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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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Research

I’ve done bugger all research for this book, and as yet I haven’t had time to come up with any sort of outline, let alone a chapter plan. Nevertheless I’ve steamed on and written around 10k so far, most of which is actual fiction as opposed to stream of consciousness padding.  I’m not sure whether my voice comes through in the same way as it has done with the last couple of books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the last issue of Mslexia, Susan Hill gave an interview in which she suggested that ‘write what you know’ is a load of old cobblers.  Who would want to read about the minutiae of your daily life, she asks. Surely the point of fiction is to take you away from such mundanity?  Writers ought to use their imagination.

A somewhat cynical look at the already fading Paranormal Romance genre may not be entirely what she was getting at, but a certain amount of imagination is required to write about a teenage vampire.  I’m not immortal, or overly sensitive to UV, and I didn’t spend those formative teen years sucking blood.  Well, not any more than is normal for young persons of that age range.  So most of this is going to have to be made up.

Still, I’m a bit worried about running into clichés.  The imagination is influenced by what you’ve seen and read, which means that the more research I’ve carried out the better because I can avoid doing things that have already been done.  Unfortunately I’m limited to ironic viewings of the Twilight movies, 3 episodes of Being Human, and half a short story.  I am, therefore, a mite concerned that my imagination will tread paths already trod.  Frinstance I have been leaning towards sticking a werewolf in there – like that hasn’t been done to death.

Unless I think of an original twist.  Maybe it could be a werewolf FROM SPACE.  M. Night Shyamalan eat your heart out…

April’s Genre…

… is romance.

Originally I had planned to write some kind of beautiful unrequited love story, but then I thought no, that’s altogether too literary – I’m going to get my paranormal romance on and sell 100 000 e-books like Amanda Hocking

I’m still going to include an element of unrequited love, though.  What better narrative reason is there to keep people apart than having one of them a vampire who cannot reveal his or her true feelings because he or she loves the other person too much to compromise their safety?  And what better way of gearing this towards a Twilight loving audience than have the vampire a fifteen or sixteen year old girl, loving a boy she can never have from afar?  That’s an experience everyone has at some point or another.  Well, except for the being a vampire part.

The only suggestion I’ve had for this month was that the girl should be called Jennifer and that she should work in a dog grooming salon.  I think I will change this slightly so that she has a job walking dogs, ostensibly to earn a bit of extra pocket money but in actual fact to help her blend in and feel more human.  This girl has teen angst to the max.

This decided, all I need to do is conduct a little bit of research into the genre.  An initial Google search in my lunch break led me to the Harlequin website (that’s Mills and Boon), and the rather brilliant first chapter of ‘Demon Seduction’ by Pat White.

Stand-out lines of exposition include:

“back then she was just a girl, terrified by Marcus’s demon cousin who’d wanted to slake his need with a human virgin.”

I hate it when that happens.

“Having been created from human ash of the Great Fire of Rome, Ash could assume human form better than any other creature of the dark realm.”

As documented by Pliny and Tacitus, no less.  This author is quite the classicist!  Well, that or she read the Wikipedia entry, like I did.

“His mission was to fill her with his demon seed against her will, the very act he’d defended her from when she was but sixteen.”

Is this a good time to mention that whilst I love romance, I can’t take it seriously?  I feel this will add to the challenge.

Some excellent dialogue in the tale included:

“Mickey, you wanker, what’d you do that for?”

Which I think was to reemphasise that the story is set in Engerland, and:

“Go find yourself a husband to take care of you.”

This places our heroine as a frustrated feminist trying to make it in a man’s world – we later find out she also wears baggy jeans and army boots.  FYI, that means it’s OK for her to become a sort of sex doormat later on.  So what if she allows herself to be seduced by a poorly characterized Ash Demon?  That doesn’t mean she’s conforming to a stereotype, if anything she’s breaking it by defying the expected spinster/dyke path.

 And so what if she flunked out of uni because she was busy lurking around in thickets searching for demons to kill in order to win her father’s grudging respect/love?  She doesn’t need all men to validate her, just her disinterested, misogynistic old pa.  Is that so wrong?  Of course not.

I don’t think this is quite the type of tale I’m aiming for, though.  The nearly having sex but not quite scene is right there in chapter two; all inappropriate nudey fairy statue stroking and nipples akimbo. Stephanie Meyer doesn’t reach that point till three books in!  I have severe doubts about my ability to write a non-comedy sex scene, so I think I’ll probably follow her example.

This will involve looking out a few of the more popular paranormal romance / dark fantasy (is there a difference?) authors, I suppose.  Popular authors at the library where I used to work included P.C.Cast, Charlaine Harris, Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Anybody know any more?  I’d be particularly interested in short stories and flash fiction, just because of time constraints…

The Social Network

Yesterday I dedicated a not inconsiderable amount of time to attempting to get the 12 Books in 12 Months Facebook page more ‘likes’ – 100 by 10pm, as a matter of fact.  I failed.

However, some nice people did help out, and I think you should check out their work to help me say thanks.

Props to my lovely retweeters:

– Kirsty Wilkinson is an Edinburgh-based genealogist.  She runs her own business called My Ain Folk, and if you are looking to find out about your family tree, she can almost certainly help.  Her blog, The Professional Descendant, covers all kinds of information about genealogy and family history, and of course you can also follow her on twitter.

– Emma Livingstone is studying for an MA in publishing at the University of the Arts in London.  She blogs about publishing, arts, music and culture here, and you can also follow her on twitter.  And if you’re good, maybe one day she’ll help you get your book published…

– Sam Kurd is a writer and philosopher who reviews sci-fi and fantasy games, books and telly for places like Den of Geek, Sci-Fi Heaven and  Cirque Des Geeks.  He has also recently started work on a film script.  Follow him on the twitter too.

And thanks to the people who helped me get from 85 to a more respectable 97 – Rab, Ian, Rachel, Juliet (aka The Crafty Green Poet), Bob, Alastair (overlord of STV Local North Edinburgh and Greener Leith), Emily (Jewellery Designer), Caro, Ellen (St Andrews Uni DoSDA contender 2011/12) and Cougar.  If any of you want any links publicizing, let me know!

I appreciate that Facebook is deeply annoying in a lot of respects, but social networking feels like a pretty crucial part of getting this project into the public domain and that makes it a necessary evil.  So please keep liking the 12 Books page and spreading the word through the power of stalkerfeed!  Books 4-12 will thank you!

Flash Fiction

100 word story on the writing process:

The halogen heater of Korean extraction was slowly but inexorably melting her shins as she tapped out her search terms, first into Google, then the less popular Alta Vista.  Perhaps she should have visited the library, but it was snowing again and her trainers were wet and cold from previous excursions on the ice.

“Fevers in ancient Rome,” she wrote, turning up eight trillion pages about Malaria and an ancient goddess named Febris – not to be confused with the cleaning product, Febreze.  But what did Caligula’s sister, the enigmatic Julia Drusilla, actually die of?  No one knows for sure.

Revisionism and Excerpts

As I suspected a few posts back, Roman historians like Suetonius were pretty biased against Caligula, and had a tendency to write down the most outrageous rumours without assessing their validity in any way.  So whilst what I have written so far is stuff a bit like:

Had to have a consul executed today.  He forgot to announce my birthday in the public records.  Seriously.  A child of five could have remembered to do that.

Now I’m wondering whether he was actually as bad as all that.  The gaps in historical evidence make it hard to judge, but it seems pretty clear that it was in the interests of all the sources that survive from the time (Suetonius, Dio, Claudius, Seneca) to make Caligula out to be an evil nutjob.  So, the question is really whether to go with them and write him in a sort of cartoony, madder than a box of snakes type of way, or to take on board the revisionist work available and write him with a bit of empathy. 

My answer to this is to try both.

Perhaps I should use Incitatus [the horse he was meant to have made a consul, according to Suetonius] to upset senate a bit more.  That’s always fun – I still get a kick out of the time I made them run alongside my litter for ten miles in the blazing sun.  Served them right – all that time feasting and sitting indoors and conspiring to kill me makes them pasty and unfit.  They should try going to battle, see what that does for them.

I think I will commission a legion of men to carve Incitatus a stable of marble.  And he will have a collar blazing with precious jewels, and a manger of ivory.  I’ll have the grooms mix flakes of gold into his food, too.  He will live in as lavish and decadent a manner as the gods themselves.  Senate will be furious!  But frankly that horse is twice as clever as all of them put together.  Self important, plotting dunderheads that they are.  They’ll soon learn that they can’t have any effect on me.

An Interview

I did an interview for the STV website yesterday, which you can read here if you’d like a little more information on this project.

One of the questions asked that didn’t make it into the article – possibly because I was a little thrown and babbled a bit! – was ‘what do you hope to achieve with this project?’  I found it interesting because it made me think.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m doing it because I want to be noticed.  More than that, I want someone to notice and go “hey, she’s good, maybe we should pay her a sum of several pounds to write some things.” In fact, I blogged on the subject of freelancing and its frustratingly voluntary nature here only a week ago.

I am slightly worried that this answer is too cynical for a quirky project like this.  I’d love to say I’m doing it purely for my love of telling stories, but I’d be lying.  I do love telling stories, but ultimately I have rent to pay. Sorry, idealists.  Having said that, I want to pay it by doing something I love, which is pretty idealistic…  Oh, but I also hope to improve my writing style immeasurably in a comparatively short period of time.  So there’s a less materialistic concern for you!

In news more pertinent to book  one, why do I know nothing about Ancient Rome?  According to the laws of childhood – as set out in the finale of the last series of Doctor Who – everyone does ‘Romans‘ in primary school.  So why is all my research new to me?!  Amy Pond is not significantly younger than I am!  I think maybe we did Tudors and Stuarts an extra time…

And it’s not particularly useful, but I liked the line in I Clavdivs that Livia Drusilla (Caligula’s grandmother) was once bitten by a snake, which promptly died.  Because she’s venomous, do you see?!  Siân Phillips did a cracking ‘evil schemer’ in that show.

