Out of Print and a Temporary Lack of Availability

A fun (or not so fun) fact of the publishing industry is that books can sometimes become classified as “Out of Print.” What this means, typically, is that for various reasons (though usually based on sales) the publisher has stopped making that book available for purchase. The specifics of how a book qualifies varies from contract to contract, so I won’t go into that. Some months ago, The Forgotten got flagged as out of print by Harper, which meant the paperback would no longer be available. However, because we live in the digital age, the ebook did remain available.

Now, a brief digression. Since my American Faerie Tale series was published by HarperCollins, one of my chief regrets was the lack of audiobooks. This is partly why I’m so excited about Two-Gun Witch getting one. In short, this was because part of my contract with Harper included the audio rights, but they never did anything with them.

Back on topic. When a book goes out of print, that typically means the author can request their rights back from the publisher. I initially held off on doing this for two reasons. First, The Forgotten is book 2 of the series. Understandably, not many publishers are interested in picking up just one book in the middle of a series. The second reason I held off was, frankly, ego. HarperCollins is one of the big five, and having a book with a major publishing house was, for me at least, a sort of badge of honor. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel no longer being a Harper Author. Also, it felt a bit like admitting defeat and becoming a failed author.

I’ve since grown past those concerns, and because of the terms of my contract, I thought the other books would also qualify, I formally requested reversion of rights on all my books. They agreed to The Forgotten and Three Promises, and we’re in discussion about The Stolen. I’m hopeful the steps I’ve taken will get that one back as well, but we’ll see. The Returned is still selling well enough to not qualify, so I do also get to remain a Harper Author for now.

What does this mean to you, the reader? Well, if you go looking for The Forgotten or Three Promises, you’ll find it unavailable. The Stolen (hopefully) will likewise become unavailable before long. It’s possible that if you bought the ebook through Amazon, they could vanish from your library. This is because with Amazon (and some other retailers), you didn’t actually buy the book, just the right to read it, and they could pull it at any time. Yeah, I’m not a fan of that either.

HOWEVER! Falstaff Books, the small press that published Two-Gun Witch, has said they want to pick up the American Faerie Tale series, in whatever pieces I have to offer. I’m hopeful, and optimistic, it will be The Stolen, The Forgotten, and Three Promises. How long it will be before they’re available, I don’t know, but it will happen. They will all also get new covers (Harper owns the originals) and, most exciting, AUDIOBOOKS! Those will take a bit longer to come about, so I ask for patience in that.

In the short term, the books will be unavailable, and for that I apologize, but they will be rereleased, so hang in there. The publishing world, even for small presses, doesn’t move at lightning speed, but if I had to guess (and don’t hold me to this) I’d say sometime early next year. If I go quiet for a while, it will be because John Hartness of Falstaff read that and had me beaten into unconsciousness.

Thanks for your patience. More to come. Watch this space!

Fear of Failure

I’m genuinely sorry this blog isn’t more active. From its inception, I decided to only post when I have something worth saying. Unlike many of my fellow men, this isn’t quite as often as you’d think. For the most part, it comes down to either adding something of value to a conversation, or sharing something I learned or experienced that might prove useful to others. Today’s post is the latter.

Two-Gun Witch is doing well. The reviews have been overwhelming positive (thank you!) and it’s helped me in making some progress on the sequel (about 30k words so far). Which, as it turns out, is going to be a pantster novel because it’s continuing to evolve as I write. That’s not why I’m writing this post though.

I know, get on with it, O’Connell!

I haven’t made much progress over the last couple weeks and, as the title suggests, it’s a fear of failure that’s holding me back. This isn’t a new feeling for me, and I’ve experienced it with basically everything I’ve ever written. As I’ve said before, TGW wasn’t easy to write, but the fear was (and usually is) more exhilarating. That rush you get when facing a challenge, one that requires you to push yourself. You know you might fail, but in the end it will be worth it. That’s not the case this time. And it isn’t plot, character, or the like that has me wrapped around the axle. I’m genuinely afraid of failing the story, and this time, my failure would have serious consequences.

TGW didn’t have any cameos of famous historical figures, which was intentional, despite some suggestions that I should do so. Names were mentioned, but no one appeared. This time, the story requires it. I know in my bones this is the best path for the story to take, so there’s no going back and rewriting around it. Not without short changing the story, and I won’t do that.

