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Author: Matt

Matt (MG) Herron writes science fiction thriller novels and nonfiction how-to guides. His first novel, The Auriga Project, was published in 2015. His first nonfiction book for writers, Scrivener Superpowers, was published 2016.

When he’s not bending words to his will, Matt organizes Indie Publishing Austin, a local Meetup for writers and authors. He also likes to climb mountains, throw a frisbee for his Boxer mutt, Elsa, and travel to expand his mind.

AMA Q4: How much do you plan your stories over a whole series of books?

(As a reminder, this is a question I received in my first blog-style Ask Me Anything.)

Matt Ud asks, “Be honest: How much do you plan your stories over a whole series of books? Does that change based on your style and experiences between books?”

The short answer is that I have a rough idea, but not the full picture.

I only have one series right now, the Translocator Trilogy, and I thought it was a short story when I started it.

As I worked on it, I realized it was a novel.

As I worked on it some more, I realized it was a trilogy.

For me, stories have always evolved as I worked on them. The characters get deeper. The plots get more intricate. The motivations become more clear.

I need to know where I’m going—where I want to end up—but I don’t need to know all the details.

When I realized The Auriga Project was the first book in a trilogy, I took a step back and tried to sketch out an idea of what would happen over the course of the three books—some people call the plot over the course of a series the “meta plot” or the “series arc(s)”.

But I certainly didn’t know all of the details that ended up in The Alien Element. I didn’t even write out a synopsis for each chapter of The Alien Element until March of this year.

So I plan as much as I can and trust in the process for the rest.

Maybe other people won’t agree, but I’ve always found that as long as you know where you’re headed, keep an open mind, and work hard at writing words in a certain order, the rest will happen on its own.

AMA Q3: What kind of stuff do you read? Etc.

(As a reminder, this is a question I received in my first blog-style Ask Me Anything.)

Jess Hutton asks….

This is a long one, Jess, so let’s do this rapid fire style, one by one.

What kind of stuff do you read?

I go through phases. Right now I’m reading lots of classic sci-fi novels like Arthur C Clarke, but also contemporary sci-fi books like The Atlantis Gene and Nomad. I always seem to have a writing book open, too. Right now it’s Immediate Fiction.

Have you felt like your reading improves or inspires your work?

100%. I love reading. After I finish writing a book, the first thing I want to do is read something good to recharge. Good books inspire me, and make me kind of jealous. Bad books teach me things.

Who’s your favorite author? Why?

Hard to say, I have so many… Stephen King, Norman Mailer, Ursula K Leguin, Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, Brandon Sanderson, Franz Kafka… an incomplete list.

I don’t believe anyone has a single favorite author. Readers read LOTS of books.

Were you a reader growing up or more into other things?

Oh yeah. I devoured fantasy and scifi books growing up, too. No wonder I end up writing them. In college I got turned onto the classics, and philosophy. I even like literary books, sometimes. But SFF is in my blood.

How has content strategy (that order, planning, high-level amazeballs work that we do) changed or affected your approach to fiction writing?”

For those that don’t know this about me, in addition to being a science fiction author, I’m a freelance content strategist, which means I help tech startups tell their stories—write articles and documents and advertising copy for their businesses, and implement strategies that help grow their audience or customer base.

It’s made me more organized, that’s for sure. And more able to see the big picture. Small things add up over time, details matter, and data needs to be analyzed in different ways to glean new insights. Content strategy teaches you to test assumptions, to experiment, and that’s helped me in self-publishing.

Knowing all the web stuff, like WordPress and SEO, has certainly been a boon. Being tech savvy has made it a bit easier than it might have been to master all the tools necessary to produce professional quality ebooks and paperbacks.

On the other hand, publishing books is SUCH a different business than offering content strategy services to my clients as a freelancer. You’re dealing with intellectual property and retail sales instead of offering hourly or per-project services. It’s a very different business and I’ve had to change how I think. Four books in, I’ve had some success but I’m definitely still learning and trying something new every day.

AMA Q2: How do you stay fit as a sedentary author?

(As a reminder, this is a question I received in my first blog-style Ask Me Anything.)

