Collecting Smoke and Packing Springs

I’ve come to terms with being a slow writer.

I’d love to write faster, to sit down and let the fluid flawless prose flow from my fingertips like in the movies. Except that only happens in movies.
Or, I could be like the poet in Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk (below) and have a tornado of inspiration surge through. But it just don’t work that way for me. “Mulish” was the word Ms Gilbert used. I can relate.

Sure, I have breakthroughs, moments of clarity. Even (dare I say) sparks of divine inspiration. But most of time, ideas build slowly, coming from all manner of places. Like wisps of smoke on the wind, I collect them: bits of a song, a sensation, a turn of phrase or quote, a scene or a snatch of dialog. Sometimes just a character’s name or a place. (I have a notebook filled with random, unrelated Post-It notes, plus a separate notebook for each project.) Then, after an indeterminate amount of time, I’ll peer in the cupboard to see if anything has coalesced.

Idea sparked, there’s still the matter of hammering it out. But fiction isn’t an essay or a three-point sermon, and writing prose is precisely where poetry gets me in trouble. Growing up I read and still do read a lot of it. That translates into a constant internal challenge not simply for economy and traction, but the music of language. The right word in the right place to generate rhythm of thought and sound across the sentence, the paragraph, the entire story.

It’s like packing springs- one misplaced and they all pop out. Or that Mouse Trap Contraption Game. Properly done, the reader should move through the story’s tricks and turns like that marble without stop all the way to the end. Not saying that I do it all the time, but that’s the goal. Like holding a Horse Track Betting sheet, I stare at my keyboard and realize the winners are right there in front of me.

Shift Tense complete, The Barrow Lover nearing completion, and the next Clar1ty Wars plotted out, I’ve opted for ‘the drip’ method this year- a little bit on a consistent basis – rather than periodic guilt-wracked spasms. No, my schedule doesn’t allow me to write every day. But I can write four/five times a week.

These last 6-8 weeks I’ve been doing a short session in the morning followed by a short session in the evening. I get material down on paper, then come back and hammer it into shape. And punch out a little more material. Which I hammer into shape the next session, and gets me a bit more new material, and so on. The proverb about eating an elephant in little bites comes to mind.

After all, writers write and I have to say it’s been working well so far.

Best to all of you in the new year, especially you writers.

BTW – I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual to every aspiring writer, regardless of genre.

Here’s that TED Talk. Worth the watch.

And the map comes down.


The map of Somaliland, that is. Along with the list of Shift Tense characters, chapters, and blast pattern of plot point post-it notes. The lads of Eshu International are back in Die Nerdshanze in Belfast for a well-deserved rest.

The edited, formatted manuscript for the third and final portion, ANGELS, arrived yesterday. Another thorough, professional job from Mark at Angel Editing. Can’t recommend him highly enough. Michal Oracz finished the cover a while back. He makes it look better than it is, IMO. Errors and delays were all on me.

ERRORS AND DELAYS
Pretty much sums up the last two years. All chuffed after Running Black, I figured I’d bust out the sequel in like nine months. Right?

Live and learn.

Now I’ve heard the second book is harder than the first, that part-time indie authors have a tough time juggling the demands of marketing, writing, editing, with family, job, and the usual obligations. I could talk about chasing Clar1ty Wars inspiration, about my stained glass business picking up, but they’re really beside the point.

The main reason I opted to serialize Shift Tense was a mounting discomfort at not keeping my personal deadline. I didn’t want to disappoint those folks who’d been gracious enough to purchase and read my work. Add to that several articles on the rising ebook tide, the small portions preferred by Kindle readers, and a reader preference for spec-fiction series, and it looked like an attractive, sensible option.

Now I’ve received two complaints about this release schedule/experiment, (In fact, it earned me my first One-Star review) but kicking it out the door not only widened the net, so to speak, it forced me to finish.

