For the last four weeks, I've been 'away', though technically, I've gone nowhere. The run-up to 'Triple-Edged Sword' was, I must confess, one of the hardest stints of writing I've yet done, fifty-two straight days without a break. Of which only twelve resulted in material that I found usable, though I was very happy with the final result. Oddly, I'd rate it as the hardest and the easiest book I've ever written, all at the same time. Anyway, after that spell, I decided to give myself a little time off, and decided to invest it as wisely as I could. Which is what this blog post is about.
First of all, and most importantly, I needed to do some serious thinking about the planned second Triplanetary series, Eagle Squadron. I've been working on this for years, almost since the start of Battlecruiser Alamo, and in all honesty, spent most of that time in ever-decreasing circles. I've wanted to start a second series, but for one reason or another, it just didn't get off the ground. Now, at last, that is changing. The critical problem, which I have written about before, was that I struggled to come up with story concepts that didn't fit in as well or better to the Alamo series, and there is always a need for a new Alamo plot. This time I needed to make sure that couldn't happen.
I also knew that it had to be military sci-fi, action/adventure. It's what I know, and what I enjoy writing. Which meant that my job was doubly difficult. Nevertheless, I finally came up with the 'Covert Carrier' concept, and that gave me something different to work with. I could develop situations where you couldn't send in a battlecruiser, where overt action was not the best solution, and where a lighter touch was required. Hence the Covert Carrier Churchill, a tramp freighter modified with additional 'shuttle bays', able to pass an exterior inspection and still manage a considerable punch.
Naturally, there would have to be more to it than that. So far I have window-dressing, but no characters – and a book lives or dies by the characters and the plots within. So I took the concept still further, and determined that such a crew would need 'plausible deniability'. After all, Mr Phelps, if you are caught, the Secretary would disavow all knowledge of your activities. Let's just say the idea suggested a selection of potential characters, as well as some complications that should make life a lot more interesting for the crew of the good ship Churchill. As a nice fringe benefit, it also gave me a series of plot concepts that just wouldn't work for Alamo – and I know have three novels in the 'Eagle Squadron' series worked out sufficiently to my satisfaction that I can get to work on them, as well as some interesting characters to populate the storylines. I'll be working on the first of these in a few weeks, and it should be out somewhere in late May, and every fifty-six days thereafter, alternating with Alamo releases.
Which gets me onto the next topic, of course. Alamo is off on its own mission, out in deep-space, and to an extent that was a decision I took to help me make the other series distinctive. One ship working on the far frontier, the other involved in intrigue at home. There was a lot more too it than that, though. I always think that Alamo shines best when it is away from home; after all, the original basic idea was that this would be my take on the 'Strange New Worlds' concept, and that rather implies, well, new worlds. Strange if possible. She's going to be on that mission for a good number of books now, but aside from sharing the basic 'seeking out the not-men' idea, I'll be keeping each novel as a standalone plot, albeit with extended character/story arcs. I've got the next couple warming up now, and will be starting work on 'Forbidden Seas' in a few days for an April 22nd release. (Three days earlier than originally scheduled, but I'm going away for a long weekend – and I thought it would be better to release before my holiday than after it.)
After that comes 'Final Testament' and a story I'm provisionally calling 'Doomsday's Dawn', a title I like just enough that you might yet see it on a cover. Oh, you want spoilers? Well, I don't do those, but I will say that the next couple of books are strong Salazar stories, and that Final Testament will have a Harper POV. And that the next book is set on a Europa-style 'icy moon', with a deep, underground sea to explore, and I think that's about as far as I should go at the moment! It's going to be quite a ride, and the core idea of it is one I've had in the pipeline since '14, so it'll be good to finally get it onto the page.
I've also been working on my work pattern. This is surprisingly difficult, and something I've always struggled with. To be honest, I usually just get up in the morning, start typing, and with breaks for meals don't stop until I've finished a couple of chapters – or until I give up in frustration when I realize the sun went down hours ago. Increasingly, however, I'm not convinced this is the best way to work. Something I noticed during the twelve-day marathon that was 'Triple-Edged Sword' Mark Three was that I worked a lot better in the mornings and the evenings. In the afternoons, I struggled to get to four figures, despite that session being the longest of the three.
The solution? Don't work afternoons. Concentrate my attentions on the morning and evening sessions, and try to write a chapter in each, and use the afternoons for the 'do other things' activities that inevitably crop up – editing, research, paperwork, and so on. I think I might do a lot better this way, and I don't think it will affect my word-rate at all. If anything, it might increase it. I certainly noticed a big jump when I went to a proper keyboard (something I can overwhelmingly recommend to any writers reading this. The one I got cost £20, and it's made such a phenomenal difference that I can't understand why I went without one for so long. Even with a laptop, you can still plug a USB keyboard in, remember...)
So, that got the admin work out of the way, but I've been doing a lot more than that for the last four weeks. As I've said in the past, I have a great admiration and fondness for the historicals of Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb; in the case of the former, I think that some of those stories represent his best work, and reading his letters makes clear his passion for the field. Had he lived, I suspect it was somewhere he would have returned to. Last year, I wrote a short book set in the time of the Crusades, and I'm willing to consider it as an 'early draft'. Looking at it again...it's a lot of the way there. Nevertheless, I struggled to get past my worries about accuracy, and decided that it was time to do something about it.
Hit the books, you suggest, and to an extent, that is a good idea, but there are always knowledge gaps to worry about. Because I am, well, an idiot, I didn't study the medieval period in university – I focused instead on areas such as Victorian-era naval warfare, and wrote a lamentable dissertation on the Great Lakes theatre of the War of 1812 – which for some reason has been one of my more popular blog posts of late. If anyone is thinking of copying it...don't. It didn't get particularly good marks, and I really hope that I'm a better writer now than I was at twenty-one. In any event, I needed to go into this period in detail, and so...I decided to go back to school. In a manner of speaking.
There is a company called 'Great Courses', and they sell...well...courses on a wide variety of topics, including history. And when those have titles such as 'Barbarian Empires of the Steppes', you can understand the appeal. In January they had a sale, and I did a bit better on my taxes than I'd expected, so...I decided to make a bit of an investment. I've picked up quite a few, but the four that I worked through with most interest were the aforementioned 'Barbarian Empires', 'Era of the Crusades', 'World of Byzantium' and 'Vikings'. I really thought of it as a crash course in the Howardian historical era, and as it turned out, I was right! I can strongly recommend all of them, and each filled gaps in my knowledge that I didn't know I had – which is always the worst part. I've averaged three, four hours a day on these for the last four weeks (those four alone were 132 lectures in total – I think I managed about a year's work in a month…) Most importantly, I feel a lot more certain about writing historical fiction than I did before I began. I still need to hit the books, of course, but with a stronger foundation to work on, I should do better.
My goal in all of this was to build up a strong foundation to work on, and I think that on balance, I have succeeded. There are half a dozen ideas I'm working on in this area, and it now appears increasingly likely that you'll be seeing some in the near future, though I'm still working out the format to use. I'm leaning towards thirty-six thousand word short novels, priced at $2.99, which I think I could manage on something like a monthly basis. Or four-weekly, more accurately, though I'm not going to get moving on this for a couple of months, not until I've got the first 'Eagle Squadron' out of the way.
More work, you say? Well, one thing I learned more than anything else in my month 'off' is that I am happiest when I am writing. Scribo, ergo sum. I write. Therefore I am.