I love this season. It's just absolutely the best. I took a short walk after work yesterday out into the rice fields behind the school, and from there I could see the ring of mountains that completely surround Nagano. The air was a little chilly, but the sky was clear, the sun just about to dip below the hills. Even in the middle of the city I felt like the only person in the world. Just divine.
Not long after, I was back on the road, on to the evening job, before returning to the mayhem of family. I need those few minutes of calm and peace, phoneless, contactless, away from people and their constant needs and requests and demands ... it might only be for a few minutes here and there, but its so important. I think more people should try it, just leave everything behind and step away for a few minutes. Take a November walk and realise that in the great scheme of things, you're nothing, and none of your problems matter.
Back to the real world ... I've pushed all other writing stuff aside this week to tackle a complete read through of the four Benjamin Forrest books back to back, something which is brutally daunting for a reader of my tortoise speed ... especially when the blocks of time required to fully get into a book are few and far between. Sell-through has never been as high as I would like for these despite their merits, and I don't think any proofreader should ever be fully trusted. So, halfway through book 1 I find small things which might make a difference - Benjamin's Secondary changes from Burnton to Burton, the orange sun becomes red for a time ... the pacing is off in a couple of chapters and at one point Benjamin goes off on a complete tangent about something otherwise unrelated to the ongoing story.
All easily fixable, of course, and things that wouldn't even be there were it not for the relentless pressure to publish and publish fast. And for what? Six weeks before Christmas and my sales are nowhere, ads aren't responding, free-first-in-series aren't achieving follow up sales, and I'm really wondering where this leaves me. I decided to leave a Facebook ad for the Christmas book running, even though I'm making a loss, hoping that things pick up. A thousand free downloads of The Man by the Sea has so far resulted in no sales of The Clockmaker's Secret, something which I find incredibly surprising considering the reviews, but maybe people are being tight with their money in the run up to Christmas. Still, I will do what I always do, and plow on ahead, hoping that somewhere along the way I pick up a bit of luck and momentum.
I had one of those days the other day, where I mess around online and look up all the writers I remember from when I started out in 2012, the ones whose posts I read on Kboards, whose tweets I retreated, whose books I occasionally bought because they seemed to deserve a bit of support. A few have gone on to bigger and better success, but the vast majority have vanished, given up, moved on.
That, in the least, is enough to spur me on. I'm still here. And I'm not going anywhere. Might be time to take another walk, though.
The heartbreak of the title refers to my view of the World Cup Rugby final. Heartbroken, gutted, disbelieving, angry even, that we played so poorly. Of course, had I been South African, all those feelings would have been the opposite. Joy, elation, surprise, excitement.
It's all a matter of perspective. Well played in the end to South Africa, although I'll long after be disappointed that the England team who first thumped the Australians and then shut out New Zealand so well was nowhere to be seen. There was a lot of talk that we'd played our "final" in the semis, and while of course it was denied, pschologically some of the players had the feeling that the game was already won.
Still, congratulations to South Africa. Worthy winners.
Yesterday we had a very cultural event in Japan, the 3-5-7 festival. On this day, three and seven-year-old girls and five-year-old boys all dress up nice and go to a local shrine to pray for future health and happiness. We managed to get the munchkin into a kimono but smiles came only when she was tricked into it. Still, it was an interesting day. The picture below is of her peering into the pond at the shrine we visited.
Writing wise, things have been slow over the last few days. They usually are when I'm busy with childcare as I don't have a lot of energy left. I have finished reading over Coming Home to Me This Christmas, in which I picked up a couple of small typos which I'll correct before uploading the file again later this week. By tomorrow or Thursday review copies should be available.
Slim 5 has now reached 53,000 words, which is the longest of the five books so far. It's moving along pretty well and I'm hoping to finish it this month.
And in the remainder of my spare time I've begun reading through Benjamin Forrest and the Curse of the Miscreants. Unless I come up against any sections that make no sense whatsoever, I'm hoping to have it out by the end of the month. I'm really keen to start writing another book in the series too. I have a title, and i'm mulling over ideas.
Sales-wise, things have flatlined again. I really don't know how people make money doing this. Waiting for the Christmas rush. Waiting ... waiting ...
