Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Let's have a 2014 like this little guy

I was kind of casting around to see what my intentions are for the new year. I mean, it's a great thing to have a brand new year to tackle. "Tackle" already implies a struggle, though, doesn't it? To conquer? Sounds like 2014 is going to be an enemy. "Deal with" make it a crisis.

I've decided to play with 2014. And the perfect thing for me is to visualise it like it's a pumpkin, and I'm a red panda. Like this little guy:

Red panda going nuts over a pumpkin.

That's how I want my 2014. I'll play like nobody's business.

Happy New Year, everybody. Don't forget to play. :)

Sunday, 29 December 2013

What my younger writing self has taught me

I spent the last two days re-reading and annotating a PDF copy of my first-ever German fantasy novel. It was co-written with a dear friend of mine, so you can really see that I've been pretty much a creative team-player from the get-go. I co-wrote the bulk of that novel in 2000, and it was published in 2001. Or thereabouts. Memory does get a bit hazy, so I'd have to dig through my livejournal to get to the posts.

There's a lot of very embarrassing mistakes around that book, so in the interest of appreciating how far I've come, I'm going to talk about that book a bit.

1) I didn't know back then that you don't "game" the review system. Quite a few reviews of the book are by friends. I didn't tell them what to write, but I do assume they wanted to help me and wrote nice stuff to help sell the book. These days, I wouldn't do that. I don't review friends without full disclosure. Back in the days, it seemed legit and okay - but in a way, our relationship with Amazon and reviewing was very much developing.

2) My first-ever review was a troll review and I survived it. Same book, and the first review of it was a nasty takedown written by my main characters (the troll had a sense of humor). These days, I know that "reviewers" who only have one 1-star review and are clearly trolling a book or author have very little credibility. Back then, it really hurt. By now, I know pretty much who did it. Someone who wanted to be published by never managed, and someone who was in a constant competition with me. The only thing that person could do was try to hurt me via my books. It's ancient history now, and didn't actually stop or impede or even slow me down. The best revenge is always to keep writing. The only thing that can stop me is my own head.

3) My "themes" are very very apparent even in this piece of juvenalia. Let's see, we have the murderous/destructive/controlling/tyrannical father who's quite definitely a threat to life and sanity of the main character. We have a very homoerotic student/teacher relationship, and a character with an ambivalent bisexuality; though he sleeps with women, he seems to bond mostly with men, and notices how attractive they are. We have the restrictive "system" subjugating the "hero" (the inquisition are essentially proto-Fascists). The character is very competent, but over/underestimates things, which comes back to bite him. He's being taught humility and humanity. The character is an idealist, and a twisted/wounded one. In some ways, there's a straight line running between him and Hagen of Unhinge. And again, it's about warriors. I always write about fighters/soldiers/warriors. And, yes, the villain/turncoat is most definitely in love with his teacher. Love/lust/possessiveness is his primary motivation. I thought I was very subtle when I wrote it that way, but it's screamingly obvious.

4) Learning the craft did me a world of good. I wrote this before I knew very much about the craft of writing, so all the newbie's mistake are there: show don't tell. Overexplaining. Over-writing. Hyperbole. I do think the book would be twice as good if I could kill about 5% of the text. Abused adjective and adverbs. Melodrama. We even have a character look at himself in the mirror to describe himself. Point-of-view is jumpy as hell. While it tries to be third person, it's really more omniscient with the narrator constantly chiming in. It's very distracting and the camera has moments where it's about as steady as in the beginning sequence of Saving Private Ryan.

5) The harsh editor is your friend. Yes, the book was edited - there was kind of a developmental edit and a line edit, but both didn't go nearly deep enough. An experienced editor should have seen the craft issues and might have taught us to spot and fix the craft-related problems that the book now suffers from. Looking back now, *I* could be the kind of editor and teach myself what went wrong here.

6) Publishing before you're ready is a mistake. Part of the attraction of writing this book was the pay cheque, I'm not lying. Those 3,000 EUR were a lot of money for me back then as a student, even split with my co-writer. I also felt, very strongly, that I could easily compete with the quality in the series (and I was right). However, just "writing it for the hell of it" is a poor reason - just a couple years later, I could have written it so much better. Part of me tries to be the indulgent parent and think "oh well, it reflects who I was at 25", but some other part reminds myself how old Goethe was when he wrote Faust. One part is proud I did it, another really believes I wasn't ready and it shouldn't have been published, or at least not without a very very strict, very good editor.

7) The plot actually works. Yes, it's a simple quest plus mystery, but the actual plot ticks along like clockwork. The characters are doing what they're supposed to do. The mystery adds up. The final battle is satisfying, stakes are high, the resolution is pretty dramatic and epic. The bulk of the novel's told at page 220. The mistake is that it has 60-70 more pages and a "second ending" that is less dramatic than the first ending.

8) Symbolism/metaphor really enhances story. There are some amazing lines in there, I was shocked. The whole book lives on the light/dark, cold/heat metaphorical field, and it really amplifies the story, heavy-handed as it is at times.

9) It's AAAAALIIIIVE! There's a raw power and life to it that carries through even though the craft itself is weak and it's not an amazing book. But it's a book that's still alive. It's not pretty with its drooping eyelids and uneven gait and hunchback, but it's breathing. It seems this young writer had some promise from the start - you can see unformed talent and I wish I could go back and coach myself to get better faster, because the material, the talent, the heart, are all there. They're just unformed and a bit ugly. I do think readers are seeking out that "life" in fiction more than the "pretty words", but personally for me, they have to come together to fully satisfy me.

10) It's still satisfying. Part of the driving force behind the book was the attempt to immortalise a few characters. My "gamemaster" when I played the mage character, for example, really didn't utilise his backstory well, so writing the book around the mage and his brother and his lover kinda allowed me to use the backstory myself and in a more satisfying way. It was maybe a little bit a "fuck you" to those people who hated my character. By writing the book, I made them "canon" in the game world, whereas *their* characters didn't become part of the greater whole. I think sometimes revenge is a dish best served in paperback. Also, "properly" using my character has always been a driving force behind my books. Kendras started as a gaming character too, and the game wasn't what I expected, so I took his backstory and turned it all into Scorpion. I'm no longer very good at giving any GM control over my characters. It should have been a clue from the start that I'm a writer and no longer a gamer.

So what did I do to the old biddy of a book? I cleaned up some scanning/OCR issues (not many, the text was pretty clean) and re-read the whole thing from start to ending, commenting in the PDF as I went along. I deleted some sentences that weakened the scene, took out some CAPITAL LETTERS and replaced them with italics. Set foreign language in italics.

After re-reading it, I'm ambivalent about the book. It has issues. Today, I would write it differently. The plot is pretty good, the characters decent. I'd really love to unleash everything I've learnt in the last 14-15 years on that set-up and really ride it this time.

It's also not a great use of my time. The book as-is is part of a larger world with fans who were paying stupid prices for the "collectors items" that some of the paperbacks have become. I believe in making old stuff accessible. I don't believe in paying 30+ EUR for a paperback. So in a way, the re-release and re-print can't be too far from the original, so the co-writer and myself have decided that we'll edit it, but do it very gently.

None of the changes I'm suggesting will hurt the integrity of the book. I'm not adding anything. I'm just taking some weak phrases out and did a basic proofing run. I'll also add an author's note that explains where I'm standing now, creatively, and how I worked on the book. I have to accept that it's my first book and has issues and will have issues forever. My inner perfectionist is screaming at this, but it's OK. There's much, much worse out there, and I'll look at it like at a historical document of sorts.

I've now sent the annotated file to the co-author so she can make her edits and then we'll move forward with this.

I have two more PDFs to work through. The good news is - they are "later", so I should be a better writer then.

Above all, I've learned how far I've come since 2000. I have to let go and accept I'm not perfect. 13-14 years from now, I'll be cringing at what I'm now considering my best writing. A writer is a river. Everything flows and changes and we're never the same person as the one who wrote yesterday's story. I'm hoping to embrace that a bit more in the future.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Seasonal update

It's a fine tradition in this house to be working on books over Xmas. I finished my first print novel in Germany over Christmas 2000. I don't remember what else I did in that year, but I remember sitting quite contently and editing/tweaking that book. It seemed like a very good use of "empty" time.

This year, I have a pile of edits on my desk. Developmental edits on one book and line edits on another. I've also sent back edits on a third novel before that and a fourth novel is currently with the editor. Two of those are co-written, but the ones hogging my desktop right now are both solos, which means I can't consult with a co-writer on decisions and that self-consciousness and anxiety kicks in. What if it's not good?

Well. I took the liberty to spend the last two days playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Christmas present from the Dude), which has a ludicrous story if you actually follow politics and military history, but some pixel eye candy, pretty well-written levels and oh the shiny. Amped up on trigger-happiness, I then switched to an old favourite: Splinter Cell: Conviction, which made me re-learn the bloody controller, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. Of course, my DNA as a gamer is to go for maximum damage, so Sam Fisher never killed so many people. In a sneaky way. (That's why I like Gears of War and Call of Duty - the comical levels of ultraviolence.)

It does make me want to write some more military stuff, so that should be great for that series of paranormal novels I'm hatching.

I made my first batch of unassisted gingerbread. I'm also currently in the process of helping a friend buy a house. I've been through the process before, and personal finance is a hobby of mine. I just enjoy financial planning.

Then I've heard back from a job I applied for and they want to see me in early January. They're also seeing my boss (yes, we're sharing job specs, considering the ship feels a lot like it's going down).

So, lots of stuff going on. I'm not really writing, though I hope the Muse will be a bit more cooperative. I've been putting words down for Suckerpunch, but it's not nearly in the quantities that I'll need.

Then I've been in contract negotiations with Ulisses-Spiele for the re-issue of three of my old German novels. They have the rights for the 150-odd book series "DSA", Germany's largest fantasy RPG system. I'd estimate about 95% of all German speculative fiction writers got their break with DSA, which always had a decidedly fannish culture and hence much lower barriers to entry, to borrow a term.

That means re-reading the old manuscripts, making changes where necessary and accepting that I wasn't a great stylist 13 years ago. (I'm still no great stylist, mind, but these days I get edited a lot more harshly.) Mostly, I have to fight the instinct to butcher and rewrite them. Essentially, I can't enforce my current tastes on something so old. Any editing done on this needs to be gentle.

