Finally ready to move on

Overall word count the last few days has ground to a tremendous halt the reason are;

  • A good part of yesterday was spent meeting up with the screen writer for Theft of Swords. No, don’t get excited we don’t have a movie deal on the horizon but as I’ve not gotten much movement trying to sell it with the books, I’m going to switch tracks and try it from a script. Michael Klein is going to be doing the writing and I highly respect his approach and writing ability.  It was a long “working meeting” and very productive.
  • Marc Simonetti has been working on the cover for Hollow World and as I’m paying him a great deal for this I need to make sure that it works well with my needs, and as such I’ve been doing multiple cover mock ups using his illustration in various ways and communicating feedback, and all manner of Hollow World distractions.
  • A reader informed me that he thought I was eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and so I had to do some digging into that.  Turns out he was right, but I had to verify it with the officials who administer that award, then write a blog post as I’m already late to the table.
  • The final copy edits for The Rose and the Thorn are due on Friday.  Usually I would have had 14 days to do so but that was trimmed back to 9 so while I’m usually not under deadlines – I am now.  Luckily it’s mostly just approving what they have, but there are also some minor adjustments that I need to make based on some of the beta feedback so that is taking me some time to do.
  • And last but not least I’ve been going over the first three chapters and adjusting…and finding the voice.  I FINALLY got it where it needs to be so tomorrow I start in with Chapter 4 and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to my 2,000 words a day pace.  My current tally doesn’t seem to demonstrate that is my standard pace but it is.

Today is Wednesday – and I have a particular “ritual” on those days.  I’ll post more about that, possibly tomorrow but for now I’m off to the pub.

Finding the right voice

I’m still dinking around with the start of this book.  If this were a Riyria Revelation book I would be on chapter 6 or 7 by now.  But I’m allowing myself the added time to find the right voice for this book.  Yes, I as an author have a voice, but each book does as well.  In fact, I’ve had some people read certain books of mine and they can’t believe the are written by the same person.

I think there is a sliding scale between description/introspection and plot, or at least that’s how I write my books.

  • The Burden to the Earth (my first literary fiction novel, which I’ve not published yet) has a very simple plot, but a very complicated character and for me the thrill of that book was in the construction of the prose.  I wanted people to notice it, ponder how it was composed. The visual representation I have of this reader is someone sipping a glass of wine, some classical music playing the background. I hope that their read is leisurely with frequent pauses for reflection.

  • Riyria books (my genre fantasy novels – 3 released 2 due in Aug/Sep) are just the opposite.  For those it’s all about plot and showing how the events shape the characters into various transformations. My main goal here was to make the writing invisible. To imply a simple, straightforward style that allows the events to play much like a movie in the reader’s mind. The visual here is someone eating popcorn. They are riveted to the book, unconsciously moving their hand between the bowl and their mouth. They ignore anything going on around them and it’s only after it is late at night, much later than their intended bedtime that they “wake” from the trance and notice for the first time just how much time disappeared while they were “gone.”
  • Hollow World (the book I recently finished) was a bit of both.  Having some science fiction component I wanted it to ponder ‘the big questions.” What is love, would you embrace or (as those in the Matrix did) reject paradise because it is so foreign to you. What makes us individuals? And how to you balance loyalty over reason.  In Hollow World I was most pleased that I bridged Burden and Riyria.  It was more “substantial” than Riyria but had fun characters and a nicely developed pace as to not be “too heavy” even though the subject matter was.
  • Ideally, I want Rhune to be much like Hollow World, but there is a problem.  Hollow World has context…a lot of context.  It is based in our modern-day world, and even after the main character goes far into the future we have movies and books we can draw from to make correlations from.  But Rhune starts in a time and place without foundation.  It isn’t a time and place that most (well except maybe history buffs) would recognize, so I have to provide a foundation, and do so in a way that is entertaining.  A high order…I keep getting “closer” but I’m not quite there yet.

I’m going much slower than I normally do at this part of a novel.  Especially one that I spent so much time developing as this…but I think it essential so for now I’m going to sacrifice word count to continue to develop this books “voice.”

Disruption and Recovery

This weekend was a disruptive one and as such I had my first day with zero word count on Rhune.  So what happened:

  • My publisher reported that they loved my book “Hollow World” but given the state of the market they just don’t think it will sell well so they decided not to pick-up the option
  • I showed my wife the first two chapters of Rhune and got her feedback – there were many criticisms
  • In order to keep the release date of The Rose and Thorn on schedule my time to review the copy edits on that book went from 14 days to 9 – so I spent most of Saturday doing that.

