What Was I Thinking?

September 23, 2005:

I’ve been trying to sort out some files in my “Works in Progress” folder — classifying them as novels, essays, short fiction, or whatever — and I’m finding stuff where I have no idea at all how I was planning to complete some of these things.

For example, I wrote three stanzas of… um… something; I really don’t know what it was going to be. And they’re stanzas 1, 3, and 4; 2 is missing.

Here’s what I have:

Warlock Tea
by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Margaret’s mother was rushing about
Getting coats and preparing them both to go out
“It won’t take too long,” she said, “so you’ll see,
And when we come back we can have warlock tea.”

[missing verse]

Mister Bear, sitting up high on the shelf,
Muttered uncomfortably to himself,
“I wonder just what that could mean,” muttered he,
“To say that they both can have this warlock tea.”

The rocking horse down by the bureau replied,
“I’ve been everywhere, traveled far, traveled wide.
“A warlock, you know, is a magical man,
“Working much the same spells that the old witches can.”

What on Earth was that going to be about?

This is my competition…

From February 15, 2005:

Something I stumbled across on a website where would-be screenwriters were invited to make pitches.

Oh, my God….

“Greetings. The following is a screenplay that I’m using to seek representation. The Florescent Shaded Teddy Bear Murders: An island community of Millionaire supermodels must overcome their vanity when giant, ravenous teddy bears threaten their quirky lifestyle. Sparkle Island, a place of grotesque wealth where locals use “cosmetic genetics” to eliminate every flaw in their appearance, celebrate Tickle Festivals to relish the euphoria of hysterical laughter and thrill their pets with the sport of bungee jumping. The unattractive in this world fight for the leftover crumbs of opportunity, as success is primarily given to beauty before talent. Paradise is thrown into a blender when fanged beasts of plush mysteriously arrive to chow down on the gorgeous elite, leaving the less-attractive-hell, let’s just call them ugly-labor force untouched. Police search the town in their limousines for clues, a military with questionable motive enters the fray, led by a Commander armed with lethal PEZ dispensers. But it’s the town princess and ugly accordion virtuoso who discover the bears’ origin: a paltry, balding scientist who created them as revenge for not getting a promised genetic makeover that would finally give him beauty and inclusion among the island’s royalty.”

The Spawn of Orion

Awhile back, Wildside sold Orion UK the rights to publish ebook editions of twenty-four (at least) of my books.

The Misenchanted SwordOrion’s ebooks appeared a couple of weeks ago, under the Gateway imprint, and I finally got around to checking ’em out to see what they did.

Um.

Relics of WarFirst off, they have two titles wrong — they call Relics of War The Relics of War, which is not the title, and have transformed The Cyborg and the Sorcerers into The Cyborg and the Sorceress.

Second, they have published twenty-one titles, but for reasons I do not understand they have not included Taking Flight, The Blood of A Dragon, The Wizard and the War Machine, or The Nightmare People. (I suppose it’s possible The Nightmare People wasn’t included in the deal.)

The Cyborg and the SorcerersThird, they call Mind Candy, a collection of essays, “science fiction.” I didn’t expect them to publish it at all, since it’s all about American pop culture.

Mind CandyAnd fourth, they have put a dragon on every single cover except the two “science fiction” titles, The Cyborg and the “Sorceress” and Mind Candy. No cover is even remotely connected to the actual contents of the book. Some of them are very pretty, but still.

Sheesh.

Of course, it’s nice to have them available to European readers, no matter what they look like.

Going About My Business

I had a sudden rash of other business this past week or two that kept me from doing much on Stone Unturned or Tom Derringer. I had to read, sign, and deliver three contracts: from Wildside for The Lawrence Watt-Evans Fantasy Megapack, from a Canadian publisher for an original short story called “The Prisoner of Shalott,” and from a Chinese publisher to translate and reprint “The Last Bastion.”

I had to deliver not just the stories and introduction for The Lawrence Watt-Evans Fantasy Megapack, but the copyright information and first-publication data for all twenty-four stories.

An editor in New York expressed interest in seeing an SF novel proposal, so I wrote up a proper outline for Earthright, revised the first four chapters, and sent the whole thing to my agent to read and pass along. I doubt anything will come of it.

