It’s been an interesting couple of months. I have finally, finally published a book. I had planned on keeping this blog up to date with all of my usual banter, but then life got in the way. I started a new job with chaotic hours (where I sometimes start at 5:55am (aka the middle of night) and sometimes at 14:10). And then there was a mountain of work to do with book stuff, from learning how to make a cover page to getting all of the ISBNs and related tax stuff ... something had to give and the blog was the first to go.
So, about the books I’ve been working on. Here’s what you should know:
What is the story about?
Kingston Raine’s world is turned upside down in just one second as he goes from trying to rescue his girlfriend to waking up in Limbo ... utterly dead, and facing a baffled Grim Reaper who tells Kingston that he is completely fictional and didn’t even exist until just a few moments ago.
Having never experienced this problem before, the Grim Reaper isn’t sure about what to do with his fictional celebrity. Lucifer has a few suggestions, but none of them are at all appealing. If that wasn’t bad enough, Limbo is facing an uprising designed to kick the Grim Reaper out of the realm, and news of Kingston’s death is exactly what the uprising needs to topple the Grim Reaper’s government.
Before the day is even over Kingston finds a way to escape from Limbo, where he nearly loses his head to Macbeth, rescues Little John before Robin Hood can save the day, blunders his way through Aladdin, and does everything he can to get back to his own universe before Limbo’s bounty hunters can catch up to him.
How do I know if I will like it?
It’s a comedy with a very British sense of humour. If you like Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Monty Python, Black Books, then you’ll like this. If you like Harry Potter, the Discworld series, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Princess Bride, then you’ll like this. If you like puppies, kittens, and tea-cup pigs, you’ll like this (those little critters don’t actually appear in the story).
The paperback version is available now for US$11.99 through Amazon (click here to buy it!). The ebook version will be out in a couple of months for $2.99. Why the price difference? Because papery-goodness is more expensive than a digital version.
What else should you know?
Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper is the first book in a series of five stories. It’s not one mammoth tale like a lot of fantasy stories, but rather each book is a different chapter in these character’s life, with a complete and finite resolution at the end. All five books will be published in 2014.
What are the other four books about?
Kingston Raine and the Bank of Limbo sees Kingston and his friends investigating something of an impossibility: someone has been murdered in Limbo, and all evidence points to a secret society working within the bank.
Kingston Raine and the Arena of Chaos has Kingston and his friends competing in a giant gladiatorial slug-fest against teams from Hell in one mighty gambling competition. The point is not to win the fight, but to cheat as much as possible without getting caught.
Kingston Raine and the Starlight Muse sees Kingston and his friends chasing after a muse who has escaped from Hell. Things rarely run smoothly when everyone falls for the merest suggestion from the muse in question.
Kingston Raine and the Lost Angel pits Kingston against the fatherly instincts of Satan, as both learn that Satan has a son somewhere on Earth. Can Satan be distracted long enough so that everyone else can figure out what to do about hiding his kid? Can the afterlife survive the great unravelling of its origin? And can Kingston ever enjoy a quiet moment where the fate of Limbo does not rest on his shoulders?
Yep, I crashed. I had a good flow powering through post after post, but reality caught up to me and I missed a deadline, then another deadline, and then all of the deadlines. I have been inundated with . . . let’s face it, laziness. But when I’m actually feeling productive, I’ve been cranking out book after book. I’m scrambling to get a 5 book series done by the end of the year (or as done as possible). Get this, book 5 began today, and I still have unrealistic expectations that I’ll make it on time.
Book 1 is done, I just need to fiddle with the acknowledgements, blurb, and extra text, but the manuscript itself is done. Book 2 is almost very nearly done, it requires one final polish. Books 3 – 5 are lurching towards the finish line, so who knows when I’ll be able to get to those.
Anyway, I really have to get back to writing, because I’m way, way behind.
I write books. I bounce from one to the other without really finishing one in a single stretch. It’s not the greatest way of writing, or even the most coherent, but it’s something that I have fallen into and, somehow, it kinda works for me.
