Brief Thoughts On Editing A Sequel

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This is the first time I’ve gone through a book as a sequel while I did edits. It’s a very interesting process which is a bit different than the first. The characters are established, so it’s more making sure they’re consistent in their actions with the first book (having grown) than it is ensuring you get that proper voice. They’re familiar people to me at this point.

The world building is the same– already done, already established. So it’s about making sure that the feel is the same as before.

So in a lot of ways, it’s easier. It’s familiar ground that’s been done before, but on the other hand, it’s more difficult because expectations are there.

It means the timelines have to be perfect, the consistency has to be perfect otherwise the readers are going to cry foul.

I had to go through the first book several times and hunt for references I know I made. I have a nice world sheet where I have names/dates/references handy, and as I mentioned last week on the blog before I set about this I made sure I had a timeline made (which I posted up for my Patreon subscribers to be able to see) . All of that helped me get into the mindset to pick apart the details of the world.

For me, I already know the structure of the novel is fairly sound. Before I ever set pen to paper — I’ve gone through a process where I have written a brief summary of the plot, then outlined it, then revised the outline. So keeping the flow and plot holes to a minimum have already been done even before my first draft starts. I may add or subtract a scene here or there if I go through and read it and some vital information was missing or the pacing feels off or redundant, but because of my detailed process to begin with, I don’t have to worry about it much on that level. It may vary depending on your process in this regard.

But the consistency and details are what’s super important.

Larry Correia actually posted some nice advice on his facebook the other day. He said he likes to go and listen to the audiobook of his work before going into a sequel like this — and I think this is great advice. The reasoning is the audio, hearing someone else read it, gives you a perspective where you’re enjoying someone else’s work even though it’s yours. It lets you envision the details more clearly than if you were going into your work alone. If you have this capability on your first book, I would certainly advocate this for the sequel.

The act of creating a nice note sheet for world and timeline purposes is something that is good as well. You hunt through your prior manuscript for this information and it helps a lot.

I find often I have to go back and reference it, as well as my prior work. There’s a lot of “find and replace” involved to make sure names don’t change and ensuring those little things are present.

There’s no shortcut. Hard work is required. Don’t skimp on the details. That’s your most important task. And I need to get back to it!

If you like my blog and are excited about this world, make sure to read For Steam And Country, available on Amazon.

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The Importance Of Timelines

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I take some pretty detailed setting notes when writing books, and I’m glad I have those, but something I hadn’t done in my book ones of series, is set up a detailed timeline of my universes. As I’m getting into sequels, I find this increasingly important to have as I’m referencing past events in the world and honing the universe. In terms of The Stars Entwined, my forthcoming space opera novel, I actually am writing several overlapping stories, so it becomes essential rather quickly.

I worked this weekend putting together a basic timeline for my steampunk universe, and I’ll be doing The Stars Entwined next, just as a reference sheet. Any odd locations, events, past matters, I’m putting into the timeline, so that I can have a clear picture of where I’m going as this goes forward.

In my steampunk universe, I’m not jumping around in the timeline so much, but I do open up each chapter with a “Baron Von Monocle’s Log” which helps frame the chapter as well as tell a story from Zaira’s father’s time. Getting all this straight and accurate is important and becomes more so as multiple books reference multiple past adventures.

If you’re writing a series, timelines are very important, and I suggest doing the work as you write that first book to prevent going back and having to read through and find the various points, especially if you’re telling some epic tales where there are numerous side events the characters don’t interact with that may become important to the story later. This kind of prep will save you time and also help you build a more detailed, realistic world for those future books to keep the readers engaged.

My readers will find a LOT of easter eggs from seeming throwaway stories from For Steam And Country that the characters told, as they become important in future books. A lot of these I’ve intended from the start, but it becomes increasingly important to get the details straight as the books go on.

If you enjoy my worldbuilding and timelines, you’ll probably like the short stories from my Patreon. Some of them tie into my novels and I just posted the For Steam And Country world timeline for subscribers. Check it out! 

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Forging Ahead And Taking Joy In The Little Things

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What makes writing a tough business in my opinion is not really the work involved, the constant need for marketing, or even the overwhelming industry pressure to “conform or be cast out”, but it’s how long it takes to get a sense of accomplishment.

