As it’s Monday and I’m having a really hard time concentrating this morning, I figured I’d do another post here. And because we are closing in on the ides of March now and I still haven’t done my “What to expect in 2018!” blog post… and yes, I’m procrastinating right now but sometimes the busy brain needs a downtime, please bear with me.
The tl:dr (too long, didn’t read) version: I’m planning to write a shit-load of books this year, and some personal stuff update at the end of the post.
I’ve decided to end the Green Fields series at book #12. I have several reasons for that:
a) 12 is a neat number.
b) It’s a pain in the ass to promote such a long series that has only a single entry point: the very first book. My next “universe” I will be setting up with several entry points, but I never expected to be writing 12 books in this series so I didn’t bother. I also didn’t know that much about storytelling strategy back then. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing that I still get messages from people who dived in and inhaled the entire 8 books in under a week, but it’s so much easier if you can present several entry points. And a lot less commitment, as well.
c) It makes sense from a storytelling point. The first six books were Bree’s arc. I don’t think it’s a spoiler that the second six books are Nate’s, to a point. She’s still growing and developing and will never become a static narrator but I think 2 books in it’s obvious that we’re delving deeper into Nate’s backstory and issues. And creating new ones along the way because we writers love tormenting our characters.
d) Release and sale numbers are starting to flag. It’s not bad and had to be expected (amazon penalizes everyone who doesn’t release on a nearly monthly schedule, and the longer a series, the harder it is to make a splash with a later book in said series). It’s not my main reason but it’s something I need to consider. I don’t want the series to become dead weight around my neck. I need 12 books to finish telling my story so 12 books you will get, but that’s the end.
I intend to finish writing the series this year. 4 books in 10 months isn’t a grueling schedule but doesn’t allow for much downtime. Books #9 and #10 are fully fleshed out so until summer, I should have them covered. A few days ago I had the epiphany that’s now the final twist of the end of #12, and I love how the foreshadowing is already all over the books. My subconscious is amazing! (she said, feeling like a lunatic again). I don’t know quite yet how I’ll get everyone from the end of #10 to the finale in #12 but the red lines are forming. Just need to hash out the details, which I hope I will have done by the end of writing book #10. I’ve had a few good ideas before I settled on the finale and now I need to either work them back into the developing story or cut them for good.
Should, for whatever reasons, my mind become a tangled mess and slam some neat writer’s block in over the summer, I will start writing on my 4-book Urban Fantasy that will set up the “universe” I was talking about earlier, my next big project. If the four books sell and I’m feeling comfortable in the genre, I plan to stick there for the next 3-5 years, adding short series after series until I’m getting bored or sales taper off into nothing. I prefer to write series after series now but hey, writing anything is better than nothing, so I might run it all in parallel for a while.
So, will early 2019 be the end of the Green Fields universe?
There will be at least one spin-off, likely a small (3 books maybe?) series staring a new narrator, new and already established characters, and likely a shit-load of cameos because I’m a sentimental being who likes to check in with potential survivors. While we were enjoying a small weekend away from home, driving around the late winter / early spring landscapes of Styria and Carinthia (what else?), I was whinging on again that I don’t know what to do with the world after #12 is over. My main problem for spin-off ideas so far has been that pretty much from the very start, I never had to bother much about the plot. It was very smooth sailing for me, burn-out and all minor issues included. For #1-#6 it was pretty much throw Bree into the post-apocalyptic mess and then watch what happens. She stumbled, she fell, but right from the start she always picked herself up and trudged on. She shaped the plot and the plot shaped her, consequences built up, and while it wasn’t alway easy to figure out how to get her from A to B, I knew that it was going to happen. When it became obvious that I needed to write more books to satiate my voracious readers’ hunger for more, it wasn’t hard to continue like this. There were consequences aplenty to let me do a running start that flawlessly morphed into the real plot arc that’s been emerging over the past two books. It was mostly a matter of deciding where to direct the story, and then keep doing what had been working well so far since book #2. The story was never about the zombies, but instead the main characters dealing with the shit they either got caught up in or had kicked loose themselves. Entire series on a silver platter, every writer’s dream. Yet for reasons mentioned above, eventually, the series will end. I also don’t want to drag it on until it’s simply ridiculous, and those that survive kind of deserve their eventual retirement. I like sending them off into the sunset, deeply scarred and traumatized but happy to have made it through alive. I think that’s one of the formulas that make good series great once they are done.
