How I Wrote a Novel in 12 Weeks

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135456 words. 12 weeks.

A full novel in 3 months. By pulp standards it’s sluggish, but it’s the fastest I’ve ever completed a novel of this length. And I was juggling a full-time work schedule and regular blog posts alongside it.

If there’s one thing I understand about the writing industry, it’s that if you want to make real coin from writing, you need to churn out lots of high quality work fast. To even come close to the success of the pulp greats, you need to write as much and as often as you can. Here’re the principles I applied to write a novel in 12 weeks.

Planning

Well before I wrote a single word of the novel, I had planned everything out. I knew the characters, the major plot events, how each scene led to the next and the long-term ramifications of significant events on the story and the series. Errors and plot holes and inconsistencies had been caught and fixed before they were written, saving time and energy and frustration. With knowledge of the entire book, all I had to do was show up and write.

I planned my writing schedule and stuck to it. I set aside a block of time every weekday and many weekends to write. Before I sat down to write, while I was busy doing other mundane things, I planned the day’s work. I would visualise the actions and the dialogue, putting myself in my writing frame of mind. When it came time to write, I already knew what to do, so I didn’t have to waste time wondering what would happen next. I just had to do the work.

Planning is half the battle. If you know what you have to do, you won’t waste time correcting yourself or wondering what to write next.

Focus

The secret to success is to blind yourself to everything but what you need to achieve your goals. I set myself a goal and refused all distractions.

My goals were, to me, modest but ironclad. One hour every weekday. Five thousand words every week. Minimum. If I couldn’t hit that target I kept going until I could. If I had free time on weekends I spent it writing, effectively doubling my average word count per week.

During planned writing sessions, I focused solely on writing. Not editing, not researching, not chatting with people. Writing. I placed myself in a state of flow and rode it all the way to the end of the session. If I absolutely had to research something, I set hard limits for myself, restricting the time and topics to look it up, and then went back to writing immediately. If you’re not writing, you’re not getting closer to your goal.

Inevitably, I thought of many ideas to improve the story. I didn’t allow myself to get distracted or caught in the trap of endlessly polishing incomplete copy. Instead, I left notes for myself inside the text and continued writing. In doing so I maintained the momentum, keeping the story going while honouring the ideas that could make it better later. Likewise, when I had ideas for other stories and universes, I pursued them only when I wasn’t busy writing.

When you write, write. Keep your eyes on the prize and entertain nothing that leads you off the trail.

Personal Care

You can’t write if you’re bedridden. You can’t write well if you’re sneezing all the time or feverish and miserable. Thus, taking care of your health is paramount.

I maintained a regular workout schedule, and used the time to develop the story further. I pushed my body to the limit, in preparation of stretching my mind further. I made sure to eat right, drink plenty of water and sleep as well as I could.

An important side benefit of personal care is discipline. You need discipline to stick to an exercise regime, a nutrition plan and a sleep schedule. That same discipline spills over into writing, allowing you to stick to your plan and focus on writing.

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. You need both to succeed at the writing game.

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

Don’t stick slavishly to plans and regimens. If you develop an idea superior to the current plan, roll with it. If a block of time suddenly frees up, use it for writing or writing-related tasks if you can. If you find that deviating from a plan leads to a superior outcome, do it.

While writing the novel, I came up with a number of new ideas on the spot. They deviated from the plan, but they fleshed out the antagonists, created a new one, and added a deeper layer to the story lore. I changed the location and circumstances of the climatic action scene, making it even more awesome and explosive than before, and altered the planned ending to inject tragedy, humour, hope and sequel hooks.

Have a plan, work the plan, but don’t be afraid to branch off and do something else if doing it will lead to superior outcomes.

Conclusions

Know what you are going to do before you do it. When you start, commit fully and do not stop until you have achieved your goals. Look after your mind, body and spirit. Deviate from your plans if doing so will achieve a superior outcome.

These principles allowed me to write a massive (by modern standards) novel within a short timeframe. While nowhere near close to Pulp Speed, I believe continued application will allow me to quickly produce the quantity and quality of content my readers demand. And I’m only getting started.

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If you’d like to see the novel that preceded the one I mentioned here, you can find NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon and the Castalia House ebook store.

Writing Through the Churn

 

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Show up. Sit down. Write.

Time-honoured writer’s advice. For the nine months I did exactly that. Whenever I had a spare moment, I booted up the word processor, sat down, and wrote. Between blogging and fiction I must have churned out hundreds upon thousands of words. Going by word count alone, it was an unqualified success.

It’s not.

Of the hundreds of thousands of words I spilled on the page, I only produced two stories that I can reasonably hope to publish.

Just ten percent of the words I wrote.

In the profession of writing most people only see the successes. The marketing copy, the press releases, the interviews, the blog and Facebook and Twitter announcements of the Next Upcoming Bestseller by Another World Renowned Author.

They don’t see the uncounted hours at the keyboard, banging away against the keys, squeezing every spare second from the clock while simultaneously wishing that the session was over. They don’t experience the joy of visualising something transcendent in one’s daydreams and the agony of watching it turn to clay on the screen and the horror of knowing that you are not good enough to fix the story and elevate it to that rarefied state in your vision.

It’s tempting to give up and walk away. But the difference between success and failure is often determined by how long and how well you stick to something.

The old-time SFF greats and the pulp masters of the early 20th century could sit at their typewriters and churn out ten-thousand-word short stories and hundred-thousand-word novels in the sure and certain hope that publishers would buy them, no questions asked. They had to: with their livelihoods on the line, they couldn’t afford to waste a story.

And they only got to that stage after innumerable hours of toiling at the keys.

Jerry Pournelle advised writers to be prepared to write and throw away a million words of material. I suppose at this stage in the game I’m still paying the toll. Eliminating nine in ten words sounds horrible, but it’s better than ten in ten. And I still have stories that have turned out well.

Up to this point, I’d been reliably turning out at least one novel and one novella every year. I was limited not by output, but by how fast publishing platforms, editors and artists could act. So I wanted to try something new. New genres, new concepts, new tones, new stylistic choices.

And found the difference between my ambition and my ability.

Coming up with ideas is easy. I can recite from memory at least five dozen story ideas at any time. But in this business only completed and published stories count.

To get published stories you need completed stories. To get completed stories you need to write. But in the course of writing or editing you may find that what you thought was literary gold was little more than dust.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me. I don’t think it’ll be the last either.

