Update…and thanks!

Thanks

First up, thanks (again) to all those who’ve bought Kinsmen Die in recent weeks. I hope folks enjoy it. Please, let me know what you thought of it!

Preorder Now: Dark Grows the Sun

After literally months of dithering I’ve launched the preorder for Dark Grows the Sun, my second book. It picks up right where KD left off. I think the writing in DGtS is better overall and the book itself is much “tighter” than KD. IMO. We’ll see what y’all think.

Here’s a couple minor examples of specifically how the writing is a bit cleaner/better.

In KD, I used the word “like” 693 times in ~642 pages … or 1.08 per page. In DGtS, I used “like” 279 times in ~375 pages … or 0.74 per page. That’s still a lot…but, like, a lot less. In KD, I used MANY similes, all the similes. I still used quite a few in DGtS…but fewer. And in my third book I’ll use even less.

In KD, I used the word “just” 478 times … 0.69 times, dude, per page. In DGtS, I used “just” just 80 times … 0.21 times per page. I’ve come to just hate the word “just.” It’s just awful, I mean, if I could just stop using it my writing would improve even if just slightly. In my third book I just won’t use that word.

Why did I dither?

Lots of reasons. Most of the advice I’ve read and heard for book launches is this: rapid release a series to a mailing list in order to keep sales flowing in Amazon…which will “trick” their algorithm into recommending the book(s) and thus keep them visible which will help prevent the book dropping off the 90-/60-/30-day sales cliff. And then advertise/market. Also, the more books in your backlist, the better.

It’s not bad advice. It works for many authors. The problem is: I don’t have a mailing list, I don’t have an audience, I don’t have a series, I don’t have a backlist.

I didn’t market KD (which resulted in marginal sales)…based on other advice from authors. — i.e., it’s a waste of time & money to market only one book)…because you’ve nothing else to follow up with. Made some sense.

So, I allowed KD to languish. I was also hip deep in writing DGtS…and I had three small kids…and a full-time job. Adding advertising & marketing to my life just (hah!) wasn’t appealing.

Skip forward three years and I have marginally more time available. And a second book. So I figured /why not. YOLO.

On advice of an author who’s in a Facebook group I’m in, I bought Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing for Authors course. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the price, but it did explain the basics of how Facebook ads work and how to build the ads, basic terminology — learning curve type stuff.

But, wait, there’s more!

Based on that course (and other sources) it was clear that I needed a reader magnet to get people onto my mailing list. I needed that list to market to. Which meant I needed a landing page…and email copy…and a newsletter…and, dangit, ad copy…an ad…and an ad plan. And I needed to get it RIGHT otherwise people wouldn’t click or sign up or buy or whatever.

So, I tried finding an assistant to handle the marketing, etc. She (and others) wanted $130 to consult with me about what I needed to do. Yeah, no.

But do you see what I did? Added hurdles. Disincentives. I dithered.

About three weeks ago, I said “eff it.” Screw the mailing list. Screw these stupid hurdles. I put a Facebook ad together and launched it. Lo and behold, some people out there in the world liked the ad well enough to buy KD and preorder DGtS.

The impact of this forward movement was a huge confidence boost. People are interested; people will click & buy. All that other stuff — mailing list, audience building, etc., — is super important and I will circle back to it. But for now, I’m just happy folks are reading my book(s).

My advice for authors…

For what it’s worth (and I’m happy to answer questions, etc.): Do it. If you have one book, advertise it. If you have two, advertise ’em. Get them out there. Promote them. Do it.

Sure, maybe the ads will suck or you’ll make mistakes (that last part’s gah-rawn-teed), but you’ll be learning.

In the months ahead…

I’m currently writing (off and on, as the disir moves me) a short saga / novella that I’ll use as a freebie to get folks onto my mailing list. Or just to “hand out,” as it were. And it’s written such that I can continue her saga should I so choose.

The short saga is about the ordeal of Kesa Garinsdottir (a character of my own creation). She’s off stage during one event in Kinsmen Die where Thor attacked a Jotunn mining town. She and her warband take shelter in a Jotunn stone-home. Things go downhill from there.

