Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Oh My God, What Have I done?

My 2013 Accomplishments

We have reached that time of year where we are expected to reflect, but fear not, I will bow to these conventions. There were a good few things I set out to do in 2013 and although I didn’t achieve them all, I sure as hell accomplished a lot.

Starting a Blog
Wallah! And I think I did well if I do say so myself. I admit I started out rather ambitiously, aiming for three posts a week (pah!). As you can see my post count has shrunk since January 2013 and I’ve settled for a nice neat number of six per month. Six posts allow me to share my experiences, thoughts and tips without feeling overwhelmed. And I’ve met some great people through my blog, writing forums, Twitter and well, real life. Some of their blogs I’ll be adding to my Fave Blogs tab, so look out for them come 2014!

Enter Competitions
I kind of did this. I went over to YouWriteOn and put up the first two chapters of my new story CAPTCHA. The title might not stick and the first two chapters are completely different now, but at the time they did well enough to take the number one spot for a month and I got feedback from a Bloomsbury Editor. It was fantastic and gave me some real encouragement. I didn’t enter multiple competitions, only YouWriteOn. I find entering competitions more stressful that submitting to agents. Agents generally give you a window of time in which they’ll respond, some say “no response is a no”. For some writers, this has the ability to drive them up the wall, for me, it’s a relief.

Sound odd?

I guess it is. But due to the window and the “no response means no”, I feel I don’t have to wait around staring at my inbox. I log the time and date I submitted and to what agent then I check my e-mails no more than I usually do. A majority of the time I’m relaxed.
I DO want to be a published author one day but I’m very well aware that publishing and writing is business and work. For now I live by my own rules and my own time, there’s no deadlines except for the ones I make for myself, and if I miss them, no one is going to rain down on me.

My point is, being unpublished isn’t something to be unhappy about (all the time!) because you never know when that change might happen. It could be today, tomorrow or in two years, regardless, appreciate the freedom, because once it’s gone things WILL change. You’ll have demands to meet, pressure to disperse and Amazon Rankings to possibly obsess over.

So enjoy the freedom while you can, my friends. Enjoy it…

Finish Two Books
I managed only one, but I did it. I’m not absolutely satisfied as I really wanted to finish two, even if they were only rough drafts, but I couldn’t do it. However, I learnt two things:
1. I am not a one trick pony in regards to ideas and concepts
2. I’m more than capable of writing a book in less than eight years. In fact, I may just be able to do it in under a year, and I’m hoping to get quicker as time goes by…without the sacrifice of quality of course!

Support Awesome Indie Writers
I’m taking my sweet time about it, but I’m doing it. Wading through indie books is no easy tasks but Goodreads has a great few threads with writers inviting people to read and review their books. It’s fantastic and I’ve also found some more-than-willing Beta Readers there as well. If you haven’t joined Goodreads, do pop by and check out the forums; it isn’t just a virtual bookshop, trust me.

Submit to Agents
I did this and it was scary at first, but after getting my first rejection, I calmed down. 
It was almost as if I needed it in order to oil my cogs and prepare myself. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I expected. With the auto-rejection there is nothing to worry about - nothing to take personally. I know some people find them frustrating because they give you little to zero in terms of feedback, but I’m not sure you always need feedback as there there can be a ton of different reasons an agent might pass on your work. Some so unrelated to your MS that theyre not even worth mentioning. Bottom line is, due to their lack of information, auto-rejections dont mean much because they simply cant.

The only thing I would say you need pay attention to is the feedback agents DO give you. Now that’s important. But I wouldn’t suggest you hang on to just one agent’s feedback; they could be wrong. The best thing you can do is build a consensus and for god’s sake KEEP WRITING!

My fourth submission came back with feedback and it said:

I’ve taken a look at the material and while I liked the concept the writing just didn’t quite grab me enough to make me think I’d be the right agent for this.

I hope you won’t be too disheartened as this is my very own personal reaction and I’m sure another agent will react differently.

I do of course wish you all the best in your search for an agent and publisher.

This kind of response is short and sweet and makes clear what was liked and what was disliked, giving me enough to keep an eye on if I receive more fingers pointing towards my MS not drawing in the reader. 
Now, maybe I’m easily impressed or delusional, but I think this kind of feedback is awesome.

SO! Tune in this coming January to see what I have planned for 2014. Or not. 
No pressure... 

Either way, I want to say a huge thank you to all those who took the time to read and comment on my posts; I really, really appreciate it. And I want to say a big shout out to all those spam websites who helped clock up my blog views, making me look well-loved and important.

