2017 Review

Publications

Only two things published this year, and none planned for the foreseeable future.

Soul Food was out in January, and the novella, The Book of a Thousand and One Destinies was out the middle of the year.

The couple of days spent trying to solicit reviews for Soul Food has yet to prove fruitful. I emailed thirty reviewers/sites. I had six replies. Four declining – mainly due to overfull to-read lists – and two expressing interest. Eleven months later, and still only one review from my arc reader.

There’s no point paying for advertising until I have more reviews, and I see no way of getting them. Or any likelihood of publishing anything else with expectation of more success. So for the moment I have no intention of going through the extra effort of preparing them for publication.

I’ve begun trying the traditional publication route, and submitted one story to an agent in October. They declined yesterday. I’ll try a few more now, and Angry Robot have an open submission period that ends in a few days, so I guess I’ll go ahead and query them (I ‘m going through a period of not expecting positive responses from anything, if I receive any responses at all – in my experience, not common in the publishing industry).

 

Writing

Writing has gone fairly well this year. Six novels, and part three of a longer piece, though most in first draft form. 450k new words written. Most of those words will have to be rewritten before I’m happy with them, but I have something to work from.

First of all was the third part of Dwimmerfall (working title). Which looks like it may be four parts. I’ve been working on it for a few years though, and have only vague ideas of what happens next. And a panel at this year’s Bristolcon gave me ideas to add to what’s already done, so I need time to properly consider how to implement them. But part three is done.

All Roads Lead to Hell is a short crime novel. Potentially the first of a series, though since it’s probably too short for the market I doubt it’ll sell, so probably won’t get around to doing any more.

The Border Guard is a urban fantasy novel. This is the one currently trying the submission route. While that was submitted, I started working on the sequel for what will apparently be a trilogy. I wrote book two for NaNoWriMo, and finished by the 9th of November. I spent most of the rest of the month planning the third book, and started that by the end of the month. So I now have rough drafts of all the trilogy to work from, and have made a couple of minor adjustments to the first one already. Now I just need to find someone interested in it, which is always a problem.

I also did the first couple of books in a (possibly) open-ended urban fantasy/crime series, Ghost Bullets. It’s an attempt to make a series I can avoid getting bored with by centering it on the Ghost Gun the first book is named after, with the mortality rate of its wielders being high. The basic premise is that the titular gun fires ghost bullets which kill any target they hit, their soul held by the gun, and their ghosts haunting their killer. Technically, no part of that is actually true, yet it still makes an accurate précis of the idea. I have vague ideas of where the series could go, but want to tidy the first two stories up before pushing on any further.

 

Life in General

My depression continues in bouts, and a couple of times I’ve come close to breakdowns this year. I don’t see any change coming in that, and I’m worried it’ll interfere with my attempts to get published, since I am currently defeatist about it.

 

2018 Plans

Mainly revisions of the aforementioned, at least for the first part of the year. I need to try and finish Dwimmerfall at some point, since it has been in progress since 2015.

There are a couple of other long works I’ve been planning on doing for a few years now, but realistically I don’t see myself getting much done on them next year. Maybe some thinking, possibly even research, but most time I need to focus on clearing away my works in progress. Then I should probably look at sequels to them, where appropriate. Series are supposedly what the market seems to want, even though they don’t come naturally to me.

Not sure whether I’ll post here more often, but I tend to doubt it.

 

I Hereby Foreswear NaNoWriMo

I’ve finished NaNoWriMo for this year, and possibly for good. The 81,000 words were done in nine days. For the first five days I did 10,000 words a day, but was able to slow to a more relaxed 8,000 a day after passing the 50,000 word goal.

I think it’s the deadline that does it for me. There’s this urgent need to finish. I get it when doing a first draft anyway, but have forced myself to slow down a bit recently. Not that the urge ever completely vanishes.

I’ve wondered whether it’s a desperation to achieve something, given my lack of any kind of success so far. But I don’t feel anywhere near the same urgency during the revision process. There’s a desire to get through it, and eventually to be rid of the thing so I can get on to the new, but never the same fevered intensity.

Since I don’t really need NaNoWriMo to prompt me to write now, I think it may have offered me all it can. And the increased stress and anxiety I feel from it may just make the writing process less enjoyable (though much such enjoyment tends to be retrospective).

So I hereby swear off doing NaNoWriMo again.

