June Metrics

Metrics

Let’s get right to the numbers for June.

Total words: 41,250
Average per day: 1,331
Completed: one short story, one non-fiction book

“All for One,” one of the stories I wrote last month, has officially sold. It’ll be in Ragnarok Publishing’s MECH anthology later this year. They’ll be Kickstarting it in the fall, and I’m delighted to be part of one of their anthologies. They make massive tomes with lots of extra goodies.

The short story I finished this month is out as well. I just squeaked it in by the deadline. I doubt I’ll hear anything for several months. You write them, and then forget them: that’s the way it is with short fiction.

The big project for June was writing Jumpstart Your Novel, the non-fiction book that is the print version of the talk I’ve been giving off and on for the last few years. One of the take-home lessons from the last convention is that if you’re going to show up and talk process, you might as well have something interested parties can purchase. And I wanted to see how much stress I could put on both myself and my publishing infrastructure to get something out quickly. The book isn’t all that long, really, though it has more formatting quirks than your normal fiction book. I started writing at the beginning of June, and this afternoon I’ll be finishing up the layout. Darin Bradley knocked out the cover, like he does, and Neal Von Flue was gracious about finding room in his schedule to do the illustrations. All in all, I’m pleased with what we’ve accomplished in thirty days. I’ll put up another post in a few days when all the various buying links are active.

perf5.250x8.000.indd

I also did the layout myself, and will probably be doing the ebook conversion as well. I like knowing how to do things, and as these are part of the publishing chain, I think it’s important to understand the pluses and minuses of the technical work. I tell folks that self-publishing is mostly you taking the whole dollar for yourself and then deciding how much of that dollar you want to pay to other people. Sure, I can do the cover, layout, and conversions myself, but is that time well spent or is it more economical for me to simply pay someone else to do it, freeing up more of my time to actually write? If it costs me a couple hundred bucks, but takes three weeks, is that worth the delay versus me taking an afternoon and doing it myself?

Anyway, useful tools. It’s all about figuring out which tools you want to rent and which ones you want to own, right?

Getting this out of the way means that July can be spent working on a book. My new goal is to create something that people can buy every month. I’m still in that odd space of not having a book contract in hand, and Resurrection House is covering itself, but it’ll be another year or more before it becomes something that can provide beyond its own needs. So, I need to build some revenue streams.

Yes, I could go find a part-time job, I suppose, but that puts me in the position of writing, publishing, and working somewhere. That’s three things. I’ve done that before, and I can attest that one of the three suffers. If either publishing or writing are put in that position, then eh . . . what’s the point? A career that you’re not even attempting to do well yourself isn’t going to magically take off on its own now, is it?

So, I write. A lot. And I figure out new ways to find new audiences. It’s part of the job, right? I didn’t win the fiction lottery with my first book, so now it becomes a profession I have to work at. Fortunately, I like this sort of work, so there’s hope.

And speaking of writing, Clarion West is in session right now, which means the Clarion West Write-a-thon is going on. I went ahead and put myself up there this year, mainly for the sake of keeping someone on task with finishing SNAKE EYES in a timely fashion. I don’t expect anyone to pony up their pennies on my behalf, but if you are so inclined, Clarion West is where the next generation loses their innocence and gets hardened for the particularly character-building life that is being a creative.

Yeah, building character. That’s what it is all about. That’s what I tell my kids, anyway.

Thinking about Harry Potemkin

Book Talk

I’ve turned in another draft of Eternal Queen materials for Worldspinner. This was an interesting project, with opportunities to flex my brain in new ways. The world of the Eternal Queen was reduced to a title card of “Pirates and Sea Monsters!” and I was asked to produce a short story, a dozen points of interest, and a dozen plot starters. The short story was easy. The points of interest were a bit more complicated in that they couldn’t necessarily reflect any given terrain or location as the Worldspinner engine will drop them randomly on the RPG maps when it generates them. And the plots were . . . well, it’s somewhat problematic to tell a writer to generate teasers for plots in less than 500 words. Writers tend to create situations for characters and then we want to spin them up and see what happens. Once spun up, there is a part of my brain that starts squawking, “And then what happened?”

