Friday 16 July 2010

Polly Wants A Cracker!

For this week's Friday Flash, I've returned to Captain Scarlight and Methuselah, his telepathic parrot. They made their first debut last month, in Pieces O' Eight.

* * *

The parrot sailed into the room, riding the breeze from the open window. Sunlight played across the scattered empty bottles, turning the floor into a stained glass carpet. The remains of a steak sandwich sat on a plate on the table. A trail of crumbs led from the sandwich to the groaning figure on the bed.

Ah. Captain. You are awake.

The parrot’s voice echoed inside the captain’s head. He roared from the depths of his blanket nest.

“Thusie, go away.” The captain threw a sock at the parrot. It missed, landing on the floor in a puddle of beer.

I have told you before, Captain. My name is Methuselah.

“Your name is… well it’s whatever I want it to be, dammit!” Captain Scarlight sat up. He swayed, clutching his head.

The men await your orders, Captain.

“I can’t give any orders, you stupid bird! I’m dying!” Captain Scarlight groaned to prove his point.

I am afraid that you are not dying. You are merely hungover. I believe I predicted this very outcome last night before you embarked upon your drinking session.

“Do you enjoy being such a smart arse?” The captain glared at Methuselah with bloodshot eyes.

I am no smartarse, I am simply reminding you of the events of yesterday. Now get up and get ready, we have a visitor on board.

“A visitor? On my ship? And no one asked me?”

I believe the governor asked you last night, somewhere after the third bottle of rum. You seemed to think it a jolly good notion then.

“Well who is it?”

Katherine Weaver, daughter of the governor. He wants us to show her around the ship. By us, of course, I mean you.

“Oh damn him to hell. Is she here already?”

Yes. She awaits your presence most eagerly. It would appear that your reputation as a swordsmith has preceded you.

“I am pretty good with a blade, I suppose,” said the captain. He hauled himself to his feet using a bedpost. He swayed as though the berthed ship were caught in a rolling sea.

Indeed. I shall return to your men and inform them that you shall be with us shortly.

Methuselah flew out of the room in a flash of electric blue and scarlet.

* * *
The governor’s daughter stood on the small half-deck outside Captain Scarlight’s cabin. She wore her red hair in ringlets, and a dusting of freckles covered her nose. A maid stood behind her with a fan, while another held a parasol over her. Methuselah didn’t like to say so, but he considered her long dress to be impractical attire for a ship. He wondered at the wisdom of her father, allowing his daughter to meet with pirates. Visions of a brigand’s ball danced before his avian eyes.

The cabin door opened and Captain Scarlight made his entrance. He’d managed to find clean trousers, though a burgundy waistcoat hid the mustard stain on his white shirt. The shadow cast by the brim of his immense hat hid his bloodshot eyes. He adjusted his belt, and cleared his throat.

“M’lady, this is Captain Scarlight. Captain, this is Katherine Weaver, daughter of the governor,” said First Mate Swein. He bowed to the captain and to Katherine.

“My lady Katherine, what a good honour it is to meet you,” said the captain. He removed his hat with a flourish, bowing deeply. Katherine giggled, and held out her hand. The captain kissed it gently. Methuselah was impressed; he rarely made time for such displays of chivalry, especially with a screaming hangover.

“Please, captain, call me Kitty. All my friends do,” replied Katherine. She fixed the captain with an intense stare, and suddenly it made sense. Girls often threw themselves at Captain Scarlight, hoping for a whirlwind romance or a life at sea. The captain never seemed to notice.

“Then I shall do so likewise,” said the captain.

“I hear you have a telepathic parrot. Is this the bird?” asked Kitty. She pointed at Methuselah.

“He is indeed. His name is Methuselah. I rescued him from an evil pirate several years ago. Yes, he'd be a goner if it weren't for me,” said the captain. Methuselah rolled his eyes; that’s not how he remembered it.

“Will he talk to me?” asked Kitty. She reached out a hand to pet Methuselah. He allowed her to gently stroke his feathers.

“Say something to Kitty, Methuselah, there’s a good chap,” said Captain Scarlight.

“Who’s a pretty boy then? Polly wants a cracker! Arrrrrgh! Pieces o’ eight!” screeched Methuselah.

Kitty looked at the Captain, her green eyes wide like saucers.

“I thought you said he was telepathic?”

“He is. Come on, Thusie, say hello to Kitty the way you talk to me,” said Captain Scarlight. He prodded Methuselah. The parrot glared at the captain, puffing his chest up in indignation. He let out a single caw in reply.

“I do not think much to your bird, Captain,” said Kitty. She turned, and allowed herself to be led back to the main deck by First Mate Swein.

“Oh, you do delight in making me look stupid, don’t you?” The captain glowered at Methuselah.

I do indeed, Captain. Where else could I find such amusement, other than that which I make myself?

Captain Scarlight slunk back to his cabin, the sound of parrot laughter rattling around inside his brain.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Smashwords vs Scribd

One of many things that I love about the blogosphere is that it promotes discussion, and information sharing. People with experience and knowledge can pass it on to others, who can then in turn pass it on again.

Some people already know that the first phase of my web serial, Tales from Vertigo City, is almost over. Within a few weeks, The First Tale will be finished - and you'll all know what happens! Well my plan from there, aside moving onto The Second Tale, is to tidy the serial up, and make it available as an e-book. Some people don't have the time to sit in front of their computer to read the serial in dribs and drabs, but I still want them to be able to read it. I know that as e-readers become more popular, I'd like for more people to be able to read, and hopefully enjoy, The First Tale.

