The Story So Far, or Lessons Learned on the Writing Life

Writing full time is a dream come true for anyone who’s finished even so much as a short story. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Now that I’ve taken the plunge, there are a few lessons I’d like to pass on. This list is by no means complete:

1. Time management is everything. 

You may have a lot more of it now but it’s still less than you think, especially if working from home means you’re now responsible for, you know, taking care of said home. If you don’t make writing Priority One, I promise you will find enough meaningless distractions to leave you doing what Sarah Hoyt calls “rotating the cat.”

My days start pretty early. I help Better Half get around and see her off to work by 7. I make time for daily devotionals and Bible study (whatever is important to you, but this is something else that will fall by the wayside if I don’t do it first thing), then catch up on email and daily news. I make sure all that is done plus breakfast by 830. I’ll work out afterward if I feel like it. Otherwise, it’s time to plant my butt in the seat.

The exception to all this is when I have a road trip for my contract job. There’s a certain amount of preparation that has to happen ahead of time, and when I’m out on the road that job is the priority. Besides keeping my focus where it needs to be, it makes it easier to wrap up reports while I’m still on the clock and not back at home.

2. Human interaction is also everything.

Let me be clear: I did not leave a crappy job. It wasn’t always the most interesting thing in the world, but it was still a good gig. I miss my old coworkers, and you will too unless they were jerks in which case congratulations on escaping a toxic work environment.

That’s what I like about my contractor gig: besides paying actual money, it gets me away every few weeks to spend a lot of time with new people.

On a related note, I’ve also found it important to get out of the house and “go to the office” just to break up the routine (or maybe establish one). Don’t make fun of the loner at Starbucks pounding away on his laptop because he may not be doing it just for show–in fact, if you’re in the Bellevue, TN, area it might be me! I’ve recently started checking out local coffee shops Not Named Starbucks just to break up the monotony. First time I tried it I knocked out 1500 words in two hours on a story I hadn’t touched in three weeks.

Also, if you don’t have a dog or a cat, get one. Preferably a dog, because there are no good places for a litter box if you don’t have a basement or a decent-sized mudroom. See also that whole “rotating the cat” problem.

3.  The mental engagement of a full-time job may benefit your writing more than you realize.

YMMV, but if you’re like me you used storytelling to escape the mundane. You might be surprised at how much more work it takes to spark the old imagination.

4. Unless you’ve been handed a six-figure advance, be prepared to feel worthless.

My wife and I have swapped roles after twenty years spent raising our sons. She now works full-time in a job with excellent benefits and I work part-time as a contractor in my old industry (business aviation). We made all of the preparations responsible adults are supposed to do ahead of a big life change like this: eliminating debt, setting a budget, and ensuring we had enough savings to cover the gaps while I begin building writing income.

None of that changes the fact that after being the main breadwinner for all those years, I’m now small potatoes. My part-time consulting job brings in about half of what I was making before. While it enables writing full time, any royalties won’t be seen for at least another nine months from now. Baen structures their advances so that you have a good chance of selling through, but I still have no idea how much those royalties might be.

I have other stuff in the works that’s too short for Baen to publish so it’ll go on Kindle Direct where the royalties come a little quicker, but it’s still no less scary. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll have to go back to work full time. Which brings me to…

5. Make certain your significant other is 100% all-in.

It’s not fair to them otherwise, and you’re going to need them on your side for the times when doubt threatens to cripple you. My wife has been absolutely committed to this, and I can tell you with certainty I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it otherwise. She has been an absolute treasure and I hope every one of you reading this has someone like this in your life.

That’s all for now. I still have a lot to learn so there will be more to come in the future. In the meantime, you may recall I have a book coming out in January. Pre-orders mean a lot, so Tap That App and tell your friends!


The Curse Of The Second Novel


Mad Genius Club

I bring you bad news.  There is a curse on a second novel.  To be exact, there is a curse on a second PUBLISHED novel, no matter how many novels you’ve published before.

