Rise of the Robots

Whilst awaiting more rejections form the agent world, I need to find other things to occupy my fecund imagination. So, firstly I have decided to set myself the challenge of writing a short story every week. This is above and beyond any commitments to my creative writing group. You can find an explanation for the decision here along with the first example written last week.

Secondly, recently I have been watching quite a lot of the Channel 4 season “Rise of the Robots” and that got me thinking. The idea that robots and/or AI will replace a great number of the jobs currently undertaken by humans is fairly well documented. Usually they add a rather smug caveat that the jobs least at risk are the creative ones. But is that true? How protected are we authors from the inexorable march of robot kind? Well your intrepid writer has been finding out. What follows is a short story written by a program based on some key words decided by myself. I was not trying to be deliberately tricky. The keywords I used were genuine attempts to be helpful to the program. The result was as follows………

The Cursed Newspaper

A Short Story by Newton Fisher

William Blackman looked at the cursed newspaper in his hands and felt angry.

He walked over to the window and reflected on his crowded surroundings. He had always loved noisy Amsterdam with its cooing, curried Coffee Shops. It was a place that encouraged his tendency to feel angry.

Then he saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the figure of Sally Barker. Sally was a forgetful coward with fat arms and greasy fingernails.

William gulped. He glanced at his own reflection. He was a cowardly, greedy, beer drinker with dirty arms and fragile fingernails. His friends saw him as a lovely, large lawyer. Once, he had even saved a blue deaf person that was stuck in a drain.

But not even a cowardly person who had once saved a blue deaf person that was stuck in a drain, was prepared for what Sally had in store today.

The drizzle rained like shouting , making William anxious.

As William stepped outside and Sally came closer, he could see the enthusiastic smile on her face.

“I am here because I want revenge,” Sally bellowed, in a tactless tone. She slammed her fist against William’s chest, with the force of 3105 . “I frigging hate you, William Blackman.”

William looked back, even more anxious and still fingering the cursed newspaper. “Sally, I just don’t need you in my life any more,” he replied.

They looked at each other with lonely feelings, like two breakable, muddy chatting at a very proud holiday, which had reggae music playing in the background and two smart uncles sitting to the beat.

Suddenly, Sally lunged forward and tried to punch William in the face. Quickly, William grabbed the cursed newspaper and brought it down on Sally’s skull.

Sally’s fat arms trembled and her greasy fingernails wobbled. She looked fuzzy, her body raw like a mute, mutated map.

Then she let out an agonising groan and collapsed onto the ground. Moments later Sally Barker was dead.

William Blackman went back inside and made himself a nice drink of beer.

THE END 

Well, wasn’t that exciting! I think even we unpublished authors can take comfort that our position as tortured artists remains intact for a little while. If you want to have a go at writing your own AI story then head on over here and have some fun.

See you out there.

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Sometimes I sits and waits….sometimes I just sits.

Yeah I know. Nothing for virtually a month. What the hell have you been doing man. Honestly it’s not my fault. I have been waiting for agent feedback. After the last blog I sent out ten submissions to various agents selected via Agent Hunter . As expected when I cross referenced the key genres I was working in the list of suitable agents fell dramatically. Then when I added those that were actively looking to increase their listings it got even shorter. Now if I had been writing a procedural or psychological thriller the list would have remained suitably vast, cos that’s what sells. Agents and publishers are as susceptible to what is en vogue as the rest of us lemmings.

So I waited, and waited and then for a bit of variety waited some more. As I sit here today I have had three responses, all thanks but no thanks. Two of them were the standard rejection letter, No feedback, never darken my door again type. One was a more thoughtful and considered response. Liked the pitch, liked the characters, but just didn’t feel passionate enough to stick his/her neck out with the publishers, but please send anything else you write for consideration. OK I can live with that, Close but no cigar, but the door still ajar. What next? Well I still have another ten on my list so over the next few days I shall submit again and then go and hide in a darkened room and wait.