I'm also considering adding a sex scene to one of them - something the editor is very much in favour of. There are two male couples in there, and one's mostly hinted at. I think that slave should get a reward...

I briefly considered attending the Leipzig Book Fair in March, but then I saw that the whole city is booked out for the weekend and decided against it. While friends claim I'm "still a known quantity" due to the DSA novels, I don't have anything to offer in German. That said, I might co-write something with a German friend to keep my hand in. That said, I will travel to Marburg in late March to visit friends.

Christmas (or "Chrimbo" as some people call it) didn't make much of an impact. Not seeing family, not entertaining, not cooking huge amounts of food. It's a week off and I'm getting a couple books done. Cooking-wise, we selected a few favourites and are preparing those. I admire all the authors who're putting out Christmas codas, but I'm not getting into the groove and right now I'm not writing in any meaningful way. When I'm trapped in the "editing" side of my brain, writing isn't easy. I think the brain will be clearer when I'm done with these two books and have them out of the way.

Plans for 2014 so far include:

- Getting a new real-life job
- Getting a new bathroom installed
- Finishing Suckerpunch
- Writing two historical novels
- Writing more Market Garden
- Launching/planning a new paranormal series

Anyway. Hope you guys are having a good Festive Season and a Happy New Year. :)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The things I watched

I think there's a correlation between what an author reads and what s/he writes or thinks about. I also think that correlation can have a negative impact. Rather than be original, we regurgitate what we've read. Rather than take people and emotions from real life, we create a copy of a copy of  a copy until no truth or life remains. It's maybe not fair, but it's one of the reasons why I try to read as widely as I can. Recently, I've been reading almost no m/m - but a lot of gay nonfiction, "mainstream literary" books, generic non-fiction, how-to books, creative writing books, lots of stuff on the internet - research for books I will never have the time to write/. Just filling my head up with ideas and words outside my own ecosystem. No idea where it'll take me - it's all strange chemical elements that, crammed together like this, might spark something. There might be a chain reaction I cannot stop, and gods know what it'll create. It's fine. I call this my "recharging" process.

Unable to write, I've watched a LOT of British TV - usually in the shape of boxed sets of BBC series. One of the first ones was Luther, which was effing amazing, because of all the moral quandaries. Edge-of-the-seat stuff. Intelligent, well-written, amazingly acted (Idris Elba!), and even the minor characters were excellent. Loved it. Deeply disturbing at times. Loved, loved it.

Then was Sapphire & Steel, which is a late-1970s/early-1980s series and spectacularly good, considering it had basically zero budget. It has that kinda cheap-but-joyful Dr Who vibe, where people act in really ramshackle, low-budget conditions, but OMG did I love the world-building and the really intelligent plot twists. It's involved, you can't miss five minutes, and despite the infuriating format of, IDK, 25-minute episodes, of which 5 or so form a "case", I loved it. Because of the "cheap and cheerful" conditions, the writing is carried by excellent dialogue - it's very "stagey" most of the time. Above all - nothing gets explained. Zip. Zilch. The author just trusts the audience to comer along. Nobody stops to explain the bigger picture, which keeps the audience guessing. We wolfed this stuff down in a couple days.

And we've just started Lexx: The Dark Zone, which a friend of mine tried to get me to watch, but it was way, way too weird for me at the time and it didn't appear to make any sense. Now, on the second attempt, it's still really weird, but I'm appreciating all the black comedy much more. Also, I've run so many games with the score that hearing the music ten years later or so is weird, but has a lot of good memories tied into it. It's wildly irreverent and weird and "punk" in some ways, and there's nudge-nudge, wink-wink. And a lot of very visceral body-horror "ick" moments, so we won't be having our dinner again while watching the next episode.

Anyway, we'll see what those things stir up, but mostly, it's good fun and keeps the grey cells engaged while I'm hoping that the words return in force at some point. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Checking in (and Rainbow Awards)

First of all, congratulations to all the winners and runners-up of the Rainbow Awards. Elisa Rolle did a great job pulling it all together and raising a respectable amount of money for rainbow charities.

Lots of my friends did really well, and I think LA Witt essentially ended up owning most of the speculative fiction (including historical) categories. From the books I've read (as a reader, I was a judge only in YA and f/f this year), it's been a very, very strong field. Well done, everybody.

Since most of the books I wwrote during the eligibility period were co-written, I'm co-winner with LA Witt in the Best LGBT Erotica category with If It Flies/If It Fornicates. That pleases me because responses to those were really mixed, so it's a "no way in hell, REALLY?" kind of surprise.

We also have a couple of runners-up: Capture & Surrender was a runner-up in the Best LGBT Erotic Romance category, and Unhinge the Universe scored in the Best Gay Historical Romance category.

Bottom line: Market Garden did extremely well, and so did the co-written stuff.

No news on the job front in real life, which does pre-occupy my brain quite a bit. My company is still getting sold, and the sale to two other buyers has fallen through, but there's apparently somebody else interested. Aledgedly, there will be some kind of development this week. Or maybe not. Essentially, we've been in a holding pattern for about six months now, so I'm applying for stuff that suits me to plot my escape. I'm ... not good with holding patterns.

In positive news, I've done quite a bit of research and additional brainstorming on Suckerpunch, even though I haven't really added any more words to a bit I started a couple weeks ago. Ever since co-writing Payoff, the third in the Tristan/Jared story, I haven't really written at all. I have, however, banged my head a lot against our cop novel, which is a 97k beast so far and requires some minor tweaking. I don't seem to have a lot of brain juice for editing or writing at the moment, so it's been slow and painful, and slow, and slow, and slow. Maybe I just need a holiday - or know whether I'll have a job next month. I guess either of those will do. Mostly, I'm keeping my head down and am grateful when I make any kind of progress in anything. It's the usual kind of mindset, the whole "will I ever write again" - despite empirical proof that I've always written again after such a slump and usually better than before. Writers are moody creatures. Ignore me. It'll get better eventually - it always does, and my brain is being an idjit. I'm just haunted by worries/concerns over Scorpion, I guess, and whether I screwed it all up. The phase between writing and getting stuff published is terrifying - I'd forgotten just how bad it is.

However, being free from the relentless "I can't, I have to write" pressure means I get to spend more time with friends and my partner, so that's definitely a good thing. I do hope we'll get snow soon. Today was the first time that I had to break out my big green woollen coat AND the fleece, so I'm hopeful. Also, obviously, trains got cancelled, and the whole city is shrouded in semi-frozen, low-hanging fog.

I'm amusing myself a little with an idea for a paranormal series that won't sell worth a damn. Maybe I'll make that my new ambition - only breed bunnies that I know won't sell. I'll reframe it as "my little eccentricities" rather than "my secondary career". There's Suckerpunch first, though. The characters are talking to me some of the time at least, and I have the general plot arch, and I like the idea. That, and edits, should quite happily carry me over into the next year.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Killing 400 emails

After re-organizing half my life in the last couple weeks (in terms of paperwork and admin), I've now tackled the real beast: my main email inbox, which had just under 1,100 emails, dating back about 3 years. This is obviously only possible because work at work is incredibly slow and I struggle to write at work. Usually, it's not happening, certainly not when the rest of the team is in (and talking).

So I'm doing what I did with the real life paper situation at home and delete/rip up, file/archive, respond, or defer to "need more time to deal with this". I'm now at 694 emails left over and can quite reaonably expect to push this to about 500 either today or tomorrow. That's the best email count ever. Granted, the 500 or so that'll remain likely mean slightly more effort, but 500 is a lot more doable than 1,100. (Though a subjective 50,000 of them were royalty reports - I'm so glad I pulled some work back just because it saves me a huge amount of admin/headspace not having to do admin on 50+ publishers, or that's what it felt like.)

So, being bored at work sure has its upside. If you're waiting for a response - it's looking good I'll get back to you.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A friend is fundraising for cancer treatment

About two years ago, I had a pretty dreadful November - my writing career looked like it had upended, one of my friends left our small industry entirely because she felt no longer safe, and we lost contact, and I lost my very well-paid job at an investment bank in the teeth of one of the worst job recessions in the UK had seen in living memory.

Rona, one of my friends had it worse. That same November, I visited her for a weekend in Brighton, where she was undergoing alternative cancer treatment. The woman she lived with in the clinic, Andrea, would die a few months later, as her own cancer had spread.

My own (maternal) family tends to die from cancer. My mother died of ovarian cancer at 41 in 1997. I was 22. My aunt had a mastectomy. My grandfather eventually died of pancreatic cancer. My grandmother followed him six weeks later - brain cancer. (It's that weird thing with old people - a friend of mine once said "they die like budgies - one morning, one's dead in the cage, and the other one might be 100% healthy but is dead within the week.") One aunt had a growth in the thyroid that needed to go. My other aunts and uncles are still about - overall, we're a pretty hardy family, but cancer has been responsible for 100% of all recent deaths and surgical interventions.

In short, I have a critical illness insurance and have always had one, though I'm reasonably healthy and a non-smoker. The genetics for cancer are definitely in place, and I'm overweight and live in one of the more polluted, not-exactly-restful city. But I'm still pretty much aware that cancer is something that might just hit me, despite everything. The genes are wired that way.

This is all just some background about the situation with Rona, one of my few meat-space friends I have in London. If you read her blog, you can follow her journey through alternative therapies and traditional therapies (surgery, chemo) and what she's going through. It's not a "woe-is-me" blog, but it's a pretty acute description of what she's gone through and is still going through.

In short, after two years of therapy, and quite a few dead-ends, Rona's reached the end of her financial means. The surgery to remove the cancer has left one of her large nerves damaged and mobility/strength in one of her arms greatly diminished. She's a fit, active woman, so that was quite a blow. She's aiming to raise money to seek an alternative to traditional chemotherapy - which would slow down/stop recovery of her arm/nerves. Chemo is seriously bad news for nerves.

So, if you feel so inclined and have a few bob to spare, here's her fundraising page. I'd offer a free story, but I don't really have anything finished or otherwise (and I'm on a *tight* deadline for Suckerpunch), but I also don't want to wait until I can offer something - it's too important.

