Two Books A Year…eep!

2015 Update: This post about adapting to having two contracted books a year was originally published as I was working on Bared Blade. The pressures remain pretty much the same, and though I’ve since managed to write a Blade book in just 88 days now, I’m not sure I’m really capable of much more than two books a year.

So, this year I made the jump from having one book under contract per 12 month window, to having two books under contract per 12 month window. Now, at first glance you might say: That’s a doubling of your work load, what were you thinking?

What I was thinking was that in each of the previous four years I’d written two books, one on contract, one on spec. And, since I haven’t yet sold any of the spec books, though I do expect to, I would be doubling my income with no concomitant increase in work load. Turns out I was wrong.

Over the last decade or so I’ve tended to work in spurts with gaps of weeks or months between. Since ’06 that’s produced around 150-160k words per 12 month period, or one adult fantasy and one YA written on spec. And that’s been a mostly stress free level of production.

Under the new deal I’m only contracted for 180k per 12 months, which shouldn’t have been that much more work. But I also made the jump from contemporary fantasy to secondary world high fantasy and that seems to add about 20 percent more effort to the process. I’d heard something like that from George R.R. Martin at some point, but he was moving from science fiction to fantasy, and I was just changing types of fantasy. Surely it wouldn’t be that bad…

Add in that the first book went 7k long and that I expect this one to do so as well, and suddenly it’s the equivalent of 220-230k of what I was doing before. That’s 70-90k extra, or nearly another adult novel’s worth of effort. I’m getting it done and not dying, but it’s a major change.

The biggest adjustment from one book a year to two is how fast it catches up to me if I take a break. I’ve often dropped out for a month and a half of downtime at the end of a book, or when I needed to think about the story, or just to spend more time with my professor wife when she’s off from the University. Now, if I haven’t worked ahead, a month and a half is a 22k word deficit that I have to make up some time in my remaining four-and-a-half months.

When that was on a spec book, it didn’t really matter. I could always punt my personal deadline a little further out. I almost never did, but knowing that I could made a huge psychological difference. So, an extra novel’s worth of work plus more than doubled pressure. I think I’ve found a balance that makes it work for me, but it’s going to be very interesting seeing how things go when we hit my wife’s summer break this year.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog February 23 2011, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Reblogging SpellCrash Launch Stuff

Post 1: SpellCrash Launch Event Tomorrow/New Series

Heyo folks,

Sorry for the infrequent posting on my part. Been both busy and constrained in what I could talk about writing wise while I was in talks with Ace about the next series. Hopefully now that the latter is settled I’ll be around more again. More on that below.

First though, I’d like to note that I’ve got a book launch event for SpellCrash Tuesday May 25th at the Har Mar Barnes and Noble in the Twin Cities. It starts at 7:00 pm and runs for an hour. Mostly Q&A and book signing, but there might be a bit of a reading as well if time permits.

And on to the books thing. My agent just announced it, so that makes it officially public news. The Chronicles of Aral Kingslayer sold to Anne Sowards at Ace. It’s a high fantasy/detective noir hybrid and the initial deal is for three standalone books built around the same lead character, with a possibility of more later if these do well.

Post 2: SpellCrash launches today, eep!

Despite this being my fifth book launch, I find myself as elated and baffled and nervous and delighted and just plain punchy about the idea that something I wrote is hitting shelves all over the country today as ever. I don’t think that I shall ever get used to the idea.

It’s an enormous privilege that I get to do something I love so much as my job, and that I get to see my work on the same shelves with the writers who were such a huge part of making me who I am today. I grew up on books, reading every chance I got in my childhood. From the time I learned to read until fifteen or so I read pretty much every day. Sometimes only a little bit, but more often a couple of chapters, and in summers when I was off from school, a book or two a day. With adolescence and then the demands of adulthood that tapered off a bit, but it’s been a rare month when I haven’t knocked off at least a couple of books.

