All posts in Devil in Chains


It’s Thursday, that time of the week that (like Arthur Dent) I could never get the hang of, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ll even itemise things.

The Devil in Chains
Somebody added my 2008 novella to Good Reads (although apparently it doesn’t recognise the cover), and even reviewed it! I’m rather flattered, and quite frankly to have someone tell me that in one scene,

An ordinary exploration of an empty room suddenly becomes an exercise in exquisite grotesquerie.

… makes me all sorts of happy inside.

What also makes my head spin is a review in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. This goes beyond flattery and into the surreal realms of honour. I think a w00t is called for. Thanks to Kate for her devotion to the cause!

Speaking of The Devil in Chains, I need to get cracking on reformatting the PDF properly for the Sony eBook reader. This website will also undergo a bit of a redesign when Seven Wonders is done, which will make it easier to keep track of projects and also easier for people to find stuff to read. For the moment, you can grab The Devil in Chains here as a PDF, or here as an eBook for the iPhone/iPod touch.

Seven Wonders
The book that never ends! Actually that sounds a bit harsh. The draft of this superhero novel is at about 95,000 words, and I’m slowly in-filling the middle bit. I’m giving myself to the end of August for this, and I think I’m on track. It’s actually a lot of fun writing about Tony and Jeannie and Sam and Joe and SMART, as not only do I know what happens to them at the end, I’ve already written it. Going back in time a few weeks and seeing what they were up to before everything went wrong is really interesting as a writer.

Master project list
Something else for the website is a proper tracker of projects, but I’ve yet to find the right funky progress bar widget. However, having discovered the wonder of VoodooPad (basically your own personal off-line wiki), I’ve started transferring dozens of separate documents of notes and ideas into one repository, which means I’ve also created a master index of novels, plotting out a sort of schedule well into 2010 and beyond. VoodooPad is a work of genius, and now joins Scrivener on my list of essential writing tools.

Which means nothing until I actually show you guys something, but it did surprise me (pleasantly, I should add), that I’ve got no fewer than 11 novels planned so far. Which is good, because to make it as a writer you need, firstly, to keep writing and writing and writing, and then when hopefully something is picked up, if you want to make a living out of it you have to be working on the next book, and then the next, and then the next.

So a list of 11 books is easy. It’s just a list and a few notes for each. Ideas are cheap and the imagination is limitless. Sitting down and writing is hard, but at least I know where I am aiming.

Superhero and steampunk round-up

I know I promised some info on Crescent Rising this week, but we’re actually busy rebuilding things as our secret planning site for that collaborative fiction universe got hacked and/or taken offline. Hopefully the database will be retrieveable, but in the meantime it’s about time I updated a couple of links.

Last month I attended the Bristol Comic Expo, which featured DC Comics Senior Executive Editor Dan DiDio as guest of honour. They’ve dropped off the main site now, but I wrote three reports for major US comic site Comic Book Resources. Snag them here:

The DC Universe – Story plans and upcoming titles and events for 2009-2010.
DC Nation – The first and only time a DC Nation has been hosted outside the US. Great discussion and feedback session.
Gibbins & Higgins Talk Watchmen – including CG genitalia.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to write an essay on steampunk, and why I chose to write in this slightly unusual genre, for Babbling About Books, the website of New York-based blogger Kate Garrabrant. Kate split my rather long essay into three chunks (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but I’m going to reproduce it here in full. I’ve also added in some extra detail about the various subdivisions of steampunk, which I had glossed over in the main piece and then went into when prompted by some reader comments on Kate’s blog.

I’ll put this on its own page, but in the meantime, sit back with your favourite brand of absinthe and afix your Gentlemen Reading Goggles at setting four!

Top Hats and Hellfire – The mystique of Steampunk

1. “So, what are you writing about?”

Cue the big grin, the far-away look, the deep breath the preceeds five minutes of non-stop exposition. Hand-waving optional but recommended. Because you’ve just asked a writer their favourite question.

