Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 18 Update

Here we are at week eighteen into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock. These updates are going to change a bit as I start working on revisions. More on that below.

Progress: I’m starting revisions on the novel this week–today, actually—so my progress reports will reflect where I’m at with rewrites, scene additions, scene subtractions, and all the myriad little tweaks and adjustments that will turn the book into the final product you’ll be reading on July 12th.

Revision Roundup: The editors at Privateer Press have given me extensive notes on what they’d like to see changed or adjusted in the next draft. I’ve worked with all of these folks many times on long and short fiction, and the level of notes and requested changes are what I expected. There’s work to do, but it’s not overwhelming, and much of it entails adding material, which, in my opinion, is the easiest type of revising.

There are three primary, broad-strokes areas I’ll be working on in this round of revisions: story, character, and setting continuity. All three involve changes big and small, and I’ll detail some of those changes in the coming weeks as I work through them, but here’s a little taste. After reading through the draft, the editors at Privateer Press all came to the same conclusion: more Ashlynn d’Elyse. That suits me just fine. She’s a great character, and I’ll be adding a scene or two with the Llaese Resistance leader in this next draft. In fact, that’s gonna be the very first thing I do!

Mini Excerpt: Since the editors want more Ashlynn in the next draft, here’s more Ashlynn in this week’s mini-excerpt AND on the awesome cover of Aftershock (courtesy of the extremely talented Néstor Ossandón).

 



Another volley from the two Destroyers came shrieking down from the wall. The shells detonated in front of Ashlynn, pelting her power field with debris. Her Vanguards absorbed most of the blast, though one of them suffered for it. Damage reports flowed back through her connection with the warjack; its right leg had been severely damaged. She ordered it to fall back and protect the troops behind her.

She was close enough now that Crash and Soldier could reach the top of the wall with their steam cannons. She urged them to fire, and the explosive shells arced high and exploded against the hull of one of the Destroyers. Khadoran warjack armor was thick, but the twin blasts sent the great red machine stumbling backward, and then it disappeared. Ashlynn smiled at the thought of the ten-ton warjack plummeting forty feet to the ground below. Hopefully, there would be Assault Kommandos to soften its landing.



I like to think some proud son of the Motherland, a kovnik maybe, had a bunch of Winter Guard at the bottom of that wall waiting to soften the fall of such valuable equipment. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


This week marks a special occasion. Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon! Choose your preferred format and click the link below.

Preorder Print – $15.99

Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 17 Update

Seventeen weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and the revision process is about to kick into high gear.

Progress: Tomorrow, I’m heading into the Privateer Press offices to discuss revision notes on Aftershock with publications director Mike Ryan and the continuity team, which includes Doug Seacat and Matt Goetz. One of the handy things about living in the same city as your publisher is you can have a face-to-face meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page with any big changes. After the meeting, I’ll start revisions in earnest with a goal of completing them by the end of the month.

The Best Part: Help is on the way. One of the great things about writing for Privateer Press is that I have access to a fantastic team of editors and continuity editors. I can get questions answered on just about anything Iron Kingdoms-related from arguably the best source on the planet: Doug Seacat, the sage of the IK himself. The man is a literal encyclopedia of Iron Kingdoms lore. Mike Ryan and Matt Goetz also help out with continuity, and, even better, all three of them are accomplished writers with a great sense of story and characterization. So, in other words, I’m in good hands, and the changes I’ll be making will only improve the final product.

The Hard Part: No, mine! With revisions on a novel this size, you’re going to have minor disagreements from time to time. I’m not talking about the cut-and-dry continuity stuff that’s either right or it isn’t; I’m talking about more nuanced things like characterization and narrative pace and structure. Occasionally, they’ll want me to change something I’d like to keep. It could be a small detail, like the description of character, to something a bit bigger, like that character’s motivation. Invariably, the editors are open to discussion, and if I can make a good case for leaving things the way I had them, they’ll remain unchanged. On the other hand, the editors often make such a compelling argument, even on a point I’m fairly passionate about, that I’ll come around to their line of thinking or at least find a workable compromise.

