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May check-in: Falling off the wagon May 1, 2020

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The story of my writing in April can be pretty well summarized by the graphs of my progress:april-prog-1april-prog-2

Truth be told, I struggled a bit emotionally in April. As a result, I focused on self-care, which meant allowing myself to not write if I wasn’t feeling it or couldn’t get into the scene. I just didn’t have the mental spoons to beat myself up over my own goals.

So, I ended up with a large lull mid-month. And while I started off well enough increasing my daily goal to try to recover from it, I lost motivation at the end of the month and only ended up with 15,385 words of my goal of 20,000.

But I’m not worrying about it. I’ve adjusted my daily goals for May to try to make up for those last few thousand words I didn’t hit in April. It’s not a huge difference, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage it.

I didn’t do much else creative last month, either, particularly in the second half of it. Mainly, I’ll admit, because I’ve been playing video games. I received my preorders of Final Fantasy VII Remake and Trials of Mana, and the latter has been a great stress reliever in the past week.

I have also been continuing to play guitar. Not as consistently as I’d like, but I’ve played enough to now surpass where I got before I gave up last time, in both rhythm and lead guitar. In fact, I’m into it enough that I’m lamenting the brief instruction time on Yousician free and starting to consider a subscription to the app. (Of course, part of that may be that my tablet’s battery is too weak anymore to use for playing tabs I download.)

I’ve also maintained another good habit.

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(Six weeks ago I missed one day due to bringing home the kitten.)

I’ve been doing very little activity aside from 20-25 minutes on the elliptical every weekday, and unfortunately my body seems to be growing used to that. However, I’m glad to be keeping up this routine, and to anyone else struggling right now, I can’t stress this enough: get some exercise if physically able.

For May, I’m playing it by ear. The month is starting with gorgeous weather in southern Ontario and I’m actually trying to grow some vegetables. (This is a big deal; I finally gave up on trying to fight my lifelong brown thumb a few years ago.) But I may need to resort to more Trials of Mana and not just because I like the game. I’ve adjusted my writing goals, but I’m going in with no expectations. Lockdown is hitting me hard, despite that my life has received less disruption than many and I’m enjoying staying at home and having my family around me. Above all, I intend to continue being kind to myself. I hope those of you having a hard time out there feel the same way.

April check-in April 1, 2020

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people-1492052_1920There, it’s happened: March 2020 is finally over.

Not that April shows much more promise yet, but it’s a welcome reminder that all things are temporary. Hang in there, everyone. We will get through this.

So, was March better or worse for my writing? Neither, really. As the owner of a home-based business, the biggest changes to my day-to-day life have been having the family at home all the time and the cancellation of extracurricular activities. The latter has had a bigger impact than I was prepared for (though shouldn’t have been), as spending an hour or two alone waiting for lessons to complete four nights a week provided an excellent opportunity to get writing done, and indeed became my routine for half the week. I’ve had to fit in more time for writing at home, obviously, which comes with its own challenges.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to combat heightened stress or anxiety, so struggles with writing usually pertained to the normal issues: blank page syndrome, figuring out where a scene is going, just not feeling it some nights. Overall, I’ve kept up progress pretty much in line with my goals, and ended up just falling short on the last day of the month, due largely to a general devil-may-care attitude this week, and yesterday in particular.

I’m not disappointed with my progress though.

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Note that these figures only begin from the day I started the spreadsheet to track my writing progress, on the 8th.

The story itself is progressing well. I don’t feel like it’s moving too quickly or too slowly, though how the remaining 2/3 of the story unfolds remains to be seen. I should note at this point that 120,000 words is an easy goal for the length of the manuscript, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls short of that.

Aside from writing this book, I’ve dipped into some other creative pursuits in the past few weeks, which I’ll share in coming posts. I continue to work on playing Tales of Vesperia, the first game for PS4 that I started playing in earnest, which I’ve almost finished now, some fifty hours in.

