How was 2018 for me?

 

Another year over, another opportunity to look back at what I’ve achieved (or otherwise). Like any year, things haven’t always gone to plan.

Shadows

My aim for 2018: to release the third book in the trilogy in the first quarter of the year.

Shadowstrike_smallShadows was originally supposed to be a short series of ‘easy’ books as a palate-cleanser between writing Dominions stories, but each book required far more work than I’d envisaged. The third book, Shadowstrike, was no exception, and the editing stages involved a great deal of cutting and rewriting to reduce the overblown 160,000 word first draft to something just under 100,000. This took a lot of time, especially as I then had to do another couple of editing passes to improve the language, and I only managed to release the finished book a few months ago.

But I don’t see this as a failure. The book is far stronger for all that work‌—‌in fact, I feel that the Shadows series contains some of my best writing to date. And readers seem to enjoy the books‌—‌I received a cery positive review for Shadowfall, and my Kindle Unlimited page reads suggest that readers who start Book One generally continue on to finish the whole trilogy.

I was going to leave this series as a trilogy, but I’m rethinking this now. I might have more to report on that at a later date.

Dominions

My aim for 2018: to release Dominions IV and V along with a couple of supporting stories, and to start work on Dominions VI.

Well, that never happened.

Riled Dogs (Dominions IV)I already had an almost-finished version of Riled Dogs (Dominions IV), although I wasn’t ready to complete it because I planed to release IV and V close together. But with Shadowstrike taking far longer than expected, I knew I wasn’t going to get round to Dominions V before the second half of the year. And Deep Water (Dominions III) came out at the end of 2016‌—‌could I really leave over 2 years between that and the rest of the series?

So between edits on Shadowstrike I worked on Riled Dogs. This didn’t require too much‌—‌a quick polish, an external edit, and then all the formatting and finalising stuff (I already had a cover, and I’d been throwing around ideas for the product description for some time). I published the finished version back in March.

I also had a short that I’d originally written when I started work on Riled Dogs. This took a few more edits to complete, but being a short story, this didn’t take as long, and I was able to release Animus (A Dominions Story) as another free gift to my mailing list (although this will probably go on general release fairly soon).

When I’d completed Shadowstrike, I set to work on Dominions V. But I’d been enveloped in the world of Shadows for too long, and I needed to reacquaint myself with Dominions. I decided to re-read all the older books, and started (where else?) with Dark Glass (Dominions I).

And I wasn’t impressed.

This book came out in the summer of 2016, but was finished back in 2015. Three years further on, any my writing’s improved‌—‌and the state of Dark Glass made this obvious. The main character was passively carried along by the plot for most of the time, the story moved slowly, and the writing was overblown. And this was the first book in what I intend to be a nine-book series. How did I expect readers to pick up the second book if the first wasn’t a good read?

I couldn’t let this stand. I needed to re-write Dark Glass.

This had been my project for the last few months of 2018, and I’m far happier with the new version. It’s almost finished, and should be out early next year.

Marketing

I’m constantly learning in this area, and had some success with KU free days and a Kobo promotion. But paid advertising is becoming more necessary, with Amazon especially leaning towards a ‘pay to play’ environment. Over early December I ran a few Amazon Ads for Shadowfall, but without success. I had quite a few impressions (meaning that the cover showed up when potential readers were searching for what I considered to be similar books), but hardly anyone clicked (under 1%). I believe this is down to the cover, and after a lot of consideration I’ve decided that all the Shadows covers need to change.

Other projects

PowerOfWordsCoverBack in 2017, MLS Weech sent out a call for stories inspired by the First Amendment, to be included in an anthology he was putting together. He accepted my story (Ghost Stream), and then started an intense editing process that stretched into 2018. It was a lot of work, but it’s definitely made the story stronger (and I learnt a great deal from the whole process).

The release of The Power Of Words was at the start of October, and we had a Facebook party‌—‌the first time I’ve been involved with one of them. We’ve garnered a few decent reviews, and I’m proud to be a part of this anthology. There’s also an audio version‌—‌and listening to someone else narrate my own story was an eye-opening (ear-opening?) experience. It was like discovering a new story, and it’s pushed me further down the road to getting audio versions of my other stuff.

It's Behind YouBack in March, I had a short story (The Reason We Run) included in Samie Sands’ horror collection It’s Behind You.

I’ve continued to post a new story under 1000 words on my website every couple of weeks. I did have a break in the summer (putting out posts connecting the stories by themes instead), but I finished the year with my 60th of these shorts, and have just compiled the last twenty into another collection (Millenary 3). I’ve also continued to post various thoughts/musings on reading and writing, keeping up my schedule of putting something new on the website every week.


