Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

PW review

As I blithely forgot to mention INK just got a starred PW review apparently:

This stimulating and bruising sequel to Scottish author Duncan's neo-Joycean Vellum (2006) projects the endless battle between good and evil onto a kaleidoscopic multitude of parallel alternative realities. Duncan's debut introduced bionanotech-enhanced humans, who clashed with ordinary humans in a 2017 apocalypse. The Carter family of Glasgow guarded the God-commissioned titular Book, but now the scribe and angel Metatron has hidden the Book somewhere in the infinite folds of a realm called the Vellum and is preparing to die. Meanwhile, a host of eerie characters, including foul-mouthed Jack "Flash" Carter, Puck-figure Thomas Messenger and Jack's shrink, Guy Renard Carter, search for the Book. Full of riffs on myths from throughout human history as well as allusions to Euripides'Bacchae, this enormous, stinging, poignant hymn engenders a terrible beauty all its own.

Yes, I'm thinking, "...stimulating and bruising... this enormous, stinging, poignant hymn engenders a terrible beauty all its own." Now that's a fucking good quote!

Monday, December 18, 2006


No time to blog properly at the moment -- being deep in the throes of writing -- so I thought I'd cheat and post up a madcap movie pitch I've had kicking around for a while. It doesn't have a hope in hell (no pun intended) of ever getting made, on account of, well, I'm guessing it wouldn't exactly go down well in Middle America, but hey ho. So, as you can probably guess from above, the title is:


(exclamation mark required)


A hitman, a hooker, a homosexual kid and a hobo suicide make the ultimate prison break... escape from Hell itself!

The Cast:

Mister Seven, the hitman, a cold-hearted professional killer, seemingly lacking any shred of empathy. A chill motherfucker, determined to get out by whatever means. Sexual chemistry with Belle.

Belle, the hooker, a victim with no self-respect, still bound to her Catholic roots. Her stubborn will and street savvy means she becomes the core of the team, holds them together. Attracted to Seven for all the wrong reasons.

Matthew, the gay, lived the All American lie right up to the day he died, taking his secret to the grave rather than let his parents know that their clean cut sports hero son was queer. Latches on to Seven as a father figure.

Eli, the tramp, an academic who went crazy after he lost his family, killed himself because the signs in the trash told him he was in Hell and the only way out was death. All he wants is to be reunited with his family. Can navigate Hell by hobo signs.

OK, so lemme try and make it a bit more visible; lemme give you the opening...

Pre-Credit Sequence:

We open on an aerial shot of a city at night, the camera panning down to Eli (Samuel R. Jackson*), a raving schizo prophet of a tramp, staggering out a fire escape door onto a rooftop, muttering scripture. The door swings shut behind him -- click. Cut to:

A bullet being chambered in an automatic, the hitman, Mister Seven (think: Lawrence Fishburne), a real bad-ass, handcuffed to a chair in a warehouse, about to be killed by mobster types for reneging on a contract, but still cool as ice. One of them pistol whips him. Cut to:

The hooker being hit. Belle (think: Anna-Lucille from Lost... or Juliette Lewis maybe?), white trash or hispanic, has been caught by her pimp in a hotel room, in the act of running out on him. A suitcase on the bed. The pimp closes the door behind him, and just as we should hear the click -- cut to:

Double-doors being knocked open. The kid, Matthew (UPDATE: I was trying to think of an actor with the right look and I was totally blanking (blanking on the Hollywood hunks... I dunno... they'll take away my gay card one of these days) but, hey, I just thought of Randy Harrison from the US Queer As Folk and, like, he's totally perfect, so... aha!), a boy-next-door type, wholesome with a hint of sensitive, is being wheeled into ER in critical condition, doctors rattling a litany of injuries. As the gurney bangs through another set of double doors we cut to:

The tramp again, standing on the edge of a rooftop, spouting scripture which carries on as voiceover as we -

Cut back to Seven, who picks the lock on the cuffs, breaks free, kills his captors and takes their guns.

Now with Eli in voiceover, we intercut Seven's escape attempt -- walking out through warehouse, slow and cool, a gun in each hand, blasting gang members -- with Belle being beaten to death by her pimp, Matthew in cardiac arrest, being jump-started, and Eli in full-on rant, arms outspread, camera circling him. The sequences intercut faster and faster, building up to Eli taking a swan-dive off the building, falling, falling, and...

