Monday, September 23, 2013

Do I Really Want to Be a Writer?

Is this what I really want?

That's the question I find myself asking right now. For a month or so after publishing Jack Manley I was awash with enthusiasm for writing. I had an Amazon store to maintain, an internet presence to establish, blogs to run and most importantly, books to write. This was going to by the focal point of my existence for the foreseeable future, and I was happy with that. I felt like I had found what I wanted to do with my life.

So why in the last fortnight has my productivity slowed to a crawl?  Why am I watching Doctor Who, browsing message boards, playing Hearts and basically spending my spare time doing anything else except for writing?  It's certainly not that I don't have the time.  Yes, I have a full-time job and a family, but I can always find time to write.  If I can play Hearts for three hours as I did on Friday night, there are no excuses.

So I find myself asking the question: do I really want to be a writer?  The answer in my head is always yes, and yet my actions say the opposite, and I don't know why.  It could be fear of failure.  It could be the thought that my writing probably won't have any lasting value, so what's the point of doing it.  It could just be plain laziness.  I really don't know what the problem is.

What I do know is that this is a pattern.  I go through cycles.  Sometimes I feel like I need to experience everything the world has to offer, to constantly fill my brain with stories and songs and ideas, and to create as much as I can.  Then there are times when I feel the futility of life, and the realisation that in a hundred years I and everyone I ever met will be gone and forgotten, and anything I accomplish with my life is probably pointless.  Needless to say, those are not my most productive periods.

The good news is that I eventually snap out of my black moods, and get back to the business of living.  Tonight I've been productive.  Perhaps I just need to accept that this is how I am, and that there will be periods of productivity mixed with periods of procrastination.  And to always answer the question I keep asking myself: hell yes, I want to be a writer.


I'm on a big Edgar Rice Burroughs kick at the moment, devouring his Tarzan novels. I've read the first two, and they are much more interesting than I would have suspected.  You would never see movie Tarzan wandering the streets of Paris in a depression, drinking absinthe and going to the opera.  Or working as a French secret agent.

As a novelist, Burroughs is what I would charitably label "unpolished".  His books are a structural mess, and his reliance on coincidence to move the plot forward borders on the absurd.  Nevertheless, they work.  They just barrel forwards with breathless prose, and if a certain plot twist doesn't make sense it doesn't matter, because Tarzan's about to snap a lion's neck with a full nelson.  Burroughs is probably the earliest writer that I can read for pure pleasure, because his books are just packed with event.  You never have to worry about slow patches in one of his books, that's for certain.


What I've Been Reading
The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
About Time Vol. 2 by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles

What I've Been Watching
Doctor Who: The Highlanders
Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks
Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks
Iron Man 3

What I've Been Playing
Need for Speed: The Run on the Nintendo Wii

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Proof Copy

Last Monday I received the proof copy of Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity from Createspace.  It was a big surprise to get it so early.  I ordered it on Wednesday September 4th, and it arrived on the 9th.  Keeping in kind that it had to be delivered from America to Australia, that is some prompt service.  I paid for the fastest shipping, because there was no way that I could wait two months for the book to get here, and it was money well spent.  This what the book looks like below:


On the whole I'm pretty happy with how it looks.  It is unmistakably a book with designed by an amateur, but I am okay with this.  I am an amateur designer after all, and I've tackled this project as something of a control freak; for my first book, I really wanted to do everything from soup to nuts.  It's a minor problem, and did little to dull the giddy thrill I got when I first opened this bad boy up.  It's one thing to have my book for sale in the digital ether, but quite another to hold it in my hands and rifle the pages.

I'm super-keen to approve the proof and get it up on the Amazon store, but instead I have to exercise patience.  There are things to be checked.  I have to make sure that the page numbers are all correct, and that the headers are formatted properly.  The whole book needs to be scoured for errors, which is going to take a few days at least.  I have already found a few, which is galling.  How did they escape my notice the first thousand times I read through it?  Never mind, there's nothing for it but to roll up my sleeves and get back to work perfecting the print and digital versions.  It seems that I have work to do on Jack Manley yet.


The Lightless Labyrinth, my second novel, proceeds at a good clip.  I'm nearly 8,000 words in, and I feel like it's coming together.  The biggest concern I had was with the sheer number of characters to introduce: there are nine main characters, six of lesser importance, and about a dozen extras milling around in the first chapter.  It really is a lot of people to get in there, and I had doubts about my ability to introduce them all organically.  On the other hand, with the story I'm telling I see no logical way to leave them out.

