Sunday, 24 April 2016

This is your brain on two months of serial fiction

I'm working on a serial story, a m/m werewolf romance novel uploaded free to the internet chapter by chapter. I've just uploaded chapter eight which brings the story so far to just under 20k, so it's impressive to see how a little bit every week adds up over time.

My idea with Omega Blues was to complete a draft then edit and upload it in chapters, but of course a first draft is often little more than a vague outline that shows you what you want to write for your actual story. This and the next two chapters are completely fresh and not in the original draft.

When I started uploading Omega Blues at the start of March, I had a 50k-or-so manuscript to work from. In the last couple of weeks I've been re-imagining the story to make it more dramaticcutting something into 2k chunks really makes you realize where the dull, infodumpy sections are! I've tossed aside well over half of the original writing. The fresh draft couldn't have existed without the first draft, and it definitely wouldn't be shaping up the way it is if I hadn't worked chapter-by-chapter to focus in on the best story I can possibly craft.

I've wanted to write a weekly serial for years, but all the blog posts I'd read couldn't prepare me for the experience. Like with any novel, it's an experience unique to the writer and the novel. Between work stress and band practice, I've been drained this month, and I'm confident that I wouldn't have been able to achieve as much as I have if I hadn't put in place weekly deadlines.

On the other hand, editing Omega Blues each week takes days of writing time away from my next novella, Prima Donna Boy. In the past I've seen that multi-tasking on writing projects makes them all go slower so the time between publishing drags out longer and longer. While I think this is true hereI defnitely would be further through edits on Prima Donna if I didn't keep switching to Omega Bluesthe weekly chapter uploads are proof that I am getting something done.

With writing there's a war between wanting to write fast and furiously, creating 'in the moment' with no breaks and no distractions, and wanting to take a break to plan and think about the story. Handling these two stories at once has forced me into the latter mindset, but I figure as writers we should always be experimenting and trialing, in our writing practice as well as in the writing itself.

There are plenty of anecdotes about famous writers and their routines and superstitions. They can be terrifying for a new writer because they're told from the perspective of full-time writers with established careers. Those writers always seem so definite: the only way to get any writing done is to do it exactly like this and yet there's so much conflicting advice.

The thing is, every writer is different and there isn't a one-size-fits-all writing habit. Before we know what's going to work for us, we have to experiment. From the time of day when we write to the level of distraction we can handle (music, a cafe, silence?) to the way the story itself is createdintricate planning or broad brushstrokes? Write from the start to the end, or from a key scene outwards? How much can and should a story change while it's being written?every writer and every book will be different.

I've lived in isolation, writing in a cabin in the woods with no internet or phone reception, and I have Boganettes, Hot Blood Punk and Mr Wonderful to show for it. Now I'm living in a city and writing in stolen moments between irregular work hours, a reading challenge and intense band practices. I have Omega Blues to show for it and, whatever else I can produce, I know I'll be learning more about myself and my writing from the different experience.

The latest chapter of my free werewolf m/m romance, Omega Blues, is now live on Wattpad!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Only Rule for Writing Paranormal

Whenever we write, we're creating within a framework of existing storiesall the fiction that came before us and that influences and shapes our writing.

Even if you want to create the most fresh and original story possible, you still want to create a story that people enjoy, so that means obeying basic laws of writing: narrative flow, conflict, dialogue, the story building up and increasing in tension before reaching a resolution, etc.

The vast majority of writers know the genre they're writing in, and that means expectations you need to take into account. It's hard to satisfy readers with a crime novel if the crime's not solved by the end of the book, people will be disappointed in a horror that's not scary, and so forth.
Another Earth, 2011, is rare for a successful science fiction film in that it deliberately breaks the expectations of science fiction and steps away from the fantastic.
When we write stories about the paranormal, we're not just working within story structure and genre conventions, we're also working with what people know and expect from our paranormal creatures. Because vampires and shapeshifters don't exist, there's no set definition of how they actually work.

Readers would be confused if you wrote about talking cats in a book that wasn't labelled as 'fantasy', because we've all experienced cats and never seen them talk. But with non-existing creatures, we get to decide how they'll function in our story.
Drunk is still my favorite Ed Sheeran song.
But that doesn't mean we can completely ignore reader expectations. If we're stepping too far from the accepted parameters of our paranormal creature, it can be better to call them something else. The zombies in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend are called 'virals' because they're not true zombiesre-animated corpsesbut also because they don't fit the slow, shambling, totally mindless expectation of zombies.

I've heard more than one person complaining that Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series featured vampires too far out of expectations, then praising The Vampire Chronicles without caring that Anne Rice's vampires are far from Bram Stoker's or even the vampires from folklore. You don't have to like Twilight (I'm personally uncomfortable seeing abusive relationships romanticized, I dream of a world where healthy and fulfilling relationships are romanticized and I try to create my own romance novels accordingly), but it seems contradictory to criticize one book for changing vampire myths then praising another one which also breaks vampire myths.
What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, as a comedy can get away with featuring many different and conflicting kinds of vampires.
As you might have noticed from the Meyers rant, I don't like people policing what's 'real' or 'true' with non-real creatures. As long as your story stays true to itself, I don't care how you deal with the paranormal. The whole point of paranormal creatures is that they're not normal – they're not something we can see every day, like a cat, so there is no one set of rules for how they should behave.

When we write paranormal, just like when we write genre or any narrative story, we get to decide which expected elements we'll pay attention to and which we'll ignore. And that means being aware of the conventions of paranormal in the genre we write. Meyers vampires aren't horror vampires, but they fit within the expectations of romance vampireslike the Vampire Diaries series of YA romance novels by L. J. Smith.
You can tell they're romantic leads because they all look gorgeous.
I've never written vampires, but I do write werewolves in my Jagged Rock series. They're romance novels so the werewolves are romance werewolvesall about strength and power and beauty, rather than the terror and mystery associated with horror werewolves.

The thing is, I've often heard fans of horror werewolves saying what a shame it is that werewolves never got turned into romantic leads the way vampires have. And I want to tell them, they have! You're just reading the wrong genre!
Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen. Not a romance.
You could write a horror werewolf as a romantic lead, but it would be quite a different story than most werewolf/shifter romance readers are expecting. As with any kind of reversal of expectationslike a sci-fi that drags the camera away from its sci-fi elementsyou need to be aware of the expectations so you know when you're subverting them. Because, at the end of the day, you can write anything you want; but if you want to satisfy your readers then you need to be honest with them and know what they'll expect from your genre and paranormal creatures.

I've never written vampires, but I do have a series of free werewolf romances called Jagged Rock. The second one, Omega Blues, is a weekly serial on Wattpad and you can find the fifth chapter here.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Kitchen Wolves, and what do we call chairs?

While editing Omega Blues this week, I got caught up on a tiny detail: What do I call the bar that joins chair legs? In the story, I have a wolf climbing onto a chair slowly. I described the wolf standing on the chair's 'rung' and then wondered... ladders have rungs, but what do chairs have?
Image from Visual Dictionary Online
In this picture, Visual Dictionary Online call the 'rung' part a spindle. Other places on the internet label it as a stretcher or spacer or, on circular chairs, a foot ring. My woodworking experience makes me lean towards 'spacer,' but what does it matter if no one's going to understand what I'm talking about?

With words like this, there's a balance to strike between what's technically accurate and what readers will understand. None of these words turn up in the Wikipedia article on chairs, and chairs aren't high on the search results when you google them, so I have to assume they're not in common usage and, even worse, they might confuse readers and drag them out of the flow of the story.

For the sake of making the story easy to read (in a tense moment with a wolf in the kitchen and climbing closer, every sentence is precious!) I defaulted to 'foot rest' which I think is a happy medium between accurate and easy to understand.

