NaNoWriMo: The best laid plans…

Pinky and The Brain issue 1 cover.
Come on! With a post headed ‘The best laid plans…’ what did you expect?

Previously on the NaNoWriMo theme I gave myself a hearty slap on the back for hitting the 50K mark a couple of days ahead of schedule. Up went the hurrahs, and far-flung were strewn the smileys.

What do they say about pride?

Yes, well. Ahem. Perhaps I should have kept quiet because the supposed easy bit – the final act – hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as the first 50,000 words.

So what went wrong? Basically December happened. I forgot that December is that most wonderful time of the year where time itself disappears into a black hole. (The kind of black hole where the event horizon is helpfully decked in lovely, red-shifting tinsel.) Another major real-life factor that slipped my mind was W-O-R-K, but then most everyone would like to forget about that.

Nil desperandum, though. While there has been a lot of jingle belling and real life-living and other such distractions, December has still seen a fair amount achieved in the world of Lucian Poll, just not a vast amount on the novel.

For example, a fair chunk of time was spent crafting and honing a 5000-word short story called “Flood Warning” to submit to Cemetery Dance magazine. As I type this here post the submissions window is still open, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve got 20 story slots open for 2013 and they’ve already received hundreds of stories for consideration. Here’s a link:

Cemetery Dance magazine open for short story submissions

(For those of you with longer ones, they are also accepting submissions for their eBook line.)

As you may have seen from earlier posts December has seen me continue my quest to become one of those self-publishing author things. As far as blogging goes I admit it does make for a dry read, but I hope my experience helps others, and that it will be a worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Either way, my W-8BEN forms have since been accepted by Amazon, so there’s a nice uplift in royalties of nearly 43%.

(As an aside, I was delighted to find a spike in my blog hits in December. It turns out my guide recently ranked all top three spots in Google searches for “removing US withholding tax”. I’m not sure how long that will last, or how localised the results may be, but I don’t care. Hello, world!)

But now December is out of the way, and with it all recent distractions. The admin stuff is done – I’m now on Uncle Sam’s books. The story for Cemetery Dance is done – whether they like it or not! Christmas is done – and with it most of the skin around my nose thanks to a rotten cold.

What remains is the unfinished novel. It continues to scratch and scald the back of my mind and I need to get it out of there sharpish. Why? Well, the observant among you will have noticed that we’ve hit 2013. (All contrarians flapping their Julian calendars at me can piss off for the moment, thank you.) You may have also sensed that the number 13 features rather prominently in the novel: warnings issued to triskaidekaphobes, for example, or little updates saying how my story is jinxed. Even this blog was started on the 13th of the month. The release date for the novel is therefore very deliberate, and so I must work hard to meet it. To go and release the thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of 2014 would be a bit silly.

So Friday 13th September 2013 it is.

That gives me just over 8 months. The only way I’m going to do this is to keep to a schedule. Having a schedule worked so well during November, even those days when I was at work, and so I must try to repeat that. Therefore here is my challenge:

January: finish first draft, minimum 1500 words per day.
February:put the novel to bed for a month; scope out advertising rates in assorted horror and sci-fi fiction magazines; create artwork for rear cover and promotional material; query respected manuscript editors for lead times on their services.
March:begin second draft
April:complete second draft; final readthrough and edits
May:submit manuscript for professional review and pace the house; start promoting the novel where I can; submit adverts where lead times are long
June – August:more promotion; tighten up novel in line with professional opinion; umpteen readthroughs until I’m sick of the sight of the novel
Friday 13th September 2013: time to release the beast! And then pace the house again.

How close I keep to the schedule remains to be seen, though at least it gives me something to work towards. Do drop by every now and again to see how I’m getting on.

In the meantime I should be writing.

P.S. Comic nerd moment: I’ve actually got that issue (#1) of Pinky & The Brain up there. Terrifyingly I think it is almost old enough to legally drink. Tempus fugit.

P.P.S. Okay, now I should be writing. Laters!

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1,958 reasons to look before you leap

In my first posting on this blog I alluded to a funny episode that occurred whilst reacquainting myself with story writing. It would be a shame not to put it out there before I forget, so here goes…

As mentioned in said post, during the summer I had read “Q” and considered it the bee’s knees, the mutt’s nuts and the badger’s nadgers combined. Mighty fine, in other words. What really impressed me was how four authors could write such a cohesive novel. It made me curious about how they achieved it. (Indeed, three of the authors still write as Wu Ming.) I guess, on a subconscious level at least, it got me interested in writing again.

While I may have placed my first attempt at a novel in the drawer, it never quietened the ideas. The novel was a 50’s-set detective story with sci-fi undertones and by the time I had typed “The End” I had fairly solid ideas for half a dozen more. It was only natural then that my mind would return to these ideas, only by now I’d fashioned ways to link them all into one huge overarching novel.

