28 January, 2016

Sorry 'bout the Ads

Apologies to one and all for putting "Adsense" on my blog. It's not the most arty decision, and they'll go if I get a good book deal. In the meantime, while I'm working as a night club bouncer just to put food on my table, I figured I'd be stupid not to.

So if you're in the neighborhood and want to chuck me a penny or two, give a click. Think of me like a busker. Yeah, it's a joy to play for free, and a privilege to have people want to listen, but there's nothing wrong with sticking an upside down hat before your perch.

I'm not dirt poor or anything. I'm more like... clay poor. You can make a house with my kind of money. It's just not a very good house. Laboured metaphor? You decide! But the dream is to write full time--not to sit in a fancy house, not to have a butler, not to drive six Audis. Just to win the freedom to spend all day trying to, as Neil Gaiman put it in a brilliant speech I urge you all to watch, "Make good art."

25 January, 2016

Bird's Eye View

A new short story of mine, "Bird's Eye View", has recently been published in Spaceports & Spidersilk.

It's a soft SF about a little girl with an awesome job in an oppressive regime.  The future looks bright for her.  She might rise a rank or two.  But servants are always on tender hooks, and she might have to empower herself in a more meaningful way.

Please click the link below and, if you're inclined, purchase the magazine.  It only costs a dollar.  


10 January, 2016

My New Year's Eve

... phone found in category loughborough night clubs rapture night clubs

You know how writers need bad jobs before we're successful novelists? You know how some of us seek out weird, interesting jobs for the bonus life experience? Yeah... this is one of those stories.

I did my first security job on New Year's Eve, working at a night club in Leamington Spa. British people aren't like Americans, in that British people fight over anything. In the States, things can get bad because people might be packing, but I assure you, casual violence is a MUCH more common thing in Britain.

The evening was eventful.

My shift started at 10:30. The first hour and a half I basically felt like a caretaker, waiting on the dance floor surrounded by pretty people, terrible music thrumming through my body, telling people time and again where the smoking area was, or that I didn't know what was downstairs as I was new.
I heralded the new year by checking the gents toilet and nearly slipping on... something...

Then, pretty much right after midnight, people went insane. I got in two fights, had to verbally intervene on countless occasions and had to kick one guy out just for being a prick to everyone. The most difficult experience of the evening was trying to convince a woman to leave the male toilets. I couldn't physically throw her out (well, I legally could and was actually supposed to, but I wouldn't) and she knew that. So she cheekily patted me on the chest, put her lipstick on and sauntered out.

I also learned that, if you want to know where things are about to kick off, watch the women. Nothing spelled trouble more than an angry woman, and almost every fight, or near-fight, began with somebody's girlfriend getting in somebody else's face. Things would start with a rude remark or a bit of a tiff between the men, but she'd wade in and escalate things horribly, until the men would come to blows, or at least be about to until I showed up.

One time was particularly interesting. I'll describe the man first. He and his friend were older, probably early forties, muscular, covered in tattoos, and quite obviously good fighters. It's in the eyes, the extent of peripheral awareness (how "switched on" they are) and the way they hold themselves when they feel threatened. These guys were tough, and one of them was in a heated argument with a puff-ball, baby-faced 18 year old wiener and his brick shit-house of a girlfriend. The 18 year old was pretty much trying to walk away, but his girlfriend just wouldn't leave matters alone. She was in the coke head's face, telling him he was an old loser, that he was sweating like a pig, that he looked like a low-class poor bastard. She said so many nasty things they blurred together. She wanted to speak her mind, which apparently was quite a disorganised shambolic ramble of hatred and negativity. The problem is, the guy was going to take it out on her boyfriend. The boyfriend looked like he would have been lucky to make it all the way to the hospital. Had things gotten too bad, I can't honestly say I'd have been able to protect him. Like I said, those guys were tough. I can handle myself better than most, but would have had serious difficulty, and probably would have gotten hurt. I'd have hurt them too, but nobody would have looked their best by the end of it.

Thankfully, I managed to calm all the men down soon after showing up, realising quickly that the woman was a lost cause. She kept gobbing off, but nobody was listening to her. The coke head and his friend turned out to be pretty nice guys, actually, and never caused any trouble. He apologised to me for getting mad, and I told him not to worry about it, but just to come and find me if that woman started screaming at him again.

Speaking of showing up, I've been called every name under the sun and discovered, happily, that I really didn't care. I've also shaken hands with many crazily drunk people who wanted to apologise for being a prick before. Gracefully accepted. I had to keep telling them that none of it bothered me, and that I had to keep an eye on the dance floor. Almost every incident wound up with one of the punter's friends telling me how sorry he was for all the things that had been said, and drunkenly trying to explain what was going on, and basically making temporary friends over the whole matter. That was actually quite handy, because it created a good vibe and it meant wherever I went in the club, by the end of things, I had someone on my team.

