At a talk at Laurel Point Hotel by Dr Robert Ballard (of Titanic fame) and Dr Kate Moran of Ocean Networks, Canada on a new Oceanographic research resource on Sunday, I was reminded of a novel by that giant of Sci-fi, Arthur C Clarke, called The Deep Range. I remember it first as a short story, then owning a copy as part of a compilation. One of my all time favourite reads.
Enjoyed the talk tremendously. It was quite a boost sitting less than six feet from the man who discovered the wrecks of the Titanic and Bismarck. Although Dr Ballard modestly compares diving a mini sub from the surface to twelve thousand feet underwater and back as just “Another day at the office.” with a ‘three and a half hour’ commute. Which made me smile. He also wisecracks about the risks. Pointing out picture of two 1970’s vintage bathyscaphes with a mock-rueful “That one almost killed me. So did that.” His anecdote about finding the Titanic whilst looking for the wrecks of USS Thresher and USS Scorpion Nuclear submarines for the US Military came as quite a revelation. As did a number of other entertaining epiphanies like the flipping crab, and everyone on board a research vessel geeking out over a visiting Sperm Whale. I just sat there, totally engaged, scribbling the odd note and hardly noticing as two hours just sped by.
During the Q&A session towards the end I asked a question about the definition of sidescan sonar, the answer to which came as quite a surprise, although it shouldn’t have. Apparently at depths over three thousand metres or ten thousand feet, the contours that can be mapped are between five and ten metres, depending upon salinity and water temperature. As depth increases, so the contours that can be mapped decrease. At twelve thousand feet the definition degrades, so I am informed, to over ten metres between mappable contours. So anything smaller than ten metres or sixty feet doesn’t show up very well, if at all. No wonder they’re having such a problem locating the wreck of flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean’s vast abyssal plains. Meaning that if the wreckage is broken into pieces less than sixty feet across the wreckage may not show up on the plot, even if a survey vessel goes directly overhead. And this is with some of the best scanning devices available.
The Ocean Networks new ship, the EV Nautilus, is in downtown Victoria this morning, at Ogden Point I think. I’m sorely tempted to go and see, but my keyboard is singing a siren song, telling me I’ve neglected it for far, far too long. There’s a whole new story forming in my head right now about piracy, sabotage, black smokers and electrolytic mining in the ocean depths, knocking at the door, demanding to be let out.
Another competition entered over at Inkitt. This time with a revamp of the four thousand word short story ‘Happy Birthday, Charles!’ a (hopefully funny) dark little Sci-fi tale of man versus machine, where the machine just wants the man to be happy. It’s an improvement on the original, which was not well received because it poked a little seasonal fun at Christmas. So I re-wrote it for a birthday; same characters, tighter writing, and a little stronger as far as the story telling voice is concerned. It’s here in case anyone wants to give it a vote in the ‘Laughable’ contest. Not the Horror, which it decidedly is not.
The revamped version with competition graphic can also be found via my ‘short stories’ page, here.
Back in 2006, I had a supernatural short story called ‘Hunter’ published in the 2006 February Fiction special edition for ‘People’s Friend’. In reply to another one of Inkitt’s competitions, I decided to dig my small stock of paranormal stories out for examination and re-edit.
The candidate I chose was originally the full version to which the 1500 words of ‘Hunter’ were merely a prologue. It’s called ‘Restoration’, a bit of a English period piece. Almost anachronistic, as the world of small market towns and county families is one that has been fading from the English countryside for a number of years. It’s a sort of ‘Country house ghost story’ but this time round I’ve tried to give it a feelgood ending. I’m posting the preliminary artwork below, just to get some other eyes on.
Update: The story is now approved here at Inkitt for their ‘Shiver’ contest. Read, enjoy, ignore the half dozen typos and missed apostrophes etc. Alternatively read here.
About three weeks ago I received an invitation via Twitter to submit a short story for the Beyond Time competition at Inkitt. Digging around in the partial projects folders I found a piece from the Paul Calvin / Cerberus cycle of stories about a character invented for ‘A falling of Angels’. The title is ‘Oggie’, just over five thousand words on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mean streets, kidnap, murder, and a little shot at redemption. It’s as close as I get to happy endings.
Buffing up the narrative and fleshing out the characters a little, I finished the story and fielded it off to my younger Stepdaughter for a test read. Jo likes reading, and sent me back a couple of pages of notes and suggestions, 90% of which I acted on. She’s a trained lawyer and reads voraciously when the mood hits. I also trust and prize her judgement like diamonds.
