All posts by Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist and short story writer.

Cerberus novella


Have been looking through my story notes and partial manuscripts for my ‘Cerberus’ series of Novels / Novellas. One of the thoughts occurs to me that perhaps it might be better if I kept the story length down to 20,000 – 30,000 words. At present I’m looking at throwing a couple out into the eBook market place at about $1-2.99 each. A serialisation. Like Stephen King originally did with the ‘Green Mile’.

Will be trying to follow Vonneguts eight rules for writing fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Well, maybe I might play a bit fast and loose with rule 8.  A little suspense is no bad thing, and there’s nothing like a cliffhanger to spur the reader along.

Exile


I’ve been an admirer of Steve Knightleys songs for some time, but this one brought me up short. Listening to the lyrics touches me on so many levels. A sense of something lost beyond reach of time and space. A feeling of a life moved on and bereft of the feelings anchoring it. A hollow darkness where something, I’m not sure what, used to be.

Carried by the flow of Steve’s words I am transported to my South Warwickshire roots. Rain on my face, and chill air catching the back of my throat. Long, solitary walks on grey English country days. Coast path walking around Cornwall with rain driving through my clothing and the wild wicked surf a slipped footstep away. Bare feet on deliciously early morning dew wet turf. Slanted morning sunlight through trees, golden light in my eyes, and a sense of being touched in the very soul by something with no voice. A massive catalogue of memory accessed with the keys of pointless longing. The sad, hopeless knowledge that these moments are part of something that no longer exists.

A beautiful, evocative song for the exiled. Because I know there is no going home, for home is neither the place, and no longer where I left it.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this, and the thought has occurred that if I was very, incredibly lucky and some Producer person took a real liking to my work and wanted to make a movie of it; as in the case of ‘Steel’, Richard Matheson’s 1956 short story behind the hit movie ‘Real Steel‘. The people I’d insist on doing at least some of the music would be Steve Knightley and Show of Hands. ‘Exile’ hits a nerve with a particular sequence from ‘Sky Full of Stars‘ and oddly enough the tone of isolation felt by my lead character in ‘The Odd Machine‘.

Return of the ‘Penny Dreadful’


Back in the 19th, and early 20th century, there was a type of cheap sensationalist fiction called the ‘Penny Dreadful‘. Serialised fiction which is echoed in the less literary ‘Graphic Novels’ of today. Of late I’ve found myself thinking that there’s a gap in the market as far as eBooks are concerned.

Having considered the matter, there’s always been a market for such material, from Romance to Thriller, from Supernatural to Science Fiction. It’s called ‘pulp’, and there was once a modest living to be made from it.

Now I’ll be the first to concede that I’m no towering intellect. I’m a working stiff with an occasionally elegant turn of phrase. Yet even I can see echoes of the Victorian past and mass literacy that rode on the back of such reading material in the growing market for independently published eBooks.

There are those high-minded individuals who sniff at such poor literary fare, disparaging anything which does not live up to their personal ideals. For my own part; I think this attitude is counter productive to mass literacy, and expecting everyone to prefer Dickens or Orwell rather misses the point. The idea of the ‘pulp’ end of the market should be to provide a springboard to get the less literate actually reading. Providing a set of low rungs on the literacy ladder that the less motivated or able can readily clamber onto. Although I personally draw my own line at tales of Vampires and Zombies. Just never seen the appeal.

The truly great thing about the new eBook market is that no-one sees you hanging around the e-comic book store and makes sniffy comments about age, intellect, or darker associations. There’s no-one in online book stores to pass judgement on the contents of your eReader. It’s incredibly cheap, democratic, and there’s nobody telling you what to read. I think it would be a crime against mass literacy if we let the narrow tastes of the high minded dictate who reads what.

As far as reading is concerned, we all have to start somewhere, and we all have different tastes and comfort zones.

I will be presenting my own contribution before Christmas. One ten thousand word serialised eBook a month; and if demand is good, perhaps more often.

Some notes on eBook formatting


Just had a story rejected as an eBook over formatting issues. Easily resolved, but a thoroughgoing pain to have to go over and redo work you thought you’d completed a month ago.

The trick seems to be that my specific eBook publisher needs the source document to have the story spilt into specific segments, like chapters. Now I find cutting up a story like this a bit limiting sometimes, as chapters can get in the way of a narrative flow by cutting it into distinct chunks. For some narratives they work, but for others, not. I find they tend to slow the flow of a story down too much, especially if you’re dealing with multiple related story lines.

