A Little Rant

Earlier today, I went on the following rant on Twitter (read it from bottom to top, because Twitter):



The full quote was "Don't aspire to be a bestseller or to make a living from writing. Aspire to write." It was attributed to self-publishing phenomenon Hugh Howey. Let's get this out of the way first: I think I get what he's saying. I think he's saying that writing is the most important part of being an artist and that you need to be true to yourself first and foremost. And if that's what he's saying, then great. It's not a bad way to look at things.

It's the "don't aspire" part of the quote that gets me. Why the hell shouldn't I aspire to be a bestseller? Or to make a living writing? Back when I first decided I wanted to be a full time writer, I said I wanted to be the next Robert Jordan. Yes, that's worth a good chuckle. Set the bar a little high, McClellan? Of course I did. Successful people in any industry tend to be the ones who look at the top of the totem pole and say "I want that guy's job."

That didn't happen, obviously. Brandon Sanderson was the next Robert Jordan. In more ways than one. And I'm not the next Brandon Sanderson. But I can certainly try to be. There's a horrible way of thinking that goes something like this: you can't want to be an artist and want to make a good living at it. And god help you if you want to get rich doing it. I think this comes from a duel attitude among artist types. 1) "Be cavalier about your art. Take risks. Follow your heart." 2) "Be smart. Don't quit your day job. Have a backup plan."

I think the problem comes from the fact that we tend to follow one of those pieces of advice and not the other, when success comes from walking the tightrope between the two. I've pulled a series of tweets from Delilah S. Dawson when we were talking about this on Twitter:

"For me, teachers told me I was a good writer, but I never thought I had it in me to write a book. I had no blueprint for "being a writer". The first time I decided to write a book, it was after a move. I didn't have a job, friends, anything. I blanked. Finished one chapter. The key for me was making writing my calm, my escape from the crippling pressure of new motherhood. It was MINE when nothing else was. I'm on the "keep your day job" side. Not because I don't believe in you. Because insurance. And food. Writing doesn't pay immediately. I married at 24. Worked FT to support my husband while he got his PhD. Once it started paying, I quit my job and had babies. Now I write. Every writer's road is different. There is no one way. The movie Funny Farm is a great object lesson on starting a writing career. If you want to write, be flexible with who's working and who's pursuing a dream. Screw gender roles. Figure out how to make writing work."

That's how you balance. That's how you walk the line between smart and cavalier.

It's true that very few people are going to sell books. Fewer are going to make a living at it. Far, far fewer will become rich doing so. Don't automatically assume you're going to make Rowling amounts of cash as a writer. That's just as foolish as assuming you'll never make any money at all as a writer. But dude. Aspire. That's how you get places in life.

I've edited Mr. Howey's quote:

"Don't assume you'll be a bestseller or make a living from writing. But don't be afraid to aspire to it."

Second Series

I can finally announce, to my great excitement, that I will be writing three more books for Orbit after the end of the Powder Mage Trilogy! The deal was nailed down by my awesome agent, Caitlin Blasdell, of Liza Dawson Associates. I will continue to be edited by the wonderful, fantastically foul-mouthed Devi Pillai.

The new series will take place in the Powder Mage universe ten years after the end of the first trilogy. It will follow soldiers, politicians, Privileged sorcerers, and powder mages through a conflict on a distant continent. I probably shouldn't say much more about it, as even mentioning the viewpoints could cause spoilers for the first three books. I will say that all the viewpoints will be new (though some of the characters will certainly be familiar).

Obviously this is still a ways off. The Crimson Campaign is finished and in production (due out in February), and I'm working on book three which is penciled in for the beginning of 2015. I imagine that the soonest we'll see the new series is at the end of that year. In the meantime, you can get your hands on my Powder Mage short stories "The Girl of Hrusch Avenue" and "Hope's End." I plan on trying to put out a new Powder Mage short story every three months or so for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and Promise of Blood is still on sale for $1.99 in North America.



I have gone through the bowels of hell and back again. Yes, that's right. I had a cold last weekend. I've spoken before about how I deal with illness (read: not well) so needless to say I'm glad to be back on the upswing. A full 522 page manuscript has been shipped of to Caitlin for her line edit. Honestly, I can't wait to get it back. I demolished 12K words during that last edit and the novel is much better for it.

Speaking of which, here's a blog post for you from Lightning and Lightning Bugs on Six Things I Wish I'd Known When Writing My First Novel.

I had the great benefit of taking Brandon Sanderson's Fantasy Writing Class at BYU and so I had this kind of advice earlier than most prospective authors but I think one really needs to finish their first novel and then read it a year later and realize what rubbish it is and learn these things for themselves. Early iterations of Butcher's Price amounted to well over 200K words of writing that I tossed in the trash can before actually finishing the novel (which didn't turn out quite as well as it should have anyway).

Write What You (Can Imagine You) Know

I chuckle to myself when I hear someone say "write what you know." It's pretty standard writing advice in those classes you take in high school and college. The theory behind it is that writing what you know will create the most authentic, fully realized experience for the reader. It's a wonderful theory. Many writers follow it. I do as much as I can, but it's impossible to stick to. Settings are easy for anyone, especially in nature. Anyone can travel. Cultures are far more difficult, require far more research and attention or, if you're writing fantasy, setup and background. Time period authenticity is very tough.

I try to create a believable world that the readers can relate to. Most fantasy is set in a medieval world, a time period both recognizable and distant, something murky enough to let the imagination run free. I'm writing a fantasy set in a fictional 1800's-Europe-type world filled with muskets and sorcerers and kings and revolutionaries. I don't know that. I'd be kidding myself if I thought I did. Set aside the sorcerers. I have done a lot of research on the time period. When I'm working I have a number of articles tabbed in Firefox from wikipedia or other sites that will give me relevant information. I have stacks of books about the life during those times, about the weapon developments and the politics and the clothes and the monetary systems.

But I really don't know it. I've read Les Mes a dozen times, but I still don't actually know what it's like to have musketballs thump into the bed I'm using as a barricade, or carry a wounded man through the sewers under Paris. No one does. At least no one living, that is.

In fantasy or science fiction you're writing things that were never real in the first place. Revolutionary Paris was real. I can read first-hand accounts, put myself into the place of those people and try to create an authentic air. When a sorcerer puts on his gloves, warded to keep the Else from burning his hands, and plucks at the fibers of reality to destroy a city then, um, I'm all on my own.

This is a blessing and a bane. The blessing is that I won't have a snobby historian telling me that I'm using the wrong kind of sorcerer for the time period I'm portraying. The bane is I have nothing to start with--no historical basis or first-hand accounts. All I have is the depths of my imagination.

So I make it up.