All posts in Ludmila My Love

29th January, 2011

Yesterday I went out and bought Mass Effect 2 for the PS3, and a few people decried that a writer (ie, me) would indulge in such a time sink when they should be writing.

That reminded me, although in a far less extreme way, of a blog post I read recently where someone analysed the Twitter feed of Brandon Sanderson and concluded that he was spending far too much time not writing, and he really needed to knuckle down to work. Specific tweets highlighted included one mentioning that he went out for dinner, played some Magic card games, and went to visit some friends. How very dare he.

Now, clearly that blogger was suffering from entitlement syndrome, or whatever you like to call it – that their favourite writer somehow owes them, and that their primary function in life is to produce fiction. I’ve seen it a few times, although most usually when an author is late on something or their next book is eagerly awaited.

But writers are people too. Sure, I bought Mass Effect 2 for the PS3. I also play World of Warcraft. I read books. I go to the movies. I watch TV. I eat. I drink. I sleep. A far bigger problem is the amount of time I spend on Twitter when I should be writing/editing/scheming, but hey, I’m getting better.

Writers write because they have to write, and there’s not much that will get in the way of that.

No words yesterday either, but yesterday had a few unexpected twists and turns. Which is an excuse, I know.

Project: <none selected>
Words today: 0
Total words for 2011: 45,701

Progress continues on The Wasp in the Lotus, and I’m hoping to have the second draft finished today. Following my post from yesterday about editing on screen versus on paper, wereviking from the Zephyr weblog comic mentioned that as a newspaper subeditor, he’s been trained to edit on paper and that’s a hard habit to break. Despite what I said yesterday, I actually agree that editing on paper is important, because you miss a very great deal of stuff on screen just by virtue of the way our brains and eyes work. This means then that printing a entire manuscript does need to be done, but as I mentioned in my response to wereviking’s comment, perhaps as the second step, after an on-screen edit. As a result the printed manuscript should hopefully be in pretty good shape and you can focus on things that were missed. Which means a lot less red pen, and a lot less hassle rekeying it all back into the electronic manuscript.

I also think I’ve decided to put editing Seven Wonders on hold, and start on Ludmila, My Love once I’ve finished with Wasp. I think I’ve decided, but there are still a few days before I can start so I may change my mind.

Something has happened in Death’s Disciples, and suddenly I’m reading a different book. This is very, very cool.

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

28th January, 2011

It’s stating the obvious to say that editing is as important as writing. If you are writing with the purpose of entertaining others (as opposed to entertaining yourself, which is a noble pursuit all in itself), there’s no point in creating a stack of manuscripts without actually going back and fixing them. And “fixing” is the right word, because those first drafts are broken, no doubt about it. I’m sure that the more you write, the less broken your first drafts are (and consequently the less editing time needed), but a first draft is a first draft is a first draft.

Editing can also be difficult – in fact, it can make you want to tear your hair out, and it frequently will. A lot of people are frightened of editing, and I don’t blame them. It’s not particularly pleasant to pick up something you wrote a few months ago, which you had put in a drawer and thought wasn’t too bad, not really, and discover that while some of it is pretty good, some of it really is pretty bad too. I can understand why some people don’t like editing, and why some people don’t edit. It’s one of the big obstacles that stop a lot of people from making a proper go at writing.

I used to not enjoy editing – in fact, I still don’t quite enjoy it per se – but I find it satisfying to carve the good stuff out of the mountain of words written. Scott Sigler summed it up when he said “you’ve got to get the clay on the wheel”. That’s the first draft. Write everything down before you forget it. Once that’s done, then you can sculpt the story and fix the writing.

