Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Anticipated Things of 2016

I have to admit it, when it comes to books, I've had my own head deep into my own work, so I haven't been paying too much attention to what is scheduled to come out in the coming year, or is hoped to come out this year.  I went and did a cursory look at the various "Can't Wait" or "Highlight Anticipated" lists, and most of the top things listed are books 3, 4 or more of series that I haven't read yet.  I am looking forward to reading The Thorn of Emberlain when it comes out, though.
BirdsSkyOne book in the coming year that is on my radar is Charlie Jane Anders's All The Birds In The Sky.  I've been a fan of Charlie's work as the editor of io9, and she's getting tons of good buzz, so this looks like a book to check out.
In other media, well, I'm an absolute sucker for just about anything superhero related, and next year is delivering plenty for me along those lines: Legends of TomorrowBatman v. SupermanCaptain America: Civil WarDaredevil Season 2... and that's just getting us up to April.
And that will be the sort of thing that will help keep my creative brain energized in the months to come.  Which, believe me, friends: I'm going to need.
Hope your new year is joyous.  See you in 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What A Year This Has Been

All right, I'll admit, I've kind of harped on the subject that, at least for me personally, 2015 has been a really good year.  I'm immensely happy that Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages have been released to the world, and they've received the praise that they have.  I'm thrilled that I've been privileged to share the story of Maradaine with readers, and that I'm going to continue to share it with you next year and beyond.
It's not about the money, or the reviews-- though those things are nice, don't get me wrong-- but purely the fact that I get to do this and share my dreams with all of you.
I'm honored.
I've talked about how David Eddings was an early influence on me, but the big thing for me was how energized I was reading The Belgariad.  That summer I was working at an ice cream shop in the mall, and when I picked up Pawn of Prophecy, I read through it in one night.  The next day, before I went to work, I stopped at the book store across the hallway from the ice cream shop and got Queen of Sorcery and Magician's Gambit with the last of the money I had before the next paycheck.  I tore through those in two days.  With payday still a day away, I bought Castle of Wizardry with handful of loose change.  Mostly dimes.  After I got paid, I bought Enchanter's End Game and the three books of The Mallorean that had been released, and tore through that as well.  Slightly a week after first picking up the first book, I had binged through the existing canon and was now hungrily waiting for months before Sorceress of Darshiva was to be released.
This is my little wish for the future-- years from now, when there are far more Maradaine books on the shelves, there will be someone who will discover Thorn of Dentonhill and tear through it, and then get each book that follows as quickly as Amazon drones will bring them (or whatever delivery method is appropriate in the future) in a mad frenzy until they've consumed it all, and thus are waiting impatiently for whatever I have next.  That's the person I'm writing for.
The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverNot that I don't love all of you you took a chance on me this year, when I was an unknown quantity.  It's because if you that I get to keep going.  If you're reading this, you're probably in that crowd, and I am very grateful to each and every one of you.
And I did get a mention on Tenacious Reader's End-of-Year list, as one of her top Debut authors of 2015!
Now that 2015 is almost over, and we have to look to the future.  Included in that: Publisher's Weekly reviews The Alchemy of Chaos!
Hopefully, that's a small taste of what's to come.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twas the day before Christmas...

Somewhere in his craft-and-process book The Rivan Codex, David Eddings says, "Write every day.  You can take a half-day on Christmas."  Which means that holidays don't necessarily apply in this work.  You've got to the work every day, especially to keep the pace I'm trying to hit.  So even on a day like today, I'm at it.  
The blogosphere is filling up with end-of-year best-of lists, and I'm trying not to pay any of it too much mind.  I remind myself that I'm doing just fine for my first year, and I shouldn't let anything distract me from that.
But sometimes you need a bit of a distraction, in which I'm giving this question:
Which pre-1950 author would I want to be and why?
You know, I look at that, and I don't even know how to answer that.  I mean, I don't want to be anyone else.  Who would I want to emulate, perhaps?  I think along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle, who created a set of characters who endure to the point that they've become icons.   I like the idea of my work enduring like that.
(Of course, the dark side of that is Doyle got so sick of his main character that he killed him off, and then reluctantly resurrected him due to public demand.  And if you've actually read The Final Problem, the weariness is so evident.  It is a perfunctory tale that dispatches Holmes with little fanfare.  And yet even that created another enduring character in Moriarty, despite not actually appearing in the story proper.)
So that's all I have.   Be well to each other this holiday, and I'll see you down in the word mines.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Organizing my Thoughts for the Future

