Like I do with all the books lately, I really want to talk about the events of Crusader, hear your thoughts, speculations, complaints (just be gentle!) and all other thoughts. But! The discussions here will go into heavy spoiler territory. I invite speculation, but I probably won't comment on it, preferring to use obscuring statements like, "All will be revealed...in the fullness of time."
Anyway, spoilers commence in 10...
Let me start this off with my comments, first. Why? Cuz it's my blog, silly. Also, I'd like to talk a little bit about the behind the scenes production of this thing, just to give you an idea of what goes into it.
Crusader was the hardest book I've ever written. Harder than the first (Defender, which was difficult), harder than Omega (which was also difficult). This book is long, obviously. If you've read it you realize that, but maybe not quite the scale. It's four times as long as the longest Girl in the Box book I've written (before Enemies, anyway). It's longer than George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, roughly the same length as Robert Jordan's Eye of the World (Wheel of Time series) and longer than Tolkien's The Two Towers and Return of the King combined.
I started Crusader last July, a couple days before the end of the month, and by the end of August had written about 90,000 words (of 306,000). I worked on it all the way up until September 20th and stopped, right at about 145,000 words (145,212 to be exact). Like I mentioned at the time, I didn't stop because I didn't know what was going to happen next. I knew what was about to happen. Cy was going to ride out of Enrant Monge and get his head lopped off by Grand Douche Hoygraf (I so wanted to use that Grand Douche line in the book, but I don't think it would have fit with the technological advancement of Arkaria and Luukessia in that timeframe). I knew Martaina would be the one to save him, that Aisling would be right in the thick of it. I knew we'd be picking up Vara's story pretty much right thereafter, and I was eager to get into it.
The problem was, it was going to take me another month and a half to finish just the first draft, and in September, thanks to the Girl in the Box series, I finally started to make a living wage as a writer. Which was vaguely important, since I'd told my wife that I could do it - No, really for real, sweetheart, I can - and she'd believed me, and we put the kids in daycare in January so that I could write full time. Which, at that point, since I'd only sold something like 87 books in 2011, probably says something about her sanity or my salesmanship. Maybe both.
Anyway, point is, Girl in the Box starts paying me a living wage, being a full-time writer is important to me, so I turn in the direction of the money. This was no real sacrifice for me, because I love all my stories (I seriously have yet to have to write a book I didn't want to write. May it be ever so.) and so I pounded out book 4 and 5 of that series in short order and watched my sales fly into the stratosphere.
It was December again before I picked up Crusader. I'd finished my major work on Omega (Girl in the Box 5, for those of you who don't read that series - it's a real barn-burner) and on Christmas week's vacation (my version of vacation is working) I re-read what I had of Crusader and started on it again. I got Cy to his date with decapitation, maybe a little farther, and then had to do a final edit of Omega, then came back and wrote another 50,000 words or so in January, getting us up to the point where the combined armies of Sanctuary, Syloreas and Actaluere are retreating across the plains below Filsharron, where Longwell is resolved to go back to his home and take over (can I just say that him killing his dad came as a shock to me? Seriously. I wrote up to the scene, and I had envisioned that King Aron was going to be gazing impotently out the window as his son rode off with his army, his generals and all else, and BAM! A knife to the heart! Take that, silly writer! I did not see that coming.)
See, but here's where things have gotten complex, and part of the reason it was so hard to write this book. Every Sanctuary book up to this point has been ONE perspective character (POV) and it's been Cyrus. I mean, we go to Vara for like one chapter of Avenger, but other than that, it's Cyrus, save for the Epilogue/Prologue stuff, which I always did at the end of a draft and wasn't usually too difficult to thread. Here I've got two major characters whose stories aren't that intertwined, but that have characters that cross at certain points, and whose stories have to meet up in the end. So all this while I'm keeping a timeline of when things are happening. And it's complicated, which slows me down.
Anyway, I finished the first draft on February 20th (WOOHOO!) and there was much rejoicing. Then I remembered I had to edit (OMG NOOOOOO) and the rejoicing pretty much ended right there. The 2nd draft (1st edit) of a book means I have the manuscript printed at a print shop and mailed to me (I like my printer too much to murder it by doing this myself). In this case I drove the 45 minutes to them and picked it up. It came in a box of the sort you would buy a ream of paper in. Seriously. Full to the top, 413 pages of 10 pt. text. The first thing I do to edit is read through the whole thing with a red pen handy, changing sentences in the margins, correcting spelling, punctuation and grammar errors (they are legion).
Once I'm done with that readthrough, which took me from March 1st to the 15th, I set the revised pages on an easel and read them out loud to myself as I rewrite them into the 2nd draft file. I finished that on March 29th. During that entire month, I did nothing else but revise Crusader. Ouch. I handed it off to my beta readers, and went on to work on Girl in the Box 6, which took like...11 days to write (it was short and blissful after so much time on Crusader) then I took a trip to London and started Girl in the Box 7, which I finished the first draft of in the 2nd week of June.
Then I hunkered back down with the returns from my beta readers on Crusader, and took another two straight weeks, from June 10-22, to finish it. That Saturday afternoon when I saved that final file and sent it off to my editor, I breathed a long sigh of relief. Then I went on an overnight trip with my wife and slept like a baby.
My editor, Sarah, finished with it on Wednesday, July 24th. Coincidentally (or not?) it was the day after I finished the first draft of my 12th novel, the first in my new Southern Watch series. I immediately forwarded it to the miracle worker, Nick Ambrose, who formatted it and had it back to me on the 27th, and I uploaded it. It went live that same day (within hours) on Kobo, Amazon, Smashwords and a day later on Barnes and Noble. Apple's iBooks will likely be just a bit longer. The paperback proof should be to me in a couple days for approval. Not that anyone will read the paperback, since it's so damned big I had to price it at $29.99. Also, Nick suffered on this one. He had to work around the fact that Createspace (the company that makes my paperbacks) has a max limit of 828 pages, and he had to change the typeface, shrink the margins, and do some other wizardry to get them to take it.
Anyway, why do I tell you all this? Most of you who are reading this are the true fans anyway, the really supportive ones who encourage me, tell me it's okay, take my time, make it good, and politely ask me to hurry. You don't harass, harry or annoy. (Only a very few people do that, anyway, so it's not really a major problem.) The support I've gotten on Facebook and here to everything has been AMAZING. Really.
The reason why I just went through all that is because I still feel bad. I know, you're going to tell me I don't need to. I do. I love these stories. Crusader was a year-long labor of love project for me in a series that - while it doesn't sell terribly well - I'm so tremendously proud of. I ordered the Crusader paperback even though there's a huge error I have to get corrected before I can get it on sale because I WANT IT. I want to hold that monster in my hands, put it on my shelf, symbolically, like I'm adding a trophy to my case. I spent a year on that bad boy, and when I look at it, the biggest problem I have is wondering how I can possibly top it.
The biggest problem I've had since finishing it is wondering how I'm going to write a more epic book than it. Really. Every book I've written since has been tough, because to top what I did there is...well... Crusader is just so big, so twisty, with such a huge cast. I mean, in a perfect world, it would have had chapters detailing Terian's viewpoint during the entire book, Martaina's, Aisling's, J'anda's...but instead I have to tell those stories elsewhere. (No, really...Terian's novella is a trilogy now. Aisling's novel is now at least two books, J'anda's getting his own book after vol. 5 and I'm working on a novella for Martaina here and there.) Unfortunately, that book would have been two thousand pages long (and unprintable, obviously, thanks to Createspace's page limits) and still wouldn't have been out.
The amount of setups and payoffs, the last moments of the bridge defense feel to me like I took my heroes closer to the edge than they've ever gone. If I'd really wanted to end the series, BAM. It could have ended there - very darkly, but still, done. The dark elves wreck Sanctuary, scourging it the way it's described in the Prologues and Epilogues of the books, Alaric dies saving Arkaria, and the scourge still make it ashore via swimming or something and destroy so much of the land that all that's left is a few hundred thousand survivors. They were so close to a desperate end, and I mostly pulled them back. Maybe it's just me, but I actually believed for a little bit that it could go that way, even knowing what happens next, how it ends.
Of course it didn't, and now Terian is in exile (BTW...the Prologue and Epilogue of Thy Father's Shadow take place in that moment when he faces Cy on the beach and walks away from Sanctuary. There are BIG moments there, things you will want to know before going into book 5, things I just couldn't fit into Crusader. Trust me, it's...huge.), Alaric is missing and presumed dead (no comment), Sanctuary is wrecked and in need of rebuilding, and Cyrus went to bed with one of (presumably) three women.
The kicker is, if I knew which one he went to bed with, I would actually feel worse about leaving you hanging on that cliff. Really. That end moment was one of those things that surprised the hell out of me when I came to it. I sort of blinked, and wanted to pound the stuffing out of the author for being such a douchecanoe, but since I AM the author, and I don't know who it was...I'm afraid I'm going to have to beg your forgiveness on that one. I'll figure it out by the time Chapter One of Master: The Sanctuary Series, Volume Five starts, though. Promise.
The rest of you will have to wait a little longer on it, though. Because the story is getting so epic, the threads are starting to go their own ways, before we get into Master, I have to tell you what's going on with Terian (Thy Father's Shadow). Have to. Really. It's going to be important for the whole story. You can read Master without reading this side story, but you'll suffer a little for it. Same with this Aisling story coming up. She's got secrets, things I need to get out in the open before I can start writing Master, so I'll try and have her book out by year's end, too.
As for Master...whew. Um. Yeah. It's likely going to be as long or maybe even a little longer than Crusader. My plan is that as soon as I finish Aisling's book, I'm going to start working on it on nights and weekends, between other projects, so I can get as much of a lead on it as possible because of how ridiculously big it is. I'm going to have to pare down how many beta readers see it, and possibly hire a second editor to work on it. I felt bad for my beta readers after Crusader. That book was like they'd had a full time job dumped in their laps, and the fact that they finished it in two and a half months was fairly miraculous. Anyway, I'm going to try and write it and get it out relatively quickly, but...you see the size of the project I'm dealing with here, right? And it's #7 or 8 in the queue right now (that's how many other books I have to write before I can devote my full attention to it).
We'll get there, though. So long as there's my breath in my body, I will shepherd this project through to completion. I love these books. Just love them. I re-read all the Sanctuary stuff here in the last few weeks, from Defender to Champion and both short stories because I wanted to make sure I got it all correct, for the sake of continuity. (I mostly got it. I missed one minor thing in Crusader, but you'll have to figure it out for yourselves - if you can.) I ended up remembering how much I enjoy those books.
Anyway, this went on a lot longer than I intended for a discussion post. I'm like that guy who hogs the conversation. So, now, I turn it over to you. Just...don't ask me when Master is going to be out. I don't know. Really, truly. I'll hurry along as quickly as I can, because I'm eager to see what happens in it as well. I have certain things mapped out, but as always, some things will crop up that surprise me. Which is the great joy of writing, in my experience. Hopefully that's what you like, too.