Steampunk Saved His Life

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Following on from my last blog about how writing Steampunk saved my writing life, I wanted to share what happened next.  Steampunk also inspired me to write in a new direction.

As mentioned before I mostly write contemporary crime, a bit of horror and Cthulhu too, but mostly contemporary crime. Well, a while back, I had an amateur detective who worked with a local copper and I thought it was a good book, series material in fact.  Then I sent the manuscript to my editor, Tony Fyler of Jefferson Franklin Editing, and it came back trashed.  Well, not trashed exactly, Tony isn’t the type of editor to do that, but basically, the message was – “This is rubbish, you can do better.”

And looking back now, it was a fair message, but at the time I was devastated.  And that book was consigned to the waste bin.  The main character, the police officer in that book was this guy called Maker, I’ve mentioned him a few times, mostly in Schrödinger’s Edit, a brief overview of which is that Maker was trashed and I rewrote him and was scared to see the edit.

Turns out that while Maker was never a punk, what he really needed was some steam.  What I did was take him out of the 21st century and put him in the 19th. For him, it was a change of clothes, not a transformation.  But it transformed the way I wrote about him, and it gave me much more license to show who he really is, and why he is that way.  It’s still basically a crime story, but one in a very different vein to anything else I have done.

Once I was done, I (in total trepidation) sent Maker back for the edit in Schrödinger’s Edit, and got nervous about what it might say.  Eventually, of course, I opened the edit up and read it.  Tony loved the new version, to quote him:  “Maker SO belongs in this time period, all tight bows[1] and tighter corsets. He’s like Darcy’s grandson.”

Yes! An actual comparison to my absolute all time favourite character!  Sooo happy!

The new book has been revised, I did the thinking bigger I was advised to do, and it has also gone through a name change, it’s now “Shades of Aether”. And it’s back with Tony as I write this, to see what he makes of it now.  Hopefully not a dog’s dinner!

The point is, in the last blog I said thank you to Steampunk for saving my writing life.  This blog is saying thank you to Steampunk for showing me where Maker belonged – for saving his life – Literally.

 

 

[1]  Bow the action, not the bow you tie in a ribbon.

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Dreaming Cost nothing.  Giving up All Dreams Costs Everything.

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I’ve been a writer all my life.  I’ve tried all sorts and come to settle on crime (mostly).  But I also came to settle on the idea that I just couldn’t get published, I was ready to give up my dream.  Then one day I heard about this call for short stories for an upcoming anthology, the theme being “The Strange Island of…”

I was instantly inspired, dreamed a new story, so I wrote a piece.  It took some changes to my thinking of how to write because it was a very different genre to the one I was used to.  The piece, The Steel Inside, still had mystery and suspense, like my crime writing, but there wasn’t a crime, well not in the illegal sense.  The whole island isolation helped.  The fact that I had read a few steampunk books helped too.  But mostly what helped was having a good story idea and then twisting it.

So I finished the story – all 10,000 words – and sent it off.

Then promptly forgot about it.

I try to do that.  Remembering that I’ve sent something off for consideration always leads to painful worrying.  Will it be okay?  Will they like it?  Will I tie myself up in knots wondering?  The only question I ever answer yes to is that last one.  I guarantee I tie myself in knots waiting to hear.

Then I heard.  I really thought that it was going to be another thanks but no thanks, but – stunningly – they loved it.  I was accepted!

My first ever piece of steampunk and it won through.  Amazing.

The Steel Inside, is now the last entry in Steel & Bone from Xchyler Publications.

The real point of all this isn’t blowing my own trumpet, though that’s quite nice too. The point is the effect that it had on me.  I was just about ready to give up on the idea of ever being published, and finally a proper bona fide publishing house was going to print one of my stories.  It renewed my belief that I really can write.

Renewed belief allowed me to carry on, and I have since managed to secure an agent in Ian Drury of Sheil Land Associates. I have also published a collection of short crime stories, Last Cut CasebookThe Steel Inside also inspired me to write a whole new steampunk series, but I’ll tell you more of that later in the month.

Without steampunk I wouldn’t still be writing, so thank you Steampunk, you saved my writing life.

Steel and Bone front cover (newer 2)

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Last Cut Casebook

Facebook banner 2_3.jpgSay hello to the murderer next-door. Outsmart a mad bomber. Take on The Preacher, and pray for your life. Feel a gun to your head, the knife at your belly. Welcome to the Last Cut Casebook.

This collection of crime stories comes from CWA shortlisted author GB Williams, brings you police procedurals, amateur sleuths, vigilantes, private eyes and bomb disposal experts. Thirteen stories with a combined body count over thirty. Edgy or noir, domestic or international, these are stories that explore the darker side of life, and the true meaning of justice.

That is the blurb from Last Cut Casebook.

It’s out! I have finally launched my first self published book.

