Tuesday, 25 December 2018

And peace to all

Happy festive season, Yule, Sol Invictus and Mithras day, and Christmas (and whichever "turning of the astronomical year" festivities you celebrate). Peace on earth, and blessings to all.

This is a last little retrospective before we head into 2019.

I started January with big intentions to write every day and wrap up a few books, I did a writing workshop, contacted a writer for coaching, and then February already sent it all down the drain when my partner got pretty ill for 2-3 weeks and that messed up my routine. I climbed back on top in March, only to surprisingly get back a whole host of books from a publisher that I never expected to see again (let alone take control of). And it was certainly pleasant to see karma at work for the righteous and unjust both. March and April saw quite a few balances restored, and it was just great to see that. In addition, I settled a rights issue with a co-writer, whereby she got full control over the books that were her original idea, and I got control over the books that were mine, and we ended up with a nice clean divorce after a couple false starts.

Getting back a total of 18 books or so in pretty much one go between March and June (when Carina also returned Dark Edge of Honor) meant a radical change in direction - instead of plugging away at my 500-1,000 words per day, I decided I wanted to re-read and re-edit the books I'd just got back; some of them had mistakes, typos, or style issues that I really wanted to get rid of and that had annoyed me in some cases for years. That's the great thing about self-publishing - if I find such an issue, I can just fix it and upload a new version and it goes online within hours. I love that part!

So, instead of writing, I edited. I edited a lot. I came home from a stressful editing job and sat down and edited some more. It was true "Wheel of Pain" stuff from Conan the Barbarian. Editing does require keeping the whole book in mind at the same time (I did find some inconsistencies), and for the historicals I cross-checked some facts that I just wanted to be sure about. I did most of the groundwork for the biggest of those projects, the Memory of Scorpions trilogy at ca 170,000 words, mostly on a veranda on Lanzarote, highlighting the bits that I needed to change and writing in the bits I was going to add or use instead - so most of the heavy lifting in books 1 and 2 were done in May, and I tackled the actual re-writes in November.

In addition, of course, I commissioned new covers for all those books, which were all done by the amazing Lady Tiferet, and sometimes on short order. That also meant replacing some of the "old" covers to stay within one style for the whole line.

In June, I noticed that my knees were hurting when I was climbing stairs. I'd reached my highest weight ever and decided that if I wanted to avoid blowing out joints and dealing with assorted health issues (my maternal family tends to acquire diabetes via overweight and alcohol abuse, so I've seen what could happen), something had to change, so I did. Over the next couple months, I a) did the research and b) hacked my thinking about food. I was able to do the latter largely thanks to my coaching skills. Consequently, I dropped more than 10kgs (more than 22 pounds), and my knees stopped that hurting business. I set "weightloss" as my personal ordeal, and it's ongoing (after a break for Christmas gingerbread and establishing a new "plateau").

I then got involved in the relaunch of Manifold Press, which, instead of closing, decided to just change the guard. My motivation here is largely to "give back to the community" - there are authors who want to publish with a publisher, and I believe they should have a "safe haven" in a landscape that can be quite scary and overwhelming for authors who "just want to write". Personally, I love my freedom, and I'm also friendly with a number of publishers, and happy to work with them, namely Manifold, Dreamspinner, and Less Than Three Press. Manifold's focus and strength in historical fiction does fill a gap in a market where historicals are often a) of poor quality, b) pure "wallpaper", or c) dismissed as financially unattractive. As a historian and a fellow historical writer, I want to support my historical writer peers and help maintain that "safe haven", and my relevant experience sure doesn't hurt.

Also in publishing, I'm glad to see that quite a few tremendous writers have made the jump to self-publishing, putting out their returned backlist and projects that had been rejected and encountering a lot of success. That was one of the lessons from attending EuroPrideCon in Amsterdam and UK Meet in June and September, which for me marked a kind of social "rebirth", after not really meeting anybody for a couple years. It's lovely to hear hard-working writers say that they make so much more money self-publishing than they used to make with their previous publisher/s - knowing that they have families to feed and used to work themselves to the bone to put out a lot of novels to maintain cash flow.

Sometimes, self-publishing makes all the difference - if you make twice the money, you can work 50% - ie write 2 books a year instead of 4 and still get the same money. Some authors were making three times the money. To support self-publishers, I kept moderating the GLBTQ self-publishers group on Facebook and finally got a co-moderator on board (as we hit more than 1,000 members). Also kept sharing knowledge outside of that and had a number of fantastic chats at both EPC and UK Meet - the standout was probably with Lynn West from Dreamspinner - we just vanished into a corner of the bar and talked for hours.

November saw things beginning to slow down again, so I managed to take some time out to help a German roleplaying firm with translating their grimdark fantasy rulebook; I translated something like 10,000 words of mainly technical rules text, and there's another 16,000 or so to do for this project. They were very happy and told me that my text reads better than the one translated by the "professional translator" they'd hired for the rest of it - so the combination of living abroad and being a writer certainly helped. I don't think I'll ever want to be a full-time translator (few people are willing to to pay what I have to charge for my time), but that was nice validation, and surprisingly easy. Certainly a change of tack after doing all that editing.

What else? The day job is going strong, but the mid-term goal is still very much to free up more time for writing again, so that's a quandary I still haven't resolved. Maybe it's just a matter of being more disciplined, forcing myself to put out words before I do anything else. I think I'll try that this year because quite frankly the perks are very good, and there are no similar full-time jobs out there at the moment, plus with a looming recession, even if I get an equivalent job, I'm not guaranteed to keep it when the layoffs roll around (as they will). At least my company has got its layoffs already out of the way in anticipation of the recession (and Brexit, but I'm not even going to start on that). In happy news, I sold the rights to quite a few books to Italian and French and Hungarian publishers.

So, in many ways, 2018 was me finding my feet again and establishing a firm base on which to stand. I explored some new things, dealt with some past stuff. What I didn't do was publish a new book (I did publish the audiobook of Witches of London - Lars, though, as well as the German edition of Gold Digger).

That's... the first year without new English-language releases in quite a while, and I can't say I like it. I'd have hoped the re-launch would have gone faster so I could have cleared the desk and work very seriously on new books, and maybe squeeze one out of the door before 2018 closes. But that didn't work out, I guess because even my day only has 24 hours, and I'm asleep or at work for quite a few of those.

So what's on the cards for 2019?

I'm actually writing (as my Patreon folks know). There are three books I have on the desk to get written and published as soon as possible.

1) Witches of London - Julian: That's about 36k in first draft so far, so I'd say I have 50% of the book. I've written myself into a place where I need to face a few demons, but I hope that with some distance, I'll get through that "dark night of the soul" moment pretty much unscathed. The book is, I think, a bit too close to my bones for comfort or to write freely, but I'll get through it. After all, it already has a cover and it's gorgeous, and I know people are waiting for it.

2) Paranormal historical novel: I'm tackling WWII from a "new" angle; I have 24k or so of this story and I'm barely out of the starting blocks, so this could be big (ie more than 100,000 words). It also feels very much like it's the beginning of a new "verse" - with the general idea that magick was "real" and was being used by all sides to further their own ends. This is taking a LOT of research, because of course I'm looking at occultism in real life history. But I'm also switching up some stuff about the world by introducing a second human species that has developed in parallel with (and interbred with) humans as we know them. It's great fun, but those two big variables - evolution and magick - make things quite complex. In addition, I'm not sure it's going to be a romance by any stretch - it might be just the world's grimmest buddy road movie with two characters who happen to be queer in their own ways. This is a bunny I've carried around since 2012 (when I told friends about it at GRL in Albuquerque), and which kept getting postponed by other, more romancy books, so it's time to put it on paper.

3) A tropey author romance:  This one is a fun project, and I'm covering some of my favourite tropes (enemies to lovers, second chance). It's meant for Dreamspinner because their open call inspired it. It's very much a light-hearted book that should be relatively easy compared to the others.

4) Misc: I want to focus on those three for 2019, and I'm not going to rush any of them, but I have a ton of other ideas and half-written projects that I want to get to. Last count, that list was in the region of 30-35, and some of those could be potentially big. Among the books I very much want to do are further Scorpion books, and Franco's story to wrap up Dark Soul. I also have a heavy rewrite in mind for Clean Slate and First Blood, and heavily re-write Counterpunch. The latter will be a much larger book as I'll combine it with the half-written Suckerpunch, but some major plot elements will need to be replaced, and I need to decide what kind of dystopian world I'll set it in - though frankly I'm kind of reluctant to write dystopian in the current climate, so it's not a huge priority right now.

There are other books - like the one about a whaler circa 1820s, and I've been giving that some thought, especially how to write it ("narrative stance"), but I think I got that one hacked now. There are some fragments and half-written books and full manuscripts that I'll likely cannibalise and re-work over the next couple years, but nothing is truly decided yet. I'm also very much in love with the whole 1700-1750 period of European history, so something might come from that, and I definitely have a crusader novel to write. A few people are also waiting for more Return on Investment, Gold Digger and Doctrine Wars books. Which is where we get back to the thought that I'd really like to cut my day job hours so I can write more books faster, but right now I'm doing the best I can.

Other stuff I want to achieve:

1) Weightloss: After the initial successes, I'll be shedding the remaining weight that's "extra" and stop once I feel completely fine in my skin in terms of weight. I'm not married to a number or specific shape - I'll know it when I get there.

2) Brexit-readiness: It's a real concern that the UK could "crash out" of the European Union, at which point I need to sort out my paperwork. This might mean anything from hiring an immigration lawyer to deal with the process, to selling up here and moving back to the continent and re-building my life. I spent quite a bit of time and energy on running a number of scenarios and have done a fair amount of self-coaching around the issue, and I'll be fine with the full range of outcomes - from "going on as usual" to "being deported in handcuffs".

3) Much depends on 2) there, so I'm not making very detailed plans, but there's a wish list. I'd like to establish more of a coaching practice. I'd like to write a book on writing and develop writing workshops to hold locally, or, heck, online. I'd like to increase my daily output to 500-1,000 words. I'd like to go back to LARPing - few things refresh the brain as much as checking out of reality for a long weekend or week. I'd like to travel more (Paris is on the cards for 2019), and cut my hours at the day job so I can write more. So yeah, re-establishing a sustainable writing routine will be top of the list here. Meanwhile, I want to launch my books in print, and get a few more audiobooks and translations launched. I'd also like to establish regular video chats with my readers and I'm looking at the best options for that (the idea is to be accessible to readers who can't travel all the way to Europe to meet me while I'm not attending cons in the US for time and money reasons).

And despite Brexit, I'm still looking forward to 2019. We are living in interesting times, but boy, it's informing so much of how I look at certain historical periods now. I feel the more alienated I'm getting from contemporary society and the rise of nationalists and fascists, the happier I'll be to be exclusively a non-contemporary author (ie focus on historicals and SF/F). That's certainly worth something. I'm quite happy to escape from all that. And that's going to be my main bit of self-care next year - spend less time following the news, learn to spend more time in the present, and work every day towards my long-term goals.

Hope you're having a great time "between the years" (as we say in German) and here's to a successful 2019 - whatever "success" may mean to you.

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