TJ Mott’s Writer – Video Overview

Hello, readers. If you’ve been following this blog, you know I released my custom software for writers as free and open source. I’m going to start a video tutorial series to cover some of the basics and help you get started. I just finished uploading the first video, which is a brief overview of the application’s features. Take a look here. (Also, it’s up to version 0.2.1.)

I don’t have much more to say right now. I’m still slowly making progress on my fourth science fiction novel, “Mercenary Ascent.” I’m also doing some work on a fantasy novel, but I’m not prepared to share much about it yet except that it involves black magic and grenade launchers. I came up with the premise while sick with a fever, reading some C.S. Lewis, and playing Quake: Champions…

TJ Mott’s Writer – Version 0.1.0 Release

Hello everyone,

Today I created the first public release of my own word processor, writing/publishing tool. This is a beta release, version 0.1.0, but I am currently able to use it for my writing tasks. This is a free, open-source application for Windows, and you can find out more here or download the installer at the project’s GitHub page. Here’s a direct link for the version 0.1.0 installer.

The actual word processing side is fairly basic since my needs are pretty simple. It’s based on Microsoft’s FlowDocument model, and I hooked up a few basic editing/formatting controls in the Ribbon at the top (half of them may not work since I don’t really use them…FYI). Nothing special to it; I mostly followed the online WPF RichTextBox samples and kept it pretty basic. Word has a billion times more features. Anyway, it does what I need, and it has the capability to export to a Word document which is what you’d submit when publishing. Here’s a screenshot from the opening scene of Rescue at Waverly:

But for me, the real power in this application is the way it organizes information, allowing you to easily move sections/chapters around without risk of copy-paste errors, as well as the Markdown document system used for creating notes and reference material. Here’s the main view, with some components partially expanded:

Some of the notes I’ve started to compile. Most of my notes are still kept in a personal Redmine website, but my plan is to host all these features within this application itself:

There’s a ticket tracker and file browser, but mine are currently empty so I have no meaningful screenshots to show. However, I’m using SQLite’s full-text search to search everything: titles, contents, notes, tickets, etc. Here’s a slightly-redacted screenshot of that:

And that’s really all I have to show for now. It’s free for download and use, so if you’re interested, go ahead and install it. If you find any issues, let me know.

Thanks,

TJ Mott

2020 Update – Promotions, Next Book, And Some Open-Source Software

Hi readers,

I just realized how long it’s been since I’ve made a blog entry. 2020 has obviously been a very crazy year and time really got away from me. I’m still quietly plugging away at things, so here’s an update on what I’ve been up to. In summary, I’m running a sale, been working on my fourth novel, wanted to share some cool new artwork from my artist, and I’ll be releasing my custom word processor as an open-source application sometime this year. Keep reading for the details!

On Sale!

I’m currently running promotions on the Kindle ebook versions of all my works. My first novel and two short stories are currently free, and the sequel novels are discounted to $0.99. If you’ve missed any of my works, now is a good time to head over to my Amazon author page and buy them! And if you have any science fiction-reading friends, please share and help me get news of this sale out there!

These items are free August 7 – 11:

And these items are discounted to $0.99 August 7 – 14:

As always, these are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can already read these for free.

Mercenary Ascent

I had hoped to have book 4 of my series, Mercenary Ascent, finished and released by now, however the COVID-19 shutdown has really affected my productivity in a bad way. My draft is roughly 50 – 60% complete at 78,000 words. There’s a lot going on and I’m aiming for a more epic plotline — the second half of the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles will be quite different from the first half. My artist, the talented David Johnson, sent me its cover art several months ago. More of my main characters now have faces. Can you identify them?

Mercenary Ascent front cover

You’ve certainly heard a few mentions of the Norma Empire in the first three books, although it was not a featured setting. However, it’ll be front-and-center for the final three books. David created a new back cover for the second half of the series, and I’m really impressed with how it turned out. This is the Imperial Citadel on Norma, the Emperor’s palace and the seat of government for the Empire. Enough said for now, I don’t want to spoil anything and you’ll just have to wait and read!