Part of being a writer is to get back up on the horse when you are bucked off.  Robin has declared that “Hollow World” will be a huge success…she feels the same way about Riyria as she does that book and so it WILL be willed into existence. She has already hired a great cover artist, and is lining up content editors, copy editors, and proof readers to self-publish it.  The caliber of people she wants to hire are expensive – but she feels the book deserves nothing less.  So we’ll be doing a kickstarter on that soon. If you want to follow how that project is going…there is another site like this but whereas this site is focusing on the “writing” of the series.  That one is going to focus on the production and the marketing of  that project.  If you want to support that effort you can sign up to be notified when the kickstarter…well..kicks off.

With that out-of-the-way, let’s return to the focus of this blog which is writing Rhune.  So Robin was given the first two chapters and while I won’t say she hated it she had a number of  “grave concerns” about what she found.  While this should have depressed me, especially having come in on the heels of a rejection that means I’m going to be losing a good amount of income that I had hoped to carry me over while writing this, it ended up re-invigorating me.

Some of her concerns were:

  1. Showing too much of the iceberg. Having come off 2-weeks of extensive world-building I was anxious and letting a fair amount of that bleed into the story. It wasn’t done in the way of  long descriptive paragraphs or exposition, so I had been very proud of  how it was being worked in subtly.  But it was still too much too soon.  In her words it was feeling more like a “standard fantasy novel” rather than a “Michael Sullivan fantasy novel” I was adding spending too much time on the “setting”  and it felt heavy. 
  2. Characters not engaging. Having only had a scene each there really wasn’t enough “there…there.”   Part of it comes from still getting to know these characters, and wanting to make them distinctive from some of my tried and true favorites, but as she so deftly pointed out, she couldn’t tell me much about any of them after first meeting.  She then went on to provide examples how this wasn’t the case with: Revelations, Chronicles, or Hollow World.  So it was time to step up my game.
  3. Too much dire – not enough fun. The first two chapters I wanted to be exciting, and so there was danger and death in both of them.  While that does start off the book with a bang, it also makes it a bit of a downer.  Part of what makes my books “mine” is the humor and levity and there wasn’t much in the way of that.

Late Sunday afternoon Robin came to my office, depressed that she had been so critical of the book…and probably a little afraid she’d have to start looking for a job.  As it turns out what she thought my reaction would be was exactly the opposite of what it was.  It was good getting this feedback early on, and some of the issues that I were concerned about turned out to not be an issue, whereas some of the things that were bugging me were solidified and armed with a new direction I “dug in.”  Bottom line, I had been starting to lose steam, and now I’m back on track and excited again.  So all in all it was a good thing.

Usually I don’t let Robin read any of the book until it’s all done” but bringing her in early was a great decision.  It probably saved me a ton of rework.  So I spent all of Sunday adding yet another section (This time to Chapter 1) and going over the first three chapters again.  I’m not usually an “edit as I write” guy – but in this case is has been worth it, so even this old dog can be taught new tricks.

Balance and the First Three Chapters

It’s interesting starting a new series. I don’t feel fully comfortable yet with my new characters and I’m in that “getting to know them” stage where their own unique voice isn’t as solidified as they will eventually become. It just comes down to spending more time with them, and it’ll be easy enough to make the necessary adjustments during editing once I discover some of the things I don’t know now. But it does make writing much slower than say doing a Royce ad Hadrian project.

Also there’s a bit of a  “feeling my way in the dark” that I’m fighting and part of that is because I want to get the right balance between action and moments of introspection. I’m about to start chapter four, and all in all I think it’s going well. I’ve made some adjustments from from the original outline, and I really like the way these changes are helping out with providing good “balance.”

Originally, the first chapters were designed to “introduce” each of the four characters, one chapter each.  But doing so felt like the reader was being exposed to a lot of characters without getting time to connect with any of them.  So I’ve now added an “unscheduled” chapter that goes back and spends time with the first character and I like the way that breaks the introductions up.

Doing this also solved another problem I was having.  Chapter one has a very fast-paced opening but there is also some information I have to get out before we meet one of the other characters.  I had originally added this as a separate section in chapter one but that really wasn’t working.  It took all the energy out of the first section and the two really clashed stylistically. Moving that section and making it its own chapter solved so many problems.

For those that are here to find advice for writing, I guess the take away is don’t be afraid to move stuff around and don’t get overly concerned when something isn’t fitting in ‘just right” – just keep writing, and let your subconscious mind work on it. One day you’ll be in the shower, or taking a walk and the brilliant idea of how to ‘fix” it will come to you.  Well time to get “back at it.”


Mapping the World

I’m not terribly happy about the maps in my current novels.  When I created them I had no intention on publishing the books, so the map I created was really just for my own purposes – a way to keep track of places and distances. As such they don’t “print well.” Shading for mountains and forest compete with text for roads, towns, and regions and worse yet, if you tried to put the book on a “spread” the most important areas are right in the seem!  Doh!