What about creating a character from whole cloth to fill the role? I certainly could. More than that, I seriously doubt most readers would realize that any such evasion had been done. But once again, it would be taking the easy way out, and the story would be less for it. Besides, I’d know, and it would eat at me every time I looked at the book.

So, who is this character than I’m so concerned about doing justice to?

Harriet Tubman.

Yes, THAT Harriet Tubman.

It isn’t just that I’m a white man writing about a historically significant woman of color (understatement of the millennia), though that’s absolutely a part of it. It’s also the fact that much of what’s known about her is as much folklore as genuine, accurate historical fact. How do I go about parsing the folklore from the history? Yes, mine will be a fictional version of her, in a world of magic, elves, and dwarves, but that doesn’t let me off the hook. If I get this one wrong, I’ll disrespecting a figure of MASSIVE cultural and historical significance. Not to mention someone I admire and respect (which is the least important factor here).

So, what do I do? Well clearly, I need to do research. Careful research. Written by people of color, preferably women, so I can avoid as much bias (unconscious or otherwise) as possible.

It goes without saying that nothing will be from her point of view. I mean, I have a healthy ego, but holyshitareyoufuckingkiddingme (it’s a word!) not anywhere near the Galactus size ego such a feat would require.

Yeah, even The Devourer of Worlds is nopeing out of that idea.

Once I’ve learned as much as I can, all I can do is write the scenes, with as much respect as I can, never for a moment forgetting that I’m treading on sacred ground, and comporting myself as such.

And, lastly, as always, if I do fuck it up, then own my fuck up, do my best to make amends, and do better next time. But really, isn’t that just the human condition? In life we’re all going to screw up, and sometimes those screw ups may have massive repercussions. Avoiding situations that could go badly isn’t any way to live, nor is it a way to write.

Good luck to us all.

Happy Book Birthday Two-Gun Witch!

#SFWAPRO
Today is the day I’ve been waiting for, for a long while. You can now own your very own copy of Two-Gun Witch! You’ll find links to all the usual places to buy the book at the end of this post, but I also wanted to share something special. Music is very important to me and my writing process. As I noted in an earlier blog post, one of the great ironies of life is that the sound of typing keys drives me crazy. Seriously, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. As such, music is vital to maintain my sanity while writing (or working for that matter). Add to that, I tend to visualize my stories and music does an important providing a soundtrack for my mental movie. That’s why one of the first things I do when I start a new book is I create a new playlist for it. The songs provide a nice emotional punch to keep me in the right headspace. With that in mind, I’ve decided to recreate the playlist I made for Two-Gun Witch on Spotify and share it with you. There’s some songs in there you’ve probably heard, and perhaps more than a few you haven’t. Either way, I hope you enjoy it! If you’d prefer, here’s the direct link. If you prefer to find the songs yourself, I’ll paste the names in the text below, with YouTube links.

Two-Gun Witch Playlist

Enjoy the music, enjoy the book, and like with all books, posting a review or spreading word of the book to others would be a huge help! Thanks!

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound
Google Books

My local indie bookstore (they ship worldwide)
Fountain Bookstore – Paperback
Fountain Bookstore – Hardcover


Playlist

Against the Wind – The Highwaymen
Aint Going to Heaven – Gangstagrass
Ain’t No Grave – Johnny Cash
All for One – Gangstagrass
Annabelle – Gillian Welch
At Your Window – Trampled by Turtles
Ballad of a Lonely Man – Mike Ness
Banks of the Ohio – Gangstagrass
Big Iron – Mike Ness
Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound – Johnny Cash
Come Dance – Steep Canyon Rangers
Dear Sister – Claire Lynch
Don’t Take Your Guns to Town – Johnny Cash
(Ghost) Riders in the Sky – Johnny Cash
God’s Gonna Cut You Down – Johnny Cash
Hey Brother – Avicii
Highwaymen – The Highwaymen
Honey Babe – Gangstagrass
Hurt – Johnny Cash
In Hell I’ll be in Good Company – The Dead South
It Will Follow the Rain – The Tallest Man On Earth
John Henry – Gangstagrass
Long Hard Times To Come – Gangstagrass
I am a Man of Constant Sorrow – Soggy Bottom Boys
The Mercy Seat – Johnny Cash
Murder Ballad in G Minor – The Rosewood Thieves
Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1) – Aurora
O’ Death – Gangstagrass
Orphan Girl – Gillian Welch
The Outskirts – Trampled by Turtles
Peacemaker – The Steeldrivers
Ran Dry – Gangstagrass
The Recap – The Dead South
Remember Me This Way – Steve Martin, Edie Brickell
Renegades – X Ambassadors
Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
River Runs Red – The Steeldrivers
Six More Miles – Mike Ness
Take the Wheel – Steep Canyon Rangers
Walk the Line – The Tallest Man On Earth
The Way it Goes – Gillian Welch
We All Get Lonely – Trampled by Turtles
Whiskey – Trampled by Turtles
Wildwood Flower – Mike Ness
You Can Never Go Home Again – Gangstagrass
Your Rocky Spine – Great Lake Swimmers