I get fatigued with stories quickly. I power through the early stages of a book as though I’m on cocaine. Then I start to mellow out and after about three weeks I’m bummed out that it’s taking too long to write, that I’m not writing as quickly as I was at the beginning, and the story isn’t fresh any more, and I’m starting to see the flaws in the story. I know exactly what I need: a distraction, something that is the opposite of what I’m writing right now. Conveniently, I have a half-written book that was put on pause last year because I didn’t know how to finish it. But, now I do know. So I should go and work on that for a bit. Nothing too serious, just a couple of days if I can manage it. Maybe a week. Or two weeks.
And then I run into a problem. The ending I originally had is no longer appropriate. The characters have evolved and wouldn’t fall for such a simple finale as what I had in store for them, and I’m stuck. I don’t want to go back to the story I started last month, because I still don’t know how to finish it. Luckily, I have another half-written story lying around, and I just figured out some key element that would make it read a lot better. I should work on that for a couple of days. A week, even. Maybe two.
Somehow, this process continues, until I have the most epic of awesome ideas, and I must right this new story NOW NOW NOW. And I do, because the now now now story is so intoxicating that I get carried along in the rush of things. And because I don’t actually have a career yet, I can write for my own pleasure, so I have no penalty against me if I drop a half written book in favour of something that excites me.
Believe it or not, this time last year I had eleven works in progress. These were not short stories, but full blown novels. I have managed to complete five of them, but having eleven in the back of my mind was something of a juggling act. I knew exactly where I left off with each of them. I remembered the characters and I remembered the problems I had in dealing with a resolution. I bounced between all eleven, writing here and there, and managed to get the ball rolling enough to finish seven of them in the year, and begin two afresh.
Like I said, it’s not the ideal way to write a book, but it stops it from becoming a struggle of impending doom. If I focus on just one thing, nothing would get finished. If I allow myself some options, then I’m not concerned if I’m stuck on Book A, because I have a pretty good idea for how to move forward with Book B.
I know it’s nuts. But, writer’s rarely choose how they are able to write, they just stumble onto a process that works for them, and they are usually aware of how ridiculous it is (like only being able to write in a café, or only while standing up, or in the attic during a thunderstorm). This is just how I write – in complete chaos!
Editing, though, is a much smoother process. I start editing a book and I see it through to the end with no distractions. I can sometimes see the jumps in writing as I’ve taken a year or two off between one chapter and the next, and it’s up to me to now polish them as though I wrote the whole book in one sitting.
So if you’re ever curious, I tend to write the first draft in 40 – 50 days of actual work. That would probably be 15 days straight, then a few months off while I’m working on something else, then another 15 days straight, then more months off, then a final push of 15 days to reach the finish line. The first draft may have taken a year to finish, but the actual daily count isn’t too shabby. It’s also good to know that I can write four or five first drafts in a year. The downside is that now I have to edit four or five first drafts, twice, before I can let other people read them, and while I know I can write a gargantuan number of books in a year, I tend to forget to include the editing process in my thinking, which bums me out because I end up either with two or three good books a year, or five shitty ones.
The best thing I ever did to improve my writing of fiction was to read other people’s works in progress. Weirdly, the worst thing I did was to learn another language.
I have a couple of other writer friends who send me their manuscripts, which are as tightly polished as they can make them. Likewise, I send out my works of perfection. We then comb through them picking out every single error, like an English teacher, while keeping an eye on plot, character development, and overall entertainment value of a hundred thousand words. Most friends who want to read some of your work won’t give much useful feedback, only “Yeah, I liked it,” or some flimsy answer like that. I’m not looking for compliments with my beta-readers, I’m looking for the flaws so I can crush them before I’m ready to publish the book. So to find another writer who picks apart your book the way you want them to is awesome.
Why is it so awesome? Because when you’re reading their manuscript you quickly become aware of their faults as a writer. You notice their clumsy metaphors, their repetition, the way that every single character cocks their head to one side when speaking. You’ll notice that most of the characters sound the same. You’ll know when you’re bored. At some point you’ll realise that your beta-reader is feeling the same sense of boredom with your work, and after a while you apply the same editing tricks you use on your friends’ manuscript for your own.
When you see a faulty metaphor in your own work, you’ll just delete it because you’ve seen how it makes your cringe when someone else tries it and fails. And, best of all, now you’re writing as though someone is actually going to read your book, and not just some far off fantasy where you’ll end up out-selling JK Rowling. The more you edit other people’s work, the more refined your own editing will become. Now, I’m by no means perfect, and I’ve been editing other people’s stories for eight years now, but I can see that I’ve improved, and they can see that I’ve improved.