The plots took a little while.

But the value of the whole experience is that I just spent a month or so doing a bunch of world-building for the Eternal Queen, which is going to help me immensely when I get to writing that book. My vision of that world takes place a hundred years after the material generated for Worldspinner. All of the major players will still be around, but a lot of the smaller plots I built will have little impact on the events of the book. I like that the Eternal Queen world will be out there on RPG maps and that people will be playing in it before the books come out. It’s pre-building an audience, if you will. Shamelessly so.

That’s done, and I’m getting back to FERAL in a few days, but I’m spending some of this week mulling over POTEMKIN again. It can still be read in its sprawling entirety at Farrago’s Wainscot, where it ran as part of the inaugural year. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to recreate this experience in a printed book, and the last pass resulted in us realizing that it should be a two-color book, which immediately made it expensive. And then we thought it should be a series of smaller books, nestled inside a box, which also made it expensive. And then we realized there was no real easy way to do hypertext or footnoting in an ebook, and we gave up.

But it gnaws at me still. I want to make a physical version of THE POTEMKIN MOSAIC, but I just don’t know if a) anyone will care, and b) if they do, will it be affordable? We’ve talked about Kickstarter and Patreon as options, but both have their pluses and minuses. And so on and so forth. But what really needs to be settled first is a vision. In a perfect world, what do I want it to look like?

First off, let’s start with the idea that the best approximation of hypertext in a printed format is multiple volumes. POTEMKIN needs to be consumed in a way that allows you to be distracted from where you started, yet still allows you to find your way back to where you were. Choose Your Own Adventure books always move you forward. You don’t worry about where you’ve been, and so “flip to page 38” is a perfectly functional way to explore a book. You don’t run the adventure again until you finish; at which point, it’s a new adventure. With POTEMKIN, what sends you back is your own desire to return to familiar narrative ground. To that end, separating the material into several blocks of text and presenting them as isolated objects allows for the reader to start in one book, reference another as necessary, and even pick up a third or fourth if the notes suggest as much. All without losing track of your place in the first book.

Which gives us:

THE DREAMS. The twelve dream entries in Harry’s dream journal.
THE LEXICON. The alphabetical listing of the various words and phrases that have intent within Harry’s oneiromantic journey.
TH3iR. The marketing material related to the experimental drug Bleak Zero.
THE AMAZON JOURNAL. The fragmented journal of Dr. Ehirllimbal, who ventured into the Oneiroi during a trip to the Amazon.
SAFIQ’S NOTEBOOK. The cryptic pieces from the Book of Dreams, written by the Persian mystic, Safiq Al-Kahir.
TALKING WITH NORA. The material that is mental transcriptions of conversations with Nora, the patient who disappeared into the Oneiroi under Harry’s care.
THE MAILING LIST. The collection of transcripts from the alt.oneirology.entheogens mailing list.

40K for the Dreams. 52K for the Lexicon. 8K for Ehirllimbal’s journal. 18K for the mailing list. And a couple thousand for the rest. All told, it’s about 120K, or 400 pages in a normal sized book.

As a single volume, this costs me about $5.00 a copy to make. A print run of 3,000 costs me $15K. I price it at $20, which nets me around $10, and I have to sell 1,500 of them to break even. And the question that I keep coming back to is: are there 1,500 people who want to disappear down this rabbit hole? And if so, are they going to be happy with flipping back and forth in a single volume, or would they really prefer spreading a bunch of books out on a desk and getting lost?

I looked at Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves the other day. For all his permutations and crawling into the margins, House of Leaves is still a forward moving narrative. POTEMKIN is not. It can be, but it’s not meant to be. Therein lies the crux of the head-scratching.

