Elation and Revelation

A loaded gun won’t set you free (Moby cover)

It’s rare in a writer’s life that it happens:  a moment that is so beyond coincidence it would seem you are connected with the Truly Divine.

Not to appear too slack, I thought I’d work on two novels over the summer, instead of just the one.  I plan to publish the third Fleet novel, V.Gomenzi, in October and was well on track, having already made extensive notes to get it into shape.  I realised at a particular point that the fourth Fleet novel, Commences, has scenes that run very closely to V.Gomenzi.  All four Fleet novels run in parallel, like train tracks, but sometimes those tracks veer so close that they overlap.  When bumps began to appear in the overlaps between V.Gomenzi and Commences, I decided to work on Commences as well – and to publish TWO novels in October.

Commences, however, needs a lot more work.  I wrote about it here some time ago and remember how disappointed I felt when submitting it to Authonomy (what a stupid waste of time that turned out to be.)  Quite a lot has happened since then!  I began making notes for Commences while working on V.Gomenzi and in a flash of inspiration, mentally restructured the entire novel to make it more accessible.  This week I began to Big Read and have made further notes.  Many, many notes.

The novel is still patchy and there were times when I thought how tired I was of this novel.  I’ve been working on it, off and on, for nearly two decades.  There are parts of it that have no interest for me.  Until about a third of a way when suddenly I found myself looking forward to the daily Big Read, when I couldn’t wait to sit down and get to the next few chapters.  It may be patchy, it may need work, it may need reconstruction, deconstruction, reshuffling of chapters, an entire section rewritten in the first person, a wholly recreated denouement, a whiff of a character jacked up to full main character status…….but – wow – there’s some magic here that I had forgotten.  There is power here that amazes me and I’m the bloody writer.

And then, this morning, I was wondering to myself – just as I sat down to begin my next Big Read session, armed with barley cup and every single window open to the broiling hot summer – what music goes with this novel?  Every novel I write seems to have acquired a soundtrack, music that I listen to so often during the pre- and post-writing, that it becomes part of the novel.  Oh, how about this one, I thought, randomly selecting the Heat soundtrack.  Off it went until it reached Moby’s New Dawn Fades, which I utterly love.  A loaded gun won’t set you free.  Then it was time to do some work.

The section I read today sees the formation of the most evil character in the Fleet Quintet.  There’s no mention of him in Transference, a brief glimpse of him – unacknowledged – in Flesh for Sale, and a hint of a lot more to come in V.Gomenzi.  In the fifth Fleet novel, the Huge Showdown obviously involves him, and the set-up begins here.  The six consecutive chapters in Commences that deal with this character are filled with the most unspeakable violence – though not the usual comic-book TV violence – and the most unspeakable pain and fear and disappointment and unrequited love.  Revelation comes towards the end of this section when he has a stray though:  “No, a loaded gun won’t set you free.”

It’s not the fact that I’ve pinched this line (and yes, I will change it), it’s the fact that I had already selected a soundtrack for this novel and I had forgotten it and the day I decided to find a soundtrack was the day that I found the lyric staring at me from the pages I had written exactly five years ago.

This is beyond coincidence.  This is elation.  Commences is the novel that set me free as a writer.  It just took twenty years to get it.

 

ps.  Okay, so this is just too fucking weird for words:  I just went and found the YouTube link for Moby (so you can listen to New Dawn Fades too) and the picture on the video IS MY SCREENSAVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am made from gossamer and the wind is howling

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to write anything as hard as “Experienced.”  I even wondered if I had writer’s block or if I just too stressed to write or was perhaps even all written out.  I thought I might be losing my touch until I remembered how easily (and how recently) I’d been able to write “Woken” and the final story for the first volume of The Exodus Sequence.

Writing “Woken” was a writer’s dream:  most of it was written during that unbelievably hot bit of the summer last year which made the creation of a love story burning with desire really quite remarkably easy to write.  The summer was still going strong when I got the freezing cold parts of the south pole – a huge relief after all that sweat and heat and passion.  The story itself seem to fall from my fingers.  I had no trouble at all getting inside the head of the main character.  I could feel everything he felt, quite literally, as it’s a very tactile tale.