Split my time this morning between final proofreading for Coming Home to Me This Christmas and continuing the story of Slim Hardy in The Angler's Tale. One of the tweaks I made for Coming Home was changing Tesco's (as in the supermarket) to Tesco, which is apparently its proper name. I've always called it Tesco's, and perhaps the proofreader has as well, but I thought I'd fix it as sometimes readers pick up on the strangest of things (had a reviewer complain once about my use of "cookies" instead of "biscuits", which apparently pulled her out of the story).
The Angler's Tale continues to move forward well. It's over 50,000 words now and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the moment I'm estimating it to run to about 65,000 words, but we'll see.
And this morning I got my file for Benjamin Forrest and the Curse of the Miscreants back from the proofreader. Very excited. And she said the parts that I thought sucked didn't actually suck, so that's even better. Very happy, looking forward to getting this out soon. Thinking about mid-December at the moment, because I already have a release next month, plus I have a 1-3 Benjamin Forrest boxed set to come before then, which I need to finish messing about with and get out. It's going to be quite a busy few weeks, and I'm already excited about starting the next book, as the Benjamin Forrest world of Endinfinium is one of my favorites for sure.
I've been quite the churner this year. This year's releases look like this so far:
The Games Keeper (Feb)
The Dark Master of Dogs (April)
Slow Train (May)
We'll have a Wonderful Christmas (Sept)
Coming Home to Me this Christmas (coming Nov 15th)
plus there was a Crow 1-5 boxed set in June, I think. Not bad for a part timer, and to think people spend years sitting on a single book. Just get it out there and write the next.
On a downer, I filed my taxes in the UK for the 2018-19 tax year a couple of nights ago, and when you offset the income to the costs of ads and production it makes for depressing reading. I made money, woo! But hardly any. I could do a couple of extra private lessons per week and probably make the same amount with a fraction of the effort. Still, got to play the game, got to be in it to win it.
On another downer, in the outside world, one of my cats has now been missing for two weeks. The one in question, Kiki, is a bit of a roamer, living mostly outside in the shed (he has a nice igloo-like box and I put floor warmers in it in winter, but he's scared of my daughter so doesn't come in the house much), but he's now been gone for the longest I can remember. He's vanished for a week here and there, but never this long. The last time I saw him he was full of beans, so who knows what happened. We don't live near any major roads, but he likes a fight from time to time. On the plus side, there are lots of old people who put cat food out in my area, so he might have gravitated somewhere else for a bit. I'm holding off building his winter bed for a while, to see if he comes back or not.
My other cat, Miffy (in the picture below), however, seems delighted at his disappearance, and celebrated yesterday by catching a mouse, bringing it into the living room and then scoffing it in front of me. To make me feel better, she then came and licked my face.
Twas an interesting weekend. Chucked down with rain yet again, so a few of my soon-to-be-dried persimmons have got mould on them. Some students suggested I'd hung them too early, but I don't get a lot of free time during daylight hours, so I have to do them when I have a chance.
What a great rugby result! Very happy as an England to see the All Blacks beaten. Will be a tough final against South Africa (I was rooting for Wales, the home nation), but if we can put in another performance like Saturday it'll be hard to beat us. Still, we're probably due an off day so I'll be on tenderhooks throughout the whole game.
Got my proofread back for Coming Back to Me This Christmas, so it's now been loaded onto my kindle for a final check. I have to have the final file uploaded by November 11th, but of course I want to finish it earlier so I can get it out for the reviewers. I tend to take my sweet time about this part so will be trying to push myself along.
The last three or four mornings I've been sat quietly with my phone (and usually the cat) while working on Slim 5. Progress, now I've been devoting some real quiet time to it, has been good. It's close to 50,000 words and I'm on chapter 51. I got 1300 words this morning which is brilliant because I average about 250 a day on Slim books. Still, I'm not convinced by this book yet even as the end starts to unfold, so I'll probably try to find some trusted beta readers to give me an opinion. I'm actually confident I can finish it sometime soon, however. Fingers crossed.
Yesterday I was looking after my daughter, so took her up to the Fairy Tale Museum at Kurohime. It's a place near the ski resort which is dedicated to children's books and in particular to Michael Ende, writer of The Neverending Story, who apparently lived there for a while or something. In any case, it's pretty much just a couple of rooms of old kids books behind glass displays and a small, very expensive gift shop. The outside is much more fun, with great views of the mountains and space to run around.
