The Bourne Equivalency

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

It’s a hard old life for a writer. I get that (eight years of trying my ass off, I get it), but I do heave a little sigh when I see people caving in and dropping a guilt trip on their social media following.

I won’t labour on about “If you’ve ever enjoyed my tweets, then…” too much. They’re…your tweets. I mean there is something funny, insightful, or informative to be found on there every day but, really?

The real eyetwitch moment for me is the evergreen, “for the price of a fancy coffee, you could buy my book.”

I don’t get that equivalency. I just don’t. Where are you buying your fancy coffees that they’re so expensive? Where are you getting these books so cheap? (note: I have seen an example that ups it to coffee and a croissant, and another that opts for “hipster sandwich”, which is a whole other layer of social commentary – we congratulate one another over cool but ultimately unnecessary notebooks, but God forbid I want to treat myself to a sandwich that’s 90% horseradish and makes me SEE THROUGH TIME).

Is it because of the saturation of corporate fancy coffee places? I am painfully aware that my basic existence – smartphone and all – is propped up by a world of exploitation so vast that the building of the pyramids seems like small potatoes by comparison. My coffee cup will exist in landfill long beyond my lifetime. Are books published by mainstream publishers somehow less corporate? More responsible? What are you really telling me with your appeal to ditch the coffee and pick up a book? Am I really sticking it to the man, or am I just meant to imagine I am?

Or maybe it’s the experience of the book, so much deeper than the shallow, ephemeral nature of the coffee purchase. They get so cold, so fast, those fancy coffees. But then it’s a different kind of experience. When I’m not at home with the kids, I’m in the home-work-commute cycle. Why shouldn’t I choose to momentarily break free of it and shoot the shit for a couple of minutes with the part time barista who’s also a drummer and has a young family like mine? Is that less authentic than the escape a book offers?

I buy books. I buy coffee. They are separate and not equivalent things. I try to budget responsibly (and fail, mostly). I will happily throw people a signal boost. I will totally enthuse about a cool idea. I will review books when…honestly, I review books when I’m on Amazon looking for an ironing board cover or something and I see the sidebars stuffed with books and I think, “oh yeah I should do that”. I just don’t need to be told that I’m making the wrong choices, because it’s not a choice and there’s nothing wrong with a fancy coffee.*

 

*ANY fancy coffee. You want something that glows dayglo orange under a cap of whipped cream and sprinkles? Fucking GO FOR IT. Live your best life. I believe in you.

I am the Sealord of Pendor, oaf, and I will have the gold my fathers won

Image via Unsplash.com

Idly thinking about names and fantasy, specifically modern fantasy, and how they are chosen. Each era – by nature of simply being human – imagines that it is the most progressive, the most evolved, and the SFF scene is no exception. I find myself wondering if that’s really the case, or if we simply move with a shifting set of tastes and call that progress?

There’s a bit of a fashion at the moment for verisimilitude in medieval combat – or boasting of it, at least – and standing almost as counterpoint, modernisation of language. The line is still firmly drawn at “okay”, thanks to the very well known and peculiar etymology of the word, but the percussive “fuck” is simply too useful for us to cast it off. There was a wonderful tweet about Orcs in the film version of LOTR saying “menu”, implying Orcs have restaurants, but generally speaking modern idiom is given a pass on the basis that Orcish idiom would be impenetrable to humans and thus we are given a suitable translation.

Names in modern fantasy are one of the things I find fascinating. Mostly because I suck at thinking up names, and therefore every time I crack open someone else’s book it’s an exercise in how did they do this? but also because I am really interested in how they shape the world and the characters.

Proper Nouns – these crop up a lot, and it’s easy to understand why: they are resonant and immediate, and because of this they are a powerful tool for worldbuilding. It’s almost impossible for a reader to not see a place like The Iron Market or Gallows Hill in their minds eye the moment they read it, and we can move on to the action. Similarly, there’s no point in calling the character who binds himself in magical links to keep his power in check Gary Smith: you call him Chains and are saved the effort of having to remind the reader of them every other sentence. A great recent example, Noon in The Ninth Rain is called Fell-Noon, the prefix a constant reminder of her destructive capacity and an intimation of evil that is set in the reader’s mind and flipped to great effect when she eats a tomato, something mundane that is transformed into a moment of vulnerability and humanity.   

