NaNoWriMo: under starter’s orders

The NaNoWriMo coat of arms
It’s NaNoWriMo time! (Ish.)

November is a funny old month. It’s too close to winter to be autumn and too far away from Christmas to be festive. It marks the beginning of Really Crap Weather (as opposed to the government-issue Crap Weather we usually enjoy in the UK), and it marks the end of daylight in general. It’s too early in the football season for it to be interesting and it tends to leave the country twiddling its thumbs and looking for something to do.

But, being them human beans, we are an inventive lot. It’s taken a few million years but in the last decade we’ve finally cracked the big question of What To Do In November?

If you are one of them British gentleman types then November now tends to mean Movember: a tremendous endeavour that has men up and down the country growing silly facial hair in aid of testicular cancer charities. I often refer to it as ‘Bollock Relief’, but sadly it’s not catching on. Either way I’m certain some amazing moustaches have made for interesting passport photos.

I already sport silly facial hair, however, as intimated in my calling card, so for me these follicular festivities are out. Instead I’m taking part in that other marvellous and recent November development: NaNoWriMo a.k.a. the National Novel Writing Month.

Yesterday saw the launch of NaNoWriMo for the Norfolk chapter. The hellish weather would have gotten a passing mention in The Bible and nearly convinced me not to go, but I’m very glad I took the plunge. (My shy side must have been having a lie-in.) The event was friendly, constructive and something of an eye-opener.

Meeting fellow participants revealed a variety of reasons for giving NaNoWriMo a go: not only to scratch a creative itch but also as a means to help with healing and recuperation. The brainstorming exercises revealed angles in my story that I hadn’t previously considered and gave me a taste of the plots and creative processes of other NaNo-ers. The launch event also demonstrated a proportionate popularity of NaNoWriMo among women (around a 75%:25% split), and, perhaps surprisingly, a large penchant for the fantastic: out-and-out fantasy, paranormal entities, mass-contagion, science fiction, horror… basically all of the shelves Waterstones keeps at the back of their shops now that porn is in (and out and in and out and in and out… you get the idea).

This was backed up by a quick scan through NaNoWriMo’s genre forums after the event. Fantasy is very much the big thing by a large margin (perhaps it has always been thus – I am a NaNo noob after all). After that: historical fiction, sci-fi and horror. Past and present literary fads don’t get much of a look-in. There’s not much being written on the clit-lit front post-Fifty Shades – not when people can clog Smashwords with it every day, anyway. Chick-lit? Not a wealthy beau to be seen. Misery-lit? Barely a sniff. Even crime, an erstwhile literary favourite, doesn’t feature. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but it did surprise me.

But I digress. The upshot of this post is to say if you have a story in you and are tempted to give NaNoWriMo a try, DO IT! Sign up now, now, now, and get involved! Go to these get-togethers, knuckle down at the write-ins and chat with fellow NaNo-ers. You’d be amazed how quickly the ice breaks, and to have someone say they like your story idea and would love to read it is incredibly reassuring. And if you can’t make a get-together, hit the forums, get some writing buddies and bounce ideas around.

So now, under starter’s orders, with fingers itching to begin typing, I’ve just got to wait for the gun. And a pair of parangs. (It’s a horror story after all…)

The Story So Far

My last post elicited an interesting response from Eric J Baker. (Check him out. His neat short story ‘Worm‘ made me smile.) As I’m fairly early into the process of setting up Lucian Poll he suggested I perhaps posted about the experience. It was an idea that I had toyed with, especially if the ups and downs of my somewhat improvised approach can help others.

So why not? If anything it’ll help me keep track of the stuff that I still need to do!

This post is therefore a précis of what has gone before. I’ll expand on the finer details with less garrulous posts under a category called “Setting up”.

1. Writing some stories – I think that goes without saying! In truth, I feel I should have perhaps written more stories before setting up this blog, but that’s what the winter months will be for. As it stands I have three short stories that are finished, three that are in progress, umpteen ideas still to get onto paper, and then there is the plot outline for the novel which I continue to flesh out. There’s a bit to be getting on with, anyway.

2. Maintaining a web presence – I chose a handful of sites, services and social networks that I hoped would help me build a presence on the web that could, in turn, lead to a few readers for my stories. I’ve likened these sites to spinning plates: I don’t want too many of them otherwise they’ll encroach on all the other things I need to do, namely writing!

With regards to social networking I have set up accounts with Facebook and Twitter, along with profiles on the forums of a few well-respected fiction magazines, such as Cemetery Dance. For publicity I’ve created an account with Goodreads, Amazon’s Author Central, and this blog on WordPress, plus I also purchased a domain name to help keep my address short and easy to remember. For the actual publishing side of things I have an account with Kindle Direct Publishing, and another with SmashWords so that I can hit other eBook platforms, such as the Apple Bookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and so on. Finally I have an account with NaNoWriMo for moral support as I tackle writing the novel in November! (Do lurk!)

I’ll talk about each of these in dedicated posts as some, especially Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, aren’t so simple for non-US writers such as yours truly.

3. K.B.O. – Which stands for Keep Buggering On! That is to say: Read! Write! Post! Blog! Don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve and, above all else, try to enjoy it. Unless you’re writing misery-lit, of course.

