Monday, 12 August 2013

Syfy Why?

Apologies for the length of time since the last post; been in a bit of a slump and didn't really feel like posting. Tonight though I'm lifting my spirits with a good old fashioned rant on a topic dear to my heart; why are Syfy original movies so terrible?

To be clear this is a writing blog so I'm not going to complain about the effects(they don't really qualify for the prefix 'special') or the acting; in fact given the limits of budgets those are often at least adequate. No my issue is with the plots and scripts that give the impression of having been created by randomly cutting and pasting together pieces of files found on some abandoned computer.

And to clarify further this isn't about the science fiction elements; I enjoy science fiction in general and I like Warehouse 13 which is also from Syfy. No my problem is with the lack of logic and coherence in the plots; its about sharks leaping from the water to bite helicopters, its about gigantic secret chambers under Stonehenge that nobody noticed until about five minutes ago, and the way they take some buzzwords from a popular science article and have them do what the writer thinks they should based on how they sound.

What makes it truly galling is that I wonder just how hard it would be to find a halfway coherent script to make a decent movie? Is it really that difficult to come up with something better than a two headed shark or something that seems to consist of someone pairing 'tornado' with some other random word and then coming up with a plot to fit it?

You have to imagine that they channel has been bombarded with scripts from people who've watched the movies and thought 'I can do better', and probably did. Why this addiction to incoherence and outright stupidity? Anyone???

Friday, 26 July 2013

Different Skies: The Union and the Sun God

So last few days here the weather has been hot and sticky and since we British don't do air-conditioning writing has been an uphill chore. Still it's cooled down a little so back to the contents of Different Skies.

The title of this story seems rather portentous at first glance but that's rather deceptive since the story is probably the most low key in the collection. The title is actually an oblique reference to the 'Space Race' of the 1960s. In that context I'm sure most of you will guess that the sun god in question is Apollo and as for the Union well in Russian the word would be 'Soyuz'; and the spacecraft of that name is the mainstay of the Russian program to this day. So the title is just a cryptic version of 'Soyuz and Apollo'.

Now this is a work of alternate history but in this case both the origin of the change and its effect are not immediately obvious as the main character finds himself in Moscow a couple of years after the fall of the USSR. Disgusted at the way the city has been overrun with fast food joints and tacky tourist souvenirs he goes looking for something 'real' and finds it in a shop whose proprietor tells him the story of a forgotten tragedy of the early days of spaceflight and a fleeting moment of opportunity that slipped away and never came back.

As I said quite low key but it explores a what if that could easily have happened and had unexpected consequences. Anyway next time we come to the origins of 'Fourth Planet Problem' and that story is anything but low key...

Monday, 22 July 2013

Still trying for that perfect cover

Well as you can guess from the title another cover iteration is ready. I've tried a somewhat different look for the Secession Campaign this time:

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Home Stretch

So still at home job-searching and writing. Hard to say about how the former is going just yet but the latter is still making good progress. At the moment Different Skies and Secession Campaign both undergoing proofreading and the novelization of Fourth Planet problem might be finished by the end of the month.

Obviously there's still a fair amount of work to do to knock the latter into shape to be published but once the first draft is finished the main thing with $PP will be finding some 'beta readers' and so it's a question of what to work on next. The most likely plan is to move on to the Secession Campaign sequel 'Bridgehead Campaign' but there a re a couple of other ideas I might try and rough out synopses for.

As things are working out I'm more or less reduced to crossing my fingers that I'll have something ready to publish by September. The simple fact is getting feedback and critique on your work is an uphill struggle. it's not finding people who say they will read your work; it's finding ones who actually follow through...

Saturday, 13 July 2013


As I may have mentioned before I frequent the forum and a member started a new thread today that gave me the idea for this blog. Essentially their idea was that the RAF takes jet engines seriously much sooner and as a result they have jet fighters in the Battle of Britain. Now it's an interesting idea but the problem arose when the question was asked; 'how will the Germans react to this new development?' because the answer was 'they will just ignore it'.

This illustrates a problem that can creep in when you have characters who are definitely the heroes of the story; there's a risk that you pile all the virtue's and skills onto the protagonists and leave the antagonists as bumbling idiots but that's relatively easy to spot and correct. A slightly more subtle version that I have seen in a number of published works is that some of the 'bad guys' are good at their jobs but they are really good guys just on the wrong side. That is that competence becomes inextricably linked with morality and virtue; if the character is good at their job then they are morally good as well.

