June 1

Moving head speed towards halfway through the year.

The weather is wet, but deliciously warm, and I’m enjoying that. I wish the ME wasn’t wiping me out so comprehensively at the moment.

In writing news my novella is no longer the least loved in the group, and I’ve had my best ever finish in Q1 of The Writers of the Future – I got to the finals. Annoyingly, I think I may have a revision of the story that would have taken me all the way. Never mind, heh.

With regard to the novellas, I’ve been reading the other entries. Two of them stand out for me so far. One is just a nicely constructed story, to the extent that I completely ignored how little I enjoy the non-human characters and world element. The other is absolutely exquisite and I’m pretty sure I know who the author is (all stories are subbed and read anonymously). If I’m correct, then this person already has one beautiful story published, and a new one is upcoming in F&SF magazine

We’ll see if I’m correct later in the month.

Right now, apart from reading novella entries, I’m trying to hammer an alt-history steampunk story into shape. It’s set on the world’s first trans-continental railway, the Dakar-Djibouti. The opening of this service is a proud moment for the Ethiopian Empire. Unfortunately, the French ambassador is killed within hours of the journey starting. Will head of security, Yakob Nefolou, be able to solve the case, prevent a war, and keep his job?

Currently, I don’t know. I’m stuck, ūüėÄ

 

27th May

Haven’t written anything new since entering the novella comp. ¬†I have tinkered with another couple of stories, one of which is now on hold for potential inclusion in the WotF annual anthology. That’s mighty exciting, Inclusion would grant me flights out to the annual week long writers workshop. Of course, that’s my Q1 entry. Q2 & Q3 are already in, and Q4’s entry is underway. I may yet gain entry as of right. I can hope.

Beyond that, what?

I was reminded recently that this is my hobby, not my career. Sure, I want a The Martian breakout, because of the financial security it would bring. But writing is not the most important thing in my life. Not close. I love it (well, kind of, curse it), but it’s not the most important thing I do, not close.

Which brings me back to turning off social media. No Twitter; No FB. This has been a shock. Realizing how much time I spend on the two, understanding the waste of time they have been for me, has been salutary. How distracting they have been from what is most important to me has been worrying. Some of my friends can use social media as the part time tool it can be. As a ‘hey, did ya’ see I did this?’ announcement system. Not me. So the step back continues. E-mail is now my default access route. Which means I have to be better with the blog.

I’ll see what I can do.

Fundamentally, it’s not important. Unless you make it so.

May 19

Wrote a novella draft.

Longest single story I have ever written.

Man, it’s bad. Soooo many typos. A main character who changes sex, a secondary character who changes sex and name. An ending that is like ex-lovers handing over small boxes of possessions in a pub carpark.

But, over 18k on a completed story.

Never done that.

I really like the story. It has some good lines in it. What I need to do is go back and relook at it with dispassionate eyes, in 3 or 4 months.

 

The other thing that’s happened is a huge step away from social media. More a divorce than stepping away. No FB, no Twitter. Have you seen those posts of lovely locations with a tag line of ‘3 months here with no internet – tag if you like’. Well, I live in the beautiful location. I have work to do in the new house, I have family to care for, things I want to write, and lots I need to revise.

So, no social media.

That’s all for the moment.

30th April

End of the month.

I’ve written a new story this month, about 1,800 words.

I’m 6,500 words into a novella that needs to be 11,000 words longer by May 15th.

Which would be fine, at 733 words per day. Trouble is I’m struggling with writing. Partly it’s the ME, but mainly it’s my personality doing its best to screw things up. My longest work to-date is about 11k words long, still unsold. So hitting 17,500 is a step up, and I’m conscious of the step.

Wish me luck.

Speak with you in May.

14 April

I’m fully moved. In the new house, old one closed out. Still loads of boxes lying about, but we’re getting there. Wish my ME didn’t make things hurt quite so much.

I received my first story acceptance of the year yesterday. Much joy. And a story I sweated blood over when writing it.

Now I’m trying to see a way to complete the novella challenge that I’m part of. 2 weeks in, 4 to go, and 0 words written. I came in with a strong start, but the story refused to go in the direction needed and for the challenge I’m involved in I neither wanted to force it, nor run in the direction it has turned. It gets to sit on a back burner again, and later in the year I will write the sweet coming of age story that it is striving to be.

