Archive for the ‘Novels’ Category

raven wing

When I created Anwat al Masewei over twenty years ago, I didn’t ever think it would bring me here.

I was engaged to my second wife, an artist, and we had the idea to do a fantasy comic book. Something different. We created a few characters, she did a few drawings, and I sketched out the idea of this city–a fantastical city built on a delta surrounded by cliffs and salt wastes and deserts beyond that.

But things happened, and we moved on to other projects.

A few years later, I was in a D&D game and had the chance to run a short interlude episode, so I recycled the city and used it as a port of call. I soon realized I really enjoyed that as a game location, so I set about building out the setting a bit more. That became what I referred to as the Anwat setting, and I ran a long, fruitful game there as I built out the Caliphate of Dust.

Then I started a second came. Influenced by the courtly politics of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, this one would be more recognizably European. So I started fleshing out the Caliphate’s northern neighbor, the Vale Lands. That went on to become my longest running, and most enjoyable experience as a DM ever. By this point, I realized what I really wanted to do was build up the world enough to publish it under the open license for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

And so the book was built out. 86 pages of setting, religions, history, culture, politics, intrigue. As the Anwat game came to a close, I moved those players over to Ravensgate to tinker about the mountainous border city and college of necromancy. It had a bit of an anachronistic, cold war vibe–the Medieval analog for 1950 Vienna, perhaps. For mood and theme, the Portishead song “Sour Times” really came to epitomize the feeling of that game. It was, sadly, short lived for a variety of player reasons.

But it had lasted long enough. The world was built. The corners filled in. Everything was ready to get formatted out, the charts checked over, art commissioned…

…and then the open license was killed as they moved on to their 4th Edition.

What’s a guy to do? Well, this guy kept playing and fleshed out a few other corners (namely the Frost Islands). Meanwhile, I kept working on other projects. Until I realized that all the work I’d done in building the Anwat (and Vale and Ravensgate) locations didn’t need to be wasted work at all. Sure, there might not be the need for a game book anymore, but damn if it didn’t provide a rich setting bible for the purposes of writing fantasy.  I’d already written a few short stories set there.

And when I’d killed off the Ravensgate game, I did so in a particularly apocalyptic manner. Why not do something with that? The original outline was for a trilogy, because that’s what all the cool kids are writing. Three primary story arcs with a big cast of characters spread out over the three books.

I got writing, and at some point realized what I really wanted to do was less a trilogy and more of a triptych. So I hacked everything apart and put it back together with each of the three arcs having its own book, with the three books happening more or less simultaneously, all spurned by the same apocalyptic opening act. I liked the new structure. And it let me focus on different themes for each arc rather than make for one big muddled arc for ALL of them.

The first one, Of Rooks and Ravens, features a young, ACE academic forced out of her comfort zone and in the company of an untrustworthy (and at times unwelcome) mentor. While the book has gone through multiple drafts and revisions (and even more after selling it to Razorgirl Press who will be releasing it at the end of September), the book has remained a coming of age story that explores questions of culture and identity.

And I love it dearly. I wasn’t really aware when I was writing it that it was Gothic high fantasy. But apparently, it’s Gothic high fantasy. I blame the weather. And the dead things.

Interestingly, the second book in the triptych, Redemption of the Yellow Wolf, about families and second chances, is something like half done with the first draft. And the third, The Sea In His Blood, is maybe 25% finished and focuses on late-in-life responsibilities to make your life count for something. Yet neither of these books are likely to be my next novels.

First, I need to finish the next Cobalt City novel, which I should be able to wrap up in the next month. There are too many people waiting for that one. And the nature of that one is too timely to let sit. And then, while there are other books I’d love to be doing, I’ll be diving back into events that arose from Of Rooks and Ravens for something else entirely.

At some point soon, before the end of the year, certainly, I’ll begin writing a new trilogy, entitled A Conspiracy of Feathers. I don’t know if high fantasy espionage is a genre yet, but that’s what I’ll be doing. And the first book, Thrush Among Vipers, lets me return to where it all started, back in Anwat al-Masewei. I’m really thrilled to be working in this world, and even more excited that other people get to be able to see it soon.

In the meantime, keep watching this space (or my other social media) for pending cover reveals, launch information, and readings in your area!

 

Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

I know I’ve discussed the current Cobalt City novel RESISTANCE once or twice before. For new readers (or those with the memory of goldfish), RESISTANCE is the novel I started last November as a way to process what I saw as our country’s decline into fascism and straight up dystopia. I’d hoped to be finished with it by now. I’m only 2/3 of the way through it, but picking up speed as I near the end. The goal is to have this draft done by sometime in October.

See…I process the world around me in my writing. I suspect most writers do that, to some degree. It’s part of that whole “write what you know” chestnut. Our life, our experiences, provide a filter and springboard in many ways for our stories. I’m a pretty political person. I pay attention to what’s going on in the world around me, the good and the bad, and I try to learn from as many people from as many different viewpoints as I can. I don’t always succeed. And sometimes that viewpoint is little more than ill-informed hatred that, upon examination, I can dismiss.

