“What’s Next?”

In finished my work in progress last week.  For those of you who have been following its progress from the start, this was the Shiny New Toy I was so excited to write as I was finishing up the last book of my Blood of the Southlands trilogy.  It’s the first of what I hope will be a series of stand alone novels revolving around a single character.  My pitch?  Okay, give me a minute here. 
Imagine Jim Rockford (anyone remember “The Rockford Files”? — if not, think “Sam Spade”) with magical abilities working in an alternate early-Renaissance world.
Anyway, the manuscript is now with my agent and my editor at Tor.  No one has bought the series yet, and we’re pitching it to Tor first.  And I suppose that’s the point of this post.  It’s sort of a Where Do I Go Now? post.  Let me explain what I mean by that.
Let’s begin with the obvious:  In case you hadn’t noticed, or have been living in a cave for the past several months, these are not the best of economic times.  Publishing houses are cutting back, firing editors, discontinuing publishing lines, trimming their production schedules.  I am not an A-list writer; I’m mid-list all the way.  I have a small corps of devoted readers, but I am not a bestseller.  Which is not to say that Tor is going to stop publishing me.  I expect that they’ll buy the series.  But that’s as confident as I’m willing to be right now.  I can’t say for certain that they will, and that’s a bit scary for me.
So that’s one level of uncertainty.
Next, I’m not quite sure how my editor will respond to the manuscript even if he does buy it.  He could love it.  But he could also say “This is great, but . . .” and point to any number of things he’d like to see me change.  These could be superficial — the way a certain character speaks, or some small detail of the worldbuilding.  Or they could be major.  He could suggest that I get rid of a major character, or change some crucial aspect of my setting.  He could recommend that I take the series in a direction that I haven’t even considered up until now.  I wouldn’t be bound by his suggestions, of course.  But I trust his instincts, and I respect our working relationship enough that I could at least give thought to any such suggestions.
My point is that I don’t want to jump headlong into book two of the series until I hear what he has to say about the first volume.
Finally, there is a chance that Tor is going to ask that I publish this new series under a pseudonym.  It’s different enough from my past work in a number ways that it might make sense to go in this direction.  (This is something that my editor has mentioned to me.)  And so I may need to develop a new project to keep the “David B. Coe” brand going even as we publish this other project with a different byline.
Which brings me back to my original question:  Where Do I Go Now?
I’ve just finished this most recent novel, and I do like to take some time off in between books to clear my head a bit.  I’ll spend the next couple of weeks concentrating on photography.  I have an event coming up, and I want to get some new pieces done early enough that they can be matted and framed in time for that.
But I am in the midst of one of the most productive periods of my writing career.  I’m enjoying the process and turning out some of the best work I’ve ever written.  I don’t want to take too long a break.  I want to get back to writing.  I just don’t know what to write next.  I could work on some short fiction — I haven’t written any short pieces in a while, and I had some success with short stories last year upon which I’d like to build.  I could also try to develop a new epic fantasy project that would fit that “David B. Coe” brand I mentioned before.  I have a book that I love but haven’t been able to sell (posted about this one here) that needs to be rewritten in a major way.  I could work on that.  I even have a couple of nonfiction book ideas that I’d like to explore.
Too many ideas.  This isn’t a bad problem to have.  But all writers face moments like these.  Quite often one book leads into another.  Those of us who write speculative fiction usually work in series format, so more often than not we’re working on a sequel to something.  But every now and then we reach a point where the next project isn’t laid out before us.  It’s a time of uncertainty, but it’s also exciting.  Everywhere I look, I see possibilities, projects that excite me, that send my mind whirling through those “What if?” questions that are a fiction writer’s bread and butter.
Which one will capture my imagination next?  And what about you?  What’s next on your work schedule?  What will you turn to once you’ve finished what you’re writing now?
David B. Coe

30 comments to “What’s Next?”

  • My challenge is the “finishing” part. There aRe so many things going on in a typical day for me, and I have to make a serious effort to make writing a priority. I’m not always successful with it, but I’m getting there.

