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24th March, 2011: Mother puss-bucket

I’ll admit, he’s a friendly looking chap (genuine 1984 vintage too; arrived in the post yesterday), with that happy, child-like smile and the welcoming open arms. But he has a habit of stepping on churches and doesn’t take lightly to complete particle reversal.*

The important question now is: where to put him? On the left of my computer I have King George V and Optimash Prime. On the right I have my iPad stand. Hmm. Decisions.

Project: Hang Wire (serial killers and superheroes in San Francisco)
Words today: 2,000
Words total: 54,443/100,000 (54%)
Total words for 2011: 86,396

* Perhaps I should point out that Ghostbusters is my favourite film of all time, and I will happily defend its honour from here to doomsday, and by doomsdays I mean Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

19th March, 2011: Pineapple for hire

Sometimes it does feel like my entire life is divided into the bits when I’m not trying to write 1,000 words, and the bits when I’m trying to write 1,000 words. I’m not complaining, exactly – this is my choice, entirely. But sometimes you need a day off.

Friday was my day off. I had day gig work to do, of course, but the sun was shining and I just chilled out.

See, already I’ve forgotten something. Friday did involve some writing-related stuff – a couple of emails to Angry Robot about character names, and I checked over my chapters and synopsis for The Suicide Tree and sent those off to the publisher. My beta readers all seemed to really dig what they read, and doing a final pass I quite enjoyed the story myself. So we’ll see what happens.

But in terms of wordcount, there was no action to report.

I did, however, read a really cool book. All My Friends Are Superheroes is short – 108 pages – and is really not even a novella, just a long short story. But it’s very sweet, very strange, and very cool. It’s romantic and funny, and I heartily recommend it to anyone whether they’re interested in superheroes or not. In fact, the superhero aspect – while adding a great deal of humour and originality – is entirely secondary. This is a love story, and a very unusual one. It’s great. Get it. Read it in an hour or less and see if you’re not smiling at the end of it.

Now, today is a writing day, and also the first day this year the weather has been good enough – and it really is a gloriousy sunny day – to get out and about and go look at something old.

One of the reasons we moved from New Zealand to the UK was to experience the rich history this country has. People who are from the UK tend to take it for granted, but that’s entirely understandable – if you’ve grown up surrounded by this kind of stuff, then obviously it’s just how it is. New Zealand does have an interesting history, but it’s on the short side, and in terms of physical objects of any age (like old houses), it’s lacking.

My wife and I are members of the National Trust, and each year try and get around as many properties as we can. Since last year we’ve moved south a little, which has opened up a whole new region of the country to us. Today was Attingham Park

…and it was awesome. I love this kind of things – huge country houses filled with history, paintings, art, furniture, taxidermy (a collection of 82 birds from South America in this case), usually set in amazing grounds which, given the size of the UK and the compression of the inhabited spaces, are vast. That’s me in the black jacket between the columns.

History is full of quirks, and discovering these is all part of the fun. Today I learnt that the pineapple which was the centrepiece of an elborate table setting in the great dining room at Attingham was, in the 18th century, hired out around the various country houses in the area whenever a banquet was held, so exotic and expensive was the fruit.

I love that. A pineapple for hire. I’m sure there’s a short story at least lurking there somewhere.

11-13th March, 2011: Crisis on Earth One

So says the poster on my office wall, anyway (the cover of Justice League of America #21 from April 1963). Nothing quite so dramatic here, except for the fact that I haven’t blogged in two days, nor have I done anything writing-related (ie, writing, editing or planning). Remember when I said that if I don’t make a 2k day I get crotchety?

I think it’s because of the heavy week I just had – I didn’t consciously decide not to do anything, I just kinda… didn’t do anything. But, y’know, sometimes you need to recharge the batteries and reset the routine.

