Books I Have Written or Tried to Write

I got this meme from Naomi Kritzer who got it from jpsorrow.

01. 1990 Uriel

My first Urban Fantasy, a vampires and faeries book. From which I learned that: I can write a book. I can do it fast. I really like doing it. Rejection letters are not much fun, and this business is tougher than it looks. Oh, and that I am not Anne Rice, and that’s a good thing. Status: Trunked for now.

02. 1991 The Swine Prince

High Fantasy Farce. Wizards and princes and thieves and gnomes. From which I learned that: Uriel was not a fluke. I can write funny. I still don’t much like rejection. I am not Terry Pratchett, although I’m much closer to being Pratchett than I am to being Rice, and again, it’s a good thing. Status: mostly rewritten to current standard. Needs a new first 10,000 words.

03. 1992/1993 The Assassin Mage

High Fantasy. Book I of III, wizard assassins. From which I learned that: I really really like this writing stuff. Rejections suck. This business is tough, but I’m going to make it if it kills me. Status: Trunked with the intent to rewrite it as a YA.

04. 1994 (Partial) Uprising

High Fantasy. Elves and dead gods. Shiny. From which I learned that: I maybe need to figure out why I’m not selling stuff (I wander off to do short stories for three years). I also learn that I am not Mercedes Lackey and that this is an exceptionally good thing. Status: Trunked for now.

05 1997 (Partial) Family Planning

A scene is written in which a bunch of really cool characters have intense and interesting dialog that implies many dark and wonderful things. I fall in love. It goes nowhere. From which I learned that: Loving a story doesn’t mean knowing where it goes or how to write it. Status: This is one I will come back to.

06. 1998/1999 WebMage

What I sometimes call my senior project book. This is where I finished my writer’s equivalent of college. (My real college experience finished when I got a BA in Theater in 1991) Cyberfantasy that will sell in 2005. I sold the short story, my first sale, Woot! I’ve written another story in the same world. It occurs to me that there might be a novel here. In a fit of optimism I plot it out and begin. From which I learned that: Writing short stories has taught me an enormous amount about plot, story, and only putting in what should be there. Also, I learn how to write subplot that supports the main plot and how to write theme. This is the book that gets me an agent, and that keeps a second one when my first agent closes up shop and offers a bunch of us to a fellow agent. Status: In print.

07. 2001 Winter of Discontent

Contemporary fantasy. Shakespeare, Richard III, MacBeth, A touch of Coriolanus and The Tempest. From which I learned that: I am still deeply in love with Shakespeare, care deeply about theater, and am not so fond of theater people. That handling 8 viewpoint characters is a real challenge. That writing about things you love is pure joy. That I can write 60,000 words in 30 days without breaking a sweat. That I am very interested in the idea of belief and how it shapes the world we see (sub this, that being the child of a paranoid schizophrenic may have something to do with same). That my agent may not always love everything I write, but that he’ll support me wherever I go because he has faith in me and my work. I tend to think of this as my Master’s thesis in writing. I’m still very much learning and mastering my craft. Status: Under submission.

08. 2002 Numismancer

Contemporary fantasy. Coin magic. The EU and the Euro. More belief and reality. My dissertation book. From which I learned: An awful lot about directed research. How to successfully transfer dream cool to book cool. That thinly fictionalized incidents from my life will sometimes read as less believable than stuff I simply make up. Status: Under submission.

09. 2003 The Urbana

Contemporary fantasy. Assume that the fey really did die out. What evolves to use all that magical energy? That’s where this one started. From which I learned that: I can write a book that I’m not feeling one hundred percent enthused about because I know that a lot of my readers are likely to enjoy it. How to love what I’m writing on a day-to-day basis even when I’m not as enthused as I have been about other books. I’m really pleased with this book, and I think of it as my first truly professional novel. Status: On submission.

10. 2004 (Partial) Outside In

Contemporary dark fantasy, architecture magic. From which I learned that: I am much more interested in certain aspects of architecture and construction than my writers groups. That I need to rethink some of the structure of this book. That being depressed makes it much harder for me to sustain a book in the face of criticism. Status: Trunked for now.

