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.

Advertisements

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.

November 3rd

WANTED!

Reviewers. All comments welcome, just be willing to leave a review!
As I mentioned, in my last post, This United States  -Volume I is now published.

But I really need some reviewers.

It’s 11 stories, its about 33k words.

As a reviewer I’m not looking for ‘Oh My Gunderwalt!, Give this guy a Pulitzer.’ Just honesty. If you read all eleven stories and didn’t enjoy them, give it a low rating and say what you didn’t enjoy. If you only love one story, say that in the review. But please, please, review it.

Now, to sweeten the pot, not only will anyone who responds to this post with a “Sure, I’ll give you a review” get a free .mobi or .epub version of the book, the first person will also get a subscription to Gamut, the new new-noir speculative publication that opens in January.

It’s not so much me begging (which I am) as using naked bribery. C’mon, have a read.

And while you do, I’ll carry on with NaNoWriMo. Which is madness. I wasn’t going to do it, having failed three times previously (though signing up last year, when I was moving 600 miles was stupid). Infant it was 18 hours into November before the madness struck. After 2 days, I’m on target!

The result will be a very rough first draft for Volume V of These United States. Yup, the last one will be a novel. It will follow the format of moving from state-to-state, which will make the story episodic in nature, beyond that I’m not 100% sure. The first episode is in Alaska, and there’s a mountain climbing accident. That’s all I know so far. There is already a steampunky element involved, though steampunk isn’t really the correct word. maybe it’ll become the hippypunk story I wanted to try a few years ago – if Stormville Epsilon D’vore becomes a character, it definitely will.

Beyond that, I’m still editing stories for an SF collection, and I have further stories set aside for a darker, gorier, collection. However, there is much editing to do. Some of these tales have significant flaws in structure. It’s the reason I’m doing NaNoWriMo, it’s a distraction/displacement activity to prevent me spending real thinking time on fixing the issues.

The reason for that is two-fold. 1) I’m a lazy oik who’d rather not think hard. 2) My ME is bad at the moment. I’m losing words mid-sentence, my arms feel like they have lead instead of muscle, ten hours of sleep leaves me needing another ten, my eyes look like I’ve spent three days partying and am auditioning for the role of Death in a remake of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

That’s a reason though, not an excuse. So, I’d better get on and do it.

Oh, by the way, are any of you artists or graphic designers? Fancy having your work on the cover of a book? Money is an issue, but I promise we’ll come to arrangement where ‘exposure’ is not you’re only reward. Hit me up. I need two book fronts by the end of the year and, as you can see from These United States – Volume I, I’m no artist.

28th October

An auspicious day.

I pressed publish on my first collection of US state stories. Eleven obsessed over pieces of me presented to the world to be generally ignored (though ideally I’d like about 250,000 paying readers 😀 ).

These United States – Volume I will shortly be available on pretty much every major reading platform.

Naturally, there was a typo in the blurb (now corrected – thanks, Cheryl), and I’m sure I’ll have missed some in the text. Ho, as they say, hum.

Now I expected to be full of cheer and bravado on this, but all I have is trepidation and doubt. I was ready to press publish a couple of days ago, and couldn’t do it. I needed the time to reflect on what it means for me. This all makes it sound like I’m laying claim to deep meaningful work of immense importance in exploring the human condition, while one of the stories is about alien invasion, and another is about spies. But that doesn’t mean the stories don’t mean something to me. They represent hours of research, writing, editing, proofreading, and formatting. One of these stories was the catalyst for a recent relocation.

What I’m saying is, these are part of me. My worry is not about whether they are read, nor is it trepidation of poor or non-existent reviews. It is worry about letting them go instead of holding them close and continuing to gnaw them, like a troll with a femur in a dark hole.

We’ve been having a clearcut at home recently, moving out things which are liked, beloved even, but not used or useful in this house. There is an element of catharsis in such action and I hope to get the same from putting these eleven stories out there. It’s time to do new research, think new thoughts, explore new states, write new words. Volume I has been three or four years in the making. My aim for Volume II is four to six months (I have 3 stories ready).

Publishing has been done with Pronoun. What a joy! Getting a hang of the formatting interface would have been easier had I read the friendly tuition guides up front, but that’s on me. Everything has been provided. I really love the fact that the release will be done across Amazon, Apple IBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Whatever your device, you can get my book!

I look forward to building a nice virtual bookshelf of published works over the coming years.

Next up will be a collection of my SF stories, but there’s still a chunk of editing work to do there, so it might be December before that’s ready.

