Short story: Gifted (before)

29 January 2015

Marshall-AmpsSo now that my novel is well and truly out of the way I’ve been thinking about the different ways I can utilize my time. Last year was a good one for me with two stories published and I’d like to see if I can keep that momentum going if at all possible.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to submit a bunch of stories over the next few months to various anthologies and competitions. Now before you say anything, yes I’m well aware that I already tried doing that over a year ago to little effect, but in my defense I was submitting to magazines at the time, of which there aren’t that many these days and those which do exist have very broad readerships. This time I will be specifically targeting competitions and anthologies, providing them with (I hope) exactly the sort of story they want to see. It was a strategy I tried last year to great success so I’m going to see if I can keep a good thing going.

So, to start with I’m going to submit a ghost story to this competition for The Fiction Desk. Here’s a description:

‘Ghost story’ can mean a lot of different things, from an encounter with an actual phantom to more unusual paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. All types are welcome, so feel free to experiment: we’re very unlikely to disqualify a story for stretching the definition of a “ghost”. Keep in mind that our general readership (and by extension our judge) may be more likely to respond well to psychological chills and unexplained mysteries than in-your-face gore.

Sounds simple enough, right?

index

This is pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the subject…

Now normally I would be the first to say that ghost stories aren’t my forte. I’ve never written one, I’ve only read a handful in my life, and I don’t even believe in ghosts so it’s kind of difficult to take the whole thing seriously. However, in this case I’m feeling secretly confident about things because I trick up my sleeve. Namely, I already have a story written… kind of.

For this, I’m going to try retooling an old story I wrote many years ago for a university project. At the time of writing I got a good grade for it, but like so much of my earlier work, I find that time hasn’t been kind to it. It’s way overwritten, far too aware of itself and, yes, it’s absolutely in love with the idea of everything being as dank and gloomy as possible (because Goddamn it, if dirt and dim lighting doesn’t make things feel more real then I don’t know what does!).

Click here to read the original version (PDF)

As you can see, there’s no ghost in this story per se, but there is something very much like a ghost. You know how people sometimes say that really talented people were ‘born with a gift inside them’? Well, I tried playing with the idea that this is literally true. I imagined a gift as being a kind of spiritual creature that lives inside every person. As you would expect, every gift is different (just like every person is different). Some gifts are big and impressive, others are understated and shy. Some are well looked after, allowing them to flourish. Others are neglected or ignored.

For the story, I envisaged a musician who is, quite literally, wasting his talent. He has an amazing gift inside him – one of the best ever made – but he has misused it for years, using it only to produce quick and easy songs that are guaranteed to sell but which don’t test his talents in any way.

Then I imagined the gift getting super angry and trying to get its revenge…

internal-demons

Yeah, I know it’s a little convoluted as premises go but I have to say I do quite like it and I think it would transition well into a longer story, especially if it were told from the point of view of the gift a la the Screwtape Letters. But for a 4,000 word short story submitted to a writing competition…? Meh, it’s a little too fiddly to be workable in my opinion.

So yeah, the idea is that I’m going to be rebuilding this story with a much more straightforward premise. The main story elements will remain the same, as will the essential beats of the plot, but the gift will be swapped out for a more traditional ghost-like creature, which will hopefully result in a far more easily digestible story.

Check back next week when I’ll show you (some of) the finished version. Hopefully you’ll agree it’s a big improvement over this first draft.


What next for the Arkship Ulysses?

21 January 2015

A few weeks ago I finished writing a book. As you can imagine, I was pretty proud of this fact.

The book was longer than I originally planned it to be and I finished it well behind schedule, but I still think it’s a pretty good read for a first timer like myself. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you go right now and check out the sample chapters available on this website.

Now, that the writing part is finished, however, the real work begins.

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London

So many books…

Any writer will tell you that getting published in today’s market is a brutally hard business.

In some ways the book industry has never been healthier than it is now – almost 1 million books were published last year in the US alone according to some estimates and new ones are being published all the time on every conceivable topic. At the same time, however, the trade paperback and hardback markets, as they have existed for decades of years, are dying. ‘E-reading’ and ‘self-publishing’ are the buzz words of today’s age. Outside a tiny pool of best-selling authors whose work is guaranteed to sell, the vast majority of writers find their work homeless and unloved, doomed to wonder the fringes of the slushpile for all eternity. Just more noise in a market that’s already screaming its head off.

