Hi all! It’s March 2017 and it’s a platinum anniversary. Of what, you ask? Well, it’s been twenty years since I started writing The Phoenix Effect out in the food court at Solomon Pond Mall before my day’s shift at the record store. It’s the anniversary of the Bridgetown Trilogy, after so many failed starts and misguided attempts to a solid story that evolved through multiple revisions and rewriting into the self-published e-books that are now available to the world.
It’s been twenty years since I went from okay, I’ll write something when I have the time or I’m in the mood to a much more productive outlook of I’m gonna write something every damn day even if it kills me, and made the decision to become a serious professional writer.
So! What do I have planned for this auspicious occasion? Well! Glad you asked! I’m going to have a bit of fun this month and provide you with fun behind-the-scenes stuff related to the Mendaihu Universe that I’ve accumulated over the years — outtakes, trivia, origin stories, pictures, music, drawings, and more. I may even write and post the ‘director’s cut’ ending of A Division of Souls, which has existed only in my head for at least three years!
And to top it off, I’ll also be releasing the trade paperback of Book 3, The Balance of Light! W00T!
This one was the culmination of a hell of a lot of years of writing, a nearly five-year hiatus, and close to five years of revision and rewriting. Ten years ago I wasn’t even sure I’d get this far, but here we are…three books released out into the wild, and all done DIY.
It’s been one hell of a ride, folks. Sure, I’m glad it’s over and I can now, finally, dedicate the majority of my time to new projects. But right now I’m just feeling a bit of pride that I believed in this project and saw it through to the end, however long it took. I learned a hell of a lot along the way — the writing and publishing knowledge that will stay with me throughout my writing career. I met a lot of cool friends and fellow writers as well.
Yeah, I think I’m gonna stick with this gig. It’s grown on me. 🙂
Most of the time was spent focusing on releasing the first edition of The Persistence of Memories as well as cleaning up and releasing the next edition of A Division of Souls. And once those were taken care of, I focused solely on the Big Galley Edit of The Balance of Light. As of today I am about one third of the way through transcribing my manual edits to the digital document, which will then be formatted to both e-book and trade paperback.
[Side note: I’m worried that TBoL is still going to be quite a long book, so while it’s going to remain a single e-book, I may have to split it up into two trades just to keep the price and size down. More on that when I get closer to finishing this portion of the project.]
The Persistence of Memories had an official drop date of 15 April of this year, about six months after the first book. I haven’t nailed down a specific release date for The Balance of Light yet, but again, the closer we get to the end of this edit, quicker I’ll be able to do so.
All that said, I had to make do without a few other projects in the interim. I put aside any actual work on future Mendaihu Universe books until this one was finished. I also put aside any non-MU ideas that have been brewing; I haven’t trunked them, they’re just on hiatus. In addition to that, I’d also put a temporary stop on my Daily 750 Words exercises. I wanted to clear my desk and get rid of any extraneous assignments and deadlines so I could focus completely on finishing the Bridgetown Trilogy.
The unprecedented decision, however, was to stop writing poetry. I’d come to the realization that it had stopped being something useful to me some time ago. I’d used poetry as a personal experiment for a good few decades: a creative release for my personal dreams, irritations, ponderings, or whatever. But it hadn’t been that for at least two or three years; it has become less of an outlet and more of a chore, and thus less enjoyable. So I wrote one last long poem, closed that composition notebook, and filed it away. I haven’t written one since. Will I ever pick it up again? Who knows. Maybe, but I think I’d need to put some real thought and dedication into that form and do it right this time, instead of the way I used to write it.
So. What’s up for 2017, then?
Aside from releasing The Balance of Light sometime in the early months, who knows. It’ll be the first time in decades where the Mendaihu Universe (and in particular, these three books) won’t be weighing down on me. The slate will be fully clean. For the first time in a LONG time, I’ll be able to fully focus on a completely new project.
I’ll be able to start in on one or more of those Possible Ideas I have on hiatus. A few more stories in the Mendaihu Universe, for starters. I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, where New Projects are concerned, but once I’m ready, I’ll be planning like a fiend.
