Holiday season news!

It’s been a while since I posted and now instead of using my words like a grownup I’ve decided to go all video on you like a millennial. But since WordPress won’t let me embed a YouTube link, you’ll have to click here or on the screen grab below to find out my latest news.

shorosh-launch-video-screen-grab

The video is only a minute long, so there’s no Christmas-ruining time investment!

(Hint: the video is about the first story in the Embodied prequel series…)

And on that mysterious note, season’s greetings to all of you. All the best for the holidays and 2017!

 

Story Structure and Character Arcs in Breaking Bad

Novelists can learn a lot about crafting stories from the structures and character arcs that play out across many of the stunningly successful non-network TV series that have been produced over the last fifteen years. I’m talking about shows like Mad Men, Sopranos, The Wire, House of Cards, True Detective, and Breaking Bad. Therese Walsh of the great Writer Unboxed website has written a very insightful article about the latter and delved into how Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan managed to turn mild-mannered chemistry professor Walter White into a scheming drug lord over the course of six seasons and still keep the audience rooting for him.

The article ends with this golden piece of advice:

  • Persevere. Considering Breaking Bad’s incredible success, you’d think it was in a Hollywood bidding war or something, right? Nope. The show was famously turned down by many before AMC picked it up. Sometimes different is scary to the Establishment. Don’t let that stop you from creating innovative works or pursuing publication.

One huge advantage of epublishing

Two days ago I released my sci-fi story The Information Monster as a Kindle ebook and wrote about it in this post. I was very happy with the cover, created by myself and my regular cover designer Alex Nereuta, but then I decided to run an Amazon ad campaign for the first time and noticed that the cool font we chose didn’t show up at all when reduced to a thumbnail. Not only that, but the “monster” made of stars also disappeared at a smaller scale. The upshot was that I was asking Amazon visitors to basically click on a black rectangle! I’m guessing that rule 101 of ebook marketing is that you should actually be able to see the cover, so changing it was an easy decision to make.

Although the original would have made a lovely print cover, Alex and I are very happy with the new one and it certainly a) stands out more, and b) is creepier. What do you think?

The Information Monster cover V5 smaller

So here’s the beauty of epublishing: if this was a traditionally published print book and I needed to change the cover, I’d be screwed. With Amazon, all it took was a couple of hours and the new version was proudly online.

Oh, and before I forget, please leave a rating and/or review on Amazon if you read The Information Monster. Stars for stars!

My new sci-fi story: The Information Monster

Chile’s Atacama Desert, 2053. The universe’s dark energy is increasing and only a former MIT astrophysicist knows what it means. As his worst nightmare becomes a reality, he flees Santiago with his young daughter to the peaceful safety of the decommissioned ALMA radio-telescope. But what if they were followed…

That’s the blurb for The Information Monster, a previous version of which was published in 2013 as part of an anthology called Disrupted Worlds. Now it’s available as a standalone Amazon Kindle book.

At over 10,000 words, The Information Monster has more meat to it than a typical short story, so if you’re ready to spend an hour (and a buck!) navigating the tortured mind of our hero Sigi, click right here to go to Amazon.com, or here for Amazon.ca and here for Amazon.co.uk.

The Information Monster cover V2

Dreadpunk. It’s scary stuff.

I’ve started a new writing project that will definitely be my next published work. And (wouldn’t you know) it isn’t either of the two novels I had begun planning and researching! Oh no, dear friends, this one is far more chilling and belongs in the genre of…

Dreadpunk logo

Dreadpunk is a term coined by horror maven Derek Tatum, who runs a blog of the same name. On it, he defines dreadpunk as:

“current popular culture that draws upon the imagery of pre-through early 20th century horror literature. As a term, dreadpunk is used as shorthand for contemporary Gothic horror works set in an often stylized past. It’s a tongue-in-cheek term derived from the penny dreadfuls…”

Dreadpunk was discussed at last month’s DragonCon. According to attendee reporter Aja Romano of website The Daily Dot:

“…the word implies a subversive take on fog-drenched Victoriana, tales of the supernatural mixed with late 19th-century aesthetics, and the recent wave of Gothic horror…”

Fantasy author Cherie Priest sees dreadpunk as a vehicle for social commentary:

“When you say something is punk, punk is shorthand for transgression,” Priest said to Daily Dot. The prefix describes “the form of transgression. You challenge the dominant paradigm of what frightens you, and you challenge the dominant paradigm of who has power.”

