Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If I Were Famous...

Occasionally I fantasise about what I'd do if I became a rich and famous writer.  And I'm not talking rich enough to give up the day job and pay off the mortgage.  I'm talking about rich beyond the realms of reasonable possibility.  JK-Rowling-sort-of rich and famous.

The first thing I'd do is buy a house with an indoor swimming pool, so I could do daily laps without having the general public get in my way.  And the pool must be heated to 35c all the time. I'm a wimp - I hate getting into cold water.  Of course I would also need to hire a Pool Boy - heated swimming pools require a lot of maintenance.

In this fantasy house there would be at least two gaming rooms, each with a couple of types of consoles and a 50" flat screen TV.  This is so at least two multi-player games could be going on at the same time.  There would also be a retro games room, full of old arcade machines, including the original Space Invaders.  There will also be a juke box in there, belting out 80s hits.  In fact, I'll just recreate Flynn's arcade from TRON, and I'll be set.

There will be a bar, of course.  Stocked with plenty of bottles of Cloudy Bay.  And a bartender to make cocktails.

While we're on the subject of staff, I'll need to have a housekeeper who will do all the chores, including the ironing, making the bed and changing the sheets weekly.  And there'll be a chef.  I like to eat nice food, but I'm rubbish at cooking.

Sigh.  Guess it's time to stop daydreaming.

What things do you fantasise about buying, if money were no object?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Last One on the Team

"OMG! I love (insert author's name here). Her books are awesome!"

How many times have I seen these enthusiastic praises from my fellow authors? Several.

How many times are they referring to my stories? None.

Some authors dream of being on a best-seller list, of raking in a six-figure income, or of having their book made into a movie. Me? I want people to be enthusiastic about my work. Referrals are the best form of advertising.

Sometimes I wonder if lack of print books is hurting me. When I go to cons, all I can take are postcards, bookmarks, etc., but no physical copies. Of the free promo material I give out, how much of it goes in the trash? Also, it takes a certain number of impressions before someone may decide to buy the book. Some authors with digital only books might print up sample booklets or CDs. Again, where do these end up, and what permissions do they need to get (if any) from the publisher?

I want to sell my books. I want to earn royalty checks. And it's not like I don't try. But lately, I've become so discouraged, I don't want to write anymore. I feel like the last one picked for the team.

Keep hoping things will get better.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Enough Words?

I have finished my new horror novel!  This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.

The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game.  The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words.  I'm aware that this is a very short novel.  In fact, to some it's only half of a novel.  The majority of people in the writing group are fantasy writers.  Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.

I've never really 'got' how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long.  I am the opposite.  I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them.  Only that's what it looks like - padding.  I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press.  My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying - quite correctly - it was superfluous to the plot.

I remember that lesson when I write novels now.  Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way?  Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on?  If the answer to all of these is 'no', the scene has no place in the book.  So this is a very short novel.  But it doesn't have much padding, and I think I'm going to keep it that way.

I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know.  I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don't retain plots of books I've read for very long.  I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  I don't like subtle hints, I don't like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn't be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings.  If it's a horror novel, the horror should be resolved.  I don't mind if all the main characters die - that's acceptable in horror.  But if it's a crime novel the killer must be caught.  If he or she gets away with it, that's an unsatisfactory ending.

I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job.  I have about 40 minutes at each stretch.  On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning.  I don't want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what's going on.  I don't want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I'm supposed to remember that, because I won't.  And I like chapters to be short.  When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I've got left until the train gets in to Victoria station.  If it's only five pages, I will keep reading.  If it's 20, or worse,  I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead - because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.

I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences.  I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don't complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters.  The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.

Consequently I tend to write very short novels.  But you know what?  Maybe that's just the way it is.  I'm never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I'll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.

But that's OK.  I write what I write.  It's not going to be to everyone's taste, and I get that.  But I know there's a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.

And so this new novel is for you.  It's short, but it's finished, and it's about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One Track Mind

Whenever anyone asks me when I started writing I say, "age six".

That was the age I was when I learned how to form words on a page. That's when I began to learn how to write my stories down. I had been telling them before then. I was making up stories in my head from the age I learned how to think. From when I first began to talk.

I was about ten when I started telling people who asked me what I wanted to be when I left school that I was going to be a writer. I was eleven when I wrote my first novel.

