Thursday 28 December 2017

Review of 2017 and plan for 2018

With the Christmas holidays coming to an end, it's time for the traditional annual review of events, taking stock of where I am with my writing and where I'd like to be this time next year.

All considered, it's been a bit of a funny old year, really. To my eternal chagrin, it's been one where I've had to focus almost exclusively on non-writing goals, since my weight, my debts and my (actual) career were all in danger of spiralling out of control twelve months ago, and I really felt like I had to impose some discipline on myself in order that I didn't end up losing any of my spinning plates.

Accordingly, my debts are now paid off, I'm nearly two stone lighter than I was this time last year and I have taken my final professional exam (results pending mid January). In twelve months time, I'll be pondering a move into my forties and while I'm a keen believer that you should never stop learning, it would be nice to be able to focus on things which are lower stakes as far as my income and personal stability are concerned. Being white and male and a certain age, I recognise that I'm privileged enough to be shielded from much of the unfairness in the world, and I'm very fortunate in that I've never suffered particularly from stress or other mental health symptoms. That said, I did spend a lot of the last six months feeling tired and worn, like maybe I'd spread myself too thinly. Other people will tell you to push your personal and artistic limits to the maximum - I'm telling you that it's perfectly okay to spend time within your comfort zone if that's, y'know, where you feel most comfortable.

In terms of writing, 2017 saw the release of 'This Burning Man', the serial I spent a number of months working on prior to release. I also was very honoured that my local sci-fi book group read and reviewed it, and held me to account earlier this month with some very searching questions. The compilation of the novel from the initial serial entries meant that by necessity, the story was tight and well-paced, but suffered in the rewrite from having to change some of the original characters and events to create a more reasonable overall narrative. All seemed to agree that the three main characters were really well written, which is brilliant for a writer to hear, but they also felt that many of the supporting cast blurred together. People were also politely critical of the deus ex machina devices in the plot and the junk science that creates the consequences for the characters, all of which are perfectly reasonable criticisms. Pleasingly, the reviews that people gave the book largely matched with my own feelings about it retrospectively, so I can feel reasonably confident that I'm not looking at my work through rose-tinted glasses (perish the thought).

So what of 2018? Firstly, and most importantly, I want to write more. I've taken a role on the staff team at Gotham City Times and will periodically be sharing my thoughts about gaming (disclaimer: I realise I'm old and no-one cares what I think - feel free to send me emails confirming this fact.) 2017 was the first year in a while where I haven't won an award, a competition or been published in an anthology or similar, so it would be nice to find a niche for myself once more in 2018. To try and help with this, I've decided to adopt Ray Bradbury's approach of writing a new short story every week. I have a rough idea planned out to set some short stories in the 'This Burning Man' universe after someone suggested this, I have some short story competitions lined up that I'd love to enter, and I'll be looking out for anthology opportunities too. I also feel that if I produce anything good enough, I'd like to submit to one or more of the major sci-fi journals/magazines - it would be really good to see my name alongside the industry luminaries.

I also want to release at least one new book in 2018 - I'm ostensibly keen to work on a sequel to 'This Burning Man' (since so many people seem to enjoy it, even if it is bloody daft) but I've also investigated a few old ideas to see if there's potential in any of them - I have old Nano drafts of a book based on a Jeff Noon story called 'Today We Caught One' (there were actually 50,000 words in the draft, which fits with the Nano theme but was more than I ever remember writing on the story) and a separate one called 'Steam', about a classic heroine in a steampunk-and-magic-infused city reminiscent of China Mieville's New Crobuzon. There's also the Nebran travelogue that I was posting on this very blog in 2016, which I would love to finish and then release as an e-book. Travel writing is an underappreciated genre, and if you're not already a fan, I urge you to pick up something in 2018 and learn new things about the world. Who knows? It might even encourage you to take a trip. With one of my books in your bag, obviously.

Sunday 13 August 2017

This Burning Man, and the 'Future Arizona' series

Hello again, this is just a quick post to let you know that as of today, 'This Burning Man' has now become exclusively available on Kindle e-book. You can still read the unedited first 20% of the book at the dedicated blogspot website, and when you reach the end of Chapter 8, you'll be directed to a page with Amazon links where you can buy the rest from your local Amazon site.

The finished text came out at a shade over 72,000 words, which was much larger than it felt when I was writing it, and is technically the length of a standard novel. As it's previously been readable for free on Blogspot, I'm only charging 99p/$1.29 for the edited version, and frankly, it's a bargain at the price.  Please tell your sci-fi loving friends, and remember that honest Amazon reviews are always welcome.

