State of the Mind: February, 2014.

Well, this has certainly been an interesting month. Be that as it may, it’s time for the monthly State of the Mind address. So, let’s kick it off.

1) Work! I’ve been pounding out progress on a rewrite of Salvaging Life (WIP title, not final). You might now be saying, “Wait, I thought you said you were going to be working on Echoes!” In which case, you’re rather observant and correct all at once. I did say that I was going to be working on Echoes at first, but that plan has since changed.

I sat down and started to reread Echoes so I could get a feel for what I had again. Keep in mind, this story is about a year and a half old by now, so it feels ancient. Upon reading it, however, I saw how bad it seemed to be. Upon looking at it, the story felt like it needed a complete and total rewrite to bring it up to snuff. Needing that extensive amount of work ultimately placed it in the same spot as a number of other stories.

At the same time, I’d wanted to revisit Salvaging Life. Originally a short-story that was around four thousand words that I had submitted to Clarkesworld Magazine, I decided that with the recent commercial release of Blood in the Machine, maybe I could go back and check it out.

When I looked over Salvaging Life and read what I had, I could easily see why it had been rejected. It wasn’t the majority of the story, it wasn’t the characters, and it wasn’t the quality of writing. What set it back was the story I tried to tell was too confined at the length I had, and the ending felt at odds with the tone of the story.

The thing was, I already knew both of those things a month ago when I started thinking about it then. Reading it now felt like confirmation bias, but I also had some ideas of how to fix it. So, this last weekend, I began enacting those fixes by rewriting the story from the ground up.

I’m now three thousand words in and the story is feeling stronger than ever before. The characters felt good in the first version, but feel much stronger now. The pacing feels about right, though some of the tricky parts will rear their ugly heads in the later sections. At the same time, I have to do some research and treat a certain topic with some delicate attention, but it’s integral to one of the characters.

At the same time, I’ve also been working on the codex and mapping of a rewrite for Under a Falling Sky, which I am also eager to tackle soon. Who knows, maybe if Salvaging Life goes well, that might be the next project I tackle.

2) Resting! I’ve actually been rather bored recently. I’m stuck in a spot earlier on in Final Fantasy XIII-2 at a boss fight, so I have to go back and grind fights to get ahead. Not exactly my idea of fun. Instead, I played the Titanfall PC beta last night, and I have to admit that I am massively impressed with what I see.

Oh, and I have Kelly Sweet’s version of In the Air Tonight stuck in my head since hearing it in an ad for a TV show. Somebody, please help me, I’ve been listening to it on repeat in effort to try and get it dislodged, but to no avail!

At the same time, Game of Thrones Season 3 comes out tomorrow, so I know what I’ll be watching. It’ll also help tide me over while I wait for Gravity to come out on the 25th, alongside Thor: The Dark World.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished reading How to Archer, based on the TV cartoon (Cobra!). Times like these make me wonder who exactly dreams up the notion that it would be a good idea to write a book in the perspective of Sterling Archer. However, it lets me get on to reading Ender’s Game for the first time. No, I’ve never read it before, but I wanted to read it before I saw the movie which is sitting on my shelf.

3) Mental Health! … Improving, slightly optimistic. Might be in need of a good sit-down and ass-kicking soon if it doesn’t clear up.

So yeah, there we have it. Things seem to be looking up and I am slipping back into my groove with some ease, which helps make things a bit easier to work with.

~ James.

State of the Mind: January, 2014.

Take a breath, would you? Breathe in that new 2014 air, let it sink in that we’ve already pissed away another year. Done? Good, because it’s time for the new State of the Mind address.

1: Work is progressing on The Veil and we’re actually nearing completion. There’s only a few more chapters left at the most, which I am actually quite grateful for. I’m desperately wanting to get my hands into something new, something not as flawed and broken as The Veil.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not that I hate the story, but that I know its pacing, characters, and overall condition is not good. After a few chapters, I knew it was flawed but was already too invested into it to go back and fix it. There might be hope for a good story buried in there, but it’s just a mess in its current form.

With that all said, I’ve become confident that I will likely host the story for a few months after the last piece goes up, but will then take it down. As I’m sure anyone who’s read Blood in the Machine and The Veil can attest to, there’s an almost night-and-day difference in terms of quality. So, if it’s not a proper demonstration of my quality or even a well put together story, why leave it up for people to read and pass judgment on?

