What's In a Name? And Other Bits & Bobs

When I first began this publishing journey in 2013, I was set that my “writing name” was going to be my real name, but unlike in everyday life, I was going to use both my middle initials. I’m named after my uncle, you see, but my “middle name” is both my father’s first and middle names. So my name is Michael Robert Eugene Johnston. My writing name, then, was going to be Michael R. E. Johnston.

Fast forward to 2016, when I submitted the book to Flame Tree Press. Somehow I forgot about the E, so I submitted as Michael R. Johnston. And when the contract came, I was so excited, and so eager to not screw it up, that I read everything BUT my name with a fine-toothed comb. So I noticed what the royalty rates were, and the rights I was signing away (some of which I learned later I should have kept—never sign away your dramatic rights, kids!—but that’s something I’ve discussed before), but I totally missed that my name wasn’t quite what I’d always wanted it to be.

Now, after two books published, and a third being written, it seems like it doesn’t matter all that much. That extra initial wouldn’t sell more books, and it wouldn’t make me any less of a nerd who writes books about aliens and space travel, so meh. I’m still publishing books, and people are buying them and positively reviewing them, so nothing was harmed in the making of this writer.

But sometimes, I still wish I’d noticed it when I had the chance…

The Blood-Dimmed Tide drops 20 February 2020, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a solid positive review. The book can be pre-ordered through any bookseller of your choice, but ebook and audiobook aren’t yet available—but they’ll be available closer to publication, and I’ll let you all know when they are.

Writing on the final book in the Remembrance War trilogy, What Rough Beast, has begun. Tajen has come face-to-face with the enemy who bested him at Jiraad for the first time, and the experience has left him a bit shaken. This book will depart further from the first, in that instead of just Tajen’s viewpoint, there will be a pretty equal number of chapters told from the POV of Tajen, Katherine, and Liam, all of whom are separated for much of the story.

If you don’t hear from me again in 2019, have a great holiday and Happy New Year!

Hey, an update!

It has been a while...

So book 2, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, is now totally edited, proofread, and off to the printer, or will be shortly. The book will release in mid-February 2020, so it’s just a few months now. I urge folks to preorder from whichever outlet the prefer. Preorders are good for writers—they tell the bookstore people are interested, which gets more books on the shelves, and builds our audience. And as a relative newcomer to the field, I need my audience to grow! Many preorder links can be found here.

I’m still working on the concept of a book launch; I’m not sure if I’ll do one for this book or not. It’s a lot of time and mess, and while it was kind of fun last time, it’s also got its risks. But we’ll see what happens.

It’s Halloween as I write this, and I’ve become the Old Man yelling about his grass. I didn’t dress up, which disappointed some of my students, but them’s the breaks.

Next up on the docket is Book 3, What Rough Beast?, and then after that I’m not sure which of several projects I’ll start working on. I’ve got two Fantasy projects and two more Space Opera projects in the wings.

That’s all for this update! Have a great month!

Royalties, A New Teaching Year, and Book Updates

The best news of the day is that I got my first royalty statement, which covers from the time the book released in March 2019 until the end of June 2019. And in that time, I was fortunate enough to “earn out” my advance, which means that my share of the book sales, which ranges from 15% to 50% depending on the kind of book, totaled out to more than the advance the publisher paid me.*

The publisher then takes the amount of my original advance out of that, and I get what’s left. Now, the publisher is permitted by contract to keep a little back as a hedge against future returns. Mine didn’t do that this time, but it’s possible they could in future. So I get the full amount of [Total Royalties Earned - Advance]. Even though we’re not talking about earth-shattering amounts of money here, I’m excited, because I never thought I’d sell out even my modest advance so quickly. At lunch today, I took a quick glance at the Amazon page for Book 1, reflected on the fact I’ve now made money on it over and above the advance, and did a little dance in my seat. Former students can have fun imagining that.

Meanwhile, back on the day job front, most of my classes are pretty good this year. Once of them is a bit on the “We’re not going to participate in class” side, which is always annoying, but it’s early days; I’ll break through their fear eventually. My first and second periods are excellent classes to start the day with, which is always a plus. Third period is good, fourth is the reluctant class, and fifth ends the day on an up-note.