One thing that struck me this week though is that I’m faster editing on screen than I am on paper, which I must admit is a surprise. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, exactly, because I can certainly type faster than I can write by hand, and I can construct prose in my head faster than I can type (which is why I never write in longhand, and have no inclination to try). My usual routine for novel-length fiction is to take the draft from Scrivener, import it into Word, massage it into standard manuscript format (Scrivener has a variety of formatting options for when you compile a manuscript, but it never quite seems to get it right), do a general spellcheck and fix anything really obvious (usually just grammar or punctuation, if I see anything as the spellcheck is running), and then have it printed at Lulu as a trade paperback for editing. I’ve done this for three books now, because Lulu is surprisingly cheap, and when I worked in an office I could throw my paperback in my bag and work on the editing with ease at lunchtime. The end result would be a paperback filled with red pen, and from this I could start amending the electronic manuscript.

I thought this was a good idea because a) it was practical, as having a 500-page manuscript bound into a trade paperback is much more convenient than a very large stack of A4 printed sheets, and b) it meant I could read the manuscript as an actual book, which I think put me in the right mindset for editing. So in this regard, this…

…is easier to manage than this…

This week I finished a new novella, The Wasp in the Lotus, and because the deadline is approaching fast I went straight into editing/rewriting. I tend to do this for short fiction anyway, as there doesn’t seem much point in getting a copy printed. So I’ve started editing directly in Word, using the track-changes function as my red pen.

Editing on screen works. Now, I knew it did, because I’ve edited short fiction on screen before. But the compiled manuscript of Wasp comes in at 75 pages and while it doesn’t have chapters, it has numbered section breaks. It feels like I’m editing a long piece, and after a day I’m already nearly a third of the way through. The manuscript is a mass of red tracked changes, but so far I’m happy with how the second draft is looking.

This month I was supposed to have been editing Seven Wonders, but after four weeks I’ve only made a very small inroad into the 600-page paperback I had printed. Whenever I think I should be working on it, the sheer bulk of the physical book puts me off – there are so many pages to fix, and marking everything up by hand takes a long time.

The thing is, I don’t work in an office any more, I work at home. Which means the convenience factor of a printed editing copy is now irrelevant – I can be editing on my own computer. Secondly, editing Wasp on screen has been much faster than I anticipated – I’m still doing a heck of a lot of rewriting and fixing, but it’s all there, tracked for me. With a paper and pen edit, I then have to rekey everything electronically. That’s another big chunk of time.

Additionally, I’ve been wondering whether I shouldn’t in fact be editing Ludmila, My Love before Seven Wonders – that’s not to say Seven Wonders isn’t good, I think it is, but Ludmila, My Love is a different kind of book and at this stage perhaps one that would be better to have completed and ready for submission first. In the back of my mind I’ve always thought that Empire State and Ludmila, My Love were my two “big” books, whatever that means, so maybe I need to invest the time in Ludmila now. I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, but the thought of getting the manuscript ready for a Lulu printing (another time consuming process) has been putting me off.

Except… I don’t need to print it, do I? I’m managing quite well with Wasp, better in fact than I had expected. I’m not only saving time by editing on screen, I’m probably making a better job of it as I can type faster than I can write, and I can make more detailed on-the-fly changes (and can try several alternatives if needed) with a keyboard than I can with a pen.

Suddenly things just got a whole lot easier. Sure, I can start editing Ludmila whenever I like. And doing it electronically I might be able to play catch up and having something ready for schedule I’ve already arranged with my beta-readers.

Another wordless day, but I’m keeping the tally up as there is no excuse for not being able to add 2000 words to something, even while working on a big edit/rewrite. Let’s see what I can manage today.

Project: <none selected>
Words today: 0
Total words for 2011: 45,701

Half-way through Death’s Disciples and while I’m still enjoying it, I’m still not entirely sure what is going on. I’m hoping some explanations are going to start appearing soon!

Books: some pages of Death’s Disciples by J. Robert 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.

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).

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.

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!

Zoo City nights

One of Angry Robot’s finest was in London last week for no fewer than three bookish events. I’ve been in touch with Lauren Beukes for probably a year or more now, and with such a rare opportunity to catch up with her in person, I couldn’t resist a London jaunt.

