In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Bit of a Shame

 Since Google+ folded up, this blog's readership has collapsed too. Bit of a shame.

 The thing is, I'm in the middle of reorganising my books and online presence, since what I've been doing hasn't really worked. Just not enough sales. So I'm going to use WebNovel and Patreon to try building awareness, and funnel profits from that into advertising for the novels already published. So since I'm changing things anyway, it might be that I drop this blog and instead write shorter, snappier pieces on my Ben Blake Facebook page, and on my website.

 It's not decided yet, not for sure. But there's not much point writing this blog for 40 people, really. It's been going for years now and if this is as far as it's got so far, it might mean this is as far as it will ever get.

 We'll see. Pip pip for now.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bones under our Feet

 I write about other worlds, and other species. In reality, though, are such things likely?

 Physics says yes. If life can begin it will begin. NASA says there are over a million hi-tech civilisations in our galaxy alone. Biology says no. Life on Earth had to survive so many setbacks, jump through so many hoops, that the chance of another spacefaring species emerging is almost nil.

And out there we see nothing, hear nothing. No signals, no relics, no ruins, no energy leaks. Zilch.

 There are lots of theories as to why. One says that we're alone after all, the single spark of intelligence in the universe. Another says these cultures do arise... but then they fall. All of them. So then we ask why, because we can imagine things that might end a species like that - a nearby supernova, a supervolcano on the home world, a meteor strike, and so on. But none of those would finish EVERY civilisation. That totality points to something deliberate. Something that hunts and destroys.

 It doesn't really matter. Whatever it is, it must happen to species just as they emerge into space,because otherwise we'd see some evidence of them. Huge solar sails that change the light signatures of a star, for example. We don't, so disaster must occur before they're built - and that means we humans are barrelling straight at it.

 It's not a nice image, is it? A galaxy full of ghosts. Ruins on world after world, haunted by the people who built them and then died out. If humans ever did get out there we'd be crunching bones under our feet with every step. It's very dark, very despairing... but it draws me. Non-human species crying out from the past, speaking through fragmentary inscriptions and the buildings they left, while others try to piece together who they were.

 Quite an image, and it works as well in Fantasy as in SF. And in both genres, a bit of creativity in the plot might mean the dead aren't quite that dead after all.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Nine Bad Guys

 Hi guys.

 I want a bit of advice today. I'm still writing the WIP, and still loving every word. My lord it's popcorn, but it's fast and bounces from one crisis to another. There are surprises and twists, a few really grotesque characters, and in the middle of it all is Trist, back home after years away, and his friend Feng, a phoenix.

 Phoenixes only bond with humans once a century, maybe twice. They're rare, and seen as the best of the creatures of faery, the queens of it- all are female. Now, Trist is a conflicted guy (we don't know why, at the start) and the bird, an emblem of purity and rebirth, guides him towards doing the right thing. It doesn't always work, and when it does Trist has his own approach to being a goody - he'll burn nine bad guys to save ten innocents. Still, he's guided by Feng, which really makes the phoenix the main character in the book.

 Here's where I need advice. The working title for the novel is Firebird. Self explanatory, brief, a decent title. But another possibility has occurred to me, which is Queen of the Fae. A bit of mystery in that one, and it might be better. Or not.

 So, which do you prefer? I seem to have fewer readers now Google+ has toppled off this mortal coil, but I'm sure you loyal lads and lasses who remain can help me out. Which title is better? Drop me a comment if you can.


Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Playing Froggit

 Time to be honest, cos God hates a coward, right? OK. My publishing career has not been a success.

 I'm of a generation which doesn't have an instinctive grasp of the internet. I didn't grow up with it. When I were a lad (thanks Monty Python) the cutting edge of the home PC was the ZX Spectrum, or the Commodore 64. Games came on cassette tapes which screeched for ages and then crashed, so you had to load them again. I was very good at playing Froggit but I'm not great online today.

 The result is that I don't know how to market. I miss changes in how indie writing works, the changes come too fast and too quietly. It's like trying to nail smoke to a wall. As soon as I get hold of an idea (which is unusual) it morphs into something else. I think I have a good product. certainly the reviews of my work, few as they are, have been very good. But I haven't been able to translate that into a significant number of sales.