While it feels good to finish short stories and the like, one can’t help but feel like they’re floundering when writing several of those and trying to submit to market. Very few people read short anthologies or magazines so even if you beat the astronomical odds and get into those, very little feedback will come your way and this is often where writers burn out because they feel like they’re spinning their wheels.

On the novel front, it takes so long to complete a novel and get one released that it creates much of the same feeling. It’s hard to just be content with the work — not only until you’re finished with it, but until you release it.

And sometimes even that doesn’t satisfy the feeling of the grind. That’s normal, I think. The goal is to push through it, keep going, and continue working. You have to not allow yourself to burn out.

Part of the way I handle this is I regularly post word count updates on social media or percentage updates of a project. No one really cares about these kind of posts, they get less engagement when I have new product, say something funny, or whatnot, but unlike most of my postings I don’t do these so much for my audience, but I do it for me.

I’m a firm believer in self-talk and how you talk to yourself and about yourself reflects that way to others. Yesterday I spoke with an author who was being apologetic about a post in terms of self-marketing, I told this author to reword it. Don’t be ashamed of your work, you should be joyful in your work. If you’re not, it comes across.

And I think that self talk matters not only in marketing, but also in the ability to get through some of the more sloggy aspects of this business. The self-talk extends to social media as well. When I post “I wrote 2k words today on the James novella and it’s got one more scene to go before it’s done!” I’m also telling myself I made a major accomplishment, when otherwise it might not feel like it because of the lack of release-feedback.

I think it’s handy to do, and it’s almost a reward for finishing work at the end of a day. It gets harder when I’m working on marketing/business contracts for most of a day for various projects because there’s not much to post on those, but even then, at least internally, I stress that it’s important to take pride in the small victories.

On my front, I’ve been quiet with releases for awhile. It’s been since last June since I’ve come out with a major release, which in a lot of ways is far too much time, but I’ve been readying a LOT. My next book, The Stars Entwined, took me 17 years to get it where it’s at from original concept to my complete rewrite and overhaul of it last summer.That’s a long time for not much accomplishment, and it’s really hard to come back and do work on it when I’ve got so many new projects in front of me after the concept is that old in my mind. But by the same token, it is a fresh product, I did finish it, it is the major space opera world/universe I’ll be setting a lot of future stories in, because it turned out really good.

I won’t have much real sense of accomplishment until it releases in March, but I do take joy in the work in between. It’s crucial to maintaining hard work and good spirits as an author.

If you like all my hard work and you want to see some cool stuff I’ve accomplished along the way, including draft chapters, deleted scenes, and really awesome short stories (February’s is a prequel to a novel I’ll be coming out with in the summer), then check out my Patreon. You’ll get great content at lower rates than most authors out there and join a great tight-knit community in the process.

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Friend Friday: RPGs vs. Fiction by Clara Storm

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It’s the return of friends Friday, a new feature for 2018  on the blog where the platform here is used to give some other great voices in fiction some attention they deserve. Today, we have Clara Storm, who you can follow on Twitter @TanukiHanabi and she’s also on Steemit here. Clara dives into the differences between RPG storytelling and fiction, a topic I’m supremely interested in as someone who contributes to both. 