The real world of course illustrates that this is seldom the case; people can be truly great inventors, scientists, artists, or generals and yet be terrible human beings. You always need to bear in mind that most of the time the antagonists are every bit as convinced that they have right on their side as the protagonists do; and if you really want create a devious and twisted plot they might actually be correct in their assessment!

The other problem that can arise is what I think of as passive incompetence. Essentially this is what was happening in the example I gave at the beginning; the writer has such a clear idea of how they want things to turn out for the 'heroes' that the other side becomes simply props; they only do things when the protagonists interact with them. You can get away with that for a little while but eventually the reader is going to tire of antagonists whose only purpose is to demonstrate how awesome the protagonists are; they need to have an existence and a purpose even if it doesn't make it into the narrative itself...

Friday, 12 July 2013

Different Skies: Villainy

Been concentrating on writing and job-hunting this week. The former has been going pretty well and I'll just have to wait and see on the latter.

So getting back to the contents of Different Skies and despite what it says in the title of the piece there is no story called 'Villainy' in the collection; it's simply a catch-all description for four stories that all take place against the background of a world where a 'superhero' race takes place in instead of a 'space race'; a world where superheroes, and supervillains, are made not born.

This mini collection consists of four stories; 'Genealogy', 'Minion', Mandatory Origin Story', and 'Audition'

Genealogy takes the form of a series of excerpts from a book on the history of Superheroes from the Soviets taking an early lead and on through Vietnam to a present day where the collapse of the USSR has made the means to acquire super powers available to anyone with the money and the degree of insanity to risk using cheap Eastern European knock offs.

Minion is essentially about a man who works for a supervillain having a very bad day, while Mandatory Origin Story recounts how a US government superhero turns into a supervillain and Audition sees a washed up actor getting a very strange job offer.

You may have noticed I'm being rather stingy about the details of those last three; that's because in addition to being the three shortest stories in the book they have a central conceit that I really can't discuss without ruining. What I'm say is that you will have to read the book if you want to find out what they are all about...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Too Much Time?

So up until Wednesday it was a pretty ordinary week at work; then late in the afternoon it came to a sudden, and permanent halt. Things had not been going well for a while and a group of us were summoned to a meeting and given redundancy notices. Not exactly good news but I choose to see it as being on-board an aircraft where both wings have come off and grabbing a parachute rather than being aboard when it slams into the ground.

One positive side effect of this is of course more time available to write. problem with that though is that its all too easy to lose track of time when the familiar structure of the day has been removed. When you can sit down and write at any time it becomes all too easy to postpone it for five minutes, which can readily turn into five hours if you aren't careful.

It comes down to that other key requirement in writing; discipline. You have to make yourself write even when they are distractions or when your not in the mood. I tend to find that once I get started I build up momentum and it can be hard to stop. Of course it will be interesting to see how well I can follow my own advice in the coming days...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

One more cover

Another iteration of the cover art for Secession Campaign, this time with a bit more action:

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A matter of time

Imagine if you will a rather odd conversation; one wherein you start discussing the 2012 Olympic 100m final and the person you are talking comments that they could be as fast as Usain Bolt if they only had the time to train. Or perhaps you are discussing the modern physics and your companion states that they could probably have made some great breakthrough but they've just never gotten round to it. 

You would probably regard such sentiments as 'naive' at best; after all we know there is something more to such achievements than simply a matter of taking the time to 'give it ago'. Now given that this blog is about writing I suspect you've guessed where this is going; the world appears full of otherwise sensible people who would never suggest they could be the next Bolt or Einstein and yet seem to harbour the belief that they could be JK Rowling if they just had the time. Why do some people seem to be so blase about the art of writing? Once again I have a theory.

In my opinion it all starts with the simple fact that most people can write; that is they know how to carry out the mechanical process of putting words on paper. They learned at school; they've done homework, essays, e-mails, Facebook updates, and writing a book is just that but more so right?

This contributes to writing being seen as a mundane thing where other arts retain a certain mystery; it may also partly be because sight tends to be the dominant sense and other art forms are more visual so we can appreciate the complexities better than with the visually dull collection of words on a page or screen that makes up a story.

