Due Process

My publishing process goes like this:

  • Empire of DustThe publisher offers a contract (negotiated by my agent) which may be for one, two or three books, and on signing I get half the advance. My agent takes the agreed cut and I get the rest, upfront. (Don’t get excited, it’s really not squillions of dollars.)
  • I write the first draft (sometimes with input from my agent.)
  • Depending on the publishing schedule, I sometimes get a request for cover blurb and ideas for cover art before the first draft is finished. My editor asks be to identify a couple of scenes which could be illustrated for the cover and to send (if applicable) character descriptions and an extract from the relevant scene together with significant world-building details. For my Psi-Tech series, my editor suggested illustrator Stephan Martiniere (whose work I adore) and for the Rowankind books she asked me whether there was anyone I particularly liked. I suggested Larry Rostant and she agreed—and I love the results. I get to see the actual illustrations long before I see how they are used in the final book design.
  • CrosswaysI send the first draft to my editor.
  • There’s a waiting period while she reads it, so if I’ve been contracted for multiple books, this is when I start thinking about the next one. (Even if I haven’t got a new contract at that stage, it’s time to plan ahead.)
  • A few weeks later I get editorial comments, usually in the form of a long and detailed phone call during which I scribble notes like mad.
  • I revise: add lumps, subtract lumps, Move sections around, rewrite sections, and polish the new version. (Note revision is often structural, not just a question of polishing prose.)
  • I send it to my editor. (This can be a rinse and repeat situation until she says she’s happy with it, though in most cases—so far—the revised version has been okay.)
  • During any gaps while my editor is considering the work in progress, I spend more time working on the next book.
  • I get to see the final cover, i.e. the illustration with added graphics, and when I get permission from the publisher I do a cover reveal on my blog, and the cover is released into the wild to settle on the advance ordering page on various bookseller websites: Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.
  • Nimbus front coverOnce my editor has okayed it, the manuscript goes to the copy editor who licks the basic prose into shape–changing my British English to American spellings, and adding a ton of commas because Americans tend towards heavier comma usage than most Brits.
  • I get the manuscript back with the copy edits marked as track changes in Word, and the occasional comment on research (checking for anachronisms and historical inaccuracies).
  • I can accept or reject changes. Mostly I accept the punctuation changes because the copy editor is much better at that kind of thing than I am, but sometimes a comma—though technically correct—spoils the flow of what I’ve intended the sentence to sound like, so I have to discuss it with the publisher. That happens most often when it’s in speech and it’s more about character voice than technical accuracy. Very occasionally, a comma added in the wrong place can change a meaning, so I have to reject those changes.
  • Winterwood front cover-smallOccasionally I have to re-word something because I’ve used a Britishism that my copy editor clearly doesn’t get, so it’s wrong for the American market. (Dry stone wall in Winterwood; tannoy in Crossways, and trug in Silverwolf.)
  • The copy edit stage is my last chance to make any small but significant changes. No one would thank me for doing a major rewrite at this stage, of course, but this is my chance to catch any repetition or anything slightly out of order.
  • So once I’ve made a few minor changes and agreed the copy edits, the manuscript goes back to my publisher. Once they confirm that no further changes are required, the book is classed as ‘delivered’, which is a good thing because this triggers the second half of the advance payment for this one book. Yay!
  • The publisher prints a few ARCs – that’s Advance Reading Copies. These still have some typos in them, but they are close enough to send out to reviewers (who are used to getting the not-quite-final version).
  • silverwolf-final-cvr-400The next thing I’ll see are the page proofs. I usually have between three to ten days (or if I’m lucky, a couple of weeks, depending on the publisher’s schedule) to check the proofs. At this point I can only make very minor alterations – say – if I spot a typo or maybe the occasional word error. Once I’ve returned the page proofs, my part in the writing of the whole thing is done, though it still goes through another typo check at the publisher’s end before being committed to print.
  • Then the book goes through printing and distribution ready for the launch, which, for some reason, is always the first Tuesday of the month. This is now the time to step up work on that next book – but, hang on, there’s promotion for this one. I have a publicist who essentially works for PenguinRandonHouse and deals with a lot more authors besides me. She helps to organise interviews and reviews and (sometimes) guest blogs and blog tours. I also arrange some guest blogs myself (and do blogswaps with author friends). It takes a surprising amount of work to come up with ten original ideas for blog pieces, so I’m always relieved when I get interview questions.
  • VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200Publicity is ongoing after publication, but usually, well before publication day, I’m working on the first draft of the next book.
  • Before the official publication day I get a box full of author copies, promptly take some selfies with book (or maybe some shelfies) and post them on Facebook and Twitter usually with me grinning like a big grinny thing, because seeing the actual finished book for the first time is fantastic.
  • Then it’s ‘book birthday.’ YAY!
  • And the publicity continues with more interviews and guest blog posts.
  • And then it’s time to get on with writing the next one.
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Worldbuilding for a Series