Today looks like another wet and grey Sunday, so the plan is to work some writing/editing schedules out. I’ve had a couple of things come up which need to take precedence soon, so need to work those into the gameplan today:

  • Need to finish editing the sample chapters of The Suicide Tree, send them out to my beta-readers, then revise as needed and submit to the publisher. I’m going to aim for Friday March 18th for that.
  • Hang Wire needs to be wrapped up – I’ve got 65k to go (ie, most of the book), and I had planned to get it finished by the end of March. This isn’t going to happen, clearly, but in theory 65k should be about 30 days. So at a quick glance on my wall planner, if I can get the first draft done before EasterCon (April 22nd), I’ll be happy.
  • Read faster. I read three books in January, one in February, and it’s now the middle of March and I’m still on book five.

That’s what I currently have on my plate, in addition to those couple of other things. Part of my planning today is to work out how those couple of other things fit. I need to think about these for a bit, so once I’ve got them programmed in, I’ll let you know.

Reading may seem less important, but actually it’s a vital part of the writing process. You have to read in order to write. I’ve noticed in the past that when my reading slows, my writing does too, and it’s never the other way around. The first month and a half of this year were very productive, and I was also whizzing through books. Then I got stuck in Firestarter, and everything else slowed down too. Firestarter has actually picked up now I’m past the first 150 pages, but I haven’t touched it much. So, finish Firestarter by the end of March. I have a house full of books to read!

So what am I waiting for? Time to jump to it!

5th March, 2011: On the Fringe

Hold on hold on hold on.

I was supposed to be updating this blog in the morning, for the previous day. Not at night, like now, when I’ve run out of time and have spent too much of the day typing anyway.

So, today there was writing. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. The requisite wordcount was achieved. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow too. I know, you can’t wait, right?

In the meantime, I’ll just mention a recent discovery: Fringe. Yes, the TV series. Yes, we’re three years late, but the Mrs and myself have become rather addicted to it. I’m pleased to say the series is being released on Blu-ray (unfortunately, too few high definition TV series are – most go to DVD only), although the menu authoring is slightly eccentric (ie, they screwed it up). But today we watched three episodes, which places us somewhere around episode 7ish.

Wonderful.

9th February, 2011: Typography matters

In a past life I think I must have been a typographer, maybe a famous one or one responsible for a famous typeface, because I’m a confirmed typography snob. There, I’ve said it. And I’m not ashamed to admit it either. In the world of commercial art and design, typography is the most important factor. Depending on the purpose and function of the design, the typography can transcend illustration, photography and other non-type components. Taken further, good typography can save any bad design. Poor typography can destroy it, no matter how wonderful and perfect the other elements of the design may be.

I’m not a designer myself, and my own practical experience with typography has been mostly limited to TSV, the fanzine of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club that I edited for a few years. When I took over from the previous editor I undertook a complete top-to-bottom, inside-out redesign of the publication. Given the limitations of TSV – black and white A5 interiors, with layout done in Adobe Indesign CS – I deliberately chose a simple typographical style and stuck to it throughout. The result, I think, was a very simple but readable interior – article headings, boxouts, bylines and introductions in variations of Gill Sans and Gill Sans Light; body text in Adobe Garamond Pro; occassional use of special font for particular articles, but with a rule never to use free fonts or fonts pre-installed on most computers. When I was designing this here blog, the font choice was very important and it took a long, long time to settle on League Gothic for the main title banner (oddly enough, the banner is the one aspect of this site that I get the most feedback on).

I must admit I was quite surprised last week when I mentioned the issue of poor typography on Twitter. A lot of people didn’t really know what I was talking about and most of the replies were jokes about “anything is fine except Comic Sans”. Several said that typography didn’t matter at all – for example, most people I asked didn’t know why the use of the common font Papyrus for the film Avatar is so egregious. I know it wasn’t exactly a scientific or representative survey, but the discussion that followed was a bit worrying.

I was not, however, entirely alone. A friend of mine used to be a typesetter for an artbook publisher, and she and a few others joined me in lamenting the lack of typographical understanding. As a writer I’m interested in books, and as books tend to have covers, typography is tremendously important. Typography, for example, is usually the key element of design that will alert you to the fact that a book listed on Amazon from some unknown publisher is actually a self-published work. But even in the world of mainstream publishing, I’ve seen countless examples of excellent artwork or illustrative design totally and utterly steamrollered by the worst typography imaginable.

