How to Tackle Writing Your First Sequel

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So, that plucky little sci-fi novel staring cybernetic vampire mermaids you slaved over for two years has, miraculously, found an agent, been sold to a publisher, rewritten, rewritten again, and finally got the green light from your editor. Congratulations! Your on-spec masterpiece has turned into your debut novel! You are now a professional author.

Now, the really terrifying shit starts.

Because you see, back when your agent sold Blood in the Water they also sold the next book in the series, or even the next two. Books that you’ve probably already cashed the advance checks for, haven’t you? For the first time since you drunkenly sat down and decided to become an author, you actually owe someone a book.

First things first. Don’t panic. There will be plenty of time for that later, when you’re alone, late at night, your deepest fears acting as your only company in the darkness. There’s a reason authors are a notoriously drinky lot. Believe me, no matter how many novels sit in your trunk, this time will feel different. Before this moment, you were the only one holding yourself accountable for you daily production. And good for you, seriously. You stuck with it long enough and held yourself to a standard without anyone looking over your shoulder. That’s not something everyone can do. In fact, it’s probably not something one in a hundred can do.

But this time will be fundamentally different. You’re a professional now. Others are counting on you to produce a quality product in a timely fashion so that all of you can make money. You have a deadline imposed on you by outside forces with their own motivations. It’s back to business, literally.

Maybe you’re prepared for this. Maybe you had always planned “Blood in the Water” to be the entry point into a world spanning thirty novels, graphic novels, and inevitable movie adaptations, all of which you already have obsessively detailed outlines waiting for.

My experience was subtly different. And by that I mean that my debut novel, The Ark, had been conceived, outlined, and written as a stand-alone novel. When I turned the draft over to prospective agents, there were exactly no plans for a sequel, to say nothing of a series.

That changed rather dramatically when a well-respected New York agent emailed me back to say, “I love this! Get me a synopsis of the next two books by the end of the week.” Er. Okay, (furious rewrite of the last chapter to leave open a crack for the next book in the series). Voila! My debut is suddenly the first entry in a trilogy.

Now, it’s not all bad. Yes, you have to answer to other people who have their own schedules which hold little regard for yours. However, for the first time as an author, you also have a multitude of people in your corner. Your agent, publisher, publicist, and editor are all personally invested in the success of your novel. Because your success is their success. Remember, the only way anyone involved makes money in this, from you, to your agent, to the publisher, is if your work sells into the hot little hands of readers. Everyone along the chain wants that to happen for you, because then they get to eat too.

This means giving up some autonomy in exchange for having a support structure. It’s a fair trade, but it means new people have entered the decision loop, and being your first sequel, you’re going to have to keep a level head and accept their judgment more often than not. They’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have, after all. Don’t fight them. Listen. Use their experience and learn from them. This is your on-the-job training to be a career novelist.

Now, a couple of other things you may not have known about sequel writing. For starters, your first book tees it up, but the second book sells the series. Debut novels are often met with a great deal of fanfare and interest from the reading community. But that often dies down after the first book has been on the shelves for a few months. There is an almost unavoidable drop off in buzz and sales between the first and second books in a series as people decide whether to continue with it or not. As a result, the sales figures for a debut novel, even if impressive, have less to do with the publisher’s decision to continue that you might think.

But not to fear. Even if the drop off between the first and second book in a series is steep, publishers have learned through long experience that the people who read the second book are in it for the long haul. The drops between books two, three, four, etc, are much smaller. If you’ve hooked them in book two, you’ve probably got them on the line for the foreseeable future. This is why so many contracts these days are written for two books with an option on the third. As long as sales are strong enough on your sequel, you’re odds of continuing the series are high.