11. 2004 (Partial) Ave Caesar

Mystery, cozy, theater. A departure for me, and one that I want to come back to. From which I learned that: If your early readers aren’t familiar with mystery as a genre, you may have a problem. Writers groups that specialize in one genre are probably more effective than groups with lots of folks doing different things. Status: Trunked for now, but I’ll come back to it.

12. 2005 Chalice book 1

Young adult contemporary fantasy–arts magic. From which I learned that: YA is a blast to write and that the shorter length is incredibly natural for me. Oh, and that I still feel deeply and deeply ambivalent about theater. Status: On submission as part of a tetrology.

13. 2006 Cybermancy

WebMage Book II. From which I learned that: I can write a second book in a series that wasn’t supposed to be a series, just a stand-alone. That Greek myth matters deeply to me. That being paid and having deadlines are both really great motivators for me. That I really really like turning books in early. Status: In print.

14. 2006 The Black School

Young adult, alternate history, WWII, fantasy. From which I learned that: Everything I liked about YA last time goes double for this book. That my YA is much darker than my adult fiction. That anger at contemporary politics is a great motivator for me to write. That my writers group likes my dark stuff more than my funny stuff, or at least that they like these books more than anything else I’ve ever done. Status: On submission as part of a trilogy.

15. 2007 Codespell

WebMage III. From which I learned that: I can write an ongoing series and enjoy it. That I’m happier writing under contract from proposal than writing spec books. That my own assessment of how smoothly I’m writing doesn’t necessarily agree with my readers–everybody else liked this book more than I did, and I could see why when I reread the copyedited manuscript. That I really like turning things in way early and that this makes my editor happy too. Status: In preprint, releases in June.

16. 2007 (currently unfinished) MythOS

WebMage IV. From which I learned that: I should feel free to make strong changes in an ongoing series as long as I talk to my editor and agent first (did that, they were quite happy with the proposal and hopefully they’ll like the result as well). That I really want to write at least one more WebMage book after this one. Status: Under contract, half-complete, due October ’08.

17. 2007 (currently unfinished) Duel of Mirrors

Contemporary fantasy with a humor edge. Hopefully this will be the logical successor to the WebMage books and will help build that thread of my writing brand. From which I learned that: It’s always a joy to fall in love with a new book. That travel juices the heck out of my creative mind. That I become very difficult to talk to when I’m in composing mode. Status: Begun, in plotting phase–aiming for three chapters and an outline for proposal.

18. 2000-2004 Chonicles of the Wandering Star

Hard SF, YA, illustrated short-story collection/serial novel for the teaching of physical science. This one is unusual which is why it’s down here out of order. It’s a work for hire project that I wrote as part of National Science Foundation funded full year physical science curriculum. I was hired to develop a science-ficitonal context for the curriculum and to write shorts as teaching tools. Fun project. From which I learned that: If the pay is high enough, work-for-hire is a great deal. That I can write YA. That I can write 1,000 word short in an hour if I have to. That I can write that short to teach a specific science concept, and that I can do it well enough to make a goodly percentage of the students who read it happy. That deadlines and getting paid are great motivators for me. Status: In print.

2013 Update: Yeah, I’ve written a bunch since the original post.

19. 2008 The Eye of Horus

Book II of The Black School. I love this book and it’s predecessor, but despite near universal agreement from those who’ve read them that they are some of my best writing I have not been able to sell them. See also: Argh!

20. 2008/2009 SpellCrash

The last WebMage book for some time to come. In some ways I think this is the best of the series. I learned so much about writing on the way to this one. I’m somewhat bummed that it is also the least read of the books. Status: in print.

22. 2009 Spirits of the Past

First book in a dark contemporary fantasy series centered around alcohol magic. This book exists only as three chapters and a series outline that now comprises six books. There is an excellent chance that this will be my next adult series once Fallen Blade is finished. I love the premise of these and still really want to write them.