Several of the Cobalt City books have provided filters for me to process parts of this world through the medium of superhero storytelling. This actually came up with my therapist the other day, which might be a bit of an overshare, but she think’s it’s healthy, so I’m inclined to agree. I can’t fix the world. I can’t FIGHT the world.

But in Cobalt City, I can. So I do. And sometimes it surprises me how that manifests. The huge cast (spread out over seven arcs that condense down into four arcs and then into, essentially one) is all grappling with the same core issue: what are the responsibilities of heroes in a country that has turned toward fascism? Who do they serve, and what are they willing to risk?

Amid these larger arcs are three isolated chapters that help provide context, coloring in a larger view of what’s going on in the country and world. These chapters also allow me to write about things I see going on right now, every day in the news. As such, they’re proving to be particularly brutal to write. They’re a little too immediate. A little too real.

The first one was from the point of view of a C-list vigilante hero who was a police detective in her day job. As protest marches continue to grow around the city, the city, bowing to pressure from the federal government, is changing how they deal with protests. They’re bringing a more militarized presence, prepared to treat them less as peaceful marches than riots. While she understands the righteousness of the protests and the protesters, and knows first hand that yes, there are good cops, she also knows all too well that there are bad ones, too. She sees the conflict escalating from a perspective no one else in the book has, knows it’s a powder keg, and knows it’s only a matter of time before someone lights it.

The final of these chapters will be coming up in a day or two, and shows two heroes, both rich white women, returning to the country from Brazil after a mission, and will, hopefully, be the easiest of the three to write. I know they’re going to encounter problems with security overreach. And I know it’s going to raise blood pressure over privacy issues when I get to it. Thankfully I don’t have to deal with that one, yet.

In the meantime, I just finished wrestling with a chapter that I thought was going to be a fun little aside but proved me wrong.

Chapter 23, in which Xia Lo, former (and kind of still current) enforcer of Cobalt City’s underworld is meeting with the Asian Business & Community Alliance over police inaction regarding increased harassment. They’ve come to her, asking not only to maybe apply some pressure on the police to take these claims more seriously and increase patrols, but also to help them form a volunteer civilian protection force. Not a neighborhood watch. Effectively, a militia. And she knows that while it will help against random violence, it could also be seen as a provocation–reason for the government to use ICE to disrupt the community and sow fear. But maybe it’s a risk worth taking. Maybe it’s time to go to war. Because lives are already at risk. Businesses have been damaged. People have been not just confidently and loudly threatened in public, but outright attacked, including one who was shot dead in a bar in the Hollows (also, the only crime for which there had been an arrest) while the killer shouted that “This is OUR country now!”

It’s making me angry.

It’s making me angry, because this is happening. Not just in Cobalt City, but here. In Seattle. It doesn’t matter if it’s a community that the president or any of his sycophants have singled out for abuse. Violence, threats, harassment against Muslim and Jewish communities have surged, due in no small part to people in power vilifying those communities. But beyond that, this atmosphere of hate has seemingly empowered bigots of all stripes, with the only thing they hate more than people who are different is being called on it. It’s a terrifying time.

And I don’t know how to deal with it. So I write about it.

I write about it so that maybe shed light on a bigger part of the narrative–both Cobalt City and ours. I write about it to encourage people to stay strong in the face of authoritarianism, to push back against Fascism, to protect your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers from the hatred and violence of bigots. I write about it to show that no, if you punch a Nazi that doesn’t make you as bad as them, that standing up to protect someone from harassment and violence is fundamentally different than standing up to oppress someone. I write about it to show that no one is threatening your way of life or your culture simply by enjoying theirs, that it’s not just YOUR country–it’s all of ours, so fucking learn to share.

We’re on an express train to dystopia in this country right now. But it’s still not too late to fix things. Even now. Not everyone can march. Not everyone can go on strike. Not everyone can punch a Nazi in the head. Do what you can. Do what you need to. Then catch your breath and get back out there. And hydrate. Always remember to hydrate.

I might be able to fix Cobalt City. I’m counting on all of you to help fix the rest of it.

Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

If you’ve been reading this blog for long enough, you’ve probably heard me talk about Of Rooks and Ravens, the big, weird fantasy novel set in the world of Ravensgate. If you have missed all the randomness about how the project evolved, that’s okay. It’s a Gothic high-fantasy with an ace/aro female academic forced by fate into a world of intrigue, politics, and birds.

You’ll love it.

Anyway, the big change is that I found a publisher for the book last year and we’re in the edit process so that we can launch in early October of this year. And I realized that this was a great opportunity to talk about edits. And more importantly, working with publishers and editors on edits.

So get yourself an iced coffee and pull up a chair. Shit is about to get real.

I don’t know how many times I’ve edited this book. This includes at least one and a half edit passes heavy enough I’d almost consider them rewrites. It got at least two big edits before I let anyone read it or the first time. And a few more since then.

And you’d think with all those edits, all that time, the book should be in really damn good shape, right?

Well, yes and no.

If you do your job well and the stars align and you get your manuscript out to the right people, all of your previous edits might be enough to get it noticed. They might like it. They might, heaven forbid, actually think it’s good!