The most interesting fight, for its ambiguity, seemed at first glance to be about racism. England doesn't have the same kind of epidemic as America. Frankly most of the time here it's just people deciding somebody's being racist because they don't like the look of them. One guy had a fashionable, hipster variation of a traditional(ish) Sihk haircut. He started an argument with someone, who eventually told him he looked like a twat, which he did, and he decided to take that as racist, starting a fight. He was one of the people I had to physically restrain. But like most people who think they're invincible, he was kind of a wimp in the end.

Two fantastic things happened, and both belong in a story. One guy was falling over drunk, and we made him sit in the corner and drink a pint (large glass) of water. Now, for this next part you have to know that the gents toilet was flooded. About an hour after making this guy sit down, I found him in the gents fixing the bloody toilet, shoveling gunk out of it with his bare hands. He was still staggering about, and barely able to speak coherently, but he managed to explain, with a childishly jaunty smile, "While im'z twooo pissed to stand upright, Imz a plummer for mmm... day job, n' I cans still fixes dur toilet!"

By the end of the evening, that same tiolet had a shoe in it. I can't explain that one, but it seems to sum up the evening quite nicely

05 January, 2016

Ring in the New Year

The long blog hiatus was this time for a very good reason, and I stand by it.

I recently had the biggest punch in the stomach of my career. I finished Forget Me Not, was told it was very good, but that it wasn't marketable in the slightest. Tragedies don't sell, according to many so-called "experts". I say those "experts" are incredibly out of touch with young people today. I say Emo and Goth music wouldn't exist if young people weren't capable of appreciating deep feelings, or indeed enjoying art designed to explore melancholy. Those particular styles in that particular art are just two of a myriad examples. In fact, as a person who wants to write for young people, I find the idea that they're incapable of appreciating tragedy quite offensive.

But I'm not delusional. It's true that tragedies are, on the whole, one of the least lucrative (if not the very least) kinds of stories. I believe Forget Me Not will be one for the future, for the critics. These days, publishers aren't interested in anything by a new author unless they think it's a guaranteed hit. That's why there's so much shallow trash out there in the YA market. There's some great stuff too, but something's wrong when the really great writers have a tougher time getting started than the ones who want to crank out some generic "Heroic young person takes on evil grown-ups and wins" story. I don't want to write that crap.  I always hated reading that crap, too.

After getting my feedback about Forget Me Not, I felt lost. I'd spent so much time believing that good books will out, that craft is the most important thing, that ideas are cheap and it's all about execution, and that gripping and beautiful stories would, if they're well told enough, get published. It turns out I'm working in an industry that never would have published Catcher in the Rye, for instance. How would you pitch that one to an agent? What's the synopsis? "Jaded teenager wanders around New York for a weekend." Doesn't sound like a rain-maker to me, and yet every agent who would scoff at that synopsis (i.e. all of them) would be dead wrong. Even if Catcher in the Rye isn't your thing, I can think of dozens of mega-best-sellers with an equally boring synopsis.

I was lost, and down, and had to pick myself up again, and I didn't know how. I was very close to giving up on the whole thing. If it's not about good fiction, what's it about? What's the point?

That's how I felt, and I didn't want my bitterness to spill over into my blog. I couldn't write anything without seeming bitter, because I was bitter, but I think, actually, this has been my greatest lesson, and I hope it's my final hurdle.

Every NEW writer I've ever known has pinned all their hopes and dreams on every work they've produced. This is difficult, because most of their early work isn't very good, any more than a pianist's first attempts at playing a tune. It's practise. It was difficult anew when I wrote something that I KNEW was good. Industry experts TOLD me it was good. I was RIGHT, and yet I still hadn't achieved a thing.

Now, I just don't care anymore. I'm broken. It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything, as Tyler Durden said. And it's when we're broken that we can most easily forge ourselves anew.

Now I just feel like I'm writing books. I'm pretty prolific. I'm making plenty of money in my day job (or, enough to survive, anyway) and I'll write one my agent thinks could be a rainmaker eventually. I'm focusing on "cool factor" as much as depth or meaning. I think it's entirely possible to achieve both, and I'll admit Forget Me Not was light on "coolness" as one of the emotional effects. It was a tragedy through and through. I have a handy writer's group that I started in Leamington Spa where I live. Every time I show them my work I ask whether they felt what was happening was cool. I'm going to write something with cool factor eventually, and I refuse to give up on my ambition of creating work of social, moral and emotional significance. I strongly believe one can achieve both, and I'd be far from the first to do so. I'm still at it, about 8,000 words into another book, fully plotted, and now that I've taken my hard-earned Christmas break, I'm still writing every day.

Every knock-back I receive, I learn a little more the importance of what Karen Blixen said: "Write a little every day, without hope, without despair."

I won't forget Forget Me Not, but I'll learn, and I'll grow. There's no such thing as failure. There's just trying and giving up.