Wednesday, 29 January 2014

On (Hopefully Not Re-) Writing History

My new, currently underway novel, working title To End All Wars, will be my first serious go at writing historical fiction - and by serious I mean, not set in some vague ye olden days or Lovecraftian times or whatever period the Damasco books were meant to be based on.  No, I'm talking about proper history, with an extra dose of period veracity: the First World War to be exact, and June 1916 onwards to be even more exact.  And I'm trying to get into the habit of being exact, because that obviously is a thing you need to do when you write historical fiction.  In fact, I've spent most of the last week driving myself a little crazy with exactitude.

Everything was going swimmingly until I had to transport my protagonist from the trenches of the Somme to - well, let's just say for reasons of not spoilering a book I haven't even finished yet to an undisclosed location somewhere in England.  I won't go into details of what a horror it was figuring out the logistics of an intercontinental journey that might conceivably have happened a hundred years ago, partly because I'm still suffering from slight research PTSD, but suffice to say that I spent an awfully, disproportionately long time hunting for the most obscure bits of information.  There were a couple of days, in fact, where I felt like I was spending fifteen minutes in research for every minute of writing time.  Seriously, are there really people out there who do this all the time?

Except that on the good days, when the research isn't driving me crazy - and the good days have been by far the majority - I've got to admit that I'm really enjoying it.  It's nice to be a historian again, after too long away, and World War One is a fascinating, if frequently heart-breaking, subject.  Also, struggling through that bad patch has made me think a little more realistically about what I can and should be trying to achieve.  I've consoled myself with the fact that if my protagonist doesn't need to know something then I don't need to know it, that if I can't find something out in a half hour's research then it may well be because no one knows, and with the sad fact that there's almost no one left alive who can speak definitively about events that occurred an entire century ago.

In short, then, while I desperately hope I can get the big stuff right, from now on I'm going to make more of an effort not to sweat the little stuff.
History at its most improbable and awesome.

And in the meantime,
I did at least get dragged off into some interesting historical back alleys.  The whole experience, in fact, was possibly justified just by the discovery of dazzle ships, which may just be the single most gloriously mad thing humanity has ever produced. If you don't believe me, look right, or read this, or just do a quick image search.

Right.  Now I'm going outside to Dazzle Camouflage my house.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Good Times to be in Interzone

I began this as a post about how great it is to have a story, Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place, in the just-out January issue of Interzone - Interzone #250 no less, a hell of a landmark to be associated with.  And while all the gushing was undoubtedly justified, I realised by the time I'd got half way through that it was also superfluous: everyone knows Interzone is fantastic, the great mainstay of British genre publishing, and I'm sure most people who read this will have a fair idea of how buzzed I was to land a story in there.

So let's leave it at that and talk about something else: something perhaps slightly contentious and certainly a little embarrassing.   

Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place started life as a dream.

Way back when, I used to think that there was nothing more pretentious and flat-out ridiculous than a writer saying they'd written something based on a dream.  It was like claiming your stories were based on crystals and unicorns, or crystal unicorns - although if I ever met a crystal unicorn it's a safe bet I'd want to write a story about it, and maybe even pen its biography, so that's perhaps a poor example.  But come on!  Dreams!  Really...

Thus you can imagine how shocked and disgusted I was when I had a dream that was so damn weird and narrative and really kind of interesting that I couldn't stop thinking about it.  In fact, that's already a fib; I knew from the moment I woke up trying to remember and unravel it that I wanted to try and turn it into a story.

But perhaps that's the important bit, that turn into ... because in and of itself the dream was, like all dreams, utter bollocks.  Once I'd picked it apart, it became obvious that there were just a few elements I could salvage, the basics of a couple of characters, the core of an idea, that kind of thing.  Because, and I've learned this since, dreams can be great for throwing up bits of stories, little sparks and glimmers of weirdness.  This has only grown truer as I write more and more, and I think that's because the part of my brain that's always on the look out for ideas it can twist into stories doesn't get turned off that much anymore.  But in and of themselves, dreams are nonsense.  They try and tell you things that don't make a speck of sense are thrillingly coherent.  And, if you're anything like me, they repeatedly try to convince you that you can run along walls like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and then leave you to wake to the heartbreaking knowledge that you can't and probably will never be able to.  Dreams, in short, are rubbish.

So if anyone ever tells you they write their dreams then slap them, they're almost certainly a hippy and probably dosed to the gills with illegal hallucinogens and there's a fair chance they'll be writing stories based on the chinking of their wind chimes next.  But if someone tells you they've written a story that incorporates bits and pieces of a dream they had one time then maybe cut them some slack.  If only because that poor soul is probably me.

Monday, 13 January 2014

One New Website

For too long now, my website has been a source of misery.

I mean, mostly for me, obviously, but I'm sure that anyone who ever found themselves trying to look at the thing felt much the same.  In retrospect I almost wish that I'd kept it out there, just so I had a way of illustrating what an unholy shambles it was, what with its drab colour palette and boring fonts and inability to scale to the sort of resolutions expected of any computer manufactured since 1993.

Most of the blame can be placed squarely at the door of Streamline, my previous provider, who I lumbered myself with years ago when I didn't know any better and who I have no qualms about naming and shaming now, because they were unutterably and inexcusably terrible.  Their software was bug-ridden, their tech support was non-existent, their interface was a decade out of date at least and all in all I don't think I've ever paid good money for so much misery.

So ... Streamline, here in this place of public rantery, I curse thy name to the heavens.  May thy servers all turn to porridge and the soles of thy feet develop unpleasant rashes that defy all modern medicine.  And know, in thy darkest hour that thy brought it all on yourselves, by being more rubbish than anything should be ever.