But that doesn’t mean you’re done.

Because why the fuck are you settling for good?

With a talented editor or two by your side, you should set your sights on great. But even if you never quite reach that vague plateau, if you commit to the collaborative process with good editors, you can at least attain better. 

They are your allies. They are there with the same goal you have: to tell the best story possible. No, they aren’t always right. But trust me on this: neither are you. Take your ego out of it and learn to listen.

Anyone who has gone through this process knows there are different degrees of editing. Everyone should at least have an extra set of eyes looking for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the level of things a copy editor looks for. But ideally, you will find an editor who challenges you to look at the manuscript in new ways and find things that you overlooked.

“But Unca Nate! I’ve gone through this novel with a fine-toothed comb three times. I created this world! How could I have overlooked anything?”

Again, don’t get defensive. Do you know how much work I’ve done in Ravensgate? Years and years of work on this university city in the high mountain pass next to a vast, dark lake.

YEARS!

Guess what? It never occurred to me until the last set of deep edits that Preston had never eaten fish before because no one would eat something that came out of that giant, dead lake. It never occurred to me that despite the altitude and the cold that it was weird  the lake never froze over. You’d think someone would have commented on that

And then in an edit meeting yesterday something else occurred to all of us. Not only is the lake, which is so central to the city not even mentioned until the second chapter, but I’ve never thought to actually give the lake a goddamned name.

I’d like to take this moment to commend Alisha Knaff and Christine Smith from Razorgirl Press. The first time we sat down to talk edits, we went through an entire novel’s worth of notes and suggestions over coffee. It took almost three hours. After that edit pass, we sat down again and looked not only at those changes, but at the whole novel and, in particular, the first chapter which was annotated and flagged with tiny tweaks and questions like a conspiracy board of the Kennedy Assassination.

And we dug into those for over an hour, note by note by note.

It was the most intensively collaborative editing step I’ve ever experienced.

And I mean that in the best way possible. Because several of those flags marked things that were already great. Some were simple suggestions of revised word choice. And some were little tweaks to bring in more depth and detail.

I dug into the notes today and started the latest edit pass. Two pages in, and I had to take a break to write this post. Because no matter how good you think your book is, it’s possible to make it better. Because that book you read that changed your life, that blew you away and made you want to be a writer? I can pretty much promise you it didn’t just happen.

I loved Of Rooks and Ravens. I loved this weird story about an awkward girl forced out of her comfort zone and into a bigger world which she has to navigate alongside an utter bastard of an accidental mentor. I loved it more after that last edit pass I turned in earlier this spring. And holy shit, guys, I can’t wait for you to read what it’s going to be when we’re done.

You’ll be able to see for yourself in October. And pay attention to this space. I’ll be revealing more, including the cover, in coming months.

 

 

Gato Loco + Shadow

The devil rides tonight!

I don’t know how other authors do it, but at least in my case, it’s uncommon for a character to leap fully-formed from brain to paper. I find that often times the character comes together in bits and pieces until they’re ready to be seen. And even then, they can continue to evolve over time. For me, it’s one of the most compelling things about writing.

So, let’s take a look at Gato Loco.

Gato Loco began not as Gato Loco, but as Manuel de la Vega, a swashbuckling hero created for a 7th Sea RPG somewhere around 1999-2000. Inspired by the character Richard St Vier from Ellen Kushner’s fantastic novel Swordspoint, he was driven to be the best swordsman around. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I highly suggest it. Courtly manners, dashing swordplay, and a fabulous gay protagonist. The game only lasted a few sessions before personalities caused it implode, but during that brief run, Manuel did get the chance to mask up to conceal his identity. Making an improvised mask from a bit of curtain, he proclaimed himself el grande pantalones. Yes. The swashbuckler known as The Big Pants.

It should be pointed out, my Spanish at the time was pretty much non-existent.

I liked something about his personality enough that when I ran an even shorter term superhero game on the Paladium superhero RPG, I brought him back. This time many of the familiar elements of the character were present: black leather cycling suit, cat-head helmet, sleek motor cycle, nimble, and a little bit psychic. Much of this visualization was inspired by the look of Kaneda in the manga/movie Akira. Swap out his red costume for black, slap on a helmet, and you’re there. He even had the iconic giant laser gun known from the end of the movie. However, he wasn’t even called Gato Loco yet. Instead, he used the name Krazy Kat.

In 2002, Green Ronin released the Mutants & Mastermind RPG, and a distillation of Manuel de la Vega surfaced again in a game run for my kids and girl friend (and then wife) over the summer. This time, I dropped the laser, added the familiar stage-field generator force fields, and adopted the name Gato Loco (both because Krazy Kat was a cartoon cat and at this time the character of Wild Kat was being added to the setting). This game which came to be known as the Mysterious Five also saw the creation of the Tesla Twins, Mister Grey, the Society of Evil Geniuses (including Kara Sparx, Lumien, and Nicodemus Candledark).

