Check out my page for The Song of Forgotten Stars, because…THE SAVIOR WORLDS is at long, long last available! As of this writing it’s paperback only, but I’m working on the ebooks and will update accordingly. Huzzah!
So, here we are, four months since my last check in! And so much and so little has changed. The pandemic continues, and for a while it seemed as if things might be slowly getting better…and then, for a lot of reasons, they stopped getting better and started getting worse again.
Anyhow…life goes on for me. I’m still writing and still reading, and I now have Book II of Seaflame! over 60,000 words, which is a roughly-projected one-quarter of the way done. This one is not progressing swiftly, and I’m pretty confident that after I’m done with this project, I’ll never tackle anything this long again. I have too many stories that I want to write to get bogged down in doorstops of this magnitude! But it is fun to write this one, and I will miss these characters when I’m done, so there’s that.
By way of announcement, I am planning to get The Savior Worlds released sometime this fall, most likely in late November, so work will be ramping up for that pretty soon. I will definitely have more to say about that as we progress toward that particular finish line.
Finally, I have a quote to offer on the subject of how one should treat one’s own writing. This comes from author Samira Ahmed, young adult writer of the brilliant novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters as well as several others that I haven’t read yet. She appeared on 88 Cups of Tea, one of my favorite podcasts, and one point she kept driving home was the need of storytellers to “say yes to themselves,” because creative life is hard enough as it is that we don’t need to be putting up our own roadblocks to our own work, in addition to the roadblocks the rest of the world erects. You should definitely listen to her entire episode, but for now, just this one bit absolutely floored me when I heard it:
SAMIRA AHMED: One piece of that kindness to myself–and I say that this is just for me, but I hope maybe it can speak to just one of the other storytellers out there–which is, I am gentle with the language that I use about my writing. So what that means is, I never say to myself that my first draft is ‘trash’. This is something for me; maybe this is OK with everybody else, your mileage may vary, but for me, when I was little one of those racist experiences that I had was a grown-ass man telling me, a kid, that I was ‘trash that America needed to take out.’ Words can be weapons, and I’m not going to use weaponized language against myself. So I don’t say that my first draft is ‘trash.’ I don’t say it’s ‘garbage’. I say it needs improvement. I say it needs work. I say I could make it better…but I don’t say that it’s trash.
That is, in my opinion, utterly correct. I’ve actually written about that before in this space, but Ahmed frames it in a way that I hadn’t thought of: you should not use weaponized language against yourself. I could not agree more.
With that I’ll wrap up this check-in, but do keep looking in! And you can always find me on Twitter, Instagram, and my personal blog, Byzantium’s Shores. See you ’round the galaxy, folks!
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Greetings, programs! Last time I checked in I was gearing up to do a burst of edits for The Savior Worlds, as part of my effort to get it release-worthy for launch in May.
As I’m sure you’re all well aware, a month later…the world happened.
The plan was to release at Buffalo’s Nickel City Con in May, but now, because of Covid-19, Nickel City Con isn’t happening this year. And that’s not the only hiccup in the works. My wonderful cover artist got her work done and we were just starting to talk about when we could meet up to make the transfer of the art, when the world locked down.
A friend and editor at The Geekiverse, who provided one of my big sets of edits for the book, was going to meet with me to discuss plans for a whole relaunch of The Song of Forgotten Stars along with the release of Savior Worlds, but that hasn’t happened yet, either.
So, when will any of this stuff happen? I have no idea. When it does, I want it to be right. I’ll be revising the existing editions of Stardancer, The Wisdomfold Path, and Amongst the Stars; among other things, I will be adding character lists to each book and synopses of the previous volumes in each book after Stardancer. I’ll also be tweaking the book covers, fixing font and color issues to make them “pop” more.
And let’s not forget, The Savior Worlds needs to come out, taking the story into a new era! So exciting! And so very, very frustrating to have a world-wide pandemic basically force me to slam on the brakes.