Secondly I turned up a flash story I’d enjoyed and wrote it out from 400 words to about 1600. It gave me some very useful ideas, but the alt-earth noir just didn’t feel fresh enough to run with.

So, now I’m on my third attempt. I’ve written a sketch for the intro, and half of the 1st reversal. I’m trying to get things clear in my head, so that I can hit the ground next week with 3 weeks to write 18k+ words.

I have survived the move.

I will overcome the ME.

I will write this novella by the deadline date.

17 March

I don’t normally do book reviews. Which is bad of me. Letting a writer, especially if their a buddy, know what you liked about their work (or where you struggled with it) is a cool thing to do. However, today, I’m doing a book review.

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I’ve looked at this book for a while. I loved the sumptuous illustration on the front cover. The idea of a post-oil world, where technology hasn’t managed to secure a fix, was intriguing. It’s just I always had something else I was reading, or needed to read. Not this week! & I got it at a steal because I’d collected enough stamps on my Waterstones card to get a free book.

Diving in was a pleasant experience. Detailed passages of the heat, sweat, moisture, odor, and noise immersed me into the setting (and gave me more valuable tips on how to take time to do the same in my work).

However something nagged away at the edge of my consciousness. Taking a break from reading to drive home allowed chance to consider what nagged me. The issue was it all felt very colonial. The characters are well portrayed, and the portrayal is of non-white people having weird rites and practices, while the white man from overseas is providing the only real valuable work locally.

Having identified this I carried on, mentally adjusting to see where things may change as the story unfolded.

And then I got to page 48. Here we meet the first meaningful female character, Emiko, who is the Wind Up Girl of the title.

Here I’d like to digress a little. Others have written about the recent explosion of titles with ‘Girl’ as part of the title. My personal view is it a chauvinistic thing to do, unless the said character happens to be a girl. But in none of the titles I’ve read, or considered reading, has this been the case. The characters have all been women; mature, adult, women. Why refer to them as youths? Because it’s a patriarchal clamp on agency. It posits ‘here is a weak, defenseless, person in need of a man’. Not all of the authors proceed down those lines, but the set up is right their in the title. There is no correlation in fiction about men, apart from maybe O Henry’s 25 year old Cisko Kid, and when that was written, a 25 yo was still considered a kid in many quarters. Maybe this dislike of ‘Girl’ as part of the title fed into my previous excuses for not purchasing the book.

Back to reading it. Having met the titular character on page 48 and discovering that she is a sex worker, we come to page 51. Starting on page 51 Emiko is raped. Graphically. She is raped by another woman for the pleasure of an audience of paying men. And the author spares us no details over 4 pages.

I recoiled. put the book down and tried to fathom the purpose of the scene. Maybe it was to show us how the character, as a bio-engineered human, had no rights, no agency – indeed, though raped and in distress, she has biological response akin to pleasure. This was the only conclusion I could draw.

I tried to read on.

By page 60 I gave up.

There is a possibility that this is a wonderful novel, full of redemption, freedom, self-sacrifice, and a depth of human spirit that reflects the very best of the human condition. Starting out with the graphic, and gratuitous, degradation of a main character isn’t going to lead me to find out.

Using rape in writing, even when blurring the boundaries by making it part of an act, on a not-quite-real human, is a thing to be undertaken with much forethought and consideration. Generally, after all that thought, it should still be left out. Is that to say mention or depictions of rape should never appear in books? No, of course not. But writers, especially male writers, need to be aware that what is written as a fantastical event in a non-real setting is an experience many women, and men, have gone through. Depicting the act without probing the ramifications, or using the act as a scene or character introduction, demonstrates a lack of understanding and consideration for those who have experienced such bodily violation.

In short. I do not recommend this book.

 

In other news I’m now about halfway through our move. It’s taken a lot out of me physically and the ME is bad. This means writing has gone by the wayside. I do have 2 stories that need urgent exists for end of month submission, and I have one I’m trying to get written by months end so I’m still on track for 12-in-12. Beyond that, I’ve been putting thinking time into the novella competition that starts April 1. Yesterday I managed to sort out a kink in the sequence of some scenes, which is good.