With that out of the way, I should probably admit that the other part of the equation was time; time and, I suppose, money.  While I was working I didn't have the time to revamp my website, and I certainly didn't have the hundreds of pounds lying around that I'd have needed to pay someone to do it for me.  At least one of those things changed in October when I started writing full time, and suddenly the tens of hours it would take to move my site to a new provider and redesign and reformat it from the ground upward seemed a lot more within reach.

To cut a short story that I've already made quite long a little shorter, this thing I have now done.  And yes it did indeed take an unholy amount of time and work, but it was absolutely worth it; no longer do I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that somewhere a small orphan child may have deliberately gone blind rather than have to continue looking at my website.  Now I would go so far as to say that's it's well put together, aesthetically tolerable, easily navigable and almost overloaded with content.  Which is perhaps faint self-praise after the zillion and one hours I put into the thing, but I'm not, after all, a professional web designer, and I still only have so much time.

Anyway ... take a minute to have a look for yourself at the all-new, all-improved, not even slightly singing or dancing (because that would be dumb)  And if you can think of any improvements or anything that I've missed, please do let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013: Or, Phase IV

I've been a little troubled at the prospect of putting together my end-of-the-year round up, truth be told.  I try to be positive here at Writing on the Moon, because I fervently believe that writing is a thing to be positive about, but the flip side of that is that I've always intended this blog to be an honest account of my career and there are some things that are just very difficult to put a positive spin on.  For me, for the most part, 2013 has been one of those things.

It certainly got off to a difficult start.  Of the three Damasco books, the writing of Prince Thief had been by far the hardest; I've no doubt it's possible to write a book in a year around a regular job without suffering any serious ill-effects, but when that day job involves things like twelve hour night shifts and inordinate amounts of travel it becomes, frankly, pretty tough.  And when you live like that for month after month, working up to seventy hours a week, doing little else and not sleeping anything like enough, after a while your health starts to suffer.  Hell, everything starts to suffer.

What made the experience just shy of impossible, though, was that I had a fair idea of what was in store for Prince ThiefGiant Thief had performed moderately well, but not well enough for Crown Thief to receive much publisher support or attention from bloggers and reviewers, because sequels don't attract anything like the sort of interest that debuts do.  By the time I started Prince Thief, I'd been reliably informed that I should expect proportionately less again.

Looking back, that's seems a lot more like common sense than it did at the time: you'll always be preaching to the converted with the third book in a trilogy.  But at the time, the cost seemed just too much; I knew I was making myself unwell and causing distress to the people close to me to write a book that couldn't hope to achieve the sort of things you hope a book will achieve, and it broke my heart a little.

All of that was more of less done with by the end of March, but it cast a long shadow.  Even with my writing efforts dialed down I was still doing at least one and a half jobs, the exhaustion never quite went away, and things continued to be a struggle.  In retrospect, I might have done better to slacken the pace a little more; as it was, I spent the next few months feeling like I was doing far less than I should have been.  I'd have liked to have worked much more to promote the launch of Endangered Weapon B;  I enjoyed coming up with my first novella, insane sci-fantasy oddity Patchwerk, but it cost more in time and effort than I'd been expecting.  It was really only when I put the day job once and for all behind me in October that things began to settle down, and only in the past month that I've felt like everything was more or less back under control.


For all that I've sure as hell done it in this post, I don't like moaning.  I still remember with perfect clarity what it's like to be an unpublished author, as I imagine some of the people who'll read this will be, and I know that I've been very, very fortunate to make it as far as I have, in the ways that I have.  I wanted more than anything to have a book published and now I have five out there, in various shapes and sizes and - regardless of how hard I worked for it, regardless of anything - that is a thing of utter awesomeness.  As is the fact that I've finally achieved my other lifetime goal this year, to make writing my day job.

So, for all of those reasons, and because sometimes it's nice to remind yourself of all the good stuff, here's a list of the things that happened in 2013 that were actually pretty amazing:
  • I sold a story to Clarkesworld and, with the year nearly out, to Interzone, two markets I've been chasing ever since I started writing seriously.  It was, in fact, a pretty great year for short fiction sales, all told.
  • In the end, I finished one novel, two graphic novels, one novella, a novelette and three short stories. Under the circumstances, that doesn't feel like a bad haul.
  • I completed my first trilogy.  The Tales of Easie Damasco are out there now, and I'm very proud of them.  They have stunning Angelo Rinaldi covers.  They're read wonderfully by James Langton in the superb Brilliance Audio audiobook adaptations.  They exist in the world, they're finding readers and listeners, and the more time goes by, the more I appreciate that fact.
  • Endangered Weapon B is out there too, after some five or so years of trying to make it a reality, and I love it to pieces.  Of the many things I have to be thankful for, high on the list is that I've been able to work with Bob Molesworth, a great artist who I have no doubt is going to become an extraordinary artist over the next few years.
  • I'm now writing full time. It's impossible to exaggerate just how much even typing those words feels like a gigantic weight coming off.  2014 is the year when I get to start writing the way I want, instead of the way I can somehow manage to fit around my day job.  2014 is the year when producing a book a year is suddenly the absolute least I can do, and when I get to put together some of the projects I've had to tread water on these last couple of years.  And, since this is the stage of my career that I've long been referring to as phase 4 in my Stalinesque ten year mental plan, 2014 is also, quite possibly, the year when ants take over the world.
         If that's not something to look forward to then I don't know what is.