TJ Mott’s Writer

In a previous blog post, I showed off my custom word processor. It worked for me, but it was rather hacked-together, inconsistent in design, and the internal code was frankly quite embarrassing. I’ve been working on a new version with new features, a more consistent UI, and less-embarrassing code, and I plan to release this version as a free and open-source application (licensed under the 3-clause BSD license).

Besides basic word processing capabilities, this version includes full-text search, file containers, Word document template management, an integrated wiki-like repository using Markdown to store notes and plans, and a basic ticket tracker to help you prioritize your writing and editing tasks. Behind the scenes, it uses SQLite to store all its data which is much faster and more efficient than the XML file used in the older one. The XML file for my works was becoming quite large and unwieldy, causing performance problems since the entire file needed to be re-written to disk any time something changed. Plus the switch to a relational database allows me to add a lot more features and data where XML just wouldn’t have been an appropriate format for storage.

This new version runs on .NET Core 3.1. In theory, .NET Core is cross-platform and will work on Linux and MacOS, however the GUI is still based on WPF which is Windows-only. I followed a few guides to get .NET Core/WPF applications running on Linux via Wine, but they have not worked for me. I’ve considered switching the GUI framework to something like Qt to get this running on Linux (I’m more of a Linux user than a Windows user), however I rely heavily on the WPF FlowDocument type and I really don’t feel like porting all my work to something else at this time. No promises on whether I’ll ever achieve cross-platform support, but migrating from the .NET Framework to .NET Core is a step in the right direction.

The source code is available here: https://github.com/TjMott/TjMott.Writer. Please note this is in a prerelease state and is not terribly useful yet! Use at your own risk.

I’ve creatively titled this application “TJ Mott’s Writer”. This is a tool I’ve developed for my own use according to my own needs, but I hope someone in the writing community finds it useful. Stay tuned for more information.

Thanks for reading,
TJ

Surprise Release! Two Short Stories!

Good morning readers, today I just released two short stories that function as prequels to the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles. Early last week, Amazon emailed me about the Pen To Publish 2019 contest for short stories. I’ve always had some ideas on how to go back before Rescue at Waverly, but there’s just not enough there to fill out an entire novel. But short stories less than 10,000 words? That’s the perfect opportunity to examine some of the backstory of my two main characters!

So here they are, available on Amazon in ebook form for $0.99 each. If you ever wanted to see a young, naïve Thaddeus Marcell, or wondered how Amanda Poulsen became so angry and toughened, here you go.

Thaddeus Marcell: The Terran Engineer

Amanda Poulsen: The Hyberian Raider

I don’t plan to publish these as standalone paperbacks because they’re way too short for that. But I will add “The Terran Engineer” as a bonus section to the paperback edition of “Mercenary Ascent” and “The Hyberian Raider” to “Mercenary Justice,” so if you’re a paperback-only reader, you’ll have to be patient.

Enjoy!

On Having An Unlikable Character

The first three novels in The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles are finished, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. I’m making progress on the fourth entry, Mercenary Ascent, and thought I’d do a little mid-series analysis. Don’t worry, there are no serious spoilers here, though I do vaguely outline the future direction of the series.

Is Thad An Unlikable Main Character?

There’s one piece of criticism that I consistently receive on my first novel, Rescue at Waverly. Main character Thaddeus Marcell is an unlikable character.

I don’t let reader criticism work me up too much. Sometimes it’s valid, sometimes it isn’t, and I don’t set out to confront negative readers. But whenever I hear this one, my initial thought is, “Well, yeah, that’s the point! In that novel, Thad Marcell is supposed to be an unlikable character! Morally-speaking, the series starts with Thad at his lowest point.”

Making him unlikable was unexpected to some readers. And the book’s ending is also a bit sour, but I still think it was necessary for the overall story arc. However, when I hear that some readers never advance beyond the first book for these reasons, it tells me my execution could have been better. They see who Thad Marcell is at this early stage, and they think the rest of the series will be the same. If you don’t like the main character, why would you read the sequels? Maybe the first novel doesn’t adequately answer that question. I tried to address that by including a preview of Rebellion at Ailon, but was that enough?