But, slam them I must. Everything will be fine, eventually, and if I take an optimistic view, I’ve been given the gift of more time to get everything done right. That’s big.
So what am I doing in the meantime? Well, my plan was to get the Forgotten Stars books revised and Savior Worlds launched, and then move on to finally drafting Seaflame! Book II (actual title TBD). Instead, I’ve moved that drafting process onto the front burner. I did a round of edits on Seaflame! Book I last fall and winter, so that story is fresh on my mind and I’m looking forward to completing that adventure.
And that’s where things lie right now, writing-wise. (As for personal observations from our Coronavirus-ridden world, I’ll save those for Byzantium’s Shores at some point. For now, we’re fine here. We are, it turns out, deeply cut out for social distancing.)
Until later, see you ’round the Galaxy!
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I haven’t posted in a couple weeks–sorry!–but the reasons, as ever, are good (I hope). Having received feedback on the manuscript of The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4) from several trusted voices, it’s time for another heavy dose of revision work before I send the thing out for proofreading in March. I’ve got kind of a hard deadline going here: I need to have this draft (Draft 3.0) ready to go by the end of this month. The ultimate goal is to release Book 4 at Nickel City Con in May, and that’s a lot closer than it feels!
As I write this post, I’m about a third of the way through the book, and I’m a little more than a third of the way through the month (and The Wife and I have a weekend getaway coming up at the end of next week that will not be a great time for writing), so I’ve really got my work cut out. I do want to keep this space alive a lot more than I have in the past, so…as always, here’s hoping!
Until next time, see you around the Galaxy!
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So last week I wrote about the various issues that arise when writing not just one novel but a series of novels, and wouldn’t you know it! I am running up against those issues right now.
In just a couple of weeks I start doing my next round of revisions for The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4), which is the volume in the series that kicks the larger story into real motion. That being the case, it’s suddenly clear to me that I need to really codify, if only for my own use right now, the backstory of this saga.
If you’ve read the three currently-published Forgotten Stars books (and why on Earth would you not have read them! They’re terrific, even in my biased opinion!), you know that I drop a lot of small and not-so-small hints and tidbits about the nature and history of the long-lost, long-fallen Arrilori Star Empire. I did this because the main planet of the first three books, Xonareth, was once a member of that empire but was banished and forbidden to travel to the stars until the Arrilori returned to set them free…and there they waited, and waited, and waited, while the Arrilori fell completely and utterly into ruin. Xonareth is, as I’ve mentioned before, the planetary society equivalent of those fabled Japanese soldiers who spent decades on deserted islands in the Pacific, never knowing that World War II ended.
But as the second act of The Song of Forgotten Stars dawns and is now taking shape, it’s starting to become important to hand out more and more information about the Arrilori Star Empire. It’s time to flesh out the backstory.
And all I have of that backstory right now is…hints and tidbits. I have a very “big picture” version of what I know befell the Arrilori and their galactic empire, but I need more than that. This is what I meant in the post about series writing, in that you need to do more ground work when you’re doing a series that tells a single, large story.
You may now be asking, “Hey dummy, shouldn’t you have already done all that work?” Well…maybe, maybe not. That’s where the whole “plotter versus pantser” thing comes into play, after all. But also in this case I knew that I could get away with the first three books in the series without a complete picture of who the Arrilori were and how everything they built came to ruin. I had the luxury of being able to throw in some cool stuff here, a few hints there, a couple of juicy tidbits sprinkled throughout. I was leaving puzzle pieces for myself as a storyteller, and now it’s time to put the pieces together for myself before I go on to do it for the readers.
At least, that’s the plan. Plans can go awry, of course….
See you ’round the Galaxy,
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The other day, the ever-fantastic Briana Mae Morgan asked on Twitter:
I am simultaneously excited and nervous to be writing a series. It’s my first series! How do y’all do this?— briana morgan PREORDER LIVINGSTON GIRLS! (@brimorganbooks) January 5, 2020
Naturally, I responded, because I have committed or am in the process of committing several crimes of Serial Fiction, and now I’m going to extend my thoughts a bit as to how to write a series.
