Where It Begins (again)

Sometimes an idea is too good to resist. That’s where it begins for me – being taken in by the ‘wow yeah, I’ve got it!’ As a science fiction writer this revelatory moment of inspiration can be a prelude to trouble and, ultimately, disillusionment.

Having resisted the urge to even consider starting a 6th novel, I happened upon the phenomenon of Skinwalker Ranch through various TV shows. UFOs and a plethora of paranormal occurrences in one location!

Has no SF/horror writer been inspired by this nexus of paranormal activity? Maybe the reality of it is just too strange, too extraordinarily mindbogglingly weird, to distill into a novel or any form that gives you a coherent narrative. Yet what fiction can do that investigative factual reporting cannot is to give the mysterious meaning by narrowing down the context. Such as: here is a scenario to explain how things connect, a perspective through the eyes of a protagonist. Even though documentaries can do this to some extent – in that they give you an insight, they don’t really put you into the protagonist’s world. (That said, there are some real life people connected who would make interesting fictional characters.) But what, crucially, fiction can do is make a bold leap of imagination.

My guess is, a number of successful fiction authors have studied this phenomenal location and thought: I could take this on, write a decent story … yet risk the scrutiny from those with such an intense interest and strong opinion on what’s really happening, plus the ensuing barrage of criticism. And really, there are so many potential layers to peel away – to get anywhere near the heart of what is dubbed the world’s most mysterious place – it would be too onerous to try. The truth too strange (if not dark) even for fiction writers.

So would I take it on?

Maybe I should resist that temptation. But you can’t stop being inspired.

My published books: Worlds Beyond Time (UK)

Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

My links site: adriankyte.com

Breaking the Spell

When I return to a first draft – after the obligatory month to 6 weeks – I expect to find an incoherent mess. First drafts feel like that in process, they’re all about getting to the finish line in a novel that seemed visionary to start but ended chaotically. So I’m often pleasantly surprised how not utterly terrible it is. Flawed, undoubtedly; messy structure and ridden with careless grammatical errors – naturally. It is those basic errors only that really stand out on second revision.

So what am I not seeing?

It is somehow being in thrall to an idea that, once faded, is then re-lit. From wading through a dark dense forest to re-entering a seemingly enchanted woods, forgetting just how treacherous it had been.

But there can come a point (there has now on my second revision) when you find yourself lost again, deep in it. At least it is realisation that there are problems, like a sudden reawakening from a dream-state, or the breaking of a spell. Only no longer able to see the forest for the trees. So somehow you need rise above it all, find a vantage point. Well, i’m struggling to find one just now. Usually for me the major oversights only become apparent on the third revision. Sometimes it is only on the fourth rewrite or later that it all becomes clear – the theme, the essence. It might even be that such a revelation is but a false one. They’ve happened before.

Well, neither do you need follow a religion to have faith. But I need to believe it will all work out in the end, regardless of the evidence.

Or maybe I’d better just call it hope.

My published books: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

My links site: adriankyte.com

Trouble With Reviews

I recently pulled (unpublished) one of my novels from Amazon due to some poor reviews. It had been there for over six years. In the first year it had garnered a couple of 5star reviews but then the negative ones poured in, the most recent in 2016. I’d actually forgotten about them and hadn’t read every one – until last night. Around five years ago I uploaded a revised version. But too late, for all the difference it might have made. What was worse, negative reviews get prominence, since potential readers tend to find those the most helpful – as a useful warning. That of course can kill the sales of a book from any author who isn’t famous, who doesn’t have an established reputation. How much sales of my subsequent books were affected I’m not sure, but I’m not prepared to take the risk.

I’ve never understood the motivation for writing a wholly negative review voluntarily. I guess it has a lot to do with expectation not being met. Maybe it’s an indication of annoyance, or nothing more than trolling. It often seems that these negative reviewers have an agenda; a grievance that goes deeper than from having read a bad book. Perhaps they are themselves failed authors who want to hit out. I’d be interested to discover.

Over the years I have adapted my writing style to accommodate a different or changing reading style. And admittedly I now struggle with any novel not simply plotted see A Novel Style of Writing?

