The question of drafts.

The question often seems to come up with writers about the number of different drafts of a piece they go through before reaching the final product.

The answer can vary greatly, depending on the writer. Anne McCaffrey once said she only wrote the one draft. First draft was the final one! Brian Keene has recently described his process as writing the first draft, then off to his pre-reader, then he works on the corrections suggested by the pre-reader and it’s done. I have heard of other writers (although no names come to mind at the moment) who claim to do ten or more drafts before they’re happy.

The danger is that, if you keep going back to a story, you will always find something to change! It can be never-ending. Knowing when to stop is part of the learning process I think. And it’s not an easy skill to master.

Over the last year, when I’ve been writing (if not publishing) more, I think I have finally found the method that works best for me. If anyone’s interested, here it is.

  1. Write the story
  2. Go back through it on screen, making corrections and rewriting where necessary
  3. Print it out. Go through hardcopy, somehow finding things to correct and change that I missed on the computer screen!
  4. Enter hardcopy changes onto computer version, usually making more, hopefully minor, corrections as I go.

I consider that to be four drafts (or possibly three depending on how you view step 4 above). I used to do more, or sometimes less… it wasn’t very structured. But I find these four steps are working for me. Obviously they’re flexible, but as a basis they’re helping me do more writing and to finish more pieces. I just hope I can turn that into more publishing credits in 2015.

And finally, speaking of publishing credits, don’t forget my new horror novel, The Village Witch, is scheduled for publication by Omnium Gatherum in February 2015. I think it’s the best thing I’ve done, but you, the readers, will be the final judges on that.

Happy New Year (a bit late I know, but what the hell). Hope 2015 is a good one for you ūüôā

Too Straight-Forward?

Is there a place for the straight-forward in genre fiction any more?

It’s a serious question with implications for me at least. You see, I’m under no illusions – I don’t write¬†literature, never wanted to, never have done and never will. What I set out to do, and what I hope I succeed in doing at least sometimes, is to write good¬†straight-forward stories that are easy to read, exciting and fun with believable characters that you feel something for, whether it be love or hate or just interest. Problem is, I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s a market for that any more?

This is where the problem comes from. I look at the books in horror and science fiction (the two genres I tend to write in) that are getting the rave reviews or being shortlisted in various awards (Stoker, Hugo, BFS etc.) and they seem to be almost universally clever or unusual books, or all too often the self-consciously off-the-wall book. I am not criticising those books, indeed I have read several and really enjoyed them, but they are not straight-forward, or what some people might call pulp.

I know the moment I use that dreaded word pulp there will be readers and writers (and particularly critics) who will immediately sniff and turn away as if they’ve just smelt something awful. It’s one of those strange things,¬†pulp writers and readers seldom criticise the more literary among the genre, but the more literary often criticise the pulp. Why? In my opinion it takes every bit as much skill to write good pulp fiction as it does to write good literary fiction, it’s just a different skill. But I don’t think the critics or the people behind awards will ever realise or acknowledge that.

So, my question is whether there is still a market for good straight-forward storytelling when all the attention seems to be on the clever, more literary books? If there isn’t, my writing career is screwed before it’s even really got started.

I’m lucky as a reader that I like a fairly broad range of genre fiction. In horror I can go from the quiet, soft approach of Charles L Grant¬†and T M Wright¬†to the more in-your-face approach of Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Guy N Smith¬†and others. In science fiction I enjoy equally the books of Stephen Baxter, Arthur C Clarke, Jack Vance, Elizabeth Moon¬†and so on. Surely there’s a place for all approaches to the genres?

Perhaps my greatest hope lies in the success of a writer like William Meikle, an excellent author at the height of his powers who writes exceptional pulp fiction (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that). His popularity gives me hope that there are other readers out there like me who enjoy great story telling without the literary side-salad. And, of course, the grand master of pulp, Guy N Smith, is still writing, and authors like Steve Gerlach¬†continue the work begun by¬†Richard Laymon, so maybe, just maybe there might be an audience for my books out there – if my books are good enough of course. But that’s a question (and a worry) for another time.

So, to¬†answer my own original question, yes,¬†I think so and I hope so. To the pulp writers, keep writing the great stories and don’t be seduced by the temptation to be literary. To the readers, please keep buying and reading the books you love, doesn’t matter¬†whether they’re¬†literary or pulp as long as you enjoy them.

One thing’s for sure – I’m not going to be winning any of those literary prizes! ūüôā

Too many vampires and zombies?

I have an occasional habit of trawling through the kindle horror books that are available for free (I do the same for science fiction, but let’s stick to horror for this one). I do it because I’m a cheapskate looking for bargains by authors I know and like, and also because it’s a great way to try out new authors (new to me at least) and see if I’m going to be adding them to be “must be read” list. Now, having laid the ground, so to speak, let me state that I’m NOT going to be making any comments about quality of writing or layout etc. Both of those things go up and down more than a pervert’s zipper¬†at a Justin Bieber concert, but that’s not what I want to talk about here.

What I find depressing in the freebie horror list is the vast number of vampire and zombie books. It can be a battle to find a horror story that isn’t about one of these two creatures.

Now, I am not without sin myself… yes I have a vampire novelette out there, The Evil Incantation, and yes I have a zombie novella sitting with a publisher waiting for release, but in my (weak) defence I want to say I have tried to give them a slightly different angle – not saying I’ve succeeded, but I’ve tried. The vast majority of the books I’ve looked at this morning seem to be¬†very much in the traditional zombie/zombie holocaust mode or star romanticised vampires (somewhere between the erotic humour of Kim Harrison and the sickly sweetness of the Twilight books and movies). Where there are more vicious vampires (which I personally prefer) they are generally of the classic type with little originality about them.

Originality, that’s what it comes down to. Zombies can be done with a nice twist (my personal favourites being the zombie books by Brian Keene) and vampires can be entertaining (Kim Harrison, again, succeeded in her Hollows books to make them amusing, erotic and vicious all rolled in together). In fact all those traditional monsters can be done well and, personally, I love the old werewolves, demons and yes, even vampires and zombies. But they have to be done with some originality!

Disclaimer: I haven’t read all the vampire and zombie books available for free on the kindle, I’ve only read synopses and looked at covers, so I can’t comment on individual titles and I could even be way off the mark.

But my comments here aren’t just about free books on the kindle, they apply to the horror genre in general – books and movies. By all means use the old creatures, I’d hate to see them disappear, but please bring something new to them. I know it’s difficult, VERY difficult, but at least try. I will applaud the effort and, in all likelihood, enjoy the end result. And while we’re at it, drag out some other old friends – Greek and Egyptian Mythology are full of them for a start. And then there’s folklore from all over the world. There’s so much to choose from, and that’s before we include new creatures, created by the author just for their book.

I love horror, fiction and film, and I love creature features and monsters. The old Hammer movies are among my favourites (Dracula, Plague Of Zombies, The Reptile, The Gorgon and so on) as are some of the classic books (Dracula, Frankenstein, Werewolf In Paris, The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde and others) but if we’re going to continue using these much loved figures we need to bring something new to them to keep the interest alive, and to draw in new readers/viewers.

I hate the way genre fiction in general is looked down on by the “literary” world, and often they are unable or unwilling to see past the numerous variations-on-a-theme to the hundreds of amazing, original and well-written books that are out there. I don’t think that’ll change any time soon, but we could at least make sure our variations are¬†attempts at original variations and not the same old themes and characterisations that have been done thousands of times before.

Before the personal attacks on my own books begin, can I at least claim to have tried to take a different view on things in my stories. I’m not saying I’ve always succeeded, but I have tried. At least be good enough to acknowledge that.

And to my horror writing co-workers around the world I would say, keep writing and turning out so many fantastic and wonderful works, but let’s use the old themes sparingly and with some kind of different twist that’s all your own (at least, as far as you know because, as they say, ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’).

We should at least be trying.