Hey everyone. I’m back online after a bit of a hiatus. I’m finally coming out from under a lot of the “stuff” happening in life, and thank goodness for that. As a result, I’m writing again and I hope to be posting a bit more regularly here in 2020.
So what’s on my horizon? Honestly, digging into all the writing projects is at the top of the list. I have several WIPs that I need to get edited and hopefully get out in the next couple of months, some that may be ready as early as the end of January or early February. My goal is not to rush things, though, I want to try to keep the quality of writing solid.
I’ve got two finished novels, both headed to publishers as soon as I can do the edits. I have an outline for the next Forsaken Valor book and I’m outlining the follow-on series, (tentatively titled War of Valor). The fourth book of the Eoriel Saga is around 50% completion. I have outlines for Renegades IV, Shadow Space Chronicles VII, and several other book series that have been on the backburner for a while now. My goal is to hit 30 published novels by the end of the year.
I’m thinking 2020 is going to be a busy year. Hopefully it will be a good one as well. That’s all for now and thanks for reading!
Hey everyone, here’s my AAR for LTUE 2019! All in all, I had a great time and had the opportunities to both participate and observe some awesome panels on writing, art, book marketing, and more. If you’re in the Western US, LTUE has got to be one of the better writing conventions you can attend.
There’s a lot of fantastic authors to meet, and enough information on just about any topic to not only help new authors, but to help experienced authors learn new things.
The people are friendly, the locale is awesome (Provo, Utah has some very scenic mountains), and it’s a great opportunity to network.
Most of my panels for the weekend were in the military science fiction theme, with panels on Rules of Engagement, Drones & Robots in Warfare, Rebellions & Revolutions, and two panels on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
I dragooned James Young into several of those panels, because a couple panelists weren’t able to show. (Sorry James, there’s consequences for heckling from the crowd when I know who you are). The ROE panel was fun, especially with Jim Curtis, Lee Modesitt, we got to cover a lot of history of ROE and do some extrapolation of what it might look like in the future. For the Rebellions & Revolution panel, Jim Curtis and James Young’s knowledge of history meant that there were a lot of people in the audience taking notes to go look things up.
I really enjoyed the Drones & Robots in Warfare panel, with Jim Curtis & Larry Correia. We ranged a bit further off topic into the areas of cyberwarfare, but that’s easy to understand given the topic. It was particularly amusing to have people from the audience commenting afterwards about how scary all the potential is… that’s good writing ideas there!
As far as panels I attended, the panels on Surgery in Zero G was fantastic, with a lot of neat medical issues in microgravity being described by the panelists. Doctor Nik Rao’s panel on Evolutionary Biology was awesome, especially as to how it relates to alien life we may encounter (or at least write about).
There were a few faces I wish I’d been able to see at the convention, people whose schedules didn’t line up or who didn’t get invited this year as panelists. I really hope they get that latter part straightened out, as I felt there was a bit more emphasis on filling panels with people, rather than getting panelists who both show up and who are qualified. But all in all, it was a fun convention and I hope to attend next year as well.
Hey everyone! As the year winds to a close, I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve done and the obvious follow up to that is where I’m going next. In 2018 I had five published novels, which is what I also managed in 2017. My goal was higher, but I had a few things happen earlier this year, so I think getting those five out was good. Two of those novels were in my Children of Valor series, with the third one being the start of the spin-off Forsaken Valor series. The other two, Dead Train: All Aboard and The Colchis Job were both the starts of new series.
Writing-wise, I completed five novels, for a total of four hundred and fifty thousand words written. Which is a lot of writing. As the year winds to a close, I’m close to finishing another book, too, and prepping to start the next one.
I’ve also just approved the audiobook version of Valor’s Child and signed the contract to start the next one.
The year 2018 has brought some difficulties for my family, with multiple surgeries, the passing away of family, and a lot of stress and strain. I’m very grateful to my readers and I want to thank all of you for reading and enjoying my books. I’ve got a lot more of them planned, so as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.
A while back, I was riding in a pickup truck. This is notable only for the fact that the girl driving it was consistently using about three feet of the right lane while driving in the left. As a passenger, I found that pretty terrifying and said something to the effect of “Jesus, what the hell are you doing?”
She insisted she was fine, she hadn’t had any issues and seemed to think I was making fun of her driving or calling her crazy. This went on for a bit, her insisting everything was perfectly fine and me growing more and more concerned, particularly as we narrowly missed side-swiping other vehicles and pedestrians.
