Rob Parnell - Author

Rob Parnell - Author
Writing faster than the speed of night...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Which Novel? Survey Result!

Last week I asked subscribers - and fans - which story they would most like me to pursue as an online serialized novel. As you can see from the graph, the most popular choice was for The Essene Heresy.

This result surprised me - mainly because of all the stories listed it's probably the one that would be least like anything else I've written!

Don't get me wrong - that doesn't make it an unattractive project. Far from it. But what's clear is that over 51% chose the story simply because they thought it sounded good - and not particularly because it's the kind of story people would associate with me. But that's fine!

I've spent the last week drawing up plans, researching history, juggling the plot and the characters in my mind. It's been quite a mental adventure.

As I said last week, I originally had little more than a synopsis for this idea. Most of the other story ideas - like Purge, Dead Center and Jack and the Wild - are fully plotted. Not so with the The Essene Heresy - until now.

During the last week I've made a whole bunch of notes concerning the main story which I've decided I'm going to split into three parts:

Part One: The Second Scroll - where the protagonists and the bad guy are seeking out the legendary twin of the famous Essene Copper Scroll - in the hope they might find the whereabouts of a sacred book.

Part Two: Sacred Books - where the UK, US and Israeli governments get involved in stopping the protagonists, a German drug company and a group of mercenaries from retrieving sacred books from The Holy Land.

Part Three: Buried Treasure - where the action - and story arcs - culminate in a battle over Essene sacred artifacts in the land (and minefields) around the Qumran caves.

Obviously it's a lot more complicated than that, but it's a start. I decided to plot the first part reasonably fully - but leave the second two parts with a looser structure until later on, when I can see how the story is unfolding.

I've drawn up story arcs for most of the main characters. It's not something I normally do but for this action/adventure thriller, I thought it was necessary.

Especially because I probably have too many potential characters at the moment - and I need to work out which ones are essential to the final story.

Here's an example of the hero's arc:

Jake Moss is 32. He was born in Boston to parents who died in a car crash when he was seventeen. Jake is a regular guest psychic on a radio show where he's famous for 'remote viewing.' During a live broadcast his bitter ex-wife calls in to expose Jake as a fraud. Jake suffers a crisis of confidence and wonders if he really is psychic - or ever was. He leaves Boston and heads for a small town in Australia to lose himself - and perhaps find himself too. He's hunted down and approached by Danica Palmer, a UK TV presenter who wants him to help her find lost Essene artifacts for an upcoming show she's producing. Jake doesn't want to do it at first but his resolve is sharpened by a mounting trail of bodies that result from a seemingly insane global hunt for the artifacts. Throughout the story, Danica teaches Jake to trust his instincts. By the end, Jake can see that with more trust in his intuition and Danica's belief in him, he can achieve anything.

And for good measure, here's the arc for the antagonist:

Wilhelm Beidermann is old by corporate standards and in danger of being voted off the board of Maximo Therapeutics, despite being its CEO. He needs to spearhead a new drug to save his career and pass on a legacy to his only son. Hearing about a lost Essene scroll that appears to detail a magical elixir of youth, he assumes they might be referring to a hitherto undiscovered drug that could prolong life - and even be responsible for the Christian stories about resurrection. Gaining no support for research from the MT board of directors, Beidermann engages a team of mercenaries to seek out the lost Essene treasure. Wilhelm quickly gets in over his head and realizes the commandos are much more violent than he was ready for. However, giddy with power and the promise of the Holy Grail, he continues. By the end of the story he realizes, too late, he's gone too far. 

I have lots more notes on locations, research and pieces of the plot but I don't want to overwhelm you at this stage - or spoil the story!

Suffice it to say, the first part of the serialized novel of The Essene Heresy will most likely begin next week. My good friend and novelist Chris Ryall has offered to edit and proof the story as it appears.

Interestingly, some people who emailed me about the story said they weren't sure about having zombies in it. I'm still in two minds. I think the story will work without zombies - but that it's an option that is still available at this stage.

If you want to share your thoughts and ideas, I'm happy to hear them. About anything to do with the story.

Even if you just want to be in it!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Help Me Choose What To Write Next!

Last week we talked about what an author should give away on his or her author blog.

The resounding conclusion was that a serialized novel would be of great interest to most people. I want to thank everyone who contacted me with their thoughts and suggestions. I spent a very busy few days last week getting back to all those that were kind enough to email!

So, a serialized novel, eh?

Good. Now, I don't want to break up an old story and send it out - that would feel like cheating. What I want to do is to write a new novel - and give it away a chapter at a time - as it is being written. Live writing - yay!