It was created in a map generation program that is so ancient that I don’t even remember its name and the business has long ago gone out of business.  Basically I created the land forms, oceans, mountains, forest, lakes and the like and then I “generated” a colored version out of that program.

From that point I brought the map into Photoshop where I could add layers that would divide the land into areas that would be dominated by different people and rulers.  Riyria has the following regions:

  • Estrendor: Northern wastes
  • Erivan Empire: Elvenlands
  • Apeladorn: Nations of man
  • Ba Ran Archipelago: Islands of goblins
  • Westerlands: Western wastes
  • Dacca: Isle of south men

Apeladorn is then divided into 4 nations:

  • Avryn: Central wealthy kingdoms
  • Trent: Northern mountainous kingdoms
  • Calis: Southeastern tropical region ruled by warlords
  • Delgos: Southern republic

And then Avryn is further divided into 9 kingdoms:

  • Ghent: Ecclesiastical holding of the Nyphron Church
  • Melengar: Small but old and respected kingdom
  • Warric: Most powerful of the kingdoms of Avryn
  • Dunmore: Youngest and least sophisticated kingdom
  • Alburn: Forested kingdom
  • Rhenydd: Poor kingdom
  • Maranon: Producer of food. Once part of Delgos, which was lost when Delgos became a republic
  • Galeannon: Lawless kingdom of barren hills, the site of several great battles

The map in Riyria is indicative of a world dominated by “man” in a Medieval-type political system ruled primarily by monarchs.


The world of The First Empire is a much different place. There are no kings, multiple races are competing for dominance and because horses are not domesticated travel is far more difficult, keeping people isolated and in general they don’t often travel far afield. 

When starting this series, I basically removed the overlays with all the towns, roads and regions.  Some structures exist in both.  For instance The Crown Tower is the last remaining portion of a much bigger fortress from long ago and Drumindor, which was created by elves, pre-dates even the time periods of The First Empire. 

But beyond just wiping everything out and then starting to add the details for how Elan is divided in the time of The First Empire, I started from scratch (black and white rather than colored) and all in all this version of the map is “much prettier” and will “print better” than the maps I’ve done in the past.

For those who like maps with their fantasy I think Rhune will have a vast improvement over what you have in Riyria.  I’m not posting it yet, because it is still in flux.  Whether I should expose it “early” I’m unsure of. On one hand, I’d like to share it so people can start “thinking” about what some of these things mean.  On the other hand, I don’t want to get “too locked in.”  

In the beginning, my advice when starting a novel

In my last post, I talked about the process I used when starting Rhune, and I mentioned that while this worked well for me, I don’t suggest it for others.  So, what do I suggest?

Well, first it’s important to note that the opening is the most important portion of the novel. Agents and publishers will decide, usually within the first page, whether to cut bait immediately or whether you are worth a more thorough read.  Readers, too, are going to go through a similar process. In the days of ebook samples and Amazon’s Search inside the book, few people will purchase a new book (especially if by an author they never read before) without reading the beginning.  Even those in browsing bookstores are going to read the first page, and might even find a chair and read a bit further before proceeding to the checkout counter.

Because it’s so important, it’s easy for authors to get wrapped around the axle and spend days, weeks, even months on their novel opening.  My best suggestion for authors just starting out is to get past the opening as quickly as possible.  Think of it as a burning building that you have to sprint through as quickly as possible to reach safety.  Spend as little time as possible and get distance between you and your opening as quickly as you can.

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  • More often than not what you “think” is your opening won’t be your opening when all is said and down.  What was once page 1 in Nyphron Rising ended up on page 105 of the finished book.  What was once page 1 of Avempartha didn’t make it into the book at all. I deleted the entire first chapter as I hadn’t yet realized “where” my story should start.
  • Writer’s block is common when just starting out, and there is no easier way to get blocked then to churn on something. The best way to beat the block is to produce. Word count has its own momentum. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that what you are writing is going to be thrown away or heavily edited. But at least if you feel progress you’ll not obsess and become paralyzed.
  • Once you have the novel completed, and you know the whole story from soup to nuts you’ll be a much better position to determine what should be your opening.

Now, don’t take what I said here as carte blanche to be lazy in regards to your opening.  On the contrary, I spend a huge amount of time on it.  And polish, polish, and polish some more. It’s just that I do all that much later on.  Heck if you add up all the hours I spent on multiple revisions to a first page it probably weighs in at 5 – 10 hours, over many, many sessions, with dozens of approaches tried on for size.

As you can see, the two approaches are very different, which points out an important aspect of writing…each author has to discover what works best for themselves. It’s all fine and good to find out what others do, and try their approaches on for size, but eventually you’ll start to develop your own sense for how you should approach things, and that’s all that really matters.