Author Archives: Caroline

Vicky Maynard

In one of my first posts to this blog, I described how my story ideas begin as random images that acquire a life of their own.

For over a year, one such image has been begging me to give it form. The image is of a young woman sitting in the windowless basement of a police station, working her way through boxes of carefully catalogued documents relating to unsolved crimes — witness statements, police reports, autopsy findings, and so on. Hardly an original concept, and one that no doubt came from watching too many cold-case documentaries.

The young woman is taking notes as she thumbs through the never-ending pile of documents when she comes across something decidedly odd. A small sheet of paper without an identifying code, handwritten and unsigned — a hastily scribbled list naming not only the victim and perpetrator of a particularly heinous murder, but details of the crime scene, the weapon used, and the location of both weapon and body.

Upon investigation, all these details prove to be correct, leaving the protagonist and the police with the mystery of who wrote the list and how it found its way into a folder of archived documents.

I could think of several paranormal explanations for the presence of the note, but I’m reluctant to embark on yet another psychic mystery.

Yet something about this particular scenario continues to intrigue me, and I’ve begun to develop it one step at a time, stopping and retreating whenever the narrative threatens to get out of hand.

The female protagonist now has a name — Vicky Maynard — and has acquired a profession, that of a journalist working for an online news site.

With any luck, I may be able to upload a preliminary draft of Vicky’s story to Leanpub within the next few months.

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And then there were five . . . .

The tale of Adam, the time-travelling amnesiac, is finished. The removal of the ‘immortal’ story arc rendered the original title irrelevant, and the revised edition is now available on Leanpub as The Stranger.

In an earlier blog entry, I speculated on solutions to the impasse I’d created. My speculations were prescient. By demoting one of the characters to lesser status, and abandoning the complex ‘immortal’ thread, I was able to jump-start the narrative and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s a far more subdued conclusion than the one I envisaged, but it does bring the story full-circle, and introduces some measure of resolution.

During the long hiatus in the writing of The Stranger, Leanpub relegated the book to what it calls cold storage. Bringing it out of storage resulted in several difficulties: difficulties that were overcome by switching to online editing instead of Dropbox. I took this opportunity to move two other books from storage and they are once again available in revised editions with new titles.

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Going Nowhere Fast

Five years ago I promised myself that I would finish the first chapter of The Immortal and then decide whether to press on with the story or abandon it. I ended up doing a little of both.

Writing in sporadic bursts, I completed eight chapters of the saga of a devastatingly handsome time-travelling amnesiac and found that I had written myself into a corner. My attempt to create a convincing male protagonist had triggered the appearance of three strong female leads, all clamouring for more character development and a greater role in the narrative. The male protagonist, meanwhile, stubbornly resisted any unveiling of his hidden depths.

Teleporting and time jumps play a crucial role in the narrative. I tried to keep the inevitable inconsistencies and paradoxes to a minimum, to little avail. The story has reached the point at which the reader would normally expect a steady build-up to an exciting dénouement, a climactic confrontation between the protagonist and his adversaries.

To my guilty surprise, a few weeks ago some gentle soul purchased a copy of The Immortal. That reader (bless her!) is entitled to free updates and is no doubt wondering how the story ends. I owe it to that reader, and to myself, to bring the story to a conclusion.

I may, reluctantly, demote one of the female leads to a lesser role in the story. I may also rely on my readers’ further suspension of disbelief as I take the time jumps to an increasingly more improbable level.

The saga continues…

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A Misty Renewal

I wrote Psychic Awakening with every intention of following it with a series of Psychic novels. That didn’t work out. Psychic Dawn has been laid to rest and Psychic Mist is in a state of limbo not unlike that in which the protagonist finds herself towards the end of the story.

Leanpub’s switch to a new business model made updates to Psychic Mist impractical, but I have been working on the story offline.

Stacey Nielson is a sullen uncommunicative student who, like all my heroines, discovers she has paranormal powers. The story line wasn’t plotted, it grew organically, resulting in awkward dialogue and gaping plot holes. If I ever fix these problems to my satisfaction, I may publish the novel again, with a different title and in a more elegant format.

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Setting Sun

The sun has set on Psychic Dawn, my second novel. I was never happy with the adventures of Prof. Gina Galton in Japan. The tale of mobsters infiltrating a major Buddhist organization was based on fact and should have made for an exciting read, but the characters did far too much talking.

