Production Blues

Work calls and my head is just not in the game. Too much is going on this week, so perhaps a few paragraphs might take my mind off matters.

As of this blog, I am getting closer to the final touches on two anthologies. Both are due out in roughly a month. The first, Welcome to San Cicaro, is an urban fantasy and horror anthology written by authors besides me. Yep, I’ve taken the job as “just editor” on this one. The other anthology, Banner Saga: Tales from the Caravan, is one story from being finished with edits. Because it’s intended as a collection of shorter Banner Saga works, a few pieces of mine will be a part of that one.

The next few months will be critical. I’ve been jotting down ideas, some of which are for team-based projects that other writers and artists maybe invited to. Others are for personal novels or works I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time… and put off.

The latter point is interesting to me. Nothing I’ve ever done has been 100% mine alone. The Bolthole anthologies, The Gift of Hadrborgand the afforementioned upcoming releases… they’ve all either leaned on others or have involved a franchise. And I feel I know why that is.

One of my biggest fears is to finally hit that degree of success, only to be defined solely by that one win. I dread the thought of writing dozens of novels around the same character, never visiting a hundred other minds in scores of unique settings. To never wear a thousand masks and live a thousand lives.

I don’t understand authors who are happy with revisiting the characters, again and again. I’m fine with it for a while, perhaps with one sequel. But so repeatedly? When is one satisfied? But who am I to judge. I can’t say I’ll know satisfaction after completing my own dreams. Perhaps I too will not know happiness in creation, and know not whether I seek an elusive magnum opus or pray that it is illusive.

Oh. Yeah. And we’re closing on a house tomorrow.

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My life has been a whirlwind of work, work and more work. The job has been hard but rewarding, and the writing has been tough.

But there have been some developments for on the writing. I wrote a few good tales and am working on another two. I’d like to finish the month with three flash pieces. I foresee a writing break for half the month of June.

But there’s one really important tidbit. At long last, it’s finally out. Under the Knife from Cruentus Libri Press is finally out. Click on the picture to order!

Also available for Kindle.

Thoughts About the Future

Winter is a good time to really think about the future. Staying indoors more often because of the cold, trying to figure out what you want to do in the new year, it gives you lots of time to reason with yourself. As I chip away at my novella, I start to think about some of the fears underneath there.

I almost feel like I’m cheating with my 1,000 words a day approach to my novella. You see, as I’ve reread the first draft, I’ve discovered that quite a bit of it is salvageable. Thus I’ve been able to lift lines and simply copy over sentences and sometimes paragraphs from the original draft. At the moment, I’m at 5,000 words, so it’s a good time to review everything I’ve written thus far, make corrections, added a few more lines, and then get back to writing. I think I’ll call this method the tally-mark method. Five 1,000 word chunks, and you review as you scratch the fifth.

But while lines of prose have been both created and copied over, my best news is that I found a way to really beef up the plot some. Not only does it set the ground work for a better story, the new character and additional plot twist he brings adds some flavor. I still need to sort out the details, but there’s a lot of promise here.

Although I’ve already got a publisher I plan to pitch this story too, I’m also jotting down random ideas for the next novel or novella. That was all part of my approach: Write short stories first. As I obtain success with that, slowly work your way into doing a novella. After a few of those, do a novel. I think it’s very rare when a would-be author comes up and says “I’ve got a plan when it comes to getting published.” And even more rare when that plan, at least thus far, seems to slowly be working.  

Single Vs Multi Author Anthologies

After reading various reviews, I’ve noticed that many fantasy and sci-fi readers really don’t seem to like the short story anthology approach from a single author. They often prefer a single, longer and more grand story to a dozen little tales. They’re more forgiving of anthologies from multiple authors. My guess is that they like the variety and the chance to ‘sample’ several authors at once, where as they expect more if it’s just from one.

Also, multiple authors have the benefits of a very expanded ‘social network’ of people they can tap into. Thus banding together is really useful for the starting author types. If twelve unknown authors can mention their collective work on Twitter and Facebook, their word will reach much further than any single author. It seems that cooperation pays.