I've made no secret of the fact that I've got Big Picture plans for the Maradaine books, so now that The Alchemy of Chaos is ready to go out into the world in a matter of weeks and An Import of Intrigue is fundamentally done*, it's critical to get a better look at where things are in my writing process, where they are going, and how little changes and additions affect the big picture.
And there is Big Picture news coming down the pike...  
But that's not the point here.  The point is, I'm at a juncture where I need to re-calibrate, examine where I need to go, and figure out the best way to do that that both honors what I've done and where I want to go.  I've compared outlining to working out one's planned trip on a road map, but in a lot of ways, being in this place feels closer to being in the middle of the ocean with star charts and dead reckoning.  
I'm currently working on the rough draft of The Imposters of Aventil, which is the next book in the Aventil/Dentonhill/University share of the saga** of Maradaine.  I had to tear the original outline down and re-build it, based on events that happened in Alchemy that I didn't anticipate when I wrote the Imposters outline.  I'm now looking at the outline for the third Constabulary book with the same eye based on what happens in Import.  I feel like this will be a less painful process than it was for Imposters, because I'm already understanding that this is a necessary thing for me to do.
Because the storytelling needs to be organic.  Sticking lock-step to the outline would be absurd.  This applies to the individual projects, as well as the Big Picture.  I've looked at the Big Picture outline some more, and already see one major change that I'm going to want to implement.  Without going into spoilers or details, it's sort of  equivalent to when the producers of LOST cast Michael Emerson for a three-episode guest turn, and realized that they had something great on their hands, and decided to weave him into the larger mythology.    Sort of.  Don't read too much into that comparison.  
Though I definitely do have a larger mythology-- if that's the right word-- that I'm working on here.  But I'm also growing more confident about what that is, and how I'm going to be sharing it with you.  I'm really excited about what's to come.
But, in the short term, what's to come is The Alchemy of Chaos.  Black Gate is already excited for it, and I hope you will be as well.
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*- As far as the creative aspected is concerned, it's done.  Copy-editing and proof-checking still to come, but that's far more the administrative part of the writing process-- on a storytelling level, it's locked down.
**- Good lord, I just said "saga".

Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Choice of Children's Books

WGreekMythhen I was a kid, there was one book I just plain consumed, over and over again, which was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  This book, to me, was the gold standard for taking something as rich and complicated as Greek Mythology and making it accessible to a young audience.
loved this book as a child. It was first published in 1962, but it's rather timeless.  I had my dog-eared copy as a kid, and my son received two copies for his fourth birthday from different people.  It's a good child-gift book, after all.
I remember in sixth grade, we were doing a unit on ancient Greece, and for reasons that I can't quite recall, I was surprised by the fact that I was supposed to give an oral presentation on Greek mythology, which my teacher thought I was going to be utterly unprepared to do.*  But since I had read this book backwards and forwards numerous times, I then took up the entire class period relating the various stories I had long since consumed.
So this was my first grounding in the classics.  The D'Aulaires also wrote one on Norse Mythology, which I read as a kid, but it didn't stick with me in the same way.  But if you're looking for a book to give a child that will blow up their imagination into all things fantastic, well, you could hardly go wrong with it.
*- See: surprised.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crafts of Page and Stage

I list "playwright" in my bio, but truth be told, that isn't something I put a lot of focus into.
Back in the day, I was pretty much living and breathing theatre.  By "In the day", I'm mostly talking about 1995-2001, when I lived in a house with three other guys who were also All About Theatre, and ever aspect of our home was devoted to that end.  The backporch was a set workshop.  The living room was a rehearsal space.*  During that time, I did more acting, directing and producing than writing-- but I did do everyting.  (Not to mention stage management, sound design, and whatever else was needed to put a show on its feet.)  
Now, while I approached theatre with a certain degree of breadth, I was largely unfocused, and with that, undisciplined.  I didn't have the raw skill to be an excellent actor, or the focus to maintain training and discipline. Most acting exercises bored me out of my skull.  
I often had ideas about what I wanted to do-- a sense of vision-- but I lacked the skill, means or resources to make things happen quite the way I wanted.  I directed an all-female production of Macbeth that came close to the vision I had, and where it failed I put entirely on my own shoulders-- my own failure to communicate my vision effectively, my own inability to bring all the performers to the same place.
So, a few months ago, I had the privilege to see Sleep No More in New York. You are probably already familiar with this performance, but if you aren't, here's the basics: the performance is housed in a five-story building, made up like a grand old hotel (though one floor is also a sanitarium and a forest-- it's very strange), in which the audience can walk around freely (while masked), and a wordless, movement-based performance (loosely adapted from Macbeth) is enacted around the whole location.  You can wonder around, follow characters, poke through journals.  It's raw and visceral and interactive and every element is united in making a profound theatrical experience.
It was, quite frankly, like the universe had plucked everything I would have wanted to do theatrically and made it flesh--- something I never had the the means, resources, talent or understanding of my own vision to make it happen.
But I remembered, also, why I stopped doing theatre-- so I could focus entirely on writing.   Writing novels requires skill and discipline, which I developed over time, but I didn't need to rent a space, hire designers, communicate to actors, etc., etc. to make them happen.
And now I'm a novelist.  But being the novelist I want to be literally takes all my focus and energy.  Not too long ago, I briefly flirted with the idea of doing some theatre in some capacity again.  I even thought to myself, "Hey, I'm actually the right age now to play _____".  But I'm not going to do that. 
And I'm certainly not lacking in things to work on, writing-wise.  The upcoming year is going to continue to be very bust for me, in the best possible way, and I'm really looking forward to it.
But that doesn't mean that I don't, every once in a while, miss the theatre.  
I'll be updating my "appearances" page shortly, as well as adding some new news once I can.  But, for starters, On February 2nd-- the release date for The Alchemy of Chaos-- I'll be appearing at BookPeople in Austin.  Hope to see many of you there.
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*- There were even, on occasion, rehearsals in our home for shows that no one who lived in the house were directly involved in.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Things I Read This Year

So, I really didn't read anywhere near as much as I ought to have this year.  I've been slow at it.  It's one reason why I can't get too upset when a friend tells me they haven't read Thorn or Murder yet, because there's so much in my growing To-Be-Read pile, much of it by people I consider friends, that it would be extraordinarily hypocritical of me to hold people to standards that I don't even remotely live by.
Just a quick glance at my TBR list, just from books from this year:
Gemini Cell by Myke Cole
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Grace of Kings by Ken Liu*
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older
Archangel by Marguerite Reed
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
And that doesn't even include the things that are books three or four of series I hadn't even read book one of yet.
I should read more and faster, I know.
So what did I read-- and I mean actually read and finish, not start and bounce off of-- and actually like?
Cold Iron, by Stina Leicht
Ok, I'm cheating a bit on this, because I'm not done, but I'm two-thirds through and enjoying it, and I'm familiar enough with Stina's work to believe in her ending it well-- or as well as a Book One in a planned series of at least three can end.  Stina's style is brisk and fun, and you can tell she loves her characters just enough to be horrible to them.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
This was a fun one.  Steampunk adventure with a mecha sewing machine.  How can you not love it?
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
I have to admit-- Wes left a lot hanging for the second book, but I'm kind of a sucker for narratives about jerks who do the right thing, and his protagonist fits the bill.  James really is an unlikable bastard, but you still enjoy him.

So, there's my three for this year.  I'm going to try better next year.  But I've also got plenty to write.  So I'm off to it.
*- I started this and had to put it to the side for a bit.  I intend to get back to it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Fetishizing Your Process