My in-progress novel started as flavor text for a Savage World setting book, which was (is) ready for play testing.  A paragraph spawned an idea that morphed into 42,000 and counting words. What if instead of the standard bestiary with a brief description and a stat block, it was presented as the magnum opus of the most famous onmyoji of all time, Abe no Seimei?
Who was Abe no Seimei?  How did he end up traveling around Japan recording all the yokai he discovered? Should he have his own NPC stat block? That thought derailed the setting book and a novel was born. While the novel follows the magic rule mechanics of the RPG, and Seimei is an onmyoji (an Edge from the setting), RPGs and fiction are two different styles of storytelling. Here are some of the differences I’ve learned so far:
1) A reader won’t understand the setting right away. In fiction, info dumps are jarring.  In RPG’s they are called a “player’s handbook”. This novel is meant to be a stand-alone story, not a tie in to the RPG setting. The reader journeys along with Seimei’s daily life in The Capital. Readers learn magic at Imperial University and dust rooms of the library with him. 
The setting was inspired by Heian Era Japan, right before the rise of samurai.  Many people are not familiar with this era in Japanese history.  Rather than a 20 page setting explanation, Seimei goes about his daily life. What he thinks about other characters and how he interacts with them develop his character and paints The Capital in reader’s minds. 
2) Powerful characters are fun to play, weak characters are fun to read about. The novel version of Seimei is too weak to be a playable character.  Not only does his increasing power over the novel allow the audience to learn about the magic rules in an organic way, it also provides character development. Learning magic is not his only character arc, however; he’s got more growing to do.
3) Some conventions work in both fiction and RPG’s.  In the novel, the Head of the Ministry of Onmyodo gives Seimei a quest that he must prepare for.  Seimei gathers a party of two and they go off on an adventure.
4) There are different types of stories to tell.  Is it action driven, character driven, or a combination of the two? Which are you telling?  For RPGs, it depends on who sits at the table, and who runs the game.  What types of games does the GM prefer?  What is their comfort level with the game going off the rails?  How important is character interaction to the players around the table?  
The same questions happen in fiction, but the writer makes all of these decisions.  There is more space to have character driven action stories, develop side characters, and explore the world the characters inhabit. This brings me to number 5.
5) Race creation has different emphases in an RPG vs. fiction.  In an RPG, a new race must be described enough to build a character while leaving space for gamers to put their own spin on it.  This is generally a brief overview of game mechanics, characteristics, history, names, and stat block.  
When I was developing player races for the Heian-kyo Dreams setting, I use several sources: a book of translated Heian era folk stories, the books by Matthew Meyer, and a bit of pop culture.  Developing Kitsune was fairly straightforward because there were several Heian era folk stories for inspiration.  My version of Kitsune is pretty true to those folktales: illusionist tricksters.
In fiction, the writer must know much more half a page of racial information, even if it’s not all explicitly explained in the book. Where did they come from? How do they interact with other races? For example,  Kitsune create illusions.  Why haven’t Kitsune taken over the capital?  Why haven’t humans killed them all?  Why are Kitsune a small minority? I know these answers. Writing with this knowledge helped develop The Capital into a living city, not just a map with various locations marked. 
Tanuki had no Heian era folk stories, since their lore comes from a later time.  However, my setting has Tanuki, just for the cute factor alone!  Since they didn’t appear in the old folktales, I decided Tanuki live in the mountains. Only now do they travel to The Capital.
Tanuki had to be a family-friendly race. Instead of creating things with their scrotums, they use paper.  In the setting rules each Tanuki character has five pieces of magic paper at the start of the game to build whatever they need.  I can’t wait to see what ingenious uses players come up with!
The novel takes place in The Capital where Tanuki are rare, just like the RPG.  Tanuki are so rare in fact, that  they introduce themselves as their name for themselves: Papermasters.  Their entire lifestyle is based around paper.  Their houses and almost everything in them is made with their magic paper. Young Papermasters help make paper before they learn to walk. They will eventually get the moniker Tanuki, but only when it makes sense in the story.   
Developing Tanuki like this was one of the serendipitous acts of writing.  
6)I approach fiction and RPG design differently. When I write fiction, I’m a pantser.  I only have the vaguest notion of where the story is headed and delighted when it changes more often than not.  After I read the first draft, I figure out what sort of story I’m telling.  Subsequent editing moves parts, cuts parts out the didn’t go anywhere, and adds parts where needed.  All this produces a coherent story.
An RPG is pure world building.  There is no plot to derail, no characters to flesh out.  It is a beautiful backdrop for others to tell their own stories.  If I’ve done my job, players and GM’s eagerly await their own adventures in Heian-kyo Dreams.
If you enjoy the blog content, make sure to check out the Jon Del Arroz fashion line. We have awesome shirts, hats and posters that tie into a lot of the books and things we talk about on the blog. 
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How Poul Anderson’s Science Fiction Genre Warnings From 1975 Apply Now More Than Ever

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Yesterday, Dave Truesdale, editor of Tangent Online, sent me a classic interview he did with science fiction great, Poul Anderson. He warned me it was a short interview, but that didn’t make what Anderson said any less substantive. It was eye opening to see how Anderson saw the genre in 1975 — already in decay from the great pulp era of the 1940s-1960s. I’ll highlight some interesting points and show how Anderson warned us decades ago how culture was on a downward path which led us to this point today where the genre is nearly dead in sales, and the group of self-purported artist professionals who run the big publishing elements actively try to blacklist people over political affiliations.

