Work has begun on Book 3!

Posted: August 31, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’m a bit nervous about this series, because it seems I’m saving all the good stuff for Book 3.

In a way that’s good. My only worry is Book 1 is going to be too boring since it’s more about building the scene than lots of action.

It was a bit of a creative risk. But if a reader is patient with a slow ramp up, the payoff is going to be enormous.

Book 1 definitely sets the scene. There is definitely conflict, a lot of it being interior. But it’ll give the reader a glimpse at the world and introduces the reader to a lot of mystery. My hope is that it’s intriguing enough to continue.

Book 2 picks up in action, and the stakes are raised. The series takes a risk in that the MC makes a lot of stupid mistakes. He fails quite a bit. He’s not a superman, which is my pet peeve of a lot of sci-fi/fantasy novels. You never feel like the main character is in danger because they never make mistakes. And when they are in a compromising situation, something swoops in and saves the day.

There may be a few moments like that, but the main character will be punished for their mistakes and flaws. It’s interesting writing that kind of character. Shanti especially is more of a superwoman due to her connection with Anna.

The main character of this series, Lucian, will have to earn his powers. And he even as he earns them, he won’t be able to control them well. Using that power will also come at a cost.

It’s safe to say he won’t even be competent until Book 5 or so. Which might make some readers impatient, but then again, the payoff will be so much greater. He will spend a lot of time in danger, a pawn of forces greater than himself. This will hammered on in Book 2, and especially in Book 3.

Which I’m writing now. There’s going to be a lot of fun stuff in this book. The gloves will be coming off, so to speak.

I’m super optimistic about this series. It’s clear looking at the text that Book 1 is the slowest of the three. It reveals some big information, but you don’t learn everything. Every book will reveal more, and there’s a pretty big reveal at the end of Book 2.

Of course, it’s hard to know if Book 1 sucks or not. There are actually a few scenes I want to go back and add. For the most part, what’s there is what’s going to be in the final book.

How I ramble on and on. Well, back to writing. I have about 4,000 words down on Book 3. There are a lot of exciting scenes I’m ready to write.

The Art of Editing

Posted: August 25, 2020 in Uncategorized
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One of the hard truths about being a writer is that “writing” is about 20% of the job.

That might be an exaggeration, but there’s definitely truth to it. The writing part is fast. Assuming you have an outline, and you’ve written a book a few times, it’s a matter of cranking it out.

I use what I like to call “the landmark method.” A new story is the great unknown, but there are images and scenes that stick out. Those are you landmarks. You got them down, and try to string a path of words to each one. You have about thirty “landmarks” and as long as you get to each of them, you’ll have a complete story.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but that’s the gist of it. And it’s worked pretty well for me so far.

A writer spends a big chunk of time on editing. This is the part a lot of people aren’t aware of. This is where the magic happens.

Here’s an example of a raw sentence pulled from my manuscript without context:

“Dust and gravel lined the floor, and it was clear that the wind and elements had had some time to make a mess of it; the door was still there, just weather-beaten and wide open, seeming frozen in place.”

That sentence is a mouthful. But sentences like that are common in a first draft. After picking away at it for a minute or two, this is what it turned into:

“Dust and gravel littered the floor. The wind and elements had made a real mess of the cabin, over a period of weeks or even months. The weather-beaten door hung wide open. Ice encased the hinges, having frozen it into place.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. The raw example is one long sentence, while the refinement is broken down into four sentences. Breaking down the sentences allowed me to even add some new information. If I added any new info to the first one, it would have made a complicated sentence even more complicated.

I changed “lined” to “littered”. Lined implies all the gravel is in a line, not the effect I was going for.

Now, multiply those sentences over the course of an entire novel. Or a series! And you can see why this takes so long to do and requires a lot of patience.

Of course, I could refine that further. Make it perfect and make it pop. There are needless words that could be eliminated. The trick is finding the right balance between refining and speed. If I got bogged down, spending ten minutes per sentence, nothing would ever get done.

I’m not sure why I wrote this. I guess I wanted to give you guys a little insight into the writing process.

You may or may not know this, but the first three Wasteland Chronicles books are available in audio.

Unfortunately, the series was never completed. I sold the rights of the first three to Tantor back in 2016. I was very impressed the production. But I never took the time to email them about getting the last four done.

That’s my fault. I understand a lot of people “read” books almost only through audio. Plenty of people over the years have emailed me about doing them.

