Submit and Forget


Submit and forget. Two words I have come to love this year, although it hasn’t been easy.

Way back in January I had only ever submitted my stories to the Black Library. I think I’ve sent two pieces their way and both simply disappeared. I’ve often wondered if publishers around the world are in on some vast joke whereby they and the people who make email programs have teamed up to make the ‘send’ button cast your work off into some ethereal void, never to be seen again.

Yet, this is one of those hugely important lessons an aspiring writer must learn. Hit send, and move on. Fire and forget. The story will get to its intended destination (unless you got the email address wrong) and so the only way you’re going to hear back is if you’ve been successful or that they liked it enough to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Believe me, even hearing ‘no thanks,’ is a victory in itself.

You can try and contact the editor if you want and I personally would actively encourage this if you have not heard anything after a period of time has elapsed. You’ve slaved over that piece. Do you really want it sitting in a ‘pending’ pile for months on end when you could re-write it and send it to a different market? That said, there are rules to doing this though and they all basically revolve around doffing your cap in a vaguely submissive way and being nice. You have to remember that editors, who want the best stories for their market, are also people. And what do people hate more than anything else? People. Especially that particular breed of people known as arseholes.

The arsehole will contact an editor and demand an update. They will not ask politely, just demand. This is bad form and will likely get your piece not only rejected but quite possibly shredded.

Arseholes also have a tendency to publically insult pieces of work by other authors who are in the employ of the very editor/publishing house they themselves are courting. I know! Common sense does not apply to this particular type of a-hole.

Hmm, then there are stalkers. This is difficult as many editors also have public profiles on Twitter or Facebook on which they must appear friendly and pleased that you’ve taken the time to find them. Do not be under the illusion that because your tweet was replied to that you are now ‘mates’. You sent a tweet, he/she replied. End of. You will not be sharing a pizza and watching the football together come next week and you certainly won’t be seeing your name appear on any publications they may work for. Ever get that feeling that someone is only being nice because they want something? Well, I would imagine that this is how an editor feels most of the day and it must be exhausting.

I’m preaching here. I can feel it in my fingers, hammering my own frustrations into the keyboard and that’s because I have no right to preach. I am guilty of one of the all time great blunders that will haunt me for a long time to come yet. In my defence, I was just starting out, but hindsight likes to remind me what a valuable opportunity I missed and what an utter plank I was. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with an editor and talk about one of my stories. What I should have done was to ensure I knew the house style and intellectual property inside out before I sat down for that meeting. Instead, when asked ‘where in our worlds do you see this story fitting in?’ I panicked and blurted out something cringe worthy like, ‘I’ve written it as blank canvas. All you need to do is tell me which characters you would like and which part of the world they would be in and I’ll do that!’ If I’m honest, I can still see that editor’s shoulders sag. Oh, and it probably didn’t help that I was really quite drunk too. Nerves will do that.

screw up

So, there you have it. Eternal shame and regret balanced against the knowledge that things can only get better if I stick to the rules, doff my cap, and try and help others who may be considering being an arsehole for the day.

I’ve not been idle though. I’ve not drowned my sorrows since that unfortunate moment in time. No, I’ve been busy. I’ve sent off no less than twelve stories this year and have seen three acceptances, two ‘nice but no thanks’ and five rejections, so far. I’ll keep plugging away because at the end of the day that’s all you can do. I’ll always remember that fateful meeting though, not only because of how I played the arsehole for a day, but because I did come away with some very good advice without which I doubt I would have had the success I’ve had this year.

Far Worlds, anthologies and aching fingers.


So, today I completed my first draft for the Boltholes upcoming Far Worlds anthology. Over the past few days I’ve doggedly chipped away at the word count until finally, bish bash bosh, its done.

Well, no, obviously that’s only the first draft and therefore I’m nowhere near finished but, and this is the important bit, the hard part is behind me now.

When you sit down to write a story you’re often filled with great ideas of what you want to write. In reality what you’ve probably got is a head full of great scenes. Well, in that case my friend you don’t actually have a story at all. You need to link those scenes. You need a plot. Hey, there’s that mystery word again, plot. It took me forever to get my head around that bloody word. I kept saying to myself, ‘I have got a plot!’ Person A is doing this when Person B comes along and they have this really cool fight with guns that shoot bullets which are actually not bullets but some kind of light. In the end they kill the bad guy by sending him back in time to face his father (who hates tattoos) with a tattoo on his face. His dad gives him such a beating that his future self feels it and turns away from his life of crime.

