Stars is on Google Play, longer excerpt now available, and more!

The Stars Were Right - by K. M. Alexander
I am seeing some great activity around “The Stars Were Right,” and the feedback has been really exciting. I am glad everyone is enjoying it and having fun. That was my goal. As always tell your friends and please leave honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. They go a long way.

Few things I want to highlight:

  • “The Stars Were Right” is now available on GooglePlay for those of you who do your reading on Android and Google devices.
  • I’ll have some big announcements coming in the next few months. Including: the name reveal for “Deep” and the cover reveal of “Old Broken Road” (the sequel to “The Stars Were Right.”) Be the first to see these reveals by signing up for my monthly newsletter: The Telegraph. It takes seconds to sign up.
  • I am still working on iBooks and Nook support. I am hoping both are ready for release soon.
  • I am also hunting for a local publisher to do a small run of trade paperbacks. I am not ignoring those of you who want physical copies, it’s coming—not sure when—but it’s coming.

More updates as things happen.

The World’s Deepest Dive Pool

I am currently obsessed with underwater cities, so when I saw this article on io9 titled “The world’s deepest diving pool is like an underwater city” it obviously piqued my interest. While not exactly an underwater city, the NEMO33 project is still way cool and needed to be shared:

From i09:

Add this to your list of things you never knew existed but, now that you do, you now desperately need: a visit to NEMO33, the deepest pool on Earth.

NEMO33 contains over 2.5-million liters of chlorine-free, filtered spring water that’s been heated to 86°F. Much of the pool is between 5- and 10-meters deep, a number of “caves,” ripe for exploring, positioned at the 10-meter depth.

Check out the full article here, it includes some great pics and a few more details.

My Process Part 1: The Planning

chalkboard

So a few folks have asked about my process, and I figured – why not write a series of blog posts on the subject? Now I realize I’m not the first person to do this, and there are plenty of books on the subject of how to write. I am sure all of them have great advice. I’m not going to give advice. I just want to share how I personally work. Before I get started one thing I really want to stress: no one’s process will be perfect for someone else. Everyone writes differently. Just because it works for Stephen King doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. That’s okay. You won’t find your stride except through trial and error. Glean what sounds interesting and ignore what doesn’t. Try lots of different approaches and find your own rhythm. Above all, keep writing.

In this first post I am going to talk about my first step: The Planning.

1. Architect

If you have listened to Brandon Sanderson’s lectures he classifies writers into one of two groups: Gardeners and Architects. Gardeners work best without a lot of structure, they have ideas which grow and develop as they write. Gardeners don’t like to be tied down. If they are forced to plan, they often get bored as all the mystery and excitement in storytelling is lost to them. I am jealous of those people. I can’t do that. I tried. I am awful at it. My first few failed attempts at writing were born of me trying to write without an outline. Big mistake. Me without a plan is like a ship without a rudder: I go all over the place, I write sloppy, I confuse myself. My attempts at being a Gardener are the reason that I have a great many unfinished manuscripts sitting on various harddrives scattered around my office. I like big complex plots with lots of moving parts and I found out it’s difficult (read: impossible) for me to see all the details of the plot in action when I don’t have a pretty solid outline to follow. When I finished my first outline for “Coal Belly” it was like a light went off in my head. It worked. Things clicked and I was able to get my project finished—it actually came together and made sense. I didn’t get lost in the weeds. It’s important to realize this about me because everything in my process is built off my planning. Without a solid plan I am worthless as a writer.

2. My Outline

I want to be really open here, so I am going to show you what a part of my outline looks like. It’ll be raw and rough and full of errors, but that doesn’t matter. Usually only I see it. (Except today.)

My outline is pretty basic: it’s a list of items I want to include in various chapters. I’ll call out particular details I want to focus on and sometimes I make notes of elements I want to remain mysterious. I might even throw in a rough bit of dialog that I think would work. Sometimes I describe to myself what I want the tone of my particular chapter to feel like or what music I hear playing. The more complex the plot, the more notes I might have. The length and depths of my notes vary depending on the project and the chapters.

One thing I want to stress is that my outline is fluid. It’s a living document. It changes and gets updated as I write. It’s not sacred. When I make adjustments to plot in my prose I go back and make quick adjustments in the outline. Nothing crazy, just small notes—that way it doesn’t consume time I could be spending on writing.

I recently released the prologue for “The Stars Were Right” to the public, you can read it here (and I’d recommend it before continuing on – spoilers follow). The outline entry for the Prologue looks exactly like this:

Prologue
⁃ We witness the murder of an eyeglass dealer.
⁃ this chapter is told from thaddeus russel’s perspective. (third)
– Talk about Bell’s visit
– start showing the city
– keep the killer mysteruous
⁃ Mention Hagen Dubois’ new shop “up the street.”

That’s it (errors included!) It’s pretty straightforward, and I let the rest come to me naturally. Those points are the details I wanted to hit in the prologue when I actually sat down to write. (I’ll dive into this further in Part Two, “The Writing” and go into details about how I keep track of the little things that show up as I work.)

I will spend a great deal of time upfront making sure the plots work well together and the story has a good pace to it. It cuts down on my writing later on. A solid outline is why I was able to finish “Old Broken Road” in 4 months. I knew where it was going and I was able to write to that. On my current project—Deep, which is going to be pretty complex—my outline is about 3/4th done and is over 5k words. My outline is my treasure map. It leads me to the finished story.

3. Character Planning (or Lack Thereof)

This is where I am going to deviate a bit from my Architect analogy. It’s true I do plan a lot when it comes to plot but I tend to leave my character planning in a more malleable place. I have ideas, often times a name, but frequently I find those ideas are easier for me to work out in the prose rather than to set up ahead of time.

