Rows to Hoe

The last six months have been a strange time for me. I won’t bore you with all the details, just take my word for it. For the literary among you, it felt like my whole life was moving in a widening gyre. The salient detail here is that I wasn’t doing much writing. Oh, I’d write that occasional blog post or chip away at a story here or there, but there was none of the sustained writing I was doing a year ago. I’m happy to report that that situation has finally started to correct itself.

I’ve been working on some new things recently. I’ve got a new Contingency Jones story in the works, along with a new Sam Branch short story and the beginning of a new Branch novel. I’ve been working on a couple of TV show ideas that might one day see the light of day. And I’ve been revisiting the machinima idea that I was working on last year. There’s been some revision to the scripts for the first five episodes. I’ve acquired a theme song for it, as well as looking around for some royalty free music to use as incidental music inside the episodes. I’ve also been doing some fresh video capture with my brother for the first episode.

I’ve also been, oh so very slowly, doing a little more work on the audiodrama idea I was working on last year. That one is harder because it isn’t just the writing. There’s a lot of moving pieces in an audiodrama that I don’t necessarily have total control over. Suffice it to say, work is happening on that.

In other news, I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s new book, Norse Mythology. It’s awesome and you should read it! Also, I’ve started to learn to code in JavaScript. Yeah, I knew you’d be excited about that. 😉

Hey, I’m Not Dead, Really

So, it’s been a while. Do you remember me? I remember you. Despite outward appearances, this blog/site/author hasn’t died. I’ve just been crazy busy with the writing and ideamancy. So, here’s what’s been going on.

Last year, I wrote 2.5 books. One of them was released as a series of short stories that are now collected and available under the title Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. You can get yourself an ebook or print edition on Amazon here. It’s a good time, promise. I also completed what I hope will be the first book in a new series. It’s titled, The Midnight Ground. Unlike my previous efforts, I’m preparing this one for submission to agents. I think it’s good enough to secure representation, so I’m foregoing my usual strategy of self-publication until/unless it’s proven to me that no English speaking agent anywhere in the world will represent it. I’m also about to pick up writing again on the half-written book, which takes place in the same universe as The Midnight Ground, but makes only glancing references to characters/event of The Midnight Ground. All told, that accounts for about 250,000 words of productive writing last year and is, I think, a pretty respectable output.

In addition to those projects, I’ve also been working on an audiodrama. For those of you who looked at the word “audiodrama” and thought, “He just made that word up,” I didn’t make it up. It’s a real thing with a proud tradition. In ye olden days of the early- and mid-Twentieth Century there was this really popular device called radio. You might know this device as the thing in your car that plays the stuff on your smartphone/mp3 player. Well before the iPod and largely before the television, radio filled the entertainment void. They used to do these things on the radio called radio dramas and radio serials. These were either one-off or serialized stories that aired on whatever schedule the Powers That Were decided. A few examples you might be aware of are The Shadow radio serial and the Superman radio serial. More contemporary examples include pretty much everything put out by ZBS (you should check them out, because they’re awesome!) and the Prairie Home Companion skits done by Garrison Keillor.

Well why didn’t I say radio drama? It’s not going to land on the radio. It’ll be hosted online somewhere and, being audio only, I’m calling it an audiodrama. The current plan is for a limited run of 9-12 episodes. Why 9-12 episodes? Sanity. This is a labor of love and most of the work will be done by yours truly. I put together the first episode and it ran to about 20 hours of work. I assume that as I get more proficient, each episode will go a little quicker, but it’s just a lot of work. So I’m limiting it to 9-12 episodes. I’m still outlining/writing scripts for it, so the final tally of episodes isn’t set yet. Once I know, you’ll know. Despite already being underway, the timeline for this project is very long. In my ideal universe, this project will see the light of day sometimes in early/mid 2017.