Thanks for reading and any donations!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Next up: Suckerpunch

After giving myself about a week's (okay, ten days') rest after finishing up Scorpion 3, I'm starting to get back into the groove to write. Next up is "Suckerpunch", the "Counterpunch" sequel. It' all part of a larger concept, and there will be news about that pretty soon, too. My deadline is 7 January, which might be tight - though considering that I'm going to devote 2014's solo writing entirely to WWII historicals, that allows me to do both. It's just a week sliced off that big block of time.

So I did some plotting and have about 90% of the book in my head now. (All outlines suck.) I hope I'll get it right, but at this moment, I don't worry too much. Right now, it looks like of of the "easy" books (he said before it bit him in the face). Though, "Counterpunch" was easy and quick and I loved writing it. So maybe it's that memory of the previous book that makes me so optimistic.

Lori and I wrote "Payoff", which is the third Tristan, Jared and Rolex short story. I've done my editing pass on that yesterday and Lori has to give it another pass and then we're on.

Then our long cop story has returned from the editor - I spent last night going through the line edits he made. There are also about 400 comments in the text that will require a measure of tucking and nipping and general rewriting. I'm hoping to get my pass done by Sunday.

So that's my 2014 line-up, and I think it's looking pretty good overall. No releases yet for 2015, though I'm hoping to get a couple of my dozen or so current projects across the finishing line.

Then I had a very good meeting with Caroline, who's a poet. The care and attention and frankly bloody-minded struggle it takes to get a poem on the page has always been an inspiration. I'm not a poet my any stretch - it takes more discipline and attention than I have. I was born with a linguistic chain saw and that's how I'm writing. Poets are neurosurgeons. Chainsaws and brain surgery don't go naturally together.

That said, I do believe there's much prose writers can (and should) learn from poets. My editor never tires (well, I guess he does, but he's very gracious about it) to tell me to "trust the reader" when I over-write and over-explain. Well, in poetry, you can't really explain. The lines stand and fall on their own merit, naked and exposed to the reader's questioning mind.

The other thing is seeking the right word. One of my poet friends said that one wrong word kills a poem, a wrong sentence kills a short story, and a wrong chapter kills a novel. The margin for error on such a small space is almost non-existent. (See how writing poetry would turn me into an anxious ball of writer's block?)

Another thing is sound. Poems are by nature musical, rhythmic and sound-based. Funnily enough, that's how I read. If I read the lines of anything to myself in my head, I hear and feel the words like breath and sound, though they are neither. I definitely hear and feel my own words. If a line is clunky, if an author is very clearly tone deaf, I just can't read it. It makes me itchy and antsy like free jazz. Just can't. So, awareness of rhythm and sound.

Which made me aware that, while I have poetry on my bookshelves, I have not recently read any. This is complicated by the fact that about 90% of what I own in terms of poetry is in German. Not sure what effect German poems will have on English prose, but the thought is a bit daunting. That said, I think my literary novels will benefit tremendously if I add poetry to my mental diet in addition to all the non-fiction I've been reading. I'll attempt to borrow some of those skills. I'll also try to get my hands on readable contemporary fiction written in the rough area where my books are set. I already read "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky, and while I didn't particularly like it (it didn't age very well), it had good details that I'd never considered (such as the rate of electrification in rural France).

In any case, I've loaded up the Kindle with a number of books on boxers and have subscribed to a number of boxing news sites. (Bad timing, too. The very day I did, I learned that David Haye's retiring because of a fucked-up shoulder and his fight with Tyson Fury is off. On the positive side, Vasyl Lomachenko, who had me gobsmacked during the Olympics because I've NEVER seen a boxer use angles like that, has gone pro and seems to be doing well. It's the pure boxing drama - pros fall, new hot talent rises up.)

So, I'll be quiet and hopefully productive, though tumblr and twitter should be good places to get updates as they happen. I do like posting snippets on tumblr and twitter is just chatting with people and being silly and sharing cool stuff.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The singularity of experience

This is one of the things that keep cropping up, and Ruthie Knox wrote very well about it, too.

You don't have to like it. Follow the link. Seriously.

And it totally applies here. I sometimes joke that there's a huge amount of readers who measure everything I do, write and say against Special Forces. When I read a review, some small part of me always, always, always expects to read: "That was quite nice, but it wasn't Special Forces." I've read that sentence so often, I'm now conditioned to expect it. There are some people who seem to sum me up as "the guy who wrote Special Forces and then mysteriously didn't stop writing."

I've made my peace with Special Forces. I honestly am pleased when people tell me how much they loved it.

But I've moved on. Way, way on. I won't write Special Forces again, nor anything like it (I have too many ideas to focus on any one project for 2.5-5 years). I've done it once, and I don't like repeating myself. After one million words, I'm done with the characters. And, almost more importantly, they are done with me. Vadim's at peace and good for the ocassional fan-service cameo appearance. It's been five years. Seven, almost eight since I started.

There's a cool TED talk video featuring Elizabeth Gilbert. If I remember it correctly, she talks about how it feels to have a bestseller and then people asking her "Aren't you scared you won't be able to top that?" and how destructive that is to her creativity.

Of course artists are scared. Above all, we are in competition with ourselves. I do want to write better than the Aleksandr Voinov of six months ago. That's my goal when I write. Not to "beat" Special Forces with whatever I'm working on. The people that book was meant for read it and loved it - and there's nothing I can do to make them love anything else or more. Maybe that's the only thing of mine they'll ever love. It's entirely possible.

Some will always sigh and say about any character, "oh, he's so like Vadim" (when he's really, really not, but happens to be blond and efficient, or quite alpha, or quite in conflict with himself), and if any of my characters shave (which is hugely symbolic of "taming" and "civilising", and maybe I have a straight-razor kink), it's going to be "oh, that's just like the shave scene in Special Forces", and if I write anything gritty, it's "oh, it's just like Soldiers". Personally, I'm trying to not see that as a snub against my new work - like it's a cheap copy of this momentous work.

I now try to see it as home-sickness. They read Special Forces and it was a big experience and then they try to find something just like it. But they can't, and I-the-author have moved on, and am not writing the same thing again and again and again. (That's the old publishing model, where bestseller authors were basically forced to keep repeating themselves in the name of their "brand" - you know EXACTLY what book you're getting when you pick up the next, say, John Grisham. It's safe. And it's something that would kill my will to live. I'm not a traditional-publishing kind of guy. I write to entertain and challenge myself, and I almost never re-watch or re-read anything.)

One of the most tragic truths in life is: we can never go back home. We can never read our favourite book again for the first time. Whatever it was that gave us that "OMG I LOVE MY LIFE AND EVERYTHING IS PERFECT" buzz, it likely can't be repeated. A book or film can blow our minds only once exactly like it did that first time.

I remember perfect days from my childhood. They are over. I remember living in a house I loved so much, and it's been gone for 30 years, as in, my parents sold it and other people live there now (and may they be happy). I remember being slack-jawed with wonder at seeing things in nature, I remember that first, terrifying, delirious falling-in-love thing. All done, all gone, can't be repeated.

I think sometimes we might end up resenting artists because they can't help us repeat that emotional experience, although we know they were capable of giving it to us that first time. It feels like they are withholding it from us. Why would they! WHY WOULD ANYBODY!

Judas Priest only made one Painkiller album. Their fans fucking HATED Ripper Owens, even though he was a very, very strong replacement for a legend. How many of us thought that Anne Rice had completely jumped the shark with Memnoch the Devil? We wanted more Interview with a Vampire or The Vampire Lestat. I think it might be one of the reasons why so many hardcore Tolkienites hate the Hobbit movies or even the LOTR movies - what they really want is to read those books again for the first time and get exactly the same emotional kick. How much hatred did JK Rowling get when it was very clear she would actually not be writing about Harry Potter for the rest of her life?

I've called that "entitlement" (and mind you, I'm not free from it) - I now reframe it in my mind as home-sickness. We can never go back gome, and memory is a pretty poor substitute. There's not the same amount of endorphins/serotonin/adrenalin in the memory. It's the memory of a taste. We can all remember what a steak tastes like. We'd still prefer to actually eat it than just remember eating it. In a way we know where that steak "lives" and that somebody has the power to give it to us, and we're waiting and salivating for it (apologies to every vegetarian reading this).

And they don't. There's a fundamental injustice in that, a power imbalance.

I once had a partner whose policy it was to "control every resource he depended upon". One of those resources was me, as I was important for his emotional wellbeing. It's a natural instinct, and it's fucking scary when you are the resource getting controlled and manipulated. It also taught me a lot of valuable lessons about power and control, so it was totally worthwhile. At the end of the day, I resent control and the harder people push me, the harder I push back. It's a bit of a reflex and one of the key themes of my life.

It's taught me to say "fuck it" and do only things I believe in. It's also taught me to run like hell from people trying to control me - whatever it might cost me. My 12-year relationship is largely working because we're equal partners with a LOT of freedom and space between us.

So, yeah. It's a complex issue, but it boils down to the fact that there are authors who can repeat the same thing over and over, and this author can't. Some readers want new stuff, and some readers want to repeat the same thing they loved.

I wonder how much of the success of "formulaic" and "predictable" writing is really just about giving the reader exactly the same emotional experience and this is why it's so successful. And people who can do it can get away with anything - weak writing, bad editing, cliched characters. Because they deliver that feeling of coming home.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

My run-in with the boiler-room charity, or: Why I no longer support Battersea Cats & Dogs Home and never will again

Let's face it, I'm exactly the kind of middle-class type who is perfect for supporting charities. It's "give back" and all that, and I'm happy to. I'm a "friend" of the Imperial War Museum, I hand in old stuff at Oxfam shops (mostly books and CDs), I usually empty my coin wallet into a collection box (did that just yesterday at the train station), I donate to the poppy appeal and keep losing my poppy after about three days so I'm basically spending every November replacing (and paying for) the poppy that I just lost.

I'm also happy to donate when a friend or fellow writer or trans* person is in financial trouble - helping fund a cat's operation, buying a much-needed laptop, and trying to get a trans* guy and his girl home. All things I've done, am happy to do and will do again. I'm also giving to veterans' charities (from helping fund a vets' dinner at Bletchley Park to donating cash to the RAF vets charity, even though two generation ago, they bombed my home city to hell).

