This post deviates some from what I have normally posted on this blog. Today I am taking part in a blog tour series in which writers answer four questions about their own writing process, then tag another writer to keep it going the following week.
My thanks to writer Tracy Cembor for tagging me this week. I met Tracy at the DragonCon Writer’s Workshop in 2013, among a bunch of amazing people all striving for the dream of becoming successful writers. You can check out her blog at http://tracycembor.com/ . For her contribution to this process, see her post at http://tracycembor.com/2014/06/09/my-writing-process-chaos/ . She is currently working on a Steampunk fantasy titled The Dreamless City, as well as some short fiction. Check her out.
What are you working on now?
Actually, I have several irons in the fire. Currently I am putting words on the hard drive on the third book of The Deep Dark Well Trilogy, Deeper and Darker. I had actually planned to have this book out by winter, but it just never came together as I was working on other projects. At the time of this post I am up to about 80,000 words on what I hope will be a 120,000 word novel. Anyone familiar with my Exodus: Empires at War series knows that it is set about 2000 years in the future. The Deep Dark Well is basically that same Universe, forty thousand years later.
The seventh book of the Exodus: Empires at War series is also in the works, though nowhere near as complete. I am doing a little work on it in bits and pieces, and will jump into it full bore when I am finished with Deeper and Darker. And I am also hard at work on a novel, working title Solar System 23rd Century: The Mars Revolt: Book 1. This one will be for submission to Baen Books, with the hope of getting some attention, if not the sale of a possible series.
How does your work differ from others of the genre?
I write in both the science fiction and fantasy realms. In my opinion they have similarities and major differences. I love the work of writers such as David Weber and R. A. Salvatore. I have read widely in the genres, and know what I like, and what I don’t like. I write hardcore, gritty, military science fiction and fantasy. I try to make the military actions, the technology and, in fantasy, the mythology, as detailed as possible. I think this separates me from the great majority of people writing in these genres. But I also try to keep the action ramped up throughout the entire book. The thing I hate about many long series is the tendency for the book to get longer while the action sequences remain the same length. In Exodus 6 at least eighty percent of the book was action, and I intend to keep it going in book 7 and beyond. The tech, mythology and strategy/tactics are for the most part introduced through an action sequence. This doesn’t mean I don’t have any exposition in my books. Just small chunks in widely separated locations.
And unlike most other works in the military science fiction genre, I use a lot of points of view during battles, to try and capture the scope of the action, whether aboard a single ship, or across a star system and beyond. Kind of like a combination of Harry Turtledove and Salvatore. Some people think the books are too complicated, making the reader work too hard to remember everyone. Other people love it. I take the approach that I’m not going to satisfy everyone, so I try and satisfy the people who like my style of writing.
Why do I write what I do?
I guess as many others have said, I write the kind of stuff I like. When I read I want to know how the ship gets from star A to B, not just that it did. I hate works that have a long lead up to a battle, then skip over everything to show the aftermath. I understand the point of that author, but it does not fit in with my style. I have loved military scifi since I read Starship Troopers as a child. And Conan, and Elric, and the Polesotechnic League of Poul Anderson. I also love developing technologies through the story. In Exodus I introduce wormholes for transportation, then had to come up with many other uses for them. In other areas, including fantasy, I read or see something I didn’t think was done to its full potential and think, I could do better. And so I try to do that, to take a science fiction or fantasy meme and do it justice. I’m not always sure if I do that, but the reviews I have been getting seem to lend credence to that belief.
How does your writing process work?
I guess you could say I am a very instinctual writer. At present I go be the seat of my pants and the words just seem to come out in a smooth flow. But I normally do certain things in the preparation of a novel.
