A Handful of Announcements

Life is rife with novel deadlines and other projects, but today, I have some exciting announcements to share with you readers!

First off, an upcoming publication! “Warp Gate Concerto,” that space fantasy novella I wrote for NineStar Press’s LOST collection, has officially been accepted! That’s right: the polyamorous, alien space pirates will soon be here for everyone to read about. I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I did writing it~

Second: In a week and a half, I shall be in Spokane, Washington for SpoCon! Not only will I have copies of Bones and Bourbon with me to sell and sign, but I’ll also be speaking on panels, ranging on every topic from weird creatures to running tabletop RPGs. Check out the full itinerary here!

Finally, there are some upcoming changes in regards to this blog. I’ve been thinking about restructuring it for some time, so after some thought (and a twitter poll), I have plans to turn this blog into a new project: a webcomic about writing!

Worry not: there will still be announcements on new projects, rambles about worldbuilding, and even some more advice on writing in general. There will just also be an artistic component, in the style of a newspaper strip where I, my various fictional characters, and even a few non-fictional people and cats, explore the trials of tribulations of writing.

Having attempted webcomics before, I know better than to start posting comics as soon as I finish drawing them, however. I’m going to build up a backlog first, which should also give me time to settle on a format and style. (And maybe even some actual punchlines.) Between that and trying to hit the tentative deadline for the current draft of “Corpses and Cognac,” the sequel to Bones and Bourbon, this blog may be sparsely updated for awhile. But when it begins again, it shall be stronger! Artsier! Maybe even updated multiple times a week with new comics! We’ll see how it all turns out.

In the meantime, keep busy and creative, dear readers.

~Dorian

Once More, With Feeling

Hello dear readers, I hope you are all well! Things are busy here in Gravesworld, so I figure I’d best give you all an update before starting this week’s blog post.

First off, events! For those near Cottage Grove, I’ll be selling and signing books at Books on Main during the Art Walk, starting at 6 PM. If enough people show up, I may even do a small reading!

Then, come August, you can find me at SpoCon up in Spokane, Washington! Not only will I have my books available, but I’ll also be appearing on a number of panels, discussing everything from fantasy creatures to tabletop games and colonization in sci-fi. If you’re in the area August 10th through 12th, I’d love to see you there.

In other news, not only has Bones and Bourbon continued to do well, but its sequel “Corpses and Cognac” is in the works. We have a tentative release month for it over at NineStar, so long as I am able to complete a workable draft by the end of summer. I’m currently three chapters (out of twenty-one) into Draft 2, and for various reasons, I’m rewriting most of the book.

Sound scary? On the surface, but in this part of the process for me, it’s business as usual. Now that I have a couple books (well, a novel and a novella) under my belt, I have a better idea of what to expect for the jump from Draft 1 to Draft 2. Thus, today’s blog is about the refining process of later book drafts, as we slowly lurch from writing to editing.

In reality, the draft numbers are arbitrary for me; when it comes to the Deadly Drinks books, I’ve actually written them numerous times before Draft 1 is completed. These “Draft 0” stories are the preliminary runs deemed unfinished or unsuitable for publication. Bones and Bourbon’s Draft 0 was only the same in title and protagonists; it didn’t even have Nalem or Farris, much less anything even resembling the same plot. Corpses and Cognac had much of the same characters, but its various early drafts kept wandering in strange directions, ending too early or getting lost in weird concepts that didn’t fit the rest of the book.

Draft 1 is what I call the completed draft I decide I want to refine into a book. The overall characters are in place, the plot hits most of the moments I want, and I have an idea of the book’s themes. If I already have so much in place, why am I still rewriting the entire book for Draft 2? Well, there are a number of reasons…

  • Updating the writing style. I finished Draft 1 back in early 2016, after a couple years of false starts and Draft 0’s. It wasn’t an easy book to develop, so after my beta reader gave it a look, I let it sit for awhile as I started the third book and edited Bones and Bourbon. As such, I’ve written quite a bit since then, and my skills have improved quite a bit. It’s time to bring “Corpses and Cognac” up to that level.

  • Strengthening story elements. All the prior drafts were about figuring out where I wanted the plot and character arcs to go. Now that I have an idea of what I want to keep, I can cut out the extraneous details and build up what works best. This is the draft where most of the foreshadowing comes into the story, new concepts are fine-tooled to fit the story (while making sure they remain consistent with the series as a whole), and the cool descriptions come in.

  • Reworking an antagonist. Because I realized, in the middle of writing Chapter 2 of this draft, that elements of one antagonist were perhaps a bit too similar to Lady Delight’s in the first book. Even if it was just me being paranoid, I still figured it better to change things now than hope no one notice later. Hence, changing how that antagonist works—and fiddling with my outline in the process.