Fantasy Names – still a staple of the genre (I recall bouncing *hard* off the word grolim in Eddings when I was a teen and going back to Tom Clancy for a few years), these form the opposite function to the Proper Noun. They are unlinked linguistically – the roots of words are unimportant, as long as the proto-languages that birthed them are close enough to one another – and they sound familiar without being recognisable. It’s likely you will know or have met a Ryan; Ryhalt, however, is a cipher. Free from all of your previous experience, the ideal fantasy gibberish name is both unique and memorable, turning the reader into a newly hatched duckling ready to imprint upon the character: heroic, but not so heroic as to be beyond the reader’s daydream reach; flawed, but not so broken as to make them a true villain.

2017, and other strangeness.

It's my desk! MY PEN! It’s been a year, almost? 

It’s been a year. And if you had asked me to guess at what that year would hold, I would have been flat-out wrong.

I tried to write a novel. I also tried to sell a novel, but that’s a different story.* The novel I tried to write was a tight, character-led thriller about a professional bounty hunter finding a dead body instead of the person they were trailing, they are accused of the murder, and the hunt for the real killer begins…

But the further we got into the dumpster fire that was 2016, the less real that story felt. The America I had set it in was changing, and my story was oblivious to it. Untouched by it.

And in the tech world, stories kept cropping up that caught my eye. People queuing at a Maker Faire to have subdermal implants injected into their bodies. How companies use metadata to track you. How apps on your phone listen to you to predict your searches. The stratification of society regressing to the point where companies no longer see people as consumers, but as product.

And so the story changed. It had to. Because I couldn’t sit and think about security and surveillance all day long and not write about it. So a banker became an information broker, a chase where my bounty hunter uses the tricks of the trade to evade capture became a chase where evasion was almost impossible because the methods of tracking are so advanced that even the most dedicated individual will struggle to stay lost in a crowd.

And the world it takes place in – one that is almost identical to our own, perhaps five years down the line – has changed too. What was a parade is now a protest. What was an indifferent public is now an engaged one.

It’s a different, darker America that I am imagining in the new book. What’s changed along with it is that there are plenty of people pushing back against the dark. Those people I didn’t have to imagine.

Not sure where I’m going with this? Fine. I’ll try again.

It’s Person of Interest meets The Winter Soldier

Anyway. Back to it. Stay good.

 

*the moral is, yet again, close but no cigar. So it goes. 

Kingdom’s Fall, and self-promotion.

When you create anything yourself and put it online, you have the option to simply leave it, and see what happens, or you can promote it. And…well…self promotion is something of a challenge to the British. We tend to face it like this:

Bravely ran away, away...

Really, I hate doing it. I’m proud of the things I’ve made, and yet telling people about them goes against every instinct that has been drilled into me about being polite, letting people go first, not making a big fuss: the triumvirate of British thinking. It goes against the grain of my general feeling that social media should be a place to connect and less to advertise.

HZGVDn7So British.

But it’s something I need to get a handle on. I don’t expect Kingdom’s Fall to do immediate, earth-shattering, fantastic business. That’s ridiculous. It has done quite well on Wattpad – far better than I expected – and yet it hasn’t seen the kind of traffic that makes people sit up and notice it. It’s still a good book. I still want to tell the story that I started when I made it, to have that world unfold around the characters as every decision comes back round and shows them how much bigger everything is.

As it stands, it might do okay as a loss leader onto the second and third book. Which…is where we run into a problem. Books two and three aren’t written yet. I was very busy having surgery, and recovering from surgery, and becoming a dad, so all I managed to do was to write two other books.* So I have this small audience, I have this book, and I have to somehow maintain their attention until book 2 is done.

Which I think I have the solution to. A lot of Kingdom’s Fall didn’t make it to the page. A lot of the sequels doesn’t really fit into the shape of the book. There is an excess of stuff. So what I’ve been doing is turning it into a series of short stories, each about 2000 words long, and I’ll be posting them up on Wattpad. Some will feature the main characters; some will feature new characters; and some will just serve to add some more texture to the world. And, by the time I have exhausted them in 2017, I should have a draft of book 2 to work with (at least, that’s the idea).

This is your expression right now:

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And so that’s why you’ll keep seeing the Kingdom’s Fall cover on my feeds, in spite of the fact the novel is done and I am so very, very British. Because I’m trying to keep it alive, and to overcome my own hesitations about it, I’m giving something away with it.

I really hope you enjoy it.

