Behind the Scenes of my next WiP (Work in Progress)

October 11, 2019 by: Douglas

It’s time to give fans and readers a glimpse into some behind-the-scenes work as an author. I’ll discuss some of the writing I’ve been doing and the things an indieauthor like myself has to track.

My current project and why I chose it

I currently have four books in various stages of production. Three of them have several chapters written in the first draft, and one is just an outline at this point. When I started 2019, my focus had been on the 2nd book of the Pilgrims with Blades series: Grandfather’s Castle. This was important because, firstly, they don’t even get their name until the second book. Secondly, people don’t gravitate towards a series unless you have a few books out. However, I had also been feeling pressure to get something out for a younger crowd, especially featuring a young female hero. (Well, most of my books are good reading for teens, and I always include a strong female character.) Still, I put my effort into “Pilgrims” until Marscon back in March. Marscon changed my perceptions of what I needed. EVERY author at that event had something on a QR code that they handed out to folks. Christopher Schmitz offers out several free stories on his mailing list, Anela Deen handed out a link to a free story on her card, and Ozgur Sahin was promoting a kickstarter for his second book.

Anela Deen did a remarkable job of stopping folks who were about to pass by simply by holding out her card and asking, “Would you like a free story?” …Well, I knew I had to raise my game. After all, a big challenge with all the visuals at conventions and such is getting someone to stop for a moment and look at YOUR booth. (By the way, Anela was very helpful in how to set up QR codes and link them to a free story on a variety of distributors…thanks Anela!)

The thought processes kicked into gear. What can I offer for a free story? Could I satisfy it with a young, female hero? How fast can I write it and have a new card ready for big conventions later this year?

Now, I always have too-many stories floating in my head. I began to focus on Thomena, the tale of a young mage who gets a big assignment and test of her abilities from her guildmaster. More on this story shortly. However, as I began to write it, I realized the scope of the story was about as big, if not bigger, than Boxer’s novella. I needed something smaller, and maybe more appropriate for even younger ages.

I satisfied that earlier this year with “The Wooden Maiden”. This was once a 2-page story I wrote in the mid 90s. I embellished it a little, added more length and depth to it, and had it ready by the time some of the larger, more expensively-invested events kicked in. It focuses on a young woman dealing with a witch’s curse, and the loner she hopes will save her.

Once completed, I turned my eye back to Thomena’s story, “Apprentice Storm Mage”. It’s still relatively short, it’s compelling, and has a young female hero. I decided it would be a good focus, and something new I’d like to offer out next year. Amazing how one event changed my book schedule.

An inspiring cover

Before I bore you with another wall of text, here is some eye candy. During the project, I already found a suitable cover done by Noah Elowyn. This is my “reveal” to the world for this cover, so enjoy.

The writing process for “Apprentice Storm Mage”

Interestingly enough, this story is going to be a prequel to “My Father, the Warrior”. Feels odd to have the prequel out before the story which originally was designed to be Thomena’s introduction story.

But let’s start with the character. Even in fantasy, the character always has to take center stage. The setting and magic are just window dressing. If a reader doesn’t connect with the character, you don’t have a good story. My visions of this book’s direction focused on Thomena’s beginnings, feelings, beliefs, spirituality and determination. Like many of my characters, Thomena was born in an RPG game. Although she remains young, she was actually “born” in Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar, (for the Commodore 64, how is that for old?)

This history is vitally important for her, because the challenge of Ultima 4 didn’t involve a main bad guy. Your avatar had to walk a path of virtues and principles, very similar to a knight’s code. In my world, there is a religion based on a book called The Codex. It requires followers to set forth a path of Integrity, Humility, Courage, Self-sacrifice, and more. Thomena does her best to walk such a path during her current book adventures. This can be a boon or a curse depending on the situation. More importantly, it makes for a strong female lead.

Across games, her spells have always focused around the water and air elements, often cold magic. So for a long time now, I’ve viewed her as a storm-mage. This focus also helped develop the ideas for this story.