Lastly, if you would be willing to provide a review (good or bad, just the truth) then hit me up for an advance copy.

f48ebf2e-6ad7-4d89-9c29-6b9a2218dfb9500x

 

 

20th October

I’ve been here before.

That’s the title of today’s post, and a chunk of it will be about cycling. First, a primer of the situation at present. Team Sky are a professional cycling team. Formed a few years ago they were sold as the antithesis to the US Postal team which proven cheat Lance Armstrong cycled for. They would take the excellence of incremental enhancements which saw Team GB’s cycling team sweep all before them at an Olympic level, and add to it an avoidance of improprietous drug usage.

WOW! They were effective. Choosing riders for races, sacrificing well known names for the overall progress of the team. And they won the Tour de France. More than once. Awesome.

Then, because of the ban on a majority of Russian athletes being allowed to compete at the Rio Olympic games, a group of hackers set about looking for drug impropriety in other nations. To be fair, most of the releases have been nothing outstanding. But they did find details of the use of TUE’s by Team Sky riders, including Sir (now) Bradly Wiggins in 2001, 20012 (his Tour de France & Olympic time trial winning year) and, 2013. And today there is a story about a Team GB cycling flying an unidentified medical package from Britain to France. Begging the question of what medicine could not be obtained in France?

What’s a TUE? A Therapeutic Usage Exemption. It allows for a specified us of otherwise embargoed medication. And I want to be very clear here, we are talking about medication. this is not the days of Tommy Simpson where amphetamines, or la bomba, were in common usage. TUE’s are designed to allow an athlete to compete on a level playing field that would otherwise be impossible due to an underlying medical condition. Sir Bradley’s condition? Asthma. I have asthma (because I’m a fat chuffer), many people have asthma. Not many of us are Olympic gold, tour de France winning knights of the realm.

And that’s why today’s post is called ‘I’ve been here before’. Because I have. I was here when Lance Armstrong was accused of being dirty, and he stood and called out his accusers, sued his accusers, and was vindicated in court. Then he admitted to being the cheat he was accused of. Suddenly all those people who had been reviled by him and his defenders, who had been driven to the brink of ruin by him, who had been defrauded by him, were proven to be right, truthful, and honorable. I remember the evening Lance tweeted a picture of himself with his framed even Tour de France maillot jaune and a tag of ‘Just chilling’. The was after the USDA had produced their report detailing his cheating. I’d read the report, I was already convinced of his guilt (I didn’t need to see him admit it to Oprah) and was sickened by his blatantcy.

Now I’m seeing similar denials and prevarications. I’m parsing the words of other cyclists and hearing ‘yeh, I thought it was dodgy as hell’. It’s horrible.

If it’s true he should be stripped of all his awards and prizes. Team Sky are already shedding senior staff, they should be disbanded (which is gutting).

Going forward, all cyclist need to have an open blood passport (as should all professional athletes) and any TUE should be open. The current system requires, I believe, three separate doctors to sign off on its usage. That is robust, the only thing missing is transparency. Any request should be linked with the blood passport and extra blood testing for those using a TUE must be part of the process.

It’s the only way cycling (actually, road racing) can be revived and given credibility.

And that’s the end of part one, the cycling bit.

Next, I write you know!

And I’ve been here before. Or there, that is. Earlier this month I wrote about looking at my stock of written and part-written work, and then making a decision on how to move forward. I did this. I was surprised by what came forward.

Most of what I write is SF, to some extent. But I also have another passion project. Writing a story unique to each US state, along with a few stories about other areas unique to the US. I’ve spoken about getting the first volume out before, and not done it. But now it’s moving forward. My first 11 stories, about 37,000 words, are nearly ready. What do I mean by ready? Each story is as I want it to be. now I’m combing through for irritating typos, formatting for publication, ensuring that curly quotes are used throughout (instead of a mix of straight and curly quotes as was there at the start). I’ve got a couple of people signed on for beta reading, but would love some more.

Let me know.

Lastly on the theme of ‘I’ve been here before’ there was a problem blew up in the SF community last weekend. A well known writer was revealed as a manipulating, creepy, bastard. It keeps happening, not just in SF, but more than I want to see in a field I love and am involved in.

Can I ask a favor? Could men is SF stop being creepy bastards? It really isn’t all, or even a majority, but it’s enough to make things horrible. I really don’t care if you have strict views on what a person may or may not do, just don’t try to impose them on someone else. I don’t care if your writing is mono-colored, just stop demanding non-white people have no place in our non-real fiction writing field. I don’t care if you are a creep who believes women are beneath you, and that people are only useful if they can advance your career, just ,please, sod off and stop being a bastard round here.

