Sunday, 29 May 2011

Three day weekend (redux)

It's easy to lose a book. Something doesn't go quite right, the book is set aside, suddenly, two years have passed, and by now, you're a lot more interested in other books (like the one you're currently writing or the one that's coming up). Years pass. The characters turn into strangers. The book's gone.

I have a ton of books in the drawer. There's the financial trilogy which will likely never happen the way I imagined things in 2008/9. I think I have a novel and a novella there, and both need HUGE amounts of work. There's the menage and its prequel, there's the historical WWII novel (still around, still kicking, and still unfinished) and some other projects that are "cool ideas" at this stage and nothing more. I tend to be drawn towards the new over the old. Research books for the "new" are piling up all around me. You'd have to see it to believe it.

But above all, I'm putting work in to finish with the past and move into the future without guilt constantly dragging at my feet. I think I would be able to move faster that way. I might even tackle ROI again, the first book I did after "Special Forces". While "Collateral" saved me from burnout and from hating writing, ROI was what Germans call a "Befreiungsschlag" - a (violent) move to free oneself (usually from a superior enemy force). For that alone it deserves to be finished up properly. As it's not a romance in the conventional sense, I figure I might have to go down the self-publishing route, but that's OK. I'm done with conventional publishing, anyway.

Monday, 23 May 2011

I'm just no good

My last update was more than a week ago. Now, received wisdom is to blog every day - and most people expect to see at least 3 or 4 updates a week. I'm seemingly incapable of it. My life's not *that* interesting. Sometimes, big things go on behind the scenes that I can't talk about because they are dirty laundry, or are in the process of getting resolved, or just very emotional, and I rather wait and calm down and think things through before I go on record with anything.

Also, the last week has been spent "promoting" Scorpion. Reviews so far are looking good. I'm still in the stage where I check my reviews every day, but I know that once the next brain parasite book takes hold, I'll stop caring. I sometimes make fun of people who run around like excited chicken, squawking "I LAID AN EGG! OMG, IT'S AN EGG! IT'S ROUND AND WHITE/BROWN AND IT'S HARD ON THE OUTSIDE AND SOFT ON THE INSIDE! I'M THE GREATEST CHICKEN EVER! I LAID AN EGG!"

You know, that's what chicken do. We lay eggs. I deeply care about the current book, and I probably am like any other author in that I love to talk about my work, but at the end of the day, the process is natural and perfectly normal. Writers write. Chicken lay eggs. It's nothing special. And I much rather invest the energy and passion into the next one rather than running around telling people "BUY MY BOOK!", because firstly, that doesn't work, and secondly, I much rather write another book.

The proof of the writer is in the writing, not in the marketing, the blog schedule or how excited we're getting about what we're doing. The excitement is a given, but I'm a workman, I write one after the other, loving every one of them (of course, otherwise I wouldn't sacrifice every free minute to a pursuit that pays less per hour than slinging lattes at a coffee shop), but really, the worst part of writing is NOT writing. (The one thing worse that NOT writing is that gut-wrenching feeling of "it's no good, it won't come together, the whole thing is doomed to fail!" - that terrible, terrible angst I'm getting about 40% into a book. EVERY book.)

Compared to the Mid-Book Crisis and the I'll Never Write Again angst, nothing any reviewer can say can hurt me. To get a book out, I have had to overcome both. Reviews don't figure on my list of things I'm scared of. Sure, it's a bummer if a reviewer who is clearly intelligent and insightful ends up hating my book, but, really, by the point reviews roll in, I'm already two books ahead. Getting criticized for a book that has just come out feels a bit like reading your assessments from Middle school. ("Alex is a clever kid, but he loves getting distracted".)

For example, I started "Scorpion" in June 2010. To me, it's a very special book, because it's the only thing I wrote while getting my soul eaten by financial journalism for six months, working long hours every day and most weekends, travelling a lot and freaking out over learning an industry that could just as well have been happening on an alien planet, with my career (and mortgage) depending on providing insightful commentary that the practitioners would want to read.