Well, most writers, anyway. For Those Guys it’s easy. “Oh yeah, Jack is a cop, and he’s about to retire when his young niece goes missing…”, or “Well, it’s about a princess called Missy who lives in magic castle…”. Those Guys, they have it so easy. Ten minutes later, your eager audience is delighted and expresses good luck and best wishes for the project. If they’re related to you in some way, most likely an elderly aunt that you don’t really know that well, then expect excited promises to buy the book when (if!) it comes out.

But then there’s us. We’re not anything special, we’re just average Joe writers working hard at our craft, just like Those Guys. Thing is, to answer the question “So, what are you writing about?”, we need more than five minutes and a wistful gaze. This expedition needs provisions. Tea, coffee, cake. Anything with sugar or stimulants. Then that deep breath (we have the same requirement for oxygen as Those Guys), and we’re off.

“So, when Babbage designed his difference engine… you know Babbage? And the difference engine? Like a big clockwork computer. No, not 1972, 1822. No, I don’t know how it works either. Okay, so let’s skip that… so then Byron, riding a steam-powered brass horse, becomes Prime Minister… the poet, Byron? Yes, steam-powered. Like a robot. Star Wars? Erm, not quite. Steam-powered, yes. Okay, so going back a bit, you know the industrial revolution…?”

This goes on for some time. Eventually you’ve laid the foundation, explained the world, and you’re fairly sure Great Aunt Nelly has remembered that Faraday is a time-travelling action hero, even if she doesn’t quite know that he really discovered electromagnetism in the mid-19th century. And then you get the seal of approval: “Well, good luck with the writing! I can’t wait to buy it in a bookstore!”. My advice at this point is to just smile and drink your tea. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t actually got to the story yet, the bit you’re actually writing. Get used it. As a writer of steampunk, incomprehension and potted histories of Victorian railway engineering go with the territory like gaslight and brass goggles.

2. What is steampunk?

I should preface this by saying I’m not an expert on steampunk. Steampunk is a vast, complex subcultural phenomenon that spans literature, fashion, philosophy, comic books. And while I go misty eyed over the thought of top-hatted Victorian explorers travelling to the moon in coal-fired brass rocket, or Sherlock Holmes packing a clockwork raygun as he battles the Giant Rat of Sumatra, I’m not particularly interested in wearing Edwardian frockcoats over brass breastplates decorated with clock gears. True enough, I’m probably slightly too interested in the facial hair of King George V as is normally considered healthy, but I’m not a “steampunk”, if such a thing even exists or is an appropriate label. See, I really don’t know. Steampunk as a fashion statement and as a way of life is, I think, a related but somewhat distinct movement from steampunk as a science fiction/fantasy subgenre.

Responsibilty disclaimed. So, what is steampunk?

Steampunk itself can be broaded divided into two different sorts – ‘period’ steampunk, and ‘modern’ steampunk.

Period steampunk is set, usually, during the height of the Victorian era. Top hats and canes, gaslight and London fog, moustachioed adventurers unwrapping mummies in the British museum. Every kind of Victorian pulp cliché and imagery, with added supertechnology. And by supertechnology, I mean technology which more or less resembles the correct period, but is floating away into the realms of fantasy. Steam-powered robots, clockwork rayguns, giant calculating machines that think. All related to the fundamentals of the late Industrial Revolution – namely steam power. Period steampunk is a vision of that period of industrial revolution accelerated, advancing science and technology to fantastical reaches, allowing the Victorians to colonise Mars in coal-fired rockets, or the monarchy overthrown by a clockwork computer. These are just examples. It could also be something much better. /futurama

‘Modern’ steampunk, by contrast, is set in the present day or the future, and postulates that the steam tech of the 19th century never went away, that the 20th century developments of electricity and electronics never happened. Instead, we get a charactiture of Victorian life in the present day – people still wear top hats, gentlemen discuss matters of great import in their exclusive clubs, and detectives chase cut-throats through the gaslit streets. But computers are clockwork, intercontinental travel is via supersonic steam-powered zeppilin, and a night at the movies is brought to you by Mebberson’s Magic Lantern, That Wondrous and Fully Patented All-Purpose Aetheric Transference Visiscope to Delight and Thrill All-Ages.