Mini Excerpt: As many of you know, Asheth Magnus, one of the heroes (?) of Acts of War: Aftershock, is not a “whole” man. His right arm has been replaced with a mechanikal prosthetic, which, as we see in the excerpt below, he has been known to use creatively.



“I know who you are,” Kovnik Narova broke in. “A murderer, a traitor, and a liar.”

Magnus chuckled. “Well, I can’t deny all of that,” he said. “But I’m glad we’re well acquainted.”

He squatted down in front of the Khadoran, ignoring the pain it wrung from his braced leg. He reached out with his right hand, a mechanikal prosthetic, bulky and crude but effective, and laid it on the kovnik’s shoulder. The man did not flinch or pull away, but he would feel the weight and strength of that hand. “I have some questions for you,” he said and squeezed, not enough to hurt yet. He could feel Dane’s eyes on his back, watching, evaluating.

“I will tell you nothing,” Kovnik Narova said.

“I understand,” Magnus said with a sympathetic nod. “You are a good soldier, and you must say that.” He tightened his grip, and the Kovnik winced. Bruising pressure now. “Here is the first question.”



I recently broke my collarbone, a painful experience, and one that I drew upon quite a bit in this excerpt . . . and what comes after. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Swings & Misses: The Submission Slump

If you were to look at my acceptance ratio at Duotrope a few months ago, you’d have seen a number of around 20%, meaning, very roughly, that for every ten submission I sent, two would be accepted. In baseball terms, that’s a batting average of .200, which, admittedly, ain’t great for the MLB (the infamous Mendoza line), but from what I understand, it’s not a terrible number for writers.

Well, just like a baseball player, a writer can see his or her average plummet from too many swings and misses in a row, and that’s what’s happened to me of late. I’ve watched my acceptance ratio plummet to 11.3% (I’m hitting like a pitcher now) over the last couple of months. This is due to an extended string of rejections without the respite of an occasional acceptance. I’ve gone 0 for 17 since my last hit . . . uh, I mean acceptance. So, to amuse myself (mostly) and hopefully a few of you, I’m going to liken some of the rejections I’ve received in my slump to the various hitting woes a baseball player might experience over the course of the season.

Here we go.

1) The Routine Play Rejection – The player hits a medium-depth fly ball or a nice Sunday-hop grounder that even a little leaguer could field cleanly. It’s so common, it’s, yep, routine.

This is the vanilla form rejection that arrives by the publisher’s expected response time. No surprises here, just routine rejection.

2) The At ‘Em Ball Rejection – In baseball, the “at ‘em” ball is a ball hit straight at an infielder that results in a quick out. The player sometimes doesn’t even make it halfway down the line before the out is recorded.

In rejection terms, this is the fast, sometimes same-day form rejection you can get from some top-tier markets. You hit send and you don’t even have time to fantasize about selling a story to that one market you’ve been trying to crack for five years before the rejection arrives in your inbox.

3) The Can of Corn Rejection – The can of corn in baseball parlance is a high, lazy fly ball that gives the outfield plenty of time to settle under it and make an easy catch. It’s one of the more ho-hum outs you can make.

The rejection version of this particular baseball play is the form rejection that comes after months and months of waiting (6 months in this case). The editor has had all the time they need to make a decision, and that decision was “nope.”

4) The Circus Catch or Highway Robbery Rejection – The batter has done everything right. He’s made good contact and hit the ball hard, but the fielder makes a spectacular play, even leaping high over the wall to take away what should have been a homerun.

In rejection terms, this is that story the editor professes his or her love for but decides not to publish after a few months of deliberation because they have another story just like it, one they like a bit better, or a dozen other perfectly viable reasons beyond your control. You wrote a good story, sent it to a market that liked it, but despite all that, you still get a rejection.

5) The Swinging Bunt Rejection – Sometimes a baseball player will take a mighty hack at the ball, barely touch it, and hit a little dribbler out in from of home plate. Often, he won’t even realize he’s hit the ball fair until the catcher picks up the ball and throws him out at first while he stands there staring at the umpire like an idiot.

