Wednesday, 28 January 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 03: “Fiction Unboxed”


2015 WORD COUNT = 3076 words


The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 have been very good to me. I recently managed two wins in three weeks at Angry Hourglass. I’ve already got several Runners-Up and Honourable Mention nods gifted to several of the 50+ stories I’ve written over the last twelve months. And let’s not forget the Kindle and paperback version of a certain anthology that is, to date, my crowning glory.

Yet I still don’t think I’ve got the ‘full steam ahead’ approach that I’ve been yearning for since last February.

It’s early days yet but I think something changed in me yesterday. It’s no easy solution, no quick fix but it has opened my eyes to something I didn’t even realise was hidden from me.

Let me explain.



EPISODIC STORY TELLING


Back in November 2013 I began to write another NaNoWriMo draft. I’d come up with, what I thought at the time, was a pretty cool idea. The story was MIGHTY GRAY and the plan was to write a series of novellas that were laid out like a DVD box set.

I had spent two months creating main characters and chucking down a few plot ideas (some borrowed heavily from the stories greatest influence: Buffy). I had five ‘seasons’ laid out, each running for 10 ‘episodes’. Like all the great American television that I feast upon, I wanted each novella to contain its own story but with a larger game at play in the background that led to an epic climax.

I hit the NaNo word target with just five and a half episodes under my belt and never wrote anymore.
A few months later I came across the manuscript again and dusted it off. Before I got stuck in I decided to check the web, something I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done while working on it. It’s amazing what the writer’s ego can do sometimes and I genuinely thought for a split second that I might be a pioneer in this style of writing.

I guess that’s what writing in a cave will do to you.



SELF PUBLISHING PODCAST

Image taken from www.johnnybtruant.com

It took me less than five minutes to find a group of guys already doing it. It took another thirty minutes grazing through their website to find out that they were doing it really well. It took a final twenty minutes before I’d downloaded a couple of their books because they sounded awesome.

The guys I’m referring to are Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright. Under the banner of Stirling & Stone (which includes several distinct imprints) these guys had taken on the world of self-publishing to become an indie juggernaut.

These guys between them write an unholy amount of words a year. More importantly, a lot of it is episodic, designed to resemble a DVD box set of a TV show.

So I was beaten. In style.

But instead of taking my ‘original idea’ of a manuscript out to the back garden and setting it on fire I instead made the better decision. I started listening to the SPP podcast, I devoured what was available on their websites and I began reading their stuff. I wasn’t giving up on the episodic idea so I might as well learn from the best.

Despite this, I moved away from episodic at the time as other ideas flooded in (you know what I’m like). But it was always there, always at the back of mind. And I never walked away from the guys at SSP. I’m glad of that because, last June, I witnessed them accomplish something kind of awesome.



FICTION UNBOXED


I won’t go into too much detail, mainly because there is a book available that will do it in much better form. Instead, I’ll give you the gist.

The guys at Stirling & Stone decided that a way to help authors who were perhaps struggling with their own works, a way to answer questions and dispel myths, was to let the world see them write a novel, from scratch, warts and all.

In just 30 days. (Spoiler: they succeeded).

That book is ‘The Dream Machine’, the story of a girl name Eila Doyle who discovers a dark secret about the world she lives in, a world where dreams are stolen and ideas are made real.

The book is good and, while it won’t quite hit my all-time top ten (which one day I will release onto this blog) it is miles away from the failure its conception could have made it. It doesn’t feel written in 30 days. It doesn’t feel broken or rushed.

But, if you’re an indie author trying to work out why you can’t finish your work then the real gold is in the book about the book.


Fiction Unboxed’ details the before, during and after of the epic June event. It talks about the planning, the Kickstarter event and the reason for doing it. It goes through the writing process as Johnny and Sean write themselves into corners, lose the ending and add stuff in that will need plenty of foreshadowing. It even goes on with the process of world building, of planned sequels and creating rules for others to follow (like author gifted fan-fiction notes).

But most importantly it opened my eyes to the little things that were still holding me back. While it never expresses that it will fix your problems, it does tell you that you’re not alone. Other authors struggle. Other authors mess up. But being stuck doesn’t mean walk away, put it off or get angry. Because, no matter where these guys got lost they always seemed to find a solution, even if it was cavalry style (like the ending that I think is the best part of the novel).

And they did it in thirty days. From nothing to finished, a real life published book (cover and everything).

So what’s my excuse? Why do I get scared and jump ship to the next idea that floats past because I think it save me instead? I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I won’t let it happen again.

