Coming to New York!

Monday, September 24, 2007, 11:17 PM

As time marches on I'm trying to tick off some of those things on my "to do before I die" list. Today, in a fit of madness, I booked myself a trip to New York. This is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid and I finally found an excuse to squander this amount of money.

And what was the excuse, you ask? Was it that New York is the literary capital of the world? Is it for the art and museums? The parks? The bustle of Manhattan? The Statue of Liberty? No, it was none of those. It was...

The Mighty VAN HALEN!!!


So, David Lee Roth has rejoined the Van Halen brothers for an American tour. I had always thought I would make the trip over to Noo Yoik if that happened, but this isn't a complete reunion. Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, is playing bass instead of original member Michael Anthony. That was enough to put me off. Until, that is, some rehearsal footage of the band made it onto YouTube. So today tickets went on sale for the Madison Square Garden show. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough, and they sold out while I was dithering about hotels and whether or not I could afford or justify spending this much money. The New Jersey show still had decent seats left, however, and I duly purchased one. Several hours of searching turned up a decent looking hotel in Queens and really cheap flights (£350!). Manhattan hotels are either too expensive or dumps, so Queens it is.

I can justify the expense of paying so much money just to see a concert by pointing out this is a once in a lifetime trip, and like writing a novel, something I've wanted to do as long as I can remember. I haven't had a proper get-away-from-it-all holiday for a few years now. It'll be a chance to recharge myself.

Which brings me to my last point - I'm taking a hiatus from writing and blogging for a while. I've just begun the query process for the last novel, and that will continue, but I need to take a step back into the real world for at least two or three weeks. I spent a large part of last weekend spending quality time with my friends, getting out and about and doing stuff with them. Real world stuff. That's the sacrifice you make when dedicating all your spare time to writing. You sentence yourself to months of solitary confinement. Your life becomes your keyboard and your monitor and your imagination. The blogosphere feeds into that, giving you social interaction by proxy, as a kind of friendship patch you can stick on your shoulder while you stare at your screen and tap your keys. I need a break from that, just for a while.

A large part of the reason is the new Work In Progress. It's only a couple of chapters at present, but it's the strongest premise I've ever had, and possibly ever will have. It needs to be written. But, as I look at it from the shallow end of the process, I find myself wondering if I can face that mountain again. I've proven I can do it twice over, so that isn't the question. The question is if I have the will and the belief to do it again. Without a break the answer is an almost certain 'No'. With a couple of weeks away from the keyboard, and plenty of thought applied to the plot, I think I can come back and start the climb.

In the meantime, here's some Van Halen. I know how much you folks love 'em. First is a compilation clip of them in rehearsal. DLR was described as looking like a gay matador, which I can't argue too hard with, but I only wish I was in as good a shape as these guys are, and the original members have all got twenty years on me...

And here's the Mighty Van Halen in the full flush of youth in 1981...

I just hope to Christ they can make it to November without imploding again...

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I made the shortlist!

Thursday, September 13, 2007, 8:42 PM

Wow! I made the shortlist of eight first lines in agent Nathan Bransford's contest. Voting is in full swing, and I'm putting in a decent showing, though it looks like another entrant has established a pretty good lead.

Just making the last eight out of five hundred or more is pretty exciting, and I couldn't be happier. I've also been heartened by some of the very kind words from various people, so my thanks to them.


First Lines

Saturday, September 08, 2007, 12:31 PM

I'm following SS@S's lead here, and posting the first lines of various projects. This is to do with something that might be happening at Nathan Bransford's blog this week. What that is, I don't know. But it involves first lines. So here you go...


She moved so quickly, so suddenly, no one could have stopped her.

Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone.

Spam (the almost, but not quite, complete novel from a few years ago):
Good Morning, Option-E Marketing, how may I help you?

Suicide Club (provisional title for a just started WIP):
His hands just looked dirty to casual eyes, a slight darkening on the knuckles, a shadow on his palm.

The Wolf Strap (aborted project that kicked off this current writing phase a year ago - 10,000 words in I realised it sucked):
He awoke with the taste of copper in his mouth.
(Disclaimer: Yes, I know, I know, it starts with someone waking up - come on, I was learning! I still like the premise of this one and may come back to it some time. Not with that opener, though...)


Me and the Devil Blues (short that appeared in Electric Spec):
The soupy Mississippi heat had given way to the slightest of chills as Robert Johnson took the Hohner Marine Band harp from his pocket.

ISOL (unfinished - still!):
I was right, thought Reilly.

Opening Time (flash fiction, about to submit it):
Not open yet, mate.

The Last Dance (featuring a guest appearance by the protagonist from Followers - I just wanted to see him again):
Treanor's Bar never tried too hard to be an Irish pub.

And there are a few more, but I got fed up digging for them. All but one of those is from the last twelve months. I was recently surprised to be described as prolific, but I suppose I am. Pity the quality isn't so consistent! Some of these are crap, and the abondoned ideas may remain just that - abandoned. This is an interesting way to take stock of where you are as a writer. Given the awfulness of the opening for Wolf Strap, I think I've made a bit of progress. If I had time, I should rearrange them chronologically.

Anyway, no real conclusions to be drawn here, other than it's onwards and upwards. :)

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Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box

Tuesday, September 04, 2007, 9:59 PM

I don't often comment about what I've been reading, but I'm especially enjoying Heart-Shaped Box (hereafter known as HSB) by Joe Hill at the moment. As I'm sure you know, Joe Hill comes from pretty good writing stock, namely Stephen King. You don't have to dive too far into HSB to know he's his father's son. There's a certain directness, a one-on-one feel, to the voice. It's as if it were an old friend telling the tale. There are also familiar tics, such as repeated phrases coming from radios and TVs, or the stretches of back story. It's very reminiscent of King's late seventies to early eighties work. In other words, King at his best.

There are differences, though, and they're certainly enough to allow Hill to stand apart from his illustrious parentage. He writes leaner and cleaner, for a start, staying well clear of the bloat that King is prone to, and the tone is more contemporary in an indefinable way.

Anyway, it's a bloody good read, and well worth checking out if you haven't. I'm also enjoying it for the rock and metal references. But the reason I post about it is the remarkable story of its publication.

It wasn't kept secret for long that Hill was son to arguably the twentieth century's most successful author. But, it has never been overtly used to sell the book. Would I have checked it out if not for his dad? That's debatable. What has been stated, though, is that Hill's agent didn't know for several years, and neither did his editor or publisher. In other words, Joe Hill never used his father's name to grease his way to publication. I think that's very admirable, and I'm not sure I'd be big enough to avoid such temptation.

He let the book stand on its own merits, and as many an agent said, good writing trumped all. I believe Miss Snark coined that phrase, and Nathan Bransford has paraphrased it on more than one occasion. I must admit, I have often viewed that phrase with a little skepticism. After all, Katie Price (Google her, my American friends) got a lucrative book deal purely on the basis of having enormous bazongas. She once described her writing process as talking into a Dictaphone, and handing it to some bloke who goes off and turns it into a story.

Agents often talk about 'platform' and its ability to shift books. It's not limited to non-fiction; many a celebrity has 'written' a novel for a large advance. That someone with Joe Hill's pedigree, someone who could have simply whispered dear old dad's name to have publishers waving their chequebooks, did it the old-fashioned way, and actually wrote a damned good book - well, I find that both heartening and inspirational.

Well done, Joe Hill. You deserve your success.