So yes, once The Veil is done, I’ll set up a tear-down date on the top of that page so people know when they need to finish reading it by before I mothball it. I’ll not delete it in entirety, but more shove it in a proverbial shoebox. There may come a day I decide to return to it and tell that story right, but it isn’t now.

2: What happens after The Veil is done? I’m thinking that the first priority will be to go back and rewrite Salvaging Life, as I mentioned before. There are a couple loose ends I need to tie up before I consider the premise solid and golden, but I think it is something that might produce something worth investing time and effort into.

Its characters will also be something a bit darker than my normal form, so I want to give them a shot as well. Right now, however, I need to explore options as to what “the threat” is and why it makes the main protagonist respond like she does (yes, I said “she”).

3: I managed to get myself sick again! Yay! Not really. It seems to be a minor cold that has gotten hold over me, laying me out from work for a couple days so far. It seems to be only a minor one however, more sapping any energy I have instead of the normal nasal and respiratory hell that a normal cold represents. Not how I wanted to spend my time, to be sure, but such is the way of things.

4: This last Sunday, I had my 24th birthday. Spent most of the day disconnected from the computer, or at least the online portion of it, but something struck me when I came back to it. Birthday notifications filled my bar, mostly all from Google+. This isn’t an unknown thing for me, having got notifs like this before (not nearly as many, mind you).

When I examined the notifs in detail, I was struck by a variable from each and every person that sent them. That detail? The countries they all came from. The USA (obviously), but also the UK, Germany (had to Google the translation and how to say “thank you” in German), Canada, South America, and more.

I think it struck me right then and there about how massive this thing is. Sure, this readership is quite small in comparison, but it’s built from people that aren’t even bound by a single country.

For the record, the single largest reason I write is because I love the ability to form and create a story, then pour it out and onto a page. To hell with money, this is the second biggest reason I had ever written stories. Maybe not even the idea of having a large readership, but having a diverse one.

Even this website’s statistics show where its views come from, and let me tell you, it’s from everywhere. France, Australia, Japan, Russia, Iceland, etc. To see that, to know that people from around the world are even offering a split-second glance, is an astounding thing that I am extremely grateful for.

5: So, what is the current battle-plan as far as commercial releases go? Well, novels are on a bit of a back-burner right now. The number one piece of praise I have gotten when it comes to Blood in the Machine was how the pacing seems to have felt solid and that it didn’t drag. Hearing that, and seeing that a novelette is capable of actually catching people’s attention, has lessened my desire to produce an overly long work.

Instead, I aim to focus more on some smaller works and have them as polished as I can. How I see this playing out is actually rather simplistic, start small and gradually grow bigger from there. I started this whole thing off with short stories, then I solo published a novelette. I know Salvaging Life is a bigger project, though I’m not sure if it is a full novel. After I spend some time with full novels, however, then I will break out the Dark Stars universe.

It’s a simple plan, but one that – I believe – should help pay out as far as experience and skills are concerned. After all, length of content isn’t something I am terribly concerned with, but more the quality of the work. I’d rather be known for producing higher-tier works, rather than just having a shelf full of half-baked projects.

That’s where we’re at, and I gotta say, it’s pretty exciting. We’re on the cusp of ending something old and poisoned, replacing it with something new and exciting. Always a good time to be had there, though it will definitely require a bit more planning before I sit down and start penning it. After all, with how I work, I need to know how it ends before I can even begin.

~ James.

In the aftermath…

It’s been just over a week since Blood in the Machine launched. I think now is a good time to sit back for a second and look at how things have cracked up.

It’s been borderline chaos, what with having to set things up and reorganize things in the wake of it all. Having to get in touch with Goodreads and get my account enrolled in the author program, contact M.S. Fowle (who did the cover work) and request an Author’s Spotlight (of which I am quite thankful for and can be found here), learning the Kindle portals and tools, etc. There’s been a lot of figuring things out.

At the same time, this website has also undergone a bit of a change. The Veil‘s release announcements are gone, a section of the article pages have been trimmed down, things a bit more organized on the menu to the left, and other changes.

It’s almost like cleaning up your house, which is normally a pig-pen, when you learn your distant family is coming over. Everything’s awkward, nobody really knows each other, and the host is trying to impress everyone he can while shoving old trash under the rug.

So, how has the launch gone? Outside of being chaotic, it’s been rather interesting.

