Despite taking on more hours and responsibility at the day job, I'm somehow ahead of schedule with my writing plans.
Beta response to the novel has been positive so far, and I've got some great notes to work with once I start the final draft in March. I pretty much have the big picture stuff working as intended. Now it's a matter of tweaking the details and adding more polish. All of the polish.
Over a week ago, I completed and polished the short story I wanted to have done at the end of this month. Like all of the short stories I want to work on this year, it's set in the same world as the novel. This one takes place a good decade or two before the events of the novel starts. Readers won't need to be familiar with the novel to enjoy it, but those who have read the book will recognize the primary location.
If that comes off vague, it's because I'm confident enough in this story that I actually entered it into a contest, so I'm scrubbing out any identifying features beyond "fantasy story". I won't hear anything on that front until summer. To keep myself distracted for the rest of the month, I have two more story seeds to work with.
The first one has finally entered the sprout stage after nearly two years. This one showcases the kingdom of Mequis (Elestyne and Kortesh's country of origin) at least three centuries before the events of the novel. It's the story of the king that devised one of Kortesh's favorite longsword forms. It's a huge tone shift from both the novel and the story I entered in the contest. As a result, it's presenting some interesting craft challenges.
For one, the bulk of the conflict is philosophical rather than life or death. I'm not sure anyone's going to die or be in mortal peril at any point. Two, even though I envisioned this as no longer than 8,000 words, that's going to be really hard to accomplish when I have no less than 7 characters with distinct voices and opinions. Even though I have the overall shape of the thing worked out in my head, I'm shelfing it for now until I can figure out how to stop it from becoming a mosh pit of ego clashes and talking heads.
It also made me think about branding, IE, what I want people to expect when they see something with my name on it. For example, if I give the impression that my work will always be stuffed to the gills with gritty fight scenes, when they pick up a bloodless, low stakes, almost comedy of manners story, they might go:
In the middle of pondering this, I was, at long last, hit with some inspiration I've been waiting for. My second story.
The Hawk In Paris has a song called Birds on a Wire that I've been obsessed with ever since I first heard it. I knew that someday I wanted to write a story fueled by its breathless, desperate pace and agonized lyrics. I didn't know what form it would take, be it short, novel, or something in between. I didn't who the characters would be. Even the setting and genre were fuzzy. Well, when the lightbulb moment struck, I felt like a fool for taking this long. This story gives some insight on a major character in the novel's sequel...aaand of course, it's about doomed love. I don't think a category romance will ever be part of my repertoire, but I eat betrayals, unrequited love, and tragedies with my morning cereal. Length is still uncertain, somewhere between a 6,000 word short and 17,500 word novelette. I'll just have to let things unfold and go from there.
So, I guess my answer to all those branding questions was something along the lines of:
I can't make sword fights my calling card. It can't be any specific set of tropes, themes, and plots, even though some of them will feature more prominently than others. But the world my husband and I have developed is huge, and textured. There's a place for everyone in it, but not everyone is going to be interested in every place.
Every story will reveal something about the world and the people that live there, but is going to be perceived differently depending on the reader. The same story might be seen as necessary supplementary material to one, a forgettable aside to another, or the only thing worth reading in my whole damn catalog to yet another.
I can't please everyone, but I can experiment and push the limits of my craft while maintaining my own kind of consistency. I can write differently while still writing truthfully. While still being myself.
My world is my brand.