A Little Chit-Chat: Two Topics

First: Writing

I’ve been working seriously on five different novels lately — Ishta’s Companion (an Ethshar novel that’s been in the works under various titles for more than twenty years), The Innkeeper’s Daughter (a fantasy with romantic elements I started on a whim last year), On A Field Sable (third in the Bound Lands series, after A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station), Stone Unturned (a big complicated Ethshar story), and Graveyard Girl (a young adult novel about a girl with a specialized psychic power). That’s not counting assorted revisions, proofs, editing, etc. People have asked me how I can do that, work on five at once — how can I keep them all straight? Why don’t I focus on one?

The answer is, I don’t know how I do it, or even really why. I learned to work on two novels at once back in the late 1980s, so if I hit a slow patch on one I could switch to the other for awhile and refresh myself; I did that fairly often, though not all the time. Typically one would be Ethshar, and one would be something else. I once tried working on three simultaneously, and back then it didn’t work, I’d lose track of things and get confused — so why is it working now? I dunno. Practice, maybe. I know that not only am I now able to juggle five, I could actually handle more — I deliberately cut the number down to five awhile back because I was working on so many at once that none of them was making much headway. I counted eighteen at one point that were nominally active works in progress, though I wasn’t actually getting much of anywhere on several of them.

How can I do that? No idea. It just happens. Sometimes when I switch from one to the next I need to re-read a little to remind myself where I was, but the voice and storyline are all there in my head, ready to go.

Why am I doing it? Well, mostly, I think, because I don’t have a reliable major market at present. For most of my thirty-five years of writing novels professionally, I’ve had books under contract to a publisher, so I worked on those. When I didn’t actually have a contract, I still knew more or less what the market wanted. After Tor cut me loose by rejecting On A Field Sable, though, I didn’t know what would or wouldn’t sell, so I’ve been trying lots of different things, and so far most of them haven’t worked. No major publisher was interested in One-Eyed Jack or Vika’s Avenger. Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship is still out there, but the prospects don’t look good. My agent had ideas about what he could sell for me, but they mostly didn’t mesh with what I wanted to write. (Graveyard Girl is the exception, but I’ve been working on that for three years now and it still isn’t finished because I ran into plot problems and it’s hard for a guy in his fifties to write from the point of view of a contemporary fifteen-year-old girl, especially when the story’s all about coming to terms with death.)

So I’ve been jumping around, looking for something that would reconnect with the market. Why I haven’t focused on one project at a time I couldn’t really tell you.

At this point, I’d really like to get some of these done, and off the list — partly so I can get back to others I put aside when I cut the list from eighteen to five. I’d like to work on The Dragon’s Price, for example, or Earthright, but am resisting until I finish one of the five.

Second: Travel

On a whim, we spent last weekend in Rhode Island — mostly Newport, looking at the “summer cottages” of the rich and famous of a century ago, but with a couple of stops in Providence, as well. Toured five mansions in Newport — the Elms, the Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, Rosecliff, and Marble House.

The variety was interesting. Rosecliff was designed entirely to throw lavish parties in — the whole house is built around the magnificent ballroom. The “marble” facade is fake — it’s terra cotta. There have been some major movies that used Rosecliff when they needed a lush 1920s ballroom. The original owner, a silver heiress named Theresa Fair Oelrichs, intended to establish herself in high society simply by throwing the best parties, and seems to have succeeded — though when the Gilded Age passed and such entertainments were no longer the thing, she went a bit dotty and died relatively young.

Marble House was built entirely to show off — the people who grew up in it hated it and found it depressing, because it wasn’t really meant to be lived in, it was meant to impress people. Each room was a recreation of a particular era in French design, all of them overblown. Alva Vanderbilt, who built Marble House, may have been important in the women’s suffrage movement, but she was apparently a pretty horrible person.

The other three were all actual homes; yes, they were meant to impress people, but they were also meant to be comfortable places to live in and raise kids. The Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is the best of them. The people who grew up summering there, or at the Elms, remember them very fondly.

Chateau-sur-Mer, the oldest of them, was the only one meant for year-round living; the others were just for the summer.

It was an entertaining trip — and since I’m currently writing scenes set in huge upper-class estates in On A Field Sable, the whole thing is legitimate research and therefore tax deductible!

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