  • Well, there are certainly worse conundrums to be in. You could have nothing new waiting in the wings to work on, so the fact you have so much to consider is a good thing in my opinion. I have two novels nearly complete (final editing being done on both atm), which I have surfed around in query land a bit, and received a few rejections, a couple of partial requests, and a couple of ‘nice’ rejections in the vein of, ‘liked the writing but didn’t fall in love with it as much as I would have liked.’ I expect as much. I figure my query darts just haven’t struck the bullseye yet and found the right person (positive thinking!). These novels are very different. One is the first of an epic fantasy series, the other is a contemporary, paranormal suspense/thriller. I wonder about the fact that if I sell one, the other might possibly be doomed. I wonder about what I should really work on next? Fantasy? Suspense? Something different? I have about a half dozen novel plots waiting in my inbox. None of these are in the same genre of the first two books. I’m digging into my historical-paranormal-time travel story now. It’s the one piquing my interest the most. It is probably sounder advice to write something in fantasy or suspense, but I don’t seem to think that way. My mind tends to wander down all different kinds of avenues when it comes to stories. I’ve even pondered the notion of rewriting the fantasy (I really don’t like rewriting), since this story has been the ‘back burner’ story that always makes it’s way to the front inbetween other stuff. I came up with the idea in 1999. I love the world, premise, and characters for this story, but I finished book one three years ago, and my writing has improved in the meantime. I could probably make it a better book now, if… I didn’t want to work on new material. I’ve slowly been putting bits of it up on my little website. Someday the whole thing may be there. Any luck it would get noticed, but I don’t know if the writing is strong enough to sell. There’s that addage about at some point being ‘done’ with a story and moving on, and just letting it go, but the thing just continues to percolate. It’s the story that will never die, regardless of whatever else I may write. Anyway, I’m just rambling now, with no real point in mind. lol. I hope they like it, David. Sounds intriguing.

  • Mikaela

    My issue right now is that I have a slight focus problem. Let’s see what I have done so far this year:
    *Almost* finished a futuristic romance
    * Begun* writing on a fantasy idea
    * Begun* revising two first drafts

    So my goal is to actually finish editing Wolf and Widow, since I really like the story. ( Not to mention that it is the first in a series ).

  • I am all for letting your mind rest after completing a story (unless you are totally “in the zone”). Taking some weeks off can really recharge your batteries and revive the spark for writing. I for one will take time off to read a favorite book or find a new favorite. That is very inspiration for me.

    Here’s a quick story idea: A fantasy world faces global economic collapse and the resulting chaos/recovery afterwards. It is current with reallife and this econom yisn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hope it helps jump start your next book… not that I am rushing you or anything even though I am eager for your next DBC branded story. *puts away his whip*

    For me, my plans will be to write book 2 if I cannot fit it all into one book. After that, I will try to write some short stories to help build my resume. As for my next novel, I one that I have been playing with called “Cool World”. It is a future earth world that is facing the next Ice Age.

    Have any of you professional writer’s ever held off on stories that you had in mind early in your career because you felt like you were not ready for it? I have a few stories that I have never completed because I felt that my writing skill was not up to the task of doing it. Have any of you all gone back and finished a story idea which was one of your first?

  • Mikaela

    I hear you Mark. I am starting to wonder if the Wild Hunt is one of them. My main problem with the Wild Hunt is that I have no idea how you make immortals grow as characters? ( Help? I love this idea and I would love to make it work!)

  • What I’m writing now? Well, there’s that Fantasy monster that is busy growing tentacles (looks like it will become a really fat trilogy or worse) 😀 and the Roman trilogy, or rather a triad of three loosely connected books with an ongoing family feud over several generations to link them. I had decided for a break in the first, A Land Unconquered, because I knew there would be new non fiction about the Varus battle this year because of the 2000 year anniversary in September. It looks like most of the books are out already, and I plan to go back to research soon and the back to writing. I had to rethink what little of plot I had after Arminius decided to steal the book (he was supposed to be a secondary character; well, I should have known better, he’s Arminius, after all 😉 ). I also play a bit with the other two books (Eagle of the Sea, Cold Caledonia’s Blast), that is, I write scenes now and then when I feel like it, but they are not my primary focus.

