Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Tick-tock goes the clock...

This last week has been fantastic.  I was lucky enough to have seven straight days to devote to the second draft of my new novel, Through the Eyes of Douglas, of which I was already about 150 pages in.  Another 230 pages later and I had a 380-page manuscript, second drafted.  That’s 127 thousand words in total, and a good sized book for me, considering Dark Heart only came in at a dainty 80k.

So what’s next?

Well, nothing.  I’m not going to look at it for a few weeks. 

At the moment I know what little changes need to be made to make the book perfect – miniscule continuity bits – a tightening of the characterisation nut – nothing major.  But there lies the problem.  There should be more to fix than that. 

I’m so immersed in the story at the moment that I can’t see the wood for the trees.  I need to get away from the wood.  I need to go and wander around a desert for a while, or build an igloo at the North Pole.  After six weeks of building sandcastles and throwing snowballs, I’ll be able to come back to the wood and it will be fresh and new.  I’ll have forgotten the old paths I used to follow at a glance, and those stinging nettles I used to step over without even looking will start catching my ankles.  Rashes are good!

When I come back to my story, it must feel as little like my story as possible, and the only thing between me and that objective state of mind, is distance.  Without that distance, my brain will fill in gaps that I don’t want to be filled in.  A reader doesn’t have the benefit of my visual imagery.  A reader has to form opinions and mental pictures purely from the words.  I need to become that reader, and a few weeks of no looky-looky should do the trick.

What to do till then?

I’ve just sent out the second draft to the second wave of beta readers.  The first wave (god bless them) took their editorial scalpels to it and will be getting a hearty ‘thank you’ in the acknowledgements – each and every one.  In fact, one of the first wave is in the second wave, and was also in wave 1.5 – (extra special ‘thank you’ needed there!).  I’ve also got a bloody proofreader on the case! (Link coming soon!).

While all this is going on I’m going to tinker with the synopsis (sneaky little bastard that you are, I fucking hate you!), and catch up on some beta reading of my own.  And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll start my third novel.  Sorry, darling…
A few weeks?  Of course I’ll make it… I’ve just got to stop thinking about it… But that fucking ticking though… Can you hear it or is it just me?  La-la-la-la-not-listening!

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

There’s something about the American writers that appeals to me (the good ones, at least), but I’m not exactly sure what it is.  Maybe it’s the romance of the settings, or the pacier prose.  Maybe it’s the nostalgia I feel for all the American films I grew up with as a kid, or that the first quarter of my reading life was spent on Stephen King.  I just don’t know.   What I do know, though, is that I have a love for Southern Gothic. 

The Deep American South has an aching emptiness that seems to be the seedbed for melancholic ponderings and sparse and poetic dialogues over crackling campfires and under midnight skies.  If it’s done right, you end up with novels such as Alden Bell’s The Reapers Are The Angels, or Robert Jackson Bennett’s Mr Shivers.  Michael Koryta’s The Cypress House doesn’t have the literary gravitas of those aforementioned novels, but it’s Southern Gothic done right, all right.

Arlen Wagner has a terrible gift: he can see smoke in men’s eyes that warns him of their imminent death, and he is never wrong.  Riding a train bound for the Florida Keys, Arlen sees this smoke in the eyes of the men he's travelling with, but none of them heed his warning accept for his young companion, Paul Brickhill.  He and Paul get off the train at the next stop and trudge through the rain to find a place to stay, and soon find themselves in a solitary boarding house located on the eerie marsh land of the Gulf Coast.  At first it feels good to be out of the rain, but Arlen soon realises there are more deadly things at the Cypress House than the imminent hurricane.

The supernatural element is slight, and the story slips into standard thriller mode for long periods, with the corrupt local law enforcement supplying a good deal of the suspense, but Koryta has not merely adorned Arlen with a superficial and ghostly gift to serve the plot.  It goes deeper than that.  Along with a poignant back story, Arlen’s gift supplies us with a well-judged arc that adds a touch of pathos to what is already an interesting and original character. 

Koryta handles atmosphere and setting expertly too.  With the impending threat of the hurricane and the undercurrent of the supernatural, the Cypress House positively drips with that aching emptiness and desolation that epitomizes the Southern Gothic tale.  And in an industry where the quality of the written word is no longer a prerequisite of the published author, Koryta’s prose is flawless and unfussy, and his dialogue is spoken by the characters and not written by the writer.

This was my first sojourn in Michael Koryta’s world, and I plan on visiting again soon.  A fine book by a fine writer.  And if Southern Gothic is your thing, as it is mine, you could do a lot worse than lend Koryta your ear, and sit with him by the crackling campfire, under the midnight sky, and listen to his tale of The Cypress House.