But I don’t want you to get the impression I have been completely idle. Just mostly. I have added two Christmas stories to the Creative writing page. These are to be read out on local radio mid-December by myself. The opportunity arose via my creative writing group who get asked to write and broadcast each year. The stories are meant to be light, cheerful with no sweary or sad stuff, so bit of a challenge for me! Also I have made a start on two more books! What I hear you cry….is the boy mad. Well not really. The first is book two in the Steam trilogy. I now have a clear plan for the first section and have written a few thousand words to test out the ideas. The second is a standalone project based on a idea that just came to me out of the blue. Totally unrelated to Steam in style and genre. I will say no more about it for now, until a few more words have been written and I see if it works.

See you soon.

 

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(chorus) “I’m gonna be rejected!”

First off, apologies to any Alice Cooper fans out there for the lift. Secondly, apologies for the absence. This was due to circumstances beyond my control. OK, now back to the show.

This week it’s all about rejection. The sort all writers have to prepare themselves for and the particular hell of finding an agent. That’s the big hurdle. If you get over that then, if traditional publishing/books is your thing, then you are almost there. That will not be the case for the vast majority, who will end up littering the in-trays before the cursory rejection e-mail. Why will an agent reject your blood/sweat soaked masterpiece? Well in no particular order they might do it for the following reasons.

  1. It’s a poor idea
  2. It’s a poor idea badly written
  3. It’s a poor idea well written
  4. It’s a good idea badly written
  5. You picked the wrong agent for the genre you are writing in
  6. Your genre/story just isn’t that popular at the moment
  7. You didn’t format/synopsis/cover letter as requested
  8. They were swamped and decided to dump a whole lot sight unseen
  9. The agent is a jerk and hates you
  10. The universe hates you
  11. You wrote an OK story quite well…..meh

Of those possibly the last is the worst. You were OK, he/she has read worst, probably got it published too. So near but so far. Better luck next time. As for the rest, the point to understand from them is that they are they are all your fault to a greater or lesser extent. Even No.8. Did you check to see if they were even taking submissions at the moment?

So in the last week or so I have finished the second draft. It still needs work, but that can continue, no need to wait any longer. The basic plot, story telling, characterisation, world-building is done. If they don’t like it, no amount of tweaking is gonna save it. To that effect I have written a synopsis, a covering letter and formatted the first three chapters in the style most of them seem to want. Next step is to sign up to Agent Hunter, create a profile search and identify 8-10 agents who might be interested and who are open for submissions at the moment. Press the send button and wait for those rejections to just start rolling in. But I am lying to you dear reader because I have already sent it out to one agent. The reason, well it’s a bit weird actually. Whilst researching the book and it’s London locations, I was in the Citte of York, which has some of the old furniture of Beneke’s the setting for the first two chapters. Well while taking some photos, a gent strolled by and asked what I was doing. When I told him about the book, he told me that just behind the pub were his agents. He wished me luck and went off to meet them. Well, at that moment I knew I just had to send the finished MSS to this lot. The coincidence (I imagined) foretold of great things. Such were my delusions at the time.

See you next week.

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Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Not so much of a blog as a personal update. This morning my mother died. It was long expected, and today her suffering came to an end. Updates maybe a little less frequent and work on the book has stopped for the time being.

See you out there.

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“I’m sorry, I have a plane to catch.”

Clever, very clever. I bet you say that to all your master classes. Mind you so would I. Any excuse to be able to make a sharp exit and not have your path blocked by us zombie like authors, all desperate to tell you about our masterpiece.

I was here. Attending a Guardian master class. “How To Get A literary Agent” run by the very professional Juliet Mushens. She works here and by all accounts is one of the best and most successful agents in the UK. So of course, we all want her to be ours. She’s perfect for us. Us? Oh yes, there is us. Almost one hundred of us, all shapes sizes and variable dress sense.  We hang off her every word. The words shooting, fish, and barrel come to mind. She is kind. She tells us about what happens if you get an agent. She tells you how to present your manuscript in the best possible light. She has two actual authors with her Amy Alward and Laura Purcell. They are very nice, and they have been published. So we also hang off their every word hoping to learn the holy grail of being picked up. This is something we are desperate to be part of. But of course it’s what she doesn’t tell you that really matters.