Kate Baray asks, “Since I know you irl, I know you’re a fit guy even though you type at a computer all day. As a very sedentary author, I’d love to hear your tips on dealing with the special physical challenges writers deal with.”

I’ve gone through my own struggles over the years with fitness. When I was 16 a sports-related injury began to cause me chronic pain in my lumbar spine. I already knew I had scoliosis, but this particular injury has flared up and been exacerbated over the years by desk jobs and the sedentary lifestyle this causes.

It’s only recently that I managed to get my pain under control, and even now, every day is a constant battle to make sure I exercise enough, stay limber, and take care of myself in a way that prevents the pain from recurring or the injury from flaring up again.

After twelve years dealing with this chronic injury, and roughly seven years of various types of desk jobs, I’ve got two pieces of advice.

1. Learn to listen to your body

I’ve found that I can predict when a bad spell is coming on if I listen to my body. If I work too long at my desk, or lift something heavy with bad posture, or overdo it at the gym, I can tell. Learn from these mistakes, and make sure you don’t do anything to make things worse.

If you notice after three hours, you start to get sore, go outside and walk around the block before coming back to your desk.

2. Develop your toolkit

When I don’t listen to my body and I overdo it, causing the chronic pain to flare up again, I fall back on my toolkit.

Walking

You don’t need to go to the gym to exercise. I use a Fitbit to track my steps and try to walk 10,000 steps a day. I find that’s usually enough to keep me moving and free of pain. My back never hurts from sitting too much if I’ve also walked my 10k steps that day.

Just like your writing muscle, your body is built to move. Let it.

I also try to go to the gym 2-3 times a week to really get my heart rate up and do strength conditioning. I lift light weights with a focus on core strength. I also go to the climbing gym when I can. Core strength, for me, goes a long way to fighting the chronic pain issues.

While I’m at the gym, I try to do some cardio. I can’t run (bad on the back) so I use an elliptical or bike or rowing machine.

Stretching

Don’t just exercise, also stretch! Hold for 30 seconds. Don’t be lazy or skip this, it’s important. People underestimate how much being limber helps prevent pain and other problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Standing desks

When I’m at work, I use an Uplift sit/stand desk and try to stand half the day. When I discovered standing desks, it was a difference maker for me. Even when I worked in a calling center and I was the one weird person standing all day long, it brought my pain down significantly. I used to go downstairs to a quiet room on my lunch breaks and spend 20 minutes stretching every day, too.

You don’t need a fancy standing desk. I used a cardboard box on top of an ikea desk for years, and it was better than sitting.

Overall, I’ve just found that moving regularly—not necessarily hard exercise or sports, just simply walking—stretching, and trying to limit how much you sit makes a huge difference all on its own.

 

AMA Q1: Where do you get your story ideas from?

(As a reminder, this is an answer to a question I received in my first blog-style Ask Me Anything.)

Steve Beaulieu asks, “Where do you get your story ideas from? How about Wendigo?”

Writers get this one a lot, and I know Steve knows this because he’s a writer, too. But it’s an interesting one because everyone’s answer is different.

And yet everyone’s answer is also kind of the same.

I get my ideas from everywhere—the way I was raised, the jobs I’ve had, the books I read, the movies I’ve seen.

Sometimes ideas come to me in the shower. Sometimes they come in a dream.

The important thing with ideas is to capture them. When they come to you, write them down in a notebook or on a phone.

You won’t use them all, but the more you capture, the more will come.

Ideas are nothing to be afraid of. They’re there, ripe for the taking. I’ve heard from some writers that they’re afraid that the great idea they had, their one BIG idea, will be stolen or will fail. That’s fear talking. In some cases it’s fear taking over.

If you ask me, ideas are cheap. They’re everywhere. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. I want to write a galactic empire series, more Translocator books, more post-apocalyptic stories. I want to write hundreds of short stories about all sorts of things.

Wendigo: A Paranormal Story by M.G. HerronAs for Wendigo…

My short story (or is it a novelette at 12,000 words?), Wendigo, is about an archaeology student and his professor who go in search of hidden petroglyphs and discover latent horrors.

It’s based on the Navajo legend of the skinwalker. I wrote it for a short story class I took. It was also my first attempt at writing an unlikeable character. Blake, the main character, is kind of a prick. The question is, does he deserve what he gets?

