It's interesting how serendipity plays into the writing process at times. For example, my wife was recently doing some spring cleaning, and something she was going to get rid of were some pads of lined paper. I snagged one of them to use as scrap paper, so I could scribble down ideas as they came to me. It's worked for that, but it's also turned out to be an invaluable outlining tool for a new book series I'm working on.
This series is built around a character named Danica Panica, and it's aimed at girls ages 6-8 who struggle with anxiety and related issues. I'm having loads of fun writing it. Turns out she's quite the character, with a high level of self-awareness and a cutting sense of humor. Each book is 5,000-9,000 words long, so they're pretty short compared to any of the other books I've written. I've completed the first four books so far, and I plan to have two more completed by the first week of June. My new publisher (to be disclosed soon) will release all six of them in Q4 2023. If things go well with this first batch, I have plans for 18-20 more.
Normally when I write a book, I spend a fair amount of time outlining my story beforehand. With these books, however, I begin with a title, a fear that Danica has to tackle, and then essentially wing it from there. In this case, "winging it" involves sketching a few ideas on that notepad before I begin writing and then diving into the story. Here's a picture of what that looked like for book 3 in the series, Danica Panica and the Thunderstorm of Doom.
I realize this probably makes zero sense to anyone but me. To help decode it, most of the numbers related to the speed of light vs. the speed of sound when calculating how far away a thunderstorm is. Others relate to how many people are killed each year by lightning strikes. Apart from that I merely tried to capture some initial ideas related to the plot itself. For instance, that I wanted the plot to involve Danica trying to get from A to B during a storm while out camping. As bare bones as this appears, it gave me enough signposts to cobble together a fun little story in an amazingly short period of time. I'm not sure what your brainstorming process looks like, but I encourage you to experiment with new tools. You never know what you might discover.
Speaking of bare bones, here are some initial character sketches from Hannah Doerksen, who is going to be illustrating the series. She has also illustrated my last few Milligan Creek and Uncanny Icons covers as well as Randolph the Yellow Snowman.
Seeing as LARPers is about some geeky kids who are rather obsessive about tabletop RPGs (role-playing games), it seemed only natural that some of them had invented their own language to go along with their characters. To help me come up with that language, I turned to my oldest daughter, Gretchen, who just completed her third year of linguistics at UBC. She invented a language from scratch, and we had a lot of fun implementing it in the book. It comes complete with a glossary at the back, so you can put it to good use.
Incidentally, this is actually the second Milligan Creek book to feature a made-up language. See Snowbound for the other language, although I can't take any credit for making that one up.
I don't live in Saskatchewan anymore, but I still own property there, my books are all set there, and my heart still lives there, so it seemed like a good fit. Check out my profile here.
In addition to writing my own books, I edit books for all sorts of other writers, both fiction and non-fiction. Last year I edited a sci-fi novel called Kelvoo's Testimonial, by Philip Bailey, which is about a group of aliens who get swindled when some fast-talking humans attempt to colonize their world. It wound up being chosen as one of the top 7 indie science-fiction novels of 2022 on Kirkus Reviews and made their list of the top 100 indie books of 2022. It's always exciting to see one my clients do well, so congratulations, Phil!
At long last, LARPers, book 7 in the Milligan Creek Series is finally here! Here's a brief synopsis:
Epic fantasy meets real-life adventure! When Matt Taylor accidentally causes the untimely death of his friend Andrew Loewen’s beloved Mages & Monsters character, he attempts to make it up to him by launching a live-action role-playing (LARP) version of the game. While the players set out on an epic campaign to free Milligan Creek from a fictional curse, fantasy and reality come crashing together as outside forces become involved. Little do the kids realize it, but their little adventure could change the face of their small town forever!
Needless to say, after a five-month delay due to cancer treatment, I'm super excited to finally get this book out into the world. Like all the other Milligan Creek books, I had a blast writing it, and I can't wait to share it with fans of the series. Here's a look at the final version of the cover, illustrated by Hannah Doerksen.
Now that this book is done, I'm already 75 pages into a new non-fiction book on writing called No G.U.T.S., No Story. It's an adaptation of a screenwriting workshop I've been teaching for the past 16 years or so. I'm hoping to have that out by June. Then it's on to another book in the Uncanny Icons series before returning to Milligan Creek for another installment.
Walk through virtually any bookstore these days (though real-life bookstores are becoming few and far between), and more often than not, you’ll find science fiction and fantasy lumped together, as if they were virtually the same genre.
To be fair, on a surface level, this comparison holds true. For example, both sci-fi and fantasy stories involve imaginary worlds, strange creatures and forces beyond those that we experience in the “real world.” For this reason, the two genres also tend to appeal to the same sorts of readers, those who yearn for an escape from the everyday. But beyond these broad similarities, sci-fi and fantasy bear some key distinctions that most people tend to overlook or ignore.
You may think the need to distinguish between sci-fi and fantasy is a minor point, yet another example of the perpetual hair-splitting that typifies the world of geekdom. But when it comes to writing in either of these genres, such distinctions are vitally important.
If you’ve struggled to differentiate between the two genres, I’d like to offer five few general guidelines to direct your thinking in this area.
To read what those five guidelines are, you can find the rest of the article here. It's hosted by a website that represents my editing services.
Here's the sketch I sent to Hannah Doersksen, my talented artist, along with some instructions.
Here is her initial sketch.
Followed by another sketch with color.
We're still in the very early stages, but I'm already excited by what I'm seeing. Meanwhile, I'm about 20% into my edit, and I like what I'm seeing there too. A relief after not reading that part of the book for several weeks. Stay tuned!
And it's a whopping 68,822 words! To put that in perspective, Up the Creek, book 1 in the Milligan Creek Series, is just shy of 32,000 words. I don't know what went wrong--or right--about this book, but the story just kept growing and growing. However, I will point out that J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books kept getting longer and longer too, so maybe I'm on the right track.
At any rate, I love how things turned out. This is always an exciting moment, a time to celebrate. Then it's back to the grindstone as I go back through the manuscript and edit. In truth, I've already done that a couple of times for a good chunk of the book, so it's only the last third that needs a thorough going over. I already have the uber-talented Hannah Doerksen working on the cover, so with any luck, the book will be available in March.
I've also been simultaneously working on another book, a non-fiction one this time, which I plan to release later on in the first half of this year as well. Stay tuned for more updates!
The Kindle version the Milligan Creek Series: Volume 1 will be featured in a free book promotion this weekend, starting on Friday. You can sign up at www.hellobooks.com to receive the link, not just to my book but to many others as well.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life