It’s just fine if your book has a message.

dr who books

Lately there’s been a bit of a dust-up on Twitter (no big surprise) about whether or not books should have an ulterior motive.  More to the point, there are a few complaints out there stating that there’s been an uptick of them, and they bemoan that they’d rather have stories that aren’t all messagey or ‘political’.

Well, recent politics (and politicians) aside, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of thing actually happens with alarming regularity.   During wartime, during peacetime, during revolution and during calm, these sorts of stories pop up all the time.  Either these people are oversensitive to this kind of story, or the supposed ‘agenda’ is right out front and impossible to ignore or pass over.  Sometimes these agendas are there to make you feel uncomfortable.

If anything, I’m sure I have agendas in my novels.  The trick to writing them is not to make them overtly obvious or overbearing.  Novels with Very Obvious Metaphors or Thinly Veiled Critiques are hard to accept for some readers; it’s better to work with nuance instead.  The trilogy’s agenda was all about Doing the Right Thing for Everyone, Not Just Yourself.  I even came out and said that numerous times.  Meet the Lidwells‘ agenda (if there was one) could be Don’t Be an Asshole to Everyone.

I’m well aware of those who see any kind of inclusion as political.  So what if it is, though?  The agenda there is simple, then: I’m Here, So Deal With It.  I’m talking about novels that contain a minority main character or someone with some kind of disability; I’m talking about stories featuring these characters, doing what characters are supposed to do in the context of the story, nothing more.

Agendas are part and parcel of who people are.  They make for good characters, and they make for good stories.  And sometimes they’re fun to write, especially when you need to use it for story conflict.  In the trilogy, the conflicts between Denni and Saisshalé were always a blast to write, because they pushed the limits.  I kept pushing their agendas until it finally got to the point where they both had to stop and say ‘okay, this is getting seriously fucked up, we need to stop this.’  That’s when they both realized that their universe was bigger than just the two of them.

So yes!  Don’t be worried that your novel might have a political underpinning to it.  Chances are good it’s supposed to be there, and that’s a good thing.

 

On writing the magnum opus

twin peaks

There’s an interesting conversation on Twitter going on, mainly between webcomic artists, about working on a magnum opus right out of the gate.  Many of the comments don’t necessarily dismiss the idea of writing an Epic Epic of Epicness, but they don’t recommend it if you’re just starting out.  And if you do want to write it, then you’d better be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Me, I blame being a kid of 80s tv and movie culture, when ridiculous bombast was de rigeur.  I also blame my mid-90s stretch of reading multiple Stephen King books (the ones like The Stand and others that can also be used as doorstops and paperweights).  I didn’t just want to write an exciting novel, I wanted it to be EPIC.  Something big and exciting.  Because it was what I knew, thanks to Red Dawn and Die Hard and Rambo and Schwarzenegger and wrestling and pretty much anything Russell Mulcahy ever directed (including those Duran Duran videos).  I refer to my first completed novel as the Infamous War Novel deliberately because it’s over the top epic in idea, if not scope or length.

When I started writing True Faith in 1994, it was very much the same.  My ex-gf and I had even come up with a detailed timeline that would encompass multiple novels.  This was going to be a multi-book, multi-year project.  Then in 1997 when I started The Phoenix Effect, it too was to be a big story in a big universe.

Which brings me to the Bridgetown trilogy…

See where I’m going with this?

It seemed that with every project I started, it would end up being a Magnum Opus.  I even used that as an excuse to say that I was incapable of writing a short story or coming up with a one-book novel idea, because I had no idea how to think small.  It took a good twenty years of my life from origin to finish for the Bridgetown trilogy to see the light of day.  And that is precisely why, by 2016, I was already committed to writing smaller projects.  I knew I could write solo stories; I just needed to learn how to do it.

Writing a magnum opus is very tempting to a lot of writers.  It’s the lure of rich world building.  It’s the lure of stretching your creative muscles.  It’s the lure of creating something huge that will blow away the competition (or at least the minds of your dedicated readers).  We often try to convince ourselves that it’ll be a blast, that the long years of toil will be worth it at the end.  Even if it gets released and falls flat, it’ll have been worth it.

I don’t regret spending all those years working on the Bridgetown trilogy, because I learned a hell of a lot from it.  I don’t mind the fact that it took significantly longer than expected for me to get where I wanted in my career.  But sometimes I wonder where my writing career would have been, had I dialed it back a bit (okay, A LOT) and worked on less epic projects over the years.  If I’d written standalone stories, maybe even honed my short-story writing chops back in the 90s instead of that one-and-done half-assed attempt.  Would I have made it professionally?  Would I have had more books out at this point?  Would I have gained a significant readership? Maybe, maybe not, who knows.

