The Honeymoon Period

Over March Break I jumped fully into the second draft of my current novel (a space opera), having re-outlined like crazy beforehand, and managed to make it through five chapters of revisions before the week was up. Then things got crazy busy, between teaching obligations and promoting new publications and my role with TEGG Games, and I found myself struggling to keep my momentum. Part of the challenge was that I had hit a point in the draft where I was finally going to be making sizable changes to the narrative, requiring me to basically rewrite entire chapters from scratch.

Naturally, I hit a wall, for the first time in a long time. I sat at my computer a few times wondering if this novel was even worth my time. I had changed some of the characters to be more dynamic, but I was convinced no one would care about them. The premise involves the genetic modification of an entire species, but I’m not a geneticist, and I don’t want it to become a hard SF novel – but would it need to be? And most importantly, would the changes to the outline I’d proposed to myself actually make it a better novel? To make matters worse, I recently got three more short stories approved for TEGG, and I really want to work on those (even though the deadlines aren’t for a while) and I have two other novel ideas tugging at me, both of which I became convinced were more compelling ideas that would be more attractive to an agent or publisher.

Sunday morning, at a group writing session, I explained this to a couple friends, and one of them said to me: The honeymoon period is over. In other words, I had made it through the afterglow of first jumping into a project, and was finally seeing the sheer amount of work and things to fix before this draft would be done (and those other projects calling to me are like women with nice asses walking past me on the street – my friend’s metaphor, not mine). When all I wanted to do was put the space opera aside and (temporarily, I assured myself) work on something else, they told me to stick with it and get it done. The key piece of advice was to find the one thing I want to focus on in this novel – whether it’s the relationship between characters, or the premise, or the pacing, etc. – and concentrate on doing that as effectively as possible, then worry about solidifying the rest in later drafts.

Long story short, and after further reflection, the most important thing to me in novels is the relationships between the characters, with a fast-paced style being a close second. Keeping that in mind, I forced myself to sit down at the coffee shop until Chapter Six was finished. To my surprise, on my walk home I got it in my head exactly how the start of Chapter Seven would look, so I pounded out some more words while my dinner was in the oven. Though the honeymoon period is over, I think this novel and I have figured things out.

Now I just have to keep up that momentum until this draft is done, and ignore the various other ideas dancing in my head and demanding my attention. So with the little bit of time I have before I teach my evening class (now that I’ve finished this post) excuse my while I draft some more.

My First TEGG Story is Live!

Exciting news! For those of you that haven’t already seen the announcements on my
Facebook and Twitter accounts, my first short story with the Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) is now available for purchase! “Wizard-sitting” is set in the world of Stormtalons, a fantasy setting designed by Ed Greenwood involving action and mystery, a cold war between a religious order and a powerful mage called the Hierophar, and roiling mists that consume (and possibly transform) anyone foolish or unlucky enough to step within them.

Here’s the logline:

The Stormtalons can change a person. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

When your beloved mentor’s Gift is awakened, how do you keep him safe from the powers that seek all mages? Particularly when he seems to have no interest in protecting himself?

Lonos, a scholar, encountered the mist and his Gift has bloomed. Now his proteges are desperate to keep him hidden from the Heirophar, a desperation only increased when a ruthless noblewoman from their past finds them and threatens them with exposure–unless they perform a certain little task…

I’m really stoked that this story has finally been released, not just because it’s my first TEGG publication, but because it’s the first published work set in the frontier town of Tasmouth and the nearby Yacathan jungle. Expect more works set in the same region from myself and other creatives (which I’ll spread the word when the time comes).

You can purchase “Wizard-sitting” via the link above – in addition to getting an e-copy straight from the Onder Emporium, you can also get the story for Kindle, Kobo, Google Play and iBooks.

Every author has a stake in the profits of their works with TEGG, so it would mean a lot if you can spread the word about this (and other TEGG publications) via social media, or by leaving reviews on the platforms listed above. You can also check out a recent blog post of mine on the Stormtalons website, where I discuss my mentors and how my relationships with them tied into “Wizard-sitting.”

