Demonium Panned!

Finally, a chance to use that headline. 

After all the really nice reviews of Pandemonium—like two I ran across this week, A.M. Dellamonica’s at and Faren Miller’s at Locus—I finally found one that was negative. No, negative’s too weak a word. The reviewer, from a site I hadn’t run across before called Static Multimedia, found the book to be repulsive, depressing, disorganized, meaningless, and “void of goodness.” 

But why summarize? Reviewer Liese Cope says it best:

Pandemonium is void of anything inspirational and is not very thought-provoking.  It seemed to be a jumbled mess of ideas and questions that never have any resolution or sometimes even any point.  The book was also very depressing.  There seems to be no hope and no sign of good.  When dealing with the concept of demons (normally thought of as an ultimate evil) a reader desires to see that there is some goodness left in the world.  However, this whole book is void of goodness and faith in humanity.  In fact, even the “nun” who “helps” Del along the way is a cussing, violent, angry, and an impure person. The one person who would be expected to be a form of hope and goodness is very twisted, just like the book.

It’s obvious Pandemonium wasn’t written to be the feel good novel of the year, but if a book is going to be that depressing and utterly serious, the author usually owes the reader some glimmer of hope or some gem of wisdom that can be taken away. Unfortunately this book is void of both.

The key word seems to be “void.”  

However, you really need to read the entire review to understand that not only is the book bad, but that I am evil, too.  “Pandemonium just gives excuses for people’s actions, adding to the ‘not my fault, not my problem’ society we are living in. Ultimately, I [sic] Gregory tore down the integrity of humanity, showing them as nothing more than empty boxes for demons to fill and take total control over at any time.” 

I (Gregory) was really hoping that no one would notice the integrity-tearing thing, much less the void of hope glimmers and wisdom gems. But you can’t fool all the critics all the time.


Get to know the Right People

If you love yourself — and you know you do — give yourself a treat and read Adam Rakunas’ slightly lewd and very funny story, “The Right People,” appearing now at Futurismic. I love this story. 

Now back to me, and my obsession with self-promotion.

So a couple weeks ago I recorded an interview with Sohaib, the host of the Philadelphia radio show, Fictional Frontiers. I had a great time, and Sohaib was scarily enthusiastic about Pandemonium. You’ll have to listen to the interview to hear who he’d pick to direct the film version. 

You can hear me stumbling over my words this Sunday, October 12, at 11am eastern, on WNJC 1360AM (“Philadelphia’s Renaissance Radio Station” — though I have it on good authority that radio in the Renaissance sucked. The reception was terrible.).  If you don’t happen to be living in Philly, you can hear a live stream on the web. A podcast of the show should be availbable about a week after that — I’ll post the link when I have it. 

Meanwhile, if you want to see  me stumble over words, Matt Staggs of the very cool Enter the Octopus blog interviewed me, and he got me to confess to several things — what I really think of archetypes (and the dolphins who write about them), why Philip K Dick forced his way into my book, and who is the hottest chick that I’ve ever made into a fictional character.

Two Notes, one reflection, and some noise

Notes from the Narrative Whiplash Wing

My brain still smarts from the gear change I put myself through in August. First I turned in a 95,000-word draft of the second novel to my editor at Del Rey, and then after WorldCon I started work on a very short story — maximum length: 2,000 words. A couple days ago I finished what I think is the final draft of “Glass”, a tale of mirror neurons, drugs, conscience, and psychopathic prisoners that squeaks in at 1,900 words. In about a month it’ll be appearing on the web and print editions of Technology Review Magazine. Not my usual venue, but I was pleased as punch that assistant editor Erica Naone invited me in. 

Oh, and my story “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” will be out next month in the original anthology Eclipse 2, edited by Jonathan Strahan. The table of contents is chock full of loveliness. 

(Cliff) Notes from the “I’ve Got Class” Department

Thanks to a connection made by My Favorite Nephew (Stephen Delafield, son of my good friend Gary, who earned that title years ago when the boy worked at Barnes & Noble and I heard that relatives could receive his employee discount), I was invited to inflict myself on a couple of creative writing classes at Penn State. So on Tuesday this week I woke up early to talk to the students of the poet Camille-Yvette Welsch. Evidently, and I’m a little shocked at how far standards have fallen since I was in school, there are college students who sign up for creative writing classes that meet at 8am—and show up for them. This just wasn’t done in my day. I excpected nothing but slack jaws, but really, the students were lovely, and asked a load of questions, from “how do you start” to “how do I find an agent” (answer: Go to a sci fi convention, kid, and walk into the hotel bar). I also read the opening scene of Pandemonium, as well as the short story “Unpossible”  — though with the second class I ran out of time before I could finish — donk. 

Noise from the Blog-Rhymes-with-Flog Echo Chamber

Reviews continue to roll in on Pandemonium, and jiminy, people are being nice. Here’s the latest from the San Francisco Chronicle, Chris Roberson, the Kansas City Star, ConNotationsMatt Stagg and the Watha T. Daniel Library (!). And for you Spanish-speaking folks, here’s a review by the coolest Colombian editor I know, Hernán Ortiz of Proyecto Liquido. 

And of course, I keep talking about myself. 

In the September edition of DRIN — the Del Rey Internet Newsletter — I opine about “plus 1” stories and why I think Pandemonium is one. On Sci-Fi Wire I talk some more about myself. More online interviews are on the way. And in October I’ll even have a radio interview to talk about.  It’s a Festival of Me. 

Daryl on WPSU's Bookmark

In the WPSU studios, avec book and cheesy smile


Reflections from the Meta Mirror Room: State College Writers on State College Writers

Finally, flogging someone else’s book.

Back in May, 2008 I recorded a review of James Morrow’s The Philosopher’s Apprentice for the Bookmarks program on my local public radio station, WPSU

You can listen to the MP3 of the review.

Signing my life away

Another one of those firsts that come along with a first novel: my first ever book signing, followed closely by my first ever book launch party. Both were a blast, and the turnout from friends and neighbors was a little mind-blowing. 

First, the signing, which was held at 3pm on Sunday, Sept. 7, and was put together by the wonderful Meredith Rogers, community relations manager at the State College Barnes & Noble. We think about a hundred people show up for my combination reading / signing / discussion. To start the Q&A, I handed out index cards with questions that Kathy had helpfully written out. Such as question #4: “There’s a steamy sex scene in chapter 14. Who were you thinking of?” And  #5, a followup to #4: “You have children who can read. They have friends who can also read. So… what were you thinking?” (Okay, I admit it was a double scam: I wrote the questions myself.)

Henry Gong took these pictures (thanks, Henry!)

We sold out of all the books B&N had on hand, as well as 19 books I’d brought from my publisher (Meredith sold those, and she paid me back in books when her next shipment arrived). Frankly, the best kind of problem to have. 

Then after 90 minutes of signing (I sign as slowly as I write fiction), it was off to the really fun part, the beer and chili party at my house. We had over a hundred people wandering through. At one point, Jim Morrow asked me, “So, all these people were strangers before now?” I said, “Yep, they were all brought together by the power of literature and a love of science fiction.”  Jim said, “Well, it looks like they’re bonding.”

Jim, his wife, Kathy, and son Chris had stopped by on their way home from Pittsburgh (they hadn’t even turned in their rental car yet or freed their dog from the kennel). And so many other friends! Our neighbors, my coworkers from Minitab, the various psychologists we hang with, various Delafields, and the random assortment of folks we’ve met over the course of 18 years in this town. I got a little verklempt. 

A shoutout to all the people who helped this thing come together. We borrowed tables and chairs from our neighbors the Heiningers (who, conveniently enough, had just rented a load of them for David Heininger’s retirement party two nights before). Altheda Hughes and Jody Crust made extra chili, Wendy Moran and Kimber Hershberger made cookies, and my mother and sisters sent an edible bouquet (but strangely, no edible underwear), my daughter’s boyfriend Mark stayed late to stack tables… and probably lots of other people I’m forgetting. Oh, my kids — they were great. But most of all, my thanks goes to my local PR agent, that Lady O’ the Lists, the supremely organized whirlwind known as Kathy Bieschke. I am stunned.