But at this point, that’s all conjecture.  Right now I’m doing what I want to do, and that’s writing, and that’s all that matters.

I’d say my own response to whether or not one should start their career on a magnum opus is the same as many others:  if you think you can pull it off, and you’re willing to dedicate all that time to it, then go for it.  It’s a worthy goal and it is fun, if time-consuming, and a lot of its success really does rely on luck.  But be aware that it’s not an easy-in to the field.  It may be a bestseller, or it may fall flat.  I won’t say avoid it at all costs…just know what you’re getting into!

An overview of 2017

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The Bridgetown Trilogy — finally DONE.

It’s been an interesting year, I’ll say that much.  Personally we’ve all had one hell of a bumpy ride.  I’ve certainly had my highs and lows.  And somehow I persevered.

Anyway, looking back over the past twelve months, I’m proud to say I went a hell of a lot further in my writing career than I ever thought I would.  A project that I started in all seriousness twenty years ago was finally signed off as complete.  I started not one but two completely new projects and sowed the seed for even more ideas.  I kept a solid blogging schedule.  I took part in panels on two different local science fiction conventions.  All while still holding a Day Job.

The Balance of Light e-book and trade release, and completing a long-term project.  That was the toughest of the three to revise, so it took me most of 2016 and early 2017 to finish.  Even the cover was a bear to get right.  But at the same time, overcoming the hurdles I faced on this one made me an even better writer; it taught me to take all the time I needed to get it right before I released it upon the world.  It was worth the wait, as that book went from the Troublemaker for a good few years to a novel I’m proud of.  And added to that, it truly did feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized I did not need to work on that project any longer.  I still miss it, of course, but I’m definitely glad it’s done.  Most importantly, I saw a very long-standing goal to its conclusion and I couldn’t be happier.

–Daily words at 750words.com.  I’ve been quite consistent with this as well, much more so than previous years.  I trained myself to use this site as a place for playing around with ideas instead of trying to force myself to use prompts (suggested or otherwise).  I just went with whatever popped into mind.  In 2015 and 2016 I used it to write an extremely rough and incomplete draft of Meet the Lidwells, and in 2017 I used it to plot out most of the project after that.  I’ve taken this month off from it for various reasons, but I’ll be picking it up again come January.

Meet the Lidwells!  This one surpassed all of my expectations, to be honest…so much so that I spent the first half of the project questioning whether or not I was doing it right!  This project hit a lot of goals: writing a complete outline ahead of time, writing a shorter novel, writing a story that had a personal connection (music), and writing in a minimal amount of time.  Because of this I have a minimal amount of post-writing work to do: some minor revision, shooting the cover picture, and prepping it for self-publication.  Quite possibly the shortest novel project I’ve had to date.

–Untitled ‘Apartment Complex’ story.  Having written out a few key scenes and plot ideas for this story using 750Words, I’m now working on the outline in the same manner that I did MtL.  That way when MtL drops, I can immediately focus on writing this one. This too has goals: to see if I can pull off ‘writing econo’ again.  I’m using the same process as the previous project, to the extent that I’ll play around with ideas on the project after this one for my daily words.

–Consistent blogging.  I wrote two different blogs twice a week for nearly the whole year, with very few lapses.  There were moments when it was tough, given that I always wanted to write something of interest and/or purpose, and did my best to avoid the fly-by entries as much as I could.  I also wanted to avoid repeating myself whenever possible; I’ll totally cop to writing the same damn nostalgia piece over and over, and I’m doing my best to break out of that rut.  And in the process, I’m learning how to expand my palette by expanding my interests.

–Participating in Convention Panels.  This was another big one for me.  I’ve gone to a number of cons over the years but always as an audience member, but never as a participant.  After releasing my books I knew that this would be a great way for me to get connected to the non-writing part of the business.  [Mind you, my very first panel was a reading, which went over well but I think could have been better.  Once I got past that first one, the jitters were no longer there.]  In 2018 I’ll be attending three more cons, and I’ve signed up as a participant at all three.

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All told, I’m ecstatic with what I achieved as a writer in 2017.  It was an extremely productive and fruitful beginning to my career as a professional self-publisher.  There are some goals I wish I’d have hit, but I’m not going to let that bother me.  I’m definitely looking forward to reaching those plus many new ones.

HEY LOOK IT’S A BOOKSALE!

btown trilogy halfpage ad front b2

STARTING TOMORROW!

For all of July, all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy will be on sale!

Book 1, A Division of Souls is, as always, FREE to download!

Books 2 and 3, The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light, will be 50% off!  This means that you can get ALL THREE BOOKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE.

It’s MADNESS, I tell you!

So starting tomorrow, head on over to this here page at Smashwords, scroll down to the bottom, and have at it!

lokimadness