Anyway, an interesting study on the use of bad fonts came out the other day, suggesting that hideous fonts actually increase reader understanding. Freaky stuff. There’s also some good linkage at the bottom of that piece about good (and bad) typography.

Writing and editing
The first day back from Camber Sands was spent trying to get through a backlog of day-gig work and get rid of the traditional post-convention cold. Yesterday I managed to grab some time to give The Wasp in the Lotus another run-through, and made some further adjustments here and there before sending it off to the two other UK-based writers joining me in this anthology. We actually met up at the SFX Weekender and had a chat about our stories, and an interesting discussion about how fast-turnaround “production-line” writing is actually very good for the creative muscles. The ability to produce fiction on demand and to a fixed schedule – and for that fiction to be good – is a very valuable skill. I think the three of us all felt that writing the novellas was like being thrown into some kind of steampunk bootcamp, but a worthwhile experience.

I’ll be able to post more information about The Wasp and the Lotus and the other pieces, and the anthology they’ll be appearing in, later. For the moment, our submission deadline is tomorrow! But with Wasp out of the way, I can now get back to writing. As far as I can work out (I still need to double-check my schedule) I have got to:

  • Write the next chapter of Godless and send it off to my co-writer Kate.
  • Get back into the first draft of Hang Wire.
  • Plot a post-apocalyptic novel called The Suicide Tree and hammer a synopsis and sample chapters into shape for a pitch.
  • Get the final edit rolling on Ludmila, My Love, so it will be ready for my beta-readers on 1st March

Working out what needs to come first is the tricky bit. Godless and Hang Wire have no fixed schedules, but that’s not to say they don’t need to be chugging along at a good pace. I have maybe this month to get the pitch for The Suicide Tree ready, but the sooner the better for this really. I have started the final edit of Ludmila, My Love, having revised the first two chapters this week already, but the pressure is on there as my beta-readers are booked in and expecting to have something to read.

Today then will be filled with list making and pouring over my calendar to see what can fit where and when. Fun times. Proper stats will reappear tomorrow!

Reading
I’m back into Firestarter and just getting into the swing of the story, so it’s hard to make a judgement on it so early. The prose is classic King though, which is enough to keep me happy.

Books: A page or two of Firestarter by Stephen King.
Comics: Issues lined up and ready for today and tomorrow.

25th January, 2011

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it, we all do. And really, that’s what the cover is for – it exists to advertise the book and to entice readers to pick it up and take a look. If, for a moment, you imagined your local bookstore stocked with nothing but books which used a generic cover template of black text on a plain white background, you would be totally lost.

I’ll admit, then, that I’m something of a cover nut. When I seek out a book on Amazon, I’ll often take a look at the other editions available, just to see if the book was ever printed with a better cover (if the current cover is a bit lame). Plus I also buy a lot of books from the US, where covers have undergone something of a renaissance and are now often better than their UK equivalents.

Earlier this week I was pointed to a new piece of cover art by one of my favourite book artists, Dan Dos Santos. This guy paints his covers in oils, and as his website shows, he’s a freakin’ genius. His new cover knocks it out of the park:

This is for My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland. Thanks to this cover, I’m definitely going to take a look. Which kinda proves my point about the purpose of covers, as looking at Diana’s website, she appears to write exactly the kind of urban fantasy that I have no interest in. On the basis of the covers of previous books on display, I wouldn’t give them a second glance in a bookshop.

But thanks to this killer book cover, I’m going to read her work for the first time. And who knows, if I like it, maybe I’ll try some earlier books.

Writing
Nothing yesterday thanks to a very busy day gig. I’m free today, however, so I should be able to catch up a little and finish draft 0 of The Wasp in the Lotus.

Project: The Wasp in the Lotus (steampunk/clockpunk novella)
Words today: 0
Words total: 19,827/20,000 (99%)
Total words for 2011: 44,308

Reading
Death’s Disciples continues to impress. I don’t need to say anything more except go the hell out and buy this book. Also, the cover is brilliant. See? Covers are important.

Books: some pages of Death’s Disciples by J. Robert King.
Comics: On hold until February.

19th January, 2011

Friend and fellow writer Jennifer Williams has a shiny new website, on which she has posted a picture of a big sword which she received as a belated Christmas present the other day. She notes that with said artefact on the wall she feels like a proper fantasy writer.

