Books at BayCon!

The other night, I finally stumbled home from BayCon. I was gone for a week, traveling down familiar highways to see old friends and spread the Bones and Bourbon love to California. I loved every second of it, though it is nice to be home again.

Now, I promised a lot of you that I would share my experiences at BayCon, including how viable it is to sell books at it or similar conventions. I’ve written up as much as I can recall, including sales and costs. Keep in mind that this was my first convention, and these numbers may not hold up for others—I’ll find out how accurate this is later in the year, when I try out SpoCon in August and hopefully make it to either OryCon or EuCon this November.

BayCon is a smaller convention in terms of attendees, and takes place over Memorial Day Weekend, making it a four day convention instead of three like most cons. It is a fantasy/scifi convention, meaning it celebrates those genre as a whole instead of focusing on a particular fandom, medium, etc. It is listed as the longest running convention in the Bay Area, and in recent years has taken place at the San Mateo Marriott Hotel (known amongst congoers as the “Escher Marriott” for its confusing layout; certain spots qualify as the 2nd and 3rd floor of the hotel simultaneously, and it only gets more convoluted from there). There’s a sense of friendship and familiarity amongst this convention; a lot of folks discussed how much the comradery and support of their fellow nerds meant to them, which was wonderful to experience.

BayconPic-SteampunkExplorer

At the Convention (photo taken by the Steampunk Explorer)

I spent most of my time in the Dealer’s Room on the second floor, and was conveniently located right next to a door, so I was the first thing many people saw. My table was sparsely decorated—a placard with my name, a straightened pile of books, one book propped up on a stand (with a figure of Dorian Gray from Penny Dreadful sitting on it, which drew folks in) and arranged piles of bookmarks and a sign denoting them as free. I had a fellow author with her portal fantasy universe to my left, a scarf and soap maker to my right, and opposite me across the aisle, a number of jewelry makers. Most of the authors were on the far ends of the room or right behind me.

 

Time for some numbers! I brought 61 copies of my book to BayCon with me, and I ended up selling 34 of those copies, and also donated a copy to a charity auction. Each book runs for $14.99, plus I added sales tax into the price, which for San Mateo was about 9%, making each book $16.34. Most people were happy to use their cards once they saw that I had a scanner and a chip reader—I use Square, which works wonders once set up—but a fair amount of folks also opted to use cash, meaning I had to grab a lot of extra change.

For all the physical copies sold at the convention, I made about $523, with a sales tax payment of around $46 after the fact. Plus, a fair amount of people decided instead to order ebook copies—I don’t have the numbers for how many, but hey, I’m just happy for more readers.

Question is, did this cover how much I spent on the convention? Well, this is where things get complicated.

20180525_111422.jpg

Photo from setting up the table.

Acquiring a table at BayCon was $150, which included my registration, and I was able to bring an assistant for a reduced price of an extra $50. I stayed at my assistant’s place instead of at the hotel, so I didn’t have that fee to worry about. Food at conventions tends to be expensive, so I brought along my own breakfast, lunch, and snacks each day, and split meal costs with others whenever possible for dinner (or just ran to Trader Joe’s and got some cheap but tasty chicken wraps).

I also opted to drive down, instead of flying. It’s about a nine hour drive from Eugene to the Bay Area, and after years of driving this route, I’ve nailed down that my car can make the trip with only two stops for gas each way. A special family connection gets me gas at a reduced rate at specific stations, so that cost is lower for me than it is most others, which meant it was cheaper for me to drive. This also allowed me to transport all my books and supplies (such as clothing and food) myself, instead of having to ship everything to the convention itself or running everything through baggage claim.

Plus, for cost, I acquire my stock for 40% off the listed price, so I do pay $8.99 for each book, plus a little extra for shipping. I also brought bookmarks, which was around $60 on UPrinting for 500 bookmarks.

(A note I forgot to mention when I first posted this: Do remember that you can write most of these things off on your taxes as business expenses, since being an author IS a business!)

David Price Shoot - TorsoShot (SMSized)

Fancy photo taken by David Price

Once all these numbers are crunched, it becomes clear that I didn’t make profit off of just the physical book sales, though I was quite close. However, there are also the digital sales to consider from a profit standpoint, and also sales that will happen later if those who bought the book at BayCon like it and spread the word. Plus, one can’t discount the exposure brought in; I had a couple of interviews, rubbed shoulders with fellow authors and some influential voices in my field, and was even invited back to next year’s BayCon, with offers of speaking on panels and readings.