So the pressure is on to create a compelling, fresh story that isn’t just a reheated copy of your first book, while at the same time holds onto the characters and flavor that made people fall in love with your debut. Sounds simple, right? It’s really not. Most debuts are written as stand-alones with self-contained plots to make them easier to pitch and sell. It was certainly true of my own. Second books seldom are. Instead, they try to either continue a plot that had already been seemingly resolved, or try to pick up a loose thread and run with it. They can often start out with confusing direction, and have trouble finding a balance between advancing a story arc in a way that sets up the next book, while also being self-contained enough to be a satisfying read in their own right. Many editors, my own included, have found that second books often require an even greater level of scrutiny and a longer, more involved rewriting process than debuts.

But, some things will feel easier. For one, you’ve already spent months, maybe years walking around in your character’s shoes. You’ve already spent a great deal of time scene-setting and world-building, which opens up a lot of space for you to dig deeper into the plot and characters this time around. It’s not that there’s less to do, but your focus changes.

The important thing to keep in mind while writing your first sequel is although the process may feel different and unfamiliar, you have people now looking out for your best interests. None of these new challenges are insurmountable. Just roll with the punches, keep up with your wordcount, hit your deadlines, and communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t be afraid of feeling stupid. Don’t be afraid of asking questions. You’ll be an old pro at this soon enough. For now, act like the student you still are and let your team help you stay the course.

I’m looking forward to reading your sequel. I’m a sucker for a good series.

Terrorism and the Tricky Nature of Word Usage

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Well, we’ve had another spectacularly awful week in American ethnic relations.

On Saturday in Irving, Texas, already infamous for not knowing what a fucking clock looks like,  gunman surrounded a mosque carrying long-rifles to “protest Syrian refugees,” in the wake of the Paris attacks, exactly none of which were actually involved in the Paris attacks.

That same day, a black rights activist at a campaign rally in Alabama was beaten by the majority white crowd while the poll-leading candidate for the GOP nomination egged his supporters on. I probably don’t have to tell you which candidate, but his name rhymes with Ronald Dump.

Then, yesterday, in Minnesota of all places, a group of unarmed Black Lives Matter demonstrators protesting the shooting death of another unarmed black man at the hands of police were themselves shot by very much armed white supremacists, wounding five. Fifteen minutes later, the police showed up and pepper-sprayed the protestors, just for good measure.

Imagine, for just a second, these situations inverted. Muslims armed with assault weapons surround a Christian church in Texas to protest U.S. support of Israel. A white man is beaten by a black crowd while Barack Obama cheers. Three black men open fire on Blue Lives Matter protestors demonstrating over the death of a police officer.

What would we call any of those scenarios? We’d call them by their proper name, of course. Terrorism.

You’d hear that word repeated ten thousand times as every newscaster on Fox News slowly dissolved into a frothy puddle of rage spittle over the course of several weeks of twenty-four hour, uninterrupted coverage.

So why haven’t we heard the word terrorism attached to any of these incidents in the mainstream media? Most people I know reflexively ascribe this odd omission to latent, persistent racism permeating American culture. And while I’m not discounting that factor as a reason, I would like to offer an alternate explanation, or at the very least an additional contributing factor.

There is a particular way we think about terrorism, and the role it plays in the world’s power structure, especially in the wake of 9/11. For many, terrorism is understood as a tool or a weapon. It’s a military strategy as much as it’s a crime.

To many Americans, and I suspect people across the western world in general, terrorism is a strategy used by the weak against the strong. It’s the tool of small, underfunded, militarily inferior forces such as al Qaeda or Daesh. They use terrorism and other modes of asymmetrical warfare because they’re cheap, difficult and costly to counter or defend against, and is the only even minimally effective way they can fight against such a vastly superior force.

Since the twin towers came down, too many people have come to define terrorism in this way, even if they’re not consciously aware of it. To them, terrorism is something that those in the weak, minority position use against those in the strong, majority position. This prevents them from seeing identical events in the same light. White, Christian people can’t be terrorists because they’re the majority here in the U.S. Terrorism is for other people.

In so doing, they miss the point entirely, and ignore important, recent historical precedent. Terrorism has been a weapon used by tyrannical governments against their own citizens since the very beginning. Rome, The Spanish Inquisition, the Bolsheviks, Nazis, Pol Pot, the USSR, Saddam, and yes, here in the U.S. from the Confederacy, to the KKK, to McCarthyism, terrorism has been employed very effectively by the strong to impose their will upon the weak.