The number of copies that have been sold has been above expectations. Then again, when you set you expectations for your debut solo piece to be 2 (one for each living parent), it’s easy to be pleasantly surprised.

We aren’t breaking big numbers here, but when you factor in how I’ve joined this race (an almost non-existent following, a completely unknown name, not much knowledge to draw from, etc), it’s quite surprising. There’s even our first review on GoodReads, something that made me smile both when I saw the sign that it was there, and also when I read it.

I think, however, what I’ve learned will definitely help expedite the process in the future. I know more about how and who to approach for artwork, edits, and so forth. The only thing that should be holding me back should be my own pace.

This doesn’t mean that I will suddenly break out and start shoveling half-baked stories out into the Kindle marketplace, don’t worry. I’m someone who gets incredibly paranoid about whether a story is good enough to stand on its own.

As for what’s next on the writing list, we’ve got the continued chapters with The Veil, and I am making headway on Beyond the Rift, though I hold some doubts on it.

With The Veil, we’re getting closer to the end, something for which I am thankful for. It’s not that I hate the story as a whole, it’s more that I see an insane amount of ways that it should have been designed differently. This version of it will definitely not be the final form of it, a re-write will be on the list of things to do.

Given how broken and fractured it feels, hiding it on the website for some time after it ends is a tempting prospect. I’m not entirely sure if I will or not, so if you want to voice your thoughts on it, go ahead.

As for Beyond the Rift, it’s definitely a first draft. There’s some fluff that needs to be cut out from what I’ve written, of that I’m sure. However, I think the foundation for a decent story is there, so it’s just a matter of trying to pry a good story out of it. It’s definitely not in nearly as bad of shape as The Veil is in.

For other stuff besides those two, I am actually looking at Salvaging Life, my former submission to Clarkesworld. Since it’s free of any word limit, I have some ideas of what I want to do to it. I’m going to start jotting down some notes to remind me, but I’m curious to see what I could do with it.

Firs thing I could do would be finding a better name. After that, expanding it drastically so I could make the plot grow and feel more natural. Maybe it’s just me coming down from the release last week, but it feels like the kind of story that Blood in the Machine started out as. That in mind, it makes me wonder if I can grow it into something more, something akin to how BotM came out.

Before that, however, a friend of mine has pointed out a couple continuity errors with Blood in the Machine that I will see about getting rectified with his help. After they are dealt with, I’ll upload the new version of the story as a soft-update on Amazon.

Once that is all said and done with, it will be back to the grind. I had let my writing schedule slack just a bit due to the release week and relaxing from it, but I’ve gotten back on track. 500 words a night at a minimum is a fairly easy goal to hit, yet it keeps me productive with time on my hands.

We’ll see how it all shapes out, but I’ve definitely got my hands full for a while. Then again, given how my mind spins things and how I work, I’ll have my hands full for another twenty years. Until the next time, however, enjoy the show.

~ James.

Releasing the machine, and the days to come.

It’s finally happened. You all knew it was coming, that you all should have run in fear, but you didn’t. For some reason, you crazy people actually stuck around.

I’ve gone insane Blood in the Machine is now available on the Kindle store.

Yup, that’s right, I spent all weekend (Literally all of it. Where did the fun go?) working on the post-production for this piece. Now it’s ready and available for everyone to take a look at, so my stressing can begin.

Want a look at the overview and cover, yet don’t want to click the store link? Fine, I’ll oblige.

“The year is 2022. Poverty has run rampant in the aftermath of war. First-world nations now receive support from various aid groups. In the middle of the chaos, cybernetic augmentation has become a reality.

In trying to find a way to help support his wife, NYPD officer Alex Rowan signs onto the police security detail for the head of the world’s largest cybernetics corporation. Over the course of his week-long escort detail, his simple assignment becomes a challenge that will test how far he will go for his wife.

The first solo piece published by James Darrow, Blood in the Machine is a novella of 18,500 words in length.”

Cover art for "Blood in the Machine".

Cover art for “Blood in the Machine”.

There we have it – my first solo, commercial release. Sure, we’ve had the odd short story or two before, but this is entirely different. This marks the first time I’ve ever went off on my own and done something this massive as an actual release, both in size and in behind-the-scenes work.

At the same time, I thought it best to limit myself to something smaller than a full-blown novel. It helped focus all of the back-end work and limit costs, yet will hopefully have given me something solid to build a foundation upon.

