Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saying Goodbye

(Cross-posted from Darkling Delights)

Many bloggers will probably talk about saying goodbye to 2013, and reminiscence on what they've accomplished or wanted to accomplish over the last twelve months.

I'm saying goodbye, too, but not for the same reason. This past week, I turned in what would be my final round of content edits for Exterminating Angel. Now all I'm waiting for are the line edits and the galley.

Non-writers may not understand what it's like to say goodbye to characters we've spent months or even years with. For over two years, Zaphkiel and Company were part of my life. I came to know their fears, desires, what made them angry, their regrets, and other nuances that make characters unique. I can't tell you how many different beginnings I wrote. Characters that appeared in one version were excised in the next. Certain scenes, even entire chapters, hit the chopping block. But through it all, the premise remained the same:

"An archangel who unwittingly unleashes a demon upon the city must enlist the help of  Lucifer to stop it."

For me, Zaphkiel is an archangel who truly believed in what he was doing, but didn't realize the repercussions of such actions. He isn't perfect. Hard-smoking and hard-drinking, he's lived with a lot of regrets over the centuries. His closest, perhaps only, friend, Raziel, a fellow Throne angel, does his best to support him, but understands there are some issues Zaphkiel needs to deal with alone, including the death of his lover, Caliel.

But is Caliel really dead? Or is he reincarnated in a young man, Sean, who not only looks like Caliel, but has many of his mannerisms?

It was fun writing Lucifer, who worked on a need-to-know basis, although he often drove the other characters crazy. The only character he confided in was Raziel, although he shared a sobering truth with Zaphkiel.

Even though I'm saying goodbye to these characters, there's still a chance they might appear in other stories, although I've no plans for a series. So I guess I'm not really saying "goodbye" but "later."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Home for Shara Summers

I'm very pleased to be able to announce that the second novel in my amateur sleuth series has found a home with MuseItUp Publishing.

The first book the series, DEATH SCENE, introduced my amateur sleuth - Canadian actress Shara Summers, summoned back to England because of a family crisis.  One of the things I wanted to explore in the series was the concept of cultural alienation.  Shara makes observations throughout about things that are different in England, compared to her home in Toronto.

It proved a tough sell.  One of the most common reason for rejection for both books was the fact that my contemporary amateur sleuth was not based in America.  I got told many times over that such things do not sell in America, and therefore there was no market for the book.  Americans like books set in America, apparently, or historical English mysteries featuring people like Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

When Lyrical Press took the first book I started writing the second.  Officially titled DEAD COOL, my working title for it was "The Case of the Defenestrated Rock Star".  Mostly because "defenestrated" is such a great word, and how often do you get the opportunity to use it in a sentence?
However, by the time LPI released DEATH SCENE, they'd stopped taking mysteries and were focusing on romance and erotica, so I knew there was no market with them for the sequel.  And so Shara Summers was adrift, without a publisher.

Not to mention that by the time I finished the third draft of the second book, I'd developed some serious insecurities about it.  You know how it goes.  It's rubbish.  It's full of plot holes that can't be fixed.  Why am I deluding myself that I'm trying to be writer?  I crawled into a hole with the book and didn't want to come out again.

Then on holiday in France a couple of years ago, I met a retired London Metropolitan Police copper who used to be on the Murder Squad, and I asked him if he would read my crime book, to pick up any glaring procedural errors.  He agreed.  When he came back to me, he told me he'd really enjoyed it.  It was a good holiday read, he said.  And he hadn't picked up any major problems with my procedurals.

Which is exactly what I need to hear, and it gave me the confidence to finish the book.  Said retired copper will be getting a mention in the credits, but I owe him a lot more than that.

Now I am delighted that my Canadian amateur sleuth has come home to Canadian publishers.  No release date has yet been set, but it is likely to be the latter half of 2014.

I am very much looking forward to working with my new publishers, on Shara's continuing journey.  I hope you will come along with me for the ride.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Writing Lessons # 18 - Starbucks and Inspiration

It's been a while since I blogged in this series of posts, but I'd like to pick it up again.

In the last post (some time ago now so here's a reminder) I talked about the importance of routine.  Part of my writing routine is a couple of early-morning sessions in Starbucks with the NetBook, before I go to work.  It seems to work for me.

The strange this is, this is now so much a part of my routine that I actually get more done in that hour before work than I do when I have the day off and I endeavour to spend the day writing.  On average, I get 1,000 words written in that hour.  On a really good day, it might be 1,800.

But it has to be Starbucks.  I am never quite as productive if I sit in some other coffee shop.  I can't really explain why.  Part of it might be that I generally don't like coffee, unless it's Starbucks.  And even then it has to be a single shot, with sweetener (or syrup) or I can't drink it.  Here in the UK, we have Continental coffee chains as well as American ones.  Europeans generally like their coffee far stronger than Americans do.  I can't drink coffee from other coffee shop chains - I find it too strong and bitter.  But Starbucks soya lattes, I like.  I also like their muffins.  My favourite ones were the ginger ones, which sadly are no longer available here.  But I've recently developed a fondness for their new chocolate hazelnut muffins.

So I sit there at 7:30am with my NetBook, my soya latte and a muffin, and as I eat the muffin and wait for the NetBook to boot up, I start thinking about where my characters are and what comes next.  By the time I finish eating, I'm generally ready to start.  Maybe it's the sugar rush from the muffin, combined with unaccustomed caffeine (I'm generally a tea drinker).  Maybe the fatigue has something to do with it.  Because I have to get out of bed at 5:30am for my writing mornings, I generally start them somewhat sleep-deprived.  I have discovered that this seems to be fairly good for my creativity, particularly when I'm working on a first draft - because I'm writing before the 'internal editor' has woken up.

Or maybe it's just that I'm a creature of habit.  Because these early-morning writing sessions are now an integral part of my routine, when I sit down in Starbucks with my NetBook and my coffee, I expect to write, and I do.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be working for me.  So I shall carry on crawling out of bed in what feels like the middle of the night in order to keep up my early morning Starbucks writing sessions.  The word count is testament to their effectiveness.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Riding the Contest Wave

I've recently entered four contests, with plans to enter another one before the end of the year.

