Tag Archives: Writing

Work in Progress: Short Extract no.2

Please note: As time marches on, this may end up as a deleted scene instead of an extract. Time will tell.

So, as I mentioned the other day I’m rewriting or throwing out a lot of my current Work in Progress because of stylistic issues. The most difficult character to do this with is Armand, because the passages from his POV are so, well, strangely put together. Even by my own standards, they’re lacking description, intentionally choppy and disjointed and I’m not entirely sure how to go about retooling them. Anyway, I know Armand is going to remain a major POV character but here’s a look at him as he first emerged onto the page, no matter how he ends up in the final draft.

Light. White and blinding. Armand shut his eyes and turned away from it, but it burned through his eyelids and so he woke. He stepped from his pallet and walked to the bowl of water to wash his face. Snoring. The man he was sharing the cost of the room with was still fast asleep. Thoughts crossed his mind, but Armand ignored them, for now at least, and washed himself. With face clean and thoughts ignored he pulled on his clothes and considered if he was hungry enough for breakfast. No breakfast.

Clean, thoughtless and dressed.

The inn was poor, even the shutters on the windows were worn and full of holes, and the food and drink weren’t as Armand would have liked. Money was what he needed, but this place was too poor for anyone except the local lord to have anything of use. Armand sat down to decide where to go next. He was almost out of room in Galle, so his options were to go sideways or to loop back north into the middle. He didn’t like moving sideways, so back north it was. Decision made.

Clean, thoughtless, dressed, not hungry.

North wasn’t good. North was behind him and people knew Armand behind him. Sideways was worse, though. People always looked sideways first. At least backwards might be unexpected. Standing up, he started to gather his few belongings into the pack he travelled with. Noise. Sudden, low, mournful. Armand froze in place, then located the noise. The bed opposite. The man sleeping had passed wind. Armand began to wretch, the smell assaulting his throat and making his stomach twist and lurch. Thoughts. Lots and lots of thoughts. Too many thoughts. Make them stop.

Turning towards the man, Armand crossed the space between them. He waited until the man exhaled, then placed his hand across the man’s nose and mouth, pinching off his air supply. It took him a second or two to wake up, which was a second or two too long, so Armand knew the man was dead. He watched the dead man’s eyes spring open, saw the look of first confusion, then fear enter his eyes and then, after a few seconds of pointless and feeble attempts to push Armand away, the body caught up with the inevitable and died. He left his hand over its mouth until it voided itself, then stepped away to wash his hands again. Hunger, sudden and sharp. Armand decided to get a bag of food from downstairs to take with him as he walked. In a short while, the people here would know him. Leaving time.

Clean, dressed, thoughts emptying again, hungry.

Everyone, meet Armand. Armand, stay the hell away from everyone I know. As stated before, I’ve no idea how he’ll end up, but this is how I first met him.

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In Which I Pontificate on Narrative Voices (and concede a minor defeat)

You might have seen one of my comments mentioning my grandly ambitious plans to use seven distinct writing styles for the five and two half POV characters in my current work in progress. If you did, then I’m here to tell you that that particular plan has had to be abandoned, hence my silence for the past ten days or so. I’ve had to throw out or retool approximately 20,000 words. Not my favourite thing I’ve ever had to do, but the plain fact is it wasn’t working. Each POV switch jarred too heavily and it felt as if each character was part of a different novel. That sounds very cute and clever in theory, but in practice it makes for a very choppy and disjointed story which doesn’t flow very well from one scene into another.

I’ve been having to rewrite things in something that approaches a consistent narrative voice and add minor flourishes of colour in character’s internal monologue or descriptive passages, which has taken up a lot of my time. I’m getting caught up to myself again, though, so normal service will be resumed soon. I’ll throw up a little taster of one of the other characters very soon.

Until then…

Unsung Genre Heroes – Horror: Graham Masterton

In horror, or ‘Dark Fantasy’ as some bookshops are starting to call it these days (with justification, perhaps – that’s for another post, though), there’s a bit of a fetish for transcending the genre; writing a book that appeals to the lit-fic crowd. If you’re lucky enough to be translated from another language – John Ajvide Lindqvist, Koji Suzuki – or sell an absolute buttload of copies – Stephen King, Clive Barker – then it happens almost automatically. If you have a knack for spare, almost McCarthyesque, prose then you might escape the genre doldrums and be, somewhat sniffishly, accepted as a ‘real’ writer. Peter Straub and Christopher Fowler have and it looks like Joe Hill is well on his way towards that too. If you just want to give people a ripping yarn with a few scares and shocks in there, though, you might end up unjustly ignored by anyone except horror buffs. Along with a few of his contemporaries – F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert – Graham Masterton has ended up in just that situation.

A cut down biography of Masterton’s writing reads something like this. He started out as a journalist and jobbing writer, before becoming the editor of Mayfair and UK Penthouse. He wrote a couple of sex instruction manuals before his first novel, The Manitou, was released in 1976. Since then, he’s written primarily, although by no means exclusively, in the horror genre as well as continuing to release sex instruction manuals.

Now that we’ve established who he is, it’s time to get to the crux of this post; why I’m writing about him. I’m writing about him because he deserves it. For more than thirty years, he’s been writing effective, efficient, occasionally brilliant horror novels, as well as a selection of solid crime, historicals, thrillers and the occasional foray into ‘true’ fantasy. So far, he’s published more than eighty novels and almost as many short stories and is still going strong. The man must be doing something right, so what exactly is it?

The first part of it, is his mastery of formula; knowing exactly how a given type of story should progress, where the beats need to be, how to hook a reader and then drip feed them shocks, twists, revelations and action at exactly the right pace to carry them all the way to the end. In case you think that’s faint or grudging praise, try finding a writer or critic who isn’t filled with respect and admiration for Elmore Leonard or Donald E. Westlake; believe me, you’ll need to travel a long way to find one, and those guys are fellow masters of formula.

The second part of it, is his prose style. It’s unfussy, uncomplicated and gets the point across effectively in the minimum number of words. When you’re reading a Graham Masterton, you rarely pick out a turn of phrase or sentence and say “That’s a typically Masterton way of putting that”, in fact you don’t even notice him at all, merely the story he happens to be telling. By no means every critic, and certainly not every writer, will tell you that’s something to aim for, but Masterton is masterful at putting the story first. So far as he’s concerned, the reader is to be entertained first and foremost. If you have to scurry for a dictionary to look up a word, he’s not doing it right; if you lift your eyes from the page and say “what a beautifully constructed sentence”, then you’ve noticed him and it’s distracted you from the story. Because of that, he takes the “murder your darlings” approach to its extreme. The only idiosyncrasies in a Masterton story are those of the character, most notably in his Manitou novels, where the voice of Harry Erskine has remained consistently recognisable for thirty five years. The same thing applies in his Jim Rook series of horror novels for young adults. Rook is recognisable and it’s immediately apparent you’re reading a novel about him, but, once again, Masterton himself is almost invisible. To quote Elmore Leonard, he “leaves out the bits that people skip” and does it consistently and superbly well. The man is a pro.

The final part, is his meticulous attention to detail. He quite obviously goes out of his way to learn about the subject his story deals with and that always shows on the page. In most cases, that research is channelled into making an element of mythology or folklore scary, but he weaves sometimes quite sizeable infodumps into his stories with skill and flair, almost always phrasing them as stories within the story and the infodump itself becomes entertaining in its own right; something a lot of far bigger selling authors have still to learn. Now, I’m not saying that all of the mythology in his stories is strictly true to the source, Trotting Coyote wouldn’t necessarily make the greatest villain (Charnel House) without some serious tweaking to fit the tale in question, but they make an excellent jumping off point for learning more about the myths in question.

So, if you’ve read this far then you obviously haven’t encountered his writing before, and might be wondering where to start. Maybe try a few from the selection below and see what you think.

Horror Fans
The Manitou series (Manitou, Revenge of the Manitou, Burial, Manitou Blood, Blind Panic)
Flesh & Blood
The House That Jack Built
Prey
Any of his short story anthologies (Scare Care, Fortnight of Fear, Flights of Fear etc.)

Never read horror, but willing to give it a go
The Jim Rook series (Rook, Tooth & Claw, The Terror, Snowman, Swimmer, Darkroom, Demon’s Door, Ultimate Evil)
Black Angel (A mixture of horror & detective fiction)
The 5th Witch (A mixture of horror elements and urban fantasy)
The Devils of D Day (Mixes horror and action thriller quite nicely)

I read fantasy, but don’t mind the odd scare mixed in
The Night Warriors series (Night Warriors, Death Dream, Night Plague, Night Wars, The Ninth Nightmare)
The Hidden World
Walkers
Edgewise (One of many Masterton tales which are based on Native American mythology)
Descendant (Volume one of proposed Vampire Hunter series)

I read mostly crime, but don’t mind it being creepy in places
The Sissy Sawyer series (Touchy & Feely, The Painted Man)
Trauma
Holy Terror

There you go. The man’s a true pro and an unsung hero of the horror genre. I hope you’ll try at least one of the books I’ve recommended above and also hope you’ll get as much pleasure from them as I have over the years. Happy (if somewhat nervous) reading!