In addition to that, I’ve completed the first draft of scripts for a 5-episode machinima project in cheerful collusion with my brother. I can hear you…“mahchimiwha?” Machinima is a style of filmmaking that uses a video game as the visual core for storytelling. You move your characters around the video game universe to sync up with existing dialogue, capture the footage, and then edit the footage together with dialogue, post production effects, and a soundtrack (if you can afford it or find the right royalty free music) to create episodes. The most famous example of this is probably the early seasons of Rooster Teeth’s series, Red vs Blue, which you can check out here. The later seasons employ pre-rendered animation which, to my mind, makes it less machinima and certainly beyond the means of most machinima filmmakers….though, no less entertaining. As with the audiodrama, the timeline on this is long. Also expecting this to be a project that won’t see public consumption until 2017.

That brings you up to speed on what I have been up to. Upcoming in the Eric’s parade of productive insanity…

There is Contingency Jones: Season Two that’s tentatively set for later this year (fall/early winter). There’s pre-production and production on the audiodrama and machinima projects. Querying agents for The Midnight Ground. Finishing the half-finished novel, as yet untitled. I’ve also tentatively scheduled starting the writing of the 4th Sam Branch novel, Rises, for December 2016. And somewhere between now and mid-2017, I’m planning to get moving on the sequel to The Midnight Ground, which has been tentatively titled, Favors Given. Yup. I’ve got some stuff going on. That said, I will be doing my best to check in with you on my various and sundry projects at much more regular intervals. I’m aiming for once a week.

Eric’s Year End Report – 2014

So, it’s been an interesting year. I set some goals earlier this year. Some I achieved, in part or in full, and some I failed to achieve. And one came out of the blue and I more or less made it happen. So, here’s the report.

I set a goal to get the new Branch novel out this year and I did it. I did it by the skin of my teeth, but I did it. Speaking of which, you should go get your copy of Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel. It’s available through your friendly, neighborhood Amazon.com in Kindle and print editions. It will be released for Nook, as well as most other e-readers, early next year.

I set a goal of getting three short stories published in magazines this year. I fell a bit short. I placed two short stories with Stupefying Stories, which is a terrific publication that you should show some love. One of my stories appeared in the August 2014 issue, which you can get here. The second story will, most likely, appear sometime early this coming year. Still, I’ll take my two placed short stories, be happy, and aim to place twice that many next year.

I had also planned on starting a podcast. I even recorded a preliminary episode that generated some positive response from the alpha listeners I shared it with. It just never quite came together. Some of it was a time issue. There are never quite enough hours in a week. Some of it was simple concern that, however good my intentions, I just wouldn’t be able to come up with enough interesting material to sustain the podcast over the long haul. The idea isn’t dead, but I’m letting it percolate a bit more before I either move forward or scrap heap it. I’ll let everyone know where I come down on that.

Another goal I had was to put together a limited run web-series. The plan was 4 episodes running 3-5 minutes each. This one really did boil down to me not having enough time commit to the project, paired up with my uncertainty that I could get the right resources in place, at the right times, to make it happen. I still want to do the series and, if Clotho, Lechesis and Atropos see fit to consent, I’d like to be announcing that the first episode is going live sometime in April. Pester me about this folks. Shame is a powerful motivator.

A goal I hadn’t set for myself, but ultimately wound up delivering on was a pretty substantive renovation of an old house. I tore out floors clear down to the joists and, in some cases, those came out too. I installed new underlayments, sanded down hardwood, put down new finish, and even helped to cut and install some tile. It was a pretty massive project that stretched out for months, but it’s all but complete now and I’m pretty proud of what I did there.

Overall, looking back, I can’t complain about this past year. There were some pie in the sky things I either didn’t get a chance to do (visit Crater Lake), or would have liked to have done but it wasn’t realistic (finish a second novel in addition to the new Branch novel).

Still, I did learn how inefficient I can be with my time. It’s a forgivable sin, I think. I’m certainly not alone in it. In retrospect, I can see how those inefficiencies contributed to my failing to reach certain goals (podcast, web series). So, right at the top of my list for next year’s goals is improving my time/self management. I’m going to take my cue from Lean Thinking and aim make persistent, incremental improvements. Some will be easy, some will be hard, but even small improvements often lead to big results. As I formulate some new goals for the coming year, I’ll keep you appraised.

