The Momentum Blog
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I reckon that’s how the majority of people make a decision about whether to read a blurb and pull the trigger on purchasing a book, especially those by debut authors.
Enter Path to Publication IV: The cover and marketing (click here and here and here for the earlier instalments). In short, I’m tracing the journey of publication for my book, The Foundation, from the pitch right through to release.
In this edition I’ll be looking at the steps that the author has limited control over: Cover and marketing. This edition will have the most quotes from the fine people at Momentum, because these are areas they largely control.
It’s funny, for something so important to the success of a book, the cover is actually something I had few thoughts on. This is a good thing, because you don’t want me in charge of artwork. I left it up to the professionals, beyond saying ‘AWESOME JOB GUYS’ once it was done.
I asked Haylee Nash, commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan, to explain how she goes about scoping and designing a cover:
“When reading a manuscript, I jot down key imagery and icons that appear through the text. I then look at these and the competitive market for the book I’m commissioning to create a cover brief. The cover brief gives key information about the book, tone, setting, mood and potential imagery that I want to be conveyed on the cover. This is sent to a freelance designer, which Momentum has a pool of across different genres from which we select. After that, it’s up to the designer! It often takes a few rounds to find something we’re happy with, but we always get there in the end.”
I received the cover for The Foundation about six weeks out from publication, and I think it’s pretty snazzy.
Edits done, cover designed… the next step is beaming the book out to the world so that you fine people buy it, read it and love it. This helps keep the team at Momentum in business and allows me to keep writing and to say ‘I’m WORKING!’ when my wife asks me to cook.
Obviously the first step in eating a steak off the back of a supermodel is writing a good book. But what helps it sell? I asked Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum, for his views on what makes a good ebook fly:
‘Ebooks are a very focused sort of reading experience. Readers buying ebooks tend to buy for themselves (rather than gifting books), and they read quickly, immediately looking to the next reading experience if they liked it. The ebooks that fly are the ones that have great pace, action and conflict.
The other thing that helps sell ebooks is genre – readers dive deep into their favourite genres and are willing to try out new authors. Our marketing strategies generally try to tie in these two factors – increase the discoverability of books in ebook stores and build connections with the community of readers around particular genres.’
Enter Patrick Lenton, marketing guru at Momentum. He’s the one responsible for delivering on this marketing vision, getting The Foundation out to the world and keeping me in fine, single malt scotch. I asked him for the approach he took when marketing my book:
‘Digital readers are voracious for thrillers. Momentum has had success with all sorts of thriller writers, including Chris Allen and Greig Beck. Our strategy is simply getting The Foundation out into the community, finding reviewers, getting interviews and guest posts, and just making people intrigued by the premise enough to go and buy a copy.’
Lesson 8: The array of professionals that your publisher brings to your book is formidable. From contract staff to editors to illustrators to marketers to the senior staff that coordinate it all, seeing the whole orchestra in action is an impressive sight. Not all books succeed, but it is this small army of support staff give your book every chance to succeed.
So Momentum has its own marketing mojo, but I wanted to help. It’s in my interest as much as theirs that the book succeeds, both to line my pockets with treasure and so it might make sense to publish another one.
In short, I had to ‘build a brand’ without really knowing how. I quickly decided against the Foghorn Leghorn approach. It’s not me, and I’m not sure how much impact shouting into the void has anyway.
I decided the right approach for me was thinking of how to generate interest prior to release, accepting opportunities that popped up, looking for mutual back scratching opportunities and getting my web/social media thing up to scratch.
Problem is, this is all time consuming and each minute of ‘brand’ is one less minute of ‘writing explosions’. Given the majority of word slammers work full or part-time, writing time is precious.
But when there’s no shelf, each person who buys your book has found your book through word of mouth, reviews, bestseller lists (we can only hope) or ‘people who bought X’ lists. There is a need to (respectfully) help readers to find books.
This all sounds simple, but I didn’t know what type of effort would translate into exposure. It felt a bit like sitting in front of a massive console with heaps of buttons, madly pressing each of them but not knowing which one will do something.
Lesson 9: Even if you don’t know what buttons to press, you owe it to your publisher to do your best to mash the console madly. Publishers will do their thing to market your book, but if you chip in as well, you just might find something that works. In fact, I suspect that publishers, especially in the digital space, have come to expect this sort of effort from their authors.
Press madly I did, right up until the day of release and beyond. I’ll share that with you next time.
We might as well give up. Buy your ticket, take your seat, sit back and forget worrying about the plot because it’s literally all be done before.