For my Novella, ‘The Odd Machine‘ which is out as an eBook, I had to chop the story into fourteen distinct ‘chunks’ to satisfy the eBook criteria, with the factual story notes as a fifteenth section. As someone who can read at over twelve hundred words a minute when the mood takes him, I find chapters in this format are often too short and detract from the pleasure of reading.

When formatting, the simple rules to follow seem to be these,
Firstly; ensure that all indented paragraphs have no extra tabs in them. Always use the ‘Paragraph format’ tool with the ‘first line’ option selected. If you can get away with it, don’t use tabs in your manuscript at all.
Secondly; in the MSS file, the eBook title should be in ‘Heading 1’
Thirdly; the chapter headings should be in ‘Heading 2’ and any subsections in ‘Heading 3’. Anything else doesn’t seem to work.

Following these simple rules should ensure that your eBook gets out into the marketplace without any unwarranted and annoying formatting related delays.

Cerberus


Am doing a first proof on a partial MSS I last worked on five years ago. I like it, but even I can see why the project ground to a halt though. The plot is too weak. The story runs out of steam at around the 45,000 word mark. Paints a great picture of a post-anarchy South London though.

My major issue is that in spite of there being enough detail, drama, sex and violence in the narrative, there are too many loose ends. No definite direction. Apart from that its very well written and has lots to maintain reader interest, including some quite elegant character quirks. Despite that, the MSS is in need of a revamp to get the story successfully from A to Z.

I think that apart from a jailbreak, the storyline tells little of my lead characters motivations and objectives. That is the projects main weakness. He’s swept along by events and doesn’t really take control of his destiny. He’s a great Deus ex machina, but needs a little something extra. In the words of Hitchcock, a Macguffin.

Aside from that, a little extra thought will make ‘Shifting States’ ready for market. Fifteen thousand words and a cliffhanger ending, perhaps. Four to six weeks work in between putting the last volume of the Stars Trilogy together, and beginning work on Earth’s Night.

Literary festival?


At a neighbours birthday party last night I got talking to a neighbour of mine (Kenn Joubert) who writes historical fiction (Even won an award for it), and we fell to discussing the issues surrounding self published works. Issues like the difficulties associated with getting your product to market. Most of them to do with distribution. Problems like Book shops being highly reluctant to stock non mainstream books except on terms that significantly reduce author royalties. Some who won’t even talk to self published authors, as though self publishing was some kind of communicable disease.

One of the ideas we bounced around was a regular series of Literary events for local self publish authors, purely on a co-operative basis. Nanaimo is a tourist stopover for Cruise ships, and the thought occurs that perhaps if we synchronised our events with cruise ship arrivals we might act firstly as a point of sale for member self publishers, secondly as an attraction for those cruise ship passengers who are looking for something to read where they can guarantee to talk to an author.

While the idea is all very nebulous at the moment, I can actually see it working; providing we get the mechanics of who does what agreed, and everyone sticks to their part of the ship. A downtown location would work best to make travel easier for visitors. A deal done with a local hotel, something that provides a focus for visitors. Like the Hay-on-Wye festival in the UK. Perhaps something coupled with a regular web presence. Rather than hiding our collective laurels under a bush, perhaps with a little goodwill such a concept can be made to work, and not cost us a fortune.

Why Vampires and Zombies?


I was in Chapters, our local bookstore this afternoon, and couldn’t help wondering at the proliferation of Vampire and Zombie related titles. Is it just me, or does anyone else out there find the whole living dead thing a bit old hat and rather tired?

From the salacious covers on display, I’d say there was some serious pseudo-erotic component in there. Particularly as there were a lot of sexy female vampire type covers. Fangs, fancy corsetry, high hemlines and plenty of voluptuous décolletage, that sort of thing. Oh well, if that’s what a section of the public wants, I’m glad there’s someone to cater for that particular low taste in literature.

As for Zombies. Well, the thing about zombies is that they’re dead and decomposing. After death, flesh rapidly loses its cohesion as bacteriological processes run their course. Connective tissue shrinks and binds, proteins dissolve and bits drop off. As for the whole brain eating meme, the digestive organs and mucosa are among the first things to rot on a corpse. So the suspension of witting disbelief has to be pretty strong for readers of the genre. Even if a zombie could get up enough of a lick of speed to catch you, its body is falling apart, and the wretched thing will have no digestive system to absorb your living grey and white matter as a protein source, even if it had sufficient strength to kill you, what with wasting flesh and disarticulation of joints. Smelly, yes, unhygienic certainly; but scary? Hmm. withholding judgement on that one.

All very macabre, but can’t compare to what living people are capable of inflicting on each other without supernatural intervention.

Work, work, work….


Have elected to rewrite Cerberus as a series of shorter works, as opposed to the original trilogy. Paul Calvin is too good a character to limit in that particular fashion. Telempathic Cop turned rebel solving mysteries? Shades of Sherlock Holmes, but not quite so full of himself. 50 – 60,000 words apiece, which should allow a higher output if there’s demand.

The follow on to the Stars trilogy I’m going to call ‘Earth’s Night’. No idea why. I just like the sound of it, that’s all. Similar format to the Stars trilogy, set two hundred years on. There’s a whole slew of ideas already in note form. All I have to do is finish ‘Darkness’ on schedule and move on.

New Page


I’ve gathered up all the links to my currently published work on a single page, which I’ve added to the blog. I’m quietly pleased about the result, because anyone who wants to access my work now has a single point of contact.

Between visits to Vets for poorly pup, nursemaiding old friends through bereavement, house moves, and subsequent skirmishes with bureaucracy, it has been a very busy time. Throw in the odd run in with food poisoning and Google shutting off my email, not to mention extra shift work, I think I’ve coped admirably. Did I mention it was raining heavily and that snow is expected this Friday?

All grist to the mill. Carry on remorseless. The world turns on.

I have no mail


Google has arbitrarily suspended my primary e-mail account for ‘unusual activity’ and is demanding my cell phone number to re-activate. I do not wish to give them my cell phone number, or other personal details.

I find the best way to avoid ID theft on the Internet is not to make your personal details available in the first place. This includes Google. If asked, I’d be inclined to think that their own security is compromised, and they don’t know how to fix it.

In the meantime, all my e-mail is inaccessible. At present I’m inclined to describe Google in terms that are short, Anglo-saxon, and considered obscene in polite society.

Update: Still fuming, but have got my e-mail back online with a changed password. Now I need to reset my e-mail client. Which is annoying.

Novella


Today I’m punting out a Novella in eBook format called ‘The Odd Machine’ (ISBN:978-1-105-24277-9). It’s a first person account of a man whose wife leaves him, supposedly over a family heirloom, then she makes false accusations which result in his arrest. Narrowly escaping imprisonment with the help of a clever young lawyer, devoted husband and father Christopher Matthews struggles to come to terms with why his wife seems to hate him so much.

As he battles to keep his young family together he faces public libel, slander, and is forced to change his name to escape persecution. Losing his livelihood and almost losing his two children to the ‘Care’ system and later a criminal gang, he discovers the real reason for his wife’s desertion in the words of his more worldly wise younger brother.

20,000 words with plenty of action and emotion for everyone. Addresses a number of very pertinent social issues and posits the question; “Who do we belong to?” A very dark and controversial tale with more than a touch of mystery.

Self Publicity


I’ve been following a couple of writers discussion threads on LinkedIn and twitter for some few days now. The most active being one called “What’s the best way for writers to promote themselves?” on LinkedIn. Having been writing with various degrees of success over the years, I thought I’d add my five cents worth.

For those not in the rarified air of academia, where various cliques interact to publish what the rest of us mere mortal hacks sometimes consider too self involved. I refer to ‘Prize winning’ books with prose so dense as to be almost unreadable. Books that without the publicity of the prize would inevitably suffer the fate of pulp mill and remaindered book store. The volumes where content is subservient to style are my particular dislike. As far as I’m concerned it’s the story that matters, not the author.

To we lesser mortals left to our own resources, the task of getting one’s work into print often seems insurmountable. Manuscripts languish unread in publishers ‘slush piles’, having failed to engage one readers specific interest. There have been occasions where an author has submitted the first three chapters of a published ‘classic’, only for the MSS to be returned with a rejection slip and formulaic ‘Better luck elsewhere’ letter. I’ve had thirty plus years of observing the mainstream publishing trade in inaction and I’ve formed my own opinion on what a writers best path forward is.

Two elements seem to be key, apart from grammar and spelling etcetera; theme and amount. A single book will not engage a readers interests unless the story is so compelling that it cannot be ignored, nor will the most polished and crafted short story. For all their perfection, they are merely another tree in the forest. Mostly ignored. A body of similarly themed work is, I argue, far more likely to attract attention. A lot of mud has to be thrown for it to stick.