Cool eh?

No. That’s just a bunch of scenes in which stuff happens. They’re not linked in any way. There’s no character development, nothing to engage the reader on a human level.

Okay, So what the hell is a plot?

Plot is quite simply: character + conflict.

Basically, take your character, dump him off at A, tell him he needs to get to B but make it hard for him along the way. Make his day a bad one and let him grow into a man by overcoming those problems. Come the end he should have learnt something, acquired a few skills or something… there must be development which is only gained through the experience of surviving conflict. Presto!

Yeah, still sounds simple doesn’t it?

Probably isn’t though? Nope. Writing, at least for the vast majority of us, is hard. You have to slog away at it and question everything single word you put on to the page as though you’re making mistake with every one. You have to, it’s a writers life.

So, I’ve finished the first draft and that will now sit in a drawer for a good week or so (cause that’s how Stephen King does it, okay?) until I’m ready to look at it again. I expect the next time I do I am going to hate it but there is where the fun begins. I’ll start shortening sentences, dissecting paragraphs, wheedle out unwanted words… all that crap, because in the end, it’ll be better.

That said, better to me is not necessarily better for my editor. He might take a look at what I’ve done and say he doesn’t like it and then its back to the drawing board. But, you’ve guessed it, it’s a writers life.

Right, my fingers really are aching now and I simply MUST have a cup of tea.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your own writing.

Mark.

Inspired Geek


Wow, what a great weekend. I’ve just spent Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday in the company of some great friends at one of the best events of the year. Where have I been? I’ve been to the Black Library Weekender which is held annually in Nottingham.

It’s always great to see friends you’ve not seen in a while. I find it especially gratifying as they are the only people I know who I can be properly geeky with. No one in my circle of friends at home would have slightest idea what I was talking about if I said I was really looking forward to seeing what Gotrek and Felix will be up to this year, or that I really like the direction the Horus Heresy is taking right now. I’d be looked upon with disdain, possible mirth and by some, downright disgust.

To those people, I say you will never understand, can never understand. My mind lives the dream of geeks all over the world. I am a space marine. I have walked Mars beside Titans. I do have a pretty good idea of what the Warp is. These things are fun and interesting to me.

So, to me the Black Library weekender is just one long weekend of awesome, shared with good friends.

Particular highlights for me were listening to multitude of questions asked by the audience during seminars (I thought my mind worked in mysterious ways but whoa!), learning about upcoming submission plans and watching people pitch their own ideas during Pitch Factor (think X Factor). Several lucky people were able to impress the judges enough to win the chance of having their story critiqued by an editor. Last year’s winner took part and this year she was published. I confess I had my hand up through most of the contest but so did many others; kudos to those who had the balls to get up and have a go. I’ll have another try next year. Why not? It’s all good fun.

Needless to say I came away from the weekend inspired, if not a lot poorer. But hey, it was a holiday for me, a chance to get out and be a geek which is not something I ever get to do around here. So what now? Well, it’s back to being a closet geek, scribbling away in the dark, living my own private dream.

If you enjoy the Black Library’s books I can thoroughly recommend you get your backside along to the event next year. You’ll make some good friends who are passionate about the rich and diverse universes of Warhammer fantasy and Warhammer 40k, you can chat with the authors and if you’re like me, drink far too much.

Good times,

M.

Here we go…


Well, the time has come. Marching Time to be specific.

Having just agreed and sent back my contract there’s nothing else to do but sit back and wait for the book to hit the market.

I thought waiting to hear back from the editors was stressful, but you know what? It really wasn’t. Not in comparison to a new fear which has risen up unannounced like a silent fart. You see, I’ve never really had a review before. Sure, I’ve had editors give praise (Not all the time. One actually scoffed in my face once. Scoffed!) from time to time but I’ve never had an honest to god review from a member of the anonymous public. It’s really quite frightening. Seriously, my poor bowels are working overtime. I keep blaming the dog but even the wife’s beginning to cast suspicious glances in my direction.

Alas, it’s out of my hands now. All that can be done is to wait and hide any stones.