Seven gets hit by a bullet in the forehead, crumples to his knees.

Belle falls, cracks her head against a radiator. A rosary falls from her hand.

Matthew flat-lines, the noise carrying on over the last shot:

Eli lies dead on the ground, an old photo of him with wife and kid fluttering down to land in a puddle.

Fade to black, then back up, as the noise of the flatline fades out.

We're on a ferry, the protagonists each alone in a crowd of passengers in all manner of clothes -- night gowns, pyjamas, evening wear, all sorts. Over the rail it looks like the Hudson in winter, New York in the background, but colder and darker. We see the Statue of Justice, just like Lady Liberty but blindfolded, with a set of scales. Belle, confused, asks an old lady where they're going, and she points ahead to...

The money-shot of Ellis Island, but with iron gates closing off the dock, the words "Abandon Hope" lettered above, like the "Arbeit Macht Frei" of Auschwitz. The gates open for the ferry and close behind it with a doom, as the camera pulls up and back to a reveal of the infernal city.


Over the opening credits we see a montage of the passengers being processed like immigrants, swept through the confusion of bureaucracy, a paranoid nightmare of Homeland Security gone crazy, loved ones being separated, people placed in shackles. Guards and cops wear replicas of real world uniforms, but all grey.

One by one, the four each reach the front of their line and are marked with a chalk sigil on their shoulder, dismissed towards this door or that by an official's sneer:
-- Adultery, this way.
-- Suicide, over there.
-- Murder -
Seven tries to break free but is overpowered by guards, dragged away. Switch to Matthew's POV; he's watching this, lost and scared, finds himself at the front of his line. As the official looks him up and down, he starts panicking -- screaming that he's done nothing wrong, nothing. He's still screaming his innocence as the guards grab him, drag him towards a grey door, which gets closer and closer until it fills the screen, then --


And the story begins...

The Story -- One Paragraph Synopsis:

Four sinners die and go to Hell, a twisted version of NYC, each to their own torment. Seven gets a brutal prison; Belle has endless johns to service in an maze of hotel corridors; doctors in a hospital try to "cure" Matthew; Eli is on the streets, avoiding roaming death squads, searching for his dead family. Matthew and Belle try to escape but fail. Then Seven shoots his way free, taking Matthew hostage, while Eli helps Belle escape. The four meet and Eli leads them down into the depths, where they find Gabriel in charge, Lucifer a prisoner. Freeing Lucifer, they try for the Bridge to Limbo but find it wrecked. The only other way out is the Tunnel, where Gabriel is waiting for them. But news of the break-out turns Hell's captives into a rioting mob, and Gabriel and his minions are overpowered. Matthew is killed by Gabriel but revived by Seven, and ends up being the one to waste the angel. The end shot is the heroes on a vast plain with a city in the distance. They lock-and-load, ready to storm Heaven, with Hell an army at their back.

The Story -- Four Act Synopsis

1. Seven, a hitman killed by his bosses, Belle, a hooker murdered by her pimp, Matthew, a gay college-kid stabbed by bigots, and Eli, a tramp who's committed suicide, all find themselves in the city of Hell, a twisted version of NYC. Each is sent to their own personal damnation: Matthew is sent to the "Institute" a hospital-cum-asylum-cum-prison, where the doctors try to cure him of his "sickness"; Seven finds himself in a coffin-like cell, dark with only a sliding panel at eye-level; Belle goes to a hotel of endless corridors of clients; Eli ends up on the streets, fleeing death squads, hunting for his dead family. We hear "demons" on phones or radios -- police, doctors, media (trustees, we learn, prisoners who've been given power) -- all taking "orders from below".

2. Seven breaks free and finds Matthew, the Institute a higher level of his prison, takes him as hostage (it's established here that even in Hell you can die). Meanwhile Eli helps Belle escape, having found hobo signs by which to navigate the city. The four meet up in the subway system, hiding from the authorities and the media frenzy whipped up by the hitman's escape.

3. Eli claims that the signs tell of a "key", held right down at the lowest level. So they battle their way into the depths of the horror, where they find Lucifer himself a prisoner, the angel Gabriel his warder... taking his "orders from above". The whole place is the work of an unjust God, built on his lies, people trapped by their own despair, by the belief that they belong there,. The "key" is hope and, with Seven's determination, Belle's desparation, Matthew's yearning and Eli's insane faith, together they are that hope.

4. With Lucifer as guide, they fight their way back up towards the gates of the Bridge that leads from Hell to Limbo -- but find it a blasted wreck. Lucifer tells them that there is one other way, the Tunnel. In a car chase through the city, media vultures covering the pursuit; they make it, but the authorities are waiting for them. Word is out though -- if Lucifer is free then maybe now there is a hope in Hell -- and as the heroes make their stand against Gabriel a mob gathers from every corner of the city, rallying to the hope of escape. Eli is killed by the angel but, led by Seven and Belle, the mob overpowers the authorities in a bloody riot. Gabriel asphyxiates Matthew. Lucifer kicks Gabriels' ass, blinds him. Seven refuses to accept Matthew's death, revives him with CPR, so when Gabriel has his "not quite dead" moment, it's Matthew who finally wastes the angel. Walking through the Tunnel, escaped from Hell at last, the survivors find themselves walking up a rise...

Picture Lucifer in front, turning.
-- Where are we going? says the hooker.
He stops, a smile on his face. We see shock on the others' as they step up behind him.
He turns to look over his shoulder at them, pointing onward. Far off in the distance, across a great empty plain, great glittering towers rise on the horizon -- a city.
-- Don't know about you, says Lucifer, but I'm going home.
One by one, the others nod and lock-and-load. As they move forward through the gates, a news helicopter rises up behind them, the shot pulling up to reveal a vast rebel army at their back, the whole of Hell behind them.

Cut to black. Then huge block letters slam onto the screen:

Coming Soon:


End credits

Dudes, you know that could rock. OK, so it might get the odd Westboro Baptist a tad upset, but fuck 'em. Actually, they'll probably be more upset by the sequel. Oh, and there's a third one, of course, cause, yanno, once Heaven is trashed, where d'ya think God and his holy minions are gonna flee to? Where do our heroes and their army of Hell all want to get back to? That's right. The title for the final installment came to me in the pub on Saturday night (which is what brought this post to mind)...


Armies of zombie saints! Angels with flamethowers! The whole fuckin apocalypse seen from the Antichrist's POV! Man, if only...

Any Hollywood directors out there with balls the size of a supernova and the requisite level of sheer insanity? No? No? Ah, well. Worth a try.

* UPDATE: *ahem*, that should, of course be Samuel L. Jackson. So where did the "R" come from? Probably from typing "Samuel R. Delany" one too many times in response to "Who are your influences?". Course I now can't stop imagining a crazy hybrid of Delany and Jackson and thinking, yes, that's who I want for the role.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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Monday, December 11, 2006

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Just In has just posted a wee article with a quote from various SF-related people -- actors and writers -- about best/worst Christmas presents, given or received

And the march round Europe continues as VELLUM gets picked up by Bulgarian publisher INFO DAR. Which is quite a nice early Christmas present, come to think of it.

As you were.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Open Up and Bleed

I've been meaning to post for a while but immersed in the whole fiction writing thing (I know, I know, but you can only procrastinate so much). Thing is, I finished the pirate story (and had a fuckload of fun writing it), but then I spotted the ARC of China Mieville's UN LUN DUN, which I brought back from WFC, and,well, the To-Read pile is so fucking huge at the moment, and it being a YA book and all... I thought, well, I can give meself a wee break or so and read a few chapters before getting stuck back in to SCORCHED EARTH. So, needless to say, I got totally drawn in by what's basically a whole heap of fun, full of the sort of full-on flights of fanciful cleverness I love, and with a monster irreverance for the easy, reactionary formulae of adventure fiction -- all that darling-of-destiny bullshit. It's a joy from beginning to end, and if you loved Michael de Larrabieti's Borribles Trilogy you'll have a whale of a time with this, young or old, as they say. The influences are clear -- not in any imitative sense of conceit or plot, but in the earthiness, the witty subversive spirit and, most of all, the sheer relish of London's quirks and mysteries. I've got me loyalties to Glasgow (Or Glasgone, I guess it would be in Mieville's reimagining of "abcities" -- flipsides to the cities we know, filled with animated rubbish, men with ink-pots for heads, and other such weird shit), but I have to confess when I first read THE BORRIBLES as a kid it left me with a little bit of jealousy that I wasn't from somewhere with the grubby-oik-urchin Romanticism of the streets and sewers where de Larrabeiti set his story. That sense of London as a character is one of the things that makes Peter Ackroyd's work appeal so strongly to me -- or Moorcock's MOTHER LONDON, say, another prime example -- so the way it permeates this book is a huge plus point. If he returns to the setting for sequels, I'll look forward to reading them. OK, so there's no decapitation-by-shovel scene in UN LUN DUN, which means it doesn't quite measure up to the glory that is The Borribles Trilogy, but it's not fucking far off -- which is probably the highest praise I can give for a book like this.

Not that I didn't get distracted in the middle of it. In fact, I got halfway through it and was so in the spirit of it, enjoying the playfulness so much, I suddenly had an idea for a story I just had to write. Like now. I'm not quite sure where it came from, cause it bears no fucking relation to the book, but I guess I was thinking of PETER PAN, PETER PAN IN SCARLET, "Magic For Beginners", "The Annals of Eelin-Ook" -- you know, proper fantasy, with faeries in magic realms and shit -- and the conceit popped into me head, and the story just unrolled. I thought I'd better take some notes, fired up the laptop and at 8:30 in the morning was still writing.

Now I had intended to write a faery story for adults, one that would maybe have a little bit of melancholy, and, sure, a whole shitload of spice, plenty of the bawdy, punk-ass sensibility that refuses to let me write anything the Collision Of Mothers Fighting Against Masturbation, say, would consider safe (And yeah... COMFAM... I shit you not; these whackos just tried to friend me on MySpace; I'm so tempted to accept just so I can post a comment with a link to myHomosexual Agenda rant) -- but I was thinking of this story as basically pretty whimsical and playful. That was the intention, honestly.

When I got to the rain of corpses, it was pretty clear the story was going in a whole 'nother direction.

So, about 48 hours and 11,300 words later I have me one of Those Stories. You know Those Stories? The ones that you tried writing when you were younger but it was just embarrassingly awful, because the subject matter was too close, too personal? The ones that you avoided writing as you got a bit more skill, because you realised Oprah Winfrey self-help bullshit and writing a good fucking story are not compatible? The ones that you kinda sorta almost write when you mature a little and -- with a bit more competence, a bit more nous and a bit more distance -- realise that you can address certain themes in other ways, write something which is pretty damn personal without it being self-indulgent autobiographical shite, and so you start writing about the Big Things -- Sex and Death -- in a way deeply informed, maybe even driven, by your personal history, but not transparently and directly referencing or representing it? The ones that maybe you never write, because to do so could be a bit like Iggy Pop on stage, carving up his naked chest with a broken drumstick and singing "Open Up and Bleed"? Yeah, one of Those Stories.

I mean Iggy is my main man, and "Open Up and Bleed" is only barely pipped by "TV Eye" as my all-time favourite song. Fuck, I believe in it as a fucking mantra for a singer or a writer, for an artist of any kind. If you're going to make art you should put some fucking heart into it, and if you have to go in through the sternum with a scalpel and a crowbar to rip that heart out, man, that's what the game is all about. But the aim of the game is not therapy or self-mutilation as a spectacle, just brutal honesty and committed passion, so if it's just going to look like attention-seeking bollocks, well, fuck that shit. And not all songs are "Open Up and Bleed". Not all stories turn around and challenge you to give them the whole heart, all of it, if you're not too much of a chickenshit pussy. I just got monster-trucked by one Those Stories that does though.

It's an extremely weird feeling. It's not that I found it a gruelling ordeal or a cathartic release or any of that shit. It's not like the personal history I found myself dealing with wasn't long since, well, dealt with. My inner demons have been on my side for years, smoking cigarettes, playing poker and telling tall tales about kicking angel arse. If the scars were reopened for the duration of the writing, they were healed again at the end of it, no less and no more so than they were before, just smooth and pink as ever. So while the story was pretty affecting at points to write, the weird feeling isn't from any sense of release or closure; rather it's just the weirdness of having a story that's that personal. Like, holy fuck, did I just write that? Where the fuck did that come from? Well, OK, I know where it came from, but what the fuck made me go there? Well, OK, I know the story itself was just obviously going there, but... I mean... did I just write that?

So, yeah, one of Those Stories. Now I just have to mail it off tomorrow and see if F&SF are looking for a faery story with a fuckload more Sex and Death than I was really rather intending.