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The Pagan Year

Today is the one year anniversary of the release of The Pagan Night, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a little retrospective.

First, you may be wondering where the next book is. Simply put, there were some delays that I didn’t expect, so the publication date has been pushed back to August. The first and a half draft is done, but I suspect there will be a fair bit of editing to do before the book is ready for shelves, so hold that date in an open hand. You can pre-order The Iron Hound here.

One of the things about having a book come out in January, as The Pagan Night did, is that it risks getting lost in the mix. By the time the year ends and all of those “Best of Year” lists come out and people are nominating for awards and so forth, the January titles are a distant memory. I’ve spent the last couple months hoping that someone would recall my book as one of their favorites of the year, but that hasn’t worked out, and I don’t really know what to do with that in my head. As with everything I do, TPN didn’t get a whole lot of reviews, but they were almost universally positive, and yet the book apparently isn’t memorable enough to make the lists.

I’m not sure what to do about that. If there were negative reviews that I could point to and say “Ah, here we go, this is where I can improve” then I would have something to work with. I want to write the kind of books that get remembered. I want to get better. But I guess I’m a little adrift on how to do that. It’s not an ideal place to be, especially when you’re two books into a three book contract.

I guess I’ve based my life on two standards of success: financial and literary. Either you sell a lot of books, or you win a lot of awards, and anything between those standards feels like failure. But really it’s incremental. TPN is still on bookstore shelves a year after release, which is six months longer than anything else I’ve written, so I guess that’s better. Mind you, at the current rate of sale it’ll be ten years before I earn out my advance. That doesn’t feel good. But waking up every morning and spending the day writing feels great, and maybe that’s what my success looks like. I just wish it was easier on the people around me.

There. That’s your retrospective, mixed with a little bit of wistful future thinking and topped off with a stab of inspiration. Let’s see what next year looks like, shall we?

The Last Paladin of a Dead God

“Eva Forge is the last paladin of a dead God…”

That’s how I opened the pitch for the book that eventually became The Horns of Ruin, and I think it’s one of my better opening pitch lines. Perhaps the greatest ever conceived. What I find especially pleasing is that the book that I wrote to match that pitch lives up to that line. And while Horns has been off the shelves for quite a while, it’s the only one of my books that I’ve gone back to read for pleasure after it was published, and will always hold a special place in my heart.

Which is why I’m ecstatic to announce that it’s coming back! Eva Forge will once again invoke the rites of the war god Morgan in her search for the people who murdered the other priests in her monastery, she will again crack wise with creatures strange and foul, and you will once again have the opportunity to read the entire book in one sitting. And not only is the book back, it’s going to have a swell new cover.

Reveal!

I can’t tell you how pleased I am with this cover. It’s the work of J Caleb Design, and I think it’s amazing.

The book itself is only going to be available as an ebook at first, but we’ve started the wheels moving to provide a print on demand alternative as well. And you’ll notice that I said “going to be available”. That’s because the book isn’t out yet! We’re releasing on February 7th, but if you pre-order the book you’ll get it for a reduced price! So go here, select your preferred format, and get back into the world of Eva Forge!

Once again, buy the book!

The bird in the rain

My house backs up to a pond. We keep a bird feeder near the edge of the water, and get a variety of birds throughout the year. I think my favorite are the cedar waxwings that pass through on the edges of winter, skirting that harsh season on their way to better places. And of course I love cardinals and goldfinches and the usual suspects that live around here. They show up, day in and day out, because we feed them.

It’s been raining all day. Most of yesterday, too, though there was a breath of dawn light first thing this morning, turning the fog into pewter. It’s that steady kind of rain that soaks through your coat, even if you’re only walking from your car to the door. It’s a miserable day.

The birds are feeding. My mom always told me that you could tell it was going to rain all day if the birds were still feeding. I think there’s more to it than that, but it’s worth remembering. It’s easy to let the rain decide when you eat, but the meal is always there. The things that feed us, our families, our friends, our beliefs and our work, they’re always there. Even in the rain.

This has been a strange and quiet holiday for us. We both have colds, so we spent the weekend resting and drinking non-celebratory fluids. And a friend of ours died on Thanksgiving. We had lost touch with him in that last few years, but apparently he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early November, underwent surgery, and never woke up. He passed silently away with his family by his side. He was an incredibly kind man, and very talented, and someone I really wish I’d known better. He was 39 years old.