This all started to come to light a few years ago when the Hugos were shown to be an insular group of people shilling political content over good stories. But this road started a long time ago:

 Inevitably, all such rewards are controversial, of course. The Nebula and Hugo awards together are rather interesting in that respect, too. Although they cover the same field, they are awarded on quite different bases. So, I think it gives a chance for a little more variety of recognition. 

Controversy has plagued these awards since the 70s. However — there was a big enough a fan base to have a variety there vs. now, it’s the same 500-1000 people voting in both, giving very little variety. As it’s become more controversial and more political, the general public has tuned out, and this problem goes back to the 70s.

What about the short fiction market?

Well, the pulp magazines are dead, and the magazine field generally is in a bad way. But I’d say that the old-fashioned pulp novel at least is flourishing as well as ever. It seems they’ve moved over into the paperback books.

TANGENT: What about the short story anthology as a replacement?

ANDERSON: To some extent they’re stepping in to fill that need, but the fact is though, that for whatever reason, by and large, short story collections don’t sell as well as novels. Evidently fewer readers wish to buy a short story collection.

The magazines are deader than ever. Their readerships are lower than ever.  And anthologies were starting to be a replacement then, but anthologies are deader than doornails now as well. The bottom line is there’s no path for a writer to be able to sustain themselves with short fiction anymore, and it’s because of the political drivel being peddled as stories for so long. Audiences have tuned out.  Anderson, interestingly, has advice on that front as well:

 I think the first duty of all art, including fiction of any kind, is to entertain, that is to say, to hold the interest. No matter how worthy the message of something, if it’s dull you’re just not communicating.

And this is the crux of where the industry went afoul. They created dull fiction. They pushed it to somewhere where nearly everything released is a shoddy message with very little to hold the attention. Science Fiction is about excitement, about wonder, and when you remove that from your writing to try to be more “literary” the stories end up communicating less of that as well. Which is why the elites are struggling so much with their fiction, even to write it. It’s a slog to write and a slog to read, and this is why us in the indie markets are focused on making science fiction fun again.

The same things have been going on since the 1970s, but now they’ve reached a critical mass where big publishing has become so insular, it’s turned off readers. The readers are still around, but they’re not going to buy their books. On the indies front, we keep gaining more market share because we keep producing more fun. It wasn’t an option in Poul’s day, which created the stagnant market because impressing a small oligopoly of editors in a niche field was the only way to get published. Now, anyone can put out a good product if they work hard. The gates are torn down. And it’s making them more desperate.

It’s interesting to look back and see this interview as a warning of what was to come, however. Industry vets like Anderson knew there were problems coming, but didn’t see how far it would regress the industry and the culture. While the fight now may seem hard and overwhelming, it’s going to take a generation to right the course, and it’s our duty to do so. I recommend reading the full interview because it presents a pretty interesting historical picture of the market. Interesting food for thought.

If you like my blog content, and love fun fiction like Poul Anderson used to write, you’ll probably enjoy the content of my Patreon. I try to entertain first, and I write to my readers who support me, because I want you to have fun. Join us and get in on some excellent content and keep this culture train rolling! 

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Richard Fox’s The Ember War: Comic Adaptation!

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Yesterday, Castalia House made a big announcement,  which is going to make a much bigger splash in the entertainment world than a lot of people might realize. I’ve signed with their new comic imprint to adapt Richard Fox’s bestselling military science fiction novel The Ember War into a graphic novel. Fox is one of the biggest science fiction authors in the field right now, including having won the Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction last year.

The Ember War itself is a masterpiece of military science fiction. When I first read the book I immediately messaged Fox with, “Wow, this reads just like a movie.” And it does. It’s fast paced sci-fi action with an incredibly epic plot and memorable characters. If I were in Hollywood, I’d be optioning this for a film immediately. It’s really that good.

