Today is the day! First Command is officially out!
As excited as I am about this, there are so many people I’d like to thank for all the help and encouragement in this project. I can’t express how grateful I am, first and foremost to my ever-supporting family. My amazing wife has been a never ending source of optimism. My children are a constant fountain of inspiration and wonder. My parents have believed in me from the beginning.
My local writing group, The Lethbridge Riverbottom Writers, have given me the confidence to move from “writer” to “published author.” Writing is such a solitary endeavor, it’s so great to have friends to share it with. Even over the pandemic, many of us have managed to keep in touch virtually. This group has helped me interact with so many other writers in Southern Alberta at so many different stages in their writing journeys, I’ve learned so much from those ahead of me.
I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) community for almost twenty years now, starting back up in Edmonton. I even took on a role as a Municipal Liaison for a few years, organizing local write-ins, and helping others turn their ideas into words.
Thank you to my professional friends and colleagues. Most of you know I write, and have always been encouraging. Not all writers are so lucky. My close personal friends have supported me even more so.
I’m grateful to my editor for helping me go through this book with a fine-toothed comb and turn it into a story that I am proud to put out into the world.
On the surface, writing is such a simple expression of art. You sit down, think of something cool, type out a bunch of words to describe it. But if you do it well, another person can experience those exact same thoughts as if that experience is real. What’s more this process can transcend time and space. Words written thousands of years ago can still be read and experienced today.
As First Command goes out into the world, I hope that it brings experiences of joy and excitement.
To an author, creating a book cover can be a surreal experience.
A story that until that point has been only words, enters a new medium. You get to see what your world looks like. And when you have another artist/designer do it, you get to see it through someone else’s eyes.
I commissioned the cover for First Command through MIBLART.
I started by explaining that the book was about a group of astronaut cadets who crash land on an alien world. The lead character, Cassi, is a 19-year-old cadet, who assumes a leadership roll as they battle pirates and aliens and struggle to find a way home. The designer presented an idea of Cassi in a futuristic suit holding her helmet aside. They wanted to set her against a background of alien terrain, and other planets or moons in the sky, with a wrecked spacecraft in the background.
We went through a couple of rounds of tweaks, and in the end this is the cover we’ve come up with…
I use a pseudonym for a couple of reasons. First, I have a day job as a scientist-clinician. Not only do I have clinical responsibilities for making sure that very precise doses of radiation are put into people, but have an academic appointment as an adjunct associate professor. I write scientific papers. I teach and mentor graduate students.
Now I don’t think anyone is going to confuse what I write about in the Alliance universe for real science, but I feel it’s important to keep those dimensions of my life separate. Fiction is where I go to relax, to play, to exercise creativity. Using a pseudonym helps to draw that line.
Secondly, I want to have a name that’s relatively easy to remember and spell. I’m proud of my real name, but it’s very close in spelling to another much more common name. So my real name is commonly misspelled. On the chance that someone hears about my writing and wants to look me up, I’d hate for a spelling error to get in the way of that.
At one point I though about changing my pen name to “Local Author.” At least I’d get my own section in most bookstores. But for some reason, I don’t see that unfolding as favorably as I might like.
Despite my best efforts Googling, there is apparently another Charles James author out there. So I’ve decided to go by “Charles K James.” One of the members of my writing group asked what the “K” stood for.
It always amazes me when I read about writers who can put out several books per year. Getting a book written, edited and out on the market is hard work, particularly when you have to balance family responsibilities, a demanding day job and keep all the other elements of your life in balance. One might think that during a pandemic, being forced into lockdowns with nowhere to go and not much else to do, a writer could be more prolific, but a lot of writer friends of mine are finding it quite the opposite. It takes a lot of mental energy to block out the real world and create something within a fictional one. Fighting off anxiety, having more (or in some cases much less) ‘alone time,’ spending more and more hours working online, not being able to blow off steam with friends… it can add up to a massive creative void.
And yet people are still producing great fiction. Here are a few ideas for my writer friends on how to to be more productive…
Setting SMART Writing Goals You’ve probably heard of SMART goals already, but I think when it comes to productivity, taking time at the “executive” level to establish what is you want to accomplish can make a world of difference. When it comes to setting writing goals, you want to make goals that are:
Specific Rather than “write a novel” which is vague, be more specific… complete a novel outline, complete a first draft manuscript, sent out 10 query letters, etc.
Measurable How will you measure your progress? How will you know when you’re finished? One great example of this is setting word count goals.
Attainable Given all the commitments you have in your life, is it reasonable for you to achieve this goal? Of course you can challenge yourself. But part of good adulting is learning to judge what’s reasonable.
Relevant It’s important to spend time thinking about the big-picture. Where do you want to be with your writing in five years? Are your immediate goals consistent with that?
Time-Constrained Time limits are important, even if they’re only self-imposed. When you don’t have a deadline, anything else that does have one will take priority over your goal, which makes it that much more challenging to complete.
Tell Other People About Your Goals Most people want to see other people around them achieve their goals. (One could argue that most great fiction is based on this single fact.) When you tell people what your goals are, you’re defining them in a concrete manner, and making a kind of commitment that at very least you’re likely to be asked about in the future. It also helps the people around you to understand where your priorities lie.
Find Some Writing Buddies As fun as writing is, it tends to be a solitary hobby. Having at least one other person you can talk to about your creative journey can help keep you inspired and accountable to your goals. Look for people who have similar goals and write in similar genres if possible. And making time for positive socialization is also a part of taking good care of yourself.
Write 100 Words First Something that really helps me during National Novel Writing Month is to write 100 words as soon as I sit down. Do that before you open an internet browser or check your email, or do any of those other pre-writing rituals. I know, for a lot of people those are important, but one thing that I’ve found is that often getting through that first 100 words can trigger those writing centres in your brain that it’s time to write. And then, even if you fall into a black hole of procrastination and end up with nothing else for the rest of the session, you at least put 100 words down.
Make Writing a Regular Habit When you have a regular writing period in your daily or weekly schedule it’s that much easier to tell other people that this is your writing time. You can defend it. You can organize (most) other responsibilities around it. And if inspiration doesn’t show up the moment you sit down and start working, you can at least have the satisfaction of looking up from your desk with a scowl when it tries to sneak in and say, “you’re late!”
Leave on a High Note Its always tempting to write through a scene and stop only when you get to a natural break. But consider stopping the middle of scene. Even in the middle of a sentence. That will make it easier to start again the next day because you’ll know what to write next.
Foster Resilience in Yourself This is one of those little tidbits that we all know on some level, but sometimes need to be reminded of. By taking care of yourself, I mean getting adequate sleep (and not replacing sleep with caffeine), exercise, and nutrition… on a regular and ongoing basis. It can almost seem counter-intuitive at first. Taking time to work out can cut into valuable writing time, but life is all about balance. The point is that when you’re as healthy and alert as you can be, that will help with all the executive *willpower* tasks that you need to exercise personal discipline and stay on track as you work.