Friday 23 July 2010

A week full of finances

It was a long, hard week. I'm still learning my job, which gets me to meet interesting people and a lot of free drinks (coffee, mostly, I'm a financial journalist and getting drunk means I can't think).

I realise over and over that being a journalist is a really good fit for me. Now, that might be obvious, but bear with me for a little. Like many kids, I wanted to be a journalist. Then I read about how difficult it is to get into any of the journalism schools/academies.

Then I met somebody who was an editor at a small regional newspaper. He was an asshole. Cynical and pretty much untalented as a prose writer. Then I met somebody very smart who worked as a journalist for a while and he told me that the way into the job is really writing about the famous rabbit breeder association for years before you get anything interesting. Also, ambulance-chasing and asking bereaved mothers how they felt that their child had been killed/murdered/committed suicide.

Those images were really enough to not want to do it - so I turned my back on the idea and opted for "something proper" instead. Also never assumed I'd ever be good enough to work for the few papers that I respected. Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist.

More than ten years later, I got interviews at the FT (and opted to not pursue it because I'd already received an offer for a job I really wanted - this current one -) and who knows where I'll end up working, but this company is pretty awesome. And I'm a "proper" journalist. Meeting people or "sources" in coffee shops and going to press briefings at places and clubs that other mortals don't get access to. Learning the "real story" behind what's in the papers. Mistrusting almost everything, and trying to work out the truth - because I'm ever-curious and never satisfied. I get paid to learn and write what I know, after I researched it. I get thrown difficult shit - complex problems that, unlike in academia, have a real impact on people. Price of commodities goes up, people starve. Your and my pension money at work.

Right now, this takes a lot of energy. In many ways I've just started. I'm growing into my role, getting ready to take some work off my boss's shoulders, and supporting him, like the "deputy" in my job title suggests.

Every day I'm full of wonder about how shit works. How little those lawyers know. How little the bankers seem to care. How the financial people push their agenda ruthlessly, carelessly, thoughtlessly, believing we from the financial press only swallow and then regurgitate what they tell us. (One banker actually dared to call us "spokespeople for the industry" - while the Financial Times was there, too). The brazen balls of brazenness.

I'm not sure where this journey's going. Right now it's a wild and wonderful ride. It does take a lot of the spare energy I had zipping around previously and slows down the writing somewhat - but it's still manageable. I'm blogging less - the drama unfolds in my head, for the most part, and I know that most of you don't care about financial products. The connection to the "real world" is not all that obvious, and the texts I'm writing are so technical as to be virtually meaningless to outsiders.

But I'm not "selling out", and I'm nobody's "spokesperson". We're pretty damn critical of this 500-750 trillion industry that has the power to topple states and ruin countries and multinationals. And we say so. My boss sees us as something of a watchdog of the industry and he's the first one to call bullshit if they lie through their teeth.

I went from data monkey and "ally" of my previous industry (which now appears so gentle and provincial) to someplace that asks the hard questions. And I'm shocked to see the heads of This and global leader of That evade my question and being unable to understand the implications of what they are saying. What it actually MEANS. What they are saying, parroting after their leaders, who just make assumptions.

For example, one major reform is underway in the industry. They all bitch and moan about how much it's going to cost them (but they are not paying - the customer will, so they moan about how it's bad for their customers - foregone conclusion, that their own bottom line will never suffer). Asked, at the highest level, in a room full of their highest level, how *much* it'll cost, they evade. Asked *again*, they get shifty eyes. Asked yet again if they've done any modelling, if anybody has actually crunched those godsdamned numbers - the best response we get is "I don't know, and I don't know anybody who does/has."

Then why say it's going to be So Expensive?

Liars and Godsdamned liars.

Next time you want a bailout from me, I want my pound of flesh. Make it a kilo.

Sunday 18 July 2010

More progress

I've finished the edits of chapter 20 of "Mercenaries" that Alison sent me. Looks good, so I updated the "Mercenaries" file on my website with it.

Beyond that, I didn't really do all that much. I'm heading off to Cambridge tomorrow to attend a conference and hope to get some reading done on the train. (Two hours total, plus some time on the tube). I hope to get some stuff fixed regarding the Tarzan project and get some more words in on that this week, but it's been very very slow.

