Words and pictures

Since today is my birthday and since there’s less than one month until The Caledonian Gambit1 hits stores, it seems like a great time for a few quick updates—including a special present, oooooh.

How to help

A lot of folks have asked me what the best way is to support me and the book. That’s incredibly generous, and I really appreciate it. The short answer is: pre-order the book. My understanding is that pre-orders count as Week 1 sales, and that Week 1 sales are instrumental in determining the success of a book—and in helping ensure the existence of future books.2

Some people ask if one format (ebook vs. paperback) or one vendor (iBooks vs. Amazon, say) is better than another, to which I’d say: whichever you prefer. Seriously, it’s all up to you. Buy the copy that you’ll get the most out of.3

For those of you who’d prefer not to buy online, I totally dig it. I’m not sure yet how broad the paperback distribution will be, but if you want to support your local independent bookstore—and who doesn’t?—you can always ask them to order The Caledonian Gambit for you. They’ll do it! Honest!

Beyond that, if you still want to help, tell other people about the book. Twitter, Facebook, carrier pigeon, “real life”, et cetera.

And, hey, if you really want to go above and beyond, you can ask your local library to order a copy as well. You can certainly ask a librarian about the best way to do that4, but a lot of libraries now have pages on their websites for just such a purpose. For example, here’s the one for my local library in Somerville.

A thousand words

Hey, it’s my birthday! So I decided to get myself a little present—and fortunately, it’s a present that I can share with all of you.

So, The Caledonian Gambit is set against the backdrop of a Galactic Cold War. On one side, the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, a confederation of worlds that have allied for the purposes of self-defense. Arrayed against them, the Illyrican Empire, a former colony of Earth’s long thought lost, but which returned with conquest on its mind.

To me, those conjure specific images built up over the long period I’ve spent working on this book, but I realize that for most people, they don’t carry that kind of weight—you haven’t been living with this world in your head for over a decade. So I wanted to come up with some concrete imagery that I could share with all of you.

Here’s the thing: words I can totally handle. But, as we’ve previously established, art is not my strong suit. So I got in touch with the mysterious Forgotten Towel, who you may know from such podcast logos as Liftoff, Lazy Doctor Who, and Relay FM (not to mention other fantastic designs like the PCalc icon), and I pitched him on an idea: creating the emblems for the Commonwealth and the Imperium.

Let’s just say he succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I’m so psyched to share what he came up with. So let’s do this:

Commonwealth of Independent Systems

Illyrican Empire

Pretty cool, right? Let’s just sit with those for a second. Really take ’em in. Bask in them. Gorgeous. I’m beyond thrilled with them, and, hey, if you need design work done, I cannot recommend Forgotten Towel enough.

Anyway, I’ve got some exciting plans for these, which I’ll dish on a little closer to the book release.

Mail call

Finally, you might be wondering about the best way to keep up with me. You can always subscribe to this site, of course, and I’m still over on Twitter (though I understand that a lot gets lost in the shuffle over there these days). So I’ve set up a very low-volume mailing list to keep people apprised of updates like when the book gets released, my appearances, and other salient details. I’m going to say “low-volume” again just because I know I hate getting spammy emails, and that isn’t my intent here at all.

I’m also plotting some exclusive things to share with people who sign up for the mailing list, but I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet. (If there are specific things that would encourage you to sign up, let me know! I’m open to suggestions.)

Signing up is easy: there’s a form on the front page of the site, and hey, let’s drop one in right here to make it even easier.

Thanks again for all of your support. I quite literally could not do it without you. Now, let’s buckle down: Just three and a half weeks to go.