Both are alternative versions of our Earth. One is about a superadvanced Victorian age, exploring how the wonderfully inventive and eclectic society of the 19th century would use such fantasic technology. The other is about modern or future age which, despite disappearing into a steam-powered technological dead end, has flourished, using steam and coal for outrageous and decidedly modern achievements.

However, to build up a more accurate picture of the possibilities of steampunk, I need to expand on this rather cut and dried definition, because, obviously, you can have steampunk elements in a book which isn’t steampunk, and likewise you can have a steampunk book that is nothing to do with Victorians and the Industrial Revolution.

For the first example, I’m currently reading Lamentation, by Ken Scholes, which is a rather good high fantasy novel. Except it includes steam-powered robots called mechanoservitors, which are programmed by engraved metal scrolls.

Does this make Lamentation a steampunk novel? No, I’d certainly be happy calling it high fantasy. But it’s a steampunk element – ie, a steam-powered, out-of-place piece of supertechnology.

The second example is something like Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series, starting with The Court of the Air and following with The Kingdom Beyond The Waves and most recently The Rise of the Iron Moon. The world of his novels is Victorian-esque, and mixes magic and steampunk (complete with airships!) very effectively, but it’s not set in England, or even on the Earth, unless it is in parallel universe several times removed. Later books do hint at it being modern steampunk, but set in the far, far future after some calamity, but I don’t want to give anything away!

Interestingly, Stephen’s first novel, For the Crown and the Dragon, is actually a very good example of real period steampunk, where the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century are fought with wizardry and steam-powered supertechnology.

So, back to that that difficult question “So, what are you writing?”. While steampunk is growing in popularity, it’s still a fairly specialised subgenre, and unlike mainstream fiction or even science ficton and fantasy, it relies heavily on context and historical knowledge. Sure, it’s pulpy, that’s part of the charm, but it’s also literate and intelligent to a degree that perhaps other genres aren’t. For example, in my own steampunk novel, Dark Heart (modern steampunk, I should add), you really need to know that in our universe, Prince Albert died in 1861, not Queen Victoria. Once you realise that he’s still around in 2009 while Queen Victoria succumbed to typhoid in his place 148 years ago, you can start to see how real history can be adapted, twisted, and rewritten to present a new, alternate reality of brass and leather and steam.

3. What’s the appeal?

Ah, to ask the unanswerable. Why do some people like olives, and why do some people like Westerns. I suspect most fans of steampunk, the literary genre at least, feel nostalgic for an imaginary Golden Age that waxed and waned 150 years before their birth. An age where everything had it’s place, where formal headwear was required when out of doors, where men could smoke cigars and stroke their waxed moustaches (their own, I imagine, although I’m sure mutual beard-stroking is a niche market) and women could be frightfully brave and adventurous and yet still look hot in a bustle.

But clearly to be a fan of such a bizarre genre isn’t as strange as all that. Alan Moore, the greatest comic writer there has ever been, has gathered a huge following with the decidedly steampunk League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and super-gravitational science hero Tom Strong. Northern Lights – aka The Golden Compass – features airships and clockwork magic. Steampunk is in now like it never has been before. Of course, steampunk existed even in the Victorian age itself – Jules Verne and HG Wells, with their Captain Nemos and First Men in the Moon, were not only the first writers of science fiction, they were also the finest proponents of genuinely period steampunk.

And let’s face it, a man really should never be without a hat while outdoors. It’s just not seemly.

4. Writing steampunk

And here, dear reader, I must admit to a frank truth that may, if administered without due preparation and preface, be prone to cause such surprise and shock that certain jointed extremeities may with sudden impulse become quite weak, necessitating an immediate adoption of the reclined position and the furious fanning of whatever Popular Magazines may lie close to hand, preferably with the able skill of a personal friend.