The Daily Dot even went so far as to define the 3 Laws of Dreadpunk, although Tatum himself clearly views the term as something less serious.

  1. Dreadpunk is based in horror or dark fantasy, with a particular emphasis the word “dread”: horror by implication or unseen.

  2. Dreadpunk is set within or informed by pre- or early-20th century horror—definitely no later than Lovecraft, with Victorian London serving as the default touchstone for the Dreadpunk aesthetic.

  3. Dreadpunk is self-aware and subversive, while still emphasizing classic horror traditions.

Here’s what I like about dreadpunk: the idea of using horror to undermine and subvert authority. Especially self-proclaimed authority, of which there was much in the Victorian British Empire. This could mean authority derived from social class, wealth, race, religion, “civilization”, “nobility”, or wielding a big stick. The true horrors of Victorian times were fuelled by new forms of authority, be they the cruel capitalism of the industrial revolution or violent colonial expansion. I see dreadpunk as a conduit through which the ravens can come home to roost.

I’ll reveal more about my dreadpunk work in another post very soon. In the meantime, start thinking about your deepest, darkest fear. Not now, but as you close your eyes for the last time… tonight.

Dreadpunk logo created by Aristotle C. Pramagioulis.

Kevin Spacey: “The audience has spoken. They want stories. They’re dying for them.”

As everyone knows, time flies when you’re having fun. And also when you’re writing a novel (which can sometimes be fun as well). So this video from 2013 of Kevin Spacey giving a speech about the importance of good storytelling has now become an “oldie but a goodie”. It recently popped back into my mind because I finished watching the third season of House of Cards on Netflix, in which Spacey stars as Machiavellian US president Frank Underwood. That, by the way, is a fantastic name for his character. He seems frank, while Underwood is a white-bread Anglo-Saxon surname that matches Frank’s down-home public persona. But on a subconscious level, the “underwood” is a dark place where things crawl, scuttle and lurk. This is the seedy underbelly of Frank’s political trajectory – the rotten roots of a gnarled tree that he and his wife Claire have watered with murder, deceit, sex, and drugs. Come to think of it, House of Cards is basically a Shakespearean supervillain tag team featuring Richard III and Lady MacBeth.

Spacey

Click on the photo to hear about storytelling, Spacey-style.

All this to say, storytelling is the currency of great entertainment, whether it appears on the small screen(s), big screen or the pages of a book. Just as television series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards are now arguably more artistically and culturally relevant than motion pictures, multi-novel book series have also increased in readership, relevance, and publishing income over recent years. Was the trend started by Harry Potter or the Twilight series? In Young Adult fiction, series have certainly become the norm, with subject matter varying from the Hunger Games to Mara Dyer and pretty much everything in-between.

The opportunity for an author is to do what Kevin Spacey describes in his speech: weave a storytelling web over literally years that features characters who change, grow, love, and sometimes unexpectedly die, leaving fangirls and boys wringing their hands and cursing the authors (all the while secretly loving the epic level of emotion, or as the parlance has it, the “feels”).

If done badly, a series of YA books becomes nothing more than a constant re-hashing of the storyline from book one. That’s just lazy. It means the author realized he or she had a cash cow and then milked it dry. The other option is to create a fictional world then keep expanding it in every direction. That’s keeping the cow and building a farm around it. And that’s what keeps readers coming b

Hide No Seek

Flash fiction

It was never easy to get into the old house. A month or so after the authorities had repossessed it, Jake had swung by on the way home from school to check it out. He’d found it sealed like a tomb. The next day he’d returned with a claw hammer from his uncle’s garage. In back of the house was a small basement window with rusty bars over it. He’d jammed the claw between the frame and the brick and pushed it like a lever with his foot planted on the wall. This was the year he’d filled out. His newfound pecs and biceps did their job. The bars had creaked, then suddenly given way and he’d almost fallen over backward. The window itself wasn’t even locked. He’d crawled into the basement. The vague chemical  smell still lingered there, despite the best efforts of the realty company.

He’d come back a couple times that year, just to hang out. And as he grew bigger, it got harder to crawl through the window. But he could never leave through the front door. The last time was the last time. Ever.

Hide No Seek

Sometimes he lay on the floor of his lifeless old room and read. Once he posted a photo of the ceiling on Facebook. Another time he brought his iPhone dock and listened to music in the kitchen like his mom used to do. When he went upstairs to pee, he could still hear the music drifting up ethereally through the heating duct in the floor. That’s when the idea came to him to bring his little brother.

