14th December

Moving into the dying days of the year. The nights are long and cold, the days short and grey – well, short, we’ve had some glorious sunshine even as parts of the country have suffered through the couple of inches of snow that would have a Canadian pulling out deckchairs and calling for a barbecue.

And it’s been a funny old month storywise for me. After nothing all year I’ve had three stories released in two anthologies in the last week or so.

The first is in The Infernal Clock and is called The Green Man’s Fête. A reporter at a local spring festival isn’t all he appears to be, but then the festival isn’t all it appears to be either. This is available as either a download or hard copy. I’d recommend considering getting the physical book, the cover is absolutely glorious. Apart from my tale there are 15 others to revel in, and a wide variety of writers demonstrating their skills.

Secondly is Afromyth. This is a collection where the focus of the story is on people of African or African descent, and non-caucasian. My first story here is Fishing Lake Tanganyika where a man takes up fishing to feed his family after being made redundant. Will his grand-mothers belief in his abilities be enough to sustain him in trying times? Later on in the anthology I have The Black Birds of White Oaks. Set in a southern US state  some-time after the civil war it tells of a young Boston woman on a trip to collect folk memories from ex-slaves. What she discovers stretches across the atlantic, into the Anti-Atlas mountains, and all the way back to stories of Prometheus, Zeus, and a portion of human existence glimpsed only through the veil of myth. With 10 other stories from a wide variety of writers this powerful collection will set your imagine whirring.

I hope you take time to read not just my stories, but all who have tales in these two exciting anthologies, and more than that, add a review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Of the three stories I am proudes of Fishing Lake Tanganyika. Realistically it could be a story without a fantastical element, and it would still hold together, because it is firstly a story about a person, and personal interactions. Of course, all stories must contain these, but they are rarely the focus of something I write. Asperger’s tends to make that personal level of interaction difficult for me to negotiate on the page but I think that I’m reaching a point where I can do it with more confidence, and for me this story is the current high spot.

So, with three publictions, and a feeling of improvement having been made, why did I recently sign up to be mentored by Gareth Powell?

Because advancement is incremental, because – while I’ve written lots this year – I don’t have an awful lot of finished material, and even less that has been picked at and polished until it is suitable to be submitted anywhere.

We had our first session together a few days ago, and it was most heartening to hear Gareth’s assessment of the writing portion I’d submitted. Now I’m working on internalizing the advise recieved to allow ongoing writing to incorporate it organically.

I’m also perservering in trying to finish draft one of my novel. This is the novel that a month or so ago I declared to be a novella. What changed?

Earlier this month I was at a How To Be Published day run by Writers & Artists (thank you, Juliet Pickering, for the ticket). We had a series of talks, followed by Q&A sessions. The session by Cally Taylor discussed story structure and, as we went through it, I wrote down the sections, then matched them to what is already in my story. It helped clarify that the bones of a proper novel are there. This was heartening because I’d begun to think of the story as an amorphous amss of words lumped together in a hopeful, yet random order (despite me having a pin board with the scenes, sequences, and characters all mapped out).

Seeing the parts of a novel written down, and seeing my extant work marrying up to these parts, has reinvigorated my desire to finally get that first draft complete. It should have been completed by now, but that slipped, and now I’m aiming for the end of the year.

What happened?

My ME, and the house. For a while now my ME has been quite bad. The time I’ve had to write is in the evenings, but by the time I sit an enervating fog has fallen between my ears. Holding a single cogent thought in my head is difficult, manipulating that thought to amend, increase, expand, develop, or otherwise work it has been nigh on impossible. Much easier to sit and scroll through twitter while having a film play in the background. This hasn’t been helped by the chaos of us moving things around in the house so that there is not an area I can lay claim to as my writing spot, no calm, quiet, zone I can retreat to and work in.

Some may look at this and think it is just an excuse. It may be. But it’s a debilitating confluence of explanations for me. One alone I can work with, I have so in the past and will in the future. But together, it is a real writing killer.

Meh.