Okay, that’s a quick run through where I’ve been to get to this stage. I’ll add a few more posts shortly with more detail about self-publishing on Amazon, and the travails of a UK-based writer. The whole web presence thing is still a little rough around the edges so I’ll post other odds and sods as I iron them out.

Hope this helps!

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…

Yay! My first rejection!

When reading the bios and the various “how I made it” stories of other writers, a common theme soon emerges. The rejection slip. They’ve all had them. Great big wads of them scattered around studies and offices, stuck on spikes, pinned to noticeboards, shoved in drawers, and filed in waste paper bins.

Some writers take rejections of their work badly, which is understandable if they have spent ages researching the subject(s) covered in their story, taken the time to draw together well-rounded and believable characters, painstakingly plotted a devilish story arc for them to follow, and then, after all that, wrung their OEDs dry polishing and perfecting every last sentence. To then have an editor, agent or publisher turn around and issue a form rejection with no feedback… well, you can imagine how said writer might get a wee bit tetchy.

On the other hand you have writers that are happy enough to get their work out there. They’ve probably got five story ideas bumping into each other for every one they manage to get onto paper. The rejection slips don’t really matter so long as they keep the faith that one day one story will make it into print. In the meantime the struggle is deciding which one to write next. Indeed I’ve read some writers’ desires to collect, say, a hundred rejection slips in a year, which I think is a great way of going about it.

(Just as an aside, I reckon I could do that quite easily. All I’d need to do is write a 5000 word horror equivalent of Finnegan’s Wake and send it to every publication on Duotrope. I can imagine the responses: “Dear author, Thank you for your submission but I regret to inform you we will not be considering your work for our upcoming Erotic LGBT Cthulhu Stories With Cake Recipes collection.”)

Anyway, blathering aside, this post is a means for me to record my first rejection email. Penny Fiction had an intriguing opening for thirteen-word flash fiction stories. (That’s intriguing in a “How on earth can you write a story in thirteen words?!?” kind of way.) But when I had spotted that “THIRTEEN WORDS” itself contains thirteen letters I quickly came up with a gruesome sentence using each letter and fired it off. Two-and-a-bit months later I get a reply to my original email.

It’s my first rejection.

You know what that means? That’s right, folks, someone has actually read something I wrote! Well, that wasn’t so difficult, and with a bona fide rejection I’m now in good company!

Lots of perfectly decent stories don’t make it into print for various reasons. Look at the submissions pages of your favourite fiction magazines and they often state they receive well over a hundred submissions for each story slot they have. Even after subtracting all the stories about torturing and butchering ex-girlfriends in freezing cold outhouses, the odds aren’t good.

But there is always a chance, and I’ve got the bug. It’s time to properly start chucking stories out there starting with Shroud Magazine, whose submissions window closes at the end of the month. I’ll submit a little cautionary tale about why you should always ask for ID when answering the front door, even if you were expecting “The Gas Man” to call…

The (re)start of something

Lucian Poll logo
The result of my first three hours of Inkscape. My calling card, if you will.

Around nine years ago my alter ego wrote a novel. A real 120,000 word monster, written just to see if it could be done. You won’t have read it. Only a few have and I’ve been apologising to them both ever since. I even feel sorry for the drawer it currently rests in. And so was scratched my brief (but fun) writing itch.

But now the itch has returned, and I don’t think a bath of camomile lotion is going to do the trick this time.

Often a writer is born through the stuff they read. Some plough through a bad book, hating every page and resolving to write something better. Others read a great book fizzing with energy and ideas, and BOOM! Suddenly they have a burning desire to get that silly story that’s been floating around their heads onto paper.

For me it was “Q” by Luther Blissett (or Wu Ming, these days), which, strangely enough, was a book that I had bought eight or nine years ago only for it to remain unread on my shelf until this summer. Who’d have thought a rip-snorting novel set in Reformation-era Europe would spawn an idea for a short sci-fi story? (Again, you won’t have seen it. Funny story about that. I’ll have to post something about it some time.)

It’s the start of something, or in my case a restart. One short story idea is followed by a couple more. Dreams start chipping in a few ideas too. And then, quite unexpectedly, you get THE idea. The big one. The one that leads to sleepless nights because your brain just won’t shut up about it. The one that has you frantically typing an 11,000 word plot outline in two days before you forget it all.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’ve had what I deem to be THE idea. My one half-decent shot at writing something good; good enough perhaps to be read by others without apologising for it afterwards. (Something that I’m astonished hasn’t been done before, or not to my knowledge.)

Hence this blog, this domain name, this pseudonym, that Facebook page, that Twitter account, and so on and so forth. Sometimes you just feel that you’ve got to give it a shot. Write the damn thing. Put it out there and be judged by it. (Even if it is behind a pseudonym.)

So come NaNoWriMo I’ll turn my 11,000 word outline into a 50,000+ word novel. You might even see me slaving away at one of the Norwich write-ins. Then I’ll knock out a second draft, then I’ll have it properly proof-read, and then finally, after all that slog, after annoying everyone I know with THE idea, I’ll put it out there. On Kindle, through Smashwords, via every channel I can find.

So that’s the gauntlet slapped down. As I finish my inaugural post on this blog my deadline for publishing <Title withheld> is exactly one year from today: Friday 13th September 2013.

I’ll let you know how I get on.