I was signed by the very first literary agency I contacted. I’d never written a book before, had only completed the first three-quarters of the initial draft of Winter’s Shadow, but I was signed nonetheless. Shortly after, I secured a 2-book publishing deal. Basically, I won the lottery. This is not a story I tell aspiring writers for fear of being murdered and I relay it now only to serve as a point of comparison.

As of this writing, I have received thirty-five rejections for my new book, LÜNE. Thirty-five. I expect to receive more. Most of these rejections have been politely encouraging, but a rejection is a rejection. It sucks. Turns out, being a published writer is no guarantee of having your next book published. I’m not even convinced it’s a foot in the door.

With my confidence at an all time low, I started to consider self-publishing options. There are plenty of success stories – such as E.L. James and Amanda Hocking – to suggest this is a viable alternative to the traditional publishing route. Not to mention that with my typography, design, printing and advertising experience I’m uniquely suited to professionally manage every stage of the book’s production.

Just as I was warming to the idea of running my own show, I received a wonderfully effusive email from a prominent New York literary agency. They didn’t just like LÜNE. They loved it. Comparisons to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were drawn.

They still did not sign me.

There were some reservations about my manuscript. Completely fair reservations. And so, we’ve begun something of a preliminary courtship – I’m addressing their notes and they’ve agreed to review the new manuscript once I’m finished. To be clear, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be signed to this agency or that LÜNE will be published but I don’t mind. My manuscript will be better for the experience. Besides, if I was to pursue the self-publishing route I would have hired a freelancer editor anyway.

This is what it typically takes for a book to make it to the marketplace. A lot of work, followed by rejection, disappointment, heartbreak and a glimmer of hope. My experience with Winter’s Shadow was unusual. I feel like I’m finally paying my dues. I feel like a writer. Not just someone who won the lottery.

This is what I watched and played this week when I should have been writing.

MOVIES

The Discovery, Netflix

The premise is a good one – a scientist discovers proof of an afterlife. His discovery results in mass suicides around the world. Death becomes an attractively easy reset button for those who are struggling in this life. The cast is great – Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara. Unfortunately, the film squanders both the cast and premise with a dull story about a son connecting with this father and finding love on a rainswept island. This movie angered me with its lack of imagination. If you’re going to say something about the afterlife then make sure you have something interesting to say.

Ghostbusters, Starz

When the remake for Ghostbusters was announced I was mildly optimistic. The director Paul Feig shot Bridesmaids, Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development so I knew he could bring the funny. Like the original, the cast was made up of talented comedians. This time they were women, cool. And then I watched as the internet whipped itself up into a storm of misogyny-fuelled hate as the production progressed and I became angry. Ignorance typically infuriates me, but this brand of juvenile sexism really pissed me off. Ghostbusters is only a movie. It’s not a sacred text and even if it were, who cares about a re-imagining? It’s not like such an act would negate the original.

So I became the all-female Ghostbusters staunchest defender. Even after a trailer hit that was suspiciously low on jokes and sported a distressing dayglow-heavy visual aesthetic. When I finally got round to watching the movie I was ready to like it – hell, I wanted to like it! Badly.  So it’s a testament to how underwhelming the finished product is that I just couldn’t.

There are a few chuckles to be had but by and large, the jokes fall flat. Humour is subjective so let’s remove that component of the movie and look at the others: the performances are fine. The leads acquit themselves but are left stranded by a weak script that seems to rely far too heavily on loosely improvised scenes with no real structure. The aesthetic is aggressively ugly – over-lit uninspiring compositions strung together by sluggish editing. The ghost designs are more suited to a Scooby Doo sequel, all garish fluorescent badly rendered CGI. The music sucks. The final third has some energy to it and offers a glimpse of the movie that might have been with a stronger script (or just a script) and a more visually accomplished director but as it stands Ghostbusters is a big disappointment.

Kubo and the Two Strings, Netflix

For the past ten years, LAIKA has been quietly building the most impressive filmography of any working studio today. Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls are not only stop motion masterpieces, they’re also superb films. With Kubo and the Two Strings, LAIKA continues their run of churning out contemporary classics. It’s a joy to watch something so confident, so visually and thematically rich.

Watch the trailer below:

Phantasm, Shudder

I’m currently trialling Shudder, a streaming service that specialises in horror films. This new age of specialty streaming services is delightful. As pop culture consumers we are spoiled for choice. Browsing through Shudder’s impressively eclectic title lists I came across the Phantasm series. I was never a Phantasm fan – or phan, as it were. On sliding scale of 80’s horror franchises it sits far below The Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. Despite some impressively nightmarish iconography – marble mausoleums, towering undertakers, hooded dwarves, death-dealing levitating silver balls – I’ve never been able to get past how poorly made the individual movies are. I decided to watch the first film again as my only previous exposure to it was a dirty VHS tape about 20 years ago. Maybe the movie was better than I remembered?
Nope. The movie still doesn’t work. It’s badly acted, written, and directed. Phantasm fans, of which there is a significant number, often cite the first film’s dream-like atmosphere as a key selling point. Sure. Like a dream, Phantasm is disjointed, fairly incomprehensible, and loses most of its significance upon ending.

The Howling, Shudder

Unlike Phantasm, The Howling earns its status as a classic horror film through a strong script, powerful performances, ingenious special FX, and stylish directing. Working both as a metaphor for sexual assault post-traumatic stress as well as a crackerjack horror flick, The Howling is as effective now as it was when it was first released thirty-odd years ago. For my money, the werewolf designs have yet to be topped.

TV

American Gods, Starz

American Gods is typically cited as Neil Gaiman’s crowning achievement, the moment he was embraced by the literary community as an important writer not just a guy who wrote comics. Which is why it’s a little difficult for me to admit that I don’t like the book. I’ve read it twice and each time found it lacking. The protagonist, Shadow, is one of the least compelling characters I’ve ever encountered. I do not care about his story. Neither does Gaiman evidently as the most compelling stuff happens in the margins of the book. Its the digressions, the supporting characters, the stand-alone chapters dealing with mythology that resonate. I’m hoping that the TV adaptation will build on the novel’s strengths and abandon some of its looseness in favour of a more tightly focused narrative. The first episode is stylish, the casting spot-on. I’m optimistic.

The In-Betweeners, Netflix

This laudably crass comedy about English teenagers is a treat. I worked in London for a couple of years and made some good friends from Essex who remind me of the boys in this show. All mouth and brash attitude covering a surprising vulnerability.

GAMES

Inside, Playdead

Allow me to offer Inside as exhibit A to support the argument of games as art. Exquisitely crafted, Inside conveys its story of escape from a nightmarish authoritarian universe completely through the use of imagery. There is no text, no dialogue – only movement through light and shadow. The ending is quietly devastating and verges on the poetic. An indelible experience I’d recommend to anyone – gamers, and non-gamers alike.

That’s it for this week. As always, try to read, watch, play, and listen to good things. To make sure you never miss a post, sign-up to my newsletter below:

M.J.