Fix the Unfixable?

There is no achievement so imbued with pride than publishing your first novel. Invested with high hopes and what feels like your entire being into this monumental project. Even if it turns out to be a failure, rejected and unappreciated, it will always hold that special place in your heart. Yes, a lot of emotion tied up with that debut work. So it has not been easy to confront the admittedly very considerable failings of The Hidden Realm.

Twelve years from first published I finally removed it. Well, mostly; it ended up on numerous sites since I made it free. Possibly exceeded 10k downloads. Clearly some readers liked it, but unfortunately those who didn’t made it known. This was in the days when competition on virtual space was nowhere near as fierce, so getting attention was far easier. But that kind of attention carries risk. And my request to delete all reference to it on Goodreads was rejected.

Here’s the dilemma. Should I do an extensive re-edit/rewrite of THR? Or just carry on with my fifth novel (second, third draft etc)? It’s a question perhaps only I can answer. A cursory re-read of my debut I soon got a sense of its failings: too many character POVs with all their narratives; clunky dialogue – which has been my weakness for many years. In the end I did my best to tie everything up to what felt like a neat resolution. Written in the noughties, maybe it seems dated in more ways than just the science&tech.

The most common problem with that first novel is, bursting with ideas, you want to throw everything in, without the patience to think: I can leave that character’s story for the next volume. So the next (Time Over) was like a reset in the series.

Anyway, I hope not to simply disregard THR without some attempt to salvage it. Because, surely, you can never forget your first.

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

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

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)

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/

Writer’s block – me?

Writer’s block is not something I used to believe in. If you were stuck, I thought, it was simply due to a lack of effort; a block can always be navigated around.

Now at the quarter way point into my latest novel I am struggling to write more than eight hundred words in a week. It seemed the best cure is to seek inspiration, find a book that resonates with what I am hoping to write. So I turned to a classic: Flowers for Algernon. It was not that I wanted to write a similar book (my protagonist is brain boosted from an early age to fulfill a top secret project). But in reading this SF masterwork I was in awe at some of the writing – the depiction of a man who goes from ‘retard’ (yes it’s an old book with outdated terms) to ubergenius, and the interweaving of a tragic love story.

So how can I even hope to compete with such a science fiction classic, I wondered to myself. Well, for a start there is no point in writing something comparable that can only end up as a pastiche. I have to find my own voice, the one that distinguishes my style of writing.

And yet. I see the standard. I see the level of the bar and feel my limbs go weak at the thought of trying to vault it. This is the problem of when – as a writer – you encounter another writer who you know has set an example, one you imagine could be used by the literary agent that rejects your latest.

So somehow I have to not fixate on writing a classic. There’s maybe some analogy in sport, or academia; observing the star talent and thinking: why should I even bother to compete? But no one can know the effort, or the time, the greatest put in to become just that.

Then, be positive? Of course, but it’s always a challenge!

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

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Rejection and Beyond

One good thing about rejection: it focuses the mind. Makes you realise how much getting published matters.

After three years of writing, rewriting, and rethinking, I submitted my novel to an agent. And then soon regretted it, but none so much as now. Yet another revision was needed. The synopsis was, frankly, badly written. I’d made the mistake of setting myself a deadline (to send it off just before my holiday). Deadlines are dangerous!

It was not that the agent left a critique – they rarely give feedback, but said he had to completely love a book to take it on. Not a high bar to clear? Well of course it always is. Confronted with hundreds of submissions a month I’d be rejecting all too readily, probably much of what ends up being traditionally published to great success. Even if all was in my chosen SF genre.

My rejection happened after more than 3 months since submitting it. Really, by then I’d reconciled myself to the fact that it would not be accepted. Then I saw the email had appeared, and I must admit to being afraid to read it for a while; a prepare-yourself-to-be-stung moment. But after so much time, to receive a short rejection borders on insulting. Maybe it got left in a must reject folder with a time-code, and he thought leaving it this late would lessen the blow. No it doesn’t! Ten weeks has previously been the longest wait, and they said they had been giving it careful consideration.

But it’s never a bad thing to have to go back to a previous (apparently) finished work after a few months, even in a state of despondency. You see it with completely fresh and certainly more critical eyes; whereas before, you’re still emotionally caught up in that grand literary project. Hardly surprising after over 3 years of it.

Still, I learned not set myself a deadline for the next submission. Just keep on with the next grand project.

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

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Ready to Submit?

A few weeks ago I sent off my first submission query for Worlds Apart. It felt like I had already procrastinated way too long. Now reading over the email, mistakes glare back at me – silly errors: a misplaced apostrophe, even a missing word! Great first impression(!) How could I not have noticed? And the MS still needed more work.

Then there was the dreaded synopsis.

Surely, I believed, I’d developed some skill over the years for summarizing a 100,000 words-plus novel in a thousand or less. But if you read Synopsis Hell! you’ll see why I struggle. My latest experience: discovering how to write a synopsis really badly. That is, simply document each significant event using bullet points. But hang on, I thought, what constitutes significant?

I was lost. Lost like a small child in a dense forest. It became overwhelming.

I can honestly say that writing a synopsis in under a thousand words is more of a challenge than writing the novel itself. I used the present tense because I don’t feel I’ve succeeded. Instead I have created the ultimate spoiler, gutted my novel into convoluted description void of any narrative arc or theme. And yet I managed a coherent blurb-style precis with relative ease. Problem is, most literary agents aren’t interested in those.

So it feels like I have fallen at the first hurdle. The vast majority of agents surely don’t have the time, and therefore patience, to read beyond that first impression.

I only hope I’m wrong.

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

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/