Hey. Hey! Put down your blotter papers and your sugar cubes, ya dang hippie. That’s not what the title’s referring to.
(Drugs are BAD. Mmmm-kay?)
This is about how A Sword Into Darkness — or as I usually abbreviate it: ASID (aaa-sed, with a long “a”) — came to be. ASID is actually my third completed book, but it’s only the first one worth a damn. The first book, a novella/novelette called Under the Veil of Night (GREAT title, huh?), is dear to me, though not actually any good. It was written just after college, right after I had enlisted in the Navy. It proved to me that I could finish a longer-form story, but I still had a lot to learn about characterization, plotting, dialog, line-level writing, etc. After that experience, I switched focus to shorter works.
My short stories lead to meeting and getting to know Jeff Edwards. We were shipmates aboard USS STETHEM (DDG 63), but hardly knew one another until we got to talking during an official command party at this fabulous house in the cliffs above Cabo San Lucas. We discovered we were both writers, we read each other’s stuff, and he later introduced me to his literary agent / book doctor / friend Don Gerrard. At Don’s lovely home north of San Diego, they both helped me draw out the half-formed ideas I’d never articulated before for a sort of primer on space combat. That lead to my second book, The Falling Sky, another tale which has not yet seen the light of day, but which may be getting new legs soon (that’ll be another post).
It took me a couple of years to finish TFS, during which The Job and life both intervened. I moved a couple of times, met the girl of my dreams and married her, then moved a couple more times. When I finally finished TFS, I was kind of done with it, and put off the much-needed re-write indefinitely. Instead, I returned to focusing on short stories, but this time with the intent to finally, actually get published by a professional outfit. The few things I’d had published online before that were in non-pro free webzines, and looking back on it, that’s where they deserved to be. Having finished two books and a number of shorts, I had a broad base of experience, but I was forced to admit that I had not really grown as a writer most of that time. I was pretty good at the writing thing, but I was dreadful at editing myself or fixing the problems that plagued all of my work. I had skill, but no craft.
That’s when I heard that one of my favorite publishers, Baen Books, was putting out a for-pay, pro-level, SFWA-qualifying, online magazine — Jim Baen’s Universe — and that they would be dedicating “Introducing” slots in each issue to never-before-published writers. Not only that, but they were allowing the submissions to be workshopped through their online forum, Baen’s Bar. I joined that day and started churning out new stories. And I was promptly devoured, chewed up, and spit back out. Baen’s Bar is not the touchy-feely, gentle critique of your local writer’s group. The Barflies are raw, direct, cutting, occasionally short, and without much concern for your tender sensibilities. They are also, by and large, absolutely correct. Through critiquing, getting critiqued, re-writing, and then re-submitting to be chewed upon again, I began to recognize unplanned POV shifts, sloppy writing, passive voice, said-isms, when I buried the hook, and when I got too expository or techno-gasmed. Eventually, with the help of Edith Maor, Sam Hidaka, Gary Cuba, Nancy Fulda, and countless other Barflies, I produced at least two stories (and probably more — they only bought two, though) that made it past the Bar and to pro-publication with Baen.
During the later part of my online education, once I recognized the growth I knew I needed, my mind turned toward a cloud of half-finished, discarded ideas that were too extensive for a short story, but did not have the depth needed for a longer tale. I saw that by linking them together and making a few adjustments, they were all parts of the same whole. Key scenes and elements began to appear in my head: the nature of the enemy, a man throwing his research away during a tantrum in the streets, a generation-long journey to build a response to an approaching threat, a caper to steal a warship, a pixie-ish genius partnered with a haunted vet, secret Congressional hearings and supersecret meetings between power-brokers, master spies getting their comeuppance and overzealous agents being rebuffed, a sword-like ship breaking up under the onslaught of silvered beams . . . . ASID was born.
Now, at the tail end of a long journey, after receiving the assistance of everyone mentioned above, as well as the gentler, invaluable critiques of Melissa and Mark Ellis, the Newport Roundtable Writers’ Group, Nathaniel, the Kevins, Charles Lakey, Maria Edwards, and many many more Barflies and First Readers, I finally have a work which I am proud of without reservation. If you have not read it, please try out the three chapters posted here. If you want to see more, just drop me a line. It’s free (for now).
And, to anyone in the publishing industry: get it while it’s hot!