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An experiment this week. The diary is a video. I (ramble) talk about editing, covers, instafreebie and wattpad...
I thought it would be quicker. It isn't. P'raps audio next time, like Jon Cronshaw is doing.

I'm not sure whether it comes across but I'm feeling pretty down in the dumps right now. I had hoped to publish at the beginning of November...

And I wonder whether I am wasting my time doing anything except editing.

Well. That makes me cringe. Not sure how long this will be up!

Instafreebie is doing good work. I've got 41 subscribers on Mailerlite from the Instafreebie group promotion. Not great numbers but it is short fiction and numbers are still numbers after all. I'm a bit sceptical too about t

My short stories on Instafreebie

he quality of these leads. But you know, it's all good stuff and I'm happy.

I had a go at recording myself reading the opening of my novel in a girlie voice. I've done this for two reasons. One: I want my book to stand out on WattPad, and I figure that audio might make it 'stickier'. Two: with one eye on the future audiobook narration might be something I'm interested in.

Now this was recorded on my phone in one take so the quality of the recording (and of the performance!) isn't great, but I don't think this is embarrassing as a first attempt. I can always redo them later. Plus reading aloud helps me to spot bits that sound rubbish!

Speaking of WattPad, Jeff Bond (American Jeff) is continuing to read and seems to like it still. ABCtales is still a good testing ground – though pretty much no one is reading it there either. To be fair I am not reading much of people's stuff.

I've got a you comment on mine and I'll read and comment on yours policy, and that seems fair and responsible to me. So if you read my stuff... give us a comment. Go on.

Editing is SLOW! My first draft is terrible. I wonder if next time I might write in the morning and edit at night. So that the first draft is a bit better next time!









 

Hi all.

Well my plan was to launch The Golden Arcade in a month. Well that aint gonna happen. I'll be lucky if I finish the redraft by then. Oh and the cover isn'tdone either. I'm suddenly starting to panic!

Well let's talk covers. I got this cover for 1$ from Canva and I'm using it on ABCTales and WattPad. I like it. I don't feel ashamed of it and it's definitely worth 1$. My concerns are that it's good, but not amazing. Not like the cover of Tom Trott's book which is the kind of cover I dream of.

It's by a guy called Tommy Pocket. I think he's amazing, an incredible designer. But I don't think I can afford him. I've been working on and off on a self-made cover and I'm doing it all wrong. I listened to J.Daniel Sawyer recently talking about the mistake he made of designing book covers from the 1970s, and I think I might be making the same mistake.

I really want a cover like the old Elmore Leonard books but modernised. Here's Leonard and the one I've been working on. Sorry. Mine's a bit shit. Please tell me you think so too, because I can sense myself dying to become deluded about my talent (or lack of it).

Classic Elmore Leonard cover
My 'Elmore' style cover so far...

Every day has been an editing day but it's painfully slow. I'm closing in on the middle of the book, and I haven't written the new email sections  that I need to keep the structure and the Granddad relationship going.  I am looking forward to writing book two, where I will be good with the structure before I start. The good news is that I think it's a pretty good book. And... I've got a reader!

THANK YOU JEFF BOND.

Jeff has been reading my book on WattPad, and so far he seems to like it, and it's made me feel great to find someone who is my target audience – who sees the book as I do.

Feeling very positive about it.

Instafreebie is starting to roll for me. I'm giving away 'The Wild Charge' stories. I've got about 25 contacts from it. I'm in this group giveaway here:

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/RHTd3Byr9HqRNpVzZQcA

And as you can see I am being left for dead by the naughty erotica guys and the saucy erotica girls. I guess that's just how it goes. And the contacts certainly aren't flying in... we'll see. All free so far, so who's complaining?

Finally. I heard about Quu on the Create If Writing podcast. It's a tool that automates your social media for free. It curates content. So far I'm impressed... I just wish I had time to read all the articles I post!

That's all folks.
Geoff.









 

Well first up this week I've decided to move my blog diary day from Monday to Tuesday. This is because I am posting episodes of The Golden Arcade on Wattpad and ABCTales on Mondays and Thursdays, and doing that and this, all on a Monday. Well it was too much.

