Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuck in the Middle of a Story

A few weeks ago a writer friend mentioned to me that she was slogging through the middle of her novel. The worst place to be, she said. I wondered what that felt like, being stuck in the middle of a writing project. Things have a way of coming around or maybe we're just more atuned to it once the idea is put on our radar. I know exactly how she feels now.

I've been working on this novella for almost a year. It started as a short story but I quickly saw it was NOT going to be short. Time to rethink and think bigger, so I abandoned it for six months to work on other projects that I knew I could finish. (I have this overwhelming desire to finish something once in awhile.) I reached a point in the spring where I had several projects in various states. I decided to push through to the end of the novella. For various reasons, I'm moving away from short stories and focusing on longer works.

As often happens, writing stimulates the little gray cells and I developed a new and much, much better ending, all worked out in my head: a faux climax leading to a faux denoument and than a crushing real climax. But, I have to do the groundwork to set all this up and guide the reader along to understanding what's really going on in this house. If I don't lay the foundation, the climaxes won't work. That means more scenes, more writing, more words. And I don't want the middle to become boring. Arrrgh!

So, I'm stuck in the middle. All I want to do is get to the end but as I move forward a step, the end seems to get further away by a half-step as I add more material. Does that make sense? I know I'm making progress, but it sure doesn't seem that way from where I'm sitting. Those climaxes look like a mirage on a hot desert highway. As an incentive, I've forbidden myself to watch The Hobbit DVD I bought a couple months ago until I finish this novella. I hope I see The Hobbit part one before part two comes out. Stay tuned. Pray for me.

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of a writing project?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Simon Kewin on Engn

EngnToday I'm talking with Simon Kewin about his new young adult novel Engn. It mixes elements of steampunk, fantasy, and science fiction into an adventure story with surprising levels of depth.

As a fellow computer geek, I enjoyed Finn's foray into cryptography with the line-of-sight telescopes. What inspired the communication system?

It seemed like a cool idea. I heard the phrase "line-of-sight" somewhere and that triggered the whole thing with the telescopes and the switch houses. Then, later on, I needed to have encrypted messages because of the thing with Matt, so I added that in. Of course, it's an old-fashioned shared key symmetric encryption method. It's just as well the people of Engn haven't discovered asymmetric encryption because Finn wouldn't have had a chance then...

What is the nature of Engn's socio-economic structure? Is it a vast collective in which individual freedom is squashed to serve the needs of everyone through the machine or an extreme form of capitalism in which the lower castes/classes are reduced to slavery to support a life of ease for those at the top?

I'm going to avoid answering that as I'm wary of placing a precise interpretation on the book. I think readers will apply their own meanings. But it did have a very specific idea in my own mind when I wrote it. I will say I like the idea of something being so vast and all-encompassing that people don't question its existence; that they think that's the way the universe has to be.

Some aspects of Engn—the mysterious tests, the withholding of information, and the quest to reach the center of power, remind me of Kafka's hellish bureaucracy from The Castle. What is it about Finn that allows him to survive and fight another day in the arbitrary world of Engn?

Any parallel with Kafka is thrilling - I love his writing and there's clearly an influence there. Why does Finn survive and fight? On one level, it's because that makes for a (hopefully) exciting adventure story. On a deeper level, I suppose it's because I identify with Finn more than anyone else in the book. Whether I'd do the same as him I don't know - but it would be nice to think so.

While Finn struggles with the system, Connor appears to thrive. What aspects of Connor's character equip him for success in Engn?

Partly it's his background. He gets opportunites Finn doesn't. His background has also given him good reason to want to destroy Engn. Let's just say some of that backstory is something that will be explored some more if and when there is a sequel...

The first third of the novel covers the back story of Finn's youth and his trip to Engn. Elements of the back story, such as the avalanche, reappear as relevant memories during Finn's struggles inside the machine, adding depth to Finn's story. Did you fill in parts of the back story as you wrote the scenes in Engn?

It was the other way round - I wrote it more or less chronologically so that by the time I got to the later episodes I already had the avalanche and the falling from trees and so on as things that would be in Finn's head. Things happen in Engn that would have reminded him of those earlier episodes, but also I had fun setting up the various parallels and references.

Your story "Her Long Hair Shining" centers on a woman mangled by a machine in a factory. Engn takes mechanization to a new level. What drives your interest in the sometimes deadly relationship between people and machines?

Hmm, good question. I'm no Luddite—as you say I'm a computer geek—but machines are a recurring trope in my work. I guess they're a pretty obvious metaphor for the way society works too often: reducing people to little more than machines themselves. The Valve Hall, for example, has people labouring away for long, long hours at pretty pointless work. I don't think you'd have to look too far to find instances of that in the real world.

Besides a counterweight to Finn's optimism and faith in Connor, what does Diane bring to the story?

I see her as a voice of reason. Also I wanted to bring a third person into the group and I liked the idea of this resourceful, smart girl who has done things no-one else has dared. She doesn't have a huge part to play, but she's at the centre of matters when she does appear.

Engn extols the triumph of determination, friendship, and loyalty in the face of extreme cynicism and authoritarianism. Is that a fair summary?

In a word, yes. In my mind that's what it's about; staying true to yourself.

Simon Kewin—Biography
Simon was born and raised on the misty Isle of Man, but now lives and works deep in rural England. He divides his time between writing SF/fantasy fiction and computer software. He has had around fifty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, along with a similar number of poems. He has a degree in English Literature from the Open University.

He is currently learning to play the electric guitar. It's not going that well, frankly.
He lives with Alison, their two daughters Eleanor and Rose, and a black cat called Morgan to which he is allergic.

Simon's Blog:
Simon's Twitter: @SimonKewin

About December House
At December House we're a different kind of publisher. We don't publish print books, we only publish to e-book distribution platforms (Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, Tomely and Google Play), but we're not self publishing and we're definitely not a vanity press. We only publish great writing from great authors.

If we think a writer's work has promise then we'll work with them to deliver on that promise, just like a traditional publisher. Then we take over everything, from writing a blurb to designing a cover and deciding on a price, through to marketing the book pre and post publication. We believe it's our job to sell a book, and a writer's job to write it.

For more details see

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bards and Sages Giveaway

I'm running a giveaway on Goodreads for the July 2013 issue of Bards and Sages QuarterlyThis awesome collection includes one of my stories (“The Facts in the Case of M. Hussman”) and 13 other original speculative tales by various writers. Don't miss your chance to win a free paperback copy.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bards and Sages Quarterly by Julie Ann Dawson

Bards and Sages Quarterly

by Julie Ann Dawson

Giveaway ends August 20, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Martin Willoughby: What Inspires and Influences Me When I Write

Tempers FugitToday's guest post is from Martin Willoughby, author of the novel Tempers Fugit and the collection Published Short Stories. The opening line of Tempers Fugit is vey familiar. I asked Martin about that line and writers that have influenced his work.

Inspiration can come from a number of sources and I freely draw on the work of others. Take the opening line of Tempers Fugit: “It was a truth universally acknowledged by twenty-first century humanity, schooled as they were in the theories of Einstein and Hawking, that faster-than-light travel was impossible.” You’ll see the inspiration there is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and it’s a line that’s been adapted by so many authors over the years to suit themselves that it’s almost a cliché.

Being an author, it pays to be well read, and by that I mean reading across a number of genres and styles, while being familiar with some of the classics. I know I’ll never read everything that’s ever been written, I won’t live long enough for one thing, but I can at least read some of the classics ... assuming, like To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, they don’t send me to sleep.

It also pays to be up to date with my genre of humour. Those who’ve read advance copies of Tempers Fugit have said there is a similarity of style with Douglas Adams, a comparison I’m more than happy with as I admire his work greatly.

But there are also other influences which are not related to humour. Jim Butcher’s style is very tongue in cheek, similar to the Philip Marlowe books, and one that I’ve learnt a lot from when it comes to action scenes. A surprising influence to some is that of historian John Keegan. His books on warfare are not just good history, but show every aspiring author who reads them how to get a reader involved, by focusing on some of the individual stories that are part of the statistics. He also knows when to break from the narrative to give the reader a chance to assimilate the information.

Though there are many more authors I could name, I’ll finish on one person: Spike Milligan. His war diaries are full of humour, but are not without the tragedy that goes with warfare. He relates the comic moments with style and substance, then, like all great comedians, leaves you with a moment of reality that stops you in your tracks. It’s something I hope, one day, to be able to emulate.


Martin Willoughby is an author of some repute and a legend in his own lunchtime. When not writing he fixes computers, raises teenage children and acts in an amateur theatre group where he’s always cast as the baddy. He’s won many awards in his lifetime, including an Oscar for best actor which he received from his mother as a Christmas present many years ago. Tempers Fugit is his first book, his second, Apollo The Thirteenth, will be released later this year to even more fanfare and approval. You can stalk him on twitter @Willabywriter or via his blog, From Sand to Glass.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Couple Recent Publications

Bards and Sages Quarterly July 2013My story "The Facts in the Case of M. Hussman"—a steampunk horror tale about cheating death, or at least trying—is out in the July edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly. I answered some questions about the story here. You can purchase Kindle versions of the magazine on Amazon here. If you want a hard copy, you can purchase it from the printer at Use the coupon code BY6VU834 to get a 10% discount.

My short fairy tale "Why the Squonk Weeps" made it into Underneath the Juniper Tree's first anthology. It's a collection of the best stories, poems and artwork from Underneath the Juniper Tree's 2011-2012 publications. This is a beautiful collection of stories and poems with creepy, color illustrations throughout the text. UTJT aims for macabre tales for children. You can find out more about it on Facebook at or the website at