I wonder if all writer folk have this fear? I mean, I keeping thinking back to the stories I’ve sent in and I know there are scenes I perhaps could have changed, rewritten or even omitted. Yet this is writing. If I change something then I’m actually writing a completely different story. Maybe one day I can do a director’s cut thingy if I’m really unhappy about something. In truth I’m not feeling to bad about what I’ve sent in. I’m never 100% happy anyway and so maybe this is a feeling I’m just going to have to suck up and learn to live with. Poor dog though. Really, he doesn’t deserve to have my wind blamed on him.

Scratch that. The dog has left the building. He’s actually just got up and left. It’s just me and a suspicious wife now.

Woe is me.

M.

Time is ticking…


I used to hate that saying. Time after all certainly does tick and I find it irritating when people feel the need to remind of such. It’s doubly irritating if it’s my own mind that reminds me.

The short story I am currently engaged in battle with is finally coming along quite nicely. I’ve reached the halfway point as far as word count goes and foresee no reason why I won’t hit the deadline for the first draft. Whatever the result sending this thing out turns out to be, I can honestly say it’s been worth it just for the experience of working to a deadline. Of course, I may change my mind depending upon the reviews I receive. The last time my mystical editors cobbled together an anthology it was quite well received and so I really hope my efforts don’t let the side down.

It’s been a battle. There is no doubt about that. The story-that-is-now-progressing-well was not so long ago in its fourth reincarnation until I finally got a handle on it. There are a few reasons I struggled with it and the top three are as follows…

  1. Time travel is an enormously tricky subject that only really lets on just how tricky it is when you sit down and try to work out your plot. I’ve found the way around this particular hurdle was to just make shit up.
  2. The POV (Point Of View) was all wrong in the first four versions I attempted. Seriously, that’s nearly forty thousand words that went nowhere. In the end I experimented with a combination of two which I think works rather well.
  3. Before I found a POV that worked, I just had no love for the theme of the story, probably becasue of the two reasons listed above and seriously considered pulling out more than once. In truth, had I had other projects to be getting on with than I probably would have. It’s good now though.

Hmmm, I must digress a second. There are bits floating in my tea. It tastes funny too.

Right, well, bollocks to the tea. I think I have some Gin around here somewhere.

M.

Mind Punch


Yesterday was a good day. I put down 3500 words and went to bed feeling pretty awesome. Woke up feeling pretty awesome too.

Then I listened to a Black Library audio drama called “The Stromark Massacre“. In particular, it was Andy Smillie’s “From The Blood” which is Disc 1, and by the time I finished it I was a seething mess of frustration.

That story was beyond awesome. Even as I write this I can feel my frustration bubbling just under the skin. I’ve never met Mr Smillie but right now I feel if I were ever to meet him, I can’t be sure if I would greet him a handshake or a punch. Perhaps, I should explain.

Or a handshake?

Normally, if another author makes me want to eat glass and nut a brick wall it’s because I discover they’ve already had my idea, already committed it to paper, and done it a lot better than I would have done. Not so with Mr Smillie. I think I’m passed that kind of reaction now. Too be honest, I hadn’t considered writing a Flesh Tearer story. I hadn’t even considered a black rage/red thirst spin on a Blood Angel story. In fact, I had no ongoing project that even remotely resembled this story. So why am I so downhearted? It’s because, in my opinion, Mr Smillie is in another authorial league; he makes my paltry efforts look like my niece’s first attempt to write her name with a crayon. Worse even. I feel mine would more closely resemble a potato print.

My latest submission… surely they’ll want this one? Look, I’ve mastered the colour ‘blue’ this time.

I have felt like this before, namely when I first started getting serious about my writing. I’m sure everyone does. You know the ones…

‘I’ll never be able to write like that.’

‘This author is a God.’

‘I’m a tosser.’

‘Is my grammar any good? Is that how you spell grammar? Fuck, where do I put the full stop? A semi-what?’

‘I could never think up shit like this.’

Sure, we’ve all been there. It’s a difficult hurdle to get over. I guess I never expected to feel like that again. I thought I was passed all that. So, should I ever meet Mr Smillie, do I shake is hand on a job well done? Or, do I punch him for forcing me to raise my game?

Come to think of it, I’ve heard he’s secretly a ninja so I might have to give him a mind punch instead. Only fair, considering he’s just given me one.

Later,

M.

 

And the winner is… Me!


