The Next Big Thing

My friend and fellow fantasy author (and now collaborator) Joshua Unruh asked me to write about my next project as part of a chain blog. He spent a lot of his own post talking about writing in my world, so it would be rude for me to ignore his request. But, then, I’ve struggled so much with my “next project” that this has felt like a really difficult post to write.

The thing is…long before Josh tagged me, I already knew that this was the post I needed to write. And it’s been difficult that whole time. That’s why I haven’t said a word here for two months now (and why that last word was some nonsense about cookies).

Here’s the thing: One year ago, I quit my day job to be a full-time writer. I spent five months completing my masters degree and capping off an epic fantasy series that I’ve been working on since I was a teenager. Every bit of that was a dream come true.

Then I published The Dragonprince’s Heir, and in the time since then I have wanted to do anything but write.

Those words are painful to say. It’s especially painful to share with you, my strongest supporters.

There are a lot of reasons. There was a vocal negative reaction to The Dragonprince’s Heir, but that’s probably the smallest reason of them all. I’m used to criticism, and I’m not under the impression that anything I write right now is pure gold. I’m still learning, still developing as an artist, so the books I’m writing now are just stepping stones to the really good stuff I’m going to work on next year.

I believe that now, and I hope to keep believing it with every passing year until I run out of them entirely.

No, most of what’s getting in my way is stress and obligation. See, I didn’t just quit my job last year. I also started an indie publishing company and hired a couple editors and a marketing guy. You probably know them all by name. They’re all fellow authors and good friends of mine, and it was our plan to put together a flood of awesome fantasy for you guys that would leave you begging for even more (and, in the process, fund Consortium Books to hire and train even more authors).

It…didn’t quite work out that way. We got a good start with the release of Courtney’s epic fantasy Rethana’s Surrender and Joshua’s noir viking saga Downfall, but the weak point in our plan was me.

I had boring day-job work to do. Not for my old government bosses, this time, but for my own organization. There was so much work to do, and now several families’ livelihoods depending (at least partially) on my business acumen. That’s a lot of pressure (and not a small amount of tedious paperwork).

On top of that, for lots of very good reasons, I signed a three-book publishing deal with Amazon’s 47North. I owed them the first novel in a new trilogy on November 1, but when I started hiring people in June and planning our schedule, November looked a long way off. As it turned out, I just had time to deal with the first, most urgent mountain of corporate paperwork before I had to dive into the 47North project with a desperate urgency just to hit my deadline.

And, of course, after I turned that in I found myself facing a new mountain of chores that had piled up while I was frantically writing. And then, when I realized they still needed me for consulting on promotional materials and reviewing edits and revising the manuscript, I discovered there was still a surprising amount of work to do on the novel I’d just delivered.

Somewhere in there I had a root canal, watched dad campaign for and then unfairly lose a bid for State Representative, caught pneumonia for six weeks or so, and survived two major holidays with all the family commitments those entail.

That’s how I’ve spent my dream-come-true so far: exhausted, overwhelmed, and behind schedule.

So! The challenge for this blog post was to tell you about my current writing project. The sad fact is, it’s the same one I blogged about last July (and promised by the end of summer). I’m working on a novella set in the world of the Dragonprince, featuring Daven and taking place immediately after the events of The Dragonswarm. Six months now, and I’ve got a little over 6,000 words written.

I’m actually really excited about the story. It’s Daven in all his power fighting a vicious (and frighteningly clever) dragon brood out in the eastern plains. It’s full of exciting action and tense drama and some surprising revelations with regard to the dragon bond.

It also sets the stage for the collaborative novellas Joshua was talking about in his post. A Darkness in the East is the first chapter in a five-piece collection called The Dragonprince’s Arrows. Among them, those stories will reveal how Daven came to have an army of dragonriders behind him and introduce some of the more interesting riders.

Unlike the one I’m still working on, those stories are already written. Or…drafted, anyway. Joshua and Jessie agreed to collaborate with me on them, so I’ll get to introduce you to Joshua’s break-neck plot and Jessie’s endearing characters, all wrapped up in the huge and fascinating setting that is Daven’s dragonswarm.

In other words, the next big thing is huge. It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to share it with you. I just have to get over myself first, get out of my own way, and learn how to write for fun again.

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know the moment the story’s done.

Works in Progress

I’ve spent most of July being a businessman. I’ve been shopping group insurance coverage for my editors and me, trying to find someone reliable to handle payroll and corporate taxes, and running board meetings.

Most of the writing I’ve done recently has been on a formal business plan. Fun.

But it’s all to the good. You might remember how glad I was to stop working out of Starbucks and start working out of an office. That office was a tiny, temporary space just to get me a desk. Now that we have editors on staff and are working to hire a whole handful of new folks, we need more space.

