Category Archives: obituarist

Dead Machines and living robots

Hey friends,

Just a quick post, as I am SUPER CRAZY EXHAUSTED tonight, to say that I was interviewed a little while ago by author and game designer Filamena Young – and that interview is now live on her author page!

It’s here, specifically!

This was a fun interview, and by ‘interview’ I mean that she asked me a handful of questions and then I rambled and swore like one of those blokes who huff paint down the back of Aldi on a Saturday night.

Wrestling, the digital afterlife industry, the way a text can change when read by a different audience, robots, sex robots… it’s all there, man.

The interview was done as part of the digital release party for Filamena’s new novel Dead Machines, a book about giant robots, motherhood and ghosts, and I for one am very intrigued by that spicy combo platter. You can find more about it here, and buy it from all the good ebook stores and probably most of the crappy ones do. So maybe go do that.

Hope y’all enjoy the interview – I might see if I can return the favour and ask Filemena a few in return. It’s been too damn long since I had an interview on here.

And with that, BED BEFORE 8.30 PM SEACREST OUT

CTRL-ALT-Undelete

As I said last time, it’s been almost six months since I had the energy, the focus or the basic self-confidence to do any writing.

I’m not sure that I have any of those things back.

But I’m tired of waiting for them to return. Time to get back to work.

So, in the interests of holding my feet to the fire, here’s an initial teaser from The Obituarist III: Delete Your Account. See? It’s a thing that could eventually exist.

 

ONE

I was the only person at Benny Boorns’ funeral.

Seriously, the only person. Not even a priest to give a service. Just me, sweltering in my black suit, standing at the side of the grave and wondering how long I had to stay there before I could leave. Theoretically I could go at any point; it’s not like I would miss anything. But there were a couple of gravediggers loitering at the edge of the cemetery, smoking and waiting to fill in the hole, and I didn’t want to bug out too quickly in case they judged me for it.

I feel like gravediggers are probably the judgey type.

I moved to the left to get under the shade of a tree and away from the morning sun. It should have been cold, dark and rainy; that’s how funerals work on TV, and what can you trust if you can’t trust television? But the weather didn’t give a damn about Benny, or me, and so it was hot, bright and muggy, even though it was only a little after 9am.

Seriously, who schedules a funeral this early in the day, and during the week? Is that why no-one else showed up? Or did the cemetery manager know that no-one would show up, and thus schedule the funeral for the matinee session, leaving the peak-attendance spots for dead people that the living gave a shit about?

Bah. I was just marking time for show at this point.

I looked down into the grave at Benny’s coffin. It wasn’t one of the giant fancy ones that’s covered in silver filigree and takes six men to carry it; it was plain and it was small, an economy child’s coffin, like a black wooden packing crate that might have held a bar fridge. Benny had been a small man, his growth stunted and twisted by a smorgasbord of birth defects and congenital health issues. His wheelchair weighed twice what he had, and they hadn’t bothered to bury it with him. Kind of a shame; at least that way he could have ridden to the afterlife instead of having to crawl.

Fuck, this was a morbid start to the day. I needed coffee and escape from the presence of death.

‘I know I should say something sad and poignant, Benny,’ I said to the coffin, ‘but it’d just annoy you and make me look stupid. So let’s just call it a day, alright?’ And with that I turned and headed for the cemetery gates.

The gravediggers – burial ground custodian is, I believe, the formal job title – stirred to life, walking back towards the grave as I pulled out my phone to get an Uber. One stomped past me, not bothering to conceal that he was still finishing his breakfast McMuffin, but the other still retained some sense of shame, possibly from a Catholic upbringing, and stopped for a moment. ‘I’m, ah, sorry about your friend. I guess his other friends all had to go to work.’

‘Benny didn’t have any friends,’ I said. ‘He was a really unpleasant, antagonistic person and nobody liked him.’

‘Oh. Well, I mean… you liked him, right?’

‘No, I can’t say that I did. But someone had to come and see him off. Might as well be me.’

The gravedigger – sorry, custodian – seemed both confused and offended by what I said, as though a statue of the Madonna had farted in church. ‘Christ, this fucking town,’ he muttered, and went to join his friend in dirt-piling detail.

This fucking town indeed. No argument from me.

More to come.

Hopefully soon.

Crisis on infinite confidences

And then there was that time I vanished off the internet without warning for like six months.