Perhaps though its less that people are blasé about writing and more that it's superficial simplicity lends itself to daydreams of artistic ability thwarted by the demands of every day life; at least thinking that might make it easier to resist throttling the next person who says 'oh I've thought about writing...' :)

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Right at the moment I'm rather becalmed as far as writing goes; as I said previously Different Skies and Secession campaign are being proofread at the moment so I can't really do anything with them at the moment. On Thursday lunchtime I was working on Fourth Planet Problem on my tablet and I must have touched the wrong part of the screen because it went back to the main menu and when I reopened the app I'd lost all the writing I'd done!

So now I'm in the midst of a four day weekend and not really in a writing mood; it happens from time to time. What actually helps is often just to write something, anything, just to get some momentum going; which is mainly why I'm writing this post at the moment. :)

I've never really experienced writers block; certainly had moments where I didn't know where to take a story and had to hammer away until I saw a way to make things work. It's usually a sign that I'm trying to take the plot in a direction it doesn't want to go and once I do what it wants everything is fine.

Anyway having warmed up here I'm off to tackle T4PP once more!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Progress Report

Just a quick update on how the various projects are going. Obviously things have not gone as planned the last few weeks but I've now got 'Different Skies' and 'Secession Campaign' being proof read to squeeze out as much as possible of the inevitable grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and missing words that still remain. Both are likely to get one last buff up in terms of plot and dialogue. 

'The Fourth Planet Problem' is into chapter 23 at the moment; I was at one point expecting it to be about 25 chapters in all but it's now beginning to look more like 30 now. That though has been pretty much par for the course for T4PP, it started out as a 3000 word short story in its first incarnation.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Different Skies: One World One People

So back to something a little more cheery, well sort of, picking up with the third story in Different Skies; 'One World One People'.

Like 'Changing Times' this story is set in an alternate universe and like the Changing Times universe space travel is more advanced with bases on the moon by the time the story opens in 1968. Where it sharply diverges is that in One World the Third Reich has survived the Second World War and is locked into an endless battle against insurgents in Russia and Asia at the same time as competing for control of the high frontier with the North American Union, which is a sort of NATO/EU organization formed by the USA.

The story centres around the journey of Klaus Kittel from watching the first man in space on TV to being an astronaut at the German moonbase on a mission that could tip a world on the brink of Armageddon over the edge.

So why 'Nazi's on the moon'? OWOP came out of the accounts from a number of astronauts of how profoundly the experience of seeing Earth from space affected them. I wondered how someone would square such an experience with living under the tyranny of the Nazi's belief system? It essentially comes down to sharply contrasting visions of what the words in the title really mean.

Now I actually wrote OWOP before I wrote Changing Times and I originally thought of them as completely separate stories but it did occur to me later that perhaps they represent two different outcomes for the same departure point from our history. In Changing Times World War II works out much the same as it did historically while in OWOP things take a turn for the worse during the war and the USSR is defeated allowing the Third Reich to survive; so in a sense they represent the opposite sides of the same coin.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Sad loss

I've mentioned before that I'm a member of my local writers group Speakeasy. The group's treasurer, and one of its most prolific contributors, was a gentleman named Colin Webb; he had been one of the pillar's of the group since long before I joined.

A couple of month's ago Colin, for the first time I can remember, missed a meeting and we found out that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Tonight I recieved an email that passed on the news that he died Friday afternoon in a hospice.

I just really can't process it to be honest and frankly I'm afraid anything else I can say will just sound trite so I'll settle for; RIP Colin.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Phantom Writer

Apologies for my lack of input; had a nasty chest infection that's required two different courses of antibiotics to treat it.

I am not however the phantom writer in question. That would be one Richard Castle. As some of you may already know Richard Castle is the lead character in the TV series 'Castle'. The character is a mystery writer seeking inspiration for his next book. He meets NYPD detective Kate Beckett and she becomes the inspiration for his new series of books centred on a fictionalized version of Beckett called (much to Beckett's horror) Nikki Heat.

So far so slightly confusing. Where things get truly strange is that as the show proved popular (currently in Season 5) someone decided that it would be a good idea to make the various Nikki Heat titles mentioned in the series into actual books; so the fictional works about a fictional detective based on the adventures of a different fictional detective are now real.

I find it somehow disconcerting that a non-existent author has more works published than I do...