I would also like to return to the Daily 750 exercise again. Over the past couple of years it has been a great Word Playground for me, and at least three possible future novel project ideas have come out of it. And of course, I’d like to return to a stable blogging schedule. Those things go out the window for everyone at the end of the year, so I’m not beating myself up too much over them not being timely. Come next year, however, I’m going to make the best effort to stick to it.
I’d also like to practice more on my book cover artwork. As I keep saying, doing the covers for my Trilogy was an unexpected joy for me, to the point that I could see myself doing cover art as a possible career step.
I do have some Big Plans regarding the business side of my writing career. In the next year I’ll be making some very big, very important steps towards raising the bar. [Yes, I know, that’s a business-speak phrase and I can’t stand that kind of talk, but it fits the situation.] I don’t want to share them just yet, but I’ve been thinking about them and planning them in my head for at least a few years now. I’d promised myself that 2017 would be the year they will become a reality. I’ve started giving myself a soft schedule to work with, and will soon be spending some offline time making this business plan work.
And yes, as soon as I’m ready to release these Big Plans upon the world, I’ll let you know!
All told, I think 2016 has been a stellar year for me, creatively. One of the best I’ve ever had. That’s not to say I wish I’d spent more time and dedication learning how to best sell my creative wares online and make money off it, but I’ve certainly reached goals that have been on my bucket list since I was at least ten years old. I’ve rarely looked at my sales numbers, but I’m not taking them too seriously for the moment. I scored a good number of downloads of both books during a month-long sale on Smashwords — a LOT more than I expected to get, to be honest — and while I earned no money, the fact that I did get that many hits meant quite a bit to me. It meant that I was doing something right. It meant I was closer to my goals as a professional author than I’d expected. I now know where I stand, what direction I should head in, and what to expect when I get there.
Which means that 2017 will be the year I step up my game and start making money off of the Dream Job I’ve always wanted since I was a kid.
Oof. Note to self: as much as I’m happy that I’ve FINALLY finished galley editing The Balance of Light, in hindsight I probably should not have stormed through the last six (albeit short) chapters in one marathon session last night. I climbed into bed and passed out around 11 last night. Exhausted, but happy.
That said…one MAJOR hurdle has finally been overcome! TBoL was a beast in need of taming, and over the last few months I did my best to do exactly that. Most of the prose that got the axe contained a lot of chaff to begin with — a lot of lengthy phrases that were culled down to much shorter sentences, a lot of visual cues that were cut, a lot of filler words that weren’t needed. As this edit took place purely on paper, I have no idea how many words I cut, but I’m sure I cut a lot of them.
So what’s next?
Well, next is the physical printing of The Persistence of Memories. I have a galley copy here that’s been marked up and everything, I just need to clean up the e-book and prepare the physical copy for release.
Then, one more time with TBoL: create the e-book and physical copy for release.
And that’s it? No more work on the Bridgetown Trilogy? I can put it to bed?
Well, not quite. I have something special that I’d like to prepare for a March 2017 release; something to celebrate it being twenty long years since that first writing session that started it all. A special e-book release, maybe with some fun extras? And maybe shiny collector’s edition versions of the physical releases with extra stuff? Who knows. But it’s gonna be fun!
And then I’ll have to think of what to work on next!
It occurred to me that twenty years ago as of the 23rd of September, it’s been twenty years since I’d started what would be one of my favorite jobs ever. Never mind that it was a fifty-mile, hour-long commute one way. Never mind that it didn’t pay enough for me to quickly get caught up on all my bills.
Dude: I was working in a record store. That’s all that mattered.
But I’m not going to go into detail about the store too much here; I’ll be doing that over at Walk in Silence tomorrow.
No, instead, I’ll talk a little about the food court, which was across the way from my store.