I'm pushing the scorpion story on the backburner. It's not coming together, and it might fall apart completely. I don't know. Sure hope to salvage it when the time comes. I did like writing fantasy again, but at the moment, duty and deadlines come first.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Oy, where's my week?

This week just zipped past. I was busy. I went to press meetings. I'm writing a little, editing a little, teaching a little. Slowly moving along. Real life - lots of stuff to learn, I'll do public speaking and have been learning just what bastards (most) bankers are. You don't have a clue unless you're in the industry. Maybe I'll write about it one day, it's certainly sobering and begins to turn me into a bit of an economic Communist/Socialist. I want a state-owned bank that handles people's savings, mortgages and credit cards - the rest of the financial industry can go to hell and gamble with Satan for all I care.

Now let's talk good books: Erekos is moving closer to publication. Check out a sample here. I think Erekos will be my favourite fantasy book ever, right next to "The Last Unicorn" by Peter Beagle. The author is one of my co-writers, an all-round gifted, giving, generous, smart and caring person, one of the best I know. Go check out the book. You'll be amazed.

I've lured another unsuspecting Russian into beta-ing Russian stuff for me, so that day's a win.

I'm writing a little bit, 200 words at a time. Some readers will be hopping with rage if this comes out, so I'm keeping it under wraps until it's done. I don't want to have to explain and get emails like "how could you!" (they will happen, I know it). Fact is, though, re-visiting an old idea and playing it out differently is legit. Many ideas have more than one book in them.

Seeing how my job develops (I'll be in Russia in October, helping run a conference), I might hibernate between the release of "First Blood" in September and the end of the year, and do, as Brits like saying "fuck-all." That would be nice.

Before that, I have to wrap up some things, but right now it's not easy keeping up with emails and promoting and gods know what. But it's all good at the moment. I'm in a good place, I'm just busy learning my new job. But it's awesome. Infuriating, but awesome.

Monday 12 July 2010

Overcoming a snag to hit a wall

I've seemingly overcome a snag in the scorpion story only to hit a wall. It's quite comical, actually. I start something new because I get bored with editing old stuff. I delude myself into thinking that that project is "short" and "easy". I hit a snag once the initial burst of energy is spent, I pull free, race forward. I then realise it's not holding together (prompted by first feedback I'm getting - no, it wasn't just you, Kate. :) ).

I end up with the choice between stopping entirely and fixing the problem or continuing to write something which will need enormous re-writes, in effect putting me back into the same quagmire that the project freed me from in the first place.

I have a pile a metre high of projects that need rewrites and rethinks. I'm still bad at editing, at least on the structural level, and at least when it comes to novels (I've rewritten and restructured short stories and novellas, but I'm not good enough yet to tackle a novel that is structurally flawed).

This is where I'm hitting my limits, and hit them hard. It's one thing to be a competent first draft writer, and another entirely to tickle out the best of the material you have there. It can mean to mess with characters on the most fundamental level. It means to kill your darlings, the scenes that are actually good but might not work best for the characters you're dealing with. It means, often enough, to remove overwrought bullshit.

The real challenge is to rise above the limitation there and put in the work. The real problem for me is that I tend to follow the fun. Rewriting isn't fun, not even remotely so. Over twenty years, I've focused on delivering a good first draft that needs only a polish and some (few) changes. My first drafts are damned clean copy already, but they have to be structurally sound or I'm fucked.

Well, in this case, the latter option applies.

Back to the drawing board, to the endless, boring, frustrating drudgery of rewriting and restructuring. The 24k I've written will need a good vivisection - unless that kills my fun in the project (which has happened before and makes writing a chore rather than fun).

So, the scorpion story went on the same pile as the other dozen projects that are advanced but not done (including ROI, IC and TCAS). Logically, I should focus on TCAS - it's the most advanced and really needs the least rewrites.

And that's where all momentum hits a wall. Switching projects at full tilt is downright painful. So sorry to everybody who was expecting "Scorpion" to get finished anytime soon. It won't happen in the next weeks or likely even months. It needs some more simmering and germinating. I have no doubt it'll be a good novel once it's done, but this isn't it.

