I’ve been listening to podcasts almost as long as I’ve been writing seriously, and I’ve recently been enjoying ones dedicated to short-stories. Listening to a whole novel doesn’t appeal to me, but short fiction’s a different matter. It’s a great way to explore new authors.
One of those podcasts is Pocket Pulp, where professional audiobook narrator Eric Bryan Moore reads a new story each week, across a range of genres. Because he knows what he’s doing, both with narration and with audio, the quality’s very high.
Why am I mentioning this? Because I was thrilled when he accepted a story I submitted.
That story is The Reason We Run (which first appeared in the anthology It’s Behind You), and he reads it in this week’s episode.
Pocket Pulp is available through loads of the usual podcast apps and services, including Spotify (there’s a link to the show on PodBean here), and there’s also a YouTube channel.
Check it out, leave a comment — I’m sure Eric would love to know what you think. And if you want a new short story each week, I recommend subscribing to Pocket Pulp.
Back at the start of 2015 I got serious about writing, publishing the first three book in my Dominions series in mid-2016. And now (May 2021) the series is complete—nine novels, and a few short stories and novellas.
It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve learnt a great deal in these six years—about writing, editing, story, marketing and so much more. There have been a few sudden moments of realisation, but many of the lessons have been gradual.
I thought I’d take a moment to go through some of these.
Improving as a writer has a down-side
After putting out well over a million words, my writing’s improved, on both macro and micro levels (story-wise and sentence-by-sentence). This is clearly a good thing, but it does have a draw-back when writing a series—later books are better than earlier ones.
I want people to read and enjoy this series, and the natural place for them to start is at the beginning. This means they’re starting with the weakest books. If that first book doesn’t grab the reader, why would they bother continuing?
This hit me a couple of years ago. In preparation for a new book, I re-read the series so far, and wasn’t happy with the first book (Dark Glass). I pretty much re-wrote the whole thing, producing a second edition that was far stronger in both story and writing than the original.
This meant I had a stronger starting point for the series. But the next couple of books still had issues. And the ones after them—well, they’re not bad, but in retrospect there are things I could improve. And even though I’ve recently finished the ninth book, I’m certain that, if I re-read it again later this year, I’ll cringe at some of the amateur writing.
That’s the nature of improving—older stories will be inferior to current ones, which in turn will be weaker than future writing.
But I can’t continually improve already-published books. I need to work on new stories. In retrospect, working on a nine-book series as my first serious writing project was a mistake. I should have gone for a trilogy, or even a stand-alone. But I can’t change that now. I have to accept the situation, and move on.
Things won’t go to plan
When I grew serious about writing, I realised that I couldn’t make up a story as I went along. I tried, and that book was a mess—too many character viewpoints, too many pointless diversions, too sprawling. So I planned. I worked out the story, the characters and the settings before I started writing.
Planning was the key to finishing Dark Glass, and I’ve planned every book since.
But nothing ever goes to plan. The final version of a book is always different to that original plan.
Take Dead Flesh, the second book in the series. The original idea had Rodin saving Genna at the end. But for Rodin to do this, he needed to change. I planned a few early scenes where he was forced to confront his own beliefs, but it was only when I started first-drafting that I realised such a radical change couldn’t be glossed over so quickly.
The first half of the book grew and grew as I followed my new ideas. If I’d continued, Dead Flesh would have come in at around six hundred pages—twice the length of Dark Glass.
I stopped, and returned to my planning. I focused on Rodin’s change, and set Genna’s part of the story to one side. The new version, solely Rodin’s story, was far stronger. And, even at the end, Rodin wasn’t quite ready. So the third book continued his character arc. At the end of Deep Water, he’s finally ready.
And the discarded story-line concerning Genna? That was merely put aside, and used as the basis for book four, Riled Dogs.
Plans are useful tools, but they’re never set in stone. Writing is a constant process of change.
Inconsequential details can be important
When I came to write Rogue Wolf (the fifth Dominions book), I introduced a new character, Vanya. She was tough, and would become an important ally for Rodin. As I developed her, I recalled a character in Dead Flesh (the second book). I hadn’t named this earlier character, and she only appeared in two scenes, but she was important to the story.
I realised these two characters, the unnamed one and Vanya, were the same. Rather than invent a completely new character, I could develop a supporting character from earlier.
I’d like to say I planned this all along, but it was a happy accident.
