Stay interesting: change the dynamics

With a long series there is a danger of becoming stale and treating readers to more of the same. I’m incredibly aware of this with The Bastard Cadre (I’m also wary of boring myself–I spend way more time with these books than anybody else). From the beginning I’ve planned to change the dynamics in each book.

I’m using three methods of changing the dynamics:

  1. Vary the point-of-view characters between books
  2. Set each book in a different location
  3. Tell stories from different points of time in the world’s history

The advantage of switching perspectives, location, and time period are in giving readers a deeper experience of your world, but it also means you get to play with reader’s expectations. I’m a big fan of suggesting one possible future in the stories and then throwing a spanner in the works to delay that future or in some cases make it impossible. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give readers what they want, you should and must, but perhaps not in the way they expect for fear of losing their interest.

I remember books I’ve loved that tell stories from several perspectives, when the perspective shifts after a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter I curse the writer for making me wait, but (if they’re any good) by the time I’ve read through chapters from other character’s perspectives, I’m cursing the writer for keeping me hanging on several fronts at the same time, even as I’m flicking through pages, staying up later than I should, and resisting the urge to read ahead.

So, keep changing the dynamics. Readers will curse you, but that just means they’re engaged with your stories and all the more likely to keep coming back to see which thread you’ll pick up next.

The Lord of Frake’s Peak: The Bastard Cadre #4

 

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Book four of the futuristic epic fantasy adventure goes back to the years directly after the Cleansing. Lord Obdurin has been Rhysin’s chosen for eight years, and Avril and his cadre are not nothing more than an idea.

 

Obdurin’s enemies are gathered against him, but Obdurin refuses to wait for the conqueror’s terms or the assassin’s blade and embarks on a bold plan to reshape Central Newterra. Other players: chosen, immortals, and at least one aspirant who would claim Obdurin’s place as The Lord of Frake’s Peak are determined to beat him at his own game.

 

Vincent d’Rhyne, the son of Lord Obdurin’s predecessor—Lord Benshi—swore a debt of gratitude on the day Obdurin killed Vincent’s father and took Rhysin’s heart. Now eight years later, Vincent is given his chance to repay that debt, but did he misjudge Obdurin in his gratitude? Is Obdurin the peace loving man that he appears to be, or is he a subtle tyrant and much worse than bloodthirsty Lord Benshi ever was?

This book has been the most challenging of The Bastard Cadre books to write so far. We get to meet our new protagonist, Vincent a very tortured soul, but we also get closer to the chosen and their games and we see something of how the people of Newterra and the chosen are manipulated by gods. I’ve been told by Beta readers that you could read this book as an introduction to the series (it’s set before the other books) without reading the first three books, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve also tried to remove some of the ambiguity around some of the character’s motivations, in particular Lord Obdurin, but you’ll have to let me know how I did.

The Lord of Frake’s Peak is available now at Smashwords and Amazon with other retailers to follow.

Automation for writers

I’m in the final stages of editing The Lord of Frake’s Peak and I’ve used a couple of automation tricks to make this edit and future edits easier.

Auto Replace

I have a list of words that I habitually get wrong, misuse, or forget which variant to use. In this list are world specific words like dead-zone and nutriport. When I’m writing I don’t want to stop and ask myself if it’s deadzone, dead zone, or dead-zone? Nutri-port or nutriport? There are also things like gray (I tend to type grey as often as gray) and traveled (not travelled).

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Hello 2014 (and a special offer)

Here in Australia it has been 2014 for a whole 21 hours and so far it doesn’t feel any different to 2013, though there are a lot more joggers out than usual.

My plans for 2014 are to publish The Lord of Frake’s Peak: The Bastard Cadre #4 as soon as possible. I’m hoping February, but we’ll see. After that I’ll be working on Playing with Fire: The Bastard Cadre #5 and then it’s onto #6. Perhaps this year I won’t get stuck in the first drafts and I might even make it to book 7 before 2015. I feel like I’ve got a roll on, and I’ve been developing a plan to work on the different stages of the books: writing, rewriting, and editing concurrently (the subject for another post perhaps) so that I’ll be much closer to publishing the books as I complete the first draft.

Last year I tried something new by offering readers who left reviews of my books free copies of my other books. It worked well and encouraged readers to leave reviews, so I’m going to extend it into 2014 as well. Anybody who leaves a review of one of my Bastard Cadre books can send me a link to the review for a free copy of the next book in the series. The first book, A God-Blasted Land, is available for free so it’s even possible for people to read the series so far for free. A couple of people have mentioned this to me in the past as though it might be a problem, but for the record, I’m of the opinion that at this stage in my career finding and engaging with readers is far more important than missing out on sales. To be honest, I suspect that will be true for any stage of my career, but who knows. The updated offer isn’t in the books yet, but I’ll be updating them in the next couple of days and then they should start to show up with the retailers shortly after that, but even if you get a copy that doesn’t include the offer, hit me up anyway.