And we’ve found the perfect space. It’s a two-story open retail space in the midtown/arts district. We’ve drawn up plans that include a public art gallery, a little bookstore for our products, a wide open work area for our Writers and Programmers, a raised studio with direct sunlight for our Painters and Photographers, and (eventually) a dedicated recording studio for our Musicians.

It’s gorgeous. It’s also a huge financial commitment. So I’ve been very busy crunching numbers and making best guesses (and worst-case scenarios) and planning for the future. I had to convince my board of directors that we could (and should) afford the place, and now I have to convince the building owners to take us on as tenants.

It was an interesting board meeting. Once we’d finished the agenda items, it settled into more of a casual discussion as one of the directors asked me how I planned to handle the conflicting job responsibilities of producing new novels and running the company.

I smiled sweetly and explained that I’m still producing new novels in my free time. I’m a full-time CEO, and it’s everything I can do to manage that job.

This experience is so far from anything I ever expected for my life. It’s incredible. It’s stressful and tedious at times and often incredibly uncreative, but it’s also big. It’s important. I’m not just telling stories; I’m building a new media empire.

That’s not to say I’m done telling stories. Hah! I am still producing new novels in my free time. I’ve been hard at work on a short story in the World of Auric, a dragonrider novella featuring Daven, and a brand new epic novel (which I hope to get written this fall) featuring Daven’s son Damion.

I’m also hard at work as publisher and coach. In just the last week I’ve helped workshop Courtney’s sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, Joshua’s epic viking fantasy Myth Reaver: Downfall, and Jessie’s adventure fantasy, The City of Orphans. And then there are the dragonrider collaborations. But that’s a story for another time.

Finding Art

Last week was a frantic one for me. Well…that’s barely an interesting statement, because all my weeks are frantic. So let’s focus on the particular theme that dominated last week’s frenzy:


Specifically cover art. I’m publishing two books on Tuesday–one of my own, and one of my friend’s that was hugely influential to me. There’s a lot riding on the success of these two books, and when last week started, I had no cover art for them at all.

That’s terrifying. Publishing a book is a different beast from writing a book, and within that process, the cover art is probably the most challenging element. It takes time. It takes skills that I don’t have. And to do it right, it really takes enough different skillsets that it usually requires coordination among several talented people.

In our organization, we usually have an “illustrator”–often a painter or a photographer–to make the beautiful background, and a “designer” to choose the crop, the title elements, the “trade dress” that turns a work of art into a book cover.

Rethana’s Surrender

We’d planned to hire a somewhat famous professional cover artist for Courtney’s book, but over the course of May, that plan unraveled. Between problems with his availability and our business model, we had to abandon the partnership at the last moment. That left us scrambling to find a replacement who would not only do professional-quality work, but who could do it in three weeks.

In the end, the art we received was gorgeous, but our artist had to cancel or postpone a lot of existing work to meet our needs. (And we had to pay way more than we wanted to because of the rush.)

The Dragonprince’s heir

We hit similar problems with my own book. We’d made arrangement last December with the artist who’d done my previous covers–Courtney, as it happens–but between the demands of getting her book ready and other complications in her life, she wasn’t able to complete it.

She did a breathtaking landscape for me as a background, but she never made it to the foreground–adding Caleb and Taryn, who were supposed to be the main focus of the scene.

It was Tuesday when I received the digital copy of that painting. Tuesday…one week before the book was supposed to come out!

And the artist who made that beautiful painting for Courtney was all used up. Lucky for us, she was able to recommend some friends, and among them I found someone willing and able to do the work on such ridiculously short notice.

Oh, and he did ridiculously good work, too.

Fan Art

But the whole time I spent searching through these fantasy art galleries, looking at fan art from a hundred universes I’ve never heard of, I kept thinking how silly it was that I was working so hard to find someone who could do my stories justice.

I have thousands of fans devouring the series. Surely there’s someone among them with those same talents–someone who already knows these characters and the stories’ themes nearly as well as I do (and probably visualizes them even more vividly than I can).

Maybe it’s only because I got my start working in an artists’ cooperative, but I love the idea of using fan art for covers. That might be tricky for unreleased works, but one of the big advantages of digital publishing is that it’s cheap and easy to release new editions. If I had the art to use, I could put out new editions of Taming Fire with a featured-cover-of-the-month.

So consider that a standing offer. No, a plea! If you’re a fan, I’d love to see your art (whether or not you want to let me use it).

If you know an artist who might be interested, get them hooked on my books. We can make my job easier and make the World of the FirstKing a prettier place. What’s not to love?

In the meantime, treat yourself to a browse through Adele’s and Lane’s gorgeous galleries, and let them know what good work they did on our covers.

And come back Tuesday. That’s when the magic happens.