WRITING: “Writing Fiction Is Easy”

If you ever want to piss off an author, tell them:
If I had the time, I could write a book. Easily. Anybody can write. I used to write essays and stuff. I have tons of ideas. My life is very interesting, I could fill a book with just my experiences. 
Well, if these people ever found the time, they would realise that writing a book is not just about having the time to sit down and write.
If you can write a thousand words a day, and your book is a hundred thousand words (like my books typically are), then theoretically, you only need 100 days to write that book. So why does it take me 6-9 months to write a book? Considering that I know what I want to write and I’m working on my sixth novel?
Not to mention that, once you wrote the book, you still need readers to pay for reading it.
I’m not hugely popular, but after 3.5 years and 9 publications, I sell about 3-4 books a day to complete strangers, who are willing to pay for the privilege of reading my work.
When I started off in 2012 (with 2 publications), I sold about 1-2 books a week, which can be disheartening unless you factor in the competition – 350,000 books published each year, on top of the millions of books already available. And with hardly any marketing budget (I’m on disability*), I mostly sell through word-to-mouth: readers telling other readers to read my books.
So writing is only part of the equation. I could write more books if I didn’t have to worry about taking my books to market. And it’s pretty much the same for any published author – the publisher leaves a lot of the promotion to the author, who needs to build their own fan base and organise their own book tours and blog interviews. Only the big names get the assistance of a publicist and a marketing department to help them into talkshows and book fairs.
I love writing and editing, but I still have trouble with (self-)promotion. Just writing quality books is not enough. And I can count myself lucky writing a popular genre (suspense fiction) – a friend who writes literary fiction barely sells 2-3 books a year. And his books are great, but literary fiction is always a much harder sell. Which is why I’m still smiling.
So, piss off a writer today and tell them, ‘writing fiction is easy, I could do what you do, if only I had the time’. 

*My disability has been terminated, by the way, sending my marketing budget all the way down beyond zero. So now, I’m relying even more on you, my readers, to do what I cannot do – tell others that you liked my books and help spread the word that my books are worth reading.

I thank you for your support.


PREVIEW: First chapter of GHOSTING

The beta version of GHOSTING, the fourth novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, is ready. The novel can be pre-ordered for delivery December 1st (just click the cover below the sample). Below, you can find the first chapter – I welcome feedback, so don’t hesitate to comment on this post:

