The verdict: Scott gives it four stars.

More importantly, he touches on several items I considered critical while working on The White Tree. Biggest of all is the friendship between Dante and Blays, Blays wasn’t a big factor in my early plans; my focus, really, was on Dante, the expansion of his powers and the deepening trouble his ambitions bring them. But the moment Blays showed up on the page, the story changed.

Some authors talk about their characters coming alive, writing themselves, as if the writer is just a stenographer for these people no one else can see. My experience wasn’t quite like that. I was still the one doing the writing. But Blays’ persona was so clear to me and he was such a perfect companion for Dante (ready to call him on his BS, almost as good at getting into trouble as he is in getting out of it) that I hardly had to think at all. I just knew. I knew exactly what Blays would say, what he would do. Just thinking about them makes me want to start writing about them right now.

Scott picked up on something else that emerged between these two characters: “Dante and Blays are both willing to do what they have to do to achieve their goals regardless of the legality of their actions.” Yeah. Indeed. Over the course of the book, they lie, cheat, steal, and kill. They do a lot of bad things. I wanted to challenge them, to regularly put them into murky moral situations where the answer’s far from clear. I wanted to keep as far away from the Good Vs. Evil tendency of epic fantasy as possible. I wanted the questions Dante and Blays face in their world to be just as impossible as the ones we face in ours.

Lastly, he mentions the “rich mythology.” That damned mythology! I wrote pages of notes on the mythology behind The White Tree–not only did I have to compose my own Zodiac, complete with its own subsets of signs, signifiers, meanings, and embedded legends, but Dante eventually discovers the myths have changed over time, meaning I had to track all that, too–which symbols have changed and how, how later writers misinterpreted the early legends, etc. etc. etc. Good lord. Just thinking about it makes my brain want to crawl out my ear and hide under the porch.

I try not to call a ton of attention to the historical contradictions within the world’s mythology. For the most part, it’s peripheral to the main story. Picking up on these little clues won’t change your entire reading of the book. They won’t teach you to sprout wings and flap to the oasis on the moon, either.

But it could change your perspective on their world’s history just a little. With that understanding, the conflict between the two kingdoms and their religions might look a little sadder.

That’s right: I’ve been uploading my books to Barnes & Noble.

The White Tree

The Roar of the Spheres

The Zombies of Hobbiton: A Martian Love Story

Turns out B&N takes HTML-formatted books just like Amazon, so it’s not that tricky to list your books at both. The only problem is each of them has their own peculiar quirks about what code they like to mangle or ignore–and the documentation is terrible. I’ve had to do a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what works, but on the upside, I’ve learned a lot of new CSS.

Well, uh, that title pretty much covers it, actually. Check it out here.

A few weeks back, I contacted the amazing M.S. Corley about putting together a piece of cover art for The Roar of the Spheres. Yesterday, I got the results:

I am in love with this. Being more verbal than visual, I hadn’t really thought much about what The Roar of the Spheres‘ cover should look like until Mr. Corley asked me for a few ideas and descriptions. His finished product? Isn’t particularly like any of the ideas I sent him.

It’s much, much better.

I’ve released a new book on Kindle: The Roar of the Spheres, currently available for $0.99. It’s a sci-fi novel, a backyard space opera heavy with action and humor.

Heh! Pretty crummy cover, right? Did it myself, that’s why. I’ve contacted a pro I know to work me up a better one, but I wanted to get The Roar of the Spheres up now for a couple reasons: first, it’s currently in the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and if it makes the next round of cuts, I want it out there for anyone who wants to check out. Second, there may be a few brave souls out there ready to overlook the second-rate cover, fork over a buck, and give it a read. Ideally, one or two of them will toss up a review by the time I have my new cover ready to go. Voila–all ready to market.

I don’t know if this is a better or worse strategy than waiting until everything is absolutely perfect to get it out there. The last thing an indie author* needs is to look unprofessional. At the same time, most newcomers take months to build up their presence. The Roar of the Spheres isn’t going to get much attention good or bad today; that cover will be replaced before more than a handful of people have seen it.

But in the meantime, it’s working its way through Amazon’s system. It’s out there if someone wants to read it. I stand by the body of the book itself. Pretty soon, I’ll be able to give it the snappy suit to match.