23. 2010 Broken Blade

Fantasy noir with a badly broken hero. Status: in print, the first of six confirmed books in this series and now available both in German and as part of a Science Fiction book club omnibus edition of the first three Fallen Blade books. I think I’m finally getting the hang of this writing stuff.

24. 2011 Bared Blade

Fallen Blade II. Status: in print, in omnibus, and in German shortly.

25. 2011 Crossed Blades

Fallen Blade III. Status: in print, in omnibus, and in German shortly.

26. 2012 Blade Reforged

Fallen Blade IV. In print as of June. I’m loving this series more and more as I go along. It’s enormous fun to write something that’s simultaneously episodic in the detective novel mode and a multi-book epic fantasy storyline. Finding the balance between having each book complete in itself and building multi-book and series arcs challenges me every day.

27. 2013 School for Sidekicks: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman Jr.

My first Middle Grade book. Silly superhero science fiction about a boy who sets out to become a hero and ends up at the School for Sidekicks. I had a ball writing this and learned a lot about writing something much closer to pure humor. I learned even more in the first round of revisions—there’s a huge difference in how books are written and marketed for younger readers. Current revision with my editor at Feiwel and Friends—crossing my fingers that she like the revised version which includes 25,000 words of material not in the first draft. Staus: under contract, handed in and through one round of revisions.

28. 2013 Drawn Blades

Writing this right now and about 25% of the way through it. Barring misfortune this will be my 20th completed novel. …how the hell did that happen? Again, barring misfortune it will be my 11th published. One thing I’m finding absolutely joyous about writing this book is that I’m getting to pull stuff from novel attempt number four up there in 1994—there’s stuff from the early years that I loved that I’m only now getting good enough to pull of. I’m working on an incredibly compressed deadline on this one due to me make a minor but self-compounding mistake in my workflow. Status: under contract, in process.

29. 2014 Darkened Blade.

Outlined, under contract, and due in June. I’ve reached a point now where managing my time and learning to say no to projects that I’d really like to do is becoming increasingly important. I feel that I mostly have the hang of the writing part writing books, though I continually strive to push the edge of what I can do, and still land on my nose with some regularity. The rest of being an author? There, I’m learning new things all the time.

(A bit over half of this was originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 26 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted, reedited, and updated as part of the reblogging project)

Notes for …And a Bottle of Rum (Aqua Vitae)

So, I thought it might be fun for my readers to get a view of the inside of my head. I’ve been working on and off on a project tentatively titled Aqua Vitae. It’s a contemporary fantasy series with six books loosely plotted out so far. I hope it will be my next group of books for adults following the Fallen Blade series which would would put it on shelves sometime around 2017. I just got back from Jamaica (setting for book six) and these are my raw notes for the book. Very little here in terms of story since that’s all established in the notes for the previous volumes. This is all about atmosphere.

Title: “…And a Bottle of Rum”

Notes on Jamaica for Aqua Vitae series

Pirates and rum runners and ganja, oh my.

August: ~90 Relentlessly hot out of the wind but not bad with sea breeze or on the beach where you can wander down and float for a bit to cool off. Bikinis everywhere. Tourists standing in the water drinking rum and pretending they’re not smoking weed. Roasted breadfruit, delicious and starchy like a natural pretzel, but pale and veined like a yellow sweet potato.

Gareth the bartender. Crystobel the desk clerk.

Old men with young girlfriends.

2010s portion of story. Ya Mon has a soft y emphasis on the A—yA Mon. Ask the bartender for whatever’s fun to make—neverending variety of different rum drinks. Hazey-dazey beach scene soaks up ambition. Hustling vendors march the beach—dressed laid back with a mellow attitude, but soaking in sweat and working their hustles hard:

“Ciiiiiigarettes—Ciiiiiigarettes—Ciiiiiigarettes!” Plastic bag of cigs

“Saahvoneers—Saahvoneers (souvenirs)” Big plastic tray—conchs

“Lobsters mon!” A couple of lobsters dipped in the ocean periodically

Quieter, friendly, “Hey Mon, need some ganja, I set you up.”

Bright colored little open boats with rods on the rails down at the edge of the resort where security can pretend to ignore them. “Fishing Mon?”

