Wow. We’re just hours away from the year 2020. In my childhood, that was always the future. I knew I’d see 2000 before I became an adult, so my eyes were set on a more distant goal. One that is now upon us.
Back then, I had a pretty good idea of how things would be in this coming decade, and…not one of them has come true. I don’t have a flying car, or a personal spacecraft, or a wife and kids. People don’t live on the moon, there hasn’t been a manned mission to Mars. There’s no cure for cancer or AIDS or even the common cold.
But the biggest change of all from how my younger self saw the future is that I’m an author. Thirty years ago, I wanted to be a doctor. Twenty, and I thought I could be a scientist. At the start of this decade, I assumed I could make a living off repairing computers. At no point did I ever expect that I would spend so much of my time writing fiction. It wasn’t until 2012 that I seriously considered it. Thanks to depression, a lack of drive, and far too many family problems, I’ve somehow become what I never thought possible, and…I’m content with that. Maybe not happy, but I’ve long since learned that true happiness is not something I’ll ever find. So this will have to do.
Ten years of writing…or more
Technically, my first piece of fiction came in 1992. It was nothing special, just some school assignment where I had to write a two-page story for some kind of Earth Day thing. I hated it, and still somehow got judged one of the best in the class. At the time, I just wanted it to be over.
Later, in high school, I wrote a bit of nonfiction. Again, I had an English assignment where I was singled out for having the highest grade, a situation I still, two decades later, can’t figure out for the life of me. In my free time, however, I actually did begin a couple of extended technical works. One involved teaching assembly language by way of creating a toy operating system, while the other was…something to do with Java, maybe? I was big into Java in the early 2000s, I remember that much.
At the end of the last decade, I started another “popular” technical book, this time on conlangs. Worlds Within Words is its name, and I’ve seriously considered going back and finishing it. Not many people have written a full book-length tutorial on creating a language, after all.
But the past ten years have been, for me, the decade of writing. I tried Nanowrimo for the first time in 2010, but I failed. The story wasn’t too bad, really. Set in 1876, it was a cross between a western and The Walking Dead. Nowadays, I would consider it a part of my paranormal universe, so…yeah, I could see myself returning to it one of these days. Maybe I’ll get more than 3 chapters done, right?
After that failure, I didn’t try my hand again at fiction for a couple of years. My grandfather’s stroke, and the complications that led to his death, stopped me from doing a second Nanowrimo in 2011. Instead, I had to wait another year. But that’s when things got real. For 2012, I had an idea, a plan, a story. The 50,000-word goal for the month went down with some difficulty—I distinctly remember staying in my room on Thanksgiving, struggling to get a chapter done.
The 16 chapters I wrote in November 2012 became the first quarter of Heirs of Divinity, which I still need to edit, revise, and release one of these days. It’s not exactly my best work (it was my first completed story, so of course it’s unpolished), but I truly believe the setting, plot, and characters all have potential. This one’s a kind of historical fantasy, my first attempt at the genre-bending I’ve made my trademark.
I placed this one in Europe, 1737. The very center of one of my favorite eras, because the Enlightenment, to me, is the most important time in human history. And that shows in the text. Heirs of Divinity is a struggle to understand the world, a fight between the nascent study of the sciences and the old forces of religion that seek to keep their hold on knowledge and power. And lying in the shadows is magic, mostly forgotten, if not repressed, but still lurking in the hearts and minds of some. All in all, this was an epic novel, in both length and scope, and I’ll freely admit that I bit off more than I could chew. But I did it. I wrote a 700-page doorstop over the course of some 9 months.
And that was only the beginning. Since then, I have not failed at either writing 50,000 words or completing a story (or even both!) in the month of November.
Fresh off my success with Heirs, I noticed on the calendar that Nanowrimo 2013 was coming up soon. What would I do for an encore?
In the summer of 2013, I created a setting. Originally, it was intended to be nothing more than a linguistic playground, a chance to make a set of interrelated conlangs and maybe dabble in some alternate history. “Hardcore” worldbuilding, as I’ve termed it. There just wasn’t a story in there, at least not in my original plans.
That changed as November neared. What if I did write a story in this fantasy-like world? So, as the days ticked down, I polished the setting, removing most of the fantasy elements (but keeping the idea of magic as a cultural aspect), and I searched for a way to make something out of it. Thus was born the Otherworld.
The impetus for the setting was, in fact, the cancellation of Stargate Universe in 2011, after only 2 seasons. I didn’t like the show at first (it was a poor replacement for SG-1 and Atlantis, in my opinion), but it grew on me when its second season became more serious. The episodes “Common Descent” and “Epilogue” profoundly affected me, and stayed in the back of my mind for over 2 years. When I started thinking about languages, and the possibility of a world inhabited by humans that hadn’t been in contact with Earth for centuries, if not millennia, I could only think back to a show killed before its time.