Sometimes, daft things surprise you. By far the most exciting thing that happened to me this week was that I got mentioned on my absolute favourite Podcast. Yes I got name-dropped by the amazing Mr Paul Teague on this week's Paul's Podcast Diaries. And how did I do it you ask? Just a couple of daft tweets. And here they are:

And twenty minutes later ...

Next time I hope it can be because of something a bit less virtual. And here's Paul.  Thanks so much. It made my day.

Anyway, last week I was praising the feedback I was getting on ABC. Well that seems to have dried up. I'm still getting a few comments but it's not as wonderful as it was to start. And Wattpad? Well I'm not featured. I'm wondering if I can ask. But at the same time I'd quite like to get some 'organic' growth going.

KM Weiland's podcast this week talks about the negative energy of social media. And boy I know what she means. Wattpad does not feel like a level playing field. It's democratic but curated, and for me you get the worst of both worlds. My dad checked my book but couldn't find it even with my name and the title! I'm going to persevere. Perhaps I'll change my mind.

I've signed up to Instafreebie as well. You get thirty days for free, but I am planning to stay on board for a couple of months. I've listened to Jon Cronshaw and I've created a separate mailing list for all the lovely free(down)loaders. And we'll see how responsive they end up being. I don't expect great things, but I do want to find ways to build a list before the big release.

The things I haven't got time for:

- Writing blog posts that I could whack on Medium
- Producing study guides
- Making genre specific quotation graphics
- Reading
- Redesigning my blog graphics
- Sleeping
- All the other stuff I can't remember.

Oh, schools in full flow again right now – and God there's nothing like teaching to make you feel that you're not doing enough, aren't good enough...









 

Clumsy metaphors are meat and drink to all of us - right?

Well I've just finished my first pass of the first act of 'The Golden Arcade'. I've made some pretty big changes. I originally had a bunch of flashbacks through the first half of the novel (before I changed my mind).

So I've changed the structure a bit and put in some epistolary stuff, that I think works and tightens the focus on the main plot as well - I think. Anyway, the result of this is that I have cut some scenes and what I've replaced the scenes with are significantly shorter.

The first act has shrunk from 25,000 to 19,500, and I'm a bit worried I might upset the balance of the novel with a short first act. But I guess only time and a better focus on editing will tell.

I'm going to ask some people to give me some expert advice and feedback on the first act. If you read this and fancy it then drop me a line. Tweet me. @geoffsmithbooks . Though I expect to self-publish, I do plan to send the first act out to a couple of agents and publishers - just to see if there's any interest.

Other stuff. I've stuck some short stories up on Amazon. You can nose at it below. I don't really want anyone to buy it. I've set it up as a giveaway on my website - www.oncewewerefiction.com . I've set the forms up on Mailerlite (thanks to Euan Lawson for that one). I'm going to work on some blog posts that will go up closer to release to hopefully get a little attention.

Finally I've been working on a study guide for 'An Inspector Calls' That I think could be a pretty effective lead magnet for the YA adult Crime Crossover audiece I'm aiming for. But it's proving to be hard work.

Finally, I am thinking about posting this early draft on WattPadd and maybe ABCtales, and possibly Medium (do they allow that?) the former for lead generation and the latter for additional beta advice.

Any thoughts on these strategies readers ? All of these ideas may be terrible.

NEXT DIARY BLOG coming on the 18th of September









 

Well, I've been getting down with the editing of The Golden Arcade and it's slow work. The beginning of the novel needed some real work and I'd like to thank my friend Lizzie Hall for pointing out some of the problems with the first draft. She clued me up on some stuff that I wouldn't have seen if I'd had no feedback at all.

Some of these issues are easy to fix - like character names - others were harder - a whole scene with absolutely necessary content. Lizzie also had a problem with the setting. I haven't changed the setting. I've kept i. It's Margate. I love it and I know it a bit.

What I have done is make it less intrusive - and I think that has solved the problem.

And that's the thing about editing, It's the hardest thing in the world to do, unless you're doing a simple line edit. But hell, solving big problems is also really rewarding. And it's teaching me so much about writing.

My novel has quite a complex structure - which I like. Initially I began with flashbacks as a means of adding backstory and theme, but these petered out in the second half of the novel. So I'm replacing and rewriting these flashbacks with email correspondences. These are so much BETTER!