Sometimes, this writing thing sucks.

But I moaned enough. Tonight I'm going home and work on "To Catch a Spy". Once that is out of the door, I might have a solution to the scorpion problem. I'll continue making notes and watch what the characters are up to, but it's now seriously time to plot and restructure, and that works best while not writing on it. Switch from left brain to right brain (only it's the other way round, since I'm a south paw).

In other words, great start to the week. Boss at least thinks the piece I did on regulation was 'very good'. There's one thing I'm good at structuring, at least.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Writing mojo is back

I just wrote 2k on the scorpion story - which brings us up to 24k. There's some epic emotions in there, and some of that was pretty damn intense to write.

So looks like the Ganesha is working. :) Have to find some sweets to offer to him, but fact is, we don't have anything like that in the house.

I cleared out one of the last few boxes in the library. We're getting there, clearly. There's only 2 boxes left now. Will have to hang clothes and shirts and vet some more stuff, but I'll soon be able to show photographs of the library.

Other than that, I've rediscovered my mad love for Hammerfall, and discovered Stratovarius. Will have to get an iTunes card and load up on them. Next thing I'll buy is a stereo system with a docking station for my iPod and an external harddrive for my music. Three weeks until I get paid. July is pretty damned long.

And I've started a new project.

Friday 9 July 2010

Heat wave

I'm languishing under the UK heat wave. It's the hottest day of the year, and there are public health warnings. I'm sticking to chilled coffees and to staying out of the heat. Our move didn't come one moment too early, since the new hhouse copes so much better with heat and now we have the garden to catch some air in the shaded areas in the back (decking, trees, roses, it's pretty damn nice).

Weekend will see me have to go shopping. I need a bunch of work shirts and a new pair of shoes. I just destroyed my last pair of work-suitable black leather shoes. Damnation.

I'm currently running a writing workshop, which, ironically, means I'm not writing myself (funny how that works). I'll be back to normal next week, but I'll make an effort to write at least a little today and a little more over the weekend.

Since my duties increase and I get more and more things to do, I assume I'm doing good in the new job. I have to edit a couple freelancer features and wrote two small features about pretty complex regulation stuff, so I think I'm set up well to write my long feature of 3-4k next month. It's easier to care about something that's more complex and keeps challenging you than an industry that runs very much along very similar lines. I'm not sure I fully grasped how perversely, deeply bored I was in the old job.

Also got invited to a couple chats with lawyers and then the World Sugar Conference thing in Cambridge this month. There's so much stuff going on that I could run from event to event and never cover it all. Pretty awesome, actually.

Will likely fly out to Moscow and New York this year, and then to the Windy City, too. Should be fun and I'm looking forward to that. Will also mean I'll get some reading/reviewing in in the meantime, as well as images and people and time for the writing.

It does seem like I'm turning into one of those famous journalist/writers. That was something I never wanted to be - but I think it is my niche and I'll be doing OK there. No more industry-hopping, no more fears I'm not doing what I should be doing. I'm enjoying myself and life can only get more awesome from here.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Cover art: First Blood

Aaaaand, the promised cover for "First Blood", the sequel to "Clean Slate". Red is the main topic here.

Cover again by the amazing Paul Richmond!

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Release day: Risky Maneuvers is out

Today, Barbara Sheridan's and my "Risky Maneuvers" is out from Loose Id. It's classed as a GLBT sci-fi, so, yeah, that's what you can expect.

I read it this morning on my mobile phone (and promptly boarded the wrong train, doofus) and it definitely shortened *my* commute - even if it was longer than normal. I skimmed some bits, but overall, I'm really happy with it. Good little story. Happy to write the sequel if people want it.

Job still kicks my ass in fifteen ways, but all of them good. I haven't been so engaged and alert at a desk for a pay cheque in a long time (granted, when the markets went to hell over the last 18 months, there was very little to report on). I'm learning my stuff, beginning to network, and overall I really enjoy this. The German sense of "law and order" has already reasserted itself. My desk is the only one in this area that's not strewn with papers, and I've just used a moment to throw away a couple geological layers of paper cluttering up our printer. I think over the next weeks I'll begin spreading my influence and order, doubtlessly recycling a medium-sized rainforest in the process.

