Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Book Series is Born out of an Accident - The Star Traveler Series

Most authors will tell you they have been writing all their lives. I am no exception. My mother started me writing a diary in my early teens. That progressed to 'journaling' as I grew older. This eventually grew into shortstory writing and on to blogging, which landed me a biweekly column in our local newspaper for four years.

However, it was an accident, a physical accident, that prompted me to write my first book, The Helavite War.

I broke my foot.

The doctor said there was a direct ratio of how fast my broken heel would mend, to how much time I spent off of it. I had to work my 8-5 job, but once I got home, I sat down to take the pressure off. I wanted out of that clumsy boot.

This was in 1990 and long before I had anything like Netflix, Roku or Amazon Prime to keep me occupied. I can't remember the exact moment I decided to write the book. I do know that it had been peculating in my brain from the time I was a child.

I come from a very large family. I have two natural born brothers and twenty-three foster and adopted brothers. There were never less than ten of us in the house at any given time. But, I was the only girl. My mother and I were very close and she instilled a deep sense of imagination in me - something that has only grown over time.

I used to linger in bed on weekends or put myself to sleep on weekdays by telling myself a story. I loved, and still do love, 'buddy films.' You know what I am talking about - films where the two main male characters would do ANYTHING for each other. I have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid over two dozen times. I love that scene at the end where they are tending to each other's wounds rather than staunching the flow of blood from their own. So, my stories always had two men in them. Usually, an older mentor and a younger novice.

When I started The Helavite War I had no idea where it would take me. I was a novice myself. I didn't have an outline. Journaling, blogging, even newspaper articles do not require an outline. It was like I was channeling. The words just flowed. My mind was in overdrive. The book is all about the building friendship of the two main characters. It is very episodic. Like watching a series on TV. My dad compared it to the pulp fiction novels he used to read as a boy. Fast paced, character driven and a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter, that kept you turning the pages.

When I was finished, I thought I had written my one and only novel, but the two main characters, Jake and Arr, thought otherwise. They gave me one good night's sleep and then woke me demanding they not be left stuck on the planet. I started The Heirs of Henu that morning. Colonization and a drug deal gone bad were the themes of this book. With it I was beginning to find my style. I started out with all the characters together, then split the book into two alternating plots, to keep the excitement building, and eventually converged back to an ending with all together again. I smiled at myself thinking of Shakespearean plotting, though I would never compare myself to such a master.

You remember that 8-5 job I told you about earlier? Well, it really got in the way. I found myself writing until midnight and getting up at 5:00 a.m. to start writing again. I begged my boss to let me start at 9:00 instead of 8:00, no explanation. I mean, who would give you time off to write a novel? But, she did, and I did, and by the time I was halfway through the second book, I knew it was going to be a trilogy.

Old Friends/New Enemies was the third book and the one I believe I found my writer's voice in.  The story jumped ahead thirty years and I met the children of my main characters. A kidnapping and an illegitimate child surfaced in this one. By now it was 1992. A book a year was the best I could do back then. Once I finished the trilogy I went back to the first book and converted a lot of narrative to dialogue. My characters were finding their voices too.

In reworking the earlier books and with the writing of the third I was fast falling in love with one of my characters, Captain Targus of Mobile Tactical Unit 2424. I wanted to know what made him the man he was. What did his home world look like? We knew from little snippets sprinkled throughout the trilogy that he was from a world where strength and power were honored above all things. That was the reason the Galactic Forces recruited his race, the Walhmites. That, and the fact that none of their adults were under seven feet tall. I figured if you had aliens to recruit from why not have the biggest and baddest around. However, Targus had a heart, and I wanted to find out why. The Malefactors, book four, was born and I had a series on my hands.

During the writing of that book Oregon had one of its wettest springs. It seemed to rain endlessly. If you read book four you will see how that influenced my writing. Targus' planet is not only dark in spirit, it is wet and foreboding. Plotting is a way of life on Walh.

Book five, Cataclysm, explored love and its many facets. Book six, A Mear Sleight of Hand, took advantage of the four years missing in book one when I jumped ahead. It was a book based on insanity, revenge and the power of love and community to overcome evil. And yes, Mear is spelled correctly, it is a character's name and a play on words based on a plot twist in the book. I finished it in 1995.

I started book seven, The Beast Within, in 1996, but each time I wrote more than a handful of pages I would find myself back in the other books tweaking them. The series sat for years. I was found by my dragon muse and began to write fantasy, deserting The Star Traveler Series.

Finally, in 2013, I told my writing group I was going to format and print a copy of my scifi books in the printshop I ran at the local community college. I needed to have what looked like finished books, so I would stop going back to the previous volumes each time I tired to move on with book seven.

My writing friends were all younger than me. They said, 'If you are going to all that trouble, why don't you self-publish?' I said I didn't have the money or the knowledge of how to do it. They said it cost nothing and they would help me set it all up.

In May of 2013, I finally put The Helavite War to bed, as they say in publishing. It has still been through some incarnations since then. They all got wonderful new covers a couple of years ago. I have repaired minor errors readers have pointed out and I put books 1-3 in one volume, The Adventure Begins. I feel that if you read them as a group you will see my growth as an author, and you will be addicted and want to read the whole series.

I have finished book seven and it went up for sale in June of this year. I did my best to make The Beast Within a stand alone volume.  This is something I failed to do when writing books 1-6 because I was a new author and didn't know it was not common practice to just pick-up where you left off in the previous book. I believe The Beast Within has enough information in it to be satisfying, but also enough teasers to make a reader want to go back and read the series from the beginning.

If you like character-driven space opera like Firefly, I think you might find The Star Traveler Series your kind of read. It has been compared in reviews to the old masters like Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury. I thank the folks who gave it those generous reviews.

Covers by Sherry D. Ramsey
Gif by Carol Marrs Phipps

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