Just a quick note here. Today, I finished writing the first draft of Incarnadine, book two of the Dragontek Lore series! I think fans of Beryl and his dragon-fighting team will enjoy this second (absolutely bonkers) journey into the cities of The Circle.
That means I currently have two books in the editing process! Until All the Gods Return is getting closer to the completion of that step, and I’m hoping to release it in May. (Psst. The cover is awesome!)
What will I write tomorrow? I have that short story tie-in for Dragontek Lore that I really, really need to finish. Why do short stories take me longer than novels?
And I need to plot out the fourth and final book of Heart of Fire before I start actually writing it. So much to do!
When writers discuss how they write, the question often comes up: “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” In other words, do you plot/plan out a book before writing it, or do you just write “by the seat of your pants” and see what happens?
In my case, the answer is: Yes. Both. Let me explain…
For the Heart of Fire series, I have a rough plot outline. I’ve known from the start how each book ends (Yes, I know how the last book ends!), and some of the major moments along the way. Then I’ve connected those dots, like “Marshal needs to travel to this spot, while Seri does this, and that will lead into this, etc.” At the same time, there is plenty of room in between plot points for subplots, character moments, and so on.
For the Dragontek Lore series, things are different. The characters drive the entire story, for the most part. I know where I want the book to end, but I don’t have a set pathway to get there. Instead, I let things happen as they will. Basically, it comes down to two questions:
What unexpected (but logical) thing could happen here?
How will this character react to it?
Question one comes into play when I’m not sure what should happen next. For example, in Viridia, the characters started to get complacent in their hideout. The story could be in danger of getting static, which is not allowed in these books. So what unexpected thing could happen? The bad guys find their hideout. Oops. And then how will each character react to this happening, both the heroes and the antagonist? This led to a pretty spectacular action sequence, in my humble opinion.
Now note that the “unexpected thing” wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was a logical outcome. The bad guys were looking for their hideout already. But the timing of the discovery was unexpected, at least to the heroes.
Anything can lead to new story elements. In the current book, Incarnadine, I’m writing a sequence of scenes where the heroes are exploring a new (forbidden) location. There are guards and locks keeping them from exploring areas that might be more interesting. Then they come across a locked elevator.
Logically, these particular characters, with their unique abilities, could pry open the elevator doors and climb the shaft. Now would they do it? That’s where I have to let the characters decide. Based on what I know of these particular characters, would they do this? They may debate it among themselves, because they don’t all agree. Then, based on what I know of these characters, who makes the final decision? What is it? (You’ll have to wait for the book to find out.)
Now if this character climbs the elevator shaft, what will be discovered there? I don’t entirely know yet, but I have some ideas based on this world and the people who are running this location.
This is discovery writing. I’m not so much “writing by the seat of my pants” as I am following the logical outgrowths of this world, its characters, and previous events. I didn’t KNOW the question of climbing the elevator shaft would come up until I was actually there. I discovered the situation as it happened.
If this sounds utterly bizarre to you… welcome to the mind of a writer…
This afternoon, I completed the first draft of Until All the Gods Return, the third book in the Heart of Fire series, and my fourth novel. Curiously, this doesn’t feel like such a huge accomplishment this time. Perhaps it’s because I’m already thinking about what I’ll be working on tomorrow when I start the fifth novel.
I set a goal for daily writing this year. That means even though I just finished this huge book, I have to immediately move on to the next one to keep up the pace. Fortunately, I’m excited about the next book (Incarnadine, book 2 in the Dragontek Lore series).
(I also need to get that short story written. Why do those take me longer?)
At the same time, after taking a break from it for a few days, I’ll be moving on to the revisions of this latest book. I know some parts need strengthening, more description, stronger character moments, etc. After that, I’ll move on to general editing for stronger prose, get some feedback from early readers, then eventually move to proofreading. This process could take anywhere from a month to three months. And then there’s getting a new cover designed… So it may be a little while longer before you’re able to read it.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already, read the first two books in the Heart of Fire series. Try out Viridia. Leave ratings/reviews at Amazon and Goodreads. These are the best ways to support independent writers.
