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.

“Oh, you’re THAT Jeremy.” WorldCon75 and Realising You’re a Writer

 

There’s little moments in every writer’s life, when he or she realises something’s changed. You’ve upgraded. When I sell a story to a good market, when I’ve nailed a third act in a novel, or even I signed with my agent. I recognized that I’d leveled up; hit a new milestone.

But there was nothing little about my experience at WorldCon 75, where it occurred to me, perhaps for the first time, that I am a writer.

See, having never gone to a con of any sorts before, and being in the almost non-existent literary scene in Australia, I’ve only ever met authors briefly at rare book signings. And that’s assuming you have more than twenty seconds to blurt something out before you’re moved along and they’re seeing to the next person standing in line behind you.IMG_5627

So I don’t think I was ready to make my con debut WorldCon, and see everyone. My literary heroes, people I’ve been reading since I was ten years old, creators who’ve inspired me, annoyed me, entertained me, gave me food for thought: all in one place at once. In panels, in the cafes, in the bar, everywhere.

And thing I was especially not ready for: being among them. After seeing my name on the program, alongside the best and brightest of the genre, I knew I wasn’t here as a passive observer. I was here as a writer among other writers.

I hadn’t just leveled up: I’d reached a whole new level of its own.

*

Five minutes in: I’d ran into the wonderful Aliette de Bodard, who gave me a hug and said how cool it was to meet me. I didn’t have time to tell her the exact thing before she mentioned how much she liked my story in the anthology she blurbed: Where The Stars Rise. It’s one thing to write a story you love. It’s another to have someone you very much admire tell you to your face it provided them with reading pleasure.

Commence me wandering the corridors, picking out writers. Ken Liu. Ted Chiang, Daryl Gregory, Thomas Olde Hevult sipping coffee in the cafe. Robert Silverberg in the exhibit halls, Gay and Joe Haldeman in the auditorium. George R. R. Martin, casually rocking up in the main foyer (and yes, I got a photo). Ian McDonald, Ian Whates, Michael Swamnick knocking back G&T at the bar. People I’ve only interacted with over social media, people I’ve been reading for years. Now I get to see and meet them in person.

Except I’m not just meeting them. They’re meeting me.

Again: at book signings, you’re not an individual. You’re just another person in a line who presents the lofty author with a paper for them to scribble on. Then that’s it: they’re seeing the next person and you’re already forgotten.

Here, I got to sit down with Ian McDonald and talk to the man, level to level. Not as a slack-jawed idolatric fanboy to whom the concept of sex is frightening, but as another nerd who also writes about robots, far-future gang wars and exuberant cultures. I got to catch the train with Ken Liu and hear him tell me he enjoyed my essay in PoC Destroy SF. I got to tell George R. R. Martin I was from StarShipSofa (“Oh, the podcast, right?” I remember him saying. He also mispronounced my surname as “Sazzle, but that’s another story) and see him nod as he realised I was the guy who reprinted his undiscovered story The Men of Greywater Station and put it online for the first time. It was a down to earth, man-to-man experience where I was a fellow writer/editor who knew a thing or two about the craft. And all these Very Prestigious Writers actually listened to me. I wasn’t just another twenty-two year-old bloke from Down Under: I’d had work published that was noteworthy. I could sit down at the table with the best and brightest and contribute to the conversation.20819638_10155896869333072_8219742842188189269_o

I remember walking into the foyer and meeting Ted Chiang, the Ted Chiang. Admist our conversation about “smarter” SF cinema, I never got the impression I was speaking with the genius who birthed Arrival, but a quiet, intelligent man who was genuinely interested in what I had to say. Hell, having drinks with Ian McDonald for about seven hours (he bought us all 81 Euro wine) and having him introduce me to Ian Watson and Pat Cadigan as “The Lord of StarShipSofa” put the stupidest grin on my face. I was no longer an unknown outsider: I was welcomed into this circle of mad geniuses as not only a writer, but as a person. After years of struggling to get noticed and while watching these same authors get book and film deals, talking to them as other human beings and finding that they care is probably the biggest career boost I’ve had in a long time.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was: everyone, and I do mean everyone, I spoke to was aware of StarShipSofa in some capacity. All I had to do was mention the show and the connection was made: they knew who I was. I’d talked to Mary Robinette Kowal for ten minutes straight before she saw my badge and exclaimed “oh, you’re that Jeremy.” Even outside of meeting authors and narrators I’d reprinted and worked with, I had people who recognized my name and said how much they loved the podcast. I think more people were surprised that I didn’t know how popular the show was. I knew people tuned in, but I couldn’t imagine this many people, or how highly they regarded it. To have people express what my weekly efforts of producing good stories means to them is incredibly humbling.

