Well, once again, I've gotten bad about blogging. But, while I've slipped with the Dev Diary updates, I've kept working on the actual thing that matters, the manuscript for Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2.
And it is done!
Took a few more days into December than I'd originally planned, but that was more out of a desire to slightly expand and rewrite a couple of the later chapters than discovery of major issues. Book 2 ended up being about 25% longer than Book 1, coming in at a bit under 160,000 words as compared to 120,000 for Book 1. The tone overall is, necessarily, a bit darker and grimmer than Book 1, but hopefully not so much so that it puts readers off.
I actually tend to structure the meta-plot a bit like a symphony, with themes shifting and action rising and falling according to a rhythm of sorts. So while Book 2 is thematically more battle-focused, Book 3 will shift tone again towards exploration (physical and intellectual) and understanding, setting the stage for another more action packed Book 4.
As for actual publication, I haven't chosen anything more specific than 'by the end of December', as I'm not entirely certain when the copyediting will be done and I'll finish any necessary corrections. I'm holding out hope of being done and published before December 31, but just don't want to make any promises just in case something goes strange. It's been quite a rough year on the home front around Broken Wagon Farm, so we're not taking anything for granted until 2018 is dead and done!
On Book 2, I have to say that I'm very excited to publish, and having garnered a number of good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon (more is better, so if you are reading this and enjoyed Book 1, please leave a review and/or rating! It significantly enhances visibility) has been particularly encouraging.
Since December is looking to be a slower month in terms of the amount of formal writing work, I'm hoping to spend some time making maps and appendix materials for each of the three Threads. For 1944, I've got some sketches of big-picture stuff, policy reforms and military reorganizations taken by the Beck government, which would have had quite a task on its hands had it, unlike our reality, actually been able to make Operation Valkyrie a success. For 2041, I want to put together some maps of Post-America, and include some atlas-style sketches of the different successor states to the USA, which broke up (formally) in 2031. And for 2147, I have some diagrammatic maps of Inner Sol, and more descriptions of places and players in the political-economic mix. And history, of course. Lots of timelines and the like.
Of course to actually get this done will require some focus, at a time of the year I tend to have trouble with that. And this year, there's the whole Brexit fiasco occupying my attention. I'm Cascadian, and follow US presidential politics best, but the UK comes as a close second, because in my globalist dreams, all the postcolonial remnants of the British Empire would unite in some kind of loose democratic federation. Anyway, I've found the whole Brexit drama to be high theater, years of ink spilled and negotiations... had... all so that in the end the EU could offer a deal that wasn't quite good enough, so that the UK politicians could say they did all they could, and then force a situation where a second referendum or general election would almost certainly nix the whole thing before it could do any real damage.
But we'll see! The performance seems to be headed down to the wire. Still, I always welcome a chance to put a theory to the test, mine being that inertia will prevail, where it can.
Won't in the United States, though - sorry to all the milquetoast old white liberal types who think some old hack like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or even Bernie Sanders is the right choice for 2020. The UK already lost its empire, so the dynamics - while mirroring in many ways, remain quite different.
But hey - my Timeline to 2041 assumes that the USA goes into inertia for the rest of the '20s...until the greater earthquake begins.
Well, life has gotten in the way of regular Dev Diary-ing the past few weeks, so I figure I owe anyone stumbling across the site (or, I can hope, checking in on Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 progress) a quick update.
Simply put, editing is moving along right on schedule, despite the overall word count now pushing past 150,000. I've been hoping to delete sections where I went on too long with all the wordy wording of it all, but I've ended up adding sentences and clarifying points more than I've found things to delete. Hopefully my primary beta-reader will identify some cuts - not that I mind writing a longer book than originally planned (the whole 'series' is one long War and Peace length book in my head anyway, because I want to beat Tolstoy.)
In fact, 1/4 of Book 2 is now with my beta-reader, fully edited to my standard and ready for some external and objective evaluation. The next 1/2 or so has gone through both digital and paper edits, and just needs a few day's work to get that ready for evaluation. Leaving the last 1/4 or so still to go through the full process.
Fortunately, having now physically read and annotated more than 2/3 of the draft, I'm actually feeling a bit excited about publishing at the end of December, because Book 2 is where I think the story really starts to come together. Book 1 is intentionally vignette-y, with chapters growing longer as the narrative proceeds, to evoke the sense of confusion and general weirdness that most new recruits or draftees experience in the early stages of their integration into the military world. Book 2, while still fairly vignette-y, settles down into more of a distinct pattern/rhythm as the Six Friends start to grasp the 'rules' of their new reality, and begin to act on the world intentionally instead of simply experiencing things as they happen.
Part of the reason why I continue to advertise on the term litRPG is that I think this new genre's audience, or at least part of it, will appreciate the effective 'level-up' process that each character goes through as they figure out how to survive in the middle of a war. I don't make this explicit or overt, but it is buried in the narrative as a part of each character's arc. I like to integrate video game metaphors in my writing (and there's a lengthy discussion of war in the context of Starcraft early on), which probably restricts my audience somewhat, but also makes Bringing Ragnarok more approachable to the digital-generations.
Anyway, to sum up - still on track for publication by end of December, 2018. With ongoing encouraging news from my sales, Kindle Direct pagereads, and Goodreads ratings, I'm really starting to hope that this project will earn me a basic living income (minimum wage, at least!) once I can get Book 3 out in Summer 2019, or at the latest by the time Book 4 is published in Winter 2019. Busy times, but busy is how you break in to this world.
Oh, and if you happen to be a Book 1 reader who already read the thing and liked it - please rate and/or review on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever! I'm starting to get a sense of who is reading and in particular who is actually liking the Saga, and I am increasingly hopeful I can turn this into a sustainable business. Six Books done by 2020 is the goal, and then I can start on the next series... that I'm already planning out on paper (because that's how I roll).