A man roars up to the edge of the sand: “Jet ski?”

Beach musicians, guitar and banjo, using an empty VHS rental container as a tip jar. Good voices, mostly old men with dreadlocks and smiles like the musicians in Mighty Quinn.

Tour guide, chatty see the real Jamaica, Appleton, Black River—certified by the tourist board. Got me a taxi with a cooler full of red stripe. Got me some skunk weed too if you want smoke. Not up for a tour? I can still get you the stink, Mon.

This gentle version is at the resort with guards and staff to police the beach. The sales are harder, pushier where there are no such watchers.

Sun so bright that you can burn in the shade just from bounce light. Hairy chest and legs SPF 10+. Sunscreen wears off and you cook, but not where the hair is, not in the shade at least. Lay on the beach, move with the shade, drink rum, wander down to waves when the shade get too hot.

All kinds of rum, sweet, spicy, sharp. White, brown, blended with coconut or banana. White rum, pineapple juice, splash of lime-deadly refreshing on a hot afternoon.

Steel drum band. Men and women. Three tops rigs with two drums each. One set of big complete oil drums (four). One regular old drum kit. Dancers doing headspins and all the stuff we eighties children think of as breakdancing, but a tropical beat.

Beach party, dancing to drums and electric guitar on the edge of the waves. Splash out to knee deep when the sweat runs too thick from dancing. Scottish step dancing surprisingly appropriate.

Walking along the interface between water and sand at sunset, waves less than ankle height, rum buzzing in your head.

The rains coming with thunder and lightning every day between 3-5 in the afternoon. Usually quick and cooling, then off, but every so often with the hint of monsoon. The boatmen stand under the tiny shelter of the the fish sanctuary sign, and bail when the rain has passed.

Feral cats live on the edge of resortland begging scraps from the tourists. The cautious hiding on the edges, the more successful, playing the loving house cat-hustling every bit as hard as the beach vendors. Compact cats—7lbs or so. Content to wait in the rain if it means they get some jerk chicken or grilled fish.

Smokers everywhere, and more black tourists than white. White folks often from Italy or Spain or points east. Lots of slavic accents. Only redhead on the beach is with me. Men with shaved heads and weightbench muscles abound. Tattoos are everywhere. The most obnoxious tourists are American, same as everywhere else.

Most tourists have a light buzz on, rum or ganja. Though some are gone by noon, really drunk drunks are rare. Maybe because the culture encourages the light buzz and demystifies alcohol and weed.

In resortland its rare to go half an hour without smelling someone light up. The weed smokers are neither furtive nor brazen, and the smell is what tells you they’re there more than behavior does.

The staff and the locals all laid back smiles. Some of that’s the job, some of it’s the culture. They work hard, but don’t rush. Handclasp or fist bump to say hello and goodbye. Everyone seems to have good teeth, often flashed in smile. When they speak amongst themselves it’s patois, fast and impossible for this outsider to parse. Braids and dyes are popular for the women—long hair mostly. Men mostly wear it short, in tiny dreads, high and tights, or low afros. Quite a few shaved heads though, and the longer dreads can be seen here and there, mostly on musicians.

Rehearsals for Jamaican dance show. Walkthrough to adjust the dance to the available space. Tights and legwarmers for heat even when its eighty out.

Sitting in the ocean during really heavy rain cold on shore, warm in the water. Rain so hard you can barely see, like spatters of sleet on my bald head. Marvelous as it was. Glorious in book form with a bottle of passed back and forth in the warm surf. Run ashore to fetch a bottle, feels like stepping into a hot bath when you splash back into the waves. Lightning overhead so loud and so close you can feel it vibrate your chest cavity like a skin and bone drum.