Seriously, anyone can throw some words together, slap a picture on the front, and upload it to Amazon for practically nothing. But we should aim higher than that.
I spent a couple of years getting absolutely nowhere with the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, the agents. Dozens and dozens of form rejections, and even more just flat out ignoring me. After lots of soul-searching and research, I realized I probably never would get anywhere. I have my opinions on why that’s true, but that’s a whole other story.
And so I made the decision to self-publish. However, I wanted quality. I wanted my books to fit on my bookshelf among all the other authors and look like they belonged. I wanted them to look and read professional. This leads to the three big expenses that self-publishing authors have to cover. (If you publish traditionally, you generally won’t have to worry about these.)
Hiring an editor is a personal decision, one that can take your book to the next level, but also be somewhat expensive (especially if you write long books). There are different types of editors, as well, which would be a different topic. I chose to hire a developmental editor, Mica Kole, for my first book, which helped me nail down some weaknesses in the original draft.
Books are judged by the covers. Always. Self-publishing authors can choose just about any price range they desire for cover design. You can design your own, or hire a very cheap artist or a very expensive artist. For the Heart of Fire series, I used 99designs.com to connect with an artist in Indonesia who created my covers. For the Dragontech Lore series, I talked to an artist I already knew, Austin DeGroot, and worked out a deal between us for those cover designs.
ISBN numbers are required for publication. Once again, choices exist for this problem. If you choose to print and sell your book exclusively with Amazon, they will give you an ISBN number for free, but that’s very limiting. To purchase your own ISBNs, you have to buy them from Bowker Identifier Services. A single ISBN costs $125, but you can buy ten for $295 (or 100 for $575). That’s important because you need a different ISBN for each version of your book (paperback, hardback, or ebook).
After that, you have two decisions to make about actual publication. First: who will print physical copies of your book. Second: who will distribute the electronic version of your book.
For physical printing, I used both Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. Here’s the reasoning: IngramSpark will distribute to everywhere, including Amazon, so some people only print via them. However, since that is mostly print-on-demand, Amazon will list the book as “available in 2-3 weeks.” By printing it with Amazon also, you get Amazon’s fast delivery. Printing via Amazon KDP is free. Printing via IngramSpark will cost around $50, I believe. As a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I can get a substantial discount on that.
For ebook publication, once again you can choose to go exclusively with Amazon, or with everyone (“going wide”). With this choice, there is a very good reason to stick with Amazon, and that reason is Kindle Unlimited. Readers who subscribe to this service from Amazon are able to read any ebooks they want. It’s sort of a fee-based library service. Amazon then pays authors based on how many pages are actually read. For many authors, the profit from this arrangement far outweighs the need to be available on other markets (Apple, Kobo, etc.). This is the system I’ve decided to use for now, and I’ve definitely seen advantages to it. Depending on genre, however, some other types of books may not do as well on Kindle Unlimited, making it less appealing.
Once all of these decisions have been made, and everything is set up through the publication choices, the next step is marketing. And that’s a huge factor that I’m still slowly learning about.
Let’s dispense with the usual observations about 2020. We KNOW. Moving on… Let’s talk about what I wrote in 2020.
I made a total of 30 posts to the blog, although quite a few of those were announcements, so they barely count. Even so, that averages to more than every other week. In addition, my mailing list grew quite a bit, and enjoyed regular updates, especially in the latter half of the year. (If you’re not subscribed, check out the link here.)
Heart of Fire series
With the first draft of Until All Bonds Are Broken finished at the start of 2020, I dove right into re-writes and edits. After finishing all of that, getting a cover design, and all the usual behind-the-scenes stuff, the sequel to Until All Curses Are Lifted was published on April 30.
Later in the year, I launched into writing Until All the Gods Return, the third book in the series. At the present moment, I’m around 76,000 words into it (and you can see the progress over on the right side of this page). For comparison, book two was around 130,000 words. I’m over halfway through, at the least, but I’m thinking this one might end up just a bit shorter. I can see the climax of the story from here.