It then spun out into a big blow-out one-shot game that saw the Icons leave Earth, followed by a massive extra-dimensional invasion that allowed me to bring most of the core of the next iteration of the game. This was the longest run period of Gato Loco as a character, even though he’d largely been side-lined to a support character in favor of Mister Grey. During this period, the Protectorate took shape and I started taking writing seriously again.

Part of that was writing the Gato Loco story “Masks.” While an early story, it helped solidify the shape of Gato Loco as a fiction character, and the shape of the Cobalt City universe as a something other than a game setting. Encouraged by Kathleen, Wild Kat’s creator, I undertook writing a novel for the first time in my adult life. I chose to write a Cobalt City novel, the book that became Cobalt City Blues. In it, I told an epic story that was logistically impossible to run as a game–too many solo elements. It had been written for fun. Just something to share among the players in the game. And not only did it give me a chance to tell a big chunk of Gato Loco story, it brought back the giant cutting laser not seen since the old Paladium game–though this time it was wielded by the panda Snowflake. And the chemistry between Manuel and Snowflake was undeniable.

Cobalt City Blues ended up became something enduring. Much to my surprise.

Then in November 2005, in the middle of some huge life changes, I decided to undertake National Novel Writing Month. That month, I wrote Greetings from Buena Rosa. Taking part a year after the dissolution of the Protectorate, it was yet another evolution of Manuel de la Vega. Crippled by the events that led to the end of the Protectorate, he hadn’t been Gato Loco for a year. Forced out of retirement to help a cousin in a Mexican border town, it focused on Manuel as a detective looking for his place in the world rather than the grim specter of Cobalt City. It and the subsequent book allowed me to kind of go back to his roots as a cycle racer and detective, travelling around the country with Snowflake.

And now, I’m evolving him yet again: back in Cobalt City, legs and spine damaged beyond the point where he can wear the Gato Loco suit, he’s busy training his replacement and figuring out what’s next. Gato Loco may not ride anymore, but Manuel de la Vega goes on.

I look forward to exploring that in future stories on my Patreon.

If you’re not a subscriber yet, you might want to look into it. I expect to have a new Manuel de la Vega story posted sometime in June.

 

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

I had a realization earlier today as I was plugging away on the next Cobalt City novel. (Yes, the novel is going well. No idea when it will be done, but I’m writing angry and will keep y’all updated here.) The new novel, tentatively titled RESISTANCE, is the closest thing I’ve ever written to what those in the comics industry call a Crossover Event.

Typically, what these signify is a massive storyline that draws many of the existing titles/characters into a larger-scale story. Some of them are great. Some suck out loud. But they seem to be inevitable as the big companies do them pretty much every year. It frequently signals series being canceled, rebooted, mixed around, or just started fresh. And with RESISTANCE, I’m bringing together characters I’ve worked with for years and characters I’ve developed but not actually written about as more than a mention if even that. And when it’s all done, things in Cobalt City will have changed. The status not so quo anymore if you’re feelin’ me.

So, if you’ll indulge me, this could be a peak of what Cobalt City would look like in the wake of a massive crossover event. And what new series would replace cancelled series.

Parlor Tricks

Largely despised occultist Louis Malenfant and the sorcerer Emil al-Aswan find themselves thrust into supernatural misadventure when Malenfant starts fighting back against the control of his patron, the King in Yellow. Hi-jinks ensue.

The Hunt

The Huntsman, Marcus Castile, goes underground with the Libertine to train his young niece and nephew to be the next Huntsmen while fighting back against a rising wave of Fascism within our own borders.

New Icons

The young Wrecker of Engines re-imagines the super-team, recruiting other solo operatives into a group of dedicated heroes with global reach. Fan favorites Gallows and Kensei are joined by new heroes GhostHouse, Kraken, and Caterwaul.

Bantam

Ties that Bind‘s conflicted hero and police detective walks a tough path between her various allegiances and a city descending into chaos. And as the person who sees where things break down, she’s going to have her work cut out for her holding it all together.

Kensei (by Jeremy Zimmerman)

Continuing the adventures of the spirit guardian of Karlsburg, it’s time to find a balance between the big leagues and some kind of a normal life. Expect a monthly dose of  action, fun, and roller-derby. (And seriously, if you haven’t checked out Zimmerman’s Cobalt City Kensei books yet, do it. They’re incredible.)

Starfall

It begins here: the DESCENT OF STARDUST! Follow Cobalt’s glowing guardian as he falls from grace and works to claw his way back to redemption, featuring Goblin Record’s Ruby Killingsworth.

The Big Tour

Kara Sparx and Lumien join Madjack Atlas McVittie on her world tour. With interstellar operatives dogging their heels at every stop, the’re going to have their work cut out for them.

Cobalt City Silver

An anthology series set in Cobalt City in the 1970’s featuring a rotating cast of creators and characters. The first few arcs will feature Devil’s Daughter, Midnight Thunder, and Tatterdemalion.

Anyway.

That’s if this was a comic book company and I had a stable of writers and artists. As is, we’ll see what rolls out fiction-wise when it rolls out. In the meantime, check out Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder for a recent check in with the heroes of the city. And hopefully next year RESISTANCE will be out sometime late next year.

