___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.

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