Dan Moren: Five Things I Learned Writing The Bayern Agenda

A new Cold War threatens the galaxy, in this fast-paced and wisecracking thriller of spies and subterfuge.

Simon Kovalic, top intelligence operative for the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, is on the frontline of the burgeoning Cold War with the aggressive Illyrican Empire. He barely escapes his latest mission with a broken arm, and vital intel which points to the Imperium cozying up to the Bayern Corporation: a planet-sized bank. There’s no time to waste, but with Kovalic out of action, his undercover team is handed over to his ex-wife, Lt Commander Natalie Taylor. When Kovalic’s boss is tipped off that the Imperium are ready and waiting, it’s up to the wounded spy to rescue his team and complete the mission before they’re all caught and executed.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

Writers, especially novelists, think big. Big ideas, big plots, big ambitions. Hell, we’re often trying to cobble together a whole universe using nothing but our brains as a sort of pan-galactic spackle.

I love big sprawling stories, but when thinking big, it’s easy to get carried away, sketching out the entire epic seven-volume series before even a single book has been sold. Publishing is a tough gig, and I’ve learned the hard way that no battle plan survives contact with reality. So as tempting as it is to just pick up where my last story left off, I’ve realized that I need to pace myself, and tell stories that stand on their own two legs.

While I don’t want to get into all the gory details, you might notice I’ve got two books set in the same universe but from different publishers. That’s no coincidence and if you catch me at the bar at Emerald City Comic-Con or Worldcon, I may weave the whole wacky and wondrous tale for you. But each book stands firmly on its own and I learned that approaching The Bayern Agenda not as a sequel, but as a self-contained story, definitely helped me make it the best book it could be.

Continuity is the worst

When you write the first book in a universe, the sky is the limit. You want this character to have a tragic backstory? Bam. Done. Wanna pull a whole planet right out of where the sun don’t shine? No problem. Sure, when you’re editing later, you might need to check that you didn’t say Dirk Strongjaw’s eyes were piercingly blue on page 12 and then liquid chocolate on page 237, but that’s why god invented the Find command.

But now you’ve got two books, and suddenly your creative freedom has bounds. Things are established. There is…continuity. And let me tell you, you’re lucky if you even remember you’ve already written a book, much less what was in it. So when you’re trying to recall if you’ve already used a certain name or previously described a solar system, well, you better have a copy of that first book at your fingertips to check. Because a good copy editor may catch these things, but there’s no guarantee. Honestly, nobody will ever be as invested as you are.

In writing another book in the same universe, it was fascinating to discover just how bad my memory is for the very people, places, and ideas that I myself had created. Me, who could once relate the name and backstory of any alien in the Mos Eisley cantina!

Huh. I guess that’s probably what’s using up all the room in my brain. Curse you, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

Leveling up

Getting that first book out there isn’t easy, but it comes with a sense of accomplishment. You have set yourself this goal—this singular task that most people never achieve!—and you have put a stake in it, vampire-slayer style. But with a second book come the dreaded expectations. You’ve established a bar you must meet and, hopefully, vault over without face-planting.

I’m not going to pretend that my writing automatically leveled up after my first book came out. It was not as though a Greater Writing Spirit tapped me on the head with their wand and bestowed upon me enough XP to make me a Level 4 Wordsmith.

That said, it’s pretty hard to put a 100,000-word work out there in the world without learning something. When I first started trying to write novels, I’d invariably give up in frustration around 10,000 words. But having already summited Mount Deathcrag, it’s clear that there is a way to the top, and this time I know that all it takes to get past the slavering wyverns is tossing them some raw steaks and giving them a scratch under the chin.

Don’t make the same mistakes (make new ones)

You know what’s a little humiliating? When somebody—let’s say, totally hypothetically, the audiobook narrator of your first novel—points out that you made a basic math error at a critical juncture in the book. Turns out dividing and multiplying aren’t the same! Who knew? (Look, I have a degree in English, not in dividing, okay?)

Of course, that meant when my second book rolled around I checked my math much more carefully. (Which means that somebody will find a math error in 4…2…1…) But, by the law of “only so many spoons”, it also means that I probably screwed up somewhere else, my gaffe lying wait like so much unexploded ordnance.

But, by the same token, each subsequent book is an opportunity to improve your game, to right your wrongs. For example, one of the things I regretted about my first book was not featuring a more diverse cast of characters. This is a story set in the future, after all, and the future belongs to everybody. The importance of representation was not something I had given much conscious thought to ten years ago when I was drafting what would become my first book, but by the time it came out, it was hard not to see where I’d fallen short. I can’t change that book now, but I can aim to do better with each successive story I tell, starting with The Bayern Agenda.

Gimme a break

I’ve wanted to do nothing but tell stories since I was old enough to write down words. Actually getting a chance to do so? It comes with its fair share of pressure, from deadlines to reviews, but the worst of it comes from my own head: Do I really deserve to be here? Am I any good at this whatsoever?

It’s easy to let these insidious thoughts turn into self-doubt that stymies any sort of productive work. For me, the biggest mistake was trying to break through with brute force, dragging the words out one by one, like chiseling them from stone.

So, perhaps the most important lesson I learned from writing my second book was that it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Play some video games. Anything, really, that’s not writing. Because sometimes when something on the page isn’t working it’s not a problem that your conscious mind can solve, and all staring at the screen is going to do is make you spiral further into feeling like you’re failing. Just like when you work out, sometimes you need to rest that big old brain muscle before you start exercising it again. It’s all part of the process.

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Dan Moren is the author of the sci-fi espionage thrillers The Bayern Agenda and The Caledonian Gambit. By day, he works as a freelance writer, hosts technology podcasts Clockwise and The Rebound, and talks pop culture on The Incomparable podcast network. By night, he fights crime while dressed as a bat. He could use some sleep.

Dan Moren: Website | Twitter

The Bayern Agenda: Amazon | iBooks | Indiebound