I don’t want to be here again.

 

 

 

 

 

October 3rd

Last year I started a short story with a working title of Epecuén. The name is that of a town in Argentina which was flooded out of existence in the mid-eighties. In my head the story is a tale of magical-realism, the town is sacrificed to save the nation. The details of this were hazy, but it felt like a good hook to work with. After about four and a half thousand words I was running in to walls and couldn’t find a way through, under, or over. I set it aside.

At the weekend I re-opened the file and read through it. I love the writing. It is sweet, and emotional, at least I think so. I have aspergers, emotion isn’t an easy reach for me and I’ve been fighting with adding it in for a couple of years now. Reading back Epecuén was a valediction of the work I’ve been doing. And I realized why the story was blocked for me. What I have written – about one-third of the final tale I reckon – is actually a sweet coming of age story. No magic anywhere in sight.

Now I have a problem. Do I continue with it as is, which is very much not my œuvre, or go back to the initial idea. I really can’t figure it out yet.

And as I’m not writing enough at the moment, I’m not rushing it it.

That’s not saying I’m not writing, or editing, or submitting. I am. This week I submitted a new story to one of my top target markets. The final edit made me really happy. I go to places that are uncomfortable in both subject and execution, and I’m happy with the way it has come out. I’ll see what comes with the submission.

Now, I need some help.

I have another story I love. It’s about an elf, and a vampire, and a murder. It’s set in snowy Nebraska, and there’s not a human in the world. Think Jessica Fletcher, as an elf, solves her first small town mystery. But can I get anyone to sniff at it? No. Where do I send it?

I’ll leave that here. It’s early October. I hope to write again in a few days.

 

27th September

Time for the monthly update.

I need to change the monthly update.

Really, it needs to be more frequent, but I’m not sure it’ll happen.

I had a great holiday this month, 2 weeks right next to the beach, swimming in the sea every day, shooting the breeze with family and friends, reading, & writing. Now I’m having a clear-out at home, and putting a bunch of stuff on eBay & Gumtree & the like.

On the writing front I had a disaster yesterday. My son has a 2 hour class twice a week about 20 miles away. Just far enough to justify staying and waiting  instead of driving back and forth. On Thursday I found a terrific coffee shop and spent two hour writing. It was some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever written, lyrical, soulful, honest. I worked on it some more over the weekend and had about 2k words.

I didn’t save it.

Not sure how, I thought Scrivener kept the last item for you. But I’m not blaming Scrivener, it’s my bad.

It threw me somewhat when I sat to write in the same coffee shop yesterday.

grrrrrr

However, I wrote. The story is back up to the same place plot wise, but 900 words shorter. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s all the really soul revealing stuff that’s gone. Some of it I just don’t remember, other parts I don’t see how they belonged in the story. I’ll need to find somewhere else for them to go.

On the upside, the first part of the story has already received a ‘kill your darlings’ edit. Silver linings, silver linings.

On other writing related things, I joined a group for people who self publish, and it kind of worries me. Some writers are putting out an enormous amount of words at incredible speed. I’m wary of reading any of it because it’s either terrific, and my confidence can’t take that right now, or it’s poor, and I don’t want to read that.

I’m definitely going to SP some things, but I can’t see me doing it at the rate many in the group are. For a start my first drafts are always stinky slimy things, with massive amounts of typos and huge plot holes.

And with that, I’m away to take my multi-vitamins, beetroot tablets, & anti-depressants.

 

30th August

So, no regular updates during the month.

I’ve re-written and edited 16k worth of my novella. I now have a good handle on what else I need to write, and how.

I’ve also done a whole bunch of First Reading at F&SF. What a joy this gig is.

On Thursday (1st Sept) I’m away on holiday for 2 weeks. A long drive to the north of Scotland. I’m going to do a lot of swimming, a lot of sauna-ing, play some Firefly tabletop, and write a bunch.

So my guess is, I’ll update this about the same time next month.

29th July

or: Leaving this month’s post to the last minute, and other procrastinations.

A strange month in all. Let’s start with a highlight.

I got a new First Reader gig. With Fantasy & Science Fiction. Charles Finlay put a call out for applicants, I applied, my application was accepted. The team got to work just as the submission hiatus ended and have worked through nearly a thousand of the over eleven hundred submissions received. I’ve read some awesome stories. I look forward to some appearing in future issues.