It’s easy to chuck failed stories into the recycle bin and forget them. When you’re churning out words and discover the story isn’t what you think it is, it’s easy to give up and do something else. But the better approach is to approach it as a learning experience.

You have to write through the churn. Even if the story feels like it’s falling apart, if the prose you produced doesn’t come anywhere near your standards, if your characters don different masks and become other people, if your own writing voice metamorphoses into something else, you have to keep writing. You have to keep going and see the story through. In the worst case scenario, you’ve found what doesn’t work. In the best case, you can come back to it later and fix it, when you’re no longer so emotionally invested in the prose, or recycle the key concepts elsewhere.

But there is a time to know when to give up.

You can’t count on your feelings. Emotions matter in the moment when you’re writing. When you take the long view and read a story from an editor’s or reader’s perspective, how you feel about the story while writing it doesn’t matter. What matters is the bones of the story: the worldbuilding, critical plot elements, underlying assumptions about characters and organisations. The only reason to give up on a story is when you realise it is fundamentally flawed, and by fixing the flaw and following through you have to change the rest of the story. At that point, you’re basically writing a new story from scratch. No sense spending time and energy on something that has already died; better to refocus your energies on a better concept.

Even then, you shouldn’t give up on the idea of the story. The manifestation of the story may be fatally flawed, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the idea itself is wrong. If the core themes, character traits, technology or magic systems, or other aspects can be salvaged, then they must be retained. One should never throw out the baby with the bathwater.

When I was 17 years old I came up with an idea of a secret organisation that travelled around the world dispatching monsters. Its distinguishing feature was that its members were directly supported by supernatural entities, and would be drawn into an epic battle between good and evil.

That story didn’t work.

Even so, I kept at it. I generated idea after idea, smashed them together, blended them in different ways, discarded the ones that didn’t work. I created and destroyed plots and technologies, characters and critical historical events — and I finally got to writing stories to see how well they would work.

I had a story about a civil war between factions of a religious organisation — it didn’t work. I had an arcanepunk story with energy blades and teleportation and rogue agents — it didn’t work. I had a story that mixed Final Fantasy and Task Force Talon with Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon — it didn’t work.

Yet over the years, I kept going back to the core concepts, refining them, thinking about the setting and characters, contemplating what else might work. Even as I focused on other stories this one was still in the back of my mind. In 2015 I tried again, and I produced a novel.

And that novel, No Gods, Only Daimons, will be published soon by Castalia House.

Writing is a long game. It took 11 years to turn the original concept into reality. And over the course of 11 years, I developed a basketful of ideas that be recycled into other worlds, if or when the time is right.

My latest works haven’t panned out so well, but that’s nothing to get upset over. Now I think I know what works for me and, more importantly, what doesn’t work. I have a better understanding of where to focus my energies to manifest my ideas and deliver maximum impact. And I’m going to keep writing, always.

Treat every story you write as a learning experience. Whether you’re riffing off familiar concepts or doing something new, you should strive to do better than your last. You have to write through the churn and see stories to the end, whether it be bitter or glorious. You can always go back and fix things, and even if you can’t, at least you know what doesn’t work. For now.

The secret to writing success is simple. Show up. Sit down. Write.

Always.

Gatekeepers Make Creators Fragile

Creators and artists of all persuasions cannot count on gatekeepers. Many publishers and corporate sponsors do not have the creators’ interests in mind, only their own. That gives social justice warriors a vulnerability to exploit.

Earlier this week, political interest groups used deceptively edited footage to assassinate Milo Yiannopoulis’ character. The edited clip showed Yiannopoulis apparently defending paedophilia, leaving out the entirety of his argument: the law on age of consent is proper; in some rare cases a sexually mature teenager older than a child but younger than the age of consent may give consent; intergenerational relationships between younger and older gay men, both of them above the age of consent, are beneficial; and that paedophilia is an unforgiveable crime. The lie caught like wildfire across the Internet, prompting Simon & Schuster to cancel Yiannopoulis’ book publication. Yiannopoulis himself opted to resign from Breitbart to draw fire away from his colleagues.

Yiannopoulis is not a one-off event either. Disney-owned Maker Studies and YouTube severed ties with YouTube sensation PewDiePie after he was accused of making anti-Semitic content. Bestseller author Nick Cole’s former publisher dropped him after objecting to a chapter in his work Ctrl-Alt-Revolt that likened the antagonists’ motivations to abortion.

Social Justice Warriors and progressives of the Ctrl-Left know that gatekeepers are fragile. Stir up enough of a controversy and the gatekeepers will fold – if the gatekeepers are not themselves already converged by SJWs to suit the ends of SocJus. This trend can only continue into the future: now that authors and publishers are hiring ‘sensitivity readers’, one can expect Big Publishing to weed out and reject every doubleplusungood thoughtcrime book and author.

From Crisis, Opportunity

Cleaving to fragile gatekeepers makes creators fragile. The fickle whims of the crowd will inevitably turn against anyone SJWs do not approve of, even their own allies. SJWs will always eat their own.

Creators must seek to be antifragile. Every crisis becomes an opportunity for growth.

After Nick Cole wrote about his being dropped, he signed on with Castalia House to release his novels. When Roosh V was attacked by feminists and slandered by the media, he went on the offensive and increased his own popularity. Milo Yiannopoulis is now setting up his own independent media network.

The lessons are clear. Build your own brands and platforms. Never count on gatekeepers to protect you; always go indie if you can. Never give in to the howling mobs of never-to-be-placated Social Justice Warriors. When mobbed, always counterattack at the earliest possibility. Study Vox Day’s seminal work, SJWs Always Lie, and be prepared for the inevitable wave of shrieking harpies. If you must work with publishers, select those that will not bow to the whims of SocJus, like Baen or Castalia House.

To be famous in the modern age is to attract the jealousies and intrigues of lesser people whose only talent is to lie and shriek and denounce. But as these men have demonstrated, the skilful creator can turn the situation around for his own profit. Antifragility is no longer an intellectual curiosity; for creators, it is a critical life skill.

Image: SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day

I, ESCHATON is live!