So that’s been my year in writing/publishing. Two novels released, a couple of shorts (including a very long one) in anthologies, and more shorts and posts on the website. Not the year I’d envisaged, but I’ve learnt and I’ve developed. I’m a stronger writer now, and I’ve increased my understanding of marketing and the business side of independent publishing. Re-writing Dark Glass, while appearing to be a backward step, will put the series on firmer foundations. It’s also given me the courage to accept that the Shadows covers weren’t helping sales of those books.

And I have plans for 2019, some more formed than others (and some little more than sparks of ideas at the moment). But I’ll tell you about them next time.

A free collection of short tales to see you through the holiday slump

Too much food, and there’s that bloated feeling. Add drink, and concentrating for any length of time simply isn’t going to happen. Then there’s the strange limbo of work between Christmas and New Year. You don’t want to start anything too big, because why not wait until the beginning of the year?

So you want something small to keep you occupied, even at home. A long novel’s going to be a struggle, and you know you’re not going to get round to all those books you promised you’d read, way back at the start of the year. You need something easily digestible, something to take in bite-sized chunks.

I’ve got just the thing for you.

On Monday, I posted my sixtieth 1000-word short story, and as I’m collating each twenty stories into ebooks, that means the third of these collections is now ready.


 

Millenary3_low-resolution2Millenary 3

Twenty more dark coffee-break reads.

A man must choose between family and what he knows is right. A beast does what she must to keep her offspring alive. An agent struggles to prevent aliens taking the world. A tourist gets more than he bargains for in a virtual holiday. A sociopath runs with her violent impulses. An un-named character is stuck in a never-ending maze of rooms.

And then the world ends‌—‌but not in a way anyone expects.


These stories aren’t necessarily happy, and some of the characters in them are downright nasty. But if you’re looking for some short reads to see you through to the end of the year, you can download Millenary 3 for free here.

‘The End Of The World’ – a short story for the holiday season

Sometimes, I get a line stuck in my head. It usually stays deep down, but it’s there, working away in my subconscious mind, pulling in other ideas as it grows. Often, the only way to get rid of that line is to set it free.

The End Of The World started like that, with the line ‘The world ended sixteen days ago, and nobody noticed.’ But I didn’t want this to be a depressing story. I wanted something that is sympathetic to the holiday season (and having certain similarities with Groundhog Day might help here!)

You can read the story here.

And there will be more new stories throughout 2019.

Fresh eyes (Reworking a novel part 7)

I’ve finished the next edit of Dark Glass now. I’m happy with the structure of the story, and pleased the main character actually does stuff now. I also think the writing’s far stronger than in the original version.

But there are always doubts. What if I’ve got rid of some sections that readers liked? What if the new scenes don’t work as well as I think?

I’m too close to the story at this point, and with more editing I’ll run the risk of reading what I wanted to write rather than what is actually on the screen. Yes, I’ll let the book rest before doing another edit, but I’m also going to use beta-readers. (Maybe that should be alpha-readers‌—‌I’m never totally sure which term is correct.)

That means I’m asking other readers if they’d mind looking through it. They can then come back to me with any comments‌—‌and I mean any comments. This process will serve no purpose if the only responses I receive are all ‘yep, enjoyed that’ or something similar. Praise is good, but constructive criticism is far more useful. I want them to tell me, for example, that they didn’t believe the characters would act as they did in Chapter 20, or that certain chapters felt flat, or that I had a character with short hair at the start of the book and long hair at the end (maybe if the story took place over a year this would be feasible, but in a story that has a time-frame of a few days?).

This is both exciting and a bit scary‌—‌what if readers hate the book? What if, based on their comments, I need to do more major re-writing? What if they say ‘something’s not quite right’, but can’t put their finger on exactly what’s up with the book, leading me to spend ages trying to figure out what the actual problem is before I can fix it?

But, as with the whole of this re-writing project, I have to look on the positive. Whatever beta-readers find, it will ultimately make the book stronger.

Of course, spending a few hours reading a book that you know isn’t ‘finished’ is a big ask, and I’m incredibly grateful to anyone who offers to help. I’ve already my mailing list for anyone wishing to do this, but if there’s anyone else who would like to help make this new edition of Dark Glass, please contact me (twiain@twiain.com).

I’m not going to look at the manuscript again until the new year. By then, hopefully I’ll have some comments to work with, and I can dive into the final stages of re-writing Dark Glass.