I even picked up the guitar again after at least a year of letting it collect dust. I need to build up the calluses on my fingers before I can start properly playing chords again, but I’ve done enough work on lead guitar over the past week or so to be back to the point I was at when I stopped playing before. I’m not going to make any promises about continuing–it’s easy to say I’ll keep doing it when I don’t have to make those four trips out per work week, making sure dinner is ready precisely on time every night–but I’d certainly like to keep it up. And, given that the app I’m using to learn it only allows me about ten minutes per day of instruction, I could do that in the afternoons instead of, say, that stupid mobile game I keep playing, if at a limited rate.

Also, I got a kitten.

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So, here we go, April.

March check-in: Crunching numbers March 8, 2020

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quill-pen-2431674_1280Time for another update on writing the final book of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy.

I started February needing to do some catch up, having only reached 2,500 words of my 10,000-word goal in January. Combined with nearly a week of downtime as I struggled with a particular scene, overall I ended up needing to double my planned monthly goal to reach 20,000 words by the end of February. Yes, I could have altered my overall word count goals rather than pushing so hard to try to get back on track within one month, but I didn’t want to set a precedent for letting myself fall behind and choosing to take care of it later. After all, the whole point of these writing goals is to keep me on track.

And in the end, I succeeded at reaching 20,000 words by the end of February. In fact, I succeeded so well that I decided I would double my writing goals. Instead of writing a 120,000-word draft within a year, I will continue writing 20,000 words per month to hopefully finish the draft in six months. That’s still only around 660 words per day to write; hardly a heavy writing session.

The month started off well, with me reaching that daily goal without much trouble for much of last week. However, I skipped writing on Friday. I wanted to write yesterday for both days, but ended up only writing one day’s worth of words. Between trying to figure out precisely how many words I need to write to stay on track and the complexity of a cumulative writing goal that doesn’t start at 0, determining my updated daily word count goal has become far too difficult a task for a quick calculation. So, just now, I decided to create a spreadsheet to track my goals and my actual progress.

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Incidentally, I now know a few tricks in OpenOffice Calc that I didn’t before.

This will make it a lot easier for me to both track my actual and planned progress and update my writing goals to ensure I reach my ultimate goal on time. I really had wanted to just catch up on Friday’s writing to bring my daily goal back to what it should be for the month, but the calculation was a bit too complicated for me to want to deal with, so I integrated it into my daily word count goals for the rest of the month. It’s only a difference of 10 words per day, after all.

One thing skipping Friday’s work has taught me is that this new goal of 20,000 words per month means that missing a day is a much bigger issue than when I’m only trying to reach 10,000. That provides additional motivation not to miss a day. However, given that I don’t write the exact number of words needed per day—it’s not the flag at the end of a level in Super Mario Bros., it’s the barely passing grade—

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Keep running, you lazy sot.

I should gradually pull ahead as the month goes on. That should give me a little breathing room for when I don’t meet my goal, and is a lot easier to swallow than just trying to increase my next day’s work to meet that 660 words for each day.

I don’t normally put this much work into organizing my efforts, but the fact is, as my family has learned, once I get the bug in me to organize something, there is no stopping me until the task is thoroughly completed. I don’t do things halfway. And in truth, breaking the overall goal down into the small, daily objectives makes it both seem a lot more doable and motivates me more to continue.

The writing itself is going both faster and slower than I thought. Slower because at around 660 words per writing session, it takes several days of work to finish a single scene. Yet the cumulative result, given that I now have over 24,000 words in the story, is that the story is advancing quicker than I’d anticipated. Of course, it’s been entirely too long since I’ve been writing—not editing or tweaking or revising—a novel.

So it’s been nice to get back into it. As a story I’m plantsing more than it feels like I did with the previous two books, it’s taken some minor turns I hadn’t considered and made me think about some other aspects to the novel. One in particular is that, given that this is the end of the series, anything left that I want to say I need to do so in this book. That in mind, I’ve been allowing myself to expand on things like character development for secondary characters and how they are reacting to the changes in their lives, which I had initially dismissed as not immediately relevant to the story.

