Tag Archives: literature

A Falling of Angels

Well that’s it. I’m finally happy with the Manuscript, storyline etcetera for ‘A Falling of Angels’, the second in the Paul Calvin series of telempathic Policeman sci-fi novels. I’ve even written a brief foreword. I’m sticking with my chosen cover art, and will be making it available as an eBook and paperback. The eBook will retail CAD$4.99 or about £2.80GBP, which fits in with my coffee and a cookie pricing policy for eBooks. It’s taken me almost two years to get to this point, so I think that’s more than fair. Whether anyone likes my work enough to buy is another matter. I’ll just punt the end result out there and get on with the next in the series. Considering the big publishers are asking double the price for eBooks, I think I’m giving value for money.

The one thing I’ve tried with this series is to keep my lead characters humanity front and centre. Paul is a cop-with-a-conscience trying desperately to keep in touch with his children while battling a bureaucratic Hydra and putting real bad guys away. I’ve also tried to veer away from the usual whodunnit formula. In my stories he is both predator and prey, enforcer and victim, playing his part in much larger investigations, but being key in bringing the bad guys to book. Both cog and Deus ex machina.

Release date for the paperback is going to be end of November 2014. The eBook should be available via iBookstore etc, by then as well. I’m pretty well au fait with the ins and outs of self publishing now, so frustrations caused by those pesky formatting distribution rejections should be minimal. All I need to do is fill and reformat the text, which will take until Tuesday and the Lulu.com eBook release date should be November 5th. Firework or damp squib is not my judgement to make. We shall see. I’ll post the links here and my Authors Den page.

The rough text on the ‘excerpts’ page has changed significantly in the finished product, which is a lot more polished and a better read. At least in my opinion. Which is all an author ever has when everything is ready to pitch out into the great unknown. In the meantime there’s a cover and marketing blurb to write and refine. Right now, I’m going to hang up my keyboard and go for a pleasant evening out in downtown Victoria, hoping not to trip over too many vampires, zombies and werewolves. Unless they are the names of cocktails on the menu.

Having a Literary weekend

Day off from the keyboard and wandering round downtown saw us take in the usual spots; Hey Happy, which brews some of the best coffee in town. Roberta’s Hats, where we got into conversation with one of the shop people over Shakespeare, acting and actors. Bought Angie a hat for her forthcoming trip to damp and rainy old Scarborough. Also a replacement for one of my caps which was about on its last legs, or brim, whatever. Stopped off at the Irish Times and James Joyce Literary bar for a drink, thence to Russell Books to update my literary education with a copy of the Portable James Joyce.

Now I’ve more or less finished writing ‘A Falling of Angels’ so I’m going to let my keyboard cool off a little to go see how one of the ‘Irish greats’ writes. I’ve read a little Brendan Behan, but not much else, so I’m trying to broaden my mind a little beyond purely English and Scottish authors. Joyce is a massive rift valley in my reading, and over the next week or three I’m going to try and put that right.

I like George R R Martin

I’m not generally a fan of fantasy as a genre. On the other hand, I’m very happy to read and watch the work of George R R Martin. The series is engrossing, and I think (takes deep breath as I’m about to write fantasy heresy) better than Tolkien. I’ve read Tolkien, and it just never took hold with me the way that George Martin’s work has.

I watched this interview, and discovered much that finds resonance with me. No-one is completely good or evil, and his female characters are less bound by stereotype than in many similar works. Characters morph and change throughout a story, being moulded and in turn moulding the narrative. They do the unexpected for their own strange reasons. Loyalties shift, even within families, and I feel this is a good thing, as it adds depth and surprise.

The only thing I hope he doesn’t do is kill off Tyrion Lannister. Not yet anyway. Both the narrative version and Peter Dinklage’s performance in Game of Thrones are far too much fun.

Oh well, I have my own lonely furrow to carry on ploughing. Back to the keyboard.