Podcast Appearance

Ed, my friend since seventh grade, is a history teacher in Northern California. He also co-hosts a podcast called A Geek History of Time with Damian Harmony, a fellow teacher. They were kind enough to invite me on to talk about my writing journey, and my American Faerie Tale books. I’m a fan of the podcast and if you enjoy history and/or geekery, I highly recommend it, even the episodes I don’t appear in. The episode on Squirrel Girl is on of my favorites. Beware, if you dread puns, stretch your eyes before listening because Damian will have them rolling continually. And good news, the podcast is available everywhere I know of that you can get podcasts!

Home Page

iTunes

Spotify

Release Date!Cover Reveal! But Wait, There’s More!

#SFWAPRO
Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’ve been excited to get Two-Gun Witch out into the world. I think it’s the best work I’ve done, which it should be as my latest work. Well, after literal years of working and waiting and working some more, we have a release date! Come May 31st, you can finally read the story I’m sure you’ve been chomping at the bit to read! That’s right, not even two months! It’s been great working with the folks at Falstaff books, and I’m excited to officially join the misfit clan. For those of you who don’t know, it’s been a long and winding path to get this story to publication. It got shopped around at most of the big houses and several smaller presses, but they all passed. Which was surprising because with two exceptions, all the editors who read it, really liked it. They said they loved the world building, the characters, and that the writing was strong. One was so sure his house would pick it up that he actually started editing it. The problem came from the marketing people. Weird\Fantasy Western isn’t a genre that tends to do very well. Which is one reason I push Two-Gun Witch as historical fantasy, but don’t tell anyone. All this to say, I’m glad Falstaff had the courage to take the risk with the book, and it would be really helpful not just for me, but for other authors of niche and stranger stories if you picked up a copy. Okay, right now it would be mostly for me, but it will also help Falstaff find other cool stories.

That done, here is the official cover reveal for Two-Gun Witch! I know, you already saw a thumbnail in the post or email, just play along!

Covers are always nerve-wracking. As an author, you typically get very little, if any, input. Which I’m mostly okay with because I’m a writer, not an artist/graphic designer. But you always worry you won’t like it and even if you can provide feedback, you feel guilty or like a prima donna. At least I do. That said, I couldn’t be happier with this cover! I love the tone and feel, the small details, and, well, everything! I think Falstaff knocked it out of the park and special kudos to the artists, Susan Roddey!

But wait, there’s more! I hired Kirbi Fagan (an excellent artist) to do the first art work of Talen, and as you can see, she crushed it.

Well, I also had her do the four main characters in the story, which I’ll have available as postcards at events.

However, she also did an image of all four of them together! If you order the book from The Fountain Bookstore (they ship worldwide and details will be coming shortly) I’ll include an 11X17 print of the entire cast image. Keep in mind, the post cards can’t be lined up to create the full image, so this is the only way to get all four characters in one image! But, Bishop, I hear you ask. Why would I care about characters I know nothing about? I’m glad you asked! Because you’re a cool and culturally interesting person who enjoys art across various media! And I’ll even cover any additional shipping costs!

Also, you’ll be supporting an indie bookstore that does great things in the community and is staffed by awesome people! It’s a win-win-win! That’s three wins! Twice as many wins as the next leading competitor! (excluding Brandon Sanderson)

At this point, you’re probably close to being overstimulated, because even super cool people can only take so much awesome. So, I’ll let you look over the artwork and tell you to stay tuned for more posts about the new book!

