I’m dipping my toe into the writing pool.
Just a little.Read More
I’m dipping my toe into the writing pool.
Just a little.Read More
I haven’t blogged for so long. In truth, I’ve barely written a thing in months. There are many reasons for this, but the main one I wish to share with you. This is a long story about my relationship with sleep. You may tire of it before you get to the end, and I won’t be offended if that is the case. I am writing this as much by way of catharsis as anything. If you do stick it out to the end, feel free to share with me your thoughts and perhaps your own experiences with sleep.
We all have our afflictions, some more than others, some bearable, some unbearable. It’s part of human nature to suffer with aches and pains and parts of our body that don’t work, or break. My greatest afflictions usually err on the mental side of health issues. Mostly these days I’m healthy, apart from one main issue. Chronic insomnia.
For as long as I’ve been alive, I have loved to sleep. Where some people can get by on six hours a night, I prefer to get nine or more whenever I can. Even in my misspent youth, when friends would relish in the newfound ability at the age of eighteen, to stay out in a club until the wee hours, I would go along with them, but by midnight I’d be sat in a dark corner yawning, waiting for the time to tick away until I could go home, and sleep.
I always thought I was an easy sleeper, and to some extent that was true, once out, I’d be out cold for the duration, very little would wake me. But the ritual of sleep was specific. Some people can lay their head anywhere and go off without a problem. For me, I went from a childish need for the soft glow of a nightlight all night long to a specific desire for absolute darkness, one night in my teens, and the ritual has grown ever more specific since. Pitch black is a must – I have black-out blinds at the windows to cope with the summer months. In addition to darkness, I need silence. The slightest sound – a dog barking – a car racing up the road outside – someone shouting in their garden, causes undue stress. It’s as if, once disturbed, I have to reset the entire process of attempted sleep, each time, after each sound. The loudest sounds of all were non-existent. The voices in my head, replaying events of the day, events of the past, conversations with people that had happened, that I planned to happen the following day, or that were utterly imaginary. I obsessively played them out, over and over until, eventually my exhausted mind would find quiet and let go.
Imagine then, what having a child did to this delicate ritual. I’ve gotta tell you folks, it fucked me up no end. Add to that an unhealthy dose of post-natal depression, plus PTSD from the near-death experience of childbirth, I can safely say that the first twelve months of motherhood was a mess. It took all of two weeks before I sat in the doctors office, sobbing, shaking, breaking down into shards of a human, leaving pieces of my mind on his grey carpeted floor that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to pick up again before I left. I hadn’t slept for more than two hours a night for all of those two weeks. Luckily, I had broken down in front of the very best products of any medical training and experience that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I wish I could remember his name so I can sing his praises. He told me simply, to stop breastfeeding at once, to take anti-depressants, and to take sleeping pills.
Zopiclone was perhaps the only thing that stopped me tumbling over the edge of insanity. A heavy sedative that took all of my specific sleep ritual needs and threw them out the window. Take one pill, twenty minutes before bed. Lay down. Sleep. I took one a night for twelve months. Then I tried to stop taking it… what I didn’t know was that I was completely dependent on the drug. I tried lowering the dose, taking one every other night, all sorts of tricks to wean off the stuff. None of it worked. The only way I got off it was cold turkey. It took around three weeks of utterly broken sleep (most nights where I didn’t sleep at all) before I could get back towards some sort of sleep routine.
The World Health Organization assessment of Zopiclone states that since the beginning of its therapeutic use, zopiclone has been found to cause rebound insomnia and anxiety. I can attest to that statement. Coming off the anti-depressants was just as hard, and against all advice on the matter, was only achieved, again, cold-turkey – I DO NOT recommend this approach, I very nearly killed myself as a result of the quick withdrawal of such a strong drug. I am alive only by the skin of my teeth on that point. My reasons for doing so are varied but not pertinent to this post.
My daughter is now almost seven years old. I have spent seven years with chronic insomnia. A lack of sleep affects you in so many ways. Go without good sleep for long enough and you’ll find every part of you suffering. Your head throbs and pulsates. Parts of your body weaken at odd times, you could be walking along then find your knee gives out and you stumble. You forget things easily. I struggle sometimes, even now, with the names of people I’ve known for years, people I work with every day, I look at their face and have no idea of their name. You can have open-eyed micro-sleeps – very dangerous for driving. The list goes on and on.
A few months ago, I’d had enough. It’d gotten to the point where I was having maybe three hours sleep a night. Anxiety was at a peak and so I went back to the doctor. A different doctor this time, since we moved house, but still a good result, I was prescribed with Amitriptyline. A low dose anti-depressant, it’s an older style drug in that it makes you drowsy (most of the modern anti-depressants try to out-engineer this “side effect”) but since drowsiness is the goal, it was worth a try. I was also told it has low-dependency – a definite bonus since the awful experience I had with Zopiclone. It worked. It still takes me a good hour, from the moment I lay in bed to the point where slumber catches up to me, but it does the trick. My mind quietens quicker.
I still struggle badly with sleep issues. I’ve accepted the insomnia as part of me now, I couldn’t cut it off any more than I could cut off my own head. I can manage it with help, and that’s perhaps the best I can ask for.
The worst side effect though? My writing. I’ve found different anti-psychotic medications have differing effects on my ability to write, some enhance it, some quash it entirely. Where I spent a good number of years on a handful of drugs, I wrote prolifically, and though Amitriptyline allows me to sleep, it suppresses my ability to write.
I hope it won’t always be the case. I’d like to find a balance. But working full-time and raising an energetic daughter, and caring for my wonderful husband (who was diagnosed with cancer last year)… requires me to be a functioning human being, and that means I need to sleep.
And so to you dear reader, if you’re still there, tell me of your own relationship with sleep. Are you an easy sleeper, or a fellow insomniac?
It’s been a long while since I waxed lyrical on my own website. I feel like a neglectful parent, leaving my spawn to fester in the abyss while I drink wine and pretend life doesn’t suck. Thankfully it’s just a website and not an actual child otherwise it would have been taken into care and I’d be in jail by now.
