Saturday 29 January 2011


I followed the Iranian uprisings with hope and trepidation. Now, I've been remiss in my news watching. Getting out of journalism meant no m,ore constant monitoring of a million news sources. I went on a diet, lived in my little bubble, de-stressed from the world.

But what's going on in Egypt is incredibly beautiful. It's not a country I understand (I can tell you more about the pharaohs than Mubarak), not one I have ties to, but if I were the praying type, I'd be praying for the Egyptians, who are out on the street, fighting for their rights right now, protecting their nation, their neighborhoods, their museums. I'm not sure I've seen anything as beautiful as the human chain around the National Museum for years.

And this? "We will have our rights, one way or the other - and we will not be silenced!"

More as it develops here on Al-Jazeera.

I do hope the western world does what it can to help free the Egyptians from their military dictatorship. The moral right is very very clearly with the people. 

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Yet more good news

My partner just got the offer from an investment bank, which means a 30% salary increase. He's pretty chuffed. So am I. Making grandiose plans of taking over the world after London, too. But in the end, it's all going towards the house and the pension. We're already doing nicely, everything extra is now for financial  planning. I did not plan to work until I'm 70 or whatever the age will be at that time.

Thanks to uneven workload (feast or famine, at the moment it's famine), I'm done with my first major research book for Iron Cross (covering German history from 1870 to 1933) and have gathered some ideas for the characters' background. Questions such as "when did the American press began to report on Nazi atrocities commited against Jews" and "where could Richard have attended university" are answered. The answers are: as early as Jan/Feb 1933 and "Heidelberg or Marburg" (personally I tend towards Marburg, since I know that city). There are also many details I hadn't considered, and things like "un-Germanic art" and the bookburnings are put into perspective.

I do like reading those sweeping histories and start tell before my book's set. To write Vadim in "Special Forces", I read a 600-700 pages history of the Soviet Union, starting well, well before 1979, when "Special Forces" starts. The idea is to understand what issues and events shaped the characters growing up and getting to where they are. In Vadim's case, the relationship with his father and the way the totalitarian system twisted his character, even though, strictly speaking, 1979 was not in the teeth of the red terror. Nevertheless, people living in 1979 would remember - or have friends/family that would remember - the terror and the purges and the enforced uniformity. Fascinating stuff.

In Richard's case, the book burnings would have an impact. He'd notice the drop in quality of literature. He'd agree that Expressionism is ugly, but I think he likes modern literature and some of the discourses playing out in the twenties and thirties would have made an impact. He'd agree that the Communists need to be suppressed as they were clearly going to overturn the Weimar Republic. But if it had been for Richard, he'd have opted for a proper military dictatorship under Hindenburg. He'd largely agree with Kurt vom Hammerstein, for example. Very interesting - that'll give me enough of a foundation to not make the mistake of making the "good guy" into a democrat, because for all intents and purposes with his background and class, there's just no way he could have been.

If I've learnt anything about "Iron Cross" it's that it, like "Special Forces", very much dictates its own terms on which I can approach it. And that's really how historical novels should be, I think.

Sunday 23 January 2011

That's when Odin walks in

Thanks guys for all the great comments. I'll respond, too, but first I have to tell you about the weird little thing that happened to me today.

Today, I went into the city center with my partner (not London, I can only take so much of the Big Smoke during my off time) and we ended up in one of the various coffee shops for breakfast. While we were chatting away about charity and some article's I've recently read about development, charity and the so-called Third World, my reality shifted.

That was such a weird moment there. Like reality was tilting sideways. The closest I can compare it to was an effect in a movie. Something weird going on about resolution and camera angle. Suddenly, reality was not what it had been. I was at the same time strangely hyper-aware of myself and reality was blurred. Less real. (I was neither drunk, on drugs, and very rarely pass out, although it has happened once on a commuter train when I got stuck with no oxygen and without breakfast for half an hour.)

It felt like a brush with an alternate reality, like some other world got very close in that moment. Like something outrageous could happen. Like I could just get up, leave my body sitting and chatting there and go somewhere else. If I were writing paranormal, I'd expect something weird to happen there, like, you know, Odin walking into the coffee shop, telling me something about the end of the world and Valhalla... or whatever. (Knowing my luck, it would probably be Loki, anyway. Not that I'm saying Odin is a nice guy.)

Anyway, for a moment I got the whole Buddhist thing about everything being an illusion. I really got it. Somehow I think writers are better equipped to deal with this particular illusion.

Then everything went back to "normal".

Yeah, my sanity is a tenuous thing.

Friday 21 January 2011

Three weeks in

I had a week of early starts. Yes, I got up at 4:30 and 5:45 and began work early. While I'm not at my best at 6 in the morning at work, I do like going to work by taxi (paid for by the bank). London is very different early in the morning, and I strangely enjoy watching the sun rise across the city's glass towers.

Next week I'm starting late again, which means lie-in, and coming home late... but that's OK too, because I'm rested and tend to be productive when I can stay up late. M y first paycheque (due next week) makes it all worthwhile. And more importantly, I have broken the circle of OMG STRESS! STRESS! STRESS!