Shifting Gears & Sharpening Swords

Posted: November 19, 2016 in Novels
Tags:
Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

In September, I was working on my punk rock fable A Winter Lullaby and taking my time with it because I want to do this one right. It’s the novel I’m taking seriously in the same way I pursued Ink Calls to Ink. But I set it aside to knock out a quick Cobalt City novel in November for NaNoWriMo because it’s something I like to do. And make no mistake, I was EXCITED for this year’s Cobalt City book. It was a political thriller, and it was full of intrigue and ultimately, hope.

And then the election happened and I felt my knees metaphorically taken out from under me. I spent the first day careening between states of shock, abject depression, and incoherent anger. It was not the best creative head space. In the week that followed, I wrote, at best 200 words. It didn’t feel important anymore. Not necessarily that it was a waste of time, because creating art is never a waste of time.

I was angry. That was the new normal, the new default that I came to settle in. Stubbornly, righteously angry. Those who have known me through my long live might share stories about my stubbornness and long-standing problems with authority. Honestly, if the past week is any indication, they haven’t seen anything yet.

But I needed to write. It’s how I exorcise demons. It’s how I process terror and rage. Writing is my sword, and in times of strife, we use the swords we know. But nothing I was currently working on fit what I needed. And time was ticking because I had a writing retreat this weekend. I couldn’t spend those days sequestered with my peers just spinning my wheels. It would make me crazy.

So I started knocking things around, and in that process I came across an old notebook heretofore known as the “International Fraternal Corps of Bears in Ill-Fitting Hats” notebook. In it, I found a breakdown of the heroes of the Protectorate and what their status was in the post-Protectorate era. I remembered that Cobalt City had a conservative talk show host named Lyle Prather who was more than he appeared–a hate-spewing demagogue if ever there was one.

And I recalled this dream project I wanted to do with some of the other Cobalt City authors, a big invasion story where there were several independent stories featuring groups of heroes fighting on different fronts of a big, intergalactic invasion. Each author was going to take a group and tell that group’s story and I’d link them all together into a larger narrative. Like one of those stupid comic book crossover events, but as a novel. Crazy and ambitious, and since everyone has such full writing schedules, impossible to coordinate.

But I have time. I have the fire. And goddamn but my sword is feeling particularly sharp right now.

I outlined the project and started writing yesterday. Seven story arcs that intertwine into four story arcs by the end of the novel, maybe eight or so little vignette chapters interspersed throughout the overall structure. All about a deep, interconnected community of superheroes (and villains and sorcerers and anti-heroes) in a world where an unqualified and narcissistic demagogue becomes president.

A quick preview of planned arcs:

  • Archon and Gallows go to D. C. where Archon is being tempted with a consulting job that threatens to derail their once sound partnership.
  • Kara Sparks and Lumien are on tour with the Madjack, facing the mood in the heartland and barreling towards a show that could spark a revolution.
  • Louis Malenfant and Emil al Aswan seek to dethrone Prather from the City Behind the Moon only to find out the new president is more than he appears.
  • The young hacker Wrecker of Engines coordinates Gato Loco and his team facing down a Nazi bike gang outside of Las Vegas with young heroes Ghost House and Kraken who are trying to rescue Kraken’s father from an internment camp in Arizona.
  • Pressured to remain neutral, Stardust and Huntsman find themselves at odds with Libertine in Cobalt City as prolonged protests threaten to bring an authoritarian crackdown on the city.

The currently titled Cobalt City: Resistance is going to be the most ambitious story I’ve told in the city since Cobalt City Blues. I’ve jokingly referred to it as a stand-alone Game of Thrones with capes. And for all I know, it could be a horrible failure. I might stumble and fail and never finish it.

But I can’t abide what is happening in our country, the rise of comfortable fascism that I’m seeing normalized in the press. I can’t accept it. I won’t. And neither will the heroes of Cobalt City (though some will find themselves disturbingly relaxed about it).

And at the end of the day, we fight with the swords we know.

Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

Somehow, I figured this whole thing would get easier with practice.

But writing is an eternal struggle between good and good enough. And if you have any sense of self awareness, the further you get into the creative obstacle course that is making art, the harder the challenges become.

Forever and ever.

Until you die.

Or, conversely, you could not push yourself to improve. You could find an acceptable level of good enough and cruise there to your heart’s content. Everyone does it from time to time. Sometimes you need to stop pedaling and coast, let gravity and momentum carry you through while you catch your breath to prepare for the next hill. Everyone’s route is different. And whether you’re cruising the lip of the plateau for a decade or so, or pushing for a new hill every year, the important thing is, you’re on the bike.

Also, apologies: I ran into a writer friend who is a cyclist just now. The tortured metaphor is her fault. My sharing it with you is my fault.

But here’s one more important consideration. Maybe the most important if you want to make something of a career doing this. That deadly tango of self-awareness and celebration, of good and good enough, that is everything.

So, let’s talk about the round of edits I just finished by way of example.