Because, friend, writing steampunk is a damn good lark.

It’s not easy. If you want to sink right into the world, you pretty much need to hunker down in front of your keyboard and pretend you’re Sir Aurther Conan Doyle. You need to get the style, the wordage, of an era and style long since passed. If you can crack it without throwing your computer off the nearest convenient balcony, it’s a hoot.

Fun it may be, exhausting it most certainly is. My first official foray into steampunk was a novella, something like 26,000 words, called The Devil in Chains. I wrote it for the web zine Pantechnicon, and it was split into two parts and published in 2008-2009, and it’s also available as an eBook for the iPhone/iPod touch.

To give a practical demonstration of the difficulty in describing steampunk to an unknowing audience, here’s the blurb I finally came up with. This is approximately the 34th draft, give or take.

December 14th, 1861. Queen Victoria dies from typhoid fever. A distraught Prince Albert instigates a coup and takes direct control of the Empire. A patron of science, he steers the path of progress down a dark and dangerous road, antagonizing the forces of magic and the occult as he strives to bring his queen back from the other side. As the 21st century dawns, the world is trapped in a Victorian caricature, industry powered by sun and steam. And nearly 150 years since the death of his wife, Albert still fights to bring her back, his lifespan unnaturally extended with steam power and black arts.

When journalist Jackson Clarke is sent to the Isle of Man to investigate the tale of a talking animal, he unwittingly steps into a battle between mankind and an ancient evil imprisoned beneath the peaceful island. Charged with treason and cut off from the mainland, can Clarke defeat the Devil in Chains?

Gripping stuff, I hope you’ll agree. I actually wrote it almost as a trial run for my first steampunk novel, Dark Heart, which features the two main characters introduced in The Devil in Chains, now in partnership many years later as part of an occult-detective agency. In Dark Heart, the agency is sent by the British government to investigate a poltergeist outbreak in the West African jungle, where they uncover a buried voodoo god and a zombie army. Meanwhile, an explosion rips through the heart of London and a steam-powered serial killer stalks the streets.

Oh yeah, and an airship crashes into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

See? Steampunk is fun! The pulpiness of it is part of the appeal, letting you play with clichés and familiar tropes, welding them together to form something quite, quite wonderful. Despite what appears to be a fairly rigid form, in many ways steampunk actually allows far more creative freedom that regular space-faring science fiction or even fantasy – the more outrageous the steampunk scenario, the more fun it is hammering in to the pseudo-Victorian framework. One of my current projects is a collaborative fictional universe, Cresent Rising, set in a single location, the mythical city of Fell Hold, and as part of that I’m writing a steampunk story set in an early period of the city’s history. The title started as a joke – Captain Carson and the Case of the Robot Zombie – but then I realised it was actually perfect. Fitting a plot around it was hard work, but immensely satisfying once all the pieces had been slotted together. And this is an example of that other-worldly steampunk – it’s not Victorian England, although it might be a parallel universe several times removed.

5. The future of steampunk

What’s next? Well, for me, getting that draft of Dark Heart ready to pitch to an agent, while plotting Captain Carson’s adventures in Fell Hold City. In the meantime, I’m writing a superhero novel called Seven Wonders – more as a break from the rigours of first-person Victoriana – but when that’s done, it’s on to Dark Heart II. And then III, and then IV. And then… well, you get the picture.

The popularity of steampunk and it’s various subcategories – Deiselpunk, Oilpunk, NeoEdwardian – is likely to come and go, just as with any genre. You must never write just to fit a trend, because by the time your book is out the trend will be long dead. But for fans and enthusiasts of brass and leather and steam and robots and airships and rockets and, well, anything that the extraordinary and unique Victorians could never had built in their wildest imaginings, there are fog-shrouded cities to explore, robotic murders to solve, and Venusian landscapes to visit with hot-air balloons. All with tophat and cane and a stiff upper lip.

And brass goggles. Don’t forget the goggles.

