Tuesday 31 August 2010

"Lion of Kent" - background blog posts

Today's the day that Carina Press blogs about "Lion of Kent" - there are fun entries over at Facebook, and three entries over at the official Carina blog.

Finding the Story in History
talk about the inspiration of my professor - Professor H (I may have mentioned his book-buying habit).

Then Aiming for a Sense of Place - where Kate blogs about the locations, namely Medieval English castles here.

Finally, "The Lion of Kent" is some background on how it all happened.

Hope to see you there!

Monday 30 August 2010

"Lion of Kent" is out

Today is the release date for "Lion of Kent".

Squire William Raven has only one goal—to finally receive his spurs and become a knight. When his lord, Sir Robert de Cantilou, returns from a five-year crusade in the Holy Land, William wants nothing more than to impress him.

After Sir Robert's return, noble guests arrive from France, bringing intrigue to the castle. William is oblivious to the politics, as he's distracted by nightly visits from a faceless lover—a man who pleasures him in the dark and then leaves—a man he soon discovers is none other than his master, Sir Robert.

But William can't ignore the scheming around him when he overhears a plot to murder Robert. He becomes intent on saving his lord and lover from those who would see him killed...

Find an excerpt and the buy link here.

During the day, there will be "favourite sentences" over at Carina Press's account on Facebook, and Carina Press's blog.

Would be great to see you there.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Killing the golden goose

So many things damage artists. Apart from the knocks that we - like everybody else - get in life, there are some specific knocks that we somehow have to deal with. How to do it, though, isn't covered by the booklet with the delivery of "Artistic Talent". In fact, there's no booklet at all. We get this enormous thing delivered, and barely know how to deal with it. Maybe but a table cloth over the box and a fruit bowl on top and ignore it?

Apart from the usual issues - balancing "life" and "real life", there''s the other stuff. Piracy is one of them. Just today I learnt that Paul Richmond, the brain/hand behind the covers for "Clean Slate" and "First Blood" is being bootlegged by some asshole in China, who claims the copyright for the paintings. Read the full story here. What stuff like that does to a writer or painter, I guess few people can imagine. Maybe if somebody broke into your house and sold your clothes to random strangers out of your front door - and no police to call, no efficient help.

That's what writers feel like who get pirated. Some people get so hurt by this that they simply don't open the door to strangers anymore. They stop publishing and keep stuff to themselves and their friends. Pirates/bootlegger have quite literally killed the goose that lays golden eggs.

Another story is rather more personal. There are writers out there - and usually the best of them - that cannot deal with "publicity". They cannot deal with the need to run around on blogs and get on the stage and talk about themselves. Entertain in any other way than to send stuff to a publisher and then retreat, somehow reaching deep inside and digging up that pulsing heart that is the beginning of every story.

Forcing these people on the stage is like forcing a 9 month pregnant woman to dance on the stage, with a theoretical 5 billion people watching. For eternity. Because nothing that's posted on the Internet ever goes away. Dance bitch. Because you want to sell those books, don't you? You feel uncomfortable? Well, that's too damn bad, we're sure there are others that will just kill their dogs to be allowed to dance.

It's those expectations - some spoken, some unspoken - that kill the story. Make the author aware of what they are doing - and suddenly their legs cross, they stumble. Above all, they stop loving what they are doing. And it freezes the story to death before it had any chance to live.

The audience, the expectation, the publisher, one's own terribly high expectations - they can kill stories by a thousand cuts. To write, writers need to skin part of their own souls, and then write with the blood, through clenched teeth. We do it because we must, and getting watched makes it all awkward and kills the love.

There's one book that died on me like that - it took my agent to say "awesome, I'll sell that for a five-figure sum", to kill the book. I was dead flat broke, unemployed, desperate for money and recognition, and that book could have solved every problem I had.

I wrote 35 pages. They were good pages. I ended up staring at the screen and hated the idea of writing a single sentence. I threw fits over it, shouted, hated, resented every unborn character, every unwritten line of dialogue, knowing I'd have to drag myself by my teeth through a book that I never grew to love because of those expectations.

That's when I stopped wanting to be a "real author". I cut the throats of almost all my literary ambitions. I didn't write much. When I wrote again, I decided I'll only ever write fluff. (Granted, it hasn't happened... but the serious books happen against my best intentions, by following the story rather than sitting down with any notion of "I R Noah Serious Rita!"). Fuck that. My agent kept telling me how talented I am, and in a way I know all all - unless I don't, and doubt everything I do - and that's great, but the expectations are really, really tough at times.

