Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Writer's New Year's Resolutions

At 1:09 PM on Saturday, December 19, 2016, I typed "The End" at the bottom of the last page of the epilogue of my novel House of the Proud.

Strictly speaking, it's not finished. There will be months of editing and probably a fair chunk of rewriting. Dull work like formatting the pages and designing the cover remains to be done. My wonderful sister, who illustrated the covers of the first two books - the novel Shattered Nation and the novella Blessed are the Peacemakers - has to get to work on the artwork for the cover of this one, though she and I have already settled on what the picture will be. In my mind, I am hoping for the book to be on sale on May 1.

For all that, I couldn't help but feel a great sense of accomplishment at the moment when I brought the narrative story to an end. The story of the characters was wrapped up, old questions answered and new ones raised, and a few selected hints dropped regarding the future course of the Shattered Nation alternate timeline, which I intend to explore in future books. I think the novel finished rather well, though I would be the last to suggest that my writing is perfect. The moment I typed "The End", I popped open a bottle of champagne for a much-deserved celebration.

It's been a long process. I started serious writing on House of the Proud in March of 2014, more than two-and-a-half years ago. I endured one terrible bout of writer's block during the winter of 2014-15, during which I made no progress on the book or any other writing project, but once that was overcome I wrote quite steadily until the book was finished. I would have preferred to finish it earlier and was mindful of the many messages I received from readers asking me when it would be ready, but I think I'm being quite honest when I say that I finished it as quickly as I could.

I learned a lot about how I write while penning this book. I discovered, for example, that I cannot write very well at night. I also found that I don't write very well when I have a long, open-ended amount of time. Almost all of House of the Proud was written between five o'clock and six thirty in the morning, while the rest of the Brooks house was asleep. I would drag myself out of bed around four fifty-five, turn on the coffee machine, spent a few minutes catching up on the daily news, and then begin writing. I would then write continually until my alarm went off at six thirty, signalling the need for me to get ready to go to work, or until my daughter Evelyn emerged from her room and asked me to play with her.

When I set out to write the sequel to Shattered Nation, I intended for it to be considerably shorter than my first novel, which came in at a whopping eight hundred pages. Indeed, the sheer length of Shattered Nation was one of the most common complaints I received about the book. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, House of the Proud turned out to be a bit of a monster as well. On good old Microsoft Word, it came out to seven hundred and eighteen pages. Editing and formatting will chop this down a bit, but it's obvious that this book is going to be another really long one.

Shattered Nation was a military and political thriller, dealing with battles between great armies around Atlanta and the presidential election taking place in the United States at the same time. House of the Proud will be rather different. While there will be more than a few battles (the details of which I won't share here, as I don't want to reveal any spoilers), the plot is more politically focused than was the case with Shattered Nation, dealing with the first presidential election in an independent Confederacy. It will also be more international, with some of the plot taking place in Britain, France, and Canada and with one of the main characters, Colonel Garnet Wolseley, being British rather than American. Overall, I'm quite satisfied with the effort and will be working hard to finish up all the details so that House of the Proud can be released for sale.

As I do this, however, I find my mind already turning to future writing projects. This will be a big decision. I have other novels set in the Shattered Nation timeline already sketched out in detail. Two of these are set in 1864 and reveal what was happening in other theaters of the war during the events of Shattered Nation. A Consuming Fire is set in the Shenandoah Valley and Storm Over Sumter is set in and around Charleston (hints of the events of these novels can be found in the other books). I have three further sequels planned, set respectively in 1899, in the mid-1920s, and in the mid-1960s, with the 1899 book fairly well outlined already. I also may write a novella of the same length as Blessed are the Peacemakers, whose plot can be determined from my preliminary title, Lincoln in Europe. I also have considered writing a book of short stories set in the Shattered Nation alternate history.

I must admit, however, that after so many years of hard work, I wouldn't mind taking some time off from Shattered Nation. I have long had a strong desire to write stories set during the American Revolution. I actually wrote out a detailed outline and an entire chapter of an alternate history novel involving Benedict Arnold's treason. I abandoned it after a month or so, however, as I disliked where the story was leading and I felt like I was taking too much influence from the AMC television Turn (which is excellent and which I highly recommend, by the way). If I do write American Revolution novels, they will probably be straight-up historical fiction rather than alternate history, perhaps because I simply have a hard time imagining a world in which the United States didn't exist.

I have outlined an alternate history novel centered around the Second World War and set in 1942, as well as one dealing with the political chaos in the late Roman Republic. I look forward to writing these in the future, particularly as I have long desired to write Winston Churchill and Cato the Younger as characters. I also have considered writing a novel set in the remnants of the United States following a 1983 nuclear exchange, though whenever I do any research work for that project I become incredibly depressed. I have also done a little bit of preliminary work for an alternate history story centered around the idea of the Aztec Empire surviving the Spanish conquest.

So what will be next? A Consuming Fire? One of the chronological sequels to Shattered Nation? Turning to the American Revolution or something else? It will take a little while to figure it out and I may try to stick my irons into different fires and see what lights up. In any case, as I start to say goodbye to one book and say hello to a new one, it's refreshing to think that I have a lot of literary options.

It being New Year's Day, I've made some of the standard resolutions about getting in better shape, eating a more healthy diet, and so forth. But I've also made a few very specific resolutions related to my writing. First, I will get House of the Proud on sale as soon as possible. Second, I will settle on what writing project I shall embark upon next. And third, I will get get to work on it and start the writing adventure all over again.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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