JAMAICA

Running flat-out gained Daniel Catadupa some distance on his pursuers as he ran down the dusty Negril forest road towards the coast. Just his rotten luck the car had broken down along West End Road. Still, Cain’s dive shop was not far. He might be able to make it on foot if only he could take a short break. The only living soul between West End and the coast was Mama Benga—an old witch living in a ramshackle old shed where she let her goats roam free. He burst from the forest at breakneck speed and ran around the house.
No place to hide, except…
Daniel dropped on the hard-packed dirt. Without glancing backward, he flattened himself on his belly and crawled feet first under the cracked wooden porch. Pushing refuse out of his way with his feet, he crawled backward into the darkness, the smell of rotting vegetation trying to invade his nose.
While he tried to get his breathing under control, the running footsteps came closer, slip-sliding around the corner, and the three men came to a skidding stop. Daniel stopped crawling. He was still under the porch, not in the deep darkness under the house proper. Hopefully none of them figured out where he was.
“Rass!” the leader exclaimed. “Bone, go deah, Reggie, go deah.”
The men sped off in different directions, but the leader stayed where he was. Lying motionless under the porch, Daniel looked at the mud-splattered tip of the gleaming ebony cane next to the gnarled feet, the soles thick with callouses from decades of walking barefoot.
He shivered.
Barefoot Duke didn’t carry the cane to support himself, he could run as fast as men half his age. No, that black cane was a symbol of his authority, and most people feared Duke’s cane more than the machetes of his henchmen. With Sista Someday’s right hand man after him, Daniel knew he’d fucked up royally.
Overhead the wooden boards creaked and an old voice spoke, “Duke, is that you?”
“It is I, womahn. Go back inna dem house.”
“Who you be looking for?” The old woman coughed, hawked up phlegm and spat on the floor. “And what him done now?”
“No business of you, womahn. Go inna tha house now.”
Wetness moistened his cheek and Daniel glanced up at a glistening string of phlegm leaking through the warped floorboards. He gagged, but remained motionless.
The gnarled feet came closer and the cane rapped the floorboards. “You deaf, womahn? Inna tha house. Now.”
“You no catch him, Duke.” He could hear the sarcasm in her voice. “Him run like the devil be chasing.”
“You see him then,” Duke said. “Which way him run?”
“You think I help you catch dem poor boy?” The old woman spat again, the gob of phlegm hitting the dirt between Duke’s bare feet. “You play at mystic mahn all you wants, I know you when you was a raggamuffin boy scrounching for scraps.”
“Betta shut dem big mouth, old womahn.”
“You betta respect elders, raggamuffin boy. You think you scary with your scowl?”
Duke’s feet moved closer and the floorboards sagged as he stepped onto the porch. “I respect elders, not scummy old scabs with potty mouths.”
“I no invite you on my porch, ragamu—” A sharp crack was followed by a heavy thump right overhead and Duke whispered, “Told you, old womahn.”
Daniel turned on his back, staring up through a crack in the floorboards. He could see the wrinkled greyish skin of Mama Benga’s arm. Above it floated the scowling face of Duke. His pinprick eyes seemed to look straight at Daniel and his face was contorted in rage. Mama Benga moaned and Daniel watched in mute horror as Duke lifted his cane over his head and whacked the old woman’s body, over and over again.
Blood seeped through the floorboards and splattered his face and something broke inside him. Like a frightened animal, Daniel scrambled away to the back of the house, no longer caring about being silent.
As he crawled out from under the house, Duke came running around the corner, screaming his name in fury. Without thinking, Daniel scooped up a handful of mud and threw it at the older man. The mud hit Duke right in the face and open mouth. Seizing the moment, Daniel charged, his bodycheck slamming Duke against the ramshackle shed. As the man fell, Daniel spun away, but not quick enough. Duke’s ebony cane whacked him in his side and Daniel felt something snap in his side. Fear gave him an adrenalin rush and he leaped into the bushes, blindly crashing through the foliage.
“CATADUPAAAAA!” Duke bellowed in rage. “You a DEAD mahn!”
From the frying pan into the fire, Daniel thought as he ran through the forest, branches sweeping into his face and tugging his dreads. Duke and his henchmen ran behind him in hot pursuit, close enough to hear them cussing as they used their machetes to clear their way. He was still ahead, but they seemed to be closing in. Pain stitched his left side, where Duke’s cane had whacked him.
Suddenly he was clear of the forest, but the situation had not improved. His blind panic had led him straight to the cliffs. He sprinted along the edge of the cliffs, not looking at the ocean slamming into the rocks below.
No shelter.
Something whistled past him, followed by the crack of a gunshot.
Fresh adrenalin flooded his body and he ran like the wind, ignoring the pain in his side. Running like the devil was chasing him, as Mama Benga put it. She was an old woman and Duke beat her to death for insulting him. Daniel had no doubt that his fate would be worse if they caught up with him.
Something tugged at his clothes and sliced the skin of his hip, but he couldn’t stop. Another gunshot came from his left. Instinctively he swerved to the right, not realising his mistake until he ran out of land.
At the edge of the cliff, Daniel whirled around.
Fifty yards away, Duke strode towards him, his trademark scowl visible as he bridged the distance on his long legs. Like eager puppies, his henchmen flanked Duke, but a few steps in front of him. As if he wanted to prolong the moment, Duke’s stride seemed to slow to a leisurely stroll. Panic froze Daniel until Reggie pointed a gun at him. Duke whistled sharply and the henchman lowered his arm, his grin a white flash in his dark face, but the spell was broken.
Daniel looked behind him. The ocean crashed into man-sized rocks that looked like pebbles from this height. He took a few steps towards his pursuers, then turned and sprinted to the edge.
Duke yelled and gunshots cracked as Daniel closed his eyes and dived, his arms whipping forward.
For a moment, his body seemed suspended in flight, and he heard the voice of his old physics teacher. ‘The problem is not that humans cannot fly, but that they cannot land’.
Gravity reappeared and Daniel plunged down, his clothes flapping in the wind that tore the tears from his closed eyes.
Jah, be merciful.
Dark death embraced him in her cold arms and squeezed the breath from his body.

aas-ghosting


WRITING: I Want To Write A Novel, But Where Do I Start?

