Monday, 24 September 2012

Intermission (Gold Digger giveaway)

I'm quickly dropping by to link you to the Gold Digger giveaway (not doing a whole tour this time, mostly because I was on holidays during launch week).

So, take a look at this shiny:

This handmade artisan piece in silver with a tiger eye cabochon is made by Freia Inguz Jewelry. Tiger eye is the stone that really works best for Nikolai - first, there's gold, but there's also hidden depth. Plus, it lends great vision and insight (and Nikolai is pretty perceptive).

This little treasure can be yours if you comment here:

I'll be dropping in an out all week and chat and answer questions, before I drop off for a while and work on my novel. :)

So, let's celebrate Gold Digger. Good luck on the draw!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Taking a break to write

Work on this book is incredibly intense - I just revisited the 3k I wrote in the retreat, and spared a glance at the pile of research I still need to work through. The project itself is taking the shape of three novels, which are inter-connected and reference each other in themes and development (yeah, because writing just one novel is too easy, right?).

To focus on these three in the next months (one after the other, though), I'll be cutting back on social media and overall "internet". I can't focus to the extent necessary with all the distractions, so I'm taking a leave of absence while I write the remaining 60k in the first book. I'll be on email, I may even "like" the occasional Goodreads review, but every minute I spend on the internet is a minute I'm not focusing on the actual work that must be done. Essentially, it comes down to having "halfway decent novelist" on my gravestone rather than "answered all emails and tweeted a lot". So, yeah, I'll be scarce. Emails will take a while, too, because I'm snowed under with work emails and beta-ing and even I can't subsist for long on four hours of sleep.

I do intend to return from my self-imposed exile with a kick-ass book, though, so there's hope.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

My pretensions, they are back (post-holiday blues)

I've just returned from my 5-day writing retreat in Yorkshire (near Hebtenstall). Contrary to what I was led to believe, the place did have mobile phone reception, but no internet, so I managed to at least stay a little bit in touch, though I enjoyed having no possibility to respond to emails. OMG my emails.

Anyway. We were being tutored by Maria McCann ("As Meat Loves Salt") and Christopher Wakling ("The Devil's Mask"), and Sarah Walters ("The Night Watch") made a guest appearance and patiently sat through a summary of my "birds book" (they seated her right next to me). Maria and Chris were both amazing - gifted teachers and great fun to hang out with. (Whiskey and wine were involved.)

The real stars of the course, of course, were the other writers, 15 in total. All were really talented, and several published. I'd have acquired just about anybody on the course. I did say some things about "indie" publishing (though the term is being hijacked by the DIYers) and it was all really cool and inspirational.

I spent the days mostly sleeping, eating, drinking tea, sleeping a bit more, attending the writing exercises, and we had four evenings of reading. (I read Melville and some of my birds book - the no doubt soon-to-be-infamous Chapter 15, which people found "menacing" - happy to entertain. :) ) We cooked in small groups in the afternoon, so there wasn't really that much time to get much writing done, and my table wasn't really suitable for it, but I still brought 3k in words and a head full of inspiration.

My heart's fortified by the creative vibe in that late medieval house, feeding off and amplifying 15 crazy, lovely people all following their own mojo. Due to, I think, Sarah Waters's appearance on the course, we had a fantastically diverse group - gay/lesbian people, bi people, some closeted romance writers, too. (Arvon Foundation is more geared towards the "literary writing" crowd - so one author confessed to me she'd been writing a historical menage and "wasn't going to mention it..." - though we had some paranormal authors jazz up their historical fiction with vampires and ghosts!) I also met the amazing Kim Taylor, award-winning author and all-round lovely person. And hung out with a friend who I hadn't seen in six months or thereabouts.

I networked, I pimped, I helped a little (from my POV of editor/publisher/published author/historian) and it was a really good, positive experience. Mostly, though, I just chilled and allowed the mojo to come to me.

Which it did. I spent three days re-reading my manuscript, discovering that it's really not all that bad, then I found the key to getting through the wall after chapter 15 (I was doing a verbal outline with Chris, and then tripped myself into the solution... NICE!). So I ended up writing on the last two days. And editing. Oh wow, did I edit!

I really only went online to check review for Gold Digger, both good and bad. This had a strange dynamic while I was attending the course dominated and taught by "literary" writers. Allow me to reiterate that I harboured "literary" pretensions during my university years, but also before that and after that and I never quite managed to kill them.

Apparently, I can do both. Am hanging in the middle. Am not fish nor meat, as the German saying goes. I'm a hybrid. A fence-sitter. Not here nor there. And some stories sit in the middle and both sides hate them. Ratings-wise, there's no difference between stuff I dashed out really quickly with no second thought about anything much ("just playing", as I called it), and something I've carved with my teeth from granite while tied up in barbed wire.

