Sunday, 4 July 2021

Where I'm At


Hell's Gate

Does it look gloomy? That's just me practicing some photo manipulation. It's actually a photo I took of a cemetery gate in Wales some years ago. I just added the rain and dark skies. But Hell's Gate will be the title of the next novel, though it won't be a gothic urban fantasy. I just needed some art for the article and I haven't perfected any sci-fi pics yet. And I'm quite pleased with what I'm learning with Photoshop.

But in case you missed the last post, the next novel will be military science fiction, and the first of a new series. And it's been hard going. It's now July and I thought I would have finished the first draft by now, but it's taking longer than I realized. I remember when I wrote Solar Storm that I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew: Following the story from three different points of view, with detailed geographical locations that spanned half the world. Plus I spent a long time agonizing over how exactly Rick would make it home. From the Middle East! Yeah, that took some figuring out. I gave myself that problem. I mean, I could have placed him in Florida. Kept wondering if I should change it. The final result was epic, but I often wondered what the hell I was doing, and why I was making it hard for myself. But that's the way it goes. Sometimes you write the story, and sometimes the story writes you. Or itself. I don't know. But if you want to try something different, you have to learn to catch curveballs. And not complain when they smack you in the face.

So here I am again, dodging demonic pitchers. Hell's Gate not only features multiple POVs, but the world it operates in has to be created from scratch: The landscapes, moons, star systems, weapons, starships, creative physics, political and domestic backdrops ... it takes time, and I'm not done yet. It's going to take a lot of editing to make sure it all works in sync.

I also need to do the artwork for the cover. Now, if I was smart, I'd pay a professional to do that for me. I am smart, but I'm also broke, and good sci-fi covers cost a lot. They're also harder to do than the post-apocalypse covers I'm used to - you can't just take stock art of some location with people and add a color filter. That's why I'm taking a crash course in photo manipulation and digital art. I want the next cover to be absolutely amazing. Because the last cover for Into Darkness was not.

The Into Darkness cover has been bugging me for a long time. I got ambitious, and learned some new techniques, but I completely forgot about making it genre appropriate. This is very important in book publishing, and I knew this, so I've got no excuse. I got neck-deep into the details of the art itself and ended up with a cover that gives readers the impression of being a dark horror novel, rather than an EMP Post-apocalyptic thriller. I poured my heart into that work, then felt deflated when, after putting it out and taking a deep sigh of relief, I took a step back and looked at what I really had.

Into Darkness hasn't sold as well as the preceding works, and I'm not sure if it was the cover, or the concept that moved away from the tried-and-tested 'Going Home' theme. I don't have any regrets about the story itself, but I guess rewards don't always follow risk. Or it could be the cover. It still bugs me. Once I've published my next work, I will revisit that cover, plus the Undead UK covers that now look a little dated. I can do better than that.

What else is there? Oh yes, the Audio books have been a disaster. That hasn't been my fault, but a disaster it remains. I mentioned that the narrator (or rather, the producer for the narrator) for Solar Storm refused to narrate the next book in the series. In fact, they simply disappeared and didn't answer any further inquiries. They had headhunted me for the first book, which flattered me as I hadn't even been considering an audio book, but clearly didn't make as much money as they'd hoped. So they bailed. A smart business decision perhaps, but it felt like a stab in the back. So I auditioned for a new narrator, who worked on the next two books. Unfortunately, after many, many delays and postponements, the narrator pulled out of doing the last book in the series, citing personal reasons. I don't know. I can't seem to catch a break when it comes to audio books, and I wish I'd never gotten into it. I now have a series of four books, with only the first three having audio versions, and it's all taken so long that nobody's really waiting for the fourth anymore. It's going to be difficult to convince a narrator to do the last book of a series, which traditionally sells the least, and I don't have any money to compensate them with incentives, so I'm kind of stuck now and I don't know where to go with it. To be honest, I've given up. It looks unprofessional, but it's a mess I can't easily get out of.

