Resuming transmission

Futuristic cargo spaceship in cosmic scene 3D rendering

Well well well!

Happy new year, and my apologies for the long absence. An explanation follows:

  1. I decided to take the advice of some book gurus and hunker down to finish Book II (working title Into the Light). Consequently, I’m happy to announce the first draft has been completed!
    I’ll be moving into the second draft now, which will consist of rewriting for quality, checking for plot consistency, and general retooling to make sure everything’s the best I can get it to be. There’s still a lot of work to come, but the story has been laid down.
  2. Lots of things happened in the real life, including a move and certain other things taking place. No excuse, of course! This business requires discipline and rigor.

And I’ll have to start looking ahead to the book launch phase, which as I’ve complained about before, includes planning months ahead for the various parts of the marketing behemoth to all come together! Yes, this is indeed a true new age, where the author takes on these responsibilities, but comes around to own all parts of the process.


Quickfire questions!

Is the second book wildly different from the first?

Yes, sort of! I’ve decided on the route of actively not attempting to reproduce the first book! The writing style will be similar (hopefully incrementally improved!) but the story expands to take us into the Collective and beyond…

Are the main characters back?

Some notable omissions! But the bulk of the characters continue their stories to take us deeper into the plot first unveiled… *suspense*

Why ask questions of yourself if you’re just going to be vague?

Yes, yes! No further details can be given without giving the story away.


I will say that the improved writing speed is encouraging. It hopefully means the third book will come out in an even shorter time than the second one!

Well, you know what they say: the first trilogy makes the sci-fi/fantasy writer. Just kidding, nobody says that. I just said it. I certainly do think it though.

Take heart, friends! We will soon be resuming our adventure… !

Image: Licensed from Adobe Stock / fredmantel.

Noodles in a wok

Writing is going well on the second book. I’ve said this before, but the lessons learned from writing the first book are making this second time around much smoother and better. I’ll be taking the time and effort saved to try to become better at this business of writing!


I’d like to start this post by quoting from G. Powell’s review of From the Dark on the Amazon store page:

Andy Huang has the mind of a psycho physicist. I found following the convoluted paths of his imagination to be amazing.

G. Powell, thank you, thank you. The keyword here is “convoluted.” Thank you, G. Powell, firstly for bringing up this important aspect of From the Dark, and secondly, for understanding that the “convoluted paths of [the] imagination” needed to write the book can be a damned fine thing.

Yes, the plotlines in From the Dark are convoluted!

They are complex, messy, and intertwined with one another. They were born out of taking each plotline in the most interesting, exciting, and dynamic fashion I could think of, then having all the plotlines cook together like noodles in a wok.

Yes, it all can be difficult to follow at times. I really have to do better with that. My wonderful beta reader Tiffany Dawn Munn at Owlediting tried to tell me about the importance of signposting. Like anybody else, sometimes I don’t know what others don’t know because it’s all in my brain. This is all a factor in the writing and something I’m taking care to be careful about.

But it was a great way to write From the Dark. It allowed for emergent plotlines—things that sprang from moments in the plot. It wouldn’t have been as good if I had sat down and prescribed the plotlines from the start (albeit that I did have a general direction I wanted things to go.)

There were massive hairy, headachey moments where I had to figure out sticky parts of the plotting. But on the whole it was worth it. And like I’ve said, I’m definitely learning to do it better for the second book. One of my other beta readers, Persephone Grey, had told me in her feedback that the book was unpredictable. It got that way because, to be honest, it was unpredictable for me as well. It was a wild trip writing it. I hope to do it all over again for the second book.


Speaking of which, here is a blurred-out screen capture of a chapter-by-chapter plot outline I made while writing From the Dark to make sure of the continuity. As there are different groups of characters in the book, you can see there are three major lines that intersect with one another. Not every interplay between the characters is mapped out with a line, but the positions on the chart helped keep track of continuity. This chart helped me maintain some semblance of sanity amidst the madness.

FtD-plotlines

 


In other news, From the Dark will be going on sale from the 21st to the 24th of September (a few days hence!) It’s as good a time as any to pick up the book for a friend, or three.

Snippets from the downtime

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While I was busy with the move, I was trying to keep up with some reading, and I’m happy to bring you some excerpts today. The focus for this post is military technical/tactical details because it is something I’m trying to incorporate a little more into the writing (and because, well, I’ve always been interested.)


From The Naval Warfare of World War II: The History of the Ships, Tactics, and Battles that Shaped the Fighting in the Atlantic and Pacific by Charles River Editors:

United States aircraft carrier design eschewed armored steel flight decks in favor of teak flight decks. Though this appears as a lower-tech solution at first glance, American carrier doctrine provided a solidly logical reason for this arrangement. Teak decks shattered easily when struck, and, though the crew repaired minor damage with planks stockpiled on board, a major kamikaze or bomb strike often necessitated a retreat to the United States for refitting. The Americans located the armored deck one level lower, with a much thicker, heavier hangar deck than IJN or Royal Navy flattops.