By next week there should be some order in the house, and then the wife and children go up to Scotland for a couple of weeks. This should allow me the time to clear my head, clear the decks, and get ready to hit 2018. Plans for that to follow when I see how the next week or so goes.

 

 

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October 8

I’ve never kept a diary. It goes back to an episode of Taggart I once saw. Mark McManus, playing the eponymous lead character, tells a teenage boy, whose diarized confession of infidelity have led to murder, “If you don’t want people to know things, don’t write them down.”

And, my chaotic personality tends to shy away from anything as regular, or staid, as penning thoughts or experiences in a diary.

Which is why this blog is the exercise in tardiness it is.

But two months is too long a hiatus.

I shan’t bore my few followers with all things that have happened, because that would be boring, and I have no record of them, because I don’t diarize… Hang on, that’s getting a bit circular.

First off I’d like to start with thanks and apologies. Both to the same person: F E Clark. A talented artist from north-east Scotland I came across the artwork on twitter. I was interested in using one as a book cover. We had a DM conversation on twitter about it, and I was appraised of the reality that my buying a piece of artwork did not afford me the rights to reproduce as I saw fit. I would not own the copyright.

That was great.

A couple of months later, preparing a collection of Sci-Fi stories for self publication, I remembered the art, and the artist, but completely forgot the conversation. I went to etsy, started looking for a piece which intersected subject & price, and purchased one. Happy with my purchase, and excited by the upcoming release, I tweeted about having found artwork for the cover.

Well, the artist saw the tweet. Clocked the purchase, and put two+two together. I received an irate (justly) DM from the artist, and a link discussing the copyright issues. I’ve apologized, and learnt a lesson. This is by way of another apology, and a thank you. Without your awareness, F.E.Clark, I’d be in breach of copyright.

The incident shook me somewhat, and self publishing the collection went on hold.

 

I have been writing. Not much, but enough to keep forward motion. One of these projects is a novel, a space operetta. It’s been underway for several years, though it was on hiatus for quite a while. It’s a strange process because I have file cards of what scenes are to happen, but working through each one is taking several months. I’m hoping to get draft one finished by the end of the year. Really hoping to. Because next year there is a different plan in place.

I have had the idea in place for five years or so. It’s a story set during the cold war, and not speculative in any manner. I’ve sketched out the main sections to be written, and  have been reading core material for the project. Once my book-cases are complete, and I’ve unpacked my extant research books I’ll look for the secondary and tertiary sources needed to provide background and atmosphere information.  I’m not sure I have the chops to produce the book I intend, but I can produce the first draft.

 

And that’s enough about me. Before I go I want to big up G.V.Anderson. A while back I was lucky enough to critique a story for her. I can’t remember any suggestions I made, I’m sure they weren’t significant, but I remember the hell out of the story. I enthused about it to friends, and told them to look out for it at a pro-paying market. The story, Das Steingeschöpf, was published last December in Strange Horizons.

Then, it was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

In a short while this talented writer will be on a plane, don a recently purchased frock, and sit nervously waiting to find out if the story has won the award. If it does, I for one won’t be surprised. Fingers crossed.

And that’s it for now.

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.

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

16th March

I received an acceptance, and a contract. My first pro sale. That’s significant. It’s only a three hundred word story, so not likely to make my fame or fortune. But it’s the next step up the ladder.

Currently I have 11 pieces out for submission. The last four or five I think are heading towards the territory I need them to be, but we’ll see what the editors have to say.

As part of the continual effort to move forward I’m doing a tuition with Richard Thomas. This was a backers reward for the new magazine Gamut which he is launching with a stellar cast. I suspect I chose the wrong tory for us to workshop, but it already I have added a new process to my writing structure, and look forward to incorporating it in my next project (which as of yet is not decided on).

Let’s see what happens next.

7th February

3526 words for the first week of February. Not the massive start I hoped for, but I lost one day to being out, and another to inertia.

I’ve also had two stories this week that I queried. One was rejected five days before my query, the other had never arrived at the target market.

There’s no clear way of explaining what has happened in these cases, I’d just say, keep good track of your subs.