In the last blog I talked about Committing Trilogy, but glossed over the worldbuilding aspects so I could talk about them in this blog entry. I’m going to (mostly) talk about the worldbuilding involved in my futuristic SF trilogy, though at the moment I’m in the process of completing two trilogies. The Psi-Tech trilogy started with Empire of Dust, continued with Crossways and concludes with Nimbus, due out in October 2017. The Rowankind trilogy (historical fantasy) at the moment has two books published: Winterwood and Silverwolf. I hope that there will be a third, Rowankind. As yet there’s no date set for that, but I’m just beginning to pull ideas together for the first draft.

So let’s talk about worldbuilding in the Psi-Tech trilogy.

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Detail from Stephan martiniere’s cover illustration for Crossways.

The big picture is (usually) easy. Broad brush strokes quickly conjure a canvas of space ships, colony worlds, interstellar trade, transport hubs and jump gate travel. Then I have to interrogate the setting to find out how it got to be that way. I need to know more about politics, history and economics. What happened to human history from the present day to the time of the story? A third world war? A cure for cancer? Climate change? Development of AIs. The Middle East aflame? Colonising Mars. Russia marching into Poland? Donald Trump dropping a nuke on North Korea. Catastrophic meteor strike? Eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone?

The setting is space, so many colonised worlds within our galaxy. There are no alien civilisations out there, at least, none that are known. Though our galaxy is a pretty big place and it may be that we simply haven’t bumped up against them yet.

DCover detail: trikalla

Detail from Stephan Martiniere’s cover for Empire of Dust: a trikalla

In a story that contains multiple worlds I have to figure out what colour the skies are on each of them. Are there any strange creatures such as my trikallas (weird floating beasties on the planet Olyanda, lighter than air and with a taste for copper)? Is the basic topography of a place going to drive the way my human characters interact with the landscape. Are there earthquakes or volcanoes? What are the weather patterns? Is there potable water? How long are the days? Are there any wild seasonal swings? How many moons? How do the moons affect tides? Is native flora and fauna compatible with what humans require for subsistence? How will the planetary ecosystem react with imported flora and fauna? What natural resources are available?

And just as important: what steps might have to be taken to protect native wildlife and ecosystems from the invading humans?

In the Psi-Tech trilogy most of the colonies are controlled by one or another of the megacorporations which have become more powerful than any one planetary government, even that of Earth. Some colonies are well established, home to humans for three hundred years or more. Others are raw; their first generation settlers still struggling to come to terms with a new (and sometimes hostile) environment: fifty hour days; solar storms that render simple radio transmissions unreliable; incompatible botany and biology.

That’s all part of the broad canvas, but what about the detail?

My morning ritual is a small bone-china cup of milky coffee laced with honey and topped with a layer of double cream, plus a warm pain au chocolat. Healthy breakfast? Hey, I’m a writer. That is a healthy breakfast. It contains two of the five major food groups, coffee and chocolate. Three if you count the bread.

So when adding the detail into Empire of Dust I wondered what my main characters, Cara and Ben, would drink in the morning and what the logistics, politics and economics of providing their preferred beverage might be.

If there’s a trade in coffee the megacorporations will want their cut. They have grown powerful following on from what’s historically known as ‘The Great Colony Grab.’ (Earthlings take note: that’s what you get for not investing in national space programmes; the commercial boys take over and do it bigger and better.) Since pioneer Abelard Henning made the first successful foldspace jump between Earth and Mars using a pair of prototype jump gates in 2190, humans have spread across the galaxy. But there’s a technical problem that no one has yet been able to overcome.

Crossways detail-06

Detail from Stephan martiniere’s cover illustration for Crossways.

Platinum is required as a catalyst for jump gates. Unfortunately with each jump a small but significant amount is lost. Now, platinum isn’t particularly rare, of course. It’s found everywhere, but only in small quantities. It takes eight to ten tons of raw ore (and six months) to produce just one pure ounce of platinum. Even now in our pre-jump gate society, platinum is used in commercial applications in about 20% of all consumer goods, yet platinum-flow is tight. In fact, if platinum mining ceased today, we would have reserves of less than one year. All the platinum ever mined throughout history (so far) would fill a room of less than 25 cubic feet. Add jump gates and interstellar trade into that equation and the ceaseless quest for platinum is going to be brutal.