I don't think I was particularly advanced. I just believe that I was born to be a writer. That's all I ever wanted to be. In truth, it's all I've ever been any good at. I was always hopeless at sports - I can't run, I can't catch, I am clumsy, and I have absolutely no hand-eye co-ordination. I was always last to be picked for the teams in gym class.

I'm no good at crafts - knitting, sewing, and the like. It's that hand-eye co-ordination again. I can't cook. I can't cultivate plants - they all die on me. I'm not even very good at computer games. Yes I like them, and I play them a lot, but my aim in taking out those zombies is abysmal and it takes several goes to get through a level. I have no maternal instincts - when I play The Sims my virtual children get taken away by social services. Lord knows what would happen if I was let loose on any real-life children. It's probably best for everyone if we don't find out.

The only thing I've ever been able to do is write stories. It's the only thing I've ever felt I'm any good at. And at particularly dark times of my life, I've thought writing stories is the only justification for my existence. The only thing I contribute to the world.

Being a writer. This has been my focus for my whole life. I had a goal to be a published novelist by age 30. My 30th birthday came and went. No publishing deal wasn't for lack of trying - I had two completed novels by then that I had been submitting for years. I decided to modify my goal, and aim for a book contract by age 40. As 40 approached I thought I would have to modify it again. But then, a couple of months before my 40th birthday, the contract from Lyrical for SUFFER THE CHILDREN arrived.

This was, as I have mentioned before, the beginning of the story instead of being the end. I have now had three books published and I am proud of that, but there are times when it's not enough. I have met authors who make enough money from their writing to get by day to day. That's not so for me. Since the day I got the first cheque for "The Top Floor" in 1989 from FEAR magazine up until my last royalty statement, a period of 24 years, the gross total of money I have earned in all that time from writing equates to less than what I earn in a month in the day job. Sometimes I fear I am a mere drop in a very big ocean in the writing world.  I haven't even found my books on any pirate e-books sites. Let me make it clear that I fiercely disapprove of e-book piracy. It's stealing, from people for whom every penny counts. Every time I see a message on a forum from a writer saying something along the lines of, "this new pirate site has appeared, I found my books on it, be sure you check for yours and get them to take it down. What cheek!" I diligently go look for my books. To date I have never found any of them on a pirate site. Now, writers get very upset when their books are pirated, and understandably so. But when you're not even considered important enough for pirates to think your books are worth stealing, you can't help but feel rather insignificant.

I would like to be able to make enough money from writing to do it full time. I'd like to land a deal with a publisher who can get my books into Waterstones or Barnes & Noble or another major book store chain. I'd like to be approached by Con organisers to be a guest or a panel member instead of my going to them and begging.

When you've had one focus all your life and it always feels a little bit out of reach, you do sometimes feel like you're the donkey with the carrot on the stick tied to its ears, constantly trying to get to something you will never be able to reach. But still, you don't give up.

Maybe these things will happen one day. But maybe they never will. For now, I guess I just keep reaching for that carrot. Because I am a writer. That's what I am, first and foremost. Whether anyone knows or cares who I am in the future doesn't really matter - I know who I am. I am a writer. That will never change.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Character I'd Like to Write

Twin Engine Airplane,
Certain characters seem destined for popularity. Special Ops, FBI, CIA, Navy SEALS, etc. draw us into worlds some of us can only imagine, ones of excitement and danger.

I've a confession. I want to write about an NTSB investigator. Why? Because I find the job of investigating aviation accidents fascinating, although that's not all the NTSB does. But I haven't quite figured out what I want my character to specialize in. In aviation investigations, each member of the Go Team has a specific specialty, such as weather, air traffic control, powerplant, etc.

People might wonder what's so exciting about an NTSB investigator's job? The NTSB can't, far as I know, arrest people, and I haven't seen them chasing down suspects or committing exciting feats. Well, not in real life. For example, if there's a crime and the FBI becomes involved, the NTSB has to cooperate with the other federal agency.

But, like a friend told me, I'm writing fiction. And while I want my stories to be grounded in a certain reality, obviously, there'll be some poetic license. Like, maybe a supernatural bent. I don't know yet. Right now, it's more R&D than anything. Hopefully, something will come of it.