 I'm going to try something different.

 I'm going to publish chapter by chapter, through an author website. Readers can pay 50 cents, or 10, whatever they want, depending on how much they enjoyed the chapter. Some of that will go to my marketing guru, Josh, who used to run a company doing exactly this. He'll organise the whole commercial side of things, leaving me to write like a bastard.

 This means I can rapid release, which is a key facet of indie publishing these days. But I won't have to produce a novel every four or five weeks, as some writers do. I can't help thinking, however talented they are, that such speed must reduce the quality of their work. (See my blog post "You'd have to be Hemingway".) Doing it chapter by chapter gets around the problem. I can release say two chapters a week, working out at a novel every five months or so, and then have a four week break for advertising before the next one makes its debut. Or three chapters a week, if I prefer; it's all good. See what works best.

 I like this idea. Josh knows his onions and I know mine. It's very much worth a try.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Fire in the Hole

 My current WIP is a bit noir, a bit mad, a rock and roller of a story that runs at breakneck speed. It's utterly different to anything I've done before, and it'll need a lot of editing once it's done. It's really fun to write though, I'm bursting with it, so I thought I'd share a sample with you.

 This is the opening of the story, in which we meet the MC Trist and his peculiar companion;

       The tall man stepped over a smouldering rug. Around him fires flickered and bodies lay on the carpet, in the chairs, one even half out of the window.
Might have been a bit over the top,” he said.
You do the sword, I do the fire.”
Yes,” Trist said, looking around. “I just hadn’t expected quite that much fire.”
They’re down, aren’t they?”
The problem, Feng, is that not many of them are likely to get up again.”
He found a little blaze that was feeling its way towards the curtains, and stamped it out in a billow of sparks and ash. Next to it was the man in the window. Trist pulled him away. Glass crackled and fell to the floor. A shard six inches long was lodged in the man’s throat, and Trist grimaced.
Looking out, he saw the garden below was deserted. Well, not quite. A lone gardener fled for his life and vanished as Trist watched.
Trouble?” Feng asked.
There will be. The servants will go straight to the Watch. We’ll have company very soon.”
We knew that would happen.”
He shrugged. “Maybe not so fast.”
Lucky you’ve got me then,” Feng said.
Movement drew Trist’s eye. One of the slumped figures had begun to stir. A young man, hair singed and clothes sooty, his back turned. He pushed up on his hands and then froze as Trist’s blade kissed the skin under his throat.
Had a nice rest?” Trist asked. “I’m so glad. Fresh minds find answers so quickly, don’t you think?”
The man was young, probably a few years short of twenty. A fold at the outside of his eyes, which swivelled around the room. When they fell on Feng he gave a little whimper.
Let’s start with some easy questions,” Trist said. “What’s your name?”
My – my name?”
Don’t you have one?”
Uh… Anterl.”
Well, good evening, Anterl. I trust you’ve had a good day? Up until the last few minutes, anyway. No? Well, here’s another question. How do you like working for Margon Sleeth?”
It’s all right,” the youth said.
You like working for Sleeth,” Trist said. “The drug dealer. The man who brings waste and death to hundreds. You like it.”
No answer. The youth trembled.

 The scene goes on, but that's enough for now. The story seems to have more dialogue and less narrative than usual for me, which wasn't a conscious choice (well, not at first). It also has a proper anti-hero, and later a strange lot of characters, some human and some not so much. And it's really huge fun.

 Hope you liked the taster. If you see anything obviously wrong or clanky, please let me know. I reckon I can take it y'know. Come to that, let me know if you enjoyed it, the old ego could always use a stroke...

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Bad for Good

 A lot of the time in Fantasy, the main character is a Good Guy. Not just good, but Good. He's the epitome of noble niceness. Like Rand in Wheel of Time, who to some extent is an avatar of the Creator himself. Or Frodo in LOTR, honourably ignoring his own fears in order to Do Good for the world. Or like pretty much any main character from David Gemmell's books, who often add to it by spouting little homilies about what it means to be Good.

 I don't think I've ever known someone as pure as that. One person in a million is awake enough for the spiritual or divine life, as Thoreau said, and he'd never met one ("How could I have looked him in the face?") People just don't work that way, not even in Hollywood - well, mostly. It doesn't ring true to me.