But which one? I have quite a few ideas for my next fiction project but, to be honest, I'm a bit stuck on which to pursue for this particular exercise.

So, again, it's over to you.

Which of the following ideas do you think I should develop into a serialized novel?

You can vote on more than one!


Matt Johnson is a detective constable with a chip on his shoulder. He's also not a great cop - according to his bosses - and his wife. They want him out of the force. To rescue his career and marriage he must solve a series of crimes - a serial killer case, a political corruption scandal and a drug bust - all within 14 days - to save his job and his life.

This one's plotted, but I have admit the 'feel' of it is still fairly vague in my head.

Dead Center

More familiar ground for me. I have two characters I have used in several stories already. Patrick Whynowski - an aging rock star - and DI Theresa Maddox. In this story, they team up to investigate a series of murders apparently committed by dead people. In a race against time they must defeat a modern day alchemist who is raising the dead and threatening to destabilize the world. 

This one's plotted too - and I've actually written the first 20000 words.

The Essene Heresy

This one could be huge - and challenging. An ancient scroll dating from the time of Christ details a ritual that guarantees immortality, A glamorous female writer commissions a psychic detective to help her find the scroll. On the way they discover that the owner of a multi-national corporation is also hunting for the scroll and will stop at nothing to possess it. The ensuing drama crosses three continents and the climax involves an army of the undead, combined national intelligence forces and the potential unleashing of a terrible secret that could rock the known world.

I have a synopsis for this. I think it could be awesome but it would be a lot of work to get it just right!

PSI Kids: Harley

The first book of this series (available on Kindle) is about Willow - she's a 15 year old orphan and psychic who teams up with 14 year old Harley to investigate a murder. The second book would be about Harley - who has a relationship with a ghost called Rick - who basically acts as a surrogate father to him.

I don't have a plot for this at all - yet. Just some vague thoughts, none of which have concreted.  

Jack and the Wild

This is a twist on the old Jekyll and Hyde story. A ten year old boy leaves home after drinking a poisoned energy drink that turns him into a monster. The story details the adventure he has while on the run. With the help of a young girl and an Aboriginal teenager, they pursue and then confront an evil professor bent on world domination. It's for kids but has a lot of horror type action weaved into its fabric.

This one is fully plotted - but so far I haven't written more than a few thousand words.

So now it's decision time!

Please click on the story you'd most like me to tell. (You can pick more than one.)

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

I'd really appreciate some guidance here. And remember - this is all for YOU. As my cherished subscriber, you'll get the story you want!

Thanks in advance. I'll announce the results next Tuesday.

Monday, July 15, 2013

As An Author, What Should I Give Away?

I'm in a bit of a quandary and I need your help.

Now you probably know that the most effective way to get subscribers to your newsletter is to offer some kind of freebie in exchange for a name and email address.

I do this on my writing resources sites - where I give away lots of free writing help, ebooks on writing etc.

But this blog in particular is about promoting my fiction - so what should I give away to entice subscribers?

Bear in mind that what I need to attract is readers - people who might actually enjoy my fiction. So there seems little point in offering free writing resources to readers who may never feel the urge to create stories of their own. 
But that's an option if you think it might be a good idea...

Five other things crossed my mind - which I'm happy to accept your thoughts on.

I could offer potential readers a short story - around the 5000 word mark. 

That would at least give people a taste of my fiction. But it doesn't seem enough somehow. And what if they don't like that story? They might think that all of my stuff was the same. I could put off potential readers for life by letting them see the wrong story! 
Already my mind is going in circles trying to think of which one...

Lots of writers offer excerpts of their novels - but that seems redundant now that Amazon offers the same service. Anyone can now read the opening chapters of Willow and Kindred on Kindle - for free. They just have to go to Amazon and click on the "See Inside" button. 
No, I need to offer something that people can't get somewhere else - something that is unique to this blog.

I still offer Willow for free somewhere on my site - I forget where. I have thousands of pages, built up over a decade of writing online. I'm not sure what's out there half the time. But I do know that around 6500 people downloaded the free version of Willow - that's now selling for a dollar on Kindle. 
I actually don't mind people reading my fiction for free. It's not about the money, anyway. 
I'd rather be read than hold out for royalties.

I did think about offering some kind of reader's guide to my genre. 
I thought maybe some kind of a guide to supernatural horror thrillers might make interesting reading for potential fans of my fiction writing. 
The down side to that is that I would have to compile a guide like that - which could easily turn into a lifetime's work! 
Nevertheless it's a possibility, if you think it's a good one, I'll listen.

Finally, I've been toying with the idea of a serialized novel. 
People could sign up and get a whole new novel delivered over time. What I'm thinking about is a novel called "Dead Center" - which I'm about a third of the way through writing. 
It occurred to me that I could offer the novel as it is being written. Say 2000 words a week until it's done. 
The story is exciting stuff - full of strange happenings, cops, good guys and demons. It's probably going to be my best novel yet.

And at least the pressure to write the next installment would keep me writing!

I like this idea because Stephen King once said he didn't think there was enough serialized fiction offered by authors. 
Dickens did it. As did William Thackeray, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a lot of the greats. 
King himself tried to do it with The Green Mile. He says he would have done more but his publishers weren't happy with the way nobody wanted to pay for his fiction online. 

But, as I say, if it's not about the money, should I attract new readers with what is essentially 'live' novel writing? 
It's an interesting idea to me.

What do you think?

Monday, July 8, 2013

If You Love Your Stories, Set Them Free

Sometimes it's hard to let go.

Our stories are like our children. They may have been fun and rewarding in the confines of our minds and our home. But the time comes when they must leave the nest and find their own way in the world.

You might be forgiven for thinking that online writers post every thought and sentence they've ever constructed. That may be true of a certain breed of 'serial sharer'. But as a wise person once said, "A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than for most people." Hence, writers who take themselves seriously are actually less prone to releasing their babies into the wild.

I've belonged to numerous writers' groups over the years - and one thing is clear.

Some writers get very attached to their children - over-protective you might say.

But it's not so much that they fear losing them or having other people love them too. It's more that they fear criticism.

Your stories can be superb, enlightening, full of meaning and powerful - until someone else reads them - and then they often become just another bunch of words.

Worse - your carefully crafted creations may become things that nobody seems to care much about! 

Some writers will go to great lengths to avoid putting their work out there, lest they be judged. They will keep their stories close to their chest, editing them to perfection, or editing them beyond recognition, only to have to start again - and re-create the magic that was once so compelling.

They will say, oh, they're not quite ready yet. Or, they're part of a collection - and I need to write a couple more…

But there are many reasons why we need to get our stories seen - if only for our own sanity.

Submitting stories to magazine publishers can be a long and frustrating business. Endless rejections take their toll. But it can also be very nerve wracking once a story is accepted - conditionally.

I've had several stories accepted where the editor or magazine publisher has asked for changes, subtle and not so subtle. Even Stephen King has had this happen apparently. In one of his later short story anthologies, Mr King talks about the mighty New Yorker asking him to change the ending of one of his masterpieces - to perhaps make it less horror oriented.

A publisher once asked me to change the gender of a character so that the story might better appeal to their target audience.

A writer friend of mine was asked to change the location of a story - from the future to the middle ages! She refused and was never published again.

Sometimes zealous editors make mincemeat of a writer's work - in the name of house style.

But all this pales into insignificance when the big test comes: release!

So what exactly happens when you let go of your stories and allow the world to see them, feel them, poke and prod them and generally chew them over?

As I say to many writer struggling with releasing their stories, actually nothing much happens.

It's hard to make an impression these days.

Once in a while you'll get an email from a fan. More often you'll get contacted by a writer who wants to share their own work in the same genre - or point out some error you've made.

Again, Stephen King said that if he had to judge his success by his emails, then he would have to conclude he was a terrible writer. The people who actually like and buy his work apparently rarely contact him. Millions of people read King's books and short stories and yet they rarely let him know if they enjoyed them. But he does get many emails pointing out inconsistencies and logic flaws!

I've known writers fret for years over letting other people read their work. They often want to use pseudonyms, fearful of people they know recognizing their words.

I always advise writers to get their work out into the open - and learn not to fear the consequences.

Simply because, there seldom are any consequences - especially in the short term.

Over the long term you may have many people contact you about your work but usually by that time, you don't care what they say anymore! By the time people start emailing you about your work, all the nagging self doubt and nervousness has generally dispersed.

So, if you have some stories that need to be seen, don't be afraid. Set them free!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Pursuit of Perfection

We've almost finished editing my short story collection.

The last story, only completed last Tuesday, is currently in Japan with my new editor friend, Chris Ryall. Chris is a talented writer himself who specializes in thrillers.

He's been wonderfully supportive of this collection and his feedback and wisdom have been invaluable.

Next comes a final proofing from my darling wife, Robyn, who, with over 85 published books to her name, knows a thing or two about creating quality manuscripts.

Then comes the formatting for mobi, ipub and pdf - and we'll be ready for release!

There are nine tales in all - written since 2000, a period of over a dozen years. Most of them are horror based supernatural stories - the kind I like to read, surprisingly enough!

It's hard to know what to do with short stories.

You can leave them on your hard drive to fade and die.

 Or, you can submit them individually to magazines. But after they're published, then what?

 Several of the stories in Nine Tales of Terror have been published in magazines and compilations - but never have they been in one place.

 I've fantasized about putting my favorite stories into one volume probably all my life.

 I used to dream that once I was a rich and famous novelist, someone might actually want to savor my cherished shorter works. For that I'm still waiting…

And patience never was my strong suit.

 But now that Kindle has arrived, and authors everywhere no longer have to wait for publishers to take them on - or indeed, even to wait for any kind of public acknowledgment of their talent - it seems like a perfect opportunity to finally show my stories to the world as they were intended to be read.

Leisurely, one at a time, and hopefully with great relish.

Traditional publishers will tell you that there's no real demand for short story complilations - even from established authors. Most readers still prefer a big fat one hundred thousand word doorstop from their favorite authors they say.

For many readers , short stories apparently lack the continuity and the sense of immersion of a full blown novel length story.

That's fine if you're in the mood for a tale that takes a week or two to unfold.

But what if you want something meaty - but quicker to digest?

Short stories are your answer.

And soon, I'll have nine of my very best for your personal delectation.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Short Story Is Dead... Discuss

Does anyone read short stories anymore?

This is a question many new writers have to deal with these days.

The paid markets for short stories, while never large, has been dwindling steadily since the 1950s. Pretty much at the same time that TV took hold of the public imagination.

The hour we spend watching a TV show is about the same time we used to take reading a short story in a magazine or book. But for the majority of us, TV shows are much more compelling - what with all those visuals - and I would hazard that even most writers prefer watching a good TV show to sitting in silence consuming a short story, no matter how great it might be.

The real question is, if there's no real demand for written short stories anymore, why should writers continue to write them?

My old English teacher had a simple answer: it's how writers learn to write novels.

Even today, the demand for new novels is steady. It's never really dwindled since its 'invention' as a popular art form over 150 years ago. Yes, there were long written works before that, but the novel - as an illustrative mechanism for examining the human condition from an individual point of view - is a fairly modern invention. But it is one that continues to hold a fascination to many readers.

My English teacher - Mr Plowright was his name - also had another theory.

That short stories are actually much harder to write than novels. Because of the discipline involved. The need for succinctness and clarity - and most of all, the sense of symmetry necessary for a good short story to work.

You see, short stories are not mere pieces of prose that end after, say, 5000 words. The short story needs more. Theme, premise, form, moral, point - any and all of these things need to be incorporated into a short story in order for it work successfully.
The writer needs to be able to figuratively take a 'snapshot' of life - usually one that has profound significance or at least speculative value - and show that snapshot without too much rhetoric, exposition or distraction.

And ironically, it's writing novels that makes writing short stories a little easier.

To me, this is why 'big name' writers get their short works published more often than new writers. Not simply because the editor needs a big name of the cover to sell the magazine or compilation - though that must be a consideration of course. But more because long time writers and novelists tend to understand the short story genre better than their aspiring peers.

So. Why do I write short stories?

For three main reasons.

1. As a way to get to get my name out there.

Although the marketplace for short stories is small, it's filled with lovers of fiction writing, in almost all genres. Editors in this field are often supportive of new writers. Plus, they can also be influential and have important contacts in the literary world.

2. The short story is a great way to hone your skills as a writer.

Many new writers get stuck editing their novels - to the extent that they may never finish them. Editing and polishing a short story, while no less taxing, is at least a shorter term activity. Cutting down and rewriting a short story to perfection is a very good learning experience for any writer who takes their work seriously.

3. It's fun.

Creating an entire world of characters and scenarios with a 'point' feels great - especially when the first flush of creativity hits you. I usually take about a week over writing the first draft of a short story - and that week can feel like a magical adventure into the unknown. Editing and polishing that story may take years. But that's another boon. You can keep perfecting a short story over time - to get exactly the feel you want for it.

Short stories will always have a special place in my heart.

Certain authors have proved to me that the short story is a worthy art form. Writers like Somerset Maugham, Philip K Dick, Stephen King, MR James, Ray Bradbury, even Jonathan and Faye Kellerman appear to have an innate understanding of the short fiction form that, to me, transcends time, art and fashion.

To some, the short story is dead.

But I say: long live the short story!