Believe me, I am aware of these facts. They are depressing, sure, but I made my peace with them a long time ago.

The trouble is, sitting back and analyzing a situation from afar is one thing. Getting close and personal with it is something else entirely. So, for example, I can look at something like the Artists and Writer’s handbook and I can see that almost no agents or publishers are interested in science fiction. I can look at the current books sales for science fiction and see how poor they are. I can look at the list of best-selling science fiction books and notice how little there is from the last 20 years…

And yet, I still have to try. After all, I promised myself I would.

writing_humour_synopsis-scaled500So let’s get down to business: all publishers and agents ask for 3 things when submitting them work.

First of all, three sample chapters. Done. Finished. Easy as pie.

Next, a one-page synopsis. This is a brief 600-word summary of your entire book boiled down to its core elements. In my case, my book had to shed a lot of weight to get to this target. I’m literally covering several chapters with every sentence here. I don’t even mention one of the main characters at all and in my attempt to boil the plot down to an understandable core, it loses almost all of its themes of religion and faith which are some of the core concepts of the book. I won’t tell you how long this took to write. The answer is too depressing.

You can find the finished synopsis below. Spoilers for anyone planning on reading the finished book:

The Arkship Ulysses is all that remains of a once-vast fleet of ships that fled the Earth a thousand years ago. Today, the ship is a shambles: overpopulated and barely functional. Its Captain is a lame duck and its crew has devolved into a pseudo-feudal system of powerful families vying for power.Abi Leighton, a young girl with a sharp mind and an even sharper temper, once belonged to such a family. For the last five years, however, she has lived a life of disgrace as one of the so-called Unspoken. She works like a slave, she lives in squalor, and, due to a ship-wide food crisis, there is talk of an uprising all around her. She is determined to crawl her way out of this hell hole and back into civilization where she belongs as soon as possible.

When she meets a beautiful girl named Kara, in whom the nobles seem to be paying far too much attention, Abi thinks she might have found her golden ticket. Abi watches over the new girl, slowly gaining her trust by saving her life from an attack by a local gang and teaching her how to survive.

Through this girl, Abi learns of a plot to end hostilities by marrying the Captain – the most powerful man in the universe – to one of the Unspoken. In this way, they claim, the masses will be shown a glimmer of hope that will motivate them to return to work and quit their talk of rebellion.

Armed with this knowledge, Abi uses Kara’s safety to buy her way to freedom. Thanks to her noble upbringing she is able to wheedle her way into a job working as the girl’s personal tutor. She quickly regains money and standing for herself. However, back in society Abi finds herself shunned by the very people she once called friends. There is nothing left of the life she once had and the situation on the ship turns out to be far worse than she imagined. The food crisis is spiraling out of control. It’s obvious that the noble families are plotting something big.

Abi bides her time until the day the Captain is due to meet with Kara for the first time. While the eyes of the ship are distracted, she steals an ident card from a high ranking officer and uses it to break into a secure area. There she discovers that the talk of rebellion wasn’t just talk after all: it was an idea planted among the Unspoken by spies working for the nobility. They want the Unspoken to rebel. They want the ship in chaos. And they want it to happen at the exact moment that Kara is being shown to the Captain for the first time.

In a flash, Abi realises what’s happening: someone is going to assassinate the Captain and blame it on the Unspoken, thus gaining the support needed to dispose of them forever. With fewer mouths to feed, the food crises would be over. That person would be a hero, in prime position to take control following the Captain’s demise.

With no time to lose, Abi runs to the Captain’s quarters, arriving just in time to stop the ringleader before he can go through with his plan. However, this victory has comes at a terrible cost. With the ringleader now dead, there is no one left who knows the plan to stop the riot when the Unspoken break out on cue and start ransacking their way across the ship.

Thanks to some fast thinking on Abi’s part, the Captain and his few remaining allies are able to bottle up the Unspoken but it’s obvious that this is only a short-term solution. Abi has saved the Captain’s life but she may just have doomed the ship in the process.

