In my recently published book, Renaissance Calling, I have no less than ten fights. These range from one-on-one fisticuffs to small battles. Fighting of one sort or another is prominent in most of the stories I’m working on, so I’ve got some experience in planning and writing fighting and combat scenes.
I’ve been meaning to write an article on this for some time, but there’s so many thoughts and concepts floating around that it’s been hard to organize, so I’m switching playbooks.
Instead of one long article, I’m going to write several, with no expected number planned. I might write about something I’m currently working on, or something I’ve done. One post will be about planning battles from the eyes of the generals, another about what a character might be feeling during combat.
The idea is, instead of trying to shove everything into one article, to focus on one idea per post, and really get into it, allowing each idea to be entertained in depth.
Why Combat? – Because I know it
For a first article, I figured I would discuss the obvious first question: why so much fighting?
I’m a military historian by education, growing up with access to my dad’s Civil War books. I grew from looking at pictures to reading the stories, evolving into an interest in both personal accounts and primary sources on one hand, and the overall philosophy and culture of war on the other.
And of course, I consume a significant amount of fictional media on the subject. Books, movies and video games are plentiful, though I can find as much fault with a lot of them (both in terms of combat and in terms of story-telling) as I can enjoy them. Roleplaying games are also heavily combat oriented, which means on game night, we’re probably going to fight.
So for better or worse, fighting is something that features in almost all of my stories.
Also – Excitement
As a last minute addition to this article, I wanted to say one more thing about writing combat. As I’m working on book two, I’ve had to contend with worrying about keeping the book exciting. Yes, not all drama in a book has to come from battle, but it helps to have the option, if only to vary the source of the drama.
Being in a situation where fighting can happen for various reasons (as I had in Renaissance Calling) allowed me to use combat to control the excitement. A bandit here, a betrayal there, I could count on fighting to give me control over the story. In most of my planned projects this is possible, though I do not want to make it the soul source of excitement.
Anyway, I know this is a short article, but I didn’t want to make it long just for the sake of making it long. This is only an introduction, after all.
I want to take a moment and write about the projects I’m working on. Specifically, about how I decide what projects to focus on and which ones to put on hold.
In preparation for this article, I sat down and worked out every project that I’ve done some work on. This does not include passing ideas that I’ve thought about, only things where I have put something on paper or saved to the cloud. The question was ‘How many books am I trying to write?’
I came up with 29 distinct projects, some organized into larger fictional worlds, while others are standalone books. And while I was coming up with this list, I found that I might be able to condense a number of the fantasy and science fiction projects into fewer projects. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to continue with the original 29 projects.
12 of those projects I hadn’t done enough work to figure out how many books they might turn into, and two of them are strings of short stories that would probably just be anthologized. So, of the remaining 15 projects, how many books are planned?
That’s quite a lot. That’s more books than years I’ve lived. So I better get writing.
Seriously, though, looking at this list of projects, I’m already sure a lot of them aren’t going to get written. Not because I don’t want to write them, but because I probably just don’t have the time. It’s one of the reasons I try to set a lot of my fantasy and science fiction stories in the same universe; so I can re-use the same geography, politics and mythologies in different stories.
Just for fun, the numbers of projects by genre:
Speculative fiction (3 projects)
Fantasy (10 projects))
Science fiction (9 projects)
Historical Fiction (5 projects)
Other (2 projects)
My main focus right now is on the Renaissance Army series, which counts for three of the projects and ten books (seven main-line books, two short-story anthologies and a prequel). Even then, it wouldn’t surprise me if I find other stories to tell in the world. In fact, I’m almost certain I do, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.
My goal with the seven main-line books is to publish one a year. Now that I’ve got Renaissance Calling under my belt, I feel pretty confident I can get those seven books out. I don’t know that it’ll be one a year, but I mean to give it a go. I’ve been paying attention to my process, figuring out how I can outline better, paying attention to what trips me up or disrupts my process. Basically becoming more proficient.
The Great Fantasy Series
My secondary focus is what I’m calling the Orc-kin series, a set of seven trilogies that follow half-orc characters through the centuries of a fantasy world. I’ve written the first book, and I’m writing the second, with others being aggressively outlined as I go. At the very least I’d like to publish the first trilogy. I might not go so far as to publish all seven trilogies, but outline them all and then only publish the best ones. I don’t know yet.
How do I decide what else to do?
That is the question, ultimately, of this post. I have so many ideas, things I honestly believe are good stories. How do I decide which ones to write?
When I look at the other projects, I imagine all the work I need to do to bring them to fruition, and it can get a little daunting. Though depending on the genre, maybe for different reasons.
With the Fantasy projects, I can get all but one of the projects into the same world, but one of them is going to be stand alone. That certainly makes world-building easier. It’s more likely I’ll publish a fantasy story next.
Science Fiction can be difficult because so much of the science fiction I’ve been reading has been particularly heavy on the science (see David Weber’s Honorverse or Andy Weir’s The Martian). I imagine my own science fiction will have less math in it, and more fiction. Although I have been using the Kerbal Space Program to learn orbital mechanics.
