___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

in the white of the snow

Here’s a short story, available to read for free on the Daily Science Fiction website. It’s actually a fantasy piece, rather than a science fiction piece, but free thinkers that the editors Jonathan and Michele are, they’ve been nice enough to publish it on their site.

Daily Science Fiction publishes a story every weekday, with a big email subscribers list, ensuring that anyone who’s signed up – for free, too, they’re not charging you  - gets a new short story, usually short enough to read in five or ten minutes, delivered into his inbox Monday to Friday. Can’t say fairer than that. Free subscription sign up here. Writers can find submissions guidelines and payment rates here.  

IN THE WHITE OF THE SNOW by Mark Patrick Lynch

In the white of the snow, dusk-stained and bordering on invisible, the footprints were increasingly harder to follow. The curled moon was of little use to see by. It turned the land grey. Clouds would soon make everything dark. We’d have to use our electric torches then, and that could ruin it all.

“We’re too slow. We’re not going to make it.” Prentice halted, bringing me to a stop also. He paused to reclaim his breath. “Once we’re in the wood it’ll be like midnight. We’ll never find her.”

Continue reading by clicking here.

Or you can go through the Free Fiction section to get to it.

ten questions

1) What is the title of your Book?
Hour of the Black Wolf.

2) Where did the idea come from? 

I don’t think there was one specific originating point for this one. Ideas drift around idly in the deep currents of your subconscious, bump into one another, cling together and expand. If you’re lucky the better ones come to the surface. If you’re unlucky, the bad ones turn up. You know, things like – But then again, no, perhaps wiser not to go there.

The way I remember it, for a long time I’d had the idea about writing something based around one of the European landscape painters who first went to North America. Confronted with a whole new world, in effect, what must it have been like? Wild, untamed vistas everywhere. New geologies. All to capture in paint. Thing was, I didn’t have the resources to properly research it, let alone the skill set required to produce such a novel. 

But I liked the idea of an artist in the Wild West, and over time and through some arcane process of evolution I thought it would be interesting to use the artist as someone gigging as a Wanted poster illustrator. Characters tend to present themselves to me more than plot ideas. Plot can be found through exploring your character. That character of someone exploring the Wild West with pencil and brush rather than with a sidearm stuck. Not so much of the macho. You know?

Anyway, when I learned that Robert Hale were open to unsolicited submissions for Westerns, that character jumped back up onto my shoulder and said, much like Jim Kerr but with a different voice, “Don’t you forget about me” and I started writing to see what would happen.

3) What genre best defines your book? 

Western. More the entertaining end of the genre than the thoughtful, literary market. We’re not talking historically – or even geographically – accurate here. But it’s a fun read. Or is supposed to be.

4) What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

Hm. Well, I jokingly had the two male protagonists down as younger versions of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne when I was asked this a while ago, but when I was writing the book they were only references for myself. Ciphers really. In real life, I don’t know who’d play anything. I guess Dick Dastardly would be a good villain. You know, the whole twirly moustache thing. Were he still alive, John Denver would have done well as the Reverend.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Sheriff Gus Dudgeon attempts to keep alive a witness who could reveal the identity of the feared outlaw Black Wolf, while Gus’s friend, former Texas Ranger Will Tayling, fights the Wolf’s gang to bring a wanted poster artist into town to draw up an illustration of the outlaw.

6) Is the book self-published or represented by an agency? 

The book’s in print, published in the summer of 2012 by Robert Hale Ltd, under their Black Horse Western imprint. It wasn’t represented by an agency. I subbed it directly to the publishers.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Ten days. Had a first draft just shy of 72,000 words.

Believe me, things don’t normally happen for me as quickly as that. I just happened to have fourteen days without any commitments, and those fourteen days coincided with a stint of good health. It’s remarkable the things you can do when your biorhythms are in sync.

I started writing on the first day and instead of stopping at an acceptable word-count, or at the point where I’d usually have to give up through tiredness, I just kept going, producing four to eight thousand words a day, sometimes more than that. At times I felt sad to be breaking off to go to sleep at night. Ten days of that and I had my first draft.

What did I do with the spare days after I’d finished the first draft? Sat around drinking decaff tea and feeling smug and a bit of a buzz.