Miss me? Notice I was gone? It’s okay if you didn’t. I didn’t notice a bunch of writer-blogs I follow quietly fading away over the last year or so; everyone’s focusing on social media these days.

Not that I was doing that. I was doing a bunch of things like moving house, working hard at my day job, playing games, drinking too much and suffering paralysing self-doubt any time I thought of doing any kind of writing.

I don’t know why all my self-confidence dried up and blew away like spilled cocaine under a flophouse fan. Maybe because I hit a plot wall in The Obituarist III and couldn’t see an easy way to fix it; maybe because I’d had no success interesting an agent or publisher in Raven’s Blood; maybe because of depression, seasonal affective disorder, fucked-up sleep habits and the constant psychic pressure of this hell year.

Or, to quote a bit of Obituarist III that I actually finished:

Maybe nihilistic depression is what 2017 demands. I mean – Trump, Brexit, section 44, North Korea, Putin, floods, Syria, war, refugees, climate change, neo-Nazis, terrorism, um… I dunno, hot hail, dank memes, disappointing new Tay-Tay singles… what’s the point of trying to do anything in the face of that? Better to hide under a blanket, get drunk and look at baby animal GIFs until Armageddon finally caves in the roof. That’s the only sane response.

Whatever the reason, the last six months have been… difficult. Not just from lacking confidence, but from lacking much ability to feel engaged or interested in pretty much anything. It’s all been too hard, too pointless, too much; much too much. Easier and better to just drift and not worry about anything.

Drifting, for the record, is less cool than it appeared in The Fast and the Furious. Or indeed Mario Kart.

So what’s changed? I dunno. Not sure if anything really has, other than spring finally hitting, getting diagnosed with an iron deficiency (yay, a problem I can fix!) and my new glasses making reading/writing a bit less arduous. Mostly I’m just tired of feeling three-quarters empty, and I’d like to work out how to refill whatever tank was keeping this engine running until now, and once again we can see that I’m bad at metaphors.

I’m not going to go on about MY EMOTIONS at length; I did that last year, last time I fell in a hole, and besides I now pay someone to listen to that kind of talk. I just wanted to say: hey, I’ve been gone a while, and I’m not all the way back yet, but I’m working on it. Thanks for sticking around.

Next step – back to work on Obituarist III, with an eye towards fixing the plot, working out what the hell it’s about and getting it out online by the end of 2017. And putting Raven’s Blood back into query rotation. And going to GenreCon come November. And maybe drinking a bit less.

We’ll see.

Go well, my darlings. Don’t let 2017 murder you just yet.

Demanding better

Tonight is Real Talk Night.

There will be no jokes.

There will, however, be major spoilers for The Obituarist, so maybe don’t read this before you read that.

Or do, so you know what you’re in for. Because that book ain’t perfect.

1208 - Obituarist-ol - new

One of the things I’ve always, always wanted to be as a writer is someone who depicts a world that is as diverse and multifaceted as the one we live in – to not just be someone who writes about straight white men doing straight white things, but to write stories about women, people of colour, GLBTI people and others. And even when I am writing about straight white men, the world around them needs to show all its colours and flavours as well.

That’s the aim.

Sometimes I fall short.

In the years since I wrote it, I’ve received two main pieces of criticism about The Obituarist.

First, that it has only one female character in it. Absolutely true, and something that happened without me really thinking about it too much; a misstep caused by trying to riff too strongly on hard-boiled detective genre tropes. I was annoyed at myself for that, and I made a point of bringing in more female characters for The Obituarist II and making them stronger and more active in the story.

Secondly (and this is the spoiler), that the female character is a transgender character; that the twist of the story is the hero (Kendall) learning that she is – was – the man she tasked him with investigating; and that after starting a romantic relationship with her, Kendall rejects her when he realises that she set him up to be beaten or killed before realising that he could be useful to her. In particular, a number of readers felt that I was playing into the trope/stereotype of ‘transgender deception’, the idea that transgender people can’t be trusted because they’re constantly lying about who they are.

I didn’t get that. That wasn’t the point of the story at all.

Part of the revelation was to have an interesting, deconstructive twist, but it wasn’t just that. The Obituarist is a story about identity and about moving from one life and sense of self to another. Kendall does this, so there’s a thematic resonance in having his love interest do the same, and for him to realise this over the course of the story. I made sure to say that the reason he rejected her wasn’t that she was transgender – well, I spelled that out more fully in the first draft but trimmed it back a bit later, but surely that was still okay.