Ask M.G. Anything

Greetings, space cadets!

I’m taking questions. Ask M.G. Anything! I’ll write blog posts for the best 20 questions that get submitted to me.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I write sci-fi thrillers like The Auriga ProjectThe Republic, and other works in speculative worlds. Some are post-apocalyptic, others are near-future with a dystopian edge, and some are pure space adventure.

What my stories have in common is page-turner pacing, a drive to explore alternative futures for humanity, and characters who face choices where the right answer isn’t always clear—or where doing the right thing comes with an unexpected cost.

Still need ideas for questions you can ask me? Okay, I’ll play ball.

Ask me about my new book The Alien Element. Ask me about my biggest fears. Ask me about the places I’ve traveled, science fiction tropes, writing habits, my book buying addiction, beer, whiskey, productivity, rock climbing, dog training, World Cup soccer, what I had for breakfast this morning, the universe and everything,

For those of you that don’t know me well yet, apart from writing books, I run a freelance content strategy business. I’ve been an Amazon bestseller, a rafting guide, and I spoke at SXSW once. I’ve traveled across Europe, India, Turkey, the U.S. and Canada…

I could tell you stories, man.

Ways to ask me questions:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog post
  2. Email me at matt at mgherron dot com

Don’t let me down.

Writing is a muscle

Deliberate writing practice, writing sprints

Now that I’m finally bearing down on this July-August challenge, determined to finish the cowriting novel, I’ve been doing word sprints again — that’s 20 or 25 minute sessions where I’m allowed to do nothing but work on the book.

If you’re sprinting, you’re only allowed to work on the story. The goal is number of words, as many as you can do. Nothing else—no internet, no talking, no disrtractions. At the end of the sprint, you check and report your word count (to yourself or a friend, but keep track somehow).

What I’ve noticed after a few weeks focusing on marketing/publishing stuff (not to mention client work for my day job), is that my fiction writing muscle has weakened.

I get tired faster. My average word count per hour is down. My stamina for writing is lower overall. And that’s after just a few slow weeks!

This just goes to further prove my theory that writing is a muscle. Like a muscle, you have to use it or it atrophies.

And fast.

I know I can get back to where I was. There are certain things you can do to write at your peak, like sprints. I simply haven’t been very diligent about doing those things in July.

Part of it is because it’s summer and I’ve been spending a lot of time doing other things, too. It’s The Time of Great Forgetting as Dean Wesley Smith calls it. The other part is that I just haven’t been pushing myself.

I’m getting back into it. I bought Freedom to help me block out distractions. And I have a word count goal to finish this novel by July, my old reliable 1k a day.

1k a day may not be as fast as some people write, but it works for me.

Treating writing like a muscle, doing sprints, recording my progress, and focusing on 1k a day has give me 3 novels so far.

About to be 4. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

Photo by Evan Clark on Unsplash

The Alien Element – Chapter 3

<unedited>

Snippet 3 from The Alien Element
Translocator Trilogy Book Two
by M.G. Herron
Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved, yadda yadda

 

The Alien Element by M.G. Herron3

Not Quite Right

“Reuben!” Amon shouted over the electric thrum of the Translocator.

The clamor of a forklift offloading boxes with a metallic clatter swallowed his voice even through his earplugs. The boxes crashed and clanked as two engineers wrestled them onto the platform, through the gap in the concentric sphere of blue-green alloy rings. Filled with steel arms, screws, nuts, rubber wheels, and other tools, the parts would be used to assemble the last of the fabricators for the lunar base.

Ignoring Amon’s call, Reuben focused on the holodeck, where the controls for the great machine—and the particle accelerator which powered it—were located. Two floor-mounted holographic projectors cast dozens of images and models and graphs of real-time energy readouts around him like a cockpit.

Reuben reached out to the broad glass touchscreen at the center of the control unit and tapped a button. The concentric sphere of alloy rings that stabilized the molecular disassembly and reassembly process began to spin, gathering speed until they shifted into a semi-transparent blur.

Simultaneously, a two-hundred-foot-tall, arch-shaped array of silicone and metal nodes that extended to the vaulted ceiling crackled with energy. The noise heightened, filling the vast underground laboratory.