We’re seeing it again. Adjust your filters. Recognize what’s going on for what it really is and label it appropriately.

 

On Syrian Refugees and Gun Control

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“But, but, but, we can’t let in any refugees because they might be hiding t-t-t-terrorists!”

I’ve heard enough of this shit.

Yeah, they might be. It’s very possible Daesh has tried to plant operatives inside the ranks of refugees fleeing their murderous rampage, hoping to cause EXACTLY the reaction people refusing to help are giving them. They want to kill a handful of westerners so that hundreds of thousands of Muslims will feel too hopeless and afraid to try and escape Daesh territory, or will believe the lie that it’s a war between Islam and the west and join them. That was the point of the Paris attacks.

Which is why I carry a gun. I live in Wisconsin and have a Concealed Carry Permit. I carry a Glock Model 27 with a drop in barrel with compensator flutes that swapped it over to take .357 Sig rounds.

That’s what you’ve been telling us all to do, isn’t it? Buy a gun and carry it around so we’re ready in case there are bad guys, right? You’re all armed so you don’t have to be scared, yes? If the Paris attacks had happened here, we would’ve all just Dirty Harried them to death, right? That’s what Trump said, after all.

So why did Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker join twenty other Republican-held states to take the coward’s way out and promise to block Syrian refugees? States that all have strong pro-gun laws, which I largely support, (with caveats).

That doesn’t jive. Why are y’all still so scared, you sniveling pussies? Do the guns make us safe from bad guys or not? That’s been your whole justification for concealed carry, mags with unlimited rounds, open-carrying long guns, all of it. So if it works so goddamned well, why are all these pro-gun states still so fucking terrified of refugees who have to go through a twenty month long vetting process by the State Department before they’re granted entry?

Tell me, am I supposed to feel safe with a gun or not? And if not, what’s the point of tolerating all the associated risks of owning and carrying one?

Either you’re confident gun owners who feel able to handle a dangerous situation should one arise, or you’re whiney, bed-wetting crybabies who don’t want refugees resettling in your state because you’re too scared to do the right thing and treat them like fucking human beings fleeing a circus of horrors your tiny, coddled little brains can’t even begin to fathom.

You can’t be both.

THE ARK Promotional Round Up

Hello, everyone! It’s been almost two weeks since The Ark launched. Sales are going fairly well, but could always be better. Christmas is coming up, just saying’.

Anyway, it’s been a really busy couple of weeks around here. Wonderful folks all over the (primarily English speaking) world have asked me to share my thoughts, such as they are, with their readers, listeners, and viewers. Some of them were surprisingly insightful. All of them were a lot of fun, at least for me. Here are links to the highlights of my little tour of the internet:

Tor.com!

Geek Mom!

Interview with The Eisenstein Effect!

Speculate SF Podcast!

A free short story in the Speculative Herald!

A great review by one of the 100 Year Starship guys!

Sci-Fi Signal!

The Quillery!

Civilian Reader!

Tor.com’s Rocket Talk Podcast!

Angry Robot Book’s #ArkAttack Contest!

And, last but not least, The Book Plank!

Wow, when you stick them all in one place like that, it looks like I’ve been busy.  Anyway, as a parting gift, here’s a little schematic I whipped up of the Ark herself to make it easier for readers to follow along with the action in the book. Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave reviews. Feed your authors.

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The ACA and the Future of American Healthcare

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Most of you know me as either an author, comedian, or some unholy hybrid of the two. But what a lot of you may not know is that since 2002, I’ve been a licensed Life and Health agent. For the majority of that time, my focus has been on health insurance for the senior market, Medicare supplements, prescription drug plans, that sort of thing. I’ve spent more than a decade doing my best to match plans to my client’s needs and budget. I’ve worked for years learning all the ins and outs of our private, for-profit healthcare system, dealing with bottlenecks on both the insurance and provider side of the coin as I tried to be an effective advocate for my clients’ health.