(I took some dramatic license with the mechanics of gender reassignment, but not in a way that was meant to be disrespectful or played for laughs – just to make the story more interesting.)

As for the whole ‘transgender deception’ thing – that wasn’t a negative stereotype I’d ever considered. No, more, I’d never even heard of that, never come across it in my viewings and reading. That wasn’t a thing at all.

And isn’t that the very definition of privilege? That I didn’t have to worry about it – that I didn’t have to recognise that it existed – because it didn’t directly affect me? That I could merrily ignore the facts of people’s complex lives because it made for what I considered to be a ‘better story’? That I can relegate people’s lived existences to plot twists and platitudes that get edited out in the final draft?

I’m not sure when I started actually thinking about the criticisms, rather than just waving them away as people reading the book wrong – but at some point I did. And when I started thinking about it, I really that they were valid and that I’d done a pretty lousy job of being an ally.

Another element of privilege is never having to think much about representation, or the lack of it. I’m a straight white guy and I will never run out of books, movies and TV shows about people like me – heroes, villains, background characters, every kind of aspect of straight white maledom one could imagine.

But when you’re not in that group – when you’re desperate to see people like you in the stories you read and watch, people who aren’t relegated to one role over and over again – representation matters.

And in The Obituarist I represented transgender characters poorly – by reinforcing negative stereotypes, by treating them more as plot devices than as genuine characters, and by assuming that good intentions mattered more than doing my homework. There are some common pitfalls that I didn’t fall into, but that doesn’t mean much when I made up whole new ways to let people down.

Here’s the single thing I really want to say tonight:

If you were hurt, offended or felt let down by the representation issues in The Obituarist, then I’m sincerely sorry and I apologise. I should have done better by you.

I’m donating all of my 2014/15 proceeds from the book to Transgender Victoria – actually, since sales weren’t that great this year, I’m donating double the proceeds.

That doesn’t make anything better, I know.

This post is not a plea for validation or forgiveness. I’m not asking people to comment about how it’s all fine and I shouldn’t worry about it and why would anyone be hurt/offended/upset by that.

Nor is it a plea for congratulations or attaboys about how brave/honest I am to admit my faults and that I’m totally a great ally to all my trans peoples.

What I want is people to hold my feet to the fire, to make note of the fact that I got it wrong and to call me out if – or more likely when – I get this or something else wrong in the future. To tell me when I’m being hurtful out of laziness or preconceptions or just through simple mistakes, so I can fix it, learn from it and do better in future. Not just in terms of trans representation, but in general.

Please. Don’t let me slide on this if it happens again.

Thanks and goodnight.

Breaking all the rules

I heard about the Detection Club a couple of weeks ago on the excellent Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast. It was a club that included all the great whodunnit writers of the 1930s, from Agatha Christie to GK Chesterton, and man, I think I would have liked going to one of their parties.

But I doubt they would have invited me, because my crime stores don’t always follow their 10 Commandments for Writing a Mystery. They wrote those rules down and expected their members to follow them so that they wrote the right kind of mysteries, which is both amazing and kind of terrible – and incredibly entertaining when you read them and realise how cheerfully many of them (especially Christie) broke the rules when it suited them.

(The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Ten Little Indians are like the biggest fuck-yous to the expectations of the entire whodunnit genre. They’re great.)

Anyway, below (and stolen from here) are the rules of the Detection Club, that must be followed to produce a good and proper mystery:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.[Editor’s note: At the time, trashy, mass-media mysteries always featured a character of Chinese descent. This rule meant the writer should avoid cliché plot devices, although yes, it sounds totally racist.]

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Me, I broke at least two of these rules multiple times in The Obituarist and The Obituarist II.

And now I really want to break the rest of them. Preferably all in the same story.

A story about an angel detective, accompanied by her super-genius best friend, solving a murder in the Winchester House with the aid of her supernatural insights and intuitions – and where the sudden twist ending is the revelation that the killer was a pair of twin brothers, who used magic to disguise themselves as the angel’s best friend all along, who used an incomprehensible reality poison engine to commit the murder!

Or something like that.

I should probably make someone Chinese, but eh, that’s one I’m okay with leaving be.

Someone pay me to write this.

Hell, someone dare me to write this.

But not anytime soon, ‘cos I really have a lot on my plate right now.

