Guest Post: “The Challenge of the Middle Books” by D.B. Jackson

JacksonDB-AuthorPicMy newest book, Time’s Demon, comes out on May 28 from Angry Robot Books. This is the second book in The Islevale Cycle, my time travel/epic fantasy trilogy, which began with Time’s Children (October 2018). This was a challenging – and ultimately rewarding – book to write for a number of reasons. Time travel stories are always difficult to construct because of the constant danger of creating paradoxes, anachronisms, and plotting loopholes. Epic fantasies come with their own challenges – the need to balance and keep track of multiple narrative strands and point of view characters.

Finally, and most importantly for our purposes today, Time’s Demon is the second book in a trilogy – the dreaded middle book – and as such it presented a unique set of issues. Now, not everyone is foolish enough to take on time travel in their novels, and hard SF, space opera, urban fantasy, grimdark, steampunk, and other varieties of speculative fiction are not necessarily any easier to approach than epic fantasy. But most if not all of us writing in our genre will eventually confront the dreaded “middle book” problem. So I would like to discuss my approach to second books. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Worldbuilding PIMP MY AIRSHIP” by Maurice Broaddus

BroaddusM-AuthorPicI’ve often told the story of how the short story “Pimp My Airship” started as a joke gone awry on Twitter. When the story was actually requested, I had to build a world. The main criticism the story received was that there seemed to be a lot of world that the reader barely gets to see in the five-thousand-word story. When I fleshed out the origins of the Star Child, it led to the novelette “Steppin’ Razor”; and a throwaway line about “the Five Civilized Nations of the northwest territories and the Tejas Free Republic” led to the novella Buffalo Soldier. I won’t lie, the criticism still followed me. Perhaps they had a point about how much world I can compact into a story. That’s because my favorite part of the writing process is worldbuilding since that’s when I really get to play. For Pimp My Airship, I allow myself plenty of room to build out my world. Its creation centers around three areas: Continue reading

Guest Post & Excerpt: “Making of the Prologue” by David Hair, author of HEARTS OF ICE (Jo Fletcher Books)

HairD-SQ3-HeartsOfIceUKFirst up, I’m a planner: The Sunsurge Quartet is mapped out from start to finish, before I start writing Book One. That includes the Prologues, which I’m using (along with mid-book ‘Interludes’) to introduce the backstory and current status of the villain who’s going to feature most in the next part of the story. They give the reader a chance to see inside the enemy’s heads, and set the agenda for the coming chapters.

In this series, the main villains are part of a cabal trying to tear down human society, and they use theatre masks to disguise their true selves. I was inspired in this by Venetian carnival masques, of which I have a bit of a collection after going mad in a Venice mask shop. I invented my own mask designs and a backstory for them, using the concept of a tradition of morality tales that theatre troupes adlib on stage, every show unique. These can be high art or low farce, always with the same eight characters and central theme – a romance between Ironhelm (the sturdy knight) and Heartface (the innocent maid). Their love is aided or thwarted by the other six characters: the meddling Beak, the prankster Jest, the duplicitous Twoface, the lucky Felix, the nemesis-like Angelstar and the sorrowful Tear. The tale is narrated by a narrator known as the Puppeteer. Continue reading

Guest Post: An Annotated Chapter of PURE CHOCOLATE by Amber Royer (Angry Robot Books)

RoyerA-C2-PureChocolateFirst chapters are hard, you guys. First chapters of sequels – doubly so.

And first chapters for a ‘verse where you’ve built in complicated linguistics and alien cultures with questionable morality? Well… you still have to start somewhere.

There’s a balance with sequels. You don’t want to bore the reader who just finished the previous book, and you don’t want to stall getting started telling the story to re-cap what is now backstory. But you don’t want to people to feel like they walked into the “middle of the movie” either.

I’ve been a writing instructor for UT Arlington for the past eleven years, so I’m sure if some of my students read this, they’ll get a kick out of seeing me pick apart my own work instead of theirs.

Some of what I’m about to say will be bordering spoiler territory, but I’ll try to keep it vague.

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Guest Post: “Interview with the Gumshoe” by Graham Edwards

EdwardsG-AuthorPicI knew I shouldn’t have gone to that bar. There I was, sitting on a stool staring down a shot of Southern Comfort, when in he walked – a weary-looking gumshoe wearing a crumpled fedora and tattered leather coat.

I knew him at once, and why wouldn’t I? He was the hero of my new novel, String City, large as life and looking mad as hell. What follows is a transcript of our conversation. I’ve called it an interview, but really it wasn’t.

It was an interrogation.

GUMSHOE: What in the name of Hades do you think you’re playing at?

GRAHAM EDWARDS: I’m sorry?

GUMSHOE: (pulling a copy of String City from his coat pocket) You think this is funny? Continue reading

Guest Post: An Annotated Chapter of THE BAYERN AGENDA by Dan Moren (Angry Robot Books)

MorenD-GCW1-BayernAgendaAll right, people: this is not a drill. I’m here to give away all of the precious secrets.

And by “secrets” I mean “hard work and lots and lots of editing.” Because that’s what goes into making a book.

I spent a lot of time working on both my first book, The Caledonian Gambit, and my second, The Bayern Agenda — years, in fact — and as you might imagine, they underwent numerous changes over that period.

The chapter you’ll read below, the opening of The Bayern Agenda, is far from where I started out all those years ago. It’s been tweaked in response to reactions from beta readers, my agent, my editor, and, perhaps most importantly, me. When you spend that long working on something, it’s hard not to learn a thing or two along the way.

So, out of the goodness of my heart — well, and because I was asked to — I’ll be sprinkling observations and comments throughout the chapter, letting you in on the thinking that went into constructing it. (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything that comes later in the story.) Consider it a look behind the scenes, a VIP backstage pass, a look at how the magician pulls off their tricks. Enjoy.

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Guest Post: “On Research” by Fran Dorricott, author of AFTER THE ECLIPSE

DorricottF-AuthorPicResearch is one of the most important parts of writing a crime novel, and while I don’t research as heavily as some authors I did have several areas I wanted to focus on to make After the Eclipse as authentic a story as I could. I started with the setting – for me, a vivid setting is vitalto getting sucked into a book. I knew from the start I wanted to create a similar world to the one in which I grew up. My parents were divorced, and for a while my dad lived in a caravan. He travelled all over Derbyshire, and when I would stay with him at the weekends my inner explorer came to life. I loved the sweet-smelling open fields, the friendly locals in the small towns and villages, and the glimpses into a hundred other lives. Continue reading