If there’s something to be learned from Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s that spending a bit more time on character development can make everyone go completely batshit crazy for your film, even if the story is essentially the same recycled claptrap we’ve been watching for the last ten years.
It’s hard to fathom how we’re all so giddily excited over a film – and yes I know I was talking favourably about it recently – when the actual fabric of that film, the plot, is offering us the same structure, the same character beats, the same goddamn thematic notes that we’ve been getting for ages, especially from Marvel.
First off, meaningless macguffins. Guardians of the Galaxy actually referenced this trope in a scene, likening the orb (ball? Silver thing? Does anybody actually care?) to the briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the ark of the covenant from Raiders, or the titular Maltese Falcon. But once it’s onscreen, we all know how it’s going to work, especially the (gasp!) big reveal that the benign orb is all-powerful and suddenly jeopardises the universe. Come on. The universe must be sick and tired of being in jeopardy all the time.
Next: why must every hero use the loss of a parent (or both) as a trigger for their journey? And why is the father the one that gets to be wise and counsel-spouting, often reappearing from the dead, whereas the mother is only allowed to be emotionally propelling due to her death? And while the father was notably absent in Guardians (cue hints for the sequel), please see every Marvel film for evidence of this. Also DC. Also everything else. Heroes can learn practical things from their fathers, but they must be emotionally torn and unfulfilled because of their mother’s absence.
Then we get the love-interest that isn’t a love-interest. We could spill more ink on Marvel’s short shrifting of female protagonists, and how this film is merely just another perpetuating of their Fear of the Woman, but you can almost see the cogs turning in the writer’s room when they decided that Zoe Saldana’s Gamora would almost-but-not-quite kiss Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill. This is the same move that Pacific Rim pulled off, where they try to avoid criticism for offering an underwritten female character who only acts as a love-interest by not making them a love-interest.
Really? Just because the hero doesn’t seal the deal with the token female character does not make the film any kind of culture-changing empowering statement. Try harder.
Further to this, the final act is becoming quite redundant. And while Guardians is clever enough to play with this redundancy (particularly in the ‘We’re all standing in a circle’ scene), riffing on a trope is not the same as offering something original. But we get to the point where it’s just the same banging, crashing and sound without the fury in the film’s final act – increased and amplified with every new blockbuster. The latest cliché though is to have the final jeopardy take place on some nominal home planet or city, even when all the action has taken place elsewhere.
The reason? Human cost. Raise the stakes by threatening the lives of every computer generated civilian who doesn’t get a credit. And while films like Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel were highly criticised for this, particularly for using cities as disasterpornscapes, Guardians seems to have taken this on board and learned something.
Only slightly. No less than four times characters reference the evacuation of the city and the citizens, so that the audience feels a little bit more comfortable with the wanton destruction that takes place. Better? Not really. What we have now is films upping the stakes by threatening innocent people, but then removing them from harm lest it become offensive, thus nullfiying the entire point of the action. The strange thing is nobody came up with a better way to end the story.
The plot is utterly meaningless in Guardians of the Galaxy. You do not have to pay one scrap of attention to any of the details, safe in the knowledge that it’ll still end up right where you expect it to. And they know it. The prison escape scene was pretty much constructed around this joke of not needing to digest any of the details because it’ll just happen anyway. And as much as I enjoyed some of the new elements, particularly its excellent construction of humour in a tiresome setting (see this brilliant analysis for more), I long for the day that audiences can be completely surprised by a blockbuster’s story.
It was first predicted when Avatar came on the scene, but many are noting now that we may be entering a ‘post-plot’ era of films. Personally, I think audiences are wise enough to know when they’re being served last year’s tripe, and the tide will eventually turn, much as it did in the late 1960s.
The difference here is that I fear most of the original and creative talent has abandoned the creatively dull film maintsream and headed for television, which means when the tide does turn, there isn’t that saftey net of brilliant writers and directors as there used to be.
Enough of the meaningless plots, please. Enough of the irrelevant action and hollow resolutions. Enough of the fifty billion interpretations of the hero’s journey. Offer us something new, and more unique than the surface polish that was Guardians of the Galaxy.
Momentum, the digital-first publishing imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, currently has an opening for a Publicity and Marketing Executive to join the Sydney office.
This is a busy and varied role that encompasses aspects of publicity, marketing, social media and sales. Responsibilities include creating international digital marketing and publicity campaigns for our books and authors, liaising closely with authors and agents on campaigns, putting together sales material for retailers for promotions and supporting and training our authors on varied social media platforms.
