Musings on my next novel project.

Earlier I wrote and posted about my “a short novel every three months” plan which sort of hit a snag in May. Not to worry, I’ll just move on. It’s not like I write for a living (a point I’ll touch on in a future post).

So, here’s where I’m up to regarding my August novel attempt, learning from my experiences of the last 10 months:

It has a working title. This makes it easier to talk about. Until someone comes up with a better idea I’ll be calling it “Combat Story (working title)”. As it is set in the same world as “Minding Tomorrow”, and deals with vision rather than memory I thought giving it the working title of “Blinding Tomorrow” and the third novel in the sequence “Finding Tomorrow” or something. But I think that would be a bit confusing.

I’ve decided to write a story idea that I’ve had for a looooong time. It’s been in my head so long that:
– some of the main ideas in “Minding Tomorrow” were actually first meant for “Combat Story”, like the viewsers and some of the brain imaging technology. And more besides, but that would spoil both novels.
– it features two characters from my first ever novel, a non-SF murder mystery, though they are minor characters in this story.
– knowing that the events of “Combat Story” happen in the same universe as “Minding Tomorrow”, I made sure to write them into that story too.
– this means that “Minding Tomorrow” features characters from “Combat Story” and vica versa, though only in minor and mysterious roles.

In the spirit of the “write what you know” rule, I’ve decided that juggling is going to feature in this story.

This novel is not a sequel, it is more of a companion novel. A reader could read either “Minding Tomorrow” or “Combat Story” first, and it won’t spoil the other.

Also, it is going to be a different style… a more direct narrative, and a lot more action. It could even be classed as military SF, but I’m thinking more along the lines of “near future, hard science fiction, action heavy, techno-thriller” vibe.

To make sure I know exactly what is happening, I’ve made notes. A LOT of notes. About the plot, characters, ideas, everything. I’ve listed all the scenes, and what needs to happen in each. I mean, I’m up to about 6,000 words of notes, and I still have a few thousand more to go before I’m set. When I start writing in a few days time I’ll be able to hit the ground running.

Unlike “Monster Story (working title)”, where I didn’t name any characters (I don’t like naming things), and instead used place holders like AAAA, BBBB, etc, this time I’ve given all the characters names from the start. The names may change, but I hope they’ll lead to some interesting character moments

I plan for “Combat Story” to be longer than my other two completed novels. I’m not sure of the exact length, but it might clock in at 70,000 words.

Instead of focusing on word count, I’m going to focus on scenes/chapters. Each day I’ll write a scene. Or two. I actually have between forty and fifty scenes, but I know some of those aren’t needed, and I know new scenes will present themselves as I progress. Like in “Monster Story”, a line in my notes like “Two characters do X” would take four chapters, and a huge stretch of notes about what information needed to be shared with the reader would be CONDENSED by the time it got into the story. I’ll just have to busk this as I go along.

To keep myself honest, I’ll still be keeping track of my word count, and aim for about 1,500 per day. I might even post word count updates on twitter, so my followers can bug me if I skip a day. Unless it pisses them off.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the new adventure. I know by putting the work in up-front, it will take a lot less editing afterward. Judging by initial feedback for “Monster Story” I think I’m getting to the point where my stories are more suitable for release a lot quicker than before. Maybe, if I’m happy with it, I could get it out before the end of the year.

And who knows, if I do a NaNoWriMo novel in November, and release that story quickly too (another story I’ve had in my mind for years), I might release four novels within a year. This time last year I’d never believe that to be possible for a non-full-time writer, but here I am giving it a good shot.

“Novel-Fading” – a learning experience.

In November I wrote a short novel, “Minding Tomorrow”. Then I took two months off the actual writing to edit it and think about the next novel.

In February I wrote a novella, “Monster Story (working title)”. Then I took two months off to keep editing novel number one, and do a bit of editing on number two.

In May I wrote 25,000 words of a planned 60,000 word novel, “Human Danger (working title)”. I didn’t finish it, even though I kept writing into June. The reasons:

  • The first two stories had been very clear in my head in terms of plot, characters, ideas, technology, and themes for many years each. I’ve thought about them as movie plots, TV shows, comics, and computer games alongside the novels they finally became.

    However, in May I decided to have a go at a story idea that really wasn’t fully developed. I’ve actually had it in my head for much longer than the others, and many of the science fiction elements are stronger. My main problem is that the characters and final plot direction were sort of lacking. I thought “If I just start writing, these will come to me!”

    It turns out they did come to me, but really slowly. It was at about word 23,500 that I thought “Oh! Now I know what I’m writing!”

    In other words, I’d spent a month writing when I should have spent a month thinking.

  • Another reason I stopped was because the pace was really dragging. Instead of working in an unbounded universe created entirely by myself, this novel is based on existing work. I had to constantly look through reference material at every step, to make sure I was keeping everything straight. And I knew that a lot of this picky detail would be edited out afterward, but I didn’t know WHAT would stay or go.