8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think it most closely resembles the movies I remember watching as a kid, and aspects of the Western TV series being screened back then, than the Westerns I read. Though no particular story in particular. Certainly the made-to-measure characters and set locations come from my hazy memories of The Lone Ranger and Bonanza and even Champion the Wonder Horse. Maybe Champion the Wonder Horse accounted for the role of a couple of kids in the piece, now that I think about it. 

9) Who or what inspired you to write the book?

It was a set of circumstances. I’d written four books to this point, published a couple of handfuls of short stories in various genres ranging from science fiction to mainstream to chick lit. But the first book was wallowing in slush piles with agents. Because of the very slow response times I was getting – as the manuscript was mused over and kicked up the chain of command to head agents, seemingly enjoyed, and then mused over again as they met with the harsh economics of “is this commercial enough for us to spend time with?” – I’d written new books while the first was still stuck in the never-never world of presentations. 

It was taking six months a time to get nowhere and I’d manuscripts that no agent had yet seen, let alone presented to a publisher. When I saw that there’d be somewhere to send the Western to, and because, as I said above, there was the window in which to try to get a first draft down, I went for it. And had a fun time doing it. And whaddayaknow, I got a published book out of it, brought out by a long-established, respected publisher, and it happened without the complications of involving the middlemen and women and worrying about all of that “business” stuff. It really was that easy.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The theme of the book, if I may be so bold as to suggest there is a theme, is identity. I have some fun in the book playing about with that theme in ways that you wouldn’t be able to do in, say, a movie. So far the reviews for the book have managed to avoid spoilers, which I’m happy about. There’s a little trick in the book that I’m quite pleased with, and readers’ reactions to it so far have been a lot of fun. 

experiments in ebooks (ii)

So having embarked upon the self-publishing route via, in this case at least, Amazon Kindle, you’ve come up with something of a reasonable length for people to download onto their eReader.

But it’s too soon to go ahead and throw caution aside and wait expectantly for your sales to shoot up and hit the million mark just yet.

First of all we’ve got to deal with the most important bit of all. Making sure the writing’s as good as it can be.

More than any other aspect of self-publishing, this is the part I’m most concerned about. Before my book HOUR OF THE BLACK WOLF was published, it was read by an editor and copy-editor, proofed and screened by eyes other than my own. (Though I did look over it too.) All with a view to catching mistakes and fixing them. There’s a simple rule: the more people there are looking at your book to make it better, the better your book’s going to be. And when the people looking at your book are professionals, that counts twice.

Much as it will be a help to have trusted friends look over your manuscript, the chances are they’re not professionals. They’re almost certainly not getting any money for doing it for you, are they? But it doesn’t make their comments invalid. You may not like what they have to say, but they’ve flagged things for a reason.

Listen to them, take on board what they say. Then be even harder on the work yourself.

Revise and revise it until you’re sick of the sight of it, so that you can’t even open the document file without feeling sick. I want you to think that the gears in your head are grinding to a halt because you’re working so hard on it. I want you to think you're having a seizure.

And then when you’ve done that, here’s what I want you to do.

Do it once more.

Do it line by line. Do it word by word. And don’t forget that you need a good overview of what’s going on, too. Otherwise you can lose sight of the bigger picture and wind up with a bunch of perfectly composed sentences that don’t work when you put them together.

Here’s the opening to the rough first draft of “What I Wouldn’t Give.”

When I first set eyes on Chrissie Rhodes I thought she was the kind of girl who took the weather with her. She had the most gorgeous blue eyes, hair the soft yellow of glorious honey, and a complexion that would make the marble statues in the Vatican look flawed. Standing under a long green awning outside an expensive hotel, she was ducking out of the rain as the pavements stained dark and people vanished into the stores for cover. The kind of shot you’d expect to see of a lonely heroine at the beginning of a romantic movie.
It was raining with a vengeance but for a long gliding sail of sunlight that lit the pavement and the awning around her, and I didn’t think twice about pulling over and stopping, even though I knew I’d pay hell trying to get back into traffic and much more if she were a cop in part of a sting operation. She came out from under her shelter, holding a large purse over her head to stop from getting soaked by the big spattering drops and she carried something long and thin that reminded me of an art folder in a flapping white plastic bag with her other hand.