However, by the time we got there it was absolutely chucking down and we could barely see the road for the mist. My daughter got scared by some puppet display and so after a forty-five minute drive up there, we left after half an hour. Disappointing, but you never know until you try these things. Below is the view you should be able to see, from when I was there three years ago.
Yesterday I put my third Christmas book up for pre-order (you can find it here). Release date is November 15th, so it needs a bit of a quick turnaround but it shouldn't be too hard as its went off to the editor in pretty good shape this week. I'm anticipating it back on Friday so next week will be about tweaking.
This morning I enjoyed my best period on Slim 5 in a while, getting half a chapter or so, which I then uploaded from my phone to the computer. The manuscript is sitting at 44,236 words, which is actually close to the length of the other four books already (44k - 54k), although it feels like there's a way to go in this one. I'd like to keep it to under 65k if possible. If it ends up at 90k or something it'll be way out of proportion to the rest of the series.
I actually started trying to reorganise it again by making notes on each chapter, before thinking, screw it, and just picking up where I'd got to. It's way easier to edit a finished mess than half a finished mess, and only an amateur throws away 44,000 words. I've done it a few times, but not often since I started self-publishing. Once you have a certain amount of experience (my own is over 30 completed books now) you understand that you're going to get sticky sections, but if you can just keep the new words coming you'll eventually figure it all out.
Actually this morning, I was thinking about how people must perceive me, with all this talk of Christmas books and mysteries. I've long felt pigeonholed as a science fiction writer, but the truth is that I don't belong in any particular genre. I only gained that label after the Tube Riders series was a minor success, but Underground was actually my first science fiction novel. The six or seven I'd written before that were everything from horror to psyche drama to comedy. I'm not really sure what is even my preferred genre anymore, I just like telling a good story. One thing I do feel though is that I much prefer writing one-offs. The series thing is 100% about trying to make money in self-publishing. Exile would probably never have come along if I hadn't self-published Underground. I see people with 30+ books in the same series and I wonder how on earth they can maintain the interest. I like to tell a story and then say goodbye to the characters, not dig them up over and over again.
On a similar theme, I saw the new Star Wars trailer yesterday, and while I'm looking forward to seeing it, I wonder at the point of reviving Palpatine. Sure, he was a cool bad guy, but you know, he died. It feels like he's only been brought back to life in order to untangle the unholy mess that was made of Last Jedi. Still, one way or another, it'll probably be entertaining.
Outside the writing, I've started getting my dried persimmons peeled and hung. I'm more of a Japanese grandmother than most Japanese grandmothers, and as far as I can see I'm the first person on my street to do some. I just feel that its a shame to waste the fruit on the massive persimmon tree which overhangs my garden, even if I'm the only one who ever eats them. Lucky escape yesterday though - I was out picking a few more when I looked down to see something moving on a squashed one on the floor below me. It was a giant Japanese hornet, all of a thumb's length long. I was too scared to pick any more after that...!
First up the book news - I finished my first (and probably only) edit/read-through of my third Christmas book this morning, so it'll be going off to the editor today. I'm planning on a mid-November release which I'll probably put up on pre-order today or tomorrow. I'm pretty proud of it really - it's a fairly simple story (as most Christmas books are) but flows okay and captures the spirit of Christmas well enough, which is pretty much its main function. I'm sure readers of my other Christmas books will like it.
On the bleaker side, after switching off my last Facebook ad I've since had no Amazon sales at all in two days, and only a couple of hundred page reads on the last two books I have in the Kindle Unlimited program. Not surprising, as Amazon is pretty much pay-to-play these days and it tends to sink any books not in the Kindle Unlimited program. So that'll be about $1 profit over two days across 28 novels, three boxed sets, two collections, and a dozen or so short stories and novellas. Damn glad I started in 2012. It must be brutal for newcomers coming in now with their single pride and joy novel and hoping to make some money off it. Good luck with that.
The weekend was tiring but fun. Managed to get out for a couple of hours to a mate's on Saturday to watch England thrash Australia at rugby (always a wonderful thing), but otherwise it was pretty much all daddy/daughter time with my wife either at work or doing stuff for her parents. She likes animals so we took in both of the bigger zoos within driving distance (we also have a little free zoo nearby).
Sunday was interesting because we went to Suzaka Zoo which is pretty much off the national radar apart from a kangaroo called Hachi which liked to punch a bag hung from a rope in his cage. However, Hachi died ten years ago and is now remembered for the fleeting fame he brought the zoo with a large stone memorial and statue. The zoo also has a large display of stuffed former animals from the period 1970 - 1990 (after which they presumably decided it was getting to be a pretty morbid pursuit). My daughter was fascinated by it, but she would only let me hold her at a distance just too far for me to read any of the signs. At three years old, her most common word now is "why?" and I found myself repeatedly having to answer why the animals were indeed stuffed, bleached from the sun, and still standing inside a glass display perhaps fifty years after they died.
"So we don't forget them," was pretty much my repeated answer. Then later, I had to explain why the boxing kangaroo had a big stone memorial. "Because he brought happiness to a lot of people, and when we see the statue, we remember that happiness."
I thought this concept might be too much for her, but later, while watching her play in the nearby kids slides and swings area, I briefly lost sight of her, before spotting her moments later, wondering off in the direction of the statue, where she stood for several minutes without being aware I was watching her, lost in some personal revelation. Later, when we left, she wanted to see the statue from the car window one last time before we drove past. Not the animals themselves, but a statue of one of the animals.
I often wonder what's going on in my daughter's mind, but there's clearly something profound about the way she is learning to understand the world and the meaning of various human activities. I often wish I could still summon that sense of wonder, instead of the overwhelming jadedness I often feel. Still, my daughter brings me a sense of joy unlike little else, and for that it was worth every moment, every repeated explanation.
Yesterday I had a rare bit of time to myself that wasn't at 4 a.m., so I took myself down to the local cinema for only my third movie of the year. The only English movie playing was Joker, which was fine because it looked pretty good.
Just as an aside, there be spoilers below. I'm going to talk about what happened so if you don't want to know, stop reading now. I won't warn you again.
It was a good movie. In fact, it was more than that, it was an excellent movie. However, holy god was it bleak. It affected me in ways that few movies do these days, in that I came away from it feeling more than a little uncomfortable. And not just because of the violence, of which there was a lot (rated 15 in Japan - seriously, when I was a kid camp horror rubbish like Freddy was an 18, yet a movie with a guy getting knifed in the eye and then having his head slammed against a wall with blood flying everywhere is a 15?! No wonder crime rates are rising), but for what it represented.
I found myself watching what seemed to be a real life social commentary on the 99 percent movement or (whatever buzzword its using) and rising anger against the super rich. Politically, I'm a total socialist, and I found myself uncomfortably on the Joker's side as the movie progressed, as everything he did was in reaction to someone giving him an unprovoked kicking, or railing on him in some other way.
It was clear that the director had this concern because of the insertion halfway through of the implied murder of the mother and her young daughter (thankfully off-screen), as if to remind us, the viewer, that the Joker was the bad guy, that we shouldn't be applauding him for blowing the brains out of people who treated him like shit (so practically everyone then), but should be hating him for turning into a murderous psychopath.
I admit I don't watch a lot of superhero movies (I don't watch a lot of movies at all these days) but it did make me wonder if the genre should be going this dark. We have dramas and war movies to show us how fucked up the world is, do we really need superhero movies to do the same? Ultra violence, swearing, child abuse ... what happened to Lex Luther, Mr. Freeze and the Green Goblin?
Maybe I'm just getting old, but I came out of the cinema not only certain I would never mock anyone for anything ever again, but worryingly convinced that even what is supposed to be fantasy is now dangerously close to a reflection of real life, one that appears to suck for the vast majority of people in it.
I'm not one of those writers who try to tell you how hard writing is - sure, there are a few stresses involved and there can be up days and down days, but in general, writing is easy. It's not like standing against a coal face and having to load it with dynamite. You sit down in a chair with a computer (and recently a cat) on your lap and a cup of coffee to the side, and you tap buttons to make words appear on a screen.
It's pretty straightforward.
Drafting, at least for myself, is the easy bit. The longer you get into a series and the more popular that series becomes, the harder it gets, because you're no longer writing for yourself, you're writing for the audience.
Still, first world problems.
It's still pretty easy.