Finally, updates: The Widening Gyre is still doing its thing in the world, and The Blood-Dimmed Tide revisions were just sent off to the editor today. The book had about 2500 more words added in revision, but it also had some removed, so I’m not exactly sure what the final wordcount will be—when I’m revising, I don’t erase words (they just get marked as “delete” in Word’s “Track Changes” mode, and my editor does the actual deletion when he accepts the changes), so the wordcount goes up but not down.

In any case, soon enough I’ll get the proofs, read the book yet again and find any problems (and hopefully miss fewer than we all missed in the first book!), and then it’ll be ARC time again, and then the book will release in February 2020.

I’m still a little fish in the author pond, but you know what? It’s a big pond, and the water is nice. Come join us!

*By the way, because of the variance in price between different models, 15% of the paperback cost is just about the same thing as 50% of the ebook price or 20% of the hardcover price. So, at the end of the day, no version of the book is better for my royalties; buy what you want on your shelf/in your device.

Book Sale!

And a little bit of humanity...

My aunt and uncle—functionally my parents—have sold the house they’ve lived in for a bit less than 25 years, and are moving to Arizona. I support them, of course, but both my daughter and I are sad to see them go. This will be the first time I’ve lived far away from them in, well, forever. There was a brief period in the early 80s when my aunt lived in New York, but I still lived with my adoptive parents then (it’s a long and sordid tale; don’t ask).

That’s normal, I guess, and I’m glad I’ve had them here and near me from the time I came to live with them at 15 to now, when I’m pushing 50. And even though I haven’t needed their aid in many years now, it’s a little scary knowing they won’t be here if anything goes wrong. Their presence has always been a bit of a safety net—nice to know it’s there even if you don’t want to need it.

I still have three of my sisters nearby, so it won’t be the end of family in the area, but I’m still a bit sad “mom” won’t be close. And my daughter is devastated.

But mom and dad deserve a retirement free of stress. So good luck, and we’ll see you at Christmas—here or there.

Meanwhile, my publisher has knocked down the price of my E-book, for this weekend only, to 99 cents! So if you haven’t picked it up, this is a good time! If you bought it in print but would like to also have the ebook, now’s a great time! If you don’t want it, but you know someone who will, now’s a great time! Let them know!

Just to make it easy, here’s a link to the US Amazon page. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PDMVJ5C

The book is similarly discounted in Canada ($1.31) and the UK (£0.98), as well.

Book 2 Preview, and What's Next?

So, as some of you no doubt saw elsewhere, I managed to turn in the Manuscript for book 2 on time. Yay me! See below for a preview of the book!

Now I’m waiting for edits, and while I’m waiting, I’m preparing for the new school year and thinking about what comes next in the fiction realm. I’m teaching three sections of English 12 and two of English 11 this year, so that’s fun. Best yet, the librarian found me copies of Pride and Prejudice, so I’ll get to teach the actual novel again, which is nice. I’m currently in the midst of the usual beginning of the year enthusiasm for teaching; hopefully it won’t be dashed by the negatives until at least May.

In Fiction, I’m working on the plotline of Book 3, What Rough Beast?, though whether it gets published or not will depend pretty much entirely on sales of Books 1 and 2, so we’ll see. Book 3 will lead the Empire into a full-on war on three fronts, and Tajen will have to go on a daring mission deep in enemy territory to—ah, but that would be telling!

I’m also working on a separate IP, tentatively called Rage of the Ancients, though that will probably change. It’s another trilogy, but told by multiple 3rd-person POVs, and spread over a much wider canvas than the Remembrance War books. It’s a mash-up of Space Opera and Zombies. I’m working on the plot breakdown for book 1 now. With this IP, I’m working slightly differently than before.

With Remembrance War, I plotted the basic arc of the series, but left each book’s individual plots until I was done with the previous book. In some ways that’s worked out, as changes made to Book 1 had to be accounted for in Book 2 and later, Book 3. But in some ways it made it harder, because I didn’t really have a strong idea of where the book was going.

With Rage, I plan to plot each book fully before I start writing. I have no doubt some things will change in the process of writing/editing, but if the overall plotline of all three books is solidified before I begin writing, I feel like I’ll have an easier time with each book—I’ll just need to adjust for what happened in the series before that, instead of having to figure out the plot anew. I’m also considering writing all three before shopping them to the Publisher, so there can be a better release schedule if Flame Tree picks it up, and if they don’t, I can shop Book 1 to agents and let them know Books 2 and 3 are already in the bag. I may decide, however, this is a bad idea at this point in my career. This is the kind of thing one would normally talk to an agent about, but since I don’t have one, I’m kind of on my own.

