Cover Reveal: ‘Exile’, Part One of The Book of Ever

The cover for my forthcoming young adult novel Exile is out!   The Book of Ever trilogy, of which Exile is the first part, is young adult science fiction in a postapocalyptic setting.  Exile is due out this August.  Scroll down to see the blurb below.

Exile by James Cormier

Centuries after the Fall, the United States has been wiped away.  The crumbling remains of the great American empire are home now only to savage, lawless tribes and packs of ravening Damned—the twisted children of the apocalypse.  Most of those few who survived humanity’s destruction spend their short lives in a violent struggle for survival.  But some light still flickers in the darkness: the Blessed of Bountiful live in seclusion, relying on walls both physical and spiritual to protect them from the Desolation that their world has become.  Among them are the Saints, those few men and women born with superhuman abilities that the Blessed see as gifts from God.

The violent apostate tribes of the Northeast Kingdom have always been a danger, but up until recently its small size and the vigilance of its people have made Bountiful an unappealing target.  As attacks on the community grow harsher and more frequent, however, even the steadfast Blessed are forced to start preparing for the worst.

With her home’s very existence threatened, seventeen year old Ever Oaks, a Saint with the power to heal, is forced to make a difficult choice, one that may come to define her people’s future…

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Upcoming Projects

Here’s a list of what I’m working on, in case you were wondering:

  1. Exile: The Book of Ever, the first in a trilogy of postapocalyptic young adult science fiction novels, forthcoming from Evil Toad Press.  The book’s done and out to my beta readers.  The release date’s looking like late summer or early fall, at this point.  I’ll be posting a cover reveal and a blurb here soon, so stay tuned for more on this one.
  2. The Akkian Mass (working title), an in-progress swordpunk novel.  You can read the first two chapters for free right here.  I’m not sure when this one will be done yet, but I’m hoping to release it in fourth quarter 2014 or first quarter 2015.
  3. Children of the Taking, my in-progress epic fantasy.  This is book one of a series of as-yet undetermined length.  I’m a solid one-third of the way through the story and have about 70,000 words written.  This promises to be a long one (I’d be very surprised if it clocks in at under 200K words) so it’s possible “Book One” will end up becoming Books One and Two.  Story usually happens in a very traditional three act structure for me, on both macro and micro levels, but it’s not always possible to predict how long each of those acts for me.  I conceived of this series as a trilogy, but it might turn out to need more space than that.
  4. A variety of short stories, some for submission to online magazines, and a couple for a book I’m working jointly on with P.J. Fox.  If you liked her novel The Demon of Darkling Reach, you’re probably going to like this project too, so stay tuned.
  5. Book Two of The Book of Ever.  I need a break from Ever and Co. before I jump into writing the sequel, so I’ll be working on one or all of the above projects for the rest of the summer (unless Ever demands attention).

There’s always a long list of other ideas on the back burner, of course, but these are the projects that are primarily taking up my attention at the moment.

Playlists for Writing

Next to Starbucks and, you know, the ability to transform thoughts into written language, music is a writer’s best friend.  Now, I know what you’re thinking: there are different schools of thought on this subject (is there any subject where there aren’t?).  Some writers must have music playing while they write, some can only listen to a certain type of music, and some eschew music altogether.  I’ve gone through all of these phases myself.  But one thing I can say for certain is that music has informed all of my writing in one way or another, even if it was only as an inspiration outside of the writing process itself–i.e., listening to a symphony or a song and thinking up plot ideas or character arcs, etc.

It also seems to depend a great deal on what I’m writing.  For more serious, complex writing, I tend to either work in silence or listen only to ambient, instrumental music that creates atmosphere without being distracting.  This holds true the majority of the time, for me: I listen to a lot of ambient or downtempo electronic music (Aphex Twin, Tycho, Bonobo) or classical music (Bach, Mozart, Boccherini).

When I’m writing something fast-paced and plot-heavy, though, I do like to rev it up a little.  The manuscript I’ve just finished and am currently editing is a post-apocalyptic young adult novel, the first in a series, about a group of young people on a mission to save their community.  Their religion is a far-future take on Mormonism, and the perils they face are by and large fantastic and bloody.

My latest thing is making writing playlists on Spotify (shell out for premium; you’ll never spend too much on iTunes again).  I called the playlist for this book The Blessed, after the main characters’ name for their people.  I wanted a mixture of young, dramatic rock and traditional religious music; I’m quite pleased with the results.  The great thing, too, is that each playlist is a work in progress.  I’m always adding to and changing them.  Here’s The Blessed:

I almost always listen to playlists on shuffle, these days, so the song order isn’t important.  What are your musical habits when it comes to writing?

Alternate Historical Accuracy

Writing a post over on Evil Toad Press about historical accuracy in genre fiction got me thinking: when it comes to historical accuracy in my own writing, I tend to research what’s accurate in any relevant, given time or society for the sole purpose of deviating from it.  I find this practice somewhat curious.  Why make things harder?  Why pull apart the guts of something if you don’t have to?  I suppose the answer is, because it turns me on.

By way of example, I’ve got an epic fantasy series on the back burner.  I’ve written about 70,000 words of the first book.  In planning out the world and its people, I did a lot of thinking about the nature of technology, how it emerges, how it evolves, and how it affects society.  The world of Children of the Taking is approximately equivalent in terms of general technology level to the Renaissance in general and the 15th Century in particular, with one major exception: this world has not, as of yet, discovered gunpowder.  Unlike so many other fantasy authors, however, who eschew firearms for their perceived inapplicability to the common reader’s notion of what constitutes a “medieval” or “high fantasy” setting, the people of my world don’t lack gunpowder because it’s stylistically inconvenient.  They lack gunpowder because the components of gunpowder simply don’t exist on their world.  What does exist is an element of equivalent or greater power that they are only beginning to discover how to use as a weapon when the series opens, a weapon that will change their world for better or worse.