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I, ESCHATON is live and ready for sale! The third entry of the American Heirs series, this story picks up where KEEPERS OF THE FLAME left off, taking Master Sergeant Christopher Miller into a new battlefield. To quote the blurb:

Master Sergeant Christopher Miller has returned home from war, but war has come to find him.
The Sons of America are targeting the Wilshaw Foundation, and Miller’s lover, Sarah Grey, is at the top of their hit list. To survive, Miller must go underground with Sarah. But to prevail, they must ally themselves with the enigmatic artificial intelligence that calls itself Eschaton.
An extension of the smart networks that underpin the Republic of Cascadia, the AI offers contacts, resources and the full power of the national security apparatus. But at what price?

I, ESCHATON can be found on Amazon, Smashwords and Payhip.

Observant customers might have noticed the prices. That’s right: I’ve slashed the prices of my stories. Previously, novels were USD$5.99 and novellas at USD$3.99. Now, they are priced at USD$3.99 and USD$2.99 respectively. Plus. if you share my ebooks on Facebook and Twitter via Payhip , you’ll also get a 30% discount. These among are the most affordable military science fiction ebooks on the market; get them while you can.

In other publishing news: I’m about two-thirds of the way through my next novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS. It is a science fantasy novel set in a world populated by daimons and jinn, where specially-trained psions can use divine or infernal materials to reshape reality or themselves. It has cybernetics, reality manipulation, daimonic summoning, high intensity close quarter combat, hacking, and rumours of a coming apocalypse. It’s the first book of an exciting new series, and I hope I can share it with you soon.

I have also begun work on another short story. This one is a military science fiction action story with horror elements, with the setting organically allowing for magic. I can’t say anything else about this, only that just thinking about it makes me break out into giggles. In a good way.

I, ESCHATON ready for preorder!

It is my unalloyed pleasure to announce that the third entry in the American Heirs series, I, Eschaton, is now available for preorder. I meant to make the announcement earlier this week, but I had to sort out no end of formatting issues until today. Here’s a shot of the cover and the blurb:

Master Sergeant Christopher Miller has returned home from war, but war has come home to find him.
The Sons of America are targeting the Wilshaw Foundation, and Miller’s lover, Sarah Grey, is at the top of their hit list. To survive, Miller must go underground with Sarah. But to prevail, they must ally themselves with the enigmatic artificial intelligence that calls itself Eschaton.

An extension of the smart networks that underpin the Republic of Cascadia, the AI offers contacts, resources and the full power of the national security apparatus. But at what price?

I, Eschaton will go live on 4th May 2015 on the wrong side of the International Date LineYou can make pre-orders now on Smashwords and Amazon. When the manuscripts go live, I’ll be uploading a copy on my ebook store.

I, Eschaton marks the halfway point of American Heirs. There are three more stories to go, two novels and a novella. For the time being, though, I’m working on a different story with a different series concept. It’s nothing like what I’ve ever done before, and I’m keeping the details to myself until everything’s ready.

I can, however, reveal the working title: No Gods, Only Daimons

Chapter 2 of I, Eschaton

As I, Eschaton draws towards publication, here’s Chapter 2 in its glory. Here, Christopher Miller and Sarah Grey learn about the attack on the Wilshaw Foundation…and so does Eschaton.

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Chapter 2

Pagan in Repose

Pain was an old friend. It had crept up on him the way the seasons did, obvious only in hindsight. After a lifetime in the military, training at the outer limits of human performance and serving in hotspots around a world two steps away from chaos, his body more closely resembled someone five, maybe ten years older than his real age of thirty-two. Not his muscles or his outward appearance, rather the worn cartilage in his knees and spine, the knobby bone spurs in his neck and ankles, lingering pains from scars and old injuries. And even that was largely due to superior conditioning, the finest sports medicine Cascadia had to offer, and medical nanomachine treatments.

Christopher Miller rolled, stiffly, agonizingly, out of bed. At least he didn’t groan this time. Sarah Grey snoozed on the other side of the bed, oblivious. The detritus of the previous night—discarded clothes, kicked-off shoes, toys—lay scattered across the floor. He smiled. They’d spent all of yesterday hiking and practicing combatives and shooting, but they still had energy for other…recreational…activities when they got home, late in the evening.

Miller swept a clear path with his feet, pulling on his T-shirt and shorts. He slipped on a pair of moccasins, filled up a soft plastic water bottle, clipped on his chest pack and went outside.

There was just enough light to see by. On his front porch, he stretched and twisted, rotating and swinging his joints, easing them into the full range of motion. He flowed into leg-lifts, butt-kicks, lunges, half-squats, push-ups, smoothly raising his heart rate, letting blood nourish his limbs.

Morning exercise began proper. No fancy gym here. Out in the wilderness he preferred bodyweight movements, working every muscle from head to toe. One-arm push-ups, pistol squats, bridges, handstand push-ups. On a nearby tree he had hung a pair of gymnastic rings. There he did one-arm pull-ups, hanging leg raises, levers, L-seats. He went full-bore for forty-five concentrated minutes, stopping only long enough to shift to the next set. At the end of the routine, his muscles burned pleasantly, and his joints quietened their protests.

He chugged down a shot of water, clipped the bottle to a D-ring on his pack, and ran. Not jogged. Ran. On active duty he ran in full kit; today, he made up for the weight with extra speed. He sped past his neighbors, jumping over or swerving around obstacles, practicing the art of natural movement as he went along. The Greenhaven EcoPark was the next generation of trailer parks, a self-contained ecosystem of greenery and small wild animals, with a small but growing population of humans housed in what the advertisers called LifePods. The pods were glorified trailers the size of shipping containers, but each was self-sufficient. They had solar globes on the roof for sunlight, water catchment and reclamation systems, waste composting tanks, and satellite-based Internet connections. They were also cheap—cheap enough that he could live out here for three years what it cost to live in the big city for one, and still have a nice hunk of change left over.

He took a long, winding route around the park, running until the sun was up and the sky turned blue. People bustled about, tending to their business. Microfarmers inspected their livestock and produce. Artisans trekked to their workshops. Some people fired up generators while others cleaned out their reclamation systems or just maintained their homes.

Approaching his home, he slowed to a brisk walk. His lungs were aflame. Pain spiked through his right side, coursing through flesh where shrapnel had torn through a week ago. He winced. The doctor had told him to take it easy. Maybe so, but he was coming up to the end of his medical leave and he needed to be at a hundred percent.