The successful applicant should have an interest in genre fiction, particularly science fiction and fantasy, crime, romance and thrillers. Experience in a junior publicity role and a passion for books is highly desirable.
Please send a CV and cover letter to Joel Naoum at email@example.com
Applications will close on Friday, 5 September 2014.
Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.
Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.
The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.
There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.’
A thrilling epic fantasy, Shatterwing goes on sale September 11 2014, or is available for preorder now!
We lost a teacher last week.
A teacher whose presence seemed to dominate all representations of teaching in films and books, to the point where graduate teachers around the world still grapple with the impossibility of measuring up to a classroom of students standing on their desks calling out ‘Oh captain my captain!’
And while this post was initially drafted with this teacher’s inclusion, I’m going to leave him out of this list now because, well, frankly John Keating in Dead Poets Society can sit alongside Mr Chipping in Goodbye Mr Chips as logical, foregone conclusions when it comes to handing out positions for Best Fictional Teacher.
So, in the spirit of seizing the educational day– and in memoriam – here’s my list of the 10 Best Fictional Teachers.
10. Walter White – Breaking Bad
Okay, maybe not the greatest person, but if there’s one thing to be gained from Mr White’s inexorable descent into villainy, it’s his ability to teach. Here we have a teacher who takes a student with no interest in learning, only in the results, and turns them into a perfect graduate (we’ll just ignore what happens later on to this perfect graduate, especially in the last few episodes, but hey, he still learned good).
If there’s one thing good teachers should do it’s love their subject, and when it comes to the production of methamphetamine, well Mr White certainly loves what he teaches.
9. Mr Collins – The Wonder Years
He only appeared in three epsidoes, most memorably in ‘Good-bye’, but Mr Collins seems to dominate my entire memory of The Wonder Years. In a really short space of time, the show seemed to encapsulate everything that great teaching is to me, particularly in the little dance Mr Collins has with Kevin where he can see through the student’s lies, but knows he must play along so that Kevin can learn from failure, from effort, and from life.
And ultimately, despite everything, good teachers never die.
8. Grady Tripp – Wonder Boys
Okay, he might be disinterested and under the influence most of the time, and in the position for the tenure, the time he gets to work on his novel, and the proximity to the Dean’s wife, but Grady Tripp does get quite a few things right about teaching.
Most importantly, he understands that teachers don’t have to teach everyone to an A, and that not all students have the same path: ‘You tell them what you know, you tell them to find their voice and stay with it, you tell the ones that have it to keep at it, and you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it because that’s the only way they’ll get to where they’re going.’
7. Charles Xavier – X-Men
He has a school for mutants. Pretty much a great teacher there. But most importantly, Professor X takes them all in: regardless of shape, size, skill and colour, despite how much property damage they might inflict on the school, he’s happy to have everyone there.
6. Indiana Jones – Raides of the Lost Ark
Some of my favourite moments in the Indiana Jones films are watching the adventurous archaelogist hero grapple with returning to the classroom, and the unending demands of his students.
But also, there’s a fair bit of vicarious enthusiasm for any teacher, imagining that all they need to do is put on a hat and jump out a window, and they can take all their educational skills off to some far flung jungle to retrieve a lost artifact.
5. Edna Krabappel – The Simpsons
Ever-present (until the end) at the front of the 4th-grade classroom, Mrs Krabappel ended up becoming one of the most consitent teacher figures for anyone who grew up with The Simpsons. But the best thing of all was that despite her flaws as a sympathetic teacher, she was bold enough to show her students that all teachers are people, and have to go home at the end of the day, especially in episodes like ‘Bart the Lover’.
4. Jake Epping – 11/22/63
I had to work one Stephen King teacher in here, especially as King battled through being an underpaid teacher before his career took off. This is probably his most developed teacher character, with Epping not only travelling back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination, but also attempting to fix the childhood of one of his students. On top of that, he doesn’t just go back in time, he goes back in time and becomes the most important teacher for a whole bunch of students in the 1960s, particularly when he convinces the star football player to take the lead in the school play.
3. Laura Roslin – Battlestar Galactica
Teachers in charge of humanity! How great is this premise, and installing the politically inexperienced, but morally driven Roslin as the President of the Twelve Colonies is one of the best updates the remake brought to the series. Despite the emphasis on Adama, Starbuck and the completely unhinged Baltar in Battlestar Galactica’s reception, it’s Roslin for me that makes the show, and binds all the characters and storylines together in a way that grounds the space opera in a reality.
