There are a plethora of blogs and related feeds by, for and about writers. This isn’t surprising, writers like to write and read, and particularly like to read about writers writing about writing. This very blog is a case in point. Some of this is looking for affirmation or hints or advice, but occasionally there are a few gems. Two of these passed my eyeballs this very week.

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The James Bond archetype, by the time you’ve taken into account all the permutations, spoofs, reboots and cultural periods, is quite ridiculous. Not only does Charles Stross know this, he embraces the ridiculousness and makes it part of the story in The Jennifer Morgue. Add in some Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos and geekery and you have a very entertaining novel that knows it’s target audience very well. You can tell that Stross had a great time writing this and I enjoyed reading it. The novel also has a short story with the same protagonist in it, but that’s really not worth writing home about.

People who would like it: Nerds, ideally with a knowledge of James Bond, computers and H.P. Lovecraft.

Last year, I very much enjoyed Doctorow’s Little Brother, part YA novel about civil liberties and part how-to guide for civil disobedience in the 21st century. It was well written and while some felt the technological descriptions were somewhat basic, I think a good balance was struck between explaining things for the non-nerd audience while not being overly patronising to the more technically literate.

I was quite excited then when I received Doctorow’s next novel, For the Win: Organize to Survive! as a birthday gift and a recent trip to Turkey meant that I was able to read the whole book in one stretch. In recent years, between the demands of work and the OU , most of my reading has been piecemeal. A most regrettable sacrifice, but it certainly makes me appreciate those rare windows of literary indulgence.

For the Win is a story set in a near future where the economies of Massively Multiplayer Online games are, well, massive. So huge in fact that gold farming, the organised process of acquiring lots of in-game valuables and selling them on to cash-rich, time-poor players, is big business; Big business that is performed across the third world, invariably by cruel, violent gang bosses. The premise of FTW is that the kids playing for pay in a variety of slums across the world want rights, representation and protection from abuse. They want a union and are willing to fight for it, using a combination of strikes and market manipulation.

Sadly, there are a lot of things that don’t work in this book. Firstly, the reader is thrown straight into the jargon heavy world of online gaming, with nary a glossary in sight. I am familiar with many of the terms but it was still sometimes a struggle for me. I can see anyone less familiar with the jargon, that is often never explained, just giving up before the end of the first chapter. A similar problem is encountered later in the book where we have an explanation of hedge funds, what they are, how they work, how they can be manipulated etc. Except the description isn’t very good. I’m sure it’s complete and accurate, but the description was detailed enough to baffle me, but not clear enough to part the veil.

Another problem with the narrative was the distributed characterisation. We’d be introduced to a strong protagonist, then another, then the first one would be dropped, then add a few more middling ones, then the remaining strong one would be dropped, etc. By the end we had lost all the best characters and were left with a series of less interesting ones, nursing their wounds. I did wonder if this was supposed to be part of the meta-narrative, that a union movement isn’t about strong individuals but the masses. Or, it could just be a poor use of character arcs.

Overall, I liked the premise and found it interesting. But I would not call it fun to read and I’m unlikely to recommend it, I found it mostly a hard-to-read polemic. People who would like it: Online gamers with an interest in economics and union politics.

Last year I did OU course A215 – Creative Writing, which had a poetry element. I hated it and consequently sucked at it. The below is one third of that submission, essentially a silly exercise in meter. The only reason I even submitted it was to make up the required line count. I know how terrible it is, but I may as well dump it here.

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Well, things have edged forward and progress has been made. The second assignment for the OU, a film adaptation of a previous piece of my prose, ended up getting a very high mark, so clearly I’m thrilled! The third assignment, the critique, has been submitted, but I doubt the grade will be anywhere as high.

I’ve also had some good feedback on Secret Comic Pitch B, so I need to see if I can make my pitch work in 6-8 pages ; if not it needs to be scrapped and some new idea is required.

Beyond that, I need to finally decide what my final submission to the OU will be, as the outline is due in just over two weeks.

Busy,  busy.

Who would have expected that the project with the most progress so far this year would be Broken Gears? Secret comic script submission A has had no feedback at all. Secret comic pitch B has had no feedback either.

That leaves the OU. The next assignment, due in a week, is a critique of another student’s work. I’m finding this incredibly dull. I can see the purpose of the exercise, but it’s still dull.

Beyond that I have a 2500 word short story, which may end up being a radio drama. And then there’s the prep for the final piece of examined work which currently looks like it may by the first 4000 of a novel.

The goal for this year is to get something published. The specific goal, if possible, is to submit something, anything to a short story periodical. This month. As in, during the next week, realistically.

It’s a new year and time to chronicle the various writing projects I’m working on right now.

First up is Broken Gears, a comic set in the gaslit dystopia of London. The script isn’t finished, but there’s a hell of a lot more script than there is art, and until there is there will be no comic. The next target, I can’t really use the term deadline any more, is MCM Expo in May.

I submitted a script to Lem of Bunny Comics. No response yet.

My next main project is module A363 – Advanced Creative Writing with the Open University. My current assignment, due in under a week, is to adapt a previously written piece of prose into a dramatic script.

Plenty of projects to keep me out of mischief and attain my goal of being published in some form this year, whether it be a small-press comic, an article in a magazine or a short story in an anthology. 2011 will be the year I move away from the theory and get myself out there.