It is from that experience that the rest of this blog post comes from. To all the so-called conservatives who have mindlessly oppose the Affordable Care Act for years.

You just don’t get it.

The ACA is, at its core, a thirty year old conservative proposal. Its roots date all the way back to Richard Nixon’s administration, who was the first to propose an employer mandate. It was expanded in the early 90’s by a conservative think tank known as the Heritage Foundation, which proposed the individual mandate as well as a penalty for nonparticipation and a low-income subsidy. It was embraced by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as an alternative to First Lady Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform plan. And finally, a near carbon copy of it was signed into law in Massachusetts by Governor and future GOP Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. This is the plan which in one form or another, conservatives had been clamoring after for more than three decades.

It is based on the free market, for-profit healthcare system of both insurance companies and healthcare providers. Indeed, it has empowered them both, swelling enrollment by millions and sending their profits soaring. There is nothing anti-capitalist about the ACA. It works in conjunction with the free-market healthcare system that has existed here since the beginning.

It is also the very last chance that system has to prove it can work.

On Monday, citizens of Colorado delivered over one hundred and fifty thousand signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to create a first-of-its-kind single-payer healthcare system that would encompass all citizens of the state. If passed, it would effectively end the private, for-profit model of healthcare in an entire U.S. state. And while it may seem radical now, so too did marijuana legalization, or same sex marriage a few short years ago (both of which have my full support). In the digital age, ideas like these don’t stay contained for long, and when they catch fire, there’s very little that can be done to slow their momentum.

I am a conservative. Which is why I support the ACA and want to see it succeed. Because I believe it is a reasonable compromise that curtails the worst abuses of the for-profit system, such as pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime maximums, while encouraging people to take responsibility for addressing their own healthcare costs and stop passing costs off to everyone else through medical bankruptcy.

I worry about the expansion of government power into the private sector a single-payer system would represent. I worry about what would be an actual government take over of some 20% of the economy. And I worry about the impact it may have on competition, and therefore medical and pharmaceutical innovation in our country.

Which is why I have for so many years put my full weight behind what has always been the conservative alternative. The ACA is that alternative. And if you keep encouraging the lying, incompetent, arsonists within the ranks of the GOP to burn it down, you are the ones ushering in single-payer.

The longer you oppose it, the longer GOP statehouses try to deliberately sabotage it by refusing to set up state health insurance exchanges and refuse federal money for Medicaid expansion, the closer you bring days like this. Days when average, everyday Americans band together and demand what nearly every other industrialized, first-world nation on Earth already provides for their citizens; universal, single-payer healthcare.

Because make no mistake, the alternative the American people will accept a few years down the road will not be a return to the cruel, broken, corrupt system that existed before the ACA’s protections took effect. It will be something much more like what Colorado has just proposed.

Stop kidding yourselves.

T Minus Zero: THE ARK Launches!

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It’s finally here. Release Day! Book Birthday! Whatever you want to call it, I woke up this morning as a published author. THE ARK is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere.

If you preordered your copy, (thank you, thank you, thank you) it should be arriving today or soon thereafter. Please, post a selfie of you holding it and tag me on Facebook or Twitter. Use the hashtag #TheArk, see if we can get it trending.

If you’re in Madison, Milwaukee, or Chicago, you can catch me this week on a mini book tour. I’ll be in Madison at A Room of One’s Own at 6pm Thursday night, Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee Friday at 7pm, and The Book Cellar Saturday night in Chicago at 7pm. I’d love to see you. Come by and hear a short reading and get your copy signed!

Then, go home and read it, scroll through it, or listen to it. Once you’re done, the single most helpful thing you can do for me or any author who’s work you appreciate is to leave an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews, more than anything else a reader can do, help to drive more people to a new book, spread the word, and ultimately boost sales.

I hope everyone enjoys the heck out of it. Now, I gotta run. This week is going to be hectic.