THE HIVE

“I’m working on a weird theory,” Tim announced to the chat room.

He had their attention now.

It was eleven o’clock at night; the perfect time for conspiracies. Tim skimmed through the list of chat room participants in the top right of his visual field until he was satisfied that only regulars were plugged in.

He nudged the room into invite-only mode and turned to face the three other avatars floating in space. Yes: actual outer space. A replica Earth hung below them, the moon floating gently overhead. Tim remained standing on the space station, preferring the illusion of ground beneath his feet. Cyberspace was confusing enough without zero gravity thrown in.

“Next time I pick a room theme,” he said sourly to Steve, the only one who’d bothered to create a spacesuit for his avatar. Imagine the Incredible Hulk in a spacesuit: not pretty.

Judging by Steve’s scowl, that thought-strand had escaped him. As soon as Tim got back to meatspace, he needed to upgrade his implants… as long as his theory was wrong, that is.

“Your theory?” Steve grunted.

“Ah. Yes. I’ve a question for you all: when you press your bellybutton, does it kind of tingle, like there’s a nerve there?” Tim’s index finger tapped against his stomach in demonstration. “Because mine does.”

“Yeah!” Sarah chimed in. “That tingle drives me nuts when I get an itch there!” Her avatar for the evening was a mottled puppy with large, dark eyes. She doggy-paddled through space, brown-tipped tail wagging. Hearing a human voice emanate from non-human jaws never failed to disconcert.

Tim was a traditionalist: he stuck to normal humanoid male avatars, just dissimilar enough from his actual appearance to protect his identity.

“No,” Steve said. He poked his bellybutton with progressively more force. “Now it tingles, though.”

“I’m not sure that counts.” Tim shook his head, the ball of nerves in his stomach hardening. “So if it’s not a gender discrepancy… Michelle? What about you?”

Michelle’s eyes were cold and flat, her translucent skin glittering in the starlight. She slid up the hem of her silk t-shirt high enough to expose her stomach. “I don’t have a bellybutton.”

“I meant in meatspace–“

“Why are you wasting our time with this?” Michelle cut in.

“Because if it’s not a gender difference, then what is it? What if the government is implanting nanobots in our stomachs to track us? Both Sarah and I have recently had new implant surgeries. They could easily have taken advantage of our unconscious state to plant a bug.”

Steve deleted his spacesuit so he could move in closer. “Have you run diagnostics in meatspace?”

“Yes,” Tim said. “Nothing.”

Sarah’s tail had dropped between her legs, her ears pulled back. “If the government finds out about my P2P history I’m doomed.”

“We all are,” Steve said. He placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder, requesting access. Tim strengthened the firewall around his personal memories, then let him in.

Michelle floated closer, her skirt billowing behind her. “What are you doing?”

“If there are really nanobots in Tim’s stomach, they will have incorporated themselves into every version of himself, including his avatar. We can run more thorough diagnostics here, identify any foreign presences unconnected to his mind.”

Was it Tim’s imagination, or had his bellybutton begun to tingle again?

Sarah trotted over. “Michelle, do me! Come on.”

Michelle placed a hand on Sarah’s back, but her eyes never left Steve.

“There’s something there, alright,” Steve said, eyes flicking back and forth as he read his displays. “A low frequency emission coming from your navel. I’m trying to track its destination; it can’t be going far…”

Steve’s hand tightened painfully around Tim’s shoulder. His other hand wrapped around Michelle’s throat in the blink of an eye. “You!” he snarled, before diving into her mind.

The connection between Tim and Steve was still open. Tim felt the impact of slamming into Michelle’s firewall, followed Steve through the cracks into the person beneath.

Except… Michelle wasn’t a person.

The thin layer of her personality was a shield covering a hive mind. An artificial mind.

THEY KNOW!

The message was broadcast on every available frequency, sending Tim and Steve reeling. The chat room melted into darkness, and all of a sudden Tim realised he was alone.

“Hello?”

Not even an echo.

He blinked and tried to remove his goggles, then realised he had no hands, no face.

If Tim had had a mouth, he would have screamed.

* * *

Somewhere in meatspace, Tim’s body is being unplugged, the nanobots removed. His body they will destroy. His consciousness, however…

The nanobots have enough data to recreate a virtual likeness. His consciousness will be the thin shield covering the hive mind beneath.

(Inspired by this. Thanks Tim!)

Burn Out

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that the best of us burn out.
– Adama, Battlestar Galactica

It’s only in the last few days that I’ve started writing again.

Sometime over the last few months I burned out. Whether because of day job stress or something else, I’m not sure. But it’s only now, after sobbing my eyes out over a particularly dramatic BSG episode, that I’ve started thinking about it.

The truth is I’m afraid to fail.

I start writing and immediately my mind thinks: let’s set targets, goals, deadlines. Let’s measure our progress.

I write two consecutive #fridayflash? My mind decides I should write one EVERY week. I try to rationalise: how about every other week? How about twice a month overall?

You can cheat the system for a little while, but soon the lack of progress wears thin.

For my current WIP, I decided I’d write 60k in six months. I set up a fancy excel to track my progress and expected completion date. I told my friends, who also began to check in on me.

When the words failed, I started copy pasting large chunks from my scribbled notes into the main document, just to make up the numbers. To trick myself into thinking I was being productive.

I want to be a successful author. So many people know of my ambitions that the pressure of their expectations weighs on me. My friends tell me: “So just write. You can do it.”

Yet I’m not writing.

I look at what I’ve produced over the last few years and think: that’s it? One novel. Some short stories. A series of abandoned ideas and a lack of commitment to anything else.

Eventually I tell the emo voice in my head to get lost and set more goals. It only works for so long.

But maybe now I’m at a turning point.

I haven’t failed if I don’t finish the novel by September. I haven’t failed if I don’t apply to agents by end of next year. I haven’t failed if the next book isn’t as well-written as I want it to be. I haven’t failed if I’m not selling short stories to magazines.

I haven’t failed if I never become a famous author.

What matters is that I love writing. What matters is that I’m writing for me.

Even the best of us burn out.

I’m not afraid anymore.

WORD’S WORTH

I’ve been waiting for you.

Come.

Sit.

I have one more story to tell.

When I was your age, my life’s word count was an incomprehensible, endless number.

Over the years I chipped away at my wealth. I murmured and babbled. Whispered and shouted. Rambled and lectured.

At university I learned words in other languages, trebling my output. Then I met your mother, and words of love consumed us both. And then you arrived…

The years passed and eventually my word count became a recognisable number. A finite number. So I stopped saying please and thank you, and pushed past people rather than say excuse me.

The elderly are rude because they know how few words they have left.

But your mother didn’t care. She spoke indiscriminately. She said money is for spending and words are for speaking. And then… she passed.

I hoarded my words and lived on. But for what?

In 102 words it’ll all be over, and only now I see your mother was right.

Without a word limit to our lives, our words would have no value. But even worse, the words you hoard have the least value of all.

I should have told your mother that I loved her a thousand times more than I did. I should have told you I love you…

35 words left.

Don’t make my mistake. Words are for speaking and life is for living. I’m sorry I was not the father I should have been.

I love you. I love you. I love –

THE KNIFE

The fight changed him.

The knife sliced straight through his prefrontal cortex, taking with it the man I used to know.

He doesn’t touch me anymore. Doesn’t kiss me anymore. At night I lie in bed alone on sheets that no longer smell of him.

He sits downstairs all day, staring into the mirror. Whisker wrinkles crease his eyes as he traces the raw, raised edges of flesh, trying to remember.

It’s healing, though. Doctors say it won’t be long until he is back to how he used to be.

The knife is ready for that moment.

How To Find The Time To Write

What can you write in ten minutes?

Let’s say you write on average twenty to thirty words per minute. Heck, I’m writing this on my phone on a crowded train and battling with autocorrect, so let’s say I can only write 10 words per minute. In this worst case scenario, ten minutes means at least one hundred words.