Finally - this past week marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, that ended the First World War. I wish it had been the War to End all Wars, and not simply a prelude to something worse - and I'm not only referring to the Second World War. The self-inflicted damage to the European-dominated world system in 1914-1918 is still resolving itself. Just as explosives from both conflicts continue to emerge from under fields and development projects, killing people decades, now a full century later, so do the social and political struggles continue, in an age where thousands of nuclear weapons are under the control of right-wing fanatics who want to make them more usable, and the climate is rapidly shifting to a new 'normal', with no mitigation likely before the present world system finally collapses and is replaced in the '30s or '40s.
Well, been a while since I did a Bringing Ragnarok update, so here y'are if you happen to be reading:
Book 2 is now 1/3 edited, and the wordcount has slowly crept up above 141,000. For reference, Book 1 came in at just over 120,000, so I'm already pushing a 20% length increase. Which isn't a bad thing, just worrying: Compressed wordcount induces parsimony in the narrative. Which is a fancy way of saying, when I have a word limit, I get more creative about my word use.
Fortunately I suspect there are several longer passages that can be significantly cut without losing any of the effect or impact. I simply have a tendency to let a character's train of internal thought go on a bit too long, have them mentally narrate a few too many paragraphs of backstory. Which, while many readers are quite tolerant, I want to avoid as a bad habit. As much as I work to create a 'real' world, where what happens is informed as much as possibly by underlying mechanics that are rooted in much of the best of what I've encountered, in the years working on a doctorate, in the many academic disciplines I've investigated.
I could write an actual 'history' for each of the three main Threads, and publish it as a pseudo/fictional history. And by could, I mean that I am capable of sitting down and writing a whole lot of background material into a reasonably interesting technical narrative. In fact, one long-term ambition of mine is to actually do something like that, including supported 'faked' research materials.
At the moment, though, I sketch most of this sort of thing out with pen and paper, often in that pleasant couple of hours after dinner when my mind is wandering towards sleep already. The dreams come easier then, and I am getting in the habit of actually writing it down so I can reference it as I type.
What does that look like? Well, for a sampler, here's a brief Appendix-like Timeline detailing major events leading up to the 2041 storyline, where Kim, Timur, and Patrick are stuck fighting in the middle of a rapidly escalating new phase of the Second American Civil War:
There you have it! A nice, depressing look at, I'm afraid, a plausible future leading to Post-America. As you go out to vote this coming election day, keep this dark future in mind.
Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2, is written!
I don't usually give myself, you know, 'kudos' or whatever. But I will state my pride in having written a 140,000 word book in 15 weeks. Although I had hoped to have the draft complete by September 30, the extra length took it two weeks into October. Still, that's not a bad weekly average, especially considering that there have been other life matters to attend to during these months, as 2018 is the year that just won't stop giving when it comes to major life-changing events.
Now, as I write in an earlier Developer Diary for Bringing Ragnarok, a completed draft does not equal a publishable book. I mean, yes, there are plenty of indie authors on Amazon who do appear to be comfortable with publishing a 1st-draft, and many appear to make a good living doing it. Story > grammar, in most cases - at least in the mind of the average reader on Amazon, if sales in a number of indie-friendly categories are any indication.
I'm too much of a perfectionist not to at least try to make each paragraph and sentence as good as it can be. There is a point where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, as is said, and a person could go on editing indefinitely and never actually publish anything. In life, I try to remain mindful of tradeoffs - in an imperfect universe, these almost always exist. Doing something means not doing something else, because time and energy are scarce/limited. So it is important, I feel, to realize when something is 'good enough', that is, the flaws that remain - and you can find them in any work, even one you love - don't bug the majority of people who encounter them. In many cases, one person's marring flaw is another's shining star.
But for me, the 1st draft is just that: The 1st draft. I am fortunate in that about a decade of academic writing has given me the ability to pump out a decent bit of writing without intensive editing - blog posts like this, for example, I type out and skim once to correct obvious defects, then hit publish. The result is usually readable, and gets my points across, though often I go on and on and on and on and on without actually saying anything substantial. Tangents are a problem for me, always have been.
So back to the meat of the post: I have 140,000 words of fiction, taking the Six Friends further down their journey into the metaphysical war that ends in Ragnarok: the Apocalypse, Norse style, as I tag it in my Amazon ads. There's some pretty dark stuff in here, but also lighthearted bantering conversations and philosophical arguments about how Starcraft is actually a decent model for the essence of war and warfare, when you boil things down to the Vespene Gas of it all. The next stage of the project is the intensive surgery: While my 1st drafts usually get the basic plotline and sequence of events down, they usually lack (in my opinion) when it comes to dialog and parsimonious description. The latter being a 10-cent word that here essentially means: describe the hill, its vegetation, color, location, and immediate relevance. Do not go all Tolkien, and make the hill a character unto itself. Hills are interesting objects of study, to be sure, but most people are content to have characers simply move over the damn hill, and not discuss the entire history of its origins and occupants.
I mean, okay, I do in fact tend to to exactly this, and much of the point of the story is to write about history in a way that the actual people and events appear real, tangible, believable. To portray history from the perspective of people stuck in it, though unlike most of us they have/gain the ability to impact and even guide it. Because it wouldn't be much of a story if it were about people just, you know, farming a plot or something. As much as I enjoy Harvest Moon, I can't imagine writing a story about it, no matter how much I like to pull in aspects of litRPG into my tale.
Aside from this blurb, not much else to write about. I'm still on-track for a late December release of Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2 on Amazon, and hope to have pre-order set up. I'm also looking at getting Book 1 (and 2) set up for on-demand print distribution through Amazon, which is pretty easy and serves those who like a physical book to read (I'm one of them, in fact.). All with a mind towards sitting down from January - April and writing Book 3, which I'm very much looking forward to (a sign I've finally struck on the right career choice, methinks), especially because Books 1 and 2 (the first 'movement', in my symphonic way of thinking about plot structure) do so much to set the scene, and Books 3 and 4 will progress/go deeper in from there.