A lot of Otherworld has its origins in what I guess you could call my take on a Stargate setting. The inhabitants of Talac are descended from humans transported there some 10,000 years ago via a wormhole created by an unknown, yet highly advanced, civilization on Earth. But I went overboard. My creation is intended to be scientifically rigorous, from racial evolution to astronomy and even to food. Sure, the mechanism by which the humans arrived in the other world is a handwave, as are the conditions that made it habitable in the first place, but nothing else really is. In fact, I’ve spent years carefully scrutinizing archaeology papers relating to the first inhabitants of the Americas, because I want to know if something breaks my assumptions. As yet, nothing really has. Except for being totally impossible, Otherworld is possible.
The list goes on
I wrote the first Otherworld story for Nanowrimo 2013. It didn’t get a title until years later, when I named it Out of the Past. In early 2014, I even made sequels, because those were intended all along. The book was supposed to be the pilot of a series (another nod to my inspiration). The next two and a half are the only stories I’ve ever scrapped, because they were…bad. Slower than even my usual writing, and they just didn’t feel fun. I’ve always said that I want to write stories I’d like to read, and I didn’t like reading Episodes 2-4. So I threw them out.
Not much else happened until late in 2014. Again, November rolled around. Again, I had an idea. My cousin passed away in January of that year, one of the factors leading to my depression. I often dreamed of him, some of the most vivid dreams of my life, and that eventually gave me the idea of a story about experiencing and controlling dreams. I’ll also give credit to Sword Art Online for this one, because my brother watched it while I played games on his PC. (Mine just wasn’t good enough at the time.)
Before I Wake remains one of the most emotional novels I’ve written. And it was the first one I ever let other people read. Indeed, it was the first I uploaded to Amazon’s KDP service, which gave me the wonderful opportunity to hold a paperback version of a book I wrote. That was almost 3 years ago now, and it still warms my heart to remember the day I opened that box.
After that, my writing became more serious, and much more prolific. “Satellites”, a frankly awful short story, came from a competition between myself and my brother. “Miracles” was a spin-off of Heirs of Divinity. “Either Side of Night” also started out as a kind of throwaway; it was my attempt at crossing fantasy with a zombie apocalypse, and I thought little of it at the time. Then I wrote the sequel, “The Last Captain”, as a personal dare. (Can I write a short story in a week? Apparently, the answer is yes.) Those gave way to four more, the Linear Anthology, which eventually became the Linear Cycle.
By November of 2015, my mind had drifted back to Otherworld. I wanted to try again, to go back and finish the 8-part series I had originally envisioned. Nothing in the Nanowrimo rules says you can’t write a sequel, and I really did start over. The City and the Hill was the result of that one, and the other 6 parts came in the following months: A Matter Settled, Written in Black and White, The Bonds Between Us, Situational Awareness, A Peace Shattered, Long Road’s End.
Around that time, when I needed a break from that setting, I began Lair of the Wizards. I’d originally intended that one as a series of shorter novellas that told the tale of a small group of teens in a Renaissance-era fantasy setting (I prefer these to the traditional High Middle Ages style) finding a secret bunker of an advanced civilization. In a way, it’s almost the reverse of Otherworld, which is probably why I got the idea in the first place.
Anyway, I wrote a few chapters, then realized this was not something that could be wrapped up in a novella or four. So Lair had the dubious distinction of being over 60,000 words long, yet still residing in my “short stories” folder. I never said I was infallible.
It was fun, but I put it on the shelf for a while, because upcoming events had given me a new idea. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was coming up soon, and I started planning for it years in advance. As I’ve said before, I had the good fortune to live in the path of totality, so while some people traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see the spectacle, I just stepped outside.
But the very notion of eclipses gave me an idea in the closing quarter of 2016. Why not a fantasy novel where magic revolves around the sun and moon? The “moon magic” people would be the bad guys, of course, because they’re the “dark” ones. October 2016 saw me coming up with that idea (in the shower, where all great ideas are born), then fleshing it out into something worthy of the eclipse.
Seven weeks. It took me seven weeks to write Nocturne. Less than fifty days for a novel that clocked in at around 400 pages. And I still consider it my best. It just clicked, in a way nothing else in my life ever has. I won’t call it perfect, but something about the book felt so…right. Words flowed freely. I would wake up each day with something to add. It was great, truly magical, quite possibly my peak as an author in terms of quality.
The year of the writer
But the peak in quantity was yet to come. 2017 sucked. Politics, family troubles, and my deepening depression made me want to do nothing at all. But then I didn’t want to do nothing at all, because that was, and is, anathema to me. So I wrote. And I kept on writing. And I didn’t stop writing in 2017 until 2018 arrived.
I finished Lair of the Wizards, which came in at a hefty 230,000 words. I wrote 10 new stories in the Otherworld setting, including 6 “bridge” novellas (“The Code Breaker”, “The Red Magician”, “The Control Variable”, “The Dark Continent”, “The Lessons Learned”, “The Candle’s Flame”) and the first four novels in the “second” season: The Second Crossing, Alignment Adjustment, Waters Rising, What We Leave Behind. The second half of the Linear Cycle came in this frantic period, including “Beneath the Surface”, which has one of the absolute saddest scenes I’ve ever written.