I'm now productive and happy because I'm telling my muse "know what, I'm just playing", and he writes his little black heart out. I'm not thinking of the audience. There IS NO AUDIENCE. All those people are my friends. Elaine, Audra, Lori, Marcie, Peter... not "the audience" and not "the lions I get tossed to."

I'm a people person. I deal with people one at a time. I can't deal with groups at all. Groups in my brain are scary, hostile, faceless. I need to break that word down into who and what it's composed of. I can't do it any other way.

That's how I can dance while carrying a story. I only ever see one face in the crowd. That's the one person I'm doing it for. It can be as many as four or five, but that's it. Then again, I'm not ignoring the others. A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet - I've gradually stepped away from my learned paranoia and decided I will not live in a way that allows the bullies from the early decades in my life to decide how I deal with people for the rest of my life.

But it happens, we lose a lot of fantastic writers and great stories because something kills the spark. It might be the violation of disrespect and ignorance, it might be that pressure to "perform" and be everything - writer, promoter, VIP. I just know that sometimes, it can wipe out the best of us. These issues never crop of with the mediocre and the plain bad. They take the best.

Friday 27 August 2010

Four day weekend

It's a banking holiday in the UK. And I've taken the opportunity to add a Friday to that, so I'm looking down the right end of a four day weekend.

Today's also the day that my neighbour is moving. It's a little disturbing, since there's an ambulance right next to the moving van and the movers are standing around on the street, talking about the things 19-25 year old lads are talking about, and fiddle with their mobile phones. Let's hope she's okay.

I'm in a peculiar mood today - we visited the parents of our friend who died in April, just to check in on them, see how they are doing. They are over here from Spain, where they live most of the year. There's this notable absence - sitting in Chris's living room, talking to his parents. Sometimes, we're the sum of our losses.

Life's too short, really. It takes such a long time to become who we are, to do the things we were meant to do, that anything shorter than a hundred years isn't nearly enough and an insult to all the hard work we had to put in up to that point.

Being parentless, or should I say motherless, because my father only really contributed some pretty solid DNA, is likely different to be mourning a child. My mother had years that were outside my experience, and in some ways we were completely different. We had our fights like probably only two Taureans can fight.

High drama, snarls, seething accusations. Yet, in a strange way, I was always prepared to grow up very fast. I remember some astonishing insights as a small child, a confidence, clarity and strength that very often kept me in good stead. I grew up very fast as if part of me knew I wouldn't have many people to depend on in my life. Very likely I owe that to my mother, who was - working as she was, and falling desperately in love with one asshole after the other - largely absent, but never left any doubt that she loved me. I guess, apart from the gift of life, that's really the main thing I received. Self-sufficiency because there were precious few resources to back me up, and the feeling that I was loved unconditionally.

Even fourteen years later, there's this "wish she could see that", and I'll likely never lose that feeling. We do carry our dead around, sometimes as a burden, sometimes as a privilege.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

I'm turning into my professor

I'm turning into my professor - the famous professor H. I once helped the man move... I didn't actually carry anything. My whole job was to sort the books by "period" and "theme" (or sub-theme of history, such as religion, warfare, mentality, nobility). It took me a whole day, long into the night. While I did that, I noticed that he owned one book (Montaillou - a book on an inquisitorial investigation in southern France during the late Middle Ages) FIVE times. Three hardcovers and a couple paperbacks.

I pointed at them, as they sat there, lined up on the shelf and asked him "why?"

He said that one had been a gift, one was owned by his wife, he bought the other one since he'd forgotten he owned the book, and the fourth was bought when he couldn't find it.

Yesterday, I bought a book because I couldn't find an absolutely crucial bit of information on German horsebreeding in WWII. Very soon, I'll enter the stage where I forgot I owned stuff (when I moved house, I already found two duplicate books - one pair on creative writing, the other pair on the history of Islam - so we're not far off).

I do wonder if ebooks are the solution to that. After all, it should be easier to organize them. Especially when the vendor keeps a copy on the shelf.

But now I'm eagerly awaiting the delivery of my horse book. And once it shows up at my door - I'll just pretend all this didn't happen and either give the second copy away as a gift (my professor gave me one of his five copies after a thoughtful moment and a "guess I really don't need FIVE."), donate them or sell them on.

Old age will be fun.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Mostly done

I spent the last days working nonstop, but it's paid off. The big technical feature is written. Tomorrow I'll do a some nip and tuck on it (okay, more than "some", I have to cut around 40%... but I already trimmed it by a third, so... yeah, I can do this), so heading off to work early again, but after that, the worst part is done.