    The new plotbunny (Never To Return) got a nice, comfortable cage where it can stay until I have time to deal with yet more Romans. 🙂 But it was the right idea to play with it and let it breed a bit; I now have a basic plot, a bunch of characters, and at least one subplot, if not two already. Also on the backburner is one of my older ideas that survived several purges: The Charioteer.

    Since I’m a slow writer, that should keep my busy for the next decade or so, and I intend to write as much of the Fantasy monster as I can before I try to find a home for it. I so don’t want to get the crap GRR Martin gets for taking his time on sequels. If I ever get that famous. 😀

  • David, you’ve got momentum — don’t lose it!

    Take a break in the form of writing something just for fun, with no markets in mind, but maintain that stride. Inactivity breeds mental laziness, and that spreads out into mental flab, which leads to flabby story-telling.

    When I need a break from an actual manuscript, I dink around with vignettes as a sort of prose exercise. Kinda like shadow boxing — I can throw some punches without having to worry about getting hit.

  • David, This is so weird. In many ways, we are 4 weeks apart in our writing lives. I am finishing up my WIP this month, to revise it before April 15, the due date. The turnaround time on the rewrite letter will be 7 days, with the rewrite due in mid-May. I’be busy. Very busy though early spring.

    Then … what? I don’t know. I’ve been writing 2 books a year for years, and I am looking at the summer of 2009 as time to rest. (I’m not even sure what that word means anymore. :-})

    And unlike you, I don’t feel very productive right now. I think I am ready for the break you don’t really want to take. But I also know me. The first time I start on the jungle at my front door, or take a paint brush in hand to paint my writing room, I’ll come up with a book idea.

    This will be the first time I’ve been without a contract since 1995-ish. What will I write? It is gonig to be interesting.

  • Great comments, all. Thanks.

    Becky — Finishing is the hardest thing. Always. Not necessarily finding the ending, but actually allowing yourself to say “This is done. I like it and I’m ready to send it out to readers or submit it to publishers.” But as Faith says, you’re not really a writer until you complete something. So keep at it. And remember that “finished” doesn’t mean “perfect.” There’s no such thing as perfect. You have to allow yourself to be human.

    Jim — It certainly sounds like you have no shortage of ideas. And that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t worry about having several different genres in which to work. You write the book that moves you, the one that burns a hole in your chest because it can’t wait to get out. Worry about finding a subgenre for it later, after it’s written. Good luck with all of them.

    Mikaela — There is nothing wrong with having lots of things on your plate at once. But I would think that at this point, before you begin anything new, you should try to finish one of these projects. Wolf and Widow sounds like the place to start. Good luck with it. Love the title, BTW.

    Mark — Thanks for the idea. I can already envision my hero who steps in to save the world from economic collapse. I bet you can, too, if you use your imagination…. 😉 Your question is a great one, and my answer is absolutely. I firmly believe that there is a time and place for every story. I have ideas that have been percolating in the back of my mind for some time, but that I know I’m not ready to write. In some cases it’s because I don’t yet have the chops to make them work, in other cases it’s just a matter of not being able to envision the project to my satisfaction. I’ll go back to them eventually, but they’re not ready yet. Or I’m not…

    Mikaela — Making immortals grow might be difficult, but allowing them to reveal gradually different aspects of their personalities can accomplish much the same thing. Check out Guy Kay’s YSABEL for an example of what I mean.

    Gabriele — Well, you certainly have a full plate. Good for you. Speed is not everything in writing. Having material to keep you busy, feeling that passion for the stories you’re writing and intend to write, and enjoying the process are all far more important.