Anyhoo, there is a reason I’ve been neglectful. A similar thing has happened to my writing. I guess I’ve hit that dreaded period of “writers block”
*spits onto laptop*… eew
I’ve had it before, and as almost any writer will know it SUCKS. But for some reason this time has been worse. It’s not really that I can’t write, I can write I have just developed an unhealthy attitude towards my own work. I hate it.
I can blame any number of things, perhaps I’m burnt out from writing and publishing 6 novels and 4 short stories in an 18 month period. I guess that was a bit much. I was working for a long time on a reserve tank of “fuck you” juice. I work well when given an unhealthy dose of ‘bloody-minded reason to do something’ just to spite someone. God I sound like a hateful person, but there it is.
Perhaps it was the shock of putting the work out in the world and then having actual real people purchase, read, and offer their opinions on it. At last glance all six books are still holding out at the 4.5 star mark on amazon, which is pretty good going considering the quantity of ratings that have racked up. I should be pleased, but as an eternal pessimist I still habitually pour all my focus into those minority low ratings, the ones we authors aren’t allowed to mention or complain about for fear of appearing ungrateful… *grits teeth and refuses to comment further on that touchy issue*
It was almost inevitable that at some point it was all going to go horribly wrong. So here we are. I can’t write because I hate my work. It’s not that I don’t think it’s good, I mean, within the realms of my limited literary skill set, it’s good, but I hate it.
I have three books on the go at the moment. I hate them all.
I get this gut-wrenching feeling when I open a document. As if I’m opening the door to a relative I don’t like, there’s nothing wrong with the relative, I just have an irrational temperament towards them.
I can write, and I do on a regular (although reduced to my standard) basis, but only after I force myself over that initial hateful hurdle of frustration and anger. I’m looking forward to the day when I can genuinely fall back in love with the process of writing. At the very least, I am hopeful that those days will return. I long for the 10k days, the chapter complete days, the OMG my character did that? days, the tears when someone dies days. I want it all back. I miss it. I miss it enough to push through these hateful times in the hope that those days are nearby. Maybe I’ll turn a page and find them again. All things are temporary, and such vicious hate can only be sustained for so long.
Has anyone else out there experienced this? What have you done to overcome it? I’d love to hear from you, and as always, write on
Soliloquy on Clinical Despondency
The Bi-polar Swing
There is no reason
It can’t be fixed with conversation
It can’t be described with words
It is simply a disconnect
You are there, and I am here, and people are around and I just.don’t.care
Tasks are fine. I can DO
I just can’t FEEL.
Don’t ask me to try
There is no happy, or sad, or elated, or grumpy, or jovial, or laughter, or calm, or flirty
Those functions are out of order
There is no cause
No singular event that will make you say “aha! That’s why. Now I understand.”
For it is C-lin-i-cal
You will not understand
Unless you have been here yourself
Then perhaps you might
Or if you’ve witnessed a loved one, falling down a well
You reached out to catch them, but they slipped through your fingers
Perhaps they didn’t even try to be caught
It must be hard for you - the witness of the fall
I am sorry it is hard
I am sorry.
There is only one way out
I can see it over there, the path to "normality"
I’m not ready
Not yet. My feet won’t even move
Perhaps I won’t make it alone this time
This may require,
Small things. Prescription only
One a day
Simulated convention in round white blocks
Taste like shit if they linger on your tongue
They don’t fix
They just mask,
The worst bits
And suppress certain brain functions
Wait it out or lose a limb?
Quite the choice.
I wish I could hide it
So you don’t have to see
So no-one can see
It’s like standing naked in a crowd,
And everyone is wondering what the fuck is wrong with you?
And I shrug
Knowing I should care,
but I don’t
Out of service, remember?
So here I stand
And there you are, wondering
And offering me a raincoat
I appreciate the offer
But it won’t help
Besides, it doesn’t fit
I may wake up tomorrow
And everyone can breathe a sigh of relief
I wish I could tell you when
This will end
But I cannot
There is no reason
I’ve made no secret of it. I hate first person stories. It might seem harsh, but I’m serious. I have a visceral reaction when I discover that a novel is written in first person. Something happens to me, akin to a heart attack, or that moment when you realise you’re about to puke up and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It is a very rare thing for me to read past the first page of a first person story, or the first sentence. In some cases I won’t make it past the first word.
I’m not saying that first person stories are wrong, or bad, just that I personally (generally) do not like them.
You may think it odd, therefore, that I am currently writing a story in first person.
That’s because it is odd.
I have had to take a step back to analyse why I hate first person narratives, and why I can manage to write in first person without spewing all over the floor every time I put a sentence down (writing is hard enough as it is without having to go through that sort of nonsense). Do I think my writing is better than anyone else’s? Not particularly, arrogance is not the issue here. There is a reason though and I believe I have finally figured it out.
It is very easy to write badly when writing in first person narrative. There is a lot of debate going on lately regarding show vs tell writing, and whilst I could argue that some “tell” writing is acceptable within a story, I feel compelled to put a limit upon its usage. Let’s say somewhere between 1-7% of a story should be written in a tell style. There are always moments where a short, simple “tell” sentence is better placed than a slightly longer “show” version, for dramatic effect, or for simplicity. You might feel that percentage should be higher, but I would argue this is down to preference, and in any case, the higher you go with a percentage of “tell” writing, the worse a story will be.
What does this have to do with my aversion to first person? Everything.
When writing first person it is inevitable that an author will fall into the tell style. And you know what? It’s dull. God is it mind-numbingly, ass-fartingly, brain-meltingly dull to read.
I woke up.
I started my car.
I felt hungry.
I DON’T CARE. If a story begins with the word “I”, then I will not read it. The exception to this rule is if you can follow the “I” with something, unique, amazing, and interesting.
I am an eight legged bear from the planet Zongrikon with a pet dwibble named Stanley and I am currently attempting to blow up the planet Earth.
Alright, I’m in. I’m hooked. Give me more. Don’t tell me “I woke up”. Every human being who has ever lived as at some point woken up. Big woop. If you are going to open with a tell sentence then it had better be a fucking amazing tell moment or I won’t bother reading the next sentence.