Tropical wedding. Groomsmen in whit linen shirts and sand pants. Groom in a sand suit. Bride in a white and sand silk mermaid that somehow works. Bridesmaids in teal, one, two, or no straps. Caribbean rock band with a teal guitar that matches the dresses. Loud obnoxious Americans who smoked and drank the week away, ruining other folks fancy dinners suddenly and briefly transformed into something  marvelous as they sway down the hall to steel drums on the way to a beautiful moment. After the recessional, once the wedding party has walked out of easy hearing, the band breaks into an instrumental Hotel California with the steel drums going sinister and eerie, and you suddenly wonder what fate awaits the wedding crowd once they revert to the “ugly American” stereotype. The story turns again, transformed into a prelude to horror…perhaps the dark sorcerer of Aqua Vitae did not like having his fancy dinner interrupted.

Speaking of which, the author would like to note that in combination with the water pouring out of the ceiling of the fancy Sir Andrew restaurant, the loud American crowd transformed a romance story first to disaster, and then to charming absurdist farce.

Series, –ologies, and Outlines

 A while back I got a question about planning ahead and the WebMage world come in and I thought the answer might be something I should share.

How far in advance do (did) you plan what happens to your characters. Did you know most of the things early on, or did they come to you as time went by? For example, (J) wondered about Ravirn’s name change.

That depends on the specifics and when I wrote a given book. I tend to know much more much earlier at this point in my writing career than I did when I started out.

So, Cybermancy was much more thoroughly plotted out than WebMage. I didn’t know about Ravirn’s name change in WebMage until a couple of weeks before I wrote it, though I knew that I wanted Ravirn cast out of his family months beforehand–the name change was a detail triggered by listening to Jane Yolen on a panel about trickster characters.

In terms of the impact of the Raven thing on Cybemancy, I literally had no idea until I started writing Cybermancy, because at the time I wrote WebMage I had no plans for a sequel. I only started playing with the idea of a second book when my agent suggested I might want to think about that if the eventual publisher asked for one.

Likewise, when I finished Cybermancy I wasn’t planning for more books, because the numbers hadn’t started coming in. But very shortly thereafter WebMage hit and almost immediately went into a second printing, and that suggested that it was something I should be thinking about. So, I figured out much of what I wanted to do with CodeSpell and MythOS the September after WebMage came out, though I didn’t write the proposals for another two months.

At the time I’m writing this, Book V, assuming there is a one, is roughly plotted in terms of the highly technical “things what has to happen” model but not in terms of a sequence of events. The looseness of this process is in part because WebMage wasn’t planned as a series and has just sort of grown, and in part because it’s an open ended series and not an –ology of any sort.

The Black School books (a trilogy of which two are now written) were always planned as a three book arc, with me knowing the broad outlines of II and III before I ever started writing I. The proposal for II and III looks radically different in terms of specifics than it would have if I’d written it before writing I, but the big events and the arc are much the same as they have always been.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 27 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Woke up with a bit of book lodged in my head

Update 2013: Not sure if this will interest anyone other than me since it’s mostly a process post on a book I haven’t gotten the chance to write you, but I’m bringing it over so I have a copy on the site.

Storms last night, big ones. They set off the sirens and sent Laura and I to the basement at 4:00 a.m., always a pleasure, especially since it means herding cats. I was just starting to nod off after getting back to bed when I realized I had a chunk of book lodged in my brain.

Since I can’t leave story alone, I started nibbling around the edges of this one and pretty soon realized it was both quite large and, technically, on my schedule. It’s the beginning of the Halifax book that I’ve mentioned once or twice before, which isn’t supposed to show up for at least a year– possibly more since I’ve got 3 books firmly scheduled in front of it and, depending on the vagueries of contracts and such, as many 7. Update: 9 and counting.

Silly book, I don’t have the time to write you right now. Unfortunately, it’s not listening and I quite like what I’ve got so far – 1-2k words and big bit of plot, character, and setting. Maybe I can cheat and carve out a bit of extra writing time in the mornings before I’m really awake. I’d have to see if I could hold two novels in my head while writing them in parallel for a bit, but that might make a fun challenge.

Oh, and for those of you who’ve been paying attention to my process, this one’s a real oddity. I don’t have strong ideas about the contours of the world at the moment. I’m not even sure about the edges of the magic system beyond the way they affect the protagonist personal situation. I’ll have to see how that goes. Since I’ve caught this one forming, I’ll try to add bits of the how of it as I go.