“Reuben, I’m stepping out!” Amon shouted again.

The lead engineer turned his body slightly, but his wild white hair and a hologram image of the inventory blocked him from seeing Amon in his peripheral vision. His attention was pulled back to the controls.

Amon rubbed at his temples, frustrated. Rueben had been more distracted than usual lately. It was a private matter that he didn’t talk much about, but everyone knew that his husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over two years ago. Lately, he’d taken a turn for the worse, and Reuben was once again showing signs of sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that were uncharacteristic

But wasn’t Amon the same? Maybe they all could use a break. Now that the MegaPower nuclear fission reactor was online, the pace of research and construction had nearly doubled. The last few months had been consumed with the construction and shipping of supplies—heavy machinery, mostly, but also the nuclear reactors. Now, the real work began—doing the research the Lunar Terraform Alliance had been formed to do, and figuring out if we can actually sustain life up there.

A headache was new, though. That had come that morning while he was double-checking inventory on the fabricator parts. The fabricators were too big to fit in the translocator, so they had to be shipped in pieces and he didn’t want anything to be forgotten.

With a practiced swipe of his hand, Rueben locked onto the platform in Dome 2 and pressed another button. A sudden absence that Amon would never fully grow accustomed to came next as the pile of boxes seemed to energize, giving off a blinding brightness. When the light faded, the platform was empty, and the boxes were gone.

A monitor against the left wall showed that the payload had been successfully reassembled in an identical platform—minus the arch—which Dome 2 had been built on top of.

He opened his mouth to call out again but stopped himself. “Forget it,” Amon muttered.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he turned and walked out of the room, nodding at two guards in camouflage fatigues who stood on either side of the wide doorway. They nodded back and continued to stand, looking bored with automatic rifles slung casually over their shoulders. Theirs wasn’t the most exciting job, but it was a necessary one. The Lunar Terraform Alliance and their international investors had a lot invested in this project.

Amon went past the stairwell, opting for the elevator to take him up the four flights to ground level.

At ground level, Amon passed through the main security checkpoint manned by two more security guards, a replica of the security checkpoints you had to go through at most airports. A conveyor belt fed through an X-Ray detector. There was also a metal detector and full-body scanner.

“Afternoon, Mr. Fisk,” Roger said, nodding and tipping the brim of a Rangers ball cap at Amon. Amon nodded back.

Afternoon already?

A long hall led him to the lobby of Fisk Industries. His phone showed cell signal again and he checked for a response from Eliana. Although he’d texted her to let her know he’d be at work late, she hadn’t responded.

Looking up from the phone, Amon realized the lobby was filled with people. The traffic and noise had increased until it was nearly as bad as it had been in the Translocator lab. He groaned. It must be lunch hour already. The only thing Amon had ingested all day was coffee, so much of it that his hands had a slight tremor when he held them out, and he felt a little nauseous.

Scientists and other Fisk Industries employees gathered in the glass and steel lobby. In addition to the Translocator project, Fisk Industries made solar panels and conducted other photovoltaic and energy research. The particle accelerator that powered the Translocator was the bridge between the two ends of the company, and they were all housed in this building (and the other buildings across the campus). They had production facilities around the world, but this was the headquarters.

People lingered around the waterfall adjacent to the entrance, sitting on the benches there and at the tables by the café, talking amongst themselves.  A woman’s high-pitched laughter bounced sharply across the lobby and wormed its way into his ear. He squinted in the sunlight. All of it grated on Amon’s last nerve.

Seeing his people happy normally made him happy, but he was getting a headache and needed to find a quiet place to relax and maybe lie down for a few minutes.

It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t visited Audrey in several weeks. She wasn’t prone to chatter, which he appreciated more than usual right now. Audrey’s office was located in a quiet back corner of the first floor, also behind the security checkpoint. He decided to go back and say hi to her, and then sneak in a quick nap in his own office around the corner. Amon turned and hurried back to the security checkpoint, putting his phone and wallet through the X-Ray scanner.

