January 1, 2009


Well, internet. I finished the second book today.

That’s not technically a true statement. If you’re considering all the novels, failed and unfailed (let’s assume that word is real), then it’s actually the sixth book I’ve finished in my career as a typist, or word-mechanic, or idea-butcher, or, I guess, writer.

The way this went down was book number four (Mr. Shivers) was courted and bought by publishers (Orbit, to be specific), and now is the book I sometimes blog about here whenever anything momentous happens. Being as I have a two-book deal with Orbit, I naturally had to write a second, but I already had a second one half-finished. So I did the rest, and wrote a massive, whopping sci-fi adventure taking place in the Pacific Northwest in 1919, one that would tackle psychic detectives, industrial sabotage, monopolies, failed city institutions, the nature of human expansion, the fate of the human race, and the First World War.

As you can tell, this completely got away from me, and was a Book That Did Not Know What It Was. I worked on it for five or six months, racking up the word count up to 113,000, then down to 103,000, before realizing that I didn’t like it, that I had never liked it, and that it was a collection of weaknesses more than it was anything I wanted anyone to ever read.

It was a learning experience, let’s say. I’ve come to the opinion that over half of any career in a creative industry is about what notnot to make, rather than what to make and how to make it. 80% of your output, at least at first, will be unacceptable shit, even if you polish it. So you look at it, learn what works and what doesn’t, rip the parts out that do work and save them in your mental tool box, and then toss the rest and start all over again.

Writing is not an art to me. It is more like being an engineer, a mechanic, or a butcher. It’s about chopping stuff up and linking it together and then paring it down. It’s about patterns and flow and structural integrity and withstanding force and exerting pressure, and once you’re able to take the structure of a book or an idea and give it a good kick in its weakest part and not completely destroy it, well… Then it’s sturdy. It works. It does what it was meant to do.

That book did not do what it meant to do.

So I had an idea, and started another.

I started writing on the 4th of December. By the 11th I had 28,000 words. I figured I was shooting for about 70,000 to 75,000, short novel territory but, considering its subject matter, I thought this would be a short novel.

Finished it today, in its terribly rough form, and it clocks in at 82,000. Which is a little more than I wanted, but as paring down and cleaning up is a huge part of the writing process I think I’ll be able to shrink it down to about 77,000 or so.

Needless to say, this is the fastest I’ve ever written.

I’m not sure what I can say about the book here. The general concept is a little girl gets lost in the Blitz in London during WWII, and must navigate the chaos and the horrors with a group of eccentric strangers who have taken her in and are trying to get her evacuated. During this time, she slips in and out of a fantasy version of the world around her, only in this one she can triumph over the things that frighten her and try and save a dying city under siege. At its heart, it’s a story about stories, and how we use them to get through life, and where they fail and where they work.

I like it. I really like it a lot.

As normal, however, I’m overtaken with a bittersweet melancholy having finished it. Half the fun of writing a novel is coming up with new ideas. Then you write them all down, and there they are on the paper, and then there’s nothing more to do. I guess it’s like a miniaturized version of having kids. You made them and raised them and cleaned them up as best you could, and now you’re done.

Well, I’m not quite done. But I’m really close to one stage of being done, and that’s both good and saddening.

Anyways, internet, this blog post may change in the future if some of my comments need to be edited at the behest of my publisher. Either way, I’m happy, and it’s a new year, and that is indeed a happy time.