So if you are curious about why my book provoked such strong reactions it can be downloaded here for free. I accept it is a challenging read, so be warned. And don’t feel compelled to finish it like some seem to have.

Otherwise my usual links: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Reviews are still welcome. But no trolls please.

Just Do It!

I’m not writing to promote a shoe brand but in favour of acting on intuition, instinct, gut feeling. Whatever you want to call it.

After my aged writing-laptop finally gave up I needed a replacement, and looked on the unusual site for a used one too old for anything other than as a word-processor. I spent hours perusing the welter of apparent bargains, eventually buying one compatible with my charger. It switched on with some effort but I hoped replacing the dead battery would help, and it seemed to for a few days until the screen gave out. I bought another identical even cheaper laptop for spare parts. This time I knew I’d wasted money when I should have cut my losses. A case of the sunk cost fallacy. And yet I hadn’t rushed into any of these purchases, carefully weighing up the pros and cons, basing my choice on experience.

In desperation I searched again, and chanced upon an 11yr old Vaio netbook on auction ending in less than a minute. Hardly time for careful consideration I nonetheless put in my bid, winning as the only bidder. I soon worried I’d made a mistake, something that wouldn’t fit my criteria. Yet it turned out to be a bargain, in pristine condition on which I’m writing this post.

Just doing it seems to have worked in my creative writing. Including those aliens in stasis pods in a hollowed out asteroid had no obvious purpose beyond increasing the word count, until about right near the end where it suddenly came to me. Of course! The elements tied up in a way I couldn’t have planned.

Indeed, I’m rarely a planner. That said, I prefer to feel there is some careful cogitation behind a story element even for the first draft. But sometimes it’s best to just dive in, whether it’s for progressing the plot or just building up that wordcount … and surely for many other things.

Links to my published fiction: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

A Novel Style of Writing?

Here’s something you may find controversial: There is no fixed standard for good or effective creative writing; it changes over time.

That’s the notion I have been trying to take on board. If you read a novel – especially science fiction – written ten+ years ago the chances are it will be over 400 pages. I think back to those doorstop sized tomes and wonder if I could ever commit myself to one of those again. It would have to be exceptionally good or by an author I knew to be good (reviews notwithstanding). Nowadays I prefer them on Kindle, seeming less onerous to pick up.

But here’s the problem: I tend to dip into a book, and find it difficult to grasp just what the … heck is going on with the plot. Most recently this happened with an SF novel featuring at least five POV protagonists – that were connected to previous characters… The prose was well-written, technically fine (in a conventional way) yet I found it a struggle and felt relieved to finish. Now, maybe my attention span is deteriorating with age, or with the age. It’s hardly a new argument that technology could be making most of us easily distracted. The free time unlocked by lockdown has been not only an opportunity but a test. Perhaps not one that I passed.

When I look back to one of my own early novels I wonder how I (unfamiliar to it) could ever apply the requisite concentration to follow the story. And maybe I was behind the curve in realising that. The writer can feel hamstrung by the golden rule of show don’t tell, and the less than fully dedicated reader confused by a scene or plot point that subtly (if skillfully) shows you how the story is progressing, such as the character’s change in appearance or the way they speak. All that is undeniably good writing but there are times I’d prefer a little catch-up exposition. Well maybe this is a sign of my own failing.

So I’m having to adapt my own writing style, to keep the plot simple, from the point of view of one protagonist. But those rules…. Still aiming for the classic 100k words. And what a challenge that has been!

Links to my published fiction: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

To a Literary Agent…

Dear (insert name),

Really you shouldn’t have bothered replying, certainly not after so long. I know you think you are doing the decent thing rather than keeping me hanging on. But I can assure you I have not exactly been waiting with bated breath all that time; I’d given up on any response months ago – ten weeks is about the limit. Life goes on, so many other things to get depressed or just irritated over. There is always the anxiety phase for about two months after a query submission, checking the inbox with squinted eyes, or only at a time when I can think I might handle it best (though there is never really a good time, but it should generally be on a week night). And then out of the blue in pops your email. Just as well I wasn’t having a good day anyway because that would have certainly spoiled it. Yes, your words were polite, measured, even well-wishing, and your reasons for not replying sooner perfectly understandable. But it comes across as sugaring a bitter pill. After such a long time it is doubly disappointing to get nothing better than what could be the same letter sent to the many others but with my name inserted.