Am I expecting to win? It'd be nice, but I can't expect the same success I had with EPIC. Except for two contests, the others were for screenplays. If I even semi-final in one, it'll be an achievement.

In one contest, a friend and I are competing in the same category. We've already accepted we don't stand a chance in hell of winning, and this particular contest only has one winner in each category. But it's not so much about winning as getting our names out there.

But why contests? After all, they cost money, there's no guarantee of winning, and you're competing with thousands of people around the world.

Yeah, those odds suck. And one can't enter every contest. Two I've entered are also part of film/screenwriting festivals that I hope to attend. And the other is an opportunity to get my book noticed and possibly adapted. It's a gamble, but not doing anything assures failure.

One of my goals is to turn some of my short novels and short stories into screenplays, and vice versa. Make them do double duty. If I'm lucky enough to get a work optioned, that would be awesome.

Hey, no one said I couldn't do it. :-)


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few Words on Self-Publishing

The rise of the e-book has led to an increase in self-publishing.  Never has it been easier to self-publish your book.  In fact all you actually need to do is format your manuscript correctly, add a cover image, upload it to Kindle and there it is, available to download to whoever wants it.

This is a pretty controversial subject.  A lot of people in the publishing industry are of the opinion that every self-published book is badly written and badly edited, and anyone with any modicum of talent will eventually be picked up by a "proper" publisher.

The self published authors tell a different story.  Most of them have been discouraged by years of rejections, convinced that their book is not necessarily bad, but not marketable enough to be picked up.  Sometimes there is truth to this belief.  Of course there are a lot of delusional people out there as well, but that's digressing a bit.

When I first started submitting novels to publishers, over 25 years ago, the process was very different.  To get a publisher you had to get an agent.  That meant sending in the first three chapters, by mail, including a stamped self-addressed return envelope.  To get the latter meant standing in line at the post office with your open envelope, having it weighed to find out how much postage would cost, buying that amount twice, then having to remove the SAE to put stamps on it, seal your envelope, and then put stamps on the outer envelope.  And then a couple of weeks later you'd get home from work to discover a brown envelope with your handwriting on the doorstep, and your heart would sink because you knew that it was another rejection.

And after all that, the pages would come back having been all creased and curled in the mail, and not in a fit state to send out to anyone else and so as well as having to buy so many stamps you were spending a fortune on paper and ink (I had an Amstrad PCW in those days - it used a dot matrix printer).

Vanity presses we knew to avoid at all costs, and self publishing wasn't a terribly attractive option, because you had to lay out costs for printing and typesetting, and find somewhere to store the finished product, and anything self-published was perceived to be of insufficent quality to find a publisher.

The publishing industry has changed since then.  There are a lot more small independent presses around willing to take a chance on new writers, and you don't need an agent to submit to them, but it seems to be getting harder for new writers to break into the big established publishers - unless they are showing signs of being the next JK Rowlings or Dan Brown.  And online e-publishers like Amazon and Smashwords are making it far easier to self-publish e-books.

I have to admit my tune has changed on the self-publishing front.  If you get bored of being told what you're writing isn't going to sell, then self publishing becomes an attractive option.  But it is true that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are badly written and badly edited, and really aren't helping to dispel this notion that all self-published books are rubbish.

In my opinion, there are three crucial things that a writer should do before they even consider self-publishing.  In order of importance, they are:

1.  When the manuscript is finished, send it to some beta readers to read and comment.  Heed their comments and re-write the manuscript.  Criticism can be hard to take, but most writers are too close to their work to be able to judge it obectively.  A writing group is really helpful for this.  If you can't find one locally, go to an online writers' forum like Absolute Write.  You'll pick up valuable advice on the writing process anyway, and you will undoubtedly find a few helpful souls who are willing to give you an email crit.

2.  Pay a professional editor to edit your manuscript.  This can be expensive, but you need to invest in it, and it will set you apart from the rank amateurs.  No matter how good you think you are at spelling and grammar, there'll always be something you overlook.  Just about every self-published book I have ever read contains at least one instance of "it's" when should be "its" - for the record, the former is a contraction of "it is"; the latter means "belonging to it".  If I come across this in any published book, I'll be grinding my teeth and probably won't finish reading it.

3.  Ensure your book has a professional looking cover.  And this does not mean you playing around with clip art and a graphics programme for half an hour.  Pay an artist, or someone with professional experience in creating cover images.  If you don't know anyone, ask around your social network for a recommendation.

There's nothing wrong with self-publishing your own book as long as you've done these three things.  Yes it means forking out cash, but you are investing in your reputation as a writer, and if readers buy your book and enjoy it, they are likely to recommend it to others - and nothing beats word of mouth when it comes to book sales.

If every self-published author did these things, we would go a long way towards changing the perception of self-published books as all being rubbish.  There are some brilliant self-published e-books to be found in the Kindle Store.  But sometimes you have to sift through a lot of mud to find the golden nuggets.

Let's work towards a world where there's more gold than mud out there to find.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Crazy World

I've been remiss about posting. Suffice it to say, I'm in the middle of content edits and that madness known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Oh, and reading entries for a contest.

Not to mention, Tuesday nights are my time to watch "Air Disasters" on Smithsonian Channel, except tonight they had a special on the Gettysburg Address. So I read my required page count for the contest and typed 2000 words for my NaNo project, an urban fantasy, The Judas Dilemma. For some reason, 2000 words seems to be the perfect number for me.

NaNoWriMo always starts the same way. Come October 1, and I'm like, "I got this!" A whole month to plot my story and develop my characters. October 15 rolls around, and I'm still confident. I mean, what's two weeks, right? October 31, 11:59 PM. I am so screwed! All I have is a name.