Funnily enough, when I auditioned the last narrator, I had them in mind for Into Darkness, being the perfect voice for a southern gal. Considering how poor the sales have been, maybe it was better they didn't stick with me. Takes a lot of effort with little reward to do an audio production.

Bit like writing, really.

So that's where I'm at. Picking myself up and starting over. I haven't given up, and there are many more projects to follow, but I have had to digest some hard lessons about this business, and I need to figure out a sustainable way of working, and get better at making covers. I took a couple of wrong turns but I'm slowly getting back on track. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say the next book could be out in September. But, honestly, take everything I say with a pinch of salt, because I have no idea really. I can only try my best. But it will be epic, I promise you that.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

A New Project Is Coming

Boldly going where thousands have gone before.

Something new is coming. A tale of heroism and impossible odds in a galaxy not far away ... well, quite close actually. In fact, the one we're currently in. But a whole bunch of stuff will be far away. And set in the future, with starships, space marines (oh yes), aliens (of course) and battles. Lots of battles. Yes, you guessed it, I'm writing a military science fiction series.

But Rob, I hear you ask. What about a sequel to Into Darkness, or more post-apocalypse fiction?

Fear not, I will not abandon the post-apocalypse genre completely (I like it too much), but I'm kind of burned out, and I didn't have a strong follow-up story for Darla and her crew, and I didn't want to churn out a second-rate sequel just to pad out a series. I want something better than that, and when I have it I will write it. But until then, I have decided to begin a project that's been sitting in my notebooks for a couple of years. How long will it be? I cannot say. When will it be out? Ditto. I only know that I'm 40,000 words into an intriguing story with some complex world-building that's taking time to shake itself out.

So what's it about? A disgraced starship captain who's been granted one last mission, a hot-shot fighter pilot facing her doom and an intelligence officer who's about to discover the frightening truth about the planet they're being sent to invade.

And some other stuff. I can't give too much away, and I might even surprise myself with more stuff before the end. But it is coming. And it's going to pack a punch. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The Story of a Story


Every story has a story, and this is the story of the boat that almost never sailed, and the story that almost wasn't written. In two days, my new novel Into Darkness goes live, which is a great relief as I can honestly say this is the most difficult project I've tackled of late.

I began publishing back in 2012, and I assumed that as I got better, writing would get easier. I mean, nothing could be more difficult than your first novel, right? Wrong. The writing gets better, but you set higher standards for yourself. And that initial stock of story ideas, usually inspired by everything you've read or watched up to that point in your life, runs out. Now you're on your own. Fast forward to 2020, and as I start writing Into Darkness I discover just how far from my comfort zone I am. I knew a little about Louisiana and New Orleans, but not enough to convincingly set a story there. I thought I knew enough about the Mississippi River (it's just water, right?), but as Darla, the protagonist, knows the river like the back of her hand, I realized I needed to know a lot more.

And steamboats. I needed to know about steamboats. Do you know how difficult it is to get real details of a working Mississippi steamboat beyond its ability to float and the view from the deck? I certainly didn't, and in any other story I might have gotten away with only a passing knowledge of such historical craft. In this story, however, the boat is itself a central character, linked closely to Darla. I won't spoil the plot for you, but suffice to say, I really needed a lot more inside knowledge than I possessed when I started the project.

And finally there was the military aspect. Or rather, the lack of it. In every book I've ever written, the main characters have been military or ex-military. I have studied military matters ever since school, where I used to draw fighter planes and tanks in my notebooks instead of paying attention in class. I'm comfortable with military hardware, history and tactics. In Solar Storm it felt perfectly natural to begin the story in Syria because I'd already studied the conflict there for some years. I'm no expert, but I had a reasonable grasp of how a soldier, even a Special Forces operative, would approach a problem.

Not so Darla. She's an ordinary citizen with zero military experience or training, an unusual background and a very particular personality. You'll understand when you read the story. So I was in uncharted territory and I needed to do a lot more research. In fact, I quit the book, not once, but twice, thinking I didn't really have enough to continue with this. I even began to doubt my own abilities as a writer (as any writer knows, continuous self-doubt is an occupational hazard). And of course, this was 2020. Once Covid hit and things went crazy, many things spiraled out of control.

