You're probably wondering why I haven't been blogging lately.
The answer isn't terribly complicated. I spent October rewriting two novels, and I'm now busy writing the first draft of one before I switch over to re-writing the second half of another. Yeah, it's a really busy time for me, work-wise! But hopefully I'll have a rough cut of "The Delirium Brief" in another few weeks and a shiny rewritten version of "Invisible Sun" not long thereafter, and you'll thank me for it ... eventually. (Or, on past form, just tell me to "write faster".)
One thing I've been leery about talking about is that both these books are pushing me into what for me, as a writer, is terra incognita: "The Delirium Brief" is the 8th Laundry Files book, and "Invisible Sun" is the 9th in the Merchant Princes series (although the new books are sufficiently different that they're getting a new series title). In each case, I'm working on pushing forward a project I began in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and both series are now around the million word mark. How do I keep it all straight in my head?
The simple answer is, I don't. I can't, and I'd be astonished if any writer working on such a project could claim otherwise. A million word narrative is a fundamentally different beast from a novel, both in structure and in the planning and execution. The Laundry files as envisaged in 1999 was a single short novel. Then in 2005 (circa "The Jennifer Morgue") it was going to be at most a trilogy. Now it's (sticks thumb in air to test the wind) a 12 book story arc, with optional side-branches in the same universe. But even as recently as 2013 I had no idea that one of the novels would be told by Mo, not Bob, much less that the series was going to go multi-viewpoint.
The Merchant Princes was originally pitched as a tetralogy of 600-800 page doorsteps, but got sliced and diced and reassembled: the first omnibus volume reflects the first book in that embryonic plan, but the second story arc spans the next two omnibus volumes (it grew in the telling). The new trilogy drives off the map in a direction I simply had no idea of back in 2001, so that tetralogy plan is basically dead.
A side-effect of this is that if you push a project along for 15 years, inconsistencies creep in—and are frozen in print in earlier books. In the Laundry Files I accidentally stumbled into a really smart decision early in the game by explicitly declaring that Bob is an unreliable narrator, and his workplace journals reflect the state of his current understanding of events at the time he's describing. In the Merchant Princes I wasn't so lucky (I didn't exactly plan to make Dick Cheney the uber-villain; but by the time I realized what I'd done in book 2 I was well into writing book 3 and book 2 was already typeset). I planned to work around the consistency problem in the new sub-series by drafting it in rough form before the first book went to press: it's possible to keep a 1200 page narrative self-consistent (with difficulty) aa long as you have the luxury of being able to go back and fix errors in book 1 while you're writing book 3.
But when I finish these novels? Sitting down and writing something entirely fresh on a clean sheet of virtual paper is beginning to look really attractive.
Charlie here. I'm off to Sledge-Lit in Derby tomorrow, a one day SF convention at Derby Quad. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce our latest guest blogger: Madeline Ashby.
Madeline is a science fiction writer, columnist, and futurist living in Toronto. She is the author of the Machine Dynasty series from Angry Robot Books, as wells as the forthcoming novel Company Town from Tor. Recently, she co-edited Licence Expired: the Unauthorized James Bond, an anthology for ChiZine Publications. She has worked with organizations like Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, the Atlantic Council, Nesta, and others. You can find her on Twitter @MadelineAshby or at madelineashby.com.
Something I noticed recently while wearing my (completely invisible but highly attractive) writing teacher chapeau is that the welter of SF subgenres and categories of fiction generally are terra incognita to a fair number of newer writers. </p>
I’m okay with this. We begin as readers and viewers, after all. Many people coming into my UCLA courses are curious about speculative fiction. They aren't necessarily book-collecting, con-going, award-nominating fans. They've watched a fair chunk of genre TV and film offerings; they're up on the MCU, they can tell a spaceship from a unicorn and they even usually know which is the fantasy construct. They might have read a certain amount of fiction within their one or two favorite genres, or at least have read Harry Potter and his ilk to their kids.
Maybe this isn't especially nuanced, but it is a decent starting point. It’s only when we begin to write--and to consider selling what we write--that mincing the distinctions between, say, near-future SF and cyberpunk can become important. That's when you've moved beyond searching the bookstore for something you'll enjoy reading for pleasure. Finer categorization becomes useful when you’re aiming at a particular market, writing a review... or when you’re sitting in a workshop trying to articulate why the space unicorns just aren’t meshing well with the alternate history manor house homicide, with cyborgs, in a given piece.
So, a flashback: when my 2009 book, Indigo Springs, was in the pipe for publication, I took what was really my first run at writing publicity stuff, generating press releases and bits and pieces of blog stuff and other material whose primary thesis was: Hey, my book is so cool, buy my book, buy it buy it, OMG, candy giveaway, wheee!! Only, you know, subtle. </p>
One of the things I never quite managed was to come up with was a pithy label that captured its particular mash-up of urban fantasy and environmental science. This is a book whose main character finds a wellspring of magic that has become condensed--more powerful--and intensely toxic because of human impacts on the magical ecosystem. She then unleashes it into modern-day Oregon, creating a massive uninhabitable monster-infested forest that is both immensely contaminated and, as a result, weirdly enchanted.</p>
I played with words Eco-pocalypse a lot, but say it aloud and you'll hear how appalling and clunky that is. Apoca-green-alyse. Apocaenvirochockalocka.... argh! Why couldn't I just write a sexy vampire novel like that nice boy down the street?</p>
Anyway. The book came out and one of the first reviews had this word, ecofantasy. </p>
Oh! That's a thing? Thank goodness, I thought, and it’s catchy, too. </p>
Except: If it is a thing, who else is doing it?</p>
So I went looking. I didn't find a ton of stuff. Ecofantasy may be a thing, but it's not necessarily a huge one. My brain, which always serves up junk as its first ten answers, kept coming up with my favorite works of ecological science fiction, like Derryl Murphy’s “The History of Photography” or Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather and realizing, “NO! Not Fantasy! Too sciencey!” </p>
In time, though, I did find other works, like Walter Jon WIlliams's Metropolitan, where magic is a metered public utility. There's Harry Turtledove's Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand, and Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber. </p>
Even Patricia Briggs commits ecofantasy in one of her subplots--she’s got a storyline in one of her Mercy Thompson novels where werewolves get kidnapped for use as lab animals by a Big Pharma company.</p>
Looking at these and thinking it over, I came up with a few concrete ideas to spell out what ecofantasy is:</p>
Do you have favorite books or stories that fit into this frame? I am always looking for more examples.</p>