Writing Update 2018 week 48

MJG Writing Leave a Comment

I haven’t released a book in 5 months! That is the longest I have gone since I started publishing seriously in 2014. I’m currently selling around 1-2 a day, with around 1000 pages read. That’s about $10 a day. Not terrible, considering I’ve done no promo in months.

Here’s the update on thriller book 2:

  • Word count: 77,000 – up by 16,000 from 2 weeks ago. Around 1,000 words a day. Not much, but OK. At that pace, it’s a book in 3-4 months. 3-4 per year.
  • Number of vehicular crashes: 2 big ones plus 40 small ones – I’ll leave that mysterious.
  • Body count: Somewhere around 25 so far. Goodies and baddies mixed in.
  • Locations: 5 major ones. Rural and City and Suburb and Plane and Rural again. Now heading to sea.
  • Anticipated wordcount: Still 100,000.

Agent update:

It’s been 2 months since I sent my first round of submissions of Thriller 1 to agents. Last night I sent a few more.

Promo plan:

With The Rot’s War coming out in audio on Dec 7, I’m planning a big push for book 1, The Saint’s Rise. It drops out of Amazon Kindle Unlimited a few days in advance, so I will put it wide, then apply for a 99c Bookbub. Fingers crossed they’ll take it. It would be my third Bookbub.

Story Craft #20 Action, not World

MJG Story Craft, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve now written 1 and 3/4 thrillers, after writing 12 sci-fi novels, 2 epic fantasy and mostly only ever reading sci-fi and fantasy, and it has taught me 1 major lesson that is already helping me write better in all genres:

Action, not world

In a thriller, it’s about original action, not about an original world. World-building is far less of an issue. The world itself is not the draw – because to a large degree, it’s the same world we all know. So you can’t hook with fascinating stuff about the world.

Yet I have always focused on world in my writing. I didn’t do this exactly on purpose, but I did have awareness. I wrote this way because I didn’t know any other way to write. I’d lead with the bizarre world as my hook, and follow through with bizarre characters in that bizarre world, sometimes doing things, but more often sort of drifting in all the weird.

Earliest drafts of my Saint’s Rise books were predominantly large tranches of world information with characters didn’t do much. They just existed to float within the interesting soup of a bizarre fantasy world.

The same goes for my Ruin series – I’ve rewritten it numerous times, but rarely chopped into it deeply. A few words simplified here and there. I rewrote book 1 just a few months ago to up the pace, then came back to it again now, and realized so much more needed to go/be changed.

All these earlier versions involved me reveling in the world. Often repeating myself to show this world in different ways. Weighing the quite thin early story down with maudlin reflection, unnecessary information and mysterious new concepts. You might enjoy it, if you read it in the same way you’d read Wikipedia – for interest, not fascination or emotional connection. Not in the same way you’d gulp down a thriller.

Thrillers can’t rely on the world in itself. They can’t use novel concepts and made-up words and bizarre character histories to hook the reader. There has to be action. The action itself has to be novel. The action itself has to be bizarre and fascinating, even as its strung out on a clear, well-defined, motivated line.

It’s like having two LEGO sets before you. One is full of the weirdest, wackiest pieces. The other is humdrum standard bricks. If you get the wacky set, you focus on bringing out the wackiness. You make alien structures, and you forgive a lot of elementary mistakes because it’s all so fresh. It might be hard to look past that wackiness to function. You let the wackiness speak for itself.

With the humdrum bricks, you have to make something very different to stand out. The components are familiar, but the way you put them together may not be. There’s nothing at all to hide behind.

In thriller-writing, I’ve largely got humdrum bricks. I can introduce a few novel concepts, but it’s mostly all standard. Then it becomes what your characters do with that standard palette that is interesting. The characters’ actions are where all the originality goes. It forces linear pace. There is little exposition, little description. Things must move, and move in an emotional, linear way.

Now I’m seeing that thread of linear tension clearer than ever. Events are strung together not because it’s an interesting tour through a world, but because that’s what the hero is driven to do next. Original action after original action.

