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.

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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.

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Book Release: Where the Stars Rise and Asian Science-fiction

It’s not been a bad year, writing wise, but having so much on means I get my attention split between projects. But even so, I’ve always been focused on this one project ever since I was asked to contribute towards it. And almost two years later, it’s out!

Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy is exactly what it sounds like: an anthology that focuses on Asian science-fiction and fantasy, exploring Asian cultures, themes, language, histories and futures. Being from a background Lebanese background, not usually a culture typically associated with Asia like Japan or China, I went for I knew everyone else wouldn’t be writing. So I wrote a spacepunk story set in Turkey, because I could.17352543_10155107326431575_1699043594855734950_n

The dataSultan of Streets and Stars is about Bohdi, young programmer of AIs (dubbed djinn) who’s had to skip Earth when a nasty accident resulting in the death of dozens puts rich-as-hell Arab gangsters on his tail, believing him responsible. Only, Mr. Bohdi is in debt to a dangerous alien bounty hunter, who wants the djinn for himself. And things get…messy.

It was a pleasure to combine cutting-edge technology and cool ideas with Middle-Eastern culture and history. Computer viruses are named are monsters from Islamic mythology, starships are fashioned like Phoenician ships, and tech-centres are constructed like Ottoman buildings. And food. Lots of baklava and lokum. When I build a world, I want it to inhabit every sensibility and every character aspect, and I think I achieved that here.

There’s so few good depictions of Asian cultures, and especially Middle-Eastern cultures, so I’m very proud of this story, and happy it’s in this anthology. And I’m even happier it’s doing so, so well. Here’s some reviews:

“. . . this collection is essential for anyone interested in the diverse and engaging possibilities of fantasy and science fiction.” — Booklist (American Library Association)

“. . . this fascinating collection addresses issues of immigration, dual cultures, and ethnic issues through genre devices such as ghosts, steampunk robots, and planetary exploration. Sf readers looking to discover new voices will enjoy this volume that reflects the eclecticism of Asian culture.” — Library Journal

“This anthology was good, with the majority of the stories being either good or very good page-turners.” — Tangent

And then it gets even better, because two of my favourite authors provided blurbs.

“A wealth of stories running the gamut from poignant to mind-blowing, rewarding journeys both faraway and familiar.”
— Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of the Dominion of the Fallen saga

Where the Stars Rise is a hell of a lot of fun. Great writers, magnificent storytelling, and worlds I wanted to spend a lot more time in—no matter how dangerous they were. I had a blast reading it.” — Rob Boffard, author of the Outer Earth series (Tracer, Zero-G, Impact)

And then there’s some select quotes from Bloggers and Goodreads reviews:


The complexities of the stories and the characters and the stories will delight readers, but they will also elicit a reaction all too familiar to book lovers everywhere: the stories will leave readers wanting much, much more. I recommend Where the Stars Rise and also encourage this new subset of science fiction and fantasy. – Ekta R. Garg, from The Write Edge


There are historicals, futuristic, space settings, fantasies, Sci-Fi, with male and female protagonists of all ages. I learned about different counties and times and events. I traveled to the moon and other planets. Some stories are funny, some are sad, some have happy endings and others were bittersweet but I’d be willing to bet that readers with even a passing interest in these genres would find a few to appeal and many to enjoy. Overall, a B+- Dear Author Reviews


There are some truly standout pieces; Memoriam by Priya Sridhar, Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang, and The dataSultan of Streets and Stars, by Jeremy Szal were amazing for me. There are many more well written stories included, but just these three alone are worth the price of the anthology.  – NonStop Reader

So people are very much enjoying this anthology, and you will, too. It’s important to boost diverse voices and to support projects that cover international cultures and worlds that are left outside of the mainstream. If you’re interested in Asian cultures, this one is essential.

The website and full retailer list is here. But you can grab it from Bookdepository for free delivery worldwide. Or ask your bookstore to order it in. And do remember to leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon. It helps. A lot. More than you think.

 

 

StarShipSofa: Final Slush Update

Hello everyone,

The slush is done. It’s done. It’s over. And now I know how Frodo felt after throwing the ring into Mt. Doom.

I’ve been so ridiculously busy. Over the course of the submissions I’ve suffered two illnesses, traveled around the globe and back, and a bunch of other personal issues that I’d rather not discuss publicly. On top of that I’m in my final semester of university, and I’ve barely had a second to myself. But you guys all understood and gave me your unending patience, and for that I am grateful. I’ll definitely be looking at getting both an intern for StarShipSofa permanently and a few slush readers to help me out. But right now, I’m so busy that I don’t have the time to hunt down an assistant to help me out because I’m so busy. If that’s not a paradox, I don’t know what is.

It’s been an incredible experience for me, not as just as an editor, but a writer as well. I’ve never really been on the other side on the coin, as they say, in terms of submissions and shifting through slush. But the experience was worth it.

There have been stories I absolutely hated letting go off. There were some that I wrestled with for days and days, completely unsure of what to do. Damn, do you people write fantastic stories. I hated myself for saying no, and writing that letter came with a heavy heart. But the decisions have been made and the acceptances and rejections have been sent off.

For those of you who got acceptances, I’d have given you my personal email address. If you haven’t already, please send your story file and your bio (pasted in the email) over to it. Do not try to reach me via the submissions email – that’s purely for reading slush.

StarShipSofa will absolutely be reopening to submissions. When? I don’t know. I definitely need to graduate from university first, and we’ve got a lot of stuff to sort out over at StarShipSofa. When I get a second I’ll be writing more detailed blog posts about my experience doing slush and the common pitfalls, what to avoid, etc, etc. And if I rejected you, don’t give up. Drag yourself back up and shoot me a story that kicks me in the gut (not literally) and one that I cannot say no to. But more on that later.

It’s been an absolute blast to read your excellent stories, and it’s going to be even more fun working with you all and seeing what the final production looks like. I’ve heard some of them already and they’re excellent. I’m hoping you guys will be as proud of them as I am.

Until then, thank you all so much. And never, ever, ever give up.

Jeremy