I chose that event b/c of a scene (and character) deleted from Kinsmen Die — a Jotunn scout named Hyrrokin. (She figures in Baldr’s funeral.) Hyrrokin became Kesa because the name Hyrrokin ended up not making sense in the emerging story. The chapters and events I’d written about Hyrrokin also went by the board b/c they too didn’t make sense. (I’ve deliberately used one “k” in Hyrrokin’s name.) But maybe they will someday.

I ended up creating a new adventure for Kesa that tied into some mysteries Odin experienced in Kinsmen Die…and answered those mysteries while introducing something new that ties into other things that Odin experiences in DGtS. I nearly busted my arm patting myself on the back after that.

I also threw in another “easter egg” of sorts that probably only I would ever get and maybe those I played World of Warcraft with back in the day (and folks who read this). In my short saga, Kesa eventually meets Kali Varensdottir. Kali also figured in Kinsmen Die; she was Vafthrudnir’s shaman apprentice. But, I never used her last name — not b/c I didn’t know it at the time or anything /cough.

In WoW, my “main” for Legion was a monk named Kalivaren. One of my (many) alts was Kesagarin. Before that, Kalivaren was a rando name generated for me in Elder Scrolls Online. Kesagarin is from one of the Jack Aubrey / Steven Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian. Always loved the name and that particular character. The series is fantastic (except for the last couple books) particularly when read by Patrick Tull.

The short saga of Kesa Garinsdottir will be finished sometime in 2020.

Book Three

I’m still in the planning phase of writing the third book in my first series. I’ve kinda stalled out in the last few weeks b/c I hit a wall in how events in the last quarter of the book were playing out.

Essentially, I need certain characters doing certain things in certain places at certain times and none of it was lining up right. And that’s largely b/c the myths require certain participants. For example, Thor catches Loki, but in my narrative I’d sent Thor away (for reasons) and I can’t figure out how to believably get him back where the myths say he should be.

The major difference in my writing process with Book 3 versus my prior books is this: I’m not writing full chapters yet. I’m basically iterating on outlines and getting increasingly more detailed as I go, so I’m not writing a full scene and then throwing it out in a year (ideally). Instead, I’m figuring out what I need and (eventually) writing just that.

I’ll go into more detail on what I’m doing in a future post. Till then, stay safe & thanks again!

Would you yet know more? Buy Kinsmen Die; Preorder Dark Grows the Sun.

Aaand back, again.

A long time since posting, largely due to some unexpected family stuff (ongoing & unresolved). Since early December, I’ve been:

  1. Sitting on the finished version of Dark Grows the Sun. It’s uploaded to Amazon but I haven’t hit “publish” yet because I’m…
  2. Working thru some marketing/advertising stuff that I need to get a handle on if I want even modest success as an author. This stuff sounds simple — book blurbs, Facebooks/AMS ads & building an email list — but the nitty-gritty is tough and time-consuming. Doesn’t help that my time is already split a dozen ways. It’s also depressing af.
  3. I’m also considering un-publishing Kinsmen Die so I can serialize it on a different platform. I need to grow my audience and the only way to do that, basically, is generate awareness. I can’t leverage KD across other (or multiple) platforms while “shackled” to Amazon. I hesitate b/c this approach doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates different problems. But, different problems that are easier to solve? Dunno.
  4. Writing a “reader magnet” short story that shows a different angle on the same story in my novels. It’s meant to be a short, snappy intro to the world and conflict. I’d intended to finish it by Jan 6, but that didn’t happen. I have the story worked out. I just need to rewrite it a couple thousand times while…
  5. Planning & plotting my third book: I want the outline/framework as complete as possible before starting to write. I can tell that I’ll still be “pantsing” my way through some of it, but my goal is to nail the turning points before I start writing. The prior 2 books were much more fleshed out before I started writing unlike this third book. I’m hoping that a month spent planning will save more than a month of rewriting & revision. If it doesn’t, then I should’ve just pants’d the whole damn thing.

