Friday, January 16, 2009

Manuscript Readers Update Redux

Well, as it turns out, I won't have to wait a couple of weeks to see how the comments are coming along. As of today, about two-thirds of the folks to whom I shipped ms copies have reported in -- and a couple more who aren't finished yet offered their impressions of what they have read so far. That's a pretty quick turnaround, albeit was a short novel.

So. In the interests of disclosure, here's the almost-final progress report on the ms-in-progress, Champion of the Dead. What follows is not a general lesson in how to do a rewrite, but the way that I approached the second draft on this particular novel. Next time, it might be altogether different. One goes with the flow, and you never step in the same river twice ...

If you haven't finished reading it and don't want to know, consider this the


Don't go any farther. Things will be revealed. If you have finished reading the ms, you may continue.

First, the two criteria again:

1) Did I tell the story I wanted to tell?

2) Did I tell it well?

Start with the first one: Yep, pretty much it was tale I had in mind. It started with the idea of wanting to do something with The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

The character of Sam Kane as spiritual warrior developed next. (And certainly if Zelazny fans didn't get a clue from Sam's name, they must have seen the Amber and Lord of Light signposts along the way, not to mention the thank you in the acknowledgments. I'm a stone Zelazny fan. He was the man. It shows here.

But, to be fair, I didn't swipe all that much from Roger, but from the same source material he swiped his from, so I don't feel too guilty about that. He stood much taller than I, Roger did, but he perched on the shoulders of a few giants, too ...

(I was tempted to put a horrendous pun in somewhere, ala "The fit hit the Shan," but thus far, I have resisted that. Thus far.)

The plot set-up was something I got from Hitchcock. Guy gets in the middle of something a lot bigger than he is, and runs around trying to keep from getting squashed. Cary Grant, in North by Northwest, was kinda-sorta my model for Kane in that regard. He stands up at the wrong time, and wham! off on an adventure.

The notion of Tinzen was part of it from the git-go, as was the last scene in the novel, which I wrote before I got more than a couple of chapters in. I revised it slightly to add a tweak, but that was early, too. One of the twists might be a surprise -- though there is a strongly-implied hint a couple people said they got -- and it was a gift to romantics.

I like happy endings. So sue me.

All my books have a love story at their heart. The only things really worth writing about are love and death. If you didn't smile and feel good when you read the last chapter, then you aren't a romantic. The other bit, I laid in, and gave at least three clues to it earlier, so if you missed that one, it's your fault.

What I tell you three times must be true.

It being the story I wanted to tell, I am keeping Tinzen as is. Two readers thought he might be overkill. Most readers liked the idea, a couple really liked it. I felt that I could stretch the notion a bit, and I wanted to do so. I flat-out love the idea of him eating Frosted Flakes and watching cooking shows on TV.

I'm not a Buddhist, but I have a statue of one in my courtyard ...

Stories in which Sam goes into the bardo farther afield and onto other adventures are for another book, or books, if I get to 'em. Chang is still out there. As is the Window of the Gods. The horror of vegetarianism, too. And the rewrite will have more hints that Sam isn't done yet, if you needed any more.

The gods in this book are less god-like than traditionally so; I did that on purpose, and I'm not the first, since every major religion has done pretty much the same thing ...

Now, the part where readers offer the most help -- how well did I do it?

Most readers allowed as how they liked it. Some a lot, some less so, but nobody came back and said they thought it would stink on ice, and I was glad about that. Couple folks thought it was as good as anything I've done.

Part of the challenge for me was to do the book from a single viewpoint. I haven't written a novel that way in a long time and I was pleased that I mostly pulled it off. It's Kane's story.

When I got to the end of the first draft, there were several things I felt needed to be dealt with further. 1) The ending was rushed. 2) Some of the exposition sequences were too long and too static. 3) I needed to have Kane work harder to solve the mystery.

Several readers mentioned some, or all of these, and thus pass the Apprentice Editor Test. You know who you are. Those three things get the most attention up front.

After that, there were a lot of smaller clunks that readers pointed out that I'm going to adjust. They range from a wonder why I'm using Bahasa terms for a Tibetan art -- already fixed -- to comments on the weapons, computers, guitar stuff, and what readers considered loose ends. And one big typo, where I misplaced a decimal and made somebody really, really, drunk.

Just FYI, the crewcut boxer was left unexplained on purpose, as were the four guys in the G.I. Joe's lot. And who Kane is that gets him all the help and why. If you do more than one book about a character, you have to pay each one off, but you get a larger arc to play with, and you can leave a few threads dangling.

Anybody ever see Hitchcock's The Birds? Remember the central question in that movie? Yeah. And ole Hitch never addressed it at all. I walked out of the theater not having a clue, and also being wary of the pigeons I saw. I still remember that last scene, more than forty-five years ago, and my sense of wonder at what had just happened. I like my readers to work a little, too, figure stuff out on their own.

Lotta martial artists don't like guns, and some of those who read the story don't want to read about 'em, they want to see more on the knives. And see Kane learn how to sword fight.

Computer porn: Most of my geeks liked what I did, but every one of them had a slightly different way of doing it. Some of that I'll add. If you are a gun guy, you might sit still for the hardware lessons, and if you are a computer guy, you might get off on the encryption stuff, but general readers won't do either nearly as much, so there will be less boomware and very little more computer material than is already there.

When Kane goes to the range, that five pages gets cut to three, and that more show and less tell. A few places where I -- and some others -- thought things dragged, I trimmed a pound or two to make them run faster. I think there might be two scenes left that run more than four or five pp, and I think both are necessary pay-offs. (The longest one will be a visual flashback in the movie version when Hollywood comes pounding on my door.)