Selling books, on the other hand, is a real pain in the ass. When you look at your sales dashboard on Amazon or Kobo or wherever, you get these little dopamine high and lows - woo, fourteen sales on that day, just one on that, a big fat zero over there, twenty-seven on that day but at 99 cents on an ad that cost $25 - I imagine that the peaks and troughs never go away no matter how well you're doing. You'll still have what you consider high days and what you consider low.
These days, eight long years in, less than five sales a day is low for me, over twenty high. Of course, with ads it all gets artificially inflated, and the income is random. I could sell twenty 99c books and make less than $5, or I could sell three copies of the Tube Riders Complete series and made $25.
You're forever rolling with the punches, and there are days when you wonder if it's really worth it.
I'm not making livable money, and apart from a couple of very brief months, never have done. Most months, I make a token amount just large enough to convince myself that it's worth carrying on.
However, you start to bank on certain things to work out, things that might make a real difference. Christmas is big this year for me, because a decent profit is the only way I can afford to take the family back home to England next summer. Last Christmas, I ran continuous ads on two books, one Slim Hardy book and one Christmas book. They both did great - in that I covered my costs, the Slim book on sales to the other book in the series, the Christmas book just about on its own.
This year, however, with those series expanded to four and (soon to be) three books, I'm banking on those ads working to the same extent. If they don't - and it's quite likely they won't, with that being the nature of the industry - and I fail to make much profit on a four-book and a three-book series, it's back to the drawing board all over again. Do I spend next year trying to write two to three more in each series, or do I give up and try something else? I'm trapped in a web where I'm trying to balance what I enjoy writing with becoming successful as a self-published author, and it's a lot of pressure on top of working full time and trying to keep a family happy and content. You find yourself squeezing your fears and worries into the dark crevasses at the beginning and the end of the day, when all your other duties are over or yet to begin, because its a journey you go on alone, one that only other self-published writers will ever really understand.
And then your cat needs feeding or the child wants to play with dolls and you find yourself wondering whether you're creating stress for yourself that you could forget simply by shutting your laptop away, or whether you're up for the fight for one more day, and you know, deep down, that you're a writer, and that come tomorrow morning in the dark some hours before dawn, you'll be up, the glow of the laptop in front of you, and you'll be rolling with the punches all over again.
Well, what a weekend that was. On Friday I had a day off work so a mate and I headed down to Shizuoka prefecture near to Mount Fuji to watch a game of World Cup Rugby. With Typhoon Hagibis approaching, we weren't sure we'd even get a game, but luckily our game (Australia vs Georgia) was still played, albeit in pouring rain.
Anticipating that the trains wouldn't be running the next day I decided to drive down (correctly, as it turned out), and after a few random events (including mistaking which CITY our hotel was in - don't ask!) we made it to the game with about fifteen minutes to spare. It was actually a pretty decent game with Georgia putting up a fight for most of it, although Australia came out winners in the end. We got lucky with our seats and actually had the rain line right in front of us. We were dry but the people on the seats in front were getting wet.
Massive congestion at the train station (in the pouring rain) meant we didn't get back to the hotel until nearly half eleven. We had hoped to meet another mate but that meeting never happened, and the big drink up we had planned ended up being two beers for me while my mate fell asleep, a quick dinner across the road and then bed, the plan being to get up early and drive back before the typhoon hit.
The next morning we were in the car by seven thirty. In Hamamatsu City where we were staying the rain was already lashing even though the typhoon hadn't made landfall yet. We decided to head westwards in the direction of Nagoya before heading north back to Nagano since the typhoon was supposed to hit to the east. As it happened, it was so big it didn't really matter.
We had a complete nightmare just getting out of Hamamatsu because the GPS kept wanting to take us on a card-only highway when we wanted a ticket gate. After lots of wasting time it finally led us to what turned out to be an unfinished highway, on which we enjoyed a clear road for about 10km before abruptly being dropping off in the middle of nowhere and having to drive 100km through a mountain pass along roads covered in leaves and fallen branches. Eventually, however, we made it to the main Nagano Expressway, which was yet to be closed. Despite not being able to get much speed up due to the rain, it was actually pretty clear of traffic, and seven hours later, I made it home.
Then of course, Saturday night, the real flooding hit the city. Where I live, perched on a little knoll far from the main river, we were fine, although some family members and friends experienced some flooding and damage. Considering the damage handed out to large parts of the city, however, we were very lucky, and my heart goes out to those people most affected by the huge floods.
