This is mostly for my fellow authors, but you are very welcome to join the party and read about how a book comes to life. I am going to showcase Grave Affairs (yes, that is a link to Amazon, for I have finally decided on a release date. It is April 5, 2024. Please note Apple will be slow to the game because they are poorly coded and does not realize that April 5 is a year away.)
Grave Affairs began with a premade book cover. This premade book cover.
I saw it, I loved it, and I immediately purchased it. Not only did I immediately purchase it, I immediately began plotting and outlining what I would do with this beauty of a cover.
Answer: Dragons. Dragons were what I would do with this beauty of a cover. Why are there no dragons on the cover?
Because I said so is the only answer I have for you. The story has huge involvement of the dragons, but the story is about a character who has been accused of necromancy. She is not a necromancer.
When I saw the cover, I had several things in mind. 1: I wanted dragons to be involved. 2: I wanted a necromancy accusation and a society that hates necromancers 3: delicious murder mystery vibes.
Once I knew these three things, I drew a map of Dragon Heights, Wyoming, the location I have selected for the majority of the book.
I then built the lead character, Kirani Kinsley Ramons, who goes by the name of Kinsley. I have written out her heritage (because it’s important), her abilities (because it’s important), and other important tidbits that let me weave in foreshadowing and other delicious angsty drama things.
This process took me approximately two weeks, by the way.
Unfortunately for my sanity, I have misplaced the original journal with my notes for the world. It’s probably on my table, that’s being sorted, because I do a LOT of my brainstorming at the table. No matter!
Here is a photograph of one of the preliminary Dragon Heights maps. These Dragons are generally an orderly lot and like their straight lines.
We do not discuss what Death Mile is, why it takes up more than a mile of space, and why it’s in that specific location. Or why it just happens to be near the cemetery ward. Look, I can’t spell cemetery on a good day, okay? I’ll get around to correcting the spelling eventually.
This simply demonstrates that there are many moving pieces behind what becomes a book.
For me, the concept stage can happen in many ways. Sometimes, I see a cover that is simply perfect and I must have it and I must start writing the book immediately. Or plotting it immediately, with writing to begin as soon as I have enough of the foundational world pieces in place.
This is what happened with Grave Affairs.
Then the writing began as soon as I had a who, what, where, when, and why. I made notes about the little the character knows. Then I made notes about how the character might learn what she doesn’t know… then I made notes about what would happen if she doesn’t learn or if she does.
Chaos, refined. Chaos, defined… and chaos allowed to run free and corrected in edits.
I am writing this book on a Freewrite Traveler, as I work on it on my “off” time. It’s a play project, and I am not using any of my regular working hours on it until much later. (It will be my first 2024 project to be finished, with me doing any remnant writing in January/February and completing edits in March. I may be done the book by then, but I am giving myself two months for any remnant writing and a month for editorial.
Please note the following is completely unedited, there are mistakes and lots of them, and it will be subject to editorial changes.
The first writing session, I came up with this:
Friday, April 17, 2167
The Gray Ward
Dragon Heights, Wyoming
It took a rain of lemurs to finally convince me that moving to Dragon Heights, Wyoming had been a mistake. Last week, it had been toads, some of which could inconvenience those who didn’t take them seriously. I hadn’t minded the toads.
A pair of gloves and a little care had bagged me ten dollars per dead head, fifteen dollars per living croaker, and twenty for the endangered ones, living or dead. The head honchos preferred them alive, but the dead ones would make themselves useful in a lab for study.
I’d gotten fifty for one of my toads, a rather nasty little shit determined to eat the world. At six inches long, it hadn’t accomplished all that much, but it had tried to take my hand off at the wrist.
It had taken a rather amused titanium dragon to pry the blighter off, and I’d been observed for two hours to make certain I wouldn’t fall over dead on them.
My gloves, which went up to my elbows, had saved the day.
Gloves wouldn’t save me from the wretchedly adorable lemurs. Without fail, they’d dig their tiny claws into my soul and refuse to let go. Their oversized, imploring eyes would do me in.
Endangered species, like the lemurs, all went to the dragons for care, enrollment into their various conservatories and menageries, or were released back into the wild, depending on their origin. With the ongoing weekly trials to unlock draconic powers in the petitioners, it could go any which way.
Some lemurs might be real, translocated as a result of the power surge associated with draconic petitioners working their rituals. Some of the lemurs would be conjured, with the majority of them dissolving away to ash, goo, or smoke. The final few would be true creations, a new species brought to life through the determination of a petitioner wishing to rise through the ranks of the dragon-kin.