I understand the frustrations of SAAs, to be honest. Reading Robert E. Howard’s anthologies, the tales gradually got better the closer you got to the end of each individual tale. But when it ended, Howard started the details from the beginning, which got very tiring. This happened because Conan was published in magazine installments, so the transition to an anthological book tended to result in many details being described again and again.

As I consider this, I begin to scratch off plans to release my own single author anthology. I decide instead that it would be better to keep them available for multi-author anthologies, after some re-writes. Or, push them out as their own novellas after some rewrites.

P.S. I’ve posted something on the Bolthole about this for discussion. It will make interesting business talk.

The Scoreboard

My first draft for our anthology is complete, but I have to craft a new draft and make several improvements. It will be an ardorous process, but will be more a matter of extending than rewriting. Only one scene (to my knowledge) requires tremendous effort. I also have a few drafts to review.

Aside from this, I have two more stories to work on, both for Cruentus Libri. One is for the surgical anthology, while the other is an extensive rewrite for the ‘War is Hell’ anth.

In truth, I cannot wait to be free of the Bolthole anthology. Although rewarding and I’m learning a lot, I’m also spending time chasing other writers down, bogged with edits and taking on a horde of other responsibilities that I’ve taken for granted. I have increased respect for the role of editor and publisher.

I’ve been thinking about a certain detail when it comes to awesome action and adventure movies. A little detail I call NITMA, or “Necessity is the mother of awesome.”

See, what I love and can’t get enough of in games and books and movies are these one-of-a-kind situations. I’m not talking about something as grand as, “Save the world” but wild moments you don’t do again.

For example, in the original Metal Gear Solid, there was the torture scene and the rappling game. Gears of War had an interesting segment where you looked for light sources in order to ward off the bat like creatures that ate your flesh. In Dead Space 2 when Isaac launches himself towards the Sprawl and you have to guide him through space. Or in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you had to try and figure your way around the other world, despite being changed into a rabbit and cannot defend yourself.

When you think about that formula, is it any wonder how the Avengers did so well? You have several fleshed out heroses, each of which had their own movie. And the sheer impact of what was happening forced them to work together. So unorthodox, so out of the ordinary from the usual super hero stuff, it’s no wonder it took third place on the highest grossing movie list.

What makes these moments so amazing and huge is the fact that they cannot be easily reproduced. That your character was so desperate that they were forced to do something unexpected and dangerous and you get to control them through it. I don’t want to watch a cut scene where my characters stradles a bomb on its way down! I want to actively guide the bomb! Just like in Dr. Strangelove.

I suddenly realize that this was kind of what made games like Final Fantasy XI so popular years after. Events. Events with friends. We stuck together through rough Burning Circle Notorious Monsters and garrison events. We hung together during the invasion of Aht Urghan. There was so much end game stuff, it’s no wonder people clung to the game years after its release.

Unforgettable events are where it’s at. That’s the wild ride we should be looking to build in our movies, games and books.

The Bolthole Anthology (Part I)

A bit more than a month back, I mentioned something I jokingly called Project X. But anyone who has been reading the blogs of my fellow Bolthole writers would have noticed some of them talking and discussing an upcoming anthology.

It should come as no surprise that this is “project X” but the plot twist is, I’m managing it.

It’s true. Not only do we have a growing stack of stories completed, edited, reviewed and ready, but we’ve reached out to the talented Forjador to develop a cover which you can see here.

To nip any questions in the bud, this anthology is an original horror anthology, with twelve authors. Besides serving as a writer and editor, it has been my responsibility to answer questions, take care of legal agreements, arrange the online accounts for sales and assist with creative direction whenever an author asks.

I must expound that last point. In the pages of Valve Software’s handbook:

When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.

The distinction this kind of management takes from, say, the direction of being a student or that first job you had flipping burgers as a fast food joint is pretty profound. The major difference is that fact that you trust your colleagues to finish their assignments. This project is only possible because of a group of talent people who decided to cooperate rather than compete.