Anyway, more ruminating will happen. I’d be delighted to hear comments, thoughts, suggestions from anyone who has a reaction to the idea of experiencing POTEMKIN as a print volume. How would you like to see it presented? Would you prefer a halfway solution (a single volume) or would you prefer to embrace the experience fully (multiple volumes)? Would the full experience be something that you’d prefer to be limited, and possibly of higher production value (and cost)? Would you contribute to a Kickstarter for this? A Patreon? Would you like me to get back to you in a few weeks when you’ve extricated yourself from the madness that is Harry’s dreams?

This’ll keep. Or not. Because, as I mentioned, it’s gnawing at me.

Moorcock at 75

Author Stuff

I’m going to range a bit, so let’s not bury the lede: today is Michael Moorcock’s 75th birthday. The image topping this post is a random assortment of covers for books that he has written. Books that were highly influential to me as a kid. That are still influencing me now. Thank you, sir. I hope there are many more to come.

I’ve been wanting to write something about the pulps for a little while now. Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post a little while back called “Pulp Speed,” wherein he breaks down some numbers for varying speeds of what he calls pulp writing. Let’s be honest. Anything these days that is falling into the category of Indie Publishing Put Food on the Table can probably be short-handed as “pulp.” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Food on the table is a good thing. When all is said and done, my recent forays into traditional publishing haven’t been stellar in getting more contracts to fall into my lap, but that’s probably due to my lack of eager follow-through as much as anything else. (And I’ve been busy with bootstrapping Resurrection House over the last year.) All of which is to say: yes, pulp writing; let’s do some of that.

Michael Moorcock, over the years, has been outspoken about the pace at which he wrote some of his early books. Many of those haven’t aged well for me (rather, I think I’ve aged out of them), but there is undeniably a time and place and audience for those sorts of books. The fact that they’ve managed to survive at all (and still be in print) is certainly a testament to the underlying energy of Mr. Moorcock’s writing and imagination. Did you know that the origin of the names for the ancient gods of Granbretan (from the Hawkmoon books) are none other than the Beatles? Yeah, totally missed that when I was a kid. Now? It strikes me as a funny riff grabbed out of the ether by a writer who is plowing hard on a deadline. Like, “started on Friday, done by Sunday” sort of deadline.

They call this a working job, I hear. The sort you show up for and spend eight hours or more a day for. Crazy talk, I know. But hours worked = content created = money from readers. It’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it? Once upon a time, we used to ask ourselves whether we’d want be read in academia or be read by millions of paying readers. I was young then, and answered that I’d prefer the recognition offered by academia. So young; so foolish. Nowadays, the lure of the paying reader is mighty strong.

On this occasion of Mr. Moorcock’s 75th birthday, it’s worth noting that this is nothing new. The Paperback Fanatic, a zine out of the UK dedicated to the pulps of the ’60s and ’70s, has been cataloging the back in the day equivalent to the frenzied ebook market of these last few years. It’s still a content creator’s market, really. The trick is, as always, making content.

I’d like to do a little of that in 2015. It seems like a good year to make some books. I’ve got some good role models to follow.

NaNo-wayback

Author Stuff

Nanowrimo—National Novel Writing Month—starts in November. A friend recently asked what this was, and I—somewhat cheekily—replied: “It’s what we call a ‘workday,’ but everyone else makes a month-long ordeal out of it.” I re-enabled my account, and discovered that last year’s effort was supposed to be the start of ETERNAL QUEEN ONE, and I logged all of 3K before I wandered off to do something else. And the site design now supports a decade plus of badges and icons and stuff, which makes me wonder how far back my own efforts go.

Spelunking the archives turned up the following conversation in 2004, about that year’s project: I have a children’s book writer who burned out and is living in Montana as a survivalist as my protagonist.  He wrote a series of books about a goat named Barnabas.  His last manuscript (which was never published and is partially why he went nuts) was:  Barnabas and the Apocalypse.  The tagline read:  “Where Barnabas stares into the Great Abyss and the Great Abyss stares back.”