One of the things I have noticed is more than a few stories where sirens of some sort are a key feature of the tale. I blame Rhonda Parrish. Her Magical Menageries collection Sirens is now out, and that means there are a few related tales that weren’t included still available. I myself wrote two stories for the anthology. One never got as far as submission, the other never made the cut. I hope to do better with the Equus call – though I need to get my finger out and finish writing the story.

Which means I need to be busy writing because over the next four months I am challenging myself to write a 40k word novella. To be fair, I have about 15k of early draft work done, but it will still be my biggest challenge. This is a story that has been with me for some time. Elevator pitch? The crew of a small salvage ship scraping a living on the fringes of the solar system find a derelict space yacht. It’s been drifting for two hundred years. What they  discover aboard sends them on a journey back to all the things left behind, and will change Earth/Mars relationship forever. How does that sound? I’ve never done one. The reason I’m undertaking this is to submit it to the Ab Terra call being edited by Yen Ooi.

In other, non-writing related news, I was at the hospital on Wednesday. I received official diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue. This wasn’t a surprise, but rather the culmination of a couple of years deterioration in my health. I had hoped my most recent malaise was a recurrence of glandular fever I suffered three or four years ago, but the blood work all came back as negative. The frustrating thing is on Wednesday I really needed to be sat at home with my foot up, as I couldn’t I have now strained ligaments. The constant pain is sapping. Imagine bad toothache, in your foot, for three days. Of course, as the family carer I’ve had to do more than I should, thought today and tomorrow should be days I can rest. If I’m sensible I’ll do some writing, or editing. It’s all highly annoying as I’ve just purchased a bike (2nd hand) to try and rebuild some strength, and have been swimming at the local beach (Cawsand).

Next month I hope to move back to weekly updates to help keep track of my novella progress.

 

16th June

Why have I lapsed into monthly posts?

Because I feel I’m just repeating myself.

Writing’s hard; I’m getting better; repeat.

And I am getting better, as several acceptance in 2016 attest. But there’s still more to learn.

I am an incremental learner. Each advance builds on the last, and I find it impossible to go back and retro-fit stories which is a shame, it means there are trunked tales that are solid in conception, but poor in execution.

To aid advancement I’m always trying to learn. Currently I’m taking Cat Rambo‘s Advanced Workshop. I did the initial class about 18-months ago and found it hugely beneficial. Something I forgot, before signing up for this one, was the effect of time zones. I’m not sure what time the class is for Cat, but for me it’s 0100-0300h. The net effect is ensuring, as the only male in this class, that I don’t take up too much space. I’m so tired by the time it starts I require 3-4 times as normal to think about what has been said, and then extra time to formulate a response (this last bit is irony – I work really hard on not being a ‘Me Man, Listen’ type of person, sometimes I even achieve it).

I really enjoy the way Cat takes a class. There is a freeness to it which allows for discussions to move into areas that may have been unanticipated. Her anecdotes and name dropping are light and purposeful. When discussing class submitted stories Cat always looks to be positive and upbuilding in her comments, but she does not shy away from pointing out weaknesses and areas of concern.

I definitely recommend considering one of Cat’s classes and, if being awake in the middle of the night is really not your thing, then have a look at her on-demand offerings.

One of the recurring themes in writing, or more accurately in becoming a published writer, is persistence. You read, and are told of, writers who submitted and submitted and submitted, facing rejection after rejection. This is a truism.To rack up the rejects that allow  for an acceptance I have been running on a program of averaging one submission per week, and always having at least ten stories out for submission. This has been a useful tool to ensure I don’t hide away from submitting work based on rejections (or critiques – more on that below). Currently I am on my lower limit of ten stories out, and a few of those are very near the point where they’ll drop off one way or another. So I must put a couple out to make sure I have a cushion.

On the matter of critiques. Over the past few months I’ve had a few from people who have read stories and then made suggestions which, I can only assume, are based on how they would tackle the story, instead of considering the story before them. One went so far as to posit that it would be better to delve into who a secondary character didn’t want to return to his hometown after war had ended. That I dealt with it in two lines (not wanting the stultifying family life, or a return to the seminary), that this was a secondary character, and that this was a short adventure story seemed to have bypassed the reader. I was most frustrated, and it took effort not to respond (remember, no matter how poor the crit a sincere ‘Thanks for your time and effort’ is the standard response. Maybe different if you pay for it, and feel it misses the point, but otherwise just smile and wave).

This has made me think about my critiquing methods. I’m an editor by crit nature (because it’s easy to see how to make other peoples work better). I’ll make suggestions on lines, paragraphs, and ideas. What I need to ensure is that I provide reasons for my suggestions, and that they do not fundamentally alter the story under consideration.

Thus ends this month’s maundering.