When I sat down and discussed the anthology with my fellow editors and one or two of the writers, I decided to try a few things different from most short story anthologies. Here’s a break down of our business approach so future editor/managers can learn from our mistakes and take from our ideas.

Recruitment:
One critical difference we had compared to many regular publishing companies is that ours was primarily open to members of the Bolthole. This limited the pool of available writers. We also decided to allow only a certain number of writers in, reserving slots. The writers submitted plot synopsis of about 100 words, an idea we borrowed from the Black Library submissions.

“Sell me the plot like the back of a book, in 100 words or less,” I said.

It turned out to be a great idea. This approach let the writers swiftly plan the backbone of their story in a minimal amount of time.

However, we started transitioning away from the “reserved slots” anthology method, going back to the better known “submit and wait” approach just about every author and wannabe author knows. One reserved writer had to be dropped after being unresponsive for three weeks. Others had voiced concern about being able to find the time. So we announced the change and reopened our anthology for more people.

We’ve left plenty of time in our schedule for the transition. But anyone relying on a “reserved slot” approach is flirting with trouble.

Editing:
Editing, I know/rediscovered, is a tremendous amount of work. From the get go, I knew it would be easy to be overrun with stories to edit. In response, I requested two editors to work alongside me. Two editors would review the first draft and return it with comments and corrections. The author would redraft and return the final version, which passed muster beneath the third editor.

There were pluses and minuses to this system. On the plus side, I feel that passing three sets of eyes increases the quality of the final product. Since this is the Bolthole’s flagship business project, I felt the need for strong quality control was paramount.

Another point is that we have limited available writers, so it’s necessary to demand their more quintessential work. Rather than pick and choose the best from hundreds of stories made available from the general public, we have little more than a dozen interested authors. This meant that instead of cherry picking the best quality stories from a large quantity, we have to squeeze the best elements from a small pool of talent.

There are also downsides to this approach. Three editors means up to three fold in lost time during editing. It also increases frustration upon authors when they face conflicting opinions about changes. There are very, very different qualities of editing.

Choosing the right editors is important: Once, almost a year ago, I asked for help from a guy who had performed professional editing. When I saw some of his changes though, I realized I made a mistake. The guy had been shortened and simplifying too much. Then I remembered that his experience came from writing political speeches, which focus more on writing for the sake of being spoken. Very different from fictional writing indeed.

The Future…
I’ll be talking more about the anthology’s development as time goes on. There are others things to discuss such as scheduling, but I want to see how well our methods work before I openly talk about them.

But recognize this. A huge part of learning is experimentation. Theories are not always going to work out. Some methods just work better than others. Sometimes you just got to dive in and find out the hard way.

In the words of Gandalf, “The burned hand teaches best.”

Finally…

The first draft for the anthology I’m putting together is finished. For now, there’s nothing to do until I get more drafts from the other authors to review and edit. So, I’m free to start writing a few other projects.

I’ve already located two more projects I’ve been wanting to work on. And I already have ideas for one. And am asking questions about the other.

Time to finish this year rocking.

Making Cuts

Last week, my total writing time was 20 minutes. That was just enough time to finish editing my short story submission for the Black Library and send it. The first of two, mind you.

Something isn’t going to get written in time.

If that doesn’t give you an indication of how screwed I am with regards to my writing schedule, I don’t know what will. I didn’t have a weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday were spent at work. Meanwhile, I have my self-published anthology drafts to finish and the cover to finish drawing, not including prelimary editing, finding an ink & color artist and giving them enough time to finish what must be complete.

There’s the second of my submissions for the Black Library, which I haven’t even started on. Oh, there’s also the alternate history-horror piece the remains in ugly draft, and the ghost story submission which remains completely untouched.

While there’s technically no rush to finish the self-published piece, it doesn’t matter. Every spare minute dropped on that is one taken away from the professional submissions. And editing takes a lot of time. A lot of time. And not every edit makes sense. Once you’ve edited something, expect to edit it again.

I’m giving up the ghost writing submission window. It sucks, but there’s just no time.