Stumbling to the End of a Story

Literally, stumbling.

Shortly after my last post I picked up an allergy. You might say that allergies are fairly common but this was a first for me. The cause is unknown, but it was probably related to the pollution that drifts across the Chinese border. The downer was that I got this one while developing a nasty Asian flu–a double whammy that drained the will to live. Anyhow, after 12 weeks, I thought it was time to see a doctor.

Two surgery visits and five X-Rays later, the Doc confirms the allergy (and the flu) and, for good measure, threw in acute sinusitis on top of chronic sinusitis (which accounts for a whole bunch of “feel bad” moments I’ve had and put down to growing old).

Two courses of antibiotics later, I could smell again–everything: the traffic, the burning rubber, propane gas exhaust, coal dust, early morning commuter farts and, worse still, stinky Tofu–the whole Asian street scene came flooding back. I’m also aware that my dogs need a bath, my favourite shoes are well past their sell-by date and I have proof-positive (finally) that the cheese in the fridge really does stink. I apologise to my wife for not believing her.

Moving on… Some of you will know that I am a pension portfolio manager by day. Of late, I have gotten involved in a new pension structure that has required my reading up on local legislation, tax treaties and tax codes globally. The more I read, the more I got excited about it and the more time I had to spend on it. Day and night.

…And now I’m taking a couple of weeks off to see my daughter be married in the UK.

So, yep, “Petroff’s Pogrom” has taken a back seat. Not willingly, mind. I enjoy the writing. But the “Birdie Down” sequel won’t be ready in late May as I had promised in early January. Sorry.  I thought I should just let you know.

In the meantime, the story I most enjoyed writing is waiting to be read. “Army of Souls”, the sequel to “Scat”, isn’t free, but it is my best yet. (Best being relative, of course. And subjective.) Still, I hope you’ve got a spare USD2.99 and a free weekend. And that you enjoy it.

Alternatively, if you promise to write an honest review and can leave me your email address, I will send you a Smashword code that’ll let you pick up “Army of Souls” for a dollar. That’s 5 pages of science fiction action and gallows humour per US cent.

And that’s a steal, right?




Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, book-lovers

I know that success, fortune and peace of mind rarely coexist, but I hope you get it all, and in spades, this 2014.

Please remember Scat and his small, rag-tag band of refugees this holiday season. They don’t get a Christmas this year and no booze on new year’s eve. (I’m working them harder this year than ever before.)



In My Humble Opinion …

… I believe that continuity is the most difficult aspect of writing a complex science fiction story.

Imagining is easy. Just take a few topical elements of today, extrapolate (and not necessarily along personally-held political or religious lines), exaggerate and then add a character who can make sense of it for the reader.

Plotting can be tricky. It takes time to explain a new universe, but it can’t be done in the first few chapters, not without losing your audience. So, once the imagining is done, use the conclusions you arrived at to create some exciting, character-forming scenarios. String these scenarios together in their most logical sequence, and use the really stupid stuff to provide the book with some humour. Mind, the universe should have explained itself before you hit the first major twist. Twists are only twists if your readers feel they are already on a ‘predictable’ path. (I love twists. Just love ’em.)

It is also worth creating a deeper meaning, but that’s not too hard. Back to the imagining. Is the overarching backdrop full of ideas and conflicts that resonate in today’s world, as good sci-fi is supposed to, or is it merely an excuse for a 300 page shoot ’em up. Personally, I’m for scifi provoking a gut reaction that converts into a searching question, completely divorced from the politics of the day. This is the reason I picked scifi as my medium. I doubt the left and right will exist in quite the same way and with their values in tact some two hundred years from now. Just think English Whigs and slave-owning Democrats.

You are writing fiction, but it must be plausible. This can be achieved by doing your research. (Research the future? I hear you ask yourself. OK, I admit, that’s a stretch unless you like highly technical things and want to dazzle the reader with near-science-made-sexy.) But if you aren’t good at wading through scientific papers, don’t worry. If your story is set far enough out, and you say spaceships are powered by flux-drives, no one can call you out. At least, not for a long while.

Pay attention to your reviews. Reviewers are your most passionate readers, whether you have hit their sweet spot or just their nerves. Sometimes, something in a story is of greater significance to the reader than it was the writer. Do you want to capitalise on that? Believe me when I say your readers’ reviews can contribute to your next story.

Back to the continuity. Crap! Is this one hard or what? Not only must writers of scifi watch out for all the usual traps, such as having a character whose blue eyes turn green a few chapters further on, or a broken nose that miraculously fixes itself inside of a chapter and a gun that still has a fully charged magazine after a frenzied fire-fight, but we’ve to be consistent with an entirely new universe (possibly two, depending on how ambitious the story). This is easily screwed up. Will red or brown hair affect the story? Probably not. But in space, certain aspects of continuity do matter. If it took ten days to get to planet X, remember it. Your readers will. The journey cannot be done in two days sometime later in the book–not without an explanation, and no matter how important it is for the story that it does.

One of my reviewers has said that she particularly likes the way I didn’t use a ‘bat utility belt’ to get out of jail free (Birdie Down). Another has said my story was ‘robust’ (Scat). I put this down to my focus on continuity. I spend around half of my editing time on this aspect of my writing. Most of my personal reviewing of a story is spent looking for the mismatches, pre-positioning elements that will or could come up later, and making sure the characters use their noggins if they want to rescue, escape, seek revenge, or save the world.

So that’s the hardest thing. Continuity. It made Army of Souls a nightmare to plot, write and edit. There are different dimensions, galaxies and species. There are different belief systems in both galaxies–all made up. There are competing and conflicting motivations–again in both galaxies– all of which must be resolved. As I said, it was a nightmare, but hopefully, with Scatkiewicz simplifying everything for himself (and for you), readers will find it a fun read.

BTW, the first in the Scat’s Universe series is free, as is the first in the Rebellion series, so there’s never a need to put your USD2.99 at risk when looking at my ‘stuff’–Not until you know for sure that you like what you read, or you just gotta know what happens next:-)

Having fun – researching the afterlife

I’m not particularly religious. As with 97% of Brits, I only go to church for weddings and funerals. I do believe in a God but I don’t picture Him as the ancients did. So, in writing ARMY of SOULS–which is based on the unexpected proof of souls in a hard-scifi setting–I spent some time doing the research. And, given that I’m researching the afterlife, that meant reading up on what other people might think on the matter.

AoS-WEB-thumb (1)In doing so, I found several points of view.

At one end of the spectrum are the religious fundamentalists who (at the extreme) either excuse their inaction over global warming (because there will soon be the Second Coming, after which we’ll no longer need our precious Earth), hold to Creationism or (sadder still) promote the killing of anyone who does not believe in their strand of faith. I also found that even within the religious houses there are opposing forces at work, each of them slicing and dicing their House’s beliefs their way. Whether it be to excuse or condemn a Jihad, argue the composition of the Four Horsemen or to define or deny Purgatory, their views differ–so much so that it is hard to see how they can co-exist.

At the other end of the ideological chasm (the very far side), the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science consigns religion to history. In this view, religion has enslaved Man, caused misery for billions and has promoted nothing but ignorance. Man has no soul. When dead, he is dead. Science offers a better way forward they say, and many millions would agree with this. Unlike within the religious houses, there are very few dissenting or deviant views within this group.

It is clear that the chasm between those who have faith in religion and those who put their faith in science is wide. On the face of it there wasn’t much hope for common ground. I was wondering how I’d ever get science and religion to work together in my fictitious universe.

It then occurred to me that both groups work to faith. The religious ask that we take the existence of God on faith. And scientists ask tax-payers to have faith: your money’s being well spent; we will find the cure for cancer. It just needs a little more funding.

So was faith the common ground?

I’m fairly sure a scientist would argue that science doesn’t rely on faith. As it should, good science believes in the evidence. (IE as there is no empirical evidence for the existence of a God, He doesn’t exist). But for us to spend billions on a particle collider that aims to find something we have never seen before (and has only a theoretical chance of existence), we must have some faith in the theory.

OK. You can dispute all of the above. But remember I was looking for potential story lines, not facts. But if science isn’t open to the possibility of souls how might it then fit souls into the theory of evolution if the evidence was handed to them? Would their research then switch to the evolutionary purpose of souls? And the intransigence of some religious houses allows me to raise some awkward questions about what the religious houses might think of this proof, and to question whether the religious Houses would join together in celebration, or fall apart in competition? Is any religion truly ready for the proof? Might they be surprised (or even threatened) by it? After all, if you have proof, the congregation does’t need faith. Where does that then leave their leadership?

Which brings me to the Magis Centre for Reason and Faith, a religious institute that (in short) argues against Creationism, accepts evolution and focuses on what existed before the Big Bang. I thought this rather daring of them, given that the founder is a Catholic priest. I then learned that the centre’s line of thinking isn’t so controversial after all. Digging a little deeper, I found that the Catholic church (of which I’m not a member) has issued two encyclical letters clarifying its position on the Bible and evolution. The first says the Bible is not a scientific document, rather it is a theological one (Divino Afflante Spiritu – 1943). I did not know this. Secondly, that the church believes evolution and the Bible are compatible (Humani Generis – 1950)–in other words, they do not deny evolution, but embrace it.

Their point is that the Old Testament taught theology, not science, and it was taught in a manner that could be accepted at the time (for the sake of argument, let’s assume that these ancient stories were the word of God). It argues that if the messages that found their way into the Bible had been conveyed to Man in terms of astrophysics, ancient man would have scratched its head and put down its pens. Atoms? String theory? Light years? Pre-Big Bang entities? Dimensions? It then occurred to me that pitching the bible in a manner that could be understood at the time was a smart move; one that Trekkies would recognise as being responsible. Let’s face it, would a Federation Starship commander hint at, or give, advanced technology to a developing species before it is socially or institutionally able to cope with it?

The centre does however believe that were we to meet an alien species (let’s assume of equal standing to ourselves), we ought to convert it to Christianity. But, knowing what we do about God’s word being delivered in manner that can be understood at the time, just how would we pitch it? And knowing what we do of the many variations of each faith, wouldn’t our old religious beliefs confuse them? Might the alien species already have religious texts of its own that were equally as confusing, or as misleading, as ours? Would they want to convert us? One could have fun with this. At least the confusion might add depth to a Man-meets-alien storyline.

None of this research has changed my views on religion or clarified for me what God might look like, where He (or She) might be now, or why He allows bad men to prevail (although in ARMY of SOULS there is a reason why Man’s character allows bad men to prevail) but I do feel just a little less heretical for opting out of the church’s millennia-old rituals. And the continuing battle of ideas has shown me that we don’t know all there is to know, which has left me with plenty of room to add an interesting conflict or two that I hope will make Army of Souls an interesting read (as well as being a grand adventure).

Rest assured, science will prove Army of Souls to be a fiction. But not for a while.

ARMY of SOULS mission launch date

I’ll be uploading ARMY of SOULS to both and Amazon around 6pm, Hong Kong local time on 30th May 2013. That’s next Thursday. The Smashwords publication should be fairly quick (an hour or so), Amazon can take between 12 and 48 hours.

If you’ve read Scat and want to know what happens next, then ARMY of SOULS is a must read.

So what’s it got?

Swearing: Mild. Violence: Yeah, there’s some. Thrills: Yup! For the head, heart and soul. Attitude: Plenty. Pursuits: One of the biggest. High Stakes Conflict: You bet: this is a Scat’s Universe novel, after all. Twists: Of course.

I had great fun writing this one, I hope you enjoy reading it.

Here’s the link to my website, along with details of how you can still get SCAT for free during the countdown.

And the Beta-reading begins …


So! Army of Souls is done. It has gone to the beta-readers, and I’m now just tinkering with elements of it, waiting on their comments. Publishing this one will be like giving away my daughter (which I must do at some point). I’ll be just as nervous. Army of Souls ventures into rarely chartered territory for Science Fiction. I only hope it isn’t damned for doing so.

Army of Souls starts a few months after Scat and continues the story.

Here’s the (draft) blurb:

Book Two in the Scat’s Universe saga

If flesh came into being because of the spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders.”
Ancient text discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, December 1945. Believed to be the Gospel According to Thomas 24:1

Man’s soul is little more than collateral damage in a struggle between our daemons and demons. As Man succumbs to the soul-harvesting Haraan and the seven Vices pursue the four Virtues in a brutal and one-sided conflict, Scat must travel the Other-Worlds to free our souls from Purgatory.

But Man is allied against him. An army of souls is on the rampage. And the Demon Master is a single victory from reigning supreme

ImageDon’t forget, Scat is currently free from most of the popular ebook retailers.

Oh, and if you have already posted a review for Scat, I thank you. This is how scribblers like me get the word out to readers such as yourselves. Through other readers. It helps that the most recent batch of reviews have been very encouraging.

Best, Jim

St Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC


St Patrick's Cathedral, NYC

St Patrick’s gets a whole chapter to itself in the upcoming science fiction, “Army of Souls”. It is the setting for a confession that will change everything; even how we view the After Life.

I took this photo during our Christmas visit 2009. I visit every other year at around the same time. I love New York, and although back home us Brits have buildings and monuments going back a thousand years and more, I find the city filled with interesting, often ignored, historical markers. Anyone with a real interest in New York should try reading: “The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America” by Russell Shorto.

Here’s a link to the book’s Goodreads page:

The Tomb of Sir Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury


The Tomb of Sir Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury

The  tomb of 1st Earl of Salisbury’s at St Etheldreda, Hatfield. St Ethelreda and the tomb get a mention in my upcoming novel, ARMY of SOULS. It has something to do with the four Virtues who bear the Earl’s likeness: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage. 

Photo by chrisjohnbeckett.