Now I’m applying this lesson to Mr. Ruin, and seeing it in a whole new way. In previous versions, the experimental narrative style hid a lot of sins. For example, I see now that the first conversation with Mr. Ruin is almost exactly the same as the letter in the following chapter. I added it at least in part to double down on cool world information I had. But it doesn’t make sense, and it over-explains.

In that over-explanation, any thread of tension is lost. If the reader was wondering -“Well, what does Mr. Ruin want?” – I squash that wonder away with all the explanations. How much better to leave that wonder hanging and fuel it with little nibbles here and there, as the tension and threat increases, as the lead character Ritry actively seeks out answers?

This way, we go along with Ritry. We know as much as he does, and we’re engaged in his quest to learn more. It makes sense. It becomes taut.

It took writing thrillers for me to see this.


The weird stuff is still there, but it’s not the selling point anyore. The USP is not the world, it’s the story. The action. What the characters want and how they chase it down.

I think this is going to be a big deal for me. When Mr. Ruin finally comes out again, I have high hopes now that it will sell. People will want to read it.

My new healthy lunch

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Last week I decided to shake up my daily lunch – I eat the same thing every day, after a bulk prep on Monday – kept in the fridge then packed in tupperware. Used to be I had tuna sandwiches with salad, but I got worried about all the mercury. For a while it was mackerel, but I got tired of the taste. For a long time it was just chicken and mayo, with the bread getting phased out, until I was eating just chicken and salad every day.

Not tasty. Probably not that great in terms of nutrition either. So I did a Google and came up with stellar health foods as follows:

  • Avocado
  • Sesame seeds
  • Quinoa, rice, grains
  • Chicken breast
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Kidney beans
  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salad
  • Tomatoes

I figured I’d just mix all that stuff together in a tub. Cottage cheese makes it all pretty tasty – basically a sour cream flavor. Here’s what it looks like smushed-up in tupperware at lunch time:

Messy but good. This on top of oatmeal with nuts and berries for breakfast, plus vitamin/mineral pill and fish oil – how could I be eating any more healthily?

The only downside is it takes about an hour on Monday morning to prep it all!

Agent hunt update – Jack Reacher edition

MJG Writing Leave a Comment

I checked my dates, and it seems I sent agent queries for my new thriller 2 months ago now. I’ve had 3 rejections and 1 request for the full. The rejection I got last week was a biting one – from one of the top agents I submitted to, and the one who represents Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Darley Anderson.

It was one of the biggest reaches, and least likely, but of course it is a disappointment still.

Darley Anderson sent me what looked to be a form rejection, thanking me and saying it’s important for the agent to be excited about the work, apart perhaps from this line:

It’s got real potential but I’m afraid it’s not for me.

That is a nice line. It is possible this is part of the form rejection, but I doubt it. It wouldn’t make sense to go around giving encouragement like this willy-nilly. So, I am taking it as a negative but a supportive one. It didn’t fit Darley’s list this go-around. But even if it is part of the form – I’m good. I’ve got a lot of belief in this book.

So – the book is still with 9 agents (I re-subbed to fill the gap of the first 2 rejections), and has been there for 2 months now. 4 months out from my projected self-pub launch date of March/April. I’ve read online that 2-4 months is a standard reading time for agents to work through their slushes – so it’s possible some of the agents haven’t even looked at my sub yet. Others have rejected already but will never contact me.

That means it’s time for another round of submissions. Probably the last one, probably mostly to US agents. I’ll get my researching cap on…

Su’s birthday dinner at mom’s

MJG Cats, Chats, Life Leave a Comment

Today Su had her birthday! I gave her a fitbit watch and some other bits, and we went to my mom’s house for lunch. As often happens, my Dad and Ailz picked us up on their way up and we all went together. My sister Alice couldn’t make it as her kids were sickly, so this visit was the first time we’ve done for ages with only adults!

It meant a lot of adult conversation over the delicious meal of lamb shank:

  • Nationalism, Trump, Brexit and whether facts/reality are going to sally forth some time soon and vanquish these overheated bugbears of the past – I am bullish!
  • Red Dead Redemption, Doctor Who, Mortal Engines movie
  • Various people that both Mom and Dad know from the past…
  • Trips to France (Su and I sat this one out, having been there little)
  • Mom’s fantastic new cats! They are so fluffy it is unbelievable, like they are wearing fluff suits. Photos follow.
  • Swear words and where they come from, in particular the C- word, which apparently was a 16th century term of endearment for a good mate. Ailz: “And why not be a term of endearment, when men spend most of their lives trying to get closer to them!” I think this came from a discussion of racist terminology – brought up by use of the P-word in an episode of Doctor Who.