I wrote a book late in 2011 that I enjoyed quite a bit. The idea was to pitch it to someone who was considering publishing licensed novels set in their game universe. That didn’t end up panning out for a variety of reasons, which was fine. I still liked the novel. If nothing else, it was practice.

I gave it an edit and rewrite the next year, just to see if anything could be done with it. I still liked the book, but doing anything with it would require a major rewrite. I wasn’t prepared for that level of work. I wasn’t ready for that hill.

Another year later, I gave it that hard edit necessary to re imagine the universe and the alien races to make it my own. And then I let it sit for a while. Almost three years, actually. By the time I picked it up again to do a final pass with the intention of self-publishing this summer, something had happened.

In the intervening years, I’d become a somewhat of better writer. And a huge part of that was due to reading other incredible authors and wanting to write as well as them. That self awareness of your own skills, of where you are compared to where you want to be, is an incredible motivator. There was still a lot that I loved in this novel. I loved the dialogue, the overall arc, the characters, almost all of the component parts. But it was still weaker in execution than I remembered. And one of the antagonists was cartoonishly evil. Exploitatively evil. And that didn’t sit well with me.

Honestly, even with all the time I’d put into it, from the outline through the first draft all the way though multiple full rewrites/edits, it wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I saw where it was and where I needed it to be, and considering how vile Zenda Vox was, I didn’t know if it was worth the effort to fix.

Because this was a hell of a hill. I could see it looming ahead of me. And even if I got to the summit, there was no telling if I’d be able to do anything with the novel. It was always possible that the antagonist was a problem I’d never be able to fix. Initially, I decided to scrap it rather than put in the work.

I’m not proud of it. I mean, I kind of was at the time. I was glad that I put on the brakes and decided not to release as-is. I’m glad that Zenda Vox gave me second thoughts.

But I’m not proud that I was willing to quit rather than put in the work. Because quitting is always an option. It’s an option that’s always there for every author. Writing is voluntary. And the difference between a successful author and an unsuccessful one is often that one of them kept working rather than quit. And if I was willing to throw in the hat rather than work for it, then I wouldn’t like who I was.

You don’t get better just by wanting to be better. You have to fight for it. So on the advice of another author who I respect, I decided I’d give it one more look, to see if it could be fixed. I knew going in that this was going to be a slog, that I’d have to break it apart piece by piece, spread it apart on the garage floor, and really make this work. And if, at the end of all that, the book couldn’t be saved, at least I’d have the practice of that level of edit. Win or lose, it was worth it to climb the goddamned hill.

I’m happy to say the view from the summit is pretty good. I’ll still need another edit pass to clean it up, but the book still feels like a victory. I’ll be getting it out to a beta reader or two to spot weak points. And once I get it cleaned up, I think I’ll be in shape to move forward with it.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Perfection is a moving target. A mirage. But is it a fun pulp fiction romp? Does it actually have something positive to say in the process? Absolutely.

And hopefully later this year you’ll be able to read it.

More importantly, at least to me, I feel like I’ve leveled up as a writer. At least a little bit. And that’s important because it’s a long ride with no finish line, just harder and harder challenges along the way.

And I feel up for the challenge.

Murder and the Modern Writer

Posted: March 19, 2016 in Novels
Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

Looking back at my novels, there are a few universal truisms when it comes to my protagonists. At their core, they are all objectively good people.

They aren’t all saints, mind you. But unless I’ve seriously blocked someone out, they do not take lives capriciously, nor do they resort to extremes of violence for revenge. Killing isn’t portrayed as fun. [Ok, the as-of-yet unreleased No Escape from Planet Motherfucker is gleefully violent, but that’s the nature of that project. And even then, it’s not outright murderous.]

It’s one thing to write a death when it’s a moment of passion, when there’s a brutal life-or-death struggle, when you’re at war or violence descends and the character has no choice but to fight back or die. It’s reactive. It’s a consequence, not the goal. Writing an out-and-out murder is an entirely different brainspace–especially when it’s committed by someone who, up til then, has been a sympathetic POV character. It was not a comfortable experience. I don’t care for it.

When I started writing the current project, it was a palate cleanser–something weird and not too serious to clear out the pipes. It was part what-if, part dare, part joke. It was a response to a conversation about trends in Young Adult fiction, that the market was turning towards horror romance. Now, bear in mind that vampires and werewolves have been done to death and even zombies are starting to outlive their welcome. So what does that leave? Well, ghosts, for one. (Hm… I should have thought about that more seriously at the time!) And then, of course, there are always human monsters, namely serial killers and cannibals.

When I first proposed a YA horror romance about a young cannibal and a serial killer one of my best friends, biggest fans, and trusted readers said without hesitation, “You can’t write that.”

And by can’t, I know she meant shouldn’t. I understand entirely where she was coming from on that one. It’s a horrible idea. What is gained by putting that out in the world?

So I started writing to exorcise the horrible idea. And something weirdly sweet grew out of it–is continuing to grow. I’m honestly not sure how long it’s going to be when I’m done. I’m at around 26,000 words now, and I think I might hit 40,000. Maybe 50,000, but that seems a stretch. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when I’m done. But I know that I’m going to finish it. Because what started as a challenge has turned into a genuine love story about outsiders and outcasts. It’s a story about lonely people who find each other, who band together to protect each other from a world that would destroy them. It’s a love story. It’s a metaphor. It’s sweet and funny and, surprisingly, not gleefully violent.

