Next update March 20
Lots of stuff to talk about this update… including why I’m not talking about what I want to talk about.
I was really hoping this update I could tell you all about “A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales”, my new short story collection. And, in the original plan, I’d have a handy link where you could order it in e-book or print format. Unfortunately, the book isn’t quite ready yet. (And self-publishing isn’t really set up for pre-orders.)
Don’t get me wrong – the writing is done and the stories are good to go. But since I’m self-publishing this collection, there’s still a lot of production work going into it. In the past, all my books have been published through Random House/Del Rey, so all of this “behind the scenes” stuff was done for me. And I knew it took a lot of time; typically a publisher takes six to nine months to get a book on the shelves after the first draft is submitted by the author.
I knew all this; I understood everything that went into the process. Yet I still underestimated how much work – and how much time – it would take to go from “finished writing” to “fans can buy it”. FYI – that’s a good lesson to keep in mind for life in general. I always cracked up when I read the internet forums on the BioWare websites, because it was clear people commenting there had no clue about what actually went into making a game. Rule of thumb: everything is twice as complicated, takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you expect. Just sayin’.
As for my short story collection, right now I’m working on the cover design with the talented Melissa Williams. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s important to take the time to get it right. While I’m doing that, someone else is doing a copy-editing pass to look for typos and other silly mistakes. The manuscript also needs to be properly formatted and submitted to the various retailers and to the printer in a way they can use. All of this is taking more time than expected. (And I haven’t even touched on how I plan to promote/market/build buzz around the book. All of that takes time and effort, too!)
I still expect to have the book out in the next couple weeks; hopefully by my mid-March update it will be ready to go. So I’ve decided to wait until then to discuss this project in more detail. My next update will have some excerpts for you to read and a cool looking cover for you to check out, as well as some of the “insider scoop” on the stories that I hope people will find interesting. (And maybe a contest to help promote the book…)
I was also hoping to have some more info on my appearance at Star Wars Celebration in April for you this update, but unfortunately we’re still working out all the details on that, too. So far it looks like I’ll be doing a few book signings, and maybe popping by to visit some of the parties over the weekend. But this is another topic you’ll just have to be patient on.
Instead, I’m going to use the rest of this blog to talk about the Chaos Born. In my last update I was waiting for feedback from my editors; a crucial step in the writing process. I’ve written enough novels to know that I’m pretty good at what I do (Chaos Unleashed makes lucky number 13!). And I’m generally a pretty confident person. But as an author, you still always want to hear what others think of your work.
It’s very difficult to critique yourself properly, even for someone with over a decade of experience. You’re just too close to the subject matter and too involved in the creative process to be objective; that’s why good editors are so important. They help you see the little details and the big picture things you miss with your own eyes. They tell you what works and what doesn’t, and they give you suggestions to help you make the bad stuff good and the good stuff better.
For most of my books the editors don’t ask for any major changes; it’s fine tuning, not a complete overhaul. And I’m happy to say Chaos Unleashed seems to be the same way. There are a few minor things I need to clean up, but overall my editors loved it. One of them even called it “a stirring and magnificent conclusion to the trilogy”.
Keep in mind, this is an editor – her job is to tell me when things suck. So if she says it’s good, I know she’s not just telling me what I want to hear. I’ve worked very hard on the entire Chaos Born series over the past three years, so it was very gratifying to know that it was well worth it in the end. I’d love to share some of the other notes – things they particularly liked and commented on – but they get pretty spoiler-ific. All I can say is that there were several things I’ve been building up to and laying the groundwork for over the entire series and I was anxious to see if readers would be satisfied with the payoff. Mission accomplished!
This is actually something I take a lot of pride in as an author – paying things off that have been set up earlier. I’m not just talking about twists, though that is one example. In many books, movies and games, twists are thrown in without the proper clues, hints and groundwork to make them feel natural yet still surprising. A twist just for the sake of a twist is terrible; it needs to evolve from everything that came before it. Let’s use Knights of the Old Republic – my first BioWare game as lead writer – as an example.
SPOILER WARNING NUMBER ONE!!!
If you haven’t played the game and you don’t want the story spoiled, skip down to the end of this section.