Su also got some jewellry, chocolate, a book on Rochester, and a bottle of wine.

Here are the fluff-monsters!

This is Connie – she is all black except for these amazing amber eyes – which are really hard to catch in the light. She is some kind of Persian mix, rescued from a Cats Protection League.

Both her nose and her cousin’s nose are totally squashed inward, and completely obscured by fur. So cute!! And very friendly.

This is Colin, who has one of the most expressive cat faces, and most fantastic moustaches, of any cat I have seen. The fur on his head is crazy dense. He is also extremely sweet, and let us pet and hold him some.

What a man.

Here he is floating gently as a cloud. Squashed-face fluff monster. My mom and Karen are very happy I think with these two little darlings!

Staff dinner @ Sarah’s place

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Last night was a potluck dinner @ Sarah my boss’ flat – it’ll be the last one we have there because she is moving out of London soon for a new job.

Su and I brought a tub of Wing Wing chicken wings – these are Korean style beer-battered wings flavored with garlic and soy sauce, and are just delicious. The korean name of the chain is Chimek – the Chi is chicken and the mek is mekchu, which means beer. We also sneakily had our own Chimek dinner before heading to Sarah’s – didn’t want to have to fight for wings once we got there!

Most of the English staff were there when we arrived around 7pm – and a few brought their partners too, which is always nice. Partners means the topic of conversation is unlikely to be about work, which is a real pleasure! I talked to folks about:

  • How Su and I met – at the Tokyo Picnickers group in Yoyogi Park, and went on a first date after that to the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, where we saw Damien Hirst’s ‘Mother and Child’, the two cows cut in half in tanks of formaldehyde.
  • Su and I having an early date to the Queen Chateau Soapland, where she wowed me climbing to the top of the water tower on the roof without being bothered at all!

Those topics came up because folks were talking about how they met their partners. I also talked about:

  • My Red Dead Redemption adventures, and playing the co-operative cooking game Overcooked with Su. Others talked about early video games like Metroid, we all luxuriated in nostalgia over the bike racing game Road Rage, then some Wii tennis and such.
  • Su got into making websites with someone who is interested in selling their art.
  • I got into the news with one of the partners who works in the news – we agree coverage of Trump needs to change. He’s more conservative, and we came down to the question of should we be letting people starve in the streets if they are unable to work. He seemed to think yes. A tricky position to defend, really.
  • Chatted about business ideas – one of Su’s longstanding ideas has been to import/export antique furniture from the UK to Korea. A colleague described his idea from several years ago – after seeing a particular rocky channel on a beach, where if you started swimming in that channel the waves coming in held you in the same place. His idea was a small swimming pool with jets to let you swim without needing a full pool. Unfortunately, it already existed…
  • One of my colleagues lives in a house share in a very old building with no wired lights – it’s a listed building so they can’t install them. Instead they have 8 lamps around the walls of their one room, and it’s still always dim!
  • The news guy from earlier has gotten back into LEGO, buying a castle and building it. In his dream future house he would have a display room full of all the castles he has built.

After this point, nearing 10pm, I was all out of socializing energy and just sat there like a deflated balloon. Su knows well when I hit this point. It was time to go anyway, so we did, in bed by midnight, sleep through til 9am!

Writing Update 2018 week 47

MJG Life, Marketing 2 Comments

Yesterday I took my heart in my mouth and sent a message to one of my favorite thriller authors – someone I’ve corresponded briefly with before. I just finished one of his books and loved it. There was much in common with the thriller I’ve just written – human trafficking, white supremacists, a hero damaged in childhood now pursuing a Dexter-like vigilante revenge. So in my message I asked if he’d be willing to take a look at my book and maybe offer a blurb.

Unfortunately, he replied within minutes with a considerate but firm no. He was busy, which is perfectly understandable. Still, the rejection hit me harder than I’d expected. I spiraled for a little while after that, re-assessing my place in the universe, as one does in such moments.