The mall was built around 1995 into 1996, so it was still shiny and new when I started working there. HMV was the first and only music store there at the time –not to mention this was before the file-sharing boom — so in those few years I worked there, we did pretty good business. We were in a good spot as well, so kids were always stopping in on their way to meet their friends elsewhere.
The last time I was at that mall was ten years ago, when we went to visit a few people in the area and had some time to kill. It hadn’t changed in the six years since I’d left the job, other than that the store closed up in 2001 and a Hollister was put in its place. A brief visit to the mall’s website shows that a lot of the original stores are still there.
HMV was the first long-term job I started after I moved back from my ill-fated stay in Boston a year before. After the short-term stay at the Leominster Sony theater, a six-month stay at WCAT, and a temp job at my mother’s bank downtown, I had to get hired somewhere, most likely out of town. I loved my hometown, but I’d long grown out of it. I needed to figure out a way to live in the larger world.
Writingwise, I’d kind of dried up a bit. The process of writing True Faith had stuttered to a halt for personal reasons. I’d given up trying to rewrite the Infamous War Novel by this point, having finally trunked it. The songwriting and the poetry were drying up as well. It definitely wasn’t that I’d given up…it was that I had nothing to write about.
When I started the job at HMV, I wasn’t exactly sure how long it would take me to get there and back (even though I’d timed it during my initial interview in mid-August), so I would make it a point to get there with time to spare. My hours were from opening to late afternoon: somewhere around 9 to 5. Eventually I timed it so I’d get there about an hour to a half-hour early. I’d sit out in the food court with another coffee and relax. No stress when I started the job proper, then.
It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a perfect time to do some writing.
By late 1996-early 1997 I was out there every morning, working on something. My usual spot was the table closest to the store. [In the food court picture above, it would be right in front of that Dunkies at the far right. I chose that one deliberately so I would see the store’s lights go on when whoever opened got there before me, signalling it was time for me to clock in.]
I started The Phoenix Effect on 9 March 1997 at that table. A number of personal and creative events had taken place between the start of my job and that date, and that morning I chose to start a completely new story. I had no idea where I was going with it at first, other than the fact that it picked up where I’d left off with the spiritual/new age story ideas of True Faith and expanded on them significantly. It would be less dystopian, that was for sure.
Soon I was writing three to five handwritten pages a day before I started the job. I timed it so I’d get those words done, skip out for a quick smoke (a bad habit I’d picked up in college a few years previous), and then head off to my job.
After about a month of that, I realized it would probably be for the best that I start transcribing all this new work so I could start editing and revising it. I’d already moved my computer downstairs to the basement of my parents’ house and was already working on other transcription projects and whatnot. It seemed like the right thing to do.
By late 1997 and into early 1998, I was finishing up the handwritten version of The Phoenix Effect and working on a good solid revision, and by the end of that year I was ready to try my hand at submitting it to agents and publishers. I was also working on a sequel during my morning mall sessions. And I’d kept up with the publishing field as I went along. I knew what I was doing, and what I wanted to do.
This was the first novel since the IWN that I’d completed and submitted back in 1987, so I considered all this a pretty damn good milestone. Even as TPE was rejected left and right (and for good reason), I knew then I had a chance of making this a lifelong career.
I knew I was a writer at that point.
Alas, by early 2000 the job had become unbearable due to the change in management, hierarchy and schedule. I still made it a point to work on my writing on a daily basis, but it had become close to impossible to keep the same writing habits I’d had just a few years earlier. The most I could do is head down to the Belfry every night and work on revisions. I became stubborn about it. I would not give this up.
By autumn 2000, I’d quit that job and started a new one on the other side of the state. It was a shorter commute (thirty miles instead of fifty), the pay was better, and the schedule was a hell of a lot more stable. By early 2001 I’d switched to first shift, which let me out at 2pm. I had the entire afternoon and evening to write.
And write I did. And I’ve never stopped since.
Twenty years later and that novel went through numerous revisions and morphed into a trilogy and an expanded universe. My music now comes to me from streaming radio stations, ripped cds and downloaded mp3s, and is all stored on two tiny external hard drives each about the size of an index card. I work from home and my commute is one room over. I’ve self-published two books of the trilogy, with the third on the way.