I’m not in Hollywood, but I am in comics.

Vox Day and I have been talking about Alt-Hero, brainstorming for our co-written work in the universe for the last couple of months, and as he’s ramped up his new comic publishing house Arkhaven Comics, he was looking for additional content to keep the ball rolling while they’re building up the brand. Both being huge military science fiction fans, we started talking what genre books would be the best to adapt over several conversations. Between Vox and I, we have access to a lot of the greats, and you’d be very surprised as to some of the books we could get the license to and were in our discussions. But The Ember War kept coming up in those conversations as one of the best, and being so hot in the modern market, it made a lot of sense to pursue adapting this book in comic form.

We both contacted Richard Fox independently, and he was about as gracious as possible with the idea of his world being turned into comics. We’ve had several great conversations about a lot of things he’d like to see, and questions I’ve had to make sure we create the most faithful adaptation possible.

I’ve actually had the news for a couple of weeks, all the while I’ve been working on diligently on rereading the novel and starting on the script. You might have seen my social media posts about my “super secret comic project”. This is it. My paper copy of the Ember War is dog-eared in more than a hundred places, highlighted all over the place, I’ve pulled direct lines and descriptions from it. We’ve also got all the descriptions for the physical appearances of the main characters done, which Richard Fox worked on with me. It’s been a lot of work so far but it will be well worth it!

Right now issue 1 is on track to be written script-wise this week. We have a phenomenal artist who’s one of the best in the industry lined up for this, who has also worked on a lot of books you’ll probably recognize. I can’t wait for that to be announced. And it will be soon. His work is absolutely beautiful and will be great on this series.

As Castalia House mentioned in their announcement, this book will break down into 5 issues, about perfect for graphic novel form. We expect to have the first issue ready to go by summer, and barring any timing issues on the art front, the full graphic novel complete by the end of the year.

For now, you can if you want to get in depth with the universe. Or if you’re new to me, check out my book, For Steam And Country. 

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I’m In Good Company

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It turns out I was wrong in saying WorldCon  made an unprecedented  move in banning someone over politics. It has happened — one time before. Today on the blog we’re going to take you all the way back to 1939, where WorldCon was, like in this year, all too proud of blackballing someone over their dangerous visionary ideas for science fiction. A reader wrote to me:

The Futurians were kicked out of the first Worldcon because organizers feared that they would distribute communist propaganda. The group included a number of luminaries including Asimov and Pohl.

Because  of their fear of not Asimov hurting anyone  (no one fears me hurting anyone by the evidence of how I’ve conducted myself at dozens of conventions in the past) — but spreading political ideas that they found too dangerous for the times  — WorldCon banned Isaac Asimov.

The implication is clear. The elites in science fiction believe I have the potential to be the next Asimov. They want to ensure I’m deplatformed as much as possible because they fear the influence I’ll have politically to change their stodgy, outdated culture, which would change science fiction into something that’s thriving and fun. In the process, they’d lose their control over the kinds of stories that are published.

Am I  the Isaac Asimov of modern science fiction?  I’ll be churning out books as fast as I can, and more and more people will read me not only because my book are great — but because of the science fiction elite’s  blacklisting, McCarthy-style actions. But pro-tip: if it  didn’t work in 1939, it won’t work in the internet age where I can speak freely. You might not see it because your echo chamber gets smaller, but my influence only grows. They should just treat me with basic human dignity, it’s all I ever asked.

Interestingly enough, a LOT of people are t asking about nominating my “Gravity Of The Game” novella for the Hugo Award this year, because it is great classic-style sci-fi that you may have seen when Asimov and Heinlein were at their primes. You should check it out and support the cause on your ballot! 

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An Open Letter to Worldcon GoH Spider Robinson

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Dear Spider,

My name is Jon Del Arroz. I’ve been a big fan of yours since I was in high school (which is about 20 years ago now) and one of the reasons I was so excited to go to worldcon was that you were going to be attending. I made a video about how excited I was to see you and how your work has been a big influence on me.