Of course, now that I've crawled this far down the rabbit hole of furniture names, I should talk to a carpenter about the (American) technical term and drop a reference to it earlier in the chapter: "I'd seen Will making these chairs, shaping the legs on a lathe and fitting the whojiwhatsit bar between them," to lead seamlessly to "The wolf put a paw on the whojiwhatsit of my chair." Sort of a Chekhov's spacer bar. Or perhaps I could run a quiz for my readers and see what the average Omega Blues fan calls that part of a chair—not necessarily technically accurate, but at least most people would know what I'm talking about.

But this is the sort of small detail that I get caught up in, and the reason it took me two and a half years to edit my last novel. The whole point of making Omega Blues a serial story was to hold myself accountable: I have to get a chapter edited every week, whether or not I know the correct or common word for a chair's rung.

With that out of the way, here's the link to the new chapter of my m/m werewolf romance, Omega Blues on free serial-fiction site Wattpad! This chapter is called Kitchen Wolves and has—whoa!—wolves turning up in the kitchen.

Omega Blues is a free serial story, with a new chapter uploaded every week. So you can read it as it's uploaded and enjoy the thrill of waiting (like with oldschool TV shows) or you can wait until it's finished and read the whole novel at once!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

New werewolf m/m romance chapter!

The third chapter of my Jagged Rock spin-off novel, Omega Blues, is now up on Wattpad!

Omega Blues is a full-length novel that I update with a chapter every week. So you can read it weekly if you like the excitement of seeing new chapters every week, or you can wait until it's all finished and read it in one binge.

I wrote the draft for Jagged Rock a little over a year ago, but I'm editing the chapters weekly. This is my first time writing a serial story and one of the cool things I'm seeing is all the distinct memories with each edited chapter, instead of the vague mass of memories that jumble up after editing a whole novel over months.

Work was full-on this week and I traveled out of town for a punk festival, so I ended up editing the chapter while sitting on the door between bands. Now I have a double set of great memories: all the fantastic bands and people, and finishing a fresh chapter of Omega Blues.

I hope you enjoy the new chapter and are looking forward to fresh story and fresh memories in weeks to come!

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Best Magicians

 “Ninety percent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact.”
― Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

What is it about magic that makes it so addictive?

Sure, we'd all love superpowers. But real-world magicians are fascinating for the way they can make the impossible seem possible. I love movies about magicians in the same way that I love heist movies or a great crime TV show (my favorites are the Ocean's Trilogy, Guy Ritchie's blockbusters and TV show Elementary): The thrill of seeing a problem that can't be solved, then watching it get solved anyway.

While writing Coin Tricks, my novel with a street magician romantic lead, I had a great excuse to delve into stories about magicians. Here are my three favorites, and what I think makes them so great.

HellblazerComic book series

From the Hellblazer wiki

What makes John Constantine a stand-out magician is how seldom he uses magic.

Each volume of the comics follows an arc: John gets into trouble, he wise-cracks as the mystery deepens and he digs himself further into trouble as you start to think his enemies are stronger/better/smarter than him, then finally (usually in the last few pages of the comic) he delivers a scathing come-back and a simple piece of magic that bring him out victorious.

Still of Keanu Reeves from the 2005 movie Constantine

Hellblazer hasn't translated to the screen well. First Keanu Reeves played JohnConstantine deadpan and skilled at fisticuffs with a comic-relief sidekick. Nearly 10 years later the TV show cast Matt Ryan as closer to the Sting-inspired comic book John Constantine. Unfortunately that decade delay between the movie and the show saw 10 years of Supernatural, a show with similar themes and a character (Castiel) dressed to look like Constantine. The sad fact is that by the time Constantine hit the screens, Constantine's image was already familiar and all the angel-and-demon themes had been done to death.
Matt Ryan as magician John Constantine
Misha Collins as angel Castiel in Supernatural

Butlike how I prefer the monster-of-the-week early format of SupernaturalI think the best Hellblazer comics aren't about a grand war between angels and demons, they're about a dirty magician just trying to get by.

Highlights include the time Constantine embarrassed a whole group of white supremacists, the time he tricked a monstrous talking dog not to attack him by rolling on his back in a posture of submission, or that time a demon melded a gang of hooligans into one ferocious monster which Constantine destroyed by pointing out that different parts of it supported different football teams (so it tore itself apart).


Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige

The Prestige is brilliant even if you don't frame it as a Batman vs Wolverine movie with illusion and sleight-of-hand in the place of superpowers. With an all-star cast and writer/director Christopher Nolan (of Inception, The Dark Knight and Memento fame, the latter two and The Prestige were also written with his Jonathan Nolan), it's no surprise that The Prestige is a complex and psychologically thrilling tale that's beautiful to look at.

But what makes it the best magic film is the contrast between the different magiciansthe two stars and their fabricators/mentors and assistants all have their own perspectives on magic and we're shown these different views seamlessly as part of the plot and character development. It's especially satisfying to see the difference in a successful magician who wants to be famous and out-do his rivals, contrasted with a successful magician who just wants to surprise and satisfy people and to hear their applause.


Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning novel is a brilliant blend of the pulp and the literary, showing that an intricate and emotionally-driven plot dealing with death, war, race and sexuality can still fit beside pop culture elements like comic books and superheroes.

All too often we're told that anything fun is frivolous and superheroes only belong in popcorn-selling blockbuster movies, and that if a novel isn't serious and difficult to read then it can't be edifying so isn't worth reading.

I never understood the appeal of the Golden Age of Comics until I read Kavalier and Clay. The plot focuses on two comic book creators in 1940's New York City and their struggles to create art (while getting paid) in the midst of war and turmoil. Their most famous creation, The Escapist, is inspired by Houdini, and both comic creators are passionate about performance magic. There's so much passion and joy in this novel (as well as plenty of misery and heartbreak), and it's so vividly written that you feel exactly what it was like to be a young comics creator in the boom of comics and superheroes.

Magic and magicians weave their way through a twisting tale which also features superheroes, comic books, a massive clay golem and exquisite prose. What's not to love?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Omega Blues: chapter 2

Chapter two of my Wattpad serial m/m romance is now live!

Omega Blues is the spin-off sequel to Jagged Rock. Both stories are completely free to read.

Being a werewolf has always felt like a curse to Bren, even after he's let into a friendly pack of mostly-humans led by his alpha nephew Will. The Jagged Rock Pack are friends and members of a rock band, standing together even after their vocalist came out as a werewolf. It's Will's plan to turn all the members of the band into werewolves, and that sounds like a great plan... except for Matt.Matt is funny and kind and endlessly helpful, the sort of guy anyone would want for a friend. Unfortunately, as a werewolf he's marked out to be an omega which comes with its load of weaknesses and agonies.It's Bren's job to look after Matt and help him with the transformation. He didn't plan on falling for him, especially because Bren's never felt anything like love or attraction before. It's another complication in his already difficult life.Matt's had a crush on Bren from the moment they met, and he loves teasing and flirting. He's delighted to think he might have a chance.Matt would do anything to become a werewolf, and Bren would do anything to stop him. How can the two have a chance at happiness or a life together?

Saturday, 5 March 2016

First chapter of my free Wattpad story!

Nearly two years ago I wrote a free novel called Jagged Rock for the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. It featured a college rock band with a werewolf for a vocalist, and enough characters that I've always wanted to write spin-off sequels about them finding their happy endings.

Introducing Omega Blues!

Omega Blues is the story of omega werewolf Bren and human bass-player Matt. I wanted to make it free and as I've always loved the thrill of serial stories, I decided to write one and give readers the experience that I've always loved.

Omega Blues is available free on Wattpad, a site for sharing free serial fiction. I'll upload a new chapter each week so you can follow the story weekly, or wait until it's finished to read the whole thing.

If you're worried about reading something that won't get finished: don't! I have a complete first draft and, while it needs extensive revision, I have at least the total framework for the novel.

I am thoroughly looking forward to the serial writing experience, and I hope you're looking forward to reading it!