The Captain, not knowing who else to trust, charges Abi with a new task: that of finding a real solution to the food crisis that doesn’t involve killing off one third of its population. Abi suddenly finds herself thrust into the centre of attention, possibly the most important person on the whole ship.

The Arkship Ulysses is the first book in a planned series. It is a 150,000 word fantasy in space, along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

The final thing all agents ask for is a cover letter and luckily this part is pretty straight forward. Any agent that’s been in the industry longer than a couple of days will know exactly what they are looking at as soon as they open your envelope so they really don’t need a lot of waffle. All they really care about you is that you’re not a nut job and that you have a book for them to read. Hopefully, I can prove both of those facts in one, easy to read letter.

Dear X,

I am looking for an agent to represent my book, The Arkship Ulysses. It is a 150,000-word epic fantasy in space along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire that would be the first in a series of books.

The Arkship Ulysses tells the story of the last surviving ship that fled the dying Earth when the rest of humanity died out. After a thousand years of wondering the cosmos, the ship is in a bad way. Things are falling apart, nothing works, the crew are demotivated and its civilian population is starving. Our hero is a young girl who has fallen on hard times. Her attempt to climb back into high society while all around her is falling to pieces forms the backbone of the narrative.

I am an English teacher living in Wroclaw, Poland. I am relatively new to the writing business but last year I had two short stories published in various anthologies. While at university I won the in-house ‘Edner Fuller’ prize for my fiction. I hope to now take my writing to the next level.

I enclose a brief synopsis and the first three chapters of The Arkship Ulysses for your consideration. I
would be happy to send you the full manuscript if and when appropriate. I enclose an SAE but you do not need to return the manuscript.

Please contact me if you need more information. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have or revise the novel as necessary. Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

R J Burgess

Lastly, of course, I need a contact list. Here are the agents I will be hitting first. I’ve chosen them simply because they all a) are UK-based and b) specifically target writers of genre fiction. They are:

  1. Anubis Literary Agency
  2. Michael Berenti Literary Management
  3. Mic Cheetham Associates
  4. Dorian Literary Agency
  5. Sheil Land Associates Ltd.
  6. The Standen Literary Agency

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

 


Reading my favourite authors

10 January 2015

Long-time readers of this blog will remember about a year ago I published a list of my favourite authors. You can find the article here so I’m not going to spent too much time explaining my choices now, but as a quick reminder the authors were:

  1. C. S. Lewis
  2. Ursula Le Guin
  3. Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Douglas Adams
  5. George R. R. Martin
  6. Octavia E. Butler
  7. John Wyndham

Over the years it’s safe to say I have read a lot of books by these guys and many of them rank among my absolute favourites.

However, I haven’t read all of them and therein lies the theme for this new series of posts. Starting this month, I will be reading one book from one of the seven authors above every few weeks. These books will be entirely new to me. Perhaps they will be lesser known works by these authors. Perhaps they will be famous books that for some reason or other I never got around to reading. All of them will be new to me.

I can already tell you these reviews are going to be very interesting to write. Unlike the reviews I did when I was reviewing the slush pile at a publishing company, I won’t be reading these books completely in the dark. And unlike when I was reviewing the best-selling books of all time I won’t have any word of mouth or film adaptations to give me some idea of what to expect.

Instead, I will be reading these books from an entirely new position: armed with full knowledge of who these authors are and knowing all too well the high standards to which they are capable of reaching, and yet approaching each book as a fresh artifact to which I have little association beyond perhaps a vague sense of its plot.

As a fan of these writers, it’s going to be hard to stay objective and not fall into bouts of fanboyism. But never let it be said I’m one to shy away from a challenge…

So without any further ado, these are the first three books I will be reading in this series:

Book one: The Screwtape letters by C S Lewis

stllewisIf anyone ever asks me who my favourite writer is, I will tell them C S Lewis. His book Til We Have Faces is easily my favourite of all time and I can’t name a single book of his I haven’t enjoyed (although That Hideous Strength came very close).

I love how the guy writes about his faith. I love the way he couples together such pedestrian everyday characters and situations with such deep and challenging theological themes. As a religious man growing up during these spiritually lukewarm times, I find it extremely heartening to read a man like Lewis and feel the pure conviction shining through from his work. Of all the writers I have ever encountered, he is the one whose world view seems most to mirror my own. There are many times during his more discursive books that I literally feel as though I’m reading my own thoughts presented on a page.