2. Roland Pryzbylewski – The Wire
Prez’s arc of the different seasons of The Wire is possibly one of the most interesting, given that he’s one of the few characters offered up that appears capable of positive change. From terrible cop to conscientious teacher, Prez’s change is contrasted against a broken education system that is static beyond belief, even with everybody’s best intentions.
This is just about the truest depiction of teaching I’ve ever seen, particularly in Prez’s inability to change anything about the school, system or his students’ lives, even when he has success in the classroom.
1. Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter series
Okay, well this is probably pretty obvious. But for me there’s two reasons. Firstly, I grew up in a boarding school, and so the structure, style and nature of the teachers in the series was altogether very familiar, particularly the godfatherly presence Dumbeldore seems to have over the school.
But most of all, he embodies excellent aspects of good teaching – particularly in The Half-Blood Prince – in that he models at all times just and fair behaviour, and is prepared to provide an environment for the students where they can discover this without coersion. The lessons from Dumbledore have nothing to do with practical, everyday skills, but about being a good person, and living a good life.
Seriously, the chapters where Harry and Dumbledore investigate the horcruxes are some of the best in the series. Good teaching.
Sisters in Crime Australia has announced its shortlist for its 14th Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women.
And Momentum book Nefarious Doings by Ilsa Evans is nominated for the category of Best Adult novel! Congratulations, Ilsa!
This year a record 76 books published in 2013 compete for six Davitts – handsome carved polished wooded trophies – to be presented at a gala dinner, 7pm, Saturday 30 August by leading South African crime writer, Lauren Beukes, after an ‘interrogation’ by Professor Sue Turnbull.
You can read more about the awards here.
Congratulations to Ilsa and all the shortlisted authors!
For a while I used to use the analogy of sculpture with writing. You take a block of clay and by a process of shaping and removing, you eventually reveal the story underneath.
But I find this doesn’t really work for me. A blank page is not a block of clay. Writing a story is a case of building something from nothing, rather than revealing what’s hidden. So I started to notice similarities with drawing, particularly drawing something from life, where you’re trying to get an image on the page that resembles as closely as possible the vision you have.
But you can’t draw a perfect picture first go. Similarly, no story is written complete on the first draft.
The whole process of drafting is a chance to refine, to shape and direct and polish, and lift up the features of the story that you want to emphasise, and layer in tones and depth where it would benefit your story. Themes and motifs and character details are added, the scaffolding of the early drafts are slowly stripped away until the story can stand on its own, proud and complete without betraying all the furious rewrites, revisions and mistakes that the drafting process gradually eliminates.
And in this, to me, it’s just like a drawing a picture. So I thought I’d extend the analogy, by showing a few of the stages of a drawing, and relating it to the drafting process.
This is where I just want to get as much down as I can. I’m telling the story to myself. The broad strokes come in, including some that won’t be necessary later.
What I’m focusing on is getting the shape, the size, the general outline. I try to get a lot of lines down, and later I’ll pick the best ones to be my main lines. When I’m drawing, I’m basically trying to keep one eye on the object and one on the page, to get them as close to each other as possible.
And it’s the same with writing, though instead of an object, it’s my imagination. Keep it close at hand, keep it there in front of me, so that the words are as close to what I’m imagining as I can get them, at this early stage.
Hopefully glaring bad ideas show up. In the drawing, I’ve realised that one of the arms is way off where it should be, so I’ve had to realign. A foot had to be lengthened, and it’s a case of sitting back for a bit and making sure the proportions work. But I’m not trusting myself just yet, so I’ll leave as much on the page, even if it’s a mistake, just in case it’s useful later on.
This is why it’s good to save multiple drafts of a story, just in case you realise there’s something of value that you left behind a while ago. A recent draft did this for me with something I had put down a good twelve months ago, only for it to prove useful once more.
I’m starting to realise which directions work, and I’ll emphasise those parts. So in the draft, I’ll make connections between various moments and strengthen them, enhancing the narrative so that it stands out more, and the story starts to feel like it has more weight and balance to it.
Third, fourth, fifth drafts
Irrelevant and unhelpful plot points, characters, scenes are cut. The language is refined, so that everything is sharper, and clearer. Comparing this to the first draft is like comparing some foggy, indistinct shape with a solid object.
This is also where dimension is added, through layering of themes, or motifs, or images. Details are enriched, characters become more identifiable, and anything that isn’t working should stand out quite easily. A few things are erased, sure in the idea that they’re not going to help in the final story.
