Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On towards 2011

Journalists keep themselves busy before Christmas by writing reviews and previews. I did one for my mag before I left.

Personal reviews and previews are harder to do. Ideally, I'd dig through 12 months worth of blog posts and filter out the things that were important.

In 2010

- I changed jobs twice and very nearly doubled my salary (if we count writing income, I did double it and then some)

- I moved into Casa Voinov

- I traveled to Turkey, Chicago, Warsaw and Moscow (and liked Chicago best)

- I got a crapload of stuff published. This fits with what I planned for the year. Put myself on the map. Last year this time all I had was "Deliverance".

- I did some great and fun writing with my amazing co-writers: Raev Gray, Kate Cotoner, Barbara Sheridan, and Rhianon Etzweiler. Chapeau, guys. Even more awesome that some debuted that way. Makes me feel like an enabler.

- I had a hand in getting people together. Introduce authors to authors, betas to betas, authors to publishers. Regardless of my own little ego, helping others meet friends and colleagues is something I really enjoy (I did mention I had a hand in a couple marriages, right?).

- I met awesome readers/supporters, almost too numerous to mention (and here I am, worried I'm forgetting somebody). Marcie, Audra, Kate, all the people over at Goodreads (65 of them!), on Facebook, Twitter and Livejournal.

- I learnt a really important lesson somewhen this year. Which is to not expect the worst from people. I've relaxed a lot in a social context. That's a big deal. I'm enjoying people more than I ever have. And they enjoy me a great deal more. There's a lesson in that.

- I've written my little black heart out, both professionally and personally. I've written enormous technical features I wouldn't have understood myself just six months ago. I learnt a crapload about financial products, but more importantly, about financial markets. I've learnt it's just a game. Magic beans in the sky.

- I think I've stood by my friends and my friends stood by me. Massive deal.

- I'm primed and ready for 2011 and ready to greet it with a "hell, yeah."

2011:

- The aim is to pay off the mortgage faster while interest rates are low. Get some more double glazing in. Have a plan for the garden (which is a mess). Buy the last shelf, and look at prices to re-do the bathroom and kitchen.

- Return to the gym. Hire a pro to kick my ass there.

- Grok the new job and learn what I can while there. That job's not the end-point, not by a long shot, but I need to prove myself all over again.

- Develop an investment strategy. I want to beat my pension fund's performance. I might look into day trading, too. I know a forex trader who made a crapload of money betting dollar versus euro. I might even start a blog on personal finance. There's just so much bullshit out there. (And yes, I actually find finance fascinating).

- Write books.

- Very likely write a German historical.

- Meet more people, beta-read my friends' books, review, read.

And that's really it. In 2010, I did kick ass and took names, and I have every intention to keep it up in 2011. While having fun.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Am writing

I'm writing. Busy. Meeting friends. More busy. More writing.

(so, life's good.)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas at Casa Voinov

We did the gift exchange just after midnight, or during the first minutes of the 25th. This is an age old compromise I worked out with my partner. For Germans, Christmas is on the evening of the 24th. For Brits, it's on the 25th. Since there's no way I'll wait a day longer than I have to, and it doesn't feel "right" for my partner to be out of synch with the rest of the country, we'rte going for "just after midnight". So, psychologically, it's "still 24th", and legally, technically, it's the 25th.

This year, I got some geeky t-shirts (Gears of War related, and one is made from bamboo - didn't know such existed - very pleasant to wear), some assorted knick-knacks (a belt? Are my trousers sagging so much?), and very nice headphones from Skullcandy. That is, of course, so I don't have to crank up the volume so much and so that my partner doesn't hear my music from three rooms away (or in bed). And it makes a world of a difference.

We went to a friend's place to eat turkey and the whole British traditional Christmas dinner, played some board and card games, then trundled home, bellies full of alcoholic ginger beer and turkey and chocolate.

"Scorpion 2" aka "Lying with Scorpions" is 4k at this point, and I'm planning to write some of that today. Plus some "Iron Cross", while the Muse has me.

And that's perfect holidays - writing, few distractions, and good books, all topped off with presents and food.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hiring a pro

One of the reasons why I want a bigger pay cheque (apart from paying off my house in less than 30 years, investing some money on the stock market, and wearing tailored suits) is that I want to be able to afford hiring a pro to look at my novels.

I have the good fortune to know a lot of excellent people, and many of these are making their way as writers and editors and freelancers in a field that is even more money-sensitive these days because competition is so high. If you've ever tried to charge writers for teaching them, you'd know what I mean. The people that start out writing don't have the cash. The people that have the cash are not necessarily the most talented. I do some of that work, and most writers fall back on other writers. "Find my typos and I find yours" is an accepted form of mutual help in writing circles (I wish corporate drones were as helpful as well-adjusted writers).

But sometimes, you get stuck on your own stuff. You get a lot of advice. Some people think a novel works, some think it doesn't. You've re-written it fifteen times. You're tired of it. No, you're so sick and nauseated when you're just THINKING about re-working that novel again, you've heard "you're a great writer, but that thing... just doesn't work", or "how dare you send this piece of suicide, drugs and irresponsible unsafe sex to US, you BEAST!", or "great character story, now where's the thriller you promised me?"

In one word, you have novel fatigue. It's not tiredness. It's not being without inspiration or drained. I think it might be closest to chronic fatigue syndrome. Just thinking about opening the file causes an immediate feeling of "I don't want to live anymore." Suddenly, taking up golf, or knitting, or cave diving become tantalizing prospects. Everything but open that file.

There's a project I feel like that about. I reached out to a pro for help. She quoted me a price, saying she was aware it was high and that she wouldn't mind if I pulled back and and all.

The money? Less than I make in a week, net. A bit more than I spend on food per month (can you tell I'm a cheap date?). I want to spend it so I know what the fuck is wrong with this book and how can I fix it. I want this off my plate. Getting rid of it - that is, getting it published - will be like therapy. It's a book that's been sticking in my throat like a bone. As nasty a feeling as an inflamed root of a tooth.

The book's been sticking around for 2 years now. I just want it gone. I don't even need a big contract for it. I just want to see it gone. I'll likely end up self-publishing it. So whatever I spend on it I'll likely never recover.

Doesn't matter.

Big reason for changing jobs? So I can afford to hire a pro. So I can put money in the pocket of good people, and acquire the help I need, and it won't break the bank. I just need an authoritative voice, a "definite" opinion of somebody I trust and who knows the market. And somebody who can answer questions I have about the book.

Might be one of the best deals I'll ever make.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sleepy weekend

As of today, all Christmas presents are bought and sent, and the ones that aren't sent are ready to be wrapped. I still think they are lame - this year I just didn't have any inspiration. That's when I get to the point of "Christmas shopping sucks anyway", and all the things that seemed interesting are just "stuff" that you drag home. Better save the money. I'm just not getting excited about "stuff" anymore.

Maybe books - but I have piles of books that I might never find the time to read. There's a more adult version of gifts creeping in, too. Useful stuff. Household stuff. Gifts like mixers and new toasters and such.

On a positive note, my tax return has arrived - the tax I have to pay on my creative writing endeavours amounts to pocket money. Next year will be "worse". I better rack up some serious expenses to put against that.

I've written around 1,000 words on "Scorpion 2", which I'll call "Lying with Scorpions". I have no idea where things are going there, and it's moving very slowly, but at least I have written and might be able to write some more today.

Otherwise, I caught up with what felt like an enormous sleep deficit. I can't wait for the days to get longer again.

Leaving drinks was emotional. I'm always ill at ease during such social work get-togethers that involve alcohol. I managed to bow out due to the snow. There was a possibility that trains might not run if the snow got worse in Kent, so I made my escape. Tomorrow starts the last week on the job. Then about ten days of doing nothing (aka: writing), and then I'm off to the bank. And then I'll look into investing quite seriously.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lots of letters/packets

Today I spent a small fortune to send two hardcover books to New Zealand. Brilliant Christmas present idea for people that live half the world away. Posting them cost more than the gifts. Will have to discuss with my partner that we'll send the DVD rather than the HARDCOVERS next.

The post office was out of padded envelopes for the copies of "First Blood" I'm sending out to the people at Goodreads. Thursday, then.

Then I picked up three packets from the post office across town (yes, you post them in one place and then travel forever to get to the place where you pick them up. Only the Brits could be so ... efficient). One packet was presents for the in-laws (needs to be posted on Thursday). The other was a pile of books for the sequel of "Lion of Kent" and the sequel to "Scorpion". Packet number three came from a dear friend who returned to Germany after a stint in London. German chocolate and licorice - real luxuries. (And salt and bread for the house move) Thank you!

The contract from the bank arrived. Wow, I never had a health exam first for a job (okay, that's a lie - I had to be tested negative for tuberculosis when I started freelance teaching - ten years ago or thereabouts). It's an inch-thick stack of paper that all needs to be sorted on Monday.

I'm tempted to offer charity fiction for the holidays, but I struggle writing at all. Putting the big Pistol of Guilt on my chest won't actually improve matters at all.

And apparently, under some circumstances, you can create matter from nothing. That has amusing repercussions for Christians (God is a high-powered laser in a vacuum).

I typed the words "Scorpion: Part 2" into an empty file. Don't get your hopes up. I haven't written further than the dedication page. Let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

New era

I don't want to whine. I have some stuff to whine about - another lesson learnt the absolute worst way, but there objectively nothing to whine about. It's all in my head. Besides, getting the contract for the investment banking job and a start date is very awesome, whatever drop of bitterness might be in my water.

