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Conventions, Retreats, and Writing New Stuff

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Well, yes. I’ve not posted in a long while. Where the heck did the year go?? The Ultra Big Sleep came out, and then I went into hibernation myself.

The second book has done okay (not gangbusters, but I’ll certainly move forward with the third book in that story arc), and the companion novelette, Slightly Ruby, about the same. I go through a lot of copies at conventions, as it’s priced low. Sometimes I give them away when folks spend good money at the dealer table.

Speaking of conventions, besides Worldcon in Kansas City, in August, there was a trip to San Francisco in September for SF in SF, which saw Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Robert Silverberg talking about their Fairwood Press book TRAVELER OF WORLDS (which, by the way, as I write this, is a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work!). October saw MileHiCon in Denver. Orycon in Portland fell in November. February and March saw three sessions of the annual Rainforest Writers Village, my writers retreat at Lake Quinault. Norwescon was in April, and just last weekend I was in Montana for Miscon. Looking forward: Cascade Writers and Locus Awards in June, Spocon in August, and World Fantasy in early November.

Right now, I’m working on a dark fantasy ghost mystery set out in the Olympic Rainforest, complete with magic and music. I’m enjoying this, and come summer (that is, once the school year is done), I’m expecting to throw a lot of words on the page. I’m over halfway done with it now. Tentatively, it’s titled Rain Music. I’ve not announced that widely, because I’m not sure if it’s a final title or a working title yet.

THE ULTRA BIG SLEEP COVER IS HERE

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Estonia artist Kuldar Leement provided this gorgeous wraparound cover for the sequel! Click the image for a larger gorgeous. What do you think?

 

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THE ULTRA BIG SLEEP IS A NO-GO … AND IT’S A GO

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Confusing headline, huh? I’ve been holding onto this news since early November (although some of you I’ve talked to in passing know about it).

Here’s the nutshell: Tor has decided not to publish The Ultra Big Sleep, the sequel to The Ultra Thin Man. Why? I mean, my first novel’s main page on my site shows it garnered some pretty damn good reviews. It sold okay, but not great, or even well, by big publisher standards. Ebook sales, were not so good, and as of yet, I don’t know about the trade paperback sales, since it only came out the end of July. But the powers-that-be at Tor would know them. There’s a very, very slim chance the book might be published in the small mass market paperback size. Maybe it does well there. Maybe ebook sales pick up. But I was told that any whisper of consideration for a 2nd based on those results would be a year to 18 months out…definitely too long to wait or to have them hold onto the manuscript.

I turned in the sequel this past summer, and I believe in many ways it’s a much better book. But it didn’t even get read.

And that’s the reality of New York publishing these days. These days, you’ve got to make a splash first time out, or it’s almost always a no-go for more. You don’t get to string along your career anymore, waiting for a breakout novel. This doesn’t include authors lucky enough to get get a 2- or 3-book deal up front. And believe me, I know a lot of them who have had their 3 books published, and then have been dropped. A lot of them are Tor authors. But this isn’t limited to Tor, or Macmillan. It happens a lot, everywhere in the biz. Bottom line: I was told it was all about the numbers. To the folks paying the bills there, the numbers didn’t add up. They weren’t close enough to even consider (or read) the second book.

Certainly, I was quite sad and depressed about this news. I heard about it from my agent one week before The World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. I was on the ballot for the World Fantasy Award for my work with Fairwood Press. My table in the dealer room was right next to the table run by my editor! That was not awkward. Okay…yeah, maybe a little. But we eventually chatted about it. I should also state that I am eternally grateful for my editor taking a chance on me and publishing my first novel. I have no animosity toward anyone who worked on my book and did what they could to position it in the marketplace, because that was all valuable, regardless of the monetary bottom line. The book was a much better book with my editor’s input, and I had a publicist who helped every way she could, and another editor who helped out big time.

Life long dream, achievement unlocked.

Immediately, I started bouncing around ideas. What to do, what to do? I had a completed novel that had gone through multiple drafts, and I’d received feedback from strong first readers. (As I type this, a few more writers are reading it.) Options very limited. No large, traditional publisher will take on a sequel to a first novel if they don’t own the rights to it (unless said first novel did really well, and in that case, why would they be passing on the sequel?). And this is a sequel, make no mistake. A very direct sequel. I believe it stands well enough on its own in that most folks could catch up without reading the first, but there’s definitely an interconnected tie-in to the first book that can’t be denied.