Which got me thinking about my own office and writing space. It’s at the top of the house, in the corner, and it has a nice big window with a view over the canal (that runs through our back garden) and, beyond that, some fields and woodland. Which is nice (actually it’s more than nice, it’s flippin’ marvellous).

But aside from that, my office is a little… bland. Pale desks, pale wood laminate floor, pale walls. We’ve only been in this house for about three months so we haven’t really got around to kitting the office out properly, but seeing Jen’s sword, I’m wondering what I should have.

I do have some desk toys – an Optimash Prime, a set of DC Lantern Corps rings, a collector’s replica of a G1 Soundwave Transformer, and a King George VI commemorative tea tin. But really these take up room, and what I need is to populate the office, not just my desk, with cool stuff, to make my writing space feel more like a writing den. At the moment I do have three DC Comics covers up on the wall, from the anniversary poster book, but they’re too small. And what I’m really looking for now is, like Jen’s sword, something substantial that kinda represents the work I do.

If money were no object then I wouldn’t have much difficulty – there is just enough room in the corner for a full-sized Dalek from This Planet Earth, but at £2,500 a pop they’re not exactly cheap. Or even remotely affordable, unless Euromillions comes up trumps tomorrow (note to self: get a ticket!). A Revenge-style Cyberman helmet is more within reach, although I’d need some kind of pedestal for it. There are also various steampunky knick-knacks available, mostly in the form of guns, but again the really good ones from Weta Workshop are eye-wateringly expensive and the affordable ones that I’ve seen from other places are a bit cheap’n’nasty.

Tricky business. What represents me as a genre writer? And I say “genre” rather than science fiction, or fantasy, or whatever because I really don’t stick to any particular niche. I like a lot of different genres and styles, and as I’ve mentioned before, genre classification isn’t something that particularly interests me. I write to whatever style or genre the story in question needs to be written in.

If anybody has seen any cool or unusual bits and bobs, let me know!

Writing
Project: The Wasp in the Lotus (steampunk/clockpunk novella)
Words today: 993
Words total: 10,536/20,000 (47%)
Total words for 2011: 35,017

Another sub-par day as the day gig was pretty hectic and I still haven’t quite got back into a proper morning routine. It’s not helped by the fact that at this of year it is still pitch dark outside until 8am. Grumble grumble. Also I’ve been plotting out a post-apocalyptic novel which I need to supply a synopsis and sample chapters for. I also need to come up with a codename for it (hey, I like codenames).

Reading
Books: Some pages of The Dead Zone by Stephen King.
Comics: On hold until February.

2011: The lowdown

Okay, let’s recap: last time, I said that I had two New Year’s Resolutions. The first is to write 2,000 words a day. For me, in theory, this is easy, and if I can keep it up then every other writing plan I have for 2011 will just fall into place. Novels, short stories, blogs and guest blogs, editing, whatever. All of these things are just collections of words, some of which have due dates attached. If I can write 2,000 words a day, I don’t even need to think about anything else.

Secondly, I need to keep a log of what I do. Despite lamenting only one novel written from start to finish in 2010, I actually got more done this year than in any year previous, but I haven’t really kept track. As it so happens, I’ve got a website and this website has a blog, so it makes sense to use it to record progress daily. Regular updates will be good motivation too −  if I slack off, it’ll show up here pretty quickly. You have my permission to throw a kick or two in the comments when this happens.

So what do I have to work on? Here’s the list of confirmed projects. There is other stuff on the boil too, but it’s a case of wait and see on those. They can be slotted in as needed, and in a couple of cases will take automatic priority.

Writing
I need to finish Hang Wire and write two more novels; I have a steampunk novella to write by early February, and a superhero short by the end of March. Also in 2011 Kate and I need to finish The Gospel of the Godless Stars. My daily word count will include any fiction written, but no non-fiction (eg, blog posts or articles).

Editing
I have three novels which need to go from draft to submission-ready manuscripts. These are Dark HeartSeven Wonders and Ludmila, My Love. I’m starting with Seven Wonders tomorrow. Unlike writing, editing is slightly harder to measure progress, so rather than have fixed goals (other than to edit three novels in one year) I’m just going to track it by number of pages edited.