 

Results

The book (sequel to The Border Guard, which is currently submitted to an agent – 1 initially, with a few more I’ve started researching next in line) is written, at least. It still needs a lot of work. Chapter 3 is way too sparse, so that needs something else. I need to insert a chapter so the POV character has actual interaction with another character before the first scene they get together here, in order for that to really work without relying on the reader having read and remembering their interactions in the first book.

I also realised one of the plot strands left in the first book doesn’t have any attention here, so I need to work out whether it will play a role, or whether to exorcise it from the first book.

More worryingly is that one of the overall themes (probably not the word I want) of the first book isn’t as prevalent here. I can’t tell if that’s a problem yet, and may need some distance to properly judge. Overall I’m relatively happy with some bits of the story, so I don’t want to have to do a complete rewrite.

So now I’m trying to decide whether to focus on working out what needs to change in this one (after some time away from it), or start outlining the third (and final) book, to get a proper overview of what things need to be. But will the outline fix the current structure of the second book in my head, or will it show me what it needs to be?

 

SFerics 2017

I have a short story, Positive Falsehoods, in the SFerics 2017 collection, which is now out.

It was organised by Rosie Oliver, edited by Roz Clarke, with cover art by Andy Bigwood. So thanks to them, and the other contributors.

Here’s the description:

What will the future hold for us, our children and our grandchildren? How will developing technology change the way we live? Will we keep our humanity or become more like robots?

Six Stories – Six Possible Futures

An anthology developed from the BristolCon 2015 science fiction and fantasy convention workshop – about the future of the latest technologies coming onto the market.

Amazon

Is Genre a Handicap for Writers?

[This is just preliminary ramblings, as my mind flits around the subject]

What’s the point of genre, from a writer’s perspective? Are they just a marketing thing, only relevant to bookshops and the publishing industry? Not if you’re an independent author, who has to consider such things. And if you’re writing for the market, it’s good to know the expectations of the genre you’ll be placed in, so that customers will be satisfied with your book.

Part of the problem for me is that genre seems to be a mashup of different factors from stories, all treated as being the same.

Breakdown

Fantasy, science fiction. These are mainly to do with Setting elements. There are certain types of story more commonly associated with them, but those titles alone don’t necessarily define what will happen in the story. Not until you get deeper into subcategorization, at least.

Detective story, romance. These are the Engines of the story, defining the shape of what events are likely to occur, and what can be expected of the ending (a detective story or mystery would have a reveal, a romance would have a happy ending). It’s possible to not deliver the expected ending, but you know you risk disappointing some readers.

Thriller, suspense. These are more to do with the Pacing. They don’t really suggest any type of ending other than in terms of it needing to live up to the build-up they provide. Maybe literary is also in this category, at the opposite end (nothing much happens, and it may not even have an actual ending).
So that’s Setting, Engine, and Pacing. Are there any other kind of categories they can be broken down into? Let’s look at some random genres.

Caper – This is an Engine. It suggests shape of the story, rather than anything to do with the Setting.

Comedy – This makes me think I should rename Setting as Flavour. Or just question why this is considered a genre.

Crime – Hard to be sure. I’d say the Engine, although crime covers a range of types of story. Then again, the Crime genre is generally interpreted as contemporary, so while a crime might be the Engine of a story, what we think of as the Crime genre is a combination of Setting and Engine, or even more weighted toward Setting.

Dystopian – Again I think what it’s come to mean is too specific. At heart it’s someone (usually a teen) stuck in a broken society, trying to survive, and/or fix the world. While generally associated with science fiction, the Engine of the story could be applied to other settings. But by now the word has such a specific meaning in terms of genre that we’d need another if talking about the underlying Engine.

Epic – While generally associated with fantasy – so epic fantasy has a particular meaning and set of tropes – I think Epic is more to do with Pacing. It also touches on scale and breadth of the story, so maybe Pacing isn’t the best term. It’s about the shape and structure of the story though, rather than the Setting or the Engine driving the plot forward.

Espionage – This feels like a wide Engine definition. There are certain elements of spy stories that could be attributed to Setting, and maybe some elements that could fit a different Engine. So I’m not sure it isn’t actually a Setting, with certain types of Espionage stories being the Engines.

 

There are also genre mashups to consider. I think overall a story can only have one Engine and Pacing pattern, but multiple Setting elements. (Maybe Flavour would be a better title. Or Ingredients. In which case Engine feels kind of wrong).

With that small selection I’ve decided I’ve misnamed two of the three categories I decided upon not far above. That’s some progress, isn’t it?
I probably need to think about it some more.