As for the rest of the world - meh. America's right-wing now has full control of all 3 branches of government, and has sold itself to a conman who seeks a racial nationalist state in place of the America we have. Democrats will likely retake the House this November, but not the Senate, so their resistance will remain ineffectual. And the current Oval Office occupant (not my President, never my President, as he has committed treason by threatening the peaceful transfer of power) continues to lay the foundation for a voter suppression + electoral college + supreme court effort to control D.C. for another 4 years... or more. Oh, and the IPCC has released a new report, pointing out the obvious fact that if the species doesn't get its act together, like, fifteen years ago, we're going to inhabit a very different planet in the very near future. To top it all off, the failure to fix the global financial system after 2008, coupled to these moronic trade wars, coupled to the US basically exiting the global international system it built, are fixing to throw a nasty recession in the near future.
In short, it remains a good time to be writing dystopian fiction. In my 2041, a limited Russia-US nuclear exchange has destroyed the Corn and Rust Belts, the USA has broken up into a whole set of successor states, and people are already abandoning vulnerable coastal areas in the Southeast, which nobody will insure anymore. I base this dystopic Post-American future on an extrapolation of current trends, as I see them, backed by a long study into the mechanics of human society and a theory I've developed, rooted in a merging of postmodern philosophy and systems theory, that I think explains why Western Civilization goes through cycles of collapse and destruction, some (like 1914-1945) rather destructive. And by 2147, after more than a century of rapid climate change, the solution Earth's 'experts' and 'technocrats' who end up running the planet decide, according to their ideological assumptions about why the world went the way it did, to the violent exile of 2/3 of humanity (the poorer two-thirds) to space 'habitats'.
After Bringing Ragnarok is done circa 2020, I hope to turn to writing something more positive, hopeful, space opera-y. A successor to the great sci-fi of the late 90s like Babylon 5, Stargate, and Star Trek. A story about people building a united galactic civilization in order to stave off a great Plague.
But for now, the times call for dystopian fiction. If politicians continue to prove themselves incapable of rising to the challenges posed by the great changes that are coming, then it will fall on regular folks to pick up the pieces and carry on.
Well, the end of September has arrived, and with it, my target deadline for finishing the initial draft of Bringing Ragnarok Book 2.
While I'm not quite there yet, I actually came within a half-day's worth of writing of reaching the 120k word budget I'd set for the draft. Which I call a win, given that it will take at least another ~15,000 words to finish out Book 2, as I've gone (again) over my word budget on several chapters. I'll aim to trim the total during editing, but as often as not I find my wordcount increasing post-edits, because places where I trim unnecessary explanation or dialogue are more than matched by places where I add either or both.
Regardless, I'm still looking good for a late-December release, as the draft will be fully completed by mid-October, allowing line edits (round 1) to commence. Which will take about a month (I go approx. 3x faster on edits than in writing the initial draft, for reasons that are probably obvious), followed by another month of edits (two rounds) done with pen and paper, including the time my primary beta reader spends adding her own suggestions/fixes.
Still, most definitely, a compressed timeline, but this is where all the research I did prior to starting Book 1 really pays off, because much of the plot is already pre-determined by the stuff I've laid out so far. Part of why I characterize Bringing Ragnarok as a saga, and not a novel, is that as something intended to be pseudo-historical, there are limitations on what characters can do or experience. Novels - and this is why I actually read more non-fiction than fiction, fall prey to making points, or engaging in too much wish-fulfillment. One of by biggest irritations with storytelling is scenes that seem too contrived, where the characters suddenly act out of their normal bounds, without any real justification other than the creator went a little too much into god-mode, and failed to question how much of their own perspective is intruding on that of their characters.
Now, funny that I write this now, because this week I wrote a chapter that, in many ways, is right at the heart of what Bringing Ragnarok is all about. Without giving too much away (if anyone even reads this, of course) - many of the events that take place in Bringing Ragnarok 1 and 2 are structured to produce this particular chapter. It is a chapter that I sincerely hope will, in effect, 'bring the war home' - put violent conflict into a frame of reference that many people will relate to. As such, there's definitely a 'point' to the chapter - as there is to the entire saga.
Which naturally puts me at risk of doing exactly what I hate that other authors do - putting some characters 'on rails', forcing them through a situation just to make some author's point. An intrusion into the story. My hope, though, is that I've avoided falling into the usual traps, by setting up the situation such that the reader will recognize (at least after reflection) why the chapter was essential to the plot, why the events that occur are both foreseen and foreseeable, that is, events transpire in a logical manner, true to how similar events have occurred throughout the history of violent conflict on Earth.
I worry that this won't be well-received primarily because, in America, we've largely been trained to ignore subtlety and relevance in our media. It goes beyond all clickbait 'news' and pseudo-science, straight down to how American writers seem to like to tell stories.
I've actually reached the point that I'll almost always prefer to watch a TV show or read a story from the UK, over one from America. When I look at my bookshelf, most of the fiction I love the most was written by UK authors. Tolkien, Rowling, Adams, Lewis - these authors have inspired me far more than almost every American contemporary, save for Twain and Steinbeck. And when we sit down to watch a tv show, I will take even the most slow-paced, boring UK product over almost any of the popular American shows.
The reason for this is that something terrible has happened, again in my opinion, to the tradition of storytelling in America. What the American media has done to Tolkien in particular simply disgusts me.
In his legendarium, both the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wanted to write a story that was deeply philosophical, concerned with ethics, filled with characters living a totally different kind of life than we collectively live in this strange 'modern' age. He did not write what Americans call 'fantasy' ('faerie' in the UK has very different context), and in fact would have probably called his work 'science fiction' if he were living in America today.