The consequences of that are potentially enormous, and thinking through the logic of it has been difficult.  It involves a lot of storytelling and worldbuilding–why haven’t they discovered it yet?  Who made the discovery, and how?  How is it used, how is it monetized, and how does its introduction affect the warfare and economies of the nations of the world?  Some of my answers to these questions are shortcuts, I’ll admit: they haven’t discovered it because the age they characters live in is essentially postapocalyptic.  Their ancestors knew of it, though their use of it was different; only now, after a long dark age of intellectual stagnation, have a few luminaries started tinkering again.

So maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m interested in the bones of history, the dynamics of it, more than the actual account of history itself.  As fascinating as the real world history of firearms in combat is to research, for some reason it’s more fun for me to take the concept and play with it in my own sandbox.  Which is just another way of saying: making everything a lot harder for myself than it has to be.  Which is kind of the story of my life.  But that’s another story.

Don’t Drown the Meat: Worldbuilding and Mark Lawrence

Fantasy writers (and science fiction writers, to a lesser extent, since they are less often in the position of starting entirely from scratch) worry a lot about worldbuilding.  It’s really the most unique thing about writing in this genre.  In addition to crafting character, plot, theme, and all of the other various parts that make up a novel, you’re in the position of actually creating an entirely new world.

The problem lies in building your world while also preserving the quality of your story and your prose–introducing the reader to the exotic while still focusing on what’s really important: character.  In the end, the world must serve the characters, or you’re doing it wrong.  As much as we’d all like to self-indulgently nerd out over the details of our world’s history or the intricacies of our super-creative, ultra-unique new magic system, ultimately it’s all for naught if the story and the characters that drive it get lost in the confusion.

I just finished reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, the first novel of a fantasy trilogy in which the author accomplishes the task of balancing worldbuilding with character and story quite well–which is to say, the former is used quite conservatively, and only when it adds flavor to the latter.

By necessity, I’m going to have to go into some spoilers here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading here.  Otherwise, see you after the jump.

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Editing a First Draft

My first substantial story/content edit of a first draft is the most important one I do when I’m writing.  I write more slowly than some; the first draft of the novel I just finished, for instance, a post-apocalyptic young adult sci-fi story, took me around five months to finish.  That’s an estimate, because I started writing it on a lark and ended up switching gears from my other project to finish this one, and as a result I wasn’t working on it full time right away.  So had I sat down to write that story alone, in other words, it might have taken less time.

My writing process is somewhat nontraditional: rather than blast through a truly rough first draft and polish it with multiple, successive edits, I tend to linger over the first draft, working on the prose and pacing and details more carefully than some.  This is just the way my mind works; I find it very hard, often distracting, even, to block out a story roughly, which is in direction contradiction to the way we’re all supposed to be writing.  What, after all, do most writing guides tell you?  Something along the lines of: don’t worry about your first draft!  Your first draft is supposed to be horrible!  Just get it on the page, and worry about making it good later!

This may work for some writers, and despite my sarcasm, I don’t actually see anything wrong with this technique.  It’s how many, if not most, artists work.  Oil painters paint in layers: first brushing on a background wash, then blocking out major shapes in differing values of neutral colors, then gradually adding layers of bright color, light, and shadow, before finishing with minor details and nuances.  Sculptors who work in stone must first carve out a rough shape before chiseling in the fine features of a statue.  I often find that by not working this way myself, I run a greater risk of being bogged down in details when I should be focusing on the bones of my story.

That said, I don’t regret my methods; they seem to be working for me.  I might even go so far as to say they’re more modern: sophisticated word processors like Microsoft Word allow us to make changes on the fly, whereas writers of yore were constrained by the limitations of typewriters.  Even pen and paper is more compatible with the traditional, phased method: the physical effort and comparative mess of writing freehand discourages too much ad hoc messing around.  It used to be much more efficient to write a rough draft, edit it longhand, type it up, then edit again…repeat, ad nauseam.  Today we’re able to truly play with each sentence as we write it, which is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because we can take full advantage of being in the moment while writing: our fingers, if we’re decent typists, move more quickly on the keyboard than they do with a pen on paper, and can come much closer to keeping up with the story unfolding in our heads.  Moreover, it gives you the speed and efficiency with which to take advantage of a sudden, inspired turn of phrase–even if you think of a better way to say something five minutes after you’ve finished a scene, it’s the work of mere seconds to go back and edit it in Word.

This might all seem a bit remedial, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I edit this manuscript.  I do most of my editing on the computer screen, rather than on paper, which is also, traditionally, a no-no.  But I find, again, that it’s more efficient.  I can try different things more quickly, see if they work, and make changes to the text live rather than making chicken-scratches all over a paper manuscript only to have to go back later and actually make the changes.

The down side, I suppose, is the detriment to posterity.  Readers and writers of the future will have less access to physical copies of early drafts, which give insight into a writer’s process.  On the other hand, it’s certainly possible to track changes with Word, much more effectively than by hand, so the preservation of the digital file would solve this problem.  And it’s a minor one, anyway, isn’t it?  What matters, in the end, is the end.  The end product, that is.

Editing, even more than writing, is where you first find the methods that work best for you.  The initial process of writing, after all, is dead simple: put one word in front of another and repeat until you have a novel.  (Don’t let anyone tell you it’s more complicated than that, incidentally.)  But editing is much more like work; hard choices must be made, a pace set, discretion and judgment utilized and prioritized.  Editing is where the real work comes in, in other words, and doing it is the best way to learn how.