It’s time I finished something, anything. I have so much on the back burner I could almost cover my eyes and play lucky dip. I couldn’t be disappointed because I still want to write every idea I’ve ever come up with.

And sure, people might hate it. But so what? I wouldn’t care because at least that meant I’d taken the next step and put something out there for them to hate in the first place. Enough small talk. I’m a writer, dammit. No more excuses.

(Lets out breath). Much better.

Now, onto other things.



FLASH FICTION RESULTS

My Flash Fiction writing is going well. The ‘wall’ I encountered last week seems to have run off like a lily-livered coward (good riddance) and my ideas are once again coming to me 80% formed and ready to go.

For Micro Bookends we were given a picture of a graveyard along with the words ‘Club’ (first word) and ‘Foot’ (last word). I used the 100 word limit to concoct a story of two friends, one on medication to control his delusions, who visit a graveyard to fight zombies.




CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD


“Club,” said Chris.

Mike handed his friend the club which was actually a baseball bat with ‘extras’ stuck on. “Are you sure?”

“Of course,” said Chris. “I received a message that the dead will rise tonight. And where do dead people rise from?”

“Their graves.” Mike gazed out at the sea of gravestones and sighed. It was cold, it was dark and it was clear that the therapy and medication wasn’t helping his friend.

“Now let’s save the world.” Weapon raised, Chris marched off towards the church.

Mike went to follow but couldn’t. He looked down to find a decomposed hand holding onto his foot.




The story got an Honourable Mention in Sunday’s results and these kind words by judge Meg Kovalik.

The interplay between the characters here is priceless as Chris’s clearly long-suffering friend gets dragged into some hare-brained delusion – that just so happens to be correct this time. I can totally imagine the final sentence being read by Vincent Price. It left me wanting the story to continue.

After Thursday came Flash! Friday and the writer’s block was still in hiding, fearing my wrath. With things back to normal I followed the link, saved the picture and smiled as two ideas popped straight into my head.

The first, WAITING, received an Honourable Mention (I’m collecting them it would seem). This is what judges Carlos Orozco and Eric Martell had to say.

This story shared a similar theme with many of the others, but the open ending really sets it apart. Is Edith going crazy, is her husband really coming back after being gone so long, or is death finally coming to reunite her in the afterlife with her husband? This piece does a great job of storytelling with the negative spaces, letting the reader fill in all the blanks.

Sadly there was nothing for my second story, INTO THE WATER, but a comment by a fellow FlashDog, made me realise that I may not be done with the world in which the story is set. Watch this space.



ROUND UP

And that’s all for now. I feel recharged and I feel like this year is just going to keep getting better.
Next week I talk about a few format changes as well as updates on my Zombie short story, HUMBUG, as well as the impending release of FALLEN SWORDS.

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 02: “Writers Block”

2015 WORD COUNT = 2248 words


TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

original image from www.theangryhourglass.wordpress.com

If you discount the Flash Fiction stories and book reports (what happened to them?) then that makes today's post my 50th since starting last February.

And how do I celebrate this? By announcing that I have once again won the weekends Flash Frenzy over at The Angry Hourglass. I’m over the moon at this result. One of my goals for this year was to finally get a win at some point across the 52 weeks available. The resolution has now doubled in just three weeks’ worth of entries. And there was some really tough competition this week too.
Anyway, with that out of the way let’s get onto to more pressing matters.



HITTING A WALL



My biggest problem with writing isn’t a lack of ideas (see here) but getting a story completed.

Flash Fiction solved this. I may pick and choose on a couple of the contests I take part in but, since starting Flash! Friday back on 30th May 2014, I have managed to produce at least one story each week without fail. Coupled with my weekly Wednesday blog posts and I seem to have finally discovered the ability to work to deadlines and produce something whether I’m in the mood to sit down and write or not.

Now I’m not saying that everything I produce is golden (trust me, it’s not), but I’d rather spend my time writing a story that doesn’t work and being able to learn from it instead of just shutting down the laptop and walking away.

But last week was different.



CALL OF THE DRAGON

original image from www.flashfriday.wordpress.com

Every Friday morning I wake up around 6:30am and head downstairs to get my son’s breakfast ready. While the kettle boils and the radiation box heats the milk, I switch my phone on knowing that my inbox will contain a link to that week’s Flash! Friday prompt.

I take a quick screenshot (in case I end up somewhere later with no signal) and then, as I drown a pair of Weetabix in a bowl of warm milk, I let my mind wander. It never takes long for an idea or two to start forming.