Even more than that, Tolkien was writing what amounts to a meditation on death. Lord of the Rings in particular is entirely about death. Why people risk it, what they risk it for, and how many of them fear it above all else. Power plays a vital role in Lord of the Rings, and is an extremely potent force - but in the end, the problem with power is that it gives the powerful the illusory ability to control, even escape, death. Sauron is not a mindless force of evil, not a disembodied eye that just randomly hates all things for no apparent reason. Sauron is a demi-god, one of the creators of our world, but whose fundamental flaw is an inability to accept his own long-term irrelevance to the unfolding of the saga of the world. Sauron seeks permanent power, an escape from the confinements of reality set by his creator - he seeks that same level of godhood. As such, he is a god to his slaves, and seeks to make all things his slaves, in order to sustain his own permanent (and privileged) existence in Arda.
None of this makes it through the Americanisation of Tolkien. Peter Jackson and his collaborators produced an excellent version of Lord of the Rings - provided you are willing to accept it being shorn of all deeper meaning and relegated to an endless hack-and-slash festival. I am not, and my experience with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - and even more so with the abysmal Hobbit spinoffs - has left me with exactly zero hope for the next iteration of America's cultural inability to see deeper meaning in anything, its obsessive need to tear down anything bearing a hint of subtlety and craft.
This next iteration will apparently be an Amazon product. Which doesn't in and of itself mean that it will suck, and I'm not part of the anti-Amazon crowd at all. But just because Jeff Bezos owns something, does not mean that it'll end up being actually run/produced by someone with the right qualifications.
Truth be told, there are only a few people in this world who have those right qualifications, which so far as I'm concerned represent a true respect for the original author. But Americans, well, can they truly get past their own narrow cultural bullshit to produce something Tolkien would have felt carried on his work - something he specifically hoped would happen?
I'm very, very doubtful. And even if the writers have the best of intentions, American media executives think their audience is stupid. And so feeds them stupid material. I strongly suspect that two male writers on Lord of the Rings will simply double down on the hack 'n slash aspects, bring in a few attractive women to pretend that they care about the female audience, and continue the longstanding (and wrong!) tendency to portray all heroes in Lord of the Rings as pale white folks, and the bad guys as dark-skinned. Which is absolutely wrong, given that in Middle-Earth, just like in real Earth, people migrated and mixed for thousands of years without much respect to skin color or ethnicity. Most paleo-Europeans were actually quite dark-skinned, and the later influx of 'white' genetics stems from the migration of Indo-European peoples over thousands of years, who disproportionately had whiter skin as a result long living in modern-day Russia (not terribly sunny).
There is a way (are ways) to write an epic Lord of the Rings story, suitable for an audience that is sophisticated enough to enjoy Dr. Who, Man in the High Castle, Breaking Bad, and all the other new and innovative series we've seen emerge over the past ten years or so. I can easily imagine a true-to-the-source-material on-screen version of Lord of the Rings, that moves past the fantasy stereotypes that have been foisted onto Tolkien's work, and actually explore the ideas and meanings he was himself so interested in. I could easily write a Lord of the Rings done like, say, a multi-year episodic series like Broadchurch, that actually explores locations, peoples, and all the beauty of Middle Earth, with a diverse cast, that would be more true-to-Tolkien than the white male fantasy I'm afraid - like the Star Trek movie the writers of this new Amazon LotR series wrote - this new series will become.
Truth be told, about the only person I'd trust to do Tolkien right is... well, me, pretty much. Because I've read everything he's written, multiple times. I feel I understand - and support - the vision he and his son Christopher Tolkien sought to bring to the world, even after JRR Tolkien's death. Not that it matters, because I'll never be granted the opportunity, under the present ownership structure, to prove I'm right.
But if whatever gods may be (and care) grant me success in my own work, I promise this: if the time comes that I can ever acquire the rights to Lord of the Rings, some day in the distant future after American media culture has done its best to, Orc-like, profane anything it can't understand, I will do so, and bring to the world a vision of Middle Earth in all its splendor and depth, true to the vision of Tolkien and his heirs.
It probably seems like a dumb thing for an author to ask, after publishing a book. Especially when he intends the book to be first in a series, and hopes to actually earn a living as a professional, independent author.
But the question has been much on my mind, of late (yeah, I often slip into Middle-Earth English/pseudo-formalism): Who are my readers?
Part of me (the more autistic part) says that's a dumb question because, in time, it effectively answers itself. As N grows, a cluster will form (so goes the theory, anyway). And it'll be similar enough to other clusters that I'll know what to call the thing.
Another part of me (the more pragmatic part) says it's a dumb question because I should have answered it before writing the book. Much harder to figure out how to market a book when you don't even know for certain what genre it best fits into.
And a final part of me (the anxious part) calls it a dumb question because it is irrelevant: too few people will ever read the thing for the question to matter.
*Can I just say how terrible an idea it is to actually learn practiced philosophy? That is, how to construct theories which can then be subjected to scientific evaluation? I was already a P on the Meyers-Briggs scale, but too many years in academia broke my ability to just ask and answer a damn question without digging into the deeper meaning of it all... *sigh*
Fortunately for me, I also live and breath data analysis, and I've been using the Amazon advertising system as a sort of sensor this past couple months. All in all, I'm inclined to stick with the autistic part of my brain on this one, because I can effectively accelerate how quickly I get a cluster by selectively boosting my visibility to readers in different categories, then compare them.
Which is a jargony way of saying that I can, by buying adds, put a summary of Bringing Ragnarok in front of specific readers, based on what they're looking at on Amazon. So if I type in, say, Octavia Butler on Amazon.com, and specify 'Kindle Store' as category, when the list of top results comes up, I can place the cover image and short description of Bringing Ragnarok on this page (well, normally later pages, since position is a function of how much $ you bid, with front-page bids on popular categories costing up to $0.90 or even more (average is 0.40-0.60).