Visit Graham’s home page to learn more: http://www.grahammasterton.co.uk/

Work in Progress: Short extract

In lieu of that Northumberland Folklore post, which I’m too busy to write properly today, have a snifter of what I’m currently writing instead. A bit of a departure in terms of my writing, since it’s pulp adventure which owes equal parts to Dumas, Lieber and Westlake. The working title is The Harlequins (subject to change, just as soon as I think up a better one).

Harlequins extract: Chapter one – Part one – An Unexpected Creditor

Eight feet, by eight feet. That was what Remy’s world had shrunk to. Sixty four square feet of cold stone, a tiny grille for a window, a wooden sleeping platform and bucket that made the whole dismal room smell of a sewer. Oh, there was a sort of courtyard he could go into but he tried to avoid it. Only two kinds of people were out there, deluded minor nobles who were convinced that a relative would pay their debts and have them released, or else the lowest kind of commoner not reduced to thievery, bemoaning their accursed luck at ending up in gaol. Remy didn’t like mixing with either of them. The nobles looked down on him, the commoners treat him with suspicion and both sections kept away from each other, leaving Remy to wander alone through the open space in the middle. Besides, some of the nobles had relations who couldn’t afford to pay the debts, but could afford to bring them various luxuries and treats. Remy hated seeing all that luxury, in relation to what a flat broke prisoner like himself could have, going to waste on simpering halfwits. If he only had a stake, he could live like a king in here. The problem was, he was so far down on his luck that he couldn’t even raise a cake or a decent shirt to gamble with. If you could call playing against these idiots gambling.

A harsh laugh from the walkway outside his cell brought Remy out of himself. There was another reason he didn’t go out into the courtyard. Gaston. A swaggering, one-eyed bully who enjoyed taking what he could from those lacking a group of friends to protect them from it or the outside influence to prevent it. Remy closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold stone wall behind his pallet. With luck, Gaston and his two snivelling cronies would pass by to annoy some other fool.

“Good morning, Remy. Have you got something for me? Half of your morning bread perhaps? I hate to see people who can’t honour a promise, especially when such mistakes are what landed them in this pleasant guest house in the first place.” A couple of sniggers accompanied that sparkling witticism. Remy sighed heavily. Why was Gaston so obsessed with the bread? It was as hard a priest’s heart by the time the prisoners as poor as Remy got it.

“Gaston. Always a pleasure. No, I don’t have bread for you. I’m stashing it under my mattress. I’m hoping to sharpen it up on the walls, so I can cut through the bars.” He opened his eyes, to see three people staring blankly at him. The hulking Gaston, greasy hair slicked back into a ponytail and gravy still on his chin from his breakfast, fingering the patch over his missing eye as he always did when he was trying to appear urbane and charming. On either side of him were his two lapdogs. Remy could never remember their names.

Gaston flicked his head and the two lackeys rushed forward and grabbed Remy by the arms, hauling him to his feet. Gaston stepped through the doorway, pulling the door closed behind him. He strolled over to Remy and looked him up and down. Remy met his gaze evenly. He had no intention of fighting them, but he’d be damned if he was going to flinch from them.

“We have an agreement, Remy. You give me half your morning bread, and I protect you from the more unsavoury characters in here. Where’s my bread?” Remy held Gaston’s gaze.

“We have no such bargain. I signed nothing, told you quite plainly I wouldn’t give you anything of mine and the only unsavoury thing in this shithole of a gaol is the smell from your two flunkies. I owe you nothing. Now tell arse-kisser and ball-licker here to let go of me, then all three of you get out of my room.”

A dull pain erupted in Remy’s solar plexus and all his wind exited his chest as he coughed and wheezed. Gaston was pretty quick for a big man. Remy hadn’t even seen the blow coming, so couldn’t prepare himself for it. Tears streamed from his eyes as he tried vainly to get his breath back between retches and coughs. He thought briefly about fighting back, but they’d already got the first blow in and besides, he could be here for a long time. No sense in starting a feud that could end up with his getting killed.

“When Gaston tells someone they’re going to give him something, they give it to him, do you understand me Remy?” Remy spluttered a bit more, then managed to draw himself upright.

“I thought you were Gaston?” Gaston’s solitary eye clouded in confusion.

“I am Gaston.”

“So who’s the other Gaston you’re talking about? The one who everyone gives their stuff to.” Remy actually managed to see the next blow coming, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He just closed his eyes in preparation for the pain he knew was coming and ducked a little in the hope of avoiding a broken nose, as Gaston drew his shoulders back for the headbutt.