“I’ll pick Sam up from kindergarten tomorrow,” he said innocently over supper, and his uncle seemed proud at this show of responsibility.

The trees were leafless. The cold had snapped. As the kindergarten disappeared from view behind them, Sam chattered incessantly about the letter to Santa that their aunt had helped him write. Four years old was prime Santa territory.

Sam didn’t remember the house but Jake explained to him that they used to play hide and seek there. This visit was an adventure. In fact, it was a secret.

The claw hammer wasn’t needed anymore and Sam’s eyes widened as Jake pulled off the bars with his bare hands. Jake crawled through first. Sam trusted him completely and wriggled in too. Jake gave him a tour, describing each room from their former life in photographic detail. In the kitchen, Jake pulled out a Bugs Bunny Pez dispenser he’d bought at the gas station.

“Every time you find me, you get a candy.”

Sam beamed.

“And you can have one for free to start.”

He flipped open the head and Sam pulled out the purple rectangle with his grubby fingernails.

“Now don’t count too fast. It’s a big house.”

Sam nodded and crunched.

“Go stand in the corner and cover your eyes. Okay, now start counting.”

They played for a while. Jake knew that Sam would copy his hiding places. Eventually he hid behind the bathroom door, just as Jake had done. Jake made a big show of looking in the bathroom but missing him.

“I know! You’re in the… bathroom. Aw, man…”

Then he went back downstairs to the kitchen and kneeled down against the wall, lowering his face to the heater vent.

“Sam,” he boomed into the metal grille, using his best Santa voice. “Sam Kelly, this is Santa. I hear that you’ve been a good boy this year so I’m going to bring you the Star Wars Lego that you asked for in your letter. But make sure you keep being good. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Then he raced to the bottom of the staircase and shouted up, “I give up! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

When Sam appeared at the top of the stairs Jake knew the trick had worked.

“Where were you?” he asked.

“In the bathroom,” answered Sam.

“But I looked in there.”

“I heard Santa.”

“What?”

“Santa.”

“Really? What did he say?”

“To be a good boy.”

“And? Are you a good boy?”

“I guess.”

Jake pretended to look at his phone. “We should get going. You can eat the rest of the Pez on the way to Auntie’s.”

As they left the old house, Sam looked back at the upstairs windows, still in awe. Jake smiled. From now on, he would always smile when he thought about the old house. And he’d made sure that he’d never hidden in the closet where they’d found his father.

Photo credit: Jim Rees / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA (Photoshopped by John B. Dutton)

Cover reveal! Title reveal! Authors reveal!

I teased my dystopian sci-fi short story The Information Monster back in June, and now it’s time to cut out the teasing and open the kimono, as business/marketing/PR folk bizarrely sometimes say in otherwise very boring meetings. Actually, that’s not quite true, because opening the kimono would require cutting and pasting the entire contents of the ebook that my story will shortly be published in. So it’s more like I’m showing you the kimono, because here is the cover. And the title, which fortunately is hard to miss because it’s right there on the cover, along with my name and those of my five fellow authors, like an embroidered dragon on a kimono. (I think it’s time to stop with the kimono metaphor.)

Disrupted_12_fix

The name of the book neatly unites six disparate tales, some outrageously comic, some (like mine) sinisterly portentous.  And yes, I know that “sinisterly” isn’t a word, but it works just fine here, so please don’t give it a complex by looking it up in a dictionary. What bonds the authors is that double-edged label “indie”. It sounds cool if you’re a band.  But if you write books and deign to deliver them to readers via the newfangled medium of digital code uploaded without the help of an international megacorporation, “indie” is still sniffed at and frowned upon by old-school publishing types and snobs  Maybe we should call ourselves a “collective”? Or does that only work for visual artists? A “collective” is literally a collective noun. And a “literary collective” is literally a literary collective noun. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that fifth coffee this morning. Whatever we call ourselves, one thing’s for sure: these stories are as independent of any marketing masterplan or award angling as any fiction could be.

ALMA

The ALMA radio-telescope. Maybe it would be better if the truth wasn’t out there…

I’m sure my fellow Disrupted Words authors will be doing a super job of publicizing their own contributions to the collection, so I’ll stick to telling you a little more about my effort. The Information Monster takes place in Chile, 2053, partly at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA. This recently commissioned real-life radio-telescope isn’t only the largest on Earth, its Operations Support facility is housed in the world’s second-highest-altitude building, and its correlator is the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Who knows what it may find… or how its staff will behave in the thin air of the Atacama Desert?