As Thomena is still a young prodigy, she would like to learn fire spells at a restricted age. Her master isn’t sure that she’s ready, so he sets a task before her: to assist the vigiles of Orlaun with fighting fires.

Researching the setting

For a book to work, an author must often find resources to make it believable. Even though this is a fantasy, the best connection a reader has are with real-world experiences and conflicts.

The city of Orlaun gave me the best opportunity to set the story. Orlaun’s influence is based on the real-Earth’s Roman empire. An aqueduct system brings water to the city. Praetorians are the guard force keeping order. The people even indulge on Italian joys such as pastas, wine, oils, etc. It’s also the location of two competing mage guilds in Dhea Loral.

Of particular note, the praetorians of old Rome included “vigiles” which were the earliest examples of fire-fighters in our world. I had to research vigiles and the history of fire-fighting. I’ve questioned EMT and volunteer firefighters about fires and use of equipment. This gave me a clearer picture in which to build belief.

Not everything about the historical version fit the narrative I wanted. For example, the vigiles of our old world would arrive and charge a fee to put out the fire. The owner had to pay on the spot. Or, in later examples through the Renaissance time period, fire-fighting companies would operate something like insurance. If you prepaid and had their emblem on your door, they would put out the fire. If the wrong company arrived first, it wouldn’t do anything, since you had paid someone else.

In my case, this is a fantasy world, so I can build on them as a public service provided by the city.

But what about magic? Too often, mages/wizards in books focus on the destructive magic in combat scenes. Very little explores the more mundane uses of small spells. Thomena’s job in the book is to stay back from the fire, casting enchantments on the vigiles that aid in their efforts and protection. As I have in previous books, I find a way to put magic as something small and helpful in the world, rather than just destruction.

I am concerned about readers taking an issue with Thomena’s age. She only 13. However, it’s important to understand that even in Earth-renaissance time period, people were considered adults before age 18. For Dhea Loral, she’s old enough to handle some big responsibilities, but her age is treated as a factor by other characters in the book.

Of course, in order to build a driving book, she’s going to find a personal interest in this unexplained rash of fires breaking out in Orlaun. As an author, I also have to get my character closer to danger than even she expects, while balancing danger with the fact that I’m aiming this at younger readers. Thomena will find a connection between the fires and her mage guild, and she will be tested by tragedy.

An Excerpt

(Note, this is from the rough draft, and hasn’t gone through a strict editing process as yet. Nevertheless, enjoy this sneak peek)

Thomena put her protections on the next vigile, then a third. Suddenly, her breath caught and her vision spun for a moment. She stumbled into the wagon. Felna and the other vigiles reached out to catch her.

“Are you alright?” Felna asked.

She refocused, drawing a deep breath. The vigiles circled her, concern in their eyes. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. She had reached the limit of her spellcasting. The effort of expending so much energy almost made her faint.

“I’ll be alright, give me a moment.”

Hands trembling, she hooked her thumb into a pouch and pulled it open. Her fist clenched around the jade spirit gem. It wasn’t hard to withdraw the revitalizing essence stored in the gem. Thomena’s soul eagerly drank from her own spirit energy.

This is what a ‘second wind’ must feel like. She pocketed the empty gem. Her hands twirled into motion, finishing the protective spells. When the vigiles hesitated, it was her turn to bark at them. “I’m fine now. Save those men!”

After the four departed, Felna still examined Thomena with a critical eye. “Are you sure you’re fine? You could lay down in the wagon.”

Thomena conceded just enough to roll an empty shop barrel over and sit on top. “I regained energy from the stone. I’m better.”

Besides, she thought, I need to keep my eyes on this. Pommery and those men have lost their protection by now. Where are they?

Arnos and the men with tools were having a difficult time breaking through the reinforced walls of Old Market. The most recent group of men Thomena shielded were trying to drag an aqueduct-fed hose through the nearest door. Water sprayed out, showering the flames and spewing smoke from the entry.