You might think I’m harsh, but you know what? I work two jobs, and I have a family. My reading time is limited to a half-hour slot before bedtime when I’m able to harness enough brain power to still concentrate, or the half-hour bit during my daughters swimming lesson on a Saturday where I can look away and concentrate on something else, safe in the knowledge that she won’t drown. I don’t have the time or patience to read dull shit from a writer who can’t be bothered to give me interesting stuff from page one, sentence one.
Stories are all about the author’s voice, and it is tough to be unique in the literary world. It’s even tougher to pull it off in first person. But it’s not impossible provided you put a little more thought into the work.
I have this reaction every time I write an “I” sentence in my book. It makes me wanna hurl, which is probably a good thing, because it’s forcing me to do better. If only more authors suffered from this odd affliction, there would be a lot more well-written first person stories in the world.
In any case, if you like to write first person, then go ahead. I won’t stop you. As a new member of the First Person Perspective Club, I shouldn’t be so judgemental I suppose.
But if you’re going to write, at least have the decency to write to the best of your ability and try not to litter your manuscript with throw away “I” sentences.
p.s. I realise the irony in the fact that this blog post is in first person, so no need to point it out… however, that’s kinda the point of blogs, so … yeah.
I’ve read a lot of fantasy stories, some of them are good, and some are are awful. The thing I’ve noticed about the good fantasy stories is the care an author takes when they build magic into the narrative.
It is far too easy when you have magic in a story to use it as a crutch - a get out of jail free card for when you’ve written your characters into an inescapable corner. This can be the definitive Deus Ex Machina answer to any problem. Character on the verge of death? Fix it with magic. World is about to implode and kill every living thing? Just say abracadabra and wave a wand. That is when fantasy stories start to go wrong.
The best approach is to consider magic as a form of physics. For a writer to lay out what things magic can do in their story, and perhaps more importantly, what it cannot do. Magic with rules is far more believable than unlimited magic.
To offer some examples, I’ll begin with the Harry Potter universe. It is filled with magic, it being the very essence of the story, however, JK Rowling was careful to build in rules. Spells that only last for a limited time. Potions with side effects. There are many spells that help the characters out of certain situations, but they are specific and have various other uses rather than one-time band aids.
To pull from a classic, consider Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Gandalf and his buddy wizards use magic, but their strength is limited, even Sauron's magic is restricted - I guess being stuck as an eye at the top of a tower will do that to a guy. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, magic is more often the cause of trouble than it is the solution.
The history of magic in folklore is fascinating for anyone who wishes to look into it. There is a wealth of ideas around, some more known than others.
When it comes to writing a story that contains magic it is important for the writer to focus on the system they wish to use. Who can use magic? Is it just a certain set of characters or is it open to everyone in your world? How is magic obtained? Is it naturally occurring, a sort of inherent magic gene, or must someone study and learn it, or even obtain it through some foreign object (finding a hidden chalice or magical orb or similar). The rules are paramount. You need to decide if magic can affect the physical (making objects fly or change shape) or mental (mindreading) and stick to your own rules.
When I chose to include a magical element in the steampunk series, I sat down and wrote out some basic structures. There are two kinds of magic in the world, one is caused by ingestion or injection of Anthonium, a rare element. The element is actually a poison and if taken in too large a dose it will kill someone, but just the right dose and a person gets some unique physical abilities, such as enhanced healing, becoming impervious to heat, or invisibility (only one ability per person). The other magical component comes from priests studying a specific branch of the religion of my world. They can obtain the skill to build illusion objects, such as an orb that can change the physical appearance of something. Very skilled priests can perform a sort of mind-link to another person. These elements, while important to the story, are very limited in their nature. I didn’t want to have magic devices all over the place giving the characters easy answers to the problems that come up.
Taking time to build the structure for magic in your world is how you make magic appear “real”, and more believable.
The deep dark abyss has spewed up a gem of a man for you guys to read today. This guest blog is from the multi-talented Travis Martin. Travis also makes awesome hand bound journals which you should check out.
I wrote Sweet Adaline about eight years ago, give or take. Before that, I never considered myself a writer. The title seemed outside my passions. Outside my construct as an artist. I was a dick adolescent with grandiose theatrical self indulgence. I muted all that with a military stint that tainted my artistic ambitions. That went for half a decade. But somewhere in there I started fixating on music, and one album from a band called the Afghan Whigs, Black Love, got under my skin and in a way reignited my passion for creation.
I hadn't been on stage since College and even though I aspired to be an actor with a recognizable name, I still wasn't pursuing it. But that album was digging deeper into me, beyond the words, beyond the melodies. It became this anomalous thing that I was sure had a story to be told, and I became sure I was the only one to tell it. Not the story that the musicians had in mind but, I guess you'd call it Fan Fiction, it was a story that needed to come from me.
So as I said, my writing career didn't come from some pre-teen epiphany. It just started to boil in me. So I struggled to pieces the images of dreams and day dreams and songs I was writing and new music affecting me, into a construction someone might want to read. Some two years after all that started, after various beginnings and outlines that never took hold, after a divorce and into a new career, and after my final return to the stage in a semi-pro staged production, a play I actually got paid for, I sat the fuck down with a revelation about one character and his impact on another.
The words that drizzled out were imagined from a traumatic idea, and it felt good. I realized right there that this was not a cozy story and kind of accepted that what ever this thing became, it was to be niche at least. And I didn't really care much at all about genres or marketing or even how to get it out there. I only knew that I had to get it out of me. It took more than a year, and dissolved an engagement with an incredible girl. Writing this thing was akin to heroin, and I had to get to the end. I was as infatuated with it as I'd ever been with a woman or a performance. New ideas took me to darker places, further from parochial marketability, and it was my gift only to myself. My Everest. My own Private Idaho, whatever the fuck that is.
I finally got to an end. I didn't count words, but I counted pages. Just over three hundred, double spaced. And pages I was proud of every one. I knew where I ended to go back and foreshadow to supplement my out come. I'd developed that delusion that this was Lit and it didn't matter what I'd done to my characters, my only real loved one's. This was the next great whatever.
And when all was said and done, and I was alone again, the editing started. And that's where the shit hit the fan. These were the micro-breakdowns. Entire pages of shit. An entirely implausible chapter here and there. I cut it up like a Freddy flick. I had, again, countless Final iterations.
