The Sphincter of Pain


I’ve had a truly awful few days. The wife caught a sickness bug thats been doing the rounds and brought it home to share.

The problem with my wife is that when she gets ill, she really gets ill. A normal blood pressure for her, when she’s healthy, is something like 95/50 so anything that lowers that makes her hit the deck faster than a footballer in the penalty box. Something like diahorrea that literally turns your arse hole into a fountain and smells, well evil, will drop that blood pressure five points in no time. Add in vomiting and I soon have a wife who faints every time she takes a shit.

Oh you think thats bad? As it progresses she no longer has to be standing or sitting upright for her to faint. She’s the only person I’ve met who will pass out laying down. Don’t think thats bad? Well what if she’s vomiting when she passes out?

I stayed up the entire night with her, catching her when she fainted, turning her when she vomited and swapping buckets and bowls where needed.

All this with a broken arm!

I know, I know I’m a hero. But now I’ve got the bug and my ring is as raw as if I’d rolled up a sheet of sand paper and… well you get the picture.

So as Im unlikely to get anything else done, today will be another writing day. I wonder if I can have a 7000 word day?

The challenge is set. I’ll report back later with an update.

M.

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.

All work and no play…


So you’ll recall me saying that today is a work day? I have been on call since 6am this morning and do you know how many calls I received asking for my services?

None.

I have sat on my fat arse counting my teeth with my tongue for most of the day.

Okay no. That’s not strictly true. Today I have:

Done the dishes.

Swept the floors.

Cut the grass.

Watched the Bourne Legacy (Pretty good but preferred the previous three).

Watched two episodes of Game of Thrones season 2.

Made a lasagne. (Not microwaved. I actually made it.)

Ate a lasagne. (Interestingly WordPress spells Lasagne with an ‘a’ on the end instead of an ‘e’.)

Took the cat to the vets.

Bought a motorcycle. (If you’re interested it’s a Triumph Bonneville T100. In black.)

Tinkered with the broken boiler.

Contacted heating engineer to complain about broken boiler.

Went for a 3k run.

Its gone 6pm now so I’m officially off duty. To celebrate I thought I’d try the beverage Port. Never had it before but I’ve heard its awesome.

Right then. I best go and open that bottle and have a lay down. Its been a long hard day after all.

M 🙂

Life on call


I work full time, although if you asked my friends (or even my wife) they would scoff at the mention of the word “work”. Particularly if it’s uttered from my mouth.

I’m a paramedic but I don’t work on an ambulance. I used to though. I did that for ten years until the call for a change grew too strong and I was compelled to answer.

I now work for a private company that offers forensic and medical services to the police. Basically, everyone is entitled to see a medical professional in police custody. That’s where I come in. They call, I answer and I make my way down the custody suite, assess, medicate, refer if need be and then I leave. I work a four-on, four-off pattern with each shift lasting twelve hours and yes nights are included.

The thing that grips most people’s shit about my job is that I respond from home. I live about thirty miles away from the nearest custody. I don’t have to be there at the start of my shift either. I just need to be near a phone and within one hour’s commuting distance. This means that when I finally get called, even if it’s dead on 6am, I will spend the first hour of my shift driving to work. Not bad eh? Only eleven hours to go. It takes me anywhere between half and hour and one hour to assess a single patient so if they only have one for me to see then I might only be in the custody suite for that period of time after which I am free to leave. Where do I go? I can go wherever I want, providing of course that I remain in contact and within one hour’s driving distance.

Yesterday I spent an hour test riding a motorcycle and another three quarters of an hour browsing their clothing lines.

This morning I have been up since six am, have consumed about six mugs of tea, had breakfast and watched the Bourne Legacy. My phone is set to divert so the house phone will ring if I get a call so I’m free to wander around the house without constantly checking my mobile for missed calls or to see if I have signal.

But… it’s not all good.

Mine is a lonely existence. Being the only medic on call at any one time, I don’t see anyone. Sure I see the police, but they live in their world and I am acutely aware of the fact that I am not part of it. I am a resource to be called in, nothing more. I speak with plenty of people on the phone during medical consultations or note sharing with other agencies but I never really see anyone. If I’m home then all is well. I spend my time writing, watching movies or wasting time on the internet. Once I leave the house though it’s a different story. I know I’m driving into a kind of void. A world full of people but absent of human interaction. I’ll stop by my parents house from time to time, even tried my brothers once but they work regular hours so they are rarely in.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’ve just remembered the other perk of this on-call life. Well, my wife sees it as a perk (I don’t).