Scorpion is my "fuck this, I WILL write!" book. Defiance in the face of exploitation - if having a cushy, high-profile white collar job can be called "exploitation" (well, certainly how THAT company did it). "Scorpion" happened despite everything. It's the book that lived, even though I tried to kill it a few times, even though it hit the brick walls so hard I could feel my teeth rattle.

These are the "book" stories few authors share, because every book teaches us something different about writing and about ourselves. And saying "hey, I was nearing burn-out, I realized I'm not a journalist despite more than four years in the field and all my scoops and features and all the hard work I put in, I realized that I'd hit the wall of my own lofty ideals and expectations and I was about to be eaten alive and have the joy of everything - writing, living, breathing - sucked right out of me" is not sexy. It's not even very interesting for anybody out there. I'm not holding a pity party. The book has to stand on its own, and so far, a fair amount of people like it and enjoyed it. So, yeah. for me, it's going to be a special book because of the stuff I was going through and still wrote.

But that doesn't matter, either. Once the book's out there, it's out there. The egg's done. Hopefully, I've learnt in the process how to lay better eggs. I've written another novel in the meantime.

Right now, I'm in the "post-book slump", which is one of the two phases of writing that I hate. While I have ideas, they really struggle to get on the page. Low energy, low drive, my famous discipline is faltering a little. I work, but at the end of the day, I have 650 words, which is almost nothing for a whole weekend.

Doesn't matter, though. All that matters is that there's a new book at the end of it. And all the little crises that happen in a writer's life are just seasoning to keep things interesting.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Spring greetings from my garden

When we bought Casa Voinov, we inherited a neglected garden. The back is largely taken over by an ancient, totally out of control rose tree/bush. I've done some research on roses and what's good for them (even though my mother was a florist, I don't have the first clue what to do), and realized it's basically too big.

In a first step, I cut back everything that was afflicted with that black m old you tend to get on roses (skinning some fingers in the process). Today I went back into the garden to see how the massive white rose bush/tress has responded to the surgical cuts. I discussed how to address the remaining issues - which means some serious pruning once I have the tools to attack all that old wood - the central stems are arm-thick, so I assume the rose is fifty years old or older. But it responded well to the first pruning - if anything, it's more vigorous, and I honestly think cutting about half of the major stems will result in a much happier, much healthier plant. Right now, the right side is collapsing under its own weight, so there's some serious shaping & pruning action required to get stuff under control.

I also did a round of deadheading (cutting off spent flowers). They are palm-sized floribundas (I've learnt), classical white English roses, like my mother loved them. Me growing roses is really a way of honouring her. She'd have been fussing over the roses a lot, so I kinda remember her through that.

Anyway, while I was cutting the spent flowers, I got some flowers for the house - one for my partner, some for the living room table, and one next to the computer. The fragrance is very delicate. And nothing in the world is as beautiful as a rose. There, I said it. I guess I am really a romance author. :)

Far shot of the area left of the keyboard.

Close-up in the Turkish tea glass.

Even closer, with flash.

Authors are just like lawyers and doctors

I probably never told the story, but I studied law for two semesters. Well, really only one, because after one semester I realized how soul-destroying law was for me, and in my second semester, with the big decision looming (If not a lawyer, what else do I want to be?), my mother was in the final stages of cancer - not the time to make big decisions like that. I also didn't want to distress her. She thought law would at least make sure I get a job and am "independent".

The decision to study law had the full backing of my family. I thought they were proud of me. But the opposite was true. Once my grandfather said: "Excellent, you can represent us all for free", I knew what the real motivation was. I was about to save my family of four uncles and three aunts, which all have a talent to get into tight spots financially and legally, A LOT OF MONEY. Whoot, Aleks is going to take care of all that. We can have MORE TRIALS, and we can threaten our enemies with the ultimate weapon forever and ever: a lawyer in the family.

(Thankfully, I left before that nightmare could happen - at which several of my kin and blood relations told me "I don't have any respect for you anymore, because you're a quitter!" - but I think they were mostly bothered by not being given all my education and resources to use as they pleased, obviously for nothing, because, hey, "we're family".)