    Radish — I appreciate your concern about the momentum thing. To some degree you’re right: momentum is not something to squander, particularly mid-project. On the other hand, I absolutely have to take time off occasionally, or else I get burned out and can’t write anything. So I’ll look for that balance — I’ll take some time off, but not so much that I lose my edge. Thanks!

    Faith — I do think that rest is vital, particularly for those of us whose professional lives revolve around writing. Two books a year is a great pace, but you have to give yourself down time or it ceases to be fun, at least it does for me. And when the fun goes away, the creative impulse suffers. My turnaround times on the rewrites are much longer than yours — and in fact I can expect a revision letter this spring for the book I turned in back in October. It is funny that our schedules are so close right now, though chances are by the time you’re getting around to resting, I’ll be gearing up for something new.

  • Wendy

    I like the idea of working on short pieces in the meantime. As someone above me suggested, that seems like a good way to keep the ball rolling but take a break at the same time.

    Things I’m doing and might be doing:
    I’m still heavily world-building my Victorian fantasy. I’m not entirely satisfied with my political structure. This project moves slowly, though it is certainly what is taking up most of my brain-space.

    I have the old WIP that I have back-burnered ’cause I’m not ready for it, though sometimes I just can’t stay away from those characters so I’ll throw out a scene or two.

    I really want to do some non-fiction because I haven’t since college, and remember enjoying it. I want to sharpen my wit and voice on everyday experiences again. (There’s a great wealth of amusing anecdotes to be had in the world of wildlife rehab that I need to put somewhere.) I should start by trying to keep a blog.

    Certainly enough to keep busy for a while.

    Good luck finding a home for the new book and deciding on a what to do after the break David!

  • I’ll come back and post later this eve. As soon as my sick wife and daughter see the doctor and take naps.

    And I remember The Rockford Files well. Jim Rockford beats up Sam Spade any day. Loved that show!

    Be back later.

  • Lol, yeah those Romans make sure my plate won’t be empty any time soon. 🙂 Though it’s not only the Romans, but the ‘Barbarians’ as well – what interests me most is the conflict of different cultures, thus my settings in border- and often war zones like Germania, Caledonia, and probably Wales at some point. And not all my MCs are Roman: Ricmar (Never To Return) is a Saxon, Ciaran (The Charioteer) a Dalriatan, and Arminius is a Cheruscian who got a Roman education, made a career in the army and then returned home to use his knowledge of Roman military tactics against them, and we have no idea what his motives were. Among the other important characters is not only the Roman Caius Horatius Veranius and the bad guy Publius Cornelius Lentulus, but also the Batavian Irminric whose tribe is allied with the Romans, a fact he doesn’t like very much.

    Marcus Horatius Aquila (Eagle of the Sea) is a Roman who finds out his mother was from a Caldeonian tribe, and Cold Caldedonia’s Blast has two MCs: the Roman officer Caius Horatius Ravilla, and Talorcan mac Ferac, leader of the Selgovae.

    Something of that can also be found in my Fantasy novel which is based on 12th century Europe. My MCs represent different cultures: Roderic is Norman, Kjartan Scandinavian, Alastair Gaelic, and Iverys Welsh. Kazimira, one of the main bad guys, or girl in that case comes from the Slavic tribe of the Avodrite, another bad guy (Judicaél) is Breton, and Conrad, one of the characters based on a real one, is German. To just give a snapshot of the mess. Add to this forbidden magic, the clash of a ‘modern’ feudal system with older systems like tanistry or the Norse handgenginn men, some loyalty conflicts, jealous brothers, ursurpers, an unhappy love story, battles and general mayhem, and you get big, fat epics. 😀

    Culture, identity, revenge, loyalty, and friendship are the themes that occur in all my books one way or the other.

  • Beatriz

    How exciting, David! New paths to explore, new opportunities!

    Enjoy the time away from writing– and figuring out what next fires your imagination.