After this week, I'm pretty sure that the birds book is more literary than genre fiction. I could not distinguish it from the kind of work that was being read out in the course (as I said, the level of writing and craft in that course was shocking, in a good way). I think there might be an agent for that.

I'm not sure what that means for my genre writing, or if I manage to stay on that fence. Some reviews made me question again what the hell I'm trying to do, as a writer and as part of this genre, and for my whole career and everything else. Sometimes I feel like I'm my own genre. A one-man genre; now there's a marketing nightmare.

Or it might just have been that I had five whole days to think about it, while re-reading and thinking and talking to a diverse bunch of people, none of them inside "my" genre. I honestly have no clue. I don't know where this whole thing is going to take me, but I'm going to experiment somewhat see what I can do and where I can go.

That'll mean two things: I'm going to push the birds book extremely hard now towards completion of the first draft (I'm thinking: year-end), then spend a couple months polishing it up, and then it goes out to some hand-selected people I know or who have been recommended to me.

In the meantime, I'll only complete one other project, because it's 1/3 done and promised and delayed and which is also a co-project (which I enjoy, and I look forward to it), but I'll try to maintain my current obsidian blade focus on the birds book - I paid a lot of money and invested a lot of time to get that focus back.

The research alone is a killer, but trying to sex up the style to the level where it has to go is a totally new game. "Workable" prose won't do it. This book needs to be written with blood, and I think I'm about ready to do it, but I need to bleed onto the page in peace with very little other things going on. (Also, I made a pact with one lady on the course that we'll both have a first draft by 31 December...and I just know she's going to hunt me down and kill me if I don't.)

So, this is me bowing out until December, when the co-project will be done, and I honestly don't know what comes after. I might have a result really quickly, or maybe nothing at all. I'm not even sure I can verbalise what's going through my head. I just have to write this book, whatever it costs me, however long it takes, and wherever it's going to take me in the end, and to do that, I need to stop work on everything else (apart from the one I promised). Right now, I concentrate on bleeding onto the page.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

I'm not here

Tomorrow, I'll be off to attend the UK GLBTQ Meet in Brighton. I'm the one wearing shirts with French cuffs and cuff links. Tonight is preparation and meeting an online friend, then packing.

I'll return Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, I'm off to the Arvon Foundation course on historical writing held in Yorkshire. While I'm there, I won't have access to the internet. If you're waiting for an email from me, chances are, I won't answer until the 22 September. There's no internet and no mobile phone reception. I know. I'm scaring myself.

While in Yorkshire, I'm hoping to kickstart my Muse again and make tracks on the birds book. Every free minute is now about reading some from my reading list to prepare for the course (I'm not plunking down that much cash only to flunk out on my prep work).

So, busy times. I'll be back, though my hope is that Monday leads me straight back into the flow and once I'll hit it, I'll have to finish that book. I promised the historical novel for early 2013. There's only about 3.5 months left in the year, and I have 60k to write.

I'll see you on the flipside.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

And in "Don't Let Assholes Get You Down"-type news...

Those damn immigrants are ruining the country

Today, during lunch, at work, one of the people here (a senior figure) had a little chat with my boss about how immigrants are playing the system and how they are damaging the country. He didn't specifically say "those damn immigrants are ruining England", but it was close enough to trigger an immediate fight/flight response.Words like "economic tourism", "economic flight", "damage to the UK infrastructure", "overcrowding" and "real English/British versus all those people washing in" were mentioned.

For context, this happened in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, in the financial center, in a firm whose workforce seems to consist of at least 50% foreign-born academics. There are French, Germans, Argentinians, Rumanians, Chinese, Spanish, Czech and Russians - and that's just people I know.

It's no secret I couldn't get a job in Germany (thanks to a mini-recession and Germany's inflexible labour market), despite a summa cum laude degree. But it's also no secret that when I came over, the main reason why I got a job here at all was that there aren't enough English people who speak German. In a nation that depends on trade (and Germany being a partner) and overall hub of the European economy, you need German speakers to deal with stuff. Incidentally, the Poles and Turks living in Germany are absolutely priceless when it comes to trading/dealing/communicating with people in Poland and Turkey. It's a growth factor in a global economy, especially for countries that rely on trade relationships rather than natural resources.

It's bizarre to think than any of us damage the economy in any way. I'm paying my taxes. The UK paid nothing in terms of schooling or healthcare or training for the first 30 years of my life. I represent a medium six-figure sum in free gifts from Germany to the UK. Germany paid to raise and train me, but the UK receives all my taxes, the stamp duty when I bought a house, and I've been filling a skill gap for seven years, going on eight (German, editing, grammar).The UK also receives taxes from my self-employment and related economic activity.

