A look back at 2021, and plans for 2022

Do I need to say that 2021 was another strange year?

My first thought, on looking back, is ‘where did the last twelve months go?’ My second is, ‘what did I do with the year?’ It’s felt very unproductive, and writing has been a struggle.

But I did get things done. I released the final three novels in my Dominions series, a short story, and a novella (which is currently only available to newsletter subscribers). True, most of the writing and editing happened in 2020, but putting five books out in 2021 isn’t too bad. And it’s an achievement to reach the end of the nine-novel arc.

I worked on a new series, too.

This had a number of false starts‌—‌ideas that didn’t feel right, even after completing first drafts of novels. But I eventually settled on a follow-on to my Shadows trilogy, and I currently have the first two books of this series nearing completion.

So this year (2022), I intend to release both those books. I also want to have the third book in that series (the working title is ShadowTech) written and in editing by the end of the year.

I also have ideas for another series (I’m not ready to give any details yet, but it’s a bit of a departure), and aim to have at least two books in this nearly finished. I’m not looking to publish this second series yet, though‌—‌that will be for 2023.

So I have quite a bit of writing (including planning and editing) scheduled for this year. I also need to work on marketing and business.

This is a constant struggle. Last year I explored Amazon ads (again), and while I did get an increase in sales, the profits didn’t justify the ad expense (although it came close for the Shadows trilogy). I did learn from it, and when I try again I’ll have a few different things in place. I also want to revisit some of the books and courses I have on marketing and advertising.

I also want to get back into writing short stories‌—‌not necessarily for publication, but as a way of developing my writing. Yes, spending an hour or so each week on short stories takes time away from novels and marketing, but it’s training. It’s important to constantly improve.

Short stories are fun. They provide an opportunity to play with different ideas, to try new things. As it takes less time to edit and polish a short story, there’s more satisfaction in having something ‘finished’. And, if the story’s any good, I can look for ways to get it into the world (website, anthologies, podcasts and so on).

Related to self-development, I intend to continue writing a post every two weeks, detailing something I’ve learnt through reading. Apart from adding fresh content to my website, this also forces me to think about what I’m reading, and encourages me to read a wider range of books.

So, a quick summary of my plans for 2022:

  • Writing: I’ll have the first two books of the new ShadowTech series out, with a third close to completion. I’ll also have two books in another new series close to completion.
  • Marketing/business: By the end of the year I’ll have a constant stream of money coming in from my books. I’ll have a better understanding of advertising.
  • Training: I’ll write more short stories (ideally at least one a month) as a way of improving my writing. I’ll also continue to write a post every two weeks on what I’ve learnt through reading.

It’s not a particularly detailed plan, but one thing that’s been clear over the last couple of years is that plans can (and will) be disrupted. At least these few points give me something to aim for.

Information without info-dumps in Craig A Hart’s short story ‘Loose Ends’

I’ve read enough free books that I always go into them with low expectations. That way I’m not so disappointed by poor storytelling and writing, and anything half-decent is a bonus. So it’s a pleasant surprise when a freebie makes me sit up and take notice.

This happened recently, with the short story Loose Ends by Craig A. Hart. Not so much for the story itself (which was an enjoyable way to spend half an hour), but for the quality of the writing. One of the things that stood out was how Hart feeds the reader information.

cover image of Loose Ends by Craig A Hart

The story is a noir thriller, with a typical wisecracking protagonist. This is set up perfectly in the opening line:

Nothing ruins the benefit of a good night’s sleep like being awakened by the muzzle of a pistol being jammed into one’s ear.

There’s no panic in this phrase, even though such a situation would be terrifying for most people. So the narrator‌—‌the man with the gun to his head‌—‌is either used to being in scrapes like this or he’s calm under pressure. Or both.

Already, we’re intrigued, and want to read on.

The narrator has been woken up, and it’s only natural that he’s a little disorientated. His thoughts start to wander‌—‌specifically to his ‘lady friend’, who he imagines being

thrust into the role of a modern day Sisera, playing the part of Jael by hammering a nail through my temple.

I’ve no idea who Sisera and Jael are, but I assume they’re characters from old stories, possibly biblical or mythological. And this tells me something about the man in the bed‌—‌he’s well-read. And, again, the way he’s not focusing on the gun at his head says he’s still calm.

But he’s a detective, so he has an analytical nature. Hart reinforces that in a quick summary.

I was lying in my own bed, in my own hotel room on Key West, and a gun was pressed to my ear.

It’s blunt, a stark reminder of the situation. It also drops clues about the setting‌—‌we’re in the man’s hotel room in Key West. His hotel room, so this isn’t a ‘wake up in a stranger’s bed after a wild night’ situation. He hasn’t mentioned anyone else, so we can assume he’s alone‌—‌apart from the person holding the gun.

We’re still missing a lot of information, though. Who is this man? We need to know more, and we get that in the next few lines.

“Not a move, Wolfe,” a deep voice growled.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I said, quite truthfully.
“You expecting visitors?”
“Yeah. King Jabin’s army. You’d better get out while you have the chance.”
“What the hell you talking about?”
“I take it you’re not a scholar of ancient texts.”

So, we have a name now. We also know that this isn’t a random hit‌—‌the gun-man is targeting Wolfe specifically.

We also get another reminder of Wolfe’s intelligence, with the reference to King Jabin’s army (again, not something I’m familiar with). But we also see more of his character. It’s a stressful situation, but he’s calm enough that he’s wise-cracking. This might be a trope of noir thrillers, but it’s a fun one, and it’s something we expect in a story like this.

Hart’s given us so much information here, without forcing it down our throats, and we’re not even off the first page. He’s also set up an intriguing situation. We’re hooked.

A good thriller won’t give us everything straight away, of course‌—‌there has to be mystery and intrigue. But we’re still missing information that will help ground us. For instance, when is this story set? We might assume it’s mid-twentieth-century simply because that’s the golden age of noir, but we can’t be sure. That is, until Hart again drops a beautifully placed clue in dialogue.

“I’m just joshing you,” I said. “Trying to lighten the mood.”
“Keep your day job,” the little man growled in his paradoxically deep voice. “You’re no Jack Benny.”

The only thing I know off the top of my head about Jack Benny is that he was an entertainer or comedian around the mid-twentieth-century. It’s unlikely that the gun-man would reference someone who wasn’t contemporary to the story’s settings, so our original assumption of time seems to be correct.

But there’s more in this little exchange. The gun-man’s reference of another person mirrors Wolfe’s mention of King Jabin, but also highlights their differences‌—‌one contemporary and popular, the other older and more esoteric. It also hints at cracks in the gun-man’s confidence‌—‌he’s trying to beat Wolfe’s wise-cracks, but it doesn’t quite work. Even though he’s the one with the gun, it already feels like Wolfe is in control of the situation.

It’s a wonderful demonstration of how the craft of writing is as important as story itself. It’s a fantastic lesson in how to give information without resorting to info-dumps. It shows how phrases can do double-duty (providing information and giving insight into character while moving the story forward.)

And it’s definitely encouraged me to read more of Hart’s work.

It’s worth reading these freebies. Every so often, you come across a gem.

Listen to ‘The Reason We Run’ on ‘Pocket Pulp’ podcast

I’ve been listening to podcasts almost as long as I’ve been writing seriously, and I’ve recently been enjoying ones dedicated to short-stories. Listening to a whole novel doesn’t appeal to me, but short fiction’s a different matter. It’s a great way to explore new authors.

One of those podcasts is Pocket Pulp, where professional audiobook narrator Eric Bryan Moore reads a new story each week, across a range of genres. Because he knows what he’s doing, both with narration and with audio, the quality’s very high.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I was thrilled when he accepted a story I submitted.

That story is The Reason We Run (which first appeared in the anthology It’s Behind You), and he reads it in this week’s episode.

Pocket Pulp is available through loads of the usual podcast apps and services, including Spotify (there’s a link to the show on PodBean here), and there’s also a YouTube channel.

Check it out, leave a comment — I’m sure Eric would love to know what you think. And if you want a new short story each week, I recommend subscribing to Pocket Pulp.