In hindsight, I’d say my approach to Rescue at Waverly was experimental with mixed results. But it was also my first novel, and a writer’s first novel almost always stands out as different.

A New Beginning, Not a Baseline

Book 1 is just the starting point. It’s not meant to set the norms for its sequels, it’s there to bring about significant change. It establishes who Thad was, then it violently shakes him up and changes his status quo. He begins to change, and by the end of the series he’s a very different character. His plotline over these six books is more-or-less about redemption. If not redemption, at least transformation.

So it’s my intention for the reader to feel somewhat conflicted by him, at least during the first two books. There’s both good and bad in him. There’s satisfaction at seeing him change his ways and become a better person. But I also don’t let him get away with his old evils because that feels unjust, so there’s a thread of tragedy as a result of things he’s done–the worst of which occurs in the second book, Rebellion at Ailon. Yes, he’s changing into a better person, but his past will always haunt him.

A Sequence of Themes

If I intentionally started my hero as an unlikable character, where does he end? I think literary critics (and especially teachers) put way too much emphasis on themes in fiction and often read things the author never intended. I hesitate to go there because I’m just trying to write something entertaining and I don’t really have any serious theme or purpose to this. But if I look hard enough, I can see some themes in this series, and as the writer I guess I have final say in that matter.

This six-book arc can be broken up into three sections, each with two books that have a common theme. I think I can describe this without serious spoilers.

Books 1 and 2: Self-Awareness and Introspection

In the first two books, Rescue at Waverly and Rebellion at Ailon, Thad finally realizes that he cannot continue operating as he does. He must change his ways, and as the writer I’m incredibly hard on him to force this change. As a result, there really are no strong antagonists here because it’s all about inner conflict. Sure, he faces a variety of enemies, but the important thing is that Thad must overcome himself.

These two books are by far the most tragic in the series. But there’s some light in that you clearly see the beginnings of Thad’s transformation during the second book. The first book might make you hate him, but hopefully the second book makes you feel for him.

Books 3 and 4: Changes and Growth

In the second section, The Prince’s Revenge and Mercenary Ascent, Thad is clearly changing. His goals are different. His priorities are different. The way he runs his mercenary company is different. And there are lines he refuses to cross now. Many of his men have backgrounds as outlaws, pirates, and other nefarious types, and they’re starting to worry because their boss isn’t really one of them anymore!

There’s less introspection and inner conflict at this point. There’s no need for it anymore. Thad is overcoming himself, so I let the conflict turn outward. Now he faces powerful external antagonists, which is a stark contrast to the sequence of mishaps in the first novel and the mostly-faceless Avennian overlords of the second novel.

Books 5 and 6: A Hero with Honor and Integrity

Thad’s transformation is completed in the third section, Mercenary Justice and Conspiracy at Earth. I can’t say much about these two novels yet, not without spoiling the plotline, but at this point Thad is a very different person. If the Rescue at Waverly-era Thad is unstable, self-obsessed, and unlikable, willing to run over anyone or anything that gets between himself and his own selfish goals, the Conspiracy at Earth-era Thad is strong, reliable, and wields his power to do what’s right and help others. They’re practically two different characters!

As you can guess from Book 6’s title, this one involves finding Earth. Had the Rescue at Waverly-era Thad found Earth, it would have ended in disaster. He was too selfish and too much of a loose cannon. But the Conspiracy at Earth-era Thad is able to deal with the situation honorably. It just took six books to change him into the right person for that!

Lessons Learned: So What About Future Series?

The readers who quit after the first novel have a valid point about Thad Marcell being an unlikable main character. That was the story I came up with, and that was the story I wrote, and I don’t think I could have done it any differently without invalidating the entire series. But it’s an experiment I do not plan to repeat. The sequel series to The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, titled Secrets of Earth, is more straightforward. It follows a new main character on a wild adventure that serves to tie up loose ends I just wasn’t able to solve in the first series. I expect it to stand fairly well on its own, though a few details will be clearer if you also read the first series.

