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POINT OF VIEW: Painting a World

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I’ve spent the last two years, since the depth of the first season of the pandemic, building a new world.

When I wrapped up Dropnauts, I had three potential paths for my next project. Coredivers, the sequel to Dropnauts; The Forever Cycle, the missing middle books between The Ariadne Cycle and The Oberon Cycle; and the Tharassas Cycle… a sci-fantasy hybrid building on The Last Run and The Emp Test.

I chose the latter, in part because I wanted a palate cleanser from all that sci-fi, and in part because the world of emps and hencha intrigued me.

The Last Run sprang initially from a simple conversation with my friend Jim Comer, in which he posited that faster than light travel would never be possible, and then challenged me to write a story about what that might mean.

I obliged with a tale about the final slower than light delivery ship from Earth to a strange little colony called Tharassas. The story centered around a strange semi-sentient plant called the hencha. I followed this up with short story (adapted from another setting) called The Emp Test, which added a symbiont called an emp to my new world’s lexicon.

And now, two years later and after 240 failed agent submissions, I am almost ready to publish the whole thing myself. What strikes me is just how big this thing is.

I’m not talking physical length, although it does top out at about 330k words ver three books.

I mean the world itself. There are multiple threads intertwined in these three books – history and religion, cultures and alien races, and even topography and characterization that all come together to tell this tale.

It’s the most ambitious story I have ever created.

But here’s the thing. When we write, we are painting a warehouse in the dark with a single paintbrush and a candle. We only see the bits that are in front of us, and often the grand scope of it all escapes us. It’s easy to get off track on the macro level when you’re so focused on the micro one.

When I was twenty, holding all that information in my head was easy. Now I have a forty page series bible that keeps all the information organized for me. It’s been a blessing, almost a story in its own right, full of wonderful details that help me make Tharassas shine.

I’m currently reviewing my beta reader comments for book two, and some of them are quite tough. I have some amazing betas who go deep into the work, and tell me truths I don’t want to hear. That’s what a good beta does – shining a light on the deficiencies we are too close to see – and the work will be stronger because of it.

I let these comments lie fallow for a couple months while I wrapped up the second draft of book three. Sometimes you have to step back and just let your subconscious mind work its magic to see the big picture. Now I’m ready to tackle them, and to get the book into publication-ready shape.

Writing is hard, even when you are careful to track all the details, and especially when you’re working on such a grand scale. it’s easy to despair that you’ll never get it done.

So how do you create a whole world with just a candle and a brush?

Sometimes you need some friends with a brighter light.

For my writer friends – how do keep the big picture in mind while you’re painting with a fine brush and dealing with all the little details?

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