I’m not sure if this applies to indie novels, I confess, but I think it might, if you have at least had some kind of success on your first book.  Now, it depends on what success is to you.  If you go Martian-big on your first novel (we should all be so cursed) I almost guarantee that you’ll suffer second novel curse on the next.  But it’s possible that if you never at all expected to sell anything at all, and you sell a couple thousand books, you’ll also suffer second novel curse.

What is worse, you can suffer second novel curse when you have “simply” taken a big leap in sales or in PERCEIVED craft.  I…

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Obligatory Horn-Tooting

The online magazine Science Fiction & Fantasy World ran a nice little interview with yours truly, which I almost missed thanks to the holiday weekend. Makes me feel like a real author. Probably need to change my photo to something more erudite and writer-ly, like maybe a smoking jacket in a leather armchair in front of a wall of books that I’ve never read. Something like this guy…

You can leave anytime, just buy my books! Here, have some champagne.

Big News

I’m now publishing with Baen. They’ve picked up Perigee and Farside, which are being republished under their imprint this week. More news to follow as I work on future titles with them. You might have noticed the blog has been on life support the last few months, needless to say I’ve been rather distracted and it hasn’t all been publishing deals. If y’all keep coming back for updates on the new titles, I’ll promise to start putting up actual content again.


Obligatory Marketing Post

It’s been about two weeks since FARSIDE went live on Amazon. Now comes the hard part: marketing.


Someone with the audacity to think he has the chops to write two novels should have no problems tooting his own horn (not talking about when I eat too much spicy food, but that’s another story). But there’s something about selling myself that’s inherently distasteful and I suspect most normal people would feel the same way.

Having said that, buy the @$&#! book already! C’mon people, I’ve got a kid heading to college in a year and life ain’t getting any cheaper. I’m sure it’s not for you either, so $3.99 is a pretty small investment for a big payoff.

There. I marketed. I feel better now.

The End In Sight

FARSIDEx2700BI can now say that whole “Second Novel Curse” thing is for realz, ya’ll. It defies explanation – for if I could that would mean that I understood it and could thus avoid the whole problem – but one would think after all of the work that goes into finishing a first novel, it would be no big deal to finish the second one…right?



Silly human. Don’t you realize that your brain immediately purges itself at the end of the creative process, leaving you a state of near-helplessness not experienced since your infancy (but without the wet diapers and boobies)?

Other writers warned me that the first novel seems to arrive almost fully-formed in your mind; your task as an author is to figure out how to tell the story. It’s all there bursting to get out and just waiting on you to prepare the way. The second novel is the reverse: now that you know how to do it, you have to scratch and claw your way to actually finding the story you want to tell in the first place.

There’s a difference between what happens in a story and what the thing’s actually about. I’m not afraid to say that every step in this process has been a struggle for a number of reasons. Some were of my own doing, many were not. Some were due to the fact that I have teenagers at home who needed more attention than I could have given if I’d instead devoted that energy to finishing this book two years ago. I can always write more but those boys will only grow up once. The world already has enough unprincipled yahoos in it, ya’ll don’t want me letting a couple more loose.

Just deciding on the title was a struggle, and in this case one where time was on my side. Back when I thought this would be ready in 2013, the title I’d planned on ended up being used by a much better-known author. While not necessarily subject to copyright, to me it seemed like very bad form to use the same title. Fortunately, enough time has passed that I’m now comfortable with it again.

So yes, the Perigee sequel is actually complete. Not “finished,” mind you, just “complete.” That means I’m in the midst of polishing the manuscript before sending it off for editing and book formatting. This is the fun part, too: things like settling on a title and finalizing cover art are good at providing a much-needed kick in the @$$.

FARSIDE will be available soon for pre-order on Amazon.

Into the Sunset

Anyone who’s read Perigee can probably tell that Tom Clancy was a major inspiration of mine.