This is doubly true for my own writing. Unless people email in, you don’t know if anyone’s reading your stuff, let alone enjoying it. Here, I’d have people casually bring up my work in conversations. Stop me in the corridor to say they loved a piece I’d written. That they found the certain story to really hit home. They’d name the stories I’d written, tell me their favourite characters, their favourite moments. They compared themes they’d found across my stories (some more valid than others). I was told they loved my “icky flavour if sci-fi body horror”, which is apparently now my sub-genre. I was congratulated on acquiring an agent, and was told by many, many people that I’d landed a solid one. That my novel sounded “super cool” and they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it.IMG_5715

And I’m still reeling from the fact that people even read my stuff.

My work has left an impact on people. My long hours creating worlds and characters I love actually matters to people. The stories I struggled with, thinking no one is going to read this shit has people I admire approaching me to dole out praise. As a writer, you want for nothing more. It puts a certain responsibility on your shoulders to continue doing good work, because there are people out there paying attention to me as a creator.

Somewhere in the midst of all this: it told me that I am an author. People read, love, respect my work. And there’s no dialing down from that. Even if I were to never write another story, I will still be an author who is read and recognized. I won’t ever be able to go a con or hang out in a writer’s group be a nobody: there will be someone who knows me or has heard of me.

Which is equal parts inspiring as it is unnerving.

*

Cons can be exhausting. Being in fandom can be exhausting. Being a writer in fandom can be very exhausting.IMG_5707

Meeting your readers and admirers is welcoming. But if you hear it so many times in such a short period, it loses its charm. Recognizing people in every corridor, meeting someone you know almost every fifteen minutes, running back and forth to attend a lunch or meeting or panel or whatever for 16 hours a day? It wears you out.

I was scheduled to appear on two panels at WorldCon 75. Having never done panels before, I had no clue what to expect from talking to a room full of strangers about my so-called expert opinion about writing. Both panels went very well; the second one especially, where our room (see photo) was fully packed out. The discussion was fantastic, the questions were great, and people cared more about and our approach to our work. Hell, a Swedish blogger took notes on everything we’d said. I only wished I was on more of these panels.IMG_5711

I’d made plans with my fellow panellists after the event. But when we were done, I got swarmed. People wanted to talk more. That story of mine: where did that get published? That market I mentioned: how did I get published there? When could they find my work? What was my website, again? How could they submit to StarShipSofa? How did I get my agent? Could I perhaps mention them to my agent? What was my book about? How long did it take to write my book? Did I have any advice?

I’m trying to answer the best I can, while still looking for my friends who are disappearing down the narrow corridor, while answering my phone, while fighting against the surge of crowds, while still thinking that I haven’t eaten in seven hours.

For about ten minutes, I think I got a glimpse of what being “famous” is like. It’s not pretty.

Coupled with the built up strain of Being an Author in Fandom for 16 hours a day, everything crashed on top of me and I needed a quiet corner to hide in. I just couldn’t do people anymore. I loved mingling with my fellow writers. But I couldn’t take it anymore.

Now, anxiety ain’t ever going to be a problem I’ll have to deal with. I’m outgoing, I’m unserved, I’m an intense individual. Ask anyone who knows me. I’ve got skin thicker than a dragon. I’m probably in the top 5% tier of “can tolerable any bullshIMG_5482it” people.

And day three floored me.

Now that I’ve been on the other side of the signing table as it were, I’ve got a newfound respect for famous authors, actors, celebrities. I simply don’t know how they deal with the attention. How do you compartmentalize having someone want something from you at every corner? I’m nobody, just a guy who gets a few minutes of attention at a sci-fi gathering. Anytime, I could walk out the doors and no one would bother me. No one would demand a photo from me. No one would stalk me down the hallways, hoping to get a few minutes of my time. George R. R. Martin? Neil Gaiman? Not so much.

How do these guys manage to go on book tour without blowing their brains out?

So yeah. Being in the spotlight, even briefly, has a dark side. As humbling and amazing and ego-boosting it is to have people want to hear your advice or gush about your work, everyone has their limits. And trudging back to my hotel at 2pm with a pulsing headache, I know I reached mine.