While I couldn’t make her BSFA event on Wednesday night, I was at the Forbidden Planet signing on Thursday, where a small but perfectly formed gathering got their limited hardcover editions of Lauren’s new book, Zoo City, personalised by the author before heading out for celebratory drinks. It was a really nice event and it was great to catch up with some friends, and as I expected Lauren was a delight in person. The limited hardcover (only 100 copies, exclusive to Forbidden Planet) is absolutely gorgeous too. Lauren brought me the South African paperback of Zoo City, published by Jacana, as well, which is a nice collector’s item with supercool Battlestar Gallactica corners.

So, all I need now is the regular UK paperback (out in September), the US paperback (January 2011), and the eBook, and I’ve got the set! Zoo City, I should point out, is an absolutely kick-ass book. I’ve plunged into the Jacana edition to read, and have hit the halfway mark after just a few days. If you can’t get the limited hardcover before it sells out, for goodness’ sake get the regular edition next month. Tying in to Zoo City, don’t forget there are five hand-illustrated Bares up for auction to support The Suitcase Project. Lauren brought one of them, Bi-Polar Bare, to London, and up-close it is a real work of art. The auctions run until August 10th!

On the way out to drinks, somebody spotted a familiar piece of art in Forbidden Planet’s window:

Fortunately they only had the shirt in an XL, so my wallet was spared. However, I’m taking the coincidental appearance of not-Ludmila in the window as a positive sign.

And as if I didn’t acquire enough reading material in just three days in London, I was met by this on the doormat when I got home on Sunday.

Two new books from two of my favourite authors, both in advance of their regular publication date. Not a bad weekend, all round!

Ludmila, My Love – done and done!

Cue the Snoopy Dance: on Sunday, I finished the first draft of my supernatural space opera, Ludmila, My Love. I closed off the Scrivener file, backed it up, and celebrated with tea and toast (well, it was about 8 in the morning). First draft of my fourth novel done and dusted. Phew!

I must say, Ludmila was an odd book to write. Each novel has been a different experience, but I think this one will stick in my mind for a while. I’d built up an expectation for it in my own mind, perhaps more than my previous projects, which actually slowed things down a bit. I was thinking, rather than doing. But we’re there. Ludmila now goes into cold storage for a few months so I can forget about her… which is coincidental (not ironic!) to the story itself. With a bit of work here and there, it’s going to be a great big scary creepy book, I hope!

Thinking about what needs tweaking in this book brought to mind how I classify manuscript drafts. For example, while I have written the first draft of Ludmila, My Love, is it really ‘draft 1’? As Mur Lafferty once said, the first draft is the vomit draft, in which you write it all down before you forget the story. Importantly, it’s allowed to suck, and you’re allowed to no worry about it sucking, because you will fix it later. That’s quite logical too. If everything came out perfectly the first time around then writing would be a very fast process indeed.

Here then is my general drafting/editing process – as with any writing advice, I’m no expert, and never take anything as fact. What works for me might be completely alien to you. But here goes.