…still. Man. That’s a tempting idea…

In the game of thrones you self-promote or you die

It’s been about a week and a half since I published The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data, and it’s been on sale via Amazon and Smashwords ever since, as well as propagating out through SW’s distribution channels to places like iBooks and the B&N Nook store.

So has it sold a million copies yet? A thousand? A hundred?

Well.

As of right now, I’ve sold 30 copies across the two platforms. Which is not terrible, really, but it’s also not very exciting. Were I the self-pitying type, I might get a bit down about those figures.

But this is not a blog post about self-pity.

This is a blog post about graphs. Graphs and what they tell self-publishers.

Here’s the graph for how my Amazon sales behaved this last fortnight:

O2 Amazon sales

 

(That first sale is to myself, so I could check the formatting.)

And here’s the graph for my Smashword sales (which has slightly wonky scaling; it’s 12 sales but looks more like 9):

O2 SW sales

 

Can you spot the common theme?

On the day I published the book I tweeted up a storm, talking about the book, why it was good, where to buy it, how happy I was about publishing it and so on. I also posted to my Facebook fan page with details and a link back to here. People picked up those tweets and posted and retweeted/reposted/shared them, and the result was 24 sales in 24 hours.

But since then I haven’t really talked any more about the book on social media, thanks to a mix of busyness (work, sleeping, playing Dragon Age Inquisition) and reluctance to spam people. And because of that silence, the book became invisible and I only sold six copies over a week – and at the very beginning and end of that week.

So what does this mean? It means that SILENCE = DEATH, or at least SILENCE = LACK OF SALES. Without a marketing push to promote a book to readers, you get an initial spike and then a rapid fall-off – and that’s the same whether you’ve got a marketing department or you’ve just got Tumblr and maybe some semaphore flags to get the word out.

This is one reason why some not-particularly amazing authors get great ebook sales – because they put the hard yards in and promote those ebooks every damned day in some way. And this is one reason why some really good authors get crappy ebook sales – because they feel self-conscious about self-promotion, or they’re not good at it, or they just don’t like doing it.

And I get that. I don’t much like it either. But it’s the only way to get people to know about and read your book.

The graphs show this. And everyone knows graphs don’t lie.

Actually, another really good way to get people interested in your work is word-of-mouth, or at least word-of-keyboard.

So if you’re one of those 30 early adopters, and you liked this new instalment of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Kendall Barber, please consider leaving a review (or even just a star rating) of The Obituarist II on your preferred sales/discussion platform. That would be ace.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tweet ’til I puke.

Now on sale – The Obituarist II

At last, it’s the post you’ve been waiting for all this time; the sign that 2015 is off to a flying start.

Because today’s the day that The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data is finished, published and available for purchase!

ObituaristII-PDuffyWho’s settling accounts for the dead?

Two years after his last adventure, obituarist Kendall Barber is still trying to make amends for his past by cleaning up the online presence of Port Virtue’s dead. Business isn’t great, so he jumps at the chance to work for the estate of a racist demagogue, while at the same time accepting an under-the-table job to find out who hacked the social media accounts of a police captain.

Who’s playing games with the living?

But nothing is ever simple, not in a town full of petty criminals and poor decision-making.

Before long Kendall is being beaten by neo-Nazis, smacked around by cops, berated by a beautiful journalist and caught up in a murder investigation. Actually, make that multiple murders. There’s also a fight between a badger and a baboon.

Who’s in over his head? Again?

Kendall has a quick mind, a smart mouth, a good computer and a large Samoan friend. But will those be enough to help him wrap up the case and pay his rent? Or more importantly, keep him alive?

The second book in the Obituarist series (yes, it’s a series now) features thrills, chills, internet security jargon, desperate action, a free bonus short story (wow!) and swear words. So many swear words. You have been warned.

This one’s been a long time coming, I know. I spent two years off writing Raven’s Blood (which I have to get back to revising next week), and then another six-plus months writing and rewriting this second (and hopefully not final) instalment in the strange life of Kendall Barber. Thanks for hanging around and being patience; I hope the book was worth the wait.

Once again I’m dipping my toe into the world of online security and post-mortem social media, although I’ve tried to follow a different road than I did in the first book. The Obituarist was ultimately a book about identity; Dead Men’s Data is a book about secrets, and how far we’ll go to reveal and/or protect them. I like to think it’s a worthy successor to Kendall’s first adventure, and with any luck readers will agree.

Dead Men’s Data is $3.99 (US), a dollar more than The Obituarist, but it’s also 50% longer than that novella and I’ve included the short story ‘Inbox Zero’ with the ebook package, so I think it’s still pretty good value for money. Right now you can buy it from Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia (but don’t use Amazon Australia, it’s rubbish) and Smashwords; other ebook sites such as Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore will follow as the SW version is distributed. I’ll add links and reviews and all that stuff to the site once they’re available and once I have time to do a proper update.

(Also, just in case anyone is wondering – yes, this is a direct sequel to The Obituarist, and you need to read that book before reading this one. I hope that’s not too onerous.)

As always, indie ebooks live and die by word-of-mouth, so if you like Dead Men’s Data, spread the word! Tell your friends and family! Write reviews! Invite me onto your blog or podcast to blow my own trumpet!

And if you don’t like the book… well, do those things anyway. I beg you. (But also tell me about your opinion, because writing is a process and criticism is how I get better at things. )

Many thanks to everyone who helped me put this book together; much love to everyone who reads it. You’re the reason I don’t just play Dragon Age all day every day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go play Dragon Age all day every day. Well, for a few days. And then it’s back to work.

Laters.

Revise-wise

I don’t revise my work very much. Wait, scratch that, it makes me sound like a terrible writer. I mean, I revise my work all the time – while I’m writing it. I’m constantly tweaking, polishing, deleting and rewriting my work as I go, which is one of several reasons why it takes me 20-3 freaking years to write a book.

(The other reasons: day job, energy levels, easily distracted by games, drunk all the time.)

But I don’t tend to do a lot of heavy after-the-fact revision – except for right now, when I’m revising both The Obituarist II (due to be published next week!) and Raven’s Blood (due to be published if the fates are kind!). Yes, I’m elbow-deep and mucking out the word-stables in an attempt to clean the horse poop off these drafts, and it’s clear that my metaphors are not yet fit-for-purpose in 2015.

Anyway – yes, I am working on making my writing better. And if you too are trying to do that, and feel the need for some tips and advice from someone with no more claim to authority or expertise than the adorable dog sleeping at the end of his desk, then read on and marvel.

Read it like a virgin

I think the single best way to start a revision is to read your entire draft manuscript, start to finish, as if you were coming to it for the first time, just as your alpha-readers did, just as any reader would if you were foolish enough to upload it to Amazon right now no stop don’t do that. Take a virgin eye to your work, looking for the bits that don’t work (and relishing the bits that do) and being honest about how well it all hangs together. Don’t let yourself think excuses like this confusing scene in chapter 2 will totally make sense after I read chapter 9 or the worldbuilding in these five pages of exposition is utterly vital, because no-one else is going to cut you that slack. Read it, decide whether or not you actually like it, and then get to the business of making it better.

Slice away the weak spots

Pretty much all drafts (mine included) have big problems – dull characters, confusing plots, every single thing being awful – and little problems. Start with the little problems – the repeated phrases, the excessive adjectives, the punctuation errors, the way half the dialogue starts with ‘Well,…’ and yes I am pretty much talking about myself here. These little moments of weakness are pretty easy to fix and they get you into the mindset of revising so that you gain momentum for the more systemic issues. Think of these small victories as the mooks that protect the end-of-level boss, and your revision as a rising swagger of heroic power. That unnecessary comma? DEAD. His friends? DEAD. The flawed book that commanded them? BRING IT.

Re-connect all your pipes

Structuralists and screenwriters talk about ‘laying pipe’ – putting information in one scene that pays off or unfolds in later scenes. It’s about more than just clever foreshadowing; it’s that consistent logic of narrative that means a story makes sense. But pipe isn’t always laid down cleanly and perfectly in the first draft, as you forget about old ideas and introduce new ones that aren’t fully justified yet. The revision process is the time to finally work out the path you want this story to follow, and to backtrack, reorient and trailblaze so that the map is clear all the way from start to finish. That might mean deleting plot bits that didn’t pay off, or inserting new bits of data in the first half to give stuff in the second half a solid foundation. Then all your pipes will connect up, and your book-water will flow cleanly rather than dribble as stinky effluent from cracks in the middle.

I’d like to apologise for my metaphors. And I wish I could say they’d get better this year.