Short Story Publication and Other Updates

photo credit: SpreadTheMagic via photopin cc

photo credit: SpreadTheMagic via photopin cc

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I’d set a goal to get three short stories published this year. I’m now one step closer to that goal. My short story, “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” was just published in the August 2014 issue of Stupefying Stories. The issue is available over on Amazon, for Kindle, for $1.99. I also hear tell there may be a print version in the works, but I don’t have details on that. Either way, there are some great stories in that issue and you won’t want to miss it!

Getting that story picked up was especially meaningful for me. Of all the short stories I’ve written over the years, it’s one of my personal favorites. It took a long time to gestate. I wrote the first, much less sophisticated, much less polished version of that story years ago. It’s gone through a lot of drafts since that first effort. Along the way it’s lost some weight, about 3000 words worth. The original ending is gone, as is the original beginning. Also missing are so very many awkward sentences and stillborn ideas. It’s not a perfect story, no story ever is, but I’m very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it.

I also had an opinion piece that I wrote about America’s uneven response to the issue of big data collection picked up over at Global Comment. It isn’t just the NSA that engages in big data collection. We should all think hard about who we trust with our information. I’m quite proud of that piece as well and hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it.

On the Sam Branch front, my revised draft of Rises is out being looked over by my woefully underpaid, but supremely talented, volunteer editor. I’m letting Branch take a nap in my head while that happens, but the new novel is coming.

I’ve got some projects in various stages of doneness. There is a freshly minted short story in a first draft form, along with another that’s about halfway there. So, with any luck, I’ll be able to find homes for one of those. I’m still playing around with a couple of the non-Branch novel ideas I have, but I imagine that work will start on one of those very soon. I’ve also got a couple of other opinion/essay type things that I’m testing out in the uncertain world of submissions. If I get anywhere with those, I’ll let you know. Promise!

The Difficulties of Writing a Novel Organically

photo credit: rthakrar via photopin cc

photo credit: rthakrar via photopin cc

Writing novels is hard work. Everyone who thinks otherwise is either not trying hard enough or has never tried it at all. None of which to say writing novels isn’t fun. It is, with the possible exception of some manga series and Aaron Sorkin’s run of scripts on The West Wing, the most expansive form of fiction a writer can embrace. You get to take all the space you need to tell the story you want to tell. That is incredibly liberating, but can also be problematic for an organic writer like me.

I don’t like outlines. I never have. I used to drive my professors crazy in college with my obstinate refusal to write them. Seriously, unless I was looking at a full letter grade drop on a paper, I just didn’t do them. For me, outlining is a lot like giving myself spoilers for the whole book.

Once I know, I mean really KNOW, how it’s going to turn out, I lose fire for the story. It becomes an exercise in following instructions (even if they are from me, to me) and nothing sucks the joy out of writing faster – for me – than extensive directions.

So, when I go to write a novel, I don’t outline. At most, I try to have an idea of where the novel needs to end, in general, and then I write. Granted, I try to write in a way to aims at that end point, but the rest is a mystery. The whole process becomes one of discovery for me, which I find exhilarating and fun.

Writing a novel that way does, however, pose difficulties. For example, I never know how long it’s going to be, which means I can’t anticipate how long it will take to write. I find out how long the book will be when I write the last sentence. That makes it very difficult to make announcements about when the next book is going to come out, since I have to finish before I know how long edits will take.

That uncertainty proved especially problematic as I worked on the latest installment of my Sam Branch series. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. The page count swelled to 250 pages. Then it went to 300…350…400. Just before I got to the 400 page mark, I was living in active fear.

I literally didn’t know how the book was going to end or, at least, not how to get the characters there, with over 100,000 words already written. Fortunately, insight hit and I managed to wrap it up around the 450 page mark, but it was still huge. In fact, in my head, it had swelled to monstrous, unwieldy size.

Surely it couldn’t hold the attention of readers at that length. Surely, it must be bloated with useless, unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs and scenes. Had I, setting out with the best of intentions, spent the better part of a year writing 450 pages of crap that I would need to throw out?

