My Writing Process + Sand and Smoke Sequel is Drafted!

Good news! Today I hit the end on the first draft of the sequel to Sand and Smoke! There are still a number of things to clean up and revise, but if all goes well, I’m really hoping to publish it sometime in August next year. I’ll probably begin accepting pre-orders and reveal the title sometime before the end of this year (2020) by the way.

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So I think there is a trend of writers, authors, traditionally published or indie or self-published, sharing their writing process with others? I thought I would hop on that trend! So here’s some info about how I write.

First thing, every project is different.

My writing project changes a lot. It might seem weird then that I am sharing my writing process. But even though how I write changes with every project, I do still have a process. I have a few steps I go through every time I write something new.

At the most fundamental level, my writing process can be broken up into three steps:

  1. Idea
  2. Write
  3. Revise

Let’s talk about step one. Technically, an idea is just the very, very starting point. It might not even resemble a story. An idea could be, for instance, a boy with a lightning bolt scar on his head. We recognize that as Harry Potter, but someone who knows nothing of Harry Potter would be able to imagine a million different books using that idea. The original idea for my book, Sand and Smoke, was a world with dragons and cowboys in it. Personally, I get my ideas at random times throughout the day. I usually don’t try to force this step. I keep a page of notes on my phone and write down an idea whenever it comes to me. That might be when I’m about to go to sleep, when I’m taking a shower, or even when I’m driving. If I come up with the idea when I’m driving, I usually either try to remember it for as soon as I come to a stop, or I pull over and jot it down. The vast majority of ideas I never actually use. Sometimes, I combine two ideas. I love doing that. If an idea is really good, it will end up sticking in my head, and then I will start to develop it and proceed to the next step. When I first started writing, these ideas were usually just things I thought sounded cool. Such as, in college, when I had an idea to write about a pigeon living in NYC. Lately, I’ve been working harder to differentiate these ideas that sound cool in my head from those that have more commercial appeal.

After the idea comes the concept. The difference between an idea and a concept is that a concept is more specific and actually lays out the bones of the story. For me, this usually involves a lot of character work. Who is the protagonist? What do they want? I try to envision what sort of books my book would go next to on the bookshelf.

In my opinion, it’s smart to give some time to concepting. I usually do it like I’m soaking a pot to wash later. In other words, I don’t just sit down and concept, it goes on in between other things during my day. My version of concepting is pretty much just daydreaming lol. There are exercises that you can do, however, such as loglines, premise lines, or things like that to help with concepting.

I usually do some work with character before I start writing. I’ve found that I’m naturally great at writing plot, but I have to really put in effort to get good characters. Each project, it’s a little different how I build my characters. For some books, I have created whole worksheets with things like hair color, eye color, backstory, love life, etc. Other books, I’ve written monologues in a character’s voice, describing their backstory and who they are. For one of my projects recently, I tried envisioning the characters as people I know, family or friends, and basing their decisions, the way they speak, and the clothes they wear, off of one person.

When I actually start writing a novel, short story, screenplay, or TV pilot, my writing process usually takes me from beginning to end rather quickly. I write consistently, and I don’t worry too much about making things perfect. I do sometimes go back and revise as I write. Lately I’ve been setting deadlines for myself and I’ve gotten good at finishing books by a deadline. Back in college, I remember that I would have deadlines set for me by my teachers, so I think I got accustomed to this. I’ve found that sometimes having a deadline can lead to subpar-quality, if the deadline is unrealistic. The important thing is to remain flexible, but consistent. I’m currently on a schedule writing five days a week, but in the past I’ve succeeded on schedules writing as little as two days a week. If something isn’t working, I’ll re-evaluate how I’m spending my writing time on those days, but I won’t just give myself those days off because for me, consistency is key.

I’ve found that the first draft is about getting the right beats of a story. So, while I might go back and revise, or even adjust my deadline, for something like a protagonist who gets dragged on a quest instead of having their own motivation and choosing the quest, I wouldn’t do the same if my protagonist just said something that was totally out of character. For me, the first draft is about hitting the right plot points in the right way.