I remembered I promised a story to an anthology with a June 1st deadline, so I dug out the story I plan to send them — or rather, the first ten pages of a story, as I haven’t written the rest. I’d lost track of the file after WordPerfect crashed a couple of times; it wasn’t lost or damaged, I just forgot until yesterday that it was one I should re-open. I’ve only added a single sentence to that ten pages.

I also started looking for somewhere to donate my papers; we’re trying to reduce how much stuff we’ll be putting in storage after we sell this house, and there are a dozen file boxes in the attic.

Lots of writing business. Not that much writing.

Megapack, Assemble!

The contracts are signed, so I can now safely brag about the upcoming Lawrence Watt-Evans Fantasy Megapack that Wildside will be publishing. It’s a 99-cent e-book (though a trade paperback version is also possible) collecting two dozen of my old short fantasy stories, intended to lure readers in to buy lots of my other Wildside books.

I don’t know when it’ll be available; that’s up to Wildside, which tends to operate on a “When we get around to it” basis. Could be days, could be months.

Someone on Twitter asked about the table of contents, so here are the twenty-four stories that will be included:

“The Temple of Life”
“Mehitabel Goodwin”
“Heart of Stone”
“The Final Challenge”
“Beth’s Unicorn”
“The Bride of Bigfoot”
“Keeping Up Appearances”
“Dropping Hints”
“The Bogle in the Basement”
“The Man for the Job”
“Chaperone”
“Out of the Woods”
“Ghost Stories”
“The Frog Wizard”
“Horsing Around”
“Spirit Dump”
“Arms and the Woman”
“Mittens and Hotfoot” (originally published as by Walter Vance Awsten)
“Just Perfect”
“Trixie”
“In Re: Nephelegeretes”
“In for A Pound”
“Something to Grin About”
“Best Present Ever!”

Productivity

I feel odd right now. I’ve been very, very productive lately, more so than pretty much any time in the last twenty years.

So far in 2016 I’ve written 565 pages, on five different novels and a short story. (I may have written other short stuff as well, but I don’t have records of anything else.) That’s good for me, and happened despite a trip to China and many other distractions. The last few weeks have been particularly good — something like half that total got written in the last sixty days. And I think that’s partly because of where I am on all my most current projects.

I’ve always sped up after a certain point in whatever novel I’m working on — exactly what point, and sped up how much, will vary, but it always happens. I get to a stage where everything important is worked out in my head and it’s mostly just typing it out. I wrote the final third of Nightside City in five days, which was my previous record.

(This only refers to first drafts. Rewriting is a whole different thing.)

Sometimes there would be enough momentum in that rush to finish a novel that I would then surge rapidly through the opening chapters of a new novel.

Well, what happened this time is that after doing little writing for months because I was too damn busy with other stuff, when I got back to it I had three novels near their respective tipping points at the same time. I hit my stride on Tom Derringer in the Tunnels of Terror and rolled directly into Tom Derringer and the Steam-Powered Saurians, and when that started to slow I hit the tipping point in Stone Unturned, and I think I’m about at the tipping point for Bravo Foxtrot, as well. (Have I ever made it explicit that Bravo Foxtrot is the protagonist’s name but not necessarily the title? Because that’s the case.)

Three novels at once hit the “hurry through” stage. That’s never happened before, and it feels strange.

Anyway, I’ve been in “finish the novel” mode for the last month and a half, but I still have around three or four hundred pages to go on two different novels, so I don’t know whether I can sustain it for the entire run.

And there’s also the “start a new project” aspect. That’s a real thing for me. Now that the part of my brain that builds the underlying story is finished with Stone Unturned and Bravo Foxtrot, it’s looking for something new to do, and it’s hopping from one idea to the next, sometimes developing unfinished old projects, sometimes coming up with new ones, and it’s distracting. Right now it really, really wants me to start work on an untitled novel about two sisters where one has a magical talent but it’s the other one who has a magical destiny, but I know if I do that I’ll lose my momentum on Stone and Bravo.