    And if you need anyone to give you an opinion on the Shiny New Toy, why I’m sure you could find a minion or two who’d be happy to read it! ~dangles bottle of single malt bribe, whistles innocently~

    (pssst, Mark, you knock him down & I’ll steal his laptop! We could have the Shiny all to our selves!! 🙂

  • Thanks, Wendy. I do plan to write some short pieces, but I spent this morning on a photo shoot, and will spend the rest of the day processing my pics. I sthink I might go out and shoot again tomorrow. Later this week we’ll all be heading to Savannah for a much needed break. So there is no writing in my immediate future. And I think that’s a good thing.

    Daniel — I hope the family is feeling better soon. And yes, Jim Rockford kicked butt.

    Gabriele — Sounds like great stuff. Have fun weaving it all together!

    Beatriz — Single malt? No need to knock me down….

  • Hey David. Do we get new pics on top of the magicalwords site? Yes?

  • David asked, “What will you turn to once you’ve finished what you’re writing now?”

    Something set in an Old West type of frontier, with a bit of advanced tech and a lot of magic. I suppose it falls into the steampunk category, after a fashion. I don’t know what happens yet, but I have a character who is just chomping at the bit to have his story told. I’ve promised him we’ll get started this summer, so I really need to finish the two books I’m working on now. If I put him off too long, I don’t know what mayhem he’s capable of starting….

  • Faith — Email sent.

    Misty — “Chomping at the bit”? For a Western? Please tell me that was inadvertent….

    The series idea sounds great. Can’t wait to see it in print.

  • Completely intentional…feel free to groan at me. *giggle*

  • The same thing that’s usually a writer’s boon is quite frequently my bane. I’ve always got so many stories popping into my head that I don’t end up getting through what I start before another story pops into my head and I just have to get that one down on paper. I’ve got far too many unfinished pieces lying around everywhere, many of them very likely saleable, so many so that it’s annoying at times when I think about it.

    I was, and still am, working on a novel that my wife and I have been co-writing, which will probably be at least a duology, maybe a trilogy, but then recently another story, straight high-fantasy, jumped into my brain and is now fighting for equal time. This one will most likely be a duology as well. I have another idea that’s also surfaced recently that could be a number of serialized novellas. This happens a lot. I’ve finished some short stories and I finished and turned in an RPG supplement of over 70k words that I’m waiting to see in print, but haven’t finished a lot of other stuff. It’s a bit…aggravating, actually.

    Still, as far as being considered a writer, I do, and always have, consider myself a writer. As far as finishing something, I’ve done that, even if it is only an RPG supplement. That supplement took a lot of time, energy and creativity to create and weighed in somewhere around 75k words. Even if I hadn’t finished a single thing I’d still consider myself a writer…just not a novelist. That’s the difference in my mind. A writer writes, always. A novelist has finished something that’s complete, at least as complete as they think they can make it, and worthy enough of sending to a publisher. I still don’t consider myself a novelist because I haven’t finished a novel, much as the supplement tore a vast chunk of life from me it was not a novel by any stretch of the imagination.

    Now, hopefully I can actually focus enough to get the most important stories finished this time, though I also have a script to finish that we’ll be filming, hopefully this June or July, and what sounds like another that I’ll be rewriting for someone so that it will be a saleable finished product. We’ll see. I’m going to need some serious time budgeting.

    QUOTE: Imagine Jim Rockford (anyone remember “The Rockford Files”? — if not, think “Sam Spade”) with magical abilities working in an alternate early-Renaissance world.

    And this sounds AWESOME! I would absolutely read this series. My wife would too. One of my favorite films was Cast a Deadly Spell. Though that character actually hated magic in a magical setting, he was still a PI in a magical Earth. The early Ren setting would just add an additional coolness factor. Hopefully it’ll get picked up.

    QUOTE: I’m mid-list all the way.

    Not sure I can believe that of you though. You’ve got 10 novels out there, another finished and more on the way. You’re with TOR and not publishing your own stuff because no one is picking you up. I haven’t managed to pick up any of your works yet, but I’ve read some of your excerpts and you’re a damn sight better than quite a number of supposedly A-list authors I’ve read in the past. I think whatever you get going will end up being great.