C S Lewis was a university professor by trade so his writing style is often very literate and occasionally falls into bouts of self-indulgent argumentation. Sometimes it feels like he’s lecturing you more than telling a story, which I know puts a lot of people off him, especially considering the inflammatory subject matter.

For both of these reasons, however, I think The Screwtape Letters will be an excellent book to choose for this series. The Screwtape letters are a series of fictional letters from a demon to another who is trying to tempt a man to damnation. Straight off the bat we can see that this is classic Lewis: Christian themes; literature and argumentative writing style; lecture first and plot second.

It’s widely considered one of his best books.

Book 2: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

the-sirens-of-titan3I have read precisely two of Vonnegut’s books: Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. You might be surprised that I consider the guy one of my favourite writers of all times considering I’ve only read two of his books but if you think that way that’s only because you’ve never read them.

Vonnegut writes with none of the reverence or spirituality that characterizes Lewis’s work. His work is anarchic, cynical, darkly funny in an almost depressing way. He writes like a man who has truly seen the depths to which humanity can sink and is now desperately trying to make sense of it all. It’s like the literary equivalent of punk rock and I love it.

When it comes to choosing which of his books I should read next, I actually have Vonnegut himself to fall back on. In Chapter 18 of his book Palm Sunday he grades his own novels. Not in accordance with some external standard of what is ‘good’, he says, but rather in reference to his own abilities and what he feels he is capable of.

This was how he graded himself:

  • Player Piano: B
  • The Sirens of Titan: A
  • Mother Night: A
  • Cat’s Cradle: A+
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
  • Slaughterhouse-Five: A+
  • Welcome to the Monkey House: B-
  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
  • Breakfast of Champions: C
  • Slapstick: D
  • Jailbird: A
  • Palm Sunday: C

Obviously I’m going to choose one of his A-rank books for this series and The Sirens of Titan seems like the perfect choice.

Written early in his career, this book famously ranks among one of his most chaotic of all. From what little I’ve heard about the book, it has almost defies description. Vonnegut seems to tumble between ideas, somehow forging an almost Macgyver-like plot out of little more than wit and cynicism alone. Reading the book’s blurb tells me almost nothing about what to expect inside. All I know is that Vonnegut thought it was good and that’s good enough for me.

Book 3: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

lathe-of-heaven2Sometimes you read a story and you feel entertained. Sometimes you read a story and feel moved. Some books challenge you. Some books stay with you forever. Only Le Guin manages to do all of these things at the same time.

Have you ever met someone before whom you feel insignificant? You know that this person is more intelligent, more insightful and more talented than you will ever be, so much so that all you can do is stand in awe of them. That’s how I feel when reading Le Guin.

Despite being a devout feminist, atheist, environmentalist and socialist her books never seem to brow beat you with these principles. Unlike Lewis, she never seems to be lecturing you. Instead she lays out a situation and lets you come to your own conclusions.

Likewise, unlike Vonnegut she never seems to let her ideas overwhelm her or get her down but instead remains in control of her plot throughout. From a technical standpoint, she is probably the best writer on this list. Certainly, I’ve never known a female writer create such realistic male characters before.

When it came to choosing which of her books to read, it was actually really easy. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of parallel universes. The idea of taking one thing, changing it and then running with the implications of that change is science fiction in its purest, most undiluted form.

As a kid I loved shows like Sliders or the mirror universe episodes in Star Trek. As an adult, I adore reading through alternate histories. I am always running what-if scenarios through my mind with my own life history and that of the world around me. I find it fascinating.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to stumble upon this book. Here we have a novel which isn’t just about one alternate universe but about the implications of creating such universes in the first place. The book is surprisingly short considering the amount of ground I’ve heard it covers so I’m expecting a dense read. I’m expecting some tough themes here on the nature of choice, reality, fate and free will. I’m expecting some crazy, unpredictable turns of events and, most importantly, a bloody good read.

Of all the books on this list, this is the one I am most looking forward to reading. It was the one that made me decide to start this series in the first place.