In KOTOR, the big twist is that you – the player – are actually the main villain. You were captured by the Jedi and reprogrammed so that you thought you were on their side, because trapped in your mind are the secrets to defeating Malak, your former apprentice. When you lay it out like that, it doesn’t sound that remarkable or ground breaking. It’s a twist people have seen before.
But fans LOVED it. It blew most players away. And that’s because the writing team took the time and effort to set it up before revealing it. We built up the legend of Darth Revan throughout the game as we built up your new relationships with your squad. We also put out lots of hints and clues that pointed to the truth; in the flashback scenes during the big reveal a few of those clues were brought up again so that players would recall them and fit the pieces together as the reveal was happening. It was a lot of work, but it was necessary to make the scene feel right.
Some players actually figured out the big twist in KOTOR before it happened. That is a GOOD thing. If you have a twist that NOBODY sees coming, then it’s probably a very bad twist. That means you didn’t put enough hints and clues in to set it up, and it’s going to feel random and forced. It’s a delicate line to walk; you don’t want something to be so obvious that everybody figures it out, but you want some percentage of the audience to have an idea of what’s coming before it happens.
As an author, I tend to understand narrative construction on a deep and fundamental level – I’ve been behind the curtain so often it’s hard to catch me off guard. So it’s very rare that I watch a film and don’t see a twist coming. My wife has actually forbidden me from ever commenting on TV or movies as we watch because I tend to blurt out my thoughts and end up spoiling them for her. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the films as they are happening. Seeing a twist coming doesn’t upset me; it reassures me that the author did the proper groundwork. Interstellar, The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense were great movies, but in all of them I figured out the twist long before the big reveal… but I still enjoyed each movie.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying there’s some big twist at the end of Chaos Unleashed. It’s not that kind of story. There are some cool surprises, though, and a few things come up that I set up earlier in the series. I did the same thing with the Bane novels.
SPOILER WARNING NUMBER TWO!!!!!
If you haven’t read all three of my Darth Bane novels, skip down to the end of this section to avoid some major spoilers.
In the first novel, Bane runs into a healer named Caleb. Bane has been poisoned, and Caleb refuses to help. Ultimately, Bane forces him to help by threatening his daughter. In the second book, Zannah takes Bane to Caleb again after he is badly wounded and dying from his orbalisk armor. This time Caleb’s daughter is no longer there; he has sent her away to a safe place. Ultimately, Caleb is tricked into helping Bane and betrayed and killed by Zannah in the novel’s conclusion.
Then, in the third book, much of the plot is driven by Serra, Caleb’s daughter, and her quest to avenge her father’s death. This isn’t the focus of the plot, and Caleb and Serra are both secondary characters, but they add a lot of emotional depth and power to the story. The character of Serra wouldn’t have worked nearly as well in the third novel if she was just some random person seeking revenge. But because I had introduced her and her father in the first novel – and revisited Caleb in the second novel – readers had a vested interest in her and her story.
Wow, this update has become a bit of a long, rambling rant. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that good stories take the time to set up their characters and conflicts, so that when you reach the final climax everything feels right. As an author, it’s a lot of work, and you don’t want to F- it all up in the end. In Children of Fire, there’s a lot of background early on. Some readers have complained that the story takes too long to get going. And they are entitled to their opinion, of course. But I think readers who get to the end of book 3 will appreciate all that background stuff, because it will make the endings resonate more with them.
The story was broken into three books, but it really is one single epic tale stretched across the entire trilogy. The books weren’t meant to stand alone. In a perfect world, I would have had all three books written at the same time and released them all at once. But in the real world, I need to eat. I have bills to pay. And publishers want to see something they can print and start selling before they’ll start paying us authors. (Okay, I did get an advance. But the contract is broken up so that most of the money is tied to when I submit the actual manuscripts of each book.)
I understand how frustrating it can be to wait for the ending of a story you’re enjoying. But at least now the end for the Chaos Born is in sight! Chaos Unleashed has a few minor tweaks to go, but we are easily on schedule for the July 14 release. (You can pre-order it here!) And, thanks to the feedback from my editors, I’m now 100% confident in saying you won’t be disappointed in how my trilogy ends!
Okay, that’s about all for this update. Next time – hopefully! – my update will be all about my amazing, awesome and incredible short story collection!