Long Term Plans

I’ve been spending the past month or so busy with plans for rewriting/rethinking my new series.  It’s been hard work, but interesting.

One thing that I’m doing differently with this series than I did with Alex Verus is to plan it out from the start in much more detail.  If you’ve been reading my author commentaries, you’ll know that Alex Verus wasn’t originally envisaged as a long-running series – in fact, back when I wrote the first draft of Fated, it wasn’t intended to be a series at all.  Cursed and Taken were also written as standalones first and series books second.  It was only around book 4 that I started to think seriously in terms of a long-term plot, it wasn’t until book 5 that I actually began to decide what that long-term plot would be, and that long-term plot didn’t really kick in until around book 7.

Having the series be mostly unplanned had both pluses and minuses.  On the positive side, it meant I was free to experiment and throw in weird new ideas from whatever I was interested in at the time.  A lot of the most popular elements of the books stemmed from random ideas that I came up with on the spur of the moment and just decided to toss in because they sounded fun.  It also meant that the series was free to evolve in surprising ways – none of the major storylines ended up where I’d been originally intending to take them, which I quite liked.

But it caused problems too.  Not all of the sub-plots in the Alex Verus series ended neatly – in quite a few cases I was forced to make a choice between having a plot go in the direction that would make for a neater and more coherent story, and having it go in the direction that was more consistent with what I’d established about the characters and the world.  In the earlier books, I tended to pick the first option;  in later ones, once the world and characters were more developed, I was more likely to pick the second.  In both cases, it meant some readers got upset.  There was also the issue that, in the long term, not planning things in advance caused me a LOT of extra work.  I’d frequently run into blockages where I just didn’t know where to go next – if I was lucky, that meant a week or two of thinking and planning, whereas if I was unlucky it meant realising that I’d taken a book in the wrong direction and having to rewrite it completely.

So with this new series, I’m taking the opportunity to try something different:  I’m planning out early books (and possibly even the entire series) in advance as far as I can.  I’ve currently got roadmaps for the various threads of the story that stretch out several books into the future.  My hope is that by the time I finish the rewrite of Book 1, I’ll have a general plan and shape for the series as a whole.  I don’t know if I’ll manage it, but it’ll be fun to try!

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Ask Luna #182

From: Daniel

Now that Alex sacrificed himself to put an end to several different factional machinations, what are you and Anne going to do (assuming Anne made it safely out of Sagash’s collapsing shadow realm–did she?)?

Anne is still very much unwelcome in the UK for a whole bunch of reasons and that’s not changing any time soon.  I don’t think she’s planning to move back home.  

For my part, I’m running the Arcana Emporium, sorting out various things with UK adepts, and helping clean up the aftermath of everything that happened in that last year.  

From: Saffron

Where is Verus?

Trafalgar Square.  He should be there some time this week.  If you don’t see him, keep waiting, he’ll show up eventually.  

From: Owen

1. Do independent mages have apprentices or is it limited to Light and Dark?

2. Have you met any other Chance apprentices during your time in the Light Council training program? If so did you get along with and did your curse overlap with how they used magic?

3. When Chalice fist met Alex she mentioned something called slay machine, what is this exactly?

1. Of course independents have apprentices.  There are more of them than all the Light and Dark mages put together, it’s not as though they just decide not to train new mages.

2. A few.  Not many.  It’s not a common magic type to begin with and the ones that are don’t usually go through Council programmes.  I think they find it too restrictive.  With the ones I did meet, I could understand their magic easily enough, but we never tended to get on all that well for some reason.  

3. It’s a way to sabotage mechanical things.  Easier than you’d expect, to be honest.  The more complicated a device is, the more things that can go wrong with it, and modern computerised stuff breaks REALLY easily.  It doesn’t take much to nudge one into a total crash/lockup.  Pretty much all chance mages learn it as one of their basic spells.  

From: Svetoslav

I was wondering – how many people actually knew Richard to be a diviner, and how come no one ever told Alex? Helikaon knew Richard was a diviner and he never said anything to Alex? Did Alex not ask around about this?

