Travelling Hopefully (30/12/09)

Posted in Critical Failures | News

Someone asked me a couple of days ago whether I plan in detail or use the ‘travel-hopefully’ method. Now being asked questions like that makes me feel all unnaturally important, as if my words and methods might carry some weight and I was all set to write a lengthy post on how to set about writing a story. Fortunately some sense prevailed; the fact is that everyone seems to write in different ways and I think everyone probably has to find what fits the way their head works.
That said, ‘travel hopefully’ does describe the way I write quite well once I get going, but having said that, there does have to be some sort of framework in place before I start; everyone has to have something, right? Otherwise how do you know where to begin? I don’t think I know anyone who sits down in front of a keyboard knowing nothing more than that they are about to write a story…

So what do I need? I need:

  • A world. It doesn’t have to be fleshed out an detailed, but it needs to be there in skeleton form. In particular, I think what matters are the general rules by which the world operates. The big things that will shape it need to be thought through. The Adamantine Palace may not have that much world-building actually in it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t thought about. For a fantasy world, is there an analogous period in history? I will always start from something real and then add bits (magic, dragons, the fact that the moon is made of cheese, whatever). These bits need a little basic thinking through, too, about what the consequences are for the base society when you add the extras. I’ll do most of this as a go along, but I need to know how the rules that govern the way the world works have changed because of whatever I’ve added (or taken away). Same principle goes for Science Fiction and technology. If you’re going to set a story in the real world, then which part of the real world and which time in history?
  • Some driver characters. A few main protagonists with what they are trying to do and why and very roughly what they’re like. These might be characters who will be in the foreground of the story (example: Prince Jehal: Intelligent, cynical, callous, wants to be top dog (because being the top dog is the only place that’s safe), deep down also wants to be… <spoiler deleted>) or they might be in the background (Saffran Kuy in The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice). They are the characters who are shaping events. What they are trying to do and why they are trying to do it will define the way the world changes during the course of the story.
  • Some front-line characters. These might be the same as the above or they might be different, but these are the characters who are in the foreground of the story. I find they tend to acquire their own personalities and colour themselves in as the story goes on, so all I have here at the start are a few seed characteristics that make them stand out from those around them (Angry, guilty, can swing a sword. That sort of thing).
  • An end. In some ways most important of all, I need to know how the end is going to feel. Someone has to either achieve something or fail to achieve something. It’s not so much the specifics of what that I have up front, it’s how it’s going to feel for the reader (bitter-sweet is always a favourite with crushing despair a close second, but there’s always the possibility of a happy success). There may well be several ends for several different story-lines.

And that’s it. After that it’s travel hopefully time. Which has worked extremely well on some occasions and less well on others. This year’s submissions will be The Order of the Scales and The Warlock’s Shadow, both already written in draft straight off the back of their prequels (on the grounds that all the preparation work had already been done) and both examples of FAILURE of the method, dammit! The Order of the Scales in particular has rolled a fumble (er, I mean has a lot wrong with it). I can see at least three re-writes being necessary before it’s good enough to be submitted. The first one started this week, along with the stress headaches.

This would also be the time when some sort of review of the year would appear, but I haven’t got time for that right now. Here’s one someone else made earlier.

Down time (22/12/09)

Posted in News

Rumour has it that the ARCs for King of the Crags might be flying about in the post. For anyone who wants something better to do over the Christmas break, I’m off over at paizo making up weird and wonderful magic items before I get back to Order of the Scales.

Oh, and Diamond Cascade has updated. Is anyone apart from Matt actually reading this or am I writing to an empty room? Because I can stop, you know. I can. I don’t need to write every day to stop myself from going mad. I could give up any time I want. If I happen to be all crotchety and twitchy and pacing-around-the-room-y, why it must be something entirely unrelated. Must be, right.

Anyway, happy Christmas.

The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice (17/12/09)

Posted in News

I’m splitting my time between four books at the moment. Two are Gollancz releases for next year: Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan and Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes. Of all of these, Wolfsangel is the one that’s most likely to be a hit. I haven’t got very far with it, but from what I’ve seen, this is going to get some rave reviews. So far it’s Vikings the way Vikings should be: dark, bloody and dangerous, and the atmosphere is so strong that every time I stop it comes as something of a surprise that I’m not surrounded by fjords.

Tome, on the other hand, is an unashamed D&D adventure. If you play, I suspect you will find it very hard not to snicker at the party bickering and the complete inability to agree a plan and then stick to it. I’m rather enjoying it but then in this case I’m biased in more ways that you can shake a stick.

In some slightly less important news, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is now polished up well enough to go to Gollancz for editing (phew) – finishing that is why this post is both short and a couple of days late. Complete drafts also now exist for the second and third books in this series, although extensive rework is already clearly necessary <grrr>

A couple of days off now, I think, and then time to crack some knuckles and get back to burning  shit down with dragons.