But this week I came to a turning point I only abstractly realized was waiting for me. And it has thrown me for quite a loop.

I’d been writing Ophelia Durant, my protagonist, as an objectively good person. Yeah, she had been eating human since she could chew meat, but it was how she was raised. She knows her family is different. She knows she’s an outcast. For her family, it has been the primary source of protein for over a hundred years. A practical consideration rather than a bloodlust. She’s never gone on the hunt, never killed anyone. That definition of being a good person has started to stretch.

She’s already starting to fall for Grant Liu, the broodingly quiet new kid at school in the over-sized black suit jacket, when she witnesses him kill someone. While the act is in self-defense, it isn’t the first time Grant has shed blood. He’s a killer. And even as she starts to understand how deep his personal darkness goes, she also discovers justifications to stand by him. Yes, he kills people. But as he tells her, “They’re all bad people.” Her complicity stretches that definition of good even more. It’s looking a bit brittle at this point, when they commit to stay together as a couple in defiance of everyone trying to keep them apart. But at least she’s not a killer.

Until she is.

I gazed into Taylor’s glassy, green eyes. She hadn’t been a 100% horrible person. There were moments in her life of genuine kindness. For someone. Somewhere. I had to believe that. Her attack on Grant, however misguided, had been motivated by a sense of protection, of loyalty to her friends. It didn’t balance or justify the violence she had visited upon Grant.

Balance is arbitrary. Abstract. Good and evil even more so. They were just labels we use to justify our actions, to help us sleep at night.

Taylor had hurt Grant.

Taylor wasn’t going to hurt anyone ever again.

It was as simple as that.

At that point, we’re kind of off the rails. I can’t continue operating under the auspices of Ophelia being a good person any more. Sympathetic, maybe. To a point. You can certainly understand why she loves Grant. Love isn’t about finding the perfect person so much as finding the perfect person for you, and she’s found that in him. He’s a reflection of her–both essentially kind people shaped by their parents to believe that murder can be a pragmatic solution.

Their love is a terrible love. It burns with the fury of a thousand suns. Now that they’ve embraced that and who they are, the town of Pluto Falls is living on borrowed time. The Autumn Harvest dance is only a week away. After that, everything will change. And anyone who gets in their way before then is going to burn.

 

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

I’m looking at a list I’ve scrawled in one of my notebooks. It details the novels I’ve written since I hunkered down to write Cobalt City Blues somewhere around 12-13 years ago. It’s been a good run, even if I count the wrecks that fell apart before the midpoint, or the ones that limped across the finish line to be abandoned.

Books that I can call finished–by that I mean a finished first draft with no gaps–average just over one a year.

Fourteen novels. There are two that are objectively horrible, and a few that would need to be rewritten from the ground up if I were to do anything with them (which I actually did with one of them a year or two ago.)

And then there’s Ravensgate.

I’ve been working on the Ravensgate books in some capacity for three years or more. That doesn’t even account for the world building that I did. It was always conceived as three books, first as a trilogy, then as a triptych. Things got shuffled around. Themes were uncovered. They got broken apart and shuffled again, leaving me with most of the first book and chunks of the second and third. I finished the first one, Of Rooks and Ravens. Then I rewrote it in first person rather than third person and gave it yet one more edit pass.

It was my big fuck-all fantasy series. The kind you’re supposed to write. Except it wasn’t going to be just like every other fantasy series. And I still think in many ways I managed that. The three separate narratives spread out over three books, each with their own theme and feel, and one angry old god returned to tie it all together. I had my diverse characters, my broken characters, my unique races, my political and cultural conflicts…

Then a market opened up and I took a hard look at submitting the first book. The second book was halfway done already, the third about a quarter of the way there. I can write like the devil himself when properly motivated. So I took a hard, critical look at Of Rooks and Ravens. I cut the first chapter out entirely. It was too much like a prologue. I looked at the now first chapter, which I had written and rewritten and rewritten again so many times.

And I ended up not submitting.

Because as much as I love that book. As much as I love the characters and their arcs and the weird genre things and world building I got to do there, Of Rooks and Ravens just wasn’t good enough.

Who really wants another fuck-all fantasy series, anyway?

Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t GOOD. There’s some outright great stuff in there. There are scenes that make me tear up every time I re-read. But I genuinely despair that fundamentally, it’s just like every other fuck-all fantasy series out there. And in order to stand out, it has to be better than good. It has to be extra-ordinary. It isn’t there. I don’t know if I’m capable of getting it there. Not at this point, at any rate. And holy shit is that frustrating.

Maybe some day I’ll boil the meat off its bones and build it up again like the beautiful Promethium beast it wants to be. Maybe some day I’ll do the other two books: Redemption of the Yellow Wolf and Sea In his Blood. Maybe I’ll even spin Preston out into her continuing series where she’s building a network of spies to challenge Yuri Vostov at his own game.

