GOD’S WAR, the first book of the Bel Dame Apocrypha/God’s War Trilogy has been out of print since late last year. The publisher is re-issuing the books in mmp with updated, streamlined covers – just in time for the launch of the new story collection, Apocalypse Nyx!
Because Nyx really is the hero we need right now.
Yes, 2018 is THE YEAR OF ALL THINGS NYX, MY FRIENDS. REJOICE.
It occurred to me today that I’m dangerously close to burnout, and as I’m about to head down the rabbit hole with RAPTURE promo in early November, now is probably a good time to take a break from being social and actually knuckle down and get to work.
I’ve managed to get really far behind on projects. If you start spending too much time on stuff like book numbers, reviews, mentions, and all the rest of the business bit of this game, it can really sap your headspace for creating new stuff, because to be dead honest you start thinking, “Fuck everybody. What’s the point? I’m going to retire to some obscure Greek island somewhere and drink myself to death.”
And that’s when you know it’s time to pull the curtains for a while.
So, suffice to say, I’ll be pretty quiet the next four weeks. After that, of course, it’s RAPTURE time, so I’ll be a little busy bee again.
In more Good News, Audible has also bought the rights to publish GOD’S WAR, INFIDEL, and RAPTURE in audio format.
I have no publication dates or details beyond that, but I will keep you all posted as I hear more.
Does this mean you’re RICH now?
It’s always been very important to me here to be honest about what new writers can expect from deals like this. So here’s how it works. After my publisher’s cut, my agent’s cut, and taxes, the UK deal – for all three books – is about enough to pay for us to finally put a fence up around our property. That said, the pay out on that amount is spread out over the publication of all three books. So money will trickle in over, most likely, the next 2-3 years.
The Audible deal for all three books equals a little more than half of what I was paid by Night Shade to publish GOD’S WAR alone. So, maybe I’ll pay off part of a credit card with it?
Whether or not money is made after those initial amounts depends wholly on how many folks buy books in these editions/formats. So BUY SOME BOOKS!!!
But… but… won’t you be bathing in royalty money?
Not any time soon. I split a portion of any royalties I receive with both Night Shade (because it’s a sub rights deal on rights they already own and paid us for) and my agent. I still get the bulk of the royalties, but if you think this is a Get Rich Quick scheme and I’ll be quitting my day job any time soon… well, no.
Are you going to have (INSERT FAMOUS JENNIFER-HALE TYPE PERSON HERE) read your audio book? Can my friend (INSERT FRIEND’S NAME HERE) narrate your audio book?
As I understand it, unless you’re already Rich and Famous and can get said Famous Person to do the narration at a cut-rate deal, Audible generally does all the production for stuff on their end. I will get to tell them how to pronounce words, though. So that’s cool.
How much input did you have on these deals?
My publisher already owned both World English and audio rights to my novels. That means they negotiated these deals. That said, I was presented with the initial UK offers through my agent, asked my opinion, and gave it, including a change to an initial bit of the offer. My agent also requested an amended contract that firmed up our split of the subsidiary rights.
You don’t sound really happy. Aren’t you really happy?
Yes, I am really happy. The thing is, just a few short years in the trenches in this biz has made me a bit guarded and cynical (see above post about my initial cancelled contract). I’ve learned that seeing “big money” when you sign a deal doesn’t mean you’re getting a big money check. Lots of people have to get paid before you do – the publisher gets paid for any subsidiary rights split, agent gets 15% and at Tax Time there’s a 10% self-employment tax. Then there’s the fact that you only get paid twice or maybe three times a year – and those payments are nearly always late. The only way a lot of folks I know can make a living at this is to write 2-3 books a year, and I’m just not there yet. Not if I want to write the kinds of books I write.
Right now, book writing makes up just 10-15% of my income during a good year.
Still, I’m happy. This means more people reading my books. Which, yanno, I think are awesome and everyone should be reading.
So, what’s next?
I have a lot of work ahead that goes with all this, but I’m trying not to think about that too much. Mostly, I’m working hard on the next book (epic warring families! Womb tech! Biotic witches! Cancerous legions of world ships!)… and trying to have a little fun.
And maybe I’ll use some of this money to take a vacation or something. A vacation that I’m not taking so I can, yanno, finish a book.