I hadn't even planned to write another angel urban fantasy. I wanted to write a story about an NTSB investigator. But the mind has a funny way of doing what it wants, and before long, I found myself writing about Judas and Emily, and the silver coin that binds them. Heck, I even managed to weave in a subplot/

Today, I posted 36,000 words. Only 14,000 to go. I'm surprised how well it's going, considering I only plotted the first four chapters in detail. I'm ashamed to admit my outlines were longer than my chapters. But somehow, it's coming together. Not perfect. First drafts never are. But yeah, there's something there.

If I manage to mold this story into something submittable, I have a couple of publishers in mind. Why yes, hope springs eternal. :-)




Thursday, November 14, 2013

On A Roll

With two finished novels out on sub, it was time to begin in earnest a new project.
I've mentioned in passing a collaboration with Hubby. Who, it has to be said, is not a writer. However, after 30 years of running Dungeons & Dragons games, he's become very good at plotting - especially with our group, who frequently decide to go off and do something that's not actually in the module, which means he often has to do some spontaneous plotting to keep the game going.
The WIP is a crime thriller set in the late 1960s, and is about a young woman with aspirations to be a rock musician. The novel takes her from California and the Monterey pop festival in 1967 to the emerging and influential music scene in London. On the way she gets mixed up with gangland London, in a search for a friend who's gone missing.
This project is in its early stages.  Hubby and I have been working together on the plot outline, and I've been doing the writing thus far. Though I am relying on his expertise on references to bands and songs of the late 60s, and what make of guitar bands of the time would be playing, as he knows a lot more about this than I do.
Thus far I've been struggling with the first draft. The first 20,000 words took months to write, and I was struggling to find the voice of the main character.
But suddenly, I've found the story and the character, and the novel has become much easier to write.  In the last two weeks I have written as many words as I did in September and October combined.
The project is in its early stages, and I am reluctant to say too much about it as anything can happen between now and the end of the book. But thus far it's going well. I am on a roll.
Here's hoping it continues.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BristolCon 2013 - Roundup

I usually follow up a Con with a write-up, and so here is my take on BristolCon, which took place on Saturday 26 October.

Hubby and I travelled down from London by train on Friday afternoon, as soon as I was able to get away from the day job.  It was actually quite a pleasant journey, taking just about two hours on a train we could pre-book seats on.  The hotel, we were pleased to find, was a five-minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads Station, and was modern and comfortable.  It was also conveniently located for the Town Centre and close to bars and restaurants, for those who want to take a break from the Con.

The Con officially began at 10 am on Saturday morning, running two concurrent threads.  I was on one of the opening panels - the panel on Innovative Deaths, moderated by Anne Lyle.  We discussed ways of killing people for over 45 minutes.  Fortunately we didn't seem to scare the audience too much - or at least that was how I interpreted it, as nobody ran out screaming.

After that I caught some of the 'My World is Not Your Sandpit' panel, about fan fiction, in which a rather energetic debate took place.  I have to say I missed the beginning of this panel, but what I saw clearly defined the two sides of the argument.  One side was that if the fan fiction writer is not making any profit from their writing, and the original creator of the world is done writing books about that world, should they not be flattered by enthusiastic fans wanting to play in their sandpit?  The opposing viewpoint was that anyone other than the creator is not going to get the world right because so much of a created world never makes it into the book, and a writer is never really done with their world.  It was an interesting discussion and I must confess I can see the point of the writers who say they don't want anybody else playing in their sandpit, because it's theirs.  Though the chance to be adored enough for someone to want to play in my sandpit would be a fine thing.  It was also pointed out in this panel that fan fiction is an evolutionary stage of the young writer, and this spoke to me as well.  Fortunately my Star Wars fan fiction was written in the days before the Internet and will never be aired in public.

After that I stuck around for the panel on the Evolution of Genre, where among other things the influence of 'real-world' problem on genre was discussed.  Apparently zombies do well during periods of high unemployment and financial restraints.  Vampires apparently do well during periods of affluence.  What this says about us I don't know.

After taking a break from watching panels I joined the other authors for the 'mass signing', for which we'd all been encouraged to bring books to sell at the committee table.  A member of the writing group who'd bought a copy of SOUL SCREAMS a while ago came to get it signed, but unfortunately I sold none of the copies I'd brought with me.  Which was a bit crushing, frankly.  Obviously I need to step up my promotional efforts.

My final programme item was to moderate the small press panel at 4 pm.   I had done some homework on this, and I already knew I had a fantastic panel.  Cheryl Morgan, who runs Wizards Tower press.  Chrissey Harrison, independent film maker and small press publisher.  Jonathan Wright, journalist and editor.  David R Rodger, self published science fiction writer.  I think we gave the topic a good airing, all my panel members engaged in the conversation and we had a reasonable number of people in the audience.  And to be honest, I quite enjoyed moderating.  I think I'd like to do it again some time.

With my commitments over with I sat back to enjoy a couple more panels, venturing into the larger programme room for the 'Beyond Arthur' panel, moderated by Gaie Sebold, and then the panel saying farewell to Iain Banks, moderated by Cheryl Morgan.

And then it was back to the bar, to see out the day with more chat, more food and more wine, and to relax before our train home Sunday morning.

BristolCon is a small local Con, running for a day to be deliberately attractive to people in South West England who can attend without having to book hotel accommodation.  Although small I found it a very well run and friendly Con, especially welcoming to small press and self published writers.

Next year's Con has been set for 18 October 2014 in the same great location.  I am intending to come back next year.  

If you can get to Bristol I thoroughly recommend this Con.  It's a fantastic experience.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Con Conundrums

It has come about that my last two Cons of 2013 fall on consecutive weekends. This weekend I'm at BristolCon, and next weekend is World Fantasy Con in Brighton. At BristolCon I am a participant - two panels and a book signing - and at World Fantasy Con I am merely a delegate.

The usual Con conundrums apply.  The first is - what to pack? For Bristol this is more crucial, since I will be performing the role of 'author', instead of just watching other people do it. So what outfit says 'serious writer' without saying 'I'm mad as a box of frogs and you don't want to come anywhere near me.' Sometimes the Con involves a formal dinner that obviously involves having to pack an outfit for it. Sometimes I worry I try too hard with this issue of Con clothing.  Jeans and a t-shirt is probably an acceptable Con outfit for a writer. It might be appropriate for my 'horror writer' t-shirt to get another airing this weekend.