What now? Well, it's been such fun to write these characters that I could hardly leave things where they were, and I'm starting to plan a second 'Future Arizona' novel set in the same world, which as previously mentioned, is provisionally titled 'The Fox and the Mox'.  I don't want to give away too much of the storyline, but in book #2 we'll start out following Jayci as she leaves Hole Town and journeys through the Sands in search of other survivors of the perihelion.  On her travels she'll encounter a young woman with a curious affinity for wild animals who is a member of a fire-obsessed religious cult whose leaders are the victims of an ancient curse...

Please note that unlike TBM, TF&TM will not be being serialised online, though I may offer up the odd chapter to people to pique interest during the process.

As it stands, I'd hope to be able to offer TF&TM to readers during 2018, so please keep an eye out for announcements.

Sunday 30 July 2017

This Burning Man is complete!

Those of you who've been reading my ongoing sci-fi serial, 'This Burning Man', may already be aware that last weekend, this reached its epic conclusion. For those of you who haven't yet had a chance to read TBM, I would recommend clicking here, which will take you to the start of this fun, madcap romp through future Arizona.

As it stands, my expectation was that I would leave 'This Burning Man' up on the internet for a period of several weeks to give me time to edit it and take out a few of the more annoying kinks and the glaring instance where I accidentally shoot myself with Chekhov's Gun.  For now, I'm not sure whether I will leave the story up for good or not - as ever, with any finished work, it would be nice to make something available for sale, and the thoroughly talented and delightful Elizabeth Jeannel was kind of enough to produce me a cover for the e-book version, so I expect that this is the way I will end up going.  At this stage, it seems unlikely that a paper version of 'This Burning Man' will ever see the light of day.

All of those kind people who have been involved with the project online, contributing thoughts, ideas and encouragement, will be offered a Kindle copy of the edited book. Likewise, it would be good to offer the same to the lovely folks from the Norwich Sci-fi Readers Group, who are always kind enough to indulge me as I talk incessantly about my work.

In terms of new projects in the pipeline, I recommend my other online project, the Caribou Chronicles, an urban fantasy tale which is co-written with the accomplished Canadian horror writer, Caitlin Marceau.  I would like to be involved in more short story anthologies in the next year or two, so expect this to be a focus.

Finally, in response to questions, I do have a plan for a second novel in the TBM world, as yet not fully planned, but with at least some of the characters you've met from the first.  Provisionally entitled, 'The Fox and the Mox', expect news on development in 2018!

Until then, hold onto your hats, there's plenty more to come!  Best believe it...

Saturday 17 June 2017

Rising from the Dead

Has it really been this long, dear reader?  I am told that the only thing nicer than taking a break is returning to normality, and there are hints of some exciting news on the horizon.  Caribou Chronicles is set for a July relaunch with new material and contributors, This Burning Man is approaching a world-ending finale and there's another thing that may be even more exciting than that...but that's all to come.

In the meantime, my fellow Shadows at the Door contributor, Chris Long, has posted a challenge on his blog that consists of ten questions posed to a character from my works. I had everything set up to invite Phoenix, the god-fearin', pill-poppin', hillbilly hero of' 'This Burning Man' to take part, but he had to change out of his cassock and when he got back, Jayci Clemence was here too, tarring her hair.  So, while it might be strictly against the rules to allow both to take part, it might be safer for all concerned just to let the pair of them get on with it.  Chris, over to you...

1)  What do you like to read in your spare time and has it prepared you for living through your own story?

PHOENIX:  Reading?  What, like, books'n'stuff?
JAYCI:  I won't lie to ya, we ain't the greatest readers.  That's more Gregor's territory.  If you can add up all the zeros on a 'Wanted' poster, you're doing better than most in our profession.
P:  I read my Bible.
J:  And you're going to heaven, sweetie.

2)  Do you think a character should be able to choose their own genre or do you think that would lead to chaos across the bookshelves?

 J:  Well...I guess a writer's gotta have a bit of input, right?  Technically, it was their story before it was ours?  Though I do wonder sometimes if the guy who writes us knows what he's doing.
P:  Is there a Bounty Hunter genre?
J:  I mean, what we have isn't quite a buddy story.  There's a bit of western, a bit of sci-fi.  It's so busy being everything that it ain't quite anything, in truth.  Maybe it's a romance.  People are always telling us we'd be great together.
P:  There's a lot of explosions for a romance.
J:  Don't go spoiling the mystique, now.

