The Tandemstar project

Just about a year ago, I had an idea for something bigger.

At the time, the sixth book of the Immortal series, Immortal: Last Call didn’t yet exist. (Although I had begun writing it.) I knew it was going to end up being the final book for Adam, if not forever then for a while.

Understand that for essentially my entire career as a novelist, there was always another Immortal book due at some point, whether it was a novella or a full novel. Book one of the series (Immortal) was originally written way back in 2004, got rewritten a couple of times, shelved for a few years while I focused on screenwriting, and finally got published in 2010…and republished in 2012 with another publisher, and republished again when I reclaimed the rights, in 2016. Meanwhile, between 2012 and 2018, books two through five in the novel series, plus six novellas were also published.

So I’ve never had a time in my career where I couldn’t say “well, I guess I should work on the next Immortal book, now that I’ve finished [other completed project].” However, I thought I’d taken Adam as far as I could, and neither of us wanted to overstay our welcome.

What I was facing, just about a year ago, was a hole in my plans that I needed a series to fill. I’d just agreed to terms for the sale of a standalone novel called The Apocalypse Seven to JJA Books/HMH, but the time-frame for book release in traditional publishing is vastly different than it is in self-publishing; it wasn’t a gap-filler, it was the thing that created the gap. (The publication date for The Apocalypse Seven is May 25, 2021. Again, I wrote and sold it in 2019.)

I had other storylines I could pick up. I’d already written a second book for Corrigan Bain, with Fixer Redux, which I released just before writing The Apocalypse Seven. A third book for him isn’t out of the question. Likewise, I’d love to write a new book for Annie Collins (after The Spaceship Next Door and The Frequency of Aliens) but the idea for it hasn’t showed up yet. The real problem with both of these options, though, is that they don’t have the same kind of legs the Immortal series had.

Leading up to this big idea I had, just about a year ago, was the following realization:

  • Traditional publishing is better at standalone books than self-publishing is
  • Self-publishing is better at series books than traditional publishing is

Something I’ve learned, both in my own career and in observing other careers from a distance, is that rapidly releasing series books is a very effective way to make a living at this writing thing. Regardless of how one defines “rapid”, traditional publishing just isn’t built to do it.

It’s also simply easier to promote and advertise multiple books at once when they’re all interconnected…which is leads to why self-published standalone books are harder to promote. Book two in a series will help promote book one, and book three will help promote books one and two, and so on. But there is no book two with a standalone. It gets promoted once, when it’s released, and then it sinks or swims.

But that’s why traditional publishing works better for standalones. “Promoted once when it’s released, and then it sinks or swims” is essentially the business model.

So, to recap: I needed a series, it had to be a new series, and it had to fill the gap between when Immortal: Last Call was going to be released, and when The Apocalypse Seven was going to be released.

Building a world from the ground up

I decided on a proper sci-fi series, and when I say “proper” I have to explain that every other series I’ve written to this point was an accident. Immortal was meant to be one book that turned into three, before I planned out books 4-6 as a continuous story. Fixer was never intended to have a sequel. Neither was The Spaceship Next Door. (Unfiction wasn’t either, but it remains a standalone.)

What I wanted to do was to build my own world, and then write a bunch of books in that world. But I’d never tried anything like that before. It would need some actual planning, and a real plot outline. But that outline would have to be sufficiently vague to leave me room to work. (I can’t write to a strict outline.) I’d have to develop a story bible.

I still came about things a little differently, because I started creating the world before I had any idea what kind of story I’d be telling in that world. In other words, the story bible preceded the plot it would be serving, and in fact the plot came out of the work I put into the bible.

I started working on it—just about a year ago—at the Patreon site I created for exactly this purpose.

The Outcast Cycle

The really fun thing about trying something like this is that it’s impossible to know where tiny, seemingly unimportant details will end up leading. For instance, I decided as I went that this planet would be slightly smaller than Earth, and would orbit twin suns. (Hence: Tandemstar.) With two suns at the center, it made sense for the planet to have a longer orbital period, which led to a longer year. “Slightly smaller than Earth” meant (in my way of thinking) that it spun a little faster, and so the day would be shorter.

Then I had to work out what that meant. In a separate entry I wrote that a single day on Dib (the name of the planet is either Dib or Dibble, depending on who you’re talking to) was—in Earth time—19 hours, 27 minutes, and 8 seconds.

I literally made this up on the spot, because it sounded pretty good. But then I had to do a lot of math to work out how long a year was in both Earth time and Dib time.

Once I had the number of Dib days in a Dib year, I broke the year up into sixteen months and discovered that to make it all work I would need one month to have an extra day every year, and one month to have an extra day once every four years. (except for the thirty-third time; then it isn’t added.) Then I decided it would be cool if people born on that leap day were considered cursed. Or, outcasts.

Then I thought it would be interesting if the main characters in each interconnected book in the series was an “outcast” in their own society in some way. And, wouldn’t it be cool if the major religion on the planet had its own version of the devil, and that devil was called the Outcast.

From all of that, I had the architecture of the story I wanted to tell, and I had a title for the first of the Tandemstar series: The Outcast Cycle.

Book One

While working on the Tandemstar story bible on Patreon, I also wrote Immortal: Last Call, to formally clear the deck on that series. I was then free to work on the first book in the Tandemstar series, which I began in February of 2020 and finished, oh, about six weeks ago.

It’s called Two Suns at Sunset, and I’ve probably buried the lede by a lot here, but I will have more to say about it—and about the entire Tandemstar concept—as we get closer to release.

The release date is September 8th, 2020, but the ebook is available for preordering right now. You can also read more about the series on the series page.

Here’s the long-form description of the book:

Welcome to Dib!

Dib is an Earthlike planet, only slightly smaller, with shorter days and longer years, in orbit around twin suns.

On the continent of Geo, in the city of Velon in the nation of Inimata, a man lies dead in his study.

The Murdered Monk

In life, Professor Orno Linus was a world-class scholar: an astrophysicist, a dead-language linguist, and an expert in (and apparent true believer of) the religious concept of the Cull, i.e., the end of the world. Widely respected, nothing about Linus’s expertise suggests somebody might want him dead.

Professor Linus is also Brother Linus, a high-ranking member of an ancient, powerful religious organization known as the House. This makes his murder much more complicated, but no more explicable, because murder on House grounds just doesn’t happen. Not even when one of the last things the victim did was steal something important from the House vault.

Finally, Orno is also the younger brother of Calcut Linus, one of the most powerful and criminally dangerous people on the planet. Killing any Linus means incurring the wrath of a man for whom laws very rarely apply.

In short, Professor Orno Linus is a highly unlikely murder victim.

And yet, somebody killed him.

The Cursed Detective

Detective Makk Stidgeon already knows he’s unlucky. He’s a cholem: an outcast. A bad-luck charm. He was born this way, and has the brand on his wrist to prove it.

But in terms of bad luck, the gods have really gone overboard by sticking him with the Linus case.

Between a House leadership that seems more interested in retrieving their stolen artifact than in solving the murder of one of their own, the demands of the murderous Calcut Linus, a new partner who seems to know more than she’s telling, and an omnipresent news media constantly looking for an angle on the biggest story of the year, Makk barely has time to just follow the clues.

And that’s before an impossible video surfaces that purports to reveal the killer’s identity. What makes it impossible? The person in the video couldn’t have possibly done it.

To get to the bottom of the Orno’s murder, Makk will have to navigate between the House and the Linus family, find the source of the video, and figure out what’s missing from the House vault. Even if he can pull all that off, he may discover he’s not at the end of a mystery at all, but at the beginning of a much larger one.

Tandemstar: The Outcast Cycle. The journey begins here.

What’s next

I’ll have more to say in the coming days about the audio edition, because that’s going to be something different. Short version: I have a publisher for it, and they want to release the audiobook on the same day as the other editions, which is why the release date isn’t until September. (The long version is that they’re kind of a big deal. More on this later.)

Meanwhile, I’m filling up the time by working on book two. As of this writing, I’m about 20,000 words into the first draft. I’m hoping to have it and book three finished and ready to go out the door by March of 2021.

Why March? I’ll come back around to that later on too.

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