2020 Update #3

At the start of the year, I set myself a series of goals for my writing year. You can find them here: https://jamesrowlandwriter.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/2020-a-year-of-goals/ – One such goal was to do a weekly update measuring myself against the goals so as to provide myself with some self-imposed oversight. 

Update #3

This week it’s been a bit different for me writing-wise. There has been very little movement on the word count level. Instead, I’ve been focusing on editing what I’ve already written this month. It’s a good reminder for me, early on, to not just focus on the numbers. I have also been making an effort to sit down and read more too. I noticed that I hadn’t been reading as much, with writing time eating in on reading time, and I always think if you want to write well, you have to read widely. So I’ve been making sure to spend some time just enjoying reading a book.

So, with just under a week to go in January, here’s where I am:

  • I only wrote 1,270 fresh words this week. This does take me to 10,191 words for the month, though, and past my 10,000 words a month goal. So I’m very pleased to clear that threshold.
  • I have also finished editing my first short story of the year, The Cauldron of Metamorphose. It is set on the island of Staffa off the coast of Scotland and is concerned with the banishment of a witch. So, it’s time to start sending this out to places. Exciting! Incredibly annoyed that Neil Gaiman has already used The Truth is a Cave… as a title, though.
  • I also finished the first draft of my second short story of the year. So I’ll be editing that one this week.
  • Finally, I very tentatively dipped a toe back into the novel by finishing off the chapter I had been writing back in December. I’m pleased that it wasn’t too difficult to jump back into the style and voice.

It’s nice to be in the position that regardless of what I do in this next week, I have already achieve my first set of goals for the month. I think this added requirement to write these updates also might be helping. Maybe. It’s possible I only wrote the novel-bit just to give myself more to talk about here – which, you know, take motivation however you can get it, right?

2020 Update #2

At the start of the year, I set myself a series of goals for my writing year. You can find them here: https://jamesrowlandwriter.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/2020-a-year-of-goals/ – One such goal was to do a weekly update measuring myself against the goals so as to provide myself with some self-imposed oversight. 

Update #2

Another week gone and I’m still reasonably pleased with my writing effort for 2020 so far. Again, I note there’s a distinct lack of a regular routine in my writing, which is a little bit of a worry. However, at the moment it’s being made up by a discipline to sitting down and writing at random times. I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m going to take it as a positive while also keeping one eye on trying to set aside regular time to write and create a habit.

So, midday through this Sunday, here is where I’m at:

  • I’ve written 4,133 words for the week. This puts my total for January at 8,921 words. With still just under two weeks to go, I am obviously very well placed to cross the first goal of 10,000 words for the month. I think 20,000 might be a reach (especially with some editing to do soon), but I’m very pleased with where I’m at.
  • I have almost finished a first draft for a second short story this month. I expect to finish it either today or tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed writing this one a lot, and with a bit of polish, I’m planning to submit this to Unidentified Funny Objects in April. So, it’s nice to have given myself a lot of time to edit this!
  • I’ve also spent a couple of hours with a friend plotting out a D&D campaign in his own fantasy world. I don’t play D&D myself, but it was a lot of fun to brainstorm ideas out for plots and sessions. It also helped me consider how different events in a plot might interact with each other to tell the cohesive whole. I shall be giving myself the title of Creative Consultant going forward for this game.

Next week, the numerical output might not look too rosy, but it’s because I’m planning to edit the two short stories I’ve got first drafts for. This means by the end of January I’ll have two finished stories, which will meet one of my stretch goals and make the month a really good result. It is possible that in between editing these stories, I’ll put some time aside for novel writing as well. We’ll see.

Until next time.

2020 Update #1

At the start of the year, I set myself a series of goals for my writing year. You can find them here: https://jamesrowlandwriter.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/2020-a-year-of-goals/ – One such goal was to do a weekly update measuring myself against the goals so as to provide myself with some self-imposed oversight. 

Update #1

We’re twelve days into January. On the whole, I’m pretty pleased with how I’ve gone writing-wise even if the numbers might not look impressive themselves. This is due to two things. First, I didn’t really start writing until the 5th. The first four days I was still in full holiday mode. Secondly, I have been a judge for a writing competition in my own little writing group. This has taken up a fair bit of time, and I have read around 20 stories and written around 5,000 words of feedback. However, the experience is always valuable because I get to read some interesting stories while also just thinking about the craft of writing and how I should improve myself as well.

