I have a Saturday morning writing group that I attend most weekends. It is a pretty simple setup: rounds of 1 to 6 minutes of writing to a prompt, then passing a microphone and reading. I usually just write something to each prompt individually, but I’ve been wanting to challenge myself to write to a theme throughout the day, telling a single story of a person or place. Other people do that at the group, and it can be fun to see them work everything together.
This is my attempt. I really didn’t expect it to turn out so ‘Hotel California’, but I am pretty proud of it.
Down along Lonely Road
Down along Lonely Road are a surprisingly large number of bright lights. You’d think a road named Lonely would be dark and depressing, but in fact it’s quite lively. Street clowns perform tricks and make balloon animals, as windows invite pedestrians into shops selling food or clothes, arcades full of games, and dance clubs from hip-hop to Charleston.
There are lots of stories about why it was called Lonely Road. Named after some forgotten tycoon, or a mispronunciation of some foreign word. No one really knew, and the stories became part of each shop’s mystique.
On Lonely Road, one is always surrounded by people, lights and noise. It’s a difficult place to be lonely, but some people still try.
One of the biggest shops on Lonely Road is the North Face Hat, Mask and Sunglasses Shop. There, one can buy any sort of headwear one wants. Sunny day, buy some sunglasses. Need a tribal mask, there is a floor for that, too.
The owner, Timothy North, says Lonely Road came from one tree that used to stand in the middle of the field. The road came by, and as it was the only landmark, it became Lonely Tree Road, eventually shortened to just Lonely Road.
The tree was cut down oe died, but he saved some of the wood to make masks. He sold hundreds of authentic, lonely tree masks, not at all made in China. Someday he’ll run out, but somehow he’s always managed to find one more when needed.
The train was coming into the station, and . . .
At the end of Lonely Road, the train was coming into the station, and once again, no crowds waited to get on. A hundred people got off, welcomes by clowns and announcers, shuffling on the sidewalks of Lonely Road, awed by the lights. But no crowds boarded before the train took off.
Endless Blue Sky
From the tallest point on Lonely Road, on the top of the North Face Building, one could see the endless blue of sky. No mountains, no cities, no landmarks of any kind. Just unbroken horizon.
The road, beginning at the train station, stretched off at the other side. At the edge of town sits a sign post, boasting several dozen cities. All the arrows point down the road, with a question mark for each distance.
No clouds, no contrails, no birds. Endless blue sky.
There are odd shops along Lonely Road.
A raptor’s noise sounds off when you enter Dino Dave’s Zoon, with all sorts of mythological and extinct animals roaming the floors. No cages keep the crows from enjoying the animals up close.
Then there is Papa Paddington’s Puppet Palace, where Old Man Paddington makes thousands of dolls. Many look like pedestrians that once walked along Lonely Road, but have long since moved on. The details are exquisite, even the eyes that follow patrons through the store.
Multiple People Later
Parties raged all along Lonely Road. At every venue, multiple people would dance and drink, and agree to meetup at another club just down the road. But by that club, new groups formed, old friends forgotten.
‘One more! One More, then back to the hotel!’ was a common cry. No one asked how a three-story hotel held so many people, and few even remembered their room number. When they did, it was always 2B.
We can edit that out.
Photographers prowled the road, taking pictures with archaic flashbulbs. ‘No, they are digital cameras,’ they claimed, ‘we just made them look old. Worried about a picture? We can edit it out. We are professionals.’
One pedestrian requests an obnoxious looking man with an ice cream cone be taken out of the picture. The photographer uses a pencil and erases the man from the photo. The pedestrian smiles, while down the road an ice cream cone suddenly falls to the pavement.
In my recently published book, Renaissance Calling, I have no less than ten fights. These range from one-on-one fisticuffs to small battles. Fighting of one sort or another is prominent in most of the stories I’m working on, so I’ve got some experience in planning and writing fighting and combat scenes.
I’ve been meaning to write an article on this for some time, but there’s so many thoughts and concepts floating around that it’s been hard to organize, so I’m switching playbooks.