What this can tell me, when I do it across a bunch of different keywords (mostly author and genre names), is how readers interested in different types or styles of fiction respond to seeing my ads. Amazon shows me how many impressions (times displayed) I get by keyword or category, and how many times readers actively clicked on them. In theory, the relative ratio of impressions to clicks (average based on my experience and some internet reading is 1 click per 1000 impressions) gives an indication of how viewers in a particular category judged the ad as relevant enough to their interests to click on. The click to buy ratio, on the other hand, tells how many of those reader clicks actually converted into a sale. Which in theory tells you, more or less, if the information available on the landing page was sufficient to convince them to buy the book (within 2 weeks, which is how long Amazon tracks a click-sale connection). Some selected examples below:
Now, this is actually pretty crude so far as information goes. A high impression-click ratio may just mean the ad made a browsing shopper curious, which may be totally unconnected to whether they would buy the book, or even wanted to buy anything (people browse out of pure curiosity). And the really crucial buyer decision, the part that makes them go from reading the landing page to shelling out their wages for my book, is totally invisible. Obviously, you hit on a category where you get tons of clicks that convert better than 5:1 to sales, because at $0.50 a click for a book priced at $3.99, assuming the ratio holds as you scale up, you literally have a money-generating machine, even if (after Amazon takes their cut) you only, under this scenario, net $0.20/sale. Small numbers multiplied many times make very big numbers, which pay off student loans (if the dream comes true).
But hitting that magic category is unlikely, at least, not until an author has at least 3-4 books out, which apparently has a tendency to both improve the initial click-to-sale ratio, and (assuming the writing doesn't piss of the readers) generate sales from later books in the series. And even then, there's the niggling problem of figuring out exactly what categories are worth spending ad money on, and what ones aren't.
That's the thing the don't tell you about statistics, until you've taken enough courses. The hard numbers of it all remain totally reliant on having good theory to tell you what's actually important. Unfortunately, social sciences theory hasn't really advanced in about 150 years, and remains mired in the rut of the Greco-Roman European philosophical tradition. So a huge amount of 'good' (peer-reviewed, highly cited) social science work (political science, economics, sociology) is deeply misconceived, because what theories are seen as 'acceptable' by the community in question determines the outcome of the peer-review process, and so you have a system of 'knowledge production' so deeply bound to entrenched patriarchial and elitist cultural values that I really doubt the institution can ultimately be saved...
So basically, key to the whole idea of being an independent author, is figuring out how to most efficiently acquire paying readers, which is usually best done (unless you're a big book company able to pay millions in ads for a crappy product, but you got it on Oprah so people will by it just because of the halo effect... ) by finding out who really really likes your work, then figuring out how to get more people like them to see it.
And so far, I'm not entirely certain who those readers will be, for me. In my head, there's a set of 'tastes' that I think Bringing Ragnarok will appeal to, which I've listed out in the 'From the Author' section on my Amazon landing page. But in my head there's also the more difficult question of what demographic my work might appeal to.
I am proud of the fact that I'm writing unabashedly feminist fiction. Yes, I am a white male (cisgender, heterosexual, married, white, anglo-saxon, all the privilege categories except old (yet) and christian (anymore), and the cat pictures aren't intended to hide that fact, I just don't like having my picture taken at all, and don't see why anyone would care what I look like. But, see, all my life, I've never been able to figure out why the hell people were so caught up about women being able to do the same stuff as men. Like, duh, women are people too. Just people. Most of what we see as gender difference is a result of social training, not some sort of fundamental qualities that vary according to gender. Of course, women should have equal rights and equal pay. Um, duh. Why would it be otherwise, except that in the past a bunch of men figured out that it'd be handy to set up social rules that dispossess women? ['cause there's always more for everyone if you redefine who qualifies as 'someone', hence that being, historically, the fundamental objective of most hard-right groups.]
But I am also writing hard social science fiction with a strong military component, coupled to a re-imagining of Norse mythology that gives the goddesses like Freyja and Idunn their proper due. And if you look on Amazon at the categories that might seem relevant, I think you'll notice pretty quickly that the authors are mostly men.
I can't help but wonder if this is because there are unwritten rules in the science fiction fan community, that make it more difficult for a female author to 'make it'. And I wonder if, with that, comes a tendency among women who are looking for stories like those typically found in military science fiction and space opera, you know, epic stuff, to look for it in other categories. Obviously, many women don't care that much, or else we wouldn't (finally!) be seeing a female Doctor, female Jedi in Star Wars, and hopefully many more to come!
Still, because I have to work in a world of tight margins, I need as efficient a 'channel' to readers interested in epic, sprawling stories with a ton of world building, metaphysical strangeness, and characters who are just regular schmoes - even the gods. And over the past couple months, I've been using ads to get a sense of where, relatively speaking, those readers who particularly want to read about strong female protagonists who pretty much do the same stuff men do, like to hang out on Amazon.
It is an ongoing process, which I do probably too much when not (as I did this week, hooray) making steady progress towards completing Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 by end of September-first week in October (certain sections have lengthened, pushing estimated word count to 130,000). And I've had some interesting signals, both positive and negative:
Final thought: I recently discovered Goodreads, and was pleasantly surprised to see people actually saying they are reading Bringing Ragnarok! Encouragement to get back to working on Book 2!
So Labor Day 2018 hit, and American politics emerged from the August slumber.
I find it amusing how media across the ideological spectrum perceives its own internal organizational metabolism as synonymous with the rest of the world's. August is often referred to as a quiet month in the world of news, but in truth August is just (like December in the West) when the staff of media companies goes on vacation, so big names aren't writing as many articles, and so... a quiet month.
Anyway, once again news headlines across the globe are shouting about another devastating week for Trump. Like they've been doing since the 2016 Republican primaries (where, thanks to the media's nonstop Trump fixation, he got billions of $ in free press and the ability to sell himself to the GOP's voters. Heckuva job there, media.), all the while failing to recognize the true nature and magnitude of the threat to American democracy, and...