My lack of an outline also denied me the comfort of knowing that I had stayed on task. All the assurance I had were my instincts that the book was written to the length it needed to be. No longer. No shorter. As it turned out, my fears were the only things bloated beyond all proportion or reason. My alpha readers all enjoyed the book, festooned with typos and grammatical errors though it was.

While I firmly believe my novels are better without outlines…since I quite probably wouldn’t write them if I wrote outlines…it makes it hard to play fair with readers. I can’t tell them things they want to know, because I sincerely have no clue. Of all the difficulties of writing organically, I find that one the hardest.

Playing Catch Up

photo credit: schani via photopin cc

photo credit: schani via photopin cc

I’ve been incredibly bad about updating this blog recently, violating one of the rules I preach about. That rule, of course, is that you should update your blog on a regular basis. So, in order to play fair, I feel like I owe everyone an explanation. I actually have been writing the posts. What I haven’t been doing is giving them proper edits and posting them. So, on the good news front, you can expect some posts over the coming weeks.

The big question anyone has the right to ask is, “why haven’t you been posting?” The answer to the question is easy, but not simple. It’s been a matter of time. I can’t rightly say that, if I looked over everything I’ve been doing over the last month, I absolutely could not have found an hour here or there to get a post knocked into shape and posted. On a day-to-day basis, though, it’s felt that way.

This week, for example, I’ve been having terrible headaches and finding it more than a little difficult to do anything beyond the bare minimum. For those of you who, like me, tend to get chronic headaches, you know that it makes every task harder and, even when you force yourself to sit down and work, everything takes longer.

I’ve also been working on the preliminary stages of a few projects that are close to my heart. One is a podcast. I recorded a short, preliminary episode and a friend of mine is in the process of writing some music for it. I’ve been brainstorming ideas for the logo, along with ideas for episodes and thematic elements I’d like to hit on.

I’ve also gotten started on an idea for a limited run web-series that I’m planning to post on YouTube. There are a lot of moving parts involved with something like that, way more than you might think, even for something that I only expect to run 5-10 minutes per episode. At this stage in the game, I’m still hashing details in my own head and will soon be hashing those details with my presumptive partner in crime for this project, who will, for the moment, only be identified as Agent X. I will tell you this much, it involves food, and nerdery, and general good fun. It will not be scripted (mostly) and it will be reality-based.

Then, of course, there is the new Sam Branch novel, which I have continued to edit, one chapter at a time. Unlike the first two Branch novels, I am doing a hard edit on paper. Editing on paper is a very different process than editing on screen. The upshot is that I’m catching a ton of errors I would have missed on screen. So, you can all look forward to much a cleaner read with far fewer typos.

The downside is that editing on paper is a slower process, in part because it is just inherently slower, but also because I have to make the edits in the Word document after I do them down on paper. Then there is the fact that this novel is significantly longer. More good news, though. I am approximately 25-30% done. At this pace, the novel will go live sometime this summer.

I’ve also been hashing out the details for a crowdfunded project that is much, much closer to going live than anything else I’ve been working on. I’ve got some video work left that I need to get done, but that project is likely to go live in the next few weeks. Once it’s a little closer, I’ll talk about it so much that it will make you hate me a little. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say this much. I’ve written a fair bit of fiction in the last year or so that isn’t Sam Branch-based and this project is all about providing you a way to get your hands on that fiction. So keep your eyes open for updates.

Then, of course, there is the regular old, run-of-the-mill work that keeps me fed and caffeinated. It’s not always interesting, but it’s always necessary. That eats a lot of time too.

So, like I said, the answer is easy, but not simple. I’ve been writing, a lot, and with any luck some of it will be in your hands very soon. I’ve been chipping away at projects, which I’m hoping will see the light of day this year. I haven’t given up on the blog, not by any stretch, and I’ve got some good ones coming your way over the next two to three weeks. So keeping tuning in.

A Pre-Release Marketing Mistake

photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

Timing is everything, so the saying goes, and I’ve learned that lesson recently in the pre-release phase of my new novel.

A while back, I promised a short story/prelude to the novel around the end of February/early March. Just as importantly, I delivered. What I wasn’t anticipating is that the short story ramped up some serious excitement among some Sam Branch fans.