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Some time ago I heard that Max Brooks' World War Z was being adapted as a movie. For those who haven't read the book its an account of a 'Zombie Apocalypse' told in the form of interviews with survivors after the war. It goes all around the world, and above it in an interview with the former Commander of the ISS who was marooned on the station during the fighting. I enjoyed it a lot and my reaction when I heard about the film was a mixture of anticipation and no little bit of dread. Having seen the trailers my dread has distinctly increased. It isn't a certainty yet but it does look awfully like this is going to be one of those cases where the finished movie shares nothing but a title in common with the original book. 

World War Z is hardly the only work to fall victim to such a page one rewrite; so why does it keep happening? Here's my take on it.

To start with I'm not one of those people who get outraged when every full stop and comma from the book doesn't make it to the screen; there are things that work on the printed page that simply won't work on screen and of course things may have to condensed to squeeze a book into 2-3 hours of film. That however is quiet different from the way some films completely discard their alleged source material. 

Now everyone has probably read a book and thought it would be so much better if A, B, etc. were changed; its the beginning point for all the fan-fiction ever written. It's a little different if the 'reader' in question is a Hollywood studio that wants to make their 'improved' version onto the big screen. They have to worry about little things like multi-million dollar lawsuits. They could just cut out the remainder of the original source material but that's not always practical and besides keeping the title and some of the character names may help sell the film. The solution is to buy the rights to the book and cover themselves against everything except the irate author walking away in disgust when they find out just what the studio intends to do to their book.

So when you see the announcement that Hollywood is planning to make a movie based on your favourite book its probably wise to assume that based on = butchering. It's not always going to happen; sometimes a book is big enough that the studio doesn't dare mess with it too much but those instances are fairly rare and if a book isn't that big it creates another problem besides the greater willingness to 'improve' it.

When a book is a truly massive hit, like Harry Potter or Twilight, casting tends to be about finding actors who fit the characters as described in the book(s), and more than likely unknowns who are going to be grateful and not expect the world to revolve around them; yet. When the book in question has a narrower fan base the situation often flips round; studios become eager to attach a big name actor to a project; when they succeed in landing an honest to goodness A-lister that's usually the kiss of death for the book. 

Going back to Word War Z the main character in the book is the interviewer; we learn little or nothing about him and all he really does is introduce the interviewees and inject a few questions to prompt them in telling their stories. For the movie they got Brad Pitt to play the lead. Can you imagine a studio paying Brad Pitt (or any other marquee star) many millions of dollars to appear in a lead role that involves being on screen for maybe fifteen minutes and doing little more than taking notes? Its not going to happen. Once that big name is attached to a project that project is going to start revolving around them.

In WWZ it means that the story now becomes the story of the 'interviewer'; and that character has to have all sort of close calls and heroic moments so that the audience will sympathize with them and root for them. It's happened time and again and its not the actors fault. it all too often seems to stem from a lack of confidence in the source material, or a simple lack of understanding of it. Sadly with the sums of money riding on a movie these days it's not likely to get any better and we are doomed to find ourselves fuming time and again at the outrageous liberties taken with our favourite stories.

None of the above means of course that if the day ever comes where some studio was willing to write a large cheque for rights to my work that I'm not going to take it. :)

Friday, 7 June 2013


So I've been under the weather for the last few days hence the lack of updates. The strange thing is that even when the rest of me grinds to a halt the imagination keeps going; insistently throwing out ideas and nagging away at awkward plot points even when I really wish it would shut up and let me get some sleep. Anyway hopefully a proper update at the weekend.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Different Skies: Testament

So returning to the actual writing here's some musings on the second story in Different Skies; 'Testament'.

The story is set around a manned mission to Mars and the backdrop is a little more ambiguous than 'Changing Times' in that it might be an alternate universe or simply a point in the future of our own. Now as well as enjoying a good space opera novel I'm also keenly interested in real word spaceflight and space exploration. Whenever the topic comers round to Mars I am however somewhat dubious as to the practicality of a mission when the mission profiles currently being discussed all envision a two year plus round trip.

Now given that some important part breaks on the ISS with alarming frequency I was far from convinced this was a credible plan and somewhere in all of this an idea came to mind that was more 'fiction' than 'science'; about what would really be the worst case scenario. Imagine if you will that a Mars mission has been launched and the crew is fine, the ship is working well and the Mars landing is going to work perfectly. Their only problem is that Earth is gone; humanity has been erased by a cataclysm bar the six people aboard the Martian expedition.