I tend to think of storytelling, at its most basic, in terms of structure, so naturally my thoughts on writing a series would turn to structure. That means that if you’re considering committing an act of series, you have to ask yourself this question first:
What kind of series am I writing?
The answer to this question will affect how you write your series. So, what kind of series are there? The options, as I see them, are these:
TYPE 1. A single-story series, told serially.
Examples here are many of the long fantasy series out there: The Wheel of Time, The Belgariad, The Expanse, and A Song of Ice and Fire are good examples. Each book tells a part of the larger story, and reading the books out of order can be disorienting or downright confusing for readers who are jumping into the middle of the story.
At first glance, The Lord of the Rings might be thought an example of this, but I don’t think it is. LOTR is better thought of as a single huge book that for publishing reasons was broken down into a trilogy. There is no functional break between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and each volume is only a part of the larger whole.
I would also file the Harry Potter books here, but they’re a bit of a special case in that each book tells a piece of the larger story while also serving as a self-contained unit. The later volumes have less stand-alone appeal than the earlier ones, but they still have internal structure. Can you read them in any order? Not really–but there’s enough internal structure to each book that it wouldn’t be as disorienting as trying to jump into A Song of Ice and Fire with A Feast for Crows.
TYPE 2. An open-ended series with larger story elements, but not a single larger story.
In a series like this, each novel is mostly independent, but there is character development and larger story development along the way. Events of earlier books have impact on the later ones, but there’s generally less danger in starting such a series somewhere in the middle. The James Bond books are a good example here, or Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books.
TYPE 3. A series of independent stories featuring a starring character or a group of characters.
With this kind of series you can start at any point, because the books (or movies) are for the most part completely unrelated and self-contained from one to the next. The James Bond movies apply here (Ian Fleming’s books have more continuity than the movies, at least up until the Daniel Craig era, which have more continuity than any other sequence of Bond films to date), as do Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. I’m not sure if Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories work under this definition.
So, once you know what kind of series you have on your hands as a writer, your next course becomes clear. If you’re writing that last kind, you’re golden because you don’t have to do any planning of any kind beyond what you would plan for a single novel. Just finish the current adventure or story, and then move on to the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat for as long as you’re comfortable tracking the adventures of a single character.
Now, with a series like that, you might want to have some continuity as you go: recurring villains, perhaps. Holmes had his Moriarty and Bond his Blofeld, after all. But you don’t have to do that: I don’t recall that John Bellairs had Lewis Barnavelt or Johnny Dixon square off against the same dastardly supernatural baddie more than once (though I may be wrong).
It seems to me that the difficulties with series writing creep in with a Type One or a Type Two series. With these types of series, more planning is needed.
With a Type Two series, in which there are ongoing serial elements but no real larger “story”, a degree of planning is still needed for two reasons. First, all installments must reflect what has come before. If you shatter your protagonist’s heart at the end of one installment, you can’t have them bounce right back into a new relationship in the next. You have to be able to accommodate the changes in your characters over time, and what’s more, you have to let them change over time. In a Type Two series, your character can’t be the same person in the tenth installment that they are in the first.
Second, while leaving room for surprise and discovery is great, you’re better served if you know beforehand what kind of larger arc your characters or your story are going to follow. You need to have at least a partial idea of how you expect your characters to change and grow and what kinds of things are going to change in their world. A series of stories following, say, a sword-wielding warrior for hire as she journeys through various kingdoms and realms, should see the world change as she roams through it. Wars begin, perhaps; or maybe the cities are visited by plagues…whatever. The world should change, and your character should change along with it. And if that happens, you should have a bit of an idea of what kinds of changes might happen.
(Again, none of this should rule out the serendipity of a sudden burst of insightful inspiration that leads you to do something you hadn’t expected!)
This leaves us with the Type One series: the series that tells a single story, beginning to end, but writ large over the course of several individual stories or books. For one of these, you’d better do some planning, or you’ll end up really bogged down once you’re in the thick of it.