I spent two weeks trimming cruft and filling plot holes. This made for a slimmer and tidier narrative, but did nothing to add zest to what I now consider a depressingly bland story. Some day I may revisit Gina and her friends, but for the time being I’ve retired the novel from the Leanpub website that hosted it.

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… And Never Will Be

The second chapter of my latest novel is stumbling to an awkward ending. It’s been heavy going. Weeks have gone by with only a few tweaks but no significant progress. I now believe that there’s a simple explanation. I’m incapable of creating a convincing male protagonist.

This realisation took its time dawning upon me, but when it did, everything fell into place. Looking back at the female protagonists of my previous novels, they all came to life as I wrote their stories. I became those protagonists, slipping easily and effortlessly into their personalities.

Megan, Gina, Stacey, and Mary wrote their own narratives. I just had to keep pace with them.

The protagonist of my fifth novel is male and suffers from amnesia. As I write I can see him in my mind’s eye, but find myself looking at him through the women he meets. Nothing happens until those women notice a change. As the author, I find myself waiting for something to happen. I’ve never had this problem before.

I do not want to revert to the rules of Creative Writing 101. I could set aside the two chapters I’ve written and go back to square one, making a list of protagonists and antagonists and mapping out a logical progression to a satisfying conclusion. I could, but I’m reluctant to do so. I can remember the rush, the pleasure, of writing the first four novels. I go back to them regularly and experience the same rush as I read. The protagonists are old friends. Perhaps they’re a part of my personality.

So what to do? Thus far the male protagonist has met three women of different ages, backgrounds, and personalities. I could slip under the skin of any one of those three and let her dominate the story. Or I could consider this novel an experiment, a learning experience, and force myself to generate a sympathetic, believable male lead. If I fail, I could set aside the two chapters I’ve written and revert to creating a new female protagonist for a new novel.

In the afterword to Psychic Awakening I hinted at a sequel. Megan and her friends were clamouring for a continuation of their story. I never went down that particular path, for reasons unknown to me. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider, to listen to Megan telling me what’s been happening to her since last we met.

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The Novel that Never Was

Six months’ of sporadic writing and my fifth novel is slowly going nowhere.

Like my other novels, this one started as a clear image of the protagonist and a vague idea of what was going to happen to him.

Yes, him. I’ve broken with my string of female protagonists and decided to try rooting, if not playing, for the other team.

All the building blocks that formed a solid foundation for my earlier works are there. My imaginary hero has no idea what’s happening to him. Which, as any readers of my previous blog posts will know, has always been the case. It’s the way I write.

Except in this case the protagonist hasn’t cooperated by generating the narrative for himself.

It must be writer’s block. I say ‘must’ as I’m not sure. It’s a first.

I have a few theories to explain the lack of inspiration. The one I favour most is that I’ve stepped, unwarily, into the realm of science-fiction. A realm in which extraordinary things happen and demand extraordinary explanations. In addition to a convincing narrative I have to create an equally convincing background, some of which requires specialist knowledge of several scientific fields.

As my current protagonist has moved from day to day and scene to scene, I’ve been plagued with uncertainty about not realism but consistency.

An author can write a fictional location into her story but, to be convincing, that location has to follow certain common-sense rules, otherwise the story lurches into the realm of fantasy.

I’ve made a pact with myself. Finish the first chapter, introduce the main supporting character, and then stop and decide whether to continue or abandon ship.

Apologies to my loyal readers, but please bear with me and watch this space.

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From Ecstasy to Agony

Writing my first two novels was sheer pleasure. The narrative and characters took shape in my mind and all I had to do was translate the mental images into words.

The only difficulty experienced was editing. Both Psychic Awakening and Psychic Dawn required extensive trimming. They were too long and contained characters and episodes that didn’t contribute to the momentum of the narrative. This was especially true of Psychic Awakening, my debut novel. I got carried away and ended up with a first draft that was well over 200,000 words in length. Even with extensive editing, I was unable to bring it below 160,000 words.

I didn’t experience the same problem with Psychic Dawn. Maybe it was the lesson learnt from Psychic Awakening, or maybe it was the story itself, but the first draft required minimal editing and ended up a manageable 110,000 words.

Psychic Mist, my third attempt at fiction, was where I hit a very thick and solid brick wall. The basic ideas were there when I started, but time and again I had to stop, rethink, and rewrite entire sections.

Two months have passed since I completed Psychic Mist and I’m still making minor changes to the story.