Hey, Remember Me? Updates and Some Announcements

#SWFAPRO

The title is rhetorical. If you’re getting this, you’ll (hopefully) remember me. Been a while, hasn’t it? How are you? How’s your mom and them? Me? Well, like—I imagine—many of you, I’m still wandering through the pandemic weary world where every day seems to blur into the next. All while lasting roughly 150 years. I’m getting some words down, but never as many as I’d like and mostly just focused on getting from one day to the next.

Now, some announcements:

First, I now have a roommate. Well, it’s a kitten, so probably closer to a landlord.

This is Guinness, and yes, he is as adorable in person.

He is entertaining, a total goofball, and has fondness for human flesh. Specifically, mine.

I’ve had him a few months now and he’s been good for me. It’s my first time owning a cat and I assume it’s his first time owning a human, so we’re both figuring it out as we go.

Okay, now that I’ve hooked you with cat pictures, here is some other less adorable news.

Two-Gun Witch is being editing and should be released early next year. Those of you with good memories might recall me saying something similar about the released date last year. Well, Covid is a thing and it’s caused delays as do the normal, and not so normal, problems that existed before the plague hit. In short, expect to hear more from me as the release date approaches about special pre-order offers and teasers.

And lastly but not least(ly?), there is a new(ish) American Faerie Tale story available! Yes, you heard that right! The Greatest Gift was part of a novella collection a few years ago. Since then, it’s been re-edited, given a spiffy cover (see below), and made available on its own! If you want to know how Wraith spends her holidays, check it out! It makes an excellent gift for family, friends, strangers, the barista at Starbucks who always gives you a little extra whipped cream, or even your cat or dog.

Yes, I know they can’t read! That’s what they have you for.

Fair warning, it’s a Wraith story, which means it isn’t candy canes and hot chocolate, but it has heart. If you liked the rest of the series, I’m confident you’ll like this story too.

So, there it is, short and sweet. I hope you’re all faring well through this, well, this. Hang in there and keeping hanging on. Despite some people (waaaay too many) seemingly determined to drag this out for as long as possible and learn the entire Greek alphabet, we can and will get through it.

And just because it’s that time of year, here’s a short film staring Guinness titled “My Fucking Mouse”.

A Story is Born – Dennis Danvers

#SFWAPRO
Aside from having the same last name as Captain Marvel, one of my favorite superheroes (no relation) Dennis Danvers is also a truly magnificent author. I’m lucky enough to have him in my writing critique group where he regularly fills me with feelings of inadequacy. Today, he’s hear to talk about his new novel The Perfect Stranger and how the harrowing event that seeded it.
____________________________________________________________________________

Jeez Louise, where did this story begin?  Ninth grade, my first job, page in a Houston branch library.  Long before then I’d figured out I loved stories more than anything, and now it was my job to sort and shelve them.  All kinds of stories for all kinds of readers.  That’s where I learned what genre meant.  I also learned the title/author combo for countless books I’ve never read—which made me an awesome trivia player for a while.  Years later I worked some years in an excellent used bookstore in Dallas and actually got to talk to all the different readers that went with the different genres and came to appreciate their varied joys and pleasures and insights.

I have four degrees in English (B.A., M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D.) and the notion in those halls was too often that only English majors read, or allowing for other readers, only English majors read texts correctly.  That just ain’t so.  Genres have always liked to party with other genres, and that keeps the whole game going in the most delightful way.

So that’s the background story, but the seed was born a few decades later when I had a heart attack in my shower.  I didn’t know what it was at first, and it didn’t particularly hurt, but (and I understand this is not unusual) I was having bizarre thoughts, a story idea—about an author who died suddenly leaving a hard drive of work behind and what might become of it—when I realized that I  was potentially that dying author, and I had a more urgent crisis to deal with than whatever nonsense dwelt on my hard drive. I’ll spare you the details, but “inky abyss” became a recurring motif in my fiction thereafter (See especially the “Adult Children of Alien Beings” stories on Tor.com).

That was a dozen years ago, but the germ of the story remained behind of orphaned work and who might find it, and what they might do with it.  The result is The Perfect Stranger, a romp through the genres.  I usually have fun writing my books, but this was deliciously fun.  The dead author is Gene Sanders Wilkerson, whose five lost works are rescued by lifelong fan, now doctoral student, Genevieve Slidell, who is delighted to discover they are wildly different from his famous work, in five different genres.