It took a while and I genuinely thought at one point that this was never going to happen.  My confidence faltered time and time again.  Only half the stories that made the cut were in the original draft, which means half as many again got pulled out.  I arranged for a cover artist – who had to pull out of the job.  Then I grasped a straw and to be honest I accidentally found a fantastic artist – Linh Doung.  Linh is 18, studying Graphic Design and is very talented.  I love the cover of my book.  It’s just brilliant, better than anything I was imagining.

I’m very proud of the stories that have been collected into this one place.  And I hope very much that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Cut-Casebook-G-Williams-x/dp/0957343914

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Rules and When to Break Them

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Rules, rules, rules.

At a conference, I once heard Joanne Harris say that the reason she wrote Chocolat was to break every rule she had been given by an author who had critiqued (and torn apart) another of her novels.  I love that story.

We all know that there are always rules to every aspect of life and writing is no exception.  But here’s the thing about rules – there are exceptions, so I thought I’d highlight a few of those exceptions.

Rule:  Never use ‘Emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’.

(Stephen King)

What this rule is actually saying is keep it simple.  I have an editor who screeches about some of the vocabulary I use.  He hates words like ascend, he writes comments on why it should be ‘went up’, similarly with descend, he doesn’t even like entered or exited.  Now, maybe I wouldn’t use emolument (because I had to go look up what it meant anyway) but as for ascend and descend, entered or exited, they have there a place in the English language so they have a place on the appropriate prose.

When to break the Rule:  When it’s appropriate to what you are writing.

I write crime, mostly contemporary, but I have recently written a steampunk crime novel set in the 1870s.  These are very different styles.  No one in the twenty-teens would descend – that lot go down stairs.  My Victorians though – they descend from the upper floors.  Then there’s conversation.  Like Stephen King says in another of his rules – Talk whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character. The vocabulary picked for the character tells the reader who that person is.  So if you want an upper-crust, over-educated egotist, they might not so much leave a tip as talk about extending emolument. Yes as a reader I already despise that character, but then that is the point of the description and the vocabulary choice.  Remember Mark Twain’s rule: Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Rules: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue

(Elmore Leonard)

The more that I edit, the more I agree with this rule.  It also goes back to the previous rule: keep it simple – I say.  Also remember that you don’t have to use speech tags on every line of speech.  But yet, I can’t always agree with Mr Leonard on this one.

When to break the Rule:  When it gets boring.

There is nothing more irritating to a reader than constantly reading the same word, and after a while, that is true of ‘said’ too.  So if someone shouts, say they shouted.  If they whisper, use the word whispered.  But make sure they do so sparingly and correctly.

Rule: Work on one thing at a time until finished.

(Henry Miller)

If you can stick to this rule, good on you.  I can’t and I’m not going to beat myself up over that.

When to break this rule:  When it works for you.

Love this rule as an idea, but let’s get real here it’s not always possible. So let’s bring a little reality to the world and let me give you a clue how this works for me.  Right now I am writing a User Manual, my second steampunk crime novel, and a contemporary thriller.  Now the manual – that’s part of the day job, so I do it in working hours.  While I’m in the office, because I’m also doing other things, if I have to wait for a long calculation or upload, I have my notebook by my side to write the steampunk because I write that out first in long hand, I find it helps with the Victoriana tone. But when I get home at night, if I’m not editing, I write my contemporary crime because I’m doing that on the computer only.  Three things, all writing, and all happening at the same time.

Rule:  The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season

(Stephen King again)

Wow!  To be honest, there’s a huge part of me that utterly agrees with this one.  Generally, I do complete a book in that time frame, so why is it in my list of rules to break?  Because this is a list of WHEN to break the rules.

When to break the rule:  When life gets in the way.

I know that that sounds like a cop-out, and frankly it is, but here’s why.  Unlike Stephen King, I haven’t yet been able to give up the day job, so I can’t write solidly for three months.  If I could this would be easy.  The book that got me my agent was written entirely during NaNoWriMo.  But I know a lot of writers and a lot of us are unnecessarily harsh on ourselves, so you have to be real about the rules you follow.  I started a novel in November I still haven’t finished.  Why haven’t I finished it?  Because I’ve was diverted on to a different novel by some solid agent-y advice, and I have taken some time out to (a) edit my first steampunk crime novel and (b) do a paid editing job.

Admittedly I haven’t finished the other novel either, but I’m 37k words in and trying for 1000 words a day, but even that goal goes by the wayside when I get home from the day-jobbery exhausted.  So the real point of this is to give writers a reason to give themselves a break – don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t meet this time frame.  Equally – don’t take this as a reason to slouch either.  If it’s taken ten years to write the first draft, that’s not a good sign.

So, go on, be a rebel, break some rules but get the writing job done anyway.

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What a Difference a Week Makes

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Well, it’s Jan 3rd and I’m already on the back foot.