The birds show up, day in and day out, because we feed them. Even in the rain.

Synopsitis

The public face of an author is kind of a strange thing. The publishing industry is stranger. Things take time. By the time a book gets to shelves, the author has probably already finished the next one, or is at least deeply stuck in with it. When The Pagan Night was published, it was the culmination of five years of writing, revision, proposals and pitches that took a lot of my creative energy. But during those five years I had also written another book in a different universe, and written proposals for two other projects, neither of which got off the ground. There’s a wide gap between what you see me doing, and what I actually do.

Which brings us to our current state. The Pagan Night is still on shelves, so when I go to conventions or do public posts, that’s what I’m promoting. But the second book, The Iron Hound, is already done and sitting on my editor’s desk. The synopsis for book three is finished as well, awaiting feedback from both editor and agent before I start the actual writing.

Additionally, I have about four proposals in my queue. These are all at various stages of preparedness, and I switch between them at will. For two of them I have three chapters and a synopsis ready to go. One’s a YA adventure story featuring giant mecha, government conspiracies, an alien artifact on a distant outpost, and a good deal of sarcasm. The other is a lovecraftian sword and sorcery novel that’s a little on the edge of comfort for me. It has a lot of the strangeness of the Veridon books about it, and rides that line between horror and adventure that Jacob Burn was very comfortable following.

The third proposal is what I’m working on this morning. It’s actually a revision of that book I wrote in between sessions with The Pagan Night, and incorporates a lot of feedback I got from my agent as well as some impressions I’ve gotten from readers of The Hallowed War series. It’s heartfelt fantasy, but leans more heavily on a single protagonist and his journey. While struggling with multi-character timelines and giving each protagonist the space needed to tell their story, I half-flippantly said that my next book was going to be about a scholar and the dead man bound to his soul. This book is literally that.

Finally, I’m returning to one of my true loves of cyberpunk, while staying true to my fantasy roots. That project is currently called Paragon, and is best described as high fantasy cyberpunk, which is a challenging enough pitch line to keep me occupied for a while. For that one all I have is a notebook full of ideas. I think of it as my vacation project, because it’s the thing I can fall into and kick wild ideas around without being committed to a deadline or character arc or any of that. Just brainstorming in ink.

When will you see any of this? I have no idea. Publishing is slow. Even if I wrote all of these in the next few years, it would be years more before they reached shelves, and by then my idea basket will have grown exponentially. But just so you know, there’s a lot in the pipeline, and more on the way.

Pagan Audio

I’m pleased to announce that The Pagan Night, book one of The Hallowed War series, is now available in audiobook form! Recorded has done a great job with the reader and cover, and I simply couldn’t be happier with this! Go, listen, and enjoy!

 

Amazon

Recorded

In the in between

I’m in this strange place, schedule-wise. I have finished the first draft of The Iron Hound and shipped it off to the appropriate authorities. While I’m waiting to hear back from them, I’ve got a small contract for a gaming company that’s sort of open ended. I keep circling around it, taking passes and then letting it sit before I come back to review what I’ve done.

I could start on book three (tentatively titled The Winter Vow) but I’d rather not do that until things firm up with book two. I’m comfortable with what I’ve done with Iron Hound, but you never know. Characters may need to get yanked out or stuffed back, or consolidated, or punched up. Plot lines might need reworking. And I don’t want to start building a book on unstable footing.

So what do I do now? Well, I’ve been pushing this novella around on my desk for a while, but my problem with it is that I’m not committed to the form. I’ve always struggled to write short stories because they’re just too narrow, and I keep trying to shove novel sized ideas into them. Very good short story writers have an entirely different set of skills than I do, something I learned during my years of struggling to sell short stories. When I take a small idea and write it out, they usually end up at novella size. And that’s more of a problem than a solution.

I should be a natural for the novella length, right? Well, maybe, except what do I do with them? There are a few novella markets, but it’s a very few, and they have a lot of submissions and I don’t really have an “in” with any of them, or the kind of name that opens doors. I would probably end up having to self-publish it, and while I’ve done that a number of times in the past, the results haven’t been groundbreaking. I’ve made more money picking up loose change on the street, and I’m something of a germaphobe. It’s not profitable for me at this stage of my career.

