The Great Muse yells Bingo: or, that was 2017

That's my editing work done for the year. The last couple of months have been super-busy with a ton of work coming in. I'm a long way from complaining, but hopefully I can spend the next couple of weeks catching up on other, more personal projects. Meaning, of course, I hope to do a lot more writing through to early January.

So I thought it might be nice, now I actually have time to do things like blog, to take note of this year. What I've been doing, what's ahead, and what I read that I got a kick out of.

Over the past twelve months I've been keeping busy producing fiction in the form of three novellas - although one of them, still in progress, is edging deeper into novel territory.

The first, Ghost Frequencies, a contemporary ghost story and hard sf thriller, is to be published in the near future by NewCon Press, a highly-regarded small press in the UK well-known for the quality of their work.

The second, Devil's Road, is quite a different beast, being more in the vein of science fantasy/horror. Not only that, unlike pretty much anything else I've ever written, it's influenced by cinema rather than literature. In a way, it's a love letter to the science fiction films of the 1980s, particularly those directed by John Carpenter. It's still currently under submission to a publisher, but I'm hopeful it'll sell.

The third is, of course, a sequel to Extinction Game and Survival Game, tentatively titled Last Tour of the Apocalypse. I'd figured this would top out at somewhere around forty thousand words, but at the time of writing it's slightly north of 55,000 words and about three quarters of the way through a substantial and deep second draft.

I also got started on a full-length novel, called Proxy. That's stalled for the moment at about thirty thousand words. Progress with it is fine, but I've decided to put it to one side and concentrate on finishing Last Tour.

Well, hopefully in the next year I might sell Echogenesis, which I spent most of 2016 writing after my relationship with Tor UK ended in late 2015. I'm pretty confident it'll sell, but when is another matter. Mainstream publishing, even two decades into the 21st Century, remains as glacially slow as ever. My plan for next year is to finish Last Tour, then finish Proxy, and then begin another project.

Hopefully I'll get enough editing work to sustain me, but more stable employment is something I need to consider in the coming year, as I will no longer have regular payments from a publisher to sustain me outside of bi-annual royalty payments and a single annual payout from British library services. Those alone can add up to a couple of grand, and hence are not insubstantial, but again aren't enough to live on.

In case you're wondering how I feel about all this, I'm fine. I'm confident both in my abilities as a writer and in my prospects for selling the stories I write. I've read enough biographies of writers and also met enough well-known writing professionals to know that dips in one's fortunes are far from unexpected. There is no slow and steady progress for most working writers: instead it's a craggy sine-wave of peaks and deliriously long troughs.

On the other hand, I'm writing Last Tour in the full knowledge the chances of any mainstream publisher taking it on are roughly nil compared to, say, my chances of writing something entirely original. There's interest from at least one small-press, but first I have to finish the damn thing. And if it comes to it, I have no objections to self-publishing it.

About halfway through the year, I started using a piece of software called Timing. It culls data and tells you how long you've spent working on specific projects or in specific apps. As a result, I know that since about mid-June I've spent approximately 271 hours writing fiction, and 172 hours working on book critiques.

Until a couple of months back, I avoided doing too much critique work so I could focus on writing fiction, living mostly off savings and the last incoming payments from Tor UK as well as royalties. As a result, since the start of 2017 I've managed to write about 150,000-160,000 words of fiction: two novellas, a second draft of a short novel, and the first thirty thousand words of the first draft of a full novel.

If I assume my output in the first half of 2017 is roughly equivalent to that in the second half (to be honest, I think it's probably a lot more, but let's keep things simple for now), I've spent a total of perhaps 550-600 hours writing fiction.

If you break that down into days, it doesn't actually seem that much compared to, say, a year of full working days. But writing tends to come in sudden stops and starts, with a great deal of work often done in a relatively short period of time. It also doesn't necessarily include the time spent staring at a screen, trying to figure out what happens next, or walking the dog and letting ideas roll around in your head until the Great Muse yells Bingo. Add that in, and realistically I'd say the figure is closer to, I dunno, maybe 800 hours?

Since I was writing Last Tour without the hope of a book deal, I started a Patreon account. I had a long, hard think about this before I decided to set it up, partly because I knew (and said) that I wasn't likely to come up with much in the way of 'rewards': new or original stuff you couldn't get elsewhere, made specifically for a Patreon audience. Some people are really good at that kind of thing (Hal Duncan) because, after all, a lot of the people on Patreon are essentially performers. Writers aren't really performers, after all. And while some churn out short stories for Patreon, I'm much too much of a slow and careful writer for that to really fit my personality.

And then again, I've not really gone out of my way to promote it, because, after all, what do you get out of it except the thing I'm already doing anyway? At the moment, it's got two tiers - one, for a dollar a month, where you get nothing but the joy of supporting me, and another, for five dollars a month, where you get some piece of work chucked your way - excerpts from Last Tour, for instance, or a previously unavailable short story.

In 2018 I hope to finish Last Tour and talk to those interested in publishing it - as I say, a small-press. Or, I may self-publish it or, as I've been thinking, do both. Then I hope to finish and sell Proxy, along with Echogenesis. Then, hopefully at last I'll be able to start on something closer to what a lot of people would clearly really prefer I get to work on - a space opera of some nature.

Reading: in 2017, I read about sixty books. Of these, the standouts, for me, were Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell; Bird Box by Josh Malerman; I Am Providence, by Nick Mamatas; Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty; The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka; Afterparty, by Darryl Gregory; and Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

If I had to pick three favourite out of those, it would be Homage to Catalonia, Afterparty and Six Wakes. 

I read a couple of excellent novellas published by Tor.com, who, to me, are clearly just about the most interesting publisher around right now. Unlike most other publishers, they seem willing to explore different models better suited to the 21st Century. I read and particularly enjoyed The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford and The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil-Gary and JS Herbison. Both are haunted house stories, although one is set in contemporary America and the other is set on board an abandoned liner lost somewhere in the solar system.  In non-fiction, I found Ashlee Vance's biography of Elon Musk to be highly enjoyable. A remarkable man, but clearly not an easy one to be around even in the best of circumstances.

I also re-read some old favourites - I have a habit of buying books I already have in hardcopy if they turn up cheap on Kindle. I re-read Excession by Iain M. Banks, to remind myself how he handles space opera. I finally read the final book in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series, completing a story I first came across on Radio Four sometime in, I think, 1981.

I don't normally write about books I didn't like, but I feel I need to mention Dave Egger's The Circle as one of the best-written dumb books I've ever come across. Talk about craft in the service of idiocy. I thought at the time of writing a very long, very detailed review of the book at the time I read it, but all I'll say right now is that it's one of the most witless, light-weight and badly thought-out books I've come across, built as it is around a core message that bears little relationship to actual human behaviour. It's the literary equivalent of an old man in the street shouting at everyone passing him by that using mobile phones is going to make their gonads shrivel. Egger's is clearly a fine writer - I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius some years ago, although I never completed it - but I wasn't in the least bit surprised to discover he made a point of not doing any research before writing this book. It shows.

And that's it. On to 2018!