Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Process Stories

Writing productivity comes and goes. By and large, I try to hold myself to at least 1000 words a day. If I can make it to that benchmark, I feel like I've been productive. Some days, I can even break 3000... though if one were to pay close attention to my word counts, it's obvious that I don't write every day. Life just doesn't allow for that, even if I'm not at a point where I need to step back and chew on the next step in the story. I also write much better if I have a nice long stretch of time ahead of me; knowing I'll be interrupted in two hours tends to put a damper on productivity.

I'm currently at about 95,000 words on Rich Man's War. By comparison, Poor Man's Fight is at 141k-ish (I don't have it in front of me just now). The "middle" for this book turned out to be a little tougher for me than the middle sections of my previous works, but I'm finally happy with the rough draft and I can move on.

I don't think I'm spoiling anything if I say that Rich Man's War ends with a whole lot of violence and screaming and probably someone's gonna get their feelings hurt. If anything, it will be a much bigger deal than the end of Poor Man's Fight. I'm on the cusp of writing that final arc... like the battle commences on my computer as soon as I have a good long stretch of writing time. (I'm actually away from my home computer as I write this, otherwise I'd be hard at work on it already.)

The biggest difference between writing urban fantasy and sci-fi, at least for me, is the level of detail that needs to be invested in world-building. Good Intentions basically just takes place in modern-day Seattle. The only serious benchmarks that could "date" the story are the references to Facebook (already fading in popularity with younger people) and Wade's service in Afghanistan. Once the US makes a serious pullout from Afghanistan, there's a solid timeframe in which the story must take place, but until then it could be September of any year from 2008 - 2014 (and on). But I don't really have to describe cell phones, or streets, or clothes.

Rich Man's War brings the setting into greater detail, and keeping that consistent is... well, more than a little work. I've tried to nail down a solid timeline, including establishing the year in which the story takes place, but that involved a lot of me wrestling with my own futuristic sensibilities. The biggest issue is the limits to Faster Than Light travel and communications, because that puts time delays on everything. This is all implied in Poor Man's Fight, of course, but in Rich Man's War it's much more of a factor. In Tanner's world, you can't put out a transmission that runs faster than the speed of light. This means that transmissions from one planet to the next within the same star system can have delays of several minutes or even much longer. The only way to speed it up is to put that message on something with an FTL engine and cover that distance... which happens regularly, and is the main method of interstellar communication. Yet even FTL-capable drones and starships have their limitations. For one thing, FTL travel through a significant gravity well like a moon or a planet is a serious risk; you won't really hurt the planet if you hit it (which, to be honest, goes against current scientific expectations), but you'll certainly shred your ship if you come too close.

This means it's about a three-week lag in communications between Archangel and Earth, and communications between other locations naturally run on different timetables. I don't have an Excel sheet with planets and their relative distances or anything, as I don't have all that many locations set up yet. I will likely get to that point after three or four books in this setting, of course... but regardless, keeping things straight once you've set up this sort of condition can slow down the writing.

The setting brings up other questions that I've only touched upon so far: people can live and retain their physical youth considerably longer in Tanner's world, so what effect does that have on a person's relationships? How about their career--when you workers are still young & spry even 30 years into a career, what effect does that have on advancement? This doesn't get a whole lot of attention in the current draft, and I don't believe it will be a center-stage issue even upon revision, but it's a genuine concern.

There's also a certain amount of research to be done. As I've said elsewhere, I'm not writing hard sci-fi, and my urban fantasy stuff is also intentionally comedic, but I like to know how the real world works so that I go off the rails intentionally rather than doing it out of ignorance. Natural Consequences opens with some legal drama, and obviously the interaction between a supernatural world and a legal system is something an author has to make up through imagination, but even then I spoke with four lawyers and a judge. In Rich Man's War, the big corporations are not the same animal as one might find here in the real world, but I try to keep the conditions and decisions to a human level. Several things done by the corps in RMW are straight out of the financial collapse of 2008.