*

I’m back in at work in Australia now. Back to being another average guy on a beach suburb. I take my laptop to the cafes to write, because that’s the majority of what being a writer means: writing. The cons, the panels, meeting the people who gush about your work: that’s all a bonus.

But after attending WorldCon, I know that there’s people out there who are taking notice of my work. People who remember me. People who are waiting for my next story, and are hoping they get to read my novel. I’m a recognized name in the field, and my literary heroes are aware of me as both a writer and editor. I sat on the same programme with George R. R. Martin, Robert Silverberg and Cixin Liu. I’m still getting fanmail for my panels and having photos of me get tagged on social media.

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And I’m sitting here, still trying to figure out how it all happened.

WorldCon changed my outlook as a writer, and made me feel like a real, genuine writer for the first time. It’s made my long hours doing something I love so much more rewarding. It was the family reunion I never knew I had. A really messed up, half-mad family, but a family nonetheless. And I’m already counting down the days until the next one.

So long, and thanks for all the lutefisk.

The Novel is DOOOOONE

 

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My spacepunk novel about drug cartels, alien narcotics and fanatic cults is complete at 113,000 words.

It’s the first adult novel I wrote in first-person, and it’s also the very novel where I put the characters first. I’ve always included character arcs and backgrounds, but this is the first time where the characters and their voices drove the story. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write another way. Whereas my last novel taught me about world-building and scene-setting, this one taught me so much about characterization and voice and agency. I learn with everything I write, and this one certainly has, too.

I wrote the novel I wanted to write. It took six months because of editing my other work and restructuring, but it’s done and I love the end result. It’s gonna need edits, and beta-readers. But I haz another novel and I am very excited about it. I almost didn’t want to finish it, because I love these people and this world so much, but that’s what a dozen rewrites and rounds of edits are for.

But for now it’s done and I hope to bring it to you guys someday.

Progess Report: 2017

So 2017 has been busy in a lot of ways. We’re already one month down and halfway into the next. Could thing is I’ve kept pretty busy.

I’ve seen a number of films this Oscar season, including La La Land, Lion, Split, Hackshaw Ridge, Arrrival, (loved them all) Passengers, Live By Night, Nocturnal Animals (didn’t think too much of ’em) and read a few books here and there, including Stephanie Garber’s fabulous Caraval. But I’ve been pretty busy with my own work, including the space opera/murder mystery that’s been eating up my creative time since April 2016. I got further feedback from narrators that required some major structural edits in the first crucial third of the novel, which cut a pile of pages and unnecessary words and made the novel much sharper. It’s in the absolute final polish now with the query and synopsis being written and polished in tandem. I’m incredibly happy with it and hope that it finds a home.

But then it’s back to my other novel, which I halted at 50k to edit this previous one. I haven’t written many shorts in this time, which is going to change once I get some novel work done. Although I do have a (great) part time job, earning some dough from fiction never gets old, and so sketching up a cool cool 4,000 words at pro rates is something I’d like to do. Plus it gives me a great chance to experiment with areas I’m weak with or themes and characters I’d like to explore but not willing to donate an entire novel to. So I’m doing that soon.

But something pretty cool is coming: just a week ago I interviewed Colin Gibson for StarShipSofa. Name sound unfamiliar? But you know his work: he was the head production designer for Mad Max: Fury Road. The man designed and built the weapons, the sets, the look, the aesthetic, and all 150 cars for the film. He also got to work on the background, the storyline and the world-building for one of the most striking and critically acclaimed documentaries films ever put to screen. This guy won an Oscar for his work, beating out Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, and the Martian. 

I’ve met him a number of times in person outside of my work for StarShipSofa and spoken to him at length about Fury Road and the industry (and got shown a few things related to the film that I can’t actually reveal or talk about). I told him about the podcast and he agreed to be interviewed. So I interviewed him about this fantastic, insane monstrous of a motion picture and how he helped bring it to life in all it’s Australian glory. It’s going to be out soon and I do hope you’ll check it out then!

The Novel is DONE

It’s done. 123,566 words and I typed THE END on my space opera noir novel.

After 91 days, it’s finally, finally done.

It was done last Thursday, but I’d written 6,000 words that night and I didn’t want to see another keyboard for a weekend at least. But now I’m happy to announce that it’s done and finished.