I’m also working on a fantasy novel, Bonds of Blood and Magic, which is based on a short story I wrote for VP. The short story didn’t go anywhere, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might make a better novel, so I’m aiming for that now. It’s a story of a modern teenager who discovers she’s actually a Changeling. When her brother is kidnapped by a sorcerer, she has to make a series of choices that threaten to completely derail her life.

But for today, I’m going to take my kid and have a fun day together. Before I leave, though, here’s a small preview of The Blood-Dimmed Tide, book 2 of the Remembrance War series. It’s now available for preorder at all the usual places, including the publisher: Pick your preorder site by visiting the book’s page on my website.

Chapter 1, Scene 1

I was just sitting down to breakfast with my second-in-command, Katherine Lawson, and my partner, Liam Kincaid, when the sudden blare of the Earth Orbital Station’s alert klaxon pummeled my ears. My comm implant sounded, a panicked voice filling my head. “Captain Hunt, this is command. We’re reading seven ships coming out of slipspace.”

I was on my feet and running for the tower before he was finished speaking, Katherine and Liam on my heels. I took the stairs two at a time, stumbling into Command. The officer on watch, Kaz Simmons, welcomed me with a salute. I’d tried to put a stop to that, but nobody would listen to me. I ignored the salute until I realized he wasn’t going to stop until I returned it. I sketched a quick salute and snapped “Report!”

Simmons’ answered in the precise speech that I’d grown accustomed to from him. “Seven ships, all of Zhen manufacture.  They came out of slipspace, then used chain drive to get to the inner system.  They’re waiting just outside lunar orbit, as instructed.  They claim to be refugees. Lead ship is called the Stellar Wind, registered to the Faded Sky Shipping Cartel. The captain is Liz Orozco.” He cleared his throat. “She is refusing inspection, and she is asking to speak to you directly, sir.”

I motioned her to put it on the screen and stepped into the comm’s visual pickup. “Earth command to vessel Stellar Wind. As you’ve been informed, all ships coming to Earth are required to submit to inspection. I’m told you don’t want to. Explain yourself.”

The woman who appeared before me was in late middle age. She looked almost embarrassed as she recognized me. “Captain Hunt, it’s not that we refuse inspection. As I’ve tried to explain to the young woman, we’re carrying some … well, something that could get us in trouble. We wanted to explain to someone in charge what we’ve got aboard before you scanned us. Tempers flare, and that could be a disaster, you see.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And what is it you’re carrying?”

“Weapons, Captain." 

“What kind?”

“Mostly ground—about a hundred Zhen pulse rifles, some smaller sidearms. But we’ve also got fifteen starfighter-class pulse guns, ready for mounting, and a few crates of explosives. It’s all yours.”

“And you’re asking…?”

She grinned. “Nothing, sir. But I suspect you’ll need ‘em. I had ‘em sitting in my—well, my employer’s—warehouse. Thought you could put ‘em to better use here than he could.”

“We could indeed, Captain Orozco.”

She looked embarrassed. “Please, call me Liz. I’m not a captain; I stole this ship and will be turning it, too, over to your colony.”

“It’s not my colony. Liz, I’m grateful for what you’ve brought us, but I’m going to have to ask you to stand down and submit to inspection. Nobody gets—“  I was cut off by a new alarm blaring across the command deck. “What the hell?”

In the battle tank, one of the ships in the Stellar Wind’s formation was accelerating toward the station. “What the hell is this?” I snapped at the screen.

Orozco blanched. “I don’t know!” She pointed to someone outside the field of view. “Get him on comms!” she shouted. “Deveraux, what the hell are you doing?”

I couldn’t hear the reply, but Orozco’s eyes widened and she drew a finger across her throat, then turned back to the pickup. “Captain Hunt, he’s lost his mind, says he’s here to—“ 

I cut the feed and turned to the defense officer. “Fire on that ship!” He relayed the order, and the station gunners, as well as the system patrol ships that had responded, focussed fire on the vessel. I could see, though, that as powerful as our guns were, they weren’t going to be enough.  The freighter was too big, and our ships were too few. 

