Story publication: Dead Men Walking

My first story of 2018, Dead Men Walking, it out from Abyss & Apex in Issue 65, Q1.

It’s not easy to live inside the armor, but between getting my skin peeled away like wet paper by the razorstorms and my bones shredded to chalk, it’s an easy choice. You get used to it after the first two or three months, but only just.

It’s a space opera/military story on the edge of the galaxy, characters who get a little too close to technology for comfort, a bundle of body horror, and an “I Must Scream” ending that I won’t spoil for you, because you’ll want to read it for yourself, right?

I wrote this back in 2014, so it was quite the experiment to see just how far I’ve changed as a writer, and I was very glad I was able to do some last minute edits on this, and closer revolve scenery and mannerisms around character reactions, rather than just static descriptions. And it stands, it’s one of my favourite stories and one of my best executed endings.

And after getting 60+ rejections over three years,  including a Finalist position from Writers of the Future, which is ultimately lost, I’m stoked that it’s finally out in the world. Do check it out, and support Abyss & Apex while you’re at it.

 

Advertisements

2017: A Year in Review and taking risks (and eligibility stuff)

So. Another year’s whisked by. A strange year, to be sure. But also a busy and productive one, both in and out of writing.

I’ll waffle on about the year as a whole, before I list all my publications at the bottom for award eligibility and reading sources (this is what all the cool kids are doing, apparently).

Novels:

It was last year, way back in 2016, that I  really kicked novel writing into gear, having penned The Rogue Galaxy. I swore, that if nothing else, I’d get an agent. And on May 31 of 2017, the day I turned 22, that happened. The wonderful and endlessly patient John Jarrold offered me literary representation (and by extension, my film/TV rights got rep’d by The Gotham Group). After tirelessly chasing after agents for years and failing at every turn, getting The Call and just knowing that I’m one major step closer to having a novel published was my highlight of the year, no contest. The process of writing is plagued with self-doubt, self-loathing and way too many coffees, and having the guy who edited Robert Jordan, Iain M. Banks and Guy Gavriel Kay tell me that I wrote a “bloody great book” and take a gamble on representing me (an offer he only makes to four people a year) works magic for validating your position as a writer.

I went through edits for Rogue – my first time doing agent edits – and it’s been on editors desks for a good few months now. This post would be very different if I’d gotten good news, so it’s no secret that it hasn’t sold. No book deal. Yet. But come 2018, that could change. And I truly hope it does. My gut feeling is that next year is going to be the year I achieve what I’ve really always wanted ever since I started putting words on a blank page.

I finished my next novel, Stormblood, my 1st person-narrated The Wire/Mass Effect mash-up, at 113k (since become 120k). I technically started it in December 2016, but I was so occupied with Rogue that it got put on the back-burner. It’s my favourite thing I’ve written so far, and the first time I think I’ve really “broken out” as a writer, but more on that below. As of writing, I’ve finished agent edits on it and will sending it to John for one final look in January. I’ve also reached 50k in a new novel, this one a heist narrative set in a dystopian world. My agent likes it so far, and I’m excited to keep working on it in the new year.

So that’s three novels worked on in 2017, and written two of them for a total of almost 200k. Which I’m very, very happy with.

 

Short Fiction/Other Writing:

I had an excellent year for short fiction, considering that novels have remained my priority, doubly so since I got an agent. While I haven’t sold everything and haven’t hit all the magazines I wanted, but I’m happy with what I’ve got, and I’m very happy with the audiences I’ve reached. Here’s my work, and my thoughts on them.

When there’s Only Dust Left
Nature, 950 words

A very, (very) dark story about AIs being put into dust motes and worming into the heads of enemy soldiers to torment them and warp reality. This didn’t get as much readership as I’d liked, but the responses I did get were excellent, with everyone saying they were creeped the hell out of it (with at least one person saying it gave them nightmares).

House of Dolls
Tales to Terrify, 2600 words (audio)

My debut publication with this podcast about two people who find a series of mannequins locked in a basement, weeping blood. It’s a short and intense story that would have crashed into a lot of earholes, judging by the tens of thousands that tune into Tales to Terrify. It’s also one of my favourites, and probably the best horror-type story I’ve written, but you be the judge of that.

The Weight of Silence
Pacific Monsters, 3400 words

Australia gets overrun by giant cosmic spiders and gets turned into Silent Hill. Enough said. Also, trauma as metaphor.

The Human I Never Was
EveryDayFiction, 830 words

Another flash piece about the merging of man and machine, overlaid with a cynical, in-your-face voice. I’ve been trying to sell this one for a while now. It’s a divisive story, with over three dozen comments arguing about it’s merit and what I was really trying to do with it. And that’s exactly what I want. A strong reaction is better than no reaction at all, (there’s something truly special about being a fly on the wall, listening to folks analyse your work) and since the majority of people did like it, I’m very content.