Platinum keeps the whole interconnected colony system functioning. If my guys want to drink coffee and eat chocolate on a space station, there’s a cost in platinum of getting it there, so it had better be worth it. The cheapest beverage to transport is made from dehydrated powder, vac-packed, and massively concentrated so that a pinch is enough to make a pot-full. Does it taste good? That depends on your viewpoint.

Cara Carlinni is an Earth girl even though she grew up being dragged around the galaxy by her parents, a marine biologist (Mum) and a hydro engineer (Dad). Her tastes run to real coffee when she can get it, but if she has to settle for Coffee Flavoured Beverage, she’ll make it nice and strong. Otherwise, if it’s all that’s available, basic, bland CFB will have to do.

teapot-691729_640Reska (Ben) Benjamin grew up in a farming community on Chenon drinking readily available (and cheap) CFB. He likes it. Real coffee tastes bitter to him, so he’ll sweeten it with whatever’s available and soften it with cream if he has to drink it at all. Yes, he knows most people consider it a luxury import, so if they serve up the real thing he’s going to be polite and choke it down, but really he’d rather have tea.

Where does coffee come from? Not from Earth, not any more. Some of the best coffee-growing regions were devastated when multiple meteorite strikes rearranged the geography of the planet in 2375. One huge meteor was shattered on its way inbound. Most of the fragments missed Earth. The ones that didn’t miss were (eventually) survivable. However there were several years of no summer leading to global devastation that would have knocked humankind back to the stone age without help from the colonies.

close-up-coffee-bean-large-cup-38432891Earth produces enough coffee for her own use. Away from Earth, the best coffee now comes from a planet called Blue Mountain, in the Tegabo system. It was settled by a breakaway bunch from Drogan’s World, so it isn’t owned by, or affiliated with any of the megacorps. That means there’s an extra tax if the coffee producers want to distribute coffee via the regular trade routes. Fortunately for them there are some irregular trade routes courtesy of independent shippers. Smugglers? Who said anything about smugglers? Let’s call them free-traders.

Is all that in the book? Not really, except for Cara and Ben’s opposing taste in beverages and the pressing need for platinum. The thing is, dear reader, you don’t need to know all that to enjoy reading the book, but I need to know the background in order to write it. I need to know all of Earth’s history from the first successful moon base, engineered by the Chinese in 2051, to the Five Power Alliance which emerged as a global federal government in the reconstruction following the meteor strikes.

And what has happened to humans in five hundred years? Some have been genetically altered to be able to survive on marginal worlds, others have brain implants which enhance psionic abilities. And then there are those who haven’t had their genes tweaked, or artificial enhancements, who consider themselves pure. That in itself is a starting point for conflict.

400x270Writing future science fiction offers an unlimited number of possibilities and as the series develops, I’m able to explore more new worlds and new situations. But one of the major considerations is that whatever worldbuilding I put into the first book will still be there in the third. Maybe that’s a good thing. Or maybe something I dreamed up in book one will actually be a liability by the time I get to book three. Hence the need to plan ahead when worldbuilding.

Nimbus front coverAs I write this blog, I’ve just finished the first draft of Nimbus, the third psi-tech book. (Due in October 2017 from DAW.) Thankfully the worldbuilding from the first book is still holding up. What’s happened to my characters and my worldbuilding as the books have progressed? Cara and Ben started out working for one of the biggest of the megacorps, the Trust, but they have now left the Trust behind and gone rogue. More and more of the colonies are pressing for independence, and humans are discovering more about their universe. Something dark is moving in the depths of foldspace.

It’s all very exciting and I can tell you that by the end of Nimbus, the goalposts will have moved for humans in space.

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Committing Trilogy

As I write this blog post I’m editing and polishing my third Psi-Tech book, Nimbus, the last in my trilogy of space operas (though there may be more ahead set in the same universe—it’s too early to tell, yet.) It’s due from DAW in October 2017.

The groundwork that I laid when writing Empire of Dust (DAW 2014) still dictates what I write three books later. Once the first book of a trilogy is published I can’t retrospectively change the big idea, or even any of the basic principles, so getting the world-building right (and consistent) in the beginning is really important. I there’s something to be revealed as the trilogy progresses then it needs to be foreshadowed in the first book.

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The Psi-Tech trilogy is set 500 years in the future. Building that universe is a task which crops up early in my writing/planning process, though maybe not right at the beginning. (I’ll be talking about world building in a future blog, so I’m going to skip some of that detail now.).