When a dragon-kin came calling as a petitioner, the dragons took care. Sometimes, they bit off more than they could chew.
For a rain of lemurs to fall on the Gray Ward, the dragons had either forgotten to contain the dragon-kin’s power or they’d gotten an unpleasant surprise. Or both.
For the most part, the dragons did try to avoid the unwanted surprises.
It cost them a fortune in weekly bounties.
Resigned to paying the remainder of my rent through bounty collection, I rummaged through my backpack for the canvas bag I kept just in case opportunity knocked. At the size of a large garbage bag, I’d be able to bag a bunch of the obviously dead lemurs for a decent check. I’d have to handle one injured animal at a time, a task destined to take up the rest of the day.
As I liked getting paid, I always made certain to keep Fridays free.
Just in case.
I put on my gloves and went to work, wondering what other insanity the rulers of Dragon Heights would inflict upon us in their quest to wake more of their kind.
I do not get to work on this book nearly as much as I want to, but I absolutely LOVE it, so it will be the first title I do of the “next” batch of publications. With Vampire of Montana completely out the door and Doggone Mess in editorial, I felt okay to plop Grave Affairs into the schedule.
Right now, I am committed to two novels following Kinsley and her adventures.
Which leads to the next stage of production: deciding to use a pen name.
Why a pen name?
1: The tone is a bit off-beat for my R.J. Blain stuff, as is the subject matter.
2: I COULD expand this to be a world-series, either with Kinsley as the lead character OR with other characters popping up
3: I’ve been sitting on this pen name for a long time and wish to use it.
4: It felt right putting this story into its own playground.
R.J. Blain has so much random stuff… and I didn’t want this book to get lost in the noise. It feels different. It writes in a different fashion. It’s just… different. Much like Dead Weight (G.P. Robbins), it possess something that doesn’t quite fit well with R.J. Blain. Obviously, it’s written by me (I do not and will not make use of ghostwriters; nothing against those who do ghostwriting, but my readers expect books to be written by ME. I do not buy outlines, I do not hire writers… I do not use AI. I do EVERYTHING except art and editorial myself.)
Yes, books I write have reoccurring themes. Yes, they have characters that are similar. I’ve written over 60 books, and I am but one human being. ALL of my favorite authors with numerous books like this all have this issue… it is because THEY wrote the books. That’s what I’m THERE for… I hope that’s what you’re here for, too.
If you want something “different”, I can recommend a slew of gloriously talented authors for your different vibes. I do what I can to keep things fresh, but ultimately… I am the writer/creator behind all of these titles, and there will be overlap.
I like writing genuinely good men and women doing the best they can in a world gone crazy. I don’t like abusive leads of either gender. I like snark, but a loving snark, not just some bitchy person trying to pretend they aren’t a bitch and calling it “humor.”
my form of different is trying out different storylines in new-to-me fashions.
I am not unique, I’m not even all that original. I just do my thing and hope you enjoy the ride.
(And, you know… paying the bills. I definitely like paying the bills.)
Fast forward through numerous months of writing on this in evenings or weekends. The book is currently 25,000 words long. I am expecting between 120,000 to 150,000 words, which is why I priced it at $7.99 out of the gate. ($6.99 is for 80,000 to 120,000 words.) Yes, I vary the price solely based on length, and I tend to be fairly strict about it, because there is $x amount of investment needed to get a book into production. Which… I’m going to talk about here!
Generally, at most, I can write 50,000 words a month unless I’m having a really good month. This is giving me weekends off and time in the evenings to do things I enjoy. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a slow writer. 200 words an hour is not uncommon for me. If I’m having a really good day, I can write 2,000 words in an hour, but they are words that require a LOT of editorial work. In the long-run, it all evens out. I spend an hour preparing 250-500 words on average. (This is if you merge the writing time AND the editorial time.)
This fits precisely into my “it takes me 300 hours to write a 100,000 word novel” figure. (It’s approximately 300-350 words an hour, which is a really strong estimate on how long it realistically takes me to write a book.)
Books over 120,000 words just take THAT much extra time to write, produce, and so on. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. (And we don’t get to eat the cookie crumbles. They’re just gone, which is sadness.)
My editorial process is a strange one. Depending on deadline crunch, I send the book to my editor in one of two ways: I edit and send in chunks while I’m writing, or I send her one massive file I’ve already done my personal edits on for her to cope with.
