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.

It’s back!

I got my manuscript back this past week. The verdict? It’s good! In fact, it’s so good that I may have clawed back some production time — maybe get it published this summer or early fall versus year-end. Which means BK3 gets started that much sooner.

And, yes, I think I’m going to write BK3 before branching out into side stories. A complete three-book series is a better foundation to build on even if that third book will take a couple years to produce.

Spoilers ahead!

Srsly, I’m gonna spoil some stuff in broad strokes….

srsly.

yep.

OK.

High-level spoilers

Kinsmen Die established the conflict between Aesir and Jotunn while also working in the related players…the Svartalvar, the witches, the Norns and the wyrm. And it shows that Loki and his need for revenge is a key factor.

Among other things, Dark Grows the Sun puts that conflict with Loki on centerstage while stoking the conflict between Aesir and Jotunn as a backdrop.

Book Three is the culmination of all of the above. But, it is not Ragnarok…though it’s gonna feel like it. BK3 details the events that transform the Aesir and Jotunn and all the related players into the myths that we have today. Mostly.

Actual Ragnarok in my universe happens much later.

Related stories

After BK3, I have a quite a few books/stories in mind:

  1. One that dives into the Svartalvar via at least one POV character. At the moment, this story is both a prequel to Kinsmen Die and runs concurrent with those books. And, these books are mostly written (though they’d need heavy reworking).
    • The ultimate fate of these Svartalvar books depends on what I end up writing in Book 3.
    • Beyond the Svartalvar books I already have in mind, there’s a whole series I could write about my imagined civil war among the Alvar that ends up in the division between the Light Alvar and the Dark Alvar. This would be a prequel on the Aesir side to the Kinsmen Die books, but would enable me to dive into the Vanir gods — Freyr, Freyja, Njord, Skadi, etc.
    • My Vanir are very different culturally from my Aesir, so it’d be pretty refreshing to develop that sub-universe.
    • The Alvar, light and dark, are prominent in both KD and DGtS so it’d be a pretty easy to build off of those references.
    • And then there’s the Aesir-Vanir War. That’s at least one book right there. It’d be cooler to write that from the Vanir perspective, though.
  2. I have another book in mind (and partially written) that follows Vafthrudnir after Book 3. His story is interwoven with the Svartalvar and then ties back in with Odin’s at a later date.
  3. A series that deals with us humans, one in particular, that takes place in a near-future setting. A good chunk of this series is already written as a portal fantasy. And, this is the series that I could re-write in the lit-rpg genre and then blend back into fantasy / space opera. Maybe. There are some big downsides to genre blending not the least of which is subverting reader expectations in a bad way. I do have a cool idea for how to work it, though.
  4. And then I have the book about Hyrrokin which would fill in some detail about my Jotunn world. A solid chunk of it is written since I pulled it out of KD and DGtS. Her story pertains to the Jotunn worldbuilding some of which is alluded to in Dark Grows the Sun. Her timeline is concurrent with the Kinsmen Die trilogy…and then goes beyond it to tie in with Vafthrudnir’s story if I want to expand her story.
  5. I really like the part in Snorri that describes Hermod’s right down to meet Hel. Hermod’s entire plot was cut from Dark Grows the Sun, so I’ve a good framework for a standalone, short novel.
  6. And then there’s a whole series of books that become possible AFTER Ragnarok happens. Actually, that myth would be a good subject for a future blog post…particularly since I heavily reference it toward the end of DGtS.

But for all that to be written, I gotta get through the next couple books. So much to do…so little time ūüôā

It’s away!

This morning I finalized the “first” draft of the Dark Grows the Sun (DGtS) manuscript and emailed it to my editor. Wewt!

The book clocked in at 87,390 words which is right about where I want it. I expect the final version (which is a long ways away) to be roughly the same word count.

The edits will be…

I’ve hired my editor to provide two rounds of developmental editing and one round of line editing. Parlance can vary, so here’s an overview of what I’m getting:

  • Developmental edit: recommendations for the underlying structure of the story, including plot, character motivations, conflict, point of view, dialogue, and more.
  • Line edit: line ¬≠by ¬≠line recommendations on usage and style, including extensive edits and comments designed to polish the writing while respecting and preserving individual voice and style.

