Who Were You When You Wrote This Book?

The continuity and fracturing of personality over time is more obvious to writers than to any creature in the world.

Or at least it is obvious to writers who suddenly find themselves in the position of writing a series they were forced to abandon years or decades before.

Now, this rarely happened with traditional publishing, or at least it rarely happened with traditional publishing by the time I came in. It seemed the game by the time I came in was to give the author one or two books (three if you were lucky and in the more generous houses) to “make it big” (by a miracle, with no support and sometimes — most of the time? — with anti-support, because unless you were one of the chosen few, you were treated like dirt by the office staff, whether that was intended or not) and if you didn’t and they didn’t fire you (because you know, your books had after all earned out, just not become a massive success) the publisher made you change series, and sometimes your name and your genre too.

This left you in the unenviable position of not wanting to tell the readers the series flopped, and why (Lousy cover, no distro, and basically no support being the most common ones, though there were far more interesting ones, like taking the book out of print the day it earned out, or deciding before the book comes out that that genre doesn’t sell, or–) because part of it is not telling your fans you’re a miserable flop — part of the game in trad pub was to gaslight you to make you feel it was all your fault, no matter what, and that if you admit to it, the fans will hate you. Yah — so you tell them you “lost interest.” Hell, sometimes the publishers told the readers you lost interest. (While they have five proposals sitting on their desk, for the sequels.)

All of which led the readers to thinking you were insane, flitting from series to series and not giving any of them much effort, because you lost interest so easily. I, personally, have sat in a kafe klatch being berated by a fan for “never following up” on the Shakespeare series, which was her favorite series in the world. And I’d said it was five books, why were there only three. And you sit there, and you mumble about the genre not selling, and you feel like you killed someone’s baby.

If this strikes you rather like being in an abusive marriage, where you have to explain why you’re so clumsy you run into doorways and get bruises on your face just before your sister’s wedding, you have the feelings exactly right.

(And yes, the Shakespeare series has two more books planned, but it’s actually and for real “complicated.” Partly because of that continuity of personality, but really because vast amounts of memory and my easy ability to memorize whatever struck my fancy were lost to major concussion eighteen years ago, which means resuming it would require …. time to research everything anew. Which probably would necessitate a go fund me, so I could take six months to get back to Tudor England in my mind.)

Anyway, the only time I ever had to revisit things I had written years before was when the Magical British Empire series sold 8 years after I first sent the proposals out (Yes, those are sitting, because right now I don’t particularly feel like being a lightening rod.)

But now… Well, all those shells left along the way, from Shifters to the Furniture refinishing mysteries, to the most recent, Darkships, can and will be continued.

Dyce… Due to the events of the last year, I had the hardest time writing a funny and quirky quick mystery. But it will be done. It’s not…. that difficult. I actually wrote it while I was incredibly tired and furious at the house (it was the third series they forced me to start after abandoning series in which I still had a lot more to say) and at that point I knew they’d kill that series also (they did, though it sold and sold and kept selling, mostly because by the end of it I’d become persona non grata politically, and so they didn’t want to employ me anymore.) So as funny and quirky and light as that series is, it was written in deep blackness of spirit. Just not in the depression when I can’t think of words, which was the last year.

Darkships, it’s a matter of reading myself into place, and yes, I need to reissue them, and I’m only slightly hampered by having to paint walls and get a house ready for sale. I’m hoping to get the first back up this week, anyway, with the future history apendix it was meant to have.

But– But having got Another Rhodes to the betas, I’m now trying to plunge back into Bowl of Red, the fourth of the Shifter’s books, the one that was started oh, so long ago.

And it’s difficult.

When I started Shifters, I was the mother of kids in elementary school and middle school. Now the former middle schooler is married and working far away from the nest. The former elementary schooler is 26 and taller than I, and will hopefully in the next couple of years find his own way into the world.

I’m very very far from the young woman just having her first kid.

Sure, my characters are not me, but it helps to think of them as peers, as friends. And honestly, at this point Kyrie feels more like a daughter.

It can be done, but as I’m listening to the novels (as a way of getting myself back into the voice) I catch glimpses of the person who wrote them, between the energy, the clear cut thoughts, the certainties… and the optimism.