When I first envisioned Waldo Bell, the main character in “The Stars Were Right” I knew only a few things about him. He was a blue-collar everyman who worked as a caravan master, and he was a foodie. A lot of his personality, his quirks, and his faults didn’t show up until I started writing. When I did try to lock myself down, I found that I had to go back and change the notes around my planned-Waldo to fit the actual-Waldo.

Same goes for the shopkeep who is mentioned in the Prologue. I knew he was an anur—a race of amphibian/human hybrids—and that was about it! I didn’t know about his family, or the history of the shop, or his fondness for browline glasses. All of that came as I wrote.

Yep, sometimes this causes problems. Characters can deviate from what I had plotted out in my outline. That is fine: remember what I said about my outline being a living document. If a character moves in a completely different direction than I planned, I adjust the outline and keep moving.

4. Maps and Visual Inspiration

I love maps. I love them a lot. I even wrote a whole blog post about them. Maps help me visualize the city, nation, or land I am moving my characters through at any given point in the story. Often times I work on these during my outline. That way I don’t spend too much time revising borders, city names, etc. Sometimes I find it easy to draw them up to help set a scene. Even when I am not writing I often sketch maps. I have a whole sketchbook full of rough maps dedicated to imaginary places I might someday visit, from the fantastic to the mundane.

I’m a user experience designer by day and a pretty visual person. Along with my own maps I keep a collection of inspiring imagery that I find fuels my creativity around a particular story. Anything I stumble across in my browsing that sparks something in my imagination used to go in a folder on my harddrive. Now they get added to a secret Pinterest board, until I am ready to show ’em off. When I sit down to write I’ll often skim my collections as they help me get into the right mood to write.

See my Pinterest collections:

A Final Note:

There is such a thing as over planning. I have learned this. I would use my planning as a distraction from what I should be doing: writing. Instead of working on prose I was sketching a logo I was describing, or instead of streamlining a chapter I was checking the spelling on my outline. The whole focus on planning is to assist the writer in the work, not to overwhelm the writer. If planning starts to get in the way I stop. Then I get back to my writing.

Wrapping up:

So that’s my planning process. It’s pretty straightforward. I build my stories like an architect, have a fluid outline that I work off, I let my characters be themselves, and often keep stacks of random images and maps around to keep track of my world. Next up I’ll go into the actual writing, and explain how I actually get that outline into a format that people would enjoy reading as opposed to a grocery list of plot points.

Have any questions on how I go about my planning? Feel free to leave a comment below! I promise to do my best to respond to any question asked.

Updates! Updates! Updates!

Updates! Updates! Updates!

A few weekends a month my wife and I like to declare it “productive weekend.” What this means is we both spend our time heads down and at work on our various projects. For her that’s painting in her home studio, for me that’s writing in my home office. We both find it really helpful and allows us to set aside time to push through any roadblocks that might have cropped up. Now on the tail end of our most recent productive weekend, I have updates!

The Stars Were Right
I’m in the final stretch now. Things are getting sooooo close. ISBNs are purchased. eReader distribution accounts are setup. There’s a few odd issues with the initial first-run of the book I am trying to sort out (works fine on Kindle Fires and Kindle for iOS, doesn’t seem to be working on Kindle Paperwhites or Kindle DX.) It’ll get sorted, and it’s getting very close. Excited.

Old Broken Road
As of this weekend I am 50% of the way though my initial edits. It’s amazing how quick it goes for me once I sit down and actually start editing the thing. If Stars was my Star Wars then Old Broken Road is my Empire. It’s much bleaker than the first one. Got about 5 chapters edited on Sunday. Still a long way to go, but I’m on track to getting my rough draft into the hands of my early beta readers soon, hopefully in a month or so.

Deep
It still doesn’t have a proper name, but Deep is chugging along. It’s a very different book for me and I am still wrapping my head around the way I am presenting the story. I’m about 10k words in (about two chapters.) The setting is starting to come together and I really like one protagonists, still getting the others sorted out. As I keep working I keep adding images I find to the “Deep” Pinterest board. Give it a follow!

“Old Broken Road” finished, new projects begun!

Old Broken Road

Some pretty exciting news on the project front! As of Friday I finished the first rough-draft of Old Broken Road my latest manuscript! OBR is the sequel to my upcoming novel The Stars Were Right (follow the link to read an excerpt) and I couldn’t be more excited.

After I returned from my trip to Norway last year I was struggling with what to start next after finishing Stars. Eventually I realized I had to start the next tale in the world of the Territories and thus “Old Broken Road” was born, it’s story needed to be told. The rough draft was just shy of 75k words but it’ll be well over 80k after I go back and massage everything into place. (It’s already grown by 2k and I have only gone back over a third of it.) As far as publication, it’s still a ways out, I’ll need to go over it a few times, and then hand it off to my army of beta readers to get some feedback, then it goes off for editing, all this before I decide how to approach publication. Still, it feels good to have made progress. Remember Rule #2: Finish What You Start.

All in all it took a little under five-months from start to finish. Stars was born in about seven, so it’s nice to see I am getting faster. It’s a testament to proper planning I suppose. As I mentioned in my last post, I find myself heavily influenced by visuals so if you’re interested I do have a Pinterest Board full of images that have helped inspire “Old Broken Road.” You can check it out here.

There is no rest of the wicked, and I have more stories I want to tell, so I have also started moving forward with my next project. Currently code-named “Deep” until I can find a better title for it. (Titles always take me a while.) I have a board for Deep as well, it’s wildly different from the world of Stars and OBR, but I wanted to try something new. This project will be heavily rooted in sci-fi, in a genre I am calling “submarine-punk,” until I can find a better term for it. Looking forward to really jumping into that.

Okay, back to work! Stay tuned!