I’d no idea, other than that it sounded like a Crowded House song, what that first line was about. As the story progressed and I learned more about Chrissie and her relationship to the protagonist – a private hire cab driver with a desperately ill son – I was able to go back and fix the line, give it some resonance with what was to follow. Here's what I changed it to:

When I first set eyes on Chrissie Rhodes, I thought she was the kind of girl who could make the heavens sing.
She was a piece of work, all right, with strong blue eyes, soft yellow hair, straight white teeth, and one of those tanned complexions you see airbrushed to perfection on the covers of supermarket magazines.
Standing under a long, green awning outside an expensive hotel in the middle of the city of York, she’d ducked out of the rain just as the pavements began to stain and people vanished into the stores for cover. Ancient architecture darkened around her and the past whirled about on leathery wings. It was the kind of shot you’d expect to see at the beginning of a romantic movie.
A gliding sail of sunlight lit her amidst the old stonework, and I didn’t think twice about pulling over and stopping, even though I’d pay hell trying to get back into traffic. It was all instinct on my part, even then.
Acting without thinking. Being lured on by some desire I wasn’t prepared to admit to.
As soon as it arrived, the sunlight passed over her, leaving her suddenly small and lost, and the deluge began. Thick heavy rain accompanied by rumblings of thunder.

The rest of the revision is pretty much self-explanatory. It was about making it neater, giving a sense of place and upping the pace. Take out the gruesome clichés and replace them with some prettier ones. (Though of course, ideally, we don’t have clichés at all.) It’s not literature as we know it, Jim, but it’s the best I could do with what I had.

This line here

Acting without thinking. Being lured on by some desire I wasn’t prepared to admit to.

could do with an explanatory note. Purists might argue that it would be better presented as

Acting without thinking; being lured on by some desire to which I wasn’t prepared to admit.

And while that’s as maybe, it’s always worth remembering Elmore Leonard’s Golden Rule. If something reads like writing, rewrite it so that it doesn’t.

Our protagonist is speaking to us in the first person. We’ve got to allow for some grammatical quirks in that, to create that impression. Even though we know that really we’re reading a story.

It doesn’t give you licence to throw in every cliché and stock phrase under the moon, just “because people talk like that”; we are, after all, trying to produce something of beauty here, however grim and squalid it might be. But it means we don’t have to follow every strict rule of usage to the letter.

All of this stuff has to be thought about. Maybe not in first draft form – I certainly didn’t; in the first draft it was about finding out what happened in the story – but in the revisions. And when it comes to revising to self-publish (or, for that matter, to try and sell to a magazine or anthology), it’s equally important. You’ve got to do the work. I can't emphasise that enough. You’ve got to make each line as good as it can be, while being aware of every single line and word in relation to all the other words and lines in your piece.

It’s hard work. But you have to do it. Be aware of repetition. Be aware of trying too hard not to repeat words. Be aware of everything you can be aware of. Otherwise why are you bothering? What was the point?

And finally, once you’ve finished and made it the absolute best it can be, you’ve got to forgive yourself for failing. Because it can never be perfect. Because no matter how good you are you are not a god. As soon as someone else reads it they’ll find flaws. And when that happens, as it will, you can only be honest with yourself and hold your hand up and say I did the best I could.

Anything less is the crime, not that you didn’t make a perfect piece of art.

so i asked and she replied

It’s a funny thing, dialogue attribution. One of the greats, and therefore not to be ignored lightly, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, suggests there are only two valid ways of writing it: “he said”; “she said”.Stephen King says pretty much the same on this in his book On Writing, and it’s advice well worth following. Like out friend Dutch, he knoweth of what he speak.

But you have to be a bit careful following to the letter what writers tell you is sound advice, the kind of thing that later gets set in stone as rules. You can read Jeffrey Archer’s advice and consider that. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is worth taking a look at and considering carefully. But sometimes you’ve got to break the rules. Elmore Leonard’s rules are good for Elmore Leonard, and for writing Elmore Leonard books. They might not be good for you. Or me. Or for the books we’re writing.

But, for the most part – and I say most part because rules are meant to be broken now and again – I’m with Messers Leonard and King. He said. She said. Keep it simple. Let the characters talk. Overhear what they’re saying.

When dialogue attribution gets out of hand - all that “he retorted, she returned,” stuff - it turns the page into a sparring ground. Worse, it distracts from what the characters are actually saying. Ink clutter. It’s like static. Remember, you’re reading with your eyes, listening through your eyes. Put too much clutter either side of what’s being said and you can miss what is being said.