When I came to write the final three books, I re-read all the older ones, looking for characters and settings I could re-use—not to be lazy, but because it would tie the books together. Incidental characters in earlier books became major players, and events and locations from earlier rose again. Because of this, the series became rounded, rather than being a string of actions.
Perseverance is the key
Writing is easy—put one word after another. Writing a book—a complete, coherent story—is another matter entirely. The first draft is only the start. Most ‘writing’ is editing and re-writing. Moulding those initial words takes longer than putting them down in the first place.
Once the first book is complete, there’s an expectation that the second will be easier. In some ways it is—you’ve done this once, so there’s no reason you can’t do it again. But there’s a drive to improve, to make the next book better than the previous one. And if that first book doesn’t reach readers, or doesn’t get rave reviews from the start, doubts can start to rise.
There are always doubts. There are always problems.
But the only way to overcome these doubts and problems is to keep working. To have a finished book, or a finished series, it is necessary to write. One word, then the next.
While writing Dominions I’ve also produced other stories. Six years on one project is intensive, and I needed diversions every now and then. I wrote short stories, and a sci-fi/horror trilogy. Once the sixth Dominions novel was out, I intended to take a break and work on something else.
I tried. I wrote the first draft of one story, and started another. But I couldn’t focus. Dominions lurked at the back of my mind. Eventually, I realised that I needed to complete that project before moving on.
I had to persevere. And I did, throwing myself into the final trilogy of Dominions. It was tough, but I think those final three books are the strongest of the series.
I succeeded. And this proved that I can persevere. Next time I’m struggling, I can remember this, and keep pushing through.
Finishing Dominions is bitter-sweet. For all it’s faults, I’m proud of the series. I’ve played in this world for the last six years, and a part of me doesn’t want to leave.
But it’s time to move on. I’m not ruling out a return to Dominions (I can see how I could expand the series quite easily), but for now I need a fresh challenge. I need to dive into a new world, to explore some different characters. I need to take the lessons I’ve learnt and apply them to my next series. And when the work is hard (as I know it will be at times), I can look back at Dominions and remind myself that I can do this. I can keep learning, and keep writing.
When I started work on the very first book (way back in 2015), I had a rough plan for the whole series, but the details have come over time. Characters have taken detours I didn’t expect, and even up to the end I wasn’t totally sure what would happen to everyone. But this is a definite close to the series, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it too.
You can get Final Target from all the usual ebook stores (99c for a couple of days), and the paperback from Amazon.
Everything has changed. The Dome is no longer the safe, perfect society its residents once knew. The districts are in the hands of the enemy. Authority continues to build its forced, ready for one last devastating assault. But the rebellion continues. While there’s life, there’s hope. Those who oppose Authority will fight to the death. The dark glass will shatter, and the final target will fall.
Fallen Domain (Dominions VIII) is now out, in ebook from all the usual stores and paperback through Amazon. It’s only 99c (or your local equivalent) for a couple of days.
Can old adversaries become allies?
Rodin knows Authority must be stopped, and that means returning to the Dome. But the only one who knows a way in is Cat, the one-time Authority agent who has been manipulating Rodin for years, playing with Rodin’s life for his own suspicious ends. To the south of the Dome, Authority relentlessly push Genna back, forcing a retreat into the heart of her district. Soon, she will be surrounded and outgunned. But there’s one man who could help—the same man who once betrayed her, who was responsible for the near-destruction of her district, who stood by and watched as she was tortured close to death.
With so many lives at stake, can Rodin and Genna do the unthinkable and work with their enemies?
Rodin has the contract under control, drawing the target in, ready for the removal. Not a simple job, but nothing too complicated. But nothing happens in isolation, and Rodin has no idea how this contract will impact others—or himself.
Impact is a new release in the Dominions series, a set of four connected stories. It’s available from all the usual ebook stores, and is currently free*.
Until 4th January, the Dominions box-set is down to 99c (or your local equivalent) on all the usual ebook retailers. For such a low price, you get the first three books in the Dominions series (Dark Glass, Dead Flesh and Deep Water) along with the prologue short story Gatekeeper and a few bonuses at the end.
One of the great things about publishing independently is having control over pricing. I’ve run promotions for books before, and have experimented with free (all my short stories and novellas in my Dominions series are still free—click here to check them out). And now, until the end of the year, I’m trying something else.
I’m offering the first novel in each of my two series for only 99c (or your local equivalent). Both books are available from all the usual ebook retailers (if you can’t find it on your favourite, contact me and I’ll see what I can sort out). So if you want to start a new series for a bargain price, take a look at these two.