Mild/infrequent tobacco use, sadistic realistic violence

With the release of the next major update to the iPhone/iPod touch operating system, iPhone OS 3.0, just under two weeks away, everyone who has content available via the iTunes app store needs to provide a ratings summary for Apple, as OS 3.0 allows parental control of audio, video and application content using a ratings system.

Which means for me, and other authors with fiction available for sale as an eBook app, we have to complete a ratings sheet for each story.

Which is, I have to say, far more fun than it really should be. Okay, at the moment I only have one eBook available – my steampunk novella, The Devil in Chains – and I’m sure the novelty wears off after you’ve rated your seventh title, but just for today I can scratch my head and try to figure out which of Apple’s rating categories applies to my story, and which don’t.

For the official record, here’s the checklist:

Cartoon or fantasy violence – infrequent/mild. I suppose getting shot in the back with a rifle that fires solar plasma is classed as fantasy violence. Likewise the airship attack on the voodoo dopplegangers, and later the zombie siege on the farmhouse, are inherently unrealistic events. But they’re not the crux of the story and they’re not particularly graphic or described in visceral detail.

Realistic violence – none. See above. Nobody is shot with a normal gun, and the story is decidedly lacking in swift uppercuts. Note to self: add more punching in the next story.

Sexual content or nudity – none. Dang, I think I’ve missed a trick. Jackson Clarke never unbuttons his top collar, and Bellamy’s hot sister Zoe (me-ow!) doesn’t make her first appearance until the novel-length sequel, Dark Heart.

Profanity or Crude Humor – none. I don’t think Clarke’s favourite expression, “Good lord”, counts for much in these cynical times. Alas!

Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References – infrequent/mild. Cigars and cigarillos ahoy! Steampunk wouldn’t be the same without someone sucking on an exotic blend, if you’ll pardon the expression. The Devil in Chains even stars a meerschaum pipe. I’m quite pleased with that.

Mature/Suggestive Themes – none. I’m assuming this is related to sexual content, as the body horror and possession elements of the story are certainly mature but covered by the category after next.

Simulated Gambling – none. I must remember to add a rollercoaster game of contract bridge to the next eBook, and develop and accompanying steampunk cardgame app to go with it, just so I can check something in this category.

Horror/fear Themes – frequent/intense. Here we go! The Devil in Chains is fantasy steampunk horror, dealing as it does with an ancient god and bodily possession, shadowy dopplegangers and buried evil. If it’s not frequent/intense horror/fear, it’s not The Devil in Chains! Hmm, I sense a catchphrase coming on…

Prolonged graphic or sadistic realistic violence – none. Oh my. Even the category title raises an eyebrow. When you add this to the next category…

Graphic sexual content and nudity – none. … you get the feeling this is like those custom’s forms which ask “Have you ever been a member of the Nazi government of Germany?” or “Do you plan to orchestrate and carry out terrorist acts while in the United States?” that are designed, presumably, to catch exceedingly dim villains when they fly in from their underground lairs. Given that Apple’s terms and conditions forbid the pornographic, obscene and offensive, I suspect that if you tick anything in these categories your iTunes content will be subjected to the digital equivalent of an airport cavity search.

I don’t know what the ratings system on the store looks like once Apple flicks the switch, but I can now rest happily that the voodoo steampunk adventures of Dr Clarke and Alexander Bellamy are now officially certified as being rather scary.

So I wrote a novel

Well, by some counts anyway. Dark Heart is now at 63,096 words, and one definition of a novel is anything over 60k. Go me! Actually, another definition says it’s 50k, but I wonder if the wikipedia entry for novel length has been edited by the bods behind NaNoWriMo… but I digress. 63,096 it may be, but the show ain’t over. I’ve got 36,904 words to go and 19 days in which to write them.

Which is actually why this blog update is late – I’ve been trying to hit that daily wordcount of 1600 words each and every day, which means other things have to come second place. But I apologise, and the FDO would have me courtmartialled for that. So it’s blogs a-go-go!