And lastly, I’d like to say thanks to:
  • Terri,who came aboard my crazy train this year and has helped me immensely with my writing in ways she can't imagine. (She’s my muse…shhh, don’t tell her!)
  • Arianne Tex Thompson,who has encouraged me in ways she also doesn’t know! I hope to meet her at the 72nd World Science Convention in London! Woop! And congrats on getting her book, One Night in Sixes published by Solaris. I mean, come on!!
  • And Ava Jae. She’s been around for ages and I’ve cyber stalked her blog for ages but since setting up my own and then jumping on Twitter, it’s through her that I’ve managed to take up agent/publisher opportunities. She’s also pretty cool!

And that’s it folks, I wish you an eventful new years and I can’t wait to catch up with you all in 2014. 
Till then...

Happy New Year!!!

Book Review

Gabriel's Watch
The Scrapman Trilogy
Noah Fregger

Click the pic to check out the book!
“The robot instead tapped gently at the side of its head, letting me know I’d be well under surveillance once I reached the surface…but – something the machine had yet to learn – the awkward knowledge of being watched isn’t always a soothing or pleasant one.”


The Fate of Civilization Resides in a Junkyard.It's ten years after a global catastrophe that has caused the near extinction of the human race; but upon this devastation, a new race had been delivered to occupy the Earth in place of mankind, whose deathly fate had dwindled in the balance. Yet the remaining humans, fueled by anger, have slaughtered that race of beings.

This is the story, as told by one man, of the chaos that has ensued thereafter.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this book stood the “don’t read the blurb first” test. I had no clue what it was about, I just had the sample on my kindle and went in to see if Gabriel’s Watch could keep me turning. And it did.

Here we have our main character Miles – once a mechanic and family man – who now lives in a junkyard which he calls home. He gets by surviving on the meagre rations his post-apocalyptic world has to offer. With few friends and many enemies, venturing far from home is a risk, but he does, and out there he finds more than he bargained for.

To say any more would be giving away too much, but Gabriel’s Watch is bleak for the most part, leaving the reader with no sense of security even when things look like they’re going well. You’re always anticipating something is about to go wrong, and it often does though never in the way you predict.

The author, Noah Fregger, never lets the reader relax, throwing in enough twists to keep you on edge. Some reviews felt Gabriel’s Watch started slow, but in a world where humans have rapidly declined, I didn't expect tons of action to begin with. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, you’re left, a lot of the time, in the company of the main characters.

Which brings me onto my few gripes with the story. Despite getting to know the characters, I just couldn’t gel with them the way I wanted to. That’s not to say I wasn’t engaged, but I definitely felt a bridge there. Often the dispositions of the characters would shift dramatically, falling back on “it’s a tough world out there so it has to be done”. But what I liked about The Road was that the characters struggled with their humanity. Noah Fregger seems to paint a very black and white picture of who is bad and who is not with his main character doing little but questioning the actions of his fellow junkyard friends when they seem to “go too far”. But he himself does similar things in the first chapter with little remorse…but that’s okay because, well, they’re the good guys! They shift between brutality and compassion in ways that are confusing and inconsistent, at one point switching it up to show more mercy for their “enemy” than for their long term companion.

Fregger creates set ups for his character to judge others in what I assume is an attempt to get the reader to sympathise with Miles and his anger towards the antagonists. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s too easy for me. The antagonists just become fodder. Yes, I think that was my problem: glassy-eyed antagonists.

What I’m trying to say is, in a dog-eat-dog post-apocalyptic world, I would've liked more exploration of the fine lines between “good” and “evil”. I think Fregger accomplished this with his sub-characters Saint John and my fave, Zeke the Robot. Zeke was fantastic as the metallic bodyguard. He had a fully formed personality, odd drives and dangerous weaknesses; I really hope to see more of Zeke in Fregger’s Scrapman trilogy.

My other gripe was the relationships. Some took very long to form, which is fine, but I wasn’t always convinced. And relationships that were quickly formed and then suddenly destroyed weren’t mourned on the basis that “the person was bad, anyway” - or something along those lines.
There are also some corny situations and phrases thrown in here and there but that’s my personal humbug! 

What I really loved more than anything was Fregger’s similes. I hate similes in most stories, especially when they’re over used and not done well. Fregger does them fantastically and it makes me jealous. Every time I read one I’d give a quiet sigh and wait for the cliché but it wouldn’t come and instead I’d be served an awesome one liner!

Anywho, if you’re into post-apocalyptic novels, please pick this one up. My gripes may not be your gripes and there are enough plot twists in this to keep you entertained. Whenever you think you know what’s going on, you find out you never did. This book has been out for a while now and although is intended to be a trilogy, the second book has yet to come to fruition, but please don’t let that stop you. Gabriel’s Watch still does well as a stand-alone.

So go on, support this author and delve into a good story!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Oh! The Joy! (sarcasm)

5 Things I Hate About Writing

I love writing, but today I’m going to tell you five things I frickin’ hate about doing it. 
So yes, this post is going to be a rant.

