My Shiny New Toy

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In yesterday’s post, Catie made reference to “new shiny ideas.”  Great phrase that, because it is SO true.

People often ask me what I’m working on, usually in the context of trying to figure out if the sequel to that book they’ve just bought, or are in the middle of reading, is going to be available any time soon.  More often than not, they’re surprised to learn that I’m a book ahead of them, that in fact I’m already writing the third book in the sequence or the first book of a new project.

It is a fact of the publishing world that for most of us, particularly those of us who are midlist authors, our books appear in print a good year or so after we’ve finished writing them.  There are many steps in the publishing process.  Writing the book, of course.  But then there’s the edit/revision process I go through with my editor; the copyediting, which I need to go over before the book goes to press; the checking of page-proofs for typos; not to mention the other things going on simultaneously:  jacket art, maps, pre-production publicity, etc.  It’s a complicated process and it takes time.  So by the time my book comes out, I’ve pretty much written the next one and have moved on to the one after that.

What’s my point?  Ha ha!  You assume I have one!  Well, yeah, okay.  I have a point.

I’m currently writing the third book of my Blood of the Southlands trilogy.  I’ve only just started it, but I expect to have it done in another five or six months.  It being the third book of my trilogy (and me being a writer who actually writes trilogies that are only three books long), I need to have something in mind to write next.  The book might be in production for a year, but as I’ve said, that doesn’t mean that I won’t spend that year writing something else.  And that something else is going to be brand-spanking-new.

That’s where the shiny comes in.  I already know what I’m going to be writing.  I’ve done most of the worldbuilding.  I’ve started to map out the first book.  I’ve developed characters.  I’ve even written a short story set in this new world that I recently sold to Black Gate Magazine.  It should be out later this year.  (Yay!)  I love this new world.  I want to play with it.  I want to immerse myself in it and meet the other characters waiting for me there.  I want to see where this first plot line takes me and discover other places in the world that I haven’t yet explored .

But I have this other book to write.

You ever buy yourself a new toy — a new camera, for instance, or a new stereo component, or a new computer?  And you bought it not because the other, older one had died, but because it was getting rickety and wasn’t doing for you all the things you wanted it to, all the things you knew this new one could do.  The last thing you want to do is go home, put the new toy aside, and go back to playing with the old one, right?  You want to play with your new toy, damnit!

That’s how I felt when I was writing book three of my LonTobyn Chronicle.  I already had an idea of what I wanted to do with Winds of the Forelands and I couldn’t wait to get to it.  But I had to.  It’s how I felt when I was finishing Winds of the Forelands and was starting to map out the contemporary fantasy that I’ve started and am still trying to sell.  And it’s how I feel now.  I know that I have to finish Blood of the Southlands.  I actually feel good about the way the third book has started; I think it will be a fun and satisfying conclusion to the series.  Really.  I do.  So . . . uh . . . you want to write it for me?

Because I want to play with my new toy!!  It’s not that I don’t like Blood of the Southlands.  I do.  I love it.  THE SORCERERS’ PLAGUE was great fun to write and THE HORSEMEN’S GAMBIT, which has recently gone into production, might well be the best thing I’ve ever written.  I love these books, including this new one, just like I love all the books I write.  But the world isn’t as fresh for me as it was, the plot line doesn’t hold as many surprises.  The characters are old friends and I still care for them, but I want to meet someone new, someone exciting, someone who will fill me with passion.  Again.  (I don’t have mid-life crises, I have mid-series crises….) 

I have a great new shiny idea.  But I can’t play with it until I finish my last great new shiny idea.  Yeah, there are worse things.  But right now it’s buggin’ me a little.  Or had you noticed?