Anyway, at the point of Update #1, this is where I’m at:

  • I’ve written 4,788 words so far this month. This means even with a slow start and working as a judge for this writing competition, I’m well-set to kick on and reach my initial goal of 10,000 words for the month. 20,000 words might be pushing it, but we’ll see how it goes.
  • I have finished the first draft for a short story. At the moment, I don’t think it’s my best work. However, I’m really pleased to have a completed story drafted. I’m going to leave it for a week and then come back to edit it. I’m therefore well set for having one fully completed story by the end of the month.
  • I wrote a poem! I have spent the last few years writing very political based poems for my Twitter project. However, before then, I basically wrote these weird, surreal type poems (basically stealing inspiration from a good friend of mine). We were chatting about our old poems and we both then went off and wrote one in the same style that we used to. I had a lot of fun and actually really enjoy the finished product.
  • I received a story acceptance! Absolutely thrilled to have a sale for a story so early in the year. More details on this later.
  • No work done on the novel. However, I don’t intend to this month. It’s likely next month when I dive back into it.

I’m pleased with the above. Hopefully, this is a good base to keep the year ticking along. One thing I haven’t done is manage to write in a regular routine, which is maybe something to work on. However, what I am pleased with is that when I get some spare time, as opposed to wasting time online or playing a video game, I have instead taken myself off to the study and got some writing done. I’m really happy with that and I hope it continues.

See you this time next weel.

Nomination Time! – Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2020

I can’t quite bring myself to write an eligibility post for awards like the Hugos yet, however in New Zealand, we have the Sir Julius Vogel Awards for science fiction and fantasy. It’s nominating season right now, and I have some work I’m proud of, which is also eligible to be nominated. “Inheritance”, published in Aurealis #124 is one of my favourite stories ever and it was also featured in Tangent Online’s Recommended Reading list for 2019. I’m also very proud of “Proof of Concept” in NewMyths #49.

If you enjoyed these stories as well and think they’re deserving of recognition, please feel free to nominate them for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards at the following link (anyone from around the world can nominate):

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfTIK1YJi6GBXX0lZobwDIsm8ZoB49dJSBgFAwp2hQ_-AaGdw/viewform

It doesn’t take long, but to help you out, I’ve collected the information you need below:

Title of Work: Inheritance

Author: James Rowland

Category: Best Short Story

Publisher: Aurealis / Chimera Publications

Other Information: Aurealis #124

 

Title of Work: Proof of Concept

Author: James Rowland

Category: Best Short Story

Publisher: New Myths Publishing

Other Information: New Myths #49

 

I am also eligible (for probably two more years I think?) for Best New Talent. If you are minded to nominate me for that, I am incredibly touched and grateful.

If you know my email address, feel free to add it as Contact Information in the form when nominating for anything. I just don’t want to publicly throw it up here and it’s fine if you don’t add it, I think.

Finally, if you want to nominate me for one of my other stories this year – please, feel free to do so! I just picked the two above because I thought they were personally my best. I am more than happy for you to disagree with me.

Thanks!

James

Fiction in 2019 #6 – Proof of Concept

There was nothing unusual about the postcard. It waited on my doormat, nestled within a bill and some junk mail. On the front of it was a photo of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the sleek, flowing curves bathed in moonlight by the river. I smiled. I didn’t have a choice. It was like a painter receiving a postcard of The Starry Night or Water Lilies, a nudge to the soul, a reminder of what they longed to be able to create. Scrawled across the back, an inked afterthought, letters curved together to say: Even now, made me think of you. Hope you’re doing well. Erin x. My finger traced the words. There was nothing unusual about the postcard.

Except Erin didn’t exist.

***

A trap street is an amazing idea. Mapmakers, if they want to protect their copyright, historically have added “trap streets” to their maps to ensnare any would-be nefarious copiers. How it works is that the mapmaker would add a fake or incorrect street to their map. If someone else then subsequently copied their work, they also copied the trap street. It would be impossible to explain how you independently came up with the same fictional street as someone else, and therefore it neatly shows that you have copied the original mapmaker’s work.

The question at the root of Proof of Concept is: what if you had trap people to serve the same purpose?

From that one single idea, I found the story unfolding in front of me. It evolved to also consider the nature of reality and hit a theme for me of whether it really matters what is real and what is not, as long as you live your life. I’m thrilled that this story found a home in Issue #49 of NewMyths and I urge you to check out the entire issue here (it’s free to read!): https://sites.google.com/a/newmyths.com/nmwebsite/past-issues/2019/issue-49

And this brings to an end my series of stories published in 2019. I hope you found something you enjoyed, and I hope you continue to read my work going into 2020!

2020 – A Year of Goals

Art doesn’t just happen. You can’t just wait for inspiration to take hold. You’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to sit down and write/paint/compose/etc even when you’re tired and you don’t really want to.