 

Should I Care? Can I?

Personally, I don’t pay much attention to genre. Even if I consider it, and realise a story isn’t going to easily fit in any, or won’t fit in a popular one, it isn’t likely to affect me. I write what tells me it wants to be written.

Which may be one of the many reasons I don’t sell much, but by this point I’m not sure there’s much chance of me changing.

Revision Anxieties

I got The Border Guard back from the developmental editor. Some bits need clarifying, I removed the third chapter that’d been a late insert, and there was information that needed moving up. There were some other bits that needed work which I think I’ve done enough on, though I’ve reached the point where I just can’t tell. But the main problem remains that I don’t describe enough, or in enough detail.

Descriptions don’t come easily for me. Those are the bits I tend to skim over when reading. It’s simply how my mind works, focussing more on the abstract of plot and dialogue. So even if I do describe stuff, it may not be that interesting. Because it’s not what I want to be writing. I try to counter this, but since I have trouble even telling where I need to describe more, I could easily be missing places I should add more, or not doing enough in the places I do add stuff.

While it was more the details than the overall structure that needed work, I find myself questioning whether my writing instincts are all wrong. Given my lack of success so far, something in my instincts is probably lacking. And I hired an editor to help me get the manuscript into a state that the traditional publishing system prefer, so unless I disagree with something for a reason I’m clear on, I’ll go with her advice.

 

Infodumps

I had tried spreading the information out initially, to avoid slowing the opening (and without being too infodumpy). This involved introducing some ideas but not fully explaining them until later, which I can see is dumb. But rearranging stuff, I’m not sure whether I’ve slowed the early story down. I’ve done at least a handful of passes on the opening chapters to polish the inserts and pare them down to make minimal impact on the flow.

But I’m at the point where I can no longer tell. The point at which I’ve stared at it so closely that I find I can’t really step back to see the larger picture. It is the shape its going to be in my mind, and all I can do is tinker at the edges, polishing it.
I’m not even sure I’m explaining this well.

 

Submission Anxiety

While the edit was generally positive, I can’t help fretting over every detail.

Since this is the first things I’ve written in a while of a commercially acceptable length (90K) I’m going to try the traditional submission route, in hopes of finding somewhere that’ll do the promotion I’m useless at. Which I realise may be a forlorn hope, since all we hear about is publishers increasingly offloading that stuff onto authors. But there’s little traction on the dozen plus novels I’ve self-published, so trying one this way is hardly much of a gamble (he says envisioning a dozen ways in which this could make things worse).

So I’m starting with looking at agents. In the UK. For a fantasy novel. It’s a small pool. Especially since some of the stuff I write is more crime/thriller, so I’d also like someone who could represent a few genres. But I’ll go with fantasy primarily.

Since submissions are generally the first three chapters or 50 pages, those are the ones I’ve been focussing on, going over and over them, again and again. They’re also the ones that have had stuff moved up into them, making them seem more bloated to me than they probably are.

I’ve been switching, with increasing rapidity, between worrying they’re not good enough, to stupid levels of confidence that the genius therein will shine through regardless. Agents surely look for the potential within the work won’t they? Unless mine is the dozenth they’ve had to read that day, and they’re looking for any excuse to decline and move on to the next.

The pace of change of this manic-depressive cycle has gotten so fast that I now seem able to hold both viewpoints concurrently.
So I reached the point where I had to submit it and hope it isn’t as bad as I fear.

 

Anxieties will ultimately stop me ever putting anything out if I listen to them too long, so once I reach the point where it feels like I’m doing things by rote and not taking anything in, it’s time to step away from it. Either for a short while, or releasing it to wherever. I’m reasonably sure it’s in an overall good state, or as good as I can make it barring minor tweaking.

Or I was until I finished that sentence, and I’m again thinking I should have done more. But I’ll never escape that, even for books I released years ago. All I can do is move on to the next project, giving that my attention.

Depression 7: The Misery of Hope

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

I thought finally losing my hope would make things easier. That the anguish of all these daydreams of the way things could go would stop. It turns out the absolute void of anything in my future but too many more years of existence before I finally get to rest is even worse.

Self-delusion may have been the only thing keeping my suicidal impulses to a promise of future release.

I still have my duties and obligations to force me to keep going. To drag me out of bed in the morning.

Life has no reason, no purpose, other than whatever we attribute to it. I don’t think I’m capable of doing so. And I have too little in life to distract me from this void.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been happy. I recall no true moments of joy. And I’m now sure I never will.

