Old Dark Things

Well, it’s done. At about 150k words, Old Dark Things is a dark, folkloric stand-alone fantasy set in Clay-o-the-Green, the same world as The Winter King.

My plan is to run it through Kindle Select for a while to start off with, so that I can make the book available as a free product over at least a couple promotional periods. We’ll see how that goes. If I don’t get a lot of take-up in terms of downloads via Amazon, I’ll withdraw it from Kindle Select (but leave it on the Amazon regular service), and then upload copies here and at Smashwords so that the novel will at least be easy to get hold of.

Either way, I plan to make the novel free using the promotional options via Kindle Select as much as possible. It should be easy to grab the work for free directly from Amazon, one way or another. Once Old Dark Things is up and available I’ll link to it directly, and make public some planned freebee dates. If you miss one window you can then easily grab the next one.

New Years Thoughts

Well, it has been an interesting, odd and difficult year. Personally, 2016 was full of both wonderful life events and a lot of hard trials. I have come through it, and although I am perhaps not unscathed, I am feeling positive about the future. Yes, it has been a somewhat bleak year for me in many respects. I ran right into a swamp of fear and misgivings that I did not anticipate at all, and spent much of the middle of the year wondering if I was perhaps being very foolish about this whole writing thing. I got myself tangled up with fear in a very serious way. Worries about mistakes and failures ground me down into a place where I simply stopped writing for several months. This was quite serious for me. I haven’t stopped writing for more than a couple weeks for the last twenty-odd years. It got to a point where I wasn’t quite sure that I knew who I was any longer.

But I am feeling more my old self again. A bit of time away from work to regather my thoughts, and allow myself some stillness, has helped a lot, as did the support of people around me. I don’t now how the next year will pan out, but I have reached a point where I feel that I have accepted some things, and understood some things, and these things will be a help to me in the future.

So what is my advice to myself this year? Sometimes we have to take time to shore up the bricks of our own identities. Sometimes we need to actively, not passively, do some work on self-confidence. It is alright to like the things you like. It’s alright to be you. And you know what? It’s also alright sometimes to look at yourself, your work, life, family, whatever is valuable to you, and just feel good about it. Sometimes it is just fine to make a cup of tea, and sit, and watch the leaves of trees blowing in the wind outside, and just say to yourself, well, this is nice, isn’t it? I don’t think I’d rather be anywhere else than here, and here is just fine by me. Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a break, in both senses of the word.

Fair Upon the Tor Drafting

I have made some small headway with Fair Upon the Tor, enough so that I’m considering posting the first draft as I write it… or perhaps, not quite as I write it, but in thousand-word chunks. I think I’m also going to switch comments on. I don’t expect I’ll see much in the way of feedback, although I guess we shall see.

At this point I will aim for the first-draft-in-progress to go live with regular to semi-regular Monday updates. I might even throw in some related illustration work too.

Sort of related to this, sort of unrelated, I discovered Songgu Kwon’s Elf webcomic over the weekend and read it start-to-finish in a couple sittings. It is quite a bizarre tale (in a good way), and wandering, and beautifully illustrated, and also oddly and powerfully character-driven in a way that stories that claim to be character-driven often are not. Well worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

I suppose reading Elf made me reflect on other people who have posted creative works in progress. Given that my plan is to give it all away free anyway, it doesn’t seem all that terrible an idea to post bits of it as I am going. Yes, it may mean that I post something that is unpolished and will need a second or third pass to get it into shape. But, on the other hand, it will also impose a sense of urgency around actually getting the work done… which I think I now need to place on myself, one way or another. There’s a point where feeling exhausted and bleed-out ceases to be a good reason to remain in a state of slow trudging. Sometimes I think the only way to get back into a good pace, is just to start running again.