Now, the fact that this is a first draft means that it might all end up being cut anyway. At this stage, I’m taking the NaNoWriMo approach of just getting the words down and leaving editing for later. I did write the first couple lines of a new opening scene intended to replace the one I already wrote. In the nature of a first draft, though, I haven’t bothered to go back to it yet.

(As a bonus, the spreadsheet will also allow me to track those words I place elsewhere through the manuscript, not just what I append to the end and manually word count.)

In short, writing is progressing well and now I’m looking forward to having a first draft finished around the end of July. If I manage it, then reaching my soft goal of halving the time between the release of books 2 and 3 means I would have three years (minus time for publication) to edit the draft.

I think I can do it.

February check-in February 9, 2020

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A little late, but at least not as late as my last post. If I keep this up, I might eventually write a blog post on time!

So, here we are a month into the new year. (Wait, already? No wait, only? What year is it?!) I thought I would check in with my progress on my goals for 2020.

I fell a bit short of my goal for writing book 3 of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy last month, only ending up with 2,500 words of my intended 10,000. However, the important part is I’ve beaten blank page syndrome and have indeed started writing the novel, and I’m starting to develop the habit of writing again. Not much of what I’ve written so far I feel is very good, but at this point I’m just pounding words out on the page. I’m certainly more of a plantser (plotter + pantser) than either/or, and I need to just write to find out what works and what doesn’t.

I was also very glad to start a new scene today from a different character’s POV and find that the interaction between this character and another continues to be incredibly fun. Simply letting the two play off each other ended up with some unexpectedly entertaining dialogue.

Taking my goal of 10,000 words/month very literally, I need only write about 660 words per day to get back on track with 20,000 by the end of February. Considering that I’ve been writing around that much or more most days that I’ve actually sat down to write in the past few weeks, I’m feeling pretty positive about my progress so far, even if that daily goal is about twice what I would normally need to hit 10k in a month.

Reading has also been going well, as I managed to knock off four books on my TBR in January, and have completed two others since then, which brings me down to less than twenty remaining. I also read my first 5-star book in almost two years, Artemis by Andy Weir. Incredibly entertaining and highly recommended.

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Ready to game.

 

Of course, last week a PlayStation 4 happened.

So, now I need to be a little more stringent in handling my free time. I’m working on it. Today was a success story; work days might be a little trickier.

In unrelated artistic news, I’ve tried out some new baking techniques recently. A mirror glaze (didn’t quite work out as intended) and, just today, I attempted decorating cookies with royal icing by piping wet-on-wet. While I made some mistakes and learned some things, and could certainly use a smaller piping tip, they came out pretty well.

Nothing else of note in the last month, but then, I am trying to limit my attention to just a few endeavors right now, much as I might derive inspiration for other media. Must… focus…

At the moment, I’m feeling good about how I’m doing. Keeping the big picture in mind while focusing on achieving the small daily goals.

Let’s see if I can keep it up.

Happy new… well, not yet stale year January 20, 2020

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sparkler-839831_1920So, here we are again (a little delayed, on my part). My year started off a little less spectacularly than a hotel-room view of the fireworks over Quebec City, but I drank peach sparkling wine with friends in my pajamas, so I have no complaints.

A year ago, I made a post talking about resolutions and goals, though while the spirit of the new year inspired productivity from me, I didn’t really set many concrete goals. The one exception was my reading goal. After a rather pitiful year of reading in 2018, I wanted to do better. So I set a Goodreads reading goal of 27 books, one more than my previous best year of books since I’ve been recording my progress on Goodreads.

I ended up reaching 38 by the end of the year. Granted, 21 of them were graphic novels, but I wasn’t that specific when I set my goal.

a-jewel-on-sapphire-coverAs for writing last year, alas, I didn’t get book two of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy published. But, er, I did release a new book last year! A Jewel on Sapphire is a chapter book about a girl who lives on a space station and finds an alien she wants to keep as a pet, so if you or the 6-9-year-old in your life is into that sort of thing, go check it out.

In other goals, I must admit that playing guitar fell by the wayside. However, I managed to keep up an unbroken streak learning Japanese on Duolingo, and hit a pretty good milestone recently.