A bit more on the Halifax book

 I’ve known ever since I wandered around the Citadel that I was going to write something set in Halifax with the old fortress as a major component. What I hadn’t planned was doing anything about for the next two years or so. Books take time, and I’m currently all booked up. Also, I find that I need to let ideas marinate in the back of my head for a while before I get something really useful. This has taken as long as ten years and rarely takes less than one. So, not only was I not planning on working or even thinking about this, I honestly didn’t think my back brain would spit anything out at least until next summer. I was wrong. I even know why I was wrong. Two reasons:

First, The Halifax environment was so rich that in its marination phase bits of it dribbled down onto other brain structures that had already been bubbling away for years.

Second, I just finished Zelazney’s A Night in the Lonesome October. This is one of those books that I’ve had kicking around the house on and off for more than a decade. I’ve even gotten rid of it on at least two occasions, but it keeps coming back–I think I’ve been given three copies over the years and bought two. I’ve picked it up, read four pages, and put it down quite a number of times. Three nights ago it had come out on top of the bookdrift on my bedside table once again, and I decided to try it one last time before getting rid of yet another copy. This time it was fabulous, fast, fun, dark, and most importantly, educational. I learned something new from this read something about both plot and character. Really, about a specific kind of plot and a specific type of character: The Big Magical Event, and the World Weary Cynic. They’re F&SF staples and I’ve used variations of them over the years, but I suddenly had new insights into how they work at a deep structural level.

Cool! Something that I would find a use for in years to come–after it had marinated a bit. Except, my subconscious took the shiny new toy and dropped it into the same bucket where the Halifax stuff was soaking and there was something of catalyst reaction that reached through all the other layers Halifax had already touched on and then somehow cross-connected itself with some things I’d been thinking about the WebMage series and what to do after book five (assuming that ACE is interested in five) that would extend the brand I’ve been developing with them while still giving me something new and exciting. Et voila, the Halifax book leaped from my forehead nearly fully formed.

I don’t know if all of that makes any sense to anyone else, but that’s what happened. I was mugged by a book that hasn’t even been written yet.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog in two part on August 28 and August 29 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)


Research and Me, or: The Compost Heap Model

Someone asked me about my research process for the WebMage books. I wrote the following up, and thought it might be of more general interest, as it explains my general model for research.

Most of the research I was doing with the WebMage books was by way of refreshing long standing reading in mythology, specific geographic information for local color, or computer tech stuff. I didn’t have to do a lot of new reading for the series because it’s all stuff (with exception of some of the local color and new tech) that was mostly in my head from years of reading widely in mythology and growing up in a household with both software and hardware computer folks.

In general, I don’t do a lot of research specific to the book I’m working on. I mostly try to read widely in a lot of fields on whatever interests me at the moment and then toss it all into the back of my head where it composts away in the dark for later application to fiction, or inspiration of same.

I wish I could be more specific, but that’s not really how I approach research, except for detail work that comes up as I need it. So, for a theater book, I might realize I need to look at a rehearsal schedule and email someone at a theater to see if I can get a copy. Or, I might realize I need to know what pistol the British military was using in 1939, and go look it up. Otherwise, everything gets fed into the woodchipper and then mounded up for later use.

That’s actually my primary story generation system as well, as things are always crawling out of the compost heap/mulch pile and making a break for it.

Updated to add: Librarians. When I do need those specific bits of information, I often email one my many librarian friends and tap their mad skillz to find the right bits with a minimum of fuss and hassle.