1 March

Meant to do this yesterday, but I didn’t.

We’re away to pick up the keys for the new house in an hour or so. Thankfully it’s not far away and, because our current landlord insisted on on a full months notice from the next rental period (first landlord I’ve ever had do that), we have this house until April 9th.

That’ll give us time to do a bit of decorating in the new house, empty this one, and do the fiddly touch up jobs that will be required. And the keys do not go back until the 9th.

So with all that going on I finished 2341 words shy for my February target. Still, it was a successful month in other aspects. I completed and submitted 2 flash stories, completed and submitted an article to a magazine touting for occasional columnists, and finished draft one of a story.

Hopefully I’ll remember to jot some stuff down before next month.

*Addendum

Well, we have keys for the new house. Later I will even be doing some writing in it – I’ve got a delivery coming, so will sit sans internet, and write.

There are a couple of other bits that could have been dealt with earlier, but I was a bit brain dead. The M.E. does that. Sometimes it’s like trying to drive in torrential rain with the windscreen wipers on slow, periodic flashes of clarity but a lot of blur, and moving very slowly for fear of accident.

I’m mid-way through an OT course for help with the ME. A good chunk of the info is not new, and not very relevant to someone who doesn’t live by themselves. But one of the things discussed last week was goal setting. Now I already do this, indeed have written goals for my writing for the year, including on total writing, and submissions. One of those written goals was to attend a Convention.

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but have always made an excuse to not follow through. That’s more to do with my Aspergers than anything else. But I have signed up for EdgeLit6 in Derby on Saturday July 15. I’m a little excited. Ticket is paid for, hotel is paid for. Now all I need to do is go.

On the writing projects front I have two entries to submit to Afrocentric’s anthology calls. The first one, for Afromyth, is written, though it’s the roughest first draft I have ever produced. The second, for Afrosteam, is underway, but already I’m having to trim the scope to have fighting chance of staying within the word limit.

The anthology guidance for Twisted Earth 2 & 3 are out, and I’ve looked through them, and the Twisted Earth bible, and I’m re-reading the first anthology (love my Kindle Unlimited). There are at least three different ideas percolating, I just need to settle on one.

Lastly my almost local buddy G V Anderson mentioned in her recent post that there is a Novella Challenge starting April 1. I’ve thrown my hat into the ring. Right now I intend to go with a short story that has been languishing in the unfinished folder because of its attempts to mutate into a longer piece, but I’m also tempted to do something new that would be a final story in an alt-timeline civil war series, or the middle of three stories in my non-earth steampunk-ish world. I’ve got a month, I may do something else entirely.

February 15

Things are a bit strange atm. We will¬†be moving again (Thanks to the govt. abolishing tax relief on rental properties our landlord is raising ¬†the rent, and we are already near the top of our budget). I’ve started a 7 week course on dealing with my Chronic Fatigue, and I became a qualified First Aider.

Writing has been a struggle. As of yesterday I’m 2500 down on target for the month.

On Monday, at my CFS course, I had a moment of realization that has consumed a lot of head space. At last I’ve been able to move something into the ‘it’s past, it’s gone’ section and move forward without it hanging like a millstone. It’s quite an emotional thing to happen because the clarity with which I saw how I had been affected, and how that had impacted others, was upsetting. But it’s gone now.

As for moving, what a bind! However, there’s a potential property close by which would be convenient, we’ll know about that by the start of next week.

I’ve had some nice first reader and critiquer comments on my writing, including one from someone who didn’t know I was a Brit, while reading my weird western story. ¬†And I’ve submitted my first piece for the month, only 4 to go.

Now, it’s sunny for the moment, we may go down to the beach and watch the waves for a bit.

31 January

How’s your January been?

I’m going to stay firmly on writing and health.

I started the month by putting together a spreadsheet which allows me to tabulate Submissions – both currently out, and what was sent monthly – and word count. I set myself the target of 5 submissions per month, and an average of 500 words per day. And I joined a 12-in-12 group, where the commitment is to write and submit a new story each month.

How did that go in January?