  • Finding the humor. “Corpses and Cognac” began as a rather bleak story, all things considered. Then again, so did Bones and Bourbon. I have to know the story first before figuring what makes elements of it funny. Humor and the darker elements of a story are delicate to balance; they best work together when they ebb and flow, so readers are eased out of the deep stuff by a moment of light and brevity.

  • Letting the characters speak. Draft 1 is a journey in what needs to be said. Draft 2 concerns how that’s spoken. Retz and Jarrod alone sound quite different from each other, from their word choices to their sentence structure. Now that I’ve worked with both old characters and new, it’s time to make sure each of them sound distinct (and for the reoccurring characters, that they sound familiar too). By the end, the goal is that readers should be able to tell who’s who even if they ignore all dialogue tags.

In the end, is that a lot? Well…perhaps it is. As it turns out, that’s the nice thing about giving the draft time to sit while working on other parts of the series in the meantime. After months (er, years) of thinking on it, the words are flowing like a fine wine. Even if the words and some of the story elements are new to me, I’ve lived with this story so long that I know where it needs to go as I write it. Armed with the first draft and a rocking playlist, I’m ready to polish this draft into the novel it needs to be.

Right now, my main goal is to treat this like an extended NaNoWriMo; write every day that I can, and try to hit a higher word count when possible. However, it’s also important not to burn out, so I’m making a concentrated effort to take time to relax, be social, and plot out other projects. Through a balance of dedication and recharging, this draft of “Corpses and Cognac” should finish up by summer’s end, maybe even with time for a pass by my beta reader and some literary polish for Draft 3 before it hits my editor’s inbox.

I’m excited. Are you, dear readers?

~Dorian

All in the Family

First off, a near-last minute announcement: I will be attending BayCon in San Mateo this Memorial Day weekend! If you’re anywhere in the Bay Area during that time, feel free to stop by my table to say hi and get your copy of Bones and Bourbon signed! (And if you don’t already have a copy, don’t worry—I’m bringing plenty to sell~)

Before I busy myself with travel preparations though, it’s time I return to form around here and resume ranting about storytelling and worldbuilding! Considering that it was Mother’s Day last Sunday, I’d like to dwell to a favorite topic of mine: families. Specifically, how to NOT kill off your protagonist(s)’s families and leave them all to be sad little orphans.

By now, we all know the main appeal of making characters orphans. It removes an authority that would normally look out for them, so young characters can get into dangerous adventures and schemes without worrying about what their parents will think. Introducing a family and then killing them off establishes a call to action, signifying that our heroes can never fully return home. As a bonus, it means less characters to juggle, and we won’t be asked by our relatives if they’re the real-life counterparts to these fictional family members.

Except now it’s so common, it’s almost a joke. Doubly so if it’s a fantasy story, young adult characters are involved, or the protagonist is from an idyllic village. If the parents aren’t already ~mysteriously absent~ in the beginning, expect for either their tragic death to be the catalyst for the plot, or for the protagonist to chase after any clue that hints at where they’ve gone.

But what if…we don’t kill off the parents (or the adopted mentors/guardians who stand in for them)?

In Bones and Bourbon, I not only keep Retz and Jarrod’s parents alive (or at least conscious and not entirely dead), but our antagonist Nalem’s family also plays into the plot. In most of my other planned stories, I’ve also plotted to keep as many protagonist parents alive as possible. What started as a challenge in avoiding sad orphan characters has become an exercise in the different ways mothers and fathers (and other non-gendered parental figures) can influence a character’s story.

Parents can add a slew of exciting complications for our characters. They can bring years of experience that the protagonists lack, though conflict may arise if this experience clashes with what the protagonists discover (such as in Danny Phantom, where the titular character has to hide his ghostly powers from ghost-hunting parents). How they treat their children can reveal backstory without necessitating a break in the narrative for a flashback. They may have their own struggles that can factor nicely into a subplot; if your chosen one is still alive and trying to be a hero, what if we also see their parents trying to survive or stand tall against the encroaching threats? And this isn’t even going into parents who actively work against protagonists, or other such possible drama.

Plus, from a worldbuilding perspective, allowing parents to live in your unique speculative land also gives you room to examine how families exist in your setting. Does a household contain only immediate family such as children and parents, or does it include extended relatives as well? Who raises the children, and how do they interact when the child becomes an adult? How many parents even are there, in settings with normalized polyamory and/or additional genders?