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Granted, I had a few cheat days, but overall, it was less than a week, so it’s pretty safe to say I have indeed put in a full year’s worth of work by now.

So what do I have in store for 2020? Let’s start with a reading goal.

20191120_090414This year, I just want to get through my TBRs. In fact, I took them out of their carefully filed places on our primary bookshelf and stacked them – in chronological order of date acquired – in the living room, so that they stare me down and entice/guilt me into reading them, rather than remaining easily forgotten behind the elliptical in the bedroom, and behind another row of books in some cases.

I actually felt fairly good about that stack when I saw it. It’s fewer books than I read last year, and only about 20% of those books are older than last June. At least I am making my way through my TBR books. So, at present, my reading goal for the year is rather shorter than last, but I’m focused more on specific books, and I’m counting on reading others after (and probably a few during; I haven’t fully caught up on W.I.T.C.H. yet).

And while I may not have released the next Sisters of Chaos book last year, I can now say that it is coming in June! So please stick around, I promise I’ll try to be better about hyping it up prior to its release.

I do feel bad about spending seven years to get the second book of the trilogy out. However, that’s only half as long as it took to get the first book out, so it’s an improvement. And it offers up another convenient goal: try to halve that time again for book three. Hence, my writing goal for this year: get a first draft of the final installment of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy written. Sounds a little daunting for someone who just took seven years to write a sequel to a novel with the rest of the trilogy already roughly sketched out, but when I break it down, that’s only about 10,000 words to write per month. The fact that I’ve yet to write a word for it is moot; I have time enough left in January without resorting to NaNoWriMo pace. Besides, I still had some planning to do. It’s a motivating goal, at least, like my reading goal that I smashed last year. I can do this. I will do this.

As far as other goals, I just want to continue the good habits I’ve formed over the last year or two. Exercising regularly, listening to my body, eating healthier, avoiding time-wasting mobile games or spending evenings rewatching the same movies and TV shows over again. I also apparently need to do a better job of mitigating my general stress level. That lengthy Duolingo streak is also inspiring me to continue it, though I’ll admit that after a year, I’m spending more days doing my minimum goal than I used to.

I’m ready for this year. Er, never mind that we’re already a few weeks into it. Let’s do this.

P.S.: I also finally finished making my way through this beastly backlist (which was actually closer to 45 hours by the time I committed to it):

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Now I can finally move on to the dozen other albums and several dozen other free songs I’ve been waiting to check out until I finished vetting these. … oh.

Judging by the cover March 28, 2019

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How much work do you put into defining, and describing, a character’s appearance?

When I was a teenager, I described my characters in detail. I had clear images in my mind of how they looked and I wanted readers to get that same image. I also loved (and still love) crazy anime hair colours. I’ll admit I was guilty of this:

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But the books I read increasingly gave me the impression that describing characters in such detail was juvenile. I also came to shy away from unnatural hair colours, at least in traditional fantasy, for the same reason. I also prefer these days to make my characters more average-looking. After all, the world is not made up of Doctor Dooms and Captain Americas; it is made up of Johns and Jenns, Abduls and Taniquas. And I prefer to write stories about those regular people.

Yet, as a reader, I enjoy reading full descriptions of characters, getting an image in my head as clear as the author’s, and as accurate. And increasingly, my rebuttal to those reasons not to describe them in detail—show, don’t tell; don’t info dump; it’s not that important—is why not? It’s all fiction, and in my case, it’s all fantasy and science fiction. What problem is it to go ahead and describe characters in detail? One can go on too long, of course, but that is true of anything.

Aside from that, a character’s physical appearance says a lot about them. It is an extension of their personalities. How a character dresses or looks or styles their hair tells you a bit about them.