Historical Fiction is one area I know I want to write more on. But it requires so much research to feel comfortable writing a historical book. I know I want to try to get one out, but there’s a lot of research to be done.
You didn’t answer the question: how do I decide what to do?
Oh, you noticed that, did you?
The fact is, I’m not sure which project (other than the Renaissance Army series) I will focus on next. Yes, I’m one book into the first fantasy trilogy, but I want to write the whole thing out before I revise, so I’m two books away from advancing that series. I have a lot of resources for the historical fiction books, but I haven’t gone through them and organized them. And I keep getting worried about the science in my science fiction stories.
So, the answer is, honestly, whatever I end up working on. Other than the Renaissance Army series, I end up jumping from project to project pretty quickly, working when inspiration strikes me. For all I know, I’ll have a burst of insight and speed write a science fiction book for NANOWRIMO. We’ll see.
During Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to have a table at Manticon 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Manticon is a military sci-fi convention that draws a modest and enthusiastic crowd. Based off the Honorverse books of David Weber (of which I am an avid reader), the convention included a charity auction, panels on various topics of interest, and a game room that includes Artemis and Battletech simulators.
As this was my first fandom convention (aside from an hour spent at a very minor Star Trek con to see Leonard Nemoy and William Shatner speak in 2006), I didn’t sign up for any panels or games. I didn’t sign up for anything, preferring to leave my schedule open, as I didn’t know what to expect. The woman who got me into the convention asked me to make two cheesecakes for the con-suite, which I did (salted caramel and peanut butter cup). There were no leftovers.
My Table at Manticon
My table was a simple affair, particularly on the first day where it was only my book displays and a pile of business cards. After talking it over with two fellow authors at the convention, I added a hand-traced map of the Kingdom of North Mississippi and a newsletter sign up page.
Yes, it was not particularly flashy, but without knowing what a convention table was like, I didn’t know what sort of stuff to invest in. Luckily, the other two authors with their tables in the same area were willing to give me some advice on what to do at future cons.
As for location, well, it was pretty much in the middle. It was right in front of the elevator bank, between the panel rooms and the main / vendor rooms. Pretty much everyone going to the convention at some point passed my table, usually many times. I got a lot of people stopping by to talk with me and look over my book. It was quite nice to get such a warm reception.
Being At Manticon
I admit I was a bit apprehensive about being in a public place for so long while trying to get people interested enough in my book to buy it from me. I’m a bit of an introvert (maybe more than a bit), and I’ve never been a particularly good salesperson.
That being said, I have been feeling rather confident lately. And I read a few ‘how to do X as an extrovert’ books, which mostly boiled down to be comfortable and don’t try to be something you’re not. So I put out my display and engaged people who stopped to take a look.
As I mentioned above, the people gave me a warm reception. A lot of people stopped by to learn about me and my book, and I conversed in kind. I had an hour-long conversation with one young woman about storytelling in media, including some shared video game experiences and the advantages that the Star Trek Animated Series had in its stories. Some people were genuinely intrigued by my concept and excited to buy my book.
The Manticon patrons wore uniforms, ranging from technician jump suits to resplendent admiral’s uniforms. They came in from all over the world: I spoke with someone who flew in from Scotland, and there was a group from an Eastern European country that I didn’t meet but heard them conversing.
I did not attend any panels or join in the simulator games. This was my first convention, so I decided to ease into it and I did not want to over-schedule myself. I was there to be an author and do the author thing.
And it went well. I missed my sales goal by one, and ran out of business cards. Totally calling it a win.
Beyond the Convention
I spent the days at the table, but the nights hanging out with the patrons.
The convention rented out a number of rooms (maybe an entire floor, I’m not sure) for their post convention parties. Consuite had food and a assortment of drinks themed off the books. There was Marine Country, where the Marine fans congregated with their own bar (visited by Dale Dye, who stole the show). There was a Scotch room (which I visited) and a Klingon room (which I didn’t get around to).
I got to speaking to a few people (again hanging out with Dale Dye a bit), relaxing to the point where I could enjoy myself. I had stop drinking early, since I had to drive across the cities to get home, but it was definitely a good party atmosphere. Next time I’ll see if I can’t get a room to avoid an hour of transit every day.
Lessons for Future Conventions
The first lesson is I’m going to admit is; I need a flashier set up. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but enough to catch people’s attention. I’ve got some ideas, but I haven’t ordered anything yet. I’m waiting a week to go over my brainstorming list and see what makes it through round two.
Second lesson: get on a panel or two. One of the other authors at the event had two, and he said he had some good discussions with patrons about his topics. Next time, I’ll see what is available.
Third: get a room there if feasible. Not only can I remain longer in the evening, I can avoid a long morning commute.
Did I have fun? Absolutely.
Did I meet some cool people? I did. In addition to Dale Dye, I got David Weber to sign two books. I met a group of people I’m excited to join. And I got to see people get excited by my book.
Am I looking forward to future cons? I am. I don’t know when the next one is, but I’ll let you know when I have future appearances scheduled.
For now, I’m concentrating on Book 2. Maybe I can have it ready by Manticon 2018.