The rest of my morning will be spent in two worlds. 90% of me will get my son ready, get myself ready, go to work and fit in with society. But the remaining 10%, that little piece of my mind hidden right at the back? That’s working those ideas into something that resembles a story.

My lunch break contains the music of Hans Zimmer and a couple of peanut butter sandwiches while I get these ideas down and then, later at home, I type it all up and let my wife do her checks.

That’s what’s supposed to happen.



LAST FRIDAY



The 16th was different.

As the microwave hummed and the milk waltzed inside it, I stared at the prompt like it was a magic eye picture and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see that boat (schooner!).

I got on with my morning hoping that something would come up later. I tried chucking a few of my safe words at it (time travel, demons, spaceships) but nothing felt right. My imagination was as barren as the Gobi.

I figured that, like a man with erectile dysfunction, I was making the problem worse by stressing about it and all I had to do was relax and let it all drift away.

Sure enough it seemed to work as an idea floated from the ether and into the forefront of my mind. I grabbed a piece of notepaper at my desk and wrote down what I had.




IDEA 1
A man works as a janitor at the Colosseum. It’s the end of the day and his son is helping him clean up the mess left behind by the spectators.
I liked the father and son working together. I liked the everyday aspect of a man doing the small, unnoticed job behind the scenes of the big event. But there was no story, no conflict, no nothing. I’d opened with the son finding a gladiators arm up in the stands but I couldn’t get it to go anywhere. It was clearly not a self-contained story. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 2
A hitman called ‘The Janitor’ (He cleans up people’s messes) meets with a prospective client in the empty Colosseum.
I struggle not to include twists in my writing. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The initial meeting with all the description was okay but nothing happened. So I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if the hitman had agreed to kill the man’s wife but, when seeing her, she offered more money to reverse the hit”. Then there was time travel because the client is having the meeting for the first time but the hitman has travelled back after accepting the wife’s higher payment. I love time travel but I hate unnecessary paradoxes. This story had a big one and I don’t think it even needed time travel. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 3
Colosseum is an ancient spaceship that is about to leave.
I had this story being told from the point of view of the ships janitor. Nothing happened and even my awesome imagination couldn’t work out why or how a ship could be buried beneath this ancient structure. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 4
It’s ancient Rome (again) and the Colosseum’s janitor is caught stealing while cleaning up and ends up thrown in with the criminals; fresh meat for the following days competition.
I thought this might be the one but I couldn’t get it to work. I wrote three drastically different versions of this before hitting the delete button. Nothing seemed to have an ending. It was all snapshot writing. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 5
The Colosseum is just a small part of a large machine buried deep beneath Rome. The alien ‘janitor’ is ordered to use the machine to clean up Earth by wiping out the pestilence that is mankind.
For a second I thought I had broken through and come up with an entry. But after completing it I didn’t think it was great. I spent a while cutting chunks out and rewriting. I gave it a better voice and, despite how weak it was, WIPED CLEAN was as good as it could get. It would be my entry for the week. It was getting late and dinner was nearly cooked. I should have scrapped it.



BREAKING POINT



My wife could see that I was getting stressed. It was at this point that she suggested maybe I skip a week. I snapped at her, telling her that she offered terrible advice.

But I wasn’t angry at her, I was angry with myself. I’d managed an unbroken run of more than six months’ worth of Flash! Fridays and I didn’t want to ruin that. And also, it would be turning away from the deadline and the prompt, the things that I loved about the contest, the things that had got me writing again.

I had a (poor) story to post and I could have walked away. My unbroken run would have been intact. And, as I mentioned to my wife, I’ve had stories I thought were amazing that didn’t even get mentioned and then I’ve had stories that I thought people would hate that have done brilliantly (ROLL BACK, I’m looking at you). So who was I to prevent my peers from taking a gander?
And then it happened. The idea machine woke up.


IDEA 6
The Colosseum janitor is cleaning up the gladiator bodies that litter the arena. He is surprised to find the last body to collect isn’t dead, only faking. The ‘body’ asks to be taken to the pits as a way to escape the city.
Not willing to give up just yet, I quickly Googled a few things and discovered that, back in the olden days, the bodies of dead combatants were carted out to pits on the outskirts of town. My brain suddenly connected this to the end of Toy Story 3 where the gangs only hope of escape is through the garbage chute. While it wasn’t Shakespeare, I finally had a story I was happy with. The ending took a little while longer as I originally had the happy ending of freedom for the slave. But then I thought “No!”. If you haven’t read ONLY WAY OUT you can find out what happens here.