When I think about this fact, I usually think I do pretty well at this. After all, I managed NaNoWriMo last year and I churned out just under a dozen stories. I pat myself on the back. But actually, there’s a whole lot of room for improvement. I’m comparing myself to previous versions of, well, me. And past me wasn’t the published, professional writer I want to be. I need to compare myself to actual authors and if I do that, the comparison isn’t quite so flattering. There are still weeks where I may not end up writing a thing.

So, this year, I’m setting myself a series of goals to push me to become more regular and routine in my writing. These are “input” goals to get me writing rather than “output” goals, such as having stories being published. I have no control over output goals. I’m only going to judge myself on what I can actually control. Also, I’m setting these goals at a realistic level since I do work full-time as well as writing fiction.

I’ve decided to put these goals up here in an optimistic attempt to spur me on knowing that people can judge me if I don’t make them.

2020 WRITING GOALS

1) Write 10,000 words a month – I consider this a non-negotiable target. Even if I’m having an awful month, even if I’m really busy at work or I’m sick, I have to write 10,000 words a month. I did 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. 10,000 should be easy (famous last words). And if I achieve this, it’ll be 120,000+ words for the year, which will be around 20,000 more than I achieved in 2019.

2) To finish a short story each month – and by this, I mean an actual edited, finished short story. I don’t mean just a first draft. I want to end up with at least a dozen publishable stories in my catalogue to send out to places.

3) Write 20,000 words a month and two short stories a month – this is a “stretch goal”. I know that they’ll likely be some months, possible including January, where I don’t reach this. Life does happen. I’ll still have to hit 10,000 words and one story even if life does happen, but I won’t beat myself up too much for missing this. However, at the start of each month, I’ll be going into it thinking that this third goal is what I’ve got to achieve.

4) Finish a first draft of In Search of Solomon by April 2020 – Last year, including during NaNoWriMo, I have worked on a very weird and uncatgorisable novel called In Search of Solomon. I’ll need to develop an elevator pitch for it, but at the moment I guess I’d have to go with: what if P.G Wodehouse/Terry Pratchett wrote an inverted satire of King Solomon’s Mines, but also Europe is ruled by eldritch horrors. Anyway, I’m 70,000 words in and reaching the climax. I want to have the first draft finished by April 2020, so that I can…

5) Have a final draft of In Search of Solomon by December 2020 – In Search of Solomon is currently a very rough piece of work. It’s going to need at least two rounds of edit. I hope to have a final draft by the end of the year, though.

6) Blog weekly about how my writing is going – yes, I’m going to attempt to police my own progress this year by posting a short blog each Sunday setting out what I’ve done in that week. If I haven’t done anything, then I’m going to have to admit that and try to justify it. Maybe public shaming will work?

See you next Sunday then!

Fiction in 2019 #5 – The Glassblower’s Peace

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Tomaso da Guda chose to remember only one thing about his father: he had too many sons. The proper amount was three. With three able-bodied men, a man could plant his seed into the most important areas of Venetian life. The eldest would be trained to go into government. The next would receive some patronage from a rich merchant and be given a berth on his most profitable ship. The youngest would be given to the clergy; it was important to have a direct route into Heaven. Tomaso da Guda knew all this because his father told him these simple truths on his deathbed. Tomaso was his fourth son. He was left to float rudderless through the canals of the city.

From this inheritance, Tomaso chose the most strictly regulated routine he could think of: the army. No one pointed out to him that in times of perpetual peace, the army wasn’t particularly well-drilled. Being a soldier mostly meant spending your afternoons moving from bar to bar, trading illusions and downing alcohol to fuel the next round of more outrageous stories. Tomaso didn’t care much for the storytelling, instead choosing the quiet, dark corners that existed in every establishment. Still, he was paid well for his drinking. It gave him a modest house and the potential to spin modesty into respectability.

At the very least, he was doing better than his older brothers. The eldest had disappeared into the bowels of some prison after seeking to ban the use of magic within the city’s borders. The youngest had drowned. Even in a city like Venice, priests never learned to swim. The deepest cut was his second brother vanishing somewhere north of Egypt, along with the rest of his crew mates. As children, the two of them had banded together against the world and ran through so many cobblestoned streets that they went through shoes twice as fast as anyone else. Now Tomaso was alone, his parents dead, his brothers gone. There was no aunt or uncle to offer an understanding nod and laugh through tales of family joy, no cousin to lend a sympathetic ear. There was no one. In a way, his father was right. He had too many sons and the spare was left to soldier on alone.

