Sunday, September 13, 2009

Series


Let's talk about long-running series novels. I have one of those, the Matadors, for those of you who don't know. Space opera, bodyguards, martial arts, exotic weapons, galactic conflict, all like that. They are essentially anti-war novels, though they've always sold pretty well on military bases.

Originally, I pitched the idea to Ace as a single novel of about 100,000 words. My editor allowed as how it would be better as a trilogy, and she explained it thusly:

1) You'll get more words to play with. Sixty, sixty-five thousand words each, that's almost twice the room to explore your story and your characters.

2) You'll get more money from three books than one, especially if they take off, saleswise.

Well, who was I to argue with such reasons?

So, The Man Who Never Missed; Matadora; and The Machiavelli Interface.

Enough fans liked these that they did sell pretty well. Not spectacular numbers, but since the advances were so small, they earned out, and they like that in New York City.

I was happy how they turned out, and went on my way.

A year or so after the third book came out, I was spending a fair amount of time trying to get into selling stuff to Hollywood. I had some success with animation, courtesy of my collaborator, who dragged me kicking and screaming into that. Old joke was, "If I can get two more of you suckers hooked into toonery, I'll be free!"

My collaborator (Reaves) and I wrote a spec script based on our novel Hellstar. Our agent, who wasn't very good at live-action stuff, sent it out. Somehow somebody at a production company we hadn't sent it to got hold of it and gave us a call. Come in and pitch, they said.

I flew to L.A. Reaves and I put on our lucky Power Extreme! underwear and went to the meeting. Met with an assistant producer who looked to be about fourteen.

He loved us, we were wonderful, the script was dynamite. We thought we were going to ejaculate all over his desk, but then he said, Of course, we can't do it, too expensive, but we have an idea we want to do -- Escape from Alcatraz in space! Can you do that?

Sure. We can do anything. Quickly, Reaves and I did a blue-sky pitch, using my Matador universe as a background. And he loved it.

To make a long story short, we kinda-sorta had a deal. We'd do a "few notes," which is Hollywoodspeak for a freebie treatment, and we'd also get a book tie-in to help pre-sell the project, which we called The Omega Cage. We called our editor in NYC, told her we had a movie deal, and did she want to do the book? She did.

Then, as such things sometimes do, the deal went into the toilet. The nice young man quit the company to go into television, and we went from pitching our orphan idea at 20th Century Fox to pitching it to Troma, which was pretty much the bottom of the barrel ...

And we were stuck writing a novel we didn't want to write, a book that was essentially a long treatment for the movie. We wrote it, it sold well, earned out, but we weren't gonna be big-time Hollywood writers because of it.

Fast forward. I had an idea for a prequel -- how did my hero's teacher come to be? Thus The 97th Step.

Then I wondered: What happened to the old gang after the Confed was bested? They get married, settle down, have kids? Thus The Albino Knife, Black Steel, Brother Death. (This last one had a working title of Mue, which if you've read them, you know why, and if not, it concerns the protag's genetic engineering. Ace decided they didn't like the title, so we changed it, but it showed up that way in the previous book's upcoming list, and I still get comments from people who want to know where they can find it.)

Some years later, and deeper into the martial art that I had found which was closest to what I had envisioned the Matadors doing, I had a thought about a distant prequel, how the art came to be, so, The Musashi Flex.

Which is where we stand.

There is only one other area I now think I might explore in the Matador universe, and I'm not quite ready to do it -- the origin of the "religious" order, The Siblings of the Shroud. Which would be the title of the book.

I understand how fans who get into a series want to see more of it, I'm that way myself. Even if ole Travis McGee was getting long in the tooth and of an age to become a grandfather, and even if the last five books were cookie-cutter the same, I would have kept reading them forever.

But I also understand writers (and actors and assorted other artists) sometimes feel the need to leave a comfortable and popular series and try something else. Sometimes they can, sometimes not, but they feel the need to try. (You didn't watch Star Trek for the science, but for the characters. And only a couple of the actors got past their roles. Shatner did. Nimoy tried, but wound up behind the camera.)