1. Hours to Build, Seconds to Break
This is my number one hate. Like making roti*, writing takes FOREVER to get done, we can be talking years here, and yet once finished, it can be read within a few days. Maybe hours. Now this is the truth with many things like music, movies, art and sculpturing, but it doesn’t make it any less irritating to know it took you a whole week to write a chapter which then takes just twenty minutes to read. With writing, the blood, sweat and tears isn’t always so obvious on the page, but trust me, they’re there. Hence the reason when leaving a “negative” review on Goodreads or Amazon, try your best to make it constructive as there really is another human being on the other end of that book…

2. Blank Pages
That is all.

3. When’s the movie out?
Sometimes you just want your writing to BE. You don’t wanna write it, it’s all in your mind’s eye as clear as day. You can almost touch those environments and hear those character’s voices, and often I find myself thinking “I don’t wanna write this, it’s too taxing. My idea is awesome. I just wanna see the movie.” Hard work sucks, but it has to be done. Also, these thoughts are usually the breeding places for procrastination.

4. Characters that “can’t get right”
Characters you come up with that seem so solid in their goals but, on paper, are flatter than a rat’s back when it’s sneaking under a door. Obviously the writer is usually at fault here**, but just for the sake of this post, let’s assume it’s not - don’t you just hate those guys?

5. When things fall to shit…
Sometimes you’ll be 20% into your new MS (or 50% if you’re really unlucky), when you have a sudden meltdown and look at your work and think: “This. Is. Shit.”
You look at it long and hard with this massive epiphany that not only have you been wasting months writing this heap of dung, but actually, YOU as a “writer” are wasting your time. That’s right, you couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag.
When this happens, I cry in a corner take a break from writing. It’s during these low self-esteem moments that I put the quill down, indulge myself in video games for a few days then return to my work rejuvenated. By then, I’ve read what I thought was crap, realised it’s not that bad after all and am able to continue onward.

And there you have it. Those are my hates in a nutshell. I could’ve written a post about what I love but that wouldn’t have been as interesting, right? Right.

*An indian type of flat bread pressed and flattened then fried like a ready made pancake. Takes me ages to prepare and cook but seconds to devour.
** If you find you have this issue, double check your character isn't just a walking plot device to move your story forward. They need to be (somewhat) fleshed out individuals with real meaning to his/her life. Give them some depth.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Don't Be Fooled

There's still the rest of the Year

Christmas, or whatever it once stood for, left us a long time ago. In most places where it's "celebrated" in all its glory, people are spending cash. Some are spending cash they don't even have. And if you live in cities like London where winter gets pretty cold and the big six fuel companies have hiked shit up... then you're most likely spending money you really shouldn't.

Guys. Don't let this happen. 

More than anything, Christmas is a day where everyone, by law, can request a day off - guilt free. Well...not really, after all, you have to be somewhere, don't you? And if you're not there, by God, the earth will shudder and crack with the wrath of relatives who you failed to bless with your presence this festive season. So scratch that, it's not guilt free.

I think we can all unanimously agree that, under all the claims of Christmas Spirit and love and giving, it's more or less about money. But it doesn't have to be. If Christmas is hurting you this year, just give it the finger and do it in January. I'm still spending it with the family, but in all I've spent only £6.00 so far.

Come January, I'm going to buy a reduced fold up Christmas tree and decorations for next Christmas, and stuff that once cost God knows how much can easily trickle down to £1.00 by February. Call me a Scrooge or Grinch but if I didn't have a kid, I probably wouldn't even do Christmas.

But I do enjoy wrapping things and gift giving, which is why *hint* I'm not just going to do it at Christmas. And trust me, there's nothing more surprising than receiving a present on a somewhat random day of the year (when it's least expected).

Happy Holidays Y'all!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Character Development #2

Find the Future in the Past

In an earlier post I spoke about rummaging through my characters deepest secrets in order to discover more about them. Today I’m going to share with you another type of character development I use, and perhaps a rather obvious one, and that’s looking into my character’s past.

One of the things I can sometimes struggle with is motivations. Their goals may be clear but their motivations not always so, and these two aren’t one and the same. For example, a character may be bound for adventure in a treasure hunting expedition looking for a famous
piece of “something”, which would be the goal...

...but travels like these, lets be honest, they’re not easy. And actually, when you think about it, they would cost a lot of money too; they’ll be lots of trials and tribulations along the way and youll need a team, though those dont come easy, particularly for free. This means you’ll probably run out of money at some point. You’ll probably go hungry too. And you’ll probably get lost often. 
All of a sudden your quest for that “something” no longer feels like the Disney adventure you had in mind.
Basically, there’s a reason why WE don’t usually venture into the unknown in search of something obscure, even if the end result is supposed to be worth it. So if you wouldnt do it, why would your character do it? Where exactly is he getting this extreme load of motivation from?