The story is essentially about the choices they face as to how best to use their reprieve; its downbeat but hopefully not gloomy.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Cover Art: One more ship

After joining the speculative fiction community at Google+ I got a lot of feedback on the cover design for Secession Campaign and I spent yesterday afternoon and this evening working on a new version (Saturday was shamefully wasted at a family barbecue), and here it is:

Sunday, 2 June 2013


I must admit I haven't really gotten along with social media in the past; I don't have dozens of pictures of adorable cats to share and if wanted to spend a lot of time on a farm I'd go to a real one. However going down the self-publishing route means that I also have to think about promoting my own work, which rather implies that people have to know that I exist, and that means having a social media profile of some sort. 

To that end I've signed up to Google+ and I apologize in advance for what is likely to be a very steep learning curve as I figure out how it all works. You can find me by searching for Mike Mullen. I'm the one in Milton Keynes UK the US Admiral who was JCS. :)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Rewriting, and the art of finishing...

Quiet day all round yesterday, so I've had time to think over some ideas and this one came out on top:

One of the best moments in writing is when what started out as a vague idea becomes a finished story; a feeling which lasts maybe an hour before you realize that what you have isn't really a finished story but a first draft. If it's ever going to be publishable you are going to have to do some rewriting. That is you will have to polish, tweak, expand, cut, and proofread for all the spelling and grammar errors, and those places where your brain is too far ahead of your fingers and bits of sentences are missing (yes really, I've gone back over a piece of writing and found I've literally skipped over half a dozen words or completely changed the tense of a sentences halfway through.

Proofreading is the most tedious and grinding of those activities and its tempting to just give your work a cursory once over and let it slide. This can be costly to the author both in terms of reputation and cold hard cash. When I've gone browsing through the Kindle section at Amazon looking to get some hints about how to maximize the chances of success with own stuff the one complaint from people who've commented that appears time and again is; 'would have given it a higher score but for the terrible spelling grammar'. Now bearing in mind that unless your an author people are going look for by name your chances of selling a book on Amazon are probably going to come down to people scanning through hundreds of choices and deciding to stop and give your title 30 seconds to wow them. If you have a mediocre star rating(or a dull cover for that matter) you aren't going to even get that thirty seconds.

Now having just explained why rewriting is important there is one other thing to remember; and that is that you have to know when to stop. Allow me to illustrate with a sad tale of rewrites run amok. After my attempted novel 'Thermopylae Star' and long before the writing group and 'Pioneer War' there was 'Garrison'. The plan was that with Garrison I would take on board the advice I had gotten from Baen Publishing about Thermopylae Star(as mentioned in a previous blog) and apply it to a fresh new idea. Now being a lot less disciplined about making time for writing, and lacking the helpful mobile gadgets I have now, it was something of a slog to complete that first draft and I was probably getting a little stale by the time it was finished, this I think laid the groundwork for the problems when it came to rewriting.

Putting the first draft aside for a while to try and freshen it up I actually spent a lot of time thinking about it; it would have been far better to work on something completely unrelated instead (One of the reasons why I have Pioneer War and Fourth Planet Problem on the go at the same time; it allows to switch back and forth and keep things interesting). Just to compound the problem I had also failed to find anyone to give the first draft a once over and give me some feedback. That was the product of my being more than a little paranoid and frankly scared about what others might say about my work.

The practical upshot of this was that there was nothing to act as a brake when I started to try and apply all the changes to the original that had come to mind; and by changes I mean ripping up the entire arc of one of the main characters and replacing it. That meant that a third of the original manuscript was trashed and there other less drastic changes that still meant some sections had to be drastically altered with a huge amount of new, and slow, writing to be done. Working in a vacuum I never stopped to ask what now seems the obvious question; was I improving the quality of what I had already written or just changing it because the new ideas were fresher and less familiar?

The answer for 'Garrison' turned out to be the latter; what I ended with was a draft that was less coherent than the original and I simply had no willpower to try and turn it into something workable. It was a debacle but as they lie to say after every disaster; 'lessons have been learned'.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Publishing Plan

Okay just a quickie tonight so I thought I'd give some idea of my publishing plans. Of course this is subject to minor corrections; or indeed major meltdowns.

At the moment the objectives are:

E-publish 'Different Skies' end of June/beginning of July

Start a final round of polishing on 'Secession Campaign' mid June with the aim of publishing in August/September.