Now, of course that is something lawyers face every day. Doctors, BTW, are the same. At any party, once people come out as doctors (I've even witnessed it with dentists), people will tell them about the consistency of their poo, the rash on their dicks, and ask them for a consultation on hair loss. Obviously for free. Here's a doctor at the same party, he sure likes to work for free. It's probably even worse for family.

Authors face the same issues. I can't count how often random people felt I "should send them a book" - because we've talked in the past, or because we crossed paths somewhere and I came out as a writer. "Oh, you can give me one of your books." Often said in a tone as if they were being generous. I'm allowed to give them a paperbook.

I can. But I won't.

Firstly, my publisher contracts (contract = legal document) very often state how many ebooks I'm allowed to give away. It might be 5 or 20, but not a hundred. And I easily know a hundred people. If my book's out in print, I get usually around FIVE print copies. Of those, I keep one for myself, one is for my partner. The other three are for the beta readers/proofreaders/cover artist.

The ebook copies I'm allowed to give away go into quizzes, giveaways on blogs. I also tend to give at least five copies away to the people who had a serious hand in the writing and editing. It's the betas, the crit partners, the people that helped me solve problems with the book. In short, these people *worked* for it in some way.

I also give away a lot of books to people who really can't afford them but are clearly "fans" (hate the word). Basically, if you're on food stamps and freaking out over where to get the next rent from, the gift of a book is a small thing for me and makes a huge difference to those friends.

Interestingly, these people - who really can't afford my books, because it's the difference between eating and not eating that day - NEVER ask for free books. Ever. They are way too humble, and often so grateful I get all tongue-tied. Here are people that really deserve those freebies. They never come with any sense of entitlement like "I tweeted you, now send me a free book".

(And I know once I save it, several of them will email me, thinking I think they think they are entitled - no, guys, if you think this is about you, IT's NOT...)

Funny. But then, my family could afford a lawyer, too, but still wanted to push me into a career that would have destroyed me just to save some cash. I'm just amazed how many random strangers believe I (or other authors) like working for free. Well, it beats getting pirated, I guess.

Monday, 9 May 2011

It's a book!

Today was the official release of "Scorpion". Have a look at that cover:

It's awesome and I'm very pleased. (And at the moment, Dreamspinner sells everything at 20% off, too.

This is the link to the ebook.

And this is the link to the paperback.

The website has the whole first chapter online. You can also read it on my website here.

And over at Amara's Blog, we have "Scorpion Week" with giveaways and interviews and fun stuff.

(If you read this post via Goodreads, the links in this post might not come through, so just click on the link to the blog and get the rest of the entry, too.)

So, if you want to win stuff head over to Amara, and we're talking about the book in my Goodreads group.

Meanwhile, I'll start work on the next one. :)

Monday, 2 May 2011

Gearing up for the birthday

Hope everybody had a great May Day. It's a bank holiday in the UK today and I also have tomorrow and Wednesday off - Wednesday's my birthday, so I kinda liked having plenty of time off work. I can definitely feel the tension leave me. While, of course, I'm turning into a speed-editing freak to catch up with stuff, as usual. One day I'll run before the wave of work rather than behind it.

Anyway, here's an excellent review of "Lion of Kent" at Speak Its Name.

Great way to start a sunny, bright day (with oddly cold winds).

And whatever I'd have to say about Osama bin Laden being executed would be too controversial, so I'm keeping my gob shut on that count. Some people in the Guardian and various reputable newspapers have said some very intelligent things about it. The repercussions of this can really fall both (or at least three) ways. Two of which would make excellent thriller plot material - and one has a somewhat apocalyptic bent.

Oddly, I think the Vatican has an interesting angle on it. Thankfully, as a writer, I don't have to pretend I have the answer, but today marks a departure from the status quo in several ways, and I'm quite curious what's going to happen next, current affairs nut that I am.

My goal for today is to finish a 37k edit, start another one, and read what I have of my historical novel, and slowly find my way back in, too. Possibly even writing a little, or doing some preparatory work that I should have done, oh, nearly two years ago.