3)  If you had to write a story yourself, would it be in the same vein as the story you’re currently living through?

J:  Hell no.  There are too many men cluttering up the space, for starters.  If I was writing it, this story'd be full of space demons with giant teeth and with only a handful of hot, heroic, silent studs keeping order while the girls got shit done, you know what I'm saying?
P:  I'd kind of like to write something historical.  Like maybe back when America was still one country and there weren't all this magic and weirdness out in the desert. 
J:  I reckon it was always out there, even back then.  It was just they didn't go out each day and look for it.
P:  Do you reckon Gregor would know about historical stuff like that?
J:  Oh, probably.  His story would be, like, a technical manual or something.  Anything even slightly realistic and he'd be heading for the hills.

4)  Do you think this story is sharing the greatest moment of your life?

P:  I don't know if I'd say greatest.  I mean, meeting my sister and my mother was pretty awesome, but then I died, and now the world is ending.  It's been an eventful few days.
J:  I once spent a weekend socialisin' in Nogales with a Mexican border smuggler.  He was a handsome man, and so were both of his bodyguards.  As greatest moments go, that weekend was up there.
P:  You ain't never mentioned that before.
J:  Didn't I?

5)  If you were allowed to edit your story yourself would you cast yourself in the leading role or keep out of the limelight?

P:  I wouldn't say that I look to be centre stage, but when there ain't nobody else, a man's gotta step up, y'know?
J:  Say what now?
P:  I said I'm stepping up.  Kind of leading by circumstance.
J:  I heard what you said.  I just thought that it's cute that you think you're in charge.
P:  Oh, I ain't going here again.  I died and came back to life.  This is definitely my story.
J:  Sweetie, main characters don't die.
P:  This one did.
J:  I'm just saying.
P:  This one did.
J:  If we were a band, it'd be Gregor on the drums, you on the bass, me lead guitar and singing.
P:  You're an awful singer.
J:  I'm just saying.

6)  Would you ever want to know the full page count of your story?

J:  That'd probably be more handy for the writer than for us, if you know what I mean.
P:  I already got more pages than I was supposed to.  I guess I can't complain.
J:  I got a lot of pages left.  I'm popular.
P:  Says you.  Don't nobody know that for sure.
J:  The writer would get lynched by my fans if he did anything bad to me.
P:  I happen to know he's the kind of guy who would kill someone in your position just to provoke a reaction.
J:  Says you.
P:  She likes to have the last word.
J:  Damn right.

7)  Have any scenes been cut from your story that you want putting back in place?

P:  You know what?  The original premise of this story was so totally different - like, totally different - that I don't think we could go back to that world.  The world ended in that one too, but there was all sorts of commentary about Old World politics and what it did to people.  There was a kidnapping, an accidental death, an exile.
J:  That all sounds...interesting.
P:  It was a lot more like his first book.  This version is more fun, though.
J:  You spend a lot of time talking to this guy.
P:  I was around for a long while before you were.  Gregor was different then too.  At the beginning, he was an artist and a political agitator.  I had a sidekick called Macklin who was a Irishman who wore a top hat.  He was a duelist and a performance poet.  Parts of him got absorbed into the rest of you.  Obviously not including the accent or the hat.
J:  I refuse to believe that Gregor came before me.
P:  He was a bare-knuckle fistfighter.
J:  Okay, that never happened.
P:  Best believe it.
J:  You're talking out of your ass.
P:  I reckon you only got added in for light relief.
J:  It's only 'cause you ain't funny.

8)  If you could ever meet a reader in person would you ask for their review of your story?

J:  We hear from readers all the time!  Mostly, 'Can you kill off this character, please' type of stuff.  Seriously.  I have a list.
P:  Am I on it?
J:  I'm hardly gonna tell you if you are, am I?
P:  I got a world to save.  I can't worry about stuff like review scores or real-world physics.
J:  I bet Gregor would want to know the scores.
P:  Only because he gets pissy when other people know things that he doesn't.

9)  Would you rather your story be light and entertaining or leave your readers with questions when it’s finished?

J:  I like to think I add the pathos to the story.
P:  And did Gregor tell you what that word means?
J:  You shut your mouth.
P:  The way that it is now, you gotta have a bit of everything.  It's a live story, evolving week to week.  There's a whole world happening in the background - or at least, there is for another few hours.  Sometimes the writer has a chapter all planned out and then an idea wakes him up at 3am and the next day, things get rewritten.  You have to care about the characters - and people seem to - but he has a rule.
J:  An explosion in every episode.
P:  He's working on that.