(At least I pried it off Tom Derringer and the Steam-Powered Saurians and Tom Derringer and the Electric Empire for now. Yes, I want to write those, but I want to get other stuff done first, and I know those aren’t really ready for serious focus yet. And that two-sisters story is going to be so cool when I have time to work on it. And I’ve also been involuntarily working out more of The Dragon’s Price and The Siege of Vair. I was even thinking about One Hundred Suns the other day, and that’s been largely abandoned since the 1980s.)

What I’m worried about is burning out, or getting distracted. I don’t think I can keep this up forever. There was a stretch of really high productivity in the early 1990s (half of which wasn’t obvious because it was by Nathan Archer), but it didn’t last. This one probably won’t, either.

Dancing with Ideas

Back in 2007 I came up with an idea for a fantasy story called “The Dance Lesson,” involving a wizard and a royal court’s dancing teacher — probably a short story, but it might reach novelet length. It could, I thought, be set in the world of the Walasian Empire, as seen in A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station, which had not yet seen print when I came up with it.

But then I put it aside and didn’t worry about it. I never actually forgot it, but I didn’t do anything with it, either. I knew the central characters and their situation and the ending, but I hadn’t worked out the details and didn’t think it was worth the effort.

And then on Monday, April 6, 2015, almost eight years later, while sprawled on the couch watching TV, I suddenly knew the rest of the plot. It popped into my head without warning, completely unbidden. I could write the whole story any time, possibly in a single sitting.

But I need to figure out where to set it. It could be in the world of the Walasian Empire, but not in Walasia itself; the political set-up is all wrong. It would have to be in either Ermetia or the Cousins, probably the latter.

I could probably jam it into the Small Kingdoms of Ethshar, but it would be a bad fit.

The world where my short story “Keeping Up Appearances,” in one of Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthologies, would work. Or I could create a new setting; a pretty generic medieval fantasy setting would work fine.

Maybe I’ll just start writing and see whether it decides where it wants itself to go.

Tom Derringer in the Tunnels of Terror

Well, now that I’ve published Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship, I’m working on a sequel. Which means I have yet another opening scene to post here, and here it is.

Warning: There are spoilers here! If you don’t want to know anything about how Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship comes out, you might want to skip this.

I first heard the name Gabriel Trask from a self-proclaimed emperor in the skies above southern Mexico, in the year 1882. I was sixteen, almost seventeen, at the time, and newly commenced upon a career as an adventurer – an occupation which, curious as it may seem, is my family trade.

That conversation took place aboard a gigantic airship, where I had confronted a would-be conqueror by the name of Hezekiah McKee. I was there entirely of my own initiative, but Mr. McKee did not believe that; he was quite certain I was in the pay of one of his old enemies, and named this Gabriel Trask as the most likely candidate.

I had, as I said, never heard of Mr. Trask before that moment. Had McKee survived those events, I would have liked to have questioned him about this person, but I regret to say that Mr. McKee did not survive. My curiosity remained utterly unsatisfied until some months later, after my safe return to New York City.

I had business to conduct there with Dr. John Pierce, proprietor of the Pierce Archives, concerning certain details of my Mexican adventure, and when I had concluded that more or less to my satisfaction, I asked him, “What can you tell me about Gabriel Trask?”

“Trask?” he replied. “The name does not immediately bring anything to mind. Where did you encounter it?”

“When I confronted Reverend McKee, he supposed that I was working for this Trask,” I explained. “He said that Gabriel Trask employed a cabal of spies and assassins, and was not to be trusted, but that was all I learned. The circumstances were such that I could not inquire for more details.”

Dr. Pierce nodded. “I see,” he said. “Let me see what I can turn up.” He rose and crossed to a wooden cabinet.

We were, I should explain, in his private office, at the rear of the Pierce Archives. This unique establishment occupied the entire second floor of a very large building on Lafayette Street in New York City, and housed the most complete records anywhere of the doings of adventurers past and present. Here were copies of virtually every treasure map to ever come to light, along with notes on whether the treasure in question had been recovered or yet remained to be found; here, also, were reports on every villain apprehended, every monster slain, by any of Dr. Pierce’s clients – or those catered to by his father, or his grandfather, or their fathers, for the Pierce Archives had been in operation for some three hundred years. Here was gathered the accumulated knowledge of scientists and mystics of every stripe. If knowledge that would be of use to an adventurer was to be found anywhere in the civilized world, it was most probably here in the Pierce Archives.