And I just received ANOTHER contract, this time for a book. "Scorpion", my first solo novel in... a while... was accepted by Dreamspinner and should be out at the beginning of May (in time for my birthday, maybe, even).

So. If anybody can explain why things that I've been waiting for for three or five and a half weeks all happen within six hours of each other, I'd like to hear about it. Raev thinks it's the universe trying to mess with my head. I start to agree. Has Mercury come out of retrograde today?

I have to get the magazine (my final issue) off to press. Much work to be completed. I'll end up running myself ragged, again. But soon is the Xmas break and New Year. There's no year where I've needed it more, to be honest.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Book giveaways

Okay, 'tis the season, and I've been remarkable remiss in my "duty" to "promote" books. It's not that I don't like promoting (but if I ever send you an email with nothing but "I'm great, NOW BUY MY BOOK" - just shoot me, that's when I lose the remainder of my personal dignity), it's that I've been busy getting a new job and getting the magazine to print.

So. Giveaways. Amora/Amara over at her blog sponsors a giveaway of "Transit". I'm sponsoring a second copy, so there's the chance to win two. Just read the excerpt and answer the question.

Awesome.


That's it from me. (I'm still snowed in an can't get to work, but I'm working on the magazine, so a little busy right now. The worst will be over next week...).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I come bearing gifts

I'm now a regular blogger at Savvy Authors - my first column went online today. I wrote that real quickly after watching season one of "Burn Notice".

Then - "Speak Its Name" is starting its Advent Calendar. My turn's on the 9th. Last year was great, so I'm honored to have been invited again. I'll be giving a book away, too.

Britain is in the grip of an implacable foe: snow. Love the white stuff, the way it makes everything bright and quiet, but my commute was interesting today. There were points during the three hour trek where I thought I wouldn't make it. I think I'll stash a bag of survival kit in the office next time for next winter. An hour later, I can even feel my hands again. Bonus. My best estimate is that not even the Blitz created as much mayhem as a couple inches of snow. I think I'll test the theory against some eye-witness accounts of WWII.

Otherwise, deadline at work. Tech issues at work (inefficiencies galore in the system...). Awaiting the contract and package for the new job - job agent says it's only a matter of days now.

Come January/mid-January, I won't be a journalist. I'll be a proper Sith Lord. Awesome. Sith Lords are better paid and have more time for writing.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Basic housekeeping

I spent some time working on my website, and I'm trying to catch up with my email. I feedbacked a friend's 11k short story, and I'm going through my TBR pile at a rate of knots. That's four books and counting, and a fair few of those are books for Iron Cross research. I think I'm just cleaning up the little tasks that fell by the wayside during the mad writing rush of the last few months.

Next week will be tough as I'm getting the magazine off to print, so long and early hours, working through weekends, the usual song and dance, and I'm not sure how much writing will happen in that time (I'll try, but I've been very low on productivity - or not seriously writing at all - for four weeks). That's okay, there's a time when you have to answer emails, do your taxes, read and watch some TV shows that are inspiring, and do some stuff with the person you live with. It's ok, it's like inhaling and exhaling. Writing has a rhythm, one part is PRODUCE PRODUCE PRODUCE, the other is refill, calm down, think, ponder, research.

I'm doing a little bit of translating and might end up translating my own old stories, sex them up and sell them. But that's a side project.

If you are waiting for an email response, it's quite likely you'll get it in the next few days. Otherwise, life is good. This morning, Mr Fox came to visit - he was a cub when we bought the house, but he's fully grown now and not as scraggly as other urban foxes I've seen. Seeing him weave through the bushes, all coated in frost, was my high point of the morning. What a wonderful thing is life.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Two weeks without

I haven't written in any significant quantity for two weeks. Chicago has eaten my brain, and the last week was catching up and racing the clock for the deadline. Also, of course, the job interview and assorted tensions connected to that. The muse is becoming restless.

What I've done is edit "Special Forces", done the edits for several chapters, and I'm attempting to edit up to chapter 35 before the year's up. That's about the halfway point in "Mercenaries". I'm mostly cutting back Jean at this point, as well as plots and scenes that don't go anywhere.

In good news - "The Lion of Kent" is available as audiobook from Audible.com. I believe it's not available for the UK, but I somehow managed to download it, regardless. (Dear Jeff Bezos, don't take my book away, please!) I'm listening to it during a few free moments, and it's very strange to hear the text spoken by somebody else. Very, very strange. The American accent of the speaker makes me laugh a bit - I do like the American accent, but it's strange to hear a medieval British/English story read by an American. I hear my own words when I read my stuff, and invariably, my mindvoice reads stuff differently. It might be as subtle as a pause or a slightly different emphasis.

But then, reading your stuff aloud - or having somebody else read it out aloud - is a priceless editing tool. Anything that sounds hollow or tinny needs to be redone and cut. So far I haven't heard anything in "Lion" I'd want to change - so that's good news.

In case I didn't mention it, "Father of All Things" has been accepted for publication by Carina Press. I might have referred to it as "the mystery project" or the "secret project", but that was mostly to keep the pressure off my co-writer, Rhianon Etzweiler, who led the project (it was her idea, and I believe most of the text is from her). If you talk too much about a project that is being written and that can still die/fail, that puts a lot of pressure on. Well, that's over. "Father of all Things" will be out with Carina Press in summer 2011.

Three weeks since I submitted "Scorpion". Usually, I hear back in 4-6 weeks, so we're getting to the interesting time window. I expect an acceptance, but of course that might be premature. Self-confidence getting in the way. I do my best to forget books once they are off to find their homes. Sometimes it even works.

Right now, two projects need tackling. One is a final rewrite of "To Catch a Spy", which involves some more research and some tightening of the plot, but at least those changes are far less severe and time consuming than the last two or three rewrites were. It can be done in a couple weeks' time. And finally "Iron Cross", which needs to be written. The main problem is that I can't decide which one I want to tackle first. Both will be all-consuming, tough pieces of work. Then again, my philosophy is to wrap up the book first that's closer to publication.

To relax, I've been watching "Burn Notice". This is a show I'd recommend to every writer. You can learn an awful lot from "Burn Notice". I might write a post about that soon, but right now, I'll do some prep work on TCaS.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Awaiting the offer

I had two very good interviews at the Major European Bank, first with other editors (my future bosses) and then with the head dudes and HR person and the job agent reckons they'll make an offer, they just need to get the salary signed off by Head Dude who's currently travelling.

Then I have a leaving period of four weeks. So, anywhere between now and maybe 8 weeks, I'll have a new job that pays somewhere between 50 and 70 percent more than I make right now. I've talked to somebody in the department I trust and she feels I should try and get a similar raise here and that it's entirely possible they'll even pay it. Quote "they'd be fools to let you go." I agree. Few things in life I'm sure off, but I'm the exact right kinda person for the job, and in the last five months, I went above and beyond the call of duty. To the point where the writing, the real life, the exercise, friends, and everything else suffered.

I@ll have to give it all some serious considerations. Do I want to be an editor or do I want to be a journalist/networker. The decision is not as easy as it sounds. Work/life balance re-balanced, much more holiday, a job with an earnings potential only limited by the coffers of a bank (hey, come on! Banking/financial institutions pay a lot more generally than business media).

Working for a bank with a German heritage means - holidays, less overtime, clear, efficient approaches and procedures (the place I work now at has some inefficiencies that drive me up the wall). It's exciting since it's growing, and might be a step into actual financial services (I could go into compliance... which would serve my anal German side very much) - with the huge earnings potential. They are supportive of training and acquiring further qualifications, while here, I teach myself and follow the example of my legend-sized boss.

At the moment, I don't quite know. The chat with my colleague made the idea of leaving much harder. On the other hand, pushing the mag the way I've been doing exhausts and drains me. That's when I keep realising I'm an INFJ - I'm good with people, but I do need a lot of time to recharge my batteries after continued exposure to them. Editing for the bank means far more one-on-one, talking a lot to "huge egoes" (their words, not mine), possibly moving into an analyst/compliance role inside the bank rather than busting my ass to break stories and meet deadlines on editing magazines.

But it's comforting to think that, whatever I do, as long as it supports the writing, I get paid enough to wear tailored suits, have some security (Taurus there) and am rewarded for hard work, I'm good. I work to live, not the other way round. In my case, I work to write. So, more holidays, more writing time, less stress, sounds about right for me.

But yeah, I spent yesterday staring at the screen, absolutely nauseous with guilt and worry over the magazine when/if I leave. My boss has been very good to me. I've learnt an awful lot. It's going to be tough.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Now with more coherence

I missed home. I was frantically busy and had a ball, but now I'm back and feeling the love. Dirty, grimy UK with its small buildings and small food portions is pretty much home.

That said, I wouldn't mind living in Chicago for a couple months a year. It's definitely a place I want to see more of. Too bad my company doesn't send any correspondents out.

Honeymoon with my company is over, too. There were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, and these things are turning into stones in my shoes. Very hard to ignore, at least for the long distance. Granted, I chatted to some Major News Wire guys, and they have it a lot worse, so I'm not complaining. I'm not sure when I'll be joining the "dark side" (that's what we hacks call PR work or corporate work), but just like Jedi/Sith, the Dark Side is definitely a temptation.

Talking of which - a headhunter was in touch and got me an interview at Major European Bank. They are looking for an editor in their research department. I wasn't planning to leave my current job - which I love, despite the small stones in my shoes - but they pay double what I'm making now.

Yeah, that's my price. The dark side might happen very soon, actually.

Writing-wise, there's a reincarnation story that has knocked on my brain. I have a couple very good ideas there, but it still needs a plotline beyond "they meet, they fuck, something's terribly, terribly wrong".