She sends the edits back, I implement her notes, and move to proofreading. I try to proofread 2-3 times before sending to my team of proofreaders.
Once I have done my proofreading runs, I upload the placeholders to the various vendors. Every time a new typo is discovered and it has been corrected, I upload to the vendors again, and again, and again, making sure the files are as clean as possible before the release date.
The process looks a bit like this:
1: Idea! Glorious day!
2: Deciding what to do with the idea, planning on writing the idea, conceptualizing the idea as much as possible.
3: Writing the idea, which is now a book!
4: Setting up a preorder so I can sell the idea to readers who want to read what I’m writing.
5: Editing the book
6: Uploading the edited book to vendors.
7: Publishing the book!
8: Pay the bills. Staff always get paid first, I am paid only if the book generated enough money to pay the staff. (Yes, this is stressful.)
I use the money from other books to pay my staff, because they get paid long before the book actually makes money. Here’s the breakdown of how money works in my field:
1: Idea! If cover was a premade and designed already, pay the cover designer for the rights to use the cover.
My covers typically cost between $500 to $1,000, and I’m generally not comfortable paying below $500 for cover art/art of any sort. (That designer or artist needs to eat, and I only pay them once…)
2: If no cover exists, I may write first to get a vibe, and then I hire the designer. Money goes away at this point.
3: Write book.
4: Preorder goes live. (I do not receive money at this stage).
5: Pay editor for editing the book here. $600-$1,000ish is not uncommon for my base editorial bill… per professional editor.
6: Get book ready for publication.
7: Release book! (nope… still not receiving money at this stage…)
8: 2-3 months after release, I am paid.
Oh, you want to know what the book is about? Here you go:
Following an accusation of being a necromancer with no way to prove her innocence, Detective Kirani Kinsley Ramons turns in her badge and flees to Dragon Heights, Wyoming for a fresh start.
In Miami, few understand the difference between a necromancer and the descendant of dragons.
In Dragon Heights, nobody cares.
With weekly rains of unusual composition, dragon-kin and human alike vying for the right to become the next dragon in town, and magic lurking around every turn, there is no better place for Kinsley to hide her skills and history.
But when the local brothel workers are attacked and the bodies of would-be dragons begin showing up with alarming frequency, Kinsley revisits her past and makes the painful decision to hunt the hunter for the sake of her neighbors and new friends.
With her trusty carbunclo kitten at her side, she delves into the dark world of dragons and the city they call home to catch those behind the attacks before they can strike again.
What she doesn’t know may awaken the sleeping beast, forever changing her destiny.
And now you know how Grave Affairs came to be.
If you got this far, ask me anything. I will compile all questions into a future post. Go to town. If I have recently answered the question in another post, I will answer your question by linking you to the appropriate post so you can read it.
I am loving it already 😍. New story pre-ordered. Do you have a list of what is available for pre-order?
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
Search box for 2023s official release schedule if you can’t get the link to work.Preorder list excluding Grave Affairs
Hi RJ, I’ve been intrigued by this story since you first mentioned it, so having a release date made my day!
The carbunclo kitten is new to me and I look forward to meeting yours.
And seeing the steps of your writing process was quite informative; thank you.
I read mostly for voice and character interactions, so once I find an author I enjoy I’m happy to explore all their pen names because they do share similarities. Fresh spins on previously written plots are always welcome.
What kitten???? And, I know you play DnD, but board games come up in a couple of your books (Claustrophic – Julian, Runaway – Thomas). Are these modern strategy board games? Do you play these too?
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
There is a kitten in Grave Affairs.
And all types? There are so many different board games, and I generally enjoy them. My husband’s favorite is currently Red Dragon Inn.
I do quite like me soem Unstable Unicorns, though…
So, I actually have 2 questions: 1). I don’t mean to offend, but I would be interested in a list of authors you think are similar to your style, wit and humor. In the 1.5 years or so since I read “Client from Hell”, I believe I’ve read everything of yours except for “Storm Without End” (sorry, but I have a hard time stomaching $300 for a paperback) and Pets in Space 7, which was stupid on my part. Anyway, I’m looking for other work while I wait for your new features to get written and delivered. 2) do you need volunteer proof readers?
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
1: I didn’t say similar to my style, I said gloriously talented. They aren’t similar to me in terms of style, wit, and humor. They’re different, that’s why I enjoy them! But I very much enjoy Ilona Andrews, Faith Hunter, Jeaniene Frost, Lyndsay Sands, and a slew of other authors. (I’d have to go through my kindle to get more names.)