Audiobooks’ popularity have exploded, especially over the last five years. Not getting into audio so late has been one of my biggest mistakes as a writer. But it’s one of my main goals for 2021.

Earlier this year, after receiving another email, I reached out to Tantor. And much to my surprise, they made me an offer for the rest of the series. Using the same narrator for the first three.

So, Revelation will be coming most likely in December this year, followed by the rest in early 2021. It seems a long time to wait, but that will also coincide when the first books of my new series are going to come out. So the timing is right.

I’m super happy with how it’s going. The narrator, by the name of Graham Halstead, is a talented voice artist. His narration brings Alex to life and he does all the characters well. It makes you feel like you’re a part of the Wasteland crew. His voice even drew in some of my family members, who aren’t readers. So I count myself very fortunate that Tantor was able to get him again, even if I have to wait a few months extra.

This sort of brings me to another point. I want to make audio for all my books a reality. To sort of test the waters, I’m currently auditioning voice artists for Lost Angel. The submissions I’ve gotten so far have been very good, so it’ll be difficult to choose. Hearing the samples read by a professional made me interpret it in a different way. It was like I was experiencing the story for the first time.

After I learn the ropes with Lost Angel, my next goal is to get Xenoworld done, too. The first person narration should make it a very emotional journey! I’ll get started on that as soon as I figure out how the whole process works with Lost Angel.

Audio is something I’ve neglected to my downfall. I guess I always supposed that it would be too expensive and remain out of reach for me. But I’ve since discovered Amazon has ways to make it easier for smaller authors to make it happen.

Anyway, here’s to (finally) completing the audio versions of WC. And may there be a bright future for the rest of my works as well. This process will take time, but my hope is that I can find an awesome artist to work with. I can’t wait to see who will bring both Makara, and later, Shanti to life.

Lost Angel gets a facelift

Posted: August 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

I was never really happy with the original Lost Angel cover. I’m delighted to share the new version, which in my opinion, is much better!

The paperback is also getting updated to the new design, while the interior will have better formatting. It’s the little things…

I’m glad to finally have a cover I’m happy with!

Another One

Posted: August 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’ve always wanted to have a map of the Wasteland and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Finally, in the year 2020, I got around to doing it.

I’m pleased with the results. I made the map by taking a screenshot from Google Earth. Then, it was a matter of doing some simple stuff with Photoshop. I found the grungy frame on Shutterstock, and I had to learn a few new things to put it together.

I could have added more to it, but some parts were getting pretty crowded. For that reason, I only included locations I mentioned in the series. The only nitpicky thing is Ragnarok Crater is slightly off in location. It should be a bit further northeast.

It sort of reminds me of Mars, with the reddish tint and spreading ice cap. Which was sort of the effect I’m going for. Beginning with Wasteland Chronicles, I wanted to show a planet in transition.

I hope it will help new and old readers alike with envisioning where things are in this universe. So far, I’ve included the map in my box set, and will most likely also include it in the individual books.

Long Live Maps

Posted: July 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’ve always been a huge map nerd.

I love them in fantasy novels especially. In fact, one of my favorite things about reading fantasy novels are the maps. I could easily stare at them for a long time before even starting the book itself, and often, my impression of the book or series is informed by just how detailed the map is.

Weirdly enough, I love real maps, too, especially antiquated ones. It’s just fascinating to me how cartographers were able to draw them, despite lacking all the modern tools we have.

Unlike fantasy, space-based science fiction doesn’t seem to do as well with maps, or even world building. My biggest pet peeve are “monoworlds”. You see them all the time in sci-fi: planets that just have a single biome and temperature. There’s the Forest World, the Ice World, the Desert World, the Water World, with little no deviation in climate over an entire biosphere, if any at all.

I’m sure it’s possible for there to be worlds like that, maybe even probable, but I would think it would be more likely to have a world where it’s mostly desert, but also to have some wetter parts with a more Mediterranean type of climate. Or in the case of a world cooler than Earth but otherwise mostly the same, it wouldn’t all be necessarily ice and snow, but perhaps have a narrow band of temperate land on the equator where life was possible.