  • Draft 0 – the vomit draft, the very first version of the manuscript that you manically type at strange times of the day. Warning: it might be ropey.
  • Draft 1 – the fixed draft. The writing is tidied up, problems are fixed, plot holes sorted, continuity corrected. The end result is a draft that is readable and (hopefully) logical, even if it still holds a few problems.
  • Draft 2 – the elbow grease draft. Chances are some larger problems or issues became apparent at draft 1 that require large fixes and perhaps even total rewrites of some chapters and sections. It may well be here where most of the editing work comes in.
  • Draft 3 – the fixed draft, slight return. This another fixing run, checking and smoothing out the rewritten material from draft 2 in the context of the manuscript as a whole. Depending on the extent of the changes and fixes, the manuscript may then flip between the draft 2 and 3 states for as long as it takes to get it all right.
  • Draft 4 – the beta version. This is the first version to show early/beta readers. This is the version that you should have 100% confidence in, and would be happy to publish the next day if you could. If you don’t/wouldn’t, then you need to go back and repeat drafts 2 and 3 until you are/you would. But, importantly, this is the version you want comments and opinion on. This is the version that you want readers to read, to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s absolutely vital to adhere to this step, I think, because your beta readers will give you an outside perspective you can’t possibly get yourself, as close as you have been to the writing and the story.
  • Draft 5 – the beta edit. Once your reader comments are in, you’re into the second of the two major edit drafts (along with draft 2), adjusting, tweaking, rewriting based on your reader’s feedback. As with each step, of course, the amount of work and the time required will vary and is impossible to predict. Draft 4 might have been nearly perfect, or your readers might have spotted a major problem that needs a big fix or found that there was something about the book that wasn’t working.
  • Draft 6 – the final fix. This step is a repeat of draft 3, being the final overall tidy-up and check. Again, you may need to go back and forth between drafts 5 and 6 until everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion.
  • Draft 7 – the finished manuscript. By my estimation anyway, draft 7 is the finished manuscript and the one you want to sell or shop around.

That might sound like a lot of drafts, or it might sound like too few. I’ve included some inbetween stages which might be better as 0.5 iterations of a draft, but that’s just my own preference. It might take a year to get to the end – and remember, this is after you’ve actually finished the book – or it might take just a couple of months. But for myself it’s important to have a plan, as I’ve got certain self-imposed deadlines and goals I want to meet, and pulling apart the editing process like this is a big help when it comes to setting those deadlines and also notifying my beta readers that something will be arriving. The list above is just my own system, broken down into steps. While draft 0 of Ludmila, My Love matures in the cupboard,  I’m diving into the edits on Empire State. Looking at my edit list, this book is nearly at draft 4, and will be ready for my beta readers in a couple of weeks.

Plans and deadlines, I has them!

Laissez les bon temps rouler

I try to keep this blog writing-related, but here’s a brief interlude.

Last Thursday I went to see one of my favourite bands, Quasi, play Manchester’s Deaf Institute. It was nothing short of amazing – tiny venue with perfect sound, small crowd, good support band (I know, I’m still in shock). One of the benefits of being a fan of small indie bands who play small venues is the opportunity to actually meet them. All three members of Quasi were either chatting in the audience beforehand, or manning their t-shirt stand, and when they came off stage I grabbed a moment to chat to Janet, the drummer, who also plays with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and was one third of Sleater-Kinney.

Anyway, there were a lot of photographers there, and by chance someone captured a pic of me and guitarist/singer Sam Coomes, which I’m pretty chuffed with. Hint, I’m not playing guitar:

The entire set by kezontour can be seen on Flickr.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any video of the show, although there are some good recordings on You Tube from earlier in the same tour. Here’s one from Chicago:

In other news, slightly more writing-related, I’ve got my iPad. It’s absolutely beautiful. I may only have had it since Thursday (it was delivered a day before the official UK launch too), but every day it still surprises me. It is slightly smaller than I thought it would be, but is very comfortable to use. I’ve already been reading comics and eBooks on it, and I have to say, I’m now a total convert to digital reading. iBooks is a terrific e-reader.

It’s not all about passive consumption of content though. I’ve done some beta-reading and critiquing (with notes) in Pages, and I’ve started Corkulous planning boards for Ludmila, My Love and The Gospel of the Godless Stars. When I can figure out how to take screenshots, I’ll post some up.

Electric book boogaloo

You might have guessed I’m something of a gadget freak. Well, that’s not quite right. I don’t collect gear or spend hours reading Engadget. However, I am a fan of tech that makes my life easier. I’ve talked about the iPad before – and I’m literally counting the hours until my very own 64GB WiFi model arrives this Friday – and I’m a proponent of all things digital, be it music, or films and TV, or books.