Now, I normally don't really talk about all that stuff, because the last I want to do is brag about it. (There's also kind of the vague guilt that I could/should give more.)

So last week, I was called up at home by a prominent cats- and dogs-related London charity. (Yes, the big one.) It wasn't the charity itself, but they'd outsourced it to some other place.

So the guy calls me and starts a chat about how much we love animals. And that due to the poor economy, they have so many more cats now that need feeding and money and care. And I try to tell him I don't have time and I love cats and yes, one day I want to get one and might get it from there. And then he starts asking me for more money. I tell him I'm comfortable with the amount I'm giving a year (just under £150 in total). And he keeps telling me how he understand, but just one pound would make SUCH A DIFFERENCE TO ALL THOSE POOR KITTIES. And I tell him I'm okay with the amount I'm giving them because I'm actually possibly about to lose my job, so cranking up my monthly outgoings is the last thing that makes sense now. And he's all like, he understands, but WON'T I THINK OF THE POOR KITTIES.

And I'm starting to get annoyed. Mostly to get him off the phone and back to work, I agree to increasing my monthly donation. And he goes into the most effervercent praise about how I'm an angel and HOW I'M SAVING ALL THOSE POOR KITTIES. You'd have thought I'd single-handedly brokered peace in Syria.

So, yes, the guy was really good hitting all my buttons. GIFTED salesman. Tenacious. Bubbly. Lovely voice. Great blabber. Gift of the gob, as they say in Britain.

And I put the phone down and I'm fuming with anger.

Because what just happened? Somebody completely steam-rollered me, cold-calling me at home, while I was working, not taking "no" for an answer about a dozen times, hitting every emotional trigger I had and he could reach, talking me into doing something I didn't want to do, and had stated I didn't want to do.

For about a week, I kept rationalising the negative feeling of having been manipulated as "hey, it's good for the poor kitties". It's charity, right. In a way, that gives them the moral high ground, right?

Honestly, wrong.

Charity is something I do because a) I have the spare cash, b) I identify with the cause, but mostly c) it's my own godsdamned decision. And I'm not letting anybody take that decision away from me. It's the difference between giving a gift and being mugged in an alley. The latter leaves kind of a sour taste in my mouth.

That taste got so bad that I just logged into my online bank account and cancelled the direct debit entirely. Instead of talking me into upping my donation, they got me to cancel and I will never be back.

And honestly, I feel better. Mostly because today I put the same amount into the Haiyan-related collection box at Oxfam, in cash, and then bought a street musician lunch. Neither of them will call me boiler-room scam type and pressure me to give more. None of them pushed my buttons and manipulated me into doing something I expressly stated several times I was unwilling to do.

I don't respond well to getting pressured and/or guilt-tripped. I once made the mistake of texting £3 to the Syria appeal for "a warm blanket" - that heart-breaking advertising ON EVERY TRAIN in London. The problem with donate-texting? They have your phone number, and BOY ARE THEY USING IT. For WEEKS and MONTHS afterwards, I had perfectly nice Syria-appeal-related people on the phone at ALL HOURS of the day, trying to give me "updates" on how my money was being used (yeah, like I gave millions rather than a measly three quid). I told them I was at work, had no time to talk, really COULD NOT TALK RIGHT NOW ... and they just kept calling back.

I asked them to take me off their list. They kept pressing.

Finally, I had enough and told them flat-out that I was getting really angry and would NEVER again donate to their charity if they call me EVER again. (And tell all my friends.)

That did it. Blessed silence. No more updates on how my £3 would be spent.

What I find so upsetting, in a way, and what really pisses me off, is that it's disrespectful. I'm an adult, I've made an adult decision to donate a certain amount of money to charity. And these same charities seem, by some perverse mechanism, have turned into sharks to whom a donation is blood in the water: Here's some soft-hearted asshole, let's SKIN THEM ALIVE.

I'd love for somebody to do an actual study on many people these cold-calling high-pressure tactics alienate and how much money charities lose that way versus how much they make in the short term. For example, I would have been happy to donate to the cats and dogs home for the rest of my life. That's forty or maybe fifty years of £150 a pop.

I'll definitely continue as a £50-a-year "friend" of the Imperial War Museum. But they've never called me. They send me a quarterly magazine, and I get free entry. Nobody gets pissed off, everybody is respectful. It's win-win.

Meanwhile, I'll be donating cash only.

Update: Emailed them my complaints, received a phone call immediately with a personal apology. Case close. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Interview at BoysInOurBooks

And before I forget, here's an interview and review regarding Special Forces at Boys in Our Books:



Meanwhile, I've started my research on Suckerpunch. 

Scorpion 3 is finished

I made a pretty mad dash yesterday and managed to write the ending of Scorpion 3, currently titled "A Taste For Poison", so that was one of my rare 5k days. It's coming out at about 56k, and includes a few thousand words of author notes, where I talk about why I did certain things and the story behind the story. My editor and publisher might still scrap it all. :)

Always towards the end, I'm "so over" the book and the genre in question. (Especially if it's going slowly.) There's just so much more interesting stuff knocking on the door, and OMG can I be done already! But that's really mostly my inability and unwillingness to focus on anything for more than six months.

What I really enjoyed about the series was the grit and the main character, Kendras, who does a hell of a lot of growing and, I think, is in a good place when I leave him to his further fate. The bodycount was considerable, but not as bad as expected. The battle/siege I expected didn't happen because my character were reasonable and pragmatic.

There's two more stories I'd quite like to tell - one is how Adrastes became a Scorpion, and the other is how Widowmaker got to the position he's in now. And there are more stories, of course, or rather, story seeds. Nothing that's compelling me right now, so I'm taking a step back from the world at this point. I'll likely return at some point to write Widowmaker (which should be a ball of fun) and Adrastes's story, to fill in some of the blanks that Kendras couldn't talk about because he didn't know all this (telling a 200k-story from the point of view of a fairly limited character is quite a challenge, and at times I've cursed my initial decision to stay with Kendras throughout.) So, no deadlines on either of those for the moment.

I'll spend a couple days now on cleaning up my desk and the rest of my house, likely read a bit to refill words and ideas, and I have a preliminary deadline for Suckerpunch in early January. With only seven weeks to go, and edits coming in the meantime, that's pretty tight, so I won't be slacking off for very long. In fact, I'm going to start reading Counterpunch this week and make plot notes. I see a pretty strict structure at the moment, but I have to see if it actually works out. So far, I think it's multi-POV, switching between Brooklyn and Nathaniel (at least).

With the tight deadline on Suckerpunch, I can't really make any guarantees when Widow's and Adrastes's stories will get written. I've promised myself to prioritise absolutely my two WWII novels come 2014, and Suckerpunch already takes me to that date. Cramming in another novella and a novel will only mean I'll delay the WWII novels, which would be a damn shame.

And 2014 is starting to look pretty full, too. With Lori, I'll be writing more Market Garden, of course. We'll also start an urban fantasy WWII project that's been running around in my head for a year now, and there are about 5-6 other projects I'd like to do when I have time. Depending on how my job situation hoes, I might have a lot more or a lot less time than I'm expecting right now, so I can't make any predictions apart from clinging to those two WWII novels I really, really want to write and have been putting off for years.

And in 2015, it's crusades time, so ideally I want to be done with WWII, though that's unlikely to happen. Maybe I'll even look again at "high fantasy", with magic and gods and all that. Would be fun.

But in any case, I've got the MoS series finished and submitted. I'm off for a celebratory coffee somewhere in town. 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Ye Olde Update

I'm still working hard on Scorpion3, so there's very little to blog about at present. It's going to be shorter than I'd expected - I was planning for 70-80k and it's more likely in the 55k area, but that's a good thing, because it means I'm done sooner withotu the sub-plot that was going to eat those chapters, and, besides, my characters were too clever to make that mistake anyway, so ... good times. It's enough to go to print, though, so, yay. No awkward "two paperbacks and an e-book" shelving. (Yes, these things are kind of important to me.) In terms of pure wordcount, I'll be done in first draft by Monday. THIS Monday.

I'm WAY behind on email, but I'm getting caught up with Goodreads email (I'm at just over 40 emails now). I did, however, answer some interview questions this morning, so that's all good on that side.

Then the Case of the Abducted Wheelie Bin has been resolved. It started a while ago when I was warned that my "green waste" wheelie bin would be taken away if I didn't pay the annual fee (£60 or so). I'd let it lapse because my garden people would always take the cuttings away, but when they left me in the lurch, I quickly called the council and paid for the wheelie bin to stay on the phone.

Two weeks ago on Saturday, my wheelie bin was abducted by the council because according to them I hadn't paid. Cue much upset and horror, especially as I was 100% sure I'd paid and I had no idea what to do with the leaves and grass cuttings (my garden is overshadowed ba couple HUGE OLD trees that are all shedding leaves now like mad). So I called, and chased them up, and called again, and was transferred to a number of people who all assured me I'd be called back in 5 days.

They didn't.

Instead, yesterday I came home and had a NEW SHINY WHEELIE BIN, no message attached.

Gods, my author life is so exciting. A few more of those, and I have a cozy mystery where abducted wheelie bins are the talk of the town for weeks. The whole thing just strikes me as weirdly and absurdly British.

L'affaire wheelie bin did leave me some time to write, so I did that, and while progress wasn't fast, it was quite steady, and nowhere near NaNo numbers: 700 words here, 1,000 words there, 1,200 words there, and once or twice even 500 words before work. I was on a huge tear yesterday, doing 2,000 words by 17:00, but was rudely interrupted by the Dude who wanted to watch Avenger Assemble, which we did, and it took forever, and before that I'd attended the gay/lesbian book club meeting in London, where only 2 other people showed up (normally we are more like 5-7), likely because nobody had read/liked the book. (It's "Mr Foote's Other Leg" by Ian Kelly, and responses ranged from "what utter tosh" to "I loved it." I'm on page 75ish and kinda stuck in the middle of those sentiments. My opinions tend to crystallise over a few days after I've finished.)

Exciting times.

No news on the job interview front, apart from a second round being scheduled.

But mostly I'm focusing on Scorpion3, getting the scenes in the right order, and trying to do a good job with all the characters. Yesterday I wrote a scene that I loved - one of the villains had to check his records why exactly he had somebody murdered. Most other films and books seem to assume that villains remember the details of their crimes in the final confrontation, but mine didn't, and that gave me a good laugh.