But it sure leaves me at a loss where sequels or spin-offs are concerned.
Let’s look at the dilemma more closely: what do I have left to play with?
A) a rich, populated world with lots of unique history, including characters, locations, and dynamics that make it “this world” rather than any given template.
B) Exactly that world that was never important to the telling of the story, and zombies that were only ever inconvenient vehicles and could all disappear overnight and the story would still be pretty much the same, with a little less bleach needed.
In short: I have a sandbox but no real reason to jump back into it.
That’s been plaguing me for months now, and that’s not a happy place to be. I don’t want to stop playing in that sandbox. From what I hear, you don’t want to stop, either. I have close to 20 short stories to write still, likely 30 by the end of the main series, and just dropping them into a vacuum doesn’t sound like so much fun. Also, not too profitable.
So back to me, again, voicing my conflict with my inability to make things work. Cue my very often way too silent passenger (letting me talk might be a survival trail. I talk a lot while I drive, and while I think while I drive), dropping a single sentence that I can’t repeat here because it would be a huge spoiler, but it started with, “Why don’t you do…” and was, as usual, met by immediate rebuke by yours truly, because I’m the story telling genius here and I won’t let anyone tell me what to write about, damnit! Except that unlike previous ideas, that one took root immediately, started percolating, and five minutes later I stopped talking mid-thought about something else and declared: “I think that’s it! I have my plot for the spin-off!” Two days and six hundred miles of driving up and down hills I now pretty much have: a plot; a better view of my narrator (I already knew who it was going to be but wasn’t able to work anything else out); additional main and side characters, deviating from the previous setup idea because I really, really needed the plot first to know who to throw into the boiling cauldron with the narrator; and a very vague sense where to lead books 2 & 3 of the spinoff but kind of know how book 3 will end–which means I know the character development arc of the main character.
I’m exactly where I was with the main series once I decided to watch the world burn and kicked Bree into the zombie apocalypse, or what would happen after the truce at the end of Unity so I could finally finish writing that damn book. That’s an amazing place to be as a writer, and a pretty neat outlook for the next couple of years.
Long story short, I likely won’t be finishing the main series this year, as planned, because now that the flood gates to spin-off are open, I need to take a few steps back and consider my universe so I can plant all the seeds that will eventually turn into story arcs. If you’re curious, the one for the first spin-off series was planted in book #2, got watered in #4 and #6 somewhat and more heavily in #5, and is interwoven with the events of book #8 going forward. Most of the relevant events have already happened or are happening right now, on and off-screen, you just don’t know it yet. Except for a few events (including who will be alive for a cameo later) you could start reading the spin-off now and wouldn’t be lost, just missing a few details that any random character could fill you in. It’s a good second entry point to the universe, requiring a little investment in the main story but I plan to work it in a way that it can be the first time anyone comes in contact with the universe. I’ve considered taking the time to set up a wiki on my website for the Green Fields universe so that people can check back about timelines, and names / locations mentioned; that would let the spin-off stand almost independent with just a few minutes of backup browsing. I have to say, I’m pretty stoked about all the work my mind did while my daily word count remained at zero for four days.
Maybe, once I’m done with #10, I will know what happens in #11 and write right on. Maybe I’ll still need a few days of driving (summer is motorcycle time!) to work it out and dive into Urban Fantasy instead. I probably should do the later simply because I’ve been writing this damn apocalypse since 2015 almost non-stop. I’ve never been that invested in anything, story or characters, but damn, that’s a long time for only eating ice-cream day-in, day-out (which is what it feels like). Maybe it’s a good idea to take a few breaks, go play in a different sandbox with different characters who I can do different unmentionable, evil things to. Let’s be real: Urban Fantasy with a horror touch can get damn gruesome and gory, and I don’t think it will surprise anyone if I tell you that’s where that world is headed as well. I don’t think I’m capable of fluffy and nice. Just not my thing. I prefer tough choices and emotional anguish to make the characters work for every thread of light in their lives! So much more rewarding in the end. And I can’t wait to introduce you all to Alexis, Matt, Chris, and Courtney, the main characters of the first series that will make up the Urban Fantasy universe. They’ve been rampantly alive in my mind since 2013, well before Nate, Bree, and the Lucky Thirteen. I kind of like the idea to let them come out to play, then box them up again so I can finish what is more than just started, then let them play again, before I switch over to the spin-off. I’ve heard from a few writers now that they often change worlds between projects to keep the grind and burnout at bay. I never want to fall out of love with a world and characters again (that’s pretty much what happened with my romance “career,” among other things) so anything that will keep things fresh sounds like a good idea.