It’s the one thing that helped me the most in tightening up my stories: editing someone else’s book.
So how did learning another language trip me up? I learned Spanish, and it jumbled my sense of grammar. I wrestle with the word ‘that’ a lot. In Spanish, que is used all the time. I am still surprised by all the times I see an unnecessary ‘that’ that appears in one of my everyday sentences, that I’m caught out and can’t remember if I should leave it in or take it out. I’m a native English speaker, and I learned it through osmosis, but I was formally trained in Spanish. I say ‘formally’ lightly, it’s not like I went to Julliard to study it. I simply listened to the teacher who said “Say it like this.”
I’m also easily swayed between the British and American sense of grammar and punctuation. The differences are minor until you notice something glaring. For example: “I need to go to hospital,” and “I need to go to the hospital.” “Metallica are coming to town,” and “Metallica is coming to town.” In both cases, the first sentence is British, and is 100% correct. The second sentence is American. Both times leaving me banging my head in frustration because I’m sure one is more correct than the other, but since I’m a British speller, it makes more sense to stick to Britishisms, except sometimes they are downright stupid! The word ‘manoeuvrability’ irks me to no end, because no one in their right mind would spell it like that!
It goes on. ‘Momentarily’ in British means ‘for a short time,’ whereas in America it means ‘soon.’ “The plane is landing for a short time,” and “the plane is landing soon,” both mean two very different things, so ‘momentarily’ is another amusing issue.
There are thousands of differences between the two tongues, and if you stick exclusively to one you won’t have a problem. But, if you mix the two up you’re going to fuck with a lot of people, and you’ll start to mis-read a lot of your own writing, over analyse it, and be left with a bizarre feeling that you really don’t know how to use the English language, despite trying to bend it into a career. It doesn’t look good if I have an American character, in America, using British understandings of words. It makes me look like I have no idea what I’m talking about (which, to be fair, is why I often write horror stories, because the protagonists can be easily confused with their lexicon).
All of that was made worse when I learned Spanish, because it fucked with my spelling and sense of grammar! I’m sure I was taught English grammar in school, or rather, I’m sure I was in the classroom when grammar was being taught, but I tuned out because I knew it already. I just picked it up from, you know, actually reading. There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as forgetting basic grammar in your own language, and I blame Spanish for that.
The title seems to be my motto in life, whether I like it or not. The other one is probably: “Hell, I might as well do it myself.”
A few years ago I wrote a book that was hilarious. Everyone who read it agreed that this would get published right away and sell a lot of copies. So I blitzed the agents in North America and England and . . . there were no takers. Even when I promised them that this was going to be the first in a five book series, they ignored me. By that stage I was well accustomed to rejection emails and non-responses. The hilarious book was probably the sixth I tried to get published, and I’ve got over a hundred rejection emails with the glorious opening, ‘Dear Author’.
Then ‘Hell, I might as well do it myself,’ kicked in. I was prepared to do everything on my own. I didn’t want to, but I kid myself into believing that I’m a fast learner and that I really can take on every challenge I set my mind to (including time travel, but why stop at simply jumping from one era to another, I should build a teleporting time machine so I can travel the universe!).
Just three of the reasons why the future is awesome.
So in the beginning I thought that all I had to do was write and edit the books, come up with a blurb, an acknowledgements page, and a book cover. Easy. Except my photoshop skills are craaaap. Though, to be fair, I don’t actually use Photoshop, I use Gimp, so in that sense my Photoshop skills are atrocious, but my Gimp skills are slightly better. Thankfully there is an abundance of online tutorials to get me up to speed on that. Sweet.
But I would also have to build a website. Not just a dainty blog, because I’ve done those before, but something sparkly that would define ‘me’. So what did I know about building a website? Very little. What do I know now? Slightly more than very little, but enough to look impressive to my younger self. Did I get help? No! Because I can do this on my own!
And if I’m going to advertise myself I might as well give people something to read, like . . . a blog. I’m sure I can find something to talk about once in a while.
Nope, once in a while is not good enough, I need something regular, like three times a week. Why three? Because it’s better than two.