Instead of one long article, I’m going to write several, with no expected number planned. I might write about something I’m currently working on, or something I’ve done. One post will be about planning battles from the eyes of the generals, another about what a character might be feeling during combat.
The idea is, instead of trying to shove everything into one article, to focus on one idea per post, and really get into it, allowing each idea to be entertained in depth.
Why Combat? – Because I know it
For a first article, I figured I would discuss the obvious first question: why so much fighting?
I’m a military historian by education, growing up with access to my dad’s Civil War books. I grew from looking at pictures to reading the stories, evolving into an interest in both personal accounts and primary sources on one hand, and the overall philosophy and culture of war on the other.
And of course, I consume a significant amount of fictional media on the subject. Books, movies and video games are plentiful, though I can find as much fault with a lot of them (both in terms of combat and in terms of story-telling) as I can enjoy them. Roleplaying games are also heavily combat oriented, which means on game night, we’re probably going to fight.
So for better or worse, fighting is something that features in almost all of my stories.
Also – Excitement
As a last minute addition to this article, I wanted to say one more thing about writing combat. As I’m working on book two, I’ve had to contend with worrying about keeping the book exciting. Yes, not all drama in a book has to come from battle, but it helps to have the option, if only to vary the source of the drama.
Being in a situation where fighting can happen for various reasons (as I had in Renaissance Calling) allowed me to use combat to control the excitement. A bandit here, a betrayal there, I could count on fighting to give me control over the story. In most of my planned projects this is possible, though I do not want to make it the soul source of excitement.
Anyway, I know this is a short article, but I didn’t want to make it long just for the sake of making it long. This is only an introduction, after all.
I want to take a moment and write about the projects I’m working on. Specifically, about how I decide what projects to focus on and which ones to put on hold.
In preparation for this article, I sat down and worked out every project that I’ve done some work on. This does not include passing ideas that I’ve thought about, only things where I have put something on paper or saved to the cloud. The question was ‘How many books am I trying to write?’
I came up with 29 distinct projects, some organized into larger fictional worlds, while others are standalone books. And while I was coming up with this list, I found that I might be able to condense a number of the fantasy and science fiction projects into fewer projects. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to continue with the original 29 projects.
12 of those projects I hadn’t done enough work to figure out how many books they might turn into, and two of them are strings of short stories that would probably just be anthologized. So, of the remaining 15 projects, how many books are planned?
That’s quite a lot. That’s more books than years I’ve lived. So I better get writing.
Seriously, though, looking at this list of projects, I’m already sure a lot of them aren’t going to get written. Not because I don’t want to write them, but because I probably just don’t have the time. It’s one of the reasons I try to set a lot of my fantasy and science fiction stories in the same universe; so I can re-use the same geography, politics and mythologies in different stories.
Just for fun, the numbers of projects by genre:
Speculative fiction (3 projects)
Fantasy (10 projects))
Science fiction (9 projects)
Historical Fiction (5 projects)
Other (2 projects)
My main focus right now is on the Renaissance Army series, which counts for three of the projects and ten books (seven main-line books, two short-story anthologies and a prequel). Even then, it wouldn’t surprise me if I find other stories to tell in the world. In fact, I’m almost certain I do, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.
My goal with the seven main-line books is to publish one a year. Now that I’ve got Renaissance Calling under my belt, I feel pretty confident I can get those seven books out. I don’t know that it’ll be one a year, but I mean to give it a go. I’ve been paying attention to my process, figuring out how I can outline better, paying attention to what trips me up or disrupts my process. Basically becoming more proficient.
The Great Fantasy Series
My secondary focus is what I’m calling the Orc-kin series, a set of seven trilogies that follow half-orc characters through the centuries of a fantasy world. I’ve written the first book, and I’m writing the second, with others being aggressively outlined as I go. At the very least I’d like to publish the first trilogy. I might not go so far as to publish all seven trilogies, but outline them all and then only publish the best ones. I don’t know yet.
How do I decide what else to do?
That is the question, ultimately, of this post. I have so many ideas, things I honestly believe are good stories. How do I decide which ones to write?