Sarah was waiting for him. Her cheeks were flushed, her skin shining with sweat. They both knew she couldn’t possibly keep up with him, but tried to coordinate their schedules anyway. While Miller was out running, Sarah had busied herself with a piloga routine, some strange hybrid of Pilates and yoga. She smiled at him, and together they went through a series of cool down stretches. More out of companionship than necessity, but Miller figured his joints would appreciate it.

They shared a shower in the bathroom. It was cramped, but both were used to small spaces. Miller stayed to brush his teeth, while Sarah made the bed and cleaned up.

They made breakfast together. Omelets made from free-range chicken eggs, mixed with capsicum, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and full-fat strained yoghurt. Sarah had hers with salt, Miller had his with pepper. All the food was sourced from nearby farmers, either purchased directly or at the local farmers’ market. It reminded Miller of his childhood—but, unlike his early days in New Washington, Greenhaven’s agricultural areas were managed with more care, and so far hadn’t suffered any crop failures or die-offs.

“How’s breakfast?” she asked.

Miller took an experimental bite. “Perfect, as usual.”

She beamed, and dug in.

At which point, Miller’s ebrain chimed. He had an incoming conference call, from a blocked number.

“I’ve got a call,” he said.

She arced an eyebrow. “Me too.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

“Eschaton,” they said simultaneously.

Anonymous conference calls were the artificial intelligence’s preferred, and perhaps only, means of communicating with them out here. They’d met the AI separately under trying circumstances. When Miller came home to recover from his last mission, Eschaton had contacted them together. Miller and Sarah had a few strained conversations with it since then, with the AI trying to learn more about humans and the humans attempting to elicit more personal information from Eschaton.

“It wants something from us,” Miller said.

“Let’s find out.”

They accepted the call.

“Good morning,” a flat digital monotone said. “I trust you slept well?”

The AI was learning to be polite. Miller didn’t see a reason to discourage that. “Yes, thank you. And are you doing fine?”

“Yes. Have you read the news?”

“Not yet. What’s up?”

“Take a look.”

In the living room, the holovision projectors fired up, displaying the home page of Cascadia News Broadcast Network. The images expanded, letting Miller read the text over Sarah’s shoulder without having to squint.

“Holy shit!”

“What’s wrong?” Sarah asked.

“Take a look.”

She turned around.

“Holy SHIT!

The headlines were splashed across the screen: ‘Terrorists attack Wilshaw Foundation, killing 108’.

“How the hell…?” she said.

Miller alternated between his omelet and the news, chewing his food as carefully as he did the words. A group of terrorists attacked the Wilshaw Foundation, gunning down everybody inside the office and leaving behind booby traps. They delayed emergency services with a cyberattack on the dispatch system, and detonated a car bomb outside 38 Vandemeer Plaza. The Sons of America have claimed responsibility.

Sarah’s face went pale. The rest of her froze.

“Sarah, are you okay?”

“Oh. My. God.” She turned around, burying her face in her hands. “My God.”

Miller went to her. She pressed her face against his shoulder. “I…I could have been there. If you hadn’t…I’d…”

He hushed her, wrapping his arms around her. “Shh. It’s okay. You’re safe.”

The Sons of America had targeted Miller, among other special operators, during their resurgence. When the Army bureaucracy disqualified Sarah from protection, Miller had single-handedly moved her to Greenhaven. She was still on a leave of absence from the Foundation. If she hadn’t…

“That is incorrect,” Eschaton said.

“What do you mean?” Miller asked.

“The Wilshaw Foundation was developing policy recommendations for the Federal government. The Sons of America have destroyed all data relating to their activities in the Yellow Zone, and killed a significant number of the Foundation working group investigating the SOA’s activities in the Yellow Zone. I extrapolate that the surviving members of the SOA policy working group is at risk. Including Professor Sarah Grey.”

Sarah swallowed. “Did anyone else from the Foundation survive?”

“I am currently cross-referencing casualty reports with employee payrolls and documentation. It appears that everyone inside the Wilshaw Foundation was killed in the attack. Only the ones not physically present in the office survived.”

Sarah nodded, mainly to herself. Miller felt her jaw clench. “What are we going to do?” she asked.

“Shelter in place,” Miller said. “If the enemy’s going after the Foundation, we need to hole up and remain underground.”

“You can’t stay here forever,” she said.

Miller sighed. That was true. Any moment now, the Unit could recall him to duty if they decided their manpower needs superseded his medical profile. More than that, though, he wanted…needed to get back into the fight. Cascadia was on the verge of war. The Cascadian Defense Forces were mobilizing to embark on the largest counterinsurgency campaign in the short history of the Republic. He had to be out there, at the tip of the spear alongside the Unit. That was his calling in life, and he couldn’t do that sequestered in a tiny pod.

“Master Sergeant Miller, I require your assistance,” Eschaton said.

An all-powerful AI needs my help? Miller wondered. Out loud, he said, “What kind of assistance?”

“I will not tolerate the presence of the Sons of America in the Green Zone. They have attacked me once, and they will attack me again. I request your help in eliminating this cell.”

“You can’t do that by yourself?”

“There is only so much I can do without being discovered.”

Only a handful of people knew Eschaton existed. It was afraid that if it revealed itself, the public would clamor to delete Eschaton, legally or otherwise. As the SOA had demonstrated before, it was effectively defenseless against physical penetration of its network nodes. Miller didn’t know how much of that was justified, how much of it was paranoia—and how much was just an attempt to manipulate him into doing its bidding.

“There is also only so much one man can do.”

“The Combat Studies Unit has attached a team to assist the National Security Service in investigating the attack. Your team.”

Miller’s eyebrows shot up. “The hell?” He frowned. “That’s not a coincidence, is it?”

“No.”

“You did it.”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“The national military and security bureaucracy is sufficiently large that paperwork may be generated and passed on without anybody knowing its true origin.”

Miller folded his arms. “Well, then. My men should be able to help out, no? What do you need me for?”

“To eliminate the cell.”

“Meaning, to kill them all.”

“If necessary.”

Miller snorted. “Get someone else to play your games. I’m not interested.”

The holoscreen cleared, displaying official looking paperwork.

“This is a recall order,” Eschaton said. “The Unit’s medical specialists have decided that your wounds do not preclude limited duty in the Green Zone. In the interests of team cohesion, they are recommending that you be returned to duty to assist the investigation.”

“Goddammit Eschaton!”

