Thursday, March 01, 2007

"No more wire coathangers!"

Or, in my case, no more blogging about 2000 AD for a while. The 28 Days of 2000 AD project is over and I can move on to other subjects. That's kind of how I feel about THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD now - I love it to bits, but can't wait for the book to be published, so I can focus on newer projects. After more than five years researching and writing TPO, it'll be a relief to see the big book version in print. A more of blogging on the one subject feels much the same. The project had the happy and unexpected effect of doubling Vicious Imagery's daily visitor levels. Let's see what effect my more esoteric ramblings have on those numbers...

Much of February was occupied in grappling with a book I thought I'd finished last December. A month ago my editor at Black Flame called about Fiends of the Rising Sun, the first in what will hopefully be a new strand of novels about WWII vampires - this time in the Pacific theatre of the war. My original synopsis stated the book would cover three key battles: Pearl Harbour and the build-up to the Japanese surprise attack; the battle for Batann in the Philippines and its brutal aftermath; and the crucial battle of Midway - with an epilogue set at the US landings on Guadalcanal.

But when I was writing the book, the Pearl Harbour section kept growing and growing and growing. By the time I'd finished that, it was some 60,000 words long - a huge chunk of the 95,000 total wordcount. Then I had what seemed like a brainwave at the time: I'd make Pearl Harbour the equivalent of Act Two in a classical three-act structure. The Bataan sequence would become Act One, so it appeared first - despite chronologically occurring five months after Pearl Harbour. Then Act Three would be Midway, followed by the Guadalcanal epilogue.

That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was not talking this brainwave through with my editor properly. If you're going to venture that far off-piste, make sure your editor knows what you've got planned and is in total agreement. Otherwise they're in for a big surprise and editors aren't that enamoured of big surprises.

I wrote the Bataan sequence and that grew into 30,000 words, leaving no room for the Battle of Midway. No problem, I thought. I'll ditch Midway and move straight to the epilogue - and with one bound I was done. That was the week before Christmas. Fast forward to the end of January and a phone call all writers dread. Sorry, the editor begins, but there's a problem with what you've written. In essence, the structure didn't work, the book was unbalanced and it needed a radical rewrite to fix things.


I surprised myself by being remarkably unphased by this. I believe most writers know in their heart of hearts when something is or isn't working. On a big beast like a novel, you have to keep telling yourself it'll be alright, otherwise you'd never finish the damned thing. So I ignored the warning bells in my head at the time and kept going. What I should have done was call my editor and go through my brilliant masterplan to make sure he also thought it would work. Lesson learned there. Oh yes.

We needed to find a solution. For a start, the Bataan sequence had to go. That's 30,000 words ripped out of the book, right there. I guess we could have cut the book from being 95,000 words down to 70,000 words [the same length as each book in my Fiends of the Eastern Front trilogy], but the new novel had already been solicited to the book trade. I was contracted for 95,000 and I'd already been paid for it. Besides, I wanted the new novel to be 95,000 words, to give it a greater depth and complexity than the previous books.

I needed to find 30,000 new words and a way to seamlessly incorporate them into the surviving texts. Well, that task is nearly complete now, a month later. It hasn't been easy, but it's one way to leave a valuable lesson. I've been juggling the rewrite with other jobs and that hasn't made the process any easier, either. But I got myself into this, so I have to write my way back out of it. Be professional, suck it up and get on with it. It's an ugly truth, but if you want to be a professional writer, it requires two things - a lot of writing and a professional attitude.

When you read books about how You Can Write a Bestseller and the like, they often fail to mention that writing a novel isn't easy. Sure, there are moments when you fly, when your fingers can't type fast enough to keep up with your inspiration. But there of plenty of times when you have to plant your arse on a chair and write when inspiration is not so abundant, when you'd rather be doing anything else - having a pint down the pub, going shopping with friends, watching a DVD, playing a videogame, spending time with your family. You want for a living? You've got to make sacrifices. You've got to put in the hard yards.

I write because I want to write, because I have to write. But that doesn't always make it easy.

The good news is I've all but finished my page one rewrite of the book. It's the first time in 18 novels I've had to perform such a massive rewrite, but I hope [and, let's be honest, pray] the book is much better as a result. The narrative seems tighter, more cohesive, and it's given me the chance to flesh out characters that had previously felt thin and cursory. Fingers crossed, my editor at Black Flame agrees. I guess I'll find out in a few weeks, once he's had a chance to read and digest it.

1 comment:

Graham Kibble-White said...

Well, then. Just a quick note to thank you for the 28 days of 2000 AD-related encounters. I've enjoyed all of them, and will missing getting into the habit of printing off the site to read on the tube home.

Not, er, that I'm not interest in the day-to-day Bishop stuff either, of course...