***

‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ was originally published in 2018 in Issue #114 of Aurealis and is possibly one of my best stories so far. I know it’s possibly my wife’s favourite. It ventures into the heart of an alternative history, where Venice enjoys a prosperous peace under the protection of a magical glassblower. Now, though, cracks are emerging and a young private of the Venetian army might be the only to save the floating city from invasion. If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell then I would hope you’d find a lot to like in ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’.

The reason why it’s appearing in this list of 2019 stories is that it was picked to join an incredible line-up of short stories written by New Zealand writers in Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. While I obviously have a vested interest in this book, I think what Paper Road Press and editor, Marie Hodgkinson, are doing with the Year’s Best series (Vol 2 due next year) is fantastic. The short fiction world is a disjointed old one. You get work published in various different places, with little overlap, and often stories can get lost in the churn. However, with Year’s Best, some stories have been salvaged from this fate and given an opportunity to extend their moment in the sun.

I’m thrilled that ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ is one of those stories. It is fantastic to actually have this story out there in paperback as well.

So, I highly recommend that if you’re interested in what New Zealand speculative fiction writers have been creating recently, you check out Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. There’s a lot of great work in this collection, book ended by two incredible stories from Octavia Cade and Andi Buchanan. Find out more, or simply just buy a copy straight away, here:

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I

Fiction in 2019 #4 – A Parcel a Day

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Let’s hit pause here. If we’re being honest, most people don’t know what a parcel is. Oh, they might hear it on the news. Some anchor might say ‘stock prices fell today as the government rejected BT’s bid for three hundred parcels’. But you don’t know what that means. Don’t sweat about it. Neither does the anchor. The words pass through one vessel of incomprehension to another. Most news is like this if we’re honest: war, politics, science. Magical trading is no different. You don’t care how magic is really divvied up. You don’t bid each year, taking your slice of the government’s contracts with a dozen faerie realms. You don’t hire Lichfield & Moore to negotiate deals, to fight for your position. That’s just not how the world works for you. Instead, you queue at the Office of Magical Allocation and wait for some grad straight out of university to stamp your application form. What you might be allowed wouldn’t even be one tenth of a parcel. Still, it lets you grow vegetables in amusing shapes, or curse your son’s sandwiches so they scream embarrassing stories out of his bag until he eats them.

So, what’s a parcel then? All around the world, countries have agreements with faerie realms. The British government works with seventeen fae courts. That’s a lot of magic, but not as much as one hundred years ago when every otherworldly prince and duke wanted to do business with us. So, the government needs to ration it. They package it into parcels. There’s meant to be some sort of symbolism here. We, Brits, love our postal service. We make cartoons about it; we have a mythology of the postman. Every child once wanted to be one. When a parcel lands on your door, it could be anything. It could be a case of gold, or a horse’s head. Like magic, the parcel is limitless. It’s probably a book, though. The French government refers to parcels as tranches instead. I like that word better.

As an aside, the Spanish market deals in huevos. That’s Spanish for eggs. I’ll never eat an omelette in Madrid again.

***

When we want to describe stories, we tend to rely on other stories to do the heavy lifting of the description. That’s why Marlon James’s Black Leopard Red Wolf was described as an “African Game of Thrones”. It’s a shortcut. A way to avoid having to condense down the dense world that James created. This way of describing things often goes astray. After all, Black Leopard Red Wolf isn’t really anything like A Game of Thrones. So, I always try to avoid such easy explanations of my work.

Despite all this, ‘A Parcel a Day’ in Issue 76 of Andromeda Spaceways is basically The Big Short but with magic. The tone, the setting, all of it was inspired by The Big Short, a great film about the 07 financial crisis. The only difference, and it is a big one, is that these stockbrokers are dealing with magic, not money.

I could say more than this, but honestly, sometimes the easiest way to describe a story is the best way. So, if you want to read about a team closing out a once-in-a-lifetime magical deal, then check out ‘A Parcel a Day’ here:

ASM #76

Fiction in 2019 #3 – Inheritance

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After a period of quiet, no doubt connected to the birth of four lively and rambunctious children, Harris returned to the art world in 1955 with ‘Their Founding Fathers’. The painting, from outside the frame, seems merely a historical scene recreated. It is one any American would be able to recognise in a heartbeat: the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, the inflammatory title (Their, not Our) is a clue to what might be found within. It is truly a remarkable painting to enter.