She: ‘If you’re not called out and you’re at home, why don’t you do the house work?’

Me: ‘Really? I’m at work though. Kind of.’

She: ‘You can still do it! It’ll be like getting paid to clean.’

*sigh*

So, I have a mountain of dishes to climb, a few rooms to sweep or vacuum and anything else my beloved has put on my ‘list of things to get done when I’m skiving’. Nice.

Best I get to it then.

M J

The End of a Hard One


It’s been hard, so bloody hard… and long. But at the end of the long hard week things are steadily getting back into a normal routine. On a lighter note I have a new chair. Would you like to see a picture of my new chair?

Behold! My writing chair. Always wanted one of these. Its a treat for your ass.

Damn odd week this one. On the one hand things have been going swimmingly well with the publication of my first short story (and payment!) and its feedback. Yet, on the other hand I have been astoundingly busy to the point that this is the first chance I’ve had for some ‘me time’. Some people get pissed up, go out and see friends or just chill out when they get the time. I write. I write because I enjoy it immensely and it’s my way of chilling out.

Although busy, this week has been great for ideas. Perhaps having a break is good for the mind? For example, last night I hosted a BBQ for some friends who have been helping out down at the farm. Whilst getting steadily beer’d up the conversation swung widely between topics and herein was a virtual quarry of awesome. I must have looked a little disinterested as I tapped away like a mad man on my phone but no, my mind and ears were both feverishly mining ideas. Honestly, at times I felt as though I’d walked into a plot mine crammed full of brilliant material. Okay admittedly I was as drunk as a skunk by the end of the night but on re-reading some of the ideas I jotted down I can honestly say I’m pleased. I’m literally burning to start planning one of them. No, no sharing just yet I’m afraid.

Project Time appears to be on hold at the moment. Not sure why. I have two stories in with that mob and to be honest I would have thought we’d be close to publication by now. Maybe we are but no one is offering any news yet so I guess I’ll just have to be patient.

In movie news I watched Cloud Atlas this week and loved it. I’m a sucker for atmospheric sound tracks and this film has that in spades. Obviously I downloaded the album shortly afterward and added a few choice songs to my writing playlist. Speaking of which, that playlist now has some thirty songs on it which just repeat in one big loop. You’d think I’d be sick of some of them by now but nope. Every single one still inspires me now. Music, the writers best friend and partner in crime with that other great acquaintance – wine. Wine crime? Can I get a lol? Oh come on. That was pretty good.

Right, I’m off to commit some wine crime right now by finishing a bottle I started last night.

Later.

M J

Bleeding Fingers


Today I have mostly been writing and editing old stories. It’s been a bloody long day but come the end I will have submitted three stories to various markets making my total now doing the rounds, six!

I know at least one of them has already been accepted. I suppose I should put a little sampler up on here at some point but I’ll check with the editor first. A paragraph can’t hurt surely?

My novel is also grumbling along. That’s a beast of a project. I’ve never attempted one before though so maybe it will get easier with time? Who knows? I have the first half roughly planned out and also a good idea of what happens in the end but as I said, it’s a beast. Just finishing the damn thing will be a hell of an achievement.

Today has been a good day. I cannot deny that simple fact. I worked a night shift last night in police custody and was out all bloody night. I did a little over 180 miles in total scooting between the various custody suites but hey, that’s a story for another day. I’m just pleased I’ve got so much done on no sleep.

Come to think of it, I really should check and see what exactly I have submitted and to who. In my sleep addled state I could have made some blinding errors of judgment. Sod it, too late now anyway.

Right, this was just a quick update so, off with you. Get back to your own desk and write something yourself.

M J

Failed again…


A strange week it has to be said. I began with the intent of completely changing my online existence but by the end of the week, well, I wonder how many of you who regularly view will even notice the changes I have painstakingly made. Oh, it’s not all about me. I do try and make things readable, enjoyable and pleasing to the eye so that the odd passer-by might stay longer then he or she perhaps intended. That’s the real battle these days as far as the Internet and social media is concerned. Speaking of which, I should probably change ‘these days’, to ‘these hours’ for the modern world does move at a frightening pace. I can remember web pages taking minutes to load. Now we get upset if the URL we click on doesn’t appear before between eyes in millisecond. Can you believe it? If there’s even a one second delay we think something is wrong. ‘Hmm, site must be down for maintenance… I’ll go somewhere else.’ It’s true, I’ve even caught myself doing it.

