Inspiration Strikes at Odd Times

So, you know how I’ve released two volumes of the Unari Empire Trilogy, right? That would be Gods of the Empire and Widows of the Empire.

What about the final volume, you might ask, Heroes of the Empire? Any update on it? Yes, friends, and it’s good news!

But first, some context.

Although Widows just came out last fall, I’ve been working on Heroes since about a year before that. It was my NaNoWriMo project in 2020, so I started writing it in November of that year. I “won” that year, but the book was nowhere near finished, so I kept working on it into the new year. By June of 2021, according to a timestamp on the Word file, I had something saved as “First Draft.” Except it really wasn’t.

What had happened is that I got about 80% through the draft and my creativity came to a complete halt. I didn’t have a good idea of how to bring things in for a landing, so rather than try to push through the end, I took a different approach.

In my day job, sometimes I take pieces of legal writing from others in my office and synthesize them into a single brief. It’s safe to say that each of the attorneys in my office has a different voice and just cutting and pasting won’t work to produce a clear, readable final product. So I have lots of experience rewriting the words of others to produce a smoother end product.

When I wrote Moore Hollow and The Water Road I did the same thing – I took my first draft of each book and rewrote them completely, filling in any shallow bits and using the quicker pace to connect up things better. It worked well, but I hadn’t felt a need to write that way for the other books that followed.

Until Heroes. Since I was stuck I decided to pull a Bruford and go back to the beginning again and rewrite the first draft. According to yWriter I started that process last April and everything went swimmingly for a while, until things bogged down again. In particular, when I got to that ending, I just completely lost momentum. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where the story was going to end up, I just didn’t quite know how it was going to happen.

Last week I was bogged down (again) in what I thought was the next-to-last chapter. It shifts POVs a lot as the climax happens and that made it hard to write, anyway. Otherwise, I was just kind of drifting.

Then I got up to take a piss one night.

I was up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, my mind barely functioning, when it hit me. This was out of the blue inspiration of the kind I don’t generally have. The solution was simple – a short time skip to move straight to the consequences of what we’re seeing, rather than the details of the incident itself. I was so stoked I couldn’t really get back to sleep (which made work the next day quite a drag).

This is a long way of saying, this past weekend, I finally put the final words of the first draft of Heroes of the Empire into yWriter! It’s finished! Well, I mean, it tells a complete story. Now comes the fun part, the several rounds of edits, but at least I can see the end of the process at this point.

Thus, coming late this year or (more likely) early next, the final, gripping part of the Unari Empire story, Heroes of the Empire.

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My Black Pages

One of the little bits of world building for the Unari Empire books that I had fun with was thinking through the newspaper situation in Cye. Given the steampunk(ish) setting, it’s the most plausible form of mass media and how it’s regulated says interesting things about the world. Hence, the “real” newspapers are known by how closely aligned they are with the Imperial regime, since to officially publish they need a literal seal approval.

When it came time to write Widows of the Empire I needed to expand my thinking a bit and figure what underground papers might look like and what they might be called. I settled on small papers crammed with type, so much that each page looked nearly black. Naturally, characters refer to them as the “black pages.”

This is not an accident.

Readers of The Water Road and its sequels know that I use a lot of musical references in my books. Lots of places in that series are named after musicians, the more obscure the better! The “black pages” are no different, as I’ve stolen the name from a song (or a few) by Frank Zappa.

Frank originally wrote “The Black Page” as a percussion feature, kind of on a dare. After an orchestral session, drummer Terry Bozio related that some of those players talked about the fear of facing “the black page,” prompting Frank to write his own. The song evolved from a short piece for drums and percussion into a song for a full band, in various guises.

In this video, musician Doug Helvering works through the first two versions of the song, with excerpts from the score to prove the that the song was well named:

A decade after that second version, the song morphed again, into a “New Age Version” that was performed on Zappa’s final tour:

Even laid back, it’s kind of a bear.

Names can be tricky for fantasy and science fiction writers. My suggestion – take inspiration wherever you can, even if it’s in an insanely complex song.

Widows of the Empire – Coming November 10!

So remember when I said I hoped to see the end of a particular tunnel by the time July rolled around?

Well, guess what?

Widows of the Empire, book two of my Unari Empire Trilogy is finished and I’m shooting to release it on my birthday, November 10! Of this year!

Okay, so not quite finished, but the main text is done. Needs formatting and a couple of final flourishes, but, barring tragedy, you’ll be able to reach more of Aton and Belwyn’s adventures as the Unari Empire begins to come apart this fall.

A Little Proof of Concept

It seems like such a long time ago – but only December 2019 – that I announced a National Novel Writing Month “win” with Widows of the Empire, the second book in the Unari Empire Trilogy. Under normal circumstances, that might have meant the book would have been finished and released in 2020.