I’ve always known that if I wrote a series in space, I would avoid the sin of making only monoworlds. I want to go beyond that, to make my worlds feel unique and alive – if not to the level of detail as Frank Herbert (the creator of Dune), at least something a little less lazy that would make these places live in a reader’s imagination with some nuance that shows that these could be real places. Not to say I would never create a monoworld, but if I did, I would be sure to at least explain why the world was like that in the first place.

I used this really cool website called Fractal World Generator to make the map above, then sort of spiffed it up a bit in Photoshop. Nothing crazy, my Photoshop skills are nothing to write home about. It’s a bit crazy to think that a random world generator more or less inspired a lot of the content for the second novel in my new series, but that’s the case.

You set the parameters, and the site lets you play God and spit out entire worlds. This one I set to be 92% ocean coverage, and 33% ice cap coverage. A dozen clicks of the button until I found the map that looked just right. I opened it in Photoshop and started filling in the cities, making up names, imagining how its history might logically unfold, as well as what kind of native life populated it, and how it might interact with Earth life that would inevitably be introduced, and how that native life would respond to that, so on and so on…

Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, and might be my favorite thing to do as a writer. The most fun part about writing Xenoworld, to me, was imaging how a vastly different form of alien life might transform a planet.

Basically, I’m psyched that I discovered this Map Generator. At some point, assuming I have the money for it, I may even hire a professional illustrator to turn these maps into something more pleasing to the eye. In an ideal world (sorry), money wouldn’t be an object, and I’d probably include a ton of maps for the readers’ reference in each of my books.

Why we don’t see this more often with e-books is probably due to the fact that Amazon charges us poor authors delivery fees based on file size. Adding highly detailed maps inside an e-book increases the file size, increasing the delivery fee. A few cents here and there might not seem like a lot, but on the scale of possibly thousands of books sold, it most definitely adds up. I suppose you can charge a dollar more, but then that extra dollar might be enough to persuade many-a-new reader to look elsewhere.

So at best, maps must be limited, and adding something like ten maps to an e-book, as awesome as that might be in theory, is most likely unfeasible.

Long story short, long live maps.

To-Do Lists Are Overrated

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

Being self-employed, or working from home, is extremely difficult. Without a plan, it’s incredibly easy to spend the day wandering the Internet or wasting time on whatever vice you’re into.

It’s not so much the work itself that’s hard, but the fact that there’s no big boss setting the agenda. You’re your own boss, and being left to our own devices is an easy path to self-destruction.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in over five years of being self-employed, you are your own worst enemy. Without a clear, concrete plan that takes out all the loopholes of wriggling out of responsibility, you will fall flat on your face and get nothing done, and feel very bad about it. It’s like you’re tripping yourself over and over and saying “Haha!” to yourself like Nelson Muntz, without realizing you’re just bullying yourself. Which of course, just sends you back to your distractions to get rid of the bad feelings.

It’s a vicious cycle, but thankfully, it’s completely avoidable.

That’s my main problem with to-do lists. They promise productivity, but deliver next to nothing. Sure, it’s better than no plan at all, but back when I used to do lists, I left half my tasks undone, and scratched my head as to why.

Then, I discovered schedules. More specifically, how to schedule correctly.

It was a complete game changer. Now, I am here to show you the way into the light.

Back in my days of darkness, I would wake up, look at my computer, blink, and it would be 3:00 already with nothing substantial having been done. I had told myself an insidious lie that there was plenty of time to crank out a couple of thousand words before bed. Those words were always true – until it got to be 9:00 and I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. On my worst days, I wouldn’t write anything at all.

I knew I was missing something, but just didn’t know what. I tried lists. They would work for a time – but I would end up committing the same sin as before. I’d leave half the tasks unfinished, get discouraged, and decide it wasn’t working.

What I lacked was motivation. Or so I thought.

A typical to do list for me might have looked something like this:

  1. Write 2,000 words
  2. Clean
  3. Work out
  4. Send/answer emails

That to me would have been a productive day indeed.

Last year, I wrote a blog post that specifically talked about how amazing to-do lists were. All I can say now is that I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve found a much better way.

Lists are just part of the answer. They have some inherent flaws that no one really considers:

  1. Lists don’t tell you how long it will take to complete the task. This sends your brain thinking, “What if this goes on forever?
  2. Tasks are often just thrown on a list with no regard to priority, and it can be easy to add too many things.
  3. Most importantly, and this is key: lists won’t tell you a thing about when tasks will actually happen.

