Draft 1 finished!

Today, I finished the first draft of “Sect of the Rounded Stone”. I’ve actually done a second draft of a number of chapters, too, so once could easily say that I finished the first-and-a-half draft of the book. It took longer than I wanted it to, partly because there were a lot of details that needed to be properly connected together, partly because there’s a lot of story to tell, and partly because it’s hard to write on a train that isn’t running on time.

So, hurrah! The first draft is finished! I was feeling really good about it, too, until I took the all-important step of checking the word count, at which point, I deflated a good 5-6 psi.

“Knight of the Flame” is made up of ~224 thousands words. It’s not a short book. So far, “Sect of the Rounded Stone” is clocking in at ~307 thousand words.

Well, crap.

This, of course, presents all kinds of interesting questions regarding the nature of self-publishing, and digital publishing, in particular, the most relevant being: is 307 thousand words too long for a book?

I’ve touched on this before. A digital book can basically be as long as the author likes. Bits don’t weigh anything, and there’s no such thing as a page-count for an ebook (however accurately a particular device might try to estimate one). If you except the sunk cost of the infrastructure used to deliver the bits, here and there, the value of the product is entirely in the words, themselves, and the story they aim to tell. If the words are valuable, then the number of them simply doesn’t matter (so long as you’re not trying to tell short stories, which I’m most decidedly not trying to do).

So, that leaves physical, hard- and soft-bound books. The value there isn’t just in the words. The paper, ink, and binding material all need to be individually purchased in order to go into the whole. The longer a physical book gets, the more of those materials are required, and the higher the final price of the book.

The question then becomes: how many physical copies of this book do I expect to sell? The answer is: really not a whole lot. For my first book, I sold roughly 100 digital copies for every physical one. Makes physical books seem a bit trivial, doesn’t it?

A possible addendum to the previous thought, I suppose, is: what happens when the books are being republished in a mass-market format, and they’re just too big to print? I’ve decided, however, that this is an exercise in setting the cart firmly before the horse, and every body knows that horses can’t push.

So, what to do now? Why, the second draft, of course! I’m in the rather fortuitous position of being between jobs at the moment, which means I’ve got an abundance of time to write between interviews and phone calls to set up interviews. Let’s see just how quickly I can finish draft 2 and get some review copies out the door!

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Book 2 Status Update

It’s been brought to my attention recently that I haven’t updated my blog in a while.  Yes.  That’s true.  Sorry about that.  I like to think, though, that as excuses go, I’ve got the best possible one an author could hope to present, which is that every time I think about making a post to the website, I think, “You know, I could use this time to either talk about writing the book or I could…you know…write the book.”

So, progress report:  The book is currently planned to have a total of 22 chapters. I’m working on number 19 today, so I’m getting very close to a completed first draft.  Oh yeah, there’s the epilogue, too.  Can’t do fantasy properly without an an epilogue.

Then, there’s the second draft.  A lot of the chapters have already had two drafts, so that shouldn’t take more than a month or so.  Then, there’s the third draft the fourth, and probably a few more.  At some point, then, it needs to go out for editorial review, and then there’s one more draft.  And probably a couple of rewrites.

I know, I know: if you do the math, it looks like the book’s completion is still a long way off.  It’s not quite true, though.  You know that thing where you know you’re reading a really good book, or watching a really good movie, because you can feel that momentum building?  It was slow and methodical when it started out…interesting, but moving at no more than a quick walk.  Then, before you realized you’d moved into act 2, you were moving at a canter, and you’re starting to have a little trouble putting it down, turning your light out, and going to bed.  Then, you’re getting to the end, and you’re galloping through the pages, and you end up finishing the whole thing in one long weekend.

Well, I’ve discovered writing to work in much the same way.  One keeps having to move very slowly at first:  lots of details to keep in mind, and lots of character motivations needing to play off each other, and so many different and re-drafted ideas of how the story is meant to go that you keep having to look back at the notes to remember which version you eventually settled on.  It’s slow and methodical.  Well, here I am, rapidly reaching the conclusion, and I’m giddily watching as my fingers dance along the keyboard between Underground stations.  Momentum’s a thing that I often find really hard to come by, but it feels really, really good when it finally shows up.

So, when’s the book coming out?  Well, it’s still going to be this year, but I’m going to be aiming for a November/December timeframe.  There’s the unknown factor of how long the editorial review process is going to take, in the end.  A lot of it, too, is going to depend on the cover art, and how long that takes.  I did it myself the first time; I’m going to see about getting a professional (or, at least, non-me) to sort it out this time.  That should be an interesting conversation, right?  “Make it good, but make it also fit in with that other cover that the amateur did.”  Can’t wait.  🙂

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Update on Book 2

Well, it’s been a few months, and it’s about time I mentioned a couple of things.

