Touched By the Gods:  Where It Came From

A quick little essay (written November 13, 1996) on how I came to write Touched by the Gods:

Some time back -- I believe it was March of 1994 -- I had completed the "Worlds of Shadow" trilogy and was trying to decide what to work on next. I had, lying around my office, bits and pieces of thirteen or more book-length projects I could work on, several of which I still intend to pursue eventually. They were all stuff I liked, but none of them was just screaming to be written; I couldn't decide which to tackle. So I collected thirteen into more or less comprehensible form -- outlines, sample chapters, notes, etc. -- and sent them off to my agent to get his advice on which of these would be the best career move.

While I was waiting for his reply, I was sent a manuscript to read -- my editor was looking for a quote she could put on the cover. I'm not going to name the book here, but it was a big, sweeping, epic fantasy novel full of heroes and magic -- and also full of things that annoyed the heck out of me, such as inconsistent linguistics, an economy that made no sense at all, ethnic groups that bore unreasonable resemblances to real-world ethnic groups despite completely different histories, etc.

It was, however, a very good read all the same. I enjoyed it a lot. And I found myself wishing that the author had done everything right -- some stuff was great, but then there were those details that just looked stupid as far as I was concerned. (I am much pickier than most fantasy readers; this book sold very well indeed.) I started thinking about how the story should have been written.

And then my agent phoned, just as I'd worked out how I would have told that story.

The situation was not good. Initial figures on sales of Out of This World in hardcover were not very good, so he wanted me to come up with something very commercial for my next project, and none of the thirteen proposals I'd sent qualified. There was some interesting stuff in there, but nothing that he saw as fitting the current market.

If I really wanted to make money, he said, I needed to come up with a big fat epic fantasy -- that's what people were buying.

A big fat fantasy epic, I thought, like the one I just read?

So I said, "How about this?" And in five minutes I put the vague ideas I'd had about how to do that story I'd just read right together into a quick plot summary.

That, my agent said, he could sell for good money.

Which he did. To my surprise, Del Rey wasn't interested, so we eventually took the project to Tor Books -- by that time I'd written a healthy chunk already. They bought it, and I worked on it off and on until November 12, 1996, when I finally finished it. For quite some time I was concentrating on short stories and other, non-writing stuff, so I didn't get serious about it as soon as I should have, but eventually I did.

By then my original ideas had grown, mutated, and rearranged themselves. The final product is not quite what I described during that phone call back in '94.

It's better!


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