The bigger a story is, the more moving parts it has, and these all have to work together. Your cast of characters is likely much larger if you have a big story to tell, and they all have to develop along the way and their actions and choices have to affect the story, or else it feels like the characters are just cogs in a big machine of plot. But here’s the thing: with a big series it can likely be very tempting to just start out and figure out the big plot later, but if you do this, pitfalls await.
Your early books might not end up sufficiently supporting or establishing the larger plot to follow, or crucial things about your characters. If you find yourself needing Mary in Book Four to have a very specific talent that requires years of training to master, and you’ve never hinted in Books One through Three that she has this talent, it can be jarring for the reader or eject them outright from your book.
More importantly, telling a very large story without planning can lead you to losing the story entirely. You can find yourself wandering down tangents, or finding that farther on down the line your entire notion of how the story works has changed, or you might change your mind as to what happens. On the other hand, though, as with any story I feel strongly that outlines or plans should not be constrictive to the point of being a straitjacket, crushing spontaneity. You never know when the next great idea is going to come along, but if you’ve done the groundwork for your series, the great ideas are likely to supplement the work rather than supplant it.
So, those are my thoughts on writing series. Of course, my thoughts might change as I get farther into my own respective series!
See you ’round the Galaxy,
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The last few years I’ve adopted a self-challenge on Goodreads to keep my reading on track: 52 books a year. And I’ve been successful, so, yay, me! Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. It’s fuel for stories, as much as food is for life. Writers who don’t read are kidding themselves.
Anyway, if you want to see the roster of everything I read in 2019, feel free to peruse my Goodreads shelf for 2019. It was a good year for reading, and I didn’t suffer through too many slumps last year, which was nice. “Reader’s Block” can be a deeply frustrating thing. Fortunately, that never happened to me in 2019. I was quite consistent.
You may note that almost every book has a rating of four stars or higher. The absolute lowest rating I will almost ever give a book is three stars, and that’s for a book that’s perfectly fine and unobjectionable. My reason for this is simple. No, I don’t love every book I read, but I only finish books I love and I only rate books I’ve finished. The books that I either dislike, or decide aren’t my cup of tea, or that I simply peter out on…these get set aside in favor of something else, and not rated. Many times I’ve “bounced off” a book at one time only to read it sometime later and have it become a beloved favorite, so I am generally loath to genuinely pan a book. It’s something I just don’t do very often.
Likewise, on Goodreads I often won’t even list a book under “Currently Reading” until I’m sure I’m going to finish it. This isn’t for appearances’ sake, since I use Goodreads mainly to track the books I’ve finished. Filling it up with all my various DNF’s doesn’t seem useful to me.
Finally, here are the cream of the crop, the very best books I read last year. I recommend each of these very highly! (Links are to my Goodreads reviews.)
These are just the books that stand out in my mind from 2019. In truth it was a wonderful year for my reading life, and if 2020 is half so good it will be a great year too. If you read anything really wonderful last year, by all means, let me know!
See you ’round the galaxy,
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It’s 2020, and that means that the Twenties are now upon us. I wrote some thoughts and collected some links to writings from the last ten years that I particularly like over on Byzantium’s Shores, and I provide the links here. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more stuff! A major goal of mine in 2020 is figuring out just how I want to use this particular space more effectively.
But for now, linkage:
Thanks and Happy New Year, readers!
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It means that it’s National Novel Writing Month, and thus it’s the time when writing-obsessed weirdos like myself gear up for another attempt at producing 50,000 words in a single month.
It’s nearing the end of the year, and thus it’s time to spend some time looking back at the year that is quickly heading toward the wings and anticipating the year that’s getting ready to strut onto the stage.
It also means that just about six months have passed since I posted on this site. As always, oops.
What’s been happening, then?
