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What’s on my slate

Pretty accurate, minus the pipe and the haircut.

Let’s skip all the stuff about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in lockdown, shall we? He didn’t have the internet, probably for the best, as he would never have written a damned thing. I’ve been at this a while, and of late, there has been a massive upswing in my production.

So, at the moment, I split my attention between a few projects:

  1. Editing Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere. I am publishing this under the Dahlia Bliss pen name, for the sexual content and the dramatic element. If you’ve read any of the excerpts here, I would love to know what you think about it and if it compelled to read further?
  2. Lawful Evil – this is with my reader, who takes my work and does an autopsy of it, because none of this is by divine inspiration, even less so as experience and process become involved. So, once he’s completed his read-through, then I go to work, much as I did with Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere and Laughing Boy.
  3. Laughing Boy – paperback. I use ebooks for convenience and ease, but physical books are important to me. The Dahlia Bliss material will stay electronic for now, but the same amount of work goes into every book written.
  4. Fiction and poetry. I’m considering entering and submitting more of the former for anthologies and competitions. It raises my profile and also, brief stories are a tremendous way to work on my craft in the micro. Where I feel I’ve improved, has come from the testing ground of a story.
  5. The quality problem is I am prolific and also time poor. My girlfriend has said that if someone funded me for a year, I could make a lot of material available.
  6. Craft. I value this as part of my practice. I love reading books about writing and find an impressive deal of insights and tools applicable to my writing. A recent and recommended purchase was Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This. I’ve started or continued to develop the things he recommends and discarded the parts which don’t apply to me. I am a nerd for story structure and archetypes, but also there’s a working-class element to me which sees the production of actual writing a better outcome than the perfect literary piece which languishes in your head. There’s a massive amount of instruction out there, but it can be a means to procrastinate. Get it down and get it out. You’ll suffer pangs of guilt and shame at the mistakes, but you’ll learn from them. Write and finish things. Put them out. Repeat the cycle. I don’t do everything as a self-publisher, but as time goes on, I have taken on more responsibility.

So, there are things in the pipeline, but the aim is at least a book a year and to treat this with the same intention as a business. Sure, it’s art books are dead as a cultural art form according to some very smart and learned people but what matters is what you do and show up with.

If you’ve questions, please comment below or get in touch.

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Two Pages (05/11/16)

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I shifted to a lower gear this morning, five pages against the previous sessions of ten, although I might get back into it this evening.  I’m now into the second act, which is where I really start to put my protagonist through the wringer. We test our characters because in adversity, we find out who they are.

You can get away with any number of sins, if you avoid boring the reader. I read a great deal, and if I find myself starting to drift into the dance of my words, I take a step back and look at the grid, see if there’s something missing that can drive it forward. When I used to write from a single idea, then I would, if stuck, look back and see if there was something unresolved that can generate tension in the work.

So, I’m 54 pages into Strange Lights now, and it’s a challenge, a balancing act between trying to capture what I like about the culture and aesthetics without it feeling too blunt and curated. It’s fiction, not based in anything other than an idea about the culture, allied to a strong story. I hope. We can never tell whether anything we’ve written is any good.

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s short fiction books, which is always an education and a revelation. There’s fantastic imagery and ideas, but they’re always welded to a knowing, melancholy awareness of people. I’ve said before that in terms of fiction, monster can be metaphor, and Gaiman does that better than a lot of other writers in the genre.

I’ve got another collection of Joyce Carol Oates to enjoy, and a bunch of fiction to plough through. After Pynchon, everything feels faster than normal, but I will ramp up my interest. I read so often because it feeds the writing, grants a courage and eloquence that can easily get lost in the focus on task. I haven’t heard back from the agent about Until She Sings but as soon as I do, I will let people know. I’m ahead of the curve in terms of my workload but that’s part of my whole approach, to have work to show people who are interested in it. I work at my own pace, but it’s constant and consistent.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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This morning’s pages went deep into the supernatural/spiritual element of the book. It also allowed me to do a small measure of foreshadowing and make some connection to events that will pay off later in the book. There was a great degree of poetic license, sensory information and I aimed to capture the emotional power of such a change in perceptions rather than make it like a destination that could be reached with a stout walk and a nod to Google maps.