Perfect Books

Over the years I’ve found a few of what I call perfect books, stories where I wouldn’t change a word. There are hundreds of books that I love and periodically reread and thousands that I’ve enjoyed, but only a few that I would call perfect, and some of my favorites don’t make the list. Here they are, in no particular order:

Roger Zelazny-Nine Princes in Amber
Roger Zelazny-A Night in the Lonesome October.
Vernor Vinge-A Fire Upon the Deep
Robin McKinley-Sunshine
Martha Wells-The Element of Fire
Martha Wells-Death of the Necromancer
Tim Powers-Anubis Gates
Tim Powers-Last Call
Christopher Hinz-Liege Killer
Neil Gaiman-Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman-The Graveyard Book
Lois McMaster Bujold-A Civil Campaign
Neil Stephenson-Zodiac
Emma Bull-War for the Oaks
S.M. Stirling-Marching Through Georgia
H. Beam Piper-Space Viking
Terry Pratchett-Feet of Clay
Terry Pratchett-Small Gods
Pamela Dean-Tam Lin
Nina Kiriki Hoffman-The Thread that Binds the Bones

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog December 4 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project, and updated to add The Graveyard Book and A Night in the Lonesome October)

Fallen Blade World Development.

I was recently asked about how I developed the world for the Fallen Blade books and what tools I used to keep track of that development.. This is my answer to that question

I built the bones of the Fallen Bladeworld twenty years ago, wrote a novel and-a-half in it, and then set aside, so some of the details are fuzzy at this point.

When I first laid it out, I started with the idea of familiar-dependent magic. I’ve always liked familiars, but in general I think they haven’t had as deep an impact on their mages as they ought. That’s where the two part magic/familiar system came from. Then I spent a bunch of time trying to figure what the various ramification of that were just on the mage/familiar partners and what the the failure modes and strange combinations might look like.

Then I put together the original rough map and started thinking about culture and history and cultural history and migration patterns and place names and cultural cross currents. I wrote an 18 page magic system supplement for the world that worked with the Warhammer role-playing system.

As I was writing the first book I ran a campaign in the Fallen Blade (then Assassin Mage) world to play test some of my thinking. There is no better why to find the holes in a magic system than to game it with a bunch of rules lawyer role-players. I had to give that trial type up eventually as it draws on the same part of my brain and creativity as writing and I really can’t manage both given my schedule these days.

After I wrote the first novel I wrote a couple of shorts in the places in the world that had particularly odd mage/familiar interaction. Then I wrote about 1/3 of a novel in the non-human southlands where magic operates slightly differently—I really hope to get back there at some point. Through it all I kept track of stuff on the map, in a catch-all file labeled “assassin_mage_stuff.doc, and in a glossary.

Then I put it all aside for 20 years until my editor at Ace asked me if I wanted to try writing some more traditional fantasy. I said yes, went away for a bit and decided that the Assassin Mage world had some really spiffy pieces that I’d like to salvage. So I went ahead and built the Blades on the wreckage of the Assassin Mages and built the cultures of Tien, and the Magelands, and Varya which I’d only sketched out the first time. I also created the first pass at the pantheon, as religion was very important to Aral in a way it wasn’t to my original protagonists.

At that point, I started a new glossary, pulling across the stuff that overlapped from the old version, and building a lot of new stuff. I looked at Han China and late Republican Rome for Tien in terms of architecture and people and economies—I also grabbed other stuff from other places, but Rome and China are the core. I spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of magic on economies before I started actually writing and I created a monetary system when I hit the first Spinnerfish scene, because once you order food you need to know how much it’s worth and what the coinage is and all that stuff. Economics is critical for real depth.

Somewhere early in writing Broken Blade I decided I needed to have different days of the week and a calendar and that meant I needed to know something about seasons and axial tilt and the cultural history of the calendar because of the names of days and months. There, I borrowed heavily in my thinking from the history of the regulation of the calendar by the Pontifex Maximus in late Republican and early Imperial Rome.

The original world was quite strong on magic systems and the geography and ancient history weren’t bad, but in those days I didn’t know to think about economics of magic, or cultural bleed over borders, or that names oughtn’t be all linguistically neatened up due to that some cultural bleed and to borrowed words and historical remnants. I started with something that was culturally simplistic in much the same way that the Belgariad is, but time and deeper thinking after the original pass taught me a lot more about how those things have worked historically in our own world and how to apply that knowledge to creating a more realistic feeling fictional world.