So that’s the first three books for you. I’m going to get cracking on reading them now and I’ll post back here in a couple of weeks with the first of my reviews.


Short story: It was always this way

4 January 2015
This story is 'inspired by' King Lear

This story was ‘inspired by’ King Lear

Length: 2,181 words

Genre: Fiction

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

It’s been a while since I posted a short story on this site so I thought I’d share another oldie with you.

This one was written during my first year of university (in 2003) for an assignment in which we had to write a story inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear. Just like with a lot of my early writing efforts, you’ll work out pretty quickly that in this case ‘inspired by’ basically means I ripped off the entire plot of the play. But hey, at least I got a pass for it.

What you have here is a kind of culmination of all the bad habits I had during my early writing days. It’s a contrived little story, overly reliant on back-story to deliver its plot. The central conceit of a family business falling on hard times clearly shows that I had absolutely no idea how the world of business operated at the time, and there’s a death thrown in at the end apparently just because it was the only way I could think of wrapping up the story. Shakespeare this certainly ain’t.

It’s pretty funny when you think about it. I mean, the common axiom you hear as a writer is that you should always “write what you know”. Well I can tell you this: I have never seen or fired a gun in my life, nor have I ever killed anyone or seen anyone die in front of me, and yet there is an awful lot of gun-related deaths cropping up in my early writing. So much so you could probably make a drinking game out of it.

Sadly this is just one of those examples of a writer trying to make things grimmer and darker just to make himself seem more “mature”. I remember when I first read this story out in class all those years ago, the immediate feedback I got was, “Why are your stories always set in really dark and dirty places? Do you never clean your house or something?”

To which another student guessed, “I think he just likes using the word ‘dank’.”

I remember finding that very funny at the time.

So why am I sharing this story with you if it’s so irredeemably bad? Because I think it’s important to show the bad alongside the good on a writing blog like this one. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum after all and good writing is a craft that needs to be practiced and learned just like any other art form. Consider this an example of me learning my craft. It’s an artifact from a by-gone age; a memory of where I started out and the progress I have made since that day.

I hope you enjoy it.


Happy New Year everyone!

31 December 2014

502-FireworkSo 2014 was a pretty great year overall.

I got a new job, I got a promotion within that job, I finally finished writing the novel I’d been working on for God only knows how many years and I got not one but two stories published in anthologies.

In this way, I think we can safely say that two of the resolutions I made this time last year have been well and truly ticked off – that of changing my job and finishing what I started.

Unfortunately I wasn’t so successful with the other two resolutions I made – that of backing up my life and mastering the Polish language. I haven’t been completely lax on those points. I recently had all of my childhood things shipped over from England ready to be sorted through and my Polish is definitely improving, albeit not as fast as I might want it to. However, I am slightly disappointed that I couldn’t do more with these resolutions and they will definitely be rolling over into next year.

In addition to these, here are a couple of other things on my to-do list for 2015:

1. Buy a house

house-for-sale1I’ve been living in Poland for almost 6 years now and by the looks of things I will be living here for at least a couple more.

I’m a married man now with a good job and savings for the first time in years. It’s time to get serious. Buy a house. Make it into a home. Settle down.

God, I sound so old saying those things but the truth is, I’m really looking forward to it. Buying a first house is an important step in anyone’s life and it’s one that I think I’m ready to make.

2. Start a family

Family-Law-Attorneys-in-DenverThis one is a no-brainer really.

Marriage + New House + Couple in their Early 30’s = a Family.

It’s something I’ve always wanted and I think I’ve finally managed to convince my wife that this year is the one to start trying. Consider this one an on-going work in progress.

3. Get my book published

rainbow-book-375x250Yeah we’re going all out with the resolutions this year…

So you might have heard me mention once or twice that I recently finished writing a book. I’m pretty chuffed about it actually. It’s something I’ve been toiling over for a very long time.

Well now is the time to take it to the next level. Any book needs to be read and every writer longs to be heard. It’s time to get published.

I’m well aware that this is a huge ask. The modern publishing industry is not exactly in the rudest health right now. Despite the roaring success of e-book readers, the surging profits of Amazon and its ilk, and the likes of J K Rowling getting kids back into reading, old-fashioned paper books are unfortunately becoming a dying breed these days. People just don’t buy as many books as they used to, and the books they do buy tend to be either best-sellers or special edition, coffee-table type books, of which my novel will be neither. The market is simply over-supplied right now with far more novels written every year than the industry has room for.