Here’s the problem…that excitement, while terrific, came too soon.

The novel isn’t ready for release. It’s not even close to ready for release. I’m just about ready to start on my first serious post-writing read through. As other novelists know, that is a time-intensive process that can take weeks, if the novel is really clean, and months, if the novel needs a lot work. Even in an ideal situation, the new novel probably won’t go live until sometime in May or June.

So, while I felt personally good about releasing that short story when I did, because I said I was going to, it was a mistake from a marketing standpoint. I should have waited until I was no more than a month out from publication to release the story. If I had, it would have whetted the appetites of the fans and helped to build momentum for when the book does go live.

Instead, I’ve run the risk of annoying those fans with a long wait until they can read the book. As mistakes go, it’s probably minor, but it’s a still a mistake that I intend to learn from and one I hope you avoid.

New & Free & Here- A Samuel Branch Short Story

I know it’s been ages and ages, more than a year, since you guys have seen any new fiction from me. Well, as promised earlier this week, I’m about to change that. Please find below, the all new Sam Branch short story, Becoming. Enjoy!

For Kindle users: Becoming (mobi)

For pretty much all other Ereaders: Becoming (ePub)

For those without an Ereader: Becoming (PDF)

The Periodic Update Thing that I Do

photo credit: Daniel*1977 via photopin cc

photo credit: Daniel*1977 via photopin cc

Since I always have a lot of irons in the fire at any given time, some of which I mention on here or on other social media, some of which I don’t, it becomes necessary to provide the occasional update on my various and sundry projects. To that end, here are the updates:

The Big Project

Okay, the big project, the one I get asked about a lot, is the new Sam Branch novel. The novel is not dead and not even close to dead. It’s just taking a lot more time and gestation that I ever imagined it would. It is long ladies and gents. I mean it’s really long. Like 400 typewritten pages long and growing. Fortunately, I have a pretty clear sense now of what needs to happen to finish it, which I was still pretty hazy about 50 pages ago. I swear I’m closing in on done.

The Website

Many months ago, I proclaimed that the Sam Branch website was going to get updated. I meant it, despite no visible evidence that it was happening. There was stuff and things and life that got in the way. The death of a web designer’s computer, for example, and me working on the new novel and painting the new cover and the work that pays the bills. You know, life and stuff and things. The moment is upon us, however. I got the new files and installed them on the server. There is still one or two glitches to work out, but you can go and see the almost finished, shiny new version of the site here.

Audiobook?

I also mentioned, a very long time ago, that I was recording an audiobook version of the first Sam Branch novel, Falls. The project is not dead, either, I simply refer you back to the aforementioned life and stuff and things. It will happen. The notion has taken hold in my brain again and I’ll be making a concerted effort to record 1-2 chapters a week until it’s done. I may even post a few preview chapters for your listening pleasure, so keep your eyes open.

Short Stories

As I mentioned in a previous post about fiction and voice, I’ve been working on some short fiction. One of my goals for 2014 is to place 3 short stories in magazines. To that end, when my brain needs a break from novel writing, I work on short stories. Some of them are partially written. Some of them are finished, but not edited. Some of them are out for submission. There is one, however, that will be coming to you very soon. It’s a little prequel to the new Sam Branch novel and I’m expecting to make it available to you all around the end of the February.

So there you have it, some of the bigger things I’ve got going on. Now, as a little treat, I give you a link to Neil Gaiman reading Green Eggs and Ham. Why? Because it’s Neil Gaiman reading Green Eggs and Ham. Seriously, do you need a better reason?

Official Reveal – Cover Art for the New Sam Branch Novel

I’m going to take a quick break from the usual today for something near and dear to my heart. As many of you know, I’m in the midst of writing the third book in my Samuel Branch series of novels. As I wind down into the final stretch of the first draft, I decided it was time to paint/develop the new cover art, both as a practical concern and as a way to reward my patient readers. So, without further ado, I present you with the cover for “Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel.”

Copyright 2014 Eric Dontigney

Copyright 2014 Eric Dontigney

For those of you not familiar with my Samuel Branch books, check out my books page or find them over on Amazon here and here.