I am conveying character, values, relationships and backstory all in a way that links to the main plot arc.

I just wish it wasn't so damned hard. So damned slow.









 

We went to Sizewell this week. Camping. It was a lot of fun and I've got to admit I thought the nuclear power station looked really, well, powerful I suppose. And it's big blockiness reminded me of my own little block. And the massive, faceless building made me thing about writing a novel. It's not just a blank page. It's grey. It's huge. It's intimidating. And when you stand looking at the outside you have no idea what there is beneath its grey-blank skin.

This week I wrote about 2500 words. I discovered the target feature on Scrivener. I tried the pomodora (no idea how to spell that) with my marking. And I'll try it with my writing when I get up tomorrow morning.

And so I set about conquering my writer's block by paying attention to  the stuff under the skin. Plotting. I came to realise what I think I knew anyway. The barrier was that I hadn't planned my plot enough. So I did some of that. Just a couple of sentences about each scene, and now I can see beyond the towering concrete. And I think I know what to do. I feel more positive about getting back to target. I really want to finish the first draft by the end of the month.

So I've done that and I feel more secure. One lesson that I've learned with this draft is that I really need to plot in as much detail as possible next time. I can 'pants' short stories but for the long haul stuff I really need an extensive scaffold.

I did do some plotting. I've used KM Weiland's plot points and character interviews (which I will definitely do again) and mixed that up with a bit of StoryGrid foolscap. But these aren't enough for me on there own. Next time everything needs to be much more something.

I wrote my bad guy's big speech this week. And as an English teacher I quite like seeing different themes and possible interpretations emerging. I aint saying they work yet, or if they ever will, but I can see the potential.

Anyhoo, onwards and upwards. Time to start cranking out the words.







 

MY WRITING REPORT FOR THIS WEEK
Word Count - it's not complicated; it's practically non-existent.
I've been finding it hard to focus on writing this week and when I do I make little progress. I think this is for a number of reasons:
1 - fear of completing it and it being shit.
2 - being distracted by other ideas.
3 - being exhausted in exam season.
4 - Not having planned the third act properly.
Hmmm - yeah I'm definitely not a free-writer that's the take hoe of this week. When I wrote I wrote nothing and I figure that was because aside from the ending I had little idea about how the third act would go.
Word count aside - a friend of mine read the first half of the first draft. She hates all the names of the characters - which is fixable, and she hates the setting (Margate) which isn't. She also hates a key scene where the antagonist is introduced - there are other problems too, some of which I knew about (introducing protagonist effectively) and she liked my ideas about altering my approach to the flashback scenes.

Come to think of it:
5 - fear of completing the novel while knowing that there will be some major rewriting to undertake.

Anything else?
Honestly... I am worried about my protagonist being too bland.
Oh and you can get some Marvel Comics for 99p on the Kindle. I downloaded the Dr. Doom origin story and started reading it with my four year old - it was on the razor edge of appropriate I admit, but he loved it and they look great electronically.
Every dad ought to take a look - I love The Fantastic Four by the way - It's Clobberin' Time!

Geoff Smith







 

I recently read Mappalujo by Jeff Noon and Steve Beard. It was a really interesting read. I had a great tie reading it. It felt like something innovative and exciting, and as I read I wondered about how the book came about. With its separate but linked narratives it seemed to defy my expectations of structure while still seeming well-themed and, well, exciting.

It wasn't until I got to the end of the book and the appendices that I found out about the writing process. Steve and Jeff used a formalised approach called Mappalujo. They based their chapters on a collection of cultural icons, from Gilbert and George to The Velvet Underground. Writing alternate chapters they ended up with something unique, powerful and just, well, cool.

I wanted to know more about how it worked. What about outlining? Character arcs? What about redrafting, sharing control? So, I contacted Jeff and he has answered a few of my questions.

I've got to be honest - this is the most exciting post I've been lucky enough to post. Mappalujo is a brilliant idea and I want to do it with... with someone, sometime.

So here it is. Check out the rules below, and my interview with Jeff at the bottom of the post.

The Mappalujo Rule Book

  1. Mappalujo is a writing game designed to allow two or more players to create a shared narrative between them. It offers a balance between a collaborative work process and individual freedom.

