At long last, the writing and subsequent digital publishing of my “little” samurai novel is complete. The first words were typed while I was on a break from teaching a special education class in El Segundo, California, and the final words were written in an uncomfortable high chair in a Starbucks that was attached to Marriot in Sacremento, California. That is somewhat symbolic for me, as there were as many words written away from home as at home; my life has been in a state of upheaval for some time, but I still got the work done.
Muramasa was definitely the most challenging work I have completed thus far, and not just because I was away from home so much. Unlike my earlier true fantasy novels, Muramasa was historical fiction of sorts, and that required hours of research. I made a lot of decisions and took a lot of new paths with this book, with some panning out and some being less successful. Overall, I count it a success. This is because I:
1. Finished a book. This is always a big deal.
2. Devised a means of achieving my vision of monetized content that is free to end users. I even made a small amount of money from the serialization.
3. Expanded my writing, research, and web coding skills because of necessity.
4. Got myself motivated to build a new, better website that will deliver my vision with more efficiency and with better aesthetics.
I had originally planned to limit the narrative to 90,000 words, but as of right now, it has clocked in at just over 116,000, which means I was more than 25% over my pre-determined word budget. If you are not a writer, you may be wondering what word count really means. The short answer is that it is a more objective means on determining length than pages, which can vary the amount of words and sentences on each page depending on how the type is set. Typically, each thousand words is equal to three or four pages of a trade paperback. My book is currently 460 pages long when it was originally intended to be 360 – quite an overrun.
Word count is also important because traditional publication tends to impose some limits, especially for new authors. Most first books are in the 90-100 thousand word range, which means mine as it is might not have a big chance at publication (though this is technically my third book). Those extra 100 pages cost money to typeset and print, and publishers rightfully want to limit the risk of investment on new authors.
Now, I didn’t happen to publish this book traditionally; I published it digitally using my serial update model (a business and writing model I am still working on and hoping to make successful), but it is nice to have options for reaching a wider audience. Many people like to read books in long sittings, not a few pages at a time, and I would like to have more options for that market than waiting for the entire serial run of a book, then having to read the whole thing on a computer or phone.
Making that happen might be difficult considering what I want to do with revisions.
One of the flaws of the first run of the book, looking back, is in how little we see of the prime evil, Ryunosuke. I wanted to have more scenes with him in it, but I cannot have him continually interacting with Yoshio without blood. Ideally, I want to make more interludes like those that lead into act 4 and 5, so that the tension with the main conflict feels more omnipresent and ramps up more continuously to the end.
I want to bring some of the intrigue of act 5 into earlier sections of the book, thereby reducing some of the hectic feel of the final chapters and creating more long-lasting and fulfilling expectations for the reader. I want the reader to have a better idea of who Asano, Furukawa, Ashikaga, and Shiba Masaki are prior to the arrival in Osaka. This can be a low-bloat addition, as most of it can be done through additional dialogue and not new scenes.
Although I find the process of making a sword profoundly interesting, I wonder if it is in fact that way to others. When I look to cutting unnecessary material, act 4 and much of act 2-3 might end up being superfluous. If I can make good cuts, I may be able to add in more of the villain and political intrigue earlier in the book.
Expecially with Sengo Muramasa, the original character did not become what was written. Sometimes characters surprise you, and Muramasa, the namesake of the book, certainly did. I originally wanted him to be unbalanced, dangerous, and slightly evil, but he ended up feeling much better as an impolite man who alternated between self-lament and grim humor. Likewise I want to make Amaya’s intentions early in the book more consistent with her later actions, and I want to make Emi just a bit more substantial.
Sex and Sexual tension
I noticed that I was hyping up the sex tension between Amaya and Yoshio a little early and the momentum seemed to be leading to a different place from where the sex happened. I’d like to iron that out a bit, making appropriate moves and cuts. Likewise, I pulled back quite a bit with the sex scenes themselves, since too much erotic content could cause google to make my site adults only, preventing me from running ads. Moving to an independent web host will illuminate this problem in the future.
Serial Fiction: is there a market?
The true marketability of serial fiction is something I have yet to determine. I know that shorter content released serially has flourished with other forms, namely comics and videos, but I still don’t know if fiction has that capacity. Most people who read books tend to read in longer stints, either quickly or slowly working their way through a completed work at their own pace. Releasing things one day at a time might be frustrating to traditional readers. Then again, it might be possible to capture some of them. I also hope that I might be able to capture readers who typically don’t read this way, who prefer to read things every day like the newspaper. Perhaps, even, I could capture those who don’t usually read books at all.
Either way, I’ve enjoyed serializing this last book. Even if the serialization doesn’t make me a ton of money, it enforces a work schedule that is guaranteed to produce outcomes in the form of completed books. I can then do whatever I like with these after the serial run, including pursuing traditional publication.
If you have stopped by the site along the way, I would like to personally thank you for taking a chance on Muramasa. Not everybody is willing to take a chance and dump some time into reading the work of an unknown. My wife, as always, was my most constant reader, so I foresee many dedications to her in the future in addition to deep thanks.
Though he is long dead, I suppose I should also thank Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, whose wood-block prints provided many images used for individual posts and promotion of the book. You can find the most complete cataloging of his work over at yoshitoshi.net.
If you are reading this and would like to take a look at the book proper, please check my Muramasa page for a complete digital table of contents, that will take you to all the relevant pages and provide you with a dramatis personae for reference.