Sixth, seventh drafts, and so on
Refining, refining, refining.
In the drawing, I’m focusing more on the shading, the weight, the need to make it function as something that can represent reality, so that it doesn’t just appear to be random pencil scratchings on a page. With a story, I’m trying to remove any scaffolding left, anything that feels like writing, or betrays the man behind the curtain to the reader.
This is also the part where I tend to use different techniques far more. I’ve changed to a heavier pencil to sharpen some of the darks, and then used the eraser a lot more to take out the heavy lines on the side I want to appear light. Then it’s a case of blending and removing the seams by using my thumb on the page.
With a story, I’m looking at each individual part on its own, and employing whatever tricks I can to sharpen it, lighten it, shape it and colour it so that every line, paragraph, scene and character is making their most of their time on the page. This may go on for a while, but eventually it has to be left alone. Same with the drawing: I can keep fiddling around with the little details, but there comes a time when it’s just going to become overworked and too self-conscious. Keep it fresh. It’s only a story, after all.
(The main image at the top of this post is a selection of drawings Philip Pullman did for the publication of Northern Lights, after he asked his publisher if he might have a go at doing some illustrations for the beginning of each chapter.)
Accept. Accept. Accept. Accept. Accept.
At the time of writing, that has been my life for four hours a night for the last week. It’s spilling over into other bits of life, too. I really want to hit ‘Reject Change’ on suggestions I empty the dishwasher, and ‘Delete Comment’ on most things I hear on public transport.
So brings us to Path to Publication III: The edits (click here and here for the earlier instalments). In short, I’m tracing the journey of publication for my book, The Foundation, from the pitch right through to release.
In this instalment, I’ll be dealing with the finer details of the editing process.
The copy edits
So I left you last time having fixed the major issues in the book, preparing to confront the blunderbuss of red shot my way in the form of copy edits.
My wonderful editor, Kylie, was responsible for 148 comments and 4350 tracked changes to the manuscript. Overwhelmingly sensible ones, too. I asked her how she approaches her craft:
‘I have one golden rule when editing: it’s not my book. I know how hard writers work to get their story onto the page – sweating blood or bullets, typing until their fingers ache – and the last thing they want or need is some stranger coming in to stomp all over their manuscript. It isn’t my job to turn the book into something it’s not.
So when I first read a manuscript, I’m looking for the heart of the story, trying to figure out what it is the author is trying to do, and taking note of whether the narrative voice, structure, even the characters, reflect that. It’s important that any suggestions I make improve the manuscript, rather than introduce new problems.
My editorial suggestions – whether in a structural edit or a copy edit – are how I offer whatever help I can to make the book the best it can be. And writers always get the final say on whether those suggestions are useful to them or not.’
So with that in mind, I worked my way through these changes, confronting the issues in the manuscript. This is in addition to the stylistic clean up that Kylie gave the manuscript: American spelling, proper capitalisation, naming conventions, layout… I didn’t even see those.
Some writers would be appalled by what I’m doing, because it exposes that – shock! – scenes aren’t as perfect as Michelangelo’s David from the moment they’re slung onto a page. Nor when they’re submitted. Writers don’t write flawlessly and sometimes don’t see everything that needs fixing.
But here it is! I’ve picked a busy page in the manuscript that doesn’t reveal too much about the storyline. The first image shows how Kylie has marked it up, complete with edits and comments. Other pages also contain style tips for the layout dudes, but they’re not shown here.
I reckon I accepted 99% of Kylie’s copyedits without issue. In those instances where I didn’t agree, or didn’t agree entirely, all I had to do was track over the tracked changes. The second image shows the same handful of paragraphs, after I’ve accepted Kylie’s changes but made a few of my own:
It took me three weeks and a hell of a lot of hours to get through the vast bulk of the changes. Not only did I respond to Kylie’s suggestions and accept most of her amendments, but with fresh eyes I also found stuff I wanted to fix to get the manuscript to a point where I considered it finished
Lesson 6: Writing isn’t always fun, neither is editing. Most of the time it is, but sometimes you need to get neck deep and just slog it out. Punching out first drafts, stitching it together, countless rounds of edits – this stuff is hard work. But it isn’t something to complain about. You’re not stitching together $6 shirts at Bangladesh sweatshop or clearing the sewers in Mexico City. This is a privilege.
The final read
It’s an amazing experience reading through your manuscript before it departs for the final time. Sure, I’ll get a chance to read it again after it’s a fully proof read and knocked up book before stamped ‘FINISHED’, but this is the last opportunity for substantive change.