Is Beauty

camille_pissarro_the_boulevard_montmartre_at_night

 

The Boulevard Montmartre at Night

Camille Pissarro

There is a quote from Pissarro I like. I read it once on one of those little white placards they have in galleries, the small micro-essays that sit beside the painting. Have you ever noticed how people tend to spend more time reading those little placards than looking at the paintings? Others have noticed this too. Some galleries have been removing the cards entirely in an attempt to remove some of the filter between the visitor and the art. Anyway, the quote: The whole of the world is beauty. The art is in the seeing.

I remember reading that and being quite struck by it. It agrees with my own experience of the world. Everything has a beauty in it. Ugly things are not ugly the whole way through. Look at them from another angle and they become radiant, beautiful, enchanting. There are whole swathes of art based on the search by the artist for the beautiful in the overlooked and the mundane, the grotesque, the weird and the frightening.

I am going to attempt some sort of regular update around the writing hereon. I have returned to Fair Upon the Tor, and done some more detailed outlining. I recently discovered Jim Butcher’s writing advice, and although I don’t necessarily want to write books like Butcher’s, some of the advice was interesting enough for me to decide to give it a shot. I already had a rough outline of the story, but I’ve now returned to it and tried more clearly to add a ‘big middle’, as Jim calls it, as well as character tags (features, whether emotional, moral, physical or mental that only belong to this particular character in this story), and traits (words that are only or almost only used in association with this character in the story). I’ve thought a bit about introducing characters using characteristic action (an action that is highly definitive of the character), and I’ve thought about Butcher’s emotion/reaction/plan sequence.

I have also started, very gently, a novel that I’m aiming to be for sale to a traditional publishing house. I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to flip from one story to the other. Doing that never used to bother me, but, on the other hand, I used to write every day (and did so for years and years), but then ceased writing entirely about six to eight months ago. The reasons why I simply stopped were mixed. I have been reflecting, for a while now, that I have been writing for a long time, twenty years or more, and I have not really got anywhere with it. Surely, if I were any good, if I were going to succeed, then I would have by now? And yet, I keep writing books, and I keep trunking them… I have over a million words worth of various novels on my hard drive and I’m not at all confidant that any of them are very good. I also had a fairly scathing workshop experience at about the same time, as well as being overwhelmed by real life responsibilities and a feeling that I wasn’t living up to my more general life and work duties. It all added up to make me just stop. I stopped writing. Stopped drawing and painting. Stopped working on games. Stopped everything. It’s going to be a process getting back into the swing of things, but I am resolved to do it.

So, as a part of this I am going to attempt to update this blog regularly. I may not have a lot to say, but, at the very least I can still check in and let people know I’m still working at things.

Rather neglectful update

starry_night

Starry Night
Jean-François Millet

 

It has been quite some time since I posted any updates or writing. I did consider spinning a story about how Auberon sent me off to beguile a bean-feed mooncalf, or similar, but the truth of it is that lecturing this semester has run me off my feet. I have an outline and some of Fair Upon the Tor written (The Winter King 3), although not enough for me to be very certain when it will be ready. My teaching semester has slowed down, and it is time to get back on the writing horse, so to speak. Ironically, I have all of Book 4 and a fairly comprehensive draft of Book 5 written, but Book 3 needs work, which means that I can’t release the down-the-track and complete works without there being quite a substantial jump in narrative.

On a side-note, I recently trawled through my inventory of short stories and have realised that I have about fifty completed short stories sitting in various files. Of these, seven have sold and been published, but I haven’t submitted a short story since 2011. I’ve kept writing them… I just haven’t sent them anywhere. I will try to remedy this within the next few weeks. I’ll also relaunch my other blog, the one I shut down when I split my writing into Hob Goodfellowe (e-book) and Christopher Johnstone (traditional publishing). My short fiction is published under my actual name, and I think it’s about time that I uploaded my previously published short stories to that blog so that the stories don’t vanish utterly into the obscurity of long defunct publications.

