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Lessons after two weeks of The Blue Beacon
I feel immense gratitude to be underway. Here's a recap and what's on my mind.
We’re two weeks in! How’s everyone feeling? What do you think about this world?
First, let’s explore what we’ve discovered in The Blue Beacon’s first two weeks, shall we?
In the first week, we met the main characters: Arrick, Bajo, Eola, and Ophir. We learned they’re caring animals who like to eat and live in a mostly peaceful place. At least two of them are decent at fighting. We learned they’re headed to Bridge City.
In the second week, we learned more about our characters and Cascadia through the Wells, a town center in the Southwest Hills, and the first detailed walkthrough of this civilization set in post-human Portland. We learned the mammals are finding ways to thrive. We also learned there’s conflict looming.
If this is all new to you, click here and start reading:
Thank you for coming along on the journey so far! There are so many more fun scenes and surprises still ahead, and the pace will be picking up. I hope you’ll stick around and join us if you haven’t already! Just click this button to do so.
I’m feeling: curiosity; gratitude; trepidation; focus. I figured I’d share what I’m learning after two weeks of serializing a novel.
We get by with a little help from our friends
I’m so grateful for you! Having readers provide their eagle eyes is a massive, incalculable help. Your comments, insight, and financial support mean the world to me, and I hope to make you proud.
I was asked a few times how much criticism is allowed, and, with the caveat that I’m a (fairly sensitive) human being, I also know I’m only the designer in this process and The Blue Beacon is now for all readers. This story should be as tightly-structured and coherent as possible.
To that end, every single comment and note I read over the last two weeks was both extremely welcome and more than gently put. Feel free to unload, because I definitely felt some unrest at chapter length (more on that later) and with art (also more later). This story isn’t perfect yet, so every note made complete sense.
I’ll add here that not all changes will be implemented immediately. I’m focused on getting the rest of the chapters ready to go, but please know this manuscript improves every day and your comments are absolutely crucial to the refining process.
Challenges in AI art
Speaking of refining processes, there’s an ongoing dialogue around AI art which struck home over the holidays because it included spirited debates at multiple family gatherings (including between Lana and I) about automation and caring for artists. Here are some points I’d like to make:
AI art is revolutionary and every artist is wrestling with ethics right now.
None of the art I’m posting would be here without AI. Free-use photos would be mediocre, at most, and this book is not ready for an illustrator, even if I hope it someday is. What I can include, for now, is evocative concept art created by a brand-new digital assistant who whips up the landscapes and portraits I’m asking for.
The thing with AI art is it’s not as easy as it seems. While the task is less handiwork and more about description and selection, quality AI images still take considerable time to craft. Like, not in relation to real oil painting or anything, but my point is any medium takes practice to master, and I’m still an amateur.
Precision is also an issue. Like, the image at the top of this page is cool and gets the mood of the books, but it’s also not the same as other Blue Beacons I’ve shared. One of my favorite patches of feedback regarded the Myrtle Creek Bridge in the prologue, which was worn and overgrown with moss in the text, and mostly clean and clear in the image. A few smart readers reached out about this and they’re absolutely right, this dissonance is an issue. Precision and consistence of style are difficult to pin down on this new frontier, but I’m hearing younger readers especially enjoy the images, so I’ll endeavor to make them as accurate as possible. I’m super-stoked about a few upcoming images.
AI writing is a lot more frightening for me than AI art, so I can’t fault any artist for anxiety over their medium shifting. Yet after some consideration, and gleaning the opinions of other artists & writers (particularly muralist David Burke and design director Alyssa Walker), my conclusion is AI art is a revolutionary tool for creators and, for now anyway, I’m very optimistic about the new horizons.
One of my friends and longtime writing compatriots, Terrell Garrett, is fast becoming a legend in serialized publishing over at Royal Road. We talked before I started this project and he suggested consistent chapter length with online publishing.
This cut against the grain of my predominating thoughts on chapter length, which are: Write the sort of chapters you like to read. When I read books, I like short chapters! They flow easier than long ones, and can turn into page-turners simply because you turn more pages!
But with serialized publishing, the rhythm is different. Consistency and value are prized more, and my sense is a 6-10 minute read is around ideal. Lesson learned. Longer chapters will be standard in The Blue Beacon from here on out.
Other reader expectations
Something else I learned lately is everyone reads different. Some folks like to sit down in a chair with a whole book and some listen to stories while doing chores. Some are internet readers and some aren’t. My plan is for The Blue Beacon to eventually reach every type of reader. For now, the story is only serializing here on Substack.
There’s currently an option listen to each chapter through the Substack app, but it’s an AI voice reading the story. Mom told me this the other day and played me some and I can’t recommend the experience yet. The voice sounds alright, but it’s wrong about a bunch of words!
In any case, I’ll get around to recording my own versions soon, but my point for now is that I’m, as my friend John Blase described himself the other day, “one who believes books find you when you need them, at the right time.”
In other words, there are a trillion billion stories in the world and I’ll trust you to get around to this one when your life allows. The book for me, right now, is The Blue Beacon, and it’s time to work on future chapters.
Speaking of future chapters, next week will bring action & thrills, so stick around and keep helping me along! It’s an honor to write for you, my friends.