    Absolutely let us know about that investigator novel when it’s picked up. Definitely want to read that.

  • Ok, this is buried down here in a post, but I figured I would put it here on the off chance some of you fantasy oriented folk might see it and offer some feedback for me. I’ve been playing around with (my limited design abilities such that they are) more interesting formats for putting material online, and I put up an experimental chapter that contains sidebar information related to the story. This is mostly fun with toying around with ideas for online presence and creating interest, but I would sorely love a bit of feedback on whether it’s too much, too hard to read or confusing or whatever. Nice feedback would be appreciated too if that’s the case. It can be found at: http://jimnduncan.com/Documents/Chapter%20with%20Sidebar.docx.pdf

    Thanks in advance.

  • Beatriz

    I would like it noted for the record that my current facination with Western-themed steampunk has nothing to do with Misty’s New Shiny That is Waiting in the Wings. It’s a sheer coincidence, although I can’t wait to meet him.

    David– lemme know your fave’s and we just might have a bottle on hand for the con.

  • I failed to note in the previous post that the chapter is in pdf format, which requires you have adobe reader or some other method of reading pdf files. Also, just to check it out this morning, I put the chapter up at scribd, which for those who aren’t aware, is a rather large document sharing website.

  • That’s pretty keen actually, Jim. Seems to tell you some pertinent geographical and history information right up front about the setting. Seems a cool way to get potential readers more intimate with the setting before they start reading.

  • Daniel, thanks for the comment. I actually would agree with you — I like the idea that a writer writes and that the completion thing gets you to “novelist.” Makes much sense to me. It sounds as though you have a lot of ideas percolating right now. A very good thing.

    I’m glad you like the sound of my new project. Thanks. And as for mid-list — that’s a matter of what my sales look like and how I’m marketed. Yes, I have a lot of books out, and I feel that they’re of good quality. But in terms of my numbers I’m mid-list all the way.

    Jim — your chapter with the sidebar sounds interesting. I’ll check it out.

    Beatriz, my love — I tend to gravitate toward the smoky Islay single malts. My personal fav these days is called Bruichladdich (pronounced “Bookch-laddie”) but it’s pretty pricey. I’m easily satisfied with a good dark micro-brewed beer, and that’s far more affordable. 🙂

  • It is fun most of the time, David. Except when I get carried on by a scene and then realise the character says something he would never say, only because I listened to opera again. 😀

    At some point Roderic fights another magic wielder of less power and leaves the man shocked, stammering why he did that. Roderic says, “Because I have the right and the duty. I am a Keeper.” And that after he for two books refuses to use his power and keeps his true identity secret. 😉 A much more genuine reaction would be to make light of what he did and NOT give away that he is one of the most powergful mages in my world, and indeed responsible for controlling ‘wild’ magic when he encounters it.

    There will be a time when Roderic fully embraces what he is and when he will use his power and claim the kingship, but it takes a damn good reason for the most noble character in my books to succomb to that power. The schemes of some pesky bad guy won’t get him there.

  • Oh, and smoky Islay malts are YUMMY. 😀

  • I’ve always wanted to try Laphraoig (thanks to Tim Powers mentioning it in damn near every book, it seems!) So we may be helping Misty sample that at ConCarolinas.

  • Hm, I prefer Irish Whiskey first followed by bourbon…though Irish Mist is my first choice if I’ve got the money to spare on the good stuff. I can sit and polish off an entire bottle of the stuff….and then not get up from that spot till morning. 😉

    Yep, I think I’m a reincarnated Irishman. Doesn’t help that it’s already in me blood. 😉

  • Made a slight update to my chapter pages, which can be checked out now at: http://jimnduncan.com/Documents/Fantasy%20Chapter-Order%20of%20the%20Nine.pdf

    Any feedback/comments folks might have on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!