For example, take Damian, the star of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy. Her most distinguishing feature is her vivid yellow eyes; of course, they show that she’s different, and she’s spent the vast majority of her life hiding them behind a veil, until she makes a conscious choice not to hide them anymore. She styles her hair nicely, because she is effeminate and because she’s trying to show that there’s more to her than her strange eyes and what they represent. Yet, she makes fashionable gowns for herself that accentuate her body (slender, not shapely), not try to emphasize features she doesn’t have. She doesn’t wear corsets or padding or anything; she’s trying to show her best self, yet she is honest to a fault and does not want to be accepted for something she’s not.

Then there’s Garrick. He’s Marvel Studios ripped and very attractive, with an infectious/roguish smile. He is constantly aware of how he is perceived by others, and adjusts his posture, speech, and expressions to maximum effect for whatever company he’s in. Partly he does so to get whatever he’s looking for out of the encounter, and partly it’s to get the respect he has desperately desired throughout his life, and it also serves to cover up his own insecurities.

Maybe you don’t get all of that with a strict description of how a character looks, but the fact is, there’s a reason behind every character’s appearance. A character might be wearing an expensive but ill-tailored suit because they’re new money and don’t know how to live the high life, but want to. Maybe a female character refuses to wear a bikini because she’s self-conscious. A male character might have a patchy, or overly thick, beard because he’s trying to compensate for a babyish face he gets teased about otherwise.

All these details are more than just giving a reader a clear picture of the character the author is depicting; they’re clues into the character. And as readers, we also form opinions of the characters based on how they look, because that tends to show pieces of the character. Whether those opinions are affirmed by the character or challenge our biases, it adds to our understanding of the character.

And really, what’s wrong with describing a character’s appearance in detail?

A little micro fiction February 26, 2019

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“Skin-tight leather? Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to move in this?”

“It’s protection!”

“Against what, mosquitoes? Do you have any idea how hot and sweaty and sticky that’s going to get in a fight?”

“What do you want to be, the Superhero in Sweats?”

“Now that’s not a bad idea.”

On resolutions January 11, 2019

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fireworks-3653379_1280When I was younger, I wasn’t crazy about New Year’s. (Admittedly, I didn’t get invited to many parties.) These days, however, I like the spirit of renewal. A blank slate. Casting off the wearied remnants of the old year and looking toward the bright potential of the future.

Yes, it’s an arbitrary date and people shouldn’t need an excuse to improve themselves. But it’s a landmark. A reminder, when we’re so often swept up in the chaos of our daily lives, that we should constantly be trying to better ourselves.

And now, in the Information Age, it’s easier than ever to do. Free apps can teach you a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw and meditate and all sorts of things. YouTube videos can show you how to make or do almost anything. There’s a mountain of free ebooks and online courses out there that can help you master a new skill or subject. Most of these options are even broken down into chunks that only require a few minutes a day. There’s no excuse not to attempt any pursuit one might desire.

I don’t tend to make resolutions. I made an exception with my Goodreads reading challenge for 2019, and I’ll admit I like the push it gives me. Otherwise, however, I don’t want to pressure myself. I prefer goals. Google Fit keeps trying to get me to lower my fitness goals, make them more consistently attainable for me. But I’m not out to check boxes off every day. I want to strive for those goals. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make them, but I’ll allow myself to feel good if I do.

I don’t have a lot of goals for 2019. I already started trying to exercise regularly a few months ago, and last year I made some changes to my health that significantly improved my overall quality of life. I want to read more, of course. I do want to try to get the second Sisters of Chaos book out this year. Editing continues to be a slog, but I’m using the spirit of improvement the new year provides to try to push myself to at least continue working on it.

Of course, with all these options for personal improvement out there, it’s hard not to get swept up in the different things one can learn or do. I look at the guitar(s) in my bedroom and think about the apps I’ve looked at to try to start playing again. I watch my daughter using new art supplies and think about breaking out some of my own that I haven’t touched for years. I even downloaded one of those language learning apps on a whim last night.

Is it too much? Maybe. Do I have too little time to explore all these interests? Maybe not, at least based on the apps I’ve seen. Will I lose interest before the month’s out? Possibly. But these options are better than just sitting around playing a silly mobile game or watching cat videos on YouTube, which I tend to do more often in my free time because it’s easier than doing anything that can be judged. Maybe my true resolution should be to stop being intimidated by starting anything.