Getting into the routine of twice-daily writing sessions, one in the morning, one in the evening, 800 words a time, was actually pretty easy once I’d given myself a little work plan to stick to. Dark Heart has several strands running through it, told from different points of view (all first person), but it’s mainly the story of Bellamy, Dr. Clarke and Zoe in Africa, and Grange Parkes and his wife Meg in London. These plots are the bulk of the narrative, tying up at the end.

So to get the words rolling and also to try and get some consistency with the work, I decided to stop just writing chapter-by-chapter, and focus on these two plot strands to take them to completion. So while before I would write a chapter with Bellamy and co. cruising above the African jungle on a small trading barge, and then switch to Grange and Meg getting a surprise visit from Sally late one night, and then the next chapter on Macmillan Brown visiting Albert, and so on, I picked one main storyline and stuck with it.

Which not only means a consistency within a single plot, but it’s also a useful exercise in judging the wordcount of the project overall. As a result, Bellamy’s plotline is probably now 75% done, and I can estimate how much more it has to run before the finale, when Grange and Bellamy finally meet in the flooded tunnels of the London Underground (sorry, VTTS!).

Bellamy’s plot actually hit a snag – not so much a problem with the story, or characters, or action, but a slight gap in the narrative which I need to fill in order to transition from one scenario to the next. I’ll trust to my subconscious to work on the for me, so in the meantime have switched to Grange’s story. His plot is probably 60% complete, and now he’s found the Canadian pilot Faulkner hiding in St Paul’s Cathedral, things will start moving along pretty quickly.

And while all this is going on, I’ve entered the world of Twitter for some real-time microblogging action – you’ll find me floating around as ghostfinder. Twitter has been a really good experience, and I’m chuffed at the number of people who have tracked me down to say how much they enjoyed The Devil in Chains. Which, I feel obliged to point out, is still available as a PDF eBook from this very blog, and also as a nifty Legends eBook for the iPhone and iPod touch.

#steamandmirrors folks!

The Devil in Chains PDF eBook

Yesterday, The Devil in Chains, my novella prequel to Dark Heart, came out as a Legends eBook for the iPhone/iPod touch. It’s available worldwide, and costs US$2.99 or £1.79, and if you click here you’ll be taken to iTunes where you can buy your very own copy.

For those without iPhones/iPod touches, fear not, because from today you can download a PDF version from this very blog! A PDF is a PDF is a PDF, so you can view this on nearly every device imaginable. You could even print it out, if you felt so inclined!

And the cost? Well, here’s the deal. Download it from here for free. Nothing at all. Read it, and if you like it, buy a copy (yep, buy a copy) for £1.79 (or whatever your PayPal currency is) with this handy wee donation button. Viola!

So why buy something that you can download and enjoy for free? Well, it’s easy – if you download it, and like it, show your support and express your opinion by clicking the PayPal button. I worked hard on that story, it took a while to get right, so by supporting me, I’ll be able to write some more like it. And by downloading it for free, feel free to share it with friends, tell everyone, blog it, Twitter it, whatever. And then if your friends like it, they can come here and buy a copy for themselves.

Be a patron of the arts, support good writing, and enjoy The Devil in Chains!

73 days to a novel: The final stretch

Back from a pleasant London interlude, during which I saw the sights, heard the sounds of The Cure (recipients of the NME God-like Genius Award this year), bumped into Hugh Grant at an oyster bar, and did absolutely no writing whatsoever.

But that’s ok! Seriously, don’t panic. I’ve got 51,095 words to go in 31 days. By my maths (and hopefully the maths of everyone else), that’s 1648 words a day. No problem (famous last words)!.

Actually I’ve been back a day and half, but I’ve spent my writing time making the final changes to The Devil in Chains eBook for the iPod touch/iPhone. It looks grand, and I think we’re ready to roll.

Monday means a new week, so we’re back to two writing sessions per day. Also, depending on Apple’s review process, the eBook might be launched, which also means its release as a PDF for download, and as an eBook for the Amazon Kindle from
Good times!