My only complaint about the whole affair is that people didn’t drink enough beer. I have enough in my house to support several more parties. Which raises an interesting question…

5 Things

Some things that have been on my mind, or recently escaped from it:

  • I want my Sean Stewart. On the SF Novelists blog a few days ago, I wrote an open letter to Sean Stewart demanding that he stop working on ground-breaking interactive games and write new novels. I don’t think it’ll work, but dammit, I love his books, and nobody said bloggers have to be rational.
  • Russians, however, want Georgia and Pandemonium. The Russian rights to the book sold weeks ago, evidently prompting them to invade countries that do not support new science fiction.
  • Books are here! Del Rey sent my author’s copies, and they’re lovely to look at it. At WorldCon, Borderlands Bookstore owner Alan Beatts told me I’d won the cover lottery, and explained how the cover “read” very well from 10 feet away. So, let me give another shout out to Greg Ruth, the cover artist.
  • You can get your own at the Book Launch Party. Come to Barnes & Noble of State College on Sunday, September 7, at 3pm, then over to my house for beer and chili — directions to the homestead will be distributied at the signing, or you can email me.

Reading at ReaderCon

A couple of days ago at ReaderCon 2008 I did my first ever reading from Pandemonium. Two scenes, one of which involved singing. (Note to self: skip the singing next time.) 

Reading at ReaderCon

Reading at ReaderCon -- click to see the full-size version (with annotations)

I’d like to personally think all the people who showed up. Most people who say that—I’m thinking Celine Dion here—aren’t really going to think everyone personally. She’s a big ol’ French-Candian liar. But me, I totally can. Why? Because there were only five of you in the room, and all of you I begged personally to show up, even offering bribes. So:

Elaine Isaak, you’re a champ and I still owe you a non-beer beverage. David Louis Edelman, nobody looks better in a hat, and I still have to buy you something wet as well.  Sarah K. Castle, thanks for making time in the middle of what was for you a weekend-long family reunion. Sandra McDonald, you’re a star. No, you are! No, you are…And Paolo Bacigalupi, stop heckling me.

Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly

Well, this is pretty cool. Publisher’s Weekly, the industry’s leading news and review publication, gave Pandemonium a starred review. (And already I can hear my Mom wondering what a star means, and I don’t really know. My rough count says that about 10% of the reviews get a star.  So, harder to get than a star from Mrs. Melbaum, my kindergarten teacher, but much easier to get than a star on the Walk of Fame.)

Here’s the review:

Believable characters, a multilayered plot and smooth prose define Gregory’s darkly ambitious debut novel. In this fascinating alternative time line, thousands of demon possessions have been carefully recorded by scientists each year since the 1950s. Each case is always the same: a recognizable, named “strain of the disorder” possesses a person, wreaks havoc and then jumps on to its next victim. Del Pierce’s case is unique: when the Hellion possessed him at the age of five, it never left. Now an unhappy 20-something, Del undertakes a dangerous quest to exorcise the Hellion as it fights him for control. The trim prose keeps the pace intense and the action red hot through some emotionally disturbing scenes and heavy backstory. Absorbing psychological discussions of possession abound, from Jungian archetypes to the eye of Shiva. Readers will delve deeply into Gregory’s highly original demon-infested reality and hope for a sequel. (Sept.)  PW page.

My only problem? The next book (the latest draft of which is going to my publisher on August 1) has nothing to do with the world of Pandemonium.

I did an interview with one of the PW reporters a few weeks ago — I’m not sure when they’ll be running that.

First reviews and quantum cats

Consider Schrodinger’s famous cat, hovering between life and death until someone opens the box to observe it.  Now consider the first novel, after it’s been sent to reviewers, but before a review has been posted.

