NEW WORK -- A Town Called Nowhere
Making the process more fun and the end product even better.
Finishing How to Succeed in Evil was hard.
While I was doing it, I pinned these words above my computer, “If you finish this stupid book, you get to write the next one.” It’s not that I think Edwin Windsor was stupid— far from it — it’s just that at some point while writing anything you get frustrated with it. Writing a book is a relationship, and relationships are hard.
Especially when you cheat. Which I did.
Late at night, when my will was weak I cheating on Edwin Windsor with…
A bad idea I had 15 years ago.
While working on the promotional comic for How to Succeed in Evil, the artist (Nic Rummel) and I started talking about Archetypes of Cool.
For example, Agnes, in How to Succeed in Evil is based on one of my favorite Archetypes of Cool. The elder matriarch with a sharp tongue who sees through everything and tells it like it is. Edwin himself is modeled on another Archetype, not exactly cool, Sherlock Holmes.
So the idea was to throw four of these unlikely Archetypes together into a comic and see what happened. I mean you could think of it as…
Conan the Barbarian
…walk into a bar.
The working title was Gun Barbarian Martini and Cigar. And it was going to be great. Except that we never got around to doing it, because I could never write it. It was only 1/3rd of an idea at best.
But it lingered as brain crack. “Someday I’m going to write this and someday it’s going to be great so I get to feel good about myself now.” Brain Crack is bad news friends. Don’t get addicted to it.
The only problem with Brain Cracking on Gun Barbarian Martini and Cigar is that, as stated, it is a pretty lousy idea. I mean what did you think when you first read it?
But still, it kept coming back around again. I tried a couple of things, but nothing worked. Primarily because I didn’t have a setting. Or a conflict. And I was hanging on to the idea of having those specific characters in it. I was just stuck for all the wrong reasons.
Then, one day, while noodling on guitar I started playing this.
This is weird, but I’ve written about it before: new work often shows up as a song.
And the whole thing broke loose and now I’m 15,000k words into it and loving it. The idea that sparked this productive direction was “What if a mining boomtown like Tombstone or Deadwood, busted loose in time and being hurled back 13,000 years time time?” Back into a lost civilization of mostly sword and a little bit of sorcery. Gunslingers, evil wizards, crumbling civilizations, rising empires -- the whole mess. It’s big, it’s ridiculous, strangely thoughtful and I love it.
Wait what? Sword and Sorcery and Gunslingers? WHY?
So here’s what’s to love.
ONE- It’s a western and everybody loves Westerns. You might think you don’t love Westerns, but you give me a movie that huge numbers of people love and I will show you how it’s a Western movie in disguise. Don’t believe me. Let’s take this to the comments section.
Right now the most-watched thing in America is Yellowstone, a Western starring Kevin Costner. I’ve never seen the show and it never entered into my thinking, but it proves my point.
TWO- It’s a huge setting, that lends itself to massively serial storytelling. How to Succeed in Evil is small. A comedy of manners. And I love many, many things about that. But it’s confining.
THREE- It’s very conceptual. It’s a kind of Colombian exchange. New technology meets an entirely different world. The Age of Steam and Enlightenment Values vs Mysticism and Darkness. All of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court kind of stuff. And what would happen if you could hand the ideas in the Constitution to, say, the Ancient Sumerians? I have no illusion that would work, but it’d be an incredibly interesting cultural mess.
Plotsing: Reconciling the Pantser v. Plotter tension.
I have changed the way I work. I’ve gone from a plotter to a Plotser. Which is my term for how I reconcile the plotter vs. pantser debate. (Do you plot everything or do you write by the seat of your pants)
What I do now is prepare a palette before I start writing. I don’t figure out a plot, but I’ll figure out things that could happen. I don’t figure out which characters I’m going to use, but I’ll figure out characters that could be useful. I research/develop the setting and places and plot twists and potential conflicts between all of it. And then, I don’t care if I use any of them. It’s like a workshop full of tools and raw materials. Or a well-stocked kitchen. Everything is they’re if I need it. And I am free to write with confidence that I have what I need.
Doing it all in Public So I can Have Your Help.
So for this book, I’m going to show you every part of this. I’m going to lay out my mis en place -- talk about the inspirations and conventions of the genres I’m working in and the challenges of the work. And I’m going to post chapters as I go.
And I’m doing this, because I want you to come out and play.
I’m stealing this ethos from Role-Playing Games. In an RPG a great question, thoughtful insight or direct challenge from a player/reader can unlock even greater things in the GM/writer. And because we have this instantaneous, multi-media mode of communication (the internet in all its horror and wonder) I think we can use it to create a better experience of fiction for both author and audience.
We can create and play a better game. One where the process is more fun and the end product is even better.
How’s that for a goal?
I’m pulling a full load with my company writing and producing video and animations for a bunch of wonderful clients. It seems that everybody wants something before the end of the year. But I can see a lull coming between Christmas and New Years. So here’s my plan:
Post about the mise en place between now and then.
Get to a good 30-50k of draft in the can
Take the lull between Christmas and New Years to edit and rewrite
Start putting “chapters” out Jan 1, if not before.
Every time I set a deadline, I hear the Gods laugh. But better to set a deadline and be late than not set a deadline and get nothing done.