Still seems crazy to me that the first sign of panic was the mass buying of toilet roll. Not just in the US, but all over Europe. As a writer of post-apocalypse stories, I was very humbled by this. In all my stories, and those of many other writers I know, the apocalypse usually began with the stampede to buy food. How wrong we were. It baffles me still to this day. I mean, preppers tend to focus on calorie intake, potable water and shelter, branching further into self-defense, medical items and leaving luxury non-essentials till last. I never pictured, nor portrayed, a typical prepper sitting in a bunker surrounded by toilet roll! Like, WTF.

So yeah, 2020 was weird and people proved to be even weirder. Getting deep into Darla's world while trying to keep my sanity was taxing, and progress was slow, with the result that the book was not ready in time to publish last year. For this, I apologize. It was not meant to take this long, and I was as disappointed as anyone else, but the fault is all mine.

Still, the book is finished and will be available to read very soon (and if you haven't already, you can read the sample first chapter that I've printed in the post below this one). So what can you expect? Well, a rich story set on one of the most famous rivers in literature, and for that I have to thank the late, great Mark Twain, whose influence runs through the entire novel. He not only wrote about it, he was a riverboat pilot with years of experience in navigating the fickle waters of the Mississippi. River pilots were the elite operatives of their day. I recommend his personal memoir of the period, Life On The Mississippi, which shows exactly what it was like, told with his trademark wit and love of detail.

The other big influence is that of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, whose title is similar to mine. Coincidence? I think not (don't sue me). The idea of a boat sailing up a great river into a dark continent of chaos seemed perfect for a post-apocalypse EMP novel, and I was surprised it hadn't already been done. Well, my own story changed many times during its creation and it doesn't follow either of the books listed above, but the influences are impossible to deny.

The biggest driver of the entire story, however, is the heroine herself, Captain Darla Jean Griffiths. She's quite unlike any of the main characters I've written before. Conflicted, controversial and headstrong, she carries the story on her back and is worthy of a part in any great novel. I count myself fortunate that she decided to appear in mine.

Check it out now on Amazon.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Into Darkness


Available at Amazon

New Release!

In post-apocalypse America, one woman will become a legend.

Darla Griffiths is a riverboat captain, giving rides to tourists on her steamboat out of New Orleans. When a devastating solar storm cripples the grid and leaves the local nuclear power plant close to meltdown, Darla is one of the few people who can safely evacuate the citizens of New Orleans before it is too late.

But when anarchy reigns and a hurricane threatens the city, Darla and her crew must risk their lives to save others, and Darla will be forced to confront the darkness of her own past, and the deadly secrets that imperil them all.

Into Darkness is the first of a new series of adventures on the Mississippi River from the author of Solar Storm. Contains moderate language and graphic action scenes.


Currently available for pre-order on the above link. Goes live January 29th, just in time for the weekend. Since the pre-order doesn't have the look-inside function, I've included the sample first chapter below.

Saturday, 22 August 2020


I first published this novel, under a different title, back in 2012. It was my first published novel, titled Even The Dead Dance To Live. No, I didn't understand the concept of marketability at the time. It was intended as a gritty, realistic space adventure, but I got a little carried away. For the realism I spent months researching conditions on the planets and moons in our solar system, and the proposed scientific and engineering ways of being able to live on them. For the grit, I pored over accounts of the Lebanese Civil War and life under the Mexican cartels. Turned out to be a little too gritty for some people's tastes. More Tarantino-in-Space than Star Trek.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

EMP effects on Nuclear Power Plants

If a Solar Storm shut down the grid, how safe would we be from nuclear power plant meltdowns? Not very, it seems.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Solar Storms

Solar storms are both fascinating and frightening. They're a natural phenomenon that we can't control and they have the potential to wipe out many of the gains of modern civilization. But what are they?