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/

Success, Finally?

Imagine. You’ve been used to failing for such a long time. Then success, finally! That day when you can go out and celebrate, and all your friends and family (who, frankly, doubted you could achieve such greatness) will congratulate your marvellous achievement.

But what does it mean to have made it? Finding an agent? Getting that publishing contract? Those first four-figure sales? The good reviews?

Perhaps there is no point where you think I’ve made it! And in any case there is something in my British psyche that would tell me: now hang on just a minute. You’ve been making it clear, at least to anyone who cared to ask, that writing is what you do. But haven’t you implied to them: “I am special, I have talent, I was born to write novels, that is what sets me apart (from you no less); and now that declaration (however subtly I implied it) is going to be rubbed in your face – because you doubted me and I’ve proved you wrong.”

So there is something in my psyche that fears the downside of success. That the possible sacrifices I have made – the relationships never pursued, the work (employment) never sought – cannot be enough to make it worth while. After all, success means exposure, the spotlight of scrutiny with the inevitable criticism it brings. Sure, everyone, however acclaimed, has to be prepared for the dissenting voices; you are told as a writer how important it is to develop a thick skin. But many of us writers are naturally sensitive creatures.

I wonder if fear is holding me back somehow. Stuck in a certain belief because of bad experiences or just bad luck.

Failure is familiar, an old friend unafraid to dish out a harsh dose of reality – to keep you grounded. Success is the exciting stranger, promising to take you to incredible heights. But one day that stranger will tire of you, and leave you precariously on the mountain ledge.

Finally, I wanted to come up with some definitive advice – to others, and hopefully to myself. But all I could think of was the following. Don’t let that old friend failure drag you down; overcome the fear of success.

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

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

 

 

Sales! Sales! Sales!

How far would you go to publicize your book?

I recently got a chance to promote a non-fiction book written under a pseudonym; an offer to do a radio interview, although the interview would have only covered one rather embarrassing theme of this memoir/travelogue. I told her my story might not be suitable for broadcast (on daytime national radio) but was happy for the book to be discussed. I even admitted not wanting to reveal my true identity. Besides, there seemed no clear opportunity to make a subtle (or not) plug. But there was just that chance – so i’d taken it initially by texting them. I still wonder: would it have been worth the risk for the sake of extra sales? Fortune favours the bold, I think someone once said.

There is the more conventional route I’ve tried for my novels. Once upon a time I believed the most difficult achievement of being an author is completing the book, until i tried to get it accepted by an agent. Never mind if the novel is any good; one mistake and you’ve blown it. At least that’s how it can feel. But only one thing matters ultimately: sales! If you’ve written a masterpiece no one reads – or pays to read – then that can be nothing other than a failure.

So is there any magic formula to ensure sales? There is, of course, the standard combination, as follows. Front cover; synopsis/blurb; timing; price; content. I used to believe those were the elements that mattered – in that order of importance.

But how about serendipity? Capturing the zeitgeist? The right person can make all the difference, be they avid reader with lots of friends, or a celebrity who happens to like what you’ve published and makes it known – chooses you amongst the millions of others who hardly get any recognition.

Sometimes it can feel like a lottery, the luck of being noticed. And with any lottery you only learn about the lucky ones. I am not one of the lucky ones, and certainly have not written this or any other blog from the standpoint of someone who has made it and wants to share his wisdom with the aspiring writer, but as someone still trying to succeed in a competitive market.

Well, for many, there comes the point when there is no choice but to put that finally re-drafted book out there in the hope that it will get noticed. The matter of timing might be important for maximum sales. For me, I’d rather not submit anything be it to an agent or a publisher, or for the sales market, at this time of year (May). Spring into early summer is probably the worst time to feel embittered. I’d rather just enjoy what pleasures nature brings. If I’m going to be facing disappointment then maybe early autumn (October is generally my least favourite month in UK south – so all the better to relax into the misery of it), or mid winter. But is there ever a good time to risk failure?

http://www.adriankyte.com/

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

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Reflections on Rejections

Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.

Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.

Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).

After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

The Novel vs the distracted mind

You might read the first sentence or two and then you’ll be distracted. Perhaps it’s an email or twitter update from that person who once said something personally relevant, or even profound, and is bound to do so again; well, maybe not this time.

    I’m currently reading Iain M Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata. I’ve read almost all of his SF books – avidly – but am finding this one a struggle; can’t seem to get immersed in it and find it difficult to follow certain strands of the plot. Is the problem with me or the book? I get the feeling I would have found it easier to read had it been around ten years ago.

     So what’s happening? Am I being caught up in the great digital distraction by things such as blogs, or is it those pernicious shooter games giving me that immediate short-term reward? There’s just so much, well, content and it’s so readily available, and there’s always something better – more useful – just a click away. This is one of the reasons i avoid twitter (for which the twitterverse can be grateful) or spend much time on any social media.

    It’s reported that distraction can become even more of a problem with the natural ageing process. Maybe in part due to that incipient sense of time running out. I hear it being discussed increasingly: Are computers and smart devices ruining our ability to concentrate? In my case, I’ve never had the greatest attention span but have noticed it is getting worse.

    Ironically, the number of self/published novels is increasing exponentially, while my generation or younger have (on average, in the UK) a lower ability to read and write than the over fifties. There’s an argument there about changes in forms of communication. Anyway, the education debate is for another blog/ger. So if you’re publishing today without an agent, a traditional publisher or a considerable number of followers, or a successful back-catalogue, it’s going to be tough to get noticed. Not that the pre-digital method (which depended on people seeing your book in a store and taking the time to consider it) was ever ideal. So does this mean the conventional form of the novel has to change to accommodate the digital environment? I hope not. I hope it can always remain in a pure form although only in content; I’m not one to fetishize the dead tree medium.

    I’ll stop now, ’cause you’ll be wanting to check that new message. But thanks for giving this your attention.

    My websites:

http://adriankyte.co.uk/

http://timeover-sf.com/

Book review: NOD

Got a request from Amazon to write a review of NOD by Adrian Barnes. I read lots of book reviews but rarely write them; however this novel stood out for me.

~Imagine a world where most of the population was unable to sleep, and you were one of the few adults who could. This is the story of NOD.

Paul, an etymologist and misanthrope, charts the disintegration of society in Vancouver. He witnesses at close hand his wife deteriorate through a shared mysterious insomniac condition. Some of the descriptions are graphic to the point that made me want to skip over them. But I’m glad I didn’t. Through his protagonist Paul, Adrian Barnes shines a harsh light and focuses powerful lens on the subjects of his journal – and doesn’t turn away, even though the reader may want to at times.

This book is densely written in a way you would find in many literary novels rather than typical genre. And though at times can seem self-consciously wordy (with a number of obscure words, at least I had to mark a few out for definitions) and can seem overwritten, that’s the nature of the protagonist – the first person narrative where the author can be showy. But at its best the writing is superbly insightful, or at least has that verisimilitude. I don’t know exactly what would be the effects of sleep deprivation over more than a few days, but the descriptions of paranoia and insanity seem about right. However, it may not satisfy SF fans who are looking for scientific explanations.

In all this is a novel that forces you to pay attention. It may make you uncomfortable but is compelling enough that you’ll want to keep reading. If you like your fiction dark and dystopian then this is the book for you.

Though I gave it four stars above, I think 4.5 is more deserving.~