73 days to a novel: 40,000 words and not a dialogue tag in sight

Passed the 40k mark on Dark Heart this morning, leaving just under 60,000 to go. That feels good – it’s getting substantial now. With 41 days left, I need 1464 words per day, and based on this week’s progress I should be right on target.

I’m a big fan of the DragonPage, which is an excellent SF/fantasy podcast that comes out of Arizona, and co-host Michael Stackpole (New York Time bestselling author, doncha know?) is always on hand to offer excellent advice on the publishing industry and techniques of writing. In fact he has his own newsletter, The Secrets, which is an excellent resource for writers. One of the recent topics of discussion has been the use of dialogue tags – he said, she said, he whispered, she shouted, etc – or more specifically, the disuse of dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are unnecessary and unnatural. Just take a sample scene: It’s an out of control spaceship, and our hero and companion have made a shocking discovery.

“The pilot’s dead,” Jack said grimly.

Wait a second – that’s totally fake. Imagine you’re in the scene and you’re the companion. If you were there, it would run like this:

“The pilot’s dead.” Jack’s face was grim.

That’s how it would be – in real life, when someone talks to you, you don’t think “Jack said hello”, you think “Jack was smiling”. Dialogue tags – the saids, asks, whispers, shouts, whatever – are fake.

Ok, ok, I’m being a little heavy on them. They are a tool of writing, and there is always a place for them. And they can be used to great effect if you are going for a particular stylistic approach for a piece (look at Hemmingway, for instance). But if you want naturalistic characters and dialogue, and generally more interesting writing, then don’t use them. If your prose is structured correctly, it should be perfectly obvious who is speaking, so dialogue tags are just unnecessary. Once you’ve got rid of them, you can focus on the important stuff, like the fact that Jack’s face was grim. There’s the interesting character point. I don’t know what proportion of an average novel’s wordcount is taken up with saids and asks and whispers, but it must add up. It seems to me that if you lose these unnecessary words, you’d be left with a whole bunch of extra word space which can be used for characterisation and plot.

Anyway, Mike Stackpole explains it with a great deal more flair than I just did, but suffice to say that Dark Heart has crossed 40,000 words with not a single dialogue tag in sight.

At the risk of turning this post into the newsletter of the Stackpole Appreciation Society, another thing he’s turned me on to is eBooks and electronic publishing. Now, I’m not going to attempt to discuss the whole shifting paradigm here, as this is a 6-month-long conversation that has been going on on DragonPage Cover – just go and download the podcasts and listen for yourself. But one thing I did get out of it was Legends, the eBook application developed by Michael Zapp for the iPhone and iPod touch. Mike S. has been championing this developer and his application, and for good reason – it’s a great application – and he’s got several of his own works available as a Legends eBooks. I got in touch with Michael Zapp to discuss Legends, and as a result, The Devil in Chains will be appearing as a Legends eBook in the iTunes app store very soon.

Legends eBooks are stand-alone applications – it’s the eBook and the reader application all in one package. Some people have (sometimes impolitely) suggested that this is the wrong way to do it, that you should be able to download a reader application, then load individual eBook files into it. I think this comes from a rather outdated point of view that having ten individual eBook applications on your device is bloated and a waste of space, but consider this. Each Legends eBook is only a couple of MB. The smallest iPhone or iPod touch is 8GB. That’s plenty of room! The other thing that some people have seemed to forgotten about is distribution – if you have a separate eBook reader, where do you get the eBooks from? iTunes only offers applications, music and video. You’d have to host your own eBook files, which (aside from cost) is an added complication for people, because they have to go to a new website and find what they want. If you have the reader and eBook as a single unit, it can all go in one place on the iTunes app store, it’s easy and convenient, and people don’t need to think twice about it, you just download your eBook like you’d download some music and start reading. It’s pure win.

So getting back on topic, Legends rules – black text on white, white text on black, touch gestures, portrait or landscape, zooming, you name it. Everything you need in a reader. And as the iPhone and iPod touch have accidentally become the most widely-used eBook readers in the world, the iTunes app store is a place you want to be. Check out Legends, check out Dragonpage, and check out Stackpole’s website – I’ve added some links to the sidebar there.

Tonight it’s back to work. Let’s see if I can hit 41,000 before lights out.

73 days to a novel: Action! Plot progress! Irony! eBooks!

Oh the irony. The day I stop worrying about wordcount, the day I finally go over what was my old daily target. Lesson learnt and full steam ahead to March 31st.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that not only has Prince Albert made his one and only appearance in the novel (although in a sequence which may need extensive revision when I’m done, as looking back at the synopsis for this chapter it seems I left an important element out… then again, this actually might be worth a chapter of its own, which would give government man Macmillan Brown another fifteen minutes of fame… hmm, I like it!), but Bellamy, Clarke and Zoe have finally made it off that damned airship and have arrived at the chaos of the abandoned – or should that be empty? – army camp. Now it’s time to get some good old plot progression down before they wander off again.

Meanwhile, the days are counting down to the launch of The Devil in Chains eBook. Unfortunately I can’t do an actual countdown, as tremendously exciting as it would be, as once the iPhone/iPod touch application is submitted to Apple, they actually review and approve it. While this should only take a few days, there is no way of knowing when the eBook will actually appear on the iTunes applications store for sale, short of checking it every day. But hey, maybe we can have a PDF and Kindle countdown. Sounds good!  So once we’re all set and the iPhone thing is submitted, the party can begin.

In the meantime, I’ll see you tomorrow when I’ll introduce you to Legends, the exceedingly nifty eBook application for the iPhone/iPod touch. Good times!

73 days to a novel: Distractions and wordcount

So there I was thinking that I’d just been away from the blog for a couple of days and that it was time to update it, and checking the last post I see it has been more than a month. Woah, time flies! But also, that kind of gap isn’t good. If there is one thing this blog should be good for, it’s exercising the finger muscles each morning before I do some writing, so there is no excuse really!

Couple o’ thing: firstly, worrying about wordcount. I need to stop this. I write twice a day (needs to fit around my day job, alas), but I always have one eye on the wordcount. This doesn’t seem quite right, as I need to be writing to whatever length I feel like at the time. Writing is an art, so by restricting everything with targets and daily goals, etc, is a bit too scientific. So long as I’m hitting roughly what I need each day, then no problem. A bit more, a bit less, doesn’t matter. So that’s my focus for this week, not worrying about wordcount. The fact is that while I’ve said Dark Heart will be 100,000 words long, I might get to 99,000 and discover I’m only halfway there. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but you know, stories are strange and sometimes they spring surprises on you.

Secondly, I’ve been working on a second project which is really exciting. I’ll be talking more about this during the week, but I’m prepping my first eBook for release. It’s The Devil in Chains, my Dark Heart prequel novella (well, very short novella – it’s only 27,000-ish words, which is the bottom end of the range). It was originally published in two halves in Pantechnicon… well, it will be, as part one came out at the beginning of December last year, and part two will be out sometime in the next couple of months. But the eBook release is the whole shebang in one – and the exciting thing is that it’s going to be available not just as a PDF download from this blog, but as a Legends eBook for the iPhone and iPod touch, available for purchase through the iTunes applications store, and also as an eBook for the Amazon Kindle!

And the purchase model? Well, it’s pretty easy. You can download the PDF for free from this blog. If you read the story and like it, you can buy a copy for US$2/UK£1.50. If you have an iPod touch or iPhone, grab the Legends eBook for US$2. If you have an Amazon Kindle, buy the story from for US$2.

Why buy something you can get for free? It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s all about supporting writers. Authors work hard on their stories to entertain you. Giving you something for free is actually a pretty big deal. So be a patron of the arts! If you like the story, and buy a copy, send it to friends and tell them you liked it! And if they liked it, get them to buy a copy! And so it goes.