I try to blog at the start of the month, but despite having the week between Christmas and New Year off, I didn’t have time to write a blog.  I thought about writing it, but didn’t get around to actually doing it.  However, I did do a lot of other stuff.

Obviously, a lot of the “stuff” I did was Christmas, family and New Years.  Had a great time – thanks for asking – hope you did too.  But I also got a lot of writing work done too.

In the seven days from Boxing day to New Year’s Day bank holiday, I managed to write over 12k words of my latest contemporary thriller.  This may not sound like much to some of you (may sound like masses to others, what would I know), but for me this was a surprising rush.  You see Elaine has been giving me grief all through November and most of December.  Let me explain…

Elaine is my main character and she has to basically carry this book.  She’s an everyman (and no that’s not sexist, it’s just a description), and she has to go through some fairly big changes from the first chapter of this book and I’m now 22 chapters in.  But despite writing and pushing, I couldn’t get her to go where I needed her to go.  This was mostly because I didn’t really know how she was going to go there, or who she was going to have to deal with when she got there.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I knew what he was, I knew what he looked like, I knew what he’d be like, I knew how he would react.  In fact, the only thing I didn’t know, was his name.  But I hadn’t even got to him, and Elaine was still reluctant to go anywhere.

I think in the end what it was, was that like a lot of mothers, she just first had to go see her daughter, and like a lot of those lot of mothers – it took longer than this outsider expected.  But then, there were an awful lot of issues that needed to be resolved between the two of them. Once I’d sorted that things really started to flow.

Then, of course, there was him.  He was fine once I decided what to call him.  That was one moment when keeping a database of my characters was really useful in ensuring that I don’t double name, I had to check it just to be sure, because once I had his name it felt so familiar that it was like déjà vu.

Now they are properly on different teams the book is working well, can’t wait for the time when these two characters have to start actually working together.  Really looking forward to that.

That wasn’t all the writing I did either.

I also hand wrote (yes in a book with a pen) about 1000 words of my second steampunk novel – then I realised I didn’t like it and started all over again with a different point of view character and it works better though I haven’t had chance to catch up to where I was yet.  That has a lot to do with the fact that the new POV required that I start the scene several minutes earlier than I had and that takes up word count – that and now Elaine is cooperating I’m concentrating on her.

I’m also working on an editing commission so that’s me keeping busy.

Unfortunately, I never got the cover design last year, but this year I have found a new artist so I hope to have my collection out in the next few weeks.

Well, life and editing calls…

 

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Getting an Agent – some more ideas

Getting an Agent isn’t easy, but a lot of traditional publishers still use Agents to screen writers (yes I do mean that as two words) so they don’t have to wade through the worst of the submissions.  It took me years to find an agent, but I finally got one.  If you keep trying you can make it HAPPEN.  Here’s some more ideas of how:  (First ideas were here)

Honest

You have to be honest, not only with the agent you are submitting to but also with yourself.  Make an honest assessment of your own skill level.  You will need help with this, independent help.  Asking your friends and family will probably result in willing encouragement – the most encouragement I ever got from family was a sister who reviewed a book with the quote “I really wanted not to like this book but…”  To be fair after that it did get complimentary, so I can’t complain. The best avenues for feedback I’ve had have been my local writers circle (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) and my editors Tony at Jefferson Franklin Editing and Sam at Bowler Fern Ltd (different editors for different types of books).  Yes, I have to pay them but they will tell me with I’m producing rubbish (I’ve ditched a whole series of novels because Tony said the main character didn’t work).  If you’ve got talent, you can make it, and remember I am telling you to be honest, honesty does not necessarily include that paranoid voice in the back of your head that constantly tells you you’re not good enough – surely I can’t be the only one with that?

You also have to be honest when you approach the agent.  You will have to produce a covering letter that says a bit about you and your intentions, don’t tell them that you’re going to write four books a year unless you actually can.  Most people are lucky to be able to one done a year, two for some.  Also be honest about what you are doing now.  If they are the only agent you are approaching, tell them why, and if not, say that you’re doing simultaneous submissions.  Some won’t mind, others might, that’s a risk you’ll have to take.

 

Audience

Know your audience is one of those phrases that often comes up about writing.  This time what I’m talking about is know the agent you’re approaching.  Get personal – within reason.  Make sure you know their name at least, “Dear Sir or Madam” does not cut it.  Know what that agent is looking for, appeal to that.  If you’ve met them, reference the meeting – possibly relate what they said to what you’re doing.  For example, if the agent mentioned that they were looking for a working class hero, say something like, “Joe Bloggs is just the working class hero you mentioned looking for”; again be concise.  Be clear about why you want to work with that agent.  If you know who the audience is for your book, don’t forget to mention that, it will help the agent figure out if you are an author for them.