An explosion of white light, then the next few minutes passed in a haze of dizziness and pain. Blows landed all over Remy’s ribcage, then he felt himself fall to the floor as arse-kisser and ball-licker let go of him, in order to land a few blows of their own. He managed to curl himself into a ball with his arms tucked over his head to protect himself from any further strikes to his skull, but from there it was a matter of hoping they got bored quickly. Soon enough, it was over and he heard their boots retreating and the door opening and closing as they left.

After a few minutes to make sure they weren’t coming back for a second helping, Remy unrolled himself from his protective ball and tried to stretch out a bit, in order to test how badly they’d hurt him. A few pokes and prods told him they’d done no serious damage. Lots of bruises and a headache from the headbutt were all he had to show for it. This beating was obviously meant as a warning. No doubt the next one would be more severe.

Remy opened his left fist, which he’d kept clutched tightly shut throughout the beating. In his hand was a pewter toothpick he’d managed to lift from the one he thought of as “arse-licker”, as he’d slumped over after the blow to the guts. At least the beating had been profitable. Later on, he could try and use the pick to get in on a game of cards or dice with those idiotic minor nobles. First though, a nap to help him get over the beating. Perhaps his luck was changing after all.

There you go, hope you didn’t hate it. The folklore post I promised will be up either later on today or tomorrow, entirely dependent on how RL stuff pans out.

Pimping Ain’t Easy (links to the good stuff)

Actually, strike that. It’s supremely simple. Ahhhh yeah. Who loves you?

Read about fantasy here: http://fantasy-faction.com/
Talk about it here: http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/
All things cult and genre: http://www.pornokitsch.com/
Provide encouragement and support to another aspiring writer: http://thewritewaytotype.blogspot.com/
Buy things from same aspiring writer: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Autumn2May (which I shall be doing, just as soon as my credit card stops whimpering and crying from the beating it took at Christmas. I have my eye on the beehive pincushion.)
He keeps being more talented and prolific than me, but I’ll still link to him in the hope I can cling to his coattails when he makes it big ;): http://jaykayel.wordpress.com/ & http://themasterofhisdomain.wordpress.com/
Laugh your arse off: http://www.smbc-comics.com/
Snigger and be grateful you aren’t a baker: http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/
Another aspiring writer (we tend to cluster together, like penguins): http://loquaciouscoyote.wordpress.com/
A very talented artist indeed, hopefully one with a big future: http://icanplaythetimewarponukulele.wordpress.com/

That’s right, Daddy loves you… Now go make Daddy some money!

y carnt danyul rite?

I’ve managed to reaffirm something I secretly knew all along, during my absence from the internet while I tried to work on an idea I had for a swords & sorcery novel. I can’t write fantasy fiction for toffee. I’m not sure why this should be the case, since every other style of story I attempt, I at least make a readable hash out of, if not an actual worthwhile story (See Redcap for evidence of such). For no good reason I can figure out, when I try to write swords & sorcery-style fantasy, my brain turns to mulch and everything I write is, well, terrible.

Now understand, this isn’t a crisis of confidence or a novice writer’s natural doubt. I play the self deprecation card often enough in my blogging, but I’m also self aware enough to know that on my best days I’m good. My best work will stand up favourably against a surprising number of published writers, I simply lack the consistency that comes with experience. One day, with enough hard work, I’ll get there. The plain, simple, unavoidable fact, is that when I try to write secondary world fantasy everything falls apart. Every tool I’ve picked up stops working, every trick I’ve learned fails miserably and my natural ability to just keep banging the keyboard until something worthwhile appears deserts me. No matter how many words I grind out, the result is uniformly terrible and no amount of rewriting can make it into a readable piece of fiction. As the old saying goes, you can’t polish a turd. (Whatever Mythbusters might say to the contrary)

Why can’t I write secondary world fantasy? This isn’t because I don’t understand the territory, goodness knows I read enough of it. It isn’t because I don’t appreciate the genre, since I’m of the firm belief that fantasy fiction in the past decade has undergone a renaissance and is now producing some of the most exciting and interesting fiction to come about in the genre for a couple of decades. I’d even go so far as to say that I think the genre is entering something of a golden age. It isn’t because I’ve failed to do my preparation, since I’ve had the secondary world I intend to use built for at least ten years now. Geography, history, politics, economy, demographics, population densities, the whole kit and caboodle. So far as I can tell, it’s for no other reason than I’m simply not cut out for it. This is extremely frustrating, since usually when a particular style of writing is troubling me I can figure out the root cause of that trouble, then work on improving it.