The good thing: It’s done! I love the book and I’m exhilarated that it’s going to be with readers in a few months and we’ll be selling millions of copies and drinking cocktails and eating canapés. Right? Or, if not, it’s still a pretty big achievement.
The bad thing: It’s done? Even though I love it, I still see bits that I’d like to tighten or that aren’t quite right that the reader probably won’t even notice. But I’m exhausted with it. Sooner or later editing becomes trawling the manuscript and just tinkering for the sake of it. That’s when you know.
Lesson 7: Know when to let go. My manuscript on the day I shipped it off was 88,000 words. I could keep playing with it until the day I die, but I can’t. The law of diminishing returns kicks in. Plus, there are sales to make, mansions to build and other books to write. It’s not perfect, but it’s damned good and the best I can make it (with the help of people like Kylie, Tara and Joel).
Shipping it off
So I sent it back to Tara with the heady delight of getting my spare time back and being able to write again. With genuine curiosity, I asked her what comes next:
‘At this stage of the process, the copyeditor or in-house editor will go over the author’s comments, queries, and edits to make sure everything is smooth sailing (i.e., that no new issues have been introduced to the manuscript). After that, the book will be sent off to the typesetter and then to the proofreader (and the author will have one more chance to comb through it as well).’
So the book is done, assuming I haven’t broken my book with my tinkering, at any rate. I’m happy with it, and like a proud parent I’m excited (and a little relieved) as the little bugger knicks off to find its way in the world.
Tune in next time for how a cover is designed and how a book is marketed.
It’s only a few days until The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia is released!
Here’s a sneak preview to get you excited. And if you haven’t started his thrilling series The Fifth Column, #1, The Chimera Vector, is currently free for a limited time only!
The moment Denton sat down, he identified the most dangerous man in the room.
‘We’ve reviewed your request for the transfer of Victor,’ the Colonel said.
Denton had noticed poor Victor, the German mineralogist, on his way in. He was a prisoner at the camp, but they seemed to treat him well in exchange for his specialized work.
‘That’s why I’m here,’ Denton said. ‘Victor will be very useful for our team.’
When Denton arrived at the Norwegian boarding school turned Nazi prison camp, he’d been asked to hand over his Polish Viz pistol for the duration of his visit. It put him on edge, and he enjoyed it.
Denton smoothed the lapels of his SS coat. He had to give it to the Nazis, they sure knew how to make a uniform. Turning slightly in the metal chair, he checked the edge of his vision and observed the posture of the guards standing by the door. His threat assessment was complete.
‘I’ve noticed an irregularity in your records, which complicates things,’ the Colonel said, taking a seat at his desk in front of an ornate marble fireplace. The Colonel’s head was shaped like a watermelon. He had a receding hairline and a smirk that irritated Denton.
‘Irregularity?’ Denton asked.
‘You’re an American spy.’
Denton kept his breathing slow. ‘I can see how that might complicate things.’
Standing by the Colonel’s shoulder: Greyleg, the chief prison guard. His eyes gleamed at Denton. Watching.
The true influencer in any group was not always the person with the highest rank.
The Colonel cleared his throat and leaned forward. His stomach pressed his uniform taut.
‘Here is what will happen, Lieutenant Denton, Office of Strategic Services,’ the Colonel said, pushing his chest forward in small increments. ‘I’m short on test subjects for our experiments. You’re going to fill that. A strictly short term arrangement.’
There was that smirk again. Denton ignored it.
Greyleg was circling. He knew why.
‘If it’s all the same with you, I prefer the spy thing,’ Denton said, grasping his armrest. ‘Plus, your uniforms are fantastic. It’s a shame this Hugo Boss fellow doesn’t make suits.’
The Colonel touched the oak leaf on his collar. ‘One of many shames.’
While Denton might’ve looked like his focus was on the Colonel, his attention was riveted to Greyleg.
One look at the man and Denton recognized someone unburdened by humanity’s weaker emotions. He was free to operate at his full potential. And that involved shooting Denton, shooting the guards, and shooting the Colonel. Greyleg would blame it on Denton and receive his promotion.
Denton knew this because that’s what he would do.
Greyleg approached Denton’s nine o’clock, where the guards couldn’t see him draw. The Colonel was busy showing Denton how deep his voice could go, and hadn’t noticed Greyleg’s movements.
Denton stood. Greyleg went for his Luger P08 pistol. Chair in hand, Denton slung it into Greyleg’s midsection. The chair’s leg knocked air from his lungs and dropped him to his knees.