I should include some pictures on this website. I better shoot them myself, photoshop them myself, and edit it all together. And maybe I should try and do that for every post I make, because blogs without pictures are boring.
Go on. Impress me.
I should probably also advertise my blog. Twitter will do. I better sign up to that.
No, Twitter will not just do, I need a Facebook page as well. I don’t have one yet, but I should, and I will.
And since I’m promoting myself as a writer of fiction, I should probably include some samples of my writing, but what to do include . . . what to include? How about some of those short stories I wrote a while ago? Those are good, but they are mostly horror stories, and I’m trying to reach as large an audience as possible, so I should include those and something else. I just haven’t written that something else yet . . . I should start that now. I know! I’ll update some old fairy tales! Perfect.
And all the while I’m still trying to finish that five book series, and as long as I ignore anything Internet related I should be okay . . . except everything I do is Internet related. Crap.
So here’s what I’ve learnt from the experience:
I wish I had started everything earlier.
Self-imposed deadlines are laughable.
Starting something is difficult, but it’s much easier than maintaining something.
Momentum is key. Once the momentum winds down, maintaining something is a struggle.
Losing time is a surreal and yet awesome experience. Getting caught up in writing a story so much that the hours zip on by means that I’ve had a good day.
I really should cut back on trying to do everything at once.
When push comes to shove, I can write 7 fairy tale stories in 24 hours. Because I did.
Sometimes taking a day off is better than struggling through apathy.
You can never do enough self promotion.
Sigh. At least I have coffee. Coffee understands me.
I knew I was a writer when I was six. I had that spark. I didn’t know shit about writing stories, I just did it for fun and the praise kept coming. At some point I realised I wanted to do this full time and earn millions of dollars. I later re-evaluated my goals so that I could do this full time, earn millions of dollars, and have a bevy of lingerie models at my beck and call. I blame puberty for that change. Unfortunately, being a writer in high school does not really get you laid.
The problem with writing is that there is no real training. You might know when a sentence or paragraph doesn’t work, but you don’t know how to fix. And being a good writer by high school standards means that you are still terrible by anyone who is over eighteen. You’re a long way from getting published and you have no idea how to turn one of your stories into something that doesn’t suck.
A lot of professionals who talk about being a better writer will give you some vague idea of what to focus on, like: make sure you have well rounded characters, make sure your chapter does at least three things to drive the story forward, and if it’s boring cut it out. This post is going to focus on actual specifics. I’ll point out that this is more of a letter to myself for when I was eighteen, and less to my captive audience, so take what you want from it.
In no order at all:
Avoid indecision outside of dialogue. It’s not about an hour and a half, it is an hour and a half. The hotel is not two or three streets from here, it is three streets from here. Keep the indecision to dialogue only. Why? Because the author knows everything, but the characters don’t.
If you want to use aggressive language, use words from a German background, such as angst, glitch, kaput, plunder. If you want to use more romantic language, use something from a Latin/French/Spanish background, such as admire, cliché, majesty, poetic. If you want something dreamy and hypnotic, use soft sounding words that drop away at the end, such as daze, there, away, and avoid words that end sharply, such as tick, sharp, cut.
Avoid being redundant. If something is as black as coal, it’s just black. An end result is just: a result. A breakthrough may not always be a major one, but a major breakthrough is always redundant.
Maintain the focus of who the star is in a paragraph. If this paragraph is focussed on Harry, he’s automatically the person the readers will associate ‘he’ with. If you have a paragraph with five males interacting with each other around a camp fire, using ‘he’ is going to be confusing. Don’t confuse the reader. Make sure they know which ‘he’ you are referring to.
If you’re reading over what you’ve written and it feels clunky, trying reading that section out loud. Imagine this will eventually be an audiobook, and if your words are tripping over themselves when you read it aloud then it’s time to delete what you have and start again.
While editing, if you come across some bad writing, delete it. Don’t try to re-write bad writing, because you’re only inspired by bad writing and you’re just going to say the same thing. Delete it, forget what you just deleted, and try again later. I usually delete pages and pages of garbage in every chapter. It’s heart breaking, but the benefit is knowing that when you’re done, your book doesn’t have any bad writing in it any more. It might be half the size of what it used to be, but what’s left is at least average writing, and some of it might even be good writing. So when you fill in the blanks, you might end up with 75% good writing and 25% that needs to be deleted again. But every time you cut the awful words out, your story is getting less awful.