This week I was a guest of Angry Robot books, and I took the opportunity to make a case for switching from print books to ebooks. I’ve had numerous interesting comments about this via Twitter, and my writing pal Jennifer Williams has posted a response on her own blog. I hope you’ll take the time to read both my take and hers, and join the debate!

Writing wise, I’m finally – FINALLY – back on track with Ludmila, My Love. At 2,000 words a day, I should be done in about three weeks, which means I can let that one ferment in the draw and get straight into The Gospel of the Godless Stars, the horror Western I’m co-writing with Kate Sherrod.

This is my first collaboration, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the process. We’re currently working out the plot and synopsis, and have been swapping and expanding scene chronologies back and forth. I must admit, I was nervous at the start of all this – having spent a few days nutting out some plot points, what if Kate hated them? What if Kate’s sections completely turned my precious ideas upside down and inside out?

But of course, it’s not my story. Nor is it her story. It’s our story. We both realise and understand this, and actually it results in a much freer creative experience. Kate even wrote a short prologue at the same time as I was working on mine – and having seen hers, it’s not only a terrific piece of writing, it actually leads almost directly into my own. I suspect this project will go well.

With all this writing work on, one thing that will hopefully keep the pressure up is the brand new Manchester SpecFic Writing Group, which met for the first time a couple of weeks ago at the MadLab in central Manchester. All are welcome, and our next meeting is June 2nd, where we will hopefully have some critiques to give out. I just need to give the first chapter of Empire State another going over before I drop it into our shared folder.

Nervous? You bet. We’re using Turkey City rules. But I’m hoping it’s going to be a valuable experience. I’ll keep you posted.

The art of project management

Time to kick it up a notch.

I find that I work best when I am busy. I have a natural tendency to cruise, which is all very nice, but unless I’m flat out it means that everything takes longer than I intend, simply because I haven’t got the pedal to the metal. The first draft of a novel should, in theory, take two months to write. Ludmila, My Love is only halfway done and it’s already taken about three.

And Ludmila is not the only project I am working on. I need to edit the book before, Empire State, so I can get it out to beta readers. The beta readers will need time to read it, and then I need to allocate another block of editing time for when they all send the book back with their thoughts/critiques. My plan with Empire State is simple enough – get the manuscript in shape so I can start shopping it around by October this year. At the moment, October sounds like a long way off, but once I programme in the three required timeblocks (edit, beta reading, edit), it suddenly looks like a much shorter timeframe.

Another project which requires some hours right now is The Gospel of the Godless Stars. This is shaping up to be the next novel after Ludmila, My Love and my first collaboration. Wyoming-based author and poet Kate Sherrod is co-writing this weird Lovecraftian horror Western with me, and so far we’re having a ball getting the story together. I’ll blog about this properly soon, but the first step is to mesh our two outlines together into a single cohesive story in time for Balticon, which Kate is attending, so she can show it to some folk. Actually, meshing the outlines is the second step – the first step is to get my outline done! Balticon is held over the last weekend in May, which means I need to get the outline out to Kate in the next few days.

So busy, and busy is good, right? Yes, it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m still stuck in cruise mode. A couple of weeks ago I had a night or two where I didn’t get much sleep for whatever reason, which threw out my early morning writing routine as I got up too late. And hey presto, the morning routine has been out of whack since then. Add to that a hefty workload from the day gig – including weekend work – and suddenly I’ve done hardly any writing, zero editing, and only a little outlining.

The worst part about it is that there is no-one else to blame but myself. I control when I get up and when I go to bed. Also, I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to control how much day gig work I do. More than most people, I think, I have control over the hours of my day and what I use them for.

But the only way is up, or forward, or however the song goes. Is that even a song? The solution is simple – get up early and re-establish the writing routine; watch the among of day gig work I take on; schedule schedule schedule writing projects.