When I look at the other projects, I imagine all the work I need to do to bring them to fruition, and it can get a little daunting. Though depending on the genre, maybe for different reasons.
With the Fantasy projects, I can get all but one of the projects into the same world, but one of them is going to be stand alone. That certainly makes world-building easier. It’s more likely I’ll publish a fantasy story next.
Science Fiction can be difficult because so much of the science fiction I’ve been reading has been particularly heavy on the science (see David Weber’s Honorverse or Andy Weir’s The Martian). I imagine my own science fiction will have less math in it, and more fiction. Although I have been using the Kerbal Space Program to learn orbital mechanics.
Historical Fiction is one area I know I want to write more on. But it requires so much research to feel comfortable writing a historical book. I know I want to try to get one out, but there’s a lot of research to be done.
You didn’t answer the question: how do I decide what to do?
Oh, you noticed that, did you?
The fact is, I’m not sure which project (other than the Renaissance Army series) I will focus on next. Yes, I’m one book into the first fantasy trilogy, but I want to write the whole thing out before I revise, so I’m two books away from advancing that series. I have a lot of resources for the historical fiction books, but I haven’t gone through them and organized them. And I keep getting worried about the science in my science fiction stories.
So, the answer is, honestly, whatever I end up working on. Other than the Renaissance Army series, I end up jumping from project to project pretty quickly, working when inspiration strikes me. For all I know, I’ll have a burst of insight and speed write a science fiction book for NANOWRIMO. We’ll see.
During Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to have a table at Manticon 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Manticon is a military sci-fi convention that draws a modest and enthusiastic crowd. Based off the Honorverse books of David Weber (of which I am an avid reader), the convention included a charity auction, panels on various topics of interest, and a game room that includes Artemis and Battletech simulators.
As this was my first fandom convention (aside from an hour spent at a very minor Star Trek con to see Leonard Nemoy and William Shatner speak in 2006), I didn’t sign up for any panels or games. I didn’t sign up for anything, preferring to leave my schedule open, as I didn’t know what to expect. The woman who got me into the convention asked me to make two cheesecakes for the con-suite, which I did (salted caramel and peanut butter cup). There were no leftovers.
My Table at Manticon
My table was a simple affair, particularly on the first day where it was only my book displays and a pile of business cards. After talking it over with two fellow authors at the convention, I added a hand-traced map of the Kingdom of North Mississippi and a newsletter sign up page.
Yes, it was not particularly flashy, but without knowing what a convention table was like, I didn’t know what sort of stuff to invest in. Luckily, the other two authors with their tables in the same area were willing to give me some advice on what to do at future cons.
As for location, well, it was pretty much in the middle. It was right in front of the elevator bank, between the panel rooms and the main / vendor rooms. Pretty much everyone going to the convention at some point passed my table, usually many times. I got a lot of people stopping by to talk with me and look over my book. It was quite nice to get such a warm reception.
Being At Manticon
I admit I was a bit apprehensive about being in a public place for so long while trying to get people interested enough in my book to buy it from me. I’m a bit of an introvert (maybe more than a bit), and I’ve never been a particularly good salesperson.
That being said, I have been feeling rather confident lately. And I read a few ‘how to do X as an extrovert’ books, which mostly boiled down to be comfortable and don’t try to be something you’re not. So I put out my display and engaged people who stopped to take a look.
As I mentioned above, the people gave me a warm reception. A lot of people stopped by to learn about me and my book, and I conversed in kind. I had an hour-long conversation with one young woman about storytelling in media, including some shared video game experiences and the advantages that the Star Trek Animated Series had in its stories. Some people were genuinely intrigued by my concept and excited to buy my book.
The Manticon patrons wore uniforms, ranging from technician jump suits to resplendent admiral’s uniforms. They came in from all over the world: I spoke with someone who flew in from Scotland, and there was a group from an Eastern European country that I didn’t meet but heard them conversing.
I did not attend any panels or join in the simulator games. This was my first convention, so I decided to ease into it and I did not want to over-schedule myself. I was there to be an author and do the author thing.
And it went well. I missed my sales goal by one, and ran out of business cards. Totally calling it a win.