Thing is, I’m going to need something to present my editor after The Hallowed War series wraps, which if everything goes to plan will be sometime early next year. I already have one book completed in an entirely new universe, but I know it has a few problems that might be salvageable, or might require binning completely. Or I could turn this weird thing I’m pushing around right now into a novel proposal, but it’s intentionally very strange, bordering on the grotesque, and my current publishing tack has been toward the commercially accessible.

So who knows? Who knows what’s next. For now I guess I’m just going to muse about it in public, to let you know that I’m working and working and working, and eventually something will find traction and become the next thing. Or not.

Who knows? Not knowing is part of it.

Tim Recommends a Book 002: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

tdp

I first discovered Abraham with his first series, The Long Price Quartet, the first novel of which is A Shadow in Summer. That series is pretty much a perfect dissection of fantasy literature, thoughtful when most fantasy is brash, character-driven when too much of the genre is about plot coupons and quest lines. But I wouldn’t recommend that book as a starting point for Abraham’s work, simply because it is so very niche. I think it’s the best fantasy series of our generation, easily rivaling Wolfe, Tolkien and Erikson in complexity and depth, if not page count.

But that’s not the book (or series) I’m recommending in this post! After he finished The Long Price Quartet, which struggled to find an audience, Abraham wrote The Dragon’s Path, the first book in the five-volume The Dragon and the Coin. The final book in this series just came out, so I feel comfortable recommending it.

I like to describe The Dragon’s Path as fantasy for people who really love fantasy, as well as for people who don’t think they like fantasy but have actually only been reading shitty versions of the genre. It focuses on a small group of people in the middle of an epic setting, facing down a war that could end the world, or at least change it forever. It has all the elements of traditional fantasy, from weird races to dragons to magic swords (there’s even a spider goddess and her strange cult!) without leaning on any of these things so heavily as to ignore plot or character. And oh, the characters! Abraham is my model for creating characters. There’s nothing these people did that felt wrong or forced, and the way Abraham establishes motivation in gentle layers is a lesson in itself. The depth he brought to The Long Price is on clear display here.

But the final reason I think you should read this book is the plotting and structure. I don’t know Abraham’s process, how precisely he plots each step of his books or the series overall, but when I finished The Dragon’s Path the first thing I did was outline it chapter by chapter. The structure is that good. It’s perfectly paced without feeling rushed, it has space for character development without lingering on frippery, and the larger plot hits each of its beats in perfect stride. It’s not just a well imagined book. It’s well executed, and that’s rare.

I’ve often said that becoming a writer ruins the joy of reading, because you’re scraping through the pages looking for mistakes and letting craft awareness spoil the fun of a good book. But a book like The Dragon’s Path highlights the other side of that coin – when you read a book that is this well written, this well plotted, and this well crafted, the joy of reading it as a writer is all the greater.

Buy the book here! And once you’re done with it, the rest of the series (as well as The Long Price Quartet) can be found here! Enjoy!

Tim Recommends a Book 001: Outriders by Jay Posey

outriders-cover

Let me start by saying that this is a military sf novel. If that’s not your thing, if you don’t enjoy books about competent people doing difficult things in the face of overwhelming odds with honor and heroism, then I must withdraw my recommendation. However, I think it’s still a good book to discuss from a craft perspective because there are some strange bits to it that shouldn’t work and yet totally, totally work. It’s an interesting study.

Posey, btw, is a game writer. He works for Red Storm, which is Tom Clancy’s outfit. I’ve never played any of their games, but he does namecheck Richard Dansky in the credits. Dansky’s the man who gave me my first writing job back in college while he was at White Wolf. I picked up this book because I was interested in seeing how a game writer approached novels, especially a novel that was theoretically in line with the games he helps create.

What caught my attention about the book was its structure. In a lot of ways, it took a very long time for anything to actually happen. We’re given two perspectives; our protagonist, a man by the name of Lincoln Suh, as he is recruited for a special super secret ninjacorps intelligence division in the UAF (United American Federation) military. (As a double aside, the UAF’s closest allies are Iran and India, which I thought was some nice outside the box thinking). A good deal of the early part of the book is Suh meeting his teammates, learning what these ninjas do and how they do it, and getting introduced to the very special technology that they use. This is maybe a third of the book.

