For those of us by our natures who are forced to figure things out as we go, there’s a part of the creation timeline I’ve come to refer to as the “Fits & Starts” stage, which is rather where I am now. In a short story it usually doesn’t last very long if the story is going to work. A book, if you’ll pardon the expression, is another story. It can last for chapters at at time and often does. If it lasts more than that, well, that’s a problem.
Fortunately for me, my characters usually sort that stuff out themselves, once I’ve got a handle on them and what they’re up to. Yet sometimes it seems that this “sorting out” happens when they insist on talking to each other for extended periods. Sometimes these are the sorts of conversations that the eventual readers needs to be in on from the start. Sometimes not. Or as one of Ursula Le Guin’s early editors of what became the Earthsea Trilogy is alleged to have said–“Ged is talking too much!” With all due respect to everyone involved, I think I know why.
I definitely know the time will come when, after the sorting out period and rough draft period, there will eventually come the rewrite period, and at least some of these fascinating (to me) conversations will have to end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Pity? No. Pitiless. When something once served the book but no longer does, “When it’s a drag on the flow, it has to go.” It’s our job to write it, and our job to cut it if and when the time comes when sections of the prose no longer serve the story. Chunks of any given book are completely necessary for us to write, and absolutely useless, nay counterproductive, for the reader to slog through. It’s sort of a paradox, but there are a lot of them in this process, so you just go with it.
As others have rightly observed, writing and then disposing of these chunks of superfluous wordage is not a very efficient way to go about the job of writing a book, and I heartily agree. I might find myself in envy of those people who can work all this out in a detailed outline before they even start. Then again, writing a hundred page outline of a three hundred page book doesn’t strike me as all that efficient either. Maybe writing is not supposed to be “efficient.” Maybe it’s just supposed to be done, and any way you can do it is the absolute best way there is.
I’ve been dropping annoyingly vague hints here and there, but now it’s all out in the open—I’ve apparently started a new fantasy series. I didn’t really plan to do it and I certainly didn’t think I was ready, but then I’m not always in charge. I know writers who strongly disagree with that perspective. “I’m in charge and my characters do what I say.” And that’s often true even with me, as in sometimes I am and sometimes they do. But for me it usually works out better when the characters do what they want and I just follow closely and mark it all down, then cut out the bit where they stared at the horizon for an hour just for the hell of it and add the bit where one of them tripped and fell into the icy stream. Just for the hell of it. Or maybe because they deserved it…ahem. Where was I?
Right, the new series. The first one, “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” is now up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #226. I’ve already written and sold the second one and started blocking scenes for the third. As I said, after Yamada I wanted to do some stand-alone stories, since some of my favorites of my own work have been books or stories with no befores or afters, except what was implied in the story itself. I once attempted a few befores and afters in the case of Jin from All the Gates of Hell, because I liked the character so much, but none of them worked out. She was done, and thus so was I.
Pan Bao and Jing were different. I’ve had them in my head for a while, wondering what they were about. I first had him pictured as a bumbling Taoist priest kept successful (and alive) by his far more competent daughter, and there are still echoes of that, but the man himself turned out to be quite different. Then Mei Li showed up, and well, that was that. So it’s a series. I hope you like it. If you don’t I’ll write it anyway.
You know all those “author bios” you see when you read a story or book and have something like this pop up at the end?
“Johnny Authorboy is the author of many novels, of which he is the author. He likes cats and chocolate, but not together. He lives somewhere in Wyoming, but he’s not sure where because the road isn’t marked.”
Or maybe: “Elizabeth Page-Turner is the author of the bestselling “Empirical Empress” series for Goshwow Books. In her spare time she collects celebrity belly-button lint.”
There’s something about a deadline that focuses the mind wonderfully. Even a self-imposed deadline, like this one. I am determined, whenever possible, to have these blog posts done and ready to post every Monday. Why Monday? Because it’s better to start at the beginning, which is what Monday is for most people on a weekly schedule. There’s some logic to it.
Business as usual, right? Like before I started this post, I processed a rejection and got the story back under submission. Everyone gets rejected at some time or another, or even regularly. If you want to write for publication and can’t deal with that, find another avocation. You can’t even dodge it by self-publishing, since then readers have a direct chance to reject what you’re doing. It’s always going to hurt, even after you’ve done it for years and years and develop the thick skin necessary to keep going. I could even say “get used to it” but that would be hypocritical, since I never have. I accept it, since the irony is this is all you can do with rejection. Just move on to the next possibility, and keep working so there always is another possibility.
Speaking of which, time to figure out what the next novel is going to be. I think I know. I hope I’m right. Back to business….
Surprise package in the mail last week, from my publisher’s agent—physical copies of the The Emperor in Shadow audiobook. Just the thing for those long drives in vehicles that still have those, what were they called? Oh, right. CD players. I’m sure there are a few around…other than mine.
I wonder if I should preface this next section with SPOILER ALERT, or some such, but for those who don’t know, The Emperor in Shadow is the concluding volume in the Yamada Monogatari series. I’m not going to say that I’ll never write another Yamada story, because I don’t know that (he also has another sister we still haven’t met), but the main story arc is completed, since the series always had an endpoint and my only uncertainty was if I’d get it there in a reasonable time frame. The answer turned out to be yes. The publisher plans an omnibus volume which will gather all the Yamada stories, plus three stories not yet collected, plus the three novels. That is likely not to be out until 2018. After that, well I plan to be doing something else. I hope some of you are willing to stick around for that. More details when there are any to share.