“This was not my creation,” the AI continued, speaking a little more slowly. “Colonel Ryan Kincaid ordered the medical review. Very soon, the Unit will be contacting you. I am merely providing advance notice.”

Sarah licked her lips. “The Unit can do this?”

“National security supersedes individual security,” Miller muttered.

“Our interests coincide,” Eschaton said.

Miller’s lips compressed into a narrow line. “You don’t say. Looks like I’ll be popping back into Cascadia, hooking up with the team, and developing the situation.”

The last phrase was deliberately vague. If the SOA left the boundaries of the Green Zone, where the laws and customs of civilization applied, they were fair game for the military. The Unit, in particular. Attaching a full team to the investigation meant that the moment the investigation developed actionable intelligence outside the Green Zone, the Unit could swing into action without delay.

And Sarah didn’t need to know that.

“Let me come with you,” Sarah said.

“No,” he said reflexively.

Sarah frowned, crossing her arms. “Why? It’s too dangerous?”

“It’s not that. You’re a civilian, with no special skills or training. How exactly are you going to contribute?”

She tapped her skull. “The Wilshaw Foundation uses a closed peer-to-peer messaging network for secure internal communications. A network I have access to. I can help contact the survivors and coordinate the response. And.” She grinned. “And. Until we know otherwise, at this moment I am Cascadia’s foremost expert on the Sons of America. You need someone who knows how they think, their mindsets, their preferred strategies. Eschaton, you can doctor paperwork to have me attached to the task force, correct?”

“Yes.”

Miller took a deep breath. Let it out. And realized that, yes, he needed her too. She wasn’t being overt about it, but he knew that she resented the way Eschaton had forced people to do its people. Separated, Eschaton could control them. Together, they stood a chance against its machinations.

“Fine. But I have operational control. Out in the field, if I or anybody from the Unit give an order, you will obey immediately.”

She grinned impishly. “Yes milord.”

“You will be armed at all times where practical. You will wear body armor if directed to. If the situation gets too hot, you will be evacuated to a safe house.”

“Yes dearest.”

“We won’t be babysitting you. You’ll have to look out after yourself. If you can’t keep up, you will be left behind. Or kicked out.”

“Yeeeeeeeees deeeeeeear.”

“Good girl.” He sighed. “Don’t make me regret this.”

“I won’t.”

Chapter 1 of I, ESCHATON

The next entry in the American Heirs series, titled I, ESCHATON is almost good to go. All that’s left is the cover. Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

Chapter 1

Special Delivery

Jacques’ timing was perfect.

It was just after two in the afternoon. Office workers thronged the streets, hurrying back to their workplaces from the plethora of coffee shops that dotted Downtown Seattle, many of them with their faces buried in smartphones, tablets, or augmented reality glasses. Jacques studied the crowd, spotting a few making a beeline for 38 Vandemeer Plaza.

The skyscraper gleamed in the sunlight. It was sleek lines and clean glass, shiny metal and unyielding concrete. Modern technology never ceased to amaze him. His childhood memories were of mold-blackened roofs, crumbling walls, streets filled with trash and debris, and packs of ferals that around every corner, waiting for easy prey. It was almost a shame to burn it all down.

Jacques pulled his van into an open spot in front of the tower. Smoothening down his gray deliveryman’s uniform, he reached under the dashboard and flicked three concealed switches. He grabbed the box on the passenger seat and jumped out, locking the vehicle behind him.

Cradling the box to his chest with gloved hands, he pretended it was filled with heavy lead bricks and waddled to the tower, slipping in behind a small knot of white collars. One of them smiled at him, opening the door to let him through. He smiled back.

A series of gantries controlled access to the main lobby. Employees flashed smart cards to pass. Jacques headed for the security desk, where an elderly woman manned a computer.

Can I help you?” she asked.

Ah, oui,” he said, his head just barely clearing the top of the box. “I have delivery for Wilshaw Foundation? On floor nineteen?”

She gave him an once-over, and smiled. “Is it a scheduled delivery?”

Ah, yes, I have paperwork here.” He pulled out a flexitab from his pocket, unfurled it to its full length and powered it up. An impressive set of blanks and words filled the screen.

I see,” she said. “Do you need help?”

Non, I can carry this myself. But the gate…”

Of course.”

She got off her chair and emerged behind her desk. She was a very short woman, almost broader than she was tall. Jacques wondered how this…creature…managed to be a security guard. There were no fat people where he lived. There was never nearly enough to go around, and everybody knew fat people couldn’t fight.

Huffing from the exertion, she tottered over to the nearest gantry and flashed her security card over the scanner. The gantry beeped and opened. Muttering thanks under his breath, Jacques eased his way through, keeping up the charade. He studied the signs on the lobby, and called for the elevator that served odd-numbered floors. He’d been living and operating in the Green Zone for a few years now, and he’d always wondered why there were lifts that only served specific floors.

Once again, Jacques’ sense of timing served him well. When the elevator doors opened, a few office workers entered with him. One of them pushed the button for the nineteenth floor. All of them gave him a wide berth, and looked away from his face.

There were a number of tenants on the nineteenth floor. A law firm, an Internet marketing company, a gang of financial advisers. But the main one, the one that mattered most, was the Wilshaw Foundation. Jacques stepped out and turned right, following a woman. She opened the door with her smart card, and he dashed in just before the door closed.

Jacques glanced around the reception area. A white-uniformed security guard stood nearby, his face a portrait of professional boredom. Unlike the one downstairs, this one was armed with a pistol at his hip. The Wilshaw Foundation had upgraded its security over the last month, in response to the Sons of America striking targets across Cascadia. But there was only the one guard.

Hello?” the receptionist said. “Do you have a delivery?”

Ah, oui,” Jacques replied. He eased the box on her desk with a soft groan, and fished out his flexitab. “Please ack-no-ledge receipt here.”

She took the flexitab, opening it up. “What’s inside?”

Jacques glanced at the guard. The guard was still standing there, still bored, still unaware of what was coming.

He would be the first to die.

Death.”

Jacques reached in and pulled out his weapon. The 100-round casket magazine in the pistol grip was heavy, but the weapon was so finely balanced the extra weight made it easier to aim. He swiveled over to face the security guard and thumbed the fire selector to full auto, his off-hand grabbing the forward pistol grip and mashing down the pressure pad for the top-mounted laser sight. The gun still down at his hip, Jacques brought the laser up to the guard’s chest and squeezed the trigger. The stubby suppressor screwed on the muzzle reduced the report to a loud THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD. The guard dropped on his face.

