Writing

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 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

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

Free Space Bacon

DeepShellAttention people of Earth. My novelette Deep Shell, 55 pages and 16,000 words of gore and space intrigue, is now available for FREE as an ebook on the amazon store of your choice.

Go on, download the bugger. You don’t have to read it, if you’re pressed for time and don’t like awesome stories. Just download it and help me climb the charts and get some traction so I can bask in fame and bathe in Donkey milk

Every single download really is a big help. Every review is a bigger help. And telling your friends and loved ones, well, I wouldn’t say no to that either. And hey, anybody want an interview…? I can be truly adorable.

By the way, you don’t need an actual kindle. Just get the free kindle app on your smartphone or pad and read away to your little heart’s content. Go!

/ paddy

Sale Number One

Monday March 23rd was pretty ordinary. I went to work and programmed some animated ducks and frogs for a new mobile game. Had sushi for lunch. Marvelled at the women in the sushi place who has fake nails two centimetres long, and wondered how she works the cash register with them. Went home. Said hello to the boy, who was in his room, playing a game while laughing and chatting with friends on Skype. Wrote a bit. Stared out the window. Scratched my head. Got started on dinner.

Then came an email with the name of one of my stories in the subject line. Hey-ho, I thought. A rejection mail. Oh well. I popped it up, expecting to read it quickly and get on with making dinner. But as I read it I stopped moving.

space-happy“I’m just dropping you a quick line to say that I like XXX and I’m going to take it for YYY. At this point, it doesn’t look like we’ll need any significant edits. You’ll have the contract via email in just a couple of weeks.”

My breath stopped. They wanted my story. I read it again. They still wanted my story. I jumped up and down a little. I wiped away a few tears. YYY, a major science fiction magazine, wanted to buy my story. With actual money.

This is huge. I’ve been writing fiction since the age of ten or eleven. Starting with terrible Star Wars fan fiction, I moved through Fighting Fantasy style gamebooks to short stories and finally novels. Over thirty years and a hundred rejections, first paper and then electronic, piling up with no sale to show for them. Several times I stopped sending stories out entirely, sure I’d never sell anything. But I always started again.

And now I have a sale. Magazine YYY (which I’ll name when the time comes) is one of the biggest print magazines for science fiction in the world. I am, it must be said, incredibly happy. I finally feel, a bit, like a real writer.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to keep trying. I’ve heard it a million times. But maybe it’s true.

/ paddy

Deep Shell

So I decided to blow a wad of money in a proper writerly manner. I’m having a novelette of mine professionally edited, getting a cover made, and putting the whole thing out on the kindle store. Putting my money, basically, where my mouth is.

The story in question, clocking in at 15000 words, is called Deep Shell. And it’s kind of a weird one.

The idea sprang from a fascination I have with holes in the street. You know, when they dig up the road to get at the pipes and shafts and all those lovely deep-buried bits. Those pipes and cables always struck me as vaguely organic. Kind of like a wound in the flesh of the city. And I started thinking — if it were a wound, then somebody would need to come fix it, before it all went yicky and bad. So what would that person’s job and life be like?

hole2I set about making up a world where it might happen. Science fiction was the obvious arena, and as I already had a science fiction universe, from an old put-in-the-drawer novel, I decided to set it in that — the universe of the Conflux, a short time after the galaxy-spanning waytubes collapsed for murky and unknown reasons, shattering that civilisation into scattered bunches of survivors, all trying to rebuild their lives.

The story would take place on the back of an enormous, floating turtle-like beast known as the behemoth, the only solid surface on the entire world-wide ocean. I put humans there, living in the ruins of the ancient ships that crash-landed after the collapse decades before. And I set the story clock ticking in the form of worsening fleshquakes, fading power cells, and people gone missing deep inside the shell.

Street Surgeon was for a long time the title, although I finally went with Deep Shell. I wrote it over a couple of months, edited it, polished it, work-shopped it with the excellent people at the Stockholm Writer’s Group, submitted it to a few places, got refused, and put it aside.

But then, six months later, something kicked it back into my life. After a tip from the excellent Jennifer Foehner Wells, I was enticed into sending it to a real, proper editor. Her editor, in fact. The cost of this person’s services put me off at first, but after I got a sample of his work, the corrected first two pages of the story, I was gobsmacked. It was so much better. Worlds better. I knew I had to take the plunge.

The editing took a couple of passes, which I buggered up just a little by fiddling with the story in between the passes, making more work that necessary for the editor. Warning: don’t do that, dear writers. But as that process neared completion, I needed a cover. So off I went into the jungle, searching around for a good cover designer.

I was finally pointed to this guy by a Facebook acquaintance. He had only done a few covers, and it was a risk, but we decided to give it a shot. And as a first draft, he delivered to me this:

DEEPSHELL-PaddyKelly-DRAFT1 2I must say I really like it. I have a few comments and we’re doing a new version. But this is definitely a large step in the right direction, and hopefully it’ll be done in a few weeks and ready for the kindle store sometime in April.

Will Deep Shell languish at the bottom of the bog hole or rise and bob proudly on the top-selling list, like a bloated and gilded turd? Only time will tell. Time, and lots of people buying it.

Like the cover? Hate the cover? Have ideas? Want to give me a book deal? Let me know below.

/ paddy

The Sound Of Noise

Often, I see discussions on twitter about the best music to write to. Many people make playlists and listen to them over and over to “set the mood” of the book. It seems quite common. But to me, it feels totally alien.