I just read something this week from somebody who said their goal this year was to write something that would “win some kind of award” next year.
See my head explode.
If you are writing books to get awards, you may want to rethink your priorities.
I hate awards seasons. I hated awards season even during years I didn’t publish anything. It’s kind of starting to look a little ironic that I hate awards seasons, I know. But here’s why I do:
When I first started writing stories for publication, I wrote a lot of characters studies where people sat around and talked to each other a lot, with maybe the occasional cockroach. I remember one of the editors at Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine scrawling across the top of one of my stories, “Cockroaches put me off lunch.”
So after a half dozen of those dismal rejections, I tried to write stories that I saw in the magazines. At the time, that meant I wrote a lot of sword and sorcery knock-offs. They lacked actual plot, which was, you know, a problem. But worse than that – they were kind of boring to write. But here I was, spending the entirety of my pre-teen and teenaged years hunkered over a keyboard transcribing work from dozens of notebooks I’d scrawled stories in during class, just so I could write something that I hoped was syrupy enough for somebody to like it.
Oh, sure, I get it – this is basically what writing and publishing are about. Being “published” in the traditional sense means that somebody liked your stuff enough to invest in it. That’s flattering. It’s nice.
But it shouldn’t be why you write. Because unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to be spending the vast majority of your life engaged in some kind of pursuit that makes you utterly miserable. Life is too short, folks.
It wasn’t until I kinda went, “Fuck it” and decided to write the kind of book I wanted to read that I had some success with it. I think it’s easy to forget, looking back, that GOD’S WAR was the third novel I actually shopped, and the ninth one I’d written. I’d also argue that it wasn’t the most ambitious book I tried to write, either. I’d gotten hip deep into a sweeping epic fantasy saga originally outlined as fifteen books. The first in that series was over 200,000 words. There were some clever locusts in that book, and magician-priests, but I didn’t have the technical skill to pull it off.
Even GW is kind of a wreck, especially when it comes to plot and structure. Some of this is because I’d actually written the opening fifty pages just to get a handle on the world and the character, and then I sort of backfilled a plot in around it.
GW had a rocky road both in its writing and its publication. I wrote it during the year I was dying from what turned out to be an incurable chronic illness (go me!), and spent several years in revision during which time I lost my job and became homeless and moved to a new state. Thus began a series of temp jobs, sad and broken personal relationships, medical debt, and other fun stuff. The book was my therapy. Building a world of shit that was shittier than my failed life really helped put things in perspective. Writing about somebody who had the pure strength of will to get up after being punched down repeatedly was pretty satisfying, too.
It really is true that when you have nothing to lose, it’s easier to give yourself permission to do anything. So that’s what I did. Bug magic? Sure. Bisexual heroine? Why not? Matriarchy? Of course! Non-white protagonists? YES! Old-school biblical violence? You betcha! Also… aliens and spaceships and sword fights and organ dealers and boxing, oh my! BECAUSE I’M DYING AND LIFE IS SHIT, PEOPLE, SO WHO THE HELL CARES?
Now, don’t get me wrong. This book was a tough sell. Shoving all that crap in there made a lot of publishers nervous (“How will I market this??”). And once it was published, it put a lot of readers off. But I wrote the book for me first. I wrote it because I wanted to read this book, and nobody else was writing it. Where were my scary heroines and organic tech? Where were the matriarchies that were just as unbalanced and effed up as the patriarchies? And wouldn’t ancient Assyrian/Babylonian terror tactics go really well with a Mad Max future?
Ultimately, sure, I wanted to see this book published. But I don’t know that I ever wrote anything with the idea of hoping it would “win some kind of award.” Why? Because that’s the road to madness, right there. Because if I’d sat down to write this book worrying about what everyone else was going to think about it (and at the end of the day, awards are based on the opinions of, you know, people), then I never would have finished it. Or, worse, it would have turned out like some of the other books I wrote before it, where I’d dip my toes into some weird stuff, freak out, and then go back to the safe little “Gee, haven’t I read this before?” stories.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a very good writer, or even a very imaginative one. I’m just a very persistent once. Writing INFIDEL was much more seamless than GW, mainly because my life wasn’t so wonky when I wrote it, and I’d learned how to recognize severe pacing problems. I may have thrown out the original second half of that book and rewritten it from scratch, but I knew where everyone had been and where they needed to be, and I wasn’t trying anything fancy. Inaya’s chapters got folded back into that second half just like whipped cream in a cake, and I was surprised to realize how much stronger the pacing was for it. Did I worry about what people would think of it? Sure. But I worried about that after I turned it over to my publisher, when there was nothing else I could do to fix it.