Ark of Bones
StarShipSofa, 6700 words

I’ve been trying to sell this District 9-esque story about human and alien segregation for ages, and I’m very happy where with it ended up. My favourite story of the year is about friendship, brotherhood, the cost of violence and oppression, and is rendered in audio beautifully by Mikael Naramore. I often don’t like listening to my own work narrated, but this is the best exception. I’ve gotten wonderful feedback from folks who’ve tuned into it. And again, knowing that so many people are hearing your characters and your worlds narrated in their iPhones and cars is awesome. I love this story,  so it’s great seeing how it’s turned out. Also: it’s been translated into Chinese by Science-Fiction World and will be releasing to an even bigger audience in a few days.

The dataSultan of Streets and Stars
Where the Stars Rise: Asian SF, 7100 words

My other favourite story of the year is also the only one not available online for free, but can be picked up from any online retailer (and here’s why you should). It’s got espionage, Arab gangsters, AIs turned djinn, and a snarky protagonist in future Istanbul, and was an absolute blast to write. It’s one of those stories I took a risk on, and I’m very happy with the end result. It’s been pretty well received, every second review on Goodreads mentions it in a positive way (except for the one guy who said it was “too violent”), with one reviewer rating the anthology as a whole with “4 out of 5 djinn” (bingo square). The anthology seems to be doing well, and I hope the reviews and sales continue to pour in. If you want to read an excerpt, you can do that here.

Not a huge amount of stories, but I’m happy with them, and happy with the ones that have been reprinted. Look out for future, upcoming work in Abyss & Apex, Tales to Terrify, Shades Within Us, and a translation in China’s SFW.

And as always, if you have any thoughts about these stories, good or bad, do get in touch. Hearing from readers is the best part about being a writer, and we really do care about what you have to say, as long as it’s respectful.

Life:

I’ve really stabilized my place in life. I’ve fixed up my house, cemented my weekly schedule, and started broadening out to a wider, but tighter circle of friends that have made me realise what I was missing out on before. I managed two overseas trips, one to Finland where I had an awesome experience at WorldCon (which you can read about here). I’ve started to lose weight, starting cooking again, really settled into my day job, and started exploring a bunch of new things I’ve always wanted to do, even if it’s going out on nights when I’d usually stay at home or using my local beach more. I’m an adventurous person, but like everyone I settle into a rut far too easily, and I don’t like budging out of it. Now that I’m making an effort to do just that…yeah, it’s worth the effort.IMG_5564
Last year was the start of me finding my own feet in life, but 2017 is really where it went into gear and I started living for myself, and started realising the full extent of my options. It’s scary, but it’s also liberating. I’ll likely be packing my bags and heading to Thailand for a week or two in the new year, something I never considered doing by myself a couple of years back.

There’s always room for improvement, and I have a few things I want to remedy (improving my patience, for one), but I’m determined to get there.

 

Taking Risks:

I lied when I said that Stormblood was the first novel where I broke out of my rut and wrote whatever the hell I wanted to. I did that before, but it was Stormblood where I knew I was going to take every plunge.

All writers knows that when we put something on the page, we’re giving a piece of ourselves away. We’re revealing to other people what we’re interested in, what makes us tick, the things we want to express, and piece of who we are. It’s cliched, but it’s true. And when you put yourself on the page, you’re opening a peephole into your brain and letting other people know how it works. How you work. How you feel.

So it’s understandable that you might want to hold some of that back.

Which is why, sometimes, I’ve held myself back. From writing first-person, from writing snarky, voice-driven stuff. From putting my characters through certain things, giving them certain histories and traumas. From channeling certain emotional experiences and sentimental values. From writing certain kinds of worlds, even kinds of emotional arcs. There’s always been there, but I’ve always held back. I’ve always stopped myself from “going there”. Not only because I wasn’t sure whether or not I could do it, but whether I should do it. If I was prepared to give those parts of me away. If I was ready for other people, including my family and close friends, read it.

But writing isn’t worth doing unless you’re writing exactly what you want to write. Not what sells, not what social media dogpile of the week says you should be. What you want to write.

So with Stormblood, that’s what I did. I created a post-war world that was both gritty and exuberant, savage and wondrous. Filled with machines and cultures and technologies that have been burning in my head for years. But at the center of it, I wrote a bi-racial, two-metre tall guy in first-person, a guy who’s been through all kinds of personal hells and traumas, and lived to tell them. I didn’t shy away from them, and I didn’t shy away from giving him a strong voice with a warped sense of humour not unlike my own. But I also didn’t shy away from making him an emotional and conflicted human being. He’s sculpted by his past and his relationship with his brother, reflects on how he feels about authority, his siblings and his friends, and how they’ve emotionally shaped him into the man he is. I explored some stuff I wouldn’t dare meddle with two years ago, and put him through certain torments I didn’t think I could ever pull off successfully. I crafted emotional arcs with extreme highs and lows. Basically: I put my heart on the page.