The end result gets submitted later today. I don’t submit many stories, preferring to publish online or via Lulu.com. No idea whether anyone else will like it, but here goes nothing.
The story will get it’s own page once submitted, see rough artwork below.
A while ago, I was introduced at an event to a local dignitary as ‘A novelist’. His response was an honest; “Well that’s no way for a grown man to earn a living.” Having read my latest sales figures I’m inclined to agree. I spent a good while on marketing based activities, going to seminars, engaging on social media, completing profiles etc, to no avail. Writing, particularly fiction, is a mugs game.
It doesn’t help that I’ve got a bad case of writers block, and outside influences are interfering with putting down half decent content. I was toying with a bizarre tale of ritualised dismemberment; the protagonist apparently keeping his victim alive whilst amputating each part, joint by joint, without anaesthetic. I’ve organised the story so it does a one hundred and eighty degree flip with a twist at the end, maintaining a good degree of suspense and high revulsion factor all the way through. The trouble is, every time I get things straight in my head and begin to work there’s an interruption or other weighty matter demanding my attention – right this moment. Now.
The thing that most annoys is that it’s the incompetence and intransigence of others creating these distractions. By contrast, stuff hits my desk, it gets dealt with. Once done it’s out of my head and I can get on with writing. Waiting for others to simply do the job they took on is highly frustrating and very distracting. Especially when I can see my own, self imposed, deadlines looming while they are fiddling around.
Nonetheless, I’m taking a well earned break this Summer. Taking a good long step away from the keyboard to have a few real life adventures. Get grounded. Walk, talk, and rediscover the inspired part of myself, wherever he’s got to.
Maybe when I next put fingers to keyboard it won’t seem so bad.
Yesterday I had my eyes altered by Lasik eye surgery. My old prescription was right eye 7.5; left eye 7.0(ish). Today my distance vision is as close to 100% as makes no odds, and after a little blurring first thing this morning my still healing vision no longer required correction by contact lens or glasses. Pain is barely a little dry itchiness, I’ve had far worse with routine displacement of a contact lens and I currently find myself needing 1.25 magnification ‘readers’ to work at a keyboard. Although as the swelling in my corneas goes down, they’re presently a pale pink, this need should disappear. Another three months will see everything totally healed and stabilised, although I’m already signed off as being fit to drive. After less than twenty-four hours. I’m seriously impressed.
As far as the healing process goes, it’s a weird sensation having to wear sunglasses around the house. A happy by-blow of which was finding a whole ready-made screenplay with tagline unreeling from my overactive subconscious in front of the bathroom mirror. Lots of stunts and gags with a whole ream of ready to write sardonic asides. Overlay onto a fairly standard ‘save the world’ plot with a twist that is more of a mobius loop and Robert is one’s Father’s brother. I can have a lot of fun with the idea, even if no-one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll put together a script treatment have a go pitching it to a few of the studios and see what happens. All they can say is no, right?
Inspiration comes from the oddest places. Maybe it will help me finish ‘Darkness’?
One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.
When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.
Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.
For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.
The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.
Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.
Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.
It’s always a long period between approval and distribution listing times. At the moment I’m twiddling my thumbs and playing with site headers and profile pictures, which I’ve tried to make a little less intimidating. Yes, I’m fully aware that I look like a mildly scary screen villain. The kind that always appears to be having an internal debate between kneecapping or simply throwing his victims into a bottomless pit lined with spikes. If I try to smile it’s even worse, as though I’ve forgotten my chainsaw, but have just happily remembered that there’s a nice rusty old axe out back. The mirror is not my friend.
Despite appearances, in real life I’m a decent enough fellow whose behaviour normally falls within the parameters set for ‘Gentleman‘. Kind to animals, women and children. Courteous, polite and despite often being preoccupied, few unkind thoughts pass unprovoked through my temporal lobes. Any tendency to wickedness on my part is restricted purely to the narrative. Why I’ve ended up looking like the bouncers evil uncle (At least in my own mind) I have not the faintest idea.
No matter. I’m going to try and pick up the narrative threads for the third offering in the ‘Stars’ trilogy over the next week or so. For some reason the story loses its way about sixty thousand words in and there have been too many distractions and divers’ alarums over the past nine months to devote enough processing time to such a large project. Although I will finish ‘Darkness’, it’s only a matter of time and effort.