In 2003, I pitched a process blog to go along with that year’s entry (THE BOOK OF LIES). The archives of that effort (called SYMBOLIC) are still out there. THE BOOK OF LIES was something that wasn’t supposed to be a CODEX book, but after a few iterations, I realized it was better positioned as such, and changed some names. Bits and pieces, catalogued as ANGEL TONGUE, still rattle around my head, but they’ve felt like old parts that didn’t fit anymore. However, now that I’m looking at them again (like, perhaps, the entry on the Lunar Society), they may be the right parts for the project and I’ve just been hanging on to the wrong schematic these last few years.

And then I went dark until 2007 or so, and even then it was all CODEX rewrites, POTEMKIN, and unfinished efforts at a SPRAWL book. FOREWORLD in 2010. EARTH THIRST in 2011. It seems like there is other wreckage along the way. Perhaps I will crawl through the archives further. Now is the time to write books, after all . . .

Closing and Opening

Ruminations

I didn’t get many words down for NaNoWriMo. Not many at all, and that’s indicative of where my head is at lately more than anything else. Disappointing, sure, but there are other things going on. I spent a little time updating the bibliography last night, and finally put up The Hollow Prince page. The second ebook collection has been out for more than a month, and I’ve been remiss in actually telling people. To overcompensate, I also put up the page for The King in Scarlet, the last of the triptych.

In looking at my bibliography page now, there’s an interesting sense of closure. The very first entry on it is “A Christmas Wish,” my first story back in 1996. The King in Scarlet contains the [redux] version, and I’m struck by the current state of the bibliography is the entirety of my writing career come full circle. I have nothing planned for 2014 (other than putting the three short fiction collections into a print volume), and 2013 was an incredible year of output. Which says something because it felt like 2012 was a pretty banner year as well.

But, because writers writer long before writers get published, this also says that I didn’t write much in 2013. Nor did I blog much. These things might be connected. Maybe they should be. I don’t know. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I went off into the woods with some friends, and had an opportunity for some reflection. Said reflection is still percolating through my brain, but I had a very vivid dream this morning that suggested that I should get on with things. And so I shall.

Something, Somewhere, Is Not As It Was Before

Author Stuff

Book Three of the Mongoliad has come out since the last time I posted an update. Since then I’ve been deep in the word mines on the next volume of the medieval era in Foreworld. The working title of the book is Katabasis. I hope it sticks. We spent quite a few sessions batting ideas back and forth about the titles of the next two books, and while we knew we weren’t going to have something as idiosyncratic as The Mongoliad, we were hoping for something that was a cut above the standard adventure fantasy titles that are on the shelves now.

Negotiations on other projects continue, though with the usual ebb, flow, and utter soul-crushing dead stops that such negotiations always seem to go through. The CLANG team is wrapping up the deliverables for our Kickstarter campaign (we shot the video just over a year ago!), and the Foreworld writers continue to bang out stories. Recently, we’ve entered the Renaissance with great stories by Barth Anderson (The Book of Seven Hands) and Joe Brassey (The Assassination of Orange). Next month, Scott James Magner has Hearts of Iron, which is a jump back to the 11th century, but sets up some of the predecessors of medieval-era players. There are a few others in progress, and I’ll mention them as we get closer to publication.

It’s been announced (and subsequently deconstructed and commented on) that Night Shade Books is seeking to sell its assets to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing, LLC. This matters to me because the CODEX books and Earth Thirst are Night Shade books. It’s still a little early to comment on the sale, but I’m hoping that it goes through and all parties get a modicum of what they hope to get out of it. I considered my options and decided it was best to make the choice that kept the books on the market. It’s a little too early in my career to be stamping my foot and taking my toys and going home.