I finally demanded just why she thought she was centered in her lane. She told me that her driving instructor had taught her to center the white lines on the hood of her vehicle and she’d always be in the center of the road. When I quite testily replied that she’d probably learned to drive in a car, rather than a pickup truck, she went silent. It was a thoughtful silence. After she considered the fact that a truck was several feet higher than the car she’d previously driven and the geometry was therefore different, she shifted over to something rather more like the middle of the lane.
The world and circumstances had changed. Her point of view had shifted, but she’d been operating under the same assumptions as before, not taking into account the changing conditions. It wasn’t that she was stupid, or that she was crazy, or even that she was reckless, it just hadn’t occurred to her that some of her basic assumptions were no longer valid. The paradigm had shifted and that had endangered her and fellow drivers around her.
The Star Wars quote, “From a certain point of view,” applies pretty strongly. Obi Wan spun the truth for Luke when he told him that Vader betrayed and murdered his father. He told Luke what he needed to hear, a simpler “truth” that set him on his journey of change, hoping that Luke would have the resilience and wisdom to understand the full truth as he gained experience. That’s what many teachers do, they give us the basic “rules” and hope that as time goes on, we fill in the blanks, we learn the “why” as well as the deeper complicated details.
It’s something to consider both in writing and in our lives in the real world. Be willing to re-examine some of the facts. Be willing to question those basic rules that you’ve lived by. Be willing to adapt and change. Your characters in the stories you write should learn from their mistakes, but they should also change and grow. Their beliefs and concepts of the world should adapt and grow with them. And perhaps we should hold ourselves to as high a standard.
Many writers and would-be writers aspire to be successful authors, with on-track careers, big publishing gigs, and the much-discussed “NYT Bestseller” attached to their names. But when you come down to it, how do you measure that?
The obvious one, the one that most people can wrap their heads around, is fame. Most people can name famous authors in the genre of choice, reeling off names like George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy. These are people who have sold millions of books… they have movie (or TV) franchises. They’re famous, that means success, right?
But then again, Phillip K. Dick has a ton of movies based upon his books and short stories (even several remakes). His life, if you look him up, isn’t what most would consider “successful.”
As for the vaunted NYT Bestseller, there’s been multiple times that people have scammed it, with the latest example being just last year (link). When you dig into what it involves, too, you see that the stamp represents sales in a very specific, very small part of the US.
Amazon bestsellers, you say? Amazon’s algorithms have been fooled before (link). I’ve earned the status the hard way, selling actual books in the genre they’re meant for, but there’s plenty who haven’t and lots of them are eager to sell new authors books, lectures, and videos on how to be a bestseller.
So these two metrics, fame/notoriety and the Bestselling category may not be the best method of determining success. What is? Total sales? Depending on your genre, a few dozen sales a day may be very good, whereas for some others, upwards of two hundred purchases a day is normal. The advent of Kindle Unlimited has changed things a bit, too, where power-readers treat Amazon like their library. Some authors see practically no sales at all in their genres but they see thousands (or tens of thousands) of page reads a day.
The answer there seems to be money. In fact, American society often judges success by money. That guy has a nice car, he must be successful. That person has a big house, they must be successful. But I have to ask, is money why you’re writing? I mean, there’s lots of easier ways to go about making money. You can avoid the crippling self-doubt and the long hours of forcing words out and go into something far more lucrative and more likely to actually make you rich. Larry Correia’s has a fantastic post on the different levels of authors based upon their “success.” His is focused mostly on money and fame, too, which I can’t fault. But the number of authors who make enough from writing to support their families, much less buy a McMansion is relatively low.
I know a lot of authors. By a lot, I mean I personally know a couple hundred and I’ve met and interacted with thousands. I’ve seen quite a few who get into indie publishing very excited and enthusiastic about this one book they wrote… and one year later, I don’t see them at conventions anymore or when I do, they’re sitting in the crowd, not up on a panel (which is fine, mind you, I sit in the crowd, sometimes, because I like listening in on what some people have to say). But a lot of people massively underestimate the sheer work involved in self-publishing. They underestimate the grind of getting out the next book, and the next. And they fall behind.
There’s a saying that when it comes to jumping out of perfectly good planes, the second jump is the hardest. The first time, you have no idea what’s going to happen, no frame of reference. The second time, standing in the doorway, you know exactly what it’s like, the rush and exhilaration… but also the understanding of what you’re doing and the lizard brain kicks in. Lots of people freeze in the doorway, unable to move.