The only possibility I do see for any kind of joy, however false, is if I do succumb to the psychotic break that’s seemed imminent for a while. It’s always had this allure of finally allowing me to lose my inhibitions, of being alive. But it’d more likely be far more tortured than that, and I don’t want the risk of causing others pain. Because everyone else is more important than me. Everyone else has something to live for.

I’m not sure what I’d even do without my inhibitions anyway. I see nothing in life that seems that interesting. I don’t drink. I can’t dance. Many things people seem to take pleasure in just look so hollow. Are they all just distractions, and is everyone as broken as me on the inside?

A lifetime of living in here has taught me how to hide most of the things I have inside. Does everybody else do the same, and none of us want to talk about it or acknowledge it? Or is it just me?

 

I have this desperate need to break out of the soul-eroding routine, but get exhausted by anxiety whenever I do.

I almost feel another me, one I’d sooner be, straining to be free from inside of me. Giving me urges to do something stupid.

Maybe going to the conference was a good thing. Stirring up my anxieties. Maybe it’ll goad me into acting. And inevitably doing the wrong thing.

Though with no definite goal, I’m more likely to carry on along the same familiar groove.

 

All I have left is memories of a life unlived. And I’m too old and broken to start living it now. All I have to hold on to is the promise of oblivion thereafter.

I so wanted to be rid to the final niggling sliver of hope, with all its lies that only served to make the anguish worse when they never happened.

Now I’m left with nothing. Just a need to keep writing to hold the darkness at bay.

But I think I’m out of words.

 

Depression 5: Writing Bad

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

I’m not a real writer. Apparently a fear of many writers. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t true for some.

To be more precise, it should be ‘I’m not a good writer’. Which is, of course, a highly subjective term.

But I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and it feels like my writing is getting worse. And I’ve yet to achieve any success.

Not that I consider myself a failed writer. A failed writer doesn’t finish the story. I’m just an unsuccessful one. And unsuccessful can change over time.

I’m just not sure I believe it will. Or that I really want it to. I want my stuff read. And I’d like to make a living at writing, so I can continue to do so. But I don’t really have any image of what success would be like, and seem unable to place myself in any such scenario.

I’m not sure if I’m sabotaging myself. I know there are things I’m doing wrong. Basically the marketing. Reaching out to people, which will always be a problem for me.

And I’m sure the reason I can’t sell anything in the short story market is that they prefer idea-centred stories, whereas even if I start off from an idea, the story itself always ends up taking priority for me.

But I’m not sure whether I’m just not a good writer. Feedback from some people I trust is reassuring, though there’s always the concern of how much of that is politeness. A part of me kind of wants a voice of authority to say I’m a bad writer, and should stop doing it. A verification of what I feel deep inside.

Yet while I sometimes feel that about my writing, the next moment I’m completely the opposite. I have written some good stuff. But it’s shallow. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But then, what does?

I’m reasonably convinced I have some skills, or at least an inclination. There was one recently popular book, based mainly around it’s final twists. Those twists were similar to ones I’d used in a story a few years back (whose readership may just have gotten into double figures, so it’s purely coincidence of similarly twisted minds). So some of my ideas may be worth something.

Which could just mean it’s my execution that’s lacking. It’d be nice to think that, rather than that it’s all just a matter of luck. A lack in craft could be fixed. Random chance is notoriously harder to control.

That assumes that it’s my craft that’s lacking. But I see writing as being as much about art as craft. And if my storytelling art is what’s lacking, I’m not sure it’s possible to learn.

Ultimately, I feel compelled to write. I’m not entirely sure how much being read really matters. Possibly as part of the having a connection to the world, sharing my ideas. But it’s not the immediacy of a conversation, or an actual interaction.

Depression 4: The Prison of Things

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

One of the great things about the upheavals in society since I was young is the increasing digitalisation.

I have so much stuff. Books and comics and DVDs and so on (it should hardly be a surprise I’m a geek).

But that’s a lot of stuff to take up space. It’s a millstone around my neck.

Since most of my stuff is actually ephemeral on a certain level, just ideas which used to require physical delivery systems, I could conceivably transfer my life to an increasingly virtual one. (Obviously not all. Walking around in only virtual clothes is indecent exposure unless everyone else agrees to the illusion of virtual clothing. Also, cold at this time of year.)