Reading
I’m part of the Stephen King challenge, so I have to read at least six King novels in 2011. As I am working through them in publication order these will be: The Long WalkThe Dead ZoneFirestarterRoadworkDanse MacabreCujo, and The Running Man. That’s actually seven titles, but Danse Macabre is non-fiction so doesn’t count. The Long WalkRoadwork and The Running Man are all short Richard Bachman novels, which will help balance against doorstops like The Dead Zone. Aside from King, my TBR pile is fairly substantial, and I hope to reduce it by a handful. If I can read a total of twenty books next year, I’ll be doing well.

In 2011 I’ll also be reducing my comics backlog by reading five issues a day. My first batch, as previously mentioned, will be the new/current series of Power GirlZatanna and DC Legacies, alongside the 2002 series of Catwoman and the 1970 O’Neil/Adams run of Green Lantern.

So, lots to do but a year to do it in. See you tomorrow for the first update!

2010: done and done!

Time to look back at 2010, I guess, although everybody does that and you can soon suffer from retrospective blog overload (hereafter referred to as RBO). However, over at Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig tells us that regret is for asswipes, and gives us a nice, positive look back at his year. Likewise, Jennifer Williams sums up her (rather good) year over at The Liar’s Club, and I’m honoured to be included in her list of people worth a mention!

This year was good for me. I went to my first UK conventions (EasterCon, Alt Fiction, FantasyCon, Write Fantastic) and met some wonderful people, usually via Twitter first, and then in person! This time last year I mentioned Twitter as one of my top “things” for 2009, and this year is no different. Twitter is important and essential. Case closed.

There is one thing that has surprised me about 2010, however, and for a moment I’m going to ignore Chuck’s advice about regret and indulge in a little self-analysis. In 2010, I only wrote one novel − Ludmila, My Love, my supernatural space opera. This disappoints me, even though it shouldn’t, because I certainly was not idle this year. Actually, I wrote about 1.5 novels, more or less, if I include the end of Empire State and the beginning of Hang Wire. Also, alongside the first draft of Ludmila, my major project this year was editing Empire State. This was a fascinating and exhausting experience: the first draft became a second, and then a third, and then a fourth. I then assembled my team of beta-readers and gave them a month, and from their comments the fourth draft became a fifth and then a sixth. Fortunately, there were only two major pieces of re-writing needed. Oddly enough, these were the beginning and the end.

The entire process took about two months − about the same amount of time as writing a first draft from scratch, actually, although a large chunk of that time was waiting for beta-reader returns. Editing an entire novel taught me a lot of things about story and about writing itself, as I purged habitual phrases and ticks and solved some fairly complex continuity and plot − I hesitate to use the terms “problems” or “holes” here, as they weren’t really. It was more working to clarify complicated situations.

It also taught me a lot about editing itself − this may sound obvious, but I was continually surprised by the capacity of the human mind to either ignore or miss mistakes or problems that were right there on the page. Four drafts in and there were still giant mistakes in the text, and on a couple of occasions it wasn’t until the very last beta-reader returned their manuscript that these would be highlighted. In some cases it was hilarious: a meaning-changing typo in a line, right next to two others that had been corrected in previous passes and all but one person spotted the remaining error. This happened more than once.

As well as writing one novel and editing another, I wrote more short fiction than I ever had − some of it very short (The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room, Nine Ladies Dancing), some of it longer (The Walker, a short story which I hope will appear in an anthology next year). There was also a sample chapter for something which I just finished this week, which is another 3500 words to add to the pile.

Another first for 2010 was starting on a collaborative novel with Wyoming-based writer Kate Sherrod. The Gospel of the Godless Stars is a horror Western and is a heck of a lot of fun to write, with Kate and I taking alternate chapters and then swapping our work. While the entire novel is plotted from beginning to end, seeing chapters that you haven’t yourself written is a constant surprise and very enjoyable. On the negative side, its taking a long time to write as we both have to fit it in around other projects, but I’m hoping it will reach completion in 2011.