The conclusion I came to is that I’m still very much at the beginning of this writer’s road. There’s a long way to go yet. On the one hand I do have some standing and have achieved some impressive things as a writer, with the Podium audiobooks coming, and selling over 10,000 of my zombie series, and in the past getting my short stories published in pro fiction magazines.

On the other hand, these achievements are small beer compared to others further along the trail. Your Stephen King’s and Lee Child’s are gold medalists. This author is up there in the rankings. I however am not in the Olympics, nor even in the running yet. Maybe I’m in a semi-pro league, vying to go pro, scrapping for sponsorship to support my passion/hobby.

Oddly, this perspective (while perhaps obvious) is not too disheartening. If anything it pumps me up to work harder. Earn my place by hook or by crook. So now – back to writing.

Carpal tunnel news

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I went to the doctor last night (an appointment at 8:30pm, which seems crazy – it looked I was the last one in there) to finally get my results in about the carpal tunnel nerve damage tests I had done on my right wrist a few weeks back.

The results show no permanent damage! Well, that is good. It doesn’t take away the real fact that sometimes, after holding heav weights or clicking a mouse too much, I get a wrist pain/discomfort that can last for days, but it does bode well for that condition not getting any worse.

And, with management like I’ve added in recently, such as avoiding the particular activities that made it bad, and wearing a wrist splint afterward if they cant be avoided, I’ve mostly squashed it completely anyway.

I’m very pleased. Now back to writing.

Where did my students go?

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In afternoon class yesterday I gave a break halfway through – it’s a 3-hour class so a 15-minute break (plus the promise of letting them go early if they work hard) is fair – but after 15 minutes the students didn’t come back.

What? Well, 3 did. I sat and waited a little, but still nothing. It’s not unusual for a handful of students to be late back from break, but most of the class – 9 more students? Where did they go?

5 minutes go by. I happen to check my school email – and see an email from my students, who are stuck in the elevator! A selfie photo is attached – they are smiling, except for the one who is claustrophobic.

I go over to the elevator. This is on the 6th floor. Building staff are already there. Apparently the elevator car is just below the surface of the floor, and they hope to get it moving again in 10 minutes. I shout through the door to my students – are you OK? They’re OK, but it’s hot.

I go to notify my boss. What’s the protocol in this situation? She accompanies me back and we all stand there outside the closed elevator. We’re waiting for Health and Safety approval to take some kind of action. Is the elevator secure? Yes, apparently – solidly braked. It was too heavy for the counterweight, so just stopped pulling. That’s odd, because the capacity is 16 and only 10 of them in there (my 9 plus one more).

After maybe 30 minutes the staff guy opens the doors. He isn’t supposed to, but they’re complaining it’s too hot inside. The doors open and I see my students wilting, with the elevator positioned maybe 2 feet below the floor. A wave of heat like we’ve just opened a sauna door pours out and keeps coming. They’re all wearing their winter clothes – just come in from outside. The claustrophobic person is freaking out.

Nobody can get off yet though. It’s a health and safety issue about the step up to the floor, at this stage. The elevator is isolated and not moving. There are phone calls back and forth, an older building maintenance guy comes and consider the situation.

I talk to my students. “So, at least you’ve got your phones, you’ve got the Internet right?”


“Well, I’ve emailed you the case study, so if you want to bring that up and start discussing it in pairs…”

Everybody groans.

No. Of course we are going to let them go now.

The new guy makes the call. After being trapped for 4o minutes, they are allowed to step up out of the elevator. The claustrophobic person dances around fanning themself. The rest hurry away.

Just another day in the teaching mines.

The Rot’s War in audio Dec 18!!

MJG Audio, Ignifer Cycle, Writing Leave a Comment

Book 2 of the Ignifer Cycle – The Rot’s War – is coming in a month (December 18) as an audiobook! Podium are releasing it to follow up their August launch of book 1, The Saint’s Rise. The promotional effort for this looks to be epic.

I am going to push it to my list and hopefully via Bookbub. They are going to push it to their phenomenal list for the first time. I’m thinking it’s going to be huge.

Here’s the cover for audio. More on this as we get closer!