Looking ahead: setting goals for the rest of 2016 and into 2017!

As we head into the final third of 2016, it’s worth looking ahead, both to the conclusion of this year but into the next. So here’s what I hope to get done over the next sixteen months and change!

via GIPHY

:: Publish Amongst the Stars (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book III). This is a no-brainer. This book has to get out there! I hope readers will enjoy what’s in store for Tariana, Margeth, Lt. Rasharri, and their friends this time out. The series does not end with this book, but we do reach the end of the larger story’s first act.

Sadly, there will almost certainly not be a Forgotten Stars book in 2017. I haven’t even started drafting Forgotten Stars IV (although I do have some notes and some ideas for what happens in it), and I’m not sure how soon I’ll be getting there.

:: NaNoWriMo: my project this year will be my new space opera series! I’ve been doing a lot of background work and brainstorming for this one, since it’ll be a more character-driven series and more episodic in nature than the Forgotten Stars books. I’ll also be writing in a more adult tone for this one, which I’m looking forward to doing.

:: Signed copies of all existing books. This is something I’ve meant to do ever since I released Stardancer, and I’m frustrated that I haven’t got there yet. I really truly mean to do it soon! Hopefully in the next few months, once I get a chance to restock my supply of my own books. Stay tuned for details, but if you’ve ever wanted a signed copy of one of my books, you’ll soon be able to have precisely that.

:: Publish GhostCop and start editing its sequel. I had originally planned to get GhostCop out this year, but I decided to push it to 2017, because otherwise I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything ready for release next year, and I don’t want to go more than an entire year without anything coming out. Since I’m not sure when the next Forgotten Stars book will be on the docket, this looks to be my best bet.

As for the sequel? As of this writing I am now wrestling with that book’s climax and I have high hopes for making my deadline to finish the first draft by August 31. Yay! After that, I will let the manuscript lie fallow until March 1, 2017, at the earliest. (I am a staunch believer in letting manuscripts sit for a long time before attempting edits.)

:: Lighthouse Boy. Ahhh, now here’s a bit of a problem: I’m still not sure where I’m going with this one. The problem is the structure of the entire project: it’s one large book, kinda-sorta split in two. (The framing device is that the book is a autobiographical manuscript left behind by Our Hero later in life, which has just been found in two parts by an academic dude who leaves annotations and stuff all over the manuscript.)

So while I have the first draft of the first half done, I’m waffling currently on whether I write the second part and then edit the entire thing en masse, or edit the first part and then write the second. For various reasons, I’m leaning toward the former – mainly because if I need to change anything in Part One to reflect and/or anticipate the events of Part Two, I can’t do that if I’ve already edited and released the first one.

I am also really considering serializing this book, once it’s done, on Wattpad prior to publishing the entire thing, or maybe as a series of chapbooks. We’ll see. In any event, if I go the way I’m leaning, I won’t start drafting Book Two of Lighthouse Boy until some time next year, and then return to Forgotten Stars after that.

:: Attend local cons! I need to do more of this. Buffalo Comic-Con is coming up in September, and I’ll be in attendance, albeit as a ticket-buying fan. But I’ll be there, sizing things up and hopefully doing some interacting. Next year, once I have four books out, I’d love to be able to set up a dealer table of my own. We’ll see.

Locally, there are a surprising number of cons right now. Buffalo Comic-Con has been growing for several years, and this year it was joined by a new one, Nickel City Con, which was just held last weekend but next year apparently shifts to May. There are also UBCon and EerieCon, neither of which I’ve yet attended. (I can’t attend EerieCon this year because its dates coincide with an annual getaway trip The Wife and I take every year.) I do wonder if the Buffalo con scene is getting a little oversaturated, but as long as they all exist, I’ll try to attend as many as I can.

:: Short fiction. I’ve been thinking that it might be time to start writing some short fiction again. Right now I don’t really have any ideas ready to go, but that’s never a problem. I can walk down the street and spot ideas to write. What would I do with short fiction? I’m not sure. If nothing else, I can post it all on Wattpad, which I’ve already started doing with some of my older stories.

So there are some of my “stretch goals” for the next year-and-change. Will I make them all? Maybe, maybe not…but I’m going to have a hell of a time trying! Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!

Because in my head I'm still twelve. #AmWriting #overalls

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How to Kill Your Darlings

After “Show, don’t tell!”, “Read a lot and write a lot”, and “Never fight a land war in Asia”, the most common bit of writing advice may well be “Kill your darlings.” This means that sometimes there will be things in your writing that you really really really love, passages that sing to you every time you read them, passages which make you think that maybe you’re actually good enough for this writing business after all…but which you must remove from your book or story because the story itself is better without it.

That’s what it means: Kill your darlings. If the book is improved by killing something you see as a darling, then you have to smother it in its sleep. Poison its coffee. Push it off the bridge. You get the idea.

Sometimes when writers kill their darlings, the darlings resurface in another way – perhaps as a short story, or the idea gets recycled, or so on. Years ago, fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson issued an anthology of short stories, but it also included a fallen darling of his: a chapter from his book The Illearth War, which he ended up cutting for sound reasons but which he also didn’t want to see gone forever. So darlings don’t have to stay dead.

But how do you know when it’s time to kill a darling?

Well, here’s the thing, for me: All darlings are suspect, and some of them are impostors. So the task isn’t to kill darlings, it’s to kill the things that are not darlings, so that the things that are can shine in all their darling glory. Your darlings are awesome. You don’t want to kill your darlings! You have to lure the non-darlings out into the open, and then you have to strangle them and toss them overboard. No mercy for the non-darlings, folks!

This requires a pretty hard-nosed and blunt approach to one’s own story. You have to see story errors for what they are, and ruthlessly eliminate them. Killing darlings is painful, but killing false darlings? Dragging the impostors outside by their hair and pushing them into a deep pit? That feels great! But since false darlings almost always look like real darlings, what’s a writer to do?

Well, sooner or later, every false darling will start to stand out like a sore thumb. If you have doubts about a certain thing in your story – a character, a subplot, a scene, whatever – then that’s a red flag that the thing you’re looking at is a false darling.

There’s an entire plotline in the first draft of Forgotten Stars III that will never see the light of day, because I recognized it for what it was – a false darling – very soon after I finished writing the first draft. It might have even been within a day or two of writing the words “The End”, and I wrote in my editing notes to delete it. And delete it I have.

Another problem with false darlings isn’t even that they’re disguised as real darlings, it’s that we’re trying desperately not to see them as false darlings, because we’re invested for whatever reason in their survival. These ones are the hardest. That plotline in Forgotten Stars III that I deleted? I tried valiantly to convince myself that it could stay, that it wasn’t too damaging, that I could make it work with some good editing…but eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that the thing had to go.

False darlings don’t want to go. They want to stay. They want to live off the energy of your story. They want to suck down that good energy and live on, ruining things for all time. And if you let them, they will. So kill them.

“But what if I kill an actual darling?” You’ll probably realize it. What can be removed, can be put back. A story isn’t like a game of Jenga…and if you have to put it back, maybe it’ll be even better. I’ve edited out actual darlings only to have to re-insert them before, and when I do, I usually just rewrite tham, and they come out better. So don’t worry about this.

Truthfully, I have yet to find a false darling that I feel bad about excising, and neither should you. And if you’re worried about a “wasted idea”? Don’t! If the idea is that good, it’ll work itself in someplace else. And if not, well…you’ll forget about it eventually, anyway.

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