I had the great pleasure of being a guest on the A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast this week, with Julie Davis and Scott Danielson; we discussed Rachel Neumeier’s novel Tuyo, one of the real stand-outs from last year.
A Little High Tension is the follow-on to Vikings at Dino’s and Very Truly Run After that I’ve been working on for some time now: and I’m glad to say, the end is in sight!
The end of the first draft, that is: and it will be a glorious thing. I write by the seat of my pants, which is to say I pick a starting point and then run with it. At first, I know almost nothing, but I figure things out as I go, and I usually have some notion of the climax long before I get there. With A Little High Tension, though, things have been different. It’s shaping up to be a four-act story; I finished up the third act yesterday, and commented to one of my first readers that now all I needed to do was figure out what happened in the fourth act.
And then I got up this morning, and wrote the next Letter from Armorica and posted it; and then I went to take a shower; and while I was in the shower, the entire fourth act popped into my head.
That’s not quite right. What really happened is a specific idea popped into my head, and then it grew, and linked with other ideas I’d had and not known what to do with, and it all made sense, and it all hangs together, and I’ve written the sequence of events and a few choice lines down; and all I need to do now is write it out. It’s gonna be brilliant!
You notice I haven’t said anything about what the ideas are—that would be fatal.
Looks like maybe it’s time to get started on the next cover illustration.
At long last, I am proud and pleased to note that Very Truly Run After, the second novel in my “Travels with Michael” series, is now available at Amazon (and anywhere else you’d care to plug in the ISBN). And if you’ve not read its predecessor, Vikings at Dino’s, it’s now available at reduced price. Go give them a try!
My book Vikings at Dino's has a new, much more accurate cover, courtesy of Jason Bach. We've been working on this for some time, and I'm glad to say that Vikings is now in print and Kindle e-book with the new cover. If you already have a copy, the content is unchanged; and if you don't have a copy, what are you waiting for? You’re going to want to read it before the sequel, Very Truly Run After, comes out next month.
Some while back I said that I’d finished my next book, Very Truly Run After…and then I sent it off to Julie and discovered that I hadn’t.
Most authors have first readers. My process is a little different. As I’m writing the book, I read the new material to my wife Jane and my friend Ian. Reading it aloud is immensely helpful: prose that doesn’t flow sticks out and begs to be repaired, and anything that simply doesn’t work gets caught pretty quickly. But on the other hand, that means that Jane and Ian hear the story over a long period of time, and they aren’t likely to catch problems that are evident during a more normal reading.
By the time I finish the first draft I’ve got a list of small things to fix; and so I go back over the whole thing, fixing the problems and checking for typos, continuity errors, and bad phrasing. And then I’m “done”: I’ve done everything I know to do. And that’s when I send it off to Julie.
And then Julie started diffidently asking me questions. What about this? And that? I didn’t buy this part of it. And that second act drags something awful. Oh, and I liked this and this and this.
There are two ways to respond to this kind of criticism: you can get your knickers in a twist, or (if you trust the critic) you can set out to improve the book and deal with the problems. Now me, I’m a software engineer by profession. I expect feedback on my software. I expect users to tell me what works and what doesn’t work. I expect the testers to do their darnedest to break things. I don’t simply expect it; I rely on it.
So I took Julie’s feedback, and I looked things over, and gosh, she was right. All through the second act, whenever there was an opportunity to amp up the tension I preemptively figured out why everything was going to be OK, and put that in the text. To put it another way, as the plot unfolded I was more or less inserting big flashing neon signs saying, “Nothing to see here! Carry on with your reading, nothing bad is going to happen!” Because, you know, I like my characters, and hate to see them abused. Which might be charitable on my part, but doesn’t make for a good story.
So I’ve spent another two months making things better; and now I’m waiting to see how I did. I can’t wait to learn how it all comes out.
photo credit: By Gleeson, Joseph M. (Joseph Michael), (1861- )? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Julie Davis has written a lovely review of my new book, Through Darkest Zymurgia!. You should go read it. (And the book, too!) Here's the money quote:
Through Darkest Zymurgia! is what you'd get if you crossed P.G. Wodehouse with H. Rider Haggard and sprinkled a generous dose of Douglas Adams over the whole.
I'm a little blown away by this. It would never have occurred to me, in any of the publicity for Zymurgia, to compare myself to either Wodehouse or Adams.
The comparison with Haggard is certainly apt; I set out to write a book of exploration and adventure in remote corners of a faux-Victorian fantasy setting, while Haggard wrote about exploration and adventure in remote corners of a real Victorian setting—and let me tell you, if you've not read King Solomon's Mines you should read that immediately after you read Zymurgia. Not that the two books are related in any way, but it's Haggard's best book, and you really should have read it by now.
But Wodehouse and Adams, I'd never have done that, and for several reasons:
- I've read a number of books by authors that were billed as the next Adams or Pratchett. They weren't.
- I think the book is funny…but then, I would. Whether you'll think it's funny, how can I tell?
- Is it as funny as Wodehouse or Adams? That's a really tall order. And then, although I'm quite fond of Wodehouse (the book contains two distinct homages to him) I wasn't trying to write like him; and I'm insufficiently madcap to write like Adams.
- I'm an engineer, and I completely lack the marketing gene. I can't perpetrate marketing hyperbole without feeling bad about it.
So there are no references to any of these three on the cover of the book, not even Haggard.
But Julie, on the other hand, isn't me, which is to say that she can be objective—and while her tastes and mine aren't identical, she's an insightful reader and a book reviewer of long standing whose reviews I've learned to trust. If she says my book is what you'd get if you crossed P.G. Wodehouse with H. Rider Haggard and then sprinkled Douglas Adams on top, then that's what it is, and it would be futile to deny it.
I'm glad to have that settled.
Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, which means that The Catholic Conspiracy has been trying to set the world on fire for a full year as of today. (Are we what we should be? We’re trying, at least. Sometimes we’re very trying.) (Rimshot.)
In honor of this achievement, we conspirators are hosting a giveaway. The winner will get a variety of books and suchlike from the various conspirators, including a brand-spanking-new paperback of Through Darkest Zymurgia! Check it out on the main Catholic Conspiracy page!
My latest book, Through Darkest Zymurgia!, is now available in print or as an e-book. It’s a Ripping Yarn of Exploration and Adventure in a faux-Victorian world with some surprising features and a good deal of understated humor. You’ll like it, I promise.
It’s cheaper as an e-book, but buy the print edition—it’s gorgeous.
What inspired the book? …and then I said, I want to write a novel that starts with a completely implausible situation … and then have great fun making sense of it. The Vikings showed up in the hamburger joint a few minutes later.
There’s lots more at the link.
Two quick items: first, I’ve completed the revisions of Very Truly Run After, the sequel to Vikings at Dino’s; it’s time to begin thinking about publication. This is very cool, and also means I can start thinking about the next book.
And second, we’re moving forward on the publication process for Through Darkest Zymurgia!. The cover and internals are complete, and I’ll be sending them to the printer for proofing some time next week. The above is the front cover, courtesy of Jason Bach and Julie Davis (on whom be praise!).