    I thought that working from an established reference point would help me write quickly, so thought 2,000 words a days would be possible. It turned out that I was struggling to get 1,000 words per day.

  • Finally, I wasn’t strict enough with myself. Instead of saying “I must write 1,500 words each day, and if I miss a day I need to catch up by the end of the month” I lapsed into “If I don’t write one day, that’s fine, I’ll only count the days I DO write, and I know it will take longer than just May, and I can keep revising my word count goal downwards as it gets trickier…”

    This resulted in me just not writing anything on a day which I felt uninspired or didn’t have enough time to write a good chunk, instead of just bashing out as many words as possible.

My plan with “Human Danger (working title)” is to put it on the back burner for a while. It was certainly a learning experience, so it wasn’t entirely wasted effort. I’ll file it with the four other quarter-finished novels sitting on my hard drive, think about it for another six months, and re-start it again next February.

Then I had two months off… in which I released “Minding Tomorrow” and continued editing “Monster Story (working title)” (seriously, I need to come up with a better title for that one, suggestions in the comments).

Which brings me to my planned August novel… which I’ll write about tomorrow, I’ve got to go get ready for a juggling show now.

Oh, the title references “Pod-fading”, the act of letting your podcast fade away, leaving a series of podcast episodes with no real end point.

New Cover Art for “Minding Tomorrow”

Minding Tomorrow front cover

I released my first completed novel, “Minding Tomorrow”, for free a few months ago, and so far the reception has been really good. I’ve had loads of great emails from people telling me they’ve enjoyed it, a podcast review by Chris from the M-Brane SF blog, and even a few donations via the PayPal tip jar.

I always wanted some kind of cover art, even though the novel only exists in electronic versions. The image I had in mind was an anonymous man with a black suit, white collar and red tie (a reference to The Son of Man by Rene Margritte) with a blank face, and a pair of chunky-rimmed glasses (a reference to some key technology in my novel). I wanted it to look clean and iconic.

I could have made it myself, but the graphical style I wanted isn’t something I’m capable of creating. Instead I thought it would be easier to pay someone else to do a far better job than I ever could.

Stefan Kernjak’s work caught my eye, and I subscribed to his blog. He posts new images every day, so I soon got a feel for his work. His vector-based images had the exact cleanness of line that I wanted, and the characters he creates with simple shapes really come to life.

I was almost completely sure I wanted to ask Stefan to make an image for me, and then he posted a work-in-progress of a late Father’s Day card. It featured a faceless man with a black suit, white collar and red tie. When I saw this I knew he’d be able to create exactly what I wanted.

After a few emails he’d agreed to give it a go, and I gave him the design brief. He emailed back his first idea, which was completely different than the image I first had in mind, but interesting in ways I hadn’t even considered. I gave a few notes asking for some minor changes. When he sent me the second version, I could find nothing wrong with it at all. In other words: probably the easiest working relationship I’ve ever had.

I’ve had the final image for a few weeks now, but I’ve only just had time to add the title text. Now I need to work out how to include a cover image in an ePub file… I’ll get back to you in a few weeks on that one…

What do you think of the cover? You can click for a hi-res version. I hope you like it, as Stefan is currently working on a cover for my next novel, “Monster Story (working title)”.

Arctic Trip, July 2009

I’m nearing the end of my summer holiday. I’ll be doing a series of blog posts about what I’ve been up to, with photos and maps and everything, but not until I have time to do the writing. Say, when I next have a week on a cruise ship with not a lot else to do.

Like this coming week!

I’ve known about the trip for a while, and I’m really excited about it. Technically I won’t be visiting a new country, but I’ll certainly be going to some unique destinations. Here’s the breakdown:

The above map was made over at and by following that link you can zoom in stuff.

I fly from Zurich to Oslo, then wait 7 hours in the airport. Then I fly to Tromso, then to Hammerfest, then to Honningsvag, which is as far north as you can fly and lang in Europe. From there I’ll visit the “tourisz version” of the northernmst point in Europe, and spend the night in a hotel.

From there I join a ship then sail north. There are some islands halfway to Svalbard, but I couldn’t find them on the map. I’m sure that will just be scenic cruising. But then we land at Spitzbergen, Svalbard, which is pretty much as far north as you’ll ever get unless you’re taking a trip to the North Pole. It’s so far north, one of the tourists attractions is a 24 hour sun dial.

This kind of remote is so cool I can’t even imagine it. I want to go hiking when I get there, but I have to hire a rifle to leave the city limits… in case of Polar Bears!