I'm currently teaching creative writing (it's an on-off thing, three times per year for a few weeks), so I'm spending a fair bit of my writing time explaining some basics to some people. For money, yeah, but it does get in the way of the writing right now. I'm still thinking stuff through and I'm getting a handle on a couple projects. What I'd like now is a month off or on part-time for my fingers to catch up with the writing I've done in my head.

Landlord paid some of our deposit back. I'm glad to be gone from the clutches of that greedy a$$hole, but we won't fight the guy over the money. A waste of energy, even though he's making me want to warn everybody away from signing up to rent anything from that greedy super-rich bastard. Here's a real life vampire, no mistaking. Makes me wish his buy-to-let-and-then-bleed-tenants-dry empire would have come crashing down, but it didn't.

Still, the deposit is still a nice boost in a month where I'm incredibly tight with cash. So, yeah, the income from teaching writing will be good, and who knows, there might even be some royalties coming my way, since June is the end of the quarter. All good.

No writing at all since yesterday. I was planning to get up early today and write for an hour before heading to work, but my partner came home well past midnight, somewhat hung-over after a huge x-course work dinner, and there's no way he can sleep through me typing in the next room. The walls/doors aren't that thick, the study is right next to the bedroom. There went the writing.

I could do some writing on the netbook - if the Acer Aspire's battery pack hadn't been blown (I didn't use if for a while, so now it refuses to hold a charge). There's an expense that's not in the budget this month.

I've seen the final cover for "First Blood" and Paul Richmond did an amazing job, as usual. The theme of the series seems to be "red". One of my favourite colours. The other's teal. I'll have to do some "promo" for "First Blood" and update the website - all tonight once I get home (can't reasonably do that from work).

And now back to US regulation. Btw - that Wall Street Bill? Wobbly piece of wobbly wobble you can drive a truck through. I'm not a lawyer, but even I can see it (after having read a fair bit of it). Next financial crisis is just around the corner - funny when you let the "goat do the gardening", as we say in German.

But yeah, big news - Risky Maneuvers is out!

Monday 5 July 2010

Scorpion at 22k

After a fairly pathetic weekend in terms of wordcount (1,200 words), I've still hit the 22k mark, which equates to a third of a novel. Right now, it looks like it might be around 60-90k. First feedback from long-standing betas is enthusiastic, one even said that it's the best I've done so far. This is one of the weird things about this particular project. Not only is it pretty consuming - all good projects are, and even more when they are written solo - but I keep having that feeling it's a new "voice", or a new way to use my voice.

The main character's way of seeing things is pretty understated, which lends a lot more impact to what's going on. Proof that you don't have to toss out FIVE BIG DRAMATIC WORDS IN A SHATTERED GRAMMATICAL STRUCTURE SPICED UP WITH SOME EXTRA DRAMA AND SENTIMENTALISM to get an effect.

This begins to feel a bit less like m/m fantasy and a lot more like mainstream military fantasy with some explicit sex. (Okay, a fair amount of explicit sex). But in any case, I think I'm headed the right way and it's going to be a good book, overall. Timeline has changed, too. Despite the fact it's fantasy and I'm currently making things up as I go along, I might have to do some planning and world-building, so the idea is to finish this by year-end, sooner, if that works, but I'm definitely not rushing this.

I'm also, again, changing genres. I've always loved fantasy, and in a way I'm now heading back that way. I have a few more fantasy ideas (also with explicit sex), which want to be written. One of them might be the final - finally - incarnation of that age-old story I started at 19ish and that never got off the ground for several reasons. I'll finally concede defeat and accept that it's a sci-fi story, not a contemporary. It started as a cyberpunk story in the near-future, but I'd have to do a lot of extrapolation to make it work. Some themes of that - reverse racism - don't work, others, - treatment of "state-less people" work and are important, but not quite like I would have wanted. Sometimes, you gotta bend the story to reality, rather than the other way round.