One thing working in my favour is that I'm using a lot of archetypal fantasy characters. There's a knight, a thief, a barbarian, a sorceress, and other such fantasy stereotypes.  It's not an original set-up by any means; I'm taking the standard Dungeons & Dragons subterranean delve and trying my best to wring a damn good story out of it, and to do that I'm using archetypes.  What I've found is that this helps me introduce the characters without using a flood of names.  I could introduce Artis, Beren, Garath and Myrio all at once.  But I know that I have trouble keeping up with names at the beginning of a book, and I doubt that I'm the dumbest guy to ever pick up a fantasy book.  So I'm introducing them instead as the thief, the priest, the knight and the swordswoman, archetypal descriptions that I feel stick in the mind better.  The opening scenes are interspersed with flashbacks in which the characters explain their reasons for wanting to enter the Lightles Labyrinth, and thereafter I use their real names.  The characters are introduced at the start with easily-defined roles and labels, and I intend to gradually flesh them out and move past the stereotypes into more interesting territory.  That's the plan, anyway.

Using labels instead of names could get clunky, of course, and it still hasn't helped me with introducing my lesser characters.  Still, its the best solution I've hit upon so far, and I think it's working well.


What I've Been Reading
Grammar Essentals for Dummies by Wendy M. Anderson
The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What I've Been Watching
Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons
Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks
Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani
Despicable Me 2
The Neverending Story

What I've Been Playing
Need for Speed: The Run on the Nintendo Wii

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Measuring Success

I'm not really sure whether to call this week a success or not.

On the one hand I completed formatting my novel for Createspace, and redesigned the cover for print.  The files are currently with the Createspace team, and I will find out soon if they are ready to print or not.  If they are I'll have physical copies ready to go pretty shortly.  That sounds to me like a good week's work.

On the other hand, I have been procrastinating like mad.  I haven't written any blog entries, and I have barely done any work at all on The Lightless Labyrinth.  What I have done a lot of is spending time with my family, going to bed at a reasonable hour, and watching movies.  All of these are good things, but they don't help me get any writing done.  My plan once I posted Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity was to write every night, both fiction and blog entries.  That hasn't happened as often as I would like.

I think that I'm going to have to put this week square on the middle of the success/failure scale.  I've accomplished some important things, but not gotten as much work done as i should have.  Part of the reason I've started keeping this blog is to call myself out for being a lazy bastard, so I guess that I had to test it out eventually. If all goes to plan, this will be the first and last time.


I'm watching (and planning to watch) a lot of Doctor Who.  With the 50th anniversary of the show fast approaching, I've decided to do a Who mini-marathon, watching one story per Doctor.  With eleven stories to watch, I figure I will be kept busy with this for the next month or so.

For the first Doctor, William Hartnell, I chose The Aztecs. It's an artifact from the days when the show did pure historicals, untainted by sci-fi influences (aside from the main character's conveyance, of course).  It's also my favourite from the first season, a great piece of pseudo-Shakespearean drama in which the cast gets embroiled in Aztec culture and the practice of human sacrifice.  What's notable about it from a modern perspective is the character of the Doctor, who is quite prepared to move on without doing anything to stop the sacrifices, or help those being killed.  It wouldn't be too long before the character's attitude would change, a necessary step in the process of him moving from ensemble player to heroic lead, but I still love Hartnell's original portrayal.

The Invasion is the story I chose for the second Doctor, aka Patrick Troughton.  It's only five years on from The Aztecs, but it feels like a completely different show.  Not only has the cast changed completely, but the show has moved from the studio-bound feel of a stage-play to a slick thriller with plenty of location filming.  The Doctor is firmly in hero mode by this time.  The TARDIS is the only recognisable feature between this and The Aztecs.

I've only watched half of The Invasion so far, and it's a very slow build.  I'm a fan of the measured pace of classic Who, but even I admit that it drags sometimes.  This story avoids that by constantly introducing new players and elements, and using them in different combinations.  Doctor Who has a lot of long stories, and the successful ones are those that don't get stuck with the same characters and situations for too long.


What I've Been Reading
Grammar Essentals for Dummies by Wendy M. Anderson
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What I've Been Watching
Doctor Who: The Aztecs
Doctor Who: The Invasion
Despicable Me

What I've Been Playing
Need for Speed: The Run on the Nintendo Wii