  2. Players decide between them on a bank of ICONS, a number of celebrity figures either living, dead or fictional. We recommend between six and twenty icons for each new story. Icons should be taken from as broad a range of cultural worlds as possible. An example six might be: OPHRA WINFREY, BATMAN, LADY GAGA, BENOIT MANDELBROT, JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER and BRIDGET JONES. Your chosen icons will be used to influence each chapter of the story.

  3. Rules are decided about maximum length of chapter, for instance no more than three pages of text, or no more than 1,000 words. Mappalujo works best when limits are set in this way, to allow each icon to have its proper influence.

  4. The game begins. The first player chooses one of the iconic figures and writes a short chapter based on it. The icon can influence the writing in any way. For instance the icon BATMAN might lead to a piece about masks, about fighting crime, about revenge, about losing a parent to a violent incident, about comic books, about superheroes, about people copying the behaviour of animals, and so on. This influence can be obvious, or tangential. There are no limits to the extent or range of the iconic influence.

  5. Once chapter one is complete, the chosen icon is removed from the icon bank.

  6. This first chapter is sent to Player 2, who chooses another icon from those remaining in the bank and responds with a chapter of their own, influenced in turn by this new icon.

  7. Mappalujo is suitable for creating both traditional and experimental narratives. So, this second chapter can follow directly on from the first in terms of plot, characters or atmosphere; or it might not, depending on the agreed style of the story.

  8. This second chapter is sent back to Player 1, and the second icon is removed from the icon bank.

  9. The game proceeds in this way until all of the icons in the bank are used up. As the story reaches its final chapters, the players will have fewer icons to choose from, so increased creativity plays an important role.

  10. Stage one of the mappalujo process is complete when the last icon has been used, and the final chapter written. There will now be a number of chapters or episodes, one for each icon in the bank.

  11. These completed chapters are regarded as the raw material for a story. The two players now work together in a more traditional manner, editing and tweaking as they see fit in order to improve the story. During this part of the process a balance should be found between perfecting the story as a whole, while retaining the individual iconic nature of each chapter.

  12. When both players are satisfied with the outcome, the mappalujo game is finished. The story is complete.

Interview with Jeff Noon.

You wrote Mappalujo with Steve Beard. How well did you guys know each other when you began the Mappalujo process?

J: Hardly at all. I’d recently moved to Brighton after living in Manchester, so I was looking to make new friends and contacts. I went to a book reading session at a bar and heard Steve read. We got chatting afterwards, and then met up a short time late for coffee. We talked about working together on something. But we were both aware of the difficulties of writing prose in a collaborative manner (as opposed to writing film scripts, say, which lend themselves much more to a writing team’s joint efforts). So we decided to come up with some kind of formal approach that would allow our different styles and interests to merge in some way. The Mappalujo process was born from those discussions.

I think I read that you decided the number of chapters that the two of you would write. To what extent did you outline the story arc of the project as a whole?

The first stage of the Mappalujo process is to choose a number of chapters, say ten, and a set of iconic figures to go with them. Iconic figures are people of influence in the worlds of art, politics, science, philosophy, etc, living or dead, real or fictional. These iconic figures are then used, each in turn, to influence a chapter of the story as it builds. Steve would choose an icon, write a chapter based in some way on that icon’s life or work, and pass it on to me; in turn I would choose another icon from the list, and write an answering chapter. The story builds up in this manner until all the icons in the list are used up. So the story is written chapter by chapter, with the two authors swapping chapters back and forth. We didn’t plan the story out in any way, not to start with. We just improvised and jumped off each other’s previous chapter. It was very much an explorative process, finding pathways through a labyrinth. The overall arc of the novel only came into being as the individual stories were completed. We soon realised that all the events were taking place in the same city, which we named Lujo. Very gradually the story of Lujo emerged, with a whole set of characters living there, to carry the story forward over many decades of the city’s history.

How much did you and Steve talk about the story during the process of writing the first draft?

We would meet up every so often to chat about the process and the story, and to exchange ideas on future events. It started out as an experiment in writing; only gradually did we realise that we were actually writing a novel, or a series of interconnected short stories. But once that idea took shape, we started to think of it in novelistic terms; so more planning took place, the longer the writing process lasted.