Edited and published by Paul Little, Disrupted Worlds will be available at a special 99-cent  introductory price the day after tomorrow (Thursday, September 26) exclusively through Amazon as an ebook for Kindle. At that point you’ll be able to rip the kimono open for yourself. Okay, time for another coffee.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

A Symmetrical Strategy

Writing is a novel is super-duper easy. Oh wait, I got my words wrong. Writing a blog post is a breeze. No, that’s not even true. Okay, forget writing for a moment. The other night I was reading a bedtime story to my 5-year-old daughter when I was suddenly struck by the amount of cross-hatching in the illustrations. At first glance, the drawings of a little boy and his bear were fairly simple. I’d read the book several times to her and never paid much attention to the artwork, but for some reason that night I focused in on the cross-hatching, which is the technique for creating shaded areas in a drawing through the use of repeating lines. The length and spacing of the lines determine the amount of shade perceived by the eye at a distance. This drawing of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a straightforward example.

Shakespeare probably just winged it: no planning, no plotting, and no rewrites. Riiiight…

The little bear in the story got lost one night when he was picked up in a swooping owl’s claws. The drawings of the moon, the owl and the bear in the nighttime sky were filled with cross-hatching far finer and subtler than in the Globe illustration here. I stopped reading for a few seconds and marvelled at the amount of time it must have taken the artist to produce such an effect. I thought to myself, I could never, ever have the patience to sit there and draw line after line with no margin for error. Then my daughter elbowed me with an impatient “Daddy!” and I boomeranged back from my reverie, acutely aware that parents aren’t supposed to space out in the middle of a bedtime story.

What does all this have to do with writing a novel? It’s all about the work involved. I sometimes forget that stringing together a bunch of words, then painstakingly going back over them and replacing some of them or changing their order is just as daunting for non-writers as creating a complex illustration would be for me. It’s hard. It’s often kind of annoying. And sometimes you get stuck. (Quick joke: part of my next novel is set in Paris and I’m worried that I might suffer from writer’s bloc.)

What does all this have to do with me writing a novel? Well, I promised I would publish the sequel to Silent Symmetry in “late 2013”. Now I realize that my writing strategy was wrong and I’m going to have to break that promise. Fortunately for my reputation, authors are notorious for breaking promises; we literally make things up that aren’t true for a living.

I don’t mind allowing readers a peak behind the creative curtain, so here’s my new writing and publication strategy for books two and three of the Embodied trilogy. Instead of planning, writing and rewriting book two, Starley’s Rust, then spending the time and effort it takes to publish and market it properly before embarking on the creation of book three, I’m going to plan and write books two and three back-to-back, then rewrite, publish and market book two. Once that is on the Kindles and iPads of a bunch of readers, I’ll rewrite, publish and market book three. This will allow me to more effectively control both the overall flow of the story and each book’s release date. This doesn’t just help me, it will also, crucially, give my readers a more fulfilling experience because, a) the books should be better; and b) readers of book two won’t have to wait nearly as long to read the conclusion of the trilogy.

So what we’re really dealing with here is some delayed gratification. Fortunately, I’m not illustrating my books too, or the delay would be far, far longer than the gratification!

Photo credit: Futurilla / Foter / CC BY-NC

A dystopian tease

As I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago, I’m writing a short story for an indie collection that will appear later in the summer. Well, I’ve finished it, and it’s the longest short story I’ve ever written. I promised that I would reveal its title as a teaser, so… [internet drum roll]… here you go:

The Information Monster

And now, as an extra teasy teaser, here’s the opening line:

“The darkness is our friend,” whispered Sigi.

A_view_across_the_plains_of_Chajnantor_with_the_ALMA_construction_site_at_the_centre

This is the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth. They tested the Mars Rover here. It’s rather inhospitable. And a great setting for a story.

You can’t say you haven’t been teased! The Information Monster takes place in the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2053, and the main genre it fits into is science-fiction. It also belongs to a sub-genre called dystopian fiction: what happens when society goes wrong. One of the most famous dystopian fictions is Orwell’s 1984. (Although in North Korea that book is filed in the non-fiction section.)

The final ebook will be a novel-length collection of new voices in indie publishing and I’ll keep you posted on its publication details as soon as I get them. I haven’t read any of the other stories yet, since my fellow authors are delivering theirs this month too, but I’m very excited about the project.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)