In our other perspective, we’re given snippets of the problem our ninjacorps is going to have to solve. It’s only a few chapters of action and the shadowy implication of who might be behind it. It’s a lot of disparate threads, and while I knew they were going to connect at some point, it felt a little frustrating. Finally, at one point I put the book down, turned to my wife and said “This is a very slow book.”

Then I looked down and saw that I had just torn through ~150 pages without noticing. That’s the key. Posey wrote these characters so well, with such insight into their motivations and interactions, that I was ripping through it. Nothing was actually happening, but a lot of stuff was happening, and it all kept my attention and made me more and more invested in the story. So when we finally get to things actually happening I was on full burn and coming in hot.

The lesson: Good writing can overcome bad structure, but good structure can never save bad writing.

I will say that the book maybe could have ended a few chapters early. There’s the build up, the confrontation, the moment of darkness, the solution and the victory. They spend 420 pages planning and executing a single operation, and then 16 planning and executing a second so they can have a brief encounter with the behind the scenes bad guy. And the reveal there is good, but I thought it could have been built up a little better. Who and what this person is is kind of critical to the world, but I don’t remember there being a single mention of them or their organization or the things that led to their formation in the rest of the book. We have fewer than 20 pages to go “Oh no! It’s not… it couldn’t be… IT IS!” which isn’t enough.

That said, a very good book. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

 

p.s. Instead of going the obvious route and linking to an Amazon associate’s page up, I’m going to be using Indiebound. Maybe you can show your appreciation for my forward thinking policy by, you know, recommending my book to your friends. Thanks!

Tim Recommends a Book: The Introduction

I’m going to be starting a new series of posts on here, updated semi-regularly, in which I recommend a book. I’ll be posting the first one later this week, but I wanted to say a few things about the article series before I gotstarted.

First off, I’m not going to be recommending many of my friends’ books. There are a lot of politics in publishing, a lot of networking that goes on, and I’ve always disliked it. I try to stay away from appearing partisan toward something just because it came from one of my friends. I just want you to rest assured that if I recommend a book to you, it’s because I authentically read it and loved it, and think you would love it, too.

Secondly, books are an art form, and art is subjective. I have really broad reading tastes, and sometimes they overlap with someone else’s tastes and sometimes they don’t. I’m simply going to be presenting you with the things that appeal to me. Your mileage may vary.

Finally, I am not going to be presenting these to you as a reader. I am very specifically going to recommend books that appeal to me as a writer, and picking apart what makes them well written. Books that I don’t like usually fail because of some aspect of their craft, which may have nothing to do with how most readers will approach them. But if you want to be a better writer, the first thing that you learn how to do is analyze the books you read and determine why they work. You’ll be giving up the pure joy of reading. It’s a sacrifice. But it’s a sacrifice that you make in the pursuit of a higher goal.

I’m hoping to give you more than good books. I’m hoping to introduce you to good writers, and maybe peel back a little of what makes those writers good. Enjoy!

Worldcon Schedule

We’re a week out from Worldcon in Kansas City, so I thought I’d post my schedule. Please note that I have neither a reading nor an autograph session this time around, so if you’d like me to sign something please feel free to flag me down after panels or in the hallway, and we’ll make it work. My handwriting is pretty terrible anyway, doing it in a hallway isn’t going to degrade the quality of the product that much.

The panels!

Writing Games in Fiction   1 hour |  2:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Kansas City Convention Center, 2204

From Azad to Armada, fictional games, gaming and gamers are an increasingly visible part of our SF landscape, offering us complex characters and interesting discussions of how gaming is becoming an integral part of our lives. Our panel discuss how these representations present gaming to a wider audience.
New Titles from Titan Books 1 hour |  3:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Kansas City Convention Center, 2503A

What’s on tap from Titan Books, including SF, fantasy, horror, Alien, Flash, Predator, and a couple of major project announcements that’ll blow your socks off! Senior acquisitions editor Steve Saffel is joined by a couple of special guests to give you the scoop.
5 Questions to Ask When Creating a Fictional Culture 1 hour |  2:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Kansas City Convention Center, 2505B (Costume)

How does one create a fictional culture that is tangible, realistic and sucks readers in? Need help avoiding overdone or stereotypical culture devices? This panel will discuss 5 important questions writers must ask themselves when creating a fictional culture.