I first discovered him in 1985 while still a cadet at The Citadel. After three years of mediocre-to-piss-poor academic performance, I was finally this close to making the Dean’s List my senior year…and I will forever blame Mr. Clancy for causing me to miss it by that much. All because my roommate handed me this little book called The Hunt for Red October right before final exam week.

Notice how I keep shifting blame there?

So yeah, that happened. The weekend before finals was spent holed up in my room wallowing in every word of that confounded book instead of Shakespeare’s tragedies or Milton’s Paradise Lost. My professors were unimpressed with my sudden infatuation. Some regarded this upstart insurance salesman-cum-author with even more derision than Steven King, which illustrates perhaps one of the biggest problems with literature today: eggheads who emphasize all of the wrong things about writing.*

Telling a good story is all that matters in the end. You can be a master of character study or mood setting or ingenious metaphor, with impeccable grammar and surgically precise sentence structure, but if it’s a lame story you’re only going to impress the literary Cool Kid’s Club. And for some authors, that’s exactly what they aspire to. Or so I’m told — beats me, I sure don’t read them.

Tom Clancy was criticized for a lot of things: too much pedantic detail, too one-dimensional, too right-wing. Whatev. Don’t care. His books rocked. His extreme attention to detail is what made them pop and stand out among other military or spy adventures. And his obvious love and respect for the people who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. Jack Ryan was a great character: easy to identify with, never straying too far from his own sense of “I can’t freaking believe this $#!+.” And when the unbelievable happened, he damn well did something about it which is precisely what a good literary hero is supposed to do.

Last year I was fortunate enough to find a used hardback of Hunt for Red October in the original Naval Institute printing. It now occupies an honored place on my writing desk. For all of his improbable, imaginative stories, Red October was the one that really lit a fire in me and it’s burned for a good twenty-five years. The combination of fly-on-the-wall realism, down-to-earth characters, and good old-fashioned intrigue was irresistible. It’s a tone I’ve tried to achieve in my own writing and I’m grateful to live in an age where spaceflight is no longer locked into the realm of sci-fi. He was an early supporter of commercial space ventures and I’d hoped he would dip his toe in those waters for at least one book.

His writing began to lose its edge after Executive Orders and I’d always assumed it was because the Cold War paradigm he thrived in had disappeared. But from what I’ve read recently, it appears that it may have had more to do with chronic health problems which have finally run their course.

Peggy Noonan’s eulogy in the Wall Street Journal spoke of him as a man who opened up to and encouraged new authors. I’ve never been afraid of contacting other established writers, and will forever regret not reaching out to the one who influenced me most.

RIP, Jack Ryan.

*It bears mentioning that only a few notorious Citadel professors were all that uppity about literature, most were in fact quite down-to-earth. One day I’ll have to tell some stories about one irascible old Lieutenant Colonel known as Trash Mouth.

What’s the Big Idea?

I’ve whined about struggling with the follow-up to Perigee a few times, which I guess makes this one of those times. The successful indie writers say one should be able to crank out two or three books a year…yeah, riiight. I’m not sure how anyone can manage that with both day job and family. Since I choose to spend time with my kids, unfortunately that means ya’ll lose out on biannual doses of storytelling brilliance. You guys aren’t going to be the ones selecting my nursing home when the time comes, so it’s important for me to keep the boys happy now so I don’t end up in some state-sanctioned Uncle B.O.’s Gulag Acres.

Next week’s big hiking trip has been crowding out what’s left of my mental space for the last month or two. That’s not a bad thing. Two weeks of living outdoors in the Rockies is likely to be even better.

Why? Because I’ve done all I can do with the new book until now. The story’s there, all of the characters are established, major scenes are written…but it’s still not done. If anything, it feels maybe 2/3 complete. I could fill in some yawning gaps and toss it out nice n’ quick-like, but it would just be a sequence of events and you guys would hate me for it. Ever read one of those books that was just a progression of set pieces that led to a conclusion? That’s what I’m trying to avoid, because this book has the potential to be big. The story arc certainly has a lot of kick-ass elements to it…but what ties them together? Why should we care about any of it?

