KAREN TRAVISS

#1 New York Times bestselling author

No Joe

If you're a regular G.I. Joe reader, you've probably worked out that the Fall of G.I. Joe series is ending next month after eight issues instead of twelve. It's a shame, because I was really enjoying it and Steve Kurth and I had developed a great creative partnership. Inevitably, a story planned for twelve issues can't suddenly be collapsed into eight with five issues wrapped up in the final book without some gouges and dents, so I left the characters in as good a shape as I could so that some story arcs were resolved and the characters could be picked up again in the future if needed.

To give IDW their due, they were open with me from the start that they weren't sure how long they could keep the new series going, and I took the job on that basis. All we could do was plan for a year and see what happened month by month. They finally pulled the plug at issue #7, which gave me one issue to tie up what I could and give readers some closure. That meant making drastic changes to a couple of storylines; but, like all stories that go off at unplanned tangents, it just made them more interesting for me and I was quite sad that I wasn't going to be following where they went. Working with Steve Kurth was a treat because we found our mutual "zone" fast and then we were on a roll. It's a great experience when you really gel with an artist. Kito Young (colourist) and Jeffrey Veregge (cover artist) did some fabulous stuff too. It was a cool team and I learned a lot from everybody. We were aiming for a modern spy thriller, a little different to the traditional G.I. Joe, and I feel we delivered on that.

Anyway, that's how comics are. Readers and creatives all know the industry works on tight budgets, and we're used to series suddenly getting chopped. It's a tough market. But I had a great time with IDW, who were honest and courteous throughout. I met some great Joe fans along the way, too. So all in all, I'm glad I worked on it and sorry that it had to end too soon.

Addicted to plasticity

After trying background sound to improve my concentration at a time when events around me militate against it, I've added brain plasticity to the mix. I don't mean the brain-training stuff beloved of the Daily Mail – I'm giving Lumosity a trial run. In brief, it's a collection of quick games for phone, tablet, or desktop tailored to the aspect of your cognitive ability that you want to improve. You're supposed to do a few minutes a day, and the theory is that you gradually rewire your brain.

I like that because it's proven science. And as it doesn't involved scalpels, electrodes, or expensive mind-bending substances, I'm in.

It all started well, and I was directed towards the appropriate exercises for improving the ability to ignore interruptions. Then, unfortunately, my obsessive game-playing side kicked in almost immediately. Few minutes a day, my arse.

The programme gives you your scores so you can see how you're doing, and after three games it tells you that you're done for the day and it'll see you tomorrow. But it also allows you to carry on if you want to, and, naturally, I want to. Oh boy do I want to. It's a real struggle to put it down. I remember having to avoid the Eyezmaze games (Grow Island etc) because I couldn't leave them alone. What I really need is to channel that completely-blinkered-must-keep-doing-this mode from doing the training games into doing the work I need help to focus on.

Now you understand why I'm not a gamer per se. If I dropped my guard, I'd end up doing nothing else. I don't quite get it because I'm definitely a novelty junkie – complete task, move on, find something new – but there's a bit of my brain that leads me to happily play a game until I drop, even if it's repetitive, and also eat the same thing every day.

Speaking of which, it's salmon and Puy lentil time.

Background noise

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last blogged. Sorry. Basically, real life gets in the way sometimes, and while I used to be able to sideline it and get on with the job, there comes a point where it isn't feasible and you have to tackle problems because there's nobody else to do it.

As a consequence I'm way behind on Black Run, and not so much because of the hours required to deal with the domestic issues but because of the way they rob me of concentration. When I write, I immerse, or else I can't get into characters' heads. You know all about that if you're a regular reader. An interruption – be it external, like a phone call, or an internal interruption like a nagging worry – throws me off for hours, and it's increasingly hard to get back into the zone every time. Writing a book is a very unnatural thing to do, so when my monkey-brain gets into the habit of waiting for the next real crisis to sort out, it's going to do the sensible thing and prioritise anything that might be Real Shit above Make-Believe every time, and the distractions it takes to make it do that can be incredibly trivial in the scheme of things.