I found this post in draft form on my hard drive today whilst wondering what on Earth to write about today. It goes like that sometimes doesn’t it? You have to write just to get the words out but know that you might write utter shite in that same effort. Me’h, I don’t care. The fact I’m sitting here pumping the words out and not playing with my urethra tells me I have chosen the more productive of options.

So, what have I won? Well, it would appear I am in possession of a golden ticket for the upcoming Black Library Weekender…

Clicky clicky…

… to be held in Nottingham later this year. I think there were only eighteen of these bad boys on offer and so I feel justified in my glee. Having been a fairly big fan of the Games Workshop and more specifically its publishing arm, the Black Library, for many a year now this event to me is a big deal. Seriously, when I knew I had won a ticket I was as happy as this guy…

The fart decimated the area around him for twenty yards and blew a hole straight through his underwear, but everyone agreed it was worth looking this pleased about.

 

The weekend promises to be crazy fun and I know I’ll enjoy it but there’s two main reasons why I want to go:

  1. I get to meet the authors, poke them and see if they really are human.
  2. I get to have a twenty-minute chat with an editor. This is the big one for me. You spend your whole writing life trying to get your shit in front of editors and so this is just too good to pass up. The total expense of buying the ticket, booking the hotel and estimating the amount of booze I’m likely to get through is going to be a tad on the heavy side but I’m hoping it’s going to be worth it. If nothing else, maybe they’ll take a look at my stuff and tell me to try origami instead. I could argue that I’m pretty good at the ‘paper ball’ already but doubtless they’ll show me how to make an even more aerodynamic one using my own manuscript. Awesome.

I made a total arse of myself the other day when I called to book the hotel. You know those moments where subconsciously you’re saying to yourself, nay, shouting to yourself ‘DON’T BE AN ARROGANT ARSE’, but you just can’t help it? I had a moment.

‘Hello. Is that the Belfry Hotel?’

‘Yes sir, it certainly is, what can I do for you today?’

‘I’d like to book a room please. I arrive on the Friday and would like to stay for three nights, leaving on the Monday.’

‘Okay, let me see what we have available.’

‘Oh, I should mention that it’s for the Black Library Weekender.’

‘Oh right? Do they have a corporate rate here at the Belfry?’

‘Err, yes. Did I mention my golden ticket?’

‘No sir. What ticket is that?’

‘I have a golden ticket. There was only eighteen. I have one.’

‘Okay sir, I’m not seeing any concessions for a golden ticket.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. I was just saying, you know, that I have one… a golden one.’

‘Okay sir…’

‘There was only eighteen and I have one.’

‘That’s nice.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Will there be anything else, sir?’

‘No, I’m sorry.’

I’ve no idea why I felt the need to apologise to the girl but I don’t know, I sounded like an arse in my head. Hopefully, she won’t be working the day I check in and I won’t have to pretend I’m blind again. Pretending to be blind by the way, although morally ambiguous is bloody good laugh. I used to work as a life guard in a swimming pool and as you do, I wore shades just about all day. My colleague was in on the joke too. Every so often, especially during busy periods one of would get up from our ‘chair of sexiness’, pick up a white stick which we kept next to the chair and walk up and down the poolside sweeping the stick back and forth. Whoever’s turn it was not to be waving the stick would watch the reaction on parents face as they pointed and gasped. A blind lifeguard eh? Priceless.
Oh one last thing. Whilst running a spell checker in WordPress, I was a little dismayed to have it come up with this alternative:

 

There’s no fooling this computer is there?

 

Is scary how accurate this actually is. I don’t believe either of us got any action through sitting on that chair.

M 🙂

Isaac Asimov – Now there’s a c**t.


There are times when I sit down at my computer to write and just stare blankly at the screen. I will sit there for hours, waiting for the muse to spear my cerebrum with a lightning bolt of inspiration. Whilst I’m waiting for her to come and find me of her own accord, I will seek her out by browsing the web of wonders. I’ll stop at all my usual places like the black hole of YouTube for instance, which as we all know, steals hours as though they were minutes, and other such places, like Facebook and various forums. If I’m having a particularly slow day, and as per usual neither I nor the muse can find each other for several hours, I might try and cheer myself up by playing ‘just a bit’ of Civilisation. Now there is a true ‘time sink.’ Why, just the other day I glanced at the clock at it said it was eleven o’clock. A few minutes later I checked again and it was ten past two. Oh, and iTunes. iTunes is another one that seems to be stealing my life, and yet it’s the one I most frequently visit. Like most people who enjoy being a rabid scribbler it’s important to get in the ‘mood’ so that you can write that truly apocalyptic scene that will win you a Hugo, or that tear jerking melancholic voyage of depression that will have people pouring water from their face all over their keyboard.