Finally, I blurbed it and submitted to agents, and one after another, was turned down. All until I just boxed it up like another skeleton, Focused on my career and told myself I'd moved on. But it was an event, a child of sorts. Already I'd begun to find a more appealing story line. A few years later I moved to Portland, wrote a few plays that I did nothing with. Took the title of writer because, fuck them, that's what I'd become. I was obsessed with my stories.
Here I am again, eight years later, two valid novels in the chamber, scouring to find those old iterations of Sweet Adaline. Because that was a story I needed to tell. Those are are the stories that define us. Those are the stories we tell. The stories that make us writers are the things that need to be told. The rest is superfluous brain candy. And that's what I dig for when I force myself down to the keyboard to write.
Write what you need to. Not what's marketable. That will come.
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Today I'm lucky enough to have a great guest post by the formidable Jason Pere. So without further babbling from me, here we go...
Greetings, My name is Jason Pere. I am an author based out of Eastern Connecticut. First of all I would like to express my most profound gratitude to E.C. Jarvis, for allowing me to use some of her bandwidth. I hope that you all enjoy my guest post about the very special genre of Fanfiction.
I will briefly tell you a little bit about myself before diving into the subject of what it is like for me to navigate within the imagination of another creative mind. I have some self-published and collaborative work out there in the literary world. My most recent accomplishments are my debut Dark Fantasy title “Calling the Reaper: First Book of Purgatory” and my first Children’s book, titled “Sir Percival and the Nightmare”. I write a lot of different material spread across all sorts of genres but Fantasy is my favorite kind of story to tell.
I am also a huge dork. I love all sorts of games, from video games to board games to card games. There is one particular card game that I should mention. It is called “Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn”, produced by Plaid Hat Games and created by the incredibly talented Isaac Vega (http://www.plaidhatgames.com/games/ashes). I was introduced to Ashes and the world of Argaia, where the saga of the Phoenixborn takes place, in the August of 2015. I rapidly fell in love with the game and I came to find that there was clearly a highly complex and developed mythos to the world behind the cards but alas virtually none of it was in the public realm. Instead of waiting for Plaid Hat Games to be a little more forthcoming with the story of Ashes I decided to take matters into my own hands a put my creativity to work. There was just too much raw potential for some epic plots, cultures, history and characters to develop. I could not sit idle. I just felt like I had to contribute to the greater story. I called my Ashes fanfiction, flASH fiction.
That is really where my love affair with Fanfiction began. Since last September I have posted a weekly fiction piece to the Team Covenant Gaming Blog, detailing my own imaginative goings-on in the world of Ashes (http://teamcovenant.com/category/ashes-rise-of-the-phoenixborn). It has been a wonderful experience and because of my stories I have been able to meet some new people, make some interesting connections, hone my creativity, pick up the odd fan or two and even influence a dorky hobby of mine. I love writing the stuff even when it’s a struggle for each line of text and I do not plan stopping anytime soon.
So, Fanfiction, what is it? How is it different from plain old fiction? How do you write it? Well I will tell you my interpretation of what Fanfiction is. I think the genre gets a bad rap and when people hear the term Fanfiction, they immediacy conjurer up the image of some guy who is far too old to still be living at home, lurking in his parents basement, wearing a t-shirt for his favorite fandom and writing a new episode of their most beloved, yet long canceled science fiction space opera TV show. Yes, this type of diehard super fan exists but I will not fault them for being zealously passionate about something near and dear to their heart.
I think that we are all far more acquainted with Fanfiction than we realize. When I was growing up I knew it was pretty common for me to wonder what happened to the characters after the end of one of my favorite movies, or speculate, what if the protagonist had made some different choices. I think that is something that a lot of people wonder and fantasize about. Fanfiction is just a matter of writing those fantasies down. In its most simplistic state Fanfiction is about telling your own story within someone else’s world.
I think that there are two main kinds of Fanfiction. The first is reminiscent of historical fiction in a way. The author will have a clear point of departure. They will use certain elements of an established world and doctrine but make some radical changes from the principle lore. For example, an author of this sort of Fanfiction might dive into George Lucas’ Star Wars universe but postulate “What is Luke Skywalker had never met Obi-Wan?” They could go on to tell a different kind of space epic where Luke becomes the willing apprentice to Darth Vader and fights for the Empire. This sort of story borrows elements from another creator but it is unabashedly divergent fiction. The author of this sort of story will acknowledge that their concoction exists outside of accepted Star Wars lore. That being said, I sure wouldn’t mind exploring who Darkside Luke might have been.
The other sort of Fanfiction is a little trickier. This variety of storytelling is where the author writes material that could pass for cannon doctrine within the confines of a greater fictional work. This is what my flASH fiction series is all about. There are a lot of things to take into consideration with an approach to this sort of Fanfiction. The biggest thing to take into account with this kind of story is continuity with the principle source material. An author will need to make sure that their timeline and characters match up with what has already been established. The will also have to tackle the challenge of portraying characters in a way that allows them to stay in character. Someone writing Indiana Jones Fanfiction could not have everyone’s favorite archeologist come across a Boa Constrictor in his travels and keep his cool, for example.
It can be daunting to become the creative overlord of an established icon in a given franchise. A good way for someone else to play in another creator’s world without upsetting the landscape too much is to introduce some new characters of their own design. Using this technique helps a Fanfiction author interject some of their own personal flavor into the cannon doctrine while still holding true to established elements of the original material. Some new content is going to have to be introduced at some point in order to tell an engaging story. A Fanfiction Author will have to take some liberties and risks, it is just a matter of making them believable. For me good Fanfiction is a happy marriage of tradition and innovation.
I think that the best thing an aspiring Fanfiction writer should keep in mind is the fact that they are playing with someone else’s creative baby and that they should respect the fact that they are putting their hands in something they do not own and did not originate. I hope you enjoyed my little exposition on the topic of this underrated literary genre. I was a privilege for me to share my thoughts on the subject.