“Why did they go in there?” Thomena asked.

Felna shrugged. “A big one like that…Gage would have only done it if they had someone to rescue. Lots of sturdy, old buildings like this in Orlaun are home to squatters.”

Thomena stared at the hard efforts of the firefighters. Felna added, “We should have requested aid from the mages long ago. Those spells of yours make a big difference in protecting the ones who run in there. I guess, spells do more than just make things go boom.”

Thomena, staring at the conflagration set in motion by someone’s fire spell, simply nodded and whispered, “Aye.”

Arnos and the other men had punctured a small opening, Smoke poured out. It was still far too small to allow someone through.

The men she protected retreated from the door. She managed to hear their shouts toward the officers. “It’s an inferno. We’re trying our best, but that roof may collapse.”

Thomena fidgeted. I wish I could do more. No sooner had the thought hit, an idea followed.

She jumped off the barrel. Felna looked down from the wagon. “What is it?”

“How could I forget?” Thomena said, pulling a scroll case from the wagon.

The apprentice mage waved the scroll case, trying to get Ser Gage’s attention. “The elementals! Let me clear the fire!” None of the officers were looking her way. As loud as she shouted, they didn’t seem to hear. “Let me use the scrolls!” Thomena practically wailed. “I can create a path through the fire!”

Felna worked at trying to adjust something on the pump. The praetorian noticed the apprentice step forward. Felna jumped down and blocked Thomena’s path.

“Ser Gage’s orders,” she reminded Thomena. “I can’t let you run over there. You have to stay by the wagon.”

Thomena shook her head but stayed put. She wrung her hands around the case. “They need this!”

Felna turned to the officers. She tried waving their attention with one arm, keeping the other down like a gate to bar the girl’s path forward.

Five galleons. The guild charged as little as it needed to the city for the use of the scrolls. Thomena had never even owned one gold coin. She knew in her heart they needed this spell to make a difference. Had Ser Gage forgotten?

Her hands clutched the case tightly to her chest. Her weight shifted from one foot to the other. She felt like a rock weighed down the inside of her stomach.

Let me help. I can’t do this without your orders.

Thomena glanced at the sandglass. The rising pile of sand in the lower portion only reminded her of how much time had passed since the first group of vigiles had lost their protection.

The extras on the side

I wish I could say that as an author, my only job is to write a good story. I wish that’s all I had to do. However, just to give perspective, in between writing I have a number of professional side-quests.

Cover specs, formatting, data. For every book I write, some of the process involves being ready for the release. I have to get its ISBN, fill in forms, decide prices. Printed books have different formatting than ebooks, so I have to respect both. (And sometimes I see an otherwise perfect proof except that I look inside and see the formatting wasn’t optimal.)  I could pay someone to do this for me, but early on I knew to learn this stuff myself and save on money later.

And some stuff I’m required to spend money and/or depend on others. Audiobook narrators, cover designers, and editors need to be hired and chosen carefully. I hope you liked the cover I just shared today…Noah worked hard on it!

Social media. You’re reading this, aren’t you? Whether you’re part of a big publishing house or an indie-author, you have to keep visible in social media. Release your facebook posts, blogs, and tweets on a fairly regular basis…and not just to promote your book or appearances. You build fans by reaching out to them, not spamming them. Mailing lists can’t be ignored also, and there is a deep technical pool you can jump into if you want to do tricks with your mail system.

Earnings and taxes. Every month and every appearance I have to update my books…the tax books. It is a business, and you have to keep track of your dollars. Also, I keep records on what I spent and made at events, to see which ones better serve my time investment.

Seeking inspiration. This is the fun one. Every story is better with a real-life experiences, even in fiction. Travel, read, be perceptive of other people and your surroundings. You never know when your next “light bulb” idea will trigger.

A Reminder

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