Now take for example the work of Terry Pratchett; particularly his semi-satirical Discworld novels. I ‘discovered’ Terry’s work via a friend who lent me a three year old copy of his howlingly funny Sourcery, which as anyone who knows Terry’s work will observe, is hardly the first of the Discworld series. Before that, I’d never heard of him. Even afterwards, having read everything of his except his latest offering ‘Snuff’. I’m moved to concede that had I only read “The colour of magic” I’d not have bothered with the rest, and missed some of the funniest, most refreshing reading I’ve ever enjoyed. The more he’s written, the more avidly I’ve devoured each new volume. Yet had he not written so much, his comic genius would have had at least one less reader.

Some authors who write under a series of pseudonyms for the romance and erotica genres seem to pump out a novella a month to a formulaic plot. Thrillers not so much, but there are a number who put out one book every six months, recycling plots better than a garden compost bin. Yet these people become household names. Why? Because they write what can only be described as ‘Product’, and like cans of beans in a supermarket their output sells. The royalty cheques flow, which is what a writer needs. Food in the larder, and a little in the bank to fuel the obsession, because writing and storytelling is by specific need, obsessive-compulsive. It’s certainly no way to get rich.

It seems to me that a person is either (and often both) a storyteller or a listener, and neither can help who they are. We can only tell our tales to feed our mutual human need for novelty and stimulation. There is, I contend, an audience for everyone. It’s down to the individual storyteller to pump out so much work that their voice cannot be ignored.

In this way, the Internet and eBooks are becoming the new sounding board. Critique and reason is now open to all consumers of prose, not just that sifted by professional readers and bored Summer Students hired to wade through a mountain of literary pitchblende to find commercial radium. This is a situation we as writers need to take full advantage of. Write, create, polish, publish online. Short fiction, biographies, long fiction. Put out such a body of decent work it cannot be ignored, and your readers will discover you.

That is what I intend to do.

Back to work.

New resources for ePublishing; Amazons Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Pubit.

Memento


I was checking my hard drive for archiving prior to a PC upgrade and came across this little collection of pictures which my Mother still keeps. I suppose just in case she forgets who I am.

The first is me aged four. The second (Bottom left) at twenty three in 1980 with my recently home built Honda motorcycle, and just to show some things never change; pictured leaving a friends house in Brussels in 2003 (Bottom right) with Angie, my wife, on my old Triumph 900 ST.

Three weeks and three thousand miles during a long hot European Summer tour down the Rhine Valley, across Switzerland into Italy and back up through France and Belgium. Magical.

I’ve got a whole heap of notes from that trip, but the one thing that brings it all flooding back is the smell of fresh Basil. Funny how memory cascades off a single trigger. The smell of hectares of Basil growing along the road from Florence to Genoa, Italy. It floods the mind and snatches me away to a happy vacation. Possibly the best of my life. Slumped in the paltry shade of Gas Stations signs on mercilessly baking days when it was too hot even to ride. Peeling out of sweat caked leathers in the wonderful cool of air conditioned hotel rooms to exhausted cries of “Aircon! Aircon!”. Must do another trip like it this side of the water.

Kindle, and other such exasperations


Am currently polishing off a 20,000 word novella I’m calling ‘The Odd Machine’. It’s a first person narrative about a suburban man who loses his wife, is unfairly branded a paedophile, and how he struggles to keep his children as a family when his wife leaves him for reasons unknown, at least to him.

The Odd Machine refers to his inheritance of a bronze and quartz object once reputed to have been the heart of a ‘Death Ray’, and how it seems to be the catalyst for all his woes.

While the story itself takes the form of a single narrative spread over several years, the issues it addresses are quite current. The context tells of a farming family broken by bureaucracy. How a new generation has reinvented itself and faces, amongst others, the challenge of false arrest and public libel. While the subtext asks the question; “Who do we belong to?”

The cover art for the Kindle edition is already uploaded to Amazon, and the Novella itself will form the core of a collection of shorter fiction, to be published in hard copy format sometime in 2012. Have rewritten ‘Polish Ted’ as ‘Cold Warrior’ which will form part of the same collection, along with a bunch of other supernatural stories. Providing of course I can make time to finish the third volume of my Science Fiction ‘Stars’ trilogy, which is due in September 2012. Only 120,000 words and the collapse of interstellar civilisation to go. Then I’ve got the follow-on trilogy or possible series to write. As for the Cerberus series, well, there are a lot of episodes, but no coherent plot or story arc. That needs to be addressed.

I did consider Smashwords as a means of getting my shorter eBooks to market, but having to wait for the US IRS to give me an exemption number seemed a little too involved. I’ve only ever visited the USA once, so why on Gods green Earth do I need to get an IRS exemption? I pay my taxes here in Canada for goodness sake. So Smashwords will have to remain a closed market. At least as far as I’m concerned.