Gonna take some time…

This is going to be a lengthy process. I’ll get the first round comments back by the end of January. (I want them now!) From there, we’ll figure out how long it’ll take to do the first revision. All of the editing on her end will take about 3 months (2 rounds of developmental plus 1 round of line at one month each).

So best case, I’ll be able to publish DGtS by year-end 2019 or maybe early 2020. We shall see.

A 3rd book? I don’t think so…

My “And the Heavens Burn” series will have a third book. But not for a while. There are two main reasons:

  1. KD isn’t selling (yet). I’m assuming DGtS won’t sell, either, UNLESS I do something different. I’ll be researching what to do this month (Jan 2018).
  2. I want to write different stuff…change it up a bit. Keep it fun.

And by different I mean…

I want to write shorter books that are focused around a single main character. By shorter I mean about 40K words.

A few reasons for that:

  1. It’ll be fun to dive into a single POV and run with it whether it’s written in first person or third-person limited.
  2. I think I can learn more by writing more, shorter books than fewer, longer books. I’d like to get better at POVs for one thing.
  3. Shorter books should take less time to write and cost less to edit. That means more books written in the roughly the same amount of time for roughly the same cost. (1 book @ $1200 editing costs versus 3 books at $400 editing costs per book. Numbers are for example only).
  4. Cover art! Covers are cool. Sure I’d be spending more on covers but there are some great premades out there for not a lot of cha-ching.
  5. With more books out there, I have more to market and bundle and sell.

Genre jumping

A few weeks ago, I knocked out a ~1200 word “chapter one” that’s best described as Lit-RPG. I don’t remember why I wrote it except that I was having exceptional trouble working on DGtS, my mind wandered and out came that lit-rpg story.

I sent it to a few friends and they liked the concept. Incidentally, the story was written in first person POV and it flowed quite naturally. Fun.

I don’t know if I’ll pick that story back up again, but it might be fun to tinker with. And I can leverage my existing magic system & worldbuilding.

I envision my Norse-inspired world on a continuum that runs from fantasy to sci-fi / space opera to dystopia / post-apocalypse. Heck, I could even do a thriller set in the Norse world. Or a Holmesian mystery.

So rather than shackle myself to a third epic fantasy, why not explore other genres? The writing needs to be fun!

Other characters…

I also have a few characters that I’ve cut from KD and DGtS whose stories I really want to explore. Hyrrokin tops the list. And I think her tale is perfect for a 40K book.

Vafthrudnir is another example. I cut him from DGtS, but his backstory could be a prequel. And his future adventures could bridge into the whole Jotunn story that I’ve only hinted at yet.

And then there’s my Svartalvar characters about whom I’ve written at least ~150K words — they’re mostly crap words, but hey, I really want to get to them. Their stories tie directly into the events in “And the Heavens Burn” trilogy and then go beyond it.

If I proceed linearly, then it’ll be a decade before I get to them. But if I go short and hop around, then I could publish their stories in a couple years.

That sounds a whole lot more fun. And, I really don’t want to just impact on the surface. Ouch.

Progress!

You’ve heard the “writing is a muscle” expression before, right? Well, my experience over the past couple months has definitely proved it true.

Another saying that’s been going through my head of late is this: “do you want to be a writer or someone who’s written a book?”

Believe it or not, answering that 2nd question was kinda tough. It was easier to go through the motions…to say “meh, writer’s block” and quit after an hour or so of staring at the keyboard. And after a few months of that, well, you start to wonder — is this effort worth it? I could be doing other stuff with my non-family, non-job time.

What are you prepared to do?

But I kept coming back to wanting to create something. And I’d only just started…and I don’t like quitting just because it was tougher than I thought it would be. And, I have enough regrets in my life.

So back at the beginning of September, I decided to be a writer.

Step one was to quit playing WoW. Just doing that reclaimed a ton of time and dumped lots of stress.

Step two was to throw myself back into my 4 day a week writing habit. And by throw I mean omg it sucked.

I didn’t look forward to writing. The words weren’t flowing. Those that did were junk. I couldn’t move past the first third of the book — just kept going over it and over it and over it.

And, gradually, I was over it.

I was able to think more clearly about the book — timeline, plot, scenes I needed, scenes I needed to excise. I got past the first third of the book.

