That Elusive Title

While my first novel, The Village of Lost Souls, accumulated a steady supply of rejection slips from publishers and London agents, I began writing the second. This was during 1999, when the doom merchants had us all worrying about the so-called Millennium Bug which would, we were told, result in stock market crashes, drought, famine and aeroplanes falling from the sky. In short, Armageddon.

It was also a time when I was going through a mid-life crisis. Many of us have been there. That yearning for something better. That unscratchable itch saying there has to be more to life, that it has to be about something other than slogging away at a job you detest. Those longings heavily influenced the direction the second novel would take.

I finished the first draft the following year, in the new millennium, long after it was clear none of those apocalyptic events would materialise. At least, none as a result of computing peculiarities.

So the world as we know it didn’t end and I had a second novel, but no title. Sometimes the title of a story is obvious from the outset, before a word is written. More often it suggests itself as the work progresses. In this case I drew a blank until my wife suggested, based on some references in the story to Laurel and Hardy, calling it Another Fine Mess. Not perfect, but I had nothing better and it was under this title that the novel accumulated its own pile of rejections.

Fast forward seventeen years. I’d decided to self-publish the novel, having ummed and ahhed whether I should since it’s a lot different to my other published works, not involving the supernatural or the science-fictional or the fantastic. Having made the decision to take the plunge and get it out there, thoughts turned to the title and cover.

Another Fine Mess suggests a cover with a Laurel and Hardy theme – perhaps two bowler hats at a cocky angle. I spent hours looking, but could find no premade covers remotely suitable and I lack the budget to have one tailor-made. In any event, such a cover would be suggestive of a novel about Laurel and Hardy, which mine isn’t. Then I double-checked the famous line, only to find that it’s often quoted incorrectly as ‘another fine mess’, when in fact they said ‘another nice mess’ in their films. Not that this made much difference. Most readers would recognise either version of the quote, but the novel still wasn’t about Laurel and Hardy.

And something else about it bothered me: the word ‘another’ suggests that this is a sequel, that there has been a previous mess. There hasn’t, at least of the prequel sort.

Clearly a new title was necessary. I’d struggled to come up with one seventeen years previously so doubted anything would be different now. To take my mind off it, I wrote the blurb. And there it was – the title staring me right in the face.

The relevant phrase in the blurb was, “That indefinable, elusive something.” Too much of a mouthful for a snappy title, but drop one word and That Elusive Something was born. Still not the snappiest, perhaps, but it sums up what the novel is essentially about – one man’s yearning to escape the rat race.

It also made the hunt for a suitable cover much easier. No longer tied to a Laurel and Hardy motif, the choice of good premade covers grew dramatically. Bewilderingly, even. I’m happy with the one I eventually settled on – it would not be particularly apt for a book called Another Fine Mess, but is a good fit for That Elusive Something, and the general tone and mood of the story.

Whether readers will agree, I guess I’ll find out soon enough. It’s that anxious time writers experience when they send their babies out into the world hoping that everyone will coo over them, while steeling themselves to having them roundly ridiculed or, worse, having them subjected to displays of supreme indifference. I find the best way to deal with this uncertainty is to shrug, mutter ‘what will be, will be’ under my breath, and crack on with the next novel.

That Elusive Something becomes available in e-book format on Friday 23rd June.

UK:

US:

Christmas Party 2016

The second Sam Kates office party involved beer, red wine and steak. And a ride on a tall ferris wheel.

ferris-wheel-low-res

Cardiff City Council forked out a lot of money on Christmas decorations in front of the castle. The deer are rather lovely.

castle-deer-low-res

The tree looks pretty when illuminated, but is a little lost in front of the imposing edifice and ramparts of the castle. Apparently, whoever was responsible for ordering the tree chose 40-feet for its dimensions instead of the intended 40-metres. Mustn’t snigger.

castle-tree-low-res

The ‘office’ consists of me, my brother (who helps in many ways) and my wife (who puts up stoically to being married to a writer). Here’s my brother and I – possibly a little worse for wear at this point – in St Mary Street:

st-mary-st-low-res

It was a fun day. More importantly, it was a small way of showing gratitude to those who help me so much. Diolch!

Halloween 2016 Promo

halloween-2016-promo-part

The Elevator is part of a multi-author (24 participating authors) promotion to celebrate Halloween. It has been reduced in price until 1st November so grab it while it’s hot.

Speaking of hot, many of the other books look decidedly raunchy. To see them all, click here.

Happy Halloween!

halloween-2016-promo-full

Pontyclun Book Fair 1st October 2016

I attended a local book fair on Saturday. Here’s a photo of me and my paperbacks:

pontyclun-book-fair-1-10-16-2

The weather wasn’t great – typical Welsh autumnal downpours interspersed with all-too-brief snatches of dazzling sunshine. The event wasn’t the subject of saturation advertising (that’s putting it kindly) and there was no sign of the bestselling authors who were slated to appear. The fair was held in a decent venue, but slightly off the beaten track so you had to know about it to be there.