I say none of this to make excuses, of course; the book will be ready when it's ready. But I know a few people were concerned when they saw Days of High Adventure come out and worried that I'm drifting away from Tanner, and that's just not the case. Days was written two years ago. I'm still crackin' on RMW.

As for other future projects: I have a feeling that when RMW is done, I'm gonna have to go straight into the next installment, putting the Good Intentions crowd on hold for a while. Honestly, I first imagined that RMW would complete this story arc for Archangel, Tanner, Casey & all, but now that I'm here I've realized the only elegant way to handle it is to do it in three books rather than two. (That kinda screws up my play on the Civil War-era protest cry of "Rich man's war, poor man's fight!" because now I have to come up with a third title, but alas...) There absolutely will be more of the Good Intentions crew, because I love them dearly, but I've had this story arc in my head for about 15 years or so. It's time to get it nailed down and out there where people can read it all.

I plan to post the prologue to Rich Man's War here on my blog as soon as I've got the rough done and I have my trusty beta readers going over it. I'm greatly looking forward to that... hell, I've wanted to do it for weeks, but I figure it's best to make sure the book really is "coming soon" rather than just being a horrible tease.

Hope it's soon!


  1. That sounds great! I for one want to read it as soon as I can you have more writing ability in you little finger than I do so I can't complain about how long it takes to write a book. Just keep writing and I'll wait impatiently with my kindle in hand. Chris

  2. I can't even dream about writing 90k words, let alone 141k-ish. The only thing I wrote was a pretty terrible introduction chapter to a fanfiction of the original X-Com. Granted, I might get better with practice, but what I did already showed me that it is hard as hell to write a decent story. And honestly, your works are far more than mere "decent". So take your time, don't stress out about a deadline and just deliver another great book "when it's done" :)

  3. I'm sure the crowd for PMF/RMW is just as big as your Good Intentions crowd! Always happy to read updates and get insight into the workings of a damn sci-fi genius (honestly your work is better than the Honorverse and that author made millions and is getting a movie series). If you end the Tanner story arc in 3 books as you've mentioned (this makes me sad personally- would have been nice to see this turn into something comparable with Hobb's FitzChivalry series which I believe is now becoming 12-15 books) are you going to continue writing in the universe? The world-building you've done for this has me hooked- though I do particularly enjoy Tanner's story (and might I add I harbor hopes that he's selected for officer training or something- IMO he has the potential and what he lacked before he has sure made up for with his experiences, heck why am I saying this to the author?). Anyway, thanks for the update- it's more than certain other author's can be bothered with- which I believe adds to your growing popularity and IMO inevitable fame as a sci-fi author at the very least.

    1. I have no intention of leaving off with this setting after three books. It's just that I see a clear story arc that would come to its conclusion with book three. However... I'm not the sort who wants stories to have clear-cut endings. I like a long, sprawling series much more than a tight, elegant story. Mom always said, "Tomorrow always comes, whether you like it or not." SOMETHING happens the day after the cowboy rides off into the sunset; I want to know what that something is.

  4. I just started reading your works less than two weeks ago and have since finished all of them since then. I must say that you really need a way to clone yourself so you can work on more than one book at a time as that would be the only way to keep us satisfied :)

    I must say though that going from reading the Good Intentions series to PMF/RMW series was a bit of a jolt in what is shown in interactions between couples. I must say that I actually liked that as each style really fit the setting it was in and made it more believable. I also cannot wait for your next book to out and the one after that as well. I love good sci-fi book series like yours but unfortunately their are few out there that compare and hold my interest.

  5. I like hearing that your concerned with catching some of the easy technical issues that many writers ignore. I just started a book today an in the first sentence the writer wrote "...heard the whine of the hovercrafts ramjets..."

    sigh. ramjets have no moving parts and only can be used at high mach speeds.

    If you need more beta readers let me know.

  6. Elliott, I must say your writing had me intrigued from the first day I found Good Intentions. As much as it hurts us fans to wait (and me to say this), we'd much rather have a Great book in our hands tomorrow then a merely good one today. I appreciate all of the hard work you put into your books and can only hope to one day have the creative ability to write on your level.