Kingdom’s Fall is now available on Kindle

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01AX849PK

US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AX849PK

All of the Kingdom’s Fall short stories will be appearing on Wattpad through 2016.

h589O

*One of which didn’t sell because Weird Western, it turns out, isn’t a real “debut” genre. But you never know. If there’s someone out there looking for a Weird Western that follows a teenage girl genius, a trans opera singer, and a mercenary gunslinger as they flee East from the girl’s mother and her empire built on mad, radioactive** science then…drop them my name, you hear?

**and genuine. It might not have happened in the order and places that it does in the book, but all the science is stone cold 19th Century REAL.***

***I still want this book to sell. I love it so much.

 

Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad, and ALL THE FEELS.

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Yesterday I put up the prologue to Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad. At approximately 450 words long, I did not expect it to light many fires. In my head, I thought, “I’ll stick this up now, just so it’s there, and when I get to maybe the end of chapter 1 or 2, when there’s a bit more to read, I can start trying to promote it a bit…or something.”

This is not a prevarication. I literally have the most handy-wavy approach to things where I kind of guess what will happen and then just blunder in going “Woo!” (wave both hands in the air when you read the “woo” for greatest effect) I swear I plan my lessons, though. Most of my lessons.*

I did not anticipate the reaction of my friends on Twitter, who picked up the casually-tossed ball of my story and ran with it like they were collectively piling toward the endzone. It was a massively heartwarming experience to see so many people going “look at this thing this guy did!” that I actually felt bad for only having put up the prologue. But not bad enough to put up any more just yet.

Still – 100 reads in the first 24 hours was beyond my expectations. YOU GUYS. Thanks again, all of you. Your support means the world to me. I will bring cake to the next con, I promise.

Feels

I was torn over the choice of two or three updates a week. Tuesdays and Fridays seemed like a good starting point in my head: that it would be better to have fewer updates (and have to field the occasional – if any come – request to hurry up) than a relentless storm that people just get sick of hearing about. I might need to tweak it, but we shall see how things go.

Finally: the cover. I made the cover myself using an image from Unsplash – a site that delivers Creative Commons-Zero images. It’s simply pure luck that I found some images on there that suited my needs. I did all the editing online using ipiccy (shout out to Taran Matharu for the tip) and within an hour of starting I had a couple of cover mock ups that I asked my other, better half to choose from. I could have spent some money on it – I even looked at licenses for fonts that would look amazing on a cover, as opposed to the bare bones selection on the web editor – but with two weeks until my next pay comes through…I thought I’d go for the cheap and cheerful option of doing it myself.

Anyway. So that is one of this year’s projects. I hope you enjoy it.

 

*students of the world – if you turn up to find you’re doing a poster in the lesson? Your teacher probably got mixed up as to what lessons they were doing and has planned yours on the fly.

“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

I took this picture 10 years ago. Ten years, man. Ten years!

It’s been a long, odd year. Good in some ways, less so in others.

Now is about the right time for round-up and best of year posts. By way of a little lip service, I should probably take the time to mention Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. I have ridiculous quantities of love for the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, to the point that I was actually a bit nervous about a new book coming out to extend the series. My agent and good friend Juliet sent me a copy while I was recovering from the transplant operation, and my misgivings vanished from the very start. Fitz is as he ever was, full of rage and guilt, by turns awkward and then full of purpose and then awkward again, pulled by the currents of fate that shift around him. In anyone else’s hands, his skills and his magics would make him far too powerful for the narrative to ever truly sit right in the heart of a reader – but Hobb reflects enough of our fears and our anxiety to make Fitz as real a character as you could imagine.

I still don’t think the title works, though. It feels more like it should be SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER.

*cough*

My own writing hasn’t done very well this year. I’ve had some successes – including inclusion in a Halloween episode of Pseudopod, which I was extremely proud of – but otherwise things have kind of…missed. I’m not going to sit and list every single thing that has failed to find a home (because I think blog posts are better when they are fairly short), but the general sentiment has been, “this is good, but not for us.”

So…there’s not much to do but to keep writing, and improving, and finding a project that works for both me *and* everyone else. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been massively bummed out about it at times (rather frequently, in fact) but ultimately…that’s the gig. You put stuff out and some (most) of it sinks without a trace. While it’s out, you work on the next thing, and the next, until one of them just up and fucking *flies*.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else to try and help break the cycle.

Starting in the new year, I’ll be releasing a story on Wattpad (and, although it seems to be hanging off the coat-tails a bit, possibly Tablo). It’ll be novel length, so should run through most of the year. I understand that Wattpad has a generally younger reader base, and that successful stories tend to be specifically YA, but it will give me something to do. If anything, I’ll have genuine numbers – real data! – to feel terrible about.