As I reread the above, I realize how down in the dumps it sounds. Can’t have a flow without an ebb, right?

3. Fire he needs | who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes | must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.

Hávamal (https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm)

Done again, for now

Yesterday afternoon I submitted my “final” manuscript. I should get the edits back in early October.

In my last week of editing I used ProWritingAid to focus on issues in the writing. Two reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to re-read every chapter. Not only would it take too long but I’d get bogged down.
  2. I wanted to focus on removing words w/o rewriting every other sentence.

Words removed!

Here are the results of that process:

  • Starting word count: 91,971
  • Ending word count: 88,000
  • Words removed: 3,972 (~4.3% of the book)

Got report?

I used three PWA reports on three passes per chapter:

  • First pass, Sticky sentences: Sentences overloaded with “glue” words (and, in, the, of, etc.). On average I had ten of these sentences per chapter. Sometimes these are fixed by removing words or, more often, by rewriting the sentence.
  • Second pass, Writing Style: This report highlights issues involving passive and hidden verbs, over-reliance on adverbs, repeated sentence starts.
  • Third pass, Real-time: My final (quick) pass thru the chapter just to catch anything the first two reports missed (very little).

PWA has many other reports: cliche, structure, readability, pacing, overused, echoes, etc. I’m sure some of those also would have been valuable. In my unscientific “tests” of those reports, the three I settled on seemed to provide the most bang for my time. YMMV.

Next steps

During the next 6 weeks or so, my plan is to:

  • Put some time & effort into learning how to advertise & market. More on that later. This is critical.
  • Revisit the 67K words I’ve written for Book 3. Ninety percent of them werds is trash — old ideas, bad ideas, crap writing, wrong POV characters, obsolete plot points, etc. My goal is to get BK3 thoroughly revamped and outlined by year end. After that, It’ll probably take two years to write. Which is depressing.
  • Keep writing by working on my Lit-RPG series. I want to figure out a way to work on BK3 while also writing ~1,500 words in Lit-RPG…with the goal of publishing ’em every month as a serial adventure. More planning needed.

And, finally, if all goes well, DGtS will publish in December 2019. So, yeah, done but not done.

Before and After

Here’s another short example of a first-round edit to a chapter hook — the bad before and mediocre after.

Here’s the before (128 words)

Frigg watched sparks fly from the hooves of the two goats—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher—who hauled the cart through the sky. The skies rumbled like a rickety bridge beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart. At first, he was a speck in the sky no bigger than a distant bird. By the time she’d climbed down to the ground, Thor was overhead.

He circled the hilltop once, twice, leaning out over the rail as he peered down, and then guided the cart down to a bumpy landing. He stepped from the car, freed the goats from the traces so they could wander, and then in a booming voice said, “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s wrong with the above?

Nothing grabs you because:

  • Frigg is “watching” — inherently passive and boring.
  • The scene is about Frigg but the attention is on Thor.
  • Thor gets all the action, such as it is.

And here’s the after (107 words)

Frigg climbed down from Heimdall’s tower to greet the arriving Thor. The skies rumbled beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart as he circled above the hilltop, one hand raised in greeting. A pair of goats pulled his cart—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher. Their shod hooves hammered sparks from the air.

Somber, Frigg raised her hand in reply. Thor wouldn’t know why he’d been summoned. He’d flown faster than the news had spread.

The hilltop boomed first beneath the cart as it landed and then again beneath Thor’s voice. “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s better about it?

  • Frigg is more active; she’s doing something
  • We’re more in her head — she’s somber, there’s an inkling as to why Thor is arriving…which the reader knows but Thor clearly doesn’t.
  • It’s a little shorter

What’s wrong with the revision?

  1. The second sentence is clunkier than Thor’s cart.
  2. It’s still more about Thor than it is about Frigg.
  3. I’ve basically just reorganized the existing text. The transitions from ‘graph to ‘graph feel stilted.
  4. I think I’m cramming too much into that first paragraph. The bit about the goats needs to go, maybe. Frigg knows their names, so that’s an infodump that could either wait till later or just never be provided. It’s not relevant to the scene.
  5. It’s still boring.