Couple guitar players liked the music scenes, nobody else seemed too distressed by those, and it goes to Kane's character, so probably much of that will stay in, though those will get a haircut, too.

It's a fine line I'm walking here between too much information and not enough. If there is any question, my opinion counts more. Goes with having the name on the cover and no franchise to whom I must answer. Can't please everybody, so ...

Kane and Rosie's relationship will get a little spit and polish. I'll lay in some small hints that it's coming. (Deadly danger turns some people on, and that was enough excuse for me to show some more stuff about Kane and his internal conflicts. Danger sex is hot.)

Some plot points, such as why the computer was still at Oliver's, I'll address, if a bit ambiguously. The whole book was about Kane trying to figure out what the fuck was going on, and he never did get it all. Didn't need to get it all.

Kane will have to work a bit harder, he'll maybe lose a couple set-tos, get thumped, and I'll lay in why he put up with all of Tinzen's you-aren't-ready-to-know-yet crap. Other bits here and there that readers pointed out that deserve attention and with which I agree. Should add up to another twenty or thirty pages scattered throughout, though the cuts will offset some of that. Whatever it takes.

Thanks, again, everybody. I do appreciate the help.


jks9199 said...

Thanks for the opportunity to be involved and to see something of how you do the magic. I can string words together reasonably effectively (I think), and tell you what I did and why -- but I've never been able to do fiction. It's interesting and a privilige to see something of how the story gets to be when it gets published, to kind of get a peek behind the curtain.

(And now I'm gonna have to dig my copy of Lord of Light up to re-read it...

Menduir said...

Sorry for the delay in replying. My brain works more slowly than some but I sent off my feedback a few minutes ago. Hope it helps, and thanks for the opportunity.

jks9199 said "get a peek behind the curtain"

Now there's a pun for the book, but don't let Kane hear you say it.


Dan Moran said...

I'm one of the guys who thought it was perhaps your best work -- I haven't read everything of yours, but I have read all your confed novels except Brother Death -- I liked this better than those, even better than the Musashi Flex, my previous favorite. It's wise and it moves -- a rare combination.

One of the things I dislike about the whole field of SF is the way its practitioners get worse as they age. The number of SF writers who got substantially worse as they aged is really striking, and the degree of decline is worse than in other fields -- not sure why.

Seeing someone get better as he ages is a real pleasure, and personally encouraging.

Hope to see what comes next.

-- "FatSam"

Jordan said...

Second the notion about being thankful to be able to be a part of it. Can't wait to see the final version, I just hope we don't have to wait too long before it shows up on a shelf near us.

I'm crossing my fingers for a Baen books release. Yummy non-DRM ebooky goodness. :-)

Travis said...

As a developing writer and (as much as I hate to be a 'fan' of anything) a long time fan of Steve Perry novels I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the 'semi-final' draft and am looking forward to seeing the finished project. I'm also excited to see that some of the mystery of what's going on is planned for sequel fodder; I suspected so and I'm already eager to see them!

Talking about writers getting worse instead of better as they age (I bet we could extrapolate to other activities too). The best theroy I heard is that young (or new) writers of Sci-Fi or fantasy tend to be driven by passion for their stories but as they age the technical aspects of writing take over and in many cases they become focused on 'quality' writing at the expense of expressing their ideas passionatly. Clearly writers who become 'great' are the ones who are able to develop technically while maintaining the initial passion for their stories. Credit where credit is due; I got this theory from Richard K. Morgan at one of his apperances. I happen to think he's right but didn't think of it myself.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Age eventually steals most things from most of us. Nature of the system.

The exceptions are interesting. I saw an interview once with Edward Everett Horton, the American character actor. He was in his early eighties at the time, and as sharp as an obsidian scalpel -- funny, clever, altogether there. (Most readers here probably won't know who he was; he was in such movies as The Front Page, Trouble in Paradise, Top Hat, Holiday, Lost Horizon, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Pocketful of Miracles. Among his other roles, he was the voice of the Fractured Fairy Tales in the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

My favorite novels by a writer aren't necessarily his best work. Take Roger -- Lord of Light is his high-water mark for me, but I think Creatures of Light and Darkness was written a bit sharper. Plus a whole bunch of short fiction. He won the Nebula and Hugo a bunch of times.

I think Zelazny was getting a second wind, but he died early, at 58.

Successful artists -- those making money -- usually find a formula that works for them, and past a point, tend to stay with it, and not just in science fiction and fantasy.

Plus the stories start to run together, and you don't remember -- did I tell this one yet? And you run out of ideas. The late Bob Sheckley was a sweet man, but he had gone cold. If you gave him a premise, he could write the hell out of it, but the creative well was mostly dry. Ditto Ted Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Ike Asimov, and Bob Heinlein.

Like ball players. Once the legs start to go, the tricks will carry them for a while, the experience, but eventually they slow down too much.

Like I said, life and

Steve Perry said...

... death are what's worth writing about ...

jks9199 said...

RE: SF writers & aging...

I don't quite agree with Dan Moran that many writers get worse as they age. I think a lot get more formulaic as they age. I don't know if they start "phoning it in" or if the editors start giving them more deference, or they just run out of stories -- but need paychecks. But, with many authors, I feel like I've already read the story pretty quick...

By the way, Steve... not that I'm kissing up or anything, but you definitely haven't fallen into that trap.

Master Plan said...

Skipped the post as I've not yet finished the ms. But. RIP Zelazny.

If I ever write a quarter as good as he did....

The first scene of the Amber stuff has stuck in my head for years (1st of his stuff I read, back in freshman year of highschool)a character with no memories operating like he does, essentially the same as the reader. Knowing nothing and moving forward anyway. Slick parallels. IMVHO.