Second Drafts & Colours

I’ve finished the on-paper edits now for The House of Snow and Apples, and am slowly transferring them across to the Pages document I write in. It’s now sitting at about 40,000 words, though cutting and adding may change that slightly.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is racial diversity in fantasy. I mean this first at that basic level that there should actually be people present who are not white, blonde and blue-eyed in a fantasy world, and working in a setting that is a riff on Medieval, or Dark Ages Europe does not preclude diversity. In actual historical Europe there was quite a lot of diversity, as invasions, migrations and empires tends to mix people up a bit.

But in fantasy, we can be yet more imaginative. I’ve been thinking about the colouration in our closest relatives, the (other) apes and the monkeys, and looking though images of primate faces. Although I’m not sure that I want to add in human peoples that have red and blue posteriors to match their noses, the diversity of colours is interesting, and if sexual selection or natural selection had run another path, red eyes, bright yellow and black markings, purplish-grey skin, or soft grey skin surrounded by a flair of red hair could all, potentially, be human traits. Of course, there’s a risk that the people no longer come across as ‘human’ in a story if they get a bit too far removed from what we expect to see. The key would be to make sure they are presented as human, and maybe play it subtly for a while before introducing any really unusual colourations? At any rate, I feel this is something I’ve been doing badly so far in The Winter King stories, so it is something I’d like to play around with and address.

Thoughts on Titles

Well, I’m now nearing the end of the first draft on what will now be the second book of The Winter King. The manuscript is sitting at about 25,000 words, so a medium to long novella. In an earlier post I discussed the (somewhat) confusing reasons why the release schedule I had so carefully laid out has gone into a state of turmoil. I think though, that slipping two new stories between what was to be Books 1 and 2 will make for a better overall arc.

I’m now left pondering titles. The working title for Book 2 was The Wolf at Winter’s Door. I like the slight poetical slant of that title, but I think it performs its job badly for two reasons. One, the series is called The Winter King, and mentioning ‘winter’ in a title implies that the Winter King might actually turn up–whereas what I’m actually doing here is playing a very long game. Yes, there are references to the long story in this manuscript, but some of them are subtle enough to be missed entirely on a first read-through. The Winter King certainly doesn’t appear in person for quite some time yet. The other problem is that the title emphasises the wolves in the story (there are wolves in the story), and I don’t really want the emphasis to fall there. This leaves me considering other options. The House of Snow and Apples is my current second favourite, though it has the disadvantage that it might suggest to someone this is a Snow White retelling, which it is not. Titles make promises about the story, and even very short titles can convey a huge amount of information about what a reader can expect. By attempting to make my titles lyrical, for example, I’m implying you’ll find at least a little bit of lyricism in the story itself, and if you don’t like that sort of thing, then probably this isn’t the right book for you.

Toying around with other things, thematically similar… The House on Appletree Spur. WinterfruitThe Snow Orchard. Actually, I sort of like The Snow Orchard. I think the best titles sound like books you feel you ought to have heard of, but for some reason the book must have slipped past you somehow. I should check to see if it is already another book: seems not to be, although there is an art print by that name. But would I personally read a story called The Snow Orchard, and does it give the right feel? Probably not on both counts. There isn’t enough magic in the title to really convey that the book is fantastical, which could mislead readers, so it might need to be nixed also. Winterfruit perhaps isn’t bad, but has the problem of using the word ‘winter’ again.

I’m circling back to The House of Snow and Apples. Though I’m still leery of making some readers angry by tricking some of them into thinking it is a Snow White retelling. Something to think on.

State of Work

I’ve managed to throw my release schedule into disarray by overthinking the connectivity of things. What I’d intended to be Book 2 in The Winter King, working title Prince of Ghosts, has started to look to me like too much of a jump from Book 1. Anyone who has been following my work, will also realise that I’ve changed my name from ‘actual’ to ‘pen’ within the last month. I have my reasons for doing so, and it was a hard decision. It effectively resets all the work I did to get the work out there in front of people.

So, what is the state of things now?