Most smaller, independent book presses are going to have the same difficulty with publishing a sequel without owning the first books’ rights. I had a few publishers mention some possibilities. Perhaps try re-branding the series, or take the sequel and mine it for smaller stories. Write something new in the world. (Even my editor told me to write a story set in my world as a way to promote the first book–which, by the way, I’ve been doing).

Many writers asked what I was going to do with the book. I flippantly said, “Well, I do know someone with a small press,”  thinking about my own press I’ve run for 15 years, publishing many other writers. They said, “Yeah, why don’t you just self-publish it?” A fair number of writers actually said: “Publish it yourself. Do it.”  Thanks to a fellow editor, I discovered a bunch of copies of the hardcover of The Ultra Thin Man on a site dealing with book remainders, selling them for about $3 a piece. I didn’t get any notice about this (although I think I was supposed to), but fellow editor said “Buy up a bunch of them. Use them as promo for your next book when you publish it.”

A number of writers and editors (and my agent) said there just isn’t the stigma attached to self-publishing that there used to be. Don’t even worry about a special imprint under the Fairwood banner, a number of them said. Even five years ago or so, I would’ve continued on my own philosophy that No…money should flow to the writer, and you shouldn’t self-publish and pay for our own costs, and

Well. To be fair, a few other writers said not to self-publish. Or do it under a separate imprint at least. I want you to know I heard from both sides.

And so.

The Ultra Big Sleep will be published. It will be a summer 2016 book, forthcoming along with five other Fairwood titles that will premier (at least domestically) at the Kansas City Worldcon.  I have a wonderful friend and editor who will be doing a hard-nose edit that I would’ve received from my editor at Tor otherwise. I have the talent and the know-how to put out a good-looking product. I’ll have input from writers in the know about other things that I don’t usually worry about on my end as a publisher. I’ll do my best not to shortchange myself when putting it together, heeding the advice of an editor who said he’s seen that sort of thing happen. I still need to be cognizant of my press’s other authors, whose books will have to get out on time, with no less fanfare on Fairwood’s side of things.

So watch this space. Website, blog, social media. There will be another book to add to my books section on the website, and at some point soon, a fresh cover image will grace the spot under “THE LATEST BOOK.” I’ve already got the ball rolling on this as well, and secured cover art after much searching and thinking about it. I hope that when it eventually goes up for pre-order, you’ll consider supporting this latest adventure in my Union of Worlds universe, and perhaps, if you’ve not read the first, you’ll consider both books.

Meanwhile, I plug along on a prequel novelette featuring my main characters from The Ultra Thin Man, Crowell & Brindos, when they first had their own detective agency. There will be another novel in the works (or two). I always planned at least a 3rd book in the Ultra series. While The Ultra Big Sleep does stand alone, like The Ultra Thin Man, there are threads there to tug on and unravel. There’s nothing in the rule book that says I can’t publish another book with Tor down the line. I’ve had interest from an editor and my agent about me doing smaller, single point-of-view potboiler mysteries in my world. Also, there’s a dark fantasy murder mystery with music and mysticism that I’m 20,000 words into.  Never a dull moment!

I really would appreciate your comments, here, or on the social media site you saw the announcement.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

RANDYCON REPORT

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My first Randycon.

What is Randycon? It is the brainchild of fellow Tor author Randy Henderson, author of Finn Fancy Necromancy, and its forthcoming sequel, Bigfootloose and Fancy Free. It’s a writers retreat. It’s a mini convention of like-minded folks hanging out and writing, socializing, and relaxing. They do it twice a year, at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA. There are about a dozen of us here housed in one of the converted soldier barracks.

I’m getting some writing done on a short story set in the Ultra Thin Man universe. This morning I walked around part of the grounds and took a few pics. (I may tackle Artillery Hill tomorrow, depending on the weather)

Click on the photos to see the larger file.

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In Port Townsend, before arriving at Fort Worden

 

 

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The barracks where about a dozen writers are hanging out this weekend.

 

 

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Alexander’s Castle, on the grounds of Fort Worden.

 

 

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Inside the Commons

 

 

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The modest office of Copper Canyon Press.

 

 

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Looking out from the bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca

 

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The lighthouse.

 

 

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Anyone want to be the first one to go in??

 

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Up to one of the old gun battlements.

 

 

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A scenic place, here at Fort Worden.

 

 

TRADE PAPERBACKS ARRIVE!