That third point especially is the biggest strike against to-do lists. Lack of specificity in how and when something is going to happen ultimately leads to it not happening. When tasks aren’t tied to a specific time, in relation to other tasks, our brains just lazily think, “I can do that later.”

That was the missing ingredient. That was why I left so many tasks undone.

The missing element of to-do lists is knowing when, and for how long, tasks will happen.

The cure, I realized, was scheduling . Specifically, learning how to schedule correctly.

The bombshell for me came when I read something that stuck with me, paraphrased thus: Most people use schedules incorrectly. We schedule interruptions instead of scheduling work. It should be the opposite.

When I read that, something just clicked. I had the missing puzzle piece.

I transitioned to Google calendars and scheduled every minute of my work day. I know when I’m waking up. I know when I’m stopping work for the day. I know when I start writing, and when I stop. I know what time lunch is. And all those short tasks that take 15-30 minutes or even less to complete? They’re all grouped together so I can knock them out one after another, without fearing they will interrupt my writing time.

Instead of a vague list, I now have a concrete battle plan, and know exactly, when, and for how long each of my tasks will be.

Instead of robbing me of freedom and creativity, scheduling has given me more freedom than ever. Freedom from guilt from not having done enough, or not using my precious time efficiently. Freedom of scrambling at the beginning of the day wondering what exactly I’m going to do, and no longer being overwhelmed. I feel light as a feather, knowing I’ve spent my time as effectively as I possibly could. Even factoring in short breaks, I’ve been far more productive using this system than when I used a list.

We have way too many things to do in the day, and specific schedules are the missing ingredient to wrangle all those tasks and make them feel manageable, and even easy. Using google calendars, my phone reminds me when a new task is about to start.

Best of all, tasks can be rearranged or edited as needed, and you never lose your sense of time. Sometimes, life happens, but the calendar can be edited to accommodate that. It allows you to adapt and have a new plan of action.

Another advantage of schedules over to-do lists: it makes “batching” easier. If you haven’t heard of batching, it means separating out harder tasks that require a lot of mental energy from smaller tasks that can be done without much thinking.

For me, this means my hard stuff, like editing, I do in the morning first thing. It gets 100% of my attention. All those things I know I have to do later aren’t hanging over my head, because I know they’ll get done at the appointed time.

I know nothing I’m writing here is groundbreaking. I’m sure tons of people already do this, but for me, it’s like a superpower because I’m discovering it for the first time.

By the way – I’m done with the first draft of the second book, and I’ve come up with titles for up to twelve books in this series. I don’t know if it’ll actually be that long, but it would be amazing if it were! I’m now doing a hardcore edit of the first one, mainly to update it and make it consistent with the second, as well as provide more details. After that, it’s on to book 3.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this for a while, but just now set aside the time get down my thoughts. Maybe some other procrastinator out there will read this and get some use from it. I hope so. Being self-employed is harder than most people give it credit for, but the productivity pitfalls can be avoided with a specific, concrete schedule.

It’s been a minute since an update. Blogging is always something I mean to do, and it’s probably something I should do a lot more. Yet it’s one of those things I let slip through the cracks when really I need to do it.

Space Fantasy Series: I’m nearing the end of Book 2. I’m probably a couple of scenes shy before finishing it off and starting edits, before going back to change Book 1 based off things I added in Book 2. By the time Book 2 is done, it should be as much as 100,000 words, which makes it significantly longer than Book 1 as it stands.

What I can say is, I found myself lost a lot while writing it. But then the answer sort of came to me today – I’ve found the crux, the call to action that will inspire the rest of the series. I’m afraid it’s not terribly original, but at the same time, I hope to put my own spin on an idea that’s been done to death.

Needless to say, because I’ve found this spark, I’m pretty excited about how the rest of this series to come. It should be a grand adventure, and not your typical “good vs. evil” story even if that is the main theme in the end. Or maybe I’m just overselling it.

Either way, I cannot wait until this is done and out, as it’s been too long since I’ve released something.

Another Prequel? The madman! I’ve been toying with a new idea. A novella focusing on Anna’s early life, from her humble origins in Last Town, to her survival in the Wasteland, followed by her becoming Char’s bodyguard in Raider Bluff. If this is done, it will not be as long as Lost Angel – I just don’t think the content is there, and I want to keep the characters fewer – but I think it will make for a nice novella length piece of perhaps 30,000 words. That means it would feel quite short, but hopefully it would be exciting.