 

Professional

Remember that you are approaching a professional, so you need to be professional in your approach because if you are to have a relationship with an agent, it has to be a professional one.  Don’t waste their time.  Prepare your covering letter and synopsis with all the same care and attention that you prepared your manuscript.  Make sure it makes sense, that it’s concise and intriguing and it doesn’t contain any spelling or grammar mistakes.

 

Patient

This is, for most, the most difficult part of getting an agent.  It takes time to send each submission and each submission takes time to get a response to.  I’ve had refusals take anything from two weeks to six months, and plenty that have never even bothered to respond.  I do now have an agent, and that was a long process.  It took about four or five months from submission to signing the agency contract.  I have no idea how that measures up to other people’s time frames.  I’ve spoken to a number of writers who have been through this experience and it’s a general consensus that you have to wait at least a month before chasing a response.  Then if you really want to contact the agency again, do so, but if you do, for everybody’s sake, BE POLITE.  Ask nicely if they received your submission and if they can tell you of any progress.  Don’t go in on the attack, you could have the next big thing as far as the industry is concerned, but if you’re rude to the receptionist, you are not going to get that agent.   Also remember that if you do get an agent, you still have to get a publishing deal, that could take a couple of years and when you get a publishing deal you’re looking at about 18 months before the book hits the shelves, so patience is the watch word in this job.

 

Expenditure

As the literary markets get harder and harder to make money from, the more agents are looking for publication-ready manuscripts and that means you need to edit your story.  You will, of course, need to edit your novel yourself from the first draft forward, but I’d strongly recommend that you also get a professional edit (and not just because I’m an editor).  Yes, this is expensive, but try to think of it more as an investment.  It amazes me what errors/gaps/issues an editor can spot in my scripts, amazes me what I find in other people’s scripts.  Spotting a problem is halfway to solving it, and most editors will give advice on how to make things better and that is invaluable.

Of course, the biggest expenditure is in the effort you have to put in.  Writing a book takes time, sweat and tears, so does going the traditional publishing route.  Don’t think that means I’m suggesting self-publishing – I’m not, but there again, there are stories of people who have self-published and got agents that way, but it is few and far between, on or two in thousands upon thousands, so don’t pin all your hopes on that possibility. There again, if you are self-publishing – spend money on a good editor it is important.

 

Numbers

Words may be our stock in trade, but there is a big argument that getting an agent is a numbers game.  Each agent is just one person, one person’s opinion.  If the first doesn’t like your manuscript, try the next.  If the thirtieth doesn’t like it, try the thirty-first.  Think of each rejection as one step closer to acceptance.  Though if you have to go much past forty agents I would suggest that the issue is the book not the agents, but on the other had Kathryn Stockett was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found someone willing to represent The Help.  Also, remember that things change over time.  It’s possible that this year no agent will touch a story about a prince in waiting[1], but maybe next year they’ll bite your hand off for it.  You can’t follow the trends in publishing because by the time your book is ready, the trend will have changed.  Set your own trend.

 

So there you have it, go out and make getting an agent HAPPEN for you.

 

[1]  You can steal this idea if you want, but John Christopher wrote it 1970.

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No, No, NaNo, No

 

Well, we’re halfway through the month and if you are NaNoWriMo-ing then you should be around 25k into your work.  Where am I?  About eleven thousand words.

I have pretty much given up on NaNo this year, not because I’m not writing, quite the opposite in fact. So do I feel like I’m failing?  Actually, yeah a little bit, but there’s absolutely no reason for me to feel that way, it’s not like I’m not working.

The reason I’m not NaNo-ing is that I’m working through my collection of short stories “Last Cut Case Book” as I need to get that finalised asap; I’m editing on my steampunk novel which I’ve had back from my editor and now want to polish, and I am still working on the novel I had finally settled on for NaNo, just not concentrating on that alone and therefore not writing it as fast as NaNo requires.

I know I’m not the only one who has given up, I’ve seen similar posts on Facebook and Twitter, and in blogs. Not just this year either.  This is the fourth year I’ve started Nano, but it’s the first year that I haven’t been a winner.  So why do people not complete the challenge?

I’ve heard some people complain that it’s one of the shorter months, which I honestly don’t get.  It’s not February  there are still 30 days, plenty of time if you devote yourself, one more day won’t make that much difference.

I’ve heard that a number of my American friends say it’s difficult because they are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas – that I get, but then it was all started in America so I’m sure that was taken into consideration.

My own issues are that it’s my birthday this month, right at the end admittedly and I don’t have to do much for that.  But this year I’m also off to Iceland Noir and that’s basically a week away from home and I don’t even know if I can take my laptop yet.  However, at a minimum, I will be taking my tab, so I can write on that.

Anyway, my point in writing this is to say that, just because we might not be NaNoWriMo winners, that doesn’t make any of us losers.

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