Not exactly blocked but…

I didn’t get a blog post out yesterday and I’ve barely done anything to my novel in progress since Thursday. I’m not quite sure what’s wrong.

The lack of blog posts feels like it stems from me no having any ideas for posts. But I do. I think of them all the time it’s just that when I sit down to write they seem wrong. I can’t even quite define why the feel wrong but that’s one of the problems with creative work. You’ve got nothing but your instincts and if you stop trusting those then you’ve got nothing. You might as well be making mud pies with your keyboard because you’ve given up on quality control.

With the novel it’s a plot problem. I’m deep into re-writes and I’m trying to fill a hole so I can’t use any of my usual forward momentum tricks. I can’t skip the scene cause that’s what got me into this mess in the first place. I can’t go and write some other scene because I need to know what’s going on with this scene to continue. I don’t know where the scene should be going and my attempt to wing it went nowhere.

This isn’t writer’s block exactly. It’s more like being lost in the mist. A block prevents movement. The mist renders that movement meaningless and potentially counterproductive. Do I stand still and wait for the mist to clear or do I pick a direction and strike out and hope to eventually reach the edge?


Five Years Later

This week marked the 5th anniversary of the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett. I still miss him. Which is a weird thing to say about someone that I met exactly once and then only in the context of a book signing. I really mean that I miss his work,I miss his unique viewpoint, I miss his insight.

The week he died I wrote two blog posts about it, one about my feelings and one in tribute to him. Those posts are some of the best writing I’ve done. I went back and reread them this week because two of my Facebook friends re-shared the second one. See the end of this post for links.

Reading what I wrote then makes me pause and look back at my path as a writer. Five years later I am still trying, still writing, still improving and that’s good. But I also haven’t gone anywhere and that’s bad. That hurts.

I want to do for other people at least a little of what Sir Terry Pratchett did for me. I want to create worlds and I want to populate those worlds with characters that aren’t’ characters but people. I want readers to be able to take comfort, or at least welcome distraction, away from my worlds of story.

That still seems a long way off. If anything it seems less possible now than it did then. Then I thought I only needed to finish something. I assumed that I wouldn’t call it finished unless it was good and that as long as it was finished and good someone would want it. I didn’t realise that I’d never be 100% sure it was good. I didn’t realise that something can be good and still be the wrong kind of thing.

Here’s hoping that five years from now I’ll have taken at least one more step down the road.


Links to the original posts: Terry Pratchett is dead  and that is not ok.  A tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett.


Writing a ‘Strong Male Character’

I recently wrote about my current work in progress and how I’d accidentally made my protagonist into a ‘strong male character’, by which I meant that I’d made him into a gender swap of the ‘strong female character’ .

I started out to write a character who was, in part, a satire on male power fantasy characters but re-created for the female gaze. I grew up loving action movies but over time I realised that a lot of the characters I loved were somewhat problematic. They were violent, manipulative misogynists who perpetuated toxic ideas of masculinity. I set out to write a more rounded, less misogynistic character and to reveal what it costs a person to do all that action hero stuff.

In those action movies the female characters seem to be either damsels in distress or ‘strong female characters’. As a kid I hated the damsels but as an adult I’m coming to dislike the SFCs even more. The SFC is strong but that strength is defined by the male gaze. She can kick ass but she has to look good while doing it. If she wears armour then it’s boob plate and if she doesn’t then she’s showing an unnecessary amount of skin. She wears heels regardless of practicality. She has long hair and she doesn’t tie it up before kicking ass and it never gets in her eyes. She may be a-typically feminine but she still has to be decorative.

The SFC has stereotypically masculine skills which have to be explained in the dialogue because it’s totally unbelievable that a woman could fight, or code, or fix a car just because. She is surrounded by men (because she’s the only female character) and must constantly strive to prove herself to them. She has little to no character arc of her own, will help the hero even if it harms her own goals or beliefs and in the pinch she may still have to be saved by the hero. She helps the hero because she loves him and she loves him even if that makes no Goddamn sense.

The SFC is like a fluid that changes shape to fit the gaps in the plot. She’s not a person she’s a plot device with boobs.

My ‘strong male character’ isn’t that bad. For one thing he’s the protagonist so we see things mostly through eyes and he’s the one driving the plot. He’s a ‘men want to be him, women want to be with him’ type character but with the priorities flipped. Though once you find out how damaged he is you might change your mind about that.

So why am I saying he’s a ‘strong male character’ then? Well he is surrounded by women to whom he must constantly prove himself. He looks really good, even under circumstances when he should look terrible. He spends an inordinate amount of time shirtless (which is the female gaze equivalent of artfully torn clothing) and when he’s not shirtless he’s usually wearing tailored suits. When the female characters discuss him amongst themselves it’s in terms of his attractiveness. They’re not exactly objectifying him but they’re not exactly not objectifying him either.

I’m not sure what to do about this. Should I ramp up the ‘strong male character’ stuff as a subversion of the trope or should I continue my commitment to making him as well rounded as possible?


If you’ve found this interesting then why not check out this link to a comic on what the sexual objectification of the female gaze might do to a superhero.

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Today’s displacement activity is…

Notebooks, and journals, and organisers.

There’s something so hopeful about ordering a new planner or diary. Particularly if it comes with some sort of promise to sort out your life and help you to ‘get things done’. When the thing arrives there’s all that lovely busy work involved in filling in details and making plans and committing to goals. It all feels so very productive.

And none of it fucking works.

At least none of it works reliably for me personally. Your mileage may vary. Possibly you, dear reader, are not disorganised trash like me.

Putting all my appointments in a Google calendar that is synced to my phone calendar mostly works. It’s at least 90% successful as long as I remember to put the thing on the calendar and set an alarm for a couple of days before. But it only works for appointments.

As a person with ADHD, depression and fibromyalgia I need to be organised. I need to plan ahead. As a person with terrible executive function problems I am shitty at planning ahead. It’s not unusual for me to get up at the crack of 2pm and spend half an hour setting goals and making lists of the stuff I need to work on to achieve those goals and then immediately go and do something else instead.

I am so bad at following through that I could make a todo list that includes reading a book that I’m supposed to be reviewing, catching up with the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic and eating some chocolate and it would lead to me scrubbing the kitchen sink.

It’s starting to feel like I only ever achieve things by accident. I’m pretty sure that my 9+ first drafts and my one completed novel only exist because I was supposed to be tidying the house. I’m wrapped in a crochet shawl that only exists because I was supposed to be editing. I’m blogging because I just decided to crochet a hat. Earlier today I cleaned the hob rather than blog.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if I was doing any of these things properly. But i’m not. My books aren’t published, my blog is kind of bland, my kitchen is still a mess and my crochet mainly results in me spending too much money on yarn. But I recently backed a kickstarter for a really nice planner and this one has a SYSTEM. Surely this is the one that will finally work.


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I’m writing the best book ever but it’s trash.

Writing is such a bittersweet experience. I love the novel I’m writing but I’m also sick to the back teeth of it. I adore my characters but I think that most of them are arseholes and I’m killing a lot of them. I think the premise is either brilliant or cringe worthy and sometimes both at once.

My male lead has turned into a ‘strong male character’. That’s like a strong female character only, you know, male. I think that’s a brilliant deconstruction of the genre except when I think it’s lazy and derivative.

I love my opening. Except for when I’m sure that someone else must have done it before and done it better. I love the way my characters are introduced but I’m also sure that it’s taking too long to get to the plot. But I can’t see anything in there that I can cut. But it’s definitely taking too long.

That plot is going to take my characters to some interesting places and I am absolutely sure it sounds properly nuts. No one is going to take me seriously if I send them this but at least it isn’t derivative. Apart from all the bits that are.

Is it too gay? Not gay enough? Is the sex too straight? Should I just cut out all the sex? Should I add more?


Writing. It’s so much fun.


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The definition of insanity

I keep reading that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Sometimes it’s a quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein.

It’s kind of true. But it’s also kind of bullshit. Doing the same thing over and over is also known as practice and it’s how we get better at stuff. But making the same bad choices over and over and expecting them to somehow eventually work out in the end is a symptom of all kinds of mental illnesses.

So by making a plan to pitch at XPONorth again am I on the path to improvement or insanity?

I’m intending to pitch my novel of sexy super spies and occult shenanigans. I’m pretty sure that it’s not what they want. I seriously doubt that any of the serious Scottish publishers will be interested in a funny, dark, erotic, supernatural thriller. But what else can I do? I’ve got nothing else that’s close enough to finished, I can’t write the kind of novels they actually want and I can’t find any pitching opportunities that would put me in front of the kinds of agents and publishers that actually would be interested.

So I’m preparing to expend a lot of time and effort and money on something with virtually no hope of success because I can’t find any alternatives with a better chance of success. I could just do nothing at all but then I might as well be dead. I need to do something with my time to give me the illusion of meaning.

I know, intellectually, that my existence is ultimately meaningless but I’m not strong enough to face that down and keep going. I have to pretend that what I do matters so that I will keep doing it.

My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.

The last rejection

Well it’ll be the last rejection for a while at least.

Today I got the form rejection letter from the last agent I queried. I’m not going to query again straight away. I know that the standard advice is to query 100 agents and not to start panicking about your work until you’ve been turned down at least 80 times but I’m not sure there are 80 agents representing Urban Fantasy in the English speaking world. Good agents, anyway. And what’s the point in pissing off potential agents by querying them with a broken novel?

I don’t know if my novel is broken. I’ve had conflicting feedback. I need to think about it for a while. I probably need to sell a kidney so I can afford a development editor to tell me what’s wrong with it.

Or I could stick the whole thing out somewhere for free. Give up on the idea of ever earning anything back for my effort.

Or I could give up on it. Just stick it in a virtual drawer and try something else. I really don’t want to do that because I have plans for the characters and for the world. I have other novels that I’m working on that are linked to it. I wouldn’t just be giving up on that one story but on literally dozens of others.

At the moment I’m trying to work on one of the other stories in the hope that I can pitch that as the first in the series instead. If that one doesn’t work there’s maybe one more that I could use as the starting point but it’s a lot more work and maybe the whole thing is just doomed. Maybe these are stories that would never sell.

Perhaps it’s presumptuous to assume that there is a solution. That would be to assume that I can succeed at something and so far there’s no evidence to support that assumption. I’m not going to stop writing. I have to fill my time somehow. But I might give up on the idea of trying to get anyone else to read what I write.

Review – Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton

This is the second book in a series. I already reviewed the first one, Hell Holes: What Lurks Below. Like the first book this is a fast, exciting read and if you like books in which our world is not as it seems then you will probably like this.

The writer made the bold choice to use a different character as the first person narrator in this book. I think the choice worked to both extend the cliffhanger at the end of the first book and to give a slightly different perspective on the events of the first book.

I don’t like to hand out virtual cookies to male authors for being able to write convincing women. You’re an author. It’s your job.  However I think Donald Firesmith has done an excellent job of writing from a female point of view which is somewhat harder. This narrator has a different narrative voice than the narrator of the first book but the feel of the world of the story remains consistent which is not necessarily an easy feat to pull off.

My only real criticism is that there’s a lot of exposition. I think it’s a mostly unavoidable side effect of being the second book of a series that has a lot of world building going on. At least this exposition is well written and fits naturally into the dialogue scenes. The reader is learning stuff at the same time as the characters are.

All in all an excellent sequel that sets things up well for the third book.

And look at this. A wild link has appeared.

Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton.

Error 404: Brain not found

Sometimes my brain just doesn’t want to cooperate. Which is kind of a problem for a writer. You might assume that I mean writer’s block but I am a firm believer that there is no such thing. Nothing is stopping you from writing. It’s just that the writing isn’t fun, or it isn’t good, or it isn’t relevant to the thing you wanted to work on. The only way to deal with that is to keep writing and fix it in the edit.

The edit. Now that’s my problem. Editing is almost all brain work. Editing is “when we make the words not suck.” I think that’s a Chuck Wendig quote but I can’t find it so I might be wrong. Editing is not just tidying up the prose it’s also working out what’s missing and what’s extraneous. It means knowing roughly what shape the story should be.

At the moment my brain isn’t talking to itself. The normal chatter of thoughts is quieted. It’s eerie. Normally I’m thinking about eight million things simultaneously. Normally my biggest problem is getting enough of those thoughts to be about the thing that I’m working on. Normally the problem isn’t the silence it’s the deafening background noise.

My mind feels tight. Like a balloon, like a drum, like a pressure vessel. It feels like there are no moving parts in there. Maybe it’s just a migraine coming on. Or maybe it’s just stress. I am usually stressed enough for any two people.

Or maybe I’m just temporarily flattened by the crushing weight of the pointlessness of me attempting to do anything. I expend a lot of effort attempting to do things and most of it is wasted. I can reliably finish a computer game. I can read all of a book (but not every book I start). I can usually finish crocheting something shawl sized or smaller. Pretty much anything else just seems to end in failure.

I mean I’m not going to stop trying. You’ve got to fill your time somehow. But maybe it’s time that I stopped expecting to actually get anywhere? Surely I’m the arbiter of when a novel is finished. If I’m the only one reading it then I’m the only one that has to be happy with it. If only have to please myself then it doesn’t matter if the story is the wrong shape or has plot holes or doesn’t make sense.