Tag Archives: Coal Belly

Six Hundred

Six Hundred

This blog is a story in itself. It’s the documentation of a journey. Growing up, I remember my grandmother talking about becoming a novelist. She often spoke of the stories she wanted to share, the memoirs of her life, but she never finished her book. I believe the world is a little less without her words. From the beginning, the intent of I Make Stories was to chronicle my process of becoming a novelist—the good and the bad. As I have shared my experiences, I often wonder: what would have happened if my grandmother had read this blog as a fellow writer? Would she have been dissuaded or encouraged?

On that note, it’s time for a bit of reflection, and hopefully a bit of encouragement. It’s become a tradition around here that every two hundred posts I pause and take a moment and look back at what has happened in the time between. In 2014 I wrote my two-hundredth post, in 2015 I hit number four hundred, and here I am in 2017 looking at number six hundred. It’s been a long trail.

Things haven’t always been easy, but generally, nothing worth doing is easy. Days of discouragement are as common as the days of victory. Even as I write this post, I’ve been struggling through some serious self-doubt. I’ve come to expect it now, it’s a part of creation. Random events interrupt and derail process and progress. Writing takes time and effort, and it can often be a lonely endeavor. It requires a commitment to yourself and often that is more difficult than we realize.


“Milestones are meant to be passed.”


But even with the trials of creative work, things haven’t slowed during the last two hundred posts. Each obstacle has been surmounted and I’ve found successes along the way. I’ve sold a lot more books, many thousands now in total. I’ve hit the Amazon best-seller page multiple times. My presence at conventions has also expanded, and I’ve met some incredible people and new friends along the way.

On the story front, I launched Red Litten World which fans have enjoyed. I’ve finished the first draft of a standalone non-traditional fantasy (the title which I am keeping secret), and I’m nearly done with the first draft of Coal Belly my enormous steampunky riverboat adventure. Then it’s on to book four of the Bell Forging Cycle.

I’d like to think the content on this blog has gotten better as well. I’ve begun to share some of my discoveries in my research and delve into more details in the world of the Territories. There’s also this little thing which fans of the Bell Forging Cycle have yet to unravel. Plus, I have some other exciting plans for the future.

I couldn’t have done this alone. Although she never knew me as a writer, there is something of my grandmother in everything I write and for that I thank her. She might not have told her stories, but she empowered me to tell mine. And of course, there is you; my readers. I couldn’t be here, looking back from post six hundred, without you. Thanks for the passion. Thank you for buying my books. Thanks for reading them, and leaving reviews. Thank you for telling your friends and helping to spread the word. Thank you for the emails and the encouragement. There’s a lot of books out there to read, and I’m so grateful you picked mine.

As before, I won’t dwell here long. Stick with your work fellow creators. Milestones are meant to be passed. Number eight hundred lies somewhere in the distance and who knows what we’ll see in the spaces between.

2016 in Ten Awesome Photos

2016 in Ten Awesome Photos

For the past few years, I’ve assembled a post looking back via photos and reflecting on my experiences over the course of a year. The rule is to do it in ten photos, no more, no less, no excuses. (Check out 2015 in Ten Awesome Photos or 2014 in Ten Awesome Photos if you’re so inclined.) It’s a good way to reestablish what actually happened compared to my own perception. It also slows time down. A lot happens in a year.

After you do something long enough, it becomes a tradition. 2016 has been a tough year for me both creatively, and personally. But for every failure, there has been a success. Moments of dispair have been countered by moments of peace. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize those. Going back through these photos always grounds me and forces me to reflect.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look at my 2016.


2016_10photos_01The start of 2016 was cold and foggy. I took this picture on a long walk near my house early in the year. The themes of this image inadvertently became my themes for this year. If you read The State of the Cycle last December you know that in 2016 I was breaking from The Bell Forging Cycle for a bit and was planning to focus on some new projects. Solitude, contemplation, and a refocusing on my work and my writing were central for me throughout the year.


2016_10photos_02New year, new projects; I dove right in. For those who have followed this blog from the beginning, you’ll recognize the title Coal Belly. It was the first manuscript I tried to shop (and ultimately failed at selling) but the world and the characters never left me. This year I began it anew, refreshed and stripped down and I’m really excited where it’s going.


2016_10photos_03In the spring I returned to Norwescon for my second year. As before, It was a blast. This year I was busy. I spent my time running my table, sat on a few panels, and even managed to do a reading from Red Litten World. You can read a full breakdown in my Norwescon 39 Debriefing post. I will be returning in 2017, I can’t miss the 40th Anniversary.