And, of course, while I was gone, "Transit" came out.

Check my website (or the buy link) for an excerpt.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Some thoughts on happy accidents

I've just blogged over at Slash and Burn here.

And as I type that, I'm getting closer to departure. I'll grab the taxi at 6pm, then fly out just before ten pm. I do hope to sleep a little, but the jetlag over five time zones should be interesting. Thankfully, I have Manna Francis to keep me company.

I see you on the other side.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Chicago

I would have thought I'd be more intimidated by Chicago. First time in America (which is both a geographical term for a continent and a childhood concept of "that's where all the cool stuff happens" - based on US culture on TV and the movies) - and it's very different to Russia (yeah, really).

First of all, I can talk to strangers - big help. But it's also the feel of the place. I was worried about immigration. During the Bush junior interregnum, several of my friends were treated less than stellar by immigration. Arriving at O'Hare, passport and customs and immigration form clutched in my hand, I was processed by guy who looked very much like a cop in the movies - that dirty blond, small beard, glasses kinda guy that I've seen a hundred times on screen.

I had my fingers scanned and my picture taken ("look into the camera"), but, to be honest, all the CCTV stuff in London is worse.

"Why are you here?"
"I'm on business."
"What kind of business are you in?" emphasis on "you", with a "what are *you* working as" tone - bizarrre.
"I'm a journalist."

By then my passport was sorted and I was too flight-dazed to follow the orders exactly which parts of my hands they were scanning in what order (pretty sure the others only had one hand scanned, but maybe we Germans are extra-scary - or I might have seen that wrong), he gave me the orders in German "vier finger," "linker Daumen" (four fingers/left thumb). Glimpsed at his name tag. German name.

I thanked him in German as I walked away, amused by the episode more than intimidated. Whenever I looked lost or hesitated to find my way around, some American would pounce on me and explain. I managed to find the trains to the city at O'Hare (more complicated than it seems) and got into downtown Chicago. I even managed to stop a taxi that took me to my hotel (which is no mean feat in London).

While it's strange and different, I would have thought it would be harder. (but then I'm a control-freakish worrier when it comes to my job. I just like being in control, flight-dazed and all). But of course, this is only the second day and things might start to look very different once I'm out and about for a few.

Lots of skyscrapers from where I am - I'm close to the Gold Coast part of Downtown. I do hope I'll be able to see more than the conference hotel. And dollars look like play money. Hard to take the greenback seriously if you're used to pounds and euros. Even Turkish lira look more like money.

And despite the long flight (eight hours), getting here is still bearable. I do want to come back as a tourist. That would be New York, Seattle, San Francisco (and Chicago unless I manage to see some stuff on this trip). Childhood names again. But I can even use this trip for To Catch a Spy.

Before I forget - on the plane, they put me next to a guy who was built in a way that made me feel like a small child. American footballer/superhardcore bodybuilder kind of guy. Enormous. Black. Biceps like thighs. Can't walk for strength kinda man.

I had the aisle seat, but he was invading my space - he couldn't help it, he simply didn't fit. And then on the other side of the aisle, a screaming toddler (where's my duct tape). I was resigned between being screaming at or cuddling up to the enormous man-tit in a tight t-shirt in my sleep (his wife was on the other side) for eight hours when the stewardess noticed the situation and offered me a seat in the back ("you're looking a bit squashed near the big bear there").

I ended up sharing the empty seat in the middle with a nice American dude who was working all the time - reading financial mags and working on the laptop). Even the toddler calmed down, so that trip was mostly a win. I read Manna Francis' "Control" - book four of the Administration series - which tided me over for much of the travel. Quick nap affterwards. The "bear" (I could see his screen from my position) was watching "Twilight" and "The Last Airbender". How such a big guy ends up watching kiddie programs was downright bizarre. He even watched "Twilight" to the very end, but stopped halfway through the Airbender. I guess there's a limit to pain in the frontal lobes a big guy like that can withstand.

Right, the sun is up. Second coffee brewed. Now shower, then pinstripe, then my first meeting with a tech company.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

It's time for thinky time

It's that time again - when I switch from extrovert to introvert. We've been through this before. Every now and then, I need to pull back and gather my forces. It's usually not a rout, but more taking stock of what I've done, what I'm doing now and with what priorities, and what I want to do, or where I'm going.

I'm moving through that cycle several times a year, so it's nothing new and I'm upfront about it because it can be worrying for outsiders (outsiders = everybody not living in my head).

Looking back over the last ten months, I've achieved what I set out to do. I've had a solid number of releases, I've seen publications go into print, I've published with a large publisher, I have found some important closure and even made peace with some issues.

I upgraded my job, my financial situation and my living arrangements. I have, generally, written my little black heart out, got to a new level in terms of writing, learnt some very important things in terms of writing. I got better at plotting. As a writer, I put my name on the map.

Now it's time to retrench and look at some other big issues, and I'll end up doing those on my own. There is a kind of thinking I can't do in public, so some of that thinking will happen on my closed, private blog, and some of that thinking will happen exclusively in my head and discussing matters with close friends, face to face or by email.

There are some big issues hanging over me, some are about what kind of writing I'll do from now on, and what part of my life writing will take. That includes "marketing" or "promo", so for the moment, I'm going on an online diet. Less social networking, less blogging, less emails, less forums, less internet. A lot more time spent in the gym, and in the library minus internet access. A lot more time spent reading and writing by myself.

What kind of writing is up in the air. I don't know yet. I'll listen to what the muse has to say and in what language and take it from there.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Too narrow for me

Let's face it. I'll always write books that are not romances - not in the narrow sense, anyway.

I have three choices - redefine a genre (m/m or gay fiction I thought was broad enough to allow the occasional maverick); conform; do something else.

Now, I can stretch the envelope, and I likely will, hoping to find enough readers that are tired of the same old formulaic stuff and are happy to take a risk. Which means a lot less sales, but hey, I'm hardly in it for the money.

Conforming is not an option. The day I write a book the way it's expected from me - and that's an art form and I respect anybody who can do that - is the day I go into ghostwriting (tried it, and it's sheer and pure horror).

Doing something else is tempting. If there's really only a 15 degree gap where everybody has to pass through to try and make a living writing - we're talking lowest common denominator stuff here - then I'll do something else. Then I'll focus my energy on making a writing career elsewhere. I might even go back to German. I might grow another "me" and publish "mainstream" novels as somebody else. It's just more work.

Whatever I do, the stories will keep coming. The muse keeps on singing.

Only a handful stories to tell

A friend of mine emailed me to tell me she wasn't interested in reading "Scorpion".

(No, that's everybody's right - while I hope that people take chances on my writing, I understand those that rate a book badly because it's a menage and they hate menages, or people who don't buy books that deal with certain elements... writing romance, and especially selling romance, we make erotic fantasies. If it fails to turn on, it's not worth it for a huge amount of readers. People have a certain amount of things that gets them going - so they look for that. And ignore the stuff that doesn't... that's the deal with erotic romance. Like porn, people look for something specific and can't, usually, be brought round.... "look, you really want to try $kink" - no, they don't.).

So on the bus, I spent some time thinking about what it is that turns her off with "Scorpion". I analysed its deep structure. The underlying story. I wrote this by the seat of my pants, so I can only do the literary analysis now. I tend to discover the mythological structure (the "mythos") behind it much, much later. I'm not aware of it while I do this... I'm not sure I *want* to be aware of the structure, either. To re-create a myth, you have to firmly, deeply, passionately believe in it. Magic happens when you believe. I believe with my emotions and not my frontal lobes.

And I had this "oh wow" moment when I finally understood what the story is that I'm telling. Over the last two years, I've written a lot of stories that are about a younger/more immature guy maturing and proving himself "worthy" of an older, charismatic, even, in certain ways super-human man. Young alpha learns how to howl with the big guys. Young man becomes worthy of his idol.

It's in "Lion of Kent", "Return on Investment", "Blood Run Cold" (where the super-human is a vampire and the younger guy's a psychopath and craving to be a vampire, too), and, yeah, Scorpion. Usually, the moment of high drama is when the young alpha saves the older alpha's neck (William stops the murderer, Martin stops the rapist, Frederik is willing to lay down his life, Kendras frees Adrastes).

It's the same story. Sometimes told as a romance, sometimes told as a coming-of-age story, sometimes both in varying quantities.

This is one of my personal myths, one of the stories I carry in my bones, my creative DNA (and I'm pretty sure it's the most positive way for me to deal with the father issues I have. Fuck you, Freud).

The other story is that of the man reclaiming his humanity and independence. Usually, he's a deformed person with strong inner convictions that may or may not be good for him, and things that happen to him either break him or develop him out of an unbearable situation. Vadim in "Special Forces", the eagle shaman, and the spetsnaz in the sci-fi novel. It can even be applied to Thierry in "Test of Faith", Andrei in "Clean Slate"... and probably a number more.

Those are the two stories I'm telling. That's it. Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Scorpion is done

Thursday night, I finished "Scorpion", which clocks in at 68,908 words at the moment. (So much for "it's probably a novella"). I've just written a 1,800 word synopsis and am giving the text a polish. Since my first drafts are pretty clean anyway, I might finish this weekend or week, depending how well it goes, and send it off before I fly out to the States.

That means I'll return to "Iron Cross" and can then power through with that.

Yeah, feeling accomplished. Excerpts soon to follow, now need to update the website.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Towards the great within

I think I stole that headline from a Dead Can Dance album. Doesn't matter. I'm working hard to get through to the end of the year. Biggest issue is to make it until 6 December, because then the industry slows down as we all take our measly holiday allowance and will be gone over the holidays - then the rat race starts again.