Well, the usual life stuff, naturally. Writing, working, eating, drinking, walking dogs. My writing of late has focused on editing: after I finished drafting ORION’S HUNTRESS, I did edits on THE SAVIOR WORLDS (FORGOTTEN STARS IV, for those keeping track), THROUGH THE PALE DOOR (the sequel to THE CHILLING KILLING WIND), and my as-yet-untitled novel about the ill-fated kayaking expedition in the Arctic. This year’s NaNo project will be the first thing I’ve drafted in nearly a year, which is kind of scary. What if I don’t remember how to do it! Consternation! Uproar!
Well, I’ll figure it out, like I always do. Lately I’ve been re-reading the manuscript to THE ADVENTURES OF LIGHTHOUSE BOY, Book One (not the actual title), as prep for writing Part Two, which is my plan for much of 2020 (in addition to getting THE SAVIOR WORLDS out into the world). But about a week ago a fresh idea hit me, and I thought it might make a nice short novel (ha! As if I could ever write a short novel!) to use as a palate-cleanser for NaNoWriMo, before I get back to the world of Big Wordy Doorstops (part one of LIGHTHOUSE BOY is more than 235,000 words long).
So, here I go. Want some details? The tentative title is AN ECHO UPON THE WATER, and the book is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Echo Perry who is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle on their grape farm in the Finger Lakes of Upstate NY. While living there she struggles with figuring out the rules of her new home and of her new school and of her new town, as she constantly feels like an outsider. And then there’s the matter of the ghost train that rumbles through her backyard every night at 3:00am, and the girl she sees on board.
Or that’s what I think the book is about. I might be wrong. Hey, I remain, as ever, a pantser at heart.
I’ve also fallen a bit behind on some of my essay writing for this site, and for Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, if you’re just joining in), and for The Geekiverse (another site for which I write). That being the case, I’ll be using NaNo as an opportunity to get a bunch of those essays (some of which are already handwritten!) typed up so I can post them in the future.
So, onward and upward!
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So last weekend was Nickel City Con, which is Western New York’s biggest annual pop culture-related gathering. This particular con only started a few years ago, and there have been hiccups along the way (this year saw an unfortunate rash of cancellations by the booked celebrity guests), but I’ve had a great time at each event.
HOWEVER! The last couple of times I’ve attended as a paying attendee, while this year I was able to attend on an “official” basis as part of The Geekiverse‘s entourage. And even better than that, I was able to set up a stand and sell my books for several hours. Thus I set up my little stand, as pictured above, and proceeded to hawk my wares!
Well, OK. I sold one book the entire afternoon. But hey! The day was not remotely a loss, not by a longshot. It was a wonderfully fun time, hanging out with my fellow geeks and talking about geeky things and seeing the cosplayers wandering by and actually talking about my work with a few con attendees. Even if I didn’t move more than a single book, this was still the kind of event that I found affirming as a writer. (And I award myself bonus points for not yelling at the nice guy who dropped by to chat Star Wars and then proceeded to badmouth Attack of the Clones. See! I can behave!)
I’m already thinking about how next year is going to work: larger and better visual sales aids in addition to the books themselves, plus I hope/plan to have more than just the first three Forgotten Stars books there. The sky is, as ever, the limit…and the sky, when you think about it, is limitless. Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!
[By way of a parenthetical aside, let me note as I always do after one of these cons that it’s high time for Buffalo to make a bid to host an upcoming World Science Fiction Convention. There is absolutely zero reason why this city can’t make this happen. It would be a fantastic event that would bring several thousand visitors from outside the region, and Buffalo is more than big enough. Remember, WorldCon just a couple of years ago happened in Spokane, WA–a lovely town that’s about half the size of Buffalo. Bring Worldcon to Buffalo! We can even call if BuffCon!]
[Oh, and one more parenthetical note: since this was an event to celebrate geekiness, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a Groot t-shirt under my trademark overalls. The press pass obscured Groot a bit in the photo above, so here’s how that looked:
So, my first Con as an author is now behind me. What’s next? Let’s find out! See you around the Galaxy, folks!