Usually I come up with an idea and start drawing on a graph pad, designing ships, planets, empires, etc. I will do this late at night, before going to bed. I will also name characters and give them their positions in the story. Later, I will add background details to the people. This is usually going on while I am already working on something else. Over a couple of months I will add more details, fleshing out my world. This includes extensive research, both from books and the internet. Sometimes I will use computer programs like Orbit Explorer or Universe Sandbox to actually model some of the systems I use in the novel. I also draw maps, of empires, planets, continents, whatever I will need for the detail of the work. I admit I sometimes go overboard with this. For the Refuge series I drew maps of the entire world, each continent, and each of about sixty individual kingdoms. For The Shadows of the Multiverse I drew the entire two hundred and some decks of the battle cruiser that was the primary setting of the book. I love doing this, it brings out my inner nerd.
I used to outline the complete novel, and would work with three by five cards to plot out the book, to make sure that each chapter has enough action to keep it moving along. I used to write individual scenes in different parts of the book, then piece them together and fill in the rest. Now I go from start to finish, doing each scene in sequence. I look at the scenes like those in movies, visualizing them in my head, and then describing them. That doesn’t mean I won’t add more in the second draft as I discover I need some bridging. When I get working I will do two or three thousand words a day. Toward the end of the first draft, when I’m really getting into the climax, I will do five thousand or more.
I work on a desktop with three monitors. The word processor (I use Word 2010, but only because Word 2000 no longer works on the new systems) is on the 27 inch central monitor. The internet is on the left hand monitor, while Thunderbird, my email program, is on the right. I am always looking things up on the internet, but Facebook is my nemesis, the great time waster. I also spend way too much time looking at my sales on Amazon. I open a notepad up and put down the names of characters as I make them up (for tertiary players who may not matter much, but may be mentioned several times). Ship names, planet names, Gods, cities, organizations, anything I might forget goes here. Technology is my friend, and I use it as much as possible.
As said before, I used to have everything planned out. But I kept discovering points in the story where a change from the plot line was for the better. So now I just go with what feels right. And on the way I might take some time and do some more drawings, some more development. I even have dreams that will give me ideas on the novel I am working on.
After finishing the first draft I will put the book to bed for a time. That time used to be a year, but since I have series that are doing well it has changed to about two weeks. I go over the book, making corrections and some changes, and adding in about ten thousand words to cover areas I think I might have missed. I don’t do any cutting, except for maybe some individual sentences. After that I run the novel through a program called Ginger, which will find most of the misspellings and grammatical errors. I have to be careful here, because Ginger marks a lot of things as mistakes which are the way I intended them to be. After that I change the font to something really big and do another go over. When the manuscript is as clean as I can get it I run it over to Wordpad, then back to Word, in order to get rid of all the junk formatting that might be in there. I then convert it to html, then to Mobi (the Kindle format) and go over it in Kindle Previewer. I will find some more errors at this point, mostly formatting that I didn’t catch before. Then it’s back into Word to make changes, and the whole conversion process over again.
At this point I will be well into the development of the next Universe, and may actually already be writing the first draft of the next book.
Next up: writer and Army officer Kevin Ikenberry.
I met Kevin at the Superstars Writing Conference in Colorado Springs this year. Kevin is an interesting guy, an officer with Space Command as well as a writer, and several of his short stories have been published by collections and anthologies. He also has a novel out called Runs In The Family.
Kevin’s head has been in the clouds since he was old enough to read. Ask him and he’ll tell you that he still wants to be an astronaut. A former manager of the world-renowned U.S. Space Camp program in Huntsville, Alabama and a former executive of two Challenger Learning Centers, Kevin continues to work with space every day. Recently promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Kevin serves as a Space Operations Officer in the Army Reserve.
Kevin is the author of the military science-fiction novel RUNS IN THE FAMILY. His short fiction appears in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Mindflights, Twisted Dreams Magazine and most recently in the anthology EXTREME PLANETS, available from Chaosium. Kevin is a member of Fiction Foundry, Pikes Peak Writers, and alumna of the Superstars Writing Seminar.
He can be found online at www.kevinikenberry.com.