Next week might be competition time. I have an idea…

Screaming in Fear of Success (8/12/09)

Posted in News

Today is publication day for Der Drachenthron[1], The Adamantine Palace auf Deutsch. The mad fools at Heyne who bought the rights before I’d even finished chapter 7 (from memory, and bear in mind the book has 70 chapters) are about to find out whether they’ve bought a piece of the next Wunderkind or the next Wunder-turkey. I fully expect a room full of long faces, shaking heads and a general demeanour of never again

But maybe they weren’t so mad after all. The Adamantine Palace is doing rather well, it seems. Not awesome, but well enough. I find it hard to believe, but slowly, this possibility is being bludgeoned into me as a fact. Being in a list of someone’s ten most anticipated books of 2010 boggles my mind; at least, given that the list wasn’t written by my publicist or my mum. Most of me assumes that it was some sort of freak accident, a moment of insanity brought on by the fact that there’s no new Pat Rothfuss, no new Scott Lynch or Joe Abercrombie coming out in 2010. I mean good grief – on the same list as KJ Parker? As the mighty Al Reynolds? Hoy! I feel so not worthy.

Still, this is all thing, right? Of course it is.

It’s also terrifying. Grand vistas of uncertainty and possibility threaten to open up before me. And they’re all good, but WHAT IF THEY GO WRONG? Eh? What if I embrace the dream and it all turns sour, eh? EH? What if I quit my well-paying stable and secure job to hop onto some wild roller-coaster ride to oblivion and ecstasy only for it to crash? What if I end up watching my family starve, living in rags, eh?[2] What if they all end up hating me?

Don’t be fooled – in the occasional moment when I’m not chain-smoking and quivering with fear, I’m stricken with delight. Fortunately, King of the Crags is done, edited, re-written, ARCs printed, finished all bar the proof-reading. King of the Crags is all good. If you liked The Adamantine Palace, I reckon you’ll like King of the Crags. If pressure-paralysis is going to set in, it’ll be the third book that suffers, but I don’t think it will. Writing stories is an escape from all that.

There’s a diem out there, just out of reach[3] but tantalisingly close. If the chance comes to carpe it, it will be a quivering unsteady hand that reaches out, but seize it I will. Because that’s what you have to do.

Thank you, all of you who bought TAP. Thank-you very much indeed. Now please excuse me; I have to go binge-eat on Ben and Jerrys.

[1] Complete with a map (Entschuldigung – Landkarte).

[2] Yes, I know, realistically the worst that will happen is probably that they’ll have to put up with not having access to the latest console games technology, but kids can be harsh, man.

[3] That’s right Mr day-job, we’re not done yet. Not yet.

Diamond Cascade has updated

Posted in News

Erm… for anyone who was waiting for me to say so, Diamond Cascade has updated. Quite a lot…

Dragonmeet Revisited (1/12/09)

Posted in News

Despite a concerted effort by Transport For London to make it as difficult as possible to get to by closing both the entire Circle Line and most of the District Line last Saturday, Dragonmeet last weekend was a blast. I don’t know how many people were there (many hundreds), but it seemed huge.

The panel of fantasy-authors-who-game (myself, Mark Barrowcliffe (The Elfish Gene and others), Jonny Nexus (Game Night) and the John Steed of fantasy, Dave Devereux (Hunters Moon, Eagle Rising)) were able to pontificate to a packed room about games and writing and the link between them. It’s something I could probably talk about with enthusiasm for something just short of the entire rest of time, so an hour was nowhere near enough [1].

And then, in the afternoon (skipping over the god-awful green-and-brown mush that was called lasagne, dwell for a moment on the perfectly reasonably coffee, and move on), I ran a game based in the world of The Adamantine Palace, for which I am hugely grateful to my players (I still have the sign-up sheet, so I know who you were – or who you were pretending to be), because you turned it into something more than a little awesome; right now I’m all fired up to write it up into a 20000 word novella. Just as soon as I have a spare month… Really pleased how that went, and it looked like everyone was having enough fun to keep right on going even after the ‘plot’ was resolved. Dragonmeet, we shall meet again. Special thanks to Dave Devereux again who managed to end up playing the dragon-knight and being in charge of the dragon and didn’t (unlike my play-test teams) call it Fluffy or something equally silly.

Actually, what he called it was [2]

We also did a little signing, which was an eye-opener. This is what happens: A handful people (not very many in my case) have heard of you. They know you’re going to be there. They come armed with books to sign. This is cool and makes you feel big and important. They show up at the start. And then they go, and the tumble-weed starts to roll past. People stop and stare and then quickly run away as soon as you make eye contact. Some people wander up and look at the cover. They pick it up and feel it. They might even read the blurb on the back. Sometimes they say something like will I like this? Well how do you answer that? Anyway, I sold a few books and signed a few more. What I saw, though, was that not one person who thought about buying The Adamantine Palace, neither the ones who bought it nor the ones who didn’t, read a single word of what was inside before they made their decision. They bought it (or not) on the basis of the cover and the blurb – all the bits that had nothing to do with me whatsoever. Content might get you repeat business, but over the counter, it’s covers and blurbs that sell books. Yes, I’ve heard that before, but seeing it in action was kind of scary. Kind of intensely annoying too. Or possibly liberating. Like, dude, it doesn’t matter what you actually write! Hmmm.

As an added bonus, I spent so much time travelling around on what felt like every tube line in London that the first draft of The Warlock’s Shadow is probably a week away from completion. Then it’s back to the Thief-Taker’s Apprentice for a couple of weeks for its last spit-and-polish, and then the the re-write-athon continues with The Order Of The Scales. Ahhh, dragons, it’ll be good to have you back. After a couple of months away, I was beginning to miss your fiery goodness.

[1] As a measure of how my general geek-level, I had actually, for once, read every single other author on the panel. Even the self-published one.

[2] Deleted for security reasons.