ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Grunt Traitor Came Out Screaming - The Problem With Second Acts

GRUNT TRAITOR was born yesterday shortly after midnight. Weighing 7.8 ounces and running 432 pages, this brand new baby book came out screaming. Screaming because it was happy to be alive, but also screaming because it knew at once it needed to live up to it's older brother GRUNT LIFE and it was afraid it wouldn't be able.

This is my 26th literary child and I love this one as much as I loved the first. It's funny, though. I always feel my greatest achievement is writing the book. The publishing of it always seems so anticlimactic. But then someone comes along and comments on my baby and it makes me realize that it's no longer just my creation. It's been let loose in the world and now belongs to everyone. 

Grunt Traitor has a tough road to walk. It's the second book in a series. It's a sequel to a fan favorite - Grunt Life. While people might want to buy Grunt Traitor, they're hesitant. I get that. I feel the same way too and sometimes it seems too much effort to go back and read the first book. I mean, what if I buy it and don't like it?

For the author, a second book represents tremendous danger. The strength of sales of this second book are going to dictate what the publisher's plans are for the series and the author. Stale sales of a second book can easily cause a series to be cancelled, or no further contracts offered. 

So it's really up to the author to write a hell of a second book. In fact, the author really needs to have a plan. Let me explain, but first read Deborah J. Ross, who explains the middle book syndrome excellently.  

"Middle books present particular challenges that reflect whether they are truly the second of three parts or whether they are “the continuing adventures” of a successful-but-complete first book. A trilogy is like a three-act structure, only on steroids. The whole work gets fractal, if I’m using that term correctly. Overall, you have three books, but each book has a three-act or four-act architecture within it. And each scene has its own buildup and partial resolution of tension, etc."

 Not only must an author successfully create a three act arc over the space of three books, but the author must create one which continually captivates the readers. This overarching arc represents the cohesive tension the author creates to link each book. It's not just enough to have the second book be the continuing adventures of. Somehow the second book has to have an intrinsic value. It has to answer unanswered questions posed in the first book, but leave enough unanswered to allow for opportunities in the third book. Doing this without making the second book feel incomplete is tremendously difficult.

Thankfully, I knew this going into it. I'd done my homework. I knew that there were some great authors out there who'd had problems with second novels.

Working on the sequel to Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi said, “It felt like I was writing a sequel for a sequel’s sake, rather than because there was a story that felt immediate and necessary and that required the canvas of a multi-book series.”

So I had to have a plan. And I had one. You see, I'd failed in this before so I'd began formulating the plot for the second book even before I finished the first book. I think this was hugely important. Writing a sequel for a stand alone novel is too hard, because if the author is doing his or her job well, then all loose ends have been tied up. My job when writing the first book was to determine what loose ends to tie and which ones to leave alone. Too much and the reader feels cheated.

By planning the second book as I was writing the first, I gave myself an incredible head start. I was able to hit the literary landscape running, continuing the overarching three act arch of the trilogy, while also concentrating on the three act structure belonging to the second book. This is a mistake I made in my SEAL Team 666 trilogy from Thomas Dunne Books. Each of the three excellent books was a complete stand alone novel. I didn't have any overarching problem or situation. Think X-Files and Cancer Man. Even though Mulder and Scully would wrap up an investigation each episode,  there was always a bigger problem to solve-- a greater mystery.

In Grunt Life I established that there was an alien invasion. Not a big spoiler, but the aliens did invade and they kicked humanity's ass. In Grunt Traitor they are still kicking our ass. The thing is, though, we don't know who they are or why they've come. Not once was there a broadcast from the alien commander telling us why. It was as if we were ants and an intergalactic foot stomped on us-- which is how I think an alien invasion would take place, if we ever have one (fingers crossed it doesn't happen because I have plans).
Was I successful? I suppose you'll be the judge. Sales will be the footnote for my success or failure. I've had a tremendous outpouring of well wishes and people who said they bought copies. But will this be enough? 

Gosh, I hope so, because in this case I did everything right. Now it's up to the bookstores and salesmen and fans to hand sell my books by word of mouth.

The thing is, I'm read to write the third book -- Grunt Hero. Grunt Traitor wrapped up well, but there are still some unanswered questions. I'm hoping that the audience will hang around long enough to find it out, because I'm doing something that has never been done before and I want to hear the collective jaw-drops when everyone finally finds out.

To get your own copy of Grunt Traitor go to this link and choose your bookseller.


"Grunt Life was a major achievement in military SF! A real page-turner! This new chapter in the series is even better!" David Gerrold, Hugo and Nebular Award winner of The Martian Child

"Weston Ochse writes hard-nosed fiction with more grit and imagination than most authors could ever hope to muster. When he turns his skills to tales of the military, the words sing with the truth of personal experience." Christopher Golden, #1 New York Times bestselling author of SNOWBLIND

"Weston Ochse is the new voice of action science fiction." Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of CODE ZERO and FALL OF NIGHT

"Ochse writes with assurance and confidence, and that shines through in this superb military SF novel. Brutal, bloody, and brilliant." Tim Lebbon, award-winning author of Coldbrook

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