Dragontek Lore series
In between those two, I launched another series of books, Dragontek Lore, with the first book, Viridia. This one is aimed more at the YA audience. Very fast-paced and action-oriented. Plus dragons. And cyber tech. Fun times. This book was actually written four years ago, but needed a lot of re-writing to get it up to my quality standards. I’m very happy with the cover by Austin Degroot, and I’m excited to see what he does with the subsequent covers.
I started a short story to tie into that series, but it’s not done. For some reason, I have much more trouble writing a short story than I do a full-length novel. If you’re a Viridia fan, wondering about that story I promised… it’s still coming. I’ll get there. Eventually.
Coming in 2021
As mentioned above, my current focus is Until All the Gods Return. I hope to finish the first draft within the next couple of months, then dive right into edits. If all goes well, you can expect to have this book in your hands before summer starts.
During that time, I’ll also be starting on Incarnadine, the second book in the Dragontek Lore series. I can write these books a lot faster, and they provide a good break from the intricacies of the Heart of Fire series (for more on why I’m alternating see this explanation). Aiming for late summer/early autumn for this book.
Which takes us to the final book of the Heart of Fire series: Until All the Stars Fall. Will I get this one out before the end of 2021? I don’t know. I know that I am capable of getting three books out in a year, but whether I manage to do it will depend on a lot of other factors (and whether I am able to write consistently every day of the new year).
After that, I’ll work on finishing up the Dragontek Lore series. I’m still not sure exactly how many books this series will run. Some of the later plotting still needs to be done.
Beyond… I have plans for more books. I’ve started the rough outlines of a series of books featuring a trio of nomadic warriors in a more classical fantasy setting. This will probably also be YA-focused, though I’m not certain. It’ll be fun, though. And will probably be a lengthy series.
And then I have a truly epic fantasy in mind, currently under the working title Bloodless. This one will be huge. About once a week or so, something else about this one pops into my brain. I’d love to start on it right this minute, but to do the concept justice, I need to make careful plans. You probably won’t hear anything about it until another year from now. Unless I turn into a complete writing madman and start cranking books out every other month or something.
After that, in the far future, I have some ideas for a trio of urban fantasies, something completely different. Who knows? Story ideas come to me when I least expect it. The only way to find out what I’ll do next is to stay in touch. And the mailing list is the best way to do that.
I’ve made no secret of my love for Brandon Sanderson’s writing. The incredible depth of his world-building (excuse me; universe-building) is astounding. It makes me feel like my own writing is that of a five-year-old’s. His characters are rich and intriguing. And the climaxes of his plots are awe-inspiring.
The Stormlight Archive, his ambitious 10-volume massive epic series began with The Way of Kings, which easily ranks in my top fantasy novels of all time. The second book, Words of Radiance, is very close to it. The third, Oathbringer, continued the saga and was amazing, but… not quite to the same level. I still loved it, and eagerly anticipated the next book.
Rhythm of War is now available, and I’ve read it. And… I’m worried.
My reason for worry comes to the simple writing rule of keeping your promises. And the previous history of The Wheel of Time.
The Wheel of Time was an epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan. He published the first book, The Eye of the World, in 1984. Many more books followed until the 11th book was released in 2005. Then Jordan died while working on what he said would be the 12th and final volume. Brandon Sanderson was tasked with finishing the series, and that 12th book became three. So in the end, The Wheel of Time became a 14-volume series.
My problem is not with Sanderson’s completion of The Wheel of Time. The problem came with the middle of the series.
Jordan started out with a small cast of characters, while promising that this would be an epic that touched on a massive history and involve many races and cultures, etc. Yet like all such stories, it started small with a core cast, three to five main characters that readers of the earliest books grew to love. But along the way, Jordan got bored with some of those characters. He would write some of them out for several books at a time (sometimes with very lame reasons). Instead, he focused on other characters and groups that he introduced along the way. The series suffered greatly for it, in my opinion. You could cut four or five of the central books of the series into a single book and it would have been much stronger.