Storm Without End and Storm Surge are being rewritten. The Patreons recently got Storm, and they’ll be getting Surge and Eye of God in upcoming months. The Monthly crew ($5+ tiers got it as a read along.) So, yeah. If you ever do want to read Storm, you’d have to join the monthly patreon and go through the archive for it. That’ll be the only way to get the original until I finish the rewrite, which will be in first person.
And yeah, I also don’t get a penny of that $300 because they’re used/out of print copies XD They’re just rare. There were only like maybe 50-60 of the original paperback printed.
Right now, I’m not looking to expand the proof reading team, but if someone drops from the team, I might take names/see if anyone is interested in helping out.
Groovy! Sounds fascinating.
I can’t wait for it to come out. Love a good mystery.
So, if Vampire of Montana is out the door, why does it still say pre-order? Or am I just missing some post-production steps? (By the way, take my money, please …)
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
It’s launch date is not changing just because I’ve finished everything. It’s just loaded into vendors and ready to rock and roll.
Hi, thank you for plotting out how you create your magic. I’m sorry if you feel you need to justify yourself for any reason (or maybe I am projecting so please ignore me).
I was wondering how you find good proofreaders? I am not creative enough to write but pedantic enough to proofread, I think, and wonder how to become one.
I have been proofreading since I was in elementary as my friend was a writer. I giggle when I find typos like “he woke her up by scratching behind her eyes” as I try to figure out if this is physically possible or an actual typo. (In university I had a teacher who wrote his own textbook and he hated me!) Until this website there was never an outlet for all the typos I find, so I was very happy to start submitting all that I find. The above has not made it onto the submission form yet. It’s a good thing that I own all digital versions of your books, as I have been obsessively rereading all of your titles. Keep up the happiness and I promise I won’t try to correct expressions or continuity errors! Much love to you and yours, and I look forward to many rains of unusual compositions!
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
And the reality is… I may not address something you decide to correct for a bazillion reasons. Sometimes that reason is “Huh, that was amusing, I’m leaving it.”
Books are not perfect, they will never be perfect, and people need to get over it.
And I’ve had plenty of readers who reported continuity errors. Turns out they missed a few important sentences here and there… Or they simply just did not understand something.
But yes, you can scratch behind someone’s eyes. The temple is alongside and behind the eye. In animals, it’s above and behind.
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
Also, there is the issue of regionalisms and author style; people view differing methods of writing and phrasing to be “mistakes” because it isn’t how THEY would do that. People fail to enjoy books when they decide that they are an authority on “finding mistakes.”
For the expressions, I guess it might be a regional thing. It just gives the book a funnier meaning for me when I read it how I know those two expressions vs. how you mean them. I didn’t mean to upset you, I love your writing and don’t expect perfection (read a book in school about being perfect and it sounded boring). I have just read your books so often that I notice a spelling mistake here and there. I will stop as I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate your writing.
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
Spelling mistakes happen, and I fix them as I find them. Amazon doesn’t like to give people updates on the fixes, so… you might end up on older copies. (Which happens often enough because I get error reports on Amazon that don’t even exist in the current version of the book, and Amazon isn’t bright enough to check the current version. Oy.)
But yeah, expressions are ALWAYS regional, and the age demographics matter. I’ve found that I enjoy books so much more when I stop trying to make books match my way of phrasing things. If I can’t enjoy the style. as written, I’ll go read a book I CAN enjoy. (But flat-out errors? If they’re every page, I’m out… but I only look at actual, confirmable errors. Like they’re instead of their.) Insidious errors? I will ignore those because they’re often SO hard to see. But the basics? Yeeep, annoys me into finding a new book to read if it’s common.
Once, I read a book that had an error like every 100-200 words, and it was so fascinating how someone could make THAT many mistakes trying to write a book without even bothering to try to fix them.
I read it in KU, it was absolutely a horrible book, and the plot and characters did not make up for the butchering of the English language. But it was an absolutely fascinating train wreck…
But no, I’m not upset from having the conversation. I DO wish readers would learn to actually LOVE books and stop getting bent out of shape over when things are written in a way they wouldn’t write them. That is aggravating.
A lot of these readers don’t act like they actually love books. Like… if I don’t enjoy the style, I just stop reading. XD
I NEVER use Amazon to report an error, I only use the tool on this site. Love, love, love your books! Kiki Enslaver of Humans also loves your books as we cuddle while I read them.