Yet, if anything, 2020 could hardly be described as “normal.”

For whatever, be it pandemic fatigue/ennui or just the fact that this book has been kind of a bear, the progress on Widows has been slower than I’d hoped. Still, it’s with beta readers and I’m ready to do a final edit when I hear back from them. Until then, I wanted to provide a little proof that this book is a real thing, not just residing in my noggin.

Some people create covers, or have the commissioned, before they even start writing a book. I don’t know how they pulled that off. I suppose it’s easy enough to change things if you have the talent to do your own covers (I really do not), but I can’t imagine at least having a first draft complete and knowing how everything winds up before getting to work on a cover.

So, while Widows of the Empire is not yet in its final final form, I can at least go ahead and share this with you:

Given the title, it’s no surprise to find Lady Belwyn on the cover of this one (Aton, the finder of lost things and other main character for the trilogy, is on the first one).

As usual, this is the work of the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Designs. Coming soon to a shelf near you!

Can’t Talk – Writing

Hey, gang. Guess what time of year it is?

I mean, yeah, there’s an election that’s probably not going to be over with for a while, but beyond that, it’s November which means . . .

It’s National Novel Writing Month!

That’s when folks, including yours truly, take the month of November to focus on writing the first draft of a novel – well, at least 50,000 words of it. I’ve done this several times and it’s a great way to jump start a new project. So, this year, I’m going to be writing the third book in the Unari Empire trilogy, Heroes of the Empire (yes, yes, I know, Widows of the Empire isn’t out yet – it’s with beta readers, so it is coming), thus bringing the whole thing to a thrilling (?) conclusion.

Which means – it’s blog silence for me for the rest of the month (at the least). Stay safe and I’ll see you on the other side.

My Characters Don’t Speak to Me

Creativity is a weird thing. A book is a book or a song is a song, but different writers can get to that finished product in lots of different ways. That’s made clear to me whenever writers talk about being pantsers instead of plotters. Pantsers, generally speaking, make it all up as they go along, without any great amount of planning, notes, and the like. Plotters, by contrast, do all that stuff before they start writing. I’ve learned, the hard way, than I’m more plotter than pantser. I admire pantsers for the way they write, but to me it’s as foreign an experience as it would be if I tried to write the last part of the Unari Empire trilogy in Tagalog.

There’s another group of authors of which I am not a part when it comes to the creative process. That’s the group who talk about the characters in their stories like they are independent, sentient beings. Some talk about how they don’t write dialog, they just transcribe conversations their characters have on their own. Others give their characters agency and talk about how they can’t control what they do. As at least one well-known writer put it:

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, reports negotiating a deal with his character Mrs. Coulter to get her to spend time in a cave in one of his books. Some authors have reported that their characters give them unsolicited advice about the writer’s own life!

I just don’t get this. One of the amazing things about writing fiction is that I, as the author, am God, in a big G omniscient and omnipotent sense. Characters only exist because I create them and they only do what I tell them to. Their words are my words. Does it means they always develop the way I first intend them to? No, but that’s me changing my mind, not them rebelling.

Maybe I look at it this way because I started writing seriously as a lawyer and in legal writing you’re at the whim of so many other things – the law, the facts, your clients. In fact, it’s my clients who behave the way some writers talk about their characters – with complete free will and a dazzling inability to control themselves.

I always figure that when writers talked about characters talking to them or doing things against the writer’s will it was a way for writers to deal with the vagaries of the creative act, with a heaping helping of metaphor baked in (we’re talking about writers, after all). But I’m apparently wrong and in the minority on this, according to recent research with authors from the Edinburgh book festival:

Researchers at Durham University teamed up with the Guardian and the Edinburgh international book festival to survey 181 authors appearing at the 2014 and 2018 festivals. Sixty-three per cent said they heard their characters speak while writing, with 61% reporting characters were capable of acting independently.

‘I hear them in my mind. They have distinct voice patterns and tones, and I can make them carry on conversations with each other in which I can always tell who is ‘talking’,’ said one anonymous writer. ‘They sometimes tell me that what I have in mind for them isn’t right – that they would never behave or speak that way. I don’t usually answer back,’ said another.

Beyond that, 15% of writers surveyed say even talked back to their characters. So, what, are they crazy? Not so much:

Even though some authors reported that their characters had a life of their own, the researchers were keen to stress that there was no question of writers confusing fiction with reality. When the academics rated the writers on how prone they were to hallucinations, they did not score differently to other samples of the population. ‘Hearing voices and other unusual experiences are not in themselves a symptom of a mental health problem,’ they wrote. ‘This shows that vivid imaginative states – including losing control of one’s own imagination – [are] a healthy and safe thing which is important for how some people create fiction.’

Then what’s going on here? Researchers think that these writers aren’t sharing a singular experience, but it’s more that they’re describing a myriad of experiences that occur during the writing process. In other words, to say “they hear their characters talk to them” really flattens the nuance of the issue.

There’s part of me who thinks like this guy, like I’m missing out on something:

CharactersTalk

I get what he’s saying. There’s something transcendent and beyond the realm of grinding craft when characters talk to you. You’re not just writing, at that point, your communing with the muse, you’re tapping into the essential forces of the universe.

But I don’t think that can be right. Neither he nor I are missing out on anything – we just work differently. Truth is, while there may be a wrong way to write a book, there are probably an infinite number of “right” ways, because what works best for one writer might not work at all for others.

So, I guess I’m fine with the idea that my characters don’t talk to me. In place of the psychic connection that others have with their creations, I’ll happily sit back and make mine do whatever the hell I want while theirs are wreaking havoc!

Raplh

Gone Writin’

It’s been a while since I did a writing update post, so this seemed as good a time as any.

The good/great news – Gods of the Empire, the first book in my new Unari Trilogy is (for all intents and purposes) done! There’s a few little things left to do with the text and Derange Doctor Design is hard at work whipping up a great cover, but I can say with confidence that it will be released this fall. The target is to be ready for the 2019 West Virginia Book Festival.

The bad news, for you blog readers, is that means that I’m now knee deep in Widows of the Empire, the second book in the trilogy. As a result, blogging is going to be light to nonexistent for the next little bit.

stop-that-you-should-be-writing-loki-14591496

Yessir. If all goes well I’ll have a first draft done by the end of the summer.

So, until then (barring something I just can’t hold in), take care of yourselves and have some fun!

WriteAtDawn

At Long Last

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

Gods

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.

a-week-off

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!

Hello, 2019

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not as if you file them with some official registry and, when you start to slip, government drones bust in to keep you on the straight and narrow.

newyearnewme

I prefer to use the start of the year as a time to take stock, to think about what the coming year might hold. So let’s do that, shall we?

To start with, my initial goal for 2019 is to finish up Gods of the Empire, the first book in my new trilogy. As you’ll recall, this project was originally going to be a series of shorter books, but morphed into a trilogy of longer books. As a result, I basically wrote the first book in two separate parts. They’ve now been fused together for a complete manuscript. It’s a couple of edits away from “done” and, I hope, will see the light of day this year.

Beyond that, things are fairly wide open.

Obviously, at some point, I’ll need to get cracking on the second book in this trilogy, Widows of the Empire. It’s largely planned out (in broad strokes, at least), but I’m not sure whether I’ll want to jump right back into that world or get some distance before I get working on book two in earnest.

I’m also planning to go back and revive something I thought was a standalone novel – Moore Hollow. I’ve had more than one person ask about a sequel, which I’d never intended, but I’ve come around. It’s now going to be the first book in a series in which Ben Potter moves to West Virginia and investigates various weirdnesses. Getting cracking on the second book in that series is high on my list of priorities, too.

There are bound to be some shorter projects that pop up here and there, too. Last year, between rounds of Gods of the Empire, I actually wrote a novelette (I think) set in the expanded Moore Hollow universe because the idea lodged itself in my brain and wouldn’t go away. That same kind of thing is likely to happen again. Only time will tell.

So there you have it – no resolutions, but some plans and some goals. Now let’s get out there and take on 2019!

letsdothis

And Then There Were Two

Since I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year because I’m still knee deep in working on the first book of the Unari Empire Trilogy, I figured now was a good time to let y’all in on some exciting developments with the book.

First and foremost – it has a title! A working title, at least. Right now the first book in the trilogy is going to be Gods of the Empire. That should be followed by Widows of the Empire and, finally, Heroes of the Empire. Subject to change, of course, but it’s a far sight better than Untitled.

Second, the trilogy has been reshaped somewhat (again). My original plan was to have three main characters whose stories developed through the three books. After doing a lot more writing, I’ve decided to cut one of those characters out, for the most part. He has a role to play in the end of things, so he’ll make an appearance, but I ultimately decided not to make him a main character. It will help keep the word count in the right area and, I hope, sharpen the story a bit by narrowing the focus. He’ll get a stand-alone short story to flesh out his background, eventually.

That means that . . . third – the complete first draft is finally done! Recall that I had what was going to be book one of seven done before restructuring it into a trilogy. Now I’ve written a draft of the second half of the first book, so after a couple of editing passes to bring it up to speed with the first half I will have a good, solid base to start a more holistic edit of Gods of the Empire.

If all goes according to plan, I should have a finished product in the first half of 2019.

meme-plan-comes-together

Off I go!