From what I understand, the Council and a few of their higher-ups knew, but kept it on a need-to-know basis.  Alex was never trusted enough to be told.  At least, that’s what I’ve heard – the other possibility is they didn’t actually find out until the war was halfway done, and then just pretended to have known all along (haven’t heard any real proof of that, but it’s absolutely the kind of thing they’d do).  

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Cosmologies

I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks developing a cosmology for my new setting, and figuring out how to tie it into the story.

Turns out this kind of thing is a lot of work.  With hindsight, maybe I should have done all this before writing the book, but honestly, I’m not even sure it would have made things any easier.

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Bad News and Good News

Some bad news for this week, though it does have a silver lining to it.

As regular readers know, I’ve been working on a new urban fantasy series as of last summer, and I finished the first draft of Book 1 at the end of January.  Since then I’ve been talking it over with my beta readers and thinking about what edits I’d like to make and where I’d like the series to go.

Unfortunately, the longer I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realise that I’m not really happy with the book in its current state.  There are several reasons for this:

1) The series was originally conceived as an urban fantasy story with some progression fantasy elements.  It’s also much more human-centric than the Alex Verus series – in the first draft there are no magical or supernatural creatures at all.  While this has made the series more coherent and grounded than the Alex Verus books, it’s also meant that it’s much more “materialist” than most of my books have tended to be – much of the story has ended up revolving around money and power, and now that I look at the whole thing, I’m just kind of dissatisfied.  It doesn’t feel magical enough.

2) While I’ve developed a lot of the new world and setting in detail, creating a new urban fantasy setting is a huge job and a lot of stuff necessarily got left out.  In particular, a lot of the story elements in Book 1 are started but not finished – they’re not really developed, partly because I haven’t figured out where they’re going to go yet.  I did this a lot in the Alex Verus series, too, but I’m not sure it’s working well enough this time.  Several of my beta readers commented that the first book felt incomplete/unsatisfying (there aren’t resolutions to about 2 out of 3 of the main conflicts) and that’s not the feeling I want my readers to be walking away with after reading book 1 of what’s supposed to be a long-running series.

It’s a bit frustrating because I’ve been working really hard on this book for a really long time and I’ve now got it in a state where it’s finished and I’d really like for it to be done.  I’ve already got contract offers from my US and UK publishers for the first few books of the series and I could pretty much decide to sign those right now and have book 1 out in 12 months or so (if I seriously wanted to speed things up, I could self-publish it instead and have it out in a fraction of that time).  Unfortunately I think that if I do that, the result just won’t be good enough.  I’m sure lots of people will buy book 1 based on their good opinions of the Alex Verus series, but I don’t just want people to read it because they liked Alex Verus.  I want people to read it because they liked Alex Verus, then go on to like this series just as much.  And in the book’s current state, I’m not confident that that’ll happen.

So I’m going to go back to the drawing board and do a rewrite.  I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I’m expecting that it’ll be months.  (This means that the Alex Verus short story that I had been hoping to do in February isn’t happening any time soon, unless I get so sick of the rewrite that I decide to take a break and do something completely different for a few weeks.)

On the positive side, I’m sure that the book’s going to be much better by the time that I’m done.  Another side effect that I suspect my readers won’t mind is that with the new plans that I’m drawing up, the series is likely to be longer.  My initial plan for the series was that it would be quite a bit shorter than Alex Verus – the world was much ‘smaller’ and there wasn’t as long a journey for the main character to go on or as much to do.  With the new plans that I’m working on, the stakes are going to be a lot higher and there’ll be a lot more room for more important things to happen.

So that’s where things are at the moment!  I’ll give you more news once I have it, but for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be fully absorbed in rethinking/reworking the foundations of my new setting.

