Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Novel Has Been Split: An Update on My Writing Projects

It's been awhile since I updated my loyal readers on my various projects. So here goes...

My most momentous creative decision thus far is to split Escape from the Wastelands into two novels.  The first one will be titled Battle for the Wastelands and the second one will retain the title Escape from the Wastelands.

I had already pondered doing this for reasons I will get into later, but it was conversations with Alexandra Hughes that sealed the deal.  She has a 130,000-word novel that she has not been able to sell, in part due to its length.  I calculated how long the original Escape would have been, based on an average length of 4,000 words per chapter, and it came out to 160,000 words.  Bringing the average down a bit, it would still be 130,000 to 140,000 words.

That's entirely too long, especially since I recall reading somewhere that the proper length for a first novel should be 90,000 words or so.  The Wastelands tales are genre fiction (I've described them as "post-apocalyptic steampunk Westerns"), so thats another reason not to go too long.

Also, as a member of one of my writing groups (I think it was Lawrenceville) said, "make us care about your characters before you kill them."  Character development is historically one of my weaknesses, but here's how the situation specifically applies to Wastelands.

In the original Escape, Andrew survived the destruction of Carroll Town and briefly fought in the army of Alonzo Merrill, who is the last surviving male of the dynasty that ruled the area before the Flesh-Eaters came.  There's a major battle and it will appear that the Merrill army has been destroyed and Andrew will flee south across the Iron Desert.

He would have only been with the Merrill army for maybe three chapters tops.  That's not a lot of time to get attached to characters before they're killed off.  At worst, the whole situation could be considered a retread of the fall of Carroll Town, not that long before in terms of both story-time and page-count.

Expanding Andrew's time among the Merrills--I've got 50,000 words to write before I hit the 90K mark and I've kicked the apparent destruction of the Merrill army into the new Escape--gives me time to expand on the Merrill war against the Flesh-Eaters, worldbuild a lot more, and introduce a new group of people for Andrew (and the readers) to get attached to.

I haven't planned much of the Merrill phase of the expanded story beyond the capture of a Flesh-Eater dirigible designed for close-air support, but I do have a new group of characters planned who will become Andrew's Nakama.  I've used the structure of the Five Man Band to create the basis for the characters, although don't worry, the scenario isn't cliched.

(For starters, the group is a squad of soldiers and "The Big Guy" is the sergeant, so he, not Andrew, is in charge.  Plus I'm tinkering with making "The Smart Guy" a fellow survivor of the fall of Carroll Town and an outright case of what in our world would be recognized as Asperger's Syndrome, so he's not some comic-relief nerd but something a bit more complex.)

Andrew's new "Nakama" will remain intact until early in the new Escape, giving the reader plenty of time to attach to them before the hammer falls.

I just posted on my PlentyofFish profile that I hope to finish the novel in a year.  So if Battle for the Wastelands isn't done by November 2011 and I don't have a good reason, feel free to give me hell.

Also, I've contacted Daverana and canceled my anthology of short fiction.  I did this for several reasons, but the clincher was that in order to make the required word count, I would have had to fill in the three stories that I sold to Daverana's now-defunct (but hopefully coming back at some point) Flashing Swords magazine with a lot of older material I have been unable to sell, material that often required massive revision.

I figured it would be a much more effective use of my time to work on new material, including my novel, rather than tinker with stuff that I wrote in college.  This is not to say that some of them won't see the light of day--Nick Hoffmann said "Old Daniels' Mine" would make the beginning of a good TV series, while some members of my Kennesaw writing group said it came off more like a transcribed TV episode than a good story in its own right.  I'm seriously considering turning it into a telemovie script.  :)

And as usual, my Transformers story The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot has been neglected.  I haven't updated since early September, when I finished a chapter in my personal notebook while waiting for a friend's birthday party to start at DragonCon.  Luckily, I've only got three chapters or so to finish, so once I actually start writing, it won't take that long.  I particularly like what I'm doing with my Magnificent Bastard interpretation of Starscream (that I feel is more faithful to the promotional material surrounding Movie-Starscream than the actual movie was), so I definitely want to end the story.


  1. You may describe them as steampunk, but (IMO) you will have a hard time selling them to agents marketing that genre based on content. The only "steampunk" part of the book is the dirigible, which you do not describe in any detail. Typically, steampunk novels devote extraordinary detail to description of period costume and futuristic innovations/technical machinery, which your novel does not have. It is more of a crossover novel combining elements of different genres, but not enough "steampunk" to really fit that specific definition.

  2. Expanding on the Merrill war with the Flesh-Eaters will give me more space for steampunkery, including dirigible hijackings, air-to-air battles, and coal-fired Fortresses of Doom (TM).

    Probably won't go into a lot of detail with the costumes, though. That part of the story is the "Western" part--"steampunk" refers more to the technology level.

    What genres do you think my novel combines?

  3. Hi Matt,

    I don't remember if I said it to you directly in comments or in e-mail but ODM, especially in its original draft nagged at me as if I were watching an episode of the Outer Limits on a Sunday afternoon. This is far from being negative and I feel it is certainly worth developing in a TV/ video type direction.

    FSM's resurrection IS going to occur, I'm just not sure when we will actually announce it again. Jan has been pushing at it off and on since June but as I've mentioned before I have several other large projects, one of which is an emergency rush! I want to mow through these before the New Year, that way it can be my sole focus for a while =)

  4. The Wastelands is not steampunk. Unless you can steampunk the first book considerably, it won't pull the steampunk audience you're trying to market it to. It reads more like Conan The Barbarian or The Beastmaster (original film). The only thing "western" about it is the addition of guns. Westerns typically detail environment much more than you're doing.

  5. @ TFE,

    Cool. Keep me posted.

    @ Anonymous,

    Hmm...perhaps I'll need to upgrade the sensory detail a bit. That seems to be a weakness as well, albeit not as glaring as the characterization issues.

    And I do intend to "steampunk" the first novel more with the extended Merrill-Flesh Eater war. A lot more airships, for starters.

    (The realms south of the desert are really steampunky, complete with Tesla weaponry, but we won't see them until Book #2 now.)

    And considering how disappointing "Conan the Barbarian" was (see my review of it), I'd better start improving then. :)