That’s why it’s crucial to figure out what the story’s really about. It’s got to be more than “Event A leads to Crisis B which is resolved by C.” Figuring that out sometimes requires stepping away from the keyboard and clearing your head – you know, that whole forest/trees thingy. By that, I mean what’s the Big Idea driving events and motivating your characters? What concepts are you exploring? Granted this is more of a concern in sci-fi than in technothrillers, but even a straight-up thriller needs to have a theme that pulls it all together. It doesn’t have to be obvious…in fact, it shouldn’t be lest you end up just being preachy.

Or worse: boring.

So to recap the story: Art Hammond’s bunch at Polaris AeroSpace are now flying tourists on free-return orbits around the Moon. As you may have gathered from the posted excerpts, one ship runs into a bit of trouble and is reported missing after disappearing around the lunar far side. Our heroes, of course, leap into action and face more than a few unexpected twists as they set off to find their friends somewhere in lunar orbit.

There are certainly plenty of readers attracted by the setting alone – but more are attracted by a compelling reason for it. Otherwise, it’s just another space-rescue drama. Been there, done that. So what’s it really about? Well, I can’t say too much without giving up the story. Suffice to say that in a world where a few individuals can wreak unprecedented havoc, it is likewise individuals who have the means to stop it. What makes the difference is their will to overcome their fears, doubts, or past failures. And the sides we choose aren’t always as clear-cut as we’d like them to be.

So yes, the missing link has been found, so I can promise you we’re not in for just a fictional re-telling of Apollo 13.

Eventually I’ll even settle on a title.

APOGEE, Chapter 1

As promised, here’s the next round of Apogee sneak previews.

If ya’ll haven’t guessed, we pick up where Perigee left off: that is, with Art Hammond hell-bent on sending people around the Moon. The tech combines elements of Buzz Aldrin’s “lunar cycler” concept, Bigelow/Transhab type inflatable modules, L2 depots, and a few other things that I’ll try and surprise you with. The “LV” prefix before a ship’s name stands for “Lunar Vessel”, something I made up.

Hints and Spoiler Alerts: Remember that Ryan and Penny were both ex-military? That’s going to come back and bite them.

The excerpts posted here are from the first round of revisions. Details may change along the way, but the story arc and all that goes with it will not. Enjoy!

UPDATE: speaking of details…interesting how seeing something you’ve been looking at for months suddenly changes when you post it somewhere in a different format. There were some things about this first chapter that bugged me, so I’ve done a little editing. I think this flows a lot more nicely, hopefully you will too. Continue reading “APOGEE, Chapter 1”

Tipping Point

2012 may be known as the year Indie publishing broke down the final barriers to general acceptance. This may be one of the biggest roadblocks to fall:

NY Times Critic Selects Self-Published Book Among This Year’s Top 10

A lot of writers have been of the opinion that a big-shot reviewer’s stamp of approval is the brass ring we needed someone to grab. I hope that’s the case, because there aren’t that many left. Consider what’s happened just in the past twelve months:

Literary merits aside (gaah!), there’s no denying that 50 Shades of S&M Grey pretty much owned the best-seller lists this year. A more worthy (IMO) example is Hugh Howey’s Wool, which didn’t do so badly itself after being published pretty much on a lark as I understand it. It’s very good – surprisingly good – in that I knew it was getting great reviews and selling well, but I was surprised at how emotionally powerful it was. Turns out he made the right move, as the movie rights have been picked up by Ridley Scott.

Personally, 2013 is going to be a big year for yours truly. Look for the Perigee sequel this spring, and a novella that connects the two books by next Christmas.

There – committed to them in public! Suppose that means I’d better get on with finishing them…