Hi, I’m Brandon, and I’m a Shipper

Tonight I caught up on the most recent episode of The Good Fight – which is just as brilliant as its predecessor, by the way – and came to a realization: I’m a gods-damned shipper.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “shipper” is someone who reads a book or watches a TV series, etc, and waits with bated breath for particular characters who have chemistry to hook up or declare their undying love. Some more extreme individuals might hit social media in a rage, or even write to authors or showrunners demanding that relationships happen, or other relationships end because the characters aren’t right for each other, and so-and-so should be together instead. I’m certainly not like that (no judgment meant). But I won’t deny that I spent part of this week’s The Good Fight cursing two characters (Diane and Kurt, for anyone who watches it) for not putting the past behind them and getting back together. Because by the gods, they make each other happy and Diane is going through so much crap that she could use Kurt’s support, and leaning on him a little doesn’t make her weak!

But I digress.

This realization probably shouldn’t be much of a shock to me. The scene where Han and Leia were reunited in The Force Awakens was one of my favorites, and the tragedy that they didn’t get a chance to make amends was crushing. In Fringe, I cheered when Olivia and Peter decided to give it a go, only to watch in horror as it was revealed that Olivia had been replaced by her doppelganger from another universe (yes, that happened) – and not just because it was a compelling and terrifying twist, but because Peter was with the wrong one. I’m one of the legion of fans wishing Firefly had gone on long enough to see Mal and Inara end up together, and I waited fifteen novels of the Dresden Files for Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy to admit they’re in love with each other, while filled with terror for most of the series that Murphy was going to die before that happened, because Jim Butcher is both amazing and cruel.

At my core, I think I’m a bit of a romantic, which is why I’m drawn to these story lines – not the cheesy relationships in bad romcoms and the like (don’t get me wrong, there are some great romcoms out there), but the slow build of a connection between well-developed characters by a creative who really gets the complexities of human relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever effectively captured it in one of my own works, though I tried with my fantasy novel Convoy, which is currently making the submission rounds, and I’m going try with the next novel I’m drafting. Making someone have the same visceral reaction with my characters as I’ve had toward the titles I mentioned above is definitely on my list of writing accomplishments to unlock. And the inspiration for that comes from these great relationships in fiction.

So if there’s a support group out there for people like me, sign me up. My name is Brandon, and I’m a shipper.

Reading for Work

One of the things I hated in university were the readings for my courses (go figure) because I found that the more I was forced to read (not that I read everything I was told to) the less energy I had to read for fun. University almost killed my love of reading, but once I graduated and didn’t have to read for work anymore, I was able to get it back. Because of that, though, I’ve struggled with the idea of reading for work as a writer – basically reading a novel or short story I’m not enjoying to analyze it for my own writing. Since there’s so much out there to read and the recommendations keep rolling in, I’m much more likely these days to put a book down if I’m not engaged by the fourth chapter or so, even if it’s a book other writers have said I should study for things like pacing, tone, etc.

However, the novel I started reading the other day (I won’t say which one in this case) is the first one where I’m finding myself reading with my writer brain on but still enjoying the story. In this case, the writer’s style of prose doesn’t really appeal to me – I find there’s more description than there needs to be, and the paragraphing loses some of the intensity in moments where I’d incorporate one-sentence paragraphs and less words – but  I’m attached enough to the character and the mystery in the novel that I’ve stuck with it. So as I’m reading, I’m not sitting on the edge of my seat like with Jim Butcher or Tanya Huff, but instead I’m thinking to myself, That’s a good use of pacing or Okay, I like that sequence of dialogue, how would I do that? And then I’ll skim certain sections, but take note of why I’m not engaged with those parts.

This is a mindset I haven’t been able to achieve before, which maybe means I’m growing as a writer? We’ll see if I’m able to read another novel in the same way. Apparently character is key for me; I put down A Crown for Cold Silver a couple weeks ago because I didn’t like any of the characters, even though the writing itself was pretty strong. As long as I can still pick up an author I love and not slip into my writer brain, I’ll consider this entire process a win. It’s bad enough that I can’t enjoy most movies anymore – if the same thing happens to novels, that’ll be time to put me in the ground.