Having a passion for something, but no skills yet and several hindrances to acquire those skills makes for quite a challenge.

The easiest answer would be ‘find something else’, and there would be truth in it. Writing a novel (or even a short story) is an appealing ambition – I read somewhere that eighty percent of all adult Americans seriously entertain the notion of writing a novel, which is also why there’s a whole industry that facilitates burgeoning writers with creative writing courses and workshops and seminars, and enough books on the art & craft to fill several bookcases.

The reason writing a novel is so popular is because it’s an attainable goal (most arts require more than a pen and a piece of paper) and it carries prestige as good writers are revered, their works read both during and after their lifetime.

So what you have to decide for yourself is – do you really want to write a novel, or do you want to show people a shiny cover with your name on it and bask in the adulation? Because the first is hard, and the second is a pipe dream.

I’ve written five novels (published four) and four novellas, just as frame of reference to my answer – if you don’t want to let go of your dream, this is my advice:

Lower the pressure of writing a novel by not writing a novel.

What you will be writing instead, will be a Draft. A Rough Draft. An unreadable shitload of words, not intended to be read by anyone but yourself. That last part is extremely important! Nobody must read that Draft, because it’s not intended for public consumption yet.

The Draft is the Baby, the Novel is the Adult.

People don’t make adults, they make babies that shit and cry and demand food and attention and will keep you up at night. Have you heard writers referring to their novel as a baby? Yes? They’re not actual writers yet, because the draft is the baby, the novel should be an adult, capable of standing on its own legs and fending for itself. If their novel is still their baby, then they haven’t finished yet and they have published prematurely.

The Horror, the Horror…

Before a novel can stand on its own legs, it needs to be born first, which is a messy process. Thus, the Draft is a baby – a stinking smelly mess that will hijack all your attention and cause you to lay awake at night, worrying if it will ever be able to be independent. This is not the kind of baby that you show your family and friends – starting the Draft is not an accomplishment. So shut up about ‘writing your first novel’ and never ever talk about the plot and the characters and the theme. Screw all that. Talking about your creative work kills the spark. Just write and write. Is it garbage? Don’t second-guess yourself, you won’t be able to judge it now, you’re much too close. Nobody throws out their baby, no matter how much it smells. Just keep on writing. Don’t edit. You can’t edit a baby, it has to become an adolescent first.

The Need.

Visit any writing forum and you’ll see the many many questions, that boil down to one single question ‘Is This Any Good?’. It’s the fear of failure, the angst of wasting time, and the need for validation. We have been programmed to desire approval – from parents, from teachers. You won’t get approval for the Draft. Don’t ask for it. Just write it all down.

The Rules.

How long is a chapter supposed to be?’, ‘How do I write a dynamite first chapter?’, ‘Should I use present tense or past tense?’, ‘Is writing in First Person easier than Third Person?’, ‘When do I Show, when do I Tell?’
If you visit writing forums, you’ll hear a lot of talk about rules, but those rules are not for drafts. Those rules are to clinically dissect a finished manuscript prior to publication. Do you have that? No, you haven’t. You have a smelly mess that isn’t nowhere near finished, so forget about all those rules. Because in the end there is only one rule – Engage The Reader. And your baby won’t need to engage the reader yet. It’s a draft, intended only for your eyes.

The Work

Anyone with a knife and a dead pig can butcher a pig, but that doesn’t make you a butcher. And it sure as hell doesn’t make you a veterinarian.
So you wrote an essay at school and the teacher gave you an A. Does that make a writer? No, but it’s a start. If you can read this, you can probably write. You can string words together, maybe in some pleasing way, but five hundred pages of words is not a book. A book is when the words disappear and your imagination shows you the film in your head. That’s the hardest part, and the most neglected part – writers want to write pretty words or show off their ostentatious vocabulary, but what you want to do is tell a story. Tell a story in such a way that the reader forgets about the book or the e-reader and is transported to another world – fictional, but just as ‘real’ as this one. And that requires not only a large vocabulary, but also a decisive mind to apply just the right word. And if you get that right, you won’t need the validation anymore, because there is no better feeling that getting a sentence just right, a paragraph that leaps off the page, and a chapter that you don’t want to end.