Finish the first draft of the 'Fourth Planet' novel in August

Start the Secession Campaign sequel by August

And of course there are various bits and pieces for and keeping this blog up to date, so nice relaxing schedule really...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Different Skies: Changing Times

So as I am ever so slowly advancing towards publishing the 'Different Skies collection I thought it was time to post about what's actually in it in and because I'm an orderly sort I'll start with the first story; 'Changing Times'.

Picture a world where spaceflight advanced more rapidly than it did in ours; the first satellite is launched in 1949 not 1957, the first man in space flies in 1954 rather than 1961 and somewhere in the 60s the US has built a 'wheel' type space station. This is the world in which Changing times is set and the story is about the point at which it diverged from our own.

Not going to give away the details but essentially it comes down to one act of journalistic stupidity that happened in our world and doesn't in the Changing Times world. We are talking about an 'epic fail' on the part of one writer (who fortunately for their reputation penned the article in question anonymously). How bad could it be? Well consider such infamous headlines as 'Dewey beats Truman' and 'Titanic sinks; passengers saved'; my chosen 'point of departure' is in my opinion far worse and far less forgiveable as a mistake in the heat of the moment.

The 'fail' may have annoyed and perplexed me on occasion but the story itself is a wistful homage to what might have been; or at least that's how I see it, if you want to find out for yourself? Well then I'm planning to publish Different Skies at the end of June... :)

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Good Bad Guy

So the weekend went well; got a lot of editing done and created a short piece for a collaborative thread I contribute to on so all good there.

Thinking about what to write a blog on for tonight and I was inspired by a bit of a discussion I was having about a new story another writer had started; and by discussion I mean I was trying to avoid saying outright just how much I hated the direction they were taking it. Now I usually try and avoid this sort of thing, there are going to be works that are well written but just don't do it for me.

On this occasion though it really got under my skin and after taking some deep breathes I think I've figured out what riled me up so much; its that in my view the plot essentially hands all the advantages to the protagonists and eliminates the possibility of having a meaningful antagonist, or in simpler terms the good guys are too good.

The classic example of the hero whose just too powerful for good drama is Superman; as a character he's nigh on omnipotent and so when it comes to injecting drama the writers all too often have to resort to coming up with ways to take away his powers (everyone and their best friend having access to Kryptonite) or inventing a protagonist who has the same abilities, which practically speaking amounts to the same thing.

It has to be noted that this isn't a problem if things are the other way round; consider a scenario where you have two sides in conflict but one has tanks and jet fighters while the other has horses and bows and arrows. Now if your protagonists are the ones with the bows and arrows finding a way to triumph against the odds that offers up all manner of possibilities (some I grant you more plausible than others). If on the other hand the good guys are the ones with the tanks and planes you've essentially drained all the dramatic tension out of the situation. Sure you can come up with ways to try and inject it back in but its often not much more than the equivalent of all of Superman's enemies conveniently finding Krypyonite lying around.

 The simple fact is a story is more satisfying when you feel the heroes earned their victory and didn't have it handed to them on a plate, and for that you need a good bad guy.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

So why not go to a real publisher?

Apologies; messing around with settings and I accidentally deleted the original of this post, still learning how this setup works:

Going back several decades I can remember reading ads in the Sunday papers for publishers who would guarantee to turn your Magnum opus into a handsomely bound volume and help launch you as a successful author. The reality was that these companies were strictly there to collect the aspiring authors money and leave them with a pile of neatly bound books that would wind up as either Christmas presents or balancing up a piece of wobbly furniture, or possibly both. I suspect this kind of vanity press is what people still think of when someone talks about self-publishing with the (sometimes) unspoken question; ‘why don’t you go to a real publisher?

One of my favourite science fiction imprints is Baen Books. If you follow that link and check out their publishing schedule you will see that they put out six new books a month, or 72 per year. Look closer and you will discover that a lot of those are either reprints of old classics or paperback editions of books Baen had previously put out in hardback; so of those 72only about 20-30 per year are completely new and the overwhelmingly majority of those are going to be books by authors who’ve already had previous works published because Baen know they will sell.

Now even if you add in all the other publishers of science fiction there’s still only so many new books coming out and they’re mostly going to be from authors who’ve proven their work will sell. Of course all of those authors had a first book at some point; new authors do get published. That brings us to the next problem; how exactly do you get a publisher to choose your work to take a chance on? 