2016_10photos_04Throughout the year, Kari-Lise and I would occasionally spend a few hours exploring antique stores and junk shops. These forays into the past inspired me to start collecting historical objects from American fraternal organizations and secret societies. It hits a sweet spot for me a blend of Americana, fading history, folk art and the fact some of the objects are just bizarre. I’m sure I’ll gather together a post soon.


My friend Steve Toutonghi launched his debut novel Join! He spent some time with me at Norwescon sharing his book, and I was able to go to a reading and signing of his at a local bookstore. It’s been great to watch him meet readers and share his work with the world. If you haven’t read his novel Join, you need to rectify that now. Check out my review on Goodreads and use the links on his site to pick it up for yourself. (It makes a great Christmas gift.)


2016_10photos_06I was lucky enough to meet Magnus Nilsson, the head chef at the remote two Michelin star restaurant Fäviken in Sweden. It’s no secret Kari-Lise, and I love to cook and were those people who consider ourselves foodies. I really respect Nilsson’s approach to cooking, his focus on simplicity, local ingredients, and the return to basics. He was super gracious. Now we need to plan a trip to actually visit Fäviken.


2016_10photos_07Lilac City Comicon was a smashing success and a bit of a whirlwind. It’s a fun romp full of wonderful people and cosplayers. The community in Spokane is really warm and welcoming. It was great hanging out with my fellow creators, meeting new people, and talking with readers. I’m planning a return this year. Make sure to read the Lilac City Comicon debriefing. I’m happy that it’ll be two days this year.


2016_10photos_08This summer Kari-Lise and I took two weeks to explore the National Parks of California. When I returned, I put together a little trip report detailing the journey. It was a fantastic excursion, full of hiking, marmots, and incredible vista and views. Traveling in the US, and especially in our National Parks, always reminds me that we live in a pretty great place.


2016_10photos_09As with every year, mountains were a reoccurring theme. I find them invigorating creatively and forever humbling. They’re a good place to reset and realize how small and petty my problems tend to be. With the help of some friends, Kari-Lise and I found our favorite trail on Mount Rainier. We liked it so much we returned to it again a month later with some family.


2016_10photos_10My Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup! It was an incredible comeback season that began abysmally but ended with a run that took them to the playoff and eventually allowed them to win it all on penalty kicks! Also, my favorite player did this. Sounders ’til I die. I can’t wait for the 2017 season.


So, there was my 2016. Narrowing it down to ten photos was difficult, it’s always difficult. There are always things I left out: sporting events, craft fairs, new books, art openings, other hikes, time spent in the mountains, time spent in the desert, time spent on the coast (we went to nine National Parks this year). I took pictures of my food, my research work, my dogs, my rabbits, and so much more. Most of these images came from my Instagram account, if you’re not following me, please do! It’s usually a running record of my weekly activities and pictures of my adorable dogs.

Join me! Why not look back through your own year and narrow it down to ten awesome photos? Post those on your blog and leave me a link here in the comments. I’d love to see what happened in your year as well.

Project Tracker Shifts

Project Tracker Shifts

For those who pay attention to such things, you may have noticed that there have been some shifts in my project tracker. (See sidebar.) I have a couple of thoughts I wanted to share.

  • I’ve gotten great feedback for my fantasy project (I’m still keeping the name quiet), but I wanted to let it rest a bit before I roll up my sleeves and start to rework it. It’s a regular part of my process that allows me to return not only refreshed but with a critical eye. So for now, it’s been moved to the infamous back burner.
  • Coal Belly has moved up to the top slot. It’s been my major focus lately. It’s also becoming huge, currently sitting at 92k words. When I initially listed it, I targeted 100k words since that’s the goal for all The Bell Forging Cycle novels. However, as I’ve written it, I’ve started to realize that it’s going to be much bigger, so I have readjusted my target to 200k words. Which means it’s about halfway (the actual final number is fluid, the book will be done when it’s done.)

Whenever I make changes like this, I tend to see questions from readers. So I figured a small post like this would help explain some of my decisions. Progress continues to chug along, and I’ll soon have new stuff for you all to read.

In the meantime, eBooks of The Stars Were Right are on sale for 99¢! If you’re looking for something Lovecraftian for yourself or as a holiday gift, check out the 2016 Lovecraftian Gift Guide. Loads of fun stuff.

Okay, time to get back to writing.

