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  • Gregory Benson

The final installment of the Tolagon series goes live August 1st!

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

At last! After two years, Song of the Laggorns is complete, and the release date is set. On August 1st, 2023, the final installment of the Tolagon series will be available to the public. Though I’ve enjoyed writing this adventurous tale and I will miss the characters, I yearn for the next chapter in my writings and have the start of a chilling horror story brewing in my head. But that’s for another day.

A bit of history first, the Tolagon series has been in the works in some form since late 2010. That’s when I decided to plunge into the world of writing science fiction. The plan – write something that would live on long past my departure from this plane of existence. Oh yeah, I had a lot of unstructured ideas floating around, but it wasn’t until I tapped the first few pages into my empty Word document that the story took shape. I mean, that’s obvious, right? That’s how it’s supposed to work. However, I had no writing background or clue what I was getting myself into, yet the story unfolded, filling blank page after page. This creative process went on and off for years until 180 thousand words later; I pecked the last word, and boom! I was finally finished. Something that was supposed to take a few months just took a few years, but it was indeed a masterpiece. It had to be. I took my time and poured my heart and soul into this, chiseling away in my limited spare time.

Now, who would be the first to read this culmination of madness? The collection of words from a delusional wannabe author. At the time, my then 12-year-old son, Luke, had recently finished reading the Maze Runner series and was more than willing to see what his father could muster on paper. After all, how bad could it be? I am the same cool guy that spent countless hours lining up Star Wars figures, Mag Warriors, and toy knights with him for epic battles, which of course, his side mostly won. The same dad that burned evenings with him in co-op and death matches of Team Fortress 2, Gears of War, Call of Duty, and Battlefront. Anything I churned out had to be fantastic. So, after printing the manuscript onto a ream of paper for him to read, I waited anxiously for his review. Within a few days, the master skimmer announced he finished. Damn, that was fast! So, what do you think? “Yeah, it was good.” He said.

With a lip pucker and a tilt of my head, I studied him for a moment. “So…it was good? What uh-um, what specifically was good about it?”

He casually shrugged while mainly focusing on whatever was going on inside his iPhone. “I liked the battles and Krath.”

I gave an affirming nod, “Excellent.” That’s all I needed to hear.

I then looked over at my wife, Dawn. “Are you ready to give it a read?” Her fictional readings mainly consisted of Dean Koontz and Frank Peretti novels when she traveled for various jobs. At this point, she had gotten away from reading consistently. However, I respected her input nonetheless.

“Sure, she replied.” So, I handed her the large stack of papers and waited. A few days later, she nervously handed the tussled stack back to me.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a long face. “I couldn’t get through it. I kept starting, stopping, and then starting over again. Then I was like, oh no.” She obviously felt terrible for having to deliver such news, knowing it would crush me.

“What?” I felt sucker punched. “I don’t understand. Please explain.”

“It’s just too much. Too hard to read. I can’t understand what’s going on. There’s so many species and names and technological things. I’m lost.” Her sad eyes told me everything. “I’m sorry, I tried.” I know she did, but it still sucks to hear this.

So, after getting enough feedback from her on what’s wrong with this manuscript, I shuffled back to my laptop and began wading into my mess with a different perspective. One that would try to see past myself as the author and creator of this complex universe and into the mind of a reader who does not understand any of this. My focus was tidying up the narrative so that there weren’t so many assumptions that the reader knew about all this. I was streamlining the content, so it wasn’t just a massive info dump out of the gates.

When I finally returned it to her for another attempt, I was excited yet empty. Ready to throw it in the trash if it were rejected again. Cut my losses and walk away. This time things were different. I still had to jump in to explain the scenes and characters, but she understood enough to proceed forward. Until one day, she came downstairs crying. I braced myself for impact. But the tears were not of despair or frustration but of an emotional reaction to the manuscript’s ending.

There began the journey which would keep me in the game for far longer than I ever anticipated. From this point, the two of us would take this giant brain dump and mold it into something legible and cohesive. Countless hours of lessons along the way. By 2016, I was ready to send it out to an editor, more importantly, someone that hasn’t had the story explained and scribbled on paper to clarify certain scenes and characters :cringe: I didn’t even know where to begin to find someone. Basic Google searches yielded some, and that would cost me thousands. I wasn’t ready for that kind of financial investment (yet). I need some outside assurances that this was more than a steaming pile of dog crap before I throw in large sums of hard-earned greenbacks. So, I found a source on Fiverr. This seemed like a reasonable place for someone in my position to start, and it was there that I found an editor to give my work a read-over and a detailed developmental and copy edit for around five hundred. Okay, I can swing that. Besides, I had to know if someone else likes this.