Previous ‘Reworking a novel’ posts:

Forever improving (part 6)

A successful first draft (part 5)

Editing or rewriting? (part 4)

The first draft is always a mess (part 3)

Broken Promises (part 2)

Reworking a novel (part 1)

Fairytale of New York – a wonderful story in song

I’m not a fan of Christmas music. I started hearing them on the radio at the end of November this year (far too early), and I’m now sick of them. A bit of variety would be good‌—‌but no, it’s the same handful of songs, over twenty years old, and I know every word and musical note of them.

But there’s one that always stands out to me, one Christmas song that I actually like‌—‌Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. It works so well musically, especially how their voices work together (and Shane MacGowan is excellent proof that you don’t have to be a good singer to be a great vocalist), but it’s the lyrics that really make this song. There’s poetry in the words, but there’s also a wonderfully told story. As it came on the radio again a few weeks ago, I found myself analysing this story in detail.

prison-553836_640It begins with a flash-forward‌—‌the main character spending Christmas Eve in the drunk-tank. This instantly sets us up for a sad tale, and when another drunk says he won’t see another Christmas, the mood is well and truly set. This character sings (The Rare Old Mountain Dew), and our protagonist is reminded of a girl.

But although he loves her, the melancholy feel tells us all is not well. The man’s a gambler (‘Got on a lucky one, came in eighteen to one’), drinking his winnings. And when he sees ‘a better time when all our dreams come true’, we’re not sure if that’s just the drink talking. He’s down on his luck, despite his win on the horses, and we wonder how he’s ended up in this situation. It’s a great opening, because it makes us care about him, and it makes us want to find out more.

nyc-1556338_640The music changes, and this signals a change in time for the next scene. Now, we’re in New York, again at Christmas, but the main character and the girl (we assume it’s the one on his thoughts earlier) have just arrived in the city. They seem as much in love with their new home (with it’s ‘rivers of gold’ and ‘cars big as bars’) as they are with each other. There’s wonderful promise in the air (‘When you first took my hand on that cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway was waiting for me’), and the guy is enraptured with his ‘queen of New York City’.

But there are subtle nods to the approaching darkness. The line ‘But the wind goes right through you, it’s no place for the old’ hints that this youthful love might not last. And ‘the drunks they were singing’‌—‌happy in their alcoholic haze at the moment, but we know from the opening scene that the murky side of drink will raise its head before too long.

arguing-1296392_640The next scene jumps forward. The relationship’s fallen into bitterness and anger. He might drink, but she’s ‘an old slut on junk, lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed’, so it appears that they both have their battles with substances. She’s far from enraptured with him now‌—‌he’s a ‘scumbag’ and ‘maggot’, and a ‘cheap lousy faggot’, and she wants rid of him (‘Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last’).

As a brief aside, there have been various censored versions of this song over the years (on one live TV broadcast, the band changed ‘You cheap lousy faggot’ to ‘You’re cheap and you’re haggard’), and the language used in this scene is pretty nasty. But it’s all in character, and the vitriol highlights just how far these two have fallen. These words are the right ones to use, however offensive they may be to some.

I also like the line ‘Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed’. Read straight, it feels poorly constructed‌—‌wouldn’t something like ‘lying there almost dead, in that bed, on that drip’ feel better grammatically? And while some of the structure might be down to the need to rhyme ‘dead’ with ‘bed’, it also gives us more insight into the character‌—‌he’s so consumed by anger and hatred that he’s stumbling over his words.

The next scene happens later in time, when the anger has dissipated (at least, enough for the couple to view things with more detachment). There’s an emotional exchange, and now we see possible reasons (behind the obvious drink and drugs) for the breakdown of the relationship.

girl-2067378_640She came to America seeking a new future, yearning to realise her dreams (of Broadway?), but they never materialised. She believes he’s held her back and kept her from fulfilling her potential (‘You took my dreams from me when I first found you’). We can’t know if this is true, but initially he appears to agree with her‌—‌he did take her dreams, but ‘I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own’. Their bright future in this land of opportunity was, in his eyes, as a couple‌—‌‘Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.’

Their relationship is doomed. She wants nothing to do with him, but he still dreams of ‘a better time’, desperately trying to believe that ‘this year’s for me and you’. But we know that’s not going to happen. She’s chasing her own dream, and he’s destined to drink his life away like the old man from the drunk-tank scene. Maybe this will be the last Christmas he sees too.