Huh?” the receptionist replied, looking up.

Jacques casually turned around and put a bullet in her face. Turning back, he extended the weapon’s wire stock, brought it to his shoulder, peered through the reflex sight, and put a single shot into the downed guard’s brain. A nearby office worker gasped, dropping a stack of files. Jacques drilled her too, twice in the chest, twice in the face. With no more targets in view, he picked up the flexitab and swiped his finger across the screen. The text window gave way to a phone app.

Entrance secure,” he said, and stepped away from the flexitab.

Backing up against the wall, still aiming downrange, Jacques hit the button that unlocked the doors to the office with his left hand. The magnetic locks released with an audible thunk.

The door opened. Seven men flowed in. All wore black masks, gloves, and goggles. The last man tossed Jacques a balaclava. Jacques pulled it on as suppressed automatic fire erupted around him. Two of the newcomers took up security positions behind the security desk, kicking the corpse away. One grabbed the flexitab while the other plugged a flash stick into the computer.

Uploading worms,” the one with the tablet called.

The five-man assault team surged into the Foundation’s main workspace, suppressed gunfire in their wake, and Jacques followed.

Corpses piled the floor. Blood spattered across the walls and soaked into the carpet. The six men worked the room, gunning down everybody they saw. A young woman popped her head out a door and ate a bullet. A large fat man, seated at a couch, tried to stand, but a shooter stitched him from gut to face. Jacques saw a wounded man push himself off the floor, and rewarded his effort with a head shot. A woman, hiding behind a desk, jumped up at an attacker as he passed. She screamed, arcing her body away from him, throwing awkward, powerless slaps at his face. He shot her off him with a burst to the groin, snarling, and erased her face with a second burst. Another woman curled up behind a couch, whimpering, pleading for the police dispatcher to pick up. Jacques dragged her out and shot her.

Clear!” the assault leader called.

Clear!” Jacques responded.

Past the work zone were a series of private offices. All of them had full-length windows and doors made of clear polymer. Most of them were curtained off. Jacques knew the basics of active shooter response training: run, hide and fight. The two men at reception had sealed off the only escape route. If there were survivors, they would be hiding inside the offices, with some preparing to fight if the intruders broke in.

Which they wouldn’t. The shooters ahead of Jacques lowered their goggles. These were fusion vision goggles, able to combine different vision modes in one. Including ultraband radar. Forming a tight triangle, they stalked the corridors and passages between the offices. Wherever they saw a survivor, they fired through the walls. Plastic splintered and shattered. People screamed and begged. Blood flowed in rivers. Jacques hung back, watching for survivors, checking the bodies the advance party had left behind.

Doors flung open. A man yelled. Eight people burst out of the last two offices, each holding an improvised weapon in their hands: fire extinguishers, a chair, flexitabs. Jacques didn’t have a clear shot, but that was all right. The shooters ahead of him held their ground, unleashing disciplined torrents of steel into the mob, cutting them down with aimed fire. None of the civvies got close.

Area clear,” the leader reported. “No more survivors.”

Proceed with phase two,” Jacques said.

Tearing through the offices, they found a door labeled ‘Information Technology’. Inside were a series of desktops, and a large tower that housed the Foundation’s server. One of the shooters pulled out a tablet and wired it to the tower, while the others took up security positions. Walking over to a window, Jacques peered out to the street below. All was quiet downstairs. Nobody was running, traffic was normal, no sign of police attention. Jacques sauntered into the server room and waited.

Phase two complete,” the man with the tablet announced.

Well done,” Jacques said. “Initiate phase three.”

The shooter disconnected the tablet and put it away. From another pocket, he removed a sticky bomb. He peeled off the back lining, exposing an adhesive resin. He stuck the disc-shaped object on the server, with the business end pointed at the doorway. He turned a dial, setting the proximity fuse to activate in a minute.

The men bugged out. Jacques, with empty pockets, led the way out. The rest trailed, taking turns to booby-trap bodies and corners with more sticky bombs. The team regrouped at the reception desk. There were four new bodies on the floor. Someone had dragged them in from the corridor outside. Jacques looked askance at the nearer of the two shooters on security.

Witnesses,” he said, shrugging.

Jacques nodded. “Good. My flexitab?”

The shooter returned it to Jacques.

The eight men left the Foundation, heading into a nearby stairwell. Eight duffle bags awaited. They grabbed one each and tossed in their masks, weapons, gloves, ammo, everything that made them stand out. Then they headed down the stairs, as fast as their legs would take them.

Twenty floors down, they were sweating and breathing hard as they emerged into the basement car park. A black van was waiting for them, the engine purring. The men climbed in, with Jacques taking the passenger seat.

All in,” the assault leader said. “Roll.”

Rolling,” the driver acknowledged, and drove. Jacques leaned against his seat, breathing deep, letting the air conditioner cool his face.

Up on street level, Jacques pulled his flexitab from his pocket. He closed the dummy screen and opened another app. The screen dissolved to black, displaying a single red button. Jacques checked the reception. Full strength. He took a deep breath. Let it out. Pushed the button.

A block away, the street erupted in flame and steel.

A Deeper Silence

On Wednesday my computer broke down without warning. I suspect it’s a hard disk drive failure, but time will tell the true cause. The digital silence that followed gave me the time I needed to coalesce some thoughts that were floating about in my mind, specifically pertaining to silence and speech.

As an introvert, silence comes naturally to me, and in prolonged silence I find the space and concentration necessary for deep thought and creativity. As a professional communicator, silence is a potential harbinger for disaster and long periods of it means you will be ignored and forgotten. I’m coming to understand this fundamental tension between my inclinations and my profession. Now I’m trying to put this into practice, discussing very recent events and making some updates.

Firstly, I’m pleased to report that the third entry of the American Heirs series, I, Eschaton, has completed the first round of proofreading and is entering the final stage of edits. I also managed to back up the last round of changes before my computer’s untimely demise. Work is on hold for the moment: I’m working on a loaner at the moment, and I would rather not keep sensitive information on it if I can avoid it. I am, however, planning for publication within the next couple of months, and am doing what preparatory work I can.