So I've tried to reset my unjustifiably distractible primitive brain with various techniques. In the past, I'd filter out street noise by having the 24-hour news channels on. It was my newsroom atmos track, more like the kind of background chatter I was used to in an open-plan office, and there was a time when it enabled me to zone out better than silence. Now it doesn't. I might not be listening consciously, but my brain is probably still processing the content, and it seems to aggravate rather than neutralise. I can't tell if that's because my brain is already looking for trouble and can't ignore it, or if it's because the news has become such a vile blend of vacuous pundits and corrupt, lying scum recently that I'm drinking in the toxic content subconsciously and getting ready to erupt.

Anyway, today the TV backdrop was turned off for the first time in years. I've plugged myself into a specially designed soundtrack of orchestral music (lyrics are a no-no) that might as well be atmos. (One of the tracks you can choose is, in fact, the ambient noise from a cafe.) So far, it hasn't transformed me back to my old self, when I managed to write with workmen sawing and hammering in the same room, but I can sustain concentration a little longer than before. I have no recollection of the music itself and I don't pause to listen to certain parts of it. That might sound like a terrible and dismissive thing to a musician, but I'm coming to understand that music you don't notice is as valuable as pieces that stop you in your tracks and move you to tears.

We shall see. I'll give it a month and see if things improve.

Christmas Message

Well, the Queen does one, and mine are shorter. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, and remember there is no such thing as too much turkey. Seriously, there isn't, not as long as you have enough pickled onions with it.

General sitrep – books and assorted stuff

Newsletter subscribers have now had a sneak preview of the cover for BLACK RUN, the sequel to GOING GREY. I'll be revealing it to everyone else next week, but if you want to be notified when the book's published, sign up to receive updates on new releases and other relevant stuff. The timetable is slipping because of family illness that requires my time. I'm sorry about that, but you're adults and you understand.

There won't be pre-orders for BLACK RUN because Amazon won't run a Kindle pre-order page for indie authors without a manuscript being uploaded. As far as I'm concerned, if it's in a fit state to be entrusted to someone else's servers, then it's in a fit state to go on sale, and there's no point in messing readers around by making them wait just so I can to try to get a little visibility on some new titles list for a fleeting moment. (There's no pre-order system for CreateSpace trade paperbacks, by the way.) Publishing companies can list a book for pre-orders long before the author ever starts writing it, and with no more guarantee of it ever being finished, but indies have to operate under different rules for whatever reason. It makes no difference to me, so I'm carrying on with Plan A.

Getting back to the real world, i.e. people with real jobs that actually matter, I'm going to do an unusual thing and post my thoughts on Kajaki in the next week or two. It's more to get stuff off my chest and to try to work out my reactions than to inflict an actual review on anyone, which it won't be. I think all professional reviews of books, movies, or anything creative are irrelevant at best and an exercise in smart-arsery at worst, whether they're good or bad or neutral. I used to review movies in my journo days, so as I know all too well what goes into the reviewing sausage, and how worthless and possibly toxic that sausage is unless it comes from someone you know personally and trust, I never eat the bloody things. I don't read any reviews (pro or otherwise) of my own books, either. I never have, and I never will. I've told editors never to send them to me. Well-meaning friends sometimes forward what they call "great" ones to me, but I after thanking them (because it's a kind gesture, and they genuinely have my interests at heart) I simply delete them unread.

To call Kajaki a movie is something of a slight: it's actually more like standing there and watching a situation you're helpless to solve or prevent, with all the accompanying heartfelt anxiety, and it indulges in none of theatrical froth beloved of even "serious" war movies. This is a glimpse of 3 Para in Afghanistan, God bless them, and it's not easy viewing. It's a testimony as far as I'm concerned. I would clip open the eyes of every politician in this country and force them to watch it. I would also make it compulsory for the general population to watch it before being allowed a vote. But then you know what I'm like.

This isn't insulting toss like Hurt Locker. (There are bad movies, and then there are insulting movies, and Hurt Locker was insulting. Don't even get me started.) I can't even classify Kajaki with other war movies I think are worthwhile and honest, because Kajaki is about real, named people doing and saying what they did on the day, and makes few if any concessions for artistic licence or civilian lack of knowledge. It's also the only film I've seen that depicts private security contractors fairly, too. It's extraordinary. I'm still at a loss to find the word to describe how I experienced it, and if a writer can't pick a word, that tells you a lot. Enjoy isn't appropriate at all, and moving doesn't begin to cover it, but whatever verb or adjective conveys the meaning that I feel changed, better, more committed, and angrier for seeing it, that's the word. Whatever it is.

© 2014 Karen Traviss