As a means of easing into the writing groove again this story would have been way too time-consuming, way too ambitious and way too susceptible to me giving up. No, I needed a smaller story and it had to be something new, if only to test myself. The question was “What?”

Oftentimes you will hear someone say “write about what you know”, which helps narrow things down considerably. My alter-ego ekes out a living in the financial industry (which is not a euphemism for “banker”, itself a euphemism for “onanist” these days). One of the services we provide is the creation of probate valuations, which essentially means totting up what you’re worth when you pop your clogs, and death certificates play a big part in these things.

But what if you could get your death certificate early? To me that was an interesting conceit. What kind of world we would have if the parents of each newborn child were issued both a birth certificate and a death certificate for their bundle of joy? Would they open the death certificate? How would people feel if they knew how and when they were going to die? Would they be more adventurous? Would they opt for euthanasia shortly before their time? What kind of society would that create? And then there was the science behind it. To accurately predict ones death would require all things in the world to be predictable. How could this happen? (Quantum computing was my theory, given that all states of a mathematical model can be considered at the same time. Hard sci-fi fans will probably disagree, but I like the concept.)

And then, with this rather incredible setup, what would happen to a man who knows when they are going to die, but their death certificate simply says “Your guess is as good as ours”?

And so a decent story started to develop. All was going well, I thought, around 9,000 words in, until I started to doubt my idea. Considering the huge amount of sci-fi stories that have been produced over the years I suddenly needed to know if the idea was something of a cliché. And one quick search of Google yielded this list of sci-fi clichés. Go on, take a peek at #41. That’s right, there’s my story idea almost to a tee. Paint me jiggered.

You see, it turns out that a couple of years ago there was an anthology of stories released called Machine of Death, and as you will see here they received 1,958 submissions for their latest collection. That’s a lot of rejected Machine of Death stories vying for alternative homes.

So on that evidence it’s clear that no editor is ever likely to touch my death certificate story, even if it was written in all innocence. I still like the idea, though, so I might as well finish the story, give it a bit of polish it and perhaps stick the thing on Smashwords as a freebie. You never know, perhaps I can drum up some interest in my writing. Every cloud, eh?

You’ve got to laugh.

A spot of premature e-publication

The Buskers' Union cover image

Oh my giddy aunt, I’m on Amazon…

When I published my last blog post I had no idea that within a week I’d be publishing one of my stories too! And yet there it is, “The Buskers’ Union”, available to purchase on Amazon for 99 cents.

Is it awesome to see it listed on there? Yes! Terrifying? Also yes! Planned? Not a bit. You could say I went off a bit early.

But why? I mean, the last time I blogged I was about to start sending stories to horror fiction magazines to try and get my name in print. Was it a fit of impatience? Could it have been a sudden, unquenchable desire to see my (assumed) name in print? Or was I just pandering to a massive ego trip?

In the end it was nothing like that. Instead it was all about placeholders.

You see, part of creating the Lucian Poll persona has involved registering accounts with a few sites, like Twitter and Goodreads. The theory is that, over time, I can use them to build a presence on the web that could attract readers and perhaps help me sell a story or two in the run up to publishing <Title Withheld> next September.

At the moment some of these accounts are placeholders, created simply so I can reserve the Lucian Poll name in advance. For example you can find me on Smashwords here, but at the moment there’s nothing much to see apart from a few words, a teaser for my novel and my calling card. In due course, however, I hope to put some stories on there, some freebies and maybe even the odd review. It’ll just take a little bit of time.

Anyway, next on my list of placeholders to create was a page on Amazon’s Author Central. I was half-surprised then to discover that, in order to create an author page for Lucian Poll, I had to publish something as Lucian Poll. That I did not anticipate.

(A little tangent, if I may. Unless I’m missing something major the honour system that Author Central operates is barmy! Part of the registration process requires you to put dibs on all of the books you have published. You’d never have thought that I wrote Moby Dick, did you?)

The last week has therefore been a bit frantic. I’ve had to pick a black comedy short story that I had planned to submit to Black Static (particularly after they published the very funny “Shark! Shark!” in issue 29). The story, however, needed a few extra drafts and a second pair of eyes on it. Then I had to create a cover in Inkscape (which looks okay, though it must be said the guitar has perhaps the worlds’ shortest fret board). With the story and cover done I then had to upload the book to Kindle Direct Publishing, preview the eBook and then, finally, pluck up the courage to hit the “Save and publish” button.

Bingo! One eBook for sale!

So it’s been a busy old time of late, but totally worth it. It felt blooming marvellous the first time I hit “Look Inside” and saw my cover fill the screen. (Having a humungous monitor helped!) While the story is something of a placeholder, it is nonetheless genuine. Give it a go and let me know what you think. It is my little tribute to all of Norwich’s terrible buskers, and the two or three good ones.

I’m still not sure about the apostrophe though…