  1. You’ve put your pre-order in, right?

  2. I’d like to keep writing more books for you, so the better the sales, the more likely that is to happen!

  3. And, if you want to buy multiple formats, well, I am not going to stop you.

  4. Because librarians are awesome.

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Cover story and Q&A

Over at the Skyhorse Publishing blog, they’ve officially revealed the cover for The Caledonian Gambit, along with a Q&A with me about the book. But there’s a bit of a funny story about the development of the cover that I wanted to share.1

As this is my first novel, when my editor at Talos, Jason Katzman, asked if I had any thoughts about what should be on the cover, I admit that I panicked a little bit. I’d been more or less trained to expect that my input, if any, would be on the minimal side, so I think I just babbled something about spaceships and the opening scene of the book, which features a pivotal space battle.

But of course, having written the scene, I did have some idea of what it looked like. So, later on, I pulled out my iPad and a stylus and made a quick, rough sketch. Very rough. Really, exceedingly rough. I’m kind of embarrassed to share it, but okay, here:

You know, both my mother and my dad’s sister were pretty talented artists. I clearly did not inherit any of those genes.

Fortunately, I managed to remember to at least name some of my favorite artists who’ve done this sort of work, including Ralph McQuarrie and John Harris, when I relayed this to my editor. Even more fortunately, he didn’t laugh at me too much when I sent the sketch over.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for what he came back with. Illustrator Sebastien Hue had somehow managed to pluck a better version of the scene right out of my head and translate it to the page. Rain Saukas turned that illustration into a beautiful cover design that conveys exactly the kind of futuristic feeling that the book shoots for. It’s just beautiful.

I love this cover. It’s amazing, and it’s more than I ever could have hoped for. I’m even more excited for the book to come out, so mark your calendars for May 23.

  1. Because this is a story in which I look pretty silly, which is probably the best kind.

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2017: A big year

So, it’s 2017. Which still sounds about as futuristic as 2015 did back in Back to the Future, Part II, but at least we’ve still got a few years before 2020 rolls around, and we all come to terms with that.

For me, 2017’s a big year because hey, look, my first novel comes out! I’m still not entirely convinced this is real, and fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly between now and then. Like, hopefully I don’t get hit by a meteor, because that would put a real damper on everything.

Anyway, you’ll all be able to read the novel later this year1—I’m not 100% sure exactly when, but as soon as I do have confirmation, believe me: I will be shouting it from the rooftops. Which is probably how I end up getting hit by that meteor.

But because of that, I’m going to be doing some public appearances this year, and I figured it would be a good idea to have a place to keep track of that, a) for interested parties and b) so I remember exactly where the hell I’m supposed to be and when. Hence, the new (and currently kind of bare bones) Appearances page at that link there and in the navbar. I’ll be updating it with more events as the year progresses and I confirm my travel plans, and I will include more information about my specific appearances at those events as those too get the thumbs up. So, if you’re interested in catching me in the wild, like one of your Pokémons, you’ll know where I will be.2

  1. I’m very excited about this, but also kind of terrified in a way that only emoji can express: 😱

  2. OR WILL I?

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Finishing things

You know what? Finishing things is hard. I don’t want to undersell quite how difficult it is: for every project that finds its way to completion—no matter how imperfect—there are dozens, if not hundreds, that lie discarded along the way: some half-built, other nearly constructed but clearly faulty, still more that never really get out of the idea stage.

Despite saying as early as first grade that I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t finish a novel until I was 24. In the years up to that, I’d started countless stories, all of which usually petered out a few thousand words in. (One particularly valorous attempt, while I was studying abroad in Scotland and suffering from extreme homesickness reached maybe ten or twenty thousand words or so before it made its way to the dustbin.) But up until that first book I finished, I never quite had the discipline to make myself finish a story.

This comes to mind because this morning I finished the first draft of a book I’ve been working on for a couple years now. It’s been on and off at times, and I’ve tossed incomplete drafts and started over, then later gone back and reintegrated the material that I cut, and so on and so forth. And though this is the sixth novel that I’ve written to completion1, it’s the first new book that I’ve finished since 2012.2 Because it doesn’t really get any easier.

Years ago, I read an essay of Neil Gaiman’s, in which he related something he was told by legendary author Gene Wolfe:

“You never learn how to write a novel,” he said. “You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.”

