Good intentions and real life

It’s been a while since I posted but since I set myself a self-imposed deadline for publication of Dark Cities that I’m not going to meet, I thought I’d better get on the stick and at least get a status update out on the website.

My plans have changed a couple of times over the months since the publication of Dark Streets. My original intent was to rewrite my children’s story, Shadow Paths, and publish that next but I shelved that plan in favour of completing all three books in the Dark Futures story arc.

On the crest of a wave of energy and optimism coming off the publication of Dark Streets I thought I could have Dark Cities done by December and that was the publication date I put on the inside back cover of the first volume.

That proved to be a bit rash.

At this point Dark Cities is about 2/3 complete. Progress is good, but I’m finding myself doing more rewrites and plot tweaks to make the story work the way it needs to, and those take time. The net result is that I’m going to overrun my schedule by a couple of months.

If you were looking forward to reading Dark Cities in December, my apologies for being behind and I’ll try to be better at setting realistic timetables in future. I’m not going to set a new formal delivery date at this point, since I’m an indie publisher and the actual timing depends not only on my own writing schedule, but the availability of my editor, Karen, and graphic designer, Mary.

The good news is that if you enjoyed the characters and milieu of Dark Streets, there’s going to be a second helping available early in the New Year.

And with that, I’d better get back to the future.

Dark Streets out in paperback

Just a quick post to note that Dark Streets is now available in paperback. It can be ordered on the UK Amazon site, and it’s up on the US Amazon site, but oddly not available to order just yet. I think it takes a day or two to roll through the various steps, so should be available in the US any day now.

In the meantime, here’s the rather splendid wrap around cover that Mary Musker did for the paperback edition.

UPDATE: Now available on at this link.

Dark Streets cover design and photograph © Mary Musker 2014.

Dark Streets cover design and photograph © Mary Musker 2014.

One thing at a time

When I started this blog almost a year ago my main intention was to put more of my energy into writing. Well, mission accomplished – to a degree. I’ve certainly done that, just not on the blog. Why is that?

The simple answer is that of the time that I’ve been able to make available to write, most of it has gone into writing stories. As of today I find myself mercifully within reach of completing Dark Streets – a story that has grown in the writing – and with several other stories in progress that will require much less effort to finish.

The main thing I’ve learned in the last year is that I’m not good at estimating time for this kind of project. I find it hard to believe that it’s coming up on a year since I began this venture, but there it is.

I’ve mentioned before that Dark Streets began as a series of connected short stories and evolved into a full length narrative. I think that evolution is partially responsible for this story taking more time to complete. I’ve had to think more deeply about structure and plot elements than I would have had to if they had stayed short stories.

Whatever the cause, the path is clear now, and there are a handful of chapters left to complete the story. I’ve revised the publication date several times since last November, but I now feel confident that I’m going to get across the finish line in time to publish at the end of March, more or less the anniversary of starting this journey.

After that, it’s on to the next story – Shadow Paths but one thing at a time, one thing at a time…

Le mot juste

In the recent round of edits that my editor Karen completed on Dark Streets she pointed out a recurring tic in my language that I hadn’t noticed. In my descriptions of London at night I used the word ‘obsidian’ to describe the Thames no fewer than three times in the first dozen chapters.

There is nothing like edits and rewrites to focus you on your writing style and repeated themes, and this sort of thing is to be expected, but it got me to thinking about why this word in particular? Why ‘obsidian’? Is this just happenstance, or is there something about the word that goes deeper than that.  At the risk of gathering enough navel fluff to knit a sweater I thought I’d dig into it a bit.

Let’s be clear at the outset that it’s the perfect descriptive word for the river at night. I want to convey that it’s black, but has a faint sheen. I want something a bit exotic, but also of plain meaning.  Obsidian is volcanic glass, and at one time it would have flowed, so describing the river as obsidian extends some meaning beyond the obvious. At slack tide the river seems hardly to be flowing at all and at night, in my London at least, it looks like a solid sheet of black glass. This is the world of Dark Streets, after all, and the river is a sort of dark street that winds through the city, a street paved in obsidian. Or something of that sort.

In any event, it carries multiple layers of meaning in a way that other words can’t.  Black, dark, Stygian, bituminous, other words don’t really cut it, each for its own reason.

As to reasons other than it being entirely apposite, there might be something in my past that explains my affection for the word. In high school I studied geology, and was very taken by the language of rocks. Out of the three ways that rock is formed, volcanicity is the most interesting to the teenage mind and I loved learning about pahoehoe, volcanic tuff, basalt massifs, and underground magma reservoirs. Geology is about physical material influenced by physics and the elements over time, and it is filled with interesting words, quite a few of which are in common parlance but many of which are novel to the everyday ear.

Then there is the influence of the writers who have most impressed me over the years. From the age of about 15 onwards I devoured everything I could find by Michael Moorcock, who was then and is now one of the finest genre and literary writers to come out of London. I was especially taken with his fantasy work and I think it’s there that I picked up a penchant for words like obsidian. It features in a number of his works, including the Elric series, and there is a story in the Eternal Champion sequence titled ‘Phoenix In Obsidian’1.

More than the immediate obvious meaning of the word, it carries an extended meaning in my personal literary psychogeography.  This may be a false memory, but if I remember correctly there’s at least one end-of-all-things Moorcock story that has a protagonist standing on the black sand coast of a weary ocean watching the molasses-thick waves lap at his feet. I might be mixing that up with Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ series of short stories, but the influence on my associations with the word is there, nevertheless. When I hear ‘obsidian’ I think of those things. It’s a word that speaks to me not just of a vitreous darkness, but also of time.

So where am I going with this, other than to wonder where the words come from and why we obsess around some particular words? Not very far, and if you’re feeling like you might have to reach in really high to grab my ankles and pull me out of where I’ve gone, it’s probably time I stopped.

It’s merely this: the choice of the correct word in the correct place is the essence of writing. Sometimes you realize that there is too much of a good thing and you have to choose not to use the correct word and find something almost as precise. I wonder if Marlow would have told the story of his travels in Africa sitting on a boat bobbing on the piceous Thames?


1 Mike has other writing tics with respect to favoured words. ‘Sardonic’ is one of them, as anyone who has read Elric and Jerry Cornelius will testify.

Download The Facebook Genocide for free

While I’m getting the hang of this self-publishing lark, and figuring out how to offer content on Amazon for free (they have a minimum price of $0.99), here’s a coupon code to download The Facebook Genocide from Smashwords for free.

Just enter the code JW77U before you check out. Smashwords makes stories available in multiple formats so you should find one to suit.

If you read the story, I’d appreciate it if you could rate it or comment on it either on Smashwords, or Goodreads. Thanks very much!

The Facebook Genocide

Today I put my first story out on Deep breath. It’s the first of many works that have languished in desk drawers, storage areas, and little-visited folders in the corners of hard drives. It’s really only a toe in the water – a short story – but fairly soon I’ll be diving in with the first of my full length stories.

It still feels like an accomplishment though. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, even if no-one reads it, it’s out in the world. At least it has a chance of finding a reader now. Not many of those lurking around looking in drawers in my spare bedroom. At least not last I looked.

The Facebook Genocide is a story that I’ve had on the go since late last year, and one which has become very topical in recent weeks with the revelations about the extent of the NSA gathering of data from phone companies. I’ve long been concerned about where the increasing lack of personal privacy, and the concomitant increase in how third parties make use of that information, is leading us. I’m no global conspiracy/black helicopters kind of guy, but the convergence of technologies that we’re experiencing is starting to get my attention.

The individual pieces of information that we share may seem like no big thing. Social media stuff on Facebook, search data with Google, purchasing habits at Target, but when you add them all together and use predictive algorithms to make sense of them you can build a rather complete picture of a persons’s habits, interests and predilections.

For this reason I find it somewhat laughable that United States senators are saying for the record that they don’t mind having their phone records trawled by the NSA. They aren’t thinking about the broader consequence of what happens when that data is married up with the vast amount of other information about people that is available (much less the constitutional issues at hand). When phone providers can predict your location with up to 93% accuracy, I think you ought to at least give a moment’s consideration to what that information could be worth to someone.

The Facebook Genocide came about as I went down the thought trail of where the use of Big Data could take a society. How might it have been used during McCarthyism? How might a rising totalitarian government make use of it? Does it irrevocably change the balance of power between citizens and their governments? Those were the things I was thinking of as I wrote the story.

In a time when retailers can predict with a high degree of accuracy that you are pregnant based on your shopping habits, and require you to scan your ID card (driver’s license) to make certain purchases, I think we have to pay closer and closer attention to who is getting our information and what is being done with it.

As I went down this thought path it took me not to some great new utopia in which information is free and society enjoys a new era of enlightenment and liberty, but rather to a dystopia in which it is impossible to be free.

The setting of The Facebook Genocide may be reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, but the time is now.