To get back to the topic at hand, I can’t tell you exactly what I will be writing this year and how many books of that. Even less so how many books I will publish. Even if I write the first Urban Fantasy book, I won’t publish it yet as I will be doing a rapid release for the series, getting all four books out within a short time frame–likely the first two at the same time or within a week, then #3 a month later, and #4 one month after that. I might even do, gasp! Pre-orders, so I have the links to use for promotion. Spring to summer 2019 sounds reasonable for that. I much prefer writing to editing so my hope is that by not stopping for the drag of re-reading my own words and cringing my way through all the mistakes, I can get a lot more words on the screen this year than in the previous years. I’m trying very hard to outsource as much as possible, dumping the worst on my editor and beta team. They’ve proven in the past that they can more than handle it, and if it keeps me sane and productive, we all profit from that. I write a pretty clean for draft, and always go over everything at least twice before anyone else sees it; anyone not involved in the production shouldn’t see a difference in quality. So far, the biggest jump has been having a beta team because nothing beats several sets of fresh eyes for finding mistakes.
I plan to release at least two more Green Fields books (#9 and #10), and if I can get #11 written quickly enough I’d love to have it out before the end of the year. That would make four books, counting #8: Catharsis from a month ago, in 2018. I think that’s as fast as I can go if I don’t want to slam into a wall once more. We’ll see. I’m touched that so many of you are concerned about me burning out again (and not just because that means longer waiting times) but fear not: usually when I’m damn productive, I’m also very relaxed and can go faster for longer; a neat paradox until you realize that usually, it’s not working too much that kills my drive and sends my mood into a nosedive, but my depression breaking my next which then turns productive work into a chore until it all grinds to a halt. I’m trying to prevent the latter from happening again. I lose almost 4 months last year to depression, and I really don’t want to go there again. That’s why I’ve turned my life into a boring schedule that’s been keeping me nicely afloat for the last three months (and then one month of alternating illness that broke it, but I’m still better off than the last time that happened. Eating salad for lunch and diving into the pool 4-5 times a week helps A LOT.) That’s why I’m keeping my office and my gym membership, even if the monthly costs for both often make me cringe. It’s a small price to pay for feeling okay, and pays for itself if I don’t lose 1/3 of the year all over again. I tend to earn more when I’m able to work, what a coincidence!
I’m still learning how to best do this being a writer thing, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and reading non-fiction books over the past months to help with that. Might pick up meditation as a regular thing, and as of today, I’m going to clean up my diet again to keep processed carbs from messing with my brain. I’m finally over the plague from hell that kept me in bed or at home and out of the pool for 1.5 months. Let’s not do that again, shall we? I’m going back to doing Paleo / Primal and might try a month or two of Keto to see if it makes a difference for my productivity and mood. A lot of people report that carbs and sugar make depression worse, and as much as I love pizza, I like not feeling down for months at a time more. Regular exercise for three months has done amazing things to stabilize me and have positively impacted how my jeans fit (actually, negatively, as they now fall off my hips, ha!), so why not do the thing that actually helps people lose weight and not eat what my body doesn’t deal with well? Just a thought.
For those two amazing souls who keep up with what else is going on in my life, I now have a new accountant. All my taxes have been paid (and on time!) and since I’ve pretty much pre-paid for two years of social security expenses, 2018 might be the first year when I know, more or less month by month, how much of what I make is really my money to spend. I hope that will cut down on the random existential crisis moments that wake me up in the middle of the night. I work so much more productively when I’m not sleep-deprived!
Another fun fact: I pay my taxes every three months so if I release a book every 3-4 months, I should always have some money from the last release spike left to not clean out my accounts. This tax thing is really bothering me, can you tell? My goal has never been to be filthy rich. I’d just like to make enough money to cover my bills and obligations, preferably with a 6-month emergency net to never have to worry about a month’s weird numbers again.
Hope you’re excited for what’s ahead, and that you’ll come along wherever this crazy journey takes me! If you want to guess, the Green Fields spin-off will feature six named characters that you already know and love (or love to hate) to a certain degree. Who do you think will get more time in the spotlight?