Damn if that hasn’t stuck with me for the past decade or so.3 Sure, you learn and get better at the craft of writing as you go, but every novel is a different process. Just like the more you cook, the better you’ll probably get at the craft of cooking, but making a new dish is always going to be a bit of a learning experience.

There’s a lot of work left to do on this particular book before it’s ready for anybody else’s eyes, but I’m pretty bullish on it. (Good thing, too! Who wants to finish a book and not like it?) In large part that’s because it’s different from anything else I’ve really put my hand to before and, having come off writing a couple books set in the same world, it was nice to be able to shift gears and prove that I’ve got more than one idea. Hopefully more than one good idea, even, though that remains to be seen.

So: the new book currently weighs in at 92,000-plus words and is tentatively titled All Souls Lost. I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you—well, when it’s finished for real, anyway.

  1. I mean that in the sense of just getting the whole story down on the page—there’s always more editing and rewriting to be done.

  2. And that book isn’t “done” in the sense that it’s currently with my beta readers, after which it has to go to my agent, who will probably have some thoughts, and so on.

  3. I’m not sure precisely when I read it, and Gaiman’s site doesn’t have a date for it, so that’s just a guess.

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The Road to Published

Yep, it’s true: I sold a book!

Well, more specifically, my fantastic agents over at JABberwocky, Joshua Bilmes and Sam Morgan, sold my first novel to Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. That book, which is now titled The Caledonian Gambit, began life several years ago (the earliest chapter in my Scrivener file dates from March 7, 2009) and was originally titled Resurrection Men.1 The characters and plot date back even further, to an idea I started cooking up during my senior year of college, but it took me a while to actually turn it into a whole book.

Clearly it was a long road to get to this point, but as I was reminded recently while doing some cleaning in my office, that journey goes back even further. While flipping through a folder of old letters, I stumbled across this:

Book rejection

Yep, that’s a form rejection from my now agent Joshua, dated October 2005, ten years prior to JABberwocky signing me as a client. The submitted novel was the first one I’d finished, a post-apocalyptic fantasy called The High Road.2 It wasn’t the only rejection for that book, so I figured maybe it was time to set that aside and work on something totally new.

It took me a few years after that to get started on the next project; I wrote a few aborted NaNoWriMo novels during that time, but I was mainly busy starting a new career as a professional tech journalist. I couldn’t stay away from fiction forever, though, so I started in on the then-titled Resurrection Men in 2009, and wrapped up my first draft sometime around July 2010. Thus began the even longer, even more arduous process of trying to turn that manuscript into something resembling a publishable novel.

I first met Joshua at Boskone in February 2012, thanks to an introduction from another of his clients, unstoppable author machine Myke Cole. I spent the next three-and-a-half years going back and forth on various drafts with Joshua and Sam until we got to the point where they felt the book was ready for them to sell.3

Which was a nice milestone, but hardly the end of the process. From there it was another several months before we got an offer from the folks at Talos/Skyhorse, and it will be a while yet before the book actually makes it onto shelves, and into your hands.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that if I’ve learned anything from this whole experience, it’s that persistence is the better part of success. It’s easy to get disheartened in this business, but what they say is true: Finish what you start. Be willing to keep going back to the drawing board, no matter how much it hurts. None of that’s a guarantee of success, but the one thing that is 100-percent certain is if you don’t finish that book, if you don’t set aside the rejections and keep sending it out, and if you don’t work on making it the best damn book it can be, then that road to getting published is just a dead end.

  1. A few folks read it under this title, but spoiler: that term no longer exists in the book.

  2. It should probably never see the light of day, though I do have a soft spot for it. And its sequel, *The Road West*. And the half-finished conclusion to that trilogy, *The End of the Road*. See? You write a lot of crap on the way to a salable book.

  3. During which I, among other life changes, got laid off from my tech journalism job and started the very scary reality of working as a freelancer.

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