ANGELS_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches So far, I have no serious concerns with the Shift Tense ebook serialization. In the past six months, I’ve sold copies in Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and France, plus the usual US and UK. I suspect this fifth title will put me consistently over the 100 sales/month mark, which ain’t NYTimes Bestseller list, but is pretty damn remarkable considering how technology allows a no-name like me to publish and distribute material. Hey, John Scalzi even stopped by to comment. (Maybe he’ll blurb my next book?)

WHAT’S NEXT
I do have a plot seed for another Eshu International novel set in space/on the moon. It’ll get written, but it’s definitely on the back burner for now. Last October, a Celtic-flavored ghost tale popped into my head, and what began as a wee short story transmogrified into a novella. 4/5ths of the way through, I should have it to my beta-readers before the end of Feb.

Next in the queue is ‘Under Strange Stars’, the second installment of The Clar1ty Wars. A sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars, it’s about to get vicious. Ten scenes/chapters are outlined, three are written. Then there’s a large, three part fantasy piece simmering, as well as a modern exorcism/terrorism piece. Spec-fiction junkie that I am, I’m excited to start digging away at both, as well as any other settings/characters that pop in unexpectedly.

To end, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has waited so patiently, followed this blog, reviewed and read my work. A thousand thanks. I sincerely hope your time spent in my stories is enjoyable. That’s the idea.

Best to all of you,
P. Todoroff
Cape Cod, MA.
SDG

Writing advice to myself


1. READ MORE POETRY
You got too many words, dude. This isn’t an essay. You don’t have to explain everything. Most readers are smart enough to fill in the blanks. You don’t have to jerk them around like a dog on a choke-chain making sure they get the point. (nudge, nudge. wink, wink. hint, hint) It’s about the music of language. It’s about economy of prose. No, more then economy, it’s precision. Traction. Poetry exercises those muscles.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

2. MAKE THE STORY STRONG ENOUGH
That it’s banging to come out. Being clever, cute, coy isn’t enough. It’s not sermonizing, regurgitating philosophy, sociological exposition. It’s about people: their struggles, failures, triumphs. Inform, exhort, emote, sure. But beyond that. More than entertainment, titillation, distraction – it’s supposed to transport.
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
― Ernest Hemingway

3. EMBRACE THE LEARNING CURVE
Writing stuff that sucks is the only path to writing stuff that doesn’t suck so much. Deal with it. Settle in for the long haul. Like the lottery, you stand a better chance of getting hit by lightning than your first novel becoming an international bestseller translated into 17 different languages turned into a H-wood blockbuster. And while we’re here, there already was a Bill Shakespeare, Steven Pressfield and William Gibson. (Mervyn Peake, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Dan Abnett, Jeff VanderMeer…) You ain’t him. And the brute fact is you probably don’t have the innate talent to be a literary peer. But that’s no excuse to not be yourself and write the stories God gives you.
“Anything worth doing…”

PS:
Pay for a good cover.
Use Beta readers for substantive feedback.
Pay a Copy Editor
Keep it fun. Write what you want. You want $$? Write porn. But you ain’t, so it needs to be innately satisfying.

What’s in a Number – Update

Wherein I’m on the receiving end of justifiable criticism…

Latest “Running Black” Review addresses the exact questions I raised in an earlier post in Amazon Ratings and Reviews.

In my defense, I’m fully aware I’m not William Gibson and my debut novel isn’t going to win the Hugo, Nebula and PKD. Not in a million years. Neither would I assert the Eshu International world is a credible extrapolation of Middle Eastern politics or corporate hegemony. Any more than “Live Free or Die Hard” was a realistic depiction of a cyberattack on American infrastructure or “The 300” caught the historical reality of Thermopylae. But Mr. Durkey is well read with broader, higher points of reference, and the fact is my work doesn’t attain to elite levels. End of the day, I’m fine with Three Stars and ‘well-written’, ‘solid action, good airport book.’

Thank you Mr. Durkey, for taking the time to read and review my book.

Fear itself.

Apologies for thin content recently. Am straight out with glass work and Shift Tense. However I wanted to pass on this TED talk and consider its relation to new publishing models and Christian Spec-Fiction.