I wouldn’t say that things are amazing now, but I can feel the “flow” … time drops away and good stuff’s produced. Or at least good bones to hang stuff on.

So here are a few examples of what my progress looks like.

Stable word count ish

The book’s still hovering around 80K words which is my minimum word count goal for this book. That’s progress b/c despite the stuff I’m removing, I’m replacing a roughly equal amount of content…which, to me, means that the book’s concept is ok. And nothing plot-wise has changed since I went through that outlining process with my editor a year ago.

Moving past the beginning

As I said, I was stuck on the first third of the book. Never felt right. Too choppy. I couldn’t figure out how Frigg, for example, moved through the city and got into a bad situation (thanks to Loki). Nor could I figure out how she got out of that and then met up with a returning Odin. Nor how Loki stirred up trouble and planned future trouble before presenting himself to Odin and Frigg toward the end of the first section.

Well, now I have. Here’s an outline of how the first section of the book goes:

  • The book opens with Odin riding up from “Hel.”
  • Heimdall sees and hears him coming and, in Frigg’s scene, tells her that he’s coming. And he tells her that Thor is nearly to Gladsheim.
  • Loki presents himself at the great hall expecting to encounter Frigg. But, she’s not there. So Loki says he’ll stop by later — which gives him time to start trouble.
  • Since Thor’s not there yet, Frigg has time to speak with Hodr…and sets up her next interaction (with Thor).
  • Loki’s off starting trouble…which doesn’t pay off till later.
  • Frigg’s asked Thor to check out what Vidar found waaay up north. He agrees. And then she takes him to Baldr’s body…which puts her back near the great hall. Thor splits b/c he doesn’t want to see his father (which reinforces the bad blood between them).
  • Frigg goes into the hall, is told that Loki stopped by and will do so again later. She’s relieved b/c she didn’t want to deal with him w/o Odin. And, she’s told there’s a crowd gathering outside. She goes out & confronts the crowd.
  • Loki followed a crowd of people leading back up to the great hall, sees the crowd causing trouble for Frigg and decides to make it worse. As you do. Toward the end, he sees Odin riding up the road. Time to jet! But not before making it worse for Odin.
  • Cut to Odin riding up the hill, and then dealing with the fresh mob violence Loki just instigated.
  • Cut to Loki heading back down to a meeting with a certain someone. This clarifies a few things for the reader and sets up some future events.
  • Then cut back to Frigg in the aftermath of Odin dispersing the mob and then a new sequence that alternates between her and him — with a couple Loki scenes thrown in to build tension.

There’s a bit more to the book’s first third, but even writing this outline out fresh for this blog post it feels like it flows pretty well. (If you disagree, lemme know!)

Fixing later sequences, etc.

As with the above list of fixes, I did similar things later in the book to smooth events out. Some of this involved (and will involve) writing new scenes to flesh out sub-plots that are primarily there to give more depth to Odin, in particular, and to set up events in Book 3.

And best yet!

My editor checked in with me yesterday to make sure I was on track for the first round of manuscript evaluation on Jan 2.

I wasn’t sure, so I updated her on where I was and asked: Does my progress thus far match what you were expecting?

Her answer: Yep. This first critique will focus on the bigger picture stuff (plot, scenes) rather than the nitty gritty.

Phew. Like srsly. Phew.

And I got an extra week b/c she’s on vaca. Even better.

So when I hand the book in on Jan 7, it will be in pretty good shape. Not as polished as the first book I sent her a couple years ago but unlike that book, this one — Book Two — won’t be seeing massive plot shifts. I squared all that away last year. And like I said, it hasn’t changed.

I still have a ton of work ahead of me. And will do again come February.

But for now, it feels good to be a writer again.

 

Struggling.

Not much else to say. I sit down to write and my mind slides off the project like a dull knife off ice.

As an example,¬†last week I wrote in my notebook a summary of each scene in the arcs for Loki, Frigg and Odin. I was trying to reinvigorate my interest by refreshing my memory — and, in the process, maybe spot some problems I could fix. It was helpful.

But now, because we’re selling our house and had to declutter, I shoved that notebook somewhere and can’t find it. Sigh.

