Five things I learned when writing Sophrosyne

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SophrosyneSophrosyne is the ancient Greek word for the ideal state of mind. Characterised by self-control, moderation, and a deep understanding of one’s true nature. But Sophrosyne can only be achieved through sacrifice.

Detective Hubert Maimone specialises in weird. He even has a list in the men’s locker room of the Didymus Police Station titled “You haven’t seen it all until…”

And today he will add “eight identical naked hysterical women running around the base of an industrial chimney and a ninth woman inside impaled on stakes”

These nine identical sisters are each named after a Greek muse. Their arrival will trigger a spate of bizarre deaths. And all these deaths lead back to Detective Maimone.

Short is sweet, but short is tough.

When someone finds out I am an author they often feel compelled to say “Oh I love to read, but I have no time.” And yet, looking around on the bus, everyone is nose deep in their phone flicking away on a social feed or playing a game.

Art must always transcend its medium. Just as poems become lyrics and visual art dominates social media, short stories must band together in a small literary militia and fight boredom where it is found the most – the daily commute. And so I decided to write Sophrosyne as a series of ten commute-length stories and launch it as a smartphone app.

But to write a memorable and engaging story in 3,500 words or less is a brutally difficult undertaking.

My advice to budding short story writers is this. Keep the character roster as small as possible. Keep the characters in one location. Keep the action in one scene. And when you are done, cut, cut and cut some more. Every word must earn its spot.

Twins are magical.

I’ve always thought so. Years ago, at a previous place of employment, a random conversation thread revealed that of the twenty-eight people in the office, nine of them had a twin. No one thought terribly much of it … just an odd little coincidence … until I got curious and crunched the numbers.

3% of the world is a twin, but in my office the rate was 32%. Those odds came out at 19,683 to one. Not impossible, but too remarkable to dismiss as just an odd little coincidence.

My brain burned with questions. Were there other twin clusters? If so where would they be? And why?

Over the course of several years these questions stewed away with other potential plot bones until it formed the spine of Sophrosyne.

Don’t summon anything you can’t bind.

One of the nine muses is Melpomene, the goddess of tragedy. I was pondering her story when driving to work one morning and had a minor car accident. What seemed like an odd irony should have been a clue.

Later that same month I had a routine screening test come back positive and embarked on a three-month cancer investigation. Thankfully a false alarm.

Three days after Christmas my neighbour’s house caught fire and I broke my foot when fighting back the flames with a garden hose.

And that was when the run of luck changed. Even though I broke my foot, thankfully there were no other injuries. We managed to get our elderly neighbours out of their burning house without a scratch.

So the moral of that story is this … you cannot summon or compel a goddess. You may politely request her Gift and patiently await her reply. But beware, that Gift will be within the confines of her celestial remit.

Find out what the story is about.

This simple question can be the most profound and the most difficult to answer. What is this story about?

I found one story in particular very challenging. It was the story of Euterpe, the goddess of musical instruments. The story was difficult for many reasons. Not least of which was the sensitive subject matter – the routine sexual exploitation of young people in the recording industry. The story was also difficult to nail down until the answer to the question, what is this story about, quietly dawned on me.

The story of Euterpe boils down to one line: “Evil needs only two things to grow – opportunity and impunity”.

Euterpe is about the hundreds of police officers who held hands, passed tissues and listened to tales of woe from thousands of women. And then carefully sifted through these statements to find connections and build cases against the powerful unregistered sex offenders who are so prevalent in the entertainment industry.

The patience and empathy of hundreds of police officers supplied the fuel that sustained the #MeToo movement and stripped away the impunity upon which the predators in the entertainment industries rely.

Don’t worry if you haven’t worked out what the story is about when you start writing. But you are not done until you know the answer.

In digital marketing no one really knows what they are doing.

I decided to launch Sophrosyne as a smartphone app instead of a conventional eBook because I wanted to engage with people who think that they have no time to read. They do have time, just not that much. They want to read something brief, rich and tantalising. And they would be open to buy it from the same place they get their other commute boredom-busters – the App Store.

Since I have already published my debut action-adventure novel To Conquer Heaven on Amazon, I am familiar with ad campaigns where you bid on keywords to briefly win the attention of a potential customer. I thought I could apply everything I had learned to the digital marketplaces of App Store and Google Ads.

Boy was I wrong.

When someone is flicking though their Kindle they are looking for a book. All you need to do is convince them to buy yours. The context of the transaction is set.

However keywords behave very differently in the bidding systems of the App Store and Google Ads. The context of the transaction is not set. There is a lot more ground to cover to persuade your customer to buy. My best success came when I focussed not on what I was trying to sell, but why someone might want to buy it. I changed my keywords accordingly and things improved.

And so, in the world of digital marketing, no one really knows what they are doing. Try, fail, learn, try again is the only rule that works.

Read Calliope – the first story of Sophrosyne now

Get Sophrosyne now on Google Play or App Store.

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He did it.

And you will NEVER guess how.
Detective Hubert Maimone solves a series of bizarre deaths that all lead back to him.