Jane Austin hardly used dialogue attribution at all. You’ll find the odd bit here and there in her work, but for the most part, she just lets you listen to the dialogue with your eyes. It’s a nice trick if you can pull it off. Jonathan Carroll, in his earlier, first person books, does it elegantly and without fuss.

Surprisingly, so does Martina Cole, in her East End gangster novels. Which is sort of what I’ve been getting around to. And the main thrust propelling this blog post forward.

Recently people were invited to send Martina some questions via Twitter. She’d answer some of the questions sent on a video on You Tube.

I asked her about her use of dialogue attribution, the s/he said stuff, and the fact she rarely uses it. She replied here.

But she didn’t really answer my question.

Maybe there was static in it somewhere.

But it was nice of her to spare me the time and talk a little about her writing.

small acts of kindness

It's well meant. There's no malice in it. None at all.

"You know, sometimes I get tired as well . . ."

Said ever so sympathetically, of course, as if to a suspected simpleton, one who hasn't worked out that simplest of truths, that when you do something – exert yourself – you burn up energy and are going to wind up tired. Maybe even exhausted if you've really done a lot.

"You know?"

With a smile. A sweet smile. And knowing eyes.

Well, yes, actually. Yes, I do know that when you do things it tires you, that other, perfectly healthy people, get tired too. I've figured that much out.

But I don't say as much.

Something else I don't say. I don't say to a blind person, You know, sometimes, when it's dark, I can't see either . . .

Because that's not only tactless, it's cruel. And the people who tell me that they get tired as well are not, in any way, shape, or form, being cruel. Tactless, perhaps, maybe even a little thoughtless. But no, there's no cruelty there.

It begins, as so much seems to begin, with an assumption. And the assumption here is kindness. You look, for the most part, perfectly fine. Perhaps you're a little pale, a little run down. But there's no obvious disadvantage. You're not, if you're one of the lucky ones, in a wheelchair. You're not holding yourself up on sticks or crutches (though I have been there and done that and don't particularly want to do it again). So as a small act of kindness, it's okay to tell you that sometimes they get tired too. Maybe that will sink in, and you'll pull yourself together and stop being so depressingly needy and tired and so all-about-you.

You could take offence. You could feel misunderstood. You could feel patronised.

My advice is not to. Because of where that kindness is coming from. It's well meant. There's no malice in it. None at all.

It is, in fact, a small attempt at someone trying to step into your shoes and walk a mile in them. It's a person extending empathy in your direction.

Unless, of course, it isn't; and it's just someone blundering in thoughtlessly, telling you to get a grip and stop whining.

experiments in e-books (i)

So you’ve written your novel, your novella, your short story, your short story collection. Maybe you’ve written more than one novel. Maybe you have short stories coming out of your ears. And perhaps you’ve had some luck finding homes for the stories and even the odd novel. You’ve flirted with mainstream publishing – by which I mean an established publisher of books, rather than a guy producing his own imprint out of his bedroom (honourable and noble enough though this is of him) – and it didn’t lead to a lifelong romance. You still love writing. You still love books. Your heart’s not broken, but possibly it’s bruised.

You’ve got a novel that’s not seen print. Maybe more than one. You’ve a hundred thousand words or so of short stories that never really found a home. That novella, who was ever going to publish it anyway? I mean, come on, realistically. It would be commercial suicide on a publisher’s part. And besides, you didn’t really know whose door to knock on to help get it into print in the first place.

So . . .

At some point the lure of the e-book gets to you. If it’s not at the top of your list of publishing ambitions, then somewhere further down – take a glance below “Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature” and search somewhere around “Getting At Least One Person To Buy Your Book At A Book Signing” – you’ll eventually find it. Straight-to-e-book, like the good old days of straight-to-video.

But is it a good idea?

I think the only answer to that is “it depends”.

Depends on how much work goes into it, depends on how much work you want to put into it, depends on who’s publishing it, depends on what your expectations for it are, depends on what exactly it is you’re publishing.

For the sake of brevity (and because it’s something I have a clue about) we’ll stick to publishing fiction.

The first and finest course a book can take to print is still through a mainstream publisher. Some – many – self-published authors who’ve had some success may dispute that. They’ll talk about how much more they’re earning by selling directly through Amazon or Smashwords etc, how they wouldn’t give away their back catalogue unless they had a bigger stake in the royalties than any publisher will offer, creative control in promotion, and a bunch of other things up to and including someone to pet their poodle while they use the lavatory. (I exaggerate, of course, for comedic effect. But only a little.)

