It’s launch day for Blood Over Bright Haven!
If you want a digital copy, you can head over to Amazon and grab one (use this link for international). If you’d rather have a physical copy, those will be coming up as soon as I get formatting sorted out.
Given that I haven’t written proper content for this blog since getting suffocatingly busy about a year ago, I thought I’d write up some of my reflections and takeaways from this project. No spoilers, but I’d recommend skipping this post if you want to read and digest the book on your own terms, unmuddled by my ramblings. I know I prefer to have my own take on a story before hearing what the author has to say about it—if I seek out the author’s take at all.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I don’t recall a concrete decision to begin writing Blood Over Bright Haven. It’s one of those books that just kind of happened and didn’t stop happening—which is odd, considering it’s also a book that I found quite unpleasant and even painful to work on. The only way I can explain it is that sometimes I have a collection of dark thoughts that take up residence in my mind and stick around for years, festering, until I do something creative about it. I call this kind of story an Athena; it batters the inside of my skull until I let it out to alleviate the headache. Putting my darkest thoughts into a story forces me to understand them better, which isn’t necessarily fun, but it can sometimes give me clarity and help me move on with my life.
Like most stories of this kind—the ones that come from my own discontent—it’s weird to keep revisiting the text for editing purposes because my views and feelings on the themes are always shifting. For instance, I’m in a healthier place, mentally, than I was when I started writing it, so I don’t feel quite as dangerously connected to some of the trauma as I did at the beginning. In these late stages of editing, trying to reconnect with the darkness has been a struggle—and probably not great for me. So, I can’t say that I’m sorry to wave this project goodbye, but I can say that it was a powerful learning experience.
A (new) lesson on overgrown novellas
Blood Over Bright Haven is now the second book I’ve published that started out as a novella and far exceeded its 40,000-word cap, the first being The Sword of Kaigen. Now, the quirks and problems this later-draft expansion created for Bright Haven are totally different from the problems it created for Kaigen. When Kaigen exceeded novella length, its structure became atypical. When Bright Haven exceeded novella length, its structure was unaffected (see, I’d learned that lesson from Kaigen and planned accordingly). Instead, what changed was the speed at which the plot moved forward.
This, I think, has its roots in the reasons these two stories exceeded novella length, because the reasons are as distinct as the results. At some point in 2018, I reached the planned end point of Kaigen and found myself unhappy with the unfinished state of some of the character arcs—hence the latter half of the book dealing with the ramifications of the would-be climax for the surviving characters. By contrast, I finished an entire (already-long-for-a-novella) draft of Bright Haven, then had early readers tell me the plot beats were fine but the world around them needed more depth and detail. With Kaigen, the need to expand was an issue of not planning my character arcs well in advance. With Bright Haven, it was an issue of having everything planned well in advance except the aesthetics. This sounds weird. And it is weird, hence why it threw me off, so bear with me…
The itch of an idea that began Bright Haven—the Athena of it all—was a bare-bones premise about a high-level magic practitioner and a member of a disadvantaged minority discovering the hidden source of magic and dealing with the cultural fallout. (Fun fact: the characters’ genders were the other way around in my original concept, with the magic practitioner being a man and the assistant being a woman, but I decided flipping it around created a lot more interesting layers in the way the characters interacted with the hierarchy around them). I designed this premise to be executed in 30,000-some words, which I still think should have been possible… The problems arose when I chose an aesthetic veneer. This premise could have taken place in an ancient desert, a futuristic space empire, just about anywhere. I think I just chose wrong. Or at least, wrong for the purposes of keeping the story as trim as I wanted. In choosing a Western-inspired dark academia setting, I thought I was being clever because I might be able to save time communicating ideas, aesthetics, and concepts already familiar to the average reader of English-language books. However, with dark academia, I think I set up an expectation of a certain Mood and pacing that didn’t match that bare-bones, breakneck concept I wanted to execute. It also made the two POVs feel (at least to me) like they were stretching thin to cover all the ground readers wanted.
If I had this concept to start again from scratch, I would either choose a genre and setting in which snappier storytelling is commonplace. OR, if I planned it as a dark academia from the jump, I would have introduced at least one more POV to fill out the environment, set the mood, and give certain plot elements more depth. Adding a whole new central character wasn’t a change I could make in later drafts (at least not without adding several months to the writing process) because it’s virtually impossible to insert a meaningful POV into a story that already has its plot and pacing locked in. As it is, fleshing out the universe through the two existing POVs created drag on parts of the story I would have preferred stay leaner. That said, pacing is subjective, and I hope the clip I landed on feels better to readers than it did to me.
Firsts for me with this book:
A Non-Action Protagonist. Every writer of fiction has their comfort zones as far as genres, tropes, settings, etc. I’m always trying to assess which of my preferences are true to my creative strengths and which I just hold out of habit because I haven’t tried anything else. Obviously, the only way to find out for sure is to dabble outside my comfort tropes. When I look back on my body of work, published and unpublished, every protagonist is physically formidable in some way, and every story (even if the protagonist is not a woman) prominently features a physically formidable woman. So, for this round of experimentation, I tried writing a powerful female protagonist who was explicitly physically incompetent. Sciona of Bright Haven can barely throw a ball or carry a suitcase, never wields a traditional weapon, and never wins a physical struggle. And you know, not a shock, but she was still extremely satisfying to write. I don’t think the non-action protagonist is going to be my new Thing. I tend to treat martial arts action scenes as my reward for pushing through especially slow or dark subject material, so not having those to look forward to was rough, but I’m glad I gave it a try.
Dark Academia—the circumstances of which I mostly outlined above. In much the same vein as the non-action protagonist, I’m glad I tried it but I’m not eager to do it again. I completed a four-year degree in history at a very small, very old (for an American) college and graduated with honors because I was lucky enough to love what I was studying that much (in my earlier education, I was more of a C+ student 🙃). So, academia was a phase for me—a phase from which I feel somewhat disconnected now—and I think the genre is probably best left to people with a more in-depth and enduring passion for the university setting.
Aside from confirming that I do, as I suspected, prefer writing action stories about action protagonists, I need to find a way to write books that make money without completely draining me emotionally. Working on the Girl Squad books really brightened up this past year, and returning to the Volta Academy universe for book 3 after wrapping Bright Haven has already been a huge relief after only a few days. BUT Girl Squad doesn’t really move copies. Blood Over Bright Haven, on the other hand? Pretty miserable writing experience—but the pre-order sales are already everything an author could ask for. So, in the future, I’ll be more careful about selecting story concepts that have the potential to sell well AND to feed my soul instead of sucking it out of my body. I don’t necessarily think this means steering away from darker subject matter—if I’m not going a little dark, I get bored—I just need to find a balance between the bitter and the sweet.
In terms of balancing my writing and personal life, I also learned not to set multiple deadlines-by-pre-order all at once because THAT balance has been nonexistent since late 2022. I’m glad I pushed myself to get four (the last still upcoming in November) books out this year, but wow, the havoc it’s wreaked on my ability to do normal human things like sleep and see my friends… Like the dark academia and the non-action protagonist, cool to know I can do it, but 4/10. Would not recommend.
I don’t know if anyone will see this post since Twitter discontinued the feature allowing me to post directly from my website and there’s no way I’m opening any social media when my blanket ban has been going so well. But if you’re here and you’ve reached the end, thanks for reading!
As I said above, the Blood Over Bright Haven ebook is available on Amazon now. Paperback and hardback coming soon!