A lightweight teak flight deck and a heavyweight hangar deck gave American aircraft carriers a much lower center of gravity. This permitted a larger flight deck, overhanging the sides of the hull and giving space for a much larger complement of aircraft. In some cases, U.S. carriers supported twice the number of aircraft found on British or Japanese carriers of exactly the same weight. American aircraft carriers, thanks to their large aircraft complements on light teak decks, punched far above their weight relative to their IJN opponents. These high concentrations of aircraft suited U.S. flattops ideally to a highly aggressive strategy, able to provide massive local air superiority and support devastating long-range strikes depending on the situation.

What I love about this passage is how it highlights a technical / shipbuilding aspect of ships having a tactical impact. It would just be lovely to be able to include these kinds of details in the writing (more on this later) and have the spacecraft have varying tactical consequences accruing from their build.


From Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt by Robert Forczyk:

The foremost fact of life as a tanker is the importance of maintenance and logistics. The track system and roadwheels take a great deal of abuse from large rocks, tree stumps and other assorted battlefield wreckage when the tank moves any significant distance. The track, held together by long pins, wants to fall apart and the crew must constantly monitor it for signs of damage. Most tanks carried a few spare track blocks, but extra track pins to hold them together were often scarce. Good crews check the track and roadwheels at every halt of more than a few minutes and conduct spot-tightening. If they fail to do so, crews can expect to routinely throw track (i.e. the track comes off the roadwheels), which immobilizes the vehicle. In tank platoons and companies, it is imperative that junior leaders force tank crews to conduct routine maintenance – even in extreme cold weather, muddy field conditions and during combat operations. Friction is a tank’s worst enemy and river crossings tend to wash grease out of fittings on the running gear, which can cause roadwheel hubs to burn out if not tended to soon after fording. For example, a T-34 required a minimum of 1kg of grease for each 100km the tank moved on dry surface, but this would need to be replaced sooner if water obstacles were crossed. All tank engines and transmissions leak oil to some degree, particularly as filters and gaskets wear out. German tank engines often relied on rubber gaskets, which were prone to brittleness in the frigid Russian winters, leading to massive oil leaks if not promptly replaced. Turret systems including hydraulic reservoirs, optics and radios needed to be checked as well and the main gun needed to be bore-sighted again (usually by using string across the muzzle and a snake board target) after any significant move or firing. If the optical telescope and main gun went out of alignment due to hits on the turret or a very bumpy ride, then the tank’s gunner would have a difficult time hitting targets.

From this passage we get a real sense of the technical/logistical details of a tank’s upkeep. Details like these add reality to tactical/strategic deployments, making every movement and action have a logistical cost, and consequently, a consequence. (Forczyk outlines excellently in the book the logistical determinants of success/failure on the WWII Russo-German front.) The goal, if/when adding details like this to the writing, is a strategic logistical system that makes sense, and adds more reality to actions within the universe.


However, in terms of the actual writing, the larger theme would have to be how details can be included in a natural way. The struggle is always between wanting to include more details to give the world a more ‘solid’ feel, and wanting to keep the prose organic in a way that is still ‘spoken’ from a character’s perspective.

By the end of writing FtD I’d come up with two grounds rules:

  1. Details must always be relevant to the story—histories and topic pieces are not suitable for the novel format. When details are not relevant to the story they tend to become verbiage, often taking the reader out of the immersion of the story.
  2. The details must be given from a character’s perspective, ie. things a character would think relevant to their current situation. Otherwise the detail would kind of float in from the ether into the prose and leave the reader with a sense of a ghostly narrator speaking into a microphone from behind the curtains.

These are not hard and fast rules, and I’m sure I’ve broken them too. But I think you can get a sense of the process and some of the interesting trade-offs within.

Header image from Military_Material on pixabay.com (CC0 Creative Commons).

Hello again

It has been much, much too long since I’ve posted.

The real-life schedule included a move, and one that took more of the stuffing out of me than I’d hoped. But it’s mostly over now, so we can get back to the stuff that matters!

Thank you to everyone who’s left a review on From the Dark on any of the platforms. They’ve each been a highlight of my day, and will go a long way towards gaining visibility.

Work has begun on the second book! I’ve learned a great deal from writing From the Dark and am happy to say that things are going much smoother and faster than they did for FtD.

The move put the schedule back by about a month, but it should be recoverable and things should be going full steam ahead from here.

It begins again

View planets from a huge spaceship window 3D rendering elements

Since I’m starting work on the second book in the Nightfall series, I think it a good time to provide a rundown of my writing process. I will also be putting up a progress graphic on the sidebar of this blog to keep track!