Science fiction, fantasy, and superhero comics formed the core of my younger reading, though I branched into historical and mystery, myth and legend, even the odd bit of mainstream fiction. My ideals and goals, and even the way I think were shaped by endless hours of Tolkien and Norton, McCaffrey, Dickson, Niven, Piper, Kjelgaard and Heinlein among many others. To say nothing of Stan Lee, and all the writers at Marvel and DC. As I’ve gotten older the list has only got longer and stronger: Powers and Pratchett, Bujold, McCullough (Colleen), Lackey, Weber, Cook, Hughart, Martin… I could go on and on and not reach the end, because it will continue as long as I do.

Writers weren’t my heroes when I was younger, but they created them, and I loved and honored them for giving me their worlds to play in and peopling them with my heroes and villains–gods, demons, monsters… I wanted a fire lizard of my very own, a magic ring, a blaster… Again, the list is endless. But most of all what I wanted was a doorway into other worlds, and despite the fact that I didn’t realize it right away, my writers gave me exactly that. They did it again and again and again with each new book. And it is my dearest hope and fondest ambition to provide a few of those same doors for my readers.

So, if it strikes your fancy, open SpellCrash and step through into some other place for a little while. That’s what doors are for.

spellcrash comp.indd

Updated to add some book and author links that should have been in there in the first place:

The first chapters of all five books are up on the online fiction page of my website for anyone who wants to see them, along with some short stories.

My website, where I blog. Also Twitter and Facebook

Reviews of the new book: Huntress (currently the top review on the page), and Skunk Cat. And, for flavor, probably the most thorough review of book I in this series, WebMage.

Oh, and a few buy link for the series. Dreamhaven and Uncle Hugos both usually have signed copies of most my stuff. Also: Indiebound, B&N, Amazon

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog May 24 and 25 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Retro Local Bookstore Coolness

This is the independent bookstore in the small town where I live, with me in front of it:


This is the store’s new sign:


This is a close up of the books on the right side of the sign:


Even closer:


(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Oct 20 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Darkened Blade Cover Art

I am absolutely in love with the cover for the final Fallen Blade book. My editor, Anne Sowards, has done amazing things for me with these books. I adore all six of my  John Jude Palencar covers.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 12.48.10 PM

Should you be so inclined it’s worth noting that the book is available for preorder. Here are a couple of direct links: Amazon. Barnes and Noble. Nook. Kindle. Or, you could preorder via your local independent book store and support me and local business.

Drawn Blades Launch Day

So, I wrote this book called Drawn Blades and it’s out today, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d tell everyone and maybe buy a copy. It’s the 5th book in my Fallen Blade series and I’m really excited about it. Here’s a sample of chapter one.

Details: I’m doing a reading tonight October 28th at Barnes and Noble in Roseville MN at 7pm, with a Q&A and signing after. I’m also going to be doing a signing on Nov 1st at Uncle Hugo’s who will happily take orders for and ship custom signed books if you contact them.

If you can’t make one of the events, you can still get a book. Buy links:


Barnes and Noble.



Delightfully Surreal

I’ve just gotten home from a wonderful show at the Minnesota Fringe Festival created by Bob Alberti. The show is Principia Discordia. I feel like something of a grandfather to this show for three reasons. The first is this:

Discordia Clip

The second reason is that I get to take some tiny fraction of the credit for this marvelous thing that didn’t actually involve me doing anything new.

Third, there are three other obvious grandparents, in this case: William Shakespeare for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Edmond Rostand for Cyrano de Bergerac, and Oscar Wilde for The Importance of Being Earnest. This puts me in excellent company for very little actual work. Perhaps I should explain.

The play that Bob has put together is a beautiful little six character piece starring Eris, Goddess of Discord (Dawn Krosnowski),* Thalia, the Muse of Comedy (Lana Rosario), Ms. Black (Laura Cannata), Ms. Red (Susan Becker), Mr. White (Duck Washington), and Mr Gold (Bob Alberti). The run time is a bit under an hour, and they cover a lot of ground as they do scenes from Midsummer, Cyrano, and Earnest. The central idea is that Thalia is directing the scenes and Eris is balking her by randomizing the casting with the help of the audience so that no two night’s shows will have the same characters in the same parts.

This has a number of lovely effects and, as I mentioned above, means I get to play grandparent without having to have written any actual scenes or anything to do with the play at all. Really, the heavy lifting is done by anybody and everybody but me, starting with Bob and his players who did a splendid job. I just get to smile and be happy that other people are doing great work that puts me in the acknowledgements.