Denton closed on the Colonel.
The smirk was gone, but there was a glint of oxide steel. A Luger, identical to Greyleg’s. The Colonel drew his Luger. He should have drawn the pistol close to his chest, punching out and firing. But like many soldiers Denton had killed this year, the Colonel tried to swing the pistol from his hip. The barrel struck the edge of the desk, slowing his draw.
Denton reached the desk and slid under it. The Colonel brought the pistol across his body, hunting for a target. Denton emerged beside the Colonel, deflected the arm as the trigger squeezed.
The round discharged, clipped Greyleg in the arm. Much to Denton’s amusement.
Greyleg’s firing hand fell limp, his pistol skittering towards the slowly reacting guards. Denton twisted the Luger from the Colonel’s bulging fingers and used the Colonel’s body as a shield against the guards.
The guards advanced, trying to move wide enough for a shot around the Colonel. Denton applied trigger pressure to the base of the Colonel’s skull and they hesitated. The round would not only punch through the Colonel’s brain but, if he was lucky, strike one of the guards.
From the edge of his vision, he saw Greyleg recover.
Denton took aim over the Colonel’s shoulder and killed one guard. The second guard aimed, unsteady finger moving over the trigger. Denton dropped to the floor. Shots punched above him, through the marble fireplace. Denton lay under the desk, watching from an upside-down perspective as the guard’s legs moved closer. He fired a round through each leg, waited for the guard to drop, then continued firing as he collapsed. Through his chest, through his neck, through his nose.
At the same time, the Colonel slumped beside Denton, catching the poorly aimed rounds from the guard.
Greyleg’s boot crushed Denton’s pistol-wielding hand, pinning it to the floor. Denton was about to move in closer but he saw the knife early, just as Greyleg kicked the pistol across the floor. Denton pulled back, flipped the desk onto him. It glanced off Greyleg’s head, but didn’t slow the man down.
Denton appreciated the challenge. Engaging with Greyleg made the adrenalin burn sweeter. He brought his hands up, ready. Let’s see how Greyleg does without a firearm, he thought.
Greyleg leaped over the table in one stride, but then tripped on the Colonel’s body. Denton sidestepped as the man stumbled into the fractured marble shelf. A sharp edge tore Greyleg’s neck as he fell. He shuddered, hands clutched over scarlet.
Greyleg collapsed on top of the Colonel and bled out.
Denton lowered his hands.
‘That was disappointing.’
The Phoenix Variant is released on the 14th of August, where all good ebooks are sold. Or you can preorder now!
So Guardians of the Galaxy is smashing all kinds of records in its US release and is set to open in Australia later this week. And with it comes the soundtrack, the classic 70s and 80s mixtape of its central character, featuring tracks from David Bowie, 10cc, The Jackson 5, and the two tracks that boosted Guardians’ trailer blitz throughout the year: Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky.
So while Guardians might be a quietly pleasant success for Marvel and Disney (if $94 million across a weekend is quiet), the mix of old-school space opera and irreverent music stylings seems to have struck a chord with audiences, providing a much-needed dose of freshness to the same-same feel of Marvel’s franchises.
This was clear from the first trailer released for the film, proving just how much canny and effective music pairing can go toward translating the tone, style, theme and narrative of a film. So on that note, here’s my mixtape of favourite music moments in film, in descending order.
(And yes, I’m going to be kicking myself for leaving things out, and there are plenty I couldn’t fit in, but add your suggestions in the comments, as I’m sure I’ll add mine almost-made-its.)
Boogie Nights – Spill the Wine by Eric Burdon and War
Could have easily gone with some of the moments in Magnolia, or one or two other sequences in this film, but this is the scene where Paul Thomas Anderson really hits the mark of top-notch directing, wafting the audience into a pool party and a cast of characters, all at various stages of their day, their career, and their inebriation.
Donnie Darko – Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears
Probably the greatest two minutes of Richard Kelly’s directing career, and the scene that probably established the entire feel of Donnie Darko for the audience, even if the film has never really lived up to the style and potential of this moment.
I Love You, Philip Morris – To Love Somebody by Nina Simone
Perfect melding of sound and image, and the emotional centre of a hugely underrated film. Proof that a film with some rough edges to the script, and a slightly unsure footing can still be great if it gets the key moments right.