See, this is why I avoid writing about politics. Diagnosing a system in decline, trending towards collapse, is frustrating when the only language the powers-that-be in journalism-land speak is that of media cycles, who turned on who, what that one anonymous source everyone seems to quote so much may or may not have said in private. Political writing in the news media exists to gather clicks, and ultimately sell to ads. Journalists go on about their integrity, but their editors decide what is fit to print, and if you think they aren't disciplined as much by the need to generate revenues as some noble desire to truth-tell, well... how much money do you have? Will you give it to me? Because you are really, most of time, paying for entertainment, and not cogent analysis. And I can be entertaining! I can wear funny hats, do dumb dances, all kinds of ridiculous stuff!
Anyway. I've decided that paying attention to the news is a sucker's game. Critical events, the real moments where change can be effected, are not going to reveal themselves through the collective efforts of Op-ed writers and other pundits. Only attention to the actual function of the complex system that is American politics-economy-society can give you those. And, sorry to say, it is rarely entertaining to produce or report that kind of analysis.
Right now, there's a huge amount of social pressure to be engaged in politics, to be aware of what is happening, to be 'resisting' or whatever. But I think that is mostly a waste of time, except when directly effecting material change, like in getting a law passed or a decent candidate (there are a few) elected. And unfortunately, the way representative 'democracy' is usually structured, it is actually designed to prevent popular pressures from effecting change. It is meant to (and this is why the Founders chose this form of government for the nascent USA) slow down change, keep things stable and predictable.
Politicians and media hacks want to pretend like your avid participation and engagement matters, but it doesn't. We Americans, as a people, are disempowered by our system of government.
This is why Election 2016 was so crucial. Since the Second World War ended in 1945, the US has seen a massive concentration of power in the hands of the Presidency. Congress has failed time and time again to act to reign in the executive branch. American presidents (Bush, Obama, and Trump all) now claim the right to kill Americans they decide are 'terrorists'. They've done it, too, to a few people. Without trial, without oversight (unless you count Congressional committees, which get to keep 'national security' proceedings secret).
Look, any Jill or Jack who has made it through Middle School knows, per the American myth, that the Founders expressly worried about the country being run by some future king. But our system has evolved such that we now effectively do have kings - albeit, up until now, kings who appeared to be somewhat willing to accept certain customary restrictions on their behavior.
This past week, the news has been abuzz with more rumblings about how incompetent Trump is, how there's some cabal of bureaucrats working to undermine his orders, yada yada. Media outlets are up in arms, declaring this to be a sea-change - like they've done every other time some horrible revelation has come out of the reality tv wreckage that is Washington D.C. But I have a sneaking suspicion that only death will remove Trump from the Oval Office (and then the Pence theocracy begins!), because he threatened in 2016 not to respect the result of the election if he lost, and in 2020 he'll almost certainly do it again - this time with all the power of the executive behind him. Money someone in his administration watches House of Cards. When the chips are down, when things get real rough, that Executive power - which Congress can only really challenge if willing to foment a Constitutional Crisis, and did I mention that we'll soon have a solid Conservative-majority Supreme Court, so good luck getting through that with your legislative-branch... whatever Pelosi comes up with? - is going to get America killed.
Americans simply don't understand the danger, and how little anyone can do (absent an actual coup, non-stop national strike, the GOP turning on Trump, or some other miracle) to stop Election 2020 from being the shitshow to end all shitshows. Here's hoping I'm wrong, but I predict airstrikes against Iran (won't go well), blatant voter suppression in swing states with a GOP governor, and another Electoral College - popular vote split.
The 2018 Midterms? I'll call it now - sure, the Dems take back the House. But the GOP holds on to 50 or 51 or 52 senate seats, so Trump can't be convicted even if impeached. 2019 will see Trump's boosters accuse the Dems in Congress of sabotaging their MAGA project, and blame them for all Trump's failures. The Dems under Pelosi will probably play all kinds of games and make a big show of leading a 'resistance' - but will do their very very best to set Joe Biden up as the anti-Trump in 2020 (this will be a disaster, if it happens).
A year of screaming, and then when things get dangerous for Trump (probably a GOP primary challenge, well-funded) the wag the dog begins. Possibly, depending on how violent the rhetoric gets, even political violence at home. Personally, I think most Americans are too lazy to engage in actual violence, but there are always a few nutters out there.
So how does this all play into the thing you might actually be here to read about, that is, Bringing Ragnarok? Well, for starters, while the details of Trump and Trumpism are heinous, terrible, and unprecedented tragedies - they didn't come out of nowhere, and they are signs of a system on the verge of collapse.
I don't think this can be stopped. I think the USA is pretty much done. I see three reasonably likely futures: The 'good' one, where a major reform effort deconflicts the contradictions in our federal system, and allows greater regional autonomy (even independence for places like California, Texas, and Cascadia); The 'middle' one, where an alliance of centrist elites basically merge the moderate republican and neoliberal democratic wings of the two parties to create a temporary sense of stability, a patch to the system, that will eventually fall apart; The 'bad' one, which serves as the foundation for the 2041 Thread, which takes Kim, Patrick, and Timur across Post-America Idaho.
Just for fun, here's my working timeline for American history from 2020 to 2028, the decade that sees America collapse entirely, as old contradictions work themselves out and the nation fractures politically as it already has economically and socially:
I guess I can't help but throw in a big 'kaboom' to really kick off the alternative history plotline. In reality, though, this is just a writer-trick to speed up what I already perceive as inevitable, that is, the functional division of America into successor states, as it experiences its Soviet Union moment. Everything aside from this attack (probably more possible than we think, but thankfully still unlikely) I consider to be as close to 'prediction' as someone can get, using the theories I rely on to do futurist analysis.
Sound depressing? It is. It is sad. America could have been, could still be, so much better. But the thing is, 'America' is actually a myth. A nice idea that lets us all think the world is a certain way, and that certain things can't, won't, ever change. But history doesn't work like that. It may be produced by human interactions over time, but there's a deeper structure to our social interactions than we realize. There are patterns to history, because certain forces are fundamental to human communication and cooperation.