10)  Are you happy for the problems in your life to be used as catharsis for your readers?

J:  Phoe-Phoe's a reminder to readers that things can always be worse.
P:  Thanks for that.
J:  Hey, at least I didn't tell them that you freak out whenever you hear piano music.
P:  On balance, I'm actually pretty courageous.
J:  Sure you are.  As for me, I'm happy just being an inspiration for all the little Jaycis out there.  Believe in yourself.  Walk unafraid.  Chase down your dreams.
P:  I heard a rumour that you once strangled a man with your hair.
J:  And my next boyfriend will lift the damn toilet seat before he pees.

Aaaaaand for now, we'll be leaving it there.  In the spirit of this arrangement, I would love to pass on the ten-question task to other amazing writers, so Zoe Sumra, Pete Alex Harris and L.B. Scott, here are ten for your own lovable cherubs:

1)  Can you describe yourself in five words or less?
2)  How do you feel about your writer at the start of your story?
3)  How do you feel about them at the end?
4)  Do you feel happy with the story arc that's been laid out for you?
5)  If you could change places with any other character from your writer's work, who would it be?
6)  Would you like to have your writer in the same world as you?
7)  What would you say is your biggest secret?
8)  If you could change one thing about your back story, what would it be? 
9)  What do you think about the readers who enjoy your story?
10)   What events are you hoping will happen in your sequel?

This is just a quick reminder that the latest episode of 'This Burning Man', entitled 'One Shot', is due to be released tomorrow.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Nanowrimo snippet, 2016 - The Magpie's Celestial Sanctum

Hello to readers!  I realise that it's been a while since I posted something on this blog, so I thought I would share the following small scene from my Nanowrimo 2016 project.  Set in the same world that is explored in my earlier blog entries, 'My Travels Through Imaginary Lands', we find ourselves in the city-state of Kassium, which is honouring the most brilliant young engineer from their foremost institute.  Dynamic, talented and forceful, Isabella Crome is expecting to be assigned responsibility for the beating heart of the nation - the furious, inexplicable core that powers their industry - The Engine.  What will happen, and what deceptions she will uncover, will determine not just her future, but the future of a fractured continent.

I hope you enjoy this small snippet - stay tuned for more!

* * * 

The sanctum was everything Isabella had been told to expect and more.  The room was both toplit and bottomlit in ivory white, the former emanating from the vanilla tallow candles in the mandala chandeliers strung from the conically sloping roof.  Beneath the floor, lamps powered by The Engine sat in half-moon lightning-glass prisons that one could walk across like bridges from certainty to certainty.  The effect of the up-and-down lighting was to parse one's face in the quarters of a saltiric cross, forehead and chin prominent, cheeks and ears in shadow.  Five hundred eyes glinted like the teeth of predatory animals.

Below the chandeliers, great corkscrew garlands hung in the shape of dovish birdflocks, echoing the whorl of marble pillars that led down to the central hub of the room, the celestially-inspired mezzanine that was known simply as The Breadth.

At her insistence, Sarasota had already explained the nature of The Breadth to Isabella.  The floor was composed of pressed sheets of black calcite overlaid with hardened obsidian which had been fractured with irregular clots of fired opaline cystals.  These had been fanned and pressed down to form fragmented, discoloured stars against the nightly backdrop.  The passages between the stars were marked out with slender channels of gold paint and powdered cherry garnet; the whole picture that formed was an astrological representation of the titanic, mythical battle between the continent-sized Varkenboor and the Heltenzeer bird that tore the Nebran continent away from the world pangaea so many millennia before.

Many times since then had the sun risen and set.  The Ondian Empire had ascended and then fallen back into decline, just as the Yzyrobians had before them.  The patch of land remaining to their descendants retained the name of the Empire, but like the language employed in formal situations, everything else had been lost, save in the minds of those who came later.  Gods had been cast aside, and production quotas took their place.  Now, the whispered words in the street were of rivets, armour plating, tobacco harvests and munitions.

'The Breadth is tremendously beautiful,' Sarasota had told her.  'There's nothing else quite like it in the world.  The first time I set foot upon it, I felt like I was desecrating something holy.'

'I rather wish I had seen it being constructed,' Isabella had replied.  'I could have learned much from the processes.'