My head feels bludgeoned in, but I help Jannik with the moving arrangements as best I can. Not that we have anything left to move. Our other holdings are occupied, and neither are suitable. The Grove Estate is too far south, out of the city and in the orange country downriver, and the house on Chantery street far too small. Besides, Eline’s men will know if we return to either of those. Jannik has said he will find us a place, and I believe him. Somehow, he will cover our tracks.
We head back to Harun with the news. I wonder how much he knows through the bond. He was confused enough when we left him, and there’s also a chance he’s done himself permanent mental damage. And now here we come to inform him his prize belongs to someone else. Sold. “You tell him,” I say.
Jannik has been deep in thought, frowning. He jerks up. “What – he already hates me.”
He tips his head back. “Ah,” he says with a sigh. “You do realize when this is all done we will never be welcome there again. We know too many of their dirty little secrets.”
The house on Ivy is still standing.
“Well that’s a good sign.” I look up at the wide, darkened windows. “I suppose.”
Jannik gives me a dubious glance before climbing the wide stairs and rapping the brass knocker several times. The thuds have barely died away when Isidro opens for us.
He looks dreadful – panicked and sweaty, and even his cold beauty can’t hold up under his obvious fear. While he’s not spent the night putting out the flames on his own home, he somehow manages to look worse than Jannik and I combined. His flawless mask finally crumbling.
“Tell me about the wray your mother recovered.” We’re walking up the wide steps to Harun’s door. The marble planters on either side have been left to dry in the sun, the plants desiccated and given over to weeds. At least this time there are no scrawled obscenities, no hurled excrement. “Not all of them were bought out from the rookeries, I take it?”
Jannik pauses before the door, but doesn’t touch the brass knocker. “She stopped all that when I was still very young. There’s little I remember.”
“Were they runaways?”
“Some of them, I suppose.”
“So what Houses did they run from?”
He’s being purposefully sulky and unresponsive, as if I am somehow to blame for his infidelity and it’s beginning to wear on my nerves.
“Mata,” he says, finally.
I raise one brow. “They kept their own–” I’m about to say whores, before I remember that the Houses who like to keep vampires mostly use them as untouchables – the servants who do the most revolting work. “I see. Only them?”
I‘m meeting Eline Garret in a set of comfortable offices on a tree-lined avenue on the Mallen side of the river. Everything about the area is lushly understated. The grandeur of the buildings is subtle, even the tree branches that meet overhead seem to have been pruned just so, to give them a look of effortless elegance.
A secretary leads me to a small waiting room lined with bookshelves and leaves me there to wait. A time piece ticks out the minutes, and I am brought a pot of tea to show me my place. Of course Garret will make me sit as long as possible. It’s traditional. All part of the bloodless war between the Houses.
A new art exhibition has been announced in the late Courant. The black-and-white flash on the Amusements page does the pictures little justice. The headline calls the work that of a savage and naturally, I am intrigued.
I try to ignore the little article on the opposite page about the body they pulled from the Casabi. Another nameless bat. It chills me to read the words, knowing Jannik wants me do nothing. I force myself to pay attention to the vicious review instead. It has a certain incensed bluster that means it can only have been written by some House toady who feels his heroes have been mocked. The artist’s name is Iynast. Just that. I have no idea if it’s his true name, or the surname of some long-forgotten minor House.
I have a lot of bad writing days. A LOT of them.
Mostly these days are just me beating myself up for sucking so badly. (They often happen after I read reviews that call my books wastes of paper, include links educating me on how to write, or say I should be beaten with my own book, and other such manna for the writing soul 😉 ).
Thing is, if I let myself not write because of this, then these people have won. They’ve crushed me, they’ve made me believe that I am not only the most talentless hack to hack, but that I don’t deserve to write at all, let alone be published.
And you know what?
So I have ways of getting myself past the terror (“oh god, what if they’re right, what if I am deluding myself, what if I should have studied accountancy?”) and getting words down. Since we’re deep into Nano territory, I figured I’d share my little tricks. Maybe one of them will help you when you’re stuck in the empty well of self-loathing.
