in fact they’re all too explicable, once you’ve realized what’s going on: realized, or remembered... or been forced to recall.

We all forget things, and forget people, and forget our dreams. That doesn’t mean they forget us. They may be prepared to do anything to make us remember, too, to make their presence felt.

Anything at all.

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