She is even more delighted (as was I) when Wilkerson’s ghost shows up, not only to approve her plan to claim the work as her own, but to tag along as she reaps the resulting accolades.  Like Genevieve, I always longed to be an author but never felt good enough.  Like Genevieve, I could never feel quite at home in the loftier realms of academe.

Oh yeah.  I used to have a cabin in the Blue Ridge where this story opens when Genevieve finds five novels in the attic.  I’m fond of epigraphs, and Wilkerson gladly provided me one for my novel:

The novelist is the perfect stranger, the fellow who sits down beside you on some journey or other, and draws you into his world of words where he does the most marvelous things to you.  You might fly.  He might enslave you.  He’ll almost certainly fuck you, convert you, something intense.  Laws don’t matter, even those of the so-called universe, for one brief ride, a 1000 pages at most.  And then, here’s the best part, you part from the stranger with the world outside the journey unchanged.  All the changes are within, where the perfect stranger lives.

—Gene Sanders Wilkerson, Thoughts on the Novel

You can find Dennis on his own blog here

A Big Announcement!

#SFWAPRO
One of the downsides to being a writer is that you often get good news but can’t share it right away. A few weeks ago this happened to me (again) and now I’m finally able to share it.

*drumroll*

Two-Gun Witch has been picked up!!!


(SQUEE)

For those of you who follow my blog posts, you know this has been a long and often daunting road. I feel this book is my best work to date, which it should be in terms of my writing skill, but I also believe this is the best story I’ve written with some of the best characters. For those who haven’t followed my posts, or don’t remember, the short version is that the book got sent around to the big publishers, and a few smaller imprints. Generally (high 90 percentile) the editors really liked the book and wanted it, but the marketing people put the kibosh on it because they weren’t sure how to sell it, or felt it was too much of a gamble (fantasy westerns don’t usually sell well). I knew this would be an issue even though I think it’s more of a historical fantasy; only part of the story is set in the old west. As such, It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small press would be the best place for TGW. They can often take risks the bigger houses won’t.

The book will be published by Falstaff Books. I think Falstaff is a great home for TGW, and not just because they call themselves the Misfit Toys of Fiction, but that helped. I’ve known John Hartness for a couple of years now, and I’ve rarely met someone who works harder for authors and books. Additionally, there will be an audiobook which is something I’ve been wanting for a very long time. I’m super excited (in case you couldn’t tell) and I can’t wait to see what the book becomes.

Obviously there isn’t cover art yet, or a release date beyond sometime next year, but as soon as they become available, I’ll be announcing them here. While I am eager to get the book out, I’m also excited to have the time to build up some hype, get some reviews, and hopefully spread the word. This is of course where you (my wonderful, brilliant, incredibly attractive, spectacular readers) can really help. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you all, you sexy beasts?


(I’m just going to assume this is you)


(or this #BestCompanionFightMe)

In the coming months I’ll be releasing details about the book (see above about hype) and also revealing details about a special offer for pre-orders from The Fountain Bookstore (my local indie, who ships worldwide).

In the meantime, here’s a little something for you wonderful (and did I mention super hot?) people to tantalize. This is a sample flap copy I wrote up last year. If you don’t know the term, the flap copy is the paragraph or two you find on the back cover of paperbacks or inside the flap (hence the term) of the dust jacket for hardcovers. It’s unlikely that this will be the final copy, but I think it offers a good idea of what the story is about.

Talen is a Stalker, a bounty hunter hired by the Marshal Service to hunt down humans stained by dark magic. She’s also a two-gun witch, one of the few elven women who can wield two magical revolvers, spell irons, at once. For three years she’s lived for the next bounty, and a whisper of vengeance for the destruction of her people. That changes when she takes the warrant on Margaret Jameson, a new kind of stained, one immune to the usual tools of collection. Upon finding her quarry, Talen realizes Margaret isn’t stained at all, but someone worked very hard to make her appear so. The search for an answer carries the two unlikely partners from the wilds of the Great Plains to the expansive cities of post-Civil War America. There, they learn the truth is much darker than they imagined, and it could mean the death of millions, or even reshape the world itself.