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Sounds fake doesn’t it? The fear of success. Who in their right mind would fear such a thing? Well therein lies the issue, it’s an irrational fear and by definition, if you have it, you aren’t in your “right mind”. It’s a new one I’ve discovered that I have. I’m close, so burningly, ball-achingly close to finishing the steampunk series. There is but a heartbeat, a few pages, some mere explosive splurges of imagination onto the page remaining before I can call this series complete. And yet these last few chapters have taken longer and longer to pen. It’s not that I don’t know what to write – I’ve had the ending plotted out for some time now. It isn’t that I don’t have the motivation to write. It is that I have a fear of finishing.
To a writer, their books are like children. We give birth, nurture them to maturity, provide them with everything they require to gain life and then at some point we let them go out into the world. Just like a parent does with their grown children, we can check in on them periodically, see how they are doing, maybe give them a boost (think marketing) to help them out once in a while, but really, they are beyond our reach. We have done all we can, and can only hope that they don’t fall over so far that they never get up again. Is this the reason I’m struggling to write these last few pages? Probably.
There are other factors to consider. What do I do once I’m finished? Well, I have my other series of course, and I intend to write many more things, but there is no doubt that this epic monstrosity of a world that I’ve created will leave a gaping hole in my life when I have no reason to go back and visit it any more.
I don’t want to let go.
I don’t want to finish the series. I’m afraid of losing it.
Just like a reader who falls in love with the characters in a book – so to have I fallen in love with these products of my imagination. I don’t want to say goodbye to Larissa and Holt. I think I might cry when I write the last few paragraphs containing Cid. I can’t let go, and some part of me is fighting back, drawing out the process. I’m like a mother standing at the school gate for hours after my kid has gone inside. It hurts to say goodbye.
So to any fellow writers who have found themselves in the same position, please let me know how you cope with such a loss when your books are done? Because right now, I need some reassurance that I’m not going to end up curled in a ball screaming “I CAN WRITE BOOK FIVE”…
I really need to finish this series, and quick!
Hello fellow authors, and newly discovered reader friends.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post on writing. What with the launch of The War, and a few other things going on in the background, I’ve let my bloggityness slip (what? That’s a word…)
Anyhoo, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have slowly come round to making a conscious decision to treat writing as a career move. What I’ve realised, however, is that this is a business. If I am to have any chance of earning a living through writing, then I need to shift my approach. As much as my steampunk series has had success, and as much as my erotic fantasy series is gaining traction, they will never give me enough return to jack in the day job.
The reason? They live in the realm of fantasy.
There is a reason that a lot of publishers won’t even consider fantasy novels. I used to think it was snobbery, and while I do still think that is part of the problem, the far bigger issue is profit. As much as there is a market for fantasy books – and a growing market at that – it is not a particularly viable market. If the publishers can’t make a profit in a sector, then they won’t even attempt to enter it. Have you noticed in bookshops, that the crime section often takes up a large chunk of the store, the romance section takes up another prominent position and then you get to the fantasy section and it’s teeny in comparison?
Trust me. It pains me – as a proclaimed fantasy author – to say that fantasy is nothing more than a poor kid nipping at the heels of the fat and wealthy genres. I want to take every reader who refuses to read fantasy and lock them in a room, force them to read some of the best fantasy fiction books until they love it or starve to death. Fantasy stories are my first true love, and that will never change. I will always write fantasy. However, in order to position myself better in the literary world, I need to broaden my horizons and my first adjustment in that regard is to attempt to write to market.
Which market, I don’t yet know. I still need to complete the steampunk and the erotic series and do a lot of research on the subject. Then I will make a choice. I know my strengths as a writer, and I know my limitations, but I’m fairly confident that I can adapt my voice to fit almost any genre. Perhaps for every big market book I write, I’ll allow myself a vanity project – a step back into the fantastical to appease the muse.
Above all, the key to success is to have the flexibility to adapt and change, especially as an indie author.
There is no shame in writing to please the masses; after all, we want to please our readers don’t we?
“I’ll write a book.”
You know, it sounds nice doesn’t it? Like something one does to pass the time. A hobby. A pleasure. Maybe for some people it may be just that. As easy as a walk in the park on a warm spring day. No stress, no pressure.
Only it isn’t that. Far from it. Most writers write because they are compelled to do so. Like some junkie drug addict, the need to write something is constantly pecking away at you until you obey.
Writing an entire novel is not a walk in the park. You can chug out page after page, chapter after chapter, but only if you have good discipline.
It is all too easy to make excuses not to write.
“I’m not inspired today,” we tell ourselves.
“I have writers block.”
“The dog ate my manuscript.”
That’s fine if you want to do that to yourself. Go ahead. Keep making those excuses. It won’t get the novel written though, so don’t come complaining to me when you’re three months down the line and no further towards your dream.
How do I do it? I push through those days when I don’t feel like writing. I might only knock out a few hundred words or so, but I write something. Every.Single.Day
It takes discipline, hard work and determination. The self-doubt is always there. The bad days will come and go. The only way to get past them is to write on regardless.
If you truly have a passion for writing then you can do this. If I can do this, (and I’m a generally lazy person) then anyone can.
The next time you find your hand wandering towards your phone or tv remote instead of typing words on your book, then stop. You can play on the internet after writing 500 words. You can carry on the lengthy text conversation with your friends after writing 200 words. You can binge watch The Walking Dead after writing another 2000 words. AFTER. Not before, not during.
Any excuse you may give is petty and pathetic. Do you want to write a book? Then stop giving in to temptation and go write it, because no-one else will do it for you.
I had an interesting conversation recently. A friend of mine finished reading The Machine, and told me he enjoyed it. He then went on to suggest that I delete every single swearword from the book because he disliked reading them…
I had to take a step back for a moment.
Said I to the man, “so you were ok with the murder, violence, torture, sex and rape… but not the swearing?”
“Yes,” he replied.
I think I might have bitten my tongue at that point.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not write children’s books. My stories are not for the faint hearted. I (rather unintentionally) broach taboo topics in society within the framework of the plot and characters. They are violent, gritty and while not overly graphic, they are certainly unapologetic about portraying my characters’ lives through my eyes. And yes, they contain swear words.