I haven't worked long and I haven't brought any work home. I know, shocking.

Instead, I've managed to read a lot at work and edit a novel, so in terms of productivity, this is a clear win so far.

I'm also getting investigated by a Background Checking Firm "with a sinister name" as my new boss put it. Since they couldn't get in touch with my professor, I've had to point them today to one of my co-writers. I saw the form she's supposed to fill, and it's all about my personal integrity and honesty. Funny, how those old-fashioned virtues get investigated in a banking environment (which, we all agree, attracts a certain type of psychopath).

The other interesting little development is that the team did a collective Meyer-Briggs test. And the supposedly rare type INTJ (1-4% of the population) isn't rare in *my* reality. Three of my colleagues (that's 50%), my partner and one of my co-writers is an INTJ. (No wonder I like my team so much, most of them are introverts and one of the two extros is very calm and silent). Anyway, as you might be able to tell, we do have fun.

And as I'm still addicted to the newsflow, here are some cool links:

African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power This is about how small renewable energy sources are making a huge difference in the Third World. I've read a lot of similar stories about the mobile phone, which helps Indian fishermen/farmers to get good prices for what they bring to market.

Plastic adorns the nests of birds fit for a fight. This made me laugh: "It is a symbol of success, apparently - the biggest collections of plastic are displayed by the black kites with the most chicks and the best territory." - same with humans. Just look at all the bankers/traders with a bag full of gadgets/iPads/iSomethings. It made me think of the Sennheiser-headphones wearing asshole next to me on the train to Dover Priory today.

And finally something for all the sci-fi writers out there (and me): Two Suns? Twin Stars Could Be Visible From Earth By 2012, reports HuffPo. Well, I'm slightly less optimistic about time frames, but Earth post-nova could be an interesting setting.

On a side note, FOAT is back with Carina Press (talking about stars, heh).

And due to Carina's author marketing workshop two days ago (where my website was critiqued), I'll be changing my header on the blog and website. The website especially is now changing again to make things "even easier", as a PR company would put it. While my structure is good, it can be better.

Right. Off to write some - or talk to another writer friend about her novel.

Monday 17 January 2011

Das Eiserne Kreuz

Whenever I'm silent on my own blog, it means I'm super-stressed (well, that state is in the past, but accounted for most of my silences over the last 6 months), depressed/blocked (whining in public is an indulgence I try to stay away from - nobody cares to hear a writer whining) or busy writing.

I'm happy to inform you guys that I'm busy writing. Enforcing bank house style on analysts while powered with free coffee and a remarkably sane, pleasant environment is fifteen kinds of good for my writing. My Spotify subscription keeps feeding me new music (I need a certain type of music to fall into the page) and generally, I enjoy hanging out with writer friends.

Me, I've been busy learning the new house style and rewriting the nonsense some financial people rush out of the door (and keep from laughing at German-isms in some reports - sometimes I want to call the people and tell them "this doesn't mean what you think it means", but that would be gloating). But I've always enjoyed working on texts (mine are harder to fiddle with), and dealing with non-fiction leaves the brain fresh to work on fiction. Everybody wins. Me most of all.

So. What am I writing? Saturday I completed my developmental edits of "Father of all Things", which is now with Rhianon to get checked before it goes back to Carina. Sunday I built that website (and badgered Gileonnen into helping me with the bits I couldn't do - I'm graphically challenged). And both Saturday and Sunday, I wrote "Iron Cross". One scene came out absolutely beautifully. I'm really in tune with the characters now. I know them, deeply, closely, and I love them both, deeply, truly. I even connect with the supporting cast and the evil guy/s. This is a straight from the heart book. The book I want to write if I only had two weeks left to live. And I don't care if anybody buys it. I've already pulled it from one publisher (as I needed more time), and this one I'll polish like a fire opal to get all colors out of the dull stone.

So, yeah, 600 words here and 1,200 words there. Slow by my standards, but I really can't rush this one. I'll have to go the full 90-100k with this one, and this means measured steps, every single one deliberate like Tai Chi movements. The main struggle is to make it flow, so self-consciousness makes stuff harder than it has to be.

But I read those 1,200 words and they are really, really good. Sometimes my literary delusions are rearing their funny little heads again, sprouting every now and then when my ego's close to bursting, but those words were exactly how I wanted them to come out. Unity of intention and result in writing is so unbelievably rare that the words ring extremely loud in my inner ear when it's exactly, exactly what I wanted to say. There on the page. Not a dream. Real. Tangible. Frozen for eternity. There are few bigger thrills to a writer. It's when you strike gold. When the singer hits the note so clear and strong the energy soars right through every vein in pure light. Nothing in the world is better.

So, I'm going to reward myself for getting back into the book and get myself a replica of the medal that plays such a big role in the book. I think it might help keep me focused as it's sitting on my desk. And keep me grounded in the more somber facts behind the book.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Piracy costs you books

Here's an excellent post on the real costs of piracy by Shiloh Walker. Very good, sobering reading. Lilith Saintcrow also talks about money here. And tells people not to steal her books. And responds to some idjits who attack her for asking people not to steal her books.