Which comes first, writing or planning? I’m a half-and-half writer—not quite a plotter, not quite a pantser (i.e. a discovery writer who writes by the seat of their pants to find out what happens next). When I first get an idea I’ll often sit down and write without a plan of any kind. Then, when I’ve done a bit of story exploration, I’ll outline the structure in broad detail. I have been known to have the beginning reasonably well detailed, the ending clearly stated, and between those two extremes I have a lot of wibble labelled: stuff happens, with maybe one or two pivotal scenes sketched more fully. I don’t tend to outline plot points chapter by chapter in great detail. (I’ve tried that and it makes me feel as though I’ve written the book once already when I come to write the first draft.)

Putting a specific character in a specific situation is probably what gives me the initial idea; someone with a dilemma I can get excited to write about. It’s an acorn from which I hope to grow an oak tree. In Empire of Dust, the opening scene features a lone telepath, in fear for her life. She’s been on the run for a year, and her pursuers are catching up with her. When I started, that was all I had. The surroundings that coalesced out of my imagination were bleak and grey, utilitarian, though a little shabby, and largely featureless, except where humans had tried to imprint their personality with improvised artwork on the doors of their one-room apartments. A space station, I thought, and the world building grew from there.

The character building also grew from there. Who was my telepath? What had she done to make herself into a target. Was it her fault? How was she going to get out of the initial dilemma? Ah right… she was going to hustle for a ride out of the space station with someone, a stranger. She didn’t know him, but as the author I needed to know who he was; what his background was; where he was heading for; what his own problems might be. These two characters had to be interesting enough to hold the attention for a full book, or, as it turned out, three books. They had to have room to grow, but their growth had to arise from their backstory. They didn’t appear out of nowhere. Cara was estranged from her mother. He father was dead. Ben’s parents were dead, but he had a grandmother, a brother and two nephews. We get to meet them in the first book, but they become important in the second book and continue to be a solid presence in the third.

A writer doesn’t simply need to know enough about setting and characters to deliver a single story, they must inhabit their world more fully and know the people who exist there. The book shouldn’t feel as though the universe it’s set in popped into existence just a few minutes before the first scene. It should feel as though there’s a history, even if you don’t describe it in great detail. When the book ends your reader needs to feel as though the universe is still carrying on beyond where you wrote ‘the end’ and left your protagonists living happily ever after (or not).

And what goes for a standalone novel goes three times as much for a trilogy.

I’ll be honest I didn’t plan that Empire of Dust would be the beginning of a trilogy. It could quite easily have been a stand-alone novel, though I did have some ideas of how it could progress into two, then three books. The reason for that is purely practical. When I wrote Empire, I did it purely on spec. If you are an unpublished writer seriously aiming at publication you shouldn’t waste time writing a sequel or a trilogy until Book One has sold, because if you can’t sell Book One, those sequels are dead in the water, and you’ve wasted precious time (years, even) when you could have been writing something that a publisher would buy. Been there, done that, got the T shirt. However, at the same time as writing your standalone, you have to spend a little time thinking about the possibility of continuation because, if you are lucky enough to sell a book, your new publisher may ask: ‘What else have you got?’ or, ‘Is there a book to follow this?’

My first three book deal from DAW was Winterwood (historical fantasy in the Rowankind series), Empire of Dust (space opera) and an unspecified sequel to Empire based on a one page story synopsis that they asked me for. That sequel became Crossways. My second deal was for the second Rowankind book, Silverwolf, and the third Psi-Tech book, which became Nimbus (Due October 2017.)

When planning a trilogy you need three separate books with beginnings, middles and ends, while the whole three books form an arc of their own, again with a beginning, middle, and end. You have to decide on the structure, and how the books are linked. Are you going to have the same characters continuing the story throughout the three books or each story going to be a linked standalone? Or maybe the first two books feature two different protagonists and those protags are going to come together in the final book.

If it’s one megastory told in three books, how are you going to deal with your (probably large) cast of characters? Unless you kill everyone on the last page, you need to decide which characters are going to survive the whole three books and which are going to be sacrificed to the god of plot. (You may literally kill them off or just remove them from the storyline in some manner when their role comes to an end.) Your long-lived characters, the ones who are front and centre throughout the three books, need to remain consistent from the first to the last page. That doesn’t mean your character can’t grow and change, but it means that you can’t suddenly have someone behave out of character unless you have foreshadowed it and inserted good reasons.

Your overarching three-book story may be obvious from the beginning, or it may grow out of events that are foreshadowed in the first book. Whatever you decide it has to be consistent and logical. What you decide to do in the first book is going to be with you for a long time.