I am a swearer. I could make a sailor blush with my profanity. Don’t come in the car with me driving if you dislike swearing or you will probably leave the journey feeling queasy. It is part of my world, and part of my voice and naturally seeps into my writer voice as well.
I get it, not everyone likes swears. People dislike the “f-bomb”… to those people I must say, please don’t read my books, they contain swearing, and no, I don’t care if you don’t like it, I will not remove it.
Just be glad I didn’t tell you to f off, the thought did cross my mind.
I am reminded of a great quote by the wonderful Billy Connelly-
“A lot of people say that it’s a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear.
I know thousands of words but I still prefer ‘fuck’.”
There you have it people, the swears stay.
Spoilers below ladies and gentlemen, be warned!
Something happened today. I made my book, The Machine, free for two days, and as a result I had hundreds of downloads and the thing skyrocketed to the number one slot on amazon. I wasn't expecting that. It's frightening to think that so many people now have this book sat in their e-readers waiting to be read. Since it was first published I've had many lovely reviews and comments on the book, but there is one particular part that seems to be divisive.
Let's begin by saying this is not a book for children. I made sure to put a note to say that, along with trigger warnings right at the beginning of the book so there can be no doubt. People of a delicate constitution should not read this book. People who cannot cope with stories that broach the subject of rape, should not read this book.
That said, there is no "rape scene" in this book. What happens is only ever implied and I wrote it that way for a reason. Oddly enough, people don't seem to have a problem with the suggestion of rape, what certain people have a problem with is what follows a short time after. Our lovely Larissa, and her mysterious passenger, Holt, have sex.
There are several reasons I included this, let's start with the physical issues. Larissa is artificially "enhanced" with tremendous healing capabilities from the exposure to the anthonium. As such, any physical issues her body would suffer from after the rape heal almost instantly. There is a suggestion also that she has enhanced ability to cope with extremely stressful situations as well - though this is never obviously stated. These elements do seem to be overlooked by those who don't understand the scene. Perhaps they don't understand the plot at all. Who knows?
Secondly, and most importantly, and in fact this is my main reason for starting this discussion as I feel it is important. There is a misconception that when a woman has been raped, she must curl into a ball and retreat from the world for an arbitrary amount of time. She must cry, and suffer and mourn her experience in an appropriate fashion. The moment a woman does something outside of that expectation then she is frowned upon. This is all part of the ‘rape culture’ that is being discussed heavily these days. Notice that the focus is still put upon the victim after the fact, the judgement is applied to her and everything that she did leading up to and leading on from that pivotal moment.
The reality, ladies and gentlemen, is that most women just get on with life. Life doesn’t stop because a woman has been raped. Yes of course there are repercussions, most people don’t go through something that awful without it affecting them somehow, (and it does affect Larissa) but I will always vehemently disagree with the notion that a person could not go on to enjoy a sexual experience after a rape. Some may be that deeply affected of course, but when you look at the sheer numbers of women who are victims of rape, doesn’t it seem absurd to suggest that all of these women simply stopped having and enjoying sex afterwards?
I’m no statistician. I can’t tell you how many women are raped each year and of those, how many stop having sex, and of those who don’t stop having sex, what the average amount of time that passes between a rape experience and a pleasurable sexual experience is. But we’re not talking about statistics. We’re not even talking about real life. We’re talking about a character within a book.
Now don’t get me wrong. If someone has suffered an ordeal in real life and struggles to read books that deal with that subject, then that is perfectly understandable. That is precisely why I put the warnings at the beginning of the book. I have no intention of purposely upsetting people.
Larissa is a character who is artificially enhanced physically and a strong-headed ass kicking woman mentally – even if she doesn’t seem like it at first. Yes, Larissa can have sex with Holt after she has been raped, and yes she can enjoy it. If you don’t like it, then that’s fine – this is not the book for you. Move along, thanks for stopping by.
I have no doubt that despite this message, a few people will read the book and not make it past that scene. They may leave bad reviews because of that scene. I’m expecting it, but most of all I think it is important that something like rape and all of the issues surrounding it be included in literature. The more we shut it out of society and shoot people down for talking about it, the more we perpetuate the issue.
I won’t ever apologise for writing that scene and the one that follows. In fact the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that it was the right thing to do. I’d be interested to know what other people think. Feel free to comment or ask me anything you like on the topic.
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions." – Albert Einstein
This week I have faced a new challenge in the world of an author. Opinions.
It has been said that opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, and all of them stink. Just so you know, I can see the irony in writing a blog on opinions – blogs in themselves are generally the opinion of the writer. I get it. But indulge me if you will as I have reached an important conclusion that matters to anyone who is just getting started in the literary world.
On Sunday I got a disappointing review. I felt a bit down about it (as I am allowed to do). On Monday I was subjected to a spot of bullying. On Tuesday a lovely lady told me I have a unique voice, and a fearless writing style. Less than six hours later I was told the technical aspects of my writing suck and I should take a creative writing course. Across all of those days I had a large group of people who were immensely kind and made me smile through it all.
A writer cannot win.
This sort of thing doesn’t seem to improve as you gain notoriety either. Look at JK Rowling who recently earned the ire of the Native Americans who didn’t like the way they were included in her book (this is the same group of people who frequently complain about never being included in anything).
When you open your work and yourself up to public scrutiny, then you are actively inviting in everyone, including the batshit crazy people who get off on trolling and launching personal attacks. There is no comeback for them, they have no notoriety, they can sit behind a computer screen laughing manically while they pick their noses and scratch the fleas in their groin and it won’t affect their sales or future because they don’t have one.
The author, on the other hand, is expected to take such things with a smile. Like water off a ducks back. Never mind that you spent years working hard on your book and invested your own money into putting out the best possible product that you can. Those things don’t matter to anyone but you. Who cares that your work is like your own child, and when you see someone say nasty things about it, it hurts and you feel like rushing to defend it? No, you’re not allowed to do that.
I’m new to this whole literary world, and I’m learning as I go. I am making mistakes left and right – but guess what? I have a right to do that. I have a right to fuck up, and then learn from it and correct my behaviour in future. That is the mark of an adult. People who go out of their way to attack me and be mean and a bully - that is the mark of a child.