Jackie Brown – Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack
Bookending the entire story with this song, from Jackie Brown’s arrival at the airport gate to her emotional drive off into the symbolic sunset, the song sets up Tarantino’s narrative of boundary-crossing, double-crossing and crossing over into a point of no return, as well as echoing the ghosts of cinema-past – just as he always does, but never better than this.
Warrior – About Today by The National
Apparently the script was written to this track, and the band is used throughout the film. But by god what an ending, perfectly hitting all the character notes of the two brothers and wringing every possible bit of emotion out of the scene. Tears. So good. Aaaarrgh.
Kick Ass – Strobe (Adagio in D Minor) by John Murphy
This has double impact. Firstly it is the best scene in Kick Ass, scored perfectly by Murphy’s cascading guitar riffs which underscore a brilliant –if violent – father-daughter moment (the track kicks in around 2:50 in the clip). But secondly, Murphy is reworking his track which he wrote for Sunshine, and was used brilliantly in a more classical vein there, but the rights on the track defaulted back to him after some legal problems with that film’s soundtrack. Two for the price of one.
Rushmore – Ooh La La by Faces
Wes Anderson often finishes his films with a slow-mo, and an excellent track choice. And despite there being some great tracks in The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, this is probably the perfect song to finish this particular film on, almost as if it was written for Anderson’s purposes.
Chungking Express – California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas
California Dreamin’? In a Wong Kar Wai film? About a takeaway place? That has nothing to do with brown leaves and grey skies? Yet here it is perfect, particularly in capturing what’s between two character who long for change, but don’t know how to get it, or how to recognise it when it looks them in the face and orders food. Bonus Tony Leung points.
Blue Velvet – In Dreams by Roy Orbison
Orbison hated this use of his song the first time he saw it, then loved it the second time. Lynch fell in love with the song when he was writing the script, and here it is, completely out of place and time yet just altogether mesmerising. And Dean Stockwell was meant to be holding a mic during the shoot, but they lost it and he went with a random light that was hanging around.
2001: A Space Odyssey – Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss
Well, you can’t really ignore this one. If nobody had done it before, it was up to Kubrick to show how pre-existing tracks, even classical ones, could do what no purpose-written score could achieve. Each element here, the music and the image, is the greater for its combining with the other.
Goodfellas – Layla by Derek and the Dominoes
I promised myself only one Martin Scorcese scene for this list, given that he could easily make up several lists just on his own. Ignoring all the innovation of the songs in Mean Streets, the score in Taxi Driver, the opening scene in Casino and the Gimme Shelter and Shipping Up To Boston parts of The Departed – this here is the greatest sequence of film set to music. Tonally perfect, marrying the shots and the voiceover, which was all timed to match the track, building from the pink cadillac all the way to the defining lines of the film and the characters:
‘We always called each other goodfellas, like you’d say to somebody: “You’re going to like this guy, he’s alright. He’s a goodfella. He’s one of us.” You understand? We were goodfellas, wiseguys.’
Sophia: former black operative, current enemy of the state.
Moments before a catastrophic hurricane hits New York City, a terrorist attack vaporizes a museum and a large chunk of the Upper West Side. Almost caught in the explosion, Sophia gives chase to a suspicious figure running from the blast zone.
Amid the chaos, Sophia recovers a rare meteorite from a black operative and is quickly ensnared in a hunt between clashing factions of a labyrinthine covert government known as the Fifth Column.
The meteorite contains traces of the ancient Phoenix virus. The effects of the virus are unknown to Sophia, but she soon discovers it is more powerful than she dared imagine – and that the Fifth Column will stop at nothing to get it.
Unarmed and outnumbered, Sophia and her allies hurtle towards a confrontation that will determine not only their fate but that of all humanity.
The PHOENIX VARIANT goes on sale August 14th where all good ebooks are sold. You can also preorder!
He who holds the pen holds the power.
When a corrupt think tank, The Foundation for a New America, enlists a Taiwanese terrorist to bomb a World Trade Organization conference, the US and China are put on the path to war.
Star journalist Jack Emery is pulled into a story far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Because the Foundation’s deputy director, the ruthless Michelle Dominique, recognizes that whoever controls the message controls the world. And she will take control, no matter the price.
Enter Jack’s boss, Ernest McDowell, owner and chairman of the largest media empire on the planet. In the midst of political upheaval, EMCorp is about to become the final play in the Foundation’s plan. When Dominique traps the EMCorp owner in her web, Jack’s the only one left to expose the conspiracy before it’s too late.
As the world powers smash each other against the anvil of Taiwan, Jack will risk everything to battle the Foundation and prevent them from taking control amid the devastation of a global war.