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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?