Mode of transportation is also relevant to the first question. If I'm driving to a Con, I can take more stuff. But this generally only happens if I can take the day I am travelling off work. On neither forthcoming Con I have been able to do that - which means it's easier to take the train from London than travel home, pick up the car, load it up and set off again. But taking the train directly after work means I have to take all my luggage into London, which is another factor to consider. Whatever I take has to be transported on a packed commuter train, and sit in the office until I leave.

On Friday I have to be at work for a meeting, so I will be leaving as soon as possible after that's finished. It does mean that the smart 'work clothes' that will be required for that will have to be my travelling clothes to Bristol. Unless I take a change of clothing.

When travelling to a Con, the issue of having space for books also must be considered. It is impossible to leave a Con without having acquired books. Many of them give out freebies in the delegate bags, and there's a pretty good chance you'll buy some, too. For BristolCon, I am also taking some copies of SOUL SCREAMS for the author signing session. But I am really hoping that I will sell at least a couple of them, otherwise I have to cart them all back home with me.

I am looking forward to both Cons, and they will both be very different experiences. Hopefully they will both give me something to blog about for the next two weeks, too.

And once I've had a chance to catch my breath, it will be time to plan 2014's Con schedule...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An "EPIC" Announcement

First, let me assure you when I wrote "Family Tradition," I never thought it'd get published. Who'd want to read a twisted little story about an artist painting a model with no face?

When a fellow author asked for feedback on a manuscript she planned to enter in a contest, I offered to exchange critiques, and sent her "Family Tradition." I thought she'd say, "This is crap." That would confirm my suspicions, and the story would die a quick, painless death.

She liked it.

It took some head scratching, but finally I realized maybe I had something. I submitted the story to MuseItUp Publishing, and had editors tell me they loved the story. And four Amazon reviewers raved about it. Apparently, they knew something I didn't.

I decided to put "Family Tradition" to the ultimate test, and entered it in EPIC's EBook Awards competition. Since this was a blind judging, I'd no idea who was reading my entry or if I'd advance to the next round.

Fingers crossed, I waited to hear who the finalists were. The announcement was supposed to come in early October, and I'm not too proud to say I was nervous. I prepared myself for the worst. Was it worth getting my hopes up, only to see them dashed?

A few days ago, I received my answer. "Family Tradition" was a finalist in its category. I got a badge and certificate.



The irony is now I have to wait to see if the short story wins. But I won't know anything until March. Nevertheless, it's a pretty good feeling being able to say I'm a finalist.

Now to get my short script ready for another contest.

For more information on "Family Tradition," click here.
Finalists can be found on the EPIC site

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Winchester Mystery House

I've been wanting to go to the Winchester Mystery House for nearly 30 years - ever since I saw it featured on TV. It was on either "That's Incredible" or "Ripley's Believe it or not", I can't remember which - both featured the bizarre and the strange, and were on TV in the early 1980s when I lived in Canada.

Somehow we never got there on our previous two trips to San Francisco. I was very glad that on our third and recent trip there, we were able to hire a car and get to San Jose to pay a visit to this fascinating house.

Winchester Mystery House, from front left, and gardens
Chances are, you've heard of this place already. It's the house built by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. Sarah and her husband had only one child, Annie, who died of a rare childhood disease when she was six weeks old. A few years after that, Sarah's husband died of tuberculosis. Some say she was driven mad with grief, and never got over the death of her baby. Whatever the case, Sarah got it into her head that she was cursed by the vengeful spirits of all of those who had been killed by the Winchester rifles her husband's family had produced, and the only way to break the curse was to buy an unfinished house and keep on building.

She moved from her home in Connecticut and bought an unfinished eight-room farmhouse in California. She hired servants, gardeners, and a crew of carpenters, who kept building. In fact they didn't stop. These carpenters worked in shifts, and the work carried on continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until Sarah's death 38 years later.

It's a bizarre house. It has 160 rooms and 40 bedrooms. There are stairs that go nowhere, doors that open onto blank walls, other doors that lead to two-storey drops, secret passages, rooms with no floors, windows that look out onto brick walls. Sarah Winchester designed most of the house herself.  Some say she built the house the way she did to confuse the spirits. I think she was likely suffering from paranoid schizophrenia - she thought spirits were speaking to her, and the servants were conspiring against her. But she was also stupidly rich, and therefore it didn't matter how mad she was, people would do what she said. Apparently she paid all her staff twice the going rate, but she paid them daily in cash, so that if she had the whim to fire anyone, she could do so on the spot. Arguing with her about her illogical building plans was apparently a cause for instant dismissal.
Me standing at the front of house - note lack of symmetry.

Sarah WInchester was obsessed with the number 13, which is a recurring motif throughout the house. Windows have 13 panes of glass. Ceilings have 13 panels. There is even a chandelier with 13 light fittings. Apparently it originally came with 12, but Sarah wasn't having that and she added the thirteenth herself - and you can tell which one she added, because it's wonky and obviously stuck on.

Naturally there are many stories about the Winchester house being haunted. It does have a decidedly creepy appearance. With so much building work the house is not symmetrical, and viewing it from the outside it looks odd. Inside, there are so many rooms many of them don't have any windows or natural light, so it is rather dark and dim. But we saw it on an exceptionally hot and sunny day - positively balmy for the time of year - and it was full of tourists, so it didn't seem particularly creepy. Then again, I have no psychic sensitivities whatsoever. I'd like to remain open minded about the existence of ghosts, but if there are any, I'm unlikely to ever see any. I don't get easily creeped out. So saying, I rather wish we could have gone at Hallowe'en, when they do a 'ghost tour' by torch light. The place might be a whole lot creepier then.