Site maintenance and short fiction

While struggling a little with the major projects, I’ve amused myself with rearranging the site menu a little, creating a sub page and section for short stories no-one would really be interested in.

First offering is an odd little tale entitled ‘Christmas in Space‘. I’ve got a few others, but I’m wondering whether I’m brave enough to let them out into the public domain. For what that’s worth.

Random thoughts of the day

Currently playing physical therapist to my wife Angie. She has a muscle spasm in her back which is proving difficult to relieve. Essentially what has happened is that the big muscles either side of her spine have tensed up and are compressing her vertebrae. This causes a great deal of discomfort. Unfortunately once this type of spasm sets in it’s a bugger to shift. I’ve had them myself, and the memory of the pain alone is enough to make me wince in sympathy. Normally speaking this state of affairs eases after two or three days rest with alternating hot and cold compresses, twice daily massages and a little A-35 cream. Sometimes it takes longer. I’m sure a quick dose of muscle relaxant delivered at source would ‘unlock’ the spasm and provide almost instant relief, but actually getting Angie down the stairs and into the car to get to the Doctors office might prove a little too much for even my robust frame. So for the moment I’m keeping up the compresses and massages.

Getting Facebook invites I can’t possibly attend is proving mildly frustrating. But as a compromise, I’ll make it policy in future that if I get an invite to turn up in say, central London when I’m over here in Nanaimo BC. I’ll save myself the two thousand dollars it would cost me to skip over to the smoke for a mere two hours by sending a ‘Friend’ request to whoever has been kind and thoughtful enough to invite me.

Blog comments are far and few between, as are readers, but I regularly find random remarks that make no real sense in the nets of this blogs spam filter. Usually attached to spammy commercial website links, all of which go straight to deletion with only a minor furrowing of my brow, as if to say “What the hell was that all about?” I can only assume they’re written by those for whom ‘care in the community’ has been prescribed. I don’t want to be unkind, but some people really twist your arm. Maybe those dumb and desperate enough to be tempted by those “My Sisters boyfriends uncle Earns $25 an hour working from home.” Spamverts infesting poorly tended comment threads.

I make no claim to be a Hardy, Hemmingway, Austen, Bronte, Tolkein, Tolstoy, Steinbeck or anyone, all of whom I detest reading – de gustibus non est disputandum by the way.

Maybe I’m not ‘educated’ enough to ‘get’ much 18th, 19th and 20th Century literature. Apart from Yann Martels ‘Life of Pi’ I’ve never read a Booker prize winner I’d ever try to read again without a gun to my head. None of them appear on my bookshelves. I’ll happily delve into classical literature, from Aristotle to Dante, science fiction from Wells and Verne to Niven, Pournelle, Hamilton, Bear and a few others. Quite fond of reading Shakespeare, Donne, Chaucer, and a few of their contemporaries. My own stuff? Hey. I write what I write and if anyone else likes it I’m delighted.

Developing ideas

One of the things I think, and this is purely the opinion of a nobody so who really cares, is that when writing a story of any kind, an effort must be made to dodge all the incoming cliché’s. Hear the tell tale whistle of a tired old axiom and hit the metaphorical dirt. This is where I am with both ‘A Falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’.

Sometimes, like with Heathrow Airport, these hackneyed old saws can’t be avoided, and for a short while story lines can become predictable and even a little tired. Which can turn original story telling from a journey into a commute, having to use the same old piece of highway or train track, seeing the same old sights with the same old companions. Knowing you’re going to end up in the same old places. Day on day. Year after year. Recycling the same old same old without a new angle rapidly gets dull and repetitious. Which is rather like where Hollywood went with their usual crop of Blockbusters Summer 2013. No wonder audience figures are reported as down.

When I write I’m always looking for a new angle, a quirk or random element. Something unusual, tragi-comic maybe, but always human, always drawn from my or other people’s experiences. It’s my belief that a story path should jump the tracks occasionally to give any reader a fresh perspective. Flesh out a critical character. Surprise, astound, engage a readers thinking muscles by adding a new depth or level of perspective. All that shizzle. Excuse the neologism, but with two stepdaughters in their 20’s, these things tend to creep in. As has been observed, children can do awful things to a vocabulary. Which can be fun until everyone starts doing it, which is where I came in, I think.

Jean-Luc Godard observed that any given story should have a ‘beginning, a muddle, and an end‘, with the codicil “But not necessarily in that order”. By way of comparison, I often see posts about the ‘rules of writing’ on LinkedIn forums, only to observe that there seem to be as many rules as there are writers. I suppose, having thought about it, the key is applying your own singular world view. If other people like it, great, wonderful, fine, but as many a marketing manager stuck on a failing campaign has noted; what should doesn’t always. So it is with developing an idea into a narrative. Which is where I keep on getting stuck. Between what might be original, and what I think constitutes good.

As soon as I’ve worked out a relatively cliché free story direction, I’ll be able to move on. Today that involves stepping away from the keyboard for an hour or three. Making myself useful on the domestic front before evening shift.

The only problem with great ideas…..

Maybe there can be sometimes too much of a good thing. Inspiration, that is. Had a great idea the other day for a little dramatic vignette for ‘Darkness’. A sound piece for to round out the backstory. One that ties up two character threads neatly, just in case a reader asks “Hey, whatever happened to them?”.

The only problem is; sometimes an idea is too good and takes over from the main story sequence. Unfortunately, my story now contains too many conflicts with other character threads. At the same time it’s just too damn good to ditch, because what’s written tidies up a gaping hole in the narrative. On the other hand it opens several large tins of wriggling Oligochaeta.

Originally I’d planned to kill off the two characters in question to provide a focus of angry motivation for others, but I like them both so much I really can’t bring myself to do the evil deed.

This means yet another storyline restructure. Head meet desk. Hi. Ow.

Don’t know how anyone else copes with story conundrums of this nature, but it’s at times like these I’m glad that I use a laptop running word processing software, and not my old Imperial Safari typewriter. Think of the trees I’m saving.

I keep on hearing this….

Browsing through varying LinkedIn forums, I keep on coming across sweeping broad brushstroke statements to the effect that most self published works are poorly formatted and written rubbish. If this truly is the case, then why bother stating the obvious? Of course badly written, scrappy looking work won’t sell. But what is also true is that even brilliantly written, spectacularly perfect work may not sell either because it is not what the market wants right now, and as is repeatedly demonstrated, not even the ‘professionals’ get it right. Remaindered book shops being the singular living proof.

Yet, if we are to believe what some say, to self publish is to be forever damned by the traditionalists. Had the temerity to put a piece of work in the public domain without their consent? Only to be denied access to wider bookshop markets because the distributors won’t list a work with less than so many thousand pre printed stock available? Even then, will mainstream bookstore buyers touch self published works? Experience says no. Unless someone knows something I don’t, and I’d love to hear of a low cost entry level way into this section of the market. Apart from the eBook route.

So, what to do? Do I, as one who chooses to eschew the traditional publishing route of Agent and Publisher repeat what I did for so many years, write, submit, then wait, and wait, and wait, only to be handed a non specific “Sorry, no.” after three (or even on one particular occasion, six) months? Or simply go for it full thrust, transition, and try to blow a hole through the blockade like some of my characters repeatedly do in ‘Falling’ and ‘Darkness’? Should I ‘write for the market’ like we are all exhorted to do by creative writing classes and tutors? Okay, say I, but who defines what the market actually wants? What is ‘The Market’? I don’t know. The literary marketplace is diversifying so rapidly, I don’t think anyone else really knows, either.