I did consider self-publishing over the serial format, but I would only have considered it if I had several books in hand to do a loss leader/discount strategy. From what I can gather, it feels very much like if you don’t have anything other than the first book in a series, it’s a lot more difficult to attract new readers, and if you’re not attracting new readers then you’re basically not getting read at all. And while I’d love to finish the series off, I would prefer to know that at least *someone* was going to read it.

Quit smiling, you’re suppose to be professional.

Writing

So, it has been two weeks since the surgery. The new kidney is working very well, as demonstrated by my blood tests (three a week, my veins are not happy) and – perhaps more importantly – by my general condition. I’m eating better, I feel more awake, and I feel motivated and a lot less depressed. Also, my diet is almost a total reversal of what it was previously so I can eat pretty much whatever I like. Double breakfast? It’s on, my friends. It is so very on.

On the downside, I have this pesky ten inch incision running from almost the base of my ribs right down to my unmentionables. It is held in place by 28 staples, and up until yesterday, four very deep stitches. Apparently for someone of my fairly slim build, this is ridiculous overkill. It certainly feels like it – as the swelling has gone down, both stitches and staples have started pulling on the flesh surrounding them. I get the remaining staples out over the course of this week, and that should make things a lot easier.

OH. YEAH. Apparently there is a stent in my bladder. They waited to tell me about that one. I’ll give you one guess as to how they get THAT out. Every day is a new surprise, you know?

Still, it leaves me with four weeks stuck waiting for things to heal up. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy, and because of the immunosuppression I am not allowed to go hang around too many people. Really, I’m kind of stuck in a chair for the time being.

Since I can’t really do much else, I have started back on my novel. Interestingly, attempting to work on it shows that my concentration isn’t quite back up to full speed yet. It’s coming, but it’s not quite there. I also hit a slight snag in that the outline I had no longer worked with the draft I had written. I had the opening act fairly tightly plotted but after that it was just a series of vague signposts that I imagined I might be able to hit along the way. I’ve been burned by this before (Gunslinger Symphony was missing a transition into the third act for over a year) and so have spent the past two days writing out a detailed synopsis of what actually happens. I bashed most of it out last night as one long, meandering paragraph, and chopped it up into a rough outline today. It works! It actually works and *almost* very nearly comes close to making sense and – unlike all my other synopses – doesn’t read like an omnibus edition of Naruto*. I was quite suprised to discover that a not insignificant portion of my secondary world fantasy novel is, in fact, a courtroom drama. Look! Something that isn’t resolved by punching and or gratuitious swearing or magic! Kind of!

Now all I have to do is finish writing it.

Oh, and go see Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s good fun. Don’t bother staying for the after-credits sequence, though.

 

*Or any other shonen manga, wherein our heroes discover that GUTS and FRIENDSHIP overcome EVIL.

Girl at the End of the World

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With all the excitement of surgery waiting for me, I missed off an update about this anthology. The Girl at the End of the World is the latest anthology (in two parts) from Fox Spirit books. Part one includes a story by me: The Ending Plague.

The remit for submissions was a fairly open theme – the title gives away exactly what that was – and I decided to try my hand at a secondary-world fantasy apocalypse. Hopefully people will enjoy reading my contribution as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s always nice to rub shoulders with people you know online and from conventions, but this one was made a bit more special as it includes a story by James Oswald, who has the same agent as me. Team Mushens Fistbump! There’s a special bond between all of her clients. Sometimes we like to get together and compare bruises she has given us, or swap stories about the number of times she’s chased each of us with a hammer. It’s all true.

Anyway. You can find the ebook of The Girl at the End of the World (Part One) on Amazon UK, Amazon US, or as a paperback (UK, US)

 

Re-read – Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapters 1-2

Assassins-Apprentice-port

This post is the first in a series, reading through the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. Expect spoilers, and probably a lot of waffle.

One – The Earliest History

So we start with tradition, on the importance of names and how they are sealed to the child that bears them – and yet the narrator does not name himself. That must’ve been hard work getting that down, considering by the end of the first page he has given up on his history of the Six Duchies and launches into his own instead. We get Fedwren, and Patience, and the Skill, and Chivalry, and Verity, and Burrich, and Jason (feeling a little out of place, not that he would let it show on his face), and Regal, and Vixen, and Nosey…but the narrator remains nameless.

