Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another one of those completely unpredictable revivals

I keep hoping to get back to regular blogging, which I've missed -- it's the equivalent of listening to myself talk, which is one of my favorite things in the world -- so I thought I'd just pay a quick visit here after all these months because there are some little bits of news, and maybe a thing or two to say.  And then I'll either disappear again for months or start showing up with long form thoughts, whichever seems to come more naturally.

So first the big news: Today was the release date for the paperback of THE LAST PRESIDENT, which you can find on Amazon, or if you're currently mad at them, on Barnes and Noble, or if you'd prefer your business to go somewhere less corporate, at Powells, or if you want to find some nice friendly obscure corner of the universe, you can always go to IndieBound.  THE LAST PRESIDENT wraps up the "origin trilogy" for my Seven Nations future that began with DIRECTIVE 51 and continued through DAYBREAK ZERO.

Those of you who have looked in on Wikipedia or a couple of other places know that one reason why THE LAST PRESIDENT was long delayed was a struggle with my publisher, and that I've said I hope someday time and space may permit me to issue a "directors cut" (i.e. a The Way It Spoze To Be Version) of the first two books, and some people have said they'd rather not start the series if things are going to change behind them as they read.  

 I've answered that question in a few different places, but never here on my own blog, so I'll explain, and then leave it up to you:

The major editorial difference between me and the otherwise reasonably pleasant people at Ace, was, in my opinion, they wanted a novelized screenplay according to present Hollywood linear-storytelling principles, and I wanted SPRAWL. Let me make that point in larger type: I love and value SPRAWL in my own reading, and in general if a story has one clear hero with one clear problem around which all the plot turns, it bores the living shit out of me.  Esthetically I'm much more in the camp of Dickens, Dumas, Steinbeck, Sabatini, etc. Or if you prefer, I'm much more a Game of Thrones kind of guy nowadays, and not much of a Dark Knight Trilogy type.

So I originally conceived and planned a sprawling epic with a large number of intersecting subplots, and one of the things I liked most about it was the idea that I would not have to have a side; I could be on many sides at once, rooting for the Daybreakers to bring down the Big System (I've got a deep Luddite streak) and for the Feds to stop them or reverse the process, letting my right wingers talk like right wingers and my leftists like leftists and the squishy Democrats in between do their squishy well-meaning things, and so on. 

And the constant feedback from the editor was:

 cut that you don't need that take that out pick a side we need a thread we can follow one line one true make it something we can summarize in a sentence with one hero one problem one issue tell us which side is right don't let him do bad things he's a good guy don't give so much sympathy to the bad guys BECAUSE HE IS ... and anyway don't explain how that works people want to read what blows up next don't tell that story about the character it doesn't lead anywhere ...

So the first two books were chopped way, way, way down,  with me trying to keep them sprawling and ambiguous and undecided and interesting, like the world, and the editor trying to narrow them down to one-hero-one-problem-on-one-side like  movies-on-the-reader's-forehead.  One way we frequently compromised was that I got to have some of the material left in but with scenes shortened, and with everything forced into a role of amplifying the Heather O'Grainne Tries To Save The Republic plot. 

It was kind of a  perpetual kicking the can down the road: well, you can work that stuff into the next book, and make it the center of that.  As long as it only has one clear center.

That all came to a head with THE LAST PRESIDENT because there were a bunch of plots I was now expected to drop altogether (since there wouldn't be room to finish them) and because Heather's story is rather a fizzle in that part of the epic; other characters have much more interesting things to do, while she mostly reflects on the huge changes in the two years while civilization collapses and something like 7.7 out of 8 billion people on the planet die.

So this led to a complete impasse because, frankly, I was tired of putting my name on a simplified-for-movie-morons version of my books, and I'd spent years vandalizing the work I liked on the promise that the books would sell well, but  the marketing in fact was de-emphasizing most of what I was interested in, and shoehorning them into categories where the audience they would go to didn't interest me as much. 

And I don't know about other writers might have done, indeed once upon a time I thought I was pretty good at "being professional" a.k.a. self-betrayal, but I found it hard to keep coming up with the energy to finish ruining an idea I had once loved.

After about a year and a half in that impasse, we struck a deal: I wrote THE LAST PRESIDENT as if the first two books had been the ones I wanted to write, and they basically cut me loose; there's no expectation that the series will continue at Ace (but in today's world, it can continue many-elsewhere'd). 

Thus, THE LAST PRESIDENT sprawls and jumps and characters who were barely left as nubbins in previous books are suddenly major, and it may dislocate a few readers with highly precise and detailed memories, but it's about the characters and situations it should be about, and it isn't on a side and most of the numbers (of plots, characters, problems, etc.) are way honking bigger than one.