The final story for the Exodus Sequence (the title remains under wraps until I publish it) was quite different – much more starkly written after the lush, slightly overblown fantasy style of “Woken.”  The main character was female and couldn’t have been more different.  It took a couple of goes but I found her “voice” quite quickly.   She couldn’t have been further removed from Meridian and Nimue in “Woken” who were both sharp and intelligent and extremely sensitive.

Having produced these two stories with such ease left me feeling quite confident – it seemed time at last to tackle “Experienced.”  I had started it at least a year before but abandoned it soon after the main character reaches the Circle.  I knew exactly where the story was going but didn’t know how to get there.  Also, I wanted it to be a series of drug trips (though not the sort of drug you find on Earth, you understand), yet I seemed to be writing everything BUT the trips.  Also, the fact that it went through several title changes didn’t bode well – this seemed to tell me that I didn’t really know what the story was about, which rather unnerved me (I ALWAYS know what my stories are about, though readers might not.)

Having taken time off work especially to work on “Experienced,” it soon became a harrowing ordeal.  I restarted it about seven times.  I changed the third person to first person (disregarding the opening few pages which is in, er, actually I don’t what it’s called – when you write as if in the first person but use “you” instead of “I.”  Perhaps some clever soul can tell me what that is…) and then rewrote what I’d written several times – and STILL I could not find the main character’s voice.  This was soul destroying as this is the most important character in the entire Exodus Sequence.  He is, truly, the main character.  He’s the one it’s all about.  And his voice inside my head was silent….

…..which made me realise (at last) that he was silent.  He was the one that never spoke.  Things took off from there – finally – though it was still difficult.  The ending, just as in the beginning, was rewritten several times too before I got it right.  And throughout the entire story, all I wanted to do was write the ending.  It was the most important part.  For me, it was the most powerful.  Nearly twenty thousand words to get to the last sentence.  When I was done, though, at last, I felt elated.  It was a day when everything went right, when the world was a beautiful, sunny place, when I was happy and joyous and loved everyone –

It’s been two weeks since that lovely day and my life has CRASHED around me.  Three days later, I had just managed to work out that I might have a computer virus when my broadband died.  A day later, after the Virgin engineer had been, I found the virus and killed it (hopefully.)  I also had to battle the housing benefit office (a battle that is STILL ongoing), the taxman sent me a demand for my next assessment, the shoulder specialist told me that the only way I was going to have a pain-free life was to have a ghastly operation (no thanks), and I got my head bitten off by the H & S guy at work which caused untold problems when I complained (bravely, I thought.)

Some weird stuff is going on here.  I finish the most difficult story I have ever written, feel real joy for the first time in a VERY long time and then my life collapses uncontrollably.  I’m left feeling I can’t cope with anything, that I’m utterly all alone, I cannot speak because no one can hear me – who does this sound like?  The main character – he who does not speak – from “Experienced.”  It wasn’t that I couldn’t find his voice, it was that his voice was mine.  I was writing a character that was too close to me.  I’ve struggled with this before but here, at least, I can take heart because the last character that was essentially me was Vincent Gomenzi and in the end, I got him right.  It took me two gruelling years but I got a nearly-full first draft down after ten thousand edits (and another one to come this summer when I get it into a publishable state!)  But still.  I am made of gossamer and the wind is howling.

I’ve published “Experienced” free on my website for all to read.  It’s still needs work, not least some paring down of the more lumpen bits.  That elation has long, long gone.  I have almost no confidence at all in this story now and my life continues in the kind of chaos I can’t deal with (much ostriching). I would be delighted if any of my blog followers could comment on “Experienced.”

