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

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)

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.

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)

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/

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/

__it happens!

Everything happens for a reason. That maxim applies to most works of fiction.

In a novel randomness is chaos, it is insignificant. It is pointless. Coincidence must be synchronicity.

Maybe I am not unusual in hating happenstance when it’s not obviously good luck. But for me it’s also about fear. Most creative writers yearn to harness the chaos of the universe into something with meaning. Being able to have total control over a (an invented) reality is our raison d’être.

But life is random, stuff happens that you can never have prevented. Yet I am often trying to process these random-chance occurrences into something significant. With what I took to be an extremely unlikely event, I was thinking: the chances of that horse rider approaching the roadside from a residential drive – only just as I walked past – were minimal. But the chances of the horse throwing her off… well, I was stunned for a few seconds before I could ask her if she was OK. Thankfully she was (or so she told me). I had the strange nonsensical thought: This is not the day (Boxing day) when bad things are supposed to happen. But my being there has caused it. Then soon after I’d walked off I wondered: was I meant to encounter her? Was it fate? She seemed near my age. Could I have got her number? It wouldn’t have seemed odd given the circumstance; after such a nasty fall, I was naturally concerned to know if she really would be OK later on.

So I do have trouble accepting randomness, rather than just believing enough information would make the future predictable. I’m going to have to face the fear of letting my book go, without any real knowledge of its likely success. Who knows what events will influence those that matter? Will they read my submission when having a bad day? An unusually busy day? There is so much that I know I cannot control or predict. So I’ve got accept that after all: luck really is important!

Links to my 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/