When the editor finished, her first words were, “Wow, I must truly say that I have become so immersed in your characters and their journeys. The work you have put into this is clearly evident. Your world building and ability to create worlds within worlds and make them rich in characters and back story reminds me of why I love reading Science Fiction. You have created a great cast of characters here.” Although she had many criticisms and suggestions, I hung on to those words for months. I remember driving into the office the next day, blasting the song Raise Your Horns by Amon Amarth, and feeling atop the world.

I followed the editor’s suggestions in the following months, cutting major sections out and moving others around. She also suggested that I cut it in two, which is how we ended up with The Queen Protocol. After making all the changes and dividing the manuscript into two and all the accompanying re-alignments required, I was ready to have someone fresh take another look.

At the time, we had a connection through my mom, who ran a small publishing business. So, I sent her copies of both manuscripts to read over. A week later, I received a call and her icy response. “It’s unpublishable” That was the first words. She only read through the first fifty pages, though I suspect she didn’t make it that far. She referred to the manuscripts as “drawer books.” She described these as discarded literary works so bad that they should never see the light of day, so you metaphorically shove them into some dark and dusty drawer and forget about them. As cold as she was over the phone, she was gracious enough to lay out the issues she noticed while I diligently took notes. I also asked her questions regarding the prospect of traditional publishing. To paraphrase her response, she said the terms would be I write under their timelines, promote my books, and they get the final say in all the finished works. They make most of the profits, and I make very little, but it would need to be my passion pushing me forward, as I'll never make much doing this. That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to go this route, at least not at this time.

After I hung up with her, I had a lot of self-reflection to do. One of the questions at the top of my mind, which would come back to haunt me repeatedly over the years, is – what am I doing? Why am I wasting time with this? It was a combination of my wife Dawn’s encouraging words and my stubborn tenacity that begged me to dust myself off and enter the fire again. After all, I already had too much effort poured into this endeavor to give up now.

I decided to focus my efforts on the first part, Tolagon, which at the time, I decided to give it a subtitle (Age of the Marcks). I didn’t choose that because it was cute or catchy (well, maybe a little). It was a line early in the story when Kerriah realized that Crix had little knowledge of things outside of Troika, and she tried to explain that the Marcks controlled everything. I later decided to remove this subtitle to simplify the overly cluttered cover, though I couldn’t do that on Amazon for the paperback due to their restrictions on published work. I’ll save that for another time.

Over the next year, Dawn and I went over Tolagon line by line together. We fought more during this time than I could ever recall. As the author, I’m sensitive to criticism of my work and want to defend every word. My favorite dismissal for her critiques and suggestions was that she just doesn’t read science fiction. Yes, I was sometimes a jerk, but she’s fantastic and endured my BS. We hammered through and finally reached a point where we were ready to send it out to some beta readers. I got lucky, and even though I had one flake out on me, I did find several good readers on Fiverr. Their responses were exactly what I needed at the time—in-depth constructive critiques and some very positive feedback. One even mentioned that he could see this made into a Netflix series. Wow! That was exciting to hear!

Now that I had made all the suggested changes from the beta readers, it was time to send the manuscript to an editor. This time I found one on Upwork. I needed Nadene, as she wasn’t trying to rewrite my story in her words. That made her my choice as editor, and she has been for the entire series.

We also decided to hire Damonza to do the cover art, which was one of our best decisions. I’ll never forget the tears from Dawn when she saw the characters illustrated on the cover for the first time. Seeing the personas and a small piece of this world in full color is emotionally pulling. You have invested so much in these characters, and they become part of you.

Now it’s late 2019, and in my mind, I needed to get this published. It had been nine years, and I required something to show for all the effort. Was it ready? Yes and no. Really just no, but I think, like many first-time authors and authors in general, you release your work only to find mistakes later. Then you embarrassingly correct those and scramble to get the updated copies out before anyone sees your mistakes. You must then purge your inventory in what we joke about here as “bad books.” We have boxes of them. They can never get into circulation.

I will leave this posting about the Tolagon journey here as part one. If you’re like me, you have a shorter attention span, and I likely lost some readers already, so I will save the rest of the tale for future posts, but I hope if you haven’t joined me on this journey that you’ll pick up a copy and dive in. Stay with me. When I wrote this, I intentionally wrote without reins, completely untethered. I wrote each book with the mindset of the type of story and pacing that I enjoy most in the books I’ve read. I prefer a deep cast, deep plots, and lots of action that doesn’t get bogged down by dry, long-winded dialogues that go on and on for pages. But the Tolagon series throws a lot at the reader. This is not the type of story you can multitask while reading or listening to. It’ll require you to fasten your seatbelt and hang on from start to finish. Otherwise, you’ll get left behind, and the train powers forward into the deepening complex world and characters.

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