The rejection version of this particularly embarrassing situation is when you send out a story and realize, to your everlasting horror, you’ve sent an older, error-riddled version instead of the polished, properly formatted, and, you know, SPELL CHECKED, version you slaved over for hours. The rejection doesn’t say, “Hey, dumbass, you sent us something that looks your 7th-grade book report,” but in your heart of hearts, you know the truth.


Well, that’s a hopefully amusing look at my current submission slump. Maybe I’ll break out of it in April and hit for the cycle, which would be placing a story with a free market, a token market, a semi-pro market, and a pro-market in the same month. Hell, at this point I’d take a seeing-eye single through the infield because the second baseman got his spikes caught on the turf and fell flat on his face. Not sure what the literary equivalent of that would be, though.

I’d love to hear about your own submission streaks or slumps in the comments.

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 16 Update

Sixteen weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and here’s the lay of the land.

Progress: The first draft is still under review with the editors at Privateer Press, but as I hinted at last week, I have not be sitting here twiddling my thumbs. This week I put the final revisions on a prequel story called “Confirmed Kill” about the trollkin sniper Corporal Horgrum and his human spotter and CO Sergeant Sharp. Both appeared in Acts of War: Flashpoint and return in Acts of War: Aftershock in a larger role. The story will appear in the next issue of No Quarter magazine (#72) along with some other goodies you won’t want to miss.

The Best Part: Don’t forget the little guys. When you’re writing an epic war novel like Aftershock, your action focuses on the main characters, the heroes and villains of the story, but they’re commanding entire armies of soldiers, often faceless combatants that are doing the bulk of the fighting. Now, the Iron Kingdoms makes filling out the ranks a lot more interesting because there are so many interesting and flavorful choices. I mean, I’ve got gun mages (both Cygnaran and Llaelese), Trenchers of every flavor, Storm Lances, Storm Knights, Iron Fang Pikemen and Uhlans, Winter Guard, Assault Kommandos, Man-O-War Shocktroopers and Demolition Corps, and the list goes on and on. The names of those troop types alone conjure all kinds of images, so it just makes a writer’s job that much easier having all that cool on tap.

The Hard Part: The little guys have to count, you know, a little. When your action is focused on the near god-like power of warcasters, it can be tough to present a credible threat without the use of other heavy hitters. Stryker and Magnus can mow down large groups of common soldiers, but it’s important to point out that with enough numbers or with the right support, those common soldiers can really ruin a warcaster’s day. It’s nice to have Khador as my primary antagonist in these novels, because the Reds don’t do anything small-scale. They field troops that can be a serious thorn in a warcaster’s side without having to throw an entire regiment at him. This week’s mini-excerpt and art features just one of these elite Khadoran killers.

Mini Excerpt: The Man-O-War, brave Khadoran soldiers encased in massive suits of steam-powered armor, have been my go-to in a number of scenes where I need to present a credible threat to warcasters without resorting to, uh, other warcasters. These guys and gals are kind of Khador’s answer to light warjacks, and their armor, plus the truly fearsome weapons they wield, make them a match for just about anything on the battlefield, especially when you get a whole bunch of them together.

 



Stryker batted an Annihilator Axe away with Quicksilver, then slipped back to let two more narrowly miss. He had a momentary opening and made a lunging overhand cut at the Man-O-War directly in front of him. The strike lacked the power to penetrate the man’s armor, but it sent him stumbling back a step, disrupting the shield wall, and allowing Stryker to make a more powerful attack at the next Khadoran in the line. He delivered this blow with enough force to split armor and flesh, and one Man-O-War was down.

He leapt back to keep the enemy from surrounding him, but a single Man-O-War broke formation and charged, whipping his Annihilator Axe up to deliver a mammoth strike. The enemy’s weapon was longer than Quicksilver, and Stryker could do little but throw up a desperate parry to ward off the Khadoran attack. The Man-O-War smashed his blade aside, and the axe struck him between gorget and pauldron. He grimaced as the plate steel buckled but held. Harcourt’s spell saved him. Without it, the blow would have broken his collarbone at a minimum or just split him open from neck to sternum.



Always keep those journeyman warcasters handy, right, folks? Never know when you might really need an Arcane Shield spell. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 15 Update

Week fifteen! Here’s the update on Acts of War: Aftershock.