Was it more enjoyable producing the first draft than writing a first draft alone?

Yes, it was very enjoyable! But also frustrating at times. We found it was quite easy to wander off down pathways that looked really exciting to begin with, only to discover that they were actually dead ends. So we would then have re-think meetings, to discover a new approach for the story. But the whole game-playing aspect of Mappalujo always keeps it interesting, and fresh and lively: you never know where you’re going to go next. And of course the more we did it, the better we became at utilising the system.

Was the redrafting and crafting of the final draft more complex than for an individual project?

The first draft produced a kind of soup of raw materials, from which we then crafted the novel. This second part of the process is more traditional; rewriting a second draft pretty much as an individual writer would. One of us would have a go through the material, shaping it, changing it, adding things, discarding other things, etc. The second writer would then treat that new draft as his own, and rework it. We’d then meet up to decide on the final draft. It was probably a little bit more complex than a writer working alone, but not much. This final stage was very similar to how two writers might work on a film script together.

Did the redrafting process take a long time?

It’s really difficult to talk about chronological time passing, because we would have intense periods of working together, and then periods where we took breaks. I would guess that the whole process of writing the novel, beginning to end, took about five years, with breaks here and there. We probably spent half of that time on the initial icon-sharing process, and half on the redrafting. I do remember that we did a lot changes later on, when we starting thinking about how a reader would respond to the book.

Did the Mappalujo process teach you anything about how to write with another author?

I think it solves a lot of the problems of collaborative novel writing, because two or more authors of different sensibilities are able to feed their individual styles and interests into the chapters. Even when we were working on the novel’s overall story as an arc, we never wanted the book to lose that initial feel of a game being played, of different styles meshing together. We wanted it to be a bit ragged at the edges, rather than super smooth. And out of that Mappalujo process, Steve and I have recently started to work together again, this time on film scripts, a much more standard way of writing, but one that is definitely informed by the lessons we learned from creating Mappalujo. I think we’ve learned how to let our individual styles feed into the whole, which is probably the most important aspect of any collaborative project.

What advice would you give to other writers considering their own Mappalujo project?

Set a limit for the length of chapters, say two pages. Don’t start with two many chapters: six to ten icons should be fine. Start small, and build from there as the story reveals its true potential. Make sure the icons are interesting. Figures with highly individuated attributes and styles are best, because they lead to the most influences. Avoid direct parody of an icon’s working style, if possible. Try to think of more lateral kinds of influence. And most importantly: have fun! To begin with, it’s a game, an exploration of possibilities. Then it becomes something else, a narrative. Follow the flow of the story, wherever it might take you.

And there it is. I think it's a really exciting idea and I've had a few ideas about possible projects. I hope you might have a go too.







 

Christina Dalcher - author of 'The Definition of US'
Christina Dalcher - author of 'The Definition of US'

Ad Hoc Fiction is a brilliant weekly flash fiction competition where incredible writers produce 150 words stories that contain a specified prompt word. Each week the public vote and a winner is selected. The voting system does an incredible job of finding the diamonds in the, well not rough. Let’s say the public do a great job in selecting the most polished diamonds from a grab bag of gems… no that sounds poncey. You know what I mean. Right?

The winner each week gets free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction competition proper, which has a top prize of £1000.

Last month I interviewed Alison Wassell and I’ve been keeping an oar in and an eye out ever since. Last week I read ‘The Definition of Us’ by Christina Dalcher and I just thought – it was a really interesting piece. So I asked Christina about it and this is what she said:

How often do you enter stories on AdHoc fiction?

Since August 2016, I'd say every other week on average. I don't set a clock, but whenever my fingers start to itch and I don't already have a flash piece (or two) cooking, I head over to AdHoc and check out their word of the week.

How do you usually approach key words / prompts? Was this different?

The very first thing I do is look up the word in the OED and in urbandictionary.com. I dig deep, keeping an eye out for archaic/obsolete uses, etymology, unexpected parts of speech or meanings or references. Since the prompt word that begat "The Definition of Us" was cast, I farmed a metric ton of raw fodder from dictionary entries, and that gave me the idea to capitalize on the rich lexical semantics of that single word. Once I knew where the experiment was going, I plugged the string 'cast' into an online Scrabble dictionary and pulled several of the longer words that contained the four-letter string.