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Shameless plug time! I’ve mentioned here a few times that I blog for Black Gate, where I post bi-weekly reviews of SFF novels and short fiction and the occasional interview with a fellow author. My latest review of Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes is up now, as well as my Top Ten Novels from what I read in 2016. If you enjoy this blog and think our reading interests might be in common, check out my reviews and feel free to comment.

So What’s the Next Thing?

I’ve heard of writers who make a point of completing manuscripts by hand because seeing a physical, completed work makes it easier for them to see exactly what their time has gone into. Basically finishing a draft on a computer, renaming it “done” or something and then sending it off to magazines or editors doesn’t have the same sort of effect because it’s just on a screen. I write exclusively on a computer (though I brainstorm and outline by hand sometimes) and so I get that feeling once in a while, which is sometimes reinforced by the Excel doc I keep that outlines my current projects and what I could work on next (the list is vast). It’s like a hydra; I knock off one idea and there are ten more to take its place – which I’m not complaining about, don’t worry

Every accomplishment, though, helps me overcome this feeling and remind me that what I do actually leads to tangible results. In the past couple weeks, that came in the form of selling a new short story (details on that once the TOC is released) and, to my amazement, finding out that one of my Black Gate posts was the most read post for January. Anytime I get news like that, I do a little dance (usually in my mind), blast a little celebratory music (usually Meat Loaf) and, if the news is really big, reward myself with something else. But then inevitably the question that blossoms in my mind is the same one that crops up when I finish a project: “Okay, so what’s the next thing?”

Basically, my mind never stops working. Every accomplishment reinforces the fact that I’m not just pissing in the wind when it comes to my writing, but I don’t give myself a lot of time to sit back on my laurels; I take the energy of any accomplishment and put that back into my writing. Sure, I sold a story, but now I need to sell the next one. Sure, I got some attention online for something I wrote, but now I need to figure out how to do that again. My inner psychologist sometimes needles me that this kind of mindset is maybe unhealthy – that taking a break once in a while and basking in one’s accomplishments is good for the soul – but I tend to ignore that little bastard and start writing up notes for another project. I feel like it’s too easy to become complacent, especially with how difficult it is to break in as a new writer, and so I think there’s a part of me that’s actually afraid to take too long of a break, especially after a moment of success. I’ll add that to the list of things to ask a therapist about when I have benefits and can afford that sort of conversation.

This week, though, I’m jumping back into editing a space opera I drafted over the summer, which needs a ton of work (expect more than a few posts about that in the coming months). The energy and drive that fills that question “what’s next” is crucial for a project like that, as I figure out everything it needs for draft two, and eventually drafts three, four, and as many more as required. And with that drives comes the most important thing: the sheer love of the craft. There is little I enjoy more than pounding out a new piece of fiction, getting to know new characters and working with them as I finish a narrative. The love of what I do feeds that energy, which in turn feeds my drive and feeds that love of writing, in probably the best cycle imaginable save for the sort of cycle of love and affection that comes from being with your perfect partner. Because that question of “what’s next” is simultaneously an affirmation and a challenge, to prove that you deserve whatever accolades you’ve gotten and you can achieve even more.

So … what’s the next thing for you, fellow writer?

Watching Movies

So I was sick as a dog for most of this long weekend, which was a colossal pain since it meant cancelling a bunch of plans and not getting anything done except what was absolutely necessary – or what I could cram into today now that I’m feeling better.

What being sick did allow me to do was sit on my couch and watch a ton of movies, which I haven’t done in an incredibly long time, so I’ll take that as my silver lining. I’m pretty sure that between late Thursday night and Saturday I watched Jurassic ParkJurassic WorldArmageddonDie Hard 2Live Free or Die HardThe CoreIndependence Day, The EqualizerThe Dark Knight, and Hancock … with possibly one or two more that I’m forgetting. I don’t normally watch that many movies in a three-month period these days, but when you’re hacking up a lung and feel like death, movies are useful. Especially good movies. I’m not sure how The Core slipped in there.

I’ve seen most of these movies a bunch of times already. It’s interesting, though, that even in my sickened state I noticed things that I had somehow missed before. In Jurassic Park, for example, it never dawned on me that the moment when Hammond steps out of the helicopter with Grant and the others onto Isla Nublar, all proud and jubilant, is exactly paralleled (camera angle and all) at the end of the film, when he and the other survivors escape the park via helicopter, after a moment of Hammond looking lost and sorrowful. I don’t know how I missed that, but it’s a great example of visual character work. And in Die Hard 2, there’s a momentary exchange with some of the terrorists really early in the film about a “personnel change” that seems innocuous, but actually foreshadows something that happens almost at the end of the film, when it’s revealed that the army unit dispatched against the terrorists is actually in league with them – except for one soldier, who was rotated in last minute and gets executed for his trouble. It’s the kind of thing you’d only notice having already seen the film before.

I love things like that in stories: the subtleties, the slow reveal of things in a world. A character mentions something about their past, or responds negatively to something seemingly innocuous, like a painting, but you don’t reveal the significance of it until much later. In my story published in Keystone Chronicles, “Coding Haven,” I start by establishing that a tree my characters are focused on is a simulation, but only reveal later that the entire world around them is a simulation. And that’s just an early twist. Not that I’m an expert in figuring out author voice, especially my own, but I think that might be one of the staples of my best writing: the slow reveal, in terms of setting, plot and character. Not just because it’s intriguing, but because it’s fun to write.

Or at least I think that’s something common to my work. It’ll be up to some ambitious scholar to go through my published works and decode them. Any volunteers? 😀

The Perks of Being Meat Loaf

I’m a huge Meat Loaf fan. When I’m writing I usually listen to the same selection of music for a particular project – my novel Convoy was Guns n Roses, and I wrote my first TEGG story to Hollywood Vampires – but if I’m working on something other than word creation/editing and need general background music, it’s probably Meat Loaf. Say what you will about the guy’s voice today – he’s almost 70, so cut him some slack – but he’s a friggin legend, still sounds awesome and gives it his all, and his music is brilliant if you’re a fan of classic rock.

His concerts are fun to listen to or watch, and I go back to them sometimes if I need a little energy boost. I was at the Meat Loaf concert here in Ottawa in June, and the energy in the amphitheater was electric – you get a taste of that watching the video. The thing that has always astounded me are the clips where he’s playing one of his all-time classics, like “Bat Out of Hell” or “Paradise,” and you see and hear the incredible reaction from the audience. There are a couple moments from more recent concerts where Meat Loaf just stands there, awash in the energy from his fans, and watching it I think to myself, “Damn, that must be something incredible to feel.”

I get a tiny microcosm of that sometimes: when I see former students in the halls beaming just from bumping into me, and the rare occasion when someone says, “Hey I read your story (or this blog) and I loved it!” The kind of adoration that a legend like Meat Loaf receives is something I’ll probably never achieve – not just because rock stars and writers are very different, but also because I’m not shooting for it. I’d rather have something a bit different. My analogue to what Meat Loaf gets is what I hope for down the road in my career: attending conferences and seeing fellow writers I’ve been working alongside for decades, people who I’ve forged a connection with based on mutual respect of each other’s work and similar sensibilities. We’ll share a drink or meal over the weekend and chat about what we’re all up to before going to some event, and then message each other on threads to remind ourselves that writing isn’t actually an isolating profession. I like to think I’m at the start of that, now that I’ve gotten around to a few cons, but the benefit to being a known face (and known for being good people) is to enter a conference and know you’re with friends and peers, accepted the way a rock star like Meat Loaf feels accepted by an amphitheater full of fans. Sitting here musing and listening to Bat Out of Hell, I think I’ll take my end goal over what Meat Loaf gets at his concerts.

Not that I would say no to being him for a day. Just to get a taste.

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Speaking of cons – Can*Con registration is now open! I’m on the programming team again this year, which means I know who are Guests of Honor will be 🙂 Stay tuned for details on Twitter (@CanConSF) or on our website: http://can-con.org/cc/