It’s someone I barely remember being, who lived in a world where…. political differences were no hampering to friendship — you just talked around them — and where keeping your mouth shut wasn’t that hard, because you were fairly sure that the “other side” though they had a bizarre idea of your own beliefs, wouldn’t completely destroy you if they found out you weren’t of them. Oh, they probably would destroy your career, which is why I kept my mouth shut, but they wouldn’t try to also get you blackballed from society in general, or throw you in jail on some pretext, or make sure no one in your family could earn a living. And yes, that’s exactly what the executive order signed on April 15th gives the Junta in control of the country the right to do to you and yours on any pretext or none at all. If you haven’t heard of this peach, which is slid in under the excuse of “Russia collusion” (because of course it is) but where the collusion is no more important than the fact they called us all “russian bots” for months, go here. Read it and weep. And I mean that.

And this is where we are now. Which is why it is so hard to reach back to the innocent days where, at worst, should my politics become known, they’d run me out of the field. I thought that was outrageous then. Now–

Well, other societies have descended into madness before ours. And most of our society remains remarkably sane. Just unaware of what is being done in its name.

I don’t know what lies ahead. I sense — intuit? figure from everything I read — a brief and violent convulsion. And what comes after that nobody knows.

Perhaps it is fitting I’m writing a story of people who can shape shift and are under threat of an invasion by unimaginable aliens.

And maybe I can channel some of my younger self’s energy as I write.

It can be hoped, if nothing else.

And so I shall go and perform a seance to unearth hope and carry it aloft into the new books.

Maybe it is fiddling while Rome burns, but by gum, we shall have some music by firelight.

19 comments

  1. I’ve gone back and looked at some of my older story starts…and, realize I can never finish them.

    Some were written in several different kinds of anger, frustration, and sheer confusion.

    Some, there’s nothing there that can be salvaged.

    And, one or two, I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I was writing it.

    Doesn’t mean that I’m not going to keep them-I might come back to them one day. But…sometimes, you discover that the person you were when you were writing this stuff is not someone you wanted to be then-or want to be now.

  2. Putin is soon probably going to publicly announce what attentive Americans have long suspected in regards to Biden’s level of mental function. Putin is definitely doing this and other things because he wants the boog to happen on his terms, with injuries. He is a moron about the US, and really does not understand us.

    Thing is, an American can oppose all of Chinese influence and Russian influence and Iranian influence and Qatari influence. Defending Chinese, Iranian and Qatari influence from criticism by insisting that the critics are Russian influence is fairly weak sauce. The folks that think the argument will fly have an understanding of Americans on par with the understanding possessed by Russian security services.

    Before Biden and the FBI and academia were excessively influenced by the Chinese, they were excessively influenced by the Russians. And we know them from their fruits.

    Fundamentally, a foreign policy of killing all of the foreigners is a policy that is not favored by any foreign security service. If American security services were really most strongly concerned about preventing foreign influence on US politics, they would not have disparately worked to undermine proponents of the “kill ’em all” schools of foreign policy.

    1. In all fairness, Putin probably understands the country better than Biden.

      It’s a low bar, but…

      1. There’s also just the low Russian pleasure of sticking it to somebody who deserves it, namely the Biden Administration. I mean, they are an insult to Evil Overlords, and Putin’s an Evil Overlord so he’s insulted.

        Putin is not a good guy. No way, no how. But he finally has someone to stick it to, and feel like a good guy. So of course he’s enjoying it.

        And in a weird way, I think he kinda liked Trump? I mean, Trump has a lot of qualities that spell “appealing” to a traditional Russian. So it’s not that he wants to do Trump any favors, but I think he thought of Trump as a better class of enemy.

  3. I am _so_ glad I never sold to a big, or even medium publisher. But even with no one to blame but myself, I have several series I’ve abandoned. The Martian Lawyers and The Barton Street Gym both deserve some sort of finality. And even the more recent ones, the sequel to Stone needs a major rewrite, and at least one more book to get to a satisfying ending. Doctor Inferno is facing an alien invasion, and really deserves some keyboard time . . .

    And the older ones? Was that really me who wrote about Martian Lawyers?

  4. When I wrote parts of the Cat series, never intending to publish, it was to keep myself from snapping under strain. The stories (unfinished) that go with “A Father’s Choice” likewise. Now? I don’t want to go back to that world, because getting to the end of the story will take me into some mental places I probably need to revisit, but don’t want to. That Alma is a good person, but not a nice person.