Without real motivations, characters can sometimes come across flat, taking the role of catalysts or plot pieces instead of fleshed out individuals. Looking at those around us now, it’s not hard to see diversity in what people chose to do with their lives (even if a majority of those decisions land us behind a desk, let us hope we’re all doing something different behind it!) And the reason for such variety can usually be found in our pasts. The past is what shapes us, hence the reason most stories centering around amnesia hold a high identity theme.

Going back to my characters as examples, I remember trying to flesh out their motivations and not knowing where to look. One story of mine focuses on an uneasy friendship between my MC Lance, who had been tasked - somewhat - with the duty of taking care of his younger, temper-tantrum buddy, Aric. 
By the time I’d reached the middle of my story, Aric and Lance were fighting, and I was asking myself why the hell Lance was even sticking around. Without an answer, I felt the reader would struggle to sympathise with Lance; he needed some heavy, realistic motivations to continue watching over Aric. So I made up a rather depressing past: that when he was young, he had care for his sick mother until she died.

The interesting thing I discovered here, as with real people, is that you dont always need to be aware of your motivations to act on them. Scarily, it can all be subconscious.
In Lances case, caring for someone had been the foundation of his parent-child relationship; it had become the blueprint on which he would build all future relationships. Yes, it meant Aric would always have Lance around, but that wasnt necessarily a positive. Lances motivations for “helping” were now far more complicated than the average, now he had something of a hero complex. But we all know heroes need victims to remain in their jobs, meaning shaking off Aric would be no easy task for Lance.  

So, not only did I discover Lance’s motivations at the present time in my story, I also found what would shape him throughout it, giving me the chance to fiddle with the concept of him being a static or dynamic character.

You’ll notice a lot of these “how come you’re like that?” stories are quite popular. Productions like Wicked - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz and the recently announced Maleficent movie are interesting because, through a characters past, you get to know the meaning behind the present. Back story needn’t be pages long, as just a snippet can give you the right amount of insight for that foresight.

Anywho, I'll leave you with these words in hope that they may aid you somehow. That way, the next time youre wondering why the heck your character even wants to go on that death-swamp of a journey, you can always check see if the answer is in his past.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Social Media

How much do we need to be seen?

One evening I got into the bath with my Kindle (yes, I do this often) and relaxed in the frothy bubbles ready to read a book. On this occasion, though, I decided it was probably time to check out the tens of samples I had downloaded.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I download loads of samples so I always have something to read (and then buy if I like it). This often leads to sample overload, but this post isn’t about my Amazon browsing addiction, it’s about discovery. Because on this day I found that half the samples I couldn’t even remember downloading. So what I decided was, rather than do a blurb check-up, let me see if any of these stories can withstand the so called “first page test”. After all, it’s what agents claim to do when picking a story from their slush pile; they ask, usually, to be hooked in 250 words, and if that doesnt happen, the whole story ends up in a worse pile.

So, I click on one story and I begin to read knowing absolutely nothing about it (or more precisely, having forgotten everything I once knew about it.) It swiftly passes the first page test, then the third page test, then the first chapter test. Soon the bubbles have disappeared, the water has gone tepid and my toes have turned all prune-like.

I finally get out an hour later and decide I must learn more about this author and his intended trilogy, but strangely, after a few minutes of searching online, I’m struggling to find the his Twitter. But no matter, there’s always Facebook, right? Nope, still couldn’t find anything. How about a blog? Hmm, didn’t exist either. A webpage maybe…? Ah hah! Found it!

Noah Elijah Fregger, born April 8th, 1983, grew up in San Jose, California; author of Gabriel’sWatch – The Scrapman Trilogy. Suddenly I remembered why I had downloaded this book, it was after reading a review on it on someone else’s blog. It was a post about finding gems in the sea of Kindle bookshelves. And the person was right, Gabriel’s Watch has so far proved to be an interesting read and at 50% in, I’m almost finished.

Once satisfied with my quest - which I’ll report on in another post - I sat back for a moment and thought about how intriguing Noah Fregger had become based on the fact that he was hard to find. I could only conclude this was because us writers and "aspiring" writers are such a commodity; we’re practically whoring out all over the internet these days. Blogs! Twitter! Facebook! Man, some of us even have book trailers. It’s crazy out there…and because of this, the elusive writer that was Noah Fregger became extremely interesting.

What did he look like?
Where was he from?
What else has he written?
I had to know.

So, do all us writers need to be spreading ourselves thin and laying ourselves bare across the internet? Is it even the best strategy now that everyone and their mum is doing it?
Well, the good thing is, Noah did indeed have a site with all the required info, but it did strike me that he wasn’t easy to find, and this made me want to know even more about him and his books.

Even more…

(Let's just leave those words to echo for a minute.)

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