NaNoWriMo ended last week, and while I don't participate and don't think it's a good way to write a good novel, I do think it can be an excellent exercise to learn about your own novel-writing process.  I certainly wouldn't knock on someone for doing it, especially in an attempt to kickstart oneself towards the daunting task of Writing A Novel.
I sometimes say writing a novel is like running a marathon, but if anything, it's carving a tunnel through a mountain with just a sledgehammer.  And there are days when it feels like you're going to die with your hammer in your hand, as the song goes.*
I think, though, that one's process is incredibly personal, and you can't really dictate what it ought to be.  Even to yourself.  I do think there are many people who get an idea in their head of what their process should be, and get frustrated when it doesn't yield results.  I think, for example, several people are in a different place on the plotter/pantser axis than they feel is the "right" place to be.  I think one of the hardest parts of becoming a writer is determining what your process actually is, and then honoring that.
Case in point: my brain is often distracted by Something Shiny, especially when I'm trying to force my way into the rhythm of getting started.  One thing I learned was that trying to starve it of Something Shiny-- disabling the internet, for example-- never helped.  It wanted the shiny, and depriving it would just make it seek out the shiny further and further afield.  So I learned I needed to feed that need for shiny, in a way that didn't distract from my ability to work.  This is where pop music with my headphones come in.  Something catchy and earwormy that I can put on repeat so it becomes a mindless drone?  Perfect.  What works best?  Multi-song mash-ups, the more complex the better.  The shiny-craving part of my brain is happy, and the creative-work part can get on it.
THAT SAID, I also need to embrace that situations may not be ideal.  You can't pull the "Oh, I would write/craft/create if I only had..." sewage, because that's being twee and pretentious.  Yes, I could do so much better if I had a private office in my home or a Magic Writing Shed.  But I don't get those.  Not having those is no excuse not to produce, especially now that I've launched something, and those things have expectations tied to them.    I can't be all, "Oh, the muse isn't speaking to me right now."
In other words, if you can't maximize your writing process, do what you can.  Work's got to get done.
Fortunately, they haven't-- yet-- invented the machine that can replicate my work.  Once they have that, though, I will be there, hammer in hand, determined to beat it. 
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In the meantime, we're now eight weeks out from the release of The Alchemy of Chaos.  At this point last year, I was still in a state of semi-panic over Thorn's release, a part of my brain still convinced it was all some elaborate prank.**  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm serene about it's release, but I'm far, far calmer right now than I was last year.  That said, once I start to see a bit more pre-buzz about Alchemy, I'll be the happier for it.  
*- As a kid, I remember seeing an animated short of The Ballad Of John Henry where, in his battle against the machine, he was actually smashing through the rocks and making the tunnel, not driving the steel rails in.  Which doesn't make a lick of sense, but the imagery stuck in my head.  YouTube has failed me in finding this particular bit of animated nostalgia.
**- I honestly half-imagined some amalgamized middle-school bully jumping out from behind a bookshelf at the store, "HA!  You thought you actually had a book coming out!  GOT YOU!"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Perils of the Writer: The Final Pass

So, about a month ago, I turned in the "final" draft of An Import of Intrigue, though there are still several stages of copy editing and proofing before the actual finished book comes out, and that is still a ways away.  Currently we're scheduled for November 2016.  I know you're all eager for the continued adventures of the Maradaine Constabulary, and I'm eager to give them to you, but we all have to be patient.  But the book is turned in, and the heavy lifting on my part is done.  
At this point, I don't have the luxury of tweaking and fidgiting with the manuscript.  Even with the long lead time now before Import comes out, I had a deadline and I think it's important to hit those.  I'm not a superstar who can get away with the big gap between books, or at least, I don't have the large, dedicated fanbase who will be there no matter when the next book comes out.  My business strategy has been: do good work, do it efficiently, and do it on time.  
So, how do I go from a solid draft of a novel to final one turned in?  How do I know I've got it done and I can send it off, not to worry about it anymore?  (Or, you know, at least minimize the worry until the copyedits come and show me All The Mistakes.)  
Once I've received edits on the polished draft from my editor, I print up a hard copy and read it, pen in hand.  I make a lot of my own notes based on my editor's, and then I've got a copy of the manuscript that looks a lot like this:
Marked up MS

A lot of these notes involve cleaning up sloppy phrasing, clarifying details and fixing minor continuity mistakes.  Once I'm done with that, I go back into the master Scrivener document and implement the changes.  
Once that's done, I really feel like anything further is fiddling out of fear rather than actual useful editing.  I mean, yes, there might still be things that slipped past me, but more time spent with another reading pass is diminishing returns. Could there be something more I could do?  I suppose, but I believe that perfect is the enemy of good.  There reaches a point where you have to decide, "This is done, and I have to move forward."  
And then go on to the next thing.  Which is the third Thorn book, provisionally titled, The Imposters of Aventil.  
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