Other news: As I’m sure a lot of you know, I live in Florida. Have lived here since June 2017. It’s a bit amazing to me that it’s been three whole years here in the Sunshine State, because it has literally passed in a flash. My wife and I have had lots of adventures in that time – from getting engaged, to getting married, multiple trips to Disney, and now, having a baby boy (still trying to convince the Missus that Alexander Keener West is the most superior name). He’s due in late September.

Life has been pretty busy trying to prepare for him. The main wall of our living room has become a mountain of boxes ordered from Amazon for all the baby stuff. Much to the consternation of our two cats, we went through most of those boxes by now.

The prospect of becoming a father is a bit scary, especially in such uncertain times when the last thing a lot of people want to read is a post-apocalyptic series (I guess the subject hits too close to home). All the same, I’m excited to get a brand new series up and running which should hopefully help with all the diapers and such.

Anyway, I rarely share stuff from my personal life on here, and rarely share on here at all in fact, but it’s something I want to rectify and that only starts by me actually writing something on here (funny how that works). Hopefully the next update does not take as long.

Progress Report

Posted: May 16, 2020 in What I'm Working On

It’s been a while since an update. Things have been pretty busy in house West. Besides my writing adventures, which have seen me halfway done with the first draft of Book 2 of my new space fantasy series, my wife and are I really excited about the fact that we have a baby boy on the way!

I guess what that means, besides all the usual preparations that come with that, is that I’m going to have to start writing a lot faster, because I’ve been told babies are expensive.

The word count of the series has reached 120,000 so far. Not quite Aberration levels, but my goal is to keep my book sizes more manageable in the future. I love a good long book like a lot of people, but it can be pretty mentally draining to be working on the same thing for months on end. That, and just about everything takes twice as long, which makes sense if you think about.

So, that’s where we are. At this moment, I’m sticking with my plan of finishing all three books first before releasing the first one. There’s other stuff that needs to be ironed out, too. I keep going back and forth on whether to write from third person or first person. Right now, it’s in first person, but my gut is telling me to change it to third. So, that will take time, too.

Basically, if my current writing rate is to be a benchmark, the first book should drop sometime later this year. That really wasn’t my goal, but at least for me, these things always take longer than you expect. I should have learned by now, but what can I say, I’m ever the optimist.

Well, that’s where we are. I don’t really have any new story details to share, but I wrote about them a bit in my last post. I’ll share more when my thoughts crystallize a bit. Being a new series, the world and characters are still establishing themselves in my head, and sometimes it’s hard to keep everything straight. That will fix itself as time goes on.

I hardly believe it…

I have the first draft of a novel in a new series DONE!

We’re going into space. Not just space, but space fantasy adventure! If that hasn’t piqued your curiosity, it should!

My plan is to finish the first three, get them edited and good to go, then release each novel a month apart. Then I’ll start working on the fourth and hopefully have it out a month after the third is done.

The good news is I’m writing pretty fast, so all three novels should be finished within the first half of this year. Hopefully sooner.

Want to hear more?

Well, I want a long, epic series. Full of twists and turns, character growth, and world-building so amazing that you will want to live and visit these places.

As currently written, it takes place in the early 23rd century, so as you can imagine there’s a lot of backstory to fill in.

I want to include maps, too, too, but I probably won’t have the budget to get them professionally done. With luck, maybe I will.

Below is a very rough map of one of the planets in the first book, Volsung:

VolsungYou’ve read this long, so let me give you a bit of a sneak peek of what lies ahead, in a very rough synopsis:

Science gets humanity to space. Magic gets us to the stars.

For eons, the Gates lay abandoned, forgotten, unused…until discovered by humanity. Through their mysterious power, the galaxy was opened for the first time, ushering in an era of exploration and expansion…but at great cost.

Something shifted beneath the fabric of reality. Something dark. People began being born with magical abilities…abilities that guaranteed an eventual descent into madness…

The Mages tore the Galaxy asunder. Worlds fell, fleets were obliterated, billions died. The Mages were defeated, but they left the Hundred Worlds in flames.

Mages are now strictly controlled. Magical aptitude is tested for annually, and those with an affinity must bear the Mark of the Magus on their foreheads.

One day, twenty-year-old Saren Abrantes goes to the Health Authority for testing.

When he walks out bearing the Mark, his life will never be the same.