 I've tried to make my MC's a bit more nuanced. Kai in Blessed Land doesn't even know what good is, or what's right; he's tormented by doubts all the time. In Songs of Sorrow Calesh does know, but he's clever enough to realise that his certainty might be based on a flawed faith. But I think with the new novel that I've found an MC who's more complex, more of an anti-hero, than anyone I've written of before.

 Trist has a terrible backstory, one in which he did something awful out of rage and grief. It was revenge, though not undeserved by the victim. He then left home before retribution came, and in the years since has won the companionship of a phoenix, an intrinsically Good creature drawn to Trist because of the extremes of light and dark within him. This empathetic bond pushes Trist to do only good things, though he can sometimes be violent or cruel in pursuit of them. The greater good is what matters.

 Now Trist has been called home, and of course he encounters all the bitterness of past events and his own memories. He's given every reason to commit violence for its own sake, to give as good as he gets. Whether he does so... I'm not even sure myself, yet. The book is quite noir in places, though the mood is changed by the hope and brightness of the phoenix, so it's never quite as dark as The Big Sleep, for example. But I think Trist will find that the darkness inside has never entirely gone away, whatever layers of light have been laid over it.

 This has got me thinking about myself. A lifelong loner, watching society from the outside. At a party you can find me off to the side watching other people have fun. (Typical writer, eh?) Except that 5 years ago I met Caz, and we're now married with two wonderful daughters, and I find myself...not so dark anymore.Not so gloomy. And yet there are times, moments when I'm alone, when I can still feel the old dark inside, and I know it will never quite go away.

 Write what you know, eh?

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Damage We've Done

 We need to go to Mars. Not for a footprints-and-flags mission, to take some photos and return with a few Mars rocks, but to colonise, and to stay. It won't even be as expensive as most people think. The SpaceX company can launch a normal satellite today for ten times less than NASA did it with the Shuttle. It's possible and affordable.

 Still, it's a big project. People will probably die to achieve it. So why bother?

 For me, the main reason is that we can't save Earth's environment. That should be obvious by now. For all the international deals, right back to Rio in 1992, the ecosystem is still being destroyed. Forget climate change, even. The bigger problem is the simple destruction of species and habitats, and we can't stop it. Even when we try we just cause a new disaster. Bio-fuel was meant to reduce fossil fuel use, but instead it only smashed the forests where orang-utans live, as land was converted to farms to grow the bio-crops. Now orangs face extinction. We tried to be good, and instead just shifted the disaster to another place.

 The problem is too many people. Everyone born needs - at a minimum - water, food, clothes and a roof. That's before we think about jobs, or cars, or healthcare and all the other basic needs. All of that means humans have to exploit the Earth a little bit more. Globally we now use more than 50% of the fresh water first, before any other species. That means everything else put together has less water than humans, which is a recipe for catastrophe. We make 100 million new pieces of clothing every year, which works out at a bit more than 12 per person - not a huge amount, but the total is enormous. It's very hard to see how these numbers can be reduced without a population drop.

 But that's not going to happen. Nobody will vote for a government that plans to limit births. Even people who know the risks won't. I know a man who understands the risks of over-population, is dedicated to Green issues - and has 4 children. That's how the world reacts to this; they agree we need to reduce human numbers, but then assume the need doesn't apply to them. And the result? The UN used to say world population would be 9.5 billion by 2100. Then 10.2 billion. Now it's 11.1 billion, because birth rates are just not dropping very fast. And remember, we need population not to stabilise, but to go DOWN, or sheer pressure of numbers will see the world driven to ecological disaster.

 And so, Mars. It's so far away that large numbers of people will never be able to move there, however advanced technology might become. But we can move trees there, and animals, and build copies of the habitats on Earth. The various species will survive, and perhaps in a thousand years we could re-seed the Earth, and repair some of the horrendous damage we've done.

 Humans don't learn. Sumerians, early Chinese, Maya, the first peoples of North America... they all pillaged their environment until it collapsed. This time we're doing it world wide, but we have a way to save something from the wreck. In doing so, we can save ourselves too.