“Sir! Another ship on the move!” the sensor officer called.

I looked up at the holotank and cursed. “Get Orozco back!” I roared. The Comm officer signaled me, and Orozco appeared before me again. “What the hell is going on?”

She waved her hands in a warding gesture. “I don’t know!” she said. 

I started to give the order to fire on that ship, too, but stopped when I realized what was happening.  The second ship was on an intercept vector with the first. As the two connected, the smaller ship crumpled.  Her drives blew, and the small ship was gone.  

I looked at the plot and realized the freighter had been knocked off course; it wouldn’t hit the station—but it was headed right for one of the arms of our shipyard. I turned to the comms officer.  “Signal the shipyard and tell them to evacuate.” 

“Will they have time?” Katherine asked. 

I didn’t look at her as I replied, “Not all of them.” 

We watched in sick horror as the freighter slammed into the shipyard.  Moments after impact, the freighter’s drives blew, and the resulting star vaporized half the dock and numerous ships.  “Brace for impact,” the comm officer called, and we all grabbed for supports.  

When the shaking was over, I looked to the watch officer.  He scanned his boards and said “No casualties on the station, sir.  But the shipyard…” He gestured at the screen. 

Now was not the time to berate a civilian-trained crew member on military protocol.  I walked over to look at the screen. 

We’d lost over half the shipyard, and what was left was in pretty bad shape.  Barely any of our docked ships had managed to detach and get away in time. The loss in lives was devastating.  I cleared my throat and spoke softly to her.  “Get a list of the dead. The council meets in an hour; I want a detailed status report by then.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

I turned to comms. “Get Orozco back on screen.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

I looked back to the screen, showing Orozco once more.  Her face was pale, her breathing shallow.   

“What the hell happened?” I said. 

“Captain Hunt, I’m sorry,” she said.  “Deveraux… he had told us he was one of us.  But when he tried to ram your station he broadcast a denunciation.  He said that we—and you—are criminals, making things worse for people back on Zhen and Terra.” 

I blinked.  I’d known there were human elements that didn’t approve of what we’d done.  Despite finding out the Zhen had wiped out Earth and then lied to us about it for eight hundred years, despite treating us like second-class citizens routinely, despite everything—many humans still thought of the Zhen as the good guys.  Zhen Imperial news sources had taken advantage of this divide; there were commentaries all over the slipnet about us, making us out to be villains and cutthroats who had turned against the “benevolent” Empire. 

“The second ship?” I asked. 

“The Avo Grande, captained by Mel Kramer. She sent a message just before impact.  All it said was “At least I saw it. This way, my death means something.”  She paused, clearly emotional. “She was a Dreamer, captain.  The day your message was broadcast, she called me.  It was she who convinced me to come.” She paused to get a grip on herself. “She was dying, you see.  She wanted to die on Earth.” 

I nodded. “How many were on her ship?”

She attempted to smile, but faltered. “That’s the one piece of good news. She didn’t have any. Her ship was a scout-ship she’d bought second-hand; she didn’t have space for a crew. She’d planned to volunteer it for your defense fleet.”

“What about Deveraux’s ship?”

Orozco looked down, troubled. “Well… there we weren’t so lucky. The Harbinger had a crew of five, and six passengers. But he had all the weapons in his cargo.”

“I don’t care about the weapons,” I said. “Tell me there were no kids on board.”

“No, none.”

I let out the breath I hadn’t intended to hold. “Well, that’s something." I looked to Katherine. We’d been working together long enough now that we didn’t really need to speak. She nodded, and I turned back to Orozco. “Given what’s happened, I’m almost sorry to say it, but we still need to complete the inspection.”

She nodded. “I understand, sir.”

“When that’s done, though, assuming—as I do—that nothing untoward is found, you and your fleet are home. Welcome to Earth.”

She nodded. “Thank you." 

As her visual faded from my view, I turned to my chief of security. “Be thorough—don’t cut any corners—but try to be respectful to them; they’ve just lost people.”  I glanced back at the wreckage of the shipyard. “As have we,” I added.

She nodded. “I think we can handle the job, sir." She saluted and left the control room. 

I sighed. “Let’s go,” I said to Liam. “I need to prep for the meeting.”

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