  • Book 1. A Treasure of Bone and Promises. Released. About 20,000 words.
  • Book 2. Working title, The Wolf at Winter’s Door. First draft sitting at 20,000 words. Will probably come in at about 25,000 words.
  • Book 3. Not started. Somewhat outlined. I’m aiming for this to be a novella at about 20,000 words that connects things up more fluidly to what is now Book 4.
  • Book 4. Working title, Prince of Ghosts. Third draft complete at 100,000 words. Currently with beta readers.
  • Book 5. Working title, The Kingdom at Midnight. Second draft complete at 65,000 words. Needs another draft before handing it to someone else to read.
  • Book 6. Working title, The Magician of Revels. Outlined.
  • Book 7. Working title, On the Road to Redcourt. A collection of short stories. This is where I’m offloading excess story ideas. There’s two or three stories done already? I’m not keeping track, but will just drop stories in here as I come across them in my head.
  • Book 8. Working title, Lord of Japes and Poisons. Outlined.

…and there are another 3-4 works, some shorter, some longer, that will come about after Book 8. I have a very definite end in mind, and am working towards it, gradually, gradually.

My current plan is to complete and release Book 2 and Book 3 before compiling books 1, 2 and 3 into a print edition that I’ll release through Ingram Spark.

Which means, it might be time for me to get back to writing…

New Years

If you have found a thing in life that enthrals you and enchants you, then, please, go ahead and pursue it. The world is full enough of people who force themselves to trudge in endless march through obligations, stress and furious activity. If you have found a thing that brings joy, that makes time seem both wondrously slow and strangely fast all at once, then chase it down and make it yours. It could be a hobby or an art, a topic of research, an idea, an invention, a handcraft or anything at all. It could be carving stone sculptures. It could be restoring old cars. Whatever it is in life that you find brings out the best of your attention, focus and pleasure: do that thing. This has, after all, been said many times, repeatedly, and by wiser folks than me. Seek the flourishing life. Follow your bliss. To thine own self be true.

In Hamilton

I type this in Hamilton, New Zealand, the town where I grew up. I am back visiting. We are staying in a nice little hotel that understands the importance of having good access to a wireless internet. But it is always a strange experience coming back here. The town (technically a city, but really, Hamilton remains at its heart a town) has changed, and it has not changed. It has sprawled and grown outgrowths of bypasses and expressways, but there is more than one street or path by the riverside that are so much like how I remember them that I experience an actual shiver walking along them.

I remember a line from a short story I read years and years ago. I remember nothing much about the story itself, except that it was a New Zealand author, set in New Zealand, and the story was about going back to a childhood holiday place beside the sea. The line was something like, ‘It is dangerous going back to a place where you were happy as a child’. No doubt, the intervening years and murky memory have paraphrased the exact words, but the underlying intent is still there. Memory can be a dangerous place to wander, and going back to old places can cunjure up such phantoms as to be monstrous. We all have our things we’ve left behind, and sometimes going back and prodding at them can be a sort of sickly enjoyable experience, sometimes merely sickly.

Meantime, I’m working on what now will be the second novella in the Winter King, following on from what was called Crone of Bone and is now titled A Treasure of Bone and Promises. There has been something of a mixing around of my plans. I have already written about 160,000 words of material for the series, but ceased up a bit on realising that there was simply too much of a narrative jump between the first story and the second. I’ve gone back now to fill in the gaps, so to speak. The work I am hacking away at right now is (currently) tentatively titled The Wolves at Winter’s Door, although I’m also considering, The Apple that Blooms in Winter, and Where the Wind Took. It will be short, just on 20,000 words, or maybe a little under. I’ll follow it with one more novella length piece, which will take the story nicely into the material that is already written. It’s all a bit frustrating to put a halt on my earlier release schedule–I really, really thought book two would be finished and released by now–but I also think the series will be better on the whole for taking a step back and rethinking how best to progress things from the first tale onwards.