The State of the Cycle

The State of the Cycle

If you’re reading this on the blog, you’ll notice that snow has started falling. That means it’s December, the last month of the year. As is the tradition around here, this month tends to be a reflection on the past year. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the novels I’ve read, I’ll wrap up the Friday Link Packs (more on that later), and we’ll pass from 2015 to 2016 and move into the heart of winter here in the Pacific Northwest.

A few weeks back, after I was dealing with some serious creative malaise, my wife suggested me to read the book Art and Fear. It’s an excellent little book, and if you’re a creator, especially one struggling with your work, I urge you to read it. I wrote a post about it here. It’s poignant and encouraging, and it lifted my spirits. Some of the things it said gave me pause and those moments of reflections have lead to some decisions. So, I present to you The State of the Cycle, a look at the future of The Bell Forging Cycle, where things stand, where we’re going, and what other projects I’m working on.


1.) Where Do Things Stand?

Red Litten World is out, which means the series is currently a trilogy. After some hiccups in the initial print run and some other issues, I am pleased with where things are at currently. (Not that both didn’t come with obnoxious amounts of stress.) Some great reviews rolling in on both Amazon and Goodreads and it seems everyone is enjoying being back in Lovat, which makes me pretty dang happy.

To date, I have sold several thousand copies from the series and continue to see people starting their journey with Waldo Emerson Bell and his crew. A lot of that is thanks to you, my readers. Your reviews help. You blog posts help. Your fan art helps. Your general encouragement helps. All of it goes a long way towards getting others interest in the series. Thank you so much, and please keep it up. I can shout this from the mountaintop all I want, but it’s readers who influence other readers.

I have a few people email me about this, and I know a few people thought this series would be wrapped up in a trilogy, but that was never the plan. The Bell Forging Cycle was always intended to be a hexology. There are at least three more books to write in Waldo’s tale, and things are going to get turbulent before we finish.

I should also mention; there are now a lot of interesting little tidbits scattered around the internet these days. Stuff that reveals more and offers glimpses into other aspects of the world of the Territories. If you’re so inclined, poke around, share what you find, secrets await for those willing to search.


2.) When Is the Next Bell Forging Cycle Novel Coming?

That is the question I get asked the most. (Usually, after someone finished the latest book.) The honest answer is: I am not sure, but probably not in 2016.

I realize that’s not the most precise of answers, and please don’t think I am going to Geroge R. R. Martin you, you’re not going to have to wait eleven years between novels. I want to do this right, and I am adjusting my production to allow that. I am going to take time and refine my process. I’m also hunkering down on two other projects before I dive into book four. There is the possibility of a Bell Forging Cycle novella next year, but I’d much rather release it properly than rush it to the market and have it be something unsatisfying.


3.) Okay, What Are These Other Projects?

I’m mentioned both of them before, and I am still hard at work on each. In the past, I started talking about books way before they were ready. I’m trying hard not to do that again, so pardon the vagueness.

PROJECT ONE:

This is a standalone non-traditional fantasy and I playing my cards close for now. I might reveal the name, continuing to referring to it as my “standalone non-traditional fantasy” is getting tiresome. The manuscript is complete. I am revising it; it ended up being a much bigger project than I expected. Needless to say, I am excited about it’s prospects, and if you like weird fantasy novels you’ll, probably really enjoy this.

I’d love to see this released in 2016, but I am considering taking this manuscript and pursuing traditional publishing, and that could slow things down. We’ll see how that goes.

PROJECT TWO:

It’s called Coal Belly, a manuscript I have written, rewritten, tried to shop, and then eventually scrapped in favor of working on The Stars Were Right. It’s not uncommon for me. I’ve done it before. (I have many finished and half-finished manuscripts behind me) But, unlike the other dead manuscripts, this one haunted me. I love its characters; I love its strange world and its odd magic. I want to tell its story.

All that said, the former manuscript was old, and in the last five years I have matured a lot in my writing. So, recently, I decided the best way to tell this story was to strip it down to its bones and rewrite it.

If you like swashbuckling action, riverboats, political intrigue, civil war, and magic, then this will be a story for you. As of right now, there are no plans for a release date.


4.) Wait, Backup a Sec, What’s This Novella?

Ah, good question. It’s told from Wensem’s perspective and takes place during the events of Red Litten World. I won’t say more on here since I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read book three. The events in RLW were the perfect catalyst for this story. It’s in the tracker on the right, and I’m enjoying expanding the world of the Bell Forging Cycle in a new direction. If you’re a fan, I think you’ll enjoy this.


