2016: Okay, now what?

Last week, we talked about what happened to me (publishing-wise, there was more) last year. The anniversary of that was this Thursday just passed. This morning, I’m out in banjo country without access to the interwebs as I write this, listening to the water boil and watching Fabulous Publisher Babe™ stir and press the coffee.

Last night, I was kinda at loose ends. Had cut up a downed tree and set things up for a fire this morning, done a lot of shopping, and was more or less at a point of roosting, when a voice rousted me out of the chair. So I had to dig out the laptop, set it up on the writing counter, get everything organized, and start planning.

Those of you who have seen me work know that I keep extensive encyclopedae of information of almost any story I write. Two reasons for this: First, I never write just one, but plan for a whole series, so lots of depth and world building happens before I ever commit fiction. Second, I need to keep things handy in a well-organized document so I can quickly reference something on the fly while I’m writing.

Last night, Jessica announced that she was tired of waiting and that I needed to get off my ass and start writing.

As a result, I opened up the Auberon Notes file and spent the better part of two hours organizing, adding, refining, etc. I only wrote about fifty words of the new novel, mostly getting the technical framework in place, but Jessica IV is now officially in motion. The notes file got nearly 600 new words and reorganizing.

It is a different story than the previous three. Partly, she’s in a different place in her life. In Auberon, Queen, and Immortals, she was on defense the entire time. She was working to protect the Republic of Aquitaine at a point when the Fribourg Empire had begun to push home an advantage that might see them win in another decade or so.

Now, she has succeeded in back-footing the Imperials. The costs she has made them pay, during the Long Raid, at First Petron, and First Ballard have been far steeper for them than it has for her. A year and a half has passed (first line of Goddess of War: Date of the Republic December 1, 395 Command Headquarters: Ladaux) and we are about begin a new round in the Eternal War. One where Jessica’s unique genius is going to be pushed in whole new directions.

The Red Admiral won’t be here for this one. He will return later. A character, whether in a book, a movie, or a graphic novel, is only as good as their opponent. If you have boring villains, you have a boring story. Emmerich isn’t evil. He’s not even a bad person. He just happens to be Jessica’s Nemesis (go look up the technical meaning of the term if unsure). I enjoy the opinion he brings to things, where he is very traditionally-minded.

And when he returns, things will get even weirder. One of the rules of good thrillers and good space opera is that you need to keep upping the stakes with every story to keep people coming back for more. I recently had to plot out a story that will involve Summer Baudin, and take place 2,000 years in the future from Last of the Immortals, long after the fall of Imperial Aquitaine. (Yes, you read that right… And no, I’m not telling you any more at this point.)

One other thought: While I understand that some readers have to compare Jessica Keller to Honor Harrington (apparently based entirely on plumbing, as near as I can tell), and complain that she is derivative, I have to share a secret: I only ever read 2.5 of the Honor Harrington books. I’m just not Weber’s reader. I tried, but I just couldn’t finish the third one.

(I understand that people are major fans of Harrington. At OryCon last fall, the Black Rose had a MAJOR contingent of people representing, in full dress uniform. I aspire to having a fan club in RAN uniforms at some con, one of these days. Again, I’m not saying that Weber is a bad writer, just that I’m not his reader.)

The other part of the secret is this: The two women I drew inspiration from when I created Jessica Keller were entirely unrelated to Harrington.

The first inspiration was Anzha lyu from C.S. Friedman’s first masterpiece, In Conquest Born. If you look closely, you’ll see places where I shamelessly stole ideas from her, because that woman writes some of the best grand military space opera I’ve ever read. Seriously, you can’t call yourself a fan of Space Opera without being familiar with that novel. Grand, rich, deep, wide. A wonderful place to play.

The second inspiration is a former co-worker for whom I have great respect. She’s nothing like Jessica at one level, but all the underlying elements: the strength of will, the intellect, even the smile, came from her. (I even reached out to her recently and let her know. Hopefully, she was thrilled by the comparison.)

It is rare that I base a character on anything less than an amalgam of half a dozen people. Usually, I just pull their look and personality whole cloth, based on basic archetypes, and then flavored with depth (hobbies, fears, interests. Something to make them human). It makes them more interesting, and opens the door to do other things with them beyond just have them walk on, deliver a line, and leave.

For instance, the next thing I publish (fiction) will be a novella around Vo Arlo, the security marine from Queen of the Pirates and Last of the Immortals. He had just a walk on part earlier, but he was always a full character, at least to me. He is going to have a bigger part in Goddess of War. I used the novella to flesh him out in greater depth so he can have more fun. That, and I won’t be publishing a novel until summer/fall, and then several all at once (publishing timing).

So, what’s next for 2016?

I have finished two short stories that a friend of mine wants to turn into graphic novels. (Literally: “I want to do a graphic novel, you write it for me.” Heh.) I have spun up a new press just to handle those, but he’s got a day job and is just starting out, so I don’t expect them to be ready until summer or fall. I’ll keep you posted. When it all comes together, I have a whole raft of characters I can turn into fuel for him. It’ll be fun.

Next: I have finished the Vo Arlo story and will send it off to first readers in a week or two. Spring publishing date. Tentative title: Siren.

I have a short story coming out in the second CampCon anthology (the first was Tales from an Alien Campfire). The anthology is Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Magic. I have a Brak story in that one (the fourth Brak story, so I might need to write some more of those in my spare time this year).

I just sent off a novel in a new universe to first readers. This one is contemporary fantasy, which is a fancy way of saying superheroes and spandex. It is planned to be a trilogy at this point, but I’ll keep my options open for short stories and graphic novel spin-offs, depending on how y’all receive it.

A number of people have read Imposters, but as of yesterday, nobody had rated it, which is why I’ve never written the next one. A novel is a serious commitment of time. If I get good feedback, I often get inspired. You’ve heard me talk about the popcorn kitties inspiring me. That’s pretty much how it works. If nobody likes Imposters all that much, it’s not worth my time to tell the next story in that universe.

Which brings me to the news. I am about to step off the cliff into the fourth Jessica novel, Goddess of War. I’m writing, as always, into darkness. Or rather, dimly-lit hallways. She’ll tell the story she wants. I’m just taking dictation.

If I finish it by the end of April, it might be out by the end of summer.

Jessica’s next novel is wider, broader, deeper, and stranger than the first three. Moirrey has a major part to play. Vo Arlo has a major part to play. Most of the rest of the cast of weirdoes and heroes is back, along with some new names.

If you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll enjoy it.


shade and sweet water


west of the mountains, WA