The Writing of Martin Brennan


Now: November 2018

I’d like to provide more frequent updates from a “writerly” point of view I guess you could say, where I post about what projects I’m working on on a more regular basis. This is inspired in part by the Now page on Derek Sivers’ website, and also because I don’t usually post stories here if I think there may be some chance of having them published at a later date. For example, short story competitions that I enter may have a specific theme, like Horror, that may allow stories to be re-purposed, and I don’t want to get disqualified because of the common “previously published” clause. It’s kind of a moot point at this time because I’m not yet published, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. These posts will be loosely structured around three things; manuscripts, competitions, and what I’m currently reading. So here’s where I’m at for November 2018.

Manuscripts

My primary manuscript at the moment, The Thaw, is coming along fairly well. The premise, or elevator pitch (so far), is thus:

It has been five years since the dead rose. An island community has formed at the junction of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. Dwindling food supplies and a crop blight force a group of the survivors to leave the safety of their home to make the perilous journey to a seed vault in Fort Collins, Colorado. A brutal and unnatural winter falls at home and in the Rockies, and the fate of humanity rests upon the success of their long journey across the American heartland. While the interests of the group may be aligned, theirs methods differ wildly, and two fiery conflicts will rage before the thaw.

I haven’t written any new chapters for The Thaw this month because of a competition I was working on, but my submission to the competition was written as a backstory for the primary antagonist of The Thaw, so the work was tangentially related. I intend to work on the current chapter this month; I am ramping up to the characters leaving their island, and the final vote is set to be cast, with the protagonist’s daughter laying seriously injured and the islanders divided on whether to leave the safety of their home for Colorado.

Their journey will take them across several states, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, so it’s been fun thinking of things for the characters to encounter along the way. I’ve had to also think of a conflict for the islanders who stay behind to struggle with, which will come in the form of an eccentric raider lord captaining a barge downriver from Memphis, and the river freezing over in the coldest winter the state of Arkansas has ever seen. At this point in time the book is around 18k words, and I’m not sure whether I’ve taken too long to get the characters out the door so to speak, and I’m not sure whether one book will be enough to tell this tale, but we will find out!

In addition to the work on The Thaw I’ve been getting through some more editing for my first manuscript, Bottom Feeders, which has the below elevator pitch:

The Crabs Motorcycle Club is on its last legs in 1984. Reduced from a once sprawling west coast organisation to two dwindling chapters, with no new prospects for years and one of its founders dead, the gang must settle for the table scraps of the more powerful Devil’s Faithful Motorcycle Club. But when the Devil’s Faithful puts them onto a port heist and an honest citizen of Whiteport is drawn into their lives, the Crabs must contend with the law, a traitor, and their own morals like they never have before. A tale of betrayal, brotherhood, and catharsis, about letting things die when the time is right.

Bottom Feeders was completed in January 2017, and I’ve previously intended to have the editing finished multiple times. I feel almost as bad as GRRM at this point. That being said, I recently completed some major work that I had been putting off, which was to rearrange the chapters so that they made sense chronologically. They were out of order because about halfway through I realised the order was wrong, and rather than mess around with trying to edit it as it was, I took the common advice and just completed the manuscript to have a first draft. Now I know what goes where I can continue editing in earnest, and smooth over the creases.

I’ve got fifty chapters (including the Epilogue) spanning about 83k words, and I’ve edited sixteen of them, so I’ve still got a fair amount of work ahead of me. I’ve managed to cut out an entire chapter so far that didn’t contribute much to the overall story, and a few other chunks of words too. It’s amazing to see the quality of my writing improve over time. I started the book in 2013, and the earlier chapters are far, far worse than the later chapters. I can read the later ones and appreciate them, though I feel the earlier ones are quite weak. At the end of the first editing pass I may end up rewriting some of them entirely, and who knows after beta readers. I intend to try and get this book and The Thaw published traditionally, though that may take a very long time. I don’t really know what genre this book fits into, or whether anyone would ever be interested, but if you are email me!

Competitions

I’ve entered a couple of competitions in the last few months. The first was the Literary Taxidermy competition. I’ve posted my entry Unrepentent here. The other two were both through TLDR; Press, which was formed from Reddit writers. I’m sometimes active in their slack community https://tldrwriters.slack.com/, and I’ve entered their Horror and Family quarterlies. I didn’t get published in the horror one with my story Snowman which was based on a nightmare my partner had, though I hope to submit it to another competition sometime. My entry for the Family quarterly acts as a backstory or memoir for the primary antagonist in The Thaw, so it was exciting to write that backstory for him, because now I feel like I have a much better idea of how the character would act and think. I may end up doing the same for my other characters as I found it to be a valuable exercise.

The best thing about TLDR; Press (apart from the amazing community) is that they provide editorial feedback on your story if you request it, which is provided BEFORE the final submission date. I found this so valuable on my horror submission which was provided by the wonderful Sarah Linders, and she also gave me feedback on my Family submission before the first submission date! I will definitely continue submitting to their quarterlies and I’m really hoping I published into the Family quarterly. (fingers crossed!)

What I’m Reading

After Hyperion I felt the need to read something light and easy, so I started reading the Harry Potter series again. I started at The Prisoner of Azkaban, because I’ve read the first two so many times and they are much more “kiddy” than the later books. Honestly I’m most excited to get up to The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, as they are by far the best in the series and break the formula of the previous books nicely. I won’t bother writing reviews of them, I just wanted to give my mind the equivalent of a TV show binge watch! I’m about halfway through Goblet of Fire now. Once it’s all over I think I will read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, because I liked East of Eden so much.

So there you have it, my “now” update for November 2018!

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Martin Brennan, the Author

I’m Martin Brennan. I'm a software developer by day, and I like to think I know how to write. Like how a hobo thinks he knows the recipe to Coca-Cola.

You can read about my major projects on my works page.

The authors that inspire me are Cormac McCarthy (my God), Stephen King (my Prophet), J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Hunter S. Thompson, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Find me on twitter @mjrbrennan or email me.