Beyond the Convention
I spent the days at the table, but the nights hanging out with the patrons.
The convention rented out a number of rooms (maybe an entire floor, I’m not sure) for their post convention parties. Consuite had food and a assortment of drinks themed off the books. There was Marine Country, where the Marine fans congregated with their own bar (visited by Dale Dye, who stole the show). There was a Scotch room (which I visited) and a Klingon room (which I didn’t get around to).
I got to speaking to a few people (again hanging out with Dale Dye a bit), relaxing to the point where I could enjoy myself. I had stop drinking early, since I had to drive across the cities to get home, but it was definitely a good party atmosphere. Next time I’ll see if I can’t get a room to avoid an hour of transit every day.
Lessons for Future Conventions
The first lesson is I’m going to admit is; I need a flashier set up. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but enough to catch people’s attention. I’ve got some ideas, but I haven’t ordered anything yet. I’m waiting a week to go over my brainstorming list and see what makes it through round two.
Second lesson: get on a panel or two. One of the other authors at the event had two, and he said he had some good discussions with patrons about his topics. Next time, I’ll see what is available.
Third: get a room there if feasible. Not only can I remain longer in the evening, I can avoid a long morning commute.
Did I have fun? Absolutely.
Did I meet some cool people? I did. In addition to Dale Dye, I got David Weber to sign two books. I met a group of people I’m excited to join. And I got to see people get excited by my book.
Am I looking forward to future cons? I am. I don’t know when the next one is, but I’ll let you know when I have future appearances scheduled.
For now, I’m concentrating on Book 2. Maybe I can have it ready by Manticon 2018.
This morning the first backer built character for Book 2 was finalized.
For those of you who weren’t aware, backers of Renaissance Calling who pledged more than $100 got to build a character that would be included in Book 2 of the series. Twelve backers (two of whom did multiple-backings) are now creating fourteen characters.
Part of the reason for doing this was to give backers a reward for funding Renaissance Calling. And part of it was to hand off some of the burden of coming up with all the characters on my own.
Starting the Process: The Character Primer
I didn’t start with much of an idea of how to do, and certainly not any long term plan. I figured I would go with the flow, so to speak.
To start, I worked up a two page primer for the backers, to explain the particulars of Book 2, to give an idea of what I was looking for, and to explain the groups that most characters would fall into. I wanted to guide the backers into roles I knew I would have to fill, and avoid wacky characters that don’t fit into the story at all.
After that I figured it would be a back-and-forth to finish the character. With one done and several others being built, I’ve established the process more permanently. It has turned into a three-step process.
Step 1: Character Idea
The backer gives me a really basic idea of what their character is. What is interesting is that their responses will fall into one of two categories: either a character, or an impact.
Some backers have said, ‘I want a character who has this impact.’ One backer wants a character who teaches the Scientific method to the protagonist; another wants a character who reveals to the reader what the antagonists are like. From there, I build the character who will fit into the story the way they want.
Other backers have said, ‘I want this character.’ One backer wants a character who is interested in rebuilding medical technology; another wants one based off her son. In those cases, I figure out how the fit the character into the story.
Step 2: Character Framework.
Once I have the character idea, I build what I’m calling the Character Framework. It’s a three-part document that explains the plan for the character. Using the medical technology character for the examples, the three parts are:
Thoughts on the Character: What about the character needs to be true for the character to work
Example: The medical technology character is a civilian
Things that need to be decided: Additional options that the backer should decide on.
Example: The medical technology character can be from one of these three places
Scenes that the character will be involved in
Example: The medical technology character will be in a medical emergency scene
I spend several days going over this framework, building it up, rewriting, and repeating as necessary. Refining the ideas over and over again until the framework I send out is well founded. Ideally, I only need to get one response (answering the part two questions) from the backer to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Character Biography
The character biography is what it sounds like: given the answers to the Framework, I type up a biography that explains the character’s personality, appearance, history, and impact on the story. Even if a lot of the information doesn’t appear in the book, it does influence how the character will act and respond.
I have information bios for a lot of the characters already introduced; what I write here is more in depth, since I’m working with another person and I want to make sure we’re on the same page.