Thanks to everybody who read and reviewed or tweeted about my books in 2013. Have an awesome 2014.

Bang Bang BOOM!

As I write this, I’m just over halfway through watching the movie World War Z. The story is a little ho-hum-whatever, but I’m not watching it for the story. I’m watching it for the pacing. I’m watching it because the tension has been kept high from the first scene, and because every escape leads to another terrifying encounter.

I’ve paused the damn thing because I need a minute. The Chihuahua on Belarus Airways knows something is up and so do I, so I’m taking a second to give my over-stimulated nervous system a chance to calm down.

I’ve been reading Sol Stein’s, Stein on Writing (again) and Stein advises writers to give their readers stress, strain, and pressure. Do not relieve the reader’s anxiety, prolong it. The writers of World War Z have certainly done that. The other thing the writers appear to have done is ignore those rules about following high tension with resting periods to give the viewer (not readers in this case) a chance to catch their breath.

People often advise aspiring novelists to read read read, which is sound advise, but I also think writers of fiction who are interested in keeping their readers on their toes and turning pages could do well to study many modern movies with their ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ approach.

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Thoughts on writing and publishing (2013 Edition)

Writers have all sorts of motives for writing and doing what we do. I feel very fortunate to have the outlet that writing and publishing provides (a life without creativity in it sounds, well, dull). I also feel incredibly fortunate that over the last couple of years I’ve been able to connect with an audience that enjoys my work.

Recently, I’ve settled into a routine where I get up early and write before the work day begins. I’ve never been a morning person (though I can force it), but when previously the writing had to wait until after the work day and after the kids are in bed AND for me to be awake enough to get it done, it often wouldn’t get done and I’d be left feeling dissatisfied. Writing before the day begins takes care of this nicely, though there is an argument to be made that removing the dissatisfaction also removes some of the motivation to get more done, but hopefully it levels out in the end. I’m also much happier and guard my free minutes less jealously and am (hopefully) less of a pain in the arse to the people around me.

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Flourish me this, flourish me that

I’m an impatient reader.

I love reading, but I dislike writers being writerly for the sake of it, or taking the long way around every time they have something to say.

I recently came across an article in Time (They’re scattered across the lunchroom at work) about longevity and creativity (both areas I’m intensely interested in). I tried to read the article twice. The first time I was bored and frustrated by the end of the second paragraph. The second time I made it through the first column but there was another four pages of this stuff and the author was yet to make any kind of point.

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Working with evolution

One of the fun things about science fiction is extrapolating possible futures. When you play with long enough timelines (or jump forward to a time when humans can take control of their own evolution) you get to play with some pretty cool ideas. What will human mean in ten thousand years time? What about one-hundred thousand or ten million? Will we continue to get bigger and stronger, or perhaps smaller and more intelligent. Or will we do both and become a split society of Morlocks and Eloi? Will we upload our consciousnesses to the matrix to form an electronic hive mind or augment our physical bodies with cybernetic and robotic enhancements and become a super-race of artificially-enhanced hedonists?

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Give me some good old-fashioned gravitas

Winston Churchill once said … something or another, but he didn’t post it to Facebook so who cares?

People talk a lot about how technology shapes society. It can’t be denied that the world has changed; we’re all connected all the time, information travels at the speed of google, entire industries that couldn’t have existed two decades (or two weeks) ago are worth billions of dollars and have more influence than your quickly-becoming-irrelevant democratically elected what-are-they-called-again? We no longer have to visit public libraries and pick up dust mites or paper cuts in the search for knowledge. Wikipedia has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica and the only people who are worse off are door-to-door dictionary salesmen. Kids are being taught (or at least they should be) how to do cool things with information instead of remembering stuff so that they can be tested later on how well they remember stuff. My own kids refuse to take “I’m sorry, kids. I don’t know how to do that,” for an answer. They tell me “Google it, dad” and roll their eyes in that special way only 6 and 7 year olds can (I taught them about google because I want them to know information is only a few clicks away; they weren’t supposed to use it against me).

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The Bastard Cadre Story Design

Now that I’ve got a couple of books in The Bastard Cadre series out, I’ve been surprised to learn what reader’s expectations of the series have been and in some cases how that differs to what I’m doing, so I thought I’d talk about the story design of the series and how it came about.

For our purposes, story design means how the individual books have been designed to work and how the books in the series have been designed to interact with each other. There may be other definitions of “Story Design”, and that’s cool, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

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