Kill your darlings, yes, but also birth new ones

Revising is not a time for sentiment. It’s a time for ruthlessness and no weakness, a time to delete (or at least cut-paste into another document) anything that isn’t making your book better. But it’s also a time for creation, because just cutting and flensing is probably going to leave you with a bloody skeleton rather than something readable. Writing small inserts (see above) is just the start; you may need new pages, scenes or whole chapters to make the story better. (Both my works-in-progress needed a new chapter, and Raven’s Blood may end up needing more.) If this is the case, then write them. Duh. Occasionally I hear advice like ‘your final draft should be 10-20% shorter than your first draft’. No, your final draft should be good, and if that means it’s as long or longer as the first draft, but all-killer-no-filler rather than a box full of Hamburger Helper, then you’re doing the job right.

Don’t fix what ain’t broke

And speaking of dumb writing advice – some pundits say that you should rewrite everything, that the first draft is a ‘vomit draft’ or an outlining exercise, and that the second/third/eighth draft should be written from scratch. Good luck to ’em if that works for them, but for my part, fuuuuuuuuuck that. A flawed draft is not a piece of mouldy fruit that is irrevocably riddled with bacteria; it’s a work of craft that can (probably) be improved with time and effort. Your draft has good stuff in it, probably more of it than you thought while writing it, and you should retain that good stuff rather than ditching it. Embrace what works and be proud of it – and then focus on lifting the rest of the work to that high bar you’ve set for yourself.

Next week: BIG IMPORTANT STUFF

DEPENDING ON YOUR DEFINITION OF ‘BIG’

Burn notice

I’ve kind of got the shits with myself at the moment.

Sure, I’ve been busy. I have a demanding day job, we just moved house and I like to hang out with my friends so that we don’t forget each other. But we’ve reached a point where those stop feeling like reasons and start feeling like excuses, and the thing they’re failing to excuse is not writing.

Shut up, Batman. You’re not even my real dad.

(But I wish you were.)

Like many writers, or indeed many folks in general, I am torn between conflicting desires and motivators. For me, those are:

  • Imagination: hey, I have a great idea for a story other humans would like to read
  • Laziness: let’s get drunk and play video games
  • Self-loathing: you will die alone and forgotten and this is probably for the best

And life for me is a path through these desires, like the stages of grief, until #3 defeats #2 and allows #1 to emerge blinking into the sunlight long enough to bang out the wordcount before retreating back to shelter.

So yeah, I’m behind schedule on Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data. I was meant to finish it in July, but here it is in late September and I’m only just getting to the point where Kendall Barber [CENSORED CENSORED SECRET REDACTED BUT LORD LEMME TELL YOU IT AIN’T GOOD]. Which is not acceptable.

To fix things, I’m going into what I call BURN MODE, mostly because I like being overdramatic.

Burn mode is when I set myself a specific, easily quantifiable target and then just fucking write it every night that I physically can until I’m done. For Obituarist II, as it was for Obituarist I, that target is one complete chapter of around 1000 words – beginning, middle, end that makes you turn the page to the next instalment. Which is kind of harder than just 1000 words, because everything’s got to be self-contained and wrap up/hook on at the end, and I have to work out an entire, coherent block of plot over my lunch hour, but that also kind of makes it more enjoyable and engaging.

But burn mode is a jealous mistress. If I’m to knock off this story and get it to my editor and alpha readers before heading overseas for this year’s international adventures, I can’t have no distractions. So I’m taking  a break from blogging for about two weeks, and this is my long-winded way of telling you folks that.

It gets the words out of my system. Cut me some slack.

See you when I’m done. But as a parting gift, enjoy this – the first glimpse of the cover of the new book, completed long before it was finished!

ObituaristII-PDuffy

Now get outta my way. I gotta put kerosene in this motherfucker.

Diving into Dead Men’s Data

Welcome to June, or as I call it, The Month (and a half) in Which I Write Another Bloody Novella.

Yes, the omens are clear, the nights are still warm enough to write without losing a finger and I won’t have my Raven’s Blood notes back until the end of July, so it’s time to knuckle down on The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data!

1208 - Obituarist-ol - newThis book has been on the agenda since, well, pretty much since people finished reading The Obituarist – still available from all fine ebook retailers, and also Amazon – and started demanding a sequel. I wrote the short story ‘Inbox Zero’ as a quick thank-you to tide them over, but that was ages ago. Now, two years since I published that first story about Kendall Barber, social media undertaker, it’s time to visit Port Virtue again and see what’s hiding under its grease-stained rocks.