The first book, From the Dark, was written in the following way, albeit that most of it was an unconscious process to me. What follows is the recapitulation of it, as well as how I hope to apply the process to Into the Light (working title.)


Stage 0: Brainstorming (and Research)

For me, brainstorming amounts to coming up with the starting points of the plot.

Something I will expand on in future posts is that I tend to come up with the plot as I write.

For FtD, brainstorming meant coming up with the core concept I wanted in the book (which for FtD was a spaceship heist. Yes! It has turned out to be more than that.)

For the second book, ItL, I’ve been helped in the brainstorming by having looked ahead toward the next two books when I was writing FtD. I have a much bigger web of starting points to work with, most of which can be attributed to having spent the amount of time I have with the world and the characters.

Research for FtD took three months, plus more wherever it was needed during the writing. For ItL, it will mostly be a matter of looking things up when I need them.


Stage 1: The First Draft

The First Draft is where I plan to put down a set number of words per day, scaffolding the ideas and plot that I’ve brainstormed.

For FtD this took about two years. To be sure, when I was writing FtD, I didn’t realize it was just the first draft. I’d gone into it with the typical new author’s naivety that I was writing the final draft. So I spent a lot of time polishing sentences and sections, some of which were entirely cut away for the final manuscript.

For ItL my goals have become much clearer. I’m writing with the understanding that much of this will be reworked or rewritten, and the goal is, as I’ve said above, to scaffold entire sections; to see if ideas work; and to get a sense of the general flow of the book.

For ItL, I would like Stage 1 to take three months, instead of the twenty-four it took for FtL.

The discrepancy is that a lot of the process of writing FtL was me struggling with finding a style and voice that fit the genre and what I wanted to do. Much of the three+ years writing FtL was, unbeknownst to me at the time, the process of this happening. For ItL, I would say I am able to draw on a more-stabilized style + voice, and hopefully will be able to save a lot of time for Stage 1.


Stage 2: The Second Draft

Although it sounds iterative (first, second), the Second Draft has quite a distinct set of goals for me. These are: to rework sections that didn’t work in Stage 1; to rewrite sentences to become of better quality; and to cut, edit, or add things to form the flow of the book.

Stage 2 will involve reading a section a day, then rewriting or reworking it as needed. In Stage 2, writing quality becomes one of the top priorities.

For FtD, the process was mashed in together with Stage 1 and Stage 3, and indeed continued all the way till the self-publishing. For ItL, I hope for the process to take three months to four months.

At the end of Stage 2 I will give the book to T. to read for feedback. T. was my first reader for FtD and will be for ItL.


Stage 3: Working on Feedback

In this stage, I respond to first readers + beta readers’ feedback.

This means I will respond to T.’s edits, then probably send the manuscript out for beta reading. (I have found a few trusted beta readers, including the fabulous Tiffany Dawn Munn at OwlEditing.com.) I will then respond to their feedback and edit the manuscript.

For FtD this was a continuing, messy process that took six months to a year. Now that I’ve been bloodied in the arena, I hope to shorten this process to three months.


Stage 4: Final polishing

Polishing of ideas, sentences, sections, and then the formatting to put it into a publishable format. In this stage, I will also look forward (in the sense of “planning for,” and not “anticipating with happiness”) to the marketing aspects of it, as I’ve found since beginning the self-publishing journey, that it is always better for marketing to have been planned for three months ago.


Stage 5: Publishing + marketing

I will write more about this in the future, as marketing was not anything I’d ever expected in my life to do, and will only describe here as being dunked into the cold, cold ocean to find out your life preserver was actually cotton candy.


Which is all to say I hope ItL sees light (yeah) in close-to-a-year’s time.

There is still a lot to unpack about the writing process, but I do want to get to spaceship-related posts sometime soon too! Till next time!

Header image licensed from Adobe Stock / © sdecoret.

They never told me!

Oh boy.

They never told me it was going to be this crazy.

Writing the book, getting it ready for publication, putting it up, getting some preliminary marketing done, making sure the t’s are dotted and the i’s crossed…

They never told me it’d be the most stressful period of my life.

And of course there will still be typos. And sentences that could be better. And stuff that could be better.

But hopefully you’re here because you liked it well enough. 🙂

This blog

I’d like to use this blog to write to my readers about a few things:

  1. Updates on progress on the next book.
  2. Reflections on writing + comments on books I’m reading
  3. Interesting spaceship-related stuff across all mediums

Mostly, I’d really like to have a channel to interact with you, my readers! Discussions about anything would just be lovely. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts, or write to me directly at sf.andyhuang@gmail.com.

In the meantime, if you liked the book well enough, please do tell a friend, or leave a review if you haven’t already. It will all really help. Thank you so much, and stay tuned to this blog for more to come.