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A second post in the same day? Well, why not? Particularly when a lovely box filled with lovely trade paperbacks of The Ultra Thin Man arrive.

But I’m not going to say much in this post. I’ll say (1) the trade comes out July 28, and (2) buy that sucka.

Now here are some pictures (click for larger), and the unboxing video!

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BOOK TWO … AND WHAT’S NEXT

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The Ultra Big Sleep is in the hands of my agent after another editing pass and incorporating some first reader comments. More comments from readers are still coming, but I needed to at least get the book and a synopsis out there so my agent can pitch it to my editor.

I realize, at this very moment, I’ve not even thought about the short elevator pitch for this sequel. Hmmm. I’ll work on that.

My agent came up with a great one for The Ultra Thin Man after it sold to Tor, so we could announce it in various venues. It’s now the 2nd sentence of my summary on the front page of my site, interspersed between Tor’s own summary.

Hurry up and wait. Not much I can do now with this book. If I get more comments from first readers that are crucial, I can still get them in and resend the file before my editor reads the book. Or even after he reads, if he’s interested in it.

I could work on book three. That is, once my seat-of-the-pants writing process throws me a title and comes up with that first inciting WTF moment. I’ve also thought about writing a short story with my main characters from book one. I’ve not done a lot of short story writing in a loooong time. Maybe it would be good for me to give it a whirl.

Meanwhile, I ought to be seeing my own copies of the trade paperback version of book one pretty soon!

PRODUCTIVITY and JUGGLING WRITING, FAIRWOOD, GRADING, LIFE

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As I write this, two weeks remain in the school year. As a high school English teacher, this can turn out to be a busy time. For example, I have about 35 creative writing students finishing up short stories, and they’re due at the end of this week, because seniors are done then, graduating on Saturday. It means a lot of plot outlines, character studies, opening pages, rough drafts, and final drafts to go through.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to work my way through a read-thru and edit of The Ultra Big Sleep, sequel to The Ultra Thin Man.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get five Fairwood Press books ready for this summer for their official release at the World Science Fiction convention in Spokane, WA.

Meanwhile, I also have a lot of “also need to do this” things on my list.  And it would also be nice to have some sort of life outside of all these things. Yesterday, that never felt more true, with a full day to myself, and stacks of work facing me. I met a friend for a late breakfast, and then came home ready to work.

And…… I couldn’t. I mean, I did a few things, but I didn’t even make a dent. I couldn’t even venture outside into the 80 degree weather to soak up the sun. Really, I don’t particularly like the sun when it’s making my world 80+ degrees. So I sat inside, in air-conditioned comfort, and proceeded to read for an hour or so. And then I watched some television shows via Netflix. I rarely get the time to do this (except during the summer). I watched five episodes of A&E’s series Longmire, and finally finished the first season. (I’d watched the first 5 episodes months before.)

I could’ve worked out for an hour. I could’ve done some editing. Could’ve done some Fairwood work. But none of that happened. I did finish a few of the creative writing stories I had on my lap as I watched. I sat glued to the couch and the TV (and enjoyed the episodes), but I also brooded. A chunk of me wanted to be outside, hanging out with someone. (See, I didn’t have my son Orion with me during the weekend.) I did do a couple of out-and-about things with friends: A movie on Friday night. Firepit gathering with another group of friends on Saturday night.  That breakfast Sunday late morning. But when I was home, I gloomily stared at the pile of work and said SHUT UP to it. And brooded.

It’s maddeningly difficult to juggle so many balls in the air. I’ve been told it sometimes seems effortless to those on the outside looking in, wondering at my tenacious work ethic and prolific output. How do I do it all? In the end, I guess I do get a lot more done than would sometimes seen humanly possible (sleep is sometimes a luxury), but I also put a lot of pressure on myself. When I feel overwhelmed, I’m not very productive. To tell the truth, I would’ve accomplished more this past weekend if Orion had been here. I would’ve managed to check off a smattering of tasks from all categories in the blog post title, and still been able to have lots of quality hangout time with Orion.

I have people in my life who are very important to me, for various reasons. When I don’t see them, I freak out a little. I second guess myself. Do I feel like I’m missing out on something good? Maybe. Is it the extrovert in me wanting to get out and socialize? Likely.

Everything will even out a whole bunch in the next few weeks, I’m sure. When summer is in full swing, perhaps I’ll find my second wind for the year 2015.

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FIRST READER DRAFT & PROCESS

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A few days ago I finished a 3rd draft of The Ultra Big Sleep, the sequel to The Ultra Thin Man. With this book I’ve been able to highlight some of the milestones in its creation, whereas the first novel was sold and on its way by the time this webpage came into existence. This new novel has gone through a markedly different process in many ways. For one, it’s not taking mumblety-mumble-mumble years to finish. Because a follow-up book can’t take too long to come out into the world after the first one. The process overall has sped up. And yet I wanted it to go faster. And I’m not done with it by any means. I’ll be editing the 3rd draft from a printout of the book.

Regardless, I’m now in the position of being able to send out the book to trusted first readers to read through it, even as I’m continuing to edit from my end. These are all readers who read book one. I should probably also get someone who has not read the first one to see if it stands alone well enough. I’m also sending it to my agent now to read through. He can give me feedback and also get the ball rolling on pitching this book to my editor. I don’t have a deal for this book (The Ultra Thin Man was a one-book deal), so it still has to catch the editor’s attention. I also will be getting a very short synopsis/outline ready.

That being said, sales of book one will play into any decision about book two. Hard cold facts. Tor has to see they made back a good chunk, if not all, and then some, of their investment. That’s a bit scary.  There are still trade paperback sales to come. More ebook sales when the price goes down.

So feel free, everyone, to punch up those sales numbers and buy that space opera noir novel you have been itching to buy by yours truly! I’m working hard to get the next one out there.

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DRAFT COMPLETE

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Quick word here to say that the first draft of the sequel to The Ultra Thin Man is done! The Ultra Big Sleep has come in at 115,000 words. But … ’tis a rough draft, of course. Much work needs doing as I begin revisions. I expect the length to be somewhat shorter after all is said and done.

I finished the draft on Friday night….no, er, Saturday morning, at 4 a.m. It’s been composting since then, and I won’t look at it again until Wednesday night, when I return to the Rainforest Writers retreat for the 2nd of three sessions. The time between is not only for composting, but also for deciding how best to approach the revision process.

Wish me luck!

MAKING IT TO A 1ST DRAFT MILESTONE

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At 3:00 a.m. I snapped the picture below.

I’m going to have this post hit two big points. One, although it’s not entirely secret these days (in fact it came out in several publicity interviews for book one), the working title of book two is THE ULTRA BIG SLEEP. I give a nod to a different noir title and a different noir author, the wonderful Raymond Chandler.

The bigger news in my opinion, is that I’ve broken the 100,000 word mark on this sequel to THE ULTRA THIN MAN. And I’m oh-so-close-to-done with this first draft. A couple small chapters and an epilogue is my guess. The first novel went in to my editor at 96,000 words. After edits and additions, the final product came out to be 107,000 words. I can see book two’s first draft wanting to come close to that 107,000 word mark, maybe a bit longer.

To be honest, until I hit 90,000 words with this current book, I still wasn’t 100% sure how it was going to end. That might be scary to some writers out there, and worrisome to readers, but part of this “question markery” is due to my stubborn, organic, seat-of-my-pants writing style.

I’m a “pantser” through and through, throwing my characters into weird, dangerous situations around a thread of a plot idea (all in relation, somehow, to the events of book one). I was concerned that the ending hadn’t come to me when I hit what I thought might be the 3/4 mark of the novel, but I trusted where my characters had taken me. At the end of the manuscript file, I jotted down note after note and bullet point after bullet point about all the things I had to attend to when I went back. Oh yeah, she’s gotta do this back in chapter ten. And This character has to go. Or This crucial point has to come up during this scene back here or I’ll never make this other chapter fly. Or This chapter has to come much later. (Well, that last thing I had to fix before I could go on, but you get the point.)

By 90,000 words I wasn’t worried. It’s why everything’s been going so slow, though. I had to move all my pieces carefully, trusting that the end game was there. Let the chips fall where they may. My subconscious knew the ending, so I didn’t panic. I’d had very few rollbacks writing this. In other words, only twice did I have to back up a half chapter, or a chapter, or slide things around during the process of this first draft. For this book I’m not under deadline. Perhaps a future novel will be, and I won’t be able to afford such a leisurely process.

Still, in comparison to the years (decades?) it took to write book one, I’m cranking this sucker out as if I were at the tail end of an adrenaline-filled, 5-hour ENERGY-fueled all-nighter. It’s like Finals Week. I’ve got to fight to the end, cram and study, so I’ll be more than ready to take the Final.

And then I’ll get to crash. One would say I’ll be able to take a very big sleep.

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