What is happening in America right now is the resolution of many of these forces, too long ignored by our political elites, and so like a bent branch swinging back suddenly they seem to have produced a crisis out of nowhere. But they have a history. A heritage. A past rooted in colonialism and genocide. It's too bad most (white, at least) Americans don't seem to care about history. It's that ignorance that has doomed the American experiment.
Woo, time for Developer Diary 2!
This week, Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 hit the (approximate) 75% draft-complete stage.
Now, that could mean a lot of things, so here's what it means for me: When I complete a draft, the story itself has been told to whatever checkpoint I've pre-established, and it is readable (but not good). I'm fortunate in that I've been writing and editing professionally for so long (that's what academia is, in reality) that my initial draft usually comes out pretty solid. At university, my general practice for writing an A paper was to bang out 12 pages in about 4 hours the day before it was due, spend an hour line-editing before printing, then it'd be off to turn-in. I'm just one of those lucky people who can compose about as fast as I can think, and the act of putting words together on a screen actually comes much easier to me than speaking.
And no, I'm not bragging - just being honest. Writing is the one thing I've always been told I'm good at. I ain't a great speaker, my ability to follow instructions without getting bored is minimal, and anyone who tries to tell me what to do rather than seek my consent is in for a very rude awakening (as too many past teachers would attest), so it is probably a good thing that I can write a reasonably interesting bit of prose (gods never poetry though, which is sad considering how much I would love to write music). Otherwise, absent living in a world where it becomes acceptable to hunt & gather for meals, I'd starve.
Which is all to say that, when left alone without any external distractions (emails, phone calls, so forth), I can consistently pump out 10,000+ words per week, which means I can draft a full novel-length book in 3 months.
This week's progress brought me to the point that I may be able to get Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 fully drafted by the end of September.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'll let anyone actually read it. While I can write reasonably well at a single go (that's pretty much how I blog, hence teh errers), I'd prefer not to be one of those indie ebook authors who gets review after review complaining about typos. I mean, I'll get some anyway, I'm sure, because I don't always follow grammar rules, and my speaking characters have a tendency to... grammatically innovate on the fly. Also, I choose word spellings for aesthetic, and often use Commonwealth English spellings (colour, armour) or de-accented German and Scandinavian because I'm too lazy to do Umlaut and Eszett correctly all the time.
So after the draft is done, I'll spend at least a full month editing full-time, line by line, half the time actually speaking the lines, especially character lines, to make sure they ring reasonable. A big chunk of the fun is designing characters who have independent personalities, likes, preferences, so on. And the only way to do that, given that I'm writing Bringing Ragnarok from local perspectives, trying to evoke the immersive feel of oral history, is to make damn sure the dialog doesn't suck too bad.
Still, unless something goes weird in the world (something else, 2018 has been a terrible, terrible year overall) between now and December, I'm on track to have Book 2 through draft, me-edit, Bev-edit, and final corrections right on schedule. Then on to Book 3.
In terms of this week's challenges, well, on the writing front it's just been churning out the words using the 'research' materials I've created. More of my thinking has been around how to actually get the story in front of people who want to read it. I've actually invested about $500 over the past couple months in learning the Amazon advertising system, which has happily generated a steady trickle of sales - not bad for a new indie author! I've also started to get ratings for Bringing Ragnarok on Goodreads, which was a pleasant surprise, inducing me to (finally) set up my author profile there.
BR is a bit of a challenge to figure out how to market, because the publishing world is set up to channel readers into genres, like science fiction, fantasy, military fiction, so on. But being me, I'm pulling pretty equally from Norse mythology, alternative history, and military science fiction, plus a general dystopia sort of feel. I'm self-consciously writing something EPIC, because that's what I like to read. Big ideas, deep history, challenging arguments. After this story is done, I'll probably pursue my Babylon 5 spiritual reboot, and do a space opera featuring fully-fleshed out, interacting alien species and the descent into Space War 3 (or whatever).
But in a publishing world still structured by genre, this has some downsides. Is an alternative history (alternate history, if you prefer) reader willing to accept a story that includes future alternate histories? Like Tolkien, when I read, I prefer something historical - true or feigned. So my dystopic futures of 2041 and 2147 are intended to be as historical as the dystopic past of 1944. I think alternative history fiction is my kind of fiction, and I definitely always enjoyed (and wanted to better) Turtledove's work. But are the strictures of genre too tight?
Similarly, while I'm drawing heavily from the tradition of military science fiction, I'm not sure that my use of a predominantly non-white male cast will play well with readers in that genre. Now I'm not saying that there's any particular reason why the writing shouldn't fit, but there are genres with a definite gender-skew, and while that's changing, it isn't changing fast enough. So are female readers - who I know must be out there, since by and large women like the same stuff as men, and read the same kinds of books but just aren't always socially allowed to admit it - so used to seeing white male characters as a staple of military science fiction that they don't browse that genre very often?
Me, I'm banking on there being a significant potential audience for an epic war saga that assumes half (or more) of the people involved should be female, because if you sample the human population, that's what you'll get (on average). Same thing goes for skin tone - in a world of 7+ billions, fewer than 1/3 with pale pasty skin like me, there should be more characters whose recent ancestors didn't all come from Northwest Europe.
Plus, something most people don't know, is that among hard-right blood & soil conservatives in the USA, there's a longstanding anxiety about secret United Nations troop buildups on American soil, preparing for a nefarious coup. The 2041 plotline is designed to make their nightmare a reality: the Missoula Regiment, while containing many former US military personnel like Sandra Chavez, is more than 50% international.
Yep, in the future I see coming, Russian, Chinese, Nigerian, Turkish, Peruvian, hell even Icelandic mercenaries (modern vikings, can I get a hell yeah!) camp out in (former) Yellowstone, right in the heart of Post-America.