I still think about that store from time to time. I still consider it one of my favorite jobs ever, even if it was retail. Even near the end, when my manager and I weren’t getting along. Being surrounded by music all day kept me happy and entertained.
And most importantly, the job helped me create a solid and dependable writing schedule, and it helped me prove to myself that I could balance a Day Job and the Writing Career at the same time with minimal issue.
Without that, I’m not entirely sure where I’d be in my writing career today.
While doing the Big Edits and the galley edits of my trilogy, I noticed that with each book, I set the main plot’s Point of No Return in the exact middle of the story. Not that it’s necessarily where the one Act ends and another starts; it’s merely a concrete point in the story where enough has happened and the only way out is forward. It’s the point where one or many of the characters face the No Turning Back Now part of their arc.
I don’t even try to do it consciously. I’m aware that it’s one spike of many in the story arc, just like they all are, but I don’t always plan it to be the most important one. Most of the time, it just ends up that way.
The climax of the story is near the end where it should be, of course…but this isn’t the climax I’m talking about. It’s the point where the characters may pause and finally get their bearings and finally truly see just how deeply they’ve embedded themselves. [Out of amusement, I’ve sometimes called it the “oh shit we really are screwed aren’t we” moment.]
And this moment can happen at any time, really. And it can happen numerous times within the span of a book or a series. But there’s usually one true Point of No Return moment. And somehow I’ve figured out where to put it exactly in the middle of my stories!
As I’ve said before…I may have a side job on my hands.
See, this started back in the mid 80s when I was in junior high. I was more obsessed with music and band discographies than I was in sports. Even then I could tell you what song what was on which album, if I knew the band well enough.
One summer afternoon, I’d made up a fake band and had a little bit of fun coming up with a fake discography to go along with it. [I don’t remember the band’s name but the ersatz label I came up with was Plazmattack. Don’t ask me where that came from.] I went into detail, coming up with song titles, album names, all the way down to the multiple singles and EPs.
I never actually followed up with writing and recording the songs, as I was fifteen and didn’t have much musical ability. But I was a true music geek, and I was willing to take this fanciful idea for a spin. A few years later when a few friends and I started The Flying Bohemians, I actually made a detailed discography for our small but growing batch of songs. I even did a few cassette covers, taking blurry pictures I and my sisters had taken and pasting them on the insert cards.
Thirty years later and I’m about to embark on another fake discography for a future writing project.
And more than that, I’m about to pretend I’m an artist as well.
The above is my first attempt at a book cover for a story that doesn’t exist. It’s an experiment to see if I can actually pull it off. If I can, then my Secret Side Project may actually have legs and be worth pursuing.
Background: The title McCleever Street Blues predates the Vigil and the Mendaihu Universe by a year or two but is in the same setting and timeframe. It was to be a short story about a kid trying to get from one location to another in a sprawling city, and all the boundaries and distractions he had to deal with, as well as all the regular folk he’d see every day. I’ve never actually written it.
The picture itself was taken by me on my cell phone on Rue des Petits Champs in Paris late in the afternoon a few months ago while on vacation, and filtered through the Prisma app. I cropped it using Photoshop and added the title and byline using Pic Monkey. It’s a very rough outtake, of course. For starters, I’d do a much better job of the matte frames for the title and byline given more time and inclination.
So tonight I decided to play around a bit with the cover for The Balance of Light, even though it’s still quite some time before it’s going to see ebook or print. This one was tough, because I had an idea of what I wanted, but looking for the right picture was going to be a tough one. I wanted something to balance out the blue/yellow night view of A Division of Souls, so I knew it would have to be yellow/blue and morning. I had the color scheme down, but the picture was the tough part.
I’ve said before that I really love this part of the self-publishing process; I mean, really love it. Like, to the point that I may possibly do this as a side-job in the future. I love looking for that perfect shot. Trying to get the perfect crop balance. Figuring out whether to adjust the color or give it a bit of an effect. Playing around with fonts and text placement.