My focus coming into this was, of course, on Thalia, and even more on Eris. Anyone who has read the WebMage books knows that I have a huge soft spot for Eris.

So, Thalia first. Lana Rosario’s performance was absolutely delightful, a wonderful broad comedic take on the directorial thespian that reminded me in the best possible way of my own drama teacher and mentor Vaughn Koenig. Grand and melodramatic and hooray.

Eris, well, Eris was perfect. I will now picture Dawn Krosnowski when I think of her. She had the humor and the charisma and the absolute unholy glee nailed. There was a point in the show where she came around and sat in the seat behind mine with one hand resting on the rail—just in my peripheral vision. Knowing my Eris, the thought of having her behind me was really quite alarming, and she would know that, and know that I know that she would know and take delight in every bit of it, and it was all very very meta. I loved it and her performance, and, well pretty much everything.

The rest of the cast had to cover more ground as they played the major parts in the three scenes, so I don’t have as solid a reference for any of them, and that’s actually perfectly in keeping with the core of the play which is a full blown challenge to the idea of type casting of any kind, be it gender, size, shape, race, or some other factor. I think they did a beautiful job of it and said something that was not only entertaining, but also important, and that perhaps more than anything makes me proud to have had a tiny part in the genesis of this show.

I have to give Bob special props down here for the writing of the thing, especially with Thalia and Eris. He gave them lines that I could have written word for word, which is cool. He also gave them lines that I wish that I had written, which is absolutely awesome. Oh, and the ending was note perfect.

It’s really hard to express how wonderful and surreal seeing this show was for me. I feel like I just got to cross off a bucket list item I hadn’t even known I wanted. Simply knowing that I helped to inspire someone else in their own art makes me feel like I’ve done something very right in the world. That it was something so genuinely wonderful, well, that’s a gift beyond price.

If you get the chance, go see the show! It’s only playing through Saturday, and the quality of the show and the reviews that are going up at the fringe site suggests that you’ll want to move quickly.


*Kezia Germ will be taking the role of Eris for show five.

P.S. for more on Bob Alberti, Tim Wick has written a lovely piece on him in his friend a day series which also featured me at one point.

On Plotting/Outlining and the Benefits of Experience*

I find that after ~16 highly outlined novels, I mostly don’t need that scaffolding these days. The outlines have become internal to my head.

To elaborate: I find now that if I know where I’m going (almost always before I start the book) I no longer need to do much advance outlining. The things that I need to make a coherent story of the target length with all the bits that are needed for something to be a story are in my head in a very firm way.

If X is my goal then U, V, and W have to happen structurally to provide the story beats. It’s much less mechanistic than that, but that’s more or less how it works now. I know that the plot tools will be there when I need them, so I can focus on the themes and character and bigger picture.

I started to get the first flashes of it around novel number 10 and I’ve been using it ever since, but it really kicked in solidly with Crossed Blades, which was number 17.

This is almost entirely a function of experience. I’m up around 4-5 million words of fiction written counting all the stuff that fell by the wayside. I’ve got around a million words in print, another million that’s forthcoming or that I expect to publish, and 2-3 million that ended up on the cutting room floor.

That last 2 million plus was at least as valuable as the stuff I kept, since it represents reflection and change. I used to cut ~4 words for every survivor when I started. These days the ratio is reversed, but it took 20 years to get here.

The process has allowed me to create heuristics for writing a Kelly McCullough novel, heuristics which I constantly work to improve as I strive to become a better writer.

It’s that experience and that practice at solving the problems of writing a novel that allowed me to write Blade Reforged in 100 or so days and have something I could turn in without massive rework. Likewise, writing Drawn Blades in 88 days.

It used to take me a year to write a novel because I had to do a lot of backing and filling that I can avoid now. Mind you, I prefer to have 150-175 days, but it’s nice to know I can do it in less when I have to. Unfortunately, the only way that I know of to get there is to hammer out the work day after day and year after year.

*Importing and expanding my contributions from a Twitter conversation about plotting/outlining with Paul Weimer, Tobias Buckell & Damian G Walter