I suspect I’ll end up ditching the last two sentences of the first paragraph and/or rewriting the entire hook. Either way, I’ll let ye olde subconscious work on it for a bit.

8 Days Out

I have eight writing days until my deadline (the 19th). Yes, that math doesn’t work, but I typically don’t write on the days my wife works.

Eight days works out to roughly 30 hours of writing (assuming I hit my average hours writing per day). That’s not a lot (especially considering I dropped ~16 into one scene). I could probably scrape together another ~8 hours, but I can’t count on that.

The good news is that the work I’ve transitioned into is mostly “editing.” For me this means going through each chapter. Repeatedly. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing.

Revising chapter hooks

I make sure that the first sentence of each chapter begins with:

  • The POV character’s name
  • An active verb
  • A decent hook.

This can mean considerable rewriting…or not. Depends.

Tip: If your opening paragraph is passive / boring, skip down a couple paragraphs. That may be where the “action” starts. Put that bit at the beginning and either delete or splice in the original chapter beginning. Usually does the trick. But, it takes some work. In my case I often end up “killing my darlings” … which are almost always purple. Or just bad.

Revising chapter endings

Search “how to end chapters” and you’ll get a bunch of hits with advice on how to end chapters. Personally, I can’t keep all that advice in my head at once.

I just try to do two things:

  • Always end in the character’s POV
  • Have them doing/thinking/saying something cool (that relates to the plot, etc.).

Then I move on — which leaves me where I am now: going back and working out the kinks.

Tip: I also try to tie the closing words / concept / thought / action of one chapter into the opening of the chapter right after it. Doing so can help pull the reader through from one to the other. I’m pretty crap at this.

Multiple editing passes

DGtS happens over a nine day period & that’s how I’ve organized my Binder in Scrivener. Each day consists of multiple POV chapters.

In my first “editing” pass I stick to one POV per book-day. Example: Odin has 2 chapters during Day 5. I’ll edit his consecutively rather than go: Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. This helps me keep the POV voice consistent from chapter to chapter.

During my second pass, I will work consecutively through each chapter so I’d edit Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. In this pass I’m more focused on the chapters flowing smoothly from one to the other.

Throughout these passes I’m looking at words: Are these the best words? Which words can I remove? Can I use fewer words to say the same thing?

But I also try not to get too nit-picky b/c that’ll slow down the overall process. And my editor will do that. But the cleaner my copy, the better her edit.

Wait, what?

I’m also looking for inconsistencies, plot holes, opportunities to improve clarity, etc. .

Here’s an example. A bunch of rebels get captured in one of my early scenes…and are never referred to again. That makes no sense because in two later chapters Odin interrogates one rebel and then another.

So, I had to figure out a simple way of weaving in a reference to that first group of rebels. I can’t write a new scene b/c I don’t have time and it’d detract from what I’ve already written.

My solution: A two-ish line reference by Odin that essentially said “those bad guys were questioned but had no actionable info.”

Follow that thread

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but there’s always a chance that when you change even a single line you have to fix everything else associated with that line. Just goes with the territory. I’ve chased quite a few already; hopefully won’t be too many more.

Overall, I’m confident I’ll hit my deadline. I’m at the point where more time won’t help…I’d just end up futzing with it. Gotta move forward!

Sixteen hours and counting

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having trouble rewriting a scene with Frigg in Ifington. I’ve (mostly) figured out the geography & layout of the city and its environs — enough to write about it, at least.

Scene Goals

The bigger issue continues to be the scene’s goals. Frigg has two plot arcs in DGtS. The first deals with Hodr. The second deals with Baldr.

The goals of the scene, then are to:

  1. Transition smoothly to the 2nd arc.
  2. Make Frigg feel guilty about saving Baldr.
  3. Tie into what’s going on with Odin
  4. Worldbuild without forcing it and/or infodumping

So, pretty standard stuff. But in this case, for me, tough. So far, I’ve spent at least 16 hours working on this scene.