Progress: I haven’t been idle while waiting for Privateer Press to review the first draft of Acts of War: Aftershock. In fact, I managed to write another 3,000 words in the form of a short story, a prequel of sorts, focusing on one of the secondary character in the novel. More on that soon.

The Best Part: Looking ahead. As I read through the Aftershock manuscript again, I’m getting ideas for the third book in the trilogy, and I’ve begun to jot them down for the eventual discussion with Privateer Press chief creative officer Matthew D. Wilson, publications director Mike Ryan, and the other folks who make all the Skull Island eXpeditions books happen. The third act is always the BIG one, and even though I won’t start writing book three for many months, I can’t help but get excited about the future of the series.

The Hard Part: Uh, looking ahead. Another two-for this week. As I inch closer to the spectacularly gigantic conclusion to the trilogy, my fragile writer brain reels in horror. I mean, it’s got to be cool, it’s got be epic, and it’s got be, you know, good. That’s a lot of pressure, but like every major writing project, you have to approach it in pieces, one day and one word at a time. Taking it in small bite-sized chunks prevents me from seeing the towering monstrosity of the whole project and allows me to keep my sanity, such as it is. I’ve done that with each novel I’ve written, and I don’t expect book three to be different in that regard.

Mini Excerpt: Today’s excerpt focuses on Asheth Magnus and a confrontation with one of the most feared Khadoran warjacks: the Juggernaut.



Magnus threw himself flat, dragging Legate di Morray down with him. The shell exploded behind them, and intense heat rolled over Magnus’ back. As he scrambled to his feet, he saw why. The Man-O-War shield cannon had blown a hole in the tower, giving him a clear view of the hellscape below. He pulled di Morray up and pressed him flat against the wall with his mechanikal arm. “Are you injured?” he asked. The legate shook his head, but he looked like he might collapse any minute.

The angle of the doorway ahead offered some cover from the enemy, but it obscured their view of what was inside. To make matters worse, smoke poured from the open door and filled the hall with a black haze. Magnus was more than a little concerned about what that meant. “Did you see what’s in the next room?” he shouted to Horgrum.

The trollkin appeared uninjured, and he stood against the wall a few feet ahead of Legate di Morray. “Three Man-O-War and a warjack with an axe made of ice.”

“Juggernaut,” Magnus said. “Fantastic.”



Come on, Magnus. It’s not all bad news, right? Ice axe, sure, but I’m pretty sure Horgrum would have mentioned the paint job if it was Beast 09. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

***

Check out the first book in this series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can still get the e-book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at checkout.

Submission Protocol: Should You Respond to Rejections?

This is a question I see in writing groups and forums fairly often, and here’s the Rejectomancy take on the subject.

Short Answer: No

The vast majority of the time you shouldn’t respond to a rejection letter, and here are the two primary reasons why:

  1. You don’t need to respond. Especially in the case of a form rejection, which a publisher might send out by the hundreds, no response is expected. It’s understood that your communication with the editor/publisher is over once they send a rejection and does not begin again until you send them something else. I’d say the same goes for personal rejections in that a response is not expected. If they ask to see more of your work in the personal rejection, THAT is the response they’re looking for.
  2. Many publishers specifically ask you not to respond. It’s not uncommon to see something in the submission guidelines discouraging responses to rejection letters. This is probably because of reason one, and it clutters up the editor’s inbox (especially with large publications who receive hundreds of submission a month).

Long Answer: Rarely

Okay, now that I’ve told you why you shouldn’t respond to a rejection letter, I think there are cases where it is okay. In fact, I recently did respond to a rejection to thank an editor for providing very useful feedback. The advice he offered will greatly improve the story, and I was exceedingly grateful for it. Since this particular market has published me before, and I’ve worked directly with the editor during that process, I felt a quick “thank you” wasn’t out of line. Of course, I couldn’t help starting my email with “I know you’re not supposed to respond to rejection letters.” Anyway, the editor sent me a polite note in reply, letting me know they usually don’t mind responses to rejection letters, as long as the author isn’t telling them how wrong they are for rejecting the story (more on that in a sec), and that it was nice to hear the feedback was well received.

