Today I uploaded what I fervently hope are the final versions of all four books of my fantasy series. They are now live on Amazon, at $3.99 each.
I’ve been grinding away on the edits to Book 4, The Firepearl Chalice, for most of 2018. I would have been done a couple of months ago, but I got stuck a couple of times.
When you’re rewriting, the plot is a bit like how the Doctor explains time travel to his companion in an episode or three: There are fixed points in history. They can’t be changed! In the case of my story, for instance, I knew that near the end of Book 4 the good guys had to find themselves in a certain cavern deep in a mountain. The trouble was, they had no legitimate reason to go there.
The reason I had used in the previous draft turned out, on close examination, to be flimsy to the point of nonexistence. It was one of those awful places where you can sort of see that your characters have been reading the plot outline. I wanted them to go to the cave, so somebody said, “Hey, let’s go to the cave,” and off they went. Realistically, based on their own emotions at the time, they would have scampered off in the opposite direction. So in rewriting, I had to come up with a legitimate, plausible reason for them to go where I needed them to go — and for a while I didn’t know what the reason could possibly be. (I came up with what I hope is a good one. At least it’s a lot better than, “Hey, let’s all go to the cave.”)
People sometimes confuse this type of situation with writer’s block. It’s not. Writer’s block, at least if I understand the term, is a sort of paralysis. Either you’re avoiding writing for some emotional reason, or you’re sitting there staring at the screen and the words refuse to come. After 26-1/2 years on the editorial staff of a monthly magazine, where I cranked out hundreds of features, how-to columns, product reviews, and about 2,000 record reviews, I don’t get blocked. Words do not fail me.
Plot does sometimes fail, or at least it sometimes falls apart like a house built of matchsticks.
But enough whining. Here we are! Unless I get a report of some horrid problem with one of the files, I’m done. I try to be careful with file formatting and such things, but it’s just me. I’m the grunt labor and also the quality control department. This afternoon, while previewing Book 3 before uploading it to the great South American river in the cloud, I discovered to my horror that four complete chapters were missing. Ack! I had been assembling the final file over the course of two days, and when I picked it up on the second day I neglected to notice where I had left off the first day. Fortunately, I caught it before the file went live.
Will there ever be a Book 5? Reply hazy — ask again later. Like, maybe in a couple of years. There’s certainly room for the story to continue, but unlike the first three books, which end cliff-hangerily (always coin a new word every Monday!), Book 4 reaches a definite and I hope satisfying conclusion. Still, every ending is a new beginning. We’ll see.
There are some other stories I want to whip into shape. I have a fantasy-mystery series in mind. The first book is already written, in fact. It’s called Woven of Death and Starlight. This won’t be a series with a single long story arc; the plan is to make each story mostly independent of the others. I need to get to that — and when it’s ready to be seen, I’ll probably try to scare up a literary agent again. If by some mischance I manage to land a New York publisher for the new series, there would be a delay of a year or so before the book would appear; the millstones of publishing grind slowly. But mainstream publication of a new series would certainly benefit the Leafstone series, even if it weren’t picked up by the publisher as part of the deal.
I’m going to reminisce for a minute. Indulge me.
The Leafstone Shield started out as a single corpulent novel, back in 2005. “Corpulent” meaning it was 185,000 words. It’s now a bit over half a million, but it’s split up into separate books, so you can at least take a breather before launching into the next episode.
At the time I thought the book was marvelously clever, but in truth it was pretty awful. My agent at the time quite wisely declined to try to market it. And there it lay for a few years. Now and again I would haul it out, take a few notes about possible changes, get discouraged, and put it away again. I really didn’t see how to fix it.
Somewhere along the line, though, I had it up on my website for a few months as a free PDF. A fellow named B. Morris Allen downloaded it, and somewhere around 2011 he got around to reading it. He emailed me and we chatted about it. He agreed with my assessment that parts of it weren’t very good. He said, “Have you thought about turning it into YA?”
Cartoon of light bulb going on over head. That was the missing ingredient! My three heroines — Kyura, Meery, and Alixia — had been in their early 20s. When I dialed them back to 17, the story suddenly had a new kind of energy. I started slamming exciting new bits into the first part of the story, which had been rather ho-hum. Get the villains into town quickly! Suddenly the project was moving forward again.
Near the end of 2016 I thought it was finished. Four separate books, an entirely new story with the same plot as before, maybe two or three pages total remaining of the 2005 draft, and mostly the same characters as before, though with a couple of essential changes. I accidentally acquired an agent (a story for another time). She liked the story and submitted the first book to a couple of publishers. They weren’t interested.
I started to think maybe it wasn’t ready for prime time. I let the agent go and hired a freelance developmental editor. Through 2017 and up to last week, I’ve been processing the editor’s suggestions and not infrequently altering other things that the editor didn’t flag, but that I could see needed more attention.
And now, for better or for worse, it’s done. I can’t honestly say whether it’s any good. That’s not for me to judge. It will live or die based on its own merits, whatever those may be. What I will tell you is that it’s my personal best. I did my best to tell an exciting story. I did my best to deal honestly with my characters’ emotions. I did my best to write decent prose. I did my best to present a fantasy world about which I personally have some reservations in an effective and believable manner. I know what some of its defects and deficiencies are, but I’ll leave you to discover them (and perhaps others of which I know not) on your own.
I will never tackle a project this large, ever again. That’s a promise.