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This Is Personal

I’m sitting in a coffee bar on G street. I’m not a coffee bar writer, or at least not especially a coffee bar writer. Truth is, I could always write any old place, and I often did: a doctor’s waiting room, a park bench, the front seat of a my (parked) car. Even at home. It didn’t matter. I always carried a crummy spiral bound notebook and a couple of ballpoints with me. I wrote six novels and a memoir using that method.

Things have changed. In truth, I’ve had to seriously consider whether I’m even a writer anymore, whether that’s really an accurate way of identifying myself. Not to others — I’ve rarely ever called myself a writer — but to myself. Is that still a defining part of my identity?

I’m not normally one for a lot of existential soul searching, and certainly not one for doing this kind of thing in public. It doesn’t interest me very much, and I’m damned sure it wouldn’t interest anyone else. But I’ve been pretty scarce around these boards lately. I’ve been a poor member of this community for the last year or so, and I think it’s time I explained what’s been going on, about what led me to this grim precipice.

And no, I’m not going to jump. The time for desperate measures has passed.

About a year and a half ago, my son was arrested. He had just turned 18. It was a violent crime. Mercifully, no one was hurt, but they could have been. People could have died, and he would’ve been at least partly to blame.

He sat in the local jail for almost a year waiting for trial. I visited him twice a week (which was about all that he was allowed). He called several more times a week. We didn’t talk about his crime very much. Everything you say on a jail phone is recorded; everything you write is copied and kept: it can all be used against you. He didn’t see his lawyers (he had three at various times, all public defenders) often, but the one thing they were adamant about was that he shouldn’t be talking about his crime. So we didn’t. It was okay. At first, of course, my curiosity was eating me up, but I understood the need NOT to talk about it, and after a while, I almost stopped caring, hard as that may be to believe. I’m still curious about what happened that night, but I don’t need to know anymore. I have assumed the worst. I’ve stared into that particular horror, and the truth is, I still love my son. I still hope and believe that when he finally gets out, he can still have a decent life ahead of him. I don’t think he is evil. I think he made a lot of stupid decisions, at an age when most people make stupid decisions. His were worse than most…

But I’m getting off the topic. About six months ago, he took a plea deal. His lawyer, incidentally, believed his story, but his partner-in-crime, his co-perpetrator, put all the blame on my son, and the lawyer said going to trial was risky. If the jury found against him, he could’ve gotten a life sentence. So he took a deal. It was a lousy deal. In truth, I think he got rooked by the DA’s office (who seemed to be highly motivated to show how tough she was on middle class criminals in our crime ridden city) but that’s off topic as well. He’s still responsible for his actions, and he’s the first to admit it. To his credit, he’s never tried to shuffle off blame or complained about the apparent unfairness. He wants to pay for his crime. And pay he will. There are still factors that could change his eventual sentence, but the most likely scenario is that he will spend about ten years in a state penitentiary.

That’s where he is now. We haven’t been able to visit him yet (there is a whole process of getting permission which is time consuming and bureaucratically convoluted). He has called once, but apparently gets few opportunities to use the phone. Even letters are infrequent and unpredictable, for various reasons. But he says he is okay for now.

Ten years to go.

I’ve never been a conscientious writer. There have been times when I have dutifully managed to produce a daily word count, but that hasn’t been the norm. I’ve had fallow periods before, but nothing quite like what I’ve experienced in the last 18 months. It’s hard not to blame it on my kid the criminal, my son the jail bird, my child the prison inmate. We’ve found out things about his life before the crime that we certainly never wanted to know, and that no parent should ever have to know, but all too many of us must. It has made me question almost everything. It certainly shifted the stupid novel I was working on to the back burner. Hell! Back burner? The whole stove was off. I wasn’t even going into that mental kitchen anymore.

Really, I blame him for a lot of things, but I can’t blame him for my writerly crisis of faith. Writing is a choice and a discipline. You can’t blame anybody but yourself, and really, you shouldn’t blame anyone. Not writing is also a valid choice, just a sad one — for the writer anyway. As far as readers go, well, there are plenty of other books to read. The world will get along just fine if I never write another word.