The backer can respond with any corrections or suggestions, and after approval, the character is ready.
So far, I’m enjoying the process. It’s fun to see how different people come up with their concepts. And the challenge of incorporating other people’s ideas into the story has been quite rewarding. There are still a number of characters to work on, but I can already see how Book 2 will be richer for their efforts.
With Renaissance Calling published, I wanted to take a moment to write down a lesson or four, to help anyone reading this who is thinking of publishing, and to remind myself down the line of mistakes I made. Renaissance Calling is my first book, so I’m not surprised I made some errors. With Book 2, I’m going to get these right.
Proofreading versus Editing
My editor was a huge help in prepping Renaissance Calling for publishing. She helped me refine my writing voice, clarify my story, and improve the general quality of the writing flow. I’m thankful she’s agreed to stick around for Book 2. But as it turns out, neither of us are proofreaders; we get into the flow of the story without looking at the details. So when several people who backer Renaissance Calling came to me with issues, I cringed.
Despite our best efforts, a number of small errors made it through to the first printing. Some of them were simple things (example: ‘while he attached’, instead of ‘attacked’). Others were a bit ‘how did I miss that’ (example: Horace spelled Horus on several occasions). One was downright ‘I didn’t know that was a thing’ (the single quotation marks would switch between straight and curly, sometimes on the same page).
A bit embarrassing, but a lot of books, even best sellers, have small errors. I’ve still gotten overwhelmingly positive responses to the story, even from people who handed me lists of corrections. So I’ve made the changes and I’m replacing the documents for future printings and eBooks. I’d like to say no one will find anymore, but I’m only human.
Lesson Learned: I need to spend more time and effort on proofreading.
How: A couple of things I can do.
I found a few mistakes when I was practicing reading out loud for my launch party, so I have made reading out loud part of my revision process.
A number of the detail-oriented people who handed me lists are willing to proofread future books, which will also help.
I’ve made some notes about common errors I made, and will endeavor to account for them in future projects.
The Kickstarter campaign finished in early November, and I had a tentative publishing date of February 10th (the main character’s birthday). All I had to do was write a Backer Book, finish editing Renaissance Calling, get ISBN’s and Barcodes, get final covers from my cover artist, and load all the documents to the printers. I could do all that in three months, right?
Well, not so fast. The Backer Book turned into a bigger endeavor than I thought it would, finishing at twice as long as I planned. The cover was some back and forth due to differences in RBG and CMYK formats. And it took a lot more time and money to proof test prints of my book than I thought it would (details in No. 4 below).
The date was pushed back to March 8th, then April 8th. As I wrote about before, I got accidentally published on Amazon when I forgot to change the publishing date on one of the publishing sites. This was a bit of a relief, as I no longer had to feel rushed about getting my stuff done and out there.
Lesson Learned: I need to set a publishing date far enough out that I can get everything done.
How: As I’m scheduling my next book, I’m considering how long it took me to get Renaissance Calling into print and adjusting for differences in the book size (I’m anticipating Book 2 to be noticeably longer). My goal is to have everything done, proofed and printed two weeks before publishing.
Figure out prices before committing
A minor error that I should have foreseen, but I assumed the costs of my books were going to be $12 for paperback and $16 for hardcover. I don’t know how I came to those numbers, but I was pretty certain of that going in. So much so that I had the original barcode for the paperback made with $12 on it.
Turns out, however, that after printing and distribution costs (particularly for the hardcover), sticking with those princes was not feasible. If I had, I’d be making less than a dollar on the paperback, and I’d be losing money on the hard cover. I had to raise the price for both formats.
Not a huge deal, except the first round of paperbacks got printed with the price still listed at $12. That’s been fixed and the correct price will displayed on future printings.
LessonLearned: Do all the math before you set something in stone.
How: Not difficult; most printers and distributors have calculators to help you figure out the math. Take advantage of the tools. Work it out before you commit.
Proofing and Printing
(Note: Proofing in this section was not for content or spelling, but for formatting errors when converting from Word to PDF and PDF to print.)
