Hoo boy it’s a hot one! I hope it’s a little more comfortable for you; right now, we are in the middle of an oppressive heatwave. The last few days it's been hovering in the mid-90s and it's going to stay that way until the weekend. I feel like I’m melting. But talking about the weather isn’t what any of us are here to do.
I didn’t talk about it in the last blog, all the way back in June, but if you’ve kept up on any of my socials, you’ll know that both books of my new ‘Spectrum of Stars Duology’ are out! Which is just freaking wild. I think I’ve said before that it was just supposed to be an experiment that got out of hand.
So here’s the background.
I loath first person narrative. I don't really like reading it, and I hate writing it. But, I always want to expand my abilities, to grow as an author. So as an exercise to do just that, for the 2021 NaNoWriMo I decided to experiment with a first person sci-fi. And really that’s all it was ever meant to be.
But when I actually started writing it, I found myself totally engrossed with what I was working on. I was averaging about five thousand words a day, and each one was dragging me in further and I just kept wanting to dive deeper. Then I realized I had an actual goal for this story.
I decided that it had to be a genuine war story, even if it was set in the distant future, it had to avoid the ‘chosen one’ trope, and it had to be an honest, not stereotypical, depiction of an autistic protagonist, and it had to be sex positive.
By the time NaNoWriMo was over, I’d written about one hundred thirty thousand words and had a draft of a story that, while pretty rough, was the start of a universe that I fell in love with.
I started doing some heavy worldbuilding and then updating the manuscript to fit with the background world I was creating. By the beginning of 2022, I was working on the one hundred eighty thousand word second draft and the story had become wildly richer than my original plan, and much more painful for me as a writer-in all the best ways.
The characters of Athlen, Fletcher, and Tierney had become incredibly dear to me, as did the rest of the Spectrum-verse.
Then came a conversation with my editor that twisted my stomach in painful knots. The newest draft was almost two hundred thousand words. And some scenes I loved really screwed with pacing. I tried a few different ways to work on the pacing and keep the scenes I wanted, but it just wasn’t working.
The solution was pretty clear. Some of those scenes had to go. It would serve the story best, both in thinning the word count and helping the pacing. As they say, ‘kill your darlings.’ So, I was ruthless with the editing for the next draft.
And it really was a better draft. But it still clocked in at almost one hundred fifty thousand words, and I wasn’t prepared to cut any more, especially now that the pacing was right. The solution was also pretty painful. The story, which I’d given the working title that ended up being used for the first part, The Stars Are Black and Cold-or simply ‘Stars’-would have to be broken into two parts. After a few more conversations with my editor as well as with a friend who’d been totally sold on the story idea from the start, I found that the story had a rather natural point that it could be split.
It did, however, mean that I had to totally rewrite the chapter that would become the last chapter of the first book, as well as the chapter that would become the first chapter of the second, so that they felt more natural.
Then it was time for another draft.
With the story now broken into two discrete volumes. I was able to knock out a polished draft of the first book pretty easily and send it off to my beta readers.
While it was in their hands, I started on a polished draft of the second book, which I was now calling ‘In the Shadow of Stars.’
By the time I got the first book back from all the betas, I was ready to send out the second book.
The beta comments were incredible and I was able to do another draft from them before handing it over to my editor again, and while she had it, I was able to get the second book back from betas and finish its draft for Janel.
Then it was done, and I felt like I’d pulled off all the goals I’d set up during that NaNoWriMo. All from a stupid exercise. And the whole thing still in the first person.
And by mid-June, the whole thing was out there.
I’ve really loved hearing what folks have thought about it. And I’m so proud of the ‘Spectrum of Stars Duology.’ And the thing is, the Spectrum-verse became so big in the worldbuilding phase that I think there might be more stories to be told, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
July started off pretty quietly, other than a little sad. I’d spent most of June getting ready for my favorite book event, Once Upon A Book in Frankenmuth, Michigan. They were sad preparations because this was to be the last OUAB and that was heartbreaking. The organizer had done an amazing job of creating an event that wasn’t just about the book signing, but was a community. Writers and readers alike got to know each other and to support each other.
