When Stories Explode

Not a reprint! An all-new blog post about current stuff!

So a few years back I came up with an idea for a story called “The Dance Lesson.” When I say “an idea,” I do not mean a complete story; I mean an idea, something that could be an element in a story. In this case, I had two characters and a social situation and an ending scene — not a climax, but the closing scene of the story, part of the denouement, a bit that would reveal something about the viewpoint character and leave the reader with a good feeling.

I had very little idea how to get there, but I figured it wouldn’t be hard, just a matter of constructing a simple plot where Character A would solve Character B’s problem. I wrote an opening scene that introduced the characters and set up Character B’s problem, the one A would need to solve.

But I didn’t actually know how he’d solve it, or why he’d want to, and I didn’t have a market in mind for a story like this, so I stopped there.

Then later I came up with an idea to make their initial interaction much more interesting, so I added that, which completed the opening scene, but I still didn’t know what came next, so again I set it aside. Before I set it aside, though, I changed the title to “The Dance Teacher” or “The Dancing Teacher” because the “lesson” part no longer fit.

Then last year I got an anthology invitation, with a June 1, 2017 deadline. It was for a follow-up anthology to one I’d been invited to ages ago, where I’d started a story called “Fearless,” but then got too busy to finish it before the deadline for that earlier volume. So I hauled out “Fearless” (which took awhile, because I’d forgotten the title) and looked it over and discovered I’d forgotten half the plot, and it might not really be all that great a fit with the anthology guidelines anyway, which was annoying.

But then it occurred me that “The Dancing Teacher” might suit the anthology instead, so I went and looked at it, and decided that to fit the guidelines it needed a particular sort of conflict (which I am having second thoughts about even as I type this), so I worked out a plot that could make this happen. I wrote more of the story.

And I realized it was going off the rails. I had Character A doing something boneheaded that could not, by any reasonable means, result in the happy ending I wanted.

So I threw out most of it, back to almost where I’d stopped over a year ago.

Then I started forward again — and almost immediately, I realize I’ve set up A in a situation where he must lie to his employer with fairly little justification. Not just a little lie, either, but a serious deception that could have serious negative consequences. Which makes him a little more morally ambiguous than I’d intended.

Why is this story being so damned uncooperative?

And So It Begins

Newsgroup post, March 4, 2006:

With the kids out of the house, the place doesn’t get messed up much. This means Julie actually has these silly fantasies about someday getting everything cleaned up and sorted out.

We had to move a bunch of boxes to install the new water heater, including one that had been partially soaked by the leak that precipitated the departure of the old water heater, and then they had to stay out of the way until the WSSC inspector came to approve the installation. That meant that those boxes were sitting out in the basement den, taunting Julie.

So we’ve actually started going through some of this old stuff, reorganizing it, throwing out the obvious trash, etc.

And we’re stumbling across stuff that has us wondering, “What the heck should we do with this?”

For example, there are four manuscripts here — photocopies, not originals — of novels I was asked to blurb in the 1980s. Specifically, The Magic of Recluce, by Lee Modesitt; Alchemy Unlimited, by Douglas W. Clark; The Duchess of Kneedeep, by Atanielle Annyn Noel; and The Blind Archer, by John Betancourt.

Now, what should I do with these? eBay? Donate them to a SFWA charity auction? Trash? Donate to a museum somewhere?

April 4, 2017: I note that nobody had any useful suggestions, and I still have all these manuscripts ten years later. You people are no help.

Some of the Novels in My “Works in Progress” Folder

This list was originally posted September 24, 2005. I debated whether to put it here or in The Serial Box, but eventually decided on here; the Box is only for new stuff, not these salvaged old posts.

I’m going to annotate this in italics — anything italicized has been added in March 2017. Anything after this sentence that’s not italicized is from 2005.

Sorted a little:

Mystery:
>A Blast from the Past
(Haven’t touched this in years, and the plot’s a little out of date now.)

Fantasy:
Traditional:
>A Handful of Gold (spin-off from The Lords of Dus)
>Assassin in Waiting (I’ve worked on this one a little.)
>Manda’s Magic
>Meant for Each Other
>Power of the People (I don’t recognize this at all; no idea what it is.)
>Putting on Heirs (sequel to Split Heirs)
>Rain
>The Dragon’s Price (This one has gotten a little further.)
>The Third Mage (a trilogy, really) (I’ve changed the setting to a contemporary setting and started it over.)
Urban:
>Myth America
>The Gates of Faerie
>Yard Sale Mystic (This one got converted to a comic book script, and has been hanging fire for years because the artist has yet to start on it.)

Science fiction:
>Cultural Attache (Retitled first The Partial Observer, then The Research Agent.)
>Dark Bodies
>Earthright
>Escort Duty
>Fast Times
>One Hundred Suns
>Realms of Light (sequel to Nightside City) Written and published.
>Refugee Planet
>Technoplague
>The Ghost Takers
>The Terran Zone
>The Three of Us
>Trumpets of the Sky

Western:
>Jones and the Preacher

Horror:
>One-Eyed Jack Written and published.
>Queen Vampire
>Something Wrong
>The Bride
>The Undine

Romance:
>Rakehell’s Daughter

Historical:
>SPQR

Hard to classify:
>Pentagram Squadron
>Triumvirate
>Vika’s Avenger Written and published.

Y’know, I’d really like to write all of these eventually, but I
probably won’t — I come up with new ones faster than I finish the old
ones.

I’ve come up with many more, and made progress on a few of the above, but I’ve also flat-out forgotten or abandoned some of these.

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.