Me, I've long decided that I can work and write. I'm not sure I'd write more if I wasn't working - possible, but hard to prove - but I sure want to get paid for all the hard work. And if I did make enough money to retire, I might. But I've made the decision to be a dilettante, and quite possibly forever, to only write what I am desperate, hungry, craving to write. And get books out immediately (or after 6-8 months maximum) rather than spend years and years going the traditional publishing way (which I've done and found too hard and too slow for a no-name like me, plus, in the niche, there's no real point to it, at least not at the moment).

Talking about getting paid - I'm in my second week and still enjoying it. I figure I've found an excellent place to stay. Also, because I can edit my own stuff in the lull between assignments (I forgot how it feels to not multitask and rush all the time). The last three days, that amounted to around 60 pages getting edited. At that rate, I'll finish the edits of FOAT much sooner than expected. There's still some heavy lifting to be done, but I'm reasonably sure I can do that lifting by Monday.

So far, the main thing that bugs me about being a working writer is that I have to go to bed in a way that preserves my strength and mental togetherness (to bed at midnight, latest) for the day job rather than when I run out of ideas (which is two or three hours later). It's a small price to pay, but definitely cuts the writing short even when I hit the flow.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Am Working and liking it

It's the weekend after the first week at the new job. I do enjoy working in a bank as opposed to a business media publisher - the coffee's free and much better quality, for one, and I've never had such a shiny office. I can also go home when I'm finished - there's quite a bit more flexibility there. And I enjoy being the primary breadwinner - at least until my partner has signed up with *his* investment bank, then we should be bringing home the same kinda money.

Talking about money, there's a good article on e-piracy at dailyfinance. Since all my titles get stolen somewhere on the internet (lovely when you wake up first thing in the morning and see somebody so very eager to share your book with a few ten thousand of her closest friends - that sets you up nicely for a productive writing day /sarcasm), it's topical reading. And means, incidentally, that I'll be working a day job for the rest of my life. I simply cannot rely on making enough money to retire and write full-time.

I'm currently editing "Father of All Things" and am pushing the total edits to around 40% of the total book right now (that's chapter 13 and counting, of 27).

I'm also having a reviewing crisis of faith. I get so much negative backlash about reviewing (and I use the full range of 1 to 5 stars) that I am rethinking how I review and for what ends. I'm thinking I'll use a reviewing pseudonym from now on. I don't want to spend half my writing time in fights with other authors or publishers. It's that simple. I'm a writer, first and foremost. I'll publish positive reviews (3-5 stars) under this name, and 1-2 star reviews under a different name - if I feel the urge to review.

I'll make 2011 the Year of the Novel. I have a crapload of novels in the drawer, and I want to kick them all out into the world. Deal with old stuff. Baggage removal. Time to draw a line under a certain period in my life - and the best way to do that is to throw out the books I wrote during that time.

Right, back to editing chapter 13.

Saturday 1 January 2011

I've tried to take it in good humour

I'm not much a Christian. I tried, honest. I tried the whole "turn the other cheek" gig. Ended up badly depressed and then embraced what I call "moral behaviour". There are some things I cannot abide (blame it on me being an INFJ - and I'm more the "crusader" type than the cute fluffy "healer" type).

One of them is to get laughed at.

We all know traditional book sellers are in the shits. Borders, laden with debt (They are also owned by private equity, which makes them even more vulnerable and cash-strapped than other book chains... different post for another day) has suspended payments to some publishers, according to Publishers Weekly NOT the response of a healthy business.

Then I made the acquaintance (if you can call it that in the days of social media) of the Romance buyer of that same book publisher on Twitter.

She was looking for bloggers for that same book chain's Romance blog (in other words, an unpaid gig for romance authors to fill their social media site with free-for-the-publisher content - and they seem so desperate that some of what I've read there is shockingly bad. I'd link that nonsense, but I don't want to give them more traffic). And as bubbly and fun the romance community is overall, she informed me that they do "mainstream only".

Which begs two questions. How are gay/queer people NOT mainstream? (And NO amount of smileys and bubbly personality can soften that question). Queers are everywhere. I've even encountered the head of the GLBTQ group of a CONSERVATIVE LAW FIRM in London. The lawyer put it on his CV that their press lady sent me. There's a financial services lawyer, and he's introduced as "X.... chairman of Y's GLTBQ group".

Law firms can do it. Borders can't?

I've spent some pleasant times (and hundreds of pounds) in Borders stores in the UK. I sheltered there in the Chicago weather on my last day in the States. Now I'm being told - smiling, polite - that what I write, what thousands of people care very passionately about, is not "mainstream" enough for their blog.

Well, seems Borders hasn't learnt the lesson of the "long tail" yet. I'll look forward for it to go down in flames, and ideally screaming loudly all the way down.

So that was the last bag of books I bought from there. I'll be buying my books online from The Book Depository from now on (hint: free worldwide delivery). And buy my "want now" books from Foyles in London. I have never been laughed at either by TBD or Foyles.

If I was holding any Borders shares, I'd sell now.