After Eliana returned home last year, the Lunar Terraform Alliance and NASA had agreed that it was everyone’s best interests to move the carbonados to a more secure facility. Fisk Industries was an obvious choice. The building had ample office space. Amon had tried to hire Audrey once, and admired her work ever since, so it seemed fitting that she would work in his building not as an employee, but as a colleague and friend.

In the back halls of the sprawling headquarters building, the lobby’s ruckus receded to a dim buzz, and the pounding ache behind his eyes eased. Amon shoved his hands in his pockets to still the caffeine shakes as he walked slowly toward her lab. The walls here were salt and pepper tile, with geometric green and blue designs running around the corner to Audrey’s office. He was tracing the designs with his eyes, thinking about calling the cafeteria to order lunch, when he caught sight of a small stream of red liquid in a puddle on the floor.

His stomach clenched, and he gripped the soft cloth on the inside of his pockets with both hands. Ducking low and pressing close to the wall, Amon crept closer and slowly peered around the corner.

The two guards that were always stationed in front of Audrey’s lab were sprawled out awkwardly on the floor. One lay on top of his rifle, his elbow bent oddly. They each had a hole in the back of their head from which the blood seeped. The wall across the hall was stained with two distinct red splatter marks. Amon laid his hand on the nearest rifle. The barrel was cold.

A crash of glass came from inside the lab.

Audrey!

Amon unbuttoned the pistol holster on the thigh of one dead guard and withdrew the man’s sidearm, a black Glock. He released the magazine and glanced down—it was fully loaded. Amon replaced the magazine with a snap and racked the slide of the gun. The adrenaline now surging through his veins made his hands shake even more. He paused momentarily, considering whether or not to use the guard’s radio to call for backup.

The thirty seconds that would take could be the difference maker. Audrey was a friend. Amon made his decision. He tapped his hip, where his ID was clipped, against the card reader to unlock the door, and gently turned the handle, cracking the door a quarter inch. He peered in.

In the middle of the lab, on a rectangular island with cabinets on all sides, the glass cage of a large glove box isolator had been shattered by a heavy chunk of meteorite—not the large, midnight-black carbonado sample, but a different chunky brown rock the size of a large melon which lay among the mess of shattered glass.

On the floor, sprinkled with glass pebbles, another form lay sprawled. It was Audrey, fair skinned with a neat red braid trailing along the floor.

Amon hurried to her side and knelt down, fearing the worst. As he reached her, she twitched and groaned, but there was no blood. Her eyes opened, flicked to the gun, and a flash of fear contorted her face.

“It’s just me,” he said.

She stared at him for a long moment, obviously disoriented. Then she tensed as the sound of glass crunching underfoot startle them both. They scurried behind the rectangular base of the island.

“If I didn’t tell him where the carbonado was, he would have hurt me,” Audrey whispered.

“Who?” Amon mouthed.

She pointed back toward the other end of the lab where the sound had come from, patted her pocket, and gave him a weak smile.  “But I didn’t give him the key.”

Amon glanced around the island, and sure enough, a large man in black with short-cropped hair was limping around near the storage shelving at the back, where the meteorite samples were kept. The carbonado was kept in a special locked safe not twenty yards away. The man looked vaguely familiar, but Amon couldn’t place him.

The man cursed when he saw Amon, his hand darting to his waist. Amon ducked back behind the island. Wood splinters flew into the air near his eyes.

Gasping, Amon held the gun to his chest and rose to a squat on the balls of his feet. He only had the element of surprise. Go where he least expects.

He held the gun around the corner and shot blindly twice, then dove the other way. He jumped up and squeezed the trigger once, twice, three times.

All of the bullets went wide. Amon’s throat clenched. The man raised his own gun, training it on Amon, but the gun wavered. Amon tucked, and his shot went wide, too.

Amon screamed, raising his gun and firing rapidly.

One of the bullets finally struck the man in the gut. Another squeeze, and another. The man jerked back and his gun slipped from his fingers. Amon lowered the Glock, breathing heavily.

He waited for a long minute, his own ragged breathing settling as the ringing in his ears receded. Amon crept carefully across the room.

When he kicked the dead man’s gun back, away from the body, the doors were shoved open—it was the two guards from the security checkpoint down the hall. Amon held his hands high over his head. Roger, recognizing Amon, lowered his weapon and waved for the other man to do the same.