You can see why that can be stressful. Have I written a deceased feline, or a lively one? Or is it merely half-dead– say, a cat missing a major organ or two?

Now, I’m not one to put my self esteem into the hands of reviewers. (I put that into the hands of my dog, who loves me unconditionally, even if I forget to feed her. ) But still, what writer doesn’t want his or her book to be liked?

A couple weeks ago my publisher sent out the advance review copies of Pandemonium. I’d been too busy to think about it much (a slight lie) because I was cramming to finish the first draft of my new book. But I happened to notice (okay, I happened to google for “Pandemonium” and my own name) that a few of the reviewers out there who keep blogs had received the book, and one had read the opening. But there hadn’t been a review yet.

Until this morning, when my old editor, since moved on to another publishing house, sent me a link to this article on the Agony Column, an sf book review site.

The short answer: to at least one observer, the cat shows signs of life. If I could I would stop there– take my one positive review and tell everybody to drive safe and tip their waitress — but there are more reviews to come (I think). And then of course, it will be up to the opinion of the people who really get to decide whether you get to publish a second book, or a third one– the readers. But they won’t get the book until August 26.

So, the quantum indeterminancy continues. The cat is out of the bag. Or box. And if it turns out that the cat is decomposing, at least my dog likes my compositions.

Cover Story

Pandemonium Cover MediumSo after about six months of a drum roll playing nonstop in my head, I finally got to see the cover for my book that’s coming out this August.  For the first-time novelist, this is a bit like seeing a sonogram of your first-born — your first thought is, Yikes, it’s real! Your second is, Can I get a printout of that?

I also found the cover much more attractive than the sonograms of either of my children. Both of those kids looked like Doppler Radar weather maps. 

I thought I’d write about this strange, graphical gestation period because (a) before it began I had no clue how the cover-creation process worked, and (b) even now I have no idea if my experience was typical. 

Part one: In which the Author Searches for his Own Opinion

 It started with Fleetwood Robbins, my editor at the time (who has since, to my great sadness, left Del Rey to go to Wizards of the Coast — may they suffer a thousand hit points of damage for luring him away), asking me, Did I have any ideas about the cover?

Now, I’ve been a tech writer, a marketing writer who used to publish corporate newsletters, and a web designer. I have ideas about what I like in design. But I’m fundamentally a text guy, and I know my limitations. Because I’ve been lucky to work with gifted graphic artists, I’ve learned that someone with an artist’s eye can  come up with something I’d never have thought of, and render it beautifully. I did not want to muck with that.

Also, what did I know about what made a good cover? Like all readers, I liked some covers better than others. But why did I like them? And even if I figured out the whats and whys, would that help me know what would make a good cover for my book?  I suspected not.

But Fleetwood asked.  So I went to the book store and started squinting at shelves, and started keeping track of my favorites. 

Already Dead Cover
I loved the covers on the Charlie Huston vampire novels — the bands of color, the strong typography, the cropped photographs (with fangs added). It looked cool, fun but literary. Plus, I preferred the papery feel of the covers, as opposed to something slick.
Looking for Jake coverI also very much liked the cover for China Mieville’s Looking for Jake. I loved combination of a muted palette and a single, strong iconic image.
IdleWild CoverThat stenciled butterfly on Nick Sagan’s IdleWild caught my attention. I also realized that my cover could be greatly enhanced by changing my name to Sagan.
London Revenant coverI liked this one too, for Conrad Williams’ London Revenant. The photo montage face struck me as a little too messy, but the cover was saved by the use of the London underground symbol, the strong banded colors at the bottom, and the clean typography.

So from these examples and a few others I deduced a few of my own preferences. I liked muted palettes (mostly), a single iconic image over a montage (mostly), and papery covers over slick (again, mostly — but did I just like them because they seemed more “literary”? Did it make a difference?). 

I sent off this “analysis” to Fleetwood. Now it makes me cringe. Thank goodness it had almost no effect on the cover.

Part Two:  In which the Editor Explains what the Author’s Opinion Should Be

So how did we end up with the final product? As you may have suspected from the subheading, it was Fleetwood’s idea.