I guess it feels better to get that query in-tray cleared.

So please, any other literary agents, don’t bother replying. Unless of course you are interested in my work.

You are welcome to comment here though.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

Stranger Than Fiction?

At this time it feels like reality has overtaken anything fiction can credibly produce. A killer virus; world economies on the brink of a collapse not seen in anyone’s lifetime; liberal governments becoming authoritarian, while autocratic rulers seize their perfect opportunity for increasingly draconian measures. Could any speculative writer have seriously considered this scenario?

Well maybe I’m watching too much news that can seem to revel in the drama, if not totally ignoring the positives such as how communities have rallied round.

While out for my permitted hour’s exercise, there was something post-apocalyptic about the town. Bonfire smoke clouded the otherwise clear air. (Bonfires are more common these days.) A strange quietness and calm had descended. A serenity even, away from the town square, in the bright sun. Life slowed down.

Maybe the world needs to be broken apart before it can be reconstructed, goes one line of thinking; force change to save the planet.

But now, like surely many fiction writers, I face a dilemma. Do I try to keep on my original track – as patchy as it is – if only to be consistent? Or be influenced by such an important moment in history?

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

To Carry On

It’s usually a personal crisis that overwhelms the creative ability; world events hardly ever. But now we humans are facing devastation from a surprisingly effective enemy, borne of a pathogen far less harmful to its original and entirely innocent host species (most likely a bat). And now fear, suspicion and paranoia are themselves spreading like a virus. You only need to see reports from continental Europe to believe we’ve already arrived at the dystopian future envisioned by many an SF writer. Thus the drama of reality can make writing fiction feel redundant.

But I try to carry on.

Being a writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it, those days when the muse just isn’t there. Days when it really feels like hard work. But I admit it, I’m faltering; struggling to find inspiration; can’t get into the fiction writing mode.

Inspiration was no problem with my first novel. If anything I felt overwhelmed by ideas, tried to pack so many into the narrative it read like three stories juxtaposed. A bit of a mess, admittedly. The second was more disciplined but still convoluted. And beyond I saw the need to narrow down the focus, with fewer POVs.

Now on my fifth I did the ultimate reduction to a first person perspective. Unless you’ve had some incredible interesting life to draw from, there is no challenge comparable in creative writing. It takes a whole new level of self-discipline. And I’ve certainly been struggling with that. I’m sure it helps to plan the structure of your novel; I started with a scene from the end but no idea how I will get there.

I read and listen with despair those writer/novelists who say they start at a certain time each morning, write for 5, 6 hours or set themselves a goal of 1500 words. I will, as long as I live, never be like those writers. They are people I admire as an amateur cyclist would a tour champion.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

In hope of an epiphany

The greatest fear of most creative writers is not commercial failure, it is failure to find the next big idea. I mean, you can fail just as I have, and even accept a project will never be a success. What keeps me going (writing) is the belief some epiphany or revelation is just round the corner – that sudden insight. Yes, it’s gotta be about… It’s the breakthrough that will get my name in lights. What I’m talking about is faith in my own creative ability, however irrational that may be.

Right now I am working on a novel about a man who suspects the world will end very soon, and is given the chance to stop it. Well that may not be the most original of ideas, I’ll grant you, so I need some unique twist on it. After all, it’s said there are only seven truly original stories.

Some may well call such faith in my creativity deluded if not over-confident, but it’s not anything like certainty. It is hope. And how many times I have concluded there will never be another novel, I’d rather not recount. Even this current one I will not feel like it can ever be finished until I get past the milestone of 50,000 words (which I’m so tantalizingly close to passing).

How difficult it must be for those whose livelihood depends on the next big idea, those who set themselves targets – yearly, monthly, daily. The pressure I can hardly imagine, which must take a special kind of self-discipline!

I’ve never planned my novels in advance; never written an outline. To me that would take some special talent I can barely comprehend. There have been times when it seemed there was no way forward; classic writer’s bock. A bit like depression, when you struggle to envisage things ever resolving – life being okay.

But even in the darkest hour there is always the prospect of light.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

 

 

 

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/