In the last step of my writing process, revision, I try to fix any “continuity errors” first. That means anything like a character who exits a room, then speaks as if they’re still in the room, or a character whose name changes midway through the book, or anything like that. Sometimes, I’ll have other changes I imagined while writing but didn’t want to take the time to do yet. I’ll do these changes at the same time. Most of the time, after that, I send the piece to a friend or fellow writer who can provide some critique. After that, it changes a lot what I do from piece to piece.

In general, the time from idea to actually writing can vary greatly. I’ve had ideas before that I don’t work on for years. Sometimes, I’ll start concepting right away. Sometimes, I’ll concept for a really long time and not write the thing. Sometimes, I’ll start writing and decide the idea/concept isn’t worth finishing. Lately, once I’ve invested the time to start a piece, I’ve usually seen it through to the end.

So that’s my writing process! When I am writing, here are some resources that influence how I write:

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, a great resource for structure. I have this memorized: https://channel101.fandom.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit

Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder, more structure, also breakdown of story tropes and types of stories, and the save the cat trick to make your protagonist more likeable: https://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009

Aristotle’s Poetics, provides an excellent overview of the core components of a story, I think about these components religiously when revising, and frequently when writing.

https://tvtropes.org/ : A website that lists all the tropes in stories that have existed in many mediums (TV, literature, movies, videogames, comics, etc). I’ve used this when I’ve done outlines, but it also has value as just a place to explore every once in a while, to get more knowledge of tropes for when you are writing.

The Eight Most Interesting Questions about The Wings of War, Child of the Daystar, Bryce O’Connor, and Raz i’Syul Arro

This month, I’m returning to MIQs (Most Interesting Questions) temporarily! It’s a series where I cover the most interesting questions I can find about various bestselling books, TV shows, or movies.

But this time, my traditional tools to find questions to answer don’t work. So I’m making the questions up!

This post covers The Wings of War by Bryce O’Connor. It starts with Child of the Daystar, and it’s a bestselling Kindle Unlimited fantasy series for adults. In my opinion, it’s one of the best self-published fantasy series on Amazon. The characters are great. The main character is Raz i’Syul Arro, an atherian which basically means a lizard man. That’s right, this is a kindle unlimited book about a lizard man. And he has wings.

But since I do write mostly content for kids, I should warn that this series has some pretty graphic scenes, so be warned. I’ve left details of those graphic scenes out of this blog post, but if you crack open the books you’ll certainly find them.

At the time of writing this, the series is being read voraciously. The first book alone has over 800 ratings on Amazon. But there still aren’t a lot of questions online about it, so I’m creating my own most interesting questions.

At present, I’ve only read the first 3 books: Child of the Daystar, The Warring Son, and Winter’s King, so before you read below be warned you may encounter spoilers from any of those books. Even though five books have been released in the Wings of War series at the time I’m writing this, As Iron Falls and Of Sand and Snow aren’t covered because I haven’t read them.

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Q #1) What do the other atherians think about Raz?

A: In the first book, O’Connor mentions that winged atherians are rare. Raz is a winged atherian. He also mentions that winged atherians tend to rule over other atherians, often have multiple mates, and are very territorial. I’d therefore assume that Raz could encounter a few different types of other atherians: female atherians, male atherians without wings, and male atherians with wings. Female atherians probably would view him as powerful, and they’d probably stay near him for his protection. Males without wings would probably steer clear of him, recognizing he’s much more powerful than them, or they might agree to serve him if they desired protection. Regardless, those without wings, both males and females, would likely steer clear of trouble with Raz. They’d probably view him as superior in strength, just because he has wings. Males with wings would likely challenge him if he got too close to their territory, otherwise, they would probably just view him as a neighbor and leave him alone. If they knew he consorted so much with humans, any atherian would probably be confused, since they generally live apart from humans. They might view him as weaker for that, but we don’t have too much information on how atherians view humans so maybe not.

Q #2) Could Quin Tern have possibly survived, since Raz didn’t kill him he just left him in the cold?

A: Yes. I think he could have. But did he? I doubt it. I do find it interesting how O’Connor chose to not show his death. It means Tern could always make a reappearance. But he would have to be really lucky to survive the cold without a coat, like Raz left him. If Quin Tern did survive, I think he’ll come back a new, much more dangerous man. He was pretty foolish with Raz in book 2. If he survives, he’ll become as changed as Raz became after his family was murdered by the slavers.

Q #3) How many atherians are there?

A: Good question! I think there are less atherians than humans. Given their biology, atherians wouldn’t want to live in the north. We know that they trade occasionally with the caravans in the Cienbal. But they don’t trade all that often, it seems, because most of the trade in the first book happens between different human caravans. Based on the map, it appears they would have to occupy a pretty small land area to stay clear of humans so often. But how densely packed is that area? It’s hard to say. Ultimately, I don’t think they’d number less than several hundred thousand. But they might number as many as a couple million.

Q #4) Who would win in a fight between Raz and Kaladin Stormblessed?

A: These two are some of my favorite characters so I had to wonder about this. If you’re not familiar with Kaladin, he’s a protagonist in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Ultimately, his advantage in this battle would be his speed and lashing ability. With his lashing ability, he could maneuver around large swaths of land much faster than Raz. Raz, meanwhile, probably has a better reaction time, and he is definitely physically stronger. If they were forced to fight in close range combat, I think Raz could take Kaladin down. If they had a large battlefield, Kaladin would have an advantage. Regardless, it would be a hard fought battle. Both have incredible intelligence in the midst of battle. They’re super resourceful, and know how to win against the odds. So it’s hard to say who would win. Ultimately, Raz probably has a little more experience in one-on-one battles, and fighting alone. If Kaladin had the help of Bridge Four, he’d get a huge boost, whereas if Raz had any help, it’d probably make less of a difference cause he’s such a solo fighter.

Q #5) How do the Priests use magic? Is it something that Raz could ever learn? Or something that someone else in the world could learn and abuse?

A: I don’t think this is ever even hinted at. But it seems like the priests get their magic from Laor after they become a priest. The most plausible explanation to me seems to be some item that gives them the power, and if that’s true then new priests would be granted the item’s power when they are initiated. Given that nobody else in the world seems capable of magic, it doesn’t seem like something humans have the ability to learn, rather, it seems like something they must be gifted. Raz could maybe be gifted the power too, if his atherian blood doesn’t interfere with his ability to accept it, but I doubt the priests would ever give him that power willingly. Raz isn’t the type to take it for no reason either. Raz might take it if he had a strong reason.

Q #6) Will Raz ever master flight?

A: I think he has to. We saw him successfully fly at the end of Child of the Daystar. He didn’t actually fly in Winter’s King, but for a moment it seemed like he did. Ultimately, he’s gotta master it since he has wings, and we already saw him do it once so we know it’s possible.

Q #7): What lies north of Cyurgi’Di?

A: According to the map, just the tundra. A tundra is a vast, flat, treeless region where the subsoil is permanently frozen. There could be penguins or polar bears up in the tundra north of Cyurgi’Di. There could also be humans, like eskimos. Ultimately, it seems kind of like a Greenland situation to me. There’s probably not much north of Cyurgi’Di.

Q #8): What did all the bounty hunters who showed up in Azbar after Raz left do?

A: After Raz left, those bounty hunters likely left too. It’s unclear if they would know where Raz was going. Obviously, we know he went up to Ystred. But the bounty hunters wouldn’t have known that. I think they all probably did different things. Maybe a couple stayed in Azbar or went back home. Most were probably pretty set on the bounty from Raz, so they would have tried to follow him. They would probably figure that he wasn’t going south again, since there was so much money on his head. Most of the bounty hunters probably went up to Ystred, but arrived after Raz had already left the town with Talo and Carro. A few might have thought Raz was going to Drangstek, but it’s farther away from Azbar than Ystred is, so it would be a less likely next destination for him. Most probably went to Ystred, but arrived too late to catch Raz.

The Making of Middle School Robots

Last month I published my third novel…called Middle School Robots. It’s a book I’ve had in my head for almost 4 years now, and it started as a TV script.

For anyone who follows me on social media, you might have heard that story. But I also want to tell the story here on my blog.

And I’ll include a little more detail here.

And by the way, the TV pilot was first called Ordinary Robots, so I might refer to it as that, or Office Robots, which I called it at some point after Ordinary Robots but before Middle School Robots.

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I wrote it in 2016.

From 2015-2016 I lived in Los Angeles for 10 months. Middle School Robots was written towards the tail end of that, in June.

The sequence of events that led to writing it, however, started in May of 2016, when I got really sick.

I don’t know exactly what I had, but it seemed like the flu. My body hurt all over and I had a 103-degree fever. I got better after about a week of rest, though immediately after the flu I got a UTI.

And as soon as I got over the UTI, I got another issue. The worst back pain of my life.

At the time, I had been driving Uber and working as a freelance Production Assistant on film sets to make money. After the back pain came, I couldn’t do either of those things. I went to urgent care three or four times, and they couldn’t get rid of the pain for me.

It lasted like two months.

And in those two months, I couldn’t drive Uber anymore. I tried once, and after two hours the pain was so bad I had to stop. I also didn’t trust myself to take a PA (Production Assistant) job. I was scared that if I did, I’d have to leave in the middle of it, or I’d hurt myself worse. A lot of the PA’s duties involve manual labor.

And so the only real work I could do was write.

I was working on another project the day I wrote Ordinary Robots, but having trouble finding inspiration.

And I didn’t want to spend time writing anything that didn’t inspire me. Not when my back hurt like it did.

So I wrote something else.

I wrote Middle School Robots.

And I think, looking back on it, I just wanted to create a world I could escape into. I wanted to get away from the pain I had.

I wrote the TV pilot in just one day. I didn’t do any outlining or any character work before writing it. I just wrote it using what I knew about how to craft good stories and my own imagination.

Later I submitted it to some contests. It scored quarter-finalist honors in two contests – Scriptapalooza and Fresh Voices in 2017. It was also nominated for the Courage & Fortitude Award for Fresh Voices.

And then in 2019, I started adapting it into a children’s novel.

But once again, I didn’t go into adapting it with the intention to.

Actually, I was trying to write another book. It was a young adult sci-fi novel, about superheroes. It was based around a Jean Gray type superhero who could control the molecular bonds between elements, thereby creating and destroying anything at will.

I still like the idea of that character. But honestly, she needed more to her character than that power.

And I realized, a couple chapters into writing it, that I didn’t understand who she was beyond a superhero with that really cool power.

And that left me feeling frantic.

Because I couldn’t write the story until I knew.

This was June of 2019.

I wanted to write something, to get another book in line to be published, but suddenly I knew that the book I had planned to write wasn’t something I could write.

And so this caused me to search around for other ideas.

And I had a couple, but the ones I did have were not ready to be written yet.

They were still ideas, and still needed more work. They needed to sit with me longer before they’d feel formed enough to start on.

And then, I realized that what I needed was a story that I had already written in the past.

I had written a few TV pilots. But the one that came to mind immediately was Ordinary Robots, since renamed Office Robots.

In just a few days, I realized that the script was perfect because it was like The Time Twins. It was the same genre, sure the TV pilot wasn’t kid-friendly, but the book could be.

Now here’s the part where I admit to you a dirty little secret. So if you’re a parent reading this to your kids you might want to skip this part.

But Colossal Time, the crazy smartwatch robot in the book, was originally an alcoholic.

It was a TV pilot meant for Adult Swim!

But I changed it so that he was a sugar addict instead for the book.

Ok, kids can start reading again here.

I also changed a few other things. In the TV pilot, there was no mouse. The robots snuck out the front door.

Also in the TV pilot Joe never got separated from Thomas and Alexa. Instead, all three of them encountered the school teachers, who were office workers instead, and then all three of them just went back to the office.

I made Joe get separated to add more danger, excitement, and another layer of stuff to think about to the book. And out of it came some good stuff, I think. The idea of swarms of kids holding smartphones, the tidbit about Alzheimer’s disease.

The other major change I mad was the ending. Originally, Alexa tore up the constitution. But when writing the book I realized that couldn’t be the ending.

When I was writing the TV pilot, I just thought it was funny. But actually, the ending needs to be serious. Because the matter of the robots overcoming oppression is serious, even if there’s a lot of humor at other points in the book.

Overall, I wrote the book over the course of a month, in June alone, using the TV pilot as a template and stealing almost every line from it, then adding a few new ones.

Then, I didn’t touch the book again until late October, when I read it over and made some structural changes I thought needed to be done.

In November again I took a break for another book I was writing, and in December I made the last changes to the book, over the course of three weeks.

I thought I was done with it after that but I did end up making a few slight edits in January before publishing in February.

And, that’s it! After that I published it and now it’s done.