In Empire of Dust I mention the visions that pilot-navigators have when transiting through foldspace. That foldspace theme develops in Crossways alongside dangerous problems caused by human antagonists. In Nimbus it becomes pivotal. The developments in foldspace will eventually mean that the human problems have to be solved in order to solve the foldspace problems.

2book-RowankindThe Psi-Tech books form my first trilogy, but my historical fantasy series beginning with Winterwood and continuing with Silverwolf looks like growing into the Rowankind Trilogy, too. Maybe after that I’ll write a standalone. I already have ideas…

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Cover Reveal: Nimbus

Nimbus isn’t due until October 2017, but I just got the cover and permission to let you all see it. So here it is: Nimbus, the third in the Psi-Tech trilogy.

Cover by the fabulously talented Stephan Martiniere.

Nimbus front cover

In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts. Cara Carlinni once had her mind turned inside out by Alphacorp, but she escaped, and now it’s payback time.

Ben Benjamin leads the Free Company, based on the rogue space-station, Crossways. The megacorps have struck at Crossways once—and failed—so what are they planning now? Crossways can’t stand alone, and neither can the independent colonies, though maybe together they all stand a chance.

But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination. At least, that’s what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it’s not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there’s the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?

Until now, humans have had a free hand in the Galaxy, settling colony after colony, but that might have to change because the Nimbus is coming.

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Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes

Source: Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes

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Stories Far and Near

I love scandals in the family – preferably in past generations, of course.

Bessie-sm

Bessie Bullough 1913 – 1992

My dad’s cousin, always known to me as Auntie Bessie, was supposed to have traced the family back to Cornwall in the 1600s whereupon the two distinct family lines were said to split into pirates and lunatics. At that point she gave up.

At least that was the story, but I never got the chance to talk to her about it before she died. Sadly it doesn’t appear to be true. I’ve done a lot family research myself, but there’s no Cornish connection – though the family goes back to Dorset and Somerset.

I’m reminded of the standing quotation from the TV show, ‘House’ – ‘Everybody lies.’

My Great-Great-Grandfather, Fletcher Fletcher, (so good they named him twice!) came from New Hall in Staffordshire, close to Burton on Trent, but his son, Benjamin James Randal Fletcher moved up to Castleford (Yorkshire) to work in the mines in the 1870s and told everyone he came from St Ives in Cornwall. It’s even in the family bible – though in a slightly different hand as if it’s an afterthought.

A cousin suggested that since Staffordshire miners had a reputation for strike-breaking, no one looking for work in a mining community wanted to admit that’s where they came from. If I could grab Benjamin’s spirit in a seance I’d really take him to task for that one. It took me ages to track him down. You wouldn’t think there would be many Fletcher Fletchers in genealogical/census records – and there aren’t, only 6 in total anywhere in the country – but, of course not one of them in Cornwall, so I was looking in the wrong place for years!

Samuel Robinson1

Samuel Robinson 1835 – 1905. My Great-Great Grandfather

Benjamin did well for himself. He married Emily Robinson, daughter of Samuel Robinson who was not only a colliery viewer (a mine manager) in Castleford, but also ended up with his own pub (The Victoria) and a rather large and impressive tombstone as a monument. Possibly as a result of who-you-know, Benjamin ended up as a undermanager in a colliery, though neither he nor Emily made old bones, and the Fletcher children were brought up by their oldest sister, Mary, who married Sam Bullough shortly after her parents’ deaths. Kudos to Mary for keeping the family together, but as a career teacher (yes, even in the era around the First World War) it was Sam who did most of the bringing up after he got back from the trenches. Sam and Mary had only one child who survived and that was Auntie Bessie (a career teacher who never married and who literally wrote the book on new methods of teaching music and movement in the heady days of arts teaching after the Second World War). Bessie’s photos came to me after she died. Sadly, though we looked through all her papers after her death, there was no trace of the family research she was supposed to have done. Did she do it? I can’t imagine she’d have thrown it away if she did. Are we back to the ‘Everybody lies,’ thing?

The more I dig into genealogy, the more I realise that stories come from everywhere, and family history can be just as good a source of inspiration as anything else.

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Lock Lane Infants, Castleford, circa 1911. Mary Robinson Fletcher, top left. She married Sam Bullough later the same year and continued teaching all her working life..

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Bloggage or not…

Guys, I’m just finishing off the last little bit of the first draft of Nimbus , the third psi-tech novel. (Due October 2017.)

I’m up to my ears in words, living on coffee and chocolate and writing until three in the morning. Please forgive lack of bloggage this week. Have a lovely photo of my dog, Eska, instead and a promise that I’ll write a proper blog post on Tuesday 21st March.

Encouraging comments welcomed – both about the writing and the dog, who is a real sweetheart.

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