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7 comments to My Shiny New Toy

  • I know exactly how you feel. I think about it this way: You are old enough to know that the presents under the tree are picked by parents (if you have a Norman Rockwell kinda family). And you know — *know* — that the big one is the electronic game (or whatever) that you have been drooling over. (Okay, you already peeked. Shame on you.) But you can’t play with it. You can’t even hold it. It is *right there* and you have to play with the old toy.
    Arrrrrrg!
    I feel for you!
    Faith

  • Chris Branch

    Okay, so I have a question about this… could you have arranged it differently if you wanted, or are you at the mercy of the publishers?
    Because at the amateurish stage where I am, I completely agree with you – I have a new idea every few months or so, and none of them relate to any of the previous ones. In other words, I have no intention of writing a series at all, just whatever standalone story comes to mind next. Is that an attitude that just gets you laughed out of the industry, or is it a valid choice? Does it depend on how your first book sells, or does it have to be decided long before you get to that point? Just wondering!

  • Thanks for the comment, Faith. Yes, the Christmas morning analogy works, too. Delayed gratification; it’s a rhymes-with-witch….

    Chris, thanks for the questions and your comments. To a certain degree I am at the mercy of the publishers. The Blood of the Southlands books are already under contract and have set deadlines. So I have to write them now, before I do something else. More to the point, with an extended story arc (what we call a series — three or more books that taken together tell one meta-story) you don’t want there to be too much lag time between publications, because that can kill sales momentum. So even if I had contracted each book separately rather than as a series, I’d want to complete this sequence before moving on to the new project.

    Writing stand alone books is a completely valid strategy and some (myself included) would also call it admirable. As long as the books really stand alone. If you’re writing a lot of books that are the first parts of longer projects, but you’re not completing those story arcs before moving on, then that IS a problem. But that doesn’t sound like what you’re doing.

    To answer your last question, when I write a series, I know it’s a series from the beginning. I plan it that way and pitch it to my agent and my publisher that way. It’s not a decision I can make later on. Now for a first time writer, selling those first books can be a bit trickier. Ideally, you want to sell a book that stands alone, but that also has workable sequels. Think about the very first Star Wars movie (the first Luke Skywalker movie) that came out in the mid 1970s. That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The movie stands alone. It has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. If it had flopped it would have been easy for the studio to say, “That was just a stand alone story.” But because we see Darth Vader’s ship hit but not destroyed at the end, we know that more is coming. For a first time author, that’s the ideal balance. Stands alone but gestures at more books to come. Get what I mean? Other authors want to jump in here?

  • “I love these books, including this new one, just like I love all the books I write. But the world isn’t as fresh for me as it was, the plot line doesn’t hold as many surprises.”

    I grok. Oh-hhh, how I grok.

    Those new horizons, they beckon *so* hard.

  • Yes, they do. I have great respect for the people who write book after book after book in the same universe. I just can’t do it.

  • Chris Branch

    Thanks, David – great answer!

  • Michele Conti

    The sales thing has got to be an important factor too.

    Example, I once was in correspondence with an author who had written the first two in his trilogy, the third was supposed to come out in June, it was December at the time, ok, I can wait. June comes along and its no longer June, it’s December the next year….ok, fine, I’ll wait. Four…Five….Six years later, ok, I don’t even LIKE that style of writing anymore. I’ve moved on to bigger, and better books to read. If it ever did show its head on the bookshelves, I might not even glance at it. The anticipation is long since dead.

    Besides which, the first two gave me nightmares, why on earth would I subject myself to that now that I’m out of my “full of angst” teen years? I wouldn’t. One less sale for this author.

    I’m willing to wait a few years, but anymore than that and you have to go back and reread the other book(s). I don’t want to have to reread a series until I’ve finished the whole thing once, and then start over later when all my other new books have been finished.

    Though, I should probably go through my recently read books and figure out which ones I want to take to the second hand bookstore, moving constantly makes lugging around books rather difficult.

    Speaking of books, when is that new publication going to be available online? I hate the “pre-order” option, you wait six months and the darn books never come.

    Ok…I’m done…for now…