More to come. Watch this space.

A Story is Born – Terry Newman

#SFWAPRO

For this installment of A Story is Born, Terry Newman is here to talk about his comedic fantasy noir series (yes, you read that right). It hits on all genres and Terry shows why he has been so successful in comedy writing in all sort of media.


I have always made up stories, even before I could write them (or anything else) down. I played them through in my head. These short ‘imagination films’ featuring many of my favourite TV, film and comic book characters, as well as my own made-up characters.

I guess it’s what children do.

With this sort of start I consequently did pretty well at ‘English’ at school (despite a cavalier approach to spelling). I also did well at ‘German’, but living in the UK I stuck with English for writing.

I hated metalwork, which is why I never became Tony Stark.

I was good at everything else mind (no false modesty here!), but unfortunately – even though I went to ‘The Nobel Grammar School’ – I never won a Nobel prize. Only because our school was too modern to do that sort of thing. Otherwise it would have been a pretty good boast, having a Nobel prize.

Ah, perhaps I have gone back too far then? I’ll speed up.

Eventually careers talk time came around and the school’s Careers Master pointed me towards drama college or film school, where I could indulge these passions for making things up and possibly become a dissolute waster along the way. I was getting good at that too.

‘No’, I boldly said, (sic) to my Careers Master: ‘I’m going to be an ecologist and save the world from the upcoming environmental disaster.’ Sadly, back then in the later part of the C20th far to few people believed anything as bad as climate change was just round the corner.

Ha! That’ll teach them!

So I headed to the laboratory as best as I could and fell in love with electron microscopy. And, I mean, I could always write great stories in my spare time, couldn’t I? I’d have so much spare time, wouldn’t I?

I began writing my first full story, a comedy, detective, noir fantasy: ‘A DEAD ELF’ featuring dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak, while a proper electron microscope-wielding cell biologist, as some light relief from the chore of PhD writing. This was a long time ago (very last century) when the idea of mixing noir crime, fantasy and comedy in the one book seemed really outlandish! Well, it got me funny looks at parties, but this is what interested me: in particular Raymond Chandler, Tolkien and Douglas Adams. Let’s stick ‘em together I thought.

It was seeing a sign for an ‘Elf Service Station’ on the Derby Road that got my imagination firing on all cylinders. (The wind had blown a branch over the ‘S’). I just thought: ‘I bet they would have, bloody elves.’

I had never sided with the dwarves before – I was actually always one of the tallest in my class until everybody out-grew me. Fortunately, well after I had finished playing rugby.

Dwarves would make the best detectives after all – able to mix with the ‘White and Wise’ and the downtrodden and dirty in those mean cobbled streets. It is an interesting idea I had here after all, that all these medieval-type fantasy worlds would have to develop as time went by and deal with race relations and prejudice, political corruption and crime, and all the other delights of the modern era. It just had to happen!  Tick, tick, tick, went the brain!

Then, like The Beatles, I went to Hamburg. OK – it was just for a conference, a rather rushed affair, which is why I ended up there without any money and no return ticket. Boy, did I write a lot of ‘Dead Elf’ that week after the lectures had finished – after all I couldn’t afford to go anywhere – or eat. (Fortunately breakfast was provided).

That first incarnation of A DEAD ELF was a radio series. The BBC producer who read the script was very nice about it, but pointed out that the BBC had something similar in the mix and why didn’t I turn it into a novel? Unfortunately I had that PhD to finish and then papers to write and a chap called Terry Pratchett came along and basically did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do with fantasy. So, I put ‘A DEAD ELF’ away in the computer’s bottom drawer, but Nicely wouldn’t go away – in fact a second story gradually also emerged, but this time there was lot more detective and less satirical fantasy.

When, still a full time electron microscopist, I began writing topical comedy for a friend’s stage show I had a vague idea that this might be way to find an agent who could help me find a publisher for ‘A DEAD ELF’. This was now beginning to look much more like a proper novel now mostly thanks to a proper Word Processing package. However, a few months later I was surprised to find myself sneaking out of the lab lunch time to work at Broadcasting House writing for two of the BBC’s top topical comedy radio shows: ‘Week Ending’ and ‘The News Huddlines’.

You could do that then.