With this release will also come some changes to how this website will flow and operate. Release announcements for chapters of The Veil will be taken down and no longer uploaded. If there is a delay in chapter postings, it will be over social media.

In short, as much as this place could be described as a blog to most people, I still want to keep it relatively well organized and clean. That means cutting some of the fat and being better about structuring the articles.

What will I be working on next, you ask? I am still working on Beyond the Rift, a scifi novel that I began in November and have made good headway on. It seems like as good of a place as any to focus on, and given the amount already done, it makes the most sense.

At the same time, I’m going to have to try and spread the word that Blood in the Machine is now a real thing that people can sink their teeth into. You know, without becoming a walking, talking billboard.

So there we have it, folks. Please, feel free to check out Blood in the Machine and help spread the word. Since this is entirely new territory to me and I’m an unknown element, I would appreciate all the help and support I can get.

I’ll be keeping busy, don’t worry about that, so the next piece shouldn’t be overly far out. Plus, given the things I’ve learned and setup with this piece, it should be smoother sailings from here. Until next time, however, I hope you enjoy the story.

~ James.

State of the Mind: December, 2013.

Don’t mind me, I’m still digging myself out of the hole and rut that was November. That shall not stop us, however, for it’s time for another State of the Mind address.

So, what’s happened since the last address? Well, we’ve had a couple more segments for The Veil go live. I also ran in and completed NaNoWriMo, then proceeded to take a week-long break and get sick during it. That was fun.

When it comes to NaNo, I ran in it with a multitude of projects, basically tallying every word I could etch out. What did the end results come out to? Let me dig them up here…

Your Average Per Day: 1,687
Target Word Count: 50,000
Target Average Words Per Day: 1,667

Total Words Written: 50,636

As you can see, it was a rather close call. At the same time, this year actually proved to be monumentally helpful. Last year, I had written in Google+ Hangouts with other writers. We’d go for writing sprints and then relaxation sprints, going 15/5 minutes per cycle. It helped me get through then, keeping my focus on the work due to competition and possibly shaming myself if I failed.

This year, however, I went alone on it. I didn’t release any of my statistics constantly or consistently, didn’t use Hangouts, nothing. It was me, my word tracker, a metric ton of caffeine, and more stress than I’d like to endure for awhile.

I still crossed the finish line, however, and am better for it. Now that the post-NaNo break period is over, I’ve established a schedule of 500 words written per day, along with one scene’s worth of edits to go along with it, as a requirement of myself. It keeps me working, yet it still leaves me plenty of time to take care of my day job and allows me to relax at night.

Fastest, most efficient schedule in the history of Man? No, but it is likely to help keep me sane the longest. For now, keeping my sanity while still moving forward is all that matters.

Now, what about that work on Blood in the Machine? Well, those edits I mentioned earlier? That’s the editing I am doing at night. I’m a few scenes into it now, about roughly a quarter done with them overall. I’ll do another post-editorial sweep after I am done, but that will be all.

You know what’s always an incredibly humbling experience? Going through your editor’s notes and realizing just how much of the small shit you managed to screw up. Seriously, small changes from past content-sweeps from myself, even improper possessives. Hell, last night I found a example or two of me screwing up “Your & You’re” and such.

This is why we need editors, even if to prevent us from looking incredibly stupid with stuff where we even know better. Hiring Rachel Desilets to give my material a look over was definitely an incredibly smart move, considering all the highlights I’ve seen.

That said, this means I am not far off from releasing, right? Kinda, but not entirely. I still have yet to inquire to any artists or hire any one, so the artwork is still up in the air. After that, I have to take care of Kindle’s formatting for the work. When those are all said and done, however, it will be ready.

When am I aiming for release? Ideally, I’d love to call it good and done before the New Year. At the same time, it would require me to hire an artist who could do what I am looking for with a very open schedule. Given my current pace, I am not entirely sure that will be happening. We’ll see how that all goes.

As for where I’m at in my head, things are actually kind of good at the moment. Stress isn’t mounting too much, I’m being productive yet relaxed, so things are kind of golden for now.

Right now, however, I am actually really wanting to watch Wolverine again. I had seen it in the theaters, but picked up a copy for me and my father to take some time and sit down to watch. However, our jobs have kept us busy enough that we just haven’t had time to do so, but hopefully that will change pretty soon.

For now, however, that’s the current state of my mind. I’ll keep busy as I try and get these works ready for you all, so you just hang in there.

~ James.