I’d suggested a couple images from the book — a slingshot, a boy lying in the water, a couple other things — and Fleetwood said, What about the farmhouse? In the novel there’s a recurring image of a farmhouse — literally a recurring image, in that farmhouse keeps showing up in a series of mysterious paintings and sculptures. Fleetwood wrote that “the tranquil pastoral scene juxtaposed with the title may be interesting.” 

At first I was nonplussed. Would genre readers pick up a book with just a farm on the cover? How would we even signal that it was a genre book? The story’s about about demonic possession and Jungian archetypes, for goodness’ sake.

Then I started thinking a little more about it. Okay, I wrote to Fleetwood, it might be cool if the illustration at first looked pastoral, but something about the tone or mood suggested something more disturbing. And it also might be interesting if at first it looks like the cover is just a painting of a farm, but then there’s a hand or shadow or something that suggests this is a picture of a picture — we are seeing an artifact from the book as it’s being created.

Part Three: In which the Author Shuts Up and Lets the Artist Speak. A Little.

Freaks of the Heartland coverFinally it was time to bring in an artist. Greg Ruth ( is an illustrator and comic artist who’s recently worked with Kurt Busiek on his Conan the Barbarian series, and with Steve Niles on the beautiful Freaks of the Heartland. I hadn’t seen his work before, and didn’t even know his name until Del Rey sent me the cover, but I’m very happy they found him.

I e-mailed Greg and asked him if he could tell me  how he got sucked into this project and what the process was like from his end. He graciously wrote back and said I could post his comments.

Greg writes:

Well I had met David Stephenson, the AD on this project last summer via my agent, Allen Spiegel. They had worked together in the past and Allen wanted us to meet with an eye towards working on something in the future. I have been doing a whole raft of covers for a bunch of different genres this last year, and was eager to see what we could do for this novel. David called me up with this project based mostly on what they liked about the first cover I did for a Dark Horse Comics series called “Freaks of the Heartland”. It featured an old hillltop farmhouse, menacing skies…. it was a perfect fit for what he wanted. SO the trick was to deliver something from that same source, but that would be utterly different as well. Often times I get the chance to read the manuscript, and pull an image for the cover from the text as I see it, other times the AD or the publisher already have an idea of what they want. This case fell into the second category, and while I typically prefer to find the cover in the book myself, we had precious little time before the solicitation catalogue, and so having a clear direction helped get us going. In a case like this, I tend to end up asking a good deal of questions to the AD to try and get the tone and feel of the book. Dave is great and had a lot to say, being a really accomplished illustrator and designer himself. Covers should sell and I think, enhance the book. They should reflect the story being told inside and I always find that if you look at the cover and it makes you want to know more, then read the book and look at the cover again and get more from it, that’s a success.

So. After a few quick pack and forth pencil sketches we settled on one and went to the final. I went straight to paints, making sure to keep the hand and brush portion as a separate layer, digitally, so David could move it about to accommodate the text. Sometimes a cover just pops right out perfect the first time, other instances it’s a long slow drag out of the cave- this one came on pretty solid out of the gate. Once the final was done there were only a few tweaks. It was a pretty smooth process. Fairly typical for a larger publisher with a committee system, and I look forward to doing more with Random House in the future.

Thanks, Greg. 

David Stevenson, the Del Rey art director Greg mentioned, also solved the problem of how to signal that it was a genre book by suggesting that the the word “demon” be highlighted in red. And when the first draft of the cover came back it was Chris Schleup (the senior Del Rey editor who took me on when Fleetwood left) who suggested further tweaks, like toning down the red in “demon” to keep it more in the tonal range of the rest of the cover, and making the bottom of the picture degenerate into brush marks, as if it were a work in progress.

Epilogue: In which the Author Awaits the Opinion of the Market

 So. A cover. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s born.  I mean, printed.

I’ll also have to wait to see how the book will sell. But if the numbers are poor I’m pretty confident it’ll be the fault of the book’s interior, not Greg’s cover.