Proofing printed copies of Renaissance Calling turned out to take longer, and be more expensive, than I anticipated. A lot of this was due to this being my first book, and not being experienced enough to understand what I was doing.
With Createspace, the process is pretty easy. Once a PDF of the internal documents is loaded (and their website can convert Word docs to PDF), it can be proofed through an online viewer that organizes it as if it was a book. I should have spent more time reviewing it online, instead of ordering a proof copy and finding formatting errors in that.
Ingram Spark is much more complex. The files being uploaded have to be corrected by you, the author, which can result in some issues when the formatting is off. Issues that are a pain in the ass to correct, since Spark is so particular. Luckily there is an option to ignore the issues and continue, so when you’re black and white PDF is being kicked back as having color (Yeah, I never figured out what this was), you can tell it to continue with a little waiver. They do provide a PDF to proof, but not the snazzy online program Createspace does.
In both cases, it took a bit longer to get physical proofs than I expected. It also cost a bit more, since I had missed that Ingram Spark requires $50 to set up a file and $25 to correct. With two books set up at Ingram (hardcover and backer book), one correction each, and two proof copies of all three books, I spent well over $200 just proofing. If I had been on the ball, I could have saved about $100.
LessonLearned: Give enough time to proof and print thoroughly, and be careful before you print off a copy.
How: There are a number of things I can do for this one.
Both: Convert the document to PDF and check thoroughly. A lot of errors come from this step, so checking the PDF should catch most of them. Check it several times.
Createspace: Proof the online program several times before confirming.
Ingram Spark: Proof the provided PDF several times before confirming.
As this was my first novel, I’m not surprised I made a few errors. But the point of an error is to learn a lesson. By writing these down now, I am going to remember them when I get back into the publishing process, which should be sometime next year.
If you’ve got any of your own tips, feel free to share. Thanks!
This last Saturday I had the launch party for Renaissance Calling. It was not a huge shindig, with about thirty guests in attendance. There was food and drink, and good times. I gave a short speech about how I came up with the story (that I’m hoping to get online at some point), and read from the book. I sold a few more copies. It was a good time.
Speaking in public is something I’ve had to work on. I’m part of a writing group that involves reading out loud, which has given me quite a bit of confidence in both what I write and what I sound like. The videos I recorded for the Kickstarter campaign were also helpful. But I thought it went well. I want to keep practicing, but I didn’t panic in front of the crowd.
Into the future
As of this posting, Renaissance Calling has four 5-star reviews on Amazon, and everyone I’ve spoken to has enjoyed the book. Work on Book 2 is already underway, as are several other writing projects.
Later on this month I’ll have a booth at Manti-Con, a sci-fi convention in Bloomington. It will be my first completely public outing as an author. I’m excited, and a bit nervous. If you know anything about having a booth at a similar event, please let me know.
And if you haven’t gotten Renaissance Calling yet, head on over to Amazon. It’s worth your read.
So the fun thing about setting up books with printers (in this case Createspace and Ingram Spark) is you have to decide a publication date. Since I have never done this before, I was a bit optimistic about when I could get everything proofed and prepared. When I started setting everything up in February, I believed I could get it all done by early March. March has turned into April, since the hard cover turned out to be a bit longer to proof than the paperback was.
While this was happening, because the paperback (from Createspace) was already approved, I forgot to change the publishing date from early March. So two weeks ago, I realized that Renaissance Calling was already on Amazon. I had been unofficially published and I didn’t know it.
Surprise to me.
Shortly thereafter I got a 5-star review from a Hall of Fame reviewer. That was a nice start.
So, as things stand the eBook and paperback are on Amazon. The hardcover has been approved but is still tricking through the internet to get posted (the hard cover printer isn’t affiliated with Amazon, so it takes a few weeks to get put up).
Anyway, you can now buy Renaissance Calling on Amazon.
I had hoped to be ready for a February 10th release, that being the main character’s birthday. But I’m not going to make that date. End of February or early March is now the goal.
But work is being done. Three of the five Backer Booklet sections are awaiting revisions. Renaissance Calling will be ready for the publishers later this week. And, I’m proud to announce, I have cover art.