This is breaking your promises to the reader. From the beginning of a story (book, series), you make implied promises. “This story is going to be huge.” “Here are the main characters.” And things like that. Jordan broke that second promise. He chased after other characters instead.
Sanderson is, um… he’s on the verge of doing the same thing. From the beginning of The Stormlight Archive, he promised epic beyond epic, on a scale that made even The Wheel of Time seem small. He discussed how he had it plotted out into a total of ten volumes, and how those volumes could be broken up into two five-volume sections, etc. He seemed to have this all planned out. And it connects in with his other novels in surprising and amazing ways, even.
BUT… but… Sanderson also started this series with two main characters. Two. Kaladin and Shallan. No matter what happened, these were the central characters. He hinted that a couple of others would become major characters as well, but we fell in love with those two at the beginning. We had literally THOUSANDS of pages of story forming that connection with them.
With Rhythm of War, Sanderson seems to be strongly implying that he’s dumping one of those characters out of the main storylines. In fact, he pretty much does that for most of the book. The character still gets to do something every once in a while and is a part of the climax, but I really felt like that Sanderson was saying, “I’m tired of writing him. Look at these other characters I’ve introduced now! Aren’t they cool?” And as a reader who is totally invested in the first two characters, I’m thinking, “No. Not really. No.”
So far, I’ve avoided spoilers. To truly get into how I think Sanderson really undermined things here, I have to say something about the climax – not about how it turns out or even what is involved in it, but how part of it was written. If you haven’t read the book yet and plan to, you might want to skip the next paragraph, just in case.
SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. Sort of. In the final climactic battle scene, we as readers are used to seeing it from the combatant’s point of view. In most cases, that means Kaladin. And that’s how to engage the reader completely in the climax. We need to see what he sees; feel what he feels. Yet at a crucial moment in the battle, Sanderson abruptly switches the point of view to another character who is WATCHING the fight. Not involved in the fight; just watching it. Part of the fights told from the point of view of a watcher. We’re yanked out of the combatant’s head and put in the head of someone watching. For reader investment, that makes no sense. SPOILERS END NOW.
Because of that, when I got to the end of the climax of this book, my thoughts were, “That was cool. Mostly.” Whereas with all three previous books in the series, my thoughts after reading the climax were… incomprehensible. Because my mind was totally blown. Not so with this book.
And that disappointed me. Greatly. Rhythm of War is still a very good book. It’s just not an awesome book like the first three. And that makes me worried about the rest of the series. Especially if Sanderson is breaking his promise and dumping one of the main characters.
Since I was old enough to have small toys I wouldn’t eat, I’ve loved dinosaurs. Before Star Wars, before GI Joe, I had dinosaur toys. In fact, one of the greatest presents I received as a child was this playset:
My earliest source for information and understanding of dinosaurs was this book:
This book has a copyright of 1959 (but it’s the 1975 edition!), so you know it’s super-modern with all the latest discoveries and stuff! Until I was able to read for myself, I bugged my parents into reading it to me over and over.
But there was one entry in the book that I wanted to hear more often. And once I could read on my own, I always turned to the pages with the entry on Tyrannosaurus rex. Why? Because, unlike the rest of the book that contained detailed (and today laughable) scientific information, the T-rex entry contained a STORY. It wasn’t much of a story, but it featured a battle that captured my imagination: Tyrannosaurus rex versus Triceratops!
Do a Google image search for “tyrannosaurs and triceratops” and you’ll find this titanic struggle illustrated dozens, if not hundreds of times. It’s been done in art, movies, and stories since we first discovered these two iconic creatures. Why? Paleontologists would suggest it’s because t-rex is the apex predator and triceratops represents the ultimate defense, or something like that. But let’s be honest: it’s because it’s cool. Teeth versus horns. Vicious carnivore versus noble herbivore.
For a dinosaur nerd like me, this is awesome. It really happened! I’m so excited!