It’s interesting to hear them talk. To a point.

Because mostly all they seem to talk about is the money. Every self-published e-book author you read interviewed or talking on the net usually starts off by telling you how much money he’s making. He tends to gloss over the actual writing and craft. Read some of the stuff that comes through into printed books after it’s found success electronically and you could believe that the quality of the writing was hardly ever a concern in the first place. At least not to the writer.

Often all it would take to fix those books is someone casting a sharp, critical eye over the manuscript and offering suggestions to improve things here and there. Like making the lead character’s name consistent throughout the book or pointing out that it’s quite a feat of biology to “shake his hand with a warm smile”.

There are things every writer needs, from the initial sympathetic (or stern) feedback from early drafts, to editing, copy-editing, proof reading, and even to someone saying “Hey, you know, this sucks. But if we delete this chapter and move this one here…” I won’t pretend all mainstream publishers give you that. The industry has changed from what it once was and there are now writers who’ve never met an editor in person and have just seen the Word file sent to the publishers printed and bound and out on the shelves. But for the most part, your chances of getting the things you most need to make your book better than it was come from being published by professionals.

The next question up is how can you tell the professionals from the hopeful amateurs?

The answer is it isn’t always easy. Especially in the case of small e-book publishers, which is what we’re concerned with here. Some e-book publishers are taking on plenty of half-decent and good works (often from writers who’ve fallen off the track of mainstream publishing) in the hope that one of them goes viral and starts selling in big numbers. And that’s fair. It’s commerce, which is what they’re interested in. But is that good for you?

Swings and roundabouts.

Although some of these e-book publishers will take the drudgery of producing the books and setting them out in the correct(ish) format and provide a cover, and they may even offer some feedback and editing, it’s doubtful that they’ll invest in you as heavily as a publisher sinking money into actual print copies. You’ll be listed on their imprint’s homepage, promoted in newsletters, linked to from their site. But beyond that… Well. Lap of the Gods stuff.

But you will have had one very important boost if you are picked up by one of these e-book firms. Someone will have read your work (unless the whole thing’s a con act, like old vanity press publishing) and deemed it worthy to see print. And that is satisfying indeed and gives a certain sort of stamp of approval. It legitimises what you’re doing. Takes away that whiff of desperation self-publishing often carries with it.

Something worth considering, then.

But what are your expectations? And how are they limited by opting to try your luck with a small e-book publisher?

If you want to put the books up on Amazon at the lowest list price (local sovereign currencies around the world will automatically adjust to the 99 cent lowest list price offered in the USA), an indie imprint e-book publisher is unlikely to help you there. Most indie imprint e-books sell for 1.99 to 4.99, depending. If you want to run promotional offers, or discount coupons, then the same issue is going to arise. And what if you’ve a variety of e-books you’d like to put up, in various genres? So far indie imprints seem to be as conservative, in their own way, as mainstream publishers who’d baulk at you handing in a crime novel after a science fiction thriller after a love story.

Maybe self-publishing is the way you’ll want to go if that’s the case.

It’s what I’ve tentatively decided to do with a few things that, for one reason or another, I’ve never really been all that confident will find a safe home elsewhere.

And so, as an experiment, learning as I go, I’m putting up on Amazon a 15,800-word novella or novelette, whatever you want to call it, depending on where the ever-shifting distinctions between the two are at right now, to see what will happen.

It’s called What I Wouldn't Give, and I’ll talk through the stages of starting out from nowhere – beginning with the writing – to the end point and actually coming up with product descriptions and listing the book on Amazon. I guess I’ll learn about the marketing as I go.

Stick around. Could be interesting.

no such thing as a free e-book


Reading shouldn’t be elitist. And yet so few of us can read. The statistics – variable, of course, because they’re statistics – suggest that only something like 20% of the world’s population can read.

Think about that. Only 20%. And in the 21st century (by Western calendars, anyway) too, when there should be spaceships to the colonies on Mars and robot butlers catering to our every whim, energy beamed down from solar arrays, tight white one-piece auto-cleaning suits, and oddly retro futuristic electro music in the air.

By reading a single morning newspaper you’ll have devoured more conceptual information in written form than most of the world’s population, since history began, will get or have come across in a lifetime.

For a long time the delivery mechanism for words has been pretty simple.

Paper. Alphabet. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Print.

But that’s changing. The payload’s pretty much the same, only the delivery system is different. That’s the part that’s changing. Electronic publications. Words and whispers of words through the e-ther. Computer screens. Pad screens. Tablet screens. Mobile phone screens. E-reader screens.

The stray sheet of newspaper print, blown like tumbleweed down a street to wrap around someone’s shin, is turning into an anachronism. Printed media’s circulation numbers is shrinking all the time. The trees might be happier for this. Forests might heave an oxygenated sigh of relief that the larger presence of Gaia herself might be thankful for. But while something is gained there, something is lost elsewhere.

It makes reading ever more elitist.

Where once there was the chance for the most lowly to trace a finger across a line of a badly bruised second-hand (or loaned from the library) book or newspaper or magazine and work lips to shape words, soon there will be only words behind glass screens, museum pieces that are never quite understood or explained to the poor. Museum curators may have to give explanations as to what everything is behind those screens, because a culturally stricken people who never had the chance to truly learn to read and value books – probably they’re not in the museum either unless it’s to duck out of the rain, because poverty narrows horizons and results in the worst near-sightedness – won’t know, and will be scared by the prepossessing air of entitlement that the higher classes, the educated, possess. Books, fiction and non-fiction, will be treated by some with the wrong kind of reverence.

But this change seems almost inevitable. Even now there are those who think closing libraries is not a disaster. It’s only a percentage of libraries being closed anyway, they argue. And look, who goes to the library but those who already read and have a lot of books in the house? If you can’t afford a book from the shops – assuming there will be any bookstores on the high street – then you can always download a free e-book. There are loads of them. Hundreds. Thousands. All those books that have fallen out of copyright . . .

Except . . .

Except there is no such thing as a free e-book.

You need an e-reader, which costs money. You need broadband internet access, which costs money. You need electricity, to power the e-reader and the internet access, and that costs money. And you need an acceptable credit or debit card to open an account at your online bookstore of choice. And that means you need money, because the banks don’t give away those cards without some money from you to begin with.

And in twelve months you’re probably going to need a new e-reader or tablet or pad or graphenescreen or whatever new tech is out there, because your old reader’s going to be out of date and unable to download the latest bestseller. And that costs money . . .

Whatever it is and whatever it’s going to be in the future – and in many ways it’s welcome, freeing up information, getting pre-existing readers to read more, encouraging others to write more – the e-book isn’t free.

We’re just not sure what the true cost is yet.

hour of the black wolf -- a review

There's some rather nice words about HOUR OF THE BLACK WOLF up on the Western Fiction Review blog, right here. Thanks to Steve for writing that. He flatters me, so do be warned. A guy could blush.

publishing and how to avoid it

It’s really not what I thought.

When I was a kid – and a not very smart young adult – I thought all you did was write your book, type it up, and then take it down to the local library.

You’d hand your weighty tome across the counter. Some helpful librarian would regard you with stupefied awe because you’d actually Written A Book. And then said librarian would take your precious manuscript into the bowels of the building (actually, as a kid, my local library was a narrow, mid-row terrace with both its small downstairs rooms knocked into one and shelved with books, no real room for any bowels, though it did possess a legend about its cellar and secret tunnel used by a local highwayman, but that’s a story for another time) and once in those bowels printing presses of mysterious metals and grim inks would be charged up and a book or ten made and put on the lending shelves.

If the book was taken out enough, then maybe the library would go on to print enough of them to sell in WH Smiths, where people went if they wanted to buy a book and not just borrow it.

If you got really lucky, enough people bought it and made you rich and you got one of those jackets with leather elbow-patches and eventually sunk a swimming pool in your back garden.

That was my thinking.

It took me a while to figure out that things didn’t work like that. Slowly the shuttle weaved in and out and my mind began to pick up the thread of how publishing actually worked. Unsolicited submissions. Rejections. Small Press print. Rejections and acceptances. Vanity Presses. Always acceptances – for a fee. Agents. Rejections and acceptances and then despair when the books can’t be sold. Publishers. Rejections. And then an acceptance. Editors. Rewrites. Copy Editors. Arguments. Oh, you know. The whole kit and caboodle.

And somewhere amongst all of that it’s easy to forget that a book has to be written, rewritten, refined and found to be of commercial value. And that last is the real kicker. Commercial value. Meaning it has to fit in. It has to make money, or be thought likely to make money. Just because it’s good enough to be in print doesn’t necessarily mean it will see print. That one in particular was a hard lesson for me to learn when two agents who were interested in my stuff reluctantly came to the conclusion they didn’t think they could sell it. 

So in some ways I prefer my naive version of publishing. It seems nicer, more geared up towards writing and what we might, just now and again, call art.

I suppose the advent of the e-book, in particularly Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing facility, is making my old and naive notion of what publishing is about a reality. For good or ill, regarding the quality of the work. You write your book, type it up, then show it to the world and see what happens.

But there’s a crucial difference. Libraries were open to everyone in my world. You didn’t need to find a hundred notes to buy an e-reader or have to be able to afford broadband internet access... My naive notion of publishing wasn't that elitist. 

Commerce. It gets everywhere.

PS – Did I mention my book’s available to buy here?

it still says bum on the passport

So at the end of July I get to be a published novelist -- if you want to stretch the definition and include Westerns in the classification of novel.

What do you mean “It’s a book, so of course you’re a novelist”?

Ah, sweet, naive you. Sweet naive me, too. But I’ve learned it doesn’t really work that way.

While no one can ever take away the fact that I’ll have written and published a book with a respected publisher, the type of book I’ll have published will certainly weight people’s prejudices.

“A Western? What, cowboys and stuff?”

“Uhm. Yes.”

“Oh dear.”

Some writers will tell you that they’ve enormous admiration and respect for anyone who can trot out the required number of words and make them something like cohesive, throwing in characterisation and plot and maybe even some nice prose every now and again. While others...

Hmm. Putting it politely, as they rarely do: You do it properly and aim for high art or you’re a hack.

There’s long been a clash between mainstream and genre publishing. It’s best summed up with that old nugget regarding the definitions of what’s science fiction and what’s literature. “If it’s science fiction it can’t be good, and if it’s good it can’t be science fiction.” Thus SF pieces like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are secreted out of genre and given a spit and polish and promoted as mainstream literature. While some fine SF novels, Dune or The Fountains of Paradise say, are happily left in the ghetto.

There’s not even the single ghetto, either. There are plenty of them. Crime’s a ghetto. Fantasy. Romance. Chick Lit. Sad Git Lit (as I call the writers producing the male equivalent of Chick Lit). Even historical fiction. And you can bet your bottom dollar and all the phlegm in the spittoon that the Western is a ghetto area too. Mainstream is the exalted place, standing high and remote above all others. To some writers at least. Even if mainstream fiction takes so much from genre, sadly to its detriment without its writers even knowing it.

Me, I guess I’ll just keep bumming around. But just in case it offends anyone, I won’t be putting “Writer” down on the passport any time soon.


So here, as a bit of fun, is a chibi version of the cover of the Western. It's nice when people do nice things for you. Here's Dee Skye's interpretation of the original artwork. You could go look at Dee's other stuff here.

talking to myself

So, this is the blog. Well, a blog. My blog.

We’ve yet to see how often it will be updated and how much of what does actually get written here is worth reading. But as somewhere to begin, this is the beginning. It’s my intention to post some tales here, talk about stories, writing, publishing (and not publishing and self-publishing), science fiction and fantasy (what we loosely call speculative fiction if we don’t want to appear like hacks), crime fiction, mainstream fiction, Westerns, and of course the big bad bear in the woods.

The big bad bear in the woods is the scary thing. And quite rightly so. It’s the thing that gets you in the night, rears its head and snaps at you when you think you’re okay and happily wandering through the trees and enjoying the weather, maybe even thinking about what the Pope’s doing.

When the Links page is up and running properly, I’ll sort out some links to sites about ME and fibromyalgia.

I did consider not doing the ME/fibro thing. But it’d be hard not to talk about it in this blog. If I’m to be honest, then it’s a part of me. It’s shaped my life massively. Relationships, travel, work, writing... hard to imagine any of it being the same if I’d been a healthy person. It’s shaped this blog post, after all.

But there’s all the rest as well. You know, science, politics, life, art.

It’d be my pleasure if you to stick around and share that with me.

I’m Mark. Pleased to meet you.

hour of the black wolf - cover art

31 July 2012. Make a date.

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