Story ahoy!

Blogging, eh? How old-school is that? Look at me, being all last-decade.

But I had to make this rare blog re-surfacing to announce the publication of my very first paid piece of fiction. It’s a very short piece in Analog and it’s out this month.

Let me repeat that. Analog! After shopping this story around to lots of outlets, some of them tiny, some of them even NON-PAYING, I finally got picked up by one of the giants in the field of science fiction. They even paid me actual money (well, okay, a check I’ll never cash) to purchase and print my story. Like I’m a proper writer or something.

analogThe story is entitled “Lonely Hearts of the Spinward Ring” and it’s quite unique. You want to know more, go buy Analog and read it. Seriously, the number of people who asked to see it for free … support the damn writer, people! (But beware: the electronic version, according to reports I’ve had, may not, for reasons obscure, have my story. So paper is best.)

I gave the story an interesting name as I have a theory that stories with cool names get published more easily than stories with boring names. Also, it makes it that much easier to google it and see what the public are saying about it. Not that I’ve done that. Ahem.

So yeah. I’m sort of a published writer now. Twenty plus years of sending stories out, collecting paper rejections, then email rejections, and one day it just happens. Well, one day and then waiting a whole year for the thing to finally come out. So one day-ish.

My tips to budding writers? Be stubborn, get better, and don’t die too fast.

/ paddy

Removing My Pants

Writers like to class themselves as either pantsers or plotters. If you don’t know what these mean, I’ll let you fantasize in your filthy little minds for a bit until I explain further in the second paragraph. Ready? Then here it is.

Plotters are the ones who, as you might guess, plot out a book before they write it, in lesser or greater detail. Maybe scene by scene, maybe chapter by chapter. But when they start to write, the structure is in place.

pantsPantsers, on the other hand, like to fly by the seat of their pants, meaning they’ll dive into a book with a few ideas, a fuzzy picture of the end, a general feel of where they want to go, and then just write their way into the unknown.

I always thought I was a pantser. The five books I’ve written up to now were all done that way.

The five books I’ve written up to now also did not find an agent or publisher. Hmm.

I started on my current book two years ago. I got halfway, realised a few things were wrong, went back and rewrote quite a bit, they ploughed on until I reached the end in February. 140k. A long draft.

I started draft two in April, and worked my way through it with a growing sense of unease. Something was wrong. But hey, I’d correct that in future drafts, I thought. Closer to the end, I had to backtrack a few chapters to re-do some parts, and I kept on going, as the bad feeling grew, until last week when the whole damn thing came crashing down around me.

I couldn’t deny it any longer — the book had deep problems. The plot was patched together, new ideas welded on as and when I thought of them. There were too many characters and their motivations were weak. The protagonist wasn’t being active and was often just floating along with the plot. There were too many clever ideas drifting around, many with vague and forced connections to the plot. I wasn’t sure what my protagonist wanted. I’d placed many interesting scenes into flashbacks instead of into the current timeline of the story. In short, I’d basically lost sight of how I wanted my book to be.

It was a really tough few days, and I was quite depressed for a few of them. But in the end I picked myself up and sat myself down and put on my firm voice. “Right,” I said. “Listen. The book is fucked. That is clear. So let’s rebuild it.”

plottingI rebuilt it in the following way. I cut a few sheets of A4 paper into playing-card sized pieces. On them I wrote bad things with the story, good things with the story, and any and all fun ideas and scenes I had in my head. I arranged the papers around me on the floor and proceeded to stare at their blank faces while I tapped a pen against my forehead.

I started with the main character’s motivation. What did he want? What would he be burning for throughout the story, the thing I’d keep on dangling before him, letting him get close to it, before I pulled it away again?

The thing was obvious. So obvious I’d missed it before. I wrote it down, and it got me filling in the rest of those papers. And by damn it worked. In a few hours work I’d eliminated several characters and plot points, streamlined the story, heightened the tension, brought back a fun character I’d for some reason thrown out in the first draft, arranged the world of the story to be less complex and allow for more drama, and returned the spirit of the book to how I’d envisioned it at the start.

Once all those paper bits were ready, I shuffled and arranged them into chapters, noting briefly what needed to happen in each one. I’m almost done with that now, and wow, what a difference. It’s a damn sight easier to correct a plot problem when it’s a few sentences on a page them when it’s two chapters in a completed draft.

I expect to be done with the outlining in a day or two and then — deep breath — I’ll start back into the new draft. A draft that will be fun to write as I know more or less where I’m going in every scene and why. A draft that will unavoidably add six months to the production time of this novel, but which will also result in a way better book.

In my experience, this is how revelations occur in writing. You hit a massive problem, you get depressed, you feel useless and terrible, and then you try something crazy and suddenly it’s fun again. Reaching that point is a great and terrifying thing. Because it shows you know your own writing, and it shows you can feel when things are wrong and need major surgery. You’ve learned, basically, how not to lie to yourself. That feeling is gold. When you get it, cherish it. And then go and smash something to pieces.