First off, the Christmas season was a rather productive one.  It turns out that my new employer likes to put things on hold over the holiday break, which means I literally got to walk into work every day and write.  All in all, I managed to finish the second draft of what boils down to the first act of “Sect of the Rounded Stone”.  It’s kind of a big deal, that.  It’s one thing to have a notebook full of outlines, character sketches and plot notes, but it’s quite another to have a couple of hundred printed pages of actual story in your hands.  It creates a feeling of achievement, of course, but it also solidifies the expectation that the whole thing is going to get finished, that it’s just a matter of time.

Said first act is now out for a small handful of people to read over.  With a bit of feedback, I’ll soon find out if the last six months of effort have all been worth it.  In the meantime, it seems I’ve got more ground work to do.

One of thing things about “Knight of the Flame” that isn’t common knowledge is that is spent a very long time as a single act.  I never really tried particularly hard to follow the three act structure when describing Caymus’s adventure, but I ended up writing it in, anyway.  Part of the reason is that the first act, which is everything through the end of chapter 5, was written in the space of about eighteen months, almost two decades ago.

That first act, that little bit of story that sticks the initial pry bar into Caymus’s world and opens it up for all to see, sat alone for a very long time, feeling, more or less, like it was a completed work.  Of course, back then, I knew there was more tale that I could tell, that Caymus’s story was a long way from complete, but I’d never imagined that I might have the ambition to actually finish such a long tale.

Then, of course, I ended up with a graveyard shift job at a call center for a number of years, and I suddenly had a lot of spare time.  Cue a handful of characters sketches, and five more chapters.

And then I got a job in London and had to take the train into the city everyday, and I had even more time on my hands.  The final eleven chapters, plus the last half-dozen drafts of the previous eleven, were all written over the train tracks between London and Buckinghamshire.

I’m going on a bit, I know, but there is a point to this little digression.  You see, the first act of “Knight of the Flame” was written completely independently of the rest of the book.  Once it was finished, there came a long period of reflection regarding the implications of what I’d written so far, and how it should then follow.

Turns out, I’m a creature of habit, and I’m going over my SotRS outlines again.  That’s my process, it seems.  Write a bit, reflect on it, figure out where it’s leading, exactly, write a bit more, repeat.  It’s how this brain operates.  It’s how the connections between the neurons shape the connections between the story elements.  I find the whole thing a bit fascinating, if that’s not too egocentric a thing to say.

Don’t worry, it’s not going to be ten years until I set pen to paper again.  In fact, I’ve already managed to jot down a large part of the ninth chapter.  Still, it’s fun to get a peek into the machinery that makes up one’s own mind, isn’t it?

So, what does all this mean for everybody who isn’t me?  When can we expect to find a listing for “Sect of the Rounded Stone” on Amazon’s shelves?  Well, I was originally shooting for this summer, but I reckon now that it’s going to be the latter half of this year, instead.  If I can have the first two drafts finished by June, then I’ll be in very good shape to have book 2 out by the winter months.

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What 5 Chapters Can Teach You

So, it’s 5 chapters (and a prologue) into what’s going to be a roughly 20-chapter novel, and here’s what I’ve figured out, so far.

One.  Planning a novel, from beginning to end, is hard.  Really hard.  I finished my outline a few months ago, and I’ve been using it as a guide ever since, but the fact is that the first draft of the actual prose doesn’t look like very much like my original plan.  It’s mostly a question of order.  The things which I thought should be ordered A, B, C, and D have turned out to flow a whole lot better if arranged as A, C, D, and B.  Not a big deal, in and of itself, but it means that this guide that I have open at all times is becoming less and less useful with every passing sentence
I keep thinking I should probably go over the outline again.  You know, restructure it, or maybe commit some of the kinds of details that keep making me change things in the first draft.  Then, I think about how I could be using that time to actually write, and I just give it a miss.

Two.  Details are a commodity.  They’re a resource.  They’re obviously incredibly important.  They give a story definition, can take a mere story and turn it into a legend, a tale that might have actually happened to heroic figures, long ago.  But, they have to be used sparingly.  If you include too many details in a single paragraph, not only do you start adding extra inches onto your novel’s thickness, you also totally kill your pacing.

There’s an awful lot I want to tell people about this little world I’ve created, but I need to keep reminding myself that this exercise isn’t about making sure I tell everybody about all the neat things I dreamed up.  It’s about making sure the people and places in the story are something that people want to read about.