Did you outline your piece before you wrote it?

Outline? What's an outline? No, seriously, I didn't, mostly because I didn't have much time left before the deadline, and also because I never outline my short work.

How did you approach the writing / redrafting of 'The Definition of Us'?

This piece started differently than most of my flash fiction. Rather than begin writing, I allowed the dictionary entries of 'cast' and words containing 'cast' to create the story. The bones, so to speak, were about two dozen dictionary entries. Since the top entry happened to be one of the more common meanings (direct one's eyes at someone), the theme was headed for romance right from the start!

Roughly how long did you spend writing 'The Definition of Us' ?

I'm afraid if I tell you this, you might not like me very much! Once I had a short list of the dictionary entries, the piece came together in about ten minutes. I owe this to my fabulously fast mother, who taught me how to type.

Do you tell others when you have posted a story?

Sometimes. "The Definition of Us" was the first AdHoc piece I sent to my critique group (the inimitable FastFlash5). I confess I'm a rather sporadic tweeter, though, and when tomorrow arrives, I tend to forget yesterday.

Do you think about your story much during the week it's up on the AdHoc site for the public vote?

Oh, goodness, if I thought about every story that was out on submission, I'd go mad in a New York minute. I do love reading the weekly AdHoc entries, though!

Do you enjoy writing within the 150 word limit?

Absolutely. And the 300-word limit and the 50-word limit and the 743-word limit. Since I'm also a novelist, anything under 80,000 words is a refreshing break, a quick sprint to interrupt the marathon. Also, (and I'm recalling the wise words of my late syntax professor, Charlie Jones, here) I believe that if you can't say what you want in the confines of a page or a paragraph, you probably can't say it in a few hundred pages or a few hundred paragraphs.

'The Definition of Us' is one of the most imaginatively structured pieces I've seen on AdHoc. Can you tell us about it?
'The Definition of Us' - all in the etymology.
'The Definition of Us' - all in the etymology.

First, thank you. That's a lovely compliment. The narrative itself is quite simple (girl loves someone, girl's parents are against the couple—you've probably seen this before in, say, Romeo and Juliet). It probably wouldn't have worked as well if I'd just come out and written what these characters wanted and how they went about achieving their goals. Complicating the form lets the reader have some fun in assembling the pieces: the key word, the definition, and the application of that definition are all there on the page, but their arrangement is a bit of a surprise. People like surprises, right?

Is experiment with structure something that you do a lot?

Oh, yeah. Almost half of my published short work is in some sort of experimental form: emails, diary entries, recipes, word games, and epistles are a few examples. I particularly love playing with words—it's the linguist in me. Also, I'm a cryptic crossword addict, which will make sense to my fellow Brits, not so much to my fellow Yanks. As a side note, the first piece of flash I read was a fantastic story by Ani King titled "Conjugate 'to be', using complete sentences." It's over at freezeframefiction if anyone fancies having a peek.

And do you think structural experimentation is particularly suited to flash fiction?

Very much so. And not at all suited to longer writing—imagine an 80,000-word novel all in dictionary format or Associated Press blurbs! There's a certain amount of work that needs doing when you read a story through the filter of unexpected forms, and the novelty can grow old if it's overdone or prolonged.

What advice would you give to other writers having a go at the AdHoc fiction competition?

Read the winning entries, read the long listed entries, stretch outside the box of the first thing that comes to mind when you see that single-word prompt, write some stuff, edit and polish and read it out loud. Hit submit. Do it all again the following week!

Read more by Christina Dalcher

Christina is an incredibly industrious and prolific writer... I am more than a little awestruck. She has about 45 flash credits so far and was placed second in the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue-only Contest this year.

 

If you'd like to read more of Christina's work, check out the following:


The Molotov Cocktail: Prize Winners AnthologyAfter the Pause Year 2christina-d2Vine Leaves Journal, Issue #17christina-d3I really loved this interview. I've ordered the Molotov title and look forward to hearing and reading more of Christina's work in the future.Find Christina Dalcher at www.christinadalcher.com or tweeting @CVDalcher.