I have no idea why writing Psychic Mist was so stressful. The basic idea was simple enough, but the story did not develop and flow as smoothly as the previous two novels. I had to resort to outlining. This outlining proved of little use. Letting the story develop automatically — something that had worked nicely in the first two novels — led me to dead ends. Time and again I came to forks in the story line, decided to follow one of those forks, only to find that I had to retrace my steps and proceed down an alternative fork.

With the exception of Stacey, Sid and Pamela, the characters did not come to life. One early fork in the story anticipated a growing attraction between Stacey and Jeremy. In the current, and I hope final, version of the story, Jeremy remains only to underline Stacey’s problems with human relations and as a link to the character of Natalie.

Writing my first two novels was effortless. Psychic Mist was a nightmare. Literally.

Often I would dream of a continuation of the story, a short scene that took the narrative one step farther along. This scene would  loop around in my sleeping mind, repeating itself five or six times in one night. Upon waking I would discover that the scene I had dreamt was illogical and didn’t fit in the narrative.

In short, writing Psychic Dawn was stressful and mechanical, not something I would care to repeat. The Leanpub system I use to publish my e-books has little traction in the world of electronic publishing. I haven’t advertised my fictional works through social networks and sales are non-existent. One customer has purchased my first novel. No one has purchased my second or third.

Writing and publishing e-books was an experiment. In many ways I have attained the goals I set myself, the most important being to familiarise myself with the process of independent e-publishing.

I’ve now reached a crossroads. One thing missing from my experimentation with e-publishing is reader feedback. To obtain this I would need to spend more time pushing my novels through SNS and book review websites, with no guarantee that the time invested would generate feedback and sales.

The time has come to take a break from writing e-book fiction. For a few months I intend to return to writing textbooks and teaching materials — not as satisfying as writing fiction but practical and predictable. Sales are commensurate with the number of students taking my university courses and feedback is instantaneous.

Despite the problems experienced with the third novel, I’m satisfied with the result. The lack of reader feedback is regrettable. Compared with books in the mainstream of e-publishing, my efforts lack impact and development. I enjoyed writing them but I suspect most readers would find them flat and tedious.

That’s what I suspect. What I’d dearly like is confirmation of my suspicion.

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Blog Migration

This blog was originally located on Blogger and intended for a discussion of Psychic Awakening, my first attempt at fiction.

A few weeks ago, nearing the end of my third novel, I migrated the blog to its new home on my own website. The content will now cover not only all my fiction works, but will also include comments about e-publishing in general.

Some of the earliest posts now make little sense, referring only to Psychic Awakening, its characters, its locations, and its narrative. I have nevertheless preserved them partly from nostalgia and partly as a record of my changing attitudes to my own books and their publishing.

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Psychic Dawn

The Leanpub website now shows that Psychic Dawn, my second work of fiction, is 100% complete, which means that it now has a beginning, a middle, and an end, sandwiched between a Foreword and an Afterword.

What remains is constant reading and re-reading, the never-ending task of finding typographical mistakes, repetitions, and the occasional goof.

Unlike Psychic Awakening, which grew from a vivid mental image of the first scene in the book, Psychic Dawn grew from a vivid mental image that forms the last paragraph of Chapter 6. From this static point, the story grew in two directions: forwards and backwards.

This complication, and the greater one of writing a story set in modern Japan, were the reasons I was hesitant to accept the challenge and procrastinated for several years.

Now that the story is complete, I wonder how much sense it will make to readers unfamiliar with Japan and Japanese culture.

Leaving aside the fictional element, the setting and background of Psychic Dawn are, I believe, accurate and authentic, my only reservation being the element of Japanese police procedure, of which I have no personal experience.

I could have prevailed upon a friend who is a retired MPD official to check my descriptions of Detectives Matsumoto and Washizu but, as with Psychic Awakening, a fear of blocking the creative flow with plodding background research held me back. I suspect that the scenes featuring Emi Washizu would be far more monotonous if I forced them into the straightjacket of realism.

Reading the final draft, I was tempted — very briefly — to use footnotes to clarify references that might be unclear to readers unfamiliar with Japanese current affairs. I resisted the temptation and decided I could use this blog to fulfil the same purpose.

As this blog will now cover the material of two, possibly more, novels, I have added one letter to the title, which is now Psychic Awakenings. This will probably result in a week or two of search engine confusion, but will more accurately reflect the content of the blog.

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