One other thing that I’m thinking about, apart from doing a course of Neuroscience and its application in marketing, is a new service called iAuthor. Is it worth the candle?
Sometimes it seems that the learning curve is more of an inward spiral.
This is always the most teeth-grindingly, nerve fraying end of writing. Publication. The eBook version begins processing today, and I’ve spent two days eyestrain formatting and triple checking a pocket paperback version of ‘A Falling of Angels’, the second in the Paul Calvin series. I found one typo and changed a grand total of eight sentences, very minor changes at that. Mainly tense and syntax. Alterations of meaning that only really matter in my mind. So this afternoon, sometime around 4pm Pacific Standard time 4th November 2014, I’m going to press. I think. A day earlier than schedule, but that all depends on your time zone, as it will already be the 5th of November in Australia.
After that I’m going to do some more reading for my citizenship interview on Thursday in Nanaimo. Angie and I don’t have to do the tests because we’re both over 54, but we’re studying for them nonetheless. Just in case someone changes their mind at the last minute. We’ve both worked long and hard for Canadian Residency and Citizenship; gone without, left comfortable social structures behind, spent a lot of emotion and money, but now we’re going to see if all our expenditure and effort has been worth the time. In that way it’s rather like writing a novel. Huge amounts of time spent working, writing, re-reading, studying and crowbarring information into recalcitrant neurons, all in the hope that someone else will like it enough to accept your work, and by the same token, you.
Seen from that viewpoint, immigration and novel writing both look like massive exercises in self validation. Like gambling. Win, it’s all smiles and massive whooshes of happy relief. Time for Champagne and celebration. Lose, and you simply have to pick yourself off the floor ready to try again. My paranoia has been on overdrive, trying to think of ways things might go wrong and then making sure they don’t. For a given value of certainty. I have so many contingency plans it is hard to remember them all.
It all comes down to the wire on Thursday. I’m so tense it’s hard to sleep properly.
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.
One of the problems I have with editing is that it’s a bit of a drudge. Even stressful. Sometimes you’ll come to a passage that feels clunky and awkward. One that clangs in dissonance, like the sound of breaking glass during a symphony. Something has to be done to smooth out the flow of words and let them sing again, but you aren’t sure what. Normally I perform some sort of displacement therapy. Pace up and down my tiny office. Which isn’t far; three paces and back. Alternatively go for a walk, take a time out and peoplewatch, or if I need to be working like today, split my time between keyboard and kitchen.
This weeks culinary endeavour is cooking up batches of soup for when the weather turns even cooler. Let the batches cool off before decanting into Zip-locks and throwing in the freezer. Carrot and Coriander this morning, followed by Chicken and Leek this afternoon. As I’m also trying and succeeding in losing a few unwanted pounds on a low carbohydrate regime, I’m trying to lower the starch content of my preparations, which means playing a little fast and loose with traditional ingredients. Which also means definitely no potatoes and as little starch in the thickening roux as possible. Plenty of fresh ingredients, and in the words of my forefathers; Robert is one’s father’s brother.
As far as manuscripts are concerned; specifically there’s a story element I’m trying to thread into ‘A Falling of Angels’. To add a little more conspiracy into the second of the ‘Cerberus’ series. A hint at something darker beyond the stories sunlit uplands. Which means repeatedly reading and re-reading the content, correcting as I go before checking again for continuity. Which is very frustrating. In betwixt and between, the onions need sweating, chicken turning and other saucepans need stirring. Which in turn I find very therapeutic.
Finally. I think I’m within three thousand words of completing the first draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’. There’s just a little story detail to add, but the main MSS outline is complete. I’ve written the epilogue style ending, there only remains one last main story thread to tie up in chapter 29 and that’s it. Current word count just over 78,000. Target 80,000 words of drama, mystery and murder set in a post-Ebola, much chillier (At least in the main story location) world, around the year 2050.
This is just my opinion of course, but I feel this MSS is much better than ‘Head of the Beast’ because I’ve spent more narrative time on the interlinked cases my hero finally helps solve, rather than spending too much time building the backstory. When I’m finished today, perhaps even tomorrow, I shall put it aside for a week for a final checkthrough before deciding what to do with the finished product.
Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?
Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.
It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.
There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.
In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.
I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.
Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.
So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.