Recognise your pitfalls. This one is almost exclusively for me. I use ‘that’ a lot. Most of the time I don’t need it, and I need to delete it. I also use commas a lot. Those are my two go-to pauses for thinking, when I need to take five seconds to figure out what the rest sentence is going to be.
Describe the emotion without saying it. ‘John’s jaw dropped open and he looked as though someone had just knocked the life out of him.’ Compare that with: ‘John was shocked.’ One is better than the other.
How characters think and what they say define themselves for the reader. If all of your characters sound the same when they talk, you’re going to need to give them unique catchphrases, unique reactions, and different attention to what is important. Let’s say there are four people chatting around a table, and one of them says that she has just broken up with her boyfriend, you’re going to have four different reactions at that table. One will be the girl who might be embarrassed that her life has fallen apart, one will be the best friend who knows that this was the best thing ever, one will be the friend who is overly sympathetic and might burst into tears at the news, and one realises that the love of his life is now single. They’re each taking something different out of the news.
Characters need a passion in their lives and priorities. It’s often quite interesting when these priorities have to change.
Avoid repetition. Try to not use the same word in the same paragraph again. The more unique the word is, the less you want to repeat it, unless you’re trying to drive some kind of message home. If you have used the same word, it’s time to break into the thesaurus.
The protagonist needs to be awesome at some things and inept at others. Being useless at something creates a little sympathy with the reader, being awesome creates a little admiration. Perhaps they are a wonderful singer, but a terrible cook.
A story needs to raise the tension. Don’t be afraid to add a new element to kick the story along.
If you are utterly stuck on a story, and suffering from writer’s block, you’re writing the wrong story. Write a different one.
If you are seriously stuck on this one story and must finish it, and you’ve obviously written yourself into a corner, it’s time to write anything and hope it sticks, knowing that you can cut it out later. Either introduce something tragic, or beneficial. Your protagonist goes shopping and something unusual happens while they’re out. Or one of the secondary characters is hit by a car and ends up in the hospital.
Avoid long sentences (25 words or more). The reader will get lost as to what the point of the sentence is.
The first and last sentence of a paragraph are the most important elements. If your reader skims through the chapter and focuses on only those two sections, then they should still be able to follow the story.
Let the characters behave like real people. Don’t force them to act against their better judgement. Some people run away, some people become useless, and some people find their inner strength. And remember that people do act pretty stupidly, and they aren’t always sure why. They will disappoint the ones they love, they will be there for a friend in need for as long as it’s convenient, but they will always have their limits.
Remember that every character is the centre of their universe. They have their own goals in life.
If you have an idea for a story that has the same feeling to another story you’re aware of, write your story before looking for inspiration, otherwise you will only re-write someone else’s story and it will never be as good as something fresh from your own imagination. Specifically for me: if you have an idea that sounds like Lost in Translation, don’t watch Lost in Translation first and hope to be inspired, because you will only watch that movie and feel deflated because it didn’t do anything you wanted it to do.
Once you’re done with the second draft you can always pepper it with awesome sentences. Pace around your house and write 20 random sentences that are pure greatness. Then put them into your book.
Avoid mixing metaphors and cliches. If someone slithers like a vampire . . . no. Snakes slither, vampires don’t.
100,000 words is a good length for a book. Not too short, not too long. 75,000 words is about as short as you want to go. 150,000 words starts to become an epic story. At 200,000 words your book better be spectacular.
Find another writer who edits like an anal English teacher. This person will be your best friend as a writer. You give them your manuscript to edit, they give you theirs. You will quickly see their flaws, and they will see yours. Highlight every damn error you find, and explain why it’s wrong. By editing someone else’s book, you will become a better writer and editor for your own work.
If your book requires a hell of a lot of research, feel free to do that research after you’ve written the first draft. That way you’ll know what you need to research. Generally, most stories are about human interaction. Even if your story is set in a submarine during the Second World War, the human interaction is more interesting than the actual submarine mechanics.
After dialogue, avoid ‘ly’ words as much as you can. He said, shyly. She said, lovingly. If you can describe him being shy in 25 words, that’s better than saying ‘shyly’. If she smiles at him and gives him a wink, that’s better than saying ‘cheekily’.