Okay, so I may have gone off on a tangent there but these are the kind of thoughts that led up to me wanting to change my online image. With tablets and smartphones being the average consumers medium of choice for viewing web content, web pages have had to become ‘responsive’.

That’s an actual term, would you believe? Basically, sites have to be able to ‘respond’ to the medium that calls them. They have to self adjust and arrange themselves nicely so that whether you are browsing on a phone or table sized tablet – the consumer gets a similar if not the same view and navigation experience on each device. You may think that this is all completely unnecessary but as I said above, people won’t hang about while your aging site struggles to squeeze itself onto Nokia’s latest handest or Apples newest iMustHave. (I’ve quite fallen out of love with Apple at the moment. The whole Apple maps fiasco has made me go almost entirely Android.)

So what did I do this week? Firstly, I moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. Eh? What’s the difference? Well, a lot. An awful lot actually. You should go and look it up if you want clarification on that. I’m not going to explain it here. The main reason was so that I could edit the CSS of my site and take complete control over how my site looks and most importantly, responds.

This transition meant I needed to get a web host to, well, host my new site. I chose bluehost.com basically because WordPress recommended them. They offered ‘one click’ set up of a new WordPress account with wordpress.org and surprisingly it was just one click. It also installed itself in about five seconds. Most impressive. Moving my old content was also a doddle. I simply exported from WordPress.com and imported to WordPress.org. Job done. All going well isn’t it?

Sadly, that’s about as far as the nice bits went. Shortly after signing up with bluehost I got an email through with the balance I had just paid. I nearly fell out of my chair. The offer had been something like $3.60 per month for 36 months. Sounds perfectly reasonable. What they don’t tell you until you’ve accepted is that they’ll be taking the entire balance up front. Bye bye $180 dollars, or about £111 in English money. Oh dear.

I hummed a bit and moaned a bit more for most of the morning before deciding, to hell with it, I’ll give it a go. I spent the next 24 hours trying to make my new web site look as snazzy and professional as all the other advertised sites and I’m not afraid to say that I failed miserably. I failed so badly that I actually went back to using my old WordPress.com account. I went back to bluehost and wait for it… they refunded every penny/cent. To say I was shocked by this does not do justice to the dance I did around the front room with a manic look upon my face. I was amazingly happy, and my dance looked something like this…

So, here is how it will happen in future if I do decide to go back down that road that leads to having my own website and domain name.

  1. Wait until its financially beneficial to have your own web site. If I’m honest, mine would only have been for vanity. I have zero web presence and offer no services to any customers. In this sense, why do I need a lovely looking web site if I have no one to impress/gain business from?
  2. If I were to ever need a web site, I’m having someone write one for me. This experience has taught me that although I think I could do it, it would take me about a week to learn the coding languages and perhaps another whole week to write the page. I simply don’t have that amount of time right now.
  3. If I ever need a web hosting service, I’ll seriously consider using bluehost again. Their customer service was quite frankly astounding and I can’t sing their praises highly enough.

So there you have it, I’m back and you didn’t even know I’d been gone. Not to worry, but believe me when I say, it’s good to be back.

Later,

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.

 

Victory is mine


Unbelievably, I finished everything I wanted to today.

Well, almost everything. I didn’t get anywhere near the word count I hoped for. Instead I achievied a miserable 1000 words in the end. I can’t write anymore today as I’m off out for a bite to eat with the wife because she’s arranged for us to have a dinner out with friends. A shame I know but take note… take your wife for granted at your own peril. She has the power and an inherited devious-ness (passed down on a genetic level from Eve herself) to make your life a living hell for at least a week should she so desire. A little bit of wife maintenance tonight will give me the next few days burden free. Oh, and I’ll also have a rather nice steak too. Om nom nom.

Yep, all in all, a surprisingly good day that deserves a victory dance. Behold!

Later,

M.

Oh, is ‘devious-ness’ even a word?