Three.  While it can’t always be avoided, it’s a good idea to try really, really hard to never have too many characters in one place at one time.  It’s extremely hard to not fall into this particular pit, especially if the book’s genre description has the word “epic” in it anywhere.  What happens, you see, is you get to the end of a big interaction between a lot of big characters, and you suddenly realize, “Oh crap!  Melvin didn’t say anything the whole time!”  Then, you start going over the scene again, looking for places where Melvin would have had a valid response, but you never thought of him in this context before, so nothing really fits, and you start second-guessing whether or not Melvin needs to be in the scene in the first place, but if he’s not there, then what’s Frank doing there, since they’re always together, and why did I need this scene in the first place, and—

It’s maddening, and I don’t mind saying, I’ve removed entire scenes because I don’t know if I can actually build such a tall house of cards and expect it to stay upright for any length of time.

I suppose I shouldn’t say I’ve “learned” these things, recently.  I’ve always kind of known them, but it’s always interesting to find yourself wondering exactly why a particular passage is being so bothersome, and then suddenly find you can put words to your pain…which, I suppose, is what I’m meant to be good at in the first place, right?

I just finished a fairly large rewrite of the beginning two chapters, which held me back for quite a few weeks.  The same thing happened in “Knight of the Flame,” in fact (ask me, sometime, how the cave scene originally went), so I suppose I should be relieved that, even if I’m not perfect, at least I’m consistent.

Chapter 6, here I come…

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Book Cover Feedback!

So this is pretty cool.  Sometime yesterday, my cover got posted on LousyBookCovers.com.

There’s already some really useful feedback in there, and I’m hoping for more.  Did you have any thoughts on it?

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New Goodreads Giveaway Just Opened

This one’s for a signed copy.  It’s my first international giveway, too!


Lots of re-writing currently with the early chapters of book 2, but it’s finally getting to the point that I’m re-reading various paragraphs and getting chills.  Great content?  Or faulty air-conditioner?

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Old Rocks and Small Primates

Two very strange things happened to me today. I accidentally discovered the location of Stonehenge, and I listened with great frustration and annoyance as a monkey removed the rear windshield washer nozzle from my car.  In that order.

I’d heard of Longleat House and Safari Park before, but had never thought to go until I got stir-crazy this weekend. Turns out, it’s only a two hour drive, so I figured, what the heck, it might be a nice chance to get out of the house and see something new.

As I was driving down the highway, trying to remember what the national speed limit is on a single-carriage highway, I passed a sign that said “Salisbury”.  Now, any Peter Gabriel fan is going to know the first thing that popped into my mind at that point. Eagle flew out of the night.  Obviously.  But then, I kept thinking, “Why, oh why, do I have this vague recollection that ‘Salisbury Plain’ is a thing and that I should know something important about it?” A few minutes later, a group of familiar-looking hunks of rock appeared out the driver’s side window. I have to admit, I probably got a little too excited. It was a cool way to start the morning.

Now, I should preface the next paragraph by saying that, yes, there was a big sign in front of the monkey section of the safari that said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Monkeys will get onto your car and tear the ever-loving crap out of it. They will do this. You’ve been warned.  Feel free to take this detour if you don’t want the ever-loving crap torn out of your car.” In fairness to Longleat, they did warn me.

Still, I have to admit, I was actually surprised when several monkeys hopped onto the car and proceeded to do their best to disassemble it. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I figured that while the park didn’t want to assume responsibility for the kinds of awful things that happen to people who are stupid enough to drive a car into a pack of monkeys, they wouldn’t actually be so cold as to just stand by while said awful things happened. Or maybe it’s because there were also so many signs that were obviously meant to be a bit amusing, (“Warning, Lions!”…yeah, ha-ha, we know there are lions; it’s why we came) that it was hard to know which of them to take really, really seriously. I fully admit, however, that the fact that the weather stripping was torn out of my door, that the front windshield washer nozzles were redirected to odd angles, and that the rear one was removed completely, was entirely my fault.

Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed. Where the hell do you even find a replacement rear windshield washer?

“Monkey business.”  I get it now.

This, of course, means very little actual writing got done this weekend, which is the bad news. The good news is that all the re-arranging I’ve been doing with plot elements lately means I’ve been forced to fully and completely revisit the text, which means I’ve basically gotten a lot of the second draft done for the first couple of chapters. The second draft is where all the “find details” comes in, and I’ve been having a real blast reading over a sentence and making it all as real as possible (so, what does that place “smell” like, I wonder?).

It’s a great feeling to be in this position. I’ve been really worried about the release of book 2, about whether I even stand the remotest chance of getting it out by anytime next year. Over the last few days, my optimism has soared.

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