And the reason I did that is because I knew what that kind of pressure would lead to. People talk all the time about how difficult it is to write a second book, especially when the first garners a lot of attention (lucky for me, INFIDEL came out just six months after GW, when not a lot of people had heard of it). You start thinking more about what people think than you do about what should actually happen in the story. So before you know it, you’re missing deadlines, playing softball with characters you meant to kill, and deleting all those references to burying babies.
Maybe that will help win you some awards. Maybe it will help you sell a lot more copies. Or maybe it won’t.
Maybe you’ll have totally eviscerated your story for fear of what other people will think.
When I went to Clarion West back in `00, we were asked to revise our story from week two in week six. My week two story had gotten a lot of strong reactions from people, including one of the instructors, who said he found it “personally offensive.” The responses freaked me out so much that I basically gutted everything the least bit offensive from my story, and there was no more bloody abuse and a much softer heroine and softer setting. I figured that this was it. This was SURELY the story I would take away from Clarion and have published, now that I’d smoothed off all the stories edges.
But instead of the cheering back-slapping I expected, I got person after person telling me in rather low, sad tones that that not only had softening the story not fixed what was wrong with it, but I’d managed to scrub it completely of the compelling elements that made it worth reading in the first place.
It’s likely no surprise that creating that revised story wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the original for me, either.
Clarion was good for me for many reasons, but that was the biggest writing takeaway for me. You can’t please everybody. And if you try and please everybody, you’ll please nobody. Including yourself.
At the end of that critique session, Patrick Weekes, one of my Clarion classmates (and now one of the incredible writers working on the Mass Effect games for BioWare) drew up a little doodle that neatly summed up the lesson from this critique. I framed the original copy and now have it hanging on my wall, to reference every time I start to lose my nerve.
I’ve recreated it below for your reference:
That was as true then as it is for me today as I finish up my draft of the third and final of my Nyx books, RAPTURE. It’s a book that won’t be for everybody. It will piss some people off. But at the end of the day, I’m writing the book I want to read. And for me, as somebody who knows how short and brilliant life can be, that’s really all that matters.
We’ve all experienced it: you’re reading along and you find a scene in a book that you could swear you’ve read a hundred times before – in some other book, or in some other show.
There’s a formula to much traditional storytelling, especially the stuff that’s written and/or produced very quickly. Formulas are great for creators. They help you bang out stories – whether it’s novels, short stories, TV or movie scripts – quickly. It’s the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl setup (always the boy doing the doing, of course). It’s the opening montage comments about a country in some travel show that asks a question, shots with happy locals, pretty scenery, ruminations on the question, and finally, an end-of-episode sum up that answers the question.
Frames and formulas have their place. They create very comforting stories. I like watching shows where I know that – unlike in real life – the bad guys are going to get it. One of the shows I saw falling into formula its second or third season was Burn Notice. There would be some ruminations on the overall plot arch, then the introduction of a Wronged Client who would enlist the help of the ex-spy and his team. The ex-spy would be reluctant, nearly turn them down, but be urged to take on their case by his team. They would vanquish the bad guys while sharing some McGyver-esque spy facts with the audience, save the Wronged Client, and meet for drinks afterward and touch on the overall plot arch for the show.
It’s nice to know the good guys win, and good people are saved, but to be honest, that formula was getting old. In Season 4, they started doing something different. The stories the Wronged Person told them weren’t always true. In fact, sometimes they were outright lies. The situations became less black-and-white and more complicated. Instead of every plan working, the first plan or two often failed. There were more double-crosses, more unexpected explosions, and a lot more gunfights. Main characters got shot, or kidnapped, or interrogated (sometimes by the supposed Wronged Client, sometimes by their own team members). Changing the formula resulted in a much higher level of suspense. The neat, cozy story I expected wasn’t so cozy after all (I recently watched one where the supposed Wronged Client was shot dead within the first 15 minutes of the show, and we learn that he wasn’t quite as Wronged as we thought). As a result, the show became much more interesting, and though I don’t think the writers have the guts to truly take out one of the show’s main characters the way, say, Joss Whedon would, I’m certainly a lot more interested and invested in these stories than I used to be.