I ended up with some dozen commissions in total and jokes and sketches on TV’s prestigious ‘Rory Bremner’ show as well. What had begun as a way of finding a publisher was now the main preoccupation. Good job too, as to my surprise the worlds of comedy writing and book publishing have very little in common. This means that ‘A DEAD ELF’ had still to see the light of day.

Next, I tried my hand at playwriting, got my first commissions there and had three shows on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the same year.

Oh, and some awards! Very minor awards, but more than you get doing electron microscopy. One play went on to be performed in New York and got a rather good review in the New York Times. I am still very pleased about that.

No agent still mind, as the worlds of playwriting, comedy writing and book publishing have even less in common.

One thing I was sure about, this was now all a lot more fun than science, and science funding was getting harder every day. Electron microscopy was not fashionable any more. So, I hung up my microscope – well, I would have done if they weren’t the size of baby elephants. I started writing film scripts as well and began helping other people with their work and even started teaching scriptwriting. I went properly freelance and closed the lab door for good.

And then strangely I became university lecturer again – this time in ‘writing’, not cell biology! Wow! Two university lectureships – how cool will that look on the C.V.? Not at all, is the answer.

Still, none of it had helped me find a home for ‘A DEAD ELF’! So when, working now full time as a writer and script doctor, I saw a post about Harper Voyager UK’s Digital First Initiative I emailed them ‘A DEAD ELF’ and basically forgot I had done so.

After all, I was writing my first musical now! Hell, why not?

Some time later I decided to self-publish ‘A DEAD ELF’. Two weeks after I had accomplished this, Harper Collins contacted me to say that they wanted to publish my book.

I unself-published ‘A DEAD ELF’.

My ebook was epublished by HV, with minimal publicity, as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’. (A title I hated). With no review copies sent out, the book didn’t exactly shake the foundations of the publishing world! I knew it could be popular – I had total faith in Nicely. It just needed to get in front of the right readers.

Some months later (after the paperback was published as a Print On Demand) somebody at Harper Collins in the USA saw something in my story (or maybe they liked the cover – good cover!) and it was mentioned in a large promotional ‘Bookperk’ email to Harper Collins readers.

Within two weeks ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’ was selling like hot cakes and it became a Kindle #1 Bestseller in the ‘Epic Fantasy’ genre – it was outselling both Tolkien and Martin! Eek! I got a banner from Amazon to this effect to put on my website. Over a hundred reviews ticking up too!

However, with no follow-up publicity from the UK part of the Harper Voyager business, my sales couldn’t keep going at that rate. I was now inspired to finish Nicely’s next adventure, confident that this would sell even better as we could get surely some review copies out there too, given ‘A DEAD ELF’s’ success. My editor said she was looking forward to reading the book, so I dropped everything else and speedily finished the manuscript and sent it off to her. It was called ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’. A jolly clever mash-up of two great books – one fantasy and one detective; but you knew that!

I waited, and I waited. I sent off emails. I started book 3 still waiting. Eventually I heard that my editor was off sick. I carried on waiting. I contacted senior people and was told that it would be read. About a year after submission, pretty much out of the blue, I received an email from a p.a. to say that ‘because of lack of capacity’ Harper Voyager would not be able to do book 2 justice and so were not going to publish it.

And that’s after a relatively successful first book! Publishing eh?

Fortunately the experience had given me some contacts and so ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’ was published by Monkey Business, an imprint of ‘Grey House in the Woods’ – bless ‘em – and I’m very pleased with it.

So that’s how my first book came about and how I stumbled through academia and didn’t win a Nobel Prize, either at school or as a scientist. I did help sort out cardiac atrial natriuretic peptide secretion though and discovered a corkscrew-headed sperm and the uniqueness of the plant endodermis membrane. I have also given quite a few people a jolly good laugh along the way – not always in my writing. More laughs still to come!

Detective Nicely Strongoak Book Three is now finished too – hurrah! It’s called ‘Dwarf Girls don’t Dance’ and completes the ‘Dwarf Noir’ trilogy. It will be published by Monkey Business later this year.

Check out Terry at his website here, his Wikipedia page (lucky bastard) here, or on Twitter here. Even Nicely has his own website here.
You can find all of Terry’s books, which are not only inexpensive ebooks but also well worth the read, on his Amazon page.