As for what will go into the eventual-if-ever director's cut, well, I will probably undo, retcon, or replace very little, perhaps nothing, that is in the current published editions of DIRECTIVE 51 and of DAYBREAK ZERO. It's just that a whole lot of fun scenes, subplots, and characters that should have been there in the first place will be there, replacing the short narrative summaries or the quick reports in dialogue that were put in as placeholders. Collum Duquesne, who was a fun character in the last half of Directive 51, will actually get to appear on stage, instead of only by report later. You'll get to see how the guy that shot down the hijacked Air Force Two guides his family to survival. You'll see more of the activities of Darcage earlier, and spend more time with the Carlucci family as they adapt to life in the FBI compound in San Diego, and watch more maneuvering between Duquesne and Quattro and Harrison Castro over who's going to lead the Castle Movement, and instead of coming in in the last few chapters of THE LAST PRESIDENT, the guys who <spoiler> will have been there all along having major adventures across Asia, and well, shucks, just LOTS

The whole idea, originally, was LOTS, after all.

But you won't have to unlearn anything from the current editions. They're chopped and ground down in ways that irritate me, but they're not wrong.

Now, the reason for engineering the Seven Nations Future in such a complex way is surprisingly simple: I wanted a huge canvas for all kinds of adventures, and it took a pretty big story to set that up. I wanted to contrive a dieselpunk kind of world that would never be wiped out by computers and nukes, as was the interwar era where so many of my favorite pulp adventures took place. And now I have that world set up, even if the setting up process irritated the hell out of me and wasn't nearly the fun it should've been.

So I'm not going to go back and fix the origin trilogy anytime soon. Rather, the next books set in that background will be mostly young people having adventures in the brand new Post-Daybreak shattered world. Sometime this fall I hope to write about how Acey Carlucci makes her bones as fighter, scout, explorer, and operative by delivering her gentle, sensitive brother to college -- across 2500 miles of crazy Tribals, paranoid freeholders, and some honest-to-the-premise pirates. After that, I think it's time for Whorf and Ihor to sail on Discovery  again, but it might be something else entirely; Cassie and Pauline are well positioned for a different adventure that might be next instead.

Those next few novels will be mostly much shorter adventure stories,  and I suppose that might be more appealing for those of you with Save-the-Cat movie esthetics; I like writing short novels too, though I still think the business of a novel is to digress interestingly, even if briefly.
So it might be ten more novels in the series before I get back around to the origin trilogy. Or three, or never. And of course a cement mixer might drop off the overpass onto me and my old Kia tomorrow.*

 If any of that helped you decide whether to read now or wait, you're welcome. And if you've been following right along, well, the paperback includes all the thrills of the hardcover, cheaper, and suitable for jamming into the back pocket of your overalls.

Other news of possible interest:

•The nice people at Open Road who have been reviving much of my backlist are bringing back the three Timeline Wars books, sometime in the next few months.  Those are the adventures of Mark Strang, who travels across time blowing things up, because he's so crazy that it seems like a good idea.**

•The last convention I went to was Worldcon in Denver in 2008, somewhat under duress (my agent at the time had had to cancel coming, and insisted I take his ticket so I could take agency clients to a dinner for him).  For some reason or other I have decided to try going to a convention again; I always enjoyed the small literary convention Bubonicon, in Albuquerque, which I think of as sort of a less-pretentious Western version of Readercon. So I intend to go to that; it's in the first week of August.

•For those wondering what I'm working on at the moment, I'm closing in on finishing another mainstream YA, my first since Tales of the Madman Underground, with a working title of Grace, Basically. I'm writing it on spec because I seem to have no ability whatever to write a proposal that explains what a mainstream novel is about, except "It's about 90,000 words" in this case. Next after that will be MUTINY ON UMBRIEL'S GLORY, which returns us to the adventures of Jak Jinnaka, and which I expect to be quick (but I am a notoriously bad predictor of such things), and then the untitled-so-far next book in the Daybreak series I described above.  Also in the works, in parallel because it uses a different part of the brain: the self-explanatory SINGAPORE MATH FIGURED OUT FOR PARENTS, or "you too can understand your child's arithmetic homework again."

And I think that's more than enough for a blog post revival. Those of you who have loyally hung on watching this blog as it gathered cobwebs and dust, I have no idea whether this is a brief lurch from the grave or the start of regular blogging again; most days I can't remember what I had for breakfast and can't plan what's for dinner.


*leaving the crushed wreckage of a worn-but-serviceable cheap way to go places, inside his smashed car. 

**Right now I have no plans for the Time Raider books, which were the adventures of Dan Samson, who travels backwards in time blowing things up, because he's so dumb he can't think of anything else to do.  I often thought of fusing the two concepts into a series to be called TIME TRAVELING PSYCHOTIC MORON, but I probably won't write that one.