IT HAPPENED BEFORE

Original image from news.bbc.co.uk

I’ve never experienced what people would call ‘Writers Block’ before. I’m not bragging. It’s just as a side effect of an overactive imagination and a lack of writing discipline over several years, I have a huge backlog of stories to be getting on with. I’m never without an idea or two. But this was forced writing, something I had enjoyed until Friday 16th January (a date that will live in infamy).

My worry is that it could happen again.

I couldn’t believe the frustration I had from finding a wall between myself and the story I wanted so desperately to get to. I wish I’d found a magical solution and that’s what had got me through but I didn’t. I just kept going and going and going, scrapping one idea when I could see it was broken and getting on with the next. I guess that’s all you can do.

At the end of the day, if there is a wall in front of you and you want to be on the other side then you have to smash through. Walking away just means that the wall will be there next time you come back.

See you in seven. 



Wednesday, 14 January 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 01: “I have a drawer!”


2015 WORD COUNT = 1410 words

A couple of my posts last year may have mentioned things that would seem mundane to the non-authors of the world. In them was talk of my excitement when purchasing ring binders and notepads as well as that momentous occasion when I finally got a dining room table (aka ‘my writing space’) put together in my new home.

As I begin this year with a fresh bundle of excitement towards writing I can now announce that . . . I have a drawer.

Let me explain.

I have shelves and boxes full of notebooks and folders in various rooms, all containing projects I’m currently working on or, worse, those poor stories that have fallen by the wayside.

Last year was a good start to my big push towards publication but this year I want to step it up. There are many things I can and will be doing but the most important is Focus.

To this end I have set aside one of the three drawers in my little IKEA bedside unit that now contains the most important things I need this year.



CONTENTS



Ideas can come at any time. The worst thing to happen to a writer is to be struck by an idea but lose it before it is ever written down. In case an idea strikes in the middle I have a specific little notebook and pen that are just for writing down ideas, whether they sound good at the time or not. Better to write things down and not need them then to beat yourself up over the one that got away.

When I started this blog I grabbed a 2GB memory stick that I never used and decided to keep everything on it. I have double backups (laptop and separate hard drive) but this little thumb drive is the main storage now for stories, blog posts, covers, spreadsheets, NaNoWriMo certificates and so on.

I also have a nice Moleskine notebook (Christmas present) which is being used for a secret project as well as a fully stocked pencil box and a couple of other little notebooks.



COUNTING


It’s a couple of weeks into the year and things are going alright. You may have noticed the word count at the top of the blog. I know 1400 words in two weeks looks crap but this only shows ‘published’ or completed work. So, although I’m working on the first episode of FALLEN SWORDS it won’t count until it’s posted on the blog. And my zombie short HUMBUG is still in its first draft so I won’t count those words until I press the ‘send’ button before the competition deadline.

Hopefully, as various projects and plans come together through 2015, and as I get more confident and focused (there’s that word again), the word count will increase at a more satisfying rate. Obviously my main target is to beat last years (100753) but secretly I want to smash it.



FLASH FICTION NEWS


Another week at Angry Hourglass and another successful entry. This weekend’s SEEING THINGS got a Special Mention from judge Voima Oy who likened it to an opening scene from an X-Files episode. I also received several comments from readers regarding my dialogue, something that’s been mentioned over several of my stories recently. I used to struggle with dialogue so I’m quite happy that my peers have started picking this out as a strength in my writing.

(On a side note, my Winner page went up at Angry Hourglass. I have a winner’s page. Big smiles. Check it out.)

I also had a small piece put up on Paragraph Planet, a website that has published a 75 word piece of writing every day since 2008. I only did it on a whim after fellow FlashDog Avalina Kreska tweeted about her own piece being selected. With a New Year gathering to organise and the dreaded ‘going back to work’, I’d completely forgotten I’d even submitted so it was a nice surprise and kept me on a high after the previous week’s Flash Fiction win.

Of course the best piece of news this weekend was related to my main highlight from last year; The FlashDogs Anthology. Not content with having the anthology available for people to download all across the world, the collection of 110 Flash Fiction gems is now available to purchase in paperback. That’s right, if you head over to Amazon now and deposit the sum of £7.99, you will soon be able to hold the World’s Greatest Flash Fiction Anthology™ in your very own hands. And you can sniff it.