5.) So, 2016 Plans?

Right now: writings and cons and writings and cons and over and over and over. I’m still sorting out my travel schedule, but I will be attending NorWesCon in the spring, and I’m also hoping to expand into Portland a few times as well as head over to the Spokane area. I had some great experiences in both locations last year. As always I will be making announcements here as that happens.

As I mentioned above, if time allows I would love to release my new standalone non-traditional fantasy novel, but I’m focused on taking my time with it. So it’ll be finished when it is finished. So far, that’s my 2016 plans.


So, there is the State of the Cycle, 2015. It’s likely that next year is going to be an exciting year for me, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along. As always I will keep updating I Make Stories and my project tracker as I move forward. I have quite a few more Wild Territories to write, and some other exciting stuff is coming as well.

If you want detailed info ahead of time, make sure to sign up for my newsletter. Subscribers get news on releases before anyone else. I don’t send many, maybe four or five a year. Sign up today →

My Process Part 1: The Planning

chalkboard

So a few folks have asked about my process, and I figured – why not write a series of blog posts on the subject? Now I realize I’m not the first person to do this, and there are plenty of books on the subject of how to write. I am sure all of them have great advice. I’m not going to give advice. I just want to share how I personally work. Before I get started one thing I really want to stress: no one’s process will be perfect for someone else. Everyone writes differently. Just because it works for Stephen King doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. That’s okay. You won’t find your stride except through trial and error. Glean what sounds interesting and ignore what doesn’t. Try lots of different approaches and find your own rhythm. Above all, keep writing.

In this first post I am going to talk about my first step: The Planning.

1. Architect

If you have listened to Brandon Sanderson’s lectures he classifies writers into one of two groups: Gardeners and Architects. Gardeners work best without a lot of structure, they have ideas which grow and develop as they write. Gardeners don’t like to be tied down. If they are forced to plan, they often get bored as all the mystery and excitement in storytelling is lost to them. I am jealous of those people. I can’t do that. I tried. I am awful at it. My first few failed attempts at writing were born of me trying to write without an outline. Big mistake. Me without a plan is like a ship without a rudder: I go all over the place, I write sloppy, I confuse myself. My attempts at being a Gardener are the reason that I have a great many unfinished manuscripts sitting on various harddrives scattered around my office. I like big complex plots with lots of moving parts and I found out it’s difficult (read: impossible) for me to see all the details of the plot in action when I don’t have a pretty solid outline to follow. When I finished my first outline for “Coal Belly” it was like a light went off in my head. It worked. Things clicked and I was able to get my project finished—it actually came together and made sense. I didn’t get lost in the weeds. It’s important to realize this about me because everything in my process is built off my planning. Without a solid plan I am worthless as a writer.

2. My Outline

I want to be really open here, so I am going to show you what a part of my outline looks like. It’ll be raw and rough and full of errors, but that doesn’t matter. Usually only I see it. (Except today.)

My outline is pretty basic: it’s a list of items I want to include in various chapters. I’ll call out particular details I want to focus on and sometimes I make notes of elements I want to remain mysterious. I might even throw in a rough bit of dialog that I think would work. Sometimes I describe to myself what I want the tone of my particular chapter to feel like or what music I hear playing. The more complex the plot, the more notes I might have. The length and depths of my notes vary depending on the project and the chapters.

One thing I want to stress is that my outline is fluid. It’s a living document. It changes and gets updated as I write. It’s not sacred. When I make adjustments to plot in my prose I go back and make quick adjustments in the outline. Nothing crazy, just small notes—that way it doesn’t consume time I could be spending on writing.

I recently released the prologue for “The Stars Were Right” to the public, you can read it here (and I’d recommend it before continuing on – spoilers follow). The outline entry for the Prologue looks exactly like this:

Prologue
⁃ We witness the murder of an eyeglass dealer.
⁃ this chapter is told from thaddeus russel’s perspective. (third)
– Talk about Bell’s visit
– start showing the city
– keep the killer mysteruous
⁃ Mention Hagen Dubois’ new shop “up the street.”

That’s it (errors included!) It’s pretty straightforward, and I let the rest come to me naturally. Those points are the details I wanted to hit in the prologue when I actually sat down to write. (I’ll dive into this further in Part Two, “The Writing” and go into details about how I keep track of the little things that show up as I work.)