One of the problems with being reasonably well-versed in genre tropes is that they’re easy to fall back on. When I’m writing fast, it’s easy to throw in the scene where they defuse the bomb with 1 second left on the clock, or have everybody speak a “common” tongue so you don’t have to deal with tricky stuff like who can understand what’s being said in what language, or god-like aliens ruled by logic who are trumped by the human spirit/power of our emotions, or those bizarre nursing scenes where a guy gets injured and a woman patches him up and they totally fall in love.
But what’s wrong with this stuff, really?
On the face of it, nothing. They’re good stuff. People like them. It’s why they endure. They’re comforting. In a world of chaos and infinite possibility, it’s sometimes nice to sit back at the start of scene and know exactly how it’s going to end (“Oh, she’s patching him now! Finally, they will fall in love!”).
Trouble is, if you’re going for maximum tension and suspense, the kind of thing that keeps even the most jaded reader hooked, you need to push beyond these cozy tropes. I recently finished reading Stephen King’s Misery (ha ha, I know). The guy’s early books have the most masterful plots because they are often so bloody unpredictable (I kept expecting that the movie ending was different than the book ending. I should have known King wouldn’t kill his Writer, but I totally expected it). The genius of Misery was in casting a totally mad and unpredictable antagonist. You really never knew what she was going to do next, and each random horror she came up with was more horrifying than the last. You kept thinking, “Surely, she can’t get any worse,” and sure enough, she did. And the ante was upped in such a way, and set up in such a way, that when all the horror happened, you totally believed it.
King also doesn’t fall into the superhero trap. His protagonists are totally ordinary people, and they act like the way real, flawed, terrified people would act. For every one of us who says, “I would fight back! I would totally beat that psycho up and escape!” there are those of us aware of exactly how pain and fear and sickness and terror can utterly transform a brave, reasonable person into a screaming, urinating, flailing wreck. His protagonists are, if nothing else, terrifyingly human… and masterfully flawed.
This brings me to why I’ve been thinking so much about clunking old tropey scenes lately. Last night, I finished a draft of a scene that anybody who’s ever read a book or seen a movie set in the desert has seen before. You’ve read this before:
The protagonists are trudging across a vast desert, either because they were dropped off there, driven there, or need to cross it to get somewhere. Their water has run out. They continue to trudge along. The sun is very hot. The sand is very hot. It is, indeed, very hot. They start dropping across the sand like flies, leaving a long trail of bodies along the way, until there’s only one person left, usually dragging another one with him, and still no sign of water, or an encampment. Death must surely be certain!
But, of course, we know death is anything but certain. In fact, we’ve read this so many times we KNOW it’s not.
When you read this scene you pretty much know that one of two things will happen: 1) the last person standing will find water right before they collapse 2) the last person will collapse and it will look like everyone dies. But then! They wake up and are being cared for by some local desert people and brought back to health.
The reason this scene became so popular is because, well, the FIRST time you read it, it’s pretty suspenseful. I mean, your protagonists are in the desert! It’s hot! No water! No shelter! They’re going to DIE! The trouble is, when a scene has been done to death by everybody, the chances are your readers have read/seen it at least a couple of times. That means when they start the scene, they already know how it’s going to turn out. They’ll find water or the locals will save them. No worries.
And suddenly, this scene that was supposed to have such great suspenseful potential becomes something gimmicky and sad and… well, boring.
So I did what I do when I realize I’ve written something I’ve seen a million times (and don’t like. Oh, let’s be clear. There are some tropes I cling to so passionately that I won’t dump them, but that’s the subject of another post). I did some googling about the salt content of blood. I sat down and discussed the scene with J., and he made some suggestions about bugs, which led to me to thinking about a scene in the Conan movie when Conan attacks and eats a vulture while he’s hanging from a tree in the desert. And that got me to thinking about birds, and my world’s shape shifters, and maybe clouds of birds, and blood, and bugs. Hrm.