I have three copies on the way that have just arrived; one for me to show off to people, one for my son (when he’s older) and one for my mother who let me sit in my bedroom and write crazy stories throughout most of my childhood. Here’s a proper book, mum.



MENTION


Before I sign off I would just like to give a big thanks to my wife.

Week in and week out she puts up with the constant verbalisation of my mind as ideas are chucked around the house during all hours of the day. She nods, she smiles and most importantly, she helps.

Since I started this endeavour last year she has somehow found time between raising our son,  looking after me (it’s been said I’m hard work) and working on the house to read through my stories and my blog posts, to suggest things and correct things, and to encourage me when I’ve needed it most. She lets me write when it’s sometimes not convenient and she lets me moan when things go south.

She is a legend, she is a star and I don’t know what I’d do without her.



CONCLUSION

So that’s that. A brief roundup of the week. I hope to get into more technical posts as the work starts emerging into the real world. Until then you should take a look at some off the sites I’ve mentioned and see if your creative juices produce anything worth entering. You can’t win unless you write.

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 7 January 2015

(vol 2) PROLOGUE: “Let’s Do That Again”

2015 WORD COUNT = 659 words


Happy New Year to you all!!!

Welcome back to another year of writer ups and downs. Last year was a slower start than I would have liked but I’m always one for big plans so let’s see where I’m headed over the next twelve months (subject to change J).


This time last year the blog didn’t exist and I wasn’t taking my writing very seriously. In just eleven months I have been taken in by a fabulous group of writers, written a fair few words and had four of my stories included in a fantastic anthology.

Of course it hasn’t been all happy happy, joy joy. My own compilation died by the road side and I never got past the first draft of my novella, TATTOO.

What this has taught me is that I need to treat my projects like a pregnancy.

When my wife first told me we were having a child I just wanted to run through the streets telling everyone I could find. But it was too early, she said. So we waited. Even after the doctor’s visit and hearing the heartbeat I still wasn’t given the go ahead. It wasn’t until I had that precious scan photo in hand that my wife signalled the green light.

I think I was a little too new, a little too eager with my projects last year and I started talking about them before they’d had much time to breathe. Therefore, although I have a big plan for the next twelve months, I’ll keep my blogging to what is relevant, to what is immediate and close to being presentable.



WORK IN PROGRESS


I’ve mentioned it a lot over the last few months but now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

My main project at the moment is FALLEN SWORDS which is coming along nicely. I threw together 50,000 words of it last November and am now chopping and tidying that draft into something ready for the world to see.

My plan since the off has been to release it fortnightly. From early February I will be posting a new bite sized ‘episode’ here on the blog every two weeks (day still to be decided). I already have the rough version of what I call ‘Season One’ done as well as plans for seasons two through five. If it does well then that’s me covered for a few years.



FLESHING OUT


You may remember that last April I entered SFX magazines ‘Writing Dead’ competition. The aim was to write a 1500 word zombie short to be judged by author Darren Shan. My piece, CONDOLENCE, didn’t make the short list but I am particularly proud of it. You can check it out yourself on Wattpad.

The great news is I get another stab at it. I’ve started working on a piece titled HUMBUG. Darren is once again judging the final five and as before it’s 1500 words. As an extra challenge, this time the story must include a zombie dressed as Santa and Christmas lights as a prop.

If you’re interested then head on over to SFX magazine’s site for more details. The deadline is February 3rd with the results printed in issue 260 of the mag which hits shelves at the beginning of April.



BEST START


For the final part of this post I was going to mention my aim to continue with the various Flash Fiction entries. My sole aim was to make 2015 the year I got a win.

Unfortunately I’m unable to do that because . . . two days ago I got that win!!!

To say I was over the moon would be an understatement. I am so chuffed to bits to finally get the win that I’ve been chasing since May last year. I think my wife was a little fed up as I went on and on about it Monday night

A big thank you to Amy Wood who judged this weekend’s entries. I’m glad she liked it and I hope she gets her wish that the story one day unfurls its wings to become a novel. I’d say it’s quite possible now as the story means a big deal to me as my first win and won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

If you fancy having a quick read then head over to The Angry Hourglass where it’s up as this weeks ‘HumpDay Quickie’.



SIGN OFF

So that’s that then. I’m looking forward to my first full year of taking writing seriously now that my freshman year is out of the way. They’ll be the release of my episodic project, competitions, more Flash Fiction, NaNoWriMo and much, much more. Hope you guys stick around to see where I’m at come New Years Eve 2015.

See you in seven.