Sunday and Monday I was on childcare duty. It was surreal in many ways that while helicopters flew overhead and the roads were full of emergency vehicles that I could be doing something so mundane as buying my daughter a new pillow and duvet for her bed. It's a little morbid but I really wanted to take a look at the worst of it, because seeing things with your own eyes is the only way to understand the full impact without the filter of television. However, with my daughter in the car and the road out to that area full of emergency vehicles, I did what I felt was the responsible thing and kept away from the area. Instead, I went down to the little river near my house and took a few pictures, even though its nothing compared to the major river that burst its banks. I also got a picture from up on the hill near my house, but you'd need to zoom it in to see the flooded area in the distance.
Anyway, this blog was about writing, right?
I didn't get much done over the weekend, although I've been working on the edits for the third Christmas book. As expected, its very easy going, and I'm hoping to get it off to the proofreader next week. I've got the first draft for the cover but I haven't got around to looking at it yet. I've also been doing some work on the next Slim, but its still a complete and utter mess.
Advertising ... I'm having a love-hate with Facebook ads at the moment. I restarted a Christmas ad which did really well last year, but while I've been shifting books at 99 cents, as soon as I raise the price, the sames tail off. Last year, they were selling this well at 1.99 UK, but either I'm advertising too early or people aren't spending money. Unfortunately, I make a lost at 99 cents, so every few days I pause the ads to see if the sales knock-on to book 2. If they don't, I lose money. Sometimes I think this writing is a mug's game. I have 28 books out now, yet make less than I made three years ago on half that. I've long ago given up on writing full time but I figured if I just keep putting them out by the time I retire I'll have a decent background income. At the moment, I have this fear that I could have 150 books out and barely make any money. It's certainly getting harder all the time.
This morning was a bit of a nothing morning really. With the Christmas book being left alone for a few weeks and not wanting to start yet on the next major project (Benjamin Forrest 5) I tried to get into the ongoing fifth Slim Hardy book.
It didn't go particularly well, although I got 300 words or so, which is about my daily average for these. Since I started them in August 2017 with no expectations at all, I've published four, so at two books a year it's not going bad for a supposed side project. The problem is that they've been rather more successful than I expected and the pressure has really grown to make this one awesome. Some of my books are plotted - Benjamin Forrest 2, for example, started out as two sides of A4 and with few variations came out exactly as I'd planned - but I purposely don't plan these books at all, neither do I write them very fast, in order that as much goes on in my head as it does on the page. I generally start out with a few key ideas I want to incorporate (it's hard to share these without giving away plot details but one of Clockmaker's, for example, was that I wanted to have automatons in it, while Games Keeper was supposed to have identical triplets (never happened, so not sure what happened there!). Angler's Tale's key points included being set in Dartmouth (I didn't even realise Agatha Christie had once lived nearby until way after I'd started, but of course I have to shoehorn that in somewhere) and that I wanted mermaids in it. Okay, it's not really a spoiler, because 40,000 words in I'm still not sure whether there will be any in it or not. There might be, that's all I can say, but its evolving all the time.
I think that the problem is that for the first time, I'm generally concerned about writing a turkey. People have expectations of these books, more than they might have of others. People told me that the fifth Crow book was underwhelming and that's maybe okay because no one really reads that series and I just wanted to get it finished (I actually quite like that book, by the way, although I think Castle of Nightmares might be the best, closely followed by Circus of Machinations, which I maintain is an excellent SF which can be read as a standalone, even though its sells practically nothing). But anyway.
I don't care much about reviews because everyone will have a different opinion and some people will hate something that everyone else loved. Moby Dick is considered a classic, but I think it's a turd spread over 530 pages. And while general opinion is that The Beastmaster is one of the worst movies ever made, it was a mainstay of my childhood. And I was the kid who walked around school with a box of Slade tapes being relentlessly ridiculed, five years before Noel Gallagher said they were cool and it became okay to like them.
So, if there's the odd hater, I won't care that much, but the longer I write this book the more I fear that it's going to suck and it'll derail the series completely. Mind you, I thought that about Slow Train, and several people have said it was the best book yet. Others have said it showed I was slacking off, but you know, averages and all that.
Anyway, I'm rambling now. Back to the grind.