Yet, there is no muse is there? I’m sitting here laughing to myself when I think about how many hours I have sat here waiting to be struck down with inspiration and rise a genius. You know what I’m having right here? I’m having an epiphany – a sudden bright idea that sheds light and illuminates the dark and echoing landscape of my mind.

Image

That’s not me. My hair is better.

The only way forward is through sheer effort and determination. That means sitting here and writing whatever crap comes out even if the only good that comes of it is that its practice. I’ve read that writing is a craft that, like all crafts, needs to be worked at. Okay, I can see the logic there. But what about those of us who live in the modern world where we’re just not used to waiting for things to happen? In this day and age if you want something, generally speaking you can have it the next day, sometimes even on the same day. But then, I guess I would argue that anything really worth having that isn’t just massaging my consumerist ego should be worked at. I find that hard. I’m finding this journey hard. I can write. When I really put my mind to it and I’m not just letting my fingers dribble over a keyboard like today, I can write pretty well. But that’s not enough. I spoke with a guy the other day who reckons he could bash a story out in no time at all. I bet he couldn’t, at least anything publishable. It’s a hard road, that’s for sure. Man, how pissed would I be if that guy did sit down and bash out a story as though it were no trouble at all?

I’ve started reading some of Isaac Asimov’s stuff as well. Now, I admire that guy for the sheer amount of literature he produced when he was alive. He wrote hundreds of stories. I bet had another hundred in him too but for me, sitting here right now and waiting for that damn muse, well to me Isaac Asimov can bloody well have another few mounds of earth piled on his grave. I don’t mean that. Not really. That man was and still is a legend. I wish I could have met him. Its weird but some people, I dunno, famous people who I respect, I just want to shake their hand. I don’t particularly want to talk to them (I’d probably dribble and get carted off as a suspected stroke), I just want to shake hands. How weird is that? Yup, so its a shame he’s dead as now I won’t be able to that. Not unless I dug him up of course. Could be a bit strange shaking hands with a skeleton though. Wait, lets just think a moment. He died in 1992? Hmm, he might be a skeleton. I can’t think how long it takes for bodies to decompose. Then again, how would I know? He might be a kind of fleshy rotten zombie. Na’h, twenty years? Must be a skeleton. In which case I wouldn’t bother shaking the hand. I’d take the skull. How cool would thatbe to have Isaac Asimov’s skull on your writing desk? I wouldn’t need any bloody muse then. Okay, I’m a little sleep deprived here, and having some weird thoughts but you gotta admit, it would be cool.

Image

It was clear from his passport photo that he was taking the diet way too seriously.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m over complicating the whole process of writing a story. Maybe I should bash one out, tidy it up and then blast it out into the void to be mercilessly critiqued by others in my position. I guess that’s what other people have done and for some it must have worked out okay.

Well, it’s only midday but I think a little tot of Southern Comfort would go down a treat right about now, and so with that thought I’ll be off for.

Oh, Sarah, if you still read my stuff… can I ask if you ever critique work us plebs might throw at you?

M.

I say, my head hurts awful bad…


I spent the whole day writing today. I had to really after stumbling across a short story competition the day before yesterday.

Ideally I would have liked to have spent a little while boozing and pondering an idea. Then I should of liked to spend a day or two bashing it out in draft before leaving it in a drawer to fester for a month or so.

That would have been ideal.

Yet life’s not fair like that is it? So, I spent all of today bashing out a random story, stressing and generally being rather unpleasant to be around. Got the damn thing finished and submitted though. Yeah biiiiatch!

So its in now and worrying about what I did or didn’t do won’t matter a damn. Sure I might re-read the submission I sent, probably several times. I may even find some glaring grammatical errors but so what? Practice is all it is at the end of the day.

I hold little hope for my effort but I’ll still watch the forum with interest to see who did do well.

I go now to mope and generally feel sorry for myself.

Bye for now.

M 😉