I’m now sure it works best for me to write a sprawling and creative first draft, full of ideas and mad shit, then deconstruct it into a proper outlined plot for the second draft. And in the future, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

With pants or, hopefully, without.

/ paddy

The Twittered Writer

I’ve been on twitter for quite a while, making my hopefully amusing comments, getting to know people, growing my network, hoping for a nod from a celebrity, all while massaging my massive ego. You know the way it goes.

So here’s two annoying things I’ve noticed that writers often do on twitter.

First thing. Many writers seem to believe than their main purpose on twitter is to mercilessly plug their books. They’ll post several times a day, often the very same post over and over, expecting these blatant ads to increase their sale. And I know this because of several conversations I’ve had with writers of this kind. They honestly believed they’d shift more copies of their book the more often they posted about it, often expecting sales to be directly proportional to the number of posts.

WaitsIt doesn’t take much of a genius to realise this isn’t how it works. People go on twitter primarily to interact with interesting people, or with people who share their views. If I have a person in my feed who’s constantly plugging their own book, I’ll unfollow them fast as fuck, as will many others. Endless spamming means fewer people who listen. The way to sell books is to carefully build up a big network, like the excellent Jen Foehner Wells has done. People who follow you because they find you interesting. And then, very occasionally, inform them of a new book or special price deal.

That works. Battering people over the heads with constant ads doesn’t.

The second thing is kind of related. Often, when I follow a writer, they’ll send me a direct message (a private email, basically) with an ad for their ebook. “Thanks for following! Please buy my book here: amazon.com/shittyBook.”

Again, this isn’t how it works. You do stuff like that, people will see it as spam, and unfollow you in a big hurry. It seems painfully obvious that nobody wants this, and yet people still do it to me every week. One guy, when I pointed it out that it was rude and unwelcome, lost his mind, started flamethrowing me with swears, and blocked me.

So, writers — quit the auto-ads. If I find you interesting, I’ll click on the link to your book whenever it pops up, and, if it seems good, I’ll buy it. Otherwise just make with the funny links and cat videos and amuse me. Yeah?

/ paddy

The He and the She of it

I’m currently working on Rare Beasts, a contemporary fantasy described by many as being Leprechaun Noir, which is a phrase I quite like and a genre I will, of course, have claim to have invented when the time comes.

Anyway, the main character in the book is a female-to-male transsexual. This was suggested originally by my fiancee back when I was deciding whether to make the MC male or female. I dismissed the transsexual idea at first but then realised … yeah, why not? And thus Bren McCullough, mythical animal poacher, was born.

The book is nearing the end of its third draft, and will soon be ready for beta readers. However, I decided to present the first three chapters to my writing group to see what they thought of it. And one thing that came across was that they wanted the character’s transsexual nature to have a point in the story, to “mean” something. But I disagree, and severely.

You see, the point of having a transgender character is precisely that it doesn’t mean anything. Some people are transgender, but that isn’t the most interesting thing about them. It’s just a part of who they are. You never have to justify the gender of a character normally in fiction. Nobody asks: “but WHY is he male?” Bren is a expert in his area, a guy out having an adventure. Being transgender colours his experiences, sure, but no more than being bald or overweight would. I don’t see why it needs to be defended as a story point. It just is, and I think it makes the story stronger through the very fact of not being important.

There is also the point that many literary agents are clamouring for books featuring characters of atypical gender. The world has enough moody young men-men or victimised women in its stories. I decided to go a different route and see where it got me. And to be honest, I’m very glad I did. Bren is awesome and I’m glad to have made his acquaintance.

Note: the book will be ready for beta readers in three weeks or so. If you want to get in on the action, feel free to follow me on twitter and I’ll let you know when the time comes for tossing it out to the wolves.

/ paddy

A Great Day for the Irish

I am rarely proud of my country. I’ve nothing against Ireland, but it always seemed to me a weird thing to be, proud of something over which I had no control. I like Ireland, sure, but I’ve also had to grow up in it, deep in the countryside, where I experienced at first-hand the guilt and harshness and brutality and misogyny and block-headed thickness of the place.

gay-over-gloveBut yesterday the people of Ireland were asked if any two adults could get fully and properly married, regardless of their gender, and they said: sure, why the fuck not? They said it loud and emphatically, bringing back a 62% vote in favour. A resounding YES, allowing any two people in love to tell the world.

I admit many tears as I watched the day unfold on twitter. The 50,000 plus who came home from living abroad just to cast their votes. The high YES counts coming in from the more broken-down and poor of our urban areas. Every constituency except one voting yes (I’m looking at you Roscommon-South Leitrim). And all those men and women standing on open streets and crying and hugging with happiness.