Being a writer is a constant learning process. You never quite reach mastery, someone will always be on hand to point out a flaw, a minor imperfection in your work or your approach to marketing it. I am a far better writer than I was ten years ago, and a far worse writer than I will be in ten years’ time. I am the best writer I can possibly be at this point in time and to all those who think that isn’t good enough – ok, point taken, stick with me and I’ll get there.
I have been lucky enough to have a bunch of really good reviews on my books, and only one or two bad ones. Guess which ones have taken up most of my time and energy? It sucks, but I’m learning to let it go. I will always be happy to take objective criticism from someone who wants to help me learn and grow, but I think I’ll always struggle to accept the real nasties who get a kick out of leaving bad reviews for the fun of it.
For now, I have shed my delicate outer layer that ripped and tore to shreds at the beginning of the week and exposed the thick leather skin beneath. I won’t say its unbreakable, for surely if you were to stab at it repeatedly with a knife, it would suffer somewhat, but really for a person to go at someone with that level of intensity is much more a reflection on them than it is damaging to me.
Everyone is of course entitled to an opinion. Please remember, that I am also entitled to ignore those opinions, or even to tell the opinionated to stick it right back up the stink pipe from whence it came.
Beware new authors, it’s a nasty world out there full of vindictive jealous people who want to hurt you for no good reason at all. Thankfully, there are a far larger number of decent, kind people who will fight on your side and happily hold your hand through the dark days. Focus your energy on those people and you can’t go far wrong.
And to think, all this comes from writing a book.
I do not plot.
That felt like some sort of confession, like I were admitting a guilty secret. Ok so it’s not as bad as telling you that I have some dead bodies stashed under my patio… I don’t… honest. Moving along.
I have tried to plot several times and found one main stumbling block in using this method, the minute I plot it stifles my personal creative process. It feels like the fun has been drained out of the writing when you set specific targets to reach. I enjoy writing for the same reason that readers enjoy reading – the ride and the journey. The discovery of secrets, the unveiling of character traits and the arc they all follow. It’s as entertaining to learn these things as a writer, albeit that the payoff takes a little longer due to the time taken to physically write things out.
If you are a writer who plots vigorously, then I applaud you. You can do something I cannot. This blog post is for those of us who have tried and failed or who just can’t even get their heads around the idea of plotting.
What I have found - being very far into two different series of books – is that the further I go along, the more I feel I need to plot (just a little bit). It’s very easy to lose track when you’ve built a complex world full of rich characters who all have separate agenda’s, so for me, there comes a time when I have to make a bit of a plan.
It’s a lot like Russian dolls. You start with the big picture, you know where you are up to this point and you may have a general idea of where you’re going. Plotting the journey is simply a case of putting aside the big doll and picking out the various smaller dolls, painting them bright colours until you get to the very smallest of details. Once you have worked down to the small level all you have to do is start packing it all back together again.
For me, I start with a new document and a set of bullet points. I will share some of the actual notes that I had on my new book The Pirate by way of example:
· Have Holt explain his affection towards Rebecca
· Bring Imago back
· Walk through the jungle
Now these are very basic notes of things I wanted to achieve. I added to the list as the story progressed and crossed things off when items were completed to my satisfaction. It was not extensive plotting but it served a purpose. Now I’m up to book four of the series I’m finding my simplistic approach needs expansion and I have tried to do the full on chapter by chapter plot approach. You know what happened? I stopped writing it afterwards. Now I will get back to it – I need to get back to it – but plotting took all the fun out of it. It’s like writing out your own list of spoilers.
My advice to those of you with complex stories who aren’t plotters but you feel the need to do something to hold it altogether, try the bullet point list to start with and work your way up from there. I believe you can still call yourself a ‘pantser’ even if you do this, we’ll just keep it our little secret ok? Like those bodies…
I'm letting someone else do the work today as I'm off to get a lovely tattoo so I don't have time to write a blog post, (yes I'm opting to have someone spend hours sticking a needle into my flesh repeatedly over writing... yes I'm odd)
Anyway, I have had the loveliest early review of The Pirate. Check out this blog and all the nice things they said:
You can preorder your ebook copy of The Pirate here,
I recently completed a five thousand word short story for an anthology. I used to only write short stories until last year and since then I’ve really only written novels so it was interesting to go back to writing shorts. It is certainly a different discipline, you have to cram everything in, keep the interest, build character and have a well-rounded story in but a few pages. Something I’ve noticed in short stories that take them from being merely a glimpse into a small scene and turn them into a more complete story is theming.
By this, I mean when an author introduces certain themes in from the very beginning and subtly keeps them up throughout, it helps to tie the story together. For example, the short story I just completed was about a fireman (the guy who stoked the fire of a steam engine) who is on a journey which ends with him flying off on the back of a dragon. Throughout the text I have several themes in place. The colour black – the fireman is coated with soot, the people on the train are all dressed in black and the dragon is a black beauty. Also the theme of fire is prevalent though not profuse. Finally there are themes in dialogue, the instructions that the engineer barks at our hero at the beginning of the journey are the same words the fireman uses to command the dragon at the end.
Now I’m not saying that I’ve written the best piece of literature in the world here, but I’ve had good feedback from it, and I’m as sure as can be that the theme’s therein are a large part of its success. The trick is to include themes without making them obvious. You can’t simply keep repeating one concept, themes need to be weaved into the narrative subtly, they need to be seamless to work.
You can take this approach and apply it to novels as well, keeping themes spread throughout a book helps to tie one chapter to the next, one character to another and to bring the whole book together. A good example of themes in books – specifically in character – is the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, drugs and alcohol are consumed frequently by our hero. The theme of justice through use of intelligent deduction rather than heroic muscle power, Holmes does not rush around town beating up the bad guys, he outwits them at every turn.
Alternatively, if you prefer a more modern example then let’s look at Harry Potter. Arguably the largest themes in the books are love, family, and death. For a more subtle theme, consider that none of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers last more than one year in their post.
Themes are important in stories and the very best writers will include them without even knowing they’re doing it. It is easy to go overboard though, so take heed.
