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Monday, 14 November 2011

LET’S TALK ABOUT MY FIRST BOOK.

Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 2011.

There isn’t one. I looked at the electronic pile of rejected novels, and decided to convert files from Microsoft Word to the Kindle format. What was in the pile? There were books I’d written on a whim under a time-constraint, just to prove to myself that I could. To jolt myself into doing those, they were books written using other people’s toys.
   TV tie-ins. Right. I’m going to rattle those out. The characters belong to some organisation. So I can’t afford to waste endless oceans of time constructing the stories. If the organisation says no, I’ll have spent…a week on a book. And a week on the sequel. Do two, to prove the first one is no fluke.
   If the outfit says no, I’ll have picked up a lot of information about how I work under harsh constraints. On top of that, I think it’ll be fun. I used the word rattle. What do the blog readers make of that word?
   Some people think there’s no skill involved in rattling a story out. I’m here to tell you that my use of the word stems from the days when I’d rattle stories out on a manual typewriter. Skilfully. Do I miss those days? Of course not. I have a decent heating system now, for one thing.
   Yes. Writing by typewriter in a cold room works wonders for the concentration. I no longer possess the muscle memory for manual typewriting. If pressed back into it, I’d be forced to take double-handed sledgehammer blows to the typewriter keys. All the while yelling WHY IS THIS LIKE LIFTING BOULDERS?! YE GODS! WHYYYYYYYY…
   Younger readers may be forgiven for failing to understand the effort required of manual typewriting. Let’s quiz the audience. Test your age. Look at a keyboard. Now turn your attention to the big button. No, not the long thin one. That’s the space bar. Where tipsy astronauts pretend they are walking through high orbit, hanging around in low company. Nothing to do with the rocket-fuel-expensive cocktails imbibed.
   The other big button. It resembles an upside-down L. If you call that the carriage return, you have served time in the trenches of manual typing. It is likely that you are of a certain age. This is a euphemism. However, if you call it the enter key, you are, in fact, a young person.
   Writing evolution. Let’s look at the cave-paintings, stage by stage. In school, I started with pencil and paper – writing to a time-constraint. Later, the pen was forced on us. I wrote with pen and paper – to a time-constraint. The evolutionary leap to a typewriter slowed my speed as I picked up the memory patterns required to access keys without jamming the mechanism.
   Did anything change in my writing? No. Writing by pen, I couldn’t alter the story. This forced me to think about what I wanted to put down on paper, to a time-constraint. Working by typewriter, I knew that I would have to REPEAT a COLOSSAL effort if I changed ANYTHING. So I never developed the habit of rewriting material. Even in the pencil days, there was only time to flip the pencil over to the un-business end, erase a shoddy word, fix an awkwardly-scrawled letter, and move on.
   What of Tipp-Ex, you cry? A proprietary name for typewriter correcting fluid reliant on brush-based technology. I used this goo in the same way as I used the un-business end of a pencil. To fix an error. No more than that. Strike the wrong key. Utter exclamation. Remove the errant letter by performing a peculiar ritual akin to painting The Last Supper. Pause to admire handiwork. Hit the right bloody key. Stare at result. Move on.
   In schools, there was a ban on the fluid for a time. To discourage pupils from engaging in unwholesome nasal-based activity. Did that edict suppress the sniffers? Hard to say. In my day, school was awash with hay-bales of marijuana, weapons-grade LSD, and other contraband substances I needn’t spend time listing. If the asbestos didn’t get you, the clouds of smoke from illicit cigarettes wafted in to finish the job. Tipp-Ex was never a priority. Enough of that. Time to ponder an evil lie.
   There was an evil lie circulated by young writers, foisted on old writers, with the advent of electronic writing machines. You should definitely buy a computer. It’ll make your writing faster. The old gunslingers would eye the new dudes and mutter under their soup-catchers. Just what I need. Some young punk kid coming along off a dude ranch, telling me my writing needs to be faster.
   I knew this was a lie. As a young writer I made the evolutionary hop from typewriter to computer, and had to learn a whole new set of skills. Slowing my writing down, for a time. There I was, learning how to use a typewriter, all over again. (I’d liken it to a cyclist becoming a motorcyclist. Don’t start your very first motorbike journey at 150 mph. It’s likely to be your last.)
   On top of that, there were new options at my disposal. More choices, slowing me down until I was up to speed. Cutting and pasting text. Extra tools. Spellcheckers, and grammar machines. I’ll say this of spelling – I’m good at it. Regardless of that, I always carry a dictionary. Just in case. And I’m prepared to dip into any number of dictionaries and word guides, just in case. Doesn’t matter how good my spelling is. Dictionaries are tools. Make use of them.