The NO side, led by Catholic groups, are of course not happy. Well you know what – tough. Ireland’s moved on and they’d better start moving on with it. Their long stance against homosexuality has always been kind of hilarious as the Catholic Church has more gay man in its employ than your average Broadway musical.

The scenes from Dublin last night were brilliant to watch. People thronging the streets in rainbow colours. Queues out the door and around the corner for The George, Dublin’s most famous gay pub since 1985, back when it was against the law to be gay in Ireland. Gerry Ryan of Sinn Féin (and previously the IRA) sharing a stage with the incredible Panti Bliss, Ireland’s top-notch drag queen. And just a general air of fucking niceness. I’m sure every pub owner around the centre of Dublin was crying tears of pure profit into the wee small hours of the morning.

gay-tweetSo today, for the first time in a good long time, I can safely say that I’m proud to be Irish. We passed equal marriage, the first country to do so on a popular vote, thereby opening the door to a segment of our own population, a group long abused and persecuted for no reasons of their own, and we let them finally come inside.

And no pun intended. Unless it was.

(Correction: Gerry Adams was apparently never in the IRA. Although he knew of them.)

/ paddy

Give Us This Day Our Daily Book

In my ongoing attempts to get people to buy my damn novella, I did a dirty and terrible thing. No, I didn’t touch someone’s foul regions. I found a website that promised to make people find my book and I paid them fifty dollars to do so.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, when the fuck is Chase Gioberti going to return from the dead and put everything right in Falcon Crest? And the answer to that is – soon, my sweet and cuddly ones. Very soon.

writerSo, the website. It’s called Book Daily, and what you do is you make an account and a profile page for your book. Then you pay them fifty dollars and sit back and fretfully wait. The site has an impressive mailing list and sends out a newsletter every day highlighting a few chosen books. And very, very occasionally, one of those books is yours. The idea is that those occasional mails, and your book being always visible on their site, will give your sales that knee in the groin that they need.

Now. Here’s the first problem. The vast majority of people using the service and getting the daily email newsletter are writers themselves, with books on the site. In other words, slightly crazy people who don’t buy other people’s book and just spend their time and money convincing people to buy theirs. Not the best audience ever.

The other problem: the books these people write are shit. They are excrement. I dutifully checked each and every book I was mailed and not once did I see one that wasn’t an appalling literary abortion. They were all terrible. TERR-I-BLE. If you don’t believe me, go on, have a look. Lots of bizarre Christian novels, for some reason. Lots of heart-stoppingly awful detective books. And some books so incomprehensible I’ve actually come to view them as poetry. Like this masterpiece.

Here, to back me up, are some numbers. The image below shows my exposure on the Book Daily site:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 20.08.04Those are large and impressive numbers, I think you will agree. 6124, for example, is a VERY large number. Are there any numbers larger than that one? Very few. Twenty or so, I’m guessing. If that.

However. Over the course of my campaign on the Book Daily site, I had ten sales of my novella. Not ten per day, or ten per orgasm. Just ten. And two of those I bought myself. Sorry, but I did. And, of the other eight, I can’t even be sure they all came from Book Daily.

For fifty dollars, I could have bought forty copies of my book and “sent it to friends”. Or I could have got a nice massage. Or bought a kilo of mouldy cheese. Spending it on Book Daily was not worth the money.

In summary, take your fifty dollars and shove it anywhere you like – into a donkey, over a rainbow, up your own arse. Just don’t give it to Book Daily.

/ paddy

A Comment To End All Comments, Maybe

I made what I believe to be my best internet comment ever last week, but it was lost in a long thread and went criminally unnoticed. So, to boost my ego, I will now tell you exactly what it was, and watch critically as you clap.

So yeah. The thread was on the Facebook Space Opera group. A person posted the following question:

Suppose an agreed-upon true evil (let’s suppose 99%+ agreement here, a Hitler of sorts) author had written a space opera. Five of your trusted friends reviewed the book blind, and said it was a must-read. You know who the author is. Would you read it? Does the work of art have value independent of the nature of its author? Would it matter to you whether the author were dead, or still alive and profiting from your purchase?

villainNow I’m sure that point of this post was to get at the whole author-ethics debate that’s farting along in science fiction circles right now. As in — are you allowed to like a writer’s work if the writer turns out to have the wrong politics?

Given the massive kerfuffle in the Hugo Awards at the moment, it’s a very reasonable question. Personally I judge stuff as stuff and leave the creator out of it. If a person I despise makes a thing I like, I think they should be paid for that thing, regardless of how I feel about them otherwise. That’s not weird. I’m sure I’d hate most of my cultural heroes if I met them at a dinner. And they’d probably hate me. Art is art. You’re not buying a person. Just some art they made.

Anyway. As a reply to this particular question, I posted this repy:

One of the most unhinged psychopaths of all time was old-testament Jehovah. And I hear his book still sells quite well.

I thought it was great. Not not many other people did. I guess they’re just too busy. Oh well.

/ paddy