When a bomb explodes in the bustling Commonwealth capital city of Salaam, responsibility is quickly claimed by an extremist independence movement. But after a former comrade, an ex-spy with his own agenda, is implicated in the attack, Simon Kovalic and his team of covert operatives are tasked with untangling the threads of a dangerous plot that could have implications on a galactic scale. And the deeper Kovalic digs, the more he’ll uncover a maze of secrets, lies, and deception that may force even the most seasoned spy to question his own loyalties.
It’s hard for me to believe that the arrival of The Nova Incident means that I’ve got four—four!—published books under my belt. The teenage me who dreamt of being a professional author would be in awe—well, let’s be honest, they’re a teenager, so they would probably roll their eyes and ask about where the movie adaptation is. Hopefully they would, at the very least, offer me a grudging high five for achieving this lifelong goal.
But despite having now repeated this accomplishment enough times to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, I still feel less like a master of the craft and more like a journeyman with plenty left to learn.
That’s not necessarily bad, though. Because every time you write a novel—or bake a loaf of bread or swear as you try to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture—you do learn something new. Which is good, because who wants to stop learning things? There’s enough time for that when you’re dead.
With that in mind, here are just five things that I picked up during the course of writing The Nova Incident.
How to change my writing routines
I started writing The Nova Incident in the summer of 2020 and for those able to pierce the dark fog that suffuses everyday life and cast your mind back to that point you might remember it as, oh, the first year of the pandemic that’s still gripping the world today.
The pandemic necessitated changes for all of us, and my writing habit was no exception. I’d been accustomed to working each morning at one of my local coffee shops, getting some words down on the page before being sucked into the morass of my day job. Having a separate place to do writing got me into the right zone, letting me wall that off from the other encroachments on my daily life. But during 2020, that wasn’t really an option; instead, I was essentially stuck in my one bedroom apartment.
And that’s how I learned not to be precious about my writing habits. I thought I’d needed the mindless hubbub of a coffee shop to work, but I learned to substitute the chatter of my neighbors through the open window. I thought I’d needed the walk to the cafe to clear my head and focus on my writing for the day, but I was able to recreate it with a ritual of brewing tea and sitting down in the comfy chair in my living room. I created a new space in which to do my work and you know what? It ended up being just as fertile for me as being out of the house: a reminder that the key to writing isn’t the right tools or the right places—it’s you.
How to build a story from the inside out
Every novel comes about in a different way. I tend to write chronologically, starting at the first chapter and sequentially pounding out words until the bitter end has been reached. And while I largely followed that pattern for Nova, I ended up having a lot more pieces in the middle of the story that I wanted to focus on, which sometimes necessitated figuring out ways to link them all together into a coherent plot.
So the trick became figuring out the necessary connective tissue between those moments—not just because you need your characters to get from point A to point B, but because you need those moments to feel like they’re not just about getting from point A to point B.
Instead of seeing those as a burden, I viewed it as an opportunity to invest in character and sub-plot. Having two characters engaged a revealing or heartfelt conversation can be just as intense as a bomb going off or a dogfight in space. Plus, you can’t just have action scene after action scene: people need a chance to breathe. It’s one thing to write a potboiler, it’s quite another to have your readers pass out from lack of oxygen.
How to leave ’em wanting more
When writing previous books in the Galactic Cold War series, I must confess: I engaged in some Machiavellian shenanigans. Yes, I left certain plot threads unresolved or planted seeds for future developments (more on which in a second), but The Nova Incident was the first time that I conceived of an ending that was intended as (don’t gasp) a cliffhanger.
Don’t panic! That’s not to say that I leave the main plot of the book hanging—I’ve always intended each novel in the series to be readable on its own, even if it is couched in a larger world, so I responsibly wrap up the Nova‘s story…I just add a little extra. Think of it like a post-credit scene hinting at what might come in the future. (Assuming enough people read and like this book to merit future installments! Always a risk in this publishing world of ours.)
How to resurrect plot threads
Speaking of those hanging threads, I’ve hit the point in the series where I get to indulge myself by bringing back characters, plot points, and other elements from earlier books. This, to me, is the real fun of writing a series: you’re not necessarily just telling a story a particular chain of events, but building out a whole world—or, in this case, a galaxy—full of all those things. Just like in real life, sometimes unexpected old acquaintances have a way of popping up when you least expect it.
One of my favorite things in TV shows is supporting characters who show up every now and again. Think Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Alice Morgan in Luther. The appearance of those characters always signals a certain kind of story being told (not to mention being so dynamic that they have a way of monopolizing the screen) and so them popping up when it’s a particular kind of episode just makes sense. Having a deep bench to pull from is a luxury as a writer; I can only hope it’s as rewarding to readers.
How to have fun
One of the risks when you transition from writing as a hobby to writing as a job is that some of the joy gets siphoned out of it. That’s just the way of the world: I could be a paid pizza taster or watch TV for a living and sooner or later, it’d feel more like an obligation than something I do for fun. Even too much pizza can be rough, though I’m willing to give it a go if anybody knows an opening.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t inject some enjoyment back into it. That’s one of the things I aimed to do with The Nova Incident: reminding myself to have some fun and tell a story that I wanted to tell, rather than trying to create something that would satisfy every possible reader out there.
Did I succeed? Well, I definitely had fun writing the book, so hell yeah I succeeded. But is the book fun to read? You’ll have to be the one to tell me—but the only way to know is to order a copy post-haste.
Dan Moren: Website