The big takeaways for me from the process: For keeping track I have my glossary, a calendar, a monetary system, a catchall file for things like gesture, and my various plot outlines. Important things to think about for world: History, history, history, economic, cultural, technological. How does magic impact that? Is magic expensive or cheap, rare or plentiful, etc. Mine real history, blend eras and places, but make sure to do it carefully and to file off any serial numbers you don’t want showing.

Also, make some things radically different from your sources and original thinking. When I first set out to writer Bared Blade the Durkoth were leftovers from my Assassin Mage era and weren’t all that different from dwarves, but when I mentioned that to Lyda Morehouse she said “NO DWARVES” and she was absolutely right. So, if I’m not doing dwarves what do subteranean fey look like? Etc.

P.S. for those who might be interested I’ve posted both the Fallen Blade glossary, and the original Assassin Mage glossary.

Goals and Projects Sept 2006

Hey All,
I find that occasionally stating my goals helps me get more accomplished, especially if I put them up someplace public. So, here goes.

Front and center:

My current project is a historical fantasy trilogy set in an alternate World War II with most of the action of the first two books set in Edinburgh and the third traveling from there to Dachau. It’s quite dark and it’s YA. The Black School which is the first of them is my second YA novel so far, as cracking the YA market is my next major goal. I’m hoping to knock off six thousand or so words of that in the next couple of days. I’m really excited about this one.

Running Second:

Submission Novels: This is the stuff that’s out looking for a home or waiting for a response, any of which could become my main project with no warning. That includes Cybermancy, the WebMage sequel, contracted and handed in but as yet unread by my editor. The Urbana and Uriel, both being held by my editor for further consideration. Winter of Discontent, out with another editor. Numismancer, likewise. And Chalice: Artbreak, the aforementioned other YA, on the desk of my agent who plans to get it in the mail shortly.

Complete Shorts: At the moment I’ve got exactly zero short stories out and I need to fix that, so some time in the next month or two I need to sit down, re-read all my shorts, make some adjustments, and figure out who might be interested in what. I’d like to have at least ten stories back in the mail by the end of October.

Unfinished Shorts: I’ve got about six shorts that need to be completed or rewritten, but I have no idea when I’m going to find the time.

Unfinished Novels: I have a several chapters of a contemporary fantasy novel, Outside In (a secret history of architecture), sitting and waiting for me to get back to it. Likewise a mystery, Ave Caesar, which is supposed to be the first of series of light murder mysteries set in theater and film productions with an actor as the detective.

Trunk Novels: Apprentice Assassin, book I of the Assassin Mage trilogy (written three years before the appearance of the Robin Hobb book of similar title and bearing no resemblance to same). This one is awaiting a rewrite to convert it from a high fantasy general market book into a YA and is my lowest priority at the moment since it’s the first of a trilogy I’m not up for finishing at the moment. The Swine Prince, a high fantasy farce that’s ninety percent rewritten. It just needs a new first three chapters to get it out the door, so maybe ten days worth of work counting reread and rewrite. I’m hoping to get to that one within the next year so it will stop giving me guilt-inducing looks whenever I pass it in my files.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Sept 11th 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project )

Following up on the current state of the above: I finished The Black School and its sequel The Eye of Horus. That project is still looking for a home and it contains some of my best writing and worldbuilding to date. Cybermancy is currently going into a second printing, which makes at least two print run for each of the five WebMage books (WebMage is in its 5th or 6th run). Uriel is more or less permanently trunked. Winter of Discontent, The Urbana, and Numismancer are all still all under submission, currently as a package deal. Swine Prince is out somewhere as well. Apprentice Assassin did not get rewritten but it did get stripped for parts for the Fallen Blade books. Outside In and Ave Caesar are both benched, though I still have vague hopes of finishing them in my copious free time. I stopped writing and submitting short stories almost entirely, though I have published one of my backlist shorts since then and written another on request which will be out soon.

(The original post also included questions, but, as I’ve elected not to enable comments at, I’m separating them out below and people’s answers can be found at the Wyrdsmiths version):
What are y’all working on? What do you hope to get done soon? What’s sitting in your trunk making rude noises and inducing writer’s guilt?