This time, I don’t expect the reader to feel as conflicted about the main character. He’s one of Thad Marcell’s sons, and he’s unambiguously a good guy, free of the dark past and baggage that weighs down his father. So despite the tragedies and battles in this story, it’s far easier to feel sympathetic towards the main characters and the tone is usually more lighthearted.

Conclusion

I guess my point is that if you read Rescue at Waverly and thought Thad Marcell was an unlikable, unredeemable character, this was intentional. Yes, the first two books are dark, but it gets better if you’re willing to keep reading. And if you don’t like The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, maybe you’ll like the upcoming Secrets of Earth because the tone and approach are very different.

And if not, that’s okay. As with any writer, my work isn’t for everyone. I write the story I want to write. Some people will like it and some will not. That decision rests with the reader, not me.

The Prince’s Revenge released!

The third novel in the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, The Prince’s Revenge, has been released in Kindle ebook and paperback editions! This entry brings back an old enemy, High Prince Saar, the absolute leader of the Tor Regency who, many years ago, hired Thad Marcell to protect his empire during the Tor-Dravon War. At the end of that war, Saar made a costly mistake, one that cost the lives of millions, and one that he blames Marcell for. Now, no price is too high and no collateral damage too great in Saar’s quest for vengeance, and Thad and his Organization must stop him before it’s too late.

The Prince’s Revenge Purchase Links

The Prince’s Revenge on Amazon.com – $2.99 Ebook and free for Kindle Unlimited

The Prince’s Revenge on Amazon.com – $11.99 paperback edition

The Prince's Revenge cover art

Closing in on “The Prince’s Revenge”

I just received my first paperback proof copy of the third entry in the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, The Prince’s Revenge. I need to do one final readthrough and editing pass (and fix up one short subplot that I think really falls flat on its face in its current form), and then I’ll finally release the Kindle ebook and paperback editions for sale over on Amazon.com.

It’s a big book–nearly 500 pages! Unfortunately, I need to raise the price of the paperback edition compared to previous entries due to printing costs. It will most likely cost $11.99. The Kindle ebook edition will be $2.99 just like the previous stories.

Some Trivia, and an Update on Book 3’s Progress

Trivia Time

I don’t want to let this blog go stale while I’m hard at work between releases, so I thought I’d explain a few background tidbits on stuff in my first two titles. It’s all trivia-level stuff, nothing I’d consider spoilers and nothing that’s too important in the final works, but perhaps interesting nonetheless. There are a lot of little details that have unusual origins or have changed in interesting ways. Sometimes those are fun to look at. Read ahead for some of this trivia, as well as a small update on my next work, The Prince’s Revenge.

Thaddeus Marcell’s Name

My main character, Thaddeus, is actually named after one of the Twelve Apostles, Judas Thaddaeus. I selected the name because I think of Thad as sort of a betrayer. He isn’t a betrayer of someone else, but a betrayer of himself, of his own ideals and morals. By the time of Rescue at Waverly, he’s become so obsessed with his search for Earth that he’s abandoned almost every moral value he’s ever held, and the entire purpose of that novel is to awaken him to that fact. But I didn’t want to outright call him Judas because that’s too obvious, so I chose Thaddeus instead, accidentally conflating Judas Thaddaeus with Judas Iscariot. Oops. Thaddeus also has the advantage of being a somewhat unusual and memorable name.

Despite my “mistake,” it worked out well for a different symbolic reason. According to Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic Church views Judas Thaddaeus as the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. I actually did not know that when I chose the name, but it fits my character very well, especially given the thread of tragedy weaved into his story.

As for his last name of Marcell, the truth is a bit silly. If you’re looking for symbolism here, too bad. For a long time he simply had no last name. At some point I decided I needed something and I just started looking around the room. I had a Marshall electric guitar amplifier sitting nearby, so I gave Thad the surname of “Marshall”. Later on, I corrupted the name into the similar word “Marcell” just for uniqueness’ sake.