This isn’t to say that every parental character has to occupy a major role. In Bones and Bourbon, Erika Gallows only features in a few phonecalls and flashbacks in her sons’ story, but her presence still shapes not only how they grew up, but ups the stakes for her sons. If they don’t survive to reunite with their mother, it’ll break her heart…or, since she’s a huldra, she’ll go on a vengeful rampage. Even that small influence has a huge impact on the story, to say nothing of the chaos of facing one’s father or realizing the wicked immortal’s parents have had an equally long time to look after him and scheme.

A number of novels I’ve read recently have utilized parents to wonderful effect in their plots. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows includes multiple parents in its cast, including a family with three generations of matriarchs who help each other and ruin each others’ schemes in equal measure. Uprooted by Naomi Novak has a young woman whisked away from her family to assist a wizard—but it is her connection to her parents and hometown that allows her to grasp the implications of all the sorcery and conflicts around her. The various protagonists of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series have their parents and their grandparents to contact for advice when their supernatural research and adventures goes pear-shaped—and those family members even get their own spin-off stories!

This isn’t to say that there are no stories for orphans, for characters who grow up with no one but themselves or the families they make for themselves. However, there are ways for heroes to be born despite—or even because of—having parents survive to rear them. It’s like the difference between Batman and Superman; one fights to avenge the parents he lost, and the other, to make his surviving parents proud. I’ve seen plenty of Batmen in my fiction; I’m yearning to find a few more stories starring Supermen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a trip to pack for. And when I’m done? I’m going to call my mother to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

~Dorian

Now Getting It Ready For You: Upcoming Release Announcements!

It’s almost here! We’re now less than two weeks away from the release of my debut novel, “Bones and Bourbon.” This will be a short blog post as I prepare for the release, including some ~secret projects~ that will be revealed soon.

For now, marvel at this glorious book cover!

BonesandBourbon-f500

Cover art for “Bones and Bourbon” created by Natasha Snow.

Shout-out to Natasha Snow for her hard work in creating this gorgeous cover~

Doesn’t it make you want to start reading right away? What a coincidence, because not only can you now read up about the book on NineStar Press’s website, but you can also preorder an ebook copy through them–which you can then download and start reading three days early! There will be an excerpt forthcoming, along with preorders for print releases on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major print retailers.

Also, for those of you who frequent Facebook, there will be a Ninestar Author Takeover party this Saturday, where I and other authors will discuss our upcoming releases, complete with raffles and prizes! I’ll be presenting at 3 PM EST (which for those on the West Coast like me, that’ll be at Noon), so stop by and say hi!

Now, back to work I go; there are events to plan, promotional projects to prepare, and many, many emails to type up.

I think I’m going to need more coffee.

~Dorian

ADDENDUM: You can now add “Bones and Bourbon” on Goodreads!

A Recipe for Deadly Drinks

So this is what daylight looks outside of the dreaded Editing Mines! It’s a different kind of bright from a computer screen, isn’t it? Unlike the east coast, we’re getting some sun in between the bouts of rain, so it actually feels like spring, as April should.

Speaking of April, know what releases in less than three weeks? That’s right, “Bones and Bourbon” releases April 23rd, available in both print and ebook formats wherever books can be acquired online (and, if all works out, at certain bookstores and conventions)! Right now, we’re busy with copyediting, finalizing the cover art (it is GORGEOUS and I cannot wait to share it with you), and preparing to promote the book with everything from events like the Author Facebook Takeover to some top-secret projects.

It’s been a long, strange journey to get “Bones and Bourbon” to where it is now. Ever wonder how a novel comes to be? Here’s the story on how this one happened.

The journey started one Xmas morning when I was still in high school. Though I had been writing fanfiction for years at that point (some stories with enough “fan characters” and alternate settings that they were almost completely original works), it had never occurred to me to become an author; my goal was actually to write for video games, inspired by JRPGs such as Final Fantasy X and Chrono Cross. Then I opened one particular book: the writer’s digest Plot and Structure by J. Scott Campbell.

I had a revelation: instead of being beholden to the constraints of graphics and commercial deadlines in video games, I could just write the stories on my own! I could be an author! I read this book on writing as if it were the holy grail of inspiration, and as soon as I shut the cover, I closed my eyes to brainstorm a novel (as if it were so easy). What popped into my head was a man standing aloft on a ship made entirely of bones as it bore him over a churning ocean in a storm. I decided the man’s name was Retz Gallows.

He was not the protagonist.

Originally, Retz was a straight-up necromancer who used his powers to keep his deceased girlfriend alive, and was the call to action for a mild-mannered metal-bender named Samson. That story wasn’t developed enough to last beyond the first chapter, and I soon moved on to an X-Man-esque story called “Arcanum,” where certain individuals developed superpowers as a reaction to traumatic incidents. This was where Retz’s powers shifted into controlling just bones instead of the undead in general, though he was also a cowardly romantic, as much comic relief as he was a friendly rival to the protagonist. I kept adding characters into the story as I designed it; my plan was to make a long webcomic with a diverse ensemble cast, with Retz just being one cog in a complicated machine.

Cue a friend telling me about a tabletop game known as Changeling: the Lost and asking me to make a character for it. Without knowing much about the setting, I created Jarrod, a gun-wielding, hard-drinking investigator trying to clear the name of his disgraced father. When I drew him, he looked vaguely like Retz—more a testament to my art style at the time than anything—but I decided that they could be brothers. Jarrod joined the “Arcanum” cast and became the serious, non-supernatural counterpoint to Retz. As I built the plot, I decided he was a spy against his will for one antagonist, due to cursed roses planted in his skin—and if he didn’t comply, he’d turn into a plant completely, a fate his father had already suffered.

They were still not the protagonists. With how much screentime they stole in the story before they were even introduced, however, they might as well have been the stars. Individually, they each had more artwork than even the protagonist of the series! So instead of burying them in a giant ensemble cast, I decided to give them their own story to run amok in. I wrote about them in my college writing workshops and played them in tabletop RPG campaigns, which led to me spending my school breaks trying to write the first books in the “Deadly Drinks” series. Which were…only around 50k words each, the same length as a NaNoWriMo entry, and read more like bizarre episodes of Supernatural with the serial codes filed off. Eww.

Even though these early attempts will never see the light of day, they did serve the purpose of sharpening my skills and helping me figure out what I wanted “Deadly Drinks” to be about. I brainstormed a new start to the Gallows brothers’s adventures, pulling in concepts from my college classes and characters I hadn’t used in years. Giving Jarrod a steady romantic relationship from the start was inspired by my medieval romance professor’s comment on the rarity of such things in romances, though it took time before I settled on Farris, who was a surprisingly popular non-player character I’d made for a Changeling: the Lost game I’d run. Nalem was originally a god I’d created for a fantasy series in high school, and making him share Retz’s body stemmed from wanting to explore a deeper connection between protagonist and antagonist that I hadn’t seen much in fiction. Orphaned heroes too common? I made sure the Gallows brothers had BOTH parents alive…or at least undead and sentient enough to influence their lives.

Along came November 6th of 2012, a date I can only concretely recall because it was also the night Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. During my science fiction analysis class in college, I was struck by a flash of inspiration, and a scene in the back of my mind’s eye: Retz and Jarrod fighting a multi-headed snake, leaping across gilded cages suspended from chains in a castle as they tried not to be devoured. There were creatures in these cages, including two fire spirits that the brothers had to rescue. I had to know why.

I could not tell you what that day’s class was about; I instead wrote the entire initial outline of what is now “Bones and Bourbon” in that class period. I fleshed out the opening chapters, one for each brother, during my writing workshops over the next few terms, while I wrote the novel in whatever spare time I had. I had to rewrite it as I went and the story continued to change, particularly as I realized that the brothers weren’t entirely human—instead being half huldra, which explained how they could survive in their dangerous urban fantasy world—and that Jarrod was transgender like some of my close friends. I wrangled the story together, finished the first draft on a friend’s couch at the start of my senior year of college, and immediately wrangled a few of my constant classmates to beta-read for me so I could prepare draft two.

Flash forward to last year. “Bones and Bourbon” was polished enough to send to agents and publishing presses, with the first draft of its sequel finished and the third book in the series underway. No surprise, it garnered a few rejections at first—I even rewrote most of Retz’s introduction to make it more engaging, since most submission requirements only reached partway through his first chapter. Between querying agents and participating in Twitter pitchfests, all I’d hoped for was a bite of interest. #SFFPit rolled around in June, and after crafting a slew of pitches (a different one for each hour, some of them crafted on the spot during breaks at work), I sent off this tweet:

 

It wasn’t the most popular or exciting of the pitches…but it did garner the attention of NineStar Press. I ran to my computer after work to research this publishing press. Deciding it sounded like a legitimate press that would respect my work and wasn’t in danger of folding, I submitted my manuscript—almost five years old if its ‘birth’ was the creation of its outline—and kept writing while I waited. The website FAQ told me to expect a 12 week response time. I heard back in 2—and it was a resounding YES.

Now, here we are. Less than three weeks until release date, when this story that was once scribbled on in-class notebook paper is unleashed upon the world, and those boys I imagined on a whim will finally get to share their adventures with all of you.

Dear readers, I hope you’re as excited as I am.

~Dorian