Anyways, long story short. Novel is dead. Working on a short piece of sexy urban fantasy (what? What? I can’t try something outside my comfort zone as a reader, now and again?), complete with hard boiled dialogue and the re-tooling of a very special guest appearance which was initially pencilled into chapter eight of the abortive attempt at a swords & sorcery novel.

Back soon, and with an experimental short story to throw at the internet and see if it sticks.

Announcement!

Remember when I wrote a little while ago that I thought it was time I wrote something in novel length? Well, that time is upon me. I’ve gone very quiet so far as the internet goes over the last few weeks, while I figure out in my head what I’m going to be doing. I’m not going to be writing this novel for attempted professional publication. It’s a well established fact that first attempts at writing novels are almost entirely made out of suckium – the same element that most airport thrillers are made from – so I’m just going to throw it at the internet under a Creative Commons license to see if any of it sticks. The main reasons for doing this, are that I lack test readers, like feedback and genuinely want to see if I have what it takes to write long form fiction. If I think I have the chops for it (i.e. I actually finish it and universal opinion isn’t of the “Your story sucks monkey balls” variety), future attempts at novel length works will be heading off to agents and/or publishing houses.

Now, what kind of story will I be telling? It’ll be a Swords & Sorcery, pulp style, adventure novel with a secondary world setting and multiple viewpoints. I’m doing this because I’ve got a worrying tendency to write angsty protagonists and I fear that sticking with the horror genre I feel comfortable in will ensure I fall into this trap again. There’ll probably be dark magic and cosmic horrors in the story as well, after all Swords & Sorcery virtually runs on this trope, but it won’t be of the “Mortal man was not meant to look upon such things” and the hero goes insane, type of endings. At least, I don’t think it will; stories always change between the planning stage and the actual writing.

I won’t be putting myself under any kind of self enforced deadline on this. I’ve got a life away from the keyboard and sometimes that takes priority – especially when all of my writing is of the I’m-not-getting-paid-for-this variety – but, all things being equal, it should end up completed at some unspecified point in 2011. I’m a “wrestle the words onto the page” kind of writer, not a “words flow freely from my lightning quick blister-fingers” kind of writer. That’s just how I roll.

P.S. Expect a few “edits to add” while I get one or two other things sorted out.

Edit to Add: I’m going to be keeping a diary of the actual writing process as I go along. I won’t be keeping it here, though. I’ve decided, wisely or not, to keep the writing diary in separate place to Stuff & Nonsense, which I now intend to use as a repository for things I’ve actually thought out first. Completed thoughts, rants, finished stories and chapters, reviews of things I find interesting (or really rubbish), links to things you might enjoy (like this!) and so on. Stuff & Nonsense is where the finished stuff goes, the newly formed “I Slap Raptors” (did you hear that faint rumbling noise? Somewhere, a volcano erupted as Mother Nature sought to punctuate such an awesome journal name appropriately) over on Livejournal is where I do the writerly pontificating about process and so on. That stuff is only of interest other writerly types and there’s no sense clogging up Stuff & Nonsense with it.

What the hell was THAT?!

Those of you who’ve managed to read all seven parts of Son of my Father might well be asking yourself what the hell that was all in aid of. It started out one thing, turned briefly into something else entirely, segued into Cthulhu country, flirted with the notion of ending in a way no Lovecraft inspired story should, then went back to where Lovecraft fans (myself included) feel comfortable. Those of you who’ve never read Lovecraft, Derleth, Lumley, Campbell or any of the thousands of other works of fiction set in or around the Cthulhu Mythos will be justifiably confused. Those of you who have, might be a little put out by some of the things I’ve done in the story.

Minor Spoilers under the cut

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Son of my Father: Part Seven (Final part. Long post)

Awake. Light filtered through Scott’s eyelids, pain stabbing into his skull with it. Agony was the first thing he was aware of, but before he’d even had time to think coherently, a lurching in his stomach became his immediate concern. A cold band of roiling pain, followed by sweating told him what was coming next. A deep breath to steel himself tipped him over the edge and as the vomit surged up through his body, Scott opened his mouth and rolled over to allow it to exit. At least, he tried to.

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Son of my Father: Part Six

Scott felt perception almost come to him, cotton covered and remote, beyond where he could move to. Voices were nearby, but he couldn’t properly hold onto them. He wanted to be sick, the taste of cough medicine and the bitter heat of bile washed around his throat and nasal passages, but he was too focused on remembering to breath to allow his stomach to leave him. He wanted to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t listen to what he told them. Slowly he became aware of a sensation of being touched, the voices almost coming to where he could see them and hear the shape of what was being said, but all he could make out were fragments of something happening somewhere else.

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