I had traded the right to copy my late father’s journals for a full membership and free use of the Archives, and that included the services of the archivist himself, Dr. Pierce, and his employees. If I wanted information on Gabriel Trask, then any information there might be about such a man in the Archives I would have.

Thus I sat and watched as Dr. Pierce pulled out a drawer and shuffled through the folders therein. After a moment’s search he slid the drawer closed and said, “He has never been a client here – at least, not under that name. Come, let us check the cross references.”

I rose and followed as he led the way out into the main room, where what seemed like miles of shelving held hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books, ledgers, journals, and file boxes of various sizes, as well as innumerable stacks of loose documents.

I would have had no idea where to begin, but Dr. Pierce was the master of this vast domain of paper and ink; he led me directly to a high shelf where dozens of leather-bound volumes stood.

I am not a short man; I stand only a little below six feet in height. Even so, this shelf was above my head, and I am not certain I could have reached those books. Dr. Pierce, however, is a man of extraordinary stature; by lifting up on his toes he could read the spines, and he had no trouble in selecting the tome he wanted and pulling it out.

A white label on the cover read TRAB – TREA, and I glanced up at its companions. If this fat book covered so small a portion of the alphabet, that explained why the complete set ran fifty feet or more along that shelf.

I watched as Dr. Pierce set the book on a reading stand and flipped it open. He made no attempt to conceal the pages, so I took the liberty of reading over his shoulder – figuratively, for in fact he was tall enough that I instead leaned around his side.

The content was hand-written, and unevenly spaced; I realized that these records were still being kept, and that space had been allowed for future entries. I watched Dr. Pierce as he turned pages until he finally found the entry he sought.

“Trask, Gabriel A.,” he read aloud. “See Norton, Joshua, Emperor.” He glanced at me. “Are you familiar with the late Emperor Norton?”

“I have heard of him,” I said. “But he’s been dead for some time, hasn’t he?”

Dr. Pierce nodded. “More than two years now.”

“Was he Gabriel Trask? I don’t understand. McKee must have known he was dead.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be too certain of that,” Dr. Pierce replied. “After all, McKee spent most of that time since the Emperor’s death out in the Arizona desert, building that monstrous airship. But no, Gabriel Trask and Emperor Norton are not one and the same. Let us see what the connection was.” With that he restored the volume to its place on the top shelf, then led the way to another part of his establishment. Here he readily located, presumably from memory because he did not bother to read any of the labels pasted on the leather spines, another set of journals – perhaps a dozen fat volumes, on a shelf at waist height. He drew out the last of these, opened it seemingly at random, and began thumbing through the pages.

I waited patiently until at last he found what he sought. He nodded to himself, then peered over the book at me.

“It appears that Mr. Trask was in His Imperial Majesty’s employ. According to this, Mr. Trask was rumored to be the head of the late emperor’s secret service.”

“Emperor Norton had a secret service?” I exclaimed. “But I thought his claim to be emperor was a joke, the ravings of a lunatic that the people of San Francisco found it amusing to humor!”

Dr. Pierce smiled a dry and humorless smile. “In time I think you may find, Mr. Derringer, that the distinction between a madman’s fantasy and the real world is not always as clear-cut as one might expect. Emperor Norton was indeed mad, or at least so everyone believes, but his delusional reign endured for more than twenty years, and in that time it acquired some of the characteristics of a real government. This man Trask attended His Majesty intermittently for over a decade, and the circumstances surrounding these meetings led more than one observer to conclude that Mr. Trask was the emperor’s spymaster.”

“But then…” I struggled to make sense of this. “Then had McKee run afoul of our self-proclaimed emperor? He gave no indication of this.”