Publishers use agents to filter out the crap. Of the people attending today approx. 0.1% of us have a chance to be taken on by an agent. The rest of us will be rejected, frequently, brutally. Juliet gets over 5 thousand manuscripts a year. We will need to develop the hide of a rhino to carry on. “It’s not you, don’t take it personally.” She’s right it’s not you, agents don’t care about you. I’m serious and so is she. It’s the book, the whole book and nothing but the book. Lesson one and the most important thing any of us can learn from today is “write a good book”. Keep writing it until it’s the best you can make it. Then let it go. A fresh pair of eyes will see things you cant, or wont.  So remember, you haven’t finished writing it yet. Just the first stage is completed.

After that, research your agents. Find between six and ten who will consider the genre you are writing in. Writing across genres? Decide on the major category. If it’s a romance with time travel, send it to an agent who is interested in romance. If it’s a thriller, but also a biting satire on our inner cities, it’s still a thriller.

Next get your package right. Yes you heard me, time to adjust you package. Write a good covering letter, be professional. Write an enticing blurb, the back jacket elevator pitch for the novel. To do that follow the Mushens method of character, setting, conflict, resolution. Somebody, somewhere has something happen to them which results in something else happening and so…..You can find mine here. Next, you have to have a synopsis. One to two pages where you outline the characters, the plot and, crucially, tell them who dunnit. At this point I felt rather sad for Juliet. Doesn’t she ever long to read a book where she doesn’t know what happens?

Other things to remember.

Agents are subjective. It’s their opinion and they only back what they like.

They make money out of your book. 15% domestically, 20% overseas. Before you cry out in horror, what they do for that is all the business side of getting you a deal and managing your career. Don’t whinge, it’s a bargain.

Treat “open door” months by publishers with caution. Some may very well offer sub-standard contracts, and how do you know what is fair and reasonable? Agents do.

What else? Oh, some off us got to read out our blurb and get some live feedback from Juliet. I got an opportunity and some good comments, but then we all did. Finally, she said the one thing we were all secretly hoping for.

“Thank you all for coming, sorry I cant stay.  Here is a pile of business cards, do take one. I look forward to reading any submissions you make.” We descend on the cards like wolves, hardly noticing that she has already left the room. We have all decided that Juliet is the one for us. It’s not true of course. She is mine, all mine, the rest of you losers can go to hell. I am the 0.1% and nothing will stand in my way.

In other news, I am still engaged in the second draft of the book and I have updated the creative writing page with some more examples from my writers workshop.

See you next week.

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Agents of Fortune

First off, anybody know which band I have ripped off for the title of this weeks blog? For those of an inquisitive nature you can find the answer here.  So, as the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, last week I finished the first draft. A bit of a weird moment I can tell you. To go from writing something to having written something is a big psychological step. Still no time for backslapping and garlands. Next day I started on the second draft and adding some much needed punctuation. I can already see that some sections will need to be rewritten, especially the last chapter as I sense I have fallen into the trap that many authors do, closing down the story too quickly, impatient to get it finished. But that is to come, first I have to audit and review what is already there. To do that I have given myself the following criteria.

Grammar and punctuation – this also includes synonyms, repetition and the vexed issue of keeping it in the present tense.

Dialogue – flow, structure and fit with the character.

Character – consistency, development and credibility.

Plot – pace, credibility, development etc.

Jokes and exposition – more of one, less of the other, or vice versa.

I have also sent the draft to my key followers with a plea for comment, not so much on the minutia of spelling and commas, but rather on the broader issues of plot, characters and basic enjoyment of reading the story.

The other major development, is starting the quest to find and agent to represent me and my book. Why do you need an agent, why not go direct or self-publish? All very good questions, the  answers to which are well explained here. So to find out more and to give the management and myself an excuse to go to our favourite restaurant, I have signed up for a Guardian Masterclass workshop. My reasons for going, apart from having a day out in London, are about how to find the right agent for the genre of book I am writing, how to approach an agent with the right pitch and generally learn anything that gives me an advantage. As part of the course, they ask you to writ an elevator pitch for the book. This is the sort of thing you read on the back cover and is designed to inform, entice and tease in equal measures. I have made an attempt, and you can find it here. I will report back about how it went and what I learnt.

See you next week.

 

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“…..the end dear reader. I typed it.”

At approx. 11:45 this morning, I typed the last word, the end of the first draft.  Would you like to see it…….

The End

Whew, pretty exciting eh! So there we have it, the first draft completed. I have told myself the story. It is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. I have to go now, and lie down in a darkened room as I have run out of clichés.

See you next week.

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