There are many ways to save your protagonists, but for me, it’s far more satisfying to figure out how the ways of the world and my protagonists’ own resourcefulness can help them save themselves. Maybe they don’t find water. Maybe no one saves them. Maybe they do something else.
It’s the “something else” that’s my job as a writer to figure out. That means sitting down and thinking about scenes, not just going with the first thing that occurs to me (because trust me, all my first ideas are crap). It means a lot of googling. And a lot of time at the library. Honestly, it hurts my head. I spent so long trying to figure out some truly strange tech for my same-world related short story, Angels and Avengers, that I pushed out the release date from September this year to September next year. I needed the time to gnaw on how to create something really different.
For instance, space travel tech in films hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. It’s all bulky suits and helmets and escape pods and cruisers. It about blew my mind the other day when I was rewatching Thundercats of all effing things and they board another ship by just beaming this laser/ray thing into it, cutting it open, and then having the boarding party walk across this ray of light and into the ship. No physical umbilicus. No leaping onto the ship and opening a hatch. Just, you know, BEAM OF LIGHT. Which got me to thinking about all the other stuff I make assumptions about when I’m writing.
For an SF/fantasy writer, there is nothing that will kill your fiction more quickly than falling into assumptions. I still do it all the time, and every time, I pay for it. I would rather say something ridiculous, though, like “She cut off her hair with a machete” (you can, in fact, saw off long hair with a very sharp machete [google it], though there has been some contention about that from readers) than just have somebody go to the barber. I would rather have people die who aren’t supposed to die. And heroes fail who aren’t supposed to fail.
Now I’m going back and re-writing my trudging-across-the-desert scene. It’s looking a lot different so far. There are no happy-to-save-you locals (there are, in fact, some “fuck you!” locals), and no nourishing water wells. Tough choices have to be made. Blood is spilled. And there are some fist-sized, flesh-eating bugs that show up to make things really interesting. Oh, sure, some people are “saved.” But some aren’t. Some plans fail. And coming out alive in this one has a lot more to do with digging deep and being resourceful than falling over and hoping for the best.
I know which one I find more interesting, and far more suspenseful.
Because the truth is, it’s honestly more fun if the bomb goes off, and nobody can understand each other, and the god-aliens are the unpredictable, overly-emotional ones. Why is it more fun? Because fewer people take the risk of writing it that way.
There are a bazillion people in the world who can write books. The only thing you’ve got on any of them is your ability to write something in a different way than other people are writing it. It’s filtering your words and worlds through your own unique experiences, and forging a road through the bloody fucking buggy volcanic spew of mud instead of happily skipping along on the pavement.
Some time back, I misplaced my flash drive at the new day job, most likely while moving my office from downstairs to up. Long searches in old office, new office, and three different possible bags I may have stowed it in turned up nothing. The last backup of the files I had on the flash drive was from November 12th, saved to my laptop.
This was deeply crappy, but not a total fail, as I had printed out recent copies of Babylon and Iron Maiden. But it did mean lack of get-up-and-go due to the fact that, you know, I was going to have to retype at least half of 100 pages worth of stuff.
Last night I was going through my old laptop one last time to see if maybe I’d created another flash drive backup before that one, and lo and behold, I found that I’d recently replaced the Babylon file in the actual Babylon subfolder in my novels folder on my hard drive. So, I hadn’t backed up the whole flash drive (most of that info doesn’t change), but I *did* back up the stuff I was working on.
I’d started backing up projects I was regularly working to my laptop on back in December, with just such a scenerio in mind (copying over the whole drive got tedious). I really miss that damn flash drive, but at least I don’t have to retype most of Babylon from scratch.
Man, I always forget how much I love worldbuilding.
I want to post bunches of excerpts from Babylon, but I realize the whole book is going to be full of spoilers for the other two books. That’s kind of the trouble with the slow grind of the publishing world. By the time the first book comes out, you’re already finishing up the third one (knock on wood).
Anyway, for God’s War prequel (non-spoilery even!) madness, you can always visit Nyx here.
Also, because folks keep asking: God’s War will be out next fall, sometime around September-October-November.
Yes, that’s next year (it’s publishing, OK?).
And it gives me a lot more time to get the other books right. Which I appreciate.