Anyway, just a couple more chapters, and I can wrap the series. As much as I loved it, after doing nothing else for about 6 months (or that is what it felt like), I'm quite ready to switch genres and do something different. I'll still be playing with Widow's story, but that one's separate from Kendras's story, so I'm still in the clear.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Going from 300 to 5 emails

I started this morning with 296 emails in my Goodreads inbox. I've responded to the most recent (from about May 2013 to now-ish) and deleted group newsletters, which brought me down to about 150. The earliest ones are from 2011, and I feel weird responding to those now, but I'm going to go through them and see if any of them have questions or "calls to action" and respond to those.

If you've sent me an email via Goodreads in the last 2 years - thank you. I'm horrible at times as I just get overwhelmed and "freeze". Sometimes, I'm just not on the same planet (as my partner can attest who lives in the same house). The good news is, when I'm not on Earth, I tend to be writing, and I've written some pretty cool stuff since 2011, if I dare say so myself. :)

If you've sent me an email, please know that I read every one, and you probably made me smile with a kind word or a "holy crap, that BOOK!" type email. Honestly, that stuff makes my day, so thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU.

I will, to ever have a hope of catching up, have to "reset" and delete a fair few emails, or respond very very quickly (unless they are so old it's REALLY awkward - you might not remember you wrote and I lost the thread of conversation), and I'm sorry for that. I try to get better about emails, because I appreciate all of them. Hopefully, one day I'll be able to quit the job and have so much more time to respond and chat. I love talking to readers, I really do.

In other news, I'm working on the last 10-20% of Scorpion3 now and hope to be done in the next 5-10 days. Hooray!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Quick blog post on NaNo

I blogged on NaNoWriMo here.

(Sorry for the intermittent service at the moment. I'm chin-deep inwrapping up Scorpion3. Normal service will resume eventually.)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wrapping Scorpion3

I've been working hard on Scorpion3 (currently titled "A Taste for Poison", though I'm now less sold on the title than I was) - and I hit 40k.

I've also overrun three deadlines and am likely causing no end of grief.

That said, I can feel the ending now. At least one twist isn't happening because the characters are pretty smart and avoided getting trapped in a siege, so that's . . . at least 5k of words that won't have to be written because the characters were smarter than the outline suggested. I'd have loved to write a "proper" siege, and I will, eventually, but it won't be the Siege of Gorge Point. Which is a bit of a shame, but I can't cram it in against the characters' better judgement.

Scorpion3 right now looks like it'll be over fairly soon. "Soon" meaning about 20k left to write. Maybe 15k, depending on how efficient they are in dealing with the last two enemies. So it's very likely it'll be quite a bit shorter than the others (which are both in the 70-80k range). I really don't want to cram in more scenes and plots or slow the whole thing down. I think the pacing is good, and I hate the snail pace of most epic fantasy.

Above all, I'm quite curious whether they'll manage to negotiate themselves some peace and how Kendras will respond to finding out who he is. Generally, he's grown a whole lot. He's now a mature, responsible leader, and much better at communicating. He's also very much in love.


I'll be overrunning deadline number 4, but likely not by very much now that I've found the groove again and am working hard to retain it. Every writing day I've had, I've surpassed my daily writing goal, which is a good sign. I've been posting a couple slices of it on Tumblr (obviously pre-edits).

I'll be sad to let the characters go. I'm also really ready to move on. I do want to do NaNoWriMo with a short novella (~30k) on Widow, and maybe a joint project with LA Witt. In December, then, I'll be working on Counterpunch2, and will hopefully wrap that book by end-December, so I can start fresh in January with my historical novel that's been languishing.

So, yeah, 2013 is basically done and planned. All I have to do is to put the words in the right place, and then a spot of editing. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

What you should stop/start doing

Building a third life (trance, rage, and healing)

I've always been interested in "alternative" therapies. At various stages in my life, I've played with the idea to become a massage therapist, a homeopath, and a coach. I've done the coaching, obviously, and still do it at times for writers, if I can find the time. I guess it's an INFJ thing - according to my Meyer-Briggs personality type, I'm a "Counselor" and I like fixing people. It's also pretty good at "general people insight", which, I think, informs my fiction and means that, as a reader, I read for character far more than plot. Humans fascinate me.

The "people insight" hasn't stopped me from "buying into" a number of sociopaths, psychopaths and/or narcissists (of whom I've met three in my life, where I got to study their "burnt-earth" strategy very much up close), but it allows me to read patterns of behaviour both in myself and in others. And I get much better at recognizing sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists (or rather, people who I think are high on those spectra) before they hurt me and/or my friends. I'm certainly better at dealing with energy vampires and other people who try to feed on me in one way or another. I'm even starting to get an idea why they get predatory in the first place.

Now, it's kinda a truism that only fucked-up people feel drawn to fix other people, because in healing others, we heal ourselves. The "wounded healer" is a very powerful archetype at play here, as it draws me to heal the very thing that I've either overcome or am still working on. There's also a whole bevvy of implications about sympathetic healing (mirror neurons) and other stuff--but I know that few things unblock and lift me up like a "padawan" who overcomes a block or wraps up a book. Projection, maybe, or some deeper, energetic process. According to some models, the student is the teacher.

In any case, for the last two years or so, I've involved myself somewhat in the "alternative" scene, attending courses and lectures, some of which were mind-blowing. I had a phase like that as a teenager, too. I even worked on a tarot hotline and helped a few people there, though that was a very draining experience. These days, I could help the difficult cases, but back then, I was unequipped to deal with some of the stuff people gave me, so I stopped and did other work, even though I was (am) pretty good. I also studied archetypes and psychology (Jungian, mostly) and, of course mythic structures (Campbell), which both very heavily inform my writing (though I'm sometimes surprised just where and how they show up).

So, in a way, all the "mythic" stuff I've been doing, I've done pretty much since I can remember, so 30+ years, but it's only recently coming together in a unifying model I can apply to the world. I still have quite a bit of studying to do, but the path is getting clearer. You see, writing is a highly complex, highly spiritual, psychological and energetic process - all creation is. I've likened it several times already to the shamanic journey, and I stand by that. The more I understand, the clearer it becomes. I think there are solutions for artists who get stuck somewhere along the line, and I'm digging for those. Artists are my "tribe", as are trans* people, who have different issues and challenges. Both have the big struggle about authenticity, trauma and anxiety. There's a primal wound at the core of all of us. In much of my writing, I stare at that wound and prod it, trying to fix it. I'm getting closer to fixing it, too. Or at least bandage it properly so it can heal.

I think it might make sense to study some things to bring all my small splinters of insight together, so over the next few years, I'm planning to learn hypnotherapy (I've enrolled for end-November), NLP (Grinder's approach, Bandler seems more mechanistic), Reiki, sports massage (from May) and acupuncture (from 2015). All of those feel like places I should go and they seem complementary, trying to achieve roughly the same thing but using different models or paradigms. I've already acquired a couple levels of ENLP, Progressive TFT (I'm taught by Kevin Laye, who built it), and the idea is to become a professional change worker and help people fix themselves - which I'm enjoying although my toolbox is still fairly small and I'm mostly focusing now on getting more equipment so I can fix more stuff and can apply a paradigm that works on the "client".

So I'm looking at switching careers eventually and practice all of those, plus writing. Mostly, because I think there's much bigger need for that than for corporate editing, and I think I might be happier in that space. Money isn't that much of a consideration - though it'll be nice to make a few bucks to pay for the courses. I might even be able to achieve all of that over the next 5-7 years.

From that position, whether I stay at my current place or take the other job if it's offered (I've moved forward into the second round of interviews and expect to get an invite to the second round this week - scrap that, I fully expect to be offered the job) doesn't actually matter. In the medium term, I'm going somewhere totally different. It's a weird place; freelancing always is, I guess. It's a space populated with a lot of unscrupulous people and downright crooks.

On the other hand, I've seen the stuff actually work and make a meaningful difference. It's working on me. I had one of my infamous rages at GRL -- something happened that threw me off entirely and I went into the berserk place where I'm perfectly capable of being a physical danger to people. I've inherited the rage from both sides of the family, but mostly from my father, a mean, violent alcoholic.

Normally, nothing can break me out of a rage. Nothing makes a lick of difference. Not "walking it off", not "breathing", not "calm down, you!". I just close down. Horns lowered, ready to gore. I have a "rage" maybe every two years, so they are reasonably rare.

This one, I studied and actually examined the structure of it. It's a place that's surprisingly cold. I can't be reached from the outside. Trying to hold me back only fires it (I call them Berserkergang for a reason). It's a high energy place, though, and a bit of a rush. Holding the thought in my head to beat somebody to a pulp with a chair, for example, feels like a totally rational, even necessary, response to whatever the person did who triggered me. It's an enjoyable thought. Everything around me becomes a potential weapon. It's a huge shift in how I perceive the world and people. And if that sounds familiar, that's because I've used the experience to fuel my characters. Several of them would nod if they could read this. They have it too, and deal with it in their way.

In short, it's a pretty frightening place and the closest I come to insanity. While I enjoy it on some primal level, it scares me on another and I don't want to do it. It's not the very clear, very beautiful place I went to when I was practicing martial arts or fencing. There's nothing playful or cooperative about it (none of Aikido's "firm, but gentle" approach). As much as I enjoy the dark rush (I assume it's just adrenaline, but a LOT of it) I can stop myself, but only if I remove myself from the scene and stay away for a long time until I've found a way to burn it off in some way. Exercise can help.

Let's say, at GRL that would have meant to lock myself away at a point in time when that really wasn't an option. So I used everything I had--ENLP, trance work, and lots, and lots of PTFT. I managed to downshift myself from murderous rage to almost asleep in less than twenty minutes, and it left me balanced for the rest of the day, and hopefully being nice and gracious to my readers and other people for hours and hours. None of that acidic sense of forced restraint. I just switched it off and removed it.

Now, that's a huge change. A huge shift, actually, kicking me out of it without so much suppression and more draining/purging of that dark, spiky energy (which wasn't mine in the first place). It's the first time that I resolved the rage rather than a) let it out or b) remove myself. Instead, I changed it and had a good time afterwards. So, yeah, it works for me. Trancing it out was actually really good fun.