The next stop is way south, slightly below the arctic circle (it sounds strange when I read that out loud), in Iceland. I leave the ship in Akureyri, then fly over to Reykjavik. I then need to cross from the local to international airport, which means I’ll have maybe two hours to see the city. I’ve been to the city before, but pretty much drove past it and back again from a long truck drive. I really need to look up what I can do in the city in under an hour.

Then I fly back to Zurich (via Berlin) just in time to perform at the Feldkirk Gauklerfestival, which is our first streetshow festival of the year. That we didn’t get more festivals in July and August (but 3 in September) is the reason we’ve had such a long holiday. And the reason why I had to take a work trip in the middle of it all.

Anyway, I’ll be sharing photos, and maybe videos, on my return next Friday. Other blogging will continue, as I have things I want to write and post.

EJC 2009 day 8

Today was a slow, very hot day. I got up late, and went looking for Pola. I found her in our hammock, asleep in the shade between two trees. I guess I didn’t wake when she came in to get it sometime in the morning.

I spent a while writing emails and uploading photos, but the info tent got too hot. So I went outside. Where it was even hotter. In the end I sat under some trees and watched people juggle.

After some food I thought I’d check out the parade. But then I couldn’t be bothered to join in, so cycled into the city center. There I ate ice cream and drank coke and read a book in the shade. Alesandro was hosting the games, so popped over to ask some advice, and we bashed out a list of games, an order for the games, and gave him various suggestions of things to do in the various challenges.

As I was the first juggler at the games arena, I had a quite relaxing time. Of course, after an hour or so, the parade arrived, and the arena was soon PACKED! I thought it would be a perfect place for the games, but it wasn’t. Far too small, it turns out.

There was a real party atmosphere, with people dancing to the samba marching bands, and throwing water around, and climbing on to the high buildings around the square.

I’d saved some seats in out of the sun, and finally the Berlin crew joined me. And then the games began!

They started with a torch relay, then a burning arrow shot into a bowl. Which promptly melted onto its wheely bin stand. It was a great opening ceremony.

Bar from Israel won the five ball endurance. I dropped out right away, because I was trying to get a shot for a video project, and stood too close to the burning bowl of fire, and got a face full of burning hot smoke.

Bar also won the 7 ball endurance, and came second in the 5 club endurance. Along with coming third in the Fight Night last night, I think this makes him the best juggler at the EJC. Or something.

Some games suffered from the overcrowding. Two people stumbled into me during the club balance endurance, a game I normally do quite well in. This meant I knew to keep clear of others during the coin juggling game. I came sort of joint second in this one, meaning I was one of two jugglers who dropped on the last trick (two up pirouette). I got no prize for that place, though, as the only prize was the cash.

3 ball Simon Says was a bit frustrating. I followed instructions exactly, but then a man dressed as a lion came and knocked the ball out of my hand. Apparently Matias and I were the only jugglers who followed the “Simon says pull your trousers back up” instruction. This meant that, once Matias dropped, I was the only one left with my shorts returned to the normal position. It turns out half the audience agreed with the decision to knock me out way after the fact, and the other half were as confused as I was. Oh well.

The overcrowding really came to a head with the three club combat. The hosts of the games really couldn’t control the players, and most of the audience couldn’t see what was going on due to the eliminated players standing up around the edges. After four completely mad games, the winners from each round fought in the final. This final consisted of Jochen (of course), Alvaro, myself and some other guy I don’t know. I came third, Jochen knocking me out and then going on to win.

Afterwards Jochen said “You know, I didn’t mean to knock you out so quickly!” which made sense, as in such a situation, with a big audience, we normally try to play a bit, to raise the tension, to make a few faints and jabs for show. He simply missjudged the distance. I’d thought at the time “Wow, Jochen’s really serious about winning… not very sportsmanlike!” I don’t mind though, he’d probably have won anyway, and I think I won the same game last year.

Inexplicably, after the crowd-pleasing triumph of Jochen, there was another game: ball on head combat. As the final game it was sort of an anticlimax.

Then the tossup, in which I didn’t toss up, but did juggle (for personal reasons). Overall the games were a big success, although they did last a long time. I knew they would and thats why, when asked about who many games to play, I said 10 was plenty. In fact, they could have done without the 2 diabolo endurance (pointless).

After the games, Pola and I and other Berliners visited Dominos pizza again. By the time we got back to the convention site, the ska band was playing, and the concert/party was in full swing. I dropped off my things at the van, then went to the 24 hour hall to play combat. I did some video editing too in between all that. Combat was fun tonight, and the lack of people made the games very relaxed.

Then I popped over to the info tent to upload some photos. It was closed so I couldn’t sit down at the table inside (boo) but the wifi was still on (yay) but nobody could use the computers (boo) but that meant all the bandwidth was just for me (yay). I’m currently sitting outside on a beanbag, listening to the band, and catching glimpses of the show in the renegade tent. A very pleasant last evening at the EJC.