Ain't media fun?

All the work at work is on track - don't ask me what it costs me, I do pay the price in less online time, less writing time and generally less time overall. But it's getting better, I'm getting more efficient (even more efficient), and I do enjoy my job a great deal. And being a journalist in specialist media may not be the booze-filled, lazy time it used to be, but compared to pretty much every other job I've ever held down, this is still pure heaven. Heaven at war with the demons from hell, but at least we're a united front.

Now, enough apocalyptic talk. I've hit 64k on "Scorpion", which has claimed pretty much all the free time I have at the moment. I have discovered I can write wherever, whenever, even just before meetings, or scribble a few sentences while on the go. Do I love my iPhone? Yes I do. Where there's a muse there's a way.

I'm making a list of things I need to fix, making comments in the text. There's probably another 4-6k in my outline to write, so 3-4 good writing days should do it.

While I hold down the fort (or a cloud, or whatever), my partner's job hunting. The CVs and job descriptions he's getting make me painfully aware that I'm in the wrong industry. Mental note: apply that in the next life.

Scorpion is going really well, though. I think it's going to be an awesome book. The kind of fantasy novel I always wanted to write - I just had to grow the skills for it. Only took me, what, ten years.

I do look forward to my long holiday and Christmas/New Year. During that time, I'll fix TCaS and write Iron Cross. Scorpion should be edited and submitted by then. Lots of work, but momentum keeps me going.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Housekeeping - I got "Not America"

I've just updated my website with "Not America" or rather "Nicht Amerika", which is available for pre-order. As it's a German anthology, the story is German, too. It's quite different from anything else I've done in the last months. First, there's no sex.

I pondered for a while whether I should be doing this as Aleksandr Voinov, or use my old German pseudonym (which I've all but given up at this stage). So I went with the name that feels more "right". Which also means I don't have to maintain a second online "me" just to be available to readers of that short story and to maybe help sell a couple books.

So, there is is. A 20 stories anthology with a David Bowie theme. I went with the song "This Is Not America", and gave it a zombie twist. It was great fun. Strange to be writing German, I'm all but losing the sound of my native language after 5.5 years abroad. I had to constantly translate the English words in my head into German, which made the writing "interesting" to say the least.

Now I need to find the time to translate it back into English, and put it up on Smashwords.

And now toward "Scorpion" - there's a marriage I have to do.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Revision request - novel surgery

I got a revision request - rather than a contract - from the publisher I subbed TCaS to. It all makes perfect sense, and is in line with what I thought I'd fixed, but apparently not enough. Time schedules being what they are, this will push back "Iron Cross" for at least another 4-6 weeks. That's the timeframe we're looking at to rewrite a significant part of the novel and then slot it back in and make it appear like there are no transplantation/surgery scars.

Hiding those scars isn't an easy job, actually. It has to be all natural and organic, but most of all, inevitable. However, if it had been inevitable, then it would have happened in Draft I, II and III. So that's the biggest sleight-of-hand trick - to make readers think that the book they are reading is the only possible version of that book. We hand them a bottle of water and need to convince them - with a straight face - that water can only live in bottles.

Again, this will mean a full print-out of the novel (a big folder of paper, it's around 90k), and then writing a synopsis by chapter. The beginning has to change, every scene needs to be slightly adapted, and one of the plots (granted, the smaller one), is flawed and needs more... more of everything.

I think that'll cost me a couple months, and since both Raev and me are busy with what they call "real life", this is going to be tough. Expect to read a lot of whining and bitching about it. In the end, however, I'm learning how to revise novels. That's a skill all novels will benefit from.

Talking about revising, I'm currently going through the galleys for "Transit", which is another chunk of work (at 98 pages or thereabouts). It has to be done.

First the current magazine issue, then "Transit", then "Scorpion", then TCaS, and Iron Cross. I'd wager that's my year taken care of. I have no idea how on earth I'll be able to slot in "Pawn" - there aren't enough hours in the day to completely edit another full-sized novel that needs some serious beta-ing from a Russian.

Well. Magazine work today, Transit and Scorpion this week. I'll see what happens if I just knuckle down.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Another thousand words

Pretty hardcore work at work, but keeping my head above water. I'm even writing. Here 500 words, there 800 words. I'm now 55k into Scorpion and expect to be able to do anywhere between 500 and 1,000 for the next days.

I'm only 5k off the wordcount I wanted to hit, but it looks quite likely that it will be a little longer than 60k. So, the idea is to hit 60k by weekend, and then bring the herd home on the weekend, possibly Monday.

I'll be back with more regular updates when I'm there. I'm productive and busy, and that's a good thing. Means the weekend will be here that much faster.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Writing hangover

I did a little bit of work work yesterday, but when I wrote a bit, I hit a serious case of "The Flow", and it's just too painful to push that kind of inspiration away. So I wrote. And wrote.

I think writing 6,090 words in a day might rank among my personal best. Certainly means an output of around 600-700 words per hour, which is OK, it means I didn't actually waste a lot of time with other things. What else I did was some stuff around the house. Weekend is always the time to recalibrate and tidy up, too. Did away with one of the remaining piles of "stuff" that has been sitting there since the move, so the house looks more and more like I want it. Everything has or will have its place, and there's no build-up anywhere. That's nice. No flock of mugs that need to be herded into the kitchen, no pile of clothes waiting to be washed. I am turning into a tidy freak, but really, us Taureans just like structure.

So, yeah, I'm pretty sure "Scorpion" is now around 90% done. I have a last couple plot twists and two more confrontations (I like those), and the lovers are now, in chapter 17, still somewhat awkward with each other (which happens when your lives get shredded by circumstance and necessity), but they are doing good otherwise.

I might even conceivably bring the herd home today, but work work is really, really more important. Plus, there's this dull feeling in my skull that I associate with hangovers. Creative writing is pretty tough on that grey squishy matter, and my brain feels actually sore after that writing binge. But it's great to know I can reach that kind of output, even on my own, and especially when I know what's going to happen.

Yeah, so, Scorpion's now at just under 54k. I expect to type "the end" by next Monday.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Been a week

It's been a week. Most of all, it's been a busy week. Not only did I work pretty hard for money, but I also wrote a ton of words. "Scorpion" is now at more than 47k, and I think I have enough to reach 60k. There are a few scenes that I need to expand, too, and I need to brush it all and polish and file off the hard edges. Then temper it.

So I did something like 10k last week, plus lots of things at work. This weekend, I had originally planned to finish my novel, but then I got something else to do for work work, and since that pays the mortgage, it has priority. I'll still try and get past 50k and play around with it a bit more. Should be doable.

Nothing else much to report. We got the edits for "Transit" as well as the finished cover.

Next week will be pretty tough, since I have to read and understand a lot of really technical legal stuff - here I thought I'd escaped law after two semesters... but apparently the bitch has now caught up with me. It does have its advantages, though. In my part of the capital markets, the legal stuff is getting more and more important, and if I acquire all that knowledge once it'll stand me in good stead for at least another two years.

I'll do a little "Scorpion" tomorrow and on Sunday, but I expect it to be in the area of 500 words each. Which is still a lot of progress and puts me well on track to finish that novel before I fly to America.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The plot, it has arrived

I plotted the second half of "Scorpion", so I know now where it's all going and when. The muse plays ball, which is great. Seems he wants to get done as much as I want to move on, too.

No news yet on either of the submitted novels. I'm reasonably optimistic that I'll publish three novels next year - the question is with which publisher. And honestly, while I'm chasing the muse around, I don't even particularly care. I'm plenty busy just getting the current scene down and writing the next one. I can feel the next two project push against my brain, trying to get lodged in and turn into proper brain parasites that take over my life and my thoughts.

Yeah, I'll now write the outline for Scorpion and move stuff around and make it all shiny. The main question at this point is if Steel lives or dies - if he dies, I know who'll kill him. Maybe that settles it.

I found the music to write this stuff with - "In Extremo" is a great band to write fantasy with. I need to get their remaining CDs/iTunes downloads. My collection is woefully incomplete.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

And 6k later

I'm in the list-making stage of getting my reality under control. If I try and get control over anything, I start making lists. Sometimes, they are flow charts. They happen at work, in writing, and sometimes even turn into spreadsheets.

"Scorpion" has hit 36k. Which means I have more than half a novel. I'm currently adding to it at a rate of 500-1,000 words a day, which is not bad for a workday wordcount.

I'm awaiting news on two submitted novels and pushing hard for the third one, while researching the fourth. Keeping my head down and working. I also passed probation at work, sorted out my first visit (ever) to the US (I'm attending a conference), and will soon have to arrange my travels to Poland. Looks like I'll do a whole lot of travelling in this new job.

My first real "investigative" article was accepted at a prestigious financial magazine (not my own). That's definitely a writing credit I can add to that resume. Maybe the equivalent of the WSJ? I'd have to check circulation. It's a big deal and I'm proud my boss pitched it to them.

It's also great to hear that my style is "delightful" and my features "truly excellent". That's my livelihood (and the way I pay my mortgage), and my boss has those incredibly high standards that make me want to stretch higher and write as good as I can. And learn how to be better. I still have a huge amount to learn, but I'm enjoying the way there.

Been touching base with a few old friends again. My past is the main thing that keeps me rooted, but that's okay. I start to understand the "backstory". If I was a character, I was starting to figure myself out.

Been reading about homosexuals in the Third Reich, and the book has a huge amount of good detail, while doing a pretty good job of narrating the main points of it all. I'll read some more accounts, but I think in a few weeks I'll be so chock-full of details that the scenes and characters will chrystallise around them and then magic happens - and the story comes out.

