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Writer’s Cramp: Sticking With Your Passion

I write this from Michigan, sitting in my wife’s family’s dining room. My mother-in-law is making what appears to be sixty pounds of meatballs for her mother-in-law’s 90th birthday celebration. My father-in-law is explaining how nuclear weapons work to my daughter. My dog is running around licking things while the resident tiny dog is yapping its head off.

I’m still searching for a job and trying to finalize the sale of my house and waiting for my son to wake up and cause havoc while I nurse a half-empty cup of coffee.

None of being here feels real yet. Maybe that comes with time.

Everything is all topsy-turvy. Two weeks ago I was working 40+ hours per week and desperately getting ready to move across the country. And now here we are.

In the midst of this chaos I’m also continuing to work on novels, apparently because I don’t know any better.

A miniature representation of me in Michigan.

A miniature representation of me in Michigan.

My next release is PATH OF BONES, Book 2 of the Skullborn Trilogy and the second book overall in the novels of Malzaria, due out in early February. If you’ve read CITY OF SCARS, this is hopefully good news for you.

PATH OF BONES continues where Book 1 left off: Ijanna and Kath search for the other Skullborn, Dane and Kruje hunt for Ijanna, the Jlantrians occupying Ebonmark continue to carry out their secret mission, and the Black Guild assists the shadowy Cabal with their mysterious preparations for war. At a fairly meaty 136,000 words, PATH OF BONES is chock full of characters and story lines, most of which collide in an explosive conclusion in a desolate city in the Bonelands.

As I’ve noted before, The Skullborn Trilogy is itself the first of three trilogies detailing the story of Malzaria. Those three trilogies were originally planned to be a single trilogy – that is to say, CITY OF SCARS, PATH OF BONES and the third novel in the series, THE BLACK TOWER, were all originally one big book, intended to be the first in a three-book series.

(Each of the other books in the trilogy is similarly enormous, and has since been broken into three separate books, taking Malzaria’s story from three books to nine books: 1 big book = 3 smaller books, so 3 big books = 9 smaller books. That’s math!)

Though I published CITY OF SCARS nearly two years after the release of BLOOD SKIES, it actually pre-dates my military sci-fi vamp series by several years. When Lib and I first moved our family to Washington back in 2002 (aka “the old days”, according to my son), I’d almost given up on writing fiction and had instead switched to working purely on Dungeons & Dragons material for third party publishers producing stuff under the Open Gaming License (or “OGL”). Having written a couple of adventures for a particular publisher, I was working on a massive book of evil organizations and villains when, about ¾ of the way through the project, my pathetic excuse for a desktop computer exploded. (Ok, it didn’t explode…it just sputtered, coughed, and faded. The point is that it was dead, Jim.) The worst part about this is that all of the project was lost.


To make matters worse, my publishers weren’t entirely forthcoming with payment, and it was becoming clear that they were already starting to faze out of producing any new material. The so-called “boom” of OGL publication was already starting to decline, and while I’d still end up publishing a few more adventures I’d already begun to wane myself off of writing RPG materials altogether. (For the record, “RPG stands” for Role-Playing Games, not Rocket Propelled Grenades…but that would be interesting, too.)

At that point I hadn’t written fiction in a long, long time. Prior to that I’d written one complete novel (DEMONSBANE, a trite and terrible piece of crap I unfortunately still have a copy of) and had been hard working on a second (DARKER SUNSET, a title which may or may not sound familiar). Most of my energy was spent writing D&D adventures, and I was fairly certain I’d completely lost my touch for writing fiction.

It was also around this time – after I’d all but given up writing D&D and had no computer, while my family and I had marooned ourselves away in Bellingham, WA – that I started working for T-Mobile doing inbound collection calls. To lay that out for you: T-Mobile has this clever little thing they do where they redirect your outbound cell-phone call if your bill becomes too delinquent. You may think you’re calling to order a pizza, but in reality you get to talk to the Collection reps, who do their best to collect your money while still keeping you smiling.

Needless to say, this was not my dream job. Sometimes I still have flashbacks.

I was bored stiff, creatively. What I’d planned to keep doing with my creative energies just wasn’t coming to fruition, and I had ZERO inspiration to write. Lucky for me it was also around this time that I got back into something I’d long neglected: reading.

I discovered many a great author in those months: China Mieville, John Marco, J.V. Jones, C.S. Friedman, George R.R. Martin. I devoured books with aplomb, and one day, while Lib and the kids were out doing something, I decided to sit down and write. Long hand.

Three hours and dozens of hand-written pages later, I had the prologue to what would eventually become CITY OF SCARS. I became as obsessed with writing that damn thing as I did with reading. I wrote longhand on the bus and at work between calls. I had a minimum number of pages I had to write each and every day, and I did my best to surpass it.

The tale of Malzaria, super rough draft version.

The tale of Malzaria, super rough draft version.

The plan was to submit the novel to a publisher (somebody big like TOR or DAW) once it was typed out, but not wanting to lose momentum I kept on writing even after the first novel was finished, and I kept it up through my employment at Amazon (when I wrote the second book) and kept writing until we relocated further south and I started working for Wizards of the Coast. Then, my free time suddenly evaporated. Unfortunately, I was only 2/3 of the way through the third book in the series at the time (which, in the new layout, means I wrote the first 8 of the 9 books), and never had time to get back to it.

This was in 2005. With work taking over my life and me getting back into D&D and some other WotC games, my writing time once again disappeared, and it stayed gone until Nanowrimo 2009, when I committed myself to completing a project. That project was BLOOD SKIES.

So here we are again, full circle with a vengeance. CITY OF SCARS has vastly outsold any book in the BLOOD SKIES series and continues to sell well nearly 5 months after it was released. I’m in the midst of the 4th round of edits for PATH OF BONES, which is looking more and more like a real book every single day. I have 6 more of the books for this series written (at least out on paper), and I can’t wait to get caught up and write Book 9 and finish the series out.

It just occurred to me there’s no point to this story, except maybe this: don’t ever give up on something you love. It may take a while, but eventually you’ll figure out what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Our passions are what drive us – be careful not to ignore them. Or something like that.

Now, that being said, I need to go eat some meatballs.

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