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.
It's time again to attempt to restart the blog ... and this time around it will be for all my writing, including pen names.
October has been a good month so far, rattling along at over 2000 new words a day. Just this morning I finished my third Christmas book, titled Coming Home to Me this Christmas, which came in at 53,000 words and took just 34 days to draft. Usually first draft to publication takes ages but getting this out before Christmas is obviously massively important. The cover has already been commissioned and I'll be sending it off for editing in the next few days.
Now that's out of the way, I'm going to try to push the fifth Jack Benton book (The Angler's Tale) along a little. These books exist in the background, written in first draft on my phone, a few minutes every day. I've had some reviewer criticism of this method - usual snarking bullshit ("he says its written on a phone and you can tell"), but it keeps the tone consistent and almost means the plots get teased out rather than forced.
Moving forward, I'll also be getting to the edits for the fourth Benjamin Forrest - Curse of the Miscreants. The editor has finished part one and is working on part 2. Again, hopefully out by Christmas.
As always when a book gets finished I'm basking in the finished-book glow, where you feel suddenly like you have all the free time in the world (probably why I'm writing this...!), but I like to get back to drafting as soon as I can, because that's what makes me really happy.
And that's about it for today. Keep checking in for more updates. I'll do my best....
A new Tube Riders novel, In the Shadow of London, is finished in first draft. Can't wait to get this one out to you. Take a look at the cover below. Curretnly hoping for a March release.
Been busy as usual of late. My new Tube Riders world book is sitting at around 220 pages, so probably about half done. I actually sat down the other night and fleshed out a complete plot for the rest of the book, some additional 23 chapters. There's a good chance that I could have the first draft done by the end of the month.
In other news, I'm working on the first three paperbacks in the Tales of Crow series. All three should be available in the new few weeks.
And in addition to that, I have a very exciting narrator on board to do the audiobook for Tube Riders: Exile, which should be completed by the end of the year or early next.
So, busy days. Happy reading, happy writing. Don't forget, if you haven't signed up for the newsletter yet get on it - you get a few ebook of Tales of Crow 2: The Castle of All Nightmares. For a limited time only!
In case you haven't seen them, the sparkling new Tube Riders covers are now live. In addition, I'm seventeen chapters into a new book set in the Tube Riders world. More progress as it happens, and don't forget, Tales of Crow 3: The Puppeteer King is released on September 25th!
Very excited indeed with what I've been writing over the last few days, and I know you will be too. I don't want to say too much about it because I'm not yet passed my give up threshold (usually around 35,000 words), but I've written 40 pages already and it's flowing nicely. Really great to see some familiar faces again, and catch up with some new ones who've been kicking around in my head for a while. More updates soon.
In other news, Crow 3: The Puppeteer King has gone off for final proofing. I should have a release date in the next couple of weeks.
Been a great month for writing so far. 56,000 words, one book finished and last night I started on a new book I've been promising for a long time. I'm also 1/3 through the edits on Crow 3, which should be out within a month. I'm going to keep quiet on what book I'm working on for now in case it doesn't work out, but I'm nearly two chapters in and so far it's going pretty well.