Now off to do my 500 words today.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hitting 30k

After really too much time spent staring at the screen, "Scorpion" has hit 30k yesterday. 30,600 words, to be exact, but I tend to not round up with wordcounts - what's acceptable in financial journalism (hey, what's a billion between friends when you're talking trillions?) feels sleazy and dishonest in writing. Dunno. Funny mind.

So this will quite conceivably turn into a novel... which makes me start to look at the options I have among publishers. The fact that some of them seem to do paper when things get above 60k and others do paper only when it sells well enough in ebook - that's a pretty strong incentive to do the "paper immediately" route. I just like paper. I started as a paper author, and I do like having paperbacks on my trophy shelf. Even if I sell more ebooks (so far, my print sales are still higher than my ebook sales... but the market is young and we'll see where things go).

I have a very strong image of the cover of "Scorpion" (talk about putting the roof on before the walls are up). I'm seeing, as the central element, to the right of the cover image, the raised tail of a scorpion, all shiny black chitin. I should not be doing that and leave cover artists to their devices and pretty much embrace whatever comes back... but that's very very difficult when the image is so strong.

I also find that expressions I coined are creeping into my every day mundane thoughts. "Gods below" as a curse/invective, like "heaven above". It makes the gods of that world seem pretty sinister - and they are, since they are fictional. This is a fantasy world without gods. These people are alone, and many of them know it. Atheist fantasy.

I'll balance that out with the "Avatar" series - or novel - I'm planning to write next. It's basically a rip-off of all my unfinished, unpublished work on that fantasy world I'd been building for years and years and that never amounted to anything. Now that I can write it in the genre these are meant to be in without fear of getting the "ewww" from your the usual fantasy mainstream crowd in Germany - I feel this could flow quite freely. The shame about German fantasy is - that most of those books are being targeted at a target group that is only too real, and still completely fictional, because they are not as dominant as the publishers think.

Books are chosen to be published if they fit for the pimpled sixteen year old boys or lives still with mama polo shirted doughy bachelors.

I'm happy and productive, and I still work too hard, but it feels far more sustainable now than it was. Settling into my rhythm again. Not working until complete exhaustion settles in. I'm just plugging away at this and that's an awesome prospect.

Here's to winter, and 2011.

Friday, 24 September 2010

More Moscow Thoughts

I've blogged over at Slash and Burn about my trip to Moscow.

Check it out here.

In other news, "First Blood" is out with Dreamspinner. It's the sequel to "Clean Slate", and you can get it in paper or e-book (because, yeah, it's a full-sized novel).

I now have to update websites and do a little bit of "promo" - and then I have to do the final editing pass of "Transit", at least for this stage. I already edited and approved the blurb.

I've taken Monday off. I need a little to recover from Moscow - and to write.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Moscow

I'm safe and sound in Moscow, in a pretty soulless, 4 star conference hotel a short way away from the centre. We went through Domodedovo airport, which can be pretty strange when there are a lot of young, dark-browed males lounging about. You're getting that distinct feeling they aren't hanging out there for fun or to wait for family.

The jovial arm of the law kept the taxi drivers at bay - telling us they'd drive us with a "Lexus, Lexus!". All communication failed. I don't even remember how to say "Sorry" in Russian. How DO you say sorry in Russian? Smiles and nods get you far, otherwise. Worked with the room maid just now.

The immigration officer fit the old stereotype well, visually, at least.In my mind, he looked like Nikita's younger brother. Food so far is decent, even the Italian in the hotel. I had to chuckle when I saw that the "pancakes" they serve with maple syrup looked like blinis on steroids.

What is very striking on the 40 minute drive from Domodedovo to Moscow (we're on Olympinski street - next to an old Olympic stadium) is the clash between "old", Stalinist and current. There are picturesque churches in pastel colours - looking like the love child of Byzantine and French architecture - brightlylit. Then the landscape tears open and reveals... hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vast beehives - habitation silos, featureless grey concrete blocks, lots of flats warmly lit, hinting an individual fates thus sheltered. Driving past those beehives for half an hour makes you want to run screaming back home and embrace your little terraced Victorian.

The architectural violence of a totalitarian system is heavy on the mind. The churches act like breathing spaces - something fancy and ultimately useless in the drab utilitarianism. I'mnot sure how else to house 13 million - certainly not the way London, half as big, does it. Then the modern buildings. Industrial quarters off shopping centres, like the worst of out of town, corugated iron development. There are German tech shops here (Media Markt), and in between, the brightly lit restaurants in yellows and reds - usually reds - as gaudy and loud as the worst in Turkey.

The Russians are either rude and graceless, or gracious and warm in ways that invites an embrace. I've not yet encountered middle ground. Worst was the passenger on the flight behind us, bitching loudly at a hold-up, sounding like those three minutes would cost her a fortune. Most people are great though. I've noted that kids are generally better behaved than anywhere in Britain, or at least a lot less loud when they have their "five minutes".

Otherwise, the frustration of being unable to communicate outside of English - my fault, not theirs.

I've read the "Moscow Times", and the human interest stories are quite different. Gangster got shot on the street with his bodyguard. Silenced Kalashnikov assault rifle (why silence an assault rifle? Must investigate. Residents fighting plans for an unnecessary kindergarden, Putin welcomes Arab money in Sotchi. Pensioner's only possessions - three pedigree Shar Peis - about to be seized by authorities as she's owing the state money. Authorities said they'll sell the dogs for a thir of their market value "to attract more interest". Politkovskaya, abbreviated, the tone is half amusedly resigned and ironic, hiding a deeper weariness and lots of scars. You can touch so much scar tissue in this country, it would be enough for anybody. I really want to learn more.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Progress

All journalistic assignments are done. This month, I was far less frantic and sleep-deprived than last time. I think I might get into a routine, even though finding an angle is always hard. Bloody angles.

My boss liked a piece I did on the side enough to offer it to the Big Magazine that our company is doing. It would be awesome to get a by-line there and be the only journalist in the world (or at least the internet) Who Has The Full Story. Nevermind it's a huge writing credit and will look very very good on my resume.

Ten days until my probationary period is done. Once I have the full rights of an employee, I also get access to pension plan and share scheme, and that seems pretty awesome, especially the shares.

Currently spending a lot of brain-power on re-jigging our personal finances - me, I'm preparing for either stagnation or a double dip in Britain. Both works well for us, but we can save even more money if we make some adjustments now.

Will also start investing on the stock market. I have some good ideas that I want to test. Beats putting them into a savings account that pays less than inflation takes away. Are you KIDDING?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

By will and caffeine

One of my two big journalistic assignments is done. I'm currently working on the second one, which will mean I'll get up very early tomorrow, head into the office and work through this as fast as possible, because tomorrow is the last day I can do this.

I did spend my lunch break taking part in a trading simulation, "working" as a prop and flow trader, and I can honestly say it's like crack, mainlined. What an awesome, awesome job. It definitely feeds into some of my worst or best character traits - the obsessiveness, the risk-taking, listening to my guts (unless it's about choosing friends, but I'm getting better at that, too), and the kick I get out of being right and winning a game or competition. Trading, full time, would turn me into a cocaine-snorting, foul-mouthed, shouting speed junkie. It's not the people - it's the job. And I only did it for 45 minutes.

Quite funny when a trader tries to tell you it's not "casino capitalism", while you play the market and get those intense and irrational ups and downs. It's maybe not a casino, and more like the highs and crashes of a full-blown addiction.

Well, in the simulation I came third and made 200 grand. Not bad working eight stocks for 45 minutes in a super-volatile market and serving fictional clients with completely outrageous spreads. If I don't update here anymore, I've started a prop trading firm. Voinov Capital. Sounds like a winner to me.

Monday I'm in Russia for four days, currently setting up meetings. I already have a couple meetings set up, so should be fun. Four star hotel and our own driver. I've come a long, long way from being laughed at in the "Job Centre" in Germany, and I'm having an absolute ball.

The muses are stirring quite strongly, but right now I don't have time for them. I'm making notes and do some planning and reading, but no serious progress in terms of wordcount. It'll happen on the weekend and at Heathrow, no doubt.

Right, back to writing about agricultural commodities investing and then bed. Helps me ignore the fact that that nasty old man is now in London for two days. I'd wave at him from the centre of the hedonistic wasteland in the City of London, but I'm too busy.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

What I've always wanted to do

When I bought the house (OK, I co-bought it, but it was ultimately my decision) and set up the "back reception room" as my library, and then bought a table and chairs and put my Turkish rug in there, I imaged working in that room.

Today I did. I took my 4k of very messy notes, made myself tea in a Japanese cast iron tea pot (green tea and peppermint is a great combination), and found the structure in my notes. It was pretty important to get away from the Internet, or all I'd have done would have been surfing the internet.

So I sat there, surrounded by books, with tea, at my table on my chair on my rug in my library. It was awesome (and very productive).

We've also completed the edits of "Father of all Things", which went to a publisher today (yeah, I wrote the query and the blurb, too, the synopsis was done a week ago).

After sending that off, I sat down and built the first draft for one of my features. It's still a bit rough - like Frankenstein's Monster, you can see the cuts and seams very clearly. It's also way too long (I'll have to cut a third), but it has come together and is one of my two big stories done this month. The second one will be harder, but I'm not even thinking that far yet.