Coupled with this are some hard truths it’s best to be honest about up front:

  • I am a complete unknown with no track record
  • I am writing in an extremely niche genre whose Golden Age is long behind it
  • My book is close to 150,000 words long (about 450 print pages), over 50% longer than the recommended length for a debut novel

On paper (or e-book screen if you prefer) I am not exactly a hot prospect for guaranteed sales success. In all likelihood, even if I did somehow manage to get published, my book would be printed perhaps only a couple of thousand times, pushed out into specialist book suppliers and then never promoted at all beyond a notification on the publisher’s website and a couple of adverts sent out via email.

Such is the state of the modern book industry.

But you know what? I know all of these things. I accept all of these things. And I’m still going to try. Because my book deserves to be read. It’s set-up is unique. Its themes are important and challenging. A lot of bad books have been published over the years. My book is at least better than them.

4. Get fit

2c8b5728-8116-416f-8221-35f5d7c67373Finally a resolution that literally everyone makes: this year I will try to get fit.

I’m actually in pretty good condition considering how sedentary my lifestyle is. My weight is normal, my health is good, my blood pressure and cholesterol are both fine. I don’t smoke and I only very rarely drink to excess. But, of course, one can always do better.

One of the perks of my job is a free gym membership which I’ve never got around to using. This year I will start.

So anyway, that’s all for now! Let’s see if I’m as good with these resolutions as I was with the last ones. Until then, I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2015!


Merry Christmas everyone!

24 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

decorated-christmas-tree-widescreen-765740

It’s been a long hard year full of ups and downs, and now is the time to sit back and reflect on all that’s happened. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite bubbly, turn on the TV and and do your best impression of a sack of potatoes while stuffing yourself full of turkey and chocolate.

Because that’s what Christmas is all about!

And as my own little Christmas gift to you all, as promised here are the final two parts of the Arkship Ulysses:

Not much to say about these chapters except that they are done and with that, the Arkship Ulysses is also done and I am very happy about both of these facts. One final spell check and re-formatting notwithstanding this book is now done and dusted and ready for submission.

It’s a strange feeling writing these words. I believe it was George Lucas who once said that no film is ever finished, it’s just abandoned. That’s kind of how I feel about this book. Looking at what I’ve written, I can see so many points that could do with fine tuning. There are sentences to be trimmed, dialogue to be retooled, descriptions to be neatened out and rephrased… But that’s all detail work to be talked over with an editor. The fact remains that this book is complete in a structural and plot sense and that means this is now a great time to ‘abandon’ this particular book into the wild.

As long-time readers of my blog will know, this book has been a bit of an experiment on my part since I’ve been ‘publishing’ it here at the same time as I was writing it. I did this in the hopes that doing so would help give my readers a better insight into how a book is written and also give me a place to vent my frustrations when things inevitably went wrong.

Now that it’s finished, however, I must start to put the commercial aspects of my book first. Therefore, I shall be removing all chapters from my blog later today (with the exception of these three teaser chapters). So if you haven’t finished reading it all yet, now is a good time to catch up (unless you like the idea of waiting until it’s on sale in a book shop somewhere). :-)

Here’s to a fantastic Christmas for everyone. Cheers!


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 23

19 December 2014

Chapter 23: The Metapath

Length: 4,577 words

POV character: Stuart

Synopsis:

For Stuart, it is a time for hard decisions.

Though he has saved the Captain’s life, and rescued the whole ship from certain destruction, now he needs to save his own hide. The strange woman visits him while he is recovering from his near-death experience. This time she is determined to get some answers about who Stuart really is and what he plans to do now he has unlocked the secret to his power.

Notes:

You know, I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. A really long time. In fact, by this point it’s getting on for half my life time.

With that said, you might be surprised to hear that as little as two years ago I had no idea where this book was going. Oh, sure, I told myself that I knew. I had outlines and plans and whole spreadsheets full of character arks. I’d written and rewritten well over 40 chapters worth of material, most of which will never see the light of day (though I am tempted to release some of it here after the book is finished as a kind of bonus for anyone who’s been patient enough to stick around all this time).