Dean Wesley Smith has been blogging his process during the ten day sprint to ghost write a NYT Bestseller (the first entry is here). It’s been interesting to see how his day breaks down as far as how much time is spent actually writing and how much is spent doing administrative work. Once Katabasis and the fifth Foreworld book are turned in, I’ll have some time to think about my own projects again. I’m charting my days as well, trying to figure out the optimal word count I can get each day and how much other time is available for related matters. No point in diving off in the deep end of the pool if you’re not sure you’ve got the skills to stay afloat, is there?

The Little Black Book

Ruminations

I carry around a little black notebook. Most of us do, in some fashion or another. Mine is a Moleskine daily journal from 2007, when I had the idea of writing a full page every day and filling the notebook in a year. It’s taken me five years, and I’m down to the last few pages. In the front, I set aside a page for a table of contents, marking the start and end date of every project. It starts with The Potemkin Mosaic and ends with Earth Thirst. 2007 was also the year of my first professional short story sale (“How the Mermaid Lost Her Song” at Strange Horizons), which makes this little black book the record of my first five years of writing professionally.

There are eleven projects listed (one is still under wraps); five have been published (Potemkin, two CODEX books, two Foreworld books, and Earth Thirst); two—Instrument and Rabbit’s Foot—are novels in the universe that I have several short stories in; and the rest are isolated projects that are still in the germinative state.

Notice that the start date for Angel Tongue is a month before I finished Heartland. I’m just pointing that out to keep the nay-sayers at bay.

Which puts me at just under fifty percent, which I find to be a pretty good percentage. Of course, things don’t get put on the front page of the book until they’re far enough along to warrant keeping notes. And the list doesn’t really reflect that I did a lot of ruminating in the early years (through 2009), and in the last few, I’ve been spending more time writing than wool-gathering. Nor does this list reflect the five novellas that were written in the back half of 2012 (all of which will be out by this coming February). All in all, I wrote nearly 200,000 words last year and did editorial rewriting on another half million.

I started another writing notebook this week. It has three projects with start dates of January 1st. BLOOD HARVEST, HERE BE MONSTERS, and ANGEL TONGUE. I used to be an intensive planner, but looking back on the full writer’s notebook, I have to admit that very little of that was on my five year plan. My goal in the next year is to write one of those three books listed above. Maybe we should do a pool. Long odds on ANGEL TONGUE, of course.

[This post originally appeared at The Night Bazaar on January 4th, 2013.]

Research is Evil

Ruminations

We’re talking about the joys of research this week, and I can simply direct your attention to the picture accompanying this entry as evidence of the joy of research. Mmmmm. Books. However, there’s a seedy underbelly to research wherein you end up with shelves like this. This is the “Occult Wall” in my office–just the books that reference the occult history of the world.

You can go too far with research. You can wander off into the wilderness and never find your way back, which is detrimental when you have a book deadline.

Most of the Occult Wall was put together while working on Lightbreaker and Heartland, the first two volumes in the Codex of Souls (also from Night Shade Books). More than a few of these books I’ve not read all the way through, mainly because I bought them when I was “doing” research for the book. When the actual plot of the book went in a different direction, well, I still had the research material. That shelf there–the second one down from the top on the far left–none of that made it into the final draft.

For Earth Thirst, I wanted to not stress my bank account unnecessarily, and so I purposefully did only the minimum research necessary to keep the plot moving. Once I got a draft of the book done, only then did I go allow myself to do the heavy research. I still only ended up reading half of the books I picked up, but this time I only bought a single shelf’s worth instead of an entire bookcase. In some ways, this mirrors the respective protagonists of the aforementioned books: Markham lives in a very symbolic world, one that is rich with layers of inference and meaning; Silas is much more pragmatic, only bothering with concrete details that get him from point A to point B.

Midway through writing Earth Thirst, I got a call from Night Shade asking about a series title. “Are we doing a series?” I asked, and they just laughed. They know my predilection for research, you see. They remember the conversation we had one night at a convention where I rattled off the very explicit ten volume plan for the CODEX books, even though they had only bought two. After we settled on The Arcadian Conflict, I yanked about thirty thousand words out of the manuscript for Earth Thirst because, well, it’s plot that can be saved for later.