I understand enough about magic to see that it’s about changing your perceptions. Arthur C Clarke once said that any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  We can talk to people who might be thousands of miles and hours apart on devices that fit in our pockets, yet we are still unsatisfied. Perhaps it’s because we cannot truly say what we feel, sometimes, but still I think about these things especially when I write about such things, tangentially or otherwise.

It made for a dense two pages, and I was pleased with the execution of it. It will continue into tomorrow, I think, but it’s a palate cleanser, a sign that we are not in the world that we know, but somewhere else. Whether that is a good or a bad place depends upon the perception of the reader and the needs of the story. I did some research on vision quests, and found that the anecdotal accounts lack something, so I placed the writer’s caveat of ‘make it all up’ on the issue and found my way into it like that.

I finished Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon yesterday. It was an intense, powerful book that managed to be arousing, melancholic, shocking and disturbing whilst maintaining a lovely phrasing and energy throughout. Someone commented that they had read it twice, and still not understood it, and I came away with more of an impression that it touches on themes rather than says ‘this is this.’ It was a beautiful book and it provoked some interesting thoughts and ideas for me to explore, personally and creatively.

As a bit of a palate cleanser, I read Attica Locke’s Pleasantville, which is the third book to feature her lawyer protagonist Jay Porter. I had not read the previous books, but I enjoyed it, as it took an approach similar to The Wire, in that it shows the interplay between ambition, public image and personal passion whilst hanging on a murder charge that did not take as much of the book up as I had expected. There were some interesting choices here, it is chockful of internal details and in Porter, there is a wounded protagonist who is doing the right thing, at some personal cost. I enjoyed it because it was solid, made it’s points and did not cheat me, as a reader, out of any visceral experiences contained therein.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Two Pages (30/10/16)

 

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This morning, with the new book, I worked on a little exposition, telling rather than showing, but that can be reshaped and parsed out. Sometimes it is good to get out on paper where you are going, and allows me to foreshadow as well. Not that it was a negative thing to do, you understand but it was what was in me at the time, so I went along with it. There’s a lot of story, something came up in the writing that will hopefully give me the setting I need to really punch up the third act climax and getting the internal conflict into play will allow me some breathing room when I need to take the pace down.

The voice is there, I’ve found the rhythm, I just keep going until it’s done.

I have been reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, but ended up finishing Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman last night, for some relief. Pynchon is enjoyable, but it’s dense and complex writing, a playful genius but still daunting at points. Not that this is a negative reflection on Gaiman at all, I love his writing. It’s so smooth and conversational, he communicates myth and magic really well, so it was a delightful way to finish the evening. I will resume Gravity’s Rainbow this morning, I think. It’s a masterclass and a wonderful, lusty, entertaining story dressed in some exquisite writing.

I will be posting some more writing here later today. A drabble and another piece, both for the writing group. Then out with the dog and some more reading. Thank you for reading this.

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Two Pages (28/10/16)

 

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I am making good progress on the new book. It took a little adjustment but the changes in setting and language have allowed me to develop in ways that surprised me this morning. It is a balance between serving the story, avoiding cliche and not doing service to the culture that I am using to give colour and texture to the story.

Fortunately, I know where I am going with this, and although there is room for exploration, which I always allow myself in order to give a maximum amount of expression to the work, the path is clear and I walk it each day, two pages at a time. I know that I am wilfully vague about the details, but it’s been my experience, that if I tell you what it’s about, then I lose the incentive to write it.

It is important that the work I do, reflects the influences and person that I am at that particular point. The amount of reading I do influences the quality of it. I do not plagiarise, because it is pointless and too easy. I feed off the reading that I do, see how a particular writer goes about achieving an effect or works out a sequence and then look at it in the context of my own writing. The old maxim of ‘write what you know’ is oft-discussed and misinterpreted, it can be an effective block of the creative impulse but I think that it’s a nuanced discussion.  I write whatever is in me at the time, about the things that can sustain interest for an entire book. I know who I write for, and that allows me to focus on the simple act of turning up each day and doing it.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (26/10/16)

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I started writing a new piece in longhand, having finished editing She’s Here. I won’t start on Lawful Evil in 2nd draft until enough time has elapsed that I can go back into it with a new perspective, transcribing and editing as I go. The work continues for me, always.

At my writing group last night, we discussed NaNoWriMo and one of our members is doing it this year. I did try it once, and came away with a graphic novel script called Ghost Limb Palm but it was not an experience that I felt benefited me personally or professionally to any degree. My work routine is constant, and it allows me to write to a constant degree, to detach the process from the achievement and to still achieve.

Every month for me is NaNoWriMo because I don’t stop working. I am either editing or working on something new, and that’s when I am not working on short stories or poetry. I am not disdainful of it in the slightest and I applaud anyone who takes it on. It’s important to know what you don’t benefit from, as much as what you do.

I went to the library as well yesterday, picked up a book called Spark by John Twelve Hawks which was a techno-thriller, with a lot of pulp energy that I finished this morning and I am now reading Night Music by John Connolly, which is lovely and perfect for the time of year.

Thank you for reading. I continue to grow and thrive, as I always have. Writing gives me courage, to see the worth in those who do not see it within themselves and to take flight without forgetting where you start from. I wish that for everyone.

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Two Pages (24/10/16)

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The above picture is the completed exploratory draft of Lawful Evil. I finished it on Saturday in a mammoth writing sprint. Whenever I finish a draft, it’s a bittersweet experience, a mix of relief and regret. A lot happened during the three months of writing it, and the work reflects that. It’s the first book where I worked from a story grid, so it has more of a structure from the first. Now, it goes away for a couple of months, I’ve set a reminder to dig it out then and start transcribing it from longhand to the computer. During that time, I am editing as I go, making sure that the themes and ideas ring true, fill in any gaps and generally polish it up until it shines. I will be looking for beta readers after that, and sending it to the agent for further notes and feedback.

She’s Here is going really well, in the editing stages where I am looking at things like sticky sentences and overused words rather than the story itself. It’s an education and I always feel like I develop my craft when looking at my own flaws and correcting them. You will, of course, make new mistakes but they’re only tragedies if you fail to learn from them.

After that, I will be starting something entirely new again. The projects will require a little bit of research, but that’s a pleasure in and of itself. I am always writing, or thinking about it, and there’s nothing that stops me. It’s a great relief that I have this purpose, it keeps me upright when the world wants to kick me in the stomach.

I finished a couple of books at the weekend. Robin Wasserman’s Girls On Fire which was stunning, reminded me a little of Megan Abbot’s writing, but had it’s own sense of urgency and passion. It does not spare you, in it’s telling and I was genuinely moved and invigorated by the books.

I also read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which was a noir novel that reminded me of Patricia Highsmith. It had some compelling moments but the elements that have perhaps been its selling point ultimately became it’s downfall. It takes too long for the big reveal to occur and when it does, the ending afterwards becomes too abrupt. It is beautifully written, the narrator/protagonist has a strong and well realised set of flaws, and there is a willingness to acknowledge the flesh in the book.

I am now reading A Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen, which is very enjoyable, essentially it’s Buffy In The Wild West but it works really well in terms of worldbuilding, letting the western elements breathe and it’s quite interesting how the two genres work together. I’ve got the sequel as well, so will be reading that.

Books and writing get me through. My passion and purpose remain unabated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Words (21/10/16)

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Lawful Evil is now into it’s third act. I’ve got another few obligatory scenes to work through, and the climax but I hope it will be finished within a few weeks. I’ve got two solid ideas for whatever I work on next, so it will be a toss up between them, or it maybe something new that comes to mind. I know that whatever happens, I can start and finish something.

I have now edited 80 pages of She’s Here, it’s been a pleasure to work through and I am pleasantly surprised by how little I need to change. Some grammar and narrative colour, but the story still works well. It’s poignancy does not escape me at the moment, and finding the emotion and making it sing again. I have always enjoyed the idea of using the supernatural/uncanny as metaphor and it applies here. Deliberately so, in this case.

I finished reading Perfidia by James Ellroy and The Divide by Matt Taibbi yesterday. They talk from different perspectives, but share similar observations albeit the latter is non fiction and angry with it. I am now reading We Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong which is a wonderful, interesting book about microbiomes.

Thank you for reading.

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Image: http://www.kentrogowski.com/projects/bears/

It was about momentum, trying to lift the weight of my process against the resistance of anxiety and depression. These times are when all the bland, fat days of getting it done reap their reward.

It isn’t about external validation, or money in the bank a lot of the time. You do things that you would rather not do, in order to make it through testing times and write. I hit the 270 page mark this morning, after ten pages yesterday. I am close to the end now of Lawful Evil, two sequences or perhaps three, and it’s followed the story grid pretty closely. Once that is done, it will go away for a while whilst I continue editing on She’s Here, possibly Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere, and developing two new projects, both of which I’ve pitched to my agent.

I finished reading A History of Seven Killings yesterday, Marlon James’ award winning book about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the intercession of the CIA in the country at that time. Nowadays, Marley is a meme, a signal of virtue that never captures the purity of the man and his music still carries that rawboned elegance. No Woman, No Cry is Dylan with a joint on the go.

I started Perfidia by James Ellroy yesterday, which has a thematic relation to James’ book in that it uses the swirling undercurrents of personal ambition, corruption and politics to show us a point in the past and teach us that history shows who we are, not who we say we are. I’ve been reading Ellroy for a long time, enough to see how his work has influenced later authors. Lawful Evil probably bears some of his ideas, because he has found the corruption in Los Angeles and found the poetry, the humanity within it.

Reading and writing help, and even the sentences that bring tears to my eyes, do so in the spirit of healing.  Same with the poetry too, they’re all tools I use to build an idea bigger than can be contained within me. I am not at peace anywhere, but on the page, there are moments where it calls to me and offers that hope. It’s a long slog, isolating and polarizing sometimes, but the feeling of being done is always good.

She’s Here is benefiting from a solid line edit. There is less to change thus far than I expected, but am still reading and editing it like I hate it, looking for the bits that would stick out, that feel like affectations or moments of ‘hey look’ which survived the first draft. The pain and the grief are there, and I am now into the haunting sections which represent my first attempts at the genre and hopefully don’t suck too badly. Chewing through the rind of time, sucking the bitterness away and hoping there’s enough nutrition to keep you moving for another moment, another hour, another day.

So I keep breathing, meditation to alleviate the worst of the symptoms and working on myself to find my centre again. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (18/10/16)

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There is always a sinking feeling after a book ends, in terms of writing it, where you know that all the experiences, tangential and direct, that informed it will never happen to you again. If they do, it won’t be in the same way. Different, in that you’ve felt them, learned them or been hurt by them. Until She Sings took a lot of work to get it to a point where I had something and it feels like my first book in a way that The Love We Make did not. Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere is more informed by my craft, She’s Here, which I am currently editing is already reflecting my experience in terms of changing some character’s names and expanding on narrative colour.

Feelings, essentially. Tommy’s voice is as distinct as John (NKMA) and certainly different from Caitlin (USS).

Lawful Evil is going well, it’s a more terse, ballistic book and where I’ve expanded on the theme, it carries a sweep that I enjoy. I dive into it and everything, everyone else goes away.

I’ve pitched two book ideas on spec to my agent, both quite different from one another as I’m more conscious of stories and their innate connection and appeal. At the moment, I’m writing for no one other than myself, and my agent. For those of you who do read me, I am eternally grateful and without commenting or liking, I presume that you take an interest in what I have to say or who I am.

Writing saves me every day. People let you down, circumstances change but there is always the page. It’s what drags me out of bed at four in the morning, to get pages and editing done before work. Last weekend, when I nearly died, a small part of me was okay with it because I had sent Until She Sings to the agent and it was out there now, a small piece of me that would last as long as there was anyone willing to read it. It is anaesthesia, narcotic and hallucinogen all at once. When I made it my purpose, which sounds grandiose but it’s honest, I was not sure what that would mean. It means that it becomes something you do when you’re broken as well as when you’re whole. It has allowed me to reinvent and explore myself, to hold up a mirror and not be found entirely wanting by it. It’s great when there’s love flowing through you and the sun is shining but that’s easy. Your purpose proves itself when you can still write and everything is going to shit.

In terms of reading, I finished four books by Joyce Carol Oates, who is wonderful and works with a verve and edge that I wonder at in terms of whether I can replicate it or echo it in my own work. I don’t know what I am good at, these days, it’s taking something across the finish line but she has a plethora of skills and her books are poignant, passionate and the delicacy of them hides some real gut-punch writing.

I also finished Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which was bleakly funny and entirely appropriate to my mood. It takes the tropes of the zombie apocalypse and wields it to informed, satirical observations on the world that was, or in our case is. I finished that book in a day, and started in on Sag Harbour, one of his earlier works, which is a warm, lovely book about adolescence in the 80’s.

So, at the moment, I am productive. I love the process more than the outcome, it is it’s own reward and with how things are for me right now, the process is keeping me going. Thank you for reading.