This time around, Kendall is hired to disentangle the online affairs of the late, unloved Earl Northanger, a scrap metal tycoon who killed himself in his private zoo. At the same time, he reluctantly takes on a job for a Port Virtue police captain whose online identity was hacked – and he’s being pursued by a local journalist who wants to find out all his secrets. And Kendall has more secrets than anyone else might think.

The world of the digital afterlife industry is again the focus for this second book – a world that’s had some interesting developments in two years, a world that’s no longer so unfamiliar to people. But Dead Men’s Data also explores some other ideas – secrets, lies, death, identity, Nazis, poor tattooing decisions, unexamined privilege, urban decay, the speed at which limbs decay in cement and more.

It also has a fight between a badger and a baboon, because I don’t know why just roll with it.

Anyway, this is the start of the writing process, and I’m hoping to get through this book faster than the last couple. The target is around 24 000 words, writing a full 1000-word-odd chapter (two pages of manuscript, because I find it’s easier to calibrate by page than paragraph) a night, four nights a week for six weeks. I could write it faster than that if I knuckled down – my friend Peter Ball is cranking out 2000 words of novella a day, because he’s hugely talented and works hard. I, on the other hand, have both a terrible work ethic and I’m (as usual) pantsing the hell out of this book. I know the start, I have a pretty good vision of the end, there are some snapshots in the middle… and then the writing process is a day of typing, a day of checking my Port Virtue map, looking through all my digital-afterlife-links and working out what the hell to do next.

(That approach also tends to mean I miss that 1000-word target at the start of the book, but nail chapters thick and fast by the end. It’s all much easier when you have some idea what you’re doing. I should probably learn from that. But I won’t.)

Anyway, enough talk of process – let’s wrap this up with the WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE first glimpse of the novella-in-progress! (Please note, this is unedited, untweaked and not yet funny-clever enough. But it’s a start.)

ONE

ECCENTRIC MILLIONAIRE COMMITS SUICIDE-BY-BEAR read the headline. The subtitle underneath directly contradicted it – Scrap metal tycoon Earl Northanger shoots himself; body mauled by bear in his private zoo – but who reads subtitles? The headline was pure print-clickbait and it did the job of grabbing eyeballs and sales. God knows the Port Virtue Voice and Advertiser needed them.

‘I’m very sorry for your loss,’ I said to my new client. That sounds like a lame platitude, but it’s usually the right thing to say to someone in mourning. You’re not saying you know how they feel, you’re not claiming to also be in mourning. You’re just expressing a personal sympathy for them and the difficulties they’re having in their time of grief.

Imogene Northanger shrugged; she didn’t seem especially grief-stricken. ‘My grandfather and I weren’t what you would call close, Mister Barber,’ she said. ‘I just want to focus on sorting out his affairs, execute his will and then go back home.’

‘Understood,’ I said, and mentally trashed the remainder of my sympathetic-yet-professional-in-this-difficult-time routine. Fortunately I could use the let’s-get-this-over-with routine instead. I had a bunch of these filed away in my head; I’d practiced them in front of the mirror.

I tried to give her back her newspaper; when she waved it away, I put the Voice and Advertiser to one side. In truth I’d read the paper a few days ago when it was new, although I’d only skimmed the story on Old Man Northanger. I was more interested in the story about the human remains being recovered from the bridge construction site, which had already faded back to page four. There was also a story about me on page twelve, but that was a problem for another time.

Ms Northanger was a well-dressed, well-accessorised woman in her I-would-guess-forties, with short hair and square-rimmed glasses, and when she took those glasses off it was an obvious signal that she was ready to Tell it Like it Was.

‘Let’s just cut the bullshit, Mister Barber. My grandfather was racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic – if it wasn’t like him, he hated it and he let everyone know it. Family gatherings were dire at best, at worst… it was a relief when I came out and the family just shitcanned the whole idea of ever getting together in case it gave him apoplexy. I’m sure he was furious that I was the only family he had left, and if he’d realised that I’d be the one made executor of his will he would have broken his neck sprinting to change it. But too bad for him. Now I just want to wrap up his affairs, sell off his assets, put him in the ground and get the hell out of this town once and for all. Can you help me with that?’

 Oh, I liked this lady. She was not at home to Mister Fucking About.

 More to come. Watch this space. And so on.