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Ask Luna #181

From: Celia

Hi, Luna! Sorry if this is a stupid question, but I am wondering what happens if one fire mage goes up against another? It seems like fire mages can’t be burnt – by their own flames, at least. So would two fire mages going mano a mano even be able to hurt each other by magic? I don’t think we ever saw two fire mages engage, since you and Vari were… unavoidably detained… when Ares and the other crusaders burnt down Alex’s shop. What do you think would’ve happened if Vari had confronted Ares and the little flame critters?

Sorry to bring up an awkward subject! And thanks in advance! 🙂

Technically fire mages can still be burnt, it’s just that the temperature you’d have to get to is so insanely high that it’s not worth trying.  

Usually the way fire mage duels go is that they both try regular fire- and heat-based attacks on each other to see what happens – they know it probably won’t work, but hey, doesn’t hurt to try.  Once they’ve established that no, they’re not getting an easy win, then they start looking for alternatives.  Every fire mage who lasts any length of time picks up at least one backup trick for when burning things doesn’t work.  Some learn a non-heat-based attack spell, some get good with swords or close range combat, some just carry a gun.  At that point it comes down to who did their prep work better.

From: Alex

Dear Luna,
I wondered how old Onyx is in fated because Alex said he was somewhere in his early twenties but he was still Morden’s apprentice, right?

We don’t know.  I think Alex guessed 21 or so, but Onyx didn’t tell us his age and we weren’t exactly on good enough terms to ask.  Technically I think he wasn’t Morden’s apprentice at that point, he’d “graduated” already.

From: Alan

1. This might be an odd question but can Alex stop himself from seeing the future? Like preventing information overload if that makes sense?

2. I remember one time you said most mages can do something unique to their magic type that other similar mages cannot do/are not as good at. Are there any mage skills you, Alex, Anne, or Vari have that are original/rare skills?

1. Yes, and he does it all the time, for exactly that reason.  It’s the first thing diviners learn.  

2. In Alex’s case, he has a whole bunch of combat uses for divination that are super rare and unusual (most diviners take the attitude that fighting’s something that they get other people to do for them), like his throwing skills.  In my case I’ve specialised more in the bless/curse application of chance magic.  Not that I really had a choice, since to begin with I literally couldn’t NOT it, but it’s meant that I’ve gotten way more experience with it than usual.  From what Chalice says, I think most chance mages are much more “directed” with the ways they use their magic, if that makes sense – they have something specific in mind.  In my case I’ve found that it works better if I don’t try.  My curse works more like water flowing downhill – you know roughly which direction it’ll go, but it’ll figure out the best way to do it faster than you can.  

From: ChicagoWitch

Hey there luna.

I can’t share my name, I’m sure you understand. But you can call me ChicagoWitch. I had a question about your experiences with the fae. See, here in Chicago we seem to have an absurdly large presence of fae, demonic, and other dangerous beasties.

Honestly pretty damn dangerous when you think about it. So I was wondering, do you guys over in london have similar problems? How do you deal with it?

I know a guy here for hire who helps out a lot, he’s been teaching me about my powers, how to sense out magic and control it, so I don’t hurt myself. But I’m curious how magic society works in other countries. Let me know!

ChicagoWitch

We used to.  From what Arachne and Alex have told me, as recently as the early 1900s there were still quite a lot of “beasties” roaming around.  It’s just that the same thing happened to them that happened to most other big dangerous creatures that compete with humans.  

I grew up with things being like this, so I’ve never known it any other way.  When I hear the stories, though, having magical/demonic beasts on one side and humans on the other actually feels as though it’d make life simpler.  At least you’d know who your enemies were.

From: Sierra

How do you feel about how Alex handled Caldera and Deleo? I mean on the one hand it feels like they brought it on themselves and I don’t think Alex did the wrong thing but at the same time it seems such a waste. All of their actions were to gain respect/power/recognition and the Light Council/Drakh barely gave them a second thought in life or even in death. They both gave their lives to evil men but I still feel sad for them and I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing. What do you think?

It does feel like a waste, and it’s not something I’m happy about.  On the other hand, if I’m being completely honest, I prefer a world that doesn’t have Deleo in it to one that does.  It’s a lot easier to feel sorry for someone when you don’t have to worry about them deciding to kill you for some incomprehensible reason. 

But like you say, it does end up being a pretty sad story.  I think a lot of the time this sort of thing is more straightforward for me because I don’t really feel as though I’m on the kind of level where I get to make decisions about this stuff – I have to worry about staying away from people like that, not about whether they deserve what they’ve been getting.  Doesn’t make my life any easier, but it does make it a bit less complicated.  

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First of the Second

And we’re done!  I finished the first book of my new series earlier this week.

One thing that I’ve always found a little amusing about my writing is the way in which I just barely hit deadlines.  It didn’t happen every time with the Alex Verus series, but I did finish several of the books the exact day before my contract said that I was due to send them in, to the point where I started thinking that it probably wasn’t a coincidence.  In the case of this book, the personal deadline I set for myself was “end of January”, and I finished the last sentence of the last chapter at 11:53pm on January 31st.  I think I have some weird mental thing where my mind subconsciously calculates how much time I’ll need and spends every bit of its “budget”.

Writing this book has been a very strange feeling.  I wrote the first draft of the Alex Verus book, Fated, in 2008.  Since then, my writing career has involved the Alex Verus series and nothing else, meaning that this is the first time in 13 to 14 years (depending how you count it) that I’ve written a novel that wasn’t an Alex Verus one.  I did actually wonder while I was getting ready to start whether I’d even be able to do it at all (I was worried that I might have gotten so used to writing a divination mage that I’d forgotten how to write any other way), but as it turned out, it went just fine – putting myself into the shoes of a different protagonist felt very natural.

This book’s definitely been harder work than usual, though.  I wrote about my decision to start a new series a few months ago, and one of the points from there that I’ve been reminded of a lot is that a new series means starting from scratch.  When you’re a few books into a series, you have a lot of background, setting detail, and (most of all) characters that you can draw on.  For a new series, you have to make up EVERYTHING – it’s been a long time since I’ve done this, and the last few months have reminded me of just how much work it is.  Still, it’s done now!

The next stage is going to be dealing with my publishers – unlike the Alex Verus books, this novel is un-contracted for, and in publication limbo.  I think I should have something agreed reasonably soon, though.  As soon as I have a publication date, I’ll let you guys know.

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End of a Beginning

Busy with the final scenes of the new book.  I’ve been working on this one pretty obsessively for the past few weeks now, and I’ll be very glad when it’s done.

Word count’s at a bit over my usual 90,000, but (as often happens these days) the book’s turning out to be a little longer than expected.  I’ll write a proper update once I’m finally there.

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Alex Verus #7 in Germany

My author copies of the German edition of Alex Verus #7 finally arrived today.  A little late (the book was released late last year), but I thought I’d share a picture anyway just as a reminder that while the English editions of the Alex Verus series might be completed, the German ones are still coming out at regular intervals!

My German publisher’s current plan is to keep bringing them out every six months, so you can expect books #8 and #9 this year, books #10 and #11 in 2023, and the final volume in #2024.

For my part, I’m still working away on the last couple of chapters of the new book.  I’m pretty sick at the moment, which is slowing me down, but I really want to finish it by the end of the month if at all possible.

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Ask Luna #180

From: Celia

Hi Luna! I was wondering, back when Alex and Anne were having their little issue with Zilean and Lightbringer, did Alex ever tell Morden about the problem? If he didn’t, why not? If he did, what was Morden’s response to the information? Not sure if this would fall under what Morden would have regarded as a “personal problem” for Alex to solve. Or perhaps Alex telling Morden would have made Alex seem weak?

I don’t know if Alex brought it up to Morden specifically, but Morden absolutely knew that Alex and Anne were going to be getting that kind of attention – the way I heard it, he pretty much spelled it out to them on their first day.  So Alex would have had to have been REALLY desperate to go to Morden for help, given that Morden had made it pretty clear that (a) he was expecting this to happen, (b) he didn’t care much, and (c) he thought it was Alex and Anne’s problem, not his.

From: Oliver

Dear Luna,
Will you still talk to us on Ask Luna after the events of Risen are published? If not, I hope it’s not because someone manages to get past the luck curse.

Sure, now and then.  I’m a lot busier now, though, so it’s harder and harder to find the time.  Maybe I ought to get my own assistant.

From: Alex

Hello Luna,
I was wondering if you maybe know how Lyle and Alex became friends back when they were apprentices? It always surprised me that a Light mage apprentice like Lyle who had a clear career plan would become friends with a Dark Mages apprentices and it was never really stated in the books, how they met and grew close to each other.

No clue, sorry.  I never cared much about Lyle and I never found him interesting enough to ask Alex questions about him.  He just seemed like such a standard Council stick-in-the-mud.

From: Dave

Hello, Luna.

I’d like to know how rare some forms of magic actually are. I know that in terms of magic families it goes Elemental -> Living -> Universal, from common to rare.

Since magic is in part determined by personality, the statistics of magic distribution are really fascinating to me. Do you happen to know roughly what are the most common and most rare magic types within each family?

I think the proportions are something like 55%-60% elemental, 25%-30% living, and 10%-15% universal.  The exact numbers vary by country and on how you count them (a lot of mages are sort of in-between the families, so there’s a lot of argument about where you draw the line).

Fire mages are the most common elementalists, in living it’s a close race between three or four different types, and the most common universal ones are time and then space.

From: Koldo

Hello Luna,

I know you have complained about the political questions you are asked but I hope this one is not so obscure. What are the politics like for adepts? Do they follow the Dark and Light divide or focus on other issues? Do they have organized political groups like the mundane world?

Thank you again for your time in reading this and answering all of our questions.

It works very differently for adepts – they don’t have the political parties that mages do.  Much looser and less formal, and they’re less politically engaged than mages are.  With adepts it tends to come down more to what movement they sympathise with, or what organisation they’re a member of, or what company they keep.

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What’s Next for 2022

It’s a new year!  Here are my writing plans for the next few months.

My first and highest priority is finishing my new book.  For those who don’t know, this is the first volume in a new urban fantasy series that I’m hoping to be working on for most of this decade.  The first draft is currently up to 80,000 words, which includes a fair bit of edits and rewrites.  I’d been hoping to have the book finished by the end of December – unfortunately the rewrites took longer than I’d hoped, so the new deadline I’ve set myself is the end of January, and I’m going to push myself to try to make this one (I really want this book completed so that I can get the publication train rolling).  The good news is that I’m pretty pleased with the book and the setting, so I think there’s a good chance that you guys will like it too!

Once that’s done I’m planning on writing a second Alex Verus short story/novella.  This one is going to be set after Risen, as a sort of minor epilogue to the series, and will focus on one particular character who had some larger-than-usual question marks hanging over them at the end of the book.  I’ll probably do the bulk of this in February, and I’ll publish it online shortly afterward, in a similar way to what I did with Favours.

On the website front, the next two posts will be a couple of Ask Lunas – I’ve got a backlog of questions which I’d like to clear out.  I’m still planning on running the Ask Luna column for a while long, but I’m intending to gradually taper it off over the course of this year.  Now that the main series is finished, the series timeline isn’t progressing in parallel with the real-world timeline any more.

Somewhere along the line I also need to do the Author Commentary for Risen.  This’ll probably take a while, firstly because it’s going to be a long one, and secondly because I’m still getting some interesting feedback on Risen from the reviews I’m reading.  Some of them make me realise things about the book that I hadn’t previously thought about.

And finally, I need to catch up on my email.  Thanks to everyone who’s written in following the publication of Risen and the end of the series, both in email and in comment form.  Most of the emails have consisted of fans saying very nice things about me, Risen, and the Alex Verus series in general, so thank you all for the praise!  I’ll try to reply to them all properly when I get a moment, but I wanted you to know that I really appreciate the messages.  I’m glad so many of you have enjoyed the series so much!

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