Along with the Man
in Black, there are other dangerous pitfalls for
the Unwary Author. Pitfalls like...the dreaded question
whose answer will turn A) my short story into a novel,
B) my simple space opera into lit-ra-chur, or C) my
single novel into a series.
So far in my great three short story experience I've
managed to control the Deadly Question pretty well.
of the Westibule, I think I might have begun to
get a handle on it for novels. In both the Groundties
series and the Ring series, however, the MIBs and DQs
were definite factors in turning them ... large. Not
padded...each scene in each book does at least three
unique things...just long and complex. Though in my
own defense, DAW did want a large book series, and has
definitely supported the Ring books as a series.
One of the problems is, in order to write a novel
with substance, you've got to have options...in mindset
and in solutions to a given problem. The more experience
you have, the more open you are to alternative thought
processes, the more options your characters have. The
more options they have, the more interconnected and
causal the most simple observations can become.
If you write your first novel when you're...oh...ten
or even twenty, the available twists and turns
are by the very nature of the process, limited.Good
or bad, when I began my first novel, I was thirty-six...and
my characters had lots of options.
My first encounter with the DQ came very early on.
A couple of months after I began writing Groundties
I asked CJ Cherryh to take a look at what I'd written
thus far...about 150 pages...to see if it was just making
sense. She read it (being obligated, having talked
me into this writing thing in the first place), we talked
about the premises, and she said, with this oh-so-innocent
look on her face, "You know, if you really want
to screw Stephen up, make him half-recon."
Okay...so it was an observation, not a question,
but...My bigotted spacer kid...half Ethnic Reconstructionist,
the receiving end of the bigotry-bat in the ComNet
The ramifications, given what I'd already written,
were indeed tangled. And fascinating. Once suggested,
I could no more release the story that blossomed than
I could (by that time) quit writing. It rang so true,
a part of me is certain it was where my subconscious
was heading with the story all along.
The end result was a story that spans three books
rather than one, and in fact weaves threads throughout
my planned future history. It delves into matters psychological
and philosophical, political and personal.
It was anything but the easy first novel I'd hoped
to tackle while learning little tricks like...writing
While I understand in retrospect what happened;
I was clueless on that January day when CJ made the
comment. Later, when the series was complete and I began
post-production analysis of the experience, I asked
CJ why she didn't warn me. Basically, she said she knew
I could handle it and wanted to see where the story
And I suppose I did handle it. Certainly I'm very
proud of what I accomplished in that series, and the universe, which
I've only just begun to explore, draws me constantly,
the characters have become so alive to me and my readers
that Wesley gets about as much email as I do. I also
learned more about the craft of writing and the mutability
of plot elements than I ever would have in a simpler
story, but the question of whether or not I should have
followed that particular muse at that particular time
Certainly a long, psychologically challenging series
was not the best for a first novel---at least from
a 1990's marketing perspective. I was savvy enough
regarding the marketing problems that had I known
from the start that Warner never had any intention
of marketing it as a series, I wouldn't have signed
the contract. If other publishers had proven similarly
reluctant, I might have rethought the entire project.
However, I didn't know. A year and a couple of months
after I began writing and based on the first draft of
the first novel, Warner offered me a three book contract
for the series, and I was off and running...
...And terrified as I began to realize the scope
of the project I'd undertaken. I was terrified not because
I didn't think I could write something that was "publishable"...I'd
sort of proven that to myself with the contract...but
because I wanted to do the subject matter justice and
treat my characters' real-world counterparts with the
respect they deserved. To this day, the most rewarding
(and reassuring) contact I have is with professionals in the fields of
psychology and computers and those real-world counterparts
of the characters,
whose enthusistic input assures me I accomplished that
I had certain personal elements going for me in the
mindless pursuit of this first novel. As afore mentioned, I
was thirty-six with a substantial amount of life
experience to draw on; I had one of the best in the
SF field for my alpha reader and advisor, (even though
pride kept me from drawing too heavily on that association),
and I had already developed, through my art, the ability
to create from the gut and analyze/edit through the
brain. I'd also worked with authors for
years; I'd just never written my own stories.
I don't think the end product suffered from my early
pursuit of that highly complex muse.
Would I recommend someone else follow that course?
As with most other things creative, that would depend
on the creator. For me, I think it was the right course
creatively speaking. To have done less would have been
bucking my natural tendencies, would have turned to
process too analytical too fast and starved the creative
muse. Now, having learned to recognize all the subtle
joys of writing, I can take what I learned from that
process and begin to analyze as I go, begin to look
for hazardous questions and learn how not to raise the
issues, or at least to determine how important they
are to the story I want to tell.
Should I have sold Groundties as my first novel?
Probably not: establishing your name in the minds of
the readers is far too important to risk to the idiosyncrasies
of shelf space. A stand-alone, highly accessible and
entertaining first novel would have done far more to
establish my presence on the shelves.
And run the risk of being just like a dozen other
first novels on the shelves.
Hmmm...that's a hard one. I think, maybe, I like
my MIBs and DQs.