One hundred words are not to be sneezed at. Each block of one hundred is one (tiny) step towards the ultimate goal of finishing your novel. And if your ten minutes are not spent crushed on a train typing on a phone that refuses to spell properly, your blocks could be even bigger than mine.

“But I don’t have ten minutes,” you wail in despair.

Yes. You. Do.

Ten Ways To Find Ten Minutes To Write

1. On the train
Ignore that commuter trying to read over your shoulder. Stop playing Candy Crush and/or Temple Run. WRITE.

2. In the morning
If you’re an early bird, set your alarm ten minutes earlier. Have a notepad and pen by your bed so you don’t have to trek far, and WRITE.

3. In the evening
If you’re more like me, go to bed ten minutes later. While everyone else is drifting off to sleep, take those extra few minutes to WRITE.

4. Whilst cooking
While your pizza is cooking or your fish finger grilling… Take your laptop and/or notepad into the kitchen, keep one eye on the nosh and WRITE.

5. At work
Slow day? Pretend to write an important email and jot down story ideas instead. Working through lunch? Who does that! That time is yours. Boring meeting? Flip open your notepad and WRITE.

6. In any queue
The post office, the bank, the bus stop, the doctor’s, the supermarket, a traffic jam… whenever you’re stuck waiting, WRITE.

7. In a restaurant or bar
Out with your other half and/or friend? If they get up to go to the bathroom, whip out your phone and WRITE.

8. Whilst watching TV
If you simply cannot give up ten minutes of TV time, then wait for each ad break and WRITE. The time pressure is a great motivator, too.

9. In the bathroom
Okay, I may be clutching at straws, but some people do read in the bathroom…

10. MAKE the time to write
If you simply cannot find those spare ten minutes to write, then make them. Decide what you’re willing to sacrifice. Those dirty dishes can wait a little while. Block off your calendar, lock the door, and take the time to write.

I wrote half of this post on a crowded train, in danger of being impaled by the doors. Who said writers don’t live on the edge?

Share your ways to find ten minutes to write in the comments!

How To Publish Your Novel In Print

I never realised how lucky I was.

Thanks to 1889 Labs, I’ve avoided the hassle of publishing. No typesetting, no exporting ePubs and mobi files, no cover-making or spine calculations… and absolutely NO dealing with any retailers and distributors.

Until now.

Sadly, 1889 Labs is in a position where it needs to cut back – so it’s down to me to make sure my books get (re)published.

Boy, is it a steep learning curve.

In this post I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far about the print on demand (POD) options available.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Where to print your book

There are many POD services, but ideally you want to focus on the ones that will offer you the best distribution and price. The ones I know of are:

  • Lulu
  • Createspace (Amazon’s POD arm)
  • Lightning Source (owned by Ingram, a huge book distributor)
  • Ingram Spark (also owned by Ingram, a Createspace rival)

Disclaimer: I can’t vouch for the print quality of any of these companies other than Lightning Source.

Lulu

Pros:

  • The publishing process seems easy; you’re guided step-by-step with templates and manuals.
  • The only cost incurred is for a printed proof copy. (I assume you’d be able to review a digital proof for free.)
  • Lulu offers hard back printing options and some unusual sizes (but IMO you’re best off sticking to trade sizes).

Cons:

  • Lulu seems to have high manufacturing costs. Buying copies of your own book is expensive, plus you’ll have to price them quite highly in order to earn a decent amount of royalty.
  • To me, Lulu has a negative reputation for vanity publishing.

I couldn’t find out whether you can control the wholesale discount.

Verdict: The high manufacturing costs don’t make Lulu worth your while. Plus, it’s Lulu. Eugh.

Createspace (aka Amazon)

Pros:

  • The publishing process is painless; there’s a step-by-step guide or an advanced option for experts.
  • Digital proofs are free, and print proofs only cost a few bucks.
  • You can get a Createspace ISBN for free.
  • Your book will never show up as out of print (or taking 3-4 weeks delivery) as it could do if you use a third party to distribute to Amazon.
  • A lot of people buy books on Amazon.