But most of all? BayCon was FUN. Everyone there was so friendly, happy to stop by the table and talk about their favorite books or past nerdy encounters they’d had. Old friends reunited in the aisles—one couple was even celebrating their anniversary, having met at the convention 26 years ago. We swapped stories and ribbons, talked about what we loved in stories and what our fandoms meant to us, or even just laughed at the confusing layout of the hotel. There was unique artwork, fun and informative panels, cool cosplays, and more. I even made it to a LARP based off Steven Brust’s Dragarea universe, where we played as assassins and crime lords and somehow didn’t murder each other (or even draw a weapon the entire game); it was amazing how much fun political scheming and assassination plotting can be. I got to see many old friends of mine, and make new ones along the way—there isn’t a price you can put on that.

With all this said, selling at genre conventions isn’t for everyone. You need to be willing to talk to people, and without cutting costs where you can, it may cost more than it brings in. If you do give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised by how well it works and the connections it opens up. Plenty of the other vendors there make their living by traveling the convention circuit throughout each year—perhaps the same will work for you!

 

Now, if you feel like selling your book (or other nerdy products) at a convention, here are some tips:

  • Say hello! Sometimes, a greeting and a smile is enough to turn heads and get folks to look at your book. Make a little small talk; ask how they’re enjoying the convention, if they’ve seen any cool panels, or even just comment on their outfit. At conventions, a lot of folks wear clothing that references a fandom or interest, which is a great starting point to talk—and if you can connect it to your book, so much the better.

  • Make sure you have a pitch prepared. Explain what it’s about in a way that’s clear and concise, but also interesting—having a twist in it helps (in my case, mentioning the carnivorous unicorns). It’s engaging, and interested readers can use it as a starting point to ask you more about your book.

  • A trick I picked up from retail: hand things to people. Offer your book and a chance to read the back or flip through its pages. Give them a bookmark or business card as a reminder to stop by and check out the book again. Physical contact with a product stimulates feelings of interest and even ownership, and if they flip through the book, they might decide they like your writing style and buy it right there.

  • Don’t forget to bring change! $1 bills go a long way, especially if your book is a funky price thanks to sales tax.

  • Connected to above: make sure to research tax laws if you go outside of state. Figure out if you need to adjust your prices (some programs like Square can calculate this for you) and if you need to acquire any permits. For BayCon, I had to grab a Temporary Seller’s Permit for California, plus fill out a form specifically for sales in San Mateo, and I grabbed a Federal Employer’s Identification Number for good measure. Acquiring these permits are often free—just remember to report and pay any taxes required afterwards!

  • Seriously, bring snacks. Convention food is either expensive or prone to long lines, and while there are sometimes rooms set aside with food for dealers and other staff, they may have specific hours if volunteer-run. Plus, other vendors often bring their own snacks, so everyone can trade snacks for a spot of variance. I recommend bringing energizing protein snacks, like power bars and peanut butter cracker packs. Water is also essential, especially if you talk a lot with the con-goers visiting your table.

  • Remember that, at least for smaller conventions, they are primarily run by volunteers. This does mean they are sometimes light on staffing, and BayCon is no exception. One of the few downsides I noticed with BayCon was that the communications were a bit spotty between the staff and dealers (such as when getting information on tables and such), though there were already discussions at the convention on how to make this smoother next year. The key to this is patience, punctuated by the occasional friendly check-in or reminder. Or, if you have some extra free time, see if you can lend a hand and volunteer!

    20180603_094204.jpg

    Ribbons I collected at BayCon

     

  • When it comes to genre conventions (at least along the West Coast), ribbons are a huge thing. These colorful pieces of fabric can be ordered in a variety of colors with any phrase you’d like, with adhesive strips that allow you to stick them together and onto your badge. Many con-goers love to collect ribbons (and may even bring their own to share), and are known to visit tables and events for sake of finding ribbons they don’t already have. Why not find a witty phrase from your book and place it on a ribbon, luring folks to your table for the shiny fabric and a reason to look at your wares?

  • Befriend your fellow vendors, especially those neighboring you. Find out about their products, and cross-sell when you can. Maybe someone visiting your table isn’t as interested in your genre, but might be interested in your neighbor’s book. Go ahead and mention it, cross-sell a bit. Your fellow vendors will appreciate it, and they may return the favor!

  • Speaking of which, it’s a common tactic for multiple authors to share a table, and you can do the same. Not only can it help by splitting the cost of said table, but you can draw more interest—perhaps someone who normally doesn’t read your genre will be drawn into looking at your book because they stopped to look at your fellow author’s books in their preferred genre.