The first draft, that is. It’s going to take a mountain of effort to unscramble that mess and knock it into something resembling a coherent narrative.

But it’s done.

I feel like Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, standing above the restaurant dojo of Crippling Self Doubt and seeing all the defeated brain weasels on the bloody floor and saying, “All your words are belong to me”.

I wrote everyday for over three months. Every single day. Even the day where I had a ten-hour shift and went out in the evening, even if it was 100 words before collapsing asleep. I kept chiseling away to get the end result.

I absolutely love this novel. After my last project burned me out I had to write exactly what I wanted to write. Genre tends or hot-off-the-press type work be damned. I wanted to take a shot at writing a murder mystery in the deepest reaches of space, with a strong sense of space opera exuberance, and I did.

My plan is to write up a sketchy synopsis of the novel, as well as a detailed list of things that need to be fixed. But I’ll be taking a bit of a break. After a few weeks I’ll try my hand at a short or two, polish up an ugly draft that I’ve got sitting around, maybe do some nonfiction, and then it’s time for revision. A lot of revision.

But for now, I need to clear my mind and take a mini-holiday. After writing almost 125k in 91 days, I think I’ve earned it.

And I’m going to try my best not to think about just how much it sucks and needs work. Wish me luck!

 

Words and words and words, starting a new project

For those of you who’ve been following my tweets recently, I’m neck deep in a new project. Not a new short story, a new novel. I finished my YA epic Slavic fantasy about a month back. I took a short break before thinking about what I was going to do next. I didn’t want to jump into edits straight away – me and my YA fantasy didn’t have a very good relationship in the last third of the book. We needed, need, time away from each other. In a couple of months I’ll come back and start hacking away at it with an axe.

But until then I needed something else. I’ve had this idea boiling in the basement of my skull for quite some time, but didn’t have the backstory to support it. I took a few days to flesh it out, do some outlining, then threw myself into writing. No side projects, no short stories, no editing. Nothing. Just words words words.

I stated that book two and a half weeks ago, about 18 days. Right now it’s sitting at 19,000 words. That’s my part time job at the moment. Butt in chair, pouring my mind on the keyboard and screen. No inspiration quotes, no #amwriting hashtags on twitter, no in-the-zone yoga mind experiments.

Just black words on white paper.

My minimum target is 1,000 words per day, not including plot outlining, world-building, and running off to jot down some cool idea. And so far I’m not doing too badly. I know where my characters are going, where they’ve come from, and (most) of the world around them. I can’t say much about the project, but it’s a space opera crossed with a murder mystery. It’s not YA either, my first adult book since my first rubbish attempt at writing a SF/F when I was in highschool.

I’m not thinking about how to sell it, how to pitch it, if the current market is good for it, nothing. I’m just having fun and getting that work down. It’s hard sometimes, and I hate every sodding word on the sodding page, but I’m doing it. It’s going to be one ugly half-breed when it’s done (coming from a half-breed), but it’ll be done.

One of the worst things I ever did was let my YA fantasy sit and rot for whole months at a time over a stretch of one year and three months while I was finishing university. It grew old and stale, and even now it’s in desperate need of a scrub up and tweaking. So I’m not making that mistake here. I’m living and breathing this world and this world alone, and it’s pouring out of me fast.

By this time next week I hope to be at 26,000 words, perhaps a little more. By the time this is over my fingers are going to be worn down to the bone and my brain having gone through a deep fat fryer, but no one said this job was meant to be easy.

‘Until then….

Bruce Sterling and Christopher Priest on StarShipSofa!

So it’s been a busy two weeks on StarShipSofa. Last week we played a story by one of the godfathers of cyberpunk, Bruce Sterling. He’s known in and outside of the genre slash sci-fi circles, and it was an absolute pleasure to have him.

Narrating his story is film actor Paul Cram. Paul mostly does indie films, but he’s had speaking roles with actors such as Cilian Murphy (The Dark Knight, 28 Days Later) Woody Harrelson (True Detective) Judy Greer (Jurassic Park) and others. We’re VERY proud to have him join StarShipSofa and narrate this story. Make sure you check out his IMDB profile here. And make sure you look out for some of his films, too.

You can find Bruce Sterling’s episode here.

And we’ve also had the mighty privilege of playing a story by Christopher Priest. He wasn’t that popular in the US. At least not until one of his novels was turned into a the film The Prestige by director Christopher Nolan of The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar variety. You’ve almost certainly seen it:

 

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David Bowie acted in this film as well, so we’re very proud to be associated with the project. Priest himself is a masterclass, as the story demonstrates. His best work is The Inverted World, which you have to read. I won’t say much more than that.

I’ve been very proud to have worked on these two episodes and the fine gentlemen who exhibit actual skill in narrating, acting and writing. Make sure to grab the Christopher Priest episode here if you can.

…and that’s all for now.

Forging ahead and looking back: it’s important

With one’s writing career – and artistic careers in general, I think, there’s a tendency to think about what we haven’t yet accomplished, as opposed to what we have accomplished. Film directors, musicians, script writers and video game designs are all privy to this pothole, but in my case writers especially.

You don’t look back on your sales and your publications that you’ve already earned, you dwell on how much you want to release this story, or finish that next project that just isn’t working out, or sell a proposal that no one’s buying. It happens to all of us. Just recently, David Fincher had Utopia cancelled at HBO. A Oscar-winning director who’s bought us Se7en, Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Social Network, and others, but now he’s had years of work flushed down the toilet. Ouch.

I’m not on Mr. Flincher’s playing field (in case you all weren’t aware of that already), but the same rules apply to everyone. We tend not to focus on what we have already accomplished.

As some of you good good people may know, I’m out o’ town for a holiday. Right of this moment I’m in a little Polish town somewhere outside of Wroclaw. Ensue many Anglos with tongues in knots after attempting to pronounce that correctly. I was here exactly two years ago. I was writing writing away, sending out over a dozen stories to all manner of venues, hoping to land a sale in some department. I was banging my head against the wall because no one was buying a damn word I wrote. Not a single one. Nada.

Sentences like will I ever sell anything and is my career over before it starts kept tumbling through my head. But sitting in this tiny room I kept conjuring up monsters and fantasy landscapes and rain-drenched cities. I kept plugging away without knowing if I’d ever make a sale.

Two years later and here I am. I’ve sold so many stories and articles I’ve lost count (I think the count is close to fifty now). I’ve sold to Nature twice, Strange Horizons six times, and scooped up a Finalist position at Writers of the Future. I’ve had an essay published in one of Lightspeed’s Destroy anthologies. I’ve had the opportunity to produce audio fiction by George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson and Robin Hobb for a Hugo-winning podcast that I co-edit. And right now I’m working on a story for my first every fiction solicitation to an anthology that pays pro-rates.

I’ve done all that in two years at the starting age of 18.

It’s not meant as a boast (well, perhaps a little), but it’s more of a look at how much can be done in less than two years of writing.

And yet.

And yet…

I ask myself why I haven’t placed in Writers of the Future. Why I don’t have a pro sale that isn’t flash. Why I haven’t sold to F&SF, Asimovs or Analog yet. Why I don’t have an anthology sale. Why I haven’t appeared in the Best of Years. Why I don’t have an agent. Why I don’t have a book deal. Why I don’t….

Stop.

It can cave your head in just about the whys and how comes that inevitably crop up. I know people who have sold to venues I can only dream about, but then reach for another magazine only to fail. I’m very, very fortunate to be in the position where I am now. Pierce Brown wrote one novel a year for seven years before Red Rising sold. Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen. I know someone who’s written fourteen novels and had none of them picked up. And I’m sure it’s taken others far longer with many more books.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like, collecting rejections for your tenth novel and wondering if you’d ever have a single word of your fiction published. I’m sitting here with multiple sales to Nature (published by Macmillan) and something inside me cracks whenever I see the latest book launches and wonder how long it’ll take before I get there myself. Thank you very much, brain.

So this is a message to anyone who’s struggling (including myself) that it’s healthy to look back from time to time and see how far you’ve come. Hell, most people don’t even finish a novel, let alone a story. Look at your virtual (or physical) shelf and see your accomplishments.

Two years ago in this very room I didn’t have a single one under my belt. And in two years time when I come to Europe again I want to look back on this blog post and realise how much I’ve achieved since. In the next two years I’m going to get that literary agent, that book deal, that Best of Years publication.

And the two years after that…who knows? Fincher directing a film adaptation of my novel would be nice (ain’t ever gonna happen, though).

Until then I’m going to keep forging ahead, but I’m also going to look back. If you’re struggling, maybe you should do the same. It’s a long long road and there ain’t many pit-stops along the way. Well done on getting this far.

But never stop walking.

 

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