The Making of Sand and Smoke

It came about, quite simply, when I asked myself the question: what would a book look like that had both dragons and cowboys?

Good news everyone!

I’m creating an exciting new series for my blog!

The Making of… is an in-depth look at each book I write. I’ll examine one book per blog post. I’ll examine characters, story, the concept, individual scenes, and maybe more all in an attempt to give more information than is available anywhere else on how that book came to be.

First up, I’m starting with Sand and Smoke. It’s a dragon-rider western, and it came about, quite simply, when I asked myself the question: what would a book look like that had both dragons and cowboys?

WarrenDesignCover

After that idea came to me, I began to brainstorm. Among my favorite fantasy authors currently is Brandon Sanderson, and I was inspired a lot by his Mistborn series when first starting this book. You should check it out!

In particular, I loved the idea of a crew of criminals working together against impossible odds. So out of that was born the idea for my crew in the western side of my story to take on this terrifying weapon.

At the same time, however, I wanted to make my story very unique and based on things in real history and the world at large. For Sand and Smoke, I did a lot of research and a lot of plotting and outlining. More than I probably have done for any other project. I visited Powell’s in Portland, visited two different libraries, and read through a number of different books about things like the various mythologies surrounding dragons, what life was like in the old west, and world religions.

I compiled a whole document, actually, detailing what things were like in the world I had created, including the food people ate, the religions they practiced, what the educational systems were like, and more.

In the early drafts, the nations of Eltolix and Arus were quite a bit culturally different. Eltolix takes a lot of inspiration from Asian culture and mythology. The Sun dragons are serpentine like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dragons, and they have magical abilities. Also, the Old Religion of Eltolix shares similarities with Hinduism. Arus, or at least southern Arus, is largely based off the old west with saloons, gunfights, and a kind of lawless feel. And their religion is largely based off of Christianity.

With subsequent drafts, I molded these two cultures together by attempting to add more cultural elements that both countries share. Things like both calling their parents by the terms mama and papa, both referring to their religious centers as temples. In large part, I mixed in elements I could find of Aztec and Mexican culture into both countries. Since they were separated by a civil war 200 years ago, I wanted them to feel like countries that could have once been one and the same, and I have some Mexican ancestry which inspired me.

After molding the world, I created the characters. I did a lot of research on tvtropes.com to come up with some character archetypes that I thought would work well together and weren’t too often used. I rounded out those character archetypes with their own backgrounds and skills.

Then I plotted out the novel, trying to give all of my characters at least one arc, and my major two, Maya and Al, more than one.

When writing the chapters, I tried to advance at least two plot points per chapter. But even with all the plotting I did, there was a lot I realized wasn’t working in the revisions.

Al’s chapters probably went through the most extensive revisions. In the early drafts, I had his power being the ability to dodge bullets. I realized after draft one that that power didn’t work for the purposes of my novel, because of the big reveal about him at the end. So I changed it to him being able to control the wind.

Another major change I made to Al’s chapters was having him meet Li a lot sooner. Originally, he met her about halfway through the book, but I brought that scene up to roughly the quarter-way through mark and I fleshed out her character and background a lot more.

I also fleshed out a lot of Al’s backstory. In the first draft, he only touched briefly upon his mother’s death. But in subsequent drafts, I added a lot of flashbacks to that point in his life. Though I don’t usually like flashbacks, I thought they were important for him in this book. Because they made him much more relatable. Rather than just being a lone boy who’s riding through the desert engaging in battles with gunslingers, suddenly those flashbacks help us to see where he’s come from, and help us relate to him and see the pain he’s gone through.

The idea for the Wesech dragon plot was, like the criminal crew plot, born out of my love for Sanderson. In particular, I was inspired by his intermissions in The Stormlight Archive novels. In addition, based on my world-building I thought it’d be cool to have both western and eastern dragons, so since Maya was already going to be a dragon-rider on an eastern-type dragon, I figured the Wesech’s world would be a good one to explore during the intermissions.

Other novels I read while writing that inspired features of Sand and Smoke included Six of Crows, Child of the Daystar, Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, and Sanderson’s Wax&Wayne trilogy.

One thing I struggled with was how to weave the dragon plot into the main thread, and I did a lot of work in rewrites to make it smoother. Originally there was very little in Al’s chapters about Wesechs in Arus, but I worked to increase their presence in subsequent drafts.

I started writing Sand and Smoke in October of 2018, and I wrote it in spurts until I finished the first draft in April of 2019. I wrote mostly all of Al’s chapters together, and then all of Maya’s chapters switching only sporadically until I got to part 4.

I think the exact sequence I wrote in was all of Al’s part 1 chapters, all of Maya’s part 1 chapters, one Wesech chapter, then all of Al’s part 2 and 3 chapters, all of Maya’s part 2 and 3 chapters, another two Wesech chapters, and then part 4.

In regards to Maya’s chapters, the most substantial change I made while revising was at the end of part 3. Originally, she left the school fairly peacefully, but after notes from some members of my writing group, I realized Vidal would not let her do that. In subsequent drafts, I made her departure much more rocky, and I also made her deal much more with the consequences of her choice regarding Manzin.

While writing the first draft, I was in a writing group here in Portland, OR and shared pages with them, gathering feedback and improving it to some extent as those pages went.

But after finishing the draft and making those changes, I sent it off to my close friend Alex for him to beta-read it, and then made a lot of comprehensive revisions over 3 months: July, August, and September, both working on things that my writing group had suggested which I hadn’t managed to find a way to do before sending it to Alex, and working on things Alex suggested after reading it.

At that point the book became what you can read now. Fully formed and fleshed out with Al having the power to manipulate the wind, the Wesechs plotting something with Arus, and Maya’s single-mindedness driving her to make the choices she does.

Book Updates for a Sandy November

This month I am participating in Nanowrimo! Even though I am a chronic write-aholic, I thought I would give it a go just to be involved a bit more in the writing community, rather than being very hobbit-like about my writing. Which I usually am. But though I’ve got 49,200 words already written for the month (don’t judge me, I write like a cat sheds) I really don’t think I’ve spoken with anyone else who’s doing Nanowrimo all month. Or if I have, I haven’t spoken to them about Nanowrimo. Anyway, I’d done Nanowrimo twice in the past, once I failed and once I succeeded, so despite my bragging about being a write-aholic I can occasionally fail to get the words out too. The point I’m trying to get across is that I would love to speak with others who are doing Nanowrimo just because connections and community.

But beyond Nanowrimo this month, I’m going to be trying a whole bunch of new things in my writing plans regarding my books and I’ve been gearing up for them! The first of those was that I purchased a brand new epic cover for my fantasy novel titled Sand and Smoke. My last cover was self-designed, and so I think this one looks a whole lot more professional! And it’s on display below using a 3d mockup.

Also I wrote a short story to accompany the novel. If you want to read the short story and find out everything there is to know about this awesome dragon-infested world I’ve created, all you need to do is subscribe to my mailing list, and I’ll send it to you for free: http://www.rebrand.ly/ingridrising.

What else?

My book School Robots is gonna be exclusively available for my mailing list subscribers in January, and then later on I’ll be publishing it, I’m not sure exactly when yet.

Oh, and I am going to be doubling down on my efforts at writing and publishing YA fantasy books, probably ones with lots of dragons in them. Honestly I am feeling pretty good about what I’ve accomplished so far in writing and publishing TWO full books, completing a first draft for a third book (School Robots), and completing over three-quarters of the first draft for a fourth book this month for Nanowrimo, since roughly April of 2018 when I started all of this bonanza.

But despite the fact that I’ve written pretty much what I’ve aimed to, I know that I need to write faster and write more, especially in completing some of the series I started. With that in mind I have a kind of bold goal for myself in 2020, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to meet it, but I’m going to try hella hard. My bold goal is to write a book a month, or depending on how I feel midway through I might adjust that goal to be 10 books in 10 months with 2 rest months worked in there somewhere.

It’s gonna be hard, but I think I can do it. Nanowrimo this month is already going fantastic for me. It’s kinda ending up being the warm-up exercise. Now that I’ve hit a stride with understanding how to churn material out, how to structure my writing, what genre I want to target and knowing a few subjects of things in that genre that seem to grip my readers, I think I am ready to tackle the one-book-a-month challenge for a year.

I even have some ideas for those months. The book I’m writing right now for Nanowrimo, I want to make it into a trilogy. I want to write books 2 and 3 in the Sand and Smoke trilogy. I want to revive an old book I wrote as a kid, improving upon the execution with a complete rewrite and a more distinct and engrossing world. I want to make that book into a series, five books I think. And I’m not wholly sure about the other three months, maybe I can find other writers who are just as hungry as me to team up with, or maybe I’ll think up new ideas in the interim. All in all, next year’s goal is going to be producing a lot of first drafts, which will probably mean not a lot of new publications, other than School Robots. But writing the first draft is the most enjoyable part for me at least…so it should be fun! And if I’m successful, there should be a bonanza of new publications coming in 2021. I might see if I can revise one well enough to publish next fall in 2020 also…we’ll see.