On Thursday, the 13th of July, I woke up at 2:45 am to hit the road to Frankenmuth for the last Once Upon A Book. It’s a thirteen hour drive from Philadelphia, so I had a long way to go. I took plenty of stops along the way and met an author friend in Ohio (along with friends who were serving as her PAs) and we trucked off again, on the second leg of the drive.
The first day of OUAB is a big thing, registration, opening remarks, keynote speakers, two different panels, all sorts of stuff. Then a break before a dinner/ball/award banquet.
The whole first day had a much different energy than it had the previous year. Sure a bit of it felt like mourning, but there was also a general vibe of celebration. Celebrating what this had been.
At the banquet, that strange vibe felt even more present. There was a slideshow of pictures from the previous years that almost felt like an ‘in memoriam.’
Then as the award portion wrapped up, Stacey, the event organizer gave a little, emotional speech about what Once Upon A Book had been. She ended it with ‘so what do you do when you come to the end of a chapter like this?’
There were a few call outs from people, many of whom had held out hope that maybe we’d be back next year. One called out “start another chapter,” and another called out “turn the page.”
“Funny you should say that,” Stacey continued before this was displayed on the screen:
And then there were tears again. We were going to be back, not to Frankenmuth, but we’d be together again. The community, the family that is OUAB would continue.
I looked at my friend, Victoria Perkins, and almost in unison we both said to each other “looks like we’re going to Florida.”
Having this information made the second day of the event, the signing, an even more amazing experience. It was a general celebration without the looming feeling of ‘this is it.’
Last year at OUAB I felt like I’d made in roads and met some amazing people who I now think of as friends. This year was more of that, but it also felt like the nurturing of those relationships. Deepening the connections I’d made and making new ones. So far, both OUAB events that I’ve attended have felt life changing. I have no doubt that they will continue to change my life.
With OUAB 2023 over, it became time to double down.
Earlier this week, I finished the next draft of The Cryptid Chronicles, book two, and I’ve got a title reveal coming this fall (stay tuned), there are a half dozen new ideas I’m stewing on, on top of the dozen that I’m already working on!
No rest for the wicked.
And I’m fine with that, honestly. There’s not really anything else in the world I’d rather do.
Art is sacred, I think. It reveals truths about who we are, as observers, and, in my opinion, as human beings.
That means storytelling is sacred. All storytelling. The format doesn’t matter, from the great epics and high brow ‘literature’ to fan fictions posted online. The genre doesn’t matter. From adventures and high fantasy, to the smuttiest of romance novels; they all reveal deep truths about ourselves. They all tell pieces of the human story and build community and family. That is sacred.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to get to express ourselves, our art, in the form of stories get to be the voices of those truths. And damn it if that doesn’t feel like something amazing.
While at Once Upon A Book, I got to talk to people that love to consume those stories. They reach for them because they crave something. Sometimes it’s a change of perspective, sometimes it’s an escape from reality, sometimes it seems as simple as a means of entertainment. But I think at the very core of it, it’s because we all crave to experience those truths that stories reveal.
Last year, I got to have a life changing conversation with a young man about queer visibility. This year I was proud to be more visible as a gay man, as well as to have dozens of conversations about queer visibility, about possible responsibility as a queer person for the next generation, and about representation. I got to have conversations about our art and about nurturing our artists within, and about the value of art.
Art is one of those incredible places where we are seen, it's the soul of society. It’s the very spirit of us as a race. It is inestimably important and therefore, priceless.
Art costs time, effort, talent, and money. And it deserves all of that.
Over August, I was able to build up the list of subscribers to my newsletter, The Write Stuff (if you aren’t subscribed, please consider it. I promise I won’t bombard you with crap.) Over the next several newsletters, look out for new artwork based on folks and scenes in my books.
I hope that for each and every one of you, the summer is special, is life-changing and soul feeding. I know that OUAB did that for me and I can only hope the summer keeps going that way.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be doubling down even harder, getting more and more of the final book in the Cryptid Chronicles done. Which, is weird in and of itself, but that’s for a different post.
I hope you are all well. Stay safe, stay cool, take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.
And always remember:
You are seen, you are loved, you matter.