But before you get there, you have to put in the work. There’s a common ‘rule’ floating around that to become a professional at something requires putting in something like 10,000 hours. I never measured that, but I do know that I’d been writing for twenty years before Reprobate was published. And I’d been working on Reprobate and all its predecessors for most of that time. Learning the craft, honing my skills. Draft upon draft upon draft. For Reprobate, it was something like forty (!) drafts. Literally every paragraph was rewritten at least once. Edited and polished. That’s the education.

Don’t Do The Crime If You Can’t Do The Time.

My second novel, Peccadillo, was half finished when Reprobate came out. I finished Peccadillo in three months, spending a total of fifteen months on writing it. I wrote the novella Locked Room in three weeks. Microchip Murder took me less than two. And the novella that gets the highest praise, Fundamental Error, was written in eight days. Rogue, the third novel took less than 12 months. And Ghosting, the novel I’m working on now, clocks in at about eight months, despite my battles with kidney stones and glaucoma.

Every time you write, you will get better at telling the story. Writing this answer took me about an hour, with no rewrites or polishing necessary. And that’s because I’ve done the time.

So do the time. Stop fretting about whether you have something to say or who will read it. Write that draft first, the rest comes later. Let me know when you finished a draft, and then we’ll talk about how you can become a writer…


Aconite Attack, the new Katla KillFile, is now live!

Aconite Attack, the fourth KillFile, is now available at Amazon and will soon be available at other retailers*. Click on the cover to go to the Amazon page:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile (10,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes on her first foray as a freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, when she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. Every plan has a fluke factor though, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death, when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.


 

* Aconite Attack should become available at iBooks, Kobo, B&N, NookUK, Scribd, and other retailers in the coming days, as some retailers take more time to process the publication. Check your favourite retailer by using the links on the main page.


 If you want to read Aconite Attack and review the story on GoodReads/Amazon/Kobo/iTunes/B&N/NookUK, I have free review copies (ePub/Mobi) available, just send me an email.

I hope every Katla fan will enjoy this new novella. Please share this post through the social media buttons below.

Thanks for your support!


Aconite Attack: ARCs now available!

Aconite Attack, the fourth Katla KillFile, will be published in a few days, but you can get an Advance Reader Copy from today! If you’re interested in reading the story before its official launch date and support an independent author, read on:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Aconite Attack is the fourth Katla KillFile, after Locked Room, Microchip Murder, and Fundamental Error.

The pitch for Aconite Attack:

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile (10,600 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, as she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer a poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. But every plan has a fluke factor, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.

Aconite Attack will be published on New Years Eve, but a limited amount of Advance Reader Copies will be made available to early reviewers.

“Am I eligible for an ARC of Aconite Attack?”

You do not have to be a reviewer for a magazine or other official publication. All readers are eligible for an ARC, provided they are able to write a review and post it on their blog and retail sites (links to the retail sites will be provided to reviewers on the launch date). Reviews don’t have to be long, but honesty is required. Reviews are for readers to make up their mind if they want to read the story, so it’s important to give a fair assessment of the story’s entertainment value.

“What if I don’t like (parts of) the story?”

Please put that in your review. Readers might share your opinion and avoid reading something they don’t like, or they might not share your opinion and like the story for the reasons you don’t like it. Whatever you do, give your honest opinion.

“How can I apply for an ARC?”

Simple, just send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with “Aconite ARC” in the subject line and you’ll receive an ePub and a mobi file, so you can choose the device you want to use for reading the story. Download the attached file to your hard drive and upload the file into the e-reader of your preference.

“How long do I have to read the story and write and post my review?”

The story is just over 10,000 words, so most readers can read it in an hour or two, maybe three if they read at a leisurely pace. The review doesn’t have to be long. Just state that you’re reviewing an ARC provided by the author, and what you liked/disliked about the story and why. Posting the review on the retail sites and blogs is a matter of minutes. If possible, post your reviews on the launch date. If you’re late, post the review a day or so later, but preferably no longer than a week after the launch.

All ARCs will be sent out until December 30th. Applications after midnight December 30th will not be considered for ARCs, so send your application email as soon as possible.

Thank you for your support,

Martyn V. Halm

If you think your own community might be interested in this offer, please use the social media buttons below to spread the word.