I did feel rather sorry for Sarah Winchester. She lived alone in this house apart from her staff, and apparently never had visitors - the rest of the family thought she was nuts and stayed away. So she rattled around alone in this immense house, working her way around the 40 bedrooms - never sleeping in the same room more than one night in a row, allegedly to confuse the spirits she was convinced were out to get her.

Outside view of 'door to nowhere' - leads to 15-foot drop
You are not allowed to take pictures inside the Winchester Mystery House, and any that are on the internet are copyright and not able to be used without permission. Which I don't have. So I can only include here pictures of the outside. But a Google search of the Winchester Mystery House will take you to plenty of websites that do include images of some of the bizarre features of the house.

If you are ever in the San Jose area of California, do visit the Winchester Mystery House if you can. It's a fascinating tour. And is the house really full of vengeful ghosts, or was Sarah Winchester as mad as a box of frogs? Well, you'll have to make up your own mind about that.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

BristolCon 2013

This year will see my first attendance at BristolCon, a one-day convention organised by the Bristol Fantasy & SF Society, in its fifth year.

This year's event takes place on Saturday 26 October, and now that the programme has been officially released I am pleased to be able to announce my programme items.  I am going to be quite busy for this one.

I am kicking off at 10:00 am with a panel on innovative deaths.  Lots of scope there for interesting discussion, I am sure.  Between now and then I shall be trying to come up with new and gruesome ways of killing people.  All in the name of research, of course.

At 2:00 pm there will be a mass signing for all authors present, and an opportunity to sell books, and I will be pitching up there with copies of SOUL SCREAMS.  I'll also be happy to sign anything that contains one of my stories, and I'm putting this out as a challenge to try and find who's got the oldest publication.  Has anyone out there got an old copy of PEEPING TOM with my story in?  Or, to go even further back, the October 1989 issue of FEAR?  If anyone brings me one of these to sign I'll give them a free copy of one of my books.

At 4:00 pm I am moderating my first panel - on the pros and cons of small press publishing.  I am really excited about this, as I think it's a perfect topic for me to be moderating, and there are lots of discussion points on this subject to put to the panel.

There are many other fabulous items on the very full programme, and if you are able to get to Bristol for the day do consider coming along - there aren't too many Cons that you can do in their entirety in a day, and the membership for this one is a mere £20.  A bargain for the price.

Britain's most established genre Cons are BFS FantasyCon and EasterCon, but it's reassuring to see a rise in the number of smaller Cons that start out as small local gatherings and gradually get bigger every year.  The UK may be too small to compete with the US for the number of Cons, but there's no doubt that the number of SF/Fantasy/Horror fans in this country is on the rise.  And where fans gather, Cons will happen.  The only down side is there are now so many fantastic Cons, I have to decide each year which ones I'm going to do.  I have neither the leave allocation nor the finances to do all of them.  I wish I could.

If you make it to BristolCon, do seek me out - it would be great to see you (if nothing else, as a reassurance that people do actually read this blog).  In the meantime however, I must dash.  I've got to go and think up some intelligent questions to ask my panel.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Exterminating Angel Cover Reveal

I'm excited to announce the cover reveal of my upcoming paranormal/urban fantasy, Exterminating Angel. It's scheduled to release Spring 2014, and is about an archangel who unwittingly unleashes a demon upon the city, and must enlist the help of Lucifer to stop it.

A stand-alone, Exterminating Angel was written between books 1 & 2 of my Angels of Death series, which begins with Death Sword. One of my goals for writing angel UF is to twist notions of good and evil, to challenge readers' perceptions. I don't know if I'll succeed, but when I've pitched the story to people, they say they want to read it. But pitching and writing loglines is a topic for another post. LOL

Anyway, I really like the cover. Wasn't sure how Renee would interpret the design from my notes, but she nailed it, imho.

I've also made a trailer video for Exterminating Angel. I'll update it when I get more information. Enjoy!



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

When we first moved to Canada from England in 1980, I was ten years old.  There was no email, in those days.  The World Wide Web was not available to all.  In order to stay in touch with all the people I'd left behind, I'd started writing letters.  There were a lot of people I wanted to stay in contact with.  Schoolfriends.  Aunts, uncles and cousins.  Grandparents.  My father and step-mother, who were still back in England.

Most people wrote back.  I would look forward to getting home from school and checking the mail, to see if any letters had arrived for me.  I made a point of replying to every one.  I became very good at writing letters, and the process became a ritual.  I kept every letter I received in a letter rack, stacked in order of receipt with the oldest in front.  When I sat down to write a reply, I would reply to the person whose letter I'd had the longest.  If the person had asked any questions in their letter, I would make a point of replying to them, whether it was something generic like "how is school?", or as specific as, "how did that play go you were rehearsing for last time?"  I would also write about any news that had occurred since last time I wrote to the person.

My letters were long, generally running to at least six pages, sometimes more.  A lot of people gave me stationery sets when we moved to Canada.   Generally they contained a number of decorated front sheets, the same number of envelopes, and half as many continuation sheets.  I never understood this, because it wasn't enough.  I used up all the continuation sheets within two or three letters and then either had to use more than one of the front sheets, or carry on with pieces of ordinary lined notepaper.  I always wondered why there were never more continuation sheets than front sheets.  How could anyone possibly have so little to say they could do it in a letter only a page long?

Somewhere in the last 20 years, the art of letter writing has been lost.  I admit I don't write letters any more.  Many of the people I used to write letters to are now on Facebook, so I keep up with their news that way.  Pretty much all of them are on email, and I will occasionally send people newsy emails.

I write emails the way I write letters - in fact, the way I write anything.  Sentences are complete, with all the punctuation in the correct place.  They tend to be very long.  Sometimes I miss writing letters, but it occurs to me that writing the blog is, for me, the modern equivalent of writing letters.  I can relay my news via the World Wide Web, and I don't have to repeat myself - something of an advantage over letter writing, I must admit, as in my letter-writing heyday I was repeating the same news in every letter.

Nobody writes letters anymore, and not many people write long emails, either.  I can't decide if this is down to laziness, to the fact that life has just got so busy, or that people's attention span has got shorter in the last 20 years.  We are used to being fed instantaneous information, in short bursts - Tweets; texts; 30 second commercials.  Now nobody wants to be bothered to read to the end of a lengthy email.  A lot of people seem to write emails the way they write text messages - devoid of grammatical structure, and full of crass abbreviations ("u" instead of "you") and erroneous spellings.

Most people do not communicate via lengthy emails.  Some people communicate entirely by mobile phone.  I have always been a person who prefers written communication to verbal.  There are very few people I have long telephone conversations with.  If I've not seen you in a while and I want to chat, I am more likely to send you a long chatty email than I am to pick up the phone.  But, I am a writer.  Written communication is and always has been my strength.

Sometimes I mourn the lost art of letter writing.  I sometimes regret we can't go back to those long-gone days when I used to look forward to getting home and reading a letter that had arrived in the post for me.

I also mourn the correct use of English.  I don't know if grammar has been removed from the school curriculum these days - the appalling state of some people's Facebook statuses makes me suspect it has been - but certainly letter writing has been.

It may be that people have no need to write letters any more, but kids should still be taught how to form a sentence.  Effective written communication, even by email, is an essential life skill.  What chance have you got of getting the job if the cover email that accompanies your CV is written in text-speak?  If I received a job application like this I would delete the email without even bothering to look at the CV.  If I get an advertising brochure from anyone featuring a misplaced apostrophe in the word "its", I will make a point of avoiding whatever product it is advertising.  There is no excuse for poor grammar, and no excuse for not knowing how to form a correct sentence.

If we were all taught how to write letters, we'd all be aware of that.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sara Paretsky, Shara Summers and Feminism

I read a great many books - on average, just over one a week.  I have read so many books that I find it impossible to pick out just one favourite.

I do, however, have several favourite authors.  Authors whose books I constantly go back to, and it feels like visiting an old friend.  Books which affect me in such a way I have to choose carefully what I read following them, because everything else will just seem inferior.

One such author is Sara Paretsky.  I discovered her V I Warshawski series in the early 1990s, back when I was first aware of enthusiastically embracing feminism.  It was a revelation.  Here for the first time I encountered a heroine who represented everything I wanted to be.  A fiercely independent woman who was brave, resourceful, unafraid to speak her mind and without need of a man to define her existence.  Single and childless, V I is sarcastic, blunt and able to hold her own in a fight.  I thought then, and still think now, that she is a fantastic role model for young women.

And even in the 21st century, there are few heroines like her.  Sue Grafton has a similar independent minded, single and childless heroine in Kinsey Milhone.   Kathy Reichs, another writer I admire, has a strong woman in Temperance Brennan, but unlike V I Tempe is a mother, and does occasionally need rescuing by men.

Not everyone shares my adoration of V I, as reviews on Goodreads and Amazon testify.  Some readers - among them women, I was surprised to note - find her too unlikeable.  They don't like her sarcasm and confrontational manner.

I do not deny that my amateur sleuth Shara Summers was inspired by V I Warshawski.  When I set out to write a crime series, I wanted a heroine like V I - someone courageous and independent minded, who was not afraid to speak her mind.  But I wasn't brave enough to write a police procedural, so I went for an amateur sleuth.  And in many ways Shara is very different from V I.  She's not as brave.  She's not the champion of the underdog the way that V I is.  And she does occasionally get rescued by men.  And because I'm just not as good a writer as Sara Paretsky, sometimes I don't pull off what I'm trying to do.  Maybe Shara just comes across sometimes as being bitchy instead of courageous.

It's also clear that Shara is not everyone's cup of tea.  DEATH SCENE racked up 31 rejections before it was published by Lyrical Press.  One of the most common reasons for the book being rejected was the character not being likeable enough to take through a series.

The revelation that not everyone loves V I Warshawski - because I've been enthusiastically recommending these books to everyone for the last 20 years - was a bit of a surprise, and I've recently been ruminating on that.  V I is sarcastic, snarky, and blunt.  She can be downright rude - especially to arrogant and patronising men.  In the early books, which seem to be set in the early 1980s, V I is unusual in being a woman P I, and she encounters a hostile reaction to this by many people.  Especially men.

Women are not supposed to embody these qualities.  Even in these times, they are generally expected to be soft, caring and nurturing, and I think this is the main reason that women who don't possess these qualities are regarded with suspicion.  They are considered to be not 'normal' women.

I like the fact that V I is snarky, blunt and rude.  But there are some people out there who might say I embody similar qualities.  And the same people who wouldn't like V I for these qualities probably don't like me much, either.

I must confess that now I'm the wrong side of 40 I've got to a point in life where I don't really care if people don't like me for being me.  As a woman gamer, role-player, and horror writer, I've encountered a number of men over the years who don't know what to make of me.  The fact that I'm deliberately childless also causes resentment in certain people - it's surprising (and depressing) how many people, even in this day and age, who assume that all women want children and any who don't are instantly labelled as being abnormal and not to be trusted.
None of these things matter that much to me these days, but I'm pretty sure that the people that fall into the aforementioned categories are not my target readership.

For the length of time that human beings have existed on this planet, we've proved to be depressingly stagnant in moving on with our thinking.  I will go on recommending Sara Paretsky's books to everyone I have a conversation about crime books with - particularly women.  I would like every young women to read at least one V I Warshawski book.  For every one who comes away thinking, "this is the sort of woman I want to be," then a battle will be won.

There's a long way to go before we win the war, though.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Riding the Rejection Train

I am currently in the position of having two completed manuscripts and no publisher.  One is a horror novel, the other is the second book in the series about amateur sleuth Shara Summers.

I've started submitting these two and I get a strange feeling of deja vu.  Between 2007 and 2009 I also had two novels to submit - one horror (SUFFER THE CHILDREN) and one crime (DEATH SCENE), the first Shara Summers book.  Then Lyrical accepted SUFFER THE CHILDREN, followed by DEATH SCENE, and the rest is history.