13 submissions

15,781 words written

I have 11 stories awaiting response, 2 that have been passed for further consideration, and received 7 rejections. I also have one story where I submitted the wrong file, and need to resubmit.

One story was completed, and submitted.

All in all that is a pretty successful month activity wise for a hobby writer. Which is important for me to remember. This is not my job. I’m fortunate¬†(If a family suit of ill health ranging from Ehlers-Danlos through autism to epilepsy can be described as such) that I have the time to do as much as I do, and hopefully by the time I do need to be working again, I may have a pipeline of paying work.

Its also not bad considering I’ve had First Aid training, been to London twice (500 mile round trip) and my chronic fatigue is going through an extra bad spell.

Let me tell you about my new story. It’s called In Eldad’s Well, and is a weird western. A man returns to a town where he killed a man, and it’s deserted. He bunks down and wakes up to find it non-deserted. The town is suffering from the action of nearby ranchers, who happen to be centaurs. That’s all I’m saying at this point. But it was fun to write.

I also had three stories looked at by Charlie Finlay (it’s a perk of First Reading for SF&F). Wow, talk about helpful. One of the stories (A sword & sorcery blast that may be the first of a series) I completed in December. I’d had comment from a beta reader that the opening section didn’t work for them. I did look at it, and indeed tweaked it, but it does things that are important for the later story. Charlie gave solid suggestions on what to consider, and why. In explaining that he also provided tools that I can use in future stories.

And that is January.

Next month I’m aiming for the 5 submissions, average 500 words per day, 1 new story written and submitted. I also intend to create a spreadsheet of markets. I already use duotrope, but I need something that works in the way I do.

I’m also considering aiming to complete the writing portion of my target in the first 15-20 days (I managed 7 days of 1000+ words, that gave me over half the months total) and use the rest for re-writes. But we’ll need to see how that goes.

January 11th

I’ve had a lovely Occupation Therapist here for the last hour discussing my ME. I now get to partake in a seven week workshop on the issue (only 2 hours per week). That’s the most I’ve discussed my diagnosis since it was diagnosed in the middle of last year. The asperger part of me is dreading these group sessions, the writer part of me is excited.

Talking of writing, I’ve been doing some. There’s a flash piece for a CODEX competition, and a longer story I’m working on for a call by Afrocentric for their Afromyth anthology call. I submitted to the Afrofuture anthology and my story is on hold with them until the call is closed and final decisions on inclusion are made. I was also invited to submit to the Afromyth and Afrosteam calls.

This was most heartening. The story on hold is about a Nigerian-American woman in a round the world yacht race (time travel & whaling ships also appear). The anthologist is, coincidentally, a Nigerian-American woman. To have written a story she’s decided to hold for final consideration makes me immensely proud. It means I, to a worthwhile degree, have managed to write a character other than myself. I hope it wasn’t a one-time deal.

In other writing related news I’ve set up spreadsheets to track my writing and submissions for the year, and set myself goals for both. I’m currently tracking for submissions, and about 1700 words down on writing, though the ME has been bad and the concomitant brain fog has combined with self-doubt and starting-a-new-project fear to slow things down. I think I’m seeing a form for the Afromyth story, I’m currently trying to wrestle the idea into shape, and hopefully this will shift the logjam.

One of the ways I’m doing this is by using a writing formula. That sounds kind of dry and boring, but it seems to help. I first used it on a story that is currently finished, and being studiously ignored for a month or so. Under a¬†provisional title of Stormville and the Coup (sword & sorcery in a Conanesque manner) the story started with an opening paragraph written about eighteen months ago, and then forgotten about. When I re-read the fragment I really liked it, but wasn’t sure what to do with it so on a piece of paper I wrote:

Introduction

1st reversal

small victory

2nd reversal

denouement

twist

Then in each section I wrote a rough idea for what should happen. The finished story does not follow that plan exactly, indeed the nature of the MC changed from the start of writing to the finish to the extent that I had to do a re-write to consolidate her. But the main thing is this gave the story a structure for me to follow and, I think, I’ll be using it more. One thing I found is this gave me a story of about 10k words, and could easily have been more. I think a 5-7k story will need a tweaked version.

Now, time to go make Cornish Pasties with my daughter.