That is all the information I can remember off the top of my head, though feel free to ask further questions in the comments if you’d like.

All in all, I found BayCon to be a wonderful experience, and even if it was not the most lucrative in sales, the connections made more than made up for it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return next year—and maybe see some of you there too, dear readers!

~Dorian

PS: To those in and around Eugene, OR! Remember to catch me and fellow authors J.S. Fields and Taylor Brooke at our Gender Odyssey panel this Wednesday. Listen to us talk about gender and sexuality in speculative fiction, and then say hi and get your books signed!

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

New Release: Bones and Bourbon

BonesandBourbon-f500

The cover art for Bones and Bourbon

(Before we begin: In all the release excitement, I wrote this post and then forgot to…actually post it. So the book’s been out for a week and a half, not just yesterday, and the space novella edits are done. But let’s rejoice and pretend this came out in a timely manner, yes?)

It’s finally here! As of yesterday, Bones and Bourbon has officially released! (Which also means I can now italicize it instead of marking it with quotations!…yes, I’m even excited by little things like this.)

Release day was busy, preparing for upcoming events (hopefully to be announced later this week) and spreading the word about the release. Not only has there been a lot of buzz already, but the book is currently sitting at over 4/5 stars on Goodreads, AND the paperback is already sold out on Amazon (though it seems to still be available through Barnes & Noble. I’d say that’s pretty good for an opening day!

On top of that, the bookmarks I ordered for Bones and Bourbon have arrived!

Bookmarks, front and back

I’d considered business cards, but decided on bookmarks because they’re more useful and memorable. I don’t know about you, but I tend to recycle business cards after a time unless it’s for someone I particularly want the contact information for. But bookmarks? Everyone needs bookmarks, seeing as they disappear all the time. I ordered plenty, so expect to see me handing them out at any events I attend.

Exciting as publication is, it’s just the first step in the exciting world of being an author. There are still events to set up, interviews to conduct, and of course more writing to be done. The rest of my free time this week will be spent polishing the space novella for submission; the content is ready, I’m just adjusting word usage and such due to what I’ve learned from the copyediting phase of Bones and Bourbon. After that?

It’ll be time to start the next draft of book two. You know, just in case Bones and Bourbon continues to do well and readers want the next book in the series.

I’m glad we’ve been able to start the next step in this journey together, dear readers.

~Dorian

 

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

Rainbow Awards 2017!

It might be a Monday, but I’m dancing my touchdown dance anyway. Not just for surviving another Thanksgiving/Black Friday double shift in retail, mind you (I already celebrated that…with alcohol and a few levels of Ratchet and Clank).

No, the reason I’m rejoicing is because this year, I volunteered to help judge for the 2017 Rainbow Awards, and I sent in my final review a few hours ago!

What are the Rainbow Awards, you ask? It’s a celebration of LGBT+ literature, full of diverse relationships and genres. Participants can enter their novels into the contest by donating to one of many LGBT+ charities, and then judges volunteer to read as many books as they’d like (in whatever genres they’d like, so they can avoid reading genres they prefer to avoid), rating each book in terms of Plot Development, Setting Development, Character Development, and Writing Style. There’s also a cover contest as well! There’s more information here if you’re interested in the details, either as a participant or judge for next year.

I ended up reading and reviewing fifteen books this year, which ended up being a lot of fun. I’d been in a reading funk for the past couple years, so being pushed to finish a bunch of books spanning different genres really helped overcome that. Especially since I’m usually not the sort to read anything too far outside of the sci-fi/fantasy genres, but I ended up with a lot of contemporary romances, mysteries, and thrillers that I really enjoyed.

One thing that really impressed me about the entries I read was the sheer diversity of it all. Most of the relationships presented were M/M, but I also got to read some lovely F/F anthologies, relationships with trans* and asexual characters, and even a polyamorous triad. Plus, a lot of the characters came from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, and even positive portrayals of protagonists with mental illnesses, HIV+, and more. Healthy relationship practices like consent and boundaries were also explored in nearly every story, often so naturally that it didn’t even waylay the plot. It was so wonderful to read such inclusive fiction!

Also, since I’m a craft-analyzing nerd (thank you, copious college lit classes), I have to say, I had so much fun analyzing the techniques of all these authors. How did two authors manage to perfectly balance romance and danger, especially when one wrote a city-based thriller while the other presented a countryside recovery tale? Why did one book’s discussions of mental illness or magic feel dry and forced, while another by the same author was fresh and invigorating? What were the pros and cons of this book being split into five novella-esque sections, and how the hell did the author manage to make me flip my opinion on a sadistic prison leader? Did one author really manage to write two different short stories about heartbroken lesbians traveling Alaska without them being at all repetitive?! Why was nearly every story in the lesbian ghost story anthology so PERFECT?