‘Writing for a market’ might be the ‘safe’ option, but I’ve never really cared much for ‘safe’. If I did, I’d never have slung a leg over the saddle of a horse or motorcycle. Even after repeated falls and many bruises. Or handled bad tempered animals with teeth bigger and more dangerous than a large diameter circular rip saw. Or any of the other dangerous pursuits that get my heart pounding. So I write what I want. Not what others would have me write.

On the whole I think those who demonise independent self publishers do both themselves and their employers / companies a great disservice. Whenever I hear someone vouchsafing thus, it makes me extremely reluctant to deal with their company. To me they represent an elitist world view, rather like the voices who simply can’t bring themselves to believe that an English market town grammar school boy could become the most celebrated playwright in the history of the English language. Shock horror! The man never even went to University! How dare he! Yet the name of William Shakespeare echoes across time, even four hundred years on. One small town boy made good.

But then, we all have to start somewhere, be our journey in this life short and spectacular or slow and barely noticed. The only sin is not to try. Damn the dissenting voices.

The importance of humour as a storytelling tool

Proof reading ‘Falling’ I’ve noticed how often I use a comic sequence to get a story point across. For example, in the second half, juxtaposed against the tragedy of involuntary slave workers, there is a thwarted DEA raid when a heavily armed task force invades foreign territory, only to find themselves out thought and out gunned. Mostly by my renegade Mayor and ex drug lord character William J Colby. Mostly it comes from the one liners Bill delivers as part of his address, and the bathos of a rural Police Sergeant arresting a bunch of enforcement agents who are clearly out of their jurisdiction with the line; “Hey. Can you hear me at the back?”. I love writing Bill, as he’s so disreputable and ruthless when faced by the evil embodied by villains such as Eldridge Farrow, another who was a lot of fun to write. In the words of George Bernard Shaw’s creation, Henry Higgins, they are both “So delightfully low.”

There’s also a lot of what I like to call ‘Blue collar banter’ between minor characters which moves the story along and wraps up a section on an uptick, or to soften the edge of an anticlimax. Adding bulk to otherwise two dimensional characters. Such as a line from a ground crew member known simply as ‘Chesney’ arguing with his friend Leroy Colby, which begins with an exasperated Leroy urging his friend and colleague to stop wisecracking and simply get on with it. “You know Chesney, sometimes with you.” To which Chesney responds; “I know, I know. Sometimes the fun never starts.” Well I liked it.

A gag is a great way of highlighting a point, or rounding out a character in a crisis situation. The kind of everyday crosstalk everyone engages in to make a dull, involved, or emotionally intense job a little bit less of a struggle. To go even further; laughter is one of life’s essentials. A day without a genuine shared smile is a day wasted. The life autistic.

All right. I’m biased. I’ll put my hands up to this one, having done a few stand up gigs and finding I didn’t have the nerve or comic talent to succeed, I still strongly believe in the power of humour. Especially as a contrast to tragedy, a tool of protest or getting a complex argument across in a sound bite. This has been an understood dramatic principle since before the days of Plautus.

Some of my favourite TV shows have strong tragi-comedic elements with a great deal of comic interplay between characters. Take ‘House MD’ as a classic example. As a character, House is a high functioning drug addict who tortures his staff, routinely manipulates and insults friends and colleagues, who without his humour would be an opinionated ass whose work is highly suspect. He is the loosest of cannons. Yet his primary redeeming qualities are his wit, directness, and incorrigible humour when dealing with difficult or emotionally charged situations. Without these qualities, the show would consist of dull geeky medico-speak punctuated by melodrama. Gold without the glitter. Add appropriate (And even some ‘inappropriate) humour, and the show sparkles.

Well, that’s my take on it. For the few (One? None? Who cares?) who will bother to read this far. From the black comedy of Hansel and Gretel’s attempt at Haute Cuisine, through Shakespeare’s comedies (And tragedies, there are even a few chuckles in Henry V, Richard III and Romeo and Juliet) and Aesop’s Fables to modern day comic geniuses like Terry Pratchett and P J O’Rourke. Humour is the essential counterpoint to all the scary stories others love to tell. Sometimes I think as a tool of domination. Maybe one of the “Hah! You’re scared-I’m not, so I’m better than you.” mind games some like to play.