A decade ago I completed a novel called ‘Thermopylae Star’ and since this was back when Kindle was a verb not a product range I decided to submit it to a publisher; which was where the fun started. The submission policy of most of the science-fiction imprints was pretty simple; don’t. They simply did not want unsolicited manuscripts. Some suggested that the aspiring author should get themselves an agent; essentially saying that if you could get someone else in the publishing industry interested in your work and they might give it some attention. 

Turns out that unsurprisingly literary agents really only want to deal with authors who have been published and aren’t keen on acting as a filter for publishers.  As it turned out the one place that would give it look was Baen. They accepted all submissions and would guarantee to read a work and get back to the author; in six months. They were as good as their word and although it was rejected I got a lot of detailed suggestions about how to make it publishable but what happened to Thermopylae Star after that is for another blog.

Consider also that even if your book is a potential bestseller and you get a publisher to read it you still have to overcome a whole host of problems. What if your work just doesn’t fit their style? What if it does but they have something similar already in the pipeline? What if the person who reads your book just plain doesn’t like it? Let’s not even get into the cutthroat nature of the bookstore business where a book has maybe 3 or 4 weeks to start selling before it gets pulled to make way for something else.

In the end the traditional publishing process puts the power in the hands of everyone except the aspiring author. E-publishing give the power to reach an audience for their work in the hands of the writer; of course it also means you have to take all the responsibility for what you’re putting out there in the big wide world…

Fan Fiction

Wasn't planning to write an entry today; had a long and productive writing session and was planning to put my feet up when I saw this article at the BBC site:

Amazon to allow e-book fan fiction sales in US


So why does this matter to me? Let me explain. At one time I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and I mean I have autographed boxsets of the series huge. it all crashed and burned at the end of Season 6(2001-2002) when they killed off Tara MaClay; don't worry not going to go off on a rant about it now but at the time I was infuriated and I went and found a forum of likeminded people and it had a fan fiction section and you can guess what happened next. 

The plan was to write a couple of stories about an alternate history where the events of Season 6 didn't happen; it was going to be maybe 20,000 words in total. As will be come clear if it hasn't already my writing tends to suffer from what the military like to call 'mission creep' so when I finally finished what had become a series called 'Reality Check' consisted of 23 linked stories and around 350,000 words; enough for three or four decent length novels. (I'm currently updating a version of the stories at but you need to be registered to view the section of the site it's in.) 

Of course there wss no way I could publish those novels but now maybe there's a chance that one day Amazon will add BTVS to their fan fiction list and I can breathe new life into them. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Weekend

Since alas I have to work full time at something other than writing to pay the bills it can be a bit of a struggle to find the time and energy to write during the week. Modern technology helps of course; I can take a tablet to work and get a few hundred words down during lunchtimes and breaks and then transfer it to the PC and polish it up in the evening, oh and my one tip to other writers; there is no such thing as too many backups. I currently have all my material on my PC, an external drive AND a cloud service and I update them daily. That may seem excessive but there is nothing more dispiriting than trying to recreate a piece of writing you already did.

Those little bits of time that I can squeeze out of the week are invaluable but the weekend is when I can actually act like a professional and sit down for a few hours of uninterrupted writing. With a following wind I can get generate three or four thousand words across Saturday and Sunday. Now I know this obsession with word counting may seem a little pedantic but right now I'm trying to edit Different Skies into a final manuscript for publishing; I'm getting feedback from some 'beta readers' on Secession Campaign before making a last round of rewrites to that, and I'm about 85% of the way through a first draft of another novel called 'The Fourth Planet Problem' (yes that's web address of the blog and the genesis of T4PP will be a long entry in itself). Beyond that I have an outline for the sequel to Secession Campaign already sketched out and a bunch of other ideas waiting their turn. If I don't crank out the words they are never going to get done!

There are of course also pragmatic reasons for keeping up the output. The most obvious one is that if it takes a really long time to complete a piece of writing I find there's a risk you become sick to death of the thing and want to see the back of it.; that is not a good situation when you will inevitably have to edit, change, and proofread you work before your really finished. Another reason is that I do entertain the hope that one day I really can concentrate on writing full time. Now the thing about that ambition is that very few writers make it big off of one book; or off several books. They by and large only make a reasonable living by having an income from multiple books; so word count matters!