As an author, I take a lot of inspiration from the world of video games and computer programming.
So I've decided to start writing short blurbs every week, pretty much about whatever comes to mind with respect to what I've been working on the past week. In the gaming world, this kind of thing is often called a 'developer diary' (here's one I've been keeping an eye on, for Hearts of Iron 4.)
Confession: I'm terrible at regular blogging. While I am currently writing Bringing Ragnarok 2 at a pace of about 10,000 words per week (give or take a couple k, depending on what else is going on), which I achieve pretty much by parking myself in front of a computer for at least 4 hours a day, regular blogging is a lot harder for me to sustain.
I haven't actually diagnosed the why of it, but I suspect part of the problem is my own general aversion to writing about myself, what I'm doing, what I'm feeling, so on & forth. I got into a spate of writing about the current state of American politics for a while, as I watched the nation lurch steadily towards a 1930s Germany redux, but I quickly realized that I don't have the stomach for regular political blogging. Too emotional, too... futile. Change happens when people with resources get together to make it happen, not when people get together to blog at one another.
Anyway, blogging is probably hard for that reason (aversion to self-sharing - it's a cultural thing), and also hard because I'm too much of a perfectionist. If I'm not careful, I'll go back and delete everything I've spent the past bit writing, just because I'm not sure I want to say it. (Hah! Actually didn't! Progress!)
But as I've been writing the second installment in the Saga of Six Friends, I've realized just how much I love world-building. When I close my eyes, places and things just sort of pop into existence, and then I try to figure out what they are and what they mean. And throughout my life, I've tried to shape some of them into stories I think some people might want to read.
So these developer diaries will share a bit of what I'm thinking about and designing into the world of Bringing Ragnarok. Part of the fun in writing it is taking my collection of notes and outlines and figuring out how to move characters through the world in a plausible, interesting way. I'm a big fan of realism in art, not so much in the sense of gory details, but in the feeling of being transported to another world. I appreciate it when writers do their homework, and I'm very tolerant of them incorporating detailed explanations into dialogue. I re-read Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, for example, about once each year. And every time I do, I spend hours poring over the appendices Tolkien so kindly created.
Of course, committment to realism presents some sticky challenges. This week, I've been writing (from Kim's perspective) the start of the climactic battle between the Missoula Regiment and Deserets in the Teton River Valley, Idaho. They start out in a listening post, on the north-facing slope of a small ridge coming off the eastern flank of the Big Hole Mountains. Being obsessive-compulsive, I wanted this ridge to be an actual place, that a reader could - with enough knowledge of the local terrain - plausibly re-create the course of the battle Kim, Timur, and Patrick are about to experience at Sandra Chavez' side. Just like Karen Fonstad does in her wonderful Atlas of Middle Earth. Just like I did in Book 1 with the Battle of Southern Butte.
All of which basically boils down to this: I've spent my week walking back and forth between my laptop + monitor setup in the library, where I compose, and the larger screen in the TV room, where I have another computer plugged in for PC gaming on the couch. And on that screen, all day, I've got Google Earth loaded up, and zoomed in to Eastern Idaho. Just so I can satisfy my own personal need to make my little Norse Mythology meets Quantum Mysticism meets Alternative/Alternate History meets Military Science Fiction saga (yep, I genre-mash) as plausible, in terms of the terrain, where the characters go, and how the battle is fought, as I can (note to self: figure out how to layer a campaign map on top of an actual topographic map of the area. Then publish as Dev Diary!)
I guess I should sum up by saying: Thank you, Google. You may do a bunch of stuff that I very strongly dislike, but at least you gave writers like me Google Maps to play with, totally for free.
I wonder what Tolkien would have done with Google Maps. I also wonder if someday I can get Google to make a Middle Earth mode...
This about two months overdue, but finally I'm getting around to posting the announcement on my own website:
Bringing Ragnarok, Book 1, is live on Amazon!
It is currently available only as an e-book, but I hope once I've a proven track record of sales that I can secure a publisher to handle print publication in the US and abroad.
I've been working to set up a product page on the various Amazon sites that does a credible job of communicating what the Saga is about, how it is unique, and who might be interested in reading it, which at this point is more polished than anything I could write from scratch. So rather than reiterate what I've said elsewhere, here are the links to the various Amazon landing pages where you can find Bringing Ragnarok in your country of residence:
Amazon US - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
Amazon UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
Amazon Canada - https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
Amazon Australia (and New Zealand too? Hello Auckland!) - https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
Amazon India - https://www.amazon.in/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
Amazon Germany - https://www.amazon.de/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR
I have a sneaking suspicion that, because I write in English, other markets won't be as accessible to me, so I'll leave the direct links to those pages for now, unless I get some information that tells me there are large numbers of English-speaking readers of science fiction in Japan (Ah what the Hel, here's the link, since I would love to have Japanese readers https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR) and Mexico (Yes, I'm an American who remembers our southern neighbor, and is happy to welcome immigrants from there, further south - well, anywhere really, since I am extremely pro-immigration) https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B07FJ6ZXLR)
Please note that if you check multiple pages for some reason, certain sections look different and contain slightly different content. Amazon splits out their web presence by country, which I think is a bit silly, but they probably have a good reason.
And if you aren't an e-book reader, still, keep an eye on Bringing Ragnarok. I originally intended to go down the more traditional publishing route, but have realized that the whole entrepreneurship thing actually suits me. With paid advertising, I can collect data on who is more (or less) fond of the concept, and then use that to build readership, which I hope to leverage into a print book deal, as publishers have far more reach (and translation capabilities). But e-book publishing lets me control the initial publication and editing, to publish the story I think people want to read.
So in summary - lovers of alternative/alternate history, science fiction (fairly hard, but with an emphasis on social systems), and/or Norse mythology might enjoy Bringing Ragnarok. At least, I certainly hope this is the case, as I have decided to commit to writing fiction full time, and to be successful, I need readers.
Happy reading, and be well!