The other half of the books on my Arcadia research shelf are about dirt. Who knew there were so many books written about dirt?

That phrase comes up regularly during research. Who knew? More than one book owes its genesis to that phrase. Research used to scare me; now, I fear it for a different reason entirely. I have a book to finish. It has a defined scope. It’s supposed to come in at one hundred thousand words. Research can upset all of that.

How many books are there in The Arcadian Conflict? I’m not sure. But let me do a little research and get back to you.

[This post originally ran on The Night Bazaar on December 14th, 2012.]

Knowing When to Fight

Ruminations

Silas, the protagonist of Earth Thirst, is a career soldier. He’s fought in many, many wars, going all the way back to the granddaddy of all conflicts–the Trojan War. He’s been in his share of scraps, dust-ups, brawls, riots, melees, and Stupid Shit That Goes Down Out Back By The Dumpsters. His first (and favorite) weapon was the kopis, the long knife used by the Greeks. He is familiar with the Roman gladius, the Norse arming sword, the Crusader’s longsword, the Mamluk’s sabre, the Zweihänder, the rapier, the epee, the cutlass, the bayonet, the Bowie knife, the tactical knife, the machete, and the Ginsu knife. The firearm list is even longer. As you can imagine, writing fight sequences for him can get technically complicated.

I used to love writing fight sequences because they required little dialogue or plot. They were all about action–moving pieces around on a board. In the last few years, though, I’ve been involved in a project that takes its fight sequences very seriously (the three volume historical adventure novel, The Mongoliad). One fight sequence in that project took us four months, three drafts, and a half-dozen expert consultants to get right. We shot a lot of choreography video for a fight that lasts about a minute and a half. Most of that video is our experts going into the weeds on their various martial arts to illuminate subtle intricacies of the techniques. Hours of video. Hours of work. The fight lasts less than two minutes.

It’s easy to get fight sequences wrong. In more than one hotel room, I’ve pushed furniture around to make enough so that I can step through the physical movements of a fight sequence. I’m not doing yoga. I’m trying to replicate the body mechanics of How Not To Get Hit By A Longsword. I had been vetting sword fights for about a year and a half when it came time to write Earth Thirst, and I was really tired of fight sequences.

But here’s Silas, and as tired as I am, he’s infinitely more tired of fighting. At the very least, it would be a rare fight that would interest him enough to warrant mentioning in his narrative. They were like brushing your teeth, eating lunch, or trying to remember where you put your car keys last night: the banal details of your life that no one cares to read about. And there is an efficiency here, as well. Like all repetitive actions that bore you, you learn to finish them very quickly.

Suddenly, the fight sequences in Earth Thirst became intriguing puzzles. How could I finish them as quickly as possible? What was the most brutally efficient method?

Which is how I ended up with Silas and Phoebe taking on a several carloads of mercenaries with just a couple of handguns and a scooter . . .

[This post originally ran on The Night Bazaar on December 10th, 2012.]

Alternate Earth

Book Talk

Cody Tilson did the cover for Earth Thirst, and to say that I’m thrilled with that cover is to understate how much jumping up and down I’ve been doing. We had a conversation about the art that went a little like this: “We could do X. No, let’s do Y. How about X crossed with a bit of Y? Why don’t you give us a bunch of photo references for the characters. But don’t overdo it as Cody may throw it all out the window and go a different direction entirely.”

He did. I’m pleased.

Poking around the internet the other day, I stumbled upon an earlier iteration that he posted over on Gorilla Artfare. I’m a bit of a process nerd, so I like to see these sorts of iterations. I dig the lettering he did, but I think the decision to go with the block of black letters on red make quite a difference. Plus the fanged T’s make all the difference.

It’s going to be a trend, I fear. The next one will have to have a similarly scripted second word. This is the headache writers have to endure. Not only do you have to come up with snappy titles, but they also have to use the right letters.