The key to a good new year is not merely hoping or wishing that it will be better. Now’s the time to start making things happen.

Here’s to a great 2019.

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The year of trying more? Oil pastels, 2.5″ x 3.5″

PSA October 19, 2018

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DlDhEk4W0AAKLKN.jpg large

Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

Sisters of Chaos book 2 update June 5, 2018

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I haven’t said anything about the progress of the sequel to Enduring Chaos in a long time. It’s intentional, though I’m not exactly sure why. Some nonsensical, subconscious mix of not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, feeling like people would just be frustrated with me posting about what I’m doing while still not having the book ready, feeling like I’m making too big a deal of it, still taking blog posts too seriously to just sit down and write one, or perhaps some straight-up pride (or guilt). But, it’s coming up on five years since the first book was released, which makes me groan, and I owe you, the readers, if nothing else, an explanation.

If you’ve been waiting for book two, all I can say is I’m sorry.

I have been working on it. After making a push last year and in late 2016, I finally finished the final first draft last summer. I then spent the next few months doing my preliminary edits before sending it off to beta readers in late fall. My beta readers gave me fantastic feedback, which came back in winter. Unfortunately, they made it clear that the story still needed some significant editing.

The editing has been a slog for the last few months. Just trying to figure out how to portray what I was trying to show instead of the less favourable impression the readers got, on one scene alone, held me up for a month or more. This has proven to be a very challenging book to write, and subsequently edit. There are particularly complex conflicts and character interactions, a whole wealth of new characters with their own cultures and histories to introduce, struggles not to bog down readers with too many characters or too much info in a notably bigger story than the first book*, dealing with all the backstory that a sequel entails (which I have never written before), remnants of earlier drafts that more often than not end up mucking up the works and have to be reworked, even hints of character development that the characters themselves aren’t aware of. Getting everything to align properly has also been tricky, because unlike every other book I’ve written, I wrote consecutively occurring storylines one POV at a time, and balancing timelines and spreading out scenes from different characters when I put it all together has required a lot of tweaking. It’s a lot of work and a lot of aspects that are difficult to handle.

* Spoiler alert: I completely failed at that one. Still working on some scenes there.

However, the beta readers are in agreement that it is a much better book than the first. Even though it’s not where I want it to be yet, I am quite pleased with it so far and have high hopes for it when it’s finished. The manuscript has already been through a lot of changes over the years and it has become a much stronger book for all the work I’ve put into it. I briefly considered trying to push it out for Gen Con this year, but I don’t want to rush it just to get it done. I want this book to be as good as it can be before I release it, particularly because it’s already better than the first book.

I have vowed not to write any other novel until I’ve finished this trilogy. I will, though, have a new short story related to the series in this year’s Missing Pieces volume at Gen Con. (It features a minor character introduced in book 2.) I do have at least a soft goal of having the book ready by next year’s Gen Con, if for no other reason than that the short story I have planned for next year’s Missing Pieces will contain a major spoiler for the book. I will admit that a couple years ago, I wrote a mostly unrelated novella that was intended to be for an earlier volume of Missing Pieces, but after finding that it needed much more editing than I could reasonably accomplish within the time frame for the anthology, it has been entirely back-burnered. Aside from that, and despite my muse occasionally (*cough* since last weekend) giving me a massive burst of inspiration for some other story, I have not written anything else.

I have a working title for the book which might end up being the final title, but I don’t want to share it yet because I’m not 100% satisfied with it.

For those who have been waiting for the book, thank you for your patience and I apologize again for the lengthy wait. If there’s anything you want to know about the book or any hints you’d like to see to hold you over until it’s ready, please don’t hesitate to comment here or send me a message through my contact form.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at any of the Brain Lag events coming up this summer:

June 17: Brampton ComiCon – Brampton, ON
July 13-15: Ad Astra – Richmond Hill, ON
August 2-5: Gen Con – Indianapolis, IN
September 22: Forest City Comicon – London, ON