Writing the Right Way

#SFWAPRO

There is no right or wrong way to write.


Okay, I suppose I should expand a little.

First, this can’t be said enough: all writing advice, regardless of who gives it, is very, very, very (you get it) much your mileage may vary. What works perfectly well for one person is completely useless to another. Everyone has to find their own way to create, and while some pieces of advice can be useful (a controversial opinion from someone who writes a lot of writing advice) it’s up to you decide which is useful to you. As seems to be happening more, this post is inspired by interactions I’ve seen on various social media platforms.

Outline – to pants or plot!

You might’ve come across the terms pantster and plotter. A panster is just someone writes by the seat of their pants, and a plotter, well, plots out the story. I’m 99% pantster. I do create an outline for everything I write, though it’s rarely more than a two pages, three at most. It’s little more than the chapter number, the point-of-view character, and what key event needs to happen in that chapter. With the exception of The Forgotten, every outline I’ve created is generally useless by chapter 4. As the story develops, the sequence changes, new ideas come into fruition, etc. I’ll usually update the outline for a while, but before long I say screw it and just focus on writing the damn story. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but for me outlines are like the towers for rocket launches. It’s necessary to get me started, but it gets left behind in a fiery explosion. Not really. Well, okay, there was that one time, but I can’t legally discuss it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I know authors who build outlines that are nearly novels on their own. For them, this is the skeleton around which the story is built. I also know some people who don’t outline at all. If you find them useful, use them, If not, don’t.

Write the book start to finish!

Guess what? You don’t have to! This can also tie into the different software people prefer. I have several friends who use Scrivener and they love it because they can write chapter 21 then chapter 7 then 8, then 1. Apparently you can also move the chapters around with ease and it’s just awesome. I wouldn’t know as I don’t like Scrivener and thus don’t use it. To me, it’s overly complicated for what I need and while I generally love learning new software, I’m happy to stick with Word and just get the writing done.

I do write from start to finish and in a completely fictional and non-scientific study I’ve done, it appears that those who can and do write chapters (or sections) out of order also rely on robust outlines. As I don’t, I don’t. For me, the story grows and develops as I write it, and the very idea of writing a later chapter before a preceding one fills me with dread. The ability to do so is clearly witchcraft, and while I approve of witchcraft in general, writing witchcraft is beyond me. But you can do that magic, get witchy with it. Just please don’t turn me into a newt. I’m not going through that again.


(college was a wild time)

You must use (enter software name here)!

Yes, I’ve actually seen this argument and, you guessed it, it is grade A bullshit. Use whatever works for you (are you noticing a recurring theme here?). G.R.R. Martin uses an old DOS machine running WordStar because it works for him, and he’s George R. R. Martin so people work around it. I use Word because I’ve used it forever, or at least since Word Perfect died, and I know how to use it. In the past, I’ve written long hand (my hands hurt just thinking about this), and used word processors, as in an actual word processing machine. They were like computers that only ran Word. I’ve also used manual typewriters, not because it was iron but because that was all that existed. Yes, I’m old, get off my lawn.

To make a long story short—too late—find what tools work for you. If the ones you’re using don’t, try something else, and keep trying until you find something that does. I’m a computer geek from the way-way back, when the old ones walked streets lined with boothy-phones and the internet was called Encyclopedia Britannica. So, I prefer to do all my work on a computer. I outline, keep notes, create story bibles, write, and edit on a computer. Some people can’t edit if they don’t print it out and mark it up, which is cool for them. One author I know uses a whiteboard and 3×5 cards to plot and layout a story. It’s a little too Beautiful Mind for me, but she rocks it and good on her.

TLDR: Writing can be hard. Chuck Wendig—very funny man and skilled writer—once said something along the lines of: writing can be rainbow unicorns that poop cupcakes, and sometimes it’s digging ditches. I imagine many of you reading this know the truth of that statement. Writing is hard, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Grab a shovel, even if that college professor, famous author, weird guy on the street, the Dalai Lama, or a weird Dalai Lama on the street said you should dig with your hands first. It’s a creative process and no one knows how to do it your way, but you. If anyone tells you otherwise, tell them I said they should piss off. This will probably confuse them, but if they’re Catholic it could terrify them, so, have fun with it!


(Avoid all advice from the Llama Dalai Lama)