Okay, with my little anecdote in mind, here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about responding to a rejection letter:

  1. Does the publication specifically ask authors NOT to respond to rejection letters? If so, then you should consider that part of the submission guidelines, and we always follow the submission guidelines, right folks?
  2. Is it a personal rejection? As I said earlier, there’s really no reason to respond to a form rejection, but a sincere, helpful personal rejection might warrant a response.
  3. Have they published you? If that’s a yes, then some kind of working relationship has been established. I’m not saying you are colleagues or best buds or anything, but you’ve likely communicated with the editor enough that a short note in reply isn’t out of line.
  4. What are you saying? If it’s a short “thank you for the very helpful feedback,” that’s fine. If it’s a pages-long diatribe that can be summed up as “how dare you not recognize my brilliance, you talentless hack,” then you need to step away from your keyboard and a) grow a thicker skin and b) remember that every writer, great and small, gets rejected. A lot.  The editor rejected your story because he or she didn’t like it, didn’t feel it was a good fit, or a hundred other perfectly valid reasons. Accept it, move on, and send them something else. I think the fact that the editor in my example felt the need to mention this bit of bad author behavior speaks volumes, i.e., it probably happens pretty regularly.

In summary, there’s usually no need to respond to rejection letters, but there might be occasions when it’s acceptable as long as you follow some common sense guidelines. Of course, like everything else on this blog, this is simply my opinion and shouldn’t be considered absolute fact.

What are your thoughts on responding to rejection letters? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 14 Update

Week fourteen has come and gone, and here’s your weekly update on Acts of War: Aftershock.

Progress: The first draft is still under review with Privateer Press, but this is not unusual for a couple or reasons. First, it’s a big book that a bunch of folks need to read, and that just takes time. Second, its July release date means there are books in the queue coming out well before it, like Orrin Grey’s Godless, which need editorial attention first. Truth be told, I finished the first draft of Aftershock well before the deadline, which is good for me, but it doesn’t necessarily speed up the editorial process. I still have to wait in line. 🙂

The Best Part: Sword nerdery. Writing this kind of fiction gives me plenty of opportunities to indulge my love of historical warfare. One of the things I like most is figuring out how different Iron Kingdoms weapons might be used in combat. Take Stryker’s mechanikal greatsword Quicksilver, for example. It’s meant to be used by a warcaster to crack open warjacks and other heavily armored targets. Though it can be wielded like a sword, to my mind, its use would often resemble certain types of polearms. On the other hand, Ashlynn d’Eleyse’s weapon Nemesis is a completely different story. She’s a renowned swordsman with a sword designed for dueling, and I can turn to various real-world techniques (from longsword to saber) to describe her fighting style.

The Hard Part: A little goes a long way. The last thing I want to do is turn the book into a treatise on sword-fighting. When I write a fight scene, I go back and read it, specifically looking to see if I’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole with my descriptions. I want to keep the action moving, and I don’t want to drop a paragraph of exposition on archaic fighting techniques into my battle. So, I work to show the techniques rather than just tell you about them. (I get to do the telling in a series of No Quarter articles.)

Mini Excerpt: Today’s excerpt focuses on Lord General Coleman Stryker, who has gotten himself in a bit of a pickle. He’s found himself without his trusty warcaster armor or Quicksilver and must rely on the skills he learned in the Cygnaran Royal Guard years ago.



It had been many years since Stryker had used a sword like the one he’d taken from the slain gun mage, but the weapon was similar to the straight double-edged blades of the Royal Guard where he’d received his initial martial training.

The principal guards came back to him in a rush.

Prong.

He held the sword high, point toward his enemy, and caught an axe blow on the strong of the blade. The heavier axe slid away from his sword, and with a quick twist of wrist and shoulder he opened the Winter Guard’s skull with a powerful overhand cut.

The next Khadoran came at him with a rifle bayonet, thrusting at his stomach.

Nail.

Stryker turned his sword, point-down, in front of his body and knocked the bayonet away with a sharp parry. He lunged forward, bringing the point of his weapon back up, and used his momentum to ram the blade through the Winter Guard’s throat.



Split a skull, stab a throat—it’s just like riding a bike, eh, Lord General? 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here: