Guest Post: Just Dive In by Daniel R. Marvello

by Vanna on February 10, 2012

Vaetra Unveiled by Daniel R. Marvello

Today I have something a little different to share. The first ever Guest Post on my blog! It is by Daniel R. Marvello, the author of Vaetra Unveiled (Book 1 of fantasy series Vaetra Chronicles) and the creator of the MA Tour (a great site for bringing together authors and readers of fantasy fiction ). He talks about his own struggles with getting his debut novel onto the page. He also offers lots of great advice on how to overcome the obstacles and challenges of being a first timer in the world of fantasy fiction writing. But enough from me. Daniel tells it all a lot better.

~

Just Dive In

by Daniel R. Marvello

 

In January 2011, I made the decision to write a fiction novel. How I made that decision is a subject for another post, but suffice it to say I had a strong desire to exercise my imagination, and writing a novel seemed like a productive way to do that.

After I had been at it for a while, I told my friends and family what I was up to. Surprisingly, everyone was quite supportive. I’ve heard horror stories about skeptical friends and family squashing the dream, so I was on guard for that. I was also surprised to learn that many of them had a secret desire to write their own book, but had no idea of how to get started.

When Vanna invited me to write a guest post, I decided I would share how I got started, just in case my story helps someone else get past whatever may be holding them back.

Pushing Aside Obstacles

Although the theme of this post is “just dive in,” I recognize that starting a novel is not the first battle a writer must fight in his or her personal game of psychological warfare. The dream often lingers in the back of our minds for years before we finally take action.

Life gets in the way. Ignorance regarding the craft of writing gets in the way. Doubt about our ability to come up with an interesting story gets in the way. Fear of rejection and humiliation gets in the way. We have to push all of these obstacles aside before we even get a shot at diving in. In other words, there is no “just” about just diving in.

My pivotal moment was realizing that I had a time slot I could dedicate to writing, and that no one else ever needed to see what I wrote. If I discovered that I couldn’t write fiction, no one had to know that I’d tried and failed. It was months before I even let my family know what I was up to, and by then, I was nearly done with the first draft of my novel. Until that time, my wife was the only person in the world who knew about my experiment, and she was quietly supportive.

Setting Goals

I knew I had to set some goals and deadlines for myself. They say work expands to fit the available time. If you give yourself forever to write your novel, forever is what it’s going to take. My goal was to write a novel in a year, and my deadline was to have the book on shelves by January 31, 2012. (As it turned out, the Kindle version of Vaetra Unveiled went live on January 21.)

I’m a software developer by trade, so I tend to view everything as a project and work methodically to solve whatever problems may come up. The first problem to solve with any project is defining the requirements and the scope of work.

What kind of story was I going to write? How long would it be? What would it be about? How does one write fiction, anyway?

Some of these questions were easy to answer. I’m a former D&D player (circa late ’70s to early ’80s), and I designed my own playing “modules,” which included an underlying story that the players would step into. Writing the story elements was most of the fun. Also, they say you should write the kind of books you like to read, and fantasy is unquestionably my favorite genre. I had no trouble deciding that I wanted to write a Swords and Sorcery Fantasy novel. I set my word count goal at 80,000 (final count was about 75,000.)

Some questions were much harder to answer. I had no idea what my story would be about. In order to write Swords and Sorcery, I had to create an entire fictional world and a magic system of some kind. I knew the setting would affect how I wrote the story, and the story would affect how I developed the setting. It was a daunting prospect.

Learning the Craft

Then there’s the whole “craft” problem. I’ve been a writer and editor for most of my life, but almost all of my past writing has been technical or business non-fiction writing. I’m the co-author of three, published, non-fiction books under my “real” name. (Daniel R. Marvello is a pen name.) I took Creative Writing in college, but didn’t write much fiction after that.

To start tackling the craft problem, I picked up a couple of writing books from the local library. Both of them convinced me that, no matter what else I did, I needed to start writing immediately. There was no way I was going to develop any skills until I began writing.

For me, sitting down at the keyboard to pound out those first few paragraphs was the hardest step of all. I hate wasting work, and I knew my initial efforts might be terrible. It wasn’t until I was mentally able to accept the fact that I might have to discard my writing that I was really able to shake off my reticence to begin.

Fingers poised over the keyboard, another conundrum emerged. What to write? I had vague ideas for a story, but I wasn’t sure how it began. I decided not to worry about the beginning. All I needed was proof of concept. To get started, I just had to write one single scene. That scene might or might not end up in the book, and it could always be rewritten. I began typing the scene that would eventually become Chapter 2 of Vaetra Unveiled, and yes, over the course of four drafts it got rewritten multiple times.

Over the ensuing months, I consumed more books on fiction writing (my favorite is “Writing Fiction for Dummies” by Ingermanson and Economy), followed several blogs by writers and editors, and managed to write about 4,000 words per week. Best of all, I was having a great time.

I did reach a crisis point along the way. After I finished writing the scene that I later learned was the “first plot point” of Vaetra Unveiled, I got stuck on “what happens next?” That’s when I learned about the difference between pantsers (people who write “by the seat of their pants”) and plotters. Given my background and nature, I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that I’m definitely a plotter. I took a step back from my writing and spent some time learning about story structure. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method was an important discovery that helped me plot the rest of my story and get moving again.

Enjoying the Results

So now you know my “just dive in” beginning. From that tentative start a little over a year ago, I wrote and published my first fiction book. I’m pleased with how it turned out and I’m looking forward to writing the next two books in the trilogy. Book two is underway and progressing nicely.

We all have our own obstacles and fears to overcome, but if you can find ways to push them aside, you can dive into your story and emerge victoriously with a book in your hand.

 

~

Are you a fantasy or sci-fi author and would like to submit a guest post to this blog? Drop me a line at vanna.smythe@gmail.com and we’ll discuss the details πŸ˜‰

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel R. Marvello February 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Thank you for running my post and for that wonderful introduction, Vanna. I’ll sign up for comment notifications so I can respond to anyone who has any questions for me.

Happy writing!

Reply

Vanna February 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Thanks for agreeing to write it! Like I already said, I’m honored to be your first Guest Post host πŸ˜‰

Good luck with your book, and the rest of the series!

Reply

Christina McKnight (Chevyvibe) February 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Great blog post Vanna!

Reply

Vanna February 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Thanks for stopping by Christy! Glad you enjoyed the post πŸ˜‰

Reply

Stella Atrium February 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I’m a fellow campaigner and just stopping by to greet others. I’m a fantasy writer with a new novel SUFFERSTONE. Check it out!

Reply

Vanna February 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I sure will πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Sarah Pearson February 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I always enjoy reading what Daniel has to say. The part that really resonates with me is the time thing, ‘If you give yourself forever to write your novel, forever is what it’s going to take’. So true!

Reply

Vanna February 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Couldn’t agree more πŸ˜‰

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello February 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Hi Sarah! What a sweet thing to say. I’m glad you liked the post.

I’m not sure if you are doing the platform campaign this round, but you should friend/follow Vanna regardless. She’s a kindred spirit.

Cheers!

Reply

Scott Bury February 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Great post. I’m so glad to read a post that supports the “plotter” side of the argument.

It would be even more helpful to read the results of the process – how is the book selling?

Reply

Vanna February 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I tend to have a pretty good grasp of plot, even if I am more of a pantser πŸ˜‰ I just tend to overwrite a bit because of it.

As for your question, I’m sure Daniel will be by to answer soon πŸ˜‰

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello February 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm

…and here he is! [Cue the grand entrance with sweeping cape and deep bow.]

Hi Scott! Thanks for commenting.

Vaetra Unveiled has been available for about three weeks now, and assuming the Kindle sales reports aren’t still messed up, I’m up to 12 sales and 1 borrow. That figure compares favorably with the first month for other first-time novelists I know of, so I’m happy with it.

Hopefully, sales will pick up after I’ve had more time to get the word out about the book, but I’m keeping my expectations realistic. Most authors report that things don’t really get going until you have three or more books on the virtual shelves. That is honestly one of the reasons I decided to write a trilogy.

On the other hand, if the first book finds an audience who gets excited about it, the sky is the limit. I hope that participating in activities like the Magic Appreciation Tour will help my book find its audience, however large or small it may be.

I feel proud to have my book stacked up alongside your book “The Bones of the Earth,” Roger Eschbacher’s “Dragonfriend,” and the others we’re getting to join us. With any luck, we’ll get “Protector” in there with us (right, Vanna?)

Good luck to us all!

Reply

Vanna February 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Sorry about the late reply. I’ve been doing a marathon revision on the final few chapters and had no energy for anything else πŸ˜‰ But I’m happy to say that I just mailed Protector to my editor! So I might actually make the March 1 deadline. Fingers crossed πŸ˜‰

Great insight into the sales, btw. I’m still kind of hoping Protector will carry his weight on his own for a while though. Probably just wishful thinking πŸ˜‰ If I understand it correctly, even traditionally published authors need a few books under their belt before they start to see good sales.

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello February 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Congratulations on getting your book to your editor! That’s a big step. Of course, you’ll still have one more round of revisions to do, but that should go quickly if all you needed was a proofread.

I’ve had a few more authors sign up for the Magic Appreciation Tour. Just got another this morning, so I’m up to 9 authors and 11 books. I think that will be enough to make it fun, although more would always be welcome.

I just saw that the 99-Cent Network wants authors to pay $25 a month to join now. At 99-cents, you’d have to sell 72 books every month just to break even on that fee. Let’s just say I hope the MA Tour becomes a good alternative.

Reply

Vanna February 17, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I think I got lucky with my editor. I’ll see once I get it back πŸ˜‰ She said she can get it done by the end of next week. I ended up going through elance.com.

Great news on the MA Tour gathering steam! It should be fun once it starts πŸ˜‰ Tomorrow, I’m going to start getting more involved with the Platform Building Campaign. Maybe there’ll be more sign-ups through that.

I think looking into blog tours and book bloggers is a great promo option. I completely agree that paying $25 per month to sell your book at 99c is too steep.

Daniel R. Marvello February 17, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Just so you know, I did submit the MA Tour to Rachael’s campaign notices page. She may reject it because I’m not in the current campaign. However, I dropped your name as someone who would endorse the listing (hope that wasn’t presumptuous). My latest MA Tour registrant, Katharina Gerlach, is in the current campaign too (nice lady — I recommend connecting). Also, Roger Eschbacher (another MA Tour author) and I are both campaign alumnae, so Rachael may give me a break. (Is that enough parentheses for you?)

I’ll be interested in learning how things work out with your elance editor. I’ve never hired anyone through that service, although I believe my wife has.

Have fun campaigning. It’s a great way to make new friends and expand your following.

Michael Offutt February 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I used to play Dungeons and Dragons. I would have loved to have had access to a creative mind like the one Daniel has but my DM’s were woefully bad. There were so many wasted nights where nothing ever seemed to get done because there was nothing to do because the guy either wasn’t prepared or had no idea what he wanted our characters to accomplish.

I definitely feel that Dungeons and Dragons is the kind of fantasy that I enjoy reading. So if Daniel can pull off the story, make it thrilling, and have some three-dimensional characters, it would attract me. I don’t think that magic systems are as necessary as everyone seems to think that they are. That just smacks of “clever” and I hate when authors try to impress me with their cleverness as opposed to just telling a damn good story.

Reply

Vanna February 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks for stopping by. I never did play Dungeons and Dragons, though it sounds like an interesting game πŸ˜‰

I’m with you on the whole characters and story being more important than a fancy magic system.

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello February 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Although my D&D background definitely influenced my desire to write fantasy, my stories are not overtly D&D-ish. The Dragonlance series is one that strikes me as being that way, but then those stories were actually based on a fantasy role-playing world!

I don’t have elves, dwarves, or the other races that tend to populate Swords and Sorcery fantasy. Instead, I’ve created analogs. The arbolenx, for example, evolved from the high-level concept of an elf (arboreal, pointed ears, stealthy) into a sentient feline species. My “troll” is similar in many ways to a grizzly bear, because that is what made sense to me, given the forested environment. If I ever create a dwarf analog, it will be something short, stocky, and cave-dwelling, but that is probably where the similarities with classic dwarves will end.

My magic system is probably more complex than it needed to be, but my intention was to make it behave consistently, not to be clever. Fortunately, readers don’t have to understand the nuances of how magic works in the story world to observe and appreciate its effects. I try to introduce the basic concepts incrementally during the course of the story, as the main character himself discovers them.

One of my reasons for avoiding the stereotypical fantasy races was to avoid stereotypical writing. It’s too easy to make a dwarf act like a dwarf. The dwarf character isn’t necessarily going to turn out one-dimensional, but the influences of the stereotype would increase the possibility of that happening.

In the end, Vaetra Unveiled is about a man who must choose between two paths. One takes him through known obstacles, but leads him to a place he isn’t sure he wants to go. The other path offers new opportunities, but also new obstacles and an uncertain destination.

The story isn’t about the fantasy world or the creatures that populate it. It’s about the struggles of the people who inhabit that world.

Reply

andy angel March 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Very interesting post by Mr. Marvello. Guess I’m gonna have to try and pick up a copy now πŸ˜‰
Good luck to all with the tour and everything
Andy

Reply

Vanna February 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

No problem, you did the right thing telling them I will be advertising the MA Tour πŸ˜‰ I haven’t started campaigning yet. I will tomorrow. I think a challenge is in the works πŸ˜‰

This is my first time hiring someone through Elance.com, but I have been offering my own copywriting/journalism services on there for almost 3 years now. So far, I’m very happy with it. Hopefully my editor will also do a good job.

On a side note, I just posted some more possible covers. If you get a second, I’d love your opinion on them. Thanks!

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: