Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

STAR TREK novels I’ve written

I started writing books for Star Trek in 2000, when I was hired by Pocket Books editors Margaret Clark and Jessica McGivney to write The Starfleet Survival Guide. My first prose fiction for Star Trek was the two-part Star Trek: S.C.E. (aka Corps of Engineers) novella Invincible,” which I co-wrote with series editor (and my pal) Keith R.A. DeCandido. Shortly after that saw publication, I undertook my first solo work of prose fiction, the two-part short novel Star Trek: S.C.E. #23/#24 – Wildfire.

The success of Wildfire led to me being invited in 2003 to write a pair of back-to-back full-length mass-market paperback novels for a 9-volume The Next Generation miniseries called A Time to…. Those two novels — A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal — earned me a lot of critical acclaim, and the latter title landed a spot on the USA Today extended bestsellers list.

Nearly all of the 29 novels I’ve written for Star Trek have been part of its shared, serialized literary post-finale continuity. (You can read more about that in this other blog post.) In a little over two months’ time, Gallery Books will publish my newest Star Trek novel, CODA, Book III: Oblivion’s Gate — which will be the last novel in that 20-year-long serialized continuity.

For those who are generally interested in immersing themselves into that massive creative undertaking, I recommend using the Trek Collective’s Trek Lit Reading Order Flow Chart as a guide.

However, for those who are merely curious about where and how my 29 Star Trek novels (plus 3 novellas and one non-narrative book) fit into this ambitious, multi-author shared universe, I present here a brief primer (i.e., introduction) to my oeuvre in the universe that Gene Roddenberry built.


THE STARFLEET SURVIVAL GUIDE (2002)
This was developed internally at Pocket Books, and I was hired to draft the manuscript. This was, in a sense, my tryout for the Star Trek books.

STAR TREK: S.C.E. #7/#8 – “Invincible” (2001)
I share the writing credit on this two-part novella with Keith R.A. DeCandido. I drafted the outline, and he wrote the manuscript.

STAR TREK: S.C.E. #23/#24 – WILDFIRE (2003)
My first work of solo-written narrative prose. At 52,000 words, it’s technically my first novel. It’s also my most autobiographical work to date.

STAR TREK: S.C.E. #40 – “Failsafe” (2004)
I wrote this big action-adventure as a warm-up for my first time writing back-to-back full-length paperback novels.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – A TIME TO KILL (2004)
My first full-length, direct-to-paperback novel. I got hired to write this and its companion volume when another author abruptly quit the gig. This novel is the origin of the now-infamous “Tezwa incident.”

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – A TIME TO HEAL (2004)
I wrote this novel as a blatant critical commentary on the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. It’s been called one of the darkest and most violent Star Trek novels ever written. Not coincidentally, it implies that Section 31 assassinated a sitting Federation president, Min Zife.

STAR TREK: S.C.E. #49 – “Small World” (2005)
My last S.C.E. eBook is also my first Star Trek story in which none of the characters die. I wrote this more hopeful tale as a warm-up for the more introspective tone of Star Trek Vanguard.

STAR TREK: VANGUARD – HARBINGER (2005)
I created this 23rd-century-era series with editor Marco Palmieri, who wanted to call it NO MAN’S LAND. Conceived as a multi-author series, it ended up being written in alternating turns by me and the writing duo of Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore.

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE – WARPATH (2006)
Editor @mxpalmieri hired me to write WARPATH for his post-finale DS9 novel series, but wouldn’t tell me his long-term plans, so much of my story was developed without knowing its context.

STAR TREK: MIRROR UNIVERSE – THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE (2007, 2009)
The novel so nice, they published it twice! It was released first as a short novel in the anthology Glass Empires. I was hired two years later to expand it into a full-length, standalone novel. This chronicled the rise and fall of Emperor Spock in the Mirror Universe — and the beginning of his long-term plan to bring freedom to his dimension’s Milky Way.

STAR TREK: MIRROR UNIVERSE – SATURN’S CHILDREN (2007)
The only Star Trek fiction I’ve ever written under a pseudonym. I wrote this short novel as “Sarah Shaw” because the editors accidentally double-booked me on two concurrent Mirror-Universe anthologies. It’s about the 24th-century Terran rebellion, first seen on Deep Space Nine.

STAR TREK: VANGUARD – REAP THE WHIRLWIND (2007)
My favorite of my Vanguard novels; it’s packed with action, heartbreak, and consequences. I think Vanguard would make a great sequel series to the Strange New Worlds series, but alas, no one at Secret Hideout has asked me.

STAR TREK DESTINY, Book I: GODS OF NIGHT (2008)
This epic trilogy, which rocked Star Trek‘s literary shared universe, was inspired by Pierre Drolet’s painting of the wreck of Columbia NX-02, found in the Gamma Quadrant in the 24th century. The big idea: it’s the Federation’s final showdown against the Borg — two civilizations enter, but only one will survive.

STAR TREK DESTINY, Book II: MERE MORTALS (2008)
Many folks don’t understand this book’s epigraph. It describes the book’s central theme: self-imprisonment, and self-emancipation through adaptation.

STAR TREK DESTINY, Book III: LOST SOULS (2008)
Some folks are thrown by the book’s ending, especially for Picard. Picard is the trilogy’s main character, but not its hero; Erika Hernandez is the hero. And it’s not a story of victory—it’s a tale of deliverance.

STAR TREK: VANGUARD – PRECIPICE (2009)
This was the first Vanguard novel I wrote after the departure of Marco Palmieri from Pocket Books. Its tone was influenced by classic monster movies, like the Hammer Films creature features.

STAR TREK: TYPHON PACT – ZERO SUM GAME (2010)
The start of my “Bashir’s mid-life crisis” arc, in which I mire him in real espionage and reunite him with his lost love, Sarina Douglas (DS9: “Statistical Probabilities” and “Chrysalis”). This is the source of Bashir’s “Salavat incident,” a mission that plagues him with guilt for years after its completion.

STAR TREK: MIRROR UNIVERSE – RISE LIKE LIONS (2011)
I pay off my setup from THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE and SATURN’S CHILDREN: the Terran rebellion becomes a revolution. I wish the shows had taken the Mirror Universe concept this seriously.

STAR TREK: VANGUARD – STORMING HEAVEN (2012)
A bittersweet triumph. A strong ending to a series that turned out every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. But still sad to see it go. The book’s final lines were inspired by the ending of THE GREAT GATSBY.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
– COLD EQUATIONS, Book I: THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY (2012)
I saw other writers’ clumsy attempts at bringing Data back from the dead and decided to prove I could do it better. This book was the result.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
– COLD EQUATIONS, Book II: SILENT WEAPONS (2012)
Here’s where my work starts getting “meta.” This novel links to the Vanguard and Mirror Universe sagas, and plants seeds for my future Section 31 books. It also gives us a close-up look at Orion society and the tensions inside the Typhon Pact alliance powers.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
– COLD EQUATIONS, Book III: THE BODY ELECTRIC (2012)
One of the hardest things about writing a novel is finding a good motivation for the bad guy. I won’t spoil it, but I remain proud of The Machine’s core objective. This was also a fun reason to bring Wesley Crusher back into the mix as an older adult with some truly awesome Traveler powers.

STAR TREK: THE FALL, Book III — A CEREMONY OF LOSSES (2013)
My Bashir-in-crisis arc continues. Plagued by guilt for things he did in ZERO SUM GAME, Bashir atones by defying Starfleet and the Federation to save the Andorian species. His reward: incarceration in a Starfleet Intelligence “black site.”

STAR TREK: SEEKERS, Book 1 – SECOND NATURE (2014)
The first sequel to the STAR TREK VANGUARD saga, SEEKERS followed two of Vanguard‘s “hero” ships, the scout vessel Sagittarius and the Constitution-class cruiser Endeavour, as they explore the newly opened Taurus Reach. The series (and its covers) were inspired by some modernized takes on the cover art of the classic Blish novelizations, by digital artist Rob Caswell (who also created all four Seekers covers).

STAR TREK: SECTION 31 – DISAVOWED (2014)
More of Bashir-as-spy with a mid-life crisis. Freed from prison by a presidential pardon after A CEREMONY OF LOSSES, he is now a civilian with a private medical practice on Andor. He and Sarina Douglas are recruited by Section 31 to go to the Mirror Universe, to prevent enemies of the Federation from stealing top-secret ultra-tech from the other universe’s newly formed Galactic Commonwealth. For those who were paying attention while reading COLD EQUATIONS, Book II, this book’s ending sets up that book’s macguffin — two years in the past.

STAR TREK: SEEKERS, Book 3 – LONG SHOT (2015)
More pulpy fun adventure in the 23rd century, with the crew of the scout ship Sagittarius. This was just a lark of a story, a one-off meant to be enjoyed without needing to worry about continuity or anything else.

STAR TREK: LEGACIES, Book II – BEST DEFENSE (2016)
My contribution to the 50th-anniversary trilogy was its middle volume. The big challenge here was keeping readers interested without giving away too much about the ending or repeating stuff they already learned from book one. The most fun I had with this book was writing scenes involving McCoy and his adult daughter.

STAR TREK: SECTION 31 – CONTROL (2017)
Okay, I admit I was in an angry place when I conceived this dark, violent story, which reveals that a malevolent artificial super-intelligence named CONTROL runs Section 31, and has been secretly orchestrating killings and wars behind the scenes to rig history in the Federation’s favor … for over two centuries. This is the conclusion of my Bashir-as-spy arc — he succeeds in his mission, but destroys everything and everyone he loves in the process, and winds up in a catatonic state, in Garak’s care.

STAR TREK: TITAN – FORTUNE OF WAR (2017)
My follow-up to the third-season TNG episode “The Survivors.” Sure, the Husnock are all dead, thanks to one grieving Douwd — but that doesn’t mean all their technology vanished. Starfleet has spent decades searching for the native sectors of the Husnock, so they can contain their fearsome arsenal before it falls into the wrong hands. Unfortunately for the crew of the Titan, many sets of wrong hands have beaten Starfleet to the prize, and now Admiral Riker and his people must stop a new arms race before it starts. (I also moved the ball forward on the Dalit Sarai/Admiral Batanides story arc started by James Swallow in Titan: Sight Unseen.)

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY – DESPERATE HOURS (2017)
The first tie-in based on the series, I wrote it based on a suggestion from series creator Bryan Fuller, and with tremendous cooperation from the series’ producers. Many details and character names I invented for this book were later incorporated into the series itself — but the show’s second season superseded several assumptions I had made for this story. C’est la vie.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – COLLATERAL DAMAGE (2019)
The follow-up to CONTROL sees Picard on trial for his role in the Tezwa Crisis (see 2004’s A TIME TO KILL and A TIME TO HEAL), while Worf gets a taste of command, dealing with Nausicaan raiders whose desperation stems from the fact that their homeworld was obliterated by the Borg (see 2008’s STAR TREK DESTINY, Book III: LOST SOULS) — and years later, no one has ever come to help them. (This was my allegory for the Trump Administration’s disgraceful abandonment of Puerto Rico after it had suffered massive damage from a hurricane.)

STAR TREK: MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN DEATH (2020)
Fun story: I wrote this book in 2010. For political reasons (a struggle between the publisher and Bad Robot), it and three other titles like it were shelved after they were written and edited.Star Trek Coda, Book 3, Oblivion's Gate, by David Mack Fast-forward nine years: the editors say the book is finally being published. So I do a fast pass of clean-up rewrites, and voilà — here at last is my fast-paced, light-hearted take on the J. J. Abrams version of the Star Trek universe and its characters.

STAR TREK: CODA, Book III – OBLIVION’S GATE (2021)
And that brings us to the latest addition to my oeuvre. I can’t really tell you much about this one, yet. Most of its plot is still considered top-secret. All I can tell you is that if you’re really dying for some kind of clue as to what awaits our heroes in the trilogy’s final volume, you should listen to its Spotify playlist, Big Mood – Oblivion’s Gate. I hand-picked the songs on the list because some or all of the lyrics of certain songs represent (in my mind) some of the book’s major story arcs.

As for what will come next … only time will tell. But here’s hoping that Star Trek isn’t done with me quite yet.

STAR TREK: CODA – The End Is Nigh

Star Trek Coda - Moments AsunderThree weeks from today, STAR TREK: CODA, Book I – MOMENTS ASUNDER by Dayton Ward will be published, marking the beginning of the end of more than 20 years of shared, serialized continuity in the Star Trek novels.

The beginning of the “post-finale” continuity in the Star Trek novels generally is considered to have begun in 2001, with the Deep Space Nine novels Avatar, Book I, and Avatar, Book II, by S.D. Perry. Once the shared-continuity books began to grow in popularity, a number of pre-2001 Star Trek novels were retroactively incorporated into it, including the TNG novel Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman.

Before long, the shared literary continuity expanded to encompass nearly all new Star Trek book titles, except for those based on The Original Series. It also helped fuel the creation of several literary-original Trek series, including Stargazer (about Picard’s first command); The Lost Era (stories set between the TOS and TNG eras); S.C.E. (aka Starfleet Corps of Engineers, a monthly eBook novella series); Titan (Riker and Troi’s post-TNG careers); Section 31; Department of Temporal Investigations; and Vanguard (a gritty 23rd-century series set parallel to The Original Series).

For more than 20 years, the editors wrangled over 25 authors, most working alone, some in partnerships, to weave a complex web of Star Trek narratives that explored consistent storylines across two centuries of story time. One reason our publisher and licensor (aka Star Trek Licensing at CBSViacom) let us do this was that, at the time, it seemed unlikely that there would be new Star Trek films or TV series set in the 24th century anytime soon.

We pushed the limits of the Star Trek literary universe. Shattered the status quo again and again. Moved characters’ lives forward. Brought others to an end. Returned others from the grave. We threw out Trek‘s “reset button.” It made for an exciting era in which to be a Star Trek novel author or reader.

Alas, as TNG warned us long ago, “All good things must end.” The harbinger of our experiment’s ending was the announcement of Star Trek: Picard.

We knew that once a show featuring Jean-Luc Picard went into development, it would almost inevitably establish events and character actions that would be irreconciable with our literary continuity. Which put us in a tough spot. Star Trek tie-in fiction, like that of most other licensed properties, is required to be consistent with the canon version of the property, as it exists at the time the tie-in material is written. The more we learned about the back story of Picard, the more we realized there was no way to reconcile or retcon our 20 years of narrative with what was coming. One way or another, our communal literary project was soon to end.

I and others behind the scenes knew we had to make a choice. Either let the story be abandoned in medias res — or steer into the wave and craft an ending worthy of two decades of work.

We chose the second option.

Star Trek Coda - The Ashes of TomorrowI began scheming and daydreaming about the story that would become the spine of the STAR TREK: CODA trilogy at about the same time that my friend and frequent partner in literary mischief Dayton Ward was doing the same thing. During the July 4th weekend of 2019, I persuaded the initially reluctant James Swallow to team up with me in pitching the idea. We hashed out the story in broad strokes over BBQ with Trek-author pals Keith R. A. DeCandido and Glenn Hauman.

When I shared our pitch with Dayton the following week at Shore Leave Convention, his idea and ours were eerily similar. Except, because of his new job with CBS Licensing, he was privy to details about Picard that James and I were not. After hearing me out, Dayton summed up the challenges we faced because of Picard with a chilling caution: “Dude. It’s so much worse than you think.”

As it turned out … he was right.

Star Trek Coda, Book 3, Oblivion's Gate, by David MackDayton, James, and I hammered out a story that we felt was a worthy swan song to two decades of work, an encomium to our fellow authors, and an act of gratitude to the readers who had stuck with us all these years.

Coda proved to be the hardest writing experience of my life. While working on it in 2020, I was shaken by three deaths: the first, in January, was that of my longtime idol Neil Peart of RUSH; the second, in April, was the loss of my mother; and in December, the death of my friend and fellow Trek writer Dave Galanter.

This trilogy was a difficult and emotional project for all three of us writing it, each of us for our own reasons. But just as the application of pressure over time can turn coal to diamonds, I think our hardships have made Coda shine.

All three books of the STAR TREK: CODA trilogy are available for pre-order in trade paperback, eBook, and digital audiobook formats, from most book retailers. Trust me, Trek fans, this is an epic story you won’t want to miss.

STAR TREK: CODA, Book II – THE ASHES OF TOMORROW by James Swallow is scheduled for publication on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

STAR TREK: CODA, Book III – OBLIVION’S GATE by yours truly will be published on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.

#TheEndHasBegun

The Shadow Commission Spotify Playlist

In the past couple of years, I’ve brought you Spotify playlist guides for my first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front (see its Playlist Guide), and its sequel, The Iron Codex (see its Playlist Guide). To complete the trifecta, I bring you the series’ third playlist, for book three, The Shadow Commission. (Visit its Spotify playlist now.)

Music is invaluable to me as a storyteller. It inspires me with new ideas, and when I’m working, movie soundtracks often help me maintain a consistent frame of mind and emotional state that’s suited to whatever I’m working on.

Once again, to give you a look into my brain’s creative relationship with music, and how it connects to the stories that I write, I have assembled this guide to The Shadow Commission’s playlist. Not all chapters or scenes have specific tracks associated with them, but those that do, I’ve done my best to annotate accordingly.

A review of the playlist reveals that the biggest musical influences this time, as with book two, were spy-movie soundtracks. Specifically, Skyfall and Spectre by Thomas Newman. Also making numerous appearances are tracks from the various Avengers movies’ soundtracks, as well as from some sci-fi classics and cult films, such as Children of Dune by Brian Tyler, Donnie Darko by Michael Andrews, and Stargate by David Arnold, among others.

The Shadow Commission will be published on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, by Tor Books.

Nota Bene: Not all of the listed tracks are available for playback on Spotify, due to ever-changing licensing permissions, etc. Those of you who collect movie soundtracks might own one or more of these discs already. If you can compile your own local playlist based on this, all the better.

Also note that the playlist guide contains spoilers, especially for the end of the book. This is meant as a companion piece to be enjoyed after reading the novel.


CHAPTER 1

Murder in the Morning
“Even for You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


CHAPTER 2

Cade and Anja Get Bad News
“Wish You Were Here”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


CHAPTER 3

The Kennedy Assassination
“War Begins”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

A Cardinal Demands Answers
“Child Emperor”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)


CHAPTER 4

Cade’s Fears Made Manifest
“Sins of the Mother”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

Dallas Ambush by Hammers
“Exit Mr. Hat”
The Matrix (Don Davis)


CHAPTER 5

The Dark Circle Begins
“Je Suis de Sole”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)

[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]

Exploding Mirrors
“Quartz Shipment”
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)

[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]

The Siege of Naxos
“Fighting Back” / “Uprising” / “Outlook”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


CHAPTER 6

Talking to Oswald
“Keys to the Past”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


CHAPTER 7

Stealing from the FBI
“Springing Erik”
X-Men: Days of Future Past (John Ottman)


CHAPTER 8

Briet vs. the Golem
“Man vs. Beast”
Kong: Skull Island (Henry Jackman)


CHAPTER 11

Zona Rosa
“Welcome to Cuba”
Die Another Day (David Arnold)

Searching Rocha’s Pad
“Unauthorised Access”
Casino Royale (David Arnold)


CHAPTER 12

Luis’s Vision
“Living an Illusion”
Dark City (Trevor Jones)
[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]


CHAPTER 13

Silo Under Siege / Frank’s Death
“A Lot to Figure Out”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Miles Is Summoned / He Says Good-bye
“Porch”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


CHAPTER 14

Miles Underground
“What Did It Cost?”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Demonic Delivery
“Orphanage”
Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch)


CHAPTER 15

Razing Monte Paterno
“I Am the Storm”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)

Plotting Cade’s End
“Carpathian Ridge”
Donnie Darko (Michael Andrews)


CHAPTER 16

Ammo Factory Showdown
“Betrayal”
Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler)


CHAPTER 17

Cade & Briet in the Lake
“Camille’s Story”
Quantum of Solace (David Arnold)
[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]

Luis’s Disciples in Rome
“Goodbye, My Son”
Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)


CHAPTER 20

Cade & Anja by Moonlight
“Severine”
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


CHAPTER 21

The Bank Job Begins
“Frankenstein’s Monster”
X-Men: First Class (Henry Jackman)


CHAPTER 24

Cade Faces the Old Man
“Kite in a Hurricane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


CHAPTER 25

Yasmin Conspires with Niccolò
“Recruiting Psylocke”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)


CHAPTER 26

Kizkalesi

“The Mission Is Terminated”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)
[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]


CHAPTER 27

Cade Breaks Free
“Silhouette”
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


CHAPTER 28

Monks and Mages Arm for War
“Steps Ahead”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


CHAPTER 29

Alpine Combat / Hellhounds
“Snow Plane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)

Violent Attrition
“The Bloody Shot”
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


CHAPTER 30

Cade & Lila / The Old Man
“Culmination”
Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler)

The Betrayal and the Sacrifice
“Hinx”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


CHAPTER 31

Spirit Hammer
“Can You Stop This Thing?”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Danny Elfman)

Cade Dies
“Redemption”
Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Holkenborg)

Anja & Briet Take Revenge
“Darkest of Intentions”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)

Leveling the Chalet
“Execution”
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)
[ALBUM ONLY – NOT AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY]


CHAPTER 32

A Tragic Return
“I Feel You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


CHAPTER 33

A Bittersweet Homecoming
“What Beach?”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)


CHAPTER 34

Anja’s Warning
“The Grim Reavers”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


CHAPTER 35

Three Sisters Scatter
“Don’t Be What They Made You”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


BONUS TRACK

End Titles
“Gimme Shelter”
The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

Art is a Kind of Magic, Magic a Kind of Art

Making good art is hard.

That turned out to be a key concept in my new epic fantasy novel about a secret war between Allied and Nazi sorcerers during World War II, but I didn’t know that until after I had started writing it.

When I began working on The Midnight Front, my goal was to tell a secret-history adventure that transplanted Renaissance-era ceremonial magic into a 20th-century setting. For those who are unfamiliar with the precepts of ceremonial magic from the Christian tradition, its central idea is that all true magic (as opposed to stage magic), from the smallest trick to the grandest miracle, is predicated upon the conjuring and control of demons. The terminology of this style of magic is highly technical and antiseptic, and its practitioners treated the exercise of magic like a form of science (possibly because magic during that period was connected closely with the practices of alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry).

To make my novels’ system of magic more cinematic (and therefore better suited to a fast-paced action narrative), I grafted onto it the concept of “yoking,” in which a magician binds one or more demons to his or her mind and body and, for as long as he or she is able to maintain control over the spirits, wields the demons’ powers as if they were his or her own.

In the interest of limiting my characters’ ability to wield such powers I imposed certain consequences upon this practice. My characters soon learn that yoking demons is a miserable experience, one that comes with such side effects as headaches, nosebleeds, intestinal distress, obsessive-compulsive habits, self-harm such as cutting and hair-pulling, nightmares, and other such unpleasantness.

Consequently, my characters swiftly take to self-medication to mitigate the side effects that come with yoking demons. Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, opium—whatever dulls the pain and quiets the voices, my characters make use of it so that they can yoke more spirits, gain more power, and try to win the war. So far it seemed to be shaping up into a well-balanced and narratively workable system of magic.

Then, one night a few years ago, I was describing the magic system to a friend at a party, and I experienced a revelation: the system of magic I had concocted, and the manner in which my characters coped with its deleterious consequences, mirrored my own creative process.

When I stepped back from my story and examined its moving parts, I realized that magic, which my characters sometimes call simply “the Art,” was a metaphor for all types of creative art. The notion of having to perform exhaustive research and preparation, and to master the fundamentals of the process before being able to use magic professionally was no different from the learning curve experienced by any artist. Writers, painters, musicians, actors, sculptors — any artistic discipline that I could think of fit this paradigm.

Then I thought about what demons represented beyond the context of my story, and I saw that they were metaphors for those forces that drive artists to create, to reshape reality. Some of those forces are benign, but others are not. How many artists have spoken of grappling with their “personal demons” during the act of creation? How many of us find the inspirations for our art in the darker corners of our psyches?

Even my characters’ coping mechanisms are hauntingly familiar to anyone who knows people who make their living in the arts. The creative professions sometimes seem almost synonymous with substance abuse. Opiates and music have a long shared history, as do writing and alcohol. I’ve never made any secret of my own proclivity for drinking; I have long practiced the edict “write drunk, edit sober” (a saying often attributed, possibly in error, to Ernest Hemingway).

The most vital parallel between my perception of artistic expression and the depiction of magic in my Dark Arts series lies in my main character’s moral conundrum: How can he do good in the world when his power is derived from a source considered to be the ultimate incarnation of evil?

The answer, both for my character and myself, is that what matters most is not the source from which one derives power, but what one ultimately does with that power. That’s as true for artists as it is for magicians. Even when our inspirations are drawn from the darkest places, what’s important is that we use our gifts to shed new light — and that we do our best to burn brightly.


The Midnight Front: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


This blog post originally ran on the Unbound Worlds blog in January 2018. That site no longer exists, so I have reposted my essay here.

The Iron Codex Spotify Playlist

One year ago I brought you the Spotify playlist guide for my first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front. I’ve chosen to reprise that effort by putting together another Spotify playlist for the second book in the series, The Iron Codex.

Music is invaluable to me as a storyteller. It inspires me with new ideas, and when I’m working, movie soundtracks often help me maintain a consistent frame of mind and emotional state that’s suited to whatever I’m working on.

Once again, to give you a look into my brain’s creative relationship with music, and how it connects to the stories that I write, I have assembled this guide to The Iron Codex’s playlist. Not all chapters or scenes have specific tracks associated with them, but those that do, I’ve done my best to annotate accordingly.

As a quick review of the playlist will reveal, the biggest musical influences this time around were spy-movie soundtracks. Specifically, Kingsman: The Secret Service, by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson; Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace by David Arnold; and Skyfall by Thomas Newman.

Also, a fun bit — at the end are two “bonus tracks.” Neither informed any particular scene, but they were instrumental to me in defining the “headspace” for two characters in particular: Cade, whose heartbroken, soul-shaken state is evoked by John Fullbright’s earnest “Until You Were Gone,” and Briet, whose need to earn some kind of redemption is expressed by Brandi Carlile’s hit “That Wasn’t Me.”

Nota Bene: Not all of the listed tracks are available for playback on Spotify, due to ever-changing licensing permissions, etc. Those of you who collect movie soundtracks might own one or more of these discs already. If you can compile your own local playlist based on this, all the better. (more…)

FREE FICTION: “Hell Rode With Her”

Hell Rode With Her,” an original novelette excised from the manuscript of The Midnight Front, details events that befall Russian-born sorceress (aka “karcist”) Anja Kernova after she deserts from the Red Army in late 1943.

This was in fact the first part of the Dark Arts series that I wrote, and Anja’s confrontation with her countrymen during the Great Patriotic War sets the stage for the series’ second book, The Iron Codex, in which Anja is the chief target of an international magickal arms race in 1954.

The good folks at Tor Dot Com are hosting the publication of this story, which first appeared in the anthology Apollo’s Daughters. Please head over to Tor Dot Com, enjoy the story, and leave a comment so that the good folks at Tor will know people are actually reading it.

The Iron Codex will be published on January 15, 2019, and is available now for pre-order in both trade paperback and eBook formats.

#SFWApro

In Fiction, Love Isn’t Always the Answer

One of The Beatles’ most famous song lyrics tells us, “All you need is love, love is all you need,” but sometimes love is exactly what a story doesn’t need.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not denigrating the concept of romance in fiction. Over the course of penning more than thirty novels, I’ve written more than my share of romantic subplots. Romance is, at its heart, one of the key drivers of stories of all genres. It springs from the nature of human relationships, which are central to most narratives. Romance novels comprise the majority of the best-selling titles of all time.

Romance is a good thing.

 

If Your Characters Resist Romance, Don’t Force It

That being said, not every story is well-suited to incorporating a romantic subplot for its principal characters. I learned this the hard way while writing — or, to be more precise, while rewriting — my new World War II-era fantasy novel, The Midnight Front.

In its original incarnation, as well as through two of its subsequent versions, The Midnight Front contained an awkward romantic subplot linking its male and female lead characters, Cade and Anja. I had intended for there to be a strong vibe between these two characters, almost a dangerous attraction between people who might in other circumstances have been enemies. As I tried to execute that idea in my manuscript, however, it kept hitting obstacles.

 

The Best-Planned Lays of Mice & Men…

My first draft overplayed the attraction between Cade and Anja. I had intended for her to be someone who could intimidate Cade, and I didn’t want her to reciprocate his infatuation too quickly. After all, I thought, characters should have to earn a good romance. I did my best to create a veneer of conflict between them while also planting the seeds of a future romance.

In the middle of the book I had their romantic subplot blossom in the aftermath of a great trauma. However, the needs of my story also dictated that this coupling, and the feelings of vulnerability that would emerge from it, would drive Anja away from her allies and set her on her own path to self-discovery. During her time alone she would experience feelings of regret for having left Cade behind.

In the outline all of that had made perfect sense. Sharing extreme experiences often helps bond people and can lead to heightened feelings of attraction and connection.

Imagine then, my surprise, when it all seemed to backfire at the manuscript stage.

 

No Sex, Please, We Hate Each Other

As I read through the first draft and compiled feedback from my beta readers, agent, and editor, I realized that my romantic subplot for Cade and Anja had done my female lead a massive disservice. I had made too much of her character development contingent upon her relationship with Cade, and making her flee from that connection—and then pine over it after the fact—made her seem weak.

The relationship also had not sparked enough action, reaction, or change in my male lead. The outcome of their romance didn’t feel any more germane to his journey than it did to hers. In short, their romance hadn’t done either of them any good, and it wasn’t helping the story.

During the last major rewrite of the novel, I transformed their relationship from one of attraction to one of bitter rivalry and antagonism. The moment I did that, their dynamic came into focus.

 

There’s Nothing Wrong With the Friend Zone

Cade and Anja had never been meant for love at first sight. Cade and Anja were destined to be competitors for the attention and approval of their shared master in the art of magic, like two adopted children both vying to be the parent’s favorite.

Instead of using hostility to mask affection, Anja  now owns her feelings. She treats Cade with hostility because that’s how she really feels. She resents him, his advantages, his privilege, his arrogance, and most of all his bond with the man she has come to see as a surrogate father. When she breaks away from her allies it is not a reaction to vulnerability but because she has reached a breaking point in what she considers an emotional betrayal on Cade’s behalf.

After my revisions were done, I saw a new path for Cade and Anja. Their journey in book one is about learning first how to be allies, and then how to be friends. That’s a foundation on which a future romance can be built in books two and beyond.

Making lovers out of bitter rivals is hard, but as a Rodgers & Hart lyric once said, “the world discovers / as my book ends / how to make two lovers / of friends.”

 


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