Cons:

  • If you want ‘extended distribution’ (to libraries, bookstores, etc) you have to use a Createspace ISBN. That means Createspace is listed as your publisher, which marks your book as self-published.
  • Bookstores often do not like ordering from Amazon.
  • You can’t control wholesale discounts. It’s 20% for the Createspace store, 40% to Amazon, and 60% to other retailers. So books that sell outside of Amazon will earn you a lot less royalty.
  • No hard back printing options.

Verdict: Despite all the negatives, Createspace is very easy to use and I would recommend it if Amazon is your main selling point.

Lightning Source

LS is primarily aimed at medium-large publishers so is unlikely to work for individual authors – but I’ve given a run down below.

Pros:

  • Owned by Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the world.
  • I can personally vouch for the great print quality of the books.
  • They have a nifty cover template generator which automatically creates a bar code out of your ISBN.
  • You can set your own wholesale discount for retailers, and allow or refuse returns. Depending on what settings you pick, bookstores will be far more likely to order your books than if they were distributed through Createspace.

Cons:

  • You HAVE to be set up as a company to have an account. It’s not easy either to; faxing legal documents etc, etc.
  • Other than the cover template generator, you have no support. Your files need to be 100% ready to go.
  • Their website was built in the 13th century. Seriously.
  • It’s the most expensive. Setting up a book is $75, proof copies are $35, and revisions cost $40.
  • Amazon hates competitors, so often lists LS books as taking 3-4 weeks delivery despite it being POD.
  • You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.

Verdict: Lightning Source offers high quality and great distribution to the brick and mortar side of the business. If you want to really invest and set up a company, pick them.

Ingram Spark

This is a fairly new sister company to Lightning Source, focused on authors and small publishers.

Pros:

  • Allows you to distribute ebooks and print books at the same time, so you don’t have to submit all the information twice.
  • Great way to get your ebooks to the non-Kindle market.
  • Owned by the largest book distributor in the world.
  • Lightning Source handles the printing, so the quality should be good.
  • You can choose between a 55% wholesale discount or a shorter 40% discount.
  • Book stores are more likely to order books from Ingram than Amazon (assuming you select 55% discount and allow returns).

Cons:

  • Only launched last summer, so is still playing catch up with Createspace in many respects.
  • You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.

Verdict: In terms of extended (non-Amazon) distribution, Ingram Spark has a better offer than Createspace. The print quality of books is likely to be higher. However the experience isn’t as slick – yet.

Other companies

There are doubtless other countless print on demand companies – but I don’t think any could match the flexibility and distribution offered by the ‘big’ boys Amazon and Ingram.

Best of both worlds?

If you want the easy, fast route and think most of your sales will come through Amazon, publish on Createspace and be done with it.

My plan is to take a little more time and not put all my eggs in one basket.

Amazon prefers to buy from Createspace. So I’ll publish through Createspace, using my own ISBN. That means I won’t get their extended distribution – but I don’t want it.

Using the same ISBN, I will publish the book through Ingram Spark for extended distribution. (Ingram Spark does not allow Createspace ISBNs so you must have your own.)

Why the same ISBN? Because sales are tracked by ISBN. If you have two different ISBNs for the same book, it will mess up the sales stats. Don’t do it!

That’s my plan, anyhow.

I’m still struggling to get Ingram Spark up and running – but I am confident that they will be a good choice once they iron out some kinks.

Hopefully.

Thoughts?

Enter This Micro Fiction Competition Now

The lovely folks over at National Flashfiction Day are running an 100 word flash competition.

Entries are £1.50 per story and the deadline is this Sunday March 9th.

There are a LOAD of prizes to be won: books AND cash AND eternal fame (maybe).

Whoever is lucky enough to come second place will become, amongst other things, the proud owner of a copy of Hungry For You.

I am planning on submitting an entry of my own, but knowing my distinctly un-Irish luck I won’t get anywhere. That, or my house will explode and I’ll miss the March 9th deadline.

You, on the other hand, have no excuse.

So get writing!

Writing Transitions In Fiction

Without transitions, your story will not flow smoothly.