Sly Stallone will always be remembered as RR -- Rocky and Rambo. That's what fans wanted to see, and that's pretty much all his fans wanted to see. It made him a millionaire many times over -- he wrote the first Rocky movie's script, did you know? -- and as such, he doesn't get to complain, but he was typecast in those two roles. Every time he tried to step into another role, the movies essentially tanked.

Better to be famous for something people like than unknown? Sure.

Probably I will get back to the Matadors one more time, even though I know they aren't ever gonna make me rich. But I have to try a couple other things first.

(Editor's Note: The shrouds did come from the Muslim burqa. When I started these books, in 1984, the Middle East was not in the news the way that it is these days, and not a whole lot of folks in middle America knew about such garments. I thought it was a fairly clever notion at the time. And for those of you in the male-chauvinist-sexist-pig category, go here and click on See Original Image at the top of the page ...)

17 comments:

Dan Moran said...

The matador stuff is cool, but a man's gotta eat. I would imagine most of your fans understand that.

Even if ole Travis McGee was getting long in the tooth and of an age to become a grandfather, and even if the last five books were cookie-cutter the same, I would have kept reading them forever.

Cookie-cutter? We're talking about Empty Copper Sea, Green Ripper, Free Fall in Crimson, Cinnamon Skin and the Lonely Silver Rain?

SPOILERS FOLLOW .....
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Empty Copper Sea doesn't even really have a villain.

Green Ripper, the best of all the McGees, has a pile of bad guys, as well as the greatest action sequence ever written by anyone. (God willing, I have a whole novel planned, Destroyer of Worlds, which exists mainly for me to try and take a whack at matching the intensity and awefulness of the scene where Travis takes out the entire camp of fundy terrorists...)

Free Fall in Crimson is not one of the better McGees, but it's not much like the two novels preceeding, either.

Cinnamon Skin is a little flat, though it is nice seeing so much of Meyer and watching him get his mojo back after the ending of Crimson.

Lonely Silver Rain is a fine ending point, and if McGee gets a little bit of a forced Happy Ending (and a truly weird fantasy sequence as he's standing on his boat and suddenly imagines that he's dead) ... well, McDonald saw the end coming and did the right thing by his readers to give them closure.
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END OF SPOILERS

OK, except for Green Ripper, none of them would make my top 5 favorite McGee list, but I don't get cookie cutter at all.

Stan said...

"Probably I will get back to the Matadors one more time, even though I know they aren't ever gonna make me rich. But I have to try a couple other things first."

...and we'll be waiting!!!

I could see some sort of parallel to (one of) the origin myths of Kung-fu; where the wounded soldier hid in a Buddhist monastery to heal. As part of his healing he practiced his martial arts and wound up teaching them to the order.

Hmm, but in the Matador universe, the "monks" would probably need to be searching for "all the answers" in advanced mathematics...hence the "butterfly and tornado" integratic projections. The four protags from "Musashi Flex" would have assets which, under the guise of a religious order, could lead to the "S.O.T.S."....

I noted in the Matadors, there is also an apparent affection for the kerambit blade...perhaps another legacy of Lazlo Mourn?

I apparently spend entirely too much time reading!!! :~)

Thanks for the "spark of hope," Steve!

Steve Perry said...

All of what you said, Dan, of course, but there was a sameness to the feel for me. Seemed like a lot psychopaths hither and yon, the beats were by-the-numbers. though with that revelation in Rain, I was looking forward to seeing how he deal with that as McGee had to finally become an adult ...

Green Ripper (Grim Reaper) was unlike any of the others, though. I wonder what horrible thing was going on it McDonald's life to spark that one.

The killing sequence was something, but what I always remember about that one was the scene where McGee dumped the rocks out of his pack before the hike. Best example of fighting smarter and not harder I've seen, before or since.

Still and all, I'd take Miss Agnes out for a drive given the chance. (In The Digital Effect, I had a part-time investigator protag who made micro-models of disaster ships, named "Gil Sivart," and the honorific for "mister" being "M.," if you write it that way, drop the 'l," and turn the last name around ...

steve-vh said...

The photo had me immediately imagining that you were somehow going to tie the origin of the Siblings to the Mri of "the Faded Sun" trilogy.
Now THAT would have me over the top.

Anonymous said...

Well 0,Steve, Thank you.. not many sci-fi series come along that grab me and make me want more.. I remember picking up a copy.( The MAN WHO NEVER MISSED) . reading the opening and sheepishly going back to pay for the damn thing ... i had walked out without even paying for it, and had to retrace my steps because i had gotten so wrapped up in it.. if the series never makes you rich.. well it should have. Langdon

Dan Moran said...

Still and all, I'd take Miss Agnes out for a drive given the chance. (In The Digital Effect, I had a part-time investigator protag who made micro-models of disaster ships, named "Gil Sivart," and the honorific for "mister" being "M.," if you write it that way, drop the 'l," and turn the last name around ...

That's nice. :-)

Wim Demeere said...

Great Info Steve, as always. I'm enjoying the posts on both the craft and the business.

I'll shoot you a mail re. that in a sec. I have a Q for you.

Wim

William Adams said...

Looking forward to the novel, but as I've noted in the past, I'm still curious as to how you'd work out how humanity would react to the Zonn technology becoming widespread and the longevity drug becoming available.

William

Dan Moran said...

Maybe there's a theme of Damaged Lost Children running through all five of those last novels. Gretel's brother in Copper; all the baby terrorists in Green; the abused townkids in Crimson; the killer himself in Cinnamon; and You Know Who in Silver. Though maybe less so in the last.

Maybe it's tone. I do get the world weariness and anomie that infused that last batch of novels, with the exception of the blast from hell of Green Ripper.

Maybe it's just that, except for Ripper, I don't like them as much as I like Pale Gray for Guilt, or a Deadly Shade of Gold, or the Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, or etc. .....

There was a gap of four years between the first sixteen novels and the last 5 -- 1974 to 1978, with no Travis.

taintmonger said...

I really appreciate all this behind-the-scenes regarding your series. Omega Cage has always been a kind of odd duck in the canon, and it's gratifying to find out why.

Since you've written so many books based on other people's universes -- Clancy, Lucas, etc. -- I wonder if you ever thought of sort of farming out Matador sequels to other ambitious authors. Would it not be financially rewarding for either party? Is it a matter of letting your "child" be raised by someone else? Of course, I'd just be interested to hear the hows and whys of these kinds of projects.

TOM CLANCY's SUM OF ALL RAINBOW FORCE EIGHT.

written by this other guy

Anonymous said...

It was starting to end, after what seemed like forever, when death came to Corwin walking the 97 steps.

GOD I'd like to see your take on Amber.

Steve Perry said...

I'm still too close to the Matadors to want to let somebody else take them and run. Not sure there'd be much of a market for that anyhow.

Phil Elmore said...

The real irony, to me, is that The Omega Cage is my favorite of the books you've written, Steve -- the book that introduced me to the rest of your books, in sort of a roundabout way. I really enjoy these behind-the-scenes details, too.

Steve Perry said...

Cage was essentially a long movie treatment, so it was very visual and full of action. Got all the elements of conflict -- man against man; man against nature; man against himself. It worked okay as a book, but with a good cast and director, it would have been a terrific movie. At least we think so ...

mdg1 said...

Am I going senile (again) or did you have an excerpt/short story from Siblings on this site?

I could have sworn you did, but now I can't find it...

Steve Perry said...

Actually, it was a short story I was asked to do for an anthology. Story got bumped when a Big Name Writer who had failed to deliver -- which is why I got asked -- finally did get around to doing a piece.

I figured it would make a pretty good opening chapter for Siblings, if I ever got to it, so I put it up.

It was called "Contender." Been awhile since I posted it, year and a half, two years? I don't recall. Should still be there somewhere.

mdg1 said...

Still can't find it. Guess I'll have to work off my mnemonic copy until you write the book. :)