Another big construction site was my sugar addiction, which my teacher resolved with thirty seconds of PTFT. I've been "clean" for 6 weeks now and have lost a solid five kilos because I don't eat sweet stuff anymore. I don't want it, I don't crave it, my guilty "I must have it" changed into "why would I want to eat/drink that?" I don't over-eat anymore (apart from two pizzas at GRL). I can switch that urge off entirely and increase my overall energy level at will, without sugar or coffee. It's a level of emotional freedom that opens up totally new possibilities and demolished some of my negative habits that kept me overweight.

Funnily enough, having access to those emotional switches did have an impact on my productivity. The obsessive "must write, must write" thing is gone, so I'm less productive. On the other hand, I'm working on managing my personal blocks much better, so I think in the long run, it'll normalise. I think the hypnotherapy course I'm doing at the end of November might give me the missing piece. The teacher posits that all reading is done in a state of trance (the whole "I fell into that book and felt it all!" now makes sense, doesn't it?). We get tranced by TV, plays, cinema, books.

Now, I asked him if writing and hitting the flow is trancing, too. He confirmed that. (Which makes sense, because I do my best, most effortless writing without the brain. So I achieve trance in writing.) I'm doing the course mostly to be able to induce myself for the purpose of writing, to see if I can make the experience for my readers better, and to help other writers to achieve trance. I'm also a trance junkie. I effing love it. It's my preferred state. Being able to go there at will and putting other people there sounds amazing. And it's a cool place, too, to affect positive change in people. (Random side note: I spent half the flight to Atlanta tranced out, thanks to my guided meditations on my iPod. Gods know what the stewardesses made of my half-asleep, possibly drooling, blissed-out state.)

So, yeah, the journey is fun. I'm certainly learning a lot about myself, and everything I learn as a direct impact on my writing. And if you ever meet me in person, I'll be happy to do a consultation. :) 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

GRL 2013

After the whole disaster of  imposing categories such as "preferred" and "featured" and "supporting" author, I wasn't keen on attending another GRL. I loved Albuquerque, though I spent most of it in a jetlagged daze - but I did meet many wonderful authors and Lori and I became fast friends there. (My gods, it's only been a year?)

For the record, I strongly resent the idea that any of the authors in the genre are "better" or "more necessary" to such an event. I may look like a solid mid-lister/small-time celebrity on the outside, but I just imagine what I'd have felt like as a "new" author in the genre, being relegated to the sidelines. I tend to hold grudges for years, so being treated like that once would likely have meant eternal resentment and maybe even that I'd never again have shown up. Nobody likes to be told they aren't important. (And no, I wasn't on the "preferred list", either, and would have insisted to be taken off it had I been one of the "Chosen Ones".)

Small gripes like this aside, a convention like GRL lives from the people involved. Personally, I chose not to take part in any of the events or parties - mostly because I'm not suited to loud and alcoholic environments, and I really wanted to spend my time either one-on-one or in a small group. I also did some minor busybody work (shopping, getting coffee), but mostly, I was just hanging out and talking to people.

Which is exactly what I like in conventions - having the time to connect with people I hadn't known or hadn't known well. This year, I also did quite a bit of work with a number of people. I've recently been certified as a progressive TFT practitioner, so people could watch me do consultations and tap various parts of "clients'" bodies. And it was very much necessary - large groups of people and especially authors have a way to stress people out, and many, if not all, authors suffer from anxieties (which pTFT is really good at resolving, so I did a lot of that). Few things are more gratifying than seeing a friend have a full-blown panic attack and treat them for 15 minutes, and see them smiling and joking with a group of people an hour later. It's nothing short of magical.

I spent a lot of time with LA Witt (obviously), and met so many more people - reviewers, readers and authors. "My" readers impressed the hell out of me - knowing who I write for - how smart they are, and how critical, and how accomplished - is humbling and has a way to focus me on my job. Knowing somebody like Sharon or Lin read my stuff, it's even more important for me to not compromise on the quality.

I've also met so many authors in the flesh whom I ended up really liking - from "just a name" to "OMG, that author's awesome!" a dozen, or two dozen, time. We went out to Poor Calvin's with Cherie Noel, EM Lynley, Thursday Euklid and Clancy Nacht, for example, and they were a riot. (If you ever go there, try the lobster wontons; they were some of the best food I've ever eaten. And I'm a saint for having shared them with the rest of the table.) So my TBR pile just gained another 20 titles or so.

The hotel did have some serious issues (dirty carpets, woefully unprepared, if friendly, staff, laughable gift shop, extremely mediocre restaurant food, and a gym that's actively dangerous, also a seasonally closed pool - and many complained about moldy rooms and no access to the balcony), so I'm hoping next year's will be better. The decor was really weird - it looked like it was built in the '60s and then upgraded in the mid-'80s. The furnishings were seriously tired - and then they charged for EVERYthing. Alcohol was very, very expensive. ($10-12 for a small alcoholic drink - I stuck to water and unsweetened iced tea for the whole stay.) I can't imagine that anybody who's stayed there will be back.

All this sounds quite negative, but nothing's further from the truth. If you have so many quality conversations/interactions with people, dealing with a sub-standard hotel really goes to the sidelines. I could happily do two of those a year. It was great meeting authors and readers and being able to help some people. If I can afford Chicago next year - which depends on book sales and whether I'll still have a job in 3-6 months' time - and if I can slip in in the five minutes that it's sold out, I should be there.

(Also, I'm glad I did get a chance to see the manta rays and whale sharks in the Atlanta Aquarium. Watching them for half an hour has chilled me right out.)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Characters only a parent could love

Back in the days when I was still a review junkie (it's getting better, I'm definitely recovering), I did look quite closely even at the negative reviews (minus those written by trolls), based on the old saying that you can learn something from everything. In the case of negative reviews, that is that you can't please everybody and some people won't get what you tried to do, and others have waited all their lives for that book. Usually, they talk about the same book.

One of the internal standards some readers seem to be measuring characters against is what I call the "loveability scale", based on the reader's ability and desire to fall in love with the characters. I think it was Sarah Frantz who told me that the hero in (hetero) romance is vastly more important as "dream mate" for the reader than the heroine - I might be over-simplifying, but it made sense to me. Therefore, for the (usually) female reader, m/m offers two characters to fall in love with. Which is great. Twice the emotional investment.

So statements like "I LOVED THAT CHARACTER!" and "URGH, I CANNOT LOVE A CHEATER!" make perfect sense in the context of a review, even though the writer knows why he/she did such a thing and has a much deeper insight into the emotional jungles of that character.

Now, I keep reading in "how-to" books on romance how the characters have to be "loveable". Makes sense. Clearly, considering reviews, that is hugely important to romance readers.

For all other genres, this goal seems to be mostly expressed as "the reader has to identify with the character". (Cue the success/appeal of juvenile wish-fulfillment of most epic sword and sorcery fantasy and most Marvel/DC comics - and I don't mean "juvenile" in a derogatory sense.) I would argue that both aims are really the same - I can't completely hate somebody I know very well. Or rather, once I understand a character, I empathise. Once I empathise, I really, really struggle to hate. I might still get angry or upset with them, but hate is kind of out.

Where I'm from (genre fiction), characters are seen as the identification foil of a reader who puts her/himself into the book (aka the identification hypothesis = "readers want to identify with the main character/s").

This whole identification thing is severely over-rated in my view.

When we go back to Aristotle (who kinda started it all), the kick that an audience gets out of watching a play, comes from releasing emotional energy ("catharsis") by seeing people do stuff and act out strong emotions. The audience goes home afterwards, emotionally cleansed and maybe wiser. You'd go to the theatre for some basic "soul hygiene". (I'm simplifying again.)

Aristotle doesn't posit at all that there's identification going on. The audience member doesn't BECOME Oedipus sleeping with his mother and killing his father. I assume most Greeks would shudder at the thought and find the idea offensive to be forced to BE that person, even if just temporarily.

But apparently that soul hygiene part of the entertainment even works when we don't BECOME the person on the stage.

So what is still going on is watching, learning and an emotional component that leads to a discharge of energy.

Berthold Brecht hated the whole idea of "identification" so much he created a theatre theory that basically dis-allowed the audience any kind of identification ("dialectic theatre" - where he aims to pair education, critical thinking and political act and keeps messing with the play to get his message across. The story is just a vehicle--almost an excuse to get an audience into the theatre).

Personally, I hated Brecht's plays (a constant source of friction with my German teacher who was a Brecht groupie). My question was always, "Why should I care? So this guy seems to think he knows it all and then rams it down my throat without even managing or bothering to entertain me?" Actually, my final exam in school was an analysis why I don't believe that Brecht's theory works at all.

Audiences WANT the emotion.

But do they want the identification? Or is it just empathy, that weird, miraculous ability of humans (and quite a few other species) to tune into others?

This might be a matter of gradients, but those questions have some serious implications for writers.

If readers want identification, we have to give them characters that they want to be.

If readers want to tune into the character, we just have to bring them alive (so there's a corresponding somebody who can be tuned into).

Maybe there are two types of readers with two different needs - or the same needs, just with different priorities.

Correspondingly, maybe there are different approaches/structures at work in the author too. There might be those who "are" their characters (so they write about themselves, with only facts changed, but emotional structures left intact). Some of these characters might turn out to be Mary Sues, but most often they aren't. These are quasi-biographical writers.

There might be those who "become" their characters during the writing, but switch back out of that mindset when they are done. (That's my process, though echoes of Kendras, for example, linger in my real life while I'm writing him, and I hear Silvio whenever I access the part of my mind where he lives, and sometimes when I don't.) I call these types the "method actors". I see it as accessing parts of myself and unlived possibilities. Sometimes, I'm just pushing my own limits - for the hell of it.

There might be writers to whom writing is a more or less emotionally neutral undertaking that's driven primarily by the rational mind (and that can be fun, too). Their characters obey and do what's necessary to tell the story. I've heard these authors called "puppeteers", though that has quite a negative ring to it. As long as the story works for the readers and the writing process works for the author, there's nothing wrong with it.

And then there are other types, but I think these three are fairy common.

Having said that, all three methods (and all those I've left out) can live in the same writer.