It is like stepping into a furnace. That is the first thing someone experiences upon entering the painting. The heat embraces you, squeezes you. It sinks deep into your lungs. Before you can even recognise the faces of Washington or Jefferson, you are dying. The music comes soon after. Pushing dangerously on the eardrum, it drowns out any of the Founding Fathers’ conversation. Unmistakably, the words of ‘Go Down Moses’ fill the room. The singer is unidentified. The voice is croaky, dry. You wonder if he’s going to be able to make it to the end of the song. The feeling is only emboldened when you hear the snapping of a whip and the cry of anguish reaching every corner of the room. Coupled with the heat, the music makes the room almost unbearable to stay in. You take a step back, readying to leave. And that is when you notice the floor. The dark, varnished floorboards the Founding Fathers stand on are not wood at all. They’re men. Eyes look up at you. Mouths scream.

It is perhaps impossible to state the impact and outcry that ‘Their Founding Fathers’ had in 1955. There were several genuine attempts to have Harris charged with a litany of crimes, including treason. She had to hire private bodyguards for security, but she remained firm in her work. In later years, she refused to discuss the aftermath, and we can only imagine how frightening such a time must have been with four young children. Her commercial reputation was shot. But while the public recoiled from the painting, some progressive critics raved about it. It was a stinging indictment on America’s founding myth, an expression of African American distaste for how a nation of freedom was built upon the back of slaves. More work came, the brushstrokes of Harris lashing out at centuries of injustice.

***

There are stories you just love once you’ve finished writing. This is one of them. ‘Inheritance’, found in Issue 124 of Aurealis, is possibly my favourite story which has been published this year. It takes a simple premise, a magical painter who can create art you can walk inside of, and spins out an entire new world through the form of an art history essay.

‘Inheritance’ really sticks to the art essay approach, including footnotes alluding to events in this parallel world where magic exists. There is worldbuilding in this story and there is, of course, magic. But the story is also concerned with politics, family and the fragile nature of memories. I’m always fond of a twist, but I don’t think I have ever landed one at a thematic level as well as I have in this story.

I really urge you to check out Aurealis #124 if for no other reason that this is the story I’ll be shilling when it comes to nominating season for awards. I love this one. I hope you do too.

You can find Aurealis #124 here:

Aurealis #124

Fiction in 2019 #2 – Ten Stages of War

alternative apoc

“And people are saying, they are actually saying, ‘oh the President is making this up. There are no aliens. They don’t exist’. I can’t believe people are saying that. If I was going to lie, I’d come up with a better lie than that, believe me. But this is the truth. We are under attack. I think you all have a right to know by what.

“The media, they’re not reporting on it. They’re being so dishonest. They won’t report on what Conaxas is capable of. So many capabilities. I can’t believe it. They weaponise everything. Water, water like you wouldn’t believe, so hot and boiling, melts a man in seconds. And, let me tell you, their leaders don’t have to worry about the dishonest media like I do. In fact, they don’t even have media. I know. Sometimes I think, hey, you know, maybe these Conaxasians are onto something. I joke, I joke. It was a joke. The media is very important but only when they’re being honest, and they are being so dishonest right now. They write stories about lies. People come up to them and lie, they say, ‘oh the President is doing this’ and they never even check with me. So dishonest.

“The media is like the Conaxasians; they are basically on the same team. Conaxas has weaponised facts. They don’t believe in them. They just say what they want, and it becomes true. You see that wall, it’s blue right? A lovely blue wall. Been there since Reagan I believe, and I love Reagan. Well in Conaxas, they just go, ‘oh that wall is gold now’ and it is. It is, folks. The wall becomes gold. How do you fight that?”

***

When it comes to ‘Ten Stages of War’, published in B Cubed Press’s Alternative Apocalypse, we have to look to Argentina. The world of literature is vast and glorious. That’s a great thing. The sad downside to this fact is that you’re never going to be able to read every good story. Also, your tastes can become insular, less a comfortable blanket and more a strict prison. There are heroes, though, fighting the good fight in providing us with a chance to broaden our reading: translators.

I owe an enormous debt to Gregory Rabassa for translating Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder for translating Carsten Jensen’s astonishing We, the Drowned. However, the biggest debt might be owed to those translators (too many to list unfortunately) who translated the work of Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a genius and I urge you to read some of his work. ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ is one of the funniest short stories I have ever read. ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ is dealing with quantum mechanics in literature a decade before quantum mechanics was even being dealt with in science. And ‘Three Versions of Judas’ is a staggering thought experiment even for a non-believer such as myself.

However, one story, seems particularly prescient. ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ imagines a world of subjective idealism, where reality itself can be rejected. It is a philosophical issue. It also seems entirely fitting to the political environment of the last four years. We pick our sides. We choose our own subjective reality. There is no objective narrative, only alternative facts.

So, ‘Ten Stages of War’ is a Borgesian tale, a remake of ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ in a Trumpian world. There are ten stages until the Earth is a lie.

You can read it in the best-selling Alternative Apocalypse (ebook and paperback):