In my previous job, we had a Daily Hate reader (nickname for the Daily Mail), also English, who'd every now and then go off on anti-immigrant rants, while being surrounded by an Australian, a Turk, and a German. When I commented that I was an immigrant and felt somewhat amazed at her anti-immigrant stance, she said the immortal lines, "You? You're not one of THOSE immigrants, you can speak proper English!"


And I have not come solely for the purpose of shitting on an English lawn, destroying the English economy, ripping an English job from English hands and mocking the English as they die. Honest, I haven't. My evil immigrant agenda? Work for a living, live in a free tolerant society and get on with my life, which involved doing jobs that the English can't apparently do better, and create stories in the English language that generate income for Her Majesty's Tax & Revenue system.

What shocked me about today's lapse in judgment? The guy in question is a highly intelligent, highly trained  worker in the financial services industry who gets paid for making balanced judgments on complex scenarios (in a foreign-owned company). I liked him. And while he said those things, my boss, herself an immigrant, just nodded and smiled and didn't seem to take any kind of offense.

I'm apparently working in the wrong place, and I'll be remedying this as soon as possible. Maybe I can get into a different department, but I don't feel welcome or respected here anymore. The good thing about us evil immigrants? We are very flexible, and we can always leave to places that do respect us.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Writing as an aggressive act

Recently I've been struck by the idea of writing as an act of aggression. It might be easy to forget that art always has revolutionary potential. Sometimes, that can look downright weird--you get fat millionaires in their fifties pretending on stage they are wild hot young penniless things. I knew a writer once whose narrator in all his books was always a bit of a loser, while the author himself was successfully running a business. Establishment, anti-establishment. All these are roles we're planning.

It's hard to listen to Muse's Uprising without hearing the snarl underneath it. Hell, Rage Against the Machine is all snarl. At the same time, both are mega-acts. I wouldn't judge their authenticity. In some ways, it doesn't matter what the convictions of the artist are. It's all in the music/art--it all brings its force to bear in my mind as the listener/reader. If I do nothing about it, the most rebel-rousing song is nothing more than something giving me a small kick to get through my day as a corporate drone. A vent rather than the spark that lights the streets up, exploding in a riot.

It doesn't have to be "the establishment" (and who's that anyway?). And I'm not deluded enough to think, like David Hasselhoff, that music brought down the Berlin Wall. (Though, his singing would make me want to throw away my rifle and run like hell.)

Nevertheless, I've written books that were my way of punching somebody in the gut (though "hypothetical literary assault" is thankfully not a crime). Thankfully, it's more constructive. It entertains others. It provided a vent for me, allowing me to bear the tensions raging through my own soul. The alternative to writing Incursion would have been to scream, incoherent with rage--or that said punch in the gut. It's very much directed at one person, in all the world. Just one.

Like a boxer, I sublimated my violent urge into discipline. Also, I entertained others. The act itself is, nevertheless, raw aggression, just expressed differently. It allowed me to drag up the rage and clear it out. Examine it. Feel its sting like sweat in an open cut. Revel in my own power as a decently-trained craftsperson. Get a kick out of it. Not go to jail for it. Not be seen as an asshole who escalates a bad situation towards unforgiveable. Be the better man. Art is a higher good. If it's not "art", it can always be "just" entertainment (though entertaining anybody at least takes skill).

When I re-read Incursion, I can still hear the scream of rage. I know for a fact that it has made some people think--people who happened to be in the audience. That I've made a very strong point there that's not going unnoticed (I love you guys for being so godsdamned smart!). In the end, it doesn't matter whether the one I'm screaming at knows about this, and it doesn't make this story any less valid.

By turning a scream into words, I've made sure that it never stops. It's echoing forever. It might go on when both the author and the one it's written for (or really: against) are no longer around. I firmly believe that stories find their readers, and readers find their stories. The moment I set it out into the world, it's no longer about me or my anger or other emotions--but what happens in the mind that's perceiving it (and, if nothing happens, that's fine--you can listen to Uprising just to have a good time). But some stories are like underwater mines. Deceptively inert, lasting for a long time, patiently waiting. If the right mind touches them, they became active and explode and unleash their force. I'm happy to be laying mines every now and then and leave the rest to chance. It usually works out. My job is to plant the mines as skillfully as I can and cover my tracks and stay out of the way, because this is not about me.

But not for a moment can I forget that I put this there out of almighty fucking rage--which I tamed and purified and wrestled to serve me rather than the other way round. And when I see the explosions shaking the water surface, I smile.