Dr. Pierce slid the book back into its place on the shelf. “I have no idea,” he said. “I cannot say with certainty that the man associated with Emperor Norton is the same Gabriel Trask to whom McKee referred. I can only report that I have no other records of anyone by that name.” He tapped the spine of the journal. “This tells me that there were more than a dozen reports of a man calling himself Gabriel Trask keeping company with His Majesty, and that two of my correspondents – a woman named Felicity Samuels, and a young man who goes by John Cavendish – independently surmised that Mr. Trask was in charge of at least some of the emperor’s confidential agents.”

“I still find it astonishing that the emperor had any confidential agents!”

Dr. Pierce smiled again. “Perhaps he did not. Perhaps Miss Samuels and Mr. Cavendish were mistaken. I am amused, though, that you find it so unlikely, given your own recent experiences.”

“And you have no other references to a Gabriel Trask?”

“If I do, they have not yet been indexed, and I cannot hope to find them for you any time soon.”

Why YA, Eh?

Elsewhere (i.e., Twitter) I have recently said that I consider myself to be retired as a novelist — that is, I’m no longer trying to write for a living, but just as a hobby. I have no intention of not writing, I’m just not going to worry anymore about whether my work is commercial.

This prompted a phone call from a friend who made several suggestions about how I might be able to resurrect my professional career and once again establish myself with a New York publisher. He did not ask whether I wanted to re-establish myself — a question I can’t really answer, as my emotions on that subject are very mixed.

He also kept making suggestions that involved writing YA — “young adult” — novels. This is not new. People, including my agent and a few editors, have been telling me for about twenty years now that I should write YA, since that’s a huge market and several of my novels would fit comfortably in that niche. They have not asked me whether I want to write YA. That question is much easier to answer. I don’t.

It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but I’m pretty sure now. I don’t.

I never read much YA as a kid. I started reading Heinlein when I was seven, but I didn’t read any of his juveniles until ten years later — I started off with The Green Hills of Earth. I never read any of Andre Norton’s at all — still haven’t. Missed the Winston series entirely, never saw The Runaway Robot or Revolt on Alpha C or any of the others that SF fans usually point to as their gateway drugs. From age seven on, I read adult SF and fantasy; the house was full of the stuff, since both my parents were SF readers.

As for other genres, I mostly missed those, too. I started reading mysteries with Rex Stout, adventure with Edgar Rice Burroughs and C.S. Forester, etc., all in grade school. The stories I read that were aimed at younger readers were mostly either 19th century, British, or both, and stuff like The Princess and the Goblin or Bushranger’s Gold did not provide a grounding in what’s meant by “YA” nowadays.

About the only exception was the Tom Swift Jr. series, which I discovered when I was ten or eleven — after reading stuff like The Door into Summer and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Oh, and do the Oz books count?

Anyway. People started telling me back in the ’90s, maybe even in the ’80s, that I should try writing YA. I did not really have a firm grasp on what they meant. Fact is, I still don’t. But once Tor dumped me in 2009, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

So I tried. I started several novels that I thought were YA. Most of them fizzled out; I just wasn’t that interested in any of them. A couple reached the point of being proposals I sent to my agent; he rejected most of them, for various reasons.

One proposal became Relics of War, which isn’t YA, it’s just another Ethshar novel.

I finished one novel on spec — Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship. My agent couldn’t sell it, as YA or otherwise, and pointed out that it was unmarketable as YA because it’s written in the style of the 1880s.

Well, yeah — it’s set in the 1880s, told in first person, so of course I wrote it that way. But I am informed that modern YA readers won’t tolerate such old-fashioned prose. I don’t know why not, really — when I was a kid I read plenty of stuff written in the 19th century, florid and prolix as it was, without any problem.

And then there’s Graveyard Girl. This was one I actually got moderately enthusiastic about, and which my agent was very enthusiastic about, from the proposal. I wrote it, delivered it — and was told that it wasn’t a YA novel. It didn’t have enough in it about relationships, or personal growth, or the other stuff that YA apparently needs to be about.

And at this point I realized that I really don’t care about YA, and I don’t want to write it. It’s not anything I ever cared about.

So I’m going to write what I please, and if any of it turns out to be YA, that’s cool — but I am not going to aim at that target anymore. I don’t grok YA, I never have, and at age sixty I doubt I ever will.