I’m working! No, really

That’s not all pure writing, of course. A lot of it is:

  1. Staring at the screen, thinking
  2. Jumping off on short research tangents — e.g., I had to give Frigg a matronymic that made sense. Another one is finding names for minor characters. Ordinarily I’d skip this step but I’m doing it now b/c I have to deliver the book to my editor in less than a month.
  3. Looking for new music to listen to
  4. Getting up & moving around
  5. Writing, rewriting, editing

Right now, the scene’s at ~2,400 words. Back in March 2019 this same scene was ~1,300 words long. None of those original words are in the current scene which is fine b/c the original scene was pretty craptastic. Here’s why:

  1. It was passive. Frigg was either listening to people give reports, or describing events from a distance. The original scene began with her literally flying over the city and describing what she saw. /yawn
  2. It didn’t advance/complicate the plot.

Fixin’ stuff

Here’s how I’m trying to fix these issues.

  1. Make Frigg active from the get go. In DGtS I’ve done a much better job of starting scenes in medias res but it’s still not second nature.
  2. Getting her active in the scene’s events. My next pass will focus on making this better. I’m trying to believably make her start feeling guilty about Baldr b/c it helps make what comes in later scenes more impactful. That’s my working theory, at least.
  3. Advance the plot: Still weak here. Maybe by working on the prior point I can make the scene more effective.

Over the next week or so I’ll probably spend another four hours (at least) reworking this scene. Lotta effort that I hope pays off. All told I have roughly 42-ish hours of writing time before I send the book off. Many other things to work through in that time besides this one scene.

ATM, DGts is ~92K words. Kinsmen Die clocked in around 175K words. Which is nuts. Having written that huge book this second one feels a whole lot shorter (cause it is) and as a result, a whole lot more manageable.

Maps!

Whenever I hit worldbuilding snags I tend to switch mediums. My current issue is with one of Frigg’s scenes that I’m rewriting. In it, she flies from Jarnstadr (pictured below) to Ifington — and then she flies over Ifington itself.

The problem was I didn’t have a good picture of what Ifington looked like. So I kept confusing myself, hitting iterative, unproductive loops on describing the city — and then I just gave up….and started drawing.

In KD, I described Ifington in very broad strokes…

  1. Had been a settlement founded by the Jotunn which the Aesir took from them
  2. Was on a long strip of land connecting Asgard to Utgard
  3. Was split in at least two pieces by the river Ifing (which in myth is a boundary between Asgard and Utgard)..
  4. Had an “old bridge”
  5. Had two newer bridges somewhere in the city
  6. Had the Bay of Thund to the west and the Great Sea to the east

Rather than start by mapping Ifington (which I eventually did), I started drawing my world. I’d actually done it before, but this time I really dove into it.

What I’ve posted below is the fourth iteration of one section of my world. I’m no cartographer — nor much of an artist. But, this crude map has helped a lot even though it’s not the “final” iteration.

A portion of the world in KD and DGtS

Here’s a list of the things wrong with the map:

  • Ugly, heh.
  • Scale is totally whacked.
  • Jarnstadr should be north of Ifington, not east
  • A little inconsistent with some of what I wrote in KD
  • I don’t like that peninsula cutting down into the Great Sea.
  • I wanted the Thund closer to Ifington.
  • There should be more continent “west” of Gladsheim.

My sketch of Ifington itself is even cruder than this one. But, it’ll help me finish rewriting the scene tomorrow — which was the whole point.

Because of my days-long tangent, I’ve found some good map-making & worldbuilding resources. Check these guys out:

  • WASD20: draws fantasy maps & has some good tutorials on how to do it. He mentions a few other resources as well (which I haven’t looked at).
  • Stoneworks: some worldbuilding tips based on the real world. Good for maps as well as helping make sure your world makes sense.