So this is really about me. And — spoiler alert — no, I haven’t given up. I haven’t jumped into that particular abyss of self. For the last couple of months, I’ve been making this daily pilgrimage to this charming, noisy, college town coffee shop. I have my laptop. I have my notebooks, in which are scrawled the words I wrote — some almost two years ago — the very rough draft of a novel that, it turns out, is probably nearly 500 pages long. I sit, drink a dark roast, and spend an hour, maybe two, unearthing this erstwhile corpse. It isn’t bad. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when I finish it. I suppose I’ll self-publish it (I am so past the whole find-a-publisher part of the process, though I imagine I probably could. I’ve done it before.)

But that’s another topic, and for right now, it isn’t the important part. I need to finish this book. I need to do this every day. After all, I have other books to write.

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About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Useful Definitions of Genre

Hard Sc-Fi
The essence of hard science fiction is hope that given all we know, humanity will triumph in the end. Because the science we know is hopeful in that it presents no requirement for failure, we, certainly I, expect humans to outlast Earth. Reality is what actually happens, of course, but isn’t that what humans do, make things happen? In my fiction, the definition of intelligence is the ability to decide what ought to be and then make it so. To quote my own novel:
“The consequences of the Big Bang should have flowed like rows of falling dominoes; the physical universe should be predictable. But it ain’t, because intelligent life forms are messing with it.”
– Ambrose Phoenix, The Phoenix Diary

We all write our stories from some operational definition of our genre. The above is mine.
Let’s use the Comments section to add more definitions: How do you define your own genre in a way that helps you to write your stories?

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About Writers, blogging, publishing, reading, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Online Montmartre

Imagine if you will, a gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, publicists, personal assistants & purveyors of writing paraphernalia sharing expertise and enjoying one another’s company. No matter what your writer’s question, probably someone here will happily reply based on their own experience.

Writers Groups exist online for you to join and interact with according to your own schedule. I belong to the SciFi Roundtable on Facebook, a group of writers serious about their work but with a hearty sense of humor and tolerance for the writing life. Different opinions are respected, even encouraged. (Avoid opinionated and competitive groups; they are vexatious to the spirit.)

While you can make connections and build rewarding friendships in writers groups, the real value of finding your own online Montmartre is the synergy of creative, hard-working minds similar to your own. The right group will teach, entertain and inspire you. You know it’s the right group when people take pride in helping others become successful.
Oh, and just sayin’, you’ll probably also want to join a readers group in your genre. 🙂

But, enough work. Go eat:

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND TO YOURS
From All Of Us Here At The Writers Co-op!!

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About Writers, book promotion, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

A Chance Encounter With Author Eric Michael Craig

Note: Eric Michael Craig is a successful sci-fi author and publisher. The following is about the man, as a writer.

+++“That’s the science fiction author, Eric Michael Craig,” wait-bot Sally answered me.
+++I’d asked because at 4:AM, he and I were the only two people left in the bar. Outside, the wind howled but that was why they called this planet The Howling. “Think he’d talk to me?”
+++Sally giggled, “He doesn’t mind talking. I mean, about his work.” That suited me. I had a deadline approaching and an author’s interview would keep my publisher happy for… minutes. So, I walked over to his table and unceremoniously plopped into a seat. “Why?” I asked him.
+++In the tavern lighting, Eric has a Hemingway look about him, solid, bald with a standard circle beard, a bit scruffy. He wore a workman’s shirt with the top buttons open and a braided leather necklace.
+++“Why do you write science fiction?”

+++“My Father. He wanted to be a sci fI novelist since well before I was born. In fact he completed two manuscripts but never managed to get either one accepted. He submitted the first one when I was maybe 5 years old and got a form letter rejection because he hadn’t followed the guidelines for submission. After that he kept writing but never again tried to get anything published. He wrote because he was a fan of the genre (back in the heyday of people like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov).”
+++We both genuflected.
+++“When I was old enough to read the very first books he handed to me were Rocketship Galileo and Between Planets. I was maybe 5 years old when I started into those novels, and from then on nothing else I ever read held my interest like Sci Fi. Dad gently encouraged me to write, but his own rejection made him a bit more cautious in how he pushed me. Then when I was in 7th grade, an English teacher I had, wholeheartedly started shoving me in that direction. Together the two of them tried to keep me writing, but I was a typical teenager and I had the attention span of a flea … so of course I went off in another direction with my life.
+++I started flirting with the idea of writing seriously only after my father passed away and my mom gave me copies of the manuscripts that he’d written. I was about to retire at that point in time (I was 41), but it wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she and I were talking about losing our dreams (and how it had affected my dad when he gave up wanting to be a writer) that I decided to commit myself to it. For him and for me too. My mom lived long enough to read the first draft of the story that became my first two novels.
+++You could say, if you forgive how this sounds like an epic fantasy theme, that this was a destiny I inherited from my father and denied for most of my life, only to discover after the trials I faced that it was indeed my inevitable path.
But I usually tell people, it was me just being too damn dumb to know better.”

+++I smiled. Sally was right. “Marshall McLuhan once commentated that artists and outlaws are on the outside looking in. He also said they see things as they are while the rest of us are looking at the world through a rear-view mirror.
What effects do you hope your books will have on your readers?”

+++“Sleeplessness?
+++Actually I hope my story will leave the reader thinking (and if that thinking keeps them up at night, that isn’t entirely a bad thing). I want my writing to engage their mind, not just entertain them. I think it is far easier to simply tell a story than to inspire a reader to keep thinking about what they read. If I can leave them wondering, “what if it really happened?” … then I have reached my goal.”

+++“What kind of world do you like to create for your characters?”

+++“I guess I am different in how I write because I tend to think of my world and my characters as an integrated single thing. The world is not so far extrapolated from the one we live in, so I tend to leave the world building to the current headlines, and then I just broaden the perspective to paint a complete perspective of the action. I can’t say I liked building this world because I really didn’t build one… Instead I focused some light into the more hidden corners of the world we already know.
+++Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon are very complex stories with multiple character sets interwoven in very broad ranging story lines. I have over 150 characters in the two novels and it takes all of them to tell the story.
+++I didn’t treat the characters as individuals, although they are fully rounded in and of themselves. But it is probably easier to think of them as character groups that work and act together, and in some ways represent segments of a culture that has its own personality (and purpose).
+++I guess I kinda took the question sideways, but world building is not something I have done in my most recent books. You might say it is more of a process of analysis, than creation of a world.”

+++“You like to work deeper themes into your novels. What themes, and why?”

+++“Darker themes? Hmm I don’t know if I would call them darker themes. Sure the idea of facing the potential end of the world is dark in and of itself, and it is bound to bring out the worst in humanity, but it also brings out the best. I think that what I write is based on a fairly accurate extrapolation of the world we live in. If it feels dark, then unfortunately that might be a reflection on the current human condition.”

+++“‘Deeper,’ not darker. But I like your answer.”

+++“Oh you’re right, how Freudian of me. Of course deep down in the ocean it’s pretty dark (even if it is teeming with life). Real depth sometimes can only be found if you’re challenging the dark.
+++I know that as I wrote the first two novels of ‘Atlas and the Winds,’ I tried to keep a balance between both the heavier elements and the lighter and more uplifting side of the story. With only a few exceptions I think I balanced the tragedy with the triumph.
+++In my mind, balancing triumph with tragedy is something that has to happen in life. When that balance is lost in one direction, hope dies a hard and bitter death. When it is tipped in the other direction, the victories become easy and meaningless.
+++In some ways I believe suffering is essential to finding value in those moments when you come out on top. That’s not to say I like to suffer, but when I do finally triumph, it makes the victory infinitely more meaningful.
+++As to the whole concept of balancing highs and lows in my outlook on life, I can say … maybe. Although ultimately it is the darkness that allows us to appreciate the light (however dim it is).
+++However, in writing if you only focus on one side, the story never spins well. If my books only told about how everything pounded the characters mercilessly and relentlessly (or how the characters were all indestructible), then I don’t think there would be much point in reading them. The closer you can keep to the point where the plot could go either way, the more intensely the reader is drawn in and compelled to invest emotionally in the arc of the characters.”

+++Good stuff, I thought as dawn lit the windows. I thanked Eric and left, feeling that I had just met a man worth knowing.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

Now, here’s something new – a reader!

Writer's Block

Well, the launch is done – phew! I’m a bit surprised at how tense I got – I thought I’d be more laid back. Too early, of course, to give a report, but the first impression is… mixed. Yes, it’s better than the last, but given that all I did then was post on my blog, that’s hardly difficult. This time I had a strategy – build up my mailing list and ask my subscribers to post reviews. I’d sent a free copy of Perfume Island to over a hundred, but so far none has appeared. Early days yet, perhaps – we shall see. But the only reviews so far have been from people I was in touch with before (you guys included – many thanks!).

On the other hand, it has been good to get a couple of messages from complete strangers telling me, ‘I enjoy your books so much.’ And it made me realise that I’ve never before experienced that sort of connection with readers. It gives me a glow inside that’s different from other satisfactions I’ve got from writing. For a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, as I said, these aren’t people I’ve built an online relationship with – they’re people who’ve come across my books by chance or because they happen to like the mystery genre. And that’s the second thing – they aren’t writers but readers. Crucial as it is to engage with and learn from other writers, we’re not normal readers because we always have one eye on the craft of writing (‘Ah, what a beautiful / overblown / clunky sentence that is!’). So it’s rather strange to think that someone might be reading my book simply because they want to enjoy a good story. You might say it’s a bit late to be discovering only now what it’s like to have a few readers. Well, yes, I fumbled and faltered a lot along the way. But better late than never, you’re never too old to fulfil your dreams, yada, yada…

Will Perfume Island actually sell many copies? Probably not. But a few more than One Green Bottle (again, not difficult). And the prospect of having readers raises another issue: they’re following a series. What do I do with Magali now? Is she a brand? Do I owe it to my readers to keep her going? Well, here’s what Hugh Howie has to say: ‘A big mistake I see from too many aspiring writers is to follow up their first work with a sequel, and turn that into a trilogy, and write a fourth and fifth book while they plan their sixth and seventh. […] Plan on writing many great books about many awesome characters. Plan on writing three different trilogies in three different genres. Sequels aren’t bad; in fact, they can be critical to your success. What’s bad is only giving readers a handful of avenues into your imagination. Give them as many onramps as possible. Write short stories as well as novels. Write in different genres. Experiment and adapt to your sales and any critical feedback.’ (The full article, which covers many other points, is here.)

I found that reassuring. Because much as I like Magali, I don’t want to be wedded to her for the rest of my writing life. In fact, other ideas are barging to the front of the queue, demanding to be written. For the moment, though, I’m thrusting them back. A trilogy, at least – I can’t not write a trilogy. So this morning, with great relief, I stopped looking on Amazon every other minute and got back in touch with Magali and Charlotte in Mystery Manor (much darker, more thriller than mystery this time). Because if I don’t do that, I might lose my readers just when I’m starting (let’s be optimistic here) to gain them.

As for the marketing, I see no alternative to persisting with the mailing list. The first time people unsubscribed, I was dismayed. Now I’m pleased – it means I won’t be annoying them. And little by little, there’s a chance that of those that remain, a few will swell the number of that very select group I think of now as ‘my readers’.

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PERFUME ISLAND RELEASE THIS WEDNESDAY!

Perf3DPeople come out here, they do things they wouldn’t do back home…

All they wanted was a quiet evening together. Then came the phone call. And a chain of events which would take Magali Rousseau into the sinister heart of the tropical island of Mayotte. Where a gloss of beauty hides a tangle of contradictions and fears. Where the scent of perfume covers the stench of poverty. And where Magali goes on a perilous search for the truth.

In 2011, Mayotte became France’s 101st department. Generosity? Or the cynical occupation of a colony? Perfume Island – a mystery story where the setting itself is a mystery. A geopolitical oddity seething with tension. A wonderland waiting to explode.

And everyone is paying the price.

Perfume Island is due for release on 15th November
Pre-order your copy for $0.99 here
Limited time only.

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book promotion, book sales, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The proof copy of Perfume Island – at last!

Hi there!

Well, the shivery weather has definitely started to creep into Provence (winters can be unreasonably cold here), but I’ve been getting jittery for a different reason, about to ask Jeff Bezos what he was up to. Because Perfume Island is due for release next week – 15th November – and though I ordered the proof copy ages ago, my letter box remained despairingly empty. What if I was about to publish a book with half the words upside down?

To be honest, I wasn’t that worried. It looked fine in the online proofreader, but still, when it finally arrived this morning, it was quite a relief to actually have it in my hands. And yes, no doubt about it, they’ve done a good job. Not a single word upside down, nor even back to front. So I thought I’d take it into the garden to show you.

CB

There were no such worries for the ebook, of course, which is ready and waiting for release the same day. For a six day period, until 20th November, Perfume Island will be on offer at the reduced price of $0.99, before going up to $3.99. And I’ve almost finished working on the details for the contest to coincide with the launch – more on that later.

Very best wishes,

Curtis

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