I’m still basking in the glow of review-finishing achievement, especially since I left on a high note of a damn good book. I’m already looking forward to judging next year’s round of books—and seeing my own in the running, because “Bones and Bourbon” will be ready to rumble by the time the Rainbow Awards 2018 is open for business. Until then, I’ll wait and see which books manage to win this year, and resume posting my own reviews on Goodreads.

In the meantime, many thanks are in order. Most of all to Elisa Rolle, for all her hard work in managing these awards, from finding the books to herding all the judges and rounding up the reviews. To the judges who helped review all those entries, and to all the teams and publishing houses behind each book. And especially thank you to all the authors who participated and gave us readers all this wonderful rainbow of books to read from.

In this contest, everyone’s a winner.

~Dorian

Cut and Drive

I just returned from a brief trip to California for a memorial service (a sad occasion, but a lovely time was had), and as is tradition in our family, we drove all the way down (and back) in one 9-10 hour stretch, with only two pit-stops in between. We’re militantly tough drivers, partially because we don’t mind being alone with the scenery and a case full of classic rock CDs. Some of my best brainstorming comes from letting my mind wander during these trips.

As I remembered this trip, sometimes building also means destruction. This is true in fiction more than anywhere else.

Much as we want to keep every great idea we scribble in our notebooks, the truth is, we can’t hold onto them all. Too much of anything, be it plot threads or characters, and the story gets weighed down. Some authors can go on for a few hundred thousand words longer than the rest of us, but I’m sure even George R.R. Martin has had to cut content from the Game of Thrones series. Even outside of books, there’s a reason that extended cuts and b-sides exist, but aren’t kept in the core content.

I found myself doing a lot of story trimming this weekend. One task was simpler, streamlining a novella I’m working on for NineStar Press’ LOST collection. I cut out a couple characters (I have a great fear of bogging down a story with too many characters, after my first NaNoWriMo attempt landed me with a novel of 16+ characters in 50,000 words) and rearranged relationships around, which on paper sounds like no huge deal. And really, it isn’t. I have to scrap the opening to the novella again, but elements of those first attempts can still be recycled. If nothing else, I learned more about the world and the people within it, so the demolished wordcount at least lead to some worldbuilding. Like tearing off a bandaid, it stings a bit, but the pain passes soon enough to forget.

Then there’s the hard cut: I scrapped an entire book.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done so for the Deadly Drinks series; the first draft of “Bones and Bourbon” was similar only in name and protagonist to the novel releasing next April, and its in-progress sequel had so many restarts before I finally finished the first draft. I’m lucky in that I hadn’t started book four (seeing as book three isn’t even done yet), but even though words hadn’t hit the page yet, tossing it still hurt. Why was this?

Because it had so much I WANTED. The magical world intruding on the mundane. Playing with Frankenstein’s Creation (I refuse to call him a monster–or, stars forbid, Frank). Secret societies! Magical cyborgs! Ghost-powered transportation through other dimensions!

But from the time I revved up the engine and rolled out of the parking lot with Santana tunes blaring from the speakers, I knew it didn’t fit. When writing a series, one has to consider not just developing plot and character across one book, but over the series as a whole, and this book didn’t fit the direction the series needed to grow in. Such a fantastical tale would raise the stakes for the entire setting too much for a mid-series book, and the Gallows brothers were taking the back seat to all the cool elements I wanted to include.

So I let it go. I burned the images in my head and picked a few pieces out of the ashes that I did need for what book 4 will become. The rest of it gets tucked away to percolate in the back-burners of my mind, likely emerging on another long road trip as a new story all its own. I collected sights and snippets of songs to inspire a story that’ll fit better with my narrative arc, and if I’m lucky, I might still be able to sneak some interdimensional ghosts in there. (But first, we finish book three, edit book two, publish book one. I like to work well ahead of schedule.)

It’s a matter of weighing what we want to write with what the story needs. Let your mind wander, but know when to reel it in when it drifts too far.

Now that I’ve spent so much time cutting content, it’s time I got back to work creating again.

~Dorian

PS: Speaking of road trips, I did sneak a couple of my favorite details along I-5 in “Bones and Bourbon.” I also refrained from making any jokes about the State of Jefferson, but I can make no promises for the finished product…