I write best without music and without people around me. Total silence doesn’t work, unless it IS total, but some nice background rumble usually does the trick, to keep me wrapped up in that nice bubble. But not music. If I hear music, I focus entirely on it and my brain locks up. Some music does work, but only if it’s very abstract – ambient or minimal electronica is usually good, but even not that for very long. Rain sounds are perfect.

Silence

Which is why I can’t understand the need for music in bars and restaurants and cafés. It confuses me. If you go somewhere to talk to other humans, then what the hell do you need music for? In a loud environment, I can’t hold a conversation. Even though I might hear the other person, my brain can’t grasp what they’re saying, because of all the overload of input. I hear them, but they’re just face parts moving, making a noise.

It comes from being introvert, I’ve discovered in later life. I think and relax much better when I’m by myself. Too much exposure to other people drains me and leaves me an emotional wreck. My son had probably noticed that after a few days of holiday in a new place, especially a city, I communicate in grunts and single words, until I can get home to recharge in silence.

the-silenceI understand that many people get recharged by being in company. They get energy from others. But many people don’t, and I don’t think extroverts really grasp that. They think we’re just not trying. But the truth is, an introvert needs very little input to feel stimulated, and for us, most modern environments are utterly draining, like getting slammed repeatedly over the head with a tray.

When I studied here in Stockholm, ten years ago, I was astounded that, in the university library, people chatted, and laughed, and talked on their mobile phones, out loud, as if in a pub. In the fucking library. And that’s when I first started to feel really old.

It’s a dream of mine to open a café where silence is the theme. You sit there, you eat, you sip your coffee, and you shut up. No music, no youtube videos at the next table, no idiots yelling into mobile phones. Just the natural sounds of everyday where you can sit and have a think or maybe do some writing. A church, basically, just without all the churchy stuff, with no irritating pop drivel on the radio, no large TV on the wall blasting ads into your tired stressed-out brain.

But until then I’ll keep looking for cafés without sound systems, and bringing my earplugs.

/ paddy

The Return Of Leprechaun Man

Well that went well.

I just spent three days in York at the Festival Of Writing and I can safely say I have never had a more fun time. What an amazing bunch of people, and what a great experience. Three days of intense focus on writing and all things related, with a whole lot of socialising. I’ve never been to a place where it was easier to walk up to strangers and just get along with them. And I’m not by nature a very social person, but at the FOW it was simple and it was fun and fuck it I want to go back.

On the Friday evening I stood on the main stage and read out my stuff in front of bloody everyone. It must have been two hundred people watching, and I was one of only seven finalists. Nerves were wracked and rolled and toasted. But, long story short, my piece well down very well and, in a very tight vote, I scored second place.The bar staff told me they rooted for me to win, which I think means I actually won in a Tom Waits sort of universe.

2014-09-12 20.48.25

The fuzzy view from the stage

My prize: the attention of agents, three of whom said to send the book to them when it’s done. Which in this business is fucking gold. I also earned some momentary fame, with people coming up to tell me they liked my piece all weekend. Although, because my piece concerned leprechauns, I was known as “leprechaun man” for the duration of the festival. Oh well.

One person I met who deserves a shout-out was science fiction writer Hal Duncan, with whom I hung out a bit and drank many beers. A friendly, brilliant and interesting individual, I recommend that you all go buy his book, Vellum, which I’ve just started reading. It is, in a word, fucking whammo.

Now all I have to do is get my book done and ready for sending out to those agents who expressed an interest. I figure it’s completely ready in February, unless I can get my job to honour my ongoing request to work a bit less than full time, which they don’t seem to want to do. So that means early mornings, late nights, and all weekends for a bunch of months until Rare Beasts is ready to hit those inboxes, slushpiles, dart boards and cat boxes and the next stage in the slow crushing of my soul may commence.

But yeah – next year, go to York!

/ paddy

A Date With A Room

As mentioned, tomorrow I’m off to the Festival Of Writing in York. For the folks in the UK, it’s maybe not much of a trip, but seeing as I’m in the frozen wastes of Sweden, it takes a tad longer for me. Getting up at four in the morning and stumbling onto a bus is such a precious treat.

As also mentioned, I was one of those picked out to read my 500-word piece to the assembled throng on Friday night. What I recently learned is that only seven people were chosen and, according to the previous winners, you will have the attention of every agent in the room for the evening. Which is damn nice.

It feels that things are moving along, writing-wise. The last year was the first time I felt that my fiction writing was good enough. As in, I wrote things I feel proud of, and can read them back and go “wow, is that mine?” I received a few positive no-thanks from agents, and one agent even asked me for a whole manuscript, a rare occurrence. Which she rejected (for good reasons) but just being asked for it made me stupidly happy.

So maybe this is the break I’ve been working towards. And if it’s not, it doesn’t matter that much. Because something occurred to me a few months ago: I’m not writing to be rich or famous or spotted in the street. Well, clearly I am, a bit, but it’s not the major reason. I’m writing to become a better writer, to be proud of what I put down. And as long as I keep doing that, interest from agents and publishers will come. Realising this has made me a great deal happier about the whole enterprise. If I can see an upward trend in my writing ability, then I’m doing it right.

For those looking for a snappy summary, here’s what I’ve gleaned from my years nosing around the periphery of the publishing trade. If you want to get a book accepted and published:

1) Write a great book
2) Don’t be an arsehole.

It’s really not any harder, or easier, than that.

/ paddy