Secondly, I have also begun planning my next set of stories. It is not necessarily the fourth installment of the American Heirs series. It is not necessarily the same mishmash of science fiction and military tropes either. In the early days of the creative process I’ve noticed ideas come and go very often. I don’t think it’s prudent to raise expectations by talking about a product that may be dramatically transformed between conceptualization and publication.

Thirdly, I regret to say that my video game project, Odyssey: Remnants of Terra, is on hold indefinitely. The problem was mechanics: Odyssey was originally conceptualised as a shooter, and despite my best efforts I could not find a way to fit it into our chosen game engine, RPG Maker. After some intense discussion we concluded that the only way for Odyssey to work is if we choose another game engine, learn it from the inside out, and maybe expand the team. This takes time, money and contacts. Not to say we have given up on it completely, but we need to line up our ducks in a row before we can execute.

With that in mind, we are still going to create a game. Odyssey was a learning journey, and we came to better understand the ins and outs of the RPG Maker engine. As it transpires, I have an (as-yet) unpublished story that would, with some reworking, fit RPG Maker’s mechanics far better than Odyssey. Time will tell, but with this new pivot I hope we can finally create a product.

Finally, in spite of my quasi-weekly update schedule I noticed that readership has significantly tapered off. Part of this can be attributed to the shift in URL. In hindsight I should simply have maintained the old wordpress site and redirected visitors here, but it’s a bit too late to cry over spilled milk. All I can do is keep on keeping on.

Beyond that, though, sometimes it just feels like there’s nothing to say. That I’m either too busy working or else too preoccupied with other matters to blog. With a personality like mine, I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the need for quiet time, to process and analyze before acting. I don’t like to fill my pages with empty talk, and usually if I only have a few lines or paragraphs to talk about something they go on Facebook instead of my blog.

Content is king, as the saying goes. Now the question is what kind of content goes here, and how much. I have a headful of ideas. Some will stick true to the core Benjamin Cheah brand of deep analysis of politics and other issues. Others will take it into different directions. With a very small readership I’m effectively rebooting my brand. The question is where it will go from here.

That, I think, is something I need to answer first in a deeper silence.

Lessons from Failure

In the technology field, a popular mantra goes, Fail early and fail often. The idea being to try out new ideas while the company is still new, understand your mistakes, then incorporate these lessons into future products. I’ve been applying this to my writing, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Along the way I learned that this idea is incomplete.  The full mantra should be: Fail early, fail fast, fail often, fail smart, fail forward.

Fail early

A writer’s career doesn’t start with publication. It begins when he puts pen to paper, when he commits to writing. It doesn’t matter how famous that person is; when he’s got nothing to his name he’s writing on a blank slate. At that point, with no writing brand to his name, he can afford to make mistakes. The kind of mistakes needed to grow. Mistakes like telling too much, using overly fanciful writing, switching points of view too many times. He needs to finish his stories and send them out, and learn what he can from the inevitable wave of negative feedback. In my case, I learned these mistakes with the first series of Michael Chang stories, and all the other stories I wrote along the way that never saw the light of day.

Later in the writer’s career, when he has an established brand, failing early takes on a new light. ‘Early’ no longer means finishing a story and publishing it or sending it out. ‘Early’ means the space between writing the first word and before publication. If a pro’s story has to fail, let it fail before people see it. This minimises the risk to a writer’s professional brand, and maximises the space, time and resources available to fix the mistakes that led to the failure. This skill can be thought of as internal quality checking, and it’s a skill that can only be learned by failing early in one’s career.

Fail fast

Writing is work. Writing is an investment of time and energy. As an indie writer, it is also an investment in money — to cover the cost of publication. Failing fast in this context means reaching the point of failure fast enough to minimise sunk costs. For instance, when a short story reaches a point of failure, the writer would have spent between a week to a month working on it. A 300000 word doorstopper, on the other hand, requires much more time to write, and to pick out points of failure. And in that time, that story is not generating any return on investment — only costs. By failing fast, one minimises costs and the time needed to incorporate new lessons. It also enables the writer to produce even more stories, eventually leading to success.

The key to failing fast is producing what is termed the minimal viable product. This is the smallest possible package that encapsulates the functions and ideas of the overall concept. In a computer game, this would be a single sequence that showcases the core mechanics. In the manga industry, publishers test the market by publishing a lengthy one-shot piece, and if the audience is receptive the author is given a contract to extend the one-shot into a series. When seen in the context of writing, this means short stories and novellas. American Sons, for instance, was a proof-of-concept story that opened the way to a wider series. I’ve also been working on a fresh set of short stories, banging out the ideas in my head, and modifying or rejecting them accordingly.

Fail often

One failure is not going to be enough. The craft of writing encompasses a staggering array of fields, some relevant to a given writer, some not. Some writers (like myself) have a huge array of interests, and the only way to tell what works and what doesn’t is to write stories and see which work the best. When a writer goes pro, he has to decide what price points and distribution channels work for him, because everybody’s situation is different. The only way to learn these lessons is to see what does not work and adapt accordingly.

This ties back to the earlier principles. Failing fast and often is practically a necessity in fast-paced fields, and the indie publishing revolution is transforming the industry into one. To fail often, one needs time, energy and resources; to minimise expenditure of these assets on failures, one has to fail fast and fail early. I have a portfolio of about two dozen short stories, written in the past two years; a number of them are too poor to be published, but they served as lessons for the road. By failing often, a writer learns that much more often.

Fail smart

Failing is easy. One simply refuses to experiment, refuses to think, refuses to plan, refuses to do. But that’s not the point of the failure mantra. To fail smart is to look back on one’s failures, to understand what worked and what did not. This is the point of failing so many times. By not picking up these lessons, there is little point in failing to begin with.

Failing smart requires a great deal of honesty and professionalism. Creators need large egos to stand true to their work during the process of creation, but when it is done they need to be able to stand apart and understand what went wrong. This means knowing when to stand fast and when to adapt, when to defend yourself and when to acquiesce. This means being so well acquainted with the bitter taste of failure and criticism that it is no longer repulsive. At that point, the writer can look back on his work with a critical eye, and learn what needs to be learned.

Fail forward

The final edition of Keepers of the Flame was nowhere close to the first draft. The novel went through five major revisions and multiple minor ones before taking its final form. And yet it only took a little over two years of total writing and editing time to complete. That was because I made a point to apply the lessons I had learned and quickly turn things around, revising over and over and over again until I could not improve on the manuscript any further. I failed early and fast enough that mistakes could be corrected, often enough that I picked out the major flaws of the story, and set myself up to fail with an eye towards learning.

