Round-up: July 2016

I’ve struggled to write anything in the last 12 to 14 months. I came close (again) to giving up, devoting my time to something else, but I always find my way back eventually. You need to take a deep breath sometimes, look at the sun awhile, before you dive back into the pool.

This time, though, was the longest, most challenging period of writer’s block I have ever experienced. I wrote one novelette and some pages of notes for a few other stories, but that’s it. The story is 11,500 words, it’s called Perspective, and it’s due to be published in Black Static magazine in September 2016.

I started writing Perspective in November 2014 and finished it 1 year later. That’s right, it took a year! I’ve said elsewhere that it is the darkest story I’ve ever written, and I don’t type that with any sense of pride; it is a cold fact. As is this: some people will struggle with its darkness and its themes. And I accept that. As long as they can accept that it was not written to offend; it was written with honesty. Readers will walk away with their own opinions on the plot and the overarching themes (it is no coincidence the title is Perspective, folks – hint hint) and that is something I am totally fine with; in fact, I welcome it. It’s why the story was the hardest thing I’ve ever written – having to juggle three different viewpoints with various elements and details made it a nightmare to write. I doubt I’ll ever be convinced I got it exactly the way I wanted it, but it’s done. That said, editor Andy Cox made this comment after reading it: “It’s devastating… Felt like I was shaking when I put the story down. I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time.”

Please consider purchasing a copy of Black Static #54 in September and let me know your thoughts.

On to the next piece of news. I am writing again. Furiously. And the reason for that is simple: I have removed myself from a situation that was soul-destroying and infuriating and wholly unnecessary. I can’t (won’t) go into the details here but I will say that the decision I have made has lifted a colossal weight from my shoulders. So…

I am leaving the UK.

Returning to Malta.

Now, this wasn’t a decision I necessarily wanted to make (not now, anyway) but the situation above became unbearable and so it forced my hand. Something had to give and that something was me. Before my son found himself growing up without a father.

We leave in 6 weeks. Packing has begun, plans underway.

Flights and hotel booked.

A second chance at our new beginning.

Will it work out this time? Who knows. The odds are evens, I say. But the time is right to finish what we started back in 2011 and give it a good enough ‘go’ that even if it doesn’t work out this time either then we can at least walk away and not be forever looking back with regret. That way, my friends, lies madness.

Back to the writing.

So, yes, I’ve been busy. I picked up my tale of the undead that I started way back in February 2015 and went to work on it again. It’s called The Incarnations of Mariela Pena. It’s currently 16.5k words, a novella by the time it’s done, and the best thing I’ve ever written, hands-down.

The structure is a story within a story (mise en abyme). The first is set in north-east Libya and explores the relationship of two NATO soldiers following an outbreak that threatens the whole of Europe and the Middle East, and perhaps even the world. The soldiers have been ordered to protect a stretch of coastline from the undead or infected, who arrive via the currents of the Mediterranean Sea from the islands of Malta and Gozo – the site of a terrorist attack and subsequent chemical weapon response (gone wrong). The second story is set in the past, in Mexico, and explores the relationship between one of the soldiers and a Mexican stripper with a disfigurement, the eponymous Mariela…

Incarnations is about repeating the mistakes of the past, both on a personal and global level, and how our failures are resurrected time and time again… I can’t wait to finish this one and get some feedback from a beta reader or two.

I’ve also been editing my novel. Finished almost 5 years ago, I set it aside and returned to writing short fiction, although with the intention of sending it to agents and/or publishers at some point. Well, that never really happened. So, I’ve dug it out and now I’m 450 manuscript pages into the final round of handwritten edits, hoping to have them finished and transferred to the laptop by the end of August. I’ve always struggled to categorise or pigeonhole this book (it’s a strange one!), however during these latest edits I realised that it is in fact suited to the YA (Young Adult) market. And so, my attempts to publish it in the future should be better focused. The title has also been changed. Halfway Somewhere Else. I like it.

Finally, with the resumption of the above, I have also gone back to work on the selecting and editing process for my  delayed collection, Bring Your Own Light, which is due to be published by TTA Press sometime in the future. I currently have four stories edited, with another seven stories waiting to be reviewed, and the possibility of one or two others, length permitting.

Long story short…it’s great to be finally moving forward again.

Deserts of Fire

Back in September 2015 I was approached by writer and editor Douglas Lain for permission to reprint my story Unzipped in his forthcoming Skyhorse Publishing/Night Shade Book anthology Deserts of Fire: Speculative Fiction and Modern War. I was honoured to accept. And so here it is, available to buy now.

Deserts of Fire

Background:

In 1987, the New York Times published their first front-page review of a science fiction anthology for a collection called In the Field of Fire, themed around the war in Vietnam. “Vietnam was science fiction,” the reviewer wrote, and writing about it through that lens found meaning in a war few understood.

This idea, that speculative fiction is a vital tool to understanding the inexplicable, is just as relevant nearly thirty years later. Deserts of Fire is a war-inspired anthology for the new millennium, because for many, the recent wars in the deserts of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East are just as slippery to grasp and difficult to understand as Vietnam was two generations earlier.

Inside Deserts of Fire are stories from a variety of bestselling and award-winning authors that start with the simple and modest ambition of making the reader feel strange about the recent past. Because when there are too many explanations, the truth won’t be found by merely choosing one side or the other. But rather, the truth is in the existence of the confusion itself.

‘Perspective’

PERSPECTIVE is an ambitious multi-viewpoint story (written in First, Second, and Third Person) that deals with an historical rape, hysterical blindness, and a marriage feeling the strains of both. It’s about power and powerlessness, the need to be seen, and the need to see. Hands down, it’s the darkest, most disturbing thing I’ve ever written. But I feel it has some important things to say.
-July 2015

I wrote those words almost one year ago.  Since then the story has been completed, submitted, and only just this week, accepted. It is due for publication in Black Static #54, sometime later this year.

I hope you buy a copy.

New additions to Recommended Reading

It’s been a while since I updated the Recommended Reading section of this website. The last addition to the short stories list, I believe, was Priya Sharma’s ‘The Absent Shade’ back in January 2015. Since then, I’ve read 64 short stories in 2015 and 24 in 2016 (to date). From those 88 stories, here are those I unequivocally recommend (in the order I read them):

SHORT STORIES/NOVELETTES

Men Wearing Makeup by Ralph Robert Moore – Black Static #46 (May-Jun 2015)
All the Day You’ll Have Good Luck by Kate Jonez – Black Static #47 (Jul-Aug 2015)
A Case Study in Natural Selection and How it Applies to Love by Eric J. Guignard – Black Static #47 (Jul-Aug 2015)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver  –  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (collection, 1981)
Morality by Stephen King  –  The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (collection, 2015)
I Have Heard the Mermaids Sing by Ray Cluley  –  Probably Monsters (collection 2015)
At Night, When the Demons Come by Ray Cluley  –  Probably Monsters (collection 2015)
Obits by Stephen King  –  The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (collection, 2015)
Drunken Fireworks by Stephen King  –  The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (collection, 2015)
Summer Thunder by Stephen King  –  The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (collection, 2015)
Ishq by Usman T. Malik  –  Black Static #43 (Nov-Dec 2014)
Dirt Land by Ralph Robert Moore  –  Black Static #49 (Nov-Dec 2015)

Other additions:

NOVELS

Point Hollow by Rio Youers (2015)
The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (2014)

NON FICTION:

On Writing by Charles Bukowski (2015)
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield (2013)
Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas by Matthew O’Brien (2007)

Life imitates art imitates life…

Some years ago now, my wife made a miracle happen. She persuaded Ray Bradbury to sign one of his books for me. He was extremely ill at the time (his assistant informed my wife he was no longer personalising books), but my wife, she wrote a heartfelt letter to him explaining how much his work meant to me and about the doubts that plagued me every single day. He read her letter. With great difficulty he managed to write a one word message. That Christmas morning, when I opened the book and saw it, when I figured out what it said, I cried tears of joy, tears of sadness. It was little more than a scrawl, but I knew the great man had tried and that was enough. It was everything. And oh, what a gift!

Last week, my wife suffered a miscarriage. It was her second in eighteen months. I wrote a story about the last time it happened, you may have read it – I can’t bear to anymore. Right now, she is heartbroken. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone, not even me. She has no words. Me, I have only the wrong ones, it seems.

I just want to remind her of that miracle. Remind her what it meant to me. Remind her what Ray wrote, in that barely legible scrawl, to me, to her, to us all:

‘ONWARDS’

There is no other way.

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2015 – What I Read (and Loved)

Okay, so I only read 16 books (fiction/non-fiction) and 64 short stories in 2015. It isn’t a lot, I know, but for what it is worth here is a list of the titles I particularly enjoyed and do not hesitate to recommend. In no particular order:

BOOKS

  • On Writing – Charles Bukowski (2015)*
  • Point Hollow – Rio Youers (2015)

* This is perhaps one for fans, rather than a starting point for readers interested in Bukowski’s work.

SHORT STORIES

  • The Absent Shade – Priya Sharma (Black Static #44)
  • Men Wearing Makeup – Ralph Robert Moore (Black Static #46)
  • All the Day You’ll Have Good Luck – Kate Jonez (Black Static #47)
  • A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love – Eric J. Guignard (Black Static #47)
  • What We Talk about When We Talk about Love – Raymond Carver (collection of the same name)
  • Morality – Stephen King (collection: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)*
  • I Have Heard the Mermaids Sing – Ray Cluley (collection: Probably Monsters)*

* I am still  currently reading The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and Probably Monsters.