It’s established early doors that the Skill (it might be the Skill, he isn’t sure) has given him perfect recall, which – if true – tees the narrator up as that oddest of things: a reliable one. That said, he is telling a story entirely based on his own point of view and experience and the subjective truth of his account can’t necessarily be held as the objective truth. Certainly, he holds plenty back for chronology’s sake and – as we quickly discover – loves a good mopey wallow.

I like Verity. He says “damn” a lot.

Two – Newboy

We learn a bit about the Skill here – I love the idea that it comes from mixing the bloodlines between the mainland and the Islands – but more to the point we learn a lot more about the Wit. Fitz (still not officially named, but Burrich has dropped it a few times) has power enough at six to knock a grown man off his feet, although he doesn’t know how it works. He shares the memories and senses of his dog, and after a brief period spent running with street urchins down ‘t town (during which we meet Molly, who gets enough pages and backstory to label her “Gun” and stick her up on the mantelpiece for later) we discover that the Wit is an abomination. We learn this from Burrich, master of all things hawk, hound, and horse, who has an uncanny knack with animals and appears to be immune to Fitz’s power to repel. We’ll pop a pin in that one too, shall we?

Aside from his Aladdin montage in the town, Fitz doesn’t really do that much in the opening of the book. He is basically the wide-eyed conduit for all the stuff that’s going on and will presumably be important later. It’s saved from being dull as ditchwater by being really well written – lots of little bits of detail and flavour throughout but none of it really being slammed down on the page. Oh, and obviously Fitz feels horrible about everything. EVERYTHING. Just take it for granted that at every point so far Fitz has been desperately unhappy both at the time and in hindsight. He’s super psyched about running around sharing minds with a dog, but even that ends with his mental link vanishing in a “red flash of pain” and a well of depression so deep that the next two years pass in another montage.

I know, I know. Only two chapters. In my defence, they are very long, and I could easily have used up 600 words talking about just the first one.

Blowing off the dust and cobwebs.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here. Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve felt like posting anything. Eastercon was brilliant – I had a really good time – but I was a bit down after it because I know I won’t be attending the big cons over the summer. Eastercon was, basically, it. 

Piling onto that work commitments, hospital appointments, a leaky bathroom, a bedroom plagued by mould (we discovered it was not underlay under the carpet, but *another carpet*, replete with dubious stains and manky damp bits), and just a general feeling of being crushed by everything all at once, I just let the ‘blog go fallow for a bit. You all understand.

In other news, we put Aoife on a swing. She loved it.

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Along with the ‘blog, the writing has taken a bit of a hit over the past week or so. I’ve got a short story to finish, though, so that should be a nice leg up in getting back on it. I’ve been writing/planning a new novel, which – for the first time – has seen me cracking out the index cards to do a bit of planning. Developing some new skills can’t hurt, can it? Also, thinking up names is bullshit. Full-on bullshit. I want a sealed deck of cards covered in interesting, not-weird-sounding names that I can just crack open and start flinging up onto the corkboard. I managed to royally piss off an old WoW friend by admitting that I’d used the name of one of the other Rogues from our raiding days as a character and not him.

I was going to re-start the ‘blog with a book review, but the last book I read was not my cup of tea at all. It made me so angry I was sending all caps DMs to my friends on Twitter just so SOMEONE would know how much rage I felt. While a hatchet job would be cathartic, I’d really prefer to just keep things light on here.

Instead, I thought I’d do a re-read of the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. The Farseer Trilogy was one of the first fantasy series I read, coming on the tail end of a childhood defined by the vistas offered by our local library’s Withdrawn table*: techno-thrillers (Tom Clancy represent!), South Africa (Wilbur Smith), and horror (Stephen King/Brian Lumley). I was not an easy convert. I had avoided my brother’s complete Lord of the Rings (won as a prize for achievement at school, a beautiful edition which we immediately marred with a splodge of raspberry sauce from celebratory ice cream) and tried to read the Belgariad a few years earlier: I can distinctly remember slapping the book shut after it started on about Grolims.

The Farseer Trilogy worked for me. It was slow going, but I loved it. LOVED it.

So, when a new book in the series was announced, I was pretty excited. Excited enough that reading all six books again before release day (question: to do the Liveship Traders as well, or just the six? We’ll see how the time goes) struck me as a great idea. And since I haven’t ‘blogged on here in a while, I might as well write about it. Just don’t expect much structure or sense to it. I’ve never tried a read-through ‘blog before, much less a series of linked posts.

So, onward!

 

*true story. For a really long time, book shopping meant taking my £1 pocket money and filling a 65L purple rucksack with books.