Appropriately targeted humour by contrast provides an alleviation against the force of crushing conformity. Providing joyous relief from feeling “So it’s not just me, then.” A shared vindication. A tool for conflict resolution. In fact next to air, food and shelter, I would argue that it is the fourth most critical requirement of survival and being human, and a good story should always contain at least a little.

Update: An ability to laugh at your own shortcomings is also very useful when dealing with frustrating glitches in eBook distribution. ‘Sky’ needs one tiny update before they will accept for wider distribution. Header 1 on first line.

Pray for me. I need all the help I can get.

New stuff and up and coming

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it seems is my promised output. ‘Falling’ is in final check and format phase. The eBook will slip, probably unnoticed, onto the market within the next couple of weeks while I’m in the UK. Link will be on the ‘published works’ page. ‘Darkness’ is a long way off completion.

A while back I said I was working on a collection of short supernatural and science fiction stories, and still am. My issue here is that I have a problem; too much inspiration, too many distractions. No sooner have I set my foot on one narrative path, than another crops up. And another. And another. My ‘recent documents’ tab fills up regularly with titles like ‘Blink’, ‘Quantum stumbling’, and ‘Infection’. Some of which belong in the Stars timeline, others in the Cerberus, and a whole bunch of others in no category whatsoever, they’re just stories inspired by random conversations or observations in day to day life. Some are almost finished, others need a rewrite, but there’s only so many hours in the day. Editing and checking of the main work is dull and time consuming, but it must be done repeatedly.

On the ‘Published Works’ page, I’ve listed what’s available, and what is up and coming with status and availability. No idea if anyone outside of my test readers will like them, but there they will be. Shortly. Maybe. I hope.

Like I’ve said, I’m frantically flinging narrative mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. My name is Martyn Kinsella-Jones; I’m a workaholic and proud of it.

To Kobo or not to Kobo?

Just had a very polite reminder from the Kobo people about their Writerslife program. The issue here is getting into the Kobo Library program, which is a very low cost way of accessing the Library system here in BC. Haven’t had time to examine the interface just yet, but perhaps when I’ve finished the final drafts I’ll be shunting a copy of one of my eBook manuscripts onto their distribution system just as an experiment. Just to see how it goes. Specifically as a ‘Kobo’ edition. Or maybe not.

I’m not sure exactly how their process works, and will need to read the fine print to be sure I don’t go snarling myself up in legal shenanigans over rights issues. Perhaps if I clearly mark which serial rights have been ‘sold’ via which organisation, I should be on fairly safe ground. Memo to self; check copyright law in Blacks Writers Guide and its North American twin.

Another two or three days work to go before the first two MSS are ready to begin their journey from raw document to eBook. I was going to use Lulu.com, because I understand how their system works, and because they have distribution links to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and iBookstore. As far as eReader platforms are concerned this covers the Nook, iPad and most Kindles. But on the other hand, in the battle of the formats, Kobo seem to be quite popular as the reading platform of choice in my target market of choice; the more mature Sci-fi reader.

Indexing and formatting for eBook

Getting an eBook right is a massive effort. Over the past two weeks I’ve done little but revise, spellcheck and index two pieces of work for release as eBooks while the muse for writing new works is passing me by. Headings need to be properly organised. Titles in Heading 1, Part section titles in Heading 2, and sub section titles in Heading 3. No stray code fragments to mar the text and all the major spelling and grammatical mistakes are being ironed out. It’s hard work and takes up every single free minute. Angie has been loudly wondering where her husband has gotten to.

Not far now. Another two days concerted effort I think. The Metadata is fixed. Cover artwork is fixed. Title, copyright page and forewords have matching Author names and title headers. Nothing for the automated format programs to reject. Along with a part time job that is more like full time plus overtime, I don’t get time to get out and sniff the air. Not that I’m a big socialiser anyway. I never was.

The trip to England, Ireland and the Hague is just over two weeks away and there’s a lot to pack in. Family, friends etc. I’ll take the slaptop and if I get a chance to write will pick a quiet spot and juggle concepts while the girls are off shopping and whatever else they do.

Formatting and metadata

Getting an eBook ready, especially sorting out the ‘metadata’ isn’t easy if you don’t want to end up tearing your hair out. I’ve just spent all my ‘free’ or writing time for the last two weeks proofing, editing and ensuring the chapter headers and all that shizzle are in apple pie order. Reminder to self; buy more Tylenol. I’ve mercilessly hunted down the last errant apostrophe, ruthlessly swatted the last inadvertent spelling error, jumped up and down on the non-deliberate grammatical errors, and corrected the chapter headings. When you’ve been working on a hundred and fifty six thousand words, it’s easy to make mistakes. Three times this morning I’ve gone back over a hundred and forty heading entries to find stupid dingbatted errors, and I’m allowing myself two days pause before I run the spell checker twice more, and re-read the MSS specifically looking for those dumb ‘a, the’ errors I’m prone to after cut ‘n paste rewording of a passage that feels clumsy and clunky.

Target price is CAD$4.99. Which is pretty cheap, considering all the time and effort that’s gone into it. I think there’s an option for serious discounts for the first two weeks as well, which will be nice for some. Depending on their taste in Sci-fi.

The metadata is fine. The author and title names all match throughout the manuscript, and I’m sticking with some old cover art that I really don’t want to change. Especially as I’ve moved computers twice and lost track of the specific cover art font. There is a follow on already written (155,000 words at last edit), and I just need to get that ready before skipping over to see friends and family back in England, Ireland and the Netherlands. I’ll have my laptop with me, so will be logging onto the nearest free WiFi point every so often to check on the distribution. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore shouldn’t be an issue, and I’ll be confirming availability via the Kobo marketplace. which should be relatively easy now that we have a little Kobo Glo.

End result is a tale in a style of Robert Heinlein meets Tom Clancy (I think). The characters love, hate, laugh and cry, get alienated, reconciled, killed and wounded and all that jazz. What’s truly amazing is the fact that I still actually like the story, even after all the prolonged birthing pains of repeated rewrite, edit and format.

One hundred and fifty six thousand words

156,000 words. I have just edited and spellchecked one hundred and fifty six thousand words. That’s rewriting, tweaking, removing errant apostrophes, changing the odd metaphor, scubble handtweek and burble. Gods I’m tired.

It didn’t help that some inconsiderate neighbour went out last night having left their stereo on until five thirty this morning. Thump, thump bloody thump, all flaming night. All this and a Sunday shift. Did I say I was tired? Fortunately I’m not working tomorrow, which is Victoria Day here in BC thank the Lord. I may spend most of it asleep. My eyes feel like they’re about to roll out of their sockets. I did say that I was tired, didn’t I? Something of that ilk. Even the dog is giving me funny looks.

I’m formatting this many words for an eBook release. All a hundred and bloody fifty six flaming thousand of them. Spellcheck, spellcheck and re-read again. Get my word spanner on the odd sentence and tighten it up. Grease a metaphor, polish a simile and take a very large hammer to any conceits. Just to make sure they stay put.

It’s another self publish, hence the grunt work. I want this up and in the marketplace before I trot off back to jolly old Blighty in June. Three weeks of playing catch up with the odd old mate, far flung family and a side trip to Southern Ireland. We’re also going to do a stopover in Amsterdam. Go do things like the Rijkmuseum, a day trip to The Hague before heading back to yet more jet lag.

Now I’m going to walk away from the keyboard to make friends with a bottle of vodka. I’ve earned it.