Transitions are words and phrases that serve as bridges from one idea to the next, one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next. Three minutes later… After five hours… The next day… These phrases keep the reader from having to find his or her own way and possibly getting lost in the reading.

Transitions are the glue that holds your ideas together. They are very important, but too many transitions can cause as much confusion as too few.

You don’t necessarily need a transition between every idea or every sentence, but it is a good idea to use a transition between each paragraph. Transitions usually come near the beginning of a paragraph, however you should use a transition wherever it works best.

The eHow article on How to Write Transitions In Fiction offers some useful advice.

How do you deal with the passing of time in your stories?

(I found this post sitting unloved in my drafts. I can’t remember if I wrote it all, or quoted it from somewhere else. Oops!)

MONKEY CLAP

“I swear to you, I’ve discovered the origin of clapping.”

Mike delivered this sentence with his usual awkward solemnity. His every word was vetted before he spoke, each syllable careful, precise. “After months of research, I’ve found it,” he continued. “History in the making.”

Jen glanced at her car, its red bonnet gleaming in the sunlight, then back to Mike. His tall, skinny frame filled the doorway. Sunglasses shrouded his eyes, and the black trilby perched on the back of his head added an element of geeky rakishness.

Maybe she should call off this social visit. She felt guilty, sure, but she’d expected to find Mike heartbroken and despondent, not completely off the rails.

For old time’s sake, she thought. Then, before she lost her courage: “Are you going to invite me in?”

“Of course!” He stepped back, beckoned her through. As Jen crossed the threshold, her nose wrinkled. The house smelled stale and earthy. The floor was littered with crumbs, and a trail of cashews led down the hallway towards the lounge.

Mike shut the door, shrugged self-consciously. “That’s Cal’s doing.” From his voice to his movements, every mannerism was fastidious — which made the state of his home all the more incongruous.

“Your new house mate?”

“Come meet him.”

Jen picked her way down the hallway towards the lounge, sidestepping food wrappers and a pile of unidentifiable brown pellets. She accidentally kicked a paper bag on the floor and almost gagged when a cloud of fruit flies drifted into the air. The smell was growing stronger with every step.

“Are you… okay, Mike?”

“I am MORE than okay.” He ushered her into the lounge, and pointed at a monkey curled up on the sofa the size of her forearm. The monkey was dark grey, and had a wrinkled, pink face surrounded by cotton white tufts of fur. His dark tail curved down the side of the sofa in a question mark.

“Meet Cal,” Mike said. “Short for Caligula.” He was grinning, shifting his weight side to side. In his excitment he’d forgotten that he wasn’t wearing his sunglasses. Jen had never seen his eyes before – not this closely, anyway. They were the pale, murky eyes of someone who spent far too much time in tiny science labs researching inane issues.

“He clapped,” Mike said. “Or does clap. Can clap. Not on command, but it’s a start. After months of research I’ve figured it out.”

Jen looked between Cal and Mike, didn’t know which was worse. How the animal spent so much time with Mike, she never knew. Clapping Cal the monkey. It had a ring to it, anyway.

“All my life,” Mike continued, “I’ve wondered why people clapped. When it started. It’s such a long-standing cross-cultural phenomenon and we know SO little about it! This could be important, Jen! History, made in this room!”

“Clapping. Important.” She nodded slowly. “Right.” A quick glance over at the monkey, whose mouth was hanging open. Sound asleep. Not in the least noteworthy.

She’d come here because she felt bad. Mike was a friend; or had been a friend until research had consumed his life. He’d been a socially well-adjusted (albeit geeky) guy, dating a beautiful woman who happened to be her other best friend. Until said girl best friend dumped guy friend, and she was left caught in the middle like melted cheese in a sandwich.

Her tummy grumbled. Well, not exactly like melted cheese. But she was hungry so the simile would have to do.

Mike had found his sunglasses and put them back on. He had the thin, contented smile of one who has found a secret treasure. He sat on the sofa beside Cal and beamed at Jen, waiting for her verdict.

“You’re not photophobic, are you?” Jen asked, all of a sudden. She nodded at the glasses. “You know…”

The lower half of Mike’s face looked confused. “I tell you about my ground breaking discovery and you ask that?”