I will spend a great deal of time upfront making sure the plots work well together and the story has a good pace to it. It cuts down on my writing later on. A solid outline is why I was able to finish “Old Broken Road” in 4 months. I knew where it was going and I was able to write to that. On my current project—Deep, which is going to be pretty complex—my outline is about 3/4th done and is over 5k words. My outline is my treasure map. It leads me to the finished story.

3. Character Planning (or Lack Thereof)

This is where I am going to deviate a bit from my Architect analogy. It’s true I do plan a lot when it comes to plot but I tend to leave my character planning in a more malleable place. I have ideas, often times a name, but frequently I find those ideas are easier for me to work out in the prose rather than to set up ahead of time.

When I first envisioned Waldo Bell, the main character in “The Stars Were Right” I knew only a few things about him. He was a blue-collar everyman who worked as a caravan master, and he was a foodie. A lot of his personality, his quirks, and his faults didn’t show up until I started writing. When I did try to lock myself down, I found that I had to go back and change the notes around my planned-Waldo to fit the actual-Waldo.

Same goes for the shopkeep who is mentioned in the Prologue. I knew he was an anur—a race of amphibian/human hybrids—and that was about it! I didn’t know about his family, or the history of the shop, or his fondness for browline glasses. All of that came as I wrote.

Yep, sometimes this causes problems. Characters can deviate from what I had plotted out in my outline. That is fine: remember what I said about my outline being a living document. If a character moves in a completely different direction than I planned, I adjust the outline and keep moving.

4. Maps and Visual Inspiration

I love maps. I love them a lot. I even wrote a whole blog post about them. Maps help me visualize the city, nation, or land I am moving my characters through at any given point in the story. Often times I work on these during my outline. That way I don’t spend too much time revising borders, city names, etc. Sometimes I find it easy to draw them up to help set a scene. Even when I am not writing I often sketch maps. I have a whole sketchbook full of rough maps dedicated to imaginary places I might someday visit, from the fantastic to the mundane.

I’m a user experience designer by day and a pretty visual person. Along with my own maps I keep a collection of inspiring imagery that I find fuels my creativity around a particular story. Anything I stumble across in my browsing that sparks something in my imagination used to go in a folder on my harddrive. Now they get added to a secret Pinterest board, until I am ready to show ’em off. When I sit down to write I’ll often skim my collections as they help me get into the right mood to write.

See my Pinterest collections:

A Final Note:

There is such a thing as over planning. I have learned this. I would use my planning as a distraction from what I should be doing: writing. Instead of working on prose I was sketching a logo I was describing, or instead of streamlining a chapter I was checking the spelling on my outline. The whole focus on planning is to assist the writer in the work, not to overwhelm the writer. If planning starts to get in the way I stop. Then I get back to my writing.

Wrapping up:

So that’s my planning process. It’s pretty straightforward. I build my stories like an architect, have a fluid outline that I work off, I let my characters be themselves, and often keep stacks of random images and maps around to keep track of my world. Next up I’ll go into the actual writing, and explain how I actually get that outline into a format that people would enjoy reading as opposed to a grocery list of plot points.

Have any questions on how I go about my planning? Feel free to leave a comment below! I promise to do my best to respond to any question asked.

The Stars Were Right Query

The Stars Were Right

I had a few requests for me to post my query for The Stars Were Right like I did with Coal Belly when I posted my two projects. So here it is, it’s still a work in progress – I find I’m always tweaking this thing. Feel free to offer feedback, leave a comment, whatever, if my skin isn’t thick enough to handle it, it needs to get thicker.

Dear AGENT NAME,

Caravan Master Waldo Bell didn’t expect to return home a criminal. He just wanted a relaxing month off between jobs so he could explore the city of Lovat, enjoy a soft bed, and acquire a few decent meals. Instead, he was arrested — accused of hacking off body parts and killing old friends.

Escaping custody and on the run, Wal becomes a citywide fugitive fighting to clear his name. As the body count rises, a shadowy assassin emerges as the true killer, and the trail begins to grow more and more bizarre.

Enlisting the help of some unexpected allies, Wal begins his own investigation into the very heart of Lovat itself, leading him to a cult of religious zealots and a plot led by an ancient demi-god.

THE STARS WERE RIGHT (87,842 words) is The Fugitive meets Lovecraft, combining mystery and monsters, chases and cults, and an ancient evil in a world that is similar but not quite like our own.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Regards,
K. M. Alexander

So yeah. There it is in all it’s querying glory.