Book number 8 notched up – time to move to the next one

Well, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum is finally done, dusted, and delivered to Amazon. And I’m glad to see the back of it.

Why?

Well, it was hard to write, for starters. It began life as a short story (encompassing the initial robbery at Billingham Forum). But as soon as the short was complete, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d created (the short story leaves the fate of several of them up in the air). So I decided to fill in the gaps…

The novella came next. It fleshed out Bobby, Harry, ToJo, and Thrombosis, but, again, left me wanting to know more about Billy Chin, Jonno, Joey, and Ramon. So I went back again, and gave the story a third go.

The novel took much longer to assemble than the novella and short story because I wanted the tale to be more character driven than in previous works. I used a lot more foreshadowing. Many of the characters make decisions that come back to haunt them later. Sometimes you can’t plot these things. Occasionally they just need to bubble to the surface. For a plodder like me, that take times.

I learned a lot by writing this novel. I found out that expanding a short work into something much longer is not for the faint-hearted. Often the plot changes course because what works in a short story (or even a novella) doesn’t always succeed in the more generous word count of a novel. Characters evolve because they can grow into the pages. The lack of limits makes them less black and white.

Endings changed, first chapters came and went, characters emerged from the chrysalis of a cameo to become fully-fledged main players. Most of the main players got at least two or three killer lines and moments, or in Billy Chin’s case got to steal virtually every chapter in which he appears. The Stantons were much nastier in the short story, partly because this was the first Stanton short I ever finished (that’s right, the first – which goes to show how bloody long the novel took to write). It was only when I wrote The Hunters that they developed slightly softer edges and became more sympathetic. A Funny Thing Happened… came together in such a way that it was overtaken by every other project. This is why what seem like prequels actually aren’t. I write about six projects at the same time. It just so happens that The Hunters was the first project after The Gamblers that I was happy to publish. A Funny Thing Happened… was last one to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

The next Stanton story due for publication (early in 2017, most likely) has been almost as protracted. Sexy Lexy is set roughly a month after the events of A Funny Thing Happened… It was originally slated for release in The Greatest Show In Town, but I felt it needed lots of work and dropped it at the last moment. And, much like A Funny Thing Happened…, it expanded to become something bigger and broader – in this case, a novella.

After Sexy Lexy, I’m planning to put the brothers away for a while and concentrate on The Amsterdamned, which should come together quickly, because I’ve plotted it meticulously. Then I intend to fix my sights on We Won’t Leave This World Alive, which continues storylines from The Glasgow Grin (the Stanton brothers, Bob Owden, Gupta Patel, Jimmy Raffin, all get leading roles).

Anyway, enough talk about future publications…

Now it’s time to start pushing A Funny Thing Happened… to my readership.

I hope you enjoy it.

It was hard to write, but I think because of these difficulties it’s a pretty good read.

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What’s going on at Casa Stanley

On the off chance that you’re interested in my work, and interested in how it’s coming along (if you aren’t, I won’t be offended, please click away now), here’s a rundown of what I have been doing with my days/evenings recently.

Since stopping all promotion of work that’s more than two month’s old, which is currently everything, I’ve found that I have more time for writing and reading and reviewing. I’ve finished a couple of shorts that are both based around the theme of revenge, with several others on the go, to be included in a short collection that will probably see the light of day sometime in 2014.

Standalone Stanton brothers novella Bone Breakers is out on submission, though I’m not holding out much hope for this, to be honest (It’s been over three weeks since I sent it, and I can already see sections I want to tweak); I’m making good progress on the sequel to The Hunters, The Glasgow Grin, (even though it has changed from its initial incarnation in the redraft process – first and third person narration, for a start – and has consequently got bigger); I’ve also got several Stanton shorts on the go, including one that works as a sort of prequel to Bone Breakers. There are also two other big Stanton projects that I have simmering.

Other projects include three novellas/novels that have either been started, outlined or are close to completion (Cry Tomorrow, When Word Came Down and We Bring The Darkness).

I’ve realised that I write best with multiple projects on the go. If I get bored or stalled with one project I can move on to another and so on until they are completed. I now have so many projects on the go I expect to be tied up until at least 2015 (assuming I finish them all). It’s not a method I recommend; partly because writers who tell other writers WHAT TO DO and HOW TO DO IT bore me bloody rigid, but mostly because you need to be able to thrive within a maelstrom of organised chaos.

And I like organised chaos, so there.

Since ceasing my dull existence of relentless book-plugging I’ve been much happier, much more creative, and I’ve realised there’s more to life than gnawing at my fingernails whilst I check my KDP figures for the umpteenth time that day. However, I did check my sales figures recently and it’s as I expected: during my pimping embargo (now about five weeks) I’ve sold exactly four books, all of which have been in the US. Not good, but I’m not sure the figures would have been that much better even if I did use my usual relentless pushing tactics.

However, I have a two-day sale of The Gamblers coming shortly (partly because I had two free days left before it reverts back to not being in the KDP free program), but you won’t see me plugging it on this blog. In fact, I’m not even going to bother telling you the date.

Why? Well, I figure most regulars here have either read it or have it on their Kindle (to be either read at a later date or not at all), and I hate preaching to the converted. Instead, I’ve paid an organisation about £30 to punt details of the freebie to all the major free book list websites, saving me many hours of work and getting word out to some websites that I didn’t realise existed. I’ll let you know how this experiment goes later in the month.

Special interests section…

Noir (regardless of whether it’s classic, neo or psycho) is a niche market, I think we all know that (readers and writers alike). If you are tuned into its wavelength then it’s the wildest ride you can go on. But the fact is that most readers aren’t tuned in, or if they are they’re only tuned in halfway, so that the interference mixes it up with a load of other stuff. It only takes a bit of extra tuning to turn the wavelength all the way.

Harlen Coben, for instance, takes the ordinary man in waaaay over his noggin (a noir staple) and puts a different slant on it; more positive in outlook, more likeable characters, more emphasis on milking all possible suspense and action from the scenario. In the wrong hands this might turn into total crap, but Coben’s got a master’s hand, so he makes it work beautifully, and the audience loves him for it, in droves.

Lee Child takes the hardboiled, laconic, tough as nails hero and sends him into action. Jack Reacher really is just Kells in A Fast One, or Mike Hammer, or any number of hardboiled and western heroes, but put inside a modern-day shell. Readers love him for it, and again in droves.

Elmore Leonard is a great example of a writer who has taken elements of noir and hardboiled fiction and made a tidy audience from it and his publishers have packaged his work superbly, especially in the wake of Jackie Brown (Tarantino’s adaptation of Rum Punch).

George Pelecanos effortlessly straddles noir and hardboiled styles and sells rather well too.

All the elements are there in noir to connect with a modern audience, but somehow the use of the term almost certainly dooms most of its practitioners to the section marked ‘special interests’ or, more bluntly, ‘weird stuff’. You know, that special place that guarantees very few sales.

Then I had a thought, why the hell can’t noir sell in the modern market? Part of the problem is perception: the notion that noir is niche being the main problem; the way it’s sold to the audience is another; and the fact that the Big Six publishers really don’t give a damn about anything other than giving the audience what it thinks it wants is also an issue.

Hard Case Crime seemed like a good start, and I was really excited about a comeback for noir, until I saw those covers. Frankly, they’re not the answer. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nicely designed and illustrated but the whole enterprise screams NICHE! That style of illustration was of its time and it helped sell copies way back when, when you needed to make an instant impression on a concessions stand in a bus or train station, but what is it honestly likely to achieve in this day and age? It’ll sell to people like us, the folks who buy Cornell Woolrich, Jason Starr and Ken Bruen anyway, but what about Mr and Mrs Random Browser? Will they be compelled to buy based on these covers? Somehow I’m not so sure. I hope they succeed, I really do, because I love noir; I love reading it, writing it, watching it; and if they can make it work then maybe they can bring some of those long forgotten masters into the modern age. But I’m still not convinced by their approach.

Personally, I think the right covers and the right kind of marketing can make bestsellers out of anything. The levelling of the playing field by ebooks and the fact that, at the moment at least, Big Publishing can’t compete in price terms means the opportunity to revitalise noir is probably the best it’s ever been.  Sell the readers a wild ride (even if it is a down slide) and there’s no reason why noir can’t make a comeback. Sell readers the kind of crazy shit that only noir can deliver, in spades, and on this new level playing field there’s no reason why we noir practitioners can’t have bestseller after bestseller.

There’s a new age upon us…

Sub-dividing my time

I’m currently sub-dividing my free-time between my second novel (which is an unconventional murder-mystery thriller) and trying to generate publicity for The Gamblers.

It’s not an easy thing to do. Publicity for a self-published work relies on a lot more work for the author than it does for an author who is represented by a publishing house. Posters, leaflets, flyers, sample chapters etc., all need to be overseen or designed by the author. Then comes the legwork, putting posters and leaflets in pubs or cafes that will allow such things, finding other suitable locations for posters, putting professionally designed sample chapters in public places (where people might be tempted to pick them up). I’ve also got in touch with a few contacts who might be able to review the work, and others that I have agreed to write articles/reviews for in an attempt to generate sales.

If anybody can think of any novel (pardon the pun, ha ha) way of generating publicity then please do leave a comment below. I don’t necessarily guarantee I’ll do them all, but if you leave a good idea I may very well give it a go.