I also finished the line-edit of "First Blood" and now have four days to do the fact checking about some details. Four days sounds like a *lot* after the amount of stuff I did recently.

I'm also flying out to Germany for a few days over bank holiday weekend, meeting friends and hopefully not working at all. While I've "done" it, and I think it's a good result and will be even better after the final cutting - I've learnt a lot about pacing myself and how much I can work on how little sleep. Getting there. I'm way more positive about the next bits and pieces. Boss seems happy, too. Overall, it's all looking good.

But right now, my brain's hurting from too much work. I'll enjoy sleeping for eight hours and relaxing, and tomorrow is the last "Kraftanstrengung" (which translates as "expenditure of strength", but the English expression isn't nearly as poignant) - stuff will be finished then, and I can book my flights.

Life's good, but pretty hard work.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Long weekend

I've done a huge pile of work-related work yesterday. Then I started editing "First Blood". Note to self - editing 10k a day is bad for your sanity.

Today I got up early (on a Sunday. I'm a hero), and edited 20k of "First Blood".

That means that not only has my sanity taken a major hit, I'm also halfway through "First Blood", which has 62k words. All this so I can manage the remaining edits during a completely crazy work week. Somehow. I'm not sure how Barbara powered through 160 pages of the text on one day...she's just that good. :)

The edits are 95% "fiddly shit" as I call it - pure line-editing and having found a better word in the meantime. The 5% percent is stuff that I could have discovered with more in-depth research. I guess one never stops learning.

Now I'll have to go back to "work work" and earn my keep there. Apart from those two, I read two books for Elisa Rolle's Rainbow Awards (and both were pretty good). I'm done there, so at least there won't be frantic activity on that count in the next couple weeks.

I'll see you soon on the flipside with more interesting musings than wordcounts.

Maybe one thing - I got a long, awesome email expressing gratitude for my writing, which is always amazing and does help with the moments where I go "can't be bothered, am going to bed."

Thanks guys, for your support. It makes a huge difference.

Now I'll grab a book and a nap on the couch - I'll have to do a load of work tonight, but late afternoon is my "dead zone" anyway, and nothing gets me through editing exhaustion like a book and 30 minutes shuteye.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Autumn and quote

On the way to the post office (to post "Soldiers I and II" to the winner of the charity auction) I realised summer's over. It's a certain chill in the air, a feeling of having gotten past the peak. Summer may linger a little, and might even come back with heat, but there's an insistence to the rain, a vague chill when it's cool. The colours are paling, gently, the South-East is segueing into that grey non-weather that precedes autumn. The roses have moved on - the flowers lost their strength a week ago, the fruit are closed and begin to swell to red. Nature calms, readies to preserve strength.

I've taken a pile of work home. I usually don't do that. I like my life/work balance well, balanced. But in this case I don't mind. It's a pretty awesome job, I'm working with and for awesome people (at least first level up, I don't know the powers beyond that much, yet). Then again, like a soldier, the NCO is way more important to me than the general, anyway. Rarely have I worked in such a disciplined, hard-working company. After the other places, here's a sense of "purpose" which really beats the crap out of the "I show up and collect my paycheque" attitude at the other places I've worked for.

So, that's what I'll do. In addition, Dreamspinner sent us the edits of "First Blood", which need to be returned by 23rd. I'll be frantically busy to hit the deadline at work and for the publisher, but I'll do my best. Consequently, everything else is on hold (that's editing TCaS and SF).

A couple weeks ago I found this quote by Mario Vargas Llosa:

"That is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding
the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the
best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him,
because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of
life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what
he might achieve through it."

It's from "Letters to a young Novellist", a slim little book that so far is 100% true.

Sunday 8 August 2010

My workspace

Okay, I'm now taking you on a tour to my workspace (aka "the desk", "the study", "where things happen"). Here's the shot from the staircase:

You see my newly-expanded desk (the cupboard to the side is the thing I build yesterday). My printer's sitting on top. The big grey folder is the master copy of "To Catch a Spy". There's a tea light holder from Turkey (red and golden light). My mouse (I'm a lefthander or "south paw"). The acrylic stapler. The big monitor. To the right, a holder with stuff - pens and sticky tape and rollerball refills. Random coins. Iphone. pen wallet with favourite pen. Underneath, a Moleskine notebook.

All the cables attached to the tower are iPhone cable, headphone cable, eReader cable. Sometimes I tidy them up, most of the time I ust make sure I don't roll over them.