So, as I sit down this morning to write, I’m annoyed and uninterested in working on Dark Grows the Sun — so many places that need work that I don’t know where to start.

So, I opened ancient drafts that I last looked at in September 2015. That felt like less of a total time-waster. (Self delusion is fun.)

When I originally started writing, all of what I’m working on now was a great big mish-mash. Over time, I broke that mess into three “volumes”:

  1. Aesir, which further divides into my current projects:
    1. Kinsmen Die
    2. Dark Grows the Sun
    3. I Don’t Know Yet
  2. Svartalvar
  3. Humanity

My original idea was to have Aesir #3 blend into the first Svartalvar book.¬†Those of you who’ve read Kinsmen Die know that the Svartalvar have been mentioned numerous times but only seen once. The same goes for Dark Grows the Sun…except for one scene in which Odin sits upon the High Seat and looks down upon those “dark alvar.” As its written right now, Odin is the link between the two volumes.

Volume 2 dives right into the Svartalvar world via three characters: Sindri, Brokk and Eitri. Those familiar with Norse myth will recognize those names. They are the three “dwarves” who forged the weapons and items used by the Aesir — Gungnir, Mjolnir, etc.

Of course my three dudes are not those three dudes. Those names became titles/office which my three hold. As currently written. That may change if I decide that’s too stupid.

The goal of Volume 2 was to pick up at a point in Svartalvar history at which Sindri had discovered something amazing and then, through a series of accidents, come into contact with the Jotunn — specifically, Vafthrudnir. All of this is both the “prequel” to Kinsmen Die as well as running concurrently with the events in the Aesir volume. Book Two of Svartalvar is probably where they’ll link.

My goal with the third volume, Humanity, was to drag people into the Svartalvar world via Sindri and his experiments. That basic idea still works despite some changes I’ve made to how the universe is built.

The Humanity volume centers around a boy (Rowan) and a young female fox (Brinn). It’s in this volume that humans (via Rowan) come into direct contact with the Aesir. And its where Vidar starts to become a whole lot more like Odin. (Vidar was my gateway back into Norse myths and the dude around which everything initially revolved.) Oh, and those of you who know Norse myth know how important the rowan tree is ūüôā

Looking back at it now, “Humanity” is very young adult (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and very quest oriented…which I had major problems with because I poorly used the “MacGuffin” technique.

Overall, there’s some really cool material in those later volumes which I’m eager to get to. It’s also nice to see that my writing has gotten better.

But as I sit here languishing in the mire that Dark Grows the Sun has become, I wonder when I’ll ever get to that material. And it’s depressing. I need Westley to dive into the lightning sand and haul my ass out. But, sadly, I am my own Buttercup and my own Westley.

Delayed!

I’ve pushed the publication of my second book back by about a year. Few reasons for that:

  • Lot of stuff happening with my family; that’s more important
  • Feeling rushed. There’s working under pressure and producing a good product for your editor to read and then there’s just slapping words on the page, knowing they suck. The latter just wastes her time and my money.
  • Troubles with theme and timelines.

Timelines will be the death of me. I’m continually struggling over making sure everyone is where they should be WHEN they should be and that it took a reasonable amount of time for them to get there. I’ll think I have it fixed only to start writing another scene and I’ll realize things are out of whack. And once you move one event, the changes ripple.

Theme. Ah, theme. I have three intertwined plots in my 2nd book: Loki, Frigg and Odin. They’re all twined around the…spoiler!

…spoiler!

…srsly…this next bit is a spoiler…

 

 

…the death of Baldr. Which is probably not a huge shock to those who know Norse myths. Odin’s plot is the most important one. Here’s what my editor said about it when she read my outline & summary…

Odin’s transformation has the potential to be monumental. His storyline is so much more internal than the others that it almost feels quiet in comparison, yet it sets the tone for everything.

What I have right now is nowhere near that. And I need it to deliver.

I need it.

So that’s why I’ve delayed the book.

Writing backwards

Book Two’s plotted. The synopses of each POV are written, organized, re-organized and placed where they need to be.

Thanks to my editor, I’ve adopted a typical structure for BK2:¬†opening, inciting event, act one: problem, act two: choice,¬† act two: disaster, act three: plan, climax, wrap-up.¬†In BK1, I stumbled into that structure. I’m glad to be¬†doing it consciously now.