One feature done, one novel sent out, not one fresh word written on Scorpion, but I guess that might have been asking for too much out of the day. I win.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Rising tide - and thoughts about blackness in "Scorpion"

I'm running myself ragged, sorting out all manner of things before I'm off to Moscow. At least my visa should show up tomorrow. Three days now to sort out the stuff I have to write - long hours, stuff coming in at the last minute, but unlike last month, I'm mostly sane and in control. I'm still balking at the amount of work that needs doing.

And of course the muses aren't leaving me alone. They are more insistent when I'm stressed and the schedule is tight. I have Kendras sitting in my ear, commenting on whatever else is going on. Let's say a cynical mercenary is damn funny company, but laughing out loud when there's no external stimulus for it gets you strange looks from the sales team. Just saying. I always pretend I got a funny email.

I'm also "casting" characters. That woman over there looks a bit like the Lady Protector's step mother. That banker over there - lose the pinstripe and the spiky hair, and cast him as Puppy or Stick. I'm more conscious of black men, too (and here I am, cruising for a beating from the "white privilege bashing crowd" - I shouldn't even go there, not even in my thoughts, let alone on a blog). I'm just saying I'm more aware. I guess my empathy gets a fine-tuning when I'm close to a character.

And of course it's crazy to write black when you're white, but it's also crazy to write anything that you're not, and when I think about that, I wouldn't have written any of my books that don't have journalists or some kind of analyst or keyboard mercenary as a character. So, that's all of them. I'm still conscious of the racism debate (having been called a racist because I didn't have any non-white characters), and I think it's one of those questions that you can only answer wrong ("Are you still beating your wife.").

In this case, Kendras is black. So is his officer. And the officer's mother. I can't do "all black people" justice, just like I can't do all women, men, bankers or soldiers justice. But I can do one character justice, and if that character happens to be black or disabled or whatever it is that I haven't tackled before, then that's cool. But that's not what the character IS. That's part of him, but not the whole thing.

And now I've moved very far out and stuck my head out (granted, several months after the "white privilege" discussion swept the intarwebs, but it's bound to come back). All in all, I write fiction, not philosophically treat or even solve the Big Issues of Humanity. That's not my remit or intention. Still means that discussion is bound to come up once I release "Scorpion" into the wild. I guess they'll stick it into "Inter-Racial", even though Kendras is black in a different way. He has blue eyes. Which is part of the plot rather than a cop-out, but I just know that people will call it a cop-out. But, in any case, the most awesome character in the book is black. (No blue eyes).

Slavery is a fact of life and colour-blind. I even think that the two warriors in "Scorpion" are black because the scorpion species in question is black - but I may be making stuff up after the fact.

If I attack anything or anybody, then it's the priesthood, but you need a villain, and that particular shot, while pretty cheap (unelected, hierarchical, greedy, parasitic cult based on invisible forces and superstition that runs the kingdom behind the scenes), nobody who knows me should be surprised by my stance on religious cults that make other people miserable.

Today at least, there's no venom. I'm too strung out to feel very strongly about anything - or muster much negative energy. Life's looking very fragile again, too many people are ill or had really terrible news. Some people have had great news, too. Me, I just have to allow this wave to wash over me and breathe once the water's gone.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Weekend accomplishments

On Saturday, I finished my edits for "Father of all Things", aka "FOAT", and now waiting for Rhianon to sort out her edits. The synopsis is primed and ready.

I went back to "Scorpion" and added another 1,200 words. I surprised myself there, too, as the plot made a reappearance halfway through a pretty grim sex scene. I'm now at 26k, and hoping for 60k at least, so I might get a paperback out of it. Maybe. Depending very much on the publisher I go with and a couple other factors. I'm certainly not rushing this one.

This is going to be the tough week just before the magazine goes off to the printer. I have a long list of stuff that I should have done and didn't, for various reasons, so I don't expect to get much writing done this week as I try and catch up with the plan.

But then, I'll be off in Moscow next week, and I get a lot done while on the move - airports for me are incredibly productive places. I think I'll get a lot of reading and research done for "Iron Cross".

So, yeah, I'm now working on both novels at the same time. Researching one while writing the other. That's my year sorted. Bring on Christmas.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Unforgiven, et al

Today I did my debut blog post over at Slash and Burn. Read it here.

I'll blog over there every two weeks, always Friday.

I'm currently in the hot phase at work. Everything has to come together in the next 9 days, and then I'm off to Moscow. Should be fun. And stress. And fun.

Today, I pondered what the most unforgiveable things are that I've ever heard. Funnily enough, I've taken everything from "you're an asshole" to "you'll end up just like your mother/the rest of your useless, antisocial family" (gee, thanks, Dad) just fine. Above all, I've proven them wrong - which is even better.

The real barbs were always the ones levelled at my writer-self. That ranged from "you have no right to write about something you haven't lived through", to "you pretentious wanna-be" and "you are burnt out and need me to write at all."

Those hurt for months. But I've proven them all wrong, too. I've gone through "where have you copied that?" (thanks, grandma) and come out on the other side, writing. I've tackled my pretentiousness - which was actually correct, I was pretentious, but for certain reasons. If you haven't found your voice yet, of course words ring hollow,. If you use big words that are hollow, that's pretentious. I've been doing better at finding my voice. Now, my convictions are behind every sentence. It's like that sound-based weapon in "Dune". If you hit the right note - if you use the Voice - it *will* be heard.

But regarding the Big Unforgiven - the biggest of them all - I've decided to not accept one euro of my father's money. I've carried the burden of that inheritance for five years. It's nearly - or already - legally void, and I feel relieved. I don't want one single euro from a rapist, wife-beater, alcoholic and all-round abusive asshole. There are many reasons for that, but the biggest one is that he always thought that was the only thing people wanted from him.

Well. No. I wanted you to be human, "Dad". But above all, you don't have any power over me. Not ever, not now.

One day, I'll write about "good fathers" - but I'm not quite done here with the forgiving. It's an ongoing process, and part of what fuels a certain deep anger I have inside. But it's good anger. You showed me everything that is bad about "Fatherhood".

Dark, twisted soul-mirror. I have your blue eyes, but mine are warm and clear, and I use them to see.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Just before the break

Currently in edits for the secret project, it's absolutely hopping at work and only gearing up towards getting crazy!mad again. So very little to report - too busy, brain too worn down after work for long introspective pieces.

"Lion of Kent" keeps getting great reviews, though, and ranks highly on the Amazon bestseller lists (#36 in Gay fiction and #56 in the gay Kindle list). I'm curious to see what the sales are like, but I'll know in about 6 months.

Today I went to St Paul's Cathedral where they have a Spitfire and a guy in a costume and some relevant bits and pieces exhibited. Made photos on the iPhone, but not sure yet if they are any good. Seeing one of the planes up close is still pretty awesome when you're writing about them. I was pretty close to going to the RAF Museum just to see one, and then they put one directly outside the office extra for me.

Very worried about an online friend with no idea what's happened to her. And dreading, as every year, November. There's this sense of impending dread which might be in part worry for friends and in part just general anxiety. I reckon I might pull back further and marshal my troops for a couple weeks. It's also, always, a tough time when I'm trying to get a novel launched and one finished. Attention/focus can only be split so many ways.

I think once the secret project is done, I'll take a break from writing for a few weeks. Let's see how that goes, but I think I need to recover my energy and fill my heart with images and fresh words. A good time to read and exercise and otherwise do very little at all.

Friday, 3 September 2010

More reviews

Ah, do I like having Google Alerts set up. I'd otherwise never find reviews such as this.

"THE LION OF KENT is a novella where passions and danger blend in to a beguiling and character driven read."

And I've made good progress on "State of Mind" by Libby Drew. This is actually fiction I'm reading just for fun. No reviewing or judging involved. Makes for a change. There is still stuff to read for judging and reviewing, and I'll get to that, but right now, just leaning back with a book is nice.

Talking about great books, my friend and co-writer soon has her own book out, called "Erekos", soon out from Candlemark & Gleam. I've seen the advanced readers/review copy (ARE), and it's beautiful. The prose is completely something else - it's one of my favourite books, a far cry from the cheap, mass-produced fantasy series that swamp the market. This is a wise book, a warm and affectionate book - if I'd have to compare it to anything, I'd compare it to Peter S Beagle's "The Last Unicorn".

I hope it sells a million, wins prizes, and that everybody reads it. The book deserves a huge audience, and I believe everybody should read it. Me, I'm getting the paper copy as soon as it's available and will probably give this as as birthday/Christmas present to my friends for years to come. Yes, it's that good.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Another review for "Deliverance"

Amora's Place liked "Deliverance" - thanks, Amora. :)

Review link here.

I'll try and get my 500 words in today and then call it an early night. (Because the last two weren't.) I've never been good at dealing with too little sleep. It's my way of getting hung over - working too hard, sleeping too little. I assume the traditional way is more fun. :)

I've read one of my source accounts for "Iron Cross" on the train today, so I feel a bit better about my research pile. Right now, pure fantasy is the way to go. I need to build up a critical mass of ideas and "energy" (for want of a better word) for Iron Cross. I'm not quite there yet. And Scorpion has been coming together beautifully.

First reviews and lots of travel

Reviews of Lion of Kent at Goodreads are doing good, - it's on track to be one of the highest-rated I've written/co-written. :)

I knew all the research of medieval boar-hunting would pay off...:)

Yesterday I got the galley of "First Blood", which all looks very solid. At this stage, it's all done and dusted, the main issues here are if the paragraphs look good. The galley stage is not really an editing stage, just a checking stage - are the pages in the right order, are the author names spelled right, that sort of thing. At work, when I do the galley, I end up knowing the magazine by heart... and you always, always miss something.

