Tomorrow morning we leave for Liberty Con at dark O’six, and I’m going through my usual oscillation: happy to go and see my friends, looking forward to meeting my fans again, dreading the travel and terrified of having to be with that many people for days — DAYS I tell you! — and away from my familiar office and books and routine.
Adding to the second part of it this year, is that Liberty con will be very different, and I don’t know what its texture and flavor will be yet.
Different? How can I know that? Because it changed hotels.
This happened twice before, since I’ve been going and each time the “feel” of the con changed. This is because the physical plant of the hotel changes how the con flows, who you meet and what you do.
It wasn’t a big difference between Holiday Inn and Day’s Inn. Some, because in Day’s Inn the air conditioning worked so we didn’t all congregate in the one room where the air conditioning worked (besides my room but I didn’t tell anyone that, because I’m not completely stupid, thank you so much.) which happened to be the barfly suite.
But the change to the Choo Choo was massive. The physical plant of the Choo Choo is more distributed, wider out, so that the first year I not only didn’t seem to see anyone I wanted to see, but kept missing panels I wanted to attend. And the barfly suite became part of the greater hospitality suite, so that feel of a secret lair was gone.
Over the years we made it more ours, and it became easy to be where we’d see people, and also it was known at night that we’d look for the groups sitting/standing out between the carriages and talking if we wanted to be sociable.
The trek to the rooms was still a pain, but it was compensated for by the fact that at least some of the buildings were very far off, and we could be quiet. Of course, as someone who took her teen sons to this, it also meant we couldn’t keep an eye on the boys. As in, at all. The teens run in a pack, and they all disappeared usually to the pool area but sometimes, who knew?
The hotel for this year (different one next year) is a more conventional one, so there will be a more traditional feel to the con, I think. Also it will be easier to go to the room to hide out and write/rest from being peopled out. Of course, this is double edged, because understand I always have to negotiate with the inner introvert who never wants to be out in public. This makes it a little more difficult.
But yeah, physical plants affect our activities, even when the activity is “hang out with fans and friends, make horrible puns, discuss how indie publishing is changing, plot upcoming works.” It affects everything. Depending on where it takes place, things happen or don’t happen, you meet people or don’t, as it happens.
In the same way, the physical plant, the texture of our lives when books originate permeates the books.
Darkship Thieves is my novel of pre-children. Not really, as when I wrote it Marshall was one and a half, but really, because it was close enough that I could remember it, with the edges shaved off. No, I never jumped ship to be captured by a bioed young man, or have to adapt to a perfectly libertarian society, but you know, the texture was close enough to the same, that it kind of bled in, the excitement, the fun, the self confidence.
The Dyce books are novels of my young motherhood. Sure, I was not a young mother when I wrote them; the kids were early teens, but I remembered it, because it was close enough. I didn’t solve mysteries, but we did scrimp on food (and sometimes eat pancakes for weeks, usually when I’d splurged on books) and live in the ah… vibrant part of downtown and I refinished most of the furniture we used. The kid is sort of a composite of my two sons (yes, I know, but I survived.)
So, what’s the point of this? It’s that you can get caught writing a series, like the two above, long after your life has changed and the texture of it is completely different. It’s important to be aware of what you ported into the novel, so you can keep it consistent. It’s been over 20 years since I wrote Darkship Thieves (it spent 13 years in a drawer) and it’s important to make sure that while Thena grows up she doesn’t go to sounding like a middle-aged, much less late middle-aged woman in what’s objectively for her about 3 years. It can be done, but I have to read myself back into the mind set.
In the same way while Dyce will grow up book to book, it is important not to have her suddenly go to having teen boys or early twenty year old ones.
The other side of this, though, is not to let your characters become static. There is a mystery series that I adored when it first came out. It was goofy, and the woman lived like a college student, which means it was often disgusting but in a fun, light way.
But when it came out was 20 years ago, and my own college years were fresh in my mind, and though I never lived the full insane college life, I had friends who did, so I could chuckle and go “oh, she’s just like”.
At some point, around book seven or eight, the series lost me. While we were moving, we found the full series (I think it’s up to 20?) in the thrift store and bought it. And I not only realized why I’d walked away, but also why I had no interest in catching up/starting to read it again: the character hadn’t changed.
Now my college years are thirty years in my past. I have raised boys who are almost past them. Things that looked/seemed perfectly reasonable then now make me shake my head.
And yet this character, for whom at least 10 years must have passed, is still living the same life in exactly the same way, which at this point has a faint air of anachronism, because that’s NOT how young people live anymore (cell phones have made a huge difference for one, and the net, and acquaintances on the net.)
The feelings towards the character are more the annoyance/pity we adults feel for those friends (there is at least on in every group) who got stuck in early-twenties mode and never fully grew up.
It’s important to avoid that (and although the series is still selling decently, it’s not the phenom it was in the nineties, and I think that’s why. Most of us have gone and done, and our life has a different texture.) Part of the problem with that series is that the promises made in the early series, where there was an obvious pathway to growth, an obvious relationship, etc, never materialized. I think the author was afraid she’d lose readers from changing that physical plant, from having the character go from single to young married, to children. IMO she woudn’t have because it was baked in/foreshadowed early on. It would just have increased opportunities for shenanigans.
And part of the problem I think is the author writing this when she’s so far from it that the “feel” of the series has become a caricature of young and broke person’s life. Which I think is because (the author being older than I) it’s what she remembers. The very high, the very low, all with a sense of disgust and distance overlaid.
So, with indie — when you plan your series, plan on having them grow with you, and also put out enough books that the growth is gradual and natural.
With traditional… just read yourself into the mindset, and remember if you can how it FELT. Then go with that.
Because we’re not minds, but physical as well as mental creatures, and the physical affects the mental/spiritual.
As writers, creating whole worlds out of our minds, we forget that at our own risk.