At Long Last

Over the weekend I reached a milestone on Gods of the Empire.

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That’s right – I finally have a complete, full, and edited draft of this book! It’s now time to print out a hard copy (I do my own editing electronically) and let my beta reader have a crack at it. It felt really good to put the finishing touches on it, since this is the first book in a “new” universe I’ve finished since The Water Road back in October of 2015.

So what’s next for this project? Obviously, my beta reader gets to bleed all over it with that there red pen, so I’ll have to see what’s left after that. Probably another edit from me, then it’s off to figure out how to let loose this book upon the world. I might shop it around a bit or go directly to the DIY route like I’ve done in the past.

As for me? I’m taking the week off from worrying about words and world building and all that jazz.

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After that, I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to dive right into the next book in this trilogy, Widows of the Empire, but I may plot it out and leave the actual writing for later this year. I’ve also got some stand-alone novel ideas I might work up, as well as the sequel to Moore Hollow. Finally, I’ve got some short story ideas kicking around that I might focus on.

Regardless, Gods of the Empire is well on its way to being finished!

Author Interview – Jeffrey Bardwell

For the penultimate interview of this year we’re back in the USA with epic fantasy & steampunkist Jeffrey Bardwell.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Jeffrey Bardwell and I write under that name. I was born in Virginia, but have bounced around the USA in the last decade or so. I write speculative fiction.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent project is developing my own secondary fantasy world: geography, cultures, history, the works. I call it the ‘Metal vs. Magic Universe’ and primarily focus on the conflicts between those who cast steel and those who cast spells. The latest book in one of the current ongoing series set in this universe is Hidden Revolt.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I mostly write epic fantasy steampunk. I love the wide breath of options, from the brimstone dragon reek to the shrill whistle of science.

I was in a discussion recently about what “steampunk” really means as a genre – what does it mean to you? What’s the difference between steampunk and fantasy (or even alternate history) set in a late 19th-century type environment?

Steampunk probably means something different to me than most authors. The genre classically hearkens to the Victorian Era, but my fictional evil steampunk empire is more Late Medieval Era. It’s second world fantasy, but a good analogue from our own history would be to ask what if the Dark Ages never happened and Rome just kept going and innovating machines and technology? There’s also a strong whiff of magic in the world in other countries, so gas lamp fantasy might be more accurate to denote a story that combines magic and metal. However, each element is championed by separate societies: the one character who combines an affinity for both in one person is condemned and outcast.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

First, I file the idea away for later. I typically have a backlog portfolio overflowing with ideas and after I select one, I try and get a feel for the main characters’ interweaving arcs. This builds into an outline ranging from minor notes to entire scenes. Then I write the first draft, intently micro revising the previous day’s work as I go.

Soon, latent themes begin to emerge. Often inspiration strikes at random and new, minor developments push off the beaten path as I’m writing. Despite all the exploration and improvisation, the overall map and the destination remain the same.

Once the initial draft is done, I send it to an editor and/or several beta readers. Editing is a two pass system: first, the story is examined for large-scale flaws such as narrative flow, character motivation, internal consistency, and tone. Once every scene is polished and every characterization nailed down, the second pass examines small-scale issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character is Styx, a tall automaton made from wood with brass fittings. His life truly begins when a young wizard finds his puppet body abandoned in the woods and accidentally-on-purpose gives him a soul. Styx has the innocent wonder of a child, but the down-to-earth nature of a wise, old man. He’s seen it all . . . he just wasn’t cognizant at the time.

First, is Styx named after the band or the river? Second, was he one of those ideas around which other things were built or was he a “minor note” that grew into something larger?

Styx is certainly undergoing a rite of passage throughout the series, so the allusion to the river from Greek mythology is appropriate. However, the true root of his name is just a childish misspelling of “Sticks,” the epithet after which the large wooden automaton names himself when he learns to think and speak. He is definitely a minor note whose gentle leitmotif is slowly rising with a strong crescendo.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

The weirdest subject was looking up the original programmable clockwork automata build by Heron of Alexandria, Jacques de Vaucanson, and Henri Maillardet. This research helped me to ground Styx’s designs and the hypothesize the functionality of mechanized armor. Though, to be fair, I would have looked in them eventually regardless. Clockwork robots are cool.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t neglect the actual time for writing among all the other trappings of a modern indie career. Outsource what you can when you can however often you can.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would use some of that money to buy ads for my series loss leaders and boxed sets, run those ads, and then take a vacation overseas, which would use up more of the money. Then, when I got home, I’d use a little more to hire a personal assistant. The rest I would invest in mutual funds, bonds, and real estate.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Anything by Terry Pratchett.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next project will be taking my epic fantasy steampunk universe into space after fast forwarding the clock a millennium or two.

Check out Jeffrey on Amazon, Facebook, or at his website

Thoughts On a Con

Over Memorial Day weekend I got to participate in a con for the first time.

No, not this kind of con.

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This kind.

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Specifically, Vandalia-Con up in Parkersburg, which is specifically a steampunk-themed con.*

“But wait,” you say, “you don’t really do steampunk, do you?”

Well, actually: (1) I have; (2) I’m getting ready to do it again (details coming!); and (3) I figured that steampunk fans might be interested in gunpowder fantasy like The Water Road. At the very least, it would be an interesting fact finding mission. So what did I learn?

First, before I go any further, I want to say that everyone I interacted with at Vandalia-Con – from the organizers to the attendees to the other vendors – were great, friendly, fun people. As a clear outsider (a DC United jersey does not constitute steampunk cosplay) and newbie at all this I couldn’t have felt more at home.

To my eyes, this con was mostly about embracing the steampunk “lifestyle,” as opposed to the celebration of any particular work of steampunk fiction. Most of the other vendors were selling clothes, jewelry, and the like. Aside from a couple of presenters who also had some books for sale the only other person selling “content” was a small publisher of sci-fi and fantasy books.

And, oh, the fashion. I was impressed by the wide variety of detail applied to different costumes. Guys seem to have it easier than women. A vest and top hat will suffice for the fellas, while the ladies seem doomed to bustiers and bustles (and very tiny hats – for some reason). To each their own, I guess, but it looks very uncomfortable from where I’m sitting. But as I said – that was while in a not-at-all-chic DC United jersey (although it did get some love from one of the hotel staff, even if he is a Crew fan).

But the primary reason I was there was to try and sell some books and drive some people to my mailing list. On that front, the con didn’t really meet my expectations. As I said, I think most people there weren’t really interested in consuming content, but having fun dressing up and what not. Which is totally cool – but it’s not a great setup for an author trying to move some copies. I did sell a few (one woman – complete in bustier and bustle – bought a complete set of The Water Road trilogy) and got some mailing list sign ups, but not enough to offset the investment (hotel costs, mostly). But when considering what kind of event you’re going to, it’s worth trying to figure out what the audience of regular attendees is like – you may have brilliant widgets for sale, but if nobody’s really interested in widgets it won’t make much difference.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of mercenary mentality I have to have these days. Which is a shame, because the weekend was a lot of (expensive) fun. Thanks for being my first, Vandalia-Con!

* Note that none of these photos – even the first one – were actually taken at Vandalia-Con. I can’t find any of those online and my phone pics didn’t turn out well enough to use. All images via Wikimedia Commons.