Do you, author, take this concept – writing – to be your future career? I now pronounce you doomed to spend every waking moment dreaming about writing, wishing you could write and complaining on social media about being unable to write.
There is a huge difference between writing as a hobby, being a ‘casual’ published writer and being a full-time professional writer.
I have yet to reach the last of those positions but I have gained a large number of friends who fall into each of those categories and from speaking with them and doing a bunch of research I have narrowed down a couple of things that can help to move a person from hobbyist to professional. So here we go:
Writing is a commitment
The degrees to which one needs to commit vary, but, as with almost any other trade, you won’t see results without putting in the effort. You cannot hope to have success on the back of just one book. It may work for a select few, but for the rest of us being prolific is the best chance for making a success. You wrote one book? Great, now write two more, and so on. You don’t get to rest up after the first small success, you have to push and push. All day, at every free moment. When you’re not writing, you should be researching – building marketing techniques – networking – looking up publishers… e.t.c. Sound like hard work? Guess what sweet cheeks, it is. Look at the successful writers in the world, did Stephen King stop after the first success, or did he keep writing and releasing books? JK Rowling was working on the Harry Potter series for a good chunk of her adult life – and still is. You don’t get to kick back and wait for the royalty monies to roll in or you will fade into obscurity. Writing is a lifestyle choice, not an easy route to financial security. You can only get so far on half-assed effort. Success comes when you fully commit and never back down and even then there is no guarantee. You have to first write for a love of writing.
Product quality is key
I can categorically tell you that writing is not a ‘get rich quick’ profession. You can’t simply spew verbal slurry onto a page and then doodle a book cover and hit publish – well technically you could do this, but you won’t make any money from it. You are competing with millions of other books in existence. In order to stand out in the crowd you need to have a polished product. This involves investment in both time and money. A book must be well edited. A cover must be eye-catching and appealing. The blurb must be enticing. People will make a snap decision about whether or not to purchase your book based on these key things so if your book is lacking you will not make a sale. If you’re not self-publishing and are going for a contract with a publisher then these elements are still important (save for the cover). If you can’t afford to splash out on editing or cover art then you can still publish regardless but be prepared for poor reviews and low sales.
I still hold onto the dream that one day I might sell enough books to quit my job and write full time, but I have already committed my mind to the task. There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, but when you chose to take it to another level it’s an eye-opening experience.
A lot of writers are introverts. I speak as one of them – in the extreme (no offense but I much prefer my own company to that of almost everyone else on the planet save for two special people and my cat).
It’s an interesting trait of introverts to be very self-aware. It’s almost a disability in some respects, you become conscious of yourself at all times, you give pause to the myriad of possible outcomes for each choice you make, especially in conversation, to the point where you end up saying nothing because you can’t decide on the most suitable comment. Underpinning this is a fear. A fear of failure and of judgement in the negative. Add an unhealthy dose of anxiety and occasional severe depression and you end up with an interesting cocktail of a psyche. It’s a wonder I manage to achieve anything sometimes.
Someone asks you how your day was-
My extroverted friends will say something like this: “great thanks! I achieved loads and had a good chat with a friend for hours, she told me she’s pregnant isn’t that wonderful…”
The introvert will run through an internal analysis: (internal musings) “my day was mediocre, nothing much happened. I can’t say that because it will sound dull, but I don’t want to make something up because I won’t come up with something believable and then I’ll have to remember the lie. I could mention the fact that the coffee machine is broken but they may assume that by me mentioning it, that I was in some way responsible for it, so I’ll just forget about that.” - an uncomfortable silence fills the space between the questioner and the introvert until finally they manage to say “fine thanks.”
Why am I mentioning this? Because that state of hyperawareness and over-analysis is pervasive. Especially when it comes to writing. We read and re-read and doubt, and judge and condemn our own work with reckless abandon. It’s never good enough. After all, how can someone who can’t even engage in a casual conversation without bringing themselves to the brink of a meltdown, possibly write anything of worth?
I’m a published writer. I’ve had inexplicable success with my writing, and yet I still doubt my ability. I still read what I wrote yesterday and think it’s awful and wonder why I bothered. That self-doubt is debilitating and depressing and the spiral continues until we either give up or learn to ignore it to some extent.
Of course, I’m sure the rare breed of extroverted writer does this too, so if that’s you, please don’t think I’m excluding you. Oh dear, now I think this whole blog post is not good enough, people won’t like it and they’ll think I’m talking shit. And they’ll be right because I do talk shit. I should just give up this whole thing…
Write on, it’s the only way to escape your own craziness for a time.
You know what I most often get stuck on when I’m writing? Details. I don’t mean details within a scene, how it looks or what’s going on. I mean thematic and plot details. Allow me to clarify with an example:
character (a) has problem x, y, and z,
character (b) needs to do 1, 2, and 3,
character (b)’s item 2 conflicts with character (a)’s problem x and z
if I allow character (b) to achieve item 3 then that will screw up problem y for character (a)
This is an oversimplified version of what I’m talking about, but you get the gist.
Now, I know there are programs in the world that have been designed with issues such as this in mind, that writers can use (*cough*, scrivener, *cough*) but I don’t need/want a computer to resolve things like this for me. I have always simply done it in my head. That was all well and good for a short story, novella or even one whole book. As I near the end of the full length trilogy, it’s becoming trickier to keep a tight handle on everything.
That’s the thing that plagues writers, we introduce all these elements into our stories, all these layers of conflict which makes for an entertaining read (we hope) but are a nightmare in reality. It’s like having a bunch of beautifully crafted kites in the air at one time while a hurricane blusters past and you try in vain to not let your strings cross and keep all those creations from crashing down into a tangled mess. It’s exhausting, frustrating and sometimes depressing.
What’s the solution? I don’t have a simple answer I’m afraid. I tackle it by doing frequent re-reads, going over and over what I’ve already put in place to ensure I remain consistent. Sure, an editor should be able to pick up on places where a writer misses something or makes a mistake, but I don’t like the idea of handing off responsibility for that to someone else, that’s just sloppy and lazy in my opinion.
So, if you’re a writer then feel free to share your advice on how you tackle such complications in writing in the comments, I'd love to hear other peoples approaches.