   My spelling’s better than my typing. Flailing around on keyboards generates mistakes. Typing creates patterns that don’t occur when actually scribbling. So I’m grateful if an electrically-powered tool spots a typo or format glitch. I’m not so grateful when some bolshie feature of the computer adds awkward clutter to my work. For that reason, I say this of the grammar checker. Caution.
   The grammar checker is likely to be alien to your small part of the world. For, in your small part of the world, grammar always operates at the local level. With local meaning. Try this on for size. I doubt it’s going to rain. Obviously, I’ve cleaned that up a bit for international consumption.
   Ah doot it’s gonnae rain.
   This is a contrary statement in many parts of Scotland. It means I DON’T doubt it’s going to rain. In terms of local grammar, the fishwife is saying…it’s going to rain. An electronic grammar checker has no more notion of this intended meaning than it has of the taste of milk.
   Eventually, I developed a speedier pace when using the computer. There were things about the manual typewriter I was glad to see the back of. (All things. The whole effing machine, basically.) But I still carried the notion in my head, that I could rattle out stories.
   Those TV tie-ins were rejected. No big deal. I hadn’t spent years writing them. The © in other people’s toys belongs elsewhere. For that reason, when looking for a self-publishing candidate, I looked closer to home. Once more, I had to learn new skills. In formatting.
   The potential candidate for conversion had to be wholly © to me. Uncomplicated. slim*thriller had loads of technical issues requiring resolution, on top of the Kindle formatting. That technical mess informed my choice.
   Go with the shortest book that is © to me. Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords. That is my first book to be released on Amazon Kindle. Is it my first book? No. LYGHTNYNG STRYKES was written around the same time. There was my Hamlet adaptation to consider. It didn’t matter which book I chose to convert to Kindle. These were all later books.
   My very first book was written to a time-constraint for a competition. Well, why not. A treble goal. Complete a manuscript, to a deadline, and win a publishing deal. Cheating? No. There’s a Berlin Wall of snobbery relating to certain types of publishing. Drive a tank through it, I say.
   Famous writer’s famous offspring writes. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Conveniently overlooking the possibility that it’s what Senior drummed into Junior about writing and about the business that played a part, more than any oleaginous publishing contact ever could.
   Winning a writing competition will never lead to a career in writing. Alistair MacLean won a short story competition, kick-starting his career. I’ve enjoyed almost all of his novels. That’s a compliment, and a great one. The compliment would have made no difference to him, of course.
   Self-publishing is evil. Well, publishers with a vested interest in not missing out will say that when they miss out. I’m reminded of the view that a defendant who acts for himself in court has a fool for a client. A statement most-often made by lawyers missing out on fees.
   Anyway, that first book of mine was awful. To the extent that I demolished all but one memorable passage that had potential. First book? It’s gone. Believe me, you weren’t missing anything. Did I learn from it? Hell, yes. And did I still try the odd writing competition? Of course.
   Your writing isn’t judged in a writing competition. (I mean the judges aren’t standing over you, cheering or jeering. Keep it distant. Take emotion out of the picture.) The entry wins, or doesn’t. Winning isn’t automatically success. Not winning isn’t automatically failure.
   slim*thriller was a story I kept in my head for years as I wrote other things. Ah doot it’s gonnae rain. That phrase comes from chapter six. A writing competition popped up. Same challenge as before. Time is against me. I must set the work down on the page and finish the damned thing. Win the deal. The snobbishness remained. Winning a writing competition will never lead to a career in writing.
   Did I win? No. Did I see the potential for a larger canvas? Hell, yes. With technical concerns relating to illustrations, I couldn’t jump in and convert the book directly to Kindle. Not immediately. I had to get a feel for the Kindle format with something simpler. Learn.
   The moment I overcome the problems with the illustrations, I’ll convert slim*thriller to Kindle. A lot of things came together in that book. So I think of it as my first book, even though it followed one disastrous attempt, one over-ambitious experiment, and one valiant effort. Oh, and dead ends? A labyrinth of those. All grist to the cliché.
   On Kindle, I think I’ll divide slim*thriller into four volumes and serially release it – just to see how many readers I hold with each issue. Insane? Self-publishing is what you make of it. And that’s what I choose to make of it. What will I learn? Much. That famous quantity that’s never quite enough.
   slim*thriller represents unfinished business with the publishing world. I felt like stating that in my blog. In case people clamour for more stories about Neon Gods. Let me work my way through the pile of really good rejected stories first, kiddies. Every single one of which feels like my first book, if I’m brutally, scar-baringly, honest. Do I feel that way about books-as-yet-unwritten? Aye.
   That’s Scottish for yes. It is not a contrary statement.

NEXT BLOG: WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MY WORK?

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