I’ll be honest, it’s like I’m making fake album covers. It’s something I used to do as a teenager with my mixtapes and the Flying Bohemians tapes.
Let’s take a quick look at the three covers I’ve made so far:
The cover for A Division of Souls was meant to invoke a few things: the setting (a metropolis, teeming with people), the time (at night), and mood (tense and mysterious). It’s also to serve as a tie-in to the very first scene. In short, my aim was to say: this is what the book’s going to make you feel.
The cover was also supposed to tie in with the other two books, which means that I also had to think ahead: what were the other two going to look like? I knew I’d have to keep a few visual motifs going…a city would have to be involved in all three, somehow; the images would need to evolve, just like the story itself. In this case, I created multiple ‘lightboxes’ in my Shutterstock account and started looking for pictures that would do exactly what I needed them to do.
The time it took to throw this one together was surprisingly quick, to be honest. Looking at it now, I can see a few things I should fix, but for the most part it went smoothly, once I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The cover for The Persistence of Memories was a bit trickier, and I think it looks better as an e-book cover than it does as a trade paperback cover, but I do like how it came out. The same rules applied here…in this case the setting was twofold: it takes place both on Earth and on Trisanda, so I chose to do a ‘satellite’ point of view that shows both the city below and the stars above. Time seems to be fluid in this shot. It seems to be late night in the city below, blanketed by the similar blue (not exactly the same but close) of the first book, but in the heavens, time is irrelevant; it’s all light and dark at the same time. It also creates a dreamlike mood, where you’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what isn’t.
The placement of the title was purely serendipity, to be honest; I did not expect the top two words to be in space and the bottom two to be in the planet’s atmosphere. It just turned out that way and worked out quite nicely. Funnily enough, once I’d noticed that, I was torn on exactly where I should place it…the other outtake had the title dropped a tiny bit lower, so the “of” is resting right on top of the gray cloud line instead of hovering over it like it is.
I haven’t made a solid decision yet on what the Book 3 cover will look like but this is what I came up with tonight:
I’m still playing around with the font color for the title, as well as the placement of the text. The picture hints at the metropolis of ADoS, but the mood and the time is different: we’ve gotten through the late night of Book 1 and the witching hours of Book 2, and now we’ve come to the morning after of Book 3. The yellow of the sunlight is supposed to hint at the yellow font of Book 1, and I’m still trying to figure out which bluish hue would be good for the title (to hint at the blue cityscape of ADoS).
True, it does kind of hint at new-agey books, but that’s kind of the point…the characters and the planet itself has gone through a spiritual awakening of sorts. And like Book 2, it serves a dual purpose: the physical awakening from that dreamlike state, and the spiritual awakening.
One thing I learned early during this process was that I shouldn’t merely look for something that ‘looks cool’, no matter how tempting it may be. The last thing I needed was to look for something shiny, because I didn’t want the casual viewer to say ‘wow, what a flashy cover’ but not completely connect with it or remember it. I wanted something unique. Something that stood out from other covers, not because it was the flashiest, but because it was different. Something to catch their attention because it stood out just enough.
These first three are my first attempts at doing book covers, and as you’ve probably noticed, there are no actual people on the cover. This was a conscious choice; not only is it because of the large cast, but because I also wanted to invoke the idea that it wasn’t just my characters being affected by the story, but planet itself.
My next couple of projects do involve a much smaller cast, so there’s a very good chance I may use people (or silhouettes) on their covers. I did a brief Shutterstock search for those and found a few ideas to work with, and I’m looking forward to these when I get to that point. The main drafts of these stories haven’t even been written yet, or at least not completely, so again this was a bit like creating fake album covers! In the process it’s giving me something fun to look forward to.
Book II in the Bridgetown Trilogy, The Persistence of Memories, is part of a month-long promotion at Smashwords — all you need do is insert the coupon code ‘SFREE’ when you purchase this book and it’s all yours! https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/625392