Next one:

Same view from the other corridor (the one leading to the bathroom). Note the small shelf at the far end. On top, there's the books I'm currently using for reference - one on gorillas, one on the Third Reich, one on CIA issues (the latter one is for TCaS). A small black box holding more knicknacks (in this case, a single cufflink and a pen cartridge). In the corner, my smiling brass Ganesha, patron god of the arts, wisdom and overcoming obstacles.

And the last one:

Here, I'm showing off my new cupboard. Inside, far end, is paper for the printer. Note how it does look like it belongs to my desk (color of the handle matches colour of the legs). There's a box holding random stuff (in this case, tea lights and more cables). The red folder holds the print-out of "Scorpion and Steel"), the blue folder holds "Iron Cross". There they sit, patiently awaiting the day when the big grey folder holding "To Catch a Spy" is removed so they can ursurp that position.

And that's really it.

ETA: Just saw you can't see the Ganesha in the corner. Here he is:

I think that smile is irresistible. So far, when I look over, he just seems to remind me "hey, it's fun, smile. Enjoy yourself". And that does help at times. Reminds me to relax and just do it.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Making stuff

I just started my day with putting together a cupboard. To get that thing delivered, I spent 2 hrs in a phone queue from hell, so no doubt this will become one of my most cherished pieces of furniture.

It's (fake) beech and fits neatly with my desk, giving me some of that coveted storage space for contracts and nicknacks. Also I could push my printer from my work desk and over to the cupboard. It's all still within reach, but frees up some space for planning and plotting to the side of the computer, so that makes for a much less crowded desk overall.

Now I have to decide what goes in there and how, but that's a question for another day. I've been coveting some acrylic stands and holders to complete the desk, but I'm also wary about crowding it up again. Authors can be funny about their work environment. Right now I have plenty of space to keep my couple piles of things mostly organised (usually, they are printed manuscripts and notes, where I "think"). Luxury worries if you have nothing else to worry about.

Meeting the estate agent last week was great. I'll have to do some financial planning on Thursday, but looks like all this house was an even better purchase than we thought. It's still something of an ongoing process, and with the economic data likely to get worse again (the "double dip" might just be here), we're moving very carefully indeed. People I'm talking to seem to expect things to get better in about 2-3 years... if China holds up and we don't see the real estate bubble in China explode (at the moment, my vote is, stay the hell away from China... but I'm not an economist).

The cool thing about my job is, I do get a great view on the global economy and get to talk to some seriously smart people (some of whom are scumbags). Which creates investment ideas. So I'll pretty soon start investing - the aim is to beat my pension pot in terms of performance, and the cash ISA and/or inflation at the very least. I reckon 5%/year should be doable without being a money whiz. Or doing nothing else.

And this weekend I'll work on TCaS. First steps will be to collate all the feedback I got, print out a fresh copy of the manuscript (one chapter at a time), put it all into folders, then go through it, pen in hand, identifying the things that need rewriting and improving the bits that are good.

Gritty groundwork. My least favourite bit. But the big goal is to finish this before "First Blood" comes back from Dreamspinner. Which might be very soon. Hopefully, it's all wrapped up by end of the month.

Sunday 1 August 2010

No more ballet for me

Yesterday, I saw the Bolshoi Ballet in the Royal Opera House. I've seen some ballet in my time, always had a strange love for both classical and modern dance, thought I'd seen a good show with "Cinderella" a couple months ago.

Well, the Bolshoi makes every other ballet company I've seen look like lumbering idiots. Art can be a deeply spiritual experience. I swear I spaced out watching that, fell into a trance of sheer wonder.

"Spartacus" is so different, too. Martial, raw, testosterone-drenched, which works incredibly well with the famous Bolshoi male dancers (they are quite famous for producing the best male dancers, without matching that quality quite on the female side... I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, the women were fine, Phrygia was heartbreakingly etherial, Aegina imperial and sensuous). The sheer athleticism of the male leads was breathtaking, though. I've never seen anything like it. Quite likely, I never will again.

Art purges the emotions. Shock and awe, running us through the palette of emotion to cleanse us and leave that zen-like glow of peace and harmony with the universe. Sometimes, you just become one. Art to me is the real religion, that group experience of beauty and purity. The Bolshoi got me there, yesterday, and held me there for three hours.

It happens sometimes when I write, or read, when suddenly the universe becomes a place in one's soul, vast and yet entirely mine. And then I completely understand any other artist, too, who devotes his life to get there, and take other people there.

So much grace left me exhausted with beauty. It's that "I could die happy now" feeling.

It also ruined any other ballet for me. After I've seen what it can be like, I'm simply not interested to watch any ballet that's not the Bolshoi or as good as them. And I'm so grateful to have seen them. In terms of birthday presents, this will be very hard to beat.