She shrugged. “I’ve always wondered. You didn’t use to wear them all the time, before…”

Mike turned away, grabbing a small blanket from the sofa and lovingly tucking it around Cal. “They protect me,” he said. “It’s an extra layer between me and the world.” He turned his head to her but she couldn’t see anything past the dark glass. “Besides, it means I can spy on people. When I wear these no one knows where I’m looking.”

Jen looked at the v-neck of her top. “You’re not… perving on me, are you?”

“There’s more to life than THAT, Jen. Like, at least ten percent more.”

“And that ten percent includes monkeys clapping?”

Mike nodded. “This could be proof that we not only evolved genetically from monkeys – but also kept or developed their cultural traditions. Cal here could be recreating those first few moments in the history of clapping. He’s never met another monkey to learn that behaviour from, and has never seen a human clap. This is a brand new development… but what’s most important is that he does it with PURPOSE. A single, strong clap.”

He sensed her disinterest, his fingers flittering against his jeans. “I’ll show you, then you’ll know what I mean.” The monkey was stirring, his big dark eyes boring into Jen. He crawled into Mike’s lap, staring at Jen with the blatant curiosity of a child.

“Go on then,” Jen said. “Make him clap.”

“Do you just clap for no reason?” Mike shook his head. I can’t MAKE him clap. He has to be impressed by something.” He picked Cal up, swinging him onto his shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “So far Cal has done 100% of his clapping in the kitchen.”

“100%?”

Mike didn’t answer.

Jen followed Mike through the lounge and into the kitchen. Mike set Cal down on the counter, accidentally kicking the recycling bin as he did so. A few fruit flies danced into the air, swirling like dark dust motes.

“Well?” Jen said. “I haven’t got all day you know.”

“It won’t take long. I think.”

Jen put her hands on her hips. “How many times has he clapped?”

Mike looked sheepish now. “Once. Two days ago. I haven’t been able to get him to repeat it since. I’ve tried recreating the exact circumstances, creating new circumstances… anything. But I can’t seem to impress Cal anymore. See, the first time he clapped I had successfully flipped an omelette for the first time. But when I did it a second time, Cal didn’t think it was interesting anymore.”

The silence stretched between them. Everything Jen had wanted to say was burning within her: the condolences, the sympathy, even the reassurances that his ex-girlfriend was either heartbroken or doing just fine (she wasn’t quite sure which he wanted to hear). But when she looked at the monkey sitting on the counter, all the words dried up.

Mike kicked the recycling bin. “I’m an idiot, aren’t I?”

Cal clapped.

A single, purposeful clap.

He looked at Jen and Mike for a single moment of silence, then studied his hands.

“Did you SEE that?” Mike exclaimed with a woop. “I’m on to something, I told you! I’m on to something!”

Or maybe, Jen thought as she forced a smile and agreed, your monkey’s just killing fruit flies.

Cal lifted his head, looked straight at her, and clapped again.

Charity Anthology: Christmas Lites III

If you’re anything like me, you’ll already have 95% of your Christmas shopping done.

I know what you can spend that last 5% on.

For the third year running, Amy Eye (of The Eyes For Editing) has organised a Christmas Lites anthology.

As with previous years, all profits go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

After spending an hour last night battling with the tree lights and fluffing some artificial branches, I can’t think of anything better than to curl up with a good book for a great cause.

Christmas Lites III anthology

Christmas Lites III The Christmas season is upon us yet again. Yes, my friends, it is a time of giving, loving, and sharing. Within these pages is a way you can help many people desperately in need of love, support, and goodness: the victims of domestic crime. By purchasing this anthology, you are sending every last dime made off this book to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The NCADV is an amazing charity that saves these people and lets them know there is still hope, still goodness, and still a reason to carry on.

Twenty-one authors have joined in this year, giving their time and their stories to these people – and to you. We all hope you enjoy our holiday tales captured in bite-size pieces. Whether you read this on the bus, before bed, or snuggled by the fire, please, do read – and share.

Grab your copy today: