How The Militiaman Got Made

It took a long time to bring this book to fruition!

In all fairness, the amount of time it took was probably excessive, as novels go. The basic idea originated in 1999, the summer before I was to start college. I started writing it almost immediately after, about one chapter a week. The process, back then, was pretty simple. I would write a chapter, then give it a couple quick editing passes, then consider it ready to go. I knew much less about writing than I do now, and to go back and look at that early version, my immaturity and lack of polish are evident.

Although the overall story was nearly finished, in terms of being written chronologically and leading up to a point very near the conclusion, I had stopped in part because I was unhappy with how it turned out. I thought there were good ideas present, and that I had a story worth telling, but I had executed it poorly and my skills needed to develop considerably before I could give it the treatment it deserved.

I attempted such a treatment back in 2011, though I only got a few chapters in. Very quickly, I was again unhappy with how it turned out and put it aside again. It needed more retooling, more revision, more reconsideration.

It was when I made my third attempt in 2013 that I became more committed to consulting with friends I trusted on what I was doing. Their input was invaluable–the story’s pacing was reshaped, and many qualities in terms of tone and theme were identified as needing changes. I had a defined beginning and ending point for this first book, though I was not yet certain how long the overall series would be. Even that had to be modified to account for the pacing changes. But what those changes did was allow a first half with time to breathe.

When introducing a new world in a narrative, there are different ways to handle it. One is to simply drop people into it and hope they catch on. Another is to introduce it very slowly allowing the reader time to catch up and breathe within this invented world. I did my best to balance these approaches, opening the book with a lot of world-building details dropped in front of the reader but not explained fully, peppering in more such details in subsequent chapters until there is enough of a lull for these elements to come together and paint a real portrait of this fictional place.

By that point, everything is allowed time to breathe, and a chance for the reader to get comfortable. Of course, if one knows anything about writing, it is that the moment the audience becomes comfortable is exactly when you want to yank the rug out. To avoid spoilers, I’ll say no more about that here. :)

It took me a handful of months to finish the first draft of The Militiaman. Once it was done, I began outlining the second book, The Star Mother. In November of 2014, I started writing that second volume, and this again took several months. Instead of preparing for the third book, however, I spent the rest of 2015 and most of 2016 writing a daily blog on political topics (and other topics that interested me). It was an experiment I wanted to undertake, so I did it! Over the summer of 2016, then, I finally outlined book 3 (Fortress Ghosts), and it took me until April of 2017 to finish its first draft. Once again, I spent the following summer outlining the next book (Zero Avalon). But before I got to writing it, I was approached about publishing The Militiaman.

I had been sitting on its manuscript for a few years by this point. A good friend took the time to give it a very thorough edit, which I supplemented by doing some revisions of my own. But I was not yet convinced the book was ready for prime time, so I needed to know how much time I had to get it out. My publisher–a small imprint with limited sources, but that is committed to being author-focused and supportive–was looking to get this first book out in the fall of 2018. OK, autumn was doable.

But that meant I had to really get off my butt and get this book ready. Late in 2017, I had a hard copy of the manuscript at that time printed and sent to me. I found it easier to do edits on such a copy. After taking a few weeks to mark up the book, I applied those edits to the digital manuscript again. It was this manuscript which I turned over to my publisher. From there began a back-and-forth as the book was read and changes were requested. I also provided ideas for cover designs, all of which were sketched out, and I picked my favorite to be developed into a final cover design.

Alongside all this were contract negotiations! I was a little hesitant to push for what I wanted out of it, though my publisher was happy to negotiate and modify the contract until we were both satisfied. But once it was signed and became binding, that meant we had to have a final manuscript ready to go by August! Because writing software is my day job and I write tools for personal use all the time, I decided to streamline the editing process by putting together a couple of utilities that would produce very nice change logs (diff reports, if you are a coder) as I modified the book per publisher requests. This let the publisher see exactly what I had changed so they could easily determine whether they were satisfied with it–beats rereading the whole book!

This process went on for a few weeks until we had come to agreement on a semi-final revision. I still had time (and leeway) to make small changes if I wanted, which I did right up to the end. Even now, I can think of things I would like to change. Such is the curse of perfectionism, I suppose. But something had to get printed, and the publisher took my manuscript and made a series of PDF proofs from it, which I then approved (after some minor changes). The cover likewise went through a lot of adjustments after the artwork was generally finished, adding the cover text, spine art, and back-of-the-book blurb. All of these things came together for the actual print copies, and the book was released for real in October of this year.

Initial response has been very flattering and promising, and I have not rested on my laurels at all. I outlined book 5 (Earthblade, though I may change that), and am currently in the midst of writing it. I also received an edited version of book 2, which I then revised, had printed, and did another revision on. That book should come out sometime next fall, though I have a surprise up my sleeve for next spring.

All this is to say that it’s been a long road to get to this point, and the journey is hardly over, but I am very excited to see where it leads.

Thanks for reading!