Even now, is this isn’t easy for me to admit.

It’s not like I didn’t already weave in ideas and themes and narrative elements that are special to me into my work, they’re in everything I write. But this was the first time that the tap’s on full blast. That I sat down to write a first-person narrator that embodied so much of what’s important to me, his story infused with peoples and concepts and ideas tapped directly into things I love and stories I want to tell.

I mentioned earlier that Stormblood is my favourite thing I’ve ever written. This is why. The pay-off was truly and utterly worth it. My agent and beta readers all agree it’s my best project yet. That it’s got a confidence, a genuine-ness about it. I’m already getting comments from my family and friends that the main character is an insight into me as a person. Which is its own certain kind of reward. But better than that: it feels authentic.

Doing this has forever shaped the way I write and the stories I want to tell and the way I want to tell them. I’ll be taking those risks, writing those emotional highs and lows. Putting bits of myself into my characters, even if it’s sometimes more than I’m comfortable with. Forcing them through certain experiences and traumas that I’m afraid to write, because I know the pay-off will be grand, and because it’ll be exactly what I want to write. Because, really, otherwise it’s pointless.

So if you are afraid to reveal bit about yourself, or you desperately want to write something but are unsure of the end result, or just can’t muster up the courage to tell the story that only you can tell, do it anyway. Because that’s what I’ll be doing in 2018, and I will not settle for less. And I hope you won’t, either.

Writing Update: Stormblood Edits

At the tail end of the year, my good good agent John Jarrold has sent me edits for my next book, Stormblood. It’s The Wire meets Mass Effect set on an asteroid that’s comprised of a hundred cities stacked on top of each other. Contains first-person snark, alien drugs, drug culture, religious cults, armor, gangs, neon-dunked streets,, food porn, and booze. Lots and lots of booze.

I’ve been tackling the edits for a few weeks now, they’re going pretty smoothly. It’s been slowly climbing in word count to where it sits at a solid 120k, 15k longer than The Rogue Galaxy, but John told me not to worry, since 140k is not unusual for a debut novelist, especially in the UK.

So I’m letting my legs stretch a little, letting the slow moments between characters linger, letting them shoot the breeze and grow on-screen rather than rushing because I’ve got to keep the pace up (nailing this balance down is no easy feat). It’s cathartic to keep refining and discovering things about your world and characters and know that you’ve really nailed a scene. It’s always my favourite part of the writing process, where you’re giving each chapter the last few polishes and finally see the gems and realise how pretty they are, to con a cliche. In earlier drafts, I knew I was onto something, but it was too broad, the waters too muddy for me to sharpen it to a fine point. Now that I’ve got the shape of the narrative burned into my head, it’s easier to take that paragraph, or that chunk of text and realise what it’s doing in context, and improve upon it until I’ve got exactly what I want on the page. I go over each chapter like this, honing the emotions, the narrative development, the scenery, until it’s as good as I think I can make it. It’s so, so easy to overstep and turn a quiet, sedated moment into a melodrama of sentimental monologues that are shamelessly trying to exploit sympathy from the reader. The line’s harder to walk than you’d think. I’ll forever believe that characters are the true heart of any narrative, and I want their emotions and desires and conflicts to be on-point as possible. So I’m going through the book and trying to make that happen.

It’s not perfect, but I love this book and almost everything about it, and I hope it sees the light of day at point. But if it doesn’t, then I’m still happy to have written it. There’s a lot of personal things in this book, baked into the characters, story and world, and putting them on the page has taught me a boldness that I’m not sure I had prior to writing this. I wrote what I wanted, but there were some things I deliberately avoided because I wasn’t sure how they’d be received, and if I’d want folks close to me reading it. But I went with my gut and spun out a first-person narrator who wasn’t afraid to be forthcoming out his deep, personal traumas, who said what he was thinking and got some pretty messed up things inflicted on him as a result. It even prompted my agent to comment on it.

drnlsx5v4aazvib

He does it to himself, I swear!

Anyway, my current round of edits will continue to consist of refining each scene, tightening up the dialogue and making sure the world-building is in shape and the character arcs are on a smooth trajectory that’s isn’t too blatantly going through the motions of a narrative path. The next round will be more focused on the prose-level. I edit my prose as I go, but this time I’ll be putting the final touches on the work on a sentence level. Some don’t bother with this, but to me, language and choice of words is important, and if I can look fancier by replacing lobby with atrium or blue with cerulean, I will, dammit!

I’ll probably polish off edits this week, and turn it in early next year. Me and John are going to discuss what to do with it. I’ll be posting a yearly round-up soon, so look out for that, and have a great holiday.