For a storyteller like me, this is awesome. This is a story, captured in stone. Monsters once walked our planet, and engaged in mighty combat that shook the earth around them. It spurs the imagination in all sorts of ways.
Dinosaurs were my first monsters. Before dragons or anything else, I imagined stories about dinosaurs.
I’ve always wanted to write about dinosaurs. They show up in almost all of my early attempts at fantasy novels (many of them talking!). I have a long-range plan to bring them into another book series in a few years.
For now, my boyhood imagination is very happy. My adult imagination is just as pleased. Tyrannosaurus versus Triceratops. The battle of epochs.
NaNoWriMo update: I’ve written an average of 1786 words per day for November. I’m almost at 40,000 for the month, right on track to finish 50k. Until All the Gods Return is approaching the halfway mark. Keep track with the widget to the right.
Outside of reading and writing, my favorite pastime is tabletop board games. And my favorite game is Twilight Imperium. It’s a massive epic of negotiation, trade, politics, and space ships shooting at each other. A four player game will probably last five hours minimum. A six player game can go all day (or night)… Some people complain about this. I see it as a feature.
Why? Because like all my favorite games, Twilight Imperium tells a story. And when we’re loving a story, we don’t want it to end.
Recently, Fantasy Flight Games, creators of Twilight Imperium (and many, many other games), started a new push to expand their own brands. They do a lot of licensed material with Star Wars and Marvel, etc., but some of their best stuff comes from these universes they’ve invented on their own. Like Twilight Imperium. So they’ve been launching new expansions to the games, working on role-playing modules set in those universes, and even commissioning novels.
Licensed novels written about an existing universe are nothing new. You can easily find dozens of novels based on Star Trek, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and just about any other fantasy or science fiction property you’ve heard of. Novels based on Twilight Imperium are interesting, though, in that there are no movies, TV shows, or cartoons in existence already (but we can hope).
The game itself is chock-full of lore (or world-building, or whatever you wish to call it). Players choose between seventeen different alien civilizations to start a game (seven more in the expansion). Each one of those civilizations has various in-game special abilities, starting units, and so on, but on the flip side of those large game placards is an extensive history of that civilization.
Consequently, when FFG hired Hugo-award-winning novelist Tim Pratt to write the first novel in the Twilight Imperium universe, he had a lot to work with. So… how did he do?
The Fractured Void is a space opera (it even says so on the cover!). In other words, it’s closer to Star Wars than Star Trek. Less “if we reverse the polarity on the tachyon beams…” and more “fire everything!” In other words, not a lot of really detailed explanation of the “science” in the science fiction. And that’s just fine.
It’s a fast-paced adventure that pauses every so often for a bit of an info dump. Those info dumps, while somewhat necessary, are sometimes delivered a little bit too blatantly. “Well, I did hear from a cousin’s friend once that…” On the other hand, for fans of the game itself, those info dumps are some of the most entertaining bits, because we get to read more about these alien civilizations that we enjoy playing in the game.
The story includes all sorts of space hijinks, like you might expect. Prison breaks, heists, and so on. There’s surprisingly very little actual space combat (which could also be said for the game itself). The plot line consists of a lot of “Oh, we need to rush over here for this reason,” and “Oh, wait, now we must rush to this place for this other reason.” Yeah, you’ve seen it in the Star Wars movies and similar fiction.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just… all right. The most enjoyment I got from it was comparing it with what I know of Twilight Imperium. For anyone who’s never played the game, it would be… all right, I guess.
My biggest nitpick is one I have with a lot of modern speculative fiction: why would people (aliens, for the most part) in a distant galaxy or our galaxy thousands and thousands of years in the future… use the exact same curse words we do today? It makes no logical sense and yanks me out of the story every single time. It’s a pet peeve. Maybe it won’t bother you. In addition, a common trope used with the primary antagonist was a bit annoying.
My biggest thrill was seeing how the finale of the novel ties in with the story of the new expansion to the game, Prophecy of Kings. Yep, I’m a nerd.