Maybe.

For now, the Ravensgate series is going into a digital trunk. All 120,000+ words of it plus all the world building documents. Maybe less hypercritical eyes than mine will read it and kick some sense into me. But there is no shortage of other novels demanding my attention. So I’m going to give them my attention instead.

Ravensgate will abide. It’s what it does.

The Dark of the Year

Posted: December 29, 2015 in Anthologies, Novels, Short Fiction
IMG_1509

Time is never on our side.

It seems like it’s been a year since we’ve done this. It was, in point of fact, almost a year, since I sat here and looked back at the year that was and the year to come. The dark of the year provides a good opportunity for perspective, like standing on a high peak, the world spread out around you.

I had hoped we’d make progress as a nation in confronting systemic racism and a murderous (and unjust) criminal justice system. Instead, it appears to be getting even worse, black and brown men, women, children gunned down by police, arrested for no cause, left to die. Coupled with bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia digging in like a stubborn tick, 2015 has been a challenging, and for far too many, a deadly year.

America, get your shit together. You can do better. You NEED to.

Ok. I’m getting off the soap box. That’s not why y’all come here anyway. Let’s take stock of the personal and professional milestones of the year that was 2015.

I had planned on finishing Rooks and Ravens and publishing the latest Cobalt City novel both of which happened, though the title changed on the later project to Ties that Bind. But Rooks is not ready for submission yet, and though Ties sold a handful (literally, a handful, as in less than 5) of copies, I have no reason to believe anyone has read it. Not that I can blame them, really. I love the book, but the subject matter is bleak, and the desire for escapism in the bleak year that was 2015 makes a lot of sense. I did not touch the novella trilogy at all until a week ago, so I’m kind of beating myself up over that. I wrote only one new short story, “The Last Real Man” which was published in the fantastic Selfies from the End of the World anthology. And instead of writing a new Cobalt City book in November, I wrote my first full horror novel, the haunted house story The Lictonwood. Time will tell if anything will come of that.

The biggest writing news in the last year was that Ink Calls to Ink, which I was afraid I’d eventually have to self-publish, was picked up and published by CHBB Publishing in July to rave reviews. It has made for an interesting year in which I learned a lot about marketing and promotion. And people seem to love the book, so I feel vindicated there.

The less sunny writing news from 2015 is that I spent a lot of time feeling like I was spinning my wheels as a writer. There were a lot of false starts, a lot of abandoned projects. I spent too many days in the last year feeling like a fraud–even a few where I contemplated giving up on writing entirely. It didn’t last. It never does. But it was a rough year. I had two novels and one novella that started off in a blaze of excitement die before they found their legs. I might be able to go back and resurrect one or two of them. I don’t know.

Other sad news was the untimely death of my favorite local karaoke bar. Though it was reborn newer, slicker, and cleaner (with better food), the community that had grown up there has largely scattered. The drinks are more expensive, the bar stools aren’t held together with duct tape, and the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” vibe is gone. I still do karaoke at the new location, but it’s been a rough transition. I miss my karaoke family.

Looking forward into 2016, I’m starting off the year driving my son back to Colorado before he flies to Florida for a great new job opportunity. Our schedules made it difficult for us to see each other when he was here, but I still loved having him in Seattle. It’s our loss, but it’s Florida’s, and his, gain.

Other hot-ticket calendar items include Norwescon 39 over Easter weekend. I put together the Horror track for them in 2015 and it went well enough that I was invited to come back and do it again. I’m thrilled with the lineup of panels and panelists. That weekend is going to be outstanding.

As for writing, I’m still doing it. Finishing something in November put a bit of a fire in me. I’m letting The Lictonwood sit for a few months before giving it a hard second draft. Then it’s off to beta readers and a third draft before I submit. At this point, at least, I think it’s an entirely marketable horror novel. I guess we’ll see what the beta readers think. While it sits and rests, I’m writing A Winter Lullaby, which is less urban fantasy than it is rock ‘n roll fable. I’m making good progress and hope to have the first draft done by end of February. I’ve also dug out the novella, the first part of the Shadows of Architecture. I think there’s life in it. I’m giving it one more edit pass and then sending it around. Time permitting, I’ll write the other two parts, and if no one bites on the novella, I will combine it all into a novel. Like motherfucking Voltron. I’m sure another novel lies in wait for next November, maybe even sooner. Time will tell what shape that takes.

I have no plans for short stories at the moment. But I do have four out making the rounds now. My short fiction has been hard to slot into a category or genre lately, so it’s been more difficult to sell. I’ll still write it if the story is there, but it’s taking up far less of my focus these days, and that’s okay.

Finally, the last new thing I’m writing is comedy. Yeah. You heard me right. I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying my hand at stand-up comedy since World Fantasy in Toronto a few years back. But I never followed through. Turns out one of my friends from karaoke also has the comedy bug, so we’re going to workshop a few things, put together a tight set, and try our hands at open mic somewhere in Seattle.

Because if we need anything in our lives right now, it might be a little bit of light, joy, and humor.

See you in 2016.