But now I find myself riding the submission/rejection train again, for the first time in quite a while.  Though actually I think 'rejection roundabout' is a better metaphor.  You feel like you're going round and round in a circle.

I can categorically say it doesn't get easier.  I've only just started this journey again, with each novel being sent out to only one publisher so far.  Unfortunately it happened that the responses arrived at the same time, in spite one novel being sent out quite a while before the other.  The rejection for the crime novel arrived on Monday; the rejection email for the horror novel on Tuesday.  So it's not been a good week.

Before I was published I held this fantastical idea that being published would make it all better.  That once I had one novel accepted, everything else I wrote would automatically get accepted, and I would never again worry that what I was writing wasn't good enough.  But that's not the way it works.  Just because someone accepts one novel doesn't necessarily mean they - or anyone else for that matter - will like everything else you write.  And you don't stop with the writer insecurities.  Instead of fearing I'll never be published, now I fear that the first two novels got published as a bit of a fluke, my creativity is spent and I'll never write anything of publishable quality again.
But the same rules apply to all writers, no matter how much or how little experience you have.  When the rejections come, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again.  So I've crossed the first names off the submission list for these two manuscripts, and getting ready to go down the list.

For the time being, though, I'm still smarting from the double whammy of being rejected twice in two days.  I'll be over here in the corner for a while, quietly whimpering.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone


Adaptability seems key to success. After all, if you can't adapt, you're in danger of stagnating, not allowing yourself to grow, both personally and professionally.

Writers need to lean to adapt with the changing publishing industry. Even typesetting rules have changed. I remember when there were two spaces after a period. Now, it's one.

As writers, we tend to favor particular topics and genres, and our stories reflect this. But what if we could push ourselves, write in a genre or medium we're not familiar with? Sound scary? Perhaps, but not only would we be developing a new talent, it might even invite new opportunities.

What are my goals? I've always wanted to write a mystery. I wrote a whydunit, The Ripper's Daughter, which is awaiting a publisher's response. Not that it's a traditional mystery, although I tried that with a crime drama screenplay about a widowed homicide detective and his retrocognitive partner. (I'm thinking of writing that as a novel.) So I can say I'm making progress, but I haven't yet written the mystery I want to write.

That's one goal, and one I've started working on. Another goal is to create a TV series. Sound bold? Yeah. I was reading an article about setting goals. Not only do you have to have the drive, you need the knowledge. I've never written a TV show, much less created one. What the hell do I know? Very little. Okay, nothing.

How am I going to remedy that? Well, following the advice of that article, I need to educate myself, in this case not only on the craft of TV writing, but also the business side. Aspiring writers also need to learn about writing, not only how to write a compelling story, but also how the publishing industry works.  

What's even better about setting that goal is it's part of my overall goals, and will become part of my marketing plan. Of course, there's still plenty of work to do.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Geekfest 2013 - The Lowdown

This past weekend saw the first ever Nineworld Geekfest Con, held in London.

The Con was billed as a celebration of all things geeky, and an excuse to have a really big party, and it was held in two hotels at London Heathrow airport - the Renaissance and the Radisson.  I was impressed by the fact that a Con without a track record was able to secure not one but two major airport hotels.

Though I was looking forward to the Con, with it being new I was expecting a few hiccups.  I have to say I was impressed with the level of organisation.  And the amount of choice.  There were so many tracks running, we were all spoilt for choice.  There was a creative writing track, a Tolkien track, a Dr Who track, a Geek Feminism track, a video games track, an LRP track, a board games track - to name just a few.  it was impossible to do everything.

There were some comments about the cost.  I think possibly this is relative - I'm used to London prices, where everything is more expensive anyway.  Although the Con itself wasn't that expensive - depending on when you booked, £75 could get you a weekend ticket to just about everything, which I thought was reasonable.  The hotel cost no more than I paid for my hotel room at the Brighton Cons I have attended the last few years.  The room was decent, the air conditioning worked, the bed was comfortable.  Yes we had to pay for parking, but £10 for 24 hours didn't seem overly expensive considering we pay £6 or more to park the car in Croydon for an afternoon of shopping.  Yes, the hotel bar was expensive.  But £5 for a glass of wine is not uncommon in a London hotel bar.  Sometimes bars are subsidised at Con hotels.  Genre Con-goers seem to have the ability to imbibe a lot more alcohol and yet still remain well behaved and less aggressive than your average non-geek after a few pints.  If the hotel manages to figure this out, maybe a deal will be struck for next year.

My writing group had arranged to do a critiquing workshop on manuscripts that had been submitted in advance, and this was scheduled for 1:30 on Saturday afternoon.  Since we drove up to the Con on Saturday and hit traffic, we didn't have much time to do anything else before this was on.  So hubby went off to the "In Conversation with Chris Barrie" programme item and I sought out the workshop.

We'd had seven submitted manuscripts split into two crit groups - one group dealing with historical and other-world fantasy and the other group (my group) critting the stories with more contemporary settings.  The crit session went quite well and no one ran off screaming after their crit, which is always a relief.

We finished earlier than expected and I was hoping to catch the second half of the panel on women in the Whedon universe.  But sadly this panel was so full they were letting no one else in, so I went off to take a look around the dealer room instead.  I caught up with Hubby here, who spent a happy half an hour spending money on the stall with all the old D&D modules.  I was distracted by many geeky t-shirts and jewellery, in the end deciding to spend my money on a pretty dragon pendant from the Pagan jewellery dealer I see at pretty much every Con I go to these days.

We left around noon on Sunday, and I left wishing I could have caught a few more panels.  But with so much going on, I think everyone came away wishing they could have seen more.
Buffy singalong. Photo credit:  London Nineworlds Geekfest

The highlight of my Con experience was the Buffy sing-along in the Saturday night, where we all gathered round a chap playing piano and went through every song featured in "Once More With Feeling".  And because we finished faster than expected, when he got to the end of the music book, he started again from the beginning.  You can see me singing away in this picture - I'm there near the front in the pink t-shirt.  The t-shirt actually says 'horror writer' on it and has an image of a cartoon grim reaper on it, but sadly you can't see it in the photo.  I let down my Buffy fangirl credentials by having to refer to the lyrics at some point for most of the songs.  There were some die-hard fans that knew every word.

There was a lot of Cosplay at this Con, and even if you don't participate in this yourself, it's fascinating to see the array of costumes, and see if you can correctly guess the geek reference.  Some of them were obvious to me - Dr Who characters; Marvel characters; the Alien.  Others I suspected were Manga characters, and these I am not as familiar with.

GeekFest made a point of making this Con accessible to everyone - regardless of gender, creed, orientation, physical ability, or anything else.  Children were welcome - there were many families at the Con.  Any item that was deemed to be for adults only was clearly labelled as such in the programme.  It was a Con where you could be who you wanted to be, not necessarily who you were born as.  The name labels were blank so you could fill in whatever name you wanted to be that particular weekend.  Many people stayed in costume - and in character - all weekend.  There was an LGBT track running all weekend.  There were even gender neutral toilets.  I have a lot of respect for the organisers for this.  This was a Con where everyone was welcome.  You could wear whatever you wanted, be  whoever you chose to be, and be accepted and welcomed, without the labels of 'geek', 'freak', 'weirdo' that so many of us have to deal with for being in some way different from what society perceives as 'normal'.

In summary, this is a Con I thoroughly recommend for anyone who has any remotely geeky tendencies.  Next year's Con has already been confirmed at the same venue, 8-10 August 2014.  Tickets are available, so book up now before the price goes up.

Fellow geeks, I shall see you there...

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, Morguefile.com
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.
   

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kicking the Arse of Self Sabotage

We all have a gremlin living inside us. This gremlin's name is Self Sabotage. It's the voice that tells you that you can't do it. You will fail.

This gremlin could be some kind of primitive self-preservation mechanism. If you don't try, you don't risk heartbreak and failure. But it also seems to want to see us miserable. It doesn't want us venture out and risk new things. It doesn't want us to venture from the status quo. It keeps us in a rut, because the rut is safe and familiar, and even if we're not happy in the rut, we have got used to being in it.

Some people let this gremlin rule their lives. They are also the same people who fuel other people's gremlins. We all have people in our lives who tell us we will fail.  Whenever we hear that, our own gremlin gets a bit stronger. Hear it enough times, we might even start to believe it.

If you're a writer, this gremlin is the voice that is telling you you're no good. You will never succeed. You can't really write very well at all. And it fuels the fear. You are afraid of rejection. But if you repeatedly tell yourself you're a rubbish writer, you will never finish that novel, which means you will never get around to submitting it, which means you save yourself from the heartbreak of repeated rejection letters.

But it's not good to listen to that gremlin, no matter how loudly it speaks to you. Plenty of songs have been written about how it's better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, and so on. Some of them are pretty corny, but the sentiment is true. Sometimes you have to take chances. Sometimes the risk you take doesn't work out, but sometimes it does, and you won't know either way unless you give it a go. There's another corny old adage that seems highly appropriate here. The things you most regret on your death bed will be the things you didn't do - not the things you did. Even if some of those things proved to be mistakes in retrospect, at least you lived to tell about them.

So the next time you hear that Self Sabotage gremlin whispering to you that you're going to fail - whether it be referring to your writing, or something else in your life - be sure to give that critter a good kick up the backside. That doesn't mean it won't come back - it invariably will. But the further away and more frequently you kick it, the longer it will take to come back. And when it does, at least you'll be ready for it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Riding the Submission Merry-Go-Round

Carousel
The insidious thing about sending a story off to a publisher is the tendency to want to check the email inbox multiple times a day, knowing it takes time for an editor to read the story and decide if they like it.

I submitted three chapters of The Ripper's Daughter yesterday, my vampire paranormal suspense novella I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2011.

To say I'm trying to focus on other projects right now would be a bald-faced lie. Short of leaving the house without my laptop or cellphone, and only an old-fashioned paper notebook would be the only way I'd stop obsessing.

Dumb, right? I know how the submission process works. I have patience, and the fact I got this far on a pitch and query letter says my skills in that area are improving. Is it possible the log line and I will become friends? Yeah, right.

I think it's apprehension, fear of failure. I'd rather have the bad news early than wait. Like the saying goes, "Let's just rip off that band-aid." I need to get to work on my other stories, but I've decided to take today and read and watch some movies. There's nothing I can do about the submission, and if it gets rejected, I've a couple other publishers I plan to submit to.

Meantime, I'm sure I'll be jumping aboard that merry-go-round for another ride in the near future.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Who Am I?

Recently, the Smithsonian Channel aired a documentary about The Doors album, LA Woman. Being a fan of the band, this had me thinking of the cult that has sprung up around Jim Morrison. Here was a singer/poet/songwriter who knew how to brand himself, even making a anagram of his name: Mr. Mojo Risin' and calling himself "The Lizard King."

Ah, branding. It's not a four-letter word, but, like "platform," many authors would probably prefer running a marathon than deal with it.

This past Saturday, Charlene Burke, of Search by Burke, was the guest speaker at our local Sisters in Crime presentation, and she talked about this very topic. She gave me some ideas, like starting a Facebook page for my book and revitalizing character blogs I'd abandoned. Readers want to connect to characters as well as authors.

I know I need to work on my marketing platform. One of the things I've been considering is moving my stories into a different genre, given the current ones are over saturated.When you're an unknown author, you have to work harder to get noticed, and sometimes it's like being out in the middle of the ocean and holding up one finger. Yeah, who's going to notice that?

I see authors with banners touting their catchphrases, and I think how cool it would be if I could come up with one. Well, I have one, but it'd probably raise a few eyebrows. I'd share it, but I want to tweak it and run it by a trusted friend or two, before I unveil it.

Getting ready to start working on my marketing plan, not just for my upcoming book, but for my overall writing persona. And maybe I haven't yet discovered who that is.

Maybe I've been looking in the wrong place. Maybe I should study singers and bands and see what marketing ideas they've come up with.