I’m not really one to pause and reflect. For myself, when I complete a task, the follow-up question is always: what’s next? Still, with A Land War in Asia now available on Amazon.com (indeed, someone managed to buy a copy before I could even buy one for myself) and with The Blast of War still selling well (and, as a way of promoting A Land War in Asia, temporarily free on Amazon.com), it’s worth taking a moment to speak on the process.
The first thing – the first question I always get – is whether I’m happy with the book. The short answer is that I don’t think I’ll ever be fully pleased with anything that I write. The longer answer is more complex. Here’s what I’ll say for both The Blast of War and A Land War in Asia: they’re not quite like anything else on the market today and, in my opinion, they’re better than any of the alternatives that I’ve read. Admittedly, I’m writing for a very narrow audience – I’m pretty sure that I own every “future history” book ever written and, combined, they take up about half of one shelf on my six double-stacked book cases. The truth be told, when the trilogy is finished – hopefully in the summer – with the release of A Thousand Points of Light I’ll have created a work that, when the combined paper edition is printed, will end up being a thousand-page Clancy-sized doorstop and I’ll have done it in a little less than a year while juggling many other things. I think that it’s a daring story – broader than pretty much anything I’ve ever read. If someone would pay me to to do it, it would probably take twenty years – by which time the projected events of the books would be in the distant past – to tell this story with the sort of detail that I’d like.
I don’t have the patience, I think, to follow someone like Robert Caro (who has spent thirty years writing his biography of Lyndon Johnson) or Shelby Foote (who spent about twenty creating his history of the Civil War). In general, when I go into a store and it appears that I’ll be waiting more than two minutes in the line, I’ll leave and shop somewhere else. The odds that I could maintain my focus while embarking upon a decade-long project is essentially zero.
Now, as to the second question – how’s business? Business is, in a word, fascinating. The Blast of War has moved a respectable number of copies for what it is and how it’s been marketed. One conclusion that I’ve come to from my experience with The Blast of War is that traditional marketing for e-books is pretty much futile. I’ve spent a little money on ads and the like and noticed pretty much no difference in sales figures. Instead, with an initial spike in sales when it was launched and another when I placed an article on the book in the American Thinker, it’s seen a slow-but-steady increase in its numbers. I think that it’s best to hold back exact sales figures, but I’ll say that the numbers haven’t been close to high enough to make a career of it, but they’re high enough to make me think through some tax planning stuff.
What’s next? Well, there’s the aforementioned A Thousand Points of Light to cap off this series. Having, really, gotten as much out of this format as I think I can, I’m looking to do something a little different next time around. However, alas, I’ve also realized that I don’t really do anything “small”. I have at least three fleshed-out concepts in my head:
The Martian Empire:
This would be military/political science fiction and, actually, might even be considered something of a distant sequel to my “Third World War” series. Where The Third World War was largely written in reaction to and out of frustration with military/political fiction where World War Three is narrowly avoided and the nukes don’t go off, the concept of the Martian Empire series is largely a reaction to the strange and pervasive idea that seems to be found in most science fiction that human unification of some sort is a prerequisite to major space travel. Yes, there are a few Baen books where different human “star nations” go to war with eachother but, in general, these (I’m thinking of the Honorverse and Starfire novels in particular here) tend to be far removed from the contemporary world. Also, I want to take a more realistic look at the long-term effects of technology and extended lifespans as well as some basic evolutionary questions.
The Martian Empire is probably something at least a little familiar to any good science fiction fan – it’s basically a single nation where the cultures and institutions of the English-speaking peoples have merged into a single political entity (the flag of Mars, as I imagine it, combines the Stars and Stripes with the Union Jack). Mars, however, is in conflict with much of Earth because Martians are descendants of colonists who have been genetically enhanced in various ways and who were, to begin with, exceptional people themselves. Martians believe themselves to be better than Terrans because, in an objective sense, the average Martian is smarter and stronger than the average Terran.
An opening book of this series, as I imagine it, sort of riffs on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Iraq War, and sort of the First World War. I imagine a scenario where some Earth nation agrees to let an alien force station warships in Earth orbit, forcing Mars to invade the Earth to prevent alien forces from being positioned in a spot where they could threaten Mars, leaving Martians forces to attempt to occupy and reorganize the Earth.
King of Sparta:
The title is a pun. I don’t normally like puns, but I’m kind of enamored with this one. In fact, I might write this book simply because I like the title so much. This is about a twenty-something Army Captain who unexpectedly inherits his father’s fortune and decides to use it to “start the motor of the world.”
In other words, in a way that is entirely not meant to resemble any famous guy with a similar name, this is about a young billionaire forming a private army and trying to change the world for the better. Incidentally, he’s “King of Sparta” because his last name is King and he’s from a town named Sparta. I thought that was obvious but, often, I find that that isn’t the case.
I’m not sure where he’ll be using his private army. Originally I had planned to have the story be about my long-cherished dream of launching a coup in Equatorial Guinea, though increasingly I imagine it being set in my native British Columbia, if only because I have a concept for an opening title called “An Old Man in a Hurry.” In case you haven’t already noticed, I really like titles. That leads to my third concept.
The Memoirs of a Confederate Samurai:
This is really a case where it would all be on the cover: a Japanese guy, a disgraced Samurai, finds his way to antebellum Los Angeles, where he falls in with a group of soldiers in the local US Army garrison. When the Civil War breaks out, he decides that he is morally obligated to join the, and travels with them across Arizona and New Mexico to Texas, where he joins the Confederate Army.
I don’t have the whole story down – and I’d have to do a damned lot of research to have it done right – but I want to set it in the Western Theatre, which isn’t featured in Civil War fiction as much as it ought to be. I imagine him first being a personal friend of – and being directly advanced by – Albert Sidney Johnston. Then, after Shiloh, I imagine him winning the respect of and riding with Nathan Bedford Forrest until the end of the war.
This would be the hardest to write. And I’d really want to get this one right because, as I see it, it would have the potential to be a genuine bestseller. I’d just want to make sure that we really got the cover right.