It’s not quite the same though. You need power to be able to access the information, and a device on which to experience it. And you don’t necessarily own the instantiation. You just rent it on a long-term contract, which the provider could cancel if you happen to change credit card or something. Or they could go out of business.

But it means less stuff to accumulate, adding to the increasingly nomadic inclination of first-world society.

I do feel constrained by all the stuff I’ve accumulated. In reality, it’s other obligations which hold me here (along with the lack of anywhere to go). But if I were free, and did want to go anywhere, I’d have to do something with this lot.

A part of me just wants to burn the lot of it, though another part rails at the thought of ever burning books. But a symbolic disposal, if just recycling them. The pragmatist in me will just continue selling them on ebay though, because I don’t exactly have many income streams. And while I don’t spend much (one benefit of having no life), I can’t help thinking of the long-term, when I might need the money (if only to reach my death before running out of funds to keep myself alive).

Depression 3: The Modern Disconnect

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

 

Constant Change

We live in a world of constant change. Technological advancements now come at such a speed that society has to constantly adjust to keep up with things.

Life is consequently fast, and increasingly unstable. There are far fewer certainties in life (other than the final certainty).

There are also far more choices. Far more options. Even a century ago, the life you were born into could have decided the course of your future. It may have been possible to fight for a different one, if you knew what you wanted.

Now, provided you live in the right place, your options are far more vast. So vast that decision anxiety can take hold. With so many options, how can you choose one? Can you even choose one, or do you simply stumble into something and get stuck there, either growing comfortable or suffering in silence?

And if you do choose a future, will that choice still be valid in a year’s time? Maybe less.

Given such permeable foundations, is it even possible for many to have a coherent sense of identity. There’s certainly less likely to be anything as clear cut as they might have had a century earlier. Even if they hated what they were, they knew what it was. An identity you hate at least gives you something to rebel against.

I have trouble seeing any role in society I could do, anyway. I was useless at interviews because (at least in part) I’m no good at faking enthusiasm. Why should I, anyway? Most jobs seem so pointless. Being a cog in the machine, producing something – goods or service – to ultimately keep the machine going. Necessary for the continuation of society, but I see no gratification to be derived from it. Only a wage, to continue living a pointless life, while being encouraged to produce more cogs for the continuation of the machine.

I’ve never seen how that life could be lived. I tried it. Waiting for it to somehow settle in, if only by routine dulling down my thoughts. But the pointlessness of it never went away.

Not that life without it is any easier. But at least writing offers more of a distraction from the sheer horror of existence. Even this only helps keep my final collapse at bay while my mind is occupied.

But society is increasingly under stress from the incessant rate of change. And far wider than it was a century ago.

 

Global Isolation

Communications has made the world virtually smaller, and put us in the position where we can have more in common with someone on the far side of the world who shares our worldview, than with our neighbours (who not so long ago could well have had roles not that dissimilar to our own). And we can have more communication with that distant person. This obviously has an effect on the destabilisation of local communities, especially among the young.

Personally, I don’t find online communications the same. I know it offers a sense of community that can be hard to find if you’re geographically isolated from others sharing your interests, and maybe that’s fine if you’re a more sociable type.

For me, the lack of physical cues in the communication makes everything too easy to misinterpret, so I’m always second-guessing what I say. It’s always safer to just not respond at all, rather than risking causing offence. And while taking time to make a considered response should be better, I still find myself typing the wrong thing when I do try to take part.

You can never be sure what another really thinks anyway, even looking them in the face. The virtual connection just makes everything that much more ephemeral.

Even so, finding your own clique online can offer a sense of community. But there remains a sense of detachment I’m unable to dismiss, leaving me cut off from even that illusion of connection.

I’ve been on a few communities, involved in discussions, and even keep in occasional contact with some members. But I’ve never really felt the same connection as with people I’ve physically met (not that I’ve necessarily had any real connections with them).

And virtual communities can be too deceptive. It’s easy to fall into lurking, reading what’s said and feeling like you’re still a part of the community. But would those involved in the community even remember who you are? It’s not as though you’d be seen observing the discussions.

Unless you can find somewhere where you really feel you belong, and where you can be comfortable, and then actively contribute to discussions, online communities can too often be illusory.

Following people you admire can also be dangerous. If they’re active on social media, you can feel like you really know them. You have to remind yourself you don’t. Not really. And they probably don’t even know you exist.

The distance offered by online communication makes my social anxieties no easier to manage. It can take hours to compose a single response to a simple question, leaving me exhausted, and still sure I haven’t said the wrong thing.