  5. I’d like to see more of the Magical British Empire books 🙂 They were fun.

    But I know that projects don’t always work when you’re in a different frame of mind. I have batches of old fan stories Is started out and never finished, and ended up revisiting one of them recently. I think the first sketches were in the 90’s. My original ideas were definitely more light hearted and focusing on cool wiz-bang things. Standard hero arc.

    This round, even starting from the same basic premise, has turned into an arc about loss, isolation, and endurance, while the hero doubts if they are even on the right side. Even what he wants in the end has changed completely. I think it’s a better, more meaningful story, but is it anything like the one I started originally? Not at all.

    Could I have started from the original ideas and gone from there? I don’t know, I don’t think so, though.

  6. I suppose that it was easier for me that I didn’t really start scribbling fiction until about 2007 or 2008: already semi-retired, child was a grown adult. There’s only one story set I have, that I could go back to, a series of shorts that I started just after retiring from the military. I could pick them back up again, if I really wanted to…
    The one series that I am working on now, I wonder if I shouldn’t wrap it up soon … the main character and his girlfriend are coming to the logical conclusion of their sometime romance, and the story arcs of some other characters are nearly completed as well. I’d almost rather end it, wrapped up logically and tied with a bow, save that readers love the series and I have a blast writing it.

  7. A man may only cross a river once. For afterwards, it is no longer the same river, and he is no longer the same man.

    I realized why a story I’d put in the drawer years ago wasn’t working, so I went back to dust it off and finish it.
    The piece had a great voice. Light and breezy, naivety affecting cynicism, and I can no longer pull it off.

  8. I haven’t even published anything and I understand this. “My world” that I wanted so badly to write now barely interests me. I have yet to find a replacement, although there are some candidates.
    One of the alternatives is just writing the same story over and over and over again. A certain favorite author of mine (hint: white not-horses) does this. Since the advent of indie, I no longer even consider buying her books, which is somewhat sad, mainly due to the price, but also because of the predictability.
    I believe someone here (David Freer, maybe?) collaborated with her and Eric Flint on Heirs of Alexandria, which I very much enjoyed. Although, if I recall correctly, that just stopped, as opposed to ending. I probably wouldn’t read that, now, because I’m spoiled by indie prices and KU.

    1. IIRC With Heirs, it may be a problem with their writing schedules.

      Oh, Dave Freer is/was one of the writers of Heirs.

  9. The more I hear about things in trad, the more glad I am that indie is a thing, even if I’m nowhere near ready to join in as a writer. To the extent I’ve come up with worlds and had characters move in it’s usually been reflective of the time period of my life as well. How Max got his unique gifts the things I’ve alluded to about his past in the vignettes that featured him mirror a situation I found myself in, though I only just recently realized how much a favorite gaming villain influenced his mannerisms and fighting style. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get SNES/Genesis to PS2 era JRPGs and other anime inspired games out of my creativity. >_> And as for the larger issues affecting things I don’t know how that’s going to shake out for me either, in terms of either survival or creativity… Here’s hoping all of us make it one way or another.

  10. I find that ideas die if not used. I read the notes and nothing stirs. New ideas, always.

      1. I confess. “Magic of the Lost God” stems from an idea I first had at 14. It came and went a few times over decades, until I finally realized that what I thought was a middle-aged male sorcerer of the ancient world who lived in ruins and was very ragged was in fact a young British lady of the Victorian era who lived in high society and dressed well.

        (Available from many fine vendors now! 0:)

  11. I have stories I’m not sure I can finish, because I’m not sure I can be that person in my head again. In some cases, that’s a good thing. I also look back, and I’ve changed the tools I use to write (description, pacing, dialogue), enough that my voice has changed too much to pick up and continue.

    Some of them were pretty good, and I just might pick the best bits out and instead of futilely trying to rewrite, just make a new story from ingredients I saved.

  12. I understand this from the odd place of being one who wakes up many mornings with no sense of continuity with who I was the day before. Things I believed are simply gone, impossible, sometimes laughable, replaced with a sense of “who was I that I could think that? Who am I now? What is the rationale for this current idea?” It’s a mildly disturbing state, although I am growing more used to it (it’s a fairly recent phenomena that began occurring about 2 years ago).

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