*For the record, I don’t self-define as a purely indie author–I’m still writing short stories and selling them to magazines, and unless I get Amanda Hockingsishly rich, I will continue to pursue traditional publishers with my next novel. But in the meantime, anyone who declines to self-publish work they believe in just because of the rapidly eroding stigma against self-published books–I think they’re slamming a door on an unknown and sometimes career-launching new world.

So I’ve put a couple story collections up for Kindle already. Here’s the first time I’ve listed a book: The White Tree.

The White Tree is a big fat fantasy book. It’s funny and bloody and action-heavy. To summarize 150,000 words of novel, a young sorcerer named Dante and his even younger bodyguard Blays are enlisted to help stop a secret war against their homeland–but the deeper they get, the harder it is for them to know which side is right.

More details and a sample are available at Amazon. It’s a stand-alone work, but I’ve got ideas sketched out for two more–and if enough people pick up The White Tree, I may just have to write its sequels.

An upside to spending the last 2-3 years writing short stories is I’ve gotten a lot better at cutting. Come revision time, I can slice 5-10% off a story without crying out in anguish at all the brilliance I’m deleting. Sanding down sentences and extracting extraneous or redundant description is usually enough to hit the mark. When I can identify irrelevant scenes or subplots, as with my story upcoming at Reflection’s Edge, I’ve slashed out as much as 30% of the total word count. (Cutting almost always makes a story better, of course, but I think it’s funny in a not-so-funny way I’m putting in more work to get paid less–many places pay by the word. Granted, without those edits, they might decide not to pay me anything at all…)

My goal for The Roar of the Spheres has been to cut at least 5% per chapter. If I come to the end and haven’t hit the mark, I’ll go back for a second pass.

I haven’t had to do that yet.

I’m averaging a 7.5% cut per chapter. Through six, about a fifth of the full novel, I’ve dropped over 1500 words. At that rate, the draft will fall from 102.5K to 95K. By the time I’m done, this shit will be streamlined as a dolphin!

Oh, after I finish revising it, probably. Like, twenty years after.

I just finished the second draft of the renamed The Roar of the Spheres. I’m trying a new process this time: in the second draft, I fill it out. I expand the scenes that were rushed, slip in any missing back story and worldbuilding, replace scenes that don’t accomplish what I want them to, and patch up any holes in the story’s logic. That’s what I just wrapped up. I ended up inserting about 2200 new words. I don’t know how many I replaced/rewrote, but it’s probably in the same ballpark.

In the third draft, I intend to take things out. There’ll be some overlap with the replace/rewrite aspect of the second draft, in that I intend to take out the bad sentences and replace them with good ones, but the chief focus will be on trimming every excess word I can.

If I can cut 10 words per page–hardly a taxing task–that’ll bring the manuscript back down to 100,000 words. That’ll only be about a 3% decrease, in fact. If I can manage 5 or 6%, I’ll be extremely satisfied.

Done at 100,500 words, which is what, 8.5K more? By “done” I of course mean “…with the first draft,” which means that, once I’ve given the manuscript a couple weeks to cool off, I get to do all kinds of revising and rewriting. I’m not complaining. That process is just as fun and awful as writing the first draft, but in a completely different way. I think it’s very necessary for novels, too. With a short story, you can often hold the whole concept in your head at once, translate it to the page, and find that, barring a bit of line-editing, you’ve more or less recreated that vision.

At 5000 words, give or take 2.5K, a short story is 5% as long as this book. There are going to be things I didn’t account for and need expansion, and things that felt promising as I wrote them but ended up going nowhere and need extraction. Taking care of both these things makes a book much, much stronger.

Think I’m done with progress reports for now, though, mostly because I’ve discovered they’re boring as shit. Bye!

11K words; 93K total. No disruptions put me off pace, it was just harder. I had consistent output every day I sat down, but instead of finishing an all-day session with 4200 or 3500, I’d end up at 2400; instead of 2.5K on my short days, I was lucky to see 2K. I’ll probably see my total drop even more next week.

Why? Because I’m currently about a third of the way through the final chapter, bitches. I won’t be popping the champagne (or, more accurately, cracking the Smirnoff) just then, though. Well actually I will, tonight and tomorrow, but that will be for general-purpose drinking, not celebratory inebriation.

Point is, after the final chapter wraps up, I’ve got to go back and thread a reworked short story as interstitial material between chapters. Long-time me-fans–hi, Mom–will recognize it as “All Man’s Children,” my first short story I ever sold. Gonna be a little trickier than cutting and pasting, though. As my first real attempt at some structural experimentation within a novel, I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully learning a new trick.

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