Thad’s flagship was originally called Wolverine

Rescue at Waverly mostly takes place aboard Thad’s personal flagship, a frigate called the Caracal. Long ago, I’d decided to name his Blue Fleet warships after predators. Originally, this ship was titled the Wolverine, after the vicious bear-like animal that is far more dangerous than its small size suggests. I thought it was the perfect metaphor, given how Thad and his fleet of small-but-effective warships operated.

However, I took a very long time to draft and complete this novel. So long, in fact, that a whole bunch of X-Men movies were released during this time. Before then, I vaguely knew of Wolverine as a comic book superhero, but I never even considered the X-Men when naming this starship. And thanks to the movies, the word “wolverine” quickly lost its identity as anything apart from the X-Men. During final editing, I changed it so I wouldn’t distract my readers with unintended references to other franchises. I ended up studying lists of predators and stumbled into the caracal, sort of a funny-eared wildcat. It was an odd, memorable, and unique name, and all three of those are very important qualities when writing fiction.

Thad’s Alias’s Namesake

In Rebellion at Ailon, Thad operates under an alias, Chad Messier. This is because he was partially responsible for Ailon’s enslavement and he needed to remain anonymous while he was there. As an astronomy and physics nerd, I decided to call him Charles Messier, in honor of the famous French astronomer by that name. Later on, I changed his first name to Chad for the practical reason that it was very similar to Thad, making it easier for him to adjust to the alias.

Culper’s Spy Ring

In Rebellion at Ailon, there’s a member of the Ailon Rebel Council named Culper who controls the rebels’ intelligence networks. This was a not-so-subtle reference to the Culper Ring, although you might not know this unless you’ve done some serious study on the American Revolution.

Amanda Poulsen Was Originally a Throw-Away Character

In the earliest drafts of Rescue at Waverly, the Caracal‘s chief pilot and navigator, Lieutenant Amanda Poulsen, was just a minor throw-away character who wasn’t going to survive the book. But during my first rewrite of that book (a LOT of stuff changed after the first draft), I examined her brief appearances and decided she might be too interesting to kill off. I took a meaningless filler comment about the “Hyberian Raiders” and developed it into a mythos, re-wrote her into a survivor from that group, and then gave her a much larger role in the later drafts. (Incidentally, some readers have commented that she’s a bit like Honor Harrington. This is completely coincidental; I’ve never read anything from the “Honorverse”.)

As should be fairly obvious by Rebellion at Ailon, she’s now basically the second main character for this series. I use her point of view to provide insight into the more mercenary-like sections of Thad’s organization, since Thad himself is far more concerned with finding Earth than he is with personally fulfilling merc contracts.

The Norma Empire’s Namesake

I used to play a lot of “Elite: Dangerous”. In fact, I was among the first thousand players to make the journey to the center of the galaxy and visit the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. That was a huge (and perhaps wasteful) time commitment, and I spent a lot of time studying the game’s fairly-plausible map of our Milky Way galaxy. One of the regions I had to cross on that journey is called the Norma Arm. While wrapping up my first novel, I still didn’t have the setting figured out so I tentatively chose this region (although the Norma Empire only gets a few minor mentions in the first book). It’s far enough from Earth to practically be a different universe, yet close enough that well-prepared starships might be able to make the journey–if they’re lucky and have an extremely-dedicated crew.

But, truth be told, the story’s exact location in the galaxy is still an unresolved issue, so don’t take this section as definitive proof of anything regarding Earth’s location in my fiction. The Norma Arm’s distance from Earth (around 12,000 light-years at the closest) is probably a bit too far for the starships available in my world, even considering a few extenuating details that are Top Secret™ for now. But the location and distances are not really relevant until Book 6, so I have plenty of time to make a decision. In the end, the name might simply end up being a coincidence.

The Prince’s Revenge Status

Finally, I wanted to give a brief update on Book 3’s status. One of the great things about being self-published is that I can do things at my own pace. No external deadlines or pressure from publishing companies. Sometimes things really drag out, but sometimes they go faster than expected.