Two years ago, I cobbled together something that looked like an ending, ran the whole thing through a spell checker and then declared, “yep that’s finished”. But it was a lie. I was in pain at the time, mourning the loss of a year’s worth of work and desperate to get some closure on that part of my life.

Looking back now, I see that the book wasn’t finished. Not even close. It’s still not finished now.

The truth is, the book was simply too complicated to get my head around easily. You ever hear that analogy about woods and trees? Well, this right here was a veritable jungle and I’d stupidly walked into it with only the most rudimentary of maps. I had characters clashing into each other all over the place, each of which needed to be set up, given a character arc and believable closure all whilst also building the story as a whole towards some sort of cohesive end. I had an upper word limit I was desperately struggling to keep away from (I still am), and all in all it was just a constant logistical battle to keep all the balls in the air and make it look interesting while doing it.

And that’s the right word for it, I think: a battle. With myself. With my imagination. With my motivation. With the chapters I had already written which would sometimes need to be mercilessly cut and with the tenuous deadlines I kept setting myself which would then fly merrily by unmet.

And the worst thing was, it was a battle I was losing.

So I came up with a Strategy. Part of this strategy involved walking away from the novel for a year and allowing myself to get some distance from it. But the other part was more complicated and it involved trying to combat two specific hurdles I kept running into while writing the book:

  1. I didn’t know where the overall plot was going (though I did know some of the individual character arcs)
  2. Writing in a linear fashion meant that I was constantly switching POV and, consequently, voice. This would lead to an inconsistent writing style at times as characters started sounding very samey to one another

To combat both of these issues I tried delineating the story telling. I figured that by stripping out each of the characters and dealing with them one by one, the main plot would somehow materialize before my eyes. At the very least, I could write around that huge snarl of plot threads, allowing me to make some sort of progress on the novel while I tried to think up a long term solution to the thornier plot issues.

The first character to go through this delineated writing process was Michael. It was easy to work on his chapters since they have always served more as bookends to each part than chapters in their own right.

The next character to be looked at was Estavan, which was also pretty straightforward since he only had four chapters and only two of them impacted on the rest of the story.

Now that the easy characters were out of the way, I next turned my attention to Stuart who had seven chapters to his name at the time (I believe he has more now).

However, once I’d finished writing through Stuart’s section, my grand Strategy came screeching to a halt.

You see, I’d written too much.

When I pasted all the then completed chapters together to see how the book was looking, I discovered a huge pacing issue in the way Stuart’s chapters were laid out. In the middle section of the book he seemed to disapear for huge chunks of the narative at a time. Then at the end of the book, you suddenly couldn’t get rid of the guy. I think I had something like four chapters in a row focused on Stuart. And when you only have seven chapters to play with in total, you know something’s going wrong.

All this was compounded by the issue that I simply couldn’t move any of his chapters earlier in the book since some of the events in those chapters impacted on some of the other characters’ chapters. It was precisely the sort of situation I’d been trying to avoid all along and, I’ll be honest, it bummed me out for a while.

So my Strategy was a failure. The next day I went back to the beginning of the novel and started writing it out in a more typical, chronological order. It made more sense that way and the chapters ended up more sensibly spread out throughout the novel as a result.

I’m sure at this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I told you all of this. Well, it’s because this chapter right here is that bottom-heavy section of the novel I just talked about. In essence it’s something like three chapters’ worth of material from that earlier draft, all condensed down and flattened into just one chapter (plus an epilogue that’s coming later).

Condensing chapters means cutting text. Huge chunks of text. Some of my favourite parts of the novel in fact ended up deleted from this chapter. You need callouses on your heart if you’re going to be a writer.

It’s frustrating too because this is one part of the book I thought I’d finished years ago and now suddenly I found myself forced to wade through it once again. I think part of the issue (other than the chapter’s extreme length) is the sudden tonal shift that I was only just noticing between the breakneck action of the last few chapters followed by this more thoughtful, measured section of narrative. That’s yet another side effect of writing a book out of its correct order. I’ve learned my lesson for the future.

Anyway, hopefully it’s all fixed now and is ready for consumption. I hope you enjoy it.


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