Monday, September 26, 2011


How lucky we are! SF author Robert Appleton is here today with the next installment of his five part series AND this is the release day for his newest book, Sparks in the Cosmic Dust from Carina Press!


Or Thru the Black Hole

iPod fully charged. Check. Assorted Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Holst and other cosmic composers set to continuous play. Check. Phone off. Check. John Carter of Mars & Dejah Thoris and Luke & Yoda posters nicely lit on the wall. Check. Sisyphean mindset in place. Um, check. Genius in place. I wish. Ideas racing at light speed. CHECK-CHECK-CHECK...

It’s hard to describe the moment-to-moment process of actually writing the book without sounding pretty insane. Sure, I’m using the craft I’ve learned painstakingly over years of storytelling. I can describe to you the structure and the characters and the worldbuilding and how to create tension and emotion. But what I can’t tell you is exactly how I combine all those, moment to moment, to spin the threads uniquely mine.

Without coming across as too goofy, I will say that while anyone with a competent grasp of language can learn the nuts and bolts required to write a novel, you have to take it far beyond that. Not that I’ve mastered this gig yet—I don’t think you ever really do—but what makes a strong piece of storytelling stand out from the crowd is, for me, something that can’t be taught. It’s the moment to moment intuition, the descriptive flights of fancy, the feel for tension and emotion in a given scenario, the insights into human behaviour you’ve picked up over a lifetime. You don’t know for sure they’re going to work on the page but you trust your instincts anyway.

Writing is generating those sparks in cosmic dust and using them to light your way.

You can’t be that intense all the time, of course. Knowing when to step off the gas is just as important in novel writing. You don’t want to exhaust the reader. And the best way to ensure that is to keep the writing smooth and natural: pacing is another intuitive skill, probably the easiest one to get wrong when you’re wrapped up in the grammar mechanics and the plot points and the million other factors jostling for your attention. There comes a point where you have to just glide and let your instincts take over, otherwise you’d be agonising for a year over each chapter.

The hardest scenes for me to write in Sparks in Cosmic Dust were those with group dialogue. It’s like acting all the parts in a play on your own, and each character has to have a unique voice while also driving the story forward. I’m at my best with one on one dialogue—I like generating friction in the backs and forths—but in a five-strong group, it’s harder to settle into a groove. It’s also hard to give each character equal weight. While it’s often necessary to focus on one or two in the scene, you have to at least consider the others’ POV, even if they’re not speaking.

The easiest chapters were, strangely enough, the action scenes. There are quite a few in Sparks, especially in the second half. But I’ve found from past experience that my action scenes flow much better if I write them in one go. The ebb and flow requires continuity, and any time I have to stop-start, I lose that momentum. One extended chase/fight scene ending on the beach of Zopyrus I had to spread over two chapters, but I made sure I got the whole thing done in two days. It also had an emotional climax, which may have ultimately worked better because I was so exhausted. The desperation the characters felt mirrored my own.

I outlined thirty-odd chapters before I wrote Sparks, giving a paragraph for each chapter. That’s always the most critical part of novel writing for me in that the story arcs have to work in condensed form before I even think about embarking on the journey into the black hole. Chapters evolve as I write, but for the most part that initial outline is close to the end product.

It took me three months to write Sparks, and another one to edit it before submission. That’s a pretty quick turnaround, especially the latter part. I think the confidence gained from having written four previous novels allowed me to loosen up and trust my intuition this time. The result is my most ambitious and probably my most consistent SF book yet.

Today is launch day for Sparks in Cosmic Dust! Woohoo! To celebrate, I’m posting a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to book launch. I'm also giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with a special Sparks giveaway. The winners will be all announced on September 30th on my own blog:

Here’s where you can find the other installments:

Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 2: Character (Sep 13)—Mercurial Times (my blog)
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 5: Publication (Sep 28)—Carina Press Blog

With this fourth installment, I’m giving away one set of The Eleven Hour Fall trilogy ebooks. To enter, either leave a comment here on Cathy’s blog or send me an email at with SPARKS GIVEAWAY FOUR in the subject line. Don’t forget to give your name.

Good luck!

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At 3:22 AM, Blogger Robert Appleton said...

Thanks so much for the invite, Cathy! Rulebreaker was one of my fave SF reads this year. It feels great to finally be able to share Sparks with the world.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Cathy in AK said...

Thanks, Robert : )

It's great to have you here. I can't wait to read Sparks. Congrats!

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Jessa Slade said...

"Writing is generating those sparks in cosmic dust and using them to light your way."

I love this line. For me, it takes a lot of energy to get those atoms excited to a higher level :)

Congrats on the new book!

At 2:14 AM, Blogger Robert Appleton said...

Thanks, Jessa. I know what you mean about energy levels--it's exhausting to keep up that momentum.

H. Rider Haggard said he wrote "She" in just a few weeks, in what he called "white heat", a state of constant inspiration.

For the rest of us mortals, it's the odd glimmer now and then.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger felinewyvern said...

"Writing is generating those sparks in cosmic dust and using them to light your way."

This is so profound and I'm glad you use those sparks to light up a reader's life with your excellent writing.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Robert Appleton said...

Here are the five winners in my ‘Writing a SF Novel’ contests. A huge thank you to everyone who entered. I hope you enjoyed reading about Sparks in Cosmic Dust. It’s available to buy now in either ebook or audiobook format.

Without further ado, congratulations go to:

Part One: Nels Wadycki
Part Two: Ilona Fenton
Part Three: Cathy Pegau
Part Four: Jessa Slade
Part Five: Natalie Damschroder

I’ve already contacted the first three. Jessa and Natalie, please email me at and I’ll send you your prizes right away.

Robert Appleton


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