(Eric’s also on Twitter @EricBryanMoore)

Impact is out now

Cover of Impact (A Dominions Story)

Rodin has the contract under control, drawing the target in, ready for the removal. Not a simple job, but nothing too complicated.
But nothing happens in isolation, and Rodin has no idea how this contract will impact others‌—‌or himself.

Impact is a new release in the Dominions series, a set of four connected stories. It’s available from all the usual ebook stores, and is currently free*.

*If you come across a store charging for this book, please let me know (twiain@yahoo.com) and I’ll sort out a free copy for you.

Free scary stories!

As it’s Halloween, I thought I’d let you know about loads of free anthologies of scary/horror stories, all compiled by Samie Sands. She’s been releasing these collections for ages now, and she’s currently got loads of them set to free.

You can find all of them by searching for her name in Amazon (most, if not all, are Amazon exclusive‌—‌apologies to those of you who prefer other platforms). I’d like to draw your attention to a couple that contain short stories I wrote:

Electromagnetism is filled with tales exploring the troubling side of technology, and contains my vaguely voodoo-based story Touch.

It’s Behind You deals with fear. My story in this anthology is The Reason We Run.

Final collection of short stories now available for free download

Millenary 5 coverTwenty more excursions into darkness.

There are vampires and mysterious alien invaders. There are mobsters and shut-ins. There are those struggling to come to terms with loss, those nearing the end of their lives, those eager to make their mark on the world. There are conflicting realities and future nightmares. There are bitter lies and painful truths.

Some escape the darkness, others are consumed by it.

Millenary 5, the final (for now) collection of my 1000-word short stories, is now available for free download (click here). And if you want more short stories, the previous four volumes are also still available (and, yes, they’re free too)‌—‌click here for more information.

100th short story up now!

I started this series of short stories way back in 2016, and I’ve finally reached number 100.

This story has been bubbling away for some time. It started, like many stories, from an image that popped into my head‌—‌a man covered into tattoos, each one related to an important part of his life. I wasn’t sure what to do with this image, played about with it for a while, and over the last month it became more coherent.

As the 100th story, this is a suitable point to draw a line under this 1000-word story project, and this story feels like a good one to close on.

See what you think. You can read Canvas here. And don’t forget the other 99 stories (click here for the complete list).

Thank you.

New short story – ‘A Lesson In Life’

One of the first short stories I wrote for this website, way back in 2016, was called A Lesson In Death. That story told of a child witnessing an assassination, not realising the danger to himself as he started asking questions.

I always wondered how this incident impacted on that child as he grew up, and wanted to write a follow-up story. Finally (as we approach a hundred of these stories) I’ve got round to it.

And here it is‌—‌after A Lesson In Death we have A Lesson In Life. It also features the main character from The Job, the first story I published on this site.

You can read A Lesson In Life here.

New short story – ‘Always A Reason’

Back when I was teaching, I’d always look for some purpose behind the work, something that would make the learning relevant to the students. Sometimes the only thing I could come up with was that this was part of the syllabus.

But even that was relevant‌—‌no matter how wonderful our jobs, no matter how ideal out home lives, there will always be things we need to do that we’re not enthused about. Sometimes, we have to do things simply because they need to be done.

And that’s where this story comes from.

It’s called Always A Reason, and you can read it here.

New short story – ‘The Hangman’

Writing is a constant learning process.

I recently took part in J Thorn’s Supercharge Your Scene 5-day challenge. Along with the instruction from J, this challenge involved writing a scene (or short story). He presented us with a number of prompts and suggested we pick one in a genre we don’t normally write or read (because stepping outside comfort zones is a great way to learn).

The one that drew my attention was the Western prompt, and the end result is The Hangman. I’m not sure how well it ‘works’ (according to J’s teaching), with much of the ‘action’ left to the imagination, but overall I’m pleased with it. For something that could have become very dark, I think there’s a lot of hope in this story.

You can read The Hangman here.

And, in case you’re interested, this is the prompt, which I used word for word as the opening to the story:

The hangman took down the body from the gallows. It was the third execution Sheriff Sands had ordered this week‌—‌three more than all of last year.