Hardly surprising, then, that not many punters showed up. Those that did served as a stark reminder to me of why 99.99% of my book sales take place online. I’m about as good a salesman as, say, Trump is a diplomat or as Kim Kardashian is the shy, retiring type.

Still, it was nice to see some old friends and to make a couple of new ones. And I had a new profile picture taken:

sam-kates-1-10-16

Not a complete waste of a morning, then. But I shan’t be knocking down anyone’s door to attend many more such events. Being so completely useless in person at selling myself or my books, my time would be more profitably spent in writing the next book.

As for that, watch this space…

The Elevator

The Elevator low res

I’ve written five novels and numerous short stories, but this is my first venture into the medium-length form of the novella.

The Elevator is now available for preorder for kindle/kindle apps at the discounted price of £0.99 / $0.99. If you’re interested, grab a copy before the publication date of 18th September as the price will increase that day. If you’re in Kindle Unlimited, you’ll be able to read it free from the 18th.

It’s dark fantasy, containing some elements of science fiction, such as AI, and has a mild horror feel in parts. Oh, and there’s an appearance by a dragon. Well, I am Welsh.

Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tale of a Tale

A question that is often asked of writers is, “From where do you get your ideas?” As most writers would, I imagine, agree, it’s not an easy question to answer. Here’s my take on it.

What if? I ask myself that a lot. It’s how nearly all of my ideas for stories begin. Just two little words that can open worlds of possibilities.

Though not always. The hypothesis may lead nowhere and is quickly discarded. Sometimes only hints of potential are revealed, perhaps to be filed away for another time. What if that bloke sitting opposite me on the bus is a psychopath? Nah, he looks like an accountant. But what if he’s a psychopathic accountant? Hmm, I quite like the juxtaposition of madness and mundanity. Perhaps he’s cannibalistic and preys on tradesmen, a sort of plumber-munching number-cruncher. One day, maybe…

On occasions that what-if question leads to places where my imagination scrambles to follow. That’s what happened with the Earth Haven trilogy, but to explain I need to go back almost twenty years to where it began.

I have long been fascinated by end of days tales in film and in books. It was almost inevitable when I started writing fiction in my early thirties that I would sooner or later pen one of my own. And it started with a question: what if the apocalyptic event involved mankind being wiped out deliberately? Other questions followed hard on its heels: who would do that? Why? How?

And again, what if? What if we were created by an advance guard of beings from a distant planet and the bulk of their population is only now heading this way?

This led to more questions, more possibilities. If we were created by off-world beings (I’m hesitating to use the word ‘aliens’ since they are, on the face of it, more us as we would ideally like to be: non-violent, altruistic, cerebral), then to what purpose? If this took place many millennia ago, we would have been little more than shambling, rutting foragers, possessed of simple brains yet a compelling instinct to survive and procreate. Maybe we were created as expendable slaves, little more than drones, designed to face toothed and tusked and clawed danger in place of our masters; to spread out and populate and colonise; to cultivate and construct; to prepare the way.

But what if the arrival of the rest of the off-worlders was delayed, perhaps by thousands of years? Mankind would have proliferated, grown smarter, become warlike and warring, developed cunning and technology, demonstrated a nasty streak and a tendency to violence. The peaceful incoming beings would now be vastly outnumbered. Would humanity welcome them with open arms and a peck to both cheeks, or with open enmity and missiles to both flanks?

Those who remain of the advance guard must make a decision: allow their people to arrive to a barrage of detonating warheads, or take action that will clear the way for a safe arrival. Wouldn’t it be ironic if humankind must now itself be eradicated as it has become the obstacle?

These are the questions I mulled over as the twentieth century drew to a close. While people fretted about the Millennium Bug, I wrote a short story that began to answer these questions, while posing more: The Third Coming.

The twenty-first century arrived and then along came the e-book revolution. It passed me by. By the time I paid attention, trying to get noticed as a new guy on the block was like trying to stand out at Woodstock by wearing a flower in your hair.

I jumped in anyway. Bundling ten short stories together, including The Third Coming, I published the collection Pond Life in August 2012. I hadn’t thought about The Third Coming in more than ten years. While my regular career took unexpected turns, writing had taken a back seat, though the longing never disappeared. Back it came, bubbling to the surface as ideas in that short story began to nag at me.

The off-world beings inhabit a planet hundreds of light years from Earth, yet the story demands they have the ability to travel here in months. Traditionally, science fiction writers have employed concepts like wormholes or hollow asteroids or dimension-bending bubbles to allow faster-than-light travel to exist in their stories. The method of travel hinted at in The Third Coming was none of those. A force exists that we’ve all heard of and that moves a great deal faster than light. What if (there it is again) the beings had discovered a way to harness that force?

Other questions raised by the short story vied for attention. What was the original purpose of Stonehenge? Were the dinosaurs really wiped out by a meteor? Can any of this provide an alternative explanation for the so-called missing link between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man?

The catalyst that drove me to the keyboard to formulate answers came when a reviewer of Pond Life mentioned that he would like to see the world in The Third Coming explored in more depth. In May 2013 I wrote a scene describing the effects of a deadly virus on the human body. Nine feverish weeks later, the first draft of The Cleansing was done. In a private nod to the origins of the novel, the Millennium Bug took on a new meaning.

But the story wasn’t fully told. Too much to fit into one reasonably-sized book, there would be two sequels. I know that many readers find trilogies unsatisfying, having to wait for the next one to come out while their ardour cools, but it was either that or write a doorstop. And, seriously, who would buy a doorstop written by a virtual unknown? Over the course of the next two years, I wrote The Beacon and The Reckoning, bringing the Earth Haven trilogy to a close.

Even as I finished the first book, there were questions still nagging at me. Many of them started, ‘What if?’ Some reviewers of The Cleansing posed their own questions. Niggling, itchy questions that I endeavoured to address in the sequels.

It doesn’t only start with ‘what if?’; often, it ends with it, too.

Earth Haven Book 3: The Reckoning

The Reckoning (Earth Haven: Book 3)
The Reckoning (Earth Haven: Book 3)

The final instalment of the Earth Haven trilogy is due to be published on 22nd December. Here’s the description:

Unnatural calm prevails. Trepidation builds. Silently, a storm gathers.

Survivors from mainland Europe and North America converge on Britain. Weary, confused, all come seeking answers; some are spoiling for a fight.

What began with the Cleansing and was hastened by the Beacon nears fruition. But time is running out, and human numbers are too few to win the last battle alone. Unless help can be found from the unlikeliest of allies, failure is assured.

Humankind faces its ultimate test. The Reckoning is upon us.

Preorder Discount
The kindle version is available now to preorder from Amazon at a discount of £1/$1 on the published price.

Links
Amazon UK preorder
Amazon US preorder

Writing a Trilogy

In May 2013, I sat at the computer and wrote the description of the symptoms of a deadly virus. It was a scene from an apocalyptic story I’d had kicking around in my head for years and transferring it to paper (at least, to a hard drive) opened the floodgates. Nine feverish weeks later, I had written the first draft of a 90,000-word novel.

The story was nowhere near finished. It would need at least another novel to complete, probably two. Although I would have finished the story come what may – once a tale is in my mind, the only way to dislodge it is to write it – here’s one advantage of a trilogy from the writer’s point of view: I could see how well the first was received before committing to the second.

Earth Haven Book 1: The Cleansing was published in December 2013. I sat back and waited with bated breath for the first reviews to come in. Thankfully, they were positive and so I sat down to write the second book.

Before writing The Cleansing, I had completed two novels, both of which are standalones. (One has been published: The Village of Lost Souls. The second – provisionally titled Another Fine Mess – has been accepted for publication.) This would be the first time I had attempted to write a sequel.

Here’s the thing with writing a sequel: the writer owes it to the story, to himself (or herself) and, most of all, to the readers who enjoyed the first book to make the second as good as or better than the first. He’s also not working with a blank canvas; at least, that’s how I felt. Although I introduced new characters into the second book, I was still working with those who had appeared in the first and they needed to continue being the characters the readers of the first had come to know, while continuing their arcs and developing as good characters must.

While I worked on the sequel, reviews for The Cleansing continued to come in. Still mainly positive – phew! – but increasing the pressure for the second novel to build upon those good vibes.

Earth Haven Book 2: The Beacon was released in January 2015. This time, the wait for early reviews was more nail-bitingly angst-filled. Unlike with the first book, readers would be parting with their hard-earned cash this time around in reasonable expectation of reading a story that matched or improved upon the standard of The Cleansing.

I had already begun work on the final instalment in the trilogy when The Beacon was published, but it had been slow going. I found it difficult to build momentum without knowing how the second book would be received. (Also, life or, more accurately, death – of a good friend – interrupted progress.)

Then reviews of The Beacon started coming in; another huge sigh of relief when they were, in the main, positive. Now I could press on full steam ahead with the final instalment.

This proved to be the most difficult one to write. Not only did I need to make this one as good as or better than the first two, I also needed to ensure I tied up all loose ends. With the first two books totalling around two hundred thousand words, there were a lot of loose ends. And the biggest pressure of all? Ending it in a way with which readers will hopefully be satisfied and that fits the overall tone of the story.

There are writers out there who pen many series and serials. They must all be familiar with these issues, but this was the first time I had experienced them. Whether I managed to overcome them, well, that remains to be seen. I have sent the completed and edited manuscript of Earth Haven Book 3: The Reckoning to my publishers and await hearing whether it will be accepted for publication.

If it is, by the time the first reviews come in, I shall have no nails left. In the meantime, I’m starting work on a standalone.

Earth Haven Book 2 : The Beacon

The sequel to ‘The Cleansing’ was published on 9th January 2015. So far, the reaction has been extremely positive – always a great relief.

I’m working on the final instalment in the Earth Haven series, provisionally called ‘The Reckoning’. I’m over halfway and heading for the finish.

Since I don’t work from a detailed outline (I’m what’s charmingly referred to sometimes as a ‘panster’), I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to work out for the survivors of the human race. I’m looking forward to finding out as much as my readers are. C’mon Tom and Ceri – I’m rooting for you guys!