Now that I've found my feet again, I start digging around in the boxes with "beloved and abandoned" written over them. All the novel attempts that I couldn't get to work, all the oh-so-ambitious and oh-so-literary things that I never managed to pull together because, frankly, I wasn't good enough for it, and there was no genre for them, either, can now come out and play and get finished. Unfinished business is a constant stressor in my brain, so that will help. Also, ideas I still love after 13-15 years probably have something going for them.

Lots of stuff in the pipeline.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Bullet time

I just updated my website with current projects and release dates. Looking back over the last six months, I did have a lot of releases. The last one, however, was in early May, and since then, I've been wrapped up in house and job things. It feels like I haven't published anything in years.

That's another good answer to the question "how do you publish/write so much?" - my sense of time is utterly screwed. It feels like I'm trapped in an eternal case of bullet time.

At the moment, though, there are only four releases with any certainty.

- "Risky Maneuvers" is going to be out this week.

- I hesitate to promise "Don't Ask Don't Tell" - that project has been bedeviled with so much bad luck, I fully expect the printer to burn down when it goes into production. If everything goes right (hah!), though, we're looking at a release this July. July 2011 is just as likely.

- "Lion of Kent" will come out from Carina Press in late August 2010.

- "First Blood" is due out in September.

And that's me done this year. So far. There might be a few stragglers here and there, but that's what I have contracts for right now.

But, bullet time. Bullet time says "it's been ages since you finished something/sold a story/got a contract". The other resolutions were to move into my own house and get a job that I like and pays a lot more. Yup, both are covered.

The next six months will be about finding a new routine and finishing 2-3 full novels - either hard editing or wrapping up.

Ah, next thing to happen - get that eagle/phoenix tattoo. But not in summer. And another tailored suit from my source. This time, we're looking at a three-piece. I might even get a watch on a chain.

Saturday 3 July 2010

On the right track

Germany makes the last 4. Here I was, head in the sand, expecting Maradonna's boys to demolish Germany. Well, yeah. Optimist =/= me. Now, though, having built so much momentum, I think our "Eleven" can make it all the way. Fourth World Cup? Adding another star to the three? Would be awesome.

Of course, Holland versus Germany could very well mean blood on the streets. There are some pairings that just spell trouble.

Amusing, how the Internet screams "Nazis" already. Klose is Polish. Ozil is Turkish. I think Podolski has Polish ancestors. Piotr Trochowski? Yes, that's a *really* German name right there.

The black kit? Awesome.

On the writing front, I've just pulled a story from a publisher that didn't give me an answer after three emails and subbed the story to one of my other pubs. It's not my favourite thing in the world to do, but there goes.

On the front of new writing, I've spent some time thinking about the scorpion story and talked things through with Gileonnen. After prodding at some elements that stand there and that I don't want to rewrite, I think I have enough plot to fill a full-sized novel. So that's what I'm now writing. It's grown to enough complexity go warrant that. If I can keep the intensity on that level, things are good. If I can't, well, at least I tried.

When push comes to shove, I never have any qualms about self-publishing, either. Editing is no big deal, I know several cover artist there (and would be happy to pay a pro, anyway). Which is to say I'm worried that this novel is too dark and too intense for most pubs. Casperian might be a good fit, I'm thinking, after they put out the brilliant Administration Series by Manna Francis, and The Rage of Achilles. But all options are open at this point. I just want to have paper copies of this one if I really do go the full 60-80k length.

Will have to check. But that's counting the chickens before they've hatched.

And I got through my first week at work alright. The only problem I'm seeing with the place is their very strict Internet policy. Means I'm not getting distracted by personal email, but also means I come home to 200-250+ emails every day. So I switched off several author loops that just consisted of a hundred one-liner emails every day, left some groups, put others on "web only" and several on "daily digest". That cut down my emails, so far, to around 50, which is manageable and doesn't kill off my writing time. I much rather focus on the communities like Goodreads and Facebook and Livejournal and direct personal email than read author loop mails all day.

This networking thing is a time-eater, and I have to be careful not to damage the writing.

Talking of which, I'm going to work on the scorpion story today. At the moment, the vibe I'm getting is way less m/m romancy and way more gay fantasy (with lots of explicit sex), but I'll see where it goes. So far, I'm pretty pleased with how it's turning out.