Now, the secret of love - or rather, of making a character loveable.

Honestly, no clue. I can make characters come alive, but I can't set out to make them loveable. All the writing books on romance stress how the hero has to be perfect; money, breeding, looks, "manly virtues" (aka, alpha male traits), sexual power, magnetism, billionnaire bank account. And the reason why he's not a cliche is - he has one fatal flaw (like Superman has Kryptonite issues). He might be a vampire. He might have a Dark Past.

I've seen that "fatal flaw" worked to death in m/m, such as characters have been raped and recover from abuse (very common), often including healing with the magic cock. On the other end of the spectrum, m/m is rife with characters who appear to consist of nothing but flaws, and have maybe one strength (such as beauty or smarts). They might be so weak, neurotic or phobic or incompetent that this reader wonders a) how on earth have they lived this long, and b) why does the other character fall in love with a gibbering trainwreck of a man. (Well, the allure of the healing/redemption theme is strong to the reader, probably stronger than in real life.)

Sometimes, the fatal flaw ... isn't. I mean, seriously, Kryptonite is so rare the flaw is basically meaningless. Now, if Superman had issues with concrete or stone, now that's a proper issue. It's like telling somebody in a job interview your big flaw is "perfectionism" (yep, done it, got the job, but most recruiters roll their eyes at the cliche.) So, the guy's perfect, but he has a small scar in his face that makes him look like a rogue pirat. Yeah. Crippling, crippling flaw. The horror, the horror.

Never mind.

And then there are characters who aren't made to tick the boxes (hot, rich, alpha, plus flaw). They might even be less "made" and just "step into being", and often, they have issues, but most of all, they are people. Still story people (so somewhat larger than life/better/smarter/wittier/fiercer than real-life people), but people first. To my mind, they are more balanced, too. Most of my characters that "happened" that way have huge issues (Vadim, Silvio) and flaws. They cope with their flaws in a variety of ways, and sometimes aren't even aware of these flaws. Or are in denial about them. Generally speaking, I know stuff about them and even though they might look unsuitable to be romance heroes (because they are racists, or rapists, or unrepentant criminals who rack up a huge bodycount before lunch), I'm interested to see how they respond to falling in love. What does it mean for a self-sufficient badass to fall in love?

To me, seeing somebody fall in love and go through the absolute terror of love (being scared, being insecure, being nervous, having that sick feeling in your stomach) is enough to trigger the "I care about you" reflex. Everybody gets challenged and changed by love. Some people, I think, get redeemed through love. Some people might be bad, but they are still capable of love and being somebody's beloved. To that end, love can be the fatal flaw, the thing that unhinges a character's equilibrium forever and, much like a big fucking asteroid, change their orbit forever. Love can be the challenge to the ego. Sex can be/mean the same as death. Certainly ego death, as they transcend themselves.

It's that kind of story I want to tell, although I appreciate that a huge amount of readers are not following me onto the ledge there. I like to stare into the abyss. I don't really do wish-fulfillment. I can't. I don't care.

I've recently had a discussion with a very smart person who told me that "all romance is wish-fullfillment", and that, by my very structure and DNA as a writer, I'm not actually part of the genre. (As a note, she didn't say that in any nasty way or with the intent to exclude me. It was more an academic observation of story archetypes and structures.)

I think she has a point. I also think that I'm not accepting anybody's definition of a genre in such narrow terms, even if that is the "majority opinion", to borrow a term from my semesters studying law. Just because it's the dominant creed doesn't invalidate the minority, and the days are over when you had to tick all the boxes just the right way to get published (and therefore read) at all. Personally, I believe romance is older, deeper, and wiser than mainstream category romances, which have come to "set the genre's standards/rules".

Yeah, well, I think we should challenge all dogma when it comes to stories, and what you can and cannot do. Or as an NLP trainer I know likes to say, "I reject your limiting beliefs."

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ivan Drago is the hero of his own story

Now, I've always loved Ivan Drago, so I was delighted when I stumbled across this today:

The Misunderstood Ivan Drago.

It's whimsical, possibly offensive, pretty clever and reminds me of one of the big things I like to remember when writing villains: Every villain is the hero of his/her own story. Most definitely everybody in Scorpion/Memory of Scorpions is the "hero". 

Monday, 7 October 2013

"But nobody speaks that way"

I'm currently reading a book with pretty awful dialogue. (No, it's not the ones I have filed as "currently reading" on Goodreads - none of the 20-30 books, there, anyway.)

What keeps echoing through my head is "Nobody speaks that way."

But, actually, I'm wrong. People do speak that way. We exchange platitudes, spend half the allotted dialogue space on things like "Hi, how are you - yes, great - great seeing you, bye", with actual content almost zero. (One of the reasons why I'm at times been seen to be abrasive or standoffish - I don't do well with "noise".) And often, authors are told to "listen to people" for their dialogue.

Personally, I think almost nothing is duller than real-life smalltalk. If you don't believe me, record 10 minutes of real-life conversation with a smartphone and transcribe it. If you've done that even once, you'll be forever wary of any "write how people talk" rule and the excuse of "But people TALK THAT WAY!" dies a whimpering death. Real-life speech on the page is barely coherent and makes very little sense. Hell, few of us even manage to speak in complete sentences. It's a miracle this species of apes has ever built one civilisation, let alone several.

Now, most of you have heard all that before. But in my book, dialogue an artificial rendering of speech. The trick is to make it prettier, shinier and more authentic than the real thing. It's like that presentation plate in restaurants that looks amazing and better than the real food, but everything on it is wax. It represents the thing, but isn't the thing. That's the big artifice of writing. We're on the level of Platonic ideals - we're writing about people who aren't people, feelings that rarely exist like that in real life. We write dialogue that doesn't because we're not as witty or fast or clever. We build plots that make more sense than real life. And yet we have to build authentic stuff that hits the authentic buttons in an actual physical brain. The mind boggles.

We aren't gods, we're clockworkers.

I still know very little about dialogue. My characters just talk and they are better at it than I am, but I know a couple things that guide me in my own writing.

1) Dialogue drives plot. Twists happen. Information is revealed that has a massive impact on what's happening next. ("Luke, I am your father!") In real life, that's fairly rare--certainly much rarer than in fiction.

2) Dialogue reveals character. What we say is who we are on the page. Action is character, and speaking and what and how to speak is action. That's word choice, sentence length, education level. It reveals whether we're cautious, reckless, crazy, well-considered by nature. What we're feeling in the situation. What's important to us--it reveals our virtues and priorities.

3) Dialogue is conflict. One of my writing teachers encouraged me to think of any dialogue as a conflict between two (or more) people. The main question to be asked when looking at a piece of dialogue is "who's winning?" - sometimes, a dialogue ends at an impasse, but the thing is, characters don't just talk to talk. They want to achieve something. Knowing what that is is really important and keeps readers engaged. We don't care about the happy smalltalk of strangers on the train. We do care (positive or negatively) when they have a heated discussion or even a fight. Who's winning? Oftenenough, both win or lose, or can't resolve matters and need to escalate.

4) Dialogue is what's left unsaid. To me, that is the single most important thing about dialogue. I once had an editor who wanted me to explain everything and spell everything out on the page. Nothing could be left unsaid. It had all to be out there on the page and endlessly explained and clarified and shoved down my readers' throats wholesale.

While fiction like that exists and sells a million copies, it's entirely against everything I believe about "good" fiction. Personally, I can't read such books (I tried). Worse, I can't enjoy them. I want to engage that brain and think and work a bit when I read. I want a writer to trust my intelligence. After all, I trust her/his skill to entertain me. To me, interpretation is half the fun in reading, if not more. I prefer to keep the important stuff unsaid, and still put it in--between the lines. They aren't accidents, it's in my mind the advanced skill level to say things without saying them. My favourite editor tells me to cut those explanations, which is always a risk. People might not get it.

But that's when I resolved I can't write for everybody, and "my" readers (few as they are in the grand scheme of things) are okay with putting some work in. So, screw that over-explaining bullshit. You can pry the subtext from my cold, dead . . . keyboard.

Just yesterday I wrote a scene for Scorpion3 where Kendras, stoic, strong Kendras, actually says something out loud that's been simmering in the background since book 1. There's almost 150,000 words between the set-up and that particular reveal. It's a small reveal about how he considers one of his dead comrades, but the very fact that Kendras NEVER speaks about that kind of stuff made me almost break into tears. I got him then, I really got him and the pain.

It wouldn't have affected me nearly as much as if it had been spelled out in book 1. And I'm running the risk that nobody will spot the passage or even remember what it's built on, but I had full-body goosebumbs writing it.

Ah, the small, solitary joys of the novellist. In some ways, 80% of what I'm doing in my solo work is insider jokes I tell myself for my own entertainment. But that's 100% okay with me.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Process & the Eternal Amateur

For me personally, and for most writers I know with any kind of deeper familiarity, nothing is as fascinating as that mystery wrapped in an enigma we call "The Process". I think that's why many of us are "how-to" book junkies and we read all the interviews to crack the magic code of how to write, write faster, write better, sell, sell more.

I've coached and taught writers for a long, long time (10+ years), and I have a large toolbox of tips and tricks, partially cribbed from famous writers, friends, or from observing my own Process.

The fascination with The Process is plugged right into many of our vital systems. It's not just money, it's identity. The moment we define ourselves as "WRITERS", the ability to produce and sell becomes part of our DNA and turns from a possibility to create to a requirement to create. In short, we go from "can" to "must".

This is, of course, often fueled by the very real need to make money (whether to pay bills or have something to show to our partners who meanwhile do the cooking and shopping and often win the majority of the bread or for us to win bragging rights at parties - people don't respect writers until they've published. Everybody writes - few publish).

Hacking "The Process" and optimising it therefore can become a career-long obsession. I know it's been that for me. Still is. No day passes where I don't look down at my navel and think about what it all means.

I know writers who flail about The Process so much that they don't get any writing done. They're like birds who were flying just fine and then suddenly seem to realise how complex flying really is and then start to look like albatrosses that are not assisted by a friendly updraft at the right time.

I know writers who have their Process down to a science - including reliable wordcount on 99% of their days. Writers who know exactly how many weeks a novel will take, or can plan the production of a a novella down to the day.