But back to this one-novel problem. Ludmila, My Love was written from beginning to end, and the first draft is sitting in my virtual drawer. When the stars are right, I’ll take a look at it and start an edit, but not yet. This book, for some reason, feels important to me, and I know it needs at least one fairly large fix. It also needs a lot of tightening up, more pedal to the metal. But hey, that’s what editing is for, right?

However, despite completing that draft, my real aim is to write more than one novel a year, in first draft form at least. At a rate of two thousand words a day, I should in theory be able to dish out 730,000 words a year − that’s seven 100,000 novels and 30k change. Seven novels is just a little OTT, but for 2011 I’d like to get three written. I’ll count Hang Wire in this as that book is only at about 14,000 words. The other two are subject to change, but I think it would be my Edwardian superhero novel The City, Golden (Upstairs, Downstairs meets the Justice League), and a post-apocalyptic story called The Last of the Outlaw Truckers (Ice Road Truckers meets The Stand). They sound like fun, at least as far as I have plotted and made notes. Ask me in a month and I will have changed my mind.

There are a few other things to do in 2011. Starting January 1st I’m going to begin edits on Seven Wonders, my first superhero novel. I’ve also got a commission for a steampunk novella due early February, and there is a superhero anthology I want to submit for by March. Event-wise I’ll be at the SFX Weekender in February, EasterCon in Birmingham, the two-day Alt Fiction event in Derby in June, and maybe, possibly FantasyCon in September, although I wasn’t too enamoured with the event in Nottingham this year. I’ve also got a 3.5-week trip to New Zealand to squeeze in, which will be the first time my wife and I have been back home in four and a half years.

So, to that end: New Year’s resolutions. I have just two. The first is to write 2000 words a day, every day. If I can achieve this, every other writing plan I have for the year ahead will fall into place. Three novels, shorts, ongoing projects and new ones − all can be completed on time if I just stick to this simple rule.

The second resolution is to keep some kind of log of what I do. All of the above came from memory, and its quite likely I’ve forgotten something else that I did or wrote. I don’t need to keep a diary or a journal, just a simple daily list of writing-related tasks.

Here’s to a great 2010 and an even better 2011! It’s an odd-numbered year and I turn an odd-numbered age, so already it’s looking good.

November miscellany

The end of November already? Cripes. Too much to write, not enough time!

Sir Julius Vogel Award

I mentioned this back in August when the winners were announced, but last week my Sir Julius Vogel Award trophy arrived from New Zealand. These are New Zealand’s national science fiction awards, handed out at the national SF convention. Of course as I now live in the UK, I couldn’t attend in person!

It’s a lovely and reasonably hefy hunk of brass, and takes pride of place on my Doctor Who bookcase (actually filled with DVDs). As with any award it represents blood, sweat and tears, and I’m very pleased to have it cap off my time as TSV editor. It also reveals my surname (Christopher being my middle name) which I don’t use for fiction for a variety of purely practical/conspiratorial reasons (delete as applicable).

Tap! Magazine

Something of a nice surprise (aka total jaw-dropping shock) this week – my voodoo steampunk novella The Devil in Chains made an appearance on the front of the first issue of Tap! magazine, a new publication dedicated to iPhone/iPod touch/iPad apps.

I’ve not yet seen the magazine in person, and I do think it is brave of the publisher to be launching such a title in an already crowded marketplace, but…

ZOMG LOOK! My novella shares the shelves with some of my favourite authors − Dan Abnett! Cherie Priest!, Terry Pratchett! Lavie Tidhar! Peter F. Hamilton! Gail Carriger!

Which is nice.

Hat’s off to @CTD who supplied the screenshot of his iBook app for the magazine. A man of impeccable taste, I’m sure you’ll agree.

EscapePod

EscapePod is one of the web’s best science fiction podcast magazines, and this month I began a regular blog with them in which I talk about… stuff! I try and get something up each week, so please check it out. Also, if there is anything that’d you’d like me to talk or write about, feel free to send in suggestions. My remit is very broad, so long as it is genre-related in some way.

And now/shortly, December. In which I shall have various bits of news to share. I know, promises promises, right?