This is where the plan becomes a tiny bit more epic, because I'm not exactly known for making things easy on myself. I know that e-books that are available across many formats are text-only affairs, and that's fine. I want to put The First Tale out as a text-only version, so people can read it wherever they happen to be with their e-reader. Inspirational self-published author J. A. Konrath advocates Smashwords for selling e-books for iPad, Sony, Kobo (Borders), and Barnes & Noble, and up-and-coming writer Emma Newman used Smashwords for the release of her collection of short dark fiction, From Dark Places. She talks here about the minefield of pricing.

Thing is, there is a lot of supplementary material I want to include, things which I hope will expand or explain a few points about this particular incarnation of Vertigo City. With a background in graphic design combined with a passion for comic books, I'd like those things to take a more visual format, which precludes their inclusion in an e-book in the traditional sense of the word. Smashwords is therefore useless to my purpose, and as printing hard copies would end up being too expensive, I’ve now been considering Scribd

As far as I can tell, both services have their advantages and disadvantages, and this is where things get interesting, as my Net friend Benjamin Solah is having the exact same dilemma! He has both a project to be released as a text-only e-book, and a magazine he wants to keep in graphic format. It's all very exciting, and you can check his post on the subject here. It's at this point that we're both going to throw open the floor to anyone who either has experience of services like Smashwords or Scribd, or anyone who has any advice they'd like to share regarding e-books.

Come on, get involved!

Image by AJ Leon.

Monday 12 July 2010

Waging War on the Editing Demon

Back in November 2008, I finished writing my first novel. I already had two unfinished novels to my name, but I have to give some credit to NaNoWriMo for impelling me to actually get to 'The End' - without the daily 'deadlines' required to make the minimum 50,000 words by the beginning of December, I doubt I would have been able to maintain the impetus to get the story of Fowlis Westerby out of my head and onto the page.

The intervening time has seen me flirting with short stories, flash fiction and now a web serial, as I procrastinate like hell so I can avoid the dreaded 'rewrite' process. All of the writing manuals advise you to leave a manuscript to 'breathe' before you return to it, so as to develop some kind of distance from your own work and revise with a more objective eye, though I think eighteen months might be pushing it! Eisley Jacobs kindly wrote a guest post about her own editing process back in March but today I'm going to discuss my own process, and how it relates to my first novel.

Step one is easy - it involves printing out a hard copy of the whole manuscript. For the environmentally conscious among you, I did this using single spacing, a size 10 font and printing on both sides. (Helvetica was designed to be readable as small as 6pt, simply so that the writing in the New York phone book could be small enough to read, and thus stop the book being about a foot thick). I simply read through the manuscript, making comments and notes as I go. So far, it looks like I've scrawled 'expand' across most of it - NaNoWriMo is great for motivating you to get the words out, but in a lot of cases that's all I was doing; a general brain dump of ideas. Many scenes require expansion, or explanation. Even during this initial step, no matter how much I am tempted, I do no actual rewriting - not until I've read the original manuscript in full.

It is very tempting to rewrite as you go, but you can only get a 'bird's eye view' of the story as a whole when you read it 'as is'. You may fix what you think is a problem in the opening chapters only to discover you've created another one later on - by re-reading the whole thing, you may realise that what you think is a problem on page 10 is actually necessary for the events of page 98 to make sense.

This is the point at which I now find myself, with a hard copy covered in multi-coloured notes, comments and even doodles. The next step is go back through the work and actually do an initial rewrite to incorporate the comments I've made, including those dreaded expansions. I'm expecting the word count to shoot up, although the addition of new material will probably end up simply balancing out the elimination of the frequent adverbs I've found (I try hard not to use adverbs in my fiction these days, but apparently I still thought they were a good idea in 2008).

The thing that strikes me the most is that although there are passages that make me cringe, or sections where I can tell what I was getting at but now find the writing clunky or uninspired, I still enjoy what I've written. It's clear the point at which I really got into the story as the flow improves about a third of the way in, and the number of comments drastically reduces. I've even re-read these sections twice, to make sure I'm not just skipping the 'bad' parts in my desire to get it out of the way.

The writing is quite clearly 'mine', even though it has obviously both improved and matured in the course of almost two years. This does raise the question of whether or not my writing will change again by the time I've rewritten this draft! Could I get stuck in a cycle of always rewriting a draft, only to put it away, and come back to it to rewrite it again? This raises my final question, that I throw open to all writers (or even editors)...

Would it be possible to endlessly revisit the same manuscript and never declare it 'finished'? Furthermore, how many existing books could have been improved by just one more editing pass?

Sunday 11 July 2010

The Unenviable Position of the Girl at the Crossroads

Here's my short flash fiction for this week's #SpokenSunday Audioboo. It's called The Unenviable Position of the Girl at the Crossroads, which I got from my good friend Sophie Bowley-Aicken as part of our title swap. I gave her the title of Two Flags Flapping In The Wind, which you can find on her blog, here.

I've also decided to post a transcribed version, too, just in case you can't listen to audio! (That might be best, actually, since I inexplicably decided to record it in a regional accent that is not my own!)

"I remember hearing the death sentence. I remember the magistrate's face as he delivered it. He knew those charges of witchcraft were rubbish, but he had no choice. The town needed a scapegoat, and that old bag down the valley delivered me. Burnt at the stake. Why me? Why not some other soul? Well I weren't going to let them burn me alive. They left me in the cell overnight and I cut my wrists. I figured I'd die my way, not theirs. I think my jailer left the glass for me. He knew I weren't guilty. 

The universe don't look too kindly on suicides though. No heaven, no hell, not for me. I get to remember all of this while I lie here. I can hear voices up there right now. Two men, arguing about what direction they should go in. I could tell 'em, give 'em directions, but I can't move from where I am. I'm pinned in this box with a metal spike. Trapped in a box, six feet under the crossroads. Lying here, until Judgement Day."


Image by Dominic Alves.