My Process has evolved over about 26 years (holy crap, I've been at this for a long time, you'd think I know what the hell I'm doing).

1) Literary diary-keeping. I used to write as a teenager, and the plot was ... eh, it didn't really happen. Characters did stuff, but none of it had coherence and nothing really made sense. The characters themselves were thinly-disguised rip-offs of whatever character I was reading or obsessing about. To my credit, though, I skipped the "author insert" stage of juvenile fiction, at least as far as I can remember. My own identity was already so fraught at that stage that I essentially masked and compartmentalised from the start. The writing itself was driven by the knowledge that nobody cared and there would be no publication.

2) Writing for an audience of 1-3. I moved on, roughly when I turned 16ish, to writing about characters and I was beginning to share stuff with my best friends. Gods bless'em, but they cared and wanted to know what happened next. Plot was still thin on the ground, but I created some kick-ass characters. I also became more original overall. (This is when Silvio was born.) I still didn't have much plot - when I was written out, I just killed the characters off (though Silvio refused to die). I did manage to type up a short story and sell it, but it was written without much awareness of anything. I wrote it for the money, though.

3) Awareness of craft. See, Germany "in my day" didn't have much creative writing literature or infrastructure. It seems Germany hopes that writers spring, fully-formed, from the brow of Zeus. But I did learn some structural things in German lit class in school. I even applied it. One friend kept badgering me that my stories didn't have "arches" or "nothing really happened", so I was very aware that there was something missing that people were looking for. I joined creative writing groups. The one at university really helped - the lecturer looked at style and structure. And, combing back through some of my juvenalia, there were some seeds of some decent stories in there. I wrote more regularly, with the idea to finish. I sold a novella, which I'd written from my guts, very much. An idea that just ripped itself free. The money was enough to pay my rent for three months. Clearly, I was destined for greatness.

4) Learning and teaching the craft. I bought every book on creative writing I could afford and get my hands on. I also borrowed some. I wrote and published novels with Random House/Heyne Germany. Friends and I were teaching writers how to apply that. (Still very little infrastructure.) I worshiped at the altar of Sol Stein's "On Writing" (still a book I'd recommend).

5) Crisis of confidence. I emigrated. All my precious German-focused knowledge was gone and the fear of being "unable to compete with natives" petrified me. This intersected with the realization that I might be half as talented as my literary agents told me I was, but I couldn't write the things that "sell". I had no job after university, and basically sank into depression. I spent most of my creative energy on roleplaying games, online and off.

6) "Just playin'". Despite all the fears, I still wrote a little bit. I finished a novel that had bested me at every turn because the main character refused to play ball. The four books before that one were all outlined and planned and co-written, so they had natural structure. That last book, though, didn't. I laboured under it for a good 18 months. No outline or system would work. I'd quite literally "lost the plot". Considering I made only a month's salary from the book, that was an unacceptably long time to write anything. I'm still mildly scared to look at that book again, though I do think it might be the best thing I've done in German. Or maybe my agony shines through. After that I swore never to write without an outline again. Well. Then I got involved with "Special Forces", which was just playing on the page, riding kinks, writing sex, and keeping myself entertained. That led right to writing m/m and discovering people pay money for that ("There's a market?!") and yes, I could compete with the natives in their own language.

7) "Trying to go pro." So over time, I went back to outlining and running a fairly tight ship. The first couple years were haphazard, partly because of stressful day jobs. Partly because I was playing. Partly because I was looking for my themes and trying to learn the genre, or at least learn what works and what doesn't. I had a decent output, but not much success. Though the harder I worked, the deeper I dug, the harder I edited, things were slowly turning around.

8) "It's a . . . it's a . . .!" After quite a few hits and misses in terms of publishers, I wanted to run my own ship. Which I did. My Process got pretty tight. I used some of my strengths (playing well with others, aka co-writing) to balance out my weaknesses (slowness, fear, among others). I started really looking at and analysing my numbers. I talked to many, many other authors, many much more successful that I am/was. Immersed myself in the whole business side. Learned it all from the ground up. Marketing. I spent a lot of time reading about this "indie movement". Mind, I'd turned my back on "trad/legacy publishing" because of the small payout, the pressure, the slowness, and the crazed ideas of "what you can/can't write" (WWII was totally out) or what "you should write/what sells". I discovered there's a life in indie. There's even money in it, though I was still writing things that would never go blockbuster.

9) "Trying to go pro, pt 2". Armed with actual numbers and data, I tightened things up even more, imposing a draconian schedule on myself and the muse. It was "do-or-die". My day job was sucking much more from me than I was willing to give. I figured if I could work 80-hour weeks (or actually, more) for two years, I'd surely make enough money to quit my day job and be a self-funding author with enough cash to not have to lose my house or take handouts from my partner. I outlined, sometimes I pantsed. It was "Wordcount, wordcount ueber Alles". Above all, I weeded out books that "wouldn't sell". But the Muse is funny. The less a story was likely to sell, the more I WANTED to write it. I ended up working too hard. When I finally did have a bestseller on Amazon ("Capture and Surrender", with LA Witt), I realised it's not enough money and never will be, unless I have 5-6 sustained bestsellers a year, which means 5-6 contemporary novels, and a complete focus on contemporaries. Also, I clawed back "bad work" and re-took control of good work in the wrong hands (be it for small profit, small sales numbers or no marketing support).

(Meanwhile, the Muse sat in a corner, weeping over the euthanised non-selling novels that  were moved to "maybe one day" on my schedule.) Seeing the numbers that I needed, and seeing they simply weren't happening, and then looking at a short manuscript that the editor clearly hated (though to her credit, she didn't say anything), and my urge to drop-kick it into the next bin, and then damn near breaking into tears when a very short novel came back with 1,500 editing comments, and hitting block after block, until my whole world consisted of blocks, and spending every minute thinking "I should be writing, this is a waste of time", I realised what I was doing is not sustainable. By that point, I'd sacrificed everything else to that idea to be a "pro writer". Everything else suffered. Above all, my joy, but also my will to live.

Because that's the thing. The Process is what we do. But without the Joy, it's nothing. It's an idjit spinning an empty wheel. It might run smoothly, but it means nothing. Smoke and fury. Commercial tales told by a burnout.

Money-wise, it's a nice addition to my salary, but I'm going to take a big hit on it as I'm changing direction.

10) "Just playin', pt 2". Actually, I always revert to my "just playin'" mode when The Process no longer works for me, so this is more like "Just playin', pt 1,0000". I've said often to newbie writers that every book teaches you how to write it. A good 22 years after my first sale (as accidental and improbable as it was), I think that's truer than ever. Some books want outlines. I'm better with just a vague idea and a couple "cornerstone scenes", though I can get mired like I got with that 18-month novel. I maybe should have killed it or broken away to write something else that I could actually master. Generally, though, it's true. The way is the fucking way. The map is not the territory. All that.

I wonder if part of this is the whole "art versus genre" discussion, though I don't think so. I believe in Donald Maass's assertion that "genre is dead". Aka, the best books marry literary flair with genre's tricks and reader engagement. That's what I'd love to write. According to every literary agent I've ever spoken to, that puts me in "sales hell". But I think "creativity hell" is actually worse.

Genre-busting and envelope-pushing is my natural state. I don't do well with "you must" and "you can't", or when people try to impose their arbitrary rules on me. And I think The Process is exactly that - a constant flow of adjustments based on listening to your inner truth and that of the book (the both of them are actually the same).

I'm an introvert. And that's where I'm going: Inside.

It's time for me to go into the dark forest and wrestle monsters there. I know what they are called, and we all know names have power. There's "Market", the beast that's preyed on my weirdest and most wonderful little ideas hopping around me until barely one was left alive. There's "Doubt", which would rather have a clean house than a full screen. His brother, "Fear of Success", with his mocking laughter that kills me dead at the keyboard whenever I go wild. There's "Professionalism", which is trying to choke me with its tentacles, and its sister, "Branding" - voices endlessly following wherever I go, constantly correcting how I talk, think, or respond to anything and letting me have it when I make a mistake. There's "Always On", egging me into stuff that kills my productivity and making me act like I'm a five-person customer service team and my days aren't just 36 hrs long, but 48. All without pay, of course.

Their monstrous king is probably "Fear". Fear of everything. Of failing. Of succeeding. Of being heard. Of not being heard. Of being stuck in my day job at a mediocre company with apathetic staff forever. Of being financially insecure. Of not being respected. Of being respected too much. Of being important. Of being completely without significance. Of writing art. Of writing drivel. Of having talent. Of having no talent at all.

In essence, I have to return to that state where I was writing just for me, write the book first that twitches most, regardless of any market for it. It means accepting I'll have a day job for the rest of my life, and making the most of it. It means a lower wordcount. Less books published. Definitely less money (which is where the day job comes in which I must see as a necessity rather than a nuisance - which will take some effort).

I think there's much truth in Dean Wesley Smith's blog post about "Having Fun" (also read "Book as Event"). I was having fun, definitely co-writing. It was my own stuff that suffered.

I can't look at my books and murder them because nobody's going to read them. I'll treat sales as happy accidents from now on and not something I'm aiming for. I won't even look at the numbers anymore. I'm not going to look at reviews. As Dean suggests in that blog post, I'm going to shut all that stuff down and really only concentrate on the fun of writing. Because it is fun. It's the shit in my head that twists it all and turns it acidic in my throat. It my problem, my defect. My obsession with goals I can't hit without losing something that's actually a lot more precious to me than that goal could ever be.

So that's the freedom I'm granting myself in 2014. I've worked so hard the last 2-4 years. I think I deserve just writing to write for a year. In essence, I'll push hard to write the two novels I've promised by year-end, and then all bets are off. No commitments.

For readers, very little will change, strangely enough, at least at first. This is all Process thought, not Result. Besides, I've written a LOT of stuff recently - which is enough to keep 2014's schedule looking pretty decent. 2015 is likely going to be bleak/sparse, but I'm not thinking that far yet. Chances are, I'll fall in love with something and it'll come out then or now or eventually. I'm taking all deadline pressure off. There won't be any definitives for a while. No promises. I'm going to be an Eternal Amateur again and take all that freedom back.

I'm pretty sure I'll end up writing better stories for it. And slay a monster or five.