I also tinkered with Inkarnate and watched some videos of Campaign Cartographer (CC3). Last year I had bought a year-long license of Inkarnate (it’s not expensive) and tinkered with it here and there. CC3 looks pretty powerful but also time-consuming.

If I’ve learned anything from these past few days it’s this: I’m a writer who dabbles in map-making not the other way around.

From down in the weeds…

In the editorial report my editor sent me, one of her comments was this:

Inelegant variation and absolute phrases are no longer overwhelming the writing—where did the overwriting go?

I bolded the last part because I wanted to show an example of my own overwriting.

In working on DGtS I’ve been going back into Kinsmen Die to make sure I’m getting my continuity right — events, description, etc. As I do that I’m having to re-read my own writing…which is sometimes a little cringe-inducing.

Here’s an example of the old:

…as if they were caught amid a school of silvery fish. Below them, a river of frozen stars coursed outward, flowing like molten rock and singing with the voice of an avalanche.
The river stretched like a sea monster’s tentacle back into the Hvergelmir, which lay spread below them like an open-petaled flower. At this remove, the cauldron’s voice was the merest susurration, but the way it swirled and spun like fast-moving storm clouds entranced his eye just as it always had. It had thrown eleven giant arms out across the face of the Ginnungagap. The roaring cauldron was fed from above by a never-ending cascade of white fire and from below by red roiling fire.

Kinsmen Die, Matt Bishop

And here’s the new. I wrote it without first going back to see what how I’d originally described the Ginnungagap.

He stared down into a familiar place—the Ginnungagap. Red roiling fire blasted into the Gap from below; flowing ice plummeted from above. And where the two torrents met, the Roaring Cauldron churned, stretching out eleven mighty arms across the Gap. And still the Gap was unfilled.

Dark Grows the Sun, forthcoming, Matt Bishop

So I’m not saying the newer version is good per se, but I do think it’s better than what I wrote 2+ years ago.

And that’s some of the fun of writing — looking back and seeing the progress.

I bent my Wookie…

And then I broke my book. Here’s how.

My editor had said that my manuscript was pretty solid overall. Scattered throughout the chapters, though, were comments like “how does this advance the plot?” or “how does this complicate things for XYZ?”

Oh my darling…

For example, I have an encounter between Odin and a woman who’ll be important in Book 3. I like that scene for several different reasons, but it doesn’t really move Odin’s plot forward in the second book. I’m still wrestling with how to fix it (if it’s even possible).

Oh my darling…

Here’s another example. Toward the end of the book while Odin is spiraling downward into his “black moment of despair” he has a somewhat light-hearted conversation with a giant squirrel named Ratatoskr. There’s a lot of worldbuilding in the scene, good dialogue and some humor.

But the tone puts the brakes on Odin’s downward spiral. It relieves reader tension rather than intensifying it.

When I started trying to fix that scene I attempted to bend it to my will. Odin must speak to Ratatoskr! (Because I like the scene.) He must! It’s IMPORTANT! (Because I like the scene!)

Okay, fine, bending doesn’t work. It might be a good scene, but it’s in the wrong place.

The ripple effect

So I moved it. But that caused more problems: It had to be tweaked to reflect its new place in the book, and then I had to shift other scenes and tweak those, etc.

And then I had to solve time & place issues. These are particularly thorny because several events can only happen at certain times because, in part, it takes an established amount of time to get from Gladsheim to Helheim at a normal pace (three nights). I fudged it slightly b/c it could plausibly be done faster if you’re in a rush — but not twice as fast.

And when Hel and Hermod converse, Odin needs to be with or near Heimdall so that he can find out about it. And then they need to get word to Frigg which only Odin can do.

Yep, busted.

So, that’s how it gets complicated…and that’s how I broke my book.

Here’s the question, though, was it broken to begin with and I just didn’t realize it? My guess is “yes.” My editor spotted those flaws — maybe for a different reason entirely — pointed ’em out, and when I pushed on ’em…they crumbled.

With all that said, the book IS fundamentally good. I feel it in mah bones. But I need to set those bones and let ’em heal over.

And to put all of the above a different way: Kill your darlings.