The same thing happens to aspiring authors. They may have hit publish that first time, or even the second and third, in a rush of “this one will be great!” Writing that first book is hard. Writing the second or third one is just as hard, but a lot of aspiring authors have gone that distance. Writing that fourth book after the first one or two didn’t land a movie deal or pay the mortgage… or sometimes it didn’t even buy the bottle of wine to drink while you hit refresh on your Amazon page while you wait for reviews/sales. It’s hard. It’s brutally hard to get back to writing when it feels like all your dreams have shriveled and everyone has rejected you.
Success is the person who keeps on writing after that. Success is the author who gets on the never-ending treadmill and churns out a novel regardless. That person is a successful author, because that writer puts words on page, day in and day out. It’s part of being a professional author. There’s lots of “good” writers, some of them are best-sellers with tv-shows and movies, who can’t do that. And sometimes, getting up the strength to put even a single word on the page is a herculean fight.
Success is never giving up. If you’re still writing, if you haven’t stopped, you’re successful. Now go out there and write your next book.
Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction. It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story. In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe. In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems. Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.
Where Does It Come From?
One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from. Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor? All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands. As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important. Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over. These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story. Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got into the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.
Who Are The Big Players?
Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel. Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example. Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road. Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth. Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story. The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.
Putting It All Together
At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe. Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together. That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting. Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.
Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in. A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories. The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.
Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters. They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story. Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created. Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts on world-building. I’ve got one on Steampunk and one on Fantasy.
It may seem a little backwards, but my second post on world-building is actually going to talk about worlds. (See the first post here) While geography / celestial cartography is important, I don’t think it’s the foundation of building your universe in SF. Why is that? Well, you need to know how easy or hard it is to get there through technology, know how people will react when they do get there through culture, and who the players are by knowing the people.
The rest, as to what’s actually there? That’s going to influence those things in return, but it’s still not quite as central. The earlier post was about preparing the conditions to tell the story you want. This one is more focused on developing the actual setting.
Writing science fiction gives an author an amazing set of possibilities. As writers, we can explore distant worlds that can be whatever we think up. Those can be desolate waste-lands like Tatooine or thriving paradise planets and everything in between.
This is all about determining the setting and this is where a lot of the Science Fiction greats did things really, really right. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a book where the planet itself is a character, which at various times tries to kill or save the people in the story. On Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moonis every bit as central to the story as anyone else.
Whether your worlds are arid, airless rocks or a lush tropical planets, you need to determine what your story needs. A survival story set on a paradise planet might not be nearly so interesting as one on a world where literally everything is trying to kill you. The Martian is a great example of a science fiction survival story where the writer makes the planet’s conditions central to his story.
If course, the conditions of the planet may tie into other things…
The system’s star or stars can be a huge element of a planet’s habitability. The movie Pitch Black explored this in a pretty interesting fashion, creating a star system where a planet existed in continued light… right up until it got dark for a very long time.
Asteroids, comets, moons, other planets, all these can be important to your story. Maybe the system has not just one but two or three inhabitable planets, maybe they’re claimed by different nations, maybe one of those worlds is undergoing a cataclysm of some kind. The Dragonriders of Pern series had a rogue planet that brought terror with it’s return every few hundred years. David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has a set of wormholes that made Manticore an economic powerhouse due to their central positioning for trade.
The physical world and setting is going to directly impact your characters. Society, technology, and people will indirectly shape them, but the physical world is what they’ll see, taste, touch, hear, and feel. If a planet is a garbage world, does it smell? Do people from there lack a sense of smell because it has been burned out?
Beliefs and Themes
Lastly, we come to one of the non-physical elements of setting: beliefs. This is a product of the physical and societal elements and it in turn shapes both. What do the various cultures and sub-cultures believe in?
Has humanity spread out with a manifest destiny? Do they shove aside non-Earth life, terraforming worlds in their own image? Or is there a fundamentalist religion that has taken over a culture, instilling them with a reverence of all life, prohibiting violence for any reason? Has faith in science driven a group to pursue all manner of otherwise unethical experiments, delving into human modification and genetic engineering upon their prisoners? You decide, you shape it based upon the history and setting you’ve built, and then decide what you need to tell the story you want to tell.
While developing the technology level, cultures, and people of your setting was the foundation, this is like the basement. This is the structure that supports your book. It’s there, its visible and the characters will interact with it all the time. Building stuff here gives you the tangibles that readers will notice and that will ground them in the worlds. Fill out these details for the story you want to tell. Next week, we’ll tie it all together in Part 3!