The practical upshot of this is that if I don't post much over the weekend it probably means things are going well. :)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Different Skies-Cover Art

As I think I've mentioned in my profile I do a bit of 3D rendering as a hobby and as a number of different sources have emphasized the need for a good cover I decided to try and come up with a design myself. This is the current iteration, though probably not the last one, created with a mix of DAZ Studio renders and GIMP postwork:

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Pioneer Worlds

Even as I'm working on the Different Skies short story collection there is a novel waiting in the wings to follow when I've learned from the mistakes I'm bound to make in the process of publishing DS. It's called 'Pioneer War: The Secession Campaign';  and it's intended as the first part of a trilogy. It came together surprisingly easily compared to past efforts; which is odd because it started as an idea I had no intention of writing.

About a year ago I was browsing the 'History, Literature and the Arts' section at the JREF forum and someone had started a thread looking to talk about weapons and shield technology for their science fiction novel; what they got instead was the third degree about about their vaguely described background of rebels vs evil empire.

How could the rebels have better tech than the the empire? How come they are so much better at combat than the empire? etc. For some reason I decided to come up with answers to those questions and my idea went like this:

At one point the rebels and the empire were part of the same political group. What became the empire were the core worlds of that group; peaceful and united with little or no recent combat experience and no need to maintain their fleet at the cutting edge of technology.

The worlds on the fringe, the future rebels, on the other hand faced constant external threats and the occasional internal one from warlords who have held out against being incorporated into the larger body. As a result they have plenty of combat experience and they are constantly working to improve their ships and firepower.

Of course the core worlds ruthlessly exploit the fringe and eventually this leads to a revolt and war that the core are completely confident they will easily win...

Now the person whose thread it was didn't show any interest in my little explanation but the more I thought about it the more pieces slotted into place until I had a universe and a plot in my head that insisted on being written. I have in the past written synopses for books that were thousands of word long but for Secession Campaign it was just a couple of pages with chapter titles and one sentence descriptions of the 'scenes' that made up each chapter, and yet it worked.

I'm currently polishing up a second draft and then comes the hardest part of writing; proof reading. :) 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

So just to make things clear if anyone is wondering the profile pic isn't intended to be enigmatic, mysterious, or pretentious. I just honestly don't have any recent pictures of myself so I grabbed an avatar I've used on other sites and stuck that in. Of course I could be lying and there really is subtle devious reason for my using it so if you want to come up with one feel free. :)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Different Skies-The Collection

Writing is essentially a solitary activity; just you, a keyboard, and an idea that you will hopefully be able to turn into text on your screen. The problem is that eventually you need feedback and encouragement; you need to be able to share your experiences with people who understand where you're coming from, which means other writers.

A couple of years ago I finally worked up the nerve to join my local group Speakeasy and start reading my work to complete strangers. One side effect of that was that I needed something that could be read in the 15-20 minutes available to each writer. Now at the time I had reached something of low point in my writing; the last novel I had been working on had drowned in a sea of rewrites and I really had very little to offer at first. Most of what was being read was poetry and short stories. I'm no poet so I went back to the genre I'd pretty much ignored for years; short stories.

Actually writing something short and snappy proved a bit of a struggle at first; my ideas have a tendency to expand to fill all the available space but I managed to come up with a workable synopsis and actual wrote a story that was just over a thousand words long, and then a couple more inspired by that first one. Over time the length did start creeping up and in due course I had an idea for a novel and started working on it. That book went far more smoothly than it's predecessor, in fact its a big part of the reason for starting this blog, and I think I have to attribute a lot of that to the short stories and the feedback and encouragement I got at Speakeasy.

This was all good but it did leave the question of what to do with all those short stories? The answer was to turn them into a collection and publish them as an e-book; not only getting them out to a wider audience but giving me a chance to learn about the mechanics of e-publishing in the process. The title of that collection is of course 'Different Skies' and I'm currently working on editing it into something that will work on a 'not going to mention a brand name starting with a K' electronic book reader.

If you want to take a message from this post then it's you are not the only writer out there; if you look you will find others who share your passion and have gotten together to provide mutual support and encouragement, so don't hold back, go look.

Taking the plunge

So I'm a science fiction writer and an I'm about to publish my first e-book. If that sentence fills you with dread and you choose to read someone else's blog instead I fully understand.

if there's anyone left reading this blog has several goals:

A) Shameless self-promotion of my work with excerpts from my writing, cover art and links to places where you can read more and even buy stuff when the day comes.

B) Some posts about my 20 years of trial and error as a writer before I got to this stage; and there were a lot of errors trust me.

C) Requests for feedback and advice on how to do things and passing along resources I have found useful.

So that's the plan; let's see how well it works.