It’s a very sad song, and the setting only highlights this. Christmas is a time for family and friends, and we’re constantly reminded of the bells ‘ringing out for New Year’s Day’ as others look to a bright future. Then we have ‘the boys of the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay’, a song that talks of a yearning for Ireland‌—‌and a reminder that, maybe, this doomed couple might have been better off remaining at home. Sometimes, dreams cannot become reality, and fairytales don’t come true.

bells-2413297_640

‘Freedom At Any Cost?’ – new short story

One of those stories that started with an image in my head, and developed in the writing (what’s often called ‘pantsing’ or ‘discovery writing’). It’s not something I do for novels, but it works well for the first draft of short stories‌. In this case, I knew the main character was trying to escape from some kind of agency, but when I started out I had no idea of the twist at the end.

Anyway, this story is Freedom At Any Cost, and you can read it here. Let me know what you think!

It’s all down to interpretation – Onan the hero

Stories are almost always open to interpretation. Often, when we read or hear a story, we’re not presented with all the information. Sometimes, the actions of the characters can be seen from different angles.

I was thinking of the biblical story of Onan recently (no idea why‌—‌my mind sometimes takes interesting diversions). His story can be found in Genesis, and goes like this:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

(Genesis 38: 6-10, NIV)

From this, we get the ‘sin of Onan’, or Onanism. This word is often used to refer to masturbation, but this is clearly not what Onan was up to. The original/true meaning of Onanism is coitus interruptus, which was once (and possibly is by some people) seen as a sin‌—‌the underlying belief being that sexual activity is primarily for procreation.

Before we continue, a word of explanation. It’s easy to view historical writings through modern eyes, so it’s important to point out that, when this story was said to take place, Judah’s request to Onan was in keeping with tradition‌—‌when a man died, it was his brother’s duty to ensure his widow bore children. Those who refused to carry this out were publicly humiliated.

But in this story, Onan is not publicly humiliated, but is put to death, because ‘what he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight’.

The classic interpretation is that, by ‘spilling his seed on the ground’ (wonderfully poetic phrase, that), he angered God. But this leaves his actual ‘sin’ open to interpretation‌—‌was it coitus interruptus, or was God more annoyed that Onan refused to fulfil his duty? Should the ‘sin of Onan’ really be concerned with breaking tradition?

cranium-2858764_1280There’s also a totally different way of looking at this story. Tradition is what is expected, passed down through generations‌—‌but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Think of ‘traditional’ roles of men and women in western society, and how they have now changed. Think of the ‘traditional’ treatment of ‘foreigners’, especially those with different skin colours. In some parts of the world, female genital manipulation is still seen as a rite of passage, something traditional that should be upheld.

Tradition is not always ‘right’.

So let’s return to Onan’s story, but this time I want to think about Tamar. She’s pretty central to the story, but only gets a walk-on (or lay-down) part. There’s nothing about what she thinks of Onan. Is she happy to sleep with him‌—‌and if not, could we see this as rape, even though it’s socially acceptable in the story’s culture?

Maybe Onan is a deep thinker. He want to be a good member of society, but he has many questions inside about what goes on around him. Maybe Onan likes Tamar, and feels empathy with her, knows how much she’s hurting after the death of her husband. Maybe he’s been a friend to her, almost a brother, so when Onan’s father tells him that he must provide Tamar with a child, he has grave concerns. He sees the fear on Tamar’s face when he approaches her, and he knows that this is the last thing she wants. He has no wish to cause her more suffering.

But what is a dutiful son and brother to do? If he doesn’t go through with the deed, he’ll be punished. And even then, what will happen to Tamar? She has no children, has not provided a continuation of Judah’s family‌—‌her prospects don’t look good.

Poor Onan’s torn. He does his duty, but his heart isn’t in it. He tells himself he’s doing the right thing, but he doesn’t believe that. He sees Tamar’s face, her eyes shut tight as she wills herself to be somewhere else‌—‌anywhere else. He feels her pain, and he knows this is wrong.

Finally, just before the point of no return, Onan makes his decision. With a surge of willpower, he withdraws, refusing to force his sister-in-law to bring to term a child she doesn’t want.

And maybe there’s a tear in the corner of her eye, slowly running down her cheek. She’s sobbing, and her body trembles with relief.

Onan’s done the right thing.

But that comes at a price. For doing what he believed was right, Onan is martyred, killed by a cruel social system that treats women as second-rate citizens. He’s reviled, even though he’s a true hero.

It’s all about interpretation.

If that examples too serious, I’ll give another interpretation of a well-known story. It goes like this:

A young girl travels to a distant land and kills the first person she meets. She then teams up with three strangers and sets off to kill again.

Recognise it? I’d be surprised if you’re not aware of it. You might not have read the book, but you’ve probably seen the film. No doubt it’ll be on over Christmas, what with it being a much-loved family entertainment.

Those two sentences are just one interpretation of L Frank Baum’s classic, The Wizard Of Oz.