Procrastination In Disguise

I read an interesting post on Nicola Morgan‘s blog today in which she was talking about research, and the fact that doing too much can hinder the writing process because you get bogged down in details that you could add later.  It’s essentially a slightly different take on my own advice to myself (as seen in the ‘about’ and ‘FAQs’ on this very page), and it’s reassuring that a proper published author feels the same way.

This is especially relevant to book one because obviously I can’t write from Caligula’s point of view without knowing anything about him, but I’ve got so much material to read/watch that if I go through all of it first, I’ll get to the end of January without having written a word.  Essentially, because I don’t know very much about him, or Ancient Rome, I need to be conducting light research as I go, but only enough to get things in the right order and the right sort of shape.  Then I can change stuff and add detail at a later date.  2012, maybe.

So there we have it.  Research is nothing more than an insidious method of procrastination, making you think you are doing srs work when actually you’re putting off the task at hand – namely, writing.  I need to nip it in the bud, before I get to the point of having 3 days left to write 49,000 odd words.

I’ll get on to it right after I’ve watched all 12 episodes of I, Claudius and read all 5 volumes of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Caligula’s Adiatrepsia

As January’s book is Caligula’s Blog, today I have mostly been reading a book about Caligula by a Roman historian called Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.  It’s essentially a massive list of the crazy stuff he did, which is very handy from my point of view because each item can be a blog entry (or several).

I haven’t finished it yet, but some of the highlights have included:

– Caligula having a gold statue made of himself.  Every day some lucky slave got to dress it up in clothes identical to whatever the man himself had thrown on that morning.

– Inviting the moon to go to bed with him every time it was full.  Well, I assume he was after the goddess of the moon rather than the lump of rock, although he pretty much seemed to do anything and anyone that stayed still long enough…  I will look into that.

– On meeting handsome men with good hair, he had the backs of their heads shaved to make them look daft.  He wanted to be the sexiest, you see.  Perhaps making other men look bad would detract from the fact he was a terrifying, all-powerful sex pest.

– He apparently described his maternal grandmother as “Ulysses in a dress.”  He didn’t like her very much.

– He referred to signing execution lists as “clearing his accounts.”  As you may have gathered, he was a sensitive soul.

– He liked to get members of Senate to run alongside his litter for several miles at a time.  A bit like having a performing animal, I suppose.

– Lots more things, but I’m not going to list them all.  They’ll be in the blog…

I don’t know much about Suetonius himself yet, so won’t be 100% sure how reliable he is as a source till I’ve done some more research on him.  I do know that the man had some lovely turns of phrase and that several subsequent biographies of the Caesars were based on his works.  Also, he was mates with Pliny The Younger, which is interesting in the sort of way that makes you say, “oh really?” because you’ve vaguely heard of him.

Which is nice.

Publicity

At the present time I am sitting in bed (I live in the coldest flat known to man, as is the wont of recent graduates with no disposable income, dependents or things to burn) and attempting to publicise this here project in the book loving world of the internet.  Creating and adding people on the twitter account led to me surfing through 8 million billion book bloggers, which took a large chunk out of my day but was hopefully worth it from a networking standpoint.  Facebook, on the other hand, has been making me want to throw things.  Hard.  At other, softer, living things.

My problem is one-fold.

WHAT THE BLOODY HELL HAS HAPPENED TO GROUPS?!

Time was, back in 2005, you made a group, invited thirty or forty people you knew in real life to join it, that was you.   Then it got a bit more widespread, and I made and joined a ridiculous number of joke pages just for fun.  Who wouldn’t want to echo the sentiment “Disney Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Love”, or admit to being one of those, “People Who Don’t Sleep Enough Because They Stay Up Late For No Reason”, or become an officer of “Tom Baker – The Ultimate Man“.  People joined these groups, made a couple of jokes, added a picture or two, then left or stayed at their leisure.

Even as late as about 24 hours ago groups seemed comparatively straightforward.  You could have separate tabs across the top for sections with ‘information’, ‘wall’, etc.  Now, you’ve just got one page for everything.  It’s a sprawling mass of stuff, with no way of highlighting the salient points – ie what 12 Books in 12 Months is and how people can participate.

To add insult to injury, when you attempt to invite people it adds them automatically without asking their permission.  I’d be annoyed if I was just randomly put in a group without my say-so, and I suspect it means people are less likely to look at it because it’s not something they’ve been asked or invited to do.  This upsets me, as 12 books in 12 months is one of the best terrible ideas I’ve ever had, and I want people to take a minute to look at it.

My question now is, should I make a ‘page’ instead? Then people can just ‘like’ it and be on their merry way… but are there other publicity benefits?

Meanwhile, in the world of Caligula research, I’ve just found a TV show made by the History Channel called ‘Ancients Behaving Badly‘, whose first episode is about the man himself.  And I’ve ordered a second hand copy of I, Claudius by Robert Graves online for a bargainous £2.70 so that I may keep it forever and perhaps even read it.

What a productive day.

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