In Scrivener I’ve created the above structure as folders and then within those folders I created text files with the relevant portion of the POV plot synopsis. For example:

  • Opening / Frigg; Odin; Loki
  • Inciting Event / Frigg; Odin; Loki
  • etc.

Once I did all that, I realized — to my horror — that the first half of the book was horribly broken because the timing of plot events didn’t line up.

For example, Loki’s inciting event is the “act two: choice” for Odin & Frigg. And, the “midpoint: reversal” for all three POVs is the same — but then the “act two: disaster” is different for all three POVs.

So, I took a week and dived into reorganizing the first half of the book. The way it stands now is that the main plot points in the first half of the book are offset a bit. I hope it works.

I’ve been able to start writing which means that my subconscious is currently okay with the new structure. (For me, “writer’s block” means there’s something broken in the book and I can’t write until I find and fix the problem.)

Now that writing’s (re)commenced I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.¬†BK2 is tightly focused on Odin, Frigg and Loki — those are the only POVs, so I’m hoping to really improve their voices and the theme driving each individual plot.

I also think I found the above errors because I was working backward through the book. I would’ve found them going the other direction, but probably not for another month and ~30K words later.

And given that I’m about a month behind where I wanted to be, these next few months are crunch time. November might actually be my first NaNoWriMo.

Book Two…progressing slowly

I’m still iterating on outlines, character goals, motivations, conflicts, etc. So far its looking like BK2 (actual title tbd) will focus on Frigg, Odin and Loki. Loki may end up being the one who ties the book together.

The above actually represents a change of plans. Originally, both Vafthrudnir and Vidar were going to be in BK2 as POVs. Now they won’t be, largely because their POVs aren’t integral to the core story in BK2.

I’d also been planning to use Hermod as my POV for the journey into Helheim, but now she’s out. One reason is that her character arc hit a wall at the “midpoint reversal.” I didn’t have a plan for what to do with her afterward. And everything I’d come up with felt forced, weak and trite…and not terribly relevant to BK2’s core story.

Another key reason for eliminating three POVs is that I need/want BK2 to be shorter. I don’t have time to write another 175K book, not if I want to get BK2 out by next fall.

My word count goal for BK2 is 100K max. I should be able to write that by year-end particularly given all the planning/outlining that I’ll start with and the bunch of scenes I already have to work with. Even so, meeting my Jan 2 deadline’s gonna be tight. I’m also horribly out of practice with respect to sitting down and actually¬†writing.

I’ve also been thinking about spin-off / related novels. These would focus on characters and storylines that I’ve cut from the first couple books. They’d be about 50K words long at most and tell the story of one character — Hyrrokin, as one example.

She’s one of my favorite characters but, like Hermod, she just wasn’t integral to the books. But telling Hyrrokin’s story will shed a lot of light on why the Jotunn are doing what they’re doing. And, she’s cool.

I figure I can do the same with Vidar’s plot in BK2, Hermod’s and maybe Vaft’s. Maybe these end up being freebie short stories, too. I’m not sure yet. A lot of that depends on how much time I can dedicate to them…and how good their standalone stories end up being.

Regardless, my goal remains: BK2 by fall 2018; BK3 by fall 2019. I’ll have some breathing room by then.

 

 

And still proofing…

So my “early August” release is slipping to “mid August” release. Over the past couple (three?) weeks I’ve been proofing my book.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Uploaded the book to Createspace; generated & downloaded a PDF proof
  2. I’m reading the PDF on my ‘puter with the MS Word file open at the same time. If I find a mistake or something I really, really can’t live with, then I change it on the spot.
  3. Then I make a note of what I changed in a text file. On the next proof (yes, there will be one), I will specifically check the stuff that I changed.

That final proof will be in Vellum (the software I’m using to format the ebook & print version). There’s a “preview” feature in the software that lets you see what the book will look like on a Kindle, Nook, etc. I’ll proof it that way rather than in Word or PDF again.

Once everything is as clean and correct as I can possibly make it, then I’ll upload the final files, change the launch date on Amazon & let ‘er rip.

Middle of August, I swear.

 

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The photo above is another I took at Glacier Bay in Alaska. You can see one of the glaciers on the far left.