The principle of failing forward is to apply the lessons you have learned. If you must fail, do so with an eye towards self-improvement. Do it consciously, so that it becomes a learning process. Failure is something to be acknowledged, to be embraced, and to build upon. Otherwise, failure simply becomes the equivalent of mindlessly bashing one’s head against a concrete wall over and over and over again.

Embracing failure

Singapore is a risk-averse culture. Singapore is a place where failure is verboten, a sign of weakness and lack of capability. I suspect this is true for every culture and institution that seeks to create people who to perpetuate the system instead of creating new things. Yet failure is precisely what is needed to grow and to create. The school of hard knocks endures because sometimes it is the only way to truly learn something.

Embrace failure. The road to success is pitted and rocky, and those who walk the way of the pen will trip and fall many, many times. But each failure contains the seed of success, showing how to avoid future pitfalls and how to find smoother roads. This is the philosophy I choose for my work, and maybe, just maybe, it will pay off soon.

Revisiting Writing and Marketing

In the days and weeks following the publication of Keepers of the Flame, I’ve been writing short stories and novellas, some standalone, some proof-of-concepts for future stories. It was practice, and it was to build up a portfolio of works for submission. But through the pen I am beginning to uncover the enigma that is Benjamin Cheah.

Once I believed that someday I would write my name alongside the stars of literary history. Once I believed I could find my way in life through sheer bloody-mindedness. Once I believed I could haul myself up into glory.

Once I believed.

When I look back now I realise how improbable my career has been. My chances of ever publishing my fiction in Singapore is somewhere between laughable and none. Singaporean publishers want Singaporean stories about Singaporean culture by Singaporean writers for the Singaporean market. They want capital-L Literature. They want assemblies of words to probe the depths of language and bring out the human heart, to hold up a mirror to Singapore and in it find a reflection of the reader.

I can’t write that.

There’s a lot of bestselling fluff out there. The Twilights, the Fifty Shades of Greys, the derivatives that try to cash in on trends and jump on bandwagons. Or else ‘stories’ and prose held together by strings of pretty words, words that when seen as a whole hold no substance and no meaning. Stories that tap into some collective zeitgeist without offending too many people.

I can’t write that.

The prestigious science fiction magazines want specific stories. They want stories about how technology influences society, people and language. Stories that with certain je ne sais quoi, or stories that bring up the nastiness of humanity. Stories that celebrate diversity by hammering it into the reader.

I can’t write that.

What I can write are stories of action and adventure. Stories with gee-whiz gadgets and huge explosions, stories about the clash of civilisations and the end of empires, stories that examine human frailties and wonder at the next stage of humanity. Stories where freedom is won at the point of the sword, when evil is resisted with fire and ethics, where good people must stand fast in the face of temptation and corruption. Stories that harken to the epics and sagas of my childhood while looking to brighter futures yet to be born.

I haven’t seen a publisher in Singapore that will want to do that, not the least because the target audience of my stories are not necessarily exclusively Singaporean, nor are the themes those that Singaporeans would readily grasp. As for foreign publishers, I have heard too many horror stories about bad contracts, under-reported figures, and how marketing resources are prioritised for bestsellers and newcomers are left to flounder. Call me sceptical, but I don’t see why I should put up with the risk of that in this day and age.

Even if I could get a publisher, the simple fact is that the majority of those who can reach my target audience are based in the United States. Between absurdly low royalty terms and the IRS’ insistence on taking their cut, what little royalties that come my way likely aren’t worth the effort.

The best publishing solution is independent publishing. It’s my default option. Without it, as recently as ten, maybe five, years ago, I would never have been able to be published. Or else have to content myself with peanuts forever. The indie route is the only way Keepers of the Flame could have been published, as would my other stories.

And yet, the IRS still wants its 30%..And now with the EU imposing the new VAT taxes, I’ll make even less money from European sales. No matter which way I cut it I just won’t make as much money as someone with the same sales figures as me. Which, in turn, means I need to put in even more effort into marketing just to make the same amount of money.

As much as I believe in the indie publishing revolution, there is still a massive gap between royalties of 45% and 70%.

All that means I can’t adopt the methods used by other authors and expect the same degree of success. The numbers are not with me, and neither is the law.

There are a lot of obstacles stacked against me. The easy option is to sigh, throw up my hands and focus on something else. Another option is to place writing on a back burner, to hold off on writing until I can get back to it at a more favourable time and place. Yet a third option is to simply choose to write for fun and ignore financial considerations. But the blood of entrepreneurs runs in my veins, and I cannot give up so soon. With this in mind, I’m changing my publishing/distribution and marketing strategies.

1. Writing and publishing short(er) stories and/or anthologies on a regular basis. To make up for reduced royalties, I am thinking of putting out shorter stories regularly. This is my least preferred option, not the least because it requires the ability to cover fixed costs. But maybe, if employed as a means to bridge the gap between core stories (like what I’m doing with American Heirs), or if published on different markets, it could maintain buzz and market presence until the next major story.

2. Focus marketing on several channels. Applying the Pareto principle, it seems 80% of my royalties comes from 20% of my marketing channels. That means Smashwords and Payhip. Going forward, I will focus my promotional efforts primarily on Smashwords and Payhip, relying on Amazon mainly for reviews and print books. Perhaps this focus in marketing might pay off through increased sales.

3. Work with small presses. At some point, marketing just becomes a chore with diminishing returns. When I look at publishing contracts, I’m essentially asking myself if the difference in royalties accounts for marketing efforts, ready access to customers, and covering the fixed costs of publishing. When it comes down to it I can be agnostic about publishing methodology, and if working with select small presses means I get more books to more people, all the better.

4. Hold workshops. In the medium term (ideally, after publishing American Heirs #3), I’ll see if I can conduct writing workshops. I’ve come to realise that writers with much less experience than me are passing on the lessons they have learned, and if they can do that, I reckon I have some tips to share too. And maybe this might translate to more connections and more sales in the long run.

There’s a lot of maybes and perhaps here. There are no guarantees in this line of work — except a gaurantee of failure if one does not do. And if there is one thing I cannot abide, it is failure to do.