http://www.susannahjbell.com/short-story-experienced.html

Very very very very very Gomenzi

I’ve started preparing FLESH FOR SALE as a .doc for Smashwords and find that every time I come round to editing/managing/preparing this novel, I find myself intrigued all over again by my blurb for V.GOMENZI.  It feels awfully self-indulgent to actually LIKE one’s own blurb but in this case, I think it’s mostly pleasure and satisfiaction that I’ve finally got it right.  Writing a blurb is WAY harder than writing an entire 150 thousand word novel.  I’m violently aware that I don’t have the skill to do it and sweat blood and bricks every time I once again have to make up something riveting.  Quite aside from capturing one’s potential audience, there’s also the matter of honesty.  I don’t know how many blurbs I’ve read (usually those of successful authors) that don’t get the story right:  in a dippy romance I read recently (yes, I confess, I need to read the occasional romance between all the hardcore crime), the heroine is said to go off hunting down all her old flames on Facebook AFTER her fiance dumped her.  Hmmm, actually this didn’t happen at all.  The book being promoted was quite different to the one I read.  What does this mean?  That blurb writers don’t read the books they’re blurbing?  That they’re willing to write any old shit just to sell the book?  The latter I can believe but why would an author allow it?  On the other hand, if the author is selling a zillion copies a week, why would they care.  They’ve sold their soul to their agent/publisher/publicist:  this is what they get for it.  Personal integrity lost.

Anyone who’s read TRANSFERENCE will understand why I called this one V.GOMENZI.  Except when I read it, I see Very Gomenzi.  Because he is.  Very.

V. GOMENZI

Who is Vincent Gomenzi?

How does he end up in Sistia Scarpora’s life four hundred years after trapping his brother on Nigel?

And how does he become involved with Recovery and Igen Dyce?

Third in the Fleet Quintet, V. Gomenzi traces the history of Recovery – from Nigel to Garanthal to Dragør Johnson.

It follows the Angel of Deadly Enlightenment – from its fall in the Garden of Truth to the last Fleet game.

And it reveals the truth about Vincent Gomenzi:

The vortex.

The Fleet machine city.

The First.

V. Gomenzi.

Mindwalker supreme.

Can evil develop a conscience?

Transferring Transference

I’m going completely nuts trying to turn Transference into a paperback.  These are the times when I wish I had VAST gobs of capital and could just get someone else to do it for me.  It’s not the mechanics (spending hours and hours arsing about on CreateSpace) but the fact that for all this work, all I can turn out in the end is a not very professional looking novel that is too big and too expensive.

The first problem is the cover.  I can’t use the ebook cover because the resolution isn’t high enough, despite the fact that I jacked up the resolution as high as it could physically go – CreateSpace cover creator just would not accept it.  This meant either (a) finding another image and paying through the teeth for it or (b) using one of CreateSpace’s free images.  My lack of capital meant going with (b) and believe me, the images they have are not good.  They aren’t bad – they just aren’t appropriate.  Nothing remotely sci-fi-ish.  And anyway, I really want a white corridor on the cover but there aren’t any anywhere in the universe, it seems (except perhaps inside Gomenzi’s head:  perhaps that explains it all.)

When the proof finally arrived, after a wait of nearly three weeks, it was most disappointing and awfully….grey.  So today I had another go at the cover, driving myself bonkers trying out everything over and over and over again.  With CS’s cover creator, you get to chose a style (eg an image that covers back and front covers) and within that style, you can chose five or so different fonts, none of which are EVER suitable for sci-fi covers.  Lots of romance ones, though, very curly and pretty but not appropriate.

Once I finally sorted out a slightly less crap cover, I decided that I didn’t want this HUGE sized book and went for something more feasible:  the 5” by 8”.  That’s the slightly bigger paperback you get in a shop.  Naturally I had to slave away all afternoon making changes to the manuscript because the size had shunted down from 9” by 11”.  Lots of peculiar blank pages to delete.

Finally it was done.  Uploaded it.  Uploaded the damn cover about seven times before internet-land realised it was actually finished…..and finally I could chose a price (and then order a proof.)  THE PRICE – DEAR GOD – THE PRICE!!!!  So THAT’s why everyone goes for 9 by 11.  The minimum price for the 5 by 8 was nearly $20!  Who wants to buy a sci-fi paperback for nearly twenty dollars!  It’s insane!  That must be around £12 which is just…well, insane.  The smaller the book, the greater the expense to publish it.  How does that work?  I’m sure there’s a very logical reason but I don’t want to know.  I don’t care.  I’m back to looking cheap and unprofessional and it grates.

So.  I’m going to have to go back and do it all again.  Resubmit the 9 by 11 manuscript.  Redo the cover.  Yet again.  Pay for a proof.  Snarl at the bank for trumping up evil bank charges.  (You spent a dollar!  We will charge you nine million pounds for spending a dollar! MWHAHAHAHA)(Quite.)

How’s this for the cover, then?

Yet another Createspace cover - Copy

My new website is published!!!

Weebly letter

 

 

I know this is just an auto-letter from Weebly but it’s rather splendid anyway!  In the UK, it was actually born at about midday with mild February sunshine pouring in the window and an entire afternoon ahead with nothing in it…..bliss.

The Excruciating Pain of Writing

Two summers ago I strained my shoulder at work.  After eight months, I noticed it was still painful and thought I’d better do something about it.  Some physio and it seemed to be getting better – but just as it suddenly got a lot worse, the physio signed me off.  And then the pain really began, along with the worsening factor of mobility.  By the time I got to see the NHS physio a second time, I was virtually disabled.  I can’t begin to describe the despair of not being able to do perfectly ordinary things – getting dressed, bathroom functions, getting a mug out of the cupboard….let alone my job, where I had to fight to get a ladder to reach the top shelves and forced myself to put a brave face on every day because I was terrified of the dole queue (…been there, done that…)  The physio thought I might have a frozen shoulder and gave me one treatment that really helped, then a second treatment that nearly killed me.  By the third appointment, he was referring me to a specialist for a steroid injection.

A year and half had now gone by since the initial injury, which at the time hadn’t even seemed that bad, just rather persistent.  Both the physio’s ill-advised second treatment and the specialist’s inspection of my shoulder (“mmmm, let’s see, does your arm go in this completely impossible direction….?”  force force shove shove scream scream pain pain) left me in agony.  My shoulder was so inflamed that the drugs stopped working and nothing brought relief.  The pain pushed me into deepest despair about ever being able-bodied again, though I did keep telling myself that there are many, many people who are far, far worse off than I am, with dreadful illnesses and no life expectancy.  It’s only a sore shoulder, I repeated, over and over, though it didn’t help.

The weirdest thing was that the original injury occurred when my arm was in the exact same position as it used to be when writing longhand.  Imagine you’re sitting at a desk, head bent over, body curved to the left, right elbow out, hand writing on paper at a slant – yep, it’s the WRITING POSITION.  At the back of all this is some psychosomatic thing to do with writing.  Since my whole life is writing – though these days it’s done with a rather better posture at a desk top computer – it’s immensely interesting that the underlying injury is connected.  All my school and college work was done in longhand as computers hadn’t been invented yet – indeed, I am that prehistoric.  And not being able to write is, to me, the most painful circumstance of all.

On New Year’s Eve, I had the first steroid injection which was so horrible it made me cry.  What a way to end the year.  For the next month, there was still pain but it was more tolerable and more manageable:  no more NSAIDs, just a whole lot of Volterol gel.  Today I went along for the next injection and dreaded it.  By the time I got to the lovely hushed clinic (it felt private rather than NHS – are they smartening up?) I was extremely stressed while waiting.  Finally, the rather marvellous doctor/clinician/specialist/person-armed-with-large-needle did another ultrasound, noted that the bursa was no longer inflamed but that my shoulder was unstable.  And finally I got the right diagnosis (which is exactly what the physio had thought it was) – I had a frozen shoulder.  I had already figured this out and had been following the advice of a truly fantastic website called – appropriately – www.frozenshoulder.com

I didn’t get a second steroid injection but something else equally horrible.  This time I was prepared for the mind numbingly awful pain, got myself more comfortable and while that damn needle got shoved into my shoulder joint and hung around in there for several thousand years, I took the nurse’s hand and held it.  This moment was probable more monumental for me than anything else because I NEVER ask for help.  I NEVER admit weakness – to others, though constantly to myself.  The nurse said it made her feel better too because she could feel my pain.  Afterwards, the anaesthetic made my arm feel like Harry Potter’s when he lost all the bones in it because of that arsehole wizard (whose name I’ve forgotten) and in Costa, I had to ask them to carry my tray for me because it – my arm – felt so weak.

It’s weird feeling so dazed.  The Costa clock was utterly blank.  I couldn’t see the arms at all.  Have they fallen off, I wondered.  Why can’t I see properly?  Why do I feel so disconnected from the universe?  After my flat white and a muffin, the arms reappeared.  Yes, arms – arm – shoulder.  I get it.  Everything is really weird.

I just want to be able to write again.