Not all my tricks work all the time. I have to use them like a deck of cards, shuffle them, and keep drawing new ones until I find the leering, winking joker that will work today, right now, for this story.
1: Square Brackets of Absolution. Ive talked about them before. They’re basically me allowing myself to be shit. If I open the [I know I can type any old rubbish and it clearly doesn’t matter and I don’t have to feel guilty because lookee here they are within the brackets and therefore DO NOT COUNT as real writing and so I can chill with the whole performance anxiety claptrap.] Which is nice. And does rather help get the flow started.
2: 100 Words. I set myself the amazingly high goal of one hundred words. My brain, which prior to this was hiding in a corner and sobbing under a blankie, now feels slightly less threatened by the sheer amount of work expected of it, and comes out to play for a bit. It is very rare that I don’t end up writing more. Just the act of setting the bar so low gives me confidence to get started.
3: 15 minute egg timer. I have an egg timer which gets used for writing. I set it for fifteen minutes, with the knowledge that I can do any amount of horrible things (like clean my house) for fifteen minutes. I am allowed no distractions – I have to write for the duration, no twitter, no fb, no “research”. If all I do is type god this is really boring I am so bored maybe I should make my characters eat each others’ brains because at least that would be more interesting than staring at this boring screen then that’s good because progress, of sorts. This can be made social if you’re competitive, go have word wars.
4: Go read. Go read something you love, something that makes you want go write, that inspires you. (Conversely, you could go read some published drivel and return to your work knowing that no matter what, you’re still better than that.)
5: Work on something else. Finish a blog post, write a review, jot out what-if questions on your manuscript (hey! they count as words!), write fanfic, poetry, music. Be ready to go back to work the moment your brain goes “oh hey, I thought of something…”
6: Go watch something. A film or documentary that is in some way related to your work (though not imperative, sometimes surprising ideas come from unlikely places.). If you’re a visual person like me, you might find that watching a period piece, or a documentary can help spark some ideas, especially when it comes to things like landscape, worldbuilding, dress, etc.
Obviously these are just the things that help me, perhaps they wont work for you, or perhaps you have other tricks you’d be happy to share. I’d love to hear them – the more jokers in my pack, the easier it is for me to win this game against my self-loathing.
I‘m not planning on sitting around waiting for Harun to extend an invitation, however. There are other people to whom I can speak. The servants prepare a carriage for me – not the ostentatious drag, but a small chaise with the laughing dolphins of House Pelim only a faded marking on the doors, and pulled by a single roan nilly.
My family name hidden, I travel to the rookery on the Mata-side of the river – Glassclaw. MallenIve is home to three rookeries; the places where the bats – vampires work and live, and I suppose, occasionally die. Any vampires outside the rookeries need to have travel papers, or be House-owned. I will show Jannik that I am not afraid of what he is. That nothing about our marriage is convenient. I might not be Dash, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care for him.
The season of summer is one for frivolity. The seriousness of the spring weddings is over, Longest Night celebrations are on their way and, for the moment, no one is thinking of the winter to come. It is the time when all the powerful families in the city gather, and under the pretence of having fun begin an earnest and vicious round of social destruction. The dance of the Houses is the adult equivalent of the children’s game of musical chairs. Last one left standing gets to go home the winner.
Business in MallenIve is done in ballrooms, at small parties, in panelled rooms over snifters of the scriv-rich vai. The magic taints our blood-streams, we drink it like watered-wine. The men gather and talk, propositions are casually thrown into the fray, and men nod, men ponder, men make decisions. In other rooms, the women gather and discuss children, or they gossip.
It’s surprising how much you can actually learn from the latter if you keep your mouth closed and your ears open. I know every man’s foible, every fall and moment of stupidity. Unfortunately, I can’t use it. When I try to engage the House Lords in conversation about business, they talk through me. They do not see me in my layers of silk and beads. Apparently the mere act of holding a paper hand-fan is enough to render one invisible.
Meet Toby Bennet and Benjamin Knox. Two sick sick sick little puppies who make weird and twisted horror stories. They’re here to talk abut writing as a collaborative process, and how it spurred, whipped, and beat them into writing better. Welcome to The Hypnogog, puppies, have at it:
Well it seems that I have bumped up against one of the fundamental laws of our rapidly expanding universe, i.e. that it is often easier to write a four part serialised novel than it is to blog about it!
However, it really doesn’t do to be timid in an age of self-promotion where the squeakiest wheel slurps up the grease with the abandon of a Sumo wrestler preparing for a big match, so here goes.
The project I want to talk to you about is called Viral, but let’s not dwell on the details, what I would like to share is what makes the books special to me and the lessons I have learned from writing them.
The first thing you should know is that Viral is a collaborative work—a few years back fate (or at least persistent random chance) made me aware of a gent by the name of Benjamin Knox.
Like me, Ben had been at the writing game for a while and we decided that a collaboration might mean doing half the work we usually did—so being inherently lazy we started the ball rolling on that basis.
Lazy-writer teamwork activate!
Except it didn’t work as we had expected at all!
Until I started working with Ben, I would have told you that writing was a lonely endeavour best left to lightening troubled nights and the intermittent flickerings of a guttering candle as the wind howls through your crumbling garret. What I found out was that, as with music, collaboration can change everything—I suppose that should have been obvious from watching any Frankenstein movie, though which of us is the hunchbacked assistant is still hotly debated.
What started as a vaguely cynical plan to “get a novel out” quickly broadened and deepened into a project that went places I had never imagined—a work that became more than the sum of its parts.
Naturally, I leave it to everyone to decide for themselves what they think of Viral, my real focus here is on how the experience of working with another writer was so much more valuable than I’d ever thought it would be.
For me something clicked and I found myself working with all the controlled abandon of the duelling banjos from Deliverance.
In retrospect it makes perfect sense that working with another writer makes you up your game—each time you sit down to write a scene you imagine how they will enjoy it and better still you know that your partner will likely add more details that you might not even have thought of making the story fuller and always fresh. There is never a moment where you can think “Oh well no one will notice this” because you know any slacking will be spotted (Ben is not above cracking the whip!)
Write gooder, damn you! More adjectives!
As effusive as I might sound about Viral it is this process of collaboration that I think I will value most. I certainly feel that it has been a developmental experience and yes, damn it I am proud of what we have made.
I could tell you a lot of things about it; that Viral is the distilled experiences of two devoted Sci-Fi / Horror fans. That we wrote it to have one foot firmly in pulp and at least a toe in the mire of literature, we took what we knew and played with it, together, making something that was at least pleasing to us and with any luck will be pleasing to others.
I could claim that “if you only read one book this year it should be…” but none of that particularly matters. The bottom line is that… I’ve managed to write over six hundred words here and that must surely constitute a respectable blog post? (Ben get some pictures together and let’s get on with the next season of Viral).
& Benjamin Knox
Viral is a four part cyberpunk action-horror extravaganza from the Crossroads Press imprint Macabre Ink and has been described as “AKIRA meets Resident Evil” and “Ghost in the Shell meets The Strain”.
Find out if they’re right.
Or if you’re unsure why not try VIRAL: Rough Cuts, a set of prelude and tie-in stories set before the events of book 1 Raw Feed.
Rogue author Benjamin Knox is best known for his short pulp horror fiction. He has been published in numerous anthologies including Suspended in Dusk and several of the Bloody Parchment collections, and continues his short-form fiction with such monstrosities as the Dead of Winter stories and the forthcoming creature-feature novella PRIMORDIAL.
For further strangeness visit:
and/or for a stream of visual weirdness:
Toby Bennett is a veteran fantasy and sci-fi author with over eight novels to his name, including the continual reader favourite Heaven’s Gate. He lives and bleeds in Cape Town, South Africa. You can find out more about him and his work at www.thedragontower.co.za