So far, I’ve scheduled one release per year. I released my first novel on January 1, 2018. Exactly one year later, I released the first sequel. I’ve hoped that my output would increase as I become more experienced and continue developing the series, and I think that’s starting to happen. It’s now early March, just two full months into my current project, titled The Prince’s Revenge, and my current draft is sitting at 55,000 words. I estimate that the final work will be around twice that length. (For comparison, Rescue at Waverly is roughly 90,000 words and Rebellion at Ailon is around 140,000.)

So, assuming I can keep the pace up and don’t need to do any major rewrites, it’s quite possible I’ll release this one well before the end of 2019. I’d love to step up to two releases per year, because I have quite a backlog of ideas I’d like to work on!

A Short Geography Lesson

I’m doing some planning and mapping while I detail out some parts for my upcoming third novel, The Prince’s Revenge, and part of that involves adding some areas to my map of the “galaxy”. I decided to share a terrible cell phone picture of the map and go over a couple points, just for fun. I used to work in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even though that was years ago, I’m still a map nerd.

A map of the Marcellian Universe (click to enlarge). Each grid cell represents 25 light-years.

So far, the majority of my work has taken place in the so-called Independent Regions. This is a large, lowly-populated area that’s all galactic “south” of the Norma Empire. Lots of tiny governments, single-star-system civilizations, and tons and tons of empty space. Plus Thad’s Headquarters asteroid.

If you’ve paid close attention, you’ve seen the Norma Empire mentioned multiple times in my work, but mostly as a background element that doesn’t seem too important. That will change as the series progresses. Basically, the Norma Empire is a huge confederation of Imperial States, each one led by a Duke who’s mostly an absolute monarch in his state but has pledged fealty to the Emperor at Norma in return for protection and stability and economic advantages. I mostly modeled it after the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval predecessor to Germany which, as the joke says, was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire. But the important fact is that Norma is the oldest, most highly-populated, most important, and most powerful civilization in my universe, and it occupies a huge chunk of the area of the “galaxy” civilized by mankind.

There are a few other star empires on the map. Some of them are unlabeled, just placeholders I’ll work on if I ever decide to visit that region of the “galaxy” in my works. Some are mentioned in the stories, and some are background details I worked up and haven’t used yet for whatever reason

I put galaxy in quotes because it’s kind of an overused term in science fiction, and it’s also not really that accurate in my work. Our Milky Way galaxy, in which my fiction takes place, is a disc-shaped region anywhere from 90,000 to 150,000 light-years in diameter depending on who you ask. But the region of civilizated space in my work (okay, I have no idea how I typo’d civilized into that, but I’m leaving it in because it made me laugh…) is at best less than 3,000 light-years wide, which means that mankind has visited very little of it. If the galaxy was the size of the Earth, then the characters and empires in my stories have barely left their house yet, and certainly haven’t crossed a street. And yet it’s still a huge volume of space that can take months to cross in hyperspace.

Well, that’s all for now. Just a minor geography lesson, for fun. (And before you start looking too closely, no, Earth is not marked on this map.)

“Rebellion at Ailon” officially released!

Today, I’m officially releasing my newest novel “Rebellion at Ailon” through Amazon.com! This is the second book of the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, and it follows Thad as he attempts to take a sabbatical from his mercenary organization yet ends up in a war anyway! You’ll also get a look at some other parts of his Organization, including the formation of a brand-new Blue Fleet squadron and the efforts of a pair of Gray Fleet spies in Imperial space. It all comes together in an epic battle for freedom at a world called Ailon!

Both of my titles are available on Amazon.com and Kindle Unlimited. You can also click “Look Inside” on the Amazon product page to read a preview. I’ve got some links below to get you started:

  1. “Rescue at Waverly”: Ebook edition ($2.99) and Paperback edition ($9.99)
  2. “Rebellion at Ailon”: Ebook edition ($2.99) and Paperback edition ($10.99)