I’m a routinised person. I love lists. I love calendars and dates and deadlines. So over the next few days I’m going to do some proper planning and scheduling for my writing projects. To this end, I’ve added some little progress bars to the front page of this blog, over on the right there. Wordcount is an easy metric to measure, and while I keep my own detailed spreadsheets on progress, perhaps seeing (and regularly updating) these public trackers will provide just a little more impetus to get things done. Editing Empire State is harder to measure, but will be done by page and date – I’ll put up a tracker for that as soon as I’ve worked out the best method and deadline. Incidentally, the 68 words on Gospel are actual words rather than outline (outlining being even harder to measure than editing), but I don’t expect that number to change significantly until the first draft of Ludmila, My Love is done and dusted.

Ludmila, My Love

Ludmila, My Love is my fourth novel, and one that I really didn’t plan on writing.

I’ve got a tonne of ideas – as with most writers, more ideas than I can possibly write books for during my lifetime – and while I’m writing the first draft of one book, part of my mind is already looking/thinking ahead to the next. While Empire State was in progress, I was planning on another superhero novel, this time set in Edwardian London, called The City, Golden. I’d even got so far as to make some notes during downtime on Empire State, and had a cast of characters sketched out and the major plot points jotted down.

One thing I discovered that happens when you write in the long form – one wonderful and quite surprising thing – is that even if you have a plot, or outline, or synopsis, and think you have the whole story worked out from beginning to middle to end, you have very little control over your characters. They start to do things you didn’t intend, start making their own decisions, and going off in directions that were not only unplanned, but actually work against what you’d plotted out.

I told this to a non-writer friend, and at first he thought I was making it up, and then when I’d convinced him that this actually happens, he thought I was barking. I’m sure I’m not the first writer to be told this. But that’s okay, it’s our little secret.

But I digress. Back to The City, Golden and Ludmila, My Love. Both titles with commas in them, too. I’m not sure if that is significant or not!

Anyway, so there I was planning this Edwardian superhero adventure when Ludmila arrived in my mind, and told me that I really needed to tell her story. And yes, that bit does sound barking, but hey, I tried to lead you up to it, right?

As a fan of the weird and anomalous (Fortean Times is the only magazine I ever read from cover to cover), I’ve been interested in the so-called “Lost Cosmonauts” for years. The story goes that back in the 1960s, in a mad and desperate bid to beat the United States at the space race, the USSR sent up a large number of cosmonauts who never made it back. Yuri Gagarin, it turns out, was the first person to go into space, and come back alive.

It’s probably a load of bunk, but sometimes the things which are bunk are the most interesting. It’s a mystery wrapped in Cold War paranoia and Soviet dirty-dealings, and while it might never have happened, maybe it did. Afterall, the Soviets were up to all sorts – Stalin had people airbrushed out of photos, and the Soviet space agency destroyed a lot of files. As the fortean mantra goes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

It was actually Fortean Times that brought the subject back to mind last year, with a feature about how two Italian radio enthusiasts had actually recorded the transmissions of some of these lost cosmonauts as they perished in space. The best recording – or perhaps worst, depending on your point of view – is of a female cosmonaut, apparently reporting back to mission control as her capsule burns up on re-entry. Although there is no record of her ever existing, someone decided her name was Ludmila.

Ludmila, My Love, is a supernatural space opera, M.R. James writes 2001: A Space Odyssey, in three acts. I’ve just finished the first one at around 43,000 words. As ever, my target is 100,000 words, and I hope to be finished by the end of May.

It’s a story of loss, betrayal and revenge, and of an impossible love that spans a thousand years. I was lucky enough to have a sketch done live on the internet as part of professional artist Brandon Dayon‘s regular drawing webscasts, thanks to a cheeky request made by Twitter pal Kate Sherrod. As Brandon said during his webcast, it doesn’t look like Ludmila is having a very good day.

And to help things crystalise in my mind, the fake back cover blurb:

Abraham Idaho Cleveland (Ida, to his friends), decorated veteran and war hero, sure has some tales to tell. Not that anyone wants to hear them. Injured in battle and forced into retirement, Ida is exiled to a distant outpost to recuperate.

On the decommissioned space station ‘Coast City’, Commandant Price Eldridge and his skeleton crew resent playing babysitter, and Ida finds himself shunned by nearly everyone. His only friend, medic Izanami, helps him rehabilitate after his final heroic act, one which nobody believes ever happened.

Nobody, that is, except for his new love: a woman a galaxy away, on the other end of his subspace radio. A woman he’s never met, but with whom Ida shares the pain of loss.

A woman with a dark secret all of her own.

When fast-talking celebrity pilot Zia Hollywood arrives with her crew, leading the great space gold rush en route to plundering a strange new asteroid, the persecution of Ida only worsens. Until, that is, her mining ship is scuttled in deep space under mysterious circumstances that Zia refuses to discuss with anyone. Anyone except her surprising new confidant, Ida.

Something is out there, in the dark shadows between the stars.Something lonely, waiting, watching. Wanting.

As Ida and Zia face the demons of the past, they must each make a choice. How much would you sacrifice if could get a second chance to save the ones you’ve loved and lost?

Escape from the Empire State

One hundred and six days and 100,615 words after I started, the first draft of Empire State is finished. True, there were some wobbles along the way. True, it needs a fair amount of work at the second draft. But for now, it’s done. I’ve written three full-length novels.

Empire State began it in November 2009, with the intention of getting half the book done as part of NaNoWriMo. That didn’t happen. Nor did I meet my first self-imposed deadline of December 31st. Or the second deadline of January 31st. Or the third deadline of my birthday, February 2nd. But hey, that’s life, right? My average daily wordcount over the writing period is a quite shockingly low 949 words – way, way off my target of 2,740 per day for 2010. But as I’ve mentioned before, some odd things happened between November and now. Suffice to say my output is much higher now – in fact, on Sunday, the day I actually finished Empire State, I clocked up 5,379 words. It’s amazing what a little motivation – like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – can do.

Now what? Well, Empire State joins Dark Heart and Seven Wonders in a dark drawer. I’ve got a Big Fat Plan for this year, which involves taking one of these titles – along with book four – and working it up into a proper second draft fit for my beta-readers. I have a feeling it will be Empire State, although Seven Wonders might give it a run for its money.

But having written three books, I’ve noticed a change which is both logical and obvious when looked at from the outside, but which was still noticeable and even surprising as I experienced it from the writer’s point of view.

Empire State is a much better book than Seven Wonders. And Seven Wonders is a much better book than Dark Heart. Not just in style and technique, but in depth of story, character and theme as well.

Or, to put it another way, I’ve got better.

Okay, that should be obvious, right? As I write more and more, I learn more and more, and I get better and better. It’s like anything, be it starting a sport or learning a musical instrument, the more you practice, the better you get. I had a couple of odd conversations about this recently with people who expressed not only surprise but mild shock and disgust when I suggested that to be a good writer you had to bust your ass. Huh. Some people think writing is easy. Suffice to say, these people are not writers. Kevin J. Anderson had something to say about this the other day. Personally, I’d listen to him. He’s written more than 100 novels. The swine.

Having realised that I’ve improved, and having actually recognised the change in my writing since I began with Dark Heart a few years ago, it gives rise to a slightly odd feeling about book four.

Ludmila, My Love is a science fiction ghost story, but unlike the previous three novels, what came to me first was not an idea or a plot, but a theme. Having always associated theme with Proper Writing, I was quite chuffed to be able to think of Ludmila in these terms even before I had the plot nailed down. In fact, I’m still outlining now, and I don’t expect to start actually writing the thing for another week. But this is good, because along with the satisfaction of finishing Empire State came a mild depression – having lived with the characters of one book for so long, it’s always sad to leave them behind. However, in this case the sadness was short lived as it was quickly overcome with excitement for the next project.

So, a week of outlining, then two months of writing. I’ve got a good feeling about this one. Wish me luck!