That did for the first 8 months of the year, but I wasn’t done yet. Three short stories set in the 1920s, revolving around psionic talents, which became the Modern Minds series. A teen space adventure, Innocence Reborn, which has become one of my favorite settings. Thanks to a pitch from my aunt, I wrote a paranormal detective novel, The Shape of Things, which has also spawned a series. In December 2017, I slipped in what I thought was going to be a theological dissertation disguised as a novella. Instead, I ended up with a paranormal romance involving a lonely nerd and a fallen angel. (I’m not above wish fulfillment.)
And then we have Nanowrimo for two years ago. Once again, I had come up with an idea. This time around, what if a gaming group got stuck in a world like that of their favorite RPG? Granted, it’s not the most original of premises, but I thought I could make it my own. Thus was born The Soulstone Sorcerer, and I very nearly died in childbirth. The final word count was somewhere around 150,000, and I wrote it in five weeks. I don’t know what possessed me, but I hope it’s been exorcised, because there were days where I came very close to a mental breakdown. And yet I couldn’t stop writing. There just wasn’t anything else for me to do. It was either write until I dropped, or just drop.
Change of pace
The final tally for 2017 was amazing, in my view. Twenty complete stories written, a 21st finished from its partial state. Over 1.2 million words. The numbers are mind-boggling no matter how you look at them. But I knew I couldn’t keep up that pace. It would kill me.
For 2018, I planned out a much less intensive schedule. Oh, I would finish the second season of Otherworld, and I did, with Falling Into Place, Whence We Came, Point of Origin, and Future in Sight. A sequel in space, Beyond the Horizon, and one for the monsters, The Beast Within. The massive Rise of the Wizards, a follow-on to Lair, which was now the first of the four-part Hidden Hills series (named after, no joke, the trailer park where my parents lived before I was born).
This year, strangely enough, my big inspiration came not in the fall, where I could use it for Nanowrimo, but much earlier. In fact, a dream I had in either late 2016 or early 2017 became a novel I wrote in 2018. In the dream, I saw a young woman walking across a blasted wasteland, the site of a massive battle involving both technological weapons and magic. The last battle, the dream called it, and you can’t tell me that’s not the perfect hook for a novel. So I took it and ran with it, and the end result is Shadows Before the Sun, which I’m holding in reserve on the off chance that a “real” publisher wants it. November paled in comparison, and the story I wrote then, Seasons Change, was nothing more than a kind of Otherworld prequel. (I’ve since released it for free, because I don’t think it’s worth paying for.)
Around this same time, something strange happened, something that had never happened to me before. I entered a relationship. An online relationship, to be fair, and it never advanced beyond that point, but it was new, and it took up much of the time I had previously devoted to writing. She didn’t like the idea of me being an author, so it fell apart after only a few months, but those months changed my whole outlook on life.
Or so I thought.
Darkness and light
At last we come to 2019, the year we’re ending very soon. I won’t lie. It started out bad from any perspective. Barely two weeks in, and I seriously considered ending my life. That wasn’t because of the breakup (or not only that), but because I genuinely felt I had no future, no prospects. I was never going to be anything, so what was the point of even living? Fortunately, my better sense prevailed, but it was close. As in “I know where my brother keeps his gun” close.
This year’s writing hasn’t been anything special. I finished 7 new Otherworld stories in total. Six of those were more bridges: “The Frozen North”, “Alone With Myself”, “Secrets Uncovered”, “A Life Complete”, “Destiny Fulfilled”, and “The Price of Freedom”, while the seventh is the Season 3 premiere: Winds of Change. Another pair of Modern Minds shorts, the two-part “Fortress of Steel”, but I postponed the sixth, “Memory Remains” because I wanted to work on other projects. And this year saw new entries in the Orphans of the Stars and Endless Forms series: Homeward From Afar and Change of Heart, respectively.
Probably the biggest change compared to every other year of the decade, however, is that I will end this one in a nebulous sort of “on again, off again” relationship status. It started in June, and has stayed online-only since, but it got very…intense for a time that was all too brief. In October (two days after my birthday!), it entered the off phase, but she won’t call it over. So I don’t know. Writing characters in this kind of situation did not prepare me for living it.
Looking to the future
So that’s where I stand on the precipice of 2020. In a mere decade, I’ve written close to 60 stories. About 4 million words of fiction, not counting editing and the like. Sometimes, I think I’m done, I feel like taking a break, but I just can’t. There’s still too much to write, too many stories to tell. My ultimate goal is 100 total before my 40th birthday, and I have just short of 4 years to reach that. I still believe I can.
For 2020, I have 11 planned, plus Nanowrimo, which I don’t start thinking about until October. These include 7 for Otherworld, three for Modern Minds, and the fourth Orphans adventure, tentatively titled Time in the Sun. Another few sit on the back burner, waiting for their chance: a sequel to Nocturne which I’ve codenamed Black Sun, Legacy of the Wizards, and new stories to follow up The Soulstone Sorcerer and even Heirs of Divinity. Plus, I want to edit and release some of my back catalog. The Occupation Trilogy, which started with Shadows Before the Sun, still has two more novels, but those will have to wait a bit longer.
And that’s not counting my “seed” list. I have plenty of ideas that have yet to see the light of day, but tomorrow is the start of a new decade. I hope that means I’ll have time to give them a chance.