The secret project is moving apace. The lovers are reunited, now they only need to evade the crushing boot of the law. I'm not quite sure how they'll do that (especially since the law is personified by one of the coolest secondary characters... who wouldn't be stupid or do something without a reason). So, yeah, there's a 70-80k novel coming your way. And its first draft is 90-95% done.

I reckon it can all be wrapped up in the next 2 weeks or thereabouts, then needs editing and I need to finish writing the query and synopsis, which tends to take a week. I'll talk about it some more once it's done. There are some world-building details that need to be filled in, mainly some geography and technology.

Work is gearing up to be mad again - how I love the cyclical nature of magazine editorial work. Not. One relatively calm week, then progressively busy, until the last week is all mad dash and no sleep. But on the positive side, the Russian visa application was really quite straightforward.... compared to what they make my British colleagues go through, my application was fast and easy. I may keep that German citizenship - travel is uniformely easier than on a British passport. (And cheaper... I don't have to pay to enter Turkey, for example).

But right after the mad week I'll be in Moscow and help run a conference, which should be fun. And then Chicago in October. Wonder how many hoops they make me jump through to enter the US of A.

So, yeah, a couple big trips before the year's up. I do expect to catch up with my reading while at the airport/in the queues. I reckon I'll take WWII stuff and review stuff with me to Russia.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

"Lion of Kent" - background blog posts

Today's the day that Carina Press blogs about "Lion of Kent" - there are fun entries over at Facebook, and three entries over at the official Carina blog.


Finding the Story in History
talk about the inspiration of my professor - Professor H (I may have mentioned his book-buying habit).

Then Aiming for a Sense of Place - where Kate blogs about the locations, namely Medieval English castles here.

Finally, "The Lion of Kent" is some background on how it all happened.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, 30 August 2010

"Lion of Kent" is out

Today is the release date for "Lion of Kent".



Squire William Raven has only one goal—to finally receive his spurs and become a knight. When his lord, Sir Robert de Cantilou, returns from a five-year crusade in the Holy Land, William wants nothing more than to impress him.

After Sir Robert's return, noble guests arrive from France, bringing intrigue to the castle. William is oblivious to the politics, as he's distracted by nightly visits from a faceless lover—a man who pleasures him in the dark and then leaves—a man he soon discovers is none other than his master, Sir Robert.

But William can't ignore the scheming around him when he overhears a plot to murder Robert. He becomes intent on saving his lord and lover from those who would see him killed...

Find an excerpt and the buy link here.

During the day, there will be "favourite sentences" over at Carina Press's account on Facebook, and Carina Press's blog.

Would be great to see you there.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Killing the golden goose

So many things damage artists. Apart from the knocks that we - like everybody else - get in life, there are some specific knocks that we somehow have to deal with. How to do it, though, isn't covered by the booklet with the delivery of "Artistic Talent". In fact, there's no booklet at all. We get this enormous thing delivered, and barely know how to deal with it. Maybe but a table cloth over the box and a fruit bowl on top and ignore it?

Apart from the usual issues - balancing "life" and "real life", there''s the other stuff. Piracy is one of them. Just today I learnt that Paul Richmond, the brain/hand behind the covers for "Clean Slate" and "First Blood" is being bootlegged by some asshole in China, who claims the copyright for the paintings. Read the full story here. What stuff like that does to a writer or painter, I guess few people can imagine. Maybe if somebody broke into your house and sold your clothes to random strangers out of your front door - and no police to call, no efficient help.

That's what writers feel like who get pirated. Some people get so hurt by this that they simply don't open the door to strangers anymore. They stop publishing and keep stuff to themselves and their friends. Pirates/bootlegger have quite literally killed the goose that lays golden eggs.

Another story is rather more personal. There are writers out there - and usually the best of them - that cannot deal with "publicity". They cannot deal with the need to run around on blogs and get on the stage and talk about themselves. Entertain in any other way than to send stuff to a publisher and then retreat, somehow reaching deep inside and digging up that pulsing heart that is the beginning of every story.

Forcing these people on the stage is like forcing a 9 month pregnant woman to dance on the stage, with a theoretical 5 billion people watching. For eternity. Because nothing that's posted on the Internet ever goes away. Dance bitch. Because you want to sell those books, don't you? You feel uncomfortable? Well, that's too damn bad, we're sure there are others that will just kill their dogs to be allowed to dance.

It's those expectations - some spoken, some unspoken - that kill the story. Make the author aware of what they are doing - and suddenly their legs cross, they stumble. Above all, they stop loving what they are doing. And it freezes the story to death before it had any chance to live.

The audience, the expectation, the publisher, one's own terribly high expectations - they can kill stories by a thousand cuts. To write, writers need to skin part of their own souls, and then write with the blood, through clenched teeth. We do it because we must, and getting watched makes it all awkward and kills the love.

There's one book that died on me like that - it took my agent to say "awesome, I'll sell that for a five-figure sum", to kill the book. I was dead flat broke, unemployed, desperate for money and recognition, and that book could have solved every problem I had.

I wrote 35 pages. They were good pages. I ended up staring at the screen and hated the idea of writing a single sentence. I threw fits over it, shouted, hated, resented every unborn character, every unwritten line of dialogue, knowing I'd have to drag myself by my teeth through a book that I never grew to love because of those expectations.

That's when I stopped wanting to be a "real author". I cut the throats of almost all my literary ambitions. I didn't write much. When I wrote again, I decided I'll only ever write fluff. (Granted, it hasn't happened... but the serious books happen against my best intentions, by following the story rather than sitting down with any notion of "I R Noah Serious Rita!"). Fuck that. My agent kept telling me how talented I am, and in a way I know all all - unless I don't, and doubt everything I do - and that's great, but the expectations are really, really tough at times.

I'm now productive and happy because I'm telling my muse "know what, I'm just playing", and he writes his little black heart out. I'm not thinking of the audience. There IS NO AUDIENCE. All those people are my friends. Elaine, Audra, Lori, Marcie, Peter... not "the audience" and not "the lions I get tossed to."

I'm a people person. I deal with people one at a time. I can't deal with groups at all. Groups in my brain are scary, hostile, faceless. I need to break that word down into who and what it's composed of. I can't do it any other way.

That's how I can dance while carrying a story. I only ever see one face in the crowd. That's the one person I'm doing it for. It can be as many as four or five, but that's it. Then again, I'm not ignoring the others. A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet - I've gradually stepped away from my learned paranoia and decided I will not live in a way that allows the bullies from the early decades in my life to decide how I deal with people for the rest of my life.

But it happens, we lose a lot of fantastic writers and great stories because something kills the spark. It might be the violation of disrespect and ignorance, it might be that pressure to "perform" and be everything - writer, promoter, VIP. I just know that sometimes, it can wipe out the best of us. These issues never crop of with the mediocre and the plain bad. They take the best.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Four day weekend

It's a banking holiday in the UK. And I've taken the opportunity to add a Friday to that, so I'm looking down the right end of a four day weekend.

Today's also the day that my neighbour is moving. It's a little disturbing, since there's an ambulance right next to the moving van and the movers are standing around on the street, talking about the things 19-25 year old lads are talking about, and fiddle with their mobile phones. Let's hope she's okay.

I'm in a peculiar mood today - we visited the parents of our friend who died in April, just to check in on them, see how they are doing. They are over here from Spain, where they live most of the year. There's this notable absence - sitting in Chris's living room, talking to his parents. Sometimes, we're the sum of our losses.

Life's too short, really. It takes such a long time to become who we are, to do the things we were meant to do, that anything shorter than a hundred years isn't nearly enough and an insult to all the hard work we had to put in up to that point.

Being parentless, or should I say motherless, because my father only really contributed some pretty solid DNA, is likely different to be mourning a child. My mother had years that were outside my experience, and in some ways we were completely different. We had our fights like probably only two Taureans can fight.

High drama, snarls, seething accusations. Yet, in a strange way, I was always prepared to grow up very fast. I remember some astonishing insights as a small child, a confidence, clarity and strength that very often kept me in good stead. I grew up very fast as if part of me knew I wouldn't have many people to depend on in my life. Very likely I owe that to my mother, who was - working as she was, and falling desperately in love with one asshole after the other - largely absent, but never left any doubt that she loved me. I guess, apart from the gift of life, that's really the main thing I received. Self-sufficiency because there were precious few resources to back me up, and the feeling that I was loved unconditionally.

Even fourteen years later, there's this "wish she could see that", and I'll likely never lose that feeling. We do carry our dead around, sometimes as a burden, sometimes as a privilege.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I'm turning into my professor

I'm turning into my professor - the famous professor H. I once helped the man move... I didn't actually carry anything. My whole job was to sort the books by "period" and "theme" (or sub-theme of history, such as religion, warfare, mentality, nobility). It took me a whole day, long into the night. While I did that, I noticed that he owned one book (Montaillou - a book on an inquisitorial investigation in southern France during the late Middle Ages) FIVE times. Three hardcovers and a couple paperbacks.

I pointed at them, as they sat there, lined up on the shelf and asked him "why?"

He said that one had been a gift, one was owned by his wife, he bought the other one since he'd forgotten he owned the book, and the fourth was bought when he couldn't find it.

Yesterday, I bought a book because I couldn't find an absolutely crucial bit of information on German horsebreeding in WWII. Very soon, I'll enter the stage where I forgot I owned stuff (when I moved house, I already found two duplicate books - one pair on creative writing, the other pair on the history of Islam - so we're not far off).

I do wonder if ebooks are the solution to that. After all, it should be easier to organize them. Especially when the vendor keeps a copy on the shelf.

But now I'm eagerly awaiting the delivery of my horse book. And once it shows up at my door - I'll just pretend all this didn't happen and either give the second copy away as a gift (my professor gave me one of his five copies after a thoughtful moment and a "guess I really don't need FIVE."), donate them or sell them on.

Old age will be fun.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mostly done

I spent the last days working nonstop, but it's paid off. The big technical feature is written. Tomorrow I'll do a some nip and tuck on it (okay, more than "some", I have to cut around 40%... but I already trimmed it by a third, so... yeah, I can do this), so heading off to work early again, but after that, the worst part is done.

I also finished the line-edit of "First Blood" and now have four days to do the fact checking about some details. Four days sounds like a *lot* after the amount of stuff I did recently.

I'm also flying out to Germany for a few days over bank holiday weekend, meeting friends and hopefully not working at all. While I've "done" it, and I think it's a good result and will be even better after the final cutting - I've learnt a lot about pacing myself and how much I can work on how little sleep. Getting there. I'm way more positive about the next bits and pieces. Boss seems happy, too. Overall, it's all looking good.

But right now, my brain's hurting from too much work. I'll enjoy sleeping for eight hours and relaxing, and tomorrow is the last "Kraftanstrengung" (which translates as "expenditure of strength", but the English expression isn't nearly as poignant) - stuff will be finished then, and I can book my flights.

Life's good, but pretty hard work.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Long weekend

I've done a huge pile of work-related work yesterday. Then I started editing "First Blood". Note to self - editing 10k a day is bad for your sanity.

Today I got up early (on a Sunday. I'm a hero), and edited 20k of "First Blood".

That means that not only has my sanity taken a major hit, I'm also halfway through "First Blood", which has 62k words. All this so I can manage the remaining edits during a completely crazy work week. Somehow. I'm not sure how Barbara powered through 160 pages of the text on one day...she's just that good. :)

The edits are 95% "fiddly shit" as I call it - pure line-editing and having found a better word in the meantime. The 5% percent is stuff that I could have discovered with more in-depth research. I guess one never stops learning.

Now I'll have to go back to "work work" and earn my keep there. Apart from those two, I read two books for Elisa Rolle's Rainbow Awards (and both were pretty good). I'm done there, so at least there won't be frantic activity on that count in the next couple weeks.

I'll see you soon on the flipside with more interesting musings than wordcounts.

Maybe one thing - I got a long, awesome email expressing gratitude for my writing, which is always amazing and does help with the moments where I go "can't be bothered, am going to bed."

Thanks guys, for your support. It makes a huge difference.

Now I'll grab a book and a nap on the couch - I'll have to do a load of work tonight, but late afternoon is my "dead zone" anyway, and nothing gets me through editing exhaustion like a book and 30 minutes shuteye.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Autumn and quote

On the way to the post office (to post "Soldiers I and II" to the winner of the charity auction) I realised summer's over. It's a certain chill in the air, a feeling of having gotten past the peak. Summer may linger a little, and might even come back with heat, but there's an insistence to the rain, a vague chill when it's cool. The colours are paling, gently, the South-East is segueing into that grey non-weather that precedes autumn. The roses have moved on - the flowers lost their strength a week ago, the fruit are closed and begin to swell to red. Nature calms, readies to preserve strength.

I've taken a pile of work home. I usually don't do that. I like my life/work balance well, balanced. But in this case I don't mind. It's a pretty awesome job, I'm working with and for awesome people (at least first level up, I don't know the powers beyond that much, yet). Then again, like a soldier, the NCO is way more important to me than the general, anyway. Rarely have I worked in such a disciplined, hard-working company. After the other places, here's a sense of "purpose" which really beats the crap out of the "I show up and collect my paycheque" attitude at the other places I've worked for.

So, that's what I'll do. In addition, Dreamspinner sent us the edits of "First Blood", which need to be returned by 23rd. I'll be frantically busy to hit the deadline at work and for the publisher, but I'll do my best. Consequently, everything else is on hold (that's editing TCaS and SF).

A couple weeks ago I found this quote by Mario Vargas Llosa:

"That is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding
the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the
best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him,
because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of
life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what
he might achieve through it."

It's from "Letters to a young Novellist", a slim little book that so far is 100% true.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

My workspace

Okay, I'm now taking you on a tour to my workspace (aka "the desk", "the study", "where things happen"). Here's the shot from the staircase:



You see my newly-expanded desk (the cupboard to the side is the thing I build yesterday). My printer's sitting on top. The big grey folder is the master copy of "To Catch a Spy". There's a tea light holder from Turkey (red and golden light). My mouse (I'm a lefthander or "south paw"). The acrylic stapler. The big monitor. To the right, a holder with stuff - pens and sticky tape and rollerball refills. Random coins. Iphone. pen wallet with favourite pen. Underneath, a Moleskine notebook.

All the cables attached to the tower are iPhone cable, headphone cable, eReader cable. Sometimes I tidy them up, most of the time I ust make sure I don't roll over them.

Next one:




Same view from the other corridor (the one leading to the bathroom). Note the small shelf at the far end. On top, there's the books I'm currently using for reference - one on gorillas, one on the Third Reich, one on CIA issues (the latter one is for TCaS). A small black box holding more knicknacks (in this case, a single cufflink and a pen cartridge). In the corner, my smiling brass Ganesha, patron god of the arts, wisdom and overcoming obstacles.

And the last one:



Here, I'm showing off my new cupboard. Inside, far end, is paper for the printer. Note how it does look like it belongs to my desk (color of the handle matches colour of the legs). There's a box holding random stuff (in this case, tea lights and more cables). The red folder holds the print-out of "Scorpion and Steel"), the blue folder holds "Iron Cross". There they sit, patiently awaiting the day when the big grey folder holding "To Catch a Spy" is removed so they can ursurp that position.

And that's really it.

ETA: Just saw you can't see the Ganesha in the corner. Here he is:



I think that smile is irresistible. So far, when I look over, he just seems to remind me "hey, it's fun, smile. Enjoy yourself". And that does help at times. Reminds me to relax and just do it.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Making stuff

I just started my day with putting together a cupboard. To get that thing delivered, I spent 2 hrs in a phone queue from hell, so no doubt this will become one of my most cherished pieces of furniture.

It's (fake) beech and fits neatly with my desk, giving me some of that coveted storage space for contracts and nicknacks. Also I could push my printer from my work desk and over to the cupboard. It's all still within reach, but frees up some space for planning and plotting to the side of the computer, so that makes for a much less crowded desk overall.

Now I have to decide what goes in there and how, but that's a question for another day. I've been coveting some acrylic stands and holders to complete the desk, but I'm also wary about crowding it up again. Authors can be funny about their work environment. Right now I have plenty of space to keep my couple piles of things mostly organised (usually, they are printed manuscripts and notes, where I "think"). Luxury worries if you have nothing else to worry about.

Meeting the estate agent last week was great. I'll have to do some financial planning on Thursday, but looks like all this house was an even better purchase than we thought. It's still something of an ongoing process, and with the economic data likely to get worse again (the "double dip" might just be here), we're moving very carefully indeed. People I'm talking to seem to expect things to get better in about 2-3 years... if China holds up and we don't see the real estate bubble in China explode (at the moment, my vote is, stay the hell away from China... but I'm not an economist).

The cool thing about my job is, I do get a great view on the global economy and get to talk to some seriously smart people (some of whom are scumbags). Which creates investment ideas. So I'll pretty soon start investing - the aim is to beat my pension pot in terms of performance, and the cash ISA and/or inflation at the very least. I reckon 5%/year should be doable without being a money whiz. Or doing nothing else.

And this weekend I'll work on TCaS. First steps will be to collate all the feedback I got, print out a fresh copy of the manuscript (one chapter at a time), put it all into folders, then go through it, pen in hand, identifying the things that need rewriting and improving the bits that are good.

Gritty groundwork. My least favourite bit. But the big goal is to finish this before "First Blood" comes back from Dreamspinner. Which might be very soon. Hopefully, it's all wrapped up by end of the month.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

No more ballet for me

Yesterday, I saw the Bolshoi Ballet in the Royal Opera House. I've seen some ballet in my time, always had a strange love for both classical and modern dance, thought I'd seen a good show with "Cinderella" a couple months ago.

Well, the Bolshoi makes every other ballet company I've seen look like lumbering idiots. Art can be a deeply spiritual experience. I swear I spaced out watching that, fell into a trance of sheer wonder.

"Spartacus" is so different, too. Martial, raw, testosterone-drenched, which works incredibly well with the famous Bolshoi male dancers (they are quite famous for producing the best male dancers, without matching that quality quite on the female side... I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, the women were fine, Phrygia was heartbreakingly etherial, Aegina imperial and sensuous). The sheer athleticism of the male leads was breathtaking, though. I've never seen anything like it. Quite likely, I never will again.

Art purges the emotions. Shock and awe, running us through the palette of emotion to cleanse us and leave that zen-like glow of peace and harmony with the universe. Sometimes, you just become one. Art to me is the real religion, that group experience of beauty and purity. The Bolshoi got me there, yesterday, and held me there for three hours.

It happens sometimes when I write, or read, when suddenly the universe becomes a place in one's soul, vast and yet entirely mine. And then I completely understand any other artist, too, who devotes his life to get there, and take other people there.

So much grace left me exhausted with beauty. It's that "I could die happy now" feeling.

It also ruined any other ballet for me. After I've seen what it can be like, I'm simply not interested to watch any ballet that's not the Bolshoi or as good as them. And I'm so grateful to have seen them. In terms of birthday presents, this will be very hard to beat.