As he waited for them to approach, Amon looked back down at the dead man’s booted feet. Something was off. He wore cowboy boots of nice brown leather, but one of them was facing the wrong direction. Had that happened when he fell? Amon’s eyes swept up the man’s clothes. There was an awkward bulge in the area of his ribs that was not quite right either.

His face was normal. And it was a face that Amon recognized. It was Montoya, the Hawkwood mercenary who had impersonated an FBI agent last year after Eliana disappeared last year.

As if that wasn’t worrisome enough, Amon knew with a rising terror that there was only one way Montoya could have snuck behind the two guards shot them in the back of the head without raising any alarms. And that this method was also responsible for his backward foot and the bulge in his side.

The guards approached and peered over his shoulder. as Amon used one shoe to lift the man’s shirt, exposing the bulge near his ribs.

Roger hissed his breath inward. “What in the hell?”

The other man cursed and turned away. Audrey came up behind Amon, one hand on her head. “Oh, my.”

Amon grimaced when the shirt was drawn up to reveal a complete knee joint sticking out of the Montoya’s abdomen.

Reading: The Prometheus Project

The Prometheus Project by Steve White (Science fiction, 2005)

I loved the cover, so I bought it. More proof that good covers sell books. Never heard of Steve White before, just exploring sci-fi based on artwork and concepts that appeal to me.

The Prometheus Project opens with a scene where the newly elected president meets the sitting president to discuss the transfer of power. There’s a lot of smoldering enmity. After the banter, the sitting president says, there’s something you need to know…we’ve already made contact. Aliens exist. And now you must safeguard this secret.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I read this right after Trump’s uncanny inauguration, so of course it was top of mind for me — but the roles are reversed here. The democrat in this book is the newly elected president, the opposite of the most recent US election, but the roles could easily have been reversed. It gave me some perspective. Two parties are like two sides of the same coin in American politics. I couldn’t help but imagine Obama telling Trump about the aliens.

Just picture the look on his face.

Anyway, from there, the story hops back to 1963. Private security agent Bob Devaney was escorting a mysterious woman named Novak to the White House when they were ambushed by gunmen. When Novak uses an invisibility cloak to make an impossible escape, she gets ready to terminate Devaney for knowing too much—until her boss orders her to bring him into the fold instead.

Devaney is then recruited for The Prometheus Project—the white-labeled men in black. What follows is a rollicking adventure woven into a star-traversing journey. The man is valuable for his action hero abilities (so he thinks), but he’s there on the request of the mysterious and infrequently seen Mr. Inconnu.

You can tell this book was inspired by mid-century sci-fi classics, but it’s written in a modern voice I found compelling. A familiar story, but the character relationships kept it interesting and new for me. I always love to see authors invent new societies and cultures, and then put confused humans there to see how they’ll cope. My kind of fiction.

The Prometheus Project is worth the read if you like aliens and action in your sci-fi. What happens to the President-Elect at the end will make you laugh.

White space

Finally hit white space on the cowriting project

I’ve been plotting and world building and revising the cowriting novel project for the past 4 weeks, ever since I turned in The Alien Element. Yesterday, I got to the end of revisions and hit white space.

And today I got to write new words.

It’s like emerging from a dense forest into a sunny glade. I can breathe again!

I love writing on the whole, but revising is my least favorite part. That’s why I’m a planner for the longer stuff. I make a plan and execute on the plan. Rather than a pantser who may find the story in multiple drafts, I prefer to get it right the first time…or at least as close to right as possible.

Because I hate revising.

In my experience, revisions are the most time consuming and least enjoyable part of writing. So the process I follow is all about removing revisions from the process to the furthest extent possible.

It’s not always possible, I admit. But I’ve found that with proper planning I can at least minimize the number of tedious, time consuming revisions I must do. The proof of this is that the longer I write, the more planning I do and the less revision is required. The proof of this is that each new book takes me less time to write than the last.

So I’m excited to have hit white space on this project. I estimate that I have to write another 18,000 or so words to reach the end of the book.

The new short term goal to motivate me will be to get it done by the end of July. I’ll aim for 1000 words a day so I have some padding.

Got my 1000 today, so that’s a start.