I’m the type of fan that collects everything once I find something I love — I’ve got a leatherbound version of Stardance and everything else you’ve ever released. More than once or twice I’ve dreamt of having my own Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon where I could go hang with people in love and peace, work through our worries and come out stronger together as humans.

Unfortunately WorldCon 76 will not be that place.  

In an unprecedented move, Worldcon pre-banned me, an action they haven’t taken since 1964 with Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile. Unlike Walter, I’m no criminal, just a family man and professional in the field. I’m an outspoken conservative and Christian, which sets me in the “other, not human” category for some people in science fiction writing, and I’ve been a target of a hate campaign because of my worldviews since coming on the scene. It’s about the opposite of what I imagined a loving, tolerant group would be.

I’ve been given no information to why I’m banned other than I “intend to violate the code of conduct” which I’ve stated several times I don’t. As a popular writer in the field, it seems a move solely based on hate and discrimination of people like me. I wish we could all get along despite differences like in Callahan’s, but it appears some in our world aren’t ready for that.

I don’t want to put you in a tough place. I’m not asking you to boycott the con or do anything to them. But as such a long time fan, and as a professional writer inspired by you, I am hoping to meet you and shake your hand while you’re here in my hometown. I know you don’t get out here all that often and I want to thank you for every way you’ve inspired me.

I propose grabbing a coffee, or perhaps a meal outside the con just to chat. Heck, we could even do a little street busking and play some of the Running, Jumping, Standing Still album I know you’re fond of (and because of you I’m fond of it too!). Whatever sounds good by you, but I don’t want to lose the chance to meet my hero because some people are afraid of someone who has different ideas than them.

Please let me know. I’m fairly easy to contact, and a lot of people have my email.

If you know Spider Robinson — please make sure he sees this! The chance to meet him is extremely important to me personally and professionally. Thanks everyone, and Spider– thank you for your positive influence on the field. I’ve learned so much from you and enjoyed so many beautiful stories. I hope others can too.


Jon Del Arroz

I don’t know that I’ll ever be as good a writer as Spider Robinson, but most people are really enjoying my book For Steam And Country. Check it out, you might like it too

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Music Is Mindset

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Something I’ve wanted to post about for a bit in terms of general “successful mindset”, is about music. It’s no secret that I’m quite into bubbly pop music, especially that of the legendary Taylor Swift. I take a bit of flack about it from my fans and readers, most of whom seem to listen to harder rock or heavy metal from what I’ve seen, which is totally fine. But there’s actually a method to the music I listen to, and I’ve made a change, very intentionally, on what music I play on a regular basis.

There’s a lot of studies done about music and how it impacts your moods and mental faculties. I was big into darker, artistic rock like Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins and the like in the 90s and early 2000s, and over time, I noticed that I’d find myself in sluggish, unproductive moods far more often than I am today.

It’s because music impacts your mindset.

I’d been aware of the moods that music can put me into — and the entertainment industry is aware of this too, it’s why music is so prevalent in every film and TV show. Those dramatic moments, a lot of the time, instill the emotions they do in you because of the music. But I loved the art. These guys produced crazy good music, despite it being dark, angry, depressed or bitter. It took a lot for me to want to change to something I saw as more sophomoric and trite.

My mindset on this changed in September, when I read a study that came out that showed that listening to HAPPY music in particular, stimulates the area of the brain for creativity. Now I’m in a creative profession in writing science fiction. It’s my job to be creative and have my brain working at full creative output, and to be able to produce it on command. I don’t have time to be tired, to be depressed, or to let anything else get in the way of that.

So I made a commitment at that point to listen to happy music. I changed what I listen to to be almost exclusively symphonic music, Christian music, certain TV/Film background music (like My Hero Academia’s music… wow talk about epic and high energy!), rave and dance music, stuff designed to get you happy and pumped up.

It’s made a difference in my life. I don’t spend many days in the doldrums unless I have a cold or the flu anymore. Happy music has made me happy, and it’s made me more able to produce. It’s part of why I’m so productive.

Try it for yourself, and see how it goes.

And in the meantime, if you like happiness, read my book, For Steam And Country. It’s a great coming of age story that will leave you thrilled and full of wonder for a beautiful steampunk fantasy world.

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