Write 2,000 words every day.
The only way to finish a book is to actually sit down and write it. Pacing around your living room is not writing. Staring at the blank screen is not writing.
Those are just some of the things about writing I wish I knew when I was a kid. Now if no one objects, I have to go and procrastinate!
I like how the creative folks of the world suffer a torrent of agony in their personal lives and deal with it by creating music, books, movies, paintings, or, hell, even haikus. Then it makes me wonder how accountants are able to release that frustration, if they don’t have that creative outlet.
Box wine, anyone?
I write books. They usually fall within the realm of horror, but even the more mainstream of stories lean towards a dark sense of humour.
The first question I hear when people learn that I’m an author is “What kind of books do you write?” And then I see the look of them mentally backing away when I mention horror. They never ask why I’m drawn to it, though they should.
Horror is gloriously ingrained in all of us. We all grew up on it. Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf. Snow White tortures her step mother to death. And Dorothy goes on a killing spree through Oz.
We’ve all had nightmares. We’ve all jumped like crazy when a dog started barking nearby. We’ve all been sure that something has chased us down a dark corridor, even though it was nothing more than our imagination. There is something so primeval about scaring ourselves that it lingers beyond the bounds of reason. You can tell yourself that it was only a movie, but those images still haunt you. You know there is nothing to be afraid of in your basement, yet your heart still skips a beat when the light starts to flicker. No other genre will quicken your pulse and leave you feeling paranoid. Best of all, we know that horror is best seen, heard, and read when it’s late at night, on a cold evening with the fog lingering outside. We’re suckers for punishment, and we can’t get enough of it.
There are three things about the genre that draw me in:
1. Anything can happen. You’re not bound by the logic of reality, and you have total creative freedom for whatever happens in your story. If you’re stuck, kill off a few characters. Or poison them so they join the bad guy.
2. Minimal research. Murder mysteries require some kind of knowledge of police procedures, espionage stories usually need a lot of research that go beyond watching James Bond movies, and romance novels are dependent on thousands of painstakingly researched synonyms used during foreplay. But horror? No research necessary. Much like foreplay, actually. So how easy is the lack of research? Let’s build a story based on my neighbour. Now let’s send something to chase after her. All of a sudden she’s an ordinary person running from a werewolf/ghost/madman, and I have all the knowledge necessary to write about an ordinary person who’s afraid of something else. What I don’t have are the instincts of a seasoned detective, or a cold war spy, or . . . damn it, I shouldn’t have picked a genre that focussed on pleasuring women. I could research that, but I won’t.
3. Finally, I like to write about characters who can go through the worst possible scenario and discover the strength to make it through to the other side. They face their fears. They didn’t think they could do it, but they did, and when they do it is usually epic.
When was the last time you were that badass?
So what’s the point in this blog and website? Simple: shameless self promotion. My plans for retirement are best described as such:
Until then, I’m going to work my ass off. I’ve been writing since I could first hold a pencil. As an adult I thought back to Slash, Eddie Van Halen, and Zakk Wylde, and they all said that when they were a teenager they spent hours, every night, playing the guitar. I, instead, wrote books. Now, it’s time to get myself published.
And instead of posting frequent pictures online of what I had for lunch, I’ve opted to rip open the twisted world of fiction and explore the ghouls that lurk within. Why? Because even your favourite fairy tales are based on horror stories.
As all first dates would lead me to believe, I have about thirty seconds of grace until you figure out if you want to screw, marry, or kill me. I’m guessing the blog equivalent is: look over the funny pictures, bookmark, or ignore completely.
Thirty seconds. Go:
I’m an author, usually on the darker spectrum of fiction. I’ve been around the world more than once and I definitely grew up as a third culture kid. I like writing about the quirks of people I actually know, but I also find it strange when these people choose to live vicariously through me . . . while I’m writing about their maddening choices in life. If I were not an author I’d probably have ended up as a doctor. Not a good doctor, but certainly one who popped up in the news a lot. I find there is always time for nostalgia, but I also know that we are currently living in the golden age of entertainment, where everything we’ve ever wanted is at our fingertips. It’s an unusual world with unsolicited advice around every corner. Importantly: know your limits before you do karaoke. And always end a first date with a kiss.
Bookmark me. You know you want to.